It’s Never Too Late to Get LinkedIn

After writing an article for PR News about how to use LinkedIn as an effective business tool, I realized that I was a hypocrite—I was espousing the value of a robust profile, but my own was skeletal at best.  So, I followed my own advice and rounded it out with past experience, information about my education, a customized URL and background information about my general interest and areas of expertise.

In the interest of full disclosure, my involvement with the social network–and social networks in general–was basically flat-lined; in terms of my LinkedIn profile, I would accept invitations when they were extended, but I did nothing to proactively reconnect with the business contacts that I’ve accumulated over the years.  As for a Facebook account, much to my friends’ disbelief, I do not have a profile; my MySpace presence is solely relegated to PR Newspage.

So, starting now (at least as far as LinkedIn is concerned), I plan to make a concerted effort to reach out to others, and to actively in engage in the community.  After all, study after study shows that it’s a viable business communications platform, and communicating is precisely the business that I’m in.  So, with that, here is my profile.  I’d love to link in with anyone who’s out there listening …

By Courtney Barnes

Don’t Try This at Home — aka Are You Really Dumb Enough to Try This at Home?

Viral marketing and word of mouth is all the buzz these days, especially with platforms like YouTube enabling levels of fame and exposure never before thought possible. And, if the video sharing site could make a skateboarding dog famous, imagine what it can do for companies with money to pour into creative content and production.

That’s basically what Nike did in making this YouTube video of NBA superstar Kobe Bryant leaping over a moving sports car to market its latest and greates, lighter-than-air basketball shoe. With approximately 2.5 million views to-date, it’s safe to dub this effort a viral marketing success–but not so fast.  Despite its obvious dramatization, there has been an outcry among critics, many of whom believe that the video threatens the safety of gullible viewers who try to recreate the gravity-defying stunt in their own driveways. Of course, the “do not try this at home” disclaimers in the video do nothing to mitigate their harsh judgment, and Nike execs must now field questions and address complaints.

The situation raises a few questions. First, is all PR good PR? The video has been widely viewed, making it a success by those simple measures.  But will the fallout outweigh the benefits?

Personally, I find it ridiculous that people hold a video like this one responsible for the actions taken by uninformed (read: unintelligent) consumers.  Yes, I understand that children are most susceptible to incurring injuries from trying to soar like Kobe, but saying that Nike is to blame would be like holding Blendtec (of “Will It Blend?” fame) accountable if some kid tested the theory on the family dog.

The other, more PR-oriented question is that of authenticity: Should Nike have been more clear that this was a “Hollywood-ified” video fueled not by superhuman powers, but by special effects? Anyone with deductive reasoning skills would reach that conclusion (besides the limitations imposed by gravity, athletes with multi-million dollar contracts aren’t usually allowed to throw themselves willingly in front of moving vehicles), but maybe a “this is a dramatization” would have been a good opener.  When book-ended with that disclaimer and the “do not try this at home” warning, the video covers all its bases.  If anyone manages to still find reason to believe they can emulate the stunt, then perhaps it’s best to defer to Charles Darwin.  When it comes to survival of the fittest, only the strong will survive.

By Courtney Barnes

Starbucks Made Me Feel Fat

As previously mentioned, I am a Starbucks junkie.  A few moments ago, I returned from my afternoon iced-coffee run at my regular outpost, where I was completely devastated to learn that the lemon pound cake I frequently purchase has 500 calories.  Five. Hundred. Calories.

Obviously, I know that Starbucks’ fresh baked goods are neither fresh nor good for you, but today (as far as I could tell) was the first time they put the calorie content on the labels of every treat in their display case.  Just as I prefer to not know how much money I spend at Starbucks each week, I would like to remain ignorant to how many calories I consumer there as well.

However, even though the woman in line behind me agreed that it was a painful truth to stomach, it’s clearly another move the coffee chain is making to resurrect its wounded reputation.  Another notable change is the limited-time-only brown logo, which celebrates the brand’s beginnings in Seattle and its new Pike Place brew (a smoother blend that aims to rebuff claims that Starbucks beans taste over-roasted and burned).

Was the logo change a good idea? I’m going to go with “yes,” as the brown mermaid made a previous appearance to celebrate Starbucks’ 35th anniversary in 2006; with Chairman Howard Schultz back at the helm, it seems like a natural way to illustrate the brand’s forward momentum while celebrating its historic rise to international ubiquity.

As for the complete transparency (which is, of course, always a good PR strategy) with front-and-center nutrition facts, I think I will remain a believer that ignorance is in fact bliss.

By Courtney Barnes

(Not) Leavin’ on a Jet Plane

So, as recent blog posts have indicated, I’ve traveled A LOT in the past two weeks, which put me directly in the midst of the current airline image crisis.  I managed to escape the blips, but just barely—I landed in London on British Airways exactly one day before the Terminal 5 screw-up, and I flew on American Airlines the morning its planes began lining up for safety checks… only to stay grounded due to wiring problems.

Despite my good fortune in the skies, these recent crises have further tarnished the image of an industry that was already experiencing serious turbulence.  The PR teams for British Airways and American Airlines (which are partner airlines, to boot—ouch) are taking heat for mismanaging communications about the “inconveniences,” but there are a few bright spots as well: American announced it was hiring an outside company to review its process for complying with government inspections, which lends credibility to the airline’s commitment to safety. And, of course, grounding flights, despite the annoyance of delays and cancellations, is far better than putting a faulty piece of metal into the air (although I am the first to admit that these safety red flags mean I’ll be packing Xanax in my carry-on from now on).

Then, yesterday, American’s CEO Gerard Arpey said he is taking “personal responsibility” for the maintenance errors that prompted the disruptions for travelers. “I run the company,” he said at a news conference, “so if there’s any blame to be had, it is my fault, and I take full responsibility for this.”

Good for him.

Of course, these inspection snafus point to a bigger issue—one that concerns the Federal Aviation Administration’s oversight of its safety regulations.  While this story will continue to unfold in the coming days, the skies aren’t looking so friendly for the PR execs who must now manage the crippled reputations—and airplanes—at the center of this debacle.

By Courtney Barnes

PR Pros Better Off Than Marketers

Mike Moran, product manager at IBM, is in the midst of his keynote, and he just made a comment that should make PR professionals everywhere smile:

“This [digital communications] is a sea change for marketers. The Internet is the place where everyone at every moment is deciding what they want to be interested in. You are the storytelling experts, not marketers—that’s what you know how to do. Your job at this point is to start using that skill in more places.

Instead of looking at the Internet as a threat, look at it as something that makes everything you know more valuable than it was before—bigger and more important. You know how to get past gatekeepers because you’ve always had them. What you need to think about is who these new gatekeepers are on the Web.

It’s not the marketing people that are the hot shots at viral messaging. It’s you.”

By Courtney Barnes

Go Forth and Optimize

I’m just now finishing lunch and listening to Mike Moran of IBM give a keynote speech, but I think the more interesting conversation actually took place directly next to me a moment ago. I was talking to Amy Dean, president of Dean Public Relations, about what’s going on in public relations due to the digitization of … well, everything, and she boiled it all down very quickly:

“Think of [the Internet] as a sea where everyone is sending up smoke signals to find each other. Search engine optimization is that smoke signal.  It’s not the great equalizer–it’s the great integrator.”

That’s right–every session and every conversation during the last two days of the Bulldog conference has been about blogs and social media and so on, but–and I hadn’t really thought about it before–the one thing that ties all of these channels together is SEO, so that’s what PR people need to be learning. Sure, you need something to optimize in the first place but, unless you get that content in front of your target audience, your messages will die a lonely death on the 37th page of Google’s search results …
By Courtney Barnes

The Future of Communications

Just a quick note based on a keynote speech by Duncan Wardle, VP, Global PR, Disney Parks:

“We all have employees.  Some [companies] have tens of thousands of them–but we don’t use them. The future of communications will be letting all employees blog.”

By Courtney Barnes

Charlie Rose on PR Ethics: It Is an Issue

The session with Charlie Rose and Howard Rubenstein is ending, and (in my opinion), this was a highlight from a PR perspective: Rubenstein asked Rose what he thought of the state of ethics in PR, and Rose responded bluntly that “It is an issue.”

“We are your advocates here,” he continued, referring to the media. “We have an interest and a goal—we have an agenda, and it may or not be yours—but at the same time, keep people like me informed so that I feel like you have my interest in mind.”

Rubenstein followed that comment by saying that too many PR people blindly send pitches, and Rose then offered two very valuable tips to the communicators in the audience:

“Don’t insult our intelligence.” (This comment was met with good-natured laughter.)

And…

“Don’t send us [journalists] things that we know are official lies. If I think you are trying to spin me and you think I’m trying to screw you, then we are at a loss.”

Touche.

By Courtney Barnes

LIVE from the San Francisco: Prozac at the Pump

Hello and good morning … I am on the last leg of my (current) world tour–San Francisco, for the Bulldog Media Relations Summit, from which I will be blogging to give updates and interesting stories as they happen (I’m currently listening to Charlie Rose and Howard Rubenstein).

However, more on that later–I just wanted to mention three cool new things I learned during the opening keynote by Todd Grossman, VP Sales, MultiVu:

1. YouTube has a new application called YouTube Insights that enables anyone with a YouTube account to view–for free–detailed statistics about the videos that they upload to the site. It’s a great, cost-effective tool for measuring eyeballs at least and, what’s more, you can test messages and quantify viewership in specific geographical regions most important to your business.

2.  There are more than 50 video-sharing Web sites.

3.  This is my favorite stat of the day: While visiting the gas station to fill up their tanks, drivers spend an average of four minutes watching the price climb … and climb … and climb.  Realizing this untapped audience, Gas Station TV was established to give people something more uplifting to watch at the pump. It’s a digital video network featuring CBS News and entertainment, ESPN sports and local market weather. According to Grossman, more than 50% of viewers remembered one or more brand or story seen during these four minutes.  What’s next, therapists doling out Prozac at the pump to alleviate the depression caused by massive gas bills?  Hey, whatever works …

By Courtney Barnes

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em … Then Kick ‘Em When They’re Down

Honestly, I’m beginning to think that Wal-Mart might as well throw in the towel and change its smiley yellow happy face logo into something a bit more cynical—or, at the least, abandon all hopes of ever getting good PR.  And this is not coming from a supporter of the retail behemoth—I’ve been quick to criticize their missteps in the past—but this recent road bump seems harsh, even by my standards.

As BusinessWeek reported today, Wal-Mart is facing new criticism over its treatment of employees, and all because it introduced three house-brand coffees that are fair-trade certified.  You would think this fair-trade certification, which is part of CEO H. Lee Scott’s grand plan to “be supplied with 100% renewable energy, to create zero waste, and to sell products that sustain our resources and our environment,” would be applauded—or at least acknowledged—by critics, but alas … no such luck.

True, there is some irony in the announcement.  After all, fair-trade certification implies that workers are paid fair wages, and Wal-Mart doesn’t score so well in the employee satisfaction department. Labor groups are calling Wal-Mart a hypocrite for selling coffee protected by fair trade agreements when it can’t even offer its own employees social and workers’ rights.  Touche, yes, but if the company offered not-fair-trade coffee, these groups would complain just the same.  And, if selling fair-trade coffee isn’t a step in the right direction, what can Wal-Mart do to begin digging itself out of the grave it unwittingly prepared for itself in recent years?

Then again, maybe the best time to face criticism is when you have absolutely nothing to lose—which seems to be “always” for Wal-Mart.

By Courtney Barnes

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