First 100 Days: Grading Ourselves

As President Obama is handed his “report card” for performance after 100 days in office, I’m thinking about how we’d grade ourselves and our colleagues after 3-months-and-change in a leadership role. For sure, the metrics against which we’re judged are nowhere near those of a U.S. president (universal healthcare, disarming North Korea, stock market at 10,000). The good news is more than 60% of the U.S. population, when polled, think Obama is doing a very good job.  While we are inclined to grade him on the goals that have not been achieved or the jobs not yet restored, the interesting point is that the first 100 days are a judgment on decison-making and leadership skills. In a word: potential.  Of course, the metrics for which we grade  him run across a varied and inconsistent spectrum.  The White House has called the hoopla around The First 100 Days a “Hallmark” moment (note to Hallmark: cards congratulating a boss on their first 100 days). But really, it’s a great PR opportunity to tell the President’s story in its own words and pictures.  As  for grading ourselves and senior management: establish the metrics upfront and grade against those metrics. I give myself a B  for my first 100 days here at PR News — with potential to grow.  How would you grade yourself after 100 days in “office”?

- Diane Schwartz

Update on The Domino’s Effect: Interview with Tim McIntyre

Last week, PR News publisher Diane Schwartz wrote this blog post about the Domino’s YouTube crisis, in which two employees videotaped themselves doing unsavory things to food and then posted the clip on YouTube. As an update to the story, PRN guest columnist Mike Smith got an exclusive interview with Tim McIntyre, Domino’s VP of corporate communications, who said this of the company’s response to the crisis:

“We communicated with our core constituencies. Those who already were exposed to the viral video, customers who complained, store owners. How wide do you send this message? Do you fan the flames so that people go view the first video or search more about it? If you hit the mass media button, you might force folks to go ahead and look at something.”

Click here for the full story behind the story, and let us know if you think McIntyre’s team did the right thing by gauging the gravity of the situation before going public with a statement.

Time to Get Engaged

Engagement was the buzzword at the annual min day Digital Summit held yesterday at the Grand Hyatt in NY.  About 200 media executives gathered to take away new ideas on how to make a buck or two online.  min is a sister brand to PR News and there are often overlaps in coverage and audience since min covers the many magazine brands that PR readers want to reach with their stories.  Even more so — and what was clear at this event — is that PR professionals and media executives — crave an engaged audience and metrics to gauge just how engaged stakeholders are with their brand. Despite lackluster news about media companies (did you know more than 500 magazines folded last year?), the “engaged” brands are the most likely to survive and thrive for the long-term.

During the luncheon, we held an Engagement Party recognizing “the most engaged media brands” plus “the match made in heaven” (hint:  stencils and doggie blogs, anyone?)  What all these magazine brands have in common is a visceral connection with their readers.  These brands play a key and positive role in the lives of their readers. I am guessing that of these 14 media brands, there’s at least one that you engage with regularly.

Check out these Most Engaged Media Brands and see if your brands also provide the goods to be Engaged. We’re not talking marriage here. We’re talking good, old fashioned Engagement with the anticipation, the parties, the love letters and all.

Share with us your Engagement Story.

- Diane Schwartz

Image Rehab, Eliot Spitzer-Style

What do you do when you go from governor of New York to Client No. 9 overnight? That’s what Elliot Spitzer and his communications team was asking themselves almost exactly one year ago, when Spitzer landed in the center of a prostitution scandal that prompted his resignation from office, not to mention his damnation to the fringe of society, where the most amoral and disdained members of the population reside.

As details of the scandal emerged, Spitzer kept a low profile—what else could he do?—but now, a year later, the media is revisiting the historic event. In doing so, a textbook case study of how one re-brands his soiled personal image is being constructed.

Image rehabilitation—it’s a concept that’s all too familiar to celebrities, politicians and corporate executives (and, by default, to these individuals’ PR people). It also happens to follow a similar timeframe to traditional rehab programs: You lay low for a period of time, and then you slowly reintroduce yourself to normal daily activities—walking the dog, for example.

The same can be said for Spitzer, who, according to a recent Newsweek article, used his wheaten terrier James to help ease in back into the public eye a few months after his fall from grace. According to Spitzer, “I explained to James that he was a good-looking dog. People wanted to take his picture. You put up barriers and sort of prepare yourself.”

He also admitted that he left his other dog—a bichon frisé—at home deliberately during those walks, which were documented by the army of paparazzi that camped out in front of his apartment. “I wouldn’t take her [the bichon] out in public,” he told Newsweek. “I thought James was a better image for me.” (Now, his bichon accompanies him on these walks. Spitzer explained by saying, “It’s like, OK, I have a bichon, a little white ball of fluff … I don’t care. What do you have to lose?”)

Some media outlets mocked and criticized his approach, but it seems to me to be well within the realm of normal image-rehab measures. So too does his next “staged” entrée back into the public eye, as a columnist (for Slate.com) and media commentator.

Anyway, the renewed attention to Spitzer’s re-integration into mainstream society just got me thinking about the whole process of rehabilitating your own tarnished personal brand, and how a person can go about doing it without being completely condemned by the media.  Thoughts?

The Domino’s Effect: Taking a Slice Out of Your Reputation

Remember the old commercial imploring parents to ask: “It’s 11 o’clock, do you know where your children are?” Fast forward to the age of social media and the new question is: “It’s on YouTube, do you know what your employees just did?” Such is the pickle that Domino’s is in after two employees earlier this week posted a video online showing an employee preparing a sandwich in less than sanitary conditions, telling the camera that the cheese had just resided in his nose.

The video was pulled from YouTube and Domino’s “eventually” responded to the crisis via Twitter, blog, Web sites, etc. Domino’s President Patrick Doyle posted an apology video on YouTube. Some media outlets criticized the company’s late response — meaning it didn’t respond instantly to the situation. All businesses are now held to a Herculean standard when it comes to response time in the new media space: get word out right away, control the message, make the bad news go away. It appeared that Domino’s did take a wait-and-see attitude at first (meaning in the first few hours). But we’ve all ordered in from restaurants like Domino’s so this particular video hit a nerve and Domino’s should have realized this with a quicker response. It is now on top of the situation, the employees were fired, and when the next social media story hits (any minute now), this story will creep under the radar.

I may be a PR traditionalist, but the video prank story raises for me a more important question that Domino’s needs to address. Employees at nearly every company in the world are the front-line brand ambassadors. If they don’t believe in the company they work for, then the company has a serious problem. These employees have tools at their disposal to ruin a brand or at least temporarily wound it. These two (ex)- Domino’s employees clearly didn’t care about their jobs since they were willing to risk them for a silly prank to get attention online. Why didn’t they care? That’s the question Domino’s needs to address next. In the YouTube video, Domino’s president said it’d be looking into its hiring practices. That’s a good start.

What would you do in Domino’s situation?

- Diane Schwartz

Social Media: Big Brother or the Ultimate Driver of Transparency?

Despite being a big believer in all the glories of social media, I’m still suspicious of its undeniable “Big Brother” characteristics. Let’s face it: Nothing whispered into the black hole of the World Wide Web is sacred–not from employers, law officials, parents, children, spouses … you name it. Sometimes I’m inclined to loathe this connectivity and its inherent invasion of privacy. I even went so far as to abstain from Facebook (until last month, that is)–an act that is considered to be the ultimate form of social suicide by my peers.

But, as someone who also values transparency above all else in relationships (professional and otherwise), the continued solidification of this Big Brotherhood does have at least one benefit: Universal transparency will be a reality in the not-so-distant future, and not necessarily because of the noble work of honest leaders. Rather, it will be the result of cyberspace’s boundless memory, and its ability to recall the past with the click of a mouse

This communications-without-borders construct has already uncovered so many indiscretions that would have otherwise slipped under the radar (hooray), but it is also increasingly replacing face-to-face communications for situations as delicate as, say, announcing layoffs (boo). Is there a need for a line to be drawn as to when Web communications becomes inappropriate, or do certain instances just seem inappropriate now because they’re not yet the norm? (I can’t say I remember, but I’m willing to guess that e-mail had its fair share of critics in the early days). Just thoughts on this Thursday afternoon…

By Courtney Barnes

Redefining ‘Innovation’

Economist correspondent Vijay Vaitheeswaran is currently speaking at the Arthur Page Society Spring Meeting on the topic of “Sustaining Value in a Drastically Altered Economy,” and he is proposing an interesting take on a buzzword that has become jaded  from overuse: Innovation. He argues that, while “the only way through today’s perfect storm is innovation,” the word is profoundly misinterpreted and misused.

“I do have a problem with the word innovation,” he says, “because it means all things to all people, which makes it mean nothing at all.” His theory: Innovation is inaccurately tied to invention, which no longer aptly defines it.

“Innovation is not invention,” he says. “Increasingly, invention and technology are a less important part of the innovation process. Much more important, and what’s often lost, is the connection with value creation, which differentiates the two.”

It’s a good conversation for communications executives to consider. After all, aren’t they the key drivers of innovation within organizations?

By Courtney Barnes

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