By Scott Van Camp
I was just reading some of the “PR Blunders of 2009” articles, and the usual suspects are included: Dominoes/YouTube, United Airlines/guitars, and Air Force One/NYC flyover among them.
There’s one incident this year that has intrigued me but is somehow overlooked: the Eggo waffle shortage, which has affected millions of frozen breakfast fans around the nation, including my kids. Every time I come back home from the store I get grilled about them: “Did you find the mini-waffles—did ya? did ya?” I then have to explain for the twentieth time that a big flood knocked out an Eggo plant in Atlanta, and now they can’t make as many waffles. What I don’t say is that the plant was closed due to a bacteria problem just before the flood situation and was being cleaned up. Kellogg, which owns Eggo, never really owned up to the bacteria part of the story, insisting that the flooding was responsible for the closure, even though the contamination was confirmed by the Georgia Department of Agriculture.
When the story broke it drew lots of attention online, as Eggo fans wondered how they would cope with the shortage. But there wasn’t much talk of Kellogg sweeping the bacteria under the rug (so to speak). We all know how damaging food contamination stories can be to a brand, but in this case, I believe Kellogg and Eggo got a pass. By the way, this weekend I’m making my favorite breakfast: fresh waffles. The kids can have cereal.
What is your pick for PR Blunder (or pass) of the Year?
I’d like to introduce myself: I’m Scott Van Camp, the new editor of PR News. I’m going to be posting regularly on this blog so I thought I’d give you a brief bio. I have both agency and corporate communications experience and also have more than 15 years of experience as a journalist, writing for trade pubs that include Adweek, Brandweek and Technology Marketing. So I’ve been on both sides of the fence and I’m excited to be able to cover the important issues In PR News.
Since I’m a news junkie, I love when current affairs and PR intersect. And with the Copenhagen Climate Conference well underway, it got me thinking about global warming and a perceived lack of enthusiasm of the public at this point to care much about it. A poll last month found that the percentage of Americans who believe in the dangers of global warming is dipping. Another survey taken this month reveals that 46% of those quizzed did not believe mankind was largely responsible for the global temperature rise.
That’s bad news for proponents of tough global warming measures. The dip could have something to do with the release of e-mails of top pro-global warming scientists that allude to deleting or covering up data that doesn’t jibe with their own findings and views. Or, it could be people are worried about other things, like jobs and the economy. Yesterday’s appearance of Zimbabwe strongman Robert Mugabe certainly didn’t help the event’s cred. In any case, the manmade global warming camp could use some heat from PR.
Do you think the global warming is now a back-burner issue with the public?
Mid-December is a period of looking back and forth. We are flooded with “year in review” stories and reminders of what went right and wrong this year – and this decade. From a Web 2.0 perspective, Google continues to grab the headlines as the tour de force for just about every person with a computer, and soon, a phone (as it plans to launch an alternative to Apple’s iphone). I stumbled upon a story on the Daily Beast titled “The Decade Google Made You Stupid” and was surprised not by the observation from Douglas Rushkoff that Google has changed our behaviors and that multitasking really doesn’t work (I’m in trouble).More suprising was what Rushkoff noted about Second Life and virtual realities.
Remember when we thought simulated realities was going to change PR? Companies were buying property on Second Life and then not really knowing what to do next. Second Life is still churning out the Linden Lab dollars and the military applications of simulated technology are profound.
Turns out, with virtual realities, we could be on to something big from a business perspective. According to researchers at Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, the experiences one has in a virtual world can be as real as the real world. In one experiement in which children were swimming with whales in a virtual reality enviornment, two weeks later half of them truly believed they swam with whales at Sea World. There are dozens of examples in which people in a simulated environment end up believing what they experienced in their minds truly occurred. Imagine the mind-control one could do with stakeholders: you bring them to your Second Life storefront where you tell them that your service is worth the switch from a competitor and lo and behold they become your customer in the real world. That crisis your company is having? Meet your constituents in a virtual world and show them what “you’re really about.” The implications for deal-making is what really piqued my interest. Meet up with a potential partner in a virtual world and your avatar is 5 inches taller online than in real life. During negotiations, you’re more likely to win on the big stuff (since the taller you are, apparently, the more leverage you have during negotations). As someone 5 foot 2 and a half in real life, I am liking this new reality.
Seriously, though, it’s worth keeping an eye on developments in the virtual reality space. But don’t get too caught up in it, as transparency can be a little suspect when you’re trolling in a Second Life or trying to operate in many different worlds. Just ask Tiger Woods, once he comes out of hiding.
An Employee Hates Her Job, Is Fired, Gets Fired Up on YouTube. You Can Bank on This Happening Again.
It’s not a good sign when an employee records a video in which she says: “There was something inherently evil about my job.” That’s what Jackie Ramos did after being fired from Bank of America. In the nine-minute YouTube video, which has been viewed over 104,000 times, she tells of how she stopped denying customers who didn’t qualify for the bank’s account modification program and helped them find a way to get into the program, against BoA’s rules. She did this out of “moral” judgment, she noted in the video, because she didn’t think it was fair to charge customers convenience fees or over the limit fees. Perhaps it’s not fair. Georgia-based Ramos uploaded the video two days after being terminated, and she joins others who’ve recorded bank-revolt type videos. This is freedom of speech, this is social media, this is to be expected by employers. Bank of America is not responding to the video – as well they shouldn’t. And for potential employers, go beyond the References Sheet and google your job candidates and search them on YouTube. You may be surprised. One shouldn’t work in a job they hate and that keeps them up at night. Whether they should record a vitriolic video is up to them. Likewise, an organization should be mindful of their business practices and the effect it has on employees, some of whom are not trained in the intricacies of their position and reflexively generalize their position. For example, Ramos, in the video noted that being a Customer Assistant was a euphemism for the Collections Department. HR? Employee Communications? We need your help!