As BP tries to plug the oil leaks 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, I’m thinking about those cameras that are trained on the broken pipes and gushing crude—and the millions of people who have viewed the live video feed. We all know about the increasing use of video as a PR tool, but clearly this isn’t what BP had in mind for successfully leveraging the platform. This has got to be the most significant video in PR history, easily eclipsing “United Breaks Guitars” and the “Domino’s Pizza” video in the stakes involved. Here’s to hope that either BP or the U.S. government can turn off the flow—and then the cameras—as soon as possible.
–Scott Van Camp
There’s that word again. This week Google’s Sergey Brin came clean about his company’s collection of personal data through the scanning of wireless networks. And he had this to say: “Trust is very important to us. We’re going to do everything we can to preserve that trust.” I think Brin said “trust” twice because Google really doesn’t want to be caught up in a European Union investigation—but then, I’m jaded. If Brin is serious about trust, he should start watching reruns of Law & Order (the last new show airs Monday). Now there’s a brand we can trust. The shows were predictable (and sometimes preposterous), yet consumers never felt ripped off. And creator Dick Wolf and the show’s producers fostered great employee relations. Writers of a tribute article in today’s Wall Street Journal could only find one person willing to speak negatively about the show—and he was complaining about shooting scenes in the cold. So Sergey, tune your 3-D flat screen to TBS and learn what brand trust is all about. Me? I can’t wait for the L&O Channel.
By the way, look for the results of our Public Affairs in a Connected Age survey in the next issue (05/24/10) of PR News. The findings will be further discussed at the PR News Public Affairs Conference, set for Tuesday, May 25 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
–Scott Van Camp
You might have heard that Novartis was hit with a $253.3 million judgment this week in a discrimination suit filed by 12 former female sales reps who claimed they were discriminated against, harassed and turned down for promotions. The sexist activities go back to 2002 and while the suit was won by 12 women, there are 5,600 other female employees of the US subsidiary who have time to file their claims.
You might have also heard that Novartis was named last year by Working Mother magazine as one of the 100 Best Companies For Working Mothers. You can read about it on Working Mother’s site or on Novartis’ home page, top of the fold.
Hmmmm. Is there a disconnect here? On the one hand, companies (and people) win awards all the time and then skeletons come falling out of the closet. There is only so much due diligence awards juries can undertake. But this particular juxtaposition is unfortunate, in which we have a women’s interest magazine awarding a company that for more than 7 years has been paying the saleswomen less than their male counterparts, male managers were accusing many of the women of lying about doctors’ appointments and they were repeatedly overlooked for promotions.
In Novartis’ defense, if given the award by Working Mother it’s unlikely one would advise the company to turn it down and come clean about its treatment to at least one sector of female employees (the sales force). Or should it have turned it down, knowing that the lawsuit was active?
It also appears that Novartis’ management training program could also use some fine-tuning.
During the trial in Manhattan District Court this week, Richard Schnadig, Novartis’ attorney, conceded that one of the male managers should have been fired sooner than the two years after the lawsuit was filed. He was fired in 2004; the lawsuit was filed in 2002. That said, Schnadig did defend this ex-employee to the jury by noting: “He wasn’t that bad a manager. He was just terrible with women.” Now, that’s a sound bite the media can’t make up.
- Diane Schwartz
Another example of the power of social media has cropped up, this time moms blaming the iconic diaper brand Pampers for giving their kids rashes. The moms have started a Facebook page that has gained traction in recent days (more than 7,000 fans) and the controversy has attracted the attention of product-safety regulators in the U.S. and Canada. Once again, just like Domino’s Pizza, a big brand is taking a hit online, leaving Procter & Gamble red in the … well, you know. But P&G isn’t taking this lying down: an “internal” memo (now public, of course) criticizes the Facebook campaign and has the moms even more irritated. The company is reaching out to key mommy bloggers as well. P&G seems determined to reverse what it says are false claims against its product. Will going on the offense work, or will it just fan the flames even more?
–Scott Van Camp
Is it a coincidence that as our nation tries to figure out who is responsible for the oil spill in the Gulf and what caused the Dow to dive 1,000 points last week that octogenarian Betty White hosts Saturday Night Live on May 8 and gets stellar ratings, to boot? I don’t have an answer for the oil spill, though the execs at BP and the associated companies are passing the blame, not apologizing and doing all the things that a very bad PR counselor would tell you to do during a crisis.
And I don’t have an answer for the Wall Street stock slide and it’s interesting that there really is no spokesperson on this issue since no one is taking accountability for that either. But I do have an answer for the Betty White phenomenon.
People need to feel collectively good about something, especially when the economy is in the dumps, terrorists are buying fireworks at the local store, and oil is spilling onto our shores. They want to cheer on people they can trust. They want to trust people who they can cheer on (exit Tiger Woods). Betty White has 526,000 Facebook fans. BP has 561 fans on Facebook. That said, Tiger Woods still has over 1.4 million fans, which shows that we also like a good comeback story. That story hasn’t materialized yet, but if Betty White were to endorse Tiger Woods….
This morning I attended a New York Chapter PRSA event on “Developing Your Social Media Policy,” and the presenters were excellent. Alayna Francis, VP at reinsurance company Swiss Re, discussed her four-year (and counting) odyssey to ramp up social media efforts in that highly regulated industry. Her social media policy plan is in the global review stage, and I had to admire her determination to push the initiative through—despite the fact that IT refuses to allow social media platforms on Swiss Re’s work computers. Taylor Morris, the American Heart Association‘s regional director of digital communications and new media, described the balancing act of being the “enforcer” of the social media activities of local chapters vs. allowing for some experimentation (she tends toward the latter). One hot-button issue brought up in the Q&A: the blurring of personal and professional Facebook pages and the potential for crises. Example: An employee gets laid off, gets mad and says so on their personal Facebook page to numerous friends, some of whom are business related. Steve Halsey, event moderator and VP of digital media at Gibbs and Soell PR, said that’s why he’s “all business” in his own social media outreach. I’m curious if your organization has experienced problems with this potential powder keg, and if you’ve found some good solutions.
–Scott Van Camp
Denis Leary made a special appearance last week at an awards luncheon hosted by PR News’ sister brand CableFAX. He took a break from shooting the upcoming season’s Rescue Me to show up at the Grand Hyatt in NYC to say a few kind words about John Solberg, senior vp of PR at FX, the network for Leary’s show. It was a surprise (and unpaid) visit by Leary– and Solberg appeared floored not only by Leary’s presence but by his remarks about how important Solberg has been to his show, and “if John tells me I need to be somewhere, I go there.” What a testament to the power of the PR counselor. Oh, and John won the CableFAX award for PR Executive of the Year. Well-deserved, John.