Dell No Longer the ‘Model’ Company

Once again, e-mails and unsealed court documents are coming back to bite a company—this time Dell. Once widely admired for its “direct-to-consumer” model, Dell’s reputation has been going steadily downhill for several years, thanks to bad accounting, bad business strategies, bad customer service and as we now have learned, products with problems that the company tried to sweep under the rug.  Bad PR appears to be an integral component of the cover up. Computers that have the potential to catch on fire are never a good thing, yet a PR strategy was set that denied there was a safety problem. Already some pundits are asking if Dell’s reputation is going the way of Toyota or BP—what do you think?

–Scott Van Camp

Is Knowing How to Rite Importent Anymoor?

In the past few months at industry conferences, the topic of good writing skills among PR professionals has stirred heated discussion, much like a support group for the grammatically superior.  Everyone agrees that communicators need to know how to write well, communicate a message, and get the intended action/response from that communication.  But are we walking the talk?

Whether it’s a press release, an internal memo, an email to a reporter, a white paper or, dare I say, a tweet — the art of writing is one of the most important skills any businessperson can have.  We can blame our grade school teachers or our mother for not making us better writers, but let’s move on from that and start paying attention to how we write and demand better from our staff.  Especially with our staff on the loose with social media 24/7, without editors by their side, their writing skills shine a big fat spotlight on your brand and its image.

This particular post is not about “what we write” – it’s about grammar skills, proper word and punctuation usage, choice of words.  It can make the difference between a reporter responding to your email positivitely or sending that email to his friends snickering about the message. To wit:  a colleague sent me an email from a PR professional that said: “I hope your doing well.  Would u be interested in talking to our CEO about an amazing, new servce we just launched.” There is so much wrong with that opening paragraph and unfortunately for this company and its product launch, this story is unlikely to get covered by journalists who take writing pretty seriously and connote poor writing skills (perhaps unfairly) to lower intelligence.

If you are a hiring manager, what do you do when you get a cover letter and resume riddled with spelling errors and typos but the candidate’s experience looks great? Do you bring that person in and overlook the sloppy writing? I’ve asked some PR colleagues this questions and the majority (7 out of 10) said they would still bring the candidate in for an interview, overlooking the first-impression communique, because the candidate’s experience fits the job opening.  And we wonder why we have so many communicators who can’t write.  Let me know what you think — are you surrounded by great writers, mediocre ones, or those who need to repeat fourth grade?

- Diane

The Good Soldier?

Having for some time seen Gen. Stanley McChrystal in TV profiles and read several of his print interviews, it came as somewhat of a shock to read his quotes (and those of his top aides) from the new issue of Rolling Stone. McChrystal’s image has been that of an extremely disciplined leader devoted to serving his country, but somehow the discipline part took a short vacation when Rolling Stone’s Michael Hastings showed up on the scene. Now he’s “The Runaway General,” (the article’s title) and portrayed as an outsider who didn’t mix well with the Obama administration. The civilian press officer responsible for the interview has (not surprisingly) resigned, but what happens to McChrystal when he talks to his boss today? Was his gaffe a true representation of himself, or simply one of the symptoms of “the fog of war”?

–Scott Van Camp

Agency Exec Takes Aim At BP

I just spoke to Karen Hinton, president of Hinton Communications, about BP’s response to the catastrophic oil leak in the Gulf. Hinton’s perspective on the crisis is unique, as she has battled Chevron for years on behalf of environmental groups regarding that company’s oil drilling practices in the Ecuadorian rainforest. You may remember the 60 Minutes story called “Amazon Crude” that depicted the rainforest’s destruction and its impact on the people there. You can read Hinton’s quotes on BP’s response to the crisis in my article on our site. When I asked her what could be learned, Hinton had this to say: “Any public relations firm or lobbying firm representing an oil company today should tell their clients, first and foremost, to identify internal problems now and fix them. Don’t wait on the government to tell the industry what to do.” Hinton, no doubt, will have more to say on the topic as a panelist at the PR News Media Relations Conference on June 17 in Washington D.C.

–Scott Van Camp

The White Shirts Experiment: What You’re Missing

As you read this, most likely you are thinking about something else, tottering between this page and your email box and wondering what you’re going to eat for your next meal.  I am doing the same, truth be told. It’s hard to concentrate on one thing these days, right? And we have a tendency to think our intuition will take us far and wide. That our intelligence will allow us to deal with the many stimuli surrounding us every minute.  When you’re in a meeting with very important people – be it clients, C-suite folks, customers, your parents or kids – you are able to ascertain the mood in the room and who’s saying and doing what. When there’s a crisis, you see most sides of it, and based on your crisis management training and PR savvy you’ll know how to respond, true? You’re in a room full of journalists and you have identified every key influencer in the room – you won’t miss a beat.

Well, you might answer “yes” or you might answer “sometimes” to the scenarios above, but one thing is true: you can’t always trust your intuition.  You are missing lots of things around you.

At a conference I’m attending this week, keynote speaker Joseph Kayne of the Imagine It! project shared with attendees of the Specialized Information Publishers Association a video.  This video features one of the most famous tests in psychology, conducted at Harvard University by Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris.

If you are unaware of this video, please watch it now and then come back to this blog page.  (If you’ve seen it, scroll down to the last two paragraphs of this blog.) The challenge is to count the number of times the people in the white shirts pass the ball to each other. That’s all you have to do:

View the Video Now

Did you notice the gorilla walking across the room? At least half of the people who view this do not notice the gorilla.

The White Shirts Experiment is fascinating and enlightening.  So next time you’re at that cocktail party or in a meeting with key influencers, be on the lookout for the big, hairy, sometimes invisible 800-pound gorilla.

– Diane Schwartz

How Relevant is the Media?

In hearing that both sides in the Israeli raid on the flotilla headed to Gaza had video cameras at ready to record the action just strengthens my belief that the importance of mainstream media is becoming dwarfed by the action of taking one’s case directly to the people. Today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted a statement about the incident and a newly edited video of the incident (complete with interviews and music) on his Facebook page (31,260 fans). Who knows if any of these grainy videos can actually get to the truth of the matter. The point is, given the potency and immediacy of social media platforms, the traditi0nal media has less to do with the shaping of public opinion than ever before. Do you agree? I’m hoping to get opinions on this topic from PR executives and members of the media at the PR News Media Relations Forum on June 17. I’ll let you know what I find out.

–Scott Van Camp

PR/Legal Divide Widens With Social Media

If you want to get some chuckles out of a group of PR professionals, mention the concept of the Legal and PR departments working seamlessly to co-manage reputation. Attorney-communicator relations is not at a low point; rather it’s really at a “no point.”  Surely there are exceptions to the rule, as Legal and PR share the boardroom or war room during a crisis or merger/acquisition.  Social media and all the good and bad that come with it should be forcing PR and Legal to partner.

At a few PR and public affairs conferences I’ve attended recently, communicators/panelists have lamented about having to run blog responses through Legal before they can be posted; they’ve complained about the lack of a social media policy within their organization due to “it being tied up in Legal.”  And with customers being able to vent their every annoyance online (Yelp, Facebook, YouTube, Gowalla etc), the lines between Customer Service and PR are clearly blurring.

A New York Times article raises another legal issue that I bet most PR practitioners are unaware of — the SLAPP ruling, also known as the strategic lawsuit against public participation. This means that, in some U.S. jurisdictions, consumers can be sued for defamation by saying something bad about your organization.  The June 1 NYT article profiles a man from Kalamazoo, MI, who vented online about the fee he had to pay T&J towing and now has more than 12,550 fans on his Facebook page, Kalamazoo Residents Against T&J Towing. T&J is suing him for defamation to the tune of $750,000.  The amount of publicity this towing company has gotten for suing this one irate customer and landing on the front page of the New York Times is priceless – in a bad way.  I’m guessing T&J doesn’t have a PR counselor to advise it on public relations and counted on its attorney to suggest and file the lawsuit – and to serve as its spokesperson.  Critics can certainly harm a company’s reputation, but any PR person worth his/her salt knows that critics need to be embraced. They are influencers as much as your fans are, and to sue them for complaining or venting will get you nowhere in the court of public opinion.

Diane Schwartz

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