Ben & Jerry’s ‘Lin-Sanity’ Flavor Leaves Bad Taste

Jeremy Lin’s hoop success not only brought questions about how players of different ethnicity, experience and education are judged in the NBA, but also questions of political correctness and racial sensitivity—or insensitivity—off the court.

Witness the latest controversy involving Lin: Ben & Jerry’s Boston Scoop Shops creation of a limited-edition “Taste the Lin-Sanity” flavor that was offered in its Harvard Square store. The recipe included pieces of fortune cookies, which has rubbed some people the wrong way.

It’s obvious that Ben & Jerry’s didn’t heed the Asian American Journalists Association’s guidelines on reporting about Lin released last week that specifically outline danger zones, including references to food: “Is there a compelling reason to draw a connection between Lin and fortune cookies, takeout boxes or similar imagery? In the majority of news coverage, the answer will be no.” Then again, Ben & Jerry’s is not a media outlet, it’s a corporation looking to sell some ice cream—and create a bit of fun—around a famous local alumnus.

To the company’s credit, it did issue an apology, replaced the fortune cookies with bits of waffles and sold out their supply of the flavor over the weekend. Along with the “chink in the armor” references by two journalists earlier, this latest gaffe shows one thing: Anyone who’s looking to capitalize on the Lin phenomenon—journalist or not—should give a little thought to what they are communicating—or putting in a recipe. Fortune cookie? C’mon.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01

Innovation Is Overrated

We asked a simple question on the PR News Facebook page this week: “What words are overused in press releases?”

“Innovative” popped up the most among the responses. Did your eyes glaze over when you read that? That’s the effect “innovative” has on the reader. It’s as meaningless as the phrase “new and improved.”

Like “cutting edge,” “state of the art,” “utilize” and “unique” (all which were also mentioned by the Facebook commenters), “innovative” is one of those words used by PR pros—and journalists—to describe something they probably haven’t quite grasped. To write with any authenticity, you have to understand, to some degree, what it is you’re writing about. You have to spend some real time with the product or service so that what you’re putting down in words has some meaning for someone who matters to you.

Perhaps Twitter and its 140-character limitation will drive home the beauty of the Strunk and White dictum “omit needless words.” But once you’ve omitted the needless words, have you got anything left of real value to say in a press release, Facebook post or, for that matter, tweet? You may find that you don’t—in which case you’ve got to steep yourself in the subject at hand. That’s not much of an innovative approach, but it’ll help you avoid having to resort to “groundbreaking” and “We’re thrilled.”

—Steve Goldstein (@SGoldsteinAI)

 

Demos Lead Republicans in the ‘Worst PR Spellers’ Race

While there are several months to go before we find out if a Republican can unseat the incumbent in the White House, right now, the Democrats lead the Republicans in “worst PR spellers” race. A couple of weeks ago, someone from Rick Santorum’s staff misspelled a town in the state of Minnesota in a press release about Santorum’s schedule. It’s “Bemidji,” not “Bimidii” as it was written in the release.

Democrats wouldn’t be outdone. In a press release issued yesterday on Vice President Joe Biden’s travel schedule, Rhode Island was spelled “Road” Island. For spelling gaffes, this one takes the cake. I can only imagine what happened: some intern didn’t have those state capital flash cards as a kid. But who knows, it might have been a communicator with 10 years of experience.

Regardless, the error has drawn plenty of media coverage and lots of snarky comments online from those who think Joe Biden was never qualified to be the VP in the first place. In fact, the gaffe even has its own name, “Biden Blooper.”

What interests me is that the term “spell check” was used in several of the articles—as in spell check wouldn’t catch the error because “road” is a real word. As if that could be a valid excuse for the mistake. What did happen is someone who didn’t know the correct spelling of one of the 50 states was allowed to write a press release about the Vice President of the United States. Then, nobody proofed the release. As an experiment, last night I asked my 7-year-old how to spell Rhode Island, and you know what? He spelled it “R-O-A-D.”

Now where are those flash cards?

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01

 

 

Controversies Do Little to Dent Apple and Google’s Reputation Armor

Are Apple and Google’s reputations bulletproof? Both tech behemoths have been under fire recently, with the computer maker under the gun about working conditions at their suppliers’ plants in China, and Google taking shots today about planting a code on millions of iPhones that lets them track user behavior.

For Google, the latest privacy dust-up is just one in a long line of controversies both in the U.S. and abroad.  This time the company appears to be caught red-handed doing something they shouldn’t have. But their response to The Wall Street Journal article that broke the news was anything but contrite: “The Journal mischaracterizes what happened and why,” said statement from Rachel Whetstone, Google senior VP for communications and public policy. “We used known Safari functionality to provide features that signed-in Google users had enabled. It’s important to stress that these advertising cookies do not collect personal information.”

Google did admit that some advertising cookies were placed on people’s Safari browsers without their consent. “We didn’t anticipate that this would happen, and we have now started removing these advertising cookies from Safari browsers,” stated Whetstone.

Meanwhile, Apple seems to be weathering the storm caused by a Jan. 25 article in The New York Times chronicling poor and dangerous working conditions at Foxconn plants in China. In response, Apple asked the Fair Labor Association to conduct audits of several of its supplier’s facilities. That investigation is ongoing. “We believe that workers everywhere have the right to a safe and fair work environment, which is why we’ve asked the FLA to independently assess the performance of our largest suppliers,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook.

At the same time, Harris Interactive’s brand reputation rankings have come out, with Apple this year supplanting 2011 top dog Google as the No. 1 most reputable brand. While the study predates the current controversies, to the 17,000 U.S. adult respondents to the Harris poll, would working conditions in China and Web privacy issues have swayed their opinions? I say not, as Google and Apple seem to be riding a impenetrable reputation wave.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01

If You’re Not on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn Do You Exist?

We are a divided nation, and I’m not referring to the upcoming presidential election or whether you’re a fan of Downton Abbey.  Rather, we are divided on the relevancy of our online persona.  If you are a hiring manager and a job candidate is nicely set up with a Linkedin account with more than one connection, a Facebook page and a Twitter account with some recent and semi-Kosher tweets, how do you view that candidate? Do you think, “pheew, glad she’s normal”? And if she’s on Pinterest, Google+ and has a Klout score above 30 — well, she’s hired! If  a candidate is nowhere to be found online, do you wonder “is he weird, how can he not have a Linkedin account, at least”?

If you’re out there looking for a job, is it now as important to be active on social media as it is to have a college degree? The answer, of course, depends on your profession. Let’s assume you work in a field where most of your colleagues are on social media daily. Not only are you expected to engage online at some level, but you’d probably hold it against a candidate if she’s not part of the social media community in some way. This is unfortunate, but it is the way things are progressing or regressing, depending on your viewpoint.

And what about you? What if you hate social media,  don’t want to have anything to do with it? You might still have a Twitter account, but your profile photo is still of that default egg; your Facebook account is sleeping, and you have five dubious connections on LinkedIn.  Well….I would submit that you are stifling your career prospects (in terms of visibility and ability to network), impairing your personal brand and in some cases your employer’s brand.  That said, we do things every day that can have a positive or negative impact on our professional life and our company’s success, and it has nothing at all to do with social media.  Nothing at all.  So while tweeting, liking, pinning and posting are healthy daytime exercises, the heavy lifting is really in the actual job you were hired to do.

What’s your viewpoint on this?

– Diane Schwartz

On Twitter: dianeschwartz

 

 

 

 

Syria-Time to Move From Awareness to Action

Unfortunately, at present there is no better case for the use of video to generate awareness than what is happening right now in Syria. As the international community debates on what action to take to quell the death and destruction ravaging the country,  it’s video posted on YouTube and picked up by major news organizations that is giving the world an unflinching view of the violence.

Because Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has barred the media from covering the uprising, the Syrian people have used their own video cameras and phones to document the blood now flowing in their country, and YouTube is the delivery vehicle of choice, with thousands of videos posted there on the Syrian violence.

Now that the videos have helped gain the awareness of the public, there’s now a dilemma that most communicators face when using social media: turning that awareness into some kind of action.

With Russia and China blocking a United Nations Security Council resolution that would have called for Assad to step down, and the U.S. calling for al-Assad’s resignation—while the number of injured and dead rises—the stakes high. Now it’s up to the politicians to try to stop the killing. We’re all aware of the problem. It’s time to get to the action stage.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01

Thought Leader or Action Hero: Which Do You Prefer?

It was a Eureka moment for me the other day when I was chatting with a long-time communications and branding consultant who expressed annoyance at the term “thought leadership.”  Given that I use that term quite often during the day and sometimes at home (though my kids don’t know what I’m talking about so I’m no thought leader to them), I had to think about what he was really saying.  Which was: let’s stop thinking and start doing.  Thought leadership is surely important at every stage of the game. But we need leadership on the action front,  not just the thinking front.  Are we limiting ourselves and our definitions of our peers by just calling them “thought leaders”?

You, indeed, may be a “thought leader” – dispensing intelligence and ideas to your peers and direct reports – and that’s OK. But how do you take “thought leadership” to the next, necessary level: to getting it done and doing it well?  “Action Leadership” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, though I do like “Action Hero”.   You get my point.  So, next time you refer to someone as a “thought leader,” think to yourself – is he full of thoughts, full of action or full of sh*t….

Diane Schwartz

Finishing, The Manning Way

By now you are either bleeding blue with glee that the NY Giants won the Super Bowl or you are on Gisele’s case for dissing husband Tom Brady’s teammates. Either way, you have to agree that Eli Manning is a class act. His press conference on Sunday immediately following the game was a media trainer’s dream come true. So on message was Eli that you would actually think he has a media trainer.  He deflected praise from him onto his team, using the word “we”  and avoiding the “I.”  During his speech at the Feb 7 victory parade in Manhattan, Manning used the word “finish” multiple times – as in, “we finished the season” and “we finished the game” ahead of the rest.  Recall your childhood days when your parents said “finish what you started.” Or, “finish your homework.” Or, “finish your sentence.”  So often we stop half-way through something and give up, or we redefine what “finish” means.  We may finish, but we’ve moved the finishing line. Or at least I do this sometimes.  The finishing line for Manning was the Super Bowl trophy. Nothing short of that would have been a good enough finish.  What is your “super bowl finish” for your next project or endeavor?

- Diane Schwartz

@dianeschwartz

 

Golfer Mickelson Takes a PR Gamble

With apologies to my bevy of female readers, golf has long been called the “gentleman’s game,” but probably lost that moniker when Tiger Woods hit that tree in his SUV back in 2009.

We learned this week that the gentleman’s game has taken another hit, as golf superstar Phil Mickelson filed—and won—a lawsuit against an Internet service provider in Canada to reveal the identity of a person who has been posting scandalous statements about Mickelson and his wife on Yahoo! message boards. They include posts that claim the golfer has an illegitimate child and that his wife has had affairs.

Mickelson’s predicament should be familiar to PR pros who have come up against scurrilous online posts about their brands. Do you ignore them and hope the chatter dies down, or do you take proactive steps to stop the bleeding? Both strategies have risks.

Mickelson’s lawyer says the service provider has 10 days to provide the full identity of “fogroller.” Time will tell if taking this person to court will cause more negative attention to Mickelson than he ever bargained for. In any case, the move could turn out to be a test case for brands hesitant to take action on social posts. Will it be a hole in one for communicators, or a bogey?

–Scott Van Camp

Madonna is Nervous About Her Super Bowl Gig: Let’s Help Her Out!

She may strike a pose like no other, but Madonna is a nervous wreck about her half-time show during Sunday’s Super Bowl. In interview after interview this past week, she’s mentioned how “nervous” she is. You might be thinking, “poor Madonna.” Or “yeah, right.” Or, “who cares?”  Well,  I think that the very smart communicators who read the PR News blog should be offering some advice to the Queen of Pop.

If your client or senior executive were to express nervousness over an upcoming speaking gig, what would you advise? Granted, Madonna’s performance will be broadcast live before 100 million+ people worldwide, but it’s the quality of the audience not the quantity that matters. So your client speaking in front of 225 accountants at the Chicago Hilton just might be as important.  And unlike the Super Bowl audience, your audience would  not be semi-comatose after binging on hot wings and Budweiser. So, what’s your advice to Madonna, who has the jitters and is known to have panic attacks prior to performing?

I  might digress for a second to note that Madonna’s messaging the week before Super Bowl is outstanding PR – by saying she’s nervous, she’s taking some of the pressure off herself and lowering the bar of expectations.  She has even “mollifed” audiences worldwide by assuring them there won’t be a wardrobe malfunction a la Janet Jackson.  She clearly likes the word “nervous” in media interviews, invoking the same adjective when discussing her directorial debut of the movie “W.E.”

There’s a lot of advice out there on how to avoid stage fright, including from Elton John, who has recommended that Madonna just lip-synch for the big event.  This is where our professions diverge – imagine advising your senior executive to lip-synch her speech…..

Let’s help out Madonna.

- Diane Schwartz

On Twitter: @dianeschwartz

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