6 Tips for Selling a Skeptic on Your Brand and Driving Customers Your Way, not Away

Depending on your passions and personality, buying a car is either like death and taxes or it’s like vacations and massages. It’s either unavoidable or a much-anticipated joy.  I tend to fall into the former category where I dread the activity of buying a car, not because the car itself is a problem but the experience of buying one is painful.  Over the past few weeks, it’s been an anthropological journey assessing the many salesmen who’ve pitched me the benefits of their brand and failed miserably. So, in the spirit of helpfulness yet recognizing that Mike, Spencer and John (three salesmen from Acura, Jeep and Toyota) will not be reading this PR News Blog, I put forth some ideas for selling me a car the next time I drop by, and I wager that as a communications pro you’ll detect the relevance with your own brand marketing and evangelism efforts.  Here are six tips for selling your brand to a time-strapped, money-conscious, brand-knowledgeable skeptic:

  1. When asked why I would buy a Toyota over a Honda, do not say “Because Toyotas are just better.”  Give me the competitive facts but read me correctly; the fuel system and transaxle are less important to someone like me than safety and smoothness of drive.  (My husband cares even less about what’s under the hood and chassis than I do.)
  2. When asked for a test drive, do not assume the husband, rather than the wife, is the one to hand the keys to. Similar to when you’re in a restaurant and the waiter hands the check to the man. What year are we in?  (Check research on the gender most likely to buy cars and other big-ticket items.)
  3. The customer’s always right (especially about subjective items). Do not try to convince me that I want the sage green car when I am asking for midnight blue.  Cater to my preferences, even compliment my color choice.
  4. Don’t let a prospect walk out the door without getting her name.  If I’ve walked into your shop and committed time to the process, always find out my name and contact info so you can follow up. It might be annoying to customers (like me), but it’s probably more annoying to Management that you might have let a good one get away.
  5. Tell me the real price of the vehicle, not a price so low that sticker shock will set in minutes before the contract is (not) signed.  Transparency is always appreciated and might even sway me to spend a little more.
  6. Don’t assume your brand will sell itself.  I went into the process thinking Toyota, but my family and I were so turned off by the salesmanship at two Toyota dealerships that we lost interest. We not only fell in love with a particular Honda vehicle, but we had a great experience with the salesman and will recommend the Honda dealership to our friends and family.

You know this, but as a communicator it’s sometimes hard to control: It often comes down to the quality of the people who are in front of your customers and prospects everyday – whether in person,  on the phone or via email.  Don’t assume they know how to sell, or that your product sells itself.  Those days are over.

– Diane Schwartz

Follow me on Twitter: @dianeschwartz




A PR Homage to The Hunger Games

If 24 PR executives were sent every year to the Arena to battle it out, would you watch? Would you be one of the “tributes” or better yet (worse yet?), would you volunteer to be a tribute to save your colleague from near-imminent death? No need to answer that, for thankfully such a dystopian future is fictional, popcorn-chomping fare.

But if you can hack into the buzz of the day, which right now is The Hunger Games, and consider how this story applies to you, then what might cross your mind? Perhaps it’s on the real world of Public Relations and fighting the daily battle to preserve reputation, break through the clutter, launch or wrap up a campaign, boost employee morale, drive more sales and measure your success (and failures).  Likely you’re not starving for action items.  If you are among the millions of people who paid to see The Hunger Games over the weekend, then you know this movie “has something for everyone” – that everyday you are playing a game of survival, dealing with decisions and authorities beyond your control. You form alliances and pick your battles.  You might get stabbed in the back; you might be rescued by an unlikely competitor. You might even find yourself handing over your last piece of proverbial bread to your teammate.

Your best weapon is your intelligence, but a little perspiration doesn’t hurt.

The mantra running through The Hunger Games is “May the odds be ever in your favor.”  To stay ahead in the game you know, however, that luck favors the prepared. So be prepared to, um, talk about the Hunger Games with your peers until the next blockbuster movie hits the big screen.

- Diane Schwartz

On Twitter: @dianeschwartz


A Cool Head in a Sea of Angry Customers

We’ve all had to deal with angry customers. Disappointed clients, infuriated readers, resentful consumers—whatever your line of work, there’s somebody who’s not happy with what they bought from you.

If you’re a communicator working for a consumer brand, no matter how good your product is, no matter how accurately it’s been promoted, no matter how responsible a corporate citizen your brand is, somebody somewhere is angry at your company. If you’re at an agency, you’ve got a client right now who feels that what’s been paid for hasn’t been delivered.

The same holds for personal relations—somebody you’re related to or a friend you’ve known for years is holding a grudge because of something you said or did or didn’t do.

The question is, how do you handle the anger? Figuring out how to hear, absorb and respond to someone else’s anger is part of the job of being a professional in any line of work. And if you’re a PR practitioner, being able to deal with a customer’s anger in e-mails, on social networks, on the phone and in person can make your career.

I’m not a psychologist and can’t pretend to offer tips on how to handle an absolutely red-hot customer on Facebook, beyond trying to take the conversation offline. One way or another, though, you have to meet that person’s anger head-on. Most people avoid confrontation—that’s a basic fact. But if you can specialize in dealing directly with your company’s angriest customers or your agency’s most furious clients, you’ve got a calling card that’ll make you unique, valued and respected. Cool heads prevail—always.

—Steve Goldstein 

Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI

Goldman Sachs Director’s Exit Interview For All the World To See: Toxic and Cautionary

Greg Smith, executive director at Goldman Sachs, resigned today and he wants the world to know that the environment at the Goliath investment firm is “now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.”  The New York Times today is running Smith’s tirade against Goldman Sachs in the Op-Ed section under the headline “Why I am Leaving Goldman Sachs.” What a “get” for the New York Times, what a forum for Smith and what a HR and PR nightmare for Goldman Sachs.  Smith writes with a certain sadness that the firm he once loved is now devoid of culture and morals, a place where fast money is put above client need, where greed is baked into every morsel of client advice. This is just one employee complaining and this will blow over from “story of the day” to yesterday’s news, right? My prediction is it will have legs – that Smith was in a position of power and influence at Goldman Sachs and if the firm is savvy, it will address this op-ed with its employees, seek feedback from all ranks of the company, and listen more carefully to its clients, who are unlikely to pull their business but more likely now to ask questions.

We all know that if a company were to allow its employees to write an op-ed piece about their experience that might be viewed by say, more than 2 people, a certain percentage of these writings would not be positive musings about their former employer.  Imagine if once a week, the New York Times were to run a “Why I am Leaving (fill in blank of company name)” – would we run our businesses differently? Would we treat our employees and clients differently?  Would we listen more carefully and would we be able to look every customer and employee in the eye when we talk about our brand? Most likely we would.

Diane Schwartz


You Don’t Work Weekends — Or Do You?

It’s been noted that Monday through Friday is a typical work week in North America, with weekends freed up for everything but work. There are exceptions with the occasional business trip that bleeds into the weekend or a project that needs extra attention, but overall, we turn it off on Friday afternoon and rev our work engines again on Monday.

If you say “Ha!” to that, then you are right.  Social media has changed our work habits, and my question to you is whether FaceTweetPinGoogTubeSquare, otherwise known as the Social Web, has altered your work habits to the point where you find yourself tweeting work-related items on a Friday night, reading industry-related blogs on a Saturday night, pondering which business videos to post on YouTube during your Sunday morning walk, noticing that the majority of your Facebook friends are work-related,  and not knowing whether to use Pinterest for work or play.  We are indeed tangled in this Web where work and play get knotted up, and finding a balance between the two can be a second job. But keep up the good fight, because taking real breaks from your job benefits you, your employer and your customers/clients. But I will submit that if you never think about work during the weekend, never take a peek at what’s going on in your work Web, then you might want to think about what makes you passionate.  Those passionate about their work cannot totally disconnect just because the calendar says it’s Saturday….imho.

Diane Schwartz

On Twitter: @dianeschwartz


PR Pros Lie? Say It Isn’t So

A blog post by a writer at the U.K.’s Guardian has fueled an ethics debate over the weekend that has reached across the pond to America. The post, provocatively titled “Have you ever been lied to by a PR?” was actually in response to another post by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations director Phil Morgan, who took some shots at PRs (PR practitioners) in the U.K.

This got a response from PRSA CEO Gerry Corbett, who wrote in a Guardian op-ed that while Morgan’s questioning of the ethics of PR pros is valid, lying occurs very rarely in the U.S. on the part of PR professionals.  Here’s part of what Corbett had to say in the op-ed:

“You can’t retain someone’s trust if you are continually lying. The PRSA code of ethics, which applies directly to PRSA’s 32,000 members, and more broadly as an ethical guide for PR professionals throughout the US, has established a set of guidelines that asserts one very clear point: truth, honesty and disclosure in all communications is paramount.”

Corbett’s article received a lot of comments from both the U.K. and the U.S. Some criticized Corbett’s “Pollyannish” view, others agreed with Corbett’s assessment but many said PR pros do lie—or at least bend the truth—on a regular basis.

Obviously this is a damaging perception problem for PR. So what can PR professionals proactively do to stem this criticism?

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01

Trying to Prove PR’s Value? All You Need Is an iPhone

A flight attendant went berserk on an American Airlines plane this morning as it taxied for takeoff in Dallas, and some of the action was broadcast on the Web. This got me thinking: Who got the first email or call at American when the story broke?

I think we all know the answer to that.

The tangible evidence that PR pros wish they had to justify their existence is right in their hands—at this very moment, most likely. It’s the mobile device—the iPhone, the iPad, the Droid. Everyone is a broadcaster—every company exists in a glass house. Some PR pros refer to measurement as the bane of their existence, as they struggle to prove to the bean counters that what they’re doing adds value to the bottom line.

But where will those bean counters turn when one of their own employees or top executives runs amok on a plane or in a restaurant or on Twitter? Who’s equipped to deal with the mess, get the story straight and start communicating? Not the engineering department, and not the marketing department either.

Running amok is not the semi-private act it used to be. All spaces are public spaces now, and all the world’s a YouTube stage.

—Steve Goldstein

On Twitter: @SGoldsteinAI

Saints Bounty: Consequences Loom, but Not For PR

Has the news that the New Orleans Saints had a “bounty” program—paying defensive players $1,500 for a “knockout” and $1,000 for a “cart-off” of offensive opponents—been a PR disaster for the NFL?

Hardly. Currently the NFL is experiencing a Golden Age, in which fan interest has never been higher. TV viewership is the highest in league history, while online/social media interest—via video and Twitter—has skyrocketed. Commissioner Roger Goodell has got the league firing on all cylinders (and maybe a few extra ones), as witnessed by seemingly endless cable coverage of the recent NFL rookie combine workouts.

While fines and possibly suspensions for Saints coaches  are predicted by sports pundits, reputation fallout for the brand should be minimal at most, despite the bounty hunting connection to the league’s efforts to curtail concussions. Let’s face it, NFL fans like the sport rough—a fact that the league is keenly aware of. Teeth-chattering hits that straddle the line of sportsmanship and dirty play are expected by fans and voraciously viewed on YouTube.

So while the NFL may be Teflon on this issue from a PR standpoint, there is something other brands can learn from this: Having a solid product with a “bounty” of rabid fans should get an organization through the most difficult crisis.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01

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