Recently, Dr. Bharat P. Bhatta of Sogn og Fjordane University College in Norway, laid out a modest proposal in the Journal of Review and Pricing Management: Airlines should charge overweight passengers more for their plane tickets than thin passengers.
The result of this move would allow carriers to save money on fuel, which could mean possible discounts for slimmer passengers.
Specifically, Bhatta had three proposals: The first would be a straight price per kilogram; the second a fixed low fare with heavier passengers paying a surcharge and lighter passengers being offered discounts while the third suggests dividing passengers into heavy, normal and light categories and charging them accordingly.
Bhatta’s idea spread through the media like wildfire. After all, while the chances of this idea being implemented are slim to none, it was an intriguing proposal for the public to consider. As I was hearing people shout discrimination or, “Hey, that’s not a bad idea,” I began to think about what would happen from a PR standpoint if the airline industry decided to adopt Dr. Bhatta’s proposal. How would an individual airline communicate such a change?
No doubt PR pros could leverage the benefits of maintaining a healthy weight. They could even take a page out of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s stalled Big Soda initiative with the message: “Not only will being overweight cost more at the airline counter, it can kill you.”
I envision health clubs opening up in airport terminals and, for people who need to lose extra pounds quickly, portable saunas and elliptical trainers set up at departure gates. Sure, there will be disgruntled customers, but PR can counter that by touting success stories.
Yes, getting this “fat tax” across to the public would be a Herculean PR challenge. Do you have some ideas that will fly? We’d like to hear about them.
Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01
Advice is easy to come by and just as easy to dispense. What’s more difficult is heeding advice. At a recent awards luncheon in Manhattan hosted by PR News sister brand CableFAX, a group of young “executives to watch” shared useful advice that has helped them succeed in the challenging and ever-changing cable/entertainment industry. I thought it worth sharing these morsels of advice, applicable to any business professional and then apply these 9 tips to a real-world situation:
- Don’t take the credit.
- Keep a swear jar in office.
- Listen to what people are saying on social media.
- Edit down your business plans.
- Be kind.
- Look at all sides of the issue.
- Innovation can be found at all levels.
- Don’t drink and tweet.
In other words:
You don’t have to take credit (1) for a job well done; it will be noticed at some point sooner rather than later. And sometimes you just want to scream F&*% You! And that’s OK, because there’s a swear jar (2) for that. Once you’ve calmed down, check out what your customers are doing and saying on Twitter and Facebook and learn from it (3). Doing so might help you simplify your next PR campaign (4) and result in a business plan that you’ve edited down to its most cogent parts (5). Later that day, a colleague takes credit for the business plan you spearheaded, and you decide to be kind 6), and let it go. You attend a business meeting and disagree with just about everyone in the room. You think about the swear jar you’ll use later, but better yet, you begin to look at all sides of the issue (7) and realize that the new hire – just two years out of college – has the best idea in the room (8). It’s happy hour and you are a bit bored. You check out your Twitter feed, oblivious to the human beings around you. You lift your head for air. You go back to Twitter and are feeling very prolific, 140 characters at a time. But you realize there is life outside Twitter. You put down the iphone (9) and engage in real-world conversation.
It’s that simple (4).
- Diane Schwartz
The GOP has a PR problem. The party so much as acknowledged that on Monday with the release of a 100-page report detailing messaging shortcomings that Republicans say are the cause of its jarring defeat last November to incumbent President Barack Obama, as well as the loss of several seats in the House of Representatives.
In announcing the “Growth and Opportunity Project” report, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who on Monday celebrated his birthday, detailed some of its conclusions: “The report notes the way we communicate our principles isn’t resonating widely enough,” Priebus said. “Focus groups described our party as ‘narrow minded,’ ‘out of touch,’ and ‘Stuffy old men.’ I’m only 41, by the way. Today.”
At least Priebus can keep a sense of humor about a pretty serious communication problem. He went on to say, “It all goes back to what our moms used to tell us: It’s not just what we say; it’s how we say it,” Priebus continued. “The promise of opportunity will be our message, and a spirit of optimism will infuse everything that we do.”
Besides making the point that the GOP must be more welcoming to different points of view—immigration and gay marriage, for example—the report calls for improved digital outreach to voters. On that end, The Wall Street Journal reported today on a digital initiative backed by GOP strategist Karl Rove, with Sun Microsystems co-founder Scott McNealy serving as an advisor.
The venture will focus on how to create a digital platform to better target voters and donors—something that the Democrats have done to winning effect in the last two presidential elections.
Even with improved digital and social media outreach, however, the paramount question should be: Can Republican dismantle their image as “stuffy old men” and agree on a more inclusive message? The communications behind the strategy will be key to voters answering the question.
Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01
While nearly every brand is online – be it with a Web site, email marketing programs, social media, apps – many brands make the mistake of going a bit too far by not going far enough. I’m not talking about chasing the next shiny object. I’m referring to some basic digital communication strategies. Let me share with you a few experiences to illustrate the point that if you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all:
My first short story is about my favorite local hair salon, which created an app to allow customers to schedule appointments without having to call. Simple enough so I tried it. Three hours later I received a voice mail message from the receptionist saying I needed to call them back to verify the appointment. If I didn’t call back within 24 hours, the appointment will be voided. That seemed a bit stringent, not to mention antithetical to the app scheduler concept. Good thing I had a phone.
Switching gears to my dentist, one of the few people I see often whom I hate to see often, he began offering text messaging to verify your appointment, similar to the hair salon but only on appointments already made. Cool – one less call-back I had to make. You know where I’m going with this: I got the message on my phone to text “Yes” to confirm the appointment. An hour later the receptionist calls me to confirm my appointment. I ignored her message since I already texted Yes. The next day she called again and because I didn’t want to lose out on some deep gum cleaning, I answered. I asked what the point of the text messaging service was if she had to call me anyway. She said she didn’t know from such things.
One last story illustrates the perils of personalized email marketing. Several years ago I sent flowers to an ailing aunt. I used one of the top national flower delivery services and gave them my email address, thinking I’d unsubscribe after the delivery was confirmed. Too busy making hair and dentist appointments, I forgot to opt out of their email promotions. So roughly every quarter I receive promotions from them to send my aunt flowers. Let’s say her name is Aunt Marie (not her real name, but used to protect the innocent and the deceased). Aunt Marie passed away almost two years ago. This flower company sends me quarterly emails with the subject line: “Don’t forget Aunt Marie this Mother’s Day,” or “Take $100 off on Your Bouquet to Aunt Marie.” I am at once flabbergasted and fascinated, so I have chosen not to opt out of those emails. In a strange way, it keeps Aunt Marie top of mind. But for this flower company it keeps them bottom of the list of retailers I’d choose for my next delivery.
The next time you plan to roll out a customer-service program, be sure it’s fully baked and ready to be served.
- Diane Schwartz
A while back, prior to the launch of the new BlackBerry 10, LPP posted a blog offering three startup PR lessons from BlackBerry 10.
Lesson 1, the blog said, was to know when to pivot. That is, know when and whether the world has passed your solutions and products by, and adapt quickly.
Lesson 2 was to remember that you only launch once, so make that one moment critical.
And Lesson 3 was that perception is everything.
Let’s look at how BlackBerry has fared on those three counts. BlackBerry did not know when to pivot. Back in the day, 12 years ago or so, BlackBerry was the definition of cool in mobile devices. Pre BlackBerry, there were the flip phones, and the ever-smaller cell phones. There was even Palm’s Treo, which with its stylus was hot for a while. Then BlackBerry came along, with a QWERTY keyboard and seamless integration of phone, text and e-mail. For a long time, BlackBerry was THE phone. Then came the iPhone and the game changed. BlackBerry came up with a variety of responses, all of them lame and late. It remains to be seen if the new BlackBerry 10 can get the brand back into the game.
Which leads to Lesson 2. So far so good. Six months ago BlackBerry was a company for whom oblivion and “dead brand” were only a matter of time. I teased co-workers who still had BlackBerrys. But in the few weeks since the launch of the BlackBerry 10, the reviews have been very positive. The New York Times over the course of two days gave the new phone here and here the kinds of reviews that PR communicators would give anything for. Business Insider and others followed suite. The phone also looks cool.
So the Hail Mary pass is in the air. Whether it gets successfully caught in the end zone—and whether the early buzz is enough for skeptical buyers—remains to be seen. But at least the pass is in the air and BlackBerry didn’t get sacked with no time on the clock.
And that leads to the third lesson, about perception. Most former BlackBerry users have pretty decent memories of their phones. It’s not that the BlackBerry was a bad product, it’s just that better solutions came along. So if BlackBerry can leverage that relatively large reservoir of goodwill by offering a next-generation product that’s better than Android and the iPhone, then there’s life for it yet.
When Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who delivered the GOP response to President Obama’s State of the Union on Tuesday night, flubbed a reach for a water bottle, he took to social media to manage the PR around the awkward moment.
During the speech, Rubio tried to sneak a sip of water from a bottle off camera, a move that made many observers cringe. But Rubio took it in stride, tweeting a photo of the water bottle after the speech.
And in doing so, Rubio demonstrated that he is social-media savvy. At the same time, perhaps, he reflected a larger trend toward the use of social media throughout the Hispanic community.
According to recent study conducted by NM Incite, 57% of Hispanics have turned to the social space to ask a question about a brand or report complaints/issues with products, compared with 47% of the general population.
What’s more, 19% of Hispanics turn to social care daily, and 30% weekly, the report said. Hispanics are 25% more likely to “prefer” social care to traditional customer service methods than the general population.
There are other indicators that illustrate the growing influence of Hispanics on business and the economy. For example, Hispanic spending power will grow to $1.5 trillion by 2015, or 11% of total U.S. buying power, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth.
By 2050, Hispanics are expected to make up one-third of the population, or 133 million people, per the U.S. Census Bureau.
These are consumer-trend lines that communication executives ignore at their own peril.
With Hispanics now ensconced in the mainstream, PR pros at both the corporate and agency levels will need to create campaigns that fully embrace the Hispanic community, as opposed to putting Latinos in a neat, little box that doesn’t command constant attention.
Like most every audience, there are some aspects to the Latino community that are more niche than broad.
Still, PR departments can no longer be able put Latino messaging on the margins of a campaign. When it comes to how to deploy effective communications, Hispanics are increasingly at the center of the conversation.
- Matthew Schwartz: mpsjourno1
While Facebook continues to be the social platform of choice for many brands, a couple of interesting studies released last week could trip an alarm for communications pros.
A Pew study found that the majority of the 1,000-plus people surveyed said they have taken breaks from Facebook at some point, and those breaks can be long: 61% took extended, weeks-long breaks from social network.
Those that took shorter sabbaticals cited these reasons: too busy (21%), lost interest (10%) and a waste of time (10%).
In and of itself, this study shouldn’t prompt brands to move exclusively to Google+. But couple this with other findings released last week: Just 4% of Americans ages 15 to 25 think that a brand page on Facebook is a credible source of information about the product, according to InSites Consulting.
What is their idea of credible brand sources? Consumers’ feedback on online forums and blogs (22%), what they are told by their friends about a brand or product (14%) and the opinion of other brand users (20%).
As these Millennials age, there’s nothing to indicate they’ll head back to Facebook for enlightenment by brands.
What can PR pros do to get a busy, bored or disillusioned public glued to a brand’s Facebook page? I recently spoke with content marketing experts for a story to appear in the today’s premium edition of PR News. In a nutshell, their suggestion for deeper engagement across all platforms was the creation of regular, compelling content devoid of marketing-speak that will keep fans coming back.
Building a “content factory” might seem daunting to communicators with limited resources, but as social platforms mature, but it’s a good bet we’ll see more of the same findings with other social platforms down the road.
Sot it’s time to identify your core audience, find out where their interests lie and provide them with content that will spark that interest—again and again.
Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01
The tweet caught my eye: “Don’t support The Weather Channel by calling this storm Nemo.” But I liked that name, and so did thousands of tweeters who tucked #Nemo into their 140-character updates. While not intended as the cute Nemo fish of Disney/Pixar movie fame, the name lent some unintended levity to what was promising to be a historic storm, and #Nemo built community among those dealing with or watching the storm (“We may have found #Nemo,” tweeted one person, “Take that #Nemo!” tweeted another shoveling out of two feet of snow). For The Weather Channel, the flurry of support and displeasure with the #Nemo name was a PR win for the network.
Like thousands of people, I preferred to use Nemo in references to the storm when family and friends were checking in because it’s good to put a name to an event, isn’t it? It makes you feel part of something bigger. Kudos to The Weather Channel: from a social media communications standpoint, not having a hashtag associated with your big event is like writing a book and not giving it a title.
The Weather Channel giving the storm a name is more credible than, say, Starbucks or Zappo’s floating the #Nemo hashtag. The Weather Channel has some cred when it comes to, um, weather stuff.
And so what that the (government-run) National Weather Service had nothing to do with the storm naming and refused to use it? And so what that the true definition of Nemo for this storm is the Latin equivalent of “nobody” and in Greek means “from the valley”? This was neither a “nobody” snowstorm nor from the valley, but The Weather Channel’s social media department wanted to use Greek names – and the letter “N” was the next one up.
Bryan Norcross, a meteorologist at The Weather Channel, told Bloomberg BusinessWeek that he and his team created a series of #hashtag names for upcoming storms because “Everything needs a hashtag to get noticed.” The Weather Channel definitely got noticed, and Disney’s “Finding Nemo” might even see a slight spike in DVD sales. I call that #Winning.
- Diane Schwartz
“It’s PR’s fault.” This is what a reporter acquaintance for a daily publication recently told me, as she was lamenting the inability to set up a meeting with a top executive at a major trade show coming up. “They didn’t get back to me, and then the head of the company was mad that we didn’t interview him. PR there sucks.”
There are a few things wrong with this story:
> First, it’s easy for reporters to place the blame on the PR department if an interview falls through or is never even set up.
> Second, the reporter refers to a PR professional as the profession itself: instead of Jane Smith or even “the PR representative,” this reporter sees the PR rep as the lump sum of Unhelpfulness. PR’s just a department.
> Third, this reporter doesn’t truly understand the role of Public Relations and possibly (don’t tell her I said this!) her role as a reporter. If you really want to interview the head of this organization, find a way to do it. Make your pitch to the PR person compelling enough that he’ll call you back. Give the PR person enough time to set things up, too.
(Turns out, the reporter contacted the company PR department two days before a major event, and most of the company was either heading to the big conference or diverted with trade-show planning.)
Interestingly, the reporter didn’t know what she was going to interview this executive about; she just needed to get the interview. With newsrooms and media departments spread thin, it is increasingly less likely that the beat reporter will be getting specific guidance from her editor about coverage and story ideas. So it’s beholden on the reporters to figure it out, and for Public Relations professionals to be one of their guides.
I asked the reporter is she had a relationship with any of the PR people at this major company. “Not really. I mean, they send me press releases, but that’s about it.” Then she remembered they had invited her to product launch parties and have reached out for interview requests with their key execs, but she usually ignored the outreach. Why did she ignore them? You know the answer: because she didn’t need them at the time.
Media Relations is a two-way street. In the past month, I had the pleasure of editing PR News’ latest Media Training Guidebook, and one of the themes was the difficulty of relationship-building in a too-much-information culture where it’s so much easier to just hide behind social media and email, and not develop substantive relationships.
And, as many of our guidebook contributors advised, if you have a good story to tell, your chances of getting covered by the media goes up exponentially. Maybe the story of my journalist friend and the PR rep would have ended better if it began with a good story. If the company was telling a new story about its brand, the reporter would be interested in learning more and would be more proactive in building a relationship with PR.
But somehow, it all got lost in translation: the reporter didn’t know what she was going to be writing about; the company didn’t have a story to tell and therefore didn’t care that much about getting coverage, and a cloud of indifference marred progress. So, unfortunately one of the stories to come out of this is a tale of media relations gone awry, told by one side.
Those in PR know this is an old story and it must be put to bed.
- Diane Schwartz
Meetings are both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, great ideas and solutions abound when you bring people into a room, face to face. People learn from one another and also get to know their colleagues better. Ideas, concepts, hot-button issues can get lost in translation via email, phone or memo. A great communicator who knows how to facilitate the discussion and keep the conversation flowing and productive can make or break a meeting. Yet even with a leader who comes prepared, a meeting is only as good as the people in the room. When meeting attendees misbehave, everyone and everything suffers: you are annoyed and feel your time is being wasted and the thing you came to discuss get short shrift. We are all guilty of imperfect etiquette during a meeting, and in that vein I present to you 20 annoying or improper human behaviors during business meetings. I asked friends, colleagues and communications consultants to contribute their meeting pet peeves. Please add your ideas to this list:
- Talking over one another
- Interrupting a colleague, apologizing, then continuing to speak
- Checking email
- Answering email
- Whispering to a colleague
- Laughing at or chastising a colleague’s comment
- Arriving late
- Arriving really late
- Banging a pen, water bottle or other objects against the table
- Not putting your phone on vibrate
- Doing other seemingly more important work on your laptop
- Shopping on your laptop
- Setting up your Powerpoint presentation in real-time (not beforehand) and troubleshooting while others watch
- Not participating
- Asking off-topic questions
- As the meeting organizer, not having an agenda with clear objectives, and starting late, ending late
- Taking copious notes rather than listening and jotting down key takeaways
- Sexting (it must happen somewhere) – plus, it’s sometimes good to end a meeting or blog post on a light note.
What would you add?