The melding of PR and marketing is one of the biggest challenges facing communicators of all stripes.
As C-level managers demand more accountability from their PR departments, communicators increasingly are trying to take their lead from marketing when it comes to measuring activity and demonstrating value. And, unlike even a few years ago, a growing number of PR execs now report to CMOs.
Wide disparities remain between the two disciplines. Marketing is conditioned to showing fairly immediate returns on the investment—PR, not so much. Indeed, it might take years for PR efforts to flow to the top and/or bottom lines.
But the arc of media consumption is bending toward PR. Online consumers have much more interest in having a conversation with brands, the domain of PR. Still, if they’re to succeed in the future, both marketing and PR need to work together.
How marketing and PR are collaborating on digital was discussed Monday during PR News’ Digital PR Conference.
“Communication pros who think like brand marketers will have a better appreciation of the purchase path,” said Torod Neptune, VP and head of corporate communications for Verizon Wireless.
Neptune has made several moves to provide for better collaboration between Verizon Wireless’ PR and marketing teams. They include:
- Expanding the PR department by hiring executives from digital agencies, as opposed to traditional communications professionals, who are well-versed in all things digital.
- Training PR execs to speak in a marketing vernacular and learn the terminology that the marketing department uses. “This should be the way we talk about our craft, which is one of the big opportunities” for PR, Neptune said.
- Encouraging PR execs to be more proactive, rather than reactive, about establishing the corporate narrative and speaking in the brand voice.
Jody Sunna, executive VP for Havas PR North America, stressed that bolstering fundamental communication between marketing and PR is key. She recommended the following tips for better collaboration:
- Maintain message consistency across all channels and all platforms.
- Look to bring all marketing, PR and digital team members to the table from the get-go to uncover opportunities and workarounds.
- Cross-promote and amplify content outside of your channel. Share PR stories with sales teams and across social channels. Share fan feedback from Twitter and Facebook with PR and marketing, and share marketing sales figures with PR.
Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1
It seems like every day communicators are confronted with a new marketing discipline/media channel/social platform that management wants them to master ten minutes ago. The pace of change is only expected to accelerate in the next few years, as digital media starts to eclipse traditional media.
While PR pros can be forgiven if they think that planning for the next six months or a year will suffice, they have to play longer ball and try to look further into the future. Their brands and organizations depend on it.
During PR News’ Digital PR Conference in Miami on Monday, senior communications managers tackled the subject of how to build a digital business with 2020 in mind.
“Moving into 2020, connected individuals are becoming more and more important to every organization out there,” said Allison Sitch, VP of global public relations at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. “The idea of connection is to understand what people are talking about and then bring in those influencers who are valuable to your organization.”
Throughout the next five years, PR managers will also need to empower their staffs so that managers focus more on corporate goals and objectives.
“Choose people for your team who you trust,” Sitch said, “and know that they can articulate and speak to the values of your brand without having to come back and ask you first.”
How to motivate your audience as they are increasingly inundated with online choices will be critical. “It’s about the community at large and conversing with the people who really matter,” Sitch added.
Kai Wright, VP of communications and business development for the Atom Factory, said that PR managers will have to take on the persona of an editorial director. They’ll need to steer editorial scheduling, create editorial calendars and build a solid bench of editorial contributors.
“What’s the voice? What’s the frequency? What are some of the [issues] that your brand can speak to intelligently?” Wright asked. “You need a strong pulse on your market, you have to be an early adopter and have an eye on aesthetics. The Web is getting much more visual.”
Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1
Years ago—during a time before the Internet—PR and marketing executives, not to mention advertisers, were talking about the future of television, specifically the television commercial. VCRs (remember them?) were coming on the scene, and the business community was becoming antsy about the possibility that viewers would tape shows and skip commercials.
When business leaders gathered for conferences, many a session centered on whether or not television commercials, media’s lifeblood, were going to die. The consensus was the VCR would not kill them, although the impetus was on brands and their advertising agency partners to create better, more compelling commercials.
Skip to today. While the quality of television commercials generally may be only slightly better than it was years ago, we have a new phenomenon—people watching commercials for their entertainment value. And not just during the Super Bowl.
This phenomenon is related to what W20 Group president Bob Pearson calls “the new owned media” (see PR News, June 1, 2015). Today, brands house content not only on their Website but also on partner sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube. Brands hope, of course, that fans share the message on their personal sites. In fact, it’s more than a hope: spreadable media should be a top priority of PR practitioners in the networked society, MIT’s Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford and Joshua Green argued in “Spreadable Media.”
This leads to opening YouTube and finding suggested ‘Videos of the Day.’ During a recent weeknight, the featured video was part of a series of spots starring former “Saturday Night Live” regular Darrell Hammond (see above) as a slightly goofy, musical version of the late Colonel Harland Sanders, the KFC patriarch who passed away more than 30 years ago. The effort is part of a $185-million resuscitation of the brand in the U.S., which changed its name from Kentucky Fried Chicken to the more-healthy-sounding KFC in 1981, one year after Sanders died, aged 90. While his visage remained conspicuous, the Colonel hadn’t been featured in a KFC ad in some 20 years.
As you might expect, the ads have found fans and detractors. Hammond’s portrayal of the Colonel as a bit of a jokester is disrespectful and far from the truth, says former Kentucky Governor John Y. Brown Jr. In fact, Brown says, the Colonel was a deadly serious hombre when it came to his fried chicken. Stories abound about Sanders, a perfectionist, driving round the country in a Cadillac or Rolls Royce to make appearances on behalf of Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises. His visits generally included a spot check. Heaven help the franchisee who was not up to Sanders’s standard. Pots and their contents would fly.
When Sanders made commercials or appearances on behalf of the brand he founded he was unscripted and all business, Brown argues. Always attired in a white suit and black string tie, he joked with small children only. In fact, the Colonel’s temper with adults was infamous. His language could get so blue it would make truck drivers blush.
Governor Brown should know—he bought the Colonel’s secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices in 1964 and turned Sanders’ thriving business into a national and later international icon. In fact, the biggest market for the Colonel’s chicken is, get ready for it, China. General Tso must be turning over in his grave.
But back to the short ads featuring Hammond as the Colonel, created by the current KFC owner, Yum! Brands. They’re good PR, touching many of the points PR and communications pros have been espousing in PR News and at prnewsonline.com to keep brands, especially older ones, relevant. Here’s why:
- Local: The ads are found where the audience lives. Sure, they’re on television, but your blogger was introduced to them via YouTube on his mobile phone. As soon as you’ve watch one, a series of new ones appears in the right-hand side of your screen.
- Conversational: In the digital age, people—particularly millennials—want brands to talk to them, to have a human face. These new spots are nothing if not a conversation with the consumer. Taken together with a planned renovation of KFC’s nearly 5,000 U.S. restaurants that will feature images of and quotes from Colonel Sanders on new red-and-white walls, it sounds like KFC is creating a Colonel Sanders cult of personality.
- KFC primed the pump a bit, though. Look at this short 2014 video about Maurice, a KFC cook. It’s conversational, equates a face with the brand and provides a backstory about how KFC’s chicken is made. [Incidentally, the backstory of how the Colonel’s recipe has been kept secret for nearly 80 years could make a terrific video. There’s a hint at :30 of this video about where the recipe resides.]
- Humorous: While Governor Brown might be right—that the Colonel would disapprove of how his image is being used—PR pros have been urging brands to lighten up by carefully injecting humor and fun into their messages. Humor is at the core of these short videos that feature Sanders cackling like his chickens and even singing. Let’s face it—portraying him as a kindly, grandfatherly type was a sound creative and PR choice. Having Colonel Sanders launch into an expletive-loaded tirade over lumpy mashed ‘taters just wouldn’t cut it today.
- Short: In our attention-span-shortened world, KFC’s ads are less than 2 minutes in length. They’re bite-size nuggets on your mobile phone or computer. (Yes, I know what you’re thinking, if only the Colonel’s chicken was similarly as digestible.)
- Nostalgic: This is a bit controversial, using nostalgia to attract millennials. Similar to McDonald’s’ menu, KFC’s choice of fare has grown considerably. It now includes items that would surprise even the Colonel, who was a fried chicken, mashed potatoes & gravy and biscuits kind of guy. [Rumor is he ate his chicken every day for years.] Unlike McDonald’s, which recently resurrected a redesigned Hamburglar perhaps to spur nostalgia, KFC arguably possesses a real history that people can relate to. It’s the Colonel’s story, which is a hardscrabble one, coming up as a penniless kid with an elementary-school education and finally finding success in his late 60s.
- Another piece of history that KFC owns is its cooking method. KFC’s fried chicken still is made using the Colonel’s secret recipe and closed-frier method. In that sense, its decision to return to the Colonel, the one who brung ‘em to the dance and made Kentucky Fried Chicken the top brand, seems logical. But will millennials respond? These ads are a good start, but there’s a way to go yet. A 2010 survey by USA Today showed most young Americans (aged 18-25) didn’t know who Sanders was. Half thought he was a fictional character.
That leads to the larger business story. Why has KFC parent Yum! decided the brand needs a revamp? The quick answer is that it no longer is the top fast-food chicken brand in the U.S. That crown belongs to Chick-fil-A, which topped the Colonel’s sales in 2013, and did so with fewer restaurants.
Like McDonald’s, KFC is going to be making changes large and small to see if it can get back on top. As with the burger chain, there will be advice-givers aplenty. While many have counseled both brands to feature healthier items, some urge them to stay the course, making the case that their food might be greasy, fatty and sodium-laden, but it tastes good and is no less healthy than other fast-food establishments.
Another reason to return to Colonel Sanders? The company admits that KFC has lost its way a bit and wants to return to a time when it was #1, and that includes Colonel Sanders personally making sure things were being done the right way. Yum hopes it will be infusing KFC with the Colonel’s spirit of quality, integrity and hard work. Needless to say, KFC can no longer rely on Colonel Sanders to make spot visits to franchises, but perhaps Darrel Hammond as Colonel Sanders can surprise a few franchisees with a surprise inspection and throw over a bowl or two of gravy. I’m licking my fingers at the thought of it.
Seth Arenstein is Senior Editorial Advisor to PR News. Follow him on Twitter: @brahmsandmahler
It’s the end of an era. Early Thursday morning David Letterman signs off as host of CBS’ “Late Show” after a 33-year-run on late night TV (including 10 years as host of “Late Night With David Letterman” on NBC).
Whether introducing America to “Stupid Pet Tricks,” swimming in a large vat of breakfast cereal or having Larry “Bud” Melman promote Toast-on-a-stick (“Bread’s answer to the popsicle!”), Letterman is a testament to original content.
Creating original content—often with an anarchic quality—is a lesson communicators can take from Letterman. In homage to Letterman’s “Top 10” lists, here are the Top 5 PR lessons from the soon-departed late night king.
Make conversation an art. Amid an increasingly social media age—where 140 characters qualifies as communication—Letterman was a strong long-form interviewer, where the goal was to inform, educate and entertain, rather than simply push product and generate yuks.
Show off your personality, warts-and-all. Letterman could hardly be accused of pretense. Often, he could be cranky and/or ornery, with and without his guests. He didn’t try to hide those facets of his personality, but played them up because they were an authentic part of his brand.
Diverse guests bring diverse audiences. Not so much in the last several years—in which A-list celebrities predominated—but certainly during his NBC tenure Letterman didn’t think twice about featuring peripheral yet impossibly interesting guests, such as surrealist Brother Theodore and musician/painter Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet). And we’re forever indebted to Letterman for launching the career of Chris Elliot. Musicians credit Letterman with his eclectic taste, which has helped boost a variety of musical genres, including Americana. The takeaway for communicators: look beyond the usual suspects when trying to cultivate new relationships and partnerships. And don’t judge a book by its cover.
Tonality is everything. The remarks Letterman made about the 9/11 attacks during his first show back after the crisis became one of his finest hours. His comments were humbling and sincere for a city and nation that had suffered incalculable loss. The comments were made “on the other side of the glass,” of course, but it was as if Letterman was sitting right next to you, providing comfort and kind words. He knew his audience; he knew the situation and acted accordingly.
Make your audience cringe (if only a little). Letterman and his writers were masters at creating scenarios that were slightly uncomfortable, but always compelling. Case in point: A 1983 split-screen interview with actor Charles Grodin that Letterman conducted remotely, with Grodin sitting alone in the studio. PR News dares you to watch the video and look away. Bet you can’t. Same with PR marketing campaigns. Nuke the ‘same old, same old’ and create strategies and tactics that are a little edgy, but not off-putting.
So long, Dave. It’s been real.
Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1
The series finale of ‘Mad Men’ left it up to us to decide if Don Draper took on a new, third identity or whether California bliss and an inspired retreat experience led him back to the advertising life and to create the iconic “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” commercial.”
After 92 hours of great storytelling by show creator Matthew Weiner, we say goodbye to Don, Roger, Peggy, Joan, Pete, and the iconic, misogynistic and inappropriate ’60s workplace. So one cliffhanger from the show which may frustrate communicators is: Where was the HR director at Sterling Cooper & Partners? Today, that HR dept. would be working overtime to deal with the goings-on among its troops.
To wit, I recap wonderfully horrible lines from ‘Mad Men’ over the years that hopefully you don’t hear in the workplace anymore:
“Give me more ideas to reject.” – Don Draper
“Well, I gotta go learn a bunch of people’s names before I fire them.” – Roger Sterling
“Being with a client is like being in a marriage. Sometimes you get into it for the wrong reasons, and eventually they hit you in the face.” – Roger Sterling
“I’m Peggy Olson and I wanna smoke some marijuana.”
“Say yes with your voice not just your eyes.” – Pete
“I’m not a solution to your problem. I’m another problem.” – Joan
“Remember when God closes a door he opens a dress.” – Roger Sterling
“I know you’re ashamed of your body. Or you should be at least.” – Stan [to Peggy]
“Although things are precarious financially, it’s been a magnificent year.” – Lane
“Could you keep it down? I’m trying to drink.” – Don Draper
‘Mad Men‘ is arguably one of TV’s best written stories and will be fondly remembered for years to come. The workplace culture and the dialogue that accompanied it? It’s good to know we’ve progressed, or as one ’60s advertising slogan noted, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”
– Diane Schwartz
—inscribed on the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi
In 1967, in what seemed like a far less-complicated time, a McDonald’s TV commercial, borrowing the tune from “Down by the Riverside,” claimed its burger restaurants were “my kind of place, a hap, hap, happy place, a clean and snappy place.”
Today McDonald’s is a public company, a global behemoth, with nearly 2 million employees serving 68 million customers daily in some 118 countries and territories.
Last year, for the first time in nearly two decades, the company’s quarterly sales fell. That downturn mirrored what has been happening in McDonald’s’ country of origin. U.S. same-store sales at some 14,000 McDonald’s have been mired in a five-year slump.
As a result of the sales downturn, every move this traditional Wall Street darling makes as it attempts to return to glory is scrutinized, picked over by restaurant insiders, not to mention financial analysts and the media, PR News.
Whether it’s simplifying what some believe has become an overly large menu, changing prices, serving breakfast all day or becoming more transparent about its food suppliers, the former hap, hap happy place is becoming a tes, tes, test case. As such, PR pros are anxiously watching how the world’s largest burger chain attempts to reinject gold into its arches and how clearly it communicates those efforts.
The corporation’s biggest move to date had president/CEO Don Thompson, 51, announcing he was stepping down in late January. Steve Easterbrook, a 48-year-old Brit and one of Thompson’s former lieutenants, has replaced him.
In a PR News piece last month that discussed Easterbrook’s first visible moves—closing 350 restaurants—it was argued that changing consumers’ perception of McDonald’s will be critical to a turnaround. Mark Renfree wrote:
“McDonald’s product isn’t the problem; it’s how customers perceive the Golden Arches. The brand has become synonymous with unhealthy eating habits and horrifying factory farms.”
One of the great things about watching McDonald’s as a case study is that for every solution proposed, there will be someone who takes the opposite view.
Embracing Fat, Grease and Friendly, Clean Environs
While Don Draper and later Peggy Olson once counseled their clients saying, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation,” this may prove difficult for McDonald’s, according to Professor Adam Galinksy of Columbia University’s business school. In a book to be published in September, Friend and Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both (Crown Business/Random House), Galinsky and co-author M. Schweitzer discuss whether brands should fight to change public perception or concede on certain points. Successful brands have done both, they argue. Can McDonald’s win by admitting that the burger chain ‘is what it is’?
Several brands have responded to less-than-flattering perceptions by changing their names—the Patagonian toothfish resurfaced as Chilean Sea Bass, Philip Morris morphed into Altria, Kentucky Fried Chicken modified slightly to KFC. McDonald’s is an icon, so a name change would appear to be out of the question, Galinsky says.
McDonald’s is fighting on select fronts and is succeeding. To combat the pasting its food has received on social media, McDonald’s has chosen to go to battle in the arena where the damage was done. McDonald’s has used social media to make a foray into transparency. Its “Our Food. Your Questions” has attracted more than 31 million social media views, outdistancing successes the campaign has enjoyed in other countries.
On the other hand, attempts at changing perception also have hurt McDonald’s. Adding healthier items to its menus, some argue, has damaged one of McDonald’s’ hallmarks, fast service.
This leads to the thought that perhaps part of Easterbrook’s resuscitation plan should include McDonald’s embracing its image. “We’re a hap, hap, happy place offering good-tasting food that perhaps is not the healthiest choice, but who cares? We serve you quickly, inexpensively and in a clean, kid-friendly atmosphere.”
For years PR pros have advocated a version of this prescription, even in the volatility of the digital age—have a sense of humor about your brand, own your image. In a situation where your brand is the punch line of jokes on social media, if they constitute a relatively minor threat, you could do worse than to laugh, Ivan Ristic counseled recently.
Healthy Eating or Pass the Coke?
Yet the McDonald’s case may be different. There’s deep, well-documented resentment against McDonald’s on several fronts and healthy eating indeed has risen in the public’s awareness, else Coca-Cola wouldn’t be reeling also.
Still, Americans have a long way to go before we can be said to be healthy eaters. We may be health-conscious, ie, we know we are ingesting too much sodium, fat, sugar and calories and getting too little exercise. For some reason, however, those misgivings recede quickly as we devour a few more of those delicious French fries and slurp an icy, cold Coke.
Another thing to consider, with all the moaning and groaning about lower sales and reduced income for McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, Americans likely will drink more than 100 servings of Coke this year and McDonald’s boasts a consistent average of selling 75 burgers per second worldwide. These brands are not going away soon.
Still, it won’t be easy for McDonald’s and Easterbrook to laugh at and accept the perception of the brand as a purveyor of unhealthy fare. As noted above, sales are down. Shareholders and franchisees, owners of 80% of McDonald’s restaurants, are looking to Easterbrook for solutions. Of course this could be a situation for PR and communication pros to come to the fore, crafting a strategy where McDonald’s embraces its unhealthy image, but in a subtle, constructive way that helps boost sales.
Will McDonald’s admit to what it is and own its image, warts and all, or try to revise its public perception as a purveyor of healthy comestibles? It’s clear what Galinski recommends. “Stigmatized companies aren’t better off hiding from their characteristics,” Galinsky says. “They’re better off owning them.”
Most likely Easterbrook’s rescue plans will include elements of both approaches. In any case, McDonald’s will supply plenty of food for thought in the weeks and months ahead. Let the fun begin.
Seth Arenstein is Senior Editorial Advisor to PR News
There are so many sources of news media now and so many ways to get the news, it’s difficult to determine which outlets and journalists have the most influence. Also, social media has leveled the playing field, and traditional media brands don’t matter as much now.
So you’ve been led to believe—or want to believe.
If a new ranking of influential financial journalists and media brands is any indication of a larger trend about who and what really has influence in news media—and it should be an indication—traditional news media brands remain supremely influential, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
In a survey of 400 U.S.-based financial journalists conducted by Gorkana in partnership with Matt Ragas and Hai Tran of DePaul University, none of the top 10 most influential journalists work for an Internet-only media brand. The top 10 work for newspaper, magazine and TV brands that have diversified into digital. Felix Salmon (tied for fifth), works for a new TV outlet called Fusion, but even that’s a joint venture between two traditional media brands, ABC and Univision.
In the list of the 10 most influential financial media outlets, Yahoo Finance is the only Internet-only brand on the list and, in fact, dropped two places to 10th compared to a year earlier.
Are the financial journalists surveyed more inclined to select the legacy brands and out of touch with what PR pros might select? Not necessarily, says Ragas, assistant professor and academic director of the M.A. in PR and advertising program in the College of Communication at DePaul University. “They’re not blind to the changes that have been going on. I’ve seen them nominate Business Insider.”
Ragas says PR pros need to pay close attention to journalists’ opinions about media influence. Journalists often get their news from other journalists, so any study like this shows the true centers of influence.
“We know from prior academic research that financial journalists indicate that they look to other media outlets as well as their readers for story ideas,” he says. “It’s not to say the PR [that comes their way] is not important, but every PR pro needs to understand how the media ecosystem operates. You want to know who the perceived influencers are. In our guts PR pros might think that the New York Times and Wall Street Journal are the most important outlets, but now we have data from the very people who create business news that they are the most important.”
So if you’re a PR pro and your CEO or client complains that you haven’t landed positive or neutral coverage in the Times or the Journal, there goes your excuse that old-school media no longer matter.
Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI
In-house PR practitioners don’t have it easy, in general. Sometimes they have to deal with a lack of understanding and appreciation for the work they do. (Did I say sometimes?) Sometimes they get recognized internally only when something goes wrong that needs to get fixed, now. Sometimes they’re asked to wear so many hats and expected to be masters at media pitching, crisis management, Facebook, Twitter, speech writing, SEO and measurement dashboards that they run to webinars and conferences to boost their skills, only to be frozen by anxiety when they see how much they have to learn.
Sometimes these in-house PR practitioners—and their senior leaders—need to enlist a PR agency to combat and defeat all of this fatigue and anxiety. What an agency offers is not the brand and reputation of the agency itself—that’s beside the point. It’s the unique mix of skills and experience that an individual agency practitioner can offer that really matters.
In a recent issue of PR News’ premium newsletter, Catherine Frymark, SVP, corporate communications for Discovery Communications, reflected on her time spent working for agencies before joining Discovery. “I don’t regret one minute of starting my career in the agencies,” said Frymark, who was honored as one PR News’ Top Women in PR at a luncheon in New York in February. “In fact, when I am hiring I give a lot of weight to candidates with agency experience. I know they have the fundamentals. They can multitask and serve the client.”
Frymark pointed out that working on a portfolio of brands keeps agency pros fresh. And that’s the key selling point for brands and organizations that may be considering working with PR agencies. Agency pros are like the proverbial shark that Woody Allen’s character Alvy Singer discusses in “Annie Hall.” Alvy says that “a relationship is like a shark—it has to constantly move forward or it dies.” If you work at a PR agency, to survive and grow you have no choice but to keep moving forward, from client to client, from skill to skill.
This brings to the in-house team—which may live their brand but may be lacking the outsider’s perspective—a freshness that’s very difficult to achieve inside the brand.
Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI
I was in high school when my Home Economics teacher disclosed that Betty Crocker was not a real person but was a device to personalize the brand. For this naive Jewish girl in Baltimore, it might have been the equivalent of hearing there is no Santa Claus. Betty Crocker was not a real person. I resented that teacher and General Mills for many years, though relished in this newfound knowledge and spread the word about Betty to anyone who would listen.
Fast-forward 30 years and we are still inundated with Betty Crockers. Seemingly real, but not. All smiley faced and perfect, at least in the kitchen.
This dawned on me recently when at a PR News conference two attendees embraced and one said to the other: “I never really thought we’d meet in person. Great to know you are a real person and not just a Twitter handle!” To that, the other said, “Isn’t it great to get out of the office and meet real people?”
(Excuse my nosiness, but I was doing PR News research.) My radar was on for these types of interactions throughout the day of our event, and they were rampant over the course of 6 hours. To wit:
One well-respected industry leader declared proudly to me: “I am no longer using Facebook—I don’t even recognize my own siblings on there. I am going to focus on the here and now.” I get what she was saying. Last week alone, three people asked to be my friend on FB, and I have no clue who they are and what value I bring to them. They are connected to me through other acquaintances who I wouldn’t know if I bumped into them while buying a Betty Crocker mix. But more to the other point, who we are on social media is usually not who we are In Real Life. That means, to some extent, that what our customers are doing and saying online is not necessarily who they are offline. Understanding these nuances requires a human, not a machine. We all know this, though the lure of automated technology and social media communication can blur our vision.
The PR News conference last week was focused on PR Measurement, and there were a lot of great conversations about creating the ultimate PR dashboard, understanding Big Data and proving PR’s worth. It was agreed by most that even though we have an unprecedented array of technologies to assist us, it is beholden on us as brand leaders not to forget the human touch and the human brain. An algorithm can only tell us so much about our audience or our campaigns. A dashboard can reveal a lot, but it takes a human being to sift through the data and make real sense of it.
We can tweet and post and like and follow, but at what cost to human interaction? It is very efficient to use email and social media, but it is divine to sit across from a journalist, a customer, a colleague or any stakeholder and have eye contact, exchange words and ideas, relate in real life.
As we take on Big Data and elaborate dashboards, cloud computing and crowd sourcing, let’s remember to humanize our communications and apply human expertise to PR measurement so we can spot a Betty Crocker when she rears her pretty head.
– Diane Schwartz
When an organization is hit with a crisis, the response will often determine how long the crisis will last, in terms of negative media coverage, as well as any long-term erosion in brand reputation or lead revenue.
That’s why PR execs need to keep a close eye on how the crisis now engulfing Blue Bell Creameries plays out. On Monday the company announced that it is voluntarily recalling all of its ice cream products, because of listeria concerns, following a succession of smaller recalls.
Blue Bell realized its initial assumption that the bacteria was isolated to one machine in one room was “wrong,” after an additional half gallon of contaminated ice cream was found in its Brenham, Texas facility, according to a statement from Paul Kruse, the company’s president-CEO.
Blue Bell is trying to get in front of the crisis, which, considering the severity of the situation, may cause further damage to the 108-year-old brand. In a little more than a month, three deaths and several illnesses in Kansas and possibly Texas have been linked to the company’s products.
For communicators, the major takeaway from Blue Bell’s initial response is that however fast PR attacks a problem, it’s probably not fast enough.
In a digital age, the window for responding to a crisis keeps getting smaller.
“When there’s a recall and somebody does something quickly and when they handle it properly, we forgive it,” Phil Lempert, food industry analyst for SupermarketGuru.com, told The New York Times. “When it’s the entire product line or the entire company, people are very concerned.”
Blue Bell, which sells ice cream in 20 states, in no way is downplaying those concerns.
In a video apology (get used to it) posted on the company’s website and Facebook page, Kruse said: “We’re heartbroken over the situation and apologize to all of our Blue Bell fans and customers. Ice cream is a joy and pleasure to eat. It certainly is for me, and I do it every day. And it should never be a concern. For that, we apologize, and we’re going to get it right.”
Kruse hits the right tone, but, for the sake of transparency, he probably should have mentioned the deaths that have been linked to the company products and how the company intends to compensate the victims’ families.
Blue Bell reportedly has contracted both Burson Marsteller and kglobal for crisis management.
Now comes the heavy PR lifting. How will Blue Bell use both traditional media channels and digital venues to communicate how it’s fixing the problem? A FAQ post on its website—and linked on its Facebook page—is a good start.
Correct me if you think I’m wrong, but this is the sort of crisis in which digital needs to be subordinate to the human touch. Blue Bell’s senior executives should visit the communities that have been affected by the recall and tell consumers how things are being corrected. And it has to be a multi-pronged conversation.
Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1