Does Your Post Pass the Elevator Test?

latestWe all have our pet peeves that we cherish and use to define ourselves to ourselves. One of mine is the way people behave when looking at their mobile phones while walking or standing in public. Specifically, people in elevators gazing at their phones.

Perhaps this has happened to you: You’re waiting for an elevator, the doors open, you allow a couple of moments to pass for people to leave the elevator, no one leaves, so you step in just as some mobile-phone addict starts to leave. You nearly collide with that person as he looks up from his phone and starts to exit, and then you get the dirty look.

Each day, as I deal with this inconsiderate behavior, I feel a growing urge to take to Twitter and write, “Fellow citizens, please look up from your phones when elevator doors open to help avoid collisions.” Except I wouldn’t put it so tactfully.

So far I’ve resisted the urge.

I resist the urge by asking myself, “Would I make this statement aloud to strangers in a crowded elevator?”

Of course, I wouldn’t. At least one person would curse me out and the rest would write me off as a nut.

And that’s what Twitter and all other social channels are—elevators packed with strangers. Sharing a link to worthwhile content is one thing. Before expressing a strong opinion about anything, or making a stand about a controversial issue, remember that you’re communicating with strangers who didn’t ask you for your opinion. Would you disparage an NCAA basketball team during March Madness in a crowded elevator, to no one in particular? Maybe you would, but you would have to prepare for and expect some negative consequences. Imagine doing the same thing on Twitter.

Individuals and brands should keep this elevator test in mind before posting anything on social channels. For instance, while no one asked Starbucks to start a national conversation about race in the U.S., it launched its daring online and in-store #RaceTogether campaign, and things got so out of hand that one of its senior PR executives shut down his Twitter account temporarily.

Perhaps if Starbucks had tested this campaign in an elevator filled with strangers, it might have played out differently.

Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI


There’s Nothing Fishy About The Weather Channel’s #Nemo Hash Tag

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




PR Lessons Learned: Greatest Hits of 2012

As PR News readers know, we’re big on lessons learned. Many of these PR lessons result in tried and true tactics, like “measure everything” and “listen to your target audiences.” Because 2012 is drawing to a close, I’ve compiled my own “lessons learned” list for 2012, drawn from some very public PR dust-ups. Here are my favorite five:

Lesson 1: Learn From Others’ Mistakes. Starbucks U.K. should have dialed “M” for McDonald’s before launching a hashtag campaign this week to engage with customers. Asking people to #spreadthecheer for the holidays, the public responded with tweets criticizing Starbucks over a tax controversy and labor practices. Posts like “Hey #Starbucks, PAY YOUR F_______ Tax #spreadthecheer” appeared on a big screen at a Starbucks-sponsored ice rink in London. McDonald’s suffered a similar fate in January with its #McDStories campaign.

Lesson 2: Trust Your Fan Base. Food Network’s Guy Fieri went on the offensive after his new Times Square restaurant is skewered by The New York Times. “”I think we all know what’s going on here, I mean [Times food critic Pete Wells] came in with a different agenda,” said Fieri on the “Today” show. Fieri could afford to rip the Times, because he has nearly 800,000 Twitter followers and his “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” is one of the Food Network’s most popular shows.

Lesson 3: A Little “Cheeky” Humor Goes a Long Way. After revealing photos of Prince Harry in Las Vegas appeared online, media pundits said Harry may never recover his royal reputation. Instead of buttoning up about the crisis, Harry used a bit of humor to diffuse the controversy. His first public appearance after the crisis broke saw him meeting with a 6-year-old boy, a survivor of acute leukemia. In an interview with the boy on the day before the meeting, the boy told reporters he was going to say, “I’m glad you’ve got your clothes on, Prince Harry.” Harry was briefed on those remarks and said to the boy, “I heard you were on ITV earlier and you said something cheeky—but let’s not talk about that here.”

Lesson 4: Any Publicity is Good Publicity. When it comes to The Donald, the old adage still rings true. When Donald Trump told his 1.7 million followers on Oct. 22 that he had big news to announce about President Obama on Oct. 24 at noon, the media and public took notice. While his announcement turned out to be a dud, love him or hate him, Trump’s gravitas got him what he wanted: to be back in the national spotlight.

Lesson 5: Never Make the Coverup as Bad as the Crime. After San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera was suspended for 50 days for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug, word got out the he had planned to launch a campaign to avoid suspension by creating a fake Web site, highlighting a product that doesn’t exist in hopes of using that as a “reason” for his positive test. Cabrera was able to overcome the positive test, signing a $16 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays for 2013. He may never overcome that lame coverup.

Do you have some PR lessons learned in 2012 that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01

Phone Communications: 9 Things to Consider Before You Call

Remember when we used to use the phone for nearly all our day-to-day communications? For many, the device serves as a sticky-note holder and an occasional reminder to call Mom. For others – and I hope it includes yourself – it is still a powerful communication tool. Having just returned from a week-long vacation, I had nearly two dozen voice mail messages at work, and it got me thinking about the dying art of phone etiquette and communications.

So herein are 8 things to NOT do when using the phone and one must-do:

1. Do not leave a message asking if we received your press release (yes, PR News still gets those messages). Usually these messages are left after-hours to protect the junior account executive or intern forced to make the call.

2. Do not state in your message that it is urgent I call you back today and here’s when you’ll be around – when I don’t even know who you or anything about your company.  Every now and then I do fall for this, and it’s not a good feeling.

3. Do not read from a script when leaving a message unless you’re a really good actor.

Those are some voice mail pet peeves. Now, for the actual live conversations, I propose the following don’ts:

4.  Don’t check your emails while in a phone conversation. Give the other person the respect of full engagement.

5. Worse yet, don’t send an email to the person you’re talking to – while you are actually on the call (unless he or she is expecting that email).

6. Don’t hold a conversation while you are waiting in line at Starbucks (or anywhere) – it’s rude and it makes us thirsty.

7. Don’t use speaker phone if you are in a room of one.

8. Don’t rely on email to impart important information – be it good news or bad. Pick up the phone and have a conversation. The listening, the talking, the back and forth communication just might make your day.

9. Do:  Call someone you’ve been meaning to dial up but have resorted to an email “hi” or just months of silence.  ( I’m at 212-621-4964. )

What are your phone etiquette pet peeves?

Diane Schwartz





Employees Percolate at Starbucks

There may be a culture crisis brewing at Starbucks. A Reuters story posted on today reported that despite record earnings announced yesterday (86% profit gain!), Starbucks baristas around the country are complaining about a change in corporate culture. They believe cost cutting and an emphasis on “selling stuff” is changing Starbucks into McDonald’s instead of the “anti-McDonald’s.” So what happens when a company that previously took care of its staff gets so large and rich that this nurturing falls by the wayside? To their credit, the company is giving bonuses to 100,000 empl0yees around the world, but to many longtime employees,  money may not be the issue. Do you think Starbucks will address this perceived change with its disgruntled employees, or simply let them leave?

By the way, crisis communications is one of 11 hot topics covered at our How-To Conference in D.C. on Dec. 1, and coffee will be served. I hope to see you there.

–Scott Van Camp

Is CSR ‘Irrelevant’?

Monday’s Wall Street Journal article that makes the case against the idea of corporate social responsibility is provocative food for thought. But just as author Aneel Karnani argues that the reasoning for CSR is flawed, I believe there’s a few flaws in his reasoning. Here’s a couple of examples:

1. Karnani: “Large companies now routinely claim that they aren’t in business just for profits, they’re also intent on serving some larger societal purpose.” While some of this statement rings true, I think Aneel overstates the case. I’ve talked to a lot of CSR leaders, and profits are THE overriding goal. And I doubt if people primarily think of McDonald’s, Exxon Mobil or even Starbucks as economic or environmental saviors.

2. “…in cases where private profits and public interests are aligned, the idea of corporate social responsibility is irrelevant: Companies that simply do everything to boost profits will end up increasing social welfare.” Tell that to the people of the Gulf Coast.

3. “More often, profits and social welfare are at odds, and executives can’t be expected to heed the call for social responsibility at the expense of shareholders.” A number of studies have shown that the public, which includes a few shareholders, better responds to companies that partake in CSR activities. So profits and social welfare—at least in some cases—aren’t really at odds.

These are just a few points in the article that I feel are flawed. But this is not to say that the article has no merit. PR agency Gibbs & Soell’s 2010 “Sense & Sustainability Study,” which surveyed U.S. consumers and Fortune 1000 executives on their views of corporate efforts to improve the health of the environment, found that only a minority of execs (29%) see an overall strong corporate commitment to “going green.” So perhaps the majority of corporate execs might agree with Karnani’s view. What do you think of it?

–Scott Van Camp

Friends Aren’t What They Used to Be: A Facebook Folly

When my daughter — who just crossed over into teenager territory — asked me how many friends I had, I was reminded of how things have changed.  Surely I have less friends, now that I am in my fourth decade. Yet by her definition I actually have more friends than ever. Just a second ago I confirmed that I was friends with someone who I didn’t even know. Friendship is a wonderful thing.  I plan to “un-friend” her just as I have “un-friended” many others who have entered my social network online and who, just like with my “real” friends, I really don’t need to know that they’re running to Starbucks to get a latte or that their dog just got his shots. By the way, I have been de-friended a few times online and it doesn’t feel so good.

I am a communicator at heart, and as the publisher of PR News, I advocate for honest, open and intelligent dialogue with the public.  But I am hearing from PR people that Facebook in particular has been both a blessing and curse. Corporate PR Directors are now friends with their direct reports. Agency heads are friending clients.  A media relations director at a nonprofit told me she just defriended her whole staff on Facebook because she “just didn’t want to see it all.”

So, it’s open for debate whether Facebook is good for us as business people. We know it’s not good for (or to) nursing moms, yet we know it’s fun and usually harmless to connect with old friends and classmates. And for industry colleagues, it’s great to have them as friends now, since it’s harder to connect in person these days.

But I would advise to think twice next time an employee of yours asks to be friends with you on Facebook.  Your relationship will take on a different nuance. Which brings me back to my daughter who asked if I wanted to be “friends” with her on Facebook.  We agreed that would not be a good idea, as I just don’t want to know it all. But she did give me her password to check in on her time and again.

What has been your “work” experience with Facebook? It’s time for some friendly discourse…

- Diane Schwartz

‘Oh, We Can Do That…And That’

Al Riese’s article this week at on “The Pitfalls of Branding” should be a must-read to all PR execs. Or at least those who are creating new products, new practice areas and specialties as quickly as Fox launches a reality show. Riese’s article discusses the perils of mega-branding and line extensions that blur the raise d’etre for the brand itself. Do we really need (or want) 11 flavors of Wheat Thins? Despite umpteen extensions of Coca-Cola, consumption of the brand as a whole is declining. Are you a PR firm that specializes in tech, healthcare, manufacturing, entertainment, defense, energy, telecom, automotive and childcare issues? How special is that? There’s nothing wrong with having multiple practice areas and being positioned as a full-service firm across many vertical markets. But there are pitfalls to that strategy as well. Perhaps you specialize in reputation management across those markets. That might be a better connector with your stakeholders. A blog entry I wrote earlier this year advised Starbucks to stick to its knitting, avoid introducing products that deviate from its core identity and smell up the place (like egg sandwiches). We now know there’s more brewing at Starbucks than the espresso. So what does your product stand for: are you trying to be all things to all people, or do you have the restraint to focus on a few things you can be great at, that defines your brand and your own raise d’etre as a brand and product steward? PR should lead the way.

- Diane Schwartz

Starbucks Made Me Feel Fat

As previously mentioned, I am a Starbucks junkie.  A few moments ago, I returned from my afternoon iced-coffee run at my regular outpost, where I was completely devastated to learn that the lemon pound cake I frequently purchase has 500 calories.  Five. Hundred. Calories.

Obviously, I know that Starbucks’ fresh baked goods are neither fresh nor good for you, but today (as far as I could tell) was the first time they put the calorie content on the labels of every treat in their display case.  Just as I prefer to not know how much money I spend at Starbucks each week, I would like to remain ignorant to how many calories I consumer there as well.

However, even though the woman in line behind me agreed that it was a painful truth to stomach, it’s clearly another move the coffee chain is making to resurrect its wounded reputation.  Another notable change is the limited-time-only brown logo, which celebrates the brand’s beginnings in Seattle and its new Pike Place brew (a smoother blend that aims to rebuff claims that Starbucks beans taste over-roasted and burned).

Was the logo change a good idea? I’m going to go with “yes,” as the brown mermaid made a previous appearance to celebrate Starbucks’ 35th anniversary in 2006; with Chairman Howard Schultz back at the helm, it seems like a natural way to illustrate the brand’s forward momentum while celebrating its historic rise to international ubiquity.

As for the complete transparency (which is, of course, always a good PR strategy) with front-and-center nutrition facts, I think I will remain a believer that ignorance is in fact bliss.

By Courtney Barnes

Dunkin’ Donuts Out-Does Starbucks … Again

I’m a loyal Starbucks customer, so it pains me to do this but … here it goes. Earlier this week, following the announcement of 600 layoffs, the 7,000+ stores temporarily closed their doors for three hours to conduct nationwide employee training. In response to this announcement, scrappy competitor Dunkin’ Donuts offered small lattes, cappuccinos and espresso drinks for 99 cents “to ensure that no coffee over is denied a delicious espresso-based beverage.” Touche!

It was a brilliant PR move on the part of the company, whose success in the caffeine market is quickly threatening to outpace Starbucks’. Dunkin’ Donuts is making huge inroads by appealing to the masses—the “average Joe” coffee drinker, if you will, who doesn’t know (or want to know) that ‘tall’ and ‘small’ are the same size. BUT, that said, I do think that Starbucks execs made a good decision in closing up shop for a few hours to “foster enthusiasm” among its 135,000 employees (who were likely concerned for their job security) and “improve the quality of the drinks” made by baristas.

Sipping my iced coffee as I write this, my conclusion is simple: Both companies made a good choice, but Dunkin’ Donuts definitely takes the cake for exploiting another’s hurt for its own gain. Maybe a little side of Schadenfreude with its 99 cent latte? You’ve gotta respect that … even if you are a big enough sucker to spend 10% of your annual income on overpriced (and, admittedly, over-roasted) coffee. Guilty as charge.

By Courtney Barnes

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