Taco Bell's Reaction Fast?

Bulldog Reporter has a story today that says Taco Bell is “wasting no time reacting to the E.coli outbreak.” Give me a break. If this isn’t old media world thinking I don’t know what is. I blogged on Taco Bell’s situation on December 7, that would be 8 days ago. Eight days is a long time in today’s instant news world to get the message out that your food is safe and to communicate the action steps you are taking to insure that.

Time Magazine noted Taco Bell’s slow response in an article on Dec 8 including the following: “Taco Bell’s attempt at damage control needs damage control. The fast-food chain has responded poorly to this week’s E. coli
outbreak, experts say, and its bad public relations could hamper Taco Bell’s efforts to reasure its customers.” It quoted my good friend Jonathan Bernstein: “The information a company releases to stakeholders like investors and employees may be different than the information released to the public,” Bernstein says. The information, he adds, “needs to be released in an interactive way so that all of your stakeholders have a means to ask questions and receive answers, such as on a web site.”

What really gets me about this kind of story in Bulldog is that this is an online publication for the public relations industry.  The writers of this ought to “get it” better than this because they are the ones setting the expectations and communicating new standards to the industry.

Another flog controversy–this time Sony creates a fake blog

Authenticity is among the highest values in the blogworld. That’s why the blog world reacts so strongly to the idea of fake blogs or “flogs.” The Wal-Mart flog controversy involving Edelman was hyped in part by the paid critics of Wal-Mart funded by unions, but that does not diminish the outrage of the blog world to the idea of a PR company funding a blog that posed as being an authentic expression of personal opinion and experience.

Now Sony has been outed as running a flog through a viral marketing firm called Zipatoni. The justification for the funded promotional blog was that it was humorous. According to a poster on the blog presumed to be a Zipatoni executive, Sony’s reaction to the proposal to do a promotional blog without identity was: “who cares if people find out? As long as it is funny, we do this stuff all of the time.”

If that is the case, the Sony marketing execs do not understand either the value system of the blog world, nor the rules of ethics of WOMMA. Those ethical standards are based, as I recently heard, on this new definition of ROI:

Honesty in Relationship (that is full disclosure of any relationship to the subject addressed)

Honesty in Opinion (the opinions expressed be authentic and not motivated by other agendas)

Honesty in Identity (disclose truthfully the author)

Now it appears, again something I just heard, that the FTC is getting into the act of making these kinds of ethical standards into regulations.

Whether or not this becomes the law of the land or not is not really the point. The law of the blogland has already been well established and is more effective than anything any federal agency can do. Authenticity is the key. I just hope that the blogworld treats inauthentic critic blogs (such as Wal-martwatch.org) with the same degree of flame as they do the flogs that have received all the attention.

Why do some want to stop talking? The "long tail" of crisis communication.

Because the company I founded provides crisis communication technology to many of the world’s leading global companies and large government agencies, we are frequently on the inside of many of today’s headline stories. And we are in a position to observe and learn from what some of the best communicators in the world today are doing. We see the best and the worst.

One of the things we learned is that audience’s for websites on crisis events or major topics of interest do not go away quickly. We were surprised to learn that just because a story has slipped off the front page, indeed, out of the news media’s attention, it does not mean that stakeholders or interested members of the public have lost interest. The long tail of crisis communication shows that a remarkably strong audience continues to visit crisis event websites long after its “newsworthiness” has diminished.

We have documented this trend in a white paper I wrote over a year ago. You can read that white paper, called Keep on Talking here.

I write this because we continue to see incidences of communicators ignoring this or not caring about it. Recently we heard of one crisis site–for one of the largest news stories of the year–which was shut down even though 20,000 hits were still being registered each day. This is a site that received millions of hits, so in comparison the traffic seems light. But, the fact that 10,000 or more people are coming to this site every day seeking information about something with high relevance to them argues for continued communication. The rationale given was that the company had nothing new to say on the subject and the media were ignoring the information on it and writing their own spin on the story anyway. Yes, we want to yell loud enough so that it can be heard: But it is not just about the media.

I see this problem over and over and over and over (can you tell I am frustrated?) Crisis communicators continue to think it is all about communicating with the media. They do not seem to understand that we long ago entered the post media world of direct communication. As consumers of info, they participate in that world daily. But, the blinders go on when the start doing their “public relations” job.

Let me put it this way, if 10,000 or more people gathered outside the front door of your office each and every day, would you send out a spokesperson to talk to them? Especially since they are coming in large part because they think you have messed up their world in some way? Frankly, I don’t understand why this is so hard to see.

SeaTac and Wii share a crisis cause

SeaTac airport has been much in the news because of their decision to take down their Christmas trees and then put them back up again. Nintendo is also in the news. Despite the phenomenal success of their new Wii video game console, the news isn’t about their rising share price and great sales. It is about the lawsuits they are facing.

(Full disclosure on the Wii. As readers of this blog will know I stood in line in a snowstorm to get my Wii and my wife and I are Wii fanatics. We got over the sore and strained muscles and play tennis, bowling, golf, etc. every chance we get. We’re just unhappy we can’t get extra controllers yet–but we’ve decided not to sue them over it.)

The reason SeaTac took down the trees was because a lone Rabbi objected and threatened a federal lawsuit. The reason Bob Parker, the port’s spokesperson gave for reinstalling the trees was because the Rabbi removed the threat of a lawsuit. Well first of all, does one person threatening a lawsuit determine every action of an organization like the Port of Seattle? And come on, a Christmas tree is hardly a heavily laden faith statement. The tradition dates back to pre-Christian era. The Christians decided to adopt the use of a Christmas tree that was part of pagan celebrations rather than fighting the popular tide. The anti-Christians and rabid secularists of today ought to have such wisdom.

The Wii lawsuits are based on injuries and damage caused by flying Wiis. The newsclip I saw on TV last night showing some of these injuries would be very helpful in Nintendo’s defense because it showed just how incredibly stupid people can be with a game they are having a lot of fun with. One girl featured on an attack website had an incredibly swollen black eye. Another kid was absolutely hurling the Wii controller and it flew out of his hands and into the TV. Nintendo’s lawyers clearly anticipated the legal assaults and have absolutely loaded the game with continual warnings. Warnings to play in an area clear of people and obstacles. And to make sure you have the strap on. They should have put a warning that the game is not to be played by stupid people or those under some toxic influence.

The Economist magazine, coming out of the UK, loves to point out that America’s economy has a huge brake on it and that we would be much stronger in the world’s economy if it were not for this brake. That brake is our absolutely ludicrous tort law system. The rest of the world laughs. I would laugh too at the PR crisis that both SeaTac and Nintendo find themselves in if the consequences were not so serious. And I don’t mean just for these fine organizations. But for all of us.

When the old (financial) world meets the new (internet guru) world

This was just too rich to pass up. Craig’s List CEO Jim Buckmaster spoke to investment community this morning. What he said stunned them. I’m sure many are still trying to figure out what planet he is from. But I have an idea that his thinking about profit, revenue and how things really work are a lot more in line with the blogworld, internet community than most of us might think.

E. coli, Taco Bell and the nightmare that everyone who serves food faces

In crisis management we look at crisis vulnerabilities. Taco Bell in the New York area just experienced a nightmare that faces almost everyone in the food business: an E. coli outbreak.

The news (here as reported in a Bulldog report)  focuses on how quickly Taco Bell was able to re-open all but one of the nine stores they closed after more than 25 confirmed cases of the illness were discovered. This is good news from a crisis management perspective–interesting too because it appears the investigation is still going on.

The question for the millions of food suppliers who could experience an E. coli outbreak, is how prepared are you to communicate. This story got on the front page of the NYT. Potentially thousands of customers, including critical customers in distribution chains could be greatly affected if food you produce, process, distribute or deliver to consumers is suspected (not even proven, but suspected) of being infected. That means that everyone of these people need to be prepared to deal with the instant news world or face the consequences of failure to communicate quickly and accurately.

My brother is the manager of a regional county fair. Everyone of the people in leadership in fairs across the country worry about E. coli, in part because of the high level of potential exposure of children to animal feces. Plus all the food eaten at fairs. But, are regional and local fairs adequately prepared to deal with both the media scrutiny and the flood of fair visitors who will hit their websites and be expecting direct information from them? Their future may very well depend on that preparation.

What is PR's real value?

I’m in the LA area for a few days of meetings so writing briefly. But I did come across a very interesting article on Daily Dog about James Grunig, Professor Emeritus from University of Maryland. I like his comment on PR’s real value:

“But PR’s greatest value comes in reducing costs and risks. Specifically, primary costs are litigation, regulation, legislation and encounters with activist groups, or negative publicity. Most of those costs to relationships are caused by poor management decisions—those that don’t take into account interests of stakeholders.”

I also saw a presentation from the Center for Disease Control on crisis communication and I have to relay one quote from them that I will probably steal and use in my seminars and presentations. They were talking about the need to quickly provide information to those looking for it in a crisis and the challenge of doing what you need to do to prepare to provide that information. They said it was like cooking a turkey while a crowd of starving people are waiting. I like that. We communicators, the turkey cookers.

The pot calling the kettle black? More on Wal-Mart and the critics

I’m not sure, but the critics of Wal-Mart who made the loudest noises about the “fake blog” controversy may be more than a tad hypocritical.

Ever since I commented here about the Wal-Mart Across America Blog that turned out was funded by Edelman, I have received several helpful comments (anti-Wal-Mart and ant-Edelman) from someone from the organization behind walmartwatch.com. I checked this website and saw what I assumed to be a typical activist “trash the company” website run by individuals who are sincerely committed to making change in something they believe in.

Imagine my surprise when I read in the latest issue of the Economist that Walmartwatch.com is a union-led organization. Sure enough, I went to the site and the head of it is indeed an union leader. But there is nothing clearly visible on the site to indicate that it is a union front.

So let me get this straight (and again, I may have my facts straight and I’m sure if I have anything wrong I will quickly find out: The Wal-Mart “critics” attack Edelman and the blog it sponsored for not being forthcoming about their vested interest in supporting Wal-Mart. But it is apparently perfectly OK for the critics to not be forthcoming about their vested and very clear financial interests.

Unions, after all, are a business. Their revenue gained is dependent directly on the number of members who have union jobs. The more union members employed, the better they do and the more resources they have to pay their people, hire more and maintain their political action–aimed of course at getting more union jobs. I can very well understand how much union leaders hate Wal-Mart. It not only does not hire union members, it puts enormous pressure on competitors who do hire union members with all the costs and benefits associated.

Just to be clear–I am not defending Wal-Mart’s employee practices. I have commented separately on how I believe they must change. But, if the Economist is correct (and they usually are) it is incredibly hypocritical (in my opinion) of Walmartwatch.com to be so incensed by the fake blog when they themselves are posing as a citizen-based activist (and blog) organization when they have a clear economic vested interest.

Odds and Ends: A very brave woman, YouTube as a game, and snowstorm web traffic

This post is more like an old fashioned weblog–a few interesting things I came across in the last 24 hours.

First, an incredibly brave Arab-American from LA who is engaging the Islamic community in very lively debate on Al-Jazeera. First, hats off to Al-Jazeera to allow this woman to speak (that very comment belies my bias–shared by most Westerners I suspect–that the Islamic world has little tolerance for free speech). I encourage you to view this via newsvine because I believe this is the kind of debate that is needed within the Arab and Islamic world if we are to move beyond the status quo. But, I would much prefer she or some other would come at this from a Muslim perspective. It is easy to see in the question: Are you a heretic? how easily her viewpoint will be dismissed by those most needing to consider her words.

The second item is from blogger Max Kalehoff, VP at Neilsen BuzzMetrics, who makes the point that YouTube’s growing popularity may be because it fits the criteria of a game.

Finally, a little closer to home, we’ve had a big snowstorm here in the usually rainy Pacific Northwest and one of our users of PIER is a school district in the region. They used PIER (an online communications management program) to push info out to parents and others interested about school closures. PIER makes it very easy to create messages and “push” them via email, fax, or text to voice telephone messages. The website run by PIER simultaneously publishes the information as well. We were wondering why their hit count went over 500,000 on their website–it’s a moderate size school district of less than 20,000 students. But the answer was that there was a bit of delay in the normal flow of pushed information out to the parents as the district leaders were trying to decide whether to open or not. So the parents were hitting the website over and over wondering if they needed to arrange for child care and the like.

Several critical points here: these are people who would normally rely on local radio for school closure info and wait (often in frustration) while the station got around to announcing the relevant news to them. Second, when their thirst for current info wasn’t filled by email when they wanted it, they went to the well (the website). And when they found that dry of info as well, they went back and back and back until their thirst was quenched.

A message for communicators–when faced with thirsty audiences, give them something–even if it is to tell them when you expect to have the important information they need.