Whole Foods blogging problems–the bird comes home to roost

I commented earlier (June 26) about Whole Foods and CEO John Mackey’s use of his CEO blog to attack the regulators who were taking a little less optimistic view of the proposed merger with Wild Oats than what Mackey thought appropriate. Here’s what I wrote about this clash of cultures:

What makes this interesting is again the intersection of blogging–in this case CEO blogging–on the business environment. And the clash of cultures that exist. Government regulators want you to play nice with them or else they will use the only power they really have–the power to say “no”–against you. Get pissy with them and they have ways of getting back.

Well, it looks like they found an even stronger way of getting at Mr. Mackey. Now apparently the SEC is investigating Mr. Mackey to see if he violated the law when he blogged under a pseudonym. This revelation about blogging under a different name is causing problems for him in both the blog world and the regulatory world. He violated the first principle of blogging–transparency. And, now they are looking to see if he also violated the Regulation Fair Disclosure law.

Suddenly, a CEO blogging hero, known for his openness, outspokenness and being in tune with the blog culture may be fighting for his job–and some of it for the very reasons that made him a blog hero. Hmmm, a clash of cultures can get ugly.

New technologies emerging faster than grandchildren

My fifth grandchild arrived this weekend. A beautiful girl named Eva Katherine–great job Geoff and Amy! Amy went into labor during my nephew’s wedding and Geoff was supposed to be a groomsman for his cousin–he got through the pictures but got called to the hospital two hours before the wedding started. We were text messaging him like crazy during the wedding and the reception to get updates on progress. He got tired of responding to everyone’s text messages so he set up a twitter site. With that, he just text messaged his updates once which went to a website that everyone could access. Use your cell phone to distribute content via a site or RSS feeds.

Just one more example of the rapidly expanding options for communicators to distribute urgent and critical information.

Here’s another change: iphone makes using the web realistic on a phone-sized computer. That’s what it is, really. A computer in your pocket that also works as a phone. But the implications for communication management when you use a web-based platform are critical. Now, vital communication functions can be managed from your phone. Content creation, editing, approvals, distribution, interactive response management, reporting, media monitoring, etc–all done from your phone.

This world keeps changing–faster than a new baby messes her diaper.

More bad news about Continental–mother and child get booted

First it was the infamous “poo” flight with victims displaying their outrage about how they were treated on the Continental trans-Atlantic flight with the bathroom backed up and human waste flowing into the aisles. I was sympathetic to the airline then, talking about how the media were falling all over themselves to get the victims on camera to talk about how horrible this was.

Last night on the local tv news show, another story involving Continental, another victim making accusations certain to generate outrage among the public and potential flyers, and another black eye for Continental. Now, I imagine most of us have been on flights with out of control children and completely out of touch parents and we wish a flight attendant or flight crew would care a little more for the comfort of the rest of the passengers and take some action. It never happens. But in this case, if you listen to the mother, the child only said three words and the mother and baby were booted before the plane took off. I find that hard to believe, but there she is, a nice looking young mother with a beautiful child making accusations that are certain to diminish years of brand building by this company. And no response by the airline other than “we are investigating the incident.”

That’s what gets me about this kind of news coverage and this kind of company response. I want to cheer for the airline because the media loves this kind of gotcha story, but I get frustrated when the PR departments and senior leadership do so little to protect themselves against this kind of damaging onslaught. Much better was American Airlines response when they were accused of racial profiling in the months after 9/11 when a Secret Service agent was kicked off a flight. In that case, they wasted little time in explaining that he was carrying a gun, would not produce identification, was angry and abusive. The issue immediately went away because in such circumstances, who could blame a crew for taking protective action.

Eric Dezenhall in his new book “Damage Control” (I still have to read it) takes the position that typical crisis response is far too namby pamby. I think he is right about this. More important, it is far too slow. Of course, there is no mention of the news story on the Continental website–but where are they going to tell their side of the story. I want badly to hear that this woman has significantly mis-communicated about the circumstances. I want to hear another side. But nothing. So, despite my pro-company/anti-gotcha journalism position, Continental fails. Guilty as charged. I’ll think twice about booking a flight on that airline when another one will get me where I want to go.

Exploring the dimensions of trust

Two days of discussions, planning, analyzing by our company’s senior leadership group have resulted in confirmation and recommitment to the focus on trust. That is helping our clients build and maintain trust. Which is leading me to want to dig deeper into this issue to understand more what trust is, what it is not, why it happens and how it is lost.

So you will likely see more ramblings and random thoughts about this topic in this blog. As I continue to look at what is happening in the world of crisis management, emergency response, reputation and issue management, I will focus more on the topic of trust as it is in my mind the end game of all the efforts of communicators.

Still, there seems to be a gap that is critically important. Is trust what companies and organizations are all about? Is it what they put on the top of the list of goals and aspirations? I kind of think not. When CEOs or Executive Directors lay their heads on their pillows, I think they tend to think more about what the balance sheet is looking like and the impact of their strategies and decisions on share price, return on investment, and other metrics of financial performance. Where is trust in this?

I think they think of trust as a nice thing to have but not intimately connected to what the numbers are.

If you are a communicator or communications leader in your company or organization, you face the same dilemma we do as a company. How can we get the senior leadership (our clients, your bosses) to connect the dots? To see that building trust is the essential path to financial performance? The trust that customers have in a brand is directly related to brand value. And smart CEOs know how to translate brand value into financial value. Attracting and holding key employees is clearly a matter of trust. Trust in the goodwill, values of management as well as trust in their ability to lead the company forward in an uncertain and competitive world. Trust, increasingly, is related to a company’s ability to operate in a regulated world. Because it is not just government regulators who set the rules, it is the public. I should say, the public as influenced by the media, by online media, by reputation, by events that bear on the feelings and opinions they have about the company. If this is lost, all else is lost–including the ability to translate assets such as brand, equipment, people into economic return.

But the gap exists, and that is why we (and you) need to work on closing that gap. When senior leaders understand the critical role of trust in their organization’s future, you as a communication leader will have a premier seat at the table. And they may just listen to advisors like us who try to help prepare them to take the actions necessary to build and maintain that vital commodity.

Sony vs. the Church of England

Should Sony stop selling or recall “Resistance:Fall of Man”? because it has a building where a fight with aliens take place that looks a lot like Manchester cathedral. The Church of England is demanding an apology–and I would guess, a ban on the games or removal of the offending scenes.

This strikes me as the kind of reputation conflict that will help Sony sell more copies. In a world in which many old churches have been converted into uses much different from what they were originally intended, it strikes me as a little strange that churches should treated different than other buildings in terms of use as backdrops for movies, videogames, etc.

I’m not sure what the real issue is here. The photo caption of the news story says the Church of England is deeply offended and worried about gun crime. OK, so is the point of the proposed legal action to stop violent video games and the fact that the building here looks like one of their’s simply provides a relevant pretext? Or is there a claim in here to copyright protection of the building including representations of buildings that might look similar? How far can that be pushed?

My comments are not about the interesting legal implications, because I’m sure what Sony is far more concerned about is its reputation and its sales of a game that has sold 2 million copies. As I said at first, the controversy will probably help propel the sales–you can’t buy this kind of advertising. Besides, having what many young perceive as a bunch of stuffy, grumpy religious people object to a video game is a great way to generate their interest in it.

At the same time, Sony is brand bigger than video games and no one who cares about the American market (much more so than the European for example) can be too cavalier about religious sensitivities. Too demonstrate you have no concern for what offends those who hold things sacred is to risk some serious backlash and brand damage.

If I was a Sony advisor, I’d say stretch out the discussion. Make it last. Get lots of play. Get the bloggers going on it. Then make some modifications such as redesign the cathedral just a bit so it maybe loses a little of resemblance. Make a big deal out of your great sensitivity to the demands of the church, and then go to the bank.

In other words, I think the Church of England goofed up on this. Your thoughts?

Anne Klein on "fighting fire with fire" in crisis management, Eric Holdeman on emergency mgt

Anne Klein is a respected PR professional from the Philadelphia area. Her article, titled “Crisis Management: Fighting Fire with Fire,” was published in the Boards and Directors newsletter.

It is an excellent review of the role of technology in today’s crisis management including a helpful glossary.

Full disclosure: the technology she refers to, including the examples provided, is the system sold by the company I lead.

The second article I refer you to is an op-ed piece in the Seattle Times written by former King County Dept of Emergency Management head Eric Holdeman. Eric, a valuable resource for the entire region, is now principal at IFCI, a consultancy, specializing in homeland security and emergency management consulting.

A Very Special Fourth of July Message

The Evergreen Freedom Foundation in Washington State, headed by former gubernatorial candidate Bob Williams, is a non-profit dedicated to preserving freedoms in our state and nation. To celebrate this Fourth of July as a day dedicated not just to celebrate our independence but our founding on the firm principles and ideas of personal freedom, EFF created a video of a 77 year old gentleman who grew up in the Netherlands during World War II, struggled under Nazi occupation with his family involved in the Underground including the risky job of hiding people being hunted down by the Nazis. He came to the US when he was 18 and lived the American entrepreneurial dream, building numerous businesses, creating considerable personal wealth, and raising a family of four boys and two girls.

I’m very proud to be one of those boys he raised.

Here is a tribute to freedom courtesy of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation and my dad, Sid Baron.

Thomas Friedman on transparency and the blog world

Do whatever you can to get ahold of the Tom Friedman column on the blogosphere. I’d provide a link but my local newspaper where I found the column in the July 3 edition didn’t include this column on its website.

Friedman tells about an encounter with a woman while waiting in line. She butted in front of him and they got into a confrontation. But now he says, he would never confront her. He would just let her in and apologize. Why this change of behavior? The blogosphere.

“Because I’d be thinking there is some chance this woman has a blog or a camera in her cell phone and could, if she so chose, tell the whole world about our encounter–entirely from her perspective–and my utterly rude, boorish, arrogant, thinks-he-can-butt-in-line behavior. Yikes!”

Friedman then shares insights by a new book by Dov Seidman called “How.” The point is in this age of extreme transparency, of digital memory that never dies, of instant transfer of information, how you live your life and how you conduct your business is more important than ever. “For young people, writes Seidman, this means understanding that your reputation in life is going to get set in stone so much earlier…For this generation, much of what they say, do or write will be preserved forever online. Before employers even read their resumes, they’ll Google them.”

And when it comes to business: “Companies that get their hows wrong won’t be able to just hire a PR firm to clean up the mess by taking a couple of reporters to lunch–not when everyone is a reporter and can talk back and be heard locally.”

But Thomas, that’s what at least some of us in this industry have been saying for some time. It is all about trust and trust depends on doing the right things (the “hows”) and telling your story well.

Friedman and Seidman also make the point about the opportunity this represents. Those who do their “hows” right, in other words conform to the public’s view of right behavior, have the opportunity to create trust and distinguish themselves from their competition on that basis.  “…it represents a rare opportunity: the opportunity to outbehave your competition.”

Great stuff, Mr. Friedman. This is the age of transparency and we’ll put Mr. Friedman in that growing group of thought leaders we like to call the “apostles of authenticity.”