Category Archives: blog

Ignore the mainstream media–from Amazon to the White House, looks to be the new trend

I was fascinated the other day with Breaking News On announcement of the White House announcing a press conference via Twitter. What’s amazing about that, is that they announced it via Twitter quite a while before letting the press know via traditional means.

Then this story today about Amazon and Zappos announcing the acquisition of Zappos by Amazon. They did it through company blog and posting a video of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. They ignored main stream media calls. Ignored them. The cheeky ValleyWag blog commented:

Bezos cut out the middleman — the press, in this case — big time. And why not? Instead of having to answer boring financial questions, Bezos got to pontificate on Amazon’s history, ostensible focus on its customers, and on his management philosophy. The manic laugher would never have been able to sermonize like this in the Wall Street Journal.

Note: Cut out the middleman. Exactly. I’ve been trying to convince public relations managers, heads of communication, emergency response managers, PIOs, etc., that they days of media-centric communications are gone. Been preaching this since 2001 when I wrote it in my book with the chapter title: You Are the Broadcaster.

Clearly Amazon and Zappos could benefit from all the news coverage around this important acquisition. Clearly they are getting it. Plus a lot of blog talk, etc. But they opted not to go first–or in this case, at all–to the media. Why? Because they are the broadcaster and they know it. The post-media world is here to stay.

Dominos lessons learned: no better advice given

If you read and absorb just one thing this year in crisis management, read this. Dominos’ team responding to the YouTube stupidity crisis took time out of their busy lives (they have to still be in response mode) to participate in the Ragan Social Media Bootcamp and share some lessons learned.

I can’t possibly imagine a more succinct or powerful message in crisis management today than the four key points they make. Here they are:

1) Establish Twitter account now (and/or other appropriate channels)

2) Be transparent

3) Respond–NOW!

4) Appreciate your customers.

‘Nuff said.

Ryanair clearly doesn't get the world of us "idiot bloggers"

This story from The Guardian in UK is so astounding I kind of wonder if I am being hoaxed. I just got off a call with a student researching online crises and crisis management and one of the questions essentially was: do companies today “get it” when it comes to the online risks. I said I they were quickly moving in this direction, and then, literally moments later I come across this item about Ryanair’s exchange with a blogger.

I certainly understand that by linking this story, which recounts the interchange between a Ryanair very rude and obnoxious staff person with a blogger about a potential bug, I am adding to the social networking spread of this rather ugly story. But that is just the point. The blog conversation is like a quiet, interchange in a corner of a very busy room when suddenly the room goes quiet, the conversation is miked and the conversation goes on in multiple rooms around the world. Don’t these companies get it? Is that really so hard to understand?

It is quite remarkable that the training of people authorized as Ryanair staff to respond was so poor, but what completely blows me away is the official response of the company when it was pointed out on a travel website that their interchange with the blogger was less than positive:

“Ryanair can confirm that a Ryanair staff member did engage in a blog discussion. It is Ryanair policy not to waste time and energy corresponding with idiot bloggers and Ryanair can confirm that it won’t be happening again.

“Lunatic bloggers can have the blog sphere all to themselves as our people are far too busy driving down the cost of air travel.”

OK, so maybe there are some companies that don’t get it yet. Yes, more work for us consultants.

Nice review of Now Is Too Late in EducationPR blog

Just have to share this very nice review of my 2006 book in the EducationPR blog. The review was written by Paul Baker and his blog is now on my blogroll.

The disastrous shortcomings of FEMA during the early stages of Hurricane Katrina resulted from its leader’s failure to manage during a time of crisis. His weakness as a communicator, his discomfort in facing harsh criticism, and his questionable credentials all played into the story of abject failure reported by the media. As goes the person at the top, so goes the organization.

Now Is Too Late 2 offers this and many striking examples of how leaders fail and succeed in communicating on behalf of their organizations.

Your company may not be subject to the risks and responsibilities of an agency the size of FEMA, but you do have a reputation to protect. And crises happen on large and small scales.

Gerald Baron writes this book for communicators, whether CEOs or PR professionals. He writes mainly about crisis communication, but this meaty book includes the wisdom of practice in several areas, including maintaining healthy relationships with reporters, keeping up with technology, and knowing all your publics and the influentials in each one.

Writing from years of experience as a communicator and consultant, Baron says the most enlightened communication managers make themselves the first and best source of news. Long before a crisis strikes, they put in place processes that will allow them to very quickly gather and distribute needed information.

In fact, he writes that the primary message of this book is speed. That’s because technology has allowed people around the world to get information immediately and to engage in decisions that affect them.

Baron discusses how to prepare a crisis communication plan that effectively weaves together effective people, policies and technology. The single objective of a plan should be to protect,  or to build, public trust in your organization through accurate, timely information.

Make sure you have already identified the people whose perceptions are vital to your company’s current business and future health. Whether global or local, Baron says, the basic principle remains the same:  A relatively few people carry the present and future value of the organization around in the perceptions they hold about the company.

United stock crash and GM "fact and fiction" site provide lessons

Two things caught my eye while enjoying the Napa wine country. Both involve the rapidly changing world of reputation management and instant news. One, United Airlines stock crashed–going from $12 a share to one penny in a few hours–all because someone posted a six year old news story on a website. It bloomeranged from there (pun intended). I wish I had been on the ball and bought some of that penny stock.

The other story is not as sensational but still significant. GM launched a website aimed at confronting directly the numerous myths, attacks and accusations against the company and how it is meeting its severe business challenges. The website called GMFactsandFiction.com is simply constructed, listing a myth and the GM response. The current lead myth is whether GM is seeking a government bailout.

The point is this–life comes at you fast, as the commercial states. The instant news world seems to keep accelerating in part because more and more of the instant news world starts and lives on the internet. Devastation can be wreaked in minutes, not even hours any more. What used to take weeks to spread now is global at the speed of light. But the evidence continues to mount that most communicators and more importantly, their leaders, are not prepared to respond as quickly as this new world demands. The United story is one example. Were they monitoring the internet? Did someone not notice the old story? How soon after it was posted did United have a rebuttal very publicly posted? Did United have the capability to head off the storm before it gathered momentum by proactively releasing a notice about the false information. Did no one contact the Florida paper and inform them of their stupidity and how their irresponsibility was creating huge damage? In short, were they prepared to go to battle instantly, gather intelligence instantly, and get proactive and on the offensive instantly. Quite apparently not.

Not to say that GM is, just by this website, but it does seem to show that someone at GM understands the dynamics of internet conversation. The conversation goes on, like it or not. It cannot be stopped. And one thing is certain about this conversation–a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth. That’s why it is essential for companies at the center of such internet conversations join in on them, have their own clearly identified voice, ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS speak the truth and nothing but the truth, and aggressively counter the lies, attacks, myths and misinformation. This is good stuff. I think I will buy some GM stock.

Sarah Palin vs. "the media:" who's really on trial?

All of us who have media relations and public information as part of our lives have to be standing back in amazement at what is going on relating to Sarah Palin and her battle with the media.  The story has quite dramatically shifted, it seems to me, from “is Sarah qualified, and therefore is John McCain’s judgment sound” to “is the media biased, sexist and unfair.”

I just watched this morning the interview of the managing editor of US Weekly by Megan someone, a Fox News anchor. Now, whether you consider the Fox News attack “fair and balanced” or the US Weekly article on Palin (Titled: Babies, Lies and Scandal”) “fair and balanced” probably depends on your political orientation. In fact, that is one of the more fascinating aspects of the varying coverage of the political events by the news channels. An MSNBC poll about whether or not Palin helped the ticket (by far most think she did not) did not say nearly as much as Palin as it did about the orientation of those who watch Olberman and company. Contrast the polls showing on Fox which, of course, show a completely different slant of the viewers.

A few comments:

– As part of the fragmentation and segmentation of media, the old idea of “objectivity” is quickly disappearing. This should not discourage us because “mass media” in the US, dating back to Colonial days, were highly partisan. Publications were created to support political parties and positions. They only really adopted the idea of “objective, non-partisan coverage” with the growth of Associated Press in the Civil War era as a way of pooling reporters. AP reporters were supposed to simply gather the facts from the front, then the individual editorial slant would be applied by the editors. However, the publishers found that readers like the “just the facts” reporting direct from AP and heavily biased reporting lost favor. We are simply going back to those days, but in this era it is a matter of segmenting the marketing, trying to dominate segments in order to survive and profit as media businesses.

– The spectacle of one media outlet attacking another for “bias” is a little humorous and fascinating. Sort of like watching your sisters mud wrestle. Something disgusting about it, but you can’t take your eyes off it either. It’s really funny when they refer to the others as “the mainstream media” as if they are just not part of that at all. It kind of makes your head spin.

– When the public stands outside of this media scrutiny of media, I think we all benefit. One of the greatest challenges we as communicators face is the reality that while everyone says “you can’t believe what you read in the newspapers,” everyone still does. Including professional communicators (witness PRSA’s hyper reaction to the completely out of line reporting on the FEMA “fake” news conference). The more the public gains some skepticism and informed judgment about the motives, agendas and biases of those charged with providing us our news and therefore our perceptions on which we make vital judgments, the better off we all are.

– the role of blogs. I would like to know how many times in the last few days of coverage that the “left wing blogs” were mentioned. Not just on Fox either–although MSNBC and CNN are more likely to just reference “the blogs.” The blog attacks on Palin are to a large degree driving the news cycle. That’s where the mainstream outlets get their fodder, and that’s also where they make judgments about what is relevant and will drive audiences. There is a huge lesson here for those in crisis management. If you still think you should not pay attention to blogs when you are the focus of the news, you have your head in the sand or someplace else. Blogs are the drivers–increasingly every day. Not just because of their own audiences, but because of the tremendous influence over the focal points of mainstream media coverage.

Why I think the world is better with bloggers and wikipedia

A recent story I heard illustrates why I think we live in an age of transparency as never before and why I think that is a very good thing. It also illustrates why millions of “citizen journalists,” bloggers, social media participants, user content providers or whatever you want to call them have made this a more open, honest and truthful world.

It was at our company Christmas party and the husband of one of our employees relayed the story of his incredible experience as a hijack victim in 1985. It was Air Egypt flight 648 from Athens to Cairo. Our subject was a young American traveling the world. The plane was hijacked by three members of the Abu Nidal Palestinian terrorist organization brandishing guns and hand grenades with pulled pins. A gun battle on board with a sky marshall killed one hijacker. The plane landed on Malta and the hijackers threatened to kill one passenger every fifteen minutes if their demands for more fuel to fly to Libya were not met. A young Israeli woman was the first–brought to the front by the door, shot in the head and dumped out of the plane. Fifteen minutes later, the second Israeli woman was brought forward and was also shot and dumped. Our friend was next, hands tied behind his back, talking to two American women who would follow him. He was called forward, tried to jump from the plane, was shot in the back of the head, but miraculously survived–not only the shot, but the 12 foot fall from the plane face forward with his hands still tied.

The hijackers had allowed 11 Egyptians to get off the plane but there were more than 70 left when our friend made his miraculous escape. It turned out he was one of the few fortunate ones, because the Egyptian commandos arrived, attacked the plane with grenades, automatic weapons, started the plane on fire, and killed anyone indiscriminately. 60 of those left on the plane died in the “rescue.” One of the few who survived it was an Englishman who ended up in the hospital next to our friend. He told the media repeatedly how the Egyptians botched the rescue and caused so many needless deaths, but it was simply not reported. The story was that the terrorists blew up the plane.
Why? Why would the international media not tell the truth? This was an era of strained relations between Egypt and the US but a need for strong cooperation in trying to get peace with Israel. Egypt had been embarrassed when the US forced an Air Egypt flight down with F-15s to capture a terrorist leader, and they needed to prove to the west they could be tough on the terrorists. So, pure speculation, but is it possible that the Reagan administration made it clear at least to US news media that telling the real story of the botched rescue would harm Mid-East peace hopes? It is possible and plausible. Which leads me to my point.

Let’s say any administration or powerful entity attempted to influence the coverage of such a volatile story today. Would they have any hope of success? No, and therefore wouldn’t even think of it. We now have so many and varied sources of information that it seems impossible the truth would escape from the great many who seek to reveal the “true” story. Sure, there is a lot of junk, garbage, misinformation, hidden and non-hidden agendas in all the blog coverage of events of the day. But the some total is, in my mind, much more likely to be true than when the power to inform the public was held by a handful who controlled the machines of mass media.

Wikipedia provides another example. Despite its early detractors who couldn’t believe a user generated information source could possibly be accurate, it is now known to be nearly as–or perhaps more–accurate than the most credible encyclopedias. And it is the sheer number of participants that helps make it so. I am writing a book on a survivor of Buchenwald and went to Wikipedia to get additional info. There I found a report that the Allied airmen who got sent to Buchenwald arrived in April, 1944. Well, I am writing the eyewitness account of one of those fighter pilots and I know for a fact that the group of 168 did not arrive until August 20, 1944 and were rescued from there on October 20, 1944. So I commented on the post and provided my source. Sure enough, my information was incorporated into the report with the citation to my source.

Now I can’t contribute much to the overall knowledge in the world, and very few people perhaps care whether or not these airmen arrived in April or August. But as an amateur historian I care a lot and so do the millions of others who have specialized knowledge and both use and contribute to wikipedia.

I am glad we live in a post-media world, where many many millions more are contributing to the information, knowledge and discussion that we all benefit from.

Comcast's blogwar signals a more frightening scenario

Comcast is deep into a blogwar (I’ve commented frequently here about the clear and present danger of blogwars to corporate and organizational reputations so review past posts here for my views on that topic–or read my book Now Is Too Late2).

This article from Bulldog Reporter about the blogwar suggests something even more frightening to me–not that I have any great love and affection for Comcast broadband as an only moderately satisfied customer myself.  (the blog is called somewhat predictably: comcastmustdie.com and the first words are I really don’t want Comcast to die(!)) What frightens me from a crisis management standpoint is a potential pattern I see developing. The blogger starting this is not some unemployed 28 year old sitting in his bedroom, cranky after a night of partying. This one was started by Bob Garfield, a highly respected writer and expert in advertising and marketing. I’ve read his stuff for years.

Note the reference in the article to Jeff Jarvis, the now extremely famous blogger who launched the Dell Hell blogwar and was at first ignored, then triumphed with significant improvements in Dell’s customer service. So, bright, entreprenuerial writers like Garfield who know the weakspots of corporate leadership, can accomplish two things at once. They can build an tremendous audience and their own celebrity by becoming the next Jeff Jarvis and get the self-actualization satisfaction that they can change the world for the good by getting Comcast to respond. Wow, that is powerful motivation. Hey, I want that attention. I want that readership. I want to go to the grave thinking I have done the world some good. I should start a blog: younamethecompanymustdie.com. I will be a hero. People will know my name. they will talk about me in the hushed tones they now reserve for Jeff Jarvis. Am I judging Garfield’s motives here? Yeh. Am I wrong? Who knows.

Do you see why this scares me? On the other hand, being a crisis management expert might be the best gig to get into these days.

The beginning of the end of blogging?

I read on the flight over to Irvine (where I am pleasantly sitting in the sunshine at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf) that 200 million bloggers had quit. Wow. The most I heard were blogging was about 70 million. But I guess it makes sense. After all, when I first got the blogging bug about a year and a half ago, I launched about five different blogs. Now, this is is the only one that gets any regular attention–and even that has been sketchy lately with all the traveling I’ve had to do. So maybe those four I abandoned make up part of that huge number. I also know that almost all of my family members blog but that the bloom is off the rose a bit and while none have stopped, the frequency of posts has definitely gone down.

The article I read commented that one blogger had given up her blogging life to focus on a book project. I’m guessing it is at least as hard to develop a solid readership for a book (assuming you have the good fortune of getting it published without being a big name already) as it is to build a sizeable blog audience.

So, does this mean it was all a fad? That it is bound to go the route of pet rocks and fedoras? Personally, I doubt it. I’m guess it is more like Starbucks. Being from the Seattle area, I watched this little upstart start selling cups of ridiculously intense, tiny and outrageously expensive coffee. Suddenly, little drive-in espresso places starting popping up all over.  I heard about one not far from home that made a lot more money than the grocery store in whose parking lot it sat. And I said: Fad! This will pass. These crazy people won’t keep paying crazy amounts for a cup of caffeine. I was wrong. My taste changed and I’m sitting here at Coffee Bean because I walked around for a while and couldn’t find a Starbucks. And that is amazing considering that they are everywhere!

I’m certain that when a lot of coffee fiends first discovered the glories of espresso and their own special fancy drink, they probably went crazy and got one every day or maybe even a few a day. Then they settled down to perhaps two or three a week. But, their life changed, their habits changed, their taste changed, new social patterns emerged, new ways to enjoy life emerged. And it won’t go away until someone out Starbucks Starbucks.

Blogging is here to stay–in ever changing and creative ways. Not everyone will hang in there and keep posting, but the change is permanent. Ain’t no going back.

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.