Category Archives: Gerald Baron

Do blogging and political campaigns mix? Edwards and Marcotte issue

I’ve stated frequently in presentations that the blogging world is changing how public information is dealt with. There is an ethos around blogging that is in direct conflict with how communication has been traditionally managed by corporations–and politicians. That conflict is being highlighted right now in the John Edwards campaign.

The Edwards campaign had a blogger, Amanda Marcotte, who wrote some relatively outrageous things–not outrageous in the blog world which thrives on the colorful opinion, but outrageous if viewed as an authorized expression of the candidate’s perspective and style. And that is, of course, the rub. Does a paid blogger represent the candidate in all that is said and the style with which it is said?

Those wishing to make an issue of this put pressure on Edwards to fire Marcotte. He distanced himself from the content, but declined to fire her because of freedom of expression. So, here is the other rub: to fire a blogger because of content is to violate the freedom and personality ethos of the blogosphere. The blog world would go nuts. And yet clearly from his comments, Edwards was aware of the potential damage that Marcotte could do to him. Yet, if she toned down her approach, everyone would be watching to see if he put the clamps on. A no win situation.

In this article, the situation is resolved. Marcotte continued to post in ways that were offensive to some (reassuring to others I am sure that Edwards was following through on his pledge of freedom). But Marcotte resigned, (or “resigned”) when the pressure on Edwards continued unabated.

The dilemmas are clear–not just for this season’s crop of political candidates, but also for companies and organizations needing to deal with the blog world. It is an issue in my own company–what fits the blog ethos and what doesn’t? What is OK in the wild west world of bloggers who despite their cries of freedom have an increasingly narrow view of what is socially acceptable to them and what is not. The herd mentality seems to have taken over to some degree and pity the poor soul who violates the increasingly clear ethos.

Do Republicans lead in techelectioneering?

Here’s an interesting article on how the campaigns compare in preparation for what some are calling Googlelection.

And another “Just an Online Minute” post on the bungling of candidates in the blog world.

Attn communicators needing to convinces bosses about importance of blogs

Just had a conversation today with a top level Public Information Officer, and the topic turned to the impact of online media, blogs and the like. He made the comment that some leaders in his organization continue to doubt that many people are impacted by online media. I pointed to the previous post on this blog with the interview with Richard Edelman that stated that this year more will get their news online than from all MSM. More proof of the importance of blogs in public information and news comes from this blog called Just on Online Minute.

The nub: Nielsen//NetRatings shows that blog pages within the top 10 online newspapers drew around 3.8 million unique visitors last month–more than triple December 2005’s 1.2 million.

Please note–these are not the 60 million citizen journalist blog sites that we are talking about. These are blog sites launched by major newspapers. They are certainly discovering where the news readers are going and joining the party.

So, for all you communicators who need to convince your bosses that something important is going on here, tell them to read crisisblogger.

The Bandy Story on 20/20–join the crusade

I hope all crisisblogger readers watched 20/20 last night and saw the story about Matt Bandy. Matt is a 16 year old from Phoenix falsely accused and prosecuted of child porn because a few images of the nasty stuff was found on his computer at home. Despite the compelling evidence to the contrary, the prosecutor continued to push the accusations until the family accepted a plea bargain for a much lower charge–the equivalent of taking a Playboy to school. Still, he was branded a sex offender with the draconian restrictions applied to those who are thus convicted.

This story is of special interest for several reasons. One it is a great example in the extreme of the need sometime of “moving the black hat” as I advocate in extreme cases in Now Is Too Late2. When your reputation is on the line and you are innocent, sometimes you have to be aggressive and make the accusers the bad guys. In this case, the extremely aggressive prosecutor, more interested in his career than in justice, rightfully (in my opinion) has been outed as the real black hat in this story. View the extended interview with ABC and make up your own mind.

Second, is the personal connection. Jonathan Bernstein is the crisis manager who has been helping the family and their attorney every since they made the courageous decision to turn their bad fortune into a crusade. The 20/20 story is one part of the strategy. Creating an engaging and interactive website that helps manage the conversation that inevitably will go on about such an event is also part of the communication effort. Here is Matt’s website: www.justice4matt.com.

We were very pleased to respond to Jonathan’s request for help and provide the PIER System’s functionality to support the ongoing media relations and viewer response. This kind of communication activity shows the absolutely necessity of a small team or a single communicator to be able to handle the potentially hyperactive online response to this kind of national story and crusade.

For more comments about this communication effort as well as how you can get involved in this important communication effort, please go to www.justice4matt.com and be sure to use the contact form. (I just did!–and also emailed the governor).

The sign of campaigns to come

John Edwards is out of the starting blogs and running. And according to this article from PRSA, it looks like his approach to working with bloggers and videos (YouTube style) shows that he gets it (part of the way anyway, excepting his booboo about bloggers).

I’m committed to staying out of politics here (I did my own run for political office–thank God unsuccessfully) but the point is that the modes, channels, style of public communication is changing. But most who make a living in this business are struggling mightily to keep up with these changes. Edwards’ campaign gives a clear indication of the role of blogging, working with bloggers, web 2.0 style, and most of all use of video–all stuff the topic of many posts here.

Straight talking about crisis learnings–from Ford

This article from Daily Dog contains a summary and overview of the crisis experience of the top crisis communicator for Ford during Firestone crisis of 2000-2001. This is some of the best stuff I’ve read on crisis communciations in the last while–it is very real, very honest and hits the key points. Jon Harmon, Director of Communication Strategy for Ford, learned the lessons well and communicates them simply and powerfully.

In case you don’t follow the link and read the whole story (which I highly recommend) here are a few salient points:

On Planning:

It all comes down to readiness—get your crisis plans ready in advance. Don’t wait for a recall to happen. First, identify the PR people and outward facing organizations you have to work with. Get the necessary resources aligned. Meet now to do that. Part of the agenda should be to work through the possible contingencies, including recalls and other possibilities. Conduct a crisis audit and game this out in advance. Have a live drill where you go through something like this with your frontline people—and get your policies and responsibilities worked out on paper now. Then, repeat it periodically.

Impact of bloggers and New Media:

The next big crisis or time something like this happens, the agitators will work the news cycle as usual—but they will also include New Media, CGM [consumer generated media], video and blogs. It’ll be a whole different kind of whirlwind for corporations to combat. I think that, unfortunately, most corporations will be fundamentally unprepared for this. This is an era where people, bloggers included, can use New Media to drive the news cycle in a sophisticated manner.

On opponents and the need for speed:

What was different was that the agitators, the plaintiff attorneys, had become very media savvy. They were driving the news cycle every day. The news cycle is shorter and the hole has got to be filled. It creates a real frenzy. In this case, there was litigation in play. So they fed the story bit by bit instead of getting it all out at once. Specifically, they had documents from Ford and Firestone and would release a new one every day. They’d call up a major news organization and tell them about this damning document—and then fax it to them.

Summary:

Also, realize, as I said earlier, that you’ll have to react on the fly—no matter how thorough your plans look. Then realize that you have to communicate continually during crises.

At the risk of sounding arrogant, I have to say that these are among the key points that I wrote about in Now Is Too Late and Now Is Too Late2. These are also the key points that lay behind the creation of the PIER technology. It’s is just great having someone like Mr. Harmon help confirm the essential elements that those in crisis management and crisis communication need to understand.

Round 2 in the Spocko-Disney Blog War

In my previous blog, I suggested that Disney’s approach to shutting down media critic Spocko (who was hurting an ABC radio station by convincing advertisers to abandon it) was heavy handed and would ultimately backfire. The lively discussion about this on this blog shows the difference of opinion. Spocko should not steal copyrighted material–that is wrong, illegal, unethical, etc. But to deal with this breech of the law and courtesy by forcing removal by legal means, I suggested, might not play well with the blog world.

I think I might be right. After being forced off the web by his ISP, Spocko responded by finding a new ISP willing, apparently, to take on the legal challenge. But what is far worse for Disney, is that a localized fight has now become a cause celebre in the blog world, and as this story indicates, bloggers concerned about free speech are also taunting Disney by putting those stolen audio files on their blogs.

The right way to deal with it from Disney’s perspective is to point out loudly that what Spocko is doiong is a violation of their copyrighted materials. It is wrong, illegal, unethical, etc. Someone who cares so little about protecting other people’s rights and is operating with so little concern for right and wrong has little credibility as a critic. He shows himself to be a “true believer” in the sense that he is so convinced of his moral purity on this that he feels justified in taking any measure–illegal or not, unethical or not.

By using the heavy legal hand, they have pushed the controversy into the far corners of the blog world. It was the brutal persecution of the Christians in the Roman world that caused its rapid spread around the world. The lesson lives on.

Family Guy shows how deep Wal-Mart's crisis is

As readers of this blog know, I commented to a BusinessWeek reporter about the deep crisis Wal-Mart was in. A primary basis for that assessment was the fact that the company had become a political football, with one party in particular wishing to align itself with the Wal-Mart haters. Now there is another even potentially more ominous sign of the deep crisis. Last night’s episode of Family Guy was all about Wal-Mart. It was called SuperStore USA or some other such title but you could not miss the red vests nor the smiley face symbol. SuperStoreUSA drove all the town’s businesses out of town, hogged all the electricity so that the whole town had to sit in their underwear and sweat. It forced our hero’s daughter to choose between her job and her family and generally showed how awful a big, uncaring company can be until the wierd little pie-shaped baby-man comes in with a tank and totally blows the place up. We all cheer.

Yeah, it’s a crisis when it becomes part of popular culture to cheer when a company is blown up by a wierd character driving a tank.

I might be right about authenticity

I blogged right after the first of the year suggesting that 2007 might be the year of authenticity. Then I read the January issue of PR Tactics from PRSA. Editor John Elsasser (who kindly has published several articles I penned) quoted several speakers from the November PRSA conference:

Andrew Heyward, former CBS News President: “Hype and spin are going to be less effective over time in a wired world because as consumers have access to information–and they have access to as many sources as we do–as they become as powerful as they have, it’s going to be much harder to sell something if it not authentic.”

Peter Hirschberg, Chairman and Chief Marketing Officers for Technorati: “This is really a louse time to be inauthentic.”

A number of other speakers at this conference echoed the same sentiments, and according to Roy Vaughn and Steve Cody, writing in the Jan edition of PR Tactics: “The C-suite is beginning to listen.”

And you know when the C suite starts to finally sit up and take notice, the world has really changed.

Disney and Media Critic Spocko sparring

There are various ways that companies and organizations are dealing with blog wars and online critics. One of them is legal. And a major legal tool is copyright infringement. I am aware of companies using violations of copyrights to try to control or limit what bloggers are saying about them. Disney is using the posting of audio files from an ABC Radio owned radio show as a basis for shutting down a media critic’s site (spocko) that is apparently causing them some damage.

This story provides the details. Indeed, go to Spocko’s blog and you get an error message.

My question is this–is wielding the heavy legal hand effective in the blog world? This is a pretty extreme case and there is no question that companies, artists and individuals need to work very hard to protect their intellectual property in the wild lawless internet land. But the purpose here is clearly not to protect valued intellectual property. It is to staunch the flow of ad dollars resulting from Spockos attacks and efforts to stop advertisers from supporting right wing messages he hates.

The blog world in general does not look kindly on this strategy. It will be interesting to see the comments about Disney’s heavy legal hand. I suspect most bloggers will be rooting for Spocko. And in that is the lesson for you or others who may be heavily engaged in your own reputation blog war.

Starbucks vs Oxfam on YouTube–this is how reputation battles will be fought on 07

If you want to see a preview of how reputation battles will be fought in the near future, just look at Oxfam vs. Starbucks. Oxfam posted a video on YouTube on December 16 that vigorously attacked Starbucks for its policies relating to Ethiopian farmers. They showed a number of on the street interviews with people who were shocked at Starbucks terrible policies–using of course the information that the activists had provided them. (This in itself is a very troubling and unethical approach–give people misinformation and then ask them what they think about it and then put them on camera denouncing the horrible company).

Starbucks responded on December 20 with their response to the accusations with a video posted on YouTube. It was not slickly produced. Not nearly as intensely produced and edited as the Oxfam video because frankly, the people making the accusation have a lot more time to produce than those responding. But Starbucks responded quickly and effectively. They took the accusations straight on. No anger. No defensiveness. Just corrected the wrong information and the overly simplistic accusations.

And it was all done on YouTube. What does the blog world think of this? Here’s a comment from a blogger on slashdot: Regardless of the outcome of this particular incident, the move on Starbucks’ part comes off as unmistakably in touch with today’s communication modes and methods.”

I agree. Starbucks gets it. And Oxfam and other activists had better take note of a basic and increasingly important law of public information: credibility is everything. From this observer’s point of view, their credibility is quite low right now.