Category Archives: Uncategorized

I was wrong about Twitter. But watch out for Meerkat and Periscope

We’re always looking for the next big thing, aren’t we. Not exactly like venture capitalists, but techno-driven changes in the past two decades have so radically transformed communications and crisis communication that we wonder what will hit us next.

When Twitter came out, what was that 2006?, I quite blithely prognosticated that it would be short lived. Who would want to know what kind of latte you are sipping and with whom? Now Lady Gaga has 45 million followers and some crisis plans have to include the possibility of Lady Gaga saying something bad about them. Twitter is THE necessary tool today for media management, particularly in an emergency or crisis–a shift that started with the crash of USAir into the Hudson.

So, we naturally keep our eye for the next big thing. Bill Boyd has declared that Meerkat and Periscope are the next big thing. More specifically, widespread use of real time video sharing. (Of course, I’m protecting myself against false prognostication by putting the burden on the Chief.)

Why will this be big? I go back to 2010 during Deepwater Horizon. Congressional leaders discovered that BP had a steady stream of video flowing from the ROVs at the bottom of the gulf. Those real time videos showed the oil and mud streaming from the wellhead. They told BP to make those available to the world. My former company, handling web technology for both the government and BP at the time, was asked to set it up. It was very popular. At one time there were twelve different live video streams being broadcast, including from helis and skimmers and wildlife rehabilitation centers. The cost of bandwidth was astronomical. But millions watched transfixed.

I included the possibility of having to provide live video feeds in crisis plans I did following that. I tried to prepare clients for the potential high cost should Congress decide they needed to show the world what was happening.

That was, what, five years ago? My goodness, instead of staying up all night working on the technology to supply those feeds, you just pull up Meerkat or Periscope and start broadcasting to the world.

I won’t get into the details of Twitter’s attempt to kill Meerkat and which app is better. Lots of coverage on that. What I will point out is that this brings citizen journalism to a new level. It is truly citizen broadcasting, in real time, all the time.

Awhile back, reflecting on the Boston Marathon manhunt and how people were sharing information in real time in a variety of ways I did a video called “NanoNews.” It’s not a good name for this new phenomenon of real time news. It’s hardly tiny. It’s huge. But 2 billion people carrying smart phones starting to broadcast their little picture of the world, well, maybe nanonews does fit.

It certainly adds some major risks, including to the issue of verification. On the other hand, there are likely to be big benefits as well. For example, TheePharoh is the now famous tweeter who told the story of Ferguson police gunning down an unarmed black man including photos of Brown lying on the ground. He told the story as he saw it no doubt. But if that act had been Meerkatted or Periscoped might we have seen a different picture? Could we have seen what the justice department did–that it was an act of self defense?

I think this is going to be big. But, don’t ask me, ask Bill.

 

Great lessons on rumor management and how to apologize

Two of my favorite bloggers, Tony Jaques in Australia and Jonathan and Erik Bernstein from California, had excellent posts and two of the most important topics: rumor management and apologies.

Tony tells the story of a hepatitis A scare in Australia that got linked to a frozen berry product.  The company out of an abundance of caution as they like to say, voluntarily recalled their product without verification their product was the cause. From there as you will see the media did their thing and the company apparently did not do enough to correct the misreporting.

The lesson is clear: a lie (or error) repeated often enough becomes the truth. The only way I know to deal with this is to loudly, clearly over and over and over tell the truth and correct the misinformation.

On the topic of apologies, the Bernstein’s rightly congratulate Anthem on their excellent apology following the hacking of 80 million members’ data. The Bernstein’s analysis is spot on as usual, but what struck me is what the company was offering to help assure peace of mind. Plus the fact that the CEO empathized clearly noting that his personal information was part of the hack.

It’s not enough to simply say you’re sorry. You have to say what you are doing to prevent it from happening and most of all communicate that you truly understand how those impacted feel. Not an easy job but well done by Anthem.

 

Is Marshawn Lynch a PR genius?

Somehow, it seems appropriate. The guy getting absolutely the most attention from the media in this Superbowl ramp up is Marshawn Lynch. Why? Because he won’t play their game, at least not the way they think it should be played.

He’s obligated by his NFL contract to talk to the media. Now where did that obligation come from? The media one would suspect. They want unfettered access to the players. So, when Marshawn gets the big fine for not living up to this part of the deal, who goes along. Sort of. He first answers all questions with the same response: “Yeah.”

Then, he ups the game at this pre-Superbowl media day by answering all questions with: I’m just here so I won’t get fined.” I was watching “His and Hers” on ESPN last night and they were furious. But they spent probably 20 minutes talking about guess who? Not outspoken Richard Sherman, not deflategate, not Belichick and his propensity to break the rules. No, they talked about Marshawn Lynch. Same with the print news coming out of media day. What was the story: Marshawn Lynch.

Now, I might conclude that he is doing this because he is painfully shy, hates the media, or doesn’t know the first thing about brand building. Or he could just be a complete jerk.

But after seeing this commercial for Progressive featuring none other than the non-spoken Marshawn, I’m starting to conclude the guy is the smartest PR guy in football, if not in the world. (And Kenny Mayne’s got to get credit for making this happen). Now I could still conclude that Marshawn is just a jerk, but not from what I’ve heard. In fact, it was our son Chris of BaronVisuals who helped shoot the Lynch commercial–not he’s not the guy seen behind the camera (I’m not that old) he’s behind the actual camera. And he tells me Marshawn is for real.

What does this mean for crisis communication? That one should answer all the questions the media through out at you with “Yeah”? No. But what it does suggest is that not playing their game the way they want it played can sometimes, in the right circumstances, and done right, really pay dividends.

OK, this post was just my backwards way of slipping in a comment about the SuperBowl. Hey, I’m from the Seattle area. How about those Hawks?

Paris newspaper attack sickens–and concerns

Today it is Paris. Tomorrow, where? My heart goes out to the victims of this terrible attack that once again blackens the name of Islam.

The news reports of this horrific event bear out the prediction of myself and others that in this time of instant news, we are placed right in the action through social media. The video capturing the shooting makes you want to duck even as you stand on a balcony above the street.

But the real issue of concern here is the dedication of many to take away one of our most precious freedoms–freedom of the press. Even as that freedom is more secure than ever through the millions of reporter/broadcasters carrying their global transmission equipment in their pockets and purses, more and more seem intent on taking that freedom away. We saw it in Mexico where media outlets caved to the demands of drug lords who killed reporters when the media reported on their activities. We saw it in Denmark with the publication of an offensive cartoon. We saw it in Hollywood with North Korea’s attempt to to punish Sony for producing an offensive video. And now this–and many others I’m sure.

The sad truth is, if it was my family, my employees, my life at stake I’m not sure I would have the courage to continue. Indeed, we have seen the effectiveness of these efforts to squelch the offending media channels. I still get angry that a few evil people have made traveling so much more aggravating. What will we do when we see something essential to our understanding of how to live in society being attacked and taken away?

An after thought:

After posting this I read about outlets who were censoring the offending cartoon. This, of course, feeds the bullies and terrorists. Is there another approach. Imagine if a group of POWs were accused by their guards of some misdeed but the perpetrator was not known and not revealed by the prisoners. The guards say step forward if you are guilty or we will take one of you out and shoot you. Instead of waiting for the guilty one to step forward, the entire line of POWs steps forward. Now the guards must shoot all or none. What if all editors, publishers, broadcasters who were concerned about this kind of brutal intimidation published the offending cartoon. What if they upped the game and published a whole bunch of them?

What if every theater outlet in the free world offered to show the Interview for free? Seems that might do more to send a message to the dictator than a few little sanctions.

Just a thought–but this has to be stopped, somehow.

A personal (brag) post–and book recommendation

I don’t often use this space for anything other than my musings on crisis communication and the crisis of the day. This is no crisis. My wife and are so blessed to have three incredibly talented adult children and nine grandchildren. Our daughter Ashley Rodriguez (introduced here before) is a top food blogger (best cooking blog according to Saveur magazine) and now a cookbook author. (Her award winning blog is notwithoutsalt.com)

Her first cookbook, Date Night In by Running Press is available for pre-order on Amazon and officially released on December 23. But even as a pre-order only, it is inching up Amazon’s best seller lists!

So, sure I’m proud! (She’s a much better writer than her wanna be dad! and gets most of her talent from her incredible mom).

Date Night In is more than just a bunch of great recipes. Ashley is a fabulous food photographer, teaching classes on food photography and having her work in most of the major food publications and websites. In this book she reveals with striking candor and vulnerability the challenges of keeping love in marriage alive in the busyness of raising kids and professional careers. She gives some great advice that has inspired me to try to be a better husband as well.

Apologize for this brief personal and even somewhat commercial post, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t pass on to you a great Christmas (or early Valentines Day) suggestion.

Is your crisis communication plan really digital first?

This post by O’Dwyers announcing that H+K Strategies (formerly Hill & Knowlton) has officially declared that digital public relations and marketing communications is now the backbone to any organization’s communications. O’Dwyers is quite snarky in their comments about this “announcement” by H+K. It’s obvious they say, and that H+K is clearly outdated by even having to tout their digital savvy.

While it is true that some agencies, like Edelman, have long established credibility in digital comms, what O’Dwyer ignores is the fact that most organizations, even some of the most powerful and sophisticated in the world, still do not really get this. Almost any crisis communication plan I look at is still “media first.” That is, the primary focus of the plan is preparing for and delivering info and messages to media outlets.

I have to say I’ve been beating this drum for almost fifteen years now. When I created PIER in late 1999 I was really frustrated that most of my prospects–very smart, experienced communication folks and executives–didn’t really understand why a cloud-based communication management system was necessary. (By the way, PIER is now owned by WittO’Brien’s and I have no involvement.) That’s basically why I wrote Now Is Too Late, because I needed to think through and be able to present the rationale for digital-first communications. I say digital first, but I don’t really mean that. I’ve always believe in stakeholder first, with digital being the unprecedented means to communicate and interact with key stakeholders–those people who hold in their heads perceptions that determine your future.

So, H+K, congrats. Yes, you’re coming a bit late to the party. But its the pioneers who get arrows in their backs (ahem, Edelman and Walmart tour anyone?) And you still have much work to do to convince clients that salvaging a reputation isn’t about handing out press releases to the assembled crowd.

Seattle Pacific University Shooting–and the powerful words of a reluctant hero

I’m a very proud alum of Seattle Pacific University. I’m also a former faculty member and dad of another proud alum–our daughter. So the shooting struck very close to home. I commented on this, from a crisis and emergency communication standpoint over at emergencymgmt.com, so I won’t repeat myself here.

Instead, I just want to amplify the message sent by Jon Meis, the building security monitor who pepper-sprayed the shooter and tackled him when he paused from his rampage to reload his shotgun.

Here is a photo of the young hero.

Screenshot 2014-06-09 14.33.46

I’ve commented here recently about the linkage between crisis response, communications and character. I can say with great gratitude and pride that the character of SPU, which I know well, shined through with power and beauty through this event.

Jon Meis is one example of that character. He represents a student body and community who would understand deeply and share every sentiment he expressed in his remarkable statement. The fact that he is trying to avoid the accolades, attention and even money being thrown at him demonstrates that actions speak louder than words, even the incredibly power words and sentiments he is expressing.

Here is Jon Meis’ statement:

To my brothers and sisters at Seattle Pacific University, and my brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the nation and the world,

Words cannot come close to expressing the tragedy that occurred this past week on our campus. Like everyone else, I would hear of these horrible events on the news, but go home knowing that it could never happen to us. On Thursday, my life changed. I was thrown into a life and death situation, and through God’s grace I was able to stop the attacker and walk away unharmed. As I try to return to a normal life in the aftermath of this horrible event, I pray above all things for strength for the victims and their families. While my experience left me in physical shock, I know that many people are dealing with much greater grief than I have experienced, and in honesty I probably would not be able to handle myself right now if I had personally known the victims.

I know that I am being hailed as a hero, and as many people have suggested I find this hard to accept. I am indeed a quiet and private individual; while I have imagined what it would be like to save a life I never believed I would be put in such a situation. It touches me truly and deeply to read online that parents are telling their children about me and telling them that real heroes do exist.

However, what I find most difficult about this situation is the devastating reality that a hero cannot come without tragedy. In the midst of this attention, we cannot ignore that a life was taken from us, ruthlessly and without justification or cause. Others were badly injured, and many more will carry this event with them the rest of their lives. Nonetheless, I would encourage that hate be met with love. When I came face to face with the attacker, God gave me the eyes to see that he was not a faceless monster, but a very sad and troubled young man. While I cannot at this time find it within me to forgive his crime, I truly desire that he will find the grace of God and the forgiveness of our community.

I would like to truly thank the responders who secured the building and the medical staff who looked after myself and those who were injured. After being in this situation myself, it is even harder to imagine what it would be like to have a job where one’s life is willingly put on the line every day. To our police, emergency responders, and armed forces, you have my greatest respect.

I am overwhelmed with the incredible generosity that has been showered upon me. It has been deeply touching to read the comments online and realize that my actions have had such a strikingly widespread effect. Moving forward, I am strongly requesting that any future donations be given to the victims through Seattle Pacific University.

I am grateful for the prayers and support coming from our home city and afar. In these next few days, weeks, and months, please continue to pray for everyone in the Seattle Pacific community. We serve a truly awesome God and I firmly believe that it is through Him alone that we will find the strength to heal from this tragedy.

Jon Meis, Student, Seattle Pacific University

Tesla provides classic example of how to head off bad news

If I had a top ten list of PR models, it would be Tesla and Elon Musk. He got a bum review in the New York Times and his damage control strategy was to demonstrate that the reviewer was less than honest. I thought no way could he win that battle. He did. The US government, typical of government-by-headline, launched a safety investigation against the cars after a battery fire caused lurid news stories. What did Tesla do? Used the opportunity to make it clear to the world just how safe their cars actually are. Lemons to lemonade. (I blogged on these stories earlier–just enter Tesla in the search on this blog).

Speaking of lemons, a “Lemon Law” lawsuit was about to be filed against them, presumably for failure to address a customers concerns. Do they meekly wait for the news headlines to hit, then say, we are very sorry we failed to meet this customers expectations and will do better next time? Heck no. They scewer the guy and his slime ball attorney (I’m making my judgment on this attorney strictly on the basis of the information provided by Tesla.

I would consider their blogpost on this lawsuit to be a classic in aggressive reputation management. It should be must reading for everyone in PR in my humble opinion. (By way, I just asked my broker to buy some Tesla stock. I like how they operate when facing trouble.)

Chevron’s publication of community news causes a stir

“You are the broadcaster,” or “you are the publisher” has been a favorite theme of mine since 2002 when the first edition of Now Is Too Late was published. It is the recognition that the Internet provides the opportunity for those making the news to go direct to audiences and circumvent (to some degree) the traditional media. Media, after all, are intermediaries, and not always so friendly to those making the news. So, go direct.

Chevron in Richmond, California (near San Francisco) launched a community newspaper called the Richmond Standard. According to Chevron’s PR agency leader, the paper was established to fill a void left by the demise of a local newspaper. However, the launch has created a mini-storm of controversy.

This story in O’Dwyer’s notesMM criticizes Chevron for “continuing a disturbing history of using propaganda disguised as news to promote its corporate efforts.”

Apparently there are a number of other publications in Richmond but they tend toward the “progressive” end of the spectrum. And they don’t like Chevron getting in the publication business one little bit: Andres Soto of the Richmond Progressive Alliance puts it more bluntly. “Richmond Standard is a pseudo online newspaper to try to counteract info that’s coming out in La Voz, the Pulse and the Bay View. It’s part of their mass propaganda campaign to try to influence the democratic process in Richmond.”

Reminds me a lot of my hometown. It had (still has) a number of independent publications that were openly and stridently on the left side of the political divide. Even the daily was seen as left-of-center by a very left-of-center populace. Working with a business-oriented group on the other side, we launched a publication called Better Community Solutions. Holy moly, what a stink that was. The attacks got ridiculously personal even though our approach was positive and non-emotional. Of course, the fact that the funding for our publication came from business interests meant to those attacking it that it was tainted by ugly profits regardless of anything wise we may say.

But the question here isn’t one group or the other wanting to stifle the voice of those holding different views (that’s a big topic in itself.) The question is is Chevron’s move a good idea?

I believe it is. Those opposing Chevron and its refinery in Richmond will object to anything and everything said by the company. A community newspaper could become an important and valuable vehicle as a platform for community discussion on important issues. But the success of this, ironically, depends on Chevron not using it for propaganda purposes, not being overtly or heavy handed in any way in promoting its position on specific issues. You can say, then why do it?

The opportunity was well stated by one resident of the community in this article by newsamerica: “It’s obviously an outlet for Chevron by Chevron, but as long as that’s clear—and I think it is—I don’t see a problem with it.” Hunziker said he sees a need for more balance in the papers currently circulating. Unlike Smith, who sees Chevron as the loudest voice in the room, Hunziker said he feels bombarded by progressive messaging. “Most of the yelling is being done on the far left. I think it’s important that people in the center start standing up.”

Stakeholder engagement is and should be a top priority for almost any organization with public license to operate issues (which means almost everyone). Funding and running a community newspaper is not a one-size-fits-all solution, but may be a valuable part of an engagement strategy mix. It will be interesting to watch how long this paper lasts and how it evolves.

Harvard study says BP’s “greenwashing” paid off

I greatly object to the obvious bias in this report on the value of “greenwashing.”  According to Wikipedia “greenwashing” is “spin” and deception.

The real point and value of this study about the impact of BP’s pre-spill advertising on its sales and reputation after the 2010 Gulf oil spill is that building reputation equity makes a huge difference when you encounter a major crisis. This is an extremely important point. Not because it supports buying expensive advertising, but because it supports the value of working hard to build reputation and trust before an event.

I call it reputation equity and liken it to a bank account. It’s a fund of goodwill and positive perceptions that will be extremely important when/if you ever face a major reputation crisis. In my other blog at emergencymgmt.com, I suggested that my emphasis in 2014 would be building that reputation equity and suggested some ways to start thinking about that. This report provides academic credence to that position and further encouragement to continue to focus on that part of crisis communication.

Crisis communication is primarily about preparation. If you’re not prepared to deal with it and communicate effectively, it’s almost a matter of just stick your head down and ride out the storm or succumb to it (like Freedom Industries in WV). But preparation is not just about putting a good plan together, creating message maps and all that–those are extremely important of course. Preparation is above all , analyzing your risks and redoubling efforts to prevent bad things from happening and then, working hard to build the trust in your key stakeholders that will be essential if/when you do face a problem.

This study doesn’t provide any information on the relationship building with key stakeholders that I think is the core of a reputation equity effort. But it does show that working hard to communicate who you are with the public prior to an event happening can pay off big time when the big event happens.

About “greenwashing.” I can understand why many believe that BP’s ad campaign “Beyond Petroleum” was deceptive. In one way it was. I don’t think it communicated, as I see with other oil companies such as Shell, that alternative and renewable energy sources are one part of the mix and that petroleum would continue to be essential. But I think this is judging the past from the perspective of the present. Even just a few years ago we were facing “peak oil” and renewables such as solar, wind and geothermal were the future. Nuclear was even getting a new look. Then fracking happened, and Fukushima and now nuclear is once again off the table and the US (amazingly) is set to become an energy exporter–at least until the rest of the world starts getting serious about natural gas. When the Beyond Petroleum campaign started I believe it was aspirational and forward thinking telling the world what BP was and that it was going to be about far more than oil. Is that greenwashing? For some, no doubt, but I think the researchers doing this study are showing their bias. It’s noteworthy that their own conclusion is that the government needs to get involved in investigating environmental claims made by companies.

Yeah, right. Because we little people are too stupid to see through the “greenwashing.” Give me a break.