Never Deny the Obvious

One of my all-time favorite apologies came from the CEO of a company who, after reading a long list of grievances recited by an offended customer, started his letter with, “Clearly, we screwed up.”

No excuses. No whining. No defensiveness. Just a clear acknowledgment that the company made a mistake, with the letter apologizing for it and taking corrective action.

The apology was made directly to the offended party who, as I recall, shared it with others and eventually the mea culpa made its way onto a list of excellent apology letters.

I have certainly made my share of mistakes, and when I make one I try to go directly to the offended individual(s) to apologize and ask forgiveness. I’ve had occasion to do this as recently as a few days ago.

  • We can’t control whether people will believe us or forgive us, but we can and should acknowledge our mistake with the offended party. It’s the right thing to do.

Organizations that make mistakes and are quick to apologize will find that most people are quick to forgive. Of course the apology must be sincere to really be effective. If you’ve made a mistake, though, you should want to do what you can to make things right with the offended individual(s) as soon as possible.

Digging in and refusing to acknowledge a mistake generally makes matters much worse, and an insincere apology is usually pretty easy to detect and counterproductive.

  • One of my early career mentors once gave me this sage advice: “Never deny the obvious.”

It’s amazing, though, how many companies and individuals do that very thing. If it’s obvious that you, your agency or client has made a mistake, acknowledge it, take responsibility, ask forgiveness and then move on.

 

 

Ad Agencies: Here’s a Way to Strengthen Relationships with Reporters Who Cover Your Clients

Media looking at car at Nissan facility

One of my most memorable experiences was the time I spent in Guatemala on a mission trip, where I was part of a team that helped build a school for kids living in extreme poverty. The school was going up next to the church that was spearheading its construction, and today there are about 700 students who attend. They are receiving an education that is much more than a competitive edge; it is a ticket that will help them escape poverty.

I had been to other parts of the world and seen some poor places, but nothing I experienced was quite like this. The church complex was built on a hill that overlooked a valley, and as far as I could see in any direction there were shacks built of cinder block, corrugated tin, pieces of plywood—and whatever else the residents could cobble together for a dwelling. The houses lacked running water and had dirt floors. No one knew for sure how many people lived in this valley, but the government estimated the population to be in the hundreds of thousands.

The majority of people who attended the church came from this valley. They were some of the warmest, most loving, friendly and joyful individuals I’d ever met. During the weekdays when we were engaged in construction, a number of mothers were working with us, using shovels, picks or even their bare hands to help out. They knew what this school would mean to their children, and they were determined to do their part to build it. I also got to spend some time in the valley visiting a child my family and I were sponsoring.

You can see pictures of poverty, but there’s no substitute for experiencing it in person and getting to know real people, by name, who are trapped in it. My time there certainly gave me a new perspective on the blessing we enjoy in America, and I look forward to returning to Guatemala someday, hopefully in the not-too-distant future.

Vision trips for news media and major donors have been used very successful by some of the world’s largest nonprofit ministries and humanitarian relief organizations precisely because such visits help them see the work being done first hand. They enable those who go to experience a situation personally in a way that words and images simply cannot convey adequately. Such trips also are great for getting news media and donors acquainted with people in areas affected by disasters, extreme poverty, etc.

While onsite trips to less exciting places, such as manufacturing plants, have much less emotional impact, they still can be used very effectively by ad agencies to build or solidify relationships with reporters who cover a particular industry.

Bringing a small group of journalists to a client’s facility for a day or overnight trip gives them an opportunity to meet top management; get briefed on new developments, plans and trends; and see for themselves the client’s operations in action. They should also have plenty of opportunities to ask questions and engage in discussion with management.

Here are two examples of such media trips that I was involved with personally. The first was an agency client that was a global supplier of hot-metal machines and solutions. You might be surprised at how many trade journalists there were at the time covering the adhesives industry, so we had a good pool of prospects from which to draw. Bringing news media onsite was a first for this company, and it resulted in about half a dozen very positive industry-specific stories running in the months that followed the trip.

The second example is when Saturn introduced its cars in Japan. Saturn invited several top Japanese auto journalists to Spring Hill, Tennessee, to test out its vehicles in a day-long ride-and drive event. And believe me, they did a thorough job of testing them, including seeing how well they could handle fast-paced curves in the Middle Tennessee countryside. (It’s also where I saw a memorable sign in a small-town grocery store we passed through that proudly proclaimed: “We sell Kroger ice cream.”)

The Japanese journalists got to meet with Saturn senior management and engineers; tour the plant; attend a briefing with short presentations about what’s going on with the company; and participate in group Q&As and even one-on-one meetings, if desired.

Both of these events generated post-event coverage, but even if media trips don’t produce immediate results, they are still important because they strengthen relationships with reporters who cover your client’s industry, giving them in-person access to senior management and the opportunity to be onsite. The dividends from such trips will unfold over time.

photo credit: chuckoutrearseats via photopin cc

Norwegian Cruise Line Sinks Image in PR Fiasco

Image of lego ship

I’m not sure why this is the case, but it seems like cruise lines run aground more often than most industries when it comes to PR fiascos.

As I noted in a 2012 post titled Cruise Ship Flunks Crisis Management 101, the luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia (owned by Carnival), didn’t appear to have much of a crisis plan when it got stuck off the coast of Italy. In 2013, a Carnival ship was stuck at sea for nearly a week. (This and other Carnival incidents are described in Business Insider.)

The latest PR challenge is Norwegian Cruise Line’s refusal to reschedule a family’s vacation after Nicolas, the 5-year-old son, was diagnosed with cancer. Because of surgery and chemo treatment, the family was unable to go on the trip as scheduled.

Norwegian, which partnered with Nickelodeon for this family-orientated cruise, would not re-book the cruise because the family cancelled the trip within 14 days or less of the departure date. And, because the family hadn’t purchased travel insurance, it was out $4,000 – a lot of money for most people – while also suffering through the trauma of battling their son’s cancer.

“It’s just unbelievable that a multimillion dollar company wouldn’t be more compassionate,” the mother told a Long Island TV station.

This is one of those common sense things that is really hard to process. Who at Norwegian made this decision, and what were they thinking?

If Norwegian’s management team was so cold and heartless that they didn’t care about this family’s extraordinary circumstances, were they also completely blind to the PR disaster that was sure to follow?

Predictably, social media began to spread the word. A Facebook page was set up imploring Norwegian Cruise Line to “Please Help Little Nicolas.”

Yesterday, feeling the heat of public outrage (and probably sensing a multi-million dollar problem unfolding before their eyes), Norwegian posted a Facebook message saying that the company had “offered to work with the family when Nicolas was ready to travel to ensure that they took their vacation and we provided a personal contact at Norwegian for the family. . . .”

Does that mean Norwegian will comp the trip or will the family have to come up with another $4,000? Or maybe they’ll discount the trip? It’s not clear what the company is offering.

The Facebook message went on to say, “We contacted the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an organization that we work closely with to grant the wishes of hundreds of children each year who want to take a cruise. If the family chooses to participate in the Make-A-Wish program, we will make sure that they receive the cruise they were looking forward to.”

So now the family has to go through Make-A-Wish to get their trip. Hmmm.

I don’t know which advertising and/or PR agency Norwegian uses (or if all that work is done in-house), but surely some outside adviser must have said, “Hey wait, refusing to re-book this family’s trip due to your inflexible cancellation policy is not a good idea. Even if you don’t really care about them, you need to act like you care or you’ll face a huge PR backlash.”

Unfortunately, advertising and public relations agencies can only advise their clients; they can’t make them do anything, and there are times when management makes decisions that prove to be very costly to a company’s image in the long run for short-term gain.

In this case, sticking to a rigid cancellation policy and pocketing $4,000 from the family will likely cost Norwegian exponentially more in the months and years to come.

There is a happy ending to the story, though, at least for this family. After hearing about the family’s plight on “Fox & Friends,” the CEO of another cruise line contacted them and offered a free cruise.

Even more impressive, the CEO reportedly requested to remain anonymous.

photo credit: pasukaru76 via photopin cc

Framing the Right Message for the Right Audience

Picture of a brown wooden frame

Creating targeted messages that are relevant and persuasive enough to motivate recipients to take action is worth the effort, because the way a message is framed (how it is put into context or presented) can make all the difference in the world in how that message is received.

The theory is that how something is presented (“the frame”) influences choices people make. For example, “day care” may equate to babysitting in the minds of many people, but “early education” has a much more positive connotation, according to a case study cited in Strategic Communications for Nonprofits:

“…research found that the most powerful frames on this issue linked pre-K to school readiness and better performance in the early grades—a focus on the educational needs of children, not the babysitting needs of their parents.”

Assuming you’ve done your homework so that your messaging is based on solid research rather than a hunch – and that you understand where your target audience is in its thinking, values and beliefs – it’s time to begin carefully choosing words to craft a targeted, attention-getting message.

Using the right words to send the right message to the right audience, through the right communications vehicle at the right time, are all keys to successful messaging.

 photo credit: Filter Forge via photopin cc

Press Release Is a Key Tool for Ad Agency PR

 

How Social Are Your Press Releases Image medium_6330943490Is the traditional press release dead, and if so how will its demise affect ad agency PR?

Recently I posed the “Is-the-press-release-dead” question to students in my strategic communications class at Williamson College. I asked them to read an article titled “The end of the press release?” — which makes this claim — and let me know their thoughts about it.

The author, Gregory Galant, concludes his article with this interesting statement: “It’s time we accept that the days of the press release are over-let’s skip the anger, bargaining, and depression stages-and focus on more effective methods for releasing news.”

What exactly those “more effective methods” are Mr. Galant doesn’t spell out, though he notes that “The SEC has even announced that information can be released via social media, provided investors know where to look and it’s not restricted.”

So why does this have to be an either/or situation? Why not use social media to extend the reach of a press release rather than replace it?

I wasn’t convinced the press release is dead, and it turns out my students didn’t buy it, either. One of them commented:

“There are plenty of people in the general public who still do not have Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr accounts…There are other who simply don’t get that interested in social media.  There will always be ‘that kind’ of public. They need other ways to find out what’s going on. Newspapers, TV news, etc., are great sources for people who either don’t use social media or who simply want to unplug from the hectic pace of pointless selfies that fill the Internet.  Sometimes I like hearing about important information through social media, but usually I treat that as entertainment…There have to be lots of folks out there like me.  Press releases are not dead.”

Good insights from someone who is smack dab in the middle of the generation that grew up with social media.

Mr. Galant cites four reasons the days of press releases are “long gone.” I’ll summarize and respond to each one.

1. Today, seconds after you post a press release on the Internet, it’s no longer new news.

True, but so what? How is using social media or other methods going to change that?

2. Google itself has said that it’s discounting content that you pay to distribute and has explicitly warned against putting unnatural links in press releases.

Who says everybody pays to distribute their press releases? Having updated media lists are vital for any PR person. Paid services should supplement, not totally replace, an in-house media list. And if you are going to be held hostage to Google’s constantly changing search algorithm, you’ll likely end up at the algorithm funny farm.

3. People must want to share your content with their friends and followers. A formal announcement typically isn’t well suited to these channels.

Companies make announcements through “formal” press releases all the time. If the topic is of interest, why wouldn’t people want to share it regardless of how the content is delivered?

4. The SEC has already provided the guidance that public companies can simply post announcements on their websites, rather than use a press release service.

Okay, so public companies have options – how does that prove the traditional press release is dead? As I noted earlier, why not use a press release and social media to extend your reach and let people choose how they prefer to receive information?

My student had it right. Press releases are not dead – and they’re not likely to die out anytime soon.

photo credit: PRNewswireGlobal via photopin cc

8 News Release Mistakes to Avoid for Ad Agency PR Success

 

Image of laptopWhat’s the number one problem reporters have with public relations?

In a survey of more than 1,700 journalists and editors sponsored by Bulldog Reporter and Cision, 60% of them cited their biggest beef as the lack of relevance of the materials they received from corporate communications and PR professionals. Much of this information, they noted, is written like advertising, not journalism.

That’s a sure-fired way to have your news release or press kit trashed.

Ad agencies that want to be taken seriously by reporters should avoid these eight mistakes when writing a news release:

1. The “no news” news release. This is where you’re trying to get your agency or client some media coverage but without a real news hook. It’s better to hold off on your release until you have an appropriate angle to justify contacting a reporter. If you want some ideas on creative publicity topics, check out my “Ad Agencies Top 20 Topics for Publicity” post.

2. Puffery and exaggerated descriptions of people, events, products or services – followed by lots of exclamation marks!!!!!! Nothing screams amateur quite like that.

3. Platitudes and vague generalities.

4. Verbosity. It’s usually harder to write short, concise copy than long copy, but journalism is all about being succinct and to the point.

5. Stating things that are subjective and opinion-based as facts. If you want to include a statement that involves an opinion or judgment, turn it into a quote and attribute the statement to someone.

6. Writing about “pseudo” events that are contrived to get attention but have no real news value.

7. Consistently leading with the name of your boss in the headline or first paragraph.

8. Writing like an advertising copywriter instead of a journalist. (See journalists’ top concern above.) To be considered credible by the news media, you have to write your news release as objectively as possible, emphasizing its news value, connection to a trend or its human interest aspect. Use third-person pronouns and the active rather than passive voice.

photo credit: timsnell via photopin cc

Podcast: How Ad Agencies Can Use PR to Grow Their Business

 

Don Beehler interview with Jason SwenkIn my interview with Jason Swenk on The Smart Agency Masterclass, I explain how ad agencies can use public relations to get more coverage, gain credibility and enhance their awareness in the marketplace. I also discuss some of the biggest mistakes ad agencies make with their PR efforts and free resources they can utilize for publicity opportunities. You can hear my interview with Jason here.