BLOGS: Wag The Dog

Monday, June 29, 2009, 11:07 AM

Monday's quick reads: Wells Fargo on social media, Wall Street's reputation management

1.) CEO's urged to do more online (The Washington Times) -- A new study says top CEOs should do a better job managing their presence on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Wikipedia.

2.) Selling health care? Watch what you say (The Washington Post) -- A psychologist reminds Washington that buzzwords send messages, but they may not always be the messages we intend.

3.) Wells Fargo on social media engagement during financial crisis (The Blog Council) -- Wells Fargo's VP for Social Media Engagement discusses the bank's decision to embrace new communications tools during the financial crisis.

4.) Wall Street responds to "populist outrage" (Bloomberg) -- Wall Street’s largest trade group has started a campaign to counter the “populist” backlash against bankers, enlisting two former aides to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to spearhead the effort.

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Monday, June 22, 2009, 11:44 AM

Monday's quick reads: reputation management, brand fraud, and word of mouth marketing

1.) How can companies win back trust? (Business Week) -- The recession and financial crisis have shaken shareholders' faith in corporate boards and management. How can confidence be restored?

2.) Trust word of mouth (Emarketer) -- In a poll of chief marketing officers from the Duke University Fuqua School of Business and the American Marketing Association (AMA), the top overall customer priority named was service excellence, followed by building a trusting relationship.

3.) KPMG: Investment management firms must improve communications to rebuild trust (KPMG) -- A new study from KPMG says improved lines of communication should flow not only from investment managers to their clients, but also, crucially, from investment managers to intermediaries and to regulators.

4.) Brands face fraud risk online (Brandweek) -- As commerce and marketing efforts continue to shift online, brands' exposure to risks are increasing.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009, 11:35 AM

Interview: Anne Arundel Medical Center enters the social media space

We're doing things a bit differently today.

A few readers have suggested we start posting Q & A's with communications professionals who will take us "under the hood" at their organizations and show us what they are doing to influence public opinion in positive ways. We've been wanting to do it for some time as well, so let's get started.

Today's Q & A is with Justin Paquette, media coordinator for Anne Arundel Medical Center. AAMC is a private, non-profit health center in Annapolis, Maryland with nearly 3,000 employees. By way of background, AAMC staff performs more than 22,000 surgical procedures and handles more than 72,000 emergency service visits per year, as of 2007. (AAMC is not a client of Womble Carlyle's.)

Justin was kind enough to give us some perspective on how AAMC has embraced social media in recent months to reach its stakeholders in new and creative ways. Here's our Q & A:

1. Describe the new communications tools AAMC is using to communicate with its audience.

Justin Paquette: AAMC is in a position many hospitals find themselves in – where we must balance new media with traditional media in our overall marketing mix. A recent survey conducted by the organization Ad-ology found that 53 percent of patients between the ages of 25 and 34 had their health care decisions influenced by social media. Yet, many patients are still influenced by traditional media and advertising.

So we’re trying to find that balance where we’re effectively communicating AAMC’s message in a number of different ways – reaching each “audience niche.”

Some of the new tools we’ve implemented are podcasts featuring the AAMC clinicians our region has come to trust. We call it the AAMC Health Connection Podcast, and it’s updated regularly, and archived on our Web site. We’re the second hospital in Maryland to feature original podcast programming.

We’ve also launched AAMC’s Twitter account, @AAMCNews, a running stream of AAMC News, as well as health care articles from news sites across the country.

I’m currently conducting some research into the feasibility/ROI of a running blog from our administration over the next fiscal year, updating our audience on AAMC news, events, and updates.

2. What value do Facebook, Twitter, and podcasts offer AAMC that you didn’t have before? How does it benefit your patients and other AAMC stakeholders?

JP: New media and the power of the internet have allowed any brand to become, in a sense, its own media franchise. New media also allows an unprecedented level of message preservation; direct from the source.

You can compare this to going and picking your own fruit, straight from the field. New media allows AAMC to push our clinicians, news, and updates directly to our audience.

I said this in a recent interview, there is a lot of anonymity that comes with using the internet for information. And in health care, that anonymity can be scary. But AAMC is a brand our audience has come to trust, so we’re able to break through that anonymity, and supply health care information that our audience can know is reliable, because it carries the AAMC brand.

3. If AAMC has something to say, couldn’t you just send out a press release?

JP: Well we can, and do, use press releases to push out AAMC news. Right now, AAMC’s new media efforts are just an addition to the overall hospital marketing mix.

But newsroom cuts, shrinking news holes, and increased syndication have really limited the role newspapers are able to play in pushing out news. Many of the journalists and editors that AAMC has worked with are unfortunately, no longer in those roles. We still enjoy great relationships with the local/regional/state media, but they can only dedicate so much room to any given organization or business. So by making our Web site, http://www.aahs.org/ a “news hub” of its own, and by using all these new tools, we can get our own message out.

I’ll give you a quick example – just the other day I called a Maryland paper to pitch a story to their health reporter – and she was getting married the next week. She was the sole reporter who could handle this story, and was going to be out for two weeks. The story couldn’t be done by them, even though it fell right in the strike zone of their audience.

4. How did you sell the broader AAMC leadership – administrators, doctors, etc. – on the value of these new communications tools? Have they embraced this new strategy?

JP: AAMC has an administration that is consistently on the forefront of strategic decisions that will benefit those that the hospital serves. While we are still in the early stages of adopting new technology and new methods of reaching our audience, our administration has, thus far, been open to new ideas.

The hardest part for any organization, including ours, is measuring any value of these new services. Traditionally, we’ve been able to point to an article in the Baltimore Sun, for example, and know that we’ve succeeded with a given pitch. But with new media, that ROI is harder to measure. We need new metrics, new measurement.

In addition, for a hospital (and any brand) limits have to be implemented with any social media service. For example, on our Twitter account, I have expressly noted on our profile that a “follow” is not an endorsement. I set this protection because while we want AAMC to be in the health care conversation, we need to be sure our audience knows that we cannot advocate for what others are posting on their accounts. Just like in any other conversation, we can only be responsible for what we say.

But one example, I recently used Twitter to push out a link to the article from the Annapolis Capital discussing our podcast launch. That “tweet” was “re-tweeted” by six others in the first hour after my initial post. Suddenly, hundreds of eyes that we would never have reached were viewing this article, and pushing it on. That viral component is where the power of new media lies.

5. What has been the response – from patients, the press, and the broader public – to this new communications strategy?

JP: Answering for our patients at this point is hard – but I can tell you that the web hits on our podcast landing pages are climbing, so we know people are listening. That has been encouraging.

As for the press, I’ve actually been interacting with a number of reporters via Twitter and have been really excited about the back-and-forth that has generated as a result. Reporters and editors are using Twitter for story ideas, and it’s such a unique way to get in touch with them.

Our physicians have been excited about the podcasts, as well – I’m already getting calls from clinicians on our medical staff saying, “I saw the new podcasts, and would love to talk about such-and-such, a question I hear in my office all the time.” And that is exactly the response we were hoping to get.

6. Does adopting social media and podcasts mean you no longer need to focus on “traditional” public relations, i.e. journalists, advertising, and community relations?

JP: I don’t believe so. I think new media at this point is merely an addendum to utilization of traditional media. Members of the audience any brand is trying to reach lie in a number of different places. It’s our job to use as many different methods as we can to reach those people, and communicate with them.

In his book What Would Google Do, Jeff Jarvis cites a conversation he heard at a forum where someone asked the founder of Facebook a question like: “How do I get my audience to communicate with me?” And the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg answered back something to the effect of: “They’re already talking about you; you just need to go to where they are.” Not the conversation verbatim, but it was a great response from a leader in new media to someone trying to figure it all out.

7. Some say that sites like Twitter and Facebook let organizations “take the pulse” of the public on specific issues. Can you give a specific example of what AAMC has learned by “taking the pulse” of the online public?

JP: Via Twitter, I learned from the general public that nobody knows what HCAHPS is. HCAHPS is an incredibly valuable patient satisfaction tool. This confirmed to me that, as a PR professional, my job is to help the public understand the utility of this tool, what it means and how it’s measured. And most importantly, how it impacts them.

8. What advice would you give an organization – particularly another medical center – that is unsure whether to make social media a part of its communications strategy?

JP: It may seem simple, but I would say: Embrace new media carefully and always put the brand before anything else. Do your research, learn the tools, and learn how to use them in a way that will benefit you.

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Monday, June 15, 2009, 3:32 PM

How to close a deal by texting

Well, Womble Carlyle may not actually help sell your factory via text, but we are definitely innovative in the use of new communications tools.

Our web marketing team is up to its old tricks again with this clever new video showing how to close a business deal via text message (compliments of Robby Merritt at Merritt Videoworks.) To view the 2 minute video, click here. The star at the end? Womble Carlyle's seasoned attorney and former North Carolina Chief Justice Burly Mitchell.

Bonus question: Can anyone guess the tune playing in the background?

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Monday's quick reads: Home Depot, Youtube, human resources & social media

1.) Image as part of corporate strategy (PRSA) -- National media regularly ranks the most admired corporations in America, listing the core values that helped them gain fame. Is this effort just the business equivalent of selecting the most popular students in the high school yearbook? Or should companies and organizations concern themselves with image and reputation?

2.) Home Depot uses Youtube as a PR tool (Atlanta Journal Constitution) -- Home Depot's encounter with an environmental group shows that social media can work for corporations as well as activists.

3.) The good news about bad news: openness works (PR Daily) -- Employees want open communication from their bosses, particularly in bad times. Surprise, surprise. Well, don’t just slough that off: Being kept in the loop translates into increased commitment and good will among the staff.

4.) Human resources & crisis communications - (HR Executive) Although HR leaders may have been using -- or at least begun thinking of using -- social media for recruiting, project management and knowledge transfer, they may not yet have considered the benefits of using such tools in the case of emergencies. The sooner, the better, experts say.

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Friday, June 12, 2009, 11:02 AM

How to sell your values - not just your products

This column was published this morning in The Daily Record.

By Henry Fawell
Special to The Daily Record
Friday, June 12, 2009

The ocean liner that is corporate America has taken on plenty of water in the past two years. Yet this month, with business leaders arduously bailing water from below deck, two shots were delivered across the corporate bow that deal directly with the state of corporate reputations.

The warnings come from the latest editions of the Harvard Business Review and McKinsey Quarterly, and they should prompt business leaders in Baltimore and beyond to recognize that in today’s economy it’s not enough to sell our products and services (though that’s awfully important). Now more than ever, we must sell our values.

In an HBR article entitled “Regaining Trust,” authors James O’Toole and Warren Bennis diagnose the tattered reputations of today’s corporate community and what it will take to rebuild them. “We won’t be able to rebuild trust in institutions,” they argue, “until leaders learn how to communicate honestly — and create organizations where that’s the norm.”

The solution? It’s more than simply delivering profits, they write. It’s also whether executives choose to lead organizations that are “are economically, ethically, and socially sustainable.”

The second shot across the bow comes from a new McKinsey Quarterly survey, which shows that 85 percent of senior executives around the globe say that public trust in business has deteriorated.

So, what’s a company to do? How can Baltimore’s corporate community strengthen its reputation with a weary public hungry for change? Here’s how three U.S. companies in controversial industries – insurance, financial services, and energy - are attempting to write a new values-oriented narrative to improve their reputations with stakeholders.

The task is not easy. The skeptics have plenty of ammunition. Yet these companies are setting a standard for values-oriented corporate communications that we’d all be wise to consider.

Liberty Mutual: The Boston-based insurance giant launched what it calls the Responsibility Project at a time when one could safely conclude corporate and personal financial responsibility were lacking. Liberty’s campaign highlights individuals and organizations that “do the right thing,” whether practicing financial discipline or helping a lost stranger with driving directions. What started as a popular television ad years ago has evolved into multifaceted communications effort, complete with website and blog, stressing personal and corporate responsibility. The Responsibility Project encourages individuals to post their own stories about doing the right thing and the “responsibility dilemmas” they face in everyday life.

JP Morgan: The 200 year-old financial services firm has launched the Way Forward campaign, which stresses the company’s commitment to - you guessed it – “doing the right thing.” The campaign seeks to drive public dialogue past the financial industry’s recent history and toward JP Morgan’s plan to help grow business. JP Morgan has peppered newspapers and magazines with advertisements outlining the firm’s investments in Main Street businesses, clean energy projects, and credit counseling programs. The firm launched a Way Forward website complete with testimonials from entrepreneurs and homeowners lauding the firm’s commitment to responsible lending.

Chevron: Like most oil and gas giants, Chevron has earned its share of scrutiny over carbon emissions and its environmental footprint. But Chevron turned this threat to its reputation into an opportunity. It created an energy efficiency campaign centered on the question, “will you join us?” The campaign – built around the site http://www.willyoujoinus.com/ – encourages personal energy conservation and outlines Chevron’s commitment to reducing oil and gas use while alternative energies grow to scale. Like Liberty Mutual, Chevron’s strategy encourages public participation in the campaign, not just in energy conservation practices but also with a lively conversation on the company’s blog.

Yes, the skeptics could ask plenty of loaded questions. Why should consumers take advice on responsibility from anyone in the insurance industry? Do we really want Wall Street charting “the way forward” in America? Since when did oil companies earn the right to lecture us on energy conservation? This skepticism confirms the tenuous state of corporate reputations and validates the argument that if you’re not changing how you communicate, you’re losing.

Forward-thinking companies would be wise to start dialogues with the public about what it takes to be both profitable and values-oriented. In my view, the sooner we embrace this new reality, the better off corporate reputations will be.

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Monday, June 8, 2009, 2:28 PM

Philadelphia Eagles give bloggers respect...and a trailer

(Photo Credit: New York Times)
Sports Illustrated's Peter King reports this week that the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles will provide local bloggers and blogging reporters with their own trailer at this year's mini-camp to help them meet the public's expectation for real-time updates. Here's a quote from King's "Monday Morning Quarterback" column:

"Reporting on the NFL has become such a 'now' business,'' Eagles PR czar Derek Boyko said. "I saw this [trailer] as being in the 'need' category, because so many bloggers are doing immediate stories, and now the beat reporters are doing the blogging, too.''

Is your industry any different? Granted, few organizations command the attention and scrutiny of an NFL franchise, but reporting and commentary is a "now" business in just about every industry. I won't suggest that you lobby your CFO for a blogger trailer just yet, but the Eagles' creative strategy ought to prompt a few questions:

1. What opinion, if any, does your company's leadership have of bloggers generally? Does that opinion accurately reflect the commentary and readership of bloggers who cover your industry, product, or company?

2. When was the last time you monitored the blogosphere or Twitter for references to your company, product, or industry? What did you find? Was it accurate? How did you respond?

3. What has your organization done to introduce itself to industry bloggers?

4. What has your organization done to make information as accessible as possible for industry bloggers who cover your company, product, or industry?

We have written in the past about the dangers of dismissing bloggers as a fringe community. Highly successful companies like Dell have learned that determined bloggers with an interesting story line can influence public opinion on a significant scale.

You may not be rooting for Eagles on Sundays this Fall, but we'd all be wise to learn from their forward-thinking approach to blogger relationships.

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Monday's quick reads: hospitals, utilities, and internal communications

1.) Chicago utility strives for positive news coverage (PR Daily) -- The Northern Illinois and Chicago electric company ComEd usually gets calls from customers and the media only when the power’s out. To counter that problem, the utility's PR team developed a four-prong approach to pitching stories that will create an enduring positive profile.

2.) An aggressive PR strategy helps save a hospital (Albany Business Review) -- Bellevue Woman's Hospital's story contains lessons for business leaders caught up in a capricious economic environment. The former CEO's primary advice, when faced with bad news, is to react quickly and truthfully, and to be both consistent and persistent in telling your story.

3.) How CEOs can rally the troops in bad times (PR Daily) -- When times are tough, it’s natural for leaders to want to rally the troops with some hopeful and reassuring words. However, ignoring the grim reality doesn’t win over the listeners—it makes them wonder what planet the executive is living on.

4.) Got a political career? Don't tweet it away. (The Washington Post) -- Recent political controversies demonstrate that any medium that encourages instant reactions dashed off on a BlackBerry or iPhone and condensed into 140 characters is a recipe for disaster in the political arena.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009, 2:30 PM

McKinsey study highlights erosion of corporate reputations

A new report in McKinsey Quarterly (subscription required) should prompt a fundamental reconsideration of communications strategies in many corporate headquarters.

According to the study, eighty-five percent of senior executives said that public trust in businesses had deteriorated in 2009. To read the full report, click here. Here's a sobering excerpt:


"The breadth and depth of today’s reputational challenge is a consequence not just of the speed, severity, and unexpectedness of recent economic events but also of underlying shifts in the reputation environment that have been under way for some time. Those changes include the growing importance of Web-based participatory media, the increasing significance of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and other third parties, and declining trust in advertising. Together, these forces are promoting wider, faster scrutiny of companies and rendering traditional public-relations tools less effective in addressing reputational challenges...Many companies, though, rely primarily on small, central corporate-affairs departments that can’t monitor or examine diverse reputational threats with sufficient sophistication. "
How should companies respond to these challenges? Here are some thoughts:

1. Words must be backed by deeds. No amount of communicating can rebuild a reputation if a company's deeds don't match it words. Communities are increasingly interested in what a company stands for - not just what it produces. Liberty Mutual, for instance, is creatively engaging the public in dialogue while projecting one of its core values - doing the right thing - with its Responsibility Project.

2. Advocates matter. With trust in businesses so low, companies cannot expect to influence public opinion on their own. They must increasingly cultivate credible third parties - yes, even bloggers - who are willing to advocate on their behalf.

3. Listen. Whether communities gather online, at shareholder meetings, or at the local townhall, they expect a two-way dialogue. The companies that offer one, like Chevron, have a stronger chance of understanding public sentiment and building trust on specific issues, if not the entire brand.

The tectonic shifts underway in the economy, public sentiment, and how the world communicates are crowding out the old rules of reputation management. What has your company done to adjust?

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Monday, June 1, 2009, 10:21 AM

Monday's quick reads: Obama, energy, reputation management

1.) Web 2.0: Managing corporate reputations (Business Week) -- For many employers, social networking sites are a love-hate relationship. So leading companies are drafting guidelines to govern employee use of social networking sites at work and to protect the company's brand online.

2.) Why local news is no longer proprietary (PRSA) -- To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of the death of journalism have been greatly exaggerated.

3.) Master the art of the story teller (PRSA) -- If you want to win the hearts and minds of your audience members, you must be a master storyteller.

4.) How Obama made energy platform "pop" (The Washington Post) -- How President Obama is packaging the energy debate to influence public opinion.

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