BLOGS: Wag The Dog

Monday, November 30, 2009, 11:31 AM

Monday's quick reads: Tiger Woods, baby cribs, and DuPont

1.) DuPont brings new life to video (Social Media Business Council) -- Rather than looking externally to find new ideas for viral content, DuPont turned to their own archives. Their new series, called simply “DuPont Science Videos,” features five short clips of behind-the-scenes educational footage of DuPont product tests.

2.) Tiger's PR troubles are growing because of Tiger (NBC New York) -- One analyst says that just about any rumor about Tiger Woods could gain traction these days if the golf icon continues to hide in the sand trap.

3.) Ad budget tight? Call the PR machine (The New York Times) -- Hobbled by a depressed DVD market and drooping sales of movies to foreign television networks, Hollywood is leaning more heavily on armies of publicists generating what they call “earned media,” free coverage in magazines, newspapers, TV outlets and blogs.

4.) Crib recalls provide a glimpse of what's to come (Bulletproof Blog) -- As news broke last week that Stork Craft Manufacturing is recalling 2.1 million cribs due to a suffocation risk that has claimed four lives and injured scores of children, consumer product companies got a good look at what’s to come as regulatory scrutiny of product safety continues to escalate.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009, 1:50 PM

Banks find the link between communication and trust

(Photo credit: Phill Carrick)
Monday's edition of The Wall Street Journal included highlights from the Journal's annual "CEO Council," a high-profile gathering in Washington where corporate and government leaders converge to discuss solutions to the global challenges ahead.

To read the entire section, click here. You'll find plenty of good insights on the economy, education, energy, and the environment. Specific to this blog's interests, the quote below from Gail Kelly (pictured), CEO of Australian financial giant Westpac, caught our attention.

Kelly emphasized that large banks must work hard to regain the public's trust.

Doing so requires, "bankers and financiers, and others no doubt, to be talking a very clear, clear language that people understand. We tend to, as bankers, talk in quite arcane language about being intermediaries and transmission of credit and all these sorts of things that no one actually understands. And I think it's important for us to describe what our role is and how we, in fact, facilitate growth within the economy, and then stand behind our actions and through our conduct, and actually rebuild trust in the communities that we serve."

Amen. Kelly's statement is reminiscent of surveys we've written about previously that show that financial institutions enjoy better reputations when they are perceived to be communicating with clarity and consistency.

Kudos to Ms. Kelly for making a sorely-need point. Let's hope her colleagues were listening.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009, 1:05 PM

Goldman Sachs issues $500 million and an apology

It's lonely at the top.

That's what Goldman Sachs must be thinking after the visceral public reaction to last week's announcement that it would donate $500 million to small business education, training, and investment programs.

Few companies could incite global hostility by giving away $500 million in a recession, but that's exactly what happened to Goldman. And companies that are serious about reputation management will pay attention.

Here's a sampling of the sentiment that greeted Goldman's announcement last week:

"Goldman and its peers need to practice humility and contrition for an extended period, rather than seeking image-buffing headlines with token gestures," wrote Bloomberg's Mark Gilbert after Goldman's announcement.

The New York Times editorial board dismissed the initiative as "crumbs from [Goldman's] table...motivated by its public relations problems."

In the most vivid description of Goldman to date, Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi compared the investment firm in July to "a giant vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity."

How did we get here?

Goldman has endured years of withering criticism that large financial institutions sparked the economic downturn, profited from billions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts, and compounded the struggles of ordinary Americans by restricting small business' access to capital. That Goldman issued $15 billion in employee bonuses this year months after taking $10 billion in public funding hasn't help change that narrative.

Will Goldman ever be perceived as a corporate angel? Not likely. Earning $3.4 billion every three months doesn't get you much sympathy no matter how sincere your philanthropic efforts may be, and last week's announcement appeared to be an acknowledgment that the criticism was taking its toll.

Thus, few companies need a reputation recovery strategy more than Goldman, and there are lessons to be gleaned from the manner in which the announcement was made.

First, the company announced that it would be partnering with Warren Buffett and Columbia Business School Dean R. Glenn Hubbard in the small business initiative. The inclusion of respected economic minds outside Goldman lends independent credibility to a program that critics want to pigeon-hole as a shallow PR stunt manufactured by Goldman.

Second, Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein last week did what few leaders do when their company has earned the public's hostility: he apologized. On the day of the announcement, Blankfein told an audience of corporate directors that Goldman, “participated in things that were clearly wrong and have reason to regret. We apologize.”

We blogged a long time ago that telling the truth and getting reputable friends to vouch for you can go a long way in a public relations crisis. Goldman seems to get it.

Third, Goldman is running a reputation marathon, not a sprint. Trying to win the public's affection overnight after the economic trauma of 2008 is unrealistic. The visceral reaction by Goldman's critics last week had little to do with helping small businesses (hardly an objectionable idea) and everything to do with Goldman's past.

Consultant Peter Firestein put it best:
"That Goldman has allowed its reputation to sink so low as to make half a billion seem like a token causes damage far beyond the bank itself. It may undermine public sentiment toward truly needed financial entities for a long time to come."

Goldman's reputation recovery strategy cannot be measured in terms of weeks or months, but rather in years. Nor should it be measured by when (if ever) accolades are thrown in Goldman's direction, but rather by how quickly Goldman's critics fade into the background.

Fourth, the only strategy that would be more harmful to Goldman's reputation would be to do nothing - to assume that the public's short term anger make any mea culpa or long term gesture futile.

Goldman would be wise to look past last week's headlines. The opening salvo of cynicism was inevitable. Now they must focus on the other 25 miles in this marathon. That means demonstrating over a sustained period of time a credible strategy to minimize the negative consequences of its business practices and maximizing the many positive benefits.

The measure of last week's announcement will come into focus in the years ahead as small businesses reap the benefits of targeted financing, better higher education curricula, improved management training, and leadership networking that Goldman has now made possible. As the bottom lines of those small businesses recover, perhaps some of the glow - even a little bit - will rub off on Goldman's reputation as well.

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Monday, November 23, 2009, 10:25 AM

Monday's quick reads: Polar bears, Denny's, and missing gold

1.) Royal Canadian Mint went into damage control over missing gold (National Post) -- Faced with what may prove to be a huge gold heist right out from underneath its nose, the Royal Canadian Mint ordered polls and consulted with a high-powered Ottawa public relations firm as it worked on damage control, access to information documents show.

2.) American Express gets social to help small businesses (Social Media Business Council) -- Inspired by research indicating many small business owners had a “high relationship IQ” but a “low social media IQ,” American Express created an online forum dedicated to helping small business owners better understand social media strategies.

3.) Do it for the polar bears! (The Washington Post) -- For marketers, climate guilt isn't the easiest thing to sell. Part of the audience doesn't have it and doesn't want it; another segment of the audience already has too much of it. So can you change all these minds with a single ad?

4.) Why public relations is the main course at Denny's (PRSA) -- As the CEO of one of the largest full-service restaurant chains in the United States, Nelson Marchioli credits public relations for Denny’s success. Marchioli speaks with PRSA about reaching customers via social media, the company’s continued diversity efforts and leading during a recession.

5.) How to lose an argument online (Seth Godin) -- Once you start an argument, not a discussion, you've already lost. Think about it: have you ever changed your mind because someone online started yelling at you?

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Monday, November 16, 2009, 10:44 AM

Monday's quick reads: Dan Snyder, PhRMA, and CEO reputations

1.) Banks put focus on conversation, not sale, in social media campaigns (Memphis Business Journal) -- Checking out Facebook friends or tweeting about a cool party you’re heading to is fun stuff, but can it get a bank more loans, increased deposits or improved return-on-capital? That question has yet to be answered definitively, but a growing handful of pioneering banks and credit unions, including several in Memphis, are having fun trying.

2.) PhRMA proposes FDA-approved logo for social media (AdAge) -- PhRMA is advocating for a universal safety symbol -- either the FDA logo itself or an FDA-approved symbol -- to indicate that a Twitter or Facebook mention links to a page that contains the pharmaceutical company's FDA-mandated risk information.

3.) Redskins: Snyder's PR "henchman" is both his guard and his safety (The Washington Post) -- As Dan Snyder's self-described public-relations "henchman," Karl Swanson, 59, has been tending to Snyder's image for at least a dozen years. When controversy calls -- as it repeatedly has since Snyder became one of the Washington area's most prominent citizens -- Swanson is close behind, ready to tell the boss's side of the story.

4.) Resetting CEO reputation (The Huffington Post) -- Since everyone -- President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Kurt Anderson and Jeff Immelt, among others -- is using the word "reset," I thought I would join the club by declaring that it is high time to begin resetting CEO reputations. If you did not know already, reset is the next fashionable business term that is rapidly gaining ground. Use of this trendy term has risen 67% from 2006 to date in the global business media, and BusinessWeek now offers a regular upfront feature on the Reset Economy.

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Friday, November 13, 2009, 9:57 AM

FDA keeping an eye on social media

“Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.” – Ronald Reagan

When it comes to the advent of social media, Ronald Reagan looks to be getting one-third of the equation right.

No, government has not yet adopted a Facebook tax. Nor has it enacted a subsidy for Twitter users (though we don’t know exactly what was in this year’s stimulus bill, do we?)

Two powerful government agencies are, however, sharpening their regulatory pencil as social media sites emerge as a preferred method of communication for consumers and large swaths of corporate America. If your company is thinking of getting active on social media, get to know these developments.

The Food & Drug Administration holds a hearing this morning on how health care companies market FDA-regulated products on the internet and social media sites. The agency’s crosshairs are focused most sharply on prescription drugs for humans and animals, prescription biologics, and medical devices.

Folks in my line of work usually bristle at the mere mention of regulating such activity, but there are two reasons that the FDA’s involvement may actually be a good thing.

First, surveys show that two-thirds of adults who research medical information online acknowledge that the information they find influences their medical decision-making.

Second, drug and medical device makers are skittish of using social media because there are no clear guidelines for what’s appropriate communication. Will they run afoul of the “direct to consumer” advertising rules that govern television and print advertising? How can they give “fair balance” to their drugs within 140 characters on Twitter? Nobody wants to be the guinea pig.

In other words, health care companies are avoiding 21st century technology because they are governed by 20th century FDA regulations.

The biggest loser in this equation is the consumer. There’s plenty of demand for health care information online, but without clear regulations there’s not a lot of supply.

The FDA needs to modernize how it regulates such communications in a way that benefits patients and companies alike. Failure to do so will mean that many drug companies remain on the sidelines, while consumers surf less reliable chat rooms and blogs for important medical information.

Here’s hoping the FDA governs with a light touch and develops a framework that encourages communication rather than stifling it.

The FDA isn’t the only agency setting its sights on social media. The Federal Trade Commission issued guidelines last month requiring that relationships between a company and bloggers who review that company’s products be made transparent to the public. The FTC also took steps to ensure that product reviews on blogs are more accurate for consumers. Violating the rules could mean stiff fines for the company and the blogger alike.

The new rules deserve your attention. Ford, Audi, General Mills, and Rubbermaid are just a few of the companies that work with bloggers to promote their product. Surveys show that consumers overwhelmingly trust product reviews they get from familiar personalities, whether it be a respected blogger or the next door neighbor. The FTC’s rules won’t change that.

Take Rubbermaid for example. To reach out to young moms, the Tupperware maker offered to remake the kitchen of widely-read “mommy blogger” and to make coupons available to her readers on her blog. Rubbermaid disclosed publicly that it was a paid sponsorship campaign, and still watched as more than 1,000 readers of the blog downloaded the company’s coupon.

The lesson? Blogger outreach can be good for your company, the blogger, and your customers, even in a newly-regulated environment.

So what to make of all this government scrutiny? In my mind, it is reason to your sharpen your social media strategy, not abandon it. As the old saying goes, corporate communicators need to “fish where the fish are” in a way that respects the consumer and the regulatory frameworks being built in Washington.

The consumer is rapidly migrating to social networking platforms for information they trust. The question is whether your business will meet them there with credible, trustworthy product information.

(This column was first published in The Maryland Daily Record on Friday, November 13, 2009.)

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Monday, November 9, 2009, 3:09 PM

Monday's quick reads: Andre Agassi and reputation capital

1.) Agassi taps in to his reputation capital (ESPN) -- When times get tough, it's always good to have a little bit of something stored away to help pull you through. It's true when it comes to finances, and it's also true when it comes to your character and reputation. And Sunday night, on "60 Minutes," Andre Agassi demonstrated that he has a lot of reputation capital.

2.) Drug companies and social media (Medical Marketing & Media) -- The FDA will hold a public hearing on marketing drugs and devices using social media November 12-13. The agency conceded that although it “believes that many issues can be addressed through existing FDA regulations, special characteristics of Web 2.0 and other emerging technologies may require the agency to provide additional guidance to the industry on how regulations should be applied.”

3.) Downturn spurs businesses to shed light on the positive (PR Week) -- Given the damage that corporate reputations have suffered over the course of the past year, many companies have recognized the need to engage with consumers, establish competitive dominance, or simply shed some positive light on their organizations.

4.) Face to face still tops for bank communications (Marketing Charts) -- Despite the growing availability of online and mobile banking customer service features and many banks’ intense pushes to get consumers to use such cost-saving tools, the majority of Americans would still rather contact their bank at a branch than online or through email, according to a survey from Mintel Comperemedia.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009, 3:27 PM

How to create interest in your company's Facebook page

(Photo credit: Explora)
Wondering how to create interest in your company's Facebook page? Consider giving some of your product away.

That's what adventure travel company Explora is doing. They're giving away a free trip to Chile. All you have to do is join the company's Facebook and Twitter pages to be eligible.

It's an effective strategy for building a community of advocates online, or just to introduce your brand to those who have never heard of you. As your employees and advocates push your campaign out to their communities, your brand takes on a viral element that has worked so well for other companies in the past.

The strategy is not unique to Explora. Chick-fil-A, Nature Valley, and Red Bull are just a few of the brands to do the same.

The next challenge is to keep your community interested once the free product is gone. For starters, be consistent, personable, and valuable to your audience. If your messaging meets those three objectives, you're off to a good start. You can read more on this topic by clicking this link, and we'll explore it more in future posts. In the interim, give us a call or shoot us an email with questions.

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Monday, November 2, 2009, 10:06 AM

Monday's quick reads: Microsoft, reputation management, and social media

1.) Where does blogging end and plugging begin? (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) -- Consumers researching a product online can find a trove of insightful reviews and revealing complaints. Or, they can get mired in a snake pit of fake blogs, paid testimonials and word-of-mouth campaigns engineered by marketers posing as consumers. At the center of it all are bloggers, who find themselves being tugged in opposite directions by big business and federal regulators — with each side claiming the other threatens the vitality and independence of the medium.

2.) Attraction to "do good" brands is escalating (Marketing Daily) -- Whether despite or because of the recession, consumers are more inclined than ever to spend their money with companies and brands that have dedicated themselves to a social purpose, according to new findings from Edelman Worldwide's "goodpurpose Consumer Study."

3.) Employees: It's easy to damage a company's reputation on social media (Social Media Business Council) -- Deloitte’s 2009 Ethics and Workplace Survey revealed that nearly three quarters of working Americans believe it is easy to damage a brand’s reputation via social media. The survey also showed that while 58% of executives agree that reputational risk and social networking should be a board room issue, only 15% say it actually is.

4.) Windows 7: Can Microsoft reboot its reputation? (Los Angeles Times) -- With more than 8 million "beta testers" using Windows 7 since January and dozens of reviews already published, virtually every aspect of Microsoft's new operating system is already public knowledge prior to this morning's "launch" -- except one. Can Windows 7 repair Microsoft's reputation and trigger enough sales to pull the technology sector out of the economic funk?

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