Category Archive: Reputation Management

In the News business, you get what you pay for

Back in the day, gossip rags and celebrity media were frowned upon as second-tier. In the new age of citizen journalists, bloggers and a shrinking traditional media – the celebrity press is acting like the leaders of the pack.

All hail TMZ – the entertainment medium is the industry standard in breaking stories that people actually talk about and share on social media.TMZ exclusively released the audio tape of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling sharing his feelings about who should attend basketball games for his NBA team.  This led quickly to Sterling’s banishment by the NBA.

Then, the media company followed that up with the release of the elevator fight seen around the world between Beyonce’s sister Solange and rapper Jay Z.

These are just two examples of TMZ lapping the field in “talkable’’ stories. Of course, they do come with a price. The company pays big dollars for quality content that will raise their brand above the competition.

What can normal businesses take from the TMZ model? To start with, it shows that quality stories may very well be worth the investment; and it does not hurt if that content has star appeal, either.

Controlling the message has its limits

A good Public Relations professional knows the media inside and out. They know what stories will soar and which ones will flop. They also know the limitations of their job.

One of those limitations is the ability to control the message once it gets into the hands of the media and the public. This topic has been top of mind this week since the firing of Oakland Raiders’ Public Relations Director Zak Gilbert. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, owner Mark Davis was unhappy with a Sports Illustrated story that was critical of Davis and his late father Al Davis. Gilbert lost his job over it, and the Raiders have been taking some heat for the decision.

The biggest take away from this week’s event is that PR professionals do not have complete control over the conversation surrounding their organization. It’s nearly impossible to know which stories will soar and which will flop. On the same note, once a story gets out we can’t control it. Don’t trust a PR firm that tells you any different. We do our best to build goodwill and broadcast a positive narrative, but we can’t always predict when a journalist or angry customer will decide to voice their opinion.

The best way to avoid or weaken the blow of negative PR is to build a good defense and look at the big picture. First, remember who your fans are. Community and customer goodwill goes a long way and can overpower less-than-desirable coverage. Second, consider the true impact of the story. Bad PR often feels worse than it is, which may have been the case with the Raiders.

(Source: NFL.com)

Mobile Movement

Ask Americans for the one thing they can’t leave home without, and we’ll bet most of them name a smartphone or tablet.

The popularity of mobile devices isn’t anything new, but a surprising number of entrepreneurs don’t consider how it affects their business. Smartphones and tablets have changed communication in ways that dramatically affect the business world.

With that in mind, it’s vital that business owners consider the mobile implications of any marketing initiative – the most important being a mobile version of your current website.

Let’s look at the facts:

  • Average smartphone usage grew 81 percent worldwide in 2012.
  • In 2012, the number of mobile-connected tablets increased 2.5-fold to 36 million, and each tablet generated 2.4 times more traffic than the average smartphone
  • Last year’s mobile data traffic was nearly twelve times the size of the entire global Internet in 2000
  • Mobile network connection speeds more than doubled in 2012, opening the door for easier and more frequent surfing

So, take a critical look at your company website. View it on multiple devices and consider the ease of navigation. For a real perspective, ask someone who has never viewed the site to take a look and share their impressions. You may not like what you hear, but it’s a window into the potential revenue losses that come from a less-than-stellar web presence.

Data from Cisco Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast
Photo courtesy of Microsoft

Don’t be a dope: drug scandal leads to sponsor fall out

Lance Armstrong. American professional road racing cyclist. Seven-time winner of the Tour de France. World champion of the sport. And a bona fide dope.

In light of strong evidence of the use of performing-enhancing drugs, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has banned Lance Armstrong from competing and will strip away all his titles earned throughout his career.

For years Armstrong has craved the spotlight, but now he’s making front-page coverage in leading media across the country for all the wrong reasons. And sponsors are taking notice. Endorsers – such as RadioShack, Anheuser-Busch, and longtime friend Nike – are bailing on the popular former cyclist in light of these allegations.

This controversy surrounding Lance Armstrong shows how a reputation built over time can be destroyed in mere seconds. Especially in today’s digital world where headlines jump from your computer screen to your daily morning paper in less than a day, it can be hard to hide from the truth.

Organizations fight fake reviews

The value of a good review for a business is priceless. How many of us browse Yelp when choosing where to grab a bite to eat, scout TripAdvisor to plan a vacation, or check out reviews of the local auto mechanic down the street just to see what others are saying? People rely on the opinions of others (instead of just advertisements) to decide on where to spend their money, which is why online reviews are so important.

However, don’t let the urge to get more buzz around your business sway you to the dark side. Fake reviews can tarnish your brand, and organizations have been cracking down to weed out fraudulent posts.

All the sites I mentioned already have algorithms and human moderators in place to fight fake reviews. Yelp in particular is very aggressive, with 20% of their reviews never making it to public display. In fact, Yelp is planning to punish repeat fraudsters by exposing them and shaming the businesses that employ these deceitful tactics. It is also against Federal Trade Commission guidelines, which states that you must disclose if you have been paid to endorse a product or service. Not doing so entitles you to steep fines, like a $250,000 one the FTC slapped Legacy Learning Systems in 2011.

But an even greater damage that outweighs any monetary concerns is the damage to your reputation. Years of building your business as a credible organization would instantly evaporate and instead be replaced with public scrutiny. Make sure to only employ reviews from credible sources and not engage in deceptive practices to ensure that the next business exposed online and shamed for fake reviews is not yours.

“There is a permanent record today and it is called the Internet”

Privacy is a commodity. In today’s world dominated by the Internet, anything and everything can be posted instantaneously and shared with millions in mere seconds. David from “David After Dentist” would agree. However, privacy concerns are no laughing matter. Vigilance should be taken to ensure that the next breaking news scandal that hits the front page of Yahoo does not revolve around you, which is why we’re shaking our heads at Mitt Romney this week.

After secretly recorded comments from a private Boca Raton fundraiser leaked of Mitt Romney saying that 47% of Americans are victims dependent on the government, we can’t help but wonder why the aspiring President would vocally disparage almost half of his country. Here’s a tip for you Mitt Romney: if you are running for President, everything you say and do WILL be held against you in the court of public opinion, thanks to the Internet. The video was leaked to the press, and now everyone from Jon Stewart to Diane Sawyer is spreading the remarks to their audiences; meanwhile the Mitt Romney campaign has spun its gears to full-on damage control.

Another unfortunate recent example of the royal lack of privacy today comes from an Italian magazine publishing topless photos of Kate Middleton. The Duchess of Cambridge was simply enjoying a sunbathing session on a secluded French chateau getaway when a paparazzi photographer captured the scene. Now, the British royal family is taking the matter to court with hopes to stop further publications from printing the photos, but you can’t take back what has already been done. Amazing what a zoom lens and internet connection can do to the public image of a Princess.

Even the common person is not immune to the repercussions of online activity. Everything that you post, from Facebook cover photos to the latest Tweet about what you had for dinner, becomes fair game when you click “publish.” Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor and lawyer for high-profile defendants, says that young people nowadays don’t seem to value privacy. “They put stuff on Facebook that 15 years from now will prevent them from getting the jobs they want,” he said. “They don’t understand that they are mortgaging their future for a quick laugh from a friend.”

And that’s nothing to laugh about.

Mac users steer to more expensive hotels on Orbitz

Many Mac users are fanatical about their computer and are willing to pay extra to own the brand.

Those same Mac users apparently also like to spend a little more on hotel rooms. The online travel agency Orbitz says Mac users spend as much as 30 percent more than PC users on the average hotel booking. The Wall Street Journal reports that the online travel service is showing Mac users more expensive properties.

Orbitz is experimenting with showing different hotel offers to Mac and PC visitors. The move is raising eyebrows and attracting front-page attention. The online travel agency is following a growing trend using predictive analytics to target potential buyers. Orbitz is quick to point out that both Mac and PC users can still rank hotels by price if they wish.

Companies used to just track what websites were being looked at, now they are tracking what computing system are being use.

Budget conscious Mac users should be cautious. Orbitz is likely to begin using the same algorithms to show rental cars and airline flights.

For PC users – especially those with broken hinges on their three-year-old laptop – expect to see more budget-friendly options on the front page of your online travel agency.

Facebook frenzy in the Zimmerman case

Social media sites have transpired past our everyday lives and into the courtrooms. Just look at the Trayvon Martin case and current trial against his killer George Zimmerman. Zimmerman’s team of lawyers has now entered the social media fray by creating a blog, Twitter and Facebook accounts to interact with the public, sparking interest and conversation. Recently, the George Zimmerman Legal Case shared a link on their Facebook to a blog article about Zimmerman’s abandoned Myspace page. In just four hours, the post had one share, seven “likes” and 93 comments.

With that said, the Zimmerman defense team may have bitten off more than it can chew. Media exposure has made George Zimmerman a household name and the face of evil. Their tactic of trying to shape public opinion of the most vilified man in the nation is an admirable effort, but the consequences have revealed that these social media labors can be detrimental to their cause. With dozens (sometimes hundreds) of comments popping up every time something is posted, we can see that the perception of Zimmerman continues to spread and swell. The handler of the Facebook account is threatening that any discussion or speculation on the facts of the case will be deleted, but that is not enough to control the catalyst of negative opinions brought on by every post.

Only time will tell how George Zimmerman’s legal defense team will handle such heightened criticism of their high-profile client and whether their online efforts will pay off. Either way, this case has certainly proven to be an interesting experience showcasing the evolution of social media.

Reputation Management in a Modern World

“Glass, china and reputation are easily cracked and never well mended.”
- Benjamin Franklin, “Poor Richard’s Almanack”

Long gone are the days where figureheads of corporations remain in the shadows. Now, news outlets and the public are putting the spotlight on these bigwigs, often exposing their misdeeds in the process.

Best Buy is a recent example of this. Two weeks ago, the CEO of the consumer electronics giant, Brian Dunn, resigned after the company opened an investigation into his “personal conduct.” There was speculation that he misused company assets to contribute to an alleged relationship with a female subordinate.

Another high-profile case involves University of Arkansas head football coach Bobby Petrino, who was recently fired from his multi-million dollar gig for violating a morals clause. The crime? He had a secret affair with a recruiting coordinator for the Arkansas football team.

These examples highlight two important lessons related to reputation management and the media. First, political leaders are no longer the only ones to have their personal lives catapulted to the front page; no one is safe from the scrutinizing eyes of the customers or shareholders. In fact, everything from financial records to emails to cell phone text messages can sometimes be fair game to the press thanks to the Freedom of Information Act.

Good reputation management involves being aware of the fact that nefarious activities in your personal life can easily cross-pollinate to news outlets and spread like a virus. It takes just one blow to your credibility to dismantle the years of hard work building that reputation.

Secondly, we learn how personal reputation is not the only concern in these scenarios. As shown from the Dunn and Petrino issues, organizations believe their image is tied to that of their employees. This is nothing new, as noted by Cees B.M. van Riel and Charles J. Fombrun in their 2007 publication, “Essentials of Corporate Communications.” They termed the phrase “media mania” to refer to this trend of how companies and their top executives now perform in the media spotlight. The book also states that chief executive officers in particular act as spiritual and emotional symbols of the organization, so it is especially important that these figures adhere to the same values and ethics of the companies they represent.

In this day and age, technology has allowed media outlets to report and deliver news instantly, which means they are quick to pounce on breaking scandals in politics, corporations and even football fields. Organizations have certainly taken notice and become more critical with media monitoring and reputation management, showcasing how they may react to threats by removing scandal-plagued employees from payroll, like what Best Buy and the University of Arkansas did to their offenders.

It also helps if the immoral acts weren’t committed in the first place, either.

Starbucks Beetle Juice has Vegans Seeing Red

The world’s largest coffeehouse chain has the vegan community in an uproar…over Strawberry Frappuccinos®.

It was recently discovered that Starbucks has been using ground-up beetles for the coloring of this tasty treat. As disgusting as that sounds, the Cochineal Beetle is actually a very common, government-approved food coloring used in familiar foods, such as Yoplait Yogurts and Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts. It is also used to make more than 300 bright red lipsticks.

With the vegan community frothing over what was thought to be a veg-friendly drink, Starbucks now has an unexpected PR crisis on its hands. ThisDishIsVegetarian.com, among other websites, is buzzing about the beetle juice and announced to their readers not to drink it anymore. They are not trying to cause trouble; they just want to alert members.

Starbucks made the switch to using beetles in January to help get rid of artificial ingredients in their food and drinks. The coffee giant maintains it was simply trying to do the right thing. Nutrition experts say it was the right idea, but the wrong execution.

Starbucks’ good intentions have left them with a completely unintended public relations problem.