Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What’s Decorating Your Corporate Tree?

A symbol of the holiday season, Christmas trees are ubiquitous this time of year. With decorations ranging from colored lights to monochromatic themes to earth-friendly and sport- inspired decorations, one just doesn’t seem complete without lights, ornaments, and of course, a bright star on top.

Abstractly, a Christmas tree is shaped like a pyramid—a wider bottom yields more decorations than the top. However, it’s that top star that is the showpiece of the display. Accordingly, a public relations plan takes into account each layer, making sure levels building up to the apex are balanced and support the top star.

A strong PR plan builds up strong base layers: charitable giving, media placements, strategic planning, and crisis management. Each of these components is an “ornament” of sorts that adds aesthetic and functional value to the tree.

Remember Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree? It was sickly. It wasn’t that Charlie Brown didn’t follow the proper steps of finding a Christmas tree, it was that he chose a tree lacking structure and stability—the necessary components to be sustainable. So when he placed the single ornament on top of the tree, it caused the entire tree to droop toward the ground.

Likewise, a corporation without a public relations plan to address all of its needs lacks fullness and stability. A healthy corporation will make sure it has a crisis communication plan, brand management, and all the public relations components essential to healthy and luminous corporate image.

By building up a strong base, the tree topper—an organization’s image—will be able to shine brightly.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Do you Manage your Brand?

If you say you don’t have a brand, think again. What people think about you—i.e. your reputation—is your brand. It’s the single idea your business occupies in people’s minds. What matters is whether or not you manage the brand, and given the recession, consumers are looking more closely at who is selling them what. It’s a market formula shift to economics and values.

Even mega brands must continually control their reputation. Consider Coca-Cola, which is still deemed the most valuable brand by Interbrand in its Best Global Brands 2010 Report.

Coke took a risk with the holiday Coca-Cola Polar Bear in 1993. It was dramatically different, but the animation copied human behavior.

"That's really what we were trying to do – create a character that's innocent, fun and reflects the best attributes we like to call 'human'," said creator Ken Stewart. "The bears are cute, mischievous, playful and filled with fun." (http://www.thecoca-colacompany.com/heritage/ cokelore_polarbears.html)

Coke mixed it up a bit but kept in theme with the long-time sentiment of a Coke and a smile.

Furthermore, people have brands, too. Martha Stewart and Oprah are mega brands, but they are personal brands. Every person has a personal brand, online and offline, and if you don’t manage your personal brand, well, think Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson.

Let us know if you need help with your brand. Positioning can make all the difference in the world.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Company That Gives Also Receives

'Tis the season for giving. Accordingly, a vast majority of the consumer population turns their hearts toward donating and volunteering during the winter holidays. Not only do consumers act, they want to know the businesses they support are doing the same, in particular mega businesses banking in the millions and billions.

Most CEOs and business owners know this and, in keeping, factor charitable giving into their annual budgets especially for this time of year. However, during the holidays should not be the only instance of corporate goodwill. More so, strategic philanthropy should be part of a public relations strategy to create or evolve brand identity and structure corporate reputation.

When a company is in peril or even faces an issue, what they do every day is under the microscope. A solid public relations strategy should reflect what causes are important to its stakeholders—leadership employees, and customers.

Consider Belk, the nation’s largest privately-owned retailer. When they acquired Parisian in Birmingham, AL, it wasn’t an easy brand sell to the consumer market. One strategy they employed (with our help) was the bi-annual charity sale, which has raised more than $26 million for non-profits since 2007.

In a nutshell, a company that invests in “doing good” builds invaluable goodwill.

"In giving, a man receives more than he gives, and the more is in proportion to the worth of the thing given." —George MacDonald

Monday, November 22, 2010

When Social Media can Turn a Balk into a Boon

How important has social media become? Well, Cincinnati State Technical & Community College just opened a Social Media Institute, following suit many communication programs across the globe. Given its influence and reach, it’s surprising that according to mashable.com, less than 40 percent of CEOs are engaging in social media.

When some CEOs think of LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other social media engines, the idea of business strategy may not be the first thing that comes to mind. However, these sites can be just the tools to strategically execute brand repositioning, philanthropic, and other positive agendas.

Case in point: When Panorama was hired during the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster to help reshape the image of a little fishing town on Alabama’s coast, leveraging Facebook as a communication tool was one of the first orders of business. The timing couldn’t have been more appropriate, as the town was under siege by the spill and still recovering from residual effects of Hurricane Katrina, and needed an online presence to increase visibility. Facebook was not only a means to gauge perception but a way to promote positivity near and far.

The city, which has a population barely beyond 2,700, has more than 600 Facebook fans (many
of whom live outside of the area—even as far away as European countries). It quickly became
an act of good faith in connecting citizens to city leaders (the page is accessible from the city’s main web site www.visitbayoulabatre.com).

When our firm posed the question, “What’s your favorite thing about Bayou La Batre?” there came a flood of responses from the food at local dives to the way the city’s name rolls off the tongue. All helped bolster a sense of community for the town.

Even more, statistics from the Facebook page could be a tool to prove there is a measurable level of investment in the community. In a public relations plan, this case is a true validation of the power of social media and proof that social media can turn a balk into a boon.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Word of Mouse: The Writing on the Wall

A recent article in Birmingham Magazine featured “Ghost Signs,” the faded advertising signs on buildings from decades ago. The business namesakes of these ads are long gone; however, their image remains. This evokes a thought about the methods companies once employed to gain customers and manage reputation.

The signs were big and bold and had great curb appeal. They likely prompted sidewalk or dinner table conversations about the establishment’s product or service experience— whether positive or negative. Then one person told another and so on. Either way, the process of passing a story from person to person was slow going, and the company likely had no opportunity to manage the message. Eventually, when the respective companies closed their doors, the signs remained, evoking an “oh, I miss [company]” or “we saw it coming” brand reflection.

Today, social media can likewise be helpful or harmful, depending on how it’s used. In contrast to the slow-paced public relations and advertising of yesteryear, many companies are now including social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook and FourSquare into communication plans. Moreover, even if these mediums aren’t part of an official plan, patrons and consumers use social media, and their opinions travel at the click of a mouse. A business hiccup or misstep that could have taken weeks to travel through the grapevine years ago can be dispersed to millions in a matter of seconds via the Internet and smart phone instant messaging.

That said, social media can also be used to herald good news for a business, and when used strategically, can help a company gain loyalty or even abate a critical situation. Note how quickly a Facebook account can be closed or Tweet deleted. Regardless, social media can stir up conversation about your business, so you should pay attention to what’s being “painted” on your company’s walls!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Advertising during a Crisis: When No One Wants to See Your Ads

High product quality, ethics, good customer service—all of these components of doing business are important. When a business fails to uphold these characteristics, some consumers are turned off by the things associated with that business. Former patrons scoff at commercials and billboards and turn a blind eye to magazine and newspaper ads. Case in point: When news first broke regarding BP’s oil disaster, many shunned ads from the company and pushed a little harder on the gas pedal when passing BP gas stations.

When a company experiences a corporate crisis and is seen as “the bad guy,” it may seem the company would want to run and hide its head in the sand until the smoke blows over. However, placing strategic ads can actually be a saving mechanism when it comes to public image rebuilding customer confidence and loyalty.

How do you use public relations principles to guide advertising? The answer to this is the difference between an advertising strategy and an advertising campaign. A solid crisis communication plan includes an advertising strategy that seeks out deliberate placement opportunities to put a company in front of audiences key to influencing public opinion. For instance, a public relations firm that represents a pharmacy chain in trouble would not only place the company’s ads in medical publications but would also look for the philanthropic or “doing-good” section of such publications and place advertising opposite those stories.

This leads us to two textbook terms in creating an advertising strategy amid a crisis: inoculation and recasting. Your company must inoculate the audience by dispelling misconceptions and reinforcing the truth of the circumstances. Your company must also recast the negative in a positive light.

For example, after recalling more than two million vehicles earlier this year, Toyota began airing commercial ads stating it was taking a “pause for the customer” (msnbc.com). The company said it was investing “one million dollars every hour to improve [its] technology and [the consumer’s] safety.” Toyota also ran a series of ads featuring customers who testified about how much they loved their Toyotas, and engineers that explained how expertly the cars were constructed (wsj.com). These ads addressed the consumer who drove the car as well as business stakeholders.

These commercials inoculated consumer sentiment that Toyota was putting out a poor product at customers’ expense. It inoculated the myth that Toyota customers no longer loved their cars. The commercials also recast Toyota from a company that made a big mistake to a company trying to rectify a mistake. The commercials worked. People watched.

Using a public relations firm to analyze a situation, draw up a crisis communication plan, strategize ad placement and follow up, manage consumer sentiment, and thus, handle damage control is paramount in getting the consumer to look your way, even during a crisis.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Politics of Public Relations: Electing the Right Firm

On Election Day, Americans went to the polls, stood in line, showed IDs, filled in circles by candidates of choice and fed ballots into Scantron machines. This may seem uneventful to some, but having an active hand in who is representing you and who is receiving your tax dollar is important. After all, when you vote for and elect a political candidate, you essentially said, “You’re hired.”

When it comes to voting, party allegiances aside, you must know your needs and what issues are important to advancing your idealisms—and you should be informed about the candidates. Otherwise, how will you know who will work toward what you envision, thus, who to vote for?

Alas, some people vote for a candidate because he or she is the only familiar name they see on a ballot. Others are influenced by mudslinging campaigns and go in with muddied ideas of which candidates will and will not keep promises. The truly engaged voter, however, does his or her research.

These same principals apply to selecting the right public relations firm for your business or organization. Say this was the PR election of 2010, and next week you were charged to go out and vote for a firm to represent your goals and fulfill your needs. Would you know who to vote for? Would you be able to pick out your best candidate among all the commercials, yard signs, and vote-for-me mailers? A public relations firm, just like a political candidate, should be a reflection of your company’s mission.

A politician’s track record speaks volumes. So does that of a public relations firm. Check out the company’s past portfolio and know what their customers say about them. A full-service public relations firm should be able to meet your marketing needs, serve to forward your brand, mediate between you and your stakeholders, garner positive media visibility, and prepare you for communicating through foreseen and unforeseen business complications.

The firm should put in writing what it can do and deliver with real, measurable results. If a politician could do that, wouldn’t you vote for him or her? They’d have our vote.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Branding Game: Playing on the Same Team within a Company

If your employees were sent an anonymous “off-the-record” survey, what would they say about your company? Would your employees know your company or organization’s mission statement? Would they speak highly of your brand, or would they lack loyalty?

According to businessblog.com, a “brand ambassador” is someone who not only buys into your brand, but also promotes it and carries forth its message. You would think employees of a brand would be among its most devoted ambassadors. However, not every company is set up so that employees take on the role of a promoter. This problem happens when a company’s management is not accessible, corporate values are not preached in everyday work manners, or the company (team owner) makes drastic changes without consulting employees (the players).

Let’s make an analogy. It would be most beneficial for all the members of the team to not only know which sport they are playing, but to be playing for the same purpose. Imagine if the quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings didn’t buy into the team? What if, during press conferences about a win or a loss, he sang the praises of another team . . . let’s say the Green Bay Packers? Wouldn’t that seem disconnected? In this instance, inflammatory?

(Note: This is not a personal shot at Brett Farve. His career in playing for these two teams sets up an interesting dynamic that can be translated into the corporate world.)

Take a corporate brand for example. Starbucks trains its employees thoroughly. They even coach per their Green Apron Book how employees should treat customers so that the customer’s experience from store to store is pleasantly consistent. The employee not only promotes the brand, but carries the message of quality products and services.

In his book, The Starbucks Experience, author Joseph Michelli, Ph.D., describes just how well the Starbucks strategy works. The employee is motivated. The employee buys in. You get a better
experience from the happy employee. The brand thrives.

When you order your next caramel macchiato or skinny cinnamon dolce latte, think about your employees and how you promote brand ambassadorship in your company or organization.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Rebranding: Changing Your Logo? Research, Research, Research

Poor Gap. They were so excited about launching their new “ throwback” logo. The stage was set; press releases went to the media; stories launched all over the Internet. Then, it happened. There was an outcry against the logo from customers; an online campaign opposing it went viral, and the logo crashed faster than a rookie NASCAR driver.

Headlines across the nation showed no mercy: “ Gap Logo a No-Go” (Montreal Gazette); “ Gap Scraps Logo After Just One Week” (AOL DailyFinance); “ New Gap Logo, Despised Symbol of Corporate Banality, Dead at One Week” (Vanity Fair Daily).

This Gap marketing malfunction begs several questions: If Gap’ s fans were so outspoken post release, did the company seek their customers’ opinion beforehand? What exactly made the logo so unacceptable? Was it the color? Was it the font? Was it the placement of that little blue box?

Belk, on the other hand, just introduced their new logo into several of its primary markets with successful unveiling ceremonies and grand re-openings across the region. This was the first time in 43 years that the company launched a major rebranding effort. The new logo incorporates elements of the company’ s history and also gives a nod to the future.

Belk talked to their customers first. In fact, they researched customer sentiment about the logo with extensive focus groups and market studies. The company invested the requisite time and money to make a logo well received. Headlines this time: “ A Brand New Look for Regional Retailer Belk” (The Birmingham News); “ Belk Chain Reinvents Itself with New Logo and Identity” (The Florida Times-Union).

The customer may not be sitting in an office at your corporate headquarters, but they are an integral component of the success or failure of your company. After all, where does brand loyalty reside? With the customer.

Monday, October 11, 2010

When the Media Comes a-Calling: Part 3 (Final Installment)

Text at Your Own Risk: Top 3 Things not to Text When Your Company’s in Trouble

No one sees a text message but you and the person you send it to, right? WRONG! I once accidentally left my phone at a friend’s house. When I got back, I discovered that her young daughter had not only gone through my text messages, but my pictures, contacts, and everything else she could access on my phone. I didn’t have anything worth talking about on my phone, so nothing was made of it. But, the experience had me thinking, “What if?”

According to an AOL Small Business story, incriminating text messages are “all the rage.” While the article looks at how text messages that were sent before a crisis is made known can be used as evidence of fault, in the same vein, texts sent once a crisis has already broken out can also be condemning.

Just because we use “smart phones” doesn’t mean we always use “phone smarts.” What I mean is, as a company owner, president, CEO, or manager, any communication that is exchanged during a corporate crisis must be meaningful and wise.

What not to text:

1. “I’d like my life back.”
During the BP Oil Spill, The Huffington Post reported footage of company CEO Tony Hayward saying he wanted his life back. Many found the statement insensitive. While his comment was vocalized, a text message saying something along these lines would have had the same affect.

What to text:
“We’re going to work to get everyone’s lives back in order.” This statement doesn’t exclude the company owner, but does take into account all those who have been affected by an unfortunate corporate crisis.

2. “Guess we’re having our Tylenol moment.”

The phrase “Tylenol moment” has been popping up all over the internet. Anyone who know’s anything about corporate PR crises is familiar with the Tylenol recall of the 80s. Johnson & Johnson is heralded as having handled the situation expertly and deflecting potential damage quickly. Each crisis situation is to be handled as a separate instance and should be taken seriously.

What to text:
“Let’s handle this with care.”
Acknowledging that a crisis situation can be fragile is perfectly acceptable. It let’s your customers and stakeholders know you’re not blowing off the circumstances and that you plan to take action wisely.

3. “Send someone over to talk to the media.”
Sending the right person to speak to media, a town hall of concerned citizens, or group of stakeholders is just as important as what is said. According to a New York Times article, sending a low-ranking official, as was done during the Exxon-Valdez spill, causes people to think that a company is downgrading a situation.

What to text:

“Get our spokesperson prepped for the media.”
Having someone who is well-schooled in handling media or public speaking situations that can speak on behalf of a company CEO or president shows preparedness and consideration. This person can field questions and provide peace of mind by providing much needed information and a corporate presence.

Monday, October 4, 2010

When the Media Comes a-Calling: Part 2

The Email Trail: Top 3 Things not to Email during a Crisis

Think about the e-mails you sent this or last week. Were there any bad jokes or funny quips that could possibly be taken the wrong way? Did you disclose any personal information? What about any private information about your company’s goings on? Now, think about the media getting hold of these . . . .

Want to make a crisis situation even worse? Just e-mail an unmeaning comment to a fellow associate, client, or even your assistant. Placing a message in your recycling bin doesn’t mean it’s gone away. Digital paper trails never truly disappear—there are ways for IT specialists to access deleted email.

On the flip side, being mindful of e-mails you send and receive and the context of your written words, especially amid an undesirable situation, can make all the difference in turning a crisis around.

What not to Email:

1. “It’s not that bad.”

What to email: Your company’s view of a situation from the inside and the public’s view from the outside are two completely different perspectives. Never belittle a situation—you belittle your customer’s feelings.

According to the Wall Street Journal, during the Toyota massive recall, the company President emailed Japanese employees: “to explain the U.S. recall, asking them to work together with him to regain customer trust and ‘work on building great cars’ through mutual effort.”

This email just looks and sounds good. Whether he meant it, we don’t know, but, it put out a vibe of commitment, dedication, and customer service.

2. “I wouldn’t buy stock in this company myself.”

What to email: When a company’s stock goes up and down like a roller coaster, the temperature set by communication inside and outside of the company is critical. Conveying the idea that the situation could get worse will only create more angst.

Instead, when Apple’s stocks were fluctuating, according to seekingalpha.com (quoting AppleInsider), company CEO Steve Jobs sent an email to employees to “hang in there,” in hopes of garnering morale. This small token of reassurance is priceless.

3. “Let’s keep this quiet.”

What to email: Let’s make it plain—nothing is ever kept quiet, and a phrase like this has a connotation that screams “cover up.”

Instead, an e-mail pointing everyone to your company’s public relations manager (who can then be quoted on the record about events), shows strategy and is not incriminating.

For more, check out this NPR story—but don’t email it.

Monday, September 27, 2010

When the Media Comes a-Calling:

Top 3 Things not to Say—Email, Text or Tweet—During a Crisis

Amid a crisis, journalists don’t just listen for comments from the CEO, business owner or spokesperson; they also dig into the social media circuit to find digital comments that may make headlines.

Social media has become the newest way for executive leaders to proverbially stick their feet in their mouths. Take BP’s Twitter missteps for example (as referenced in Fast Company, “Not So Slick,” October 2010). BP’s Tweets made them look as if they were more committed to preserving their brand than actually helping those in the Gulf.

Proven time and time again, crisis communication in a media environment is one of the most important factors in maintaining a company's corporate image. Part of the overall perception of a company and its leadership’s credibility is how well the CEO, owner or spokesperson can internally and externally communicate a message.

Accordingly, there are definitely comments employees and stakeholders should refrain from making public during a crisis—they could be misconstrued by the media and turn one crisis into yet another.

What not to Say:

1. “No Comment”
Classically, this is a no-no. This comes across to stakeholders, the media and the audience as unprepared or even arrogant. It says that you are choosing to give no account, no information, and take no responsibility for a crisis. It tells the world you feel you are entitled to privacy, while anyone knows that high-profile business people and spokespersons do not have that privilege.

What to say:
“As details of this situation unfold, we renew our commitment to this brand, its mission and you, our customers.” This way, you acknowledge the crisis to the media, but show the world that at such a critical time, you’re keeping a cool head and making considerations for the most important things: a commitment to your company’s standards and customers.

2. “We were unaware of the situation.”
A statement such as this causes leadership to look uninformed and out of the loop. People will question: How can a CEO or business owner not know what’s going on in his or her own company? What type of leader does that indicate? It says the company isn’t taking responsibility.

What to say: “We are aggressively gathering information and looking into this situation,” is a more in-control response, without giving the media details about what you do and do not know.

3. “The media misrepresented the situation.”

Blaming the media is a copout and reactive rather than proactive. While the media does sometimes get their facts wrong, trying to play the hurt sheep only makes your corporation look like a whining child. As well, it may be your company’s lack of clear communication to the media in the first place that caused misinformation to be published. Besides, even if the facts are incorrect, the audience will likely believe what is reported.

What to Say:
“We are willfully working with media outlets to clarify and correct misinformation regarding this situation.” This type of open communication shows you are proactively managing the media instead of them managing you. It also says you are directing them in the way that will best protect your brand and actively shaping the stories that will go mainstream.

In summary, a solid crisis communication plan is like insurance for your business. Will you be covered when the media comes calling with hard questions?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Positioning Your Brand to Win

How Managing Your Brand Today Helps Gain Market Share, Avoiding a Crisis Tomorrow

Have you ever wondered why some companies are so successful when others fail? Some live, grow and prosper, and are enormously successful, e.g. Coca-Cola (Coke) or Disney, while some barely make it off the ground and slowly wither away. Then there are others, such as General Motors, that enjoy years of success, but it all comes crashing down one day, and no one is really surprised except for them.

So why is it when you think of Coke, you think of a refreshingly delicious beverage that satisfies your thirst? It’s readily available, and the little red can is easily identified because it has the one and only Coke logo. No matter where you are or when you purchase it, when you pop the top and hear (and feel) the familiar fizz burst into the air, you know you have the real thing. You didn’t purchase a brown, syrupy, carbonated liquid in an aluminum can. You bought a Coke! It’s the same product that has consistently delivered a refreshing experience to its loyalists for more than a century.

Ditto for megabrands Disney and BMW. There is a brand and a brand promise. You fondly recall the experience of a family trip to Disney World. You chose Disney for the fun of an imaginary world, the Magic Kingdom. You expected to see the cast of Disney characters—Snow White, Goofy, Mickey and Minnie—and you did. You anticipated riding the monorail. You experienced Pirates of the Caribbean, the Swiss Family Robinson tree house, and more. It was all there, just as promised.

And then there is BMW, The Ultimate Driving Machine. This is not just any car. BMW is the ultimate car. It’s amazingly designed and stylishly appointed, but every detail circles back to one thing: performance.

All these products have an image or a product personality, otherwise known as a brand. The brand promises you something and delivers on that promise consistently, maintaining or gaining market share. When brands fail to deliver what its customers want and expect, they lose market share. When you as a brand owner don’t aggressively define your brand, others will do it for you. A great brand does not happen by accident.

When GM quit listening to its customer, it lost market share and eventually found itself upside down in an automotive market that had literally passed it by.

Positioning a winning brand takes introspective thinking about who/what you are and who/what you want to be. It requires a thorough understanding of your customer and their wants and needs. It requires a brand promise and managing your message. Positioning your brand to win requires consistency: making a promise and delivering upon the expectation, time and time again.

You don’t have to be a megabrand to have a successful company. Whether your business is the practice of law or delivering translation or background screening services to a customer, positioning a winning brand can be applied to all businesses striving for excellence. You can position your brand to win. These brands did.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Will You Be In The Clouds When Crisis Strikes?

A True Story

She was the public relations manager for a multi-state technology company and had just settled into her seat on the airplane for a quiet flight back to home base. She had cleared all her voicemail messages before boarding and felt all was well.

When she landed four hours later and turned on her cell phone, her voicemail had blown up while in flight. The CEO’s secretary left three messages. There was a message from a federal agency media affairs staffer. A message from a client’s public relations manager on the opposite coast. A desperate plea from a PR colleague who often assisted with media matters. And five media calls, including one from an Associated Press bureau chief and one from a major U.S. daily newspaper.

By the time she triaged those calls from an airport phone booth during a 40-minute layover, the story of the company’s unfortunate event was being filed by the Associated Press and had traveled around the globe in less than an hour. For three solid months, she did nothing else but manage the crisis communications for this event. It took her company more than a year to get back to normal and cost the company many hundreds of thousands of dollars in man hours, legal fees and fines.

The Bad News: Regardless of size, no business is immune to a crisis.

What’s your plan?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Retaliatory Workplace Violence

Can it happen on your watch?

As a CEO, violence in the workplace is something we hope to never, ever face. However, here’s the fact: Retaliatory Workplace Violence (RWV) is on the rise and no industry is immune.

Retaliatory Workplace Violence can happen in any workplace. It can happen in factory settings, administrative offices or parking lots. And sadly, it can happen in schools and on college campuses, just as it did on Friday, January 12, on the campus of the University of Alabama Huntsville when professor Amy Bishop walked into a staff meeting and began firing.

While at first this may have seemed like a random occurrence, the story quickly unfolded to prove otherwise. Bishop was unhappy that she’d been denied tenure. She had a sad and very unfortunate background with offenses dating back at least 24 years. Unfortunate, because apparently a lot of people saw the warning signs and just let it go.

Can it happen on your watch? The answer is, yes, it can.

So what can you do to prevent this? For the answer, we turned to our client, American Behavioral Benefits Managers, www.americanbehavioral.com, and their expert in Critical Issue Stress Management (CSIM), Sandy Capps, MA.

Capps’ recommendation: Watch for the small stuff. Attendance, performance and conduct is a good place to start, as is noting one who constantly touts education and intelligence… click here to read the entire article by reporter Patricia C. McCarter, for The Huntsville Times.

Watch Panorama Crisis 911 for more on this subject soon.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

When Great Brands are Represented by Bad People

Have you ever been involved in a business transaction where you said to yourself, “if this is how this company operates I would never do business here?”

I loved my BMW X5 SUV and hated when my lease time was over. It was a fabulous vehicle and my second BMW in five years. I loved the panoramic moon roof and not just because the name of our company is Panorama—although, I must admit it was one of the “seal the deal” thoughts I had just before I told my salesman that it was THE ONE.

And under normal conditions, when I returned it in December, I would have turned right back around and leased or purchased another. But I couldn’t. My business partner threatened me with mutiny if I even considered it, and frankly I couldn’t have agreed with her more.

Why? Because our firm worked with this particular dealership on a RTW, or as we know it a “Register to Win,” and the general manager with whom we dealt was totally unprofessional. I could not morally turn around and add value to his bottom line after the behavior he exhibited during the time of the RTW negotiation and program.

As I’d sit across the table listening to this guy rant and rave, I’d think to myself—he knows I’m a customer. He must know that how he behaves in front of customers and prospects is directly related to this dealership’s reputation and whether they purchase a vehicle from him. I’d taken my best client to BMW for a win-win business deal because I loved the brand and wanted to bring it recognition and more business. That didn’t happen.

To make matters worse, the VP of the well-known retailer we were working for was new to the area, could have easily purchased any vehicle in his showroom and actually made a comment to that effect—at first. Her tune had changed by the time the deal was done.

Personally, I didn’t care if I ever stepped back into his place of business—beloved BMW or not. I wasn’t going to reward that sort of behavior.

My point is this: companies spend millions upon millions of dollars to build brand equity and awareness to capture market share. They strive to create stellar images of products and services to compete in the marketplace and that fill the needs and desires of the consumer, carefully crafting messages and managing minute details of every aspect.

But one never knows how much business is lost because of the one-on-one human factor where transactions must occur in a professional manner.

Companies, ours included, depend on our employees and contractors to represent us in a manner that reflects the positive nature of our companies, helping us protect our brand.

The general manager of the BMW dealership not only acted out, he put it in writing. Nearing the close of the deal, I guess he just couldn’t take it any longer. He sent an email to our client and copied everyone imaginable, ranting and raving.

By that point, we were all past ready for that project to be over.

When I turned in my X5, my salesman at BMW begged me (I may have seen tears) to send the email to the corporate office, and I probably should have. I have a feeling that BMW USA would have been terribly disappointed in a person that they had put enormous trust in to represent it. And come to think of it, I’d probably still be driving a BMW.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Overwhelming obstacles? Look for the “Bright Spot”

In the PR world or at least that of my firm, Panorama Public Relations, when a client is faced with a difficult or seemingly insurmountable problem, assessing assets is always a part of the foundation for a strong communications strategy.

The list of assets we gather is often intangible, things like community goodwill garnered by being a good corporate citizen. Assets in this case aren’t necessarily the ones on the books - but that’s important too.

When an issue boils over to a crisis and a company stands to lose valuable brand equity, then as advisors we begin to look for the nuggets, the intrinsic value, or “bright spots” to build our strategy for minimizing damage and overcoming the obstacles.

I was excited to read an article in the February issue of Fast Company magazine about SWITCH, a new book due out February 16. SWITCH, by author’s Dan Heath and Chip Heath, talks about how we in business tend to seek solutions equal to the scale of the problem and not for “bright spots” or “what’s working and how can we do more of it?”

The authors’ philosophy is reflected in the book’s subtitles – “FIND A BRIGHT SPOT AND CLONE IT– How to Change Things When Change Is Hard.”

The Fast Company article provides several examples of seriously tough issues, showcasing the use of the “bright spot” philosophy, and how it can apply to businesses faced with tough times.

One such issue was widespread malnutrition in rural Vietnam and how Jerry Sternin, a staff member at Save the Children, was able to cause sweeping change in a village riddled with child malnourishment. Sternin was given a six-month timeline by the Vietnam government to solve malnutrition. Talk about an insurmountable problem!

Rather than being overwhelmed by analyzing a hugely complicated problem, Sternin quickly uncovered the “bright spots,” a group of children in the village who were healthier, yet ate basically the same amount of food the undernourished children ate. What he and his team of moms from the village discovered was that the mothers of the healthier children were feeding their children four times a day meals enriched with small shrimp and crabs collected from the rice paddies. In addition, the child and parent were actively engaged in the eating process, and the children were fed by hand if necessary.

Six months later 65% of the village kids were better nourished. Sternin’s solution didn’t require a huge capital investment, positioning papers and hoards of experts analyzing the problem. He just found the bright spot and cloned it.