Bic Pen "For Her" Draws Mixed PR

In the past few days, lots of ink has been spilled – literally and digitally – about the hundreds customer reviews posted for Bic “For Her,” a line of pens marketed to women. Now, you might think the brand is elated to receive such an active response to a product, especially a year after its launch. But these comments are snarky sendups written to sound like reviews from helpless, housebound females cooing over pink and purple pens. Women (and some men) have really piled on; there are nearly 400 faux reviews on amazon, and some are truly hilarious.

My favorite (clean) ones: “The ink in my new Bic pen is made of sugar and spice and my “i’s” are automatically dotted with hearts!” and “I thought it was a kitten, then some words came out! Wonderful!” There are many others not reproducible here, but you can catch them on Tumblr.

The sarcastic outpouring from those who took offense to the lady-colored pens reminds me a little of the reaction to a line of pink Dell netbooks targeted to females. The color and positioning wasn’t illogical, because there was a breast cancer tie-in. But the products were baked into a website called “Della” that featured elementary tech tips for women. I know, – silly. Della sparked snark from women who felt patronized by the products and their positioning, and whole thing was short-lived.

In this case, I’m not sure the sarcastic response is bad for the brand. The comments are entertaining, and the whole girl-storm could be a blessing in disguise. Yes, it was a bit heavy handed, but attention like this is nearly always an opportunity.

Are you listening, Bic? They should read the (hand)writing on the wall and seize the moment. They can write things off with a simple apology for the branding. Or go out with a lighthearted mea culpa, maybe coupled with a promotional offer. A downloadable coupon and “handwritten” personalized apology note? A Facebook tribute to Women Who Write The Rules? A gag line of rugged pens for men?

This begs for something like “Triple Sorry,” created by J&J’s ob brand. When women sounded off after ob discontinued a favorite item, the brand apologized with an over-the-top, personalized video featuring a crooning boyfriend type. It was a perfect response because it acknowledged the situation but defused it with humor, – while building a customer email marketing list. Genius.

Bic’s move has unleashed some real creativity from regular people, and maybe it can use that to remind us that our scribbles – digital or otherwise – are inspiring or funny. Not to put too fine a point on it, but a little clever PR can generate positive ink and even make a brand more relevant than it was before.

6 Myths of Crisis Management PR

In the past several weeks, brands from Burger King and Penn State to Chick-fil-A and CelebBoutique have grappled with serious reputational threats.  These days, it’s almost routine for communications pros to be managing some kind of potential crisis situation along with proactive PR programs.

Yet true “crisis management” is probably a misnomer.  Though there are principles that apply to many situations, much of the analysis and advice from people like me comes in hindsight.  Armchair reputation managers sometimes forget that the conventional wisdom isn’t always relevant in the heat of the moment.  Here, then, are my favorite crisis management myths and misperceptions.

Myth #1. The Tylenol case is still the industry standard.
With respect to Johnson & Johnson and Burson-Marsteller, this 1982 crisis management “classic” is badly outdated and likely exaggerated.  As a victim of a frightening attack, the company faced a sympathetic press and public. And while it deserves credit for the fast introduction of tamperproof packaging months later (under FDA mandate), and for an extraordinary reintroduction of the brand, the immediate response was a poor prescription for today’s damage-control experts. For example, it took the company eight days to respond to the first signs of crisis, an eternity in today’s compressed media environment.

Myth #2. A business crisis, by definition, is impossible to predict.
Not always. In fact, most crises grow out of foreseeable ills, and many have happened before. Or they may be simmering situations left untreated or concealed, like the Penn State child sex abuse scandal. A study by the Institute for Crisis Management showed that sixty-five percent of business crises from 1990 to 2009 were “smoldering” or slow-burn situations, as opposed to thirty-five percent that were sudden events. A random catastrophe like the Tylenol poisonings is truly rare, accounting for roughly seven to eight percent of crises, as opposed to product defects, lawsuits, mismanagement, and other theoretically foreseeable happenings.

Myth #3. Any crisis is manageable with advance planning and preparation.
There’s not really a handbook for handling a business calamity. We sometimes preach advance planning and preparation as if they can prevent or preempt the damage, but often these measures can only shorten the window of negative scrutiny or moderate the tone of the resulting media coverage and chatter, at best. As basic as it may sound, sometimes the most important measure is the communications protocol. Who will lead? How many are involved in decisions and statement review? Who speaks to the press? These are basic questions that can be decided in advance.

Myth #4You should never stonewall media inquiries.
Professional communicators warn against ignoring journalists in a crisis because they’ll write the story with or without you, and because it can harm media relations for the future. But we’ve all done it. When you don’t have the proper information or cannot legally share it, it’s better not to engage at all. You’ll take the heat, but staying silent can avoid worsening the situation when the facts aren’t yet clear.

Myth #5.  In a crisis, always get the top guy involved.
This is where some inexperienced handlers jump the gun. Many negative situations are better handled by a corporate officer with enough seniority to be authoritative but not enough to jeopardize the CEO office or distract from other critical business. And where relevant, local market managers with community roots are nearly always preferable to home-office execs. CEO involvement is usually best reserved for the most acute situations such as those involving loss of life.

Myth # 6.  Media and message training can save the day.
In my experience media training is helpful but often overrated, and, more importantly, it’s not often possible when a crisis is fresh. No PR professional or crisis manager will negate the importance of a blueprint for damage control and response. Yet, John Weber of Dezenhall Resources summed up the intangible and chaotic aspects of crisis PR when he said, “Given the choice between a good plan and a good leader, I’d take a good leader every time.”

This post was originally published on MENGBlend.

How To Create A Successful Facebook Contest

by guest blogger Sodelba Alfaro

It’s been fashionable of late to bash Facebook, but here are the facts. Nearly half of 18-34 year olds check Facebook as soon as they wake up.  Those are huge numbers, and brands are taking advantage of this by launching promotional campaigns on the social network.  With a Facebook contest, a brand can easily increase its number of fans, create brand awareness, and engage their consumers.

The following tips will ensure that you get your next Facebook contest right:

Define your audience – There are several types of contests that can be run on Facebook, and each speaks to different audiences.  Video, photo, and essay contests can be a great way to gather content for your page, although they are generally created for highly engaged users.  If this is the audience you are trying to reach, go for it.  However, If you’re trying to reach a new audience by gaining fans, try a promotion with a simpler method of entry.

Know the rules – Don’t get shut down before you get started!  Be sure to follow the Facebook Promotion Guidelines whenever you run a contest.  Facebook bans users from running contests that use any Facebook functionality and therefore, requesting entries be posted on your wall, announcing winners on your page, and asking users to upload pictures into Facebook are prohibited.  Save yourself the trouble and run your contest through a third party application like Wildfire or Shortstack.   Make sure to follow the rules as violating Facebook guidelines can get your page removed.

Cross promote your contest on other social media channels – Spread the word about your campaign by cross-promoting it on your other social sites such as Twitter or Pinterest.  This will help create buzz and awareness while carrying over those fans that may not yet follow you on Facebook.

Give away an awesome prize – If you want users to participate in your contest, the prize needs to be special.  When considering a prize, make sure it is something that will attract your ideal customer.  Say you’re running a contest for a fancy restaurant.  Why not give away a three-course meal?  A great prize will attract, and engage ideal users to your page.

What’s your favorite Facebook contest success story?

Armstrong’s Crisis PR Is In Fighting Form

As evidence that he used performance-enhancing substances has gained traction over the years, cyclist Lance Armstrong always managed to stay out in front, avoiding major reputation damage.

Until now. But even now, he may be down, but he’s not out. As he threw in the towel, announcing that he’d no longer contest the US Anti-Doping Agency’s charges, Armstrong attacked. When news of the decision hit, his take on the matter, in the form of a passionate and angry personal statement, was widely shared on social media platforms. If nothing else, team Armstrong’s handling of the situation looks like championship crisis management.

The USADA’s announcement this morning that he will be stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and be banned from the sport are a big part of the story, but so is Armstrong’s aggressive defense. “Enough is enough,” is how he explains his decision. Armstrong’s statement admits no guilt; in fact, he continues to defend his reputation and harshly criticizes the agency for what he sees as a witch-hunt.

Not only is the statement well-articulated, but the no-contest move is probably the closest thing to a winning strategy for Armstrong. He and his advisers must know that. If he were to fight the Agency’s charges, the evidence against him would be presented in open court. And by all accounts, that evidence is overwhelming – USADA claims to have incriminating blood samples, and ten eyewitnesses, including former teammates, are prepared to testify against him.

A public hearing would be devastating for Armstrong’s reputation as an elite athlete, cancer beater, and American hero, and it would threaten the anti-cancer mission of his Livestrong Foundation.

A quick glance at public comments  on the social web indicates Armstrong still has plenty of fans and defenders. So, while admitting defeat may not be much of a victory, as a communications strategy and crisis management case, it may be as good as it gets.

The Beloit College Mindset And The PR Mindset

Let me start by saying my “PR mindset” only wishes it had come up with the annual Beloit Mindset List – a media goldmine up there with the best of hotly anticipated yearly polls, surveys, and indices.
The Beloit List looks at pop culture, politics and technology as experienced by the incoming freshman class each year, and, boy, is it thought-provoking.

For example, this year’s class, born in 1994, thinks of Robert De Niro as Greg Focker’s long-suffering father-in-law, not as Vito Corleone or Jimmy Conway. They have no memory of Kurt Cobain while alive. The class has nearly always known a female Secretary of State, has never used a set of bound encyclopedias and watches TV mostly on screens other than TVs.

The ways these observations affect PR are at the same time nuanced and glaringly obvious. Think about these examples the next time you write a pitch or plan a campaign.

“America’s Royal Family” may still mean the Kennedys to some, but a member of this class recently asked me if that meant “the Kardashians.” No comment.

“Star Wars” has always been a movie, never a defense strategy.

“Plastics” are merely plastics, not a buzzword coined from “The Graduate.” (What graduate, some might ask?)

Planning a bookstore appearance for an author? This generation would likely consider it a quaint anachronism. First, because books, if read at all, are read online and bookstores, despite being preferred urban gathering places, have seen record closings during their lifetime – out the window along with point-and-shoot cameras and floppy discs.

If you mention the classic PR campaign to add a new color (blue) to M&M candies by popular vote, they’ll draw a blank. For these kids, M&Ms have always been blue (but never tan.)

If you use the words Twilight Zone as shorthand for something alien and out there, to the class of 2016, you are talking vampires and teens. In this case I guess the definitions prove the adage that everything old is new again. (Does anyone even remember that adage?)

How To "Newsjack" – Ethically

Recent conversation about “newsjacking” as the province of PR bottom-feeders has set off a minor digital storm. But I’m not sure what the fuss is about.

The term originated with David Meerman Scott, who wrote a book on the topic; he defines it in the subtitle as “inject(ing) your ideas into breaking news” with a goal of generating media coverage. And in doing so, Scott has “newsjacked” something that’s familiar to most PR people and packaged it with a clever label (something else many PR pros excel in doing.)

Which leads to my question. Apart from the name, which admittedly may have negative connotations to some, how is this different from what PR pros have been doing since Edward Bernays and Ivy Lee? After all, a classic public relations strategy is to shoehorn your client’s story into a broader trend or happening to make it more topical, and thus, more appealing to journalists.

Scott’s focus is more about “real time,” and therefore emphasizes piggybacking on breaking news events more than trends or memes, but it’s the same principle as any good PR program that borrows interest from a seemingly unrelated event or movement. I worked at an agency where we called it “news surfing,” which may have a more pleasant ring, but to me it’s all the same.

So, why the concern? And what’s new here?

It may come down to the tone of the story idea, sensitivity, and propriety. Given the speed with which real-time response to a news event is possible, newsjacking is more common than it used to be. And it seems to get more intense during an election year.

For example: A spokesperson for Mitt Romney describes the candidate’s ability to pivot from primary season to the general election as “almost like an Etch A Sketch.” Romney’s opponents seize the moment and hold up an actual Etch A Sketch toy at the next debate. In a second “newsjack” of coverage involving its own toy, Ohio Art, the Etch A Sketch’s maker, releases a pun-filled statement announcing a campaign called “Shake It Up, America” to capitalize on the moment and sends samples to all the candidates. Both its sales and its stock price are shaken up, too – in a good way. Well played.

My agency scored in a similar, albeit more modest, way when we read that some freshmen House members were sleeping in their offices to cut costs. Naturally, we offered them special comfy pillows from our client Sleepy’s. The best part is that we landed coverage without having to actually deliver any merchandise. (The Representatives were shy about accepting even small gifts.)

A different story hijacking attempt: In the wake of the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, a PR firm sends out a pitch titled, “Don’t Let Anyone Go All Batman On Your Kids” promoting a Minnesota chiropractor claiming to offer a treatment for a nervous condition that could potentially lead to violent behavior. Now, most professionals (and everyone else) would call this shameless ambulance-chasing and consider it eligible for Gawker’s weekly PR Dummies column, which is where I read it.

These examples illustrate some simple tenets of news surfing.

Be tasteful. It’s okay to jump on negative news, though debatable whether you should kick someone when they’re down. But any good professional will draw the line  – or at least a decent interval – at news events that involve tragic loss of life.

Be credible. Apart from its appalling lack of sensitivity, the chiropractic pitch is just way too far from issues of mental health or public safety to be believable.

Be timely. There’s nothing sadder than a late attempt to piggyback onto breaking news a week later. For breaking news, you may have a 48-hour window; for trends, a bit longer, but sooner is nearly always better.

Be catchy. That’s what Scott did with his “newsjacking” label. It’s guaranteed to grab media attention, which is half the battle.

Be relevant. A real-time news-surf is one thing; but if a brand can demonstrate relevance or usefulness, i.e. if it solves a problem or commits to a longer-term idea, it can ride that wave all the way to a stronger and more meaningful brand identity.

Now, that’s PR.

Back To PR School

by guest blogger Lauren Silverman

eptember is nearly here, and that means one thing: Back to School! Even if you haven’t set foot in a classroom in years, there are always new PR tools and skills to master. Here are some of my favorites.

Refresh your writing – Strong, succinct writing makes both pitches and programs more persuasive. Make sure to review AP Style rules periodically as they change every year. Also, check out websites like PR Daily for tips on eliminating jargon, clichés, and commonly misused words.

Assess your performance – This time of year is always somewhat of a fresh start and offers useful timing for an annual review if possible. The feedback should be used for goal setting!

Reorganize and restock – There may come a time when you unexpectedly need certain office supplies and they are nowhere to be found. Take office inventory and use the timely sales and coupons as an excuse to stock up!

Learn a new skill – PR requires constant learning, and now’s a good time to reassess what skills you have and what you want to learn. Whether it’s a new language or a new blogging platform, pick something and become a whiz.

Renew your subscriptions – Take the opportunity to discover new blogs and websites and unsubscribe from outlets you don’t actually check. This can apply to Twitter as well! Make sure you’re following current thought leaders and public figures!

Look back and forth – Take stock of the past six months and see what patterns or work habits emerged – keep the positive ones and purge the rest.
It seems like class is never out of session for PR pros! How else do you keep learning about the industry? Do you have any new tools to recommend? Feel free to respond in the comments.

The Rebranded LeBron James

In a world of social media and 24-hour news cycles, a bad PR move can completely alter the public’s perception of a brand or celebrity.  LeBron James knows this all too well, but after watching him lead Team USA Basketball to Olympic gold this past Sunday, I was amazed at how he’s been able to repair his once tarnished image.

After “The Decision”, where he infamously dumped his hometown Cavaliers for the Miami Heat during a live TV special, LeBron had gone from the world’s most marketable basketball superstar to the biggest villain in sports. He helped feed this narrative over the course of the 2011 NBA season by repeatedly giving sloppy media interviews, seemingly never thinking before he spoke while his public image was in free-fall.  It was clear that James was in desperate need of improved media training and a revamped PR strategy.

It was going to take more than winning basketball games to fix his situation, and LeBron’s PR people made a great move by drastically limiting his media exposure.  He’s clearly gone through media training, seeming humble and self reflective in the interviews he does choose to give. He was no longer making cringe-worthy quotes, staying as quiet as possible while dominating on the court.  He even stopped tweeting for months leading up to this year’s post-season run in order to focus on the goal at hand.

The result?  Features on how LeBron had rediscovered his love for the game eventually replaced all those negative stories that plagued him throughout 2011.  It was brilliant PR. With no more regrettable sound bites to focus on, the press was forced to cover the only thing that mattered, which is that LeBron James is the best basketball player on earth. (As a Celtics fan, it greatly pains me to say this)

LeBron’s image has truly come full circle, culminating in his gold medal win in London.  Instead of the entitled villain in which he’d been perceived for much of the last two years, he was now billed as the unquestioned and unselfish leader of Team USA.  I’m confident that this would not have been the case, both in reality and in the eyes of the press, had he not completely revamped his image through a very savvy media relations strategy.

PR Lessons From The Mars Rover Curiosity

Guest post by George Drucker

As communication practitioners, we often talk about the importance of goal-setting, expectations management, and risk management. A large part of our success can come down to making sure clients understand what should reasonably be expected if everything goes right, but also knowing what could go wrong.

By all accounts, the engineers, scientists and communications pros associated with the Curiosity Mars project did a superb job of preparing “the clients” – the 300 million American taxpayers who funded the $2.5 billion space exploration – for what success would look like. They made it clear that the mission’s goal is not to discover life on Mars, but to search for habitable environments.
They also supplied critical information and caveats each step of the way to prepare them for what could go wrong. Possibly they had to, given the mission’s cost, and its uncertain history. But it was apparent that preparing for the success or failure of each phase was built into the program.

From its initial launch two years ago, to the 154 million miles it had to travel to its eventual slowdown and parachute descent over Mars, “clients” were “in the loop” of what should happen, yet prepared for what possible malfunctions could occur as well. From the winnowing of potential landing sites, to landing on the site itself and then to the functioning of every possible mechanical system in Curiosity, the NASA/Jet Propulsion team seemed to cover all possibilities. As Program director Doug McCuistion said, “A failure is a setback. It’s not a disaster.”

As the designer and engineers explained the supersonic parachute that would slow the vehicle as it entered Mars’ atmosphere, they noted it would be the largest parachute ever designed and used.

There were many risks with its deployment, not the least of which was it had never been done before by an apparatus of such size! It armed us with fascinating information while offering caveats that what we were watching was unprecedented, and risky.

They played up the potential success, yet always with a degree of caution.  They spoke and appeared optimistic, yet offered a realistic assessment of what might go wrong.  They used inductive reasoning, i.e., if this, then that, to explain and prepare us. And, ultimately, they ushered in the new era of Mars exploration, and a renewed pride in American innovation.

As we celebrate this incredible feat of engineering and innovation, we communications professionals can also take a few lessons from Curiosity, along with the hope that its success to date has inspired math and science geeks who are still in school to apply their own curiosity to the challenges of the future.


Olympics 2012: A Golden Moment for Twitter

Top prize for social sharing during Olympics 2012? Unquestionably, the gold should go to Twitter.
It gave us a fresh crop of must-follow athletes, broke news about shattered records, and fostered social sharing over everything from Ryan Lochte’s hotness to Gabby Douglas’ hair. And there were lots of milestones.

There was the unprecedented partnership between Twitter and NBC Universal. It helped harness the following power of more than 1000 athlete profiles, including social media rockstars like LeBron James (16 million Twitter followers) and Roger Federer (11 million), and anointed Twitter as a social curator of the Games. Though the partnership was called “non-financial,” Twitter gained major advertisers like P&G and General Electric in the deal.

But NBC – and Twitter itself – also felt the brunt of its power as a megaphone for criticism. It warmed up with athletes’ grumbles about transportation glitches before the games, gained traction during the quirky opening ceremonies and probably peaked when Twitter suspended Guy Adams’ account after he criticized NBC. As The New York Times‘ Richard Sandomir put it, it served as a “fiery digital soapbox” against the network, focusing criticism over tape delays and live stream glitches on the hashtag #nbcfail.

The Adams suspension was reversed, but it raised questions about the coexistence of a democratized social platform like Twitter and a corporation like NBCUniversal. Technically, Adams’ account was suspended because he posted the email of an NBC executive, a violation of Twitter’s guidelines. Yet, the fact that the email address was publicly available, and that the tweet was reported to NBC by Twitter itself, “begs a question about what could happen next time and how far a social media platform may go to appease its business partners, even if it means muting the voices of its users.”

Yet, Twitter quickly remembered what social media is all about. Adams’ account was restored after pressure from users, and Twitter issued a detailed apology in which it pledged not to be in the business of “monitoring and flagging content, no matter who the user is — whether a business partner, celebrity or friend.”

Finally, Twitter’s a winner because, for socially minded Games fans, it was close to indispensable. And with NBC reporting huge ratings and healthy ad revenue from the Games, the marriage of old and new media proved they can not only coexist, but push one another to new heights.