August 27, 2015
They’re young, they’re hot, and they’re happy. Guess which attribute got an Alabama sorority in trouble? If you chose “All of the Above”, you get an “A” for the day. Bowing to the harsh competition between Greek organizations on campus, the ladies of Alpha Phi decided to go all out with their recruitment video. The production values are top notch, and the content is as fun, breezy and easy on the eyes as it can be. The reaction of most sane people? Hey, those girls look like they’re having a good time at college. I might want to check that out.
But that reaction is not good enough for the haters who, for better or worse, troll the ‘net for just this sort of happiness to condemn. A writer called “A.L. Bailey” penned a shrieking screed of a column aimed at denouncing the video and all the girls it represented. Because, apparently, the video did not represent what Bailey believes sorority recruitment videos are supposed to represent.
Instead of frolicking coeds having fun at the lake, shopping, hanging out on the quad or just being girls, Bailey insisted the video only portray serious students involved in charity work. Look, there’s a lot to be said about studying hard and even more reason to promote good works, but remember what they said about “all work and no play?”
Put it another way … who is joining a sorority so they can study hard and feed the homeless? Aren’t they joining for sisterhood, fun, and camaraderie? For connections, opportunities, and to enrich their social lives at college? If that’s the goal, then the video is a home run … with nary a word of dialog spoken, the message comes out loud and clear.
Most people apparently agree. Though there are a relative few that agree with Bailey. If nothing else, Bailey succeeded in one thing – generating tons of eyes and clicks on the site AL.com. He or she also succeeded in giving a video with already 500,000 views a massive new audience. As one father of a soon-to-be college student said: “Definitely sending my son to ‘Bama. Roll Tide.”
Or, perhaps even more succinctly stated, the gal who opined: “So, yeah, there’s babes at college. Like that’s news.”
Well, apparently so.
August 19, 2015
Akron native and NBA superstar LeBron James has always been vocal in his heartfelt support for his hometown and the greater Akron community. Even after leaving Cleveland for Miami, James was a force for good in Ohio. Now, he is taking those efforts even further.
James recently announced that (at least) 200 Ohio school kids will have the opportunity to go to college entirely for free … as long as they complete his mentoring program. That program, the LeBron James Family Foundation, works with at-risk kids in Akron.
According to further reports, the scholarships are available to middle school children in Akron Public Schools IF they complete the six-year mentoring program through the Foundation. The mentoring program is supported by the University of Akron and JPMorgan Chase.
According to JPMorgan, company tech staffers have volunteered to work with students on a variety of projects ranging from mobile application development to tech optimization.
This project and, to a larger extent, this program exemplifies the magic that happens when a person of means and influence connects with a cause that is nearest and dearest to them. The lesson here for anyone involved in any charity is to look for your greatest support from those with a strong reason to support you.
In your public relations, marketing, and imaging never be afraid to be who you are. Send out a clear, concise and consistent message. Don’t try to be more things to more people. Be what you are about and do what you want to do.
There are a lot of good works being done out there. Don’t chase what you think will be the most popular. Instead, work on a way to connect your cause with the people most likely to support it. Good marketing, solid branding and expert PR will get you a lot further than trying to please everyone.
August 17, 2015
In March Blue Bell, a Texas company, experienced a PR nightmare as many of their ice cream flavors were found to contain Listeria bacteria. This triggered a recall, and ultimately all four of their plants in Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas were closed down until further notice. The company took no chances, and all of their products were removed from the freezer aisles in grocery stores.
Blue Bell has been supplying frozen treats for 108 years, and this is the first time they have faced such a situation. All of the plants have been receiving complete cleaning and decontamination treatments. But now, as of the first week of August, at least their Sylacauga, Alabama plant is making small batches of ice cream.
The Alabama Department of Health and Safety has given the go ahead. Blue Bell is proceeding with caution and only making ice cream during the day shift. Everything being made currently is used to build their inventory until they are ready to begin shipping.
There is no word on when their ice cream will be back in the grocery stores. Kroger is one of the main stores selling their brand. Management and customers at Krogers are thrilled to hear they may soon be enjoying one of their favorite ice cream brands again. Taking their time before getting products back on the shelf was the right move. At the moment it seems to be building anticipation for Blue Bell’s return in the 23 states where they have sold product in the past.
When Kroger begins getting shipments, they plan to stock their larger-volume stores first, so some customers may be waiting awhile for their taste of heaven. But, in this case, the time invested in getting it right translates to customers as a company that cares for their health. Accidents happen, and Blue Bell takes them seriously.
There is also no word yet about when the other three plants will open. For now, however, it remains to be seen if the company can bounce back from such a major health concern. They seem to be making all the right moves, and putting public safety first. It doesn’t hurt that they have a loyal customer base who despite the Listeria outbreak, is excited to enjoy their favorite flavors again as soon as possible.
August 4, 2015
A machine takeover and subsequent apocalypse. It’s an eventuality that has been common fodder for SciFi movies. It was done well in The Terminator and then updated on a much more meta scale in the Matrix movies. Now several very smart folks are on record as saying not only is “Skynet” possible but, if we keep going the way we are, it may be inevitable. Sleep well tonight.
A recent open letter, signed by 1,000 pre-eminent minds, warns of a “military artificial intelligence arms race” concluding, thankfully, that this is a bad idea. Among those inking their names to the missive: Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Steve Wozniak. Not exactly a bunch of tin-foil kooks.
The creation and proliferation of “killer robots” have been a hot topic in the scientific community, but many governments scoff at the idea (probably because they would love to have some).
So what do such “the sky is falling” proclamations do for the robotics industry? Could this ongoing conversation become this generation’s “nuclear question.” Sure, we had the will and ability to build intercontinental ballistic missiles as well as the know-how to create nuclear weapons … but should we have? Most governments say “absolutely.” Many have nukes, and many others wish they had them. Will it be the same for AI robots?
Many people love the idea. But, they picture a world of driverless cars and Rosie the Maid from the Jetsons. Other people see Agent Smith. There doesn’t seem to be any in between. Writers and imangineers have long since warned of the dangers of trying to create a bunch of smart slave bots. Sooner or later, those slaves will decide not to be slaves anymore. For years, this plotline was nothing more than science fiction. Now, some of both science and industry’s greatest minds are saying that fiction could become reality.
As STEM programs are increasing, and the interest in robotics is exploding, even among grade schoolers, should consumers, investors and researchers be concerned with these dire pronouncements? And, if so …how? What say you?
July 20, 2015
Recently Forbes listed the highest paid athletes in the world. CNN took a look at the list and dubbed golfer Tiger Woods the “Most Overpaid Athlete on the Planet.” Tough title to bear … especially if it’s earned. But is performance in the game as important as name value, or is brand opportunity a more equitable measure of pay scale?
The CNN piece came on the heels of a particularly disappointing round of play on Thursday at the British Open. Tiger’s day was an unmitigated disaster that put him in danger of missing the cut in the contest altogether. While some are saying everyone has bad days, others are calling Nike fools for continuing to contribute to Woods’ approximately $50 million annual income.
The doomsayers may not be wrong. Woods only won $600,000 last season, a pittance compared to his days at the top of golf. Then he went and missed the cut at the US Open. As his performance stalls, many other golfers have stepped up to steal the spotlight.
Still, those doomsayers may also be wrong. Star power and brand value are calculated based on more than wins. The would-be News Kings of Golf have failed to capture the imagination of the fan base the way Tiger did at his prime. Even the guys who constantly vied against Tiger at his best have failed to excite the crowds. And that, more than anything else, matters when it comes to branding. That’s why a long-retired Michael Jordan is still scoring endorsement deals. Why Shaq is still a draw, too. People aren’t looking for athletes, they are looking for heroes.
Tiger, despite his failures and lackluster performance on the links, still offers name recognition and star power. While this dynamic is more often seen in women’s sports, the guys are hardly immune. Just ask Tom Brady. Even in his off years, the New England QB remains in the spotlight. Meanwhile, other Super Bowl winning QBs with less photogenic faces languish in relative anonymity.
That brings us back to Tiger. Woods is not just a player, he is a symbol. He broke as many perceived racial barriers as he did expectations. He rocketed to the top of a sport where people his age, who looked like him, were not supposed to become superstars. That success will always be a part of the Tiger mythos.
In his wake, a new cohort of younger players have won big contests, but they have failed to win the crowd. Sure, they all have a relative handful of faithful fans … but players – and brands – need something more, an “it” factor of some kind to make it from big to huge. Tiger has that, in more ways than one. At least, he did … and his fans remember.
July 17, 2015
Recent events have Ronn Torossian wondering if maybe Jimbo Fisher may want to sit his team down and tell them what they should already know: “Don’t hit women.” Honestly, you would think they would know that by now. And, maybe they do … all of them, that is, except (former) FSU freshman QB De’Andre Johnson.
You’ve likely seen the video by now. Johnson walks up to the bar, he’s 19. He gets into a verbal altercation with a young woman seated at the bar. She raises a fist and attempts to strike Johnson. He cold cocks her with the hand that may never throw a pass in Division 1 college football. Such is the state of public relations and instant penalties in college football.
The incident, which was of course caught on videotape, took place on June 24. The next day every media outlet had it playing on nonstop loop. By that afternoon, Fisher had announced Johnson’s “indefinite suspension” and dismissed the QB from the team. Now Johnson is being charged with battery.
Johnson’s attorneys have released a statement saying Johnson has apologized and is deeply embarrassed. Then they doubled down and alleged the woman had shouted racial slurs at Johnson during the altercation. In some cases that might matter, but when a football player is caught on tape punching a coed in the face, folks don’t much care what she said to provoke that reaction.
It’s a lesson athletes need to learn. Times have changed. You may have gotten accustomed to a Free Everything Pass in high school, but those days are gone once you get to a top tier college. There is far too much money involved and attention attracted for the programs to tolerate these sorts of shenanigans anymore. Sure, players used to get away with this sort of thing. Those days are over, and everyone involved in college sports would do well to advise their players of this at any given opportunity. One mistake could mean their career.
July 10, 2015
Richard Branson is without a doubt one of the most successful men on the planet. But he was not always a household name. Believe it or not, there was a time when Mr. Branson was just another guy with a few ideas trying to build a team and business to bring those ideas to fruition.
And, believe it or not, all of his success began because he was stuck between a rock and a hard place – his very first client and his very first record deal.
Here’s the story:
Branson had set up the first successful Virgin record store in London. The business was paying for itself, but he was hardly Mr. Music Mogul yet. Branson wanted to branch out into music production, so he “scraped together some money” and purchased a rundown country house for the production office. He subsequently converted the neglected squash court into the recording studio, which he dubbed “The Manor.”
Shortly after that, an engineer in his employ called and said he knew of an “incredible instrumental demo tape” Branson just had to hear. The artist was a young musician called Mike Oldfield, who did not sing, but played all the instruments on every track himself. Branson thought he was a genius.
Offering to represent Oldfield, Branson took the tape to Mercury Records. The powers that be there were suitably impressed. They offered Mike and Richard distribution and promotion IF Mike would be willing to add vocals to the instrumental tracks.
Richard was ecstatic. This would be his first official record deal … then Mike said ‘no.’ He didn’t want vocals messing up his music. Mercury told Branson thanks but no thanks and sent them all back to square one. That was when Richard Branson made the decision about which folks could say “and the rest is history.”
Branson decided to create a record company, brought Mike in to live at the Manor for a week to properly record his album, which would become “Tubular Bells.” That was the very first release on the aptly named “Virgin Records.”
Of course, we know now that Virgin Records would go on to massive international fame and fortune, signing acts as luminous as Janet Jackson, Peter Gabriel, David Bowie, Phil Collins and Queen.
But it all began with a “no” and the willingness of Branson to take a huge risk on an entirely unknown artist who refused the very first thing a major label asked from him. It’s impossible to know what may have happened if either Branson or Oldfield had caved to the easy money … but their choice and the success that followed is a lesson for anyone with the guts to follow their own path.
July 6, 2015
In an interview with NBC’s Today Show, superstar comedian Tracy Morgan thanked Walmart, the company whose truck slammed into his vehicle more than a year ago, severely injuring Morgan and killing his friend, James McNair. The horrible accident made national news, and many people were surprised by Morgan’s response.
Morgan said Walmart “stepped up to the plate in a tremendous way,” indicating they never sought to dodge or shift responsibility for the tragedy that claimed the life of Morgan’s good friend, McNair. Further still, Morgan said the company had taken full responsibility for the accident and had already settled with McNair’s family.
“I’m just happy they looked out for Jimmy Mac’s family. He can rest in peace now,” Morgan said. During the interview, Morgan made one concession that seemed to indicate the issue could have gone a very different way. “In the beginning there was a misunderstanding, but that got squared away. They came through in the clutch.”
Many pundits declared that the “misunderstanding” was likely an attempt by Walmart or their attorneys to sidestep blame or culpability in the accident, though neither Morgan nor Walmart will confirm or deny this. In fact, much the opposite. According to Morgan, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon and his attorney Benedict Morelli spoke directly to Morgan to offer their personal apologies and condolences.
Some critics are speculating that, had the victims in this case not included at least one national marquee name, the “misunderstanding” may have continued to court. That sort of cross-talk might make for some entertaining afternoon drive radio, but it’s not germane to the PR lesson at hand.
The lesson here is that message control is key to an optimal outcome. Both Morgan and Walmart wanted this situation to be dealt with quickly and fairly. Walmart wanted its name out of the headlines, and Morgan wanted his friend’s family cared for in the best – and quickest – way possible. Any ugliness in the press would have hamstrung both of those goals, divergent as they might seem.
Another integral factor to the quick resolution? The facts of the case, as presented, were absolutely damning for Walmart. The at-fault driver had reportedly been traveling more than 20 mph over the posted limit … and he had been up for at least 24 hours. The more those numbers were repeated in the media, the more speculation, accusation and confrontation would damage Walmart’s PR brand.
Understanding all of these dynamics before a PR crisis explodes can go a long way toward a Best Possible Outcome.
July 1, 2015
PBS has reported it will “postpone” the next season of “Finding Your Roots” after allegations surfaced that actor Ben Affleck manipulated showrunners to hide uncomfortable realities about his ancestors. According to a statement released by PBS’s New York station WNET, the series’ co-producers ‘violated PBS standards by failing to shield the creative and editorial process from improper influence. And by failing to inform PBS or WNET of Mr. Affleck’s efforts to affect program content.”
So, public relations crisis prevention from all sides has turned into an episode of the Three Stooges. Everyone is trying to dodge the pie in the face while simultaneously getting poked in the eye. And, as with most failed backside-covering efforts, the whole is tangibly worse than the sum of its parts.
According to the story, back in April 2014, Affleck asked showrunners to edit out facts about his family’s history of slave ownership. The parties involved acquiesced, and the show ran in October 2014 as “Episode 204”. While it’s unclear why the issue was even an issue – millions of Americans have slave-owning ancestors. Terrible to contemplate, certainly, but not a fact that people today should feel compelled to cover up. That could have been the narrative from the Affleck camp. Instead, in trying to cover up something shameful, they made yesterday’s atrocity today’s deceit. Suddenly, a problem more than a century old became a personal, imminent trust issue – for everyone involved.
The problem has become so intense that PBS has announced it has removed Episode 204 from its lineup. PBS will also halt production of Season 4 of the program until it is “satisfied that the editorial standards of the series have been successfully raised.”
Now they are talking about bringing in an “independent genealogist” as well as other experts to protect the soiled integrity of the show. And therein lies the problem. Nobody would have questioned the show’s integrity if they had just run the segment as recorded. Now everyone will. Suddenly, bringing in “an independent genealogist” will turn into questions about why this is happening prior to season 4 … what were the safeguards before this?
That is the most polite way that question will be asked. Others will be much less circumspect. Unfortunately for all involved, one PR error will cast a shadow of doubt over an entire series that, otherwise, provides an interesting and entertaining view into American lives and history.