May 26, 2015
When your favorite sports team advertises a major charity event hosted at their ballpark, it’s reasonable to assume at least some active team members will make an appearance. Reasonable, it appears to everyone but the Marlins organization.
It started off as a good idea, but the execution resulted in a ridiculous unforced error. In theory the annual “Fish N Chips” event gives Marlins fans a chance to mingle with players and play some fun casino style games, all for a good cause. However, this year, only coaches and new team manager Dan Jennings showed up. No players made it.
It may have been just a simple embarrassment, except that donors attending the event were expressly promised the opportunity to “rub elbows” with “your favorite Marlins players…” When it comes to money changing hands, even if it’s all for charity, “well, almost” just doesn’t cut it.
And this PR disaster could not have come at a worse time for the team. Currently being drug along on a seven-game losing streak, The team isn’t doing a lot to inspire fans on the field, so the event was a chance to earn back some lost goodwill and team spirit.
The blowback was immediate … and it was harsh. One fan among thousands on Twitter reminded players they are paid handsomely to play a “child’s game” and that a losing streak is nothing compared to many problems in the world.
This sentiment that the players skipped the event because they were pouting over the loss and trouble in the clubhouse was rampant…and fans were not empathetic.
Fan after fan blasted the team on social media, talk radio and sports media. In some baseball-crazy town that might not be such a bad thing. Fans bounce back. But in Miami, there is plenty of competition, and the fair weather tends to generate more than a few fair weather fans. If the Marlins lose the support of their shaky fan base, this little snub could end up being the seed that grew into a revolt. They better get on top of it … and soon.
May 22, 2015
Loud, brash and brazen in concert, Simmons – aka The Demon – is also a reality TV star and marketing genius behind much of KISS’s plethora of swag, mementos, and souvenirs. What is it about Simmons that makes him so successful?
First, nothing is ever good enough. When asked why he keeps going, even with a net worth reportedly exceeding $300 million, Simmons is quick to answer, “I’ll never stop hunting more money. I’ll never have enough. Life is business … I must keep moving.”
While some people may pretend otherwise, the want – or need – for more cash is a fine reason to continue to push and grow and strive for greater success. From the very beginning, Simmons pushed the group to sell as much merchandise as they could. From plush dolls to lunchboxes and TV shows … KISS is not happy unless they are leveraging their fame and hard work for more money and fame … which can lead to even more money. Not a bad cycle, really.
The key, for Simmons, has been about keeping the brand in front of current and potential fans as much as possible. He understands that a band can only produce so much music, so they can only sell so many records. But they can sell swag to the same people who buy the records…so why not? The system increases the fan’s connection to the band, which, in turn, increases the band’s fanbase and popularity.
And, that, really, is the key factor. No matter what you are selling, if you have customers, you should do what you can to turn those customers into fans. Fans feel a part of your brand, not just a consumer of it. That connection is the real pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. As the brand, you give greater meaning and value to the fan, and they return that connection with greater brand loyalty. Everyone wins, or, in Simmons’ case, they keep rocking all night…every night.
May 19, 2015
Days after the deadly Pennsylvania Amtrak crash while investigators are still trying to sort out what happened, the rail line is trying to pick up the PR pieces. The crisis PR has not been good – and that will continue to be an uphill battle. Already tiny factoids are popping up on social media comparing airline travel and rail travel.
The main question being asked by investigators is “why did the train speed up when it was supposed to be slowing down.” According to reports, when approaching a curve rated for no faster than 50 mph, the train, which had been traveling at 70 mph, sped up to more than 100 mph. At this point, investigators say they are unclear as to whether or not the train speed was increased manually by the engineer.
To this point, investigators have found no issues with the track or the mechanics of the train. But that is not the question the general consumer public is asking. All they can see is that a train was going too fast and killed at least eight people and sent 200 more to local hospitals. “Why” is a secondary concern. They want to feel safe, and they don’t, regardless of what caused the issue.
And, because they don’t feel safe, speculation rules. Despite the fact investigators have already released the information that the engineer was not using his cell phone and had not been drinking or using drugs, people are still – loudly – asking “what went wrong” with the driver.
Spokesmen have said that no “common sense rational person” would think it okay to travel at that rate of speed in that turn, but this is not comforting.
In point of fact, there’s no evidence to prove the engineer is a “crazy person.” But now that this idea is in the head of the public, it’s not just going to sit down and die. It may fester and spread.
Amtrak has a multifaceted PR nightmare. They are dealing with the facts of the case as they are revealed, AND they are dealing with countless speculations and outright rumors that are being generated by all the PR missteps. Every mishap leads to crisis PR – and those who handle it well have less damage than those who do not.
May 12, 2015
A recent USA Today article compared the two top picks in the 2015 NFL Draft, Marcus Mariota, and Jameis Winston. The comparison was not about on-field skill, however. Ronn Torossian says this head to head matchup is even more important to the business of football. That comparison? Marketability or, to put it more bluntly, which QB can bring more cash to the organization and himself by way of sponsorships and merchandise sales. With untold hundreds of millions on the line, this is a vital PR consideration. And, even with the draft over, this aspect of the quarterback competition is still a raging debate.
In order to gain some semblance of the upper hand in this debate, prognosticators use something called the Celebrity DBI. That is an index that purports to measure consumer perception of celebritiesto determine market worth. Given that it’s only based on a 1,000-person survey sample, the results are easy to question, but still provide a starting point for understanding athlete marketing potential.
According to USA Today Sports, the index places Mariota above Winston as the better potential celebrity endorsement candidate. The report ranks Winston on the level with names like Johnny Manziel, Donald Trump and Bill O’Reilly … in other words, in the bottom 2 percent of the list. In the “trust” factor, he is also in the bottom 7 percent along with Vanilla Ice and Mark McGwire. The verdict, then, at least according to the prognosticators who use this index, is that Winston is going to struggle to find strong endorsement deals and advertising opportunities.
The future, though, is reportedly much brighter for new Tennessee Titan. Mariota. Marcus is in the top 7 percent in endorsement potential, That is on par with names like Staubach and Aaron Rogers in a category called “aspiration,” which measures the desire of respondents to “be like” a certain individual.
While this index could be just another form of sport-related hocus-pocus prognosticators use to get in the media and create points to argue about for the talking heads and radio callers. It could also serve as, at least, a rough starting point for each player’s PR team in the coming days and months. Who will get the last laugh? Time will tell…because, no matter what, the best PR team almost always wins the battle of public perception.
May 11, 2015
When you think about public relations in the banking industry, you might think of patriotic commercials, earnest-looking tellers and clean-cut guys in pinstripes waiting to “earn your business.” But, would you expect any of those folks to wear the robes and crown of the Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church? Probably not. Well, Ronn Torossian says, think again because the Pope is now in the game of banking PR.
Recently, Pope Francis gathered with a host of cardinals to discuss the financial health of the Holy See. There were—flowcharts, spreadsheets, graphs and PowerPoint presentations. PowerPoint in the Vatican? Yep. Congrats Microsoft, you have papal approval.
While it’s really no secret that Vatican finances have been growing through a rough patch in recent years, the extent of the issue was not well known because the Vatican kept their books locked up tighter than the gold at Fort Knox. Need to know only. According to Bloomberg, the meeting last February was the very first time that many cardinals were ever given the opportunity to see the church’s financial picture in such detail. Moreover, many of the presenters were not even clergy. Several lay experts were also present, breaking things down for the assembled holy men.
While this is hardly the first time Pope Francis has made headlines for breaking with church tradition, previous popes have challenged church practicum and theology. However, financial disclosure on this scale is virtually unprecedented. The lesson here is one of deft public relations. Underneath all the discussion about the church’s role in global culture and politics, is a steady current of dismay and outright revulsion related to both the institutionalized privacy and the abhorrent sex-abuse scandals. In opening the books, the pope is doing something so relatively drastic, which no one can look at it and not begin to rethink their position, at least on the church’s privacy issues.
The message is clear: this pope is not just changing the way the church deals with its people. This pope is changing the way the church operates internally, at the most basic of levels. When you open the books, you invite criticism of previous mismanagement and potential catcalls of corruption. The gesture, then, communicates a willingness to address any potential issues and a dedication to a new level of openness. At least, that’s the message being conveyed. Whether or not the faithful – much less the general public – buys it is an entirely different story.
May 7, 2015
Things just went from bad to much, much worse for Mike Coupe, head of British supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s. Coupe was just handed a two-year jail sentence in Egyptian courts for “attempting to seize checks from Egyptian businesses sixteen years ago. At the time, Sainsbury’s was trying to break into the region. According to reports, Egyptian courts said they convicted Coupe because he is the most senior employee of the company. When Coupe chose to skip the trial, he was convicted in absentia. The conviction won’t mean much as long as Coupe steers clear of Egypt, but, even still, the conviction is a prime example of how unfair both legal and public relations issues can become.
Unfair? Yes, definitely. How else can you describe being convicted of a crime based on the actions of a company that, at the time did not employ you. That’s right, Coupe was convicted even though he had not met the complainants and he was in London – not employed by Sainsbury’s – at the time of the incidents.
Sainsbury’s PR team has fired back, calling the claims – and the conviction – groundless and promising to appeal. Of course, from a PR perspective, the conviction just pushes more pressing business into an unforgiving public light.
First, Sainsbury’s foray into Egypt turned out to be a disaster. The company tried to find a place in the market but failed, at a cost of 111 million pounds and a loss of 100 stores. Of course, that was sixteen years ago…but it gets worse. Amidst falling sales and dropping stock value, the company was expected to cut hundreds of jobs across the board. Even the most frivolous lawsuits bring these other very real and very painful items to the surface.
That’s the PR lesson here. Nothing happens in a vacuum. If something goes wrong while something else bad is happening or on the heels of another PR crisis, the whole is always worse than the sum of its parts. The two negative stories – if not stopped – can feed on each other, creating a self-sustaining wave of negative PR that is difficult to stop. The earlier your PR team can get out ahead of the story and stop it, the better it will be. Wait too long, and it may be too late to do anything at all. At that point, your brand is at the mercy of the news cycle and your customers’ attention spans. Don’t ever let it come to that.
April 20, 2015
It’s playoff time for professional hockey, and NHL officials are hoping for some major ratings. Despite the fast pace, interesting personalities, and cool culture, hockey still lags behind several other sports in the hearts and minds – and wallets – of many Americans. While the NFL and MLB fight for the top spots in sports marketing, the NHL, and the NBA both want to be number three. And both have been rocked by lockouts, work stoppages, and other issues in recent years.
Back in 2012 the NHL experienced a work stoppage – it’s fourth in 20 years – based on how to split the approximately $3.3 billion in revenue. Since then hockey has tried to bounce back, but it faces some of the same issues that caused the previous disputes. Mainly, the massive disparity in brand popularity. Ask any fairly attuned American sports fan, and they could likely name three or four NHL franchises. Ask for ten, and the numbers would thin. Name them all? Forget about it. And the revenue numbers back up this disinterest. During the season prior to the most recent lockout, 18 of the 30 NHL teams lost money.
A few managed to scrape together a meager profit, but the three tops teams in the league practically printed money. The Maple Leafs, Rangers, and Canadiens enjoyed huge operating profits or more than $170 million. The other 27 teams, combined, only managed $44 million. The Canucks and Oilers bring the profit tally up to $212 million. Without these five teams, the total revenue is a loss of more than $86 million.
While the top teams in the NFL make huge margins, they only represent a third of all league profits. The NHL situation is mirrored by the NBA, where the Bulls and Knicks regularly pull the majority of the freight for the league. However, subsequent to the NBA’s most recent collective bargaining agreement, the league tripled revenue sharing to keep small market teams in the black. But the NHL has struggled to reach that level of cost-sharing parity.
The only other solution is to bring in a lot more paying fans to each and every “on the bubble” NHL team. There will always be a few that struggle, but some of the better teams can charge into the playoffs with the opportunity to bring in fans that will stick around, at least for a while. Without that bump, the NHL will have to go back to the negotiating table sooner rather than later.
April 13, 2015
A recent report by CNN released an email sent by none other than the godfather of the computing age – Bill Gates. Apparently, the Microsoft co-founder sent the email as a way to connect with Microsoft employees and celebrate four decades of changing the world, one computer at a time, since 1975.
According to CNN, here’s what the email said: “Early on, Paul Allen and I see the goal of a computer on every desk and in every home. It was a bold idea, and a lot of people thought we were out of our minds to imagine it was possible. It is amazing to think about how far computing has come since then, and we can all be proud of the role Microsoft played in that revolution.”
It really is incredible when you think about how things were when Gates and Allen made that goal compared to what the world is today. Back then, no one saw much need for this upstart idea of the “personal computer,” but now billions across the globe are carrying computers in their pockets. From crazy idea to individual necessity in a generation. That’s the power of an idea whose time has come.
But Gates was not just looking back. In the same message he praised the leadership of current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, saying, “In my role as technical advisor to Satya, I get to join product reviews and am impressed by the vision and talent I see.”
But do you see what he did there? Gates is not only offering support and approval, he is tacitly revealing his current role in the company. Never one to shy away from making decisions, Gates is seen now as the face of his billion-dollar international charity and less the face of Microsoft, but his shadow still looms large in every way that matters. Far from the hands-off godfather, Gates is still a major player in the present and future of the company that helped make him the richest man in the world. And, even in a celebratory email, he is casting vision and defining the company.
“I hope you will think about what you can do to make the power of technology accessible to everyone, to connect people to each other, and make personal computing available everywhere.”
That may sound like a happy thought, but coming from this source, it’s more like marching orders.
April 6, 2015
These days it seems like news of major retailer data breaches has become weekly events. But even the frequency of these breaches does little to calm the public outrage when they happen. Surviving to re-engage and thrive after a breach is a tough hill to climb, and no company seems to have managed that obstacle better than Target.
Back in 2013 Target experienced a massive data breach, compromising the credit card records of a huge number of customers. Business, as expected, took a serious hit. Sales stalled as customers began opting for cash – or not shopping at Target. Since then, Target and new CEO Brian Cornell have been working hard to bring the business back from the brink. According to CNN, their efforts have yielded a steady rise in sales and a stock price at an all time high.
Since Cornell took the helm, Target stock has jumped 40% while Walmart stock has only risen 11%. There are several reasons for this, including cost cutting measures that made Wall Street investors smile. But these internal measures were only the beginning. Cornell has also instigated a focused marketing campaign that highlights four categories in which Target has seen continued success.
In addition to a massive marketing push involving kids fashion, Target is also doubling down on messaging related to its baby products, children’s products and wellness. These retail segments have proven steadily profitable, and Cornell is wisely doubling down on his fastest horses.
This – ahem – targeted PR allows the company to focus on highly profitable growth areas while other product lines play catch up. Buried just under the surface of this approach is a return to Target’s winning message: “We are stylish, yet affordable.”
That message quickly and effectively separated Target from its closest competitor, Walmart, making it the choice of a hipper, trendier segment of the consumer market for whom Walmart had been both a necessity and a punchline. Target became a status definer. “Poor” people went to Walmart. Chic people – with similar bank balances – shopped at Target. The company rode that distinction to massive market success, ripping market share away from Walmart in market after market. The massive data breach stalled that juggernaut. But now Target’s decision makers have found a winning message to recapture that position…as long as they keep hitting the mark with the right audience.