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.
March 23, 2015
When it comes to high-performance coupes, both Porsche and Jaguar have legions of loving and dedicated fans. But now, according to Ronn Torossian, there’s a new player on the scene that should create a rather interesting automotive love triangle. Maserati recently introduced the Alfieri coupe, a 2016 model that seems clearly aimed at stealing market share from Porsche’s vaunted 911 and Jag’s adored F-Type. When Maserati presented a version of the Alfieri at the recent Geneva Motor Show, high-performance car fans ignited.
Some of the reasons to love the Alfieri include 404 horsepower right out of the gate, with options that can crank that power up to either 444 or an asphalt boiling 510. Fortunately, the standard all-wheel drive will allow the Alfieri to hug that scorched asphalt every inch of the way. Not that long ago, Maserati pledged to move 75,000 cars a year by 2018, but brand reps insist the Alfieri is not the car to make that happen. Instead, their new performance coupe is slated to be a low-volume model, more of a shock and awe campaign to illuminate the entire Maserati line.
Take note, brand managers. This is an excellent strategy when you are repping a brand with a perennial seat on the outside looking in. Yes, Maserati has a dedicated core of fans, but not nearly the raving and raging fan base of its closest competitors. This is partly because Maserati has always been about “exclusivity and luxury.” It’s the brand that doesn’t want to be popular with all the people…just all the right people. Still, those “exclusive” people tend to have the cash to be very selective, and they often buy with flash and panache in mind…at least as much as performance. Given that market reality, Maserati has to step out of its We’re For the Select Few mold and aggressively go after those coveted “few.”
The Alfieri should get them looking, more than once, not just at the Alfieri but at the entire Maserati line. Exposing the “right people” to all that you offer can help raise the water level across your entire brand. You will attract potential customers who may not want your “grabber” product, but might fall in love with something else you offer…something they would not have otherwise given a first, much less a second, thought.
March 19, 2015
Speaking to a crowd of thousands of tech junkies and industry entrepreneurs at the annual South By Southwest (SXSW) music, film and interactive technology festival, keynote speaker and former AOL CEO Steve Case stated that the world is at a “pivotal point” of the internet as the Web enters its third wave.
The first wave, of which Case’s AOL was at the forefront, ran from 1985 through 2000 or so and consisted of the internet’s rise in popular culture from a closed-off network used by governments and educators to a utility-like commodity billions depend on every day. When the internet hit its second wave around the turn of the millennium, large companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and eBay rose to power, further incorporating the Web into everyday life.
Now we are at a crossroads, Case says, as the third wave begins. This new era will be characterized by new disruptive companies tackling more areas of daily life: food, healthcare, transportation and energy, among others. Those entrepreneurs who are successful will need to “understand the battle ahead.”
Fueling the transition will be a greater access to capital than even in Silicon Valley’s high-flying “bubble” days. Crowdsourcing platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo have democratized the funding of new tech companies and products, allowing developers to connect directly with those interested in a new idea. Meanwhile, venture capitalist firms and large companies have embraced the idea of activist investing, using the commercial sector toward the public’s greater good. Case used the examples of Toms and Etsy as two cutting-edge for-profit companies who have managed to help communities worldwide through activism and giving back.
Finally, Silicon Valley, today’s worldwide center of the tech world, will no longer have a monopoly on the brightest minds and most promising companies as new regional hubs in the United States and elsewhere pop up to serve an expanding industry. In Kansas City, Pittsburgh and the North Carolina coast, as well as regions in the Middle East and Africa, this process has already begun. A decentralized tech industry will encourage innovation, competition and a reformatting of tech culture that has become somewhat dysfunctional, Case says.
AOL took 10 years to reach 1 million users, a feat today’s most-successful social networks and smartphone apps accomplish in a period of days or weeks. The Web as a communication medium has come a long way since the U.S. government legalized its commercial use in 1992, and Case says the new era is just getting started.
March 17, 2015
Imitation may be the best form of flattery, but copyright infringement will get you nowhere but court. That, says Ronn Torossian, is a lesson an NYC-based granola company is learning the hard way. Powerhouse singer-songwriters Hall & Oates are suing a Brooklyn-based granola company for selling a brand of granola called “Haulin’ Oats.”
Hall & Oates took the company to federal court to stop them from selling the product, stating that to do so violates their trademark and damages their brand. The company in question, Early Bird Foods, has yet to comment on the suit in the media, but has decided to take another tack. They offered a discount on their product online where customers use a coupon code based on a hit Hall & Oates song. Definitely have to give them credit for wit, but that promotional stunt may just backfire.
This is the second time Hall & Oates have sued a company for marketing a brand labeled “Haulin’ Oats.” Back in 2014, the duo learned a Kentucky-based company was selling oatmeal under the same name. They approached the company and were able to work out a deal. Now, Haulin’ Oats brand is available in five states.
This, of course, is the right way to end an obvious trademark infringement. If you are absolutely set on using the name or a derivative of it, work out a deal with the owners and sell to your heart’s content. While flouting the rule might position Early Bird as the heroic Little Guy fighting the Power, in the end they may just end up getting the worm.
Guess this rules out Ben & Jerry doing that long awaited “Sara Swirls” flavor.
March 12, 2015
Have you ever heard of #throwbackthursday? How about #womancrushwednesday? Chances are you’ve picked up on plenty of these catchy phrases. Our online lexicon has been inundated with meaningless hashtags, but a campaign with a cause has emerged in the last few years. #GivingTuesday was started in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan and the United Nations Foundation to garner support for charity and philanthropic organizations during the holiday season. Our economy is especially consumer driven after Thanksgiving.
As an answer to that, GivingTuesday falls on the Tuesday after Black Friday and Cyber Monday annually in an attempt to remind consumers to give back to those in need. The organizers hope that in time GivingTuesday will become a holiday tradition. GivingTuesday is mainly a social media campaign, relying on the use of hashtags in the hopes of reaching viral proportions. The movement even created the #unselfie, a clever hashtag to use when tagging photos to show your support of GivingTuesday on platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. GivingTuesday support has nearly doubled every year since the campaign began in 2012. With over 20,000 charitable partners in 2014, the third annual event was the most successful yet.
The number of organizations partnered with GivingTuesday doubled from the amount in 2013, and people from 68 different countries participated. According to GivingTuesday.org, donations rose 63% over the previous year’s totals, and 90% from 2012’s numbers. The hashtag #GivingTuesday was used on Twitter 754,600 times and was a trending topic for 11 hours. #unselfie was tagged in over 7500 photos and tweeted nearly 40,000 times. There was a 101% increase in mobile transactions compared to the previous year, proving that the heavy use of social media influence in the campaign is paying off. GivingTuesday received donations from all 50 states in its first year, and has now received worldwide support in its third year. Notable organizations such as UNICEF and the American Red Cross have joined ranks with many other charities large and small.
The wide range of giving options makes donation more appealing, meaningful and personalized for the individuals who participate. With every year skyrocketing past the previous year’s totals, this holiday may have the best show of support yet. So, before you spend all of your holiday budget on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, remember GivingTuesday and start your holiday off with a selfless act. This year’s GivingTuesday is on December 1st, 2015.