Category Archives: public relations

A Tip for Applebee’s

The recent Applebee’s fracas included God, waitresses, sadly under-prepared management and the Ever-Shifting Mob.
It’s a great case study in crisis PR but not an easy one from which to pull clear lessons.
Recap: Pastor Alois Bell crossed off the default 18% tip and wrote: “I give God 10% . Why do you get 18?” This sets up the pastor as one of the cheapest Christians who ever displayed her parsimony to the masses.
Another waitress saw the receipt and posted it.
The embarrassed Pastor Bell doubled down on her arrogance and demanded that the waitress be fired. (Hell hath no fury like a woman pastor scorned).
Applebee’s did.
It all kicked into viral gear.
That’s when the Ever Shifting Mob moved in. They demanded the waitress get her job back.
Applebee’s reaction to the firestorm? Initially, none. We in the PR business know that’s an invitation for the mob to fill the void with more anger, more demands, sarcasm, vitriol and of course the boycott threat.
R.L. Stollar lays it out in excellent detail.
The Applebee’s social media folks came in too late and did more damage than good. Once they moved past the company line their posts were amateurish, defensive and mildly condescending.
So this is where I enter and tell you what they should have done.
Nope. This, like many crises, has no black and white. First, the pastor was way out of line, both as a person and as woman of the cloth. (Celestial Voice: “Well, done, sister. Ten percent, by God!”)
Second, the waitress who posted the receipt was out of line, breaking the privacy agreement she must have known about.
Third, management had broken its own policy previously by posting positive customer notes.
Fourth, the management reacted very badly, publishing contrite explanations, then dumb explanations, then started deleting incoming posts, then deleted the status update and the 20,000+ responses. Then they lied.
Fifth, Applebee’s let the mob swell too large. When the mob reaches a certain size it continues to grow on its own accord, fed by its own outrage. Most people who post are well-meaning folks trying to find justice. Others are just angry bastards who want to spread their negativity.
When the mob is large, no answer is good enough. No explanation is thoughtful enough. You, the target, will always lose, falling under a barrage of individual postings that congeal into the cyber equivalent of a nuclear bomb.
In a nice family drama, it would have ended this way. The offending pastor would sincerely apologize for her childish behavior and make good with the other 8% tip. The waitress would apologize for breaking privacy rules despite her sense of outrage on behalf of her colleague. Applebee’s benevolently would nod and say possibly they overreacted and would re-examine the case. It would consider reinstating the waitress with a probation period.
And it all would go away.
There is no privacy. The actions of thoughtless people will occasionally be exposed, not in a local newspaper but on the only remaining stage – the international one.
Businesses, companies, corporations, are by default the bad guys and will get the blame. A crisis plan needs to be in place because when you hit the hot seat you need to instantly jump into action or your butt’s going to burn.
The biggest lesson: The Ever Shifting Mob is always in the wings, ready to wave the cyber pitchforks and torches, screaming for whatever they think at the moment is justice.
As my colleague/media master, Dick Jones says: “You can do the right thing 99 times; screw up once and it can bite you big time. And the unfortunate thing is, all institutions screw up occasionally.”
Be prepared, institutions. You could easily have a pastor and a waitress. And no matter what your official policy is, your response better thoughtful, humane and fast.
The Ever Shifting Mob will rant, then slowly scatter, looking for the next thing to protest.


Why My Book Was Banned

I’m posting this because it was a PR/Library project that was wildly successful.  Some people told me that promotions like this sometimes backfire.  No one said life is safe.

Librarians keep track of books, answer questions and help people in their quest for knowledge.
I never thought of them as courageous.
But something happened this week that gave me a profound respect for several librarians in particular and the profession in general. In a discussion about Banned Book Week recently, one librarian said that in her high school Lord of the Flies was banned because it depicted a group of boys taking power too far.
“Then you should ban mine, “ I said, referring to One Woman’s Vengeance. “It’s about a female protagonist who takes the law into her own hands and kills people. It’s violent. It has graphic sex and a lot of adult language.”
A few days later Amanda Sanko texted  and asked if they could talk with me. So we met. “People in general are complacent,” Nichole Book said. “They don’t understand how dangerous censorship is. We want to find a way to wake people up.” Jamie Harris agreed. Scott DiMarco, library director, agreed.
They asked if they could ban my book.
These are four librarians passionate about their beliefs that everyone should have open access to all knowledge.
“You’ll take criticism,” I said. They nodded. They understood.
Scott stopped in my office later. “We’re doing this for a good reason – to remind people of the importance of having access to information,” he told me, knowing what they were getting into. “I hope we’re redeemed in the end. We have never banned a book in this library, and we never will again.”
They made a simple announcement on Facebook that One Woman’s Vengeance was removed from the shelves due to a parent complaint.” I shared it on my wall. The reaction was immediate. Within 15 minutes a reporter called. Alumni wrote in. My Facebook friends posted their outrage.
The criticism was intense and widespread.
Someone created a Facebook page protesting the band. Messages came in from around the country.

Librarians are the guardians of open access to knowledge and everyday a librarian somewhere is tested. All it takes is one person with a passionate belief to pressure a principal or a school board or a board of a community library to remove a book from the shelf, taking it away from the community.
It’s a symbolic form of book burning. For centuries, kings, churches and despots have understood the power of the printed word. They have known, and still do, if they control what knowledge you receive, they control your thoughts and actions.
This control is widespread in many parts of the world. It is shameful that in this “land of the free” that even one book can be banned.
Why? Because once one book is banned, all books are targets.
This extends to TV, radio and the Internet.
I thank everyone involved in the banning of One Woman’s Vengeance, from the librarians who courageously created the project and saw it through, to students, alumni and fans who expressed their thoughts and feelings.
I hope that people were inspired to think about– and be aware of– censorship not just one week a year but every day. One of our most important rights is the freedom to read, watch and listen to anything we want without fear of reprisal or censorship.
Understand that I don’t see any financial gains from this. All proceeds from my two books go to a scholarship fund for future MU English majors. My goal is $10,000 to endow it and benefit students for generations.
The aim of the Vengeance Project was to emphasize the importance of freedom of information to everyone, everywhere, forever.
Thank you for making this a lively, thoughtful and passionate conversation.

Here’s the video finale.

Ban the Vagina?

Note: This is a bit off topic but I couldn’t help it.
I wonder if the folks in the Michigan State House are toying with the idea of replacing the word “vagina” with something less offensive?
Rep. Lisa Brown, created the opening  when she made a speech against an abortion bill recently. She thanked the House members for being interested in her vagina.

“What she said…was so offensive, I don’t even want to say it in front of women,” Rep. Mike Callton said. Rep. Brown was barred from speaking anymore.
I imagined this group of Republican legislators meeting after the traumatic Brown incident.
“I can’t believe she really said that word,” one said, wiping sweat from his forehead. “It’s so dirty.
“She claimed it’s the anatomically accepted term for, you know, that part,” an attorney said helpfully.
“That’s bull,” the first one said. “It’s a left wing ploy to give women a false sense of empowerment. Just like those Mid-East women who don’t want to wear their scarves anymore.”
“What do you propose?” A third legislator asked.
The first man, obviously the alpha of the pack said, “We go to the source,” and pulled the Bible out of his briefcase.
“The Old Testament,” the third man said.
“Of course, the alpha answered. He leafed through the pages, then stopped with an air of satisfied finality. “Yes. There it is. According to the Bible the accepted term for, uh, that part of a woman is ‘loins.’”
The other men nodded, except for an older man who had read the book many times, who pointed out: “Loins is the terms for men’s, uh, parts, too.”
The alpha man was undaunted. “Then we’ll distinguish the men’s loins from the women’s.” The others looked at him, not understanding. “We will propose a bill – and pass it – that says the woman’s, um, parts between her legs are ‘loins’. The man’s private parts will be referred to as ‘Sir-loins’.”
Another man, whose background was law, nodded. “Yes, perfect. So if in the future we have to engage in discourse about, um, sex – he looked around apologetically –“And a man reaching his ultimate pleasure, we can refer to it as an ‘explosion of the Sir-loin tip’.”
“What about a woman’s, um, ultimate pleasure?” Someone asked, knowing that all bases have to be covered in legal arguments.
“According to North Carolina Representative Henry Aldrige, ‘juices flow’ and that’s about all that happens in a woman,” someone answered. “Henry’s got us covered.” The others nodded. The female juices theory was acceptable. Most of the men knew that women don’t enjoy sex anyway, and the few who do are sluts.
The men ended the meeting feeling sure that, aside from sluts and whores, women would applaud the replacement of the offensive “V word” with the long accepted “loins” and the world will be a more upright and moral place for all.

Pinterest: Evolution Means You’re Not In Control

We in the marketing business are shameless users, snatching  the latest social media hit which always starts out as a fun, sharing platform among students, hobbyists, musicians, grandparents.

As soon as we see it grab traction, we jump on the machine  to see if we can steer it toward our purposes.

But in the beginning, we never have control of the steering wheel or the direction.

Pinterest is the latest platform exploding onto the scene.  Its mission is  to “connect everyone in the world through the ‘things’ they find interesting.”

Wikipedia also reports that for “January 2012 comScore reported the site had 11.7 million unique U.S. visitors, making it the fastest site ever to break through the 10 million unique visitor mark.”
Recently there was an interesting CUPRAP thread (CUPRAP is the world’s best organization for PR and marketing folks.)
There were many questions.  Who uses Pinterest?  What is the ROI?  Who is the  target audience?
It’s too early to ask these questions.   We’re in new territory.  Study it, play with it and experiment.
Seven years and a universe ago,  MU gained international attention for its use of podcasting. Now it’s not in the news but tens of millions of people listen to podcasts. Facebook was a college game and evolved into a $100 billion business.
Is Pinterest headed in the same direction?  My guess is yes.
Remember, we, the marketers are the intruders. Pinterest started as a site where people (mainly women) shared recipes, patterns, quilts.
It grew quickly  into much more and now we’re trying to make it work for us.
Don’t try to control it. You can’t. Social media evolves itself. Don’t ask right now what your target audience is. The target audience finds you if you do it right. Don’t ask what the ROI is. The target audience delivers it if you do it right.
How do you do it right?  You experiment.

As Mike Moran says Do It Wrong, Quickly.

We’re exploring Pinterest  at Mansfield and I’m experimenting with it personally.  UW Tacoma has a good site with variety and a sense of play, and other schools are fast joining the party.

Forget the “suit” questions right now.

Have fun and make sure your boards — interesting and substantive —  are there when your audience comes searching for  for you.

The local store that made our Christmas

Shop local.
I experienced the importance of this a few weeks ago. Dunham’s Department Store in Wellsboro is a family-owned  store founded in 1905.
They’re also one of my wife’s clients. She came home from a meeting with owners John and Nancy Dunham after Thanksgiving and over supper talked about the meeting.

“After the meeting, when I was looking around, I saw the most beautiful coat,” she said.  I was half listening but remembered something about “soft” and  “rust color.”
It was so beautiful, she said, and there was only one in her size. She was sure it would be gone in a few days.
A couple weeks later, I did a book signing at From My Shelf Books, another locally owned, indie business. I walked up to Dunham’s, hoping they might still have the coat and could identify it with my meager two clues.
I ran into John and Nancy in the snack shop, sat down and had a bowl of soup and coffee.
“Linda saw a coat,” I said. I don’t know anything about it except it’s soft and rust colored.”
Nancy thought it over. “Well, I think I saw her looking at a coat in the display window.” She thought some more. “Based on what she’s bought in the past — like that white jacket a couple years ago. . . I think. . . let me go look.”
She returned with a coat. I had no idea if it was it. “I think it is,” Nancy said. John nodded in agreement. “That looks like her.”
For the first time in my life I said, ‘I’ll take it” without even asking the price.
“Do you want it wrapped?” Yes.
I was pretty nervous Christmas morning. If it wasn’t the right one my wife would be very disappointed. If it was the right one, it would make her whole Christmas.
It was the right one.
Imagine this.  Go to Bon Ton or Sears, or Macy’s . Can you sit down with the owners and have a coffee? Can you say your wife saw a coat two weeks before, give a couple vague clues and have them bring it out and hand it to you gift wrapped?
Not a chance.
The Dunhams know  all their regular clientele so well that on buying trips they pick out clothes based on their customers’ tastes!
Yes, I also like the idea that I’m supporting local business and keeping money circulating in the community, contributing to it health.
But I’m also grateful to John and Nancy for making my wife’s Christmas special.  (It’s nearly impossible for a man to buy a woman clothes she actually likes.)
Dunham’s has been around for 112 years, succeeding on the premise that knowing and caring about your customers is the best kind of marketing.

Corporate Loyalty & Real PR

Dick Jones is one of the most respected professionals in the PR consulting field.  Over the years, his company, Dick Jones Communications, has assisted more than 60 colleges and universities in the areas of public relations, story placement, media relations and  crisis communications.  I asked Dick to do a guest post on the role of the PR professional.

Arthur W. Page was a very smart man. He was the first corporate vice president of what today is known as public relations, taking that post in the 1920s for American Telephone and Telegraph Company.
Page “got it” from the start. He knew that sending the company’s messages to key publics was only half the job. The other half—and the more important part—was to inform AT&T and to provide counsel on what the public was thinking and feeling about any topic that could impact the firm.
The PR Department, said Page, “…ought to bring to the management at all times what it thinks the public is going to feel about a thing.”
Public relations scholars agree. Think how much heartache could be avoided if this occurred routinely. This mandate, however, is ignored more often than observed and that is not because PR professionals don’t believe in it or understand it. It is ignored because senior management does not believe in it or understand it.
Unfortunately, PR pros who sense trouble ahead and alert management to it are often running risks, especially if the trouble they spot is headed their way because of some action proposed by the organization they serve. This is particularly true within organizations that value loyalty—or rather a misplaced definition of loyalty—above all else. In such circumstances, the PR practitioner is liable to be considered disloyal or, at the very least, not a team player, if he or she has the temerity to point out problems that may arise from a particular course of action.
Of course it is not disloyal at all to point out potential public relations troubles arising from an organization’s decisions; quite the opposite, in fact. But if senior management doesn’t see it that way, it can derail a career and often has.
You can get a sense of the value an organization places on honest, reasoned feedback by whether or not the public relations function is included in senior management. If PR pros are present at the creation of policy, that’s a good sign. If, however, PR is “represented” in the councils of top management by some other staff function which then “interprets” management policy to the PR staff, that’s not such a good sign.
PR people who find themselves in the latter position will want to:

(1) see if they can find a “seat at the table” where they can provide feedback to senior management;

(2) resign themselves to doing only half of the job they are supposed to do;

(3) update their resume and look for a place that values the full public relations function.

Crisis PR Management Made Simple

This post is for PR people and anyone in a leadership position.
Most of your organizations, at some point, will have a crisis.
Predicting that is easy because  organizations are composed of humans  and we’re all fallible.
In the coming months we’ll continue to see lying, cheating, stealing and  some very weird fetishes.
And, as we’ve noticed over the past few years, it’s getting really hard to hide things.

As  an FBI official in Ali Soufan’s The Black Banners says, there are no secrets, only “delayed disclosures.”   If you made a mistake, admit it.  If you’ve done bad, come clean quickly.

Crisis moments are multiplying fast in our social media world.    Two people come to mind in just the past few weeks.  Penn State President Graham Spanier, gave one of the worst first responses in the history of higher ed during the debut of the Sandusky scandal.    Chancellor Robert Birgeneau apologized for his police force who beat students and faculty during Occupy Cal.  The problem was that the weak apology was recorded on his way to spend Thanksgiving with his family, nearly two weeks after the incident.

Spanier got the boot and Birgeneau is facing a faculty vote of no confidence.

Listen to your PR people and come clean with as much grace as you can.

If you can’t come clean, resign.

And if your PR people tell you they can spin it, fire them and find PR pros who’ll help you with the truth.

Misbehavior has been part of mankind’s story since the Old Testament.  The misuse of sex, money,  and power have been constants in our continuing story.

Which means  there are more of you out there.  You’re going to have sex in ways not acceptable to society.  You’re going to acquire money in ways you’re not supposed to.  You’ll abuse power a little or a lot.   Some ambitious folks will do all three.

In today’s media savvy society, chances are good that you’ll be caught.  When you do, don’t try to spin it, downplay it, lie about it or ignore it.

Deal with it up front and immediately and accept the consequences.

There really isn’t any other option these days.  A tiny list of the fallen:  Bernie Madoff, Tiger Woods, Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno,  Anthony Weiner and a whole boatload of priests.

There are no secrets in this world anymore.  Bad acts, when caught — by anyone— can spread worldwide with a vengeance that amazes even seasoned PR folks like myself.

Now, I know one other thing:  if you’ve committed any of these acts, you’re probably too arrogant or insulated to think you’re going to suffer any consequences.  You may think you’re above the law.

So I’ll turn my attention back to PR people:  if your boss asks you to hide, twist or lie about an incident that might cause the boss or your organization pain, refuse.

In the worst case, resign.

Your integrity is hard to retrieve once you’ve abandoned it.