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GM stuck in an extended negative PR tailspin

gm-crisisWhen your public image continues to take body blow after body blow, you need to stop the damage before you start taking shots to the face. Unfortunately, some brands just can’t seem to get that. Instead, they stand there like a punch drunk boxer, taking a beating without ever trying to defend themselves. Then, when the opportunity comes up to get free, they try to slip the jab only to get caught with an uppercut that sends them to the mat. Ronn Torossian says GM may just be falling for that same ol’ rope a dope.

Just when General Motors thought they were beginning to get clear of the ongoing ignition switch crisis, a Georgia state judge reopened a case. The decision came after GM tried to stop the case brought by victim Brooke Melton’s parents.

A little background…

Last fall, Melton’s parents settled with GM for an undisclosed sum. The settlement came after an accident involving Melton’s Chevy Cobalt, which claimed Melton’s life.

Then came the recall, and the admission that at least some GM employees knew about potential issues leading to the recall years ago. The Meltons allege GM knew about the flaw and lied about it to get out with a smaller settlement. They have sued to overturn the settlement, and proceed to trial. Melton’s father admits his daughter was driving over the speed limit and was probably moving too fast for conditions, but there is no doubt that, given the current climate, sympathy is definitely on the side of the victims.

GM responded by saying it was “disappointed,” and said it believed the Melton case had been reached “in good faith.”

While that’s pretty much all that GM can say at this moment, they do understand an extended trial, including the case that eventually helped blow the lid off the ignition issue to begin with, could be disastrous from a public relations perspective. And an extended one. The case is not expected to even see the inside of a courtroom until spring 2016. That means more than a year of snowballing negative PR from a string of poor decisions that began several years ago.

GM’s consumer PR standing may very well ride on what happens next with this case. The Meltons do not seem to have any interest in backing down or in settling this time. They are fighting mad … and at this point, GM may not have an answer.

Layoffs May be Good for Business, but Bad for PR

layoffsMacy’s announces 2,500 layoffs and five store closings; their stock increases eight percent. Sony slashes 5000 jobs and sees a 3.9 percent stock increase. Hewlett-Packard reveals another 11,000-16,000 job cut, in addition to the 34,000 previously announced. They are rewarded with a six percent stock jump for the quarter and 27 percent increase for the year. Barclays will deliver another 19,000 pink slips in the next three years. Wall Street cheers, and their stock rises seven percent.

While this is great news for investors, “job killing” is not great for PR. As Ronn Torossian points out, the court of public opinion does not wait to pass judgment. In order to thrive, or sometimes just survive, some companies must eliminate jobs. When a small number of individuals lose their jobs, even though those workers survival is at risk, the public can understand a few job losses. When the layoffs number in the thousands however, people are not so forgiving.

Layoffs are often necessary, but never pleasant. Strategic planning and effective messaging can help minimize the negative PR that layoffs generate. Large job cuts are rarely ever a spur of the moment decision. Companies need to utilize the time before the announcement to put a PR strategy in place. Offering decent severance packages and help finding future employment will help lessen some of the impact.

The message should show that management realizes the hardship of the layoffs to both the terminated employees, and those staying with the company. The business should not sugar coat the severity of the job losses, but should highlight the positive outcome for the health of the company. It should also stress any sacrifices that top management makes.

When Barclays announced its restructuring, part of the message it broadcast let people know that the CEO, Antony Jenkins, had not taken a bonus in two years.

Ronn Torossian explains that the company also needs a clear, well-defined vision of the company after the layoff and communicate this effectively. When Macy’s CEO, Terry Lundrgren announced their layoff, he had specific details on departments and stores affected. Macy’s also relayed information that all 2500 employees would receive severance.

In order for the public to forgive such massive layoffs, the business must focus on the health of the company and not the bottom-line for investors. Otherwise the risk of seeming uncaring multiplies, which could ultimately have a very chilling effect on the bottom-line.

Australian TMNT Poster Baffles and Enrages

australia-tmntWhen it comes to movies that make a political statement or cause national controversy, you may not think a film about mutated ninja turtles who learn karate from an anthropomorphic rat would be in the running.

But, Ronn Torossian said that’s exactly what happened when the promoters of the live action sendup of the 1980s cartoon released their promotional collateral in Australia. One of the most prominent posters included the four titular turtles leaping from an exploding inferno of a skyscraper in NYC.

Not a big deal, right? I mean, how many summer blockbusters blow up sections of New York? Only … pretty much all of them. But, did we mention that the movie opens in Australia on September 11.

Yes. They. Did.

If your action movie opens on September 11, you would think that someone – SOMEONE – would suggest that your promotional art not include the heroes leaping from an exploding, burning skyscraper. You might think that, but this failed to occur to a room full of creatives promoting the movie. However, it almost immediately occurred to the denizens of the internet, particularly on Twitter.

The reaction to the poster and online advertising featuring it was visceral. They shared and reshared and reshared again, all the while growing increasingly enraged. What started as passing upset and mild offense at oblivious PR people snowballed into a frothing discontent. Will all that anger stop people from seeing the movie? Probably not. In fact, MORE people might go because of all the controversy.

So, is this a case of all publicity is good publicity, or have these promoters crossed a line that should be chiseled into granite?

What do you think? We’d like to get your take. Leave your comments below.

Upsells may not be a Slam Dunk for Dunkin’

dunkin-donut-upsellTrying to upsell a customer is nothing new. McDonald’s made a cliché of the practice by asking billions and billions, “Do you want fries with that?” And, their success has hardly gone unnoticed. From grocery stores to coffee shops, polite – and sometimes not so polite – nudges to add a bit to your order are commonplace. But, Ronn Torossian says, even if they are expected, upsells are not always the best PR move. A lesson Dunkin’ Donuts may soon learn about.

Now, it should come as a shock to absolutely no one to learn that Dunkin’ Donuts does most of its business before lunch. Sure, the afternoon crowd will pop in for an iced coffee on a regular basis, but the cash crop flies off the shelves in the AM hours. In response, Dunkin’ Brands CEO Nigel Travis has told reporters he directs his employees who are taking orders to upsell to afternoon customers. Because most afternoon customers are in no rush to be anywhere, employees have more time to engage them in conversations, most of which begin: “How about a donut or cookie along with that drink?”

While franchisees might be excited about this news, consumers might not be so pleased. Sure, they expect it at McDonald’s, but sooner or later the practice wears thin. Mainly because the strategy works so well, so often. The average person might feel they are above such emotional manipulation, but the numbers say otherwise.

And, let’s be honest, when you go into a coffee shop or fast food joint, do you find yourself glancing back up at the menu board or into the case long after you have decided what you planned to order? That acknowledgment of temptation, according to research, translates into being more susceptible to a friendly suggestion from a smiling cashier.

So, will this new edict turn customers off? Well, we’d like to think so, and some of us may even say so. But, the reality is much different. We will still go, and we will still buy. Because they may make it feel like it was our idea.

Driving Social Media with Integrated Marketing

Social media snafus can happen to anyone. It’s fairly common. Chances are, sometime—probably in the last few days—you’ve seen a post on Facebook or Twitter and winced, just a little. Maybe it was something you posted. Maybe something you saw in your feed. Either way, if you don’t stay on top of your social media output, it can quickly get out of control.

This is why any reputable marketing program involves an integrated marketing approach to social media. Translation: your social media activity must be part of a multifaceted Public Relations approach. A piece of the puzzle that fits snugly in place. Leveraging social media as part of a larger approach to online reputation management can pay perpetual dividends.

Connective PR

Social media is not necessarily the best place to post original content. While the content could be your own, the most important thing is that the content you post on social media is popular with your current fans, and the fans you are trying to attract. It needs to connect. While you may post in-depth articles on your blog and share them on social media, you may find that you get much more mileage out of videos, images, or survey questions than you ever do with even the most well-crafted article.

 

Funneling PR

The most important aspect of your social media is that your page or post should not be a destination. It should be a funnel. All of your connective content should either get your fan base to do something or go somewhere, or it should tell you something about your fans. In other words, your social media content should grab a larger group, and push them toward a place you really want them to be.

 

Tribe building PR

Every aspect of your social media PR should work to continue bringing in new prospects, while also transforming your current customers into fans. This is where your best social media efforts should be invested. Once they are connected, get them excited and then give them reasons to want to get other people excited.

 

If you can approach your social media PR as part of a larger plan instead of a cure-all or a simple means to an end, then you will begin to set yourself up for greater social media PR success.

Dog Eat Dog PR Wars

pet-food-marketingWhen it comes to pet food PR, it truly is a dog eat dog marketplace. Currently, the industry is dominated by brands you know well, Purina, for example. But, Ronn Torossian is following the ascent of the nation’s fastest growing player in the dog and cat food marketplace, Blue Buffalo. The company, which markets its kibble as the “all natural” alternative to traditional pet food offerings, has certainly struck a chord and is making major waves in the marketplace.

Torossian believes this is because Blue Buffalo has connected with an as yet underserved – and enthusiastic – market segment. The company connected with this market using some tried and true marketing methods that founder and Chairman, Bill Bishop honed at Kool-Aid, Tang, and SoBe, a beverage company he founded in the 1990s.

Pet Food Marketing & PR

One of these principles, which doubles as smart public relations, is the presence of a noticeable and memorable mascot. SoBe had that omnipresent lizard, now Blue Buffalo has the American buffalo. That may have absolutely nothing to do with pet food, but it doesn’t have to. That sort of brand characterization focuses consumers and makes a brand instantly recognizable to folks who are accustomed to looking for a competitor on the shelf. It offers a focal point that imbeds in consumer memory, so they will know it again when they see it. Plus, the emblem’s familiarity compels another look, and that’s when new customers are really captured based on better features and added benefits.

And, it is at the point of decision when Blue Buffalo really proves it knows its customers. Bishop says his marketing and advertising approach intentionally targets “pet parents,” those who are most likely to make a health-conscious choice for their pets. The ones whose pets are family members with carefully considered diets.

By making their brand memorable and connective, and by knowing their market well, Bishop and his team have been able to craft a PR message and a market presence that speaks directly to their intended target, a group that has responded by making a buying decision again and again.

Amazon Phone: Will it Crash and Burn?

amazon-phoneAmazon got some bad news recently when it was announced that poorer than expected profit numbers led to stock prices dropping, by nearly double digits in some reports. Some blamed intense market scrutiny that accused analysts of making too big a deal of micro level numbers. The implication then, is that companies such as Amazon or Pandora, which also showed a significant slip, are simply the latest victims in an increasingly minutia-inspired game.

Others are blaming recent expansions and what some are calling missteps for investor uncertainty, while there are some who are coming right out and blaming the Amazon Fire smartphone, calling the device a commercial albatross. And, since a smartphone is the product most consumers can identify with, that’s the story that is getting the press.

 

Amazon unveils new cellphone despite lower than expected profits

Because so many consumers are buying their mobile devices based as much – or more – on brands versus features and functionality, new players in the market really have to do something special to stand out. And that, say the critics, is where the Amazon Fire, much like its larger sibling, the Kindle Fire, fails. The larger Fire failed to differentiate from the industry leading iPad and gradually gaining Samsung Galaxy tablet. The cute commercials with the SOS answer girl may have come too late to save the Fire, as it still lives in the single digits in market share.

It may have been possible for the Fire phone to come on strong and make a major market splash in the same way the Samsung Galaxy did, but the phone released with little fanfare and even less market identity. People were not give a REASON to switch over, and the competition was giving them plenty of reasons to stay.

This scenario is a sharp consumer PR lesson for Amazon and any company with two distinct business arenas – stuff that the market understands and stuff that the average consumer cares about.

Even if investors understand why consumer confidence is down, many still like to play it safe, putting their money where the consumers’ mouths are. And, in this case, Amazon looks to be the loser. Does that mean they scrap the phone and concentrate on the market lines that made them an international powerhouse? Probably not in the immediate future, but that’s a question only Bezos’ team can answer.

In the meantime, the PR team promoting the Fire needs to get on the stick. Their time is almost up.

Beyonce and Jay-Z’s PR Crisis Management

jayz-solange-crisisIn light of recent rumors that Jay-Z and Beyonce’s marriage is on the rocks, Entertainment Tonight spoke with the CEO of 5W Public Relations, Ronn Torossian, about the couple’s public relations crisis and their immediate need for Crisis PR. The rumors began circulating in May 2014 after Beyonce’s sister, Solange Knowles, was caught on an elevator security camera swinging at Jay-Z at the Met Gala in New York City. The leaked video footage suggested that there was trouble in paradise. Beyonce and Jay-Z are not just husband and wife; they are business partners and their marriage is a brand.

With so much at stake, a clash of their personal and professional lives could mean an end to the Bey and Jay empire.Despite the negative media attention, the show must go own. With the couple currently co-headlining a tour, personal issues are being put on the back burner and business is remaining the top priority. The rumors may even be helping to boost ticket sales as fans of the power duo are now paying closer attention – such close attention, in fact, that the audience caught Beyonce changing a lyric to one of her songs while on stage, with the new wording suggesting her husband had been unfaithful.Aside from continuing the tour, Beyonce and Jay-Z have also been wisely keeping up appearances, which is causing the public to have more questions than answers. The two have remained quiet and casual despite the negative media attention and have been going on about their lives both personally and professionally as if their marriage isn’t in the headlines.

Since the elevator brawl, it’s apparent that the couple’s PR team has been working hard behind the scenes, making a few strategic yet discrete moves in an attempt to deflect the rumors. One of the first steps Beyonce, Jay-Z, and Solange took was to release a joint statement addressing the leaked footage. The statement said that Solange and Jay-Z claimed equal responsibility, apologies were made, and the family had moved on peacefully.

Beyonce also took to Instagram, posting pictures of her and Solange in what appeared to be a blatant attempt to prove the sisters were on good terms. Perhaps the most telling move the couple made was creating a short film together to promote their upcoming tour. The affection they shared in the movie left the public wondering how their marriage, and their brand, could ever come to an end. With all of this, there is no question that the Carter family crisis has been handled well by PR.

The PR Power of Taboo

taboo-prRecent U.S. sanctions against Russia have prompted an interesting side effect. Apparently, Russian manufacturers are literally running out of AK-47s. One of the companies included in the most recent sanction was Kalashnikov Concern, maker of the notoriously tough and reliable weapon. Now, CNN is reporting that K-Var’s website has listed AK-47s as “out of stock.”

Ronn Torossian says this situation illustrates one of the ways companies can turn taboos or scarcity into public relations bonanzas. It’s human nature to want what you can’t have, and marketers have been banking on limited or controlled market availability for centuries.

But, how can a company turn “you can’t have that” into a public relations coup? Start by loosely connecting the benefits of the product or service with the scarcity issue.

Now, look at the ways something that might otherwise be considered “different” or “weird,” and turn that into a feature or a benefit. Less than a year ago, American consumers were all about the AR-15. Widely considered a “better” weapon than the AK-47, the AR nearly dominated the American semiautomatic sporting rifle market. The Russian-made weapons had a proud history, but their American competitors were being featured nearly every day on the news. Why? Because they had become the central talking point for a rumored “assault rifle” ban. Suddenly, a weapon not in the highest demand was being presented as a product that might soon be illegal, or otherwise off the market. Consumers flooded retailers with orders.

The demand was so high it spawned several related specialty markets such as accessories and customization. Today, AR-15 orders have fallen off, and it’s the perfect moment for AK’s to fill the gap. The Public Relations Power of Taboo at work.

Microsoft banks on productivity… maybe?: Tech Giant Switching Gears

changes-at-microsoftThe tech company most known for giving users tools now wants to shift gears toward helping them get things done. Ronn Torossian believes this new market position, delivered by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, sends a potentially positive message that Microsoft understands that the tech PR world has moved on. Mobility and user experience matter more than anything else.

According to his Mission Statement Memo, Nadella is planning to lead a shift at Microsoft from creative gadgets and interface tools to “reinvent(ing) productivity for people who are swimming in a growing sea of devices, apps, data, and social networks.”

Sounds like Nadella is positioning Microsoft to create the Swiss army knife of mobile tech. His address went on to say that, under his leadership, Microsoft would “build the solutions that address the productivity needs of groups and entire organizations, as well as individuals by putting them at the center of their computing experiences.”

That would be an interesting market wide shift. Take a look at the average user these days, and they feel less in control as they simply react to the technology available. If Microsoft wants to put users in the center, it will have to figure out a way to engage them in proactive interaction with their devices.

Nadella went on to say Microsoft would empower people with new insights, and build tools that are more predictive and helpful. So, maybe this is more of the status quo than we want to believe. Yet, in the very next line, Nadella offers some hope: “Every experience Microsoft builds will understand the rich context of the individual at work and in life to help them organize and accomplish things with ease.”

Those back-to-back statements beg the question: “Which is it? Are you creating an experience or facilitating one?”

This will be a key PR message Microsoft must articulate if it wants to stake its own claim to the ever-shifting mobile computing marketplace.