May 24, 2016
Listeria. Ask most folks what it is and what it does, and they would have a hard time explaining it. But ask them if they want it in their food, and they know full well it’s very bad. Just the mention of the word leads consumers to stop buying, much less consuming certain products. Now the outbreak scare extends to frozen food, some bought as far back as 2014.
May 18, 2016
Not since the Zimmerman note has a general public hated a Zimmerman more than they do George Zimmerman. The guy’s always in the news for the wrong reasons and just can’t seem to get a clue.
When you, as a private citizen, have managed to engender the type of bone-deep revulsion that Zimmerman has, it’s a good idea to try to make your life as private as possible. Instead, Zimmerman has managed to be in the news for many, many bad days even since he was cleared in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
May 12, 2016
Priceline CEO Darren Huston resigned last week after an investigation concluded he had, in fact, had an “improper relationship” with an employee. According to media reports, the findings concluded Huston “acted contrary to (Priceline’s) code of conduct and engaged in activities inconsistent with those expected of executives.
No other information about the nature of the relationships was released, but it’s clear Priceline will have some PR ground to make up in the coming weeks. While this is far from the worst thing that could happen to the company, anytime you mix illicit affairs with a change of leadership you can just about guarantee headlines.
May 8, 2016
In a move just about every side is taking credit for, Ringling Brothers Circus announced it would “retire” its performing elephants in early May, two years before the planned date.
By May 11, teams of elephants who have been performing together for decades will be off-loaded from trains and trucks for the final time to finish their days in Central Florida on a 200-acre farm for retired circus animals.
The retirement has been planned for some time, mostly in response to public outcry fueled by negative PR and activist activity. The company said initially the plan was to have all the elephants off the road by 2018, but sped up the timetable because they realized they could. The situation was all logistics, according to the company. They thought their resources were more limited and they needed more time to prepare. That turned out not to be the case.
Activists, of course, are calling shenanigans on that argument. They are claiming victory while further excoriating the circus for continuing to use any animals in its performances at all. Ringling denies this and says they have no plans to pull other animals from their shows.
While Ringling says public relations played no part in their decision to pull the elephants early, CEO Kenneth Feld told National Geographic activists concerned for the elephants were creating a problem at his company’s events.
“We’re in the entertainment business. It takes away from the total enjoyment when you’re getting yelled at, and your kids are getting yelled at by these activists,” Feld said.
In addition to activist activity at events, the company faced multiple lawsuits alleging animal cruelty. Even though Ringling won all their lawsuits, the company still had to face local legislators who had been feeling the heat from angry constituents.
“You can win every lawsuit, but you can’t fight city hall,” Feld told Nat Geo.
City Hall, however, is not claiming victory here. Humane Society president Wayne Pacelle lauded Ringling’s announcement, saying:
“For wild animals whose natural habitat is outdoors, life in a traveling show is filled with unending misery … all so they can perform silly tricks.”
Ringling could punch back, saying many of these animals are not wild and could not, in fact, survive long in the wild. This is just part of the winning arguments from their legal cases … but Feld knows this isn’t the right time to engage adversaries that are already reloading. Some have already taken aim at the place the elephants will be retired, calling it just as cruel … a battle and a narrative Ringling will likely face sooner rather than later.
April 19, 2016
It’s been a bad month for the Arizona state Department of Corrections. According to the Associated Press, separate investigations into two inmate suicides at Arizona prisons have led to the firing of 13 corrections officers and sergeants. Six others have been “disciplined”. That’s a whole lot of fallout … but why?
According to information that is still coming out, various correctional officers and other employees failed to conduct security checks and perform other duties. Neglect, ethics violations, and duty failures were also reported. But it gets worse, reports have also surfaced that records were falsified, and misconduct was either not reported or investigated.
From a PR perspective, while this case involves specific employees of a specific prison system, it reflects poorly on the entire Arizona DOC and the state as a whole. That creates a widespread and nuanced public relations crisis across multiple departments. Heads will roll, and that’s just the beginning.
In any situation like this, the general public will demand accountability. That may or may not stop with the firings and discipline of the various DOC officers and employees. It might extend to elected or appointed officials further up the food chain. That is if this issue continues to stay in the headlines for extended periods.
On a national scale, the state and those in danger are benefitting from a hotly contested presidential election stealing most, if not all, of the airtime and column inches. However, at a local and state level, the problems are just beginning. Everyone from activist groups to prison reform organizations will look at this case as a touchstone, an opportunity to drum up support for their cause.
This sort of multilayered administrative failure can be a very attractive situation for those seeking to advance various agendas critical of both the police in general and the prison system in particular. When people are dead, and officers apparently created a situation that allows it, the environment is ripe for hyperbole and broad brush statements.
State, local, and law enforcement PR specialists must understand this and act quickly, or they risk losing control of this narrative and becoming the go-to example of every problem or issue these systems face.
April 13, 2016
American Idol is done, and there is no doubt the program changed the way we do TV in modern America. Back in 2002, the reality TV craze was just gaining real steam, but Fox has something new and exciting up its sleeve. A twist on the familiar talent show shtick that would allow viewers to determine the fate of the contestants. We could all be Caesar with our thumbs up or down.
At the end of season one, Kelly Clarkson edged Justin Guarini to take the title. She went on to global superstardom and was remembered fondly in an episode earlier this season in which she served as a guest judge and mentor for the contestants.
This time around, it was another male-female finale. Trent Harmon beat La’Porsha Renae to take the title and the recording contract that comes with it. After 15 seasons, American Idol was done.
In its heyday, AI was as “must see” as TV has been in the 20th Century. Huge numbers of people watched and voted and voted and voted. The show drew big name sponsors and made household names out of DJ Ryan Seacrest, acerbic producer Simon Cowell and offered new chances at fame for musicians like Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul.
In later years, viewership waned, and, finally realizing it was the judges and not the singers who were the stars of the show, producers brought in actual music superstars to be the judges. After a few interesting seasons – remember Steven Tyler – the show found the right group in Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, and Harry Connick Jr. The trio brought together most popular genres as well as collective decades of professional experience.
But, despite its evolution through 15 seasons, the show returned to its roots for the finale. Clarkson appeared in a pre-taped segment, and the curtain fell with Seacrest joined onstage by Jackson, Abdul, and Cowell.
The finale didn’t lack for contestant nostalgia either, bringing back Scotty McCreery, Taylor Hicks, Diana DeGarmo, Jennifer Hudson, David Cook, Fantasia, Ruben Studdard, Jordin Sparks and Kimberley Locke … and, of course, megastar Carrie Underwood, the undisputed queen of Idol alumni, who sang a duet with Urban.
Even President Obama made an appearance, in a pretaped segment. When POTUS shows up on your finale, you know you’ve made a cultural impact. Now some are asking if there will be another show as impactful as Idol. Skeptics abound. They argue viewership is changing. Folks are too splintered, too distracted to connect in the same way. Then again, there were a lot of people, way back in 2002, that said talent shows were dead too.
March 29, 2016
Any time you are a member of a club, and one of the founding members drops a very public hammer on that club, things get rough from a public relations perspective. Accusations fly, and massive counter programming campaigns begin from various factions.
Such is the case with the Rockefeller family’s recent parting of the ways with Big Oil. The patriarch of the family, commonly thought of as one of the first American business tycoons, John D. Rockefeller, founded the Standard Oil Company in 1870.
Somewhere down the line, John’s progeny, who all benefited wildly from the fossil fuel industry, founded the Rockefeller Family Fund, a charity created to support environmental causes, economic justice and other related issues. Now that charity, run by Rockefeller’s direct family line, is pulling its assets out of oil companies, including major holdings in Exxon Mobil.
Fund representatives told CBS News, “While the global community works to eliminate the use of fossil fuels, it makes little sense — financially or ethically — to continue holding investments in these companies. There is no sane rationale for companies to continue to explore for new sources of hydrocarbons.”
That statement, even more than the funding transfer, rang out like a shot directly aimed at the oil industry. It was a personal statement. After all, Exxon was one of the companies spun off from Standard Oil when President Roosevelt went trust busting at the turn of the 20th Century.
That may have been enough to start a war of words between the representatives of the various parties involved, but the attacks didn’t end there.
“Evidence appears to suggest that the company worked since the 1980s to confuse the public about climate change’s march while simultaneously spending millions to fortify its own infrastructure against climate change’s destructive consequences and track new exploration opportunities as the Arctic’s ice receded,” spokesmen representing the fund said.
This is not the first time the family has confronted the oil industry head-on. Senator Jay Rockefeller once accused Exxon of directly funding climate change deniers.
Now the gloves are off. CBS News reported a response received from Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers: “It’s not surprising that they’re divesting from the company since they’re already funding a conspiracy against us.”
The “he said/she said” tactic was just the beginning of Exxon’s response. They have repeatedly argued the science on climate change is inconclusive, and now they are trying to paint the Rockefellers as climate extremists on a crusade against business.
How the public responds to this exchange depends both on preconceived ideas as well as which side does a better job of counter programming PR. Should be interesting to watch.
March 21, 2016
Starbucks managed to slide through the Red Christmas Cup “Nontroversy” with ease, as most consumers and coffee fans realized it was cup ado about nothing. But now there’s news that has Starbucks fans legitimately upset.
The company recently announced it would be changing its rewards program, a move that has its caffeinated fans in a tizzy. Until April, patrons in the program receive one “star” per visit. Now, patrons will receive two stars for each dollar spent. Sounds great, right … especially since each visit likely earns you, at least, four stars.
Well, here’s where the other shoe drops. Starbucks is changing how the points or perks are tabulated. Before the change customers received “gold” status once they earned 30 stars. Basically, go to S-bux 30 times and you’re, at least in this respect, golden.
What’s so special about that? Well, gold members get free stuff after they earn 12 more stars. So, go to Starbucks 30 times plus 12 and you get free stuff. Simple right?
Well, not anymore. Now customers will need a whopping 300 stars ($150 in spending) to reach gold status. To actually achieve anything with that status, customers will have to spend another $60 or more for EACH FREE ITEM.
For folks who drop $5 each visit, they can go 30 times and still get paid. Well, qualify to earn the opportunity to get free stuff, anyway. Customers who just come by for a quick cup of Joe will have to come A LOT more often to earn the chance to begin working toward free stuff.
Doesn’t sound like much of a rewards program now, does it? Nope. And customers agree. Just ask Twitter. The tweet rage has been phenomenal. Folks REALLY hate the new rules, and they’re not at all shy about letting Starbucks know all about their feelings on the matter.
In response, Starbucks doubled down, telling aggrieved customers the decision was based on their requests for a spending-based incentive plan. In effect, Starbucks is telling their customers: You’re unhappy? Well, be careful what you wish for … because we’ll give it to you.
March 7, 2016
Pasta is good for you. That’s the message Italian pasta maker Barilla hopes to deliver convincingly to an American public fast becoming distrustful of all things bread. From carb counters to gluten-fearing consumers, American eaters are moving away from bread-based diets at a fast rate.
Meanwhile, the so-called Mediterranean diet is all the rage, a dichotomy Barilla CEO Guido Barilla can’t quite square. Thin and undoubtedly in shape, Barilla says he eats pasta daily, sometimes twice, and calls it the basis of the real Mediterranean diet.
While the company adjusts its sauce products to suit American tastes – more spices and sugar – if they can’t get folks to eat pasta, their efforts are all in vain.
So, the uphill battle faced by Barilla is two-fold. They must simultaneously kowtow to American preferences while also somehow convincing Americans that their ideas about food are wrong. It’s the latter that Barilla takes on most directly. In CNN reports, the CEO has plainly stated American consumers don’t “know the facts.” He argues that Americans think they know what’s good for them, but are simply buying into propaganda.
If that argument fails, Barilla is already working on a backup plan. Instead of just telling people they are wrong – a tough sell no matter what the subject is – his company is suggesting people explore the differences between carbs in white bread and donuts and the carbs in pasta.
This is an argument that may find more traction. People are much more willing to explore and learn than they are to believe they are just flat out wrong. Trying to get someone to just “believe” they have been duped is all but impossible. Just look at social media. Doesn’t matter the topic, any comment that says: “you’re wrong” is nearly always met with derision or outright profanity. People don’t like being told they are wrong.
Conversely, they really don’t mind being told one thing is different, even if only slightly, than something else. People love choosing one thing over another. The trick is for Barilla to make people think the choice is their idea. If he can do that, he’s really onto something.