February 29, 2016
If you were wondering how much of a political PR football this fight between Apple and the FBI is becoming, now you know. Maricopa County, Arizona, you know the place that always seems to find a way into the news when there’s a far right political issue in the press, has taken a hard line stand against Apple CEO Tim Cook’s refusal to create a backdoor into its iPhone.
According to a statement released to the media last week, Maricopa County officials declared they will no longer give Apple devices to employees. The message came directly from county attorney Bill Montgomery:
“I don’t expect my action to affect Apple’s stock price,” Montgomery said in a statement. “But I cannot in good conscience support doing business with an organization that chooses to thwart an active investigation into a terrorist attack that claimed the lives of fourteen fellow citizens. If Apple wants to be the official smartphone of terrorists and criminals, there will be a consequence.”
The county currently uses fewer than 400 iPhones, so the loss of this customer won’t even cause the company to blink. But the language could quickly be adopted by competitors looking for an edge in certain markets.
Think about what was said. An elected county official just accused an American company of actively supporting terrorists and criminals. Sure, he couched it in enough modifiers to be free from any legal action, but the intent bled through the thinly veiled accusations.
While some might dismiss this guy and his loudmouth, media-hungry county as just a bunch of no-count rabble rousers, many are not taking it that way. The language and the action used by the county attorney are sure to find their way onto talk radio and political websites, and may even end up in TV and print headlines.
Suddenly the accusations are playing out on a much bigger stage. While it’s likely that most people’s minds will not change on this issue, based on these comments, when they reach a certain point of saturation, Apple will be forced to respond. And that’s a tried and true tactic. It doesn’t matter what you say, get your opponent answering your accusations and suddenly everything you say appears to have more merit.
February 22, 2016
As SpaceX continues to surge ahead in the consumer race back into space, its competitor, Virgin Galactic is doing its best to get off the launch pad.
Virgin Galactic’s latest initiative – which should be revealed next week – is a second generation of its previous space tourism rocket, SpaceShipTwo. The rocket is the first to roll out since an accident in 2014, which destroyed its predecessor and killed the pilot.
It was a rough setback for the industry, and Virgin Galactic’s owner, Richard Branson, wisely pulled back out of the spotlight, going back to the drawing board and allowing SpaceX to get some – though not too much – of the positive press.
At the time, Branson told the press he was having second thoughts. “When we had the accident, for about 24 hours we were wondering whether it was worth continuing, whether we should call it a day.”
An investigation into the incident blamed pilot error on the mishap, and Branson said both astronauts and others made it clear that space travel is much too important a dream to abandon after one tragic accident.
Now Branson and Virgin Galactic are back to attempt wresting control of the modern space race away from its competitor. SpaceShipTwo is designed to carry a crew of eight – two pilots and six passengers – and climb to an altitude of about 62 miles. It’s a suborbital flight, but will allow guests to experience a few minutes of weightlessness and get a higher than a bird’s eye view of earth.
The project is still in the testing phase and quite a ways from actually taking consumers into space … but Virgin is officially back in the space business.
Both major competitors have suffered losses in this process to date, and public perception remains hopeful. History proved that going into space the first time was not ever simple or easy, and even when shuttle flights had become relatively routine, accidents could occur.
At this point, though, the best way to re-establish full consumer confidence is to succeed – and succeed in a big way. That will take risk. A factor with which Branson is intimately familiar.
February 16, 2016
It’s a constant controversy in today’s concussion-conscious environment: how young is too young for tackle football?
There are injuries, but even most doctors are fairly tolerant of the injuries kids sustain in what is, undeniably, a violent sport. While anti-football groups continue to challenge public opinion, the American Academy of Pediatrics proposed more adult supervision, not fewer youths playing tackle football.
Detractors argue this is more about public relations than actual medical evidence. Football is an American obsession, they argue. From the NFL on down to pee-wee league, adults invest huge amounts of time and energy in this game. They love it, give it their time and their treasure, so it stands to reason they also give it their children.
Proponents counter, of course, we love it. Football teaches discipline, competition, fair play and how to both win and lose gracefully. More so, football encourages kids to push their boundaries, to excel where they think they cannot. and earn rewards for tasks previously thought impossible.
Football insiders – coaches and veteran players – credit youth football with a better appreciation for and understanding of the game. They argue kids who start to learn the game early are less likely to be injured than those who take it up late, in high school or as adults.
Detractors fire back, pointing out that younger kids are more vulnerable to injuries, particularly of the head and neck, which can have lifetime consequences. They point to startling statistics: 13 percent of all injuries are head or neck injuries, and 11 high school players died playing football last year. Of course, these stats don’t point out HOW the kids died, which is a point tacitly pointed out by youth football proponents. At least some of the kids suffered injuries due to heat stroke, which could happen during any athletic activity.
Anti-football crusaders aren’t buying that argument. They want pro-football factions to acknowledge the risk and take steps to restrict youth football activities. It’s an unpopular position at the moment, partly because of the universal regard for football and due to the unsuccessful PR campaigns pushed by the opposition.
One popular pro-football initiative, the Heads Up program, encouraged coaches and youth leagues to require “heads up” football camps, clinics and training for all players. This step mollified parental fears and put another layer of protection between youth leagues and disgruntled critics. So far, the detractors have found no way to crack that wall of public sentiment.
February 8, 2016
These days most department stores are hemorrhaging cash. Macy’s was supposed to be one of the big holdouts. Strong, while JC Penney’s and Sears suffered (some by self-inflicted wounds) Macy’s stood strong on the strength of unimpeachable positive consumer PR. Everyone loved Macy’s thanks to the Thanksgiving Day Parade and Miracle on 34th Street. Consumers see Macy’s as more than a department store. It’s a part of Americana, as ubiquitous as shared holidays and apple pie.
Maybe not anymore. The company recently announced plans to shutter up to 40 stores nationwide. Not a huge number, but a significant one. The closures are seen as harbingers of the end of an era. America isn’t interested in malls anymore.
Once the go-to hangout for American teens and the go-to shopping destination for suburban moms, malls were all the rage. It was where you met your friends, where you browsed. Cultural groups defined themselves by where they shopped. Were you a “Sears” shopper or a “Macy’s” shopper? Foot Locker or Journeys? Chess King or Hot Topic?
Now, while many of the malls in question teeter on the brink, a Macy’s departure could be all she wrote. Consultants have already said replacing Macy’s could be “all but impossible.”
Now the malls in question have a big problem. What to do if and when Macy’s leaves. Some have said just give it up. Move on, because that’s what America is doing. The social aspect of hanging out at the mall can’t trump the loss in revenue when an anchor store leaves. Lose the anchor, the rest of the place begins to drift.
There’s no question that department stores are suffering. Pretty much the bottom of the barrel in retailing. Higher costs, negative growth, and plummeting customer base. Consumers are quickly pushing themselves into two categories – bargain shoppers and boutique shoppers.
Bargain hunters don’t want to go to perceived high-end retailers and boutique shoppers are looking for a specific item. They don’t want to sort through stacks and racks of Everything Else to get what they want.
Those who have fully embraced this potential reality have already begun looking for ways to convert mall space into different uses – offices, churches, that sort of thing.
Others are hoping for a different retail option. But answers are not readily obvious. It will take a totally new idea and a strong PR push to grab consumer attention and begin to influence their buying habits in a world where online shopping and specialty stores already cater to them like personal butlers.
February 1, 2016
The Super Bowl is once again upon us, and the matchup – Peyton Manning versus Cam Newton – has many industry commentators asking which quarterback is better.
On paper, that question is laughable. Peyton Manning is one of the best of all time. A five-time NFL MVP, Super Bowl champ, and advertising powerhouse. Acknowledged as one of the best-prepared players to ever take the field, even Newton calls him “The General.”
Manning has inspired and informed a generation of QBs. He has been a model of how to play the game. And that’s where the rub is. Manning “has” and “has been.” While clearly he’s not a “has been” quite yet, Peyton is clearly in the twilight of his career. Pretty much everyone is taking for granted this will be his last Super Bowl appearance.
When it comes to marketing, Peyton still holds sway. He can be in commercials without ever mentioning his name. He can get you humming his brand’s theme song just by making a few self-mocking sketches in a 30-second spot. Crawfish shorts? Really?? That’s Peyton Manning, advertising juggernaut. While players before him have taken a Superman approach to marketing, by hyping themselves as much as their products, Manning seems content to laugh (at himself) all the way to the bank.
Newton is hot on his heels. As I’m writing this, the NFL MVP for this season has yet to be announced, but most prognosticators expect Newton to be a lock. They also expect him to massacre the Broncos in next weekend’s Super Bowl 50. And, of course, Manning is likely considering retirement. Sure, retired QBs like Brett Favre and Joe Montana still cash checks from advertising, but the NFL is a young man’s game. The fattest checks always go to the established, but still up and coming superstar. Cam Newton is that guy.
Newton is made for Madison Avenue. He’s literally bigger than life, and he absolutely loves the spotlight. Plus, he’s figured out the same thing Peyton has, but in a slightly different way. It’s all a game. Football is big business, but that business is fun, so if you bring the energy, people will love you. On the field, Manning is stoic and controlled, but still deadly. Newton is a wrecking ball. He literally and figuratively steamrolls opponents. Then he celebrates in front of their fans. Imagine what advertisers could do with that sort of attitude. Sports marketing hasn’t had someone that much fun since Bo Jackson.
January 25, 2016
Sometimes fantasy comes crashing into reality, leaving both looking the worse for wear. Other times, when tested, the on-screen hero comes through in a big way. That’s the story coming out of Hollywood after actor Jamie Foxx found himself in a life or death situation.
Foxx heard a crash on the street outside his home. He ran outside to see a truck on it’s side, engulfed in flames. He could have called 911, he could have run, he could have done all manner of things nobody would have blamed him for. Instead, Foxx climbed inside the burning vehicle and rescued the man trapped there.
Brett Kyle, 32, was driving too fast, reportedly drunk when he crashed his Tacoma in a drainage ditch near Foxx’s home. That’s when the Hollywood star stepped in.
Speaking to reporters at CNN, Foxx said, “I said, ‘you’ve got to help me get you out because I don’t want to leave you.’ I said, ‘ You’ve got angels around you…’”
Foxx helped an off-duty EMT cut Kyle out of his seatbelt and drag him away from the burning truck.
“I don’t look at it as heroic. I just look at it as … you just had to do something,” Foxx said, “It all worked out.”
By the time fire crews arrived on the scene, the entire truck was aflame. While Foxx may be downplaying his role in the rescue, others are not.
CNN reported Ventura County Fire Department spokesman Capt. Mike Lindbery saying, “When fire crews arrived on scene just one minute later, they reported the vehicle as fully involved in fire … It was a pretty courageous thing to do. It’s rare these days that you find someone willing to jump in to help.”
At that moment, Foxx made a “rare” decision that, in the eyes of the consumer public, revealed the action hero to be much more than an on-screen imitation of the guy in the white hat.
January 19, 2016
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has never been shy about expressing his socio-political perspectives on social media. Recently, the FB CEO chose to sound off while taking his new daughter in for her first round of vaccinations.
While the post may have been meant to simply be the sort of Day In the Life picture just about everyone uploads to Facebook, the photo and caption: “Doctor’s visit – time for vaccines!” ignited a firestorm.
To date, nearly 100,000 comments piled up on the picture, most from anti-vaccine apologists hoping to show others (and science) the error of their ways.
One particularly harsh anti-vax crusader put it this way: “Injecting newborns and infants with disease and neurotoxins is disgusting… Shame on you…”
Of course, while it’s clear this poster neither understands vaccines nor the science supporting them, there’s no use trying to tell her that. Though many did try. Ad nauseum.
One man posted in support of Zuckerberg, thanking him for supporting vaccine science. “As someone with autism, as someone who is constantly watching good people put their own children at serious risk because of old, fraudulent fears of vaccines … thank you for being sensible.”
As for Zuckerberg, people who follow his page already knew his stance. “Vaccination is an important and timely topic. The science is completely clear: vaccinations work and are important for the health of everyone in our community,” Zuckerberg has previously written.
So, the world is clear on where he stands and free to agree or disagree with that stance. But what if you haven’t waded into that debate? How can you be sure your innocently intended social media post will not ignite a PR nightmare?
The answer is indicative of the new reality we all face in today’s digital age. Much of our lives are played out online, for better or worse. A quick missive meant for a select group of friends can be shared with others, drawing many more voices into the net. Suddenly, a simple comment meant for a specific audience becomes a billboard for anyone with a bone to pick.
The solution? Be cautious of what you post online. Always. Understand that, on the net, privacy is nonexistent. Don’t let your next interaction with the internet turn into an unexpected PR crisis.
January 14, 2016
Rapid response is one of the true boons for entrepreneurs and the businesses they represent. The ability to respond quickly on social media with a response to questions, comments, or news worthy developments is one of the greatest gifts that the age of instant communication has brought us.
Used judiciously, this ability can be an excellent public relations tool that places an individual or company directly at the center of breaking news and events. However, this is one media technique that must be used with restraint, caution, and a well developed sense of timing if it is to be fully effective.
Does Every Single Question Or Event Require A Response?
Perhaps the first question that will occur to the reader of this post is, “Does every single question or comment from a viewer require a response?” This might be quickly followed by another question, namely, “Does every single breaking event require a response?”
The answer to both questions is an unequivocal no. You don’t need to be on top of every single question that pops up on your Twitter feed, nor do you have to register an automatic response to every late breaking news event, particularly if the event in question has absolutely no relevance to your company or your brand.
Never Try To Turn A Tragedy Into A Marketing Opportunity
For example, if a tragedy occurs that gains immediate media coverage, do not try to turn your recognition of this event into a marketing opportunity. You are not required to post anything in response to a school shooting or disastrous fire or flood. If you feel the need to register a response, keep it brief, general, and purely personal, with no mention of the products or services you may have on sale at your physical location for that week.
What Are Your Qualifications To Make An Official Response?
Another important question to consider when debating whether to make an official response on your company’s official social media account is whether or not you are truly qualified to make any statement at all. For example, if a client posts questions concerning your company’s official cloud computing account, and you yourself don’t know anything about the process of cloud computing, it’s an excellent idea to let another, more experienced and knowledgeable, individual post a response.
Failing that, you might simply refer the client to your company’s FAQ page concerning cloud computing. In the end, it’s far better to post no response at all than to post a misleading or ill informed answer that proves you have no idea what you are talking about.
Never Post A Response In A Hurry Or Under Duress
The absolute worst time to post a response to a question or comment is when you feel you are being pressured by that client, or by other circumstances, to give a quick answer. In such cases, your response is guaranteed to be rushed, piecemeal, and probably very badly worded. In addition, the tone of your post could come off as abrupt or rude, thus creating a very bad impression of your company and its media skills.
It’s always better to carefully plan each response you make to a client, as well as each fresh new post that you make on your various social media accounts. What you lose in sheer spontaneity you will more than make up for in coherency and accuracy of expression. Remember always that every post you make to social media represents your company and its brand, whether in a positive or negative light.
It’s therefore to your advantage to always weigh your words carefully when speaking before an audience of millions.
January 4, 2016
No more two-year contracts with AT&T. The story broke through tech industry site Engadget.com, which reported they obtained internal memos claiming AT&T will kick off 2016 by eliminating two-year contracts, effective January 8.
That means AT&T will officially join other competitors by forcing new customers – or current customers who want a new phone – to pay full freight upfront or pay for the phone in monthly installments.
The move, pioneered by Verizon, effectively puts a stop to a major upside to switching to another carrier. Both T-Mobile and Sprint have offered to “pay you to switch” from the higher ranked carriers to offset any dreaded early termination fees.
Those fees kept many On The Bubble consumers from trading into cheaper plans on other networks because they could run into hundreds of dollars. But when the lower tier of the Top Four began offering to pay customers to switch that stick disappeared from Verizon and AT&T’s arsenal.
The Top Tier in wireless communication then fought back with pay as you go plans. Instead of giving deep discounts on handsets for customers who signed up for two-year contracts, the companies offered to break up the cost of the phone into monthly installments, making it MUCH more expensive to switch. Even if a customer gets a free phone at the new company, they will still be stuck paying for one they can’t even use … unless they jailbreak it.
Of course, none of this will be in AT&T’s PR for this switch. If Verizon’s PR is any indication of their message, expect AT&T to position their decision as an opportunity for customers to Get Out Of Contracts or be free from long-term commitments. Pay no attention to that big price tag behind the curtain.
However, they plan to work it, understand the days of customers getting what are essentially handheld computers for next to nothing are pretty much over. If you want to play, you will have to pay.
December 29, 2015
Recently, the war for wireless supremacy took a strange turn. While the bottom tier of the Big Four are desperately trying to win customers by all but giving them cash, and, in some cases, actually giving them cash, at least one major player is actually charging more for its most popular plan.
AT&T has been trying to get customers to abandon their unlimited data plans, but some have resisted. The carrier has decided that’s fine if you are willing to pay more. Last week the wireless provider said it would be raising its unlimited data plan rates from $30 to $35. Not much of a bump, but a curious move in a marketplace where they are not the top in quality and not the choice of price-conscious consumers either.
There are twin risks here, two sides of a dangerous coin. On one side are the quality conscious consumers who picked AT&T over Verizon for reasons of customer service or just on general principle. But if their current carrier starts treating them with the same assumptive disdain Verizon is infamous for, how many will stick around for the abuse when they can get the same treatment with a better signal?
On the other side of the coin are the mid-tier price-conscious folks. Those who have enough money not to go with a lesser carrier, but for whom money’s tight enough for them to think about it. Now, they may just decide the difference in quality just isn’t that much. T-Mobile or Sprint here we come!
Then again, maybe AT&T isn’t so crazy. Sure they raised their rates five bucks, but, earlier this year, Verizon raised there’s by $20. Sprint and T-Mobile also raised their unlimited data plan rates.
The culprit? All four carriers are blaming the rising costs of delivering that data to consumers. People are simply streaming too much for the carriers to keep up … at least, that’s their story, and they’re sticking to it.
Instead, carriers are offering tiered plans, which look and work like the U.S. tax code. Buy a certain plan, use up to that amount at certain speeds, use more and the speed slows down. Most folks won’t recognize it, but some will.
While it may sound like a PR time bomb, it’s really just a stopgap measure. In the not too distant future, WiFi will be nearly prevalent enough to not need data services at all. Even before then, American consumers will learn what sort of plans are available across the ocean…and American carriers may have to abandon their tiered shell game altogether.