News and Updates from 5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian

Tag: insights

Amtrak’s Crisis PR Is Off The Rails

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Days after the deadly Pennsylvania Amtrak crash while investigators are still trying to sort out what happened, the rail line is trying to pick up the PR pieces. The has not been good – and that will continue to be an uphill battle. Already tiny factoids are popping up on comparing airline travel and rail travel.

The main question being asked by investigators is “why did the train speed up when it was supposed to be slowing down.” According to reports, when approaching a curve rated for no faster than 50 mph, the train, which had been traveling at 70 mph, sped up to more than 100 mph. At this point, investigators say they are unclear as to whether or not the train speed was increased manually by the engineer.

To this point, investigators have found no issues with the track or the mechanics of the train. But that is not the question the general consumer public is asking. All they can see is that a train was going too fast and killed at least eight people and sent 200 more to local hospitals. “Why” is a secondary concern. They want to feel safe, and they don’t, regardless of what caused the issue.

And, because they don’t feel safe, speculation rules. Despite the fact investigators have already released the information that the engineer was not using his cell phone and had not been drinking or using drugs, people are still – loudly – asking “what went wrong” with the driver.

Spokesmen have said that no “common sense rational person” would think it okay to travel at that rate of speed in that turn, but this is not comforting.

In point of fact, there’s no evidence to prove the engineer is a “crazy person.” But now that this idea is in the head of the public, it’s not just going to sit down and die. It may fester and spread.

Amtrak has a multifaceted PR nightmare. They are dealing with the facts of the case as they are revealed, AND they are dealing with countless speculations and outright rumors that are being generated by all the PR missteps. Every mishap leads to crisis PR – and those who handle it well have less damage than those who do not.

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Pope Working on Vatican Bank PR

pope vatican bank public relations
When you think about in the banking industry, you might think of patriotic commercials, earnest-looking tellers and clean-cut guys in pinstripes waiting to “earn your business.” But, would you expect any of those folks to wear the robes and crown of the Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church? Probably not. Well, says, think again because the Pope is now in the game of banking PR.

Recently, Pope Francis gathered with a host of cardinals to discuss the financial health of the Holy See. There were—flowcharts, spreadsheets, graphs and PowerPoint presentations. PowerPoint in the Vatican? Yep. Congrats Microsoft, you have papal approval.

While it’s really no secret that Vatican finances have been growing through a rough patch in recent years, the extent of the issue was not well known because the Vatican kept their books locked up tighter than the gold at Fort Knox. Need to know only. According to Bloomberg, the meeting last February was the very first time that many cardinals were ever given the opportunity to see the church’s financial picture in such detail. Moreover, many of the presenters were not even clergy. Several lay experts were also present, breaking things down for the assembled holy men.

While this is hardly the first time Pope Francis has made headlines for breaking with church tradition, previous popes have challenged church practicum and theology. However, financial disclosure on this scale is virtually unprecedented. The lesson here is one of deft public relations. Underneath all the discussion about the church’s role in global culture and politics, is a steady current of dismay and outright revulsion related to both the institutionalized privacy and the abhorrent sex-abuse scandals. In opening the books, the pope is doing something so relatively drastic, which no one can look at it and not begin to rethink their position, at least on the church’s privacy issues.

The message is clear: this pope is not just changing the way the church deals with its people. This pope is changing the way the church operates internally, at the most basic of levels. When you open the books, you invite criticism of previous mismanagement and potential catcalls of corruption. The gesture, then, communicates a willingness to address any potential issues and a dedication to a new level of openness. At least, that’s the message being conveyed. Whether or not the faithful – much less the general public – buys it is an entirely different story.

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Will Facebook’s Focus Shift to Mobile Ads?

facebook mobile advertisement

Has the whole world gone mobile? Apparently. Fresh off its app split – remember all the controversy over the FB messenger app? – Facebook has announced a move toward more mobile advertising.

The move comes on the heels of less than stellar first quarter revenues. When Wall Street hemmed and hawed, the folks at Facebook decided to look at a fairly bright silver lining. User engagement and mobile ad revenue were both up, indicators that user habits are shifting…and so is the profit center. How skewed is that shift?

Well, according to reports, mobile accounted for about 87% of Facebook’s active user base. That’s up 24% over the same time last year. More people going mobile? A lot more apparently. Try roughly 1.25 BILLION users. That’s a lot of clicks.

Given this massive shift toward mobile use, it’s not surprising that Facebook’s mobile revenue is also on the rise. Nearly three-quarters of Facebook’s total advertising revenue came from mobile ads in the first quarter of 2015.

More importantly, daily user numbers are up. 936 million users access the site daily, a massive number that is both driven by and driving the shift to mobile, as well as mobile profitability. These markers fit well into Facebook’s ongoing to reach more users across the world, specifically in places where the Internet is only or primarily accessible on a mobile device.

But to truly tip the scales, Facebook needs more major marketers to invest in mobile. While that trend is promising, it isn’t quite there yet, creating some tentativeness in the company’s approach to the not yet fully tapped mobile market. When that happens, expect the Internet’s Big Dog to telegraph a sea change in the way everyone uses and profits from online content.

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Playoff Time For The NHL

nhl playoffs public relations

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.

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Microsoft at 40 – Where will the Brand go from Here?

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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.

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A look at #GivingTuesday

ronn torossian giving tuesday 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 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.

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The Browns have a Bright Orange PR Problem

ronn torossian on cleveland browns public relations

Looks, it’s a cinch that football fans are not Cleveland Browns fans because of the uniforms. The Browns’ orange, brown and white scheme is only slightly less underwhelming than their cellar-dwelling on-field performances. The only disappointment more consistent than these duds is the Browns’ need for a quarterback.

That dynamic led to a highly anticipated and widely marketed rebranding initiative. The campaign took two years to complete, and the Browns recently unveiled their new logo to replace the iconic but somewhat tired orange helmet … the new result? Wait for it (the fans did for two years) … another orange helmet. Essentially, the team went from orange peel orange to traffic cone orange. That’s pretty much it.

Well, according to some wits on they also gave “The Dawg” rabies. Not an unfair commentary by any means. And the rest of the PR fallout from this decision? Incendiary. Even fans growing accustomed to disappointment seem to feel punked this time around.

Logic says, your reaction better be as big as your promotion. When you make legions of some of the most loyal fans in the history of sports wait for two years to experience hope in the form of a brand transformation and you come up with … not much transformation at all … it comes off as not trying. As taking them for granted. As … not putting enough care into putting out a winning product.

That’s not to say every logo is a winner. When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers debuted in the late 1970s, they came with an orange popsicle color combination and a flamboyant Errol-Flynn-Mustachioed pirate (of Penzance). Fans grew to hate the logo as much as they did the on-field (lack of) performance. So the Bucs went back to the drawing board, coming up with the iconic new color scheme and pirate logo. Then they put a winning team on the field and their fan base grew by massive numbers, everyone sporting the cool new gear. The creamsicle days are saved for irony and throwback games.

The Browns had the same chance. Judging by their fans’ reactions, they blew it … again.

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PR Winners and Losers at the Oscars

Ronn Torossian 2015 Oscars

The 87th Academy Awards show is now a part of the history books. “Birdman” was the big winner of the night, taking home four wins in the nine categories that it was nominated for. While it is always fun to take a look at the winners and losers, it is even more interesting to see who were the biggest winners and losers in the department. Every year has some presenters and winners who do amazing or head-scratching things while they have the spotlight, and this year was no different. Here is a look at the biggest PR winners and losers for this year’s Oscars.

Winner – Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Even people who were outraged that “Boyhood” lost had to admire the graciousness that Gonzalez Inarritu displayed when he accepted his awards. His joking moment where he said he was wearing Michael Keaton’s tighty whiteys from the film was just the kind of hilarity that was far too infrequent in this year’s broadcast.

Loser – Sean Penn

While anyone who really knows Sean Penn realizes he is about as liberal and far from a racist as you can get, that didn’t stop from erupting when Penn asked jokingly, “Who gave this gave this son of a $*%#! his green card?” when he was presenting the award for Best Picture to Gonzalez Inarittu. Gonzalez Inarritu directed Peen in the film “21 Grams,” and the two are good friends. He even said backstage that he thought Penn’s joke was “hilarious.” However, the PR damage to Penn’s reputation is undeniable, but he will likely recover quickly.

Winner – Patricia Arquette

The brilliant actress was the only person to take home any hardware from the tragically underappreciated “Boyhood,” and Patricia Arquette made the most of it. During arguably the greatest speech of the evening, she delivered an impassioned plea for equality for women. In particular, she turned a spotlight on the wage inequality that exists for women today. Her fiery speech got the women in the auditorium as well as a number of the men on their feet. Meryl Streep in particular was cheering loudly.

Loser – Neil Patrick Harris

People are already arguing about how Neil Patrick Harris’s performance was as host, but the majority seem to feel he fell flat. He had a number of strange moments, including the running gag with his prediction box that aggravated both people at the show as well as those watching at home. He also had some uncomfortable moments with the few African-American attendees, including both Oprah and “Selma” star David Oyelowo. Coming out on the stage in his underwear was awkward as could be. It was definitely not in keeping with the classy presence an Oscar host needs. Perhaps his worst moment was when he made a tasteless joke about a winner’s dress moments after she made an impassioned plea for suicide victims. It is doubtful that he will ever get asked back to host.

Winner – JK Simmons

The career character actor was a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actor for his role in “Whiplash,” and Simmons’s speech was one of the best of the evening. His impassioned plea for everyone watching to call their parents was one of the most memorable moments of the evening, and it will doubtless gain him lots of new advertising gigs like his commercials with Farmers Insurance.

Loser – John Travolta

Travolta was arguable the biggest PR loser of the night. First, Travolta crept up on Scarlett Johannsson on the red carper to steal a kiss from the obviously uncomfortable starlet. On stage, he was paired with Idina Menzel, whose name he famously butchered during last year’s show. He got her name right this year, but that didn’t make up for his uncomfortable chin-grabbing of her with a billion people watching. It was by far the most awkward moment of the show, and his already shaky reputation is even shakier now.

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Marcus vs Jameis at the Combine

marcus vs jameis public relations

In the lead up to the NFL Scouting Combine, the prognosticators grew louder than ever. Which quarterback would emerge from the Combine with the best shot at being number one overall in the next NFL draft? While, in the past, some top prospects chose to forego the annual talent showcase, this season does not lend itself to that luxury.

There are two quarterbacks in this draft who are widely considered to be all but equal in ability and intangibles. Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston have been endlessly compared, but the jury is still out on who is the best. Recently, Mariota was quoted as saying he doesn’t compare himself to other players. Well, if that’s the case, then he is the only guy who doesn’t.

There is no doubt that Mariota and Winston are both gifted athletes and excellent quarterbacks. Even criticisms about how each might function at the next level are offered with stacks of caveats and “yeah, buts.” Winston is considered to be the most “ready” to step into a pro style offense. But Mariota comes with his own huge upside.

Where will each end up in the draft? Likely, the teams at the top of the draft board have already made up their minds. But the Combine is an opportunity to either secure that decision or give them second thoughts. The for both outcomes is the same. Not only to achieve peak personal performance but also outperform The Other Guy.

At the Combine, this competition is distilled, obviously, but it is the same competition every brand faces every day. Whatever you do, your customers and prospects are always comparing and contrasting your “value” with that of your competition. Just as much as a quarterback’s stock depends on the scuttlebutt surrounding him, the value of your brand will be impacted by the nature of the message related to your brand. If that message is confused or mediocre, you can expect customers to look elsewhere. But if your PR message is poignant, positive and focused, you can expect your “stock” to rise.

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NFL “Bully” gets one last Chance with the Bills

Icognito’s Miami Dolphins teammate Jonathan

Some have called him a bully, others say he’s just the kind of tough guy the NFL needs, but has not been kind to Richie Incognito. As Ronn Torossian explains, now the veteran offensive lineman is on what even he has described as his last chance to continue his NFL career.

Incognito has been a polarizing figure in the NFL for years. A hard-nosed player with a well-established mean streak, that reputation became cable news fodder after Icognito’s Miami Dolphins teammate Jonathan Martin quit the NFL after bullying from Incognito. While some tried to classify events as the hazing of a teammate to toughen him up, others took a much more negative view of proceedings.

Now that he has signed with the Buffalo Bills, even Incognito says this might be his final opportunity to salvage both his reputation and his career.

Recently, Incognito spoke to NFL.com, saying he had learned from his mistakes and the whole situation. “I needed to respect those around me more and I needed to realize I may find things funny that others find offensive. This whole learning process was about becoming self-aware. About becoming a better person/teammate/leader.”

According to the statement, both Incognito and the Bills are in agreement that this is an opportunity the player should consider his last. But it is also a chance to bring attention to a sensitive subject. “I want to prove to people I’m not a racist jerk. We talked about possible ways to turn this situation around and ways to impact the community.”

For a brand – and make no mistake pro sports players are brands unto themselves – hanging on dearly to the end of his last rope, Incognito is saying all the right things. It’s certainly possible that he’s always been a pretty decent guy whose previous mistakes were taken out of context and over examined. That can certainly happen in today’s voracious 24-7 news cycle. Then again, this might just be a chance to see if a guy can change his ways.

It’s an opportunity not everyone receives. Hope he makes the most of it.

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