News and Updates from 5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian

Tag: Ronn Torossian

Maricopa County says no more iPhones

Maricopa County iphone

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.

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Does Macy’s closing signal the end of malls?

Macys Closing Pr

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.

Malls Are Out

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.

Department Stores Are Suffering Too

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.

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Who’s better: Cam or Peyton?

cam newton peyton manning

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.

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Jamie Foxx Rescues Driver

Jamie Foxx Saves Driver

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.

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Zuckerberg’s vaccine comments ignite a firestorm

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has never been shy about expressing his socio-political perspectives on . 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.

Comments Keep Coming In

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.

PR Nightmare Is Obvious

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.

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AT&T and the Fall of Unlimited Data

at and t

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.

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Olive Garden continues a comeback

olive garden pr

Olive Garden might be the butt of innumerable foodie jokes, but the company isn’t listening. The home of breadsticks and endless bowls of salad has been shouldering most of the load for parent company Darden Restaurants as of late.

Overall Darden earnings easily eclipsed expectations, and, believe it or not, Olive Garden can take most of the credit. And, for the second quarter in a row, Darden raised its fiscal outlook… right, and it announced a new stock buyback plan while also boosting its dividend. Talk about making everyone happy!

Consequently, Darden stock is up nearly 20 percent in 2015. Of course, none of this was really expected.

Olive Garden’s First Big Mistake

Back in September 2014, industry watchdogs came down on the flagging eatery with both boots. In a blistering nearly-300-page document, Olive Garden was slammed for doing just about everything wrong. No salt in the pasta water, too much gravy on the food and, the worst sin of all, filling the menu with items that were not, precisely speaking, in any way Italian. In addition, too much of the (not so good) food was being wasted, leading to more lost profits.

Starboard, the force behind the horrific dressing down of, among other things, Olive Garden’s dressing-drenched salad, took over and cleaned house. CEO Clarence Otis vacated his position. COO Gene Lee was promoted and Starboard CEO Jeff Smith took over as company chairman.

Olive Garden Prices Rise, and So Do the Profits

That’s when the real changes began. Under Starboard’s leadership, Olive Garden began making changes to address the problems listed in the report. Profits jumped 12 percent, and continue to climb. Slight price increases thinned out the clientele, but that didn’t stop the profits.

Now, aiming for more of the right type of diner, Olive Garden hopes to continue its growth trend. Consumer confidence might not have rebounded quite yet, but, there’s every indication that, should this trend continue, as things get better at Olive Garden, consumer confidence will soon follow.

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Bigger is, once again, better!

bigger smaller marketing public relations

There was a time, not long ago, when American consumers were thinking small. Smaller cars, smaller portions, even smaller homes. Those days are over. If the Small Movement was ever a trend, consider it done.

When you ask retail CEOs, they will all tell you, Americans want Bigger along with their Better. Those two modifiers go together in the American consumer brain like peanut butter and chocolate. This newfound return to excess crosses just about every consumer segment.

In consumer electronics, as tech gets increasingly more advanced, wireless and communicative, consumers are back to wanting bigger TVs and other devices. Sure, iPads are still selling, but the “mini” experiment? Not going as well as expected. And when it comes to TVs, size does matter. Expect consumers to be shopping for something in excess of 55 inches.

Consumer PR

But bigger isn’t just about size. Consumers are after big ticket items this year as well. Expensive vacuums, kitchen tools and sound equipment are all selling well – from mixers retailing for hundreds to headphones selling for twice that.

Part of the trend, according to retail PR managers, is a healing economy. More people are back at work, and everyone seems to have a better opinion of where the economy is headed. More enthusiasm nearly always translates into better consumer sales.

Another popular More Is Better campaign: food. Organic and specialty foods are no longer only for boutique grocers. Even the most mainstream grocery stores have expanded the organic sections. Twice the price for milk and eggs? Half again as much for cereal or fresh fruit? Consumers don’t seem to mind.

The biggest aspect of this good consumer PR outlook is the attitude. Buyers aren’t looking at these Bigger And More expenditures as luxuries or splurges. They are making them part of their basic spending routine, spending on quality and convenience rather than price. Aside from anything else, that is the trend retailers wanted most to see. When people stop worrying so much about pennies and start spending dimes to get what they really wanted all along, that will keep going until consumer confidence begins to flutter. Which, at this point, may be a long time coming.

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Chipotle Still Reeling Thanks to E-Coli Scare


Chipotle just felt the “two” of the one-two punch land. Immediately after the CDC discovered an outbreak of e coli in locations in Seattle and Portland exploded with endless barrages of consumer doubt and disgust. Recently, the company was forced to disclose the outbreak was not contained and could be in as many as six states. Upon hearing that news, the market responded accordingly. Chipotle stock plummeted about 12 percent last.

Now the company is facing a PR crisis on two fronts: consumer and investor. The consumer PR crisis is bad and getting worse. Every time the CDC announced a new state impacted by the outbreak – California, Minnesota, Ohio, New York, Oregon and Washington have been listed so far – it gets worse for the brand.

The more people who hear about it, the more people are talking about it. That volume also leads to longevity. A relatively minor outbreak could come and go quickly, barely registering a blip on the national news. But now, with locations in six states (and, possibly, counting) involved in the CDC investigation there is no containing this monster. It’s a safe bet that the only reason Chipotle is not the lead story right now is that the POTUS race and refugee crisis are monopolizing the news cycle.

At this point Chipotle is relegated to reporting a rather bleak silver lining. No new cases have been reported in the original epicenters of Seattle and Portland. That’s scant reassurance for a consumer public growing increasingly weary of this outbreaks and wary of mass produced food – even if it’s purportedly healthy.

In quite possibly the worst choice of words, representatives said the outbreak was “contained.” Unfortunately for them, the consumer public doesn’t agree … and they are sick to death of hearing about “contained” threats. Take a wild guess how many times folks have Googled “contained threat” in the past week or so … your guess is probably very, very low. And, while most of those responses will be about Obama’s ISIS comments, there’s Chipotle, mixed in the search responses with … ISIS! Yeah, talk about from bad to worse.

Recently, Chipotle offered a sincere apology. Given the state of things and the unfortunate language used that, however unintentionally, connected their brand with much worse news in the world, it’s going to take more than an apology to make this right.

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Walmart Workers Seeking Wages

Black Friday Public Relations

Black Friday is coming, and some Walmart workers are using the annual bacchanal of retail excess as an opportunity to push their political agenda in a headline grabbing way.

The organization, called “Our Walmart” plans to start a fifteen-day fast scheduled to end on Black Friday. The effort has been dubbed “Fast for 15”, an obvious connection to the Fight for 15 movement, a grassroots group demanding a $15 minimum wage.

According to press reports, the fast will include both current and former Walmart employees as well as other sympathetic citizens. The current roster of participants stands at well over 1,000. At this point, not every protester has pledged to fast for the full 15 days, while the founders of the (non)fast have promised to consume only liquids for the duration.

While most of the protests are planned to be conducted outside Walmart stores, some protesters have pledged to take their show on the road, and fast events are being planned near the NYC home of Walton heiress, Alice Walton, as well as the California home of Walmart heir and current chairman, Greg Penner.

Organizers say the point of the fast is to illustrate the quandary they say many Walmart employees face: they can’t afford to feed their families, even when shopping at Walmart. Organizers tell stories of employees having to choose between eating lunch during their shift or putting enough fuel in their cars to get home. It is those sorts of situations, they say, that necessitates such an extreme response.

This protest is expected to coincide with other protests that are becoming typical on or around Black Friday. This will be the fourth consecutive year that similar protests are planned.

All of this despite the fact that Walmart did indeed raise wages last year, and the starting wage for full time employees is expected to increase to $10 next year. Department managers will get between $13 and $15 per hour. Not a lot for a management position, but still more than they are getting now.

Walmart’s in a tough spot, though. The general public loves to shop there, but ask just about anyone who the most hated store in America is, and Walmart will likely end up on the list. Add to this common theme the fact that the last time Walmart raised wages, its stock price dropped, aggravating shareholders.

Now Walmart’s decision makers have that to worry about, plus typically dissatisfied employees and, now, this new PR nightmare. They need to come up with a solution, fast, or this one could spin out of control.

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