Tag Archive: Brand Management


“People who love to drive, love the car. Enthusiasts love the car. Automotive media love the car. Miata owners have an almost motorcycle-gang loyalty, with dozens of Miata clubs all over North America.” — Robert Duffer, Chicago Tribune, “Why Is The Mazda Miata So Beloved”

Talk about the ultimate first-world crisis.

Mazda quietly dropped the legendary “Miata” brand for MX-5.

MX-What?

Never in recorded history has a sports car touched the lives of so many people as the Mazda Miata introduction in 1989.

Thirty years later, the best selling roadster of all time (Guinness Book of World Records), Miata has stood the test of time with its reasonable price, 181 horses, 26 city and 35 highway fuel efficiency …  and most of all … it’s a blast to drive.

How do you spell fun in the sun? M-I-A-T-A.

For Almost DailyBrett, his little green chariot without pop-up headlights was purchased brand-spanking new in June 2004. It was love at first sight and the affair continues to this day. Some have suggested we need to get a room.

Can’t tell you how many times your author has garnered Miata envy from poor saps driving mini-vans with plenty of room for infant car seats.

Perhaps you should control your hormones?

Getting It Right The First Time

The Mazda Miata or MX-5 is going to be celebrating its 25th year of production. And there’s a reason for that. Very few times that you get something right, the first time, but this is a classic case of that.” — Jay Leno, “Jay Leno’s Garage,” February 2014

Jay Leno spoke in a glowing fashion about one of his two Mazda Miatas five years ago.  Fast forward to today.

Is nothing sacred? Is this Miata imprimatur disappearing act a sterling example of enlightened brand management?

As we wonder about the course of self-driving vehicles, Almost DailyBrett loves his Miata … it will always be his Miata … today, tomorrow and forever.

Can’t imagine a self-driving Miata. What would be the point?

Your author is not alone. There are 96 Miata clubs spread across America. The sports car keeps on selling, particularly in spring and summer.

Do you think there is a correlation between warmer temperatures and putting down the ultra-easy top?

The new MX-5 without any Miata branding looks like a sad Miata … a really sad Miata.

Remembering The New Coke Roll-Out Debacle

“Coke’s decided to make their formula sweeter; they’ve decided to mix it with Pepsi.” — Comedian David Letterman on the botched New Coke roll out

Coca-Cola came out with New Coke in 1985 without proper research about consumer reaction, and thus an unnecessary brand riot was born.

Mazda, can we see your quantitative and qualitative analysis, demonstrating that we wanted to bid adieu with the Miata name, and opt for MX-5?

No one asked Almost DailyBrett. 

If Miata owners wanted to drive a Mazda, we would drive a Mazda … let alone a Mazda MX-5.

If Corvette owners wanted to drive a Chevy, they would drive a Chevy.

A Miata is a Miata. A ‘Vette is a ‘Vette.

Simple, real simple. It’s the brand, stupid.

Miata owners love their Miatas. Competitors came out with the Honda S2000, Toyota M2, the BMW Z3 and the Pontiac POS (e.g., Fiero).

No dice on any of them.

Mazda management in Japan needs to understand that Miata parents control the brand.

As Robert Duffer in the Chicago Tribune, Miata owners/enthusiasts “love” the car. There are more than 100 Miata clubs in the United States and Canada combined. We are talking about the ultimate in “L” words.

Why get in the way of our public romance from sea-to-shining sea, across the fruited plain?

Mazda needs to understand the old, time-tested adage:

If something isn’t broken, don’t fix it.

https://www.cnet.com/roadshow/news/mazda-mx5-miata-history/

http://www.chicagotribune.com/autos/chi-why-is-the-mazda-miata-so-beloved-20140905-story.html

https://mossmiata.com/miata-car-clubs

Mazda MX-5 Miata

Selling My 2004 Mazda MX-5 Miata Was Remarkably Difficult, and Also Remarkably Easy

“In the darkness, we found the light. Introducing a new era of electronic driving.” – Volkswagen’s new advertising campaign tagline

“Hello, darkness, my old friend; I’ve come to talk to you again …” – Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s, “The Sounds of Silence”

Is the best defense a good offense?

Is the most effective present-day defense utilizing a Baby Boomer anthem and harkening back to the 1960s with its brightly colored Volkswagen Beetles and (Hippie) Microvans?

After being rightfully bashed and bloodied starting in the autumn of 2015 for deploying defeat software to deceive anti-pollution testing of its vehicles (Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche), heads rightfully started to roll at Volkswagen AG corporate headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany.

On the line with “Dieselgate” was Volkswagen’s brand, but also the reputation of Germany’s legendary designers and engineers. Consider, there is probably no nation on earth that prides itself more than Germany for its commitment to the environment (note the recent electoral successes of die Grünen).

The Volkswagen cheating scandal was akin to catching a falling knife. Using another well-worn metaphor, the shocking story has legs and has been running unabated for nearly four years.

The scandal started in September, 2015 when the U.S. EPA charged Volkswagen with using illegal (air quality testing) manipulation devices. A related Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation was launched. Volkswagen’s chief executive officer Martin Winterkorn was fired.

A continuous chorus of charges, fines, lawsuits, increased governmental regulation, falling stock prices and recalls mounted against Volkswagen and its Audi and Porsche subsidiaries. Last year, German authorities indicted Winterkorn on aggravated fraud charges.

Almost DailyBrett noted that Volkswagen did not follow to the letter the four basic tenets of Crisis Communications: Tell The Truth, Tell It All, Tell It Fast and Move On. In many ways Volkswagen management was just hoping this mess would simply subside.

Volkswagen management, employees, shareholders and even Kanzlerin Merkel and the German government had to confront the metaphorical Scheisse-Sandwich … you don’t nibble.

Back To The Drawing Board

At some point, the world’s largest automobile designer/manufacturer would have to go back on offense.

In doing so, Volkswagen realized it could not assume a business-as-usual approach.

Ultimately, Volkswagen appreciated that it has to acknowledge its wrongdoing, beg for forgiveness, and somehow, someway commence the hard work of rebranding … essentially moving on.

Volkswagen of America hired New York’s Johannes Leonardo advertising agency, and secured the rights to “The Sounds of Silence.”

The question posed to VW management: Can a major ad buy (part of a reported $2 billion campaign) for its 1:45 second spot featuring a Baby Boomer/Yuppie anthem make everything right in the world for Volkswagen?

In and of itself, the answer is obviously: no.

Almost DailyBrett has always believed that Volkswagen is engaged in a marathon, not a sprint. Volkswagen’s story, which began in 1937, deserves another chapter.

Americans are credited for being an understanding people. They will not forget, but are they willing to forgive and give … even a corporate entity … another chance?

The Johannes Leonardo creative, which debuted with the NBA Finals and the NHL’s Stanley Cup last week, is edgy as it literally starts in the darkness with a news announcer directly referencing the Volkswagen scandal.

One suspects that securing VW’s management approval for an open acknowledgement of moral failure was easier said than done. As Chairman Mao found out, the long-march back starts with the first step.

In our world of advertising bombast and overkill, it’s the extremely clever advertisement that stops the viewer in his or her tracks and commands attention.

The dark Sounds of Silence images convey going back to the drawing board. The result is the coming resurrection of the VW microvan … a concept vehicle for now … with the message the company’s environmentally friendly electric vehicle does not contribute to climate change. Volkswagen envisions 22 EVs (electric vehicles) by 2028, and becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

Volkswagen has stumbled for nearly four torturous years. The questions are with its new ad campaign and beyond: Has the company finally learned its lesson, and are we as consumers willing to forgive, while certainly not forgetting?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qEvNL6oEr0U

https://www.fastcompany.com/90359361/volkswagen-aims-for-feel-good-redemption-in-new-major-ad-campaign

https://www.caranddriver.com/features/a27784322/vw-hello-light-commercial-column/

https://www.cleanenergywire.org/factsheets/dieselgate-timeline-germanys-car-emissions-fraud-scandal

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/15/business/winterkorn-volkswagen-emissions-scandal.html

https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidkiley5/2019/06/06/vw-goes-back-to-the-future-in-new-ad-campaign-to-put-dieselgate-in-rear-view/#1026a00d3aa5

https://www.vw.com/

http://johannesleonardo.com/

Does a Led Zeppelin concert photograph of singer Robert Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page go with marble Romanesque columns?DSC02649

How about a sketch of Mick Jagger with his signature protruding lips combined with Moorish arches?

For that matter, should an operations manager attempt to incorporate Eric Clapton’s Gibson Les Paul electric guitar with Spanish tile?

One would think an acoustic guitar would fit better into the classic Castilian style, but no one will ever confuse Andres Segovia with heavy metal.

For months including the critical last three weeks before opening night in Sevilla, the team behind the Hard Rock Café worked diligently to fully respect Spanish tradition, while swearing allegiance to the rocking iconic restaurant chain.DSC02651

Carlos Gil, the Venezuelan-born Hard Rock Café operations manager out of Amsterdam, visited patrons on the opening night this past August 4. He said local authorities insisted on the preservation of the Romanesque columns. The chain was more than happy to comply and even to incorporate them into the setting for customers.

Hard Rock in the Land of the Flamenco?

Sounds like a potential prescription for integrated marketing communications (IMC) disaster, but from all appearances it is working in Sevilla, Spain as evidenced by the turnout on opening night.

Starbucks and The Prado

About the length of one futbol pitch is the distance between Madrid’s famous Prado art museum and the usually well-located, Starbucks.

Howard Schultz and his Starbucks team certainly have a knack for finding great locations for the 33,000 stores of the $19.28 billion largest coffee roaster in the world.

Without doubt, each of Starbucks’ venues is consistent with the company’s brand from the green aprons of the baristas to the coffee posters from all over the world. But what is different in Spain’s capital city is that Starbucks also incorporates the Spanish style into its store.DSC03188

As the inevitable pace toward globalization and a flatter world intensifies, so will the demands on multi-national brands to respect the culture while at the same time maintaining the integrity of the brand.

Many are opposed to multi-national chains, and will naturally opt for local choices. Others will yearn for the consistency of product. A Starbucks latte tastes the same in Seattle as it does in Madrid as it does in Dublin or München. There is a beauty in predictability in an unsettled world.

Starbucks wants to deliver a consistency of product wherever and whenever patrons come-in for a latte, mocha or cappuccino. At the same time, the company’s stores do not have to be indistinguishable cookie-cutter designs with each one mimicking the very first one at Seattle’s Pike Park Market.

Seasoned PR and marketing managers instinctively can sense a departure from the “conscience” of the brand, but are they are equally adept when it comes to incorporating a local culture and traditions into the presentation of the brand?

What is the smart solution? The answer lies with respecting a local culture, not going “native,” and at the same time be consistent with brand management.

Cultural Dimensions

Professor Geert Hofstede is famous for his Cultural Dimensions Theory measuring national differences in six arenas: Power Distance, Individualism, Masculinity, Uncertainty Avoidance, Long-Term Orientations and Indulgence.

Before dipping their collective toes into another culture’s waters, it is best to weigh the very real differences between what you know and call familiar, and what you don’t know.

Wal-Mart succeeded big time in Mexico and failed miserably in Germany. Unilever’s Dove “Real Curves” campaign was a hit in the United States, but went over like a lead balloon (not to be confused with Led Zeppelin) in Taiwan.

Under Hofstede’s theory, Spain is high in power distance (57 percent), average in individualism (51 percent); low in masculinity and high in compassion (42 percent), skyrocketing in uncertainty avoidance (86 percent); below average in long-term orientation (48 percent) and low in indulgence (44 percent).DSC02656

There are zero issues when it comes to Brand über Alles. The brand must be respected and maintained. At the same time, there are cultural considerations that need to be considered as well.

Can they work together? Hard Rock Café and Starbucks are at least two global companies that have responded in the affirmative.

http://www.hardrock.com/corporate/history.aspx

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hard_Rock_Cafe

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andr%C3%A9s_Segovia

http://investor.starbucks.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=99518&p=irol-presentations

https://geert-hofstede.com/national-culture.html

 

 

“To be blessed to have all of this stuff around us, we want to give back. We want to give back to Phil Knight, to give back to Nike, give back to all the donors that donated to the school, and changed Oregon.” – Oregon defensive back Ifo Ekpre-Olomu

It’s been success, and really, Nike. Let’s face it. Without them, we wouldn’t be here.” – Craig Pintens, University of Oregon senior associate athletic director for marketing and public relations

Does that mean that Oregon would be somewhere else? Corvallis? Pullman?

Are Oregon returning seniors giving back in order of importance: Uncle Phil, Nike and oh yes … the donors too?

Is the Oregon Athletic Department once again confusing the “O” for the “Swoosh”?Oregon1

“University of Nike”

“We are the University of Nike. We embrace it. We tell that to our recruits,” – Jeff Hawkins, University of Nike senior associate athletic director of Football Administration and Operations.

Nike-Logo

Bad habits die hard at the University of Oregon Athletic Department.

A little over a year ago, Almost DailyBrett reported about how Jeff Hawkins made the “University of Nike” pronouncement to the New York Times.

Fast forward to today and Ifo and Pintens sang a similar song to Chris Dufresne of the Los Angeles Times.

Yes, Uncle Phil has been incredibly generous to the tune of more than $300 million and counting to the Oregon Athletic Department (e.g., impregnable Brazilian ipi wood in the 25,000-square foot weight room) and academics (e.g., Law School and Library).

The university is extremely fortunate that its most distinguished alum founded and ran Nike. He is now worth billions, and is bestowing a portion of his wealth to his alma mater. That’s great.

What is a matter of public relations concern is the intentional practice of making the Nike and Oregon brands synonymous.

Quick: Name another major university that is the brand equivalent of a Fortune 500 publicly traded company? The closest that Almost DailyBrett can even ponder is Oklahoma State and T. Boone Pickens, but of course, the former Wall Street raider is not a corporate brand.

Overcoming Geography

Even though the campus is tucked away in America’s sparsely populated cul-de-sac, these are heady days for the University of Oregon. The Ducks are No. 2 in the AP poll of football writers after dashing the notion that Oregon is “soft” with a second-half smack down of Rose Bowl champion, Michigan State. The final was Oregon 46; Michigan State 27, and in the end, it really wasn’t that close.

There is a swagger that has been building in Eugene during the last decade-plus: High tempo spread offense, cool Nike uniforms every week. Ferrari leather, Brazilian wood, and high-tech gizmos at the $68 million (it’s more than that) 145,000 square-foot Hatfield-Dowlin football complex adjacent to the friendly confines of Autzen Stadium. There are also the 10 straight over Washington with number 11 slated for October 18. Yep, it’s cool to be a Duck fan.

There is zero doubt that Nike played a significant role in the program’s success, but the story does not start or end there. The Ducks made it to the Rose Bowl in 1994 with no swooshes on their traditional uniforms and mediocre facilities. They did it with great coaching, skillful recruiting and a confident team that caught fire down the stretch. “Kenny Wheaton is going to score. Kenny Wheaton is going to score.”

wheaton2

Proclaiming the equivalency of Nike and Oregon sends the unfortunate and inaccurate signal that Oregon would be Oregon State or worse, Washington State, without Uncle Phil’s largesse.

The more important issue is the resulting confusion when it comes to multiple brands.

USC wears Nike jerseys, but no one mistakes the cardinal and gold, the Trojan head, the Song Girls, and Traveler the Horse with the “swoosh.”

Sergey Brin and Larry Page went to Stanford, but there is no PR effort on the Farm to tie Stanford to Google. Stanford will never be confused as a search engine with an Android operating system.

Reser Foods sponsors Oregon State’s football stadium, but no one is attempting to equate Benny Rodent with bratwurst … even though the idea has some appeal.

Think of it this way. Starbucks is Starbucks. Apple is Apple. Amazon is Amazon. Southwest is Southwest. So why does Oregon have to be Nike?

Are the brand management rocket scientists at the Athletic Department trying to be both the “O” and the “Swoosh” at the same time? And if so, what is the unifying message? Just Do It!? Or Go Ducks?

Here are even more germane questions: What does the latest in a line of interim presidents at the University of Oregon think about dueling brands on the same campus? Do they even recognize that they have a problem on their hands?

Or is it simply, the team is winning, so who cares if there is a little brand confusion?

http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-oregon-football-20140826-column.html#page=1

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2013/08/03/university-of-nike/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqlcRAZfRHc

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T._Boone_Pickens

 

 

 

 

“Isn’t religious intolerance by your company the bottom line in this matter?” was the question posed by KRON-TV’s (San Francisco Channel 4) Ysabel Duron to me as the Director of Corporate Public Relations for LSI Logic. http://www.kron.com/News/ArticleView/tabid/298/smid/1126/ArticleID/3200/reftab/515/t/Ysabel%20Duron/Default.aspx

I looked at Ysabel and secretly wished her a very Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year and responded that the “bottom line is the safety of children and whether it is a good idea to put 250 small children within 200 feet of a semiconductor facility that handles and transports hazardous, corrosive and flammable chemicals on a daily basis.”

duron

My on-camera quote was included in her story that evening as well as a statement by the Muslim Community Association of Santa Clara http://www.mcabayarea.org/ accusing LSI Logic www.lsi.com of blatant religious intolerance against those who practice Islam.

The time period was 1993 to 1998. The World Trade Center stood proudly at the tip of Manhattan, Shanksville was just another town in Western Pennsylvania and the numerals “9-11” sounded like a convenience store chain. And yet passions were still high then even without the vivid mental images of hijacked jetliners hitting skyscrapers, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 3,000 Americans.

What is prompting me to regurgitate this dispute is the massive coverage of the proposed “Ground Zero Mosque” within blocks of the World Trade Center and the emotions that this zoning dispute has unleashed. The opponents of the Cordoba Mosque have been accused on “racism,” “bigotry” and “hatred of Muslims.”

Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote about this response in a recent column: “The intelligentsia is near unanimous that the only possible grounds for opposition is bigotry toward Muslims. This smug attribution of bigotry to two-thirds of the population hinges on the insistence on a complete lack of connection between Islam and radical Islam, a proposition that dovetails perfectly with the Obama administration’s pretense that we are at war with nothing more than ‘violent extremists’ of inscrutable motive and indiscernible belief. Those who reject this as both ridiculous and politically correct (an admitted redundancy) are declared Islamophobes, the ad hominem du jour. “http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/26/AR2010082605233.html

Whether you agree or disagree with Krauthammer’s prose, PR representatives should contemplate what they would do to protect the reputation and safeguard the brand of their company or organization that is falsely branded as bigoted, racist or intolerant in a contentious dispute. The Muslim Community Association of Santa Clara said point blank in a news release: “These facts make us wonder: What is the real reason for LSI Logic’s hard-line stance against our community?” http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Muslim+Community+Association+to+Appear+Before+Santa+Clara+Superior…-a020011843

Former Santa Clara Mayor Eddie Souza said: “LSI Logic’s legal actions appear to be based solely on intolerance and stand to burden our city and residents with unnecessary expenses and troublesome lawsuits.” And Herb Schmidt, a Stanford University Lutheran pastor was quoted: “If this (Islamic Center) was a synagogue or a Roman Catholic parochial school, this would not be happening.”

santaclara

The real reason for our opposition was centered on the fact that a light industrial zone is just that, a light industrial zone intended for manufacturing … not small school children. The Santa Clara City Planning Commission denied the permit twice for the Granada Islamic School, but was overturned twice by the City Council. I will dispense with the entire history, other to note that LSI Logic no longer has a manufacturing facility or any other presence in Santa Clara, but the school is still there.

The charges of racism, bigotry and intolerance hurt and threatened the good name of the company. Our business colleagues were privately very concerned and supportive, but there was no reason for them to be splattered by the same rhetorical mud.

Our strategy was to deflect the intolerance charges and to refuse to engage into a name-calling exchange with the Muslim Community Association. Our beef was with the Santa Clara City Council that was overruling the Planning Commission and putting small school children in potential harm’s way.

We also endeavored to keep this story out of the major national publications (e.g. Wall Street Journal, NY Times, USA Today) or business wires (e.g. AP, Bloomberg, Reuters, MarketWatch), even using the eye-glazing-over term, “zoning dispute” to describe the situation. (If this caper had actually followed 9-11, this strategy would not have succeeded and most likely would have found its way to Al Jazeera http://english.aljazeera.net/)

We were also placed in a tricky PR predicament: If our Santa Clara manufacturing facility was unsafe for children wasn’t it unsafe for other people? And were we through our actions and pronouncements undermining the safety claims of the entire $200 billion-plus semiconductor industry.

In response, we pointed out to reporters that our facility had never been fined, never subjected to an administrative order and that we maintained a very strict regime of controls for the nasty chemicals used to make microchips. Having said that, we dared to question the wisdom of bringing small school children directly across the street from our facility.

If you are scoring at home, it would be very easy to declare that the Muslim Community Association won and LSI Logic lost the battle. If the charges of racism, bigotry and intolerance had permanently adhered themselves to the company’s reputation and brand, we would have lost the war as well.

PR = SG&A?

Speaking before a group of Santa Clara University integrated marketing students recently http://www.scu.edu/, I presented them with an overly simplified but relatively accurate representation of a financial statement for a publicly traded company:

  • Total Revenues: $2.0 billion

–      COGS: $1.0 billion

  • Gross Margin: $1.0 billion

–      SG&A: $300 million

–      R&D: $400 million                  

  • Operating Income: $300 million

–      Income Tax: $50 million

  • Net Income: $250 million.

 

After providing them with a few nanoseconds, I asked the undergrads where does public relations or marketing or brand management fall within this financial statement. The unanimous answer following a bout of serious contemplation was SG&A or Selling General and Administrative. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Financial_statement

I then inquired whether they were comfortable with that answer. What is SG&A? The answer is that selling, general and administrative is an “operating expense” on a financial statement. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SG%26A

Do we really want PR, marketing, brand management, crisis communications etc. to be regarded merely as an “operating expense?” And if we interpret PR as an “operating expense” what will be the view of accountants and controllers in a Finance Department that are looking to control spending and improve the bottom line?

Do we really want to risk having your function zeroed out or greatly diminished in the face of mounting financial pressures? What does that mean in terms of job security?

How about a different way of thinking?

Doesn’t public relations contribute to revenues or the top line? Doesn’t brand management help expand gross margin? Doesn’t marketing play a key role in keeping a company in the black, rather than the red?

Before we go further in this discussion, please keep in mind that public relations/marketing/brand management/social media/crisis communications cannot defy gravity. If customers are retrenching in the face of an economic downturn, if inventory is building rather than declining, then an entire company will be impacted and most likely start reporting red bottom-line numbers.

And also be mindful that PR/Marketing/Branding will most likely always be classified by accounting types as SG&A. Nevertheless that doesn’t have to be our mindset. We need to convince internal decision makers that our responsibilities are not a mere operating expense.

Public relations practitioners can and should always demonstrate ROI or Return on Investment. Our jobs as communicators are not just to spread the good word to external audiences (e.g. customers, suppliers, partners, analysts, editors, bloggers…), but to internal audiences as well. And included in this definition of “internal audiences” are company executives, including the CFO and the company’s Finance Department. Think of it this way, these internal audiences make the hiring and firing decisions and more to the point whether we will receive a paycheck or not.

If the company is publicly traded, then it must report to the SEC and the world. Translated, the company must issue quarterly financial results, pre-announce all “material” differences from prior quarterly guidance, issue an annual report, hold a yearly meeting for shareholders, publicize all major M&A activity, and announce all major executive appointments and restructurings. A good public relations department will know how to effectively manage this information to get maximum mileage out of good news and mitigate the impact of bad news.

Aligning a corporate public relations department with the CFO, Investor Relations, Legal and Corporate Development in not only reporting to the SEC and investors, but becoming an integral part of their daily activities, is battle-tested job protection. We want a seat at the table.

What is the impression of existing customers and prospective customers to a company’s image and products? Obviously, the products have to work and the company needs to execute. Assuming that is the case, then how is the company building and enhancing its reputation? That sounds like an activity that is far more than just SG&A. Is marketing and brand management helping to drive revenues, expand gross margin and contribute to the bottom line? Yes indeed.

We need to document (not exhaustively) what we are doing on behalf of our clients. Whether we like it or not, contributing to our monthly reports should be a daily activity. It is far easier to remember what you did on Monday on that very same Monday, than a month later.  I have always been mystified by those who write their monthly reports two weeks into the new month. How can you accurately recount what you did six weeks earlier, 42 days or more ago?

The bottom line for public relations? Remember ROI, the top-line, gross margin, profitability and stay away from the dreaded SG&A mindsets. Besides who needs career-limiting thinking in this economy?

If you asked my opinion a year ago what is easier in a troubled economy, managing an agency or corporate PR team or selling a house, I almost would have laughed…well of course, selling a house is easier. Everyone knows that.

Right? Ah, wrong.

Working with at times irksome and annoying external or internal clients/stakeholders of varying degrees of talent and temperament demands tremendous amounts of patience and perseverance. There is simply no argument. In addition, a skilled PR practitioner must coordinate the development of the message, prepare the messengers, set the timing and target the recipients, what could easily be labeled as “communications choreography.”

That means that everyone is on the same page and singing out of the same hymnal (pardon the awful clichés). Is this process very similar to…staging a house for a sale? Let’s delve a little deeper into this comparison.

Working for an international public relations agency, you are aligned with a series of people with various tasks and hopefully the majority with the same agenda. There are the members of your own team, your agency bosses, your clients, their executives, their partners, their suppliers, the legion of analysts, editors, reporters, bloggers…Negotiating through this litany of humanity to achieve a desired branding or marketing result in a tough economy requires an incredible amount of resolve and fortitude.

And in the case of a publicly traded company, financial results must be reported four times a year, an annual meeting for shareholders must be conducted and the annual report (the 10K) must be issued each spring regardless of exogenous events. These could include: pre-announcements, mergers and acquisitions, IPOs, restructurings, mandated restatements or any other “material” event that requires immediate disclosure under SEC rules. That means that a company must not only employ PR people trained in telling the story, but also a legion of attorneys, accountants, controllers, IR pros and corporate development types to go along with the CEO, CFO etc…the folks that make up the team.

So does this same team building exercise and plan execution also apply to selling a house? Based upon my recent experience, I can safely reply in the affirmative.

A seller must interact with an assorted collection of contractors, pool remodelers, granite counter-top builders, “equity beige” rug installers, nosy neighbors, pest inspectors, house cleaners and pesky Realtors. If you think Mussolini had trouble keeping the Italian trains on time, try coordinating/choreographing this motley crew and keeping them to a schedule. There is no place in your schedule for the “manana” syndrome, but you will be asked repeatedly if this task or that task can be put off to another day. You have to resist the temptation of being too nice, while maintaining your professionalism.

In the corporate world, the SEC requires quarterly financial result reports, the 10K, annual meeting, and any “material” disclosures on the corporate side. Who serves as the SEC when it comes to a home sale? I guess that would be the seller…in this case, little Ole me.

Starting tomorrow, my house will go on the market first with the Realtor tour and then with open houses this weekend. My purpose in bringing up this point is to not market my house via my blog. I am helping my Realtor with the marketing and she is the one that will carry that burden.

My point is that I am sitting at the vortex of a $749,000 business…yes; selling your house is a business. A house sale has its own particular P&L statement: the costs associated with staging the house, the obligatory Realtor fee, paying off of the first and second mortgages and after all of that…hopefully something for me (e.g. the profit). I never thought that selling a house would be akin to managing agency PR or corporate PR teams and all of the associated players that are a necessary evil and require the same degree of people skills.

Guess this experience is yet another one of life’s lessons learned.

Quick: What is the first impression that comes to mind when you hear the word or see the name or logo of…

● Starbucks? Good coffee

● BMW? Upscale cars

● Fed-Ex? Overnight

● Intel? “Inside”

● Microsoft? Bill Gates

● Apple? Steve Jobs

● Oracle? Larry Ellison

● Exxon Mobil? Valdez

● Goldman Sachs? SEC suit

● BP? The “Oil Spill”

Now let’s ask another question: What is more vital to your client: brand management or crisis communications?

From my humble standpoint, the answer is both. They go hand-in-hand. If you employ conventional communications (e.g. message development, reporter pitches, briefings, advertising, events) and digital tools (social media, blogging, podcasting, webcasting) to build brand, then it follows that these same methods can destroy the best branding, literally in seconds.

Think of it this way, if the stock market can plunge 1,000 points in five minutes, then any carefully crafted brand can be obliterated just as fast in this age of instantaneous global communications and programmed machines.

The video of BP’s gushing oil leak quickly found its way onto YouTube as well as a wide variety of conventional broadcast media. Besides the usual conventional media coverage, the SEC’s suit against Goldman http://www.sec.gov/news/press/2010/2010-59.htm became an instant entry on the Wikipedia.org encyclopedia, the Wall Street Journal website as well as the online sites of major media organizations around the world.

So what does this question mean to executives in corporate suites, the leadership of trade associations and NGOs, political campaign managers, the administration of major universities or any other organization concerned about reputation and legacy? It means that when a brand-management firm is selected to build and enhance brand and top-of-mind recognition then that very same firm should also be adept at crisis management to instantaneously defend and protect the brand or at least to mitigate and contain the damage.

Brand formation and enhancement is a process that never ends and must be skillfully nurtured over the course of years, such as the “Intel Inside” campaign. The results are that PC and server-buying consumers are willing to shell out a premium to purchase a device with that Intel chip inside. But keep in mind that not everything has been perfect for the Intel brand as the company had to rally in 1994 (some may say belatedly) to combat the infamous Pentium flaw. This was a classic crisis communications exercise with all hands on deck. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intel_Corporation

We should contemplate that this escapade occurred prior to the true social media age, even though Internet usage was rapidly increasing. Could Intel have maintained its brand image as successfully in the face of the same Pentium flaw in this environment? Probably, but the company would have been required to respond in an even quicker fashion.

Crisis management is now, more-than-ever, a 24-7-365 gig. In the social-media age, successful brand defenses can be literally measured in minutes, not in days and weeks. Erroneous and nefarious Wikipedia entries need to be challenged quickly. Misleading media reports need to be immediately contested. Damaging blog posts need to be instantly rebutted.

Not all crisis communications efforts will be successful and not all positive brands will endure (e.g. If oil keeps leaking for 40 days and counting…). Nonetheless, the BP crisis communications team is in full battle station mode. http://www.bp.com/bodycopyarticle.do?categoryId=1&contentId=7052055

It is an open question whether the company’s reputation will ever be restored. Exxon will always be tied to the Valdez, even though that spill occurred more than two decades ago.

In most cases the best built and nurtured brands can be protected and enhanced, not only through brand management, but also by maintaining always present and alert crisis response teams, schooled in both conventional and digital media communications skills.

You really can’t separate brand building from crisis management.

“With iPods and iPads; and Xboxes and PlayStations — none of which I know how to work — (laughter) — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation.  So all of this is not only putting pressure on you; it’s putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy.” – Barack Obama, Hampton University Commencement, May 9, 2010. http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-hampton-university-commencement

The good news for the Leader of the Free World is that he has a 12-year-old daughter (Malia) and a nine-year-old daughter (Sasha) to provide in-(White) house tech support when it comes to using iPods, Xboxes and PlayStations.

Senior public relations practitioners may not be so lucky. Which brings up an interesting question, why are so many in our profession so reluctant about and so resistant to social media, including blogging and podcasting? Deep down is there an inner Luddite that makes many of us resistant to technological change? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luddite

The Economist www.economist.com in its latest iteration has a fascinating commentary, “Don’t Shoot the Messenger” that says that distrust of new technology goes back to the days of Socrates (469 BC to 399 BC) and his fear of writing, which would “create forgetfulness in the learner’s souls.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socrates

During my decade working with engineers at LSI Logic www.lsi.com, I asked them one-by-one why they chose to become technologists (as opposed to journalists and PR hacks). The answer usually went back to the family radio or television. Future senior communicators listened to and/or watched these devices. The future geeks in turn took them apart and checked out the vacuum tubes, the dials, the knobs, the wires and then tried to put them back together again…sometimes successful, sometimes not.

Certainly there are communicators who have been quick to embrace social media and digital tools with gusto. They have more than talked-the-talk, they have become evangelists about blogging, podcasting, webcasting, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, Ding, Dang and whatever is next.

And yet there are timid souls in our ranks (you know who you are) that our desperately clinging to and only relying on (gasp) 20th Century approaches to all PR issues. Consider that they…

● Insist on staging pre-briefings followed by actual on-site briefings with the dwindling number of business and trade reporters and editors, despite the downward trajectory of their readership and the ascension of digital media.

● Devote full-time employees to writing abstracts and contributed articles, drafting “white papers” and op-eds for submittal to publications in decline, thus producing a lower ROI with each cycle.

● Sift through the ed-cals or editorial calendars and then try to devise a pitch that somehow, someway comes reasonably close (at least passing the “giggle test”) to the journalist’s topic. In this case, who is setting the agenda: the journalist or the company?

● Write “press releases,” hold “press conferences” and even invite conventional and digital media to surf their “press” page on their websites. Gee, why don’t they exhume Johannes Gutenberg http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Gutenberg to make a presentation of his new invention, the printing press, at the next “press” conference?

● Devise a myriad of excuses for not embracing the blogosphere, and not just the self-publishing of conversational marketing pieces that bolster brand and spread the message, but even monitoring what bloggers are actually writing about a given company or its industry.

● Demonstrate a total disinterest in preparing Wikipedia.org copy about their company, association, organization etc., either leaving a blank canvass in its place or allowing others to take a shot at depositioning their employers.

I can fully appreciate that some may take issue with my prose when it comes to exposing the inner Luddite. Having said that, there is one point that can be made with impunity: More and more publicly traded and privately held companies, trade associations, universities and colleges, non-profits and others will sooner or later spend countless hours figuring out how to make money and/or spread their influence via digital tools. They will also be increasingly interested in harnessing these same technologies to build brand and to get out the good news. This will not be the time or the place for Inner Luddites.

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