Hurricane Sandy & Sales Bungles

Hurricane Sandy & Sales Bungles

Hurricane SandyI think that some marketers have gone nuts. Piggybacking on Hurricane Sandy to sell something is akin to selling your grandmother.  What on earth were the marketing teams at the Gap, American Apparel, Urban Outfitters and Groupon thinking when they thought up ways to sell their wares during the storm?  It’s not only the companies that were dinged with a flurry of online outrage, but also the marketers who, by association, gave a greedy black eye to the category itself.

So, as all now know, what happened was that the Gap suggested via a tweet for “doing lots of Gap shopping at Gap.com,” while Urban Outfitters offered free shipping Monday morning, attempting to capitalize on the college students stuck inside all day. Groupon offered a daily deal to midtown Manhattanites for a dinner at a restaurant serving a surprise meal in complete darkness and American Apparel offered a Hurricane Sandy Sale.

Unconscionable…

Gap apologized quickly for its marketing tweet during the devastating storm, but not really. What they said was, that “what they really meant was” – etc.  Sometimes apologies are not enough. If it was greed that spurred them on to take advantage of a national disaster, they could have garnered far more visibility by putting on their corporate social responsibility hat and thinking through how to garner customers’ loyalty in a time of need. They could have offered to send free apparel for the displaced, the ones that lost homes, or were flooded out of homes, losing everything.  Maybe they could have set up a center for distribution of the clothes through their retail outlets after the storm or, minimally, offer warm clothing to children whose homes were burned down by fire within days after the storm.

Altruistic maybe, but socially responsible…

Groupon could have offered “best deals,” negotiated through restaurants that had power, to feed those that did not.  Urban Outfitters could have just kept quiet about their shipping ideas and American Apparel, well not much can be said for a company that thinks there is nothing wrong in holding a storm sale as the devastation unfolds.

It may be small potatoes in the scheme of things, but such poor judgment should be written up by the marketing textbooks as examples of what not to do.

Obesity and Gasoline

Obesity and Gasoline

All State and ObesityAmidst all the moment-by-moment political news, polls and candidates’ latest remarks, statements, speeches, there appeared in the Chicago Tribune a vapid news tidbit that focused on a statement on the Allstate Blog that said, “obese Americans are hurting the fuel efficiency of vehicles, contributing to more than 1 billion gallons of fuel wasted each year.”

Apparently, the home and auto insurer teamed up with Cars.com to document the struggle between fuel efficiency and passenger weight.  Really? Why?

Maybe it was in light of the federal government pushing automakers for greater fuel efficiency and Allstate and Cars.com wanted to insert themselves into the mix and subsequent conversations.  They came up with a document that pointed out that between 1960 and 2002, 1 billion gallons of gasoline could be attributed to the weight gain of motorists in passenger vehicles. They cited a 2010 article by Consumer Reports for the extra gas needed. However, translated, that means that less than 1 percent of the total fuel used by passenger vehicles, annually.

Never mind that the government had stated that it expected automakers to achieve fuel efficiency through “the use of advanced technologies” and weight loss was not mentioned as a means to achieve that goal.

I can only guess that their statement that, “Americans keep gaining weight, and cars are losing it,” was only made to be clever or something, and ill-conceived at that. And it continued, “It’s a seesaw battle that’s making it difficult to realize the gains expected by a big push for lighter, more fuel-efficient cars.”  (They got this from a U.S. Energy Department document that reported that, an extra 100 pounds in your vehicle could reduce your miles per gallon by up to 2 percent.)

That the American population is getting more and more obese year by year is a sad fact that needs attention from the medical community.  But certainly not from an insurance company, that teamed up with an online car retailer, to pinpoint blame for fuel inefficiencies, on a growing 30% of the US population, rather than focus on automakers’ innovation deficiencies. Maybe it suited their “who-knows-what” agenda.

As to the Chicago Tribune, it must have been a slow news day. Otherwise what is the point of bringing this up as news?

Hey, it was a Monday…

Deceptions in a Transparent World

Deceptions in a Transparent World

The global edition of the NYT had a story yesterday on the latest PR stunt to allegedly support the nature-preservation efforts of Vladimir Putin.  This one had him flying, rather hang-gliding (motorized) in sync with flying cranes, geared at re-introducing Siberian cranes into the wild. Sounds fine until reported that the cranes had been a set up and were flown in for the “event.”  Previously he had been shown placing a satellite transmitter collar on what appeared to be a wild Siberian tiger, who in reality was heavily sedated as was the case with the wild polar bear in 2010. Maybe good photo ops for Putin, but the Russian public was not impressed.

Funny, but deceptive anyway…

Maybe Putin being Putin got away with it, but Nokia got caught when last week’s news reported that Nokia had demoed their latest technology – the new Lumia 920 smartphone with optical image stabilization (OIS) technology for shaky hands.  But in this transparent world the company got caught red-handed when sharp-eyed bloggers watching the ad caught the reflection in the window of the cameraman in a white van, using a professional camera to record the entire event. It turns out the video was not shot at all with the Lumia 920 by Nokia’s own admission, since the technology is in pre-production.  Moreover the company admitted to using misleading marketing materials for a new line of phones

Once a dominant force in the mobile phone market, it has been hit hard by competition, most notably Apple, Samsung and others.  But surely deception is the wrong road to take to regain market share.  What is most puzzling is why Nokia thought that they could get away with it.  Maybe 15 years ago they could, when neither bloggers nor the 24/7 social media conversations were around, but today? What were they thinking?  Did they cave in to shareholders demands? Was competition the driver? Was it a coincidence that Nokia’s introduction followed a move by Samsung in August to show off its own Windows 8 phone and that Apple’s upcoming introduction of its next iPhone is happening this week?

Apology accepted, but faking video and photos from a camera is not cool. Nokia got a well-deserved black eye for this one. The deception has dinged its credibility.

And besides Putin and Nokia there was another tidbit in the news that is apropos to deception. Apparently L’Oreal’s Lancôme USA subsidiary, markets their pricey anti-wrinkle cream product as “boosting the activity of genes and stimulating the production of youth proteins.”  Wait a minute, what’s wrong with that?  In a rare rebuke to a major cosmetics maker, the FDA says that if it affects the way the human body works, it would need to be classified as a drug, which would need FDA approval.

Shucks.

The Return of Veterans

The Return of Veterans

America Wants YouThe newly minted “America Wants You” campaign is very reminiscent of WWII’s campaign “Uncle Sam Wants You,” — of some 70+ years ago. This time around it is a corporate call to arms – rather than a military one.

It is a call for a unified effort to rectify a catastrophic situation for the 800,000 veterans who are presently unemployed, 30 percent of them between the ages 18 to 34, a much higher per capita rate than the general population.  It is also a call for Corporate America to sit up and take note that this situation will be exacerbated, as the draw down from Afghanistan continues.

The situation is abysmal.  There is no question that our vets are owed and it’s not about “the other guy” doing something about it.  It’s not a partisan issue. It is an American issue, with everyone doing his/her part.

Happily there are several programs, both private and public, whether state or federal, that are taking shape to shake up Corporate America. But whereas some programs are moving forward quietly and diligently to tackle the issue, one in particular, the PR campaign “America Wants You,” is making more noise than others, largely because they have enlisted actor Chris O’Donnell of NCIS: Los Angeles and Batman fame.  In a video released this week, O’Donnell implores those who “sit in corner offices” to think about the 800,000 unemployed veterans first, when making hiring decisions.

A private sector initiative, this campaign is led by three retired private-sector executives from Los Angeles who have partnered with CareerBuilder and Southwestern Energy for the effort.  America Wants You, CEO John Pike, a veteran who is a former president of Paramount Network Television, says it is time for corporations to do their part.  The non-partisan organization apparently puts their money where their “mouth” is and took out a full-page advertisement in the Wall Street Journal to reach its target audience.

It will not be easy for Corporate America to step up to this challenge, one that is becoming more clamorous daily. For one thing, the transition from military to corporate life cannot possibly be an easy road for any vet.  For another, some of the youngest veterans simply have never been a part of the workforce, for many joined the military right out of high school with the hope that the military will offer training that might be needed in the workforce.  And for those who may still serve in the National Guard and Reserves, it might even be more difficult, for employers will be wary of hiring them, cautious that these could be deployed again at any given time.

Still, all these arguments fall short, when one considers the underlying issue, which needs to remain steadfast — we owe them.

Many programs advocating for veteran employment offer grants, private or public, as compensation for training or hiring a vet.  In some cases, a state even offers to pay the wages of an employed vet for six months as an incentive to the employer.  Federal programs offer tax credits or other benefits.

But it should not be about benefits.  It should be about “giving back” to those men and women who voluntarily put themselves in harm’s way to protect us.  It therefore becomes a moral obligation.

After all, it is the American way, and it needs to prevail.

And The Winner Is – a New PR Definition

And The Winner Is – a New PR Definition

Public Relations, although a century old as a discipline, and one in which businesses spend billions of dollars each year, has been, to date, a most misunderstood and often maligned profession, largely because the public at large is not clear on what public relations actually is, what practitioners actually do and who actually benefits from its services and how.

And that is why I delighted in the fact that the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) engendered a dialogue and debate about what is PR by launching a new campaign to re-define Public Relations last November.

In my blog dated November 22, titled “Re-Defining PR in the 21st Century,” I commented on the timeliness of the re-definition campaign, considering that the last definition was written by PRSA back in 1982 and that, in the ensuing 30 years, a seismic evolution has taken place in the industry.  What was largely perceived at its start a century ago as a media relations-based discipline, has evolved to include responsibilities for a complex mix of online and offline stakeholders’ engagement, reputation management, corporate social responsibilities, thought leadership and digital marketing services, among a slew of other communication avenues.

Clearly the 30-year old definition that reads, “Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other” sounds a bit lame today. To be fair, PRSA has made two attempts at defining public relations in the past 10 years.  But nothing happened past the willingness to try…

So the latest good news is that, after soliciting suggestions from the public, along with public relations professionals, academics and students on its website: prdefinition.prsa.org, using a crowd-sourcing model, followed by an evaluation of over 1,000 submissions along with online comments and blog posts, PRSA will announce a winner on February 27th.  All get to vote for the three final definition choices when you Click here to cast your vote, now open from Feb. 13 through Feb. 26.

Whether aptly timed for Awards Season or the timeliness was just happenstance, PR professionals are just as eager to see what will be the final definitive definition as any awards program.

And the “nominations” are:

  • Public relations is the management function of researching, communicating and collaborating with publics to build mutually beneficial relationships.
  • Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.
  • Public relations is the strategic process of engagement between organizations and publics to achieve mutual understanding and realize goals.

What is missing here? Personally, I don’t get this “mutually beneficial relationship” line, which is found in two of the three finalists definition.  Nor do I get the third one with its “mutual understanding” part.  Nor am I too big a fan of leading a de facto definition with “management function of researching, etc.”  However, I do think that “strategic process of engagement between organizations and publics” has merit and is on target.

Look, defining an entire industry is no easy undertaking, especially when it’s one as wide-ranging and often imprecise as that of public relations.  But I would focus on the fact that we are counselors first and foremost — and that our profession is responsible for helping businesses navigate the many avenues of communication that can prove treacherous, protecting a company’s reputation, brands and assets from negative commentary or perceptions; for leading communication strategies that embrace new and expanded audiences; for evaluating economic factors that can impact a company’s business and executing plans to outthink the competition; and for staying ahead of the curve in this digital age.

Actually, it may take a paragraph…