Mission Statement:

I will give excellence.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Good vs. Bad

           I think most of us know what bad PR looks like. A bigwig from a major oil company whining about wanting his life back while his product is spilling into the Gulf of Mexico is a bad look on several different levels. 11 people died, and there is also the effect on wildlife, gas prices, and tourism, with the ensuing effect on merchants, fishermen, and more.

            My wife and I went to Orange Beach/Gulf Shores for our first anniversary in June 2010 and it was amazing how empty the beach was during what should have been a very busy time of year.

            This oil company had slashed their PR budget, meaning the boss was listening to people who lacked experience. These PR pros/consultants let him walk the beaches in a starched white shirt. A bit of a head scratcher, to say the least.

            That’s what bad PR looks like.

            On Veteran’s Day, Chili’s restaurant wanted to thank America’s military veterans by offering them a free meal, and they served over 200,000 of them. But one event in Cedar Hill, Texas (a DFW suburb) went horribly wrong. From Ian James Wright’s story for www.prnewsonline.com:

           "The apparent chain of events: Army veteran Ernest Walker, who is black, went to a Chili's in Cedar Hill, Texas, to claim his free meal, with his service dog in tow. An older white man (wearing a Trump shirt) questioned the veracity of his military service, saying that he had been in Germany during World War 2 and "they would not allow blacks." Soon thereafter, a manager approached Walker at the behest of guests who were saying he was "not a real soldier." The manager also questioned whether the dog, which was wearing its service vest and certified tags, was a real service dog. Walker produced military identification and discharge papers, but the manager still took away his food and asked him to leave. Walker recorded some video of the encounter and posted it to Facebook.

           So this got going very quickly on Twitter, as you might expect. Chili’s, to their credit, knew they had to get out in front of this and quickly. They personally apologized to Mr. Walker, fired the manager, sent out a press release apologizing for the event, and are working with Mr. Walker to further the resolution. Plus they did not make excuses—they owned their mistake and fixed it. This is what solid damage control PR looks like.


            I am a military veteran, and my wife and I on November 11 went to a major chain that offered 20% off an entrée. I took my discharge paper with me, because I don’t like putting people in a position of having to take my word for it. Nobody asked to see it, which I appreciated.

            It seems like this was more of a random act. Poor communication seems like the biggest flaw, but Chili’s got this right 200,000 other times. Perhaps they should have given people the benefit of the doubt and to err on the side of caution on whether a patron served in the armed forces. It’s just not worth it. Either this was not part of the discussion from the higher ups, or it was somehow not clear. As a result, the Facebook video cost them a ton of good publicity for doing something positive. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Wells Fargo

By now surely you've heard of the Wells Fargo accounts scandal, where between 2011 and 2015 about 1.5 million checking and savings accounts, as well as 500,000 credit cards were created/issued without customer consent. Employees were told to have a goal of eight accounts per customer, oftentimes using aggressive selling tactics if necessary.

This scandal made the news in early September when we learned the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fined the bank $185 million. It's chump change when an article I saw from 2015 said the bank's value was nearing $300 billion. Billion. With a B.

We've seen the Wells Fargo damage control PR machine at work. CEO John Stumpf saying the best thing he can do for the company is to stay and lead it. Chief Operating Officer Tim Sloan and other WF executives made the rounds on Capitol Hill trying to mitigate the damage, and Sloan himself has apologized repeatedly for the missteps. Money has been set aside for customer refunds. We heard the expected talk about restoring tarnished reputations. The program itself ends at the end of 2016.

These words and actions ring pretty hollow when you consider Carrie Tolstedt, who ran the community banking division where this happened, retired in July of this year with a golden parachute valued at nearly $125 million. Who knows how much cash they made on fees and whatnot from those unwanted accounts. The $185 million fine is probably their cost of doing business, a drop in the bucket when you consider that amount is less than 0.1% of an estimated value that nears $300 billion.

Additionally, 5,300 employees were fired and now have to find new jobs. No executives, unless you count John Stumpf, who finally resigned on October 12.

In my opinion, the PR steps Wells Fargo takes will be insufficient. It'll be a long time before they're able to repair their image. Perhaps if Stumpf had resigned last month the PR hit wouldn't have been quite as severe. Upping the amount set aside for customer refunds from $5 million to a much larger number would help, as would rehiring people who were axed. That is, assuming they'd want to come back in the first place.

Those are just a few of the things the bank could try to win back customer confidence. I look forward to reading the articles in public relations journals that talk about this scandal.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Missing Type

So yeah-- the PR professional who is working with Ryan Lochte kind of has her/his hands full these days. I think they tried their best to coach him for the interview with Matt Lauer, but when he didn't understand what was being asked, he hit the default button and went back to saying how sorry he was.

My two cents is that Lochte will get what he wants out of this. He needs a career outside of swimming and this will help generate enough buzz to convince an executive somewhere to put him back on a TV series of some sort. It doesn't matter that Lochte lied and ran, put his teammates in a bad spot, and was unconvincing in his apology. He'll get his.

Moving along...

I've seen the #missingtype hashtag in the news recently. NHS Blood and Transplant and London-based PR firm Engine Group have come together on this campaign during National Blood Week (August 16-21) to raise awareness of and increase blood donations worldwide. The campaign spanned 21 countries and involved 25 blood services.

Anyhow, many businesses such as Pizza Hut, Google, Microsoft and Xbox, as well as many English Premier League football teams, and various public establishments like museums have either darkened out or eliminated the letters A, B, and O from their names, as those three letters (and their variants) are the most common blood types.

It was a big success in 2015, with nearly 700 pieces of coverage. Social media also picked up on it, as the hashtags #NationalBloodWeek and #MissingType were trending. Close to a half million people engaged with the campaign on Facebook.

I can't stop thinking about what a wonderful idea this is, and how pleased I am that this is taking off. It reminds me of the Ice Bucket Challenge from a few years ago and how much of a difference that made toward ALS research.

But the biggest success is that over 30,000 people registered to donate blood. Here's to hoping the trend continues this year and that folks continue to donate in the long term.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Delta Airlines

We've seen and heard a lot about Delta recently and not in a good way.

Delta of course dealt with a massive power outage that wreaked havoc on operations when backup systems didn't kick in as they should have, resulting in cancellations and disruptions all over the place. 1,700 flights were cancelled and 100,000 people had their lives disrupted-- and that number is conservative, since those are only Monday and Tuesday numbers, and Delta didn't resume a normal schedule until Friday. Business people missed meetings, families were late getting home from vacation, and lives were put on hold.

Not a good look for a company that has been running ads claiming that they've canceled cancellations.

Then when systems got back up and running, planes and crews were out of position, meaning the logjam was slow to clear itself up.

I'm not a frequent flier, so my experience with airline delays is limited. I've spent a morning and part of an afternoon at DFW because of summer weather delays, and I've waited a few hours at Hartsfield-Jackson for my wife's flight to come in after my own flight touched down. But nothing like camping out in an airport for a couple of days with nothing to do and nowhere to go, perhaps with restless kids or frustrated clients to deal with. Airports aren't designed to be a comfortable place, so the situation can be challenging all around.

Delta tried to get out in front of the situation, as CEO Ed Bastian personally apologized for the delay, then appeared in an additional video. The airline issued $200 vouchers early in the process and also waived rebooking fees. So their PR machine knew what to do.

But...

$200 doesn't sound like much when people may have been stuck for a couple of days. Airport food isn't cheap, and it may not be simple to make reservations for a nearby hotel, again to say nothing of the cost. This voucher was later extended to include Tuesday and Wednesday.

Delta initially said there was a power outage at their Atlanta headquarters, but Georgia Power denied it. The airline later owned the misstep.

Also when you're a company like Delta (and you're hanging your hat on 'no cancellations'), you'd better be sure your backup systems pick up if primary power is lost. Old technology, poor training, IT failure, it doesn't matter. Your computer systems need to run in order for planes/people/crews to get places and there had better be functioning secondary systems.

My thought is that the PR response is a bit mixed-- Delta took some positive, proactive steps, but also had some missteps and let a lot of people down. They've said they're sorry. If they mean it, they'll undergo a tech upgrade. They're a worldwide airline so they can't just shut things down while they switch things over. But that's why people get paid money-- to figure these things out and earn back some of the confidence that has been lost.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Gordie Howe

I've been a hockey fan since I was in junior high school, which should tell you something because I think they call them 'middle schools' nowadays. I've also been involved in public relations. Not necessarily as a PR worker but as a radio professional, because what is radio if not trying to put a good foot forward and have others think favorably of your station? Now I'm separated from the radio thing but the PR work and thought continues.

Nearly two months ago these two worlds collided. Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, Penguins at Sharks, was played on Sunday, June 12. Gordie Howe, one of the greatest to ever play the game, died on June the 10th. The first opportunity for the NHL to publicly recognize this would have been prior to game 6. Plans already existed to make this happen prior to the opening faceoff.

However on the morning of the 12th, a guy killed 49 people in an Orlando nightclub. I spent time during the day wondering how San Jose would handle this situation from a PR perspective, since this is a unique and certainly unwanted set of circumstances. Maintaining a favorable public image (a working definition of PR) is clearly secondary here, but proper and timely homage must be shown to the victims and their families, and to Mr. Hockey. What would Sharks PR decide?

The choice was made, correctly, I believe, to change the plan and honor the victims during pregame right before the national anthem. This moved the honoring of Howe to the tail end of the first intermission of the game where it could stand by itself.

As well respected of a player and human being Gordie Howe was/is, my thought is that this is an example of good public relations. Well done by the NHL and by the San Jose Sharks.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Soccer Showdown

Soccer Showdown is a game app I downloaded several months ago, but uninstalled due to frustration over bugs in the game operation. I reinstalled it about a month ago and I haven't been able to stop playing, even though nothing has been fixed.

It's a shootout-style game, winner is whoever has scored the most goals in five rounds. In the event of a tie, extra kicks continue until a winner is declared. Teams are national sides, each with strengths and weaknesses on offense and defense. The version I play has a 16-team league setup and 16-game regular season, with four divisions of four. Eight teams make it to the playoffs, which consist of three head-to-head rounds. Gold is earned through tournament wins, match wins, and consecutive days played. Gold is used to upgrade the size and speed of the gloves, as well as to upgrade the ability to control the ball.

I'm about to take my first shot of the game. The ball and the glove
 both have national team colors.
As for gameplay, finger swipes determine the flight of the kicked ball, as well as what part of the net the gloved hands cover.

This game is addictive and enjoyable. It doesn't take long to play, as one match takes about a minute to play. I've learned to control the ball pretty well, though I shank a few, and other shots look like my 7-iron shot on the golf course. I do well defensively, though I have trouble covering the high corners.

The game is not without flaws. A shot that ends up in the back of the net can be scored a miss and cost you a game, which sucks in the postseason. Having the better record in the playoffs doesn't always mean you get last shot, which should be a reward for good regular-season play. There is no payout for coming in second in the tournament. A win scores 500 gold pieces, second place gets nothing. I typically play with Belgium (2014 World Cup scars have healed, and it's nice knowing Vincent Kompany might be on my team) and have seven of the eight upgrades, but if I want to select a different nation (South Africa? Canada?), all upgrades are set back to zero and I must start over again.

I'm defending, leading 1-0 as the U.S. is about to take
 shot #2.
My biggest beef is scoring a goal and not getting credit. It doesn't happen often, but it happens enough to be a nuisance, and rare is the occasion when it actually changes the outcome. I'm able to wrap my head around it by equating it to the shoddy officiating we actually see on the pitch.

I play an older version, since the 2014 and 2015 editions don't seem to have tournament options available. Game ratings on the app store go back several months talking about the goal flaw I've discussed, so it's apparent it won't be fixed, especially with newer versions in existence. Graphics are solid-- having the stadium in the background is a nice touch and adds to the realism. Paying cash for gold bars is an option, and any purchase removes all ads from gameplay.

7 out of 10 stars, for fun gameplay that doesn't have all the kinks ironed out.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Circles of Life

In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Captain Kirk never faced the Kobayashi Maru scenario, a simulation in which there is no way for the 'captain' to win. Part of the idea is to test the character of Starfleet officers and to teach them something about how to deal with death. Although Kirk never had any trouble sending those poor red-shirted security types off a cliff during the series...

Anyhow, Kirk's lack of experience in these matters came into play later in the movie, when Spock dies in order that the many may be saved at the expense of the one. Kirk didn't really know how to process people dying. That's sort of how I feel these days. A dear friend of my family died back in the spring of 2015. This woman raised me for the first ten or so years of my life, back when both my parents worked. Now she's gone. I only have two uncles, one died in November. Gone.

And about a month ago, another figure from my childhood passed. Jim Perry was a game show host in Canada and the United States, hosting Card Sharks and Sale of the Century. I only got to watch these programs when I was home sick from school (which was very rare), but I did see the first 5-10 minutes of Sale before I'd leave for school in the mornings.

I just remember thinking Jim Perry seemed like a nice man. But who knows how much of it is his being 'in character' for the show, and how much of it is genuine? It sure seemed like the real thing back then, and after watching some old YouTube clips, I still feel that way. Perry seemed like a really nice guy, sharing genuine happiness as contestants won money, and sincerity when he talked to contestants. The final episodes from Sharks and Sale are both glimpses into the man's character, and tell me a lot. Now he's gone too.

Image result for jim perry pictures
I spent some time looking around online to see if perhaps he'd written an autobiography or something, but I haven't seen anything yet. In his later years he wrote some about philosophy, so I spent the six bucks on a book of his that speaks about wisdom and wholeness in one's life, with the hope I could learn more about him. I'm a graduate student which means most of the reading I do is for school, so I haven't been able to dive deeply into what he's written.

But as I journey through middle age, my own lack of experience with the Kobayashi Maru is coming back around. I remember what it was like to be younger and thinking I'd live forever (who doesn't?). I haven't had to deal with death all that much, and I sort of freak out when people like Jim Perry (or even Peter Tomarken, who hosted Press Your Luck, another favorite) no longer walk among us.