Monday, September 30, 2013

We're Number 68!

Is it worth shouting about an award if you aren't among the Top Ten winners?

Today, Apple is the world's No. 1 Brand, according to Interbrand, a brand consulting agency (surprise!) that annually assigns an economic value to the best-known global brands. This year, Apple bounced long-time top dog Coca-Cola off the Global Brands summit, landing it just below Google at No. 2. (Read the whole list here.)

Business awards are our industry's cottage industry. A publication or organization looking to gain credibility creates some form of award competition, invites nominees, recognizes the winning companies at a banquet or news conference -- and then tries to leverage the relationship into an exchange of cash. Buying an ad or a membership. Licensing the award logo for use on packaging or in ads. And so on.

Everyone likes recognition. Even if it's not cheap. Once J.D. Power recognizes your company as tops in customer satisfaction, you need to pay a minimum five-figure sum to use their black-and-gold award in any of your promotional materials.

But, if you earn recognition and want to crow about it, make sure your organization is one of the top three honorees. Or five. Or ten. At some point, there's less lustre of success if you're buried somewhere down a list of winners.

For example, DiversityInc. runs an annual Top 50 Companies for Diversity. More than 300 companies submit entry documents. If you're one of the ten best, that deserves a news release. If you're among the top 25, it deserves a brief mention internally and perhaps externally. If you're No. 50, however, the recognition may not be seen as the crowning achievement you'd like it to be.

And Panasonic, the global electronics manufacturer? They steamed onto Interbrand's Global Brands list at No. 68. That's not a misprint. No. 68.

What's more, Panasonic issued a news release highlighting its stellar feat. Sixty-eighth, out of 100. More baffling: they took the opportunity to mention they'd dropped three spots from the 2012 list, and talk about a new executive, a turnaround plan, and a slogan. All in one stew of a release. 

How does that change your perception of Panasonic?

Semi-full disclosure: I love and use Panasonic's Lumix digital cameras. I own several, and maybe you do, too. Panasonic builds compact digital cameras for several of the leading camera brands in the world. 

I once worked with a marketing VP who's now doing similar work for Panasonic. But I hope my VP pal wasn't calling the plays when Panasonic issued its "We're No. 68" news release. That's big leap from rival Samsung's No. 8 showing on  Interbrand's list. Or Hewlett Packard at No. 15. Or Canon at No. 35. 

Highlighting your No. 68 ranking tells audiences that you have a long way to go. No one's going to order up a crate of T-shirts saying "No. 68 and Proud" for employees to wear. 

And, it's not a winning PR tactic to build awareness for a company that's been eclipsed by Samsung and more agile electronics companies.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Follow-up: it's a family business

My recent post on NASCAR's credibility problems got an answer. Sort of.

The AP published a profile on Brian France: 

Do you think it's enough for NASCAR to police itself from the top down, or get some external advice from experts who pretty-date Brian France's leadership?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Restoring credibility in turn four

Last week, NASCAR gave itself a black eye. Several, actually.

This week, NAPA Auto Parts smacked the team responsible for NASCAR's PR week from hell.

Without digging into details that only a motorhead could fathom, it boils down to this: driver Clint Bowyer deliberately spun out in the Richmond, VA. race, shuffling the race's finishing order so a teammate could make NASCAR's big playoffs, the Chase for the Cup. You can read the convoluted details here.

NASCAR, the sanctioning organization, has very deep pockets -- thanks to lucrative TV contracts and corporate sponsorships of teams and drivers. NASCAR came down hard on Bowyer's team, Michael Waltrip Racing, suspending team members, imposing a $300,000 fine, and bumping Bowyer's teammate, Martin Truex Jr., from the Chase playoff season. Truth is, there's been trickery in motor racing for years. MWR just got caught doing it, thanks to their over-the-air coded radio messages between the team and Bowyer.

Then NAPA -- a team sponsor that's backed Waltrip for a dozen years -- pulled the plug on the multi-million-dollar relationship. Leaving Truex, a true innocent bystander to the team's mischief, without a lead sponsor in 2014.

NASCAR jumbled the finalists for the Chase; Bowyer's in, Truex is out in more ways than one. But they incurred the wrath of hundreds of vocal online fans. And tried to placate their anger with -- surprise -- a leaden, policy-filled news release.

As governing body for a sport built on running moonshine, bumping fenders and cutting off fellow drivers, NASCAR has wavered between strict enforcement of sportsmanship rules and allowing a free-for-all, "have at it" atmosphere. They talk about their terrific, huge fan base -- but leave it to the sponsors and drivers to engage with the teams. That usually translates to autographs and T-shirts.

NASCAR needs a PR overhaul:

  • Fans are disenchanted. The "Chase for the Cup" locks out all but the top 12 drivers from winning a championship. 
  • Its "Drive for Diversity" program (in which I was involved for a time) has yet to produce a top-tier Sprint Cup driver. Its one minority driver, Juan Pablo Montoya, didn't win many races and fled to Indy cars. 
  • Danica Patrick drew plenty of headlines when she became the sole woman competing in Sprint Cup, but she hasn't really been competitive in her two years at the wheel. 
  • And the Waltrip-Bowyer dust-up hasn't helped.

My prescription: like most established sports, NASCAR has a cadre of legendary retired drivers: Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Rusty Wallace, Buddy Baker, Fred Lorenzen, and others. They are by no means saints, but they can form the core of an advisory committee that can sift what's working in NASCAR and what isn't.

And if NASCAR's smart, it will act on at least some of their recommendations to help restore its credibility.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Listening between the lines

You're on Twitter. And your clients ought to be on Twitter. Or should they?

Not without an escort. That would be you, the PR professional.

You need to guide clients' use of Twitter. It's a stream-of-consciousness (or semi-consciousness) tool that without strategy and discipline can damage a clent's brand more than enhance it. Applebee's PR ordeal over the employee who posted a guest's receipt in response to a modest gratuity blew up, in part, because of its exposure on Twitter. (It didn't help that an inexperienced Twitter manager at Applebee's extended the exposure of the unhappy event.)

AT&T Twitter ad, 9-11-2013
Today's @ATT ad, using symbols of the Sept. 11 tragedy on 9/11 to promote its wireless products, demonstrates social media tone-deafness at its worst. The backlash was swift, loud and punishing. AT&T took down this image (at right) within minutes after the backlash.

But what about your use of Twitter? Are you posting more than listening? 

The one value often overlooked by PR practitioners and marketers in building a social media presence is the opportunity to listen to customers. On Twitter, users of your client’s products—and competitors’ products—often share their likes and dislikes. This feedback generally doesn’t damage a brand by itself, but how you use these comments is critical.

If all you do is “monitor” a conversation, you’re not using the information to its greatest potential. If you listen—and share your discoveries with the marketing decision-makers on your client team—it can help your organization respond to consumers’ concerns about its products and services.

Fact: Every Facebook user and Twitter follower is now a potential editor/gatekeeper. They find fragments of news, opinion, and gossip, and replay it—often with their own spin—on their favorite social media website. They regard this as “repurposing content,” but it may work to enhance the poster’s brand, rather than the source of the original news item.

Examples include news reporters based in one city who re-tweet news stories from nearby cities. They often view this as “content sharing,” but because they aren’t actually covering the story as the original news source did, they’re relying on a third party to help extend their credibility.

One benefit of reporters’ and editors’ addiction to Twitter is that they often tell you what they’re working on, and where they are. As a PR pro, if you have a story that can tie into the day's breaking news, following these journalists can help you identify those who may have time and interest in the story you need to share.

Understanding how to read, interpret, and effectively craft messages on these social media sites takes time. There’s a simple vocabulary to learn, but once you master these details, it’s your tool to use wisely. 

But, learn first. Spend time observing how other businesses on Twitter handle tweeted criticisms and compliments. Use what you learn to develop your Twitter strategy for clients. Some organizations ask their social media team to function as listeners, but few businesses can afford having a “chief listening officer”—so it’s up to you, as the PR manager, to regularly check on how your client's brand is portrayed in social media.

And listening between the lines usually leads to a wiser PR strategy.