Monday, January 25, 2016

Revisiting the battle of burritos

News item: Chipotle will hold an all-employee meeting Feb. 8, closing its doors to the public while engaging executives and workers in real time on issues stemming from its recent food-borne illness crisis.

Not a bad idea. A food safety crisis crippled Chipotle's business for the fourth quarter of 2015, with mysterious outbreaks in the Pacific Northwest and New England. A month ago, I praised the upfront, take-responsibility approach of co-CEO Steve Ells, who went on network TV news shows to publicly apologize for the restaurant chain's problems.

Getting all employees on the same page, even for an hour, reflects Chipotle's commitment to following through on its promises. And the move has potential PR benefits, as the employee meetings demonstrate that the chain is taking serious steps to address its problems.

Will this persuade me to visit the Chipotle eatery in my town? I've only eaten at one Chipotle, years ago, before the chain's rapid growth. And it didn't make enough of an impression to lure me to other Chipotles afterward.

At the same time, I'm wondering if other fast-food chain restaurants might benefit by holding all-employee meetings of their own. Most organizations appreciate the value of employee engagement efforts, and face-to-face meetings are a proven tactic. 

One hurdle: you'd need to close your doors for an hour to hold all-team meetings. And do so more than once a year. Which means turning away consumers in search of hot breakfast burritos or Egg McMuffins. 

But, when I read about hourly employees coming to blows at a nearby Taco Bell, I'm thinking that closing the drive-through window for a one- or two-hour chat would be in the best interests of workers, management, the organization's brand, and consumers.

Because the fast-food business is struggling to keep health-conscious consumers as it is. And no one wants a breakfast crunchwrap prepared by an employee with an axe to grind.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Causewave: New name, new mission

Last week, my pal Dresden Engle invited me to a big reveal: the re-branding of the Ad Council of Rochester to Causewave Community Partners.

The old Ad Council organization, founded decades ago by an advertising manager at Eastman Kodak Co., orchestrated community-wide campaigns that grew awareness for water pollution, distracted driving, and other important issues. And it helped dozens of not-for-profit organizations earn visibility in regional media.

The fresh branding helps Causewave differentiate itself from other regional Advertising Councils, as well as the national Ad Council.

Now, about the organization's causes:

At the event, I met a few PR professionals who are on the high side of age 50. They had that look; they were networking, looking for contacts who might help them find job opportunities. These pros were in the minority; most of the Causewave celebrants were much younger.

As a demographic snapshot, the job seekers were older, with salt-and-pepper hair and a subtle vibe of Henry David Thoreau's quiet desperation. This mirrored my experience in 2013, when poorly veiled ageism stalled my career pursuits. I got lucky, but not after a long string of thanks-but-no-thanks rejections.

So, here's a proposal for Causewave's agenda of "collective impact" issues: Fight ageism in the workplace. Call on corporations, agencies, and marketers to seriously recruit beyond the 20-, 30-, and 40-somethings in its kickoff audience. Enlist owners and presidents of Causewave's partner organizations in an initiative to hire experienced advertising and PR pros.

Why? Because affordable health care and medical advances mean people are living longer. So the target demographic for many consumer products and services now skews older.

And smart marketing communication strategies ought to employ strategists who know the 50-plus demographic better than people half their ages.

Monday, January 11, 2016

In need of a hot shower

Photo by DO'Neil via Wikimedia Commons.
I need a shower. Right now. Maybe I can scrub away the stench of this story.

Sexual harassment is beyond shameful. It's criminal. The women who accused entertainer Bill Cosby of sexual assault are at last being taken seriously.

But we're kidding ourselves if we think such behavior is limited to realms of entertainment or politics. It's a widespread, heinous practice. 

Even in the PR industry.

Look no further than last month's imbroglio involving D.C.-based PR executive Trevor FitzGibbon, whose agency's client list included Amnesty International, Wikileaks, and the American Civil Liberties Union. Less than a month after several women voiced claims of sexual harassment or sexual assault against Mr. FitzGibbon -- including a female job applicant from whom he solicited nude photos -- FitzGibbon Media shuttered its doors

And the agency's 29 employees were left jobless a few days before Christmas, through no malfeasance of their own. One told PR Week:

"The way it has been handled is uncool, our emails were cut off immediately and there has been no severance pay for anyone. It sucks that people are out of a job just before Christmas."

To their credit, most of FitzGibbon's ex-staff crafted and signed a statement that said, in part:

"For decades, Trevor presented himself a champion of the progressive movement, claiming to support and respect women and feminist issues, from equal pay to reproductive rights, but his actions prove a hypocrisy so great that FitzGibbon Media closed its doors today, as we could no longer continue working under his leadership” ... “We lost our jobs standing up for what’s right, to ensure a safe workplace for all – and while we may have been left without jobs, benefits and long-term healthcare, we have our integrity and each other.”

We tend to overlook the collateral damage from one person's sexual misconduct. In this case, FitzGibbon's employees are also victims of one PR pro's disregard of ethics or responsibility. Those who signed the statement demonstrate a strong grasp of the importance of integrity and ethics. 

More, apparently, than their former boss.

Now, where's the soap?

Monday, January 4, 2016

Facebook through a spyglass

I don't do New Year's resolutions. I don't own a smartphone.

Which is not to say I don't need self-reappraisal, or that I am not online. I choose when and where I engage, rather than letting devices or media clich├ęs drive my decisions.

By Stanislav Kozlovskiy (Own work)
[CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I recently unfolded a virtual spyglass, and took a long, hard look at Facebook, appraising the social media site and the interactions it offers. PR pros appreciate Facebook's ability to reach a broader audience. We see it as a way to help our messages go viral. 2014's ice bucket challenge wouldn't have achieved its remarkable reach without Facebook. And that's fine.

Many of Facebook's other features, however, are less admirable. Quizzes that tell you which words you used most often in your posts? Recycled click-bait stories? Re-shared posts that decry cancer and government ineptitude? Intentionally incendiary political needling meant to provoke rather than illuminate? These solve little.

(Cats? Recipes? Secret uses of hydrogen peroxide? You're on your own, and your mileage may vary.)

I'm no biblical scholar, but the Tower of Babel and Facebook have much in common. I enjoy learning of friends' successes, but I've come to realize few of these acquaintances are sharing their setbacks, too. So we get an incomplete portrait of their lives. Some of it serves up insight. Much of the rest is less illuminating.

So if I choose to contribute less to the din of Facebook, it's not a criticism of friends. It's my way of saying, "enough, already." I'll prune away posts of those who lean on pseudo-Limbaugh political labeling. I'll listen, however, if offered genuine solutions to solve problems. But I don't need to read snarkisms that throw mud upon our society's achievements, even the inconsistent ones.

Call it a resolution, if you wish. Facebook will learn less about me. But there's a good chance that I'll learn more by spending authentic time with real friends. And I won't need a spyglass to experience them.