When Company Failures Become Public (Relations) Problems

Why are “lack of public relations” scandals and failures called PR problems?

Spoiler alert: Rant ahead.

This op-ed in USA Today on the latest Penn State woes prompted this rant, in part because of headlines calling the situation and Barron’s letter “PR blunder.” Wasn’t in the room when that letter was written, but IME ‘passionate’ defenses like that may get through legal and TPTB barely listen to PR.

Or here’s Wired on YACHT’s fake scandal – and many tweeters – referring to a shameless marketing publicity stunt as “PR.” Keep reading, you’ll see the (I’ve never heard of) band’s own publicity firm disavowed the move.

Somehow this type of business culture, management’s failure to hire or listen to communications professionals is a blunder – for PR. And SMH?!

Here’s me (if you scroll down, you’ll see the comments), fighting this fight with a Forbes contributor and how I argue almost all the so-called public relations blunders are caused by marketing or company culture or management. And that they evolved into reputation, branding – and therefore PR issues – only after they became public.

Not an Afterthought

Communications is how business runs. Period.

I’ll skip the rant about how PR is so much more than marketing, sales, leads; or an unread employee relations newsletter; or likes and clicks on social media. Many a PR is not publicity post out there, as there should be.

The problem is that professional business communicators like myself don’t get to make these decisions. Our brains are picked, we’re asked to work for free instead of the value of our work.

Buried under Marketing or Human Resources department heads, corporate communications and public relations professionals aren’t on the board, don’t have a seat at the table. Communications, reputation, relationships – these are thought of only after something goes wrong.

That’s not a PR problem, it’s an organizational one.

Comments (2) | Trackback

Expectations Miss the Mark

Some things are odd, lately Expectations top that list. Had a lot of wants and wishes, and what was planned… let’s just say, very much not how things turned out.

A Customer Goes Into the Wrong Door…

Imagine a business where the customer isn’t really there for the service or product provided by that business.

what-did-you-expect_o_751563Imagine people that take a Caribbean cruise but don’t like sun and beaches. Or they don’t like friendly passengers or open dining seating or so many things that are cruise standard. They want adult only, yet book a family cruise line, during a school break.

So they send funny cruise complaints to the unofficial blogger at Carnival, who has to answer for weather and not buying insurance and many other SOPs.

People go to doctors for a quick Rx of a wonder pill that will fix this side effect of that other pill that’s supposed to be treating some other problem. Do the work to actually get better (diet, exercise, sleep and other things healthy) and no, there’s gotta be a pill for that too.

Read through any TripAdvisor or Yelp pans and you’ll see a plethora of ridiculous ‘what were they thinking?! that’s not that kind of place’ reviews.

Think of going to a hair salon to get your taxes done. I exaggerate but it’s often how I’ve felt during my career as an business consultant. People walk in asking for one thing yet it’s something completely different they really want. [What they really need – that’s a whole other expectations vs communications battle right there.]

Always another..

Opportunities are supposed to be around every corner. I’ve pretty much handled every challenge (aka disguised opportunity) life has thrown my way on my own, even when the right decision was the hard decision of ‘giving up’ and letting go. The current challenge du jour – realigning my expectations without it feeling like lowering the bar yet again, then figuring out how to get there.

You? Any fun examples of mismatched expectations, do share.

Image credit: Memecenter


No comments | Trackback

At the Movies: Business, Doing it Wrong

I’ll interrupt my normal content about how how communications is what drives successful business, PR more than sales and marketing, with a long overdue blog post, to rant about how Hollywood does and doesn’t get business vis a vis the movies.


Think the best OJT for business may be running a restaurant, a chef as CEO. Except when it’s Hollywood and you can bully your way into greatness without really trying. This one seemed so out of date, much like the chef at the center of the story.

About the only things it got right: 1) it takes a team, that the people doing the work are what makes – or breaks – a business and 2) competition can drive success, forcing others to up their game.

achievementdemotivator_largeSteve Jobs

I though the movie got the vision, the idea of people not knowing what they want until you make it for them. The familiar Sorkinisms zeroed in on target market, how they weren’t going after computer geeks who’d hack their own machines but rather everyone else willing to pay a premium for something that just works.

I saw how communications – interpersonal, professional, organizational – drive business. How failing to recognize contributions, how management values its employees do has consequences. Relationships matter.

My favorite part of Steve Jobs –  failure. Great marketing isn’t everything; buzz and a successful ad may drive stock prices and market value a bit, but if the product or service doesn’t make a profit, it’s still a bust. Moving on, planning ahead and failure being part of that plan, gives me hope as I’m not ‘there’ – yet.

The Intern

Infuriatingly simplistic representation of a startup that’s supposed to be a genius business model – sexist #FWP idea of buying clothes online whilst drinking wine with friends. It’s Hollywood take on what a startup would be, all renovated building open spaces, sans grey cubes, with an on staff masseuse and annoying victory bell.

Stuffed with predictable cliches and stereotypes, I can’t decide what was the most eye roll worthy – that such an innovative startup would require coders and programmers and designers to schlep to offices on-site rather than telework or that it’s fearful CEO had to micro-manage even the font and color designs of the website homepage on a daily basis.

What does this have to do with PR? Everything.

Media and critics. Investors and stockholders and board members. Service & Support and R&D. Customers and clients. Vendors, suppliers, distributors. Staff, team members, ‘talent’ or whatever employees called. These are all key players in every movie and in my world, they are AKA as stakeholders. The Publics of Relationships.

It’s work, a lot of work to accomplish something. Uniting people behind a goal of building a business or reviving a brand or managing a project, that takes effort and effective communications. See also The Martian which, while it limited “PR” to public affairs and media relations, at least that person was in the room and had some say when the big decisions were made.

Ever seen a movie or show that got your job, your business so very very wrong? Please share.

No comments | Trackback

Waste Not, Want More.

Got a form letter from my cellular carrier. It’s one of the Big Ones, sent from the “Senior Vice President” no less, of “Customer Experience.” Useless does not begin to describe this thing.

It’s textbook, How NOT to Design a Direct Mail piece:


  • It’s all copy, no images. Just a little bold, bullets, line breaks.
  • It’s personalized (ok, one point), but then about him and why he’s writing to me.
  • Next up it’s lots of babbling b.s. about them. Techs and specs, with SIX footnotes (?!) as if anyone would read that far.
  • It mentions two new “value” offerings, but no breakdown as to how they would Help. ME.
  • Mr. SVP goes on being “proud,”  bragging about a popular vanity (read: meaningless) service award.
  • It ends. With him being glad I chose them. And an epic facepalm: No CTA. Seriously. Nothing.

The ONLY reason I even got past opening and scanning the damn thing was professional curiosity. A real person, shredder city.

How many thousands of dollars in paper, printing, postage were spent mailing millions of these? What marketing communications manager thought this a good investment – a generic, no-offer form letter?!

Wherefore art thou, oh elusive ROI?

I’ve long since held that logos and websites and good writing, smart PR and integrated social media are all parts of an essential Communications program. Strategic, comprehensive Communications being key to any business success. And I still do.

I also know that in a Time vs. Money, DIY at your own risk world, the ROI sometimes just isn’t there for small biz. If no one’s pipes break or people don’t have the money to redo their bathroom, that local plumbers phone won’t ring no matter how lovely the logo, how shiny his Facebook page, nor beautifully written the website copy.

As I recently commented in a smart discussion on piffle, publicity and traditional PR – even the big guys get this wrong. Next week, the global brands will roll out their Big Game Ads that by all accounts, do not impact sales nor improve brand reputation. But spend gazillions they will.

Do we just go through the motions? Spin wheels for the sake of looking like we’re doing something?

Dear Mr. SVP: Stop TELLING me you’ve done better, SHOW me with a better signal inside, by dropping fewer calls. Don’t waste my monthly fees marketing right back at me – give me a loyalty discount. Invest in your customers, in your brand – not banal business blather

Tell me: How do we guard against the waste, make sure we get the true business returns we seek? My advice to all businesses, large and small: Waste Less, Do More. 

Comments (2) | Trackback

Brand Image is in the eye of the Beholder.

Can’t help it, the Macklemore-Ryan Lewis tune “Thrift Shop” is one of my jams. Fun, catchy and it makes a pretty keen observation on marketing to our consumer culture:

$50 for a t-shirt? I call that getting swindled and pimped. I call that getting tricked by a business.” Cracks me up since while I’d never pay that much for a tee just because it has Brand X on it, I’d be happy to get it for $14.

How did I not know about this?!

I’m a diehard clearance rack shopper at Macy’s, happy to peruse Marshall’s and TJMaxx for deals and bargains. One store that I’d never considered was ROSS.

Maybe it was the signage, maybe the “Dress for Less” tagline; can’t say I’d ever paid attention to their ads. But whatever it was, the image I had for ROSS made me think it wasn’t for me. OMG was I wrong.

ROSS has cute stuff! It’s not wall-to-wall designer, but I’ve found some nice dresses, bought cute gifts and housewares. Scored Michael Kors shoes! Told a friend about my ‘new’ store and she was like, ‘been going for years.’ I was like, ‘so you’ve been holding out on me then?!’

I’m paying attention to the ads and wow, is the marketing off brand. Is it that they’re going only for the bargain shopper? The lower end? Is that why the marketing seems to ‘miss’ the middle, and high? Whatever the reason, they need a rebrand.1243048824goodchance

Image is Everything

Think what your marketing, your communications say about your organization, your small business.

  • Are you going for ‘value’ but landing on ‘cheap’? Details matter. If you’re courting the high-end market, you won’t you convey ‘gotta have it at any price luxury’ when you use cut-rate photography, design, printing, ‘buy now’ hard sell.
  • If you talk ‘customer service‘ as a cornerstone of your brand, then relegate it to a subset of sales, it’s just a setup for crappy service. Call center ‘support’ staffed with nothing more than a script and no empowerment in the company only hurts your reputation – and drives customers to someone who does it better.

Close your eyes. Picture what you want customers to see, what you think they see when they hear your name.

Take a hard, honest Kitchen Nightmare Meltdown look: Your website. Your brochures and ads. The stories you tell. The lobby the greats guests, your showroom floor. The photos you splash on Facebook and Pinterest.

There’s a reason global companies like Apple, Disney, Coke know from reputation and PR, service and image; the details represent what they need them to. These things are all part of your brand – and they communicate your company’s brand image.

If you’re telling the wrong stories, building the wrong image in the eyes of your stakeholders – I can help you create the right one.

Ever been pleasantly surprised or galactically disappointed by a brand experience that was completely off? Tell me.

Photo credit: Bluntcards also crack me up.

No comments | Trackback