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PR Disaster of the Year: The website that derailed a popular President

As the year winds down, we turn to things that really matter. I’m talking, of course, about the 2013 Force for Good PR Disaster of the Year.

Once again, we have an abundance of worthy candidates, including:

  • Carnival Cruise‘s stunning string of misadventures on the high seas disastrously amplified by PR pratfalls–e.g., Carnival’s CEO sighted at a Miami Heat basketball game while being unavailable for comment about the overflowing toilets 4,000 of his customers were enduring aboard a crippled cruise ship adrift in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Paula Deen — for her clumsy video apologies, Today Show no-show, and overall lack of self-awareness in the wake of criticism about her racist comments from years ago. I mean, even if you have fantasized about having black servers at a wedding to give it that classic Southern ambiance, don’t answer “Yes, of course” in a deposition when asked if you have ever used the N-word. 
  • The return of Pink Slime, last year’s “winner.” 
  • The whole Miami Dolphins bullying scandal, especially the way it “ended”–the team rallying behind thuggish anti-hero Richie Incognito and disparaging his victim for “quitting on the team.” We haven’t heard the last of this…

Obamacarewebsite downBut standing out in terms of staying power and sheer volume of coverage was the launch of  Healthcare.gov (aka, the Obamacare website). This one had everything:

  • The website itself clearly was not ready for prime time when it was launched. Warnings from developers were not heeded. A delay would have been embarrassing, but not as damaging as what actually happened…
  • The website crashed right at the onset, prompting the White House to try to make lemonade from the lemons by insisting that this just proved how popular Obamacare was proving to be.
  • Lots of finger-pointing.
  • The spectacle of the President losing his mojo. A press corps that had been supportive (substitute  ”fawning” here if you like) turned on him… His approval numbers tanked…Even Democrats in Congress disavowed their allegiance to the President’s signature achievement.
  • It took way too long to get the website up and running (aptly called a “slow-motion train wreck” here).
  • It provided endless fodder for the late-night comics. When Jon Stewart starts ridiculing a Democratic president, you know things are going badly.
  • Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius broke a cardinal rule from media training by repeating a damning word in a question posed to her during a Congressional grilling. Said she: “Hold me accountable for this debacle.” (But things were so bad at this point, her quote hardly raised an eyebrow.)
  • The President’s “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan” promise turns out to be false for millions of Americans, prompting a series of clumsy explanations and one half-hearted apology. While technically not part of the website debacle, the President’s untruth became a firestorm of its own largely because the press corps pounced on it–the promise originated at a time when the White House counted on the media to give the President the benefit of every doubt. That’s a dangerous assumption, as any media trainer can tell you.

Here’s to the new year and whatever it will bring. One thing’s for sure:  even some who should know better will stumble at just the wrong time, turning an embarrassing moment into a full-blown disaster.

Lessons from Miami: Ugly, hateful bullying is just wrong. Why is there still any debate?

Dolphins' Incognito and MartinThe reputational morass that is the Miami Dolphins’ workplace harassment scandal took several more turns for the worse when… Jonathan Martin alleged that not only had he endured grotesque and racist threats and other abuse from teammate Richie Incognito but also a “vicious physical attack” from an as-yet-unnamed teammate… reports surfaced that the Dolphins coaching staff allegedly told Incognito (someone with quite a well-earned reputation over the years for dirty play, thuggery and a short, wicked temper) to “toughen up” Martin… a story gained traction that the Dolphin’s General Manager had responded to Martin’s attorney (who had complained of the abuse Martin was enduring) that the player should “punch” Incognito as a way of standing up to the bully… and numerous Dolphins spoke out publicly in defense of Incognito, which speaks volumes for the sorry state of the Dolphins culture accepting depraved bullying and intimidation as normal behavior.

And with other players and commentators from around the league blaming Martin for taking the abuse  and echoing the sentiment that this type of behavior is just what goes on in NFL locker rooms, it is clear that the League needs to act swiftly and boldly, making it absolutely clear that it has zero tolerance for behaviors that anywhere else would be universally understood as the very definition of a hostile workplace.

*   *   *

In a seemingly unrelated matter, the long-suffering Chicago Cubs baseball team introduced Rick Reneteria as the club’s new manager. Perhaps Renteria will help end the fabled curse haunting the club; perhaps he will be yet another Cubs failure. But what we do know is he was chosen for the role not only for his knowledge of the game but for his leadership skills. According to the Chicago TribuneCubs President Theo Epstein raved about Renteria’s baseball intellect, his communication skills and his reputation. “Communication skills” refers not only to the fact that Renteria is bilingual (important as the club has several young, talented Latin players who need careful development and nurturing) but that he speaks clearly and directly. He is especially big on “accountability” and every player on the club will understand the concept soon enough.

What are the lessons from all this that transcend the sports world?

Leaders lead. They make it clear what their values are; they live by them and they make sure their people live by them, too. They don’t delegate to subordinates with poor judgment and uncontrollable tempers the discipline or development of others. Leaders make themselves clearly understood. They know actions speak louder than words, but that words matter, too.

Meanwhile, the Miami Dolphins have emerged as the number one contender…for the not-so-coveted 2013 Force for Good PR Disaster of the Year.

“It wasn’t a mistake. We followed procedure.” Passing the blame doesn’t cut it when two convicted killers are loose.

The news yesterday that two more Florida prison inmates were in the process of obtaining forged documents ordering their release underscores the need for all prison officials to scrutinize and verify such documents before letting dangerous convicts loose. Of course.

But it raises a much broader issue: In the age of electronic cut-and-paste, how can we trust any signed documents in any walk of life and business? Clearly, the potential for forgery is great. Companies and government institutions alike will need to routinely include a verification step before accepting a signature as valid in any transaction of consequence. Reaching the signatory by phone or in person will seldom be practical. We’re going to need some sort of unique, embedded coding to prove a signed document is valid. Can we get the nation’s techie A-Team on that right away, er, as soon as they are finished fixing the Healthcare.gov website?

killers mistakenly released

Also…for a quick crisis communications lesson learned, let’s go back to the day the original story broke about the two inmates convicted of murder mistakenly released from prison. While the two killers were on the loose somewhere in the nearby communities, causing no small amount of civilian trepidation, Misty Cash, deputy communications director for the Florida Department of Corrections, reassured the public with these immortal words:

RulesCriteria Winners follow url Awards For itself Judges Photos About Teachers. on Writing Creative and writers how language “There were court documents that were provided and our department followed the process and procedure that we do for every inmate when we receive documents saying they should be released. It wasn’t a mistake. Nobody forgot to do anything or didn’t do something right. There were forged documents involved.”

We are an exceptional source of all the solutions to your http://www.manarululoom.com/?how-can-i-buy-an-essay writing service needs, providing a diverse range of services that are guaranteed to Lesson learned: When something has gone terribly amiss causing imminent danger to the community, a spokesperson is ill-advised to stress that IT WASN’T OUR FAULT! The public doesn’t care if you followed the “process and procedure,” Mindy, we just want the bad guys returned to prison and for this to never, ever happen again.  

Two weeks in Kenya opens our American eyes, melts our hearts

A little departure from my usual blogging as a corporate communicator to a more personal reflection as a citizen journalist…

My wife and I returned to America a week ago from a medical mission to Kenya. We ended our two-week stay in this impoverished country with a couple hours in an relatively upscale shopping mall in the capital city of Nairobi as a bit of a decompression chamber on the way back to the modern world and a chance to buy one more souvenir. As we would find out when we landed in Chicago after eight-hour flights from Nairobi to Amsterdam and Amsterdam to Chicago, less than 24 hours after we departed a terrible terrorist attack began in a very similar mall in Nairobi. Our hearts and prayers go out to the people of Kenya, who have so little, and especially to those killed or injured in the attack. The terror continued for days until the Kenyan military rooted out the last terrorists in the mall and could clear out the boobie traps they had set to try to increase the toll of lost innocent life. We ourselves never felt in any danger while guests of the poor but beautiful country. And, of course, we are thankful we had left before this madness began.

Our time in Kenya was eye-opening to say the least. For two weeks, Mary (a physical therapist) worked alongside doctors and nurses on our mission and the medical people at a hospital in Naivasha (about 40 miles from Nairobi) and at the clinic at Upendo Village, a community established by a visionary nun, Sister Florence Muia, to provide comfort and treatment to women and children suffering from HIV/AIDS. Many of the patients Mary saw were burn victims (including many young children and IMG_0494babies with severe burns from falling into the open fires and boiling kettles on the ground that serve as their family kitchens. She spent hours in “debridement,” cleaning the open wounds of the burn victims each day. The desperate crying of babies in such pain as she worked on their wounds will stay with Mary for a long time. But also the soft “thank you” from each mother as she held her baby for Mary to treat. Conditions at the hospital were horrendous compared to what we expect–most of the little beds held two patients. In the men’s ward, a sick prisoner with open wounds was shackled to the bed frame, guarded by heavily armed police, and sharing the narrow bed with another male patient with an entirely different malady. Mary could add many, many hard-to-believe stories that are not for the faint of heart.

I spent the two weeks working with the construction team mixing and pouring cement floors to add a little bit of modernity to four simple houses that earlier mission teams had built outside Naivasha.IMG_0531 This involved carrying dozens of wheel barrows of gravel, sand and cement mix on to a dirt surface and mixing it by shovel before we added water, then filled five-gallon buckets of concrete mixture that we poured into the dugout floors of the primitive houses. Again, I could tell you many stories that would make you scratch your head–and to be thankful for the many comforts we all take for granted in the comfort of the First World. It was hard work, but rewarding and much appreciated by the people whose homes we were improving.

Still, I think the biggest impact we made was in the goodwill shared between strangers–the warm smiles and waves we gave and received from those curious at the white people who had come to visit them. Especially the children, who would look at us with wide eyes and burst into wide smiles when we smiled and waved at them. One such incident I will long remember occurred toward the end of the first week there. The construction team was working on a house in a little crude farm worked by a multi-generational family. I was feeling the onset of diarrhea (despite my drinking only bottled water and beverages and avoiding fresh salads and vegetables that might have been washed in contaminated water). I moved over into the shade beside the house and sat down to rest. A little girl came over and began talking to me rapidly in Swahili which I of course did not understand. All I Jon and friend in Kenyacould comprehend was her warm smile. I spoke back to her in English, which she didn’t understand either. She began putting pebbles and acorns in my hand and letting me put them into her hands. We played like this for a long time, perhaps an hour, and I began to feel better. I’m grateful for this little girl who came over to cheer me up.

You may wonder why we traveled so far when there are people in need in our country, indeed in our own communities. We do try to help those close at home as you undoubtedly do as well. But we also know that there are many safety nets, public and privately offered, to help the needy here in America. There are no such safety nets for many of the wretchedly poor people of the Third World. And even more importantly, there is great good that comes from these poor, nearly forgotten people seeing that someone cares enough about them to travel from far-away comfortable places to help them, if just for two weeks. And, too, there is much we can learn from these patient, generous and hard-working souls so happy to welcome us into their homes.  We in America take so much for granted!

30 days of tease: first Yahoo! logo truly hideous. But it’s only up from here, right?

Yahoo! today kicked off a stunt of featuring a new corporate logo each day for the next 30 days, before unveiling its new, for-real-this-time logo.

This morning Yahoo! is basking in free publicity. But is this really such a great idea?

The whole idea of a different logo each day is so… Google. The number one search engine is known for its Google doodles–whimsical takes on its logo in keeping with whatever occasion it happens to be. Copying your biggest rival isn’t the best way to showcase your innovative spirit, Yahoo!

And 30 days is a long time to tease. Especially in the Internet world. After all that build-up, the real-deal logo better be fantastic, or Yahoo! is setting itself up for an anti-climatic backlash. So they better make sure that none of the 30 tease logos surpass the final logo in awesomeness. Luckily, they are off to a good start with today’s clunker, a truly annoying graphic horror show:


Reflecting on Snowden and Manning: Plugging corporate leaks while empowering legitimate whistle-blowers

Do you think Edward Snowden is a traitor for leaking secrets from the National Security Administration or a whistle-blower who should be thanked for his service, as Eugene Robinson opines in today’s Washington Post?

Free Bradley Manning protestor

The same question could be asked about Private Bradley Manning, the serial-leaking traitor (unless you think he is a hero) who yesterday was found not guilty of the most damning charge against him–aiding the enemy–but convicted of so many other charges he may very well spend the rest of his life in military prison. US News and World Report calls Manning “The Poster Child for Failing to Prevent Leaks.”

The convergence of these two newsmakers gives those entrusted with protecting corporate reputation plenty to think about, including issues related to leaks:

  • What actions is your company taking to protect sensitive information? Is it clear to all employees that anyone who breaches the company trust will face sever consequences, likely including the loss of his/her job?
  • Do employees know what the company policies are regarding their participation in social media as an unofficial representative of the company? Do they need to be reminded that their obligation to safeguard information they’ve been trusted with, a commitment that somehow can go out the window when they’re Facebooking?

But it’s also an excellent opportunity to ensure employees feel empowered to properly report ethical breaches:

  • Whistle-blowers often are highly ethical employees who just want the company to behave honorably.Their actions can help identify problems before they get truly out of control.  But sometimes “whistle-blowers” turn out to be bitter and twisted haters frustrated by a missed promotion or jealous of others. Does your company consistently treat whistle-blowers seriously, given the presumption of the moral high-ground until proven otherwise?
  • Do employees have a toll-free number available that they can use to report possible ethics violations, harassment or other potentially illegal actions without fear of reprisal? While most matters can and should be handled within the “chain of command,” an employee might very well feel uncomfortable in reporting allegations of improper actions to his/her supervisor, who might very well be implicated. Companies that do not make available a means for anonymously reporting potential violations operate under an increased risk of problems festering far longer than they need to. And that can be a litigation ticking time bomb.


Fake headlines and other viral tricks to avoid

youtube on I phone

The stupendously popular viral video with an irresistible product message is the marketeer’s Holy Grail. But how can you give your product a story that attracts legions of fans?

Lots of so-called experts claim to know how to make videos go viral. But from what I’ve seen, most of them are hawking a combination of the obvious and some flat-out bad advice.

Wharton School marketing prof Jonah Berger has received attention far and wide as the author of the New York Times bestseller Contagious: Why Things Catch On. It’s a catchy title—one of his so-called secrets is to use catchy titles. That in itself is no big revelation. But what exactly is “catchy”? There’s no simple answer. Provocative? Curiosity-inspiring? Against the grain? Yes, yes and yes.

But what about using fake headlines to seduce viewers into clicking only to take them to something quite different (and therefore thoroughly disappointing)? Though a staple of many successful You-Tube spoof videos, this approach nearly always backfires for the product promoter. You’re not looking for more haters for your brand, are you?

That doesn’t stop Berger from using this tired trick himself. An article he penned for Tech Crunch titled “The Secret Science Behind Big Data and Word of Mouth” features absolutely zero “big data.” The headline draws you in; the article disappoints.

Kiri Blakely admitted in her 2011 Forbes post Why Does something Go Viral? that randomness is often the only explanation why one blog posts gets hundreds of thousands of hits and another goes virtually unnoticed. As an experiment, Blakely loaded 20 of her posts on a variety of topics onto the site StumbleUpon. One of the posts received more than 100,000 hits; most of the others received less than 1,000 and a few none at all. What distinguished the virally popular one?  “If I knew that, I’d make a fortune,” she writes. Still she did offer some tips:

  • Calgary Homework Help, Essay Writing. get custom written academic essays in any together with all the details pertaining to your custom essay paper. Keep it simple. “The Susan Boyle video had a very simple beginning, middle, and end structure that quickly encompassed human dreams everywhere: An unattractive, middle-aged woman waddles onto the stage, gets laughed at, and soon transcends with soul-lifting, heart-swelling triumph. It’s the template for millions of movies, bestsellers, and fondly-remembered wars.”
  • high school physical science homework help College http://www.chubut.edu.ar/semanario/?nicholas-laneman-phd-thesis 100 capital punishment discursive essay expert resume writer calgary Make it relatable. “People like to read about things that they can relate to or that they’ve had conversations with their friends about.”
  • http://fada-catec.com/research-paper-on-balance-of-payments/ - Put aside your concerns, place your order here and receive your top-notch paper in a few days modify the way you cope Make it snarky. “The Internet loves snark. And kittens.”
  • Hire top enter inexpensively from the world's largest marketplace of 28m freelancers. Getting started is Free - Receive quotes in seconds - Post Try various social media venues until you hit the right audience. “Sometimes it takes awhile to find your location: some stories are LinkedIn stories, others do well on Twitter, some on Reddit.”

But also keep in mind that videos that go viral often have received quite a bit of behind-the-scenes help. As Godwin Delali Adadzie writes on tech site GADEL said what?   “Most YouTube videos that you see as a viral success are in fact made by top viral marketing firms. These marketing firms pay people to blog about these videos, send links to top influencers on Twitter and Facebook.”

When the apology falls flat–just ask Paula

Just some of the countless lessons from Paula Deen’s free fall from grace:

  • Do some soul-searching before you apologize, so that you apologize for the right things. Deen’s extensive “apology tour”—on a clumsy and maudlin video released on YouTube (since taken down but widely dissected and parodied) and then another YouTube apology video after she stood up Lauer on the Hire best essay writer from source url service. Special discount for first order: -50% Off. Prices start at just ?18 per page. Special November Offer! Today Show, and finally the rescheduled   Get professional dissertation writing help online at BuyDissertation.net. http://klasykaslubna.pl/?essay-on-agents-on-political-socialization with 50% discount! Prices start from per page. Today Show interview that produced its own dreadful apology—fell flat because Deen didn’t know what she was apologizing for. She asks folks out there to forgive her but comes across as confused and lacking any deeply felt contrition.
  • When asked if you ever used the “n” word (or some other heinous act), don’t respond: “Yes, of course.”  You need to show that you understand what you’ve done is wrong and vow to not repeat the action.  Saying some version of “everybody does it” as an excuse negates the rest of the apology. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. Own up to it.
  • Things not to say in your apology: “I is what I is and I’m not changing.” (An unforgettable line from the The best online http://inmobiliariacarreggio.com/canadian-essay-writing/ are known to have the most qualified dissertation writers UK ready to help you with all your academic problems. Today Show interview.) Kind of un-does all that part about being sincerely sorry, don’t you think?
  • Know when to take a public hiatus. After providing one interview in which you sincerely express contrition after some long-soul searching (see above), you make it clear that you plan to drop out of sight for awhile. No more interviews. No more YouTube videos. But note: you can’t drop out of the public eye if what you were apologizing for is still happening, like a massive BP oil spill for example. Then you have to remain available until the end of the crisis.

Lessons from White House attack Twitter hoax: Vigilance; don’t ‘stop loss’

The hacking of the AP’s Twitter account  this week–about a fictitious attack on the White House–sent the stock market diving reminiscent of the “flash crash” of 2010. Two quick observations:

  • Hackers can be more sophisticated than the social media sites we’re all using. If they want to get past your social media firewall, they almost certainly can. So be vigilant in monitoring your own Twitter and Facebook sites, and even your corporate blog–look what happened to Joel Osteen last week. If a mischievous hacker has taken over your social identity, act quickly to let stakeholders and the media know about the fraudulent posts. Redouble your efforts to beef up your cyber security–but know that you’re still vulnerable. (Here’s a very helpful FAQ from Bloomberg about corporate hacking.)
  • The stock exchanges really need to address susceptibility to flash crashes that certainly unsettle investors and undoubtedly cost many of them significant amounts of their savings. And here’s a tip for the individual investor: We used to be told that we should maintain “stop-loss” orders on our investments to automatically trigger in the event a share price declines precipitously, thereby limiting our losses. In the case of a flash crash, doing nothing is far better than automatically selling into a steep drop that quickly reverses back up. Stop-losses are so 20th century.

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