Archive for December, 2004

December 24, 2004: 5:50 pm: Uncategorized

And Merry Christmas.

I’m on the road for a while, and can’t say for sure when I’ll get a chance to scout for further examples of good/bad/ugly.

Keep checking — and we’ll see you when we see you! God bless!

December 17, 2004: 10:15 am: Uncategorized

The Minneapolis-based retailer Target took a hard look at its solicitation policy, and made a harder decision to enforce it against Salvation Army bell-ringers.

As you might expect, there has been a media and consumer backlash. The Salvation Army announced that the ban outside of Target stores would cost the non-profit in excess of $9,000,000 for this season’s kettle campaign. And to make matters worse, some of the boycotters are adding their own agenda to the fire, claiming the bell-ringer ban is really an attack on Christians fueled by gay rights organizations.

Not content to sit on the sidelines, Wal-Mart is one of a number of competitors that has embraced the bell-ringing volunteers — and has even announced it will match those gifts dollar for dollar (up to $1,000,000) through Christmas.

The press attention has been extremely one-sided. Outside of the initial reports, there has been no mention of the fact that many shoppers might prefer not having to make a token donation each time they walk by. Recent stories have failed to take this into account. Also — not only will the Salvation Army more than make up that deficit because of the backlash, it doesn’t rely on the kettle drive for everything. By far, the biggest source of revenue for the Salvation Army is planned giving and bequests. The organization is in better financial shape than just about any non-profit in history. It will be interesting to see how the Salvation Army really fares at the end of the Kettle Drive, and even more interesting to see how Target’s holiday sales end up. It’s not out of the question that both will end up better for the deal — and Wal-Mart could sneak in and get a piece of that too.

December 14, 2004: 4:25 pm: External PR, Helpful Hints

Kurt Busch is a NASCAR champion, who was just a punch or two away from being the next Ron Artest.

Fortunately, some of his big-money sponsors saw the light, and staged a media training intervention.

Youth + speed + high exposure can be a formula for a real car wreck… it can also be a recipe for a media relations nightmare. If proper media training is lacking in your marketing plan, you run the risk of countering your own message.

December 13, 2004: 11:15 am: Uncategorized

The state of Alabama has taken a lot of grief from the rest of the country (here and here and here, and many others in Google News search results) over a failed statewide referendum to remove racist language from the Alabama Constitution.

Michael Ciammara with the Alabama Policy Institute is trying to correct the record.

He’s been making the rounds, trying to get people to understand that voters weren’t voting “for racism” when they narrowly defeated Amendment 2. He ought to know. He opposed the referendum, and he was the man who authored the thing in the first place.

Ciamarra says he’s resubmitting his original Amendment 2, without the additions that were secretly tacked on by a lawmaker. Meanwhile, the pounding continues.

December 10, 2004: 2:40 pm: Uncategorized

Too much spinning can make you dizzy, and you wind up throwing up on your customer base.

DaimlerChrysler is reporting that the feds are calling for the recall of more than 600,000 Dodge Dakotas and Durangos.

NHTSA is making the recommendation after investigating reports of upper ball joint separation on dozens of vehicles. When that joint separates, the suspension can collapse and the wheel can fall off.

Those reports are tied into causing a number of accidents, but no injuries.

Now, as a spokesperson, it’s important to put the best face on a situation. DaimlerChrysler spokesman Max Gates was quoted this way in the New York Times:

“We don’t think a recall is appropriate,” Mr. Gates said. “We haven’t had any serious injuries or fatalities. We’ve been saying this is not a safety defect.”

CBS News first reported the request for a recall.

The traffic agency could force the company to recall the trucks, but that process could take years and could potentially be delayed by litigation.

Mr. Gates said the problems with the trucks generally occurred at low speeds during turns. He also said most drivers would have advance warnings of a potential problem because of excessive tire wear or unusual noises coming from the front of the trucks.

As a driver, that would make me feel more secure. As a DaimlerChrysler stockholder, I’d feel more secure if Mr. Gates didn’t leave himself open to creative editing. Some journalists will latch onto parts of your statement if you are not careful. Like in this Associated Press brief that hit dozens of television news sites, like this one:

The company spokesman says it does not think “it rises to the level of a safety defect.”

Wow. Big difference. And there’s no context to let you know that Gates has a point, instead of just blowing smoke.

How do you avoid this? It’s real tricky. Proactive techniques work with regular beat writers and producers, where you get a chance to explain the connection in a way they will understand. Lacking that opportunity, you need to phrase things differently, so the “juicy” part of the quote is harder to remove from its context:

“For this to be a real safety issue, wheels would be falling off without warning or at high speeds — and there’s no recorded instance of that. Most drivers were alerted by unusual front-end noise, or tire wear.”

That was just from the top of my head. It’s not perfect, but it demonstrates some principles in the war of words:

- The potentially damaging phrase is placed within a dependent clause. “We’ve been saying this is not a safety defect” can stand alone as an independent sentence. It is harder to take your phrase out of context when it is clearly dependent upon surrounding words for meaning.

- The potentially damaging phrase is shrouded in the cloak of possibility. “Wheels would be falling off at high speeds.” Now, the recall is cast as a precautionary probability, instead of avoiding a certain doom. Subliminal in effect, yet very effective. The glass is mostly full.

- The potentially damaging phrase is couched along with advice to drivers about what to look for. If I was a Dodge driver, and I heard that wheels were falling off, I’d be livid. If I knew there were a couple of easy things to check, I’d feel better about staying on the road until time for the recall repair. Because of the construction of that short paragraph, the information I would want is right there.

You can’t always gurarantee that reporters will write things the way you meant them. So write them in a way that gives less leeway for misinterpretations. Put on your “pretend journalist cub reporter” hat, and look at a few phrases or sentences in your statement. See which ones you’d twist or stretch if you were a competitor. Fix what you can, and then don’t sweat it. Your long-term credibility is more important than short-term spin.

December 7, 2004: 5:00 pm: Uncategorized

NYU is staging a boycott of Coca-Cola products, because of allegations of child labor and human rights violations in El Salvador.

Coca-Cola responded to this nearly a half-year ago, detailing how it met with the Human Rights Watch on several occasions.

Apparently, the folks at NYU are still putting stock in the Human Rights report from June 4th, with little attention paid to Coke’s response of June 10th.

What’s really funny here is that since 1985, American Coke has been made with high-fructose corn syrup.

Bottom line, though — Serious accusations filed, Coke filed a quick response, but there’s something else you have to take into account: “A person can believe anything he wants, as long as he can disparage the motive of the debunker.” Therefore, it pays to be vigilant, and ensure that the general public isn’t bypassing your efforts to reach them with the truth.

Actually, Thomas Sowell said it this way:

It is amazing how many people think that they can answer an argument by attributing bad motives to those who disagree with them. Using this kind of reasoning, you can believe or not believe anything about anything, without having to bother to deal with facts or logic.

December 3, 2004: 2:02 pm: Uncategorized

A British cyber-security firm is reporting that the biggest looming threat on the net isn’t viruses or exploits… it’s good old-fashioned smear campaigns.

According to mi2g, Corporate hate sites are the new rage — or vent for rage, however you want to look at it. They surveyed 125 global CEOs to substantiate their warning.

Already, there are more than 10,500 anti-corporate hate sites online. Some are meant to vent grievances, others are more insidious. In some cases, the owners of the “hate site” offered to sell the domain to the smear target… which is really little more than digital extortion.

As the keeper of your corporate reputation, it might not be a bad idea to “google” yourself every now and then, or even use a tool like Google Alerts to do the web-crawling for you. Watch for website names that are variations of your company name, including words like “ihate” at the beginning or “sucks” or “myths” at the end.