Archive for March, 2005

March 31, 2005: 4:57 pm: Uncategorized

Even the mighty need a little love…

Wal-Mart is holding a media conference — not about a particular subject or incident. Just ’cause.

The retailer has taken a number of hits in the media over the years, but has always taken the philosophy that as long as we’re growing, why risk it? Well — here’s why:

“Despite Wal-Mart’s negative image, throngs of customers keep shopping at its stores, but that could change, image experts said.

‘Any retailer has to be cautious about consumers’ opinions of their business ethics and practices,’ said Howard Rubenstein, president of Rubenstein Associates, a New York-based public relations firm.”

The 50 or so journalists who are expected to make the trip to Arkansas to attend will have plenty of past fodder on which to chew… and Wal-Mart can ill afford to play around with the responses.

“They need to persuade people they are bigger than people’s attitudes toward them,” said Clarke Caywood, professor of public relations at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

My guess is the Bentonville marketing machine knows how to use Google News, and they are well aware of what will be asked. There could even be an advantage in being able to prepare for everything, because the press will have to as well. But a hungry press could stir a frenzy now that there’s blood in the water.

“This is clearly by Wal-Mart’s own admission a damage control tour,” said Christy Setzer, a spokeswoman at the AFL-CIO, whose United Food and Commercial Workers Union is trying to organize workers at some Wal-Mart stores. “They are aware of a growing chorus of community leaders, environmentalists and religious leaders, who are saying that Wal-Mart’s values are not our values. And they need to respond to this. It is telling that they would rather spend millions of dollars on PR efforts than to change their business practices.

The irony here is that the company does have some decent things going on within its various communities, in terms of charitable involvement and corporate citizenry. But there hasn’t been a comprehensive strategy to capitalize on that as an antidote to the anti-Wal-mart sentiment.

If I can find a transcript of the newser, it might be fun to pick apart the answers.

Anyone interested?

March 24, 2005: 12:17 pm: Uncategorized

If you don’t recognize the guy at the left, don’t worry. You probably recognize his work.

Daniel Moore is the 2005 Sports Artist of the Year, although in the state of Alabama, he’s really been the only sports artist of record for an entire generation.

Remember that postage stamp honoring Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant? Moore did that one. He also did the stamps for Pop Warner, George Halas and Vince Lombardi. He’s more well-known for photo-realistic depictions of turning points from crucial games. You can see them in athletic departments, and in the dens and offices of rich (and not-so-rich) fans and boosters across the Southeast.

Anyway… now he’s being sued by the University of Alabama in a licensing dispute.

The university’s lawsuit, which Moore said he received via fax on Friday, claims Moore has violated trademark law and marketed some products with Crimson Tide images without paying licensing fees.

It seems the University isn’t going after Moore to be vindictive — it’s a matter of not establishing a precedent by letting people walk all over their trademarks. But Moore’s attorneys say a 2000 case involving Tiger Woods set the legal standard that art is free speech, and is not subject to license fees based on content.

I don’t know the ins and outs of the legal briefs, but I do know this: the university isn’t winning the PR war.

In his own news release, Moore states:

“Dr. (Finus) Gaston conveyed the University’s position as being that a mere depiction of an Alabama sports uniform in a Fine Art Print is cause enough for the work to be subject to licensing—even if it did not include a depiction of a registered trademark of the school itself. “

Wow. That seems rather greedy, and according to an online poll by, 85% of the respondents voted no on the question “Should Daniel Moore have to pay licensing fees to the University of Alabama?”

I know the University took a long time to eventually file an action. But it does make you wonder whether the guardians of the school’s images won out over the guardians of the school’s reputation. Even if UA wins… it loses.

March 23, 2005: 4:36 pm: Uncategorized

(zoom zoom.)
Zoom – zoom – zoom…

A Wisconsin woman tries to invoke the lemon law, and Mazda kicks and screams through the appellate courts.

I don’t know who to blame more — the lawyers who are dragging this thing on, or the PR people who aren’t pointing out the inherent danger of seeking bad publicity.

March 16, 2005: 4:34 pm: Uncategorized

Folks… it’s been feast or famine in the Good-and-the-Bad. Other than the ongoing Michael Jackson media circus, the wilderness is silent. (And speaking of the circus — I’ve desperately avoided mentioning that Jackson’s handlers are cutting off his nose to spite his… nah. Too easy.)

So — I bring you a couple of original thoughts, and how you need to avoid them in your implementation.

First, what I call The Beekeeping Theory of Public Relations: Blow a lot of smoke, and hope it keeps you from getting stung.

This is more common than you would think, and it’s more a result of a lack of planning. Sometimes, it’s employed by organizations that are trying to slip their bad medicine out in giant sugar-coated containers — hoping the sheer volume of released information will make it less likely to be discovered. Risky, at best.

The second notion is what I call the Nostril Theory: PR strategies are like nostrils… everybody has two, and picking one in public will tarnish your reputation.

Flip-flopping was the buzzword of the last political season, and it has enough legs that it can apply to you. All you have to do is be caught in an apparent contradiction during a crisis. It’s that simple.

There really is more than one possible course of action for every conceivable corporate disaster. Just don’t get caught trying to switch mid-stream. Commit to your plan, and stay the course. Those who stray are either not paying attention, or do so because they see what they perceive as an opportunity to take advantage of a short-term situation. Whether it’s a competitor’s failure, or a sympathetic ear in the media — you have to make sure you stick to the plan. Others are counting on you to maintain the same consitent message and tone.

Just a couple of thoughts to brighten your day.

March 2, 2005: 3:25 pm: Uncategorized

Here‘s a story about a PR expert who got bounced out of Neverland.

Apparently, she had some ideas about how the King of Pop ought defend his image, but never got to the throne room. Instead, someone on the inside hatched a plan to play hardball with the eventual complaintant.

Ann Kite, who also goes by the professional name Ann Gabriel, told jurors in Jackson’s trial that she was hired by his Las Vegas-based lawyer, David LeGrand, less than a week after the documentary, “Living With Michael Jackson,” aired on Britain’s ITV on February 3, 2003.

A different version, based on the same material, later aired in the United States on ABC.

Kite described the program as “an absolute disaster” for the pop star and that, on a damage scale from one to 10, she would put it at “a 25.”

Well — that sounds about right to me.

In his cross-examination, defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. challenged Kite’s description of herself as a crisis management expert, getting her to admit that the only other celebrity client she had was an obscure Las Vegas entertainer whose act included self-hypnosis.

“You really weren’t very experienced in the area of celebrity crisis management,” Mesereau said, asking Kite why she described herself that way.

“I’ve seen a lot,” she replied.

Mesereau is trying to discredit Kite, because prosecutors are using her to prove that the original Martin Bashir documentary backfired on the singer. She claims that her dismissal came directly on the heels of information that Jackson’s handlers thought would paint the accuser’s mother as a “crack whore.”

Some people just don’t get it.

A good crisis manager is someone who can deliver a good read on outside opinion. Don’t shoot the messenger.