Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, apologized to all his customers for the new Maps app on the iPhone. You have to search on Apple’s website, but it is a clear apology letter.
Unfortunately, the apology is thin and lacks a true, contrite spirit. It’s long on marketing. And that is the problem with a public apology.
As a public relations practitioner, I’ve always believed that you should only directly apologize to the people you have wronged and then publicly announce that you have apologized. With this strategy, your apology can be more personal and meaningful. Public apologies are just as ineffective as a public thank you.
This won’t go down as lame as Don Imus’ apology tour featuring an appearance on Al Sharpton’s radio show, but it isn’t what I expect from a company such as Apple.
Apologies are always tough from a PR perspective, but when done correctly they can minimize the damage. This email letter is not done correctly. Apple is changing.
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College football kicks off shortly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked what I would do if I were Penn State’s public relations agency.
My strongest advice is a repeat of some wise words I received from a mentor years ago. He said, “Lower your voice and raise your thinking.” Public relations can do a lot for a company, a person and a university. What it can’t do is erase wrongs. Penn State needs to lower its voice and allow this tsunami of bad press to wash over them and then recede. They need to spend this time not wallowing in the problems, but formulating a plan for the future—when the time is right. Who are they going to be post problems? What do they want people to know about Penn State? What are the one or two words they want people to think when they hear the name Penn State.
Right now, it is just too soon. Let time heal some of the wounds and then it will be time to reposition and establish clear messaging. In boxing, sometimes you have to retreat to your corner and take the blows before you can emerge and come out swinging again. Penn State needs to cover and find the corner. Unfortunately, there is no bell in this match. They will have to listen for the signals to start fighting the PR fight again.
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“C’MON MAN!” is a very popular segment on ESPN football coverage describing some lame efforts by players or coaches. And I’d say, “C’MON MAN” to all coaches and athletic directors for not getting their public relations skills together. Athletic coaches and ADs can be some of the all-time worst PR people.
Next case for review: Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, who didn’t get his talking points together or work up a home message before talking about the Jarrod Uthoff situation. (Uthoff was a Wisconsin basketball player who wanted to transfer. Google Uthoff’s name and you’ll get the story.)
“The thing got out of hand so fast and it was in the media so fast and in the social media so fast the process never really had a chance to get under way,” said Alvarez at a Big Ten meeting. “Everybody was able to draw opinions and make statements without having all the facts.” Whining.
Mr. Alvarez, you are not aware of ESPN talk shows, social media, how fast the press and public sentiments move? That’s like a coach saying they didn’t know the other team had fast linebackers or the ability to blitz.
Maybe the next time you have a “process in place,” you’ll also have a PR process in place to handle messaging. “It got way out of hand, the process. It was in the media, the social media, before you could even react to it,” says Alvarez. That is weak planning, weak PR, and weak leadership.
Winging it is not acceptable for players on a field. And it should not be acceptable for coaches and athletic directors when it comes to messaging. Practice PR like you practice putting before a golf event, and you won’t be so surprised by the speed of the opponent. C’mon man.
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If you don’t like something, one of the best public relations techniques is to rename it in a negative way. It is often used in politics, but now it is bleeding over into company PR—and the press dogs lick it up.
Would you eat a “pink slime” burger? Let’s not get into the debate about if it is right or wrong. Let’s stay with marketing and communications.
The creator of it didn’t call it “pink slime.” It was referred to as that in an internal email by the FDA. The New York Times then used it in a 2009 story and the rest of the press followed. Pink slime is “Lean Finely Textured Beef.” The news media does not care if the name is correct, it only cares if it sounds hip. Instead of reporting the real name, most media outlets used the made up name of pink slime. Not accurate, but who cares? It is fun to say.
If you want to make people not support children downloading songs for free, you reposition them as pirates. So, compare a 12-year-old kid with a real Somali pirate. If you are not in favor of healthcare reform, such as the Affordable Healthcare Act, call it ObamaCare. If you reside in a Guantanamo prison, you are a detainee, not a prisoner.
How you name an issue, process or organization can reframe the entire debate. What’s in a name? Everything.
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On Saturday Night Live, you can say “slut” all show long and you might get a laugh or two, but that is about it. Rush Limbaugh calls someone a slut and controversy reigns down. For entertainment shows like Rush and Saturday Night Live, all publicity is good, even negative publicity because it drives viewers or listeners, and that is what makes these shows successful. The rub comes when you try to sell these shows. Many advertisers have routine dictates to not run in offensive or controversial content.
When buying advertising, you are buying audiences, usually not content. There are exceptions, but for the most part you want to reach a lot of eyes or ears (and ironically, many of the most popular programs have controversial content).
But does advertising environment matter? You might say yes, but if you are buying any marketing on the Internet—Facebook ads, re-targeting, Google ads, banners—you are falling onto pages with little to no knowledge of what might be there or what is being said on the page. If you buy newspaper ads or TV ads, you are put in a rotation and someone with no knowledge about your mission statement will place your ad where it fits.
My feeling is that from a straight advertising standpoint, environment does not matter. You buy an audience and that’s what you get. From a public relations stand point however, environment matters a great deal. Many programs call their advertisers “sponsors.” So there does seem to be an implied approval of the content. So if you are sensitive to what your audience thinks about you as an organization, then I would say, back away from dangerous environments unless it really fits your overall marketing strategies. Buy the audience, but verify the content.
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Do you remember the “Diamonds are forever” song by Shirley Bassey? It was in the 007 movie by the same name. It goes, “Diamonds are forever. They are all I need to please me. They can stimulate and tease me. They won’t leave in the night. I’ve no fear that they might desert me. Diamonds are forever.”
That song had me thinking that dialogues are forever. And by dialogues I mean reviews and comments by your stakeholders. Reviews and comments care, please, stimulate and tease. But they can also damage your reputation and credibility. Once posted on the Internet, no matter how untrue, it is extremely difficult to remove unwanted comments and reviews.
You can ask Google to removed scurrilous reviews, but I was just on a message board exclusively for people who can’t get Google to respond. One person said it took them two years to get the false comment off the Google Maps review area. The best way is to get positive reviews in front of the negative one and bury it. This does take time, but you need to encourage satisfied customers to go on specific websites and give you a review.
For example, if someone tells you that they really enjoyed your product or service, instead of a simple thank you, ask them to write a review and direct them to where to do it.
Dialogue with stakeholders is critical in the new order, and positive comments are the diamonds of the dialogue. Make sure you invest enough to keep the diamonds forever.
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Are you in good hands? You are unless the Allstate hand has a joke buzzer. Allstate Insurance’s audience just can’t take a joke, and it is revealing a lot about social media and the Internet.
According to many reports, what started as a joke association between car accidents and astrology has turned into a nightmare for the insurance company. A press release distributed through PR Newswire, said in its lead, “Virgos, known to be critical, meticulous and reserved, are also more likely to get into a car accident, according to Allstate Insurance which recently compared claims data against the recently ‘revised’ zodiac calendar.” Virgos were found to be 700 % more likely to be in a car accident in the last year than Scorpios.
What was to be a lighthearted study, now has Allstate releasing the following statement, “Astrological signs have absolutely no role in how we base coverage and set rates. Rating by astrology would not be actuarially sound.”
After surveying the comments, social media and blogs, it seems a lot of people take astrology seriously. There are also a lot of Allstate haters out there who commented on every story I found. And, of course, there are a lot of Allstate competitors (“All I can say is that we love Virgo’s at Al Bourdeau Insurance Agency. We love Scorpio’s too. Now you see why it is really important to shop your insurance.”). The other problem is even though Allstate pulled the story from its newsroom on its website, I easily found the story and study (by the way I’m a Capricorn and a responsible and disciplined driver).
The next time in your marketing/public relations discussions, you hear someone say, “You know what would be funny?” Stop, and write your apology press release first and see how that sounds.
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