Archives for April 2015

Twitter: The 140-Character Soundbite

Social media has become every publicist’s nightmare. Rather than carefully formulating and crafting media responses through interviews, phone calls and media training, it is now possible for a moment of lapsed judgment to spiral into a media faux pas. Actor Alec Baldwin is the most recent example of this growing trend with a tweet from his car in New York City traffic.

Last week, a protest for a $15 minimum wage converged in Manhattan, slowing traffic to a crawl. The protest included thousands of single mothers, fast-food employees, home health care aides and others hoping to raise New York’s minimum wage to battle the city’s increasing cost of living.

While driving through New York City, Mr. Baldwin encountered a patch of traffic directly caused by the protester’s disruptions. In response, he tweeted, “Life in NY is hard enough as is. The goal is to not make it more so. How does clogging rush hour traffic from 59th St to 42 do any good?”

Photo courtesy of www.nysun.com

Photo courtesy of www.nysun.com

Instantly, many turned on the actor for insensitivity regarding an important issue. “Life in NY is hard,” wrote Rachael L. Swarns in the New York TIMES, “not because of driving in traffic,” but “because of struggling to pay the rent for even a single room,” or, “relying on Medicaid and food stamps to help support 3 children!” She went on to condemn the actor in her article with, “when protesters crossed the Selma bridge, no one asked how the traffic was disrupted.”

“Remind yourself that if traffic is your biggest problem … you’re probably fine.”

This is yet another instance in which Mr. Baldwin has gotten in trouble with social media. He originally deleted his Twitter account last summer after a tirade on Twitter lashing out at a journalist.
With the speed and ease in which Twitter and Facebook publish information, it is important to take a breath and think about what soundbite you are authoring.

When it’s Wrong to be Right

The best intentions can still backfire in the media game.

In an attempt to address the issue of race relations, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz faced an immediate and intense social media backlash to his  “Race Together” campaign. “Our objective from the very start — dating back to our first open forum in Seattle last December — was to stimulate conversation, empathy and compassion toward one another,” he defended. And then to broaden that dialogue beyond our Starbucks family and the public .”

Mr. Schultz’s approach was that the message of #RaceTogether was to be handwritten by the barrista onto each customers’ coffee cup  in order to begin a dialogue between Starbucks employees and customers about the issue of race.

Photo Courtesy of usatoday.com

Photo Courtesy of usatoday.com

While a dialogue into issues as current and complex as race may be a good idea, there is a time and place for everything. Many customers criticized the location of a coffee line as not an appropriate time or place for such a conversation. Others on social media sites like Twitter called into question the legitimacy of the campaign pointing out that most of the top executives of Starbucks are white males. Numerous Starbucks employees have since stepped forward claiming they did not receive any training or coaching on how to approach this controversial subject. Communications skills and presentation training are crucial before launching any campaign and many employees felt unprepared to discuss such an important topic.

Still others, like NPR’s Karen Grisby Bates fell somewhere in the middle saying, “Some people think it’s just a naked marketing ploy, kind of a catalyst for free advertising. Other people think it was well intentioned, but really poorly executed.”

Whether it is a marketing attempt or a genuine concern, both intention and execution are important in corporate branding.

One week after the start of the campaign, Mr. Schultz sent out a memo ending the practice of writing the message on customer’s cups. Good intentions can have unintended consequences, and managing the backlash is as important as managing the message.