The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

It’s often said that the camera doesn’t lie, nor does it blink. But until recently, the camera has always been in the hands of responsible and professional photographers, videographers and journalists. Not in the hands of passengers documenting airline brutality or murderers recording their own deeds as selfies.

cell phone picture

Photo courtesy of: Time.com

Now everyone with a cell phone, and that’s pretty much everyone, is a documentarian, taking cameras and matters into his or her own hands. And thanks to social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, Snapchat, et al, there is no shortage of airtime.

Traditional print media like the New York TIMES, which narrowcasts to only those who choose to pay for it, advertises its policy of “all the news that’s fit to print.” But these social media publishers have yet to restrict the freedom of their presses.

According to Wikipedia, Clint Eastwood’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was one of the greatest and most influential Westerns of all time. But today’s citizens offer cowboy justice at its best and worst because there are no filters on these cameras.

In our Los Angeles media training and social media training world, this is the phenomena of loose cannons. Executives  must be Ready for them. It cannot be the “shoot from the hip” approach taken by United Airlines’ CEO Oscar Munoz recently. There must be a sensible crisis plan, designed, prepared and practiced in advance.

Crisis training would have explored whether it is the best policy to boot paying customers to make way for employees.  Then, not defend employees’ actions in the face of excessive force without being aware of the details: a passenger being beaten seriously enough to cause a concussion, two broken teeth and a broken nose.

Then, after a deluge of negative traditional and social media not abjectly apologize saying Dr. David Dao “did nothing wrong.” A more appropriate response would have been, Dr. Dao was badly mistreated. But for the safety of all the passengers on my airline, everyone needs to follow the orders given by my people, even if you think those orders are stupid or unfair. And for that, I will not defend his actions either.

The cost to United Airlines in dollars and reputation is impossible to estimate. Each passenger on that flight is now being reimbursed for the price of his or her ticket, which may set a precedent that other companies will be forced to follow every time someone pictures and posts a misdeed. Finally, the passenger who was documented being dragged bloodied and broken down the aisle by countless cell phones is very likely to sue and is from Asia, an important market for the company.

The lesson, of course, is to get in front of a crisis, but to do it correctly. As the victimized doctor’s code would suggest, “First, do no harm.” And not respond impulsively without planning or design.

The world wide web offers the broadest of broadcasting possibilities to everyone who holds a cell phone. And that’s pretty much everyone.

 

Mexican Standoff

Nordstrom and Ivanka Trump find themselves in a Mexican Standoff following Nordstrom’s decision to drop her fashion brand from their stores.

Mexican Standoff Blog

Photo Courtesy of: bittersweetaspects.wordpress.com

A spokeswoman for Nordstrom insisted that the company made the decision based on plummeting sales and not as a political statement following Nordstrom’s company wide pro-immigration email. “For us, the two were not connected.”

As expected, President Trump gunned-down Nordstrom in a defensive tweet. “My daughter, Ivanka, has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person – always pushing me to do the right thing.” Terrible,” he whined.

Despite Nordstrom’s explanation that this was a logical business decision, both sides remain at a stand still. Neither Ivanka Trump, the brand; nor Nordstrom, the retailer dare to make the next move and must wait until it’s made for them by their customers. Those responsible for sales!

Unfortunately, large and small companies alike, are facing boycotts and backlash from Trump supporters and non-supporters.  Some boycotted Nordstrom for selling Ivanka Trump, some for not selling Ivanka Trump.

But as the owner of one e-commerce site wrote, “for every customer I’ve lost, I’ve gained one.”

 

Gloria Steinem: Never Not Controversial

Know your Audience.

In a struggle to re-invent itself, Lands’ End featured an interview with feminist Gloria Steinem (notable for her work in abortion and reproductive rights) in its “Legends” catalog, before considering the audience. The company, popular for its khakis and primary-colored knit sweaters, contracts with many Catholic schools for uniforms and the catalog reached students’ homes. Generating much anti-abortion criticism and many cancelled contracts, the controversy received more attention than the clothes.

Photo Courtesy www.ethicsalarms.com

Photo Courtesy www.ethicsalarms.com

Although the interview with Ms. Steinem did not contain any references to abortion and focused more on equal rights, Lands’ End failed to consider the implications of their choice in interviewees. They removed the feature from their website and issued a public apology on their Facebook page:

“Some customers were troubled and concerned that we featured an interview with Gloria Steinem in a recent catalog. It was never our intention to raise a divisive political or religious issue, so when some of our customers saw the recent promotion that way, we heard them. We sincerely apologize for any offense.”

In this seemingly diplomatic response, Lands’ End alienated another group of customers:

What a terrible message to send to all the women and girls who wear your clothes,” Christina Burrows Refford wrote. “I’m sorry you see equal rights for women as a divisive issue. I see it as a human issue.

It is hard to tell which decision was more detrimental: inadvertently sending a political message or lacking the courage of its convictions amidst pressure from clients. Lands’ End, which has been under-performing since 2011, simply did not consider their audiences when seeking innovative ways to reinvent its brand.

In our Los Angeles-based media and speech coaching, READY FOR MEDIA advises researching your audiences beforehand. What unique perspective are they seeking from you?  This translates into all facets of presentation and media. For example, early morning TODAY Show viewers are looking for very different television content than the afternoon audience of ELLEN or the late-night audience of The TONIGHT Show.

Journalists all know that the lead of a print story needs the 5 w’s and an h: who, what, where, when, why and how. You should know as much about your audience: who they are, what they want, where, when, why and how to reach them.

Dotting the i’s

Fortune 500 companies sometimes can’t resist the social media mistake of subtle commercialization, which usually backfires. Here, General Mills eulogized their hometown legend, Prince, by being too cute with a Cheerio dotting the i.

Photo Courtesy www.adage.com

Photo Courtesy www.adage.com

In another General Mills advertisement from the brand, Hamburger Helper, their “helping hand” mascot, “Lefty,” a four-fingered, left-hand white glove was pictured and referenced.

Photo Courtesy www.adweek.com

Photo Courtesy www.adweek.com

“Respect for the home team. A glove can only take so much sadness.”

The social media backlash was immediate and intense, criticizing the product-pushing cuteness and insensitivity of these brands as the world mourned an incredible talent’s untimely death. The “tributes” were cancelled.

 “Pay tribute to the man,” Ad Week admonished, “don’t make it about your brand.”

Social media does not call for advertising as usual. It is a game that many established corporations don’t yet know how to play. Big brands must not play cute to push product in tragedy. From September 11 memorials to domestic abuse awareness hashtags, companies have tweeted in bad taste, attempting to jump on the pop culture bandwagon.

In media coaching, we usually recommend branding. But not in response to tragic events. If companies are going to insert themselves into the conversation, it must be straightforward and commercial-free.

Thank you for this moment

Early in life, we are told that fighting fire with fire will only make matters worse. But the fire of gratitude, diplomacy and goodness will squelch the fire of crudeness and rudeness, every time. Singer-songwriter Taylor Swift proved this useful lesson when she eloquently delivered her acceptance speech at the 2016 Grammy Awards.

Photo Courtesy www.eonline.com

Photo Courtesy www.eonline.com

While the memory of Kanye West’s interruption of Ms. Swift’s acceptance speech in 2009 at the Video Music Awards still burned, he recently added fuel to his fire by releasing a song that indecently referenced his role in her success.

Despite the public’s anticipation over how Ms. Swift would react on stage to Mr. West’s inappropriate remarks, she handled it with class and confidence. By replacing the role of victim with role model, she took her power back and delivered a message to her audience of young women and girls.

  “As the first woman to win Album of the Year at the Grammys twice, I want to say to all the young women out there: There are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame,” Swift said while she accepted the award for her album “1989”. “But if you just focus on the work and you don’t let those people sidetrack you, someday when you get where you’re going, you’ll look around and you will know that it was you and the people who love you who put you there. And that will be the greatest feeling in the world. Thank you for this moment.”

Taylor Swift may be best known as a famous pop star, but she is also a savvy business woman. She creatively called on the loyalty of her fan base while garnering respect from a much larger audience.

Inc Magazine noted that she knows exactly how to protect her brand and her image. The lessons they took from Ms. Swift included:

  • Change the conversation
  • Keep the message about your brand or goals
  • Bring focus to a higher cause

In this case, Ms. Swift’s fire was classy, clever and confident.

 

A painful Holiday commercial

In the Hippocratic Oath, doctors promise to first “do no harm.” Advertisers should give their brands and consumers the same care.

In last season’s holiday commercial, Coca-Cola insensitively and inadvertently harmed their brand.  Opening with a bucolic view of the indigenous community of Totontepec in Oaxaca, Mexico; the Spanish text proclaimed that 81.6% of Mexico’s indigenous people feel marginalized because Spanish is not their primary language, accompanied by closeups of their desolate faces. The commercial, distributed by Coca-Cola Mexico, attempted to doctor the situation and cheer up the community with a group of hip, young Caucasions cutting 2 x 4’s, painting them in Coke’s classic red and building a giant, lighted Christmas tree of wood and red plastic bottle caps. Ending with the group of urban youths passing out bottles of Coca-Cola, a final text appears encouraging viewers to  “break down prejudice and share” using the hashtag handle #AbreTuCorazon, or #”Open Your Heart.”

The backlash was immediate.

The TeleSUR website described it as “a painful metaphor of ongoing colonialism in the country as white kids storm the Mixe indigenous community, as if a crusade, distributing bottles of Coke and constructing a giant Coca-Cola Christmas tree for all to idolize.” A lawyer for the indigenous and indigent, Elvira Pablo, describes this type of advertising “as an act of discrimination and racism by imposing a consumer culture alien to this community.”

After the commercial was banned in Mexico and a request made for the government to sanction the soft drink giant, Coca-Cola took it off the air and apologized for offending. But to quote Benjamin Franklin, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” YouTube users continue to post the video with sarcastic titles such as “The White Savior Ad.”

When branding, it is crucial to be considerate and careful of the message within the message and diagnose how the target audience will be affected. In this case, Coca-Cola’s message hindered unity and reinforced prejudice.

Bottomline, don’t wound your audience in an effort to heal them.

If you can’t say something intelligent…

If you can’t say something intelligent, don’t say anything at all. It’s crucial to think before you speak, especially when speaking to the media. The purpose of an interview should be to advance your product, company or cause. In short, to lead the interview in a direction that is advantageous.

In a recent interview with the UK’s Evening Standard, Tinder CEO Sean Rad, made a multitude of media mistakes. Tinder is a hookup app that has revolutionized the dating scene using GPS for proximity and a simple swipe right or left to accept or deny.  Analysts believe the app, which launched in 2012, has around 80 million users worldwide and records 1.8 billion “swipes” a day. 

But in his interview, Mr. Rad failed to refrain from unnecessary topics and misbranded the company in a “cringe-worthy” conversation.

 

Photo Courtesy www.eonline.com

Photo Courtesy www.eonline.com

In a few words, Mr. Rad was:

CARELESS: in advance of his parent company’s impending IPO.

SIMPLISTIC: “Tinder has managed to solve ‘the biggest problem in humanity: that you’re put on this planet to meet people.'”

MISINFORMED:  When trying to say that some men and women are attracted to intelligence — the term is sapiosexuality — Mr. Rad instead used the word “sodomy.” When he realized his mistake from his PR person’s near-heart attack and a quick mobile search, he recovered, saying: “What? No, not that. That’s definitely not me. Oh, my God.”

NAIVE: Mr. Rad explained his OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and complained of an overbearing Iranian-born Jewish mother, who texts him 20 times a day.

DEFENSIVE: “Feminism has led to today’s hookup culture, because women are more independent and pursuing their desires … both parties being more sexually active. It most certainly is not because of Tinder. If society just wants to ‘hook up’, who am I to judge?” At READY FOR MEDIA, we encourage clients to brand the company name positively. However, when the topic is negative, the interviewee should offer a generic term. Mr. Rad should have referred to online or app dating, rather than branding Tinder negatively.

And Tinder is now launching an education and workplace add-on that will helps users identify their intellectual equals. It’s part of a wider push by Tinder to give more relevant information about someone than a selfie of face or body parts before the decision to swipe left or right.

ARGUMENTATIVE: Earlier this year, Vanity Fair published a story heralding the “dawn of the dating apocalypse” in an article that interviewed twenty somethings in New York who used hookup apps solely for casual sex. In response, Tinder went on a more than 30-part Tweetstorm lambasting the magazine for the feature story. To call this an overreaction is an understatement. The roundly-criticized Tweetstorm represented a complete misunderstanding of how to effectively use social media and what Tinder users say they want: a means of meeting others with whom to date and hook up, not a political revolution.

But Mr. Rad did say one thing that would make a media coach proud.  “Look at what’s happening in society. We’re living in a technical age, it’s creating transparency and equality and connecting us. Tinder isn’t redefining romance. Progress is.”

 

 

 

 

 

Tell it like it is

Google defines can·dorˈ kandər/ a noun as:

  1. the quality of being open and honest in expression; frankness.
”a man of refreshing candor”
 synonymous with frankness, openness, honesty, truthfulnesssincerity, forthrightness, directness, plain-spokenness, bluntness, straightforwardness, outspokenness; informal … telling it like it is

Candor is one of READY FOR MEDIA’s C’s of Communication, along with Clarity, Conciseness and Credibility. Taking the initiative to come clean about an issue keeps the right and responsibility for communication and interpretation (read: spin) where it belongs … with you, the spokesperson. Not the media.

USC Blog picture

Photo Courtesy www.latimes.com

attblogpicture2

Photo Courtesy www.digitaltrends.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pat Haden, University of Southern California’s Athletic Director, recently took full responsibility for hiring and firing football coach, Steve Sarkisian who reportedly checked into an outpatient rehabilitation facility on the same day he was dismissed.

“I felt a great deal of compassion for Steve Sarkisian,” Mr. Haden acknowledged. “He deserved another chance. And that’s what I gave him. But he knew the expectations for his behavior, and failed to meet them.”

Mr. Sarkisian was intoxicated during a team meeting—a violation of his contract, with a zero-tolerance policy regarding alcohol use after the coach’s slurred and profane performance at a USC’s “Salute to Troy” event in August.

In the wake of a Los Angeles Times story that chronicled Mr. Sarkisian’s alcohol use at his previous coaching job at Washington, Mr. Haden had also been criticized for his vetting of Mr. Sarkisian as a coaching candidate. “Have we gotten everything right?” Mr. Haden admitted. “Clearly not. … this happens. The decision I made didn’t work out and I own that. I own it.”

In another recent example of “the buck stops here,” AT&T’s CEO Randall Stephenson, admitted to The Los Angeles Times that the company “blew it” after directing their legal department to respond to a self-described “lifelong” customer’s suggestions for improving the company’s service. “Unfortunately, we don’t meet our high standards 100% of the time,” Mr. Stephenson confessed.

The company had written, “AT&T doesn’t take suggestions from customers. AT&T has a policy of not entertaining unsolicited offers to adopt, analyze, develop, license, or purchase third-party intellectual property … from members of the general public. Therefore, we respectfully decline to consider your suggestion.”

Internet chat relating to the incident, however, saw the lawyer’s response as a metaphor for AT&T’s lack of empathy and responsiveness towards its customers, exacerbated by competitor T-Mobile’s CEO John Legere’s offering his email address to those who want to provide suggestions. In addition, T-Mobile created the tongue-in-cheek “IdeasForRandall@T-Mobile.com” email address for AT&T customers who want to send their suggestions to the third-largest U.S. carrier.

In both cases, Mr. Haden and Mr. Stephenson were candid about issues that occurred under their leadership. By giving chosen and concise information to the public through the media and by owning up to the issues that occurred, a leader keeps command of the situation. It’s crucial that you tell it like it is!

Not what you say, but where you say it!

“BREAKING NEWS: Unconfirmed reports are coming in of an explosion on the North bank of the Singapore Marina.

City Authorities urge the public not to panic, and to not hinder the emergency teams that are converging on the area.

UPDATE: Singapore Authorities have officially announced a state of emergency and declared martial law.”

US game maker, Activision, published this announcement on Twiter as a publicity stunt for the soon-to-be released video game, Call of Duty: Black Ops III, along with pictures of a fictional terrorist attack in Singapore.

Call of Duty

Photo Courtesy http://www.geeksnack.com

This ploy angered Twitter users, worldwide!  Tauriq Moosa tweeted, “Faked news could be and was devastating for those unaware that it was video game marketing. In this case, it’s not only what you say, but also where you say it!”

Considering that its content is being driven with controversial topics, such as terrorism, Activision should have used a more private platform, such as a company website, to avoid misunderstandings by those who are not familiar with the video game.

While it is beneficial to utilize social media as a marketing technique, it is crucial to choose the form of social media that is appropriate for the target audience.

 

“Token Fluzzies” Unite

Communication and presentation skills combined with appropriate branding can create the message desired, but not always the message received. The right message delivered by the wrong person is damaging and can both offend and distract from the issue or position.

The qualities of a media spokesperson must include charisma, relevance, credibility and above all, one who is appropriate and WANTED by the industry. The latter was not the case for self-appointed spokesman for women’s equality in technology, Vivek Wadhwa. A member of Singularity University, a Silicon Valley and Stanford University think tank, Mr. Wadhwa is being criticized as an un-appointed spokesman for women. According to the Executive Director of Double Union, a women’s studio for creativity in San Francisco,  ” Mr. Wadhwa has kept actual, qualified women’s voices from being heard widely in the mainstream media.”

man right or wrong blog

Mr. Wadhwa. Photo courtesy of New York Times

Women have criticized Mr. Wadhwa for, “clumsily articulating our cause.” Using quotes like, “token fluzzies” to describe them, many women take offense to this man being seen as their representative, harming the brand of women in technology and the identity of women executives throughout Silicon Valley. Blaming his poor English for many of his harmful quotes, Mr. Wadhwa is adamant that he only wishes to help women succeed. However, several women who know and have worked with him, including Sarah Szalavitz, the Chief Executive of 7 Robot, feel that while “his intentions are good, his message and his voice are actually damaging women.”

woman right or wrong blog

Ms. Sandberg.Photo courtesy of Yahoo News

By contrast, Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg has recently launched a new campaign, based on her book of the same title, “Lean In,” promoting gender equality in ads with NBA and WNBA players. As a woman with an executive position in technology, Ms. Sandberg has all the qualities desired for a good spokesperson on this issue. According to Ms. Sandberg, “Lean In,  is focused on encouraging women to pursue their ambitions, and changing the conversation from what we can’t do to what we can do.”

Even before the media training begins to craft the messages and coach the personality, the chosen spokesperson must be compatible with the issue. Spokespeople are not only important in branding the issue, but must be engaging and credible in the eyes of both the public and the sector they represent.

Caution and appropriateness are advised in all forms of media appearances, especially in ones as personal as spokespersoning.