Publicity Pitfalls

In today’s media climate, celebrity endorsements can be a slippery slope. Sloppy social media posts are one thing, but how do brands react when the public figures they sponsor receive bad publicity? Olympic Gold Medalist Ryan Lochte made international waves surrounding the scandal of the 2016 Rio Olympics, in which he accused Brazilian police of robbing him and two fellow swimmers at gunpoint. The allegations proved false, leaving Mr. Lochte in hot water with his sponsors!

Photo Courtesy www.eurweb.com

Photo Courtesy www.eurweb.com

But the choice to abandon an athlete is not as simple as it sounds. Internet analysis conducted by marketing technology company Amobee showed that social commentary on the incident was generally neutral and sometimes positive.

Depending on the misdemeanor, it can actually benefit a brand to maintain their sponsorship and support. Earlier this year, tennis player Maria Sharapova received a two-year suspension after failing a drug test, but major sponsors Nike, Head and Evian applauded her as a “role model and woman of integrity” after her public apology–and social media largely agreed.

Gold medal companies Speedo and Ralph Lauren quickly dropped their sponsorships of Mr. Lochte amounting to $1 million. Speedo made the statement: “We cannot condone behaviour that is counter to the values this brand has long stood for.” But such brands must be careful, too, when making statements about actions “counter to the values” for which they stand. Speedo was also accused of “technological doping” with their performance-enhancing LZR Racer suits, banned from the Olympics in 2010.

Renowned swimming teammate Michael Phelps has shown support for Mr. Lochte, long after he was dropped from sponsorships himself amidst public scrutiny–most notably in 2009 from Kellogg’s for a controversial photo in which he was shown smoking marijuana. Mr. Phelps has since recovered his image and made his scandal a thing of the past.

Whether it benefitted Speedo and Ralph Lauren to leave Mr. Lochte or not, he seems to be moving forward as other brands are diving in. Most recently, he has teamed up with Robocopp, a company that produces personal alarms, and this is a commercial you’ll have to see to believe:

Video Courtesy News Views 88,70,423

Even Mr. Lochte must recognize how unbelievable the irony 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

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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!

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.

Fact or Fiction

Whether you have decades of media experience or are just starting out, honesty and integrity are key. With the Internet looming overhead, any misstated facts or exaggerated truths may be discovered and broadcast. TV veteran news anchor, Brian Williams learned this lesson after an apparent attempt to be part of the story, rather than simply reporting it. Williams was outed by the military magazine, Stars and Stripes, for lying about his experience in a military helicopter in Iraq, over a decade ago.

williamsblog(photo courtesy for NBC.com)

In what he claims was an attempt to thank a specific military veteran, Mr. Williams falsely stated on David Letterman and several other occasions that he was in a helicopter hit by RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) fire while on assignment in Northern Iraq. His helicopter was in fact behind those that were hit. Williams has since recanted and apologized on air.

But NBC responded by suspending the anchor for six months without pay, citing that Williams’ behavior was “completely inappropriate.” According to network executives, “by his actions, Brian has jeopardized the trust millions of Americans place in NBC News. His actions are inexcusable and this suspension is severe and appropriate.”

Credibility, or lack therof, is the moral of this message. Since this story broke, every other news assignment undertaken by Mr. Williams is now facing scrutiny, including his coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina where he claimed to see bodies floating outside his hotel. Upon further investigation, Mr. Williams’ hotel, the Ritz Carlton, was not located in a flooded area of the city.

His on-air exaggerations may be the undoing of a career of credible news reporting with a few moments of excited storytelling. The Media Mistake Not to Make is … never mislead, lie or try to bluff.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bridge Over Troubled Waters

In their classic hit, Bridge Over Troubled Waters, Simon and Garfunkel offer a message to Cameron Diaz: Take the high road, not the bait!

Acknowledge the interview question then bridge to the answer you’ve come to give.

Anyone can fall prey to media mistakes if she hasn’t had media coaching, and the typically well-mannered romcom actress, Cameron Diaz, is no exception. Making the rounds to promote her new movie, Sony Pictures’ Sex Tape, the A-list star recently called into the popular Australian radio talk show, hosted by Kyle and Jackie O.

 

Cameron Diaz

But when Kyle made a snide comment about Drew Barrymore, the actress’ best friend, Ms. Diaz lost sight of her goal. Kyle said, “Let’s hope she (Ms. Diaz’s daughter in the movie) misses out on the Drew Barrymore drug years, because those were a great thing to watch, but not so good to be in, I’d imagine.” Instead of acknowledging the comment with a simple, “I’d imagine” and bridging back to her movie, Ms. Diaz reacted and replied defensively, “I’m sure, Kyle, you’ve never been through a drug phase, have you? Or alcoholism or anything like that? Pretty clean; always did it right? Congratulations.”

When Kyle went on to say, “But I’m friends with Benji,” referring to Benji Madden, the rumored boyfriend of the notoriously-private Ms. Diaz, she decided to cut the radio interview short, hanging up on the broadcasters and their listeners.

With expert media training, stars and executives alike discover the answers to bridge to and practice bridging. Letting the cheeky interviewer bait her to anger, became the story instead of the movie, which was Ms. Diaz’s purpose in accepting the promotional media opportunity.