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.”

 

Be Ready

“Be ready,” is the lesson marketing executives must now take, according to a recent New York Times article, “Planning for Unexpected Criticism by Trump.” Crisis consultant Andrew D. Gilman, who has counseled such brands as Johnson & Johnson, General Motors and Pepsi during crises advises “prepare for Mr. Trump as you would for a natural disaster — an event that is highly unpredictable but poses a big risk if it happens.”

Photo Courtesy of: bceforensics.com

Photo Courtesy of: BCEforensics.com

Mr. Trump’s trigger-finger tweeting is prompting some brands to preemptively draft informal contingency plans, and others, like H&R Block, to spend money shoring up their reputations. One contingency is to line up a third-party spokesman who can help if the brand’s image is dinged. That is essentially what H&R Block did in signing Jon Hamm, the “Mad Men” star and an H&R Block customer for years.

“The fit between H&R Block and myself,”  Mr. Hamm commented, “seemed copacetic and natural. And the tone of the creative was clever and outside the box for something as humdrum as taxes.” Even before the election, Mr. Trump offered to “put H&R Block out of business” with his plan for a simplified tax code.

And what if your company is trampled?

Scott Farrell, a specialist in corporate branding and the president of Golin Global Corporate Communications, said “The only thing that applies, no matter what the issue, is speed. Slow kills companies fast in a Twitter conversation.”

Vanity Fair’s swift response after Mr. Trump reacted to a negative review of a restaurant in one of his buildings by saying the magazine was “dead” could be an example for others to follow. Mr. Farrell explained, “its message — including banner ads on its website calling itself “The Magazine Donald Trump Doesn’t Want You to Read” and asking for subscriptions — captured the magazine’s voice and identity. More than 40,000 people signed up for new subscriptions.”

“If you’re a CMO, Mr. Gilman, concluded, “you need to put another filter on your plans. Normally, you’d never have to worry about a president singling out your company. Now you do.” Amen.

 

 

If the Shoe fits …

A number of media faux pas (literally false steps) were made recently at the Footwear News Achievement Awards in New York City.

puma

Photo Courtesy of: HIGHSNOBIETY

Winning the Retailer of the Year award, Ronnie Fieg, a New York footwear and clothing designer had “no comment” when asked about his collaboration with New Balance, the brand that “put its foot in it” in November. Their spokesperson seemed to endorse President-elect Donald J. Trump and the comment prompted shoe burning and trashing by its young customers. The moral, know your audience.

“I’m not going to speak on that,” I don’t get political,” Mr. Fieg said. Media coaching would have helped him be more positive about his sponsor.

Cuba Gooding Jr., the actor, was more prepared for the media, putting brands in a positive light. Given that the Shoe of the Year was a sneaker, he was asked whether he was a sneaker man.

“No, but I used to be,” he said. “I used to be a breakdancer back in the ’80s, and you weren’t worth your weight unless you wore Converse high-tops.” Now, however, he’s all about the work boot. “I live in my Blundstones,” he said. “I have eight pairs. They’re all black.”

And the whole point of having a celebrity spokesperson is, well, that she is a spokesperson. Rihanna, who received the Shoe of the Year award for her collaborative project with Puma, the Creeper (above) refused interviews. That put the shoe on the other foot for Puma’s Director of Brand and Marketing who offered glowing reviews of the singer-cum-designer, noting that the partnership had cast the brand in a new light.

But one attendee, the Icon Award winner, Iris Apfel, 95 (interior and fashion designer and business woman) left a footprint of levity on the evening’s festivities.

Stepping up to the stage with the help of Michael Atmore, the editorial director of Footwear News, and another younger man, she noted: “It’s nice to be old and have two pieces of beefcake escort you … whomever they voted for.”

In My Own Words

It’s said that justice is blind. But justices can be blindsided, too.

Courtesy of: Sebastian Kim, for Time Magazine

Courtesy of: Sebastian Kim, for Time Magazine

Recently, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg promoted her new book, My Own Words in an interview with Katie Couric. Seeming not to have availed herself of media training before her book tour, Justice Ginsburg found herself giving an opinion on a topic with which she was unfamiliar. Famous for her outspokenness on the Court, the justice was asked to comment on several athletes’ refusal to stand for the national anthem at the beginning of their games. She acknowledged their right to protest, but added that they would only exercise that freedom “if they want to be stupid.”

An opinion heard round the world, more for its source than for its sentiment. Justice Ginsburg was one of Time Magazine’s ‘100 Most Influential People of 2015,’

Ms. Couric did exactly what an investigative journalist is meant to do: elicit answers to provocative questions. Being Ready for an interview means preparing answers ahead of time (Why I wrote My Own Words) (Some of my more controversial decisions have been …) (How the world and the court have changed since I went on the bench in 23 years ago in 1993) to smoothly address to questions.

After learning more about the athletes’ reasoning and intentions from a different bench, Justice Ginsburg swiftly apologized for her “harsh” comments. Because, even a Supreme Court Justice can sound unjust in the court of public opinion.

Off the Record

The media is never “off the record,” and now Joe Ledington knows this all too well. He’s the nephew of Harland David Sanders, also known as KFC’s founder and fast food emperor, Colonel Sanders. In an interview with freelance reporter Jay Jones for the Chicago Tribune, Mr. Ledington revealed a handwritten recipe of “11 herbs and spices” on the back his late aunt’s last will and testament.

Mr. Jones was writing a piece about Corbin, Kentucky, the hometown of Colonel Sanders, as part of a travel feature and published the recipe, ingredient for ingredient. He wrote that Mr. Ledington had shared his aunt’s photo album as well as stories of his adolescence working for the Colonel. When they happened upon the recipe, Mr. Ledington confirmed it as the very copy he referenced to mix the ingredients for his summer job.

“These are the original 11 herbs and spices that are supposed to be so secretive.”

Photo Courtesy www.gossipkatta.com

Photo Courtesy www.gossipkatta.com

 

Yum! Brands, the parent company of KFC, made this statement:

“In the 1940s, Colonel Sanders developed the original recipe chicken to be sold at his gas station diner. At the time, the recipe was written above the door so anyone could have read it. But today, we go to great lengths to protect such a sacred blend of herbs and spices. In fact, the recipe ranks among America’s most valuable trade secrets.”

We have to admit, the “secret recipe” is a clever marketing ploy. KFC claims the Colonel’s handwritten recipe is kept in a 770-pound safe behind two feet of concrete, motion detectors and video cameras. They even order ingredients from multiple companies so no one will crack the blend. But surely feathers were ruffled at the perceived legitimacy of Mr. Ledington, who claimed that the “special ingredient” he remembers from his younger days was the white pepper.

He served as a “loose cannon,” which a brand can ill afford, and why group media coaching becomes so valuable for all concerned.

Although the chickens have come home to roost, homemade Kentucky fried chicken probably won’t beat the price or  convenience of the 12-piece Original Recipe Bucket Meal anytime soon!

Remembering what’s important

With decades of experience in coaching, we understand the importance of encouragement in the face of struggle and frustration. A touching moment between a coach and a player at the Little League World Series was caught on live television, warming hearts across the country. The coach also happened to be the player’s father.

It was the first game in the series for Pitcher Isaiah “Bugsy” Jensen, who had not pitched much in the Northwest Regional either, but he’d had quite a game on the biggest stage for Little Leaguers. Bugsy pitched four innings with six strikeouts and only two singles. Then, he began to lose control in the fifth as wild pitches walked a hitter from the opposing team: Italy. Joel Jensen, coach for Bend North in Oregon, gave son and pitcher a pep talk that brought him the courage to strike out his next and final hitter. And eventually, his team won the game.

Photo Courtesy www.sportsgrid.com

Photo Courtesy www.sportsgrid.com

I just came out to tell you … I love you, as a dad and a player, okay? You’re doing awesome out here. One more hitter and I’m going to bring in _____ (alternate pitcher). This is your last hitter, okay? You understand? Come right after him… Hey, cheer up, have some fun, come right after him. Okay? Let’s go!

It was a moment not only seen and heard by the crowd of 7,000 at the series, but also by national audiences of ESPN and ABC News. The video serves as a reminder to dads and coaches everywhere: support and validate your children, players, and students. They need it most when they lose faith in themselves–that message may be the push they need to end on a high note.

Unfortunately, ESPN might be seen as Red-Faced after commercializing the touching moment with corporate sponsorship from Kellogg’s. They branded the video as a “Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes Let Your Grrrrreat-Out Moment.”

Our disclaimer: No Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes contributed in the making of this moment.

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.

Not what you say, but how you say it!

“It’s often not what you say, but how you say it.” Look for yourself. The words in this PSA were reflective and respectful, but Johnny Depp’s and actress wife, Amber Heard’s deadpan delivery was not. In it, they used the medium to show true disdain for Australians and their laws.

Video Courtesy The Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources

The  “apology” video is part of a plea bargain after charges for illegally importing their Yorkshire terriers into Australia in April 2015. In it, the couple are acting more like hostages or prisoners of war  than offering a genuine apology on the issue of  biosecurity. The script was thoughtful and well-written, but overshadowed by the stiff and insincere tone of the couple.

“Australia is a wonderful island, with a treasure trove of unique plants, animals and people. It has to be protected. Australia is free of many pests and diseases that are commonplace around the world. That is why Australia has to have such strong biosecurity laws.  Australians are just as unique, both warm and direct. When you disrespect Australian law, they will tell you firmly. I am truly sorry that Pistol and Boo were not declared. Protecting Australia is important. Declare everything when you enter Australia.”

But at the Venice Film Festival last September, Mr. Depp quipped: “I killed my dogs and ate them under direct orders from some kind of, I don’t know, sweaty, big-gutted man from Australia,” presumably in reference to Australian Minister of Agriculture Barnaby Joyce. The following week on Jimmy Kimmel, he threatened an “assault” on Mr. Joyce  if the Australian government tried to jail his wife.

After threats of dog euthanasia and 10 years jail time, Ms. Heard, an up-and-coming actress with recent roles in Magic Mike XXL and The Danish Girl, was sentenced to a one-month good behavior bond and a fine of $767.

Mr. Joyce mocked the video, remarking that it should be remade with “a little gusto,” but he is happy with the viral status it has attained.

At the end of it, we’ve got a message that is going all around the world right now. It’s going off like a frog in a sock (which Wikipedia defines as being excellent) telling people that if you come into this nation and you don’t obey our laws, you’re in trouble. That’s what this is about.”

He believes, however, that Mr. Depp will “not get an Academy Award for his performance.