Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The PR Issue Behind Alaska Airlines Decompression

Found via Scobleizer, then seen on MP, and then noted on BuzzMachine the PR issue ... here's an interesting story on Alaska Airlines ... and how the plane decompression was blogged about with nice photos by Jeremy Hermanns (good first name, well, middle name for him - but I am biased on that one).

While others want to jump on the "citizen journalism" train - woohoo - the other story here for PR professionals (and bloggers) is that Alaska Airlines employees have possibly (update, bc of Dave Taylor's point) gone nasty-comment-happy on Jeremy's blog.

Now, I am going to assume (yes, I know the cutesy saying) that the employees commenting are not the official spokespeople for the airlines. I cannot imagine a PR person making such asinine comments on a blog, or not being able to spell, or just posting stupid comments that they researched his pilot's license - that's not PR nor would it behoove any PR person to operate like that. It says sneaky and sleazy and unprofessional.

But, it does really project that every organization needs to have a blogging policy for all employees. Even if the employees are not operating as official (or unofficial) spokespeople for the company, their IP addresses scream "I work for so-and-so!!" A blogging policy - and a blogging comment policy - would take care of such issues. And, if an employee still feels the need to post comments, then the corporation should feel the need to show the employee the door.

It reminds me of other comments and posts out there from employees of companies. They might be great evangelists, but are they official spokespersons? Who is an official spokesperson for a company nowadays? Is it anyone out there that blogs, or should it still be the public relations team, who hopefully can move quickly and nimbly. Or, at the least, should there not be a consistent message for blog comments and blog posts coming from a company? No, I am not condoning or suggesting canned blog posts, but there are certain messaging points you want to convey as a company.

In the blogosphere, everyone from the company feels like they are part of the company, and part of the greater good. This is true for old companies, and new, but it is not the way it really should be. Employees are an extension of the company, and what an employee does is a direct reflection of the corporation. In this instance - besides the bad press for the airplane decompressing, Alaska has to deal with the view that they are a crass, uncaring, lackadaisical airline. Which could have been easily avoided with an internal blog comment policy.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

A Very Merry Xmas to You All

As it is that time of year again, POP! Public Relations wishes you and yours the happiest of Holidays and a wonderful New Year.

Well, I guess I do also have a different take on the holidays than Dave Winer, as well. Even if you know people are being fake and nice merely because it is the Christmas season, what's so bad about that? At least we get a week of people being friendly to each other, and the overall feeling of goodwill to all men and women. I'll take that one week happily, and hope others can do the same.

Speaking of XMas, though, it is interesting to read the stories on the War on Christmas. Like this one in the New Yorker, each article makes a purpose to note the history behind Henry Ford's personal war, and his anti-Semitism.
The War on Christmas seems to have come along around a hundred years later, with the publication of “The International Jew,” by Henry Ford, the automobile magnate, whom fate later punished by arranging to have his fortune diverted to the sappy, do-gooder Ford Foundation. “It is not religious tolerance in the midst of religious difference, but religious attack that they”—the Jews—“preach and practice,” he wrote. “The whole record of the Jewish opposition to Christmas, Easter and certain patriotic songs shows that.” Ford’s anti-Semitism has not aged well, thanks to the later excesses of its European adherents, but by drawing a connection between Christmasbashing and patriotism-scorning he pointed the way for future Christmas warriors.
Now, having lived in Detroit, Motor City, the birthplace of Ford Motor Company, etc ... I know how philanthropic and good the Ford family has been to various causes in the city, including Jewish ones. But, how does Ford the company - and the family, which owns the Detroit Lions among other things - combat the personal history and views (and, well, racism) of its founder?

It is an interesting conundrum for Ford - and a small PR crisis for the company and family. How do you separate the past from the present, when the past seems to come up at the most inopportune times?

Friday, December 16, 2005

I Can Post Today ... Can You?

And, yep, my posts since last Friday are still up. Are yours?

Yes, I am being a little catty.

However, a few bloggers have mocked my Blogger account as being unprofessional, that Blogger is not worthy of being a blog platform for companies, and that I (and others) need to switch to Six Apart / Typepad. Well, sorry - but when you establish a URL, you should drop it because of peer pressure? Ha.

Um, no thank you. If I were to switch, it would be to Wordpress, but I do not see that happening soon.

How's your blogging going today? Having withdrawals like a junkie? Wishing you were on Wordpress or Blogger right about now? I can see some people pulling out the rest of their hair today.

This is a bigger PR issue than 6A's mishandling of customer relations last time around - geez, I wonder how much discounting they will be doling out this time around - and I think it is on par with the deathmatch at Les Blogs.

If this does not get fixed, the Yahoo deal is going to seem like a kick in the groin for Yahoo, and 6A is going to need to go into full crisis mode. This is going to go beyond bloggers, and reach mainstream press, and likely be spun as the unreliability of blogging technology ... and let's not even talk about the miffed journalists or miffed VCs ...

Maybe 6A should be less worried about civility and European conferences, and spend time and money on scalability. Om has a good post on Web 2.0 outages ... and I doubt this is going to be the last outage for such companies. Shoestringing begats shoestrings.

Update: Forbes has an article on Typepad being down, and now I am just amused. First, once again, they did not notify customers on the problem - come on people, how hard is it to change the homepage to include notices?

Second, something about the line "The shutdown occurred late Thursday night as Six Apart was increasing redundancy on its disk storage" reminds me of the time a company lost a bunch of photos during an upgrade/redundancy issue. Just a hunch, but wondering if all the "missing" posts will be recovered.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Blog Leads to Article ... Not on Blogging

I am a big proponent of blogging, if it makes sense. Not every company needs to blog, but every company should be monitoring the blogosphere. And, with the launch of The Consumerist, well we have seen it before with Epinions and Planet Feedback, but PR people need to monitor another site and get ready to be reactive and proactive ... if you are one of the lucky Gawker circle that gets to comment (that nice exclusive community is just so mockable, but not worth it).

But, blogs can be a great resource for finding information ... as I found out last month. Last year, I wrote a post mocking Blackberry addicts, and the issue of work email being used for personal hook-ups.

Well, a reporter from The Post-Standard found that post during research, and she called me and interviewed me for the story. While we did have a longer conversation, she did pull out a funny quote from me for the article about using professional email for personal things, including retraining parents to use your Gmail or Hotmail account.

So, when I have companies ask me the value of a blog, I can point to this instance: a blog post from 2004 was found during research for an article in 2005, and I was contacted and got press. I did not go out looking for it, but it landed in my lap. Not a bad thing, all together.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Those that don't learn from the past, are doomed to fail again

Back in October 2003, Ben Silverman wrote about PR hits and misses. One of the companies he highlighted was Sunncomm, the company that works on DRM protection for music CDs. Back at the time, the company's wonderful protection from copying was disengaged with ... the shift key.

What Ben wrote at the time was ...
Thumbs Down: SunnComm Technologies needs a lesson in PR. SunnComm produces copyright protection software that is somewhat controversial and is currently being tested by BMG Records. A rather savvy graduate student at Princeton however has found two easy ways around the copyright protection software, which is supposed to make it impossible for consumers to copy the CD and illegally distribute it. The grad student wrote a paper about the holes in the software -- one way to disable it is by holding down the "shift" key for a few seconds -- and posted it online. Within hours, the paper was the talk of the tech community. Witness now SunnComm President Peter Jacobs' quote about the student's work in this passage from a San Jose Mercury News story: "Jacobs said he had no intention of suing Halderman under the copyright act, and that the student should spend his time researching something more worthwhile. He said, 'This just isn't one of the weighty issues of the world.'" Now witness what Bill Whitmore, also described as SunnComm's President, told The Boston Globe: "There's nothing in his report that's surprising. There's nothing in the report that I'm concerned about." Do these comments strike anyone else as funny? First, Jacobs blows apart the idea that his own company is relevant. And Whitmore admits that his company's product is flawed and that he's not concerned about it. These guys need to learn about messaging points -- and how to make effective software.
Back in 2003, Ben suggested I contact Sunncomm because it was painfully obvious that they needed PR counsel and help, plus it is a local company. I did ... and they were pretty self-assured that they were handling the situation with great skill.

Well, Sunncomm is in the dog house again, but somehow has let Sony take the brunt of Sunncomm's incompetence during the Rootkit spyware incidence. Why SonyBMG did not learn its lesson during the first round of tests with Sunncomm DRM is a question best left to them - I guess they like to give companies a few chances to sully the Sony corporate reputation. Good job! You have!

Now, you think Sunncomm would learn from the past, and have messaging on its Website, but the Website has not changed since 2003 ... or from the looks of it, not since the 1980's. And, if you check out the news archives from C/Net, hardly any reporting on the company has been positive. And, yet, the company (maybe in delusions of disclosure) posts all the bad news in its newsroom - well, not all.

Well, this latest issue makes it painfully obvious that the company has not learned from the past, to the point that it issued a press release denying a parody. Yes, a parody.

Now, I have gone on the record many times that not every company needs a blog, but for Sunncomm, it makes sense. There are so many problems for the company, that they need a proactive communications strategy that is timely and reactive. Something that a blog could do. Plus, come on, Flash corporate sites are so over. Get with the times, and have a Website that says something, looks professional (because, damn, that one sure does not) and actually has information, like, oh press releases.

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Monday, December 12, 2005

Will Wikipedia turn into SPAM?

When I wrote the post on Adam Curry and his Wikipedia history revisionism, I did not think of the larger implications that Dave Winer brought up in his post on Friday.
Overlooked in the press about Adam Curry modifying the Podcasting page on Wikipedia, anonymously, to improve his image, is that it actually was a company turning a Wikipedia page into an ad for itself.
This came up during the presentation I gave at the Phoenix AMA Chapter meeting. A member of the audience asked if it was okay to start a Wiki page on your own company, and I screamed "nooooooo" and that is a great way to open up the client, the company to attacks in Wikipedia. I did suggest that everyone be aware of Wikipedia, and to track Wikipedia (just like you would track blogs), and if there are errors, to register, log-in and correct any wrong information.

But, no, do not start a page on yourself, your company or anything else that might look self-serving.

Winer is right - and I feel less than astute for not catching it - but how soon is it before less scrupulous companies begin to alter Wikipedia entries to give the company a bit of a push in history - and history revisionism. Yes, Wikipedia is working on such issues - but will it be enough?

But, you know, Wikipedia is already leaning toward SPAM. I did a quick search on Edelman, Weber Shandwick, Burson-Marsteller and Hill & Knowlton. Only one of these large multinational firms had a page - H&K - and it was an unflattering one. However, Schwartz PR, Wikimedia's own PR firm (scroll to the bottom), has a page. Hmm, I wonder why that is? Oh, could it be because they do the PR for the parent company, Wikimedia, and the counsel to name everything Wiki so consumers confuse Wikimedia with Wikipedia with anything else done by Wikimedia? One piece of advice - re-media train Jimmy Wales, prep him before each interview and do not allow him to do interviews via Webcam.

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Sunday, December 11, 2005

O'Dwyer Launches Its PR Awards Program

For the first Global PR Blog Week, I interviewed Jack O'Dwyer and his last statement was about developing a smarter PR award ...
O'Dwyer Publications is going to begin the O'Dwyer Awards, which will focus on the quality and quantity of press and the press' access to the CEO. The O'Dwyer Awards will be for firms that get press, and are a bridge for the company, not an impediment.
Well, it only took them 1 1/2 years to get the program off the ground. Unfortunately, it's not on the free homepage, so I am cutting and pasting the information here - with a few edits, because I could not post the PDF.
PR, public affairs and client organizations that show unusual creativity in educating and informing the public or segments of the public about products, services or public issues will be honored by the O'Dwyer Co. starting with the February 2006 issue of O'Dwyer's PR Services Report.

The issue, which focuses on PA and environmental programs, will inaugurate a monthly O'Dwyer awards program that will recognize outstanding campaigns for specialized areas of PR.

Entry deadline for the February magazine is Dec. 21.

Winning entries will be described in detail and illustrated with pictures on as well as in the magazine. Winners will receive a plaque or award certificate.

Specialized areas and the months they will be covered are: foods & beverages (March); broadcast media (April); research (May); international (June); financial (July); travel (August); beauty/fashion (September); healthcare (October); technology (November) and sports/celebrities (December).

Campaigns will be judged on the basis of creativity used to gain public awareness and understanding of the subject matter involved.

Public discussion by experts in print and broadcast media will be sought. Entries should show that the CEO or other executives of the company or organization were available for questioning by the press and public.

The O'Dwyer Awards will recognize transparency and public accountability. Entries should include a one-page description of the problem presented and the tangible actions taken including media placements, special events, special advertising campaigns, legislative initiatives, fund-raising drives, coalitions created, etc. Size of budget should be given if allowed by the client.

Attainment of tangible goals, such as sales, increase in internet traffic, passage of legislation, should be included in the entry.

A summary of media placements including audience reached should be included. Also requested are several photos for use in the magazine and website and a half dozen or so clippings or VNR story boards for use in a montage. Winners of categories described below will be asked to supply photos of those involved in heading the campaigns (up to four people).

Best-in-category awards will be given on the basis of size of firms participating: under $500K; $500K to $1M; $1M to $2M; $2M to $5M and larger firms. There will also be an award for best campaign regardless of size.

Entries will be limited to three per PR firm per issue. A $75 fee must accompany each entry. Materials are to be retained by the O'Dwyer Co. Winners will receive a suitable plaque or award certificate.

Materials may be sent to Awards Desk of the O'Dwyer Co., 271 Madison ave., New York, NY 10016. Materials may also be e-mailed to Associate Editor Jon Gingerich at; 646/843-2080.
Now, does the PR world need another award? Not sure, but this could be interesting to see what the entries are, and how Jack will judge them.

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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Blogging Relations Case Study: Nokia Gets It Right

Public Relations and blogging is an issue that has come up many times. I was on the panel at BlogOn that Jeff Jarvis didn't like (but didn't stay to see, either), and one of the main points through the panel was whether or not PR should interact with bloggers, should they post comments, and other fun things in this new world of blogging relations. Now, I have argued with other PR bloggers that blogger relations does not mean launching a blog then walking away. Not everyone needs a blog. Heck, I get a few press releases a week that announce this blog launch, or that blog launch ... and really they are not doing much for the conversation. Do we really need another blog on kitchen accessories or anything else trite? No. Do we need more blogs that are just tags pretending to be posts? No.

Now, this does not mean that I will not look to blogs - or podcasts - for new projects. Why? Because depending on the client and the project, it might make sense. I am in the midst of counseling someone on crisis communications, and suggested an RSS feed and blog platform that we can immediately flip the switch on, just in case we need to. I recently put together a proposal that included a whole portion that was just about video podcasting, because if it was done correctly, it would have been viral. Heck, if I take the Nokia N90 to CES, I plan on Video Podcasting with Audioblog.

But, I digress as I wanted to set up the picture: blogging relations is not about setting up a blog like others too often suggest, but it is about working and communicating with bloggers. Let me say that again. It's about working and communicating with bloggers. And, that's what the Nokia Nseries blog about the N90, a real blogger relations program, is all about: working with bloggers.

This post is about how Nokia got it right. No, I'm not jealous or envious, but oh, how I wish I had come up with the program,. It's a true blogger relations program, and about getting the community involved. In a way, this is a "smart-reviewers" program that was taken to the next level: bloggers.

Now, full disclosure, I have one of the phones in my little hands, and am looking at it from my digicam background and online photography, and one thing: the phone rocks.

All the photos in this post have been taken with the Nokia N90 (except the one of the phone itself). Another disclosure: I have interviewed Andy Abramson in the past. It's his 12 year-old Del Mar, CA firm, Comunicano, which is running the outreach program for Nokia, and the Nokia N90 blog. PR Week covered that but I wanted to look at it from a PR blogger standpoint on why other PR people should be looking at this as a way to move forward with bloggers - but first they need to know the bloggers.

So, here's what you get when you open the box. You get the phone - naturally - but you also get a Nokia blogger kit. The package arrives in a nice sleeve or as Andy calls it, a wrap. You slide the box out and open the lid. Inside before you get to the blogger kit is a hand written, personal note from Comunicano’s account team, then an inlay card. Once you lift the in-lay card you get to the kit. Inside is a letter from Andy about the phone and the program. The letter also tells you the link to the Nokia N90 blog, and includes a CD in a sleeve with the press releases, images, and PDFs on the product.

According to Andy, the phone and kit were sent to about 50 bloggers - ranging from mainstream influential bloggers to vertical bloggers to niche bloggers - with no demand that anything be posted. I do not know about other bloggers, but I was first contacted to see if I would like to receive the phone, and said yes to play with the digital camera part. In the letter, it is noted that the bloggers will need to return the phone to Nokia, when they ask for it, which is standard for any review program. Comunicano even included a FedEx slip already filled out to make it easy - I used to do that with Kodak, but inevitable the slip would get "lost" by reviewers. But, this is not a traditional review program per se - it's more of a blogger outreach program.

I quickly spoke with Andy to find out more about the program, and how they decided on the bloggers. I also wanted to know what risks they thought there might be, and if being a blogger gave him more street cred to do such a program (and, well, should I be milking my status more often).

Now, Andy has an interesting background that lends itself to being different, to pushing the envelope. That was one of the things that came up during the interview with Andy – he wants to push PR and communications, establishing new ways to work with media and communities – both online and in the real world. Andy's been doing PR since he was 14 – I was working for my English teacher at 14 – and doing things like being the guy who hung with the pro players then educated the sports reporters on things they didn’t know for the Philadelphia Wings in 1974, establishing the first amateur sports outreach program run by a professional sports franchise for the Philadelphia Flyers from 1976-88, and then at Upper Deck from 1991-1992 where he redefined how to work with the hobby and trade press. Today he still creates and executes his campaigns that push to redefine the role of PR, and how PR operates with the public and the media.

To me, the blogger outreach makes total sense. This is the perfect phone for someone that wants to start video podcasting as you can shoot small snippets - like me here messing around and mistakingly taping myself ...

Here's a very small snippet with no sound. I didn't realize I was recording ... but it's just to show how you can podcast.

Now, BL Ochman does not think it was such a great campaign. But I think she is taking a narrow view of the N90 blog, and the program as a whole. First, I think she thinks Andy is a newbie - Andy is far from a blogging newbie, or a PR newbie. He is regulalry approached often for blogging on various VoIP subjects or by the media to make sense out of what the companies in the industry are saying - he blogs on VoIP, not on PR.

Andy and I have spoken in the past about bad PR/Blogging relations, and he has a great post about it. BL recently ran her own campaign for Budget and I think she is forgetting that similar complaints could be made of the Budget campaign - that it's just an ad buy, and is not going to influence anyone but is buying influence and buying the people playing the game. Do I believe that? No - I thought it was creative outreach, just like the Nokia N90 is creative, but Nokia is getting bloggers just as involved, if not more so.

And, Stowe Boyd - another blogger that got the phone - has noted that if he thought the phone blew chunks, he would have said so. I have met Stowe. I have spoken with Stowe. And, I believe Stowe would have ripped the phone to shreds if he did not like it. Andy has even told bloggers, write what you want, pro or con and that their comments will go up on the official Web site. The bloggers in the review program will also get access to the site, to actually post. That's pretty daring, and something that makes the program really different ... and potentially dangerous.

And, that's the thing - PR firms are taking a risk when they send products to bloggers, but is it any different than the risk we take when we send products to newspaper reviewers? Not really, and if a PR blogger says it is, he/she are delusional. Yes, blogs are more viral and reach different audiences, but sending products to bloggers is a crap-shoot, just like it is with newspaper or mainstream media reviewers. It's slightly different, but not all together dissimilar.

Some might disagree – to a degree – that sending products to bloggers is not much more dangerous than sending to a newspaper reviewer. First, though, the newspaper review might not even write a review, but it’s likely that a blogger will – and I can attest to this, as I have product out to reporters that sits there idle for months. But, newspapers will review with some decorum – not the Forbes nastiness that us bloggers are known for.

My issues with the phone? The instruction book is terrible - and I read it all the way through, and could have saved time by just reading the quick start manual. I have yet to figure out if I can post from Lifeblog to Blogger, but I do not believe so, so the images you see here were transferred from the card to my computer but I did learn how to transfer to Flickr - thanks atmasphere! Otherwise, the phone and camera rock.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Fake Blogs and Rumor Sites

The charming and intelligent Erin Caldwell - the Auburn student pictured to the left - had an insightful post last month about fake blogs. She had put out a call to her classmates on - as well as other readers - on how to handle a certain situation.

The situation?
So you’re the PR director for a large company that is currently in the middle of a lot of public controversy. While you’re keeping tabs on mentions of your company in the news and in blogs, you notice that your CEO has a blog. Wait. You would know if your CEO had started a blog. And this blog seems to be throwing his and the company’s views way out of proportion and making inflammatory statements.
So, what would you do in such a situation was her question - and a few of the classmates did pipe up, but this is something that can be reality for companies now - and, truthfully, I would not be surprised if there are fake blogs out there claiming to speak for various corporations. I also had suggestions, but it would be interesting to find out if there have been fake corporate blogs, and how they were dealt with.

What made me think of Ms. Caldwell's post? Well, I was IM'ed "On the DL" today by a reporter friend. Now, I am not a baseball fan, but this site did drag me in because I live in a state with a popular team ... and some former players were on this site. Now, the site owners are smart, as they have a disclaimer that I brought up in the libel post, and does seems to relieve them of liability:
As the court system has ruled, we here at On The DL are not responsible for any comments made by other people or any claims made on other sites, both warranted and/or unwarranted. The comments posted on this site do not necessarily reflect our views and are the exclusive opinions of those posters only.
But, you know that the executives at MLB and the MLB Players Association have to be sweating bullets. Well, likely it is the players that are sweating bullets when/if their wives find this site. How do you respond to such a site, though? As public figures, they are apt to be gossiped about, but should you respond to such a site? America loves gossip sites - look at the popularity of Gawker and Defamer - and here's a site that pulls you in about baseball players.

I have no answer on how I would react if I were at MLB or MLBPA - it's food for thought, though, and a wake up call for sports publicists on how they need to track blogs just like corporations.

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Friday, December 02, 2005

Adam Curry's Small Crisis

Adam Curry, the godfather of Podcasting, or whatever title he has claimed, can't use Wikipedia. It's true - the man who is somewhat a technologist has trouble with Wikipedia. That's funny because I consider myself a half-Luddite (purposely done so I can think like a consumer, and not get wrapped up in the crap). But, hey, I have no trouble with Wikipedia ...

Oh, wait, that's just an excuse. What has been happening - allegedly - is that Curry has been updating the article on Podcasting in Wikipedia, to give himself a bigger piece of the pie, a greater claim to fame. From stories I have heard, this is not surprising. I have heard that his speaking fee includes first class, open-ended first-class tickets, plus other amenities for tradeshows, and from a colleague that has worked with him, that he expects the star treatment. Editing Wikipedia to give himself more credit is not outside the realm of possibilities. And, for some reason, the blogosphere and online community seems to bring out the egoists and make them even worse.

Now, this is currently just an online crisis, and has yet to cross into the mainstream media. But, unlike Kryptonite, FedEx or Dell, this has bigger implications for Curry. Curry's main domain is in this online realm of bloggers and podcasters and Wikipediers and the main part of the audience that he needs to attract and keep intersted in his products, his content, his character. Yes, Curry is a personality and a character, one that is built upon his MTV persona that lives and, potentially, could die in the blogosphere.

As bloggers know, something can catch on fire quickly within the blogosphere, and crisis communications take on a whole new role, and a whole new sense of urgency. Right now, this story is on the front page of digg, but has yet to make it to Memeorandum. Yet. By the time I wake up, it could be on that page as well. Is the mainstream press going to pick up this story? Not as likely because it's too techy.

So, what are the basic basics of crisis communications? First, admit fault. Second, correct. So, in a way, Curry did the right thing: he admitted fault, and he tried to rectify the situation. But, the other part of crisis is to be truthful and forthright, and, well, his apology seems to be a really, really bad one. Insincere. Fake.

To reiterate, the man that helped in the development of Podcasting is not too good with the Wikipedia technology that he got confused and changed parts of the post - four times - to present Adam Curry as more of the man in podcasting. The apology he is going with is "Wikipedia is too hard to use" - but one that seems hollow.

What should Curry do? Well, I like his idea of a Skype Podcast, arranging for all the people in the Podcast article to discuss the beginning. It is the best way for Curry to clear his name, and close the debate. I know I would listen.

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