Friday, April 29, 2016

Five #PR Lessons from the Kelly and Michael Drama

Recently, the on-air talent for the morning television show “Live! With Kelly and Michael” experienced some unwanted publicity. A change in personnel was announced, and very unexpectedly, the two stars BECAME the news. ABC apparently informed Kelly about Michael’s departure from the show just minutes before the public announcement. Naturally, Kelly was upset and angry and opted out of appearing on the daytime talk show for four days. Upon her return, the two presented a united public face, but there may be tension behind-the-scenes. As a result of this public drama, we can all learn some valuable lessons about public relations.


Think about Kelly’s complaint about being blind sighted by the news announcement. Whether you work in a mom-and-pop store, a small business, or a nonprofit, how news is communicated can be just as important as the news that is being communicated. Therefore, assemble the people who will be most impacted by the announcement and share the news one-on-one. Let people digest the news and answer all questions at that time before announcing the news to the entire company – or to the public.


Was ABC’s announcement made at the best possible time? When you plan a significant announcement for your business, consider the day, the time, and the month. It might be best to make an announcement at the end of a month or the end of a quarter. Perhaps, your business has reached a financial milestone, so an announcement makes sense at that time. But whatever decision you make, implement a timing strategy for your announcement.


Think about the content of ABC’s announcement
a change in personnel hasn’t happened too often over the years, so it was bound to attract media coverage but certainly not the HOW and WHEN of the announcement. When a new announcement is made, employees and the outside community often look at the announcement by placing it in context with your company’s past news announcements and/or product/service launches. Therefore, does the latest announcement seem in line with the direction of the company, or does it seem like it came out of left field? Don’t confuse your audiences or stakeholders.

Think about how Kelly took a few days off to think about her reaction. She then returned to the show with a smile on her face. If unexpected things happen upon making a public announcement, your executive or leadership team must be prepared to admit a lack of judgment or erroneous information. They need to be comfortable in front of a camera and dealing with members of the media. Your company’s future could be at stake, so your media preparation is critical.

Immediately upon hearing the announcement, many social media channels lit up with the hashtag #KellyandMichael with all types of comments. Upon hearing unexpected news, don’t immediately rush to your favorite social media platforms. Remember that once something is posted to the Internet, it takes on a life of its own, and you cannot take it back or delete it. Therefore, keep your comments to yourself. If you have to tell someone, tell yourself in a mirror at home – not to the receptionist at your workplace – and definitely not on Twitter or Facebook.

Lastly, remember that everything your business does is in some way reflected outside your workplace walls. Even if you run a small business or small nonprofit, you have an audience, customers, constituents, and stakeholders. Since you want your news announcements to be met with a positive reaction, think strategically before publicizing your news to avoid as many surprising reactions as possible.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Poor Customer Service Can Seriously Damage a Brand's Reputation

Recently, I visited a restaurant in Southern California that's part of a national chain. While the restaurant has linen napkins, it doesn't have table cloths. So it's somewhere between a McDonald's and a restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel.

After my friend and I were seated, the waitress walked by our table a few times without acknowledging us. When she finally stopped at the table, I asked what the soup of the day was. Unfortunately, my question served as a distraction and stopped her from being able to deliver her standard script, "Hello, I'm (her name), and I will be your server. Can I offer you something to drink while you look at the menu?"

I ordered a cappuccino, but she said that she thought the espresso machine was not working. This seemed odd, especially since it was a sunny Sunday in Southern California, which meant that everyone was outside enjoying the sunshine. How could there not be a repair person working on the restaurant's espresso machine?

The waitress said she would check on the espresso machine and let me know. I had to stop the waitress twice as she walked by my table to inquire about the machine. No surprise, it was not working. As the customer, though, I should not have had to ask for this information. The right thing to do in this instance was to apologize on behalf of the restaurant for a non-functioning espresso machine and then offer something comparable to drink. Perhaps, she could have said, "We've got these delicious fruit smoothies, we'll provide one on the house if you'd like to try one." But the server didn't think outside the box at all.

And this was not the end of my poor customer experience. The food was delivered, but I had asked for butter and jelly to accompany my English muffin when I ordered - not a crazy request. No butter and jelly arrived with my scrambled eggs. I asked the person who delivered the food. A minute passed. Then another, and another, and finally my eggs were gone. The English muffin remained and was now cold. Since no one ever returned to the table, I walked over to the food prep area and requested butter and jelly. When the waitress finally returned to the table, she said, "I have other tables you know."

While everyone has a bad day now and then, when you work with people - and depend on people for your business in the hospitality industry - you cannot afford to treat customers rudely. It will come as no surprise that I spoke to the manager following this experience. He agreed that the level of service was sub-par, and he paid for my meal and my friend's meal. But, as many of us in the customer experience marketing sector say on a regular basis, I would be much happier to pay for a meal that accompanies quality service than receive a free meal as a result of an awful experience. How about you? And as you can imagine, this restaurant has lost a customer.

Friday, April 1, 2016

When Creating a Product Name, ONE WORD Can Make a Difference

On International Women’s Day in March 2016, a famous company known around the world for one of its products became THE NEWS as a result of a new product launch announced earlier this year. The company is Mattel, the product known around the world is Barbie – and the new product’s name is “Interim CEO Barbie.” From a marketing perspective, why would a company made famous by its adult woman doll launch a professional businesswoman doll and add the word “Interim?” This product name seems rather odd.

Before we analyze the reasons for this move, we need to take a walk back through history. In 1945, Ruth and Elliot Handler started their company, Mattel, combining Elliot's name with the last name of their partner, Harold Matson. In 1956, the Handlers took their two teenage children, Barbara and Ken, on a trip to Europe, and during the trip, they saw a doll that looked like an adult woman. This doll was much different from the baby dolls that most little girls played with back in America.

Ruth was inspired, and three years later, Mattel’s version of the adult doll, which she named after her daughter, debuted and became a big success. The Barbie doll also had a wardrobe of outfits that could be purchased separately. In 1960, the Handlers took Mattel public, and Barbie quickly became an icon, with a wardrobe and career options that mirrored women’s changing goals.

Ruth Handler said in a 1977 interview with The New York Times, “Every little girl needed a doll through which to project herself into her dream of her future. If she was going to do role-playing of what she would be like when she was 16 or 17, it was a little stupid to play with a doll that had a flat chest. So I gave the doll beautiful breasts. And Barbie kept pace with the times. During Camelot, she sported a Jacqueline Kennedy hairdo. During the 1970’s, her career choices and outfits begin to change to include a doctor, astronaut and veterinarian, among others. My whole philosophy of Barbie was that through the doll, a girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.”

According to the BBC News, “Barbie was one of the first toys to have a marketing strategy based extensively on television advertising, which has been copied widely by other toys. It is estimated that over a billion Barbie dolls have been sold worldwide in over 150 countries, with Mattel claiming that three Barbie dolls are sold every second.”

So, with all the emphasis on career options and women’s choices, why would Mattel create a new Barbie with the name of INTERIM CEO? According to Heidrick and Struggles, a recruiting firm, women now hold 20 percent of corporate board seats among Fortune 500 companies, up from 19 percent in 2013 and 17 percent in 2009. If those numbers are correct, it will take 28 years before women comprise 50 percent of corporate board seats. While the percentage of female Fortune 500 board leaders is still staggeringly low, it's nearly twice that of female CEOs, who make up just 4.6 percent of those companies (as of June 29, 2015).

Back to Mattel’s decision for this new doll’s name. Who wants to grow up to become an INTERIM CEO? How does that title motivate a young girl or teenager who sees the new doll on the Target or Walmart shelf or on More importantly, how would a parent explain the title to his or her child so that the child understands this individual’s role and value in a business? Above all, why would a young adult want to grow up and become an INTERIM CEO?

Renee Chanon, former President of the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles and a retired public affairs consultant, explained, “Mattel may want us to believe that the new Barbie is empowering girls, but it’s really telling them to settle for second best.”

But wait a minute! Have you checked your calendar today? Yes, that’s right, it’s April 1st, and that means it’s April Fool’s Day. So, if you had doubts that this story about a new doll from Mattel with the name “Interim CEO” was fake, you would be correct. While Barbie has been a football coach, dentist, yoga teacher, veterinarian, United States Air Force jet pilot, UNICEF summit diplomat, firefighter, police officer, architect, chef, astronaut, architect, film director, and ballerina, she has never been an “Interim CEO.”

However, on March 8, 2016, this story was reported in the Los Angeles media by a well known and very respected business reporter. After learning that this story was fake, I reached out to the reporter, the radio station’s news desk, and Mattel. Unfortunately, I did not receive any email or letter from the reporter, the radio station, nor Mattel – and I sent a letter to the CEO, the President, and the media inquiry office.

This Barbie story caused me to reflect how businesses respond to crisis communications. Do most businesses have crisis communications plans in place? Do they respond in social media? Or do they disappear under a rock with the hope that a bad news story quickly disappears? Certainly, a bigger news story will push fake stories away from reporters’ desks, such as, international terror attacks or plane crashes, but reporters should take ownership for their goofs and admit when they get a story wrong.

Reporters are brands – just as products and services are brands – and they must realize that their reports are representations of their personal brands. So the next time I hear a report that sounds odd, I probably won’t even question it, but will instead, go with my gut and know it’s too odd to be true. If I had been able to discuss this story with Ruth Handler, she would have known immediately that the Los Angeles reporter had been wrong – because of one word in the product’s name!

Original Report:   

Obituary of Ruth Handler in The New York Times:

List of women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies 

Image Credit: Photo of Dr. Barbie by Debbie Laskey.