Archive for the ‘PR’ Tag

PR Lessons Learned: Circuit City

image courtesy of consumerist.com

image courtesy of consumerist.com

Last week, I wrote a post comparing the Twitter presence of Circuit City and Comcast.  I was highly critical of Circuit City for not using the platform to reach out and connect directly with customers.  The very next day, a story broke about a PR debacle at Circuit City.  The first part of this story is a bit of a tragedy but it does have a happy ending, thanks to some fast thinking by a savvy PR guy.

The August issue of MAD magazine featured a four-page spoof tab for “Sucker City”.  The spoof included advertisements for items like HDTVs and video games, including the Nintendo Wii “Guaranteed In Stock … if you’re friends with an employee who hid it in the back for you. Otherwise, ooh, sorry, all sold out.”

In a panicky overreaction, Circuit City management instructed their stores to remove and destroy all copies of the issue (yes, you can get magazines at some Circuit City stores, but that’s a subject for different post).  Of course, the decision was another great example of how Circuit City doesn’t understand the new reality of operating in the age of social media.  A copy of the remove and destroy message quickly found its way to the Consumerist.com who shared it with the world.

That’s when PR guy Jim Babb stepped in to deal with the damage control.  As many of my readers know, I worked at Circuit City’s corporate headquarters and had the opportunity to know Jim and his extremely dry wit, so I’m not surprised with how he handled the issue.  Here’s an excerpt from Jim’s letter:

“As a gesture of our apology and deep respect for the folks at MAD Magazine, we are creating a cross-departmental task force to study the importance of humor in the corporate workplace and expect the resulting Powerpoint presentation to top out at least 300 pages, chock full of charts, graphs and company action plans.

In addition I have offered to send the MAD Magazine Editor a $20.00 Circuit City Gift Card, toward the purchase of a Nintendo Wii….if he can find one!

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Companies Without Conversation

This past week gave us several great examples of companies demonstrating their obliviousness to the changing world around them.

scrabble_v_scrabulous.jpgHasbro / Mattel

You know Scrabble. Created in 1933, the classic wordplay board game has been a favorite worldwide for decades. So when Calcutta-based developers Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla created a Scrabble knock-off application called “Scrabulous” for the social networking site Facebook, people started signing up like crazy. As of today, Scrabulous has 600,000 daily users but that’s only a quarter of the number of people who have signed up to play it. You’d think Hasbro & Mattel, who together own the world-wide rights to the game, would see an opportunity here and find a way leverage these social media passionistas to further promote their product. Sadly, they don’t see it that way and have issued a cease and desist order trying to get Facebook to take the game down.

From a legal standpoint, Hasbro / Mattel are well within their rights and in fact, as Shel Holtz points out in a response to Matt Dickman’s excellent post on this topic last week, companies must consistently go after intellectual property infringement cases to make future charges stick. Moreover, if the Agarwallas had simply printed a copy of Scrabulous and sold it as a board game, there would be little controversy about whether it constitutes a copyright violation.

Back in the days before consumers had a voice, there were really only two parties to consider in these types of cases: The IP owner and the IP infringer. The lawyers would shut the infringer down and that would be the end of it. Unfortunately for companies like Hasbro / Mattel, the world has moved on and, as demonstrated by the Scrabulous case, the consumers now have a seat at the table. They can’t impact the legal outcome of the case, but they can make the PR fallout into a big deal. Hasbro / Mattel either didn’t see that coming or felt it was not as important as defending the IP. What I and many other observers are suggesting is that a little creative thinking between the lawyers and the marketers could have resulted in an outcome that both satisfied Hasbro / Mattel’s legal requirement and managed to tap into the 2.5 million potential evangelists playing Scrabulous. This case is far from being closed and it will be interesting to see where it goes.

Target

Amy Jussel is a blogger focusing on media & marketing’s influence on kids. She sent a letter to Target’s Corp Communication dept regarding a billboard in Times Square that some people have found offensive. The good news is that target responded. The bad news is that this is what they said:

Good Morning Amy, Thank you for contacting Target; unfortunately we are unable to respond to your inquiry because Target does not participate with non-traditional media outlets. This practice is in place to allow us to focus on publications that reach our core guest. Once again thank you for your interest, and have a nice day.

target.jpgTarget “does not participate with non-traditional media outlets”?? Huh? Then what are they doing on Facebook and what’s that Rounders program all about???? And just who do they think their “core guest” is. I shop Target at least once a week and I bet millions of other people who “participate with non-traditional media outlets” do too. Perhaps if Target understood who their “core guest” really was, they would know that some of them can be quite vocal. Word of this “policy” spread like wildfire through digital communities and bloggers like Julia Roy quickly responded. With one sentence to one person, Target managed to offend an important segment of their customer base. What’s astonishing to me is that Target, which portrays its self as being cool and hip, is apparently clueless about how to engage with the “non-traditional media” segment of their customers. They don’t understand the brand evangelism opportunity that can be had from engaging with them (and I don’t mean in a Rounders sort of way). There will likely be some PR backpedaling on this one, just as there was just a few months ago with the Rounders debacle, but whether Target will make some fundamental changes in their approach is yet to be seen.

In a follow-up to his post on Scrabulous, Matt Dickman wrote about engaging with “non-traditional media” types. He asked:

When you look at your brand’s social media universe, are you looking for criminals or evangelists?

I think the first question for many companies should be Are you looking at your brand’s social media universe?

Now Is Gone – Helping Companies Leverage New Media

now_is_gone.jpgOn August 11, 2006, at a campaign stop, incumbent Virginia Senator George Allen twice used the word macaca (a perceived racial term) to refer to S.R. Sidarth, who was filming the event as a “tracker” for Allen’s challenger, Jim Webb. Webb’s campaign moved aggressively to spread the video through social media channels like YouTube and blogs. Mainstream media echoed these reports and Allen’s fate was cast. Once considered a serious contender for the 2008 Presidential race, Allen lost his re-election bid and in doing so, shifted the balance of power in the US Senate to the Democrats.

It was a powerful demonstration of the power of social media and the speed with which messages can be shared broadly. It was also the event that convinced Washington, DC PR guy Geoff Livingston that his world had forever changed.

In this new age of the empowered public, organizations have lost control of the conversation. People increasing turn to peers for opinions, news and even entertainment. Empowered by powerful new tools and social networks that are not bound by geography, the people formerly known as “the audience” are now in control. Livingston points out that:

“Businesses are realizing they will be forced to communicate to their customers in the consumers’ own preferred social media forms. Instead of businesses trying to find customers, this time businesses are trying to play catch-up with their customers.”

….and that fundamentally changes the Public Relations game. The problem is most organizations don’t know how to market through social media. Recognizing that opportunity, Livingston, a well respected blogger whose PR firm has real world experience applying social media principles to businesses, has taken the time to distill that experience into a set of ideas others can use.

In his new book, now is gone, Livingston discusses the general strategic principles and major aspects of social network marketing, providing executives a primer to begin their effort.

Start With the Right Attitude

The introduction (written by Brian Solis) does a great job of educating the reader about the new realities of marketing in the age of the hyper-connected, empowered consumer:

PR 2.0 starts with listening and reading, and leads to insight, understanding, and perspective. This inspires respect, which is the critical ante for participation in the social economy.

  • Listening is marketing.
  • Participation is marketing.
  • Media is marketing.
  • Conversations are marketing.

Understand and Apply The Basic Principles

Over the following chapters, Livingston discusses the increasing role of new media in consumers’ lives helps the reader understand the basic principles of marketing effectively using social media. What makes this book so useful is that Livingston uses his background in traditional PR to explain these principles using terminology and strategies familiar to traditional marketers. Those Seven Principles of Social Media Communications are:

  1. Relinquish message control — Command and Control is dead. Businesses will have a hard time with this, but in a conversational marketplace, two-way communication rules. Organizations that refuse to give up control “will be met with anger, distrust and either rebellion or distrust”
  2. Honesty, ethics, and transparencies are a must — No one wants a relationship with someone who doesn’t behave well. This is about “human relations” and applying The Golden Rule.
  3. Participation within the community is marketing — Just putting out content won’t cut it. You have to participate withing the community, reading and commenting on other people’s content.
  4. Communication to audiences is an outdated 20th century concept — Audiences receive one-way messages (as in mass communication). The audience has been replaced by the community and they are talking. You had better be listening and engaging.
  5. Build value for the community — The is about getting to know your community and what they care about through listening, reading and understanding. Then making a conscious decision to deliver content back that they will value.
  6. Inspire your community with real, exciting information — A press release to your stakeholders does not inspire them. Product details don’t get them excited. Leverage you subject matter expertise to build intrinsic value.
  7. Manage the media form with intelligence and you will build a community of people who become very loyal to you — Here’s a concept that shows up everywhere – Make it Easy for your community come back through calls to action, intelligent RSS feeds, a central landing point. Cultivate sustained interest through regular content updates.

Throughout the book, Livingston uses real world examples to illustrate successes and failures. now is gone is a great tool for organizations who are ready to start participating in their communities. Are you ready? Chances are your competitors are. What are you waiting for? After all, now really is gone!

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