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You cannot not communicate

Monthly Archives: February 2013


‘PixelPlacebo’ / / CC BY-NC


South African sprinter, Oscar Pistorius has been in the news a lot this week. The double amputee became one of the top stories of the London Olympics after becoming the first sprinter to compete with two prosthetic limbs.

Pistorius made headlines this week for something much less inspiring. He has been charged in the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

After news of the charges, sponsors Nike and Oakley were forced to react. Both companies recently dropped cyclist Lance Armstrong after years of speculation and investigation of doping charges.

As a strategic communication student we are trained to know how to deal with these kind of high profile crises in a way which best protects the brands reputation. As there are still many questions left unanswered surrounding this murder, Nike’s choice to release a commiserative statement and then staying silent was a great approach.

I recently read an interesting AdAge article on this story. In this  article Eric Denzenhall, author of Damage Control, urges Pistorius sponsors to “express great distress great distress and then keep their mouths shut.”

Something I found particularly interesting about this article was a statement in the very last paragraph, “the public is almost numb to athletic scandals.”

I have to admit that this statement is sad but true. Only recently we have witnessed Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Ben Rothlisberger, and many other very publicly fall from grace. This is hardly a new trend either, O.J. Simpson’s trial was a media frenzy in the early 90s as well.

Companies in the athletic industry rely heavily on these celebrity-athlete endorsements. The name of the game has always been-and probably always will be- getting the best athletes, in their prime, to endorse your brand.

The question now is who do you pick?

There are really no predictive factors to consider. There is no magic formula to determine who will be the next to ruin their reputation and the reputation of your brand. I was just as shocked as the next person when the tally of women Tiger Woods had been with kept stacking up.

Is it time to consider new methods for these companies to market their brand? Can the industry thrive without these big name endorsements, or is this just something that comes with the territory?


Applebee's recent PR failure can serve as a case of worst practices in social media

Applebee’s recent PR failure can serve as a case of worst practices in social media.

I’m sure most of you have heard of the recent debacle at your friendly neighborhood Applebee’s, but for those of you still out of the loop here is the rundown.

A waitress at Applebee’s posted a picture of a bill with a hand-written note form a customer complaining about the built-in gratuity. The customer crossed out the 18 percent and added “I give God 10 percent, why would I give you 18?”

After the photo was posted the worker was fired and chaos ensued.

I’m not here to argue for freedom of speech, or even to make a case for the fact that another Applebee’s bill was posted on a social media site with a positive comment and no disciplinary actions were taken.

Instead, I would like to draw attention to some major no-no’s on the part of Applebee’s social media team and see what can be learned from such a catastrophic failure.

First let’s talk about what went wrong.

In PR there are plenty of ways to deal with a crisis, two of which are complete and total transparency as well as strategic silence. As I’m sure you can tell, by definition, the two do not mesh. Even individually, Applebee’s managed to botch the methods.

In an interview with ABC News, Dan Smith, Applebee’s spokesperson, admitted to in many cases, responding to negative comments on their Facebook page by copying and pasting the policy which the former employee had violated. This, in my mind, is worse than the automated replies used by some companies. This approach is unprofessional and only served to fuel the firestorm of angry comments towards the comany.

To make matters worse, the company disabled user posts on their Facebook page, thus rendering the public voiceless. This defeats the entire purpose of social media for corporate use. Without feedback from the public, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and all other mediums simply become another advertisement lost in the clutter. In this particular case, this move also made it look as though Applebee’s had something to hide. This is what I was referring to earlier about missing the mark on the strategic silence approach.

So, what can be learned from Applebee’s misfortune?

First and foremost, before there ever is a crisis on hand, companies need to have a plan of action. This is especially true now, in the age of social media when a single comment or post can serve as a catalyst for all sorts of bad press. Applebee’s first mistake was not having this plan laid out.

Next was the generic response to comments on their Facebook page.  Again I’ll stress the importance of social media as a form of two-way communication. Consumers know when you are not being authentic in your response and an automated response is by no means genuine.

Saving the best for last-and by best I mean worst- Applebee’s disabled user comments. In the ABC interview, Smith explains that this was in an attempt to respond to the overwhelming amount of comments. If this is indeed true, there is another very simple solution. RELEASE A STATEMENT. Facebook and Twitter are excellent venues to release a single, concise, and well planned statement which will deliver your desired message the public all at once.

The bottom line is that social media has changed the way we interact with our audiences and crisis management needs to evolve with the times.

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Éole / / CC BY-NC-SA

Anyone who has ever tried an Oreo will probably agree when I say any advertising effort on their part is not exactly necessary.

That didn’t stop the brand’s social media team from capitalizing on the real star of the Super Bowl. No not Beyonce, not Ray Lewis, THE Blackout.

During the one of the most highly televised events of the year, when companies are willing to pay upwards of $3 million for a commercial spot, Oreo got perhaps the best hype without spending a dime.

Within minutes of the blackout, Oreo and their ad agency 360i had composed a tweet, “Power out? No problem.”, complete with a graphic and a catchy saying, “You can still dunk in the dark.”

In an interview with AdAge, president of the brand’s digital agency 360i, Sarah Hofstetter explains the story behind such a quick and well executed response.

The marketers for the brand and the 360i team were in a sort of “mission control” watching the Super Bowl when the lights went out.

Hofstetter said the graphic was “designed, captioned, and approved within minutes.”

This is a lesson to all PR professionals and a reminder of the importance of an active and relevant social media presence.

While the average consumer will soon forget Oreo’s valiant effort in light of the blackout (pun intended), the world of PR will surely look at this as a prime example of a “best practice” for years to come. Or at least until something replaces Twitter.

Cola-Cola has a history of iconic ads. From Mean Joe Greene in 1979 to those cute polar bears we see every winter, there is no denying Coke has become an American Institution.

While it’s hard to argue with a company with over 125 years under its belt, Coke’s new “Coming Together” ad me questioning their most recent efforts.

The ad, which debuted Jan. 14, is half PR genius and half slap in the face to consumers.

The Good:
Coke makes a concerted effort to promote their 180 low and no-calorie drinks. This ensures that while promoting healthy beverage choices to consumers they won’t see a significant drop in sales.

Coke also highlights all the work that they have done to combat obesity, especially in children. They have worked closely in with the Boys and Girls Club of American and “voluntarily” removed high calorie sodas and other drinks from schools across the country.

The Bad and the Ugly:

Coke is pointing fingers.

This ad not only blames other high-calorie foods for the obesity epidemic sweeping the nation, they also place blame on consumers.

While there may be an element of “we-were-all-thinking-it” to this situation, consumers may not respond well to an industry leader blaming customers for their own weight issues.

Another issue is that Coke is placing all the emphasis on the caloric content of their products.

It seems to me that they are intentionally turning a blind eye to the high amounts of sugar in not only their sodas, but also their “healthier” low-calorie beverages.

Overall, as a student of strategic communications and a future PR professional this was a extremely smart, proactive attempt to save sales during a time when American’s have become more and more weight conscious.

From a consumer’s point-of-view this ad made me feel targeted as the root of the obesity problem while Coke is left looking good.