This past weekend, a story unfolded in the San Francisco area about a Santa Claus, known as Santa John, who was fired from his 20-year job at Macy’s. The issue was about a joke that Santa John told two adult customers sitting on his lap (that’s another issue altogether =). He had said the joke often but this one time got him fired as the customers objected to his “knowing where all the naughty boys and girls lived.”
Now begins a story that pushes Santa John into the limelight, positions Macy’s unfavorably to a world audience, and takes a beloved watering hole, Lefty O’Douls, front and center.
Macy’s Continued Silence
In any other case, the firing of a Santa who told a raunchy joke would have blown over for Macy’s. However, this was a situation in which Santa John has been the face of Christmas for the Macy’s San Francisco flagship store for the past 20 years. As such, Santa John holds an emotional tie to many in the community which has further propelled this story beyond the Bay Area community.
And throughout all this, Macy’s continues to stay silent on this, considering this a “personnel matter”. And this is Macy’s biggest mistake. The company has failed to recognize this as a unique situation. This was an opportunity for the company to highlight their high quality of service to all customers and that they take customer satisfaction seriously. This was an opportunity to apologize for their mistake, acknowledge the 1,000 of emails and letters to rehire Santa John back, and hold a large cermony on Santa John’s return to demonstrate Macy’s Christmas spirit.
Rather, by remaining silent, Macy’s is seen as a harsh employer who fired a beloved holiday icon over one complaint despite 20 years of loyal service.
Lefty O’Doul’s Saves Santa
If you’ve been to San Francisco, it’s very likely you’ve frequented Lefty O’Doul’s, a bar off Union Square. As the story unfolded regarding Santa John, the management at Lefty’s did a brilliant move of offering Santa John a job at the bar – double the pay and a bigger seat.
While there have been job offers for Santa John, this one captured the local media’s attention: local angle, well-known bar establishment located blocks from the very same Macy’s store, and better benefits for Santa John. And best of all, permission to tell all the jokes he wants.
This move is what David Meerman Scott highlights in his book “Real-Time Marketing & PR: How to Instantly Engage with Your Market, Connect with Customers, and Create Products that Grow Your Business.”
Conclusion: The Holiday Spirit
The story of Santa John provides a blueprint on how brands, both small and large, should and shouldn’t handle communications issues. In the new era of transparency, Macy’s could (should?) have been more open and willing to admit a possible mistake. In the end, Lefty’s demonstrated a holiday spirit that benefitted Santa John and inevitably drive more traffic and business to Lefty’s.
And in a time when money is still tight and customers more selective, I suspect that the San Francisco Macy’s year-over-year sales and traffic may dip as a result.
What do you think?
Over the past few months, my husband and I have discussed the direction that news is heading; and oftentimes, I’m left with the conclusion that news is heading down the wrong path. With this past political cycle and recent posts by Media Bullseye and B.L. Ochman, I’ve come to this conclusion:
The era of striving for objective news has ended
Don’t get me wrong, while the news organizations seek to report just the facts, news has always contained a sliver of perspective that shaped the tone and angle of the story as B.L. indicated in her post. However, the line between conjecture/opinion and reporting the news has been blurred to a point that the general public can no longer delineate one from another.
The competitive, 24/7 news cycle further exacerbates this issue. The tenets of good reporting, such as fact checking and vetting sources, have been thrown out the window in favor of being first. This allows false reports to proliferate quickly over Twitter (who’s the latest dead celebrity), for sloppy reporting with fake quotes sourced from Wikipedia and more.
Rise of commentators and opion bloggers
And the rise of commentators and opinion bloggers is putting personal agendas ahead of the critical issues. As B.L. writes:
“we want to hear from people who are honest, transparent, and opinionated. That way, we know how to interpret what they are telling us”
But is this necessarily the best thing for creating an educated populace regarding domestic and foreign issues? Rather, this allows a few on the left, right and middle to control what we see, watch and listen and create a news funnel that is no longer about informing but rather about ratings.
While we all tend to gravitate to those who share our opinions, this isn’t necessarily the best way to present the news. Here’s a challenge, watch an English news broadcast from overseas – the BBC, NHK (Japanese broadcast), Germany or other available in your area. Now tell me – are we better or worse off compared to our compatriots worldwide?
Over the past 10 years, we have seen the Internet and now Web 2.0 and social media technologies drastically change how marketers and public relations professionals engage with prospects, customers, employees and influencers online. As much of this interaction is being done online, the challenge is how marketers can “read” the digital signals to determine interest and intent. In a nutshell, how to provide the right information, to the right person, at the right time.
That is the premise of Steven Woods’ book, Digital Body Language. As co-founder of Eloqua, a marketing automation company, Steven provides insight into how marketers can translate these digital signals to increase the effectiveness of their marketing programs.
While the book is written with the marketer in mind, PR practitioners can benefit by reading this book as well. The step-by-step look into the customer’s digital psyche will help PR professionals understand the challenges that their marketing counterparts face. PR can help marketers understand behavior triggers; thereby recommending strategies, content and programs that drive these objectives forward. PR moves from being a ”brand awareness” vehicle to a strategy that can pinpoint why and what will impact a customer’s behavior and interest.
For example, most executives want to business coverage regardless of how this coverage will or will not impact the bottomline. Yet, you strongly recommend a vertical program based on budget, time and objectives. If you can highlight how a vertical outlet program drove X% interest target prospects which uncovered $X in sales opportunities for a similar client, then not only will C-Level executives pay attention, but PR will also earn a seat at the table.
Isn’t this a strong value proposition?!
Steven provides marketers an understanding of the new digital body language. His approach is straight-forward with case studies to provide real-world implentation stories combined with helpful tips. I recommend this book for all PR practitioners and those entering the marketing field.
Let me know what you think of the book below in the comments or if you have any other must-read books.
I met Steven Woods at the Eloqua Experience 2010 Conference in October 2010.
When kick-starting a PR program, the main challenge is creating awareness about the company, executives and products/services within the industry and to prospective customers. In the pursuit of immediate results, the tendency is to pitch and secure media coverage about the features and functions of a product or solution. And based on this initial success, subsequent PR efforts solely focus on product upgrades, improvements and other similar “speeds and feeds” details.
However, focusing on speeds and feeds has its drawbacks:
* Elevating product over value proposition. Your company becomes known for the product features and functions versus the value proposition that your company solves, which
* Pigeon-holes your company in the minds of your customers, prospects and influencers. This creates a situation where you have
* Minimal thought leadership compared against your competitors. Your company is seen as providing a specific product versus positioning your company executives as thoughts leaders who are driving the industry forward.
* And this hinders your consultative sales efforts. Your salesforce requires sales materials that highlight how your solutions, services and products solve a business problem. By focusing media coverage on features and functions, your not arming your salesforce with the right tools.
Let’s be clear. I’m not advocating that you favor thought leadership in place of speeds and feeds. Rather, you have to implement the right mix of PR tactics to achieve your PR, marketing and business objectives.
Do you agree or disagree? Are there any other drawbacks?
In February 2009, I wrote a post titled “Would YOU Trust a PR Firm without a Social Media Presence with Your Social Media Programs” to determine how many agencies were active in social media.
While anyone who establishes a Twitter account or LinkedIn Group is not automatically an “expert” on social media, I do believe that you should practice what you preach. This point, as well as the role of a corporate presence vs. individual contributors, generated a lot of discussion.
Since the original post, my position about individual contributors has evolved. I believe that employees are an integral, if not essential, part of a successful social media strategy. However, to simplify the data gathering and analysis, I opted to focus on corporate presences, recognizing that multiple individuals are contributing on behalf of the agency.
I’ve included a slideshare presentation below, images on flickr that you can share (including the infographic to the left), and the list of PR agencies accessible via Google Docs (All changes for 2010 are indicated in red. Please feel free to make an update and include a comment below).
Key Findings: PR Firms More Social in 2010
* PR agencies increased their social media presence in 2010, with Flickr (500%), YouTube (379%) and Twitter (131%) demonstrating the largest increases respectively.
* While most agencies didn’t link to their social media channels on their website in 2009, 83% included this on their home page in 2010.
* Twitter was the most popular social media channel, with 80% of PR agencies having a presence. 35% had followers numbering over 1000.
* 2 to 1, PR agencies had a Facebook Page or Group vs. a LinkedIn Group Page
Conclusions: What a difference a year makes
In just over 18 months, PR agencies have increased their presence on several social media channels. While content was not evaluated as part of this review, some agencies leveraged Flickr and YouTube to promote their clients. This raises an interesting issue about agencies becoming an active publishing entity.
If a PR agency ammasses thousands of followers or create a highly-ranked/influential blog, will it have the potential to become an informal media outlet itself? And if so, how will PR agencies manage this changing landscape? What do you think?
I initially evaluated PR firms listed on O’Dwyer’s list of top 100 independent PR firms. This list was based on worldwide fees for firms with major US operations. As such, some prominent firms, such as Ogilvy & Mather, Ketchum PR and others. An additional 13 firms, who had proactively added their information to the PR Firm Social Media Wiki, were added to the 2010 review, yielding a total of 113 firms.
* I looked at if the agency had a blog, Twitter profile, Facebook page (both group and/or fan), LinkedIn Group, YouTube Channel or Flickr photostream.
* I didn’t categorize the type of PR each firm did – I took the list at its word
* If the blog wasn’t listed on the home page or easily found via a sitemap, I assumed there was none
* I searched on the agency’s name or common abbreviation as presented on their website. Anything more exotic or too cute, would not have been found
* For Twitter, I used Twitter search or tried to manually type in what seemed like an appropriate Twitter handle. Number of followers were based on number the week of September 20, 2010.
* I used the group search functions found on Facebook and LinkedIn respectively. I was looking for those who had proactively created a group page or claimed their fan page on Facebook. As such, LinkedIn Company pages were not included.
At approximately 6:15 pm, we now know a huge gas explosion occured in San Bruno. First, please take a moment to send positive thoughts to the residents and families of the homeowners. If you live in the Bay Area and can give blood, they are requesting O-negative (assuming any and all blood types will be welcomed) and can find locations via the Blood Centers of the Pacific website.
Like the BP oil spill, the confusion around such an explosion is understandable. What perplexed me was an on-air phone interview with a PG&E spokesperson. When the reporter inquired if the gas line was PG&E’s, the spokesperson purposely didn’t answer the question.
Since crisis communications on this level isn’t my core expertise, I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on how one would handle a situation like this. Here are my initial thoughts:
1. Express Sympathy: The spokesperson did communicate that the company’s thoughts were with the families of this tragedy. This was a good sign, demonstrating the company’s empathy with the victims.
2. Answer the Questions: I recognize that PG&E may face legal action once everything is sorted out over the next few days. But by not answering a direct question regarding “was this a PG&E gas line?”, PG&E seemed to be more concerned about evading responsibility. Maybe a better response would have been “At this time, our concern is with the families and we are working with the authorities to ensure that the immediate danger has passed.”
Update (9/9/10, 10:19 pm): Per an email sent to news outlet (source: CBS 5 News), PG&E acknowledges that the gas pipeline was the company’s and plans to take full responsibility if it’s found to be the company’s fault. Nothing on PG&E’s website at this time.
3. Provide Valuable Information: In a 24/7 news cycle, news outlets are seeking to get information out as quickly as possible and companies are seeking to minimize potential risk. With that said, the interview seemed to be premature. The spokesperson didn’t seem well-prepared and didn’t provide tangible information. Rather, there was (still is) an opportunity for PG&E to discuss the steps they are taking to bring power back to the area.
4. Give Back to the Community: There is a great need for the families displaced by this crisis. While there needs to be a balance, PG&E can demonstrate its corporate care by donating to shelters, relief organizations, and supporting a blood drive amongst employees.
Again, thoughts are with the families and victims.
Update (9/10/10): Last night, the President of PG&E did a press conference around 11:30 pm at night. Unlike the spokesperson earlier, the president was prepped and repeated three messages: 1) ongoing investigation so cannot speculate, 2) working to make the area safe and 3) thoughts are with the families and if this is PG&E’s responsibility, they will “make it right”. While short on detail, these statements addressed my points above.
I asked my former colleague, Dennis Shiao, to share his insights on how virtual events can augment PR and marketing. Briefly, Dennis is an evangelist, strategist and practitioner of virtual events. Dennis provides strategic consulting to clients on their virtual events and has managed virtual event campaigns for Cisco, HP, Oracle and Microsoft, among others. Dennis blogs about virtual events and virtual worlds at “It’s All Virtual” and is a frequent author and speaker. Dennis can be found on Twitter at @dshiao.
Virtual events are seeing strong adoption. It all started with the virtual trade show, a 2.5D representation of a physical trade show, complete with a lobby, auditorium, exhibit hall, networking lounge and more. A number of formats soon followed, including the virtual career fair, virtual sales meeting, virtual product launch and virtual partner summit. In addition, we’re now seeing businesses leverage virtual platforms for “corporate university” or e-Learning.
It will be exciting to see the new and innovative formats that marketers, publishers, event managers and business owners develop in 2010 and beyond. I have a format that is well suited for virtual: the press event.
In many ways, the benefits of a virtual press event are the same as a virtual trade show. The host, along with attendees, presenters, etc. participate via the web and save on travel costs, lodging costs, shipping costs and “out of office time.” In addition, all activities within the environment are tracked. And, the environment can remain available long after the live “event” concludes.
Additional benefits of producing your press event virtually:
In the past, press events were planned in “road show” fashion, in which you visited major cities that had the highest concentration of your target media publications. With virtual, you can host a single event and capture a global audience. Alternatively, you can leverage a single virtual platform and stage live events based on regional timezones, to target business hours in North America, then EMEA, then Asia Pac. Your PR efforts can now have a wider reach at a lower cost.
Convenient Access to Your Executives
In a physical setting, it can be a logistical challenge to schedule and coordinate access from press members to your executive team. With virtual, executives can interact with larger audiences more efficiently. For instance, you might place your CMO in a moderated chat room and take questions from an audience of 1,500. Imagine doing that in a physical setting!
Invite Customers and Prospects
Increase your ROI by also inviting customers and prospects to the event. Do your require press credentials to gain access to certain materials? No problem. Virtual event platforms provide role-based access, which means that an access profile can be applied to your customers and prospects that are different from press members. Any PR that you do affects your customers, too, so include them when sharing the news.
Use Activity Paths to Follow Up Appropriately
Whether customer, prospect or press member, study activity paths in the virtual event to determine effective follow-up plans. Did a reporter visit your booth ten times, then ask numerous questions in the group chat area? Schedule a one-on-one conference call with your Senior Product Manager, to ensure that the reporter has all the info she needs. Similarly, follow up with prospects to move them further along in the sales cycle.
I believe virtual events can be the definition of “PR meets Marketing”. As PR and Marketing look to Web 2.0 to broaden reach and engagement, consider virtual events as one more tool in your arsenal.
Interested in being a guest author? Send me an email with your proposed topic and how it relates to PR Meets Marketing. Self-promotional content will not be considered.
Cece Salomon-Lee is director of marketing for ACTIVE Network, Business Solutions division, and author of PR Meets Marketing, which explores the intersection of public relations, marketing, and social media.
This blog contains Cece's personal opinions and are not representative of her company's.
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