A swift response, a heartfelt apology and news updates are key to averting a PR disaster, as BP and other advertisers have found.
For every well-planned ad campaign, there is also a PR disaster potentially waiting to undermine it. Most recently, Tesco has had to issue apologies about the presence of horsemeat in its burgers to reassure customers. When a crisis hits that's as big as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, it demands an all-hands-to-the-pump approach to marketing and years of attempting to rebuild reputation. Welcome to BP's world in April 2010. Immediately after the disaster, as you might expect, ads appeared in the press to inform consumers and show efforts to clean up. But, more interestingly, the $93 million the oil giant spent during 2011, and every US above-the-line ad since, have been almost entirely designed to refuel goodwill towards the company
Primarily, they have highlighted the brand's desire to rebuild local communities and provided updates on the clean-up work. YouTube was a key medium, with the BP channel showcasing the company's work to boost tourism and help locals get their lives back together. So was BP's Olympic Games sponsorship, designed to convey that the company is both responsibly aware and global. The "fuelling the future" campaign and its emphasis on finding alternative energy solutions was integral to this. However, a launch ad showing Jessica Ennis running along a beach was judged by some to have got off on the wrong foot. Sponsorship of the Cultural Olympiad and Paralympic activity have been activated below the line with events, competitions and workshops, some of which have attempted specifically to engage a teenage audience, while others aimed to regain trust in the UK and champion the company's British roots. Print, out-of-home and online ads celebrated athletes' and workers' contribution to the Games with BP's inclusive "here's to the home team" campaign.
Any fleet-of-foot responsiveness came in the form of ads congratulating athletic ambassadors on their success and informing consumers of how many journeys were offset during the Games. Now the brand is expected to draw a line under the oil disaster with a return next month to ads that showcase the contribution BP makes to society. Other brands have had less environmentally catastrophic disasters to deal with and have reacted in a variety of ways. Starbucks and Barclays tried to apologise in open letters after accusations of UK tax avoidance and Libor-rigging respectively - but still were taunted in social media. Domino's Pizza used the need to counteract a YouTube film - in which employees abused customers' food - as an opportunity to revamp areas of its business and apologise. The PR disaster was the catalyst for "pizza turnaround". This was a campaign that began with the chief executive apologising on YouTube and - via a massive social media drive, online delivery tracking and iPhone apps, plus taste tests, TV ads and more - resulted in a reputation that is arguably stronger than ever.
But perhaps some of the clearest examples of how to make the best of a social media gaffe come from KitchenAid and the American Red Cross. Speed of response and consistent apologies from the head of the company managed to pull KitchenAid back from the brink of social opprobrium after one of its corporate Tweets made a joke about Barack Obama's grandmother dying. And humour did it for the American Red Cross when an employee accidentally posted a personal message on the charity's official Twitter feed about "getting slizzerd". The employee and the brand deflated the situation with swift apologies and tongue in-cheek posts. Even Dogfish Head beer - the apparent cause of any "getting slizzerd" - got in on the act with a fundraising Tweet for the charity.
Strategic Opinion Trevor Hardy, Founder, The Assembly More truth, less marketing may be the right approach in the current climate, as the world of business and governments shift from one crisis to the next. A case in point is Starbucks in the UK and what could have been a taxing disaster for the business as many action groups,politicians and media announced their intent to boycott the brand. But Starbucks' approach was immediate and frank; not wrapped up in spin or excuses. It wrote open letters to customers, laid bare the real state of its finances in digital and social channels, and spoke in front of politicians. It was honest, in plain English, about where one could see questionable tax behaviour; it put a convincing case forward and encouraged debate. The power of the response across channels was that it was fast, unpolished and, like some of the best marketing, felt very little like marketing. Sometimes, the truth hurts; but, in Starbucks' case, the truth helped.
This article was first published in print and online at: campaignlive.co.uk
I attended an interesting speaker lunch this week and one of the key takeaways for me was the speaker's opinion that the board of a company cannot be expected to control the operations of an organisation; they can only set the tone and create a culture where people 'do the right thing'.
This led me to think about the recently announced appointment of Antony Jenkins at Barclays, a man who has spent the past three years running Barclays' much less flashy retail banking division, in sharp contrast to the cut and thrust of Bob Diamond's BarCap origins.
As a lightning rod for criticism in an industry under fire, Barclays needed to move quickly to start rebuilding trust in their organisation. By repositioning themselves as a more consumer focused firm and moving away from the perception of a banking group led by investment bankers into the muddy waters of Libor and other such scandals, they are signalling a return to more traditional banking values.
|© Echo Research Ltd 2012
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Jenkins' appointment is interesting from a reputation management perspective, particularly when seen in the context of Barclays' new chairman, Sir David Walker. The combination of Jenkins, who has been in charge of the somewhat calmer waters of retail banking, together with Walker, who under a previous remit was charged with cleaning up the finance industry as well as creating the seminal report on transparency in the private equity industry, marks a visible shift in Barclays' corporate and reputational positioning.
It remains to be seen if Antony Jenkins and his board can change the culture at Barclays, but there is no doubt that as a figurehead, Jenkins is a valuable commodity. In data gathered by the Echo Sonar online media monitoring and analysis tool around the time of the half year financial results reporting at the end of July, CEOs featured in 29% of all financial results coverage seen globally, with Bob Diamond accounting for 48% of all CEO mentions in this coverage. There's no doubt that if Jenkins can leverage this high profile, he will be in a strong position to restore good will, trust and the expectations of public and shareholders alike.
A new survey from PR company Shine and the London Business School has found that less than half of marketing and comms directors believe their campaigns are well integrated (Comms Directors want more integration, survey reveals, PR Week, 25.07.12). The study also revealed that four out of five said the issue is among their main concerns.
This is not surprising, but it is a little depressing and concerning that many brands are taking so long to align and integrate their comms when savvy and connected consumers, customers and stakeholders have done so almost intuitively. For them, media is media is media.
To mark the inaugural BrandMAX event, Echo Research - the reputation practice of Ebiquity - quizzed marketing and corporate affairs teams about where they believe responsibility lies for setting, implementing and measuring marcomms activities.
We found http://bit.ly/MnmWBh that explaining to the board how brand and reputation affects business performance is important to more than 8 out of 10 respondents. However, responsibility is still often split and siloed between the functions, which at times appear to actively work against one another despite batting for the same team.
We also found that earned media coverage - in social and traditional media - has led nearly half of companies to change their marcomms activity in some way. The same proportion could readily name examples of message misalignment between paid and earned comms, from BP to Innocent, Cadbury's and Tesco to Toyota. As a result, nearly half our sample believed that better alignment between marketing and comms would benefit their business directly.
Social and online media have driven the transparency agenda (a good thing). They've wrested brand management from the hands of brand managers (an interesting transition, but on balance positive in driving brand-customer dialogue). And they've generated an exponential leap in data volumes (an opportunity, but a threat unless you use well thought-out analytics to make sense of it).
Businesses and the comms teams are not short of data. Far from it. But many are drowning in it.
Comms is increasingly everyone's business - marketing, corporate comms, HR, customer service, operations, the C-suite. Those brands that will thrive in the era of Big Data will be those who get a proper handle on the alignment or otherwise of the totality of their communications, across paid, owned and earned media. This is exactly what we do for an increasing number of our clients.
Are promises made in outgoing, controlled messaging seen to be kept in inbound, mediated communications? To ensure that they are, brand custodians need to plan, execute and measure the outputs, outtakes and outcomes of their comms in a properly integrated fashion.
Follow Sam on Twitter: @samknowles
Great partnerships yielding considerably more than the sum of their component parts.
Yesterday evening it was my enormous pleasure to host and to chair a debate on the social media customer. "What's next ... for customer service and social media?" marked the formal launch of a joint research project on the #smcustomer, conceived by the digitally-savvy PR company Fishburn Hedges and reputation research experts Echo, Ebiquity's reputation practice.
The difficulty of the job of chair is in inverse proportion to the quality of the panel; the higher quality the panel, the easier it is to be unobtrustive and pass all but unnoticed. Fortunately, we were blessed with a very high quality panel, made up of:
The event was very well attended - standing room only in Fishburn Hedges largest (and capacious) room. 75+, from the client, social media and consultancy worlds.
Panel and audience addressed the way social media is fundamentally redefining the relationship between consumers and brands. We debated whether improved customer service for the #smcustomer can be explained simply as VIP treatment for those that shout loudest and most publicly (no, if you were wondering). We concluded that social media will continue to deliver better customer experience, and is not just a flash in the pan. And we explored the different models of how brands should respond to keep up with what their customers are increasingly expecting.
But pictures and film are much more impactful than words. So we've decided to host the film of the entire debate, here. And for those with five rather than 75 minutes to spare, here are some vox pops from the panel.
It's such a huge pleasure to work in partnership with complementary agencies that really Get It. Fishburn Hedges really get the importance of benchmarking and measuring reputational issues, of using intelligent insight to drive operational, messaging and overall communications strategy. Last night's event was a clear illustration of this approach.
I can't wait for our next and subsequent engagements.
British consumers are increasingly turning to social media sites to 'hashtag' and 'bashtag' brands, rather than calling their customer service centres.
Brands also feel the change, and are starting to work out the best ways to engage and tackle the social media customer.
Echo Research and Fishburn Hedges identified six actionable insights that well-known brands, such as Barclaycard, BT and Sainsbury's often practice, such as 'choosing the right battle - but entering it fast' and 'not letting social media define you'.
But how did we reach this conclusion? To start with, Fishburn Hedges ran an online poll with 2,000 consumers nationwide, followed by in-depth interviews, conducted by Echo Research, with several blue-chip companies, including PepsiCo, HSBC and Oasis.
The social media savvy brands were more than happy to speak to us about topics including: their use of social media, who is responsible for their social media sites, whether they've ever experienced a customer backlash and how they dealt with it, and how they publicise their use of social media sites.
At Echo Research, we often conduct qualitative interviews to get to the heart of an issue, while probing and prompting our way through a series of questions and answers. We find that this traditional - analogue! - method is still one of the best for understanding a customer, stakeholder or opinion former, to ensure that an opportunity or threat is understood in depth, so that clear recommendations can be accurately passed to a client.
However, as our research shows, qualitative research works exceptionally well when hand-in-hand with quantitative research. The findings are more substantive and robust, yet also are rich with ideas and opinions. On this occasion, merging the insights from customers and brands offered a truly holistic picture of the current situation from both sides of the cash till to ensure that the findings are more insightful, powerful and genuinely actionable. We also have the technology to make sense of social media through our Echo Sonar platform, sorting the digital wheat from the chaff, enabling brands and companies to understand whether there is genuinely a storm brewing or whether it's just in a teacup.
Jeremy Cowles"7 Tips for Social Media Measurement"
Kirsten Fernie"The big picture - Media evaluation for the entertainment industry has evolved"
Jeremy Cowles"Value in volume: dimensions of ROI for social media marketers"
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