Tone Deaf Hallmark and their Same Sex Marriage Ad Disaster

Brands are making a better effort to align their businesses with social and cultural movements. They have a platform and voice that isn’t used often enough, likely for fear of alienating consumers that control their bottom lines.

People support brands that share common values, beliefs and attitudes on important issues facing society. A great product or service will always be important, but customers today are more critical of companies and their political and social stances.

Greeting card and terrible holiday movie company Hallmark learned that the hard way this month. They weren’t the first and certainly won’t be the last.

Hallmark ran a same-sex marriage commercial for wedding-planning site Zola. Conservative house moms saw the ad and paused their Christmas movies to file online petitions voicing their discontent with LGBT ads airing on their favorite, primarily white and heterosexual television network. Hallmark responded immediately by pulling the wedding ads, then later reversed its decision to ban same-sex commercials because gay rights supporters were rightfully not happy about it. The flip flopping was a horrible look.

Hallmark’s first misstep was a complete lack of awareness toward their target audience, which is primarily conservative viewers with more traditional family values. They had the right intentions with the ad. Same sex marriage should be a basic human right. It’s 2019 and should be a non-issue. But in an attempt to be more progressive, they took a risk and ran these ads to support a cause that clearly conflicts with the values of their viewers.

Their second mistake was pulling the ad without issuing any kind of statement or reasoning for their decision. Social media can make or break a brand, and Hallmark clearly panicked under pressure and made a premature decision to remove the ads. The better option would’ve been to let them air and explain why they chose to air them in the first place. Stick to your guns. Hallmark squandered an opportunity to gain the respect of LGBT supporters while remaining a little sympathetic to their conservative viewership. The ads were always going to offend part of their viewer base, but pulling them just made matters worse.

In full damage control at this point, Hallmark backtracked on their decision to pull the gay wedding ads and fully reinstated them to remain more “inclusive” according to their CEO. How brave.

Hallmark ultimately hurt the very group they set out to support with this ad campaign. I remain confused by the company’s crisis communications approach, but I want to thank them for providing us with another classic case study on how not to react when the internet overreacts.


Elon Musk: Public Relations Wreck or Rockstar?

Companies thrive when effective leaders help guide them on a path to success. Employees look to these leaders for motivation, purpose and direction. Consumers need someone they can trust who has their best interests at heart when making decisions that affect an organization.

Leaders can be found at all levels of a business. At the top, a visible, engaged and connected CEO is important for establishing a long-term vision, fostering a shared mission and steadying the ship during a crisis. It’s necessary to have a leader who embodies all of these qualities. Lead executives should understand how important their role is in maintaining an authentic and open relationship with the public while being the leading voice and face of an organization.

Someone with a wealth of experience as a CEO is Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk. He doesn’t need an introduction, but Musk is essentially the most successful tech entrepeneur on the planet. His business ventures are changing the world for the better, a goal that drives much of his decision making. There is no doubting his success, work ethic and ability to take his visions and bring them to fruition. He’s a visionary and arguably one of the most influential people of this generation.

Musk has also been criticized for mismanagement, Tesla Twitter drama with the SEC, weed smoking on Joe Rogan’s podcast and falsely accusing a British diver who helped with the Thai cave rescue of being a pedophile. He’s often characterized as wreckless and irresponsible, which are fair assesments given his recent missteps. This behavior is not a good look for any CEO. These actions raise concerns about his ability to lead by example and manage companies that are already under a lot of scrutiny.

As a PR case study, Musk is the perfect person to examine. He’s one of the most well-known CEOs in the world and loved and hated by many. While I truly believe he means well, sometimes his ego and strong personal views get him into hot water.

Despite his problems, Musk is a great example of a leader who understands the value of public relations. He’s active on social media and frequently posts company updates, accomplishments and information for his followers. He set Twitter off when he offered to host PewDiePie’s Meme Review. He did a great interview and factory tour with popular tech YouTuber Marques Brownlee and has been the subject of many articles and think pieces. Tesla model launches and SpaceX rockets and roadsters in orbit captivate audiences around the world and create buzz around Musk and his antics. He’s the quintessential “cool” CEO and is setting a new standard for leadership in the internet age.

A comment on the Brownlee video sums it up best. “Big companies hire high profile celebrities to endorse their product, but Tesla saves that money because Elon is THAT celebrity.” It’s not common to see a CEO in the unique position Musk is. He’s hugely popular, well-respected within the tech community and a business titan who also happens to be a quasi-celebrity.

For communicators, Musk can be your biggest asset or liability. It depends on the day. But to me the good outweighs the bad. For every errant tweet he makes, he manages to come back stronger to show why he’s the best person for the job. There’s nothing wrong with a CEO speaking his mind. People will appreciate the transparency over scripted corporate speak.

If more CEOs were like Elon Musk, it might create some headaches. It would also make our jobs a lot easier as PR professionals. Leaders like Musk can be the most effective tool we have in creating, maintaining, and protecting an organization’s reputation and enhancing its goodwill with the public.

Weiner’s Reputation is Worse Than His Chance to Become NYC Mayor

After months of ridicule spawning from leaked photos of Anthony Weiner exposing himself to multiple women via Twitter, he’s recently made the decision to continue his New York City mayoral campaign. The man’s got more balls than I do, but I can’t say mine have been on Twitter. His choice to stay in the race is unwise on many fronts. He has no business running for mayor with all of this negative publicity affecting his public image and personal life.

His situation is dire. At this point he should be more concerned about repairing his damaged reputation. That can’t be achieved when he’s also trying to win a mayoral race that has no business being in. His dilemma can be compared to a PR firm working with a client in a time of crisis. The client may think they know what’s best as far as goals, strategies and tactics to implement, but a forward-thinking client will take a PR consultant’s advice to eventually agree on a plan that is best for everyone involved.

In that plan, sometimes you need to accept responsibility and do things that aren’t always easy. His problems were happening well before his mayoral campaign even started. He was sexting women of all ages while in Congress, and these actions came back to haunt him when he decided to run for NYC mayor in 2013. He never stopped but still tried to salvage his political career.

Weiner acted like a client who is disillusioned, stubborn and petty. Dropping out of this race would be a blow to his pride and ego. He just couldn’t let it go and acted selfishly and embarrassed himself, his wife and family. He didn’t listen to his counsel and became blinded by his own arrogance.

If I worked on his PR team, I would strongly urge him to put the mayoral campaign on hold and focus on stabilizing areas of his life outside of politics. The countless hours he’s spent on the campaign trail could be better spent improving relations with his wife Huma or attending sessions with a therapist to address issues that really matter.

By staying in this race, he’s digging himself into a deeper hole by choosing short-term goals over long-term happiness. Weiner must take care of personal matters to show his family, friends, supporters and the voting public that he’s ready to be a faithful public servant again.

The NFL and its Lingering PR Problem

The National Football League is arguably the most popular sporting league in the world. It won’t remain that way unless there’s a better effort to discipline players who consistently damage its reputation. Roger Goodell & Co. conduct business as usual with a “too big to fail” mentality, but if they don’t address this pressing issue soon it could lead to harsh consequences for the league and each of its 32 NFL franchises.

Since the Super Bowl in February, 27 active NFL players have been arrested for a number of different crimes. Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is one of those 27, pinned with murder and five related gun charges just two short weeks ago. I thought the Plaxico Burress and Michael Vick incidents would be enough to push the NFL to make drastic changes to its player misconduct policies, but apparently not.

The league’s public relations crisis should be broken down, analyzed and mitigated with a strategic plan. The NFL has the reputation as the most competitive football league in the world, but off-field issues involving players continue to damage that reputation. Decision makers have been reactive instead of proactive in combating player misconduct. To salvage the league’s image and restore credibility with the fans, media, and other stakeholders, these steps should be taken by the NFL:

  1. Set a long-term goal that will be the main focus of your efforts. In this case, “Decrease the number of off-field player incidents.”
  2. Establish strategies, which are the broad approaches you’ll take to achieve the goal. Revising player misconduct policies and enforcing stricter penalties and repercussions are a few good examples.
  3. Identify measurable objectives that will be used to see if the strategies are being met. Banning or suspending players who act out could be an objective that’s easily measured to see if player misconduct decreases due to increased player bans and indefinite suspensions.
  4. Tactics need to be implemented to achieve the already set strategies and objectives on a day-to-day basis. Working with the press to get the message out about revised policies and forcing players to seek professional help to fix behavioral issues are a few useful tactics that will aid in achieving long-term goals.

This problem is not going away anytime soon. It’s imperative for the NFL to take action and not just expect the problem to fix itself. Like any successful PR campaign, a lot of planning, research and good execution will lead to better results for the league.

Yahoo Can Keep Buying, But It Won’t Fix Their Dying Brand

Yahoo is trying to stay relevant, and the company’s recent Tumblr acquisition is proof of their desperate efforts to keep up with the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. So desperate in fact that since Marissa Mayer’s takeover as Yahoo CEO in July 2012, she’s acquired 11 companies including the $1 billion Tumblr.

While Marissa hopes that Yahoo will get her groove back, she’s neglecting how far behind Yahoo is in every aspect of web culture today. Yahoo was a powerhouse in the early days of the internet, but they failed to adapt and were left behind. It has the resources to make a resurgence, but they missed the window of opportunity to innovate in the social space while the iron was still hot. They still offer decent products like Yahoo Finance and Sports, but overall the company is struggling to remain relevant in a digital world they don’t recognize anymore.

The Tumblr takeover was counterproductive at best. It may appeal to advertisers in the short term as far as reaching younger demographics, but it won’t change the perceptions these generations have about the company. Brands like Facebook, Twitter, Google, Apple, Pinterest, Instagram and Reddit have found their niche and are successfully building their respective user bases. Yahoo’s complacency during this time of rapid change is one of many reasons why they lost their competitive edge. It’s very congested now and it’s safe to say Yahoo missed the boat.

Jason Collins And The NBA’s Unique Branding Opportunity

If you haven’t heard of Jason Collins before today you’re not alone. He’s kept a low profile during his 12-year career as a professional basketball player in the NBA, but today he became the first openly gay male professional athlete in a major American professional team sport.

For the professional sports community, this announcement couldn’t have come at a better time. While society becomes more accepting of equal rights and treatment for the LGBT community, there’s been a growing stigma surrounding homosexuality in professional sports. Collins broke that barrier this week, and he will go down in history as a man and player who forever changed the face of professional sports.

This amazing story of courage and strength should push the NBA to build on this narrative and strengthen their global brand with the LGBT community and its supporters. It’s a great opportunity for Collins, David Stern (NBA Commissioner) and the league to lead the conversation surrounding this controversial topic. Athletes should feel comfortable coming out during their careers and not being discriminated against for their sexuality. An NBA campaign that focuses on LGBT issues would unite players and bring together fans to create a new culture around homosexuality in the NBA. Other professional sports leagues might even be inspired to create their own campaigns and come together as people to address this issue.

Organizations try to identify worthy causes to get behind. The NBA should use Jason’s story as a way to align their brand with progressive values that are more prevalent in sports and society today.

It’s 2013, public sentiment is shifting in support of LGBT rights and equality. Strong support of Collins and the overarching issue will show the world that the NBA values authenticity, acceptance, fairness and equality. Branding aside, it’s something truly special to witness for Jason. After years in the dark, he finally gets to live an honest life and hopefully inspire other athletes to come out and embrace their sexuality.

Unethical PR Pros Abuse Reddit’s ‘Ask Me Anything’ Subreddit

If you’re unfamiliar with the popular social news site Reddit, here’s a short summary. Users post content — pictures, news articles, memes or gifs, then users have the option of upvoting or downvoting content based on how funny, interesting, creative or relevant each submission is. The best content gets the most upvotes and will often make it to the front page of Reddit. The site is made up of subreddits, which are communities about any topic of interest.

The subreddit, IAmA, or Ask me Anything, give Redditors the opportunity to interact with celebrities, thought leaders, athletes, musicians and anyone with a great story to tell by asking them questions within the subreddit. If used correctly, the platform is a great way to gain exposure on the site and interact with fans and users.

But publicists and companies have tried to abuse this power by focusing on promotion and trying to dupe the community into believing the AMA was genuine.

AMAs with Morgan Freeman and Woody Harrelson are prime examples of this abuse by PR people who want the exposure for their client without doing any of the work. These men are two excellent actors, but the way their press people handled their AMAs was unethical, tasteless and disrespectful to the community. Each of the lazy, thoughtless responses to fan’s questions made it seem like a publicist was on the other end pumping out pre-written statements about films each actor starred in.

There is an overall lack of transparency, the first rule you should never break in PR. It ruins the integrity of the profession and makes us work even harder to fix the reputation of this industry. If we ever want to be respected and trusted as an industry, these practices need to stop. We have a code of ethics for a reason, and it needs to be followed and enforced for the long-term stability of public relations.

Changing Perceptions of a Misunderstood Profession

The negative and often misunderstood perception of public relations professionals and the entire industry has been a thorn in the industry’s paw for decades. We’re managing the reputations and images of clients we represent, but what’s being done to change the negative perceptions of our own industry?

The C-suite is beginning to realize the value of public relations toward the overall success of an organization. We have a seat at the table, but we need to prove we deserve to be there and demonstrate how important the communications function is. If we want the respect we deserve as a profession, we need to take our education and training and use it to improve our own profession’s reputation.

The negative views of our work were molded by the media, Hollywood and unethical practices over the years. There’s are common misconceptions about what we do as PR professionals. We’re not all publicists doing damage control for celebrities and other public figures. We don’t lie. We dont spin the truth.

Our work is very strategic, and much of it involves building better relationships between organizations and the public.

If we’re hoping to improve our industry’s reputation and gain trust and respect among the public, we must:

  • Highlight and enforce our Code of Ethics to ensure the profession continues to be positively perceived in the eyes of the public.
  • Change the stigma of PR pros being flacks or spin doctors. Transparency and openness is crucial toward the success of our profession for the long term. Make people aware of our practices and try to educate and inform.
  • Practice Corporate Social Responsibility by supporting communities and people we work with. These good deeds humanize our industry and make it clear that philanthropy, not profit, is at the heart of what we do.
  • Use appropriate measurement standards to tie in PR plans and strategies to the bottom line of a company. Use data and analytics to show the value of PR programs and how they contribute to business goals.

This is clearly not an extensive list, but surely a good approach toward a new direction for this industry. The work we do for clients is invaluable, and good practices, ethics and deeds will help change the perceptions of a misunderstood profession.

How the Public Views Public Relations

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Tennessee found that public relations has been portrayed negatively by media outlets over the years. This can ultimately have a negative impact on the credibility of the entire profession.

Negative stereotypical themes have continually discredited everything good public relations can do for an organization. Media has been known to portray the profession as damage control specialists and slacks who are spewing lies and working with no moral backbone. The reality is quite the opposite. Without trust and transparency, public relations would not be the thriving industry it is today.

Public relations is of great value to society, and the perception of this industry has changed drastically from what it once was. Academic studies focused on 84 different articles that contained the term ‘public relations’. These articles made negative remarks about the profession and portrayed public relations as an attempt to hide or disguise the truth. Spin doctors are a thing of the past.

Studies also found that media definitions for public relations matched the standard PRSA definition only about five percent of the time, and public relations was portrayed negatively 85 percent of the time.

Candace White and Joosuk Park, University of Tennessee researchers, conducted a phone survey involving over 400 people, and found that the public’s view of public relations is not simply damage control, or that they disguise the truth. What may be the most beneficial for the practice of public relations is to focus on how organizations view the profession, and what can be done to enhance the legitimacy of the profession.

Public perceptions of public relations Original Research Article
Public Relations Review, Volume 36, Issue 4, November 2010, Pages 319-324
Candace White, Joosuk Park
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