Archive for September, 2012

Starbucks Communications Reminiscent of Netflix Debacle

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a year since Netflix’s storytelling went astray in rationalizing the separation of the DVD business from the streaming video business.

The primary issue wasn’t the decision as much as how it was communicated.

At the time I wrote:

Just be honest and open with people.

No one rejoices over paying more money and undoubtedly some unhappy campers would defect.

But most people get the concept that if a company’s costs go up, the price of the product/services also goes up.

People can get a tad testy about movies and skinny vanilla lattes.

We’re now seeing the latter play out with Starbucks and its decision to overhaul its rewards program.

Here’s what Starbucks pushed out to customers on email last week:

starbucks pr public relations business communication

I actually like it.

The right touch of levity.

Clearly spells out what’s being added and what’s being subtracted.

We’re good.

Not so fast.

The words are irrelevant if the product or service doesn’t resonate with your customers.

What follows are the first 25 posted comments on the program.

starbucks pr public relations business communication

starbucks pr public relations business communication

starbucks pr public relations business communication

starbucks pr public relations business communication

starbucks pr public relations business communication


I think we can safely conclude that folks aren’t happy with the free soy and syrup going away.

Did Starbucks test the concepts with customers?

If yes, why wasn’t the anticipated backlash reflected in the communications?

Like the Netflix situation, simply saying that giving away soy and syrup wasn’t sustainable from a cost standpoint; hence the change, would still alienate some customers (maybe even acknowledge upfront that you know this will be upsetting to some).

But this way, you come across as the open and transparent company aspired by your brand.

Instead, you look blindsided by customers ready for a mutiny.

Note: I’ve been surprised that the media hasn’t paid more attention to the customer backlash to the Starbucks changes. Of the stories that have surfaced, my favorite headline is “Starbucks will no longer subsidize lactose intolerance.”


An Open Letter to the PR Community to Help Restore the Credibility of Journalists

September 24, 2012

Dear PR Pro,

Admit it.

You probably did a fist pump after reading David Carr’s column last week, “The Puppetry Of Quotation Approval.”

According to Carr, journalists are increasingly acquiescing to PR requests to be manipulated, often in the form of approving quotes. In exchange for access, the journalist agrees to the run quotes by the organization for approval.

Carr summarizes the issue as thus:

It used to be that American businesses either told reporters to go away or told them what they wanted to know. Now, a reporter trying to interview a business source is confronted by a phalanx of factotums, preconditions and sometimes a requirement that quotations be approved. What pops out of that process isn’t exactly news and isn’t exactly a news release, but contains elements of both.

Don’t allow Mr. Carr’s taste for spelling-bee words – factotum, an employee who does all kinds of work – to distract you from the big picture.

Your belief that this tug-of-war between journalists and PR has been going on for years and if a journo periodically falls into the moat, it counter-balances the “Dear PR Lady” posts, is misplaced.

Whether you represent the Kumquat Growers or another software company disrupting the status quo, it’s in our best interest for the public to perceive the media as credible and objective. That’s what enables the storytelling in The New York Times to wield 10X the influence of a news release. So when your company appears in The New York Times, even if the story is balanced with both positives and negatives, the net takeaway is still a positive for the company’s public profile.

But here’s the problem

The media’s credibility and objectivity continue to erode as illustrated by the Pew Research study below.

Pew Report pr public relations business communication

Back to the Carr lament, journalists agreeing to let organizations approve their quotes only accelerates this erosion.

What can we do to help?

Glad you asked.

I propose we start a campaign to bolster the credibility of our journalistic brothers called “Just Say No to No.”

In other words, we band together to say no to the proposition:

  • No quote approval = no access

Because it seems that journalists can’t say “no.”

who's with me pr public relations business communication


Blended (paid-owned-earned media) Communications Campaigns Handicapped by Internal Obstacles

business storytelling public relations Altimeter image

Altimeter conducted a webinar on converged media last week that was excellent.

Analysts Jeremia Owyang and Rebecca Lieb walked listeners through a session on POE (paid-owned-earned) media that highlighted success factors.

Based on our experience executing blended campaigns, I thought there was one area that deserved more attention during the webinar –


This is the practice by those who lead one slice of the marketing effort – and control the budget for that slice – to not play nice with those outside their area of responsibility.

As a general rule of thumb, the bigger the company, the more you see people playing Fiefdomville  (I should trademark before Zynga gets any ideas).





Like a Johnny Cash song, they all come together in the game of Fiefdomville.

Even silly pettiness can a wreck a campaign.

Here’s what I mean.

We developed a blended campaign a couple years ago for a client that integrated the following elements:

  • Landing page
  • SEO
    • Link building
  • Storytelling (content)
  • Guest posting
  • Twitter
    • Giveaways
  • News releases
  • Posted comments
  • Media outreach
  • User-generated content
  • Facebook
    • Focus on universities

The implementation phase went fantastic … with one not-so-little detail.

The client’s Web team was not pleased that our work overlapped into its fiefdom. To demonstrate their displeasure, they refused to add the right two-word phrase to the title tag which came from the keyword taxonomy based on research and analysis.

So the long-term goal of an evergreen destination and increasing organic search from this particular phrase was never fully realized.

Back to the Altimeter webinar, Jeremiah and Rebecca shared several real-world vignettes involving big names like Intel and GE.

They’re impressive and the decision by Intel’s Nancy Bhagat to merge social media with the global media team sounds downright radical.

But I still believe there’s a massive opportunity for smaller organizations to lead this #POEmedia charge.

They have the intrinsic advantage of no or little Fiefdomville being played.

Note: The full Altimeter Group report on converged media can be accessed here.

1 comment

How Far Should Yahoo! Go in Blurring the Line Between Editorial and Advertising?

There’s a fresh question Ms. Mayer.

I recognize that media properties are still struggling to crack the code on how to make money in the digital era.

Still, I question the long-term value of applying the advertorial concept to a banner ad.

Here’s what I’m talking about specific to the Yahoo News channel.

Yahoo News maximizes its real estate with stories appearing in the right-hand column where readers are conditioned to see advertising.

business storytelling public relations media journalism Yahoo

OK, that’s not a capital offense.

Things get interesting though when scrolling down the home page where we find this.

business storytelling public relations media journalism Yahoo

It’s packaged like a Yahoo! News story.

The visual ties to a topic, not a company.

The typeface is the same as Yahoo! News stories, only in black.

The opening line is crafted like a story:

(Sept, 2012) If you drive in California, you better read …

But this is an ad that takes you to an insurance pitch.

business storytelling public relations media journalism advertising

Here’s the part I just don’t get.

What’s the upside in fooling readers that an anticipated story on driving in California is actually a shill for insurance?

At best, it annoys readers.

I wouldn’t exactly call it “evil,” but it seems very un-Google like.

Given what’s on Ms Mayer’s plate, I suspect this won’t make her to-do list anytime soon.

No comments

“Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics” Leave Room for Interpretative Storytelling

I think Mark Twain would agree.

He’d be particularly amused by a report on the solar industry released earlier this week that triggered two stories on opposite ends of the spectrum.

In one corner, we give you the San Jose Mercury News and its bullish headline.

solar industry business storytelling public relations

The supporting graphic continues with the bullish stance.

solar industry business storytelling public relations

OK, so solar is rocking and rolling.

No so fast.

Todd Woody of smog-eating building fame, penned this story the same day in Forbes:

solar industry business storytelling public relations

Same report.

Different perspectives.


Next Page »