Happy New Year! As we head into what will inevitably be an exciting 2013, it’s interesting to sit back and reflect on some of the most notorious events of 2012 that caught our attention, and the lessons we’ve learned from each…
In January, just in time for Martin Luther King Day, many visitors to the new MLK monument in Washington, D.C. were taken aback by a misquote of the late Dr. King etched into the new monument. Thanks to the actions taken by the public, including poet Maya Angelou, the quote was eventually changed. Lesson: whether a misquote is printed in a magazine, written online or literally etched in stone, it’s important to speak up and make sure what’s being written is both correct and taken in the desired context.
February brought us the Super Bowl, and of course, Super Bowl commercials. Last year more than ever, companies not only shelled out big money for a 30-second spot on game day, but many ran ads and posted online videos in advance, essentially creating advertisements to advertise their advertisements! While many companies undoubtedly did this in order to supplement their pricey ad spots with cheaper or free additional exposure, ultimately the ads that garnered the most buzz were those who didn’t unveil their spots until the big day. Lesson: Timing is everything, and reaching the right audience at the right time is often more effective than sheer number of impressions.
In March, a Goldman-Sachs employee posted a scathing farewell to the company in the New York Times, igniting a media firestorm that ultimately cost the company a lot of money, as their stock price dropped 3.4 percent after the incident. Lesson: A PR disaster of great enough magnitude can have immediate monetary consequences.
In April, we discussed the Trayvon Martin shooting case, and how two brands – Skittles and Arizona Iced Tea – found themselves tied to the case through no effort of their own. While the association was positive (sales of the two brands increased due to people buying the products to show support for Martin), both companies chose to keep a safe distance, and released nothing more than a statement expressing their sympathy for the Martin family. Lesson: Don’t take credit where you haven’t earned it; we’ve certainly seen the pendulum swing the other way when brands find themselves negatively affected by an event.
We discussed the growing second screen trend in May, when ABC partnered with Yahoo!’s “Into Now” smartphone and tablet application to reach a large audience on ABC’s hit show, “Revenge.” Other popular shows like “Glee” and “America’s Got Talent” soon followed suit by encouraging viewers to use special hashtags while viewing. The verdict is still out as to how effective these specific tactics are, but it’s safe to say that innovative ideas like this are headed in the right direction, given the growing tablet usage and second screen trend. Lesson: Go where your audience is.
In June, we blogged about Facebook’s lack of courtesy for its users, when they made the decision to hide users’ email addresses in favor of displaying their own “facebook.com” email address. This is yet another example of the social media giant changing settings without regard to what its users want, in favor of what’s best for the company and its bottom line. Lesson: While Facebook may be able to do what it pleases with its users now, due to a growing dependence on the social network, they should tread carefully, lest they end up like Netflix, who fell from grace, thanks to poor customer service and increased competitive offerings.
July brought us tragedy when a gunman opened fire in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, killing more than a dozen people. July also brought us two notoriously ill-timed tweets, first when the NRA took to Twitter the morning after the shooting with “Good morning, shooters. Happy Friday! Weekend plans?” CelebBoutique.com also posted an inappropriate Tweet, speculating that #Aurora was trending due to a dress worn by Kim Kardashian. Understandably, the backlash against both tweets was brutal. Lesson: when you’re a polarizing organization such as the NRA, perhaps scheduled tweets aren’t the best idea. Also, it’s a good idea to figure out why a topic is trending before jumping into the conversation.
Few events can inspire as much social media buzz as the Olympics, and the London games in August were no exception. From the bizarre rants by U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte to the downright racist comments made by Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou, there were enough media gaffes to make any PR person sweat, just reading about them. Lesson: An athlete does not a spokesperson make, and anyone thrust into the public eye could benefit from some basic media training.
September led us into the thick of election season, and Sterling’s own Dave Gifford traveled to Charlotte, NC for some contracting work with the Democratic National Convention. Three days before the event, some unexpected weather forced the DNC to change venues, throwing a wrench in what was already quite the logistical undertaking. Thanks to quick planning by Dave and his nimble team of volunteers, the venue was changed with minimal inconvenience to attendees. Lesson: It’s not always about having a B or C plan; sometimes pulling off a successful event requires the willingness to shift gears quickly should the unexpected occur.
In October, Nike found itself in a pickle when compelling evidence against celebrity spokesperson Lance Armstrong was found by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. In the end, Nike made the decision to let Armstrong go. While Nike has been known to stand by spokespeople plagued by personal scandal such as Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant, this time was different in that Armstrong’s transgressions took place on the “playing field” – something Nike takes seriously. Lesson: Stay true to your brand and mission, and have a good crisis communications plan in place.
In November, a snarky and entertaining restaurant review in the New York Times went viral. In the review, award-winning restaurant critic Pete Wells thoroughly flamed Food Network celebrity chef Guy Fieri. Not surprisingly, this scathing review sent Fieri’s PR team into crisis mode, with Fieri himself appearing on the Today Show to assert that Wells had a personal agenda when writing the review. Fieri’s response took the lead in any follow-up coverage and in the end helped douse the flames on the poor review. Lesson: A well-delivered and timely response can help negate bad publicity.
We discussed Redbox’s entrance into the streaming market in December, and speculated how the move would affect an already ailing Netflix. Ever since Netflix alienated their customers in 2011 by poorly communicating a pricing change, the company has been headed downhill, both in terms of stock price and public reputation. Lesson: while it still remains to be seen who will come out the streaming king, it’s clear that treating your customers poorly only diminishes brand loyalty and gives them a reason to switch to your competitor.
What do you think of the lessons learned in 2012? Will 2013 bring us more savvy crisis communications? What new and creative tactics and technologies will companies employ to reach their target audiences? Will we see more polished tweets and media soundbites, or are brands and spokespeople destined to make the same mistakes as those who have floundered before them?
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