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Why Corporate Culture Matters Most

Since Sterling opened its doors more than two decades ago, we’ve had lots of laughs, persevered through some difficult and scary economic cycles, evolved our service mix, attracted wonderful employees, and created many long-standing client relationships. All of that happened because we created a strong culture, worked hard, anticipated change, and added new skills to capitalize on market transitions.


Notice that I listed culture first? That’s because NOTHING is more critical than your corporate culture. It can guide you through heady times and help you survive the difficult times. While there are certainly central truths in any corporate culture, your corporate culture is something you must continually shape and nurture — it’s not something you can “set and forget.” (As we’ve seen, even legendary corporate cultures like HP’s can get lost over time if leaders focus simply on business unit performance and let the corporate culture languish.)

Your corporate culture is something you must continually shape and nurture—it’s not something you can “set and forget.”

Smarter people than I have written many articles on this topic, but from where I sit, corporate culture really boils down to three questions: (more…)

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Be True to Your Brand

Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!

Dr. Seuss

The same goes for your company and your competitors’ companies. While you may serve similar customer needs, there can be vast differences in brand attributes. Take Ryanair and Emirates. Ryanair is Europe’s “ultra low cost carrier”; it has embraced a “no-frills, low-cost, get-you-from-A-to-B model” that makes air travel “accessible to the masses.” The airline guarantees that it has the lowest fares on flights to all of its destinations. Emirates, on the other hand, is one of the most luxurious travel brands on the planet. From its sparkling fleet of new planes, to high-quality cuisine, the latest in cabin design, and a wide range of entertainment options, Emirates strives to make the “Emirates experience” world class in every class.

The takeaway here is that you can’t be all things to all people, but once you know what you can do better than your competitors, you can polish your brand in ways that appeal to the type of employees you want to hire, customers you want to serve, and partners/investors you want to attract. (more…)

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Will Your Sweepstakes Win You Committed Followers, or Fair-weather Fans?

Last Friday, I caught tweets by two environmental reporters who seemed to cast a jaundiced eye on a sweepstakes launched by the Obama re-election campaign. The competition offers people that complete an online registration form the chance to win a ticket to a dinner attended by the president and hosted by George Clooney. Donations are encouraged, but not required, although donations on subsequent days will “purchase” additional entries to the competition.

My first instinct was that the sweepstakes was a joke. It seemed such a cheesy idea, à la the Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! rom-com of a few years ago. However, it’s real, and continues through April 30.

That got me thinking — if women who are generally supportive of the president think this is a silly idea that tarnishes the presidential brand, what must the general response be? I dug further in Twitter, and while I saw many excited postings, and a lot of jokes, I also saw some who, like me, thought the competition belittled the dignity of the president as well as women voters:

I hate to see our political process turned into a joke. No matter how much I may disagree with some of their policies, I cringed at the public humiliation endured by the GOP candidates during their reality show-debates. For all that I thought President Obama’s appearance this week with Jimmy Fallon was funny, it still bothers me that he must stoop to “slow jam the news” to communicate with the younger electorate. When candidate Clinton played his saxophone on late-night TV, it was something he did for attention, but he pandered less to the public after his election. Watch the brilliant 1976 movie Network, so oddly prescient in its depiction of TV news as entertainment. What then seemed extreme is now the norm — the satire has become reality.

For more information on the reaction to the Clooney sweepstakes, I decided to use a software application from a Sterling client, Attensity, to pull top-line sentiment over five days. I pulled about about 17.5 million comments in social media, with discussion peaking at over six million comments on April 20,, the day after the Clooney sweepstakes launch. The sentiment was more balanced than I expected, with positive reaction more than double the negative.


The Obama camp is lauded for its acumen in using social media and email to engage with supporters. In this case, though, I believe they’ve made a mistake: They’ve overused the new addresses they acquired through the sweepstakes. I registered for the contest; it was time I made another campaign contribution and hey, you never know! Since then, I’ve received an email every day asking me to chip in another donation in order to increase my chances of winning a ticket to the dinner. It doesn’t matter to me that some of the messages come in the name of the First Couple; if the frequency of communication does not diminish, I will unsubscribe — but only after winner notification on May 4th!

When you launch a contest, you need to consider a number of things: What is your end goal for it? Is it to get people talking? To spur people into giving their contact information to expand your database of supporters? To secure donations? The real question is, “Are these people going to remain committed after the contest has finished?” Too often, they “like” your Facebook page or sign up to receive your newsletter only to get that free ticket or chance at an iPhone. Call them what you please but they are not true fans, friends or followers. They won’t recommend your product or service, or canvas potential voters.

In the case of the Obama-Clooney dinner, I venture to guess that many of the people who registered on the site will not turn into committed campaigners. They were attracted to the star combination, and once the event has passed, will hit “unsubscribe.” However, in the short term, the Clooney name has managed to grow the Obama 2012 database and bring in more donations, so can be touted as a success.

In summary:

  1. Be sure that your contest is consistent with your brand image.
  2. Recognize that many of your contest entrants are fair-weather followers, so be careful about making decisions based on the new subscriber base.
  3. Be careful not to over-communicate, as incentive-focused subscribers will have a low threshold for messages.

Lisa Hawes can be reached at lhawes@sterlingpr.com. Follow Lisa on Twitter @lisakayhawes.

Jordan Hubert contributed the sentiment research for this article. Follow Jordan on Twitter at @jahubert.

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Sound Off Podcast Episode 2: Netflix, What the F***?

panel from the web comic The Joy of TechNetflix’ stock price, brand value and customer goodwill all seem to be tanking after the announced split of its video streaming and mail-order DVD businesses. Not only are most vocal customers unhappy with the changes, but Netflix communicated change poorly twice and made customers feel like they weren’t the top priority, which is unusual.

Netflix wants to get ahead of the sea-changes in its industry, but angering customers while launching a new brand with a video apology isn’t usually recommended by most communication firms.

Separating DVD rentals will no doubt simplify that eventual transition, but many current customers don’t seem to care. Instead, they’re creating new headaches for Netflix and Qwickster, which seems a name better suited for a chocolate milk enthusiast site than a DVD-by-mail service.

How did it all go wrong? What is the fallout for the company’s PR, social media, and branding efforts? And what could have they done differently? Tune in to hear a conversation between Sterling Communications VP Kevin Pedraja and creative director Kawika Holbrook in the latest podcast episode of Sound Off.

Sound Off: Episode 002 – Netflix, WTF?

(Note: At one point during the podcast, Netflix founder Reed Hastings is referred to as Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn. Sterling regrets the error.)

Kawika Holbrook is creative director at Sterling Communications. Follow him on Twitter @kawika or email him at kholbrook@sterlingpr.com.


If it Ain’t Broke…

Revealed yesterday by the New York Post, as part of DC Comics’ “relaunching” of its entire line of superhero characters in September, Superman himself is going to be a little more casual than most of us are used to. The man of steel is set to nix his trademark blue spandex, red underwear and flowin g cape for a short red cape, blue t-shirt and… jeans? I’m not a huge comic fan, but even I balked a bit at the sacrilege.

This image makeover made me think of some other infamous rebranding efforts that were met with negative reaction, despite intentions to “freshen up” the company’s image: