Perhaps Facebook Could Do (A Lot) More

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Tomorrow, the world’s largest social media site will share a bit of important news with subscribers.

Yes, the folks at Facebook will let users, like me, know if our profile data was passed on to data consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.

One of the “feel good” messages from Facebook, as shown on a monitor in the CTA Logan Square Blue Line station.

As noted in this April 4 New York Times article, up to 87 million users of the platform may have had data shared with Cambridge, now brought into the international spotlight for connections with the Trump 2016 presidential campaign.

I’ll leave the political discussion of this ongoing story to other commentators. What intrigues me is the total collapse of effective crisis management by Facebook since news broke of the data breach.

Want to get a perspective on how the crisis has unfolded over the past three-plus weeks?  This PR Week report offers a play-by-play recap right up to March 27, when the number of impacted users was just 50 million.

Coming up: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will be testifying before Congress Tuesday.

For an organization built on letting users share ideas, news, images and videos — purportedly all for “free” — Facebook has lost the trust of subscribers and failed miserably at managing the sustained crisis that’s embroiled the company over the reported misuse of member info.

Note the image above. That message — and others from Facebook — was on a monitor in the CTA Logan Square Blue Line station, which I visit each weekday to travel to and from work. Other similar digital and print billboards can be found at other CTA stations.

Frankly, these communications, which I just noticed recently, are weak, an after thought of sorts to mitigate the collapse of confidence experienced by many of Facebook’s 2.2 billion users.

Following these developments, the questions that surface with me: Is this the “new normal” in crisis management? Are companies becoming too large to effectively anticipate and mitigate threats? Are CEOs like Zuckerberg unable to effectively lead and regain trust?

Tomorrow, I’ll learn if I’m about the 87 million Facebook users who had personal data shared without my agreement or knowledge. But to borrow from a popular 1980s song, I don’t know if I’ll like the next Monday.

 

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Questions for PR Professionals Offering Counsel in Wake of #MeToo

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

One service performed by strategic public relations professionals centers on counsel mitigating a potential threat to the client or organization.

It’s better known as crisis communications preparation, and every senior practitioner today should have the skills needed to craft a strategic program and initiate tactics should a crisis arise in this era of digitally-driven, non-stop news.

Of course, the true value in managing a crisis lies in having the plan in place before it’s needed.

Image courtesy of YourStory.com

Over the past several weeks, we’ve been in the wake of a seemingly ongoing cycle of men in high places being accused of abusive actions to girls and women, as well boys and young men.

You know where I’m going — the evolution of the #MeToo Movement. And, of course, the fallout it has created.

Movie moguls, actors, newsmen, elected officials and men from other industries have been charged with alleged misgivings and even crimes that took place recently and in the distant past.  By the time this post is published, there’s the strong possibility that a new story on this topic will surface.

This has prompted me to ponder what advice and counsel I would provide to a client who was the subject of allegations related to sexual and other abuse.  Frankly, the foundation of crisis mitigation centers on addressing the issue immediately, honestly and tactfully.  This is the general advice I would provide.

But what about a different scenario: The client informs you that he (or perhaps she) did, indeed, abuse an underling, employee or colleague.  The client charges you with preparing a strategy and plan.

What advice do you offer?  Do you advise the client to come forward and admit to conduct that may be career-ending or even criminal in nature? Or, do you develop a plan to execute should the charges surface?

Frankly, I’m at a quandary.

The PRSA Code of Ethics cites Provisions of Conduct that include open disclosure of information and a free flow of information; but from another perspective, ethical public relations professionals should safeguard confidences, avoid conflicts of interests and enhance the profession.

The national conversation on the sexual abuse topic, and its long-range implications, is just beginning to take hold in the nation’s consciousness. Earlier today, Time Magazine published its annual Person of the Year issue.  The subject: The Silence Breakers — The Voices That Launched a Movement.

There’s no question that in the days and weeks to com, more women — and assuredly men, too — will step forward and recount allegations of being abused by someone who held power.

The question I have: Are ethical public relations professionals prepared to render sound counsel?

 

 

Perhaps United Airlines Should Look Back to 1990 for What to Do in 2017

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

By now, you’ve probably read, viewed and commented on reports related to what may go down as one of the most significant corporate communication and operational blunders of recent times.

Yes, I’m referring to the forceful removal of a United Airlines passenger April 9 from a flight departing Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport for Louisville, Kentucky.

Image courtesy of the United Airlines website.

You know what happened to cause this now sustained crisis for United Airlines, which according to this news story operates some 4,500 flights a day. So, I’ll dispense with any background.  A quick Google search for “United Airlines crisis” will result in lots of results — 2,590,000 in fact as of this evening.

(An aside: On a visit to the company’s online newsroom I found only one reference to the incident that took place on United Express Flight 3411, and that was a statement from CEO Oscar Munoz.)

Many have branded this story as a “PR disaster.” And, from some perspectives, that’s totally correct: United is getting lots of negative publicity and social media exposure for what took place Sunday.  Initial crisis mitigation strategies and tactics were poor — at best.

But those of us who work in public relations know that communications can’t be disseminated without management approval.  Perhaps more effective and compassionate actions and messages were prepared but tabled in favor of what did take place: The initial rather curt message from Mr. Munoz, followed by a more conciliatory comment.

I’ll let those with the proven skills in crisis management comment on what United Airlines should do next. But I would like to share the video below. It’s from a 60-second television commercial for United first aired in 1990.  The title is “Speech,” and the spot was produced by the airline’s longtime agency of record, Chicago’s own Leo Burnett.

Two aspects of this brilliant spot are especially poignant for United Airlines today:

1. When company owner Ben says, “Well folks, some things gotta change.”

2. When the voice over narrator says, “Personal services deserves a lot more than lip service.”

I think United Airlines could learn a lot by revisiting this 27-year-old spot.

NOTE: This video was found via a YouTube search.

Hey Chicago Tribune: Let’s Clarify What Defines a “PR Nightmare”

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Or on second thought, perhaps the subject of this post should be: “Hey Chicago Tribune: Please Comprehend the Difference Between Public Relations and Media Exposure Generated by News Reports of Bad Things Happening to People, Companies or Brands.”

Chicago_Tribune_LogoWell, this alternative is a trifle wordy and probably would not rank too well with the search engines. So, I’ll stick to the title above.

Here’s the crux behind today’s commentary: The lead story of the Sunday, December 27, Chicago Tribune Business section centered on news from 2015 that led to negative publicity for some of the largest and most recognizable companies and individuals in America.

The story headline: “2015’s PR Nightmares.”

I beg to differ.  The 12 examples cited chronicles news reports of bad things that happened to businesses and people, not examples of poor execution of strategies or tactics by public relations counsel during a crisis or disruption of business.

PR NighmareYou’re probably familiar with stories cited: Findings that Volkswagen engineers developed software to cheat emission standards, the arrest of longtime Subway spokesperson Jared Fogel on child pornography charges, reports of an unsavory work environment at online retail giant Amazon, and the nine others.

Note: Three of the 12 examples put the spotlight on Chicago — Blackhawks star Patrick Kane (who was embroiled in rape allegations), Mayor Rahm Emanuel, (who’s facing continued scrutiny resulting from the Laquan McDonald shooting by police) and Wrigley Field (where promised facility improvements were not delivered on opening day).

Yes, these stories caused significant damage to reputations and possibly changed perceptions. But they were not the result of lousy public relations work, which is how many readers might interpret the article. From another perspective, effective public relations counsel could not prevent — in most cases — these “nightmares” from happening.

(An aside: One of the year’s “dirty PR dozen” examples is Martin Shkreli, the recently arrested pharmaceutical executive featured in this PRDude post from September 29 on the practice of doxing.)

It should be pointed out that the introduction to the Tribune article, written by Greg Trotter, states “there were some clear winners and losers among the worst PR disasters of 2015.” I’ll interpret that as meaning strategists were successful on some occasions on helping to mitigate the fallout of a crisis.

Another point of contention centers on the research used to compile this “survey of the worst of the worst in this year’s brand name fails,” as stated in the article sub headline.

The chief source for Mr. Trotter’s report was Tim Caulkins, clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.  I’m not questioning Professor Caulkins’ credentials, but perhaps an academic professional who teaches public relations would have been a better choice. And, it would have been prudent to seek more than one opinion in order to have a true “survey.”

Finally, throughout the article (and in the headline), “public relations” is not mentioned, only “PR.” Shouldn’t a formal reference be made to the practice before using the abbreviation? I think so.

Public relations and marketing are both communications disciplines — but they clearly are different.  Please click on the respective links to learn the difference.

Finally some disclosures:

  1. We subscribe to the daily delivery of the Chicago Tribune print edition, and I relish my time reading the city’s broadsheet.
  2. I could not find a link on the newspaper’s website to the “PR Nightmare” article, so I included a link obtained through my subscription.

There. I feel better and will sleep well tonight. Not anticipating any nightmares — PR or otherwise.