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Corporate communications

Best Practices: What to Do When Activists Come Calling

bpa_free_logoOne of my go-to quick-and-healthy dinners is a can of Amy’s Organic fat-free vegetable soup topped with slices of chicken sausage.

OK, yes: It’s still processed food (and I know I could and should do better!), but some of that guilt is removed thanks to a new sticker Amy’s has been putting on every can that reads: “This soup is canned in a BPA-free liner.”

Good move, right? This little sticker reinforces the notion that buying Amy’s Organic is the healthier choice. It’s also a perfectly proportional response to health concerns raised by groups such as the Breast Cancer Fund over the use of Bisphenol A, or BPA, in can linings. Other companies, such as Campbell Soup Co., have followed suit in removing BPA from their packaging.

As Advertising Age points out, processed-food companies—even seemingly “good” companies, like Amy’s Organic—are on the defensive as never before, and repeatedly under attack from online health advocates and activists.

The rise in attacks comes from, you guessed it, “social networking tools and digital media, [which] have created opportunity for groups of consumer advocates to target individual brands in order to influence company decisions,” notes Sanford C. Bernstein notes in a recent report.

So what’s a company to do? Should companies respond to every single threat? And how?

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Sears, Walmart Apologize for Selling Nazi Poster (No Comment from Amazon)

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Today we learned that three of the country’s largest online retailers do not effectively screen the products they offer for evidence of Nazism.

On Monday, Digiday reported on the news (first broken by Heeb last week) that Walmart‘s online store offered shoppers a poster featuring an image of the gate at Dachau concentration camp, which was the very first opened by the German government to hold political prisoners in 1933 (and at which tens of thousands of innocent people died). The fact that the saying on the gate reads “work makes you free” is especially perverse.

Further searches revealed that Amazon and Sears also featured the item online. Their excuse? The dreaded “third party vendor.”

Let’s compare their statements.

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LEGO Issues Tepid Response to Shell Controversy; Greenpeace Issues Mock PSA

One has to admire Greenpeace’s dedication to solid production values. Check out this mock PSA, which came out today:

The org might not be so great with money, but it certainly jumped on the opportunity to criticize LEGO’s new partnership with big bad Shell a week ago, writing that the decision to include the Shell logo on some products (and reap the retail rewards) meant that the company was putting cold, hard cash “above its commitment to the environment and children’s futures.”

There’s also the expected petition complete with an image of a polar bear balancing on a LEGO ice block in a sea filled with oil and what looks like a pirated rig. All of those things and LEGO’s weak response after the jump.

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GM Recall Scandal Is Actually Increasing Sales

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Here’s one we had to post quickly in the All News Is Good News category, because we’re still slightly shocked.

From a senior Edmunds analyst discussing GM’s current status in The New York Times this morning:

“You’d think it would damage their brand. But it’s actually helping to drive purchases at the dealership. You come in to have your old car fixed and see the new designs and technology, and wind up thinking ‘Maybe I’ll buy a new car.’”

Also:

“G.M. is also quietly offering additional discounts to owners of the 2.6 million vehicles recalled as part of the original ignition switch problem. The automaker has authorized dealers to offer employee prices to owners who inquire about a new purchase.”

It’s true that this is part of a larger trend as the auto industry finally recovers from the recession…but surely the latest wave of recalls and the generally negative response to CEO Mary Barra’s follow-up has led to a decline in GM’s stock prices, right?

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Corporate ‘Fact-Checking’ Blogs: Trend or Fad?

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In the wake of aggressive corporate communications moves like America’s biggest company “fact-checking” New York Times op-eds, we thought we’d check in on BlackBerry, the former best friend of Alicia Keys.

Last week, the company’s SVP of marketing announced the launch of its own “fact check portal”, which is usually the kind of thing reserved for politicians whose enemies will never believe that they have, in fact, seen the birth certificate.

So how is the portal doing so far?

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Target (Almost) Apologizes to Canada

Target wants the nation of Canada to know that they’re “disappointed” in their own performance–and they’ll definitely do better next time.

Last year we reported that the retailer’s northern expansion had failed to convince the Canucks not to shop at Walmart, and this week the company attempted to hit the “reset” button with this clip:

The executive team leader says the problem was all about getting product on the shelves, but we’re not so sure; the primary factor behind the lackluster numbers seemed to be the fact that Walmart is still cheaper and more convenient when it comes to the basics.

Here’s the big one: the Target corporation lost more than one billion dollars in 2013 and fired its president of Canadian operations in May.

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Netflix Stops Accusing Verizon of Being Slow, Starts Proving It

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Verizon may claim to have moved on from its spat with Netflix, but the latter isn’t quite done with this business, thank you very much.

After Verizon sent a cease-and-desist letter insisting that Netflix stop accusing it of slowing down customers’ streaming speeds, the content company’s comms director wrote a blog post indicating that its “transparency campaign” would officially end next week. We might take that announcement with a grain of salt, though: the real purpose of the post was to hype the release of a new round of performance data designed to shame those very service providers.

Click through for the statement, which we read as, “We MIGHT stop bringing attention to your network congestion. Or we might not. Deal with it.”

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Chobani Claims That No One Owns the Word ‘How’

During last year’s Super Bowl, Chobani and its ad agency Droga5 told us that “how matters.” It was a brilliant Chipotle-style CSR call-to-arms that led, in part, to speculation that the company will soon go public.

Now author/ethics consultant Dov Seidman and his lawyers want to make that filing process a bit more difficult.

Seidman, whose best-selling book bore the title How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything and an introduction by no less than Bill Clinton, filed suit against both agency and client yesterday for “trademark and service mark infringement and unfair competition.”

For some reason, he seems to think that the campaign might have been related to his book…

Interestingly, Seidman’s company LRN retweeted the message above before declaring it to be lawsuit-worthy. A little extra explanation after the jump.

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The Number of People Killed by GM’s Defective Switch Will Soon Rise

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We’re all aware that General Motors is one of the world’s most challenging clients right now–and we can sit around all day and wonder why the company’s preferred strategy for dealing with its ongoing recall crisis can be summarized with the word “stonewall.”

But a report released by Reuters today indicates that this horrific story has only just begun.

The crux of GM’s defense holds that thirteen people–and only thirteen people–have died in accidents involving the infamously defective ignition switch that shuts down cars and their airbag mechanisms mid-drive.

Unfortunately, that number will change soon.

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Papa John’s CEO Talks Workers’ Wages, Says Drivers Make Close to $20

schnatterPapa John’s CEO John Schnatter brought up a hot button topic while being interviewed for the Inc. GrowCo Conference: workers’ wages.

In his remarks, which Business Insider says were almost a “non sequitur,” Schnatter says his workers are well-paid.

“Remember, I don’t pay anyone minimum wage. The average driver makes way closer to 20 bucks an hour than 10,” he says. ”If we’re not taking care of our people, we’re going to lose good people at every level.” You can watch a clip of this portion of the interview here.

The comments are address an issue the company has been trying to get a handle on for some time. BI notes that “several” Papa John’s franchises in New York have been subpoenaed for under-paying their workers. This at a time where the minimum wage is being fiercely debated. A company spokesperson told the site that the investigation is looking more closely at restaurants that aren’t corporate-owned. Still, it’s damaging to the company’s reputation.

Papa John’s is also being sued by drivers for the ways in which they’re reimbursed for expenses.

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