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Corporate communications

Breaking Bad PR Motor Home to Sell Marketing Meth to Public

We love Breaking Bad just as much as the rest of the public. So when we see a motor home not being driven by an octogenarian, we know nothing good is going on inside that roving lab of illegal activity.

Since the recession rained down on our industry like a sci-fi meteor shower, PR companies across the globe have slashed travel expenses and relied on technology and old-fashioned ingenuity to execute strategies to reach the public in convincing ways.

So we were more surprised than Pinkman buckling his belt on a rooftop to learn that VP&C, a New York public relations agency, shelled out $50,000 to drive a motor home from New York City to Des Moines, Iowa, and back to promote products such as, according to this article in the New York Times, a “Dornbracht kitchen faucet, Mohawk carpet, J.C. Penney home goods, dinnerware by Q Squared and cabinet knobs from Rocky Mountain Hardware.”

This road trip which includes “five executives and staff members of the agency” is being touted as a marketing effort with the motor home being used as a mobile showroom. We can only guess that this group has named their mobile showroom “Los PR Hermanos” because they’ve got to be smoking some serious crystal blue to think anyone with a home built on a foundation would buy products showcased in a motor home in some crappy parking lot.

According to the aforementioned article, Los PR Hermanos has had to alter its schedule and cancel an appearance in Pittsburg because of traffic delays due to slow-moving tractors in the western part of the state.

As with Breaking Bad, we’re just dying to know how this ends.

AOL CEO Tim Armstrong Failed PR 101

Today in CEOs Behaving Badly: We understand why AOL chief Tim Armstrong was a little upset at the unfortunate struggles of Patch, his well-meaning $300 million experiment in hyper-local news content. He promised AOL that the venture would turn a profit by year’s end, and in order to bring this about he seemingly had no choice but to fire hundreds of the writers, editors, and managers at more than 400 individual Patch sites around the country.

But this hardly excuses the commission of a cardinal PR sin: letting his temper get away with him during a 1,000-strong conference call and firing an employee for taking a photo during his speech. It was mild as outbursts go, but it was recorded for the ages and distributed to every media outlet around.

This wasn’t just any employee, by the way; it was Patch’s creative director Abel Lenz. The fact that such a Trump-worthy incident was terrible PR should be obvious to all, but we’ll go into a bit more detail:

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“The Man With the Gray Wavy Hair”: George Sard Has His Moment in the Sun

It’s hard to prove that something hasn’t happened because of your efforts. But a lot of high-powered Wall Street types are quick to thank George Sard and his PR firm Sard Verbinnen for all the stories  that don’t get written about them.

Both Sard and Verbinnen (Paul is his first name) declined to comment, but Bloomberg Businessweek wrote a profile that names the following clients: SAC Capital Advisors, Dell and Air Products and Chemicals (both involved in multi-billion-dollar deals), and Goldman Sachs’ Fabrice Tourre. The quote in the headline comes from the story, which says “the man with the gray wavy hair” was virtually the only person in the courtroom during Tourre’s trial not to get any media attention.

For its efforts, the article notes that the firm is the number one M&A firm by deal count, according to Mergermarket, “lending its expertise to 45 transactions worth $71 billion in the first half of 2013.”

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CEOs Share 10 Key Topics They Focus on During the Day

Lots of concerns keep CEOs up at night, as we know from this well-worn query often posed to top corporate leaders. Remarkably, neither the moderator nor members of the audience asked that question to a panel of CEOs at IABC’s World Conference on Tuesday in New York.

The four current and former CEOs were still forthcoming, offering views on corporate strategy, industry trends monitoring, turnaround plans, work style, philanthropy and corporate culture. They even revealed stunts their companies have used to motivate employees.

At face value the following principles appear rather intuitive. However, they’re not so simple to follow, as evidenced by the volatility of entire industries and recent market fluctuations, even among growing companies.

1.Use forward-looking strategies: “You owe your company a picture about where the world is going”, noted Bill McDermott, SAP’s co-CEO. “Most of our current revenue comes from areas that didn’t exist a few years ago”. Peter Cuneo, turnaround specialist and former CEO of Marvel Entertainment, said he spends three-quarters of his time developing future strategies.

2.Don’t rest on prior laurels. “Many CEOs fall in love with the past and their cozy business models”, McDermott said. When it doesn’t look good, don’t pretend it does. You need to think about cannibalizing your own business model. If you don’t, someone else will do it for you.”

3.Check out trends in other industries. Study other categories, advised Dolf van den Brink, Heineken USA’s president and CEO. “The beer industry was too insular and missed trends like premiumization and segmentation. Major beer brands now have different nationalities”. (Heineken’s Dos Equis brand features the popular ‘Most Interesting Man in the World’ ads; spokesman shown here).

4.Celebrate recent successes more. This isn’t done often enough, observed Shelly Lazarus, O&M’s chairman emeritus (and no relation to this PRNewser contributor). Companies are often too busy to do so, she said, “but it’s important that employees feel something good happened. It builds momentum and it’s good for the soul.”

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Damage Control in China: Bow Down Before Your Leaders!

PR in China: it’s a brave new world! Yet, despite all the talk of a dirty “black PR” industry and the impressive propaganda powers of a one-party government, damage control campaigns in the People’s Republic seem to be very simple. Based on the recent PR fails and recoveries of Western brands like Apple, KFC and Volkswagen, a big “yes sir” apology seems to be the way to go.

This issue is very relevant because, as the economy grows more global by the hour, every company that doesn’t sell artisanal pickles in Williamsburg, Brooklyn wants to build a strong reputation in China.

Here’s the backstory:

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Google News Doesn’t Much Care for Your ‘Sponsored Content’

Google has long discouraged the inclusion of paid links and advertorials in publishers’ “news” sections. In the past they’ve done so by threatening to punish those who post and promote such content without calling it by its proper name by pushing them lower down in the Google search rankings. Certain interested parties (ahem) adapted by pitching sponsored content that is somehow “guaranteed to beat” Google’s famous PageRank algorithm (we assume these guys know some code). In February the company punished a UK paper for doing just that, and last week Google’s senior director of news and social wrote a blog post warning publishers who want their content to rank in the Google News feed to separate the “paid” stuff from editorial.

Google redirects concerned parties to this page that helps them separate their content in order to make the bots’ jobs easier. Yes, it’s a few seconds of extra work for each piece — but this is the price of the “pay to play” model.

What does this mean for PR people? Probably not a whole lot. We may, however, need to start reminding clients that sponsored content and editorial are not, and will never be, the same thing (no matter how much they want the opposite to be true).

Case Study: Good Corporate Communications in a ‘Difficult Situation’

Today we’re glad to bring you a guest post via Laura Kelso. Laura is a co-founder of Pasta, a Bay Area startup providing public relations management solutions to tech clients. A former tech PR pro turned fledgling front-end developer, she now focuses on building smarter approaches to the management and execution of PR.

Earlier this month at PyCon 2013 — a big tech industry conference for developers — a female attendee tweeted a picture of two male attendees, publicly shaming them for making inappropriate sexist jokes. This tweet led to at least two people losing their jobs. One of them was the woman herself, who worked for SendGrid as a “developer evangelist”, and the incident has sparked heated debate about sexism in tech and attacks on all sides.

But stepping away from the commentary regarding her intentions or actions, we can learn some valuable PR lessons from the actions of a company facing fire due to the actions of an individual employee. As the title of the CEO’s public statement implies, SendGrid did an excellent job of handling a “difficult situation” by taking a stance and communicating it quickly to stakeholders.

SendGrid correctly decided that the incident required a corporate response.

The behavior of an individual employee via personal social media channels is always a gray area. Since the employee in question was officially representing the company at PyCon and her actions directly affected her responsibilities, SendGrid was correct to address the situation directly and publicly.

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Drug Makers Turn Doping Scandals into Good PR

Lance ArmstrongHere’s an interesting way for controversial brands to maintain or improve their reputations: take an industry’s biggest scandal and turn it into a PR win through effective advocacy and counter-messaging efforts.

We’ve heard a good bit about EPO and other performance-enhancing drugs in the past few months thanks in large part to athletes like Lance Armstrong and Oscar Pistorious, the Olympian double-amputee and accused murderer who apparently liked to mix his alcohol with illegal steroids. Lest we forget, these drugs primarily serve as useful medicines that can help lengthen and improve the lives of those affected by chronic conditions like anemia.

In a determined PR move, Roche and GlaxoSmithKline–two of the world’s largest drug makers–have joined the World Anti-Doping Agency in an attempt to prevent the abuse of their products and protect their names from the inevitable backlash.

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Microsoft ‘Comms Guy’ Challenges Google Rep to a Twitter Duel

Frank X. Shaw is Microsoft’s “top comms guy”. He doesn’t think too much of rival Google’s attempts to go highbrow in the PR sphere—and he let thousands of people know about it on Twitter this weekend.

Let’s unravel the roots of this little playground mud fight between two of the biggest PR pros in the business: Microsoft, still desperate to sponsor the Bing vs. Google fight that no one in the world asked for, just hired much-hated political operative Mark Penn as its top messaging man. You may remember Penn as the guy behind Hillary Clinton’s infamous 2008 “3 AM” ad implying that then-Senator Barack Obama was too inexperienced to run the country.

The New York Times ran a story on the hire, casting Mr. Penn as a negative messenger who would help Microsoft attack Google with “scorched earth” spots like this one that criticizes the company for ruining users’ search experiences by clogging results with sponsored ads. The article notes that Microsoft has “long attacked Google from the shadows” but now looks to take the fight to prime-time. A former colleague of Mr. Penn’s warned that Google should prepare to have “everything…thrown at them”—including the kitchen sink.

Sounds like a run-of-the-mill corporate PR battle, right? Well, the Times also contacted top Google spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker for comment. She said that, while Google employs lobbyists and PR firms just like its rivals, “…our focus is on Google and the positive impact our industry has on society, not the competition.”

Of course Frank Shaw did not like this one bit.

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Netflix CEO Posts World’s Priciest Facebook Update

Netflix CEO Reed HastingsReed Hastings, public persona and Netflix head honcho, took the opportunity to share some good news about his business with his 245,000 Facebook followers way back in July: Netflix viewers watched more than one billion hours worth of video in June (we proudly contributed to that number with our annual Arrested Development marathon).

Hastings has done this kind of thing before, but this time the stock bump that followed his status update caught the attention of the Securities and Exchange Commission–and then things got messy.

The SEC sent Hastings a notice letting him know that they’re investigating him and may file a suit against the company for violating the Regulation Fair Disclosure rule, which requires companies to release business news to all investors simultaneously. In other words, they’ve essentially accused him of facilitating insider trading by making a very public statement. Bring on the lawyers…

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