The “L” Word

September 1, 2015

by Roger Pynn

People in our profession ought to see it as job security that so many articles on success in business are dedicated to communication.  For instance, my inbox today brought one from Forbes and another from Fortune.

On, SnappConner PR founder Cheryl Conner’s item headlined “3 Steps to a Billion Dollar Company” had a parenthetical subhead:  “A Hint: Communication is Key.”  One of those steps was “Tell the authentic story only your brand can tell.”

Fortune published a piece by Halogen Software VP of HR Dominique Jones titled “The single worst mistake that a manager can make.”  She shared a list of things managers should do, beginning with “Communicate goals clearly and often.”

You ought to read both of these.  They deliver things you probably already know, but they are good reminders.  More importantly, both make it clear that communication isn’t just about what you say.  What you hear is critical … which means you have to remember the “L” word.  Listening is just as important as sending messages.

Conner, who was talking about marketing communications, wrote “Figure out what people will want, and give it to them.”  That takes active listening … sometimes in the form of formal research, but in today’s world it more and more frequently is about listening to the countless conversations that go on around us.

HR exec Jones was talking about internal communications.  So what did she say is the worst mistake a manager can make?  Hiring people just like you.  But her remedy is the “L” word:

“It’s easy to fall into the trap of hiring employees whom you can relate to, but building a strong team starts with understanding the strengths and weaknesses of you, the leader, and your team members. 

“By simply listening to what employees have to say and responding to their specific issues, you can provide meaningful feedback that will not only help them in their current role, but also assist them in achieving long-term career aspirations.”

And that would make you the good boss.

What’s Your Brand Worth?

August 20, 2015

by Kacie Boniberger

Would you change your brand for $20 million?  That’s the question facing upstate New York’s Paul Smith’s College.  According to The New York Times, a generous gift from 20-year board of trustees member and benefactor, Joan Weill, would help reverse Paul Smith’s College’s financial troubles – but only if the school changes its name to Joan Weill-Paul Smith’s College.

The board of trustees is behind the change, and by the looks of Paul Smith’s home page, already planning how to spend the $20 million:

Paul Smith

Considering the overall impact of changing brand elements like a name or tagline, however, Weill’s gift might not be worth the price.  Paul Smith was founded under a family name synonymous with the best of the Adirondacks – a family known for humble beginnings and a pioneering spirit.  In contrast, Joan Weill and her late husband are known for transforming financial services and being billionaire philanthropists.  Two totally different ideals.  And, combining them would force the college to assume a new identity to accommodate both.

A court decision yesterday was supposed to determine whether the school would officially accept its new name, but the judge deferred ruling until more information could be presented.  At the hearing were about 15 people in opposition; they are joined by more than 3,000 alumni and community members in this Facebook group, and by more than 3,200 who have signed a petition.

I can’t lie … I would agree to change my name in a second if it meant a few million dollars in my bank account.  Although, in this case, rebranding should be an alternative, not “Option A.”  By acquiescing to Weill’s demand, not only is the board of trustees alienating thousands of alumni who have publicly voiced their opposition online, but it’s ignoring a responsibility to maintain the college’s integrity.

Plus, isn’t the meaning of philanthropy to show altruistic concern?  If Weill’s sincere motive is to help Paul Smith’s College maintain a brand promise to its students, alumni and community, her gift should come with much different stipulations – especially considering two buildings on campus already have her name.

A rebranding initiative shouldn’t be the result of a paycheck.  Special care should be taken to evaluate the effectiveness of your current brand elements, the opinions of your key stakeholders and the potential positive and negative impacts of a change.

What do you think?  Is $20 million worth sacrificing your brand?

Don’t Sweep Your Crisis Under the Rug

August 14, 2015

by Heather Keroes

One of my favorite makeup brands is Lime Crime.  Their products are cruelty free and highly pigmented in a rainbow of unique colors.  I’m also a sucker for unicorns on packaging.  But when a friend told me Lime Crime received a warning from the FDA, I immediately stopped using all of their products.  This was no Internet rumor set for debunking on Snopes.  She sent me a link to an FDA letter warning Lime Crime about unsafe ingredients in one of their most popular lipsticks.

Lime Crime claims that the ingredients in question were incorrectly printed on their boxes.  But in any case, until the issue is resolved with the FDA, how can their loyal customers feel comfortable?

Lime Crime has taken a reactive approach to the crisis.  A very active brand on social media, Lime Crime continued to post promos for their makeup for several weeks, as if nothing had happened.  But when you have a vocal fan community of 1.6 million followers on Instagram, nearly 700k on Facebook, and more elsewhere, your strategy can’t be to hide and hope it all blows over.

I’ll give Lime Crime credit.  Earlier this week, they started responding to some of the concerned customer comments on social.  Here’s just a small peek at one of those conversations.


Lime Crime


The brand’s response hasn’t been enough to quell concerns.  And now, Lime Crime has gone silent on social.  The company prepared a statement on the safety issue, but it can only be accessed through a direct link, which was only shared in reply to several comments on social.

I doubt Lime Crime had a crisis communications plan in place before the FDA incident.  Product safety is an issue that should definitely be on the list for any company in their industry.  Unfortunately, they haven’t addressed the issue in a way that makes consumers think they are taking it seriously instead of, as the brand said, sweeping it under the rug.  In the meantime, my lipsticks will be swept under the rug too.

When Did Discourse Become Disgust?

August 10, 2015

by Dan Ward

I joined in an intriguing, and at times heated, online conversation with a number of public relations colleagues this weekend regarding the lack of civility in recent political discourse.

While it may be easy to blame politicians and pundits for the rise in political hate-speak, are they really at fault or are they simply parroting back the language they hear from us every day?

As I read through my Facebook timeline, I see friends who have no problem calling all Republican candidates despicable human beings filled with hate and a burning desire for war.  I see others who mock the President as feeble, and his potential successor as the “Hillabeast.”  I see assumptions and generalizations that justify open ridicule of anyone holding opposing views.  And I sometimes see myself engaging in this same behavior.

Folks, if the politicians and pundits are giving sound bites that mirror hateful comments on anonymous message boards, WE are the ones to blame.  And those of us who communicate for a living have a responsibility to fix the problem, rather than become part of it.

Let’s agree to politely disagree, rather than spitefully disparage.  Let’s stop responding to the often frightful comments from those on the extreme left and right, and stop assuming that the extremists speak for everyone who identifies as “conservative” or “liberal.”

When we see or hear generalizations, when we see conversations devolve into name-calling, when our “friends” use social media to publicly ridicule those with whom they disagree, let’s speak up and lead by example.

When it comes to political discourse, we have become a message-board generation.  We can, and must, be better than that.

Open Door Meetings That Are Publicly Noticed? How Dare You, Sir!

August 10, 2015

by Dan Ward

The Mayor of Winter Park, Florida, has prompted a firestorm of media criticism by holding individual meetings with fellow Commissioners rather than only discussing City business with the full Council.

Local reporters and columnists are up in arms about the Mayor’s brazen attempt to conduct meetings that “violate the spirit” of Florida’s expansive Government in the Sunshine Laws.  By holding discussions outside of regularly scheduled Council meetings, they say, he’s making it impossible for citizens to hear what’s being discussed.  It’s a travesty!

But wait.  Their stories and columns all mention (correctly) that the meetings are publicly noticed, and that they are fully within the Sunshine Law requirements.

So is the problem that he’s making it difficult for “citizens” to follow topics by having discussions outside of the regular Council meetings that attract tens of people, or is the problem that he’s making it more inconvenient for reporters who now have to add new meetings to their calendars?

I’m a fan of government transparency, but I’m also a fan of government effectiveness.  We don’t run our business by meeting as partners once every two weeks, and I fail to see how holding publicly noticed meetings on a more frequent basis is somehow harming the public’s right to know.

The news is full of stories about government officials who evade the Sunshine Laws entirely, so I’m not ready to criticize a politician for holding meetings that actually follow the law.


How Many Times?

August 4, 2015

by Roger Pynn

I’ll bet you can relate to this photo.


How many times have you been really disappointed – or, for that matter, really pleased – but left an establishment wanting to let someone have a piece of your mind?  It happened to me twice over the weekend … one of each variety.

I’d already patted everyone on the back when I saw this phone on the wall at my auto dealer, but I thought “I wonder how many people ever pick up that phone to say ‘good job’?”

That phone couldn’t have cost them anywhere near what they save every time someone with an itch under their collar about bad service picks it up and feels better after having shared their concern.  So hats off to Mercedes-Benz of North Orlando and General Manager Walter Grundorf.

The next day at a Dillard’s store in Volusia Mall, I really longed for a phone that would let me share a really bad experience.  But in addition to nowhere near enough sales staff in sight (a common retail problem these days), there never appeared to be anyone in a management capacity.

So, rather than complain to the Dillard’s folks with a phone call, I think I’ll print this out and mail it.


August 3, 2015

by Kim Stangle

There’s information and then there’s too much information, or TMI as it’s commonly referred.

In a news release announcing the appointment of its new chief marketing officer, HubSpot, an inbound marketing company, surely crossed into TMI territory with its diatribe disguised as news.  The release –which delves into reasons for the new appointment (ethical violations) – sounds more like a police report than a progressions release for an incoming executive.

Given their industry prowess, it’s hard to believe that HubSpot’s leadership would allow so many sordid details to be released.  Sure, it shows their board acted quickly to remove an employee they deemed potentially harmful to their brand, but did they consider how harmful it may be to air all the dirty laundry while they were at it?

News releases can still be a powerful tool to tell your company’s story, just be mindful of which story you tell.


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