Archive for January 2010

How Would You Handle Toyota’s Crisis Communications?

January 30, 2010

“Quality was [Toyota’s] differentiator and now it’s their Achilles heel,” says Brenda Wrigley, chair of the public relations department at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Her comments appeared in a Forbes article this week, which draws a partial comparison between Toyota’s handling of the current PR crisis involving faulty accelerator pedals to Johnson & Johnson’s text-book handling of their 1982 PR crisis involving Tylenol bottles that were tampered with and poisoned. (J&J immediately recalled 20 million bottles of Extra Strength Tylenol from store shelves and replaced them with new product in tamper-proof packaging, sending a clear message to the public that it values consumer safety over profits.)

Over the past two weeks, Toyota has issued recalls on millions of cars, stopped production of eight of its models at plants across the globe, and ordered dealers to pull cars off their showroom floors. The problem with the accelerators isn’t entirely new, but it has rapidly escalated into a crisis. Some critics say that Toyota, in its aim to be the world’s top car manufacturer, has outgrown its quality control measures, thus undermining the essence of its brand.

What do you think? Are Toyota’s current crisis management efforts sufficient to maintain consumer confidence in a brand that has been synonymous with quality? What message is the current recall and halt on production sending to consumers? Is Toyota’s handling of the problem comparable to J&J’s handling of the Tylenol crisis? How would you handle the current crisis?

Visit Toyota’s Web site for official information about the recall.

Tips for Dealing with the Changing PR Landscape

January 22, 2010

Planning for PR programs in 2010 will be more difficult than in past years because of the dynamic and continually changing PR landscape.


Choose one: (a) strongly disagree, (b) disagree, (c) unsure, (d) agree, (e) strongly agree. Fifty percent of public relations professionals surveyed chose (e) agree, according to Frank Strong, public relations director for Vocus. Strong addressed PRSA-MD members Thursday morning at the University of Baltimore (left), where he discussed some of the factors that make PR planning increasingly difficult, and what you can do about it. Here are a few of my takeaways.

Maintain your media relationships. Last year 293 newspapers folded, 1,226 magazines disappeared, 10,000 radio employees were cut, and 100 TV stations were affected by Chapter 11. In short, massive job loss. Where are all these editors and reporters going? Some of them are getting into PR, but many are going to online publications. Wherever they move, they’ll land somewhere and may continue to be relevant contacts. So don’t let your relationships go. You never know where a sacked reporter might resurface.

Master SEO and other new media tools. Attention is the new deficit, and social media can help break the threshold. Increasingly, PR professionals are giving testimonials about how their blog or tweet or discussion board made a difference for their organization or a client. It’s not just about the message anymore. We need to think beyond text, giving more consideration to  posting videos, engaging readers in conversation, tagging and, above all, SEO. Figure out which social media tools are appropriate for your organization—and learn how to use them. (Note: SEO is a must for every professional communicator’s toolbox!)

Learn crisis communications. You’ll need it. Up until now, the prevailing wisdom has been that crisis communications should be left to specialists. While this may still hold true for major crises, it’s also true that social media leaves everyone exposed to previously nonexistent dangers. Know how to respond when a customer or employee launches a withering attack at your organization or its leadership. You may not be able to control it, but you need to know how to deal with it, or better yet—prevent it.

Integrate your communications. Social media’s rejection of commercialization makes PR central to an organization’s communications efforts. Users can sniff out marketing copy, but a good PR professional knows how to connect to people with authenticity—in other words, without selling. Okay, so does a good marketer, but relationships are the essence of PR. It’s not worth considering which of these two functions is more important. They’re both important for many organizations. A better question to ask is, How can PR and marketing work together?

For more information on this topic, check out Frank Strong’s whitepaper, Meeting Change: Public Relations Planning in 2010.

Vocus’s Frank Strong to Address PRSA-MD on the Challenges of PR Planning in 2010

January 19, 2010

Frank Strong, Director of Public Relations at Vocus, will speak at PRSA-MD’s first monthly meeting of the year—PR Annual Planning: New Thoughts, Tips & Tactics—on Thursday, Jan. 21. Specifically, Frank will be addressing the challenge of PR planning in 2010, with the sudden rise of communications technologies and the extraordinary changes in the media.

The presentation should be of interest to anyone involved in developing or implementing communications plans over the next year. For a sneak preview, see Frank’s recent white paper, Meeting Change: Public Relations Planning in 2010, available on PRSA-MD’s event registration page. In it, he discusses how PR professionals are confronted not only with a social media learning curve, but also with the need to develop communications plans and strategies without knowing what it is that they don’t know they don’t know. In other words, we expect him to tell us how to plan for the unknowable.

Steiner’s Critics Cry Foul, But the Game Has Changed

January 14, 2010

WEAA radio host Marc Steiner beat the Baltimore media to the punch on January 6 with an email blast at 1:36 p.m. regarding Mayor Sheila Dixon’s resignation. It was more than an hour before the main media outlets confirmed the report. By that time, the story had taken off on Facebook and Twitter.

Critics of Steiner are crying foul because he inaccurately reported that the mayor had already resigned, when in fact she will not do so officially until February 4. Here’s how one Baltimore Sun reader responded to media critic David Zurawik’s column about Steiner’s scoop: “It doesn’t count if he gets the information terribly wrong.”

Terribly wrong? That’s an overstatement.

Despite the mistake in Steiner’s initial report (which he was quick to acknowledge and correct), the story was basically right—“Dixon Resigns.” This is how the Sun reported it the next day.

Might this reader have been more forgiving had the technical inaccuracy been committed by a more traditional news source? After all, everyone knows that the news industry presents us with a first, and sometimes imprecise, draft of history. (Remember Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction?) And who says what does and “doesn’t count” as legitimate breaking news? If it informs the public, it counts.

Once upon a time, real news came exclusively from the authoritative voices of radio, television and newspapers, but the new media has changed the game. It’s now possible for a major story to break in your inbox—before ever reaching the TV cameras or the press.