I was on the final leg of my third workout of the morning. It was a perfect summer morning and as I pulled up to a red light on my bike I exhaled into a smile. Another rider pulled up beside me. He was over 6 feet tall, muscular and clearly a far more experienced rider than me. We chatted about the day and the beautiful weather until the light changed. As we said our ‘’good days’ in one fluid motion he was nearly a block ahead of me. Without even thinking, I gave chase. I ignored my already weary legs, dug down and began pedaling faster than I ever had (I only took up riding again two months ago). The world around me became a blur as I focused on one thing – catching my opponent.
I did catch up two lights later. This time I came to my senses and my destination and did not give chase when the light changed. I admit, I have a bit of a competitive streak (it’s why I hate the gym, I always want to be the last one standing on the treadmill) but it’s mostly harmless. As I replayed the ride, I realized that trying to keep pace with a more experienced, faster rider had allowed me to push through to a new level. In my quest to keep up with a stronger opponent I had forgotten “my place” and simply rode like the wind.
In the days following my wild ride, I rode faster and harder, because I knew I could. My confidence soared right along with the numbers on my heart rate monitor. I had a new base thanks to my competitor.
People that are better than you are, whether it’s in sports or business, are an essential part of your own growth. If we surround ourselves with people on or below our level we may never know our own capabilities. Challenge yourself to explore your own limits by competing with someone you know is faster, stronger and smarter than you. You may not beat them but you are guaranteed to up your own game.
In business and life, there is never a lack of opponents. While I am not suggesting that we constantly pursue world domination, it is healthy to challenge yourself to compete at a higher level. It is easy to become complacent with our success, especially if we are the top dog in the puppy store. But, it is so satisfying when we push a little harder and discover that we are capable of even more.
Who is stronger, better, faster than you in your industry or job? How can you compete with them in a way that makes you better?
Yesterday a jury rendered a “not guilty” verdict in the high profile Casey Anthony murder case. The decision sent shock waves through much of the nation as everyone from legal analysts to regular citizens expected a guilty decision.
While I will not attempt to analyze or unravel the legal decision, there are key takeaways in the case that we can apply to our public relations and communications strategies.
Post verdict, two members of Anthony’s defense team, Cheney Mason and Jose Baez gave a statement. Mason took the opportunity to gloat while Baez offered a toned down approach that acknowledged there were no real winners. Baez had the smarter PR approach. Casey Anthony’s defense team won big for their client. If she had been found guilty she would have faced the death penalty. The team obviously had reason to celebrate a life saving victory. However, an innocent child is dead and the public, who has passionately watched this case, largely agrees that justice was not served. In business, you may face an unpopular decision that requires a sensitive and balanced response to mitigate the negative PR.
Even in the best of circumstances, no one likes a sore winner. Mason seized the moment to retaliate against the negative criticism of his client. His statements further isolated him from the public and added to the negative perception. When you win an unpopular decision, you may be tempted to raise your glass and do a happy dance, but it is smarter to temper your victory celebration with a nod of respect to the opposing team.
Communications requires that we look ahead and consider the long term impact on our brand and reputation. Baez seemed to partially understand this in his initial response. In business your opponents could be your customer base, and while you may need to fight for an unpopular win you have to manage the relations with your customers. It is a tricky position that requires sensitivity and balance.
Nod to the other side. Baez indicated that the case had no winners. He brought the focus back to the core of the case, the death of a child. It established a neutral foundation, a place of agreement that could pave the way to rebuilding some public good will.
Educate on the win. Baez discussed the win in relevance to the workings of the justice system. Throughout he balanced his happiness for his client with his sadness that a little girl had died. You may not immediately turn an opposing crowd but you can leave them with key points that allow them to focus on the process and diffuse some of the negative energy of their passion. You can shift the focus and give your audience an alternative way to consider your victory.
Growing up my mother would often remind me that “the people you meet on the way up, are the same people you meet on the way down.” It was an old adage that reminds us to keep our egos in check and take no one for granted. Mason allowed his ego to take center stage. He used a critical PR moment to assuage his hurt feelings and lash out at opponents. When you find yourself the “hated winner” check your ego at the door, and focus on laying the foundation to build a bridge of forgiveness. Whether your “haters” are justified or not, focus on engaging them rather than widening the gap.
Even a victory can require a crisis communications strategy. If you remain focused on creating good will with your audience, you can begin the road to recovering from negative perception. One statement or action will not cure the situation but can set the tone for reconciliation and demonstrate your brand’s commitment to professionalism.
Have you ever had to manage negative fallout from a victory? What lessons did you learn?
- Video: Casey Anthony not guilty (cbsnews.com)
- Casey Anthony lawyer: “There are no winners” (cbsnews.com)
- Casey Anthony lawyers slam “media assassination” (cbsnews.com)
I am a huge fan of cooking shows that combine culinary skill with a mix of competition. One of my favorites is Chopped. If you have never seen the show, Food Network describes it in this way:
Chopped is a cooking competition show that’s all about skill, speed and ingenuity where four up-and-coming chefs compete before a panel of three expert judges and take everyday items and turn them into an extraordinary three-course meal. Course by course, the chefs will be “chopped” from the competition until only one winner remains. The challenge? They have seconds to plan and 30 minutes to cook an amazing course with the basket of mystery ingredients given to them moments before the clock starts ticking! And the pressure doesn’t stop there. Once they’ve completed their dish, they’ve got to survive the Chopping Block where our three judges are waiting to be wowed and not shy about voicing their culinary criticisms! Our host, Ted Allen, leads this high energy, high-pressure show which will have viewers rooting for a winner and cheering for the losers. CHOPPED is a game of passion, expertise and skill – and in the end, only one chef will survive the Chopping Block. Who will make the cut? The answer is on Chopped!
The intensity rivals any sporting event and always has me on the edge of my seat to see who will be chopped. In the midst of the high drama, there are valuable lessons that can be applied to business. Below I have listed my Top 7 takeaways from the chopping block.
- Basket of mystery ingredients – In business we are often called upon to face unfamiliar elements. We may have competitive challenges never faced, complex operational issues, customer demands or even an unfamiliar economic landscape. We are handed a basket that requires us to figure it out and make it work. Many times the chefs on Chopped are required to work with ingredients foreign to their experience. They cannot leave them out, or simply quit so they adapt. Often they will relate it to a familiar ingredient and work from that foundation. They may smell, taste and then quickly experiment to find the best way to tackle the unknown.
- Planning under pressure –The pressure is on and you’re required to be innovative and deliver. Now more than ever you must have a plan. On Chopped, the chefs quickly map out a strategy as they review the ingredients. The rest of the time is spent executing that plan. They must think fast on their feet but all realize that without a plan precious time will be wasted and failure is inevitable. Whether you are responding to a crisis or have a looming deadline it is worth it to take the time to plan your strategy. You’ll waste far more time reacting without a strategy and piecing it together as you go.
- Adjust when needed – Fire on the stove, dough that doesn’t rise, missing ingredients. In the kitchen and in business stuff happens even when you have a plan. Be prepared to quickly adjust when you’re hit with a glitch or a curve ball.
- Taste before you serve– Chefs taste ingredients and dishes while cooking. This is especially critical when working with a new element or recipe. You cannot assume that all the components will combine for a final dish that your customers will like. You should understand the experience your customers will have, test it out and ensure that the quality and experience is consistent with brand expectations. If you are implementing a new website, widget, or policy walk through it like your customer. Know exactly what you are serving, or risk having dishes sent back to the kitchen with complaints.
- Use the clock to your advantage – The clock is always ticking in business. There are deadlines and deliverables that must be met. Often we must coordinate efforts across departments, vendors or clients’ internal teams. On Chopped the chefs cannot extend a deadline or ask for a few more minutes. They must deliver on time or risk being eliminated. When the clock is ticking, set a realistic and achievable goal and do what it takes to get the job done. Use time pressures to your advantage to eliminate inefficiencies and focus on what is truly important.
- Details matter – In the final round of Chopped, the two remaining chefs are judged not only on their desserts but the entire meal. The sum of the experience can win the game, even if you were not the best on every single course. In a close game, the small details can really help you win with customers and stand out from your competitor. Too often we focus on one course and fail to examine the breadth of the customer experience.
- Come to win – While the losers go home with invaluable lessons and often a renewed passion for their craft, all show up to win. They practice, put in extra hours and come to the competition with their A game. If you’re not showing up every day determined to win, then it may be time to reassess. Every day someone will be crowned the champion, whether you choose to compete or not. Why not go for it and have the satisfaction of knowing that even if you lose you gave your heart and soul to the effort?
There is an old adage that all publicity is good publicity and I vehemently disagree. Visibility at all costs is not only ineffective but can be dangerous to your brand.
The discipline of Public Relations (PR) seeks to communicate, and influence perception. It is not carried out in a silo, with haphazard strategies but harmonized with marketing, branding, sales and every other part of your business. The symphony of your efforts are ultimately judged by customers, for if they’re not paying to hear the music you have no reason to play. Visibility in and of itself is not the goal, but being visible, relevant and respected by the right people.
These days, I can understand why many would confuse visibility with sustainability. Losing it seems to be an effective media relations strategy. Become a train wreck and people show up to watch by the millions. Get arrested, drive drunk, flub the lyrics to the national anthem or just plain lose your grip on reality and you become a media star. In spite of the seemingly effortless publicity generated, I do not recommend ‘crazy’ as a PR strategy. However, if crazy is your brand and you want to be known as an unhinged bag of nuts who is the punchline of loser jokes, go for it. For everyone else there is a better way.
Outside of the realm of comedians and celebrities, your PR efforts should help you gain respect. You want to gain attention for what you know and offer; for being a leader in your space rather than an unfortunate break with reality. Visibility at all costs is not the best path to creating longevity in your market. Trust is an essential component of the sales cycle, but also of your staying power. People need to trust your brand and brand promise to purchase from you. Bad behavior may grab headlines but it does not translate into sustainable relationships with your customers. Further, eventually someone else will trump your bad behavior and you will become old news.
A far better approach is to build your brand with purpose. Be strategic and purposeful about who you are and how you present yourself to the market. Brand perception is in the eyes of your consumer but you can influence that perception for good or bad by what you do and say. Be visible for the value and solutions you offer to your market, and leave the meltdowns to those who are pros at entertaining.
The access and ease of using social media platforms is not a guaranteed formula for success. Utilizing social media in your campaigns and outreach should not be approached with a half-hearted effort or ill-formed plan. This article from AdAge (reprinted below) recaps social media gone wrong and how we can learn from these failures. What examples would you add?
Lessons From the 2011 Suxorz Awards Teach Us How to Avoid a Campaign Catastrophe
Quick! Which is the worst social media faux pas?
- Inviting consumers to follow your company — via a locked Twitter account; or
- When a customer posts a negative comment about your business, track his identity and learn where he works. Then, contact his employers with the suggestion he be fired?
New York’s Social Media Week featured wall-to-wall sessions on how marketers can do social media right, but nothing can hold a candle to the sheer Schdenfreude of watching the brands and agencies that are doing it wrong.
Horribly, horribly wrong.
Enter the Suxorz Awards. Brainchild of Blogads CEO Henry Copeland, the Suxorz have been calling out the worst in social-media marketing since 2008 (disclosure — I was a panelist at the inaugural SXSW session).
Here’s how it works: a panel of four marketing experts nominate their picks for worst-of-the-worst social-media campaigns. Then (this being social, after all), the audience picks a winner in each category. Competition can get fierce, and no one on either side of the stage is discouraged from opining. It makes for a lively evening.
Herewith, the contenders for the 2011 Suxorz awards — together with some lessons learned, because really, we’re not just here to laugh at them. Really.
Category 1: Meme Purgatory
No, you can’t bottle viral. Nominees were VW’s Sluggy Patterson, star of videos, tweets and a blog. An irascible old coot, Sluggy invented a complex game in which he punches people every time he espies a VW. Smirnoff’s BrosIcingBros.com, a site that basically encouraged binge drinking; and another awkward character, Dell’s Dr. Ashley PDA who has bad hair, hypnotizes patients with a GPS device and thumb-wrestles with them when they’re out cold on his couch.
And the winner is: Cisco’s Ted From Accounting series, an unabashed attempt to cash in on Old Spice’s popular video campaign. The videos were as long as they were utterly baffling. The audience actually begged the presenters to hit the “stop” button.
Lesson Learned: Character development counts. So does some sort of obvious link to the brand. But do try not to make it an overtly negative one, e.g. advocating hitting people, drinking irresponsibly, or simply boring their socks off.
Category 2: Missed Connections
That’s why they call them the “basics.” Thousands of Hungarians launched a Facebook campaign to launch Starbucks in Budapest. It worked — Starbucks opened a restaurant and erased the fan page, along with its 3,000 biggest fans and brand advocates. Pharmacy chain launches on Twitter. Their pages features the legend: “@CVS_Cares’s Tweets are protected. Only confirmed followers have access to @CVS_Cares’s Tweets and complete profile. You need to send a request before you can start following this account.” (And no, requests to become a follower are not acknowledged.). Leo Burnett’s you have to see it to believe it “HumanKind” video in which Chief Creative Mark Tutssel drones on for so long even he seems to regurgitate the Kool-Aid.
And the winner is: Denny’s menu footer call-to-action (visible right underneath dubious-sounding Senior Country Fried Steak) inviting diners to follow the chain at twitter/.com/dennys. So far so good — until you click through and learn “dennys” is some guy in Taiwan named Dennys Hsieh. He tweets in Mandarin — or maybe it’s Hokkien?
Lesson Learned: Hire a proofreader. And a copyeditor. Dot those I’s and cross those T’s.
Category 3: Mean People Suck
Does not work well with others. In the U.K., Dr. Pepper launched a Facebook status takeover campaign. Motto: “What’s the worst that could happen?” Answer: updates like the one to a 14-year-old Glaswegian girl’s page, “I watched 2 girls one cup and felt hungry afterwards.” Oops. Nestle fared no better on Facebook when a protest erupted against the company practices that are endangering orangutan habitats. At best, Nestle replied to comments with phrases like “Oh, please.” It also threatened to sue users for infringement when they modded the Kit-Kat logo. Finally, Mercedes Tweetrace campaign, which forced people to “like” the campaign before they could participate in what amounted to an attempt to spam Twitter with Mercedes-oriented tweets.
And the winner is: Hands down, PriceChopper, the supermarket chain that tried to get Jonathan Hoster fired from his job for being “negative” after his tweet negatively compared one of their stores to the rival Wegman’s chain.
Lesson Learned: Don’t hate on your customer, clients and prospects. Duh.
Category 4: You’re So Vain
Even celebrities must learn social graces. Up was Kenneth Cole’s very un-PC tweet during the demonstrations in Cairo, and Fast Company’s Influencer Project, which proved “influence” is really a code term for “spam” and “affiliate scam.” And LeBron James opened a Twitter account at the height of speculation about where he’d land, and tweeted nary a word to address the speculation.
And the winner is: Alicia Keys’ oh-so aptly named Digital Death campaign. The cause was noble: to raise a million dollars to fight HIV/AIDS in the third world. The means? Less well plotted. Keyes enlisted a host of celebs to put the kibosh on tweeting, blogging, and general social-media’ing until the target goal was raised. When it wasn’t, rather than rally with calls to action, all this social-media firepower was under a self-imposed moratorium to do…nothing.
Lesson Learned: It’s not as about you as you think it is. And when it is about you, it’s not necessarily about the part of you that you think it is. Plan accordingly.
The floor was then opened to audience nominations, which were not in short supply. The TSA’s attempt to wrangle bad publicity on full body scanners at airports, BP’s response in the wake of the Gulf oil spill, Charmin’s Facebook page (because it’s a Facebook page about toilet paper).
Following a spirited debate, PriceChopper was awarded the 2011 Suxorz for, well, pretty much violating every precept social media is supposed to be based on. The evening’s “social-media DJ,” John Accorino, posted a note of congratulations on PriceChoppers Facebook page.
It’s not there any more.
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Related articles and resources:
- Public Relations and the Social Web: How to Use Social Media and Web 2.0 in Communications
- Ur Doing It Wrong: How Not to Suck In Social Media (adage.com)
- Twitter Revolution: How Social Media and Mobile Marketing is Changing the Way We Do Business & Market Online
- The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use Social Media, Blogs, News Releases, Online Video, and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly, 2nd Edition