Monday, November 29, 2010

Keep Your Eye on the Prize

     Talk about Must See TV!  A blind woman gets her vision back thanks to a miraculous new surgery involving a tooth.  No kidding!  It's a rare chance for the health care industry to shine.  Instead, this feel good story turns into a needless PR hit for a company that should have seen this one coming.

     Kay Thornton lost her vision 10 years ago, the result of a rare disease.  Doctors in Miami removed one of Thornton's teeth and implanted it in her eye, as an anchor for a tiny lens.  Get this- the 61-year-old woman now sees well enough to drive a car again.  Amazing!  But the response from Thornton's insurer was anything but...

     Instead of being the hero, Thornton's shortsighted insurance company (Humana) played the villain.  That's because Humana initially refused to pay for the procedure.  According to NBC's Kerry Saunders, Humana told him that "medical records did not show that the eye surgery... was medically necessary and reasonable."  So there's Saunders on network TV wondering why Humana didn't think restoring a person's vision was necessary or reasonable.  At first, Humana said it would investigate.  And then in a reversal, Humana said it would "pay the outstanding physician claim."  Humana was smart enough to change course, but this should never have happened.

     I'd think health insurance companies would be especially sensitive to PR but that's not always the case.  Earlier this year, an insurance company refused to cover a baby because he was considered too fat.  Now, it doesn't take a genius to know this kind of rigid posture is going to generate negative PR.  And what about Kay Thornton's case?  Instead of playing a supporting role in a medical miracle- Humana comes off looking like the mean machine of medicine.

     We all understand that insurance companies don't like to pay for procedures in general- much less operations that could be considered experimental.  But someone at Humana knew or should have known this was a poor decision.  I've said it before- negative PR is frequently self-inflicted.  And once your reputation is injured there's not much the spin doctors can do for you.  So remember, by doing the right thing you can get the right result- positive publicity.  By taking a position that looks wrong (even when you may be in the right) you can get a black eye.

Here's a link to NBC's report.
Woman loses tooth- regains her vision!

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Holiday Deals -OR- Black Friday Thrills & Chills

     Hang on to your wallet!  With Black Friday almost here corporate America is ready to cash in.  You could take one on the chin if you're not careful! 

     To be fair, many companies "do well by doing good".  But it appears that some companies are willing to risk reputations to make some extra cash.  Are the short-term profits worth the PR headaches?  You be the judge.

     Responding to new federal regulations designed to protect us consumers, banks and credit card companies are out with a host of new fees.  I saw a news story today in which a bank was charging $8.95 a month for a service it called "totally free checking".  Come again?
     I see that Target has teamed up with American Express to sell gift cards which include a "purchase fee".  When you purchase a $25 gift card- you get charged a $4 fee bringing the total to $29.  That means Target & AmEx are hitting you with a 16% fee to cover the cost of that little plastic card.  It's a great gift- at least it is for the folks at Target & AmEx.
     Consumer Reports is just out with a naughty and nice list.  CR says it didn't target any companies in particular.  It's just a list of some of the best practices and some of the not-so-best practices.

     According to CR, Dollar Rent-A-Car is requiring customers to produce a receipt to prove they bought gas within 10 miles of the car drop-off location.  No receipt means you're charged a "top-off" fee and the cost of labor to fill the tank.  Compare that to L.L. Bean.  L.L. Bean offers a 100% product satisfaction guarantee. Return anything at any time for any reason.

     Spirit Airlines charges $35 for a carry-on.  It's $45 if you pay at the gate.  Over at Southwest Airlines you can check two bags for free- and there's no charge for carry-ons.

     Macy's sets shipping fees for on-line customers based on dollars spent- not the size or weight of the package.  Meantime, has free shipping and free returns and they even send along a prepaid return label.

     J&R, an electronics superstore, has a simple price-match policy.  They'll "do everything possible to meet or beat" a competitors price.  United Airlines has a low-price guarantee.  If you buy a non-refundable ticket, and find a lower price, UAL will pay the difference.  But the airline will also charge you a $150 "administrative" fee.

     I think it was HL Mencken who famously said, "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public".  That could be true.  But as we roll into the holiday season this negative press isn't going to help anyone's bottom line.

     As a consumer which of these companies would you want to do business with?  If you're handling PR which companies are going to make your job difficult?  And if you're a CEO is this negative PR worth the money you're making?  It's your decision.  I'm voting with my wallet.

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Here's a link to Consumer Reports naughty/nice list:
Consumer Reports Naughty & Nice

Friday, November 5, 2010

Random Acts of Culture -OR- Great PR Is Impossible To Ignore

The editors of SteveBauerMedia want to end the week on an uplifting "note". In fact, quite a few notes. The Knight Foundation is sponsoring a program called 1,000 Random Acts of Culture. You might have caught their act recently. Performers are staging impromptu (yet carefully planned) performances at stores, malls and other public areas. It's sort of like guerrilla warfare meets modern marketing meets terrific entertainment. Earlier this month 650 singers broke into song inside a Philadelphia Macy's store, accompanied by the world's largest pipe organ (28,000 pipes for those of you who are counting).
Similar events will be coming over the next three years in Philly, Akron, Charlotte, Detroit, Macon, San Jose, St Paul & Miami. So don't be surprised if you find yourself caught up in something remarkable! The link appears below. Enjoy!

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Campaign 2010 -OR- NoNoNo HoHoHo

     November 2nd.  Election day.  By now you've probably heard the Tea Party is steamed! The Democrats are doomed!  And the Republicans are going to "change" Washington!  No matter which side you're on, I think all right-minded Americans can agree, this is the day we proudly go to the polls and decide who's going to louse up our lives for the next couple of years.       
     At least this political season has been highly entertaining- especially the ads running on TV.  It's like 'Jersey Shore' meets 'Desperate Housewives'.  Lots of sex, violence, and bad manners.  I've never seen so many attack ads before.  If we believed the ridiculous claims in these ads we wouldn't vote for any of 'em!

      Have you noticed how most of those TV ads are paid for by mysterious sounding outfits like "United Americans for a Better Way" or " Better Americans United"?  According to the New York Times, "There has been a nationwide surge in TV ad spending for the midterms, which one group projects could top out at $3 billion this year, up from $2.7 billion in 2008."  Ad rates have surged because of the demand to place all of those attack ads.  And local businesses (the typical advertisers) now can't afford to run TV ads because they're too expensive.  What a mess.
     But here's what really has me riled up!  The Holidays.  Apparently, all of the corporations bankrolling those bombastic political ads have some money left over.  That's why we're already seeing Holiday ads on TV.  I was minding my own business last night when Best Buy aired an animated Holiday-themed spot.  And it wasn't even the first Holiday commercial I've seen.  Remember when advertisers waited until after Thanksgiving to begin running those TV commercials?  So it's November 2nd, a day to remember in America's political history.  That's because there are only 53 shopping days till Christmas!

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