Monday, April 25, 2011

Can Drinking Wine Improve Your PR Skills? Six Vintage Lessons From the Wine Cellar

     There's an old joke about a guy who says he went to to the fights and a hockey game broke out. Obviously, fights at a hockey game are about what you would expect to see. A recent night out turned into a PR experience I wasn't expecting. No, I did not go to the fights or a hockey game.

     I went to a wine tasting at a small winery in Central Pennsylvania. Let's face it, Central PA isn't exactly Napa Valley. No matter, the staff at SteveBauerMedia never passes up an excuse to drink a little vino. This particular outfit is called the Seven Mountains Wine Cellars. It's run by Scott Bubb and his wife Mary Ann. In his previous life Scott was a successful, award-winning amateur winemaker. But he paid the bills working at a factory. After a 35-year career in manufacturing, the factory closed and Scott was out on the street.

Scott Bubb, Vintner
     That's how Scott and Mary Ann suddenly found themselves in the wine business. The Bubb's are by no means PR professionals but they figured out the common sense basics. Naturally, they started with research. The couple spent a great deal of time touring vineyards across the country- always asking lots of questions. They learned what worked and what didn't. One of the first things Scott told our group was, quote, "It's all about the experience. A year from now you won't remember what wine you had but you'll remember how you felt. We want you to have a good experience here."

Lesson 1) A good experience. Is that what you're giving your clients and customers?

A barrel of fun!
     At Seven Mountains you can adopt a barrel of wine! It's a grueling five year process. First, you have to pay $500. (That's the grueling part) Then they put a plaque on your barrel engraved with your personal message. Once a year for four years you get a case of wine. Each case has a retail value of roughly $175.
Your message here!
On the fifth year you get the actual wine barrel. However, you can't do this right now because every single barrel in the place has already been adopted.

Lesson 2) Be creative. Engage your customers. Have fun.

     Scott gave us a guided tour of his whole operation. He answered all our questions and showed us how everything works. He tapped one of the 15,000 gallon vats and let us all pour a glass. We learned a lot about winemaking and had a bunch of laughs. Turns out Scott is a pretty funny guy.

Lesson 3) Be Accessible. Listen to your customers. Let them ask questions. A growing number of businesses are using social media to interact with the public. It gives the people you need the most (customers) a chance to tell you what they think- to make suggestions- and sometimes, to complain. But you are getting valuable feedback. And yes, you can follow Seven Mountains on Facebook. Follow 7 Mts Wine Cellar on Facebook

     Scott let us taste several different wines, explaining how different varieties are made, telling us about the history of winemaking- generally sharing his expertise. He also paired each wine with special food, chocolates, or hor d'oeuvres. And he made it a point of telling us exactly which local catering companies had prepared each dish. The Bubb's aren't just tooting their own horn.

Lesson 4) Network. Share the wealth. Build alliances. Pay it forward and pass along good information about your colleagues and business associates. You want them to do the same for you.

      When the weather is nice people are always welcome to stop by and picnic out on the deck. The Bubbs encourage customers to come on over and watch the big game on the flat screen! Seven Mountains also sponsors local bands and invites everyone to see the performances.

Lesson 5) Reach out. Be friendly. Be a part of the community.

     Before we left for the night everyone in our group was handed a souvenir wine glass featuring the Seven Mountains logo.

Lesson 6) Share your good name. Cultivate your image.

     The Bubb's started their business in the middle of a recession. They hoped to sell something like 15,000 gallons of wine by year five. Scott says they sold 8,000 gallons the first year. They reached their five-year goal of 15,000 gallons in just the second year. This year they're expecting to sell 75,000 gallons. Sure, the wine is pretty good. But what sets Seven Mountains apart? The ancient Greeks proclaimed, "In vino veritas"- in wine there is truth. And as it turns out, there's pretty good PR in there too. Cheers!

Photos courtesy of Trina Bauer Photography

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Who's "Sorry" Now? Taco Bell Claims Victory After Agressive PR in Taco Filling Lawsuit.

     Your company is hit with a scandalous accusation.  The case makes national headlines.  Consumers assume your product is "tainted".  And in the end, there's nothing to the story.  All that bad publicity had to have an impact.  And you can't put the genie back in the bottle-   Who's going to pay?

     That's apparently the scenario that Taco Bell is dealing with right now.  As SteveBauerMedia reported last January the fast food giant was sued for allegedly using less than 50% beef in its Taco filling. Back then SBM advised:

     "In a case like this Taco Bell needs to do more than issue a statement on its web site, threaten legal action, and hunker down to see if it will all blow over." stevebauermedia 1/11 

     Apparently Taco Bell took SBM's advice because the company came out swinging- with full page ads in major newspapers.  CEO Greg Creed angrily denounced the lawsuit- stating that Taco Bell's tacos contain 88% beef and 12% spices and other ingredients.  TB vowed to fight.  Today, the original lawsuit was suddenly dropped.  According to the Associated Press, the law firm Beasley Allen, based in Montgomery, Alabama, says it dropped the lawsuit because Taco Bell changed its marketing and product disclosure information.  Taco Bell says it did no such thing.  Whatever.  The big question for Taco Bell now- how does the company rescue its reputation?

   You'd think in a case like this that it's difficult if not impossible to repair all the damage.  But Taco Bell is doing a great job of crisis management.  Back to major newspapers today, TB placed full page ads targeting that law firm in Alabama.  The ads ask, quote, 

     "Would it kill you to say you're sorry?... As for the lawyers who brought this suit: You got it wrong, and you're probably feeling pretty bad right about now. But you know what always helps? Saying to everyone, 'I'm sorry.' C'mon, you can do it!"

See Taco Bell's complete press release here: 

    In today's ads Taco Bell crows the company is making "no changes to our products or changes to our advertising."  The best defense is a good offense.  And we think Taco Bell is in a good position to turn lemons into lemonade- or in this case ground beef into filet mignon.  What next?  Should Taco Bell file a defamation lawsuit?  That would keep the issue in the public eye- giving TB more opportunities to remind the public that it sells a quality product.  Quality is a relative term since we are talking about fast food...  Taco Bell needs to stay aggressive- because this could be a golden opportunity to re-energize the brand.  We checked TB's website and discovered this YouTube statement from TB's CEO:  

     He's essentially reading the newspaper ad.  We think he should be a lot more active- maybe eating a taco while standing in court (of public opinion).

     We found the same press release and YouTube video on Taco Bell's Facebook page.  We should note that Taco Bell's Facebook page has a 6,198,614 "likes".  By comparison, industry leader McDonald's has 7,848,664.  Burger King has a less-than-whopping 1,039,052, and Wendy's has less than a million.

     Over at Twitter Taco Bell is running with this hashtag #Victoryfortruth!  And it looks like a lot of people are retweeting the link to that YouTube video.

     We sent an e-mail to Taco Bell's media relations department asking what else the company is planning.  But we haven't heard back yet.  I hope they'll take our advice and come up with an aggressive -and clever- campaign that not only focuses on the "beef" but promotes Taco Bell in an engaging way.  It's gotta be better than that YouTube thing.  Gotta run- it's already after lunchtime and I suddenly have a craving for one of those crunchy gordita things.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Airline Industry Wants to Steal Your Luggage* and Other PR Missteps

     *No, the airline industry doesn't really want to steal your luggage.

     But it does sound like the fly guys are playing fast and loose with your hard earned cash  The government is now asking airlines to refund baggage fees whenever your luggage doesn't arrive in a "timely manner".  Sounds fair to me.  When you pay to have a bag shipped you expect it to arrive with you.  Sometimes "mishandled" luggage doesn't turn up for days or weeks.  The Air Transport Association of America, the industry group that represents most major airlines, claims automatic refunds for delayed bags will increase costs and lead to higher prices for passengers.  Can you hear it?  It's the unmistakably grating sound of of bad PR.

     Full disclosure: a major US carrier once sent my luggage to Idontknowwhere, USA- leaving me on a Caribbean cruise ship dressed in slacks, loafers and a sports coat.  The cruise line gave me flip flops from the spa, a couple of T-shirts, and that's what I had to wear for 3 days.

     Almost all the airlines charge $15, $20, $25 or more for each piece of luggage you check.  If you get to your destination and your bag does not- most airlines will not issue a refund- although a few will give you a "credit".

     According the the FAA's web site, US airlines mishandled more than 138,000 bags in February.  Just for fun, let's say all 138,000 bags were misplaced- meaning that they'll show up eventually.  Assuming the airlines charged just $15 per bag- that's $2,070,000.  Spread over an entire year that's a bit under $25 million.

     You could argue that the no refund policy makes airlines look a little greedy- and a little anxious to "stick it" to their customers.  Remember, these are the people who've brought us flight delays, overbooked planes, passengers trapped on the tarmac for hours and let's not forget full body scans.

     Hey airline industry- do you have any idea how much it costs for a national ad campaign?  It's a lot.  Here are some of the headlines from the "No Luggage, No  Refund" stories that are making the rounds.
  • The Seattle Times:Air travelers might finally catch a break

  • Bloomberg Business Week: Gov't wants airlines to repay fee after losing bag

  • Philadelphia Inquirer: Refunds proposed for delayed baggage

  • Washington Post: Airline lose your suitcase? Government says you should get your checked-bag fee back

  • Detroit Free Press: New rule could require airlines to refund bag fee if luggage is lost

      Know what all those news stories have in common?  They all  give the appearance that the airline industry thinks it's okay to charge for a service and then not deliver.  Even better, all those stories suggest that the airline industry is essentially refusing to do the right thing.  I'm betting that if you had to pay for all of this negative publicity it would cost a lot more than $25 million.  But I hear the major airlines will earn $5 billion dollars this year- so they must know what they're doing...

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What's Your Good Name Worth?- Price Points in PR

   You've probably heard that top executives with Transocean awarded themselves hefty bonuses- citing 2010 as "the best year in safety performance in our Company's history".  Transocean is the company that owned the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.  That rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 people.  Predictably, the safety bonus announcement generated a firestorm of negative publicity.

     Transocean later apologized for the "insensitive wording" in a SEC filing about the bonuses.  I just checked the Transocean web site- and found a news release announcing that Transocean's Senior managers are "voluntarily donating those safety bonuses to the Deepwater Horizon Memorial Fund."  I think that's a creative use of the word "voluntarily".  At least the bonuses, about $250,000, will go to the fund that benefits families of the 11 people who died.  If only those executives could donate to a fund that restores your reputation.

     What I don't get is how often I have to write the words "tone deaf"?  How could anyone think declaring 2010 a "safe" year was a safe move for Transocean?  Didn't they read the papers?  At what point do you say, "everyone hates us anyway, so we might as well get paid a bundle"?  If you look up the most infamous professions the oil industry is no doubt gaining ground on used car salesmen and attorneys.

     All this got me to thinking about executive salaries.  So I googled "executive greed".  I found a New York Times article that included a study by two professors, Lucian Bebchuk of Harvard and Yaniv Grinstein of Cornell.  According to Bebchuck and Grinstein:  from 2001 to 2003... (executive pay) totaled roughly 10 percent of corporate profits at public companies.

     I don't even want to know what 10 percent of corporate profits might total.  Let's just agree that it's an obscene sum of money.

     I also found an ad for a book titled- "Executive Greed: Examining Business Failures that Contributed to the Economic Crisis".  Ironically, the book is selling for $65. 

     According to's list of 20 top-paid CEOs  The 2010 winner is Philippe P. Dauman.  Dauman collected $84 million as the head of Viacom.  At the bottom of the top 20 list is Robert J. Stevens who made $19 million running Lockheed Martin.  Coming in at number 20 Stevens must be some kind of executive slacker.

     Has anybody noticed there was a terrible recession awhile back?  Millions of Americans are out of work- reporting zero earnings.  Yet, at the same time all these CEOs amassed small fortunes.  I'm not going to rail about inequity.  I'm not going to complain about ethics.  That's not the point.

     I'd think some of these brilliant top executives would exploit the pay issue- and turn it into a public relations bonanza.  They could cut their pay and tell customers they're lowering prices until better times return.  Remember when Lee Iacocca set his salary at one dollar?  A few years later, after Chrysler rebounded, Iacocca was the top-paid CEO.  Just saying...

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Nothing Too Big For This Small Boy- How YouTube & Twitter Helped Make National News

     Here's a cute story about a small New Jersey boy who has big dreams. It's also about a big politician who understands social media.  Five-year-old Jesse Koczon is the star of a YouTube video that's become an instant classic.  In one emotional scene Jesse sobs that he's "too small to be governor of New Jersey".  Take a look. 

     Jesse's video generated over 176,000 hits in less than a week.  But it also generated a lot of buzz because New Jersey Governor Chris Christie got into the act.  The Guv sent this tweet to  Jesse:

Governor Christie
Don’t worry Jesse, people gave plenty of reasons why I couldn't be Governor, though being too small wasn't one of them

     For those not familiar with Governor Christie,  the reason that being small wasn't a problem is that he can politely be described as "husky".  So, the little kid gets a personal message from the Governor and everybody's happy.  But it doesn't end there.

     Yesterday,  Governor Christie signed a proclamation making Jesse honorary governor for a day.  Jesse's twin brother, Brandon, was named honorary lieutenant governor.  During a private moment Jessie and Governor Christie had a talk- about taxes. And that led to a pretty funny exchange in front of reporters.

Governor Christie: Didn't you and I have a talk back there about property taxes?
Jesse: "Of course I did."
Governor Christie: "And what did I tell you?"
Jesse: "Don't raise them." (laughter)
Governor Christie: "And if you do raise them, what happens?"
Jesse: I won't be Governor for that long." (more laughter)

     You can see the exchange because the Governor's staff posted video to YouTube.

     This story is now being carried by all kinds of media outlets.

     The takeaway: Governor Christie could have ignored Jesse's video.  But instead, the social media-savvy politician used Twitter to respond.  And now, in the middle of a budget/economic crisis there's a feel good story coming out of the New Jersey Statehouse.  Clearly, Christie gets social media- his official web page features links to Facebook and YouTube.  He has more than 35,000 followers on Twitter.  And it's not just for show.  Governor Christie is using social media to get his message out there. Here are just a couple of recent Tweets I found.

Governor Christie

Tune in to @ @ tonight to catch my interview with Diane Sawyer

Governor Christie
@ I sent your issue to the state treasurer for investigation & follow up
Governor Christie

@ U know nothing. My parents were middle class, both worked. I pd 4 my own college & law school. Sorry so uninformed & bitter
Governor Christie

Just left Nino's Reataurant in Harrison. Best Sicilian pizza in NJ. 

     You don't have to be a politician to see the value you get by using social media to interact with your customers.  Whether you're a politician or a company or a public relations pro- when it comes to social media you can lead, follow or get out of the way.  Just be careful you don't get voted out of business.

Update: Since this was first posted the original video of Jesse has been removed from YouTube- citing a copyright claim by Disney Enterprises.

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