Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wanted Dead or Alive - Candor & Humor in Public Relations

Distant cousins of the Bronx Zoo Cobra

Rockefeller Plaza is - wait. OMG, Tina Fey just walked by me. Huge fan.
Enjoying a cupcake at Magnolia Bakery. This is going straight to my hips. Oh wait, I don't have hips. Yesssss.
Holding very still at the snake exhibit at the Museum of Natural History. This is going to be hilarious.

State Jury Commission finally tracked him down but Wylie won't be going to jail.

     According to the Eagle-Tribune newspaper in North Andover, MA, Deputy Jury Commissioner John Cavanaugh says it's unlikely the state will proceed with a criminal complaint against Mr. Wylie. I'd say it's pretty unlikely considering that he's been dead for five years.

     Wylie didn't respond for jury duty in 2006 because he was in a hospice with terminal cancer. He died a few months later. Family members say they told  authorities about the death. But those officials claim the family never sent a death certificate. For the past five years the Jury Commission has been sending nasty letters threatening legal action. So here we have the Deputy Jury Commissioner saying it's unlikely the state will press charges.

     Certainly there's nothing funny about Mr. Wylie's death. But the Jury Commission's cold response makes it sound like the agency is run by a bunch of uncaring bureaucrats. Wouldn't those officials look better if they simply said, "Obviously we take jury duty seriously... maybe a little too seriously. We could have handled this better."

     Humor is great but obviously it's not great all the time. Recently, New York State Congressman Anthony Weiner resigned in disgrace after tweeting pictures that were "below the belt". When confronted with the allegations Weiner told reporters he couldn't say with "certitude" that he wasn't the guy in the photos. Certitude? You have to admit that's pretty funny. But a congressman caught up in a sexting scandal isn't something you can laugh off- unless you're Leno or Letterman.

     What really cooked Weiner's goose was lying about what happened. What he should have done was fess up and admit he'd messed up. Would Weiner have resigned anyway? Almost certainly. But maybe he wouldn't be the butt of so many tasteless jokes. And he could have spared his family some embarrassment.

     So get out there and use humor when appropriate. Be pleasant. Be candid. Admit your mistakes. Most people will want to believe you're being straightforward. And for Pete's sake, if your last name is "Weiner"- keep your pants on!

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Friday, June 24, 2011

Press One if You Want to Speak With One of Our &*%#&$ Representatives- Why Poor Customer Service is a PR #Fail

     It isn’t very easy to blog when your internet service provider isn’t very reliable.  And that’s apparently the case here at the palatial corporate headquarters of SteveBauerMedia. For some reason, our Verizon DSL has been down more than it’s been up for the past few weeks. We’ve made lots of calls to customer service- always getting the same response- “We’re working on it.” I’m not talking about 20 minute outages here. Our internet connection (and our e-mail) has been broken for days at a time. As you might have guessed- it’s down again as I write this. Trina (Mrs. SteveBauerMedia) is not given to cussing but it sure sounds like she's been shopping at the four-letter-word store.

     That’s why I got on the phone.

11:01 EDT- I get past a series of automated phone prompts by jamming my index finger into my phone’s “Operator” button while shouting, “Person!”, “Representative!”, “HELP!  For the love of God, I just want to talk to a living human being”… The computer promptly places me on hold so I can listen to soothing Musak for 10 minutes. Then I speak with Leila who informs me there is an outage of some kind. She isn’t sure when it might be fixed so I ask to speak with a supervisor. More Musak.

11:16 EDT- Mayank is very kind and explains that engineers are working on the problem. He gives me a private phone number so I can call him for updates. I patiently explain that I need internet service that actually works. The past few weeks have been filled with a hair-pulling series of service interruptions, intermittent service, painfully slow service and the all-to-often dreaded NO service. Mayunk promises to get back to me within 24 hours. Twenty four hours? That’s when I ask to speak with his supervisor. More Musak.

11:19 EDT-I’m transferred to Manog. Manog explains, once again, that Verizon technicians are on the case. Manog promises to call me in a couple of hours with an update. I tell him I sure appreciate that. But what I really want is someone who can tell me why the system keeps breaking- what’s being done to fix it- and most importantly- I want somebody to tell me that the problem is solved permanently. The casual observer might think Verizon’s equipment must be falling apart- and the company doesn’t want to spend big bucks to fix whatever’s busted. Why else would the system fail every couple of days? I also ask Manog where his office is located. Turns out he’s someplace in India. “Manog, isn’t there somebody in Central Pennsylvania I can talk to?”

11:22 EDT- Back on hold. More Infernal Musak!

11:35 EDT- Zach picks up the phone. Just out of curiosity I ask Zach where he’s located- in the Detroit area.  He sounds very, very far away. “Zach”, I say, “I can barely hear you.” Zach responds, “That’s probably because your call from Pennsylvania to India has been bounced over to Michigan.” Zach repeats the Verizon mantra- “Our people are working on it… We don’t know how long it will take… It’s a chronic problem… No, we don’t know what’s causing it.”  Zach offers to leave an “open ticket” on my issue and will call me when he knows more. Zach refers me to my local business office so I can try to get action.

11:46 EDT- I call Verizon’s Business & Sales Office and get Ms. Peterson on the line. Have you noticed that Verizon doesn’t seem to be very big on full names? Turns out this office is not really local. It’s somewhere in Central New Jersey. Verizon also doesn’t seem to give out very specific locations. I think they’re worried us villagers will grab our pitchforks and launch an attack- if only we knew where they’re hiding! Ms. Peterson has apparently had enough of customer complaints. She asks, “Do you think we do this to you on purpose?” I reply, “Well, no, I’m sure you don’t. But poor service is a problem.” Ms. Peterson puts me on hold.

11:53 EDT- On hold

12:01 EDT- On hold. At least the Musak is different. Still terrible. But different.

12:07 EDT Still waiting.

12:12 EDT- “Okay, Quit your complaining!” That’s what Ms. Peterson yells into the phone as our conversation resumes. I’m pretty sure she’s kidding. At least I hope she is. Ms. Peterson says she’s filed a formal complaint for me. She apologizes for taking so long. She had trouble finding someone willing to take the complaint. I ask, “How long will it take to get a response?” Ms. Peterson says, “Two to three weeks.” “But my internet service is down right now!” Ms. Peterson says, “I’ll transfer you to repair.” Before I can say a word, Denise comes on the line. Denise is in Pittsburgh. She says, and I am not making this up:

“What’s wrong with your phone”
“Nothing. My internet is down.”
“This is telephone repair. I can’t help you.”

     I explain to Denise what’s happened. Denise is very nice and gives me a phone number that’s a direct line to Verizon DSL.

12:14 EDT- Bathroom break. Hey, I’ve been on the phone for over an hour.

12:17 EDT- Calling Verizon DSL. More automated phone prompts. Back on Hold. Please. No MORE Musak. I’ll talk. I’ll talk!!

12:19 EDT- Sharoili answers my call. Yup, I’m back in India. Sharoili is incredibly kind. She explains that my internet service is down and that Verizon engineers are working on it. She says it must be very frustrating for me. And Sharoili says she’ll put her supervisor on the line. I decline, say thank you and end the call. Verizon, you win.


     How many times has this happened to you? It’s not just Verizon. A lot of companies treat their customers like this. But these days, reports of bad customer service travels fast- thanks to social media. Speaking of social media- #VerizonFail

      I think Verizon (and any other company) would be better served by setting up a customer service hotline staffed by people who have the authority to take action. Somebody, somewhere along the line should have said to me: 1) Here’s what’s going on. 2) Here’s what we’re doing to fix it. 3) Here’s what we’re doing to make it right- because we value our customers. I’d suggest a partial refund as a starting point. How about a free month’s service or some kind of upgrade? I tell you, my patience is running thin.

Bottom Line: 

     Years ago I was a journalist in New York City. The NYPD has a special Public Information office known as DCPI to handle calls from reporters. If I called DCPI I spoke with an experienced officer who would give me straight answers. If that officer didn’t have the necessary information he or she was empowered to find out. They returned calls immediately, paid attention to deadlines and got facts ASAP. I had a great relationship with the NYPD. Years later, I worked in Philadelphia. In the City of Brotherly Love the police did not have a special office for Public Information. Typically, I’d have to call a precinct- only to be told the officer in charge of a particular investigation was out- and wouldn’t be back for several days. No one else could (or would) help me. The Philadelphia police often came to us- hoping we’d do stories on tough cases- asking for the public’s help. Which police department do you think I was more willing to assist? Enough on my soapbox. It’s now been 24 hours and none of those Verizon supervisors have called as promised. Anyway, the phone’s ringing. It might be the guys from Comcast returning my call…

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Copyright 2011
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Friday, June 17, 2011

Why I Nearly Fell on my Backside- And How One Company's Positive PR Response Restored my Sense of Balance

     My local school board made headlines this week for hiring a new school superintendent. The new guy is  getting $15,000 a-year more than the last guy- with a base salary of $169,000. Immediately after the hiring the school board decided to lay off or demote 20 school employees because of a budget crisis. One board member called the timing "unfortunate". And I couldn't agree more. I think it's unfortunate that my school board was caught napping in PR class.

     Which leads me to a completely unrelated thought. Occasionally, the staff here at SteveBauerMedia enjoys a good home improvement project- who doesn't? Take my recent bathroom renovation. Admittedly, the new tile floor is not exactly what you would call "level". But I did win a grudge match against the sink- thanks to a nine-pound sledge hammer.

     Here comes the segue... It occurs to me that you don't need a sledge hammer to pound out a decent PR policy. (My school board should wake up and pay attention here.) Not that long ago, the customer was always right. Ahhh, the good old days. These days a lot of people think PR departments exist just to put positive spin on corporate misdeeds. Sadly, that sometimes appears to be the case.

     But not always. Which is my segue back to home improvement. About six weeks ago I decided to repaint the back porch- which was a disaster. I decided to do it right, stripping the paint right down to the bare wood. I started with a primer coat before painting with Behr's Porch & Floor Paint. Remember the name. The paint didn't cover particularly well so I had to use two coats. A few days later I stepped out on the deck and nearly fell on my backside.  It had rained overnight and there was some moisture on the deck. It wasn't just a little slippery. It felt as if I'd hit black ice!

     I called Behr's customer service line to complain. The rep told me there's a warning on the can- telling customers to buy an additive to prevent slippery conditions. Remember the name of the paint? Porch & Floor Paint. Maybe I'm wrong here, but I would presume that porch & floor paint is specially formulated for people to walk on. Who would make floor paint that's slippery?

     I asked to speak with a supervisor. That person told me they hadn't had any problems or complaints. But if the paint isn't slippery why is there a warning on the can? Long story short: the supervisor told me that Behr stands behind its product. He promised to make things right. In fact, he offered to refund the money I spent on paint and pay to have my deck repainted. A few days later a package arrived in the mail with the paperwork I needed to get reimbursed.

     As it turns out, it appears there was some residue left over from the paint that made the surface slick- and since I washed down the deck I haven't experienced any slipping or sliding. I'm still not sure this is the greatest paint in the world- but I'm convinced that Behr's response is something to talk about.

     A lot of companies miss the boat here. Repeating the SteveBauerMedia mantra- "Sometimes you have to do the right thing." Behr knows its reputation is valuable and it's clear to me that Behr's has a corporate policy that takes customer satisfaction seriously. I was not a happy camper when I called. But Behr not only took my complaint seriously- the company promised action. What happens when someone calls your customer service department?

Me: "The hair dryer exploded and the cat is now bald."
McAcme Hair Dryer Customer Service: "That's not possible. Our hair dryers are handmade by Tunisian-speaking electricians."
Me: "I'm looking at a naked cat!"
McAcme Hair Dryer Customer Service: "You probably have faulty wiring in your home."

      Sometimes, when I've had problems with a product some customer service rep will say, "I'm sorry you feel that way". That particular line always makes me "feel" like I should get out my sledge hammer. Did I mention that my school board wants to raise my taxes? Talk about faulty wiring...

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Power of #SM - Using the Dark Side for Goodliness!

    A friend just sent me a video clip along with this tease: You will NEVER guess what this ad is about. That's a pretty good tease. And if you haven't seen this commercial I'll bet you Sara Palin's gun collection that you will not come close to guessing what company is linked to this ad. Take a look!   
     Details about the ad are a bit sketchy. According to information on the internet this devilishly clever commercial aired in Germany- possibly some time ago. I got curious and googled "dirt devil exorcist commercial". The first hit is a link to the Dirt Devil web site. So right there, the vacuum maker is getting bonus points from this video. And there are links to the ad on YouTube, Viad-TV,  Ad Week, so forth and so on. The ad has gone semi-viral with more than 668,000 hits on YouTube. (I think you need at least 1 million hits to lay claim to "Going Viral".)

     A lot of corporations are working on ridiculously clever videos- in hopes of creating an avalanche of attention via the internet and social media. Remember Jennifer Aniston's sex tape? For the record, I just googled "Jennifer Aniston" and her sex tape for the smartwater company is the 9th hit. The smartwater video now has 9,429,408 hits. That is incredible exposure for smartwater. And that kind of free exposure is what everybody wants.

     But that may NOT be the case over at the Dirt Devil company. I can't find the vacuum-maker on Facebook- although there is a page called the "Dirt Devils, Fans of Dirt Devil Vacuum Cleaners". That page has two fans. However, there is a "Dirt Devil Vacuum" page on YouTube. But there are only seven bland commercials posted there- no sign of the exorcist commercial. The YouTube page lists 39 followers- and no activity for the past year. I fired off an e-mail to Dirt Devil's media relations department which was never answered. So I called- and got voice mail. Then I called corporate headquarters and hit voice mail again.

     So here's the take away: I sat down to write a piece about the geniuses at Dirt Devil. But it looks like Dirt Devil isn't "picking up" the importance of social media. If that video is just a parody- which it may well be- Dirt Devil should buy it and put it on the air-along with links to Facebook, Twitter & YouTube. 

     Maybe I should end this post by saying I got the dirt on a big vacuum company? Sorry, the Devil made me do it...

Update: I first wrote to Dirt Devil's Media Relations department on June 1st. On June 17th I received the following reply- and it clears up some questions.


We appreciate your interest in Dirt Devil. The "exorcist" advertisement was created by a student in Germany independent of Dirt Devil.  We have no plans to endorse this advertisement or use it to promote products in the United States. If you have any further questions or concerns you can contact our Marketing Team... Thank you."

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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Flash Mobs and Other Corporate Rituals

     Question: What do you get when you mix break dancers, drummers, a Broadway show tune and a bewildered crowd?  

     Answer: You get a snazzy taste of the big apple and some instant street cred for a major financial corporation. Check out this YouTube video:

     As you probably noticed, the sponsor is Wells Fargo. The company has its own YouTube channel. The video you just saw is less than two months old and it's already been viewed1,455,019 times. I'm not sure that counts as going viral. But nearly one and a-half million people have seen it. And when they see it they see "Wells Fargo". It's a nice trick when you get that many people to your site where they see the invitation below:

Welcome to the Wells Fargo YouTube channel  
Here, you can learn a bit about our history, browse recent TV commercials, watch informative product videos or view highlights from our recent events.

Also, be sure to check out our blogs, covering everything from student loans to environmental sustainability:

Or ask us your questions by following us on Twitter:

     There are lots of other videos from Wells Fargo on YouTube. And a lot of them are in Spanish. That's a blog for another day. The main point is that people who watch the videos are engaged. Here are a couple of random comments.

"Hundreds wondered where their trashcans went...."

"That was terrific and enjoyed every minute of it. Those young people were outstanding and congratulate you on this video."

"Who cares who paid for it, it's pretty cool to see a group get together and put on a free show in the middle of the street like that.
Looked like everyone there watching enjoyed it, and isn't that what it's all about?"

     Oh sure, there are negative comments too. Some people don't like Wells Fargo. Or they don't think this performance qualifies as a true "Flash Mob". But so what? As I said, the video is engaging people and they're generally associating Wells Fargo with a fun, feel-good event.

     I know a lot of PR professionals don't believe in social media. There is confusing and conflicting data on how effective social media is as a communications tool. I'm not certain how good it is or might become. But even if SM is just a fad it can still be good great exposure for your company and/or clients. And what if it's not a fad? What if this really IS the big communication/marketing platform for the next 10-20 years? Companies that miss the boat may have that sinking feeling for a long time to come.
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