Interesting conversation with a PR guest speaker in my Entrepreneurial Marketing at the University of Washington class recently about whether or not young companies should give to charities. The origin of the discussion was a 2011 Inc. Magazine story on The New Rules of Getting Press for Your Startup. One rule was: Be Charitable, quoting Ryan Carlin of Roaming Hunger saying that good press also results from good deeds. “Attaching yourself to a benefit or charity is one of the easiest and most beneficial practices in PR,” he says. “Consumers love hearing about charitable organizations and their events, and journalists know this.”
While clearly not wanting to, our speaker had to disagree with Mr. Carlin’s advice. And I had to agree with her. Anyone who’s ever tried to get press coverage of a nonprofit’s events just because the nonprofit was having an event knows all too well that journalists don’t particularly care about yet another charity event. TV cares about great visuals and if you’re closing down city streets for a fundraising run then, yes, there’s a decent chance the run will make the news in one way or another. Few other charitable events are publicity slam-dunks. Have you never watched news coverage from some natural disaster where the reporter on camera mentions companies donating truckloads of water or blankets without mentioning the company’s name or showing the logo on the truck? Even though you’ll get plenty of advice that you can get media coverage of your charitable marketing efforts — such as this Forbes article on the 5 Characteristic of a Successful Cause Marketing Campaign — there’s no media exposure guarantee attached to donating product or even labor. If that’s your sole reason for making the donation, it’s a risky marketing investment.
I’m a huge fan of charitable giving and donate both time and money every year. But I believe that getting involved with a charity just because you hope to get press coverage for it is a crummy reason for supporting a charity. There are much better reasons for getting involved with charities, even as a very young company, and here they are:
It’s in your DNA
Some brands, famously TOMS Shoes, are built with charitable components. While not every business can design some type of charitable component in to its very business plan, many if not most have the type of brand values that align really well with charitable giving, whether that come in the form of fundraising for charities, annual in-service events with employees or something bigger.
Your employees care
People generally like working for a company that does good in their community and the world. This is why matching gifts, employee in-service programs, company tee-shirts for groups getting together for fundraising walks and similar activities are as popular as they are. Supporting those activities are much easier for established businesses. Startups are typically very short on the key resources of money, time and people, yet there are ways to get involved at an early stage such rallying the whole team for a fundraising walk. If you have employees already, find out what causes matter to them and what charitable activities interest them.
Your customers care
What matters to your customers and aligns with your brand? The story is old, yet it’s excellent: When SleepCountry USA was a young company, Founder Sunny Kobe Cook partnered with a charity that reconditioned donated mattresses for battered women’s shelters. The program was elegant in many ways. Customers might be excited about having a brand new mattress, but getting rid of the old one was a pain. How happy would they be to have SleepCountry take that mattress off their hands? The trucks left full of mattresses and furniture and came back empty. Having them return with the customers’ old mattresses was an incremental cost that varied with fuel prices. But disposing of those mattresses — that could add up fast. Finding a partner to refurbish the mattresses donate them to shelters was good for her business financially. Being able to hand the customer a donation receipt AND take away their used mattress? What was the value of that?
Enormous! According to customer feedback cards, 30% of customers said they came to SleepCountry BECAUSE OF THE MATTRESS DONATION PROGRAM! That’s a hugely measurable result. The program mattered so much to the customers that for 30% of them it was the deciding factor on where to shop. Being involved in causes that matter to your customers can be excellent business. Do you know what causes or issues your customers care about?
Setting your own course
Even if your charitable programs have to wait for positive cash flow, think about and plan for them right out of the gate. Let your organization’s culture and brand personality drive the type of causes you would consider adopting and your future involvement. Then you’ll be ready when the first request comes in to put a donation jar next to the coffee machine or order logo tee-shirts for your team’s charity 5k. You’ll also be ready to capitalize on opportunities you never could have foreseen.
Seattle-based J&D’s Foods, makers of Bacon Salt, provide a terrific example of that. Operation Bacon Salt began with an email from a U.S. Marine serving in Iraq and missing his bacon. So Co-Founders Justin Esch and Dave Lefkow shipped the Marine a box of Bacon Salt. The happy soldier wrote back, including photos of his unit loving their Bacon Salt on just about everything they ate. J&D began sponsoring a unit a month and invited soldiers to email them to get on the list. Anyone ordering Bacon Salt directly from the company and shipping to a military address can get a 50% discount with the promo code baconsaltfortroups.
So you tell me: should entrepreneurs create charitable programs to get publicity?
HireArt, which uses work samples and video interviews to assess candidates’ job skills, is the subject of Thomas L. Friedman How To Get A Job op-ed in today’s New York Times. The company, which receives 500 applications for every opening posted through its site, creates tests to see how well a candidate can do the actual work the job requires. Impressive.
The idea of testing candidates might be a shock to some interviewing, but it’s nothing new. I took hiring tests as a fresh job candidate oh so long ago. Both of the agencies I worked for used standard tests for all entry level candidates — including intern candidates — immediately after the screening round to determine who should advance to interview rounds. We had to test. Degrees, GPAs, work samples, even previous internship experience wasn’t always a reliable indicator of who could actually do the work. HireArt’s taken the idea to a level of science.
Friedman quotes HireArt Co-founder Eleonora Sharef saying: “The market is broken on both sides. Many applicants don’t have the skills that employers are seeking and don’t know how to get them. But employers also … have unrealistic expectations. … They don’t want to train you and they expect you to be overqualified.”
I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about this very problem as I weigh alternatives for dramatically updating my Entrepreneurial Marketing class at the University of Washington where we talk about building a brand from scratch, launching a company on shoestring budgets, using creativity to make up for itty bitty budgets and equally tiny teams. I believe I have three equal customer groups for my class: 1) our region’s entrepreneurs seeking entry-level marketing help; 2) the budding entrepreneurs sitting in my classroom determined to create their own job; and 3) the marketing majors who’d just like to be gainfully employed after graduation. I’ve talked to entrepreneurs about what they want in entry level candidates. I’ve talked to my students about what they’re learning from job interviews. My little sampling matches Sharef’s comments. So what to do to benefit both the students and our region’s entrepreneurial community?
There’s no question in my mind that students need job skills training. Everyone, it seems, wants to hire social media skills. Lots want search engine optimization skills. All want to hire people who can critically think. I believe I can do better when it comes to skills training even within the confines of a 10-week course. But what about that last bit? Critical thinking.
I know I frustrate my students because I won’t tell them what I’m looking for on assignments. That’s because I’m looking for evidence that they’re thinking critically about the situation they’re handed. I’m a pain in the butt about spelling, grammar and punctuation which truly is a problem at the collegiate level. I’m not alone. HireArt’s Sharef told Friedman what surprised her most is candidates’ collective poor writing and grammar.
To get jobs, graduates need demonstrable skills a la job training, high standards for their own communications skills, a hunger to keep learning, a strong work ethic and an ability to think and reason with available data. Now if only I could figure out how to work that into one 10-week course.
Did you video the presentation?
A friend had just finished telling me about the amazing presentation one of her company’s clients had given at a recent conference. He’d actually done a demo of her 4-person company’s product as part of his presentation.
Wow! Did she get a video of it?
No. She was working the booth as an exhibitor. Four people. Really limited resources.
And that’s the challenge, isn’t it. My friend had recommended the customer to speak at this conference. There was no predicting exactly what the customer would say when presenting, but given the topic, it seemed likely the startup was going to get some props.
What if they’d been able to video that presentation? They’ve got footage. With a little inexpensive editing software, maybe there’s a little YouTube video or a video testimonial for the startup’s website if the customer would agree. iPhone quality would be just fine for YouTube certainly and probably for a website video clip.
They’ve got a video file a temp could transcribe into a Word document relatively cheaply. Now they’ve got this transcript they could hand to a writer to create (with customer permission, of course) a case study, a blog post – maybe under the customer’s byline, a sales handout, website copy. Maybe there’s fodder for a pitch to a trade publication based on this case study. Maybe the client would agree to have his slide deck put on SlideShare. Another link to leverage. Maybe there are tidbits that could be pulled out for tips to post on the startup’s Facebook or Google+ page or to tweet to their online world. All of it benefits the customer as well who’s seen in all these new places looking just as smart as he is for using this tool to effectively manage his business. He’d be getting more return for his time doing the presentation in the first place.
And all of these opportunities for the initial price of finding somebody willing to sit in the front row, hold an iPhone for an hour and record a presentation.
It’s often only in hindsight that all these missed opportunities become glaringly obvious. Which is why you want at least a skeletal marketing plan that outlines how to maximize every opportunity that pops up to capture, create and use content. Consider it a template of how to wring every cent of value out of every tactic.
With hindsight, it’s easy to see the cost-effectiveness of buying a flip cam, begging a close personal friend (if no one else is available) with a really nice dinner to come to the session and paying for their registration fee just to capture that presentation. It’s a gamble: the startup team had no way of knowing the customer’s presentation would include a near-commercial for their product. But the odds were good they’d have some role and get some good content to use and reuse.
Does your plan include a template of how to maximize opportunities when they arise?
A student tried to stump me Tuesday during a conversation about positioning.
“For a kids’ energy drink, would you target the kids or the moms?”
Depends, I said. For instance, how old are the kids? There’s a bit of a difference between three-year-olds and thirteen-year-olds. Teenagers, he said. Then probably teenagers, I said.
“Interesting,” he said and went on to tell me about an article he just read talking about how much better an energy drink was doing since targeting moms. A more extensive discussion followed.
To the “interesting” comment, I very much wanted to respond: not really.
You target after segmenting and you segment based on knowledge. What do you know about the consumers? What do you know about the competition? Where’s the gap in the market that you can fill?
Every other decision is based upon that. Let’s say a beverage company discovered through its research that a good percentage of moms were concerned about the energy drinks their teenagers were drinking. They figure out a recipe that still gives the kick but is a lot healthier. Absolutely the target would be moms. The distribution channel would be grocery stores. Moms make almost all the grocery buying decisions. And yes, the teenagers would drink it. Because it’s free, in the refrigerator and tastes good.
That could be one scenario. But the point is you start with the research. You find the gap and you fill it. You don’t just pick a target market out of thin air.
It isn’t about what you think. You have to have reason to believe and the stronger that reason is the better. The closer you get to knowing what your target segment wants, the stronger your business opportunity is going to be.
As we learn more and understand more, we move away from what we think to having a reason to believing all the way to actually knowing. But absolutely certainty is an unachievable goal. What you’re trying to do is inform your intuition.
Choosing a target market isn’t answering a pop quiz. It’s an informed decision. Was yours?
Breaking News Service Essential Social Media Marketing Tool
Monday, April 15th was obviously a very sad day in the United States of America. What kind of cowardice it takes to plant explosives at a marathon is beyond my comprehension. The fact that things like this happen is beyond all degrees of sad. The fact marketers and brand managers have to anticipate something this horrible might happen and plan accordingly is appalling. But they do.
That was quickly obviously on Twitter this afternoon as the Twitterverse started piling on the scheduled posts used by nearly every brand as they contributed suddenly meaningless chatter to a conversation otherwise dedicated to following an unfolding tragedy. Social media managers on top of their games scrambled to cancel scheduled posts. They certainly got plenty of free advice to do exactly that as evidenced by this brief example from just after 1:30pm Pacific from a pile of Twitter posts.
There were also great examples of companies letting their human side clearly show and demonstrating their respect for the suffering flowing out of Boston. Seattle-based DRY Soda, for instance, posted the message below to the company Facebook page.
It would seem to simple, having a little empathy for people facing a horror. And if every single brand lived online, it would be. It’s much tougher for the small businesses who dedicate a slice of every day to posting content they hope will be valuable and another slide being sure they respond to those speaking directly to them online.
Unlike big brands with full time social media teams, these small business folk are just as likely to be in a sales meeting as on Twitter at any given minute in the business day. Their ability to respond quickly to essentially shut down their outbound social media marketing is limited. But when the nation is hurting from an attack, that doesn’t matter, a sentiment clearly expressed by JoelleTweeted below:
Equally important to small businesses using tools like Hootsuite (which I use) to stay on top of their social media platforms is a subscription service that will text them when news breaks. Having such a tool doesn’t necessarily mean a small business can instantly respond and pull down scheduled posts. But it drastically increases the chances you’ll still have scheduled tweets, Facebook posts and Pinterest shots trying to maintain happy brand promotion two hours after your online community first started reeling from shock. I have CNN’s iPad app on my Mini, but I’m not advocating for them particularly. Mashable published a great list of breaking news accounts on Twitter and if you do nothing else to know when big news is happening, follow one of them. Click on the following headline for Mashable’s 10 Must-Follow Breaking News Accounts on Twitter story.
How you make sure you’re aware of what’s going on in the world as part of your social media marketing program doesn’t matter. Just do it.
That’s the question an article in yesterday’s New York Times Business Day titled “Sponsoring Articles, Not Just Ads” seems to be asking yet not asking. So I’ll ask it: are they?
To me, that’s the core issue. And it’s a tricky question. We have a collision of circumstances happening. On the one hand we have the new thing everybody’s talking about — content marketing. It’s the way to build reputation, relationships with customers, providers and community members and, most importantly, provide value instead of pitching specials and discounts. On the other, media is in trouble and it seems ludicrous to begrudge publishers attempts to find new ways to bring in the revenue that allows their editorial staff to do real journalism work.
The real job of journalism is to serve people — readers, viewers, listeners — and in so doing perform the important watch dog function that earned the press the name Forth Estate, for keeping an eye on our governments. If people are being mislead, that’s clearly a disservice. But if not, and they value the information being shared with them, is it a disservice?
Personally, I’d prefer to see content a company paid to have in any media outlet clearly marked. And yet, I could very fairly be labeled a hypocrite for saying so. Why?
Way longer ago than I’d care to admit, I got to write entire sections for speciality consumer magazines on behalf of my clients when I was in Minneapolis. The magazines, called special interest publications or SIPs for short, produced and sold through newsstands by some of the biggest magazine publishing houses in America, then had what they called a “bulking section.” Positioned right in the middle of the magazine, this 16-page section was typically printed in black ink only on cheaper, bulkier stock and served to literally bulk up the SIPs. They often dealt with a single broad topic area — like outdoor living in a home improvement special interest magazine — and were an extra burden to the specialty publications’ sparse editorial teams.
I wrote several of those sections benefitting a bevy of clients whose businesses grouped into a category like that. If I recall correctly, the one I referenced above involved Toro outdoor lighting, Weyerhaeuser pressure-treated special lumber and DAP, a USG subsidiary that made outdoor wood stains. The articles were about how to design outdoor lighting for aesthetics and home security, making decks and gazebos cooler and more in keeping with a home’s architectural style and designing beautiful planting beds. My clients paid my firm for my time to write and my boss’s time to edit the articles, paid for illustrators to provide art and that was pretty much it. This was strictly the editorial side of the house. No ad purchase involved.
I’m quite sure my firm originally got the opportunity to create these sections because my boss was a former Better Homes & Gardens editor, so the SIP editors knew his work and trusted his journalistic ethics. He knew how to write for their audiences, had exceedingly high journalistic standards for all our work and was an absolutely brutal editor. I learned an enormous amount working for him. We got to keep doing it because our team developed a track record with a select group of SIP editors who knew we’d deliver the goods if we pitched an idea for a bulking section.
So were they a disservice to readers? As you might expect, I’d argue no. We worked hard to make them good sections, chock full of useful information, tips and ideas. They did mention the companies and they did tout product attributes. Why else would we do them? But that same product information was carried in myriad editor-written materials showing up in countless magazine and newspaper stories nationwide. Getting that done was our job.
Ultimately aren’t the readers already determining what’s valuable to them by what they choose to read and share? One article on Google Glass technology on Mashable was shared almost 2,000 times on social media. They probably shared it because they liked it. Maybe that’s the real criteria we should consider.
Volha was practically shaking, she was so excited to tell me about the undergraduate Capstone project she and her fellow UW chemical engineers had taken to the final round of the Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC) at Seattle Center yesterday. When her team, PolyDrop, won the $10,000 grand prize I could recognize her voice among the happy screams from the back of the room.
PolyDrop manufactures additives that makes regular coatings like paint conductive, opening up, as the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship described when announcing the winners, “a world of opportunity for carbon fiber composites in transportation industries.” A funny thing happens on the way to using light-weight carbon fiber materials for cars and plane to reduce fuel consumption and decrease carbon dioxide emissions: those carbon fiber composites accumulate a static charge that will interfere with a vehicle’s sensitive electronics. PolyDrop can fix that.
I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting any members of the PolyDrop team before the EIC, but I knew nearly half of the second place team from last Fall’s Environmental Innovation Practicum, which I teach at UW. That team, Pure Blue Technologies, is developing a safer, smaller, more cost-effective water disinfection technology for treating the average of seven barrels of water that comes from extracting one barrel of oil. Called “produced water,” it has to be disinfected to meet EPA regulations, even if it is just going to be disposed. In the U.S. alone, we’re talking about 353 billion gallons of highly contaminated produced water.
I stopped to congratulate another team from this year’s class, Upcycled, developer of a handy little bio-briquette maker initially targeting markets in India, and one from last year, EcoMembrane, developing a better technology EcoMembrane is developing a new technology for preventing scaling and fouling of desalination and wastewater treatment membranes using ultrasound. Founder Jaffer Alali told me getting Pacific Northwesterners to grasp the need for desalination is a bit trickier than it was in Jordan where he was a teaching assistant recently. Yet desalination is news here in the U.S. too. We talked about San Diego’s recent announcement for a big plant. I was so proud of him and his tenacity in continuing to develop his technology and gain industry support for that work. Both these teams won $2,500 Honorable Mention prizes along with Sunscroll from Western Washington for its solar-charged LED light and USB charging station. You can read more about all of the teams at UW’s Foster Unplugged Blog: $22,500 Awarded to Environmental/Cleantech Innovators. Seattle’s KING5 TV also covered the competition on its Evening Magazine program, which is wonderful!
As I made a last round before heading home, I talked with another student from this Fall’s Practicum, a brilliant electrical engineering student who has come so very far, far since Dec. in identifying a real potential market and articulating a viable value proposition for that sector. After working so hard and pitching his heart out all afternoon, he struggled to contain his disappointment to be walking away without a prize. I resisted the enormous temptation to give him a consoling hug. But the team intends to keep developing their technology and are entering the UW Business Plan Competition, one with an even bigger purse than the EIC offers.
These are the faces of environmental innovation in this region — young, passionate, committed and (most importantly in my mind) hopeful. They see possibilities for making a difference all around them. What’s so cool to me is being able to see so many possibilities in them. I can’t wait to see where they take it from here!
One in four Americans with a 2-car garage can’t park their car in that garage.
The average American has $7,000 worth of unused stuff in their homes.
Wow! Those are some of the numbers Nick Huzar, CEO and Founder of OfferUp, shared with my Entrepreneurial Marketing undergrads at the University of Washington Tues. They set the stage to explain the big problem OfferUp is set to solve: how to make selling all that stuff we have and don’t need or want as easy as taking a smartphone picture.
Every quarter, I ask an entrepreneur to come to the first day of class and tell their story. For me, the purpose is three-fold: 1) entrepreneurship majors get a great opportunity to hear from and question somebody doing exactly what they want to do; 2) marketing majors get their brains in the “few resources” space of entrepreneurs really fast; and 3) it makes good use of a class day for which the students have done no reading or preparation!
Nick was a fantastic first day speaker. He couldn’t have done a better job of setting up the course material if he’d been working from a script instead of just sharing what he wanted to share with the packed classroom. For instance, on selecting the target market and having a single focus early on:
“I’m not the target market. I needed to stop developing for me and just shut up and listen to moms.” Why moms? They buy and sell a lot of stuff. Kids grow fast. They’re the highest adopters of smartphones. They weren’t at all happy with available options. They love OfferUp. Nick said half of his downloads are organic. Word of mouth at its finest.
“Don’t try to please everyone right away. That never works.”
And then there were the references to guerrilla techniques, like t-shirts. Pointing to the shirt he was wearing, with OfferUp’s logo and tagline, Nick said: “I wear t-shirts to every networking event I attend. I have one that says ‘Developers wanted’ in three languages. It helped me find one of the guys who’s helping build the company. They cost like $25.” You can’t beat that for cost-effective marketing.
Rich Tong and John Zagula of Ignition Partners offered that advice when they wrote The Marketing Playbook. I found myself channeling them the last couple weeks as I’ve been having a fabulous time mentoring Fledgings, companies participating in the current 10-week program at Fledge, an incubator for socially conscious companies (read TriplePundit’s article about the program).
There’s so much to scope out when you’re in the early stages of creating a company. One thing you can’t take your eye off is this: who will pay you? In business-to-business settings, the individual with purchasing authority may not be the individual who wants your product or service. The ramifications for your business plan, your sales plan, your communications plan and your messaging are enormous.
In class, I love to use Google as an example. Everybody knows how Google makes most of its money. And it doesn’t take long before the entire group understands that if huge numbers of people switched search engines, that Google’s advertising revenue will vaporize. Yet it’s tougher for them to look at a young website that intends to make money off advertising and realize advertisers aren’t the primary audience; that it’s all about eyeballs. The true target customer is the consumer who’ll use the site. Without them, there’s no one to whom to advertise and therefore no revenue.
It’s not only with the media model, where readers/viewers/listeners use the product for cheap or free and true revenue comes from ads, that it can get confusing. Selling into large companies or academic institutions can put a startup in the same position. When you talk to prospective users, make sure you understand their role in the purchasing decision, too. Don’t just get product feedback.
It’s fantastic that the people who need your product are saying they love it. Just make sure the people who’d pay for it will love it, too.
Deanna Leung Madden and Michele Mehl, of Seattle’s BuzzBuilders, came to talk to my students Tuesday about using PR in entrepreneurial marketing. Toward the end of their info-packed talk, they referenced the recent spat between Tesla CEO Elon Musk and the New York Times. I’ve already written two posts related to that, first were tips for managing product reviews followed by a post on why considering who your real customer is should determine who you want to review your product and how. I’m afraid I now have to use my favorite automotive brand as an example one more time. Technically, this is the 3rd and final post in this series.
I offer these tips for handling negative coverage.
Tip #1: Recognize the threat.
Except for a few rare occasions when you’d draw more attention the negative coverage than it would garner on its own, this is not a “let sleeping dogs lie” situation. Negative coverage, particularly from a large, well respected media outlet, can do an enormous amount of brand damage. You do have to take steps to quickly repair that damage. Speed matters. Channel your inner Spock. Shut off your emotions and truly analyze the piece:
- Note legitimate criticism. You’re going to have to own up to that to have any credibility. This is a particularly tough one, but failure to acknowledge faults only undermines your brand’s integrity with your community.
- Flag any factual inaccuracies. These are your genuine points of defense and you want to challenge them. Be wary of factual inaccuracies that readers might consider nits. They won’t build your case and instead will make you look like a whiner.
- Check next for perspectives that disagree with other “parallel” writers on the same subject. By parallel I mean another media outlet in or at least near the same level of influence. These can become reference links that help readers recognize points that may be opinion or tied to a specific experience rather than a hard, cold fact.
Use this analysis to quickly craft your response points.
Tip #2: Muzzle the attack dog.
We expect every CEO to aggressively defend his or her company. But that ancient “count to 10″ piece of advice your mom may have given you, is a good one to follow here. Even if experience has taught you not to naturally trust the journalist in doing their best to be unbiased and fair in their reporting, do not attack them personally. Do not attack the integrity of the media outlet.
Yep, this could do a lot of damage and you need to response fast. Yep, you’re pissed. Yep, you’ve been burned before. But it’s a fine line between being seen as responsibly defending your product and brand and being an attack dog. What if, instead of the tweets captured to the right, Elon Musk has sent out these:
Just read article @jbrodernyt. So not the experience we wanted for you. Checking vehicle logs to see what happened. Call you ASAP.
He could have sent that while the logs were being checked. It’s an immediate response. Broder knows he’s going to be challenged (this, unfortunately, would’ve been the first time he knew Tesla could see the logs, but I made that point in an earlier post). Followers know there’s more coming and they might read the review with a more questioning mind. What’s NOT happening is that Musk isn’t questioning Broder’s integrity. He’s expressing a little sympathy. After all, partly self-inflicted or not, Broder did have a pretty rotten experience.
Crisis communications 101 tells you to always express sympathy for those affected. Despite having soaring blood pressure, as I’m betting he did, Musk could have done that here.
Tip #3: Engage the journalist directly.
I’m sure Tesla would prefer to never let this particular journalist touch one of its cars ever again, but the fact is, it needs the New York Times. It’s not smart to alienate one of America’s most elite newspapers. The business is called public relations for a reason: it’s about relationships. Take 10 minutes to prep. Have the data in front of you. Know how you’re going to approach the subject. Get emotions under control. And dial the phone. If you don’t immediately back the journalist again a wall, you might find they’re willing to work with you to soften the blow. Handed the vehicle logs, perhaps Broder would’ve written a follow up piece acknowledging that he didn’t quite manage this test smartly and that his quickly jotted notes while driving were a bit off. Maybe he’d agree to give it a second drive and write another piece. You never know until you actually talk to the writer.
Tip #4: Escalate intelligently.
Tesla needed to publish the vehicle logs. They were the factual inaccuracies that kept a debate going about the Model S’s performance. But the blog post, following the advice above, could have taken a considered tone versus a vindictive one. It could’ve noted that taking really accurate notes while driving is a bit dangerous, so minor errors are understandable. Tesla could’ve taken responsibility for not working more closely with the writer to ensure he knew what an owner would know about getting a full charge.
The tweet directing readers to the blog could have said: Tesla S logs don’t quite line up with @NYTimes review. See for yourself. Logs posted on blog.
Some of the same drama would have had to play out because Tesla couldn’t afford to have the review stand as the final word. But the tone of whole thing could have been dramatically different. The resulting interview Musk had to give to Bloomberg TV might have gone a bit differently as well.
Tip #5: Don’t get caught flat-footed again.
If you take nothing away from this point but this one, you’ll be OK. Create a crisis communications plan! Then you’ll be ready to deal quickly with bad press or any other situation that could damage your brand and impact sales. But better by far, the mere act of creating a plan trains the entire team to spot risky situations before hand so you can often avoid ones that have the potential to go badly — assuming they’re in your control.
How to approach crisis communications planning will have to wait for another day.
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