Friday, December 5, 2014

Dr. Gil Lederman, Jonah Engler & Others On Communicating

·“Good writing skills can help you come across as more credible, more capable, than a colleague who frequently has typos and grammatical errors.” Renee O’Farrell

·“Communicating is everything.” Dr. Gil Lederman

·“Supervisors and business associates who express themselves well in writing inspire a feeling of confidence in their abilities from employees or colleagues.” Brian Hill 

·“Communication skills, including writing, are one of the most important transferable skills that workers possess. Most business professionals, such as marketing, finance, and research and development managers, need excellent writing skills to properly convey ideas and concepts.” Rick Suttle

·“Strong written communication conveys intelligence, professionalism and attention to detail. These are qualities that are key in leadership roles where you represent the image of the business.” Neil Kokemuller

·"There are not many jobs in any industry that do not require good writing skills, and poor skills may even leave you at a disadvantage when searching for employment.” Kevin Withers

·"It's always been important for professionals and academics to use proper grammar and communicate well, but now, it's increasingly important for more people to have good writing skills.” Sarah Wright 

·“Good writing skills communicate intelligence, professionalism, and competency.” Serena Franken 

·“Strong writing abilities can help you move up the corporate ladder. The Grammarly study noted that fewer grammatical errors correlate with more promotions and, of course, higher salaries.” Robert Hosking

·“Writing, talking and more works – as long as people are listening.” Jonah Engler

·“Written communication to employees is one way a company shows that it values their contribution and appreciates their efforts.” Brian Hill

·“In my experience, the practice of good, collaborative writing makes the difference between great business and bad business — a sale or no sale.” Kyle Wiens

·“The skills that make us better writers make us better explainers, better persuaders, and better thinkers. They are the skills that allow us to “sell” our ideas effectively, whether in giving a presentation to potential funders of our company, proposing a new project to our corporate leadership, or transmitting a new policy to our employees.” Dustin Wax

·“While much emphasis is placed on verbal and listening skills in communication, writing also conveys messages internally and externally for an organization.” Neil Kokemuller

·“The writing skills you develop now will impact your future job applications, promotions, career advancements, and even our economy.” Allison VanNest

·“Professionals spend more time each day writing and are inundated with written communications, so it is imperative that employees be able to write succinctly and write well.” Joyce E.A. Russell

·"Bad writing can have a wide-ranging, negative effect on your business, from creating a less-than-coherent business plan and hampering your efforts to attract investors, to communicating with employees, vendors and even your customers.” Lauren Simonds 

·“Writing doesn’t just communicate ideas; it generates them. If you’re bad at writing and don’t like to do it, you’ll miss out on most of the ideas writing would have generated.” Paul Graham

·"Today, writing well is more important than ever. Far from being the province of a select few as it was in Hemingway’s day, writing is a daily occupation for all of us — in email, on blogs, and through social media.” Jocelyn K. Glei

·“Sharp writing conveys the impression that a sharp mind composed the words. Sloppy writing, on the other hand, can make others conclude that the creator is not intelligent. Some might even question their job-related competence.” Brian Hill

·“Your professional image is impacted by your writing skills. The better your skills are, the better your image is.” Serena Franken

·“Good writing skills are a key asset at every stage of your career, from the moment you write your very first cover letter and resume/CV until your retirement party.” Robert Hosking

Friday, November 21, 2014

PS4 or XBOX One - Who wins the Console War this Christmas?

So, after a bit more than a year on the market, who is leading the console game war – Sony’s Playstation 4 or Microsoft’s XBOX One? Set aside for a moment the notion that console gaming is on borrowed time. In fact marinate on this: between the two, the gaming answer to Hatfield and McCoy have sold a whopping 24 million units … in the first year alone. Before you say, “well, really, how many is that,” think about this – that’s a 70% increase over the sales of the equally lauded PS3 and XBOX 360.
Here’s the thing…the race for supremacy isn’t, at this point, very close. To date, Sony has sold about 14 million units while Microsoft has shipped roughly ten million. Why the gap? Well, the knock on XBOX is that it’s too general of a machine. Sony went after gamers primarily while Microsoft chased the larger streaming entertainment audience. Nobody needs to tell anyone just how crowded that particular marketplace is at the moment. Also, let’s not forget that the One cost $100 more than the 4 when it hit the market. Sure, XBOX eventually relented, offering a cheaper version without the Kinect camera – which is actually pretty cool, but nobody really cared overmuch about.
Slowly, Microsoft began to catch up. Now, with the 2014 holiday season looming, consumers who decided to get another year out of their PS3 or 360 might be tempted to upgrade. Still, that scenario offers no clear favorites. For every Only One Console Halo or Bloodborne, there are a host of games whose designers have refused to be relegated to only half the market.
But what could give one or the other the advantage this holiday season? Well, first, consider Sony’s new “Playstation Vue,” which is planned to compete with standard cable. Sony hopes this will entice gamers to use their PS4’s even more and to encourage non-gamers to buy into what Sony is offering from a streaming platform.
But the real question will once again be just how ready the market is to give up on gaming consoles altogether. Is the age of the mobile-gamer finally here? Will both Playstation and XBOX be as current as Sega come next January? Don’t laugh, both GTA5 and Destiny had strong digital download numbers, and other games maintain strong fan followings. Wherever the market turns, one thing is certain: both Sony and Microsoft will have to weather the onslaught of wireless gaming while keeping an eye on each other.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

What makes a great leader? Inspirational Quotes Curated by Gennady Barsky

Leaders aren't born, nor are they made over night. If you study the great leaders - you can establish the Do's and Don'ts for becoming a leader. We have invited Gennady Barsky to curate the best quotes on What makes a Leader. Hopefully this will provide great inspiration for those who want to be leaders of people.

What constitutes a great leader – here are some quotes on the issue:

·        “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” Warren Bennis

·       “Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.” Norman Schwarzkopf

·       “Leaders do not proclaim themselves as leaders – they simply are that.”  Jonah Engler

·       “Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” Peter Drucker

·       “I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” Ralph Nader

·       “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” Kenneth Blanchard

·       “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” General Dwight Eisenhower

·       “Education is the mother of leadership.” Wendell Willkie

·       “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” John F. Kennedy

·       “Leadership does not always wear the harness of compromise.” Woodrow Wilson

·       “To have long term success as a coach or in any position of leadership, you have to be obsessed in some way.” Pat Riley

·       “True leadership lies in guiding others to success. In ensuring that everyone is performing at their best, doing the work they are pledged to do and doing it well.” Bill Owens

·       “Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.” John C. Maxwell

·       “The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes.” Tony Blair

·       “Leaders simply go out and make it happen.” Gennady Barsky

·        “The challenge of leadership is to be strong but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not a bully; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.” Jim Rohn

·        “Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out.” Stephen Covey

·       “The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.” John Buchan

·       “Leadership is intentional influence.” Michael McKinney

·       “Leadership is the ability to establish standards and manage a creative climate where people are self-motivated toward the mastery of long term constructive goals, in a participatory environment of mutual respect, compatible with personal values.” Mike Vance

·     “The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can't blow an uncertain trumpet.” Father Theodore M. Hesburgh

Friday, November 7, 2014

New York Tech Scene Hype

New York City is considered by many business enthusiasts to be the new mecca of technology start-ups. Techies are even calling it the Silicon Valley of the East, much to the chagrin of people who see more successful Boston and Seattle-based companies as proof that the Big Apple could never compete. Yet progressively more business-minded hopefuls are relocating to New York City each year. Is the resounding hype on this city's tech market going to produce fruitful business? Or will everyone escape to a more profitable area after a thousand more failed start-ups?

Let us examine the evidence surrounding the techie hype. Thus far, New York City has produced only one start-up company that has gone public with a value exceeding $1 billion. That particular company is Tumblr, a blogging website purchased by Yahoo in 2013 for approximately $1.1 billion.

Besides Tumblr, New York City shows no signs of other legitimately profitable tech start-ups, at least, none that have been venture-backed. Of course, there are a few other companies in the city such as AppNexus and Buzzfeed valued at more than $1 billion on paper, lifted up by certain investors and venture capitalists. But paper value can drop in an instant; the companies Foursquare and Fab are just two examples of this unfortunate fact.

When you take a look at the most recent exits worth $1 billion, it becomes clear that New York may still have a long way to go in matching the hype. An e-commerce company based in Boston, Wayfair, is raking in the dough; it went public on October 2 at a whopping $2.4 billion, an amount that demolishes Tumblr's achievements. Wayfair closed the day with more than $3 billion, a true testament to the effectiveness of start-ups in competing cities.

Another example of more valuable companies in other cities includes TripAdvisor, a company based in Newton, Massachusetts. It is publicly worth $12 billion and represents just one of the many successful companies based in tech-savvy Newton. If you need even more evidence, take a glance at Austin's company roster with the company RetailMeNot.

Many believe that New York City should instead be compared to Chicago, a smaller city in terms of tech start-ups. But even Groupon, a Chicago-based company with dwindling profits, has a value that quadruples Tumblr's selling price. Let us not forget about Atlanta, Georgia, which is also more logically compared to New York City. Even Atlanta is home to more publicly valuable companies with VMWare at $1.5 billion as just one example.

We are all rooting for New York City to catch up, but with the evidence contradicting the claims, it looks like the Big Apple has a lot of work to do if it wants a shot at being the real Silicon Valley of the East. It is undeniable that New York City is home to publishing empires and hundreds of extremely profitable businesses. However, can it live up to the hype of its tech start-ups? Or is the hype already over in the face of more successful start-ups in other cities?

Friday, October 31, 2014

Texas Vote ID Law

Texas Governor Rick Perry signed SB14 into law in the summer of 2014. The new law was struck down as an unconstitutional poll tax by federal judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, then upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. In an unexpected move, the Supreme Court ruled that the new voter ID restrictions can be exercised and applied during the 2014 midterm elections.

This misbegotten law has served to lock out about 600,000 people in Texas, preventing them from exercising their voting privileges. Many residents live in poverty. To obtain one of the six forms of acceptable I.D., they would have to spend money they don't have, take a day off of work and visit their Department of Public Safety to obtain an Election Identification Certificate or EIC.

Think about the roadblocks that Texas residents face in getting an EIC. Eric Kennie is one of these Austin residents. He collects recyclables for a living. At the end of an average month, he earns a little more than $620.00. What forms of ID does he have?

º Personal photo ID that expired in 2000
º His voter registration card

Because neither of these is an acceptable form of identification that would enable him to obtain an EIC, he won't be voting on November 4. Well then, what about his birth certificate? That won't work either because his birth certificate lists him as "Eric Caruthers," not Eric Kennie. "Caruthers" is his mother's maiden name.

What's more, Kennie has never even left Austin, his hometown. He has never driven. He has never held a U.S. passport. He has never been in the military.

Texas residents trying to obtain their EICs so they can comply with the law and vote are also faced with some considerable hurdles. If they don't own a car, they have to take a bus from their home to a DPS office. They have to wait for their turn – and hope that the forms of ID they have brought with them will be acceptable.

In a real statement of irony, this law, which by the way, is the strictest voter ID law in the country, would have forced Kennie to use the identity on his birth certificate. That action would defeat the "purpose" of this law, which is supposed to defeat voter fraud at the polls. Kennie won't vote this year. Once the election is over, he will resume his fight to obtain an acceptable form of photo ID.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

AT&T rolls the dice on virtual school

Is online education the wave of the future or is it merely a band aid for schooling today – the present and cost-effective way to get a substandard education? While the answer to that particularly loaded question might not be conclusively answered for some time, there’s no doubt many tech companies are looking long and hard at the profit potential of virtual school. Now AT&T has entered the market – at least tangentially.

Recently, Georgia Tech University began offering a major accredited online education program that is substantially funded by AT&T. While some claim that the company is not directly benefitting from the program, AT&T will certainly come out ahead should GTU’s program succeed.

AT&T is not trying to answer the pending question about what virtual schools offer today’s students. Instead, AT&T is poised to pick up where traditional schooling leaves off.

In today’s fast-paced, tech-saturated marketplace, job seekers and those interested in increasing their career prospects must have continuing education. AT&T wants to be on the forefront of providing that education and it wants to offer that product to potential students virtually. It’s a dynamic that takes one of online education’s worst commercial flaws – that it ends abruptly – and eliminates it. Instead of pushing through one group of students and then going after another group, in an endless cycle of marketing and obsolescence, online continuing education providers are hoping to gain customers and keep them coming back. Perhaps not constantly, however, in some form or fashion of continual education.

For now, AT&T funded the Georgia Tech University initiative to test how well the program can train the skilled workers of today and tomorrow. Once they have that down, they can begin working on what comes next. Because what is to come is the one and only certainty in technology – it will definitely change – and someone will need to be there to explain it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Cola Wars Go Green?

Ronn Torossian believes it had to happen sooner or later. The world’s two top soft drink companies have gone green. But not in the way you might be thinking. Recently, both Coke and Pepsi have introduced new low-calorie drinks with one thing in common – Stevia, a natural-based sugar substitute sweetener. Something else these products have in common? Green labels, presumably to echo the “natural” nature of these soft drink options.

PepsiCo has announced that it will launch Pepsi True in mid-October, though it likely won’t be rolling out in stores anytime soon. For now, consumers ccccr US debut last August, and that was in a very limited capacity. But this November, Coca-Cola Life will be available nationwide.

Pepsi True will be available in the familiar 12-ounce cans. Coca-Cola Life will come in both cans and 8-ounce bottles.

Torossian says it’s important to note that, although these are “reduced calorie” offerings, they may not necessarily be able to be marketed as sugar free or “diet” soft drinks. It’s an interesting strategy for both companies. Finding a niche between niches, so to speak. Consider, the new offerings might appeal to regular Coke and Pepsi drinkers who are looking to reduce their sugar and calorie intake. And it might sound good to current diet soda drinkers who just can’t get past the taste.

Coke and Pepsi are hoping to attract consumers from both of these groups to create a market overlap that currently doesn’t exist. Sure, many folks will take either diet or regular in a pinch, but for the most part, these groups are strictly delineated … and by their own choice.

Torossian says that leads to yet another difficult PR risk. Both companies are risking splitting their own customer base. This is not the same as splinter groups, such as Mountain Dew drinkers or Mr. Pibb drinkers. How will the companies address the intentional sacrifice of both regular and diet customers in order to build a market for their stevia brands? It’s an interesting PR and marketing conundrum, but look for the market to provide an answer – and likely in a short period of time.

Like Crystal Pepsi and New Coke before them, new soda ideas that don’t immediately produce generally have a short shelf life.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

GM woes: Now the Corvette???

It might seem like piling on, but really, Ronn Torossian said GM is doing it to itself … and that may not be a bad thing. Aside from the Silverado truck, if anyone had to name an iconic GM model, there is really only one top contender. The Corvette. But now, the auto manufacturer has announced it will stop selling Corvettes. At least temporarily. Yes, seriously.

Sure the latest ‘Vette can go 0 to 60 in less than four seconds, but as far as driving one off the lot … well, you’re pretty much at a stand still. According to a recent press statement, GMhas told Chevy dealers to stop delivery of about 2,000 Corvettes in order to inspect them for a, quote, “suspicious part” that, apparently, has something to do with the driver’s side airbag. Further, GM has also stopped shipments from its Bowling Green, Kentucky plant, the place that has been building Corvettes for three decades. This issue has to do with the parking brake, which “must be inspected to ensure it works on both rear tires.”

Come again? The breaks don’t work and the airbag might be faulty? Oh, and this just in, the Corvette only makes up a few thousand of the 270,000 vehicles GM currently has on recall for a plethora of reasons.

Now, there might be two sides to this PR nightmare. Side one, GM is in it deep. Simple, and it’s likely the tactic Ford and Chrysler will approach. However, that’s not exactly a fair assessment. At the heart of all of GM’s recent troubles has been the fact that they were clearly lax and tardy in resolving an issue that has claimed (at least) nineteen lives. HOWEVER, here they are voluntarily recalling their MOST ICONIC automobile. I’d say that’s cause for an “atta boy.” Yes, recalls are common, and yes, recalls are responsible. But by now, even GM’s top brass have got to be thinking, “What now?”

No matter how they spin it, this will be difficult treading from a public relations perspective. They knew this before they released the statement – but they made the statement, anyway. This is clearly the action of a company that has seen its errors and is working hard to rebuild public trust.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The ANTI Position: How to succeed as the Alternative

By any conceivable measure, Facebook rules the social media world. It’s an uphill battle for similar competitors to find a market niche. Even when they offer a different, and, in some cases, superior experience. So, eventually, it had to happen. Someone had to come along and set up shop as the “anti-Facebook.” A company that offered a similar service, but without the things that people hate – but are forced to tolerate – about Facebook.

Enter “Ello.” The upstart social network is trying to get a skin in the game by capitalizing on the thing most FB users hate the most about the interface – advertisements. That, and the growing list of what some consider to be willful and excessive invasions of privacy. There’s precedence there. Not too long ago, Facebook made headlines for suspending several accounts because the people in question, all entertainers, were using pseudonyms or stage names.

Ello co-founder, Paul Budnitz, believes people may have had enough of Facebook’s Only Show in Town tactics. He is reporting up to 40,000 invite requests to the platform, which is currently in beta stage and very much invite only.

There’s a good reason for that. Ello’s developers are still trying to get the platform finished. They have several features left to complete, features that, if not done, could lead to downtime for beta testers.

There is one concern Budnitz and other developers need to keep in mind – is the buzz about Ello really a populist uprising against privacy invasions or is it just the most popular flavor of the week? That’s one danger in setting up shop as an alternative. When you are primarily “against” something, you tend to draw fans and followers who are also “against” something. They may feel you are what they have always been waiting for, but they may also turn on you as soon as you achieve a modicum of success. Especially if you decide to “go mainstream” or be “about something” positive. Just ask anyone who has ever achieved the double-edged sword of indie success.

The specter of downtime is troubling for a brand based on being something another brand is not. With a fan base already set on “FRUSTRATED,” downtime could be disastrous. So controlled expansion, which is common in social media, is the right move. The next step should be for individuals who have embraced the platform to become “about” something. To put their own positive applications out there in order to establish a place for Ello in the social media marketplace.

So far, step two is going gangbusters. Artists and other social activists have flocked to Ello, partially in response to Facebook’s “by the book” account deletion tactics. And that may be the best selling point of all for Ello. Even though people have to use their “real” names on Facebook, the fakeness of the interactions has become cliché. Unlike Ello, where people are already calling it the place they can really be themselves.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

GM death toll continues to rise

It’s a terrible prospect. You’re a company whose products bring joy to millions, and provides a useful and practical service. Then, a series of mistakes creates the absolute worst-case scenario. A defect that takes lives. It’s horrific, 5W PR CEO Ronn Torossian says. And when your public relations message involves counting bodies, you definitely don’t want to over-estimate the cost of the mistake. But when you under estimate that number, insult follows injury.

And that’s where GM finds itself in the latest update from their ongoing public relations nightmare. In a preliminary report, the company estimated 12 deaths directly resulting from a mechanical defect that was announced too late. But now an independent investigator has raised that number to 19 … and counting. (

Due to the widespread report of the earlier, lower number, GMnot only has to deal with the fallout from the actual tragedy, now they are dealing with the PR issue of incorrect expectations. A horrified consumer public sees not only the number discrepancy but also the number of claims still to be investigated—more than 400.

The increase, combined with the hundreds of claims actually submitted, allows the public to speculate on just how high the number of deaths will reach. And, for the most part, the public is not known for UNDER estimating. Many will assume the worst. Scuttlebutt and memes and speculation will follow—at work, in homes, and online.

The more these numbers are discussed, the less the actual numbers will matter. The increase and unknown will become the focus of conversation. GM is right to get the facts out there, but they must regain control of this narrative. It’s not a conversation any brand wants to engage in, but the sooner all the facts are out, the sooner GM can move on to the next stage in their PR campaign—rebuilding trust.

Other brands have been there, and recently. The formula is proven. Make amends as best as can be made. Then begin to tell stories of happy people cruising around in their favorite cars. Safe, secure, and quality automobiles. There are millions out there on the road, but, for the moment, the only number that matters is seven … and counting.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

5 ways to bring Pizza Hut back from the brink

Decreasing sales at Pizza Hut have led analysts to speculate that YUM Brands should consider selling the pizza chain, especially in light of the continuing growth from Taco Bell and KFC. YUM Brands, the parent company of all three restaurants, has stated that it is working on several ideas for improving sales at Pizza Hut.

RonnTorossian reveals five of the strategies that could be used to revitalize the failing pizza chain, and increase sales.

In this digital age, it is essential that people be able to order online from their mobile devices. Although most companies have a web presence, many have not streamlined their websites for smartphones and tablets. By optimizing their online ordering process for smartphones and tablets, Pizza Hut would make it faster, easier, and more appealing for people to place an online order.

One way to draw attention back to Pizza Hut is to release new products. Recently, Pizza Hut began making a giant cookie pizza cut into slices just like a pizza. This is a good start towards expanding the menu to encompass more choices and options for dining.

There are no shortages of pizza joints out there, and Pizza Hut needs to stand out from the crowd if it wants to increase sales. Between local mom-and-pop places as well as competing chains such as Dominos and Papa Johns, there is a lot of competition in the world of pizza, and Pizza Hut needs something to differentiate itself from all the other options out there.

Many consumers complain about the taste of Pizza Hut’s pizza. By stating that they will work on taste and focusing an advertising campaign around improving the overall quality of their product, Pizza Hut could gain back some of the sales lost. This strategy also shows consumers that the restaurant cares about the opinions of the people who eat there and is willing to make changes to satisfy its customers.

More and more people are being careful about what they eat. This means that they are examining the quality of the ingredients that go into their food more closely. By using organic and local ingredients, Pizza Hut would improve its image and appeal to all of the people who are more aware of where their food is coming from. This will not only improve the chain’s image, but also garner more customers.

Sales may have decreased at Pizza Hut, but Ronn Torossian says that by implementing some of these five strategies, the pizza chain could make a comeback. For now, YUM Brands has no immediate plans to sell Pizza Hut, especially with so many options available for making improvements.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Terrorism causing the ‘net to self edit?

The recent beheading of an American journalist shocked and disgusted viewers in the west, even as it, apparently, delighted some anti-American partisans. But by far the largest and loudest voice in the aftermath came from those who, collectively, did NOT want to see that on their newsfeed. Now it seems at least one online media source is listening.

LiveLeak is known for endless available video content, and up to the second crowdsourced news content. When viewers could not find controversial or gruesome or offensive content on YouTube, they clicked over to LiveLink. But, according to a spokesman with the company, those days are over. At least where ISIS is concerned.

LiveLeak has come out and publicly said it will no longer host or make available videos of beheadings by ISIS, removing one of the terror groups major “marketing” and fear mongering tools. Here’s the statement from LiveLeak:

"We've shown the world the true horror of this form of execution more than once in the past and we cannot find any compelling reason to even be thought of as promoting the actions of this group…there is no reason."

The move surprised many media watchdogs, but Ronn Torossian says he is not surprised. From a PR standpoint, it was a smart decision. LiveLeak was teetering on a branding precipice. When YouTube blocked the videos and Twitter pulled the stills, everyone flooded to LiveLeak. That prompted decision makers there to ask a very important question: “Is this who we are to people? Snuff dealers?”

Apparently not. It may not seem like it, but in the world of the Internet, this sort of self-policing is a strong statement, and it should bode well for LiveLeak’s continued growth as a legitimate media source.

But that does not necessarily mean they won’t be willing to get their hands dirty. A follow up to the initial release clearly drew a single line - no more beheadings - but it also indicated the site would not shy away from difficult images or video deemed worthwhile from an informational standpoint.

This clear line also sends a clear message to the market. This is who LiveLeak is, like it or not. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Chick Fil A answers the call

You might say it had to happen sooner or later. And Ronn Torossian believes you would be right. Delighting fans everywhere, Chick Fil A recently announced that they would be pairing their world famous chicken with the one perfect – and perfectly American – side dish. That’s right. Chick Fil A is making waffles. At least, Torossian reports, they are trying it.

The chain is experimenting with the combination in a location sure to be at least amiable to the idea – Central Georgia. There is no doubt that chicken and waffles is incredible southern comfort food. And there is no doubt that if the meal is not fit for the southern palette, it probably won’t fly anywhere.

But Chick Fil A isn’t putting all its egg in one basket. The company is also testing the chicken and waffles combination in Memphis, Tennessee, Philadelphia, and California. Depending on the results of the tests, Chick Fil A might roll out the combination in all its stores. Fans of both the breakfast and the chain are hopeful.

It’s no secret the Chick Fil A has been on a public relations roller coaster in recent years. Caught up in political and social issues, the restaurant began to make enemies. There were protests for and against. Multiple news stories said nothing about the food and everything they could about every other aspect of the business.

Then, more and more people began to express the opinion that Chick Fil A just needed to shut up and make chicken.

The company responded by rolling out several new menu options, including the chicken and waffles breakfast. Other choices included specialty coffee, egg-white chicken grill sandwich, and even Greek yogurt. Yes, Greek yogurt.

Though the chain has had “some success” with its chicken tenders and waffles combo, they say it’s far too early to know where they will go from here. One thing’s for sure, though. Chick Fil A was right to get out of politics and get back into the food business.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Obama, PR, and Message Control

Early in his Presidency, Barack Obama was often accused of playing it too tight, sometimes not giving reporters a shot to ask a question at all, or only taking pre-approved queries vetted by aides. But recently, the President has been much more open and available. Is this a shift in policy, or has the President relaxed his message control protocols in his second term?

Of course, message control is part of what being POTUS is all about. You can’t be the leader of the free world and not understand media. The difference between what you know and what you can say will turn your hair gray.

But changes in how Presidents control their messages can offer compelling PR lessons. When they come into the “marketplace,” new Presidents are often closed to outside ideas and leading questions that might push them off their message or detour a conversation. They want all the attention on them and what they have to say. The communication is not yet a conversation, it is much more a dissertation.

Then, as they establish their brand and learn the reality of their “market situation,” sometimes the communication is more open and less one-sided. Only sometimes. Some Presidential “brands” chose not only to never really engage in conversation with the press, but they only submitted terse and carefully vetted missives. Others have been easy and gregarious, without offering much of substance in their communication. Style and personality play into this approach, but never forget, at the core is very finely crafted message control.

You will never reach the levels of success you wish to achieve without carefully crafted and controlled messaging. You need consumers to respond to your communication in predictable ways, just as politicians do. This requires a long-term strategy with adequate foresight and a keen understanding of both where you want to go and who you need to talk to in order to make that happen.

How’s your long-term PR plan?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Reality Program Dating Naked Fails to Arouse Interest

It was hardly the most anticipated new show of the season, but VH1 was certainly hoping for a warm reception for its new “reality” show, Dating Naked.

This is hardly the first game show to ignore lines of decency in order to get an audience, but it’s nowhere near as original or daring as the producers are hoping you will think it is.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Rise of Airbus

What happens when your key PR promotion threatens to nearly destroy your company? Ronn Torossian says Japan’s Skymark Airlines may be about to find out
According to Businessweek, about four years ago Skymark decided it wanted to own a fleet of the world’s largest airplanes. Ambitious for a small budget airline? Certainly. Good for PR? Absolutely. With the purchase, Skymark declared its intention to become a major player in the international, premium air travel industry.
But once the buzz dies down, sometimes the reality sets in. When they made the order, industry insiders were highly critical, and now it looks like they may have been right. This past month, Airbus canceled Skymark’s order citing negotiations that have become, in a word, contentious. While two jets have already been built, Airbus is now concerned Skymark may not be able to pay for them. And they must be VERY serious about it. After all, these jets have already been outfitted to Skymark’s specs, which might make them difficult to sell to anyone else.
Even worse, Airbus will probably keep the cash – about $260 million – that Skymark has already paid, and then assess additional fees and penalties. As you might expect, investors responded very negatively to this news, and Skymark’s stock plunged. Further troubling, the airline announced it was already losing money and would be canceling some routes to compensate.
So, what’s the PR lesson here? For starters, when you try to “level up” in business, expect to get called on it. The competition at a higher level has no obligation to make it easy for you to grow your business, and, in most cases, they will do what they can to keep you out of their market level and away from their market share.

Now, consider what would have happened if Airbus has called Skymark out and the company has responded by showing ample ability to pay full freight. Not only would their standing have been reaffirmed – and their planes delivered – their Public Relations and likely their stock price would have skyrocketed. Instead, because they got called out for being in over their heads and could not answer that call, Skymark may finish 2014 as just another warning for other would be ladder climbers. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Can Firefox Really Burn the Android?

Communication is changing, no surprise there. If there is one constant in the “talking” industry, it is change. History tells us that, along with that change, we will see a shift in market players. Big Names will emerge and turn former Big Names into historical footnotes. Remember the “Crackberry?”

But, in the world of technology, there is always the wildcard. It may never grab a majority of market share, but it finds a market and gains a foothold, bleeding points from industry leaders in a war of attrition. Could this be the case with the newest entry into the mobile market?

Mozilla’s army of volunteer coders has created the first viable alternative to the Big Name mobile device manufacturers, a phone that runs on the popular Firefox platform.

Firefox remains a popular “not Google” alternative to IE and Safari, and Mozilla is hoping that the same will soon be said for its phone. And, that may happen, if the marketplace big boys allow it.

Until this point, Mozilla has not really been considered a threat to the for-profit market leaders. The company operated as an open-source entity, creating code that others could commercialize or build on and make better. Google, Apple, and Microsoft essentially treated Mozilla like Doc Brown, toiling away in his garage, but no real threat to their core market share. In fact, about 90% of Mozilla’s recent revenue has come from – wait for it – a search traffic deal with Google. But now Mozilla has moved beyond the kooky guy in his garage, and may have actually turned that Delorean into a time machine.

Google’s Android currently owns the market, maintaining a 78% market share, more than four times Apple’s 18% second-place position. No one seriously expects Firefox to put a dent in the iPhone, so that makes Android the more likely target. If Firefox can compete on either “cool” or “price,” or "both," as they have shown in some markets already, then Google may have to take a serious look at their once-and-future internet ally.

Another potential – and likely, safer – target is the aforementioned Blackberry. The fallen king of the mobile market is looking at some of the same developing international markets where the Firefox phones could make a splash. Could this turn into the ultimate undercard fight that overshadows the heavyweight bout? The answer to that question will play out based on how each brand introduces its brand, and manages the consumer PR in these markets.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Cruising Into Better Waters?

After multiple years of absolutely dismal and arguable disastrous international consumer PR, the cruise industry may be bouncing back. Royal Caribbean, for example has raised income expectations for the 2014 fiscal year by more than $3 per share. Since then, RC’s shares have jumped more than 8 percent, and Ronn Torossian says, from a PR perspective, that news could be good for the entire industry.

Not too long ago, some very loud voices were foretelling the imminent demise of the entire cruise industry. Sales were lagging, rooms were going empty, and ship after ship was meeting with logistical or medical disaster. But, the industry weathered the PR nightmare and seems to have come out ahead. There is even talk that the drastically reduced pricing structures that lured cruisers back onto the boats will begin disappearing by the winter cruise season and be back to “regular” levels by spring 2015.

Branching out has helped ease the blow of lagging Caribbean cruise sales, and the industry’s big players, like Royal Caribbean, are actually seeing respectable gains in Europe and Asia. Because so many of the cruisers in this market are first-timers, particularly in Asia, both the pricing and PR approach are different. Cruise lines can offer Asian and European cruise passengers top rates without having to oversell or apologize first.

Royal Caribbean doubled down in this trend by announcing that it would be moving its newest vessel, “Quantum of the Seas,” to Shanghai in May 2015. The announcement shocked many in the industry, but it served two valuable Public Relations purposes. First, the move signaled to investors that RC was interested in expansion, looking ahead instead of looking back. The emerging economies of Asia are certainly ripe for what have been, until now, typically western luxuries. And second, the move put attention on new waters and new opportunities, and off the string of difficulties the cruise industry has faced in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. Proving once again that, it may not be the most sophisticated PR move, but “hey, look over there!” still works.

Monday, July 28, 2014

GM Whistleblower Tactics led to Current PR Crisis

There is no doubt about it, the last few years have been toughon General Motors. First, the bottom fell out of the automotive industry, and they were one of the worst off. While chief competitor Ford came through the financial debacle without even taking federal bailout money, GM slogged through and came out the other side solvent, but battered and bruised.

Ronn Torossian said the company desperately needed some positive PR to rebuild their tarnished image. Instead, they got IgnitionGate. Followed by RecallGate. The series of recalls, and then deaths, triggered by faulty recalls has General Motors in an even worse public relations situation than they were in the heart of the bailout.

Now, evidence has surfaced that some are alleging that one of the reasons GM failed to act quickly on the ignition switch issue is that the person who discovered the issue had been discouraged by GM’s hard handling of a previous whistleblower in a similar situation.

Back in 2003, Courtland Kelley sued GM, alleging that the company had reacted slowly to potential dangers related to its vehicles. He lost the case and his career suffered, but he still felt that he had done the right thing in reporting the issues. Some are saying that loss contributed to GM’s slow reaction to the current issue.

The more the story that comes to light, the more plausible those allegations appear. According to released documents, Kelley had been head of the national team investigating the Cavalier, Chevy’s Cobalt predecessor. After making the company aware of what he determined were multiple issues and safety concerns, Kelley was stonewalled by GM. He threatened to report his concerns to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Then, he sued under a Michigan Whistle-blower law. The case was dismissed, and, as you might imagine, GM was none too thrilled with Mr. Kelley. He was not fired, but he was moved into a position where he would cause less trouble.

There is likely little doubt that Kelley’s story served as a cautionary tale to those who chose not to rock the boat when they first learned of the current safety issues. Now that at least thirteen people are dead, these latest revelations will probably make GM wish they had not dismissed Kelley so many years ago.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Finest and Bravest Come to Blows

We all know the joke about going to a fight and seeing a hockey game break out, and we all know those fans who go to the games just to see the fights. Hockey teams know this too, so every once in a while they stage one just to bring some excitement back to a boring game. But, you rarely see the gloves come off at a charity event. That’s exactly what happened this past April in a charity match between the FDNY and NYPD, however.

Ronn Torossian says, no matter what, these guys are still the Bravest and the Finest, but he is curious as to why both sides declined to comment. Is the infamous video really how they want to be remembered by their fans?

They would lose nothing by coming out and addressing concerns, and condemning the spectacle. These guys are role models for millions of kids, after all. Do they really want to let this sort of behavior go by unchecked? Sure, in the heat of the moment, all the stick flinging and fists flying probably felt like the right thing to do. But, the moment has past, and now it’s time for some reconnecting PR to mend some fences, and offer some perspective.

Look, we all know there’s a longstanding competitive nature to the relationship between the PD and the FD, but do we really want to see these images over and over again?

The message need not be punitive. Why should it be? These were grown men making grown men decisions, and as far as we know, the animosity never left the ice. But, there could be a message here. One thing is for sure, that this is a serious Public Relations nightmare. Something that defends a person’s right to lose their temper, but also reassures the young and impressionable that this is not the treatment they can expect from first responders.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Carnival Cruise Lines Preparing for Change

Cruise deals are the order of the day, as everyone from cruise lines to travel agents cut rates to get people on the boats. That means many cruise lines are starting to feel the change in their bottom lines. Even industry leaders like Carnival are losing money.

Ronn Torossian said the cruise lines may not be hurting – after all, Carnival topped its profit in the second quarter by $41 million compared to last year. But, Carnival also understands the one foundational rule in business: things change. If you’re not ready, you will be left behind.

At some point, a competitor will likely drop the going rate for what you do below what you can afford to charge. You might be able to take the loss for a short period, but no business can afford to lose money over the long term. You need a better plan. Torossian says targeted consumer PR can be that plan.

If you cannot compete on price, there are still plenty of options to pick, and niches to fill.

Some customers will choose quality over price every time. This may not always apply in the online world, but you can bet it’s a top selling point in brick-and-mortar marketing.

Service and amenities are another powerful one-two punch. How are you crafting a positive experience for your customers? That is a key question even price conscious consumers will ask. Everyone wants to be treated well, and there is an absolute lowest common denominator customers will accept at each price point.

Variety or expertise can be both tangible and intangible ways to shore up and increase your customer base, even when a competitor is trying to get you into a losing price war. How can you engage and inspire your customers to stay loyal to you?

No matter how you choose to adapt to a changing marketplace, the key element is HOW you choose to convey these messages. Stories work much better than features and benefits. Having a strong consumer public relations campaign is vital. Who is helping you tell your story?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Dealing with Uncomfortable Charity PR Questions

In a recent article by Bill Shore, Darell Hammond, and Amy Celep in the Stanford Social Media Review, the writers made the point that many of the fastest-growing non profit organizations began with both good intentions, but also naive ideas about the magnitude and complexity of the issues they were formed to tackle.

Ronn Torossian agrees this is a common problem that can become a charity PR challenge if the entity is not prepared to deal with the questions that arise.

But that in and of itself can become a challenge, particularly when your organization or cause takes off. Suddenly you are up to your eyeballs in overwhelming success, trying to manage a monster that is growing faster than you could have ever imagined. You are taking on new partners, recruiting and tasking volunteers, and working on how to best bring in donations and then manage those funds.
Then, suddenly, someone asks you why you are not making more of an impact if you are “such a great success.”

Maybe the question is snarky, and maybe it is honest, but either way, you are compelled to offer an answer. What will you say? How can you answer the inconvenient questions?
Torossian suggests you prepare ahead of time to deal with these inquiries, so you can have the answers ready no matter what else you have going on.

One popular strategy is to acknowledge the scope of the problem and admit you are working hard in order to do more. This is an opportunity to recruit more help, and to “make the ask” for financial support. With more resources, even more can be done.

Another strategy is to answer the question without really answering it; to instead respond with a strong list of successes and exceeded benchmarks. This response focuses on what IS being done rather than what is not being accomplished.

You may even wish to consider combining these approaches. Leading in with all that has been accomplished while also letting people know there’s a lot more work yet to be done… work that can be accomplished with their help.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

David A. Steinberg On Managing Goliath: Handling Big Data

Massive data warehouses are cropping up across the internet landscape, and one of the most current trends in business is finding ways to perform ‘deep analytics’ on the mountains of data contained in the virtual storage lockers.

Once you have found a subset of information that you want to analyze, what comes next? There are some basic guidelines for performing data analysis to make sure you get the information that will help you maximize your profits and online presence.

1. Get the team onboard
Make sure the players in your organization understand the value of Big Data. Delving into this information can offer insights to help gain competitive advantage. Some believe Big Data may be the last online opportunity to do this. The more data, the more detail.

2. Choose your flavor
Decide what kind of analytics you need the most. Generally there are two different kinds: exploration and analysis, or prediction and optimization.

Exploration and analysis involves a business analyst acting as a virtual Sherlock Holmes. In this scenario, someone notices a trend, and wants to find out why it is happening. The analyst forms a theory, and culls through the data to see if it is correct or to see if alternative theories are suggested or supported.  This is a more traditional kind of data analysis and it is still useful and popular today.

Prediction and optimization flips the data upside down. Here, analysts look to see what trends are currently trending  in order to predict where the trends will go. Historical data is mined and analyzed with statistics to see patterns. These patterns are then used to predict possible future events. But, these tools are not infallible. The analyst needs to have a solid knowledge of business practices and data to really use these strategies effectively.

3. Look at your own database

Instead of downloading data to servers that cannot handle big volumes of data, many companies now manipulate the information in the database itself. This lets companies run queries against all the data, and not just smaller portions of it.

4. SQL is not the only choice
SQL requires a lot of IT management time, and gets expensive for large amounts of data. New software is available to allow business analysts to add analytic functions to databases rather than have the programmers do it. This saves time and money.

The Final Word
Essentially, know how much you want to do, and how much you can do in order to decide what you need to do.  Many smaller analyses can easily be done in house by an IT programmer with self-collected and stored data.

More complex analyses would probably benefit from the in-database option, so sophisticated metrics can be applied as needed.  This may cut down on costs and wait times. Big Data has incredible potential, but it can become an overwhelming mess of information if not handled correctly. With some carefully considered steps, your company can gain the information and edge you need in your online environment.

David A. Steinberg is CEO of Zeta Interactive, a leading big data company.