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.