Besides the usual Bimbos, which include executives who run Arlington National Cemetery and a San Antonio city councilman, there are illustrations of the power of a negative word from Glenn Beck, Kristin Stewart, Abercrombie & Fitch and Elizabeth Edwards. We have examples of the “Wrong Thing to Say” from a Milwaukee official and Vice President Biden, plus Pittsburg Steelers’ Quarterback Roethlisberger is back again. We like the BP ads, but find they’re still missing important channels (click to the full Bimbo Memo to see my video commentary). Of course, Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s flameout in Rolling Stone is already well known, but have you seen Geraldo Rivera’s attack on the reporter? See the survey about branded clothing, three wonderful examples of how to apologize and do it right, and another Twitter parody example.
THE WINNING BIMBO
“It wouldn’t be fair to characterize employees as lazy,” said Greg Gillman, the union president of employees at the enforcement division of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The issue is that the new division head, Robert Khuzami, who is getting high marks for repairing the agency’s image and refocusing their efforts, wanted everyone to have a Blackberry so they could stay up-to-date. Gillman, from the National Treasury Employees Union, protested. Seems the union was concerned that lawyers might get phone calls – gasp – after hours. (Is this not everything that’s wrong with unions and public unions in particular? Virtually all of us in professional services know that customer service is key. Maybe they aren’t “lazy” but they are living in a bubble.)
Bloomberg Business, “At the SEC, a Pushback Against 24/7,” June 7, 2010
“I’m not trying to be slutty,” said Miley Cyrus about criticism over her new album, “Can’t Be Tamed,” where she appears in much more mature clothing than usual. (Classic Bimbo. Never repeat and deny a negative. Notice that the word “slutty” made it into the headline.)
Huffington Post, “Miley Cyrus: ‘I’m Not Trying To Be Slutty’,” June 16, 2010
New York builder, Reddy Kancharla, told a judge “I’m not a criminal mastermind,” after being convicted of faking results for concrete and steel tests. (Again, a classic Bimbo. He should have said that he regrets the mistake, understands the critical importance of safety and the need for integrity in testing.)
Crain’s New York Business, “NYC concrete lab exec gets up to 21 years in prison,” May 26, 2010
“We found nothing that was intentional, criminal intent or intended sloppiness,” said Steven Whitcomb about the discovery that Arlington National Cemetery employees had misidentified over 200 graves. (An example of how a consistent philosophy and approach to communication would help. Cemetery superintendent John Metzler added, “Nobody here is doing anything malicious.” Whitcomb actually went on to add, “But of all things in the world we see this as a zero defect operation,” but this comment competed with the one about criminal intent of intended sloppiness. Metzler added, “Sure mistakes get made. Does anyone run a perfect organization?” (He should have said, “This is sacred ground and our goal is always perfection. We’re honoring people who served our country.”)
NBC News, “200 graves misidentified at Arlington Cemetery, June 10, 2010
“I’m not anti immigration,” said San Antonio Councilman John Clamp as the council debated whether to pass a resolution condemning Arizona’s new immigration law. (This is an example of the difficulty faced by those who are concerned with illegal immigration. Councilman Clamp continued, “I support immigration, but I support immigration legally.” He also said, “If we’re going to be choosing which laws we support and which we don’t support, that is more scary to me than immigration.” Any denial of the negative – e.g., “not anti immigration” – is going to be the quote. )
WOAI Radio, “SA Council Approves Anti-Arizona Resolution,” June 24, 2010
THE IMPACT OF A ‘BAD’ WORD
“Militant” libertarian was how superstar Glenn Beck described himself in an interview with USA Today. The reporter wrote that Beck’s PR consultant immediately suggested that Beck really meant “strong,” so Beck added, “Please don’t print militant because then they’ll say I’m telling people to pick up arms.” (An example of how a negative word will be reprinted. The reporter gleefully printed the PR person’s comment and Beck’s request not to print it. Here’s where the “good word/bad word” exercise can really come in handy! Those of you who have been through it know that, although it’s simplistically named, it prevents stumbles like this.)
USA Today, “Love him or hate him, Beck is a force in publishing,” June 14, 2010
Actress Kristin Stewart described being followed by fans and paparazzi as similar to “someone being raped.” In an interview with British Elle, the actress displayed a potty mouth and complained about fame, “It really bothers me when people write nasty s*** about me and the perception that I don’t give a f*** couldn’t be further from the truth.” (Predictably, the Twilight star’s whining drew immediate criticism from rape victims’ organizations. Stewart could really use some communication advice. She apologized immediately, calling her comment “an enormous mistake,” but then she undercut the impact of her heartfelt apology by adding, “I’ve made stupid remarks before and I’ve always reasoned: ‘whatever, they can think what they want.’” One of the drawbacks of all the channels of communication today is that they capture everything. She should have quit with “mistake.” However, the incident also illustrates the importance of identifying with charitable organizations or causes before you need them. Stewart has done public service announcements for women’s groups and they were quick to come to her defense.)
People.com, “Kristin Stewart: ‘I Made an Enormous Mistake,’” June 4, 2010
“Bed bug” is a bad word. Abercrombie & Fitch missed an opportunity when they had to close down their Hollister store in Manhattan because of a bedbug infestation. They were asked whether closing would affect sales and profits and had no comment. They issued a statement that they were removing the bedbugs and hoped to reopen soon. (Of course, they should have said, “We may be the teen hotspot, but safety and cleanliness are priorities.” Then, if they wanted to be a bit edgier, consistent with their image, “This is war, and we intend to win.”)
Reuters, “Abercrombie shuts down New York store due to bedbugs,” July 1, 2010
“I’m not just a cuckolded wife,” said Elizabeth Edwards in a lengthy interview on the “Today” show. (We feel immensely sad for Mrs. Edwards. She tried hard to be positive and talk about the good memories of her marriage to Sen. Edwards, but at some point, the facts overwhelm you. Note that the denial made it into the headline.)
The Huffington Post, “Elizabeth Edwards’ Today Show Interview: ‘I’m Not Just A Cuckolded Wife,’” June 29, 2010
THE WRONG THING TO SAY
Milwaukee County Supervisor Peggy West urged a boycott of Arizona’s immigration law because Arizona’s “a state which is removed from the border.” She said she could see why Texas, which “is directly on the border with Mexico” may need Arizona’s immigration law. West concluded that Arizona doesn’t have “a major issue with undocumented people flooding their border.” (Ms. West’s comments became a hit on YouTube and Arizona Senator Kyl immediately sent her a map.)
Arizona Daily Star, “Kyl helps out Milwaukee official who thinks Ariz. isn’t on border,” June 26, 2010
“I didn’t serve in Vietnam, I don’t want to make a Blumenthal mistake,” said Vice President Joe Biden, joking about Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s misstatement that allowed people to think he served in Vietnam. (Ouch. The VP needs some dental glue. We’ll see that comment again this fall.)
The Hill, “Biden jokes about Blumenthal’s military service misstatements,” May 27, 2010
We find Ben Roethlisberger’s claim that he’s ‘found himself’ to be totally unconvincing. On June 10, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a front page story about the 20-year-old Georgia woman with whom he had unprotected sex when she was drunk out of her mind. The question is whether the incident will be prosecuted as rape, but the 5’ 4” victim kept saying, “I really don’t think it’s OK.” On July 11, the 6’5” Roethlisberger gave a pathetic interview to USA Today claiming that he had been losing his soul but now had found himself again. We don’t buy it.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “The Roethlisberger Tapes: ‘I really don’t think it’s OK,’” June 10, 2010
USA Today, “QB: ‘I was losing who I was,’” June 11, 2010
BP’s full-page ads, “Making this right,” are very well done. The pictures are excellent. They feature local BP employees. It looks as if BP is finally letting employees talk to the media – again, a plus. The ones I’ve seen are proud to be BP employees and completely authentic in their commitment to clean up the beaches. It’s obvious they’re also experts. The lesson for other companies, as I’ve written before, is that they’re way behind the curve on this. Any company that hasn’t thought through what can go wrong or what could damage its ability to conduct business, is at risk. This piece, employee engagement, should have been in place before any crisis occurred.
Rolling Stone and General McChrystal’s Agony
This has been so widely covered that readers have already formed an opinion about the wisdom, or naivety, of letting a reporter for a publication shadow you for an extended period of time without firm ground rules about what can and can’t be printed.
Other lessons for the rest of us:
As with the BP disaster, the overall article and Gen. McChrystal’s comments show a committed, talented, visionary leader. But a few phrases and sentences got plucked out and totally overshadowed everything else. Second, Rolling Stone deliberately orchestrated this, starting by leaking AP the lines about Gen. McChrystal’s problems with Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry. As reporters tweeted individual quotes, using words like “betrayed,” the story grew. Rolling Stone continued to add pieces, causing new rounds of tweets. This reminds people in media relations, and company lawyers, that the release of information is much different than a few years ago.
Rolling Stone, “The Runaway General,” June 22, 2010
A new survey, admittedly done by a company that makes shirts, found that employees are delighted to wear clothing with their company’s logo or brand. Where such garb used to be considered tacky or for service personnel, today, employees said they were glad to have a job and wore their company clothing in public and after work hours. (While the survey is self-serving, we believe it. Further, we think employees have always been happy to help carry the company’s message – they just want to be asked and encouraged!)
Queensbury Shirt Company survey
Daily Dog, “New Survey Shows Employees Proudly Wearing Company Branded Apparel,” June 23, 2010
APOLOGIES – ALL GOOD EXAMPLES
Bowl us over. There’s a virtual epidemic of apologies done well.
First, after umpire, Jim Joyce, blew a call ruining what should have been a perfect game for Detroit Tiger pitcher Armando Galarraga, Joyce apologized publicly, in tears to the pitching ace, who accepted the apology graciously. (Proving that occasionally doing the right thing gets rewarded, and in a great PR move for General Motors, the car company presented Galarraga with a new Corvette as a consolation prize. Blogs and letters to the editor, while furious with Joyce’s missed call, generally praised both men. Note that the apology came fast.)
Multiple press reports, June 2010
Second, and you may have missed this, an overzealous AT&T employee stepped over the line and threatened – in an email – a complaining customer for writing the CEO. Naturally, the customer sent the email everywhere. AT&T handled it like a champ. They acted fast. They had a statement with the right tone, apologizing and noting, “This is not the way we treat our customers.” The company gently reminded customers that they make it convenient to express concerns through Facebook and numerous customer service access points. Finally, a senior vice president called personally to apologize. The customer, who also took one more dig at the company, told reporters he was accepting the apology. (One wishes these things wouldn’t happen, but the goal today is to find out about them fast, react fast, take the right tone and get the customer service message out there.)
Dallas Morning News, “AT&T apologizes for cease and desist threat to customer who e-mailed CEO,” June 4, 2010
Finally, Seahawk wide receiver Golden Tate apologized for helping himself to some gourmet doughnuts from Top Pot Doughnuts at 3 a.m. The baker, who had left the door open for a moment, returned, saw the men in the store and called police. Tate was recognized. This was a great apology because Tate didn’t make excuses, he apologized to the team and he put in a plug for the doughnut shop saying, “If you ever want maple bars, that’s the place to go.”
Associated Press, “Seahawks’ Tate ‘very embarrassed’ after doughnut incident,” June 8, 2010
Fake Twitter feeds are the new thing. BP has to endure BPGlobalPR and now AT&T Wireless has a tormenter, twittering things like “We’re committing to suck 16 percent less this week.” Ouch.
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