Rapid content response – can you do it?

Communications organizations need to act fast these days – like the bicycle maker that recently pounced on a green gaffe by General Motors.
Here’s how it went down.
GM put out this ad, targeted at college kids…
 GM 'stop pedaling' ad
…showing a poor sap on a bike in front of a cute co-ed who was riding in a … wow, car!

Embarrassed

…and then there was this part:

bad part

“Yep. Shameless,” wrote BikePortland.org publisher/editor Jonathan Maus. “But just more of the same from the auto industry.”

Cyclists went ballistic. The auto company – a recent beneficiary of American tax dollars, contributor to our national debt, and the front end of a pretty big greenhouse gas supply chain – actually had the gall to promote its cars as, well, an alternative mode of transportation.
Why pedal, indeed? Why drink tap water when you can get a plastic bottle from Fiji? Why compost your leaves when you can let the garbage man take them to the landfill? Heck, why regulate carbon emissions when it’s easier just to spew?
Cyclists occupied Twitter with complaints about GM. The company quickly apologized (smart) via Twitter, shifting the blame onto college kids (dumb, but no one called them on it):
We're listening 
One company in the bicycle industry, Giant Bicycles, actually made some hay with the story. The bike manufacturer came up with this take-off on GM’s ad and, within about 24 hours of the twitstorm’s beginning, posted it on Facebook.

Giant Bicycles reply parody ad

That’s quick.

The Giant post gained more than 1,000 likes and 386 shares (a pretty big share ratio). That’s solid engagement and a boost for the brand. Although Giant is admired for Toyota-like value, it doesn’t have the cachet of the Pinarello, Orbea or maybe even Trek brand. So leading the charge against GM’s foul, if only for a minute, adds an emotional dimension to Giant.
Either way, Giant’s rapid content generation feat is rare. Sure, savvy communications organizations know how to join a Twitter conversation, but quickly developing solid content like the parody ad almost never happens. Many companies and agencies still use byzantine “public relations 1.0” workflows for social content creation, review and approval – assuming they can conceive of a clever response in the first place.
Too often, it still takes a month to put out a press release. Even if social content takes half the time, this pace simply won't work. In the age of Twitter, Facebook or YouTube, an opportunity goes cold long before you’ve had a chance to run your proposed creative response up and down the chain of command, collecting edits, suggestions and feedback at every turn. By the time the content is blessed, if it ever is, it’s worthless.
To get results in 2011, be ready to act. Faster than you ever have. Like Giant, which is said to be the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer.
So … how does a giant company like Giant get so fast on its feet?
Well, we asked them*.
CleanSpeak: First, how did you come up with the idea for your parody ad?
An Le, Giant Global Marketing Director: GM’s ad was so off the mark that it made our idea quite easy. We simply illustrated the real “reality” of what college students (and many of us) are facing these days – rising cost of fuel, congestion, and an ever-expanding waistline.
CleanSpeak: How did you get the ad done so fast?

Giant: Instead of going through our agency or design house, we did this piece in-house. It took us about two hours from conception to going live on Facebook. With Facebook, we have a quick and casual way to get a message out to our core audience, and we would not have produced this parody ad if Facebook did not exist.

CleanSpeak: Do you pull off these quick content creation feats very often?

An Le on a charity ride. Photo by Jake Orness.

Giant's An Le in a charity ride. Photo by Jake Orness.

Giant: We create content daily – be it news, videos, photos, etc. – but this is our first parody ad.

CleanSpeak: What’s your process for approving the concept and, later, the final? How many approvals?

Giant: We don’t have too many layers of management at Giant. I have final say in creative, and in creating this particular ad, our in-house designer (Nate Riffle, who sits next to me) and I bounced ideas back and forth and had it done in a couple of hours. If we work with a design agency, the process is similar but does take a bit more back and forth.  

CleanSpeak: What is your secret for fast content creation?

 

Giant: Be quick. Avoid committee approval. Don’t worry about making it perfect. Have some guts to take chances once in a while. And don’t be malicious – do it in a spirit of fun.

 ...

* via email. They provided answers from their global marketing director in one hour and five minutes. Do your spokespeople move that fast? We got the right email address by pinging Giant’s Twitter address. That yielded another quick reply. Who’s monitoring your Twitter feed for media/blogger inquiries?
 

Next BP victim: 'brand journalism'

The brand journalist is the one of the most compelling marketing concepts I’ve encountered in a while.
 
A brand journalist is an in-house newshound, preferably with professional reporting experience, who works for your company instead of an independent news organization. You unleash him or her to mine stories – from the inside – that make good corporate blog posts, video, photos, charts, e-books, white papers and the like. The theory is that the content, conceived and produced by a real enough journalist, will be compelling, polished, believable, persuasive and maybe even authentic.
 
“Brand Journalism is not a product pitch,” says marketing strategist David Meerman Scott. “It is not an advertorial. It is not an egotistical spewing of gobbledygook-laden corporate drivel. Brand Journalism is the creation of Web content … that delivers value to your marketplace and serves to position your organization as one worthy of doing business with.”
When I first learned of the practice, it was a eureka moment. Media consumers are starving for authenticity, and the business world is generally failing to deliver it. Brand journalism! This was the answer.
 
So leave it to BP to spoil a good thing.
 
The company has contaminated the Gulf with “BP reporters” writing eerily feel-good posts and coaxing positive comments from locals. Comments like “there is no reason to hate BP” and “the oil spill was an accident.” One ‘BP reporter’ actually characterized cleanup work as a “ballet at sea as mesmerising as any performance in a concert hall, and worthy of an audience in its own right.” Gag me.
 
As if BP weren’t already leaking credibility by the barrel, CNN last night tore them a new one for posts like these.
 
Said media watcher Howard Kurtz, “There isn’t one person in America who is going to be fooled by this propaganda campaign. The reporting has been so positive you’d think they were on BP’s payroll. Oh, that’s right, they are on BP’s payroll. Maybe that explains it.”
 
Want authenticity? You’ve got it in Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, La., and force of nature. “You know, instead of hiring PR people to talk about ballets on the water, if we just do the right thing, sit down and deploy every piece of equipment, there's something [for BP] to hang your hat on,” he said. “Look in the camera and say, ‘We're doing everything feasibly possible to save coastal Louisiana, to contain this oil, to pick it up, to make this wrong right. There's your PR. But don't just say it. Go out there and do it, and the PR will take care of itself.’”
 
Pretty good counsel.
 
I still like the idea of brand journalism, but an unprecedented environmental disaster has somehow yielded an unprecedented PR disaster. So maybe BP should just give it a rest.

Fables of Abundance

Today’s blog is part two in a series posted by guest blogger, Ed Marshall, a Senior Account Manager at Beaupre.

The other week, I blogged that renewable energy alone will not be able to compensate for an anticipated  precipitous decline in world oil supply. We said we need to invest in energy efficiency to bridge the gap. This week, I look at the challenges of becoming a more efficient world, starting with you and me.

In the mind of the average consumer the image of efficiency and its close cousin conservation is one of deprivation and austerity. Certainly not the stuff that made America great! America was built on fables of abundance.

But doesn’t efficiency have its own attractive tale to tell? Take the iPad, for instance. Turns out it’s really energy efficient. Among the many ballyhooed features of the iPad, right up there with the sexy interface, is its amazing battery life. Wait - praise for efficiency? Sure, because that’s efficiency delivering something people really want; truly mobile computing. After all, who wants a mobile device that needs to be tethered to an outlet? The iPad isn’t just slick fun – it’s slick , fun, freedom!

The trick is to find similar gut-level needs that, “marketed” effectively, can motivate us to adopt ways of living that reduce our spiraling energy demand and offset some of the anticipated energy gap mentioned in my last post. So, what gut-level need can energy efficiency deliver?
How about control for starters? People like the ideas of self-sufficiency and self-determination. Especially in uncertain times, feeling like you have a firm grip on your ship’s tiller is empowering. Technologies and initiatives that increase energy efficiency could be positioned as delivering personal control – a bulwark against the uncertainties of see-sawing gasoline prices, rising utility bills, increased commuting costs and carbon taxes.
Or, what about status? People like to stand out, get noticed, feel like they’re ahead of the pack in some way. When gasoline breached $4 a gallon in the US back in 2008, a new breed of braggart emerged on the American car scene – the hypermiler. In the world of hypermiling, status wasn’t about horsepower and 0-60 times. It was all about miles-per-gallon. Want to be king of the hypermile hill? Drive smarter. Right now, utilities are tapping into that same competitive quest for eco status by sending monthly statements that show how your energy use stacks up to similar homes in your neighborhood. (It’s anonymous.) Many were surprised that the odd-cool look of the Prius sold so well even before the spike in gas prices. They assumed it would be best to camouflage a hybrid under the wrappings of a more traditional looking car body – like Honda did with its hybrid Civic. But early adopters often want to stand out. Why spend the extra money on planet and climate saving efficiency if nobody notices? The same principle can be applied well beyond the automotive segment.
And there are many more human needs and wants that efficiency can be paired with (how about efficiency gadgets for that never ending human need for novelty?), but the point is we need to harness self-interest, not pretend it doesn’t exist. We start by choosing and creating the right words, imagery and ideas that motivate action and behavior. Efficiency and conservation have been too often aligned with abstractly noble or utilitarian sentiments; saving the planet or perhaps saving some money (eventually). Getting an efficiency mindset to really take hold demands a belief that it can deliver something personally valuable.

By building more compelling imagery – starting with us as marketers and reaching all the way up to the Marketer in Chief – efficiency has as much, possibly more, intrinsic appeal as alternative energy. After all, lots of the alternative energy stuff is “five to 10 years away” and seemingly always will be (where is my hydrogen economy?). Insulation, smart glass, telecommuting, car sharing, geothermal heat pumps, new urbanism and smart planning? That’s efficiency, and that’s here, now ready to deliver more control in uncertain times, status among peers, novelty and more. So, if you’re starting out in a quest for green market dominance with a venture that’s efficiency or conservation-focused, look to spin a new fable of abundance based on the self-interest needs or wants that your product or service can deliver. 

Ed Marshall has been in technology PR for over 12 years, following a stint in the non-profit world and a hitch in the journalism trenches at a daily newspaper. A cat magnet, avid reader and part-time unicyclist, Ed can be found most weekends reconfiguring the homestead or trying out yet another Linux distribution.

Seven social media lessons from Nestle's environmental reputation crisis

If a company still doesn't "get" how social media has changed the rules of branding by empowering consumers, look no further than the ongoing Nestle firestorm.
 
Nestle has been in trouble for awhile, mostly related to its continuing use of palm oil in its products. Palm oil is linked to environmental nastiness, including deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions and endangered species loss.
 
Caroline McCarthy of CNET News shared a balanced post about the Nestle brand crisis, triggered by ticked off consumers on Facebook. Nestle was clueless about the power shift enabled by social media and acted in an old-school authoritarian “we own the brand” way. It not only didn’t work, it backfired.
 
There are vital lessons from the Nestle debacle for professional communicators advising their execs or clients: 
 
1.     Before diving into social media, make sure key decision makers who think they want to go social media truly “get” how the game is played. It’s not a press release.
 
2.     Make sure they understand how Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. aren’t one way vehicles (where the brand dominates the message), but an invitation to a never ending dance with constantly changing partners, some of whom are never your friend and may only want to dance if they can slap your ego and try to make you a better dancer.
 
3.     Don’t go social media unless the brand is willing to take the risk of jumping off the cliff, giving up control to customers and consumers who will express their viewpoints, both positive and negative.
 
4.     If your company or client wants to control the message, then social media isn’t for them. Look at how Nestle tried to tell people not to post their logos. It will incur a wrath not unlike "It’s not OK for people to use altered versions of your logos but it’s OK for you to alter the face of Indonesian rainforests? Wow!"
   
5.     Creating LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter accounts is just the first step. The goal isn’t to tweet or post, it’s to build an active community and an authentic two-way relationship based on trust. It’s easy to get started in social media, but time-consuming and challenging to remain engaged and build a following.
 
6.     Remember that even if your company or client decides not to engage in social media, this won’t stop rants, rebellion and revolution. People will find a way to express themselves and let it be known they’re disturbed, upset, confused, disappointed or whatever the view. The train has left the station, so be prepared.
 
7.     As we’ve learned from Nestle (and so many others), people don’t want to be scammed, ignored or mistreated. It will come back to bite you. So if your exec or client wants social media to become a positive tool, the brand must be a concerned good listener prepared to take action to correct situations that aren’t right.

Government aims to crowdsource cleantech innovation

Open Environment Information wikiWith solar, wind, PHEVs, geothermal, biofuels and most other green technologies still out of reach for most people, the U.S. Department of Energy wants to try crowdsourcing our way to affordable clean energy.

The DOE recently launched an open-source wiki called Open Energy Information (OpenIE.org) as a community platform for collectively solving our energy challenges. What Wikipedia did for socializing world knowledge, OpenIE.org can do for clean technology innovation, the thinking goes.

“The true potential of this tool will grow with the public’s participation — as they add new data and share their expertise — to ensure that all communities have access to the information they need to broadly deploy the clean energy resources of the future,” said Secretary of Energy Steven Chu in the Agency’s press release.

OpenIE.org bills itself as a linked open data platform, trying to create synapses between all the world’s energy information “to provide improved analyses, unique visualizations, and real-time access to data.” Anyone can post and edit information, upload additional data to the site and download information in easy-to-use formats.

The site currently houses more than 60 clean energy resources and data sets, including maps of worldwide solar and wind potential, information on climate zones, and best practices. To give it even more social cred, OpenIE.org links to the DOE’s Virtual Information Bridge to Energy (VIBE), a browseable collection of widgets that provide up-to-date industry information and unique visualizations of clean energy data.

It’s a compelling idea. Most cleantech science is forged within silos, isolated in commercial and academic research labs. A global hive mind of expertise could bring a Red Bull jolt of collective creativity to unstick long-stuck science problems.

But will the labs be willing to play ball on an open source field if meant opening up their IP to competitors?

How Marc Gunther found a sustainable voice

Marc Gunther - Facebook photoMarc Gunther is one of the most respected thinkers, writers and speakers on business, the environment and corporate social responsibility.

Last year, Ethisphere ranked him # 39 out of 100 “influentials” in business ethics, ahead of Jim Koch, T. Boone Pickens, James Goodnight and Paul Newman. It’s a well-earned reputation. 

In a wide-brush conversation, I asked him about his early influences, career highlights and how he became enamored with business ethics and sustainability. 

Gunther grew up in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. “I was a child of the Sixties. My parents weren’t that politically involved, but our Rabbi was part of the civil rights movement; he had marched with Martin Luther King. That inspired me.

“I was an idealist, growing up during one of the most interesting times in history with JFK, Martin Luther King, RFK. Incredible social progress was being made, from the civil rights movement to the women’s movement. Vietnam and Watergate were happening. This had a big impact on me.”

Gunther graduated from Yale in 1973 with an English degree, but couldn’t find a job in journalism. His first gig was with a clean air activist group funded by Ralph Nader. “I inspected boilers in New York City, making sure pollution controls were being met, working with City enforcement groups. It was literally a dirty job.”  

Then he cracked journalism.

Over the next two decades, he climbed the newspaper ladder, starting with the Paterson (N.J.) News, then The Hartford Courant, The Detroit News, Detroit Free Press and Washington Bureau of Knight Ridder. He covered many topics, but wrote most often about TV, media, politics and business. Gunther also interpreted the Internet in the nineties, writing stories like "What is cyberspace?" and "What is e-mail?”

When Fortune magazine hired him in 1996, he wrote even more about business. “I was beginning to wonder what had happened to my idealistic values. I had gotten off track.”

Around the time Gunther turned 50, he wrote a cover story for Fortune called “God and Business.”

“I interviewed people at the intersection of religion and corporate America. People like Jim Collins of "Built to Last" talked about business and values. I spoke with a Notre Dame priest who also taught MBAs. These people got me thinking about business in a fresh way. They were treating people well and believed business can – and should be - a force for good, for positive social change.”

The story became a turning point for him professionally and personally.

“Until then, I had a cliché view of business. The tension that existed between business and values got me thinking in a fresh way. Suddenly, I was no longer interested in writing about media companies, the entertainment industry, American Idol.”

Gunther began writing with “a sense of purpose.”

He wrote a cover story about the greening of Walmart and one about Jeff Immelt’s efforts to reshape the values of General Electric. “Those were two very interesting reputational turnarounds.”

He wrote a cover piece about Hank Paulson, as well as spirituality in the workplace. He authored stories about the business of carbon finance, the rise of corporate social responsibility, the zero-waste movement, genetically-modified rice, environmental activism, corporate governance, AIDS and gay rights in corporate America.

Last December, Gunther (and about 100 others) was let go by Fortune. He calls this experience “a hugely valuable event,” because it connected him with even greater numbers of interesting people and opportunities. Gunther likens it to an economic model called creative disruption “where things are destroyed and then new things spring up.”

The social media revolution is serving him well. His popular blog is proliferating. Gunther is on Facebook, YouTube and he’s started Tweeting (@MarcGunther).

His blog is being syndicated by two of the most influential online environmental voices, GreenBiz.com and The Energy Collective.

Proving "creative disruption" brings good karma to good people, Gunther not only still writes for Fortune, he authored the current cover story “Warren Buffett takes charge” about the Chinese company BYD. 

Gunther smiles and in his self-effacing style says, "This could be a first - a laid off reporter writing a cover story for the publication that let him go, four months after it happened."
           

Green wine

Green wine - CleanSpeak - Steve HodgdonWhat happens when you mix wine with social media and clean technology? Solar energy.

But I'm not talking about some new age vino-alchemy.

Rather, a new Facebook app that's spurring California vitners to purchase renewable energy certificates that fund solar projects.

Check it out at Greenbiz.com.

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