There was an interesting article in the New York Times recently about doctor’s acknowledging and apologizing for their medical mistakes. It is interesting to note that at the University of Michigan Health System, one of the first to experiment with a full disclosure approach (which includes apologizing face-to-face to patients), lawsuits dropped from 262 in August 2001 to 83 in August 2007. 

As communicators, approaching an issue has always been about acknowledging the impact an action, situation, incident or tragedy has had on people – one person at a time. Sometimes what a communicator would like to do conflicts with what legal would like to have happen. That’s understandable, but now with immediate attention focused on what a company does or should have done in an issue or crisis, decisions have to be made quickly and they need to be authentic and transparent. It seems that in the medical field, the full disclosure approach is telling us that people want mistakes to be acknowledged and to be dealt with person to person. I know it’s what I would want.

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The BBC news carried a piece last week about how Swiss company Nestle had “deeply offended” the people of Azerbaijan with a recent marketing campaign aimed at selling cereal to the Azeri people.

As part of this campaign, Nestle attached a CD-ROM to cereal boxes that contained information about the countries of the world. The piece in the CD about Azerbaijan said the central-Asian country started a war with its neighbor Armenia over a hotly contested strip of land called Nagorno-Karabakh.

That conflict has killed more than 30,000 people since the 1990s and displaced hundreds of thousands more. Being reminded of this black spot in their history — on a cereal box –outraged the Azeris. Swiss-based Nestle has apologized for the goof and recalled the CDs.

The thing is, I have been all over the Nestle website and there is NOTHING on the site acknowledging this issue. Except for the apology, which I have only heard about and not seen…Nestle is ignoring the blogosphere and it’s global audience. If they had put something on their site and let all of us know that that they have apologized, that they are making this right …it would be a good thing. Then, bloggers could point to the text of the apology and that this is being taken seriously. And while their first priority should acknowledging and apologizing to the people of Azerbaijan, they should also be thinking about consumers worldwide who want to know what they have done to make this right.

Another minor embarrassment for the company with this issue … last year at an International Association of Business Communicators conference in New Orleans, Tengku Marina Badlishah, a Nestle rep, sat on a panel titled, “Avoiding Costly Mistakes in Asian Markets.”

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Post by: Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies

Communication has changed. We all know that. How it has changed and how it will continue to change is a hot topic right now. Interestingly enough, Delta Airlines has created a mini site to inform stakeholders about the proposed merger between their company and Northwest.

According to a blog posting by Harvard Business Review’s Scott Berinato, this is the future of press releases. While I appreciate his viewpoint and do think mini or micro-sites such as this are a valuable addition to the communications mix … they are added-value. Especially sites such as this one. It’s still one-dimensional and has been created in the old model of the web – information out to an audience, but no interaction or real dialogue.

We have been working with forward-thinking clients on a communications approach that we’ve been calling “diablogs” – micro-sites that provide basic information like a more traditional website, but that reach out and ask for input, engagement and interaction. If there is something important enough to create a micro-site, it seems to make sense to bring stakeholders into that conversation and to really listen to what they have to say. There is a huge opportunity here. One that Delta may have missed in creating their mini-site.

What if they had included a blog on this site where we could hear from the top executive of the two companies, employees or even other passengers — and we could respond to what they had to say. What if they created an easily updated page where they could address rumours, speculation and misinformation. This site isn’t going to live forever, it’s not a long term commitment for senior execs to speak WITH us … and if this is the press release of the future, I would hope it would be interactive enough to give reporters and the general public interested in this topic more than just the company line. It’s great to tell people where an organization stands, it’s even better to hear what those people think about it. That’s when the magic of real connection begins to happen.

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Starbucks recently launched

This is an interesting site. It’s well designed, you can get around it easily and at first glance it looks authentic. The people at Starbucks seem to want to know what our ideas are. It does have some challenges – asking everyone for ideas could be overwhelming – which is what many bloggers are saying right now.

Some have also compared it to Ideastorm, which has done very well in helping Dell rebuild it’s brand and it’s relationship with consumers. Their blog is also a good example of reaching out and really connecting with stakeholders.

It is always interesting to see what organizations are doing online to connect with people. And while I am sure we could all find something wrong with these sites, the fact is – they are out there doing their best to hear what their customers have to say. Perhaps their approach isn’t as managed as it could be (and I think if they had managed it more, they would be criticized for trying to control the process…) and they may learn a great deal from doing this. They are doing it though and that is a huge step forward in how organizations interact with stakeholders. It’s very interesting to see how organizations, both large and small, are using online and social media to create a connection with people.

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The online world really has changed things. Now PR people that send irrelevant, useless and/or irritating pitches and news releases to journalists are being called on it –in public, on blogs. The bad pitch blog is definitely worth a read. Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail and editor in chief of Wired magazine also published a long list of media relations types that are now blocked from his email. And most recently Lifehacker’s Gina Trapani did the same.

I was a journalist for years and can’t tell you how frustrating it is to receive pitches from PR people who don’t get it. Now, with bloggers as an important part of the news cycle, it’s even more important to refine media pitches so that they work for the person you are pitching. Sending out pitches that have no news value or that aren’t targeted hurts your reputation and your client.

Our role as communicators includes talking to a client about what is newsworthy and what isn’t. And if it is, it’s important to take the time and effort to develop a solid pitch that is targeted to the media you are pitching. Read their blog, their articles, watch or listen to their show … pay attention to who you are pitching and what they cover. Not doing your job well might get you covered in a blog or on a black list. That kind of coverage, you don’t want.

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