Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Speeches: when to call an audible

This past weekend, tennis fans were treated to an extraordinary match in the final of the Australian Open in Melbourne, in which world #1 Novak Djokovic beat world #2 Rafael Nadal 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-5. 

The match lasted almost six hours; as the Telegraph put it, it "was certainly the longest, surely the hardest and arguably the greatest Grand Slam final in history.

The players were both physically spent by the time it was over, having covered miles of court (I can't find the stat, but it must have been miles!) and hit the ball incomprehensibly hard over and over again, for hours. When it was finally over, these fine competitors were understandably in pretty rough physical shape.

And that's when I started thinking about PR.

Enter the tournament sponsor

The Australian Open's main sponsor was Kia Motors. As part of its sponsorship, a Kia executive had the opportunity to open the trophy presentation ceremony.

His prepared remarks were appropriate for the occasion, content-wise... but the circumstances of the match might have called for a bit of a last-minute re-write.

As both players' bodies began to cool down after the match had finally ended (six hours!), they began to cramp. The Kia spokesman, who had his back to the players, couldn't see their discomfort from where he stood: but judging by the booing that eventually came from the crowd, everyone else likely did. (The feed I was watching on TSN actually kept the camera on the players almost the entire time, like this YouTube clip -- so the players' worsening pain was all the audience could think about.) 

Those poor guys... and the poor guy from Kia. Oblivious to the pain his speech was literally inflicting on the players, he kept going.

When the moment is right, call an audible

Without corporate sponsors, tournaments like this wouldn't happen; it's entirely appropriate for the main sponsor to have the opportunity to speak with the tennis world listening.

But imagine the great impact this opportunity could have had, if the Kia rep had simply stepped up to the mike, thanked the players for what may well become the match of a lifetime, shared how honoured Kia was to have been a part of it, acknowledged not wanting to make them wait a minute longer than necessary, and turned the presentation over to the emcee.

If he had, I think fans in Rod Laver Arena and around the world might have felt a connection with the sponsor, rather than willing him to just stop talking... and his appearance could have earned Kia more than polite applause (and saved him the "boos").

Always be aware of your audiences' circumstances when you step up to speak; if they might be better-served by a different speech than the one you've prepared, consider making changes on-the-fly.

Doing so well could turn your routine speaking engagement into a memorable moment shared with your audiences.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Tim's re-names its coffee cup sizes: PR or not PR?

I love Tim Hortons coffee, and since there's a Tim's here at The Roblin Centre, I buy at least 5 cups a week.

Until last week, the cups I bought were usually "large;" now, the very same cup is "medium." To make room for a new 24 oz size (bigger than what was formerly called "extra large"), the company has re-named all its existing coffee cup sizes and added a new "extra small."

Source: www.timhortons.com

A news release on the Tim Hortons website says the company tested the names of its new cup sizes, "and the response has been overwhelmingly positive." It added that "[b]y shifting the sizes, we're able to provide coffee lovers with a full range of five size options: from extra small, all the way up to the new extra large."

Testing, testing

In Creative Communications first-year PR, we look at how organizations use research to help them make business decisions -- and we examine how carefully questions need to be worded to yield an accurate view of public opinion. 

We also look at examples of the different ways one set of research results can be interpreted, depending on how questions are worded.

In this case, I'd love to know whether the "overwhelmingly positive" response in the research was to the idea of actually re-naming all the familiar cup sizes with the names of other equally familiar cup sizes (except one)... or whether it was to the names themselves. 

I would expect overwhelming support for names like extra-small, small, medium, large, extra-large from customers who were already used to ordering small, medium, large and extra large. I might expect the response to be a bit less enthusiastic if the question was about using all those same names to denote new sizes... but I could be wrong. That's why we do research!

Is this a PR issue?

No, it isn't -- it's a marketing issue.

But it could become a PR issue if it caused a customer backlash (of which I haven't seen any evidence, in this case). If you don't think a change in marketing can cause customer backlash, though, go back and check out what happened when The Gap tried to update its logo in 2010. 

Could this be a publicity stunt?

A friend of mine suggested it might be, in the interests of getting everyone blogging and tweeting about the new sizes. (If that's the case, you're welcome, Tim's!)

I'd question whether Tim Hortons would take that risk unnecessarily, since there was the possibility customers would find the whole thing confusing and annoying until they got the hang of it. 

I'm not going to say it's impossible, but I wouldn't have recommended potentially confusing and annoying customers intentionally, in the hopes that their reactions would generate "buzz." That might generate publicity, but I don't think it would help the company's PR. 

The bottom line

Even if people find the re-naming annoying, I can't see it being a reason for anyone to stop buying coffee at Tim Hortons if that's the coffee they like. The company has a great reputation and brand -- this is at most a blip.

And even if Tim's has turned my old large into a medium, it still beats calling it a "venti."

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What constitutes a PR problem?

A tweet this afternoon led me to a story on the O'Dwyer's PR site entitled "Google, Starbucks Take First PR Blows of 2012."

The O'Dwyer's article linked to a piece in the New York Times, which quoted a retired NYPD bomb squad member on how Starbucks' Frappuccino bottle makes a suitable container for a Molotov cocktail, after an arsonist used the bottles in a series of firebomb attacks in Queens, NY over the weekend (thankfully, no-one was hurt).

Is this actually a PR problem for Starbucks?

Embarrassing, yes, but I don't think it's really a PR problem for Starbucks. Actual PR blows, to my mind, de-value an organization in the eyes of its publics; for instance, it would be a PR blow if this story revealed that Starbucks' product or behaviour didn't deliver on its brand promise, and/or that it operated in some way irresponsibly.

While I'm sure any reputable company would be aghast that its bottles were being used to help people hurt other people, and might even decide to change its packaging to reduce that potential, I don't see this as a reason for anyone to think less of Starbucks as a company... or to be any less likely to want to do business with it.

The fact is that bottled drinks come in bottles; and while we're at it, people intent on hurting others will find a way to do it, no matter what kind of bottle Starbucks uses for its Frappuccino.

Unflattering headlines aren't necessarily bad PR

This story reminded me of a smart post I read by Judy Gombita on the Windmill Networking blog late last year, about what constitutes an online crisis.

Thanks to social media, there are many, many voices out there -- and because of their interconnectedness, an observation or opinion from a small group can quickly start to look like a PR problem.

But I think it's important to recognize that embarrassing or unflattering coverage doesn't necessarily mean bad PR, if by PR we mean the relationships our organizations maintain with their publics.

If we deal in good faith, and a by-product of our good-faith dealings has a negative impact, we have the opportunity to consider making changes (if they're warranted) to reduce that negative impact -- and I don't think our publics would be likely to think any less of us for it. I don't have any research on hand to back that up, but it's what my years as a PR practitioner and even more years as a consumer tell me.

How should Starbucks respond?

I'm going to ask my classes about this tomorrow. If you have opinions to share, please do!