Pulse of the Profession

Friday Five: Brands Blasted for Misleading Communications

Public relations professionals love to deliver good news. However, when it comes to sharing bad news convoluted, unfocused messaging can only make the situation worse. Any mismanagement or intentional misfiring can make your brand the talk of the town (and not in a good way) so be prepared for the negative backlash from communication experts and the general public alike.  

In this week’s PRSA “Friday Five” post — an analysis of the week’s biggest public relations and business news and commentary — we look at four major brands and the challenges they have faced this week as a result of mismanaged communications and a clear lack of transparency when discussing major issues. We will also take a look at trends being forecasted by Ford Global Trends and Futuring that may keep other top brands from ending up in hot water.

P&G’s Muddled Messages, And The Need For Corporate Meaning (Fast Company)

P&G CEO and Chairman Bob McDonald was featured in the October issue of Fortune where he discussed financial pressures affecting the company, and various initiatives underway to address these issues. After reading the interview, Fast Company contributors Alex Pattakow and Elaine Dundon found a serious lack of consistent messaging. One of P&G’s bigger problems, pointed out by Pattakow and Dundon, are the inconsistent messages that employees are hearing each day. From a focus on “discontinuous innovation” to the creation of a “culture of productivity” there is a major lapse in setting priorities, making those priorities clear in messaging and the delivery of these messages to employees. What we are seeing in P&G’s messages are vague and general statements that can encompass a number of ideas and values that easily misplace focus. While P&G is a large company and responsible for managing multiple messages, organizing said messages along a continuum would help the company to better represent itself.   

‘Classically Bad’ Press Release Leaves Citi Vulnerable (Ragan’s PR Daily)

This week Citigroup also faced some criticism for convoluted communications in a press release announcing the layoff of 11,000 employees. Communications professionals commented that the press release insulted employees and much of the content was left to be interpreted at the media’s discretion. The mention of layoffs was buried in the bottom of the third paragraph and Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat was criticized for the lack of humanity in his quote. Veteran journalist Jim Yisela offers some tips for clear communication that may keep your company from making the same mistakes.

California Sues Delta Air Lines Over Mobile App Privacy Policy (Los Angeles Times)

California Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris is hitting Delta Air Lines with a major law suit this week over Delta’s mobile app and its lack of compliance with state privacy laws. While the app offers Delta fliers the opportunity to check into their flights and pay to check their baggage, Delta also has access to the traveler’s full name, addresses and credit card information with no privacy policy in place to protect this information. California has put law in place which requires mobile apps collecting person information to have privacy policies. As of Thursday, December 6, Delta has not complied within the 30-day required time frame to construct a privacy policy.

Papa John’s, Applebee’s and Others Pay Huge Price For Anti-Obamacare Politicking (Forbes)

When Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter mixed his pizza business with his personal take on politics, the majority of Papa John’s fans responded with an uproar of disapproval. Schnatter had made a statement that he would be cutting the work hours for Papa John’s employees, bringing them below 30 hours per week, in order to avoid having to provide health care benefits for his employees. Let’s just say the company’s working-class customers did not enjoy his comments. The reaction to his statement was so overwhelming that Schnatter published an op-ed piece where he tries to convince his pizza loving fans that he never really intended to cut back the worker hours of his employees. Even YouGov BrandIndex, a leading marketing survey that measures “Buzz” in the market place showed Papa John’s brand perception score fall from 32 to a measly score of 4 – all as a result of Papa John’s trying to get around the requirements of Obamacare. 

Ford’s Futurist Says These Massive Trends Will Define 2013 (Business Insider)

To wrap up this week’s Friday Five, let’s look at some trends that Sheryl Connolly, manager at Ford Global Trends and Futuring, dug up and shared with Business Insider. Connolly says these tips may help companies and brands stay ahead of the game in 2013. Here are a few trends that Ford thinks will define the consumer environment next year:

  1. Trust is the new black. As trust in brands has declined by almost 50% in the last year, 2013 presents brands and companies with the opportunity to gain the trust of their most valued consumer, fans, followers, etc.
  2. The engaged consumer. Get ready to be held accountable. Consumers are ready to support those companies they perceive to be responsible.
  3. Honesty is better than perfection. Transparency will be the key to turning a consumer’s heart. Consumers can relate to mistakes and those who admit to them. They cannot relate to picture perfect, when in reality that doesn’t exist for any brand.

 Nicole Castro is the public relations associate at the Public Relations Society of America.

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