Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Practical Jokes on April Fools Have Impractical Results: 5 Tips on When Not to Use Humor to Humanize Your Brand

We're not big fans of April Fools jokes. Especially now when credibility and corporate culture are currently battle ground issues for news, media and marketing.

We get that April Fools pranks can be seen as a way to humanize a person or company not otherwise associated with a sense of humor. But that can be a strong reason not to engage in a prank.

Three years ago, we wrote a blog about an April Fools prank on Good Morning America that we thought undermined the credibility of ABC News and of George Stephanopoulos

This year's candidate for worst practical joke: Elon Musk. 





This was followed by two other related tweets.

None of them funny given last week's news about a significant recall of 123,000 Model S cars that generated headlines like:

The recall is necessary to fix a power steering bolt, which seems like a fairly important issue to address. And also follows, as the Wall St. Journal noted, "as the electric-vehicle maker grapples with the aftermath of a fatal car crash." The Journal also pointed out that Tesla has about $10 billion in debt.

So the question we'd ask is, "Is this the right time for a CEO of a publicly held company to post a fake Tweet that Tesla is filing for bankruptcy protection?
Our answer is pretty simple: No. This is not a good time. Even, or perhaps, especially, on April Fools -- if only because it sends a message that the bad news doesn't matter.

There is never a good time, really, for a CEO to post as a joke that the company is declaring bankruptcy, followed by a photo of that CEO allegedly drunk.

The result: a 5 percent drop of its share price on Monday, the first day of trading since the faux-bankruptcy Tweets (one of which mentioned a last-ditch Easter egg sale to bring in cash to stave of bankruptcy). Worse, it continues a streak from Sept. 2017 that has seen Tesla lose 36 percent of its share price.

The lessons here include:
  1. Respect your corporate brand.
  2. Humor can humanize a brand but make sure it's the right kind of humor.
  3. It may be a good idea to humanize your brand but make sure the humor works with your brand and your corporate culture.
  4. Don't joke around when you've had bad news because that makes it seem like you're not taking the bad news seriously.
  5. If you've had to issue a substantial recall and $10 billion in debt, don't joke about bankruptcy -- especially if you're the CEO of a publicly held company.
We assume Tesla's PR had nothing to do with the Tweet prank prior to Musk publishing it. But they have a lot to clean up now. That's an unforced error the company didn't need.


Monday, March 26, 2018

Conservatives Validate Our Prediction about a Big Tech Backlash, According to the New York Times

We know, a lot of our blog articles this year have been touting that our predictions have come true. While we are planning a number of articles that go beyond acknowledging our predictions have been validated, we do think it provides context when we see how the trends actually hit.

At the end of 2017, we said: 
There will be a debate about whether or not and how to regulate Facebook, Google and Twitter. The concern is about the power of their algorithms to determine what we see, especially regarding political ads and the veracity of the news delivered to each of us. The three major platforms have not disclosed specifics but have committed to working to increase transparency and prevent completely false and irresponsible content from being perceived as real news. The underlying questions are: "Has big tech gotten too powerful?" and "Can the major players truly clamp down on the false narratives spread on their platform?" and "How can Congress find a way to regulate them to prevent it from happening in the future?" Expect Congress to continue to hold hearings on the subject – just don’t expect any agreement on the answers before 2018’s midterm elections. (Net neutrality, another issue that also involves big tech, will be an additional source of debate and contention.)
We've already seen a lot of media coverage and Congressional hearings about the unchecked power of algorithms, and the havoc they can wreak. (I feel like I'm writing about a supervillain in a Marvel movie.)

We've seen a big tech backlash from the usual sources but now we're seeing it from otherwise free-market conservatives. Check out this New York Times article: "New Foils for the Right: Google and Facebook" (print headline: "Conservatives Find New Foil in Culture Wars: Silicon Valley" -- still not sure why The Times and other outlets don't let you search using the print headline but that's a topic for another blog post).

The article uses a soon-to-released documentary, "The Creepy Line" that looks at possible censorship of right-wing views as part of the ongoing culture wars.

Right now, with the left saying Google, Facebook and Twitter aren't doing to enough to prevent cyberbullying and misinformation and now the right saying those big tech companies are being too aggressive in sidelining views from the right -- big tech is between a rock and a hard place. 

It's hard to fend off attacks from both sides. Do too much, and one side complains. Back off a bit, and the other side now complains.

From our perspective, the real problem is there's never going to be a solution that fully satisfies critics on both sides. It will be a challenge for big tech to head things off with internal tweaks to their algorithms if only because the outside world (us) won't really see the impact of those tweaks. And Congress has shown itself unable to figure out a solution it can impose.

So.

We expect this to be a big issue that doesn't really go away. It certainly won't go away during the build-up to the 2018 midterm elections. And it won't go away Nov. 7, 2018, the day after the midterm elections when cable reporters start talking about the 2020 elections.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

3 Top Tech Trends for 2018

For CommPro.biz, a dynamic B2B publisher serving communications professionals, I wrote three articles this year on trends. The first focused on Boston-based trends. The second on media trends. The third, below, discusses media trends.

The article is available below and on the CommPro.biz site, was published Feb. 21, 2018.


Although technology was once limited to geeks, today we all use technology without necessarily appreciating that the coolest tech we use may not be in our smartphones. As we have for nearly two decades, here is a list of top three tech trends that we expect to have an impact in 2018. In our experience, it can be useful to understand tech trends that will get covered by the media so that our clients can anticipate and develop story angles to leverage the media’s interest.
  1. Artificial Intelligence and robotics will continue to be “hot.” I. and robotics are “hot” technologies, increasingly connected. We expect to continue to see scare stories about a “robocalypse” in which A.I.-enabled robots replace human workers but we also expect articles that debunk the scare stories.
  2. Millennials’ impact will change how companies market products and services. In 2018, marketers will increasingly realize they need to change how they reach the 4.8 million 26-year-olds, and the millions of others currently 25, 27 and 24 as they encounter life-defining moments they call “adulting.” Millennials’ preferences and needs have already spawned new apps and services to deal with these responsibilities and choices. We also expect a trend that began in 2017 to continue: companies will continue to develop educational content, that as described by the Wall St. Journal, teaches “such basic skills as to mow the lawn, use a tape measure, mop a floor, hammer a nail and pick a paint color.” We also expect millennial preferences to become the default choice; for example, doorbells may become vestigial as millennials text, not ring, when they arrive at a friend’s house.
  3. Smart-Home automation gains acceptance but still is a niche offering. Smart homes are preferred in some markets but not everyone wants them. That said, smart home tech and appliances are getting easier to find, install and deploy. One driver is intelligent personal assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Home but another is counter-intuitive: with a growing population of seniors aging in their homes, their adult children may insist on installing tech that can help them check in on their parents, adjust heating and air conditioning (already possible with Nest and other devices), turn on lights and get help via apps that their parents may not have figured out. Internet of Things (IoT) will likely fade because “smart home” is a more user-friendly term that’s easier to market.


Friday, March 16, 2018

More Bad News About Retailpocalypse: Death of Toys R Us

While other market indicators are strong -- such as the U.S. added 313,000 jobs in February -- that's not the case for retail, where there's bad news in several directions.

This week, Toys "R" Us announced that it will close all of more than 700 stores in the U.S. Here's the link to the Wall St. Journal article. The store closings will affect 33,000 employees.

But the implications go beyond those lost jobs. (And, by the way, even as the country adds jobs, it doesn't mean that the soon-to-be-unemployed will be able to land a new job quickly or without disruption.)

For example, 700 malls will now have big-box retail space they will need to rent out. Worse, unrented stores can lead to others deciding to close or move their stores. Today, Signet Jewelers, which owns Kay Jewelers, Zales, and Jared, announced it will close more than 200 stores. Instead, they will open new ones away from shopping malls.

The closings of Toys R Us and Signet stores puts more pressure on mall operators to find new tenant that mix well with the current set of tenants (i.e., not compete). Getting the right mix of stores to bring in traffic to the mall is more an art than a science. So mall operators need to find the right types of retailers that can use the kind of space being vacated by Toys R Us and Signet. And some of the remaining stores may decide to leave that particular mall. 

Meanwhile, the closing of the Toys R Us chain will also affect toy makers. Check out this Wall St. Journal article: "Toy Makers Stare at $11 Billion Hole With Death of Toys ‘R’ Us." So there's a negative impact that goes beyond the loss of retail jobs but could also lead to job losses at toy makers.

Unfortunately, we expect more news about the retailpocalypse this year. What we're still not seeing is a lot about the impact beyond job loss and impact on creditors. The media may start paying attention as the bad news in retail sector adds up. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Our Prediction about Corporate Boycotts -- by Other Companies -- Has Been Validated

One of our of more important predictions for ongoing trends in 2018 is was no. 11
Corporate boycotts & consumer boycotts will continue. These are boycotts by companies in order to demonstrate distance from controversial programs and personalities. We also expect boycotts of companies that are boycotting those controversial people and programs.
We've seen that to continue to be true in 2018, even more so than in 2017 when we first made that prediction.

In the wake of the tragic Parkland shooting, a number of big brand names have broken ties with the NRA. We've also seen a minor backlash to corporate boycotts -- like the reaction in Georgia to canceling a tax credit to Delta, whose HQ is in Georgia. Although Delta says the cancelation of a discount for NRA members was coincidental, Delta is not backing down.

The reason -- and the reason this is significant, as I told two college students who were interviewing me as part of a class project -- is that corporate values are more important than ever, thanks to social media. We expect more from the companies we purchase goods and services from.

That means brands need to look at making statements on controversial political matters -- something they would never have done a decade ago. More than that, they need to find the right tone and expression for that statement. It needs to fit the brand.

While the media worlds, including journalism and public relations -- endure significant upheaval (which includes, notably, a news cycle that churns so fast that stories like a porn star's suit against a U.S. president isn't even the top story), one thing is clear. And it's good news for PR practitioners.

PR has changed a lot over the past decade or so, but brands still need people who can tell stories that help shape brands. The best people positioned to do this are PR people who can tell a story via traditional media and social media (it has to be across both channels).



Monday, March 12, 2018

John Oliver Validates Our BitCoin Prediction & So Does the Wall St. Journal

For our predictions for 2018, we said to expect that bitcoin and blockchain would generate a lot of coverage -- much more than prior years. We said bitcoin and crypto currencies would generate a lot of coverage even though most people won't be investing in them.

That seems to be an accurate assessment.

Just check out two media pieces new this week.
  1. Wall St. Journal: Why Blockchain Will Survive, Even If Bitcoin Doesn’t: Latest blockchain applications could bring overdue change to critical, if unsexy, functions in shipping, real estate and…diamonds by Christopher Mims, who writes the "Keywords" weekly tech column.
  2. "Cryptocurrencies: Everything You Don't Understand about Money Combined with Everything You Don't Understand about Computers," which appeared on "Last Week Tonight" with John Oliver.
Check out both, they're worthwhile. This is the first time we've noted a trend being validated by John Oliver, whose "Last Week Tonight" is perhaps the funniest of the comedy news programs.

We still feel that bitcoin and cryptocurrencies won't go mainstream in terms of wide ownership or use of them by the general public. But we do think Mims is right that -- once the hype about blockchain subsides -- there is a  blockchain has the potential for surviving and transforming industries.

What do you think? Will blockchain be the next cloud computing, which seems to have had a long-term impact on business? Or is it like Netscape -- a pioneering tech that spawned an industry while failing? Or like Google Glass (cited by John Oliver), an interesting idea that didn't solve a real need for people right now?

Let us know what you think.

Monday, March 5, 2018

5 Top Media Trends for 2018

While our annual trends, published as always in December in the prior year, covers a lot of sectors -- some directly based on client sectors, some based on sectors that interest us -- what interests us most overall are the trends affecting the media.

The media is really the organizing principle for all our trends.

So while we issued our predictions across three different blog articles, they were often based on what we saw as top priority/most important trends as well as ongoing trends that will continue to be relevant in 2018.

In the article, below, which originally appeared Feb. 15, 2018 in CommPro.biz, a dynamic site for communication professionals, I broke out top trends affecting the media. You can read the full article, below, or check it out at the original site at CommPro.biz.

If there’s one thing we’ve all learned over the last few years, it’s that we live in a media-centric world. Love it or hate it or don’t believe it, whether traditional media or social media, the media affects us all, and it is helpful to understand the trends affecting the media.
For nearly two decades, we’ve compiled an annual list of trends based on a wide-ranging review of the media world and interactions with media influencers. Here are our five top media trends.
  1. The news cycle will continue to speed up. If you didn’t understand before how it was a curse, we certainly live in interesting times. The news cycle has gotten faster – with news alerts popping on our phones several times an hour. News that would have been significant a few years ago quickly gets pushed aside, and no one wants to be miss the latest shocker.Regardless of political views, people are finding this exhausting. Even late-night comedians are complaining.
  2. People will be more anxious and angry.The constant barrage of news, along with the need to comment or read others’ comments, is turning this into the Age of Anxiety and Anger. Another cause: screen addiction and the expectation of needing to be connected 24/7 to our online communities – so you never have to feel alone – but it actually leaves most of us feeling more empty, worried and angry than before, even if factoring out politics. We anticipate more coverage on stress, anxiety, mental health and ways to de-stress, which includes taking a break from your device – aka a technology cleanse or digital detox – which is healthy and a good idea but may be impossible.
  3. 2018 will be tough for traditional and online media.  News consumption has increased, but not enough of us want to payfor the news. Great reporting takes effort and lots of resources but sharing news on social media doesn’t help pay for reporting. So traditional and even online media need to develop new advertising and subscription-based business models. Another thing that will affect the media landscape: if either or both of the AT&T-Time Warner and Sinclair Broadcasting-Tribune Media deals get approved.
  4. Fake news won’t fade in 2018. If we can’t even agree on a definition of fake news, it will be impossible for Facebook, Google and Twitter to design algorithms and for Congress to enact regulations to stop fake news. (What’s sad: It’s still easier and more lucrative to generate totally fake news than it is to produce real, fact-based news.)
  5. Cord cutters won’t save money or money. At some point, cord cutters may realize they’re not really saving money they still need to pay for internet access while also paying for a slew of must-have streaming services. Worse, accessing all those different streaming services on your TV (remember those?) is still more clunky and time-consuming than using a cable box to find the movie or TV show you want.
Unfortunately, these trends are likely to continue unchanged into the future. But, as we’re all impacted by the media, it’s important to understand how they – and we – are being affected.