Today I Messed Up

In my first blog I stated I would cover the ‘state of the profession’ but we’re all meant to learn from each other, right? One of the best ways to learn is by making mistakes, right? We all make mistakes, right? Right. Well, I made a big one.

Take yourself back, Thursday 7th December at 3:53pm – what were you doing? I was working for VO, an independent online heating oil company, a fairly large one with a mailing list in the tens of thousands in Northern Ireland alone. Doing weekly mailshots to NI & UK is part of my remit. So, twice a week I’ll send out an email to hundreds of thousands of people. Best emails you’ll never want to read. Apart from the one I sent on Thursday to our entire NI database.

I’ll give a bit of information, first, into my process when writing these emails, it goes like this:

  • Think of a play on words/horrible pun – Black Ice Friday was a personal favourite
  • Write the email trying my upmost to get people to get onto our website and order some home heating oil
  • Proofread
  • Send it to colleagues & one outsider to make sure my grammar is absolutely on point – people love a grammar error.
  • Wait for feedback from all parties
  • Press send and pray.

Well on this occasion, with snow being forecast, I wrote ‘the snow is falling throughout the country’. Apparently, removing the ‘the’ before the word ‘snow’ was more applicable. You may be able to see where this is going. In jest, I put F-ing, in front of the word ‘snow’, screenshotted it and sent it back asking if I’d fixed it. We use Mailchimp, I dare say there is no person dumb enough to hit send with a curse word still remaining, cause a normal human deletes it immediately after, right? Nope. In my defence, we were busy, the phone rang and I took an order so it slipped to the back of my mind. If you’ve heard a worse excuse than that, let me know. My boss asked if I had hit send on the email because it had gotten busy, I said no and hurriedly sent it.

Yup.

The word?

Still there.

The phones?

Went mental.

Here, see for yourself:

See that feeling you have right now, that one where you’re thinking ‘wow, what an idiot’. Multiply it by 10, then square it, put it in a cannon and shoot it into the sky. That was about half of my stress level. Understandably, I’d just ruined my career, the company and my life. Donald Trump was about to start Tweeting about me in 5 minutes and I had just become the reason for a hard border on the island of Ireland.

I remembered from a lecture on crisis management that it is vital to get out in front, quickly. So, once I stated my mistake an apology email was sent, it was suggested that we go with ‘hacked’ and blamed it on a prankster. This was probably our only mistake. Cue a few emails and phone calls asking if personal information was stolen but alas, it was not. Just little ol’ me, being a very silly boy. But, if in doubt blame the Russians eh?

Disaster.

Or, was it?

It turned out that the response to the email was ridiculously positive, especially on social media. I monitored social media long into the night and I still am as I write this, responding to whoever mentions our name. Decided that the best way to deal with this, was with humour. And it worked, for the second time in my life people found me funny! The first being my birth.

We got 3 rt’s on Twitter for our apology, we’re an oil company, that probably matches our grand total. But I tried to use GIFs so I could use a bit of humour and not type because I no longer trusted my hands. Luckily, everyone loved it. If you go and look on social media you’ll see that I blamed a student on his second last day being a menace, a statement that I wasn’t sure was entirely false.

In terms of followers, the people who retweeted our/my error had a collective 14-15 thousand followers collectively, which is people we wouldn’t have reached. The email itself had a much higher open rate due to the apology email piquing interest. And we got a host of orders in the immediate aftermath. Although the snow may have played a role, but it was a lot more than we had gotten all day.

But I had work the next morning. I usually start at 12, but I aimed to be in for 9 as it wouldn’t be fair for anyone else to take the flak, but due to heavy snowfall and working in Mallusk, I made it in by 10:30. I spent most of the day dealing with complaints via email and phone call, those who were understandably offended by the profanity were largely receptive and accept-ive of the genuine apology after they’d given me a stern talking to, if any of you are somehow reading this, I’m still sorry!!

A lot of people found it hilarious and thought that it was a deliberate marketing ploy, fake it till you make it! It somehow worked an absolute treat and my one take away is that stepping away from the norm and taking risks can pay off. If this was deliberate I’d probably have the biggest head right now and be telling you how great I am. But, no, I still feel like an idiot. A lucky one. Hi potential future employers, I’ve learned, promise!

So here’s my takeaways from this:

  • PROOFREAD BEFORE YOU SEND AND NEVER, EVER SWEAR EVEN IF YOU DON’T INTEND TO SEND IT.
  • Taking risks sometimes works
  • Don’t bury your head in the sand and always tackle the issue head on, especially if it was your fault.

I hope you enjoyed reading this story more than I did living it. Even though this is a mistake that I would much prefer to bury and pretend didn’t happen, I like to own up to my own mistakes no matter the consequences, so go on, call me an idiot, I deserve it!

F**king snow, eh?

Anthony Boyd is a final year student on Bsc in Public Relations at Ulster University. He can be found on Twitter: @anthonyboyd16 or LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/anthony-boyd-4a5a63b4/

Harvey Weinstein: Protected by PR

Over the past four weeks, Harvey Weinstein has joined the ever-growing list of men who apparently can’t keep their hands off women.  This list includes President Clinton, President Trump, Bill Cosby and Roman Polanski, men who don’t know how to behave as Gentlemen.   

How did a culture of silence build up around Harvey Weinstein?

The pace of the allegations against Weinstein has been rapid over the past four weeks, allegations against him include sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape and the systematic silencing of victims.  The New York Times divulged the information on Harvey Weinstein in a scathing article which accounted for many of his victims.  According to The New York Times a female assistant working for The Weinstein Company claimed Mr Weinstein harassed her into giving him a massage while he was naked.

“I am a 28 year old woman trying to make a living and a career. Harvey Weinstein is a 64 year old, world famous man and this is his company. The balance of power is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein: 10.”

– From Lauren O’Connor‘s memo

 

LH1

Since the explosive article appeared, the number of women who have accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment or sexual assault is staggering.  Over 50 women have bravely stood up and accused him of something.  Yet Mr Weinstein has, “Unequivocally denied” any allegations of non-consensual sex.

I find it inconceivable that a man like Weinstein, with such a disturbing scope of behaviours was considered a normal and genuine man.

Harvey Weinstein has been protected by Hollywood.  All things ‘Hollywood’ are all things ‘PR’, and Weinstein was most definitely all things ‘Hollywood’.  He was one of the most powerful men in Hollywood – a ‘movie god’, possessing an unrivalled combination of political influence, power and money; and so it was clear the disgraced film mogul’s own institution were keen to keep quiet.  It is now the case that The Weinstein Company has fired Weinstein (that’s right, from his own company) in response to the publicity surrounding his sexual predatory behaviour.  In my opinion, The Weinstein Company should have had fired him 30 years ago when IT found out; rather than now, only when WE have found out.

Weinstein’s friends were his fixers and lawyers, they too are the powerful PR of Hollywood, yet once again, they kept quiet. Quentin Tarantino revealed on the 20th October 2017 he knew about Harvey Weinstein’s alleged misconduct towards women for years. “I knew enough to do more than I did”, the film director declared to The New York Times.  So why did he remain silent, consequently protecting Weinstein?  Behind the glitz and glam of Harvey Weinstein, he was piling up the victims and according to two company officials who spoke to The New York Times on the condition of anonymity; he had reached at least 8 silent settlements with women.

 “The men who do this, do it because they have the power and wealth to get away with it. They deliberately pick on women who are less powerful than themselves.”

– Joan Smith, writer, speaking about Weinstein

In a just world, Harvey Weinstein’s actions are indefensible, yet Weinstein defended them when he issued one of the strangest public apologies I have ever read. It’s clear he is now struggling to hire someone adequate enough to do his PR for him, now we all know the truth.

He starts by saying, “I came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, when all the rules about behaviour and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.”  Sorry Mr Weinstein, but sexual harassment and assault was never culture, you should blame yourself, not ‘The culture’.

Weinstein goes on to say, “Over the last year, I’ve asked Lisa Bloom to tutor me, and she’s put together a team of people. I’ve brought on therapists, and I plan to take a leave of absence from my company and to deal with this issue head on. I so respect all women, and regret what happened.”  Mr Weinstein, if you need a team of people and therapists to tutor you on how to behave like a civil, decent man and keep your hands to yourself; you really have no respect for anyone, not just women.

Weinstein closes with the following, “I am going to need a place to channel that anger, so I’ve decided that I’m going to give the NRA my full attention. I hope Wayne LaPierre will enjoy his retirement party. I’m going to do it at the same place I had my Bar Mitzvah. I’m making a movie about our President, perhaps we can make it a joint retirement party. One year ago, I began organizing a $5 million foundation to give scholarships to women directors at USC. While this might seem coincidental, it has been in the works for a year. It will be named after my mom, and I won’t disappoint her.”

As I’m sure many of you will agree, upon reading this my first thought was, “What is he talking about?”  How can he talk about the NRA, his Bar Mitzvah, the President, and an upcoming movie project all in an apology statement?  Is this an attempt by PR to distract us from the apology and his acknowledgement of his actions?  I don’t believe honouring his mother with a $5 million scholarship for women will eliminate the lifelong hurt and pain suffered by women he has abused either.

Harvey Weinstein has been protected by PR for most of his career and his serial sexual harassment went under the radar.  The powerful public’s who had every opportunity to challenge this animal unfortunately turned a very detrimental and destructive blind eye.

Lauren Hill is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University.  She can be contacted on LinkedIn.  

This Little Piggy Made A Blunder

As many of the posts on this blog have explored, social media can be an excellent tool for communicating with customers and promoting your brand. This, however, is dependent on how the brand utilises it. On Tuesday, October 17th, a Twitter user by the name of Heather Peacock (@heatherpea) posted an image of a sign outside of a school, stating “Skinnypigs will make you look better naked”.

Heather questioned how a school might not be the most appropriate place for this content; and another user by the name of Sarah (@sarahdavywrites) echoed her sentiment, going on to suggest how these types of statements can translate into body shaming.

The company in question responded. It got messy.

Continue reading “This Little Piggy Made A Blunder”

THE BANALITY OF NUCLEAR THREAT: My Time in Korea

THE BANALITY OF NUCLEAR THREAT: My Time in Korea

Just a few weeks ago I was packing my bags, preparing to head off on a little bit of an adventure in Asia. My brother, who has lived in South Korea for five years now, had invited me to visit him in Seoul, where he’s currently settled.

And although it meant missing one or two classes from my Communications & Public Relations course, I figured the travel experience would be worthwhile, despite it being my fourth visit to South Korea (and second visit in 2017!). Okay… So I love to travel, and I’m especially fascinated by Korea; its history, its culture, its economic dominance in Asia, and of course, its love for Kimchi (a sort of fermented cabbage delight).

But as I was packing, I couldn’t help be aware – even nervous – of the fact that I was about to spend two weeks essentially locked in the crosshairs of Seoul’s nuclear neighbour just 35 miles north of the city. At a time when tensions on the Korean peninsula are at an all-time high – North Korea’s recent ICB missile test, Trump’s twitter tirades and ‘declaration of war’, as well as the US Army’s show of strength dangerously close to the border of North Korea – a vacation in South Korea was seemingly ill-advised.

Closing my eyes, sticking my fingers in my ears, yelling “la-la-la-la-la-la-la”, I went anyway.

And what I found was remarkably the opposite to what I had expected before setting sail. I mean, I had been to Korea several times before, but not when relations had manifested into physical or visible acts of provocation. I was expecting to witness a subdued Korean people living in an atmosphere of extreme uneasiness, almost as if conflict could kick off at any moment between the two Koreas – or at least that’s how CNN portrayed it.

The reality however, couldn’t have been further from my expectation. I found a Korean people apparently unfazed by the recent hostilities on the peninsula. People I met were either happy to greet a tourist, or just too busy glued to their smartphones to even care. Nobody even bats an eye when a Korean soldier in uniform uses public transport. Their concerns appeared to be much simpler; a few minutes-late subway train was considered much more of a catastrophe than the threat of mass nuclear annihilation.

Korea1
Nosedive: Subway passengers using their smartphone on their commute.

Besides, my visit to South Korea coincided with Chuseok, a major thanksgiving festival and week-long public holiday for all Koreans. I’m told it’s a pretty big deal. So maybe spirits were relatively high, with people being simply too busy with family festivities to even fathom the possibility of all-out warfare.

Or maybe Koreans have become so accustomed to the threat of nuclear annihilation that it has now become part of the norm, almost banal. Similar to the violence during the Troubles; no matter how horrific the event, it just became expected and part of the daily narrative.

But as with any trip to South Korea, my brother and I visited the final frontier between North and South Korea: the Demilitarised Zone, or, ‘the DMZ’, if you’re cool.

Ironically named, the demilitarised zone demarcates the physical border between the two Koreas, and despite it intended to be a neutralised area, its actually the most heavily militarized border on the planet. So it’s a bit of a misnomer to say the least. Tourists are required to go through several security checks before embarking on the guided tour, and we were even made to sign a declaration of responsibility in the event of our deaths.

The tension on the DMZ is palpable. Soldiers from opposing Koreas engage in an incredibly tense standoff from the safe havens of their respective jurisdiction, and we were even lucky enough to hear the distant mumbles of propaganda music played by North Korean soldiers, in an attempt to intimidate tourists visiting from the Southern side of the DMZ.

Korea2
The Demilitarized Zone demarcates the physical border between North & South Korea. (22/09/17)

Upon returning (safely) from the DMZ, I asked my brother’s fiancé how Koreans really feel about the threat of conflict breaking out on the Korean peninsula and whether she thinks the U.S are helping or exacerbating the current situation. Sun Joo Choi, 35, from Boryeang, outside Seoul, told me,

“Most [South] Koreans really aren’t very concerned about the threat by North Korea. People having been living with this threat for so long that they no longer take it seriously. They are far more concerned about what is happening locally with our own politics in South Korea than they are with a rhetorical threat by Kim Jon Un. But the U.S are definitely not helping to resolve any tensions right now.”

So if that is true, that people aren’t at all fazed by North Korea’s nuclear programme, have the media got it wrong? Are they slightly misjudging the current public opinion in South Korea to the recent hostilities? Do they care more about the bread and butter issues than they do about North Korea? Or does a genuinely credible nuclear threat actually exist on the Korean peninsula as to warrant extensive media coverage?

Or maybe, more accurately, as the Guardian reported, some South Koreans are far more worried about the threat of U.S President Donald Trump, than they are their nearest neighbour.

 

Conán Meehan is an MSc Communications & Public Relations student and Executive Assistant for International Student Marketing & Recruitment at Ulster University. You can follow him on Twitter @ConanMeehan

Pourquoi ?

Pourquoi, the French word meaning why. A question that I’ve been asking myself several times since moving from Toulouse, situated in the sunny South of France back to the cold, rainy hills of Donegal. I was happy there, felt settled and have made some lifelong friendships. One word stands out in that sentence to me. Settled. In my eyes, being settled in this context is synonymous to being in your comfort zone. Does anybody like the feeling of change? It can be rather scary and overwhelming at first. Anyway, I decided a change is what I needed to gain a career I’ll enjoy.

During the first week of uni, our lecturer, Conor McGrath, told us to question everything in PR – including his own words. I find this a refreshing outlook to have in life in general. Mind you, since moving home, I’ve already had the joy of attempting to answering why the simple things in life are the way they are to my four-year-old niece! Is it just me or do we seem to lose this curious nature the older we become? We don’t seem to question anything until it directly affects us.

 

 

During the same week, someone else asked me about the master’s course I was going to be studying. When I told them about it, the response I got was ‘Oh, public relations, are they going to train you how to answer the phone?’. Oh, touché my friend. A few hours later, I was reading the first paper we had been given for our seminar the following week. One part of the paper stumbles upon the professionalisation of public relations. It briefly comments on how there are few people outside of the profession that accept it as that: a profession. It made me realise how oblivious many people are to what is behind PR and the power in which it holds from the way we view the world to how we view people in the media. Perhaps this ignorance plays to the advantage of PR practitioners. Or am I already feeding into that stereotype of PR practitioners being nothing but untrustworthy beings out to do us all wrong?

Having just finished my second week on the course, I find myself questioning one event. PM Theresa May’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference. Firstly, the lyrics ‘Who knows why it’s gotta be this way?’ from Rihanna and Calvin Harris’ song ‘This is what you came for’ filled the room as she entered. Why pick this song? I’m guessing this is her attempt to form a link between herself and the younger supporters of the party?

Those who attended the conference got more than what they had thought they came for. You couldn’t make it all up. Between a P45 being handed to her by prankster, Lee Nelson, to her coughing fit that went on for what felt like a decade, to the Chancellor giving her a lozenge to somehow help the situation, to her coughing some more, to the letters of the slogan on the wall falling behind her mid-speech. Not long after the conference she posted this on Twitter:

 

 

Right, so she is making light of what just happened. Top marks for having a witty response on social media within hours of the event happening. But can anything help her reputation at this point? Today, the day after the conference, numerous ministers have been backing her publicly. However, former Conservative minister, Ed Vaizey, has suggested that numerous MPs feel it’s time for her to resign. Her lack of leadership is evident but who would replace her during this crisis?

I have many British friends living in France, currently EU citizens living in another EU country, wondering what Brexit has in store for them and their livelihoods. Theresa May isn’t exactly giving them the picture of hope. Likewise, she isn’t giving me any hope. I live a short 15-minute drive to the border of Northern Ireland and I had no say in the Brexit vote yet the outcome of what is yet to come will potentially affect my town and community.

I would say I had a mild interest in British politics up until around two years ago. Like I said at the beginning, we don’t seem to question anything until it directly affects us…

Louise Harvey is studying for a MSc in Communications and Public Relations with Advertising at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter: @louiseharvey_ Instagram: @louiseharvey93

Ribs, Bibs and Blackboards: In At the Deep End

I started classes for my Masters in Communications and PR in the University of Ulster on the 26th of September and one of the first things I’ve learned so far is that jokes about domestic violence are a terrible way to sell ribs.

That’s going to need a little context. Ribs n’ Bibs is a small restaurant in Belfast owned by a man called Malachi Toner. On the 27th of September images started doing the rounds on social media of their advertising blackboard:

 

 

Eesh. A “joke” in really poor taste that is deeply offensive to victims of domestic abuse. It did not go down well.

First things first, if anyone reading this has been a victim of domestic violence, here’s a link to Womens Aid NI. A lot of smarter and more eloquent people than me have written about why domestic violence jokes are so horrible, for example.

This blog isn’t about the joke itself but about how the company reacted and what I think they should have done. It’s going to be a bit of an experiment to look back after my Masters and (hopefully) have much better ideas and be able to back them up with way more knowledge.

When the image above started circulating on social media, there was an immediate call from some users to let Ribs n Bibs know how out of order the joke was in the easiest way possible; by leaving 1 star reviews on their Facebook page. A company like Ribs n’ Bibs lives and dies on its Facebook reviews. If you’re visiting Belfast and looking for somewhere to eat, you check online. You also  avoid the places with one star reviews.

Within a matter of hours, the restaurant had received approximately 200 1 star reviews, dragging its overall rating down to 1. As of writing there are currently 756 1 star reviews and 98 5 star reviews. It’s overall rating is currently 1.5.

Ouch.

The restaurant’s first reaction, or at least the first reaction of whoever was running their Facebook page was this:

 

 

I have a three month old niece. She’s the most perfect baby who has ever lived, but her entire communication skill set consists of staring, the occasional grunt and crying when she’s hungry.

I am certain that she could have come up with a better response than the one above.

The next morning the owner, Malachi Toner, did the rounds of the local Talk Radio shows to try and undo the damage. These will be on demand if you want to listen back. He apologised (which is good) and talked about training and fund raisers (also good) without any actual details (not so good). It didn’t go down as well as Mr Toner would have hoped. Many people online accused him of deflecting, of trying to paint his staff and himself as victims.

What Ribs n’ Bibs  have ignored is their conversations with their customers are two-way and symmetric. I gave it a bit of thought and came up with a three step process to try and deal with the problem. I like to think my 3 step programme is a) the right thing to do and b) helps the company resolve a difficult PR problem.

  • Apologise. Do it soon. Do it sincerely. Ribs n’ Bibs didn’t get a proper “I’m sorry” out for over twelve hours.  The boss needs to take the heat and needs to do it with humility. The most important thing here is speed. Social media doesn’t sleep, the earlier you get involved, the more you can direct the narrative.
  • There are plenty of charities and organisations across Northern Ireland that provide help, advice and support to victims of domestic abuse. Contact one of them, explain that you realise the joke was deeply offensive and you want your staff to go through training to explain why it angered so many people and what they should do in the future. Set a date.
  • With this same charity organise a fundraiser. I don’t mean a vague promise, set a date. 

Once step 2 and 3 are done, put out a joint statement with the charity with details of the training and fundraiser.

By the time you go on the morning radio circuit, you have the chance to move the narrative from “Restaurant makes offensive joke” to “Restaurant quickly learns lesson, donates to charity”.

The very same people who get angry and go destroy your rating on Facebook are the same people who will actually reward you for attempting to right your wrong. This might have been turned into good PR exposure while also raising money for a good cause.

Or maybe not. It’s my first week.

 

Jason Ashford is studying for a MSc in Communications and Public Relations with Political Lobbying at the University of Ulster. He can be found on Twitter @jasonashford89.

 

Social Media Crisis Management

Social Media Crisis Management

Having recently completed the dissertation aspect of my MSc qualification, it seemed timely to revisit the crux of the subject area which I explored, for the purposes of an initial blog.

My area of study focused specifically on social media crisis management, and the technicalities of proactivity, prevention and management.

I set out to analyse, collate and form information (and practical tactics) which could help businesses/organisations/public figures minimise risk and protect reputation during (and in advance of) social media crises.

As a communications consultant I work (on a daily basis) with various clients who operate within the digital sphere. Providing digital consultancy is part of my daily routine, and having worked on large scale crisis projects with commercial clients, I became fascinated by this area of communication.social-media-crisis%20image%2011

The hand of business has, in many ways been forced into the age of social media. Businesses are now well aware of the market potential within social media and, with research showing that 82% of people are more likely to trust a company which engages on social media, businesses are left with little choice but to communicate on digital platforms. Trust aside, social media is increasingly geared towards sales, thus, to avoid such a lucrative channel would be to limit market potential.

Despite the fact that social media has been growing steadily for over 10 years, my findings concluded that many businesses are (to this day) ill-equipped to deal with adverse social media situations, with many of the practices ad-hoc and reactive.

Members can comment on your brand, and there’s not much you can do about it. The marketing channel is reversed- rather than top-down, things now move from the bottom up. Now that your customers can talk back, it pays to listen to what they have to say.”

There have been countless instances of social media crises at both a local and international level, and, interestingly, “during 2016, 19% of PR crises broke on Twitter, more than Facebook (16%), YouTube (4%) and blogs (4%). Brands appear more likely to receive criticism on Twitter than they are on other social networking platforms, with users being 17% more likely to send a negative tweet than a negative Facebook post.

As noted by many voices of authority in this sphere, “a social media crisis can (in certain cases) be something that occurs offline and is then brought to social media channels, or it can begin on social media channels, and then spread.”

One notable, worldwide example of the former was with Volkswagen, when what started as a product feature, spiralled into a social media storm and created subsequent reputational damage. Volkswagen’s manner and speed of response was strongly criticised “with video apologies from respective CEOs the only posts addressing the crisis after more than a week.”

With social media, your reputation can be completely eradicated in 48 hours, so you don’t have the luxury of time that you once did to methodically put together a step-by-step process.”

To conclude, here are 5 tactical recommendations for business (more to follow in next blog)

  1. Be prepared, a social media crisis can happen at any time- audit your social media channels to ensure you are equipped
  2. Create and implement an organisational crisis policy (particularly for organisations with multiple users)
  3. Make speedy decisions on action. Consider whether to reach out publicly (in a crisis situation) or take the conversation off line, and out of the public domain
  4. Tactics like disabling or reviewing posts (via Facebook) from visitors can be a useful first step in crisis situations. Also, think about how ‘boosted’ posts can take content out of your control and place it into (for example), previously banned page users and ‘non-likers’ of page
  5. Hide/delete unwanted or dangerous comments/posts/messages where necessary

John McManus graduated from Ulster University in December 2016 with an MSc in Political Lobbying & Public Affairs. He is a consultant at Turley PR & Public Affairs in Belfast. John can be contacted on Twitter @JohnPolMcManus and on LinkedIn: https://ie.linkedin.com/in/john-mcmanus-82509a49