Monday, April 28, 2008

How to Handle Internet Rumors

The new world of the social media can sometimes seem overwhelming. Charges of misdeeds — whether true or not — can spread at the speed of a mouse click. So how do you protect and preserve your reputation?

You do what food giant Heinz did … you set the record straight and you do it quickly.

In its May 2008 issue, English men’s magazine Loaded ran a photo of a faux can of Heinz Alphabetti Spaghetti — featuring tiny pasta shaped like swastikas instead of letters — with copy stating that the food company made the product especially for the German market during World War II. The brief article also bore a stamp claiming it was “100% true.”

It was an old and totally unfounded rumor that had been debunked way back in 2002 by and Heinz was not amused. Its lawyers were on the phone with Loaded immediately, and the magazine issued an apology “to Heinz and to anyone who was offended by the article, which we admit was false and irresponsible.” You can read the apology here; but be aware that, generally speaking, Loaded is NSFW (not safe for work).

British newspaper The Wigan Evening Post quoted a Heinz spokesman who said: “Perhaps the article came from one of those weird Internet rumors that are not based on facts. Whatever the origins, the magazine clearly chose not to check the facts and made this completely erroneous claim.

“We carefully track any references to Heinz and, as soon as the article appeared, we were on to Loaded to make a complaint,” he continued. “We are pleased that the magazine has set the record straight.”

The apology was picked up all over the blogosphere and in publications ranging from The Times to Food Business Review.

It’s a great example of how an image-savvy company that monitors the blogosphere can take control of an issue before it can become a crisis.

Monday, April 21, 2008

SubPrime Mortgages: The Crisis that Doesn’t End

Crises are rarely monolithic. There are always all kinds of reverberations … and a company (or industry!) that cares about its image and reputation will identify areas of vulnerability, address them proactively and communicate quickly and accurately. If they don’t, it’s likely the problems will continue.

Witness the subprime mortgage crisis.

As a direct result of this fiasco, federally chartered banks held more than $12 billion worth of foreclosed properties nationwide at the end of 2007, about 100 percent more than a year ago, according to a recent story in the Chicago Tribune.

In some parts of the country — where property values are low and there are dense concentrations of foreclosures — there are lenders who foreclose on the formerly overpriced subprime housing and evict the owners, but don't actually take title to the property, to avoid paying taxes on it.

According to some experts, this could create abandoned neighborhoods of boarded-up buildings. Remember the Bronx in the 1970s? Look for suburban neighborhoods to go that way in the future. And that may deal yet another blow to the reputation of the retail banking industry.

To stop this emerging blight and resulting reputation erosion, lenders must organize through their associations to lead the development of financing programs, either through government or private sources — if they can't support the programs themselves.

Action is required now if we are going to halt a wave that will have long-term negative economic impact and further weaken confidence in an important pillar of our society.

Technorati Tags: subprime mortgages crisis, crisis, federally chartered banks, foreclosed properties, Chicago Tribune, retail banking industry, reputation, economy, business, communications, public relations

Monday, April 14, 2008

Olympics: Yes or No?

“Faster, Higher, Stronger, No Longer,” an op-ed in this Sunday’s issue of The New York Times urges the end of the Olympics because of certain sordid incidents throughout its history. Writer Buzz Bissinger points out that there have been problems at nearly every Game.

The Beijing 2008 Olympic Games are now associated with human rights abuses, air pollution and food purity issues. Among previous games, there were: the bombing in Atlanta, the Munich Massacre (where pro-Palestinians held the Israeli team hostage and 11 people died), steroid use by top athletes, the bribery of judges, a boycott because of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan and so on and so forth. Bissinger recommends an American pull-out, asserting that “there is only one way left to improve the Olympics: to permanently end them.”

It is true that the reputation of the Games has suffered from these transgressions and that new rules and regulations are needed to prevent future abuses, through penalty or incentive. For example, it cold be mandated that potential host countries must demonstrate that they do not violate human rights to be eligible.

While there are clearly deficiencies in the Olympics as they are currently constituted, it is very clear to me that the interaction of the thousands of athletes from around the world; the exposure of the fans to other cultures and countries; the good will, camaraderie and hope that are generated far outweigh the defects of the Games. I contend that the Olympic Games demonstrate that the world can come together, that politics can obstruct but not defeat this unity — thereby increasing the potential for friendly understanding among nations.

Not having the Olympics is no solution.

The op-ed quotes sports broadcaster Bob Costas as saying of the participants: “This is their chance to march into the Olympic Stadium. It is the culmination of all their time and effort. Many of them come out of impoverished circumstances, and they are exposed to more in two weeks than they might be in two years.”

The Olympics must remain a symbol of hope and goodwill, and that alone should sustain its reputation, despite the obstacles it may always face. As globalization accelerates, so will the need for greater world cooperation and integration. An American pull-out would certainly represent a rejection of those values as well as being a further blight on our own reputation.

Technorati Tags: Olympics, The New York Times, Buzz Bissinger, Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, Atlanta, steriods, bribery, Afghanistan, Soviet Union, reputation, Bob Costas, hope, business, communications, public relations

Monday, April 07, 2008

Information That Can Save Lives

People often forget that public relations can save lives. The information that is being communicated is so vital that heeding what is read or seen or heard can have life or death impact. That’s why I’m writing this blog today.

Makovsky + Company has just launched a campaign and a website for our client, Quest Diagnostics about the critical issue of colon cancer, one of the most common, most survivable cancers in the U.S. … if it’s caught and treated in the early stages.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 60% of deaths from colorectal cancer could be avoided if people over 50 received the recommended screening tests.

Every year, doctors across the U.S. provide their patients with millions of take-home colorectal cancer screening tests and remind them that early detection saves lives. Yet, according to Quest, in a recent study, only 31% of 1,818 patients actually completed an at-home colorectal screening test!

There are lots of screening options available. Some — like the FOBT (fecal occult blood tests) and FIT (fecal immunochemical test) — are non-invasive and can be completed in the privacy of your own home, like Quest’s InsureFit™. But they can’t help save your life if you don’t use them!

Approximately 150,000 people are diagnosed each year with colon cancer, and one-third of these patients will ultimately succumb to the disease. These are tragic numbers, considering colorectal cancer is largely treatable when detected early on. Please add to the survival statistics! Join this health initiative to reduce the incidence and death rates of colon cancer.

I can personally attest to the importance of screening. I urge you to start today. Do it – and don’t delay.

Technorati Tags: Do You Have the Guts?, Quest Diagnostics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, colon cancer, colorectal cancer screening, FOBT, FIT, health initiative, business, communications, public relations