Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ikea: Smart PR, Smart Business

It is refreshing to see that Ikea, the Swedish/International furniture store, is community relations sensitive, as evidenced by its actions in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, New York. The store has distinguished itself, particularly in light of protests which have kept other major chains from entering key markets (e.g., residents of Staten Island, Queens and the Bronx have kept Wal-Mart out; and Manhattanites have kept Costco out.) The New York Times tells the story in its front page article on August 11, “Brooklyn Neighbors Admit a Big Box Isn’t All Bad.”

The protests against competitors obviously inspired Ikea’s benevolence but, regardless, its unique community strategies have inspired Brooklyn residents to embrace Ikea rather than turn away, as many opponents did — before Ikea acted — who felt the neighborhood would lose its character.

What I like about what Ikea did is that its management demonstrated wise strategic thinking, which is what one would expect from an established enterprise but often does not get. Management’s tactics addressed multiple audience segments beyond its basic customer base, focusing on those who influence customers, as well: young, old and even the general public. In doing so, the “resistance mat” has become a “welcome mat,” diluting anger through what I call a “community give-back program” focused on building current support and future customers.

Specifically, here are the magnificent moves Ikea made, according to the Times:

  • Built a grassy waterfront esplanade featuring benches with a view of the Lower Manhattan skyline, which is catching on as a neighborhood gathering place

  • Provides free N.Y. Water Taxi service between Red Hook and Manhattan, an appealing alternative to the subway

  • Offers a bus shuttle service taken by many people who are not even planning to enter the store

  • Allowed local Red Hook residents to apply for jobs at Ikea before others could

  • Selling 50 cent hot dogs in its café and offering free soda refills
One resident said Ikea’s actions are bringing badly needed visitors to the area who will spend money at other local stores. Another said Ikea may be a role-model for a future where people are less dependent on cars — and for building more developments on the waterfront. “There is a ripple effect,” he said.

But there is a ripple effect for Ikea as well. What it did has already appeared on the front page of the Times, not an easy achievement. That in itself is a magnet for customers. These moves will undoubtedly give a jump-start to business at the new store. Further it positions Ikea as a community leader, thereby sprinkling “stature dust” on it, providing a perception change among both advocates and adversaries, as well as the community at large. Said one resident: “Everyone was talking about it before — now no one talks about it anymore, which is nice.” Smart public relations is more about doing than talking.

Technorati Tags: Ikea, Red Hook, Brooklyn, Wal-Mart, Costco, NY Water Taxi, The New York Times, smart public relations, business, communications, public relations

Monday, August 18, 2008

Using the Internet as an Employee "Weapon"

This is the story of how the internet has been used as a "weapon" by employees to publicly embarrass a CEO.

Escalating charges and countercharges are not unusual in labor-management disputes, so it was no surprise when United Airlines pilots reacted — loudly — to UAL Corp.’s refusal to negotiate a new contract and the company’s announcement of plans to eliminate 950 pilot jobs and ground some aircraft to help offset the rising cost of fuel. The pilots union countercharged that the airline’s poor maintenance was responsible for four recent aircraft engine failures.

But the battle didn’t stop there. The United pilots launched a website called “Glenn Tilton Must Go,” “as a daily reminder to everyone invested in a positive future for United Airlines exactly where the source of our problems lies.” According to the pilots, that source is the CEO of United who, they say, has neglected the company’s day-to-day operations for two years, while he attempted to engineer mergers with Delta, Continental and US Airways.

The new website highlights the carrier's poor operational and financial performance, encourages passengers to report any problems they’ve had while flying on United and demands Tilton’s immediate resignation.

Readers have responded. Gerry Braun, a San Diego Union-Tribune reporter, for example, tells the tale of a family unceremoniously bumped off a flight the mother had booked six months in advance so that her grown children could visit their dying father in a hospice just once before he died of cancer.

Not only was the launch of the “Glenn Tilton Must Go” website bruited all over the blogosphere, it’s been widely covered by the mainstream media, including BusinessWeek , USA Today, The New York Times, the UK’s Guardian.

As of today, there’s been no official response from United. But the website strategy employed by the union has served its purpose. Tilton has, no doubt, lost support among his employees and the public. The speed of destruction was enabled by the internet and is there for a long time to come for everyone to see. Years ago it might have been a one shot press release covered once in the print and broadcast media.

Technorati Tags: internet, United Airlines, labor management disputes, pilots union, Glenn Tilton, Gleen Tilton Must Go, Gerry Braun, business, communications, public relations

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

You Gotta Have Heart.

As Frank Lloyd Wright once said, “The truth is more important than the facts.” Your constituents believe they’ll learn the truth only from a source of information that they can trust.

An interesting Stanford-Washington Post study tested Republicans and Democrats’ reactions to a list of headlines — on a wide range of topics. Each was randomly paired with one of four logos: BBC, CNN, Fox and NPR. There was considerable polarization in their responses. Republicans prefer Fox and avoid NPR and CNN. Democrats avoid Fox, but divide their attention between CNN and NPR. What’s even more important: when the news focused on controversial issues, people were especially likely to screen out the news sources that they believed did not share their political views.

In a world in which we are constantly bombarded with print, broadcast and web content; emails; text messages; phone calls; management memos; advertising and even the rumor mill, how does a communicator break through the clutter? How do you communicate the “facts” so that they are perceived by your stakeholders as the “truth” — as something they won’t screen out … that they will perceive as both relevant and reliable?

In an op-ed in The New York Times this past May, David Brooks wrote: “Information can now travel 15,000 miles in an instant. But the most important part of information’s journey is the last few inches — the space between a person’s eyes or ears and the various regions of the brain.”

I would add “the heart.” To get their passion, you have to get out there and meet them. You have to do outreach … even in the enemy camp. And with all the information bombarding your constituencies, you have to make sure that what you’re saying is being heard. You need a reliable feedback system. All that may require that you redesign your organizational structure. This is the only way I believe that an authentic enterprise can operate in a democratized world where reputation is decentralized.

We have to own that space between the person’s eyes and ears … but we also want their heart. It’s the best way to build a reservoir of good will that will protect and preserve reputation through the hard times that are inevitable in today’s global economy.

Technorati Tags: Frank Lloyd Wright, Sanford-Washington Post, Republicans, Democrats, The New York Times, David Brooks, heart, passion, business, communications, public relations

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

A Moving Experience

Makovsky + Company moved its offices last weekend. As of Monday, August 4, we are in our new space at 16 East 34th Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues.

“Welcome to the 21st century!” as one senior member of our firm said. And, indeed, it’s true.

The change in the physical environment that accompanies a move can have a major cultural and public relations impact on a company … and this move has brought us into a whole new realm. Natural daylight permeates our nearly 20,000-square-foot office from nearly every vantage point. (In an employee survey, we learned that having such light ranked number one among many desirable qualities.)

The qualities of independence and collaboration are in evidence everywhere. Our VoIP phone system and pitch pods — small, private booths like the carrels you find in library stacks — encourage independence. Our lounges and small meeting rooms encourage collaboration.

There are glass walls, warm furniture and sleek workstations. Everywhere you look there are sparkling new facilities and advanced technology, including state-of-the-art telecommunications and media. From the moment you enter the reception area, for example, the nature of our business is on display via 9’ x 25’ screens featuring breaking news and showcasing firm presentations. We can talk to you live and instantly, anywhere in the world, via video teleconferencing.

There is, indeed, something wonderful that happens when a company moves to new up-to-date quarters. It inspires new perspectives, fresh thinking and new beginnings. I don’t have any specific examples of these inspirations yet. One needs to live in new environments and new neighborhoods for awhile before such takes hold. But I can confirm that such developments jumpstart the spirit and challenge the brain … and we all need that from time to time to maximize our creativity and productivity for our clients, as well as for the firm itself.

Is this “change we can believe in” (to quote a now famous line)? With the support of the entire Makovsky team and their sense of urgency and commitment to our clients, it, indeed, will be!

Technorati Tags: moving, independence, collaboration, new perspectives, fresh thinking, new beginnings, new environment, neighborhood, business, communications, public relations