What BlackBerry needs to demonstrate today

Today is #BlackBerry10 day! We’ve waited a long time for it.  I’ve been pretty pessimistic about RIM’s chances of turning things around over the last year. BlackBerry claims its new operating system is ‘Re-designed. Re-engineered. Re-invented’ so today I wanted to write about what I’m hoping to see at the launch today.

Without them there’s no chance RIM will be Re-serected.

Passion.  It’s the foundation of every great brand and I’m hoping that today RIM starts re-building an emotional relationship with both existing and potential new customers. A straight product introduction won’t cut it for RIM this time.

Some ‘Holy Sh!t’ moments. Steve Jobs was famous for them, and RIM needs to deliver a few at today’s launch presentation. RIM needs to disrupt the market and without any moments it’ll be fighting an uphill battle to make BlackBerry 10 a success.

Renewed Focus.  I wrote last year that one of the biggest missteps by RIM was that it lost sight of its customers. Having built an established Enterprise following RIM chased the iPhone crowd – and has been on a losing trajectory ever since.  BlackBerry10 will have 6 products in 2013 – and each one needs to be targeted at a specific user demographic group.

A killer strategic and tactical marketing plan.  RIM’s marketing has been woeful for longer than I care to remember – and that needs to have been fixed. The company has invested in its first Superbowl commercial to support the launch of BlackBerry10. It’s got to be good. The company also needs 7 tactical plans – one for rebuilding the corporate brand profile and one each for its six new BlackBerry10 products launching in 2013.

If RIM still hasn’t fixed its marketing problems it’ll be the marketing, not the technology, that kills BlackBerry10!

Carriers. In order to make BlackBerry10 a success RIM needs to have major carriers willing to take its new handsets from day 1 – a strong turnout of support at the launch would certainly settle investors nerves. Without them, BlackBerry10 could be dead on arrival. If reports I’m reading about a story in today’s Wall Street Journal later today are to be believed… RIM could be in trouble.

Something ‘cool’. And I’m talking subzero cool. While the reviews and leaks of the new BlackBerry Z10 handset and OS look good, if RIM wants to persuade former BlackBerry customers to return to the fold – let alone persuade dyed-in-the-wool iPhone and Android users BlackBerry10 will need something cool. And, I’m talking Samuel L Jackson cool!

RIM is streaming the long-awaited launch via its newsroom page which starts at 10am ET/7PT/3pm UK

Does #newamerican reinforce old stereotypes of Americans?

On January 17th American Airlines launched it’s new livery and brand identity.  #newamerican replaces the classic theme the company has used for the last 42 years and also includes a revision of the classic American eagle that has adorned its ‘silver birds’ since 1967.  Massimo Vignelli, the designer of the outgoing livery has described the new logo and livery as ‘having no permanence’ and the reaction from social media commentators has been mixed.

Personally, I think it’s a mess.  The tail fin design is unrefined, the font used for the American letter is plain – the company has moved away from the Helvetica Neue Bold it’s used for the last four decades] and the fact it wraps over the window line just doesn’t look good.  I thought it was a mess from day one, but wanted to take some time to live with it rather than rushing to judgement.  Having done that I still think it’s a little gawdy and I can’t  help feeling it reinforces many of the negative stereotypes that  many people from around the world associated with America – a little too loud, a little unrefined, and flag-waving at every opportunity – often a bit inappropriately.   The new logo resembles a pair of 80s 3D TV glasses more than an evolution of the American eagle.  What do you think?

I’ve also been having an interesting conversation with a few friends [@JennaLee, @JoeyJOH, @WirelessWench, @Amoyal and @MsMobileConverg on Twitter and we’re planning a Google Hangout to talk about the challenge faced by companies looking to re-brand – especially when their existing colours are such an intricate part of the fabric of the organization.

Rob Ford Needs A Better Media Strategy

Update 6 [March 3 2014]

Rob Ford says his interview with Jimmy Kimmel was scripted.  You couldn’t make it up… but, he could!

Update 5 [October 31]

It’s over for Rob Ford whatever he does from here, but it could have been very different had he handled the situation differently.  Over the last few months, since allegations about a video reported to show him smoking what appeared to be crack cocaine, his relationship with the media has been confrontational.  This morning there are videos of the Mayor shouting at reporters and appearing to push at least one photographer in attempt to get him to move off of his driveway.

Had Ford dealt with the questions and allegations differently, as I suggested in this post when the story broke, he could have stayed ahead of the story, changed the discussion and looked at ways in which he could survive the growing crisis.

Here are five key elements of surviving any media crisis:

  1. Have a clear strategic and tactical plan developed.  You may never need it, but if you do it’ll repay the investment in time and money.
  2. Get ahead of the story.  Address the allegations and questions as quickly as you can.  Use the pre-prepared crisis comms plan developed for use in the event that you need it.
  3. Tell the truth.  The facts will, likely, out and it’s better if the media hears it from you rather than via somebody else.
  4. If the allegations are true accept them and commit to taking the necessary action to ensure that they are dealt with or that action is taken to address an organizational failing.
  5. Stay calm,  don’t raise your voice, don’t confront journalists and remain polite and courteous.

For advice on effective crisis management planning call me on 647.773.2677 or email lyndon@thinkdifferently.ca

Update 4 [Sunday May 26]

The statement made by Rob Ford on Friday afternoon was a complete waste of time – leaving the key questions now being asked by typically pro-Ford media unanswered.  This afternoon, reading the reports of some of the Ford Brothers’ comments on their Sunday afternoon radio show highlights the point of my original post [below] – you can’t call the press names and expect them to like you – and then whine when they ask difficult questions.  The press isn’t bad because they ask challenging questions, and good if they support you and give you a platform – that’s not how it works!

My advice to the Ford’s? Read ‘If -‘ by Rudyard Kipling.  A couple of lines in particular, stand out:

‘ If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster; And treat those two impostors just the same… ‘ 

‘…you’ll be a man, my son.’

The Ford Brothers need a media strategy that enables them to deal with both triumph and difficult questions.  It’ll make them look like men, not like spoilt whining school yard bullies that are being asked to account for their behaviour.

Update 3 [Friday May 24 2013]

Rob Ford needs to get in front of the media – and do it quickly.  Yes, I know this isn’t new – but the opportunity in front of him is – and, if he’s sensible, he’ll seize it.  It could be the difference between a potentially career-ending disaster and giving him a chance to move forward.

The typical thinking when situations like the one that has engulfed Toronto’s Mayor over the last seven days is to get your side of the story on record – and quickly.  Having missed many opportunities to take control of the situation by addressing the media in a planned and dignified  manner – and dealing with the allegations made against him with the seriousness they deserve, a perfect storm has emerged over the last 18 hours.

Gawker and the Toronto Star both say the owners of the alleged video have gone to ground casting doubt over whether the video, they claim supports their allegations, will ever see the light of day.  Ford needs to get his side of the story out – whatever that is – with a short, clear, meticulously worded statement – and deliver it with passion, but dignity.  He needs to give the sort of speech a mayor might be expected to give faced with these kinds of allegations.

It’s not important what he says.  Whether the allegations are true of false is irrelevant. What matters right now for Rob Ford is that there is a window where he can regain control of a situation that has been spiralling out of his control for more than a week.  It’s a rare opportunity this far down the line and he needs to recognize it and seize it with both hands.  The storm may have passed come Monday…

Rob Ford’s future may very well depend on the choices he makes in the next few hours.

Update 2

Rob Ford’s continued refusal to formally address the allegations made by Gawker and The Toronto Star is as fascinating as it is unbelievable.  Arriving with your back to the press, refusing to answer questions… this is not the behaviour you’d expect of an elected official and his continued silence allows his accusers the opportunity to speculate.  It also does him as much, if not more, damage than addressing the accusations head on – after all, if they are, as Ford maintains, ridiculous then he deserves to have his reputation protected – and both the Toronto Star and Gawker held to account.

Public Relations is about perception and hiding [because that’s what he’s doing when he turns his back on the press and refuses to answer questions directly] will only harm Ford and allow his accusers to continue to make their claims.  If the rumours are unfounded, as Ford claims, there’s a very easy way to deal with them and protect his reputation. I explain how here dealing with defamatory comments online.

Update 

Many of the problems that I talk about in my original post, written in January, are compounding the problems Mayor Ford faces in the light of the accusations made by Gawker and the Toronto Star.  Ford’s current strategy has been to dismiss the accusations as ‘ridiculous’ during a brief exchange with journalists on Friday morning – he has not answered specific questions directly.

If the accusations are ridiculous, as Ford claims, then his strategy – allowing two key questions [is the person in the video him and, if it is, is he doing what his accusers say he is] to go unaddressed – the speculation could do him as much damage as the allegations being true.  He needs to call a press conference immediately, answer the allegations directly and take back some control of the situation while there is still a chance to save his career.

Original post:

I’ve been watching how mayor Ford handles the media since he took office in October 2010 and can’t help thinking he’d have an easier time of it had his media strategy have been better.

Since Ford took office he’s stumbled from one run-in with the press to another.  He’s bemoaned his continued pursuit by the media, demonstrated a lack of humour when ‘doorstepped’ by a costumed Mary Walsh, then there was the fiasco over his subsequent 911 call, and an unflinching view that he is the victim of a smear campaign… then there’s the negative press over alleged commandeering of TTC vehicles for his football team, questions over his integrity, use of election funds, failing to account for office spending… I could go on, but Torontoist has a great graphic detailing the various scrapes the mayor has gotten in to over the last two years.

My point is that Rob Ford’s approach to dealing with the media – oft referred to as a ‘scorched earth’ policy – damages him more than it does help him.  As a public figure, or the high profile CEO of a company, dealing with the media is part and parcel of the job.  That means being approachable, maintaining a sense of perspective and answering the difficult questions rather than accusing them of “burning” bridges and being “pathological liars“, “sucky little kids” or “a bunch of pricks” who “whine and cry and moan and … lie through their teeth” when they pursue you – either directly, or via somebody seen as speaking on your behalf.

Journalists also don’t like being banned from football fields, when the team is such a large part of your life, or threatening to bar them from a traditional New Year’s event.  It just makes them more determined to dig the dirt.  The sooner Mayor Ford learns that the easier his political and personal life will be.  Embracing the media would not only help take the spotlight off of him it would also allow him to focus his energies on serving the people that elected him, rather than fighting ongoing battles with both his accusers and the press.  After all, right now his attitude and behaviour towards the media is a story in itself right now.  Remove that and there’s less for the press to write about.

Having just listened to Mayor Ford’s post-decision press conference on the radio it seems, at least for today, that he’s adopting a different strategy. He’s more humble, conciliatory, more human. How long it will last though is anybody’s guess!

What can entrepreneurs learn from Rob Ford’s experiences?  Don’t duck questions – no matter how difficult they might be – it makes you look like you have something to hide irrespective of the truth.  Develop considered responses based on a pre-prepared strategic crisis communications plan that is an integral part of your PR toolkit, take control of the situation and control the story, and quickly move the conversation on to more comfortable ground.

Read more about Rob Ford’s PR and Media ‘Strategies’

10 things every entrepreneur needs to know about crisis communications

What I learned about Ford’s Social Marketing Strategy

Disclosure: I was invited, as their guest, to Ford’s Digital Summit held in Detroit .  The summit coincided with the North American International Auto Show.  They paid for my flights, accommodation and provided both transportation and hospitality for my two-day trip.  They also provided media accreditation for one day of the show.  

In return, they have asked for nothing, nor have they asked that I write favourably about the company or their products.

If I’m honest I was probably one of the worst people to invite to a digital summit hosted by a large corporation, but as I write about digital strategy Ford kindly extended an invitation to this year’s event.  I’ve written extensively about my frustration with traditional PR and marketing [including social media] strategies and how they fail to deliver the results most companies are looking for.  I’ve also organized a press tour or ten in my 15 year agency career.  But, I was interested to get a look at how a large Fortune 50 company [Ford Motor Company ranked #9 in the most recent survey of American businesses] is using social media as part of its communications strategy.

I’m not a Ford owner, nor do I know much about their current line up of vehicles.  I’d seen the launch of the Fusion in the press, I drove a Ford Explorer for a couple of years about 10 years ago, and if I was in the market for a pick-up truck then I’d choose an F150 because I fell in love with a candy red Harley Davidson [edition] as a child.  I also knew little more than the basics about Henry Ford and how he effectively invented mass production.  From a communications perspective, I knew even less about their activities – they’re not really relevant to the work I do with technology startups and entrepreneurs because they have large budgets and deep benches of PR and marketing professionals.  Or, that’s what I thought.

I was worried that I’d spend the whole trip nit-picking – as an insider I was sure that I’d see things that weren’t done as well as they could have been, or that their PR people would irritate me.  Those that know me and my views on many in my industry know I don’t make the next statement lightly – or out of a sense of gratitude to Ford for their hospitality: with the exception of a couple of really small things which are too trivial to detail, the whole two-day experience was flawless.  Flawless from a logistics perspective AND from an experience one  as well. Ford also didn’t leave anything wanting on the hospitality either!  Pulling it off when you’re hosting 20 people is hard enough… when there are 150+ attendees from all corners of the globe, speaking multiple languages… it’s impressive.

But, logistics, hospitality and experience weren’t what I was interested in.  What I wanted to know was how Ford was using social media as part of its overall marketing strategy.  Was it a bolt-on because the company has a large consumer audience and, well, it had to do social?  I was also interested to see how the Ford communications team handled 150 bloggers, journalists and writers when it came to access to senior executives. Looking at the itinerary, there wasn’t much time for traditional interviews so I wanted to know how that would work.  I was also suspecting that the event might be one big branding exercise – a corporate brainwashing – to ensure that everybody came away with the message the company wanted us all to repeat.  Would those of us who were granted interviews with senior executives from the comms, product and senior management team have a PR person perched – waiting to ensure that interviewees stayed on message?

It wasn’t quite like that.  In fact, it wasn’t anything like that.  I don’t think I actually consciously saw a PR person during the whole trip – at least, not in the way that most people would expect them to be ‘managing’ the event.  We had complete access to senior members of Ford’s communications and social media, product and mobile teams and interviews weren’t an often uncomfortable threesome of interviewer, interviewee and PR – when I asked if I could get some time with Scott Monty, Ford’s Global Head of Social Media, I was simply told, ‘we’ve told him you’d like to speak with him so just grab him when there’s a convenient moment.  He’s very approachable’.

You can listen to my interview with Scott here.  I’ve edited a couple of my questions to shorten them, but other than that the audio is ‘as live’.

I did, and he was – very approachable.  Very candid, open and happy to answer any questions.  But, that could be said for everybody we met during the summit – including the CEO Alan Mulally.  We’d been told that we would have a chance to talk with him on our last day in Detroit, and rather than a managed interview where each question was carefully responded to with a corporate pitch, the interview started with Mr. Mulally sitting at a table on the Ford booth in front of about 75 bloggers and online writers and asking, ‘what would you like to talk about?’.  Questions ranged from did he tweet, to what he drove – I think somebody even asked him what he ate for breakfast.  How many CEOs would take 45 minutes to talk with bloggers and online ‘influencers’?  Not many.  Few would be so candid.

Ford CEO Alan Mulally meets a group of bloggers and online influencers at #NAIAS

Over the last few days I’ve been thinking back to my original interest in attending the digital summit – to see what, if anything, I could learn from Ford that would help my customers.  Is there anything that entrepreneurs could learn from studying the social media marketing activities of a large Fortune 50 company like Ford?  In short – yes.  It’s clear that Ford gets how the new marketing communications landscape works.  It gets brand experience.  It gets openness [a lot is written about being authentic in the context of social media, but authentic is often hard to do].  It’s hard when you’re a small business, and even harder when you’re a corporate leviathan.

What I experienced in Detroit is the best example I’ve seen of a company integrating a social element in everything it does – and I don’t mean that in a ‘on every platform’ way.  It’s clear that Ford understands the value of word-of-mouth AND how to create it digitally. It gets how it be used to help them sell cars, and keep customers loyal.  It understands that social media marketing IS NOT something that is defined by platforms, but that it’s an ethos that has to live and breathe from top to bottom [and vice versa].  Ford isn’t the first to use it – it’s the same strategy used by US Senator Barack Obama to win the 2008 Presidential election [detailed in this article by Ellen McGirt – but, surprisingly, very few companies have adopted it.

If you’re an entrepreneur looking at how best to use social media I’d recommend taking a look at what Ford is doing – rather than listening to any of the, often self-titled, experts.  To be honest, a lot of the PR people and social media ‘ninjas’ could learn a lot from it too – and I didn’t expect I’d be saying that before the summit.

Silence was Armstrong’s best PR strategy

If Lance Armstrong was going to come clean then the time was long ago. Not, as he chose, in a two-part special with Oprah. Much has been made of Armstrong’s long-overdue confession with America’s most watched talk show host. It’s been described as a bid to secure his long-term future [Armstrong wasn’t paid for the interview, but it was suggested that by confessing, he could open the way to a reduction in his lifetime ban] or as some kind of redemption and rehabilitation strategy. If it was, he failed.

If Armstrong wanted a path back to competition then his best strategy was to remain silent. I’m not condoning it, or suggesting that he shouldn’t have come clean, but the timing and manner of his admission were all wrong. The right thing to do would have been to own up to his cheating when the rumours first started to surface. There was even a window when the USADA investigation gathered pace – he could have avoided the high-profile publicity, the 1000 page report and the mass media attention.

But, given that he repeatedly denied he’d doped, and went as far as to sue people who were actually telling the truth, Armstrong’s best strategy was to stick to the approach he adopted when the USADA labelled him a serial cheat – to stop denying he had cheated and say nothing. Given that most people already believed he was guilty, most people would have forgotten about him in a matter of months.

Sure, there would always have been a cloud hanging over him, but he could always have truthfully repeated the mantra, ‘I never failed a test’. This was, after all, the fact, if not the truth. Had Armstrong continued to work behind the scenes for his Livestrong foundation he could, in time, have reestablished himself in the role of cancer survivor and charity fundraiser and reentered the public arena. Silence would have enabled him to lobby the sporting powers for a reduction of his life ban and re-introduction to competitive triathlon and road racing in 2020 as an age-grouper. In 7 years, likely only the hardcore cyclists will remember him, and nobody would criticize his establishment of a foundation that has raised hundreds of millions to inspire and support people affected by cancer.

Armstrong’s very public admission, however, will likely cost him his reported $100m fortune, as well as his chances of ever competing again, and label him not only a cheat, but a serial liar. This is now what his legacy will be.

Will Lance Armstrong’s ‘Comeback Plan’ Work?

I wanted to give my thoughts on a report in today’s USA Today that suggests Lance Armstrong’s expected confession that he did take performance-enhancing drugs during his professional cycling career is part of a long-term plan to rehabilitate his damaged image. If he does admit doping [to date Lance Armstrong has always denied it] I believe this plan will not only fail, but will backfire badly. Why? Because of his vehement denials, the fact that any admission would come after he’d been stripped of his seven Tour De France titles, because he’s had numerous opportunities to come clean and because not only will he be seen to have cheated, but now also to have repeatedly lied about it.

I’ve been a supporter of Armstrong for many years. I don’t understand why a man who is acknowledged to be a super-human athlete, [his aerobic performance has long been documented to be off-the-charts even before his cycling career] and who, by the admission of one of his accusers, could beat [clean] his doping competitors, would take drugs. I also don’t understand why, in an environment where many of his peers have admitted taking performance-enhancing drugs, it has taken him so long to come clean.

I wrote earlier in the year about Armstrong’s communications strategy. I believed his approach – to force the USADA to show their evidence – was a wise strategy if he was innocent of the accusations.  If he was guilty however, and there was evidence that would condemn him, it was madness. If, as is reported, Armstrong finally admits he cheated then his strategy then was awful. It’s now also mis-judged. If he believes that an admission will lead to some kind of redemption, it won’t.

NAIAS – Ford Digital Summit

I’m attending the North American International Auto Show as a guest of Ford Motor Company. Over the next few days I’ll be writing about the Digital Summit they are holding over the next two days as well as thoughts about how the company [and other auto makers] are using social communications channels to attract and retain loyal owners.

Disclosure: I am a guest of Ford Motor Company, which has paid for my airfare, hotel and hospitality during my stay in Detroit for the NAIAS and digital summit. They have, however, not asked that I write about it, nor have they asked that I write favourably about them in return for their hospitality and have not asked for editorial pre-sight of what I write.

En route to Detroit for the North American International Auto Show as a guest of Ford Motor Company
En route to Detroit for the North American International Auto Show as a guest of Ford Motor Company

The central console in the 2014 Ford Fusion is great for geeks like me. It tells you about what mode the car is in [electric or traditional gas], as well as things normal things you’d expect from a modern vehicle control centre. When I first saw a picture of the car I was drawn to the Aston Martin-esque front grille. The driver suggested it might also inspire memories of Jaguars of old – I’ll have to have another look before I can tell you whether I agree.

A panel in the 2014 Ford Fusion Hybrid dashboard is heaven for geeks like me!
A panel in the 2014 Ford Fusion Hybrid dashboard is heaven for geeks like me!

The strangest thing about hybrid/EVs for me, is the lack of motor noise. The best thing? Gas consumption – our host claimed that having driven back and forth between Detroit airport and our hotel [the Westin] he topped-off the tank – 5 and a half liters [about half a tank]. If reflective of average use then they are impressive numbers.

Update: Monday January 14th [6.30 am]

Last night I visited The Henry Ford Museum for the first sessions of Ford’s Digital Summit. If you’ve not visited the museum I’d recommend it. While it boasts the name of the company’s founder it’s not all Ford vehicles – containing a history of technology since the industrial revolution. The museum has three presidential limousines – Eisenhower, Reagan and the car in which John F. Kennedy was shot in while visiting Dallas on 22 November 1963 and modified by the United States’ 36th President… Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Dearborn-20130113-02458

There’s also the bus that Rosa Parks famously stood up for her civil rights in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. You can sit in the seat Rosa refused to give up.

IMG-20130113-02452

The evening also contained a session discussing design and innovation that looked at how a company like Ford stays ahead of the design curve. The company has a design team of more than 100 from around 27 countries and has scenarios for 1, 3, 5, 10 and 15 years ahead, which its teams develop vehicle designs for. I also had the pleasure of sitting next to one of the company’s senior communications team [from their digital agency roster] and discuss everything from the future of corporate communications, the online/offline communications mix and the importance of targeting.

Update January 14th – 11pm

I’ll write more about some of the things I’ve seen and talked about today soon, but I wanted to share an interview I did with Scott Monty, Global Head of Social Media at Ford Motor Company. I spoke with him earlier this evening to find out what social media means to the company. I started by asking him how Ford got in to using social media.

Scott Monty Ford [edited]

Ford just announced a new concept truck – The Atlas.

Photo on 2013-01-15 at 8.29 AM

Ford Atlas

Journalists hate management speak/buzz words

There’s been a lot of coverage of the worst buzzwords used by PR people in 2012 and it reminded me of something I’d seen a few years back.  One UK journalist, David Meyer, decided a few years ago that he’d illustrate the problem he faced daily, reading press releases and interviewing company spokespersons, by writing a song about it.  It uses ONLY management speak in the lyrics.

If you know somebody that uses management speak or writes press releases filled with buzz words send them the link.  When you’re writing a release or talking with journalists [or customers/prospects/influencers, etc.] put yourself in their shoes – would you understand what you mean?  Once you’ve seen the video for ‘Love Solutions’ it’s hard to use buzzwords again without a smile appearing on your face.