Posted by Amanda Chapel
A Case Study in Using Blogging in Crisis
Have you been following Interpublic? Damn... have they sauntered into a bears' den or what?
For those not in the business and/or by chance live under a rock, Interpublic Group (NYSE: IPG) is one of the world's advertising and marketing conglomerates. They own some of the most widely recognized brands in Public Relations: Weber Shandwick, GolinHarris, MWW Group, Rogers & Cowan, Mullen. They have more than 43,000 employees worldwide in 130 countries. In 2005, the Interpublic Group revenues topped $6.3 billion. They're big.
Anyway, the company is in the midst of a case history in the making, "What do you do when you meet up with a bear in the woods? Or, how to use blogging to keep from being eaten?"
Here, let's review some of the most recent bearish news. This from late last month:
And if that wasn't bad enough, just last week Lowe got a big fat red D+ for a report card from Adweek magazine. And if that doesn't beat all, this last Wednesday, Moody's dropped the company's rating.
"NEW YORK, April 5 (Reuters) - Moody's Investors Service on Wednesday cut its ratings on the Interpublic Group deeper into junk territory, citing the company's weaker than expected profitability for the fiscal year 2006. What's more, Moody's warned it may cut the ratings further if the company does not improve its top-line growth and cuts costs in selected units.
The downgrade also reflects an expectation that it will take longer than originally anticipated to turnaround the company, likely extending from 2007 into 2008, Moody's said in a statement.
The previous week the company reported a $34.2 million net loss for the fourth quarter and restated earnings for the rest of 2005.
Moody's said in a statement, 'In the absence of top line growth (net of dispositions), as well as cost savings in certain subsidiaries, such as Lowe, in 2006, the rating will likely be cut further.'"
Yikes!! To quote an internal memo from Lowe's chairman and chief creative officer Mark Wnek, "As is the case with much of the journalistic coverage of our agency, it seems that the writers have chosen to take every detail and twist it to paint the worst possible story." Indeed Mark, that's what bears do. Bears poop in the woods.
So generally speaking, what does one do so as the bear doesn't eat you? That's really key. Imagine you're Michael Roth, Chairman and CEO of Interpublic. What do ya suppose he's thinking about now? Well I'll tell ya. He's thinking, "NOBODY MOVE!! And shhhhhhhut...the... fuck... up. Don't look at it!" He's so hoping that, maybe, just maybe, the bear will go away.
Turns out that's pretty accurate. According to naturalist and all-around mountain guru Ward Cameron, "What do you do when you encounter a bear," this would be Situation #3 - Bear has detected you and shows signs of aggression."
First, "You'll need to assess the situation. Are you dealing with a black bear or a grizzly? Are there cubs involved? Are there climbable trees nearby and do you have sufficient time to climb them?"
Two key point of advice:
"Try to retreat slowly. Back up slowly and try to put more space between you and the bear. Talk softly and calmly so that it can identify you as human, and slowly back up. Don't make direct eye contact, but keep a close look at the bear as you back away.
If a grizzly makes contact, playing dead in a daytime grizzly encounter tends to reduce the level of injury sustained by most attack victims. Playing dead may show the bear that you are not a threat."
So... how can you use blogging to avoid getting killed? Let's turn to our celebrity blog advocates.
You may recall in our first post here, we called celebrity blogger/evangelist Steve Rubel of Edelman, the poster boy for the corporate "Loose-Canon Club." In his post "Who Should Speak?" he said, "All of this leads to a larger issue. Who is a corporate spokesperson? Is it any employee who blogs, the CEO, who?" In light of the bear on the path directly in front of Interpublic, go tell that to Roth. I'd pay to see the look on his face. Priceless.
Now before we get carried away, keep in mind that most bloggers are lightweight aggregators with little original to say. But occasionally, some seem to stand out. Some seem to go out of their way to demonstrated the disconnect between the c-suite and the frontlines.
Two of PR's most prolific and outspoken PR bloggers happen to hail from Interpublic Group Companies.
Jeremy Pepper joined Weber Shandwick last January as "one of the industry's earliest and best-known PR bloggers." According to his press announcement, "His POP! PR Jots is currently one of the top 20 most popular PR blogs, ranked in the top 15 percent of the world's most actively linked blogs." Pepper presently serves as group manager in the company's San Francisco office, working closely with clients to develop and drive online communications strategies.
Pepper continues writing POP! PR Jots. The follow are just a few recent and random quotes. Okay, in light of the surrounding grizzly bears (see above), imagine Roth saying/blogging things like this on behalf of Interpublic and its shareholders:
"AT$T is beginning to look like it is going to dominate the pipeline, and be the possible backbone of Internet 2.0. Yes, in some sense that is scary - but the funny thing to me is that it's a big "fuck you" to those bloggers that were all up in arms about the AT&T billboards, and the whining that ensued."
"Skype is blowing it, particularly in the public relations department."
"Here's a little jaunt down bad PR lane, and how Facebook is just not getting it."
Innocuous? Sure. But it's just the kind knucklehead noise that can irritate a snaggle-toothed grizzly. Sure irritates me. Question, why even take the risk? I mean, you never know.
Well, perhaps we chalk it up to naiveté and bad timing. Actually no. It's actually something more problematic and fundamental. Jeremy and friends don't know that there is a time to shut up, period. Tom Biro, Director of New Media Strategies at the MWW Group nails the disconnect dead on. In a recent post he says, "I love when people decide that they don't like what you're doing on your blog, and threaten to go to your employer about it. That's like saying people should go to employers over whatever people do offline in their own lives, and only makes for annoying threats." Translation: "Damn the company; I can do/say whatever I want. I am a blogger."
So in light of the situation, why does Interpublic keep that around? Certainly seems curious. Bill Holstein, of Chief Executive Magazine indirectly offers an answer. Bill recently wrote an article titled, "The six things CEOs don't understand about PR people." The No. 2 reason Bill says, "Top PR people hire children to do most of the talking with reporters. They don't know anything, which usually irritates the reporter. But if something goes wrong in how a reporter covers your organization and you get angry, the children can be sacrificed."
In light of the fact that Interpublic IS a communications company and does clearly understand that it is at least standing in bear poop, their posts are a case study for the absolute genius of corporate blogging. It's a diversion. Jeremy and Tom are fodder.
"Daddy Daddy, can we go pet the teddy bear? Can we fee 'em? Can we feed 'em?"
Sure Jeremy. You and Tommy go play with the fuzzy little bear. Go ahead.
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Ok, so it's clear what you think of blogging and its use as a mouthpiece for a corporate entity. What is also clear is your disdain for certain bloggers. And, perhaps with the most clarity, you are adept at pointing out problems and inconsistencies. But what are your thoughts on what you would do if you were Interpublic? What are you suggesting with the above post? We know what you argue against. What are you arguing for?
By the way, I think this blog is great. Minus a few cheap shots at people for what appears to be no reason, I like the idea of saying what usually goes unsaid.
One at a time:
1) "But what are your thoughts on what you would do if you were Interpublic?"
I would do whatever was necessary to protect the shareholders. I think the better question is: why does "right alignment" often take so long? For any CEO, balancing belief/commitment with the harsh reality of just a bad roll, well, that's tough. Bottom line: the energies and resources that are invested in denial are most often better spent. Frankly, it's good to sometimes just keep your money in your pocket and go home.
2) "What are you suggesting with the above post?" That the "Edelman M2Revolution," and things like it, are crap.
3) "We know what you argue against. What are you arguing for?" Also, a good question. I was hoping that it was kinda obvious that as a contrarian I was generally arguing for the opposite. There was a time when communications was populated by counselors. Maybe I've become cynical but I think most PR people today are chronically full of shit.
Sincerely, - Amanda
Interesting you brought up the AT&T billboards*
a blogger i know went into a Big tirade about that including using the "F" word*
frankly i was shocked*
i mean i use it liberally myself in my day to day fukking speech but i thought this girl represents a company and blah blah blah........
U certainly tell it like it is*
A breath of fresh air indeedydeed!! ;))