Posted by Brian Connolly Tuesday, September 18, 2007
ABSOLUTELY! Why? Well first off, WOMMA, the trade association for the Word of Mouth Marketing industry, is acting guilty as hell. Sorry but it's human nature; obfuscation is born of something to hide. And that's exactly what they've done for about a month now. So much for that little transparency thing they claim as their cornerstone.
Fact is, there's a lot of apparent similarity between "Online Behavioral Advertising" and WOMM. One tracks you quantitatively (cookies and such); the other qualitative. Both use analysis to spot trends in order to predict and leverage buying preferences. Both management functions are tasked with getting a better position in the marketplace on a macro level and a better position in the transaction on the micro level. Quacks like a duck? You bet! In fact, that's exactly what has WOMM all the rage. It's Behavioral Marketing on the cheap.
Hell, most of the bigger PR firms and now engaged overtly in "Influence Mapping." Some of the Social Media revolutionaries even have what they are calling "Online Conversation Analysts." As one senior PR exec who's asked to remain anonymous said: "WOMM is the little sister of Online Behavioral Advertising. She's not as smart but she's learning quickly."
Posted by an Honored Guest Saturday, June 23, 2007
Did you catch the Whole Foods vs. FTC fight this week. Great lesson in communications, i.e what to do... and especially what NOT to do.
Well, today we've got a special treat. Today we have an analysis by Eric Starkman, President of Starkman & Associates.
Starkman, a seasoned crisis communications executive, is well known and respected among the national media. He's a journo turned crisis communications pro with pretty extensive creds. Eric’s career includes reporter-editor gigs at major newspapers in the U.S. and Canada, including The Toronto Star, The Montreal Gazette and The Detroit News. Charlie Gasparino, one of the most respected – and feared – reporters on Wall Street, includes Starkman in the acknowledgements of his acclaimed book “Blood on the Street.” Starkman was later the head of the Corporate Communications practice at one of the largest national Investor Relations firms, the former Morgen-Walke Associates.
Without further ado... here's Eric.
The "Taken Out of Context" Defense
By Eric Starkman
I've always been dubious about the "taken out of context" defense. It's like the dog-ate-my-homework excuse. Sure it's a possible explanation, but nobody really buys it.
Merrill Lynch gave it a shot when it first became public that its once-high-profile analyst Henry Blodgett was singing the praises of certain stocks publicly while privately referring to them in emails as "crap" and "pieces of s***." Ouch. Merrill, to its credit, came clean a week later and acknowledged that the analyst's e-mails were "unacceptable" and "inappropriate and well below the standards that Merrill aims to achieve."
Flash forward to this year and you have former Wal-Mart marketing executive Julie Roehm giving the "taken out of context" defense a whirl. Roehm was fired for various alleged improprieties, including an inappropriate relationship with an underling. She claims that some of the risqué comments in a series of lovelorn emails to subordinate Sean Womack are "easily explainable" and don't prove that she violated the retailer's policy against employee fraternization. If that's the case, I'd love to see Wal-Mart's HR manual. I just can't figure out any scenario under which "I think about us together all the time. Little moments like watching your face when you kiss me..." could possibly be deemed appropriate corporate-speak.
Don't get me wrong -- I am hardly declaring Goliath victor over David in this PR battle. Wal-Mart has had plenty of its own missteps in the public handling of this affair -- ahem, no pun intended -- but we'll leave that Monday morning quarterbacking for another day.
So back to current headlines and more people with context issues. This time it is John Mackey, founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, who is waving the "taken out of context" flag. At issue are some seemingly damaging comments he made in emails and other correspondence that the FTC subsequently cited when issuing its rationale for blocking the retailer's proposed acquisition of rival Wild Oats Markets. Among the remarks was a discussion about how the acquisition would enable the company to "avoid nasty price wars" that could harm gross margins. Hmmm, that sure smells of antitrust aroma to me.
Here's the kicker: Turns out Mackay’s comments really were taken out of context and "easily explainable" as well (eat your heart out, Julie Roehm).
While Whole Foods certainly gets some positive points for backing up its claims of comments being taken out of context with tangible evidence, they are offset by demerits earned for two negative outcomes generated by their transparency play.
First, Whole Foods' leadership lets its collective frustration get the better of themselves by launching a highly questionable and very vitriolic attack on the FTC as part of its posted defense. Questioning the legitimacy of the agency and the ethics of government bureaucrats before whom you have significant business dealings is not a smart negotiating tactic.
The second related cringe-inducer is from a PR standpoint: As shared in his blog, Mackay argued that Whole Foods faces formidable competition from mainstream supermarkets, not just ones specializing in natural foods. He is especially passionate about Wegmans Food Markets, an upscale Northeast supermarket chain with legions of fans, including one of my colleagues, who lives for its chocolate chip muffins.
To wit: "Wegman's (sic) operates huge stores with excellent quality of perishables and low prices and it is difficult for us to effectively compete against them". (emphasis mine).
If I were Wegmans, I'd have my advertising team working on full-page advertisements with the following headline: "Even Whole Foods Raves about Our Excellent Quality and Low Prices." John Mackay has already written the ad copy.
Eric Starkman is President of Starkman & Associates, a full service public and investor relations firm based in New York City. Prior to a career in PR, he was a journalist with several major newspapers in the U.S. and Canada. The firm has a strong crisis communications practice, having worked with numerous organizations and high-profile individuals to manage and mitigate the reputational damage of real and perceived communications crises.
On Thursday, March 8, 2007 at 7:41 AM, Ronn Torossian, President and CEO of 5WPR, emphatically promised that he was going to sue us. No real reason, he was just irritated by our teasing him about getting in bed with pornographer Joe Francis. Anyway, Ronn gave his obscenity-laced word that we'd see the complaint in 72 hours. It's now late by
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