Athletic and cultural giant Nike had a significant misstep last week when they named a limited edition shoe after the drink known in this country as a “Black & Tan,” a layered combination of a stout and lager beer. The company was doing so to honor Ireland in the run-up to St. Patrick’s Day, however, the gesture was received as an insensitive and somewhat confusing insult. Nike did not fully understand the significance of the “Black & Tan” phrase in Ireland.

The “Black & Tan” is, yes, a layered drink of stout and lager, but the drink itself is more common in the US than in Ireland where the phrase is associated with the paramilitary Royal Irish Constabulary Reserve Force used to suppress revolution in Ireland particularly from 1920-192 during the last two years of the Irish War of Independence. The group was nicknamed the “Black & Tans” for the colors of their improvised uniforms and had a reputation for attacks on Irish civilians, thus, Irish sentiment towards the phrase, even the word “Tan” remains very negative. It represents a painful time in the nation’s history and old tensions with Britain, making the mention of “Black & Tan” in marketing efforts simply puzzling. Such a case has clear PR and Marketing implications.

Cater to the Context
“Cater to the context” is becoming a mantra of this blog and my writing, but the Nike case is proof that such mistakes do happen and that cultures DEMANDS our attention. Nike had the best of intentions, but unfortunately that is lost because of their failure to do the necessary research on their message and its appropriateness for the given context and target audience. When involving any culture (usually one other than your own), the culture needs to be analyzed and understood before action is taken. The extent of the action or campaign dictates the level of cultural understanding and analysis required, and there is always some required.

This misstep was significant not necessarily because of the amount of PR backlash received or the possibility that Nike will not be able to recover (which is not the case), but because of how easily it could have been avoided. The amount of research that was required was a simple Google search, small-scale market research/focus groups (really one conversation with someone from Ireland would have sufficed), or a look at the use of the phrase in past marketing efforts (Ben & Jerry’s made a similar mistake in 2006 using the phrase in the name of an ice cream flavor). The marketing message was based on assumptions that Nike decision-makers and marketers had on what the phrase meant, seemingly assuming it had the same significance both in the US and in Ireland.  Now, the extra public relations, SEO, and reputation management work to replace the negative story with the resulting apology far outweigh any work on the front-end to avoid the situation.

In sum, marketers should take from this case:

  • Local research should be done to establish a deeper understanding of the cultures involved.
  • Determine if company perceptions or assumptions match the reality of the local context, no matter how seemingly simple the involvement with the culture in question appears.
  • Proactively seeking to avoid such situations is better than trying to fix the damage they cause after.

Connect with me directly at rbuddenhagen@webimax.com,  on Twitter @ryanwbudd, with any thoughts on this case or how culture and internet marketing impact your business. Also, check out Anthony Pensabene’s blog today, just below, some great info on language, terms, and culture – what is “Culturomics” and is there really an SEO name debate?

Are you winning with your PR pitches or missing the mark, like an inexperienced pitcher from the California penal league?  Remember Rick ‘Wild Thing’ Vaughn from Major League?   You may know him from his present-day role as Charlie Sheen (but I digress).  Rick had the ‘heat’ behind his hurls but his approach needed tweaking.  A customized pair of Clark-Kent glasses and a music-filled montage of highlights later, Vaughn comes around, rallying the once-trailing Indians behind him.

What does your PR ERA look like?  Are you winning?  I read a great PR post (filled with 92 ways to get press coverage )by Chris Winfield yesterday.  He addressed an array of PR-related topics including research, working the phones, and contacting members of the media.

The last topic is especially important; you don’t want to balk when approaching a media source.  Building relationships is a cornerstone of PR; throwing wild pitches at media sources can have your brand sitting the benches (out of fan sight).

I noticed a ‘management tip of the day’ from the Harvard Business Review (Reuters synopsizes here), addressing how to communicate with colleagues.  The points provided echo some of Chris’ regarding contacting media sources:

 

Delivery

 

The Business Review suggests quickly getting to the point.  Media sources embrace concise brevity; it’s likely yours is not their only email of the day to get through.  I like Chris’ suggestion related to personalizing an email, referencing a source’s body of work; it frames the impetus for contact.

 

-          Next, is this solicited or unsolicited, meaning is a media source actively searching for related news or is your brand being opportunistic?  If the media source is actively looking, help them expedite.  Give them all necessary information in your initial email.

 

-          Also, who sent the email, the industry expert (PR client) or third party (PR service)?  Media sources prefer direct contact with industry experts.  Be direct.  Be concise.  Help them save time however you can.

 

Why the Contact?

This is huge.  Every brand wants exposure but not every brand has something of value to add.  It could be a matter of timing or it could be a matter of poor quality.  Patience can help you with the former.  You need to do a lot more than read this information if your brand is in the latter group.

The Business Review asks, “What prompted you to deliver it (the message)?”  If you’re pre-skull/crossbones specs Vaughn, you’re throwing wild pitches, hoping to get attention in any way.  If you’re throwing strikes, you’re pitching like the reformed ‘Wild Thing,’ seeing things more clearly.

It’s about adding to the conversation.  Here are some of my observations (in comment section) regarding Chris’ post:

Be direct and confident, knowing you have something to offer.  The number-one tip I would direct a client’s attention to is “know what you’re talking about.”  Obviously, the sentiment is subjective and you may have some viewers on the other side of the fence, but a reporter, editor, blogger, reader, can instantly understand whether contributing or exposure is your primary concern.  I understand the endgoal of PR is exposure but it’s important to shop for windows of opportunity. Being selective and shopping for quality and the proper fit is essential; but, (very often) clients expect/want results yet must accept ongoing PR is more of a ‘quiet storm’ which strikes when most befitting.

There’s a wild and guile way to pitch to media sources.  What brand of game is in your PR bullpen?  Finding your PR strike zone is crucial; it could mean the difference between winning and losing.

 

 

Do you have something to add to the conversation, or just calling attention?  I would address high school students in this manner who were temporarily ‘off task’ during class.  High school students are socially savvy; most got the point and understood the difference elucidated by my question; were they serving the good of the community or engaging in personal endeavors at the moment?

Does your brand have something to add to the ‘conversation’ or just desiring attention and exposure?  The latter sentiment is shared by all brands (what brand does not want attention?!), yet the former sentiment is really the most effective means to the latter’s end.  I read a good post today on bootstrapping and brand awareness.  The author addresses ways to formulate an effective PR campaign.

Increasing PR is a lot like search engine optimization efforts.  It takes time, effort, and methodology.  While many of us know how a brand can get into trouble on the Web in its quest for better SE rankings, there are no direct ‘PR Panda’ updates;  however, calling attention without ‘adding’ is likely to leave your brand bewildered, inert, and possibly ‘blackballed’ by reporters, amongst other violations.

Update your in-house PR sentiments with these ‘PR Panda’ updates:

Update 1 – General PR Campaign – PR or Link Building?

In modern times, public relation work is a lot like link building.  In the past, what were the main goals of PR efforts?

-          Spread brand-related info

-          Gain consumer attention

-          Build brand authority

-          Attract future interest

Link building efforts, complemented by modern-day social media engagement does all of the above.  Many of the same ‘do not’ and ‘best-practice’ sentiments of link building apply to PR efforts.  Before making a PR move, think about your brand’s intentions because ulterior motives are transparent and don’t make much traction. 

Update 2 – Press Releases – Is.It.News.?

This is a bitter pill for many press-release hopefuls to swallow; is the release sharing ‘worthy’ news?  Of course, ‘worthy’ is a relative term, but think outside your brand when asking yourself this question; think like a consumer; would you be intrigued by the news?  Unfortunately, this ‘PR Panda’ update is not going to be applied by news sources; it’s going to be applied by readers (consumers) and your release’s traction (or lack thereof). 

There aren’t many obstacles obstructing a brand from orchestrating and distributing a press release to the masses; however, dispersing a release, offering very little news of value, is deserved of ‘PR Panda’ penalty and may hurt your brand’s reputation or future efforts to call attention to ‘news.’

Update 3 – Reporters – What are you doing for them?

Do you want to contact a reporter about your brand?  Ask not what this reporter can do for you, but…  I know – the irony of it all!  That’s right; if you’re going to contact a reporter, you should be contacting them because you have something for them and not vice versa.  Sure, contributing to a story or adding insight is likely to get your brand mentioned; you’ll get credit for your work. 

Are you just looking to arrive at the PR party with nothing in your brand’s hands?  You’re likely to put the kibosh on any future relations with the respective reporter (and likely their brand too).

I read an entertaining article this morning regarding public relations work.  A PR professional listed thirteen ominous mentions, which sound cacophonic bells and whistles off within a service provider’s head.  Is your business currently receiving public relations services or working with an in-house professional?  Are you resounding some of the same sentiments mentioned in the article?  Is your campaign a bleak, dramatic picture of what it’s supposed to be, leaving participants in a state of mystery?  Let’s explore some things mentioned in the article and better your understanding of what is and isn’t under a PR pros control.

Beyond Control

Some things may be beyond your PR professional’s control.  While the end goal clearly spells ‘more exposure,’ it is necessary to understand your public relations pro is a part of a larger system and must adhere to regulations and the whims of reporters and editors.

“Can you find what the reporter will ask before the interview?”

“Can I do the interview over email?”

“Why weren’t we in this story?”

The above are some things mentioned in the article by disappointed clients.  Often the PR pro must defer to the ultimate decisions of reporters and editors.  Sometimes reporters may tell your public relations professional one thing, yet an editor makes another executive decision (bumps a story) and unfortunately, your business’ exposure suffers for it…

It actually happened to one of our brands a few years ago.  Our CEO, Ken Wisnefski, was set to do an interview on Hardball with Chris Matthews.  We were all very excited for this opportunity for great exposure.  But wait!  Who decides to drive his way into the headlines like a free-roaming bronco?  None other than OJ Simpson!  Unfortunately, Ken’s chances to be interviewed were ‘taken’ by a pressing story and executive decisions, which were out of our control.

You’re an Asset

Last Friday, I wrote about a few SEO-related things a business owner should ‘know.’  It’s important to understand, while a service provider is doing a bulk of the work, your input is needed and considered an asset.  PR work is sometimes very contingent on sensitivity of time and the participation of business consumers.

“I need this to be done in an hour.”

“We need this to be viral.”

“We’ve decided to go in a different direction.”

“I want this news embargoed.” [when it's not news]

Those are a few things mentioned in the PR professional’s article, related to the ongoing participation of the client.  Understand public relations providers must have enough time to successfully pitch stories and position your brand to garner great exposure.  In many cases, going viral is contingent on other factors besides a penned press release and major news source distribution.  The story’s content, industry ‘influencers,’ and the timing of the release also play a major role in the public’s reception.  Ensure you are giving your public relations professionals all the necessary tools, allowing them to recruit exposure for your brand.