Monday, February 22, 2010

Did Toyota take their eyes off the ball?

This ill-timed Toyota campaign says it all. "WE SEE BEYOND CARS."
Global companies have many responsibilities and must respond to pressure from all sides. They have to be politically aware... attune to cultural nuance... and nimble enough to shake-and-bake when rivals block their way and governments shake them down.

But one thing above all: Global corporations have to do their jobs – stick to their knitting, keep their heads down, dance with the girl they brung, and not take their eyes off the ball. Why do you think there are so many cliches to express this one point? Because taking care of business (there's another one) is essential no matter how many distractions fly at you.

For the good people of Toyota, the JOB was to make good, reliable cars. Something/some things distracted them – "THE GREENER TOMORROW"? And they botched it... You can see the symptoms in this ad. All pious and proud about something-or-other... featuring a non-car instead of a car-car. The car outline pictured here has no brakes and no gas pedal.

It will take years to repair the damage to Toyota's reputation. "$23 million every day researching future technologies" reads the ad copy. I don't want to pile on or snicker at the irony. But the future for Toyota is here now. It ain't sparkling green. It's ominously cloudy.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Baseball glove real estate

Ever have one of those days – let’s say in February – when you catch yourself staring for several hours at a baseball glove? Probably not. I was just checking. I don’t either. My mind is too restless and teeming with profound thoughts.

But for argument’s sake, let's say that you did stare at a baseball glove… What would you see? Bits of leather stitched into an intricate pattern... a highly specialized design….

You would also find a treasure of stamped-on features. Study that glove carefully – don’t rush. It’s February. This is what my glove proclaims about itself…

These registered descriptors and slogans must have accumulated over the years since the 1950s. It seems that any guy at Rawlings who thinks up a pun – edge-u-cated heel – can tell a worker in Manila to stamp it on the leather. Hey, I have one:

“The mitt mit the most mottos”®

Naaaa... guess not. For a baseball glove it's not very catchy.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

O Canada the Brand

Nations are brands – with recognized attributes and personalities. The history of national behavior colors perception of these brands – often turning them into crude caricatures. The North Koreans are not known for their playfulness nor Italy for its martial arts.

O Canada – Is yours a strong brand among nations – with a distinctive and compelling personality? Does the name "Ca-na-da" call to mind vivid, positive images?

Thirty-three million people living amid natural splendor, Canadians play a brutal game on ice and suffer snowy winters – except in British Columbia where they host the Olympics. They wrestle with the legacy of the English decisively defeating the French in 1759 – though apparently not really. Canadians/Canadiens sing one national anthem – with two sets of lyrics/paroles de chanson.

Does cultural bifurcation dilute the clarity of Canada’s brand? Let’s not lapse into further clichĂ© and caricature. Last night’s opening ceremonies to the Olympics said it all.

No one doesn't like Canada. Just as no one doesn't like an honest deal sealed with a firm handshake.

O Canada, you are doing fine. You don’t need to explain, express or exploit your nationalistic passions. You’re as sturdy and admired as a well-made pair of boots. No need to try to be glass slippers.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Toyota and Twitter

The Toyota disaster gives every PR “practitioner” a chance to wag a finger and trot out the ol’ dos and don’ts. Act fast… admit wrong… fix the problem… communicate round the clock.

In this case you could add: Don't blame the floor mats. Don’t fidget when meeting the press. And don’t drive away from the interview in an Audi.

All fine and true. God love PR professionals and these moments for them to shine. What good are experts in crisis communications unless a company comes along now and then and really botches a crisis.

Toyota’s failure of communications is a symptom of problems behind the scenes, of course – namely the characteristics of its culture. Deference to superiors, reluctance to listen to customers, embarrassed avoidance in the face of failure – these traits underlay Toyota’s inept response to the mushrooming disaster.

How should companies manage their reputation in the 21st century? The answer: Twitter! It’s so obvious. At least that’s what the pundits are saying. From now on, any crisis – from a collapsed highway to a collapsed soufflĂ© – will spark a pseudo-wise invocation of “social media” followed by ready agreement. Twitter – it caused the problem (“Companies can’t contain their story anymore!”).

And Twitter provides the solution (“Reach out… use Twitter… that’s how you win over today’s wireless consumers!”)

Well, LOL. PR consultants are desperate to be on top of this phenomenon – social media – lest they be thought of as people who read newspapers and wear white socks with black shoes.

The fact is, what matters most is a company’s prompt grasp of the nature of a crisis, not the communications channels it uses. If you sell cars with faulty brakes and sticky gas pedals you better start here: Find out why, develop a fix, and get the news out promptly. How you get the news out is secondary.

I am not recommending that beleaguered CEOs write “I’m sorry” on a Big Chief note pad, stuff it in a bottle and cast it out to sea. But content is king here. Everyone is covering your story. Better get it right and make a good case.

Then go back and have a look at that corporate culture.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Simple, clear communications triumphant

Dear friends of simple, clear communications:

First read this

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
– First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Now read this
As amended by §203 of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, federal law prohibits corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds to make independent expenditures for speech that is an “electioneering communication” or for speech that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a candidate. An electioneering communication is “any broadcast, cable, or satellite communication” that “refers to a clearly identified candidate for Federal office” and is made within 30 days of a primary election, and that is “publicly distributed,” which in “the case of a candidate for nomination for President . . means” that the communication “[c]an be received by 50,000 or more persons in a State where a primary election . . . is being held within 30 days.”
– Opening summary from the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (1.21.2010)

Now ponder this
How is it that our society got so far removed from the basic tenets of democracy that we allowed this legislative abomination called "campaign finance reform" to override the simple, noble principles of the First Amendment?

...and rejoice in this
That law has been tossed out by the U.S. Supreme Court, reinforcing not only freedom of speech, but respect for simple, clear language. The Supreme Court has essentially ruled that we the people have written down in our Constitution precisely what we mean and mean precisely what we have written down.