Posts tagged ‘public relations’


When referring to your Australian office might not be a smart thing to do

02.08.2014

There are some companies that do not realize that we live in a global community.
   And there are at least two who have done themselves a disservice by referring our account or enquiries to their Australian representative.
   We left Rackspace in 2013 although, for most of the 11½ years we were with them, things were fairly good. I had issues with them in 2005, but they weren’t serious enough to depart. In the last year, the server fell over regularly, and suddenly we found ourselves being referred to their Australian office.
   From then on, I just got jargon from their rep who tried to get us on to the “cloud”. When I asked about further specifics, I heard nothing back, and when I sent another query to the company, I found her response rude and dismissive. The sense I got was, ‘How dare you keep asking questions on how much you expect to spend.’ I can’t remember her exact words, but I seem to recall she used the, ‘As I told you before’—when in fact she hadn’t.
   So we left. It was a sad end though I still think the world of Rackspace’s techs. The guys running their Twitter are second to none as well. The guys in the US are fantastic and are completely on to it. But, as I told one of the Kiwis working from their Australian office, I wasn’t going to stand for their rudeness after paying them a fairly hefty amount each month.
   He explained that they were rude in Australia, which is a pity. I wasn’t sure if he referred to his company or to Australians in general, because I certainly haven’t found the latter to be the case on my visits there, and I haven’t encountered that in 99 per cent of Australian organizations.
   Before the Australian office was opened, we had very cordial dealings with our Texan and later Hong Kong account managers. I get why they want to localize: it’s to serve different time zones and, in many cases, to serve different languages. But, for goodness’ sake, make sure that you hire people who have had some training on how to talk to customers.
   I was always under the impression that the account manager is the one who doesn’t talk technobabble, the one who translates all of that to human, in order to secure your business. She’s not the one who joins in with the throng in a game of “us and them”—and in Rackspace’s case, undoes a decade’s worth of hard-earned goodwill, earned largely by the US staff.
   Interestingly, they were replaced by a small Australian firm run by an expat New Zealander, who tells me that there is some rudeness in the Aussie IT sector. Maybe that’s what the Kiwi at Rackspace meant.
   Hugo Boss is the other story, to whom we sent a query for press images, at their German HQ. We were referred to their Australian office. And from there we never heard back. Luckily for us, we wound up using catwalk imagery from Berlin Fashion Week, which we can access. They got their story, one which looked at their history and how it impacted on their design, written by one of our associate editors, but I’m not convinced they deserved the two pages in Lucire.
   And now we’ve been referred again by a European label to their Australian PR. I won’t name this company this time, because the rep might not have had the chance to respond yet. Or the enquiry is somewhere in their system. But it is a company for whom we had a username and password for their press database, neither of which works now. (That is a whole other story—companies which take your data but upgrades mean that you have to sign up again. I am looking at you, Telegraph Group plc.)
   She was nice enough and asked which images we sought. The reality, as I explained, was that we often didn’t know ourselves till one of our editors went through the image database for something that fitted with the issue’s theme. In addition, as we at Lucire produce magazines for the international market-place, the Australian season would be off. We needed to get access to the European database.
   Companies like Hennes & Mauritz, Swatch or Bang & Olufsen have no trouble comprehending this, but it amazes me that some still do. A New Zealand-HQed company does not necessarily produce things strictly for the New Zealand market. Why is this so hard to understand? Globalization has been around for centuries, and surely in the electronic age, it applies even more regularly.
   Of course, in future, this compels one to start lying. Or I’ll use one of our alternative addresses in New York or London, but I’ve only employed that in situations where they require a local address. I’m proud of being a New Zealander and letting people know that this country does amazing things internationally. That’s why we went to that last label, who sells next to nothing here, in order to give them some publicity.
   We’ve also been approached by what I believe is an Australian SEO firm wanting a link for their client in one of Lucire’s online articles. That’s all well and good, but I had to tell her that the au.companyname.com domain would have little relevance for the site’s readers, 38 per cent of whom are in the US. Less than 10 per cent are Australian. However, I can imagine behind the scenes, they were employed to get these links from regional publications, and we never hide our Kiwi origins. She didn’t do anything wrong, but again the reality of globalization changes initial perceptions.
   If I wanted the local rep, I would approach them (as I have done on many occasions, e.g. with Chanel or L’Oréal—and both companies are smart enough to get me the information I need from their French counterparts if required nearly immediately, so there are no hiccups). But the first two situations are ridiculous because they seem to suggest that their regional reps don’t understand the global links in modern business. In the first case, not everyone dealing with IT is a boffin. In the second, palming things off to a regional office simply doesn’t work.
   Then you wonder how they could even have global marketing and sales’ ambitions.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in business, globalization, Hong Kong, marketing, publishing, technology, USA | No Comments »


Ikea tries to shut down its biggest fan site, showing us how the company thinks within

17.06.2014

In an age of social media, you would think it was the most stupid thing to try to shut down the biggest online community you have.
   Ikea has done just that, on IP grounds, against Ikea Hackers, by getting their legal department to send Jules Yap, its founder, a cease-and-desist letter after her site had been going for eight years. In that time she had sent customers to Ikea, after they were inspired by the new ideas her community had on doing new things with Ikea furniture.
   There are arguments that Ikea could have been liable for any injuries sustained from the “hacks”, but that’s daft. Are we really that litigious as a society, prepared to blame someone for something we ourselves freely chose to do? Ikea has instructions on how to build their furniture, and it’s your own choice if you are prepared to go against them.
   And eight years is an awfully long time to bring a case against someone for trade mark usage, rendering this claim particularly weak.
   There are other Ikea-hacking websites and Facebook pages as well—so it’s even dumber that Ikea would go after one with such a huge community, a website that has an Alexa ranking currently in the 20,000s (in lay terms: it has a huge audience, potentially bigger than that of Ikea’s corporate site itself in Jules’s country, Malaysia).
   Jules says that she has to take down the ads as part of her settlement for being able to retain the site—ads that simply paid for her hosting, which she might not be able to afford to do any more. (Some fans have offered to host for free or provide new domain names.)
   The Ikea Hackers logo doesn’t look remotely like the Ikea one, which would readily imply there was no endorsement by the Swedish company.
   Therefore, Ikea’s statement, on its Facebook, holds very little water.

Vi är glada för det engagemang som finns för IKEA och att det finns communities runt om i världen som älskar våra produkter lika mycket som vi gör.
   Vi känner ett stort ansvar mot våra kunder och att de alltid kan lita på IKEA. Det är viktigt för oss att värna om hur IKEA namnet och varumärket används för att kunna behålla trovärdigheten i varumärket. Vi vill inte skapa förvirring för våra kunder om när IKEA står bakom och när vi inte gör det. När andra företag använder IKEA namnet i kommersiellt syfte, skapar det förvirring och rättigheter går förlorade.
   Därför har Inter IKEA Systems, som äger rättigheterna till IKEA varumärket, kommit överens med IKEA Hackers om att siten från slutet av juni 2014 fortsätter som en fan-baserad blog utan kommersiella inslag.

Essentially, it uses the standard arguments of confusion, safeguarding its trade mark, and—the Google translation follows—‘When other companies use the IKEA name for commercial purposes, it creates confusion and rights are lost.’
   This can be fought, but Jules elected not to, and her lawyer advised against it. It’s a pity, because I don’t think she received the best advice.
   On Ikea’s Swedish Facebook page, some are on the attack. I wrote:

I would hardly call her activity ‘commercial’ in that the ads merely paid for her web hosting. I doubt very much Jules profited. But I will tell you who did: Ikea. She introduced customers to you.
   While your actions are not unprecedented, it seems to fly in the face of how one builds the social aspects of a modern brand.
   The negative PR you have received from this far outweighs the brand equity she had helped you build. It was a short-sighted decision on the part of your legal department and has sullied the Ikea brand in my mind.

   This won’t blow over. It’s not like politics where people are disinterested enough for all but the most impassioned to retain memory of a misdeed. (For example, does Oravida still mean anything to anyone out there?) Ikea is a strong brand, and mud sticks to them. Some years ago, I met a woman who still had a Nestlé boycott in place after the company’s milk powder incidents of the 1960s. And all of a sudden, Ikea’s alleged tax fraud (see here for the SVT article, in Swedish) or the airbrushing of women out of its Saudi Arabian catalogue come to mind. They’re things most people forget, because they go against the generally positive image of an organization or Ingvar Kamprad himself, until there’s some misstep from within that shows that things are rotten in Denmark—or in Sweden, as the case is here. Or is it the Netherlands, where its company registration is?
   Brands are, in particular, fragile. I have maintained for over a decade that brand management is increasingly in the hands of the audience, not the company behind it—something underpinning my most recent academic paper for the Journal of Digital & Social Media Marketing. We all know that there must be as much consistency between the views of the brand held by the organization and those held by the public. The greater the chasm, the weaker the brand equity. Here, Ikea is confirming the worst of its behaviour done in the name of its brand, all for the sake of some euros (I won’t say kronor here)—meaning the consistent messages are not in clever Swedish design, but between what it’s doing in this case and what it allegedly does in Liechtenstein.
   And since the foundation that controls Ikea is technically not for profit, then it’s a bit rich for this company—accused of tax avoidance by calling itself a charity—to be calling Jules’s activities ‘commercial’. It is hypocritical, especially when you bear this in mind:

In 2004, the last year that the INGKA Holding group filed accounts, the company reported profits of €1.4 billion on sales of €12.8 billion, a margin of nearly 11 percent. Because INGKA Holding is owned by the nonprofit INGKA Foundation, none of this profit is taxed. The foundation’s nonprofit status also means that the Kamprad family cannot reap these profits directly, but the Kamprads do collect a portion of IKEA sales profits through the franchising relationship between INGKA Holding and Inter IKEA Systems.

   The tax haven secret trust the companies use is legal, says Ikea, which is why it pays 3·5 per cent tax. I have little doubt that the complex structure takes advantage of laws without breaking them, and Kamprad was famous for departing Sweden for Switzerland because of his home country’s high taxes. The cease-and-desist letter probably is legal, too. And they show you what mentality must exist within the organization: forget the Swedishness and the charitable aspects, it’s all about the euros.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, marketing, Sweden | No Comments »


Panos Emporio: dare to be human

10.10.2011

Panos Emporio

We weren’t responsible for the layout or photography, but our contribution here is in the tagline, ‘Dare to be human’.
   In my 12-year friendship with Panos Papadopoulos, the designer behind Swedish swimwear (and now clothing) label Panos Emporio, we’ve often worked on marketing tasks. The most recent one: come up with a tagline that encompasses the Panos Emporio brand.
   The term ‘Dare to be human’ has emerged elsewhere (as I discovered after coming up with it), though to my knowledge not in this industry or as a tagline, and since the campaign is largely focused on Scandinavia, it doesn’t appear to have any conflict.
   The story is fairly simple: mixing the vision of the head of the company with the accurate external perceptions, and coming up with something that all audiences can agree on.
   We had done some exploratory work on the philosophy of Panos Emporio earlier in the year and this was an extension of that.
   Our brand research has usually shown that an accurate tagline is more effective, in communicating a brand internally and externally, than any mission statement, and one that can serve a company in the long term is better still.
   Panos’s thoughts were that he liked to push the envelope when it came to his swimwear designs—that much is a given, and accepted by his customers—and his use of PR in Sweden over the years suggested as much. Where we align even more is our shared belief in humanitarianism, and the idea that good people can become anything they wish, and should have the opportunity to do so. Over the years we’ve discussed some great programmes that can help young people, and trying to cement these ideas, and many other ideas of things we’d like to do to advance our planet. If you look back across the 25 years of the label, Panos Emporio was often pioneering in its designs and publicity programmes, often shocking the sector, and earning Panos a celebrity status (including an episode of the Swedish version of Secret Millionaire).
   External audiences will always come back to us to tell us the comfort in Panos’s designs first, followed by their appreciation of the designs themselves, so there was an intersection with the “human” aspect here. It was taking that with humanitarianism and social responsibility, and blending it with the envelope-pushing.
   ‘Dare to be different’ is trite, so it really was down to changing the last word. (I am simplifying the process because there were many others that were rejected.) It tested well, and the first ad with the new tagline will break this quarter.
   I hope it’ll stay with the firm for many years to come. I think it encompasses everything Panos tries to say with his work.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in branding, business, marketing, New Zealand, social responsibility, Sweden | No Comments »


The Murdoch apology does not let us off the hook

16.07.2011

News International full-page apology

Above is Rupert Murdoch’s apology for the actions of the News of the World, to run in the UK in the wake of the resignations of Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton.
   They’re great words, and they’re straight out of the PR 101 playbook.
   Some might say they’re a trifle too late, as was Mr Murdoch’s meeting with the parents and sister of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
   Some might question whether this apology would even have been issued if the Murdoch Press could have kept a lid on the scandal, if the Metropolitan Police had not rediscovered its bottle, and if The Guardian had not been persistent.
   More telling about this apology’s sincerity is whether real steps will be taken to change the culture within the Murdoch Press.
   We still have an organization with nearly half a century’s worth of bullying tactics, skirting the boundaries of the law and allegedly breaking them, and a culture of the ends justify the means.
   Shifting that culture is going to be a tough call, not while so much of the behaviour has been institutionalized.
   It is going to take some effort on Rupert Murdoch’s own behalf, because, like all organizations where the boss’s personality is so strong, it’s going to rest on him to lead a cultural change. Allowing an insider who has always tolerated such behaviour to take the helm is not going to do an awful lot: you don’t get change by reinventing the past.
   I remain sceptical when I think back to all the scandals that the Murdoch Press not only uncovered, but had a hand in generating.
   I remain sceptical when I think back to the victories Murdoch has had over earlier controversies, and whether he believes he can weather this one simply with the passage of time.
   The world is a different place, and he may just be compelled to see this out.
   He may be 80, but he still has young kids by his third wife. Let’s hope he understands that he needs to do right by the 21st century, when people in the occident are more alert to corporate moves and their unsavoury hand in our daily lives. Given that his youngest children won’t have him around for as long as his oldest ones, what he has is his legacy—and unlike Prudence, Elisabeth, Lachlan and James, Grace and Chloe will spend more of their lives hearing about their Dad second-hand than first-hand.
   I think back to when we wrote Beyond Branding, and how we forecast that consumers would drive integrity and transparency through their demand. It looks like this is being played out now.
   The question I have is this: is this merely the first salvo in everyday people taking back their power, and will we sink back into disinterest in a month or two?
   Rupert Murdoch would not be in this position if we didn’t have a love of the gossip in The Sun and News of the World. We, the people, made this man rich.
   If the Murdoch that critics write about is the real man, he’s betting the farm on disinterest being the order of the day come the autumn.
   In my own world, I recall that last September, when the Fairfax Press reported on the possibility of the resurrection of the Wellywood sign, the silence on even the anti-sign Facebook group was deafening. One person even said he would vote for my rival and eventual winner, Celia Wade-Brown, because I did not do enough to fight the sign.
   All it took was five months for one man to forget that I was the only mayoral candidate who actively fought it. I am not picking on him alone, because I don’t believe he was the only one to suffer from a short memory. We all do it.
   Instead, this one issue alone, trivial by the standards of the Murdoch story, took 14 months before anger subsided enough for it to resurface in force with a new news report.
   This is the defence of the bully boss and the pompous politician: the hope people forget, thanks to our lives being harder during a recession. The tougher the economy gets, the more they think they can get away with, since they hope our attention will be swayed. Without a comfortable life, will we have the luxury of monitoring those in power?
   It’s up to us to get wiser and realize there’s more important news than what the tabloid press tells us is interesting.
   It’s up to us to realize that celebrity news really does not affect us, unless it’s truly inspirational. And 99 per cent of it isn’t.
   It’s up to us to understand that ‘sources close to’ do not constitute the truth, nor are those sources capable of the mind-reading of their subjects.
   And it’s up to us to remember the past, rather than look fondly on it with rose-coloured glasses.
   Corporate misbehaviour alone can fill a newspaper, as can the incompetence of our leaders. Yet we see little of either since advertising is affected by blowing the lid on the first, and a power base is affected by blowing the lid on the second.
   The first is what killed the News of the World, not a sudden crisis of confidence by James Murdoch, who put his name to the announcement of its closure.
   The second contributed to the delay in a Murdoch apology, in the hope that the Murdoch Press’s close ties to the Conservative government would be sufficient to weather it through the scandal.
   Look around, especially in this election year in New Zealand, and you see very similar forces at work.
   Regardless of what Murdoch does, real change starts with us.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in business, culture, leadership, marketing, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing, UK, USA, Wellington | No Comments »


What the media say about Google Plus

02.07.2011

You have to wonder how many of the Google Plus reviews are being inspired by the press releases. Here’s a typical one today, which I picked at random.
   Rob Pegoraro writes: ‘You don’t add friends to an all-encompassing list and then, maybe, slice it into subsets; instead, you group them in “Circles” and then pick which circles (for example, “family,” “alumni,” “editors”) see each update.’ This appears to be the one area of differentiation, and I concede it has some merit. It’s no surprise every journalist has seized on this one. The argument here: if this social networking fad is declining, will I want to invest more brain power into grouping friends? I have them arranged in different places already with Facebook, LinkedIn and A Small World. And that’s good for me right now.
   ‘Doing many of those things on Facebook requires extra clicks and changes to its default privacy settings.’ That’s a major put-off, given Google’s past behaviour. Let’s hope Plus has a privacy policy, because at this point in Buzz’s life, it didn’t.
   ‘Unlike Facebook and Twitter, but like Buzz, Google Plus lets you edit a posted update—no more being stuck with a late-night typo—and add basic formatting like bold and italic text.’ Here’s the one that inspired me to write as I keep reading about it on reviews. Am I the only one who realizes that Facebook allows edits to an update, even a comment? Admittedly, you have to do it quickly after posting. Anything too old with a typo, I don’t care about: I let it go. But I have to say that being able to add bold and italic text is a biggie, since a lot of people have demanded that that be possible in Facebook. (It used to be possible, incidentally, before it was dropped again.)
   Bringing in Hangout is a good idea, and admittedly, some people will prefer to do that rather than go on Skype, which, for me, has been incredibly buggy (e.g. 35 minutes to sign in).
   It looks like Google has come in when Facebook is losing users and Skype is at its buggiest, which is not a bad time. But I doubt either competitor will sit still—Facebook is launching some offensive on Wednesday US time and there’s speculation that it might involve Skype.
   CNN’s Amy Gahran notes, ‘Plus, it offers huge potential to connect with all the other Google services I’m already using: Google calendar, Gmail, Google docs, and more.’ I use none of them, so the carrot’s not there, and I don’t know anyone who has drunk that much Google Kool-Aid to go for such a wide spread of the company’s offerings.
   Mr Pegoraro concludes:

Google Plus looks most promising as an experts-only social network—say, for people who now find Facebook overgrown and yearn for a more private channel; for closer friends. But before you sign on, consider one other thing: If Google already knows your searches, your calendar, your contacts and even the content of your e-mail, do you want to hand over this much more of your life to it?

For me, that’s a big no, and I don’t even let them know my searches, calendar, contacts and email. I’m already concerned with the ineptitude with which they currently deal with the little data they have on me.
   Of the reviews I have read so far, the Cnet one is the best for me. It’s a real-life glimpse at how its staff found Google Plus on day one.
   This status update, from Jay Greene, was interesting:

Google+ suggestions is odd to me. It’s Buzz-like in that it pulls folks from my Gmail account. But that account, which I set up for reporting on my book but barely use anymore, offers suggestions of sources I haven’t talked with in more than a year. And, of course, none of them are on Google+. Just odd.

Google has, therefore, learned from the Buzz débâcle in pulling Gmail contacts (which is how I wound up with a Plus invitation), but this time they are suggestions and not automatically added into one’s network.
   At this point, Plus interests me as a computer user (aren’t we all, in these luckier countries?), but I still see no compelling reason to join. Robert Scoble may be right: like Quora, it’s a tech-geek hangout.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in internet, technology, USA | 3 Comments »


Some positive news a month on from the Christchurch ’quake

21.03.2011

Tomorrow, it will be one month since the Christchurch ’quake.
   It’s tempting to argue scale—the Japanese earthquake and tsunami versus our own—but at the end of the day, people are people, and our nations have both been hurting. We have become united, through disasters that emphasized that we live in an emerging global community.
   I’m glad that our government saw fit to send some of our rescue personnel over to help with the Japanese recovery effort, because they have a grave need for international help. It was the least we could have done with Japan’s fast offer of aid and personnel on February 22 itself.
   There is still a lot to do in Christchurch, especially for those families here and overseas rebuilding their lives after losing loved ones. However, I had a glimmer of hope from running our first positive piece from post-’quake Christchurch on Lucire.
   Kip Brook of Word of Mouth Media wrote a lovely piece about a B&B, Hope Villa, in the Canterbury region, as Christchurch begins reaching out and people begin returning.
   I hope this will be the first of many positive articles to emerge from the region as it gets back on its feet, as we know it can.
   While I haven’t heard of any plans to commemorate the ’quake with a moment’s silence tomorrow, I intend to have a wee break at the office at 12.51 p.m. I hope many of us will take the time to remember the events of the 22nd, and remind ourselves of the solidarity we have with all Cantabrians.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in business, marketing, media, New Zealand, publishing | No Comments »


It’s ‘Chevy’—even President Obama says so

19.07.2010

Dear Chevrolet: even your own nation’s president calls the brand ‘Chevy’:

You might want to rethink that memo.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in branding, cars, culture, media, TV, USA | No Comments »