Everyday PR

When Customers Come Second

How well you treat employees is how well they’ll ultimately treat your customers. It’s not rocket science, so why don’t more people get it?  Learn more.

The Free Solution to Airline Fees

Everytime you turn around, one or more airlines is charging you a fee to fly the friendly skies, as if they alone own the skies.  From baggage fees to priority boarding fees to beverage fees, the cost of flying continues to soar.  (NOTE: This does not include Southwest Airlines.)  So what does a frequent or infrequent flyer do to avoid these outrageous costs?   Think Friends and start layering.  

By wearing all the clothes we need for our trip on the plane, baggage claims would look like this.

Just like Joey wore everything Chandler owned in response to the former hiding the latter’s clothes, why don’t we just layer on everything we’ll need for our trip and wear that on the airplane?  For the business traveler, just stuff your pockets with toiletry items, underwear and snacks. Who cares if you repeatedly don the same skirt, pants and/or jacket?  Just explain to your employer or client that you’re saving them money.  

For vacationers, things might be a little more complicated. If you’re headed for the mountains, the layers of sweaters and long underwear might be a tad uncomfortable; however, if you’re headed to the beach, you don’t have that much to pack anyway, hence less to adorn.  In any case, make maximum use of your pockets, hats and shirt sleeves as they offer vital storage areas. 

Children are a bigger challenge.  For tots, consider using their ears as safe places for small items, which may help with the children-screaming-their-lungs-out-because-of-cabin-pressure issue.  Older children may be able to fit in a carry-on to stuff in the overhead, but you’d still likely be paying extra fees which defeats the purpose.  Or here’s a thought: leave the kids at home. By doing so, passengers have a greater chance of disembarking the aircraft without a throbbing headache. 

What am I missing with this solution?  I’ll try it if you will.

How to Do Away with Ethics Codes

From the American Association of Professional Geneologists to the Advanced Medical Technology Association, countless organizations provide a Code of Ethics to serve as guidelines for their members.  Like many nonprofits and trade associations, PRSA depends on its voluntary membership for compliance. In fact, September is PRSA’s annual Ethics Month.  For-profit businesses of all sizes often provide training on their “rules” and accountability measures for not following them.  If I were a betting woman, I’d say the number of organizations that have added some type of a Code of Ethics has significantly increased in recent years.  

rockwel Norman Rockwell’s “The Golden Rule” beautifully illustrates the point in this painting.

 With all these guidelines, you’d think that questions like the following would be easy:

 1)    A corporate giant wanting to build in a specific community engages “anonymous”, yet paid, supporters to express support for the project via social media.  How authentic is that to community residents and leaders?

2)   A resort wants to promote itself as a top vacation spot for families and covers all the costs, including travel and accommodations, for writers and their families for a weeklong stay. Even if the writer maintains a healthy level of objectivity, shouldn’t vacationers be aware of the free arrangement?

3)    Companies outsource lower-rate hourly services for call center staff, interns and/or graduate students, and then mark up those rates to the client.  Is that ethical?

4)    Your firm, along with several in your market, responds to a formal RFP, including making a presentation.  The client selects another firm and then you see your exclusive ideas implemented a year later.  It stinks, but it happens.  What do you do?

5)   For unknown reasons, your employer wants to use a celebrity spokesperson to launch a new product.  How do you let the general public know about the paid endorsement, or do you?

The answers are simple.  Just follow one rule – the Golden Rule.  Just treat people like you want to be treated.  Theoretically, if everyone applied the Golden Rule, then appropriate behaviors would follow suit.  Of course this doesn’t apply to the person who is of such low moral character that no amount of guidelines can help them.  Maybe I’m being naive, but I think Codes of Ethics wouldn’t be necessary if the Golden Rule were the standard. 

What do you think?

Sesame Street Stays True to Brand

This week’s decision by Sesame Street to pull Katy Perry’s segment is a refreshing reminder that staying true to your brand is critical.  While the behind-the-scenes story is probably more interesting from an image perspective (who thought Perry and the program would be a good match anyway?), I digress.  Nonetheless, Sesame Street is a 40-year-old icon founded to capture children’s attention through television and then to use that medium to educate them – apparently Perry didn’t get the memo about the learning opportunity as evidenced by her less-than-appropriate outfit.  Three virtual Cups of Joe and a big gold star to Sesame Street for sticking its brand, mission and audience.

The virtual Cup of Joe Award from EveryDayPR spotlights our pick of the week for a public relations performance –  good, bad or ugly.  If you’d like to make a nomination, contact shart@hartpr.com or www.Twitter.com/susanhartpr.

Ten Ways to Improve Your Writing

I knew I’d be a writer when my eighth-grade English teacher told me to read aloud my essay on her two-page assignment called “If I could go anywhere in the world, where would that be and why?”  While everybody else tried to stretch into two pages dreams of DisneyWorld, Six Flags or the beach, I wrote about the religious and historic significance of Rome, and how that one-of-a-kind culture has affected every generation since its Biblical beginnings.  Yes, I was a nerd with a penchant for prose.  I also easily sunburned. 

In the 8th grade, I wrote about the importance of the Roman Forum to business and justice.

Throughout my career, my writing skills have served me well.  If your career or hobby involves writing (and if you’re practicing public relations, it better), or if you want to improve your writing, how do you hone your skills?  Here are ten suggestions: 

1)   Listen – If you’re saying anything other than “can you elaborate on that?” or “can I verify this?’, you’re talking too much.  If you want to be a good writer, be a good listener. 

2)  Move – Literally, get up and move.  If you’re maximizing your brain’s endorphins and all those other chemicals that prompt the creative juices through exercise, then writing becomes more natural. 

3) Read – While I’ve no scientific research to support this, I strongly believe that readers make the best writers.  Fiction, nonfiction, instruction manuals, food labels, whatever.  Just read – and keep a dictionary handy when you stumble upon new words. If you’re not stumbling upon new words, then you’re not reading enough or you’re not reading enough challenging material. 

4)  Practice - If you dream of making a living by writing, you either better be writing or practicing writing until you get that dream assignment.  Write about anything – your feelings, thoughts or memories.  Heck, write an essay on “If I could go anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?” 

5)  Think – We grew up on “Once upon a time” and “They lived happily ever after”. In general, good writing has a beginning and an end.  Think about how to best connect the dots in your work.  Use your analytical, logical and problem-solving skills.  As one colleague puts it, “when you wrap it up and put the prettiest bow on top, you’re done”. 

6) Diversify – Learn to write in different voices.  Writing a speech for a corporate CEO is completely different than writing a satirical blog.  People are diversified in their vocabulary and inflections; why shouldn’t your writing be as well? 

7) Timing – As my first newspaper editor taught me, write when you and/or the content is fresh.  As soon as you’ve completed that interview, verified that research or thought of that million-dollar-making strategy, write about it right then. 

8)  Read aloud – When you think you’ve completed the writing, read it aloud.  Does the article flow, make sense, capture your interest and have a point? 

9)  Feedback - Depending on your time frame, confidence and/or content, you may want to get feedback from either an experienced writer or a subject matter expert.  Make only those revisions necessary to clarify content or facts. 

10) Edit/Proof – After you’ve read aloud, make necessary edits, and correct grammar or typos.  DO NOT RE-WRITE (writers/editors are notorious for “perfecting” their work to the point of having no point). Put down the writing.  Go to bed. Repeat the process the following day. Then press the Send button, and pat yourself on the back for a job well done! 

What suggestions do you have for improving your writing?

Heisman Now a Hot Potato

The highest award annually given to an NCAA football player is now a hot potato since no one apparently wants it.  Plus, the 2005 award technically doesn’t exist, according to the Heisman Trophy Trust, since Reggie Bush’s forfeiture of it this week.  Sports pundits – and even some coaches – thought 2005 runner-up Vince Young should get the trophy to which he promptly declared he didn’t want it either.  I fully expect to see the award, and/or its replicas, on EBay any minute now that nobody who remotely deserves it wants it.

While the whole scandal smacks of much drama, finger pointing, hypocrisy and distraction, there are at least two guys who actually served as part of the solution.   Here’s two virtual Cups of Joe for Bush and Young for relinquishing the most prestigious award of a lifetime and giving the story a shorter shelf life than expected.  They can now move on with their multi-million-dollar lives.

The virtual Cup of Joe Award from EveryDayPR spotlights our pick of the week for a public relations performance –  good, bad or ugly.  If you’d like to make a nomination, contact shart@hartpr.com or www.Twitter.com/susanhartpr.

PG&E vs. BP: No Contest in Crisis Response

The corporate reaction regarding last week’s gas explosion in San Bruno, CA, is the antithesis of what Americans witnessed from BP in the beginning months of the oil spill disaster.  Within hours of the pipeline explosion that killed four, injured more than 50 and destroyed dozens of homes, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) began communicating via its website its action steps, including hosting community meetings and establishing a $100 million fund to help the city and residents begin immediate recovery efforts.

A fireman at the scene of a natural gas explosion in San Bruno. Photo credit: Brant Ward /SF Gate

Comparatively, two days after the April 20 Gulf Oil Spill, BP uploaded a press release that actually used the word “initiates” as opposed to “established” or “accomplished” or some other action verb indicating a successfully completed step following the crisis.  A glaring difference in the information is the tone.  In other words, PG&E speaks to its audience like it knows them; the tone appears authentic and personal; and there’s no underlying legalese that screams “we had to run this by in-house counsel before we could officially say something.”  Conversely, BP’s tone smacks of “it’s not our fault”, “we’re going to think about doing something” and we’ll put our resources into a solution “if required”.

As with most crises, it’s no surprise that attorneys are lining up to file suit against California’s PG&E.  Also expected are independent investigations of the cause of the explosion.  And without question, the state’s Public Utitlities Commission will make immediate demands for change, solutions and new regulations.  The reality is that people died, suffered serious injuries and lost their homes.  But, at the end of the day, if and when jury pools are selected, public polls are taken, customer service is measured or pipelines are re-worked, PG&E has laid a foundation of concern, action, assistance and good will. That goes a long way in crisis management and brand recovery.

What other thoughts about this crisis management situation do you have?

Are You Ready for Some Football?

Football is king here in the South.  And it is that earthly king that I find comforting worship for many hours until the 2011 season ends.  While some may think watching men demonstrate sometimes brilliant, sometimes stupid behavior on a field that may or may not be real is a huge time drain, the mere sounds of cheering fans, familiar music, manly grunts and referee whistles let me know that some American traditions aren’t fazed by daily and exhausting headlines.  Preachers who want to burn the Quran, disgruntled employees killing each other, and hand-to-hand political combat take a temporary back seat while fanatics like me enjoy every single pass, fumble, flag and rumble.  So here’s two virtual Cups of Joe to the NFL and the NCAA for continuing to do what you do best by giving thousands of us a means to a comfortable and familiar escape in the privacy of our own homes several nights a week.

The virtual Cup of Joe Award from EveryDayPR spotlights our pick of the week for a public relations performance –  good, bad or ugly.  If you’d like to make a nomination, contact shart@hartpr.com or www.Twitter.com/susanhartpr.

Airline Customer Service Makes or Breaks Brand

In today’s competitive environment for increased consumer selectivity and decreased spending dollars, bad customer service just won’t fly.  So when a group of us were recently unable to make airline connections due to inclement weather – as in gale force winds – the experiences with different airlines resulted in examples of good, bad and flat-out stupid customer service. 

Leading the pack for the single best customer service experience was Southwest Airlines. It took all of five minutes to chat with a well-trained, personable agent to take care of all our flight changes.  At one point, the agent actually apologized for the bad weather, like she had anything to do with it.  The thought of charging a passenger for making such a change never occurred to her. Nobody in our group was surprised.  Southwest’s extraordinarily positive reputation and brand remain in tack. (I understand Continental Airlines  charges a minimal fee to make reservation changes, but nobody in our group was flying with them.)
Runner-up for good customer service was Delta Airlines.   While agents initially assessed a fee for making changes to the original flight, those fees were waived when the customer explained the weather situation.  They did, however, charge a difference in fares or points.  The airline gets an average score for being helpful – after all, this is a service industry.  But for the customer having to fork over additional money, the thought still stings.
The worst consumer offender, hands down, was American Airlines.  If this airline’s reservations agents were responsible for protecting our borders, illegal immigration wouldn’t be an issue as they would either shoot or charge them to death before crossing.  Customer service features included:
·         Consistency.  Regardless of flight, fare or famine, American Airlines didn’t waive change fees for anybody.  They were merciless.
·         The average cost per person to change flights from one weekday to the following weekday was $1,000. 
·         Some of the group had purchased their tickets through the airline’s frequent flyer program, which was supposed to reward regular fliers for their business. Instead, these frequent fliers were punished for their loyalty by being accessed outlandish fees to continue to make an unavoidable flight change.
·         I heard one American agent tell a colleague, “Whoa, making that change is gonna cost you a lot of money. Let me check again as this can’t be right.”   He may as well have said, “You’re screwed”, like the ticket agent told Steve Martin in Planes, Trains and Automobiles .  When your own agents are openly balking at their employer’s data on their computer screen, something is wrong.  I know the airlines are hurting for dollars, but to hose your best users of your service is crazy stupid. And by the way, several in the group said they’d never use Amerian again.
As author Karl Albrecht of The Only Thing That Matters points out, “Many organizations fail at good customer service because their leaders don’t realize that the heart of the service journey is spiritual, not mechanical.  They will bureaucratize the whole thing.”  He must have studied American Airlines.

Was our situation a fluke?  You tell me.  Whether it was or not, the point is that these customer service experiences help solidify each airline’s brand as a good or bad organization.  Hence, one single experience can make or break your brand and its equity, or lack thereof.

What kind of good and bad customer service experiences are you willing to share?

Biz Leader Sees the Light

CEO of a small business changes her mind about retaining public relations services.  Find out why.

Susan Hart

Susan Hart, APR, is an independent public relations consultant with 25+ years of experience. Beginning as a journalist, she represents clients in health care, financial, technology and real estate. Accredited by the Public Relations Society of America, she serves as Co-Chair of the Ethics Committee for her local PRSA Chapter.

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