Boosting Integrity in Marketing Communications


Integrity is often the key to success for brands seeking to improve or maintain a positive public image. This integrity is often something overlooked by marketing managers in an effort to reach a sales goal, but this oversight can backfire and cause disastrous consequences.

Today, much emphasis is placed on respecting consumer privacy and data. This goes hand in hand with how companies communicate with their customers, and how transparent they are in those communications.

Transparency does not have to mean giving away proprietary information or trade secrets, contrary to what some may believe. No, transparency and integrity in communications can be done on a much smaller, but still noticeable, scale.

Disclosures and Statements

“Read the fine print.” It’s a warning often uttered by skeptical consumers who have been burned one too many times by a sneaky brand. Signing a contract, agreeing to a plan, or signing up for a new service all involves a level of trust on the part of the consumer.

There are many legal disclosures that often must be made. This aside, make sure that any “fine print” is clear and as easy to understand as possible. Nothing is worse than line upon line of tiny print that only serves to cause anxiety for the reader.

When a customer signs up for a new service, such as a web design package, be clear about what information is needed and what will be done with that information. Don’t bog them down in fine print. Keep it short, sweet, and to the point — and don’t go back on your word. This is an element that, sadly, many businesses miss. This only destroys consumer trust.

Communicate Changes Clearly

Another common complaint from consumers is the fact that businesses often make policy changes without proper communication.

Let’s say that a monthly service is increasing in price. While some companies may offer a “grandfathering” process where legacy users are not affected, many will simply boost prices with little or no warning.

Others will send out a mass email, which more often than not is sent to a user’s junk folder, and consider that sufficient communication.

How can this be done better? Of course, there is a level of consumer responsibility to know what is happening and to read communications. But is there a better way to communicate change responsibly?

Consider sending a more tailored email if that’s the business’ go-to method of communication. Tailor the subject line to include the customer’s first name, or include a strong call to action, such as “Changes are coming! Open me to get up to speed”. Don’t expect a customer to open a generic email with a boring subject line.

Another option is through face-to-face interaction. During customer interactions, ask if they’ve heard of the upcoming changes to the pricing structure. If they haven’t, direct them to a website or other source for more information.

Make It Easy

On that note, be sure that any changes have a “hub” of information. It’s easy to set up and makes communications that much easier. Instead of having to dig for information, sending users to a specific URL to find out more about policy changes keeps the level of transparency and proactive communication high.

Marketing communications can be tricky, and so can consumer reactions. But it is the responsibility of the business to ensure they are communicating proactively, responsibly, and with transparency. In a world where consumer trust is finicky, it’s important for businesses to stay on top of their communications with integrity in order to maintain the loyalty of their customers.

How Charitable Partnerships Can Boost a Brand’s Profile

We’ve talked before about the importance of community impact for businesses both large and small. In any community, there are a wide array of ways to get involved and help improve that community for those living and working in it.

Forming charitable partnerships is another way to get involved and improve the community around a business. Of course, businesses can provide support in ways that individuals cannot to a nonprofit or charity. But these partnerships should always be done with tact and taste — the opposite effect can easily happen if a move is done for seemingly ulterior motives.

Finding the Right Charitable Partnership

When selecting a charitable partnership for a business, there are many things to consider. One of these factors is what charity or nonprofit to partner with. Here are some considerations for this decision:

  •     Core values and mission of the business
  •     Nonprofits that align with these core values naturally
  •     Reputation of nonprofit and of the supporting business
  •     Required budget to support a charitable partnership
  •     End goal of charitable partnership

Core values lie at the heart of a business’ purpose. These values are important. They give consumers a look at the belief and value systems of those in executive positions, and they provide a roadmap of how a business conducts itself in public dealings.

With that in mind, it’s equally important for a business to align itself with a nonprofit that also values the same ideas. The purpose and mission of the nonprofit must also make sense. For example, a leather goods company may not look the best if it were to support PETA, nor would PETA be likely to accept their partnership proposal. This is, of course, an extreme example, but it shows that a partnership should be genuine, not self-serving or just “for looks”.

Forming a Charitable Partnership

Once a business has selected a nonprofit to enter into a partnership with, it’s time to figure out exactly what that partnership is going to look like.

Not every partnership has to look the same. Remember, this has to be a beneficial arrangement for both the business and, more importantly, for the nonprofit. Whether the support is financial, in the form of volunteer help, or other services provided, it’s important to set clear expectations and guidelines for the new partnership. Contracts are helpful in this situation, to protect all parties involved.

Before jumping in, take the time to form a strategy about how a business can best assist a nonprofit. Perhaps a marketing agency can offer its services to a local animal shelter each month. Or maybe an event planning portal can donate a portion of the proceeds to local community programs in an effort to create a safer neighborhood in which to host events. Maybe a local consultant can jump on board to help plan a fundraiser for a nonprofit. The possibilities are endless!

Finding creative ways to help out is important too — it doesn’t always have to just be about writing a big check. In fact, finding other ways to get involved is often even more helpful, especially for under-staffed nonprofits.

Aligning business with a nonprofit is a smart move for many reasons, but the biggest motivator should always be the betterment of community or the helping of others. From this motivation can come a great, fulfilling partnership on both sides.

instagram

Six ways to build an effective Instagram presence

Instagram currently boasts over 1 billion users and significantly higher engagement rates than Facebook. It is estimated that brands see around 4 percent engagement of their total followers on Instagram. While 4 percent might not sound like a high number, when compared to the less than 0.1% engagement rates on Facebook and Twitter, it shows that Instagram is a powerful tool for online consumer engagement.

On top of that, Instagram continues to roll out new business-specific features and has a tailor made for brand promotion. Here are six tips if you’re running a business and want to know how to make your Instagram presence effective and impactful:

Create a stellar profile

There is no “right” way to craft your profile. It depends on your brand and its personality. However, there are a few best practices for businesses that need to be kept in mind as a starting point. These include: the profile photo should be a the company logo to make it easy to identify your brand, the account name and username should be your business name and should be the same name as your other social profiles, the link to your company website should be included on your instagram page, and last but not least, your bio should either describe your business or your brand slogan (or both).

Post high quality photos

Optimize your photos and make sure they are clear, attention-grabbing and engaging. Instagram offers many options to filter and edit your photos, however it’s best to make use of photo-editing applications that can enhance your photos even further. Take market research into account as well. For instance, according to research by MIT, pictures with reddish tones were more popular than those using a bluish or reddish tones.

Be frequent

When it comes to Instagram, you need to maintain frequency in your posting. Your profile won’t get attention if you’re only posting once in a while. Set aside time each day to post something on Instagram, preferably at least twice a day. It is important to find out and pick times when your photos will get the most engagement.

Take advantage of hashtags

Use hashtags that are relevant to your picture and post. Find out which hashtags are trending and what hashtags other businesses are using. There are numerous resources and apps that will help find hashtags that are relevant and popular across different industries. Don’t forget to tag your location, especially if you’re a local business.

Include captions

Captions can serve various purposes. From simply letting your audience know about the contents of your picture to motivating your followers to take action, such as visiting your website or asking your audience to repost your content.

Build an aesthetic

Your company’s instagram should have it’s own brand aesthetic that is evident across the photos, profile and captions. This will help attract the right audience as well as create a consistent brand identity. Find out what kind of aesthetic works for your brand and stick to it.

How Social Media Manipulates Our Self Image

Social media is a complicated thing. As a platform, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter started as a way to help people stay connected in an increasingly globalized world. With social media, it’s possible for individuals to connect with people they know across the globe, without wasting huge amounts of cash on things like texts and phone calls.

At the same time, some social channels also give people a way to make new connections. For instance, LinkedIn is a place where professionals can find potential mentors, peers, and individuals to help them reach their professional goals. However, as powerful as it is, social media isn’t always a good thing. The social world has prompted is to start marking comparisons between our own lives, and the often-unrealistic representations of other people’s lives that we see online.

Social Media and Social Comparison Theory

The biggest problem with social media comes from the issue of “social comparison theory.” Social comparison theory is a psychological concept that suggests that people will generally compare themselves to the people around them, even if they don’t know much about those people beyond what they share online.

People on social media frequently compare themselves to the people that they see on their news feeds – without considering the fact that people will generally only share positive things about their life on social media. Social channels provide individuals with a space where they can create an image of themselves that ignores the crucial details that would be required to make an accurate comparison.

Everyone on social media gets to see the fun days out that their friends spend with their loved ones, or the relaxing weekends on the beach – but no-one gets to see the difficult days, the arguments with friends and so on. While comparing ourselves to others is a common way to measure how we’re making progress in our lives, this practice becomes problematic when we only compare ourselves to the perfectly designed versions of others.

Why Do We Keep Using Social Media?

Although we know that using social media makes us feel depressed and anxious at times, many people still stay connected to their news feeds at all hours of the day. People are constantly checking to see whether their friends have hit the crucial milestones that they hope to hit. However, while many people feel better when they leave social media behind the “fear of missing out” or not being able to partake in important social conversations keeps us going back for more.

Ultimately, if people are going to continue using social media, then they need to learn how to use it in a healthier way. To some extent, this means changing the way that we compare ourselves to others. The first step towards healthy comparison is identifying the right peer group by looking at people that are more like ourselves. Comparing ourselves to successful stars and influencers on social media increases the problem with social comparison theory because it pushes us to set unrealistic goals.

Once people have found the right peer group, they also remember that the things they see on social media aren’t necessarily the whole story.

StarKist Caught in Bad PR Net

If you had to guess which popular food brand found itself in the PR hot seat last week, you probably wouldn’t have guessed StarKist Tuna, and yet, that’s exactly what happened. The brand was obliged to plead guilty to a price fixing allegation that could wind up costing the company $100 million, as well as a loss of face in the consumer market.

While most shoppers don’t worry too much when a brand changes a logo or tries to get an edge in the marketplace, when that company is accused of price fixing, people stop and pay attention. According to prosecutors, StarKist “colluded” with two other major brands to keep their prices “artificially inflated.”

Now, the company has been caught, publicly outed, and forced to admit culpability. What remained to be seen is if they would accept responsibility. To date, StarKist has taken a step in that direction. CEO Andrew Choe said, “We have cooperated with the DOJ during the course of its investigation and accept responsibility… We will continue to conduct our business with the utmost transparency and integrity.”

Those who have been following the case say it was just StarKist’s turn. After all, its co-conspirators have already been pushed out into the harsh spotlight of negative media attention.

Back in 2015, Chicken of the Sea attempted to buy Bumble Bee, but that attempt failed to be realized. At that point, Chicken of the Sea executives went to federal authorities and admitted to a conspiracy to inflate prices that involved them, Bumble Bee and StarKist. Subsequently, Bumble Bee paid a $25 million fine, which was more than $100 million lower than prosecutors had asked for. Given that information, it was only a matter of time before StarKist faced the music.

So, what does this mean for all three companies? Well, each has a black eye from all the proceedings. StarKist has yet to hear its penalty, and Bumble Bee, which is still struggling financially, now has to be a fine over the next five years.

But what does that mean for their brand bottom line? Hard to say, but it’s not helping when the Assistant Attorney General is pointing out that “the conspiracy to fix prices on these household staples had direct effects on the pocketbooks of American consumers…”

If that narrative takes hold, the fines may be the least of these tuna companies’ worries. No grocery brand wants to be on the bad side of cost-conscious American shoppers, especially when there are easy alternatives to choose.

New Line in the Sand for Vanity Fair

A change in leadership can be a defining moment for any brand. When that brand is a popular international news and culture publication, a shift in leadership can open up the opportunity for a new vision or a chance for the new leader to reinforce the brand’s current message. And, sometimes, the new leader is caught in the middle between ownership that wants a little – or a lot – of both.

When Radhika Jones took over as editor of Vanity Fair, she entered a situation in which the magazine’s ownership is engaged in a stark and wide-reaching cost-cutting program. Positions are being eliminated and some media properties are being off-loaded, even as Jones begins her tenure.

In an interview with CNN about the new challenges she faces, Jones was positive and upbeat, saying it’s a “vital time” to be in the media business. A veteran of both hard news and popular media, Jones brings a strong sense of media culture and a recognition of the tectonic shifts happening in the industry, largely driven by populist and consumer trends.

And Jones’ message? She knows what her audience wants: “Audiences are hungry for new faces and new voices… My goal is to reflect the culture as I see it…” And, culture as she sees it appears to be young, diverse, and groundbreaking. In recent months, Vanity Fair has put Michelle Williams, Felicity Jones, Michael B. Jordan, and Kendrick Lamar on the cover.

Some of her editorial choices have surprised loyal Vanity Fair readers, and Jones said this is a good thing. “It’s been heartening to me to hear that people are surprised by our cover choices…”

One of the biggest challenges put to the new editor was the future of the publication, specifically in print. Jones said she fully expects Vanity Fair to still be available in print in a decade, maybe longer. She said, despite many reports to the contrary, media consumption is not a “zero sum game.” People are consuming both print and digital, so she’s not going to give up on print any time soon.

That’s not to say Jones won’t look toward expanding on Vanity Fair’s online and social footprint. Those efforts, apparently, are partly to entice more subscribers, rather than trying to depend entirely on advertising efforts. This is a tough tightrope to walk for any media editor. Advertising has been a longstanding moneymaker for media, but that market is redefining itself almost by the day. Media companies continue to look for both short- and long-term solutions.

That’s not to say Jones is stepping away from the brand’s successful backstory. “You want to learn what the traditions are, (those) that are worth keeping and that are valuable… Then you want to learn which habits that maybe could be broken… The truth is, Vanity Fair has this fantastic formula, back from when Tina Brown reinvented it in the 1980’s. It’s about a mix of high and low. We cover these certain areas: politics and technology and finance and course Hollywood and celebrity culture. And those things are really the same. We’re doing those stories.”

zimbabwe public relations

Zimbabwe Bond Notes Create PR Nightmare

Back in 2016, The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe began using $10 million worth of “bond” notes as a replacement for traditional money, in an attempt to ease the problems, the country currently has with liquidity. Not only where the bond notes met with uncertainty when the country first began to introduce them, but they could pose a serious problem with PR nearly two years later, as they’re harming the area’s ability to attract international investors.

According to financial analysts from South Africa’s Rand Merchant Bank, Neville Mandimika announced that while the local feeling towards the bond notes has softened over the last two years, there’s still a lot of problems for the country to overcome. For instance, many people stare still confused about the bond notes and how they can coordinate with existing financial policies.

Problems for the Zimbabwe Brand

It’s often easy to forget that countries and locations, like businesses, can come with their own brand and reputation. In a time when Zimbabwe is desperate for the attention of the right investors, the country could be facing some serious troubles with this bond note issue. Particularly, investors have no idea what the bond notes are going to mean to the company in the grand scheme of things. Will the bond notes still be in place fifteen years from now, or is it just a part-time policy?

If they want to improve their chances of investment, the PR organizations responsible for boosting Zimbabwe’s identity will need to implement a plan to improve confidence about the future of the country’s currencies. On the international scene, the very concept of bond notes can be enough to conjure up dangerous images with fixed-income investments. One particularly important thing to remember is that the term “bond notes” in Zimbabwe is likely to mean something very different to the phrase used in the US.

For most investors looking to drive their money towards Zimbabwe, the concept of the bond notes is something that’s not easily understood or articulated right now. PR exercises need to be put in place to improve understanding about what the bond notes mean, and how they’ll affect investments in the long-term.

What Zimbabwe Needs to Do Next

During a conversation about Zimbabwe’s reputational standing, Mandimika suggested that the country needs to start taking advantage of the changing international sentiments around the space and look for ways to strengthen their policies. To some extent, prospects for Zimbabwe are looking much better today because many people no longer think that the area is going to be struggling from financial woes for the next four or five years.

As the conversation begins to change, there are opportunities for investment out there, but there are policies to clarify, positions to address, and plans to set in motion before anything significant can happen. Sentiment is on Zimbabwe’s side right now, but the country needs to make sure that the policy proposals going forward are as clear as possible – particularly after the elections take place.

5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian – founder of 5W Public Relations.

First, Ask: “Is it Worth it?”

When the manager of the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia decided to ask White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave before her party had a meal, Stephanie Wilkinson knew there would be consequences… But were those consequences worth the momentary feelings of justification that prompted the ouster?

That’s a question that will continue to be answered in the coming weeks and months as customers decide to cast their votes with their wallets. Already, though, lines have been drawn and decisions have been made as a result of the “you’re not welcome” that turned into national news.

By all accounts, the ladies, Wilkinson and Sanders, were polite during the brief interaction. No one tried to cause a scene or create a photo op. Sanders and her group quietly left, and Wilkinson returned her attention to her other guests. But that was far from the end of it. By the next morning, the incident was national news, and consumers across the country, as well as in Lexington, were taking sides.

Whatever happens next, the operative question is, “Will it be worth it?” Wilkinson has already chosen to resign her position as executive director of Lexington’s Main Street business alliance. The position is pivotal to the success of multiple downtown businesses, and protesters were threatening consequences for Main Street if the organization continued to support Wilkinson.

And that is only the beginning. Like it or not, Wilkinson has become a talking point and a figure to hold up, either to laud or berate. Wilkinson, for her part, is sticking by her reasons, telling the Washington Post she made the call because, she believes, Sanders works for an “inhumane and unethical” administration.

Those qualifiers are certainly not going to endear her to Trump voters, who are likely to have already scratched Red Hen off their dinner possibilities list. This choice was supported by the President who, in his characteristic way, unleashed on Wilkinson via Twitter, calling the exterior of the restaurant “filthy,” and declaring, “if a restaurant is dirty on the outside, it is dirty on the inside!”

Meanwhile, the Republican Party of Virginia began circulating a boycott petition. And those were just the obvious potential consequences of Wilkinson’s decision. There are cascading unintended consequences as well. Red Hen restaurants across the country are taking hits on social media and on Yelp reviews. At least 10 different Red Hen restaurants not affiliated, at all, with Wilkinson’s restaurant, have come out and asked people to stop trolling them, calling them, or leaving harsh Google or Yelp reviews.

For these business owners, they are now forced to respond to the PR crisis version of guilt by association… even though they are not actually associated. And that’s one of the biggest consequences to consider if you plan to spark consumer rage about a social issue. Understand that rage has to be directed somewhere… and that mobs, in public or online, are difficult to predict.