business model ronn torossian

John Hancock Announces Shift in Business Model

In business, disruption in the market is inevitable. New ideas, better methods, improved tools, and sudden shifts can all create tectonic change. And, in the modern era, these changes can happen practically overnight. So, if you’re brand isn’t hearing your customers, they may be someone else’s customers before you realize it.

One of the largest – and oldest – currently operating businesses in the United States, John Hancock insurance, recently faced that stark reality. For more than 150 years, the life insurance market operated on pretty much the same business model. But, recently, consumer needs and wants have shifted, and these consumers, offered myriad options at the touch of a screen, are starting to find these needs being met in different ways.

For John Hancock, these market realities necessitated an abrupt and drastic change, explained in the following statement:

“John Hancock … will no longer sell traditional life insurance policies. All of our policies will come with John Hancock Vitality – a platform designed to help policyholders live longer, healthier lives by giving people incentives to make healthier choices linked to physical activity, nutrition and mindfulness. Our path here started with a simple, revolutionary thought: Your life insurance company should care how long and well you live…”

Someone who understands the insurance industry may read that statement and think, “well, sure, of course insurance companies want their customers to live longer… That helps their bottom line…”

Hancock’s message anticipates that perspective and addresses it, offering this:

“For too long, our industry wasn’t truly investing in the very thing it is designed to protect: life… The time to act is now – lifestyle diseases are now the primary cause of death in America. Today just four choices — physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, excessive alcohol and smoking — cause more than 60 percent of deaths and 80 percent of the disease burden in the United States, according to the Oxford Health Alliance…”

This statement reads as bold and bluntly honest. While, yes, Hancock knows longer-living people mean a stronger bottom line, the company is introducing initiatives to help improve the quality of those lives as well.

This message is communicated in simple terms, with an easy-to-remember list of “enemies” to combat: lack of exercise, bad diets, too much alcohol, and smoking. There’s also a collective call to action. John Hancock has announced its intentions, but the tone and the message implies an invitation for consumers to come along with them.

This is a smart tactic to take in communicating this change. Making it about responding directly to consumers’ needs and offering to partner with them in building a happy, healthier life, shifts the focus away from the “change,” which people often dislike, and onto the “features and benefits” being offered.

texas public relations

Texas School Superintendent Facing Uncertain Future After Comments

Sports can be a hot topic in Texas, especially football. And people can say things in the wrong way, or things they don’t mean in the heat of the moment. Happens all the time on social media. But, there are some lines that, if crossed, have greater consequences than comment thread infamy. Some lines you just don’t cross, especially if you’re in a position of public prominence or responsibility. Just ask Lynn Redden.

Redden is, at least for now, the superintendent of the Onalaska Independent School District in Piney Woods, Texas, just north of Houston. Recently, Redden was discussing his team, the Houston Texans, on the comment board of a Houston Chronicle article about Texans starting quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Watson was a big pickup for Houston, and he’s a popular player in east Texas, but he wasn’t very popular after the final whistle of the Texans game against the Tennessee Titans. Houston lost, 20-17, after Watson let the clock run down.

Redden, like many Houston fans, was upset by this decision. Unlike many Houston fans, Redden chose to offer this opinion on the Chronicle’s comment section: “When you need precision decision making you can’t count on a black quarterback.”

The race-based comment was quickly deleted, but — you’ve heard this one before — not until after it was screenshot and shared with the world, including the Chronicle.

Redden was suddenly a household name, being blasted by Texans coach Bill O’Brien: “I really don’t want to waste a lot of time responding to outdated, inaccurate, ignorant, idiotic statements… I’ll just let Deshaun (Watson’s) proven success on the field, his character off the field, speak for itself. He’s one of the greatest guys I’ve ever coached. He represents everything that’s right about football, about life… In this day and age, it’s just amazing that this B.S. exists.”

Watson, when questioned about the comment, chose the high road, saying, “May peace be with him. I worry about me, so I’m not worried about what he has to say.”

Some fans are openly and loudly calling for Redden to be fired. Meanwhile, Redden, when asked what he meant by the comment, told the news he “believed he was sending a private message…” then cited what he called the “limited success” of black quarterbacks in the NFL.

As of this writing, Redden’s ultimate fate has not yet been decided. The school board that employs him is planning a special meeting to determine what action to take, however, they have already issued a statement: “The OISD does not condone negative comments or actions against any race. The district values every individual and therefore the district will take the appropriate measures to address the situation expeditiously and completely.”

While it was necessary to make that statement, it’s what the district says or does next that will create the most public response. They would be wise to choose their public message a lot more carefully than their superintendent.

brad pitt foundation

Brad Pitt’s Foundation Facing Lawsuit

Sometimes, tying a famous name to a charity work can put a big target on that organization. If everything goes well, it’s great PR, but if things go poorly, for whatever reason, there’s that famous name in the headline.

A recent example of this is an Associated Press story in which the Make it Right Foundation is being sued over homes built in places that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The famous name associated with Make it Right? Brad Pitt.

The A-list Hollywood actor’s name was all over the headlines recently because of the lawsuit, which was filed on the behalf of residents of New Orleans Ninth Ward, which was one of the areas hardest hit by flooding after the hurricane. Their attorney, Ron Austin, was all over local media talking about “sicknesses, headaches, and infrastructure issues…”

Of course, Pitt’s name was mentioned prominently in all the reports. According to the story, Pitt created the foundation about two years after Katrina and hired “award-winning architects” to rebuild communities that had been scoured away by wind and fast-moving flood waters. The organization planned to build 150 new homes, billing them as “storm-safe, solar-powered, and green.” Residents could purchase the relatively affordable housing through a combination of government grants, resettlement financing, and donations from the Make It Right Foundation.

At least, that was the plan. But things didn’t quite work out that way. A decade after the first ground was broken on the project, 110 house have been built, and some are, reportedly, already falling apart. The attorney, Austin, complained of mildew, roof leaks, and sagging porches… “Essentially, Make It Right was making a lot of promises to come back and fix the homes that they initially sold these people and have failed to do so…”

So, in an effort to help devastated hurricane victims, Brad Pitt has harnessed himself and his brand to a PR catastrophe. Images of frustrated families, who already suffered unimaginable horror and loss, have been tied to his image.

In response, the Foundation sued the lumber company that provided a lot of the suspect wood, but there’s no news about how or if that suit was settled. Through all of this, Pitt has chosen to focus on the bright side, telling local media:

“I get this swell of pride when I see this little oasis of color and the solar panels… I drive into the neighborhood and I see people on their porch, and I ask them how is their house treating them? And they say, ‘Good.’ And I say ‘What’s your utility bill?’ And they’ll throw something out like, ‘24 bucks’ or something, and I feel fantastic.”

That position may not be one he’s able to hold for much longer. The recent headlines marking the demolition of one of the Make It Right houses brought this issue back into the spotlight even before the lawsuit hit the headlines. The demo, according to the media, was in response to neighbors complaining of the eyesore. In response, Make it Right, though not Pitt, responded with this statement:

“Our homeowners’ well-being and privacy are some of our top priorities and we work closely with them to address their concerns… Each situation is different and we are currently coordinating the necessary follow up with the appropriate parties to address any areas of concern.”

Given the direction this narrative is going, they may want to consider “coordinating” faster… and shifting to a more empathetic message.

 

nabisco public relations

Nabisco Unleashes Lions and Elephants

It’s been about a year since Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey announced it would be closing down its namesake circus. Now, both in response to that decision and in a pretty clever play to get some attention for a brand that’s been more or less forgotten by today’s kids, Nabisco has “uncaged” the cartoon animals on its animal crackers box. Fully 116 years after “Barnum’s Animal Crackers” first appeared, the animals on the boxes are no longer “traveling” in circus train cages.

Now, the menagerie – which includes an elephant, zebra, giraffe, and gorilla – is free and seems to be charging right off the box. This posture is much more likely to grab the attention of kids wandering the grocery store… as well as their parents, who are being barraged with articles touting the change.

According to most reports, Nabisco’s decision to release the beasts was at the request of PETA, and having this organization involved certainly ensures the stories will be bigger and the responses louder. Of the many politically-tinged organizations out there, PETA is one of the best at generating headlines… as well as attention from both supporters and, especially, detractors. For media outlets, the connection was too good to pass up, and PETA, as always, was ready with a statement. Most of the stories covering this change are also reporting that PETA approached Nabisco’s parent company, Mondelez International, with allegations that circuses like the one depicted on the boxes “often beat, chain, and whip animals…”

Mondelez issued a statement downplaying PETA’s influence in the decision, saying: “It’s probably one of, if not the oldest, (product) in our portfolio… We’re always looking to see how to keep it modern, to keep it contemporary with customers.”

Whatever you feel about the decision to redraw the boxes and the animals adorning them, from a public relations perspective, this was a well-executed campaign. Not only did Nabisco get the media to plaster a photo of its boxes in print, on TV, and online for days, PETA was able to piggyback on the campaign, getting a lot more mileage out of the story than they may have otherwise. PETA, of course, used the incident to remind the media of its successful campaigns against the actual circus, as well as other performing animal shows.

For Nabisco, the benefit is that untold numbers of parents are now going to make a point to look for the animal crackers on grocery store shelves coast to coast, something they may not have done since their children were toddlers.

5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian

Build a Bear Promotion Goes Bust

It could have been the marketing coup of the summer. Had Build a Bear successfully pulled off its “pay your age” promotion, people would be talking about it for years, especially every time they saw their child’s favorite stuffed animal. Now, though, millions of people will be talking about the promotion for very different reasons.

You probably know the story by now. Build a Bear advertised that it would hold a very special discount day. Parents could bring their kids in, and they tykes could build a new fuzzy friend for only the cost of their age. The news spread across social media like wildfire, causing tens of thousands to flock to Build a Bear locations across the nation, and elsewhere.

Many showed up well before dawn, waiting in line for their chance to capture the deal. Unfortunately for untold thousands of parents, with tired, cranky kids in tow, waiting in line offered them little more than disappointment. Stores ran out of inventory. Some malls cut off the line because the crowds were blocking access to many other stores. There were arguments and fights, and reports some children were injured in melees.

And, based on the company’s initial statement explaining why the deal was canceled, it seems at least some of those safety-related reports may have some basis in fact:

“Based on the unprecedented response to our Pay Your Age Day event in our early opening stores, we are experiencing significantly longer than expected lines and large crowds. Local authorities are requiring us to limit the lines and crowds due to safety concerns. We understand this is disappointing, we are working to address the situation, and we will be reaching out to our valued guests soon…”

So, after hours waiting in line, tens of thousands of disappointed parents and sobbing, confused children were led away, unsure if they would ever get what they came for. These people, of course, were live-streaming and tweeting their experience in real time. As word spread on social media, local news started showing up, taking video and interviewing frustrated parents and kids.

The complaints continued to pour in, criticizing the apparent miscalculations and disorganization both in planning the event an in executing it at the store level. What was supposed to be a huge win for Build a Bear turned into a constant, day-long embarrassment. Over the next days and weeks, planners will review the event, looking for where it all went wrong. They may want to start with why no one asked: What if everyone shows up?

Regardless of what they learn and what they decide, now Build a Bear has to rebuild its reputation with some very aggravated core customers.

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.

These Brands That Risked Their Reputation to Take a Public Stand

Taking a public stand can be a risk for a brand, but when it works, it can pay off handsomely. Here are a few examples of brands that took the risk and enjoyed a serious PR payoff:

Stella Artois

You may not expect an international beer brand to be at the top of the list, but Stella Artois makes it for their brilliant and compassionate campaign that helped bring safe drinking water countless people in regions where safe drinking water is a luxury, not an assumption. The campaign, called “Buy a Lady a Drink,” combined the thrust of Stella with the star power of Matt Damon and the boots on the ground of Water.org to encourage consumers to engage with the movement. Stella Artois even debuted a limited-edition bottle that, with each one purchased, sent a month of clean water to families in developing countries. Buy a sixer, and that represents six months of clean water for a family.

Yoplait

Who buys most of the groceries? Mom. Who gets most of the criticism about how kids are being raised? Mom. Who did Yoplait yogurt target with a powerfully-affirming, feel-good social PR campaign? You guessed it: Mom. Ostensibly in response to the constant critiques mothers get for every decision they make for their kids, Yoplait invented “Mom On,” which showed a series of moms responding to common complaints about how they parent. The women addressed issues ranging from breastfeeding to when they went back to work with well-placed humor and confidence. Moms – and women in general – loved the campaign, rewarding the company with their business in droves.

Uber v. Lyft

Rideshare companies Uber and Lyft waded into the heart of a very controversial situation: President Trump’s travel ban. When other taxi companies chose to strike to protest the travel ban, Uber chose to keep operating. When that resulted in an avalanche of criticism, then-CEO Travis Kalanickdefended the choice, saying his company was dedicated to work with the President on urban transport issues. Lyft, however, came down strongly and solidly on the other side of the issue, condemning the travel ban and offering to donate a large sum of money to the ACLU, which was fighting the ban. Now, regardless of how most people feel about the issue, most of Lyft’s and Uber’s customers sided with Lyft, which gave Lyft a net win.

5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian, Founder of 5W Public Relations.