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PR Done Right: The Top 5 Public Relations Successes of the Past Month

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by Mark Braykovich

When PR is done well – whether by design, pure luck or a little of both – it makes clients look great and their PR agencies look like geniuses. The Wilbert Group’s Crisis PR and Issues Management team keeps its eyes open for such strokes of genius – so that we and our clients can learn from others’ successes.

Front page of The Plain Dealer.

#1 LeBron’s Return: If “The Decision” of four years ago was the worst sports PR move of all time, then “The Letter” by NBA star LeBron James is the greatest sports PR move of all time. In a thunderous slam-dunk of PR brilliance, James undid the earlier damage and suddenly made himself (and Cleveland) the darling of the sports world again.

His letter on Sports Illustrated’s web site was poignant, seemingly sincere, and the perfect tonic to the hubris King James displayed when he told a live ESPN audience in 2010 that he was taking his talents to South Beach.

“The Letter” was amazing and the delivery perfect: No TV this time, only silence from James so that his written words were quoted, re-quoted and tweeted a zillion times.  The result: Wall-to-wall coverage on ESPN for days and so much media buzz that you can’t put a price tag on it.

I read an article last week that considered whether James – like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson before him – is a basketball genius. Probably. And perhaps he’s a PR genius, too, although I’d like to think a PR pro had a hand in this.

#2 Waffle House Boycott: Poor spelling is easily forgiven during a stroke of genius. And both were on display when Waffle House sent out one of the year’s best tweets on the eve of the USA-Belgium World Cup match. The tweet “We don’t believe in Belgium waffles” was sheer PR brilliance, as the resulting 23,000+ re-tweets and days of media buzz attested.

Okay, so it should have been “Belgian” not “Belgium” waffles. That’s nothing folks chomping on American-made pecan waffles would complain about. Plus, Waffle House quickly made light of it, calling it a “blonde moment” in a follow-up tweet. (Of course, Waffle House has now offended blondes AND Belgians.)

This Yankee Doodle of a Dandy tweet was a perfect salvo to fire up fans of U.S. soccer and Waffle House. It also was unplanned, according to Waffle House, which does all of its social media in-house. Atlanta-based companies now can boast of two of the year’s best tweets. Back in January, Arby’s got international attention when it tweeted during the Grammys about Pharrell Williams’ hat. Later, the restaurant chain bought the hat for $44,100 and now has it on display at its Atlanta headquarters.

The lesson here: A good tweet will make them eat. #3 KFC’s Compassion: What do you do when a customer makes a salacious complaint that grabs national headlines and makes your fast-food chain look heartless? That was the question KFC faced in June when the grandmother of a disfigured three-year-old girl claimed she was kicked out of KFC because customers were scared by the girl’s scars.

Victoria Wilcher. Photo: Corey Perrine, Associated Press.

Almost immediately, KFC apologized and promised to investigate. Good first PR move. But what followed was sheer PR brilliance.

After two different investigations proved the complaint was a hoax – in fact, surveillance tape from the KFC branch revealed that the girl and her grandmother didn’t even visit the restaurant the day they said they’d been shunned – KFC didn’t excoriate the girl and her family. Instead, KFC donated $30,000 to the foundation of a plastic surgeon who agreed to work on the girl’s facial injuries for free.

Late last week, little Victoria got a new eye – although she faces at least 200 more surgeries to repair damage from the attack by dogs.

The episode serves as a textbook lesson on turning the worst possible PR into the very best kind.

CVS storefront. Photo: Wikipedia Commons.

#4 CVS’ Halting Decision: Maybe it was a tad late in coming. And certainly a lobbying effort from a member of Congress had something to do with it. But CVS still gets PR kudos for its recent decision to stop selling in West Virginia a cold medicine that contains an ingredient used in methamphetamine production.

In case you didn’t know, West Virginia is a hotbed for meth labs. In the past year and a half, more than 730 meth labs have been seized there. As a result, pressure was mounting on CVS, Walgreen and Rite Aid to halt sales of single-ingredient pseudoephedrine, often sold under the Sudafed brand name. Drug enforcement officials complain the medicine has become a key and too easily obtained ingredient in meth.

Walgreen and Rite Aid previously capitulated. Now it was CVS’ turn.

“We took this step as part of our longstanding commitment to assuring that (pseudoephedrine) products are purchased at our stores only for legitimate medical purposes,” a CVS spokesman told the Wall Street Journal.

As they say, doing the right thing is always the best PR.

 

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

#5 CDC’s anthrax response: The CDC’s early response to reports that dozens of its employees may have been exposed to anthrax was slow and difficult to comprehend. As the crisis has worsened – a second safety lapse was revealed in which a CDC lab accidentally contaminated a relatively benign flu sample with a dangerous bird flu strain that has killed nearly 400 people in the past decade – the CDC’s PR response has improved.

The agency’s director, Dr. Thomas Frieden, who was not publicly visible early on, eventually began granting media interviews and took center stage last Friday at a press conference in which he announced the CDC had temporarily closed its flu and anthrax laboratories in Atlanta and halted shipments of all infectious agents from the agency’s highest-security labs.

Better still, Frieden spoke in sincere and personal terms about the safety lapses that “should never have happened.”

“I’m upset, I’m angry, I’ve lost sleep over this, and I’m working on it until the issue is resolved.”

Those words were accompanied by other strong messages, including Frieden’s promises that the labs would remain closed until new procedures were imposed, a committee of experts will be convened to revise procedures, and staff members who knowingly failed to follow procedures or report dangerous incidents will be disciplined.

Better late than never with a good PR response.

Making News: Our Clients Making Waves

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by Shannan Jordan

#1 Lauren Perry Ford of Cooper Carry spoke with Leesburg Today about the new Textile Conservation Center at George Washington University.

#2 WJCL News looked at the future of Broughton Street as Ben Carter Enterprises continues to work on the $75 million project.

#3 Gwinnett Place Mall is making a comeback. Lori Kilberg of Hartman Simons talks to WSB-TV about what people can expect from the evolving shopping center.

#4 Tony Bartlett, senior vice president of Lincoln Property Co., shares the news of their recent procurement of the leasing assignment for West Paces Ferry Shopping Center in Atlanta.

#5 Sustainability and vacations don’t typically go together, but at Camana Bay they can. See what Destination Magazine has to say about going green on the Seven Mile Beach.

Crisis PR: The Top 5 Public Relations Miscues of the Past Month

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by Mark Braykovich

A poor corporate response to a crisis or major news often makes matters worse. The Wilbert Group’s Crisis PR and Issues Management team keeps its eyes open for such miscues – so that we and our clients can learn from others’ mistakes.

Sheryl Sandberg. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

#1 The Facebook experiment: A couple years ago, Facebook notified 689,000 of its users that it was locking them out of the social network because they were either robots or had used fake names. The users had to prove they were real to gain back their access. Turns out it was merely an experiment. Facebook knew all along most of the users were legit; the real purpose of the tests was to determine if users’ emotions could be affected.

Regardless of the business and/or ethical merits of this experiment, Facebook’s PR response when this came to light recently left much to be desired. Rather than issue an apology – which seems prudent when you have 1.3 billion users – Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said only that the experiment was “poorly communicated.”

Sandberg, the now famous author of “Lean In,” leaned away from an apology along the lines of “we’re sorry we did this.” Instead, she only apologized for the way users found out about it.

Sometimes, saying sorry is the best way out of a mess.

#2 Walmart’s snippy editing: Amid the ongoing debate over the minimum wage, New York Times columnist Timothy Egan wrote that Walmart “is a big part of the problem,” paying “humiliating wages” that “force thousands of employees to look to food stamps, Medicaid and other forms of welfare.”

“Working at Walmart,” Egan concluded, “may not make you poor, but it certainly keeps you poor – at the expense of the rest of us.”

Difficult words to swallow in the Walmart C-suite, no doubt. But if you’re the world’s biggest retailer and the nation’s top private employer, certainly you have the backbone to weather such blasts. Not necessarily.

Instead, Walmart chose a PR response that must certainly have felt good at the moment it was conceived and delivered. Walmart PR man David Tovar took a digital red pen to the opinion column and sent the marked up draft to Egan along with this note:

The problem with a “feel good” PR response is that it can backfire. Such as when it goes viral on the Internet and other journalism organizations start fact-checking your edits. Or when people complain that your response is snarky and insensitive toward your own workers.

Sometimes, silence is the best response.

#3 Waffle House shootings: June was a deadly month at Waffle House restaurants. On June 1, a 43-year-old off-duty police officer – and father of seven – was shot and killed outside a Waffle House in Griffin, Ga. Then, two weeks later, a Waffle House employee was charged with shooting and killing a customer during an argument at a Waffle House near Atlanta.

Surprisingly, in the resulting news coverage, Waffle House remained silent. Regardless of the possible legal issues, it seems some corporate response was appropriate.

Something as simple as, “We are deeply saddened by this tragic loss of life” would have sufficed, or “We are committed to the safety of all of our customers and employees.” Or both.

Sometimes, no comment makes a company look heartless.

Manu Kumaran, former CEO of Medient Studios, at the groundbreaking ceremony for its new studio complex. Photo: Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News.

#4 Medient Studios’ Silence: The recent swirl of news around Georgia-based Medient Studios has been decidedly negative. The SEC suspended trading in Medient’s stock over questions of the accuracy of publicly available information about the company, and the former CEO sued to dissolve the company he founded –a lawsuit that came two weeks after he was fired in a leadership coup.

What does the company have to say about all of this? Nothing. If there’s any hope for survival, it seems somebody should be talking.

After all, this is the same Medient Studios that created a buzz a year ago when it proposed to build a massive filming complex near Savannah. And a company whose stock has tumbled to almost zero.

Yet in the Savannah Morning News, this is what readers got a full day after the lawsuit was filed: “A spokeswoman for Medient said Tuesday the company was preparing a statement.”

Sometimes, silence is not golden.

#5 CDC’s anthrax response: It’s never good when your name is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the news is that dozens of your employees may have been exposed to anthrax. Just as troubling was that the CDC, an agency accustomed to crises, seemed ill-prepared to respond to one involving itself.

Many of the initial news reports in mid-June carried only a brief statement from the CDC, when a disclosure of such significance and seriousness clearly called for their leader to be front and center. But CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden steered clear of the media for several days, even when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a front-page article stating that the incident “is the latest in a series of safety problems” at the CDC in recent years.

Only after several days passed and the likes of NBC News, Reuters and the Los Angeles Times weighed in on the crisis did Frieden begin granting interviews.

Sometimes, your crisis PR plan isn’t as good as you think it is.

Making News: Our Clients Making Waves

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by Shannan Jordan

#1 Atlanta’s 11 Alive News interviewed Equifax executive, Trey Loughran, about ways to protect yourself from identity theft.

#2 Richie Faulkenberry, Senior Vice President at Lincoln Harris, was featured in Citybizlist Atlanta regarding the firm’s recent leasing and property management win for SouthCourt, a mixed-use development in Durham, North Carolina.

#3 Robert Stickel with Multi Housing Advisors spoke with Globe St. about the firm’s role in the sale of Macon apartment community Ansley Village.

#4 GlobeSt. looked to Franklin Street Director of Insurance Services, Michael Shadeed, for his view on the rise in replacement cost levels on insurance policies for property sales and acquisitions.

#5 Ben Carter of Ben Carter Enterprises tells The Wall Street Journal why the recent sale of his 50 percent stake in Jacksonville shopping mall, St. Johns Town Center, was a strategic move for him.

Media Moves: The Scoop in Journalism

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by Savannah Duncan

As former journalists, we still love to get —and share— the latest newsroom scoop. In Media Moves, we highlight the latest happenings in journalism and media.

Kim Severson of The New York Times.

#1 New York, New York: The New York Times has hired Richard Fausset as its new Atlanta bureau chief. Kim Severson, previous Atlanta bureau chief, will become a correspondent covering food.

#2 For Sale: William Curtis has put up Robb Report, an ultra-luxury magazine covering fashion, real estate, automobiles, travel and more, for sale. Berkery Noyes has reportedly been hired to handle the sale. Curtis has owned the publication since 2002.

#3 What Does the Fox Say?: Newsmax Media is launching a conservative news channel targeting baby boomers this month on DirecTV. The channel will compete with Fox News, and will provide a full range of programming and lifestyle content including health, finance and well-being.

#4 Show Me The Money: NBC has expanded Matt Lauer’s contract on the “Today” show for several more years. Though never officially announced, his salary is reportedly between $20 million and $25 million.

#5 It’s About Time: Time Inc. has completed its spinoff, carrying $1.3 billion in debt. The company, which includes Time, People and Sports Illustrated in addition to other titles, started trading publicly on Monday as TIME.

Making News: Our Clients in the Headlines

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by Shannan Jordan

#1 FrontDoor Communities CEO, Terry Russell, was featured in the Wall Street Journal regarding the increase in home sizes in the South.

#2 The LA Times looked to Equifax Senior Vice President, Scott Mitic, for his thoughts on the recent AmEx breach.

#3 With a completion set for Spring 2015, Cooper Carry shares the progress of one of its current projects, the Talley Student Union, at N.C. State.

#4 Summer and Grand Cayman go hand in hand. See why the Huffington Post says Camana Bay is one of the first places you should visit upon arrival.

#5 Brett Kingman of Multi Housing Advisors spoke with citybizlist Atlanta about MHA’s role with the recent $13.8 million sale of Nashville apartment community, Green Leaf at Hermitage.

Five Reasons We’re Excited for NAREE 2014

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by Caroline Wilbert

We’re counting down the days until NAREE. Here’s why.

The National Association of Real Estate Editors hosts a great annual conference, drawing some of the country’s leading journalists who cover real estate, as well as top-notch speakers from the industry. Last year, we convinced the organization to host the conference in Atlanta. It was awesome! This year, both Tony Wilbert and Suong Nguyen from The Wilbert Group will head to Houston June 11-14.

Five things we like about NAREE:

Senator Johnny Isakson being interviewed by the media during NAREE 2013 in Atlanta.

#1 It’s fun to talk real estate with top journalists including NAREE President Daniel Taub from Bloomberg News and NAREE Board Chair Kris Hudson from The Wall Street Journal.

#2 The Wilbert Group has a lot of real estate clients (residential, office, multifamily, hospitality, retail, etc.) and NAREE’s conference is a great time to pitch their stories and release news.

#3 This year, several of our clients are sponsoring the conference including Hubzu and Camana Bay. The CEO of another client, CBRE Global Investors, will be speaking.

Mark Toro, North American Properties managing partner, and Kris Hudson, last year’s NAREE president, overlooking the Atlanta skyline.

#4 It’s a great learning experience. The speakers are always heavy hitters and the conversations interesting. Here’s this year’s lineup.

#5 NAREE includes “field trips” within its host city. It will be fascinating to see Houston through a real estate lens. A lot of our clients are doing work in Houston; it’s a booming economy and (like Atlanta) a great real estate town.

Five Tips to Generate PR Success for Professional Services Firm

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by Caroline Wilbert

One of the specialties of our Atlanta PR firm is working with professional services clients. Our client base includes a law firm, a marketing consulting firm, a recruiting firm and several real estate brokerage firms.

While professional services firms may not generate a lot of breaking news (they don’t break ground on buildings, open restaurants or introduce new products), they are teeming with experts who can opine on trends and offer industry insights. Here are five ways to capitalize on that expertise:

#1 Introduce clients to journalists over breakfasts and lunches. Next time those journalists need expert sources, they are likely to call people they know.

#2 Write thought leadership byliners and guest blogs. In today’s environment, editors, particularly at trade publications, need content and are willing to publish smart pieces from industry experts.

Guest columns like this one from CBRE help highlight your expertise.

#3 Leverage data/research. If professional services firms do their own research or surveys, that data is excellent fodder for media pitches, press releases and branded content.

#4 White papers. Turn the client’s expertise into a white paper. Put that white paper on the client’s website, send it out via email to key prospects, pitch the media and pull out key charts/stats for social media.

Real estate law firm Hartman Simons’ blog updates readers on what’s happening in the industry.

#5 Blog. Every company can become its own media company by creating content that is useful, entertaining and relevant to key audiences. Professional services firms, stocked with experts who work across multiple clients and see emerging trends, are well-equipped to publish consistently high-quality content.

Making News: Five Ways Our Clients Are Creating Waves

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by Caroline Wilbert

The Wilbert Group clients have been serious headline makers as of late. Here are five worth checking out:

#1 Marketing consulting firm Sparks Grove planted trees on the first day of spring as a community service project and team-building exercise — and generated loads of press along the way. Here’s the 11 Alive story.

Sparks Grove’s Minsoo Pak and Rob Sherrell on Fox 5 Atlanta.

#2 Cortland Partners’ Mike Altman penned a byliner for National Real Estate Investor about how high student debt is translating to low apartment occupancy.

#3 WSB’s John Bachman interviewed North American Properties’ Mark Toro about Avalon, Georgia’s first fiberhood.

#4 Emory University’s alumnae publication profiled Rosalind Rubens Newell, chief legal counsel of Invest Atlanta.

#5 Infinite Legroom shared the news that Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants is opening The Brice in Savannah this summer. IL called Kimpton “one of our favorite boutique brands.”

Five Takeaways From Facebook’s Anniversary Strategy

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by M.C. Rhodes

Celebrating your brand’s anniversary may be exciting to your company internally, but it can be a hard sell to get media coverage about it. This week, we saw how Facebook leveraged its 10th anniversary to garner coverage and engage with fans—both new and old. Sure, it’s one of the most recognizable names in the world, but all brands can learn from the social media giant’s ability to create media buzz.

Here are five takeaways from Facebook’s 10th anniversary:

#1 Leverage a new product. Facebook’s biggest success this week was Paper, a new mobile app version of its news feed. The app is already the No. 3 most popular free app in the iTunes store. Facebook used its anniversary as a springboard for coverage on the new app.

#2 Create individualized content. The Facebook Look Back videos engaged fans with content that was unique to them. The videos got fans excited about their most-liked Facebook moments while driving home the role it has played in many of our lives over the last 10 years.

#3 Make it shareable. The Look Back videos were also instantly shareable. Users just needed one simple click to make them go viral. The #FacebookIs10 hashtag even made its way on to Twitter, where it was shared 24,000 times. Fans also made new hashtags like #lookback, which was tweeted almost 6,000 times.

#4 Be prepared to talk to the media. Last year, Mark Zuckerberg got hit hard by the press when Facebook went public. He’s obviously had some media training in that time, because he’s handling interviews well this time around.

#5 Thank your fans. Never forget your fans are what makes or breaks your business. Zuckerberg and his team took the opportunity to personally thank Facebook users for ten years of participating in the social media revolution.