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Postcard from space

Crowdfunding Crises Offer Communication Case Studies

Earlier this fall I read a news story about a Scotsman who raised money on a crowdfunding platform for a project that would purportedly send the world’s first postcards from space.

The project was in the news, not because the venture promised to strap a couple cameras to a weather balloon and take photos from twenty miles into the earth’s atmosphere, but because it failed to deliver on its basic promise. Angry customers formed an online revolt that led a newspaper reporter to take notice.

I don’t know if this SpaceCard was simply part of a clever self-funded publicity ploy to get the postcard app ByPost into the news, but the online reaction does offer another intriguing case study for my grad school terminal project.

Anatomy of a Typical Crisis.
My terminal project will explore crisis communication responses to crowdfunding crises. My interest was initially piqued last year after a company contacted AM:PM PR for crisis communication messaging help. They had created a great product funded through Kickstarter but were over a year behind schedule delivering the product. Additionally, the company was struggling to communicate its challenges to its backers and needed to open new sales channels to fund operations while navigating manufacturing conundrums. The appearance of the product for sale online before most backers received theirs threatened to create a firestorm of angry comments on review sites, which could have ballooned into news stories and increased undesirable attention. The situation was blunted with our help, and by honest and clear communication. No media picked up the story, and as of last check, the company is still quietly working away to get its product to its initial backers while concurrently offering its product for sale through a variety of channels.

Apology Videos.
The following apology video is for a project from Canada called the “Peachy Printer.” It raised $50,000+ on IndieGogo and another $650,000 on Kickstarter. Backers were supposed to get their printers in 2014, this apology video is from Oct. 2, 2014.

On October 23, 2016 the project creator posted updates at IndieGogo and Kickstarter to share news of police investigations after an investor was accused of using funds to build a house.

Since we helped that unnamed organization stave off a consumer revolt last December, I have been collecting stories like the “Peachy Printer” – and about other companies facing similar challenges. There are tons – from Seattle to Portland to San Francisco to Scotland and beyond. The challenges faced by these crowdsourced campaigns are similar to those faced by many entrepreneurial endeavors, and I intend to contribute to a growing body of research with my project.

Scholarly Research.
I’ve already done a fair amount of due diligence exploring existing scholarly research that may apply and form a foundation for my efforts. There are entire fields of study that may be relevant including crisis communication, issues management and operations management-related studies. One researcher whose work I’ve enjoyed is Timothy Coombs. His research offers insights that may be applicable to crowdfunded campaigns, including the Situational Crisis Communication Theory. Part of the theory suggests that companies that are new or without a track record will receive more flexibility in the court of public opinion for their fledgling efforts to meet customer demand and expectations. The key component is clear communication, yet most crowdfunded campaigns (and startups) I’ve observed are run by passionate and proud individuals that aren’t quick to admit when they’ve made a mistake.

Case Studies.
The Coolest Cooler is another interesting case study. The company created a cooler that includes a blender, Bluetooth stereo, USB charger and corkscrew in addition to other amenities. The company ran into trouble when it experienced manufacturing delays and then had to start selling its product through online retailers before all backers received their cooler. This led to negative commentary on review sites that de-evolved further into a crisis of communication when media began running with the story. My research will help to come up with guidance other businesses may follow to avoid experiencing the same painful dilemma.

Other similar crowd-funded products facing similar crises include a talking robot called Jibo that’s two-years behind its delivery schedule. The Glowforge printer, which broke customer’s hearts again this past week when the company admitted it wouldn’t get product out for the holidays, is now on track to deliver two years behind schedule.

Opportunities.
These crowd-funded projects are fascinating to study because they provide an opportunity to observe consumer reaction to business decisions in real time. You can see what the company did (or didn’t do) to communicate clearly, and review and gauge consumer reaction. The information will help to inform future best practices for crowdfunded projects, entrepreneurs and traditional startups.

 

trump entrance

Is Trump’s communication team unethical, incompetent or clever?

(originally drafted 7/19/16)

As I watched the furor over Melania Trump’s plagiarized speech Tuesday, I found myself pondering how I’d respond as a communication professional, were I employed by the Trump campaign.

It’s a complicated scenario to imagine because there’s a thoughtful crisis communication-oriented response, and there’s an opportunistic publicity-oriented response. Both responses serve a valuable communication purpose pending context, but I feel they often offer diverging paths for a communication practitioner to follow, and I’ll argue below that one response may be considered less ethical in this situation.

Crisis Communication.
This path recognizes that allegations of plagiarism represent a serious threat to the integrity of the accused, and the ensuing strategy seeks to minimize reputational damage and restore trust. A proper response may be to issue a statement acknowledging the misstep and earnestly suggest that the internal communication team is examining the process that may have enabled such a gross error. It would acknowledge the wrongdoing and graciously applaud Michelle Obama’s thoughtful, shared vision of family and work ethic. The media attention may continue to be harsh for awhile, and additional steps may be required, but the act would also maintain the presumed credibility of the Trump campaign.

While this may be the tactic to restore trust with the media, and other intellectual stakeholders, it’s apparent that Trump’s most important stakeholders are the people that will vote for him. His communication team must also recognize that these stakeholders will perceive plagiarism as a lesser offense than capitulating to a mistake, and may punish any attempt to mention an Obama in a positive light.

Publicity.
It’s also possible that Trump’s communication team perceived this misstep as another opportunity to generate free publicity from the media. We know this is one of Trump’s go-to communication strategies because a story from The New York Times earlier this year highlighted how he was able to outpace his competitors by generating over $2 billion worth of free media coverage during his party’s presidential primary.

trump statementBolstering the supposition that their team prioritized the publicity path (versus acknowledging the plagiarism accusations), they issued the statement on the left when the controversy first started.

The statement contradicts an interview where Melania told Today host Matt Lauer that she wrote most of the speech herself. Does this indiscretion even register among Trump’s key supporters? Probably not. The statement also does nothing to address Melania’s serious ethical failing – so it doesn’t represent a crisis communication response. It does manifest many more questions, representing a publicity-oriented response – and the media was busy. In a bizarre Orwellian twist, the Trump campaign chairman stated that the calls of plagiarism are the fault of Hillary Clinton. Chris Christie chimed in to point out 93% of the speech WASN’T plagiarized. Most everyone in the country sighed with exasperation from the absurdity of it all.

Is the campaign’s communication strategy ethical?
After observing the Trump campaign for nearly a year, it’s become apparent that negative media coverage does nothing to damage the Trump brand among its ardent supporters, and if anything, serves a purpose – to keep the media regurgitating the Trump brand name and messaging.

The initial publicity-focused communication response from the Trump campaign team represents either an unethical or an irresponsible tactic from the perspective of this communication professional. In my view, their campaign actively prioritizes controversy to generate more news coverage, versus prioritizing the act of telling the truth or offering anything of substance. This strategy has clearly created a dangerous and hyperbolic precedent. History has demonstrated that using crazy language and manipulating the media in such a manner leads to extreme consequences as time wears on. Americans should make themselves familiar with the notion that these campaign communications are strategically manipulative, versus dismissing the outrageousness of it all at face value.

Conclusion.
My instinct is to consider the accusation of plagiarism as a crisis communication threat and to address it accordingly. However, Trump’s reinforced brand image is that of hyperbole, puffery and gross exaggeration. Therefore, this misstep doesn’t threaten his brand at all, and if anything, is a shot in the arm to his publicity efforts.

* * *

Earlier Wednesday Trump’s team released a statement throwing his official biographer under the bus, and to my surprise, praising Michelle Obama in the process. Rather than the initial publicity-generating statement from Tuesday, Wednesday’s communication represents a crisis-communication response. Essentially versus choosing one of two paths, as I suggest, team Trump chose both. This may be part of their strategy, or it may suggest that they don’t have an effective communication plan for their campaign and were trying to patch over earlier mistakes.

Tesla preso chart spike

Will Tesla Become a Victim of Its Own Success?

How Tesla Can Keep Customers Happy – Even if It Keeps Them Waiting

The exciting unveiling of Tesla’s new Model3 attracted more than 325,000 pre-orders in 72 hours. The Model3 may be the first financially accessible mass-market electric car with a 200+ mile range.

But initial demand producing three times the pre-orders initially anticipated means Tesla could face production delays. Tesla’s communication team would be wise to anticipate and prepare for potential PR challenges caused by missing delivery deadlines to customers. In this week’s podcast, AM:PM PR Co-Founder Pat McCormick, shares advice for protecting a company’s reputation and keeping customers happy when manufacturing challenges delay deliveries.


The Risk of Success

In the past few years we’ve witnessed several overwhelmingly successful Kickstarter projects frustrate their backers and generate negative media coverage when the challenges to manufacturing at scale were coupled with significantly underestimated demand.

pyro pet candle Portland-based Coolest Cooler broke a Kickstarter record (previously set by Pebble Watch) raising more than $13 million from backers. Last month, The Oregonian reported that the company’s founder is now seeking a $15 million injection to help fulfill its remaining orders.

I had my own experience with Kickstarter delays after ordering this cat-shaped candle that reveals a metallic skeleton when fully melted. Fortunately, it wasn’t really a must-have item, so I had forgotten about it when the candle finally arrived, six months later. Their communication team was off the hook!

Making a Plan

For any launch, a crisis communication plan is as important as the go-to-market plan. In this podcast, Pat shares tips for preparing a crisis communication plan, and the role the communications team should have in all stages of the planning process.

 

Jerry Casey at AM:PM PR

Jerry Casey on The Oregonian and the State of the Newspaper Industry [PODCAST]

 

The Oregonian’s Breaking News Manager on the Evolving Newsroom

The Oregonian’s manager of breaking news, Jerry Casey (@jjeremiahcasey), was our latest featured guest at AM:PM PR’s Speakeasy. Jerry provided some interesting insights from inside today’s newsroom and The Oregonian’s historic transformation. He correlated the evolution of news consumption with the shift in staff needs and pace of story production. Jerry recognized the impacts on the public relations industry and offered tips for pitching journalists with the new newsroom in mind. Hear Jerry’s observations from inside the The Oregonian newsroom and his take on the state of news media today on our first-ever Speakeasy with AM:PM PR podcast

The Oregonian Today

Changes at the Oregonian have been a hot topic among journalists, ex-journalists and PR professionals over the past several years. Most recently, the paper announced the closure of  its printing plant and plan to outsource. Over the last five years hundreds of Oregonian staff have been laid off leading people to wonder, what’s going on around there?

Without much context the layoffs can seem quite callous, but are these changes simply the result of new technologies and how today’s reader consumes news? Understanding how readers consume the news is another way that technology has altered the newspaper business – and new technologies give greater insight than ever before.

Clickbait, Quotas and Millennials

News site analytics show an increasing number of readers attracted by clickbait over hard-hitting reporting. This data effects the types of stories news organizations invest in.

How is The Oregonian adapting? Last year Willamette Week published a leaked email about new guidelines for Oregonian reporters that included rules for social media usage; how frequently they should be posting and how compensation will be related to readers.

That story fascinated us so we asked Jerry how it reflected changes in the newspaper business what the resulting cultural impact has had on older reporters in the newsroom. We also wondered how much the new guidelines were influenced by millennials joining the workforce.

Jerry differentiated between producing narratives and, simply, relaying information. In fact, he explained many stories “don’t need a narrative.” This is a useful point for those hoping to pitch stories to the media.

Pitching The Oregonian

Staff reductions, evolving reader interests and managements expectations of reporters have made pitching more difficult for public relations professionals. Jerry offered suggestions for pitching Oregonian staff, including starting with reporters you know, how to think about the story your pitching and what tactics to avoid.

About Jerry Casey

Jerry has worked as an editor in Portland since 1999. His diverse newspaper career includes stints in Virginia and Florida, in addition to Oregon. He’s been a copyeditor, business editor, city editor, bureau chief and The Oregonian‘s first online editor.

 

We hope you enjoy our inaugural Speakeasy with AM:PM PR podcast. In the future we hope to tap into our team of experts to discuss crisis communication, media relations, strategic communication and share more from our Speakeasy guests.

 

AMPMPR Speakeasy

FORMER FEATURED GUESTS:

To join our Speakeasy group, click on the following Facebook hyperlink.

KGW's Pat Dooris at AM:PM PR's Speakeasy

KGW’s Pat Dooris at AM:PM PR’s Speakeasy

Thanks for listening!


 

Nuvi comment bubbles

Bullies in the Sandbox – the underbelly of online media

For the past six months I’ve been using NUVI a real-time social media-monitoring tool – to track mentions and conversations about a crisis communication-related topic. NUVI allows me to view and track fresh blogs, Facebook posts, tweets and even comments posted on media websites.

Totally NSA, I know.

Here’s the thing. I’m also observing cadres of mouth-breathing trolls who spend their entire days professing their, supposedly, informed interpretation of issues. While I support enthusiasm for expressing opinions, the tragic reality is that most are basing their opinions on incorrect information and false rumors. A little research, say simply reading the article they’re posting a comment beneath or having a basic understanding of the judicial process, would abate their sharpest criticisms. Unfortunately, these people live in a universe unbound by reasoned thought and discourse. That universe is the comment section of online media.

Comments from a recent Willamette Week article.

Comments from a recent Willamette Week article.

If you’ve read the comment section of any online news story you’ve likely seen the mutterings of these befuddled dunderheads – or others who intentionally propagate false information for whatever distorted aims they have.

Sit back and ponder the negative consequences of these ‘communities.’ You’ll soon find yourself outraged that media sites are, seemingly, pandering to the bullies in the sandbox. To what end? Increased web traffic? Beefy analytics reports? Is there research showing that trolls are more likely to buy subscriptions or purchase products promoted by online advertisements?

I don’t think all web visitors are worth the same value to a marketer, and I’m gonna sound like a blowhard here – but I believe comment sections are bad for society and likely drive ineffective data for marketers. A direct result is that toxic misinformation and uneducated conjecture is spread like a communicable disease to ends of the earth. I have seen it with my own eyes, and it isn’t pretty.

Jimmy modeling the new AM:PM-brand anti-troll 3000

Jimmy modeling the new AM:PM PR-brand anti-troll 3000

Now, I am not arguing for the abolishment of the comment section. There are some threads where interesting, smart, thoughtful people chime in and contribute to an article. Unfortunately, these instances are far too rare.

What I want is for news organizations to take a stand against enabling the overflow of idiocy cascading from comment sections like the frothy foam forming from the mouths of their most racist and bigoted supporters. These sites have nothing to lose, but our society has a lot to gain.

keep calm don't feed trolls

For More:
Russian internet “troll” sues former employer
Comment sections are poison: handle with care or remove them
How Comments Shape Perceptions of Sites’ Quality—and Affect Traffic

Twitter sliced

Twitter becoming critical tool for crisis communications

by Camrick Clark

As any firefighter will tell you, the best way to put out a fire is to prevent it. But when something does catch on fire, a quick first response can help keep things from going up in flames.

Using Twitter for crisis communications is fast becoming a critical component in any company’s strategy. Twitter is as much about preventing an isolated issue from becoming a full-blown crisis as it is about communicating quickly to key stakeholders and the public once a crisis has happened.

twitter image blue

Crisis communication is a public relations activity that, with careful planning, rarely needs to be implemented. Still, it’s very important to have a plan in place when an emergency rears its ugly head. When a product fails, an accident occurs, financial crisis arises or natural disasters happen, whatever the case may be, crisis communication plans keep the peace and give direction to chaos.

Social media has changed the landscape for the development of crises and offers a critical communications channel to address and abate a crisis. Social media can blow up a situation in a matter of minutes. When a story breaks, people are actively looking for answers, and more people than ever are turning to Twitter for those answers.

As in all business communications, Twitter needs to be part of a broader strategy, and one of a variety of channels you use to listen and share with your employees, customers, clients, and industry. This is true both when it comes to prevention and when it is time to react.

How to use twitter for crisis communications:

  1. Educate – Bring yourself and your staff up to speed on how Twitter works and the social norms of the platform.
  2. Plan – What will you do when something bad happens? Identify and plan for crises you can foresee, and those you’d never expect. Think about thinks that could happen to you – disasters, etc., and crises that are self-inflicted – product recalls, hazardous materials spills, etc. Who will be the one to speak on behalf of your company? Answer these questions and more by creating a crisis communications plan.
  3. Listen – Good communicators are always good listeners first. In other words, you won’t know what’s happening unless you’re actually listening. If you’re not on Twitter, then you won’t know who’s talking about your brand in that space, much less take part in that conversation. You shouldn’t join Twitter just to react to an issue. Creating a presence pre-crisis helps develop a network you know shares an interest in you and what you do.
  4. Be Active – Become part of the online community. Don’t wait for the building to be burning down around you to engage your public. Prevention is always better than reaction. There are also many great free tools for tracking what happens on Twitter. Use those to preemptively ease into the conversation before a crisis even hits.

Twitter, faster than earthquakes?