Girls Play Sports?

It’s been nearly 100 years since American women won the right to vote, yet somehow we’re still struggling for gender equality.

McKenna Paterson, a 12-year-old girl from Arizona, loves watching basketball. She also loves to play basketball.

This shouldn’t cause any issues. After all, there’s an entire professional league dedicated to women’s basketball. However, when McKenna received the 2014 DICK’S Sporting Goods basketball catalogue she found there were absolutely no girls in the catalog.

Except for once on page 6— there are woman sitting in the stands watching a game. And one more time— there are cheerleaders on some of the coupons.

The 12 year old took the time to write a letter to DICK’S. In it she states: “I think that girls should be treated as equally as boys are treated.”

And it really should be that simple.

McKenna’s dad, a media personality who covers sports, tweeted a picture of the letter and it went viral. With more than 5,000 favorites and the same number of retweets, DICK’S had no choice but to respond.

And they did so just the way companies seem to do: with a semi apology in a form letter.

The good news, though, is it gets better. A lot of bad PR ends with more bad PR, but in this case  DICK’S was able to turn the situation around.

On Oct. 11 the CEO of DICK’S wrote McKenna a letter admitting that the company “clearly messed up” and personally guaranteeing “the next year’s basketball catalog will prominently feature female athletes.” He also extended an offer to meet McKenna and her family during a planned trip to Arizona later this month.

Further, DICK’S put their response out there by posting it on their social media account instead of trying to hide in personal emails.

Another company, Ballher Athletic Apparel also turned the situation into a positive PR moment by reaching out to McKenna and offering her female basketball apparel and connecting her to the brand with a well-written letter.

In the letter, the owner of the company writes, “You are a role model for speaking your mind and a voice for a topic that desperately needed a spokeswoman.”

Ultimately, this PR Fail turned into a win for both DICK’S and Ballher for quick, sincere responses. Just another example of how good PR can negate the effects of an otherwise sour situation.


No hard feelings, Mr. Human!

It’s  in the business world that you should always take care of your customers. Dozens of stats exist to say that dissatisfied customers talk negatively about your brand and that it’s cheaper to keep a customer than to attract new customers.

This is why, when a customer reaches out with anger, frustration or any other hard feelings, companies should act quickly to resolve the program. I think it’s safe to assume I haven’t said anything ground breaking here.

My next statement shouldn’t be ground breaking either, but apparently it’s necessary.

If you’re trying to smooth over an angry customer with an email and a credit or refund, don’t do this:



What Happened?

Chris Chmura, a Consumer, finance, tech, and travel reporter in the Tampa area, wasn’t satisfied with his experience with United Airlines. In response, he registered a complaint. 72 percent of people who Tweet out a complaint about a company expect a reply within 24 hours.

Chris also expected a reply. And he received a reply, addressed directly to “Mr. Human.”

An obvious form letter given even less care than the average, the email ironically goes on to say “While my reply is brief and not as detailed as I would like, please be assured that we do understand your concerns…”

The email also offers a “sincere apology for any negative impression.” Can automation ever be sincere?


Saying Sorry

United Airlines, I’d recommend a little closer attention be paid in your customer service department. And an apology to Chris– preferably not from an automated service.

Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation Under Fire for Confusing Financial Statements

I’m going to start with the assumption that every American has heard of American pop singer Lady Gaga. Fair enough?

What you might not know is that, after huge success with her “Born this Way” album, Gaga started the Born This Way Foundation, a “non-profit organization that focus on youth empowerment and issues like self-confidence, well-being, anti-bullying, mentoring, and career development.”

What Happened?

Yesterday, news surfaced that the foundation, which collected more than $2.1 million in 2012, has donated only $5,000 to charity’s, grants and organizations.

Instead, the report shows the foundation spent $300,000 on consulting, $50,000 on social media, $50,000 on event coordination, $400,000 on legal services and $800,000 on “other.”

At first glance, it almost seems as though Gaga started the BTWF to improve her own self-image.

But Cynthia Germanotta, Gaga’s mother, published an article explaining the situation in the Huffington Post this morning.

Her mother did not dispute the facts of the financial statement, but instead, sought to explain how things were misinterpreted.

“First and foremost, we are an organization that conducts our charitable activity directly, and we fund our own work. We are not a grant-maker that funds the work of other charities, and were never intended to be,” Germanotta said.

Additionally, Germanotta explained that the BTWF saw great success in 2012, and into 2013 and 2014.

“Our activity has included The Born Brave Bus Tour, which has travelled to 23 communities, interacting with more than 19,000 young people and raising awareness to the tune of more than 300 million media impressions. The foundation’s messages of kindness and bravery have touched more than half a million online users via our website, which includes the Bravest Map Ever and the Play Brave Game, as well as social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook — which on a peak week can hit 50 million individual users.’

Finally, to conclude her article, Germanotta offered transparency, and most importantly, full-explanation.

“Each of these initiatives was funded via monies detailed on the 2012 Form 990. And a true examination of this form, not to mention a clear understanding of the differences between a grant-making organization and one that carries out its work directly would have made this a non-story,” she said.

The Bad

  1. From the start, this situation lacked clarity. Charities often receive fire when the public believes money is inappropriately allocated. More than that, this organization belongs to Lady Gaga, a celebrity who is definitely in the public radar. Based on these two facts alone, I’d say it was almost guaranteed someone would closely scrutinize the financial reports to look for a “big story.” From the start, the foundation should have put out supporting documents to its financial statements, including case studies about what the foundation was able to do with the more than $2 million it received in donations.
  2. They tried to hide. At least at first, before allegations arose. Did the BTWF know their financial statement was lacking? I have no idea. But I do know that I spent about 10 minutes searching their website for financial and donor information and I couldn’t find anything. Transparency from start to finish is important when donors are involved.

The Good

  1. The BTWF’s response was on point. A quickly issued statement that explains, but does not necessarily apologize. Within 24 hours, Gaga’s mother had an article published in the Huffington Post to explain that the statements were misinterpreted. There was no reason for an apology for missing funds because the funds hadn’t been misused. Instead, the organization just needed to explain where they money had gone.
  2. Even though it’s hard to find the BTWF financial information on its website, its easy to find the statement right on the home page for the foundation.

The Lesson

Transparency. People love a scandal. Non-profit communicators must be aware of this and open up their financial record to scrutiny, backed by honesty to allow everyone to understand how money flows through the organization.

Bank of America named customer “Lisa Is A Slut McIntire”

Since my last post was about OfficeMax’s poor filters on its automated mailers, I thought I’d quickly note a similar story from Bank of America. 

Early last week, Lisa McIntire, a young woman from California, received a credit card offer from the bank addressed to Lisa Is A Slut McIntire.

Bank of America took charge, issued an apology on Twitter and began researching. The bank found the address came from the Golden Key International Honour Society—though no one is sure how “Is A Slut” ever became Lisa’s listed middle name.

 After these recent incidents, companies like OfficeMax and Bank of America have said they will start doing keyword searches to make sure inappropriate information does not get published in their marketing materials again.

Not the best situation for either company, but a good move to prevent this from happening again.

Microsoft Pays (Illegal) Premium for YouTube Praise

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ve seen me talk about sock puppeting (the act of faking customer comments, reviews, etc.) more than once. Microsoft must not have been paying attention when FOX News got in trouble for posting fake comments to bring up their reputation or when Samsung faced huge fines for posting fake reviews to bring down competitors.

What happened?

Even before the release of Microsoft’s new Xbox One it was evident console sales wouldn’t take off. Previously loyal customers saw faults in the console and set up, and many turned to Sony and purchased its new PS4.

Hoping to boost reviews, Microsoft tried to pay YouTube reviewers to post positive comments on the new system. According to Gizmodo UK, Machinima UK (the company responsible for video partnerships) tweeted a positive review promo that has since been deleted.

According to the promo, anyone who posted a review featuring at least 30 second of praise for the Xbox One was eligible for a premium rate of $3 per thousand views. Additionally, the details of the promo were sent out in an email to Machinima’s reviewer base.

In a statement, Microsoft explained they were not aware of Machinima’s practices, and they have asked the agency to stop running the campaign. The statement also says any previously created content will now be marked as paid advertising.

Let’s Review

After the fact, Microsoft did a great job distancing itself from the issue. But, there’s much that could have been done to prevent illegal reviews from happening from the start.

Issue 1: Microsoft is a multi-billion dollar company that absolutely must ensure it works only with law-abiding vendors. This isn’t an issue of ethics or morals—it’s a legal issue. It is only okay to pay people for positive reviews if the reviewers disclose they have been compensated for their post.

Issue 2: Things got a little messy when Microsoft when to issue its first statement. Originally, the facts were jumbled and Microsoft wasn’t aware of the situation. The solution? Microsoft absolutely must have someone monitoring what goes out from their marketing vendors to ensure its all consistent with the image the brand wants to represent.

Issue 3: It’s one thing to deny involvement, but Microsoft must now find a way to ensure more care around its outsourced marketing activities. I’d like to see (or at least hear) about the new plan of action.

What do you think?

Is it ever okay for a brand to pay for require positive reviews of their product or service?

OfficeMax sends marketing mailer to father and “daughter killed in car crash”

OfficeMax had a tough taste of what can (and did) go wrong with marketing automation this week when a mailer went out addressed just like this:

Mike Seay
Daughter Killed in Car Crash
Or Current Business
(Strike 1)

Wait, what?

Seay’s daughter died in a car accident one year ago in February, but he never would have shared that information with OfficeMax.

So, where did OfficeMax get his mailing information? From a paid list–and obviously, not a very good one.

When Seay approached a manager at his local OfficeMax store, the manager told him that his story was absolutely impossible (Strike 2).

But, when the OfficeMax national headquarters found out about the mailer mistake, they issued a half-hearted apology, placing blame on an unnamed third-party mailing vendor. (Strike 3).

Let’s review:

Strike 1: This one goes without saying. OfficeMax sent out a mailer heartlessly addressed to “Daughter Killed in Car Crash.” The massive company should have controls in place to make sure mistakes like this don’t ever happen. Perhaps, they should run their lists through software to flag key words, expletives or even multi-word names.

Strike 2: Manager’s absolutely must be trained to listen carefully and act professionally. While I’m sure OfficeMax wishes this incident was absolutely impossible, it did in fact happen. As the saying goes, the customer is always right (at least until proven otherwise). My advice? Train mangers to listen, take notes and report major customer issues back to a regional manager or corporate headquarters employee for further investigation..because what do you know? This did in fact happen.

Strike 3: Never issue an apology that places blame, especially without a plan to make sure it never happens again. OfficeMax apologized–but only on behalf of their vendor’s “inadvertent error,” as the apology statement puts it. Instead of ensuring new policies, OfficeMax simply branded this as an unfortunate accident.


One last thing.

This story also brings another interesting factor to light–where do advertising companies begin to collect this personal information about customers and what should be done to regulate and manage the ever-growing issue of privacy?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on automated marketing, privacy from advertisers and OfficeMax’s major PRFail.

Costco Labels Bible as Fiction

I know I’m a little late on this, between the holidays, graduation and a week-long trip to Florida, but I can’t pass up the opportunity to talk about a California Costco that accidentally labeled the Bible as fiction.

A local pastor, Caleb Kaltenbach, made the discovery in late November while shopping at Costco, a bulk-goods store. After being unable to find an employee to answer his questions in store, Kaltenbach Tweeted a picture of the Bibles.

Not surprisingly, hundreds of people reacted negatively, questioning the core beliefs of the Costco organization.

When Kaltenbach finally got ahold of someone in Costco’s corporate office, it stated the issue was human error—someone has mislabeled the Bibles. Eventually, the brand issued a full apology and said they would fix the issue

While I agree the Bible should not be labeled fiction, I don’t believe it fits a non-fiction label either. Instead, it should fit in with the religious book category, just like devotionals or other religious books, such as the Koran.

In the end, Kaltenbach Tweeted that he accepted Costco’s apology and approved of the business for paying employees a living wage.

I think Costco did the right thing in quickly issuing an apology, and I absolutely believe the mistake was one of human error. The only thing I think Costco could have done better was training its employees to interact with customers. When Kaltenbach began looking for someone in the store to talk to about the Bibles, the employees should have been able to talk Kaltenbach through the product labeling process, or at least given him corporate contact info. Instead, he had to search out a contact on his own. Perhaps, he never would have posted a picture of the Bibles had he received an answer from the in-store employees.


Do you think this was an accident? Or should it not even matter?