Pet Peeve Friday: The Limp Fish

First impressions are everything. How you present yourself to someone you're meeting for the very first time can often "make or break" a relationship. Your mode of dress, your facial expressions, body language etc. Yesterday I met someone for the first time, and I put my hand out in greeting, cause that's what we do in English speaking countries - we shake hands. What I got back was a "limp fish" otherwise known as the weak handshake.

I admit it. I confess. I am offended by a weak handshake. I am not talking about a weak grip or a weak wag cause not everyone wants to cut off circulation to my fingers. I am not asking you to go all bone crusher on my hand. I am talking about those people whose fingertips are screaming "Don't touch me! Don't touch me!"  and they lightly graze your hand as if you just made manure patties. The smile that went with the half dead handshake did not convince me that she was just shy. Now, I know some people are germophobes, but c'mon...seriously. If you're in business and you're meeting people and interacting then you probably need to walk with a bottle of hand sanitiser in your purse or in your glove compartment. It is a peeve of mine and since it is Peeve Friday, I thought I would just raise it. I found these observations on weak handshakes on Yahoo! Answers. Heavens. The first one was....interesting.

- He is probably a homosexual and that is their secret handshake to identify themselves. (THIS was voted the best answer. Heavens, people are ridiculous!)

 To me, a weak handshake shows lack of confidence or someone who just doesn't want to shake your hand. Either way, weak handshakes always stand out to me and say something about a person.

- Most likely he is not into handshakes, for whatever reason. Its just something he does, because he was taught. Sorta like "good morning" no one really means it, but they say it anyway.

- Methodist Church "limp fish" handshakes are interpreted as being given by somebody who is not sincere.

- The person could be tired, not interested in making your acquaintance, shy, having a slight disability, not sure whether to trust you or not, lacking self-confidence

I mean, I will not write someone off for a weak handshake. I just notice it, that's all. It may just be that person's thing but it's not my thing. Note: I wash my hands regularly and I do indeed have a bottle of hand sanitiser in my purse and antibacterial wipes in my glove compartment, so feel free to shake my hand!

Fear Factor: Transparency, Communication and Engagement in the Workplace

Yesterday on my way home, we got the signals from our fellow motorists on the North bound lane of the highway. The blinking lights that could only indicate one thing - the po-po were on the loose, roadblock and the inevitable traffic tickets ahead. I saw some dark tinted vehicles, and other highway miscreants making the requisite "cut through the back" turns in true mafia style. Had it been one motorist flashing his/her lights from the other side, I would simply have thought they were flashing the driver ahead of them, or a friend on the other side. But the collaborative efforts of about 30 or so other drivers ensured that we got the message - put on your seatbelt, hide the beer, make sure you have your insurance, dispose of any illegal substances or just simply get on the back road cause the police are ahead.

I told you all....communication is everywhere!

I had my session with new employees yesterday, basically to tell them about the team and what we do yadda yadda. It was also a great opportunity to make a plug for social media and getting them on board from the get-go. It was great talking to them and getting their reactions, feedback and feeling a bit of enthusiasm on their part. And like the highway brotherhood, it is essential that staff buy in to the social media programme especially since the majority of them use social media in one form or another. Whether they consciously recognise it or not, they are agents of the brand and how they engage in social media, be it on their own time or as part of the corporate strategy is important. It's important because they can lend tremendously to not only growing our customer base, but also by bringing that conversational element that traditional marketing tends to lack.

There is always the talk from senior management level in companies across the world about using social media and there is always that fear that too much information will get out - confidential information, etc, or that staff will waste the day away chatting or tweeting. There is that fear factor and maybe not mistrust, if you don't want to call it that, but a definite hesitation to give employees free reign on the web. But I remember hearing somewhere that if you put a phone on an employee's desk and tell him/her that it can be used - to talk to customers who may call or be called - then, hey...why can't they use Twitter? If you trust them enough to let them talk to your customers on your behalf, all day, 5 days a week, 8 hours a day, then why can't they answer a question from a friend on Facebook? If you trust them to not sit and talk to their friends all day long, then why can't they blog?

Of course, as with anything, there will be structure as to how this is done. Hey, we tell them how we would prefer they answer their phones when representing the organisation. I think it's pretty plausible and important to offer some structure to how they use social media as well. There is no rush to just throw them into the deep without a lifejacket!

  • Social Media Guide - Yep. I took some time and did one of these which will be part of the training for staff. It basically is a guide, and not really a policy, because policy sounds like you're putting a gun to their heads and saying DO THIS, LIKE THIS! But it offers employees some suggestions and direction for when they blog or tweet or interact with people on Facebook, while representing the brand.

  • Training - During my session yesterday, I asked how many people use social media, and most Trinis know about Facebook but that's kinda where it ends for some. And then they use it strictly for personal reasons. Asking them now to get on the social media bus when they are not quite aware of what's out there and how different tools can be used, is a bit much. So, in comes interactive sessions on social media, which I hope will give them a greater appreciation for just how extensive it is, how it can be and is used for business, and how widely used it is in business. they can get on the bus.

  • Engage and Reward - I tweeted this morning about my cluttered desktop and it being a reflection of an often frazzled mind, because I have so many other things to do during any 24 hour period. So creativity often bites the dust as far as coming up with ideas for engaging customers or staff are concerned. But with my brand new social media army, who needs to think hard?? Hopefully with enough training and engagement and finding those who are really excited about being part of the show, the ideas and suggestions would come to me. I know there are many people in the team who have great suggestions. It's really just tapping into them and getting them to understand that they are indeed appreciated.

And in any event, it cannot just be about me or the team, it has to be about the organisation. In much the same way we enlist customers as our global research/product development/PR/marketing/customer service team, employees just cannot be left out. There will always be the "canned" messages going out to the public, those PR messages that some people call BS messages (I know you do it!) but the employee perspective and conversations are the ones which customers trust more. As I mentioned in another post, a company's website can ring all the bells and have all the trimmings and streamers, but I always look to someone who works there to give me the 411. So, can I leave my colleagues out of the loop? Especially when now I know they are interested? What would that say about our levels of engagement?

We usually fear what we do not know or understand. It's still a tough road, but we will get there. But the aim is to get them talking about it, asking questions, making suggestions and being brand ambassadors/networkers online. But it should be a collaborative effort, flashing lights style.

Podcasting Adventures, Part 2 - Behind the Mic

Last night I got home with a terrible headache, lancing pain on my right side, from my hip bone to my toes and hunger (lol). I cannot remember getting into bed, or failing miserably at trying to read a chapter of my novel, or turning off the light before 8.30pm, but I clearly did cause the book was back on the bookshelf, my blankie was on the bed, and the light had been off. That being said, it was not a bad day.

I had my first podcast recording session yesterday. Funny. One thing I can say about podcasting, you bond with your colleagues over your flubs and tongue tied-ness. Even though you may have had the odd kitchen chat ever so often, sitting together for 2 hours, laughing out loud over lost thought streams, mispronounciations and invented words can do wonders for employee engagement. For 2 hours, I was really enjoying my job. We did okay for a first run at it. In an organisation that's used to deadlines, numbers, targets, results, wins - talking about what you do is not as simple as it may seem, nor is it initially seen as a priority. Yet it is. And, like everything else in the business, people take this talking thing seriously. Talking in a makeshift studio - an empty office, my laptop and a mic - brings on the nerves apparently. I guess because there was so much info to share, there was the obvious anxiety, and it will be my job to get them to just talk. But getting them talking is a must and not just talking, but having a genuine conversation, without anxiety and a sense of responsibility to a team, or a manager, to "bring it". But there is clearly an excitement there to share, so it makes it all easier and worthwhile.

I am excited to get more of these hidden faces behind a microphone, finding their passions, telling their stories, educating our audience, bringing our customers in to the fold - flubs and all. Creating conversations is fab!

It should be fun.

One thing we can learn from Beyonce

One thing we can learn from Beyonce, besides the lessons which I am sure the organisers and sponsors have learnt or will be learning is how to mix it up to meet the needs of your audience. Ms B rocked Trinidad when she chose to remix her popular hit, "Check up on It", using the popular "Palance"* rhythm. To say it went over well with the crowd would probably be an understatement.

But someone in her camp, knew that this would work, and endear her even more to her loyal Trini fan base. I am sure, being the professional that she is, that she had a samba remix in Brazil, which was where she performed before coming here, and so on and so forth.

What we can learn from Ms B is that audiences are not all the same, and though generic messages are great, when expertly crafted, there is a lot to be gained when messages are specific to the target audience. The question then is, who is my target audience? Who am I trying to reach, and what do I want them to do? Because in essence, we communicate to initiate action generally. So what do we want, and from whom? Without understanding exactly who you want to reach, then everything else is pointless.

And once you understand your general audience, then you can go about segmenting that hodge podge into smaller targets and then work on developing a media mix based on the needs, desires, understanding and relevance of your audience. I say relevance, since with all the buzz about social media, some people may get so excited that they dive right into it without thinking about what it means for the bottom line. If your granddad hypothetically represents that group who could not give a hoot about Facebook or YouTube, but instead loves relaxing in his hammock or recliner, with the Sunday paper, then maybe social media will not get your message to him and his friends.

And I mentioned how companies too must be culturally aware when doing their marketing or risk fire and brimstone from their audience. You would notice that most franchises for example, though they are famous for certain items, would try to include an audience specific option based on where they are. So for example, in China, in addition to the chicken that has made them a strong global brand, KFC also offers youtiao, or deep fried dough sticks, a popular breakfast item, as well as Chinese-style porridge as part of its breakfast options, and the chain also converted some of its outlets to halaal only to meet the needs of Muslim customers in the UK, for example. A great many blunders have been made by companies not taking the time, like Beyonce, to understand their audience, and adapt their marketing to be relevant and culturally appropriate.

So palance, Beyonce, girl. Palance.

*Palance - A popular soca song performed by JW and Blaze which copped the 2010 Soca Monarch and Road March titles for Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago.

Podcasting Adventures

This is a test, and not an earnest podcast. It has been a day.

PR people have peeves too

Leaving an empty roll on the TP rolly thing is a peeve as well.

So it's Friday, or as we would say today here in Port of Spain, "the day after Beyonce". Now the world does not revolve around Miss B. In fact, the world has been revolving around my desk but sitting at your desk all day is unhealthy. My peeves today then are:
  • Isn't it something that individuals - customers, clients, what have you,  can lash you, prattle about their grouses, but when you go to their assistance and their issues are resolved, there is silence, almost as if you were WRONG to help them. How odd. I mean, the aim is not to get public kudos but to hear some of the rants and then the sudden case of tongue-tied-itis is amazing. Some of them are negative, it seems, just to be negative and to fuel a fan base of negativity suckers. As a customer of many places myself, I understand customer grouses and appreciate when a customer has an issue, but sometimes I sense that some people just enjoy being difficult. I could be wrong, but hey. Counting to 10 is an essential skill in people relations. One run the risks of being snarky if you don't take a moment. People tend to forget we are all human and not autobots.

  • I also don't appreciate when organisations place "Contact Us" links with an e-form where you can leave a question and then guess what? Noone gets back to you. Then what's the point of the e-form? My boss went through 24 e-form questions on Monday and responded to every single one of them. I go through FB and Twitter every day and respond to people's concerns, so it's not impossible. I used a contact form 3 weeks ago and have yet to receive a response or even an acknowledgement. So clearly the form is window dressing! I called today, since clearly, noone is interested in my e-form question. Then noone answers for 38 minutes, and it reminds me why I used the form in the first place.

  • I hate spam. I especially hate FB spam. I am part of a few groups on FB, some professional groups, and God help me, they are spam artists! How many times does one need to send a message about an event in one week? While I am happy for the reminders and updates, there must be a better way to engage me without being annoying. As the admin on both personally and professionally created groups, I am always mindful of being THAT girl...who spams others. Note to marketers - amateur or otherwise - spam is not sexy and what you may think is super important or interesting, may not be to your audience. Please be cognisant of what you send and how often you send it, because if it is not urgent, then it becomes a bit of a nuisance. If you send me an email that starts with "Last Chance to..." over 5 times in a 3 day period, then clearly, it is not my last chance.
So, what are your peeves?

Lent: The Ultimate Sacrifice...or Nightmare

With Lent upon us, many people have been pondering what to give up during the 40 day period. Traditional answers would be like meat, alcohol, cussing, sex. All are serious sacrifices. But what's scarier? Sarah Evans tweeted:
Last year during the season of Lent I asked people (regardless of faith): If you had to give up ONE what would it be: Twitter, FB or phone?
I almost passed out. I could live without meat and liquor, not too sure about cussing (lol) and I plead the Fifth on the last one. But you're asking me to decide between Twitter, Facebook and my phone? Je..eebies.

This is the world in which we live, peeps. I am horrified to think how I would survive without my phone for one. You remember those days when you had a phone book - a pocket sized book you would take down people's numbers in? I no longer own one of those and God forbid I should lose my phone or be asked to do without it for a week, I would not know how to call anyone, save maybe 3 people. And now with smartphones, would we be dumb without them? Or go crazy? My phone comes in handy when in waiting rooms, for example. Doctors keep you waiting. Airlines. Restaurants. During that time, you can get so much done via your phone - send emails and get some work covered, make appointments, catch up on news.

This brings me to Twitter. I use Twitter primarily for work. I tweet on 2 accounts, a personal account and the company account. The latter I update and use to interact with customers throughout the day and keep a finger on the pulse of our customer base. The former is great because I can follow the people and organisations that interest me, primarily work-related stuff, and access fab content which I read during breakfast or lunch, or in waiting rooms! There is always something new happening in such a short space of time and how else am I supposed to keep up? I have barely touched a newspaper in weeks. I follow CNN and BBC among others to keep current and not have blonde moments while socialising with others. Work-wise, I follow PR and social media feeds because again, keeps me current. Sometimes you find something quirky and interesting enough that you want to share it with your friends.

Facebook. Though I am not as addicted to some people I know (they shall remain nameless in this space, but you know yourselves), I love my Facebook. I can keep in touch with so many friends, who are scattered all over the place and this is where I go "offline" - off work. Work does factor in here occasionally, especially as I also manage the company's FB presence and I think by now my friends know exactly where I work with all the work things I tend to share from time to time. Again, I go back and forth between FB and the office, getting feedback, answering questions, hopefully solving problems.

And at the end of the day, sometimes in traffic, with the help of Blackberry IM, I share a laugh with my peeps about the day, make plans for the weekend and send ridiculous voice notes.

So you're asking again, which would I give up? If I gave up all of the other things - the meat, the sex etc - could I keep Twitter, Facebook AND my phone??

Photo credit:

Up in the Air about social media

As part of the #noworkallowed weekend, I finally managed to see "Up In the Air". The movie, for me, lived up to all the hype and lived up to its expectations.

So George Clooney's character, Ryan Bingham, the traditionalist, is being cornered by new media and its  Jenny-come-lately advocate, Anne Kendricks' character, Natalie Keener. In an effort to make the business leaner and meaner, Natalie has suggested doing what they do via the internet. The problem is, they fire people for a living. Can you imagine, walking into a room, and being told you were being separated from the company you have given 20 years of your life to, riddled with all the anxiety and other emotions which come with professional uncertainty, in the middle of an economic downturn, via a pc monitor?

Anyone can build a Twitter following, or a Facebook page or what have you. There are some companies who have thousands of people following them via social media, yet there is no real engagement. It's all about being out there, selling a product or a service, watching the numbers grow, hopefully convert all these people to sales. The last bit is the crux of the matter, isn't it? A great looking page and great looking content will be for nothing if the human element is missing. I think the "social" part of social media often gets forgotten, especially when social media teams have to convince management, who are not always on the social media bandwagon, of the relevance of these new media strategies to their bottom line. But in my estimation, the bottom line has to involve the customers and not just their statistical data but the personalities, the ideas, unique perspectives and innovation behind the dollar signs that we are brainwashed to see in corporate life. Especially since marketing cannot win without the whole team on board and the whole team involves the organisation and its customers. The tools should be conduits for engagement, interaction, listening, exchanging and all those action words that are a part of who we are.

Additionally, the technologies cannot override human interaction, so while video conferences with employees may be cost efficient and time efficient for some executives, where is that feeling of real engagement with those who help drive your mission and vision? And though I can easily tweet questions to a service rep online, I am still always going to crave that interaction with the person on the other side of the monitor. Especially when you tweet a question and no response is forthcoming.

The movie also raised some other issues related to love and relationships, but this is not that kinda blog. :-)

Red Carpet Customer Service and PR

Yes, it is Carnival Tuesday and yes, I am at home, in my jammies, blogging. I did not anticipate I would be on the blog, but minus that I would not have had this day any other way.

So though I have been offline from the world of news and important stuff, I had some time off from vegging last night to catch up on news and came upon the Southwest Airlines/Kevin Smith situation. Talk about drama. I was not on the plane and cannot say whether the situation was handled badly or not, nor determine whether the airline was really in the wrong. But someone asked me whether the LUV airline  would have responded so quickly to Kevin Jones, from Nowhere, USA or Nowhere, Trinidad.

I think the fact that they are even using social media should signal that they are actively trying to monitor customer experiences, for better or worse, and proactively address them. The fact that Kevin Smith is a celebrity, with over a million followers on Twitter and the fact that his rants were relentless (he tweeted from beginning to end, and after, and also did an entire podcast on the event...I mean really!)  just made the situation a PR nightmare for Southwest. One look at their Twitter page and these guys are busy keeping on top of the tweets in which they are mentioned.

Customers also need to remember that often there is only so much a PR person can do in the blink of an eye. When an incident unfolds, in an area far removed physically from the team, or out of their sphere of expertise, ultimately any good PR person would need to first get the facts, find out exactly what has transpired from the relevant sources within the company and otherwise, all before giving the disgruntled, often impatient customer some feedback. In my own role as professional tweeter, I often do not have all the answers and have to either forward a request to the relevant persons or do some research in order to ensure accuracy of information being given to a customer. Depending on the nature of the request, I cannot always guarantee an answer within 30 mins, or an hour, but I let the customer know that I am working on it and he/she usually gets a response.

BUT the key is to always let the customer know that you're listening and that each and every piece of feedback, for better or worse, is important to you. Communications is not just about talking and getting defensive, but allowing the channel to be interactive and giving the customer not only a voice but more importantly the opportunity to be heard. I have called customers, or dropped them an email, while I wait for an answer to their issue to let them know their feedback is truly important and is being actioned so they do not think it's pointless sending a DM, a tweet, or leaving a comment. It does not matter whether the customer is a housewife watching soaps or a CEO. It has to be equal opportunity day, everyday, with customer service, customer feedback and followup.

The fact that Kevin Smith's tirade would surely have been a catalyst for swift(er) action from the Luv folks. I don't look at it as responding to him any faster because he is a celebrity, but responding to him to manage a very volatile situation - one that quickly had the attention of millions and millions of people, many of them Luv customers. You want to minimise the damage done to your brand as much as possible and the truth is noone knows about Kevin Jones. Does it mean he is not being attended to? No. It means you're probably just not hearing about it. Maybe his 103 followers know about it, including the spammers, but that may be as far as it goes. His audience and his sphere of influence may just not be wide enough to make the news or "make the web" in this case. It's natural for the louder voice to get a bit more attention, and ultimately because he is louder, he would also be more visible and inevitably a greater risk to your brand.

Just wanted to say though, Luv's "Not so Silent Bob" post - the title alone makes me cringe cause it immediately, in my mind, makes the "victim", the bad guy. I did not feel the title, Luv, and this was before I even read the post. It really does not suggest any empathy with the passenger and almost mocks him. I would have taken it the wrong way if I were Mr Smith. The other entry is much more conciliatory and even-keeled and clearly underlines the point that though we are humans and get snarky, we should really take a moment, count to 10, have a cookie or a glass of Pinot, and not act in the heat of the moment. The Not So Silent Bob reference was snarky, to say the least. Bad idea.


I am not a Luv customer but I have used social media to raise concerns about the airlines I do use and always have gotten a response. Same goes for the other companies I follow using social media. They are out there trying to keep the communications channels open and if they're not, you better believe they find out the hard way. Would Kevin Jones have gotten a phone call from a Southwest VP? I am not sure. I do not know enough about the company's culture to say yay or nay, but I have no doubt Kevin Jones, in an age where negative comments can circulate with a single (re)tweet, blog post, or status update, would have gotten some type of response. If not, then that company would need to immediately review its social media "strategy", if you dare call it that.

Back to vegging.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Valentine's Day

Now while I am no advocate of Valentine's Day, by any stretch of the imagination, I know there are millions of people who go nutso over it. I am a bit relieved that Carnival has taken centre stage this year here in Trinidad and Tobago, so the sappy love songs have been replaced by the music of the wining season. I did though, pass a roadside stall yesterday, resplendent in pinks, reds and hearts and balloons of various sizes. Though it may be a nonsensical day to those like myself, it is apparently the third largest season for retailgasms after Christmas and back-to-school, according to the US National Retail Federation. Go figure.

However, there are also those who choose to get technological with the love and PDAs, especially in the face of economic uncertainty, unemployment, personal budget cuts and so on. And though I support this, (cause really, is V-Day really that important) we can do love on the cheap, without being tacky.

The Bad, and the Ugly - While frugal, these are uninspiring, unless you're a rock!
  •  Those lame Facebook gifts. You know, the virtual cakes, virtual necklaces etc. Seriously, what does that do for me? Can I eat virtual chocolates? Sure they may be good for my waistline, but what's the point?
  • Valentine's Day texts. Over a phone call? That's not even close to being romantic. That's just being cheap and rather impersonal. Don't expect an answer.
  • V-Day tweets. Still, not feeling it. Your love is going to be lost in the tweets from the other 500,000 people I follow. That's pretty uncreative, friend.

The Good.
  • E-clues. Instead of just sending a text or an email with words you can copy and paste from an e-greeting, why don't you get a little more creative and send e-clues? Texts, or emails which point to something special, some special surprise? You can decide how far down the wallet you want to take the surprise - from a quirky love IOU or card, to dinner, or you in a red ribbon (gasp), but make the surprise fun and interactive. Ever thought of that? And you want impressive? Ask this dude, who created an app to propose to his girlfriend.
  • I also checked out DeBeers' new campaign and thought it was sincere and more interactive than just sending a box of Facebook chocolates I cannot eat. The campaign focuses on real people and their love stories, and even follows some of them as they live these love stories. Simple, no frills, but interesting. So why not make a cute video for your special girl or guy - something fun, unique and creative?
In any event, to those who support the day, have a good one. To the masqueraders, have a safe Carnival. To the rest of you, have a great weekend!

When your brand ambassadors don't know...

I have been sick with a bad cold for the past few days and yesterday was the worst, with my head feeling like a hot air balloon just about ready to over-inflate and burst. And after the suggestions of a few colleagues, recognising that my self medication tricks were not working, I went to a pharmacy to get the much recommended Theraflu. Now though I have never used the product, somewhere in the ether I knew they had hot drinks as part of the product line. Noone had told me exactly what to buy, but I knew I wanted one of those hot drinks. So I approach the counter - walking germbot that I was - and asked the girl (I dunno if she was a pharmacist or not) whether they had Theraflu. She said they did and picked up a box of Theraflu caplets. So I told her I wanted the hot drink instead. Ay caramba!

- Hot drink?
- You know, the hot teas with all the yummy healing stuff.
-No. They don't make that. (pushes the caplets towards me)
-You sure? (eyeing the caplets annoyingly)
-Yes. They only make the caplets. You want it?

I think my nasal congestion had by this time gotten the best of me, so I decided to not argue, since I was not 100% sure anyway, but to just take the caplets, go home, medicate and knock myself out.

But you know I could not just go home and take the caplets, but I immediately went online to the Theraflu site and there was a very useful and snazzy "Theraflu Treatment Selector" where the sick and dying like myself could go find the right product for their symptoms. Guess what I found?

I mean, I am sorry but I don't care if you're running a corner shop or a multinational organisation, you really should have a fair idea of what you're peddling. And this is just a small example. I have gone into large organisations, with huge marketing budgets, which promote products and services to customers, often successfully. Then you go in, meet someone on the frontline who cannot give you a clear understanding of what the product is, how it differs from what is on the market.

Now, in the case of the pharmacy girl, she is not selling HER product per se. She is a third party provider for Theraflu, so I will give her a small bligh. Maybe not. She is representing her pharmacy and representing its brand as my dependable, knowledgeable neighbourhood drug store. I simply cannot forgive a customer service representative who does not know enough about his/her company's product to make me, the customer, want to buy it or support the brand.

Investing, up front in employees, so they understand the company, its products and services, its history and culture and how all these and more tie in to the brand, is probably one of the most important parts of employee management. An uninformed employee can cost a company sales and reputation. How am I to believe what you are selling, if you clearly don't know and thus don't believe in it? The efforts of the marketing and comms team in getting persons to talk about what you're offering and seek you out for more information can all be for nothing if basic understanding and participation are absent not only on the frontline, but throughout the organisation. Every employee becomes a product advocate and brand ambassador from the time they sign that dotted line. Leaving that responsibility to chance is suicidal for any organisation.
So what can you do?
  • Fresh meat preparation: New employee orientation sessions should include product and sales training
  • Ever heard of the Lunch 'n' Learn? Oh gosh, how many of these have I been to? Some people come just for the lunch, but if your presentation is engaging, interactive and informative, they leave with much more, and you end up with much more - an informed and excited ambassador. Not recommended for training on a new product or new employees, but it can be a good "tune up" session and a refreshing change from sitting in stuffy conference room with a dull PowerPoint presentation
  • Specific interval training - Be it for frontline staff, supervisors, managers, continuous training on your company and its product are essential, especially since any good product undergoes periodic reviews and revisions to meet the ever changing needs of the customer
  • Regular communcations on company and product development - And though intranets and newsletters are fun, when it comes to customer service and product knowledge, managers should be the first contact for information, Q&A, etc. Face to face discussion can help clear up misconceptions which you do not wish to communicate to a customer, reinforce knowledge, gain an understanding of what customers are asking/customer FAQs.
  • Role playing. Great for testing out what the employee knows and how he/she reacts to any given situation with any type of customer - from the very savvy, to the very green, from the calm and patient, to the irate. Can be a great team building session as well.

And when you're informed, your communications skills are stronger cause you can speak confidently and with conviction and meet customers' objections and questions head-on. Ummms and maybe's don't quite work in persuading cynical customers to support your product. And not only should employees know about what you're selling but also what your competitors are selling. You better believe when I go to buy anything, I know what the other guy is offering and I ask a lot of questions and if you cannot convince me that yours is better because you simply don't know about what else is out there - bye bye.

I am not sure my corner pharmacy has a training plan set out for its staff, cause I only saw 2 people in there, but a little product knowledge is recommended for the future, cause had I been 100% sure the hot teas existed in that brand, and was dead set on getting it, I would have left and nursed my cold elsewhere and lost confidence in that pharmacy as well. I mean, if you do not know about a simple hot tea for a cold, what else don't you know about more serious drugs??? I have a serious problem with this!

And special thanks to Theraflu - I feel human again!

From the Board Room to the Lunch Room

Larry O'Donnell, CEO, Waste Management is the first Undercover Boss. Photo credit: CBS

In the midst of all the Super Bowl activity, I saw a preview of a new show on CBS called "Undercover Boss" and while the title may suggest bosses spying on their employees, it's not what I gathered from the premise of the show. The show basically shows CEOs of some major US companies, taking off the CEO hats and getting down and dirty in the trenches with frontline staff - getting a feel for what they do, how they feel, how their top-down policies affect the employee, the customers and the overall business.

Can someone say hallelujah? I thought this was a great idea and while it may be just another reality show, the idea behind it is sound. Now I don't expect to see CEOs around the world, rushing to put on the uniforms of their frontline staff, but does management really and truly understand the needs, concerns and issues of their employees? It's a bit alarming that some of these CEOs go work for a week with their employees, who don't recognise them. How do you not know your CEO? Just goes to show how far removed some managers are from the people who work for them.

Sadly, in many companies, talk to employees and you will hear the signs of distrust and resentment and frustration. And it just should not always be the role of the HR or PR teams either to be that channel. CEOs really need to get out there and know their people. It may be one guy in the kitchen, or the one woman near the copier, but sitting in an office all day will not only drive any sane person bananas, but can also isolate leadership from the rest of the company.

And now there are tools, so even in the largest of organisations, with the busiest of CEOs, leaders can still make themselves accessible. Here are the days of video conferences (I have sat through my share of trans-Atlantic bonding), podcasts, blogs, YouTube. Here are the days of leaders getting to know the people who work for them and communicating with them in a real way. And I would hope leaders would use these tools honestly and not have their PR teams do ghost channelling/communicating.

I am excited to see the show, though of course I still see it as just another entertaining, "feel good" reality show. But if they are sincere and determined to learn more about the people of their organisations, then it would be a lesson to their colleagues around the world that it can be done, not necessarily on tv, nor in the way they are doing it, but it can be done. And should be done.

Check out the video for "Undercover Boss" here.

The show aired Sunday night but I wrote this at Sunday at 5.30pm, knowing I would be too medicated to watch it. 

Refreshing Change, or not?

We, or maybe I should just say, I, don't really do the whole Super Bowl thing here in Trinidad. American football is not my sport, and I really have no interest in making it my sport. However, I can appreciate the media hype around it as I know how sport can galvanise people, emotions, and experiences. Come June 11, the hype around the Super Bowl will be multiplied by 100 as the global football community prepares for the World Cup.

I have been rather interested though in the Pepsi saga. Pepsi made big news when they decided that they would not do the traditional mega million Super Bowl television ads this year but instead focus on Pepsi, Refresh, a $20million corporate social responsibility campaign using social media. I think that's it - a campaign using social media as opposed to a social media campaign cause most of that money is going towards "do-good" organisations and not really into the social media. Well, whatever one wants to call it, I applaud Pepsi. People were a bit skeptical that they would completely depart from what has become a huge deal in American pop culture, as we all remember the Britney Spears ad (well, that's the only one I remember anyway) etc.

But it's not as though Pepsi is building a brand new brand. We all know Pepsi. Geez...who does not know about Pepsi? Pepsi is almost ubiquitous, so did it really hurt them that much? I see greater value in this new thrust because a 30 second spot cannot bring the type of conversations Pepsi is for sure getting now. Sure, they will get convo - but how valuable is that conversation about Ms Brit shaking her bum to the brand, as opposed to talking to customers about the product, and more importantly getting them to talk about causes which are important to them, all while helping to add value to those organisations which need assistance - financial assistance and the publicity to raise awareness about the work they are doing.

The reach of the initiative, coupled with the frequency and depth of the engagement are surely wins for Pepsi. Some suggested that Pepsi could have made a 30 sec ad about the Pepsi Refresh campaign, but I think the publicity they generated when they decided against the ad this year was more than enough advertising. The success of the campaign would lie in how effectively they manage their social media communities, how well they manage those conversations and listen to what people are saying. From what I see so far, it seems to be working for them, and the celebrity interest is also a boon. They ahve already closed off ideas for February which is outstanding and have had the support, interest and participation of Saint Drew Brees, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon and Rihanna, to name a few as part of the programme's Celeb Challenge.

So along with the Saints, and New Orleans (kudos to the city, they needed a boost!), do you think Pepsi is a Super Bowl winner this year?

That ad was disturbing and maybe they should re-think doing these ads next year. I honestly and sincerely, not knowing anything about GoDaddy, thought it was a porn site and was confused as to why Danica what's her name was promoting it! But I guess it works for them!

I drive a Nissan...for now

I just have a few observations on this whole Toyota debacle.

1. It is sometimes the crime of management which leaves the PR team with egg on their faces. As we were reminded in a seminar this week, PR people are not the decision makers in an organisation and often are left out of the decisions and major developments at the senior management or board levels. The question then is, how aware were Toyota's PR people about the shortcomings of the car giant's vehicles, if at all, and how soon were they then roped in to do damage control? It's often as though PR people are like window dressing and not taken seriously until the proverbial crap hits the fan. Eight million recalled cars later, news of not only faulty accelerators but also crappy brakes and the revelation that these flaws were well known by the manufacturer, and suddenly it's all about the PR team - leaping into action to rescue a global brand from near destined collapse; trying to save the company from management's sins, all the while taking the beating on the frontline.

2. Where is the trust? The company admitted that they were aware of the  faulty accelerators, but their issue was not one of safety but rather of a "smooth" ride. Seriously? This is where the concept that PR is all smoke and mirrors comes from - statements like that. So okay, let's say I was dropped on my head as a child and I believed that, then Toyota is still admitting that they put a less than perfect product out on the market for the carpooling mummies, busy, always-on-the-go professionals and teenagers borrowing the car for Saturday nights out with their friends.

3. Walking the talk - Toyota president wants the millions of Toyota owners around the world to believe him when he says his cars are safe and then flips them all the bird when he leaves the press conference via an AUDI! Does this dude have a PR advisor, or on a more basic, common sense level - does this guy have a clue? I mean, even if you really don't drive your own cars, taking one home that day would not have killed you. Oh wait...faulty brakes and accelerators? Okay...maybe it would have.

4. It seems like Toyota is all over the place with the communications strategy - literally and figuratively. The PR teams worldwide are coming out of the woodwork with statements, which vary in delivery and content. From Mr Toyoda aka "I believe in Audi, not my own cars", to Mr Jon "I drive a Toyota. My family and friends drive Toyotas, and I would not allow my loved ones to drive our cars if I did not believe they were safe" Williams, the commercial director in the UK. It's a virtual pelau of messages coming out of Camp Save Toyota, from PR people, non-PR people, Audi lovers, and it does nothing to build confidence among their customers and stakeholders. It's as though everyone is being given a chance to see if they can do better than the first guy to make amends.

I would hope if Nissan ever screws up, they would be a bit more honest in their communication, more proactive and ultimately less reactive, genuinely remorseful and not boldly put their execs in a BMW after the press conference.

Friday Kudos

It's not every day we can talk about positive customer service experiences especially in the public sector, but I thought I should do so today.

So last night I was sitting watching the news and saw the Water and Sewerage Authority peeps making the rounds in neighbourhoods to enforce their water conservation programme in light of an apparent water shortage in the country. I thought to myself, wow...there is a job I would not like to have- walking around villages and towns to tell people to turn their hoses off and give them a $100 ticket, risking abuse and worse. But in any event, in typical Trini fashion, they have started off "hot and sweaty" with the thing.

As I was leaving my house this morning, I found the flow of water in the drain to be heavier than usual and as I drove up the street, there it was - a burst water main. I, being a good citizen (yes, I am) decided I would call the Authority and make a complaint, since you cannot be pushing water conservation on citizens, and telling me to shower in 3 minutes, while you have water leaking out of your mains across the country.

I got to their website and looked up the Hotline info and saw that the hotline was available from 6am - 10pm. Grumble grumble, cause I had very little confidence that anyone was actually going to be there to take my call at 6am. This is a public service authority and sadly, having worked in the public service, I know that customer service is not always the best, nor do employees respect time. Dial. 6.04am.

*ring ring* Generic message with American voice (please address this, WASA) comes on and tells me service attendants are all busy and asked me to be patient

Me: I wonder if this is a mamaguy to make people think they have all these calls, when in truth, the call centre is empty and will be empty until 8am.

But I am a positive thinker and I waited. Besides, it was toll free.

Two minutes later, at 6.06am, to my complete astonishment, a pleasant young lady took my call. I must say, I was surprised. I gave her the relevant information and she took mine. Very pleasant, very thorough. And at 6.06am - as communicated via their website. No mamaguy. Talk backed up by action. I loved it. With that tiny assurance, they have built my confidence in them just a little, and I can appreciate the effort made to ensure that they are doing what they are saying they will do. At least with the hotline.

Fifty percent down. The real test will come when I call home later this morning to see if anyone came to fix the burst main. But still, kudos WASA for getting the first part right.

EDIT: Just to be clear, this was the SOUTH office hotline. The North office rang and rang. You cannot win them all!

Less Talk, More Action

While looking for something else, I stumbled upon this article with its bold headline and laughed out loud. While I continue to support the West Indies cricket team, albeit in a diminished capacity, their actions in the past several months by way of their performance, have not buoyed me and more importantly have not convinced me that their captain's pronouncement is anything but laughable.

Of course the Australians are beatable. I am not disputing that at all. No team is invincible. Can THIS West Indies team beat them? Sigh. Let's just say, I got a couple emails from relatives abroad who also read the article, and they too LOL'ed in their offices.

What I want from my cricket team and its skipper (note I did not say MY skipper, cause I am not a fan of Mr Christopher Gayle) is less talk and more action.

It ties back to my previous entry, where less is also definitely  in business. It's no longer about words and press releases, ads and mission statements. These mean nothing if there is nothing solid behind them. For example, what good is a corporate mission statement about being a leading provider of a service, if your service is universally horrendous, and customers slam your brand as a result? It becomes just a statement in a pretty frame hanging on a wall. What steps are companies taking to ensure that what they are promoting to the outside world is indeed the reality?

And, in terms of social media, there are companies which are setting up Web 2.0 "communities" which attract many of their customers, but the communication somehow falls flat. There is feedback via many outlets, and none of the feedback is incorporated to enhance the customer experience so the community becomes a talk shop and an ideas graveyard. Some communicator are hearing, but are they listening, and more importantly, doing?

Companies cannot hope to create content for social media without collaborating with the persons for whom the content is being created. Ideas and suggestions live via this new media and marketers would be wise to start paying close attention to what is being said out there. The paradigm shift is clear - more and more consumers are defining products and services, and the content they want on blogs and social networking sites, and marketing and comms peeps need to step up to the plate, not just support social media conversations but bring them to life. Quite simply, we need to walk the talk.

And a brand defined, not by its idealistic, chest-beating public statements, but by its "laughable" reality can never really stand the test of time or boast of superior loyalty from its audience. I hope one day Mr Gayle and his band of merry boys will understand this, if they even care.

Photo: Cricket Australia

From the Desk of a PR Superstar

(I'm a star in life!)

Busy day today. A bit tired as well. Got home pretty late, and then stayed up fixing up a nice Chicken Alfredo for lunch today, with the infamous chicken breasts (I did bake them but they still weren't sinfully tender and I am now convinced that chefs are gods) and a box of Kraft Cheesey Alfredo Mac and Cheese. What? I am a busy woman!

Anyway, someone asked yesterday what do communicators have on their desks and since you don't know, I thought I would show you.

First...this is so cliche it hurts.

I don't think I have ever opened that but it's there!

That's a.m. eh. That's on my desk. This was not an automated photo. It was taken by a real person -me. Need I say more?

My Cheerios (a staple of any early riser cause of its ease of preparation), some Light Vanilla Soy Milk, trusty oversized mug to recreate that home feeling at the office (hardly ever works), water.
Breakfast of the woman on the move! Coffee is missing but trying to cut back this week.

What? Who has time to get a manicure but your nails can still look nice on short notice.
Thank you Revlon ColourStay.

Early morning bonding. My laptop which takes me to my social media, both personal and company sites, and my wonderful stuffed cow, Rosie, who likes to get in the thick of the action.

And that's the most exciting stuff. Everything else looks like work. I think this was a nice break from my regularly scheduled blogging. I am off to an early morning thing so be good.

Cutting through the B.S.

A friend and I last week were discussing how some people still think of PR along the lines of this -

or this...

or this...

The bows on shovels are soooo lame.

And while these do happen from time to time, the question remains...what happens after?

Too many times, companies do the requisite ribbon cutting or cheque handover, exchange handshakes and smiles with recipients of corporate goodwill, to never be seen or heard from again... until the next year rolls around and they do it all over again.

In my previous professional manifestation, it was my job to oversee some of these acts of corporate goodwill but not just hand over some money and send them on their way, but ensure accountability, transparency and most importantly, build meaningful relationships and partnerships with the recipients. I was on a first name basis with everybody and vice versa. They were not always the most hospitable folk either, and it was often a real challenge having to put up with them, during the week and God forbid, on the weekend. But this is all part of the relationship building process, isn't it? In any relationship, there will be good times and squabbles and we manage them to the best of our ability, because for better or worse, you need each other. I really did admire that about the work we did - as challenging as it could get, it still was more than lip service and often very rewarding from a personal and professional level.

I always found it easier to deal with some of the more negative challenges because I had formed and managed these relationships to a point where my partners in the community - because that is what they were - became part of my brand management team, for better or for worse. Through the relationships we had forged, I somehow managed to eke out from some of them a fierce loyalty to the company (in a perfect world, it would have been all of them, but let's be real - some people will always have their own agenda). But to be honest, in the end, I left with great friendships with some, and strong relationships with the majority.

GOOD corporate citizenship - one that continues long after the ribbon cutting ceremony - builds appreciation of your brand at a local level and on a broader scale. Benefits include:
  • Differentiation among similar organisations and competitive advantages.
  • More respect for organisational views, company more likely to be listened to.
  • Easier recruitment, improved morale, reduced staff turnover.
  • Enhancement and added value for the organisations products and/or services.
  • Strengthened information structure with society, with associated improved resources.
Community and society: corporate social responsibility (CSR)’ in ‘Exploring Public Relations’
(R. Tench, 2006)


And of course, as noted earlier when referring to employees as brand ambassadors, with new media, a good reputation can hit the skids instantaneously. Companies need to start living their brand - you cannot sell yourself as "caring", "committed to our communities", "a good corporate citizen" if there is none of that happening at the local level. You may be surprised as some companies find out, that after years of solid financial sponsorship, in the face of a public challenge, these same people, who shook your hand, smiled at your photographer and held on to the larger than life sized cheque, will be part of the voices raised against your brand. Money does not guarantee loyalty. People tend to be loyal to people. And quite frankly noone is interested in your short term acts of goodwill. Not the media, not customers, not investors. They are too run of the mill by now, lack interest and lack substance and fail to highlight the soul of an organisation.
PR practitioners must get rid of those oversized cheques and scissors and learn to manage and build on sponsorships - internally (this of course requires instilling a strong CSR culture within the organisation, cause the PR team just cannot do it alone) and externally - to leverage the benefits which come with them and start building relationships and stories which are meaningful, sustainable and add value to the brand and the bottom line.
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