AT&T Will “Never Forget” Its 9/11 Memorial Tweet

ATT911tweetpic AT&T Will “Never Forget” Its 9/11 Memorial Tweet

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for AT&T and its 9/11 blunder.

Pity the poor social networking marketer: Your fails, be they on Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere, are instantly transmitted to a vast audience and forever on display, whether you yank them or not.

This week’s poster child? AT&T, who while observing the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, crossed the line of good taste. AT&T took to Twitter on the 12th anniversary of the event with a Photoshopped image of the annual “Tribute in Light” display at the World Trade Center site, as seen through the camera of a (wisely unbranded) smartphone. “Never forget” was the caption, and sure enough, the Internet immediately saw to it that AT&T won’t – but not as the telecom giant intended.

AT&T pulled the pic after the Twitterverse erupted with criticism, calls for boycott, and threats to switch providers as the company was accused of using 9/11 to market their phones. The company  tweeted a tepid mea culpa, apologizing “to anyone who felt our post was in poor taste. The image was solely meant to pay respect to those affected by the 9/11 tragedy.” That kind of apology puts the burden on those offended, rather than the offender – not the proper way to own up to a blunder, and only further highlighting the initial gaffe.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to AT&T, which almost earns a second fail for how it responded to the first.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Murderous terrorist attacks are not a branding opportunity. AT&T could have done a respectable, perhaps even poignant tribute to 9/11 and “those affected” if it had simply left the phone out of the image. The product tie-in changed everything. Then, by limiting its apology to “anyone who felt” the post was in poor taste, AT&T ducked taking responsibility for its mistake. An upfront acknowledgement of bad taste and an unqualfied apology would have likely put an immediate stop to the damage and maybe even earned AT&T a measure of respect for its candor. Perhaps they’ll remember that next year.

A Serious Storm, A Simple (and Effective) Message

OB VD264 obamaf G 20121028145952 150x150 A Serious Storm, A Simple (and Effective) Message

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for a President’s speech that reassured and activated.

Hurricane Sandy has managed to do the unthinkable in terms of media coverage: moved the last ten days of electioneering off the front page and turned national attention toward disaster recovery. President Obama joined the conversation on Monday morning, and with a coupe of clearly honed messages at a hastily-convened press conference, he made the transition from electioneering President to President in Charge.

Obama’s short speech is worth watching for anyone wanting to know how to craft a simple message. What started off with a slightly wordy and lengthy introduction soon became clear. Yes, preparations were in place and the East Coast was as ready as it could be, but the main takeaway? “Listen to what officials are saying – this is a serious storm.”

Obama’s speech was designed to reassure, and to manage expectations. He flagged the  inevitable issues that will arise post-storm, including long-running power outages and transportation delays. But the main lesson from the speech is that reassuring the public that everything’s under control is not enough; a call to action is needed and grabs attention. Getting the public directly involved takes the conversation to a higher level of engagement.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for a President’s speech that reassured and activated.

The PR Takeaway: To get the public’s attention, give the public something to do. President Obama’s speech included a roll call of what was intended to reassure a nervous public. What made the difference was clear instruction. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani made a similar speech following September 11, when he asked New Yorkers to go back to their lives, the streets, and shopping. A call to action from someone in authority got attention then, as it does now.

No Easy Interview for a Navy Seal

 No Easy Interview for a Navy Seal

The PR Verdict: B (Good Show) for Matt Bissonnette, Navy Seal and author of No Easy Day.

“Awesome” and “cool” were just some of the everyday terms that Navy Seal Matt Bissonnette used in a recent interview with 60 Minutes. He has gone public with a memoir, No Easy Day, of his time served during the operation that killed Osama Bin Laden. The book is written under his nom de plume Mark Owen and coincides neatly with the anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Bissonnette kicked off his informal and friendly TV interview with his appearance and voice disguised as he gave a tick-tock explanation of what happened in that now notorious Pakistani compound. Bissonnette gave few surprises. He stayed surprisingly close to the previously released official version of the event; this was not a mission to kill, but to “capture alive if feasible,” and the operation was a collective effort of talented individuals.

Bissonnette’s PR dilemma is to how comment on the events without creating controversy. Legally gagged from disclosing military secrets, his PR push is limited by the ever-present danger of inadvertently breaching official secrets.  His answer? Provide reassuring confirmation of already disclosed key facts, talk like an everyday humble guy and only give color and added information that are of limited consequence.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Matt Bissonnette’s PR push that treads a fine line but so far hasn’t overstepped boundaries.

The PR Takeaway: Stay on course, but add some spice. Bissonnette’s dilemma is that he could be accused of breaching official secrets. With most of the book’s proceeds going to organizations that help families of fallen Seals, his own motives are not open to debate. His minor details concerning who fired what when makes no appreciable difference to the overall established narrative – but it does make it almost impossible for the authorities to play a heavy hand. Skillfully done and elegantly handled.

To read more and see part of the 60 Minutes interview, click here.

Did you see the 60 Minutes interview, or read Matt Bissonnette’s book? Give us your PR Verdict!