Martha Stewart’s Bad PR Continues with Holiday Layoffs

 Martha Stewarts Bad PR Continues with Holiday Layoffs

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Martha Stewart Omnimedia

An unwritten rule in publishing used to be no layoffs between November and January. No company wanted to appear either heartless or desperate and ruin employees’ holidays. But just as print gives way to digital, so the old rules are broken in favor of the first law of business: survival of the fittest. And so last Thursday, Martha Stewart Omnimedia terminated 100 employees, roughly a quarter of its staff, two weeks before Christmas.

The move itself isn’t that big a surprise for a company that has been losing money steadily in recent years. Ad pages in MSO magazines are down, and the company ceased publication of two titles, Everyday Food and Whole Living, earlier this year. Television productions have also lost revenue.

While the terminations may save some money, the timing of them does nothing to stanch the flow of negative publicity for MSO including the recent court case with Macy’s. Now come terminations at the behest of new MSO CEO Daniel Dienst, described as a “veteran turnaround expert” by the Wall Street Journal. Stewart released the quote, “Dan has specific expertise helping companies run efficiently and productively.” This season Martha’s holiday cheer gives rise to nothing but scorn for the 100 employees whose got a gift wrapped pink slip for Christmas.

PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Martha Stewart Omnimedia.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Appearances can be aggrieving. When taking a company’s bottom line into consideration, factor in customer reaction. Martha Stewart caters to female consumers – specifically, homemakers. Really specifically, women who wouldn’t want their joyous holidays turned lean after being fired by a Scrooge. The timing for this could not have been worse. Tough decisions need to be made, no doubt, but timing in cases like this really is everything.

Crashing BlackBerry Grounds its Corporate Fleet

bombardierblackberry Crashing BlackBerry Grounds its Corporate Fleet

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for BlackBerry, looking business-classier for flying coach.

Running a struggling business? Talk to BlackBerry.  The once-dominant Canadian firm that missed the smartphone revolution has slid into a long, painful decline. Friday, the teetering handset maker announed a $1 billion quarterly loss and a huge restructuring including the elimination of 4,500 jobs, or about 40 percent of its workforce. Yesterday, it announced plans to be taken private by one of its largest investors.

Its latest miss was remarkable only for the size of the loss. A more eyebrow-raising revelation came to light in the media over the weekend: BlackBerry acquired a third corporate jet, estimated at over $20 million.

B lackBerry responded not only with a plausible explanation, but also a plan of action.  The jet had been purchased to replace the other two and in light of its current business condition, a company spokesman said, BlackBerry would sell all three of its corporate jets and “no longer own any planes.” This, of course, is the logical, prudent thing to do, and Blackberry wins points for it. In the age of corporate excess hubris can be fatal.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) to BlackBerry, for a quick response that defused an immaterial but nonetheless embarrassing story.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Symbolic actions count. A global firm that, though troubled, is still worth billions arguably has a need for its own jet, and BlackBerry could have rested on that claim. But doing so would hardly have engendered goodwill for a company axing nearly half  its workers. The logic might not have figured directly in BlackBerry’s decision to ground its fleet, but at least the company, already with plenty to regret, has one less bad decision to answer for.

Chipotle’s “Hacked” Tweets the Latest PR “Twend”?

Chipotle Logo 150x150 Chipotles Hacked Tweets the Latest PR Twend?

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK ) for Chipotle’s Twitter “twick.”

Time was you were no one without a Twitter feed (Anthony Weiner, take note). But in the attention-challenged world of social media, trends move faster than you can click a Facebook “Like,” and the new mark of the Twitterati arriviste is to have your feed hacked. It’s so trendy, in fact, that some corporate marketeers are faking it.

Burrito franchiser Chipotle is the most recent case. A series of nonsensical non sequiturs crossed its Twitter feed last week before some guy named “Joe” tweeted about a “little problem with our account. But everything is back on track now!” Well whew!

As it turns out, it was all a marketing ploy, and by at least one measure it worked. The hourlong “hack” added 4,000 followers to Chipotle’s Twitter feed that day (compared to an average of 250), and the faux tweets were retweeted thousands of times (against a typical 75). “We thought people would pay attention,” a company rep later said, acknowledging that the “attack” was a tie-in to the company’s 20th anniversary promotion. Reaction, he said, was “overwhelmingly positive.”

Well, maybe. Not everyone thought the stunt was endearingly clever. Like its zesty Mexican fare, Chipotle’s spicy Twitter trick (“Twick,” anyone?) might have seemed a good idea at the time but result in little more than heartburn.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Chipotle, for taking a bite of PR risk that so far hasn’t bitten back.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Be careful with edgy humor, lest you become the punchline. The PR blooper reel is laden with jokes that backfired badly. The same caution goes for jumping on the latest trend or doing anything that potentially makes fun of your intended audience. With the corporate world’s rush into social marketing have come some embarrassing failures (remember #McDStories?). There is a growing backlash against companies that hamfistedly try to be hip or au courant with social media, and this is especially true among teen-to-twentysomethings to whom fast food chains like Chipotle cater. Skinny jeans don’t look good on everyone. Take a careful look from all angles to make sure what you’re doing fits.

Is Apple’s PR Bruised?

 Is Apples PR Bruised?What to think of Apple? To hear stock analysts and business anchors talk, one would think Goliath had just taken a severe hit to the head. Apple has been the undisputed giant of tech for so long that the slightest waver on its feet has everyone talking about how the mighty may soon be falling.

True, profits are down – about 18 percent this quarter, and the first decline for Apple in a decade. Speculation that the company might slope downward following the demise of leader Steve Jobs didn’t come to pass immediately, but the birth of competitive, and cheaper, products are starting to pose a threat. And there are no new products coming from Apple, which is bad news for a company that caters to consumers mad for the latest in tech devices.

Another first for Apple is having to borrow money. The explanation? Rather than face taxes on bringing in offshore assets, Apple will take a loan to pay $100 billion to shareholders by 2015, which pleases some, but perplexes others. Bottom line: should Apple be in crisis mode or business as usual?

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Apple. The news isn’t good, but then again it isn’t all rotten.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: A company’s reputation can precede, and quiet, speculation. Apple may be wavering in its long-held number one slot, but one of the company’s priorities has been building a brand. People don’t speak of phones; they talk about iPhones and lead iLives. Consumers still see Apple products as cool and a cut above the rest despite their ubiquity.  While cheaper products may come around, it will take far more than that to put a dent in Apple’s brand loyalty. Apple’s PR should continue to polish its image and brand and let the stock price see-saw of its own accord. Apple’s upward unrelating share price climb had to come to an end at some point. Best thing is to pause and catch a PR breath.

IKEA Magic: Now You See Her, Now You Don’t

 IKEA Magic: Now You See Her, Now You Dont

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for IKEA.

Furniture retailer IKEA was caught off guard this week when a Swedish newspaper published pages from the Saudi Arabian edition of IKEA’s catalog.  What a surprise! Women in the Saudi edition had been Photoshopped out by local Saudi management.  Cue embarrassment for IKEA, a retailer that prides itself on liberal values.

The global catalogue is distributed to approximately 200 million households, but for the Saudis it contained unacceptable images that needed removing. What caused offense? A woman in her pajamas beside a bathroom sink. In Saudi Arabia, a Muslim country, women must conceal their bodies and hair. IKEA said in a statement that its does “not accept any kind of discrimination… We regret the current situation.” Management was keen to explain that the changes “do not align with IKEA Group’s values.”

IKEA Saudi Arabia is run by a franchisee outside the IKEA Group. Nevertheless, the company said it is “reviewing routines to safeguard correct content presentation from a values point of view.” Sensible and sensitive handling of this issue but, there could be trouble ahead.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for IKEA and a brand remaining true to its liberal streak, but beware of starting something that could become a cultural flashpoint.

The PR Takeaway: Marketing and discussions on broader cultural values rarely mix. What is puzzling about this news story is why IKEA hasn’t had this trouble before. Was a woman featured in the 2011 catalogue? What happened in the Saudi version then? It might have been easier to characterize this latest fuss as a breakdown in established procedures between a franchisee and a head office. IKEA has now stuck its neck out and committed publicly to a conversation about values. In a country as seemingly inflexible as Saudi Arabia, some things are best left unsaid. Better to have described this as a one-off business dispute between two partners and done the rest of the negotiations behind closed doors.

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