Anyone can apologize. Indeed, we all do from time to time. But to do it well — to extinguish the fire rather than re-ignite it — ultimately requires the one thing that even we PR pros can’t fake: sincerity.
You just finished a killer blog post. Reliving the process: first you had to pitch the idea to your editor. Then you reworked the angle to satisfy his feedback. Then it was research time, wherein you bumped up against facts that challenged your hypothesis. Finally, you penned the piece, sweating over decisions as light as commas, as lofty as conclusions.
Now, the post has been published. And you, like a wide-eyed kitten mesmerized by a shiny new object, sit in thrall to the whimsies of the web—watching, waiting, wishing for the big payoff.
Slowly, the clicks come trickling in. But why settle for a trickle when these numbers could be a raging torrent? As soon as your article goes live, it behooves you to SHOUT IT from the rafters. You labored so long and hard on the writing, shouldn’t you reward your efforts with a little promotion?
Indeed you should. In fact, every hack must now be his own flack.
Everyone makes mistakes, the saying goes. It’s whether you learn from them that separates the brands that retain your loyalty from the ones you now drive by.
In this context, consider last night’s tweet from KitchenAid that mocked President Obama:
“Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! ‘She died 3 days b4 he came president’. #nbcpolitics”
Sent from your personal account, where your audience consists of your (like-minded) friends, the tweet would have been par for the live-tweet course: funny and frivolous. However, sent from a corporate channel, the tweet is no longer associated with a person but with a brand—and its products.
The new master of the mea culpa.
Apple and “apologize” don’t usually fall in the same sentence. In fact, Apple instructs its retail employees to avoid acts of contrition as a matter of principle. “Do not apologize for the business [or] the technology,” its Genius manual commands.
Following this playbook, when faced with the debacle that is Mapplegate, Cupertino’s flacks first tried spin. “We launched this new map service knowing it is a major initiative and that we are just getting started with it,” a spokeswoman told AllThingsD. But the brush-off backfired, hard. As Gizmodo put it, “The New Apple: It Doesn’t Just Work.”
Realizing that the story wasn’t dying down, the time came for the CEO to step up. Tim Cook needed to communicate two things — an apology, and a promise to do better — both of which he did with aplomb.
In protest, writers for publications such as the Washington Post, New York Times, and Atlantic each have taken turns slugging the SEO punching bag. The headlines describe their complaint: “Gene Weingarten Column Mentions Lady Gaga.” “This Boring Headline Is Written for Google.” “Google Doesn’t Laugh: Saving Witty Headlines in the Age of SEO.”
In other words, algorithms don’t appreciate wit, irony, humor, or style. As reporter Steve Lohr put it, they’re “numbingly literal-minded.” Alas, Oscar Wilde!
These laments ring true in a big way: it is one of the definitive 21st century truisms that in addition to writing for eternity, or for one’s mother, today’s writer must also write for Google. Yet, as always, the devil’s in the metadata. The secret of stellar SEO is that you can have your cake and eat it, too; that is, you can pen pun-based headlines all day long and maintain your journalistic integrity. You just need to draft a second headline that’s straightforward and keywordy.
Like an old shoe, the press release has been around forever. Every year seems to bring another proclamation that it’s on its last legs. While the rumors are exaggerated, they emerge from a stubborn truth: the press release is being eclipsed by digital alternatives that are more flexible, more interesting, and more relevant.
A milestone was reached in 2010, when Google made a major announcement not by press release but by blog post. Five years earlier, a company of Google’s stature would have issued a boilerplate statement on a newswire. Now, a Google executive was crafting a more thoughtful, even heartfelt narrative that was published on the Official Google Blog.
This shift in medium and message represented a new era in corporate communications. No longer does a traditional press release suffice to make news. News now needs to be conveyed in an empathetic tone and delivered in a user-friendly format.
Chris Abraham recently published a case study on the “art of writing the perfect blogger pitch.” There’s a lot to like here. For one, the time and thought Chris and his team devote to this esoterica are rare. For another, spilling your trade secrets takes guts.
“The dog ate my homework.”
Even though this famous excuse is rarely used, what it symbolizes is all-too-familiar: an aversion to admit accountability. What’s more, this urge to excuse one’s blunders rather than shoulder them betrays a bigger issue: a lack of character.
Let’s be honest: no wants to entertain excuses—even perfectly good ones. We value friends who are reliable, we promote employees who are consistent, we love spouses because when they wrong us, they rectify it. Not for nothing did the sign on Harry Truman’s desk proclaim, “The buck stops here!”
To be sure, emergencies arise. We all screw up from time to time. Yet it’s how you rectify things that counts, that makes you who you are.
The next big thing is always around the click
The pace and power of Web-fueled innovation is stunning. One day we’re swearing by Outlook; the next, we can’t live without Gmail. These sea changes exemplify the beauty of the net: greener waters are but a click away. Indeed, the list of tech titans that could have surfed a wave to even greater heights, but missed the boat, is long and instructive.
Why you should host one, and how to do it
Bloggers’ roundtables have been around for a while. They’re especially popular for book clubs, with the Department of Defense, and among politicians. (One wag asked John McCain if he knew the difference between YouTube and MySpace.)
Yet roundtables never took off as a form of outreach. That’s too bad, because as a vehicle to engage many stakeholders at once, roundtables can be as effective, if not more so, than their headline-grabbing cousins, Twitter and Facebook.