Author Archives: Sue Cartwright

When marketing fails the PR test

PR fail

PR fail


Every week there is a new one – a marketing idea that spectacularly backfires.

Dove is the latest company to fall into a PR pit due to what commentators now refer to as ‘tone-deaf’ marketing and advertising ploys. For Dove, it was a GIF recently posted on the company’s Facebook page to promote body wash. The shortened version of the made for television video immediately sparked online outrage, deemed racially insensitive for showing a black woman transforming into a white woman after using their product.

Dove’s public relations gaffe fell into the category of an intended positive message that missed the mark, and it is far from an isolated incident in the fast-paced world of online marketing.

An ever-growing list of companies – large and small – are backtracking, apologising and being forced to manage sticky situations when their marketing initiative generates a wave of negative publicity.

There’s been the Meat and Livestock Australia’s campaign showing deities from various religions sitting down to a lamb meal – including the non-meat-eating Hindu God Lord Ganesha. Then there was Coopers Brewery and its association with the ‘Keeping it light’ campaign; Pepsi and its ‘join the conversation’ ad featuring Kendall Jenner at a protest; the Melbourne gelato business, which created gender-specific flavours for an online campaign; and the Adidas ‘You Survived’ email to Boston Marathon runners.

Of course, a lot of these campaigns and initiatives are borne from the wish to stand out and grab attention in an increasingly noisy marketplace. Companies are feeling the need to be extra creative and maximise their use of the latest social media and online trends and tools. Many may realise they are pushing boundaries but wrongly believe they can successfully manage potential issues.

For larger companies, like Pepsi, Dove and Adidas, marketing initiatives that go pear-shaped are unlikely to significantly impact their long-term financial bottom line. Their size and existing reach provide a buffer. The biggest blow is to their credibility, particularly when trying to attract new brand ambassadors or marketing influencers.

The consequences of a marketing fail for small businesses can be serious

However, smaller businesses don’t necessarily have the same margin of error to withstand fallout from a PR fail. They have neither the financial security nor customer base to wear the economic ramifications from a drop in integrity and reputation. If just one thousand people (or even 100) boycott their services or products because of a misjudged marketing idea, it will hurt.

The most common public relations threats from the marketing efforts of small to mid-sized businesses are ill-timed or misjudged social media posts, hijacked hashtags, or poorly-considered advertising taglines.

Therefore, before rushing into a marketing idea, consider how the wider public – not just your immediate circle of friends and associates – will perceive it. Take time to understand other events or news that may be occurring at the same time and could lead to your idea being tainted as insensitive or as a mistaken attempt to piggyback on an issue. Finally, be prepared to seek and heed external advice or support to keep your reputation intact.

I am positive we will hear about another marketing mishap next week. Let’s make sure it is not from your business.

This article first appeared in Geelong Business News

Try this ‘incredible hack’ to generate engagement even if you have nothing to post on social media…

Social media strategies for business are missing an important tactic

Who’s up for increasing their social media profile? 

I’m sure any business or organisation would love to get their name further afield. But, it is hard to constantly come up with new ideas for posting updates.

Well, here’s a thought: why not use that lull time to interact with others on social media? Yes, engaging with others on social media through your business should be an essential part of any social media strategy.

Too often our strategies simply focus on what we should be posting rather than how we use social media as a means to reach out to and support others in our community.

We follow other business accounts in the hope they may follow back. However, sharing, commenting on, replying to or liking other people’s posts show you are real about using social media to network.

Browse through your news feeds to see what’s happening in your community, industry or areas of interest. Respond to questions, start conversations, or share good news posted by other people or businesses. These are a simple but effective tactics for letting the social media world know you exist.

Word of caution, though, make sure your engagement with others is genuine and not simply an attempt to spam or hijack their post. You don’t want to damage your own reputation by trying to market your products or services through their post.

And, yes, it is not really a ‘hack’ just common sense. After all, social media is about networking and talking to each other. Your business accounts should be no different.

(By the way, sorry about the click bait-style headline but had to get your attention somehow.)

From Journalist to PR Practitioner: An Essential Guide

By Sue Cartwright

Changing careers from jounalism to PR require a rethink in methods

Twenty plus years ago I took a turn in my career path when I put journalism behind me to carve a new vocation in communications and public relations.

I’m not alone. Many of my public relations colleagues are also ex-journos who decided to repurpose their media skills. However, as many of them would agree, the change is not straightforward.

Without doubt, my journalism training and experience gave me valuable skills and capabilities. Journalists are focused and clear writers; have superior research abilities; and obviously understand the concept of newsworthiness.

However, I soon discovered I also lacked many skills which would transform me from a writer into a strategist. I realised I needed to undertake extra training and development to become an effective communications professional.

Newsrooms around Australia are currently downsizing. As a result, many journalists are again leaving their media roles to seek a fresh start in public relations and communications. To them, I say: ‘Welcome to the Dark Side’. We don’t necessarily have cookies but the opportunity to get your teeth into new challenges is here, if you’re willing to rethink your methods.

And here is the advice I can offer:

Change your focus from finding problems to identifying solutions.

PR people are problem solvers. We guide clients through tough or complicated times. Yes, we need to fully comprehend a problem but our true value is being able to come up with solutions that fit the time, place and extent of an issue.

Understand the audience is no longer a generic group of listeners, readers or viewers.

Communicators understand audiences consist of people from varied target markets who are individuals with their own needs, expectations and desires. Your job now is to reach out and engage with those people by using communication platforms and methods which best suit them.

Realise a media release is a tool not a strategy.

Yes, your ability to engage with the media is a respected asset. However, it is strategy that counts. PR is not simply about publicity. Public Relations is about getting the right message at the right time to the right people. This requires developing goals and plans.

Know how to advise.

PR professionals don’t blindly do whatever a client asks.  Public relations practitioners are reputation custodians. Our role is to guide clients and, if necessary, tell them an idea is unworkable or a risk to their reputation.

You now have more time. Use it wisely.

Gone are the constant hourly, daily or weekly deadlines. Ensure you maximise your extra time to re-check facts and confirm that clients review and sign off on your work. You are your own editor and, remember, you no longer have the by-line. You are now writing on behalf of your client and your words will help make or break their reputation.

Consider going back to school.

Acknowledge that you need to learn more about public relations and how it works.  After taking on a PR job, I completed a series of accredited public relations courses as well as training in strategic planning, issue management and creative problem solving. I encourage other ex-journalists to also find courses relevant to your new vocation to improve your understanding of the job ahead.

Disruptive to Dishevelled – Uber’s fall from grace is a lesson for all start-ups

Caution road sign
Caution road signWhen Uber burst onto the scene in 2011, it was a ground-breaker. The company soon became the poster child for the sharing economy. Its use of apps, smartphones and peer-to-peer transactions showed the business world was on a road to disruption.

Uber’s global popularity raced ahead and the newcomer soon became the dominant force in ride-hailing.

Even when faced with protests from taxi drivers and regulators, Uber remained in wider community favour by using cute stunts such as ice-creams on-call and Uber kitten deliveries to grab positive media attention.

The company was riding the wave of enthusiasm. By late 2015, the app was available in 300 cities across 60 countries. Come mid-2016, Uber had 40 million active monthly users worldwide. (

Then came 2017 and, for Uber in the United States, a series of damaging events and claims.

In January, 200,000 customers heeded the #DeleteUber call by removing the app from their phones in protest at opportunistic New York Uber drivers during pro-immigration protests. Then there were claims of sexual harassment and gender bias within the company followed by media coverage alleging an ‘aggressive and unrestrained’ workplace culture. Google launched a lawsuit alleging Uber stole self-driving car technology. A video of Uber’s founder arguing with a driver was posted online in February, only weeks before revelations alleging that Uber was using a tool to deceive government regulators emerged.

Disruption had turned into dishevelment.

Seemingly, in all the early hype and praise for the venture, Uber had lost sight of imperatives for running a business. It failed to grasp the importance of strong and clear human resources, public relations and customer service strategies. The company didn’t appear to understand the motivations and values of its market and relied on novel marketing ideas to build its brand image, rather than developing a solid reputation management plan. And when the negative attention began, it was unprepared to appropriately and quickly deal with the issues.

Uber is not alone. Other start-ups in Australia and overseas have found themselves ill-equipped when their attempts at being edgy and controversial backfire, leading to social media anger and mockery and negative attention from mainstream media.

In the rush to launch a new venture, it is dangerous to ignore traditional business protocols.

Most will seek professional legal and financial advice. However, many overlook the importance of getting professional guidance on risk assessment, human resources, reputation management and public relations.

This extra support is what places the company on the right course for building a progressive and inclusive culture and fostering a strong and well-regarded brand. By developing correct policies and procedures in advance, a business will be prepared if and when an issue develops.

Like any business, start-ups need to surround themselves with good advisors: professionals who not only offer advice, but are also prepared to warn against bad decisions or ideas.

At the point of writing this article, Uber’s USA operation is facing a phase of transition with many of its senior managers and staff leaving the company. An internal investigation on the sexual harassment allegations is underway, while a number of courts around the world are determining rulings on Uber’s future. It is now up to Uber to learn from its past mistakes. Hopefully, and most importantly, other start-ups will also learn that any business – new or old – needs good internal practices and the right advice to succeed.

This article first appeared in the Geelong Business News.

The Very Real Issue of Fake News

Did you hear that? No? Listen again. Still nothing?

That silence is the sound of a fake news story going viral.

Sorry to say, you won’t hear sirens or ringing bells as a made-up story purporting to be genuine rapidly spreads across social media and sometimes into mainstream news.

Fake news is a real issue. So much so the editors of the Macquarie Dictionary gave it the title of 2016 Word of the Year.

According to the Macquarie, fake news is “disinformation and hoaxes published on websites for political purposes or to drive web traffic, the incorrect information being passed along by social media”.

Gossip and innuendo have been fodder for sensationalist media outlets for some time. Social media is a notorious breeding ground for hoaxes and clickbait headlines. However, it’s now moved to a new level.

Fabricated stories are often published to incite you to click to a website that makes money by hosting online advertisements. In November last year, the Washington Post reported that one fake-news writer claimed to be making up to US$10,000 a month from Adsense.

The 2016 US presidential election showed the true power of fake news when it came to wider attention through the strategic placement of articles designed to discredit or undermine individuals or particular points of view.

Platforms such as Facebook and Google are reportedly investigating methods to attack fake news but it will be some time before it’s eradicated from our social media feeds and online searches.

In the interim, we have an individual responsibility to be watchful for fake news, particularly when sharing articles through our business or organisation’s social media accounts, or even via publicly available personal accounts.

Reputation and image are paramount. If you continually share unchecked articles which others identify as fabricated, the public will lose confidence and trust in your organisation.

You can easily tell a clickbait headline. It usually includes capitalised letters; a promise that you will discover something outrageously weird; or simply uses bad grammar.

Occasionally, we may want just want to believe a fake news story is true, especially if it purports to be about a medical breakthrough or of a miraculous incident. Other types of fake news are malicious untruths, specifically designed to hurt or destabilise.

Always look at the source of the news. Is it coming from a reputable website or one you have never heard about? Does the article appear to be pushing a particular point of view on a controversial subject? Is it trying to discredit something or someone?

Check to see if the story is being covered by the mainstream news media. This isn’t failsafe as journalists can and have also be duped, but it’s still a good step. On a side note, the BBC has published a podcast to help journalists identify fake news.

If you remain unsure about the veracity of the article, best to not share it and only post news and updates from reliable and trustworthy outlets.

The other great danger for businesses and high profile individuals is becoming a victim of fake news. While larger corporations are more likely targets, smaller businesses can be subjected to fabricated stories doing the rounds on social media. It can be distressing and potentially damaging.

In these instances, seek advice from a strategic communication professional on developing an issue management strategy to avoid long-term reputational harm. Challenging a fake story without professional guidance can risk spreading the article further afield.

To sum up, the reality of fake news is to be alert but not alarmed. Use common sense when determining if an article is fact, opinion or fiction and take care and time when considering what news we share with others.

This article originally appeared in Geelong Business News.



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