Waffle House and Well Managed PR

Here’s a great piece over at Inc.:

“Waffle House’s Response to the Drunk Customer Who Cooked His Own Meal Was a Brilliant Lesson in Humility”

The cliff notes version:

  • Guy heads to Waffle House late at night after an evening of drinking
  • Waffle House staff has fallen asleep
  • Guy who’s lacking in sobriety heads to the kitchen and cooks up his own meal

From my time in Corporate PR, I’m well aware of the reflective desire for retaliation. Mr. Warner, the PR Director at Waffle House, however, opted for a bright and pithy response.

“We’re glad Alex was able to enjoy his Texas Bacon Cheesesteak. We’ve apologized to Alex and have invited him back to eat with us. We also promised him we’d do the cooking the next time.”

For me, this was perfect. Humble, accepting of the company’s failure in this, and working to engage a committed customer. I expect they brought in many to the fold.

And, most important, they got right back to business.

Nicely played Waffle House. Nicely played indeed.


The Power Of The Simple “Thank You”

I pride myself on thanking people. I see this as basic. Time and time again, though, I hear how rarely it happens.

Really, one of the most basic elements of community building: acknowledging each other. An element of “namaste”, of seeing each other at a deep level, of valuing each other. Appreciating everyone’s unique gifts and contributions.

So often, in the comms world, we focus on solving some problem. Once the solution gets executed, off to the next thing. All the work teams put into the resolution vanishes into vapor.

Perhaps the easiest action to take, and one that reaps rewards in terms of connection, yet so often forgotten.

Want to stand out as a communicator? Well, remember the “thanks”.

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A few reflections on marketing 

A few quick reflections…


  • An easy, and dangerous, trap: selling to everyone! That kills sales, unless you’re already at a huge scale. Yes, Starbucks, Microsoft, etc, market to the planet. They didn’t start there. First they focused on a niche, on quality service. Build the relationship, the connection, a reputation for expertise and quality. When we find our gift, our marketing sweet spot, business will grow. Slowly but surely, growth. In Steven Covet lingo, when you focus on your area of influence, our area of influence grows. The
  • I like feeling special, connected and cared for. There’s a cafe close to home where I talk with the owners, they ask about my family, they suggest coffees based on knowing my tastes. Clearly, they do a great job communicating appreciation to me. And I’ve become an evangelist. 
  • Marketing power comes with knowledge. Yeah, perhaps a bit cliche, but hear me out. First element: expertise. Whether it’s a specialized real estate niche, coffee and pastries, burgers…It can anything. Second: know thy customers! What do they like, what makes them happy, what they hate; you get the picture. Lastly, with both bits of power, build marketing tools to grow that connection. There are so many great customer/client relationship tools out there which let you build specialized communication plans. Spend time building out those tools, knowing them, using them to make your customer’s lives better. 

That last line is the key: “make your customer’s lives better”. Every action needs to push that way, drive with that focus. 

Fan Engagement: Zoe Keating

I’ve been a fan of Zoe Keating for years. Besides enjoying her music greatly, I’ve also been very interested in the way she interacts with her fans. She’s used today’s social media landscape exceptionally well to build her brand, and a career as a musician within a very unique niche.

Her main tools for engagement are:

What’s a bit more surprising to me are the tools she doesn’t use. Her YouTube channel is pretty spare, and not recently updated. Considering how much I’ve heard about video being “the” thing, looks like she’s experimented with it and has moved along. Now, if you search for her music there, you’ll find tons of videos, but that’s mostly uploads from fans, interviews and such. Also, her music has been uploaded to Vimeo, but, again, not by her. So, she’s present in the world of video, but not deeply so.

I’m also surprised she doesn’t have any campaigns on Patreon nor on Kickstarter. Now, her music is available on iTunes, Spotify, and many other online services. So she might not feel the need to have these income streams. Other musicians and artists in similar styles and viewpoints use them quite heavily, like Amanda Palmer.

Considering all that, it’s important to look at which of these avenues is the most profitable to her. As the chart below shows (created by the folks at Business Insider), most of her income comes from iTunes, Bandcamp and Amazon.

Graph of Zoe Keating's income sources
A look at Zoe Keating’s income sources


* Some thoughts on Fanbridge: I imagine it’s a great tool, and it is competitively priced. But it’s important to point out that Mailchimp is quite a bit cheaper, at least at the start. I also wonder if it interacts with any specialized CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tools. That would certainly bump up the value of Fanbridge. Mailchimp plays well with several CRM tools. Also, some of the serious competitors, like Constant Contact or Salesforce have those tools fully baked in. With that, I’m unaware of Zoe using any CRM tools. Doesn’t mean she doesn’t, just don’t see anything.

Lastly, Ms. Keating speaks some to these point in the video below. Worth your while.


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Modern Business, Social Media, and @Taylorswift13

Inc. has a great piece looking at Taylor Swift and her uber-successful social media dialog with Apple. I’ve been very impressed with Ms. Swift. Her savvy social media execution has helped build her into a powerful brand. This is a woman who will have a powerful impact for years to come.

The article sums up the tools she used for success in this case nicely. She maintained a respectful tone in her dialog with Apple (I’m reluctant to use any other term as she made a statement and Apple, extremely wisely, took the advice). They also look at the way she’s managed her relationship with her fans, with which I think she’s done an exceptional job. And I adore the way she’s poked fun, in a very positive way, at the media speculation and harassment that follows her.

Ms. Swift is a bright, talented and engaging woman, who I think has done an exceptional job to date managing her brand, life and business interests. There’s a lot to learn from her savvy, no matter the sector you find yourself in. And if you’re in the arts, there’s tons.

Social Media Meditation

So many articles about how to make zillions on social media. I’ve long ago grown weary of that discussion. Don’t get caught up in the “magic money” mindset: “Set up Facebook/Twitter and watch the money roll in”. 

Social media provides great opportunities to engage communities. Connecting with a wider audience without much monetary cost is fantastic. However, there is the time cost to consider. Also, everyone is on these channels, as the cost is so low. Developing a distinct voice can be challenging, yet is critical. A key part of that is focus: you can’t be everything to everyone. Trying such dilutes that focus, and you lose sight of what’s critical. It’s better to have 300 engaged fans than 10k unengaged ones. Follower and Like counting are not always the best metrics. Be thoughtful how you measure success.

Your social media meditation for Sunday. Go forth and do great things!

Additional thoughts on the Texas principal forcing a portfolio takedown

I have grave concerns after reading this article: High School Forces Student to Remove Online Photos Under Threat of Suspension. Without being able to see the work in question, it’s hard to form a full conclusion. At best, this principal needs a major primer in public affairs. From what I’ve read and seen, though, the principal in question has exceeded his legal reach, and escaped ethical boundaries.

Photos taken at public events (and a district meet/game is a public event) are the property of the photographer. Perhaps these were taken with school gear, and ownership becomes a little trickier. Maybe, but not really. Fair use is fairly clear. It doesn’t appear that this young man was making money directly off these images.

For a photographer, the online portfolio is critical. It is THE vehicle, anymore, to generate awareness and recognition. This principal’s actions provide a major impediment towards this young man’s pursuit of his passion, to build a photography career. Which should be antithetical to the role of an educator.

Maybe there were some grounds to act. I’m struggling to see any, but I’ll accept the possibility might exist. Going the heavy-handed route, though, seriously violates the nurturing role of an educator. It also displays an amazing tone-deafness regarding his role as a public servant and community leader. The potential public fallout from this (this is in Texas, I’m in Seattle. It’s going viral) could have easily been avoided by seeking a win-win solution, to recognize the student’s rights and concerns and goals.

Lesson: if you’re in a public role, you need to consider the broad-scale implications of your actions. The ease at which misdeeds go global is mind blowing. I have a sympathy ulcer for the public affairs director for this district. Nothing like a national press kerfuffle to grey your hairs.

Being Female in the Digital Age and my Disappointment for Food Democracy Now

I was annoyed when I saw this hit my Twitter feed.

The article references Food Democracy Now‘s response to an article written by the New York Time’s Amy Harmon. That an organization that I support  pulled this crap really got to me.

We’re used to this stuff from the Right, whether Rush Limbaugh railing against a 7th grade Chelsea Clinton not being sexy enough, or the blather about Nancy Pelosi unprettyness, ad nasuem. Yet, Pamela reminds us that both sides of the aisle are happy to partake. Then I remember seeing some of the pornographic representations of Sarah Palin during the “Drill Baby Drill” kerfuffle. Sadly, politics seems to bring out the ugliest in us all.

It disappoints me when the Left, in all our drive for equal access, the obliteration of privilege and the like undercut our own message with sexist drivel. For those of us who value reason and debate over petty slings, we need to respond accordingly. Food Democracy Now, I’m deeply disappointed in you. Whether that means anything to you, I don’t know. My ability to take anything you say with seriousness has been compromised, knowing you’ll resort to cheap harassment in the face of critique.

PayPal+Customer Service+PR=Longevity

I posted this on my other blog a few weeks back, then thought it would be more relevant over here. So, without further adieu…

Reading this at Venture Beat just annoyed the crap out of me: GlassUp raised $100K on Indiegogo — but PayPal is refusing to pay up. This isn’t the first time PayPal has dealt with similar issues, even to the point where their president publicly intervened in a resolution. This troubles me regarding PayPal’s future.

 These rules need to significant repair if PayPal wants to remain relevant in this space. StartUps, heck, any business CANNOT operate with random and inconsistent access to funds. I think PayPal’s growth as a purchase transaction processor might be the root of these aggravations. At a brief glance, I see vigorous efforts to protect buyers from fraud. Noble, but hampering these transactions that vary from that model. Policies need to evolve with market changes. Especially market shifts that reflect your company’s goals and objectives.

David Marcus has publicly tried to change this, to better align themselves with the startup community’s needs. However, high profile breakdowns like this run the risk of major damage to the brand. And, I guarantee you that someone out there is getting ready to come in and out innovate PayPal. PayPal has been a disruptive innovator in their field, and have brought a lot of value. However, these gaffs have eroded trust and that goodwill will be hard to earn back. These are ripe fields for competitors to come in and win.

<updated content> PayPal has made a updates to their service plan, and I haven’t had the chance to review them yet. I recognize the importance of that so will do so soon.

A Good Way To Engage The Public

Just read Ragan’s post about Southwest’s engagement via social media. They clearly get social media, how it’s about listening. I love seeing stuff like this.

I found their desire to name their PR command center “The Listening Post” particularly telling. Compare it, if you will, with Wal-Mart’s choice of “War Room”. One implies collaborative, engagement, respectful of it’s customers; while the other immediately screams adversarial. Seems clear which will be the best at mollifying the energy of critics.

This attitude works best to build ambassadors for your brand. These fans will be infinitely better at defusing potential crisis then even the best PR pros.

Your fans are a key asset. Invest in them.