Posts Tagged ‘crisis communications’

The Extinction of Physical QWERTY Keyboards

April 2, 2013

The Blackberry Z10 made headlines recently. A million units were shipped in the last three months. But I’m more excited about the company’s Q10 (scheduled to be released this month). It’s not that I’m a Blackberry fan, I’ve never even used one before; it’s that the Q10 is part of a dying breed of smartphones with physical QWERTY keyboards. UnderwoodKeyboardTheir disappearance has largely been blamed on the success of the iPhone. During the iPhone’s first few years, competitors offered plenty of physical keyboard/touchscreen combo smartphones: just look at this top ten list from 2011. However, as the iPhone came to dominate the market, smartphones all started to look more and more like iPhones.

The smartphone is an essential tool for most people who work in PR. At a recent industry event, one of the panelists chided the audience (all PR pros), that more of us weren’t live Tweeting the event. We’re expected to be constantly connected, at the very least while working at events or when dealing with a crisis. At Bridge, we specialize in PR for overseas-based companies, and we often need to communicate with clients and media in different time zones, so work hours can vary a lot, too. Most of us would probably agree that we’d feel lost without smartphones.

I bought my first smartphone in 2010, the LG Ally, and I stuck with it because I never found a much better option with a physical keyboard. I’ve been an iMac user for years and I always wanted an iPhone for the syncing capabilities, but I couldn’t fathom using a touchscreen keyboard. The keyboard has always been the most important factor for me when choosing a phone. I text like a rabid teenager (I’ve sent/received 1,036 text messages in just the last 7 days), and I take lots of lengthy notes. There is also something much more satisfying about pressing down on actual buttons versus tapping on a screen. I type much faster on a physical keyboard, and I never quite took to autocorrect. I’d rather a few typos than have my phone try to guess what I’m trying to write. After three years with the same phone, I finally came to terms with the fact that touchscreen keyboards are here to stay. I begrudgingly started shopping around when I stumbled upon this gem: a Bluetooth slide-out keyboard for the iPhone 5! I happily traded in my old phone for an iPhone 5 and after fumbling with the touchscreen for a few days, I ordered the Bluetooth add-on from Amazon. Without further ado, here’s my review.

Abco Tech® Bluetooth Sliding Keyboard iPhone 5 Case (White)

Abco iPhone 5 Keyboard

Set-up was extremely easy and intuitive. I paired it with my iPhone like any other Bluetooth device, and the phone snapped snugly into the top part of the case. It comes with a micro-USB charger and as far as battery life, I’ve been charging it at least every other night and have had no issues (though I expect battery life will decline over time). The keys take a bit of getting used to, but if you type a lot, you’ll be fine with a few days of use. There are “lock” and “home” keys, as well as two “command” or “Apple” keys which let you use basic keyboard shortcuts (ie: copy, paste, select all, undo) without having to touch the screen. There are also 4 arrow keys which let you navigate long bodies of text with ease. If you compare the proportions to a normal keyboard, the space bar is very small and off-center. This is quite annoying because you have to strain your right thumb to reach it. Functionally, this is probably the biggest flaw in the design.

Aside from the space bar, there are other obvious aesthetic flaws. The keyboard just about doubles the thickness of the phone which may be a huge turnoff for many. I got the keyboard in white, which has a matte finish that gets dirty very quickly. I haven’t tried to clean it yet, but from reading other reviews, there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to do it.

At the end of the day, whether you’ll like this product or not will largely depend on how much you value function over form. Most of my friends react with disgust when I whip this huge thing out of my pocket. The iPhone’s sleekness is its main draw and if Steve Jobs saw this bulky case, I’m sure he’d be rolling over in his grave. However, if you’re like me and often feel the need to draft entire novels on your smartphone, you should give this keyboard a try. It’s about the price of a normal iPhone case ($25-$29) and Amazon has a solid 30-day return policy so you don’t have much to lose.

 

Diana Kim

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Preparing Your Startup for Media Interviews: the Do’s and Don’ts

March 22, 2013

Successful entrepreneurs are known for being risk-takers, putting both their money and reputation on the line to launch a new product or service, often in a competitive or nascent market. Some psychologists suggest that entrepreneurs’ brains are hard-wired to take risks—they live for the dopamine high associated with standing on the edge of a tall cliff (or business deal).

It’s not surprising then that many entrepreneurs get an emotional charge when they are put in the spotlight to talk about their businesses with media. While risk-taking may pay off in certain situations, a media interview is not one of them.  Without careful planning, an interview can result in a wasted opportunity for good exposure, or worse, it can make your company the butt of “funny headline” jokes on the Tonight Show. Here is a list of do’s and don’ts to help you make the best of your interview opportunities:

Do’s:

  • Research the Reporter: Before every interview, you or your PR advisor should research the reporter to determine what he or she has already written about and what the tone of their reporting is like (e.g. investigative, light-hearted, opinionated, etc.)
  • Develop Talking Points:  Always solicit a list of potential questions from the reporter prior to the interview. With few exceptions, reporters will usually share some initial questions, because it makes their job easier when the interviewee is already prepared with important information. These questions should be used to develop talking points to help you steer the conversation in the right direction. The talking points should also include additional questions that could come up, especially the sticky ones.
  • Practice: If this is the first time you have been interviewed on a particular topic, or if there have been significant changes to your messaging since the last interview, squeeze in a little rehearsal time. This is particularly important when interviewing with reporters that have a reputation for being critical or when the format of the interview is broadcast, where a bad 10-second sound bite can spoil an otherwise spotless performance. If you have a PR advisor, make sure they provide you with media training.
  • Follow Up: There are times when you may do all the right things to prepare for an interview, only to find that a story is not produced or that the interview is edited out of the story. Sometimes this is unavoidable, such as when the story has to be trimmed to meet a specific word count or when the reporter quashes the story to make space for another pressing news item.  But other times it can be prevented with proper follow up. When following up, reiterate any points you want to make clear to the reporter and ask if he or she has follow up questions. Also consider sending them references to additional sources, including other potential interviewees, that could support the development of the story.

Homer Simpson

Don’ts:

  • Go Off the Record: The words “off the record” go against the grain of journalistic integrity, and, perhaps more importantly, the basic interest of the reporter in publishing a compelling story. Always assume anything you say is fair game.
  • Respond with “No Comment”: Reporters usually interpret this as stonewalling, and readers will likely think it means you have something to hide. There are situations when it is in your best interest to stay mum, such as when being questioned about sensitive financial or legal information or information that could reveal too much to your competition. In these situations, provide as much information as you feel is safe, and simply explain that you can’t go into any additional details at that time. This is also a good opportunity to bridge the conversation to a different, but relevant, topic that you really want to talk about.
  • Use Jargon: Reporters strive to make their stories as accessible as possible for their audiences. With the exception of trade or special interest media, where highly technical information may be required, you should stay away from industry jargon and try to simplify complex ideas into comprehensible points. Sometimes using metaphors can be a good way to explain an intricate point, but when a metaphor won’t do, you should have a succinct and lucid description at the ready.
  • Talk About a Competitor: This is another one where there are exceptions, but in general, you should let your competitors do their own talking. The two big risks here are that you may unintentionally build awareness for the wrong team, and perhaps more importantly, if you get your facts wrong, you may find your company getting slapped with a lawsuit.

Jacob Seal

When the Apple Falls Far from the Tree

November 2, 2012

On Monday, Apple announced the firing Senior VP of iOS Software, Scott Forstall, for refusing to sign a public letter apologizing for Apple’s faulty Mobile Maps. Forstall’s team was responsible for the app, which replaced Google Maps on the iPhone 5. It drew a storm of criticism as soon as it launched; it was so bad many even claimed it posed a danger to drivers using it. Just a week later, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook issued a public apology, suggesting that customers try out competitors’ map apps for the time being. The Maps fiasco was just the latest in a string of Apple failures since Steve Jobs’ death last fall, causing many to question the future of the most valuable company of all time. Just days after Jobs’ death, Apple launched the iPhone 4S with Siri, a new personal assistant app with voice recognition.  Siri has not lived up to its hype.

With Mobile Maps, Apple clearly made a mistake launching a faulty product. Still, what was even more abhorrent was Forstall’s refusal to apologize for it. A basic rule in handling a crisis is that when a company (or individual) makes a mistake, they need to apologize, fast. During  college, when I was a server at a chain restaurant, an acronym our management gave us for handling any and all guest complaints was L.A.S.T: Listen, Apologize, Solve, Thank. We smoothed over the vast majority of problems by simply listening to the complaint, offering a sincere apology, rectifying the situation and thanking the customer for continued patronage. This applies to more than just customer service, it makes the difference between good PR and bad PR.

In contrast, Amazon stands as a shining example of how great PR can allow a company to launch even a faulty product successfully. When Amazon debuted the latest Kindle reader, Paperwhite, the company put a clear disclaimer on the Amazon homepage explaining various shortcomings of the product compared to previous models. This undoubtedly avoided a lot of negative backlash.

An air of secrecy has long been a defining part of Apple’s brand.  Under Steve Jobs, secrecy added to the brand’s exclusive allure.  However, Apple won’t be able to continue releasing inferior products at luxury prices, only to offer half-hearted apologies later on. A recent study found that for the first time ever, the percentage of iPhone owners who plan on buying another Apple phone has declined. In our ever-evolving media landscape, transparency is more important than ever. Hopefully, Cook’s new executive management team will learn from the mistakes of their predecessors.

Diana Kim

Diary From Japan: Ongoing Failure to Build Institutional Trust Takes a Heavy Toll in Crisis

March 18, 2011

This is the worst week I’ve ever spent in Tokyo. That goes for me and about 125 million other people.

I’d planned to be here and had meetings set up for a long time, and I was already in Bangkok about to come here when the earthquake hit. The people I had meetings with in Tokyo let me know they were ready, willing and able to meet, despite the earthquake. I was already in Asia, so rather than return to the U.S., I came to Tokyo as planned last weekend. For readers who don’t know much about me, I lived in Japan for a few years in the late ‘80s and have been here countless times on business trips. However, the past six days since my arrival are an entirely new experience for me. 

By now, you’ve all read reports of the 9.0 earthquake, seen video footage of the tsunami wave that reached as high as 60 feet and wiped out entire villages, and you can’t help hearing about the danger posed by tsunami damage to four nuclear reactors at a Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) plant.  Aside from growing levels of radiation near the plant, one of the biggest dangers here is a communications problem. It started with TEPCO under-stating the problems with the reactors to the Japanese government, which then repeated what TEPCO said and (unknowingly, I believe) under-stated the dangers to the Japanese public. The public has no trust in TEPCO anyway – the company has been caught in lies to the public before on numerous occasions, including safety reports that were falsified for years and forced the resignation of the company’s chairman and president. Since the government has a long history of inaction against the company’s wrong-doing in the past, there is also a low level of trust in the government.  A Bloomberg article today says, “Nuclear engineers and academics who have worked in Japan’s atomic power industry spoke in interviews of a history of accidents, faked reports and inaction by a succession of Liberal Democratic Party governments that ran Japan for nearly all of the postwar period.”

I can’t help thinking about the role that consistently good, honest communication plays in creating trust in institutions. Too many Japanese government institutions have ignored this basic principal of public relations, and the people of Japan are paying a high price for that now.

About 400,000 people who live near the plants have been evacuated. First we were told this was a precaution. Now we are told this is a necessary health measure. The “danger area” was defined by the Japanese government as within 20 km of the plant (about 12 ½ miles). However, the American government now defines the danger area as within 50 miles of the plant, based on its data collection flights over the area.  This also causes one to speculate: are the Japanese authorities still trying to downplay the danger, or is the American government’s calculation unnecessarily conservative and just feeding fear and anxiety? The American media’s headlines are alarmist: “Frantic Repairs Go On at Plant as Japan Raises Severity of Crisis,” writes the New York Times today. This sells papers, but also helps increase the stress levels.

Because the power companies and government feared the nuclear reactor shut-downs would cause a severe power outage, planned blackouts began early this week in and around Tokyo for several hours at a time, rolling from one area to another, to cut usage. This has never been done before in Japan. The plans for these electrical power outages were not communicated well by the power company. Nobody was sure when or where power would be cut, and commuters feared being stranded again as they were a week ago in Tokyo when trains stopped running after the earthquake. Some of the Tokyo subways and trains are running slowly due to cancelled trains and/or reduced service, both of which are unpredictable. (Anyone who has been to Japan knows that this is truly extraordinary, since trains generally run on time within seconds here.)

Yesterday I took a train during the evening rush hour that was packed tighter than I’ve ever seen any subway train, either here or in New York: I could feel the wallet of the person next to me digging into my side. At each station we came to, there was a sea of people on the platforms waiting to get onto a train.

There is no lack of cooperation or effort by the public in saving power: many companies sent people home early yesterday to save electricity, and a lot of workers have been told to work from home. Lights have been dimmed in buildings and public places, escalators have been shut off and thermostats turned down.

Fear of gasoline shortages has actually helped create shortages. I heard that the line to buy gas was a half-mile long at some gas stations and others had run out of gas and were closed.  Gas rationing had to be instituted, and the government announced it has ordered oil companies to release their reserves in order to relieve shortages.

Despite pleas by the prime minister for calm, food, water and batteries have disappeared from the supermarket shelves here in Tokyo. People fear another big quake in addition to the nuclear crisis, so they’re hoarding food, bottled water and batteries against the possibility of another natural disaster or a man-made nuclear disaster. A business colleague said he was going from one 7-11 shop to another looking for bread, rice, milk and other staples because his wife said she couldn’t buy any of these items at stores in their neighborhood.

A couple of days ago I heard the local governor in the area hit hardest by the tsunami being interviewed by NHK, the public television network. He said the biggest problem after the lack of gasoline is inconsistent or vague communications from the government and electric company spokespeople about the dangers from a nuclear plant explosion. People just want to know what’s going on. Even if what the government is telling them is the truth, the government doesn’t have enough credibility to get people to believe it.  As a result, there are all kinds of rumors floating around about the danger posed by the reactors.

There is no violence or looting. Despite these extraordinary circumstances, people have remained calm (at least on the surface), lined up politely at the grocery store cash registers and in gas station lines, and waited in orderly queues for taxis. One sees the typical Japanese dedication to work and company everywhere: I heard about people walking for four hours on Friday after the earthquake to get home from work, and then coming on foot or by bicycle to get back to work again on Monday. The prime minister has asked for cooperation and patience, and that’s a perfect description of the behavior displayed by the Japanese people.

Geological experts have predicted continual aftershocks that could go on for months or even years. I’ve lost count of the small earthquakes I’ve felt.  I’ve experienced four or five fairly large ones.  According to scientists, there’s a high possibility of another very large earthquake occurring before the end of this week, but that possibility diminishes as time passes. And the end of the week is just about here.

I’m going home tomorrow, luckily for me, but people here will continue to live with the stress of the nuclear crisis and the sorrow about the tremendous loss of life for a long time to come.

Lucy Siegel


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