Category Archives: Technology

Apple: Where no news is still headline news

apple-product-announcementWell, Apple has done it again. Once more they released a vague statement and received an incredible amount of almost completely free PR. Back in August, Apple began sending out media invitations to a “special event” schedule for September 9. What would it be? They “couldn’t say more.” Of course, “everyone” assumed it would be the release of the new iPhone 6, but the company steadfastly played dumb while everyone lost their minds. Scores of reports across major news networks, segments replaying and dissecting the few actual commercials Apple released, guesses and prognostication and predictions galore. An entire cottage industry of blogs and gurus was created simply to talk about what Apple refused to talk about. How do they do it?

Sure, it’s easy to say they’ve earned it. Apple has been masterful in their PR presentation since Jobs was on the job. Using hype, unique products and a heavy dose of exclusive branding, Apple created a culture of fans by being completely different … but also knowing exactly how to appeal to those they targeted.

The lesson here is in style, not function. It’s about creating anticipation and parlaying that emotion into mad amounts of free publicity.

And anticipation wears many faces. Sure there will be the die-hards who will buy any new toy with an Apple logo on it. But there are many others who are after certain features and benefits that Apple currently doesn’t offer. It’s no secret that Apple is losing market share to Samsung and their deliciously large touchscreens. So, when it came time to start the iPhone rumor mill, one of the first things “leaked” was the projected larger screen. Up to 5.5 inches some said.

That little tidbit ignited a firestorm of conversation. Would it happen? Is it better? Does size really matter? Was it enough? Not enough? Talk. Talk. Talk. Talk. Talk…

And then there were the “outsider” predictions. The less obvious bets made by purported technology industry insiders who “knew” months ago that the actual big announcement would be the long anticipated “iWatch.” Apple was more than happy to feed these rumors too.

Then all they had to do was sit back and let the anticipation build.

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Tech Winners Trying to Infiltrate other Industries

technologyWhat do you do when you’re a young adult, and your tech startup has really taken off? Well, some might celebrate having the disposable cash to go party. Others, however, are stepping up to control the party, investing in nightspots across the country. That takes the idiom of “work hard, play harder” to a whole new level.

But what do these, or any other investors need to know about getting into an industry with which they are relatively unfamiliar?

First, you need to lean on people who understand that industry. Sure, having the cash gives you considerable leverage. But if you don’t know when and how to pull that lever, you may end up being one of the innumerable failures in your new industry – whatever that new industry may be.

It also helps if you are monetizing something you already enjoy. Some tech superstars investing in the entertainment and hospitality industries see the practice as little more than an extension of what they are already doing. They like hanging out at a neighborhood bar or doing business across a table at a restaurant, so why not own the place?

And why are tech entrepreneurs getting so good at this? Well, they already have the cash – you can never have enough funding for a startup – and they also have the analytical chops to see both the big picture and the “small stuff” that often dooms solo entrepreneurs.

The lesson here for anyone interested in making it in a new industry? Understanding and adequate capitalization go a long way. It seems like a simple lesson, but it’s one that millions of startups learn the hard way every single year.

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McDonald’s is Having a Tough Summer

mcdonalds-summerFrom Super Size Me to health crusades to flawed product releases and minimum wage battles, McDonald’s has faced its fair share of negative PR in the past. But Ronn Torossian says this summer McDonald’s is facing a very different sort of negative news.

According to Businessweek, McDonald’s has been ordered to pay $27 million in compensation to the families of two dead Texas teens. The judgment comes as a result of guilty verdict that alleged a Houston area McDonald’s of operating with “lax security.”

 The incident in question happened back in February 2012. Denton Ward, an 18-year-old college student, was beaten to death by a mob at that McDonald’s location. His girlfriend, 19-year-old Lauren Crisp, was killed in an accident while trying to get Ward medical attention.

While the single incident may not have prompted such an award, the families’ attorneys argued that the restaurant had a “horrible history,” with over 200 complaints during three previous years. The attorney argued that McDonald’s knew about the issues but failed to act. The jury agreed, though the case will likely go to appeal.

This is a very different sort of negative Food PR that comes on the heels of several recent national issues that have dragged the Golden Arches through the muck. McDonald’s has been on the forefront of the minimum wage and living wage debates for months now, an easy and highly visible target, much like Walmart. In addition, McDonald’s is almost always mentioned when reports are made about the “American diet” or obesity or unhealthy eating practices.

When PR scenarios are coming at you like this, constantly and from different directions, you need a positive PR game plan in place to counter them. But, as this story shows, you also need to be prepared for something horribly different. When the story first ran back in 2012, countless local news stations went looking for the “most dangerous” McDonald’s in their towns. Suddenly, a single tragic series of events took on the feel of a national pandemic.

Now that the verdict is in, expect the cycle to start all over again. McDonald’s may be able to appeal the verdict, but their approach to public opinion is not so easily challenged.

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Splitsville for JayZ and Beyoncé? It’s A Public Relations Dream Either Way

Is the marriage between JayZ and Beyoncé in need of help from a crisis public relations firm, or is the mega-couple using rumors of relationship trouble as a PR stunt to fuel ticket sales for their massive world tour?

Only time will tell.

Whispers of cracks in the pair’s relationship first surfaced in May when TMZ posted footage of Beyoncé’s sister, Solange Knowles, attacking JayZ in an elevator at The Standard hotel in Manhattan.

Concerns intensified after the Cincinnati stop of the couple’s “On The Run” tour in June when Beyoncé changed the lyrics of her song “Resentment” to seemingly make reference to JayZ cheating on her.

“Been ridin’ with you for 12 years. Why did I deserve to be treated this way by you?” she sang. The original lyrics are: “Been ridin’ with you for six years. Why did I deserve to be treated this way by you?”

JayZ and Beyoncé have been together for 12 years. They began dating in 2002 and married in 2008. They are parents to one child, two-year-old Blue Ivy.

The New York Post claims unnamed sources have told them JayZ and Beyoncé are seeing marriage counselors in an attempt to save their relationship, but they are no longer wearing their wedding rings and may part ways following the end of their tour.

However, experts agree that, even if JayZ and Beyoncé do call it quits, the money will keep rolling in.

“I don’t think this impacts their businesses in a major way,” public relations executive Ronn Torossian said in an interview with Entertainment Tonight. “They’re not kids. This is not, you know, Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez duking it out on Twitter and late night battles. Both JayZ and Beyoncé’s machines will continue to go on whether they’re married or they’re divorced.”

Heartbreak on the horizon or not, JayZ and Beyoncé are guaranteed to stick it out until the end of their world tour. Promoters have already fronted most of the money to the entertainers, and HBO is planning to film the last two concerts of the “On The Run” tour when it hits Paris, which doesn’t happen until September.

The tour is reportedly pulling in around $5 million per performance and is on pace to rake in $100 million for the year.

“JayZ and Beyoncé’s marriage is just as much a merger as it is a marriage,” Forbes senior editor Zach O’Malley Greenburg told ET.

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BK’s biggest Public Relations hurdle?

burger-king-prA recent headline in BusinessWeek could end up being a PR coup for Burger King, though it was clearly meant to be insulting. The concept of the article is that the relatively youthful age of Burger King’s current leadership means that the company is being “run by children.”

While on the surface this accusation has some merit, Ronn Torossian believes the allegation could eventually work in BK’s favor, if they embrace the image and begin to operate on principles that make the leadership’s age an asset rather than a reason for concern.

After all, age is not the prime indicator of maturity. Plenty of companies are run by older men who operate, essentially, like children. While other young CEO’s successfully challenge the status quo on a regular basis.

When new Burger King CEO, Daniel Schwartz, was seen flipping Whoppers and scrubbing bathrooms at a Miami Burger King, customers and even employees could be forgiven for assuming he was just another college kid working his way through school or, perhaps, a manager trainee learning the ropes. Of course, the 32-year-old was in management training of sorts, except that his “management” gig was the Top Spot, not the evening shift.

A CEO of an American icon in his early thirties? Yep. And, you can bet Schwartz’s age has been fodder for countless business articles and skeptical pundits. But, should his youth really be the story here? Burger King doesn’t think so, and their PR approach is stacked against that narrative. Ask BK and they will tell you about a company in crisis, six owners, and umpteen CEOs since it was founded in 1954, countless market approaches and business philosophies tried and failed over the last half century. The company has been bleeding market share to chief rivals McDonald’s and Wendy’s, and is also losing ground to upstarts like Chipotle and Panera. Even in years when BK’s sales were flat (like in 2013), that stacks up as a net loss for the company. Third place is not a good spot to be in when your chief rivals are not losing ground and industry newcomers are seeing double-digit gains.

That being said, when your board hires outside the norm, they are telegraphing a swing for the fences, and to his credit, Schwartz is obliging. BK is now running leaner and faster, more like a startup than a company more than half a century old. New ideas are welcome, rather than trying to beat competitors at a game they have already won.

And, new ideas may be exactly what Burger King needs to refresh both the public image and their market standing. Leadership believes you don’t need “experience” or “age” to be good. But, in the end, that perspective, as well as its antithesis, are just opinions. Public perception will decide who’s right… and who’s unemployed – this is a time where a strong Food Public Relations strategy is paramount.

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Levi’s CEO in the Spotlight for “interesting” Advice

levis-jeans-marketing It may be the strangest environmental support suggestion since the infamous single sheet of toilet paper. Apparently, the CEO of Levi Strauss wants his customers to forego washing their jeans. CEO and Founder of 5WPR Ronn Torossian explains the comment, and the PR consequences: The conversation in question started out innocently enough. CEO Chip Bergh was on hand to celebrate the 141st birthday of his company’s signature product, the 501 jean. Bergh was in fine, funny form, opening with a crack that his products were the “ultimate in sustainable apparel,” and adding, “our jeans will last a lot longer than most people’s waistlines.” Bergh supported this point by stating that Levi jeans are the most popular brand in secondhand stores. No way to track that stat easily, but we’ll roll with it for now, because what he said next just gets bizarre.

It began with an offhand comment about Levi’s commitment to staying ahead of the “sustainability curve.” Bergh talked about the Wellthread line, a brand of Dockers that Bergh described as “sustainable in every facet of the word.”

He then talked about water conservation, and how his company works hard to reduce waste and water use. Then he said it, if you want to do your part for sustainability, stop washing your jeans.  Yeah, that comment might play well in certain circles, but for the vast majority of people who buy and wear Levis, particularly all the guys who use them like they do in the commercials, that little piece of advice just won’t work.

At the least, Bergh’s comment gets him painted as a bit “icky,” and at worst, a bit of a goofball with outlandish opinions not fit for the general populace, Torossian says.. Either way, his comments hardly shift his company’s Public Relations one direction or another, but they do get them in the news. Think about it, when was the last time Levi made this many headlines?

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Does Apple’s tech PR need a Doctor?

apple public relations

apple public relations

Media gossip  claims that Apple is considering purchasing Beats Audio, the Dr. Dre owned audio company. The offer would reportedly make Dre the first billionaire rap mogul, and association with Apple can only push Dre’s brand higher, and is excellent PR for Technology.

While there’s ample debate about whether or not the move is good for Apple, from a PR perspective, even the question being asked of if of is Apple is offering to overpay for Beats Electronics, because it is running out of innovative ideas is damaging. The very question even being raised is harmful. No matter what is being said, repeat it enough times, and there is some level of damage.

Apple and Beats could join forces to counter this PR campaign of speculation and omission by touting one of the best reasons for Apple to buy Beats, instead of just making its own version. Leadership. Yes, Dre has almost unrivalled cool factor, but Beats other heavy hitter is Jimmy Iovine, whom the WSJ has reported will come as part of the deal for Beats. This, Torossian said, allows Apple to bring on the powerful Beats brand with its estimable leadership intact.

And, not only a proven pro in the industry, but a proven visionary. He is one of only a handful of music executives who was able to pivot quickly when Apple turned the industry on its ear.

Apple should not ignore the speculation, even though they should not address it directly. Instead, they should barrage it with a double-barrel positive PR campaign showcasing what the Beats acquisition will mean for Apple, and its customers.

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