Airbnb: a well-managed response to a reputational threat

A photo posted by staryeyes1986 (@staryeyes1986) on

LAST MONTH there was a crisis that could have caused immense damage to the fortunes of Airbnb. A family had rented out their house through the internet service – and found that it had bee used for a drug-fuelled orgy.

Thousands of pounds worth of damage was caused. Needless to say, there was a lot of coverage, with headlines such as “Why you shouldn’t rent your home out on Airbnb – ‘drug-induced orgy’ causes HUGE damage”.

Despite that, Airbnb came out with a strong response, paying for cleaning and temporary accommodation and saying:

“We have zero tolerance for this kind of behaviour and our team is working quickly to make this right.

“We have banned this guest from Airbnb, and our trust and safety team will offer its full assistance to law enforcement in any investigation of this incident.

“We have been in very close contact with these hosts and we are working quickly to reimburse them under our $1 million host guarantee, which covers a host’s property in the rare event of damages. Over 35million guests have stayed on Airbnb, and property damage is extremely rare.”

Airbnb communicated that they cared and that they were fixing the problem – a textbook case of what one should do.

Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: May 15th, 2015, In Categories: Crisis communication

Why media relations activity fails to deliver results – and what you can do about it

The founder of a funded startup told me of his frustration with a PR agency. He’d hired them for a couple of years – on around £5k a month – but they had only delivered one really first-rate cutting. They had issued large numbers of press releases commenting on topical issues and announcing the evolution of the client’s products. Each month they provided a report showing that they had engaged in lots of work – contacting lots of journalists, but the activity did not generally lead to articles in target publications.

Normally, when people tell me stories like that they have concluded either that media relations doesn’t work, or that they need to find someone who’s better skilled (and, let’s face it, PR campaigns can benefit significantly from higher skilled practitioners). But I would suggest that a fundamental problem is that companies engage in media relations with little in the way of quality materials to support any press release or media pitch.

My thinking on this is summed up with this diagram:

Singleton's Four Quadrants of Media Relations

Media relations nirvana is in the top right-hand corner, where you work for a government department or FTSE100 company. Journalists know that their readers are interested in you, and you also have a sizeable budget for materials. You have a steady stream of in-house research and data being produced that you can pick out stories from. And it’s no problem to pay a polling agency for a major survey.

In the top-left corner, you’re massively famous but you don’t have any quality materials. You can, however, issue press releases containing opinions and they are widely reported. On the downside, there is the risk of becoming known as a rentagob.

But in the bottom-left corner is media misery. No journalist thinks you’re important, and you don’t have any quality materials. If you’re in this position, you have two choices. Either resign, or argue for a budget for materials – you can’t move upwards without moving to the right of the diagram first. Sure, you can get some coverage in the bottom left. You might be able to pull in some favours. But coverage will mostly be luck, and once you’ve secured some quick wins, there’s a high risk that coverage will fizzle out – and you’ll struggle to justify your cost.

Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: May 3rd, 2015, In Categories: Media relations

All measurements of PR have flaws. The question is how you use them

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The PR industry frequently uses measurement for the wrong reason. It is used to prove to clients or bosses that a brilliant job has been.

Direct and digital marketers, however, use measurement most commonly for a different reason. They use it every day to improve what they are doing – mostly due to relentless advocacy of Drayton Bird, who decades ago popularised continual testing in the marketing business. Today, Draytonite digital marketers routinely “split-test” internet landing pages and other copy to work out which phrases and layouts sell the most.

But when many PR people use measurement – normally in monthly reports to funders of their work – just how much thought goes into honestly critiquing their work? A young PR practitioner once told me how she felt it was right to all of her clients’ press releases to 800 people, all found on a media database, because some (spam) blogs would cut and paste the press release into a post. I tried to suggest that some blogs might be of more strategic worth than others. But she insisted: “If it’s a mention, it counts.”

That emphasised to me that measurement in our sector is often used to reinforce self-denial rather than improve practice. Similarly, I came across a technology PR agency had a login to upload press releases to a website that no normal person would want to read. That didn’t stop the agency giving a client framed copies of the “coverage” from this site and evaluating it favourably – apparently the site, which Alexa.com confirmed was of no significance, was massively influential and a top-tier publication. The client, however, knew full well that this was nonsense.

Good PR evaluation involves looking at a variety of metrics to try to find out what really went on. It’s easy to boost numbers of hits – just say something silly or have a reputationally damaging product recall. Indeed, there is no perfect measure – computerised sentiment analysis is notoriously flaky. As Andrew Smith showed in a CIPR webinar on the subject, a positive news story about a company exploiting a market was deemed by the software as negative – he attributed this to the word “exploit” being defined as a bad word.

So to my mind the professional practice of PR requires an honest editorialising of figures. This involves not just trying to show how effective a PR team is, but also assessing what the numbers really mean and what can be improved after looking at them.

Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: April 28th, 2015, In Categories: PR strategy

Pictures from the CIPR Not for Profit group AGM

Last night, James Pearce, the broadcaster best-known for his coverage of the London Olympics on the BBC over many years, spoke at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations’ Not for Profit group. Here are some of the pics.

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Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: March 3rd, 2015, In Categories: CIPR

The Tylenol crisis: ‘we pulled 330 million tablets off the shelf… we had the Credo’

Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: February 24th, 2015, In Categories: Crisis communication