Modern communications waits for no man (or woman)

Varying diverse incidents over the past week of real-time marketing, internal comms, media relations, and crisis responses underline the reality and value of swift and appropriate activations of modern communications strategies.

The days have gone when businesses could tailor their communications depending on the audience: one message for staff, one for investors and the financial community, one for consumers.

Nowadays, everything is transparent and flies across cyberspace in a matter of seconds, which raises the game for communicators and marketers of all types.

Take the last seven days as an example.

At about this time last Friday a discernible ripple went around the PRWeek office as LeBron James’ Sports Illustrated article signaling his return to Cleveland went live online. On a quiet summer Friday lunchtime, all of a sudden the only topic of conversation in New York City and around the rest of the country was the confirmation of a homecoming for basketball’s biggest star.

Unlike his ill-advised "Decision" four years ago, LeBron himself had hopped on a plane to Brazil to attend the soccer World Cup final and taken himself out of the spotlight while the story tore up the airwaves and internet. We’ll see whether we’ll be revisiting this story again in two years when James’ Cleveland contract comes up for renewal.

Once Germany had defeated Argentina on Sunday to lift the World Cup, real-time marketers from German automakers such as Volkswagen, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz quickly sprang into action. Their counterparts from Adidas and Lufthansa followed suit, as did dozens of other brands and companies from all around the world.

Unlike the early stages of the tournament, which featured real-time faux pas from KLM and Delta Air Lines, the brand teams seemed to have followed the best soccer teams in really hitting their stride and fine-tuning their activations, effectively tapping into the buzz around the greatest show on earth.

In midweek, The New York Times broke a story about 21st Century Fox bidding $76 billion to take over rival broadcast and entertainment giant Time Warner. Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes responded by recording a video that was relayed to staffers already wondering what the implications would be of the impending merger of Comcast with Time Warner Cable.

Bewkes was simultaneously reassuring staffers about the future of their company and jobs, while also sending out a message to Fox, the financial community, and media – because of course, in these transparent days, internal communications is the first line of a company’s external narrative. Both sides have the big guns of the financial community advising them, and this week’s opening skirmishes are unlikely to be the last word on the potential deal.

Comcast itself was dealing with the fallout from the making public of a recording of one of its customer service representatives trying to stop AOL VP Ryan Block ending his service agreement with the cable firm. The conversation went viral and left Comcast communicators having to act quickly to mop up afterwards, while also reassuring skeptical stakeholders that this wasn’t a company policy and that the agent’s behavior was a rogue incident.

Microsoft's newly minted CEO Satya Nadella was also busy on the internal communications front, and will continue to be so in the coming weeks, as the company navigates the repercussions of the announcement of 18,000 jobcuts, 14% of its workforce, with many stemming from Nokia's mobile business it acquired in April.

Its internal comms on Thursday morning included an email from Nadella to Microsoft staffers and an email from EVP Stephen Elop to Microsoft Devices Group employees.

Finally, also on Thursday, there came the tragic news of more misfortune for Malaysia Airlines when one of its passenger jets was reportedly shot down in the airspace over Ukraine near to the Russian border, killing all 298 people on board.

Unlike the airline’s previous crisis in March, when a passenger jet simply disappeared, Malaysia Airlines took to Twitter to communicate what it knew – which clearly wasn’t very much. PR pros contacted by PRWeek were mixed on the advisability of this policy. The airline’s PR efforts are now apparently being helped out by former Virgin Atlantic comms chief Paul Charles, with its European SVP Huib Gorter acting as main spokesperson.

All these examples go to show, in very different ways, that, while long-term preparation and planning is vital in modern communications, the actual activation often has to be conducted at lightning speeds.

And they also prove that the skills, level heads, and counsel of PR pros of all types, honed over years of hard-won experience, have never been more crucial and in demand than they are now.

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