4 Myths About Wine Marketing Every Consumer Should Know

As we head into summer and begin thinking about buying wines for outdoor entertaining, let’s take a look at a few common wine marketing tactics (or misperceptions) that may be confusing and also affect your purchasing decisions.

1. Myth: “Reserve” wines are better

Fact: The term “reserve” is meaningless, and consumers should know this. In fact, there are no rules or regulations whatsoever regarding the use of “reserve” on a wine label. Its meaning is up to the customer’s interpretation. Many wineries do put their best wines in the “reserve” tier, but make sure that’s the case. If you’re visiting a winery, ask the tasting room team. Trust your local wine retailer’s input as well. Don’t spend more money, or believe you’re getting a better wine, just because the label says “reserve.” Here’s a more detailed explanation from Wine Folly.

2. Myth: If a wine costs more it must be better

Fact: While this is oftentimes true, it’s not always the case. Sometimes a wine is priced based upon where it comes from, its pedigree or scores from critics it has received for past vintages – none of which are a guarantee of quality in the wine you’re considering to purchase. There are many low- to moderately-priced wines, both domestic and imported, that are sure to please if you take the time to do a bit of research and trial. Utilize online resources that specialize in reviewing and recommending affordable wines that over-deliver on quality. Check out cheapwineratings.com.

3. Myth: Large corporate wine companies don’t make great wine

Fact: Many well-known and highly-regarded wineries are commonly owned by large wine conglomerates, and they continue to produce outstanding wines. In many instances, the founding winemakers stay on board continuing to craft the same wines that made them successful in the first place. This is the case with Jackson Family Wines recent purchases of boutique producers Copain and Brewer-Clifton.  If anything, being part of a larger company affords many wineries more funding to improve Lynmarwinemaking facilities and, in many cases, benefits the consumer by offering wider distribution opportunities.

4. Myth: Single-vineyard and “small block” wines are always better

Fact: Certainly there are many acclaimed vineyards that all but guarantee quality, and the resulting wines bearing these vineyard names on the label command high prices. Likely the most well-known vineyard, Napa’s To Kalon, is a great example.  Sonoma County’s Ritchie Vineyard and Heintz Vineyard are known for outstanding Chardonnay, both selling their fruit to many A-list producers, who also know they can charge a premium for these wines. However, many wineries produce single-vineyard wines or “small block” wines that aren’t necessarily of any higher quality (of course this is subjective) than their other wines. The “standard” wines are blended from several blocks within one vineyard or are sourced from several different vineyards. Look no further than Lynmar Estate’s Quail Vineyard Chardonnay, blended from numerous blocks (or parcels) throughout the estate’s 45-acre vineyard. The Quail Vineyard Chardonnay happens to be my personal favorite among the Lynmar Chardonnays.

Brand Identity in the Age of Social Media

I had the opportunity at a recent academic conference to present my research on the influence of social media. I co-wrote the paper with my professors and was given a central role in the study’s examination of large organizations’ control over their reputations. The study was accepted for a conference hosted by my undergraduate alma mater, at which I presented.

My presentation centered on the way social media is leveling the playing field of mass communication for nearly everyone about virtually anything. In 2017, we’re experiencing capabilities in communications far beyond anything available even 10 years ago. Brand supporters and trolls can disseminate messages as broadly as top tier companies with the most experienced brand managers. Through various communication platforms, individual opinions—popular or obscure, insightful or ignorant, owned or anonymous—can be published for all to see.

In today’s highly connected, postmodern world, easy access by consumers and critics to brand narratives can certainly provide influence. Over 500 years ago, Gutenberg’s printing press inspired the masses to read and write. People eventually learned to teach themselves and others; one major effect was religious revolution in which clergy were essentially undermined by individual capabilities made possible by the printing press. Spirituality changed forever. In at least one way, the effect of social media is behaving similarly to that of the printing press: participants of the new medium are enabled with immediate access and engagement to information. Consumers today can interpret brand identities, disperse information and influence consumer-buyer decisions like they never could before.

In addition to traditional business communications strategies, professional organizations must now also master social media and its various platforms in order to be heard popularly and to retain control of their brand. Part of that includes learning the language of social media with sufficient fluency to relate to the world online; recognizing trending pop-culture phenomena, hashtags, emoji and internet memes gives brands social credibility in an age when many consumers live online.

Findings from the recent Sprout Social Index show data on what consumers like in a brand identity

During the Q & A portion of my presentation, a professor asked why large organizations don’t just use social media in the same sarcastic and humorous way by which many internet memes gain virality. I answered that aside from target market and image strategies, brand integrity may be at stake. My response was unsatisfying to many of the academics in the hall. When a brand is on the receiving end of prominent, image-damaging social media posts, the natural tendency is to draft a response meant to defend reputation or correct misconceptions and gain millions of impressions and popular approval at the same time. If such communication, however, lies too far outside the organization’s brand identity and communication strategy, it is often preferable to indirectly address the issue by bolstering approved communications and brand messaging—acting in accordance with brand integrity and dignity to contradict social media hearsay.

Without a robust digital communications plan, brands are susceptible to the fickle influences and opinions shared on social. Brand managers can be prepared for this by knowing how and how not to participate; otherwise they might allow digital influencers to shape their messaging.

Developing a strong and active social media presence helps in controlling brand identity. Many brands are on social media but few develop the voice and outline the plan for an effective, well-managed social media agenda that allows them to extend brand recognition and bolster brand identity. It’s easy to be reactive on social, giving in to trolls’ negative remarks or adapting brand responses to meet the demands of others. Establishing a proactive and equanimous presence like Wendy’s and Bay Area Rapid Transit’s, which leverage trending issues in a consistent voice that invites positive engagement, is more likely to maintain brand integrity and gain positive attention.

My presentation concluded that social media not only provides value to brands by increasing exposure and engagement, it can be a very real method of solidifying brand identity and even defending it from external influences. Today this medium is as commonplace as print, radio and television, but it’s infinitely more accessible to consumers. Independent parties on social can affect brands and organizations by what they praise and protest. Recognizing that individuals can easily express these influential opinions and planning for it by maintaining a strong social media presence founded on brand integrity allows brands to retain control and further establish their values and credibility, even considering consumers’ heightened communications capabilities today.

The 3 C’s – California, Cannabis and Communication

The 3 C’s – California, Cannabis and Communication

As the mother of a teenager, it’s impossible to escape the 420 innuendo that circulates en masse each April 20. Widely known as the day to celebrate cannabis, 420 – or 4/20 – has origins dating back to the ‘70s. Last year, airplanes towing 420 banners flew above my son’s middle school (which happens to be in the flight path of two major sports stadiums), Snapchat was awash with 420 filters and, everywhere you turned, songs and memes were espousing its … ahem … virtues.

Fast forward a year, following the passage of Prop 64 legalizing adult-use cannabis in California, and we are primed for a “green rush” with the legal cannabis industry projected to reach nearly $7 billion by 2020 (according to Arcview Market Research). Major newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle, have created a cannabis editor position and devoted reporters to covering cannabis ­– from senior citizen access to the best dispensaries and products and how the science of cannabis works. A coalition of 25 California newsrooms introduced a website, The Cannifornian, to report on “The Golden State of Cannabis” and to answer the common questions people have about its expanded legal use in the state.

This past weekend, the New York Times reported on the industrialization of cannabis and, with big industry players entering the picture, California is primed to lead this agricultural sector. According to the Times, with 20 percent of Americans now living in states where adult-use cannabis is legal, experts project that this brave new world is about to go mainstream. And, much like the food and wine industries, there is room for both specialty and mass market brands. Cannabis consumers will vote with their wallets, so if you are entering this market or have already entered, it’s important to build a brand that is unique to your value proposition and key differentiators – regardless of whether you are a boutique or large-scale producer.

Here are a few tips excerpted from Fineman PR and 46-Mile’s contributed article to Cannabis Business Times :

1.    Research your audience.
Don’t make assumptions about consumers – who they are, what they know or how they choose brands. Conduct research to drill deep into your customer base to create distinct audience profiles. To be successful, focus on your sweet spot in the market, and then target all your marketing efforts at those audience segments with whom your brand most resonates.

2.    Build a solid foundation.
No brand can succeed without a solid foundation or platform to build on. The cornerstone of your foundation is a brand promise: the perception of your brand in the minds of consumers. Once you establish your brand promise, construct your brand pillars with proof points. From there, you can set your communications platform. Consistent messaging is critical when building a brand and consumer base.

3.    Integrate marketing activities.
Brand expressions such as name, logo, tagline and website should work in concert with all brand communications. When you start taking your message to the public, always do so in an integrated fashion. Today’s consumer is bombarded by advertising and other marketing vehicles, so to grab their attention you’ll have to present your brand consistently across all the media channels relevant to your target audience. Before activating any advertising, make sure you have analytics set up to provide measurable data you can use to develop and refine your digital marketing strategy.

4.    Build lasting community relationships.
While many experienced medical cannabis brands sought a model based on their close ties to the community, new industry players may be tempted to take a shortcut and neglect building those relationships. If you want to build a brand that enjoys long-term success, put in the work up front to build bridges of trust and support among your neighbors and community organizations (who could endorse your operation later given this new and potentially incendiary product offering). This goes a long way in the minds of elected officials, business leaders and consumers.

5.    Remember the struggle.
The cannabis industry wasn’t created in a vacuum. Legalization is the result of generations of hard-won progress by people who worked tirelessly to bring it about. Respect the pioneers who helped get you here and who continue to struggle in other states and jurisdictions, including at the federal level. While legalization will rapidly expand the consumer base, core customers are aware of the unique cultural history of cannabis. Don’t forget your roots, or you may find yourself shunned as outsiders looking to make a quick buck.

6.   Safeguard your brand against crises.

Lacking previous experience or operating in an industry that is still developing regulations and consumer protections is not a valid excuse in a crisis. We have already seen other states issue public health advisories for cannabis products. Consumers are familiar with product recalls in a variety of industries – food, beverages and a range of other products – and they will expect prompt, voluntary action from responsible cannabis brands. The high road is the only road to travel.

7.    Stay abreast of industry news and developments.
Remember that one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch. Monitor news coverage of your competitors to learn from situations they’re going through (e.g., recalls, labor and regulatory issues). Identify industry trends and shifting consumer preferences, so you can respond appropriately. Attend industry events to keep up with issues affecting this the blossoming industry. The National Cannabis Industry Association’s annual Cannabis Business Summit & Expo is a big one at which EVP Travis Taylor and Chris Raniere, president of 46Mile, our marketing partner are scheduled to speak alongside San Francisco Chronicle cannabis editor, David Downs.

Gone are the Cheech and Chong and Spicoli (Fast Times Ridgemont High) images formerly associated with the cannabis industry. With the green light comes a new, green economy and some sophistication to manage it.

State of the Agency 2016

fineman snapchat

Our client base in 2016 was an energizing mix, with our team deftly handling everything from circus hi-jinks to launching donut shops, nationally-renowned museum work to promoting athletic events and venues, and from highlighting prized wineries to transformative healthcare services. It was highly rewarding, and I thank our clients for their trust and partnership.

Today, I am looking back at 2016 to pause and reflect. Many of us understand that the rapid pace and flow of business often hinders consideration of where we’ve been and lessons we’ve learned. For our current and potential clients, I believe it serves to review the comprehensive communications services we offer via representations of what we achieved in 2016.

Dale Scott & Company

It was a banner year in 2016 for voter-approved ballot measures providing crucial funding for California school districts. Dale Scott & Company, an independent financial advisor to California K-12 and community college districts, takes a win-win approach to improving schools while protecting taxpayers. We provided communications support to help inform residents of more than 15 districts about the bonds through extensive media coverage and public communications. The bonds were all overwhelmingly supported by voters.

Dunkin’ Donuts

Dunkin SF Chron

Dunkin’ Donuts is world famous for its freshly brewed coffee and wide selection of food offerings, but, surprisingly, it had no presence in the Bay Area until last year. Brought on to introduce this blue-chip brand to Northern California, Fineman PR successfully hosted three grand openings to throngs of crowds and media, some of the latter just as excited as the guests. The ribbon-cutting ceremonies featured mayors, city council members and other local dignitaries to welcome the brand to each community. In ongoing work, we support holiday promotions, including National Coffee Day and National Donut Day with a strong social media presence.

eHarmony Español

Over the last 16 years, eHarmony has become the go-to site for singles looking for lasting and fulfilling relationships, but its general market strength did not extend to Latinos. Mosaico, Fineman PR’s multicultural division, developed a survey of Latinos’ dating behaviors and considerations to promote eHarmony Español, its Spanish-language site. The survey gained favorable broadcast and print coverage in top Latino markets, including Los Angeles, New York, Orlando and Chicago. We also leveraged a key finding of the survey to develop a satirical “psychic” character, Juanito Talismán, for social media, which resonated with the belief of one-in-five Latinos that superstitions can help them find true love, a playful contrast with eHarmony’s science-based approach.

Foster Farms

The agency launched a highly-targeted lifestyle and food influencer marketing program, on behalf of Foster Farms, dedicated to redefining comfort food for West Coast consumers. The New Comfort Food campaign inspired fresh recipe and visual content from culinary and lifestyle insiders and earned more than 148 million impressions. The program included a Pinterest data partnership, a consumer survey discussed in Parade Magazine and analytical measurement for targeted, focused marketing outreach.

  • The brand’s organic and antibiotic-free fresh chicken products were highlighted as staple ingredients for family meals.
  • The brand was reinforced as fresh, relevant and in-tune with today’s consumers and trends.
  • The New Comfort Food theme resonated with West Coast food and lifestyle influencers in authentic blog and social media posts.
  • Compelling imagery and fresh content continue to generate engagement with customized recipes championing Foster Farms values and product quality.
  • We broke through to food news influencers who hadn’t previously engaged with Foster Farms.

Fineman PR also expanded Foster Farms’ CSR program and the company’s dedication to feeding local families through expanded partnerships with West Coast food banks.

Foster Farms National Provisioner Cover

Foster Farms, 2016 Processor of the Year

Fineman PR successfully advocated for a cover story recognizing Foster Farms as the U.S. meat and poultry industry’s 2016 Processor of the Year for its advances and leadership in water conservancy during California’s epic drought; for becoming the largest producer of organic and antibiotic-free poultry on the West Coast; for rapidly expanding distribution of its frozen and pre-cooked poultry into national markets; and for the consistent excellence of the company’s comprehensive food safety program.

Foster Farms Bowl

As an extension of our work for Foster Farms, our team highlighted the West Coast brand’s offerings to a national audience in the NCAA-official Post Season Foster Farms Bowl game. This year, the Indiana Hoosiers faced the Utes of University of Utah at Levi’s Stadium. To highlight the Northern-California roots of the brand, our team devised a national anthem competition in the weeks leading up to the big play. The 2016 Bowl game kicked off to the tune of a talented Northern California student and singer who won the second annual “Oh Say Can You Sing” contest. As part of the contest prize, Foster Farms donated holiday meals to a Bay Area hunger-relief organization in the winning singer’s name.

Girl Scouts of Northern California

The local council serves a diverse membership of 49,000 girls and more than 32,000 adult volunteers in a 19-county area from Gilroy to the Oregon border. In addition to promoting digital cookie 2.0 with news development and media sampling for cookie season, Fineman PR identified opportunities council-wide to advance the positive community and individual impact of the organization’s programs.  Regional broadcast, print and online feature coverage included stories and interviews for National Young Women of Distinction and Gold Award recipients, the 100-year proclamation in Sacramento with the state’s female legislatures, and the annual Golden Gate Bridging event.

SACRAMENTO, CA - JUNE 23: California Girl Scout Gold Award recipients look onto the Assembly floor during a proclamation recognizing the award's 100th anniversary on June 23, 2016 in Sacramento, California. (Photo by Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images for Girl Scouts)

SACRAMENTO, CA – JUNE 23: California Girl Scout Gold Award recipients look onto the Assembly floor during a proclamation recognizing the award’s 100th anniversary on June 23, 2016 in Sacramento, California. (Photo by Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images for Girl Scouts)


Peyton Manning’s career-capping championship at Super Bowl 50 drew significant media attention last February, but HNTB’s innovative design of Levi’s Stadium earned its share of the spotlight. Amid the ubiquitous Super Bowl buzz, Fineman PR tapped into the conversation from an architectural design perspective to secure widespread national media coverage for HNTB. Highlights included features in the Associated Press, USA Today, The New York Times, Washington Post, ESPN, and more, making it one of the most successful PR campaigns in HNTB’s 100+ year history.


Photo courtesy of Jim Simmons

Photo courtesy of Jim Simmons

Habitat Horticulture at the SFMOMA

The S.F.-based living wall design firm was commissioned as part of the SFMOMA’s grand redesign. In collaboration with the museum, Fineman PR worked to raise Habitat’s profile and distinguish designer David Brenner’s singular approach. The wall, with breathtaking artistic features, is the largest living wall in the United States. Feature coverage included The San Francisco Business Times, Fast Company, Curbed, Inhabitat, Architect Magazine, San Francisco Magazine and Silicon Valley Magazine, with additional branded exposure in the New York Times, Vogue, Forbes, Bloomberg and Wired.

fastcompany-seoFast Company Design Habitat Horticulture

HealthRIGHT 360

Fineman PR continued to support the marketing and development team for one of California’s largest community healthcare providers, originating from the merger of the historic Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic and Walden House.  Executing on media strategy, expert positioning/thought leadership, event promotion, and collateral development, we secured regional and national features on critical programs and mergers underscoring the organization’s expanding influence. We also continued to promote its breakthrough Capital Campaign project.

IPREX Annual World Meeting Host

Last May, Fineman PR hosted our industry partners at the annual IPREX conference in San Francisco. IPREX is an international network of independent Public Relations firms with 1,800 staff and 115 offices worldwide working across the spectrum of industry sectors and practice disciplines. The conference had a record turnout of members from all over the world – AustraliaFinlandIrelandPragueBerlinMexico CityBelgiumDubaiHong KongNew ZealandParis, and, of course, from leading agencies throughout the U.S.

Quintessa travel channelMaterra Ɩ Cunat Family Vineyards

Materra Ɩ Cunat Family Vineyards has one of the newest winemaking and hospitality facilities in Napa Valley and engaged Fineman PR to build brand awareness and drive guest traffic. The agency brought a steady stream of wine media to the property and is developing the brand’s 10th anniversary event.

Quintessa in Napa Valley

In our fourth year with Quintessa, we continued to generate top-tier wine coverage, highlighting the outstanding estate wine and unforgettable guest experience. Coverage included Conde Nast Traveler, Travel Channel, the San Francisco Chronicle’s best-of-wine country guide and an Associated Press exclusive harvest story that ran in dozens of major metropolitan newspapers and electronic news sites.

Ringling Brothers/Barnum & Bailey

Though Feld Entertainment recently discontinued its universally known circus franchise after a 100-year run due to high operating costs and a changing entertainment model, the company turned to Fineman PR in 2016 for breakout publicity in the Bay Area, a traditionally difficult market for the national touring brand. The Bay Area venue reimagined the circus experience for the 21st century with its “Out of This World” show. In turn, Fineman PR exceeded expectations for feature coverage and brand-positive tone. It was exciting, and they will be missed.

Ritter Center

Fineman PR was called upon to help address a threat to the continuing operation of a Marin County mainstay and nonprofit organization, one that provided critical resources for homeless and low-income residents. We moved quickly to garner support through a grassroots digital campaign and editorial message development to advocate for what resulted in a successful outcome for the organization.

San Francisco Marathon

The 2016 race hosted the largest number of participants in the Marathon’s history, attracting runners from 67 countries and all 50 states. In our third year of working with the Marathon, we continued to generate momentum for its development via international media attention. Our Spanish-speaking staff worked closely with the ESPN Latin America crew to develop a feature on a local Latina runner. Our analytics team also worked closely with the S.F. Chronicle’s interactive division to develop a special report with data visualization.

The San Francisco Chronicle analyzed data from the San Francisco Marathon's official results from July 31 for more than 8,000 registered racers, plus the individual runs of nearly 900 people who uploaded the details of their GPS-tracked races to Strava, the San Francisco-based running and cycling social network.

The San Francisco Chronicle analyzed data from the San Francisco Marathon’s official results from July 31 for more than 8,000 registered racers, plus the individual runs of nearly 900 people who uploaded the details of their GPS-tracked races to Strava, the San Francisco-based running and cycling social network.

Sonoma County Vintners

The agency assisted the Sonoma County Vintners with a community outreach program, called Community Connection, to address the challenges of increasing numbers of visitors to the region. Member wineries pledged cooperation to controls set by use and event permits, a compliance officer position was created to monitor events at the winery venues, and the SCV expanded its best practices member education.

Wine Institute

Wine Institute, an advocate for California wine and more than 1,000 wineries and affiliated businesses, engaged Fineman PR for a crisis preparedness and issues management initiative. As the project continues, we are equipping the organization to prepare for crisis risks to the California wine industry and expanding the Institute’s expert resource pool to address challenging and highly technical industry issues.

Good PR: Know When You Can’t Lean on Corporate Policy

(Source: Flickr)

First, it was the leggings. Now, United Airlines faces the far more troubling charge of passenger abuse after the horrific video of a paying customer unwillingly dragged down an airplane runway by two security officers went viral. (The passenger refused his fate as one of four unlucky passengers randomly selected to give up their seats on an oversold flight.) Yesterday’s news is a glaring example of why companies cannot lean on corporate policy to defend actions seen as insensitive and even inhumane to the general public. Not only because the whole world is watching. Good PR (and corporate reputation) requires a company-wide system that upholds critical values –  for public safety, for consumer trust, for product quality – guided by company policy.

In both cases, United’s actions (dress code enforcement for non-revenue travelers and random selection of passengers to deplane on an oversold flight) were supported by corporate policy. But to the viewing public and the media, the justification for disturbing behavior is irrelevant. No corporate policy can explain away the visceral footage of a grown man on the floor, disheveled, visibly injured and tugged down the aisle to the screams and distress of other passengers. Public safety is a non-negotiable. That includes avoiding potential physical harm of an individual and preventing the escalation of customer service issues into public safety risks.

Let’s not forget that the U.S. airline industry was founded and branded as a luxury travel service, not an automated people mover or public transit in the sky. When a company’s offering to the marketplace is customer service or hospitality, highly visible customer service failures should be seen as potentially damaging as a major product recall, equipment failure or facilities disaster. Crisis planning, such as tabletop scenarios or risk management operations drills should include customer service interactions across company operations.

So what should United and other businesses facing viral scrutiny over company policy do next?

Crisis planning, such as tabletop scenarios or risk management operations drills should include customer service interactions across company operations.In the case of United’s immediate strategy, Fineman PR President Michael Fineman emphasizes: “A doctor wouldn’t prescribe a cure without seeing a patient and knowing that patient’s history. Similarly, there are many factors that are only known to the client, which must be considered to determine the appropriate response. However, in this case, based on what has been made public, the following would be recommended if this were my agency’s client:

Prepare a full report of the incident, identify where the situation escalated beyond reason (where it got away from them), and take full responsibility.

The report should demonstrate how the airline will make good on this with the affected passenger and, perhaps, all passengers who witnessed this brutal “act of commerce.”

Include new guidelines and policies, and new employee training programs to ensure something like this will never happen again.

Publicize the full report and plan on the United Airlines website and distribute it to the media.

Aim for genuine progress and track that progress through independent audits of the airline’s customer service, with special attention paid to on-the-ground passenger experiences.”

For airlines and other companies facing potentially high profile customer interaction:

  • Evaluate public-facing policies and enforcement guidelines with an eye toward risk management, customer service and of course, public safety. Review customer service response data and employee conflict reports for a better understanding of what is working and what is increasingly raising controversy.
  • Identify policy administrators for on-the-ground transactions: ensure that they are specially trained and periodically re-trained in conflict resolution and hospitality. If outside authorities must be brought in to physically manage a situation, understand that their actions will be associated with your company’s response.
  • Have tough conversations internally with management and with on-the-ground policy administrators to navigate the gray area of policy enforcement. Does company policy allow specially-trained on-the-ground policy enforcers to exercise their best judgment in the case of high conflict events? If a situation escalates, who has the final say on the visible action?  How can policy enforcers minimize controversial attention to a potentially-flammable situation?
  • Take a look at policy enforcement visually, just as the public or media might: Does a policy that sounds reasonable on paper look reasonable in action?

Fineman Opines on Crises in the Washington Post


Bill O’Reilly in 2015 on the set of “The O’Reilly Factor” in New York. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Because of our high profile crisis communications work, reporters looking for insight into complex organizational or reputation issues sometimes call on us as resource for commentary.

When I receive an inquiry from a reporter, I typically open the conversation with an important disclaimer: I do not propose counsel on situations that I know only from what I gather in media reports. A doctor wouldn’t prescribe a cure without seeing a patient and knowing that patient’s history. Similarly, for any difficult business or dicey public exposure situation and negative media attention, there are many factors that are only known to the client, and those factors often determine their responses. I know too well that there’s a rush to judgment without enough substantive understanding behind it.

I explained that to Paul Farhi at the Washington Post who was doing a story on how Fox News is handling or mishandling the O’Reilly news. Farhi wondered why Fox was keeping so silent about it and wanted my views on what I would counsel Fox if it were a client. Was silence the right thing?

Perhaps it was my comment that organizations should, “not get caught with their pants down” in a crisis that seemed so apropos to O’Reilly. Read Paul Farhi’s  full story here: Washington Post: At Fox News, a wall of silence surrounds Bill O’Reilly

To elaborate more on my counsel, below is PANTCHEK, our handy-dandy acronym of general principles to keep in mind when managing communications in a crisis – and not get caught with your pants down. The caveat here is that this somewhat generic (yet critically important) checklist does not necessarily apply to all crisis ills.

  • Public welfare is the first priority
  • Assemble the facts. Once they are verified, Announce All bad news at once
  • No blame, No speculation, No repetition of negative charges or questions
  • Tell your side of the story or Take responsibility
  • Care and Concern for those affected – express it sincerely and right at the outset
  • High-level organization spokesperson – let the public see the crisis has top-level attention
  • Ensure that it will not happen again with a solid plan that will generate confidence
  • Keep a separate plan for moving daily business ahead

Then there is reputation recovery. Merely managing your way through is not aiming high enough. You need to rebuild or reinforce your reputation and respect for your brand, and keep your relationships intact. Diligent reputation-building is essential. Depending on the nature and duration of the crisis, success may require a long-term effort.

  • Maintain open communications with media, community members, customers, consumers, investors, employees, governing bodies and affiliates via all communications channels, including social media.
  • Employ awareness-raising tactics
  • Differentiate your organization from the pack – did the crisis make you better and/or stronger?
  • Become a category expert among your peers
  • Conduct “post mortem” analysis and incorporate what you learn into future scenario planning

Our Brash New World: Do Traditional Communications Rules Still Apply?


(Source: CNN/Screengrab)

As of this week, the Los Angeles Times is the latest high profile media outlet to examine the communications approach of the current presidency. Let me emphasize, though, that my focus is less about politics than it is about how the current political scene has affected U.S. communications. Now is as good a time as ever to discuss the effectiveness of brash talk as a public relations strategy for the rest of us.

Professional communicators have watched the national dialogue change radically over the last six months. From typically stoic, less-is-more, better-safe-than-sorry official statements to the chaotic banter of the fall’s presidential debates, public dialogue has become less predictable, more bombastic, more intimidating and highly personal. Some of us attributed the initial change to a spirited election season rooted in disruption. Come January’s coining of “fake news” and #alternafacts along with a rash of aggressive #POTUS tweets, the shift appeared to settle in. Most recently, we’ve seen “falsehoods” positioned as acceptable exclusions to the truth during top-level investigations and amid international exposure. For now, intimidating language, angry Twitter thumbs, concocted vocabulary and alternate figures are a daily fixture for media and public relations professionals charged with crafting meaningful communications.


 (Source: Time)

But after several months at play, is this rant-over-reason approach actually effective? Should tried and true public relations tenets like maintaining a diplomatic tone, taking an earnest approach to resolving conflicts, building trust and combating misinformation with credible facts from reputable third parties be set aside while the new playbook is tested?

First, the current disregard for facts and truth in national communications has not been widely accepted and is not going uncontested. The Los Angeles Times’ new editorial series voices a deep concern for the rejection of facts in favor of preconceived notions. Both Time and The Wall Street Journal also recently denounced the use of ill-researched, unsubstantiated facts in official public statements and the long-lasting effects of distrust. Recent Gallup poll declines surrounding health care reform indicate that the gamble of brash communications has not yet produced a desirable post-election outcome.

Trust, consistency and good faith remain as vital to corporate communications and public relations as ever. Demands for high quality, exceptional value, a memorable experience and reputable practices still matter to the U.S. marketplace. Businesses and brands continue to be held to the highest standards of conduct and quality. Reporters are still reporting, consumers are still voting with their dollars, families are still choosing products based on their values, competitors are still hungry and regulators are still enforcing rigorous standards. Public data continues to be posted for review and undesirable content (including fact-checked “falsehoods”) will exist online far longer than some may wish.

For businesses and organizations that care about marketplace trust, especially in turbulent times, substance and long-term strategy are a worthier public relations investment than the false hope of distraction.

So while it may be tempting to sling a tweet in the dark, admonish a reporter in a press conference, conjecture during an interview or predict a fact before researching it, don’t. If anything, hasty lashings at the national level mean that earnest, fact-based, well-prepared communications are required from the rest of us to help restore needed trust in public dialogue.

How IPREX educates, elevates and empowers Fineman PR

I recently joined representatives from 17 public relations agencies from around the world at a global leadership conference in Paris. The conference was hosted by IPREX, a network that comprises more than 70 of the world’s top independent communications agencies. Since Fineman PR joined IPREX in 2000, we’ve expanded our playbook of winning communications strategies and broadened our understanding of multicultural communications. Our affiliation with IPREX benefits not only our agency but also our clients.

IPREX tablescape

IPREX provides a channel for member agencies to share knowledge, experiences and expertise. Our involvement allows us to extend our network beyond our geographic headquarters so that we are equipped with an arsenal of global resources, including personnel, to serve our clients’ needs across the country and around the globe. Thanks to IPREX, we can provide access to even the most complex international markets and industries. From trends to sales numbers, IPREX gives us insights and ideas that help inform the strategies and approaches we offer our clients.

We meet with our partner agencies several times a year to continue an ongoing dialogue about our industry. We discuss regional and global public relations trends and best practices to broaden our horizons and enable us to better serve our clients. This priceless exchange of information opens the door to a world of opportunities.

The Paris conference was intended for agency account people to help promote staff education and build leadership skills. Our meeting room was abuzz with a palpable electricity that emerged from the conflation of distinct voices, accents and perspectives. From Estonia to Australia, communications professionals face similar challenges and opportunities, yet may have different ways of approaching them. Having a discussion with my international peers about PR approaches, strategies and responses was enlightening and integral to realizing the importance of diversity – on a broad spectrum – for successful communications programs.

International IPREX clientsAs communications professionals, we seek to reach a range of audiences depending on our clients’ brand identities and business objectives. We are tasked with understanding our audiences so that we can develop appropriate, impactful strategies. To reach an audience is to genuinely and authentically understand those we are targeting.

Working with agencies from all over the world offers important lessons in cultural diversity – a value we prioritize at Fineman PR. Communicating – and resonating – with multicultural audiences demands a deep knowledge of cultural values and identity, and IPREX helps to expand the cross-cultural strengths and consumer insights of our own diverse and multiculturally-savvy staff.

Currently, 51 brands turn to more than one IPREX partner for their PR needs. The collaborative relationships we’ve forged with one another allow us to serve our clients strategically and efficiently. When we join forces with other agencies, we work together under one umbrella with a common purpose. The result is a deep bench of expertise and global perspective that strengthens our agency and equips it with the tools needed to best serve our clients.

Taco trucks, data and the facts about Latino entrepreneurship

From culture, to taxes, to the economy, the debate over how Latinos contribute to our country is often plagued by misperceptions. Too often, assumptions about Latinos in the U.S. are based not on facts, but on stereotypes, fear and hyperbole. In this environment of rising walls and burnt bridges, where “facts” can be created on the fly, accurate data is a breath of fresh air.

Sol Trujillo and Rupert Murdoch at the launch of the State
                     of Latino Entrepreneurship report

Earlier this year, we helped launch the State of Latino Entrepreneurship (SOLE) 2016 research report, a collaborative effort of the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Latino Business Action Network. A much-needed whiff of fresh air.

The SOLE report uses primary and secondary research to examine the state of Latino-owned businesses, expanding our understanding of the Latino entrepreneurship segment of the U.S. economy, which comprises about one in every eight (12 percent) U.S. businesses.

If your perception of a Latino-owned business (LOB) is a taco truck on a street corner in an L.A. suburb, think again. These businesses range widely in size, industry and the owner’s country of birth. Most importantly, they are highly integrated in the overall economy, which means that when Latino-owned businesses thrive, the community thrives with them.

Not surprisingly, almost 60 percent of LOBs are located in the four states with the largest Latino populations: California, Texas, Florida and New York. Yet, far from being niche-market endeavors, these companies are tightly woven into the broader community. The SOLE report found that:

  • 74 percent serve non-Latino clients
  • 54 percent employ mostly non-Latino workers
  • About 70 percent are owned by U.S.-born Latinos
  • They range across industries, with most in professional & business services, manufacturing & construction and education & health care

It is estimated that Latinos own 4.23 million businesses in the U.S., a number that has grown twice as fast as the national average since 2012.

This strong entrepreneurial spirit, which is actually a major pillar of the U.S. Latino identity, was particularly evident during the recent recession. Despite the economic downturn, between 2007 and 2012 the number of LOBs grew by 46.3 percent, vastly outstripping the overall pace of U.S. firms, which grew by only 2 percent.

Latinos are also overrepresented in small and medium-size business ownership. Despite this, brands and agencies too often ignore them when developing B2B strategies.

While the SOLE report demonstrates the strength and dynamism of Hispanic entrepreneurship, this data should not be taken to suggest that Latinos are a monolithic community. Quite the contrary, this community is diverse and multilayered.

So, forget the taco truck stereotype and look at the data. The numbers tell the story of a driven, resourceful and resilient community that is proud of its culture while at the same time fully integrated into U.S. society. Latino entrepreneurs are ready to surmount any challenges thrown at them, and they’re increasingly unapologetic about their place in our nation.

Making headway in the U.S. Latino market therefore requires a nuanced communications approach that takes account of its inner complexities. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work to engage Latinos anymore, if it ever did.

Preparing for the Future of PR

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I was recently privileged to receive an invitation from the Native Society to be profiled among its list of nationwide public relations leaders. In its own words, its “mission is to feature and promote high-quality content from industry experts, leaders, entrepreneurs and equivalent role models with the intent of inspiring, encouraging and enlightening our readership. One way we do this is by highlighting the unique achievements, insights and attributes of our select contributors.”

In the profile, I outlined what I see are emerging industry trends:

  • Multicultural communications, whether it be in languages other than English or in being sensitive to niche cultural norms and expectations, is increasingly important for all industries. Our nation is ever the melting pot; however, these days, large segments of minority populations do not subscribe to immediate and total assimilation, proudly guarding their individual, cultural identities. Organizations hoping to earn the trust of these populations with ever-growing importance must build upon this recognition.
  • Communicating with multicultural audiences is not simple, and it is much more than a matter of translation. Various Latino communities, each with their own identity, both share similarities and complex differences. For all of them, there are different levels of acculturation, native ethnicities, lexicons and geographic origins. Essentially, there are millions of youth growing up multilingual and multicultural, and the mainstream marketplace will most effectively reach their minds and hearts with culturally savvy insights and communications.

michael blog pic2 2.21

In regards to opportunities and challenges within my professional service segment:

  • The proliferation of openly biased news, the practice of click-bait and the death of fact-checking is a challenge to public relations and the journalism profession. As news outlets continue to struggle for survival, it is unfortunate that outright bias and salacious headlines are becoming common strategies for capturing reader interest. Reporting unsubstantiated stories to get the scoop is common practice even among the old guard news outlets that one would expect to uphold the principle of fair and balanced reporting. But the news isn’t all bad. I see excellent journalism coming out of the new generation of media such as BuzzFeed Big Stories and even neighborhood-focused outlets like Hoodline in San Francisco.
  • The growing influence of algorithms in how people discover and access information is both an opportunity and a challenge. Virtually all online/digital/social content is customized to each person based on past behavior (search, purchases, clicks, etc.). This means that there is significantly more competition for people’s time and attention while presenting an opportunity for communicators to be more targeted in their approach. There’s even more impetus now to create integrated campaigns with synergies between paid, earned, owned and shared media.

Our key initiatives to ensure the success of our business:

  • Strategic partnerships with digital marketing firms
  • Developing multicultural communications services
  • Building niche industry strengths
  • Risk management partnerships with other category professional service firms
  • Ever-increasing sophistication in research and analytics
  • Adaptability to industry and client trends while affirming our own core tenets of brand PR and crisis communications

And my career advice to those just entering or interested in entering the public relations profession:

  • Be a voracious reader of the news and closely follow contemporary culture.
  • Continually work at being a good writer and storyteller; no typos, no grammatical blunders, easy transitions, and no overkill.
  • Keep up with the latest tools and trends in today’s communications.
  • Find something that differentiates you from everyone else on staff; become the acknowledged go-to on specific issues and/or competencies.
  • Go beyond tactics, and think of situations creatively and strategically. Be solutions-focused and avoid naysaying.
  • Be a team player; you cannot create ongoing situations that define you as difficult to work with. Show your appreciation for the help you receive.

Unseen risk: troubleshooting a crisis plan

Let’s face it: your crisis communications plan is inadequate. Sure, you have a document gathering dust on a bookshelf or somewhere in a seldom-used file folder. Or maybe that plan follows a generic template you found online. Or maybe you don’t have one. You can still do something about it and you should … before the you-know-what hits the fan.

Sudden cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death, yet many CPR-trained bystanders forget what to do and panic when they could be providing life-saving support. Having a plan in place is the first step in preparing for a crisis, but it’s worthless if you don’t use it.

See 10 issues you need to address to help ensure your crisis response safeguards your organization’s reputation on O’Dwyer’s.