Ford: Crisis Management Done Right

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Corporations are fond of saying “Our people make a difference.” Sometimes your people make all the difference to your brand, as Ford has shown through the way it has weathered a painful and highly visible PR crisis.

As has been well documented by now, over the weekend, news outlets such as Buzzfeed and Business Insider got wind of offensive advertising mock-ups created to promote the Ford Figo in India. The various mock-ups, depicting women (including caricatures of the Kardashian sisters) bound and gagged in the trunk of a Ford Figo, unleashed a firestorm of criticism.

If you’re Ford, what do you do? This is a situation where having the right people to represent your brand makes all the difference.

As reported by PR Daily, Ford quickly mobilized a global team over the weekend to address the problem. Facts needed to be gathered — and quickly. A response was required — and post-haste. And the company needed to strike the right tone however it replied. The right people needed to be on board to exercise judgment under tremendous pressure.

Here was an especially tricky challenge: Ford needed to tell its side of the story while at the same time not come across like the brand was trying to pooh-pooh the offensive ad mock-ups. As it turns out, Ford did have a story to tell: the brand was really the victim here, not the perpetrator. The ads were created without Ford’s consent by JWT India, a unit of Ford agency WPP. And, contrary to what Buzzfeed reported, the mock-ups were not ads — they were ideas (and obviously bad ones) that JWT India had unwisely posted on a public site.

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TMZ: The Time Inc. of Fame Inc.

TMZ has transformed itself from everyone’s favorite guilty pleasure to a powerhouse news reporting and entertainment brand. The multi-million dollar organization managed by Harvey Levin long ago shrugged off its image as a snarky Hollywood gossip site and by beating mainstream news organizations such as CNN at their own game. When Mel Gibson was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving and hurled shocking religious epithets at his arresting officers, TMZ broke the news first. When Michael Jackson died abruptly in 2009, TMZ scooped the world. As Harvey Levin explained at a recent appearance at the SXSW Interactive Festival, TMZ has succeeded by covering celebrity news with the rigor and professionalism of a serious newsroom — while still retaining much of the snarky voice that endears TMZ to some and infuriates others. And yet, something else beyond Harvey Levin’s control has helped legitimize TMZ: celebrity news itself. “Celebrity” is like a vertical market akin to retail: an industry with many inter-related stake holders such as from celebrities themselves to the media who cover them, the merchants to sell them, the products who rely on them for endorsement, and the media that spin content out of their lives. As I discuss in a new post for the iCrossing Content Lab, celebrity news sites have become diversified and specialized, ranging from Egotastic, which focuses on “the sexy side of celebrity gossip,” to Bossip, which covers black celebrity news. TMZ now rules as the Time Inc. of Fame Inc. Check out my post for more insight.

From an Artist on the Rise: “Home to Me,” by Vanessa Elisha

From Down Under comes a shimmering new song by Vanessa Elisha, “Home to Me.” The song layers Elisha’s lush R&B-inspired vocals on top of a sexy chill-out groove to capture what Elisha describes to me as “that yearning for first love, or that feeling that you have in the beginning of a relationship.” Vanessa Elisha took time out of her recording schedule to answer a few questions about the song and her career on the rise, including how Jermaine Dupri and his Global 14 community has helped her. As you can see from the following Q&A, she’s understands the art of social. Learn more about Vanessa Elisha on her website here, Global 14 community here, and Twitter here. Meantime, thank you Vanessa for your gift of song.

What’s the inspiration for “Home to Me”?

Definitely a long-term relationship – that yearning for first love, or that feeling that you have in the beginning of a relationship.

The song has a sensuous chill-out feel to it. Do you consider “Home to Me” a chill-out song?

It definitely has that smooth feel that you can listen to and vibe to at any time of the day.

Who has influence your singing style? I hear an R&B influence.

So many people! Lauryn Hill, Monica, Keke Wyatt, Jon B and so many others. That ’90s feel is really what gets to me the most – that was real R&B, and it’s making its comeback with a lot of current artists.

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The video is simple yet complicated: a straight-head shot of you but overlayed with fireworks, flames, fields, and mountains. What’s the story being told in the video?

I think that the video is open to interpretation, which is what I love about it. For me the projections signify the range of emotions that are felt throughout the relationship — they run smoothly with the lyrics to really enhance the story.

How are you promoting the song and building your own brand?

I’m really just trying to get my music out there! Twitter, Facebook, blogs – the bloggers have been amazing. They hold a lot of power in the industry, and the reception of my music has been amazing and unexpected!

How does Jermaine Dupri’s Global 14 community help you?

Global 14 has been a great place to meet some amazing and talented people. The fact that Jermaine Dupri interacts with community members and has said he’s liked my music is an inspiration to just work that little bit harder. I love it, and the support I get on there is amazing.

How Body Shop Founder Anita Roddick Taught Businesses to Do Good

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Since it’s International Women’s Day today, I feel compelled to honor a business woman who changed the world: Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop. With her staunch support of fair trade and opposition to animal testing on cosmetics, Anita Roddick proved that a business could do good and make money at the same time. Roddick is an example of a market maker. I recently introduced the term market maker to describe business people who act like artists and change the world with their personal visions. Successful marketers sell things; but market makers inspire people to act, to believe, and to live their lives differently. Roddick is one of four market makers, including Ahmet Ertegun, Steve Jobs, and Guy Kawasaki, whom I profile in my recently published white paper, How to Be a Market Maker.  Roddick really did change how we live and work. She helped inspired consumers to buy with a conscience and business to give back. And she did so by living a life filled with passion and diverse interests.

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Roddick was born in a bomb shelter in England during World War II, and before founding the Body Shop lived a free-spirited life of social activism and world travel. She originally trained as a teacher at Bath College of Higher Education until she “hit the hippie trail” of world travel, where she got exposure to Third World economies and living conditions. She considered herself a social activist when she met and married Gordon Roddick, a Scottish poet, who became her business partner on ventures including the shaky operation of a restaurant. Her life changed dramatically in 1976 when her husband decided to take a few years off to ride a horse from Buenos Aires to New York.

She launched the Body Shop in London to help support her family while her husband was on his quixotic adventure. Her cosmetics store was launched on a shoestring budget with zero advertising. Her vision was to sell quality skin-care products made out of natural ingredients and packaged in refillable containers — without the condescending hype that characterized cosmetics (especially for women).

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From the start, she embedded social responsibility into the Body Shop’s business charter. She refused to sell products that were tested on animals, going against a standard practice of animal testing in the 1970s. And here’s where she demonstrated a stroke of marketing genius: because she lacked a marketing budget, she used her anti-animal testing stance as a way to generate PR for her store. In doing so, she quickly developed a base of customers who agreed with her views. “Her cruelty-free cosmetics sold like hot cakes,” wrote journalist Michael McCarthy in The Independent. “She may have stumbled upon the notion of ethical consumerism, but she made two discoveries about it: it was great for business, and it could enable business to change society.”

As the Body Shop grew in popularity — expanding to 20 locations in Europe and Asia by 1984 — so did the scale of her social campaigning. In 1985, she used shop windows of her stores to promote the Greenpeace Save the Whales movement — “the first explicit tie-in between products and causes,” according to The Guardian. She and the Body Shop actively lobbied against animal testing in other businesses, which led to the banning of testing of cosmetics on animals in Britain in 1997 (and across Europe after her death).

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Her adoption of fair trade practices was nothing short of revolutionary. Instead of buying her cosmetics ingredients at the lowest prices possible from the commodities markets, she sourced raw products from exporters from developing countries in order to promote their economic growth. For instance, after visiting local farms in Nicaragua in 1998, she started importing sesame seed oil from 130 farmers in Achupa, Nicaragua, which helped the town rebuild from Hurricane Mitch. After she learned about Amazonian tribes protesting against a hydroelectric project that would have flooded their lands, she agreed to buy Brazil nuts (used to make moisturizers and conditioners), which created revenue that the tribes needed to protect their lands.

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Had Roddick been performing pure acts of charity in her trade practices, the Body Shop would have become a charming story about doing good but nothing more. The reason her fair trade practices spread to other businesses is that the Body Shop flourished because of them. Because Roddick cleverly and loudly drew attention to her practices, she attracted consumers who felt that buying her products contributed to a greater good. Owning Body Shop products meant helping to protect a rainforest in Brazil.

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Eventually, so many businesses would become interested in fair trade practices that a Fairtrade International Organization would arise in order to secure better deals for farmers and workers and certify businesses that follow fair trade practices. What’s more, Roddick made it not just acceptable but desirable for companies ranging from Ben & Jerry’s to Starbucks to espouse practices of corporate social responsibility as part of their business growth models. Today her spirit lives on through the growth of the B Corps movement in the United States, through which corporations such as Patagonia are certified for adhering to best practices in corporate accountability. For instance, one of the reasons Ben & Jerry’s was certified as a B Corp member is that the company devotes nearly half of its cost of goods sold to helping smaller suppliers.

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The Body Shop would eventually expand to more than 2,600 locations globally and generate about $1 billion in annual revenue, and Roddick remained a passionate activist to her last days. After being diagnosed with hepatitis C in 2004, she became an active lobbyist for public funding to stop the disease — which was just one of many causes she championed. When she died in 2007, Michael McCarthy of The Independent wrote, “She did, indeed, change profoundly the way we look at the world, by changing the way we looked at business, and seeing the scale of what that could do.

My research into the lives of market makers like Anita Roddick reveals that these extraordinary people are willing to take risks, surround themselves with talent, possess passion in abundance, and live full, eclectic lives. Certainly Roddick exemplifies a life brimming with passion. She was passionate about human rights, and, in particular, women’s rights. The entire premise behind the Body Shop was selling cosmetics without sexism and eschewing the cult of youth. But she also demonstrates the value of being an eclectic person with many interests outside one’s career. She was a world traveler, environmentalist, and activist long before the Body Shop came along, and she remained actively involved in many causes such as Children on the Edge, an organization she founded. In other words, her business reflected her life.

Similarly, another famous market maker, Steve Jobs, injected his Buddhist background into the clean and simple design of Apple’s legendary products, and iTunes was a direct reflection of his love of music. Another market maker I profile, Ahmet Ertegun, was one of the founders of the New York Cosmos soccer team when he wasn’t busy running Atlantic Records. The success of market makers in business reflects a natural curiosity to learn and experience the world around them.

Not everyone has time to found and run a business. I sure don’t. But we can certainly change the lives of people around us in our own way by doing what market makers like Anita Roddick do: act like artists and bring personal vision to our jobs.

Stay tuned: more blog posts will explore the lives of other famous market makers.

How about it — are you willing to try to be a market maker?

A Band of Brothers “Born to Run”

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We remember Bruce Springsteen and Clarence Clemons as being both kindred spirits and successful band mates. And the album cover of Born to Run captures the essence of their story as we’ve learned it. Born to Run, profiled here for my series on memorable album covers, endures because the cover expresses the personality of an artist and his band.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band famously developed a reputation for being a rollicking, adventurous band of brothers, especially during the group’s marathon concerts that exuded energy and joy. The E Street Band was never a democracy. It was the Boss’s group to run and, later in his career, to disband and regroup depending on his personal musical needs and vision. But especially in the early going, the E Street was essential to Springsteen’s identity — so much so that he wrote about his band mates in “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.”

And no one in the seven-person band touched him like saxophonist Clemons. The story of their meeting has been told several times. As Clemons told a fan website:

A rainy, windy night it was, and when I opened the door the whole thing flew off its hinges and blew away down the street. The band was on-stage, but staring at me framed in the doorway. And maybe that did make Bruce a little nervous because I just said, “I want to play with your band,” and he said, “Sure, you do anything you want.” The first song we did was an early version of “Spirit in the Night“. Bruce and I looked at each other and didn’t say anything, we just knew. We knew we were the missing links in each other’s lives. He was what I’d been searching for. In one way he was just a scrawny little kid. But he was a visionary. He wanted to follow his dream. So from then on I was part of history.

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As reported in Peter Ames Carlin’s recently published biography of Springsteen, Clemons became an integral part of the band’s sound and a musical soul mate, as well. When Clemons died of a stroke in 2011, Springsteen was at his side with a guitar. Later Springsteen said of Clemons, “He was my great friend, my partner, and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music.

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That relationship is perfectly expressed on the cover of Born to Run, which consists of a photo taken by Eric Meola (the image is one of 900 he took). The body English says it all: Springsteen, a Fender Esquire in one hand, leans on Clemons, smiling affectionately at his band mate instead of looking at you. Clemons gives the Boss a sideways glance, his expressive body leaning back comfortable into Springsteen’s as he plays his beloved saxophone. The clean design, consisting of a plain white background and simple lettering, keep your eyes focused on the two men Interestingly, Springsteen has set aside his guitar to admire his band made, whereas Clemons looks like he’s working on Take 37 of a saxophone solo for “Jungleland” — an observation that might be fairly true.

In fact, making the album was anything but a carefree experience. Carlin reports that the recording of the album was “slow, grim, and tortuous.” Clemons “spent 16 hours playing and replaying every not of his ‘Jungleland’ solo in order to satisfy Bruce’s bat-eared attention to sonic detail.” After stripping his songs down and rebuilding them to achieve different sounds he was looking for, and after pushing his band to the extreme, Springsteen was still unhappy with the finished product of “unplayable parts, unfixable mistakes, and unmixable recordings.”

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Of course, history remembers Born to Run differently. Rolling Stone magazine ranks Born to Run as one of the Top 20 albums of all time — “timeless record about the labors and glories of aspiring to greatness.” The album is also listed the Library of Congress National Recording Registry of historic recordings.

The cover itself has become beloved, too, for expressing the passion and joy of Springsteen and his most famous of all E Street band members. (In a case of both art and life imitating art, Springsteen and Clemons were known to duplicate the album cover pose onstage during their concerts.) Here’s how Carlin describes it: “For in this picture, Bruce knew, resided the heart of the band: unity, brotherhood, a small fulfillment of the American ideals of strength, equality, and community.”

Well said.