NYC Marathon Fiasco Proves PR is About Common Sense

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on November 5, 2012 by innovativemediapr

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy it had not even crossed my mind that they would run the NYC Marathon.  As the week progressed, Mayor Bloomberg proclaimed the need to hold the event to rekindle the spirit of the city I was flabbergasted.  It was too soon. People were still suffering from the devastation wrought by the storm. Providing resources to run this race while communities hard hit by Sandy and still in need of basic necessities like food, water and shelter was not the common sense thing to do.

Thankfully, due to tremendous media backlash the Mayor, NY Road Runners and event sponsor ING, cancelled plans to stage the race, citing that it had become a distraction. It should have never become an issue.

The public relations backlash against holding the NYC Marathon was a case of the Mayor and event organizers misreading public perception.  This was not 9-11.  Twelve years ago this area needed something to take its mind off the horrors of the terrorist attack and the collapse of the World Trade Center.  However, when the Mets and Braves played the first baseball game after the attacks of 9-11 it was during the same week but a full 10 days later. There was a need then to return to normalcy. In the case of the NYC Marathon, stability needed to happen first.

What should have happened was an immediate decision by the NY Road Runners, ING and the Mayor to reschedule the event for at least two weeks out.  That would have given the city a chance to get power up in all five boroughs and ensure that the people who needed much-needed supplies and resources like the countless individuals and families on Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens and those of lower Manhattan received them.

The focus should not have been on unifying the spirit of the city but on making sure the needs of its residents were met first before staging the event. Once normalcy was restored in these communities, then an event of the magnitude of the NYC Marathon could be considered for staging.

The very thought of having 40,000 runners at the staging ground of the Verrazano Bridge in Staten Island while nearby, hundreds of people were digging through the debris that was once their home should have been enough to alter the decision to move forward with the race.

What would have been lost by ING, the city and the NY Road Runners by waiting a couple of weeks? Was it all about the foreign runners that were coming in?  ING could have stepped up and paid for the costs of the re-ticketing of their airfares.

On Saturday I was at the Centex sales office of my new home at the Equestra community in Farmingdale, New Jersey. The topic of the NYC Marathon came up and I discussed the public relations fallout from the decisions made earlier in the week with a couple of the sales executives.  They were all in agreement that it did not make sense to stage the event right now.

One had a thought that the NYC Marathon should open things up for people to walk the course if they rescheduled the race. This could serve as a fundraiser for the victims of Hurricane Sandy.

I thought as well that the course could be reconfigured to ensure that the race go through some of these communities once they were restored back to a semblance of normalcy.

None of these thoughts and ideas was meant to be put in place immediately but they were focused on putting the event in perspective and respecting the travails of what people were going through.

Those that trained all year for the chance to race in the NYC Marathon will ultimately have their day. What’s needed first is for those without homes, water and power to receive help.

Unfortunately, Mayor Bloomberg and the NYC Marathon organizers initially failed to use common sense in taking this into perspective.

As that great philosopher Mr. Spock once said, “The good of the many, outweigh the good of the few.”

Tom Cosentino

Rider Students Offer Monster Energy Some Ideas

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on October 26, 2012 by innovativemediapr

After reviewing the problems facing Monster Beverage Corp (Nasdaq:MNST) following the filing of a wrongful death lawsuit by the parents of 14-year-old Anais Fournier and the subsequent announcement of an FDA investigation, my Rider University public relations class this past Tuesday examined immediate public relations steps and potential new strategies the Company could take to protect its brand and regain confidence from investors.

In our prior class we had discussed the various reasons why developing a positive consumer relations program was important to companies. The problems facing Monster Energy were discussed. The assignment I gave the students was to research what was being written and said about the Monster Energy case, examine how the company was responding, and survey their friends and family on their reactions and whether they used energy drinks like Monster Energy and whether this FDA investigation would have any impact on their continued use of the products.

Some of the personal findings by students were:
■ Matt described one person he knew that drank eight cans of Monster Energy in a 10 hour period and eventually developed bronchitis.
■ Caitlyn described how her 14-year-old brother, who is quite hyper, drinks Monster Energy on a regular basis.
■ Karly admitted to drinking 2-3 cans of Monster Energy each day and had no reservations about continuing to do so.
■ Allie indicated she has a friend who gets migraines from drinking Monster Energy and has told her that you can get seizures.
■ Ashley talked about her roommate who was hospitalized after drinking two cans of the product.

After exploring the personal findings of my class, we began the process of identifying what immediate steps Monster Beverage Corp could take to ensure that they could maintain public confidence in their products.

Some of the communications elements my class recommended were as follows:

Monster Beverage Corp should survey and poll its customer base to gauge their feelings on the issue. They should also poll their major distributors to gain a sense of what reaction these news stories are having on sales of Monster products.

Monster Beverage Corp should set up a Safety Hotline where consumers can receive information on the contents of the product and ask questions.

Monster Beverage Corp should provide a FAQ document outlining all of the ingredients, research and safety steps associated with their Monster Energy drinks and post it to the corporate and Monster Energy website as well as the Monster Energy Facebook page.

The company should actively step up all consumer engagement activities. This is the time to build and strengthen a dialogue with consumers.

As part of its consumer engagement, Monster Beverage Corp should seek out testimonials from consumers and use a free flowing Twitter feed for customers to post their thoughts.

The class also felt the company should offer discounts on its products and run promotions to build consumer satisfaction.

All of these suggestions were immediate steps that Monster Beverage Corp could take to reinforce consumer confidence and keep their share price from falling even further, after losing over 10% in share price in the first two days of the crisis this week.

What we also explored in class, was longer term strategies that Monster Beverage Corp could develop to achieve a goal of Reinforcing Consumer Confidence. Here were eight concepts proposed by the students.

1.Research – Monster Beverage Corp should put together a package of information which includes every piece of data and research the company has ever compiled on the ingredients, research and safety tests done on its products. This should be made available to the public on the company’s websites.

2.Age Restriction – The Company should consider taking a lead in the energy drink market and voluntarily set an age limit for its product use.

3.Health Labeling – While there is a warning on the Monster Energy cans regarding caffeine in the product, the class felt that Monster Beverage Corp is eventually going to have to consider stronger warnings on its labeling.

4.No Alcohol Mixing – Monster Beverage Corp should also take the lead in developing a campaign against the mixing of energy drinks and alcohol. The class suggested using the Monster Energy athletes to help drive such a campaign.

5.Safety Campaign – The class felt strongly that the Monster Energy athletes, such as their Motocross performers, should be used for a multi-tiered marketing campaign promoting the safe use of energy drinks like Monster Energy. Athlete images with safety messages could be used on the product cans, through video PSAs on the website and Facebook page and in advertising materials.

6.Smaller Cans – Monster Beverage Corp should consider producing a smaller version of its energy drink.

7.Health Advisory Board – Monster Beverage Corp should seek out leading health professionals, scientists, athletes, etc. to serve on a Health Advisory Board to lend counsel and suggestions to the development of energy drinks by the company.

8.Charity – Monster Beverage Corp should look to develop a relationship with a national charity that could be integrated in all of its in-store promotions, live events and online activities.

All of these suggestions came in the course on one 90-minute class discussion. Hopefully, Monster Beverage Corp is spending a lot more time on this subject. I’m sure their customers and shareholders are hopeful of this as well.

Tom Cosentino

A Monster Consumer Problem

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on October 24, 2012 by innovativemediapr

Did Monster Energy® drinks cause the deaths of five individuals and a non-fatal heart attack? That’s what the FDA is currently investigating. It comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed in Maryland by the parents of Anais Fournier, a 14-year girl who allege that a Monster Energy caused the death of their daughter.

Apparently, the daughter collapsed after drinking her second 24-ounce Monster Energy® drink in two days. She died six days later.

Obviously this is a tragedy and for the Monster Beverage Corporation, owners of Monster Energy, this lawsuit, the FDA investigation and negative news stories associated with this issue, is a major blow.

According to a story on WebMD.com

The reports are not proof that the drinks caused the deaths, but merely signal there might be a problem. Even if the deaths are determined to be caused by caffeine poisoning, the FDA will consider all sources of caffeine before blaming the deaths on the energy drink.

In addition to caffeine, energy drinks contain other stimulants, including taurine and guarana, a caffeine-containing plant.

Because energy drinks are sold as nutritional supplements, they are not regulated as foods. This means they may exceed the FDA-mandated limit of 71 milligrams of caffeine for a 12-ounce soda.

When news of this broke about this story on Monday, I was preparing my lecture notes for my public relations class the next morning at Rider University. It just so happened, the topic was going to focus on Consumer Relations.

During class we discussed the various reasons why developing a positive consumer relations program was important to companies. We covered dealing with complaints, engaging consumers and even discussed the government agencies that serve as watchdogs for the consumers. That gave me an opening to discuss the Monster Energy® case.

We examined a news story in the New York Times about the FDA investigation and the wrongful death law suit filed by the parents of Anais Fournier. As we discussed the issue, I called up the Monster Energy product website so we could see if they posted any information on this and/or what kind of safety information and ingredients did they list about their products.

According to an NBCNews.com story:

Monster Beverage Corporation, which describes Monster Energy Drink as a “killer energy brew” and “the meanest energy supplement on the planet,” puts labels on cans stating the drinks are not recommended for children and people who are sensitive to caffeine.

However, as we scrolled through the Monster Energy website, we were able to click on each drink. There was no specific ingredient information listed or any warnings of safety issues associated with drinking these beverages.

I asked the class to name a leading competitor so we could see how they addressed safety and ingredient information. The class all named Red Bull so off to Red Bull website we went. There, listed first on the left side of the banner was a products page. From there we were able to click on each product and all of the ingredients were listed, including caffeine. On a separate FAQ document page, Red Bull outlined how much caffeine was in each can and described how the amount of caffeine in one can was the equivalent of drinking two cups of coffee.

These figures were similar to findings by the Center for Science in the Public Interest which says the Monster energy drinks contain about 10 mg of caffeine per ounce of drink, which would mean 240 mg of caffeine in a 24-ounce energy drink – not much more than two strong cups of coffee.

Share of Monster Beverage Corp. (MNST ) dropped 11% the day following the announcement that the FDA was investigating.

Yesterday, the company issued the following press release:

Monster Beverage Corporation (Nasdaq:MNST) (“Monster”) today issued the following statement in response to inquiries it has received and numerous recent media reports in connection with a lawsuit that has been filed against the company by the family of 14-year old Anais Fournier, who died last December.

Monster is saddened by the untimely passing of Anais Fournier, and its sympathies go out to her family. Monster does not believe that its products are in any way responsible for the death of Ms. Fournier and intends to vigorously defend the lawsuit. The company wishes to point out that:
■Tens of billions of energy drinks have been sold and safely consumed worldwide for approximately 25 years, including more than 8 billion cans of Monster Energy® that have been sold and safely consumed in the United States and around the world since 2002. The company monitors consumer communications it receives, is unaware of any fatality anywhere that has been caused by its products, and has never before been the subject of any lawsuit of this nature.
■Monster Energy® drinks generally contain approximately 10 milligrams of caffeine from all sources per ounce. By comparison, the leading brands of coffee house brewed coffee contain on average more than 20 milligrams of caffeine per ounce. An entire 24-ounce can of Monster Energy® contains about 240 milligrams of caffeine from all sources, which is around 30 percent less than the average caffeine contained in a medium-sized, 16-ounce cup of coffee house brewed coffee.
■Monster Energy® drinks, including their ingredients and labeling, are in full compliance with all laws and regulations in each of the more than 70 countries in which they are sold.
■The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) has stated that adverse event reports about a product do not mean that the reported event is caused by the product. The FDA has made it clear that it has not established any causal link between Monster Energy® drinks and the reports it has received.

Neither the science nor the facts support the allegations that have been made. Monster reiterates that its products are and have always been safe.

I gave my class an assignment for Thursday to track what was being said about Monster Energy in the press and online, including polling their own social networks to determine if these cases might influence whether their friends and family will have any apprehensions of using energy drinks.

The key question for Monster Energy Corp is how will they respond to their consumers? Unlike their competitor Red Bull, they decided that a warning on a can was enough. Will they add content to the website about the level of caffeine in their drinks? Obviously, with a lawsuit filed and because they are a public company, their actions may be limited by legal issues.

However, the way they engage their consumer over the coming days and weeks will be essential to maintaining their reputation, company and market share. It will take more than a press release to defend their position. They will need to ensure that their products are indeed safe.

For Monster Energy, Consumer Relations has become paramount. How the company responds will determine its future.

Tom Cosentino

Tell the Truth

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on September 25, 2012 by innovativemediapr

In my Rider Public Relations class the other day we began discussing the history of modern-day public relations and the role a man named Ivy Ledbetter, known as Ivy Lee, played in its foundation.

Lee was a former Wall Street reporter who began a public relations practice in 1903. He was instrumental in fostering the concept of informing the public, not by hyping up his clients in a style practiced by press agents of the time or not caring about what the public thought, such as railroad titan William Vanderbilt’s famous words, “Public be damned.”

It was Lee’s belief that the only way business could answer its critics and tell its side of the story was to present its side honestly, accurately and forcefully.

In 1914 Lee was retained by John D. Rockefeller Jr. in a time of crisis. Labor unrest at Rockefeller’s Colorado Fuel and Iron Company in Ludlow, Colorado led to the involvement of the Colorado militia and the eventual tragedy of a dozen women and children being slain.

Lee’s advice to Rockefeller was:
“Tell the truth, because sooner or later the public will find it out anyway. And if the public doesn’t like what you are doing, change your policies and bring them into line with what the people want.” *John E. Harr and Peter L. Johnson, The Rockefeller Century: Three Generations of America’s Greatest Family (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988): 129

Lee went on to encourage Rockefeller to create a joint labor-management board to mediate all worker grievances. He also began humanizing the Rockefellers so that the public could relate to them. In the end though, the lesson Lee left us was the best three words in the public relations bible: Tell the Truth.

Just think of athletes, teams, coaches, politicians, corporate executives, celebrities, etc. who become mired in a crisis because by failing to tell the truth right away, they bury themselves in the cover up, which eventually is exposed by the media.

Imagine if President Richard M. Nixon had simply took blame for the Watergate break in, fired those involved and apologized to the American public. The country could have been spared two years of political chaos and his administration could have focused on governing rather than saving a government.

For those individuals entering the work force or for those navigating to new positions, how you communicate plays an integral role in how you are perceived, respected and rewarded for your work. Those that hide from the facts, think they can fool their employees, bosses or the fans they serve will end up being exposed.

No matter what, keep Ivy Lee’s mantra. Tell the truth. If you do that, nothing else will matter.

Tom Cosentino

Don’t Drink & Drive to Your Next TV Interview

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on September 18, 2012 by innovativemediapr

This past Friday I received a call from news anchor Doug Shimell at NBC Philadelphia looking for me to help set up a shoot that morning with a winery in South Jersey for a piece they wanted to run that afternoon on the 2012 wine harvest.

On behalf of our client, the Garden State Wine Growers Association, we had set Wednesday as Harvest Day for media in the region, encouraging them to visit local wineries and interview wine growers about their enthusiasm for this year’s harvest, which because of the dry weather conditions earlier this summer, looked to rival 2010 as one of the best years ever for New Jersey wine.

After securing the availability of owner Ollie Tomasello of Plagido’s Winery in Hammonton, I called Doug back and told him I would meet his crew at the winery. NBC wanted to also interview me representing the NJ wine industry to give an overall perspective.

As I drove out of my parking lot onto Route 1 in Princeton I was juggling a GPS, blackberry, pad and cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee. Before I could turn on my hands-free calling device in the car, my mobile phone went off and it was Doug from NBC on the line. As I reached for the phone, I hit a bump and the coffee lid came off the cup and coffee ran down my right sleeve and side. Luckily, the coffee ran down my side and not on my chest or stomach. Forget about the traffic, my mind was on how I would position myself on camera to avoid the embarrassment of people seeing my coffee-stained shirt!

Fortunately for me, I arrived at Plagido’s Winery before NBC did. Ollie Tomasello, seeing my coffee-stained shirt took me into his house adjacent to his tasting room and searched for a shirt for me to wear. There, hanging in his closet was a brand new red Garden State Wine Growers tee shirt. It was my size and I quickly put it on.

NBC arrived, did their piece with Ollie as he walked them through the vineyard and then interviewed me. One of my sound bites made the news story. As you will notice in the clip my newly acquired red shirt served me well.

The moral of the story don’t drink and drive, especially when you know you’re going to be on television.

Tom Cosentino

Let Steroid Users in the Hall of Fame? Here’s A Solution

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 7, 2012 by innovativemediapr

So as we await the decision this Wednesday by the selected members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, who get the right to cast a ballot, on which eligible players will be part of this year’s Baseball Hall of Fame induction class, we must ponder whether this system needs to be changed. This year’s balloting takes on added significance with the first year eligibility of two major superstars, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Based on statistics, the pair should be first ballot shoe-ins. However, both are tainted from their alleged steroid use.

Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson recently created a firestorm when he was quoted in a Sports Illustrated piece about how he felt the admitted use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) by Yankee third basemen Alex Rodriguez placed his career achievements in question and could affect whether he ever would be elected to the Hall of Fame. In the same article, Reggie also gave his opinion on fellow Hall of Fame players he felt did not merit enshrinement, like Don Sutton, Phil Niekro, Jim Rice, Kirby Puckett and Gary Carter, based on their career numbers.  Reggie’s opinion caused great consternation and even got him barred for a week from being around the Yankees, the team that employs him, because of his comments about ARod.

Reggie’s interpretation of who belongs in the Hall of Fame or not was subjective based on his evaluation of their talents. After all, he did play against all the players he discussed.

However, as a Hall of Famer, it was his stance on ARod that embodies the problem facing the Baseball Hall of Fame in dealing with the whole steroid era. Many baseball writers have already said they will not vote for players they feel allegedly used steroids, such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire.

So far, there have only been a few players that have actually admitted to using PEDs, with ARod and Jose Canseco, who wrote a book about it, being the most prominent.  The rest of the Hall of Fame caliber- names, allegedly used steroids.  There is no tangible proof they did and no one is coming forward to say that they have.

For more than half a century major league baseball owners kept players of color out to the game. Thus, the stars of the day playing in a segregated league never got to face the best players of the Negro Leagues.  Many of the players in this period set records that still stand today and earned a place in Cooperstown because of it. Yet, would those records have been accomplished and what kind of career totals would the Negro League players have achieved if they had an equal shot against their white brethren?  We’ll never know that answer because it was not allowed to happen until Branch Rickey made the commitment to sign Jackie Robinson and bring him to the major leagues as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

There’s no question that the national pastime was stigmatized in the late 1980s and 1990s by the use of PEDs by some of its most prominent players.  Now, after seven-time Cy Young Award Winner Roger Clemens was acquitted of federal perjury charges that he lied to Congress during their 2008 hearings, the question remains will Clemens, or any other player associated with PEDs ever be elected to the Hall of Fame?

As a baseball fan, I never like to compare eras.  To me, a Hall of Famer is defined by whether that player dominated his position for 10 years or more, not whether he was as good as Bob Feller, Tom Seaver or Babe Ruth.  There have been immortals in every decade and era of baseball history.

Many people feel that baseball has grown the most over the last 15 years or more under the guidance of Bud Selig as Commissioner. Selig helped usher in interleague play, the wild card, unprecedented national television contracts, a harmonious labor relationship with the Major League Players Association and, of course, his most notable accomplishment—making the All Star Game count!

Some baseball writers speak of Selig as a sure-fire selection for the Hall of Fame as an executive one day. If so, what will the writers that say they will not cast a ballot for Bonds, Clemens or Alex Rodriguez do then?  Certainly Selig presided over the game as Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire were hitting “super” balls over the wall shattering a mark that had stood since Roger Maris achieved the feat of 61 home runs in 1961.

Anyone watching the Game of the Week on Fox could see players balloon into super heroes before their very eyes. Surely, it helped boost the ratings for Fox. Did they ever say anything or do an investigative piece?

Ivan Rodriguez and Sosa are two players who could have served as models for any of the leading weight loss companies. All you had to do was look at their baseball cards from their early years to their power years and then back to their last seasons to see the physical change in their bodies.

Will a baseball writer for the New York Post, Baltimore Sun or any other outlet that has a Hall of Fame vote exclude a player and let in the commissioner that governed the game during this era?  How do you prove anything when only a few have ever admitted to it?   Do you base a Hall of Fame vote on speculation or on hard facts?  What about the racists, alcoholics and cheaters that are already enshrined?  Gaylord Perry threw a spitball which effectively improved his chances of winning the games he started. He’s a Hall of Famer.

As a baseball fan and as a public relations practitioner, here’s my solution.

The Baseball Hall of Fame, Baseball Writers of America and Major League Baseball should publicly acknowledge this period in history as a black eye for the game. An exhibit should be created in Cooperstown devoted to the period of 1985-2005 as the “steroid era.” The display and historic review could outline how PEDs were prominent in the game with large numbers of players using them.

Anyone elected to the Hall of Fame that played during this period would have his plaque read “played in the steroid era” regardless if they were allegedly associated with PEDs or not.  Let’s face it a pitcher who did not use PEDs was certainly affected by facing hitters that were juiced. The same can be said for hitters that faced pitchers using PEDs.  What about the lesser players who used PEDs and made defensive plays or got big hits to help their teams during this era? Should all win-loss records be abolished then?

In doing so, they should also recognize that the time has come to stop pointing fingers at alleged users of PEDs.  I do not condone cheating nor do I take solace in the fact that records were set by players whose performance was enhanced through the use of steroids and other PEDs.  However, the game was impacted by PED use by more than just these high-profile players. Just look at the Mitchell Report. That’s why I think it’s unfair to keep someone off the ballot or not vote for them strictly because they allegedly used PEDs.  The entire era needs to be recognized for what it was.  Unless everyone eligible for Hall of Fame election comes forward and admits to being a PED user, how can you judge one over the other? And, who is to say, the Baseball Writers Association may have already enshrined someone who did abuse PEDs but was never suspected?

This is why I think the voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America should be mandated to vote on the numbers alone. There should be no grandstanding. A player’s merits would be based solely on what he did during his era of play.

Let’s face it, Pete Rose is barred because he gambled on baseball but his accomplishments are still recognized and on display in Cooperstown. He just does not have a plaque.  If the writers keep Bonds, Clemens and others from enshrinement, their bats, gloves and photos will still be on display as well.

So what are you telling fans?  The ball hit breaking Hank Aaron’s home run record belongs in Cooperstown but the man who hit it doesn’t?

They say Josh Gibson hit over 800 home runs in the Negro Leagues.  He did not face Major League pitching. Would his numbers have been the same? We will never know.

Were Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens Hall of Fame caliber players before the steroid era?  Many would say most definitely.  In fact, Bonds himself spoke out on this on Tuesday during an interview.

The bottom line is this is all subjective.  Acknowledge the sins of the past without placing any asterisks or purposely withholding votes for these players.

Just like it was wrong to place an asterisk next to Roger Maris’ 61 home runs because he did it playing in a season with eight more games than when Babe Ruth hit 60, so is it wrong to keep Barry Bonds out of the Hall of Fame.  Let him in with the other alleged cheaters, but recognize that he did so in an era when a large majority of his peers were also cheating.

The fans were not blind. They saw a definitive change in the game during this period. However, they came out in record numbers to see Major League games.  They did not come out to see a sportswriter.

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RT @sbjsbd: Roger Goodell working w NFLP

Posted in Uncategorized on August 2, 2012 by innovativemediapr

RT @sbjsbd: Roger Goodell working w NFLPA to address increasing # of player arrests. http://t.co/XatTuWaK @InsightfulPlayr can play role