Archive for Tom Cosentino

A Lesson Learned from Lee MacPhail

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on November 14, 2012 by innovativemediapr

Last week, Hall of Fame Baseball Executive Lee MacPhail passed away at the age of 95. While I never had the pleasure to meet Mr. MacPhail, he certainly kept me busy for a memorable couple of weeks while interning in the media relations department of the New York Yankees in 1983.

At the time, MacPhail, a former General Manager of the Yankees from 1967-1973, was the American League President. His ruling overturning home plate umpire Tim McClelland’s out call on George Brett for using a bat with too much pine tar on it after Brett hit a home run off Goose Gossage in the top of the 9th inning in the infamous Pine Tar Game on July 24, caused much consternation in the Yankee front offices. Brett’s home run putting the Royals in front would have been the third out because of the illegal bat and would have given the Yankees a 4-3 win.

MacPhail upheld a protest and said the home run counted and ordered the game to be resumed from the point of the home run. The game was completed on August 18 and the Royals won 5-4.

MacPhail’s ruling stated:
”The umpires’ interpretation, while technically defensible, is not in accord with the intent or spirit of the rules and that the rules do not provide that a hitter be called out for excessive use of pine tar. The rules provide instead that the bat be removed from the game,” he wrote. ”Although manager Martin and his staff should be commended for their alertness, it is the strong conviction of the league that games should be won and lost on the playing field – not through technicalities of the rules.”

During the span from July 24 to August 18 the Yankee front office was determined to have the resumption of the game stopped in the courts. A couple of fans had filed suit saying they could not attend the resumption of the game.

As this was developing, I was given a task in the media relations department. Come up with all the bad moves that Lee MacPhail had made while serving as Yankees General Manager.

A Yankee fan since I was eight, I had no problem recalling the lean years in Yankee history during the late 1960s. I started writing down some of the failed trades.

Clete Boyer to the Atlanta Braves for Bill Robinson
Roger Maris to the St. Louis Cardinals for Charlie Smith
Stan Bahnsen to the Chicago White Sox for Rich McKinney

What I also came up with was positive moves like the trade MacPahil orchestrated in 1972 to bring Sparky Lyle to the Yankees from the Red Sox in exchange for Danny Cater and Mario Guerrero and the one that landed Graig Nettles from the Cleveland Indians a year later. I also threw in that MacPhail had helped negotiate the Frank Robinson from the Reds to the Orioles deal for Milt Pappas just prior to leaving Baltimore to take the Yankees job.

After turning in my research, I was never asked again to delve any further into Lee MacPhail’s career.  Following the season, MacPhail retired and was elected to the Hall of Fame as an executive in 1998.

Even though as a Yankees fan I felt his ruling was in error, I always felt that the fair and balanced approach to evaluating Lee MacPhail might have saved the Yankees from a sportswriter trashing them for a one-sided approach. Personally, I don’t think my boss, Ken Nigro ever gave George Steinbrenner the information. He just wanted to be prepared in case he was asked.

Thanks to Lee MacPhail I’ve followed that fair and balanced approach throughout my career.

Tom Cosentino

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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

How to Make an Old Brand New? Mike and Ike Tries Splitting Up

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

When you have been around on store shelves for 72 years it’s not easy connecting with a new audience but that’s what Just Born, the makers of the flavored candy, Mike and Ike is trying. In order to introduce their candy to teenagers, Just Born is breaking up the fictional characters, and in doing so, giving them each an identity.  This is all part of a $15 million ad campaign this year, which will include an animated billboard in Times Square, commercials and a heavy social media presence.

Mike and Ike have never been revealed as individuals.  For the first two decades, just the names appeared on the box. Then in the 1960’s and 70’s two mustachioed men appeared on the packaging. The candy box currently carries images of colorful fruit.  Just Born is not sure how the origin of the name came about, speculating that it was based on characters from a vaudeville act, a popular song or an internal naming contest.

The campaign kicked off earlier this month with the launch of new packaging that has logos with the names Mike or Ike crossed off, as if someone scribbled it out and directed people to check the brand’s Facebook page where characters Mike and Ike discuss their grievances.

Ike faults Mike for spending too much time on his music while Mike disses his long-time partner for spending too much time on his graffiti art.

The campaign is the brainchild of Elevator Group of Massachusetts.

Last year, Mike and Ike had $33.1 in revenues for the year ending February 19, which was up 2.2% according to a recent New York Times story.  The $15 million ad campaign is a significant increase over the $125,000 budget last year.

Elevator Group has developed a program targeted to teens that includes getting celebrities, like NBA player Lamar Odom and Greyson Chance, a 14-year-old singer, to post YouTube videos, commenting on the breakup. You can watch the videos on the Facebook page . Meanwhile, Mike and Ike will blog on Tumblr airing their grievances and kids will be able to send in their own videos commenting on the split.

A year from now, based on the public’s response, we will know for sure if the break up is forever or if the characters will be reconciled. We’ll also know if the campaign succeeded in doubling sales by reaching the coveted teen market.

Using YouTube videos with prize incentives connected to the Facebook campaign and having the characters blog is an interesting tactic. However, will it resonate with the teen demographic?

Already, a Huffington Post food blog labled the campaign a gay divorce. This sparked a ton of chatter on the subject and earlier this week, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, blasted Just Born for turning Mike and Ike gay and sexualizing candy.  Which direction will this message take?

Last week, I had my Publicity Methods class at Rider University evaluate the campaign.  The class liked the concept but overwhelmingly thought that the elements of the campaign would not generate enough interest from a teen audience. They also felt the campaign, although geared to teens, had conflicting messages and still was adult-centric.

What I wondered and what the class posed, was what research was Elevator Marketing basing its campaign on?  Without detailed knowledge of the data, the class did come up with the following suggestions for reaching the teen audience:

–        Movie trailers – instead of billboards, why not create a movie trailer commercial that would be shown at theaters across the country, with the targeted teen audience in their seats and able to purchase Mike and Ike at the candy counter.

–        Mike and Ike Street Teams – get groups of kids to side with each character and make appearances at malls, events and areas where teens go

–        Mike and Ike Tee Shirt Brigade – make up shirts for fans of Mike and Ike and hand them out to kids.

–        Mike and Ike Tour – hold rallies for Mike and/or Ike fans to gather. Mike Tour stops would feature local musicians and Ike tour stops would feature young artists. Each group would be staging their event in support of their respective character.

–        Celebrity Ambassadors – get celebrities to take a stand, coming out in favor of Mike or Ike. Youth-oriented advocates would be preferable.

–        Best break up lines – It’s not you, but me…run a national contest

My great addition to the marketing mix was to do a national search for Mike and Ike and give two teens, one a musician and the other an artist the chance to be on the candy box as the animated characters a year from now.

While these ideas germinated from a classroom discussion, the conversation proved that the campaign was already effective in causing a buzz. People are talking about Mike and Ike. If the right audience does, than Elevator Group and Just Born would have proven that an old brand can become new.

Tom Cosentino

 

iMedia Public Relations President on NJTV Tonight

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on January 6, 2012 by innovativemediapr

Tonight on NJTV’s NJ Today newscast, I will be interviewed as part of a news segment devoted to legislation allowing for New Jersey wineries to direct-ship wine to consumers in and out of the state, as well as preserving the retail outlets operated by New Jersey wineries.

On Thursday in Trenton, the Assembly Budget Panel, by a vote of 7-0-4 advanced and released A-4436, out of committee bringing this piece of legislation to the floor of the Assembly for a full vote on Monday, January 9.

This is an issue that iMedia Public Relations and our sister agency, Capital Public Affairs have been driving for almost three years. We created www.UnCorkNJ.com, a grassroots community of wine enthusiasts in New Jersey to help lobby for legislation that would give New Jersey wineries the right to do what wineries in 38 other states currently can, directly ship wine to the homes of consumers within and out-of-state. The proposed legislation also allows small out-of-state wineries that produce 250,000 gallons of wine and under each year to ship directly to New Jersey consumers.

A-4436, sponsored by Assemblyman John Burzichelli, Deputy Speaker John Wisniewski and Assemblywoman Celeste Riley, is a vital piece of legislation that ensures the future of the New Jersey wine industry, bringing New Jersey wine to a national market of 38 other states that allow direct shipping, while also preserving farmland and creating jobs in New Jersey.

This issue has been strongly endorsed by editorials in eight leading newspapers in the state. You can access each editorial by clicking here. Newspapers that have published editorials in favor of the legislation are:

Burlington County Times
Courier Post
Express Times
Gloucester County Times
Newark Star Ledger
Philadelphia Inquirer
Press of Atlantic City
Trenton Times

 
A year ago, a Federal Court ruling effectively ruled that New Jersey wineries were operating in an unconstitutional manner by not allowing out-of-state wineries to operate retail outlets and tasting rooms in the state. The Federal Judge extended her deadline for New Jersey to correct the situation to March 21, 2012. Failure to act on this could mean the closure of retail outlets and tasting rooms in New Jersey which would effectively close many of the state’s wineries. Over a dozen new wineries in New Jersey are frozen from being licensed until this matter is resolved.

A-4436 remedies that situation by allowing out-of-state wineries to open retail outlets in New Jersey. Senator Sweeney sponsored S-3172, which the Senate passed with bi-partisan support, 23-13 in December. This bill, and its accompanying piece of legislation in the Assembly, rectify the situation and protect the retail operations of NJ wineries, while allowing them to ship wine directly to consumers.

Those of you in New Jersey that are in favor of giving New Jersey wineries the chance to grow their industry can show their support by contacting their Assembly representatives and urging them to pass this bill on Monday. You can do it directly through http://www.uncorknj.com.

Tom Cosentino