Chobani Yogurt Offers Lesson in Crisis PR

Chobani’s PR team yogurt

Chobani’s PR team offers a lesson in crisis management do’s and don’ts.

As so many things do these days, it all started on Facebook. In the last few days of August, fans of Chobani’s Facebook page began reporting “puffy lids” and a “carbonated” taste from the top-selling Greek-style yogurt maker in the U.S. The company quickly realized it had a problem.

It took baby steps to remedy, first asking stores in Oregon and elsewhere to pull containers over an unspecified “quality problem.” One week later, as its Facebook page and the media erupted with stories of “poisoned” yogurt, Chobani issued a voluntary recall through the Food and Drug Administration.

The problem, as it turns out, was fairly benign. The culprit was a species of mold called Mucor circinelloides, which is commonly found in the dairy environment and is not considered a foodborne pathogen. Yet it still causes illness. Neither the FDA nor Chobani will release the number of people reporting to have been negatively impacted, only saying “its not in the hundreds or thousands.”

Chobani’s PR team

Mold caused Chobani containers to swell. Photo credit:

Chobani’s PR team response

As a PR case study, Chobani did many things right. They put their compassionate and endearing CEO, Hamdi Ulukaya, front and center, using his name and image to release updates and statements to customers. They were honest and educational, issuing beautiful infographics on the Mucor circinelloides mold strain and how to identify if you had yogurt impacted by the recall. The apologies were heartfelt and honest. “I’m sorry I let you down,” the statement from Ulukaya began. He signed it with his first name only, “Hamdi.”

Here’s where Chobani’s PR team missed to boat: they tried to sugar coat. Literally. On Aug. 31 they posted a note to their Facebook page acknowledging the voluntary removal and replacement of some products from store shelves. Good move, Chobani. Many companies hate to admit there is a problem before all the facts are on the table. They took the reins, and put themselves in position to own the story and to serve as a trusted resource. Then they botched it by waiting five days to make another announcement, filling the void with recipes for smoothies and Crème Brulee Cheesecake Bars. Customers weren’t happy, filling the comment boxes with demands for more information.

Here’s the lesson: In times of crisis, reconsider your regularly scheduled soft marketing campaigns. When people can’t even buy your product, and as it turns out, shouldn’t be eating what they have in their fridge, it’s poor form to tempt them with Crème Brulee Cheesecake Bars. Communicate often and communicate honestly, even if its only to tell customers you have nothing more to share but work continues to provide them with an answer. But, whatever you do, don’t let the story tell itself for you in the form of angry customer comments and speculative media reports.

How’d Chobani’s PR team do?

As the air seems to be clearing, the net-net is that Chobani’s PR team did great work. And they should have: Chobani reported in July that it had just amped up its internal marketing and communications teams, with plans to up its marketing spend to around $70 million next year, according to AdAge. But there is always room for improvement, and in this case Chobani’s initial hesitancy to update and its unnecessary filling of the void with fluff could have been a major misstep.

Selfie is Officially “Liked” by the OE


It’s come to this. “Selfie”, the term for mobile phone self-portraits generally aligned with vain teenage girls, has now entered the lexicon and joins proper words like “forsooth”, “serendipity” and “horse” in the Oxford English Dictionary, otherwise known as the OED and grandfather master of all dictionaries. The inclusion reflects an acceptance of other tech-related words no one over the age of 20 thought were actually words, various fashion trends you’ll recognize from the past few years, and a wide and somewhat bewildering array of acronyms and abbreviations generated from text-speak. “Twerk” (the dance move most recently appropriated by Miley Cyrus) was included as well, along with “unlike” (in reference to withdrawing your social media approval), “fauxhawk” (it’s not like these are going away), and “srsly” (seriously?).


The full list:

Here’s the full list of words most recently accepted:

Apls, A/W, babymoon, balayage, bitcoin, blondie, buzzworthy, BYOD, cake pop, chandelier earring, click and collect, dappy, derp, digital detox, double denim, emoji, fauxhawk, FIL, flatform, FOMO, food baby, geek chic, girl crush, grats, guac, hackerspace, Internet of things, jorts, LDR, me time, MOOC, omnishambles, pear cider, phablet, pixie cut, selfie, space tourism, squee, srsly, street food, TL;DR, twerk, and unlike.

What do you think about the addition of selfie? Only a matter of time? A helpful reference as millennials take over the world? Or is this the destruction of the English language as we know it?

Once The Dust Settles, Will The Moda Center Be Worth It?

identity transformation

It’s a dark day in the Rose City.

As I’m sure you’ve all heard by now, the home of the Portland Trail Blazers will no longer be called the Rose Garden. In an attempt to bring in more funding, the president of the Blazers announced last week that their home, deemed the Rose Garden in 1995 when the arena opened, has been renamed the Moda Center. The name change comes as a result of a corporate sponsorship with Moda Health (formally ODS), the local insurance company headquartered in Portland.

As you can imagine, this hasn’t set well with Portlanders. Not only have there been social media rants and petitions swirling around the internet, but from a PR perspective, I don’t think it was a great tactic in keeping the community’s support.

An identity transformation

A year ago, the Trail Blazers began their identity transformation with a new president, new general manager and a new point guard. So why not throw in a new name for the arena? This 10-year partnership with provide the Blazers with $40 million, which is apparently significantly larger than multiple naming-rights deals in some mid-sized NBA markets. And after watching a successful sponsorship/name change with PGE Park to Jeld-Wen Field, I can understand why the Blazers thought this could be seamless.

Is money the answer?

But it wasn’t for the Blazers, and it won’t be for a while. So, I have to ask – once the dust settles, will the Moda Center’s money be the right answer for the Blazers? And not just for the Blazers, but for Moda Health and the Rose City? A decade ago, I think the Blazers could have made the change with limited backlash. But in today’s era of social media with instant, overly-vocalized opinions, I think the repercussions may be too large. While it is evident the Blazers need a corporate sponsor, it may not have been necessary to have a complete renaming. This move may go down in Portland’s history as one of those bad decisions we never let them forget.

AT&T and Herzog Join Forces on PSA

It seems an unlikely match. Werner Herzog, director of bizarre but awesome films and documentaries such as “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” and “Grizzly Man”, has joined forces with AT&T to create a documentary on the devastating consequences of texting while driving. Sharing the stories of both victims and perpetrators of texting and driving, the documentary is meant to raise awareness about an issue that continues to impact lives in our technology-driven culture.

In the past, Herzog has been outspoken against product marketing in creative mediums, but explained to the AP that this was entirely different. “This has nothing to do with consumerism or being part of advertising products. This whole campaign is rather dissuading you from excessive use of a product. It’s a campaign. We’re not trying to sell anything to you. We’re not trying to sell a mobile phone to you. We’re trying to raise awareness.”

PSA or ad campaign?

But is it really possible for a company like AT&T to launch any campaign completely free from the ties of consumerism? I would argue that it’s not. They are a company and they sell things. While such a campaign deserves to be noticed and hopefully will have a positive effect on those who can’t put their phones down, anything that AT&T puts out into the world is building their brand and their emotional connection with current customers and would-be customers. That’s just the nature of branding and public relations. While the use of Herzog, a talented, famous and famously anti-marketing director, adds star power and credibility to the documentary, it doesn’t necessarily negate the company’s ultimate connection to the campaign. And why should it? There’s nothing wrong with a company doing something good and predominantly altruistic once in a while; AT&T and Herzog is a great PR move. Having nothing to do with consumerism may be stretch, but let’s hope this particular campaign has some positive impact.

How to Get Away with Cheating: Does The Right PR Save Our Country’s Elite from Their Lying, Cheating Ways?

cheating scandals

From politicians, to athletes, to celebrities, our country is fascinated by the downside of being in the public eye – the skeletons in their closet. I will admit that I, too, am drawn in to breaking news about celebrity affairs! One of the most infamous cheating scandals of our generation is none other than Tiger Woods. We all remember that Thanksgiving his wife chased him down the street with a golf club, uncovering what is now one of the most talked about and expensive divorces ever. Tiger was not only drug through the mud and sold out by more than a dozen women, but professional sponsors pulled out losing a reported $22 million in endorsement deals. Four years ago, PR maven Howard Rubenstein even said that “[Tiger] is beyond PR redemption. He is in public relations hell right now. There is not a PR man on Earth who can restore his image.”

Cheating scandals

Howard may know PR, but he certainly didn’t have a crystal ball. Fast forward to 2013 and it’s time to re-evaluate. Has his image finally recovered from the infidelity scandal? I’d say yes! Not only is he back on top of Forbes’ list of the world’s highest paid athletes, he’s returned to the top of the World Golf Rankings with a lovely lady by his side.

Tiger was certainly not the first to be scrutinized by the masses, and he is definitely not the last. In the last couple of years, cheating scandals have been thrust into the public eye, often leaving the one at fault to be judged under a microscope. Let me just preface the term ‘cheating’ doesn’t necessary mean infidelity; I am clumping professional cheating and irresponsibility as well. For instance, Lance Armstrong’s public outing for doping, Paula Deen’s reckless words, A-Rod’s suspension for performance enhancement abuse, Anthony Weiner’s multiple (multiple!) indiscretions with women, and most recently, Portland’s own Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen’s highly exposed affair with another woman. In a day and age where public figures’ private lives are no longer private, how do they successfully come out the other side?

cheating scandals

Cheating the system?

As someone in the industry, I can guarantee the image refresh people like Tiger receive is all due to careful planning by a team of highly skilled public relations professionals. Good PR is what saved Tiger Woods. And it’s what can either save or destroy all of the other cheaters mentioned. Look at Paula Deen at her time on the Today Show – either she rejected her counsel’s suggestions or she needed to find a new PR team. So the question I must ask is: What does it take to erase your cheating scandal when you’re in the public eye? Is it timing, the type of scandal or is it simply the skill set of your PR team?

Marketing on Pinterest

Addicted to Pinterest

Hello, my name is Kelda, and I am addicted to Pinterest.

It is not a healthy addition. I am guilty of hoarding recipes for sinful desserts and images of $10,000 handbags.

It is not a victimless addiction.  My family regularly falls prey to my cooking experiments and crafting disasters, all of which were inspired by Pinterest.

It takes away from time with my family. “Just one more page,” I mutter at night on the couch, lacking the willpower to shut my laptop.  My only solace is that I’m not the only one.

Addicted to Pinterest

A new audience

Pinterest is now the third largest social media network after Facebook and Twitter, yet brands have struggled with how to tap into Pinterest as part of their marketing efforts. It is a daunting and seemingly shallow platform, and unlike Facebook, it is wholly driven by the community. Oh, and that community? It’s dominated by women. In fact, women are five times more likely than men to use Pinterest, according to the Pew Research Center.

Addicted to Pinterest

Addicted to Pinterest

As an addict, I hope Pinterest stays pure and is never tarnished by the marketing efforts that have transformed Facebook into the cold and unsecure environment it now is. But as a person working in marketing and PR I am interested to see the ways Pinterest may evolve.

Today, a successful brand is using Pinterest altruistically. They are not exclusively promoting one product or service. The most successful brand shares the best of what’s out there – pretty things and good ideas – all which subtly and carefully represent the brand aesthetic.  It may not always be so philanthropic, but for now all that pretty, community-driven content fuels my addition like no other.

When It’s Not All About Me Anymore

A new logo for A.wordsmith

When I first started A.wordsmith in early 2009, it was more of an experiment than anything else. I had just fallen victim to the economy and was part of a large round of layoffs. I was also very pregnant and not very marketable when it came to a new job. I had nine years of professional experience under my belt and after conversations with several mentors and my family I decided to take the plunge and become my own boss.

My initial goal was really just to have a couple of clients and bring in enough money to support our household. The A.wordsmith moniker was born as a clever combination of my name and what I love doing and my logo was central to me, myself and I – with my beaming face front and center.

Fast forward to present day and what has been discovered is my own deep entrepreneurial spirit that is part of my Simmons-born DNA. Not only am I passionate about providing excellent client service, but also growing my business as part of that effort.  In early 2012 I came to a crossroads, realizing that either I needed put the brakes on new business and be satisfied with my current state, or forge on and grow. I could no longer go it alone.  Since then I have been fortunate to engage a stellar team of contract employees with skills ranging from strategic PR, writing, graphic design and copy editing.

Bottom line is that A.wordsmith is no longer just about Ann – and I love that!  But with that came the realization that no longer was my logo truly representative of the business. The original logo for A.wordsmith has served me well and prompted many a conversation. I’m deeply thankful to our friend, neighbor and graphic designer extraordinaire Vince Ewert who did the design back when there was no extra cash and his payment was truly a dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings. For this latest phase of branding, I enlisted the help of designer Megan Zimmer, a member of the A.wordsmith team, and I’m very excited about the look and feel. The logo is definitely not a far cry from the first one, which I like…makes me feel at home, and I hope it evokes those same feelings for others who have been around for the whole journey or those just coming on board.

old logo for A.wordsmith logo for A.wordsmith

Party on the River

human access project

The Human Access Project wants to change the way Portland thinks about the Willamette.

Ah, the mighty Willamette. It’s a beautiful river that serves as a landmark, an industrial thoroughfare and an integral part of Portland life. And, if you’re like most people who’ve spent some time in the Portland area, you’re as likely to dip a toe in the river as you are to head down to the sewage treatment plant for a lap swim. We all know that you just don’t swim in the river.

But what would you say if I told you the Willamette River, in Portland, is approved for summer swimming? Officially. I mean, approved by reputable sources like the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the City of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services and the City of Portland’s Office of Healthy Working Rivers. With the 20-year-long Big Pipe project completed in 2011 (the largest public works project in Portland’s history), the frequency of what is politely called Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) is expected to drop to almost zero. When CSO is not in action, the river’s approved for swimming and other recreational opportunities. That’s fine and great, but what about public perception? We all know the river is filthy. Ask anyone.

It’s an upstream PR battle, but the Human Access Project is doing what they can to change public opinion and they’re doing it Portland-style. Yes, they’re throwing a party. The Big Float takes place on Sunday, July 28th, and it’s dedicated to floating down the Willamette en masse, to end up at a beach (yes, Portland has a beach now) where bands, food and drink, massage chairs, and possibly a bounce castle will be waiting to entertain the masses and remind them that touching the Willamette, with both feet, isn’t so bad.

See you there?

The True Cost of Unpaid Interns

summer unpaid intern

Unpaid interns are disrupting the media – and not in a good way.

Summer interns everywhere should be watching their backs after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) blamed an unpaid intern for the inaccurate and unauthorized confirmation to media of the names of the crew members of an Asiana Airlines jet that crashed in San Francisco on July 6. When the TV-news station, KTVU in Oakland, read the names on-air and posted them in an on-screen graphic the news report became one of the more widely snickered-about TV-news screw-ups in years.

Both the NTSB and KTVU issued apologies and the unnamed intern, who now has one hell of a gap in his resume, was fired.

Ironically, this incident occurred just as a rash of unpaid intern vs. employer lawsuits have hit the court system.

The legal dilemma

It all started June 11, when a federal district court judge in New York ruled that Fox Searchlight Pictures should have compensated two unpaid interns for their work on the 2010 movie Black Swan. Two days later a former intern for W Magazine and another for The New Yorker filed lawsuits against publisher Condê Nast claiming they were paid less than $1 an hour. And on June 17, a former Atlantic Records intern filed a lawsuit against Warner Music Group citing unpaid wages for office work performed from October 2007 to May 2008.

unpaid interns coffee

The management risk

As media budget cuts continue at a seemingly unsustainable rate, the trend of hiring low- or un-paid interns is on the rise. Publishing Executive reported that it is not uncommon for editors to be told to hire more unpaid interns to cut costs (Magazine Editor Confesses: “Management Tells us to Hire Unpaid Interns”).

Outside of the obvious downsides of replacing seasoned reporters with inexperienced and low-paid recent graduates – poor, inaccurate reporting, tinged with bitterness and Top Ramen – it creates a whole slew of potential issues regarding intern management.

Ultimately, that poor (literally and figuratively) unpaid NTSB intern didn’t deserve full blame for the embarrassing Asiana Airlines incident. The manager, whom in exchange for free labor was responsible for job training and supervision, was equally at fault. Plus, now that NTSB took the “my intern did it!” excuse, media outlets thinking they are getting a great deal with free or low-paid interns this summer might consider the true cost of their free labor. In the end, I guess you really do get what you pay for.

Unleashing My Inner Talent Scout

country music

Those who know me well have likely heard about my pipedream to live in Nashville and work in the country music business. This stems from my deep love of music that took old when my mom brought home a Reba McEntire greatest hits album when I was 8 years old. Since that day I have made it my business to know and love music – especially country.

Unfortunately I don’t currently know how I can make a move to Nashville a reality, but in the meantime I have had the awesome opportunity to book and promote some local acts at my parents’ guest ranch in Southern Oregon. On Saturday we welcomed Cloverdayle to the resort and had an absolutely incredible time. If you live in the Northwest and love country music, make it a point to see them perform this summer, because this fall they move to Nashville and there’s no telling when they’ll be back. I have gotten a total rush out of identifying great talent in the region, booking them, leveraging some good ol’ PR skills to promote the show and then getting to partake in the fun on event night.

For hard-working ranching families who live in that part of the state, taking a break from reality and enjoying a great meal followed by a fun performance is a special way to spend a summer evening. And for me, getting to meet these up-and-coming artists and pick their brains about Nashville and any inside scoop they can share about business allows me a brief window into this world I’ve watched from afar for so many years. So while I’m not working on Music Row, this is a pretty fun next-best-thing. Thanks again to Chad and Rachel Hamar for the amazing performance and for my parents for being willing to put on these annual concert series, and indulge my inner music producer.