Category Archives: General Corporate

February 11, 2015 | cwinters | Tagged , , ,

Is It Time to Stop Talking About Millennials in the Workplace?

millennialsEvery day, we are inundated with news articles, infographics and studies about Millennials in the workplace, and the challenges of managing them.  Millennials are lazy, entitled, disloyal…or a contrarian view that Millennials are more career-driven, more qualified and in some way better than any generation entering the workforce.

Funny, I’ve heard that narrative about the disenfranchised, difficult and lazy generation once before – it was about Generation X – for whom Wynona Ryder in Reality Bites served as the poster child.  I know because I am (technically) a member of Generation X.  But none of those labels applied to me, or anyone I knew or worked with.  We were all working late every night, for low pay; frustrated that our bosses didn’t understand us; interested in being mentored, and in building careers. It was hard to find a job, we were discouraged that we had expensive educations and couldn’t find a job.   Sound familiar?

As careers are stretching longer, the reality is that the multigenerational workforce is here to stay.  Each generation that enters the workforce brings their own life experiences and expectations to the table.  Being an effective multigenerational leader is one of the greatest challenges in business today.

Generation Z is upon us.  Maybe it’s time we stopped talking about Millennials in the workplace, and started focusing on multigenerational management instead.

February 10, 2015 | cwinters | Tagged , , ,

The 5 Things We Can All Learn From a CEO’s First 100 Days

100-days-as-CEOOne of the things I enjoy the most about my job is working with CEOs as they embark on a new leadership journey.  A new CEO gets a blank page, a fresh start – and the opportunity to decide what he or she wants to stand for as a leader, and to impact an entire organization, and sometimes an entire industry.  This is a business situation where the power of communications is clear – to define goals, to build consensus, to bring a little bit of inspiration to the world.

Much is written about a CEO’s first 100 days, and MWW has its own 100 day protocol for embarking on this journey, and creating the leadership trajectory for the executive and the Company.  But what does a CEO’s approach to the first 100 days teach us about individuals and their careers?  What should everyone do on the first day of a new job?  I was intrigued about advice on this topic coming from Mary Barra, who has spent her entire career at GM, and who reminded me (an MWW lifer) that a new job isn’t just starting at a new company – it is starting a new role or even a new project.  You can find Mary Barra’s advice here, as well as a few takeaways from MWW’s experience in working with new leaders:

  1. You’ve already got the job, so it is OK to listen more than you talk in the early days.  We can all learn from our colleagues, and that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have your job.
  2. What you do is more important than what you say – this is a “wait and see” environment.  Your stakeholders will watch and wait – do you walk the talk?
  3. You will inevitably inherit problems.  Be part of the solution.  Responsibility isn’t the same as fault…pick up the baggage and be responsible for making it better.  Talk about the path forward, because you won’t always have all the answers off the bat.
  4. Expect teamwork and collaboration and lead by example.
  5. Be transparent, and be human.   When people know you, it is easier to trust you.

February 9, 2015 | cwinters | Tagged , , ,

The Connection Between Happiness and Success

happinesssuccessMWW recently held an annual leadership retreat – where we came together for two days to collaborate on priorities, define (and re-define) goals for our company and refresh relationships as a team.  We were fortunate to have support from some experts and facilitators who began with a very simple, but bold statement.  Happy people = happy outcomes/results.

Perhaps it is the power of suggestion, I’ve started to see this premise popping up everywhere since that day, and it seems to be a dominant theme coming from successful female leaders.  Like Ivanka Trump, who says that having a happy family life is the key to her business success, or Palo Alto Software’s CEO who argues that leaning in isn’t the key to success, happiness is.  The economics of happiness, which first caught my eye a few years ago at Davos, has become a “thing” attracting attention from esteemed organizations like the Brookings Institute, TED and HBR.  Cultivation of happiness as a leadership strategy has fawned books and white papers.  But is it a “girl thing”?

Do female leaders have the market cornered on the power of happiness over personal success, and an organization?  Or is it simply more acceptable for a female leader to talk about it?


February 6, 2015 | cwinters | Tagged , ,

Has Brian Williams Put the Reputation of News At Risk?

brian-williams-lie-iraq-4Last night at dinner with some colleagues, the topic of Brian Williams and his Paul Bunyan tale of being shot down in the Iraqi desert came up.  Is he a liar?  An embellisher? Or a victim of some sort of false memory syndrome?

No doubt, experts more qualified than me will be filling the airwaves talking about false memory retrieval.  Heck, if you watched any kind of crime drama, you know that humans don’t always recall things in the way that they actually happened, and that memory can be suggestively shaped over time.

For me, the bigger issue is the line between news and entertainment.  We’ve seen politicians exaggerate the level of danger they were in when visiting war zones before, but we expect our news anchors to be truthful purveyors of the facts.

Was it not dramatic enough to be on the front lines in a combat zone?  Was there encouragement (overt or covert) to make the headline sexier?  In an era where it isn’t enough to just report on a story, and talent is encouraged to become part of the story how can we preserve the integrity of news reporting?  No one would have asked Walter Cronkite to get an on air colonoscopy.  David Brinkley would not have tearfully recount the tale of spousal infidelity. (Frank Gifford at one point claimed not to remember his affair – so there’s that memory thing again).

Rumor has it that Tom Brokaw threatened to leave the network when Geraldo Rivera was given a show on CNBC, claiming that Geraldo’s style of journalism discredited the entire industry. Give Brokaw credit for consistency, because he is expressing his disapproval on this issue, too.

The rise in popularity of news anchors as entertainers, and the blurred line between information and entertainment puts those tasked with reporting the news in a difficult position where chasing ratings has replaced the dignity of reporting news that made the original anchors celebrities to begin with.   NBC has invested millions in building the Brian Williams brand.  He is important to the franchise.  It will be interesting to see how NBC responds, and perhaps more importantly, how the industry responds, when the American public is already cynical about the impartiality of the news.

There is more at stake here than just Brian Williams and his future.  The reputation of an entire industry is at risk.


February 4, 2015 | cwinters | Tagged ,

Banned in Boston: Anti-Olympic Talk

boston2024I remember early in my career a client told me they were working on a commercial that would get banned in Boston.  He said it gleefully, and I didn’t get it.  And because I was a starry-eyed young pro dazzled by early exposure to a CEO, I simply asked him to explain why he wanted to be banned in Boston.  You see, this company was operating under Chapter 11, cash strapped, and in an era before the Internet, looking for a low cost way to get people excited about their brand.  They didn’t actually have the money for a national TV buy, so they were making a racy ad (which today would not seem racy), attempting to place it in Boston and getting the media to write about the ad. An early lesson in building buzz, when any attention was good attention.

Unfortunately, the same may not be true for the latest ban in Boston – the ban on city employees speaking negatively about an Olympic bid.  It’s likely that there is a law firm already blogging about the legal implications of such a broad restriction, but from a communications perspective, banning discussion and debate seems like a questionable move.

We often tell clients that they need to embrace dialogue and two way conversation.  Employee support of your company’s initiative – even if that “company” is best earned by communicating and working to earn their buy in, not via mandate.

An Olympic bid is a big undertaking, and one that inevitably comes with some level of controversy.  Prohibiting conversation about it doesn’t make it go away.


February 3, 2015 | cwinters | Tagged , , ,

Super Bowl Reveals the NFL’s Broader Issue


It was hard to watch the Super Bowl without thinking that the NFL has had a rough year. And while the pre-Super Bowl scandal of  #DeflateGate is certainly not in the realm of serious issues such as domestic violence and child abuse, it is representative of a pervasive problem in the leagues culture—a lack of character. Pre-game pundits wondered if the aura of cheating would haunt the Patriots even if they won.  Would the crowd, commentators or even the officials, have a decidedly pro-Seattle slant in an effort to put that scandal to bed?

While we can’t say for certain whether or not the Patriots did cheat, we know that they have been accused of it in the past, and that this football culture where the “rules don’t apply to me” is certainly not unique to New England or the NFL. We see the issues with this culture at every level of the sport. It is instilled at a young age, especially in universities and high schools across the country where teachers boost the grades of a star quarterback, where campus scandals like the University of North Carolina’s “sham classes” that get brushed under the rug. When they get to the big league, the issues just get proportionally bigger. And while integrity is no longer required of professional athletes in pretty much any sport, the NFL seems to get more than its share of “bad boy” behavior.  And it seemingly begins at the college level, and even earlier.

I understand on the surface it seems trite to discuss the air within a football against marked regulations that has spanned into a nationwide debate; but this takes on an iceberg effect, especially when the league’s head proclaims it is his job to protect the integrity of the game. Yet we’ve seen little to no action from the league that attracts millions of eyeballs, generates billions of dollars and influences countless numbers of our youth.

The icing on the cake came in the final moments of the game, when the professed “good guys” from Seattle behaved as badly as any of the villains and bad actors we’ve seen. The NFL needs to take a long, hard look at itself this upcoming offseason and develop a serious game plan in working to deflate this bad boy culture. For starters, the league should consider improving its relationship with the NFL Players’ Association (NFLPA) in developing their conduct policy, which would provide a much-need backbone to reinforcing quality character.

As I’ve said before, “Character is measured by your actions when you think no one is watching,” and in this instance, character stands by your actions when EVERYONE is watching. I must say congratulations to the Patriots organization on taking home their fourth title, but to the NFL—despite your recent progress on image, I must emphasize the need to be better when brandishing “your shield.”

January 30, 2015 | cwinters | Tagged , , ,

Something Positive for the NFL

jjwattIf you are a crisis communications enthusiast, the NFL has been a gift that keeps on giving in the past year, with a steady drumbeat of scandals providing ample fodder for commentary.  2014 was not a kind year for the NFL…or should I say, the NFL did its best to skewer itself in 2014? From incidents involving former fan favorites Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson to Commissioner Goodell’s mishandling of each situation, the hits just kept on coming for the league.   In some cases, the bad behavior turned fans off, others like #deflategate became a rallying cry and unifier about the team you love to hate.

With each new headline, you could practically hear loyal fans groaning and public opinion plummeting. As we get ready for the Big Game, and the plethora of marketing stunts that accompany it (Puppy Bowl, anyone?), let’s take a break from the hate, and look at how NFL owners and players have been working to rebuild trust, one player at a time (with perhaps a twinge of hope that some of this would “go viral” – which has replaced “be on Oprah” as the single common wish of any client at any agency today).

Exhibit A:  Carolina Panthers owner, Jerry Richardson, sent a handwritten note to a young boy in Kansas inviting him to be a Panthers fan.  The boy sent letters to all 32 teams explaining that everyone in his family loved football, but he was the only one without loyalty to a specific team, and asked which team should be “his team.” Richardson was the only one who answered, and he promised the boy that the team would make him proud to be a fan by their classy behavior.  Talk about cultivating the next generation of brand enthusiasts!

Exhibit B:  JJ Watt, received a signed jersey from an 7-year-old fan, along with a handwritten note outlining the ways the two were similar – everything from wearing the No. 99 to being labeled the “most feared rusher” in their leagues. He wrote back with this advice: “to stay confident, and keep working hard.” That note, and a signed pair of cleats went a long way.

These two stories feel like the sports icons of a different generation – who took their responsibility to the fans, and to binge a role model seriously.  Two heartwarming stories won’t rehabilitate the reputation of the league.  But the commitment to doing the right things, as individuals, as a team and as a league, will be key to getting the NFL back on track.  Today, the teams and the league are being judged by the worst behavior of an individual – it will take a lot of examples of good behavior to drown out that drumbeat.  But the little things matter.  Perhaps the NFL can win back the affection of the American public, one fan at a time.

January 29, 2015 | cwinters | Tagged , ,

What A Headscarf Tells Us About the Power of Twitter

US President heads high profile delegation to Saudi ArabiaI had a colleague who used to challenge every reporter that he felt was off base with the question, “What is it, a slow news day?”  Back then, reporters would try to uncover stories by calling you on the phone, testing a theory, a rumor and sometimes just fishing for news.  It was pretty easy to identify the rumors about your company before they became pervasive.  And while we didn’t know it at the time, it was a lot easier to contain them.

We’ve observed for years now that social media has fundamentally changed the news cycle.  This is particularly true in a crisis, where social commentary can take on a life of its own.  And while we may long for the days when a response within 60 minutes was considered the gold standard of crisis communications, in the current environment, it is more like 60 seconds.

But the rise of social media and the plethora of easily accessible opinion makers have also fundamentally changed the news business.  Today, it’s better to be first than to be right.  And often, no one will ever know if you are right because the race to join the conversation creates a lot of copycat headlines until the opinion becomes accepted as fact.

The most recent case in point: Michelle Obama’s visit to the Saudi Arabian king without covering her head.  Widely reported as either a snub to Saudi culture or a bold stand to support women in the Arab world, the missing headscarf was actually neither of those things.  It was a continuation of long standing protocol.  Our First Lady wasn’t the first to bare a naked head, and she won’t be the last.

Twitter, once considered a channel, is now a news source.  Couple that with the emerging universe of bogus news outlets – like the fake medical journals with authentic sounding names that agreed to publish a fabricated Harvard medical study entitled Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs and the environment becomes complex, indeed.

How can a company protect itself from an attack of “tweeters gone wild?”   It’s important to actively monitor what is being said about your company or brand on social media.  And while active listening is good, all listening is not created equal.  Pay attention to who is talking about you, and how – particularly if those people are highly influential – with large numbers of followers.  Take note of sharing, re-tweeting and other activity that gives the conversation legs.  And most importantly, participate early and often, establish and preserve your role as the primary source of factual information, to the media and to the world.

Because not everyone gets the same opportunity to correct the record as the White House.

January 28, 2015 | cwinters | Tagged , , , ,

The Anti-Vaccine Movement and the Power of a Narrative

Measles CaliforniaSocial media is exploding with infographics and articles about vacciners v. anti-vacciners, fueled by a measles outbreak traced to Disneyland.  And while the experts argue about herd immunity, and the fact that we’ve forgot, as a society, what it was like for most families to bury at least one child due to diseases like measles, mumps and rubella, PR people can take a lesson about the power of a narrative, and the power of third parties.

Not too long ago, a narrative developed around the connection between vaccines and autism, based on fake science.  In short, mistrust of big pharmaceutical companies — who are vaccine advocates, presumably to sell more vaccines with no interest in saving lives (sarcasm intended) – and amnesia about childhood morbidity enables a shift in our society’s fear.  We began to fear autism more than we feared death of our children.  And as diagnoses of disorders on the spectrum increased exponentially, we needed someone to blame.  Throw in a couple of celebrities who adopted an anti-vaccine stance, and a few scientists who assured us that herd immunity would protect us, and voila, the anti-vaccine movement took hold.

This Wag the Dog-like manipulation of the public psyche is something we haven’t seen since big tobacco.  And while even the most successful PR campaigns are rarely this dramatic, the lessons remain the same.  To change people’s minds about an issue, you need to craft a compelling narrative, and line up the right third parties.  Even if it isn’t a life or death issue.

What we are seeing now is the battle of the narratives – one based on a fear, and another based on facts and science.  The question is this, can the facts shift the fear away from fear of vaccine reactions to fear of children dying form preventable illnesses?  I know where I stand on this issue, as a parent and as a PR practitioner.  But we will have to see how it unfolds.

November 14, 2014 | cwinters | Tagged , , ,

In Wake Of Blackfish Backlash, SeaWorld Takes A Plunge


BLACKFISH_Film_PosterThe verdict is out on the impact of “Blackfish,” the 2013 documentary that put SeaWorld’s treatment of orca whales in the line of fire: SeaWorld reported another disappointing quarter this week, with its profit falling 28 percent and its stock price down more than 50 percent from its 2013 April IPO following the news. We’ve been waiting to see how SeaWorld’s unconventional, public refutation would play out…and now we know. Customers and investors have spoken by closing their wallets.

While SeaWorld attempted to counter the flood of harsh criticism from animal rights activists, lawmakers, celebrities, and media, its response was not well received. The amount of coverage about SeaWorld’s reputational and financial fails only increased, and the entire counter-campaign has become a spectacle and learning lesson for corporations and communications counselors.

With a complaint to the Labor Department, an open letter to movie critics claiming that the film was misleading and false, and its “truth about Blackfish” website that frames the documentary as propaganda, SeaWorld has boldly played the defensive since the film’s debut at a time when companies would usually be holding their breaths. As I stated in another post, there’s a time to speak and there’s a time to remain silent. In this instance, staying under the radar would’ve been a better approach.

But SeaWorld is starting to acknowledge the reality of the controversy’s stifling ramifications:

1)      On August 13, following second quarter earnings, SeaWorld said in a statement, “Attendance in the quarter was impacted by demand pressures related to recent media attention surrounding proposed legislation in the state of California.” Referring to a June amendment in a farm appropriation bill that calls for updating federal regulations about keeping orcas and other cetaceans in captivity, the legislation is a direct outcome of the exposure Blackfish provided to the public.

2)      Two days later, the company announced the opening of Blue World Project, a new orca environment that will nearly double the size of the current facility when it’s completed in 2018, as well as over 10 million dollars in funding for research and conservation projects. Despite the company’s sizeable investment in improving the whales’ living environment, consumers, activists, investors, and even partnering companies aren’t buying it. Notably, Virgin America cut SeaWorld from its rewards program, Southwest Airlines terminated its 26-year-old promotional marketing partnership with SeaWorld, and Alaska Air stopped selling tickets to SeaWorld’s theme parks through its website.

3)      On this week’s third quarter earnings conference call, Chief Financial Officer James Heaney echoed an indicative sentiment when he discussed the factors that contributed to declining profits, recognizing negative media attention, and said the company is introducing numerous initiatives to address public perceptions and raise brand awareness. And while SeaWorld CEO James Atchison said the company has adjusted its attraction and marketing efforts to overcome current challenges, it’s doubtful that they’ll have the power to completely transform public opinion.

As pressures mount for updated regulations and SeaWorld opponents continue to hold adverse perceptions of the brand, SeaWorld will need to hum a different tune in order to prevent a colossal blow to its reputation and long-term growth.

My advice? Tread carefully before the growing criticisms put a plug in SeaWorld’s blowhole.