NextEra Energy’s FPL Unit Stakes Reputation on Sept. 17 Restoration Deadline

FPL says power will be back by Sept. 17Hurricane Irma ripped through Florida on Sunday and Monday, leaving millions of people without power.  While NextEra Energy’s FPL unit is without question working diligently to get the lights back on, it has done a lousy job of providing details or progress reports to its suffering customers.  Even though technological advances might suggest real-time updates could be found online, FPL has instead drawn an ambitious line in the sand and said that all customers in its East Coast zone (which includes the state’s largest concentration of residents in Miami and Fort Lauderdale) will have power restored by the end of the day on September 17.  Residents in the West Coast zone should be back by September 22.

For the sake of my sweltering home, the body odor of my neighbors and the reputation of FPL, I hope they are true to their word.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: Hurricanes and the power outages they create really suck, for the customers and the power companies alike.  Having been through many extended outages from named storms including the big dog Andrew, Wilma, Jean and now Irma, I can tell you that the experience falls somewhere between being on Tom Hanks’s island in Castaway and the post-apocalyptic world in the original Road Warrior (maybe the remake too, but I never saw it.)  You’re hot, sweaty and cranky while regularly scavenging for essentials like water, gasoline and ice (I wish.)  It’s not pleasant no matter how many times you experience it.

Twelve years ago, while waiting 11 days for my power to be restored after Hurricane Wilma, I wrote what might have been my first blog post. It was largely a tirade about being without power while my neighbor across the street had theirs back after four days.  Imagine trying to sleep in a 90-plus-degree home, sweating and miserable, only to be blinded by the porch light of your neighbor’s home that has been energized for a week.  I complained that we should bury power lines in South Florida and use technology to make recovery quicker and less painful.  Back then, pre-iPhone and many ingenious apps, customers of companies like NextEra Energy were literally and figuratively in the dark about power restoration.  Sadly, it’s no different today.

FPL’s website and online apps have been overwhelmed during the power outage.  The website actually crashed on Tuesday. Yes, you can find out how many overall homes have been restored down to the county level, but how your individual home is faring is completely unknown.  I’m puzzled by this.

Apps like Waze can tell us about traffic in our neighborhoods and websites like Gasbuddy.com help us find nearby fuel in a time of crisis.  Uber knows exactly where my itinerant driver is but FPL doesn’t know the status of my electricity?  As consumers today, we expect real-time information and transparency.  FPL is offering neither – this despite rate increases and ongoing claims that their grid is “smart” and that they know where the outages are.

If NextEra Energy’s FPL shared its information, perhaps letting customers know that lines are down in their neighborhood or situations are dangerous for its workers, then we might feel more sympathetic.  To me, it seems like the power company should let the data it (hopefully) has help tell the story and assist in communicating its message.

Instead, the company is telling hundreds of thousands of customers that everything will be back in working order Sunday night.  When it could be providing transparency to its clients, the company has chosen one, grand sweeping answer.  It’s a risky move.  The company’s reputation, and my next hot shower, depend on it.

–John

Businesses Should Fight Back Against Online Attacks

Social media and online reviews bring an incredible new level of accountability to the customer service equation. The internet enables consumers to reach out to companies and service providers in brand new ways, and I believe the transparency that exists because of these online tools is a great thing for commerce. However, there’s a difference between feedback and online attacks.

Companies that fail to deliver on their product and brand promises are quickly weeded out, and frankly, it’s keeping many business owners on their toes. However, sometimes these powerful tools are misused, and it’s important for both individuals and businesses to understand that one should not go on social media and bash a company without considering the consequences. A couple cases have been publicized recently.

Conservative commentator Ann Coulter caught considerable heat recently for her online tantrum about Delta Airlines. If you haven’t heard the story, Coulter had her seat assignment changed and got very upset.  I guess sitting by the window or aisle or whatever is extremely important to her.  She felt wronged by Delta, yet before the airline could even make an apology to her, she started tweeting and tweeting and tweeting her disgust.  She wanted to really hurt the airline; instead, she ended up just making herself look petty and foolish.

Here’s the thing, we all make mistakes. In the grand scheme of life, Coulter’s seat change is a pretty minor thing, and most of us understand that businesses make mistakes. But Coulter went bonkers, and her acrimonious online attack didn’t fit the crime.  Delta, thankfully, did not roll over for her. The airline apologized for the mistake, gave her a refund for the change fee and then did something that I thought was really important. They scolded her.Read More

Don’t Send a “Mooch” to do a (PR) Man’s Job

The Mooch's short tenureWhen I learned President Donald Trump appointed a former Wall Street hedge fund manager as his new director of communications, I groaned.

I’m sure my fellow PR pros, and many others, have also watched the actions of the White House press office with a combination of bewilderment and “you’re kidding me, right?”  I wrote a few months ago that Trump was setting our profession back years, and what’s amazing is that it got worse last week.

I had figured this topic had run its course, but when Trump appointed Anthony Scaramucci as the new communications director, all my fears and concerns came flooding back.

If you don’t know the story, here’s the recap: The White House, in an effort to improve its overall messaging, brought in the brazen Scaramucci to shake things up.  Saturday Night Live punching bag Sean Spicer quickly resigned, and then the self-proclaimed “Mooch” almost immediately gave a profanity-laced interview to the New Yorker where he insulted practically everyone in the White House except the president.  (If you haven’t read the story and want to know what a political debate inside a fraternity house sounds like, I suggest you check it out.)  Within days (10 to be exact), Scaramucci was unceremoniously escorted from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.Read More

All Kids Dumb Enough to Get Kicked-Out of Harvard

My phone was blowing up earlier this week with colleagues and friends asking my opinion of the 10 Harvard students who had their admissions canceled after posting offensive memes on social media.

If you haven’t heard the story, a number of students who had been admitted to the school had connected on the Harvard College Class of 2021 Facebook group.  Some kids then starting posting risqué memes and eventually created their own splinter Facebook group.  And there things got more graphic with some kids publishing racist and obscene posts.  Administrators found out and chose to rescind the admissions of 10 of the offending students.  The story broke in the Harvard Crimson and soon went viral.

Then the messages started:

“These people need copies of your book.”
“Social media #fail of the year.”
“Call Harvard and send them your book.”

Sadly, I’m not the least bit surprised by this story.  I have heard variations before: Kids did dumb things online shortly after admission and didn’t get the chance to attend their dream school.  An unknowable number of others, applying to Ivy League schools and junior colleges alike, don’t get accepted because of online mistakes and social media mess ups.  And yes, I have chronicled many similar tales in my book How to Protect (Or Destroy) Your Reputation Online.Read More

Social media policies in order after “covfefe” kerfuffle and Kathy Griffin photos

COVFEFE definitionWhen President Donald Trump tweets gibberish (“covfefe” anyone?) and comedienne Kathy Griffin loses her job over a photo depicting the same president beheaded, it makes me wonder if either has even heard of social media policies.

Before jumping to the corporate world, here are a few personal tips when it comes to communicating in modern times.

  1. Don’t drink and dial (or tweet or text or snap.) Goes without saying that impaired communication doesn’t go over well with your boss or your ex.
  2. Don’t argue via instant message. Whether its via Facebook messenger, What’sApp, text message or another form of instant messenger, it’s best not to fight or argue only using your thumbs. The nuance of language is lost, and you may permanently damage a relationship.
  3. Put a second set of eyes on social media posts. If you are tweeting for your company, care about your personal brand or have anything to lose on social media, don’t distribute anything even remotely controversial without having another human being look at it.  This is a must for corporate social media postings and anyone running their own business.  A costly mistake could be averted with a second set of eyes.

Read More

A Pocket Square Is Not Your Reputation

Pocket square is not your reputationGreat location, beautiful offices and a CEO who wears designer suits, ties that pop and impeccably folded pocket squares.  Too bad the company can’t find a qualified office manager because online review site Glassdoor says the dapper executive’s business only rates one and a half stars.

I heard yet another online reputation horror story this week as a business struggles to find new talent because online reviews suggest the company is not great place to work.

The sad aspects are that the online reputation and the actual reputation of the company don’t match, and the top executives are focusing more on how they appear in client meetings than how the internet presents their business.  The web is the front door to all our businesses, so if how you appear online looks questionable, then spiffy offices, tailored shirts and luxury cars don’t really matter.

Before you go on another shopping spree for office attire, please check out some basic online advice that overrules a delightful pocket square:Read More

Trump Administration Sets PR Back Years

Melissa McCarthy is Sean SpicerSince the election, I have discussed President Donald Trump’s communications style and practices with dozens of people, from fellow public relations and communications pros to friends and family members.  While I don’t want to get into specifics about his foreign and domestic policies, I am comfortable discussing how Trump’s communications practices have the potential to set back the PR profession years.

Sure, my profession doesn’t itself have the greatest reputation.  I have been called a flack, a spin doctor and probably worse (actually, I know there’s worse), but I believe the example being set in Washington for the future of public relations is more damaging than mere name calling.Read More

Three Questions Every Business Needs to Ask About Online Risk

3 questions to answer about online riskHaving recently written a book about online reputation issues, I spend a lot of time thinking about online risk, and I am increasingly interested in cybersecurity.  Online reputation and cybersecurity are both interconnected and of critical importance for most businesses.  Yet while I believe every business needs to understand these risks, some are more susceptible than others.

Hackers prefer some industries while online reputation problems can have greater impact with other types of businesses.

While thinking this through, I boiled it down to three key factors for dealing with online risk.  Answer these three questions and you will have a better understanding of your business’ level of risk for online problems.

Do your employees touch private data? 

Hackers want private information that they can exploit quickly or sell on the black market.  If your employees touch the private data of your customers, then you have risk.  Do you accept applications for financing, for example, where private information like social security numbers or driver’s license numbers are exchanged?  Does this information get e-mailed?  Do you coordinate wire transfers?  Do you send or receive wire instructions via e-mail?  Do you handle medical records of your clients?  Do you allow customers to pay by credit card over the phone?Read More

How to Manage an Online Catastrophe

online catastrophe david PRThe most well-known online reputation problems typically fall into a category that I refer to as “catastrophic.”  Many people make online mistakes each day, but only a few online errors will spiral out of control, go viral and end-up causing economic damage or personal misfortune. An online catastrophe gets widely shared, makes the news and has people talking — sometimes laughing.

We have seen many examples:

  • An executive writes an inappropriate tweet and loses her job.
  • A public company CFO accidentally leaks insider information on his Twitter account – drawing attention from investors and regulators alike.
  • A pilot suggests one of the presidential candidates should be executed – drawing a suspension and forcing the airline to explain why the guy belongs on the payroll.
  • A professional athlete publishes a picture of his junk on social media (too many to mention.)

In these worst-case scenarios, a social media post gets shared, catches the eye of mainstream media outlets and then ends up everywhere.  They are the most difficult to manage.Read More

Cybersecurity, Human Error and Online Reputation

Moonlight wins best pictureHuman error took center stage this week in the world of crisis and reputation management.  By now we all know that accounting and consulting firm PwC, the firm hired to tabulate and manage the results of the Academy Awards, gave the wrong envelope to actor Warren Beatty, who was responsible for reading the winner of the Best Picture Oscar.  The accountant in charge was distracted during the process (allegedly tweeting) and Beatty and Faye Dunaway read the wrong winner – and then chaos ensued.  The incident made worldwide headlines and PwC took a tremendous reputational hit.  Human error, compounded by distraction, was the primary cause.  (In case you haven’t heard, PwC partner Brian Cullinan was taken off the Academy Awards assignment, and the account is under review by the Academy.)

The other day, I attended a seminar at another accounting and consulting firm called MBAF in Miami.  They hosted a great event where a number of experts discussed current trends in cyber crime.  Interestingly, one of the main themes was human error.  We know that cyber criminals target organizations with hacking efforts and denial of service attacks, and in some cases companies get infiltrated as the bad guys find ways around firewalls and cyber-defenses.Read More