To Run, or Not to Run

By Sean Ryan

 As millions up and down the East Coast and inland states continue to recover from Superstorm Sandy, an iconic brand is under the microscope.

 The New York City Marathon is scheduled for Sunday, one week to the day when Sandy proved an unruly guest that took lives, knocked out power to millions and changed communities forever.

Two days before the race, the decision whether or not to cancel the NYC Marathon is as heated as Obama v. Romney. On one hand, there’s the economic development – reportedly as much as $340 million some years – and clear message that the spirit that embodies the NYC Marathon is what New Yorkers need right now. On the other, it’s way too early, especially when many New Yorkers – particularly in Staten Island, where the race begins – are without power and even still searching for loved ones.

Kyra Oliver, friend, former client and the founder of Richmond marketing firm Oliver Creative and SIDS awareness nonprofit The Hayes Foundation, has been coaching a team of six New Yorkers who raised more than $45,000 for the CJ Foundation for SIDS. It will be her second NYC Marathon – she ran a speedy 3:20.01 in the 2009 edition.

“Honestly, I have gone back and forth in my mind because I’m an emotional person, and I feel for these people here,” Oliver said early Friday morning from a cab in New York City.  “The spirit of this city and the people that it’s bringing to the city, that enthusiasm and spirit is really important to helping these people…they’ve gone through so much.”

She believes that pushing the race back a few weeks – which she also would support – would lead many runners to defer running until next year resulting in a loss of economic development that the city needs now. Oliver added that of the 47,000 original registrants, about 40,000 are expected to run Sunday.

Regardless, if the race is run on Sunday, it will be different.

“New York is the race where you feel like a rock star the whole way,” Oliver said. “Typically the streets are lined at least five people deep, if not more. The only time you don’t see spectators is when you’re on the bridges. I am concerned that it is going to be less than usual and that we may get some negative support from people in areas that need help.”

Sports have a way of bringing communities back together. Mike Piazza and the Mets 10 days after 9/11, the return of the NFL after 9/11, the Saints’ return to the SuperDome. This is a tougher call. The race that means so much for runners all across the world – including many New Yorkers – risks alienating the people that matter most: people who have lost their homes, memories and loved ones.

The prudent thing to do early this week would have been to postpone for at least a week. Now, two days before the race with passionate runners arriving from all over the world, it appears the race must go on. We may have to wait until the finish line to see if the NYC Marathon brand takes a big hit.

Your thoughts?  Please comment.



Chick-fil-A’s Turf Toe

by Tony Scida

Recently a Chick-fil-A executive made a statement that caused a bit of a stir in the media and, especially, online. Yesterday, Gizmodo reported that Chick-fil-A (or someone representing them) created fake Facebook accounts (complete with stock photo profile photos) just to defend the company online.

Chick-fil-A denies this charge, but it brings up a very important piece of advice for companies trying to navigate the digital landscape: Do not make fake accounts.

It’s awfully tempting for companies that see criticism online to want to jump in there and post in their own defense. And since an official response may not be taken at its word, some companies engage in what’s known as astroturfing (I’m sure much to the chagrin of the presumably fine people who make imitation grass sporting surfaces), which is meant to look like grassroots support, but falls short on closer examination.

What makes astroturfing even worse is that it’s often not even necessary. If CFA did indeed create these accounts, they’ve just made themselves worse. Their fans had already come to their defense, with Fox News correspondent (and former presidential candidate) Mike Huckabee already calling for a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.

In the best case, astroturfing just costs a lot of money and fools no-one. In the worst case, your brand could be tarnished long-term (but you won’t be around to see it, because you’ll be fired).

Quick hits: Pinterest, Twitter and what is Carnival thinking???

Some quick hitters for a Tuesday:

We (Britt Farrah @saidlikefarrah) and I started our second semester teaching social media at VCU yesterday some interesting observations from questions we asked our predominantly PR majors…

  • Most of them preferred Twitter over Facebook and other social media platforms.  In the couple of years that I’ve been asking college students this question, this is the first time ever that they selected Twitter.  In fact, this is the first time that most of the class even was “on” Twitter.  Maybe this is because the class is made up of PR majors but maybe this is a change in social media course.  We shall see….
  • I asked if they ever heard of Pinterest (my new social media obsession) and not a surprise but most of the women raised their hands.  The “pinning” platform is all the rage of the female set.  What was surprising is how some of the women expressed an almost obsessive relationship with the platform, spending hours pinning.  I for one am waiting for my Gentlemint invite to come in the email.

Finally, not related to the class but to PR in general, is Carnival Cruise lines smoking crack or what?

All I got on a Tuesday….you?

PR story of the day: TwitPic causing McDonald’s heartburn.

Given the number of super-hero movies out there, I’m reminded about the line heard in many of them that usually goes something like this, “You can use your power for good or evil.”

The same goes for the power of social media as exhibited by the latest PR issue faced by McDonald’s.

This very realistic looking online hoax fueled by a TwitPic on Twitter is making things very difficult for the folks at the Golden Arches.

If you were advising them, how would you help them fight the hoax?

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