Stephanie Johnson

Stephanie Johnson

These are my thoughts about online marketing and industry practices, both good and bad, to help you understand the importance of controlling your image in today’s media-rich online environment.

You can also find me on

Tuesday, 04 February 2014 15:27

Crisis comms 101

You don't need a crisis communications expert to explain why this "company rep" is an idiot. Fortunately, the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management taped the conversation, in which Freedom Industries' Bob Reynolds jokes then incorrectly reports the infamous Jan. 9 spill that left 300,000 people without water. Media relations consultants will make millions of dollars playing Reynold's tape to bemused clients who can't possibly imagine they, too might be clueless enough to laugh on the phone with a hotline operator. Or not even remember the full name of the offending chemical. Or provide completely inaccurate information about containment measures and the toxicity of the chemical whose name you cannot spell.

This is just the most-blatant example of how things can go south, quicky, in an emergency situation involving police, media, the U.S. Coast Guard, Homeland Security, etc. My colleagues in Big Oil will observe this is the reason they train their executives thoroughly in JIC protocol. And coach first-responders to death in the art of giving credible TV interviews.

As a PR specialist who's served in JIC's, managed media on the scene of an "incident," and served up all kinds of press releases and briefing statements, I would argue this: Effective crisis communications and media relations begins with controlling all communications to the public. Thou shalt not contact anyone before carefully crafting a statement and vetting it through more-responsible layers of company management (hint: your environmental experts) and - most importantly - lawyers. 

Was Freedom Enterprises really such a small company that it didn't know how to handle this crisis? We'll find out. The company has filed for bankruptcy and the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago is investigating.

Meanwhile, good luck if your business is next up with a highly visible incident affecting thousands of people. With each episode like this, everyone's credibility erodes just that much more.


Tuesday, 04 February 2014 10:59

Absolute(ly) the end of brands?'s Marketing Daily posted an excellent headline yesterday: "How User Reviews Are Gutting Brands"

Stanford University marketing professor Itamar Simonson is the recent co-author of Absolute Value: What Really Influences Customers in the Age of (Nearly) Perfect Information.

Simonson says brands won't die. Their functions will change. Much of this change will result from the use of online reviews. Customers read what other consumers have posted about a product before deciding which brand to buy. Marketers woud do well to heed real-time feedback on the products they promote. Customers trust each other more than anything a brand has to say.


Tuesday, 04 February 2014 10:47

Palpable twittery

We live in the social-media moment. In a time where everything you say, do and create vanishes - or, is highly tarnished by - what you post on Twitter. Tweet before you think . . . really think . . . and you're the subject of intense scrutiny and criticism by others who live and die by your 144 characters.

Sadly, author Stephen King decided to weigh in on the Woody Allen pedophilia controversy sparked by Dylan Farrow's op/ed piece in the New York Times. He's a well-regarded writer of pithy tweets that hit home. But this? Click to see if you can discover the true meaning of "palpable bitchery."

Remember, there is no such thing as accidental speech.

Friday, 31 January 2014 11:52

'We simply failed'

Making up quotes that don't mean anything for press releases which state the obvious . . . is kind of a house specialty. That's not a boast. It's de rigeur in the world of Fortune 50 PR. Nor is it a boast to claim that at least our quotes are still better than the drivel investor-relations types write for market eyes.

Seldom is there anything interesting, honest, or newsworthy in a press release anymore.

This is why I admire founder Chris Poole for having the guts to summarize his company's latest failure so honestly. In front of Wall Street and the rest of the world.

FYI, this is where the web is headed. PR practisioners would do well to steer their clients in the direction of modernity.


Thursday, 30 January 2014 18:14

The tweet that crumbled cookies

Texas conservatives are in an uproar (again) after the girl scout's official Twitter account invited girls to suggest their ideas of "incredible ladies." Alas, several of the women allegedly featured in an otherwise innocuous HuffPo piece about women-of-the-year, are pro-choice.

By inference, then, brownies who admire Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis or former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton support abortion? Is there a conspiracy amongst girl scout leadership to twist young minds via Twitter?

This conclusion is about as ludicrous as said conservatives' decision to boycott girl scout cookies.

What was meant as a salute to brave young women like Malala and female role models is now an object lesson about the wisdom of over-thinking everything you post or Tweet. 

Thursday, 30 January 2014 14:44

Social media amateur saves Atlanta

Facebook - and an astute, caring resident - provided succor and support during this week's snowpocalypse in Atlanta. Wonder what hurricane season will bring here in Houston?  During Ike, somebody posted a "Houstonhidefromthewinds" site which became de rigeur when 80 mph winds swirled around neighborhoods here. Way to go, SnowedOutAtlanta!

Wednesday, 29 January 2014 21:57

No fury like a reporter scorned

CNN's Carol Costello didn't cut Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed any slack. He tried to blow her off then admonished her to be fair when reporting on motorists stranded in Atlanta's snowpocalypse. 

"I was amazed that he kept passing the buck — pointing fingers everywhere but at himself. I think that's where my frustration came from. I wanted him to say, 'I'm angry and frustrated at the response and I'm going to get to the bottom of it.' He didn't say that. Being a citizen of Atlanta and caught in the mess, I know what it felt like ... I wanted to get answers from the man who was supposed to be protecting me from that and I didn't get that."

Note to mayor: The Houston Chronicle filed this one under entertainment.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014 21:23

Bad news

Microsoft analysts wondered whether the proliferation of online news sites would result in consumer tunnel vision, a la Fox News viewers. The good news is most of us read a fairly balanced selection of news sources. "Filter bubbles" don't really exist. The bad news? Of the 1.2 million users surveyed, only 50,000 described themselves as "front page" news readers. The rest . . . read other stuff. What other stuff? Read the paper or allow The New Yorker to translate for you. Doesn't look good for mainstream news sites. Or, democracy. 

Wednesday, 29 January 2014 14:07

Trends to watch

We always have skin in the spin, so here's a quick look at several developing trends we'd like clients to consider (and pay us to do it!) implementing:

1. Refreshing your brand through social media or at least reintroducing it to the next generation. 

2. Engaging audiences by chiming in on online forums. Don't be afraid - be creative. 

3. Considering unpaid content-marketing strategies. Sure, you can pay to express your views anywhere online. If you're on top of your writing game, you shouldn't have to. Tell your story online in an engaging and credibly transparent fashion. Write something people actually want to read. Words are viruses, never forget. Wield them well throughout your communications channels.


Tuesday, 28 January 2014 19:07

Wendy's PR team

Wendy Davis' daughters have had enough. "Abortion Barbie," Texas' next great hope for governor, is now being slammed in the media as a bad mother who "gave up" her children in order to pursue a Harvard law degree. Amber Davis - the daughter who lived in a trailer park (horrors) - has some choice word for the Republican spin machine. Gawker explains.