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Hershey's Not-So-Sweet PR Confection

PR Issue, Bar None

The New York Times reports that a walkout by hundreds of foreign exchange students protesting “low pay and physically draining work” has executives at the Hershey Company and three others related firms scrambling “to sort out which one was responsible for the conditions that prompted the students’ complaints.”

Sound familiar? We’ll get back to that after we look more closely at the Hershey situation.

In a (Zag)nutshell, foreign exchange students, came to the U.S. to participate in a summer visa arrangement as part of a longtime State Department program that allows the students to work for two months, then get some travel and cultural enrichment in the U.S.:

In a way, they did. About 400 foreign students were put to work lifting heavy boxes and packing Reese’s candies, Kit-Kats and Almond Joys on a fast-moving production line, many of them on a night shift. After paycheck deductions for fees associated with the program and for their rent, students said at a rally in front of the huge packing plant that many of them were not earning nearly enough to recover what they had spent in their home countries to obtain their visas.

They said they were expecting to practice their English, make some money and learn what life is like in the United States […] “There is no cultural exchange, none, none,” said Zhao Huijiao, a 20-year-old undergraduate in international relations from Dalian, China. “It is just work, work faster, work.”

And so begins the finger pointing. Hershey is pointing at the subcontractors. The subcontractors are pointing back at Hershey–we think. Basically what we have here is a bit of a PR cluster–and we don’t mean Goo Goo.

If you’re thinking back to the ugly moments after the tragic Deepwater Horizon disaster, where BP tried placing blame on anyone but BP, then you win a Hershey bar. Or something. Essentially, Hershey is trying to deflect blame from itself to subcontractors, a strategy that failed miserably in BP’s case. We don’t wish to imply that loss of life and massive ecological damage is equitable to what’s happening at a plant that packages chocolate, but it does call Hershey’s labor practices into question–and that’s not a far cry from questioning their commitment to human rights. Bad PR any way you slice it.

Perhaps in this case Hershey should take a page from the kids who love their chocolate:

If a nine-year-old kid gets caught intentionally breaking a neighbor’s windows, the parent can’t just say “It’s his fault. Don’t look at me. I’m just his Dad.” There is a reasonable expectation that the grownup charged with the kid’s upbringing will discipline the nine-year-old and help make restitution. Can’t the same be argued for large companies in relation to the actions of the downline companies they hire?

Hershey has stated that they are “actively working with the parties involved to come to a solution that would address the students’ concerns.” We think Hershey would do well to actively take control of this situation–and can do so without accepting blame. How? Issue a statement that denies direct responsibility for the situation, yet make it clear that Hershey recognizes that rightly or wrongly,  the “buck stops with them” and they want to help make it right.

How? First commit to a top-to-bottom examination of the way Hershey participates in the work program. Pledge to work with the State Department and subcontractors to ensure that the student workers are treated fairly and the program is conducted “as advertised.”

Hershey could also make a grand gesture: perhaps reimburse a portion of the students travel visa costs. Sure, that could leave a bad taste in some people’s mouth–smacking of “buying” the students off; but the PR value of such a gesture coupled with a serious commitment to fixing the program would be pretty sweet.

Whatever solution they conceive, the folks at Hershey’s are apparently hoping that aside from the New York Times (and a few foreign papers) this one stays under the national American media radar. That seems to be working, if Google’s news search is correct.

What do you think? The comments section is open for your thoughts.

More Creative, More Fun

Dan Coyle

Yesterday I talked about how much I enjoy working with writers, artists and musicians to help promote their work and ideas. In particular I discussed author Melissa Studdard’s debut novel Six Weeks to Yehidah.

Today I’m excited to share that my friend singer-songwriter Dan Coyle will release a new album From Prague to Paris in September. I’ve had the privilege to work with Dan on his previous CD launch and some other promo work here and there. He makes the work collaborative and fun. That’s a gift.

Besides his creativity, work ethic and talent, Dan’s also one of the coolest guys you’ll ever meet–but don’t tell him I said that.

He’s been touring Europe for several months and it really has his creative juices flowing.

“I’ve really taken a lot of time to craft these songs and have no doubt that this will be my best work yet,” said the modern-day troubadour.

“Since we’ve been touring Europe with such success this year, I decided to write and record everything here,” he said. “Half the album will be stories inspired by our travels; the other half will consist of thoughtful songs similar to what you’ve heard from me previously–but with a keener focus on melodies and lyrics.”

We’ll hear more from Dan soon. In the meantime, you can preview the new release at Dan’s website. If so inclined you can pre-order it. Dan works very hard to give you your money’s worth. But don’t just take my word for it–ask Europe:

“His fragile vocal style combines beautifully with some outstanding guitar picking and strumming and he shows great versatility in his songwriting from the light, airy Listen Closely Now to the heartfelt emotion of I Adore You. His album, You Linger Your Little Hour And Are Gone, is excellent.”  Icarus Club, Acoustic Heaven
“One of the best nights of music that we have seen in a long time.  Great show, excellent performer.”  Prinz Willy, Kiel Germany
“Dan sought to take his fresh songs and give them an old feel.  The answer that he came up with was to record this album completely acoustic and live. In front of a very enthusiastic audience, Dan recorded his latest album while putting on a phenomenal show; the album itself really tells the story.”  Scrumpy’s Music Magazine, UK
“Folksinger Dan Coyle’s new album “You Linger Your Little Hour And Are Gone” is a collection of refreshing fluid vocal sounds accompanied by soft syncopated acoustic guitar rhythms. Coyle’s proof of talent is marked by very tastefully written lyrics in each song. Overall I find this album very mellow, poetic, and joyous album.”  Nina Ȑogȕe Ȑoșș ™

“Bright musicality and sunny inflections almost hide the thoughtful and thought-provoking lyrics that are woven throughout this album. A lo-fi live recording that’s simple without being simplistic, and utterly charming.” Alexandra McKay, Prince St. Press

Working with Creative People

Melissa Studdard's Debut Novel

One of the great pleasures of working in the public relations field is interaction with a wide variety of clients. In particular I–as a writer and a wannabe musician–really enjoy working with professional writers and musicians. Whether it’s promoting a concert (or a food festival featuring great music) a new CD or book launch, it’s a blast to work with creative people.

Speaking of creative people…an exceptional writer is Melissa Studdard, author of Six Weeks to Yehidah, which just last week shot to #6 on the Amazon.com Hot New Releases in Children’s Science Fiction & Fantasy Chart upon release, ranking in the top one percent of all books on Amazon.

Studdard’s debut novel follows Annalise of the Verdant Hills and her two walking, talking wondersheep in their travels to ever more outlandish places, meeting outrageous and enlightening folk on their journey to discover interconnectedness in a seemingly disconnected world. Readers discover with them how just one person can be the start of the change we all strive for. A delightful and thought-provoking story for all ages, Six Weeks to Yehidah is more than an adventure story.

“Studdard intersperses elements of music, magic, myth, Native American iconography, and mystery that leave the reader yearning for a sequel. Although, like Harry Potter it is technically a children’s book, adults will be just as mesmerized by the trials and travails of the cheeky and courageous Annalise,” said Aparna Mukhedkar of the journal The Criterion.

“In many ways, Six Weeks to Yehidah is about tolerance and acceptance of ourselves and others,” said Studdard. “It was also important to me to share certain wisdom traditions with children, and I absolutely knew that the best way to do this was through narrative. I wanted to share philosophies and ideas in a way that would be fun and exciting for the kids who read the book. We all know how gruesome canonical fairy tales can be, and, of course, these tales are based on an older model of human thought and behavior,” Studdard said. “I feel like we need new stories that more accurately reflect who we are becoming, and which give us something to aspire to. The subconscious mind is a powerful thing, and the stories we tell our children are an important facet of who they will become.”

Check it out–it’s a fantastic book.

Tomorrow, news about another artist…the folk troubadour who’s currently making new fans across Europe and getting ready to “drop” a new CD: Dan Coyle.

Can We Always Trust What We Hear?

Can you always trust what you hear? Check out this video. It’s not baaaaad.

But seriously–taken in a broader context, communicators should take this effect into consideration when crafting messages, staging presentations and other events. Why? Because we can’t help but integrate visual speech into what we ‘hear’.

The McGurk effect shows that visual articulatory information is integrated into our perception of speech automatically and unconsciously. The syllable that we perceive depends on the strength of the auditory and visual information, and whether some compromise can be achieved. Regardless, integration of the discrepant audiovisual speech syllables is effortless and mandatory. Our speech function makes use of all types of relevant information, regardless of the modality. In fact, there is some evidence that the brain treats visual speech information as if it is auditory speech.–Via this site. Click here for more on the effect.

Hat tip to our pal Samantha for sharing this video!

Will Literary Agents Write the Next Chapter of the Ebook Revolution?

Check out Smashwords founder Mark Coker’s presentation on what he sees as the “next chapter” in the ebook revolution–literary agents “changing horses.”

Not sure if I totally agree it will go exactly this way, but it’s good food for thought for you indie authors out there (yes, like me).

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