The Communicator's Dilemma
Perhaps you might remember a commercial a few years ago with a guy driving home with his shiny brand new “T3” computer in the passenger seat of his convertible. The new owner is all jaunty and beaming to the world like he’s on a date with a supermodel. And, as he pulls up to an intersection, there’s a huge billboard advertising the same new “T3” computer, making our protagonist feel even better about today’s pricey acquisition. And, just as the traffic light changes and he begins to pull away, a worker unfurls a huge new poster covering the billboard that announces the introduction of the new “T4” computer. Instant buyer’s technology remorse. Ouch.
This ad resonated with me at the time, and I don’t even recall the actual product at the end of the spot that was attempting to make the point about the rapid pace of change. Regardless, it’s what immediately came to my hyperactive mind when news reports surfaced last week that tech stalwart Cisco was jettisoning its Flip camera division after two short years (and a nearly $600 million acquisition).
PC Magazine Editor Lance Ulanoff was spot-on with his analysis that Flip's fatal flaw wasn’t solely rooted in the fact that almost every smartphone can now record video. More importantly, Ulanoff makes the case that the majority of today’s phones, with their inherent wireless connectivity, lets us instantly share and post that hilarious moment when your kid cries in the back seat that he wants to be senate minority leader.
I won't go into ancient history, but the Flip was an instant success that even Oprah embraced. But, after Cisco acquired the Flip - along with its parent company Pure Digital - in March 2009, the mobile-enabled Flip never reached the market. Ironically, as the New York Times’ consumer tech geek David Pogue disclosed in his melancholy farewell column entitled “Tragic Death of the Flip”, the new FlipLive – with live broadcasting capabilities to stream video anywhere to the Internet no less – was supposed to ship April 13, the day after Cisco announced the Flip’s demise.
All of this started to give me a case of pathos for those of us in the communications profession who are responsible for helping craft and disseminate the messaging when our companies or clients make a strategic acquisition or launch the latest disruptive technology that will stand the market on its head. And, quite often, we’re the same team who usually gets the first call when things go south, and it’s our responsibility to help “put a positive spin” on a negative situation that is often beyond our control.
Cisco is an important tech bellwether, and you wouldn’t be reading this blog post without the help of a Cisco router or other gear (and, for disclosure purposes, they are not a client, nor do I directly trade their stock). And, while the company continues to restructure itself and attempts to determine its path forward, let’s not overlook the basic PR lesson the Flip saga illustrates for us. Your news releases and attributed quotes, as well as what you communicate to a reporter or analyst, write in a blog post or disseminate in social media, will all sit on a Web server and Internet archive somewhere for a very, very long time. We all continue to sow the sound bite seeds of our Internet skeletons-in-a-closet on a daily basis. The superlatives, over-exerted enthusiasm, marketing puffery, or pointed opinions that seem appropriate at the time regarding your company, organization or competitors will sound just as highfalutin and short sighted years later when the market abruptly disintegrates, you’re forced to change business strategy, or something not even on the radar simply blindsides your status quo.