Gini Dietrich

Communications Done Well: Seven Things to Do Immediately

By: Gini Dietrich | February 25, 2015 | 

Communications Done WellBy Gini Dietrich

In January 2013 OXO, the innovative consumer products company that makes Good Grips and other cool kitchen and laundry tools, was accused by one of its largest competitors of stealing designs from some of their inventors.

The competitor, which has offices down the street from OXO—and whose CEOs know one another fairly well—took to the streets with billboards, as well as employees holding up unflattering signs in front of the OXO offices.

Rather than calling the OXO CEO to discuss the issue, the competitor instead made it very public. And, because human beings love a good fight, it quickly became a movement that spread throughout both the online and offline worlds.

Not one to take it squarely in the jaw, though, OXO wrote an open letter to their customers. 

It began like this,

Earlier this week a consumer products company located two blocks from OXO started a very public campaign accusing us of stealing a product idea. After thoughtful consideration, we decided we need to clarify the situation. It is not our practice to defend ourselves publicly. In fact, this is the first time in the history of our company we have ever taken a public stand like this. But sometimes, you just need to set the record straight.

They go on to tell the story of how Quirky accused OXO and their design partner, Smart Design, of stealing a feature from a product called the Broom Groomer, which was submitted to their community in 2009 by an independent inventor and launched in 2010.

Their product includes:

…rubber teeth on the back of the dustpan [that] … quickly and easily comb out dust bunnies.

The story continues by explaining where rubber teeth on dustpans come from, which dates clear back to 1919 when Addison F. Kelley applied for—and received—a patent for the very thing.

His patent expired in 1936 and, to this very day, when a dustpan has a “teeth” feature, it is relying on that patent.

They then explain—directly to Quirky—how the inventor community works, they show some photos of product features the company seems to have stolen from OXO, and then they talk to the people who submit ideas through the Quirky crowdsourcing platform.

Communications Done Well

This is a great example of communications done well for six reasons: They weren’t defensive, their response was well-researched, it engaged customers both personally and emotionally, it was educational, it was fact-based, and it was timely.

  1. Not defensive. It’s human nature to get defensive in communications situations like this. Perhaps this wasn’t the first draft, but what eventually came out was laid out very well and not defensive in the least. In fact, it’s so calm and level-headed, you can almost hear someone telling you this story, dare we say bedtime story?
  2. Well-researched. They describe the story of the “rubber teeth” inventor and then go on to show images and captions of features Quirky uses in their products that are similar to OXO. Their only point? Everything is derivative of something else—there are rarely new ideas, but only new ways to use what already exists.
  3. Personal and emotional. While they did not get defensive, they still were able to hit your emotions by describing how the Quirky offices are only two blocks away from them, they have the same number of employees, some of the employees know one another, and their leaders run in the same circles and have spoken before. They appeal to your emotions by asking, “Isn’t it a little strange Quirky didn’t think to pick up the phone and call first? Wouldn’t that have been the right thing to do?”
  4. Educational. By reading this, you receive a great lesson about inventor Kelley, how patents and inventions work in the real world, and what you should consider if you submit an idea to a company they end up using.
  5. Fact-based. The letter is long, but they were very careful to tell a story based on facts. They cited 13 sources so as not to leave the argument up to chance.
  6. Timely. It took OXO four days after the first Quirky billboard went up to issue this letter. While that may seem like an eternity in today’s 24/7, fast-paced, digital world, because it was so well researched, it works.

When Quirky responded, their communications was none of these six things. It was written (and posted) quickly, and it comes across as extremely defensive:

We do not plan on further engaging in a tit for tat open letter writing campaign.

Whether or not this would have legs in court is another thing, but in the court of public opinion? OXO wins.

Today’s Exercise

Set the timer for 30 minutes because you’re going to use all of it…and then some.

We used to have the perception of control over our brand because our customers didn’t have a voice. Today, of course, communications relies on our ability to be open, honest, and fast.

  1. Be vigilant. Today we have such a great opportunity to know exactly what people are saying about us.  If you don’t already have them set up, go to Talkwalker right now and set up alerts for your name, the company name, and your three biggest competitors. You will harness the information that comes in your daily emails to massage your messaging, tweak your offerings, or even create new products.
  2. Be honest. Write down three to five areas where you have product or service issues…the things customers can (and will) complain about. These are the things you’re going to create content around to keep your communications open and customers updated.
  3. Be open. This one is so hard. It’s difficult for human beings to keep open minds about many things, and not get defensive. Review your internal policies and figure out where the are holes. Do they prevent your communications from being honest and transparent? Change them.
  4. Be active. Create a list of your top 10 prospects (individuals are better than companies) and figure out where they participate online. Then get active on the one social network that prevails. If they’re not hanging out on Twitter, don’t waste your time there! your communications should be focused.
  5. Be consistent. Review your organization’s vision, elevator pitch, and supporting messages and tweak them. Then re-launch them internally so everyone is saying the same thing. Communications should be consistent. You shouldn’t have five employees saying you do five different things. We did this last September. Every organization needs to do it consistently.
  6. Be proud. Now create signs of your vision and top three to five messages for everyone to hang at their desks. Have a sign made for your entryway. Include it on your website. Some organizations even include it in their email signatures. While it will eventually be something people are accustomed to seeing, no one will have any doubt about where you are going. Be proud of what you are doing and don’t be afraid to tell the world about it.
  7. Be creative. There is a sandwich shop in New York that had a bad review. One bad review. The person posted on Yelp that the sandwich they’re famous for was disgusting and uninteresting. The next day, the sidewalk chalkboard sign in front of the restaurant said, “Stop in and try our daily sandwich. The one @djinto thinks is disgusting.” Go through your reviews right now and see if there is a creative way to respond to any of them. Think the sandwich shop or the fun way Bodyform responded to a Facebook comment.

You won’t be able to accomplish all of this in 30 minutes, but it will give you a great head start. So set your timer and get to work!

The Scavenger Hunt

If you are participating in the Spin Sucks scavenger hunt, today you will visit Carrie Morgan’s blog.

The secret word is in her blog post, “Ten Awesome Free Digital PR eBooks to Put on Your iPad Tonight.”

Just write down the secret word in Carrie’s box on your scavenger hunt card (if you don’t have a card, download it here).

We have through March 3, so keep playing along (and you can work backwards, if you’re just starting out).

And don’t forget…if you buy a copy of Spin Sucks between now and March 8, we’ll send you a fun package full of goodies to use in your office, including a Spin Sucks computer sticker, a Spin Sucks Sharpie, and more. I’ll even personalize and sign a nameplate for you to put in the front of your book.

Just email the receipt to Please include your mailing address so we know where to send the package.

Now get to work!

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

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  • allpointspr100

    Using reflective will versus impulsive will is a great thing to consider: take a second and calm down before acting (reflective will) instead of acting out of emotion (impulsive will). This will help you prevent getting defensive. 
    Jamie i
    All Points PR

  • Oh. The sandwich shop thing is TOTALLY something I would do. Love it!!!

  • Thank you so much for including me in your scavenger hunt for today, Gini – I love it! 

    Related to your #1 “Be Vigilant” point about setting up a system for mentions, your readers might be interested to know that the rumors of Google Alerts demise are NOT true – they just launched a refresh of the dashboard. It looks great and since they are investing resources in making it better, I doubt it is going anywhere any time soon, thank goodness! A combination of TalkWalker and Google Alerts can be very effective if you are looking for a free solution, since I believe TalkWalker cuts off each month at 60 mentions. 

    Have a WONDERFUL morning, everyone!! I’m off to continue working on Chapter 3 of my new book, Above The Noise!

  • allpointspr100 I always like to write what I really want to say, just to get it out, and then delete it all.

  • belllindsay Isn’t that great? You can get totally mad about it…or you can have great self-deprecating humor.

  • If you can “Be Honest” and write down 3-5 areas that your product will disappoint customers, it might be time to stop with the social media working and start working on either product updates, new sales copy, or better customer education.  “Marketing people” (fingers going up in air quotes angrily) have a tendency to suggest results that often just aren’t going to happen.  So then — when you DON’T drop five dress sizes — the social media folks end up having to deal with it.

    My clients in the software arena are particularly guilty of this.  “Installs in one click!  Works on every platform!  Balances your books and tastes great on salad!”

    So Sales is happy with increased numbers, Marketing is pleased because consumers bought, and the rest of us are stuck trying to explain to Virginia why so many different men are playing Santa.

  • Yes on #3. People so often have a negative reaction to the idea of “emotion” in business, thinking it means breaking down in tears or punching a hole in the wall. There are lots of positive emotions to be mined.

  • stephenkentmoore

    Great post. In my business, it’s common to draw very aggressive fire from other people. And it’s often personal. 

    If you come under fire, be honest about what happened. It might be uncomfortable in the short-term, but always remember that media cycles can be killed quickly by honesty. 

    Two other great strategies are to point out what your accuser stands to gain by leveling damaging accusations against you. In my day-to-day it’s: “The opposition is simply looking to score political points …. so on and so forth.” For some of my past start-up clients a common refrain to throw back at an accuser was: “We’re eating their market share, we’re costing them real dollars, and their lashing out.”

    I consider this approach offense, not defence. 

    Also, depending on the situation and personalities involved, use humour and have fun. One of the best examples of this came from former Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien. He was called to testify about a corruption scandal. Chretien, even at that height of the scandal, was intensely popular.

    He was questioned about the use of taxpayer funded and personally signed golf balls.

    “My balls, they
    saved the country, no doubt about that,” said the former prime minster.

    He concluded, “If it weren’t for my personally monogrammed
    balls, there’s no way Québec would still be part of Canada today,”
    There was a lot more double entendre, that’s just a small sample. 

    Guess what the headlines were like the next day.

  • TaraFriedlundGeissinger

    “Perhaps this wasn’t the first draft….” <—– LOVE this because it’s so true. I have several harsh, sarcastic, biting emails in my drafts (or trash) folder that were thankfully never sent. Sometimes just taking the time to get your words and feelings down on paper is the first step that we all need. Clarity comes later. Knee jerk reactions rarely play out in your favor when it comes to airing dirty business laundry, especially right now when everything published is permanent. I love that they took the time to step back, breathe and craft a well-researched “high road” piece in response. 🙂

  • Diana Combs

    Wow.  Great story. 
    It can apply to more than just company-to-company communications.  I’ve seen emotionally charged emails and emails with even-toned replies.  It says so much more about the communicator if the tone is even, and the response thought through.  In fact, this post made me feel more inclined to buy Oxo products (which I love) and disinclined to buy from the other company altogether.  If a company is unprofessional at such a high and public level, how else are they falling short of professional standards? 
    Thanks for sharing.  A great story, and reminder for us all!

  • Diana Combs It’s so true, isn’t it? Think about it from your own perspective: If someone shoots off a hot email vs. an even-toned one, which are you more inclined to want to answer? As my dad said when we were kids, “Never put anything in writing you don’t want held against you later.”

  • Diana Combs

    ginidietrich  Yup.  I’ve been on the receiving end of those more times than I’d like.  And those email writers copy their bosses and mine on the sloppy professionalism, so clearly they don’t get it. 🙂  If I feel a hot head coming on, I actually don’t respond immediately. 
    Sometimes a hot head response is due to misinterpretation, lack of sleep, lack of perspective, etc.  My own second read of an email has felt different than the first, making me glad I didn’t respond in the heat of the moment.

  • Love that list of six reasons. Much truth there.

  • ginidietrich

    Unmana xoxo

  • Most excellent post your Mighty Dudess!

    I think the hardest part for business owners is being honest. It is really easy to be self delusional. It is ok to be self delusional…we all are….but when called about it you have to be accountable. That has always been a very disarming aspect of myself. I can take the path as you mentioned of researching and having the right ground when teaching or being critical when the recipient keeps denying the truth. And often the reaction is ‘Well how about this about you? Huh? Huh?’ and I respond …yes I know totally take responsibility something I work on. Somehow Fox News though can go years without accepting when they do wrong 8)

    The customer isn’t always right. But they almost always are right when it comes to their individual experiences. We just had a new restaurant open in our town. Some people love it and some hate it. And Olive Garden is opening nearby. Again some people love it and some hate it.Some of the issues creating the hate can’t be fixed some can. Some of the reasons some people love them can not be carried over.

    Most of the discussion about these restaurants happens off line in person. But some of the commentary does hit the review sites like Yelp! and Trip Advisor vs Social Media. The fact is I am sure each business owner knows their ‘problems’ (bad service for example) or their brand (Olive Garden lots of food for cheap but if you are a true fan of me… you will say ewwwww…but that is ok because that isn’t their target so they should own up to it)

  • We covered this story as a  communications case study in the  #digitaledu course with @martinwaxman  as well, excellent.

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