The beginning of the new decade welcomed the positive news from the National Grid that, for the first time ever, more of the UK’s electricity came from clean sources than fossil fuels, making 2019 the cleanest year on record. For the full story, check out The Independent. Following this, Microsoft announced that they aim to become ‘carbon negative’ by 2030 while aiming to use entirely renewable energy by 2025. More on this in The Daily Mail.

With the BBC claiming driverless cars have become a staple of CES, Russian firm Yandex presented its reworked autonomous Toyota Prius and allowed a few journalists to give it a test ride. Check out the BBC News review of the technology. Earlier this month, Sony joined the race to develop its own vision sensors for self-driving cars. Head to the Financial Times for the details.

A new contender entered the already tense streaming wars this month. New Netflix rival, Quibi, has raised $1 million in funding and aims to change how we stream, limiting all shows to a maximum of 10 minutes. The Telegraph has the full overview. This month also saw Netflix trialling a mobile-only subscription set at less than half the current price. For the full story, head to the Metro.

It seems 2020 is going to be the year of streaming services with British music fans spending more than £1 billion on streaming services, double the amount that was spent on downloads or physical products. More on this in The Telegraph. Additionally, Spotify released its playlists that are tailored for pets. Songs are chosen to match both the characteristics of the animals and the tastes of their owners. Head to the Independent for the details.

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Anyone working in the tech space (or who has a healthy interest in consumer technology) will know that this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has come and gone. Tech companies – as well as their marketing and PR teams – spent months planning for this event, perfecting speeches, product demos and more. However, that doesn’t mean things always go to plan.

Unfortunately for Faraday Future, company executives were left red-faced when the demo failed on stage. The Tesla competitor was introducing its self-driving car, the FF91, but when instructed to self-park on stage, the vehicle didn’t move an inch. Watch the video below, and you’ll no doubt be cringing hard.

These things happen – and actually most of the media scrutiny wasn’t about the failure on stage but about Faraday Future’s reaction. The company opted to play it down but this was perceived as sweeping the issue under the rug, rather than face the issue head on. The result? A backlash of coverage and social posts which attacked the brand.  So, what went wrong?

Don’t launch until you’re truly ready

Freakonomics aired an episode ‘Failure is your friend’ that covered the concept of “go fever”, the phenomena of how when a boss gets “go fever” it can be tough to focus on potential failures thanks to internal politics, momentum, and personal egos.

The most devastating example of “go fever” was the 1986 Challenger launch by NASA. In January 1986, engineers recommended the launch be postponed for the third time due to potential failures that may occur in the motors because of the cold air. But despite the clear risks NASA decided to proceed with the launch.

The space shuttle failed and broke apart a mere 73 seconds into its flight, taking down with it all seven crew members, including a civilian teacher – the tragedy scarred NASA’s reputation for years.

In planning for any kind of launch, do not ignore the warning signs, rather you should scope them out and resolve any issues early on. They won’t fix themselves. You also must test, test and test again so you can be confident in your product. Whether it’s a vehicle that is responsible for people’s safety or not, if your product doesn’t do what it says on the box your brand will be tarnished.

This can be easier said than done though, particularly when time and money pressures weigh in. So, how can this be done in a practical way?

Do the pre-mortem

Cognitive psychologist, Gary Klein, suggests what’s called a pre-mortem method. It involves team members coming together and writing down reasons your project might ultimately fail, and compiling a catalogue of these issues before they cause damage. Each person in the team is then asked to think of one thing they could do to help or fix these issues, which will (hopefully) minimise the chances of failure in the end. We referenced this technique in a previous post on dealing with uncertainty which includes more tips on planning.

When things still go wrong

The pre-mortem technique is an excellent way to plan ahead, but – of course – no amount of planning can prevent things out of your control from going wrong, and that’s why a crisis communications strategy is also critical. At the time of writing this piece, Faraday Future has yet to publicly acknowledge the error on their website or social feeds, despite the public’s demand for answers on the CES failure and the potential safety failures of the vehicle.

People will be critical when mistakes or a crisis occurs, and pretending it didn’t happen will only make it worse. If a crisis situation occurs you must immediately prepare statements, social media posts and responses to address the issue and reassure your potential customers and stakeholders of your brand’s integrity. It’s not uncommon to have templates for common possible issues ready for adaptation at any moment. For example, Uber may have template statements ready around sensitive topics like driver misconduct.

These crisis communications statements need to also appease your investors, if relevant. On-stage glitches don’t inspire confidence in your product, and you need to keep your financial backers (or potential investors) on side.

Stay true to your brand

Above all, it’s also important nowadays to ‘stick by your guns’ and stay true to your company values, rather than try to be something your company is not for the sake of a trend.

It can also be confusing for consumers if a well-known brand starts trying to be something it’s not, and another product making headlines at CES was L’Oreal’s smart hairbrush. Most people think make up, skincare or hair dye when thinking of L’Oreal, so this move into IoT is a little unprecedented and could have an impact on the brand depending how people interpret it. That said, it’s mainly been a positive reception so far, winning the International CES Innovation Award at the show.

Plan for failure

There is no such thing as being “over-prepared”, and doing so can be the difference between a successful launch or black mark on your company’s brand. While Nick Sampson and YT Jia moved on to YT Jia’s speech fairly quickly after the incident and did eventually demonstrate the self-park successfully, a quick search of the media shows some less than favourable headlines in national media, such as The Sun and Daily Mail, and plenty of other global sources. The best solution? Plan for failure, so you can avoid a Faraday Future.

Over the Christmas break, after filming a rather hilarious “dad dance” sequence on my iPhone, I got to talking with some folks about the glory days of the personal digital assistant (PDA). My “wow, you’re old” moment came when I mentioned the Palm Pilot, which in the late 90s was the show-off executive gadget of choice. It stored your phone numbers (didn’t matter that it couldn’t actually dial them), allowed you to receive/send emails, organised your life and came with a nifty stylus.

Since then, Palm’s fortunes have waxed and waned. Smartphones are the kings of consumer gadgetry, with one brand looming quite large in our lives and general consciousness.

Since we’re now in the throes of another CES extravaganza, wizened tech industry PRs are probably looking back at the various bright, shiny objects (BSOs) they’ve launched over the years; perhaps with wistful nostalgia. Did their BSO change the world, become subsumed, or suffer a crash landing?

This is all the more relevant because – although there are few really big shows like CES anymore –  there is treble the pressure for return on trade show investment.

One thing is for sure: it takes a village – literally – to prepare for the kinds of announcements we’re already seeing and will continue to see from CES. The output of energy devoted to product launches at CES could, I believe, power a small English village until Easter.

It’s bloody hard work. After a big product launch, what slings and arrows of outrageous PR fortune lie in wait? It takes a huge output of energy to shape a brand’s narrative and far less time to tear it asunder. That’s why, before any major launch, I always ask my clients if there are any skeletons hiding in the reputational closet…

So spare a thought and well-wishes to all the CES 2012 freshers and returning alumni, and especially all the PRs who keep the whole thing humming, well after the last delegate has left the building.

Is it time to shape your reputation?

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