As revealed in Netflix’s new documentary, ‘White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie and Fitch’, today’s company is very different from the brand of the 1990s and early 2000s. For more than a decade, Abercrombie and Fitch have been in the process of rebuilding its reputation; this reveals some interesting lessons that we can take away as PR and comms professionals.
In its heyday, Abercrombie & Fitch (Abercrombie) was worth more than $5 billion and had more than 1000 stores worldwide. During this period, the company was led by Mike Jeffries, who once revealed in that now-famous 2006 interview that the company’s marketing strategy was deliberately exclusionary. He only wanted the ‘attractive’, ‘cool kids’ wearing Abercrombie. If we look a little deeper, we see that this was not merely a surface level PR strategy – you want what you can’t have, right? Instead, racist and exclusionary policies were embedded within the company’s culture. While these policies once appeared to benefit Abercrombie, as attitudes changed, they quickly eroded the company’s reputation, which has had a fundamental impact on the business’s long-term growth.
The question is; what can the demise of Abercrombie teach us about the importance of managing your company’s reputation?
As the company’s figurehead, the CEO will always have a significant impact on the reputation of your company – both positive and negative! The former CEO of Abercrombie, Mike Jeffries, who once led the brand’s revival, would ultimately become its biggest liability. Jeffries was known for his bold ideas and commitment to the brand. However, he was also uncompromising, unorthodox, and did not take criticism well.
While Jeffries has long since left the company, Abercrombie is still working to ameliorate the damage caused by his tenure as CEO. Ultimately, Jeffries should not have been left to manage the company for so long. That being said, the current CEO, Fran Horowitz, has been working hard to ensure that the company is accountable for past mistakes. In a statement to CNN, Horowitz said, “we own and validate that there were exclusionary and inappropriate actions under former leadership,” adding that the company is now “a place of belonging”.
While the company has a long way to go, the importance of leadership accountability is evident here. Suppose a business fails to hold its leader accountable or recognise when it is time for leadership change. In that case, long-term damage will be inflicted upon the company’s reputation.
As times change, often should a company’s values. Failure to make the necessary changes will eventually impact the reputation of any company. When Jeffries began his tenure as CEO, he built the brand upon racist and discriminatory values. These values quickly began to seep into company culture and policies, hiring practices, and even the designs on the clothes.
In 2003, 8 former employees sued Abercrombie for race and sex discrimination. Without admitting any guilt, the company settled and was required to pay $40 million and sign a decree to change its practices and promote diversity.
For a while, the company continued to get away with its discriminatory practices. However, these days consumers value and expect brands to promote diversity and inclusion. Abercrombie failed to move with the times, which meant that as attitudes changed, the brand became toxic, and their failure to own up to past mistakes came back to haunt them. Companies should continually audit their values and policies to ensure that they are promoting diversity and inclusion and that they are not breaking the law, for that matter!
The demise of Abercrombie from a multi-billion dollar brand to a disgraced clothing company can teach us a few things about managing your company’s reputation:
May has been a month of innovation and continued regulatory shifts in the tech sector. It can be difficult to keep up with the endless waves of change (Elon Musk’s continual indecision over purchasing Twitter spring to mind for anyone?), but the Firefly team always havs our finger on the pulse. Here’s our lowdown on what you might have missed.
It’s no secret that supply chain issues and the candidate crisis have plagued businesses significantly recently. But what if AI innovation could offer the solution?
A growing number of startups are applying AI technology alongside established logistics firms to help businesses ease supply concerns. In the recruitment arena, AI is becoming an increasingly effective tool for hiring strong candidates. Google has even gone as far to develop almost human-level intelligence. Increasing efficiencies is always beneficial; we will certainly be tracking these developments closely.
As the power of AI innovation grows, so do the legal restrictions within the technology sector. The UK Government is set to introduce new competition rules for large tech companies, paving the way for innovation among smaller businesses.
When it comes to user safety, the discussion on the Online Safety Bill continues. Campaigners argue the current provisions do not sufficiently address violence against women and girls, showing that greater protections are needed. We’re also seeing a crackdown on Big Tech’s data collection, with the global central bank calling for individuals to be given more control.
These moves highlight greater oversight is needed over the sector to ensure that everyone can engage with technology safely and freely.
June has been a less than ideal month for the crypto world, as several stablecoins crashed in a historic market collapse. Though, if anyone fancies a trip to Gucci’s US-based stores, rest assured you can use bitcoin to complete your purchase there, so it’s not all doom and gloom.
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Imagine entering your workplace in a 3D world and heading into a meeting room where you greet your virtual colleagues. It feels like you are together, but in fact, you are at home wearing a VR headset as indeed they are, and perhaps on the other side of the world. We might not be too far off from this scenario.
The increased adoption of VR and augmented reality (AR) are evolving both work and play. In the short space of a few months, AR and VR have become inherently tied to the world of communications. When Facebook underwent a major rebrand and unveiled themselves as Meta last October, widening its reach outside of social media into the virtual reality space, the world took notice. And when Big Tech sets a trend, people follow. Virtual reality has even been touted as the next new way to experience hands-on training and development.
Modern workers are no strangers to communicating remotely. But the substantial impact of these technologies on the comms world will be their power to help us collaborate in ways that were unheard of before, bringing people together who might not otherwise meet, enabling authentic human interactions. From allowing creativity to flourish, to enabling communication (in a virtual space) with people across the globe. Here are my top three ways that VR could enhance your comms efforts:
Your space plays a key role in how creative you are. And for those of us in the comms industry, creativity is our driving force. If you do not feel inspired and comfortable in your surroundings, you will not perform at your best. Virtual spaces have the power to be much more effective than physical spaces in this way – simulating reality and allowing us to work in a virtual world where possibilities are endless.
VR meetings are also a powerful tool. Unlike Zoom calls, VR meetings enable you to see the physical presence of colleagues, making it much more like an in-person meeting. Understanding body language and the dynamics in the room are a valuable tool for gauging the feelings of your colleagues and making decisions accordingly. Plus, we can break free of the traditional office setting – who wouldn’t like to conduct meetings or draft an article, from the beach, or an inspiring historical landmark if that were possible one day?
As comms professionals, it is crucial to meet our audience where they are. Emotional connections are important, particularly for brands that are seeking to bolster authenticity in their interactions with potential customers. In fact, this is the heart of our business. People need to feel seen and heard in order to engage – and VR has the immense power to help with this, by leveraging technology that enables human connections regardless of location. Authenticity is also important when communicating with customers and clients – it’s crucial that we don’t underestimate the importance of a virtual hug during a time when many have been distanced.
How virtual reality could influence our daily lives has been a hot topic , described as the future of work, and for good reason. At the moment, the technology almost seems too good to be true – because it has the power to create a new level of seamless collaboration that was unheard of a few years ago. Brainstorming sessions are more powerful in person, and when physical location is no longer a factor, it is limitless what could be achieved.
VR has the power to make our day-to-day business easier, more productive, and more authentic – which is crucial for organisations to flourish. And while this technology is still developing, it could change everything that we know about human interaction and collaboration in the space of a few short years.
Other than losing an hour in bed, April has had a lot to offer: longer days, better weather, and chocolate moulded in perfectly shaped ovals! It’s also when it really begins to look and feel like summer; as the eternally optimistic people of Britain begin to emerge from their long hibernation in the hopes of experiencing the elusive phenomena known as sunshine. Time for this month’s tech news roundup!
The less optimistic folk have decided to flee the country in search of the sun. However, not every passenger has been successful in their pursuit of Vitamin D. Indeed, the news has been filled with travel horror stories as recovering airlines struggle to deal with chronic staff shortages. Those travelling to outer galaxies seem to have had an easier journey. April saw the first paying civilians blast off to the International Space Station as part of Elon Musk’s private space exploration service, SpaceX.
While the infamous billionaire is primarily known for his adventures into space and the (slow) production of his high-performance electric vehicle, the Tesla, Musk has once again been the centre of attention in the media for his involvement in Twitter. This month it was revealed that he was the majority stakeholder in the social media platform, and is now even trying to buy it. I wonder if it was his idea to introduce a new ‘edit button’? Some of his tweets certainly need it…cough, cough…perhaps his tweet declaring that he wanted to take Tesla, private? Breaking SEC rules, and ultimately costing him his position as chairman of Tesla and millions of dollars in fines.
Twitter has largely managed to avoid controversy this month. However, the same can’t be said for some other social media giants or, indeed, Will Smith – talk about awkward! Facebook has been marred with a string of failures this month, which has included claims of failing to protect younger users, and accusations of spreading misinformation.
Once again, there has been little good news for the climate. Although, there have been some exciting advancements in the electric vehicle market. Honda is set to ramp up its production of electric cars with a $64billion budget and NASA has designed an electric car battery that can be charged in 15 minutes. When it comes to saving the planet every little bit helps!
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Nowadays, attention span is one of the scarcest commodities we have in modern society. Online life can be addictive and endless, with perpetual anticipation of the next big thing and every brands’ reputation on the line. With this in mind, now is the perfect time to start prioritising and shaping your comms, with authentic and captivating PR strategies. Maintaining your company’s reputation, demonstrating your positive culture, and looking after your own workforce will ensure people are tuned in and listening.
Attention span is defined as the ‘amount of concentrated time on a task without being distracted’. Scientifically, they call it ‘attention failure’, essentially investigating why cognitively we reach for our phones with such ease and frequency at every point in the day. Attention spans are shrinking, with some reports suggesting that humans are 25% less engaged than they were only a few years ago.
Researchers in Denmark studied a range of media types; from movie ticket purchasing habits, popular books, Tweets, as well as Wikipedia attention time. What they found was that the hotness of topic, time in the public sphere, and desire for a new topic vary greatly and depend on the media type. As an example, Twitter is currently fixated on the recent Elon Musk board scandal but people will quickly move on to the next thing. Those doing a deep dive on Wikipedia are engaged for far longer.
How can we overcome this attention span deficit? By moving to briefer, personalised, and authentic comms to engage distracted audiences and create content that is evergreen that won’t be caught up in the trend cycle. Not just with audiences, but with your internal comms too. Using engaging internal comms strategies to hold attention will also ensure this is reflected externally.
Positivity engages audiences, and shines your reputation
Brandon Stanton, the creator of the viral storytelling account Humans of New York, emphasises when writing his personal profiles that he does not describe people in adjectives, but rather describes actions of their life. After all, actions do speak louder than words. Looking across his portfolio of work on social channels (with 20 million followers), he notably gets right to the point, with little explanation or introduction. Your audience is smart enough to get the gist.
The journey of a good narrative in comms
Researchers found that people read information on paper vastly differently than online, as the amount of data to absorb on a singular page in a book is far less than a busy webpage. The slow and linear journey of a book is why it is so pleasing to race towards the end (no spoilers, please!). Your online content should follow suit, and always engage in a complimentary, moving narrative journey.
It seems obvious, but the simplicity of the beginning, middle and end with challenges addressed by solutions, is just the way our brains like to consume. So, when you’re creating content and communicating with your audiences this year, remember to get back to basics. And don’t check your phone whilst writing it- resist the urge, if you can.
It is estimated that there are between 3.2 and 37.8 million social media influencers. That’s millions of individuals relying on their personal brand to gain followers, secure brand deals and increase engagement on their relative platforms. Although many choose to turn their nose up at those who label themselves as ‘influencers’ and ‘content creators’, we can’t deny that those who are doing it right are reaping the rewards.
Logan Paul, for example, started making YouTube videos from the age of 10. His success on YouTube and Vine has since catapulted him into fame and he is now worth $35 million at the age of 26. Not too shabby for a few videos and a strong personal brand, right?
With the age of digitalisation upon us (any one fancy a virtual beer after work?), perhaps companies could learn a thing or two from those that have had such success with their online personal branding. Personal brand upkeep isn’t so dissimilar to maintaining a strong company brand after all; it’s about keeping up with trends, keeping content relevant, and appealing to your target audience.
It’s clear that there are many similarities between those individuals trying to monetise their online presence, and a company seeking to establish a strong online brand. Although technology has revolutionised marketing, companies must be aware of how they sell themselves online and what their messaging is truly saying.
Influencers have always seized the opportunity to glamourise their realities, editing photos and posts to make their lives seem perfect and unattainable. While these posts may be nice to look at, they can actually alienate your following into a sense of ‘me’ and ‘them’. If what you’re posting is entirely unrelatable, you can only really achieve a surface-level connection with your following.
Recently, we have seen an influx of influencers who are doing away with filters and photoshop, and instead portraying an honest representation of their lives, good and bad. These more genuine posts create instead a notion of ‘us’. Followers are able to relate to the posts, inspiring open discussions and driving engagement.
So, what can brands learn from this?
That honesty is the best policy. If a brand is not transparent, customers will be hesitant to take the risk that comes with giving the benefit of the doubt to an unfamiliar company. As much as aesthetic and image hold a great deal of importance, companies shouldn’t rely solely on looks to engage their customers.
As we transition into this digital future, it seems that companies could have a lot to learn from influencers and content creators. Companies and individuals alike must keep their brands focused, genuine and consistent – you need to know who your target audience is and how to appeal to them. So, why not hold a mirror up to your brand and see what it is you’re really saying? And if you’re falling short, it might be worth heading to the wonderful world of influencers for some creative inspiration!
At this point, most of us will have seen the latest Netflix-induced cultural phenomenon – The Tinder Swindler. If not, you’ll likely have heard about it through friends, news outlets and every existing social media platform you happen to be active on. But here’s something you’ve maybe not thought about: what can the Tinder Swindler teach us about comms, PR and branding?
Boy meets girl, boy scams girl…
If you’ve somehow managed to avoid knowledge of the new Netflix documentary entirely, let me summarise it for you…spoiler alert! A man meets women on the dating app Tinder, presenting himself as extremely wealthy with a lavish lifestyle. He embarks on relationships with these women and then, a few months down the line, he convinces them that he is in imminent danger from his ‘enemies’. He then persuades them to send him money so he can escape – only, he keeps needing more. Using this method, he’s defrauded his victims of an estimated $10million.
You might be thinking: sorry, how does this tie into PR and comms again? I’m getting there, I promise.
Honesty is the best policy
Let’s talk about image. The Tinder Swindler was an extremely convincing communicator when it came to his image. He portrayed himself as charming, genuine and immensely wealthy – and his victims believed him. But, of course, this was a complete lie. A lie that was ultimately exposed. And, while some might view having a Netflix documentary made about you as a form of success, he’s now known globally as a con artist and his face is not one that many women will be swiping right on anymore.
The lesson we can all take from this is that honesty is integral when it comes to any branding or comms strategy. Putting a false, romanticised version of a company or brand out into the world may bring some initial success. But without honesty and integrity at its core, any comms plan will eventually crumble.
PRs are your partners
Now we know our clients aren’t out to con anyone – as most companies aren’t! That’s not what we’re implying. But it’s certainly not unheard of to get wrapped up in the excitement of appearing in the press. And sometimes, in an effort to achieve this, companies can lose sight of what it is they should be communicating, and how.
It should be a shared responsibility between the company itself, and the PR agency they partner with, to manage this. Lots of PRs are yes men, and of course there’s an element of this required in any service industry. But it’s also vital that we remember our role as partners and advisors. Companies need PR agencies that will keep them honest, challenge them when PR, comms or branding strategy is overstepping the mark, and provide push back where necessary.
Substance over splash, always
For instance, companies can often fall into the trap of wanting to overhype all and any company news, whether it’s a genuinely interesting new acquisition or simply a change of office. The press quickly grow tired of exaggerated news of success and so, as PRs, it’s our job to call out when hyperbole might be in play and push back on forcing this news out to sceptical journalists.
Another area companies can get carried away with is employer branding. With the current employment market the way it is, every company is naturally keen to appeal to candidates. But it’s vital to remember – before launching into any awards, speaker opportunities, or weighing in on any news – that the work actually needs to be done internally first. A company that is 90% male should do tangible work on improving inclusivity before commenting on International Women’s Day, for instance.
PRs should be ready and willing to point things like this out, helping keep our clients honest and on the straight and narrow. This partnership will lay the foundation for a strong PR and comms strategy, with truth-telling at its core.
There was a quote from Matt Damon earlier this month in GQ where he expressed his feeling on the return to Hollywood: “It has just been a lot, like from zero to hundred again. I was excited to kind of reengage with the world, but I forgot how fast it moves.”
It’s the same story across every industry; and comms certainly had a hectic summer.
This September, The London Underground saw the busiest Monday back since the start of the pandemic, as the rush hour roars back. Bars, restaurants, and cafes have bustled to life with eager customers; the wait for a table at your favourite spot is back. A frenzied summer of global dealmaking and transactions has set records, with almost $4 trillion of deals already signed on the dotted line. The job market is busy, with the second highest monthly increase in new employment coupled with a booming number of vacancies.
Headlines are dominated now by funding news, companies committed to growing their workforce and launches of new innovations. It’s exciting, it’s hectic, but it is worth taking a moment to reflect on what we’ve just been through.
When the pandemic blended our professional and personal lives, we learned valuable lessons in authenticity and vulnerability as the world changed around us. Whilst we ride the wave of economic prosperity and reopening, these resilient characteristics will be vastly beneficial.
Zooming out to see the bigger picture
As the crisis of the pandemic hit, conversations became more meaningful as we all stood on common ground. It facilitated more open and authentic discussion as we chatted home lives, mental health, and everything in between. Not only did we see inside people’s homes, including their bookshelves, but opportunities for more introspection and empathy across every industry were revealed.
Some changes were hugely impactful on our daily lives and some more subtle, but we developed a wider and more thoughtful perspective, reframing what we see in the ‘picture frame of life’. A crisis often helps us develop a wider point of view as we question the way we live and what is important to us. However, for many people, it was a challenge as industries ground to a halt or plans were cancelled completely. For those lucky enough to have job security and the freedom and space to dream big, zooming out to see the bigger picture can present brilliant opportunities for improving growth and communications within your organisation.
By breaking free of the prior rigidity of routine, we found ourselves to be more vulnerable. Everyone has experienced the past 18 months vastly similarly and vastly differently; we can resonate and sympathise with our neighbours and colleagues. Beyond seeing the glass as half full, we see new imagined and realistic ideals: moving to a new city, a new career change or a new passion.
The power of authentic and human communication
Whilst it may be tempting for businesses to focus on comms demonstrating growth, success, and innovation, it must be balanced with authentic stories highlighting the impact and human side to your brand. The power to bounce back is more paramount than ever, especially how we set forth with this ability. This can be showcased with reputational assets- thought leaders, delighted clients, resilient workforces- the important part is to continue to build purpose-led authentic communications. Be wary of following what the rest of the crowd is doing though, and make sure to march to the beat of your own drum. Audiences are sharp and they know when they are being duped with a manufactured story or a cliched idiom. To avoid these blunders, provide your audience with relatable, passion and enthusiastic messaging without overthinking.
Being vulnerable to stand out in the crowd
In a vast sea of communications, stick out withpersonable and honest stories. For example, the file sharing service WeTransfer had a viral, offbeat campaign entitled ‘Please Leave’, narrated by poet Roxane Gay, reminding audiences of their values of putting people first, and the importance of creativity.
You may feel like Matt Damon and have forgotten how fast pre-pandemic life zooms by, but don’t forget pandemic life either. We learnt a lot, and as hard as it was, in many ways it made us better and more human.
At this point, we’ve all heard of burnout. Some of us have probably experienced it in some form or another – especially as most of us are putting in an extra two hours on average each day while working from home. Recently, a handful of employees from Goldman Sachs came forward to reveal that they were working a shocking 90-hour week. Even if that’s over six days, that’s 15 hours a day!
Disgruntled employees have the power to damage a company’s reputation in a matter of minutes. It doesn’t need to be a huge scandal, but an organisation’s reputation is dictated by everything that is said about them, externally and internally. In the case of Goldman Sachs, employees have been sent “sympathy hampers” but one employee felt that the company “should be doing more to recognise the gruelling demands placed on the lowest-ranking staff”. A hamper may not be enough to rectify these wrongs, but what can be done? The employees at Goldman Sachs seemingly had no other option than to take this internal issue external. In this case, a lot will need to be done to fix it, but issues like this can be prevented with the right analysis and proactive steps.
Internal communication is a key part of enabling employees to perform their job well. Strong internal communication can help foster company culture, build engagement, and help employees to feel both physically and emotionally safe. But before diving into fixing a company’s internal issues, you must understand the current sentiment of your workforce.
The only real way to understand is to talk to the people it directly concerns – the employees. In the case of Goldman Sachs, it’s unlikely that the employees are choosing to work long hours, it’s more likely that this is a cultural expectation. In this case, there were probably tell-tale signs of this, but these cultural expectations can unknowingly pop-up. A lot of change has happened in this past year, employees have formed new habits, new ways of working and new ways of adapting to something that was once so foreign, and naturally, what felt like short term changes have majorly impacted the workplace culture. The challenge now is to conduct an entire culture audit to assess where you are.
On top of evaluating company values, it’s important to look at the vision and mission to understand how much that resonates with the people. Through feedback and focus groups, it’s easier to see what behaviours are being rewarded. Then, diagnose issues such as overdemanding cultural expectations and tackle those bigger issues head on. It’s likely a lot of issues derive directly from employees feeling a disconnect, For Goldman Sachs, employees saying hampers are not enough to rectify the wrongs indicates that they want to be heard. But for people to speak up, you must create an environment of psychological safety, and introduce multiple ways to have those conversations.
Another practice to introduce is a ‘stop, start, continue’ feedback process. This allows employees to discuss what works for them, what doesn’t, and what new additions or methods would be helpful for them. With this, it’s much easier to diagnose issues and find solutions at the same time – two birds, one stone!
Once the issues are understood, it’s time to think about communication. Before deciding what to say, think about who is saying it. Should the announcement come from a team leader or is it more suited to a person in the leadership team? People will take these interactions in different ways and tailoring internal spokespeople for specific types of communication will help a lot.
On the flip side, it’s important to be aware of how easy and comfortable it is for employees to communicate back. For some people, in-person is better or over the phone but for others, they find it much easier to express themselves in writing. It’s really important to give the option of anonymity to employees too – people will speak more honestly and will feel safer. Try having a real-time FAQ and feedback platforms so employees can raise issues in the moment. By sitting on problems, we either forget about them or let them fester into something much bigger than they were at the time.
Internal communication isn’t just about responding to issues or communicating on major company announcements. It’s a way to keep the workforce connected, engaged, and excited – you want those two-way conversations to guarantee every employee is psychologically safe. Here are four top tips for better internal communication on an ongoing basis:
If you need any help with ensuring your internal communications is top notch, have a look at some of the services we offer or get in touch with us at email@example.com.
Firstly, while a little off topic, we have to acknowledge that we’ve all made it through the drab winter months and spring has finally sprung. Not to mention, like the flowers finally coming into bloom, surveys show there is also growing optimism looking towards the future.
Now, back to the big developments we’re seeing unfolding in the world of tech and we have to start with Deliveroo’s highly anticipated IPO — and subsequent flop. It has even been hailed as one of the worst market debuts on record. So, what went wrong? Read more on the Daily Telegraph. Deliveroo has also been under fire from employees protesting against their poor treatment by the company. The Guardian has more details on the recent demonstration and Firefly’s CEO Claire Walker shares her view on what makes a successful IPO here.
There could soon be more bad news for the big players in the tech world, as the UK has launched a new watchdog to crack down on big tech. Find out more about the plans for tougher regulation and new rules granting consumers more power over their data on City AM. This may not be welcome news for the likes of Google, which is already in hot water for allegedly tracking and storing information on Android users without their consent. The Daily Telegraph has the full story.
Cryptocurrency has been dominating the media for months and continues to be all over the news, with the cryptocurrency market having just hit $2 trillion, but now it’s making headlines for other reasons. Research has revealed that Chinese bitcoin mining is generating more annual emissions than some European countries. The Metro outlines the full research and findings.
There is, however, some more positive news. While we were likely all still stuffing our faces with chocolate, the UK’s electricity system was enjoying its greenest day ever on Easter Bank Holiday Monday, with favourable weather and low power demand causing a swell in renewable energy sources. BBC News has the full analysis. There are also some hopeful developments on the horizon in the world of gaming. The British Esports Association (BEA) is pushing for Esports to be more accessible to disabled gamers, with gaming tournaments exclusively for players with disabilities. BBC News has more on how the BEA is hoping to make this possible.
And finally, back to where we started. If you’re still in need of something to help brighten up these ongoing Covid days, Will.i.am may just have the thing for you. The rapper will release the ‘Xupermask’, a ‘smart mask’ with inbuilt noise cancelling headphones, a charging port and LED lights. It will set you back a pretty penny though, with a retail price of $299. Check it out on the Daily Mail.
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