Newsletter January
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Newsletter January



It’s not every day that one becomes mom to a bouncing 40kg baby, but Elana Smalberger and Mariska du Plessis have taken it in their stride.

On Boxing Day the Emerald Resort and Casino’s zoo, Animal World, celebrated the arrival of their latest – and arguably cutest – resident, Bubbles the hippopotamus.

Unfortunately, Bubbles soon had to be separated from her mother, Juliet, after she tried to bite Bubbles. But that meant that a surrogate mom – or in this case, moms – had to immediately step into the breach.

Zoo and game park managers Smalberger and Du Plessis have had their hands full since, caring for their young – but not-so-small – charge.

For starters, Bubbles guzzles her way through about 2.5 litres of fresh milk daily in hourly feeds, beginning with her morning drink around 6am. Her last feed is around 10.30pm, but she’s also partial to a drink or two during the night.

More importantly for Bubbles, though, is that because she would normally stay close to her parents for up to two years, she constantly demands that someone is with her. So Smalberger and Du Plessis take turns to spend the night with her, ensuring that she feels comfortable and safe at all times – even when she’s asleep and snuggled up next to her big brown teddy bear.

“By staying with Bubbles around the clock, Elana and Mariska are ensuring that she has no stress. Otherwise, she would become agitated and stop feeding, which is clearly an undesirable outcome,” says Emerald Resort and Casino hotel manager Andre Joubert, who is also responsible for the zoo’s operations.

“And Bubbles has taken to her new moms like a hippo to water. She follows them everywhere, and will only take feeds from them. Mariska even had to teach her how to breathe when she’s swimming, so that she doesn’t open her nostrils while she’s submerged.”

Raising such large newborn has quickly become a labour of love for the two keepers, Joubert adds, and it’s easy to see why.

“Like all baby animals, Bubbles is completely adorable. And she’s captured not only the hearts of Elana and Mariska, but virtually all of the Emerald’s staff. We’re over the moon at her arrival, and we take comfort in the knowledge that she is in loving, caring hands 24/7,” he says.


By Willem Steenkamp
Senior Associate marcusbrewster

It’s no secret that 2011 was a tough year for just about everyone, and that 2012 will probably not be a whole lot easier.

With the Euro debt crisis still in full swing, dark warnings from the likes of International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde that we may yet find ourselves in a second Great Depression, and Japan’s economic crisis threatening to dwarf the European one, the world’s dire economic situation is by no means going away.

So what does this mean for business, small and large? Distilled down to a few words, they need to do what they do better, if they want to ensure their continued profitability – or even survival.

One the one hand, that means the regular things like containing costs, streamlining business processes, focusing on core business areas, offering value-adds, and seeking out partners with whom they can unlock greater savings and efficiencies. In other words, they have to do more with less, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

But it also means businesses have to do a lot better in terms of capturing and retaining their customers – in good times and bad. Many businesses tend to think only about success in terms of outputs and revenues, and that’s fine when things are going well. But the mango can hit the fan at astonishing speed, and how a company responds to a crisis now can very well determine whether or not it will still be around in a year’s time.

And while a crisis is potentially more devastating to a smaller company than a larger one, even the big players are not immune, especially when they bungle their communications. For a spectacular example of how poor PR dents reputation (and most probably profits) – and how smart PR could make a positive difference, we need look only to our local shopping mall.

Shortly before Christmas – the prime shopping time of the year – Frankie’s, a KwaZulu Natal producer of a range of premium fizzy soft drinks, began claiming very loudly that Woolies had ripped off its product line down to the range of flavours, the flavours’ names and even the packaging.

In the days that elapsed after the story broke, Woolies took a battering in the mainstream and social media spheres. And frankly, it deserved it – nay, asked for it.

The story started with Frankie’s owner Mike Schmidt claiming that about six months ago, he sat down with Woolworths to discuss either its stocking his products, or Frankie’s producing a bespoke drinks range for the retailer. He was shown the door, he alleged – only for Woolies to then not-very-subtly copy his range.

Consumer reaction was almost immediate, and Woolworths started taking serious flak on Twitter and Facebook from disappointed and angry customers. Its ill-advised response to this “digilantism”? Silence – and the removal of critical comments from its Facebook page. Talk about showing your customer base the finger …

Woolworths also refused to take on Schmidt directly, or defend itself as the story broke. Its lame excuse to media was that the only person who could possibly speak on the matter was in London. Hello? Has no one at the company heard of telephones, or Skype?

Woolworths’ first public statement came a day later, and (predictably) it was a case of too little, too late. Still no one was available to defend Woolworths in person; instead, a press statement was issued, and all it did was deny that Woolworths had ripped off Frankie’s flavours, intellectual property or trademarks.

What this shockingly inept, one-way communication didn’t do was address the issues raised by Schmidt. For example, how come it rejected Frankie’s overtures, only to produce a strikingly similar range of drinks, with mostly identical names, within a few months?

Now, I don’t know about you, but isn’t this all a bit too coincidental to be ignored? Does Woolworths’ failure to swiftly robustly defend itself, and its arrogant refusal to engage with consumers on social media, not suggest a guilty conscience at least? Or inadequate ammunition with which to rebut Schmidt’s claims?

Eventually, three days after the fact, Woolworths woke up and granted interviews. No, they said again, they didn’t rip off Frankie’s. Yes, they said, they had been developing their own drinks range well before they met with Schmidt – but they couldn’t explain why they had then bothered engaging with him, or why they didn’t simply tell him up-front that they were working on their own range.

This was, ultimately, a pointless exercise for Woolies; I’m willing to bet that they didn’t win (back) nearly as many hearts and minds with their tardy, feeble crisis management effort, than they had lost in the preceding few days.

So while the matter wasn’t as cut-and-dried as Schmidt had initially made out, and his claims about similarities around his branding and packaging were also later rubbished by intellectual property and branding experts, reputational havoc had been wreaked – and Woolworths had done precious little to stop it from happening.

It matters not that the facts of the matter have yet to be determined, such as, for example, to what extent the Frankie’s products are trademarked and registered, or how long Woolworths had its drinks range under development. These things will eventually establish the veracity, or not, of the Frankie’s case – but in the court of public opinion, many have already arrived at a verdict.

The bottom line is that the Woolworths brand – which has been painstakingly built around clever marketing concepts such as the Good Business Journey – has taken a severe knock. People now understandably question how ethical a retailer Woolworths really is, and that will inevitably lead them to muse whether or not it has committed other dodgy business deeds. No doubt some will conclude, fairly or unfairly, that the answer is “probably”.

The only outcome can be that Woolworths’ profits will also suffer. I have my doubts that Woolies will ever admit to such a loss, even if they can directly link lower earnings to this matter, but it stands to reason that they would not have gained custom from it; indeed, if anything, the ultimate beneficiary here will be Frankie’s, which enjoyed huge public exposure and support at no cost to itself. I’m a case in point: I’ve now bought, at premium cost, my first Frankie’s product (and I liked it.)

I’m pretty certain that this breathtaking blunder won’t put Woolworths out of business in 2012. But the retailer won’t be enjoying a happy New Year, as it tries to rebuild the years’ worth of reputational and brand goodwill that was lost in a single day, ponders why it had not differentiated its drinks range more from the Frankie’s one, and reflects about how much revenue it forfeited.

And presumably also questions why it not only failed to exploit opportunities to state its case early on, and blow Schmidt’s claims out of the water, but actually turned them down.

With effective, swift and honest communications, things could all have turned out so much better for Woolworths (and not for Frankie’s.) And this wouldn’t become a tittering PR study in how not to communicate during a crisis.

Social Media: What to expect in 2012
Technology exploded in 2011. With the increased number of smartphones, iPhones, iPads, ebooks & Tablets becoming more known and popular, social media also increased. As we say good-bye to 2011, we look forward to what’s to come in 2012:

1. Social media will be incorporated into corporate websites

Many businesses have added social media links and information to their websites that consumers now look for these links. Visiting a company’s Facebook page or Twitter profile has become as important as reading reviews on the business, and corporate websites have noticed this. 2012 will be their time to join the fun.

2. An increase in personal support

In 2011, individuals began reaching out to others through social media websites. Their problems, issues and causes were spread through outlets like Facebook communities; this has become an accepted outlet to share experiences, find others who support the same causes or have the same problems as you. This type of viral support will only increase in the years to come.

3. Social media budgets will grow

Now that businesses have seen how social media has affected the world, they realize how important their own social media presence is. Websites like, Facebook and Twitter, are such a large part of everyday life for so many people that it’s hard to picture life without this social connection.

4. Social media advertising will grow

With so many people skipping TV commercials, businesses will look to take their advertising where the people actually are: social media websites. Some companies will create in-house positions and others will outsource to get their information to the public (via blogs, reviews, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other outlets relevant to their business.)

5. Social gaming will grow

A serious increase in gaming was noticed when social media sites added game options to their website. For example: Farmville on Facebook. People started playing games with their friends on their smartphones, like the popular game,

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