Monday, December 29, 2008

Rules of Engagement

Another note on Social Media...

The first rule of social media seems to be that there are no definitive rules. That said, there are a few things that I think you should keep in mind:

1. Commercial interaction HAS to be done on the public's terms. This is completely different than the way most companies are used to promoting themselves -- obtrusively injecting themselves into your life at all times of the day and night. If you manage a company, a brand or a product, take heed and tread lightly.

2. You don't need to say something that is important every time. But you ought to say things that have some value or merit, if only to allow others a peek inside of you (or your company, product or brand).

3. Remember that written words on this "Internet thing" could very well linger until the end of time as we know it. Choose them wisely.

4. Don't meet (or fight) negativity with negativity.

5. And a corollary rule to #4 - refrain from name calling.

Let me know if you have any insights to add.

Friday, December 19, 2008

You are NOT too old for Facebook

As I see it, you have two choices:

You can bemoan the sorry state of affairs in this modern world, or you can stick your toe in the water first, then slide your entire foot in, get used to the temperature a bit, take a deep breath, and JUMP!

I'm talking about social media in general, and Facebook in particular.

I'll admit that I am no Facebook Einstein. In fact, when my kids saw that I'd signed up and posted a Facebook page about a year ago, they laughed that I only had 10 or so friends in the beginning ("You're not very popular, Dad!").

But the point is, I took the deep breath and jumped.

Has it been a business panacea? Hardly. But I have used it for business, and (to my surprise and pleasure) have reconnected with some old, dear high school friends.

So my advice is, you are not too old. Go ahead, log on and sign up. And be sure to send me a friend request!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Beware of Knee-Jerk Budget Cutting

Ted Pincus, founder of The Financial Relations Board, as well as a finance professor at DePaul University and a business columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, recently published a paper on the deepening financial mess. It appeared on the O'Dwyer's PR website. While Pincus doesn't offer much hope for a quick fix by the incoming Obama administration, he does conclude with a cautionary tale for anyone considering cutting their PR budgets to save money in the short-term.

Pincus writes:

"I sense that the short-sightedness of old has been replaced by a new recognition that a reputation — the most prized asset of all in the long run — cannot be turned on and off with the flick of a budget, and can only be protected by the one specialist who knows how to achieve sustainability."

Sure times are tough. But if you want to be ready to blast out of the gate when the inevitable economic revival comes, make sure you keep your good reputation intact. And remember the words of Warren Buffet who once famously said, "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently."

Friday, November 21, 2008

Tone Deaf

So, did you see the Nightly News yesterday? It seems that the "Big Three Automakers" -- Moe, Larry and Curly -- went to Washington, D.C. in private corporate jets (they couldn't even "jet pool!"), to tell Congress that they are broke, and need billions of taxpayer dollars to guarantee that they won't go belly-up.

Talk about tone deaf.

Don't these people know that appearances DO matter? The American Public is feeling the heat from one of the worst economic periods in our history. Everyone is concerned. 401(k) accounts and college savings plan values have been sliced in half. People are justifiably nervous about the future.

So what do the "Big Three" do?

“It’s almost like seeing a guy show up at the soup kitchen in high-hat and tuxedo,” said Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY).

Here's a note to General Chrysford: We get it. We understand that if you guys go out of business, it will have untold repercussions on the rest of the economy. And while we'll not part with our money cheerfully, we will, in the end, part with it because it's far better than the alternative.

But have a little humility. Come back in a couple of weeks with a PLAN. We want to see a clear path forward that shows us that you "get it," and that you can compete with Toyota. And, for goodness sake, don't come back in three individual private jets. Is it too much to ask that you fly coach for once?

On a side note: We're told over and over again about the millions of people who will be out of work if you guys bite the big one. And usually, we're told that over video B-roll of cars rolling through ROBOTIC ASSEMBLY LINES. Once again, keep in mind that appearances DO matter. You may be proud of your robot assemblers, but nobody cares if THEY are put out of work!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Publishing Bad News/Good News

I was sad to read yesterday that PC Magazine was going to shut down its print edition. Sure, the Internet is a great tool (heck, we're both using it right now, right?). However, there is no substitute for having a crisply written, composed and printed magazine or newspaper in your hands as you curl up on a big comfy couch or chair -- perhaps with a fire roaring in the fireplace, cold beer nearby, ballgame in the background on the TV.....but I digress.

Many of us who spend what seems like our entire workday in front of a computer screen appreciate the printed piece, and will mourn the demise of yet another "old friend."

At the same time, a bit of good news has just come out of the publishing world. Jonathan Schein, a longtime publishing veteran (and an all around good guy, by the way), has just announced the launch of NYinc -- a a magazine, website, and conference medium for the New York market, focusing on commercial and residential real estate, law, finance, and economic development.

I, for one, wish Jonathan and his staff at Schein Media all the best with this new venture. NYinc joins two other quality titles, New York Home and New Jersey & Company in Schein's growing media stable. Good luck, Jonathan! I look forward to getting my first copy of NYinc.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

'Nuff Said

Writing in the 10th Anniversary issue of PRWeek, Charlotte R Otto, the global external relations officer of Procter & Gamble had this to say:

"On virtually all of our brands at P&G, and at many other companies, PR is now a regular source of big ideas that can become the inspiration for broader holistic marketing programs. And these programs are consistently top marketing ROI contributors."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Johnson & Johnson's Misstep Shows the Power of Social Media

Social media is here to stay. Need proof? There is no better object lesson than the misstep that Johnson & Johnson just made online that unleashed a torrent of bad blood among the very audience they were trying to court. And that bad blood flowed quickly and deeply among bloggers and Twitter users.

Yes, I'm talking about THAT J&J, one of the biggest, most powerful marketers, and a company known for its social responsibility, and for having a "corporate soul."

J&J posted an ill-advised commercial for its Motrin brand of ibuprofen on its website. The ad was designed to resonate with young moms. Take a look here. You be the judge.

What followed was an overwhelmingly negative flood of angry responses from moms (and others) who felt that the spot was condescending and patronizing. Most of the responders said they'd never buy Motrin again. The threat of a boycott seems very real.

Here's a sample of the reaction:

Clip 1

Clip 2

Clip 3

Maybe the marketing team was out having a beer after work when that ad was to be approved. Maybe someone was asleep at the switch. Maybe the ad agency was just too clever for their client's good. Who knows?

The important lessons are these:

First: Online media is every bit as important as traditional media. And just because it's "only an online ad" doesn't mean it should be treated with any less importance than an ad for network TV (which would have been market tested and well vetted before it ever saw the light of day).

Second: When you see that you've offended people, even if inadvertently, own up to it immediately, and try to make amends. No excuses. J&J has done that, pulling the ads and posting an apology from Kathy Widmer, Vice President of Marketing, on the Motrin website. Kudos for that. Many other companies would have stonewalled or been paralyzed into inaction.

Third: Online communities are here to stay, and if you can communicate with online communities in a manner that shows you respect and understand them, and most importantly, that you are listening to what they are telling you, you can really help your products to succeed.

As Widmer said in an extended apology, “One bright spot is that we have learned through this process - in particular, the importance of paying close attention to the conversations that are taking place online.”

If you are a marketer, you would also do well to pay attention.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Honoring Those Who Served

Today is Veteran's Day.

Let us all pause for at least a moment or two today to remember the brave men and women who gave of themselves so generously -- many paying the ultimate price -- so that we can enjoy the freedom and life that we cherish in our country. God Bless them and their families.

Here is a nice historical perspective on Veteran's Day.

And here is a nice tribute to the valor and bravery of the American soldier. It's set to Ray Charles singing "America the Beautiful."

Monday, November 10, 2008

A plug for "HIMYM" -- perhaps the best written show on TV

So....It's Monday Night and you want to watch some football. I'm OK with that.

But if you aren't that into the match-up (think 49ers at Cardinals), and you can't stand the thought of watching some washed-up celebrities in silly costumes and far too much make-up "Dancing With the Stars," let me recommend perhaps the best written show on television: How I Met Your Mother.

This show is smart, funny, touching, and human, and has one of the best characters that television has EVER seen in Neil Patrick Harris' Barney Stinson.

Who says this show is so great? Well, if you don't trust ME (which you obviously SHOULD), take a look at this article by Miriam Datskovsky, or these show-specific posts by The Star-Ledger's Alan Sepinwall.

And take a look at this promo with all of the "Best Of" Chyrons.

Check this show out -- even if you can't resist watching Warren Sapp in a dancer's outfit. What, you don't have a DVR?

Here are a few of my favorite moments, courtesy of YouTube:

Barney's "Hot/Crazy Scale"

"Slap Bet"

"Barney's Blog" (homage to "Doogie Howser -- almost expect Max Casella to come in through the window)

"Robin Sparkles" music videos (take your pick) "Let's Go to the Mall" or "Sandcastles in the Sand."

"The Bracket"

Barney's "Ode to Bimbos"

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election is Over -- and it is GREAT to be an American

Regardless of which candidate you supported, you have to marvel at a system that allows us to air every grievance imaginable, and yet still peacefully go to the polls in record numbers to cast our vote as we see fit.

President-elect Obama is to be congratulated on his victory, and on a very well-run campaign.

Senator McCain deserves our thanks, admiration and respect for his service to our country -- both in uniform and as an elected official.

The proudest moment for me was Senator McCain's gracious, classy and elegant concession speech, reminding us that the will of the people is to be respected above all in this country.

God Bless them both, and God Bless America!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Email -- a great tool, but no substitute for REAL communication

I have often marveled at the new communication methods and tools that have emerged over the past several year. As a business owner who employees a good deal of "twentysomething" employees, I have seen the proliferation of IMs, Skype, Facebook and MySpace, and now Twitter as communication tools.

There is no question that these tools have changed the way we communicate, and have certainly changed the PR community as well. But there is a danger inherent in the immediate, truncated communication that is favored by modern communication tools -- that danger is in misinterpretation of meaning and/or intent, which strikes at the very core of good communication.

Take, for example email -- a communication tool that has been around like for-EVER it seems.

Email is one of the greatest communication tools in our arsenal. It allows us to communicate with great immediacy, and with virtually anyone around the globe. And with so many "smart phones" in use today, most people can pick up email all day and in any place.

But there is a problem inherent in email that is now getting a good deal of attention. In short, email has no subtlety, offers no richness of communication, provides no avenues for subtext, and certainly favors a truncation of meaning.

It turns out that email is a lousy way to communicate anything but cold, hard facts, figures and direction.

Daniel Goldman, author of "Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships" (Bantam) writes about this dichotomy in an October 7, 2007 article in the New York Times. In the article, Goldman writes "We tend to misinterpret positive email messages as more neutral, and neutral ones as more negative, than the sender intended."

Why? Goldman tells us it's because "Email can be emotionally impoverished when it comes to nonverbal messages that add nuance and valence to our words. The typed words are denuded of the rich, emotional context we convey in person or over the phone."

Goldman also quotes Clay Shirkey, an adjunct professor in NYU's interactive communication program, who pointedly says, "When you communicate with a group you only know through electronic channels, it's like having functional Asperger's Syndrome -- you are very logical and rational, but emotionally brittle."

It is for that reason that we encourage all of our employees to push away from the keyboard, and pick up the telephone. Moreover, we require our account service team to see their clients face-to-face at least once a month (if not more!). This is especially important when communicating difficult or complex news.

The article is a short, but very enlightening read. I encourage you to check it out here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The bottom line, apparently: Skinny, emaciated women sell stuff

Ever wonder why normal-sized, beautiful women put up with all of those high-fashion ads which seem to worship 78-pound skin-and-bones models? Apparently the reason is that ads featuring those models sell more stuff than ads featuring beautiful, normally-portioned females. Go figure.

A study conducted by business professors at Villanova University and at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ, formerly Trenton State College) found that ads that featured these undernourished waifs actually made women feel worse about themselves, but, astoundingly, worked better at selling the advertiser's product. The study was reported in the July 30 issue of AdvertisingAge.

How could that be? An ad that makes you feel rotten about yourself makes you buy more stuff from the company that has just, in effect, insulted you?

"The really interesting result we're seeing across multiple studies is that these thin models make women feel bad, but they like it," said Jeremy Kees, a business professor at Villanova.

Again, astounding.

But perhaps there is a glimmer of hope for us as a species after all.

The same story tells us that the now famous Dove Campaign for Real Beauty has already reached 4.5 million people. A Dove spokesperson hits the nail on the head as far as I am concerned.

His quote: "We believe women have the right to feel comfortable with their bodies and not suffer from lack of self-esteem brought on by images of excessive slimness."

What do YOU think? I'd be very interested in hearing opinions on the subject.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Just WHO won that war anyway?

So, I was watching the Mets play the Cincinnati Reds, and Jerry Manuel went out to make a pitching change. My daughter (a recent college grad -- CONGRATS AGAIN!) grabbed the remote to flip on a show called "So You Think You Can Dance," a show that, it seems, is going to identify for us America's next great dancer.

Well, the cute host has a British accent. And (go figure) one of the "judges" is also a Brit.

It got me thinking: If one of our Founding Fathers came back to modern day America, and was watching one of the seemingly endless array of "reality TV" shows, they'd have to wonder if we actually LOST the Revolutionary War.

Why is it that America can't decide who our best singer, dancer, comedian, entertainer, etc. is without the "help" of some (usually curmudgeonly) British person?

Friday, July 4, 2008

We hold these truths to be self-evident

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

We all know those poignant words from the Declaration of Independence. If you haven't read through this beautifully-composed, incredibly important document in some time, it is well worth a re-read -- especially if you haven't thought much about it since high school.

Happy 4th of July.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Former Homeland Security Chief gets $480K -- And I'll bet he doesn't even know the song!

So it seems that former Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge has done what many of our politicians seem to do -- he left government to make the really big bucks as a lobbyist.

Fine, I suppose. But follow the rules. If you are going to represent a foreign government, then register as an agent as required by LAW within the required time frame, and not, say 21 MONTHS LATE(!), as Governor Ridge did for his work on behalf or Albania -- work for which Ridge's firm was paid $480,000 per year (that works out to $40k per month!).

Better, still, the government of Albania could have saved all of that money by just shooting around a YouTube link to their song.

Albania, it seems, "borders on the Adriatic."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Social Media Mistakes of Five Big Marketers

Wish I could take credit for this one, but I can't. Joseph Jaffe (the English marketing-guru-du jour) hits the nail right on the head. Check out this video from Ad Age.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Clueless School Administrator of the Year

Every year we get one of these stories.

It seems that the principal of Mainland Regional High School in Linwood, NJ, Mr. Robert Blake, interrupted the commencement speech of salutatorian Jennifer Chau, had her microphone cut off, and escorted her off the dais. Why? Because it seems that Ms. Chau was about to lambaste the school administration for some perceived wrong.

Leaving aside the question of whether or not this was the appropriate time or place for Ms. Chau to air her grievances (What does she think this is? Festivus?), and also notwithstanding the school administration's prerogative to allow whatever speech they see fit at one of their functions, it seems to me that if Mr. Blake had allowed the young woman to have her say, it would have been a story in, maybe, The Press of Atlantic City the next day. Probably on page C3 or thereabouts.

But no. A story about "the man" silencing the poor young schoolgirl who just wanted to express her perceived First Amendment rights is big news. The story hit the Associated Press, and was carried in newspapers all over the country. And on radio and TV stations. And the story lasted for days.

The lesson? Not every battle is worth fighting OR winning. Had Mr. Blake allowed Ms. Chau to make her point, it would have been a small, local, one-day story -- and he would be getting praise for being a big enough man to allow biting criticism in such an august forum.

So this year's award for Clueless School Administrator of the Year goes to Mr. Robert Blake, principal of Mainland Regional High in Linwood, NJ.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Clueless PR on the Major League level

Just when you thought the most clueless way to release a major league manager from his duties was the way the New York Yankees let Joe Torre drift in the wind last summer, along comes Omar Minaya of the crosstown rival New York Mets with his "Midnight Massacre" of Willie Randolph and several of his coaches.

Mets fans (disclosure: I am a die-hard fan of the Metropolitans) knew that Willie had to go. After last year's collapse against the Phillies -- THE PHILLIES!!! -- and after getting off to a sub .500 start this year, it was inevitable, and the team needed a kick in the rear.

So fine. Fire Willie. Only do it when he is HOME in New York, not after making him endure a 5-hour cross-country flight, and not after managing a game that ended in the wee small hours of the morning on the East Coast.

"Professional" baseball should be handled in a professional manner. Omar Minaya -- who many feel has much culpability himself in the team's misfortunes -- showed a lack of class, and a lack of professionalism. Get a clue, Omar. Get some good PR advice.

Better still, get us a first baseman who can hit with consistency.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Cell Phone Commandments

If you read yesterday's blog post, you'll know where THIS is coming from.

Thinking about my cell-phones-on-airplanes rant prompted me to Google "cell phone etiquette." I found several interesting posts:

The Ten Commandments of cell phone etiquette was written by Dan Briody, and published on May 26, 2000 -- YES, OVER 8 YEARS AGO! -- in InfoWorld. It is still worth a read.

The Microsoft Small Business Center offers another look at the same issue in an article penned (there's a word that may become extinct in a generation!) by Joanna L. Krotz. Thanks, Joanna. You nailed it.

It's time, people, to take back our personal space from those who would subject us to their personal cell phone conversations! Are you with me?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

You think SNAKES on a plane is scary...

I was on a plane heading back to New Jersey yesterday, and the second we landed, the woman in the seat right behind me jumped on her cell phone as if she were a 1960's newspaper reporter on deadline rushing to a bank of pay phones to deliver the scoop on the 4-hour flight from Las Vegas .

Speaking in a voice that I am certain could be heard in first class, she recounted in glorious detail the 20-minute hold on the tarmac in Vegas, the poor-quality snack that Continental Airlines served us (it was ostensibly a cheese pizza, if you really need to know), the plot and full cast of the in-flight entertainment, and just about every bump, turn or movement the 737-800 made on its cross-continent journey.

It got me thinking about the proposal that is brewing to allow cell phone usage on commercial flights. I for one, would like to cast a vehement "NO!" vote on that. It's bad enough being cramped up in a coach-class seat for 4+ hours with nothing but "close" friends jammed in around you while watching a B-list movie, without having to hear chapter and verse about the troubles and tribulations of other put-upon travelers. Please, PLEASE FAA or whomever makes this decision, SPARE US!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Case for PR at Trade Shows

Managing media and our clients' overall message at trade shows is one of the most impactful and cost-effective services we provide.

Any way you look at it, trade shows are expensive. But in spending all of that money to develop a booth, ship product, train and send personnel to the show, prepare collateral (etc., etc., etc!) it only makes sense to look at every way to maximize your investment so that it yields the greatest return.

Getting the most from your trade shows requires a strategic approach that will attract prospects and generate interest in your company and your products. And, since trade shows are tremendous magnets for the media that cover your particular industry, it behooves you to work with the journalists in attendance to make sure they know and understand your messages, and have the latest news on your products, so they can carry it all forth for you into the broader marketplace.

Yet, many companies simply send their salespeople to the show, and hope that the media takes notice.

Regina Ragone, food director at Family Circle Magazine hits the nail on the head: "At food trade shows, for example, we'll see sales people at booths and displays — but no PR people will be in sight. I think that's a problem. I think you really should have a media relations presence onsite and it shouldn't be relegated to sales."

R&J Public Relations has designed a three-step program that helps our clients reach both journalists and key prospects – those in attendance as well as those not in attendance - before, during and after the show.

Well in advance of the show, we work with our clients to develop messaging and strategies. We conceive and plan special promotions in and around the show booth. We schedule editorial interviews, and develop press kits and other materials. To bring it all home, we conduct media training for key spokespeople, helping them to be comfortable and to “own” the message.

At the show, we coordinate and supervise meetings with journalists. We not only distribute press kits, we “work” the press room and the show media (“daily” magazines, television, Internet and radio). We compile competitive intelligence, and see to it that our clients are nominated for show awards. And we are on-site with our clients to assist them in all aspects of their communications efforts at the show.

Following the show, we conduct intense follow-up with the press, and fulfill all editorial requests for information. We engage the press to get our clients featured in post-show editorial coverage. If it is appropriate, we will undertake a post-show media tour.

Not all trade shows require this full-blown effort. But it makes tremendous business sense to prioritize the most important shows, and focus your resources on those. A good rule of thumb is, if the top media that cover your industry are going to be at a trade show, then your PR agency should be there with you as well.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

British Guy Sees the Future of Advertising -- And It's PR!

Ben Hourahine, "Futures Editor" at the mega Leo Burnett ad agency in London put together this snappy presentation where he predicts the "advertising trends of tomorrow."

Call me crazy, but so many of these are things that we lowly PR folk -- you know, those of us who don't have silly, self-important titles like "Futures Editor," and who can make our points without the services of the black turtle neck brigade flashing bizarre pull-out quotes all over the screen -- have been saying for years. Things like "creating swells," which PR has done for decades (albeit without the snappy name), building "community connections," using social media to drive acceptance, and brands taking on a "guardian role."

So, thank you, Ben, for looking into your crystal ball and letting us know that in the future, advertising will be playing catch-up to PR. Perhaps if we PR folk had just said it with multiple camera cuts and that cool British accent.....

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Discovery Channel's New 'Time Warp' Show Makes the Invisible Visible

There is a cool new show on The Discovery Channel, called "Time Warp." The basis of this show is to use ultra high-speed video cameras to "slow down" reality, and let our eyes finally see incredible sequences and events that happen in nanoseconds. Check it out here.

We at R&J Public Relations take special pride in this show, because the cameras used to capture and show us these amazing images are manufactured by our client, Vision Research. Vision Research is the world's benchmark for high-speed digital video cameras. The company designs and manufactures high-speed digital imaging systems used in defense, automotive, engineering, scientific and medical research, industrial and commercial, sports and entertainment, and digital broadcast and cinematography.

It was a Vision Research Phantom V-10 camera, operated by production company Inertia Unlimited for FOX Sports, that captured amazing footage of David Tyree's incredible against-the-helmet catch in Super Bowl XLII.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Coming Soon to Your TV -- Commercials Selected Just for YOU!

The rub on television advertising has always been the colossal "waste circulation" that you had to buy in order to run a commercial. Sure, you knew that (most likely) a younger, predominantly male audience would be watching certain shows, like Two and a Half Men. And a more female-dominated audience could be counted on for shows like America's Next Top Model. But the ratings system, as it exists, typically counts all eyeballs, and you pay for each of them in buying a commercial.

But that could soon change.

A few companies are working on technology to deliver “addressable” commercials tailored to individual viewers, based on metrics including viewers' age, gender and location. These systems are touted as being "intuitive" in that they will "learn" about the viewers, and advertisers can then deliver their commercials directly to the eyeballs most likely to have an interest in that particular product.

Two of the companies working to roll out this technology are Packet Vision, a UK-based company that is focusing on the IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) platform, and Princeton, New Jersey-based Invidi Technologies, which is focused on cable and satellite delivery. In fact, the cable industry seems to have jumped in with both feet, funding a very secretive "Project Canoe" that will jump-start this initiative.

Either way, this new technology will be a boon to advertisers (far better targeting of their commercial messages), to TV providers (who can charge a premium to advertisers for this targeting) and to viewers, who won't have to sit through commercials that have no relevance to them whatsoever.

I expect these technologies will be the talk of the show at the upcoming National Association of Broadcasters Convention, coming up in Mid-April.

As they say in TV Land, stay tuned for more information!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sony wins big with "Thriller" guerrilla marketing stunt

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the release of Michael Jackson's mega-hit album "Thriller," Sony/BMG Music has staged some really cool re-creations of the iconic dance number from the title track.

A story in the March 10 issue of The New York Times reports on groups in London, Copenhagen and Sydney seeming to spontaneously break into the zombie dance in crowded settings, only to melt away and back into the crowd when the dance is over, as if nothing ever happened.

These videos have now been viewed by well over a million people, all over the world.

It is what we "old timers" used to call a publicity stunt. Only now, we are calling it guerrilla marketing, and with the advent of YouTube and social media, these events get transmitted all over the world, making millions of impressions.

I give Sony/BMG a lot of credit. What is more recognizable a dance than Michael Jackson and his "Thriller" entourage of "zombies"? And to see otherwise normal-appearing folks (they are, in fact, trained professional dancers) in everyday settings all of a sudden breaking into a choreographed routine, well, it is genius.

I love the fact that the Times saw fit to report on it. My only nit-pick of a complaint is that they ran it under a banner that read "Advertising." In fact, this is what PR agencies do for their clients every day. Advertising folk only WISH they had the power to make this much of an impression for such a relatively small amount of money.

Friday, March 7, 2008

PR Pays Big?

I had to stop and read Joan Whitlow's incredible story in today's Star-Ledger (for those of you from out of state, the Star-Ledger is the quasi-official state paper of New Jersey, and Tony Soprano's newspaper of choice).

Joan, one of New Jersey's most effective, insightful, and highly-regarded columnists, wrote a column for today's website entitled "PR Pays Big, Though Not For Public." The story it tells about sweetheart contracts to well-connected "marketing communications firms" in Newark is just heartbreaking to those of us who try very hard to run professional, buttoned-up PR firms, and who fight tooth-and-nail against perceptions that PR is somehow a "fluff" job, and that we are all just "flacks" who come in at the crack of noon, take a journalist out to lunch, then make a few phone calls before hitting the links.

Perhaps if I had a few of those $358,000 contracts from the Newark City Council, I could do just that!

The City needs a new website, and it SHOULD be communicating with its citizens far more frequently and far more aggressively and effectively than it has up until now. My suggestion? How about hiring REAL PROFESSIONALS and not some "made-up-just-to-get-this-contract" firm owned by someone's relative.

Mayor Booker: I offer my services -- FREE OF CHARGE TO THE CITY OF NEWARK -- to work with you to write a scope-of-work, to head up a selection committee, and to choose a PR firm for the City that will help you fulfill your promise of honest, effective, transparent government.

But I'm not holding my breath waiting for your call.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Some Blogs I Like

Here are some PR-related blogs that I find useful and/or enjoyable. You should try a few of them out!

O'Dwyer's PR Blog (a great round-up of all things PR)

Harold Burson's Blog (Always gives you something to think about)

SPS Group Blog (I just met Dave in person today -- a real stand-up guy)

Peter Shankman's Blog (Peter is a real character, but a great and highly creative guy)

The Bad Pitch Blog
(Where Richard Laermer and Kevin Dugan tell PR people the way it REALLY is!)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Trenton Makes (dumb rules) -- Newspapers Take (it on the chin)

An area of concern for the advertising and PR community in New Jersey is a bill that would no longer require that legal notices be placed in newspapers around the state. The measure (A-1083), recently passed unanimously in the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee, would allow legal notices to be placed on official government websites, instead of in newspapers, as is currently required.

Passage of this bill would further weaken the financial health of newspapers -- at a time when many are already on life support. In addition, it is argued that Internet use is by no means universal, and there exists a significant population (mostly older) that does not yet have Internet access.

Since the state, also by law, sets the rates that newspapers can charge for this “legal advertising” -- at rates that have not changed since 1983 (when Ronald Reagan was President and many of us were humming Duran Duran’s “Rio”), the savings to the state and municipalities would not be as dramatic as you might at first think.

Given all of that, I believe there is no good reason that legal notices should not continue to be placed in newspapers and at the same time, on government websites. After all, shouldn't we be demanding MORE government transparency, and not less?

Perhaps there will come a day when legal advertising exclusively on government websites will make sense. I don't believe that time has arrived.

In a bizarre twist – even for New Jersey – at the same time that the government is seeking to save money by eliminating the requirement to post legal notices in newspapers, two bills, A 1092 and A-1106, would require newspapers to run certain political advertising free of charge.

Will SOMEONE in Trenton PLEASE wake up?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Karl Rove Champions PR

Karl Rove (don’t stop reading here just because you don’t care for Mr. Rove – neither do I!) wrote an interesting op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal last week, commenting on the state of the Presidential campaigns to date.

In the piece, Rove makes a few interesting observations:

Rove states that, contrary to conventional wisdom, TV ads for candidates are not as effective in moving the electorate as they once were. “Voters are discounting advertising…relying more on personal exposure, information from social networks, alternative information sources like talk radio and the Internet and local media coverage,” said Rove.

What Rove is saying is that PR works far better than advertising in moving people on an emotional level – an argument you may have read once or twice before on this blog. (As an aside, I would argue that the ascent of John McCain on the Republican side argues against the importance of talk radio, where the vitriol against the Arizona Senator has been non-stop, but that is probably just Rove throwing a bone to his buddies.)

Then, Rove drops a bomb on advertising, by suggesting that the PR person is more important to a candidate than the advertising person. “The 20th century’s closing decades saw the rise of the TV ad man as the most potent operator in presidential campaigns. The 21st century’s opening decade is seeing the rise of the communications director and press spokesman as the more important figures on the campaign staff,” he tells us.

‘Nuff said.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Airline rant

As someone who flies commercial airlines quite a bit, it always strikes me as curious why the carriers don't:

- Know from year to year that hundreds of thousands of people will be flying to large trade shows, like the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, every year at the same time. Couldn't they add a flight or two on those days when they know, from past experience, that the airports will be jammed to capacity, and that they will be bumping people off of flights left and right? Perhaps they could think ahead (for once; I know this is not their strong suit), and bring in larger planes for those days?

- Enforce carry-on rules. I see idiots getting on planes with bags that are WAY beyond restrictions. This causes others, who follow the rules but who might board later, to have to wrestle with their bags under their feet for a 5-hour flight. Worse, many of these people obviously think themselves superior to the rest of the flying public, and place these oversized bags in the first few overheads, as they stroll back to their seats in the back of the plane.

- Tell us the truth. Unless you're Jed Clampett, you know that a snow storm in Chicago will cause delays throughout the country. We get it. So tell us the truth (and keep us updated) about when we can expect to see a plane pulling up to our gate. Believe me, the folks in the Budweiser Brew Pub will appreciate the extra business as well!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

What Automotive Repair can Teach us About Communication

An old friend of mine, Blair Enns, tells the story of how his car was acting up one day. Sure that it was a matter of the tires being out of balance, he went to the local repair shop and paid to have all four wheels re-balanced, only to find that the car STILL had the same "shimmy" to it on the highway. Incensed, he went back and demanded that they "do something" about the problem.

When the mechanics looked at the car, they discovered that a broken tie-rod end was the culprit.

So who should he have been upset with? Fact is, he went to a place of business, and asked them to perform a service that they ordinarily sell. Upon reflection, he blamed himself, and paid for the subsequent repair (and learned a valuable lesson in the process).

I say the fact that he really didn't need the wheel balancing service, and ended up paying far more to fix the problem, is BOTH his fault and the fault of the repair shop.

On a very basic level, he got just what he deserved. He asked to buy something, and they sold it to him. On the other hand, a professional repair shop should have asked him some questions, and looked the car over before just jumping through whatever hoop the customer held up.

We in PR come face-to-face with this type of situation all the time. I can't tell you how often a client has come to me saying, "We need to hold a press conference!" More often than not, after reviewing the "news" that needs to be conveyed, discussing which journalists would most likely want to report on it, and the level of return that could be expected on what can be a pretty pricey investment, the decision is made to convey the news in a different manner.

The moral to the story: Make sure your PR agency (or ad agency, or marketing services firm, or whomever) isn't just "taking orders," but is really, really listening to you, getting to the heart of all of the issues, diagnosing your real need, and acting along with you as your partner in achieving real goals that will deliver tangible success.