"Your boss stops you to discuss a PR fiasco at a rival company. You have absolutely no knowledge of this story. Do you:
You'll have to look at the article to evaluate your results.
"Although to some Mr. Hefner still conjures up cocktails and smoky nightclubs, bunny costumes and sexual freedom, some marketing consultants suggest time has worn down his racier edges. "He is sort of an American Austin Powers," notes Allen Adamson, a managing director at Landor, a WPP Group PLC branding concern. "As such, he has this irreverent retro appeal that -- for the right product -- can draw attention."
"The bottom line: 20-something consumers just think Mr. Hefner is a fun dude. "He has become the gentle grandpa that has just a little bit of a wild side," says David Morrison of Twentysomething Inc., a Philadelphia youth-marketing consultancy. The public tends to see icons from earlier times as a means of escape from the harsh economic realities of the present, Mr. Morrison adds. Mr. Hefner "has none of the controversy of the past and none of the pressure of the present."
"Researchers who study the effect of cellphones on society talk of a nation living in "soft time" - a bubble in which expectations of where and when to meet shift constantly because people expect others to be constantly reachable. Eight-thirty is still 8 o'clock as long as your voice arrives on time - or even a few minutes after - to advise that you will not be wherever you are supposed to be at the appointed hour."
Funny. The NYT thinks that society has become softer because of cell phones. I'm sure PR folks would argue the opposite: reporters now expect you, and your spokespeople, to be immediately accessible at any point in the day. Who hasn't had that 5:45 call seeking a response for a piece going to bed at 6? The reporter leaves a voicemail on your cell, and closes out the story with "the company couldn't be reached."
"...What matters in seeking expertise is not what people say they have done but what their achievements say about them..."
"... informal social networks have been reasonably effective at putting experts in touch with those who are in need of their services. "Around here, people know one another" is a common refrain. "If I need help, I know whom to call." ... but the days of knowing whom to call may be over. Mergers, growth, globalization, and employee turnover have diminished the ability of informal social networks to ferret out experts ..."
"On a résumé .... "led a project team" raises questions: how big a project, for how long, with what success ? But a ... company record will be imbued with a higher level of contextual knowledge, since the details ... of the project, and even the role played by its team leader, are better understood."
"Although this type of information seldom appears in expertise directories, it can often be found ... across a company in ... databases ... used in human resources, accounting, and patent registration. But trawling through that information can be time-consuming ... ; it involves getting access ... different databases, triangulating among them, and using a number of processes (intranet searches, phone calls to peers) to search for the right person, who even then may not be found."The solution? A customized. in-house "Google for Experts." Ah, to live a dream. Now, where's my dog-eared list of in-house experts?
His latest marketing move, to endorse a line of nutritional products, may cause a meteor shower (to take the analogy one step too far) of criticism. Dr. Phil, after all, has created an identity as a caring clinical psychologist - not a nutritionist - and this may create some doubt among his adherents. For example:
"He came out and it seemed like it was all about he cared," said Kim Jensen, 45, a homemaker from Huntsville, Ala., who is trying to lose 40 pounds, "and all of a sudden, it's pills on the market and bars and stuff like that."
She was so disappointed by his decision to endorse the supplements that she will not buy his book. "It was a big letdown," Ms. Jensen said."
And while we're on the subject: the big Rosie O'Donnel/Gruner + Jahr court case opens up this week. There's an interesting juxtaposition between a celebrity who controls the use of their name - like Martha (see her new KMart ad where she seems to flash a Victory sign) - and Rosie's predicament.
Now, because of the sensitivity about - you know - people dying from this disease, the PR campaign was carefully targeted: " ... instead of market-building, the focus was on walking the fine line between educating and scaring the public."
That certainly was a fine line. Unfortunately, the marketing and public information campaigns launched by Off! and others turned up the chatter about West Nile at the same time that Ontario was actually experiencing a mild summer for the disease.
Let's try to imagine the brand identity manual for Twinkies. Now, turn to the tab marked "stick or no stick?"
"Frying a Twinkie outdoors is tougher than it might sound. Last year, Interstate Brands Inc., the maker of Hostess Twinkies, wanted to help spread the fried-Twinkie phenomenon ..."
"Ms. Maher uses a stick to fry the treats but said Hostess didn't want its Twinkies served on a stick. "They wanted a nicer presentation," she explained. So she serves it in a paper boat with powdered sugar and chocolate sauce."
Interstate spokesman Mike Redd says Hostess reps went around to some of the fairs around the country last year to check things out with people trying the frying. "The main thing we wanted to do was just to make sure our brands were treated as they should be." He says Twinkies on a stick are fine with Hostess."
Research publicized a few years ago argued that Twinkies have a half-life of nearly 500 years. That's longer than it's plastic wrapper.
"Two weeks ago, Omnicom's Ketchum introduced its Influencer Relationship Management database, a proprietary Web-based tool that, in a seven-step process, helps the PR agency identify key influencers (journalists, bloggers, etc.) who could turn companies' products into "must-haves" for certain sets consumers."
"Once the influencers are identified and in the database, Ketchum and the diem contact them and send them information or products. A relationship gradually develops, and the influencers may eventually become members of company panels or be invited to speak at forms, etc."
Of course! While the idea is logical, it ignores the fact that many influentials are not self-aware or are painfully conscious of efforts to manipulate them. I also wonder how this database will adjust to rapidly changing social and cultural networks, where trends flare up and subside as influentials seize and lose interest? And who will monitor this database? A cultural anthropologist, a demographer, or Joe/Joanna Intern?
The NYT covered an extreme in the influentials trend a few weeks ago: a preschool skateboarding phenom who is sponsored by the local skate shop, a board maker and a soft drink company.
"The slide show is back with a high-tech twist. Armed with thousands of shots stored in their new digital cameras, amateur shutterbugs are cooking up photo presentations to show on computer screens, televisions or even burn onto DVDs."
Why? Why? Why, do you ask? "They're getting a big push from the digital-camera industry, which wants folks to feel there's something to do with all those snaps. ... Part of this is a weird side effect of how the cameras work. Because there's no film or processing to pay for, people are snapping away with abandon. So instead of shooting a roll of 36 at Junior's birthday party, Dad might walk away with 150 shots -- which are easier to present in a show than print out."
There's even a great little jab in the piece: "The whole slide-show shtick is too complicated for Greg Stobbs. The Portland, Ore., architect has downloaded thousands of pictures, giving files names like "Kingston, July '03." But he's never bothered to put together a slide show. "I've seen some of my friends' shows," Mr. Stobbs says. "But they work from home, know what I mean?"
He marched off. My friend tried to ring her office, but too late. The PR man had already spoken to her editor. Press freedom? Not where cakes are concerned; this is the choppy world of film PR where nothing happens out of line. And if you annoy the PRs, you pay for it with less square footage on tomorrow night’s red carpet."
It's a good read for beginners, and a refresher for experienced communicators.
"Is there a cure for this problem? Yes: call it counterleaking. To protect against such manipulative behavior — and to discipline those who practice it — reporters could themselves assume the status of confidential sources and share those names with other journalists."
But wouldn't this effectively shut down political reporting?Thanks to Today's Papers for the reference.
"The report ... accepts that the disparity between journalistic values and actuarial values will inevitably lead to events being presented out of proportion, but it also raises the fear that politicians may sometimes be pressed into spending public money unwisely in response to dramatic but statistically insignificant issues running strongly in the news."
"The King's Fund paper does not argue for any dramatic change in news values. But it does hold out hope that public health professionals might become a little more canny in their use of the media, and that the media might become more inventive in seeking out stories in areas of major health risk, and more determined to put new scares in context."
"Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan introduced the Genesis Device, a mechanism conceived to "terraform" lifeless planets. In the wrong hands, if used on those where life already existed, it posed world-shaking destructive power. Here on Earth, a certain Bentonville, Ark. retailer wields a similar transmutative power. Although the evil Khan doesn't have hold of it, many see it as just as dangerous a double-edged sword hanging over our economy."
"We'd like to show you a photo spread of what the interior looks like, but Loblaw Cos. Ltd. has a policy against news photographs of the interiors of their premises. In fact, they have the most annoying media relations stance I've ever run into: they rarely return phone calls and when they do, it's to tell you nothing. Janice Woodley, a Loblaw marketing and advertising representative from Toronto, actually gave me this answer during a quick tour yesterday: "We wouldn't want you to talk to our customers. They're here to shop."
And on the donut making front, a spokesperson really mishandles the question are Tim Horton's donuts really made fresh?
"I'm not disclosing where we're doing anything," said Patti Jameson, vice-president of corporate communications. "I'm not sure where you're even getting your information that we're even doing anything in your area." ... Jameson explained the company is always testing new products and procedures. She cites competition concerns when politely declining to elaborate. "There's no secret," she said. "For competitive reasons, we don't talk about all of the number of things that we have on the go and what our assessments are of them."
"I'm not disclosing where we're doing anything," said Patti Jameson, vice-president of corporate communications. "I'm not sure where you're even getting your information that we're even doing anything in your area." ... Jameson explained the company is always testing new products and procedures. She cites competition concerns when politely declining to elaborate.
"There's no secret," she said. "For competitive reasons, we don't talk about all of the number of things that we have on the go and what our assessments are of them."
But the real issue has to be: how can anyone take former Much Music vee jay J.D. Roberts seriously as a journalist?
"... Wal-Mart buyers have grown especially fond of shrink-wrapped buy-one-get-one-free offers. But the retailer has banned the word "free," deeming it misleading, since the whole package isn't free. For efficiency's sake, many marketers have stopped using the word on packaging everywhere. "They have enough clout to eliminate a word from the English vocabulary," the chief marketing officer said."
"Given the current power of the mass media in the UK it is no longer realistic to expect that a figurative blanket can be put over the heads of all involved in potentially high-profile cases. Inevitably the media will come calling well before any court appearance, and stories, comment and even poorly pixelated photographs will run.
" ... Surely it's time for the legal system, through its practitioners, to embrace the modern world and welcome to the heart of its operations the skills of the professional media manager. The wider world of PR awaits the call from our learned friends."Thanks to Tom Murphy for the pointer.
"Our most successful campaigns start with a great client, a strategic plan, and a team that stays organized and focused. Can tactics be creative? Of course they can. Wacky, creative PR stunts often garner on-target media placements. But those creative tactics will never get coverage without flawless execution. And flawless execution is possible only when each member of a PR team and the team as a whole is disciplined."
Meanwhile, in Brandweek, Nick Andrus had some comments about the very same process: "Next comes a communication plan that recommends specific materials to be developed. At this point they engage the creative team, often using a creative strategy document at the start of the meeting. Here's where process and procedure really begin to take over and the box that will actually inhibit creative thinking begins to take shape. A form is often used at this stage. It might include a background section, objectives, strategies, unique selling proposition (USP) and supporting rationale. You can now clearly see the box and, as the USP wording gets debated, the nails get pounded into it."
" ... The creative team brainstorms until they are satisfied they have enough good ideas to get a few approved by their creative director. This is the person upon whom their future salary, bonuses and promotions will depend. After working with a particular creative director for a while, the team gets to know what appeals to them and what doesn't, which inhibits their thinking. So, we've not just nailed the box shut we've wrapped it in galvanized steel."
"No work leaves the agency until the most senior creative person reviews it. They know what's creative, they've got "the gift," that's why they're the top honcho. And guess what, they don't like any of the ideas-so the team gets sent back to work. I call this step "bronzing the box." Finally, the head creative guru is satisfied and the work is ready to be presented to the client. So much for "out-of-the-box" thinking."
"'The question I'm asked most often is, When are we getting our eight words?'' Podesta said. Conservatives, he went on, ''have their eight words in a bumper sticker: 'Less government. Lower taxes. Less welfare. And so on.'
"Where's our eight-word bumper sticker? Well, it's harder for us, because we believe in a lot more things.'' The Center for American Progress, Podesta said, was concerned with articulating these principles carefully, over time, rather than rushing out an agenda to help win an election in 2004. ''We're trying to build an idea base for the longer term,'' he said, to bring about ''an enduring progressive majority.''
But you, as a PR person, don't really care about that. I find two things interesting about Biovail: first, as the company is being is being questioned about its accounting practices and starts having some market trouble, it goes on the defensive and even begins attacking the analysts, who, we should remember, provide investors with valuable guidance. Second, they issued earnings guidance after ONE truck accident this month that apparently damaged $10-20 million dollars of Wellbutrin XL.
Some analysts obviously questioned how a truck accident, which only damaged the rear end of a 50 foot trailer, could have such an impact on the company's finances. We've all seen journalists trip over similar questions of detail and roughly evaluate the impact of events with little precision. Well, one enterprising analyst figured it out:
"In some entertaining math right out of the Scholastic Aptitude Test, he showed that the requisite amount of Biovail's product could have fit in 93 drums,. Given that an 18-wheeler can hold 790 drums, the $17 to $20 million in drugs would have taken up less than 15% of the hold ..."
The columnist who praises Corey Davis, the analyst, makes an important point about this episode: "We have the most delicate and improbable of things going on: analysts doing research, not just parroting the company line in financially ornate prose. Far from litigating, more investors and companies should think about erecting some signs ..."
More importantly to us PR people though: why didn't Biovail's IR staff provide this information at the beginning?
"Like most business books today, this one mirrors the style of business communication. It is replete with checklists, examples and evidence drawn from expert witnesses, and it largely avoids narrative. It is a succession of memoranda that often feel like the options on a corporate telephone system.
"... Disturbingly, Mr Diamond, and every other disappointed candidate, has been given something to suck on. Mr Diamond sees his investment banking and fund management empire expanded. Roger Davis, Gary Hoffman, David Roberts and Naguib Kheraj, the new finance director, all get sweeteners in one form or another. Mr Diamond and Mr Hoffman are both "mandated" by the board to invest in and expand their businesses - which smacks of handing out the family cheque-book to make up for the pain of defeat."
"The second-in-command at the information ministry, who spent his days reading the reports the minders wrote about visiting foreign journalists, has been employed by Fox News."
And he doesn't give much thought to the question or a possible solution. "Actually, most newspapers have improved in overall content and appearance during the past two decades. They just haven't figured out how to pry preteens or teens away from their screens."
For deeper thoughts, we have to turn to a Poynter article that discusses how to make newspapers easier to read. It cites a recent redesign of the the Miami Herald, including "a feature called "The Five-Minute Herald," two pages written and designed to offer highlights of the larger paper."The Miami Herald exercise also identified three different types of reader. I think we can all recognize our reading habits in these descriptions: Option A is for Sunday morning, Option B is for our daily skimming of a deskfull of papers, and Option C is for warming up before breakfast with the CEO. A) The serious, traditional reader who wants to read the newspaper more leisurely.
B) The scanner who first reads headlines, looks at photos and reads cut lines, along with summaries.
C) The supersonic-speed reader who has barely five minutes in the morning to get a glimpse of the news. The 5-minute Herald will satisfy the needs of this reader.
"There were copy editors across the state who were dreading the prospect of Schwarzenegger becoming governor, not because of politics but because of the fit," said John Armstrong, editor of the Contra Costa Times in Walnut Creek.
Editors at the newspaper briefly discussed using Schwarzenegger's three initials, like JFK and LBJ, Armstrong said. "But we looked up his middle name, Alois, and AAS -- not so good," he said. "Editors like me across the state would have a sleepless night worrying about the possible typo."
"I think it's important that the revolution is aesthetically pleasing," said Martina Mafalda, a 20-year-old puppeteer from Argentina who is spending the next month in Lake Worth. "If it's very solemn or morose, I don't think people are likely to listen to us."
Mafalda is part of a loose network of political puppeteers, who call themselves puppetistas. They build 10- and 20-foot-tall papier-mache effigies that have been popular since the 1999 protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organization. ... "Puppets aren't new at protests," [another, older, protester] said. "But they are new to this generation."
It was recently revealed that pharmaceutical manufacturers have hired celebrities to discuss their ailments and, coincidentally, the manufacturer's products, on daytime news and lifestyle shows. HBR's case study works through one marketing executive's decision to hire a '40s movie star to pimp her anti-arthritis drug. While the piece effectively examines the financial and marketing concerns behind her decision, it also plays up longstanding stereotypes about marketing folks: the marketing executive has a Rolex, a Coach bag, drives a Mercedes, drinks Poland Spring, and has a Sub Zero fridge at home.
In the other piece, Dick Martin, the former EVP of AT&T, works through the strategy, execution and complications of Armstrong's relationship with the business media as he steered AT&T through a number of crises. Here's a synopsis of the article.
Customers are wising up to the fact that if they keep the operative talking for more than three minutes this will mean they miss their productivity target.
Will this change in messaging work? As we all know, the message is only as effective as the spokesperson: during part of his presentation "... some jurors and spectators appeared to nod off or look in other directions ..."
"An estimated 60% of Japanese households now own at least one cell phone, and people tote them just about everywhere they go. At the same time spam ... is a huge problem ... many companies reaching out to the public via cell phone messaging now limit their efforts to people who have expressly subscribed to their services."
One system ... "can send the same message to different subscribers at various times of the day, taking into account their occupations and daily schedules. One ... operator of pachinko parlor chains ... sends messages to housewives in the daytime and to office workers in the evening that describe which pachinko machines are likely to be especially lucky on a given day. "We have nearly 10% more visitors than usual on the days when we send e-mail," said a pachinko rep.
Another system "designed for cell phones equipped with Global Positioning System services ... sends messages when owners ... come close to the source of the advertisement. ... the service can send an advertisement from an area retailer telling people that they can receive a 10% discount on products if they visit the store in the next hour."
"Soon after exiting through the ticket gates at 11 stations near central Tokyo, many commuters can be seen checking their phones for incoming e-mail. ... Those signed up ... can expect to find messages from the railway company's retail arm, Odakyu Department Store Co. One such message sent on Sept. 3 advertised a 200 yen ($1.80) discount on a gourmet bento boxed lunch containing crab from Hokkaido." Shoppers just had to "show store clerks a coupon visible on their phone screens after 6 p.m. in order to receive the special price. ... Some 30,000 people have signed up for its mobile service, which automatically delivers e-mail messages carrying information about nearby towns and advertisements when commuters insert their train passes."
But its' piece rehashes a common (and to PR types, comforting) assumption about strategic consultancies: "Management consultancies of this ilk have typically refrained from getting involved in PR, limiting their work in communications to a part of the management restructuring they are famous for."
This is a dangerous leap to make. Firms like McKinsey are getting into our business because they see it as a growth opportunity. While PR firms worry about demonstrating their usefulness to their longstanding clients on the marketing team, McKinsey is selling itself as a strategic partner on marketing and branding issues to the executive team. As the CEO of Delahaye Medialink notes, "even though Delahaye can work in a strategic fashion and use a research foundation to provide this concentration, a McKinsey can better represent what a CEO or what the C-suite is thinking,' he says.
We may be strengthening our relationships with our clients' marketing and communications teams, but where are the final budget decisions made?
As for McKinsey being limited to management restructuring and other brainy pursuits, take a look at this McKinsey primer on branding for quants.
That article in Slate (yes, that one up there) deals with one candidate's reservations:"If I've learned one thing in my nine days in politics, it's you better be careful with hypothetical questions," declared Gen. Wesley Clark in a recent Democratic presidential candidates' debate. He might have learned it on television, where "Never answer a hypothetical question" is one of the rules a real-life political strategist offered to real-life presidential candidate Howard Dean in HBO's fictional Washington drama K Street."
But in the world of science and technology, hypothetical questions (and answers) are a more valuable resource. They can help guide a reporter or an audience through the complexities or uncertainties of a scientific issue. This is especially important if the discussion revolves around public health or safety issues - like biotechnology.
There are some basic steps you can take to encourage the effective communication of ideas within your organization. The first is to learn how to discuss your issues, their complexities and their challenges effectively. When dealing with a hypothetical question and hypothetical outcomes, maybe the best way to explain possible risks is with an analogy.
The EPA has developed the 7 cardinal rules of Risk Communication:
Rule 1. Accept and involve the public as a legitimate partner
Rule 2. Listen to the audience.
Rule 3. Be honest, frank, and open.
Rule 4. Coordinate and collaborate with other credible sources.
Rule 5. Meet the needs of the media.
Rule 6. Speak clearly and with compassion.
Rule 7. Plan carefully and evaluate performance.
"Things had been going well, I thought, until a woman asked what my binders would look like. "What binders?" I asked, confused. "The binders for all your program materials," she told me, "because we're very proud of the look of our materials." "I don't even know if there will be binders," I replied, now annoyed, "because leadership doesn't come out of binders; it comes from changed behaviour on the job. You'll know it because your labor relations improve and your public image is enhanced and safety violations decline, not because everyone has a binder." "Well, if you can't produce a decent binder, I don't see why we should hire you!"
The sad thing is, this rings so true. There is always a binder. I don't know about you, but I can see four binders from my chair. And some of them aren't even pretty.
"True, only a year has passed since the passage of Sarbanes- Oxley--not much time for an industry to reinvent itself. And to be sure, some of the cases now making news are actually pre-Enron in origin. But neither of those excuses is enough to explain why the Big Four--which together audit a staggering 78% of the nation's 15,000 publicly traded companies--continue to careen from one humiliating headline to the next. The ultimate reason, say many observers, is quite simple: They haven't gotten the message. "Has the world totally changed in accounting? The short answer is no," says Ashish Nanda, a Harvard Business School professor who has written extensively about the accounting industry.
"But ultimately the auditing firms have to step up and end these conflicts of interest on their own. "You've seen full-page ads taken about how we're going to do more quality work and be more independent," says [Charles] Bowsher [head of the Public Oversight Board]. "But you haven't seen any CEO of one of the Big Four firms come out and take a leadership position."