Thursday, August 28, 2008

Facebook Stops Global Warming; Helps Capture Bin Laden

Did you hear the big news of the day? Kevin Beckner just won the primary for County Commission in Hillsborough County in Florida. But wait, there's more: Beckner is crediting Facebook for the primary win.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

All around me are familiar faces
Worn out places, worn out faces
Bright and early for their daily races
Going nowhere, going nowhere

"The campaign, including content, video production, management and media buying, was valued at about $7,000," Rearden Killion (Beckner's ad agency) said, although the company also said it charged a bit less to prove the effort could work.

As if proof were necessary. Hello. I read last week that two lepers and one prostitute were cured by Facebook.

In a virtual landslide that could only be attributed to social networking, Becker won 45.6 percent of the vote. And you know why? Facebook!

And their tears are filling up their glasses
No expression, no expression
Hide my head I want to drown my sorrow
No tomorrow, no tomorrow

But this wasn't just any ordinary Facebook account, this was like Superfacebook. Beckner had an application that actually allowed you to put a "Vote for Beckner" button on your own page... plus you could link to Beckner's page!

And did it work? And how. I just checked his Facebook page now and Beckner has almost 100 supporters (well, actually, only 89, but that's sort of close to 100). Dude, he has supporters from Oklahoma, Ontario, Oregon, Illinois, Texas, Washington DC and Australia. And sure, they can't vote for him, so only about 80 of those supporters are potentially voters.

Still, Facebook has the power to clear up acne and relieve the burning itch of athletes foot. Kevin Beckner is living proof.

And I find it kind of funny
I find it kind of sad

The dreams in which I'm dying

Are the best I've ever had

I find it hard to tell you

'Cos I find it hard to take

When people run in circles

It's a very, very

Mad World

God Bless Kevin Beckner. God Bless Facebook. God Bless America.

Monday, August 25, 2008

DNC = Does Not Compute

Would you be surprised if I reported that not everyone in the United States has a computer and/or regular Internet access? What if I told you the numbers were something like 18 percent? I guess that doesn't sound like a lot, but what if I told you that this equates to 20 million homes?

"Nearly one out of three household heads has never used a computer to create a document," said John Barrett, director, research, Parks Associates. "These data underscore the significant digital divide between the connected majority and the unconnected minority that rarely, if ever, uses a computer."

So, doesn't it make you wonder who Barack was trying to reach when he announced his running mate by way of text messaging?

Okay, so you are probably thinking to yourself "wait a minute, text messaging is for cell phones." That's true. But did you know that (according to the US census Bureau) only 70 percent of the nation have wireless phones? And when given a choice, less than 40% of US consumers prefer text messaging to radio or TV advertising.

Anyway, not to get hung up on statistics, the point is this: When did Barack become a candidate and stop being one of the people? Although his campaign promises "change we can believe in", I must admit that I can not believe how much he has changed in just one year. And apparently I am not alone in my lack of belief.

According to the New York Times, The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press poll last week found Barack Obama’s lead over his Republican rival withering. In late June, Mr. Obama held a comfortable eight-point margin over John McCain. A look at these latest trends suggests that while Mr. McCain has made some gains over the last two months, perceptions of Mr. Obama have stalled.

I believe that Barack's early and unforeseen popularity resulted from his special ability to relate with the average American. He didn't talk to people, he engaged them in conversation. Even during the early democtratic debates, he rarely if ever allowed himself to stoop to the level of his competitors.

But somewhere along the way, he began stooping. First with Hillary and now with John. And now when he communicates with the people he seems to be preaching and relying on celebrities and the Internet to "engage" the public (both in person and over social networking sites). In the beginning, he simply was "everyman," last night was the packaged everyman.

It is not my place to advise Barack [editorial sidenote: I have not committed my vote to anyone yet], but if it was, I would suggest a quick move forward to the past... Barack Redux as it were.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Soylent Green is People!

It's the year 2022... People are still the same. They'll do anything to get what they need. And they need SOYLENT GREEN.

I remember when Soylent Green hit the local theaters in 1973. I was so excited; nothing like a good sci-fi flick starring Charlton Heston.

But this one was different. The bad guy was a corporation - the Soylent Company. They created a new food to feed the starving masses. But alas, the most nutritious of these creations – soylent green – had a secret ingredient.

Today we learn that one of the world's leading pharmaceutical companies – Merck & Co. – likewise was keeping secrets from the masses who were starving for relief from pain. Like the Soylent Company, they pretended to be doing one thing while they were doing something else. They claimed to be testing the side effects of Vioxx when in fact they were supporting a marketing campaign.

Naturally, Merck denies any wrongdoing.

In any event, the product turned out to be a failure and was taken off the market. Merck was forced to settle with U.S. patients (or their survivors) to the tune of $4.85 billion. And in the end (at least for me) it's hard to determine which is worse – deceiving the general public or doubling your patients' chances of a heart attack and stroke. I guess neither really works.

Which reminds me, in the movie (Soylent Green), there is a scene in which Detective Thorne (Charlton Heston) questions a local resident about her incinerator...

Det. Thorn: Used it lately?
Martha Phillips:
It doesn't work.

Det. Thorn:
What does?

Indeed, what does?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Why Michael Arrington is a Moron

Just in case you are curious about the source of this post, go at your own risk to:

Every time I think I have read the dumbest argument conceivable on the subject of why public relations professionals should just go quietly into the night, I come across a new one that is so void of any factual or meaningful data that I want to throw up.

So, please allow me to heave.

This most recent attack on PR, courtesy of Michael Arrington is like so many others of its kind, completely unsubstantiated, but hey, why let the facts get in your way? Instead it is full of generalizations, innuendos, suppositions, guesses and idiotic anecdotal data.

So, Michael Arrington, here are a couple questions to consider (excuse the vomit chunks):

1. Throughout your post you refer to "public relations" and "PR" when in fact you are talking about publicity. Do you even understand what you are talking about?

2. You "agree that PR as a profession is broken." That is very generous of you, but who are you agreeing with? Are you accusing Steve Rubel of saying that? Are you just making stuff up as you go along?

3. You state that "they [I guess you mean them PR goons] are trying to apply the same rules used when the number of journalists covering their companies was a manageable, chummy lot." Wow, so, do you not realize that there are literally tens of thousands of journalists out there? Do you think that PR people are all chummy with all of them? Are you also implying that these journalists are in on it with the PR people or that they are being duped or bribed? Do you actually think before you begin writing (sorry, blogging)?

4. You say that "most PR people don't read blogs and certainly don't understand them." I must admit that I missed this survey; can you give me a link to the study that provided these amazing results?

5. You are advising startups not to hire PR help until it is absolutely necessary. And this advice is based on what tangible expertise? Do you also suggest that they avoid accountants and attorneys (no, not attorneys, you are an attorney)?

6. You refer to the "web of politics and intrigue that guides the relationships between PR firms and the press." Dude, are you stoned? Really, lay off the reefer for a few nights; it's killing off too many brain cells.

7. Finally, in total contradiction to all common sense, you say this: "And there are a lot of good PR people out there that really understand what’s going on with the profession today." Statistically, what is "a lot?" Is that more than the "many" idiot PR people you refer to earlier? Do you actually think you can excuse all the bad things you say about PR by simply summing up that there are a lot of good PR people out there?

Thank you for contributing nothing valuable to the conversation of how we can all work together to help companies succeed in the marketplace.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Keeping the "Bull" in Bulldog Reporter

Once again, Bulldog Reporter is pimping a New University audio conference that pushes the limits of what is reasonable and does little to enhance the image of our industry. This event is entitled:

Blog Relations Update for PR: Top Online Influencers Show How to Break into Blogs.


And the description (edited below to spare you) does its very best to scare the crap out of prospective participants:

Don't believe those who play down the differences between bloggers and traditional journalists. Fact is, blog relations is a far more subjective science than traditional media relations—pitching preferences, reporting styles and even journalistic ethics (or lack thereof) can vary wildly from one blogger to the next, and one misstep when pitching any given online influencer could sink your product or announcement. Look no further than the "Dell Hell" fiasco for proof. Join Bulldog Reporter's PR University and our panel of top bloggers for the answers to these and other critical questions designed to demystify the blogosphere, break down today's best blog-pitching practices and turn you and your team into blog PR experts so you can actively drive results and messaging for your company or client online.

Double sheesh.

No wonder Internet marketers look at traditional public relations practitioners as if they had two heads and forked tongues. "ONE MISSTEP COULD SINK YOUR PRODUCT!"

I am not even going to dignify this inane promotion other than to say two things:

1. Embrace the Internet without fear; just don't be stupid. There's no need to "BREAK INTO" blogs, they are open to the public.

2. The Dell Hell fiasco actually lead to some very important and useful developments at Dell - developments that are good for Dell and for consumers. For those of you actually interested, check out this blog entry (so much for Bulldog Reporter's proof):

[Editorial Note: I have not referenced the moderator or speakers as they may be terrific people doing really good work. But this Bulldog Reporter promotion sucks!]

Sunday, August 10, 2008

This is a Joke, Right?

I was just checking my email and clicked on my daily Google Alert on "consumer packaged goods." Amongst the news stories was a report from Internet Retailer (Strategies for Multi-Channel Retailing).

Here is the headline and lead paragaphs:

“Tweens” use online search when researching products

Online search plays a major role for shoppers ages 10-to-14-year-olds, who frequently turn to the Internet to learn more about a product after seeing ads in other channels, according to a new study from DoubleClick Performics, an online ad network owned by Google Inc.

Of the so-called tweens surveyed, 57% said they rely on the Internet to research appliances and electronics after seeing ads in other channels, while 56% used search to learn more about telecom services. 47% used the Internet to research apparel and 46% to research home furnishings and consumer packaged goods.

The first thing that jumped out at me is this: Tween shoppers first learn about products from ads in other channels (no one in the Internet business ever wants to make that acknowledgement). For a moment I was truly impressed. "This is raw honesty" I thought. Good for Internet Retailer.

Then I read that more than half (57%) of Tweens rely on the Internet to research appliances, while 56% used search to learn more about telecom services and just under half (46%) used the Internet to research home furnishings.

In fairness, my three kids are now in their 20s, and a lot has changed in the past decade, but am I to believe that the 10-to-14-year-olds today are buying appliances, telecom services and home furnishings?

What am I missing here? I mean even if we are talking about George Foreman grills, cell phone service and bedroom lava lamps, I am still having a difficult time imagining Tweens making these purchases. I can see 10-to-14-year-olds picking out their own clothes, selecting their own shoes, telling mom and dad that they want a phone, begging both parents for a bedroom refrigerator and trying like mad to convince anyone who will listen that they want a sleep sofa instead of a bed.

So, maybe the study is only saying that Tweens are researching appliances, telecom services and home furnishings on the Internet - NOT with the intent of purchasing them, but simply because they are curious to know more? But then the article goes on to say that the Internet plays a "substantial role in the purchase process for Tweens."

The thing is, I have no doubt taht Tweens are heavy, heavy users of the Itnernet - by way of computers and mobile devices. I just don't get this research. In fact, I don't even understand what kind of study would ask a 10-year-old about purchasing appliances and home furnishings.

Long story short: I did a little looking around and found this story form 2007:

"Tween buying power is larger than with any prior generation," explains James Chung, president of Reach Advisors, a Belmont, MA, marketing, strategy and research firm that focuses on emerging trends. "Having said that, we are seeing a shift back. Five years ago tweens were in control. This new generation of parents (Gen-Xers) doesn't want to rush kids to grow up. Tweens have more information about their purchases, but they're not making the final decisions."

So the research is half right. Tweens are doing the research and likely influencing the purchase. But in the end, mom and dad have the final say in what they buy.

Friday, August 8, 2008

What is Publicity Anyway? (#2 in a series)

Now that is a good question.

According to Wickedpedia, "Publicity is the deliberate attempt to manage the public's perception of a subject."

In essence, publicists are like Svengalis... villainous hypnotists. Dang, who knew? All this time I was under the impression - based on six years of college and 28 years of practice - that publicity is, as Merriam-Webster defines it:

1: the quality or state of being public
2 a: an act or device designed to attract public interest; specifically: information with news value issued as a means of gaining public attention or support b: the dissemination of information or promotional material

Yeah, okay, so that's not the same thing.

According to the perennial college textbook, “Effective Public Relations,” by Scott Cutlip, Allen Center, and Glen Broom, "Publicity and other communication tactics are not the defining framework for the profession, but merely the tools used to accomplish its larger objective of relationship building and maintenance." Relationship building and maintenance? That sounds more like the job of that newfangled online PR. Maybe these guys never heard of Edward L. Bernays!

Not just the father of public relations, but the nephew of Sigmund Freud as well. And according to his obituary (he died in 1995 at the age of 103): "Mr. Bernays was one of the first people to expand what had been a narrow concept of press agentry, or working to influence government policy, into a far more ambitious -- and controversial -- realm of seeking to influence and change public opinion and behavior." And hey, here is an interesting side note you might not be aware of, Bernays was instrumental in making it acceptable for women to smoke in public.

Now that's more like it... more evil, more insidious.

Then I found this definition provided by Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD: "Publicity is mention in the media. Organizations usually have little control over the message in the media, at least, not as they do in advertising. Regarding publicity, reporters and writers decide what will be said." What?! Reporters and writers and editors actually think for themselves and decide what will be communicated? This is heresy!

Clearly I am getting nowhere fast. I need one authoritative source to provide an acceptable definition and position we can all live with... One that will clarify what publicity really is - a useful strategic tool for communicating news and information or a diabolical, magical potion for duping the unsuspecting and weak minds of our society.

How about a Supreme Court Justice? Louis Dembitz Brandeis was also an American litigator, advocate of privacy and developer of the Brandeis Brief in Muller v. Oregon (This was the first instance in the United States that social science had been used in law and changed the direction of the Supreme Court and of U.S. law. The Brandeis Brief became the model for future Supreme Court presentations). Anyway, here is what Brandeis had to say:

Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.

Sounds to me like he thought publicity was a good thing. And it is. In the world according to Jim, "Publicity involves primarily the development and maintenance of databases, the documentation of news or information and the subsequent distribution of that news or information to relevant audiences.

In the words of Abraham Lincoln, "Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe."

That is - in its simplest form - what publicity is, letting people know the facts. Unfortunately, it's never quite that simple.

In the next post we'll address "publicity in practice" and how, when integrated with media relations, it can be an amazingly effective tool that serves the good of clients, the media and the public.

Why Publicity Still Rocks and Rules (#1 in a series).

Undoubtedly, the Internet is changing the way we get our news, information and entertainment. As a result, the role of "publicity" and its partner "media relations" has come under question - and in some cases, under fire.

So let's cut to the chase and look at some facts:

According to the Consumer Electronics Association, there are approximately 300 million television sets in use in U.S. households today. Pretty much that is one TV per person. This does not include handheld units or TV on the Internet. Nielsen reports (July 2008) that screen time of the average American continues to increase with TV users watching more TV than ever before (127 hrs, 15 min per month).

According to Burrelle's (under the guidance of the Audit Bureau of Circulations), in the top 50 U.S. markets alone, the top daily newspapers have a daily circulation of nearly 30 million. According to the World Association of Newspapers, the total daily circulation of newspapers in the U.S. is nearly 50 million. According to the PEW Research Center, better than 50% of Americans read a newspaper during the week and more than 60% on Sundays.

Broadcast radio is a tricky bird. There are no real numbers for radio sets in the U.S. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, there are more than 135 million automobiles in the U.S., and most all of them have radios. According the the Bureau of Census, there are about 110 million households in the U.S., but who knows how many radios are in every home? According to Arbitron, traditional radio commands a weekly audience of 93.3% of the population 12 and older; this translates into nearly 233 million people who tuned into the AM/FM dial at least once during an average week. According to another Arbitron study, more than 30 million listeners also tune into online radio, much of which is over-the-air radio station programming rebroadcast over the Internet.

More than 22,650 trade and consumer magazines are still published in the U.S. The top 10 alone reach more than 100 million subscribers.

Have I begun to make my point yet?

There are a lot of people on the Internet and all of them are still watching TV, reading newspapers, listening to radios and reading magazines. However, only 72% of the U.S. population uses the Internet. In other words, there are about 80 million U.S. consumers you can only reach OFF the Internet.

So why does publicity still rock and rule?

If you're interested in learning the answer, read my next entry when I explain what "publicity" really is, versus what a lot of sources (yes, Wikipedia, I am talking about you) think it is.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

This past Christmas, my daughter bought Kathy and me a very special gift: two tickets to Rain-The Beatles Experience, showing at the State Theater. Rain is as you might guess a Beatles tribute band. In fact, they are considered by some to be the most renowned Beatles tribute band.

It is quite a performance that transports adoring fans of all ages (no kidding, from 8-year-olds to 80-year-olds) through a musical oddysey that warps from the late 1950s through the late 1970s. There's not a lot of production, but what production exists is very good. More important, the band looks and sounds like the Beatles in every regard... at least from the first row of the balcony amidst thousands of screaming fans.

To be clear, Rain is not passing itself off as the Beatles, they are creating an experience that allows the audience to easily imagine they are in the presence of the Beatles. It is a difference with a distinction. Based on the reaction of the audience, including numerous standing ovations resulting in carefully scripted curtain calls, the experience works.

However, a close inspection of the Rain website <> the next morning washes away any residual illusion. The lads - Joe, Joey, Ralph and Steve - look less like George, Paul, Ringo and John than you might expect. And their music, unfiltered by screaming fans, sounds less like the Beatles than you might expect.

They are a good imitation, but they are not the Beatles.

You can lead with all new lines
If you believe in what you say
And life can be just as you make it

John Booth, staff reporter at Crain's Cleveland Business, has asked me on several occasions what I think about social media marketing. Are traditional PR firms venturing into the new media arena? It's a good question.

When I started in the business 28 years ago, I worked at a local ad agency (Sharp Advertising) that has since disappeared. From the perspective of the ad guys, PR was simply about writing news releases and giving them to the reps they bought ad space from. In other words, they had no clue what they were talking about and they were irresponsible in their behavior. Nonetheless, they told their clients they offered PR services. Eventually they hired Nancy Valent, a talented young professional from Diamond Sharock's PR department, who in turn hired me, a knucklehead fresh out of college with a degree in mass communications. And now they could honestly say that they offered PR services. It is a difference with a distinction.

Lately, I've heard a lot of PR professionals - individuals and agencies - talk about how they are all wired and fully capable of offering new media services. They can create blogs and handle online ads and customize pay-per-click campaigns and manage search engine optimization and produce viral videos and on and on. Maybe they can and maybe they can't.

If you believe in every lie
You're never free to walk away
You should be free to go today

Of course, what's at stake here is only the reputation of the entire industry, so what's a few tall tales between a couple of drunken sailors?

As agencies, we should always put ourselves in a position to help our clients determine the best strategies at all times, regardless of whether it benefits us financially or otherwise. So if we have the ability to offer a particulare service - either because we have been trained or we have hired experts - then bravo, offer away. Unfortunately, there are no standards in place to ensure clients are getting what they pay for.

From the agency perspective, I can only rely on what my father always told me, "Don't pretend to be someone that you are not; because sooner or later the truth will reveal itself." From the client perspective, I guess you must rely on your instincts and some common sense advice, "caveat emptor."

Believe the lie and it will all come true

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Importance of Marketing, As Clear as Muddy Water.

If you believe what you read in the news (and I do), it appears U.S. companies experiencing the most sales growth and profitability during our economic downturn (recession) have three things in common:

1.  They are raising their prices.
2.  They are cutting costs.
3.  They are increasing their marketing expenditures.

Procter and Gamble today reported higher profits: "Like most consumer products makers, P&G, with brands ranging from Pampers nappies to Olay skin-care products, has raised prices and cut costs in order to cope with rising costs for energy, resin and other raw materials."

Church & Dwight reported the same basic news, but placed the emphasis on the power of marketing: "On Monday the company said it spent $13.1 million more than in the corresponding quarter last year to promote its largest brands: Arm & Hammer, Trojan, OxiClean and First Response, which helped second-quarter sales increase 8.7%, 8 percentage points of which came from organic sales growth."

On the flipside, Ford announced that it had cut its ad spending by two-thirds over last year's amount [shareholder editorial comment: that is the least of their problems right now].

And then there is Coke, the beverage stalwart, whose CEO (Muhtar Kent) said the company plans to cut $400-500 million dollars from its annual marketing costs by 2011.

On the other hand, Kraft and PepsiCo are spending more:  "Across the board, we are planning to invest even more in 2008 than 2007 for marketing, quality and innovation focusing on our key brands and categories," says Kraft spokeswoman Lisa Gibbons.  While in a July earnings call, CEO Indra Nooyi said Pepsi is "not backing off" ad spending. "We really have an eye towards the long-term future of the company," she said.

So, what does it all mean?  What's the right approach?  Raise prices, cut costs, shrink package sizes, increase marketing, decrease marketing?

As my high school buddy Jim Krupar used to say:  "When in doubt, put the pedal to the metal." Or as my dad used to say when we - as young children - would stand around on the shoreline afraid to test the seemingly cold waters of Lake Erie: "Either get in the water or get in the car, we didn't come here to put our toes in the sand."

Monday, August 4, 2008

What's Wrong With This Picture?

How can you place a price on the beauty of newborn babies nestled in the arms of their loving parents?

Apparently People magazine has the methodology.  And the price is $14 million.  Of course, that's only for the North American rights.

The good news is that the proceeds will benefit children around the world.  The bad news is that People magazine spent $14 million for the rights to own baby photos.  Which of course means that they believe consumers are really interested in seeing the baby photos.  Which means we've all gone mad.

Don't get me wrong, I love babies as much as the next guy; in fact, probably more.  But here is the value I would put on seeing a photo of the Brangelina tikes:  $0.  

Hopefully the foundation will make better use of the money than People magazine did.