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

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