Tuesday, October 27, 2009

PR is dead, long live PR.

I was watching the Antique Roadshow on PBS last night and saw the most unusual early 20th century invention. It was a heat-powered house fan. For real. There was a kerosene lamp at the base of a fan that was lit and emitted heat through a series of turbines that powered the fan to begin rotating and cool the room. Who knew?

Unfortunately, as the antique expert explained, electricity was the undoing of the heat-powered fan. And so it goes. Something new always unseats something else. It's kind of like they say in that Semisonic song: Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.

A recent Ad Age article reports such a shift:

As the body count of magazines and daily newspapers continues to rise and the once-robust news and feature holes of surviving publications shrink along with reporting staffs, some marketers have given up on the traditional path to media coverage: pitching journalists.

Kind of makes you feel like the world (or at least an industry) is coming to an end. Lots of doom and gloom, as Sam Lucas, chair of U.S. brand marketing at WPP's Burson-Marsteller concludes: "The traditional one-way media model has definitely had its day."

This, of course, led to some dramatic retorts from some very defensive PR people, which in turn led me to offer my own public response:

'Goodness gracious me!' said Henny-penny; 'the sky's a-going to fall; I must go and tell the king.'

My goodness indeed. Unless you have been living in a cave, "Public Relations" stopped being "press agentry" about four decades ago. Even the least sophisticated shops have offered a diversified mix of services, ranging from trade show marketing and customer events to direct marketing and yes, publicity. And I am pretty sure we all noticed the Internet thing about a decade and a half ago (thank you Al Gore).

Our business (PR) has always been and will continue to be a dynamic and evolving industry. The sky is not a-falling, so take a deep breath and just relax.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Problem with Marketing Today.


So, a woman goes onto a medical discussion group on the Internet and asks all the participating group members the following question:

"Can anyone suggest the best way to spend my health care dollars to relieve crippling back pain?"

Within minutes, the following answers appear in the discussion room:

John Doe, Chief Acupuncturist replies:
You need acupuncture.

Jane Smith, VP of Sales with Johnson's Massotherapy replies:
You need a back massage.

Doctor Vinnie Goomba, Surgeon replies:
You may need surgery; we'll take an X-ray.

Alice Jones, Director of Marketing with Osgood Orthotics says:
You need special inserts for your shoes.

Hank Witherspoon, manager with Professional Office Supplies replies:
You need an ergonomically designed desk chair.

Franco DeLupi, personal trainer replies:
You need to exercise.

Artie McSmarty, dietitian and nutritionist says:
You need to eat better and lose a few pounds.

Bob Jones, DrugStuff Pharmacist replies:
Take Aleve or Advil and apply a heating pad (aisle 4).

Lucy Alluette, Yoga Instructor replies:
Yoga will relieve your stress an stretch your muscles.

And on and on and on...

Of course, any one of these replies could work. Or, depending upon the patient's actual medical condition, could kill her. Yes, I said it, kill her. Fortunately, no one would allow random people to offer medical advice over the Internet without a flashing sign that reads: THIS SITE IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY ADVICE OFFERED BY MEMBERS OF THIS GROUP; WE ENCOURAGE YOU TO SEEK ACTUAL MEDICAL CARE.

But "Marketing" is a whole other matter. Earlier today I received a discussion alert from a marketing group on LinkedIn. The question posted was this:

"Can anyone suggest the best areas to spend marketing budgets in difficult times such as these?"

A total of 39 comments have been posted so far. Amazingly, every single reply is more useless than the preceding reply. "Use SEO," says the SEO marketer. "No, use trade shows," says the trade show marketer. "Forget all of that and invest in experiential marketing," says the experiential marketer. "No way, you need to get involved in social networking," says the social marketer.

Do you see the trend here? Every response is self-serving and pointless. No one is asking about objectives and target audiences and priorities and opportunities and challenges. No one is asking anything. Instead, everyone is out there pimping their services, slamming their business card on LinkedIn like a billboard along the freeway.

Okay, well I am getting really flustered, so please allow my to clarify my thinking and sum this up with three key points:
  1. Don't ruin social media with stupidity.
  2. The solution to problems may be and probably is something other than what you specialize in.
  3. Lead with research and strategic planning, and follow with tactical implementation.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Adjust Search To Seasons, Cycles and Situations

Whether you are managing a pay-per-click campaign, optimizing a news release, launching a blogger relations campaign or any other of a dozen things to improve search and drive more traffic, be sure to make adjustments for the seasons, cycles and situations that impact on visitor behavior.

The Seasons

Children, adults, the elderly... consumers, businesspeople, government employees... men, women, transvestites... Catholics, Jews, Muslims... we are all subject to the changing seasons. The shifts in weather patterns we refer to as spring, summer fall and winter... the comings and goings of holidays, like Christmas and New Year and Independence Day... the taking of vacation time from school or work or retirement... the experience of longer days and longer nights thanks to the solstice.

As a marketer it is critical to understand the seasons, how they impact on business and how to communicate accordingly. Even the most subtle adjustments in messaging or communication or placement can amount to millions of dollars in increased (or lost) revenues. Likewise, it is important - if not critical - to understand that people change their search behavior in accordance with the seasons. There is a sudden increase in searches for boots and thermal underwear in the winter and for boogie boards and sun tan lotion in the summer. Are you adjusting your SEO and SEM accordingly?

As most corn farmers will tell you, the secret to a bumper crop is to plant the right variety at the right time – not too early and not too late.

The Cycles

At the moment, most of the globe is in a down economic cycle. As a result, consumers and businesses alike are more sensitive than usual to "price" and "value" messages. And they are more likely to get those messages while searching for deals – in newspapers and magazines and catalogs and on the Internet.

We are also in a green cycle right now. The world-at-large (except for China and the U.S.) is very concerned about the environment. So we now search for natural cleaners and organic foods and eco-friendly paints and sustainable production techniques.

By their very nature, most cycles repeat themselves, though the frequency often varies and some eventually just end. Some cycles are epic and some are subtle and short-lived. Regardless, you should take full advantage of the opportunities they provide for you as a marketer to tailor your search activities.

The Situations

Okay, so now this get a little bit tricky. What constitutes a situation that is important enough and enduring enough that it warrants your attention, yet is neither seasonal nor cyclical?

How about H1N1? According to the most recent report from ClickZ, the top search terms during September 2009 under the pharmaceutical and medical products category was "flu symptoms." In all likelihood, flu-related searches will continue through the spring - all around the world.

Al Gore says we have pushed our planet into a "climate change" situation that we may not be able to escape from. It is getting warmer and the ice caps are melting and the ocean's are getting watered down and rising. Cats and dogs are sleeping together. Mass hysteria. And suddenly people and businesses all around the planet are becoming sensitive to the ozone.

Like cycles, some situations last a long time, while others come and go quickly. As a marketer you need to be attuned to these situations and react accordingly - not simply to "take advantage" of the situation, but to communicate your ability to help the marketplace deal with the situation.

The Bottomline

As my favorite boss Ellen McConnell often told me: No matter how much you've done, there is always one more thing to do. Search is no exception to Ellen's rule.

One of These Things Is Not Like the Other.

Welcome one and all to the Open Innovation Virtual Network sponsored by The Clorox Company.

It is a site that welcomes one and all – young and old, amateur and professional – to gather under under the Clorox big top to share ideas in the "hopes of finding experts in the industry we can partner with to bring new and innovative products to the market. It is our hope that here you'll not only be able to interact with us, but that you'll also be able to find solutions and partnerships that are crucial for the success of your own businesses and careers."

Now by nature I am a bit of a skeptical guy. Some might even say jaded. Whatever.

So I spent a little time on this new social networking site and was immediately struck by two thoughts:

1. This is a smart idea.
2. Why is everyone talking about food?

I know Clorox. Clorox is a friend of mine. Clorox does not market foods.

Turns out I am wrong. Turns out Clorox owns the Hidden Vally brand of salad dressings and dips, and the KC Masterpiece line of sauces, marinades and seasonings. Clorox... the bleach company. Apparently when I wasn't looking they diversified well beyond the cleaning products category and into the food category. How did I miss that?

It's all a bit odd. Out of the 24 consumer brands Clorox lists on its website, only these two are food related (unless you count Kingsford Charcoal). The rest are bleach and drain cleaners and tile cleaners and kitty litter and water filtration.

And then I was struck by another thought: These guys at Clorox are very clever. Think about how they managed (in less than 24 months) to shift their reputation as the leading maker of high performance cleaning products that are anything but environmentally friendly, to one of the industry's leading manufacturers of natural cleaning products.

I will be completely honest, when Clorox first announced Green Works I was certain the marketplace would not accept the obvious contradiction. But I was wrong. Clorox came to the marketplace with a winning strategy – offer a product that was natural AND powerful, and promote the hell out of it. And it worked.

Which brings me back to the Open Innovation Hub. Clorox is inviting the world – indeed, challenging them – to share ideas and information. And there are already more than 100 members sharing away. And a lot of them are talking about food. In fact, "food" is one of 10 dedicated forum categories (which happen to align with all of Clorox's product categories).

And while my instinct is to conclude that this social network experiment will not work, I am actually pretty sure it will. And for the second day in a row I am tipping my hat to an organization willing to innovate and take risks.

Congratulations Clorox. May the force and the food be with you

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Left 4 Dead. Left Scratching My Head.

By all accounts, Left 4 Dead (L4D) was/is one of the most popular Zombie video games on the market. Compared to previous games created by producer Valve, it was a clear hit.

So, expectations for L4D2 are high. After all, sequels to popular video games are like sequels to Arnold Schwarzenegger films - they are always successful. Add to this the fact that Zombieland (the movie) is off to a fast start, taking the top spot in North America this past weekend with nearly $25 million in ticket sales.

Interestingly enough, that is the same number Valve plans to invest to market its new video game. Yes, that's right, Valve will spend 25 freaking million dollars to launch L4D2! Coincidence? Maybe. But then again, maybe not.

Compared to the $10 million they spent to launch the original, this sounds like a lot of money. But consider the possibilities. If opening weekend sales for Zombieland in North America were $25 million, imagine the potential for international sales of L4D2 over the course of the next three months (including the holiday season).

But really, is this huge investment in marketing necessary or even prudent? According Valve's VP of Marketing, "pre-orders for the game are the highest the company has ever seen for one of its titles." So why invest in a venture that is already bound to succeed?

Why not? What about the increased sales? What about the merchandising? What about the increased awareness and branding? The potential ROI is mind-boggling.

In fact, when all is said and done, assuming L4D2 is anywhere close to as good as the original, Valve may look back and wonder why it didn't invest even more money.

Of course we have no idea how they plan to spend that money. It is possible they will use it wisely and it is possible they will waste it. We'll see.

In the meantime, I tip my hat to the company with courage the size of grapefruits.

Carpe diem... or die trying.