Archive for February, 2012

50 Years After Wilt, PR Creativity Still Matters

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Fifty years ago this weekend, PR creativity etched an image into history when nothing else could. In this business, in many ways, we have come full circle.

This Wall Street Journal story tells of March 2, 1962 when a single basketball player, Wilt Chamberlain, scored 100 points in a single game. No player in pro basketball has come close, before or since. But there’s no video of the game – it was not televised. There were no major news outlets covering the game. The photographer assigned to cover it left after the 4th quarter.

A fan at the game, who happened to be a photographer for the Associated Press, grabbed his camera from his car and went to the locker room. There, he was met by the Philadelphia Warriors’ “publicity man” who wrote the number “100″ on a blank sheet of paper, asked Chamberlain to hold it up for the camera and created the enduring image of the record feat.

This is akin to situations we have more frequently encountered in recent years. There simply isn’t enough traditional media to cover all the news in person. So, we have to get creative. We can take video for the client and put it on YouTube or the client’s website. We can take photos and put them on Facebook and the client’s website. We can put the client on the phone from the place news is happening for radio interviews or podcasts. Those are just a few examples. We often have to think outside of the traditional “media event” to generate coverage.

Just like the PR guy who thought on his feet in that locker room, we, as an industry, have to more often think about how to create memorable moments to tell stories when the traditional media can’t or won’t cover news. We can look to that night 50 years ago for some creative inspiration.

The Detroit 300: We’re Taking Our Streets Back

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

The Detroit 300, the community activist group co-founded by Raphael Johnson and WCHB radio personality Angelo Henderson, this week publicly expressed outrage and a resolve to take back their neighborhoods; this in the wake of more senseless shooting deaths involved children and a 2012 Detroit murder rate already higher than all of last year’s.

During a press conference and later media appearances, including emotional discourse on Fox-2′s “Let It Rip”, Johnson in particular pledged that the group would do their part to end the violence by stepping up and beefing up patrols in crime ridden neighborhoods. Importantly, he called upon Detroiters, especially those living in the affected areas, to reverse a mindset of fear and/or complacency and join in the fight.

Good for the media for giving up significant air time and print space to promote the group’s message and mission. Good for The Detroit 300 for their dedicated efforts. And, good for Johnson, who some have argued, came across as too militant. Others, however, concede that when a particular situation, such as this, is so bad and out of control, one must sometimes fight fire with fire. Not gunfire, but rather, “ammunition” provided by a community of like-minded neighbors working toward positive change. No more looking the other way. No more keeping mouths shut. No more allowing thugs to rule the night and ruin lives.

At a time when city resources, including in public safety, are stretched to their limits, the time has absolutely come for the citizenry to become more involved, collaborating with law enforcement, rather than working against it. Of course, one doesn’t have to live within Detroit’s city limits to also show support. From participating in patrols to providing a range of supplies and resources, we can all get involved in some way. After all, aren’t all of us living in this region in this together? You’ve heard the why. Now find out how:

You Pay Your Doctor, Your Lawyer and Your CPA. But PR Should Be Free?

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

At tax time, would you ever insist that three CPAs prepare your returns but you would only pay for the one that results in the lowest tax payment?

If you needed a lawyer, would you ever insist that three attorneys prepare your case, but you would only pay the one that gives you the complaint language you like best?

If you wanted a retirement plan, would you insist that three financial planners each prepare a strategy, but only pay the one that results in you saving the most?

And what about this – when it’s time for an annual physical – would you go to three doctors and only pay the one that gives you the health advice you like best, even though you won’t let any of them take any bloodwork or give you scans?

Of course, most would answer “no” to all of the above. So, why do so many think PR strategies, of all professional services, should be given away for free? Why do so many think asking multiple firms for uncompensated plans is a good business practice and an effective way to build a relationship? It boggles the mind.

In recent months, we have been asked to provide a plan for free, based on a one-page description of needs and a one-hour meeting “along with 6 or so other firms” and the one a committee likes the best gets hired. We have been asked, for sophisticated plaintiff’s side litigation, to put together an entire communications strategy, for free, before a company would make a decision to hire a firm. We have also been asked to “brainstorm some creative ideas” with a prospective client, without being compensated for the time, before a contract would be awarded to one of three competing firms.

The answer to all of those asks, among others along the same lines, has been “no thank you.”

Strategies, plans and new ideas are some of the most important things we develop for clients. We earn our livings by selling our time to design and execute those plans using our collective skill and experience. We believe there is value in that worth paying for, as do our longtime clients.

So why do organizations think they can get valuable work for free as part of a firm selection process (albeit flawed)? Because firms desperate for work devalue their own services and stoop to the lowest possible levels in an effort to grab any business they can. Until some firms stop giving away work for free, on spec, we’ll continue to be asked. And we’ll continue to decline.

Here’s What “Sells” In The Media in 2012

Friday, February 17th, 2012

If there’s one thing you need to know about traditional media in 2012 it’s this – politics sells, both literally and figuratively.

First – the literal part. Traditional media is getting a big boost as candidate ads start taking over paid media slots. This week, reports campaigns will infuse $2 billion in advertising to traditional media outlets between January and November. One company, CBS, expects to receive 9-10 percent of that, as it operates many news radio stations in major markets. This should be be a waterfall of revenue for traditional media outlets after several dry years in a row.

Then – the figurative part. The 2012 election is the biggest story of the year. We can safely make that claim only six weeks into the year. We saw it first-hand in Detroit yesterday where dozens of news outlets from around the the world sent journalists to a Detroit Economic Club (our client) meeting to hear Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum deliver a speech on his economic plan. The snapshot I included with this blog entry is just of the cameras from news organizations that were set up more than 30 minutes before the speech.

In an era when more news is being reported using fewer journalists, news organizations of all sizes are throwing real resources at covering campaigns. It’s all designed to meet what consumer want. News of this campaign generates clicks, eyeballs, ears and probably moves some newspaper copies too.

While many across the country bemoan the partisan and philosophical divides across the US, traditional media doesn’t mind. “Bring on the nastiness, bring on the fights” you may hear in the boardrooms of the corporate media owners. This year, it’s all good for business, all driven by consumer demand.

Deeds Done But Not Forgotten

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Last week I was honored to be asked by Melanie Davis, Executive Director of the Adcraft Club, to serve as a “storyteller” at an event in Ferndale where participants were asked to detail embarrassing moments in the workplace. When she first made the request, it all seemed simple enough; yet, as I gave it more thought I realized that narrowing my story down to just one incident was going to be a major challenge.

After all, as a former disk jockey, journalist and public relations professional, I have experienced my fair share of uncomfortable if not disturbing moments, including those inflicted by colleagues on others. A phone thrown at a co-worker, being belittled in front of clients, being yelled at in front of colleagues, having my family’s insurance shut off without notice, viewing executive in-office tantrums entailing the picking of fights and destruction of company assets.

It is interesting that when we take an inventory of such “blasts from the past” we realize what a lasting impression such incidents make. To be sure, when they occur it is almost like watching a movie – you can’t believe the situation is actually taking place in a supposedly civilized world! Forgiving (including coming to the realization that the perpetuators of such events are weak and insecure if not sick) is possible but forgetting is another thing altogether. One does move on, however, with lessons learned and a roadmap for the right way to treat people.

By the way, I chose to describe to eventgoers a more positive but at the time embarrassing experience: a guerilla PR stunt for one of the world’s largest OEMs in the desert of Roswell that went slightly awry. Luckily that event was carried out with teammates who were true professionals (thus, when elements went wrong there was no yelling or belittling or finger pointing) and remains a memory I’ll always remember – in a good way.

Didn’t We Almost Have It All

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

Nearly 25 years ago, her self-titled debut album “Whitney Houston” unleashed a career the likes of which had never before been seen nor heard. With three Number One singles (Saving All My Love For You, How Will I Know, Greatest Love Of All) her first record would spawn a follow-up, “Whitney” which debuted at Number One on the Billboard 200 chart, the first album by a female artist to begin its run at the summit – ever. ┬áHer second LP would extend her record of Number One singles to an astonishing seven in-a-row (I Wanna Dance With Somebody, Didn’t We Almost Have It All, So Emotional, Where Do Broken Hearts Go) – a feat no artist (white/black/male/female) had ever achieved – not even the Beatles.

As a young disk jockey I recall playing her records and marveling at her voice and amazing range. Her album covers and MTV videos also revealed an incredibly beautiful young woman who seemed equal parts romantic and sensual while also “girl next door” sweet and fun. She couldn’t miss – and for more than ten years was, indeed, unstoppable. So what happened, exactly? How is it that just when she seemed clean of drugs and demons and poised for a meaningful comeback she is, in an instant, inexplicably gone at the much too young age of 48?

Unfortunately, in describing her tragic death, one must use the term instant rather than suddenly as we all witnessed her sad decline, sometimes painfully and publicly, into darkness. She blamed cocaine and a bad marriage. It was, at the time, unconscionable – how could our lovely song bird marry a bad boy and not a “Mr. America?” Why was she making a fool of herself on reality TV? And so the voice began to fail her, the hits stopped coming and Houston became a new chapter in the book of celebrity “remember whens.”

Today as we mourn her passing, we are left to contemplate whether it is sad or, ultimately, comforting that her untimely exit may well move her detractors and former fans to once again celebrate her talents and appreciate her accomplishments and what an important role she played in our lives and emotions. Perhaps they will even dust off their old albums and CDS to listen once again – when they wanna dance with somebody or remember one moment in time.

Big Brands: Ignore PR And Pay The Price

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

We have seen the trend over the past couple of years, mostly with big companies. After extensive corporate cost cutting and culture changes, PR has simply not emerged as a priority.

During the most recent recession, it was different than in past times of restructuring. It wasn’t as simple as “taking it in house” or “finding cheaper alternatives.” Public companies and other big brand entities brazenly decided that PR should play a smaller role. Not only were outside firms cut, so were communications departments. Big brands decided to rest on their past reputations in a fast-changing environment for business and communications.

In recent weeks, we are reminded why not placing a priority on PR can come back to haunt even previously well-regarded organizations. Case in point: the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Somewhere along the way, PR took a backseat for the organization that was beloved across the country for funding a cause universally deemed important, breast cancer research. Controversy ensued and the organization seemed ill-equipped to handle it (never mind the possibility of preventing it in the first place). Now, suddenly, PR appears to be a priority because of “damage control.” Komen went from respected brand to tarnished brand in just days, all because, apparently, PR became less of a priority somewhere along the way.

We shouldn’t forget either about Penn State just a few months ago. We witnessed a culture where academic arrogance trumped any care about true communications. Several paid the price with their jobs and the school will continue to struggle with its brand because of a horrible situation made worse in the public’s eye because of how communications were mismanaged. Only after it reached a crisis level did the University bring in outside counsel.

While the big brands have pushed PR to the back burner, small companies have embraced it and are telling their stories and delivering their messages, resulting in business “wins” while the big brands are sleeping. The question is how many more crises need to happen before the giants wake up?

How A 25 Year Old Catchphrase Can Kill A Branding Effort

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Earlier today, I witnessed something that made me cringe. It was a complete waste of a marketing opportunity.

A seemingly entrepreneurial dentist bought advertising space in a community newspaper and positioned her practice as “Not Your Father’s Dentist’s Office.” For me, reading that was the professional equivalent of getting poked and scraped at the dentist.

Someone spent money to create and ad and buy space only to use a hackneyed phrase that starts out with a negative word? Unfortunately, we see it (and worse) all the time. How can this happen? The best guess is that in an effort to cut costs, this would-be marketer cut corners. She did not involve an experienced professional to cut to the core of her desired brand and points of difference and create compelling copy.

Instead, she, herself, probably picked the line, made into an overused catchphrase. Just see the thousands of ads and articles found with a simple Google search. It made famous in 1988 by Oldsmobile, a dying brand that was finally euthanized in 2004, in TV spots like this one. Click that link – does that look like something you should emulate today?

The moral of the story- to cut the cliches and really communicate when you’re spending money and time on a branding effort, spend just a little bit more. Hire a professional and give yourself a chance at doing it well. Marketing communication should not be a DIY activity.