Archive for July, 2012

Ouster Of GM Marketing Czar A Stressor For Thousands

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

If you run work at an advertising, marketing (or even PR) agency handling Big Corporate work, there’s a process in place that has become too familiar: A new in-house marketing/communications czar is appointed “from the outside.” He/she has a mandate for change. All agencies get reviewed. New agencies get a look (those with previous experience with the czar are preferred). Most, if not all, agencies are replaced, affecting up to thousands of lives. Millions, even billions of dollars are spent. New campaigns don’t “work” fast enough (or a new CEO is hired or other subjective variables happen). The czar is fired. Repeat.

This is often the “circle of life” in the Big Agency/Big Corporate World. And it’s on display again as General Motors fired its marketing honcho Joel Ewanick last weekend. According to some reports, he didn’t let his bosses know how much he was spending on sponsorship of European soccer.

Starting just before he was elevated into his role at the top, when GM fired its Chevrolet ad agency of more than 90 years, Campbell Ewald, Ewanick ordered huge changes with GM’s agencies, affecting thousands of families and careers. His reign lasted less than two years and now, those who lost business, gained business, moved cities or changed jobs are at work today with a layer of stress about what’s next. Who will replace him? Will it be someone from the outside? What changes are coming? How do we make GM happy? Hey, anyone know of any firms that are hiring?

On the PR side, we have observed new communications chiefs cutting agencies to seize control. When they leave, what happens? Will someone new come in and say “why don’t we have agency help?” and then hire from their own relationships, not even knowing about institutional knowledge and relationships that could date back decades with ties severed only because of a “no agency” edict? Probably.

These are tough times for big firms in all facets of communications. Budgets are down. Expectations are up. And relationships, the lifeblood of business, can be unstable. It’s all the more reason why firms, of all sizes, should diversify client roster as much as possible to hedge against the increasingly inevitable corporate “circle of life.” The rallying cry should be “Remember GM!”

What Makes A Comic Hero Movie Super?

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

As The Dark Knight Rises and the Amazing Spider-Man continue to triumph at the box office (the latter has made an astounding $500 million to date), success in the world of superhero movies is still anything but guaranteed. A new article by Daniel Snyder of The Atlantic examines this dynamic.

Performing as weakly as Steve Rogers (Captain America) before an injection of super soldier serum have been a number of Marvel stinkers. In fact, all three of the Punisher movies were flops. A miscast Ben Affleck hurt Daredevil while its spin-off, Elektra, fared even worse. For DC, Ryan Reynold’s Green Lantern flamed out quickly while Jonah Hex, with hot actors Josh Brolin and Megan Fox, earned just $10 million worldwide.

Of particular concern to DC is how far the 2013 reboot of Superman will fly; especially after successful X-Men director Brian Singer’s Superman Returns in 2006 fell $70 million short of its production budget. This featuring the comic book giant’s #1 character.  And, what happens next with Batman now that visionary writer/director Christopher Nolan is gone, taking actor Christian Bale with him? Will we get another acclaimed Batman (Michael Keaton/Tim Burton) or a franchise-killing Batman & Robin (benippled George Clooney/Joel Schumacher)?

So, what is difference maker between movie-making good and evil? I would argue it is writing and casting. Staying true to the essence of the character in the comics is essential, first and foremost, from origin to tradition and story lines. Just as important, however, are the actors chosen to portray these legends. Daredevil borrowed prominently from the comic book yet Affleck was just too leading man. By contrast, casting against type seems to be a recipe for success. Michael Keaton as Batman? Crazy yet brilliant. Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man? Strange but super. Toby McGuire as Spider-Man? Perhaps not as counter intuitive as the others but, in the end, amazing (at least for the first two movies—poor writing did in the third).

Yet, despite all of the considerations and all of the risk, the studios and their comic company partners are sure to continue to venture out into Gotham, Metropolis and beyond. The monetary possibilities are just too great. Consider this astounding fact: The Avengers movie has made more money for Marvel in a couple of months than a combined two years of sales over their entire comic book line. To the Batcave!

When It Comes to PR, Do Food Politics Really Matter?

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

At first glance, it appears the gay marriage controversy involving fast food chain Chick-Fil-A appears to be a “PR nightmare.” The private family owner of the chain has spoken publicly against gay marriage, leading to online buzz and now, significant traditional media coverage.

All of their restaurants, per company policy, have always been closed on Sunday, for religious reasons. In the South, where all of their units were located until just a few years ago, customers have always know the Cathy’s family’s Southern Baptist faith has guided the company. Now, a national debate is brewing about whether or not Chick-Fil-A stands for something right or something objectionable.

From a PR standpoint, it appears that Chick-Fil-A is receiving “bad press.” But, in this case, the question must be asked, will it really matter? Will this really impact Chick-Fil-A’s business?

Based on past history, it might not. In the 1980s, similar controversy surrounded Domino’s Pizza because of then-owner Tom Monaghan’s anti-abortion stance. All Domino’s did since is grow into a global pizza force. Just a couple of years ago, Whole Foods generated a similar storm after its CEO wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal speaking out against “Obamacare.” Whole Foods has continued to grow.

The public relations challenge here is different mostly because of the media environment. In this age of knee-jerk social media “shares” and controversy-loving, 24-hour cable news and talk radio this story might have more “legs” (no pun intended). But the company is extremely likely to stick to its values and its messages. Customers, particularly the company’s base in the “Bible Belt” are likely to continue to get their fix at Chick-Fil-A.

Maybe, as a society, we just don’t care about the politics of food as much as we care about the food itself?

Social Media Covers All Bases

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

In the past week, social media in the sports world took a step closer to realtime player posting as Major League baseball allowed, for the first time, use of Facebook and Twitter by All Stars after they had left the game. The move is particularly significant as the All Star Game is much more than just a fan enthusiast exhibition. The game’s end result plays a role in home field advantage for the victors in the playoffs.

Over 800,000 comments on the two most popular social media platforms entailed a 257% increase in traffic from last year. By the end of the first inning, in fact, there were more comments than total comments in 2011. MLB reported nearly a dozen player participants, who used both a special media room as well as their personal accounts. Also of note: Fox-TV enjoyed a 3% increase in viewers – the first jump in four years.

It’s a smart move by professional baseball – provide existing and potential fans with access to content they can’t get anywhere else, via favored communication platforms. And you can bet others will take note, perhaps with the NFL, NBA and/or NHL relaxing their policies to the point where pre-season or exhibition games are no longer off-limits. What better way to build next-generation followers?

I’m fine with it as long as our Blackberrys and iPhones don’t take us too far afield of what is actually taking place on it. Based on the many I see at games looking down to their devises rather than out toward the action, it seems that all too often we are not getting caught up in the moment but, rather, missing it entirely.

Tax Return Controversy Epitomizes Political PR

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

It’s 2012 and Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney won’t release his tax returns. In 2008, Presidential Candidate John McCain wouldn’t release his medical records. These controversies of disclosure aren’t limited to Republicans. From 2008 until 2011, for three years of back-and-forth public bickering, President Obama wouldn’t release his “long form” birth certificate. This represents political PR in a nutshell. They just won’t voluntary do anything that could make their guy “look bad,” even momentarily, even if a short-term bump in the road would make for more clear traveling from that point forward.

As I said while trying to give some “Outside The Beltway” perspective during an interview this morning on Sirius-XM’s POTUS channel, we are collectively considering two candidates for the job of President of the United States. Unless we are voting strictly along ideological lines (recognizing that many of us are), we are interested in their credentials, along with their performance in the job interviews (with media and debates). Essentially, when candidates for public office won’t answer questions that are relevant to common questions that voters want to know before making a hiring decision (are you healthy enough for the job?, what kind of taxes do you pay to the government you want to run? were you, as you say, born in the United States?), they just prolong controversy that detracts from the debate that really matters.

The political PR playbook says that Romney shouldn’t release his tax returns. It could be, quite literally, an embarrassment of riches. But that embarrassment would have been shorter-lived if it only had happened without this current, hackneyed controversy. It’s very similar to the “birther” questions. The Obama advisors didn’t want to release the birth certificate because they would be “giving in” to the “birthers.” Instead, they chose a three-year distraction until the President finally showed his documentation and it turned into comedic material for him at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner a short time later.

Tonight, the Romney campaign wishes you were reading something about their guy’s position on issues, instead of this blog. Meanwhile, some Americans are wondering what he’s hiding in that tax return, especially with taxes as a high-agenda item. It’s a controversy that doesn’t have to happen. But the political PR rulebook dictates that it must.

Can Penn State Repair Its Image?

Sunday, July 15th, 2012

In the wake of the release this week of former FBI Director Louis Freeh’s damning report on the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky scandal, all eyes are focused on what could and should happen next. Legal experts say in addition to the current charges of perjury against now-retired university vice president Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley, both men along with ex-president Graham Spanier could well be charged with child endangerment. Joe Paterno could be facing similar charges were he still alive.

In a national article released yesterday by the Associated Press, reporter Bree Fowler examined how the university might work to repair its image, including talking to Tanner Friedman. You can view the entire article here in an online pickup from ABC News. The first step had to be an examination of what exactly happened and what went wrong – thus the Freeh report, paid for by the university. This report had to be thorough, honest and ‘no holds barred’ in order to be credible. And, with its its shocking findings, it was all that and more.

Moving forward, those responsible must be tried fairly in a court of law, and if the system finds against them, punished. At the same time, the university must reassure current and future students, faculty, alumni and the world that this will never happen again? How? By very publicly putting into place new standards and processes for reporting and dealing with reports and allegations of criminal behavior. There has to be total transparency and a system of checks and balances where no office or officials of the university ever have the power or the ability to circumvent the system. And, that system has to be followed consistently every time, without fail, no matter whom is involved.

Yesterday, a mural depicting the history of Penn State leadership, which adorns the university bookstore, was altered by the artist for the second time since the scandal broke last year. In November, Sandusky was removed. On Saturday, a halo, placed above Paterno’s death upon his death last January, was painted over. A blue ribbon, signifying sexual abuse awareness, was added to his jacket. As for the Joe Paterno statue, despite calls for its removal, ESPN.com has reported in the past hour that the Penn State Board of Trustees  has voted to leave the statue on place, at least for now. One would hope that, at some point, the Board strongly considers what the community – including those attending the university, alumni and the state of Pennsylvania at large – has to say. From there, Penn State should make this and all future decisions based on openness, transparency and what is right, not with isolationism, elitism and closed doors.

Again, Political PR Misjudges The Real World

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

Between now and November is “prime time” for those in political PR. There are some solid communicators who have chosen that route within the profession. But, as we’ll see time and time again in the coming months, too many in that realm of our business play by a set of rules that often doesn’t work in “The Real World.”

Case in point: the handling of Rep. Thaddeus McCotter’s resignation last Friday. The Michigan Republication announced his resignation at about 5pm on the Friday of a Holiday Weekend. The old-fashioned PR playbook used to call for such an approach to help “hide” bad news. That was when there was such thing as a “news cycle” and set “newspaper deadlines.” It was also a time when news consumers largely tuned out news from Friday evening until the Sunday newspaper arrived at the front door. So, such an approach would work for public company news that required a release but companies didn’t want much attention.

Additionally, McCotter essentially ran and hid, refusing to be available to media, who represent the citizens – his customers for nearly a decade. That was probably a decision by a PR person who rationalized that it would “protect” him, while really hanging him out to dry. We see this frequently during times of political scandal and it almost never works.

These approaches backfired, as political PR strategy often does outside of the context of elections. McCotter’s resignation was not buried (it ran online all weekend, attracting huge “buzz,” as warranted, on social media) and it has “legs” – it is still prominent news nearly a week later. He’s a Congressman for crying out loud! And a recently controversial one at that. It’s not like he can sneak out of office undetected. The political and mainstream media have been hammering him not only for resigning months before the end of his term but also for not making himself available to answer questions.

In The Real World, professional character often reveals itself when someone leaves a job. In the political PR world, that needs to be remembered more often.

Patriotic Misdirection Aimed True

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

In any wartime affair, the ongoing game of covert “cat and mouse” between two sides inevitably plays a key role in the eventual outcome of the battling. This was no different in our first foray into armed conflict as a nation in the American Revolutionary War – an entanglement deepened by the signing of the document (and what it represents) we celebrate today.

In 1775, the Continental Congress created secret committees to oversee foreign and domestic intelligence, respectively. Benjamin Franklin was the most notable member of Congress to play a role on these newly created groups which, essentially, oversaw spies and spying against Britain. The first Patriot intelligence network was a secret group in Boston known as the Mechanics; one of its members is also well-known to American history: Paul Revere.

Key to successful spying and intelligence gathering was misdirection and hidden communication. One tool used most prevalently was invisible ink – made up of a compound such as cobalt chloride, glycerine and water. Messages were typically concealed by agents on blank pages of pamphlets and notebooks. Cryptography, the use of codes and ciphers, was also utilized widely. This might entail something as simple as the number of laundry items left to out to dry signaling a meeting place, to a more complicated system encompassing the use of a numerical or alphabetical code substituting names and places for numbers and letters.

Slight of hand combined with daring, bravery and conviction. Cleverness joined with intelligence, ingenuity and foresight. Our forefathers encompassed all of these things and more, including the innate ability to communicate effectively with each other – whether behind a disguise or in a public forum; the latter enabling the creation of a document that would declare our freedom and lay the very foundation for this great country.

Why The Problem With The Today Show Has Nothing To Do With the Anchor(s)

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

In recent days, from Twitter to blogs to office cubicles, much has been made about anchor Ann Curry’s forced departure from NBC’s Today Show. Lots of speculation has focused on why NBC execs wanted her in a different role. There has been a lot of chatter about whether she is scapegoat for the show’s relative ratings slide. But there hasn’t been enough conversation, publicly, about the real problem with the Today Show.

It’s the content.

Not too long ago, the first hour of Today helped establish the show’s dominance and profit making ability as a bona fide hard news program. You could watch the 7am hour (here in the Eastern Time Zone) and get caught up on the news while looking ahead at the headlines the day was expected to generate. There was reporting, analysis and interviews (often tough ones) with newsmakers. The first 15 minutes of the Today show was the capsule of news that could tell you what you needed to know before heading out the door.

But, somewhere along the way, Today lost its way. The content, even in the first hour, shifted to celebrity news, stunt reporting, crime from around the country and a lot of conversation about the weather in New York. Fabricated stories, like contests, features on properties owned by co-owned Universal and Rockefeller Plaza concerts, took precedence over real news. Often times, Today has looked like a parody of local news rather than the top echelon of national broadcasting. These decisions were probably rationalized as “giving people what they want,” but the ratings prove otherwise.

Sure, when there’s a big national story, Today is on it. But, day to day, if you won’t watch, you don’t miss anything. While TV is personality-driven (often the difference-maker among similar shows for the audience), content, as they say, is king.

Just like in all of our businesses, it’s important for us to connect with people we like. But, to build credibility and a relationship, there has to be substance behind the smile.