Friday, January 29

Absorbing Attitudes: Environmental Influences

At the end of World War II and again in the 1960s, environmental psychology became an increasingly popular field of study as shifts in society seemed to suggest that "nearby nature" affects people's mental and physical health. There are several reoccurring themes in the research (De Young, R., 1999, Encyclopedia of Environmental Science).

Common areas of interest within environmental psychology.

• Attention. How voluntary (things we want to notice) and involuntary (things that distract us) stimuli affect people.
• Perception. How cognitive maps recall past experiences associated with present events, ideas, and emotions.
• Environments. How people seek out and interact with places where they feel comfortable and confident.
• Environmental stress. How prolonged uncertainty, lack of predictability, and stimulus overload impact people.
• Participation. How involving people in design processes can contribute to feeling comfortable and confident.
• Conservation. How attitudes, perceptions, and values influence people toward an ecologically sustainable society.

My interest in the area of psychology was a result of working with my son on his science project. He placed two white carnations in each of three vases, and then added food coloring to two of them (leaving the third untouched as a control). The experiment was to test his hypothesis that the white carnations would adopt the color of the dyed water. They did, which opened an analogy that some people are familiar with (even when they are called by other names).

Tony Robbins includes it as his first of five keys to thrive in 2010, saying how important it is to feed your mind with positive messages and influences.

Harvard Business Review promoted the concept today by reintroducing emotional intelligence, a topic field I enjoy writing about under social intelligence.

There are countless studies that suggest children are prone to adopt parental behaviors, e.g., children of fit parents tend to exercise; children of parents who read tend to read; children who are abused have a greater tendency to become abusive; and so on and so forth. (However, the impact of nurturing depends greatly upon how individual children develop cognitive maps).

Unless we are vigilant in preserving self-awareness, we tend to adopt what we're exposed to.

In general, much like the carnations, we tend to be influenced by the information we absorb. In some cases, much like the carnations, we might not even notice those subtle veins of green or red. We're influenced (unless purposely uninfluenced) nonetheless.

In fact, it probably underpins another new study released a few weeks ago. Right now, only 45 percent of Americans are satisfied with their jobs. Fewer workers say they like their co-workers. And fewer workers like their bosses.

The lesson might be three-fold for anyone who wants to pursue it.

As individuals, we might pay attention to media we consume or groups we associate with as it can make a difference (which might be why the iPad speech seemed more palatable than the President's). As leaders, we might be especially cognitive as influencers over the teams we manage. And as organizational communicators, we might consider whether those messages help people become more confident as it could have a dramatic impact on the effectiveness of the communication.

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Thursday, January 28

Setting Agendas: Apple iPad Trumps Presidential Address

A few days ago, Slate published what might have happened yesterday on if Steve Jobs would have delivered the State of the Union address as opposed to President Obama. Dubbed "The iState of the Union Speech" and penned by Christopher Beam and Josh Levin, the transcript provides a fun read.

Hmmm. Maybe it's more than a fun read. Internet trending last night suggests people seemed more attuned to Jobs's launch of the wildly anticipated iPad, despite criticisms, than President Obama delivering the State of the Union address. My friend Geoff Livingston had this on his mind last night.

"Only in America can the iPad and Lost trump the State of the Union. Think about that," he wrote on Facebook. Okay...

It's not America. It's communication.

Jobs opened with an emphasis on words like "better," "going," and "enjoying" as he delivered what could be summed up as a window into the future. And, if the iPad does everything Apple says it can do, the future looks to be a mere one step away from what we suggested it might be last week. Except, maybe it won't be docks that connect everything as much as WiFi.

“iPad is our most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price,” said Jobs. “iPad creates and defines an entirely new category of devices that will connect users with their apps and content in a much more intimate, intuitive and fun way than ever before.”

President Obama opened with an emphasis on words like "disagreements," "recession," and "fears" as he delivered what could be summed up as a glimpse of what he would like to do, which is what most Americans thought he ought to have been doing all along. Those were the same kind of words that he associated with the previous administration, which allowed him to call for change. But nowadays, those words only reinforce the feeling associated with his administration.

"Next, we can put Americans to work today building the infrastructure of tomorrow," said President Obama. "From the first railroads to the Interstate Highway System, our nation has always been built to compete. There's no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains, or the new factories that manufacture clean energy products."

The choice seemed clear enough. One speech focuses on the next step. The other focuses on what might be three steps ahead. One speech focuses on what Apple is doing. The other focuses on what America should be doing. One accepts responsibility for moving forward. The other asks for other people to move forward.

Sure, equating a hardware launch to the State of the Union is comparing apples to oranges. And yet, when both compete for the attention of Americans, people didn't tune in to one and tune out another because one is fun and seems serious. They tuned in to talk about one because it represents everything the other didn't deliver — innovation as opposed to limitation.

It might be worthwhile to make other comparisons. Jeffrey Hill created word clouds between last night's State Of The Union and previous presidencies. At a glance, one notable difference between last night's speech and other presidents: President Obama seems to place the emphasis on the American people to do something to move forward whereas others placed an emphasis on what they were going to do to help the American people move forward.

Maybe Christopher Beam and Josh Levin's piece in Slate wasn't such a bad idea after all. Jobs might have made us feel better about the direction of things because Jobs would have been the priority 12 months ago.

Wednesday, January 27

Changing Paradigms: At What Point Does PR Become Marketing?

Do modern public relations professionals need to become quasi-celebrity spokespeople?

Karthik S, head of digital strategy, Edelman India, seems to think so. Last year, he wrote a post to convey the point, suggesting that public relations professionals that manage social media outlets on behalf of clients have an opportunity to "be the client."

The discussion evolved from a post that shared one possible model to integrate social media and public relations into a PR-driven communication plan.

I understand Karthik's point. Eighty percent of public relations professionals see social media as a key focus in 2010. And the concept, for public relations to move beyond providing mutually beneficial communication between the organization and various publics and toward providing mutually beneficial communication for themselves and the organizations they serve, has ample popularity and several living examples to propel it forward.

Right or wrong, a significant percentage of public relations professionals believe the field is moving in a direction where public relations professionals take center stage to communicate direct to hundreds or thousands of "fans" on behalf of select clients (preferably those who attract more fans), and that sheer temporary loyalty and enthusiasm from those fans will influence the mainstream media. Is that modern public relations or old school propaganda?

How media relations is sometimes misunderstood and undervalued.

I was reminded this morning of how media relations once worked, and still does in some cases. An objective reporter called a public relations professional after receiving an invitation to a groundbreaking of a public facility. The reporter had a preconceived hypothesis, wondering whether it was prudent for government to open a facility given the economy.

Many people can surmise where such a story was headed. It was meant to be a government waste piece.

But rather than develop a list of counterpoints and credible allies within the community, the public relations professional simply invited the reporter out to the facility. There, he spoke to patrons, employees, and later called various government officials. He asked tough questions.

The public relations professional laid out the facts bare, allowing the reporter to draw his own conclusions. And when the story ran, the reporter had shifted the direction of the story, more or less using the facility as an example of prudent government action that fulfilled the needs of the community as opposed to another example of misappropriation.

The public relations professional didn't need to spin the story, angle for more fans, or pitch another piece (for another client). She merely had to be authentic, engaging, and make it easier for the reporter to assess the facts. Likewise, the reporter, a seasoned professional, didn't need to validate the original hypothesis for himself, his readers, or any other party. Instead, he reported the truth.

For the public reading the piece, there is no other story. They won't suddenly feel compelled rush to the computer to friend or follow her, even if she was quoted. Her focus had clarity: serve both the reporter and the organization, no fanfare needed.

And at the same time, the community was treated to one of those rare examples when government was caught doing the right thing instead of trying to spin the story to appear right. (If only the federal government could learn such a lesson.)

Modern public relations infused with marketing changes the paradigm.

Imagine what might have happened with unnecessary layers of agenda.

The public relations professional would be charged with making themselves and the company look good, with the measure being how many more followers they might add at the end of the day. The journalist would be charged with making themselves and the publisher look good, validating whatever hypothesis their subscribers expect.

While that premise does not preclude the truth from being part of the equation, it certainly changes the objectives of those involved. It suggests that we never mind the facts, but focus on public opinion and build influence by pretending to follow the crowd. And, nothing builds the modern measure of "influence" faster than validating the opinions of others.

Even today, while listening to a webinar by Gaetan Giannini, assistant professor at Cedar Crest College, I noted that a shift in public relations at the university level seems to be driving public relations professionals to become marketers via social media. Giannini even suggested it be called Marketing Public Relations (MPR).

While MPR is still reliant on "connectors" (which adds bloggers to mainstream media), it also overemphasizes pushing specific messages to increase visibility and build the identity of the organization or product. And this begs a question. At what point is public relations no longer public relations, but rather spokesperson marketing?

And if spokesperson marketing becomes the definition of modern public relations, then the next question to ask is what happens to the truth?

In the more traditional media relations/objective reporter scenario, the truth seemed to be the priority for everyone. But in this new MPR model (especially if professionals act as quasi celebrity connectors/influencers), the truth seems secondary to the popularity and perceived credibility of the public relations professional. In fact, it might not even matter.

Tuesday, January 26

Being McNaughty: McDonalds v. McFest

Lauren McClusky, 19, raised more than $30,000 for the Chicago chapter of the Special Olympics by hosting a series of McFest concerts in 2007 and 2008. In 2009, she had to use those funds for attorney fees after McDonald's Corp. laid claim to all things "Mc."

It doesn't matter that McClusky's mark, which was filed in June 2008, and published for opposition in February 2009, bears no resemblance to the golden arches. McDonald's has taken the position that "McFest" is similar enough to the brand name McDonald's and its family of 'Mc' trademarks that it is likely to cause confusion under trademark standards and/or dilute its valuable trademark rights.

Based on the illustrations above, it seems to be a slow day for McDonald's attorneys. Primarily in the last ten years, McDonald's has indeed filed dozens of trademark applications for "Mc" names and various combinations with the letter "M." Many of those names (such as McPick, McMax, MCDTV, McMiracle Field) are all dead; cancelled or abandoned. So what makes this one different?

"We have made several attempts to resolve this matter amicably, because we recognize this event is for charity fund-raising," said Ashlee Yingling, spokesperson for McDonalds, in a statement to NBC Chicago. "We have offered to help the event organizers cover costs in selecting a new name for their event; we have suggested other variations of this word that they could use."

Unrelated names don't dilute brands, but poorly thought out legal action might.

The majority of stories and posts centered on this trademark scuffle are largely negative, especially in Chicago. The Consumerist asks Are all things "Mc," automatically McDonald's? The Chicago Sun-Times points out that McDonald's has deep pockets for a legal fight. And Market Watch might have investors wondering why MCD would waste potential McDividends.

That is not to say all the stories are negative. The Legal Satyricion sides with the corporate claim, arguing that McDonald's has not filed to prevent the name from being used. It merely filed an opposition to McClusky’s attempt to secure a trademark registration for “McFest.” Boo hoo McClusky, they said.

While it is a good point (and I'm not an attorney), the opposition could become boo hoo for McDonald's. A ruling against the opposition, which could happen given McClusky's name also has an "Mc" and she is not entering a competing service (like a restaurant chain), potentially opens the doors for more "Mc" usage, not less.

At minimum, there is that public relations cost to consider. While companies have every right to protect their brands, it seems to me that the only one making the connection that McFest would have anything to do with McDonald's is McDonald's. And now, because of the publicity around the opposition, the company has created the implication that the two are somehow connected. They weren't.

So, legal questions aside, one has to wonder whether McDonald's is diluting its own brand at a time when it is much more prudent to keep focusing on those fourth quarter profits (up 23 percent). It could have been just as easy to allow "MC FEST," which was limited to a company organizing, arranging, conducting, and producing concerts and live events, to peacefully coexist. And, given the charity, McDonald's may have elevated the brand by eventually supporting the teen.

Monday, January 25

Shopping For Moms: Retail Turns To The Net

A recent analysis of moms in the marketplace, All About Moms: A RAMA/BIGresearch Initiative, solidifies the growing importance of social media among B2C businesses. In some ways, social networks and social media sites are evolving to become the content-connection-catalog-coupon books.

"Retailers who aren’t engaging customers through social media could be missing the boat,” said Mike Gatti, executive director for RAMA. “Twitter, Facebook and blogs are becoming increasingly popular with moms as they search for coupons or deals and keep in touch with loved ones. The web provides efficient, convenient ways for brands to stay in front of their most loyal shoppers and attract new ones.”

According to the survey, surfing the Internet and checking e-mail was was on par with watching television while other media consumption such as listening to the radio, reading a magazine, reading the newspaper ranked considerably lower among weekly media usage. In fact, moms tend to be more engaged online than 18+ adults, outpacing the general population on regularly and occasionally participating on social networks and blogs.

Moms Social Network Preference

• 60 percent of moms use Facebook; 50 percent 18+ adults
• 42 percent use MySpace; 35 percent 18+ adults
• 16.5 percent use Twitter; 15 percent 18+ adults

Moms Read, Post, And Maintain Blogs

• 51 percent read blogs; 46 percent 18+ adults
• 28 percent comment on blogs; 23 percent 18+ adults
• 15 percent maintain their own blogs; 13 percent 18+ adults

More significant than the raw numbers themselves, 97.2 percent of moms said they give advice to others about products or services and are very likely to seek it, with 93.6 percent saying they ask advice before making their final decision. Sharing advice tends to take place on social networks.

While moms tend to be more tech engaged than the general public, it does not mean they welcome intrusive marketing. A large majority (66.5%) consider text message marketing and voicemail marketing an invasion of privacy. They prefer product samples to be mailed, but in-store samples tend to have more influence.

The survey also ranked popular cable networks, magazines, and newspapers. The study was released by The Retail Advertising and Marketing Association, which is a trade association representing over 1,500 retail companies and their advertising and marketing executives. The full study is available from the National Retail Foundation.

Three Related Conversations About Moms And Marketing

Marketing to Moms on Facebook Report by Holly Buchanan

Is Your Marketing On Target For Young Moms by Karen Corrigan

Marketing To Moms, Marketing With Moms by Kim Moldofsky

Friday, January 22

Improving Performance: The Weekend Effect At Work?

A new study, published in the January 2010 issue of the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, noted that people experience better moods, greater vitality, and fewer aches and pains from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon. Called the "weekend effect" by Richard Ryan, author and professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, the study found that even people with interesting, high status jobs tend to feel happier on the weekend.

"Our findings highlight just how important free time is to an individual's well-being." Ryan said. "Far from frivolous, the relatively unfettered time on weekends provides critical opportunities for bonding with others, exploring interests and relaxing -- basic psychological needs that people should be careful not to crowd out with overwork."

Among the most interesting findings from the study that tracked the moods of 74 adults (ages 18 to 62), was the distinction of whether people felt controlled or autonomous in the tasks they were asked to perform at work or on the weekend. Participants also indicated how close they felt to others present and how competent they perceived themselves to be at their activity.

The results supported a self-determination theory, which suggests that a person's well-being depends largely on autonomy, a sense of competence, and relatedness to others. The takeaway from the weekend effect for business leaders is simple. Affording employees more autonomy and nurturing emotional connections between co-workers could contribute to a greater well-being, competence in performance, and increased productivity.

The study also seems to provide real insight into why the right corporate culture can propel companies forward or how organizational leaders, internal communicators, and individuals can make a difference in the workplace.

Defining The Organizational Culture

• Organizational Clarity. Almost every successful model works toward establishing a vision, mission, and values to produce such clarity. However, where companies sometimes undervalue the mechanisms that contribute to the brand or corporate culture is that they forget to make every member of the team part of the planning process.

• Decision Making. As the study suggests, increasing autonomy across all positions can contribute to a better sense of well-being within a company. Generally, the biggest barrier for companies to overcome is eliminating the fear of failure, especially when employees are concerned about their jobs. In developing organizational charts, leaders might want to clearly define areas where employees can empower themselves within the workplace by allowing them to make decisions after any mandatories are complete.

• Organizational Communication. Earlier this week, there was an article that revealed almost 90 percent of UK councils block employee social media access (hat tip: Shel Holtz). The blocking often stems from fear that social media could reduce employee productivity. However, social media and social networks can be employed differently. With guidance, they can be used to bust silos (isolated departments) and help reestablish the free flow of information between employees.

• Management Style. We've been integrating leadership communication into the mix for the better part of two years. In doing so, many posts reinforce a concept that some companies seem to have forgotten: leadership moves people forward; management tends to regulate. In other words, authoritarian styles tend to be counterproductive, especially among younger generations that grew up with a greater sense of autonomy.

• Human Resource Development. If there are any trends that we would like to see developing out of the recession, it would be an increased effort to break down any barriers between human resources and corporate or internal communication. Whereas human resources can host development workshops, corporate and internal communication departments could develop joint communication projects that benefit workers between such sessions. The goal here, once again, would be to create a corporate culture that encourages autonomy, a sense of competence, and relatedness to others.

Of course, I don't subscribe to the concept that individuals should wait for employers to lead. So in looking over this five-point list, it seems some individuals might find ways to adopt these principles on their own.

In other words, individuals can improve their own sense of performance and well-being at work by defining their role within the company; making decisions based on how they react and respond to their environment; reaching out to colleagues in other departments when the need arrises; adjusting their own outlook to take on leadership qualities in dealing with others; and pursuing their own professional development sessions outside of work.

In that case, even if the work environment doesn't feel changed, individuals can improve their outlook or perhaps prepare themselves for a more rewarding experience at a company where such traits are admired. The choice is yours.

Thursday, January 21

Considering Multimedia: What Is Possible?

After having a great conversation regarding broadcast-television convergence with David Schepp, business news reporter (DailyFinance, Dow Jones, BBC News and Gannett), the subject has been on my mind again for the better part of the week.

Then today, my longtime friend Amy Vernon sent me an update on Boxee, which announced it will be launching a payment platform this summer. If you are unfamiliar with Boxee, it defines itself as a social media center that allows you to play videos, music, and pictures from your computer, local network, and the Internet on your television. The significance of such cannot be understated.

There will be no distinction between media and online media, right around the corner.

While some people consider Internet television the fourth method of distribution (alongside cable, satellite, IPTV) for broadcast and premium content, it really represents the singular distribution model of the future. For some smart phone purchasers, it's already difficult to distinguish the Internet from mobile.

The transition, which will continue to accelerate, will cause disruption because it places every distributor and service provider — AT&T, Boxee, Comcast, Charter, Cox, DirectTV, Sprint, Time Warner, Verizon, (to name a few) — in the same industry, with the only distinction being content creator or distributor/service provider (and even then those distinctions might overlap). It may also mean a contraction in related industries as it becomes more difficult for companies to ask consumers to pay for four services — phone, mobile, television, and Internet — that are being carried on what is essentially the same network.

What will the future look like? It seems crystal clear.

As a I told Schepp, the future will likely allow for our mobile devices to carry our preferences (and some content, as they do now) and then, once plugged in to another docking station, automatically pull up a customized desktop screen tailored to that device.

Specifically, I dock my iPhone (or whatever) to the television and all my preferred settings will be ported to the device. When I dock it to my desktop or laptop computer at work, ditto. When I dock it to my car stereo, I choose from my playlist or satellite radio. Calls and text messages can come through all devices, depending on my settings (which is important to anyone who has had a movie interrupted by a telephone call). It's simple, effective, and changes our thinking.

Online ... offline ... it all means communication and/or entertainment and/or mobile.

What does that mean for communication professionals?

While we're working on models that help companies better integrate social media into comprehensive communication, most of them are temporary five- to ten-year fixes. Just as the broadcast-mobile-Internet-cable mash up promises to erase our understanding of those industries, I anticipate there won't be any distinction between public relations, advertising, etc. It will all be communication, distinguished (perhaps) by previous world views.

Organizational communication will have to change, especially if consumers adopt a pay-for consumption only model, which could preclude advertising from the mix beyond product placement and peripheral marketing. (For example, maybe a customer becomes interested in the car their favorite character drives. One click and their programming could pause or be bookmarked for a future visit to the manufacturer's Web site. Another click inside the car, and GPS technology maps out the closest dealer or, perhaps, the one with the best deal).

Or, maybe, some companies will become content creators (with programs related to their products), competing with amateurs and production/broadcast companies or simply running alongside them as another option. Some of the better YouTube productions have already demonstrated the potential for advertainment, assuming we get more than an infomercial.

The applications are as endless as the imagination.

For me, the only thing more exciting than entertainment and communication changes ahead are the real life applications in areas such as education. When every classroom becomes a potential studio audience as it is streamed live across the Web (and any handouts are released to portable devices such as smart phones or tablets), it could potentially erase the barriers for higher education, with the most common barriers being proximity (physical location) and price points (mass audiences could reduce the current per credit rates).

What else? Anything is probable, but we can expect the road to be as bumpy as the transition from horses to horseless carriages or couriers to telephones. And speaking of phones ... have you thought about mobile lately?

Wednesday, January 20

Integrating Communication: PR-Driven Social Media

There are many ways to integrate social media into organizational communication and any model has a number of variables that would be unique to the organization. However, there is one common denominator. Integration requires thinking different.

In developing a working model to integrate social media into a public relations-driven communication plan*, experience has shown that social media tends to be too cumbersome for most public relations departments (and outside firms) to manage it like another bullet item under the laundry list of services adopted as public relations.

Sure, it can be done. It just doesn't seem to be done well very often.

From our experience, there are several tangible reasons to maintain some separation between the two communication roles as they work in tandem. First and foremost, social media, which mostly consists of two-way direct to public communication, tends to drive public relations away from its core function and world view. The result tends to produce one-way broadcast (spam) communication across social channels, customers being pushed off for lack of "influence," and time management issues related to the ratio of customers/bloggers as opposed to journalists.

*We'll cover other industry-driven models in the weeks ahead.

A Public Relations-Driven Social Media Model

The above illustration isn't theoretical. It was applied to a producer-managed theatrical release and build up to the home distribution release of an independent film by Sony. (For the purposes of post, we've removed the management paths which placed our role over five public relations firms while managing all aspects of the social media program).

In this model, public relations manages the public relations functions and social media manages social media functions, with some obvious areas for crossover communication. For simplicity, I'll break each team's role down to primary functions and then reinforce some shared functions.

Public Relations.

• Managing media relations, which includes press releases, interview pitches, and demonstrations. The function is designed to generate increased exposure. It's mostly one-way communication with journalists vetting information, tailoring content to meet the needs of their readers, and writing opinion-editorial pieces.

• Public outreach, which includes programs and communication materials for special publics (e.g., associations, special interest groups, unions, etc.) as well as direct to public communication and/or publicity. It's mostly one-way communication, with either group leaders informing members or the public receiving information.

• Blogger outreach, which includes either adding popular bloggers within the media relations mix or working with bloggers who have been referred by the social media team because they have special needs that are similar to journalists (such as requesting specific interviews, etc.).

Social Media.

• Maintain, manage, and promote the organization's blog. This may include market intelligence (which is shared with the public relations team), but primarily consists of content development and content distribution that adds value for customers. While blogs are presentation oriented, they do provide for two-way communication.

• Maintain, manage, and develop the organization's social networks. This includes online programs and information sharing that nurtures true engagement and two-way communication in real time. It may also include identifying forums beyond popular social networks where people ask questions that need to be answered. And, in this model, we allowed for advertising support specifically designed to drive customers toward networks where they can be engaged.

• Blogger outreach occurs directly and indirectly as bloggers may source content from the organization's blog or develop relationships with the social media team via any number of social networks. The benefit for the public relations team is that a social media team can determine which bloggers have information requests or require support more like a journalist.

Shared Functions.

• Blogger outreach, as mentioned above, works best with a public relations driven communication plan when the function is shared by public relations and social media. In effect, this approach allows the social media team to meet the daily needs (and recognition) of bloggers while referring bloggers with special needs (such as an interview request) to the public relations team.

• Since social media is its own environment, communication tends to be fluid. Journalists don't alway find stories via press releases or pitches. Story ideas and angles might develop from reading industry blogs, reading the organization's blog, or because most journalists are also members of various social networks.

• Research is also a shared function of both teams. While public relations has an obligation to track and analyze trends within specific markets, publics, or industries, social media professionals also track and analyze trends and sentiment via networks, blogs, and search engines.

Model Summation.

In summation, this model represents an approach to communication that allows for a series of direct and indirect one-way and two-way communication streams and engagement opportunities. The end result of an integrated strategy, assuming the communication is consistent, allows for a message to reach the public from multiple sources, provide multiple opportunities to verify or validate that message, and encourages direct engagement for the long term.

This is a much more powerful approach than traditional public relations models, especially in regard to media relations. Traditionally, companies relied on their brand, the reputation/relationship of their public relations firm, and the objective or biased reporting of a journalist to reach the public. If mistrust occurred at any point in this linear stream, the organization could be damaged for the life of the story or, in some cases, permanently.

I might add that there is a reason I did not add clear management paths to the model. The reason is simple. Social media fits differently for different companies. In this model, social media could maintain its own autonomous distinction, report to marketing, public relations (provided public relations affords the social media team some autonomy as the functions are largely different), or a more complicated model such as the one we worked on last year.

Tuesday, January 19

Tossing Salads: Carl's Jr.

"We're just trying to bring all those people into the fold and allow them to have one-on-one time with Kim." — Brad Rosenberg.

That was how Rosenberg, manager for digital strategy and marketing at Carl's Jr., explained the continuing evolution of Kim Kardashian, a socialite best known for her E! reality show Keeping Up with the Kardashians, as an online spokesperson for its Facebook page.

Except, this time around, Carl's Jr. wasn't looking for 1.9 million YouTube views. It was looking for sales. Customers could only ask questions during the live Facebook "event" with an access code if they purchased a Carl's Jr. salad.

Carl's Jr. says that the premiere event drew 16,000 people who logged on with the code. However, Carl's Jr. also released the code on its Facebook page, allowing more people to ask questions, which precludes the idea that it sold 16,000 salads.

Interestingly enough, capturing some one-on-one time with Kardashian isn't impossible without a salad anyway. Part of her allure is her online presence. You can connect with her on Twitter or read her blog. In fact, most people know you might have better luck reaching her online when 16,000 people aren't vying for her attention over an online lunch date.

Can online personalities attract interest at online events?

It raises an interesting question for traditional agencies attempting to add online personalities into their marketing mix. It makes sense that Kardashian fans would view a new Carl's Jr. commercial. It makes sense that they might like to meet her in person at a Carl's Jr. location. But is there any appeal in connecting with her online when people can already connect to her online?

Unless there is an additional exclusivity hook — such as vetting the "engagement bet" like she did on her blog — it's hard to fathom. In fact, it's more likely Carl's Jr. is introducing Kardashian to its 80,000 Facebook fans (733 of which confirmed their attendance to the first event).

The low response rate is coupled with only about 100 comments on the lunch date tab. Those comments are mixed. They range from Kardashian fans (I love your show) and Carl's Jr. fans (who is she?) to anti-sex comments (love the food, hate the sex ads) and uncensored vulgarity (you'll have to look some of those up yourself).

All in all, it doesn't seem to add up well. While Kardashian is apparently cool online, it doesn't make Carl's Jr. cool to host an event on a network where fans already have access. Much more valuable is simply owning some of her social media real estate, which Carl's Jr. already does.

Carl's Jr. will have to work harder than that to make up for entering social media relatively late in the game. It also seems less likely selling sex won't have as much power for the chain as it did in the mainstream media.

Why? Agencies used sex as a cheap and least creative way to cut through the interruption clutter via mainstream media. It tended to work for Carl's Jr. as part of its brand without ever being perverse (as Burger King comes across).

However, online is different. People tend to look for what they want. And most people don't look for sex when they want a salad or a salad when they want sex. That doesn't mean Kardashian is a bad pick for Carl's Jr. It only means they don't seem to have an agency that can make it really work for them. At least, not yet.

Monday, January 18

Helping Haiti: How To Respond Effectively

As the sheer scale of the destruction in Haiti caused by last week's 7.0 magnitude earthquake continues to reach people all over the world, the response has been overwhelming. So overwhelming that logistical logjams and the lack of an adequate supply chain may leave a majority of in-kind donations waiting for weeks before they can reach people in need.

"During these times of natural disaster, our first response is to donate food, clothing, and blankets to the disaster zone," said U.S. Congressman Kendrick B. Meek. "But this goodwill often causes delays in the supply chain providing recovery to those in danger."

In some cases, supplies are dropped and left on pallets for days before disaster relief organizations can move them to the most impacted areas. When supplies do arrive, some distribution points are disorganized enough that people in critical need are not the first to receive them. This is where communication becomes critical to any relief operation.

Timothy Ogden, writing for the Harvard Business Review, outlined four components that companies need to consider before making a pledge for support. They are important considerations in that Ogden recognizes that donations tend to spike in the immediate aftermath but fall short during reconstruction.

• Don't earmark donations for the short term.
• Research and choose experienced organizations.
• Consider monetary donations over in-kind contributions.
• Look ahead for potential long-term commitments that count.

For individuals, lending support can seem even more daunting. Every day, Haiti tops the conversations on social networks, but the call for support tends to be undirected. Bloggers Unite, which is a not-for-profit social network that helps direct bloggers to raise awareness and funds for causes in need, is attempting to direct some of the communication toward nonprofit organizations that meet the criteria.

The Bloggers Unite for Haiti home page includes three international organizations — Doctors Without Borders, Unicef, and Care — with direct donation information.

In addition to directing people toward those international organizations, all of which have experience in the area, the American Red Cross has developed a response page that helps individuals learn how to invest their donations, ranging from International Response and Haitian Relief and Development funds to broaden efforts such as service to the armed forces or wherever the need is the greatest.

For companies, specifically, choosing a broader approach to disaster relief might not amount to a timely news release, but will help organizations that are temporarily diverting funds to meet the immediate relief efforts. Without long-term or broad support, these organizations often find their ongoing programs challenged after an immediate crisis has abated and the media has moved on to cover the next story.

The takeaway is simple. Individuals and organizations do the most good when they respond to a crisis or disaster as opposed to reacting to it. You can help Haitian people the most by making direct donations to organizations like the American Red Cross or those listed at the Bloggers Unite page and by directing others who want to help to do the same.

Friday, January 15

Changing Behavior: How Expectation Shapes Satisfaction

For the first two or three weeks every January, one of the most common topic trends tends to focus in on people who made New Year's resolutions. Last week there were almost 30,000 daily articles on this subject. Even the government offered resolution advice.

Most seemed to center on the same advice: Have vision, remain committed, and stay motivated.

While all of these things are true, most of it is centered on common sense. Persistence and will power can be effective tools. However, if people had that much will power, it seems unlikely they would have a habit or behavior they need to change.

Perception Shapes Expectation.

Maybe the challenge isn't vision, commitment, or motivation. Maybe the challenge is something else.

Most people perceive themselves based on what they have done. Whereas most resolutions (and motivational speakers) ask people to perceive themselves based on what they can do. Smokers resolve to quit smoking. Overweight people resolve to get thin. Spendthrifts resolve to save money. And so on and so forth.

The challenge is that if someone perceives themselves to be something defined by a habit, and they view that habit as exceptionally difficult to break, then their expectation will remain unmet in a relatively short time.

Expectation Shapes Satisfaction.

Last week, I wrote a post about living in the present tense as it applies to internal communication. The practice is tied to defining the act of "doing" as the goal. And by "doing," people can meet immediate expectations by making small changes.

So why is that important? Meeting expectations leads to satisfaction. It empowers the smoker to feel satisfied that they are limiting where they smoke (such as no longer smoking in a car, for example) or overweight person that they are following a physical fitness program or spendthrift that they are investing $20 a week before they spend it.

It changes the dynamic from failing (doing something they no longer want to do) into succeeding (doing something they said they would do). And this leads to a sense of satisfaction, which increases will power.

Satisfaction Shapes Perception.

When something satisfies an expectation, people are almost always more likely to pursue it again. And with every satisfied expectation, they will develop a new, perhaps healthier, perception of who they are and what can be done.

Does any of this have anything to do with business communication? Everything, really.

The way people respond on an individual basis is similar to how they respond within the market. When business communication over promises, it's much more likely to elevate expectation and leave people unsatisfied. In turn, unsatisfied people quickly become unhappy customers or demoralized employees.

Thursday, January 14

Sharing Content: How Releases Impact Perception

Earlier today, I came across a press release posted on PR Newswire that questioned the validity of widely believed scientific data. And if the accusations in the release were true, it might have made an interesting case study in crisis communication.

However, I decided to pass on the topic after discovering that the originating source was biased. Instead, I decided to track the "success" of the release. The results weren't surprising, but they may be disturbing.

After CNBC ran the release as an automated PR Newswire pickup, the "story" was rewritten and embellished by a few bloggers and a few other mainstream media outlets. In turn, more mainstream media outlets and bloggers (along with some social network discussion groups) picked up on and discussed variations of the topic as well.

With each new wave of interest, some of them dropped the initial source all together, either accepting varied degrees of pro-con bias as "fact" without the need for attribution or preferring to attribute the content to a more credible news source or wherever they first learned about the story (their most immediate source). And some, apparently unaware of anything more than their interest in the topic, wrote new stories with new sources, either supporting or detracting from the original premise.

Ten Findings From Following A Single Release

1. The greater the popularity of a topic, more than the merit of the content, drives increased exposure.
2. The further content travels away from the source, the less likely the source will be mentioned.
3. The further content travels away from the source, the less accurate or tied to the source it will be.
4. Regardless of how accurate or tied to the source the content might be, people believe the content.
5. In some cases, negative sentiment toward an outlet generates a negative impression of the topic.
6. Many bloggers and media outlets cover topics with no knowledge of why the topic might be popular.
7. Communication, in this case a press release, shapes opinion well beyond measurable means of monitoring.
8. Over time, there is no means of communication management as the public shapes its opinion.
9. Most people have no knowledge of the public sentiment en masse; they only see their immediate contacts.
10. Some media outlets are lending credibility to biased sources, without vetting a single fact or original source.

It might make you wonder about the "news" we read today. Or, it might make some of us wonder how we, as communication professionals or public relations practitioners, are directly or indirectly shaping the world. Maybe.

Tuesday, January 12

Getting Attention: Shock And Sorry

"It's all about brand visibility and getting an ad out there. In a blogging and Twittering era everyone wants to do something worthy of talking about." — Paul Kurnit, author of the Little Blue Book of Marketing to Forbes.

In an effort to show that outdoor advertising works, The Outdoor Advertising Association launched a campaign to get attention in London. The creative, designed by the Beta Agency, was planned to run for 14 days on buses and buildings.

"Career women make bad mothers." — The Outdoor Advertising Association

The Outdoor Advertising Association gained attention. The ads came down after hundreds of moms expressed their outrage in forums. The Beta Agency offered its apology on a blog, claiming to have no idea the campaign would create outrage.

According to Game Change, a book about the 2008 presidential campaign quoted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) as he described why he thought Obama could win. Reid, though enamored by the candidate's speaking abilities, attributed it to Obama to being a “light skinned” black man.

People like Barack Obama "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one." — U.S. Sen. Harry Reid

Reid apologized to the President on Saturday for the remarks. The President accepted and said he considers the issue closed. Sen. Reid is reported to have called many African-American leaders to extend his apology. He did not apologize to Americans, who he believed wouldn't vote for a candidate who seems "too black."

Kentucky Fried Chicken is running an advertisement in Australia that features a distressed white guy, surrounded by a crowd of black people at a cricket match, using chicken to get out of an "awkward situation."

"Need a tip when you're stuck in an awkward situation?" — Kentucky Fried Chicken

Kentucky Fried Chicken originally defended, claiming that its advertisement was never intended for the U.S., where the culturally-based stereotype exists. Australians are baffled by the controversy, but Kentucky Fried Chicken has since apologized and pulled the advertisement.

What people talk about is more important than how many people are talking.

P.T. Barnum was the one who originally coined the phrase "all publicity is good publicity," and there are plenty of marketers who are happy to quote him today. Of course, it was easy for Barnum to utter those words. He made himself a millionaire by promoting celebrated hoaxes and for founding the circus.

The question marketers sometimes forget to ask themselves is do they want their product, services, or persons to be associated as a hoax or a circus? Brands are fragile things. If they weren't, Tiger Woods would still be signed by AT&T.

No one really wants their name caught in a firestorm of negative press and public backlash. It's all too easy for such follies — whether contrived or accidental — to overshadow every other message. In every case above, deserved or not, the organizations, companies, and people were forced to put their messages aside in favor of apologies.

Don't misunderstand me. Kentucky Fried Chicken's advertisement doesn't really have any racial undertones unless people insert them (the ad featured different rugby fans in a country that doesn't understand chicken stereotyping); U.S. Sen. Reid demonstrated ignorance over malicious intent (dialects aren't racial as much as regional); and The Outdoor Advertising Association and its agency is either naive or lying to think such a loaded message wouldn't offend someone.

Sure, there is always the case to be made that people, especially Americans, have become hypersensitive to messaging. However, as marketers or communicators or consultants to public figures, it's our job to be aware of those hot buttons.

Equally important, on those occasions when mistakes are made, we need to help clients know when and what to apologize for. Kentucky Fried Chicken didn't need to apologize; pulling the advertisement was more than enough. U.S. Sen. Reid could have apologized to the American people; his statement clearly discredits the majority of Americans as being racist. The Outdoor Advertising Association ought to have apologized without clarification, especially because it knew exactly what it was doing.

The bottom line is that in a world where any communication might be amplified, marketers might be more sensitive to what those messages might be. If they aren't more sensitive, then they'll always risk having the message manage them more than they manage the message.

Monday, January 11

Looking For Up: Public Optimism

Americans might be less optimistic now than they were six months ago, but an overwhelming majority (94 percent) believe that optimism is the most important attribute in creating new ideas that can have a positive impact on the world. And a majority (66-70 percent) now believe that such ideas will not come from public figures but everyday people "like you and me."

Those were among the findings from a new survey conducted by StrategyOne, a full-service independent research firm, for the Pepsi Optimism Project. The project aims to track the national level of optimism based on a composite score.

Highlights from Pepsi Optimism Project Survey

• 72 percent said that the best is yet to happen despite uncertain times.
• 60 percent believe the best ideas come from family and friends over public figures and managers.
• 70 percent believe that ideas from everyday people will become more meaningful in the next decade.
• Two percent believe that the best ideas will come from authority figures, perhaps the lowest score in history.

The survey strikes at one of several reasons social media has become increasingly important for marketers despite marketers not necessarily becoming more important to the general public. People are looking for answers and ideas, but they are no longer looking to authority figures within their companies or public figures outside their companies.

Of course, this is not to say that social media has caused the shift in sentiment. The general concept that leadership can come from anyone has been around for some time. It's a concept shared by diverse people that have included Steve Jobs, Oscar Wilde, Albert Einstein, Lao Tzu, John Maxwell, Ayn Rand, Donald McGannon, Max Depree, and a host of others.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” — John Quincy Adams

What social media has changed is increasing the potential for good ideas from everyday people to reach more people. It also presents a more challenging environment for companies and organizations to communicate with credibility.

For communicators, it means people are influenced by ideas over authorities. For marketers, it means their message and/or method of delivery needs to change. For public relations, it means less reliance on third party endorsements from "experts."

Pepsi seems to have adopted this mode of thinking as a mantra for marketing. It seems to be the cornerstone of a new campaign to help regular people put ideas into action though the Pepsi Refresh Project. The refresh project awards millions of dollars in the form of grants to help fund ideas submitted by everyday people, businesses, and non-profit organizations. Will it work?

As much as we love the campaign — empowering regular people to submit ideas for grants (with the grants being awarded by public vote) — we're less certain it will raise soda sales or improve soda market share. We're not even convinced that it will help Pepsi meet its long-term objective to reposition its identity as an innovative manufacturer or optimistic soft drink.

Contrary, it seems likely to prove that Pepsi is still overdosing on crowd sourcing. But at least in this case, the experiment might produce something positive even if it doesn't boost the always number two carbonated beverage brand.

It also provides something for marketers and public policy makers to consider. Americans are convinced that the ladder hoisted up by their leaders is leaning against the wrong wall. And, you know, they are probably right.

Friday, January 8

Conducting Research: When Matters As Much As What

In 2008, the big story for air travel was that strict airport security caused more than 41 million trips to be avoided because of airport and airline security delays. The estimated cost to the U.S. economy was $26 billion.

Today, all that has temporarily changed. According to Rasmussen Reports, 63 percent of those surveyed said increased airline security was not more of a hassle than it is worth. And another survey, released today by Destination Analysts, found that almost half of all travelers believe airport screening techniques are not sufficient.

The change in public sentiment stems from the Christmas Day incident involving Abdulmutallab, who ignited his pants leg and a wall of a plane while allegedly trying to detonate a mixture of explosives he smuggled aboard. A few days after, President Obama called for changes to "close gaps in the U.S. intelligence system."

The renewed focus on airport security has resulted in the hastening of more controversial full-body scanners despite shortcomings. (Plans to add more imaging devices were already in place, but not widely reported after a bill barred the use of body imagers as primary scanners.) Equally interesting is the speculation over the next wave of security devices, which are said to be akin to "mind reading" technology.

Reactionary Psychology, Polls, And Public Relations

The topic of airport security aside, the chain of events seems to demonstrate how wildly unpredictable crowd-sourcing can be.

Twenty-four months ago, the public had grown weary over increased airport security. Today, the majority seem to be in favor of technologies that were considered an abuse against civil liberties less than 24 weeks ago. And most analysts see the sudden interest spike in national security to be short term, forgotten in less than 24 days.

And yet, the polls gathered up as evidence to support a direction along with the decisions made during such a time will last much longer. How about your company's market research? Do you consider existing events and trends when reviewing research and making decisions? Or do you assume data captured six months ago is accurate without the greater context?

Thursday, January 7

Dissing Lists: Heavy Handed PR Pitchers

Cathy Brooks, former director of business development for Seesmic and current president of Other Than That Consulting, had the best intention. Rather than scrap dozens of pitches seeking to schedule meetings at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, she responded with a note pinpointing precisely what types of topics in which she has an interest.

You can read a copy of her response here. Not one of the pitchers who received her response refined their pitch. Most of them, according to Brooks, responded with notes that ranged from snarky to downright rude. And a few of them blamed the list.

Do pitch lists still work in public relations?

The timing of Brooks' post couldn't be better for me, with only a few weeks remaining before I take to the classroom. Having another bad pitch story is always helpful for practicing and future public relations professionals. It takes some effort before most of them appreciate what public relations could be as opposed to what some people try to make it.

Sure, there is a time and place for mass distributed releases. That is the reason PR Web, PR Newswire, Businesswire, Web site media centers, and a host of other distribution vehicles exist. Some lists are fine too, assuming the public relations professional limits the content to legitimate news and narrows the distribution to specific interests, noting that travel writers might not be interested in stock performance.

Anything else is a waste of time and money because one extra hit on an obscure blog is almost never worth the 3,000 plus journalists and bloggers you damage a potential relationship with or lose all together (if you are lucky).

Imagine ... some pitchmen and women were paid top dollar to create a negative impression for themselves and the companies they represent. Worse, the impression they created will survive long after CES. Other bloggers and journalists on the list with similar experiences might mention the pitchers in a conversation to colleagues, pass on the company's next pitch (even if it's targeted), or even become biased against the companies.

This year, like every year, someone in my class will likely tell me that pitch lists are part of the business — their clients demand pitch counts, column inch measurements, and the specific reason some publications decided to pass. I am sure some of them do, but considering most would fire an employee off the line for speaking rudely to a single customer, some honest consultation might be in order.

Truth be told, Brooks not only tipped pitchers as to what she was looking for, she saved them time and money. Considering public relations firm charge between $100 and $500 per hour, Brooks saved every company she rejected somewhere between $300 to $1,500 (assuming there were lunch offers and promotional samples in the mix) by not wasting their time at CES (so they could perhaps meet with someone else) and some untold amount if they apply what she taught them for free.

Lists, leads, qualified contacts, associations, and relationships.

1. Lists. Mass distribution like wire services aside, lists work best when they are vetted for specific interests. Journalists tend to ignore them, but the right well-written news story from the right company might be worth it. Bloggers tend to be less accepting of the practice, unless they consider it a big break for their blog. In terms of new business, it includes people within a specific industry.

2. Leads. Lead lists tend to do exactly that. Instead of a generic list including everyone in attendance, they are vetted by special interest. For example, if someone writes about or has an interest in smart phones, reaching out to them because you have a smart phone topic might be worthwhile.

3. Qualified Contacts. Even better than lead lists, qualified contacts are identified by specific interests within a special interest. Using the smart phone analogy, it means knowing who is most interested in the iPhone and Droid (and why). Basically, Brooks gave everyone who pitched her what it takes to make her a qualified contact.

4. Associations. These people, even if they are included on a list, are professionals who the public relations person has had past or regular contact with over a variety of subjects. They don't have to pitch them, per se, because they already know exactly what stories these journalists or bloggers have an interest in. It's likely a mutual arrangement.

5. Relationships. Surprisingly enough, some public relations firms claim to have them but don't really have them. These relationships border on friendship, which allows them to call or e-mail a handful of people just to brainstorm potential stories without fear of alienation. It's mutual too. The PR professional would never be put off by being told "no" or that the story idea borders on silly.

The question more business owners ought to ask is how much emphasis does their public relations firm place on each tier (based on performance not lip service). Ideally, the best models would look like a pyramid, with the weight stacked toward real relationships. In reality, most firms talk about themselves as having a diamond-shaped model, but they tend to operate like an inverted pyramid.

So how can a business person tell the difference? Instead of measuring column inches with "earned media" values, record each "hit" in the appropriate column: republished portions of "as is" news releases; rewritten news releases; inclusion in an original story; stories that required interviews; off-release topic stories. You might be surprised by what you find. They match the models almost exactly.

Wednesday, January 6

Beginning 2010: The Year Of Integration

One of the most common questions asked by communicators is who should own social media? And, there are all sorts of answers.

Advertising. CRM. Marketing. Public Relations. Social Media Experts. Human Resources. Yadda. Yadda.

Social Media Requires Thinking Different.

I've long held the view that nobody owns social media. Or, perhaps more accurately, everyone does. It requires integrated communication.

The reason is simple enough. Social media represents people and technologies that exist in an online environment. The actions and conversations that take place in this online environment are not limited to traditional communication silos (departmentalized communication functions such as advertising, marketing, etc.).

If it was limited to traditional silos, social media programs would be easy. We could assign social media to a single silo and call it a day.

That's all fine and good until you realize that your copywriter is fielding media inquiries or your public relations professional is producing a video or your employees are irritated because answering customer complaints interferes with playing Farmville on Facebook at home. Or any number of other problems people have asked us to fix over the last few years.

While the graphic above is only a sketch, it demonstrates how strategically driven thinking can help reshape a social media program away from the common view, allowing advertising to produce presentations (videos, advertisements, platform design, creative campaigns, etc.), public relations to manage outreach (groups, media relations, public sentiment, etc. ), and social media consultants to engage consumers (via networks, analytics, forums, blogs, etc.). And even if different elements are assigned to different skill sets, we can probably conclude that there will be some overlap.

The real problem seems to be that nobody can honestly answer "who should own social media?" before the organization has answered "how does social media fit into our communication strategy?"

For example, the question should never be "which department will manage Twitter" as much as it ought to be "does Twitter fit within our strategy, how does it fit and what do we want to accomplish, and who is best suited to accomplish it?" Ask that series of questions and you'll likely draw different conclusion.

Who knows? Maybe you'll find that you have several accounts, some operated by individuals, one staffed by customer service, and one developing relationships with analysts, journalists, and bloggers. Or maybe you'll find that you don't need a Twitter account at all.

Over the next few weeks, we'll share a few organizational models for social media. That doesn't mean any of those models will work for everyone. The reality is that most organizations have very different traditional communication models so it stands to reason any social media program would be handled differently anyway.

In the meantime, take a look at David Fleet's The 2010 Social Media Marketing Ecosystem. I'm not fond of technology-driven flowcharts supplanting communication models nor do I think corporate Web sites need to be placed front and center.

However, Fleet is one of the very few who is moving in the right direction as we've found his type of flowchart is among the easiest for decision makers to understand. It also helps shift the conversation away from ownership and toward strategic development.

Tuesday, January 5

Talking Tacos: Christine Dougherty

"Over the years, we've heard stories from our customers who have lost weight by incorporating Fresco into their meal choices, and Christine had written Taco Bell a letter detailing her journey," Rob Poetsch, spokesman for Taco Bell to Adweek.

Taco Bell's new ad campaign by DraftFCB features a "real-life Taco Bell customer" who lost 54 pounds over a two-year period by replacing her usual fast-food lunch or dinner with an item from Taco Bell's Fresco menu. While consumer feedback is mixed and dietitians split, there is no debate that the campaign is a publicity win.

The Unique Selling Point

As laughable as it sounds, the Taco Bell "Drive-Thru Diet" is grounded in truth. According to an ABC affiliate, the Fresco menu that Dougherty dotes on features menu items with 20 to 100 fewer calories. In Dougherty's case, she dropped her calorie intake from 1750 calories per day to 1250 calories per day.

In fact, according to the dietician, the Taco Bell campaign is more honest than the Special K Challenge that suggests you can lose up to six pounds in two weeks. At six pounds per week, Dr. Lokken said the challenge is based on reducing calorie intake (whether or not you eat Special K) and borders on promoting malnutrition.

The Brand Disparity

The question for advertisers to ask isn't how to duplicate Taco Bell buzz. The question to ask is how do you introduce a unique selling point that is so far removed from the brand that people hate it.

Since launching the campaign, Taco Bell has scored on publicity and blog buzz, but consumer feedback is overwhelmingly negative. Before the campaign, Zeta Interactive noted that 73 percent of Taco Bell posts were positive, well ahead of Subway, Wendy's and Domino's. Following the campaign, the number of positive posts has dropped to 67 percent, dropping it below White Castle, Blimpie, and Arby's.

The criticism is especially harsh from women, ages 18-34, with negative sentiment from this segment climbing steadily. It's climbing fast enough that the Taco Bell campaign could feasibly face a boycott.

In contrast, when fast food chains like Wendy's and McDonald's launched healthier menu items, they received a surprisingly amount of praise. The difference is subtle, but underscores the fragile brand theory: Consumers equate cereal with healthy choices and fast food with fat. It's a difficult association to break, even when it's true.

The reason Wendy's and McDonald's didn't face as much push back is that both offered non-fast food menu items. Taco Bell, on the other hand, is marketing items that still fall well within the fast food category, despite lower calorie and fat counts. Add in the timing of the campaign, when people are most sensitive to fitness, and combining "diet" with "drive thru," and the result is a campaign that wins on attention, but falls flat on public sentiment.

Monday, January 4

Setting The Pace: Present Tense

"How did I do, you know, last year?"

Although my son didn't know it, his question followed a common conversation trend. Most people were (and still are) mulling over last year.

AdAge called it the year the marketing world will happily put behind it. Politico recapped the top media blunders. Andy Carvin at NPR posted a word cloud expressing the responses of more than 500 people about last year. And so on and so forth.

"It's the wrong question," I told him.

You might ask how you are doing instead. Then you might find out "how you did" is irrelevant by comparison.

"How am I doing?" he asked.

"That's my question for you," I laughed. "How are you doing?"

Last Thursday, he didn't feel like he was doing all that well. He had a math paper to redo, 300 pages in his AR book to read, and felt rundown after taking a break from tae kwon do during the holidays. He didn't feel like he could get it all done.

This morning, four days later, he feels differently. Because after our conversation, he stopped focusing on how he did and started focusing on what he was doing.

So when I asked him today, he said was doing great. He had finished his math on Thursday, read 100 pages in his book every day to complete it, and began an exercise program with an investment of 30 minutes a day. Today — with all of his holiday homework complete, readiness to test on an AR book, and feeling positive about the future — he really is doing great.

In fact, he said, meeting all of his pace-setting objectives for 2010 wasn't even difficult. He still had time to visit his grandparents, work on a beginner electronics project with me, play with his younger sister, and enjoy free time on Club Penguin. We took in a movie too.

What can you learn from a ten-year-old?

By changing his focus from what he "had done" to what he "is doing," we were able to put his ideas into actions and his actions into results. Results tend to motivate people to move forward. And maybe they can for your team too.

Five steps to jump start internal communication.

• Plan to take action based on current employee assessments.
• Provide a clear direction to help them move forward today.
• Discuss and implement pace-setting actions that can start immediately.
• Practice reflective listening, using it to help overcome doubt or fear.
• Promote mutual trust by asking them how they "are doing."

By the end of the day (or throughout the week), ask them how they are doing. If they answer with enthusiasm, it's working. If they answer with anything other than, find out why and help them prioritize in order to achieve those early pace-setting goals.

It might seem overly simple, but my son wasn't the only beneficiary to setting the right pace for a new year. Within four days, we sent one business proposal out for review, added two new clients, and completed three major projects. We're doing great.

Putting in a few weekend hours on my part didn't dampen my spirits either. I still had time to tackle a few household chores, start a training program, and work in plenty of free time. So I'm doing great too. How about you?

How are you doing?

You don't have to answer right away. Give yourself a moment to adjust. Take until the end of the day (or end of the week if you really have to). And then let me know if the present tense feels better than the past tense for you, your family, or your team.

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