Wednesday, February 27

Marketing Myths: Frequency Is Not Familiarity

The Nielsen Global Survey recently released a study that suggests 60 percent of global consumers would prefer to buy new products from a familiar brand rather than a new one. According to organizations like Brafton News, this means marketers with established brands need content to cultivate continued loyalty while emerging businesses need trust and awareness through lead generation efforts.

But do they really?

Marketers thought they learned something valuable during the last Super Bowl, with many of them dazzled by the perfectly-timed Oreo advertisement insertion during the event blackout. The impact of that one advertisement primed the creative pumps of many marketers who went on to help turn the Academy Awards into a real-time marketing fiasco.

They weren't the only ones who learned that over insertion can be a bad thing. Michelle Obama drew unexpected but fair criticism that the White House and the Academy Awards jumped the shark by having her read the best picture winner a few nights ago. It illustrates how everything has an ad maximum and then it becomes ad nauseum. The First Family doesn't need to insert itself into everything.

And this is where the Brafton assessment and the original Nielsen assessment of the same survey are so different. Nielsen didn't suggest that the answer was more content and communication. The company suggested that companies need to uncover unmet consumer needs and clearly communicate those distinct product innovations with an optimal marketing strategy.

In other words, frequency really can be wasted and many brands did that at the Academy Awards when they attempted to hijack social network conversations and make the message about them instead of, well, the movies. It's like most of them forgot, all at once, that overloading communication again and again and again can lead to negative impressions as much as positive ones.

So why do they forget? Because most marketers are stuck on studies that prove the opposite. And they are partly right to believe those studies because they are true. Repetition has an impact. Attracting attention counts. Frequency is important. But let's forget that familiarity can also breed contempt.

Brand familiarity works. Identity familiarity does not. 

Part of the problem is that marketers, social media marketers specifically but public relations and traditional marketers included, are confusing identity insertion with brand relevance and content marketing with trending topic chatter.

What's the difference? One focuses all communication on the relationship between the brand and the consumer, reinforcing the qualities that count and the emotions that shore up loyalty. The other attempts to insert the company name or logo or product into every conversation.

To put the difference into another perspective — identity insertion is like the kid who always raised his hand in class because he knew every answer, the little brother or sister who was always chased from the room, the stalker who would cast long and unwelcome glances at the back of your neck until every stray hair stood up on end. They are the attention hogs, interruptive pests, and creepy people.

Brand driven organizations are those that develop such a strong relationship with the consumer that when the generic term or experience has some relevance in their lives — e.g., cola, soup, tissues — the consumer immediately thinks Coke, Campbell's, and Kleenex. Or, in other words, Kleenex doesn't need you to have the brand on your mind every minute of every day. They only need you to think about them when you sneeze or, bonus, anytime you feel the need to prepare for seasonal colds.

They don't achieve this kind of top-of-mind awareness by hijacking current events. They achieve it by manufacturing a quality product that is a little softer on your nose but strong enough to get the job done. And then, once they've met this need, they communicate the distinction with advertising as an introduction. That is how powerful branding works. Familiarity through relevance over frequency.

Thursday, February 21

Reacting Badly: Crisis Communication Is No Carnival

There comes a point in every crisis when a company must decide whether remediation will cost more early or later. Early is almost always better, but the crisis has to end before anything can be remediated.

Carnival Cruise Lines learned this lesson the hard way. Rather than end the crisis aboard the disabled cruise liner Triumph early, someone made the decision that it would be safer (and cheaper) to tow Triumph to port. And, following what some might call standard crisis communication protocols, Carnival immediately took responsibility and offered full refunds to the inconvenienced passengers.

There was one problem. The crisis wasn't over.

For approximately 3,100 passengers and 1,000 crew members, the crisis wouldn't end for almost a week. And for every day they remained trapped on board, the unsanitary and unsafe conditions were increasingly compounded along with the crisis.

As various services failed onboard the crippled cruise liner, passengers took to sleeping outside or in the hallways to avoid hot, stinky rooms; were forced to wait as long as three hours to use a handful of bathrooms (or use bags, which led to more unsanitary conditions); and resorted to survival-like tactics as food became scarce, power outlets scarcer, and showers mostly impossible.

Sure, some passengers will insist that the Carnival hell cruise wasn't so hellish. A few passengers will be thrilled with the mediation offered: a refund, cruise credit, and $500 in compensation. (One of them, according to the Washington Times story, even laughed when their rescue bus broke down too.)

But unfortunately for Carnival, crisis case studies aren't defined by lighthearted souls. They are ultimately defined by the ones who suffered the worst, especially because the Carnival crisis made the 2007 JetBlue ordeal look like a day at Disneyland. That one didn't end until Neeleman was pushed out.

Carnival might have greater consequences. It faces a class action suit that will draw out its negative publicity well beyond the crisis. Expect that the ugly is only getting started. Not only did the company made the wrong call in allowing the drama to unfold over nearly a week, it's their third cruise line disaster since October 2012.

Crisis communication is 10 percent action and 90 precent reaction. 

There is some truth to the notion that public relations professionals have little business in risk management, remediation, and crisis response. Not all public relations pros are trained in crisis management as well as crisis communication (and too many rely on tired tenets). However, this is once case where the crisis communication team could have stated the obvious. End the crisis first.

Because Carnival did not end the crisis quickly, bad luck stretched what ought to have been a half-day rescue into almost a week. And as the crisis progressed, Carnival was forced to make additional concessions as part of its remediation package. Partial refunds became full refunds. Full refunds became future discounts. Future discounts became cash offers. And ultimately, although almost unbelievable, Carnival told passengers they could keep their soiled bathrobes.

With each new event and concession during the crisis, Carnival opened up the opinion that remediation might not be enough. Every time something went wrong, Carnival opened up a round of possible negligence as passengers were put at risk of physical injury for days — particularly the way it handled human sewage issues. It had all the makings of a public health disaster.

It gets worse for Carnival. While the company has already issued a statement about compensation, it really hasn't made a display of empathy. The early remediation feels more like hush money, especially because Carnival's public relations spokespeople were forced to refute onboard passenger claims, continually reinforcing that the conditions were not as bad as some passengers said.

To be clear, the more Carnival attempts to defend its position (even in court), the harder it will be for the company to shake off a long-term stigma. Specifically, doing so will only reinforce that the crisis was not a harrowing experience for the company and its customers, but an "us" vs. "them" scenario with ample photographic evidence and potential investigative evidence that the company not only was responsible for the initial disaster, but also for every reactive measure afterwards — even decisions that were made after the passengers arrived in Mobile, Alabama.

Currently, the company has decided to remain mostly silent pending litigation. The last statement made was Feb. 15. The only other communication is marketing. You can save up to 20 percent on a cruise. The advertisement is probably most conspicuous at the top of the Google news search feed.

Tuesday, February 19

Reconciling Definitions: PR Is Not A Communication Process

It didn't hit me until I tried to teach it, but the most recent definition of public relations offered by the Public Relations Society of America is wrong. It isn't a little bit wrong. It's a whole lot wrong.

It's wrong because public relations is not a strategic communication process. There is much more to it than that. Even my students crinkled their brows when the full force of comparison was offered for consideration. And then I gave them a working definition I've been crafting  for some time.

Why The PRSA definition feels different from the First World Assembly. 

The public relations definition works to streamline and simplify what eventually becomes a determent. Specifically, it pigeonholes public relations into precisely what many executives criticize it for — public relations is a whole lot of talk as if talk alone creates mutually beneficial relationships. I don't think so.

"Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics." — PRSA, 2012

By taking even a portion of what was decided at the First World Assembly of Public Relations in 1978,  we find something more tangible. Specifically, the First World Assembly model did not rely on communication alone. It hinted at something else practitioners could do — take real action. 

"Public relations is the art and science of analyzing trends, predicting their consequence, counseling organizational leaders, and implementing programs of action which will serve both the organization and public interest." — First World Assembly, 1978

Whether you like this definition or not (there are dozens of definitions out there), what I submit is that it is much more tangible than a communication process. It hints at programs instead of processes. 

In considering the full scope of what I will be teaching this semester, it seems to fit. You can see for yourself by taking a look at the deck. It includes the definition I have been working on, but I want to break that definition into its very own section as a concluding thought. 

As you might have noticed, the definition I have been working on from time to time is included. And whether or not you like the definition, it's the thinking behind it that I submit for consideration. 

"Public relations is the art and science of developing and managing immediate to long-term programs that strengthen the relationships between the organization and various publics; researching trends within the environment where the organization or those publics exist; determining the impact that those trends or other events may have on the organization and those publics; and providing for an open communication exchange that ensures mutually beneficial and measurable outcomes for the organization and those publics." — Richard Becker, 2013 

Yes, I know. I receive "no votes" for making it too long to print on a lapel pen, a travesty given I take pride in writing tight as a copywriter. But then again, this is tight. Even if someone argues I hardly need to keep mentioning "the organization and/or those publics" again and again, it's so incredibly important. 

Why? I'm happy to share with you. I consider it the fun part. 

Public relations is really about taking groups that might consider themselves "us" and "them" and turning the whole thing into a "we" that can get something useful done. The job requires much more than persuasion. It requires much more than manipulation. It's requires much more than lies and spin. 

The most successful public relations campaigns in history have always hinged on whether the organization and publics are willing to work together, and the extent to which they work together. If they don't work together, the campaign fails. If they do work together, the campaign succeeds. 

Years ago, one of the very first public relations campaigns I worked on did exactly that (and we didn't even call it a public relations campaign). The agency I was working with had to develop a plan to manage an open exchange of communication for a program that was in everyone's best interest. 

Specifically, houses would sometimes float away every time Southern Nevada flooded (a trend). So this project (simplified) consisted of seven primary groups, three organizations and four primary publics that wanted to stop houses from floating away during floods. 

It might sound like a no brainer, but there are always consequences when prevailing thought to stop houses from possibly floating away might impact the environment, change property values, disrupt views, cause inconveniences during construction, cost taxpayer money, etc. This is the kind of stuff that can transform a "we" problem into an "us" vs. "them" vs. "them" vs. "them" overnight. 

While I won't go into the specifics of the plan from start to finish today, we can suffice to say that everything we did — from hosting open, two-way communication town halls to recapping everything into a customized residential newsletter — was designed to ensure all seven groups shared a common mission to protect the public from flood waters literally washing their homes away. 

We accomplished this not by jamming the ideas of lead organizations down the throats of residents impacted. We did this by nurturing open communication that had direct impacts and influences on the actual construction of a solution. Public relations didn't talk about it. We effectively transformed how everything would be done and what the flood control detention basins would look like while ensuring that the entire program maintained a "we" against dangerous flood waters vibe. That's public relations.

Wednesday, February 13

Communicating Big: The Art Of Nonverbal Power

When colleague Kelli Matthews, instructor at the University of Oregon, shared a recent talk by American social psychologist Amy Cuddy, I was immediately curious and excited to see it. Cuddy's TED talk rubs up against some of my individual work related image development, with mine approaching it from different disciplines. I had seen her study two years ago, but not the talk.

I also thought this would be useful for one of my upcoming classes. Several former students have encouraged me to include a larger spokesperson session as part of Writing For Public Relations. In this case, the topic stems from Cuddy's work in nonverbal communication with Dana Carney and Andy Yap.

The crux of the research is simple enough. They note that humans and other animals express power through open, expansive postures, and they express powerlessness through closed, contractive postures. And then the researchers ask a riveting question. Can posing in these open postures create power?

The power of nonverbal communication is remarkable, even potent. 

What was so fascinating about the study was that it confirmed that posting in high-power nonverbal displays (as opposed to low-power nonverbal displays) would cause neuroendocrine and behavioral changes for both male and female participants. Let me be clear here, because it's especially cool.

What they found was that the high-power poses could elevate testosterone and decrease cortisol, which was accompanied by increased feelings of power and tolerance for risk. Meanwhile, low-power poses exhibited the opposite. Any person, they suggest, could instantly make themselves more powerful by assuming simple one-minute poses.

While I find the subject fascinating, it is not the end of the story for me. While the research is spot on in terms of being interesting, Cuddy overreaches with her anectodal application. Specifically, like many personal branders have suggested, you can fake it until you make it.

Her own story suggests this is possible because she used to "fake it until you make it" in order to feel comfortable teaching at Princeton. In other words, if you pretend to be powerful, you will actually act more powerful (and be more powerful). There is some truth to this, but "faking it" is still flawed.

You don't have to fake it to increase your sense of power.

While the body can shape the mind, just as Cuddy suggests, it's more important to change reality rather the perception. In other words, you don't have to fake it to make it. You can simply make it by putting yourself in related experiences that will help you adopt and learn new leadership skills.

Why is that important? Because in one of the studies conducted by the researchers, they had the mock interviewers convey no emotional response. They had good reasons to do it, but what was missed was that setting might not account for real-life scenarios where one or more of the interviewers may be dominant.

In such scenarios, when people feel uncomfortable because there is no room to capture an "alpha position," they tend to respond using subconscious cues. And what happens? People who are prone to low-power postures surrender and those prone to inappropriate high-power poses can be agitated.

It is much more effective to give people empowering experiences. In fact, this is why so many motivational trainers ask students to climb poles, walk over coals, break boards, or any number of tasks that they have never done (but can do with some instruction). Doing something that one would ordinarily assume is extraordinary creates a mental impression that anything is possible while delivering the same chemical reaction that Cubby mentioned in her speech. And the more you do it, the more you believe it.

In fact, it's not all that different than what I teach interns and students. I encourage them to become involved with at least one nonprofit and one professional association because both types of organizations will open leadership opportunities for them. In addition, it will not only teach them that leadership isn't reliant on dominance like animals, but also emotional intelligence to adapt to a group.

The proverbial wise man on a mountain doesn't need a dominant posture to convey power. His perceptive size is the mountain. Or, if you prefer a different example, search for images of Mahatma Gandhi. Most of them convey low-power and even submissive postures despite his depth of power.

Wednesday, February 6

Disregarding Lessons: Last Lectures And Final Essays

Like many people who work in communication last November, I read the last words of Linds Redding, a New Zealand-based art director who worked at BBDO and Saatchi & Saatchi. He died at 52.

Given I was scheduling initial doctors' visits to solve some bodily wonkiness after quietly turning 45 when I first read his essay, his words really sent me reeling. They seemed all too right ... that the creative side of advertising is largely a scam by holding semi-talented "'creative' people hostage ransom to their own self-image, precarious sense of self-worth, and fragile — if occasionally out of control — ego." That is an accurate description of the field, which is why none of it was all that important to him.

As it turns out, it was only advertising. Redding said he didn't do much of anything. 

Thinking of it from his perspective, I thought the same thing. I have a shelf loaded up with glass and acrylic statues that mostly make me feel empty inside. There's about 100; 250 if I count all the paper.

But I won't do what Redding did and steal away the excitement of any kids entering the field. The reason for early recognition and peer review can be important (enough so that the topic probably deserves its own space another time). No, the good and bad of industry awards hasn't changed. I did.

In fact, I've changed so much that by the time the holidays had rolled around I had forgotten Redding's post until Hugh MacLeod picked up on those last words again. They were pointed at by long-time friend Valeria Maltoni, who was also thinking about it. She even shared one of MacLeod's points:

"What is heartbreaking about his story (Bri­tish adver­ti­sing veteran Linds Red­ding who died prematurely of cancer) is it reminds me of something that has always haunted and terrified me since I first entered the working world: the idea of getting to the inevitable end of your life, and in spite of all that talent, passion and energy spent working insane hours for decades, you don’t have a meaningful and lasting body of work to be proud of, money or no money."

I've had that mulling around in my melon since January. Maltoni did too it seems. She recently wondered about her body of work too, some two million words written for her blog. Mostly, the concept revolves around the idea  that our respective body of works must mean something or make a difference to someone.

Mostly, I agreed with them for a few weeks. Except today. Now, I'm a bit miffed by it all.

Does it really matter what industry we work in if we want to make a difference? Do we need to find affirmation that somehow we have a created a meaningful or lasting body of work? Does the butterfly have to know that its wing flap changed the world a million years ago?

Nothing really matters, but every second counts. 

My grandmother wasn't a writer. She never saw her 60th birthday. But she did have a "body of work." She raised five children and, for a good part of my life, one grandchild. She touched other people and their lives too, even if she did spend more than a decade fighting cancer. Her work is as good as any book or blog or body of work that someone might find on Wikipedia. But most people never will.

You see, a funny thing happens to some people when they can see that their life clock is finite. They make a choice to find regret or resolution. My grandmother was the latter kind of person, and I know what she might have told Redding. Your work mattered. Sure, it might have "only pushed some product around," but sometimes you have to think beyond what you can see.

Presumably, his creative work increased sales for a few dozen companies that employed more people, paid for more health care, inspired more dreams, and somehow made life a little more enjoyable. As a result, many of them all raised families, paid taxes, gave to charity, and made a difference Redding never knew. That's advertising. And it's one of the most brutal businesses any creative can aspire to be part of because outside of self-congratulatory awards programs, no one is ever going to know your name.

I'm a little bit more fortunate than Redding in that I've seen outcomes that have left an anonymous legacy beyond advertising for businesses, ranging from thousands of people helped through dozens of nonprofit campaigns to permanent policy changes in local, state, and federal government. But at the same time, I appreciate his point about time agency folks sometimes ask their families to sacrifice.

So, here's my tip about it. It's not the quantity of time or number of eyeballs that will matter, but the efficiency and impact of every second invested. Let me put it another way and make it easier.

Randy Pausch did an amazing thing when he wrote his last lecture. But I suggest taking it a step further. Make everything your last anything and it will matter more than you ever imagined.

That is what I'm going to aspire to do from now on. While I don't know that my upcoming class will be the last time I teach Writing For Public Relations at UNLV, I'm going to treat it like it might be. While I don't know if my next post will be my last, I can treat it like it might be. While I don't know if the next time I play a game with my kids that it will be the last game we play, I can treat it like it might be.

If you put 110 percent into everything you do, from something mundane like brushing your teeth or having a conversation in the checkout line with a stranger to writing an advertisement for a client or giving a lecture to a room with five students to 50 students, then it isn't possible to waste your time. On the contrary, the only time that can be wasted is when you swat something away like a nuisance. Then you might be right. It's a waste of time. But only because you made it a waste before you ever started.

Monday, February 4

Convincing Employees: Public Relations' Ugliest Public

Ten years ago, when you mentioned internal communication to most public relations professionals, the best you could hope for was a blank stare. (A blank stare was still one step up from any reaction at the mention of social media.) But it wasn't really their fault. Many of them were taught it was hands off.

"Oh no, we handle all external communication," one might nod in agreement, emphasis on external.

Conversely, internal communication was generally overseen by corporate communicators, internal communication teams, strategic communication professionals, employee relations experts, personnel from human resources, or someone from management. Public relations was rarely part of the equation, which was a bit ironic, especially in larger organizations.

As much as the media felt that public relations was a barrier between the organization and the media, many employees felt the opposite was true. Public relations professionals were the barrier between employees and the media (and sometimes the organization), especially when they asked all media calls be diverted to their department. Otherwise, the only time public relations might be in contact was when the pro needed a briefed subject matter expert for an interview or someone to sign off on a quote.

With some public relations professionals including social media within their sphere too, some people say the same thing about social media. Employees on social networks ought to refrain from writing, speaking, or talking about work. Really?

If the company thinks that employees don't get "the message" then why would they think anyone does?

In some cases, the employees know "the message" better than public relations professionals. Don't misunderstand me. I don't mean "the message" that has been carefully crafted in strategic planning meetings. I mean the message as it hits the streets.

Consider some of the BlackBerry messages out now. People are voting about it. Most reviewers are hedging their bets about it. And public relations is already weighing in with Alicia Keys. Really?

Do you know who has the real story on the likelihood BlackBerry has a chance? Employees. No, not the scripted kind. The kind who will tell it like it is — which elements were rushed, which coworkers felt pressured, what might have been said as the first round was passed around in house, and whether or not Keys is a demanding global brand guru.

Sure, most of them will keep their lips sealed for good reason. But that's the point. Any time employees can't be trusted to speak plainly about the new product, it's probably because they didn't buy into the communication that marketing and public relations developed. In some cases, they didn't even hear it.

I'm not saying that's the case for BlackBerry. My guess is most employees are hoping the hail Mary works out. If not, it's anybody's guess how long the organization can sustain itself. But for most organizations, the experiences it delivers — in terms of product performance or customer service —tell the real story.

For example, have you asked an employee if they saw a story about their story? Some are clueless and disinterested. Some are surprised and very interested. Some are knowledgable and ready to embellish it at the expense of the organization. Others will enthusiastically puff the company up. The same holds true for new product launches. Will employees secretly advise waiting for the updates? Will service plan providers wave people away from the sale? Is the message migrating from the inside out or are just a few people trying to convince the tech media market to take up the banner?

Friday, February 1

Multitasking With TV: Where's Your Message?

People still watch television, but most people watch it differently. As many as 42 percent of U.S. consumers now say that they access the Internet via their PCs or laptops (and 17 percent access the Internet via smartphones) while watching it. Almost 25 percent of them specifically sign on social networks.

These were among the most recent findings to come out of the KPMG International 2013 Digital Debate survey, and it raises a very interesting question. If consumers are multi-tasking television, the Internet, and social networks, then where do you want your message? Or maybe there's a better one.

Can marketers count 100 percent engagement when mediums only earn 25 percent attention?

A 25 percent share of attention is probably generous. I've seen my son and his friends, effortlessly toggling between the net, networks, text messages, television, and gaming console headset. It makes me wonder how any old school marketer can hope to reach him. They can't unless he wants them to.

The majority of purchasers like him are predetermined by other factors, leaving the close of any sale based largely on the manufacturer's ability to provide on-demand advertising and a means for a seamless transaction. And he is not alone.

Ideally, marketers need to develop campaigns that touch their audiences simultaneously. For example, a television ad might introduce someone to a product, while a simultaneously-placed ad on a social network/app/Internet brings the transaction closer to completion by giving consumers the ability to respond/purpose immediately or save information for future consideration. The bigger vision is to deliver communication like it ought to be created — integrated.

Technology is right around the corner to make everything easier.

Some people, including KPMG, believe this might change as smart TVs are adopted, but it's much more likely smart TVs will be leapfrogged by the next generation technology that follows Apple and Wii in providing dual screen functionality. Dual- or triple-screen functionality marries the allure of multi-tasking with multiple screens, much like they do across disconnected devices (until they are connected by airplay or cables).

The demand for more seamless innovations been steadily increasing over the last few years. In fact, according to the study, 14 percent of U.S. consumers (mostly ages 25-34) prefer watching television on a smart phone or tablet. Chances are that many of these consumers already use cable connections or airplay to toggle mobile content onto their bigger screens. In other words, they don't even distinguish between television and digital formats. They only see screen sizes.

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