Wednesday, April 24

Changing Creative: Did Fans Dictate Days Of Our Lives?

Ken Corday, son of the late Ted and Betty Corday (co-creators of Days Of Our Lives), recently allowed something he vowed would never happen. Characters Elvis J. (“EJ”) Dimera (formerly Wells) and Samantha Gene (“Sami”) Brady will have a second chance at romance.

Once considered a top daytime couple, the writers created an impasse that few ever thought could be overcome. Soap Opera Weekly even wrote an opinion in 2007 that largely condemned any reconnection by including them as an example of how soap opera writers treat rape as too casual.

Many fans saw it differently, specifically those who belong to the Forbidden Love EJami fan site, which has actively supported the power couple being reunited for the better part of six years. Two years ago, some of them asked me what I thought it would take for Corday to hear them out. I suggested five elements for the fan campaign. And while it might have taken two years to achieve success, the ratings have changed.

Days Of Our Lives sees its ratings rise on a storyline shift.

Despite being in an entertainment segment that some people considered in critical condition, Days Of Our Lives (Days) has recently generated a year-to-year growth rate of 14 percent among women 18-49 and 18 percent in women 25-54. More importantly, the show's ratings are up overall. It might not slow.

EJami fans are quick to attribute the ratings increase as a direct outcome from renewed interest in their favorite couple. They have every right to do so. The producers and publicity teams for the show have done everything they can to capitalize on their re-found star power. When actors James Scott and Alison Sweeney take to social media platforms like Twitter, #Days and #EJami start to trend.

The coordinated effort between fans, stars, and marketers are suddenly making soaps feel more accessible again. Maybe among specific demographics, they are more accessible than they ever could have been without social media. Some actors and actresses are not much more than a tweet away.

If the ratings hold, this could be a good case study in how one network is discovering that fan campaigns don't have to be a single-edged sword. Ergo, fan campaigns don't have to end badly.

They can transform cancellations into impossible success stories as Veronica Mars recently proved by raising $5.7 million for a fan-backed movie (stay tuned). Or, in the case of Days, they can create a sharable storyline that fans can promote and entice new viewers. As I suggested in 2007, passive viewers are now active consumers. It might have taken a few additional years for full fruition, but networks can't ignore it anymore. Fans want to be supportive of the right story lines, online and off.

The roses that Sweeney and Scott have in the hero shot above are real. EJami fans sent them to the network to celebrate what they consider a long overdue engagement. They have also been instrumental in writing the network, urging them to renew the contract. The network estimated the show had 2.3 million viewers at the time. Today, the show seems to be gaining with 2.5 million viewers. Time will tell.

After all, not everyone is happy with the EJami win. There have been plenty of other men on the show to solicit support for a renewed relationship with Sami. But so far, the numbers suggest this isn't murky.

The symbiotic relationship between series and supporters. 

While I'm someone who watches the program, I am familiar with soaps from years ago. They were a part of the culture as much as anything else on television. My parents were All My Children fans.

But my point is that you don't have to be a soap opera fan to see a bigger picture emerging for entertainment. Stories that can win supporters — people who share the show beyond a network site, who support the actors and actresses outside their roles, who are interested in different storytelling formats, and who are even willing to pony up production dollars — will eventually rewrite creator-producer-network-fan contracts. If one network doesn't want a show, creators will have more options. (If I can watch the Vikings via The History Channel app, why not any app?)

It's already happening in the book publishing world, with more writers (those with marketing savvy) willing to accept some publishing risks. While the results are still mixed, some of them have wins. In fact, there are enough wins that book revenue is up and e-books have captured 23 percent of the market.

Who is to say what the next generation of soap operas might be like? Chances are it will vary by audience. Some fans enjoy the unpredictability of shows like The Walking Dead, where leading characters are unceremoniously written off on a whim. Others, like Days, might deserve a second-chance romance like the one EJami fans have wanted for years. Interesting times, indeed. The comments are yours.

Wednesday, April 17

Writing Content: What Happens When PR Inherits The News?

When newspapers first began to appear in America, there wasn't much to them. Even in Philadelphia before 1730, there were only two news sheets being published there. One of them mostly published definitions from the dictionaries and nothing else.

When Benjamin Franklin took it over, he did away with all of it. He envisioned something else, and almost none of it had to do with news. Franklin made his newspaper a vehicle for instruction on moral virtues that often masqueraded as satire and mischief. General news was not on anybody's mind.

In fact, American newspapers wouldn't even pay much attention to general news until after 1750. And its use to spur and spurn politics would occur a few decades later, right in time for the American Revolution. And with politics, a tradition for including local items of interest took hold, one that isn't much more than 200 years old.

Where is all the news going and need we be concerned? 

When Bruce Spotleson, group publisher for Greenspun Media and an editor-at-large for the Las Vegas Sun, spoke as a guest in Writing For Public Relations at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, he raised several powerful and poignant points. Much like I wrote last week, he doesn't see print going away.

Niche publications are particularly strong. Special interest content can still find subscribers. But what he does see slipping is the notion that newspapers are important to a community. And this makes me wonder, what then?

After all, they alone publish local items of interest and record. They alone publish in-depth news stories that act as a community spotlight. They alone have the opportunity to make a last stand in favor of objective journalism, at least those that haven't already rolled over into the ranks of affirmation media.

Bruce SpotlesonAnd along with that, as Spotleson pointed out, the public has grown increasingly unaware of local news and community interest. Some of them don't know whether their police department is good or bad, beyond any personal experience or biased opinion. Many of them are too busy too keep up on government accountability beyond their front yards. Most, if pressed, wouldn't even be able to hazard a guess what the leading local headline might be today.

Spotleson knows. He's asked. Even people who are applying for a job, he said, tend to have the same answer. They haven't gotten to it yet. And in all likelihood, they never will get to it. They're too busy.

Unless it's a national headline, breaking news, or entertainment, people tend to skip the middle ground. They know what is happening from their front door to the sidewalk or their self-selected tribe, which means the group of people they pick on social networks.

The rest of it, unless it touches them directly, tends to be a question mark. The issue is compounded in transient communities too. In such communities, people are much more interested in their hometowns than towns where they own a home. And if these trends tend to hold, news will eventually be gone.

Television news won't fare much better. Unless they find a niche, it's all just more noise on the Web.

Public relations isn't free anymore. It's all about paid content. 

In the wake of unsupported community news, all that will be left is a steady stream of public relations perspectives. Take a recent NV Energy story as an example. Although only a few people are aware of the story, the lack of any reporting arm would only leave several dozen biased voices in its wake.

On one side, there is the utility. On the other, the gaming industry. There are dozens more, including government, consumer advocates, and the public (despite their apparent absence). Without a newspaper to organize the issue, the public would either be largely left in the dark or perhaps exploited by public relations, not with malice but with each representative's own preconceptions as the story shows.

And who would win in such a world? My guess would be the one with the better and heavily budgeted communication plan, especially if they have properly leveraged social media. Except that win isn't free.

While public relations as an industry has been clamoring to take over content marketing and social media, it will come with another cost. As outlets for free exposure continue to diminish, companies and special interests will have no choice but to ramp up direct-to-public communication programs so each interest can publish the "news" as it sees fit. Right. They will publish all the news fit paid to print.

While some might guess the result will be similar to the ever-increasing price to enter politics (with state senate races starting as six and seven digits), I'm not even asking whether it will be this good, bad or indifferent. I'm asking something else. Are public relations professionals even ready to get what they wished for and are we, as the public, ready for it too?

Wednesday, April 10

Rethinking Print: And How To Leap Beyond It

Advertising
Now that most people are attempting to master the digital space, it's clearly time to think beyond it. That was the primary impression left by Dale Sprague, president of Canyon Creative in Las Vegas, while speaking to my Writing For Public Relations class at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, last Thursday.

When Sprague, a designer and creative director who invested the majority of his career in print, product design, and packaging, said that print had largely become a support medium for digital marketing, the reaction was immediate and dramatic. Not only had everything advertising agencies been cautioned about for by people like me for a decade come to fruition, but it was time time to rethink what's next.

Everything you think you know about marketing is about to change. 

The changes ahead won't be confined to a medium, but message delivery in entirety. Much like Patrick Collings recently wrote, brands that fail to innovate will fill graveyards. Their names won't be remembered either. Instead, their tombstones will be decorated with the cliches that killed them.

You can see these changes taking place all around you. Signage has lost ground to environmental graphics. Branded giftware and novelty items are being supplanted with branded product innovation (actual products designed for marketing purposes, some of which are produced by 3-D printers). Glass is quietly becoming a new marketing canvas (projected holograms along with it). And print?

Print isn't as dead as people think. Much like public relations professionals always had to find new ways to reach journalists as news releases transitioned from mail to fax to email to social, marketers are best served when they start to ask themselves the right question.

Specifically, the right question isn't "where is everybody spending their marketing dollars?" The right question is "where aren't people spending their marketing dollars so my organization doesn't have to compete?" Ergo, the social-digital space has to be part of the marketing mix but it's also a very competitive, crowded, and cluttered place. It creates a market where a handwritten thank you counts.

Even online, people are finding that it's not enough to be everywhere because you put your content everywhere. Marketers need to be everywhere because they are part of what a public considers relevant. Ergo, real marketers aren't content trying to infuse their presence into a trending topic. They are the trending topics because they do things. They are top of mind because they made an impression.

Where does print stack up in a world that seems digital?

Print works were it always worked best. It is a high-touch medium that was temporarily downgraded because of the economics of junk mail with blow-in scrap paper and cluttered messages.

Before mail was loaded down with mainstream marketing, it primarily consisted of individual notes and invitations, niche newsletters that felt exclusive, and something thoughtfully sent through the mail because it might actually have value and you might keep it. It will in the future too, with specialty papers that capitalize on the one sense that consumers miss in digital — touch — and a message more memorable than a business card, even those that don't already have chips embedded in them.

Print won't be alone, of course. All of it will change and some of it for the better as marketers buy up space not because they want to fill it with 8-point bullet points and 140 characters of gratuitous interruption but clearly defined messaging with plenty of white/negative/neutral space to frame it.

What does that mean? Every year, when I teach any class, I make note of how the number of impressions has continued to increase before a message even has a chance to penetrate the consciousness of someone who is already receiving a novel-sized amount of information every day. What used to be three impressions now exceeds 300 — that means you need 300 impressions before something sticks.

But, you see, that isn't always the case. We've crossed a clutter threshold that makes some messages stick the one time, the first time. Ergo, if you show someone a Mona Lisa (the real one, not a facsimile),  they will never forget it. And maybe that is how we should see print and advertising going forward.

Print doesn't haven't to be a support piece to digital. Like any message delivery system, it only needs to break through the clutter of a message saturated world. Or, in other words, a message that feels immediate (purpose driven), individual (personal), and important (value driven) delivered by the most appropriate means given the context.

That is what print will look like. And marketing will too. You can wait for it to happen or you can leap ahead and start implementing these ideas today.

Wednesday, April 3

Climbing TheLadders: One Rung Short For A Lawsuit?

Some time back in 2011, then CEO and founder Marc Cenedella for TheLadders snuck in a brand reversal. Instead of focusing on premium jobs, the niche job listing site opted to expand its services to everyone.

“We’re expanding, and today we say ‘bye bye’ to helping only those over $100,000 and ‘hello’ to helping all career-minded professionals," he wrote. "TheLadders now takes all salary levels and shows the right jobs to the right person.”

Back when it happened, the announcement drew 139 comments. Most of them were negative. And the entire story, that TheLadders had decided to become another job site, was mostly over. Or was it?

TheLadders faces a lawsuit that could shutter it. We'll see.

Lurking largely behind the scenes was the next chapter in crisis for the company. TheLadders is now facing a class action lawsuit in New York federal court. Specifically, the lawsuit doesn't look at 2011 as a rebranding expansion. It looks at an old post as an admission by TheLadders.

According to the suit, many of the jobs offered on TheLadders were scraped from other sites with no attempt at verifying how much they paid or even if they were current before the company made the switch in 2011. You can read the complete lawsuit filing here, but the crux of it is that the company simply changed its language in 2011 to match what the service had been all along — a premium payment job site (and not necessarily a premium salary job site).

The suit, filed by the New York class action firm of Bursor & Fisher, was also reported by recruiting consultant and blogger Nick Corcodilos. I recommend this read, as Corcodilos has posted a summary. There is another interesting piece by the ERE here, especially because it reads like a foreshadow to the September surprise (even if David Manaster stopped short of calling the service a scam).

Loud complainers want to be customers. Watch out for everyone else.

Manaster then went on to dismiss the ruckus by saying something he has said before. "When people have a beef, they can be counted on to complain loudly. When people are satisfied, they tend to … well, be satisfied." He seems to have been wrong on that point then and remains equally wrong today.

When people have a beef, they tend to leave quietly because they've already given up. The complainers, on the other hand, tend to be people who still want to be your customers, even if your company is built on a questionable model. And then there are those who will be heard, not with words but with actions — like anyone who piled on with the class action lawsuit that alleges fraud.

Interestingly enough, it wasn't only the people who were paying for "hand-screened" job selection that have been frustrated by TheLadders. Employers weren't really happy either. Along with mapping out most of the history, the article sources a direct quote by Cenedella, admitting that as many as half of all listings were culled from the web. Basically, staffers guessed at salaries as opposed to verifying that the listings truly paid $100k or more.

Exposure is good, unless it leaves you exposed to unnecessary risk.

Several years ago, I wrote a story about a company that hoped to go head to head with TheLadders public relations machine. At the time, both wanted to dominate a subscription-based job site niche that focused on jobs starting at $100k. The other company, RiseSmart, eventually shifted its focus to outplacement because it couldn't really compete in a niche against a competitor that possibly cheated.

Those stories were written more than five years ago. Even then, people were saying what they are saying today. Most (if not all) premium job listing sites aren't worth the money they charge. Ironically, in one of the articles I sourced then, executives from TheLadders said that $100k jobs weren't listed on free sites but only premium payment sites like TheLadders. This "fact," it seems, couldn't have been true if 50 percent or most of the postings were culled. Culled jobs had to be listed somewhere.

And therein lies the rub. TheLadders unquestionably dominated the space and ran others businesses out of the niche with an overwhelming barrage of paid television commercials and public relations. But, at the same time, the crisis that TheLadders may face next is being framed up by all that coverage.


Every quote by company spokespeople that reinforces an overinflated marketing statement prior to 2011 carries the potential to become an exhibit. And although I'm not sure, the company seems to know it. Its current strategy seems to be burying lawsuit stories with anything and everything from Spring Cleaning job searches to launching a new ELITE program to JobMobile, an event that will bring industry thought leaders together in Atlanta, Chicago, New York City, and San Francisco.

That might not be all that surprising for the public relations heavy site. But what is surprising is that the company isn't talking about the suit. It hasn't made a statement anywhere on the site to date, but did issue a statement about the lawsuit to The Business Insider, making this a living case study.
 

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