Showing posts with label publicity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label publicity. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 20

Warring Tribes: When Playground Fights Go Public

another blog drama
Ike Pigott had the best analysis of a recent online spat between two consultants. What's not to love about any post that resurrects Spike the Bulldog and Chester the Terrier?

I won't be so graceful. The brush-up between Kami Huyse and Peter Shankman is intriguing because it ends with two kids meeting up after school in the playground, encircled by their pre-pubescent friends, stomping their feet, clapping their hands, and chanting "fight, fight, fight!" It didn't start that way, mind you. Confrontation never does.

One tweet. One post. One response.

If you don't want to follow the links, it sums up in two or three graphs. Once upon a time, the most popular kid in school, Chris Brogan, bought shiny suspenders. So that made it fashionable for other kids to talk about their suspenders, belts, and fancy elastic bands too. Shankman included.

So, one day, Shankman shared the news about his shiny suspenders at PE class. After reflecting on this, Huyse went into the music room and said talking about what holds your pants up, on its face, is pretty silly. Then some kid, who probably doesn't have anything to hold his pants up, told Shankman that Huyse was talking smack about him. Shankman called her out and pushed her down. Dazed, Huyse said she wasn't talking about him, only suspenders (but what if she was, so what)?

Whack. Slap. Poke. Push.

And then, wow, everyone jumped in: Joe Ciarallo, Geoff Livingston, Aliza Sherman, Doug Haslam, Warren Whitlock, and a few others, not counting the comments, tweets, updates, and whatnot. It also doesn't count the dozen or so other posts that didn't make the first few pages of Google. It doesn't matter that Shankman later said he was being sarcastic.

That's how these spats are measured. Not in physical blows, but rather Google juice and search returns. The end result? Well, once Ciarallo threw in a third-party punch, all the positive ties between Shankman and Huyse (and there were a lot) shrank in importance. And that's why, these little spats, which on their face are pretty silly, were taken so seriously.

When Playground Fights Transcend Into Tribal Warfare.

Most playground spats never get all that much attention, but a few spiral out of control, including some that ended with the threat of legal litigation and the promise of physical violence (one of which we turned over to authorities). In such cases, perhaps the epic moniker might fit, with retellings of how Sparta dragged in the whole of Greece to defeat Troy.

The interesting thing about real tribal wars, however, is that most soldiers on the field don't know the circumstances. They simply raise their home banner and press forward with erroneous conjecture. And yet others jump in for any number of reasons much like Agamemnon did. He didn't care about the petty dispute as much as the excuse to gain more power.

If you are new to social media, you might as well know there is no way to avoid disagreement. Sooner or later, there will be a flare up. And with that in mind, here are a six friendly reminders that may help you keep playground antics in perspective.

1. Never write anything without the explicit understanding that you are inviting comment.
2. Never assume omitting a name will exempt you from a reaction by those who own the action.
3. Never respond to feedback when you are emotionally charged by the unexpected critique.
4. Always remember that the Internet isn't a private call. It's a party line and people take sides.
5. Always expect disagreements to eventually become a headline where you never imagined.
6. Always remember that, in time, most people regret what happened prior to the resolution.

Keep these tips in check and most discussions, even heated ones, will remain discussions. It's generally only the overreactions that attract the most attention to move friendly banter into something more akin to kennel noise or all-out tribal warfare.

Case in point, I can blame Brogan for everything that happened between Shankman and Huyse because it's funny to do so. I also know that Brogan can take a joke (if he even sees it). There won't be a flare up, let alone a tribal war. And even if he did comment (which is rare), it would probably be light.

Now, if only those who envy his suspenders would learn that lesson too. Then civility, even with debate, might be plausible. Yeah, right.

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Thursday, July 8

Pimping URLs: The Fast Company Influence Flop

Shirley Polykoff, the first woman copywriter for Foote Cone & Belding, increased hair color sales by 413 percent in six years and expanded the market from 7 percent to 50 percent of all women. No one really knew her name, but her headlines can still be attributed to a Clairol campaign that some people remember despite not even being born yet. That is influence.

Fast Company: The Influence Project measures idiocy.

It was first brought to my attention by Amber Nusland on Brass Tack Thinking. She's one of several hundred blogs I subscribe too, many of which are in my reader as part of the Fresh Content Project. She said Fast Company confused ego with influence. (Close.)

Then, scrolling down the Fresh Content reader list, Danny Brown plugged the project as potentially valid, complete with an embedded link to add influence though he added a "non" add influence link too. He said it might reveal whether community trumps popularity. (Upsidedown.)

Those two post "influenced" me, I suppose, to find out more. This is the kind of thing that some of my clients ask about and I write about, so I don't have much choice. I joined, I pushed the links, and then something caught my eye: How We Measure.

So how do they measure?

1. The number of people who directly click on your unique link. This is the primary measure of your influence pure and simple.

2. You will receive partial "credit" for subsequent clicks generated by those who register as the result of your URL. In other words, anyone who comes to the site through your link and registers for their own account will be spreading influence while they spread theirs. That way, you get some benefit from influencing people who are influential themselves. We will give a diminishing fractional credit (1/2, 1/4, 1/8 etc.) for clicks generated up to six degrees away from your original link.

Seriously? Fast Company convinced some folks to fluff up a URL pimping contest with the structure of a pyramid scheme? There is nothing worthwhile that can be gleaned from the project other than what we already know.

• Most people will never read the rules of this game.
• Many people will pimp their URLs to create the illusion of "influence."
• Some people will be disgusted, delete any links, and look for the opt out. There is none.
• Fast Company has less credibility today than it did before it rolled out its pimping contest.
• Emails from Fast Company land in my spam box. Oh, right, you probably didn't know that.

So no, Mark Borden, this is not a good weird. It's a bad weird. And with the exception of a November punchline for a joke that has already been told before, nothing remotely like research will come out of this "experiment" except perhaps a new social media superstar. And that poor soul may likely be embarrassed.

Real influence is a function of authority, credibility, and ideas. And real influence cannot be measured exclusively online.

“I'm sick of just liking people. I wish to God I could meet somebody I could respect.” — J.D. Salinger

Of course, you can discount that and accept the new explanation. It isn't an influence project. It's an editorial investigation. Ironically, all the lead up to the explanation is supposedly tied to an experiment I ran months ago.

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Wednesday, March 24

Marketing Public Relations: Publicity On SM Steroids

Did you ever open a book and want to like it? Gaetan Giannini Jr., chairman of the business, management and economics department at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pa., delivers exactly that when he attempts to combine marketing, public relations, and social media into Marketing Public Relations (MPR). It's a book you want to like.

Wanting to like it wasn't always the case for me. A few months ago, I didn't want to like MPR. I alluded to as much when I first mentioned it after listening in on a webinar.

So I have to give Giannini credit for contacting me after that post. He put Marketing Public Relations: A Marketer's Approach to Public Relations and Social Media from Pearson into practice, believing that if I read the book then he might sway me from the light of collaborating professionals and toward the dark of combined disciplines. He was partly right.

When I opened the shipping package and thumbed through it for the first time, I immediately wanted to like Marketing Public Relations. I really did. And I still do.

Why you'll want to like Marketing Public Relations.

Marketing Public Relations is packed with content, skipping across the varied subjects of marketing, public relations, and social media. As a comprehensive textbook, it reads several generations ahead of anecdotal pop trappings that tend to masquerade as marketing and social media books nowadays.

There are ample models, studies, and diagrams. Giannini introduces classic concepts such as The Business Strategy Diamond from Carpenter, Mason, Sanders, Gerry, Strategic Management and Maslow's "A Theory of Human Motivation" alongside studies by PEW Charitable Trusts and the Keller Fay Group.

There are adequate applictions. Some of the suggested assignments would even benefit working professionals, helping them rethink how they apply communication. For example, in one chapter, Giannini suggests that students think of the most expensive purchase they made, track their purchase decision-making process, list all of the connectors (influencers) that contributed to the purchase, and identify what messages they delivered to the student.

There are ample tip lists tucked inside every chapter. In writing press releases, Giannini suggests illustrating real-life examples, sticking to the facts, picking an angle, writing in active voice, and using correct grammar. But then he also advises to never write a release in all uppercase letters, never writing the release online (use a word processor), never include html links, and never write a release that is less than two paragraphs. (I shook my head at a couple of these tips too.)

The case studies that precede each chapter seem fresher than inclusions in most books. He offers up snippets from Ecover, Red Bull, Hannah Montana, and Ben & Jerry's. About Harry Potter, Giannini frames up J.K. Rowling alluding to the demise of two familiar characters on a British talk show. He attributes resulting mainstream and social media frenzy to marketing public relations in action, which departs from what most public relations professors might call it. Most would call it publicity.

But that is the point. All of these elements are used to underpin the premise of Marketing Public Relations. And although Giannini doesn't provide a crisp one or two sentence definition of what MPR really is, you can surmise it is the practice of delivering planned marketing messages to very specific and targeted intermediates (connectors and influencers), with the intent that they will carry a closely aligned message forward to the audience you want to reach.

While I'm not certain how this differs from how communication has always worked, whether marketers recognized it or not, Giannini works diligently to consider this the cornerstone of MPR and then aims to cherry pick principles as valid under the new construct. When it works, different disciplines will benefit from a perspective they may have neverconsidered. When it doesn't work, everyone will be even more confused.

Why Marketing Public Relations is a dangerous book.

While I could write extensively about the sometimes painful organization of Marketing Public Relations, there is more pressing problem. And, unless the reader understands this problem, it could lead to some very dangerous conclusions. You see, for all the excellent material, it's difficult to forgive the initial definition of public relations, which is not public relations. Here is the definition:

"Traditionally, PR is defined as a firm's efforts to build good relations with its various publics by obtaining favorable publicity, building up a good 'corporate image,' and handling or heading off unfavorable rumors, stories, or events."

This disaster of a definition is not Giannini's fault. It belongs to Gary Armstrong and Philip Kotler, from Marketing, An Introduction, 9th edition. That makes sense to me in that Kotler, who is a brilliant marketer, has always aligned public relations under sales promotion. In fact, it is Kotler who originally coined the term Marketing Public Relations, but with very different origins than the one proposed by Giannini.

In Marketing Management: Analysis, Planning, Implementation, and Control, 6th edition, Kotler outlines public relations as handling press relations, product publicity, corporate communications, lobbying, and counseling. Marketing PR, he wrote, is an advent of companies developing departments to set up a special section that directly supported corporate/product promotion and image making.

The old name for Marketing Public Relations, Kotler says, is publicity. And publicity, as we hope all public relations practitioners know, is not public relations at all. What is even more perplexing, however, is that Giannini calls Marketing PR the birth of a new paradigm when it would really be a rebirth with the inclusion of the more publicity-oriented activities of social media.

Where Giannini differs from Kotler, however, is that he assigns some propaganda duties under the the direction of MPR. Specifically: building the identity, increasing the visibility, establishing subject matter expertise, educating stakeholders, shaping public opinion, maintaining the image during a crisis, and stimulating repeat usage.

In sum, these tasks encompass some public relations and advertising duties under the world view of publicity in order to serve marketing. Except, they generally manifest themselves as "the coverage of a story by media or the recommendation of a friend without a paid solicitation." The risk, naturally, is that the intended message can sometimes be altered, such as the reckless Aqua Teen Hunger Force case study from 2007.

Ergo, if we mistake promotions and publicity as public relations, even under the banner of marketing public relations, it is likely we will further erode the core competencies that public relations could offer today and help it descend back into the ooze of propaganda where it originated. Only this time, it would be supported by social media. Perhaps unfortunately, where Giannini might be right is that is precisely what public relations professionals want to do.

Having a cracked foundation isn't the only issue in the book. There are several other questionable concepts that could mislead practitioners, including the overemphasis of blogger popularity in order to separate top-tier social media outlets from the "chaff," considering "thought-leaders and "influencers" as one in the same, and misdefining promotion as paid messaging.

On those points: never mistake page visits as an indicator because you never know who reads that blog; popular bloggers, influencers, and thought leaders are all very different; and promotion, even from a traditional view, is not confined to paid messages. There is more to vet, but the point is clear. In some cases, Giannini has adopted the mistakes some social media and public relations experts are making because they do not know any better.

What to do about Marketing Public Relations.

There is no denying that there is extensive value in Marketing Public Relations by Gaetan Giannini, Jr. He is a smart researcher, substantive educator, and intelligent practitioner who has presented material proving that the author didn't sit down and write this book on any given Sunday afternoon. Not all marketing, public relations, and social media books are like that nowadays.

As a textbook, it comes with a steep price of admission, retailing at $96. Even the used books are selling at above $60. The price point comes from the inclusion of graphs, charts, and full-color pictures. The three reviews on Amazon all rave about it.

For me, I have to go back to my opening point. I want to like this book. I really do. In a convoluted sort of way, it represents everything that other books on social media miss and leave instructors wanting. And yet, when the very principles contained within would force instructors to vet more than their fair share of material, how can it be sent up with a recommendation? In a word or two or three. It can't be.

Marketing Public Relations is a missing link between the business card books being offered by most publishers and what markers, public relations, and social media experts really need. However, it's only one step in the evolution of the communication chain and, without careful vetting in the classroom, it cannot be certain whether this mutation would lead to what we will one day call modern communication or if it is merely a branch that will see the same fate as the Neanderthal.

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Tuesday, March 9

Looking Glass: Los Angeles Times Dives In

It seems the Los Angeles Times (L.A. Times) has chosen short-term publicity over long-term branding in a one shot advertisement that not everyone appreciates. As described by the New York Times, the newspaper allowed a garishly multicolored image of Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, in the film “Alice in Wonderland,” to occupy the paper’s cover page, complete with the L.A. Times masthead and a rerun of recent articles.

According to the story, Russ Stanton and several deputies vigorously opposed the ad but they were overruled by the paper’s business executives. John Conroy, spokesman for the L.A. Times, likened the ad to the common practice of having an ad cover part or all of a Web site’s home page for a few seconds.

Why Russ Stanton Might Be Right.

Everyone knows that the print editions of daily newspapers are struggling as their online versions have yet to retain a suitable level of replacement revenue. So some might say $700,000, the amount paid for the ad, is simply a badly needed boost.

But what the business executives at the L.A. Times might not be considering is long-term erosion of the brand. As the old saying goes: if everything is for sale, then everything is for sale. And given this isn't the first time that the daily has surrendered editorial space, that might be the case. Eventually, the willingness to supplant the brand for promotional revenue will define the publication.

It may have already. The L.A. Times promoted the sale, calling it a groundbreaking move. Certainly, the move might be groundbreaking, but not for the L.A. Times. While the newspaper is attempting to minimize the move by calling it a wrap, giving up the masthead (along with stories penned by serious journalists) means something else entirely. They may as well put a wrap around their building.

What is groundbreaking is Disney winning the bid to do it. Putting the Mad Hatter everywhere has resulted in a real coup for the movie that is outpacing Avatar with a $116.1 million opening weekend. For the L.A. Times, the publicity is a net loss.

Anytime you elevate awareness, you have to consider the sentiment that comes with it. And the question that might be asked over the long term is that if the L.A. Times doesn't take itself seriously, then why would anyone else? Usually newspapers want to be known for Pulitzers over the same sort of publicity stunts they often criticize.

The timing couldn't be worse, either. Forbes reported on a study that that while Web ads will grow another 10 percent this year, magazines are expected to see a small 1.9 percent increase in spending to. What does that mean for dailies?

Strongly branded dailies will survive in better times, especially with fewer of them. And that means the L.A. Times ought to keep taking its temperature while it experiments with being a tabloid. Tabloid competition is even tougher, I hear.

A Round-Up Of Opinions On Selling The L.A. Times

Times Sells Disney Its Front Page for $700K by Sharon Waxman

The Los Angeles Times Sells Out The Front Page by Donald Douglas

L.A. Times Splashes Mad Hatter Across Fake Front Page: No Harm, No Foul by Si Cantwell

L.A. Times sells Disney Front Page For Movie Ad by Steve Gorman

L.A. Times Runs Cover Wrap for ‘Alice in Wonderland’ by MediaBuyer Planner

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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.

Thursday, December 10

Perverting Ads: Burger King And CBS

Not to be completely upstaged by the recent perversion of Frosty The Snowman by CBS in the U.S., Burger King is trying to sell breakfast food in the United Kingdom with a bikini-clad "babe" singing in the shower.

Except, she's not much of a babe. She can't really sing. And the bikini top — decorated with eggs, burgers, or other toppings as decided upon by site visitors — won't make you hungry.

If the singing wasn't bad enough, visitors can win a date with her. Burger King teases their intent by offering up that "you never know, it just might be the start of something beautiful (and she might even sing for you)!"

Dubbed as the first "guilt-free showercam," Cow PR seems to be following in the footsteps of Crispin Porter & Bogusky in trying anything to sell products that just don't stand on their own. The message is loud and out of tune: if the food sucks, punt with a publicity stunt.

Low Brow Comedy, Sex, And Publicity Is A Recipe For Disaster.

Although the Burger King stunt is still one rung up from the gutter that CBS created by re-dubbing a vintage clip of Frosty so he talks about his “porn collection” while surrounded by crowds of smiling minors, the direction is the same. Too many marketers and advertisers are still struggling in their attempts to exploit consumers and force viral campaigns at the expense of the brand.

Sorry. It's just not funny. What might be funny?

Les Moonves, CEO of CBS, could talk about his porn collection. Or, perhaps, John Chidsey, CEO of Burger King, could sing in the shower every morning.

That's what it's all about, right? Both ads would easily go viral and generate a whopper of publicity. They still might be tasteless, but at least we could see the faces behind the marketing funds that make these debacles possible.

Tuesday, September 22

Refocusing PR: What It Could Be

In Las Vegas, former public relations representative Lenora Kaplan called it mostly right during an interview with the Las Vegas Business Press as other area professionals lamented the condition of the market.

"The roll of PR is very different from those of us who come from other markets. Basically, it is just media relations, which is only a very small part of the profession," she said. "That's why I'm only working out of market, although I still live in Las Vegas."

I say "mostly" because public relations has taken this turn in other markets too, not only Las Vegas. The challenged status with public relations nationwide is deep enough that people like Geoff Livingston feel rankled anytime someone tries to give him a public relations moniker.

Sure, there are exceptions. Our company knows which handful of public relations firms are capable of more than lackluster writing that passes as a press release in Las Vegas and around the country. We've worked with many as consultants, contractors, and sometimes as a member of the media.

However, most of the rest wouldn't fair well if their client took a 20-question quiz released by Scott Baradell with The Idea Grove. Although skewed toward media relations, the questions he poses mirror many of the complaints about public relations that we hear about everyday.

20 Questions To Ask Your PR Firm By Scott Baradell.

1. Do you routinely catch careless typos and factual inaccuracies in agency-drafted news releases?

2. Do agency-drafted news releases typically exhibit only a superficial understanding of your business?

3. Do agency-drafted news releases too often miss the point, burying important information?

4. Does the agency ask you for ideas more often than it provides you with ideas?

5. Does the agency seem to think PR stands for "press release," churning out releases but not offering other, more creative ways to build your brand?

6. Do agency representatives get the names or titles of your company's senior executives wrong in correspondence and/or conversation?

7. Examine the media list your PR firm uses when distributing your news releases. Are there more than a few inappropriate publications or out-of-date contacts on the list?

8. Do the agency representatives who pitch your company to media on the phone have only a superficial understanding of what your company does?

9. Has the agency ever arranged a meeting with a reporter and your company's executives that didn't seem to have a well-thought-out objective?

10. Has your primary agency contact person changed more than once in the past 12 months?

11. Does your primary contact person seem inexperienced or immature?

12. When you have a problem or concern, must your primary contact generally talk with a supervisor before responding to you?

13. Does the agency send a senior executive to meet with you every couple of months to smooth over complaints about the firm's performance?

14. Does the agency miss deadlines or seem to always be scrambling at the last minute to meet them?

15. Has a journalist ever complained to you about your PR agency?

16. Are the agency's billing statements confusing, so that you're not sure exactly what you're paying for?

17. Does the agency hem and haw when asked the hourly rates of various personnel on your account?

18. Do the agency's billing statements show that more time is spent on client relations (e.g., meetings and correspondence with you) than on actual client service?

19. Does the agency boast about delivering measurable results, but then only give you a list of press mentions that mean nothing to your company's executives?

20. Does it seem like the agency's heart isn't really in it - that it's simply working to get a fee?

A Working Definition of What Public Relations Could Be.

In 2007, Bill Sledzik, associate professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at Kent State University, provided a run down of some classic public relations definitions, including the one I tend to provide students who take Writing for Public Relations at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In later conversations, he challenged me to write one.

As a strategic communicator who happens to teach a public relations class because of my background in advertising and journalism, I wasn't so sure it was a challenge I wanted to take. However, knowing the public relations industry is in transformation (and I don't mean the desperate grab at social media), I'll need a new one next year. And this is where I am:

Public relations is the art and science of developing and managing immediate and long-term measurable programs that strengthen relationships between the organization and various publics by researching trends within the organization and the environments in which it or its publics exist; determining the impact those trends may have to an organization and those publics; and fostering, facilitating, and providing counsel on the exchange of mutually beneficial communication between the organization and those publics.

It's still clunky, and borrows enough from the classics enough to be unoriginal. But the way I see it, there isn't a need to reinvent public relations; there is only a need to realign it to what it could be, which would allow it to work in tandem with other communication disciplines.

Had public relations been doing this all along in places like Las Vegas, these firms would have predicted the challenges and developed programs that would have softened the damage to their clients on the front end of the economic downturn. They did not. Most of them raised their rates instead. Others claimed added social media service despite continuing to struggle with their own industry. And some, well, they're still busy churning out releases.

Tuesday, September 15

Defining People: How Publicity, PR, And SM View The World

The Buzz Bin's Geoff Livingston wrote an open letter to PR execs entering social media that caused a stir among various communication professionals. It's an interesting piece that helps to pinpoint various emerging views on social media.

At the core of the letter, Livingston suggests everyone wants better outcomes, but the methods are different. But for anyone not immersed in communication, the question that remains unanswered is why are the methods so different?

It may have something to do with how publicity, public relations, and social media see the world. Or, more specifically, it might be better to say how they see their audiences or publics, which is not always the customer.

An oversimplified perspective of how professionals see the world.

• World View: Publicity sees the world as its oyster, with every person on the planet as a potential customer or, more correctly, if you reach more people, then you are more likely to reach your customer.
• Method: Do something, anything, that will be covered by as much mainstream media as possible to maximize the exposure. There are bound to be potential customers who see it, somewhere.
• Why It Works: Reach is a powerful, often overemphasized, part of any communication equation.
• Why It Doesn't Always Work: Maximizing exposure for the sake of maximizing exposure is often at odds with branding. It tends to see people as mindless masses whose only purpose in life is to be spammed to death, along with the medium that has readership/viewership.

Public Relations.
• World View: Public relations sees the world as a collection of publics, which the organization attempts to develop a relationship with through various programs.
• Method: Plan immediate and long-term communication programs that strengthen the relationship between various groups and the organization. Bonus if the professional can do it in a mutually beneficial way.
• Why It Works: It's planned, measurable, and can change behavior and public opinion.
• Why It Doesn't Always Work: All too often, the people practicing public relations are really practicing publicity as if they are the same thing. Another common problem is some public relations professionals forget their publics are fluid, which means any message that reaches one public may not be isolated to that public. The result is that some messages work with one public (like consumers), but alienate other publics (like shareholders and employees). (I once even had one pro tell me that shareholders are never considered a public because that's an investor relations function ... as if.)

Social Media.
• World View: People are individuals looking for personal relationships; and customers are kings.
• Method: Make friends with as many people as possible and those people will do things for you like tell all their friends too.
• Why It Works: It creates relationships, sometimes on a scale of one-to-one and develops a deeper sense of trust between the organization's representative and those individuals.
• Why It Doesn't Always Work: It's not easily measured (it is, but many experts claim it isn't or measure the wrong stuff); personalities attract people beyond customers; the organization becomes secondary to the rock stars they fund; lack of leadership (management) leaves brands open for interpretation; and individual blunders reflect on the organization. Too often, some PR pros who really practice publicity attempt to push market people to death in this space. If it can be gamed, it will be gamed.

All three world views can benefit companies, with an integrated approach and minus abuses. Marketing and advertising fit into the equation as well, but there are an equal number of world views in that communication sector as well. (We'll save those for Thursday.)

Unfortunately, an integrated methodology seems to remain in the far off future for most firms as they attempt to transplant their view in an environment where it doesn't belong (or worse, claiming ownership), with publicity crunching numbers, public relations mistaking the Internet as a single public, and social media kissing more BFF butt than Jordon Dizon, according to Eric Cartman. And with this understood, is it any wonder why some executives have a hard time taking communication seriously?

Thursday, April 16

Killing Community: Graham Langdon, Entrecard

Graham Langdon, self-described as a 23-year-old college drop out intent on making money, has it all figured out. In 2007, he adopted the business model originally developed by BlogRush, which is best described as a defunct throwback to “Web 1.0″ affiliate schemes.

His solution was to develop Entrecard, which was originally a free "business card" ad swap network based on a credit system. The model has recently undergone dramatic changes after several failed attempts to secure venture capitalist funding and no takers when he attempted to dump the company for $100,000. (Several buyers told me the latter was more of a publicity stunt to establish equity than a serious intent to sell.)

The new model attempts to monetize what once was a free service by exchanging the credit system with real currency, and with Entrecard keeping 25 percent on the blogger's side of the transaction. Ever since, not all has been well in the land of Entrecard.

Trading community in for cash.

If there was any reason Entrecard survived BlogRush, it was because, just below the surface of what seemed to be a junk traffic site, there was some semblance of niche communities, especially among mommy bloggers and craft blogs and personal bloggers. No "A list" bloggers, mind you, just regular people who blog.

The new cash model trades down that community, because advertisers do not have to reciprocate with Internet real estate. It is much easier to spend $25 without any participation whatsoever than to participate under the new rules. That is, for now. At the same time Entrecard is opening the network up to advertisers, it is imposing rules on the original community that made Entrecard viable.

Dropping quality ad real estate for fairness.

Originally, the first placement rule was that the Entrecard widget had to be placed "above the fold" until the decision was reversed after push back. Not to be deterred, however, Entrecard launched a variation of the rule based on the pretense of "fairness." Unfortunately, crowd sourcing "fairness" is only as good as the most intelligent participants. In this case, none of placement restrictions consider the obvious; the program can never be "fair."

• Quality sites will always benefit advertisers with more traffic than inferior sites.
• Less ad competitive sites will always benefit advertisers more than ad heavy sites.
• Load time is much more signifiant than where an advertisement is placed.

Ask most media buyers and they'll tell you that it's better to own a page toward the bottom of a fast-loading quality site than for it to appear at the top of a slow-loading low quality site filled with ads. However, some suspect that there is another benefit to imposing the rule all together. Entrecard can now exempt many members from a cashout service, which would allow them to covert old credits into cash.

The service, which is being delayed until after the rule is imposed, presents several logistical nightmares in that Entrecard is attempting to justify exempting members from the service under the old Terms Of Service, while deleting their accounts for violating a rule created in what will be a new Terms Of Service. And, since Entrecard has since placed a cash value on credits, some consider its actions theft or, at minimum, another taxable event to go along with the credit to cash conversion.

Communication breakdown is commonplace.

In terms of communication, the entire conversation continues to be grossly mishandled. Most Entrecard participants had no idea the rules would be changed until they received a warning that they would be suspended if they did not comply within 72 hours. When members complained, the network pointed them to a post on the Entrecard blog, as if it was required reading.

What did not occur, like many network developers forget, is that most members do not read the network blogs. Communication, especially when it involves changes to Terms of Service (TOS), requires being proactive instead. And, in the case of Entrecard, its own TOS states it's required: "Entrecard reserves the right, at its sole discretion, to modify or replace any part of this Agreement. In such an event you will be notified four days prior via the email address associated with your user account."

This is not the only time Entrecard has broken its own rules. Advertisers were recently surprised to see the service arbitrarily double ad rates overnight. The only notification advertisers received was after the fact, with the justification that the network doubled the cash balance listed in everyone's account (and here we thought only the government could create money).

Add to this all the other problems associated with the program, and its anyone's guess what will happen next. One thing for certain: some advertisers are miffed to learn that the promise of targeting a specific category does not work. Currently, if you select a category on Entrecard, the category selection is confirmed, but advertisements are placed network wide.

Sustainability seems to be in question.

The net result of Entrecard's quest for cash seems to be aggravating an exodus of better bloggers. The departures began approximately six months ago.

While Langdon claims traffic has never been better, the truth is that Entrecard is becoming what people labeled it to begin with: a junk traffic site. Except, you have to pay for it. He doesn't mind. After all, bad publicity is good for business he says.

"A lot of people have this crazy misconception that bad publicity is actually bad for internet sites. Why just yesterday, we got a slew of bad publicity when we banned an Entrecard member for harassment and trolling," wrote Langdon. "Everyone was twittering about it and blogging about it, and tons of people were coming to Entrecard. Look at what happened to our blog’s traffic ... It doubled!"

Right. And more people will look at you on the road after an accident. Just ask Domino's.

What other members and former members are saying:

WTF, Entrecard Pt.II at Simply Saying

Entrecard Hoolabaloo at Vinallaseven

They’re Takin Your Booty Mates at Recycled Frockery

Entrecard Announcement at The Dirty Shirt

No More Entrecard at The Sofia Valeria Collection

Thursday, December 11

Gambling On Viral: "Whopper Virgins"

Although the Motrin viral marketing campaign is slowly fading from memory, viral advertising is not. There are plenty of companies willing to play the sometimes high stakes game of pushing marketing as opposed to products with the hope it might go viral.

According to Ad Age, Burger King's "Whopper Virgins" video is slowly going viral, but still slower than the fast food chain had hoped (which might explain the recent public relations support). The "Whopper Virgins" concept was to take the Whopper on a world tour, documentary style, where people who have never seen a hamburger could taste a Big Mac and Whopper.

"Whopper Virgins" is the second viral video that Burger King has attempted. The first, "Whopper Freakout", captured reactions from customers visiting a Burger King without Whoppers. It had limited success. The new video is better conceived, but it comes at a different price. Some people are annoyed by it.

Pushed by Burger King super fans — loyalist customers — "Whopper Virgins" is being seeded on various online video sites. The agency also claims teaser videos prompted a successful start, but based on YouTube counts and comments, it doesn't seem likely. While one teaser had 49,000 views, another only had 300. Some random comments left on the former:

"Lame, arrogant commercial - their website is even worse. It's an embarrassment."

"This video is to exploit indigenous people."

"I don't look at this commercial as offensive at all. I'm glad and proud to see that Hmong people are, probably for the very first time, being featured on mainstream TV."

Cathy Erway, writing for The Huffington Post, summed: "But most of all, you get a classic story of American corporate colonialism, sickly masked in that all-too-proud illusion of goodwill." Caitlin Fitzsimmons, writing for the Guardian, wrote: "It's either a fun and original ad or yet another example of the crass exploitation of the world's indigenous people." And Michael Lebowitz said: "I'm not always the biggest fan of Crispin Porter & Bogusky's work, but what they've been doing for Burger King is impressive."

Good, bad, indifferent?

PRWeek suggests that all buzz is perfectly all right given that using controversial ads can help boost a brand. And in many cases, that is the only intent of viral marketing: create some controversy, get some buzz, and hope that translates into "something" later on. If it doesn't work out, you can always say you're sorry.

So what kind of advertising is likely to go viral? As B.L. Ochman, Ad Age, recently offered up (paraphrased):

• Advertising that is funny, shocking, intriguing, or surprising.
• Ideas that customers can relate to and care about.
• A clear-cut message so people are able to pass it on.
• An easy way to pass it on such as link, embedding code, "share this" button, etc.
• A concept that builds relationships with customers by getting them to interact with others.

The caveat is that viral advertising isn't viral until it's passed on by the public. And, of course, not everyone agrees with on what measurable outcomes make for a viral success.

At the end of the day, someone has to ask if "Whopper Virgins" made people want to eat a Whopper (because it certainly didn't convince anyone that the taste test was authentic). Or, someone might even ask who really won — Burger King or Crispin Porter & Bogusky, the agency that produced it? Hmmm...

Is the new objective of marketing to market the marketing by encouraging super fans to push the marketing creative simply with the hope it goes viral based on, er, online views and perhaps start a controversial conversation? Some people seem to think so.

Wednesday, December 3

Slashing PR: Dennis Howlett

He may have been a few weeks too late to match the launch date of the perfect sequel to Chris Anderson's original Halloween: The Night He Banned PR Flacks, but Dennis Howlett, who has provided comment and analysis for publications such as CFO Magazine, The Economist, and Information Week, still promises to cut a few to the bone. BOO! YOU’RE DEAD TO ME!

And who can blame him? Sure, there are plenty of good public relations professionals out there. But as industry growth seems to outpace industry education, one might wonder how many journalists it will take before the entire profession becomes ignored.

"In any one day I field up to 20 PR requests. I can guarantee that 90+% of them have done zero research to find out what I’m interested in," writes Howlett. "In the worst cases they won’t have done a basic Google search to find out who I am or where my interests lay. In 2008, that’s beyond unacceptable, it’s criminal."

It's also not public relations. It's media relations. But it's not really media relations. It's message placement services. In fact, it might even be message placement 2.0. And, right now, for a limited time, the hottest thing on the table seems to be that message placement 2.0 is looking past media to target the untapped masses of renewable social media participants as opposed to the shrinking pool of objective journalists. Do you still wonder why Howlett thinks the industry is regressing? He continues...

"In the 1990’s, good PRs could write a half reasonable press release that would at least be engaging. You would have thought that with the tsunami of material about social media that in 2008 the situation would have moved on. Sadly, no. If anything, the industry has regressed."

You see, Dennis, today's message placement 2.0 professionals already know it's all about the math. By following each other to inflate rankings, they can very easily demonstrate to an unsuspecting client just how successfully they can reach a greater readership online than the total combined circulation of the top five newspapers, with more "hits" to boot. Cool, eh?

How do they do it? Easy! Message placement 2.0 doesn't require any story writing skills whatsoever. Just replace journalists with other public relations pals and followers. After all, if everyone in your echo chamber is an ally, then you may never have to worry about the surprisingly few pros who sometimes serve as industry foils:

PR Watch
Valley Wag
Bad Pitch Blog
Collateral Damage

Sure, I know what some might be thinking. Message placement 2.0 doesn't do a thing for clients if flacks are simply passing pitches around to other flacks. However, let's face facts. It's a whole lot of fun to hang out with friends for $2,000 to $10,000 a month. The client will be even happier living in ignorant bliss. And the latest mantra "just be, online" can thrive as the advice du jour. Scared yet?

You will be. Come back tomorrow for a "no chills, just trauma" take on Matt Bacak!


Tuesday, September 2

Earning Distinction: HWH PR

bad pitch award
HWH PR was apparently awarded the Bad Pitch Blog Lifetime Achievement Award for the worst in public relations yesterday. This dubious distinction comes after two years of spamming bloggers, journalists, and anyone else who might be unfortunate enough to make their mass blast email list.

The Bad Pitch Blog sums up its assessment as “Blasting news releases to anyone with an email address and ignoring their replies is not practicing media relations – it’s spamming.” Case in point, HWH PR is the one reason I won’t write anything about MyClick technology and everything about MyClick’s inability to hire a public relations firm that knows what they are doing.

Even after writing a post that outlined several shortcomings of the so-called public relations firm (without naming it) and asking to be removed from all future pitches, HWH PR continues to send me one poorly written pitch after another, with the most recent from Lois Whitman landing in my spam folder just last month. The release is nothing more than an embarrassing exercise in turning client news into non-news:

Visitors to China Mobile’s Pavilion at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games Exhibition are experiencing MyClick’s unique breakthrough image-matching technology. The MyClick technology allows visitors to access instant information and pass on their best wishes to the Olympic Games with just a few clicks on their mobile phones.

One would think even a first year student of public relations would be able to find some semblance of a news story for an upstart company landing some space at the Olympics, but not HWH PR. They trivialize any hope of a hook to the point of absurdity. Even if I could have salvaged the story for them, I already know that it is a complete waste of time to contact this firm.

They have no idea who they send pitches to and don’t want to be bothered by the people they pitch. It’s about that simple. Other HWH PR “spam, don’t speak” clients include Samsung, Westinghouse Digital, and Dotster.


Wednesday, August 20

Melting Credibility: Bigfoot Hunters

So Matt Whitton and his friend Rick Dyer, a former Georgia corrections officer, supposedly chanced onto the remains of Bigfoot and decided to share their story on YouTube. More recently, they held a press conference.

"It's not a human, it's not an ape," Whitton, a Georgia police officer, told the media.

Whitton was right about that. It wasn’t human or an ape, but a rubber suit designed to drive traffic to their Web site and, presumably, to an online store where you can purchase a shirt or spend upwards of $5,000 (currently) to be taken to the site where they found, er, planted their phony evidence.

The Bigfoot hunters are probably not laughing now. The police department intends to fire Whitton; they will likely be charged with fraud; and the messages filling up their guest book are less than sympathetic.

While Whitton and Dyer reportedly admitted it to be a hoax after being confronted, they have since fled. And most people, it seems, consider Tom Biscardi, who was allegedly defrauded for $50,000 or more, in on the hoax.

Perhaps most disappointed of all was Jeffrey Turner, chief of police in Clayton County, Georgia. He had granted Whitton medical leave after the officer was shot while attempting to stop a robbery.

“This turn of events from hero to someone who defrauds a nation is just baffling. I don’t know how he got from one point to the other,” Turner told the reporters. “For someone to do a complete three-sixty like that, I can't explain it."

Hmmm … maybe those Bigfoot hunters were led to believe that “all publicity is good publicity.”


Monday, June 16

Taking Responsibility: Public Relations Spam 2

I have developed a great relationship with Kevin Goodman over the last year, mostly because he tends to ask the right questions. Not many people do that. And for Goodman, the issue of public relations spam is no exception.

Goodman suggests that if public relations spam exists, then why would journalists accept major newswire services, which basically “blast” releases all over the place? And, given this, why wouldn’t a public relations firm simply buy their databases and build their own lists?

Easy. PR Newswire doesn’t really blast anything. It’s a passive service, where journalists can go for story leads and get a quick snapshot of insights into specific industries. Contrary, the single release, especially if it is off target, doesn’t provide a service.

The difference between the two can be likened to visiting a company Web site or being pelted by junk e-mails every day.

So while these services create the illusion that there are thousands of journalists looking for releases, the reality is that none of them are looking for releases at all. They are looking for stories — preferably good ones that haven’t appeared everywhere else.

While a few releases do result in good stories, the vast majority only contain information that a company or public relations professional considers news and not necessarily what a journalist or various publics might consider news. Again, the difference is as vast as junk mail. The companies who send it never consider their own mailers junk; they consider it a valuable service in delivering offers that consumers would have to be stupid to refuse.

Maybe there is too much “I” think in public relations and not enough “publics” think, which is what journalists tend to have.

In other words, some (not all) public relations professionals focus so much on column inches and inclusion counts that they forget the needs of their various publics. Once one understands which publics might be interested in any particular news story (assuming it is news), then finding the right publications (and the right journalists working for those publications) becomes much more effective, especially if you can narrow it down to a handful.

Revisiting Chris Anderson at Wired and others who ban releases from select companies and public relations firms.

I’ve said this before, but in reality, Anderson didn’t set a precedent. Editors and journalists have been ignoring and banning releases for years. His post just happened to be noticed because he published the e-mails of those firms he considered spam. I would not have done that, but I don’t fault him for his decision.

Goodman goes a step further in questioning if Anderson’s post that outed alleged public relations spammers last October could be libelous.

Addressing the question in depth would require another post, but a truncated view is simply not in the least. Factual accuracy is the ultimate defense against libel. And, the First Amendment protects any opinions. It’s more than fair for Anderson to critique releases.

And sure while anyone who has served as an editor knows they will receive a certain amount of spam, they are under obligation to gleefully accept it, offer pointers, or run it. It’s not their job.

I think it’s great that some editors do take the time to do it, and those who make such investments are providing gifts, not necessarily setting a standard.

In sum, the real shift in public relations begins with responsibility and not necessarily responsibility for the industry. Just because your client wants you to send non-news, doesn’t mean you have to. Just because someone says they have a list doesn’t mean it’s worth the paper it’s printed on. Just because you have a list, doesn’t mean you have to send everything to everyone. And just because someone says something about an industry, doesn't mean you have to own it.

There are plenty of bad ads out there. Most ad agencies aren't bothered by them beyond their front door.


Friday, June 6

Working For Funny: Derrie-Air Airlines

Philadelphia Media Holdings, which owns The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, and its advertising agency, Gyro, had a clever idea. They decided to create a campaign for the fictional Derrie-Air airlines with the idea being to test the results of advertising in their print and online products, and “to stimulate discussion on a timely environmental topic of interest to all citizens.”

Philadelphia Media Holdings spokesman Jay Devine added that the goal was to "demonstrate the power of our brands in generating awareness and generating traffic for our advertisers, and put a smile on people's faces."

The campaign, which touts that air travelers will pay by the pound on the new luxury airline, is cute enough to make someone smile. But does it really accomplish any other goal?

Smiles aside, the campaign employs a value proposition that most companies cannot match (for thin people with light carry-ons anyway). And in reality, most offers are not that interesting. Of course it’s easier to gin up interest on fictional claims. Just ask Steorn. So in terms of generating awareness, any numbers will be nothing more than smoke, fire, and flash.

The same might be said about stimulating discussion on a timely environmental topic. Not many, if anyone, is talking or blogging about the environment because of this campaign. They’re simply talking about the campaign, and not even the cost of the paper needed to print it.

So as much as I enjoy something funny now and again, this campaign needs some sales before it can be called a success. For now, it's only real claim to fame seems to be that is made potential customers work harder for a laugh that any real ad could have delivered for better results. Hmmm ... now that's not so funny.


Tuesday, June 3

Talking Turkey: Andrew Cohen VS. Public Relations

The Buzz Bin is abuzz, providing a snapshot of the "kertuffle" over the CBS analyst Andrew Cohen’s remarks about the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), which was prompted by former presidential press secretary Scott McClellan's new book.

Excerpt from McClellan’s book:

So I stood at the White House briefing room podium in front of the glare of the klieg lights for the better part of two weeks and publicly exonerated two of the senior-most aides in the White House: Karl Rove and Scooter Libby.

There was one problem. It was not true.

Except from PRSA about the book:

In the wake of the recently published book by former presidential press secretary Scott McClellan, PRSA is calling for government reform and challenging the 2008 presidential candidates to adopt a communications policy engaging principles like those in the PRSA Member Code of Ethics.

Excerpt from Cohen about public relations:

Show me a PR person who is "accurate" and "truthful," and I'll show you a PR person who is unemployed.

The reason companies or governments hire oodles of PR people is because PR people are trained to be slickly untruthful or half-truthful. Misinformation and disinformation are the coin of the realm, and it has nothing to do with being a Democrat or a Republican.

Excerpt from Robert French, which mirrors much of the industry reaction:

You know, I see this latest example of PR bashing (from a news network that feeds off of media relations) to be just another in a long line of foolish, ignorant (and a bit arrogant) people. Even funnier, regarding this happening on CBS - of all places, it was their network that recently wanted to farm out some of their coverage to CNN and not do it themselves.

Except from PRSA’s rebuttal:

Regarding your commentary on today’s CBS Sunday Morning, the Board of Directors of the Public Relations Society finds it imperative to affirm the professionalism of public relations practitioners and to take exception with what we regard as a misguided opinion.

Except from Cohen’s rebuttal after the flack:

I am now the target of a public-relations effort to ridicule my effort, my points, my character and integrity. I expected nothing less. I mean, when you make fun of people whose job it is to burnish public images you’ve got to expect they are going to, well, burnish their own public images at the expense of your own. I am not taking it personally.

My take, part one:

Every year, I share two points to public relations professionals that might apply.

1. As a public relations professional, your reputation stays with you, not the company, organization, or government entity that asks you to lie. So, basically, don’t do it.

2. As a public relations professional, you cannot control what other people say; only how you react to what they say.

My take, part two:

I think we just witnessed a mainstream media version of a blog drama among eagles. How very quaint.


Tuesday, May 20

Taking Aim: Nuts To Nielsen

It’s not a great year to be Nielsen. Every time the company attempts to move forward with Anytime Anywhere Media Measurement — A2/M2 — someone is ready to stop them: clients, competition, consumers.

For Project Apollo, a three-year joint project with Arbitron to monitor buying and radio-television habits of 5,000 households, it was clients. They did not want to pay for the results. Consumers weren’t thrilled with the number of tasks they were asked to perform either. It’s not as cool to be a Nielsen family anymore.

It might not be that cool to work at the company either. Jericho fans dumped 4,000 pounds of peanuts on the company’s property last week. It’s a statement to Nielsen that its small sampling sizes are costing consumers their favorite shows, even when they have enough fans to support a convention.

"It's an antiquated rating system that does not count 99.999 percent of actual TV viewers," Jonathan Whitesell, a Jericho fan and organizer of "Nuts To Nielsen!", told Tampa Tribune on May 10.

"We respect the passion of the 'Jericho' fans, but the decision to cancel the show was made by the network, not by Nielsen," spokesperson Gary Holmes said in a statement after receiving the nuts. "We measure programming that is viewed live, on a video recorder and on a PC, and we are confident that our ratings provide a fair measure of what people are viewing."

But fewer and fewer agree. Diane Mermigas, editor-at-large at MediaPost, recently called Nielsen the “about as inane an advertising value as can ever be justified” in her article about other initiatives to find effective measures. She’s not alone.

The differences between Nielsen ratings and other measures continue to grow, more and more shows are seeing 20 percent to 25 percent ratings gains when DVR viewing is calculated and some other are shows doubling their viewership online. It’s easier to get the numbers from TiVo or local cable companies that can count everyone.

A recent Universal McCann study supports how much the Internet has changed. More than 80 percent of the online population watches video clips online and their choice of viewing options goes well beyond YouTube. If you forget to set the DVR, there is always Hulu, CBS, or Apple iTunes.

It’s also one of the reasons CNN’s Veronica Del La Cruz asked how many people watch live news last Friday night. “Fifty percent? Maybe?”

We’re paying attention, she said, before outlining CNN’s iReport, which allows anyone to submit live reports and videos online. More than 900 of these videos have also been featured on CNN. The idea, which originally grew out of citizen submitted coverage of Hurricane Katrina, represents an opportunity for anyone to decide what might be newsworthy.

“Use the tools you find here to share and talk about the news of your world, whether that's video and photos of the events of your life, or your own take on what's making international headlines. Or, even better, a little bit of both.” — iReport.

What makes this significant for Nielsen is that if the company hopes to survive the long-term, it might consider that it has customers on two sides of the aisle. As consumers continue to lose faith in Nielsen, the more likely consumers will pass on being a Nielsen family. Not to mention, no one wants one company to collect all the data.

In fact, from what Whitesell and Jericho fans tell me, Nielsen is not to be trusted. And these fans are not alone.

Anyone who has a show facing cancellation (most recently, the show Moonlight) is continuing to send Nielsen a message — Nielsen might be confident in the rating system, but they are not. It’s a mounting public relations problem that Nielsen has yet to successfully address. For many consumers, Nielsen’s truncated research, not actual viewers, is the only reason their show was cancelled.


Wednesday, April 30

Rolling Dice: Crisis Communication Meltdown

Following the crisis that surrounds the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada over the last several months has been an exercise in evaluating futility. It can best be likened to crisis communication and common sense gone horribly wrong, with dozens involved in making decisions that resemble games of chance.

For example, the majority of physicians who helped Dr. Dipak Desai create a multi-million dollar gastroenterology business, which was closed after causing the largest hepatitis C scare in the country, are reportedly working together to reestablish practices in southern Nevada. Their decision has left the community perplexed.

The few who would comment might have refused to speak about the past and ongoing investigation, but were happy to offer that they wanted to “
get back to the community and give good quality medical care. Our patients deserve the best.” According to the story, at least three clinics may be opened by former Desai physicians.

For example, while no one had reported questionable procedures at the clinics, the investigation has revealed several nurses had complained and at least one quit on the same day she started. In addition to original reports of unsafe injection practices, the investigation has revealed that devices put in patients’ mouths for some procedures as well as single-use biopsy forceps that snip tissue were being reused.

These findings came after a poorly thought out full-page advertisement taken out in the Las Vegas Review-Journal last March. Since, most decisions seem to have followed public outcry.

For example, legislators seem to have prompted the state Board of Medical Examiners to take action after almost two months. The state’s attorney general just recently filed complaints against Desai and Dr. Eladio Carrera, another of the one of four co-owners, on behalf of the board. Both doctors were directly linked to patients who were infected. Desai had voluntarily stopped practicing medicine during the investigation weeks ago.

However, the once prominent physician continues to make decisions that further erode his credibility. The latest speculation, according to the Las Vegas Sun is that Desai may attempt to flee the country while multiple agencies continue their investigation.

The speculation arose after sources said Desai took ownership of two leased Mercedes-Benzes so they may shipped to the country of Dubai. While authorities have not charged Desai with any crime, authorities have flagged his passport, asking that they be notified if he tries to leave the country.

Sometimes public relations practitioners liken crisis communication to proper spin and damage control, rolling the dice on the location of press conferences or playing the “advice of legal counsel” card too frequently, when questionable actions — like shipping your cars off to another country — are patently more damaging than full disclosure.

Besides, sooner or later, public relations practitioners need to remember that reporters learn quick fix tactics as fast as professional dream them up. If you think they don’t know that press conferences are sometimes held across town to avoid on-site coverage, the only person you are really fooling is yourself.


Wednesday, April 2

Wondering About Funny: Corey Levitan

“For the record, I apologize to all the readers I offended, even those who aren't prominent rabbis. Offense is never my intent,” said Corey Levitan, Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist. Humor always is. And humor is subjective, as proven by the people who somehow find Dane Cook to be hilarious.”

This is part of an unsolicited apology received (I’m part of his e-mail list) from columnist Corey Levitan after he “portrayed” a cantor for his Fear In Loafing column a few days ago. The column features Levitan assuming various occupations and then writing about them. Sometimes he is funny. Sometimes he is not, at least not according to some people.

”Mr. Levitan's glib misrepresentations about Reform Judaism were not just erroneous, but disgusting and hurtful,” wrote Rabbi Kenneth I. Segel in a letter to the editor. “Being a clown and imposter is one thing, but denigrating a religious faith is another.”

If the reader was offended by Levitan’s column, there seems to be little doubt that he would have not appreciated the e-mail apology e-mail, as Levitan states … “Frankly, I just can’t see how anyone can interpret the sarcasm of my condensed Jewish history as anything other than glaringly obvious. (Um, I KNOW that Christmas and Easter are not Jewish high holy days.)”

Levitan also mentions receiving about a dozen phone calls accusing him of hating himself for being Jewish. And later goes on to drop Larry David, Jackie Mason, and Mel Brooks as other humorists he is inspired by as a defense.

Ho hum. While the column was meant to be satirical, it was also obvious, in my opinion, that he held back compared to other articles , hinting that maybe he was less comfortable with this one than others. David, Mason, and Brooks never were, which is why they are funny.

While Levitan is right, people are often too sensitive when humor is presented, one wonders whether his e-mail was the best idea. Certainly it was better than Michael Richards’ attempt to defuse racism but perhaps not so solid as what Chris Rock might have done as mentioned in the Richards post.

It invites others who would never have known to opine, dismisses the complaint in a communication vehicle that generally doesn’t employ sarcasm, and alludes to the notion that Levitan might not be against the idea of using the angst of others as publicity. Of course, that all depends whether the two offended rabbis were privy to knowing that they were the rub of Levitan’s more private correspondence.

If they were not included, then no, not so funny. If they were included, then I hope they’re smiling because that might make it funny.


Thursday, February 7

Speaking Chinese: Pandas was not the only SuperBowl advertisement to attempt “ethnic humor,” but it is among the first ads to be pulled amid growing customer complaints.

The New York Times reported yesterday that the spot will be pulled from the airways, though it hasn’t been pulled from the Web site as of this morning.

When I first read the article, I thought to give Vinod Gupta, chairman and chief executive of InfoUSA (parent company of, some props in handling the public relations fallout over the ad. It makes good sense to apologize and pull the advertisement. That’s responsive.

But in looking at his explanation, I became more skeptical. Gupta, who wrote the advertisements himself, told The New York Times that “We never thought anyone would be offended. The pandas are Chinese. They don’t speak German.”

Well, pandas don’t really speak so who really knows.

In looking at the ad again, perhaps I can offer some explanation for Gupta why the pandas drew more criticism than’s Ramesh spot, which also employed accents. Unlike the Ramesh spot, which also wasn’t very good, the pandas cross the fine line between laughing with people and laughing at people.

If Gupta believed his own explanation, then’s “psychic” panda would have a Chinese accent too. She does not. She also adds separation between’s apparently ignorant target audience and the wisdom of the company. The spot just isn’t good enough to carry any comedy.

The Ramesh spot, on the other hand, doesn’t drive home such separation, with exception to the quip about “having seven children,” which is why it didn’t draw criticism. However, there’s another reason too. The spot isn’t good enough to generate any emotion. It just lands flat.

I faced a similar call last year when a client asked me to add in ethnic accents on the tail end of a radio spot. Instead, I wrote the scripts two ways, and the one without accents survived. Why? Because accents aren’t funny. Specific people are funny, whether or not they have an accent makes no difference at all.

Case in point, it’s not funny to learn that people have been making fun of Gupta’s accent for years. What might be funny is a CEO laughing at his own wit and having “yes men” follow him around agreeing with whatever comes out of his mouth. You know, as if he just came up with the best SuperBowl commercials of the year. It might not even be that far from the truth, because this is the second year Gupta-written commercials were disliked.

The New York Times attributed the backlash to being indicative of increasing consumer sensitivity to marketing messages, particularly when ethnic images are involved. Hmmm … I think it is indicative of increasing consumer sensitivity to dumbed down marketing messages, particularly when the only people who like them are the creators. Right on. When you can’t be funny, shoot for publicity. Yuk, yuk, yuk. Yawn.

For another funny, check out MultiCultClassics, where I read Gupta is ready to pick up his pen next year too. I can hear his staff in back ground right now, “Brilliant idea! You're one funny guy.”


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