Thursday, July 14

Running For The Right Reasons

Somewhere in between fighting off a summer cold and keeping pace with our company's out-of-market growth, last week I took time out to have breakfast with longtime friend and legislative representative State Senator Bob Beers. I've known Bob for some time. He was the second candidate that now retired campaign guru Benay Stout recruited us to work with in 1998.

Since that first campaign, which resulted in Bob's election to the Nevada Legislature in 1999, I've played varying roles in every Beers race. The most notable, perhaps, was last year's run for the state senate against longtime incumbent Ray Rawson. Often working without a title, we used to joke that most volunteers considered me either the lead strategic director or resident patsy, which would depend largely on the outcome of the race. Beers won with a respectable 8-point margin, 56-44.

What struck me most about the senate race was that Bob Beers never planned to run. On the contrary, he was compelled to. Senate District 6 residents were disenfranchised with their representative after the unnecessary $833 million tax hike in 2003. Bob, who was serving an assemblyman for District 4 at the time, was one of the few legislative representatives willing to put his own political career on the line and be labeled an 'obstructionist' because he was willing to work tirelessly to dispel the popular doomsday message that Nevada was in trouble without the tax increase. Nowadays, most Nevadans know better. They only need to look at the size of the state surplus to summarize that those taxes were not so necessary after all.

Today is no different. Although openly admitting that they made a mistake and have placed too much tax burden on the backs of Nevada families, the popular position among many legislators is to allow government to grow at a rate two and one-half times faster than the state population. Maybe it's because I'm reading David McCullough's bestselling book "1776," but there seems to be a connection to our country's history and state's current events.

In 1776, Americans were considered to have the best quality of life in the world. They had nicer houses, more opportunities, and bigger fruit tree fields. The English parliament, somewhat disgruntled that their constituents might be able to attain a class reserved for noblemen and their associates, thought to levy tax after tax on the colonies to keep them in check. (Case in point: some members of parliament proposed repealing all those colonial fees and taxes because they knew they were unnecessary.) Some would argue that the same state of affairs exists in Nevada. Many people consider Nevadans to have nicer houses, more opportunities, and bigger fruit tree fields than the rest of the country. Thus, as citizens, the popular view among some in Carson City is that we should not complain so much about the ever-increasing taxes imposed on us.

Right. Most people don't mind taxes provided they are collected to improve our overall quality of life. However, there is a line between taxes levied to improve quality of life and taxes levied that impede your pursuit of it. In Nevada, it seems clear that we have crossed that line. The tax dollars that have been collected seem to have added few tangible benefits.

This is also what struck me upon receiving the pre-announcement head's up that Bob Beers would make a run for governor. He never planned to run. On the contrary, he is compelled to. He knows, as most Nevadans know, that the current direction of our state government needs adjustment before the damage of fiscal irresponsibility cannot be reversed. It's also for this reason that I'll play a role in his race.

Of all the candidates that have surfaced so far, Bob Beers is running for the right reasons. He is running because he wants to preserve a state government that is for the people as opposed to one that is for a few politically correct members of what sometimes appears to be a modern parliament.

Thursday, June 30

Recognizing Publicity Vs. PR

When I returned from Long Beach (where I was covering one of three industry roundtables responsible for guiding the development of the nation's next generation 911 system), I was greeted by two requests soliciting our services to assist with 'publicity' generation.

It seemed to me they really meant they needed public relations support or perhaps strategic communication planning. What's the difference? Everything. Sure, publicity works for some people and places of business, but it's not for everyone.

For our two prospective clients, I provided a textbook difference between publicity and public relations. For the purposes of this post, I thought it would be more fun to provide an example: recently paid $529.99 on eBay for a ''Celebrity Jar'' that contains the air of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

The jar, in case you missed it, is an ordinary wide mouth, quart-sized mason jar that the seller brought to the premiere of Mr. & Mrs. Smith in Westwood, Calif. As megastars Pitt and Jolie strolled across the red carpet, the jar was opened to capture the air molecules expelled by the stars of the blockbuster movie. It was then sealed and placed in a safe deposit box.

The Celebrity Jar has been featured on several media outlets, including Access Hollywood, Star Magazine, E! Online, MSNBC, ESPN, and CBS. The extensive media coverage sparked the attention of, the Internet casino that turned the world's biggest auction site into the world's most unlikely publicity vehicle.

''This is another perfect example of pop culture phenomenon,'' said CEO Richard Rowe. ''There is literally nothing in this jar except air, and it has made headlines all over the country and even overseas. The sheer weirdness and absurdity of this item has made it a marketing success.''

In the last year or so, has purchased several pop culture oddities, including the Virgin Mary grilled cheese sandwich, Britney Spears' pregnancy test, Marilyn Monroe's personal address book, and Pope Benedict XVI's previously-owned VW Golf. All of the purchases have garnered extensive worldwide media attention.

Perfect. The odd ball purchases generate publicity while the quote from Rowe is an attempt to infuse some public relations. In other words, Rowe says we buy this stuff because we're interested in exposure and not simply because we're weird or easily duped.

Of course, that is not to say this would work for everyone. Imagine what might happen if your local utility made the same purchase on the same day you received your monthly statement. Right. Publicity works best for flamboyant products and personalities. For the rest of us, public relations remains the better bet unless you're willing to risk a wardrobe malfunction.

Thursday, June 23

Finding The Right Niche

For some time, I've educated several business owners in Las Vegas that narrowing their target audience can increase sales faster than targeting the general public. A few have scratch their heads, offering up that they felt they had a product or service for everybody and how difficult it is turn business away in a booming economy like Nevada. The reality: no one has a product or service that truly appeals to everyone. There are dominant brands, certainly, but relatively few monopolies.

A good example of success by narrowing a niche can easily be found in the food and beverage industry. Several companies discovered that marketing food and beverages specifically to women was lucrative, creating a market that grew at a compound annual rate of 80 percent between 2000 and 2004. According to The U.S. Market for Women's Food and Beverages, a new report from market research publisher Packaged Facts, this industry has grown to $4.6 billion.

Women's food was a nascent field in 2000, registering sales of $430 million. In this decade, the food and beverage industry realized that the nutritional needs of women demand special attention and despite some ill-fated, non-strategic, early efforts to market "women's" food, the category has since exploded. In fact, Packaged Facts forecasts that retail sales of women's foods and beverages will reach $58.7 billion by 2009.

The women's food and beverage industry ranges from many small companies to large international corporations, but for the most part, successful women's food and beverage companies are the mid-sized U.S. businesses. They've done incredibly well focusing on their target consumer and then distributing products through health food and natural foods stores. In time, this strategy could provide these companies an opportunity to develop new products or re-market existing products to the general public later (capitalizing on brand recognition established with women at speciality stores). In the interim, they are content with tremendous niche growth and, in some cases, a healthier profit margin.

If you would like to know more about this market, U.S. Market for Women's Food and Beverages has a comprehensive analysis of the U.S. retail marketplace for women's foods and beverages; demographic profiles based on Simmons data; and a thorough analysis of trends such as health concerns on women's purchasing habits. The report also describes the creative landscape, profiles key players, and reviews advertising and promotional efforts. The report can be purchased directly from Packaged Facts or

If you would like to know more about narrowing your niche market, regardless of product or service, drop us an e-mail. We'll be happy to provide a few recommendations or suggestions to refine your marketing efforts. I'm sure I'll touch on this topic in the future too; for now and the next few weeks, however, I'm temporarily limiting new posts to Thursdays (last Sunday was Father's Day and I have business pending in Long Beach this Sunday) until my schedule opens up a bit more.

Thursday, June 16

Missing A Promo Moment

Last March, Copywrite, Ink. was recognized with two awards of excellence during the Las Vegas Advertising Federation's Addy Awards, which is part of the AAF's annual competition here in Las Vegas.

While winning awards three months ago hardly seems worth the mention, it is news to us and our project partners. I received the call the day before yesterday; the Ad Fed was wondering when we were going to pick the awards up. I didn't know because I was traveling on business when the event was held.

The first award of excellence was earned for the Nevada Commission for National and Community Service's Governor's Points of Light program, which folds down into a triangular U.S. flag (not shown, but likely to be included in the portfolio section of our site redesign). Earlier in the year, it earned a Bronze Quill (top award) from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). We contracted Las Vegas-based 3rd Degree Burns to assist on this project. We provided creative direction and copywriting while Brian Burns executed the design and covered the press checks. We've won several awards with him.

The second piece to receive an award was our first with Colorado-based Aisle 9 Design (one panel shown here). I was especially pleased to learn this one received recognition because the piece was a cooperative self-promotional direct mailer we've been field testing in select markets. My thinking is that since the piece targets ad agency creative directors (and the judges were major market ad agency CDs), we successfully hit our target audience. I also like that the piece dispels one of the myths about award competitions: you do not need a huge project budget for a competent, creative, and effective piece.

This was the third or fourth project we've done with Ryan Burke at Aisle 9 and we're looking forward to our next. We complement each other's work well, with each building upon the other's area of expertise. Even better, it's always a positive, productive experience. I'd recommend him to anyone; but I hoping our our next gig together will be as a team.

And no, I'm not just saying this because of the award. Personally, I have mixed feelings about the abundance of awards given out in our industry. Sure, peer review can always be healthy, but sometimes there is a tendency to place too much emphasis on awards and not enough on results (I've seen too many industry folks have their feelings bruised over acrylic). The real merit of a piece should always be based on its ability to meet its objective. There are many times I've considered swearing off award competitions all together.

But then I reconsider, largely for two reasons. First, it's an excellent promotional opportunity that, as a company that agencies outsource to, always attracts the attention of our primary target audience. Second, and more importantly, since we never tell anyone what we've entered, it's always a pleasant surprise for them to learn they were recognized, client or vendor. We really do appreciate the people who work with us.

In closing, since I have yet to update the award PDFs on our site, we received recognition for a few other projects at the Bronze Quills Awards that I mentioned: a second Bronze Quill for the Southern Hills Hospital Grand Opening postcard (completed with The Idea Factory), excellences for Writing Portfolio, GPOL Silent Auction Support Letter, and merits for the Swiss Medica Trade Show Booth (with former client Eclipse), a news release for Nevada Shakespeare in the Park, and a television spot for Cadillac called Summer Trip (with longtime client The Idea Factory).

Sunday, June 5

Inspiring Communication Redesign

Like most communication firms, ad agencies, and creative shops, self promotion often takes a back seat to client assignments. At least, that's what our industry tells itself (and prospective clients) when visitors stumble onto their dusty, outdated Web sites that are perpetually ''under construction.''

The truth is there are only two motivations for firms and agencies in our industry to make self promotion a priority. The firm either has too much idle time and the slow down is starting to scare its principals or the company has a compelling reason to shift its communication strategy.

I'm happy to say we have a compelling reason. Copywrite, Ink. will be celebrating its 15-year anniversary in 2006 and our client base is continuing to become increasingly global, with some of our recent service deliveries to Belgium, France, and India. Stateside, we've added or are adding clients in Mesquite, Reno, San Diego, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. In the months ahead, we're targeting several other out-of-market communities, which I won't name now, in order to finalize a business strategy that we began implementing almost five years ago.

Despite benefiting from numerous opportunities fueled by double digit growth in Las Vegas, we've always maintained that diversifying our client base would benefit our company in the long run. One of the many reasons is that Las Vegas may be an international destination, but it is easy for Las Vegas-based companies to become isolated from the rest of the world.

Case in point, the most often bandied-about phrase by communication professionals in our market when outside professionals evaluate local work is ''they don't understand our market.'' Sure, Las Vegas does have a few unique communication needs. All communities do. But it's not so unique that creative professionals - writers or designers - should abandon strategic communication all together.

Not all of them do, which is why the same few agencies in this market continue to excel while others struggle. We're fortunate to work with some of the best local agencies that can compete regionally (or nationally) just as easily as they compete locally. So do we, which is why we're repositioning our company and redesigning our Web site in the weeks ahead.

Watch for a few design changes, first our Web site, and then, perhaps, this blog. We look forward to working with you too.

Thursday, June 2

Prescribing Credibility Online

A new study of consumer attitudes toward health care information sponsored by Medical Broadcasting Company (MBC) and fielded by Nielsen/NetRatings found that the Internet is seen as the most trusted media source for consumers, decisively outstripping offline media when consumers want credible health information.

While research shows that consumers trust their doctor first when it comes to health information, patients are increasingly using the Internet to inform the doctor-patient dialogue. In this new survey, 42 percent of respondents said they trusted health information they found on the Internet, compared to just 16 percent for information found in other forms of media. Consumers are also taking advantage of the great depth of health information on the Internet. More than 85 percent of respondents said they look at two or more Web sites when searching for health information.

The survey also found that over 65 percent of respondents said they use the Internet to research important health topics before and after they visit a doctor. And despite recent challenges to the credibility of the pharmaceutical industry, nearly one-third of respondents said they use the Internet to visit pharmaceutical company Web sites for information about prescription products.

This growing trend is not limited to health care. More and more, people are turning to the Internet in order to formulate a base knowledge on products and services before they consult experts or purchase products and to gain more insight prior to making a decision. Part of the reason can easily be attributed to the searchability of the Internet. But another part of the reason can be traced to consumer trust, online and off.

For years, consumers have been plagued by marketers aiming to oversimplify messages, leaving consumers with no reasonable understanding of how to make their purchasing decisions. For example, one newly released book claims that emotion-laced copy stands a better chance to sell a diamond than a brief description of its size, shape and four Cs.

Hmmm. I'm not entirely convinced. Certainly some emotion-laced copy might draw the reader in, but sooner or later a well-versed consumer who has searched the Internet and become familiar with the four Cs will use that information to draw comparisons between one stone and another (unless you give them a reason that supersedes the four Cs as we recently did for one of our European clients).

Certainly the authors have demonstrated some great streamlining Web solutions for several clients, but they miss the mark on crafting messages by falling into the trap of telling people what they 'should do.' Marketing and advertising are as much an art as a science. There are no 'shoulds' and more consumers know that now more than ever before. As the study suggests: consumers are no longer satisfied with doctors saying they 'should' take this or that. They want to know what taking this and that means exactly. They want to feel informed and they are finding the Internet makes them feel that way.

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