Monday, September 11

Sacrificing The First Celebrity


So the team behind the lonelygirl15 YouTube mystery has come forward, claiming that lonelygirl15 is part of their “show” and thanking their fans effusively for tuning in to “the birth of a new art form.”

New? Not really.

In 1938, H. G. Wells led thousands to believe that an interplanetary conflict had started with invading Martians spreading wide death and destruction in New Jersey and New York. The broadcast disrupted households, interrupted religious services, created traffic jams, clogged communications systems, and, in one Newark neighborhood, prompted more than twenty families to rush out of their houses with wet handkerchiefs and towels over their faces to flee from what they believed was to be a gas raid.

Naturally, Orson Wells did provide ample announcements during the broadcast that emphasized the story was fictional. But in 1990, pop artists Milli Vanilli, who virtually had a similar effect on the public, did not warn the public.

It was during a live performance at the Lake Compounce theme park in Connecticut that their song "Girl You Know It's True" jammed and began to skip, repeating the line "Girl, you know it's-" over and over. Later, it was confirmed to reporters on Nov. 15, 1990 that Morvan and Pilatus did not sing on the records, causing a class action lawsuit that resulted in a multi-million dollar refund for anyone who wanted to return the record for any reason.

Just a few years earlier, in 1988, the public had chastised front-running presidential candidate Gary Hart for having an extramarital affair. Hart dared the press to "Follow me around. I don't care. I'm serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They'll be very bored." Unfortunately for him, two reporters from the Miami Herald took up his challenge and observed an attractive young woman coming out of Hart's Washington, D.C., townhouse on the evening of May 2. By the end of the New Hampshire primary, it was clear that Gary Hart's White House hopes were over.

Orson Wells. Milli Vanilli. Gary Hart. While all three were ridiculed for the outcomes, all three also softened public expectations, opening the doors for the others to do virtually the same thing without any public backlash.

Ashlee Simpson received widespread derision, but survived, using a pre-recorded vocal track for a performance on Saturday Night Live in 2004. Bill Clinton was impeached, but largely survived his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, a young female White House intern. And countless radio shows and movies have borrowed Wells' concept to create faux reality entertainment without any impact whatsoever.

Lonelygirl15 is nothing much more than the first 'vlogger' caught presenting fiction as fact, opening the doors wide open for similar Web programming in the future, where storytelling is sometimes difficult to discern from the real thing in what sometimes seems like a 'War of the Words' not 'War of the Worlds.'

Ironically, Loneygirl15 will not be the one who really benefits. I think documentary filmmaker Brian Flemming is right. The lonelygirl15 phenomenon has "jumped the shark."

Personally, whether the public will be softened to faux reality Web shows after ceremonially sacrificing their first 'Web celebrity' or not —open, honest, and candid communication remains the best policy for entertainers, marketing gurus, politicians, corporate executives, and anyone else who wants to survive longer than the fifteen minutes of hype. And that's advice you can take to the bank.

Sunday, September 10

Adding Broadcast Experience

Broadcast
After returning from a successful strategic communication development session in Chico, Calif., we took a few minutes this weekend to release Copywrite, Ink.'s third pdf portfolio page at copywriteink.com. The Broadcast page presents a glimpse into our direct and indirect work with broadcasters that include ABC, FOX, and PBS.

From assisting in the development of startup networks and providing local support services to major broadcasters to working on cross-over promotions for shows like American Idol (with Madame Tussaud's) and Extreme Makeover Home Edition (with Acme Home Elevator), we have a unique understanding of the industry from the inside out. Such knowledge also proves useful when we script (and sometimes produce) radio and television commercials for a variety of clients.

For account experience in other industries, download our select account experience lists. Our next pdf portfolio page, featuring property development experience, will be released on or before Sept. 18.

Wednesday, September 6

Trending Toward Entertainment

There are hundreds of comments critiquing Katie Couric and her debut on Tuesday as a “CBS Evening News” anchor and the first woman to solo anchor for a major broadcast network newscast. Whether you think she seemed to struggle to keep a lid on her trademark perkiness or not, public relations professionals should take note.

National news, much like local news, has been and continues to trend toward interactive entertainment. From asking viewers to send in potential Couric sign-off lines to including a new regular feature called "Free Speech," a segment of opinion and commentary from a wide range of Americans, it's clear that the network has a new formula in mind for the future of news.

As Greg Kandra, CBS editor, wrote on one of several CBS blog strings: "Katie intends for this blog to be a dialogue, not a monologue. Don't be bashful. Most postings will have a comment section, so feel free to post and comment and tell us what you really think."

Why? News commentary and controversy have become the norm and CBS is struggling to emerge with something fresh for television by borrowing something old from radio: active participation. It's an interesting concept that means public relations professionals should prep clients as if they are attending a public forum as well as a media interview.

For the public, as the trend solidifies, it means even more difficulty in discerning fact from opinion, especially as more and more reporters seem eager to polarize what once was their common ground to find the truth. In today's world, the only common ground seems to be that criticism delivered Olberman-style means stealing tomorrow's headlines and public interest or that presenting to extremely polar opposite guests always makes for interesting, if nonsensical, controversy.

Nowadays, the truth is often, not always, somewhere in the ever-expanding middle. Personally, I hope the public knows it.

Tuesday, September 5

Remembering Dana Plato


After watching NBC's Behind The Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Diff'rent Strokes yesterday and then reading a review on TV Squad, which points out that the actors never seemed to be held accountable for their failures as young adults, I thought I'd offer up a personal perspective because, frankly, I think TV Squad is wrong.

But then again, I saw a different side of Dana Plato, one that did not make the show.

Sure, I'll agree that the movie drifted far too often into melodrama, but I'm not convinced the view was all that unbalanced. While I cannot speak for Todd Bridges or Gary Coleman, because I never met them, I did meet and speak with Dana for several hours in March 1992, shortly after her arrest for forging prescriptions for Valium in Las Vegas.

I was given the assignment by ShowBiz Weekly, which has recently transformed into LVM (Las Vegas Magazine). At the time, ShowBiz Weekly was also Las Vegas' local cable listing guide similar to TV Guide, which included articles that went beyond typical production show write-ups and reviews.

Shortly after Dana's arrest, Dennis Levinson had given her an opportunity to star in the production 'Tropical Heat,' which played at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino. It was her first stage role.

''When I was sitting in the Clark County Jail, I thought it was all over,'' she told me. ''Now, I thank Dennis Levinson for an opportunity most wouldn't have gotten.''

In the show, she played sidekick to Tom Walleck. Her character, Pricilla, was an attorney's associate who must pass a test for a second chance at life. Not unlike Dana herself.

In fact, after speaking with her for nearly two hours, it seemed to me that her life was about to imitate art. Dana was ready for a second chance: she was in a drug and alcohol dependency program, attended regular group sessions, and had recently met her biological mother. She was even ready to become an anti-drug advocate.

''What I was trying to do for a long time was ask for help, but I didn't know how,'' she told me. ''When you have a dependency program, you don't know how to ask for help, even when you know you need to.''

When I asked about her daily counseling sessions, the interview turned more personal than professional. She spoke about it candidly, honestly, and in surprising detail.

''Can I tell you something?'' she frowned. ''Everybody is really nice, but I don't feel like have any friends. Maybe we could be friends.''

I told her I would welcome it. You see, Bridges and Coleman are spot on. Dana was a free spirit, someone who was incredibly at ease sharing herself as a person. In fact, we may have even become better friends than a single follow-up after I saw the stage show (she was curious what I thought) had it not been for an overly protective public relations specialist, rightfully distrusting of a young 20-something reporter hoping to get another assignment.

When I asked about her upcoming sentencing, the public relations specialist breezed back into the dressing room, ears perked, and said: "My, my, you two seem to be becoming fast friends. Now, Dana, we don't want you to talk about your upcoming sentencing with a reporter. I think you have enough for an article on the show. Don't you?''

"See what I mean," Dana had whispered.

As a public relations specialist, I would have said the same thing. Journalists, even friendly ones who spend most of their time on the other side of the fence, cannot be trusted. After all, it's their job to tell the truth, especially little known truths about people in the public eye. In fact, it's for that very reason I tend to gravitate more to the other side ... I enjoy looking for the best in people, even when the worst is being laid out in vivid detail.

Looking back, I can safely say it was a shame we did not become better friends nor that the show, which was 'all right' by any standards except those of glitzy Las Vegas, did not last long. Within a few months, Dana's second chance evaporated. And so did our brief semi-professional acquaintance.

I went on to string for ShowBiz Weekly for several years, including ongoing coverage of Siegfried & Roy. She left Las Vegas and moved on to Florida, until apparently committing suicide on her way to back to California to revive her career.

Coleman and Bridges always say they doubt she intended to commit suicide. I have to admit, though I hardly knew her for a minute by comparison, I tend to agree with them. There was something about Dana, despite some life choices and bad luck, that made the people who let her be herself feel like anything was possible even if she didn't have as much faith in herself.

That's the way I'll always remember her, one little piece of personal history as we celebrate 15 years of professional service. Enjoy.

Monday, September 4

Self-fulfilling Prophesies

Some insiders within the Las Vegas tourism industry remain concerned that Americans might stay closer to home when they travel as flight restrictions continue to tighten. Enough so that they may reallocate national and international marketing dollars to regional drive-in markets. If they're not careful, they just might prove themselves right.

The truth is, despite industry concerns, a poll released by Harris Interactive on Sept. 1 indicates only one-third of U.S. adults said their attitude toward flying changed because of the uncovered terrorist plot and recent increase in carry-on restrictions.

Further, only one in ten U.S. adults say they made changes to their travel plans to avoid flying while three-quarters (76%) did not make any changes. Seven in ten (70%) say that they are anticipating flying the same amount in the next twelve months as they did in the previous twelve and 6 percent will be flying more.

Add to this domestic insight: international visitors spent a record-breaking $104.8 billion on travel-related goods and services in the United States in 2005. And according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, international visitation to the United States increased 7 percent to 49.9 million visitors in 2005, representing a 12 percent increase over 2004.

So despite ample research that demonstrates fly-in traffic will NOT be significantly impacted, the most likely cause of any in-bound Las Vegas travel dips may very well coincide with the reallocation of marketing dollars. Even more ironic, those who suggested the change might even pat themselves on the back for accurately forecasting the future.

Sometimes marketing is like that.

Saturday, September 2

Adding B2B Experience


We've added Copywrite, Ink.'s second pdf portfolio page at copywriteink.com. The B2B page presents a glimpse of our work for companies that provide a diverse array of business services.

While we do not list everyone we're working with or have worked with during the last 15 years, the experience overviews and mini-histories highlight accounts that many advertising agencies, public relations firms, and other communication-related businesses entrust us with to provide words, concepts, and strategies.

For account experience in other industries, download our select account experience lists. Our next pdf portfolio page, featuring broadcast experience, will be released on or before Sept. 12.

Friday, September 1

Stripping Away Private Conversations

In early 2005, the Las Vegas chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), recognizing that blogs represented the next evolution of communication, asked me to speak on transforming blogs into business strategy. Copywrite, Ink. had already conducted several years of research in the area and actively tracked blogs' exponential growth rate.

While the presentation included the characteristics, demographics, and growing influence of blogs, we also offered up the impact that blogs could have on communication. We cautioned our audience, and still do today, that blogs (and similar outlets such a YouTube) mark a diminished ability to control a message while increasing the need for accountability, transparency, and rapid response.

And above all, we warned, there is no such thing as a private conversation.

Under all circumstances, the golden rule for public relations practitioners, public figures, and corporate executives is if you would not want your statement to be quoted in the Wall Street Journal or on CNN, then DO NOT SAY IT AT ALL. And now it seems to me, as news reporters have evolved from covering public figures to becoming public figures, there is a growing need in the media industry to learn the very public relations skills they once criticized.

Kyra Phillips certainly could have benefited. When her wireless microphone picked up her muffled conversation about her husband, brother, and sister-in-law in the bathroom — "I've got to be protective of him. He's married, three kids and his wife is just a control freak" — she learned the hard way that members of the media are no longer exempt from public scrutiny.

CNN later apologized to the White House, but, citing corporate policy, said it wouldn't comment on whether anyone would be disciplined. It seems to me it is unlikely anyone will be disciplined. No one is sure whether it was a technical or human malfunction. Other than appearing on Letterman, however, Phillips has not personally offered any comment on the conversation.

This is precisely where bloggers demonstrate public influence. As much as CNN would prefer the story die a quiet death, Phillips remains the top searched name on the Internet. Why?

Silence after a mini communication crisis is like adding lighter fluid to a fire.

We saw the same thing in Las Vegas a few months ago. Congressman Jim Gibbons, Republican candidate for governor, bragged to a Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter about using his state legislative position to be rehired at Delta Air Lines years ago. After his opponents and political bloggers labeled his story a case study in extortion and ethics, his campaign quietly prayed the mistake would simply go away. After several weeks, the tiny flame began to rage into a 4-alarm fire on the Internet. The campaign had no choice but to put it out by calling the Gibbons' account nothing more than a misstatement.

The cost was phenomenal. While the story eventually shifted, the campaign was forced to spend nearly $1 million to retain Gibbons' lead in the primary. Certainly, the 'extortion' story wasn't the only reason, but it certainly lent traction to his opposition. Gibbons is not the only one out there. There seems to be a surge of misstatements — from accidental insensitive slurs to poorly planned racial jokes — and almost every one of them has been largely mishandled. Enough so that political pundits are more inclined to discuss whether misstatements are covered fairly instead of asking why it was said in the first place.

The bottom line is that the advent of new alternative media, blogs and webcasts, means there is no longer any such thing as a private conversation. The person you are talking to today could very easily be blogging about what you said tomorrow. And, if what you said happens to be blogged about enough, it will very likely make CNN and the Wall Street Journal. Fail to respond, even for a second, and if the major media outlets do not ratchet it up, several million bloggers probably will.

Thursday, August 31

Killing The Message

Sometimes watching what our peers are producing in the advertising industry is akin to witnessing brand-assisted suicide. And it happens all too much.

This week, we witnessed two more message massacres: Ikea could have used Photoshop to pull up the covers and CBS used Photoshop a bit too much on Katie Couric. For all their years of building brand, it only took a few minutes for Ikea to move from 'cool furniture' to 'pet sexploitation' and CBS from having a 'fan-friendly' Katie Couric to a 'Celebrity Fit Club candidate.'

I cannot even begin to comment on Kyra Phillips' credibility crusher here. Frankly, it deserves its own post, not because she made a mistake when she forgot to turn her mic off, but because her candid sister-in-law commentary wasn't even fit for toilet talk.

It's a shame. And it happens all too much. Augusten Burroughs, former ad copywriter turned self-degregating but entertaining confessional author, paints a pretty good picture of how it happens in his book Possible Side Effects.

Burroughs shares a story about how he and a colleague came up with a not so strategic but what would have been a reasonably effective ad campaign for Junior Mints. Their idea was to create a montage spot with people reaching for Junior Mints when you least expect it — while driving in a convertible, riding on a roller coaster, even watching a good movie — and then superimposing a play on words 'Refresh ... mint,' Excite ... mint,' 'Entertain ... mint,' etc.

While the idea is hardly industry earth-shattering, it is cute enough to grab attention and smart enough to solve several of the major problems the client claimed to have: Junior Mints are likened to being a boring movie candy.

It takes less than a single client review meeting to melt the idea. Burroughs humorously conveys what happened at the meeting and how the client strips the concept down to showing a bunch of people standing in a supermarket munching mints right there in the aisle. As funny as it reads in the book, I also found it tragic. It's tragic because the entire chapter is nothing less than being unable to avert your eyes at the scene of an auto accident.

One of the very few rules to consider in advertising is that "nobody is as interested in a product as the company who makes it." Endless product shots and people popping mints is boring. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a guy watching a poll-dancing Burger "King" is, frankly, the quickest way to kill any appetite.

So there you have it. Ikea could have pulled up the blanket (or at least picked a different shot). Couric could have used a new photo shoot (though the color correction would have been okay). Junior Mints needed to add some excitement to its spots. The Burger King creative people are allowed to run amok too much.

At the end of the day, what they all seem to be missing is one simple truth: the answer to most advertising dilemmas lands somewhere in the middle: creative ideas that change people's behavior, giving them a real reason to buy one product over another. Crazy.

Tuesday, August 29

Breathing Life From Blogs

After ''Snakes On A Plane'' saw an opening weekend that didn't rattle anyone's cage, movie critics and insiders speculated that maybe, Internet buzz will never translate into big bucks. Bloggers are setting out to prove the entertainment industry wrong by latching onto ''Till The Sun Turns Black'' and driving up a sudden interest in Ray LaMontagne.

If this sudden blogger buzz translates into a sales surge for album producer Stone Dwarf Music, LLC, then maybe bloggers can restate their case. The bottom line: whether or not you think Ray LaMontagne will carve a place in history like Ben Harper or The Black Keys, you have to admit that this is a 'blog influence' case study worth watching.

Connecting The Dots In TV

Broadcast television is about to change forever and not in the way you might think. Well, maybe in the way you might think, but not in the way some business insiders do. They need to connect the dots.

We immediately saw the writing on the wall last week when BusinessWeek reported that YouTube broke the 500 million video views mark in seven months, which is only a chip shot away from overtaking video view leader MSN Video. Most people raced to the site to see what the buzz was about. Even BusinessWeek reporter Rob Hof noted his surprise when YouTube reported serving 30 million video streams per day.

''I assumed they meant 30 million a MONTH,'' Hof wrote. ''Nope, 30 million a day.''

For most people, the YouTube buzz is about offering mainstream shows from the current season (except those with pay-to-view podcasts), clips from TV's earliest days, and homemade movies from around the world. YouTube has even resulted in some aspiring production talents getting placed with big companies and broke a few political foot-in-mouth stories.

On its own, it is hardly earthshaking. Until, you, let's say, take a peek at what AT&T has been up to for months.

In June, AT&T made its U-verse TV service commercially available to 5,000 homes in San Antonio and the company has said it plans to spend $4.6 billion through 2008 to bring television and high-speed Internet services to almost 19 million homes.

If you don't know about AT&T U-Verse, it's about time you did. Although it's still being perfected, U-Verse provides all-digital television on your TV and home computer at the same time. Of course, that's just the beginning. It also blends in Internet and telecommunications too. In fact, San Antonio already has some 150+ channels to choose from, including local stations.

Connect the dots.

As entertainment turns digital and communications is combined, traditional broadcast producers will see a brand new competitor emerging from the ranks. It might even be you.

You see, right now, YouTube amateurs are just starting to get their acts together. It won't take long before a few ambitious YouTubers begin producing full-length shows beyond the mini-clips and parodies that are currently out there (sure, there are a few already, but I'm talking about the ones people will watch). If they can pull off something that smacks as a pilot, then why not a seasonal series?

How about a few seasonal series? How about an entire network of seasonal series? How about a few news stations too?

If they can do it, and attract a viewership online, how hard do you think it would be for AT&T U-Verse to add a channel with convenient and/or exclusive content to create another unique selling point?

There is no doubt that there exists the potential for independent Web TV producers to forever change the entertainment industry by competing head-to-head with traditional media.

If you don't believe it, then you must not believe some blogs have more readers than international mainstream media (they do) and Napoleon Dynamite never grossed more than $44.5 million (it did). In fact, Dynamite did it despite not having the one advantage that independent Web TV producers are about to inherit — on-demand distribution.

Simply put, the improvement and development of tools for mass media creativity — camcorders and video editing — gave talented amateurs the opportunity to become overnight producers. And now, the future collaboration of content providers like YouTube and potential Internet distributors like AT&T U-Verse will likely open a whole new world of entertainment, video news, and, yes, even advertising.

Saturday, August 26

Adding Automotive Experience

We've added Copywrite, Ink.'s first pdf portfolio page on our main site. As mentioned in our previous post, Sneaking A Promo Peek, each pdf portfolio page includes an industry-specific sampling of work, mini-history or experience overview, and select case study highlights.

Visit Copywrite, Ink. for a glimpse of our work in the automotive industry or download our select account experience lists. Our next pdf portfolio page, featuring B2B experience, will be released on or before Sept. 4.

Friday, August 25

Consulting Across The Aisle


Two days ago, John Weaver, chief political strategist for 2008 presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), surprised some political insiders and bloggers by confirming that Nicco Mele, former webmaster for Howard Dean, best known as the early favorite to win the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination after serving as governor in Vermont (1999-2003), is now courting a Republican.

Mele was largely responsible for the Dean campaign's extensive use of the Internet to reach out to its supporters. They frequently "blogged" on the campaign trail and even delegated important campaign-related decisions to polls conducted on the Website, creating a populist-like movement that shattered fundraising records.

Since, Mele's Internet strategy group EchoDitto has had more than twenty major Democratic and liberal firms and candidates as clients (some of which are considered far left), which sets the stage for controversy inside the Republican party. Generally speaking, political consultants are shunned when they cross the aisle.

On his blog, Mele had made a case that he has ''long admired Sen. McCain's work on campaign finance reform and his independent streak. This is a personal decision for me ... I like Sen. McCain--I think he should be president!''

Not surprising, McCain's decision to hire Mele has led to some political fallout on both sides. Questions regarding McCain's more liberal political ties have resurfaced and Mele, despite being named the "best and brightest" by Esquire, is alienating some of his Democratic clientele.

What's the big deal?

Perhaps the first campaign manager I ever worked with, my friend and retired political consultant Benay Stout, who worked closely with late Nevada governor and senator Chic Hecht, and is responsible for the political start of Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), said it best when she said ''never cross the aisle and never work with kooks.''

Kooks aside, the reason is clear enough. When you start working on political campaigns for opposing parties, people will naturally begin to question your convictions much like they might question a candidate who switches parties. And that is precisely why Mele and McCain are coming under fire.

In some ways, Mele's decision will play out like Steorn. If McCain wins the Republican nomination, Mele will earn certain political inoculation. If McCain doesn't win, then Mele will be caught in the middle without much of a safety net. In sum, if you sacrifice political convictions for a paycheck opportunity, it becomes a question of credibility.

While I suppose there is nothing wrong with being a true ''hired gun'' in politics, every consultant sets their own threshold. For us, we've always been proud of the people we've supported, most notably former state Assemblyman David Brown and state Sen. Bob Beers. While it is virtually impossible to agree on every issue with every candidate, we only work with those who stand to do the best for our state.

We apply the same principles to other accounts as well. We only work with those that we can believe in, and pass on those more questionable offers along the way. We turned down high paying jobs from ethically challenged Bum Fights and questionable Yucca Mountain supporters.

And therein lies the Mele dilemma. Too many people are scratching their heads, wondering why someone who seems to stand by the far left convictions of someone like Dean can suddenly embrace (not far right, but significantly further right than Dean) McCain. For many, Mele's decision appears to make him disingenuous. But even more ironically, it won't be if McCain wins.

Somehow, everyone has an easier time sticking behind a winner.

Thursday, August 24

Tuning Into YouTube

YouTube is the hottest net entertainment out there, growing from a few hundred video views a day (Aug 2005) to more than 500 million per day. BusinessWeek online is now asking whether or not this advent internet company is worth a cool $2 billion.

You can read the BusinessWeek write up at BusinessWeek on YouTube

What does this mean, if anything, for traditional media? We'll add our two cents to the commentary next week.

Marketing Buzz In The Making


Approximately six days ago, Ireland-based Steorn invited the world's scientists to test what they call a revolutionary new technology with an advertisement in The Economist.

According to the company's news release, the technology is based on the interaction of magnetic fields and allows the production of clean, free and constant energy. It can be applied to virtually all devices requiring energy, from cellular phones to cars.

It is an intriguing concept, one that has been kicked around for some time, and especially interesting for quantum physics buffs who sometimes enjoy looking up the latest redesign of Tesla's Coil (that would be me), which is another intriguing concept that leads to the creation and production of free energy.

Perhaps even more striking than the concept of free energy is the risky game of generating a marketing buzz for a technology that will apparently not be released to the public until after all (or at least some) of the scientists can validate the results. In fact, according to the company's Web site, more than 3,000 scientists have already accepted the challenge.

The reason I call this a risky game is because Steorn is riding a very thin line. On one hand, if they truly are far enough along in the free energy game that their claim will eventually revolutionize the world as we know it, their advertisement is marketing genius. On the other hand, considering they ran the advertisement in a weekly newspaper focusing on international politics and business news (and not known for its scientific readership), the marketing buzz they are creating, possibly to attract investors, could backfire, if it hasn't already.

Buzz marketing, as effective as it can be, is a dangerous game of gambling corporate credibility and the stakes are directly proportionate to your ability to deliver. For Steorn, given that 68 percent of the people who responded to their online poll that asks "should that scientific community accept our challenge" said NO, their wager seems to be equivalent to going "all in" without having the right cards to pull it off. Simply put, skepticism is high and if Steorn does not deliver, their next venture, even if it seems somewhat credible, will suffer, assuming the company survives.

At the moment, it's hard to say whether Steorn is simply looking to inflate company valuation on a promise as adventurous as The Wonga Coup (just without mercenaries), or whether they really have something that could potentially change the world. They claim they did attempt to go the traditional scientific route by quietly asking academic institutions to validate their results. But the company can hardly provide a case study for corporate transparency nor has it produced similar technologies (their first venture was related to technologies that help prevent counterfeiting and fraud in the plastic card and optical disc industries). So, time will tell, assuming they haven't lost already by damaging their credibility beyond repair.

All of this is not to imply ''buzz marketing'' is bad. We've frequently assisted in the development of such communication strategies that have paid off, a by-product of living in Las Vegas.

Just a few case studies include opening the Alexander Dawson School at Rainbow Mountain that made a compelling case that it would be the best private K-8 school in the West, with kindergarten tuition starting around $15,000 per year. We made the case before the motor was dry. We also assisted in generating ''marketing buzz'' for Konami Gaming with its infamous 'Project X,' a coin-in gaming machine that would serve as their introduction into the United States. We described a device that was barely on the drawing board. There are dozens of more cases we could share.

The difference between these and Steorn, although slight, was that both parties, Konami and Dawson, had proven track records in their respective industries. As mentioned, buzz marketing is effective, but the stakes are directly proportionate to the ability to deliver. Comparatively speaking, the stakes in their strategic plans can be likened to a reasonable wager. (Both did deliver, by the way).

Contrary, Steorn may have over exceeded the definition of 'reasonable' by a mile. It's a shame too, infinitely so if they really do have a technology that could change the world. The point: bet too much on buzz marketing and you can theoretically kill your company even if you do have a holy grail answer for all physics questions.

At least that's what one of my marketing professors would have said almost 20 years ago. You see, he shifted his field of study to marketing after discovering that, sometimes, engineering is not enough. His team's invention: mass produced hover crafts.

It really worked, but there were too few buyers to keep the assembly line moving forward. By the time they had generated some marketing buzz, it was too late — the company went bankrupt.

Tuesday, August 22

Protecting Intellectual Property

With the recent spike in Website and blog visitors looking for information on 'copyrights' and other intellectual property rights such as patents and trademarks, I thought I would take a moment to point out one of several resources: Patents, Copyrights & Trademarks

Patents, Copyrights & Trademarks For Dummies explains, in layman’s terms, the basic nature, function, and application of intellectual property (IP) rights, including how you can acquire those rights, wield them effectively, or exploit them through licensing agreements and other rewarding adventures. This book covers all of these critical concepts, including working with IP professionals, presenting a patent explanation, determining what is copyrighted and what isn’t, protecting your commercial identity, and where to go for the appropriate government forms.

To clarify, our company is sometimes misidentified when people misspell 'copyright,' as in to obtain a copyright, as opposed to copywriting, which is trade term for writing commercial 'copy' or words for advertising, marketing, and communication. We've also included a link to this informative book on a variety of intellectual property issues (under the Biz Book Shelf).

Sneaking A Promo Peek


Beginning next week, Copywrite, Ink. will be releasing mini-histories and case studies celebrating 15 years of communication excellence.

The downloadable pdf portfolio pages will be accessible on Copywrite, Ink.'s main website: copywriteink.com (where we've been). Each week, we'll release a new portfolio page, featuring a specific industry. The image (right) is a preliminary design draft featuring automotive experience before the history was written.

Since 1991, Copywrite, Ink. has worked on agency accounts that include The Auto Collection (at The Imperial Palace Hotel & Casino), BMW Performance, and Black Hawk Expositions. In addition, we've developed campaigns for a variety of dealerships, including Cadillac, Lincoln, Mercury, Saab, Subaru, and Volkswagen. Recently, we developed the strategic communication and creative direction for Concours d'Elegance Las Vegas.

The pdf portfolio also provides a glimpse of our what our future site will look like in the months ahead. The new site design will be rolled out in three phases: the addition of these pdf portfolio pages, back lot merchandise featuring our Hun Productions brand, and then an image overhaul for the site to bring everything together.

Currently, you can download a pdf list of select account experience as well as a list of our award winning work. In total, we have experience on more than 1,000 agency accounts.

Friday, August 18

Reading Seth Godin's Blog

Seth Godin is one of the few bloggers out there that nails communication observations more often than not. Enough so that I'm adding him to our company's blog shuffle for a bit. If you're not familiar with this best selling author, who is uniquely successful with ebooks, or his blog, I certainly encourage you to take a look.

In addition to recently posting which web 2.0 companies are gaining traction, he did a great job at highlighting ESPN's John Sawatsky's take on how not to ask questions. The irony is that many members of the media, and even more politicians, practice all of them without fail. I've included four of the seven below, leaving the rest to be found on Seth's blog.

* Double-barreled questions. Like: "Is this your first business? How did you get started?" You're unlikely to get answers to both. One question at a time.

* Overloading. Ask: short, simple questions. "What is it like to be accused of murder?"

* Adding your own remarks. Again, this is not the time or place to say that you hate Chryslers... You're not being interviewed.

* Trigger words. One famous example of this was when TV reporter John Stossell asked a pro wrestler about the "sport'' by volunteering this about the fighting: "I think it's fake." The pro wrestler hit him--twice. "Was that fake?" he demanded...

Trigger words, by the way, are also sometimes referred to as ''needling,'' which is one of eight zinger questions I teach public relations professionals and spokespeople to be aware of and avoid during an interview.

Closer to home, it's also Jon Ralston's favorite setup, probably because he knows it makes for great entertainment, if not a great answer, as Sawatsky points out.

Wednesday, August 16

Gaining From Every Experience


On election night, Congressman Jim Gibbons may have won the Republican primary for governor, but the disproportionate amount of media coverage seemed focused on state Sen. Bob Beers, even as early returns demonstrated the election would not go his way. A few of the people standing in the ''war room,'' a few floors up from the gathering of family, friends, and supporters at Arizona Charlie's in Las Vegas, wondered why.

Perhaps columnist Jon Ralston wrote it best a few days ago. ''No one has ever run an insurgent campaign against a well-financed front-runner better than Bob Beers.''

Bob was the people's candidate and he carried with him the people's message. In the months ahead, many voters, even those who threw their votes toward the frontrunner, will miss the fiery, honest, straight talk from the one candidate who stood unafraid to speak the truth. Enough so, that members of the media, former elected officials, and political consultants speculated, with hopeful tones, that Bob Beers would run again in 2010.

Whether that is something he will seriously consider or not is hardly known at the moment, not even by Bob. It would certainly be good for Nevada, especially as reports surface that our state has the biggest declines in existing home sales in the nation, down 23.5 percent. It's one of several economic indicators that show how our increased cost of living is starting to overshadow the benefits once associated with relocating to our state. Although some may argue otherwise, government spending remains one of the catalysts for a downward trend.

That was also one of the many messages Bob carried with him as he traveled the state.Though it may not be the message some people wanted to hear, they knew in their hearts he was right. Sure, it was not politically expedient, but then again, Bob Beers never wanted to be a career politician. He was more interested in setting forth with the impossible and improbable goal of running a campaign based on the voice of the people of Nevada with his first priority to make government listen. Based on the numbers, he did that. He was down only 4 percent in Clark County, the most populated area in the state.

That decision, to speak for Nevada voters rather than the status quo, made it nearly impossible to raise enough funds from special interests. In the end, his campaign was outspent 4-to-1, but he still managed to carry 30 percent of the vote in a three-way primary. I'm proud of him for that because he made campaigning more about what could be done to make our state a better place with a more promising future.

Voters still have another shot to control state spending in November. Although Bob Beers will not be in the general election, his Tax and Spending Control (TASC) initiative will be. It remains the most important ballot question this year. Beyond TASC, Bob still has four years of service ahead of him as a state senator who has earned the endearment of the Nevada. After that, we can only hope.

Personally, I would do it all over again as there is no doubt we delivered the right message with a clean issue-central theme. Sure, I would have liked to have expanded the platform earlier, but post-show commentary is always easier that actually taking the risks associated with performing the show. In sum, I would be there for any future Bob Beers run and next time I won't hesitate to step into the position of campaign chair. Likewise, if Bob wanted to pursue something in the private sector, I would be there for him too.

As for me, I'm still satisfied with the miracle that took place for us this year. Our daughter is still doing well and we are hopeful to finally welcome her home come September. (Perhaps two miracles in one year was too much to ask for.)

I'm also looking forward to getting back to the business of Copywrite, Ink.'s 15-year anniversary. In addition to helping re-spark some growth in several advertising agencies, I'll be traveling to northern California in the weeks ahead to develop a strategic communication message that works; our success rate with core message development remains 100 percent.

Wednesday, August 9

Marking A Campaign Moment

Anyone who has ever worked on a campaign has at least one experience during the race that they consider the "most memorable moment." No, I'm not talking about election night or debate wins, though I have fond memories of those too. This time, I'm talking about something much more personal.

You'll probably never read about it in any newspaper, but during the 2006 gubernatorial race in Nevada, my most memorable moment will be standing in the hospital where my wife had just given birth to our daughter, three months early. Within an hour after the delivery, I received a call from State Sen. Bob Beers, Republican candidate for governor, after he'd received a head's up from campaign manager Andy Matthews about the unexpected news. I had called Andy a few hours prior to our daughter's birth, before we even knew how the events would unfold, to tell him that I may be out of pocket for an unknown amount of time. He, in turn, touched base with Bob Beers, who was touring rural Nevada.

Bob: Rich Becker? Bob Beers.
Rich: Hi, Bob.
Bob: How's Kim?
Rich: I'm with her now; she's doing fine. She just came in and is recovering from surgery.
Bob: Your son?
Rich: He's good. He knows what is going on … he's at his grandparents right now.
Bob: And the baby?
Rich: A girl. Two pounds. 13 1/2 inches.
Bob: Is she going to be okay?
Rich: She came out crying. That has to be a good sign. She's in the NICU right now. We're confident everything will be okay.
Bob: Good. Good. Andy just called me a few minutes ago. I had to hear for myself. What's her name?
Rich: Well, we considered Bobweena but decided on Jenna Elizabeth instead.
Bob: (laughs) Your daughter will no doubt thank you for that decision. So what happened?

After explaining the circumstances leading up to the early arrival, we chatted briefly about the gravity of the situation. I remember offering up some last minute campaign notes that I hadn't had time to share with Andy, but he said not to think twice about it. There are more important things right now, he said.

Bob: I hope you know you can call anytime if you need anything. Sarah and I will be happy to help.
Rich: I know that, Bob. You always have.
Bob: Is there some way we can help. Is there anything we can do for you?
Rich: Yeah, you can win this thing.
Bob: (laughs) You know I intend to. Give my best to Kim. You take care of her and your baby. We'll be praying for her.
Rich: Thanks, Bob. I'll call you in a couple of days when things settle down.
Bob: Sounds good. Take care, Rich.

As of today, the race remains a dead heat with a mere two points separating Bob and his opponent. It's a huge jump from the polls conducted earlier this year, which originally gave Bob's opponent a 40-point lead. Sure, anything can happen come election night and some people have already said that Bob's win will be a miracle. Yeah, I know something about those. For the last seven weeks, I've seen a miracle in the corner of NICU every day.

Saturday, August 5

Racing With A Baby In NICU

Copywrite, Ink. should be rolling out a new Website, celebrating our 15th anniversary this month. But we're not. We've put our plans for promotion on hold for two very good reasons. Sometimes priorities change and we have time to do it right.

The first is a new addition to my family. Jenna was born three months early in June, weighing a mere two pounds and measuring 13 1/2 inches, which is about the size of a water bottle. She's doing better today, fighting off new challenges like infections and development concerns. It's okay. We have a lot of faith to bring her home, spurred on by the enthusiasm of our son Griffin. My wife and business partner at Copywrite, Ink. has been back in the office, full time, for several weeks. For both of us, work has become a tremendous benefit in between hospital visits.

The second, though overshadowed by the first, is our involvement in our state's race for governor. Since January, we have had the distinct pleasure of working on our fifth campaign with the always compassionate State Sen. Bob Beers. I say compassionate because Bob Beers might be an accountant, but he has proven once again that he puts people first. Almost every conversation begins not with barking campaign orders, but with "how is your daughter today." I neither solicit it nor expect it. And I only share this bit of trivia as an observation of his character.

For anyone tracking the race, Beers has doubled in the polls while his primary opponent has plummeted 20 points despite spending almost $2 million. His opponent's weakness, not surprisingly, is communication. Anyone interested can easily read the numerous news commentaries on why his opponent, once the frontrunner, has lost so much ground. Or, you can visit Bob Beers for Nevada for examples of better strategic communication at work for the Beers campaign.

In the weeks ahead, I'll certainly offer up where Beers' opponent went wrong in the primary, but I'm happy to allow him to make the same mistakes over and over again. Some of them, but not all of them, were cited in an Associated Press column by Kathleen Hennessey.

What I can share now, however, is that I'm a bit disappointed in the opponent's campaign advisor. Unlike the campaign advisor I went head to head with in Beers' successful state senate race (where we were outspent almost 10 to 1 but still won handily), I've always had a certain amount of admiration for the one our Beers team is facing today. It saddens me to see him make such surprising slips and deliver what appears to be extremely poor strategic positioning. Even on the off chance they pull it out in the end, which I've recently had some indications will not happen, this race will certainly be his worst case study.

Giving credit where credit is due: I'm not the only one in a senior advisory position like I was in the state senate race. Advisor Todd Schnick at The Strategum Group and campaign manager Andy Matthews have done an amazing job. I'm happy to be working with them, especially given those occasions when my schedule changes up for hospital visits, which brings me full circle to the point I wanted to make with this post.

Lately, my wife and I have often been asked "How do you do it? How can you have a baby in the hospital, maintain your business, meet non-profit obligations, and work on a campaign?"

I won't lie and say it's easy, because it's not always easy. But what I will say for anyone facing a personal (or even professional crisis), it always pays to count your blessings and not your problems. We have a daughter who has survived some pretty serious stuff and will be home hopefully sooner than later, clients who have faith we will meet deadlines and still produce top quality work, non-profit community and professional colleagues who frequently offer support, and a candidate who is not only compassionate, but also the only candidate who can ensure our children have the same promising future that my wife and I have been afforded here in Nevada.

The way I see it, our son and daughter, especially after everything she has gone through, deserve the best education, better opportunities, and future in our state without the hinderance of big government like the one the primary opponent is promoting. I know Bob Beers can deliver, which is precisely why I elected to forgo self-promotion plans to put a few more hours in on the campaign.

Wednesday, May 31

Creating A Class For Everyone

One might think it would be easy, but they'd be wrong. Creating a skills-oriented university class from scratch can be a challenging exercise, maybe more so than applying communication practices on a daily basis and certainly more so than developing a program or workshop for working communication professionals.

The program, which I was recently asked to develop for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), is a skills-oriented class with an emphasis on improving written communication for writers, office managers, business professionals, and anyone who wants to enhance the clarity, consistency, and usage of personal or business correspondence. In sum, it's a class on how to be a better editor.

The most immediate challenge is in catering to a broad audience. Editing classes tend to attract a diverse group, ranging from people interested in self-editing manuscripts and essays to office managers and working communication professionals. One of the objectives in developing the class is to teach enough basic information to benefit everyone without spending too much time on subject matter that a portion of the participants already know. How much of a 4-hour class really needs to focus on basic English, defining nouns, pronouns, etc.? Do I really want to diagram sentences? Will fiction writers balk at AP Style?

The second challenge is in self-evaluation, an attempt to determine just what personal experience has made matter of fact to me but what might not be so matter of fact to other people. Sometimes it is challenging to educate people on the merits of AP Style, especially simple rules such as when to capitalize the title of the position and when not to. It's something I've learned to do without thinking much about the reasoning behind the rule.

In the end, with some input from Michelle Baker at UNLV Educational Outreach, I think we have the makings of a solid half-day fall program that focuses on editing essentials such as language skills, mechanics of style, and the importance of correct spelling and punctuation. Of course, the true measure of success will be derived, in part, from student evaluations.

Thursday, May 11

Meeting Matsuri Objectives


Just a few weeks before Matsuri, the number one show in Japan, would perform a limited engagement at the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, we received a call from veteran show promoter and marketing director Jim Hoke. He needed public relations support and needed it fast.

Given the timing of the show, less than four weeks away, we quickly established two primary objectives that would drive Matsuri's media relations efforts: to create a consistent message that maximized earned media exposure in the local and national market (in order to reinforce the caliber of the show and increase ticket sales). And, to generate enough excitement about the show that a comparable or better venue would offer it an indefinite or long-term home in Las Vegas at the discretion of the producers.

To accomplish these objectives, we began by evaluating all existing communication material and then developed backgrounders, show descriptions, and a news release for the show's opening, knowing that some publications require up to four weeks prior to press time. The turn time was less than 48 hours.

After the initial rush, we shifted gears to build a low-cost, but effective media kit that included: a cast listing, fact sheet, show listing, photo call sheet, and supporting releases. One focused on two world cup winners in the show; another featured its uniqueness as the the first musical production to have ever originated in Japan.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, we spend ample time considering the contrast between one product and another. Let's face it. There are hundreds of shows in Las Vegas so patrons needed a good reason to go to this one, an afternoon show with ticket prices starting at around $60.

Overall, we concluded that the combination of extreme sports and the glimpse into Japanese culture was the best draw for American audiences. (The opposite holds true in Japan; they prefer American undertones). The results speak for themselves. The show quickly dominated the media, including Google searches, and became the city's best attended afternoon production, with an overall attendance average that outpaced any expectations.

While I won't share the entire media strategy, I will say that our solution proved two things: you don't need a huge budget or several months to develop an effective communication/media relations plan. At the end of the day, if you have a good product, all you really need is a solid message, sound strategy, and some media savvy.

In fact, the communication strategy we implemented achieved another goal. Matsuri will be back in Las Vegas this fall. It seems one major property has already anted up at least one offer.

We hope the fine folks at Matsuri take it. Our company enjoyed working with a Japanese-owned company. While it's not our first time (we've also worked with companies like Konami), it's always a good time.

Monday, May 8

Forecasting The Future

rPerhaps it is because I tuned into the show American Inventor, but I find myself wondering if business owners are forgetting that focus groups and customer surveys, while helpful, are not meant to be mini-product development sessions. Watching this show, you might think otherwise as the contestants, ordinary people with good ideas, strain under the advice of focus groups that, in some cases, aren't even representative of the right target audience.

Case in point: one inventor was shocked to hear that a car seat capable of saving a child's life was not aesthetically pleasing enough to purchase. While the inventor couldn't believe his ears, I couldn't believe my eyes. This focus group participant was obviously single and without kids. Of course, from there, the product became fair game and every participant suddenly had two cents despite a lack of common sense.

Come on. Surely if you asked a focus group, let's say, whether they would buy water in a glass bottle for 4 times the amount of other bottled water, they would have laughed in your face. Yet, Perrier stands up as one of the best marketing success stories of all times.

So why does this happen? Simple. Evidence has always suggested that focus group participants lie. As Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman wrote in his book "How Customers Think:" The correlation between stated intent and actual behavior is usually low and negative. In fact, 80 percent of new products or services fail within six months when they've been vetted through focus groups. Hollywood films and TV pilots--virtually all of which are screened by focus groups--routinely fail in the marketplace.

First of all, they're usually volunteers, people predisposed to participate (not so ordinary consumers). Second, in a focus group setting, they are influenced by others around them. It only takes one seemingly confident person to sway the group. Third, they are often motivated to participate for reasons other than offering 'honest' opinions. Fourth, they are usually asked to make snap judgments. And fifth, most focus groups are not subjected to months of behavior-changing communication.

Right. Perrier was successful not because it had the best water, but because it entered the market at a time when consumers were status conscious and said: hey, this water is for people with status, thus the French name. Cool, eh? Cool enough that as the consumers changed their behavior (largely because of other great marketing strategies), Perrier can now be purchased in a plastic water bottle.

Don't get me wrong. Focus groups can be a useful tool. But, at the end of the day, they are only one tool among many. Not to mention, once all the data is gathered, assuming there was no bias to begin with, it needs to be sorted, qualified, and applied properly.

Polls are no different. As Joe Klein wrote for Time magazine a couple of years ago: The vast majority of Americans--as many as 90 percent, pollsters told him privately--refuse to answer questions when the wizard calls (although the number is marginally better this hot election year); people who use cell phones exclusively, mostly younger voters, are unreachable; and wizards frequently 'correct' for these things, by "weighting" their polls.

Wow! Does that mean polling is less scientific and more speculative than ever? Maybe a poll will would provide the answer. And if not, a focus group could do the trick. Ahem.

Thursday, May 4

Seeing A Successful Future


We recently provided public relations support and writing services for a two-month run of Matsuri, which is also the number one production show in Japan.

The show, which featured world-ranked professional athletes and Olympic medalists, combined athletics, extreme sports, dance, and Japanese tradition. While in Las Vegas, it scored a long list of positive local and national reviews. Not bad, considering we never had an opportunity to see the show prior to the public relations launch.

Sometimes our job is like that. In a city like Las Vegas, the vision of what's to come is all you can hope to communicate. We've worked on countless communication projects for shows, events, companies, and others over the years, ranging from The Alexander Dawson School at Rainbow Mountain to New York - New York Hotel & Casino to Konami's entrance in the United States.

Next up is something I'm really looking forward to: The inaugural Concours d'Elegance Las Vegas.

Concours d’Elegance Las Vegas, an upscale auto show for legacy and select classic automobiles, will be held in Las Vegas, Oct. 20-22. It's already creating a preliminary buzz in the auto world after recently securing George Barris as honorary chairman. Barris, if you don't know, is the best-known designer of custom cars in the world.

In addition to creating thousands of custom cars, Barris’ work has appeared in custom magazines, books, television programs, and motion pictures since the 1950's. Much of his work has become an integral part of American culture, including the original Batmobile and latest James Bond car. Recently, he appeared on ABC TV's popular show ''Extreme Makeover.''

Beyond the Barris connection, we've been thrilled to work with Concours development veteran Elaine Sherer and retired Saatchi & Saatchi designer Don Lais. Both are great to work with -- Elaine because she immediately saw the value of implementing our core message strategy and Don because he has an uncanny ability to grasp a visual concept and bring it to reality.

The end result is an event that is already shaping up to be a huge success with more than 100 mint condition legacy automobiles featured, along with a special venue for classic cars, an automotive art show, live music, and gourmet food vendors. Ultimately, Las Vegas will become the most visiable and successful Concours location in the world with more accommodations, world class dining, fashion, golf, and entertainment than any previous Concours venue.

If you'd like to see the communication and news of this event unfold, visit www.lasvegasconcours.com . Right now there is a place holder for the Website, but we're expecting Don to resolve a nav bar issue soon so the rest of the site and event information will follow. In short, if you love automobiles, we'll be seeing you in Las Vegas this October.

Monday, May 1

Freezing A Crisis With A Frosty

Maybe.

That was my conclusion after reading about a marketing study, "Is That a Finger in My Chili?", as highlighted in a Las Vegas Sun article. Maybe the study's solution would have worked. Maybe not.

While Kathryn A. Braun-LaTour and her husband, Michael LaTour, are right on several points--giving away free Frosty milkshakes was a mistake, addressing a problem is a must when facing a crisis, and that emotional advertising can be extremely effective--the study reaches too far in suggesting that the best way to handle a crisis is to appeal to positive memories of that company.

The Wendy's case was much more complex as a study in crisis communication. First and foremost, the company was already suffering from an eroding market share, limited target audience (older baby boomers), and McDonald's ability to break into the chicken sandwich and entree-sized salad portion of the quick service market. That said, the finger incident, planted or not, was similar to pouring salt on an open wound. Second, the incident created an immediate negative and emotionally-charged impression (Wendy's=finger), not necessarily of the brand, but certainly an unappetizing image.

To their credit, the Wendy's team did a lot of things right in terms of crisis communication. Of course, the one thing they did wrong, to offer free Frosty milkshakes as an offering attached, unfortunately, to the one image they needed to erase from our short-term memories, had the most impact. The broadcast media play--complete with the finger image and Wendy's brand--outpaced their paid advertising and reinforced the unappetizing image all over again. Not to mention, a Frosty milkshake has a very limited appeal in that not many people appreciate a milkshake you have to eat with a spoon.

If the Wendy's team wanted to reward loyal customers for sticking by them during a crisis that was proven not to be their fault, an item with broader appeal and a better message may have helped. As it turned out, their message was nothing more than distress advertising, which generally produces mixed short-term results and few, if ever, long-term results.

Sure, the LaTours are right in suggesting that Wendy's needed to shift the focus from the finger incident to something positive. But false memories of a Wendy's that never existed? I don't think so. This is where I depart from their solution.

The study bases much of its claims around a survey filled out by university students, which are not representative of Wendy's traditional core audience. According to the story, the survey rated the students' emotional response to the Frosty ad vs. nostalgia advertising designed to appeal to their emotions. Not surprisingly, the students preferred the nostalgia advertising. It might also be worthwhile to point out that the test advertising had the benefit of being disassociated with the finger story in that the nostalgia advertising was not competing against daily news coverage of the incident at a 10-1 ratio. In short, given the same circumstances, the LaTours' ads would have been placed under similar scrutiny, with the public wondering if Wendy's was trying to make them forget recent events.

The bottom-line: the decision to appeal to a person's positive memories of that company during a crisis is a roll of the dice. It make work sometimes. It may not work other times. It depends on the specific circumstances of the event and the company. Sure, we all take comfort in believing communication formulas work miracles, but the reality is a sound communication process-not a formula-will guide you toward an effective resolution in a crisis communication situation.

So would the LaTours' ads have worked? Maybe, but I wouldn't have banked on it, especially if those ads contained images that never existed at Wendy's before. A better test of Wendy's ability to rebound in the face of changing times is just ahead.

Wendy's is working to broaden its audience by marketing to the 16-to-28 crowd. They finally have a clear marketing message, which they haven't had since Dave Thomas died in 2002. And, they're testing new Frescata deli-style sandwiches. Now that, my friends, is smart stuff. I look forward to seeing how it plays out for my former 'high-school job' employer.

Wednesday, April 19

Introducing Hun Productions


.
Here is the first design for our new creative line featuring modernized versions of vintage World War II posters. We decided to launch this line first because it's a fun and original product. It's also simple, something we could put up beyond Copywrite, Ink. logowear as a storefront place holder. You can also see the image and its "I'm Watching You" partner at Back Lot Projects

Tuesday, April 18

Adding Copywrite, Ink. Logowear

Before my Writing For Public Relations class ended in March, one of my students asked me if there were any crossover jobs for public relations professionals. I gave him the usual cross-industry answers, ranging from ad copywriter to event coordinator. There was another I forgot to mention.

A public relations professional, assuming they're a talented writer, could break into giftware industry. After all, someone has to write all those colorful quips and poems that decorate shirts, mugs, cards, and cups. I know they do because I worked on assignment for Stanley Papel Designs, one of the most recognized giftware manufactures in the world. It's a fun and competitive industry, especially if you can write messages that appeal to a broad audience.

I broke into the industry after sending a four-line resume that said nothing more than: "Experience: Great. Creative: Even Better." Stanley called me personally and said he's give me a shot, adding that out of all the resumes he received, mine was the only one short enough to fit on a mug. Go figure.

I was happy enough. It was a job and I needed jobs. I completed several projects for Stanley Papel before catering to more commercial clients. It was fun and I often missed it. Recently, I found out that I don't have to miss it anymore. Thanks to the advent of computer technology, I can test market giftware with Cafe Press and Zazzle.

Last week, we added Copywrite, Ink. logowear as a place holder to our new store at Cafe Press, but we already have some fun ideas and designs that we'll add in the months ahead. I'll preview a few here from time to time, but in the meantime, if you want to see what our logo looks like on coffee cups, T-shirts, and teddy bears, click on the links we've added on the right. Who knows? You just might like one for your very own.

Monday, February 13

Honoring Communication Excellence

Relatively few industries offer professionals as many peer review opportunities and recognition as the communication industry. In addition to international and national competitions, most major markets host several local or regional award programs, some of which provide the first tier of national competition.

In Las Vegas, there are several awards programs, each with its own criteria and judging principles. A few notables include: Las Vegas Advertising Federation's Addy Awards, Women In Communications' Electronic Media Awards, the Public Relations Society of America's Tri-State Pinnacle Awards, and the International Association of Business Communicators/Las Vegas (IABC/Las Vegas) Bronze Quill Awards. There are others, enough so that most agencies and firms can only participate in one or two every year.

While we enter some from time to time (and sometimes our clients enter, given that many are agencies), my personal favorite remains the IABC/Las Vegas Bronze Quill Awards, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. It is the longest continually-running awards program in Las Vegas.

What sets it apart from the other programs (even the Addys, which is generally considered the most prestigious agency awards program in Las Vegas), is that an accompanying work plan accounts for half of the judges' score. In other words, it is not enough to produce great-looking or creative work. The objectives, target audience, budget, and documented results all contribute to the judges' assessment of the piece. Further, each entry is recognized on its own merit, regardless of other entries in the same category. Most often, judges include feedback along with the entry's scores.

Last Thursday, we were pleased to learn that all three of our entries in this year's competition received recognition at the IABC/Las Vegas Bronze Quill Awards: two Bronze Quills and one Award of Excellence. The first piece to receive a Bronze Quill was a collaborative self-promotion piece with our friends at Colorado-based Aisle 9 Design (one panel is shown in our June 2005 archives). The piece also received an award of excellence at the Addys last year.

The second Bronze Quill was earned for work with Black Gaming, which owns three of the four resorts located in Mesquite, Nevada. I was especially pleased to see their direct mail letters recognized for two reasons. First, because the letters generated results: local active response was 57 percent (78 percent in certain segments); drive-in customer response was 19 percent (53 percent in certain segments); and fly-in customer response rates were 7 percent (24 percent in certain segments). In sum, the three properties increased their response rates by 200 percent from previous mailers (despite using the same offers), customer play increased by 60 percent; and the three properties collectively reclaimed 40 percent of their inactive customers with the first mailing, which cost 60 percent less to produce than their previous direct mail. The other reason I was pleased to see this piece recognized was because our client was credited. We cannot thank our contacts there enough; they give us great direction and then, even more importantly, the freedom to execute that direction based on our extensive direct mail experience. The results have reinforced their decision to do so. As the old saying goes, you're only as good as your clients allow you to be. Here, we have met and continue to work with the best.

Additional client kudos go to ACME Home Elevator for allowing us to add honest and human elements to their news release, written by Kim Becker, vice president of Copywrite, Ink. The release, which centered around ACME's participation on ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, received an award of excellence, the highest award given in the news release category this year. Approved by ABC and distributed to a broad range of industry publications and local network affiliates, the release not only generated client exposure but also provided a role model case study for why companies need to get involved within their communities.

For students taking my Writing for Public Relations class at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, it also provides another example as to why the one-page news release concept is passe, assuming you have something worth writing about. Sure, one-page releases are still preferred, but in the case study above, the story demanded three pages. ABC and other media outlets agreed. Next week, I'm planning to expound more on this subject, citing an applicable concept from the least likely public relations resource: Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Until then, please keep in mind my other quip about awards: they should always be the sequel to great results, never the pilot. In other words, creativity for creativity's sake is best left to fine arts. In business communication, results come first.

Monday, January 23

Restoring Public Trust

MarketWatch correspondent Thomas Kostigen released his top ten ethics breaches for 2005 last month, demonstrating once again that public leaders and companies that use communication as a means to manipulate will eventually be unmasked.

Five highlights from his list include: former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay for the rationalization campaign that he is not the face of corporate corruption; former FEMA director Michael Brown for blaming Hurricane Katrina failures on New Orleans residents; president of J. Paul Getty Trust Barry Muntz for alleged abuses of nonprofit funds to enhance his lifestyle; Exxon for ignoring shareholders' resolutions calling for it to admit carbon emissions contribute to global warming; and the American Red Cross for making us skeptical of charitable giving after workers allegedly bilked money from Hurricane Katrina victims.

Regardless of any personal opinions that surround these examples, there is little doubt that all of them have contributed to the continued erosion of public trust among private and public organizations. As a result, they reinforce the need for the public and private sector to adopt action models that either restore or preserve trust in the minds and hearts of the public.

One such action model developed by the Public Relations Coalition (a partnership of 19 major organizations representing public relations, investor relations, public affairs, and related communication disciplines) in 2003 still serves as an effective roadmap for creating an environment of accountability. Key points within the document called on corporate leaders to:

• Articulate a set of ethical principles that are closely connected to their core values and business processes and are supported with deep management commitment and enterprise-wide discipline.

• Create a process for transparency and disclosure that is appropriate for their company and industry in both current and future operations, including oversight committees, culture audits, and consistent messaging.

• Make trust and ethics a board-level corporate governance issue and establish a formal system of measuring trust that touches all parts of the organization.

Simply put: establish standards and adhere to them; encourage open communication and timely disclosure; and develop the appropriate mechanism to measure progress. It makes sense. Most breakdowns in trust occur not because of true ethical breach within the company but rather when the organization or its leadership seem to be shrouded under a veil of secrecy or are responsible for inconsistent/inaccurate messaging. In other words, sometimes it is not what you are saying, but what you haven't said that will determine how well your organization preserves public trust every day and during times of crisis.

Monday, January 16

Speaking Of Dreams

"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.' I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a great thinker, writer, and speaker. He delivered these words with such intense clarity and emotion that they captivate people today as much as they did on the day he spoke them on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial (August 28, 1963). It was following this speech that Martin Luther King, Jr. was credited with mobilizing supporters of desegregation, prompting the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and solidifying his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize.

He knew, as a few talented speech writers still know, that every speech must be written, rehearsed, and rewritten until it sounds exactly right to the ear. They always use everyday language that is easily understood and create mental pictures so they can better understand the words. They avoid an overuse of statistics and call listeners to take action. They are emotional, effectively using pauses and/or humor, as appropriate to drive key points home. And above all, great speeches demonstrate the power of communication and its ability to change behavior or shape the direction of a nation.

For more examples of great speeches delivered for the betterment of mankind as Martin Luther King, Jr. intended (as well as some speeches that had the opposite effect), visit Great Speeches of 20th Century.

Monday, January 9

Getting Back To Basics

When I originally started this blog in 2005, I intended it to provide supplemental information for the class I teach every spring for the Division of Educational Outreach at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). With the 11-week course beginning again this Jan. 19 (7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Thursdays), I realized it was time to et back to basics and end my blog hiatus.

For anyone interested, the course, Writing for Public Relations, is a skills development class that emphasizes the application of practical writing and strategic communication skills to real-life case studies and experience. I also stress the importance of approaching public relations from a journalistic perspective. The class carries 1.80 continuing education credits. For more information or to register prior to Jan. 18, visit unlv.edu or call UNLV at 895-3076.

As for the hiatus, the only explanation I can offer up is that our company has had a very busy holiday season, which seems to be a promising precursor for our 15th anniversary. Right. Copywrite, Ink. turns 15 this year. Our new web site may still in development because I'm infusing an interesting proportion/composition concept into the design, we have been quietly nurturing some quality accounts and producing some results-oriented communication materials: print, electronic, and behind-the-scenes strategic. Some of these projects will be highlighted in our electronic portfolio upon its completion.

Friday, October 28

Managing Blog And E-mail Spam

While traveling for business every other week during the last two months may have placed company blog posting on a temporary hiatus, I've still found time to manage non-communication across three blogs. The non-communication I'm referring to is blog spam and by 'manage' I mean to delete any gratuitous, self-serving comments that are designed to do nothing more than promote a link to a non-related site.

The format is largely the same: a member name that is usually abandoned, some pat generic compliment about the blog, and a link to a non-related blog about anything from home sales to latte. The post verbiage is largely borrowed by what once was an acceptable comment between non-marketing bloggers as an introduction.

The increase in spam posting has even prompted Blogger.com and other hosts to provide administrators a new feature to permanently remove such posts, leaving no record of their existence. It is a minor nuisance to do so, but much less annoying than allowing the spam poster's often temporary name to remain on the blog, which leaves visitors wondering why someone's comment was deleted. It is a shame this has to be done because blog spam disrupts otherwise worthwhile communication.

Personally, I've always been amazed at the extent some marketers are willing to employ the most intrusive marketing tactics as their sole source of communication. While it obviously works in the short term, companies that employ such practices or hire marketers to do so fail to establish real product or service credibility in the long term. And now, some countries are going a step further.

Most European countries are beginning to issue steep fines against spammers (and the companies that employ them). In fact, Italy has issued a new law that threatens spammers with jail sentences of up to three years. The United States is also becoming vigilant: Massachusetts hit one Internet spam company with a $37 million fine before shutting it down completely. In all, 18 states in the U.S. have laws regulating spam to one extent or another.

You can do something about it too. Never respond to spam (even opt-out lists unless you know the company), always filter it out of your e-mail, and complain to the provider when possible. If the spam is fraudulent (offers products that don't work or pyramid schemes), you can forward the e-mail to the US Federal Trade Commission at uce@ftc.gov. If the spam promotes stocks, forward it to the US Securities and Exchange Commission at enforcement@sec.gov.

Sure, many businesses are experimenting with e-mail as a sales and marketing tool as the Internet has become a bigger part of our everyday lives. There is nothing wrong with this as long as companies remain as responsible as they would be with any other form of communication. After all, there are many consumers that may be interested in a new product, service, or company news (especially previous buyers).

In short, online marketing isn't spam until it is disruptive, intrusive, or unresponsive. And posting what is nothing more than a thinly veiled link on a blog without permission is certainly all of the above. To which all I think I can say is: keep up the good work, spam marketers, someone will get back to you with a verdict soon enough.

Thursday, August 18

Working With A Living Language

Working with a living language is both a blessing and a curse. It gives writers like me the opportunity to invent new definitions for clarity, but it can also cause headaches when other writers use the weight of words to mask their intent.

For example, when I was still evolving my company from the freelance writer I was into the corporation it is today, most Internet search engines narrowly categorized writers into very specific disciplines. You were either a copywriter (meaning advertising) or a freelance writer (meaning journalist), a technical writer or a business writer, a direct response writer or a script writer, or ... blah, blah, blah.

Since I didn't want to limit our capabilities to any of these categories, I was one of the first, if not the first, to lobby for a new term: writing services. It made sense, because our company works within all the other sub-categories. Today, most Internet search engines include a 'writing services' category. It works well for our company and the few others like us because the definition better clarifies what we offer. It's not the only example I could cite, but I like to think that it's a good one.

Then, of course, there are shifts in our language that I do not appreciate because the goal is not to add clarity but rather to mask a meaning. One of my least favorite in Nevada (and I hope it dies a horrible death) is the concept of 'government revenue.' There is no such thing. Governments do not have revenues, they have budgets that are created by taking a percentage of other people's revenue. Yours and mine, to be precise.

Sure, you can find it in some dictionaries. Revenue: the income of a government from all sources appropriated for the payment of public expenses. No problem ... until you abuse the usage. It's easy to do. Ask the handful of government officials who began pushing a perceived need to 'increase government revenue' in Nevada a few years ago. That sounds almost admirable until you appreciate they wanted to 'increase taxes.' (As footnote, they were never going to appropriate money for the payment of public expenses. Rather, they appropriated money in order to create additional public expenses.)

Personally, I've always subscribed to an underutilized code of ethics in communication developed by the International Association of Business Communicators. While there are several points worth considering at IABC Code of Ethics, the one that best fits this post is: engage in truthful, accurate and fair communication that facilitates respect and mutual understanding.

The real buzz term in this case is 'mutual understanding.' Communication should be designed to clarify rather than confuse your audience. It's a concept that many people forget, including those people who call you on the telephone and claim it's a courtesy call. Baloney. It's a direct marketing call, pure and simple.

Oh well. The most we can hope for is that the definitions with merits outweigh the abuses at the end of the day. And today, there was one that came out of a new survey by Zogby International for the MetLife Mature Market Institute. The definition of old, it seems, is changing again.

Based on a pool of 1,000 people by telephone about what they considered to be "old," a third of the participants claimed
that 71 to 80 is considered old. Younger survey participants, those under 30, considered 61 to 70 to be over the hill. Among the respondents 65 or older, nearly 60 percent said that 71 to 90 was considered old. And even younger people, those between 18 and 24, have adjusted their idea of old. A majority--59 percent--refer to "old" as someone over 60.

Zogby International claims this shows that since the population is aging, the idea that old begins at 30 as it did in the 1960s is long gone. (Given that I'm over 30, er barely if you allow me a little fudged indulgence, I'd like to think that this new definition of old is a merit.) Grin. More to the point though, as people live longer and there are an increased number of people working or donating time to their community later in life, the definition and the attitudes about the definition will change.

And that is the best thing about working with a living language. You have to stay up to date with the language and, with luck, use it responsibly so that you create more mutual understandings than maximum confusions.

Monday, August 8

Operating In Educational Boxes

When I was in seventh grade, I stumbled onto something. I discovered that I love to read. It was an accident, like many discoveries in life, but nonetheless, it was one of the longest lasting and most impactful lessons I ever learned. I’ll never forget the circumstances either.

I remember spending a significant amount of time in the library looking for a book because my reading teacher, Richard Pyle, told everyone in the class that they could pick any book they wanted. Any book at all. Then, he asked us to read the book while we were in class and write a book report. I was a bright kid (or so I thought at the time) and set out to find the book that meant the most to me -- the one with the fewest pages so I could complete the task at hand, earn my A, and twiddle my thumbs or draw pictures on my notepad for the rest of the semester.

There was another reason I wanted a short book. I was afraid. In third grade, my grandmother held me back because she noticed that I seemed to be falling behind on my reading skills. In order to correct the problem, she pulled me from the Milwaukee public school system and enrolled me in a Catholic school, Holy Redeemer. It seems she decided that a stricter school would be better for me.

Their solution was simple and it seemed to work. Talkative children, which is how the public school system labeled me on early report cards, were always seated in the front of the class at Holy Redeemer. A firm hand can change even the most undisciplined children, which I might have been, considering I drew pictures in my spelling book while attending public school. Within the span of a single year, my reading improved and they discovered I had a natural aptitude for math.

I was relabeled from undisciplined to misunderstood. However, one fact remained. I had some ground to make up; and for some time, I classified myself as a slow reader. Later, in fifth grade, another discovery was made. It seems that Holy Redeemer solved my talking ‘problem,’ but they never saw the real problem. I needed glasses. In fact, it was one of the reasons I talked in class. I lost interest in the lessons because I could not see the chalkboard from the back row (my last name, at the time, started with an 'R' and seating in the public school system was alphabetical order).

By the time I was in seventh grade, it made sense that I wanted to take the easy way out. I chose a novella with a science fiction twist; something about a future where people could replace any organ they wanted in a vain attempt to defeat the natural aging process. While the story is interesting, it never had a lasting impact on me.

I finished my hundred-some pages and book report in two weeks, a record pace, faster than anyone else in the class. As the only one to have completed the assignment, Mr. Pyle freely admitted that I had earned not only an A, but the highest grade in my class to date. I thought I had it made for the rest of the semester, but Mr. Pyle was not content to let me sit in his class and twiddle my thumbs. He told me that he knew I was trying to take the easy way out and that he hoped I would accept his challenge to keep the highest score in the class by taking on a second assignment.

He handed me a copy of Dune by Frank Herbert, a huge book in comparison to my first choice. I accepted the challenge and it became one of my favorite books because it was so easy for me to read. For those who do not know the story, a short summary might be that it was about a fatherless boy in a new and foreign land who possessed hidden talents that were waiting to be unlocked.

I won't go into the details, but I related to the story. Given this small section of history, it is also no surprise that I related to a reader's editorial that was published in the Review-Journal last Sunday. It was written by the teacher whose frustration with with our area's failing school system seems to have manifested itself into the notion that not all schoolchildren have the same potential. While she certainly raised some valid points in her piece, I can only hope some aspects of the article never solidify into a popular movement to shuffle underperforming students into trade schools like they do in Europe.

Please don't misunderstand me. I appreciate the plight of teachers in southern Nevada more than most; I am friends with several who are working in other trades after being disenfranchised by the school district. However, I am also hoping that the teachers who are still working here, despite their less than perfect working conditions, do not lose sight of the fact that when people ask the wrong questions they tend to find excuses instead of answers.

Contrary to this teacher's editorial, all children DO have an equal potential to excel and the burden, however unpleasant, undercompensated, or unappreciated, is probably a teacher's most important job. Otherwise, someone who might later become a professional writer and communication strategist might be mislabeled and ushered off to trade school not because they lacked motivation or intelligence, but because they needed glasses. Thank goodness for those few teachers like Mr. Pyle who took the time to call one child's bluff and help them realize a lifelong love for reading, which later became writing.

So what am I reading today? While I certainly read entertaining works that range from Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz and The Hiding Place by Corrie Tenboom, I also read more significant works. Recently, I finished 1776 by esteemed historian David McCullough, which I originally picked up because of my interest in history and politics. And while a few of my friends have found it a curious choice, I recently started reading In Search of Schodinger's Cat by John Gribbin.

If you don't know, Gribbin's book is about quantum physics. Believe it or not, quantum physics is a subject that applies to communication and education as much as it applies to science and mechanics. In fact, what I've already learned from this book (and I probably already knew it) is that throughout history, people tend to invent theories, opinions, and ideas and then attempt to operate in boxes shaped by those theories, opinions, and ideas. Then, once they are safely (or unsafely) wrapped up in their boxes, they stop making progress until, finally, and hopefully not too late, someone comes along and disproves all those old theories, opinions, and ideas. And that, the ability to break out of the educational box, not trade schools, is what is needed most here in southern Nevada.
 

Blog Archive

by Richard Becker Copyright and Trademark, Copywrite, Ink. © 2021; Theme designed by Bie Blogger Template