Thursday, September 28

Advertising For Heaven

Most people know Orbit gum will not get you into heaven, but it still made the Mouse Print blog list (Mouse Print still praises Wrigley for its tongue in cheek sense of humor). Less flattering is a post that unlocks Scott toilet tissue's claim to give you more sheets per roll (1,000) when they actually cut back the per sheet size (leaving each roll 300 inches shorter).

So what is Mouse Print? Mouse Print turns advertising on its head by focusing on an ad’s asterisked fine print footnote rather than the headline. Some posts point out the harmlessness of advertising's entertainment value. Others point out product flaws (Aquafresh for Kids contains peanut oil but does not disclose it). A few cover borderline bait-and-switch tactics like a bank that promises a 10.38 percent return (but limits the rate to a $500 deposit).

Mouse Print does make it a point to mention that it is not illegal for companies to downsize or draw attention away from less desirable attributes, in many cases. Some ads do indeed explain themselves despite any hype or attention grabbing headlines.

The lesson that advertisers can learn by visiting the blog can be found in the comments on each post. People are generally unhappy with questionable product claims or unjustifiable footnotes (some advertisers have to use them for legal purposes). Statistically, one unhappy consumer will generate at least eight more.

The irony is that, in most cases, the more overzealous claims are largely unnecessary in selling products. Most products have at least one unique selling point (or a few contrast points) to rely on. But then again, knowing that too much hype is not worth creating unhappy consumers is one of several reasons developing a successful ad campaign is simply about being clever. It's challenging in that every clever idea is based upon strategy, something consumers appreciate without hype.

Wednesday, September 27

Increasing PDA Security


GFI, a international developer of network security, content security, and messaging software, recently launched a new white paper about the new and increasing threat of "Pod Slurping."

The paper explores the threat posed by portable storage devices and considers security measures that should be implemented in addition to perimeter solutions such as firewalls and anti-virus software. Easy connectivity and high speed data transfer means that by simply plugging a device into a USB or FireWire port, a data thief can get away with more information than ever before. This increasing leakage, ciphering and disclosure of corporate data have been coined the term "pod slurping."

There is no denying that these devices are increasingly popular -- by 2009 it is expected that shipments of iPods and other MP3 players will surge to nearly 124 million units.

"Data slurping is a very simple and automated process. It doesn't require any special technical expertise to steal a company's data using a portable storage device," said Simon Azzopardi, MD EMEA, GFI. "A company needs to protect its network by introducing technological barriers that enable control over data transfers throughout the network."

To download a copy of the White Paper, visit Pod Slurping White Paper.

Tuesday, September 26

Attacking Allen's Past

Recent headlines have created a buzz about Sen. George Allen after three former college football teammates say he repeatedly used an inflammatory racial epithet and demonstrated racist attitudes toward blacks during the early 1970's.

Perhaps it's because one of my favorite made-for-TV movies in the 70s was Brian's Song, which recalls the details of Brian Piccolo (played by James Caan), a football player stricken with terminal cancer, and his friendship with Chicago Bears teammate Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams), who helps him through the difficult struggle, but the so-called Allen controversy is none too surprising to me. Allen, like many people, grew up in an era known for racial tension and played in a sport that struggled with the question of desegregation. Many people were confused about race at the time, black and white equally.

For those of you unfamiliar with the film, racial tension is created after team coach George Halas decides that the pair should room together during training camp and road games because they are both rookie fullbacks. Given the fact that Piccolo is white and Sayers is African-American during a time when blacks were still fighting for civil rights in America, it was viewed as a progressive and controversial decision. At the time, no black player had ever been the roommate of a white player in the history of the NFL. Eventually, the racial tension gives way to understanding.

It seems that Allen took a somewhat similar journey in that he once embraced some shortcomings of 70s-era Southern culture, but then later concluded the Confederate flag was a symbol of violence for black Americans (as opposed to thinking it a symbol for the Dukes of Hazzard) and expressed some regret. "There are a lot of things that I wish I had learned earlier in life," Allen said in an appearance this month on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"I grew up in a football family, as you well know, and my parents and those teams taught me a lot," Allen said on the program. "And one of the things that you learn in football is that you don't care about someone's race or ethnicity or religion."

At present, this does not seem all that dissimilar from the made-up brand damage recently experienced by Tiger Woods' wife, where false allegations created some temporary brand damage. In truth, of 19 former teammates and college friends, two said they do not remember Allen acting in an overtly racist manner. Seven others said they did not know Allen well outside the football team, but do not remember him demonstrating any racist feelings. Seven more teammates and friends said they knew Allen well and did not believe he held racist views.

The seemingly lone, non-anonymous vocal attacker is a radiologist in North Carolina who played tight end on the team when Allen was quarterback. He claims Allen came to Virginia because he wanted to play football in a place where 'blacks knew their place' and used the N-word on a regular basis. Ironically, it was the radiologist who sported the nickname 'wizard.'

I'm unconvinced that Allen was an active racist as this former teammate claims, but Allen's team has to do a better job addressing it in a timely manner. Unresponsiveness gives credibility to even the most baseless charges.

Friday, September 22

Suing Over Myspace

Last year, I wrote a post about the growing popularity of blogs and the pressure being created to define a 'legitimate' journalist in (Blogging To Journalism), citing that neither the First nor Fourteenth amendment defines the press or 'journalists' as people who are affiliated with big media conglomerates or whose work is distributed on paper. In short, bloggers deserve the same protections afforded to journalists.

However, in the same post, I also suggested the real question people should be asking is not whether bloggers should be protected by the First and Fourteenth amendments, but whether they should be held to the same standards as mainstream journalists in regard to accuracy and libel. Maybe it's time they were, I said, especially those that unjustly libel individuals and coworkers whenever they like.

Sixteen months later, that question is being asked as a high school assistant principal sues two students and their parents, alleging the teens set up a Web page on MySpace.com in her name and posted obscene comments and pictures.

Anna Draker, an assistant principal at Clark High School, is claiming defamation, libel, negligence and negligent supervision over the page on the popular free-access Web site. She claims two 16-year-olds, a junior and a sophomore, created the page using her name and picture and wrote it as through Draker herself had posted the information, according to Draker's attorney, Murphy Klasing.

The site falsely identified Draker as a lesbian. Klasing said Draker, who is married and has small children, was "devastated." MySpace.com removed the page when Draker told them it wasn't hers. Bexar County Assistant District Attorney Jill Mata would not release information about the case, but confirmed that juvenile charges are pending against a local high school student involving retaliation and fraudulent use of identifying information. Both are third-degree felonies.

As I said before, with freedom comes responsibility. Unfortunately, no one seems to have told these teenagers that once you publish a blog, you become a publisher, bound by the same libel laws as the rest of us. Be bold, but be honest.

Thursday, September 21

Adding Residential Experience


From Cabo to Lancaster and Hokulia to South Hampton, we've worked with the best of the best home builders in North America, helping them increase home sales by as much as 300 percent within 3-6 months.

In competitive markets, it's all about content. Working with agencies and sometimes direct, we've developed messages that match specific products to the right home buyers, ranging from those who prefer small town tradition to those hoping to find modern designs. You can download our residential work overview by visiting Copywrite, Ink.

For account experience in other industries, download our account experience lists prior to the release of these industry specific pages. In the weeks ahead, we will release new portfolio pages that focus on education, entertainment, financial, industrial (distribution/manufacturing), gaming, government, hospitality (tourism), medical, technology, publishing, real estate, recreation (and golf), retail, and utilities/telecommunications.

If your industry is not listed, ask if we've included it elsewhere. The pdf portfolio pages are part of our Web site redevelopment, which coincides with our 15-year anniversary.

Wednesday, September 20

Making Perception Reality


Without considering the philosophical questions, perception and reality are the same in the marketing world. Sometimes that's a good thing. Sometimes it's not.

As such, the old adage that ''any publicity is good publicity'' is dead wrong and the primary reason has to do with brand value.

The Brand Channel recently asked if a brand hopes to cash in on the allure of a star athlete, does it also suffer when that athlete is caught in a misadventure off the playing field? While several comments offer up answers on both sides of the argument, Tiger Woods provides the best answer of all.

Recently, he lashed out at an Irish magazine for falsely linking his Swedish wife Elin, a former model, to pornographic websites.

"It's unacceptable and I don't want it to detract from the beauty of this event," he told a news conference on Wednesday in the build-up to this week's Ryder Cup at the K Club in County Kildare, according to Reuters. "I am very disappointed in how the article was written. Yes, my wife has been a model and she did do some bikini photos but to link her to porn websites and such is unacceptable. I do not accept it and neither does our team."

The latest edition of the Dubliner, a listings magazine, carries bogus nude pictures of Elin, as well as a story on some of the U.S. Ryder Cup wives headlined 'Ryder Cup filth for Ireland'.

Part of the article read: "Most American golfers are married to women who cannot keep their clothes on in public. Is it too much to ask that they leave them at home for the Ryder Cup?"

"My wife is an extension of me. We're in it together, we're a team and I care about her with all my heart," Tiger said.

While any brand damage will be short lived and I suspect Tiger Woods will easily overcome the bogus charges, the perception generated by the publication did cause temporary brand damage in that it disparaged his image (even though the false charges were directed as his wife, because as he said, she is an extension of him).

Fortunately, his excellent handling of the negative publicity will help him in the long term, despite the fact that it distracted from his upcoming play and personal brand.

But what if he didn't handle the situation well? Then what?

His image, or personal brand, would have been damaged whether or not the charges were not true. Nice upstanding athletes do not marry porn stars, and if they do, they're not good role models. Nice upstanding athletes are also expected to keep their cool, even when their wives are falsely linked to porn sites. (Unless, of course, their brand is to fly off the handle. Then, that's what we would expect.)

All this is pretty unfair, but that's the way it goes when it comes to public perception. True or not, all publicity can have a positive or negative effect on the personal brand of the athlete and the products they endorse (or vice versa).

But that is what a brand really is: the collective sum of all positive or negative impressions shared by all people, whether or not those impressions were made by fiction or reality.

Tuesday, September 19

Writing A Style Guide

Sue Khodarahmi means well in her article ''You're stylin' now,'' published in the September-October 2006 edition of Communication World by the International Association of Business Communicators. I really believe she does.

Khodarahmi even gives credit where credit is due, offering up a little on the importance The Associated Press Style Book (AP Style) and/or The Chicago Manual of Style. But then, unfortunately, she suggests that there's really ''no right or wrong as long as you're consistent,'' suggesting companies and organizations can feel free to create their own style guides to cover a myriad of exceptions.

The trouble with this philosophy is two-fold. First and foremost, implementing deviations from AP Style (or other style guides) means your company is really implementing two style guides: one for public relations that follows AP Style and another for a few or all other audiences. In short, her explanation ''as long as you're consistent'' is already in jeopardy.

The second problem is that this negates why AP Style was adopted in the first place. Originally, AP Style was adopted by national and international publications to improve consistently on questions not covered by English grammar rules. In short, they recognized the need to standardize the written language as opposed to having each publication write its own rules. AP Style, which I require in any class I teach, is the foremost guide to newspaper style in the United States and is consistently recognized as such worldwide. It is also updated annually, allowing it to keep up with English as a living language.

Certainly there are some exceptions. The Chicago Manual of Style prescribes a writing style that is widely used in the publishing industry (as opposed to newspapers). The differences between it and AP Style are generally insignificant. However, the Chicago Manual of Style is only updated every decade or so and is considered by some much less relevant than in the past. (We use it to arbitrate any style questions not addressed by the AP.)

So, again, we run into the same problem. Endless exceptions or, worse, a company's self-imposed style guide does the exact opposite of what Khodarahmi means to say. A company-wide style guide would be nothing more than a license to be inconsistent and fall prey to 'because i said so' editors when all everyone else is trying to do is enhance communication with consistency.

Does this mean that there should never be any exceptions? No, but good writers (and hopefully good executives) will continue to minimize those exceptions for those instances when there really is a good reason to break from the AP.

Sure, we're not going to refuse to cap all titles if a company really wants to capitalize job titles that occur after the name in an employee publication. But we will remind our clients that they are showing their ignorance in doing so, and even take our name off a news release if we're instructed to do what the newspapers will promptly correct anyway. You should too, no matter what editors are running around today trying to tell people it's all just 'pot luck' because they're tired of receiving correction letters.

After all, if communication is really about effectively communicating ideas, then it seems to make little sense to make up your own language style guide (that no one else will have) in order to do so. Sorry. We're still too young to be old fashioned and we're not biting on this one.

Friday, September 15

Killing Brands With Rules


When I provide copywriting overviews to public relations professionals at UNLV, I always enjoy walking them through the ad classic "Nine Ways To Improve A Volkswagen Ad," which covers nine ways to 'improve' (destroy) the classic "Think Small" ad designed years ago.

That might change. I recently saw a brilliant brand parody on Google Video that takes viewers on a funny (but disturbing) redesign of proven iPod packaging to make it look like a Microsoft product. Similar to the Volkswagen parody, this one tosses in a dozen alleged Microsoft marketing rules that ultimately destroy any sense of brand appeal.

If you work in advertising, you really need to see this (and then promise not to do it) ... Microsoft Branding Parody.

The timing is relevent as Apple releases its new iPod Nano packaging that smartly takes minimalism to the extreme. Meanwhile, Microsoft launches its MP3 player knockoff, tentatively named Zune. The product certainly looks like an obvious iPod copy, but we're still wondering if the packaging, which even some Microsoft execs make fun of, will have any appeal before holiday shopping season starts.

Sure, when it comes to writing and designing great ads, there are a few suggestions that hold true more often than not. I won't list them here, but instead will say that all of them are superceded by one rule: there are NO RULES in advertising (unlike public relations, which has many).

Too many rules in advertising, as some people like to spout out about, and you'll end up just like the video parody above. One big mess.

Thursday, September 14

Skipping Technology All Together

Seth Godin delivered a great glimpse into what he calls a never-ending adoption curve:

31.4% of Americans don't have internet access.
90% of the people in France have not created a blog.
88% of all users have never heard of RSS.
59% of American households have zero iPods in them.
30% of internet users in the US use a modem.
Detroit (one million people) has six Starbucks.
1% of internet users use Digg on an average day.
Marley and Me outsells Small is the New Big 200:1. On a good day.
.37% read the paper version of the New York Times daily.
Brazil consumes 11% of the world's coffee.
20% of the world speaks English.
98.2% of the households in the US have a TV; virtually all have cable.

My take on all this is a little different from his. To me, all this means is that the more we think we know, the less we really do know. Research often reveals fewer people are like we like to think they are.

Adding Development Experience


One hundred hard hat tours later and we're still not tired of urban development. Lofts. Condos. Retail centers. Office buildings. Mixed-use masterplans. Having offices in one of the fastest growing cities in the United States has always been a boon for working for the best.

Our communication experience for the area's most significant urban developments, ranging Boca Park and East Village, has spilled over into work with architects, contractors, and developers nationwide. You can catch a few samplings of our urban development work at Copywrite, Ink.

For account experience in other industries, download our select account experience lists. Our next pdf portfolio page, which will focus on residential development, will be released on or before Sept. 25.

Wednesday, September 13

Getting Web Design Right

"In the future, smart studios, advertisers and marketers will set up a team that's about the concept first. They'll nail a concept and they'll understand how technology has really changed fundamentally the way people are interacting with television, with film, with music, with social interaction. It's a very exciting time for designers, because it's a whole new set of areas to communicate and to think about the two-way dialogue." - Susan Easton, founder, New York City-based Easton Design, offering her take on the future of Web design to Communication Arts.

Tuesday, September 12

Designing A Free Future

We didn't post on 9/11 yesterday, perhaps it is because we remember it all too well. Five years ago, we developed and implemented a crisis communication plan for the Southern Nevada Hotel Concierge Association (SNHCA) within a half hour as the crisis began to unfold.

To assist these dedicated professionals in their struggle to answer thousands of questions and help people find alternative transportation home from Las Vegas, we transformed our commercial writing services company into a fax broadcast news center, collecting information from news sources, internal airport contacts, and transportation sources. Then, every fifteen minutes on the first day, every hour on subsequent days, we would send a blast fax to about 30 hotel concierge desks throughout the city.

While the system seemed archaic, it proved very effective. Not all concierges had access to a television or computer so we had to adapt. Since all of them had a fax machine, it was the most logical form of media distribution.

The consolidated information, for weeks, became their alternative breaking news source. We had information many major networks did not have, mostly out of necessity. We had to think beyond covering the crisis and focus on finding solutions for visitors. From the concierge desks, the blast faxes filtered up to hotel management.

In the weeks and months that followed, for our company, 9/11 had a tremendous impact. We lost a few clients, irritated by our decision to be part of the solution (first with the fax broadcasts and then with a Liberty Las Vegas campaign, which was backed by Mayor Oscar Goodman and designed to stimulate the local economy) rather than catering to commercial deadlines. We had to abandon an online literary project, called GroundZero, because its brand became symbolic for New York. And, it marked the beginning of the end for Key News * Las Vegas, a publication we managed for the SNHCA after several advertisers cancelled their contracts. (It took a few years, but we did successfully salvage the publication and sold it.)

So all in all, I don't talk about it much, especially because as much as we were involved, the impact seemed to me somewhat insignificant when compared to other stories I came across as a business person and as a journalist. I made that decision weeks after the tragedy when I was interviewing someone from Aon and 9/11 came up. She mentioned she lost her office ... along with 20 some co-workers.

Instead, while we'll never forget, we prefer to focus on the future. And that is what I would like to leave you with today.

The McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum is the first Web site in the U.S. that is dedicated exclusively to the topic of freedom and the First Amendment. Its doors opened in April 2006.

Communication Arts magazine wrote it up best: Not only does it (The Freedom Museum) do a great job of defining the role that the First Amendment plays in the basic freedoms of Americans, it does it in a way that makes the historical content palatable to teenagers (its primary audience). I guess I'm young at heart. I loved it anyway.

Sometimes, in the face of tragedy, it's worthwhile to consider the benefits. Freedom, not security, is both the cause and the reward. And when it comes to freedom, the First Amendment is always a great place to start. God bless.

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.
 

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