Thursday, August 14

Measuring Potential: Intent Over Industry Trend

Despite some bullish interruptions that online advertising is exempt from economic pressures, eMarketer has scaled back its estimates for online marketing. The firm adjusted its online advertising forecast for 2008 from $25.9 billion to $24.9 billion, and social network advertising from $1.6 billion to $1.4 million.

However, it’s hard to jump on the doom and gloom bandwagon based on this adjustment and Google's failure to meet analyst projections.

Online advertising is still projected to be up $3.7 billion from 2007, representing a 17 percent increase in online advertising revenue. Google still demonstrated a 35 percent increase in profits during the second quarter.

In other words, online advertising is growing while other media continues to be earmarked for additional cuts. Traditionally, newspapers have been the hardest hit along with network radio.

In looking at all the stories, companies might consider shooting for the middle. Personally, I would never develop a marketing strategy based on media trends over the media’s ability to meet the communication goals of a company. So in some ways, economic pressures help marketers because it increases a demand for accountability online and off. Blind benefits are not enough.

For example, one recent Web site project we completed for a start-up community relations firm had two primary functions — to summarize the full scope of service after meeting prospective clients and to prompt calls from prospective clients after being found on the Web. Long term, the consulting company will employ a blog and other social media tools to expand its presence online and open more channels for two-way communication.

As the program expands, targeted print ads and online advertisements can assist in driving traffic to the blog. While this is only a portion of their plan, none of it follows industry trends as much as intent. And each step has easily measured goals and objectives, which we think is important in demonstrating tangible value.


Wednesday, August 13

Closing Campaigns: Francis Allen

Many local stations and newscasters attribute former Assemblywoman Francis Allen’s primary loss to her domestic violence charge that was dropped after her soon-to-be former husband recanted his police statement. In reality, it was near constant credibility erosion and inconsistent communication that killed her career.

Here is a truncated hot list from various political mailers and news reports:

• Promised to be strongly opposed to taxes, but would not sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge in a district that expects it.

• Was engaged in several ethics complaints. The most recent was filed by a florist after Allen cancelled a check for more than $5,000 for wedding flowers. The business never recovered.

• Sponsored several questionable bills, including one that would have allowed homeowner’s associations to raise fees without resident approval. But Allen was not familiar enough with the bill to address the section that caused it to be vetoed.

• The mailer that claimed an erroneous endorsement that she didn’t have. This was not the first time it occurred during her political career. It was the second.

• The political mailer that seemed to exploit her martial problems after the stabbing scandal and included disparaging remarks about her husband despite the fact he had recanted his story.

There are almost a dozen more, which was my point in a post several days ago. While there is rarely a silver bullet, the daily wear and tear of individual brands will eventually be unrecoverable.

While Allen would have faced a challenging race, the difference between winning and losing came down to a few bad communication choices and an unwillingness to apply the better remedies:

• Allen could have ended speculation about the Taxpayer Protection Pledge by either just signing it or addressing her reasons for not signing it.

• Allen could have offered full disclosure on the complaints, her views, and their outcomes. While voters might not have agreed with her, they may have dismissed some of them.

• Allen could have explained her reasoning on the passage of certain bills, but only attempted to claim she didn’t sponsor them.

• Given the circumstances, Allen should have never claimed the endorsement. At minimum, she should have double-checked with each association.

• While most of the candidates avoided discussing the stabbing scandal, Allen seemed to bring it up frequently. Her decision to run to the problem with a political mailer was ill advised. However, if it did need to be addressed, it needed to be addressed differently and should have avoided any opinions about her husband or whether or not they would be divorced.

Unfortunately for her, communication never seemed to be a strong point. In her concession to challenger Richard McArthur, Allen claimed to have run a positive race. Some people might not agree with that assessment, including voters.

McArthur, a United States Air Force veteran and retired FBI agent, comfortably beat Allen by a 2-to-1 margin in the four-way primary. He had been campaigning door-to-door for 10 months. In addition to some signage and an extensive grass roots campaign, he sent several introduction and contrast mailers that resonated with registered voters. Tomorrow, he’ll start again.

In contrast, Allen relied almost exclusively on name recognition (signage) and direct mail (one-way communication). Case closed.


Tuesday, August 12

Sensitizing Americans: Special Interests

There is an interesting twist to two so-called controversial advertisements produced and pulled by Mars Inc. and Heinz Company. According to an Advertising Age article, some people in the United Kingdom aren’t happy that Mars Inc. and Heinz Company pulled advertisements after being pressured by American special interests.

The Mars Inc. commercial featured a speed walker being harassed by Mr. T to become a “real man.” It was targeted by The Human Rights Campaign (HRC). The Heinz Company commercial, which featured a two dad household, was targeted by The American Family Association, which is a Christian activist group. Neither advertisement aired in the United States.

"People in the U.S. tend to be very reactive," Gerry Moira, creative chairman of Euro RSCG, London, told Advertising Age. "Everybody there belongs to a minority — even if there are millions of them.”

One spokesperson for Stonewall, a U.K. gay-rights group, reportedly said the Mars Inc. ad seemed "harmless" and that there was “no suggestion [the speed walker] was gay.” In fact, not even one U.K. gay rights group was bothered by the ad.

All in all, it seems neither the HRC (nor the American Family Association on the opposite end of the spectrum) pressure on companies has made much of a statement for homosexuals or family values. Both groups have, however, made a statement about Americans.

For more some other views, see this post, which includes an interview with Mr. T, and this post for the Heinz ad. The latter, which offended some conservatives and some homosexuals in the United States, received a mere 200 complaints in the U.K. where it aired.

Personally, I think we’re getting ban happy. It’s just too easy to call something like this ad something it’s not.


Friday, August 8

Fracturing Brands: State Assemblywoman Cracks

Nevada Assemblywoman Francis Allen might consider stepping under a doorjamb or ducking for cover under a sturdy desk. That’s all there is left to do during a credibility earthquake.

After several years of brand erosion that prompted a case study into her recent local campaign gone wrong, the ground has given way.

It now seems one of the newest campaign mailers sent by Allen claims a police endorsement that she does not have. Given that she was arrested just a few weeks ago, it's no wonder the faux endorsement sparked the following lead line in a Las Vegas Review-Journal story written by reporter Molly Ball:

Assemblywoman Francis Allen can say she's been arrested by members of the Metropolitan Police Department, but she can't say she's been endorsed by them in the current election.

Allen claims it was a mistake. But it’s not the first time. She mislead voters by claiming to have the endorsement of the Nevada Republican Party in a heated primary two years ago. Not only did she did not have that endorsement, but the Nevada Republican Party sent a scathing letter to area residents reprimanding her.

There will be no scathing letter this time. David Kallas, director of government affairs for the Las Vegas Police Protective Association Metro (LVPPAM) said he is inclined to consider it a mistake. Apparently, Kallas sees how Allen might have mistaken fancy bracelets and a free photo shoot as a show of support.

The logic here is almost as silly as Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's office sending out a release to say that "Detroit's government will continue to operate as usual" after the mayor was sentenced to jail.

Why am I not convinced it was a mistake? A few weeks ago, Allen took down hundreds of signs that one resident dubbed ”Mustache Francis.” "Mustache Francis" signs carried the police endorsement. Her new signs, dubbed ”Photoshop Francis,” do not have a police endorsement.

Hmmm … I work on select campaigns. You never reprint hundreds and hundreds of signs unless you have to reprint them.

In fact, reprinting and replacing hundreds of signs that are already up would make about as much sense as claiming your opponents are exploiting your marriage difficulties in a campaign mailer that exploits your marriage difficulties and announces your pending divorce.

Whoa … Did you feel that? It must have been an aftershock.


Thursday, August 7

Fighting B2B Blog Boredom: Ragan

Christine Kent at recently revived a June Forrester Research report that suggested the number of business-to-business (B2B) firms that started blogging in 2007 was down compared with 2006.

According to the report, corporate bloggers ran into roadblocks stemming from a misalignment between invested effort and expected returns. The report included a survey that demonstrated 20 percent of marketers and communicators say they’re still not doing corporate blogs because they don’t see the need or the value.

Of course they did. Of course they don’t.

When the International Association of Business Communicators and Benchmark Ltd. surveyed more than 1,000 communicators in 25 countries last year, they found that only 70 percent of those surveyed measure the effectiveness of what they do. Only 61 percent said they considered measurement an integral part of the public relations process. Why?

We don't have the money. We don't have the time.

If a company doesn’t see the value of measuring communication, it seems pretty likely that they won’t see any value in blogging or social media. After all, chances are that they don’t see any real value in most of their tactics.

But even if they did, would it really make a difference? Given how misaligned some communication tactics are to the company’s business objectives, probably not. There are ample examples of communication tactics that measure public relations by the column inch and advertising campaigns by how much someone’s wife might like it.

While Ragan offers quick tips, it’s really much simpler.

If your company is considering any communication tactic, whether it’s a blog or brochure, why not start by asking the right questions like “what do we hope to accomplish?” And I don’t just mean social media. I mean everything.

Objectives tend to make all communication more cost effective, less time consuming, and — most importantly — measurable. Otherwise, it’s all too easy to find yourself running around crazy on a tactical treadmill, hoping that lightning will strike twice because the media ran a similar story last month or because the competitor seems to have a successful blog.

For example, while Kent mentions that executive bloggers should not expect massive participation with every post, one might also wonder if participation is always a prerequisite for a successful blog. Perhaps, but only if participation was one of the objectives, and someone has the foresight to define who they want to participate, and maybe why they want them to participate, and what constitutes participation, and possibly how this participation might further the company’s underlining strategic goals.

Simple. Unless you ask the right questions and provide some objective answers, there is no value in social media or any other communication for that matter.


Wednesday, August 6

Knowing The Opponent: Paris Hilton

There is plenty of commentary out there about Paris Hilton responding to a John McCain advertisement that called Barack Obama "the biggest celebrity in the world" over Hilton and Britney Spears.

In fact, there is enough buzz that some people are wondering if anything might be gleaned from the original ill-advised commercial that takes a cola vs. cola contrast and turns itself into a cola vs. soda pop uncertainty.

The initial ad and post communication fall flat.

Sure, the McCain advertisement only flashed Spears and Hilton in the opening shots. But considering Kathy Hilton was a McCain campaign contributor, his continued references to the Hilton daughter were bound to backfire.

"It is a complete waste of the money John McCain's contributors have donated to his campaign. It is a complete waste of the country's time and attention at the very moment when millions of people are losing their homes and their jobs. And it is a completely frivolous way to choose the next President of the United States." — Kathy Hilton

Initially, McCain aides said there was no sinister intent. But then campaign manager Rick Davis gave reporters a sound bite that demonstrates the opposite.

“Look, it is the most entertaining thing I have seen on TV in a while … I don't know Paris Hilton and Britney Spears but they are international celebrities, so, you know, apples to apples."

Exactly. The campaign was attempting to draw a parallel between Hilton, Spears, and Obama while demonstrating that the McCain campaign is up to speed on celebrity pop culture. We got it.

Except, they aren’t up to speed. Until the McCain comments, Spears and Hilton were still recovering from some self-inflicted brand damage. Now, it seems the advertisement gave at least one of them a lift.

Hilton’s best branding message has always been that she can handily dismiss most critics. She does exactly that in her rebuttal, and then goes a bit further by demonstrating that she can sound just as serious about energy as any presidential contender. So what can the McCain team say now? Nothing.

Keep the focus on one choice and steer clear of other sodas.

Maybe someone needs to remind the McCain campaign team that Paris Hilton is not the opponent. So as good as the comparison could have been for an in-house chuckle, the execution came across like a gym room joke gone wrong. Yep. Sometimes campaign team muses are better left behind closed doors.

What is even more surprising to me is how often it comes up. Last year, Hillary Clinton tried to take a shot a Gen. David Petraeus and it backfired. John Edwards’ campaign was slowed when his opponents became staff members. And Mitt Romney, whom I liked, lost some momentum after taking on an Associated Press reporter.

Locally, it’s the same story. Assemblywoman Francis Allen, who told the press that she would not comment on her most recent scandal, is now attempting to discredit her husband with voters. She sent residents a note that states ...

“I have decided to file for divorce because of my husband’s recent unstable, even volatile, behavior.”

Attempting to target her husband, who recanted his police report after learning Allen would be arrested, certainly wasn’t the answer. If anything, Allen’s risking a libel suit while reinforcing some heavy spin on a story that not all residents knew nor really cared about. With three other challengers poised to unseat her, it doesn’t make sense.

Hmmm … maybe that’s why when Coke and Pepsi were heavily engaged in brand wars, they tended to pair themselves up against each other and not every other soda pop on the planet. Right on. One cola was enough. It's the same in politics: know your opponent.


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