Monday, January 11

Looking For Up: Public Optimism

Americans might be less optimistic now than they were six months ago, but an overwhelming majority (94 percent) believe that optimism is the most important attribute in creating new ideas that can have a positive impact on the world. And a majority (66-70 percent) now believe that such ideas will not come from public figures but everyday people "like you and me."

Those were among the findings from a new survey conducted by StrategyOne, a full-service independent research firm, for the Pepsi Optimism Project. The project aims to track the national level of optimism based on a composite score.

Highlights from Pepsi Optimism Project Survey

• 72 percent said that the best is yet to happen despite uncertain times.
• 60 percent believe the best ideas come from family and friends over public figures and managers.
• 70 percent believe that ideas from everyday people will become more meaningful in the next decade.
• Two percent believe that the best ideas will come from authority figures, perhaps the lowest score in history.

The survey strikes at one of several reasons social media has become increasingly important for marketers despite marketers not necessarily becoming more important to the general public. People are looking for answers and ideas, but they are no longer looking to authority figures within their companies or public figures outside their companies.

Of course, this is not to say that social media has caused the shift in sentiment. The general concept that leadership can come from anyone has been around for some time. It's a concept shared by diverse people that have included Steve Jobs, Oscar Wilde, Albert Einstein, Lao Tzu, John Maxwell, Ayn Rand, Donald McGannon, Max Depree, and a host of others.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” — John Quincy Adams

What social media has changed is increasing the potential for good ideas from everyday people to reach more people. It also presents a more challenging environment for companies and organizations to communicate with credibility.

For communicators, it means people are influenced by ideas over authorities. For marketers, it means their message and/or method of delivery needs to change. For public relations, it means less reliance on third party endorsements from "experts."

Pepsi seems to have adopted this mode of thinking as a mantra for marketing. It seems to be the cornerstone of a new campaign to help regular people put ideas into action though the Pepsi Refresh Project. The refresh project awards millions of dollars in the form of grants to help fund ideas submitted by everyday people, businesses, and non-profit organizations. Will it work?

As much as we love the campaign — empowering regular people to submit ideas for grants (with the grants being awarded by public vote) — we're less certain it will raise soda sales or improve soda market share. We're not even convinced that it will help Pepsi meet its long-term objective to reposition its identity as an innovative manufacturer or optimistic soft drink.

Contrary, it seems likely to prove that Pepsi is still overdosing on crowd sourcing. But at least in this case, the experiment might produce something positive even if it doesn't boost the always number two carbonated beverage brand.

It also provides something for marketers and public policy makers to consider. Americans are convinced that the ladder hoisted up by their leaders is leaning against the wrong wall. And, you know, they are probably right.

Friday, January 8

Conducting Research: When Matters As Much As What

In 2008, the big story for air travel was that strict airport security caused more than 41 million trips to be avoided because of airport and airline security delays. The estimated cost to the U.S. economy was $26 billion.

Today, all that has temporarily changed. According to Rasmussen Reports, 63 percent of those surveyed said increased airline security was not more of a hassle than it is worth. And another survey, released today by Destination Analysts, found that almost half of all travelers believe airport screening techniques are not sufficient.

The change in public sentiment stems from the Christmas Day incident involving Abdulmutallab, who ignited his pants leg and a wall of a plane while allegedly trying to detonate a mixture of explosives he smuggled aboard. A few days after, President Obama called for changes to "close gaps in the U.S. intelligence system."

The renewed focus on airport security has resulted in the hastening of more controversial full-body scanners despite shortcomings. (Plans to add more imaging devices were already in place, but not widely reported after a bill barred the use of body imagers as primary scanners.) Equally interesting is the speculation over the next wave of security devices, which are said to be akin to "mind reading" technology.

Reactionary Psychology, Polls, And Public Relations

The topic of airport security aside, the chain of events seems to demonstrate how wildly unpredictable crowd-sourcing can be.

Twenty-four months ago, the public had grown weary over increased airport security. Today, the majority seem to be in favor of technologies that were considered an abuse against civil liberties less than 24 weeks ago. And most analysts see the sudden interest spike in national security to be short term, forgotten in less than 24 days.

And yet, the polls gathered up as evidence to support a direction along with the decisions made during such a time will last much longer. How about your company's market research? Do you consider existing events and trends when reviewing research and making decisions? Or do you assume data captured six months ago is accurate without the greater context?

Thursday, January 7

Dissing Lists: Heavy Handed PR Pitchers

Cathy Brooks, former director of business development for Seesmic and current president of Other Than That Consulting, had the best intention. Rather than scrap dozens of pitches seeking to schedule meetings at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, she responded with a note pinpointing precisely what types of topics in which she has an interest.

You can read a copy of her response here. Not one of the pitchers who received her response refined their pitch. Most of them, according to Brooks, responded with notes that ranged from snarky to downright rude. And a few of them blamed the list.

Do pitch lists still work in public relations?

The timing of Brooks' post couldn't be better for me, with only a few weeks remaining before I take to the classroom. Having another bad pitch story is always helpful for practicing and future public relations professionals. It takes some effort before most of them appreciate what public relations could be as opposed to what some people try to make it.

Sure, there is a time and place for mass distributed releases. That is the reason PR Web, PR Newswire, Businesswire, Web site media centers, and a host of other distribution vehicles exist. Some lists are fine too, assuming the public relations professional limits the content to legitimate news and narrows the distribution to specific interests, noting that travel writers might not be interested in stock performance.

Anything else is a waste of time and money because one extra hit on an obscure blog is almost never worth the 3,000 plus journalists and bloggers you damage a potential relationship with or lose all together (if you are lucky).

Imagine ... some pitchmen and women were paid top dollar to create a negative impression for themselves and the companies they represent. Worse, the impression they created will survive long after CES. Other bloggers and journalists on the list with similar experiences might mention the pitchers in a conversation to colleagues, pass on the company's next pitch (even if it's targeted), or even become biased against the companies.

This year, like every year, someone in my class will likely tell me that pitch lists are part of the business — their clients demand pitch counts, column inch measurements, and the specific reason some publications decided to pass. I am sure some of them do, but considering most would fire an employee off the line for speaking rudely to a single customer, some honest consultation might be in order.

Truth be told, Brooks not only tipped pitchers as to what she was looking for, she saved them time and money. Considering public relations firm charge between $100 and $500 per hour, Brooks saved every company she rejected somewhere between $300 to $1,500 (assuming there were lunch offers and promotional samples in the mix) by not wasting their time at CES (so they could perhaps meet with someone else) and some untold amount if they apply what she taught them for free.

Lists, leads, qualified contacts, associations, and relationships.

1. Lists. Mass distribution like wire services aside, lists work best when they are vetted for specific interests. Journalists tend to ignore them, but the right well-written news story from the right company might be worth it. Bloggers tend to be less accepting of the practice, unless they consider it a big break for their blog. In terms of new business, it includes people within a specific industry.

2. Leads. Lead lists tend to do exactly that. Instead of a generic list including everyone in attendance, they are vetted by special interest. For example, if someone writes about or has an interest in smart phones, reaching out to them because you have a smart phone topic might be worthwhile.

3. Qualified Contacts. Even better than lead lists, qualified contacts are identified by specific interests within a special interest. Using the smart phone analogy, it means knowing who is most interested in the iPhone and Droid (and why). Basically, Brooks gave everyone who pitched her what it takes to make her a qualified contact.

4. Associations. These people, even if they are included on a list, are professionals who the public relations person has had past or regular contact with over a variety of subjects. They don't have to pitch them, per se, because they already know exactly what stories these journalists or bloggers have an interest in. It's likely a mutual arrangement.

5. Relationships. Surprisingly enough, some public relations firms claim to have them but don't really have them. These relationships border on friendship, which allows them to call or e-mail a handful of people just to brainstorm potential stories without fear of alienation. It's mutual too. The PR professional would never be put off by being told "no" or that the story idea borders on silly.

The question more business owners ought to ask is how much emphasis does their public relations firm place on each tier (based on performance not lip service). Ideally, the best models would look like a pyramid, with the weight stacked toward real relationships. In reality, most firms talk about themselves as having a diamond-shaped model, but they tend to operate like an inverted pyramid.

So how can a business person tell the difference? Instead of measuring column inches with "earned media" values, record each "hit" in the appropriate column: republished portions of "as is" news releases; rewritten news releases; inclusion in an original story; stories that required interviews; off-release topic stories. You might be surprised by what you find. They match the models almost exactly.

Wednesday, January 6

Beginning 2010: The Year Of Integration

One of the most common questions asked by communicators is who should own social media? And, there are all sorts of answers.

Advertising. CRM. Marketing. Public Relations. Social Media Experts. Human Resources. Yadda. Yadda.

Social Media Requires Thinking Different.

I've long held the view that nobody owns social media. Or, perhaps more accurately, everyone does. It requires integrated communication.

The reason is simple enough. Social media represents people and technologies that exist in an online environment. The actions and conversations that take place in this online environment are not limited to traditional communication silos (departmentalized communication functions such as advertising, marketing, etc.).

If it was limited to traditional silos, social media programs would be easy. We could assign social media to a single silo and call it a day.

That's all fine and good until you realize that your copywriter is fielding media inquiries or your public relations professional is producing a video or your employees are irritated because answering customer complaints interferes with playing Farmville on Facebook at home. Or any number of other problems people have asked us to fix over the last few years.

While the graphic above is only a sketch, it demonstrates how strategically driven thinking can help reshape a social media program away from the common view, allowing advertising to produce presentations (videos, advertisements, platform design, creative campaigns, etc.), public relations to manage outreach (groups, media relations, public sentiment, etc. ), and social media consultants to engage consumers (via networks, analytics, forums, blogs, etc.). And even if different elements are assigned to different skill sets, we can probably conclude that there will be some overlap.

The real problem seems to be that nobody can honestly answer "who should own social media?" before the organization has answered "how does social media fit into our communication strategy?"

For example, the question should never be "which department will manage Twitter" as much as it ought to be "does Twitter fit within our strategy, how does it fit and what do we want to accomplish, and who is best suited to accomplish it?" Ask that series of questions and you'll likely draw different conclusion.

Who knows? Maybe you'll find that you have several accounts, some operated by individuals, one staffed by customer service, and one developing relationships with analysts, journalists, and bloggers. Or maybe you'll find that you don't need a Twitter account at all.

Over the next few weeks, we'll share a few organizational models for social media. That doesn't mean any of those models will work for everyone. The reality is that most organizations have very different traditional communication models so it stands to reason any social media program would be handled differently anyway.

In the meantime, take a look at David Fleet's The 2010 Social Media Marketing Ecosystem. I'm not fond of technology-driven flowcharts supplanting communication models nor do I think corporate Web sites need to be placed front and center.

However, Fleet is one of the very few who is moving in the right direction as we've found his type of flowchart is among the easiest for decision makers to understand. It also helps shift the conversation away from ownership and toward strategic development.

Tuesday, January 5

Talking Tacos: Christine Dougherty

"Over the years, we've heard stories from our customers who have lost weight by incorporating Fresco into their meal choices, and Christine had written Taco Bell a letter detailing her journey," Rob Poetsch, spokesman for Taco Bell to Adweek.

Taco Bell's new ad campaign by DraftFCB features a "real-life Taco Bell customer" who lost 54 pounds over a two-year period by replacing her usual fast-food lunch or dinner with an item from Taco Bell's Fresco menu. While consumer feedback is mixed and dietitians split, there is no debate that the campaign is a publicity win.

The Unique Selling Point

As laughable as it sounds, the Taco Bell "Drive-Thru Diet" is grounded in truth. According to an ABC affiliate, the Fresco menu that Dougherty dotes on features menu items with 20 to 100 fewer calories. In Dougherty's case, she dropped her calorie intake from 1750 calories per day to 1250 calories per day.

In fact, according to the dietician, the Taco Bell campaign is more honest than the Special K Challenge that suggests you can lose up to six pounds in two weeks. At six pounds per week, Dr. Lokken said the challenge is based on reducing calorie intake (whether or not you eat Special K) and borders on promoting malnutrition.

The Brand Disparity

The question for advertisers to ask isn't how to duplicate Taco Bell buzz. The question to ask is how do you introduce a unique selling point that is so far removed from the brand that people hate it.

Since launching the campaign, Taco Bell has scored on publicity and blog buzz, but consumer feedback is overwhelmingly negative. Before the campaign, Zeta Interactive noted that 73 percent of Taco Bell posts were positive, well ahead of Subway, Wendy's and Domino's. Following the campaign, the number of positive posts has dropped to 67 percent, dropping it below White Castle, Blimpie, and Arby's.

The criticism is especially harsh from women, ages 18-34, with negative sentiment from this segment climbing steadily. It's climbing fast enough that the Taco Bell campaign could feasibly face a boycott.

In contrast, when fast food chains like Wendy's and McDonald's launched healthier menu items, they received a surprisingly amount of praise. The difference is subtle, but underscores the fragile brand theory: Consumers equate cereal with healthy choices and fast food with fat. It's a difficult association to break, even when it's true.

The reason Wendy's and McDonald's didn't face as much push back is that both offered non-fast food menu items. Taco Bell, on the other hand, is marketing items that still fall well within the fast food category, despite lower calorie and fat counts. Add in the timing of the campaign, when people are most sensitive to fitness, and combining "diet" with "drive thru," and the result is a campaign that wins on attention, but falls flat on public sentiment.

Monday, January 4

Setting The Pace: Present Tense

"How did I do, you know, last year?"

Although my son didn't know it, his question followed a common conversation trend. Most people were (and still are) mulling over last year.

AdAge called it the year the marketing world will happily put behind it. Politico recapped the top media blunders. Andy Carvin at NPR posted a word cloud expressing the responses of more than 500 people about last year. And so on and so forth.

"It's the wrong question," I told him.

You might ask how you are doing instead. Then you might find out "how you did" is irrelevant by comparison.

"How am I doing?" he asked.

"That's my question for you," I laughed. "How are you doing?"

Last Thursday, he didn't feel like he was doing all that well. He had a math paper to redo, 300 pages in his AR book to read, and felt rundown after taking a break from tae kwon do during the holidays. He didn't feel like he could get it all done.

This morning, four days later, he feels differently. Because after our conversation, he stopped focusing on how he did and started focusing on what he was doing.

So when I asked him today, he said was doing great. He had finished his math on Thursday, read 100 pages in his book every day to complete it, and began an exercise program with an investment of 30 minutes a day. Today — with all of his holiday homework complete, readiness to test on an AR book, and feeling positive about the future — he really is doing great.

In fact, he said, meeting all of his pace-setting objectives for 2010 wasn't even difficult. He still had time to visit his grandparents, work on a beginner electronics project with me, play with his younger sister, and enjoy free time on Club Penguin. We took in a movie too.

What can you learn from a ten-year-old?

By changing his focus from what he "had done" to what he "is doing," we were able to put his ideas into actions and his actions into results. Results tend to motivate people to move forward. And maybe they can for your team too.

Five steps to jump start internal communication.

• Plan to take action based on current employee assessments.
• Provide a clear direction to help them move forward today.
• Discuss and implement pace-setting actions that can start immediately.
• Practice reflective listening, using it to help overcome doubt or fear.
• Promote mutual trust by asking them how they "are doing."

By the end of the day (or throughout the week), ask them how they are doing. If they answer with enthusiasm, it's working. If they answer with anything other than, find out why and help them prioritize in order to achieve those early pace-setting goals.

It might seem overly simple, but my son wasn't the only beneficiary to setting the right pace for a new year. Within four days, we sent one business proposal out for review, added two new clients, and completed three major projects. We're doing great.

Putting in a few weekend hours on my part didn't dampen my spirits either. I still had time to tackle a few household chores, start a training program, and work in plenty of free time. So I'm doing great too. How about you?

How are you doing?

You don't have to answer right away. Give yourself a moment to adjust. Take until the end of the day (or end of the week if you really have to). And then let me know if the present tense feels better than the past tense for you, your family, or your team.

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