Tuesday, September 7

Failing Pitch: How A PR Firm Can Derail Exposure

When a public relations firm has a client roster that claims Fender, Dickies, Red Bull, and MTV, you might expect a great pitch. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. The back of the house sounds different than the front. I've forgotten by how much.

If last week is any indication of things to come, there may be no shortage of silliness after sticking our toes back in the murky waters of publishing. Liquid [Hip] might be a side project, but it's quickly picking up steam and some people have taken notice.

Most pitches are professional. Penguin Books, for example, know what it is doing. From pitch to coverage, even their intern was professional. Likewise, we thought a mostly unknown musician did pretty well. She didn't have any public relations experience, but her pitch convinced us she had a story worth sharing. And then there was that firm with all those bright and shiny clients.

How PR Pitches Have Negative Impact.

The pitch was sent late at 6:10 p.m. on Friday, without any contact information other than a name and two links to their Web sites. What was especially unusual, is that it wasn't even a pitch as much as a time-sensitive promotional solicitation. Here it is, minus the closure.

Dear Rich/friends at LiquidHip,

I got your contact via the “inquiries” link given on your site, and was wondering if you’d be interested in doing a CD giveaway for the new Jenny Johnny album “I’m Havin’ Fun Now”? It comes out next Tuesday, and I was hoping we could have you set it up. If we could try shooting for next Tuesday (August 31st), that would be perfect, but obviously we can work around that date. Let me know if you’re interested. It’s a great album! It’s received a bunch of buzz thanks to the NPR stream posted up on Monday. Anyway, if you could get back to me ASAP that’d be great! Thanks so much!


I happened to catch it as I was closing up late in the day. In retrospect, misspelling the name of the band, Jenny And Johnny, ought to have been a red flag. Referencing what NPR, another media outlet, did was also questionable. Ending with "Cheers" is always a bad sign in the U.S. But we bit.

After some discussion on whether or not we could accommodate the short notice (editorial juggling, establishing the giveaway criteria, getting an advance release, etc.), we decided it might be fun for our growing group. Besides, we had already covered a single from Jenny And Johnny and were bullish on the album. We responded within 30 minutes, with direct contact information for the weekend.

No call or follow up ever came. By Monday, we assumed the public relations firm had realized the Friday to Tuesday turn time was too close, even for them. By the end of the week, we thought otherwise. It was just a bad pitch, probably part of a mass email scheme to get publishers to read past the first line.

The downside for Jenny And Johnny was that we had intended to review the full album the following Friday (Sept. 3) until receiving the inquiry. We moved the review to Tuesday. But then, with no follow up from the firm, we covered what we originally planned and gave the Friday spot to the under covered My Gold Mask. We expect great things from them.

When you add it all up, it's a peculiar chain of events. Jenny And Johnny went from having an album review to a CD giveaway to nothing in less than one working day. Well, not nothing.

I can always use the experience to teach other public relations professionals and students what not to do. If you're going pitch, stick with it. Otherwise, your client will lose and your next pitch will end up in the don't bother pile.

Monday, September 6

Remembering Workers: Labor Day

It seems fitting to cite a recent poll conducted by Hart Research Associates on Labor Day, which is meant to recognize workers for their contributions. The small voter poll (801 likely voters) found that even those who are employed have been impacted by the recession.

Three-quarters of respondents to the survey said that either they or someone they know has been affected by wages that lag behind the cost of living. Sixty-five percent said that they or someone they know has suffered a reduction in wages. One-third of those polled has had a family member directly impacted. (Keep in mind, only 801 people were surveyed.)

Highlights From The Hart Poll.

• 62 percent of non-college graduates are facing challenging/difficult times.
• 49 percent of college-educated peers are facing challenging/difficult times.
• 62 percent of blue collar workers are having personal economic difficulty.
• 51 percent of white collar and 52 percent of professionals are having personal economic difficulty.
• 71 percent of Hispanics, 66 percent of African Americans, and 53 percent of caucasians are struggling.

The challenges that have impacted these Americans the most have been wages and salaries not keeping up with inflation (46 percent), reduced hours at work (32 percent), and loss of job (27 percent). Change to Win, which commissioned the survey, is using the data as part of a campaign to lobby government to promote higher wages.

Unfortunately, higher wages generally diminishes the number of workers and increases unemployment. This, in turn, diminishes demand and companies are forced to lay off even more people or suggest pay freezes and/or salary reductions to retain staff. Even local, state, and federal governments operate under this model.

Government workers are being asked to forego merit pay to help keep departmental budgets in line. And when government cannot come to such a consensus, it cuts workers and adds to unemployment. In addition, more regulations tend to convince companies to delay hiring by the private sector.

The Economy Relies On The Success Of Small Business.

If anyone wants to understand the American economy, look to small business owners. Currently, small businesses represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms, staff more than half of all private sector employees, and are responsible for generating 64 percent of net new jobs over the past 15 years (SBA). These firms are also the most likely to have owners who make marginally more than employees (unlike corporate CEOs, whose salaries are often cited in these studies).

Likewise, the study also shows why most Americans have an aversion to higher taxes. The majority consists of individuals who are already struggling against a dollar that doesn't go as far and small business owners already struggling to keep the doors open and wondering how they are going to pay for additional mandates.

While this might seem dour for a day most Americans consider the last day of summer, there are three takeaways. Good employers and employees are in this together. The private sector, especially small business, is the key to turning the economy around. And if you're a marketer, it might give you pause in considering the environment in which your messages are sent.

Sunday, September 5

Managing People: Fresh Content Project

Most communicators (the better ones anyway) already know you cannot "control" information or people. The most you can hope for is developing a brand promise that can be met.

In other words, the best you can do is to manage your behavior and your communication (or your company's communication when you are charged with writing or speaking it). And by doing so — assuming you have the right passion, energy, realism, and enthusiasm — you might set an example for others to follow, colleagues or coworkers, or inspire consumers to give your company an opportunity to make them customers.

All five fresh picks tap into management in one form or another. And, all five provide a lesson that you can apply today, one that is vastly superior to always being worried about the other guy, whomever that might be.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of August 23

Everyone Is Replaceable.
Andrew Weaver puts his spin on a classic executive reminder that "everyone is replaceable" but with a lesson that some might find surprising. While the old adage might be true, the reminder isn't for employees as much as managers. Given the weakened economy, Weaver alludes to the idea that some managers are taking the easiest possible management path ... fear. Unfortunately, fear has a habit of demoralizing employees even if their output increases over the short term.

• The Connection Between Branding and the Customer Experience.
Jay Ehret presents a simplified take on how branding works within the context of customer service. Specifically, he says that the brand promise plus the personality of the brand provides the expectation or framework for what people expect. The quickest way to kill a brand is to deviate from the framework. When that happens, it breaks trust. Incidentally, a new study conducted by the Relational Capital Group and a team of researchers at Princeton University proves exactly that.

• Staggering Discovery: Goal-Oriented Content Works.
Even before citing six points for goal-oriented content, Valeria Maltoni lays down an important piece of information. She says writing about a subject without passion will circumvent any goals you might have in mind. She's right and that's where her six points come into play. Not only do they serve as a model for what you are trying to do, but they also help some writers remember why they used to be passionate about the subject matter in the first place. By asking yourself the six questions she proposes, you might reignite some passion in your writing.

When a Good Thing Comes Together: Helping Neighbors in the Gulf of Mexico.
There were several recaps to the Citizen Gulf event held last month and all of them were solid. However, Kami Watson Huyse's recap seemed to go even further in accounting many of the people involved. The best part of Citizen Gulf was that it took the social aspects of online communication and brought them to life in 20 cities across the United States. If you didn't happen to be in one of those cities, you could find enough online updates that you still fell connected.

The Most Wasted Page On the Web
John Jantsch points out one Web page that seems to have no content management whatsoever — the thank you page. Most companies either waste the space outright or oversell, making customers regret the decision to give up their email address in the first place. In the post, Jantsch provides several ideas that many customers might respond to, including optional surveys, related context (related to why they subscribed), or an instructional page that might prove useful on their next visit.

Friday, September 3

Buying Into Brands: Not So Different From People

Every day, people make second-by-second judgments about other people within their proximity. It happens so fast that much of the information is processed in the subconscious, managed by whatever cognitive filters we've built up over the years, e.g., we might avoid people who look angry or flash a smile to someone in return.

Over time, those perceptions might stick with reoccurring experiences and repeated exposure. If the person always seems angry, our mind eventually labels them as an angry person. Conversely, people who are always smiling might be categorized as happy.

Our Judgments About Brands Aren't Much Different Than People.

A new study conducted by the Relational Capital Group and a team of researchers at Princeton University recently found that we shape opinions about brands much the same way. We develop perceptions about the brand based on experiences and repeated exposure, with brands that have warmth and competence.

"Since the emergence of mass market brands, products and services have been defined by their features and benefits," said Chris Malone, chief advisory officer of the Relational Capital Group. "This new study suggests that features and benefits are simply an incomplete subset of the broader categories of warmth and competence that consumers perceive and judge brands against."

The study links back this new understanding to early development. According to the study, the researchers recognize people as the first brands, with faces acting as the first logos. The most common judgments people make toward symbols: their warmth (intention toward us) and their competence (ability to carry out these intentions).

To break down this understanding further, warmth includes traits such as friendliness, helpfulness, sincerity, trustworthiness, and honesty. Competence is reflected by traits such as intelligence, skill, creativity, efficiency, and effectiveness.

"We've found strong statistical correlation between consumers' perceptions of each brand's warmth and competence and their intent to purchase and remain loyal to that brand," said Dr. Susan T. Fiske, one of the two lead researchers. "These findings are consistent with other studies we've conducted that validate the influence and predictive power of warmth and competence on human behavior. In effect, it shows that people were the first brands and faces were the first logos."

The Uphill Battle For Brands To Earn Trust And Succeed.

In the eyes of the consumers, however, brands have to earn trust to break away from the preconceived notions that already exist about companies in general. Specifically, many companies convey that they are primarily interested in advancing their own self-interest and can't be trusted, especially when no one is watching. While the study provided examples of companies that have succeeded in doing this, it didn't offer concrete suggestions for improvements.

Having studied this concept before, we know several. Here are three that come quickly to mind, with an emphasis on warmth.

• Innovative companies tend to earn trust quickly because they have worked to do something for the customer first.
• Customer service oriented companies tend to exhibit warmth because they create a people-to-people connection.
• Engaged companies, such as those who have off-sales conversations online, are frequently considered more helpful.

Once a company or organization can dispel the notion that it only has self-serving interests, repeated exposure and reoccurring positive experiences will prove the company's competence. For example, the warmth associated with Apple convinced people to test drive Ping, but the execution made some people question its confidence and intention.

Conversely, when Apple originally launched the iPhone, the warmth people associated with the brand overcame the prelaunch criticism. And then, when people learned Apple really did reinvent the smart phone, it reinforced a perception of competence.

You can apply these findings to nearly any organization. Our most immediate judgment is generally based on our perception of someone's intentions toward us. Ironically, these initial perceptions are often proven incorrect (for good or bad outcomes), but it doesn't change the fact that this is how we're wired.

Thursday, September 2

Test Driving Ping: An Apple Baby Step Into Social

After spending a few hours poking around the first attempt at a social network by Apple, I have to give props to all my friends who have said Apple doesn't understand social. Maybe it will in the future, but it doesn't really understand it today.

Ping has potential, but this launch is best described as a soft open. It seems less than fully functional. And while Steve Jobs described it as Twitter meets Facebook for music, it seems like something else. It feels like a walled fledgling of what we know about networks, crossed with a non-commissioned marketing platform because everything you like comes with a buy button.

And that's the real point, isn't it?

What Apple seemed to miss out of the starting gate is that people don't generally go to this social network to talk about "music" and that social network to talk about "restaurants." That's not a social network. It's a niche forum. And if Apple created anything, it is a password protected forum with a partial social network template laid over the top.

Is that how social networks work? Not really. The current success of Twitter and Facebook illustrates that. Those networks succeeded because there were no limits to what you could talk about. You only needed to show up and find people you knew or wanted to know. It's about people. This is about product.

Specifically, Ping works in exactly the opposite way. You find music and "like" it and then ... um, I would like to say find people to follow but that is a real challenge. Other than three people recommended, your only options are "search" and "email," which are my least two favorite ways to connect with people. (Search is fine, but it's a time waster for social upstarts.) The only other way to pay attention to who other people follow, too.

The Facebook connect feature seemed promising before it was removed late in the game. It was removed so late in the game that the Ping intro page still tells you that you can connect to Facebook. Except, you can't. So don't look. (You can find me if you like. Search for "Rich Becker" on Ping.)

By the way, did I say search for music? Not every album and artist has a like button. I know, because the first thing I thought to do is travel down the list of our recent reviews from Liquid [Hip] and quickly connect them up before someone does start to follow me. About 30 percent didn't have like buttons.

I suppose that makes sense. We focus on cool, not popular. Some recent covers aren't cool enough to like, apparently. And that makes the entire platform, as it exists today, loaded down with tighter rules than Fight Club. Case in point ...

The Rules Of Ping Club.

1. The first rule of Ping club is you do not link to Ping club and you do not link out of Ping club.

2. The second rule of Ping club is, you DO NOT link in or out of Ping club.

3. If someone lags because the interface is painfully slow, the conversation is over.

4. Two people connect at one time, if you find them.

5. One "like" at a time and you won't remember what those were 20 "likes" from now.

6. No frills, friendships, updates. This is about music.

7. You'll participate as long as you have to, three times longer than anywhere else (see 3).

8. If this is your first time on Ping, you have to do something.

Look, most people consider me a fan of Apple, given I still have a working monochrome Mac Classic on my shelf. The same one I used to start Copywrite, Ink. almost 20 years ago. And, since we started Liquid [Hip], I spend even more time on iTunes because it has a solid storefront to keep track of new music, movies, etc. So, I'll give Ping some time to flush itself out. It has potential.

However, I'm not so enamored by any brand to believe this launch was ready for prime time. It's a network of sorts, but it's not social. At least, not yet. To date, the only thing inspiring about it is some inspiration to write up what Ping could have been. And maybe I'll do that next week.

One redeeming feature? The concert listings is a cool idea. But it would have been brilliant if there was some feature to coordinate concert attendance with your circle of friends. Moving the online world offline is part of our connected futures.

Related Articles And Posts.

10 Questions About Ping, Apple's Social Network For Music.

• Apple's Ping Social Network Is Actually Good, And It Has Huge Potential.

Facebook’s Apple Ping demands were ‘too onerous’, says Jobs

Wednesday, September 1

Embracing Silly: The Seriousness Of Social Media

social media guru meets sink guru
"My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go." — Hamlet (III, iii, 100-103)

When social media turns serious, it strikes me as silly. It doesn't mean there isn't any value in the communication being offered. Although sometimes, with furled brows and lessons to be taught, that is the way communication plays out as Matt Lawton reminded me yesterday.

"pls enlighten me, what is so 'silly' about the @shelholtz post It’s time for the anti-social media guru meme to die? I think u shld explain or it's rather rude." — Matt Lawton.

If you ever read his posterous blog, you'll occasionally find some funny stuff. Even on his Twitter profile, he shares to "learn and laugh." So, I played along, conveying the seriousness of the silly statement.

Really, Lawton's contribution doesn't matter so much. Shel Holtz had already contrasted my comment with one that called his post "great." Nay, I say, there is no contrast. There are as many valid points in his post as there are layers of silliness, including the notion that one can call for the death of a meme by adding to it, especially one as silly as the great guru debate has become.

Let's step back and focus on that for a moment. What's the big deal?

What's The Big Deal About The Social Media Guru Title Anyway?

As Holtz points out, when people attack the social media guru title, they are generally referring to those who have a propensity to use it — inexperienced folks with inflated egos, sleight-of-hand huskers, and whomever has a Twitter account in a room full of people who do not (they claim to be the resident experts of their little worlds).

Oh, and then there are those who are called a "social media guru" when they are introduced as Holtz says he has been. (Me too, for that matter, leaving me to make the point that I would never call myself a "guru" of anything, for a laugh.) And, of course, there are a few respected communicators who enjoy embracing the guru moniker (or, even more laughable, swami). Personally, they can call themselves lunch pail, for all I care.

However, perhaps along the way, they might enlighten themselves and appreciate that Westerners usurped these spiritual titles from the East. You do know that, right?

Originally, being a guru meant you were a Hindu or Sikh religious teacher and spiritual guide (although it is widely adopted in contemporary India with the universal meaning of the word "teacher"). The title was introduced in the West by some Eastern gurus and/or returning Westerners enlightened by the East and then was snapped up in the United States by the "New Age" movement in the 1970s.

The title "guru" quickly fell out of favor after several self-proclaimed gurus were discovered to be charlatans, cons, or even delusional. So why social media people ever thought to resurrect the soiled Western version of the word is beyond me. And now, in an attempt to be different, some want to usurp "swami" too, which perplexes me given that most Westerners would react to the title of "social media rabbi" or "social media pastor" or "social media priest" with alarmist disdain (unless they really are).

But as I said, this is no judgement of people. To each his own.

Mostly, I do think that some communicators have a distaste for "social media guru" as they do "anything guru," except as it was intended. Case in point, "plumbing guru" might score a few chuckles despite being better equipped to clear away darkness from your drain than a social media guru can light your way toward embracing social media.

"This being the case, just who are these anti-guru posts aimed at? It seems to me they’re mainly written by insecure practitioners trying to bolster their own egos and puffed-up prima donnas lording their superiority over their peers in the echo chamber." — Shel Holtz

Then what about those who pen anti anti-guru posts? Or this post, which I suppose is an anti anti anti-guru post? Can we take any of this seriously? I seriously hope not. There is no hypocrisy, except errant judgment about individuals as opposed to behaviors.

My world is much more simple. People are free to call themselves whatever they want. And, other people are free to respond to all those titles —  mavens, masters, experts, Jedi, rock stars, bards, ninjas, thinkerbells, poodle hoopers — as they feel fit. But, at the same time, if any of these folks were truly enlightened as they claim, they would already know titles are meaningless things.

I learned that long ago, and I am still grateful for the gift. People don't relate to titles, they relate to individual people.

Besides, some communicators need the freedom of pointing out the flawed behaviors from "social media gurus" or "public relations professionals" or "personal branding experts" or "pompous journalists" in order to sometimes avoid citing specific individuals as Holtz did. It doesn't hurt anyone because anyone employing one of the more comical titles with effect already knows that the audiences they attract don't come for random titles. They come to see a person.

So that's why I called the Holtz post silly (which is a far cry from calling Holtz silly for those who embraced diatribe so quickly and DMed me to ask how dare I rub against a guru). Because, the way I see it, if I didn't find his post silly, then it would be soap boxing. I hope not. Soap boxes are ugly, which is why I find this post amazingly silly too.

Except, maybe, for the very foundation of it. There are no rules. Write what you want. Just remember, however, if you choose to call yourself the "cardinal of copywriters," it's a moniker that rightly deserves a snicker or two. All hail, you too, guru.

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