Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Talking to the Media in An Age of Now

There was an interesting conversation on a listserv I belong to today about on the record versus off. The main point is can you ever trust a reporter? Thought you'd be interested in my response.

I think that the media has changed dramatically in the past decade, and I advise clients that there are "New Rules" for a new media market. Although there are many journalists that I do trust and respect, ethics are often in short supply.

I saw a presentation by a Google executive recently who in the middle of a talk said that he hadn't cleared his remarks, and that they were off the record. What he said showed up on blogs within minutes.

Misinformation and media manipulation are rampant and keep increasing with the proliferation of blogs, social networking, pundits, etc. Fact checking in a time when deadlines are immediate is not rigorous, words are taken out of context, information becomes viral quickly, and it's very hard even if you trust the reporter to be sure that they will get it right. Journalists have to defend their stories, and if they tell an editor or producer something that was off-the-record and get backed into a corner, there is no guarantee it won't get used.

So I think we need "New Rules" and would be interested in what others have to say. Here are a couple of mine.

Assume everything you say is on the record, no matter who you are talking too.

If you do go off the record or talk for background only, do so with a trade industry reporter who has a reputation in your industry he or she does not want to harm.

Never switch gears in the middle of an interview. Set the ground rules for the entire conversation ahead of time, and get them in writing if you can.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Branding in the Age of Social Media

Did you know that many companies handle online and other media as separate functions that don't even talk to each other?

That they have one brand image in print and broadcast media, and another online?

That as search capability expands from text based documents to videos, blogs, news and other forms of communications your brand image can become totally fragmented and the way you describe it in different media can make it murkier?

These are all challenges brought up in a white paper from iCrossing, a search engine optimization firm, that works with companies to create enterprise level campaigns maximizing their brands across all platforms - or as some ad agencies call it - customer touch points.

In an interview with EMTET, Rob Garner, director of strategy, reminds us that the age-old principles of branding apply just as much in new media as they do in old.

Garner says companies need to examine all of their marketing and communications - in all forms and types of media - to insure that they tie back to the brand image they want to convey. He says the mistake many firms make is they jump into social marketing and set up a separate department to address it, because they want to be forward thinking, but haven't thought through how it reflects back on the brand and positioning they already have.

Two issues to think about -

1. Now that you're blogging how will you respond to negative comments online? Will it be the same way you do it on a toll-free number or when a customer writes in? What will you do when someone writes something bad on their Facebook Wall about you?

2. How do you integrate the PR you are doing in print and other media with the marketing you're doing online?

In short, many of us need to go back to basics. We need to think about what our brand stands for and how it is presented and responded too in all forms of media. For every company - the solution must be linked to business goals and brand franchise.

The white paper was co-written with Gabe Dennison of Pluck, a social media company.

Friday, September 26, 2008

What We Can Learn about Media and Branding from this Week's Presidential Race

I watched this unfold on CNN with great interest. The political campaigns are an incredible example of marketing in the age of the Internet and how you can really screw up when things move so quickly. There is also enormous opportunity if you are smart and stick with your messages and don't deviate from your brand franchise.

Obama stumbled - as the stock market was tanking 500 points last week his campaign was sending out messages about Sara Palin's lies regarding the Bridge to Nowhere and other things. But that was over. The timing could not have been worse. He seemed like an angry, small man playing he said, she said. And out of touch with the world.

This week Obama got back on message and bounced back with a four point plan that essentially said Wall Street leaders, not the American taxpayer, should pay for the bailout. That's Obama's I'm on your side approach and it helped rejuvenate him in the polls. That's his brand.

On Wednesday - when John McCain tried to outmaneuver Barack Obama in the Wall Street mess - we saw what happens when one candidate tries to co-opt messages that another already owns.

What happened? On Wednesday morning Obama reached out to McCain and suggested they put partisan politics aside and issue a joint statement of what they thought needed to be accomplished in a the financial bailout. Turns out they weren't very far apart in what they wanted anyway.

The McCain people jerked Obama's people around until 2:30 in the afternoon when he called Obama back and agreed to do it. Less than half an hour later McCain was on national television (we watched him on CNN) making a statement about how he was suspending his campaign and heading back to Washington to help with the bail-out. He sounded uncomfortable and hurried, didn't actually leave for Washington until doing network interviews, and didn't bother to acknowledge reporters by taking questions. Instead of looking presidential he just looked desperate and old.

Obama was smarter. While the CNN hacks sat around with nothing to say for over an hour other than we are waiting for Obama's statement, he devised a strategy that completely reinforced his brand and messages.

Obama came on CNN and talked about how a president needs to do more than one thing at a time, and that although he was in constant contact with DC, he wouldn't cancel the debate (the American people should hear what we have to say, we're running out of time). He gave a blow by blow of his morning and afternoon conversing with the McCain team and made it clear that he'd made the first move, without openly accusing him of grandstanding. Obama looked thoughtful, deliberate and presidential. And the smartest part, he took media questions - which helped point out that McCain and his running mate do not.

The CNN people came back on and even they said that McCain's decision seemed like cheap political maneuvering. And they kept saying it. That on top of Sara Palin's photo opp with a world leader where even the Fox news correspondent got miffed because she was allowed in the room for all of 29 seconds and couldn't talk to her, was a bad week for the Republicans. McCain the maverick, became McCain the scared guy who stalled negotiations. And that's not very enticing to anyone, let alone those independents who are not sure what to do.

So what can marketers learn from this week in presidential politics?

Even in the age of "real time" all decisions need to be well thought out and possible outcomes evaluated. You cannot pretend to be a maverick if his decisions appear impulsive, careless and political - there will be a backlash.

Pre-set emails, even if on current message, need to be monitored up to the minute, in case something in the world or your business changes. Otherwise you look like idiots.

Know your brand and what your customers believe about you. Stay true to it. McCain may have once been a maverick but right now maverick doesn't work - it's Obama's message and he does it better. McCain should find out what his brand really does mean to people - perhaps war hero, keep us safe and making smart choices. He needs to stand for something. Taking your competitors messages doesn't work for long - you need your own unique positioning. And once you've got it, make people believe you mean it.

When you stick with your brand image, know it and nurture it, you can win. Obama's message of Change may be wearing thin with voters, but what resonates is he cares about them, he knows what they're going through. And when he sticks with that he wins.

Marketers should know their brand and only change it if and when they know in their gut and backed up by research that the time is right. They may reinforce, readjust, etc. - but people don't respond well when they dramatically deviate. They feel cheated and angry. And the last thing you want is pissed off customers and prospects.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Too Much News: Making Releases Work for Your Business

A Strategy that Works in Electronic Media

One of the biggest problems I face, as an independent media person trying to reach parents and kids, is lists. For the Science Inside Alcohol Project, my AAAS client, I have been writing news releases tied to time of year and mass distributing them on PR Newswire. They kept hitting the same sites - all dotcoms, although Reuters and Forbes.com are a plus, and impress clients.

This project is developing a curriculum for middle school students, book for parents, events, and partnerships to broadly share all the material.

Yet they pick-ups state that these are assigned as news releases and I wondered about whether anyone actually reads them. Also due to length of duration for any news on the web is it worth the $900-$1200 it is costing me? From a client standpoint yes, they can see I'm trying even though there is not much project news at this point.

Thought I'd share a few of the release headings which did get picked up by several dozen broadcast (I only did the web tracking that came with the service), wire and electronic news sites. Also did special distribution to healthcare sites and blogs which does get pick-up. One discovery I made - if I write the release like a news story, it gets picked up verbatim.

Tying it to Seasonal News

This Holiday Season Teach Your Kids the Science of How Drinking Alcohol Can Hurt Them

It’s Spring Break: How Much Does Heavy Drinking Affect Your Body?

Back to School: Five Ways Parents Can Help Middle School Kids Delay Their First Drink

The release model is pretty straightforward:

Opening paragraph tying info to project and reinforcing timeliness.
Document the trend with data from a couple of reputable groups.
Advice for parents
Quote from AAAS
For more information contact us.

We don't generally get follow-up in the form of interview requests but it does raise us on Google and keep us out there.

The last release, I discovered I could do a web only release that goes to 4800 sites for $295.00. Pick-up was about the same. That helped alot with ROI. I'd be interested in media tools others use and the success they've gotten from them - an ROI analysis is such a thing exists.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Updates from Advertising Week DC 2008

Update from Advertising Week DC, September, 2008

Attended our local Ad Club’s DC meeting last week and was surprised not to see more of you there. It really is a very affordable way to network and catch up on latest developments in that side of our business.

A few interesting tidbits:

Social Marketing - Leaders on a panel from Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn discussed Ning’s strategy of creating micro-groups and how that’s a direction they’re heading in.

Branding - The head of marketing at VW discussed how creating Max (a VW doubling as a talk show host – check out commercials where he does interviews) said developing a real personality for the brand was a great exercise in defining and embracing it. He recommended that others try it as a creative way of figuring out who you are and what you really stand for.

Creativity - A panel of creative leaders discussed the trend towards letting research dictate creative approach – and how it can stifle brainstorming. Use it as a starting point, not as a reality check.

Widespread Messaging - NBC Universal talked about its NBC Everywhere strategy that is highly focused on niche marketing and how it customizes material for hospitals, taxis and gas stations among other locations.

The Ad Club of DC says it will post information from the conference but doesn’t know when. Not exactly marketing oriented conference follow-up.