Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Wisdom of Staying Relevant

Will Social Media Kill Traditional PR?

That’s a question posed by a consultant who thought of a great headline and hit a nerve. 98 people posted mostly defensive diatribes about how PR is so much more than just media – its strategy, its image control, branding, marketing, lobbying, etc.

The most recent person to write about this – in Ad Age today – discussed how social media is often an add-on these days – the advertising agency does all the creative work and then someone goes into the kids’ room and asks them to add something about social media. http://adage.com/digitalnext/article?article_id=143040

I used to work for a PR agency that was like that about graphic design. Their idea of visual branding, identity and messaging was “Make it pretty.” I wish I was kidding – but I’m not.

That’s kind of like the ad agencies cry of “Add something social.”

All of this is marketing. Marketing starts with the computer generated human who answers most phones at businesses these days and ends when I read your podcast. Ogilvy had this big campaign for awhile called Touch Point.

Every point at which you touch, reach, meet the consumer is a place that makes or breaks your brand.

In my experience – the bigger the company, the worse the branding experience. People hide behind info@gottohell.com. I like to write back to the computer generated responses which always come the first time you ask a question. Far better the chat rooms where real people actually discuss your problem. If I wanted to read the FAQs, I wouldn’t have written to you.

Anyway, I veer off course but my point is this. If PR people are any good at what they do they understand and keep up with all of it – marketing, sales, PR, promotion, advertising, customer service, social media, traditional media – because they know they have too. If they don’t, their businesses will die.

As their friends retire, their accounts will disappear. And the 20 something they are asking at the last minute to contribute a social media component will be their boss.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Party of No Versus Yes We Can

I was in Nashville the other day visiting a prospective and current client and found myself in a bar next to a couple in their sixties. She was lovely, very into the music scene, and chatty. He found out I was from Washington, DC and do work in health care reform and wanted to yell at me.

Politely, more than twice, I told him I really didn’t want to discuss this with him. But he was on fire with his talking points which spewed out of him like vomit:

• We can’t afford it, it will bankrupt the nation.
• It’s socialism.
• I’m a small business owner, and it’s not going to help me.
• All of the polls say the American people don’t want it.

I politely (and anyone who knows me realizes politely doesn’t come easily), again told him I wouldn’t discuss it.

He went on and on until his wife dragged him out. Tried to watch the basketball game but Kentucky was killing the other team and in the end, he was like a strange, exotic bird, and the basketball game just screamed defeat.

The next day I had lunch with a client who doesn’t believe in the reform movement and has a pretty persuasive case why. I told him about Health Reform Bad Bar Man and said, “I wish I was that good at getting people to remember my talking points.”

That’s when it hit me – the Republicans are brilliant at developing talking points that are simple, resonate widely, everyone remembers and are used by all who hear them over and over and over again.

The Democrats suck at talking points. Obama won’t sink to the level of “they’re going to kill granny,” and who can blame him. But what about a nice big positive talking point about giving granny dignity and professional care at the end of her life. It may not be angry but at least it’s hopeful.

But not those Democrats. They don’t think that way. They’ve reused the same campaign theme for every candidate in the last two decades “Change.” A big vague talking point that has no meaning other than we’re going to be different. Then they get to DC and it’s the same old stuff.

How do you think the Republicans have managed to pin the zillion dollar deficit on Obama when he walked into office and found out it was far worse than even his advisers imagined? Declarative, basic points – he who runs the country is responsible for the mess he’s in.

If you keep telling people over and over again that Obama created this mess – and they’re not very smart people and regular watchers of Fox News – they will believe it. It’s indoctrination – talk about socialism that’s a pretty good example of it in action.

And of course, there’s racism involved – more than I ever thought possible in this nation in the second decade of the 21st Century. May not be on a billboard but its right there all the time. Just look at who makes up the Congress and Senate. The Republicans are white men, the Democrats are the rest of us. But I’m not going down that path today.

But there’s good news. Finally, with the health care reform bill passed the tide appears to be turning. Armageddon didn’t happen and it isn’t going too. The letter John McCain sent out saying we must repeal the health care reform bill sounded weak, hissy and undignified. Talk about someone who knows how to kill his own career.

The Democrats appear to have gotten their cajones back as well. They have new talking points.

The Republicans are the party of no.
We are the party of yes we can.

It’s a good start.

Check out this video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-pLSdGa0M4

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The DC Addy Awards - Where Have All the Creatives Gone?

Went to the DC Addy Awards last night. Usually I go to these things for creative inspiration - but you know the work was really pedestrian. I was really surprised.

This video of Mad Men is really kind of appropriate - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1gorEa-RKA

Oh the event was nice - at the Carnegie Institute on the second floor - up a gorgeous staircase, large, airy, room, great ceilings, pretty window dressing girls in short, strapless outfits and 4 inch heels. People wore cool glasses. They clustered and watched each other.

The food was your standard fare - prosciutto, cheese (baked brie was a surprise), passed sushi and crab cakes, decent wine. Oh and the scary looking sandwiches which I convinced myself would not be served if there was something really wrong with them - I did get sick to my stomach an hour later. Can't blame the wine either because I only had one glass.

The most creative ad I saw was on a cocktail napkin. Seriously. Remember when we used to scrawl phone numbers on a bar napkin and give them to boys - then worry about whether or not they'd call. In the age of cell phones, Facebook, etc. they had taken the napkins you get with your drinks and turned them into little ads.

There were 3 in the series - One said - My name is Sandy, my phone number is. . . , my LinkedIn profile is. . . etc. Another said - We met at the Bar & Grill and had space for your name, website, blog, and awesome tattoo. The third was about your Facebook page, name, etc. If I owned a bar - I would steal that idea immediately.

The winners were mostly the Arnold and Ogilvy type firms except for the napkin people who I had never heard of. Since there was no hand-out and I didn't write their name down - I apologize for not honoring you.

Saw some interesting retro design in the print - black and white line drawings - a few representative of how people who don't really draw do it which had a kind of gritty feel to them, some colorful blocky design that got my attention for a name that I can't remember.

Here's the schocker No Internet ads. Can you imagine? Not a single social media, Google or other ad that runs online was featured. I cannot believe that it wasn't a category. The girl I tried to ask questions of at the table upstairs said she had no information and I had to find Doug. She didn't offer to help.

I walked through the winning ads twice. The broadcast took too long to rerun and I can't remember any of it. The radio you couldn't hear. And not a single headline or product stood out. These are the winners!

So what is happening? I know the advertising industry has been hit really hard but come on all of you. If I can't remember a single ad except for the napkin people and I went there to look at them, what does that say? Aren't we supposed to get more creative when a recession hits? How can you sell your ad agency's value if you can't create ads that are even interesting?

Anyway they said all this stuff will be up on line in the next day or so which knowing the Ad Club DC could be a week. There should be photos, video and the ads. Please let me know what you think. Keep checking www.dcadclub.com

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Do Successful PR People Show Clients the Real Pitch?

I screwed up the other day. Any PR person who actually knows how to pitch media and place stories - and is good at it - knows that you should never show the client your pitch. Oh you make a really nice communications plan and talk about messages and strategy and lay out what you are going to say and get their feedback.

You do the press releases the way they want (with a lot of suggestions to improve SEO) and make fact sheets with a lot of their explanations of their business. But that's not what you pitch.

Even if you are good and start with the clients' pitch within a day or two you've changed it. Why? because they're sanitized and long and not succinct enough to get someone's attention in five seconds. And today those pitches are read on a Blackberry in a car that hopefully is not moving.

Media today - your whole pitch is an email heading and ten seconds on the phone. Getting media to open the email is most of it. Then you must capture your pitch in a sentence. Clients are caught up in their business and the love of what they do. They want all the information in there - exactly the way they talk and write about it. But that's not what they hire you for.

Yes there are still journalists who are thoughtful, smart, check facts, have real editors, etc. But their numbers are shrinking and most of their mail is read by screeners who are 20 year-old communications interns or were just hired as new staff. So good luck with that.

I read HARO which is a great resource to see the simplicity of what is pitched these days. Here are a few from Friday's - look how boiled down they are:

Credit Card Phone Scams (major financial website)
25 Young Entrepreneurs for Book ages 6 + (Raising CEO Kids Book and website)
Un-famous People with Famous Names (National magazine)
Brain Damage and Stereotypes/Categorization (Anonymous)

If you can't get your pitch down to something that simple -- you have no pitch.

And what many clients don't get either is that pitches evolve. You start out with this nice perfectly worded pitch that's a couple of paragraphs and then you start calling people and they start telling you why they don't care. Or they feign interest and then don't follow through which is the worst because then you tell the client they're interested and then they're not.

In an ideal world - the journalist gives you five minutes, tells you what they're interested in and it's some sort of derivation of what your client does.

When I used to pitch editors as a journalist I had more leeway. They wanted the trend - examples of the trend - data on the trend - sources on the trend - etc. And you could put that all into a pitch note. But you can't anymore because no one will read it. Capture their interest right away. Make a connection. Or it's over. The follow-up after they've said they are interested can be longer and more thorough - but the first time - go for concise.

We went through this with Healthcarebluebook.com. We started with national media pitching of this consumer pricing guide as a new service for consumers. But nobody got it - the healthcare writers wrote about it a little but the first couple of months a lot of the press we got was writers saying it would never work.

Then we went regionally and started pitching healthcare bloggers in major metro markets. We did research on pricing disparities in those markets and went to the writers with that data to get their attention. And it worked. Some used it and some didn't. But they all read the pitch.

Finally, we went after consumer finance writers. Because in the end the Healthcare Blue Book is about saving money. And that's when the press coverage started to take off. Our first huge hit was the WSJ and they were kind of upset about it because they were featured amongst their competitors. I started getting a slew of the look who got coverage in this great story and we're not in there emails.

But then they became the company that got the first call for a healthcare pricing story. And all was happy in client land.

Now we're working on an event that is nine months away and science-related. I called up a healthcare reporter that I know at one of the majors and asked him if anyone covered science anymore. He started to laugh and then we commiserated. All the science writers have been laid off. The Washington Post has one science writer - Rob Stein - for all of science. Can you imagine? So try pitching them an event that's nine months away.

So we're pitching deadlines to participate in events related to the big event which are this spring. When you've got 30 days people start paying attention. And it's working.

I was so happy with someone who actually did exactly what we wanted them to do, I fired off their return email to the client thinking well this is a kudo. What I didn't think about was that the pitch was attached and they would read it and critique it. And of course they did.

Then we have the client/PR person email or talk. In the nicest way possible, I tell them that I know what I'm doing and they have to trust me. Of course, if I worked for clients who didn't accept that I'd get fired and they would pay some big agency a lot of money to do less than we would do. But that's the way it goes.

So what kinds of things bug clients - mostly it's the stuff that business people can't handle either. Strong statements. Provocative writing. Major verb usage. Tying what they do to something pop cultural that they don't like or don't get.

A couple of examples. One of my healthcare clients didn't want to say that we advocated people negotiate price with their doctors. They had some big vague way of describing it that the average healthcare industry person would understand but would leave the rest of us bleary eyed. They thought advocating negotiation would get them in trouble.

Another client had an opera performance with a very specific title and description that explained only to someone who is an opera afficianado what the event was. I called it a Glee Club which was not perfect but at least everyone knows what a glee club. Glee is very popular these days. It got response.

One thing I often remind clients is that even though you think you are pitching some high brow journalist -- the person who gets your pitch may be a 20 year-old news intern who is skimming through headlines, bored and pissed off that they're not the writer.

Or the school superintendent with the PhD that we want to reach has a 50 year-old assistant who has been his assistant for 25 years, acts as his super screener, and is so ready to retire she's just not that thorough anymore.

You have to appeal to the largest common denominator. The journalist won't think you are an idiot for referencing pop culture - most likely they have kids and watch that stuff too. So pitch the screener.

I'd like to hear what you all think. Other war stories in the form of comments would be good.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Snow is Melting and Marketers are Hiring Again

According to a February 2010 study by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business -nearly half of the CMOS polled in its 2x a year marketing survey say they expect to hire new marketers during the next six months. Survey respondents were 612 marketing executives in small to large companies.

60% plan to hire new marketers in the next year and almost 90% over the next two years.

So expect an 8% hiring increase in the next six months, 13% during the next year, and 24% over the next two years.

But you’d better get your Internet and social media skills up. The areas of growth are marketers with skills related to Internet marketing, innovation and growth, as well as customer relationship and brand management.

And I have to admit, some marketers - at least here in the DC area - have changed their company branding to become Social Media Gurus. But are they?

I think they know more about the architecture than I do and they track recent developments which are sometimes written in a language that I can't follow.

But have they really figured out how to market effectively in the Social Media space? I'm still seeing a lot of consultant presentations on Creating a Social Media Policy. What does that tell you?

Overall B2B Product Marketing will be Up the Most and B2B Service Marketing is Up the Least. The good news for consultants is B2B services marketers report the highest expected increase in outsourced marketing activities. Translation: They need marketing help but aren't willing to hire permanent staff to do it. It's called hedging your bets.

Some key data from the CMO Survey –

Overall marketing budgets will increase by 5.9% this year. Traditional ad spending is still in the negative but the losses are smaller than a year ago.

How will the marketing budget be spent? Here's the breakdown Fuqua gave us.

Market penetration strategy – 44%

Market development strategy – 18%

Product service development strategy – 26%

Diversification – 13%

For the complete study go to www.cmosurvey.org