Pass the Wings, the Dip and the “Second Screen”

As recently as five years ago, the mobile phone was considered to be the “third screen” behind the TV and the PC.  While the mobile web was well on its way to ubiquity at the time, there were few mobile devices able to take full advantage of it. Downloading Internet content from the “third screen” at the time was a painfully, painfully slow process.  Remember the first iPhone wasn’t available until the summer of 2007, so for the most part we were using much less powerful feature phones that were able to access the Internet (yes, many people are still doing the same today).

Now, the much more powerful and intuitive smartphone and tablet have displaced the PC — at least in the marketing and advertising world — as the “second screen.”  And on Sunday, advertisers will go after the second screen like never before.

Do you have your smartphone or tablet at the ready whenever you’re watching ordinary TV vs. big events like the Super Bowl?  And are you tweeting updates and sharing opinions on Facebook with friends in real-time or are you just “enjoying” the program like we did in the old days?

Remember freaking out when you wanted to watch TV but couldn’t find the remote control? Well, today it’s more about having a smartphone or tablet on your lap so you can text and post on your favorite social media channel while watching TV.  You can even use your smartphone as a remote control if you can’t find the real one.

Nielsen reports that about 66% of us use these devices while watching TV.  And with tens of millions of viewers expected to tune into Sunday’s rematch between the New England Patriots and New York Giants, advertisers and marketers are salivating.

This year, we’re seeing a whole new level of social media activity for Super Bowl advertisers,” said Tim Calkins of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern Unversity.  Calkins added that advertisers’ won’t know how effective their attempts to connect with you and me on our smartphones will be until the big game.  But they will spare no expense in trying to do so.

According to the AP, on its Facebook page Coco Cola will feature one animated polar bear cheering for the Pats and another for the Giants; Chevrolet’s smartphone application will allow us to vie for pizza and a new car; Toyota wants us to tweet about what other products, in addition to the Camry, it should reinvent. And perhaps in a tactic that takes second screen interaction to a new level, smartphone users will be able to put their device up to the TV to scan a QR code that will take you to the company website, where one can presume there will be other ways to interact with

So if Sunday’s game isn’t a good one, there’s no shortage of ideas from advertisers to keep us watching anyway.

And if the game goes downs to the wire, as many are predicting, everyone wins.

Enjoy the game!   (Go Pats!!!!)

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Reputation Communications Cheers and Jeers

As usual, politicians, athletes and business leaders have given us a week full of opportunities to cheer or jeer their actions.  As a result, reputations have either advanced or have been damaged.  For some, the damage can be managed.  For others, well, not so much.

My favs for the week:

Cheers to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick for standing up for “basic courtesy and grace” in the wake of Tim Thomas’ decision to avoid a photo opp earlier this week with the President of the U.S.  Thomas, superstar goalie for the Boston Bruins, snubbed the President and his own teammates by refusing to participate, citing political reasons, in a White House “meet and greet” for the Stanley Cup Champions earlier this week.  “He’s a phenomenal hockey player and he’s entitled to his view, but it just feels to me like we’re losing in this country basic courtesy and grace,” Patrick said during his annual State of the Commonwealth speech.  “I didn’t think much of President Bush’s policies … but I always referred to him as Mr. President. I stood when he came into the room.”

Jeers to Thomas for clouding his team’s visit to the White House.  In doing so, he reinforced his reputation as a “me first” player instead of taking a sterling opportunity to dispel that notion.  While Thomas has every right to his point of view on the federal government or on anything else, he had to have some idea of what the media fallout from his refusal would look like.  He ignored the ceremony anyway.  In doing so, Thomas put the “I” back in Team.

Jeers to Jean-Claude Mas, the founder of Poly Implants Protheses (P.I.P.), the company responsible for the manufacturing of breast implants filled with potentially harmful industrial grade silicon.  Mas has admitted his company used the unapproved silicon because it was less expensive than the approved silicon.  As a result of his poor judgment, hundreds of thousands of women around the world are at risk as the P.I.P. implants are apt to leak or rupture.

Cheers to health officials in France, German and Czech, which are recommending that the the P.I.P. implants be removed even though it has yet to be confirmed that the leaked silicon may do no greater damage than irritate body tissue or cause inflammation.  And a loud cheer to the country of Brazil which has ordered its health insurance companies to reimburse the insured for the removal of any P.I.P. implants.

Cheers to Apple for another outstanding fiscal quarter.  On Tuesday, Apple posted historical profits and revenue, sending its market cap soaring and it’s stock price to another all-time high.  The results were generated largely on the backs of iPhone and iPad sales.

Jeers to Apple for seemingly ignoring the legions of iPhone 4/4S owners who continue to be plagued by battery issues so severe that many of these devices (including mine) are rendered virtually useless.  Apple has been unusually quiet about any pending fix, and appears to be focused on the yet-to-be announced iPhone 5 and iPad 3 instead.  Halo affects also have a shelf life.

Cheers to New England Patriots wide receiver Chad Ochocinco for noticing and then acting on how glum House Speaker John Boehner appeared during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday.  In his tweet to Boehner, the football player said, “If all else seems bad in life just remember I love you kind sir.”

Jeers to Boehner for wearing a pout for pretty much the full duration of the President’s address.  While it’s clear Boehner and the President don’t play well together, as the “third in line” showing some positive energy during the State of the Union would be Boehner taking a leadership role.  C’mon Mr. Speaker.

Until next time…


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Irrefutible Rules of Executive Media Training

If business and political leaders committed to listening to their media specialists before talking to the press, their interview success rate would be through the roof.  The journalist would be on the receiving end of a better interview delivered by an informed and articulate content provider (aka, the spokesperson); the spokesperson will have delivered key messages in a concise, coherent and clear manner; and, the media specialist would have one less fire to extinguish.

Yet, we see time-after-time leaders putting a foot in their mouth because they did not properly prepare for a planned media engagement.  There’s no room for an undisciplined, shooting-from-the-hip approach to talking with the media.  Just ask BP’s ex-CEO Tony “I’d like my life back” Hayward, ex-GOP presidential and vice-presidential candidates Herman Cain and Sarah Palin.  And compare their performances to former President Ronald Reagan, Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos, among others.

Part of a media specialist’s challenge is convincing the boss that he/she actually needs media training.  Executive ego often gets in the way of skills assessment, as we know.  “Media training?  I have been talking with the media for years.  I don’t have time for media training,” is a familiar refrain for senior leaders.

In my experience, executive spokespeople almost always think they’ve done a great job following a phone or in-person interview with a journalist.  The reality is, the better interviewee has always been the one who committed to preparation (and listened to their media specialist!).

Media training doesn’t have to be a painful experience. Execs liken it to going to the dentist (no offense to the DMDs out there), especially the part where they are captured on video in a mock interview (which is an absolute must).  But navigating your spokesperson through a few straightforward guidelines will successfully get the boss through myriad media engagements.  Here are a few key ones:

  • Know your story – the spokesperson must have an agenda that includes the communication of 2-3 key messages which need to internalized in advance and supported with specific data and examples.  Each question is an opportunity to deliver — concisely, coherently and clearly — a key message.
  • What works with the media – responsiveness, modesty, straight talk, knowledge of their media outlet (target audience), an educational tone, a sense of humor, being genuine and honest,  and a personal approach.
  • What doesn’t work – jargon, too much ego, over-talking and steam-rolling, trashing other organizations.
  • Preparing for the interview – review the media outlet, be certain of  facts, be bold, get to the heart of the matter with an opening summary (key messages), think in headlines and sound bites, focus, close with key messages.
  • Avoid the “off the record” trap — instead, try something like, “You know, that’s not something I’m at liberty to discuss, but what I am here to talk about is …
  • Remember, you’re in control – use every question as an opportunity to tell your story/bridge to your messages, be prepared with key message detail to back up your story if challenged, and project confidence.  You’re the expert.

A successful media engagement is never about luck.  It’s always about preparation.

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Stories Are the Single Most Powerful Weapon in a Brand’s Arsenal (video link)

Content-centered public relations turns ideas into stories and then into experiences that lead people to respond through action.  In public relations, we talk about stories as being the single most powerful weapon in a brand’s arsenal.

A successful public relations campaign serves to define a brand in ways that educate and inform markets so that the target audience(s) is motivated to act after experiencing great content.  For the target audience to act, the story must be compelling and be brought to life in content best-suited for that particular audience — eBooks, events, blog posts, white papers, news releases, etc.  And in the case of the subject of this post — video.

After watching New Hampshire Chronicle (a repeat but timeless episode) earlier this week, I was motivated to share the story of Peter Limmer and Sons.  If you’re a serious hiker, you probably are familiar with Peter’s story.  If you yearn for a pair of his custom-made boots, you’re at least 18 months away from receiving them.

Here’s the rest of the story.  If you find a better example of a compelling brand story, consciously developed or not, please share it with us.

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Why Pay-for-Performance PR Agencies Can Hurt PR

Recently a marketing executive from Israel posted the following update on the “Technology PR, AR and Social Media” group on LinkedIn.  Question: Looking to hire a PR firm in the U.S. but not able to go crazy with retainers. Does anyone have good experience with working on a pay-per-performance model with a PR firm?

The request garnered only three public responses from the group’s membership of more than 800 public relations professionals.  You can interpret whatever you’d like from the dearth of responses.  Whatever the reasons may be, there are still hundreds (perhaps thousands) of U.S.-based PR agencies that bill themselves as “pay-for-performance” firms.  Essentially, this means that they measure success, and how much they should be paid, on their ability to generate media coverage for clients.

Pay for placement agencies charge clients only for articles that actually make it into print,” says Alexander Konanykhin, president of Publicity Guaranteed, a pay-for-performance PR firm.

A competitor, INK inc PR, says on its website:  “Our job is to get you positive media coverage in the outlets that help you the most. When we get you lots of great media coverage, you pay more. When we don’t, you pay less. … You pay for results.  No tricks. No gimmicks. Just real accountability for real results.

The pay-for-performance PR agency model works for some. But the vast majority of agencies work on a fee-for-service, or hourly billing basis, based on approved annual or semi-annual programs — much like lawyers, accountants and other service professionals do. With this approach, clients pay for actual time spent on their accounts and allows the agency and client to easily track billing against activities.  Typically, account team members are held accountable for the time they bill against the PR program and are measured against their performance.

My recollection is that many pay-for-performance agencies launched en masse in the aftermath of the bubble and subsequent tech meltdown of 2000-2001.  New agencies were formed from the ashes of big agency layoffs. The pay-for-performance business model was viewed as a means to differentiate in an era when marketing and PR budgets were getting hammered.

The problem with the model, from my perspective, is that it serves to further commoditize our profession and shift our reputation to that of tacticians vs. strategic, hands-on communications counselors.

I’m always a little leery of customers who are singularly focused on media coverage.  I remember a client from the not-too-distant past who’s bonus was based on the agency’s ability to generate national business coverage on a quarterly basis. Nothing else mattered to our daily client contact.  National media coverage put money in his pocket in some fiscal quarters, and not so much in some other periods of the year.  His compensation model made for a few interesting weekly update calls.

While media coverage and media relations certainly play a significant role in most communications campaigns, they are still only pieces of what agencies should be providing for clients.  And it’s a complete misnomer that a fee-for-service agency/client relationship means that clients are primarily paying for effort, are chained to boated budgets and account teams who lack accountability.

I wouldn’t want to work with or for an agency like that either.

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The Simple Life: 5 New Year Resolutions to Make

Umi/Aki Java Calendar 1997 digital media | CD-ROM by John Maeda. Source: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Recently I came across a TED talk by John Maeda, president of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and formerly of MIT’s Media Lab.  The subject was finding simplicity – the simple life – in a complicated digital age.   As a communications professional, the idea of simplicity is both timely and applicable, and it adds needed perspective to all of our professional lives.

Here are 5 ways to get back to basics in 2012.

  1. Get quiet.  This recent NY Times opinion piece “The Joy of Quiet” says: “The only way to do justice to our onscreen lives is by summoning exactly the emotional and moral clarity that can’t be found on any screen.”  So for some period of time each, day, put down your smartphone and tablet and turn off the TV.  Use the time to re-focus and to reconnect with current projects, clients, friends and family.  Listen to your own thoughts and not the constant stream of content feeds; perhaps then you’ll see the bigger picture. 
  2. Let go of ego.  Before posting anything on the social media networks, ask yourself what it will add to your followers and “friends.”  If it is not imperative that it be posted, think again.  In the long run, your opinions will be more valued for consistency of thought then sheer consistency.  Letting go of ego also means reconnecting and fully optimizing your team.  Lean on them, and learn from them.
  3. Learn something.  In his TED presentation, Maeda jokes about the “For Dummies” or “Complete Idiot’s Guide” manuals, which he calls a “business model around being stupid.”  Buck mainstream and resolve to learn one new thing a day – something that interests you.  It might not be directly relevant but you will walk away smarter and have more to offer than yesterday.  Start with team brainstorming sessions.  We have all done them, we all know they work and make us collectively smarter/sharper, so why don’t we make more time for this? Which brings us to #4.
  4. Take time. Your time, that is.  No one ever gets through a project and says that they wished they rushed more.  In part, I believe we’ve lost that “don’t send anything unless it’s perfect” mentality in our haste to deliver.  Imagine all of your content will go to the CEO.   Exaggerate your preparation for all occasions when you’ll be presenting to clients and colleagues alike, and you’ll make a better use of your interactions (and maybe have time for an impactful brainstorming session).
  5. Find/reconnect with a mentor: If you don’t already have a mentor, choose one.  This should be someone you admire and look up to, and most importantly, someone you trust.  Human relationships are complex by nature, but connecting and communicating with a mentor can actually help simplify your life and keep you focused on the higher goal.  This is an evergreen tool which is free and directly impacts your professional life.  

Give yourself more credit in 2012

I hope these ideas serve as a palate-cleaner to the noise of the Internet and media buzz on social media trends and future of the public relations, marketing and advertising industries.   How are you planning/or not planning on making your life simpler in 2012? I look forward to your ideas.

Wishing all a prosperous New Year!

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Let’s Retire “Guru” and “Rock Star” from the Workplace Lexicon

If you’re in favor of blowing up “guru” and “rock star” in job descriptions or in reference to your employees and/or co-workers, then please help by retweeting this post.

Yes, I admit that I’m also guilty of having used these descriptors.  In a recent post in fact, I referred to our public relations intern as a “rock star.”  What I was trying to convey is that our intern is a high performing individual and is doing an excellent job for us.  But I guess I thought I would be perceived as hip (‘er, hipper), especially among younger readers, if I used what is still perceived by many to be a progressive way to refer to someone’s capabilities.

Looking back,  I think just the opposite is true.  “Guru” and “rock star” have become so overused, beginning in the period of the late 90’s and continuing to the present day, that they are now rendered meaningless.

I did a quick search on “guru” on Indeed, the big job site.  The search returned 6,507 job descriptions with the word “guru” in the actual job title or the word “guru” in the description.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Monster (Cable) PowerPoint GuruThe Monster PowerPoint Guru will play an integral role in ensuring that employees grasp all aspects and/or levels of the “Monster Way” and “Monster Attitude” as a means to propel our success as it relates to Monster’s vision, mission, goals and overall success

 … Not really clear to me why this candidate has to be of “guru” status.

WordPress GuruNeed to create a WordPress Project in 2-3 Days. If you are a WordPress Guru, please send me a message. I need this project done ASAP so please only respond if you have time to complete with 3 days

 ... To me, a real “WordPress guru” would be too busy to take on any project ASAP.

Outdoor Education Guru (for YMCA) — People WANTED for HAZARDOUS journey. SMALL wages, BITTER cold, SEARING heat and DRIVING rain, LONG Months OF COMPLETE madNESS, CONSTANT DANGER of actually loving your job, RETURN to previous life DOUBTFUL. HONOR and RECOGNITION in case of SUCCESS.

… Love the description, but the job hardly requires a “guru.” I think someone who has a love of the outdoors and is physically fit would suffice.

College Textbook guruPerfect job! Shipping and receiving college textbooks, scanning, packing, sorting, etc. Need basic computer skills, great attendance and great attitude! Position requires standing for long periods of times. Must be quick and accurate. You will LOVE this job! Overtime is likely and is mandatory.

… Again, a guru. Really?  Sounds like a solid clerical job to me, but not much more.

Geez, it almost seems that if you’re not a “guru” or a “rock star,” then you might as well not even consider applying for any job or even showing up for work these days.

So an important question:  what are you if you’re neither guru or rock star, but yet you’re extremely competent at your job?  A former colleague of mine refers to these types as “Steady Eddies.”   David M. Taylor, who wrote, “Strength Zone: Discover Your Place of Maximum Effectiveness,” says “ ‘S’ type personalities are the ‘Steady Eddie’ people among us that concentrate on people rather than tasks .. place more attention on others than on themselves. These people are the ones that you can always rely on in any situation. These are the Florence Nightengales of this world, the Barbara Bushes, the Mother Teresas. They love to help other people and work hard to create a stable environment at work and at home.”

Hmm, sounds more like a “rock star” to me.

Sad to think Florence or Mother Teresa wouldn’t quality for the thousands of “guru” and “rock star” jobs available these days, isn’t it?

Oh, and I did search “Steady Eddie” on Indeed. Yeah, nothing.

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(One of) The Best Job Descriptions Ever

Like a few other PR agency professionals I know, I occasionally look at the online job boards to see if any new business development targets are recruiting for senior public/media relations executives.  A job posting like that is sometimes a signal that the company is building out its internal staff and that other changes may not be far behind — like a search for a new PR agency partner.  One of the first tasks a newly hired corporate PR executive tackles is to measure the effectiveness of the company’s PR agency. Paying attention to who is moving where can pay off sometimes.

The other thing I look for when reviewing job postings is to see how companies communicate to prospective employees.  Are they using corporate speak?  Are fallen leaders talking about themselves like they are still the be-all and end-all of their industry – when everyone else knows they are not?  Are they drinking, and selling, the corporate Kool-Aid?

You can tell a lot about the communications culture of a company,  I believe, by its job descriptions. Is the company trying to attract a Gen Y candidate? If so, are they talking to a Gen Y, or a Gen X or to a senior executive candidate in a manner that their target candidate can relate to?  More importantly, are they being transparent with the real opportunities and challenges of the position for prospective candidates.

While looking at some of the online job boards earlier this week, I came across this one from Royal Philips Electronics (aka Philips), the large “health and well being” company. It isn’t clear if this is a new position, or if they are replacing someone.

But from what I have seen in recent years, it’s one of the better job descriptions (ever) — at least from a transparency perspective.  The descriptors are representative of a company that is being honest with itself. I’m not referring to the typical descriptors you see for an opportunity like this (i.e., working under tight deadlines), but the ones suggesting that this company is admitting its shortcomings and is reaching out for help.

In the posting, Philips points out that its senior executives don’t place a ton of value on speaking with the media, that its brand awareness is low, and that its competitors (like GE) place a greater value on the communications function and therefore have been “highly funded and active for several years and are far ahead.” The posting also points out that U.S. media outlets are reluctant to cover Philips regularly because it’s headquartered in Europe (a common challenge, but eminently navigable, for companies like Philips).

Another shortcoming of Philips’ communications program may be in how it views its relationship with the media.  One descriptor says “consolidation of media makes all aspects of media manipulation problematic.”  I know media outlets who cover Philips wouldn’t appreciate the company’s use of the word manipulation in this case.  But thanks to a truthful assessment of the opportunity by the employer, candidates will walk into the interview process with eyes wide open.

2012 is on top of us, and that means more jobs will be posted than any other time of the year.  Companies should borrow a page from Philips’ recruiting handbook by communicating honestly about who they are to prospective employees.  Employer and employee are sure to benefit in the end.

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The “No Strings Attached” Christmas Card

Not to sound too much like Andy Rooney (who, before there were even blogs, used his pulpit to expouse his beliefs, rants and share his views), but I have a few things to say about Christmas cards. In this case, not the personal kind one receives from friends and family, but those sent by colleagues and companies.

My belief as a person and recommendation as a communications professional, is that there should be no strings attached. What do I mean? Here’s an example.

Yesterday I received a holiday greeting from one of my favorite online music sites, letting me know that, “In the spirit of the season, we’re offering holiday discounts on our premium subscription…” While I know Christmas has pretty much become just another way to sell products, I don’t like that what was really an ad, was masked as a holiday greeting. The subject line of the email was, “Happy Holidays!” after all.

This music site is not alone in turning what should be a nice way to connect with customers and thank them for their business into an ad. A week ago I received an email from a firm that does consulting with the subject line, “Happy Holidays from…” When I opened it up, I was surprised to see that this too, was aimed at building business with the words, “we look forward to helping you address your business challenges in 2012.” This was followed by a visual of their services and links to their upcoming conference and social media assets.

Holiday greetings and new year’s wishes should not be about promotion. This is the one time of year when the focus of a company’s communication should be thanking their customers for their business. If they want to give them something – with no strings attached – then that is fine. But rarely is their such a thing as a free lunch.

When in doubt about what kind of message they are sending, a company should ask, “am I getting or asking for something in return?” If so, then your message is wrong. Start again. The best message is a simple one and of course, one without strings attached.

Postscript: I just received a very nice Christmas card from an ad rep at a Boston-based magazine (irony not lost here). It wishes me a Merry Christmas, is hand-signed, and even has a little recipe inside to add a little fun. He knows that Christmas cards are about building and solidifying long-term relationships – not for selling. That can be done in the new year.

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Agencies Aren’t Seeing the ROI in Social Media Advertising…Yet

What’s that story about the cobbler’s children?  Apparently, the story applies to public relations and advertising agencies as well, especially when it comes to lead generation via social media channels.

Demandbase and Focus reported a couple of months ago that new business development executives (across industries) can rely on their company’s website to generate a significant percentage of leads.  But not as many as through personal referral.  Social media pulled up the rear as the third most effective way for a company to generate leads.

Now, a new report seems to validate these findings, at least in the world of advertising and public relations.  While public relations and advertising agencies help clients navigate the dynamic social media marketing universe, few agencies are leveraging the full power of these networks for their own lead generation efforts.

According to the study, sponsored by digital marketing agency lonleybrand, a minuscule 17 percent of the senior agency executives polled say they buy ads on social networks to complement their lead gen efforts.

Deciding to advertise an agency’s services is not an inexpensive undertaking.  Generally, it’s the larger agencies who regularly buy print ads in the likes of PRWeek or ADWEEK, O’Dwyer’s and other PR and advertising industry publications.  The data from lonelybrand suggests the same holds true for agencies purchasing ads on social media networks.  Not a big surprise.

For example, 23 percent of the agencies who are using social network advertising are spending more than $10,000 each month on ads.  $10,000 per month is a big nut for anything less than a major agency.  The smaller (and harder working) independent agencies are pretty much excluded from that playing field.  But they can at least participate, albeit on a different playing field for now, through tiered buying — whereby smaller agencies can test the social media advertising waters by purchasing ads in small increments to compliment their digital marketing efforts.  Not a bad place to start.

Even then, once a prospect clicks on an agency’s ad on Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter, their next stop is either a landing page or the firm’s home page.

Given the substantial increase in competition among integrated marketing agencies, digital agencies, inbound marketing agencies, social media agencies, public relations agencies, advertising agencies, blended agencies, specialist firms and boutiques (how many categories am I leaving out?), in 2012 we could see a dramatic jump in the social media advertising numbers among agencies.

Smaller firms — and smaller companies in general — may be forced to get in the game eventually, and as long as they are seeing some ROI, they’d be foolish to not at least consider it.

By the way, when was the last time your firm got a qualified new business lead other than through a personal connection or referral or because your website came up in a Google search and the prospect liked what they saw?



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