Nov 05

If I were a miller (Part I)

Every organization should have its own miller. To be more precise, every organization should Lauren - RepMan have an individual who ‘owns' the latest and greatest innovation news and creates a 'mill' with which to disseminate best practices.

Meet Lauren Begley. She created our Innovation Mill. (The Innovation Mill Vol 5)  Lauren came up with the idea, presented it to me, assembled a team and became an editor/publisher overnight.

She now routinely trolls the web in search of the best and brightest marketing programs, condenses them in an easy-to-read format and shares the findings with her peers every month. Her Innovation Mill is one of my ‘must reads’. And, it's becoming popular with clients and friends of the agency as well.

I wanted to know more about our miller, so I put together a Q and A. Here's part one. Check out Repmanblog.com for part two on Monday.

1)   REPMAN: I'm not exaggerating when I say the vast majority of the PR industry group I recently addressed were amazed to hear you'd created an 'Innovation Mill' on your own. Tell me what the Innovation Mill is, what prompted you to come to me with the idea and how you went about launching the first issue.

LAUREN: The Innovation Mill is Peppercom’s monthly recap of the most cutting edge campaigns and best practices from the fields of public relations, marketing, advertising and more. It includes a variety of case studies, trend analysis and summaries of how this information directly relates to our clients’ business.

As is every mid-sized agency, we are faced with a constantly changing media landscape, client demand for results, and a need to stay competitive among other agencies vying for new business. I created the Innovation Mill to help Peppercom employees stay abreast of industry trends, stimulate creative thinking among account teams, and identify best practices relevant to our agency and its clients.

2) REPMAN: As is the case with all Peppercommers, you're a very busy person. How do you find the time to uncover Innovation Mill-worthy stories? Also, tell me about the team that works with you to edit the 'Mill.'

LAUREN: Time is yet another reason I felt so strongly about starting the Innovation Mill. With everyone strapped for time, many find it difficult to set aside even 30 minutes each day to read the news, let alone explore interesting case studies or best practices.

To remedy this, I pulled together the innovation team, a group of employees spanning every Peppercom office and specialty practice area. We all now have dedicated hours each week to spend researching and writing, which essentially removes the guess-work for the rest of the agency. We circulate interesting articles and hold discussions – and sometimes debates – over interesting campaigns. The result is an Innovation Mill with an interesting mix of information on everything from the latest new digital platform to a crazy guerilla marketing stunt overseas.

3) REPMAN: You've published five Innovation Mills to date. If I pinned you down, what would you say is the single coolest story you've reported on?

LAUREN: We’ve seen several interesting campaigns over the past few months. One of my favorites was the Volkswagen ‘Fun Theory’ campaign in Sweden. Created by DDB Stockholm, this campaign set out to see if making activities more fun would influence consumer behavior. This included transforming a Swedish subway staircase into a giant, functioning piano, which resulted in 66 percent more people choosing the steps rather than an escalator. Other elements included creating the world’s deepest trash bin to see if more people would stop littering and a speed camera lottery to see if more people would obey the speed limit. This campaign is smart for many reasons. First, it encourages consumer participation, which has resulted in mass media interest and a spreadable online component (see this excellent YouTube video). Second, it reinforces the brand’s messaging that Volkswagen vehicles make driving fun.

CHECK BACK MONDAY FOR PART II OF REPMAN'S Q&A WITH LAUREN.

Oct 21

I’d rename it ‘The Dirty Laundry Report’

DELANEY-REPORTjpgThe Delaney Report has been covering the advertising and media worlds for eons. It's the  prototypical gossip sheet that's jam-packed with the inside scoop on:

– Accounts that might be in play
– Executives who are screwing up
– Agencies that are losing people in droves. 

It should really be called The Dirty Laundry Report.

Sure, TDR provides some great one-on-one interviews with CEOs and CMOS and is a MUST for any agency's rainmaker, but the publication's real essence resides in its snarkiness. It revels in sleaze and scandal, while embracing their ugly cousins, failure and fear.

Every three months, for example, the newsletter hands out awards to the best and worst performers of the previous quarters. Read what it has to say about some of last quarter's worsts:

– “Worst Marketer: William Weldon, chairman/CEO of Johnson & Johnson. For his lackadaisical attitude and approach in handling the company's product recall embarrassment. For allowing the reputation of a company long known for its high standards of ethical business policies to suffer. For a lack of tough managerial decision making when it was most needed. For letting employees lose faith in their employer.” Wow. That is just brutal. I'm surprised Weldon wasn't accused of treason as well.

– 'Worst Advertising Agency. Arnold Worldwide. For failing to solve the client defection problem as computer seller Dell Inc. and beverage marketer Dr. Pepper Snapple Group recently pull ad assignments from the agency. For allowing clients MetLife and Accenture to go into review. For inconsistent creative. Blame falls on the agency's chairman/CEO Hamish McLennan, creative boss Tony Granger.' Phew! How'd you like to be an Arnold employee and have to deal with that sort of mudslinging? Imagine what Arnold's clients must think? And the 'award' certainly won't be listed on either McLennan's or Granger's CV.

– “Worst Publication. Monthly magazine Reader's Digest. For inconsistent editorial that changes with the editor-in-chief of the moment. For a poor performance on the ad-page front and a continued plunge in circulation. Blame falls on Mart Berner, the CEO of the magazine's parent Reader's Digest Association.” I want to go to the nearest newsstand and pick up a copy. And, if I were an aspiring journalist or space salesman, I'd be e-mailing my resume as we speak. Not!

And, therein lies my fundamental issue with TDR. They don't just report news. They hurt people's careers and damage the image and reputation of all sorts of organizations in the name of journalism. I'm sure they see themselves as performing a valuable reader service, but I see their product as mean spirited and vindictive.

I majored in journalism in college, held jobs in three different newsrooms and had an offer to work full time at CBS Radio. I wanted no part of it. I couldn't take the non-stop negative news cycle or the jaded cynicism of reporters. And, I didn't enjoy reporting on someone else's misery and misfortune.

I've been known to take a shot or two at a misbehaving former client or prospect, but I would never purposely hurt someone's image and livelihood (and do it 48 times each and every year, thank you very much).

In my book, airing someone else's dirty laundry is akin to playing dirty pool. I wonder how TDR would fare if someone turned the investigative spotlight on them? More to the point, I wonder how they'd like it?

Oct 07

“On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.”

Those are the words of legendary ad man, David Ogilvy, who added: "It follows that unless your Hobbes headline sells your product, you have wasted 90 percent of your money." Ogilvy’s words were true when he wrote them in the 1960s and even more relevant today. The New York Times recently ran an article about the egregious misspellings and grammatical errors found on billboards, road signs and storefronts in the city’s five boroughs. Some of the examples were simultaneously hilarious and nauseating. And, as an avid reader of all things social media related, I’ve come across a staggering number of headlines that either offended my grammatical sensibilities or completely befuddled me.

The slow and painful demise of the well-written headline has many causes: there’s the overall dumbing down of society, the rise of the 140-character universe and just plain, old laziness. I think it’s a dead heat for worst offender, though: there’s the award-crazed advertising copywriter who produces headlines intended to stop a reader in her tracks but instead befuddles the bejesus out of anyone with half a brain. Then, there’s the average public relations executive who confuses press release writing with brochure copy. So, instead of a brief, pithy headline that draws a reader in, one is instead bombarded with superlatives, hyperbole and 25-word-long monstrosities. This seems to be especially true for new product releases which, if one were to believe the headline, will literally save the planet.

I’ve been reading a phenomenal book called ‘Your Attention Please.’ It was written in 2006 by Paul B. Brown and Alison Davis. It’s one of the best ‘how-to’ guides I’ve read for writing brief, effective copy in an information overload world. The authors suggest no headline should see the light of day unless it addresses the most important question of all, “What’s in it for me?” I couldn’t possibly improve upon that definition or Mr. Ogilvy’s emphasis on the importance of a headline.

The New York Post and Daily News notwithstanding, the art of headline writing is receding faster than the polar ice caps. It’s incumbent upon leaders in the public relations, digital and advertising worlds to do something about it now. Otherwise, smart and strategic clients will wake up one day, realize their print ads, digital banners and press releases aren’t generating awareness, credibility or, most important of all, qualified sales leads. So, the next time you’re crafting a product announcement for a first-of-its-kind, fastest, smallest and lightest ever widget created by man, ask yourself the question, “What’s in it for me?” think first about the end user of the product or service. Then think about yourself. Save on the words and you just might save an account (and your job).

Sep 30

A dicey proposition at best

I don't know Cohn & Wolfe CEO Donna Imperato, but I sure admire her moxie. Unlike most agency Donna-Imperato executives who've just lost a significant piece of client business, Imperato told PR Week exactly what was on her mind (insert link).

So, instead of the typical, “We're very proud of our work and wish the client well,” Imperato let loose with both barrels after the Hilton HHonors guest-loyalty program put their 20-year relationship up for bid. Imperato said CW not only refused to participate (which makes sense since incumbents almost never win), but also threw in a few very pointed barbs at the erstwhile client.

According to PRWeek, Imperato alleged the strategic platform CW presented in a previous review is now the basis for the client's "Go Hilton. Stay Everywhere." global advertising campaign. She also said the agency switcheroo had been caused by “international management shakeups, a layoff of half the workforce and significant internal changes at Hilton.” Wow. Talk about airing dirty laundry.

A Hilton spokesman fought back. He said CW's sister agency Y&R had created the campaign and that it had already been in place when Imperato's team made its presentation. He also deflected Imperato's claim about downsizing, stating, “To say that we laid off half our employees is not accurate.”

PRWeek noted that, despite the HHonors awards program loss,  CW remains AOR for Hilton's Doubletree and Hampton brands.

I really admire Donna's chutzpah for calling out a misbehaving client. More agency leaders need to do so, so that media such as PRWeek get the message that all client-side executives aren't saints (as they're typically depicted in the publication's various cover stories).

That said, I'll bet Imperato's in a little bit of hot water within WPP, the holding company that owns CW and Y&R (along with 3,000 other agencies). In one fell swoop, she undermined her own firm's long-term opportunities with the two remaining Hilton brands while also shining an unwanted spotlight on Y&Rs work for the client (i.e. who really created the campaign? Y&R or CW?).

Holding companies do not like internecine warfare. And, as a WPP alum, I'm guessing this article is causing quite a bit of angst at the moment.

Donna's words were a dicey, if brave, proposition. I admire her transparency and wish her and CW the best in salvaging what must now be a very difficult client relationship.

Sep 17

Feeding the Beast

500x_cargood Thanks to last night’s horrific and totally unexpected thunderstorm, the New York media Beast has been sated. For now, that is.

The Beast had been grumpy of late. Highly-touted Hurricane Earl, predicted by many tri-state weathermen to be the worst hurricane to threaten New York since 1938, had hung a right turn instead and headed out to the Atlantic. So, instead of downed power lines, battered beaches and terrified citizens, the media Beast was left with hours and hours of ‘filler’ time. The ‘total team coverage’ every station had set to go had to stand down. And, most maddening of all for the Beast, the anticipated ratings increases never materialized.

Then, like manna from heaven, came yesterday’s mother of all storms. And, trust me, it was a world-class event of biblical proportions. Thunder, lightning, hail and incredibly strong winds shook Manhattan like a rag doll, shut down power at my beloved Penn Station and ended up stranding tens of thousands of Long Island Railroad commuters (note to tri-state readers: Ever wonder why the most horrific traffic, weather and news always seems to impact Long Island?).

The media Beast gorged itself on the storm’s offerings. Regular programming was interrupted. Teams were dispatched to scores of severely-affected areas in Brooklyn, Queens and, of course, the Island. Cameras showed downed trees, smashed cars and storefront windows blown to smithereens. It simply didn’t get any better for the Beast. Soon, reports began coming in that the storm might, in fact, have been a tornado. The Beast loved the ‘T’ word and continued suggesting such an event had, indeed, occurred.

The Beast’s representatives also succeeded in interviewing countless storm victims and somehow, some way, induced each and every one to agree that he or she had never, ever, seen the likes of Thursday’s storm (i.e. “I’ve been living in Bed-Stuy for 51 years and I’ve never seen nothing like this!”).

It was good. Very good. The coverage went on throughout the night and into the early morning. As might be expected, the Beast positioned camera crews at Penn Station this morning to intercept incoming Long Islanders. ‘How was your commute?’ shouted one CBS reporter to a passenger. ‘Fine. Just fine,’ she replied. Undaunted by such a positive response, the reporter kept his head and nailed the commuter with a follow-up: ‘But, last night was horrible, right?’ The commuter smiled, shrugged her shoulders as if to say, ‘such is life’ and continued on. Damn. That was not good. There was no hype. No fear. No indication that this particular person’s world hadn’t been crushed like so many trees.

But, back in the studio, all was well. The weatherman beamed as he relayed the news that the National Weather Service was conducting an investigation and would decide sometime later today if, in fact, yesterday’s storm had been a tornado. Wow. A tornado in Manhattan? It simply doesn’t get any better for the Beast.

And, so, as the hype and ersatz concern in the voices of reporters began to fade away, the Beast began to hunker down. It was content knowing it had done everything possible to not only cover but, indeed, escalate the drama and hype of this gift from heaven. The Beast had been fed.

Sep 13

Hyperbole, superlatives and all that marcom jazz

Lost in the various trade journal hysterics about the rise of public relations and our unique  Grammar_crackers_large ability to play lead dog in the social media explosion is the simultaneous decline in the quality of the average PR practitioner's writing.

Poor writing has been the subject of numerous articles and surveys over the years. It's been blamed on everything from an underfunded primary and secondary education system to the inherent informality in blogging, texting and Tweeting. I'd agree that both have contributed to the mediocre copy many senior corporate and agency executives review nowadays. I'd also add that the word 'copy' itself is part of the problem.

As the traditional lines separating advertising, direct mail, sales promotion, digital and PR have blurred, I've noticed an alarming increase in the use of superlatives and hyperbole once reserved solely for the copy in a full-page print ad.

PR and journalism graduates from the very best schools have somehow forgotten that our press materials need to be written in an objective, factual manner. Instead, I routinely hear industry leaders lament the plethora of poor prose from juniors. They shake their heads and speak of receiving press releases and opinion pieces with endless, run-on sentences that include adjectives ranging from “thrilling” and “remarkable” to “game-changing” and “awe-inspiring.”

It's fine for the advertising and marcom types to use such hype. But, as I wrote in a recent blog ('A Wigotsky in every agency'), the generation of PR editors that included Victor Wigotsky of H&K and John Artopeous of Burson, wouldn't have permitted such an atrocity.

Today's industry leaders are not only allowing poor writing to take hold, we're enabling it. Heck, PR Week actually asked two professionals to debate whether good writing EVEN MATTERED anymore. If our leading trades aren't endorsing the need for a “back to basics, just the facts, ma'am” approach to PR writing, what hope do we have?

It's our responsibility to counsel clients on what is, and isn't, newsworthy. It's also our responsibility to write a release, a bylined article or other communications piece in a classic, objective journalistic style.

The more our product looks and reads like advertising copy, the more likely an organization is to cede control of its overall marketing communications to a digital or direct marketing shop. And, trust me, there's nothing thrilling or remarkable about that possibility. That said, it will be an awe-inspiring, NEGATIVE game-changer if our industry leaders and journalists don't step up and address the issue more seriously. Oh, and there was no hyperbole in that last paragraph. Just facts.

Sep 09

A Wigotsky in every agency

I must commend PR Week's 2010 career guide. It's chock full of information that's as useful to an  undergrad as it is to an agency principal.

Careerguidecover_117145_117858_117859 Stories include a roundtable discussion on the importance of a master's degree in PR (color me skeptical) and a fascinating profile of Harold Burson and his legacy to the agency that bears his name.

Burson produced a plethora of industry leaders over the years, including Ketchum's Rob Flaherty, CA's Bill Hughes and PulsePoint Group's Bob Feldman. The latter said his training at Burson began the day he joined the firm from Utica College in 1978. Feldman recalls a training program that mandated ALL writing done for clients was to be first reviewed by a former newspaper editor on staff. Feldman says the procedure made a great statement about the firm's commitment to quality.

I agree. I had the exact same experience as a young junior account executive at Hill & Knowlton. We, too, had a former editor check each and every piece of copy before it went to a client. My editor's name was Victor Wigotsky and he made a big impression on me.

Victor was a very demanding editor. Before he'd even give you his edits, he'd ask you what the story angle was and why it mattered. He'd then ask you what primary or secondary research supported the angle. Only when you'd provided the correct answers would Vic deign to review your copy. And, boy oh boy, was he ever meticulous in his edits. I cannot tell you how many times he'd send me scurrying back to my office because I'd buried a lead, hadn't nailed the 5Ws in the lead graph or neglected to correctly attribute a quote.

Victor was never mean, but he was strict. And we learned as a result. I'll never forget how happy I was when one of my initial press releases finally earned a 'VWW.' Those were Victor's initials and secretaries (yes, we all had secretaries back then) were under orders not to mail (yes, snail mail only) releases or bylined articles unless they saw the VWW stamp of approval.

I wish today's PR agency model had the time and financial wherewithal to mandate at least one Wigotsky in every firm. Unfortunately, between the 24×7 demand for constant content and the worst economic downturn in memory, there are few, if any, firms who insist ALL copy be reviewed by a Wigotsky-type first. As a result, I continually hear or read about poor writing when I attend events or scan our trades.

It's too bad that Wigotsky (and his Burson counterpart) are gone with the wind. I think everyone's writing would benefit from a VWW every now and then. Mine included.

Aug 09

When your CEO isn’t New York Times worthy

Remember the Seinfeld episode in which Elaine Bennis, running low on contraceptive devices,
Nytimes1 had to decide which boyfriends were and weren't sponge worthy?

The episode came to mind recently when we were fired by a client CEO whose story, despite our very best efforts, was found by reporters at the 'old, gray lady' not to be New York Times worthy.

Never mind that we had scored tons of superb placements in outlets such as Fast Company, general business press, vertical industry and trades. The narcissistic CEO felt his epic tale should be splashed across the front pages of the 'print' edition of The Times. Aside from feeding his Mt. Everest-sized ego, the Times hit was uber critical to the CEO because the other power players in his social circle also routinely appeared in the paper. So, he HAD to be there or else.

Unfortunately, the Times editorial staff disagreed (no matter how many angles we tried). And, since we failed to produce the seminal Times hit, we were summarily discharged.

The CEOs self-aggrandizing misbehavior reminded me of the stereotypical typical dotcom founder who, armed with a freshly-minted Stanford MBA, a me-too business model and millions of dollars in venture capital seed money insisted his mug be front and center on the cover of BusinessWeek. His CMO henchwoman (they were almost always henchwomen, BTW) would nod her head vigorously and add, "How could they not put Halsey on the cover?" Well, nine times out of 10, the professional journalists laughed off the pitch as not being cover worthy and the henchwoman would discard us like yesterday's newspaper.

All of which reminds me of a superb observation the legendary Manhattan PR wizard Howard Rubenstein shared with a PRSA audience many years back. When a prospect or client CEO demanded to be on the front page of The New York Times or the cover of Fortune, Rubenstein said he'd let out an exasperated sigh, lean over, pull open his desk drawer and produce a toy gun. “You want to be on the cover of Forbes? Fine. Go murder someone and I'll get you on the cover of Forbes.” I think that sums it up beautifully.

Stanley Bing's book "Crazy Bosses" contains a hilarious chapter about the care and feeding of self-absorbed, narcissistic maniacs who believe the sun rises and sets with their every move. My only addition to Bing's pearls of wisdom would be to determine expectations BEFORE a relationship begins. If you run into the next George Steinbrenner who needs his ego stoked with one front page feature after another (and you believe the actual news value akin to what Lindsay Lohan was served for breakfast in the L.A. County jail, walk away). Tell the prospect he or she isn't client worthy.

Aug 06

Two Centuries of Brand Building Pays Off

Today's guest post is by London Peppercommer Carl Foster.

Times2 The balance sheet of most major newspapers looks something like this: 

CirculationDown
Advertising RevenueDown
Editorial StaffDown
OutlookBleak

The most radical move to counter this downward spiral has come from one of the world’s oldest newspapers, The Times (Incorrectly referred to by many as The Times Of London or The London Times). Last month The Times put all its content behind a pay wall – the first major, non-financial daily newspaper to do this. It is probably no exaggeration to say that the outcome of this experiment will determine the future of the newspaper industry.

Subscription to thetimes.co.uk costs £1 for a 24 hour pass or £2 for a one week pass. (The daily print issue costs £1.) In the weeks leading up to the introduction of the pay wall, when visitors were asked to register to view articles, traffic fell 58 per cent. The paper’s share of UK news traffic, from sites like Google News, fell from 4.37 per cent to 1.83 per cent.

Losing almost two thirds of your customers overnight is enough to panic any business owner, but  is it really that bad? I don’t think so. First of all, have you lost 58 per cent of your customers or just 58 percent of your footfall coming through the shop door? How many people clicked through from Google News not caring if they read a story in The Times, The Daily Telegraph or, the 800 lb gorilla in the room, the publicly funded BBC? The fact that people should be focusing on (and the newspaper industry rejoicing at) is that 42 per cent of people chose to pay for their news from The Times. That is the kind of brand loyalty that 225 years of publishing gets you.

The other positive is that the people paying to access The Times’ content are a much more lucrative demographic than the froth that washes up on the site from a news aggregator. People see more value in things that they consider worth paying for, and that goes for consumers and advertisers. This is completely the opposite strategy to that taken by another stalwart of the British newspaper industry, the Evening Standard. As I blogged about last year, after more than 150 years, the Standard became a free newspaper. Yes, the readership grew significantly, but the brand, and the value of its content was reduced, irrevocably, in my opinion.

I am heartily encouraged by the apparent success at The Times and what it means for mainstream publishing. Yes, citizen journalism is important, and in situations like the Iran elections it can be invaluable. But don’t discount the big media groups. There are times when only the resources of a major newspaper can tell a story adequately. Two examples of this are the recent leak of the Afghanistan files to Wikileaks, which in turn passed them to The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel. The other is the British Parliamentary expenses scandal, when thousands of pages were passed to The Daily Telegraph, which ensured the story was analyzed and told properly and responsibly.

There is much ill will directed at Rupert Murdoch, but as owner of The Times his brave experiment will hopefully prove to be the turning point for a troubled, yet vitally important industry.

Jun 09

89, and it’s not so fine


June 9
I’m saddened, but not surprised, by the resignation of
legendary A.P. White House Correspondent Helen Thomas, who quit in the wake of
remarks she made about Israel. Her suggestion that Israel should ‘…get
out of Palestine’ and its inhabitants return to their countries of origin
provoked an understandable outrage. As a result, a stellar career and
reputation has been tarnished.

Ironically, though, her remarks didn’t kill Helen’s career.
Her unwillingness to retire did. One has to know when to say when, and Helen
didn’t.

I know 89. My mom passed away at the age of 89 and my dad is
a very feisty 89. Eighty-nine is no picnic. From what I’ve seen of 89, it’s a
time in life without filters.

My mom was a great example. Up until she reached the age of
80, my mom would have qualified as a saint. She never hesitated to help others
or speak well of them. Once she hit 80, though, all bets were off. As her health
and quality of life declined so, too, did the filters. All of a sudden, people,
places and things she used to either praise or at least ignore, became front
and center for a vitriolic tirade. At the end, she was reduced to merely
registering her contempt with the sorry state of the world and the individuals
who had ruined our country (note: she would have had a field day with Tony
Hayward of BP).

My dad is different. He’s extremely sharp mentally and
physically as he nears his 90
th birthday. What’s changed, though, is
his awareness of what is and isn’t appropriate to say in public places. And,
that can cause challenges for a man whose political views make Rush Limbaugh
seem like a bleeding-heart liberal. When we take ‘pop-pop’ out to lunch or dinner,
for example, our entire family is on high alert. We never know if he’ll make a
pass at a waitress, posit his views about Brown vs. the Board of Education of
Topeka, Kansas, or just hurl invectives in the general vicinity of any TV set
near the bar.

Helen Thomas said what was on her mind. She said what had
always been on her mind. But, her internal filters had always prevented her
from say anything in public. Then, along came 89. And, it wasn’t so fine.

Knowing when to say when is critically important to one’s
image and reputation. Now, instead of being remembered for covering every U.S.
president from JFK to Obama, Ms. Thomas will instead, be vilified as the
reporter who told Israel to get out of Palestine.