Nov 07

The clock is ticking

Check out this fascinating Advertising Age interview of Facebook marketing guru Andrew Keller. While Keller expounds on any number of topics in the piece, he hones in specifically on the rise of the term “six seconds” in advertising.

While the Facebook executive, and his fellow advertisers, are fixated on six seconds, research shows the average human actually has an attention span of eight whole seconds. That’s one second less than a goldfish.

But, the six (or eight) second discussion should extend far beyond Keller’s focus on digital advertising and videos.

Split second responses are table stakes in ALL forms of communications today.

In the new normal of Trump Tweets, fake news and Kevin Spacey/Harvey Weinstein-type transgressions, individuals and organizations have about eight seconds to gather their thoughts and determine:

  • What will they say?
  • Will they say anything at all?
  • What criteria determine whether a response is warranted?
  • Who should make the statement?
  • What channel would make the most sense?

Here are two very quick cases in point. One is a worst practice; the other a best:

  • UnderArmour completely blew the NFL player-kneeling controversy by first Tweeting the firm’s commitment to diversity & inclusiveness. Then, when right-wing customers expressed their disapproval, UnderArmour Tweeted a revised comment that included “..and show respect for our flag.” In doing so, UnderArmour created a whole new news cycle that, ironically, unified outraged right and left-wing followers who agreed on one thing: the brand was speaking out of both sides of its mouth.
  • @POTUS recently attacked General Motors in one of his 3am Tweets. Rather than respond with a Tweet correcting the president’s erroneous charges, Ray Dey, GM’s CCO decided, instead, to share the facts with trusted beat reporters who routinely covered the car company. Once their articles were published, Trump didn’t have a leg to stand on and quickly moved on to attack someone else.

The point is this: While no brand should be expected to respond in eight seconds or less, every organization should prepare now for what cannot be anticipated, and create new protocols for the new normal.

Getting back to digital advertising and marketing content of all types and forms, I completely agree with Keller. Organizations have six (or eight, depending upon the target audience’s attention span) seconds to engage, connect and begin the process of consideration. The day of long-form storytelling is dead.

Split second communications is the currency of the realm, now and for the future.

Oct 26

Talk about a wunderkind

Note to readers: This is the second, and final, blog reviewing Harold Burson’s new book, “The Business of Persuasion” (available through Rosetta Books)….

But, after reading what Burson-Marsteller Founder Harold Burson had achieved at the same age, I must say I was beyond humbled (a unique experience to be sure).

Consider the following (taken directly from his autobiography):

  •  He became a stringer for the Memphis Commercial Appeal as a sophomore in high school.
  •  He filed reports on University of Mississippi football for the Commercial Appeal while a college sophomore.
  •  While still in college, he provided public relations counsel to D.H. Ferguson, which was helping to build the atomic bomb.
  •  After WW II began, he filed nightly written reports for all U.S. officers serving in Europe.
  •  At the age of 24, he covered the Nuremberg trials for the American News Network.

His accomplishments are mind-numbing to say the least, but Burson provides key advice for any high school or college student hoping to achieve at least a modicum of his success:

First, he proffers these tips for succeeding in PR:

  •  Content is still king. Train yourself to be a good writer, avail yourself of writing labs and tutors, seek feedback on your writing and your future will be assured.
  • As the volume of texting grows, the quality of writing declines. Do yourself a favor and take as many writing courses as you can cram into your schedule.

He next provides advice for succeeding early in life:

  • Volunteer to do the jobs no one else wants to, and to the extent possible, inform people of the importance of your service to the company.
  • Take calculated risks early in your career, risks that will hasten your trek to the objective you have set for yourself.
  • Suggest new ways of approaching problems as ideas come to you. Just because more experienced people reject them outright does not mean they are bad ideas. They may be ahead of their time or lead to alternative and timelier ideas.

Finally, Burson’s takeaways from his career in the military include:

  •  Those who have the willingness and the discipline to do the grunt work will work their way up in business.
  •  Prepare yourself to adapt to ever-changing situations such as different bosses, unusual assignments or difficult colleagues.
  •  Some assignments call for a high degree of integrity. What you say and do will either earn you the trust of others or lose it.

Stay tuned for part three tomorrow and, oh, btw Mr. Burson: Where were you when I was 24?

Oct 25

Sports as a Part of our Society: Chat with Dr. Baseball (Part 2)

Game 1 of the World Series is in the books, and Dr. Baseball’s prediction is already looking bleak! Check out Part 2 of our conversation with Dr. Wayne McDonnell, Academic Chair of Sports Management at NYU – where we talk about diversity issues in baseball and sports amid the backdrop of the NFL National Anthem controversy. Plus we talk MLB in South Beach, hitting against the defensive shift, and of course, Steve has to find a way to drop in a Mets question…

Oct 24

Sports as a Part of our Society: Chat with Dr. Baseball (Part 1)

Nothing uplifts a town like their local sports team performing well on the field. We’re seeing that with MLB’s Houston Astros as they face off against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. How can this help the city heal after suffering a devastating hurricane this past summer? Dr. Wayne McDonnell, Academic Chair of Sports Management at NYU is back in the house and drops knowledge on how sports is woven into the fabric of our society, as well as how data is playing a much larger role in the game today.

Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2 of our conversation!

Oct 23

Do you know the names of your industry’s founding fathers?

Could you imagine anyone who works in aviation not knowing the pioneering roles of Orville and Wilbur Wright? Same question holds true for the oil & gas sector. Could anyone not know the name and accomplishments of John D. Rockefeller?

But, when I’ve guest lectured at countless college and university PR classes over the years and asked about our field’s pioneers, the average student is hard pressed to name anyone aside from Edward Bernays.

That’s a shame since the invaluable contributions of pioneers ranging from Ivy Lee and Arthur W. Page to John W. Hill and Al Golin have gone largely unnoticed and unappreciated by the current and future generation of practitioners.

Happily, one of our founding fathers is very much alive and well and, at the robust age of 96, still shows up for work every day at his eponymous agency.

I’m speaking about Harold Burson, who has just published his autobiography: “The Business of Persuasion.”

Mr. Burson’s magnus opus is published by RosettaBooks. You can contact production@rosettabooks.com to order a copy(ies).

I’m not in the business of promoting books written by competitive agency owners, but The Business of Persuasion is not merely the tale of a true visionary, but an insider’s guidebook that comes replete with invaluable takeaways at the end of each chapter.

I intend to write two other blogs about the book this week. The first will summarize how the young Harold Burson created his own “brand” while still in high school and continually leap-frogged far older, more experienced professionals to achieve remarkable success at the tender age of 24.

The second blog will address the man’s vision and accomplishments over the decades, and explain in greater detail why PR Week described Harold Burson as, “….The 20th century’s most influential PR figure.”

Now that you know who he is, I urge you to buy the book and analyze Mr. Burson’s journey to greatness. I can’t think of a more relevant guide for Millennials and Generation Z types struggling to figure out how to differentiate themselves and create their own paths to success.

Oct 16

No More Cattle Calls Please!



Today’s Repman guest blog is authored by Deb Brown.

It appears that our industry is rapidly becoming a microcosm of society as a whole. In particular, I’m speaking about civility, or the lack thereof. Case in point: cattle calls.

When we receive a Request for Proposal from an organization, we always vet it, part of which includes how many agencies are in the mix. If the number is more than five, we usually bow out since the chance of winning the account starts to diminish. I’m always surprised when organizations reach out to many agencies. Not only is it unfair to the agencies to have a slim chance of winning, but it has to be tedious for the prospect to read through many proposals and/or sit through many presentations.

Sometimes, we cannot find out the number of agencies in advance. This happened recently when we were invited to participate in an RFP and had to attend an in-person session to ask questions. We found ourselves being one out of 15 agencies in the room. While the opportunity was a good one for us, putting hours of our time into the proposal with a slim chance of winning didn’t make sense.

Prospects should do their due diligence and choose no more than five agencies. Or, if they want to start with a larger pool, conduct a 30-minute call with each agency and then, based on the conversations, whittle it down to no more than five. It shows respect to the agencies and it makes it more manageable for the prospect. Having a “cattle call” frustrates agencies and, ironically, the agencies that may be best suited for the account may drop out.

A cattle call happens to be just one example of lack of respect for an agency’s time and hard work. Another is never responding to the agency after the agency submits a proposal. Four years ago, we submitted a very thoughtful and strategic proposal to a company looking for a communications partner. We are still waiting to hear. And, sadly, that company is not the only one that hasn’t responded over the years. A “Dear Agency” letter is another demonstration of lack of respect for an agency’s hard work. Personalizing a letter and providing feedback on why an agency wasn’t chosen would be very much appreciated.

These issues are very easy to fix, but sadly continue. Perhaps “business civility” should be taught in schools of communications and MBA programs. If future executives don’t learn the ropes there, where (and when) will they ever grasp the adverse impact on their own image and reputation if they continue to treat agencies like cattle?

Dec 19

Re-branding pure evil

I guess it's another sign of the bizarre times in which we live, but Al Qaeda just announced it's re-branding itself.

Slide1-1Trying to distance the heinous organization from its terrorism tag, Al Qaeda is now officially calling itself 'Ansar al-Sharia', which means Army of Islamic Law.

An organization official said the re-branding was necessary in order to attract more foreign fighters to the cause. An anonymous diplomat said the Al Qaeda name 'seems to have negative connotations and baggage'.

You think? That's like saying Hitler had some emotional issues.

I wonder if Ansar al-Sharia will also re-brand some of the Al Qaeda key words and tactics? Will:

– Jihad now be 'population redistribution'
– Suicide bombing now be 'a one-way ticket to 76 virgins'
– A roadside bombing now be called 'an infrastructure upgrade'

On a slightly lighter note (as the morning talk show buffoons like to say), Blackwater, the sleazy U.S. security firm to whom W, Cheney and Rummy handed over many Iraqi government tasks previously handled by Sadam Hussein's soldiers (and, then, went rogue, wiping out scores of innocent Iraqi civilians) announce its SECOND re-branding.

Initially, Blackwater had changed its name to Xe Services. Alas, though, their gung-ho, paramilitary culture was firmly entrenched. So, new management was put in place and a second name was announced: Academi. Are they now the 'institute of black ops'?

I'll be interested to see which re-branding proves more successful.

Being the altruistic blogger that I am, I'd like to help. In fact, I've devised taglines that, I believe, will speed the re-branding education process:

Ansar al-Sharia: 'Years of training for a moment of terror'

Academi: 'Kicking ass and taking names in puppet states'

I'd like to end by asking Repman readers to suggest their taglines for these two inherently evil organizations.

Many of you are PR and marketing specialists, so why not give it a shot?

I'll pick the funniest ones and, if you're in town the same day as one of my stand-up comedy performances, will give you two free tickets for a show.

Maybe we can even discuss a re-branding for Repman? FYI, I'd like something that is synonymous with pure fun.

And a tip o' Repman's climbing helmet to Tucker Greco for suggesting this post.

Dec 14

Third party endorsement

Lemmings2PR has always been more credible than advertising because, when practiced properly, our end result produces a balanced article from a trusted third party (i.e. a reputable journalist).

Yet, according to a survey from LinkedIn, job seekers continue to use advertising hype instead
of PR strategies in trying to differentiate themselves and find employment.
 
In fact, the five most overused words in LinkedIn profiles (and the resumes I've read) are:
 - creative
 - extensive experience
 - innovative
 - motivated
 - communications skills
 
So, what's wrong with using such superb descriptors? Everyone else does. As a result, you won't stand out. Wave bye-bye.
 
I'm amazed more PR professionals and recent graduates aren't using their PR skills to produce an objective LinkedIn profile or resume replete with third party endorsements instead of first person chest-thumping.
 
So, let's say you've worked at Peppercom, have grown weary of Ed and are seeking greener pastures. If you've interned for us, your resume shouldn't boast about being a '…effective, problem-solver with a proven track record.' Instead, it should include a quote from our intern manager, Kristin Davie, along the lines of “I've managed many interns, but Ishmael would be at the top of my list.”
 
Or, let's say you're a Peppercom management supervisor who can simply no longer stomach Ted's political correctness.  Instead of jotting down, “I love people and work incredibly well with teams at all levels,” ask the evangelical one for an endorsement. We appreciate employees who come to us in advance, tell us it's not working out for them and ask for time to find a new gig while we, in turn, are given the heads-up to begin searching for a replacement.

I don't blame PR professionals or students for using an advertising approach to finding jobs in public relations. I point the finger, instead, at executive search consultants, human resource managers and academics for continuing to endorse an obviously broken model (i.e. the one-page resume that starts with objectives, provides a brief summary of work experience and ends with those dreaded words, 'references furnished upon request').
 
Public relations today is all about engaging in the conversation, and applying the 5Ws to develop your story. I'd use that exact, same approach if I were job-seeking today. I'd craft my profile or resume by answering the following:
 
 - Who are you approaching? (Find out as much as you can about the individual or the organization in advance)
 - Why you are qualified (told by the most credible source(s) possible, your former employer)
 - What you bring to the plate (see above)
 - Where you've made a significant contribution (see above)
 - When you're ready to begin work (yesterday)
 
It's ironic that professionals who work in an industry that's always differentiated itself by leveraging the power of third party endorsement almost never use it to market themselves.

Dec 13

Great pick-up lines

William-steig-hello-cutie-pie--ccccnew-yorker-cartoonJust the other day, we were wrapping up a new business presentation when the prospect looked me in the eyes and said, “So, tell me why we should hire your firm.”

Now, in the early days when Peppercom was chasing anything that wasn't nailed down, I might have responded with any one of the following retorts:

– “Well, I believe we've demonstrated the right mix of strategy, creativity, responsiveness and results needed to take you to the next level.”

or…

– “Well, I think we've shown a real passion for your business today and presented a team that has been through the wars together. I know we'd hit the ground running on day one.”

or…

– “Well, I don't think you'll find another firm with the depth of category expertise reflected by the team you're meeting with today. I'll bet that, collectively, we have more than 150 years of experience in helping brands looking to attract toe fungus sufferers.”

But, that was then and this is now.

The older I get, the more I've grasped the amazing similarities between courtship and new business development. And, that goes for both prospective and existing clients (I'll address the latter in a nanosecond).

So, getting back to the most recent prospect's query, I sighed and said, “I'm not sure you SHOULD hire us. Asking us a question like that after we've demonstrated our experience, thinking and passion tells me you're looking for a vendor and not a partner. If I'm wrong, we'd be delighted to continue the conversation.”

That line always stops a prospect in her tracks (by either pissing her off completely or impressing her in ways no other firm has). I've found it's also a great way to pre-qualify a prospect and see if they really ARE looking for a relationship as opposed to just another order-taker.

Getting back to using what I'd call a great pick-up line with clients, I've found over the years that clients HATE being fired. They hate hearing the 'It's not you, it's us' line and immediately promise to behave better, pay their bills faster and lighten up on the over-servicing demands.

In today's economy, it's a dicey proposition to suggest PR firms play hard to get with prospects and clients.

But, trust me, it works just as well in business as it does in dating.

'So, I have to tell you I love your eyes. Do you come here often?'

Dec 07

A leader showing playfulness? What IS this world coming to?

20111021135206-1It seems the most famous leaders are those who also possess the loudest voices, inspire the most fear and take themselves the most seriously. I'd include Yahoo's Carol 'F-bomb' Bartz, the late Steve Jobs and GE's legendary 'Neutron' Jack Welch in any list of notoriously nasty nabobs of negativity.

So, imagine my surprise when I received not one, but two, videos of Northeastern University's president Joseph Aoun, allowing himself to be playful, funny and, dare I say it, self-deprecating.

The videos were the brainchild of my alma mater's crack public relations team but, as Renata Nyul, director of communications at Northeastern, tells it, Joseph was the guy who took the original concept and incorporated improvisational steps that would make Will Ferrell, Steve Carrell or Amy Poehler proud.

Created to promote the university's ‘Profiles in Innovation Presidential Speaker Series’, the first video featured Joseph literally dancing with iRobot's legendary Roomba vacuum cleaner. Clearly, the man is no Fred Astaire. But, talk about an innovative way in which to hype iRobot CEO’s Colin Angle’s upcoming address!

Not content with cutting the rug with a robot, Joseph went on to record a second video that was even more obtuse. Its intent was to promote an upcoming presentation by Janet Echelman, a world-renowned ‘airspace sculptor’ who uses humongous nets to accentuate urban buildings, parks and public spaces (kind of a latter-day Christo, if you will).

Ms. Nyul says both videos have been spread far and wide on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube by the school's students, faculty and administrators. She says they've been genuine to Northeastern's commitment to innovation while also showing a human side to the leader of a top academic institution. So human in fact that undergrads are now routinely approaching Joseph to appear in their videos. Could you imagine trying that with your college president (or any Fortune 500 CEO, for that matter)?

But, Joseph's Amazing Technicolor Video Series has just begun. He has a third one scheduled for March with Dr. David Ferrucci, the principal investigator and lead creator of IBM's Watson.

I've checked with Joseph, and the school's PR team. They're cool with crowdsourcing the idea for the next video. So, here's your chance to suggest anything (and, I do mean anything) you think Joseph, president of Northeastern University, should do on video to promote the Ferrucci/Watson speech.

Personally, I think he should just riff on Watson's legendary Jeopardy TV show appearance. This time, though, I'd have the computer take on N.U.s three brightest students in a winner-take-all lightning round. As for Joseph? Why he'd play Alex Trebek, and come across as slightly patronizing, just a little bit smarter and a tad more sophisticated than Watson or the students. On the other hand, that wouldn't be Joseph's style, so scrap my idea.

What would you suggest instead?

I'll provide a slightly worn Peppercom baseball cap for the best idea (and I'm pretty sure Northeastern would be willing to toss in a clean, unused T-shirt). So, let the brainstorming begin.