Jan 14

Looking for love in all the wrong places

Surveys about client-agency relationships are a dime a dozen and tell you what you already know. To wit,Reardon
clients are unhappy with their firm’s strategy, creativity, execution and responsiveness. Probe a little deeper and you’ll find concern about agencies simply not understanding the business of their client’s business.

So, as I reviewed yet another one of these surveys from a Cincinnati-based group called Reardon Smith Whittaker, I was taken aback by one ‘new’ finding: forty percent of client respondents said they ‘look forward to’ or find it exciting’ to search for a new agency. Can you believe that? Do they have no idea how tortuous new business pitches are for agencies? These respondents would be right at home in Gitmo or most any concentration camp of the 20th century.

‘…Enjoying and looking forward to…’ agency reviews is a clueless remark for many reasons, including:

– The inordinate amount of time and resources an agency has to devote to a new business pitch
– The business disruption caused by agency searches to both client and agency organizations
– The fact that an agency search means the prior firm, and the client conducting the search, failed to achieve the business communications goals.

For me, this last point is what rankles most. Enlightened corporate communications departments realize that success (and failure) should be shared. Sadly, there are still too many client-side personnel who will claim credit for success, but point the finger at the agency when things go south.

Obviously, there are some bad firms, but most provide a similar level of service. So, what’s the real issue? Usually, it comes down to staff turnover on the agency side (a big agency problem) and a corporate communications department that is either too far removed from the organization’s strategic decision making to connect it to PR, or simply too lazy to do much more than enact a purely tactical, media-by-the-pound campaign. Either way, senior management gets antsy at some point and demands a new PR firm. And, the communications department readily accedes because, ‘hey, it’s fun and exciting’ to do an agency search.’

Don’t get me wrong. Agency searches are critical when a client is looking to re-position itself, take the business in a new, more strategic direction or, if the PR firm really has failed to live up to its end of the bargain. Sadly though, most are fishing expeditions that may be fun for the ‘angler,’ but pure torture for us ‘fish.’

Dec 19

Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap

Guest blog written by Rob Longert.
Chrisanderson
Apparently WIRED Magazine editor, Chris Anderson, is unaware of this common proverb, or maybe he
doesn’t believe in karma…he should. 

Back on October 29, 2007, Chris posted the names of about 300 publicists who he called “lazy flacks”

He did this because, he said, they didn’t do their research. As a young professional in the communications industry I can understand the pressure of media relations, and his reasoning is probably right. But the industry is working on that and Chris even agreed to participate in a November “PR Pitching Faux Pas to Avoid: Top Editors Share How to Keep the Love Alive with Mainstream Media” event, part of Bulldog Reporter’s PR University series.

Was his blog post a call for change in the industry? Probably not.

On October 29 did Chris get one too many unsolicited emails and in a fit of frustration ousted innocent professionals doing their job? Most likely.

While on a trip to China, Chris incurred more than $2,000 in roaming fees on his iPhone, simply because he did not shut off the roaming feature on his phone.

Have there been multiple articles online about this very topic? Yes.

As editor-in-chief of an influential tech magazine like WIRED, shouldn’t Chris know about technological features of the most talked about electronic device of the year? Most definitely.

Did Chris get what was coming to him? Absolutely.

Chris, my friend, it is a tough world out there, and you made a mockery of a job we take pride in, took advantage of the positives we bring to your industry, and berated us to our peers.

Who is the lazy flack now?

Dec 05

I’m mad as hell and not going to take it anymore

Remember the classic line from the movie ‘Network?’  I’m mad as hell and not going to take it anymore’Weingarten
was shouted by newscasters and news viewers alike in response to the demise of serious news coverage in favor of ‘happy talk.’

Well, I feel the very same way after seeing some high and mighty media types take potshots at public relations professionals.

Everyone and their brother has already weighed in on Wired Magazine’s Chris Anderson ‘outing’ 300 or so publicists who annoyed him with e-mail pitches.

Now, there’s Gene Weingarten writing in the Washington Post and beating the bejesus out of PR once again.  Like his Wired peer, Weingarten bitches about voice and e-mail messages from PR people. Rather than out specific ‘flacks’ though, he decides to instead publish his answers to one firm’s queries aimed at updating his profile in their database.

In his incredibly barbed, published response, Weingarten crucifies PR. To wit:

– In explaining his specific ‘beat,’ he says it: ‘…mostly involves ripping PR professionals a new one.’
– In decrying some perceived coupling between PR and marketing, he says ‘the unholy alliance between PR and the soulless marketing industry…makes the team of Hitler-Mussolini seem benevolent.’
– And, asked what tips he’d give PR professionals who may want to contact him, the always affable Weingarten says, ‘I encourage midnight visits to my home by PR professionals who have no immediate relatives or close friends.’

Continue reading

Nov 29

When BusinessWeek suggests you’re irrelevant, it’s time to go to plan B

The current BusinessWeek cover asks a question I’ve been wondering about for some time: ‘Is Madison  Avenue racing towards irrelevance? I’d say so.Business_2

Traditional advertising is in a freefall as documented by the BW article. Growth has slowed, profits are down and clients are going elsewhere for solutions. Why? Because the big ad shops like Saatchi, which is the focus of BWs profile, simply aren’t retrofitting their basic model fast enough to keep up with rapidly-changing consumer buying patterns.

Saatchi’s recent campaign for JC Penney is cited as a textbook example of advertising’s growing irrelevance. Despite crafting a campaign that dazzled the ad industry and will, no doubt, win countless Gold Lions at Cannes, the effort did absolutely nothing for sales. Nothing. Why? Because consumers have far too many other sources of information today and don’t have the time for, or trust in, advertising.

BW says direct mail, media buying shops and interactive agencies are the big beneficiaries of advertising’s decline. And they are. But, so too, is PR. From everything I see and read, more and more marketers ‘get’ PR and understand its far more powerful and credible strategies for connecting with fickle, web 2.0-enabled consumers.

So, what’s a poor ad man to do? BW says Saatchi’s CEO Kevin Roberts is contemplating everything from ‘green communications’ to ‘retail design consulting.’ Ouch. How do you spell desperation?

PR has long been seen as advertising’s poor stepsister. So, it’s hard to shed many tears for all the high and mighty creative geniuses whose ‘breakthrough’ work simply doesn’t cut it anymore. Maybe some of them can find jobs in direct mail, interactive or, gasp, even PR?

Nov 27

Robb High’s half right

I enjoy Marketing Consultant Robb High’s regular missives on business development. Robb’s been in thePresentation
trenches, speaks from experience and draws upon the results of a recent CMO survey to prove his points.

That said, I think Robb’s most recent mailing misses the mark. High believes that most prospective clients have no interest whatsoever in learning about agencies and their capabilities in a first-round pitch. Instead, he says, they want to talk about themselves. Period.

He suggests preparing 30 or more questions and using the allotted time to have the prospect talk solely about themselves and their needs. Robb suggests not spending any time at all on the who, what, when, where or why of the agency. And, counsels High, if the prospect says, ‘…thanks…but you didn’t talk about your agency,’ he recommends the following response: ‘If the last hour of talking together doesn’t make you feel like we should go to the next step of the review, I can’t imagine what we could tell you about our agency that would change that.’

I think Robb’s half right. Countless statistics prove that prospects feel a meeting has gone well if they’ve spoken 50 percent or more of the time. So, having a prepared list of questions in your hip pocket is very smart. But, you don’t want it to be one way.

Continue reading

Nov 26

I’d give ‘e’ an ‘A’

I just finished reading a hilarious book called ‘e’. Written in 2000 by a veteran of the British advertisingE_5
wars, ‘e’ follows the adventures and misadventures of a fictitious London ad agency called Miller Shanks.

Like ‘Who moved my blackberry?‘ the plot unfolds in a series of e-mails between agency management, the creative group, executive headhunters, office services and new hires.

Unlike ‘Who moved my blackberry?’ ‘e’ gets into office politics, office romances and office images/reputations. There’s the technology-challenged boss, the backstabbing creative director, the burnt out hippy of an art director, the nerdy office services manager and a whole bevy of sexually active personal assistants. They all act, and react, to the stresses of a major new business pitch while jockeying for power with one another.

To call ‘e’ a page-turner does it a disservice. I found it alternately riveting and rollicking. And, I related to just about every character, having worked for, or with, carbon copies of each.

‘E’ is a little dated and uses some Brit-specific jokes and phrases, but it’s well worth the time and effort. It’s also the kind of book I’d like to one day write myself since it reinforces the absurdity of the workplace and self-important types who too often frequent the hallways.

Nov 09

As written by today’s college graduates, communications are being weakened by a dependence on passivity

The active voice is an endangered species. College kids and recent grads uniformly write in the passiveWriting
voice. And, I’m at a loss as to explain why.

Is it the rise of text messaging? I don’t think so, because text by nature is short and to the point. Is it a lame attempt by kids to complete eight to 10-page-long term papers? Or, is it a misguided attempt to demonstrate intellect?

I wouldn’t mind if passivity wasn’t so pervasive. And, since poorly structured, verbose sentences reflect poorly on the writer, I think the entire topic needs more discussion. I’d invite thoughts from academics, PR professionals and others (med supply execs need not weigh in). I also plan to interview a few experts and post follow-up blogs next week.

In other words, and in the spirit of today’s blog, "…a healthy discussion from which much can be learned would be my goal."

Colter’s corollary:

Passive voice is acceptable or may even be required in sentences where you need to shine the spotlight on a certain word, such as putting a client name at the start. And an occasional passive sentence can break up a string of staccato declarative sentences. But generally prefer and strive for the active voice.

Nov 02

Safeguarding the brand of you

Far too many young PR professionals have inflicted ‘image’ wounds on themselves, their agencies andWired
their clients by not grasping the subtleties of digital communications. Now comes further proof that the image you save may be your own.

Hundreds of ‘lazy’ publicists were just ousted by Wired. Their transgression: not familiarizing themselves with either the publication or the individual Wired editors. As punishment, the editor listed each and every offender’s e-mail address and said he’d blacklist them moving forward. Sadly, this public humiliation will now follow these individuals as they move from job to job.

Haste makes waste (as does sloppiness). Wired was right for calling out the lazy publicists. It’s a painful, but hopefully productive way for these individuals to learn the importance of safeguarding ‘the brand of you.’

Thanks to Stephanie Chaney for the idea.

Oct 10

The tale of the magic wristband

Long ago and far away there existed a mighty financial institution whose leaders decided to takeMortgage_2
advantage of something called subprime mortgages. They saw an opportunity to make millions and millions in new fees by offering ridiculous mortgages to people who couldn’t afford them. Even worse, the intricacies of subprime mortgages escaped the unsuspecting borrowers who chose instead to be bedazzled by the prospects of owning their dream house.

Well, the housing bubble burst and many of the poor homeowners lost their houses, their savings and, in some cases, their futures. And, the big financial institution was pilloried in the press as being the bad guys who had lured unsuspecting consumers into the mess with aggressive marketing and pricing.

All the bad publicity hurt the big company. Its stock plummeted, its CEO was attacked in countless interviews and 12,000 employees were laid off.

This made the company’s executives angry. So, they hired a big PR firm and announced an aggressive internal and external campaign aimed at ‘taking the offense.’ It was a real beauty.

Continue reading

Oct 09

It’s all about the writing

I was asked by a University of Vermont professor what qualities we value most in new employees. “That’sMichaels600_2
easy,” I said. “Good writing.” My fellow panelists at the UVM career day seminar this past Friday, shook their heads in agreement.

For whatever reason(s), good writing is as rare in PR as a NY Jets Super Bowl ring is in the NFL. And, for
whatever reason(s), writing (like the Jets) is getting worse with each passing year.

Which is why I read Gretchen Morgenson’s homage to the late Forbes Editor James Michaels, with such interest.

Michaels, according to Morgenson, was a real bear when it came to writing. He not only routinely rejected poor writing and editing by his reporters, he did so with a flourish. To wit:

– “This is a paid advertisement. Did you forget to say he walks on water?”
– “This is so full of holes, it’s like Swiss cheese.”

And, my favorite….

– “If I can’t stay awake editing this, how can a reader stay awake reading it?”

I never met Jim Michaels, but it seems he made quite an impression on the men and women who did. It also seems that Michaels and his breed of editor/writer who demanded clear, concise and compelling writing are an endangered species. Sad to say, the copy I see being written by most young people today would probably make the late Mr. Michaels turn over in his grave.