May 31

Crain’s editorial sheds light on why the advertising industry is so reluctant to change

As readers of Repman know, I’ve been talking for some time about the power of word-of-mouth and public relations in reaching the new, technology-enabled consumer. The rise in importance of word-of-mouth and PR is a direct result of both "practices" understanding and managing the "trust" that is so essential to creating digital dialogues between organizations and consumers.

At the same time, though, advertising has been doggedly hanging on to the traditional 30-second advertising spot (and some of you have vehemently protested that the good old TV spot is just asCurrent  effective as ever). Monday’s copy of Advertising Age contained a fascinating editorial by Rance Crain that explained, in part, why advertisers and their ad agencies have been slow to abandon the traditional and embrace the digital. For advertisers, it’s because, says Crain, they don’t "get" digital and are content to play it safe with "sexy and fun" TV spots. For their agencies, it’s because traditional advertising profit margins are significantly larger than what the ad shops can earn in digital. Plus, both parties think they know what’s best for consumers (in other words, they’ll decide what information the consumer will use to make a buying decision).

Crain calls the ad industry’s mindset an "arrogant attitude." In my opinion, it will come completely undone when consumers continue to "Tivo" commercials, channel surf past mind-numbing 30-second spots and walk out on Broadway plays that ambush audiences with live commercials before Act One. When digital media does take over, says Crain, "all the king’s horses and all the king’s men won’t be able to put traditional media back together again."

May 31

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me

I was truly surprised to read Katie Delahaye Paine’s defense of Raytheon CEO Bill Swanson’s admitted plagiarism in a letter to the editor in the current PR Week. In her letter, Paine says Swanson, who admitted fault for lifting entire sections of writings from other authors and passing it along as his own, shouldn’t be lumped alongside truly "reprehensible" CEO’s like Ken Lay and Dennis Kozlowski.

Paine, who admits Raytheon is a client, said removing Swanson would only hurt the company’s performance and achieve nothing else. I couldn’t disagree more vehemently.

If public relations is ever to "gain a seat at the table," we need to draw a line in the sand and stand up to liars, cheats and frauds like Swanson. If the guy ripped off countless authors and re-packaged their writing as his own, he’s guilty of cheating. My question is: what other lines may he have crossed? Has he fudged some numbers, cut some deals with nefarious characters, done a little price fixing? I’m not suggesting he has, but if he lied once he could very well lie again. Fool me once…

I, for one, think the Board and shareholders should be crying for Swanson’s removal. So what if he’s improved the bottom line in recent years? How much long-term damage has he done to Raytheon’s reputation? Ms. Paine says Swanson didn’t "lie to employees or defraud shareholders." Hello! By plagiarizing others’ work, he did lie to employees (who thought the CEO’s management tome contained his personal thoughts) and he did defraud shareholders (for the very same reason). Would you want to work for a liar? Would you buy stock in a company run by a thief? I wouldn’t.

Let’s start acting like the ethical and moral compasses we purport to be and stop making excuses for bogus chief executive officers. The sooner we do, the sooner PR will be taken more seriously in the boardrooms of Corporate America.

May 30

Too many advertisers are too quick to hype unproven commodities

Have you seen the Under Armour TV spots featuring some of the top NFL draft picks? There’s Ohio State’s AJ Hawk running agility drills and Maryland’s Vernon Davis whipping through some sprints. Each college phenom looks like the lean, mean fighting machines they undoubtedly are.

But, here’s the problem with companies like Under Armour spotlighting these guys before they’ve ever played a minute in the NFL: the odds are good one or more of these athletes will be a big bust. For a precedent, one need not look further back in the rear-view window than the most recent Winter Olympics where advertising poster boy Bode Miller stunk up the slopes in Torino.

The NFL’s "hall of shame" is chock full of top draft college picks like Hawk and Davis who advertising agencies featured in commercials only to see them flame out on the field. Among the more prominent were Ryan Leaf, Blair Thomas and Johnny "Lam" Jones (the latter two cut particularly close to the bone since they both bombed for my beloved Jets). The all-time, high-profile top draftBrian_bosworth_1  pick flame out, though, had to have been the "Boz." Brian Bosworth was all-everything in his college days as an Oklahoma Sooner. And, the advertisers couldn’t wait to feature his bizarre crew cut or  snarling visage in an endless number of print and broadcast spots. So, what happened? The Boz bombed in the biggest way possible and was summarily drummed out of the NFL.

So, here’s hoping (but not expecting) that advertisers like Under Armour will "exercise" a little restraint in the future and at least wait for these college stars to actually prove themselves in the NFL before paying them big bucks to flex and frolic on the boob tube. In my opinion when these guys flame out, their personal reputations also take a beating because of all the incessant TV chest thumping they did "before the fall." It’s too bad the advertisers aren’t held accountable as well. Sadly, like the Energizer bunny, they’ll just keep on going and going, spotlighting one unproven jock after another.

May 29

Gentlemen, start your (Honda) engines

GM and Ford took yet another image and reputation black eye over Memorial Day weekend with the announcement that all 33 Indianapolis 500 drivers have opted for Honda engines in their race cars.

This is a great example of what we in the PR biz always say, namely: "…that the best marketing/PR in the world won’t overcome a second-rate company, product or service." So, while I’m sure Rick Waggoner, Bill Ford and the other uber-Execs in Detroit are pressuring their PR staffers (and agencies) to figure out how best to spin this negative news, the fact is the market always decides what’s good and what isn’t. And, the drivers have all chosen Honda and Toyota engines in recent years.

It’s sad to say, but right now, Detroit’s product simply isn’t any good, which is why it didn’t cross under any checkered flags this holiday weekend.

Hat tip to Tom Powers for this idea.

May 25

RepChatter Show #12 posted

Ted and I discuss the present state of journalism and the influence that newspaper owners have on shaping editorial content.

This discussion is centered around recent news that Brian Tierney, a former PR executive with Repchat2_6 political connections in Philadelphia, purchased the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News for $562 million.

Will Tierney, a PR guy known for his right wing political support, be tempted to meddle in the news coverage? Will his influence over two top papers in Philadelphia ultimately erode the competitive counter balance?

May 25

Bottom rail on top now, massa.

I never cease to be amazed at the poor deportment of businesspeople, especially those businesspeople who conduct new business searches for PR firms.

A couple of recent events prompted this evergreen, but nonetheless, too often true observation. Today, for example, I spied a big feature article on a particular manufacturer in which the head of communications is quoted extensively. Ah yes, I remember him well. It was only six months ago that this guy invited one large and three midsized agencies to pitch his account. In the briefings we were told the prospect had "had it" with big firms. So, what happened? They ended up picking the one big agency after all. And, how did we find out? Courtesy of a trade reporter calling for a reaction. The big agency selection was confirmed an hour later by a one sentence e-mail from this dude. Repeated requests for a post mortem explanation were ignored. Nice. Very nice.

Also, today, one of our account people followed up on a proposal that had been submitted several weeks ago to a prospect who said she needed to make a decision ASAP. Needless to say, we hadn’t heard anything so our intrepid AS sent the note. A one-sentence response came back saying the organization was in "….serious conversations with another firm." Nice. Very nice.

I’m convinced what goes around comes around and these ill-mannered types will get their just desserts in the end. In the meantime, I find it interesting how dramatically the comportment of such individuals change overnight when they find themselves downsized and in need of a job. Suddenly, they become amazingly communicative and often follow-up an e-mail with several phone calls wondering if we have openings or can connect them to others who might. When such a scenario does occur, I’m always reminded of the awesome Ken Burns Civil War documentary and a particular incident at the end of the war when a freed slave turned Union soldier saw his former master being led away in chains to a prisoner of war camp and said, "Bottom rail on top now, massa."

May 25

The secret sauce of the PRSA’s Counselors Academy is the sharing of secret sauce

Imagine Helen Ostrowski leading a session on Porter Novelli’s consumer practice strategy. Or Pam Edstrom discussing WagEd’s secrets to maintaining its long-standing Microsoft relationship. How about Richard Edelman opening up on his firm’s digital strategy? Now imagine the audience they’re addressing is comprised of CEOs of other top public relations firms. In each session, Helen, Pam and Richard would answer any and all questions about the good, the bad and the ugly in creating these services, relationships and strategies. Never happen in a million years, right? Right.

But, a variation of that scenario occurs every year at the PRSA’s Counselors Academy’s Spring Conference. We have small and midsized agency leaders opening up and describing their most strategic products and services, their toughest challenges and their deepest, darkest professional secrets. Why? Because we all become better as a result and, as we know, a rising tide lifts all boats.

Shared intelligence and mutual trust are the secret sauce of the Counselors Academy. Each year, I come away from the Spring Conference knowing a little bit more than when I arrived. And I can’t think of another professional organization that provides that same benefit. So, while we compete against one another during the year, we lay down our arms for a 48-hour truce and share our war stories. And, I get to listen to all-stars like Lynn Casey and Rick French and Jason Anthoine and David Warchawski tell me how they compete, differentiate themselves and attract and maintain talent. And, I get to ask them any question I like.

Could you imagine how much more strategic and effective our industry as a whole would be if the big guys followed the example of the Counselors Academy? It certainly merits further discussion but, in my mind, will never come to pass. Oh well. I can dream. And, in the meantime, there’s always next year’s spring conference in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico to look forward to.

May 24

Desperate times call for desperate measures

With the advent of the citizen journalist and the myriad of technologies that have empowered the consumer to decide how, when and where he or she deigns to receive content, it comes as no surprise that an increasingly desperate advertising industry is becoming increasingly desperate.

What else can explain the explosion of commercials we’re seeing in movie theatres across the country? Or, sadly, the very first "commercial" to be shown on a live theatre stage.

The nauseating event occurred last night before a performance of "Stomp" at the Orpheum TheatreCurtain_1   in the East Village and featured some sort of pitch by Visit London, a tourist organization. Visit London’s Communications Director Ken Kelling explained why he subjected theatregoers to the live "spot" by saying, "They’re a captive audience. They can’t switch channels or change over or walk out once the thing has started."

How sad. How offensive. But, we can expect to see more of these intrusions as desperate advertisers and their ad agencies continue trying to figure out a marketplace that no longer responds the way it used to. One day, they’ll wake up and figure out the power of word-of-mouth, "influencers" and public relations. But, until then, don’t be surprised if a toothpaste or cell phone ad precedes your long-awaited, much anticipated chance to finally see "The Producers." Hey, maybe they’ll even start selling the products and services they advertise on stage right alongside the CD’s and t-shirts they push on you after the show. I know I would have been open to purchasing some home furnishings after having seen "Pillowman."

May 24

Futurist says traditional advertising model is threatened by changing marketplace pressures

Watts Wacker, one of our country’s foremost futurists, told a group of 185 PRSA Counselors Academy members yesterday that digital technology and the disintermediation of traditional news, information, and media channels augers well for public relations and ill for traditional advertising.

Wacker says today’s society is all about relationships and rapport. People want to meet and speak Watts_wacker_scan_1_1_medium_1 with people like themselves. People who share their views, their likes and their loves. As a result, wikis, blogs and podcasts are gaining in popularity while the old 30-second commercial that talks "at" consumers is becoming an endangered species.

Wacker challenged the PR executives attending the Counselors Spring conference to figure out how to communicate with these new, technology-enabled mass markets and stay away from traditional marketing channels.

As the world becomes increasingly uncertain, the consumer turns increasingly to those who he or she trusts most, said Wacker. So, PR pros need to figure out who these influencers are and engage them in dialogue with, and about, our clients and their goods and services. PR is beautifully positioned to connect these disparate, technology-enabled groups and show our clients how to build relationships with them. Wacker said he has "relationships" with three manufacturers and belongs to online affinity groups of individuals who share his product passions with those manufacturers. They exchange views and recommendations on everything from household appliances to the best restaurants to frequent when traveling to new cities. Becoming part of that dialogue and building credibility within those circles is the challenge facing marketers today and tomorrow.

And, advertising’s future in today’s brave new world? Wacker predicts a 24-hour, all-advertising cable network which will run nothing but ads. We’ll watch the ads and then use our cell phones to not only comparison shop, but purchase and arrange for delivery. But, says Wacker, the final purchase will once again be based on informed information from our virtual (and physical) relationship network.

Wacker is a fascinating guy. And, I can’t wait to see how his thinking plays out.

May 23

Up close and personal with Julia Hood of PR Week

I had the unique opportunity yesterday to turn the tables on PR Week Editor Julia Hood and interview her. The occasion was the PRSA Counselors Academy annual Spring Conference in Savannah.

Julia was gracious enough to agree to sit alongside me and share her views in a "Town Hall" format with 185 top agency leaders from all parts of the world. We touched on everything from Doug Dowie and digital technologies to the role of PR and its rising importance within the marketing mix.

The session’s only real contentious moment came when Rick French, who runs a very successful North Carolina firm, challenged Julia on her publication’s coverage of the Dowie trial, saying she’d been too easy on the management of Fleishman-Hillard, Dowie’s firm. Julia disagreed, saying she thought PR Week’s coverage had been very balanced throughout the trial. We also talked about why advertising still receives mainstream business press coverage (I.e. Crispin Porter’s Businessweek cover story) while we, in PR, don’t.

She sees the latter scenario starting to change and cited Edelman’s recent coverage in the Journal as an example.

As is my wont, I took the opportunity yesterday to again bring up my perception that PR Week affords more coverage to the larger PR firms. While Julia didn’t disagree, she did suggest that small and midsized firms need to do a better job of understanding who writes what at PR Week and come to her and her team with advice and insight on potential story topics rather than new business or personnel announcements.

Last, but not least, I asked Julia if she were just starting her own PR firm (I called it Hood & Hood and based it in her home town of Bethel, CT for argument’s sake), how she would go about "getting on PR Week’s radar screen." She said she’d make it her business to scan the editorial calendars, line up one or two clients who would speak on her behalf and, as she stated earlier, become a source of tips and trends to one or more reporters. She said that, as we do at Peppercom, she’d treat Hood & Hood as one of her most important clients, and devote time and energy to branding her firm.

Julia plans to podcast our entire 40-minute discussion on the PR Week website shortly (we’ll link to it when it becomes available). Oh, and by the way, in addition to being a great editor and interview subject, Julia also happens to share my passion for the Mets. We had a great time watching the Metropolitans knock off the hated Bronx Bombers on Sunday night.