Tag Archives: PR

The Growth Of Disrespect Between Two Ferns?

With over 12 Million views in about a day, there is no doubt that President Barack Obama’s appearance on Zach Galifianakis’ BETWEEN TWO FERNS was a bold move by a savvy Administration. The Administration has always been forward-thinking and intelligent in the way they have reached out to a connected generation. Until Ellen’s Tweet during the Oscars, Obama had the most re-tweeted entries – maybe this video will have some record-breaking implications.  One thing it does challenge is the norms for public-facing relations with a President.


BETWEEN TWO FERNS on Funny or Die is well established as an off-beat comedic interview format that heavily relies on Galifianakis’ brand of comedy. It is certainly a great platform for the Administration to reach a constituency that they might not otherwise easily be reached in the communication of healthcare benefits. For that reason, it was a win.  But, it was bizarre to see a President put himself in a position to be disrespected in any way.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated the humor.  I laughed a couple of times knowing that the President was treated with the same disrespect as every other guest on the show. President Obama also showed some strong comedic chops as well – only breaking a smile once. It was for comedy’s sake and it was successful in that respect. It just comes down to interpretation by the target audience as well as others’ response to that treatment of the office.

The end goal is driving healthcare for a younger, healthier demographic that is integral to the program’s success. The Administration deserves credit for being resourceful and smart in their placement. It remains to be seen whether the healthcare registrations will come at a high enough rate to quell any concerns or bad buzz about the treatment of the office. Overall, I think it was a solid get, but it certainly opens the Administration and the aura of the President in the future to distraction.  The worst would be is if it is the opening of the floodgates of disrespect for the office.


The Growing Pains Of Vision

Last week, NPR ran a piece on the challenges that JC Penney is facing while they shift the way they do business under (relatively) new CEO, Ron Johnson. While listening, it brought to mind some of the factors we often deal with when working with clients, management, and teams to institute new programs, processes and functions. Regardless of vision or how great we believe that change will be in the name of growth or optimization, those growing pains cannot be overlooked in either the planning or the execution.


Regardless of how strong your vision is, the ability to convey that vision to all participants is paramount. In some cases, it even requires that solutions for bypassing participant buy-in should they can not see what the company is trying to do. But, you’ve got to make sure the vision is realistic – and without taking a moment to consider any move from most sides is a recipe for disaster.

In the case of JC Penney, we don’t know how things will play out in the end.  But, the NPR report highlights how the regular JC Penney customers were less than thrilled.  The environment that was created for those consumers was one that they connected with emotionally – to the point you would think they’ve lost a loved one when talking about how it used to be. Though sales were down 30% in Q4 ’12 from ’11, could that be tied to disgruntled regulars?  Or, is it tied to the pains of shifting from one client type to another? By reading the comments below the NPR report, you can see there are enough counter examples pointing to the change being positive for JC Penney.

Recent work with one of my clients has brought the same challenge to light.  How do you bring vision, instill new processes and get buy-in from the people who are key to turning those changes into company success.  Interestingly, the most important people to get buy-in from are not the C-Levels (though they do give the approval on the spend) – it is the people who will be carrying out these new processes. A broken record comes to mind when thinking about how much communication is required to convey what you are intending to do.

Sometimes the illustration of the new versus the old can offend those who are fine with the way that might not be truly effective – so you can’t just rely on illustrating the benefits in light of the situation they are now in. The element of democracy that is prevalent in the workforce these days requires something akin to a PR campaign just to put those new processes in place. Again, you can have the strongest vision and product in place, but if there’s no buy-in, you’ve wasted time and resources. Even with the installation of automated processes, if there’s a human that needs to interact with that process, you need to negotiate and guide them through those growing pains.

Hopefully, JC Penney and Johnson’s team will be given the leeway to work this transition through. Far too many changes are abandoned at the first glimmer of failure. But as with any challenge, there is a sliver of failure, you’ve just got to push through smartly. Because, ultimately, a smart vision and strategic growth always has growing pains as a byproduct. You’ve just got to guide that pain into profit and not breakage.

Komen Should Have Kept A Closer Eye On The Core

There was finally an organization or event that was able to generate a buzz that matched the Super Bowl in its big week.  Unfortunately, the buzz was for so many of the wrong reasons and it will be a while before we can understand the true fallout effects.  While there was talk of which team would win, which players would work through injury or which commercials would be the best, the most heated debate was about whether Planned Parenthood would continue to receive funding from the Susan G. Komen Foundation. In a most peculiar set of circumstances, the foundation came out of the social media and PR melee badly bruised and showing a lack of focus on their core remit. That remit is to battle breast cancer and they lost that focus by making a horrible business decision without weighing what was best for their core.

When the Komen Foundation’s decision to end funding to Planned Parenthood came to light at the beginning of last week, social networks and phones went crazy with people conjecturing that the cause was purely a political one against abortion – with the timely addition of an outspoken anti-abortion activist being placed on the non-profit’s executive staff. Some heads were cooler believing the corporate line that it was just an automatic safeguard recently put in place that they would not fund any organization that is under investigation.  Whichever side is believed, people are already beginning to think twice about giving money to the organization and that is a huge issue.

With buzz that long-time walkers and volunteers were going to shift their involvement to other breast cancer organizations, like the Avon Walk, and that corporate sponsors were considering dropping their sponsorships and partnerships with Komen, the ramifications are real.

Even if you believe that the stop in funding was caused by their automatic safeguard, it still poses a number of issues from a business perspective.  Far too often, there is a knee-jerk reaction to quickly make a blanket decision without looking at all of the perspectives.  In this case, if the communications department was not involved in the discussion, that’s a huge snafu.  If they were, they should take a long look at what they are there for.

I’m not so concerned about funding and the long-term health for Planned Parenthood because the publicity and the backlash was a huge win for organizations that are involved in abortion and other women’s issues.  Even New York Mayor Bloomberg donated $250,000 to Planned Parenthood in the wake of the announcement and many more donations flowing in.

I do believe that there was a little bit of politics and a little bit of  off-the-cuff procedural hacking, but this is where being true to your core helps across the board in business.  Had Susan G Komen held fast that their main goal is the treatment of and battle against cancer, they could have stayed above the fray of politics.  They could even protect themselves against fraud had they come out and said they will not continue funding organizations if an audit shows misuse of funds.  But a company cannot stand behind what they do if they blindly or blatantly go cut off options to achieve their goals for anything less than actual proof that illegal actions had taken place.  In the case of Planned Parenthood, the hot-button issue of abortion is legal and they were absolutely helping low and middle-income women in education and detection of Breast Cancer. With that information and Komen’s steadfast commitment to their core remit, nobody could have rightfully contested any naysayers externally or internally.

Komen’s mis-steps sadly have a larger impact than on just the health of a company, but on the much more important search for the cure for Cancer.  Some would say it was a triumph for social media that their decision was reversed by social media, but it was really a boneheaded, not-well-thought-out move that mirrors the recent Netflix fiasco that just points to bad businesses decisions.

No matter how much of a push for a swift decision, a reliance on your company’s core is the key to succesful business and its communications thereof.

A Twitter Account’s Legal Questions Lead to Ground Rules for Social Branding

A legal story that broke last week in reference to a Twitter account and its ownership brings up some interesting questions about how brands and companies should consider or engage Twitter – or perhaps all of social media.  The specific lawsuit that was written about in outlets like the New York Times and BBC focuses on the legal challenge and its possible precedents in relation to a user’s 17,000+ followers that were initially generated while he was working for a company.  Upon leaving the company (phonedog.com) eight months ago, he was given permission to maintain the account and even changed the name to be completely his own.  The parameters of the suit are seemingly too convoluted to focus on whether the ruling will set any clear legal precedence, but those same questions provide a solid basis for ground rules on social branding.

Before getting into assigning a worth to your tweets, let’s look at a couple of the main foundations for your social outreach. There are a number of routes you can take with the two most popular being an official voice of the company or the use of a personality – either within or outside of the company.  Both offer strong opportunities but both are also rife with challenges.

The official voice of the company works because it is always supposedly from you (the company).  Maybe one of its values is that it can never up and leave you – taking its followers along – but depending on the platform, the company voice might not be considered as authentic or it might be thought of as too dry and unimportant.  It takes more than just posting to engage a large base and only consistent communication complemented by other outreach can build a passionate following.  Knowing that, social outreach is not a medium to fly into without a strategy and discussion of tone, frequency and communication.  It also cannot be considered as something that you can constantly change.

The option of working through other entities might work for you if your goal is to reach a large group of people quickly – perhaps via someone they trust.  There is an element of control you will be lacking in this engagement, but with the proper partner, it can lead to quick engagement of larger groups if that is what you are looking for.  Of course, you are effectively leveraging an individual’s personae to communicate with readers or consumers who will relate positively with you company or product. It’s all great when the positives line up nicely with your product or releases, but you won’t have total control over it.

With either of these – and all other forms and formats – there is strong value that is completely dependent on what you are trying to convey and how you want to convey it.  Either way, strategy is the most important and shouldn’t rely on your hiring of someone to just write.  If you hire anyone, it should be a social strategist and they should formulate the strategy only have a bunch of meetings with the marketing, publicity groups or whatever combination makes sense for your organization.  Perhaps only after you’ve defined the strategy can you place a hard value on the elements of your social campaign.  Unfortunately, there is no one metric that correlates with everyone’s needs.

In the case of Noah Kravitz, there is no way his readers are worth $2.50 each – the amount Phonedog is seeking from Kravitz) and I personally don’t believe the company can lay claim to anything he has done with that list because it has always been just him – even with his old user name being both his name and the company’s name, the company was not represented without Noah’s name in there. As we don’t know the specifics, we can’t fully judge, but I don’t see grounds for the company to get any compensation.  They didn’t hire him specifically to start-up a Twitter feed for them and there didn’t seem to be any bespoke characteristics they might have developed for Kravitz to speak of when representing the business full and not himself.

While this legal wrangling will most likely not set any precedent, there are some things companies should do to protect themselves when it comes to social IP and the off-chance of it flying away if an employee (or more)  should leave:

  • Establish a clear social strategy for official communications and also for other employees who might invoke the company’s business when tweeting on their own behalf.  Besides mitigating PR issues, not setting clear parameters for employees discussing company issues (or not) there may be competitive or SEC issues that could arise if they share too much.  Make sure your internal and external strategies are clear and consistent.
  • If you start a social presence from scratch, make sure it has a specific POV or narrative that is consistent with your brand.  Whether in tone of voice, personality or whatever, that specific element effectively instills what could be considered social IP.  Even if you are engaging a person to create a following, establish it as a work-for-hire so that ownership is still in the control of the company if that person decides to bolt.
  • If going the route of bootstrapping on existing outlets, ensure that they work with your communication, but also make sure that there is no confusion who’s doing the communicating for who.  In this case, an outside source is communicating on the company’s behalf – so the company cannot expect to have ownership and control of the outside source.  Clear expectations are key – especially when determining if you want to transition this quick-reach solution to the long-term. As there are complexities related to the long-term when using outside sources, its one more reason to have a clear strategy prior to engaging social outreach.

Sadly, there are many more questions than answers when it comes to social and that’s why its imperative to lay a solid foundation or ground rules for your social branding. Whether it is corporate updates, product information, help or just the weather that you want to provide for your social minions, keep yourself out of a legal quandary by laying down strong ground rules for your business and employees.

Martha Stewart Shines a Beautiful Light on Incarceration

If done right, individuals and corporations can tell stories to make anything seem rosier than perhaps they should.  The key is that the stories remain true to the core of the “brand.”  In the case of Martha Stewart, one can only marvel at how well she does this – especially when she can re-frame a 5 month prison term as an idyllic incarceration instead.  This is not meant to be a slam – no matter what you think of the person – we all need to recognize that Stewart is a master of words and delivery. She (and her team) could provide a master class on the art of story-telling and image “maintenance.”

During Stewart’s promotion cycle for her 75th book, “Martha’s Entertaining: A Year of Celebrations,” I caught Linda Wertheimer’s interview with her yesterday on NPR’s Morning Edition and couldn’t help but laugh appreciatively.  It was a simple and normal interview until it took a little turn for to the sublime.  Wertheimer asked Stewart about a drab Nativity Scene shown in the first chapter of the book about parties at her houses over the course of a year.  The following is pulled directly from the transcript:

STEWART: OK, well, it’s kind of a funny story. When I was incarcerated at Alderson in West Virginia for a five-month term, they had a ceramics class. And in the ceramics class was a storage warehouse room where I found all the molds for an entire large Nativity scene. It took me a long time to find each mold. And because I was raised a Catholic, I know the story. I know that…

WERTHEIMER: You know how many there should be.


STEWART: I know the characters, right. I know the wise men and the camels and all of that. But it’s a big thing. I think there’s about 15 pieces and I was able to purchase enough clay with my monthly stipend. And I forgo – forwent, is that a word, forwent?


STEWART: I didn’t get a lot of other things that I would’ve liked in that five-month period, because I bought clay instead. And I molded the entire Nativity scene and then I had to figure out how to paint it drab color, ’cause there’s no – there’s – I think there’s six different colors of paint that you could get. But I managed a fashion a drab color and it looks just like Wedgwood.

Frederic Lagrange/Clarkson Potter/Random House

Now how beautifully is that response weaved?  It’s even better to listen to it because her delivery adds to the aura.  Stewart is great at delivering anecdotes in an authentic way that is harder to achieve than you would think.

Achieving “authentic” is truly an art form.  Corporations will sometimes bring out project leads or developers who know everything there is to know about a product – and have immense passion for it.  Unfortunately, that mastery is not easily conveyed in front of a crowd, on radio or on video.  Sometimes its due to language issues, or nerves, or lack of focus/construct.  That lack of focus or construct is one of the biggest barriers to authenticity.  Many who work extensively on something or have a strong knowledge base will go to either of two extremes: believing they can shoot from the hip and then they go off course and confuse people; or, writing everything down (perhaps even practicing) and coming across as robotic.  Just because an employee has been able to present something numerous times in meetings and presentations, the assumption cannot be made that they are able to achieve that successfuly in all mediums.  Either companies should invest in media training for those employees or engage someone who can deliver in all environment to step in where necessary.

The ability to maintain that authentic delivery is key and not something that comes naturally for most.  Fortunately for Stewart, it comes across as if it is natural.  Certainly, she has had years of experience and has been able to hone her craft, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t marvel at her abilities to make anything seem to be idyllic in any circumstance.

Digging Under The Shady Surface of Tracking IQ

In what is most likely just the tip of the iceberg, last week saw some serious drama play itself out between a mobile tracking company, Carrier IQ, and a security researcher, Trevor Eckhart.  The software is used by a number of mobile carriers on a number of mobile phones to track information that the company says help the manufacturers and carriers refine their products.  The bad thing is that most consumers have no idea what it is – and because it is tremendously hard to remove the program, its purposes and “spying” or tracking ability makes it that much scarier. It truly poses the question of whether consumers should know what they are getting into with technology or not. What really stinks is when the consumer is not given the choice to opt-out.

Added to the elevated concerns about privacy is the questionable tactics Carrier IQ took after Eckhart originally posted his findings under the name TrevE.  He was served with a Cease and Desist order from Carrier IQ and the threat of a lawsuit. Perhaps they could have learned from Forever21’s misfortunes of legal responses and the negative implications they caused in the social stratosphere.

Just using YouTube as non-scientific barometer is quite telling about how big of a hit Carrier IQ (and possibly the carriers and manufacturers) is taking. The video Eckart posted has received over 1.5 million views, but anything the company has posted in response has earned views that are miniscule in comparison.  Even the follow-up videos by other outlets announcing both the subsequent cease and desist and the ultimate apology garnered more views than the company’s response.  Adding insult to injury, an edited mashup of the company’s response video is getting up there in views.

Now, there is buzz about this around the world and the US government has gotten involved – with Senator Al Franken calling for the same answers the general public is asking for.Whether or not there is anything malicious or unethical in the program and its findings, the fact that the information is being tracked even in relatively unconnected phones and the difficulties in removing the program or just opting out is quite disturbing.  Working in the technology business, Carrier IQ should have been ahead of the curve both on the PR side as well as in the option to opt-out.  To have a force quit button that does nothing is unacceptable.

Quite honestly, I had seen the App listed in my phone as HTC IQAgent when I was trying to figure out why my phone is saying it’s always at capacity.  Perhaps I stupidly trusted it because it had the name HTC in front of it.  The whole event causes me to trust HTC even less.  I wish I knew what HTC programs were truly for my benefit and which were not.  Perhaps it is time to switch to another model and even another carrier. If HTC really wanted to see what issues I was having, they could contact me and allow me to tell them what the problem is.  At this point, I don’t believe that the program is just there to help fix issues automatically without bothering us as the stickiness, battery and storage issues I have been having for months still occur. 

I do not plan to drop my phone in water as some YouTube vides suggest, but I definitely have more questions that I want answered and Eckhart’s 4 questions at the end of his video really only touch the surface. The time for arrogance by technologists and companies when it comes to privacy and tracking has got to be curbed – or those scary things we saw in movies and wrote them off as science fiction will become all too real…

Does It Even Make Sense to Spend Money on STAR WARS?

With the release this week of the STAR WARS films on Blu-ray around the world, we are provided with a key opportunity to question whether marketing spends are even necessary for brands like this. Please know that I fully intend to own the Blu-ray set, have downloaded the STAR WARS Blu-ray iPad APP and have a number of friends who are working on this campaign on behalf of Fox.

First, let’s get the basics down:

  1. This is one of the biggest franchises in the history of film with a huge fan base.
  2. The fans are deeply involved. Some would argue they are fanatical.
  3. With a fully developed and established site in starwars.com, there is a clear information destination.
  4. With both Lucas Arts and 20th Century Fox, there are many different hands in the pot.

So, when looking at a release of this magnitude, it is quite easy to be equally enthusiastic about blowing it out in a huge campaign and doing nothing.  I am sure everyone involved in this campaign fell somewhere in between.

While it is an exciting proposition to work on a title like this, the question should be “do we need to?” As opposed to marketing a new product or changing direction on an existing one, this one was a format update to a well-loved product. With that, the choices are not so cut and dried. 

It is questionable how many more fans you’re going to draw in with digital manipulatives of characters for online or mobile unless it is absolutely groundbreaking and buzzworthy (The Simpson’s Avatar Builder seemed to be able to fit that bill.) So it then becomes a question of how much do you do, when do you do it and how much do you rely on the fans.

As you can see above, there is clearly not a dearth in fan-generated content at any time and some, like Oskoui-Oskoui, have used the opportunity to create these form parodies, faux old style travel posters for locations from the franchise and even a series of pictographs.

The fans will also smell out anything that is distributed by a studio that is not consistent with the story.  There is already quite a buzz surrounding the reviews depicting the additions of things like digitally adding eyelids to Ewoks.  If people will call out an eyelid on an Ewok, they are certain to hem-and-haw about even more.

In the case of this campaign, Lucas Arts and Fox Home Entertainment announced the release at CES in January.  They were able to leverage a large amount of press and the platform of the electronics show to drum up anticipation.  One key thing they recognized as an added value was the partnership with Amazon allowing them to be the exclusive pre-sellers.  The Home Entertainment business is deftly positioned to take advantage of the ability to pre-sell.  In some EMEA markets, retailers use pre-sales figures to determine how many units they will order. So, this strategy seemed like a good one as they were able to get in the press due to the large platform and also provided a launch point for pre-sales.

Where it seems things might have gone wrong were not really a reflection on Fox’s marketing of this product, but of a general lack of focus on the overall brand.  As someone who watched the films when they came out and was afraid of Darth Vader, it is highly disappointing to see the breakdancing Vader at the theme park.  In fact, Vader is now too friendly.  There was a nice progression of the character in episodes 4-6 that allowed even a kid to understand the character’s complexities.  Regardless of what people thought of episodes 1-3, there was an even further opportunity to understand the character more.  How did that change from strong character to silly caricature?  As mentioned above, there are now theme park destinations, animated shows and an overall simplifaction of the Star Wars ethos.

With so many varied properties under the STAR WARS banner, its got to be challenging to figure out how you depict the franchise and how you present those chosen depictions to the broad audience.

For this reason, the campaign was probably best served by using PR and Digital Marketing outlets to seed footage that was exclusive to the Blu-ray set and also create strong AV to place in TV and Digital media.  A lot of that content will be placed for free and then shared just because of the enthusiasm for the brand. But certainly, there has to be a spend against on-air and on key digital outlets.

Most everything beyond PR ad AV is superfluous as they should be able to use the starwars.com to communicate consistently to their users and many of the big tastemakers will be willing to post and discuss the release if provided with compelling disc content. 

It all comes down to timing and strategy.  The announce timing seemed strong.  Some follow-up pushes of content seemed to be forced and didn’t seem to offer much as they were sort of hodge-podge.  The spots on-air seem to be solid – or as solid as a clip for a six-movie franchise can be.

In the end, it does make sense to spend money on a franchise like Star Wars, but common sense and clear strategy is paramount to ultimate success.  It is still yet to be seen how sales do for this product, but it is clear that this campaign was not as simple as it might have seemed – regardless of the size of the Force…