August 31, 2004 by Colin
Usually, home-grown surveys provide an easy news hook for your pitch – especially if they’re tied to a topical and timely subject, like the growing popularity of blogs, natural allergy remedies or anticipated Christmas purchases. Or so the Brewers of Canada thought when they decided to release a survey of student perceptions of drinking behaviour, just in time for the new university and college sessions.
Unfortunately, these surveys can sometimes prompt criticism, cynicism or sarcasm from reporters and readers alike. Even if you emphasize careful statistical work and present a balanced viewpoint in your pitch, you and your issue can experience backlash.
According to the Brewers survey:
First, the survey found that the majority of students (63%) drink twice per month or less. However, 80% of students believe that their peers typically drink once per week or more often. One-third believe that their fellow
students drink at least three times per week.
Second, most students (64%) consume 1 to 4 drinks at parties or bars. The survey found that 67% believe students consume 5 or more drinks per occasion at parties or bars. One-quarter of students believe that average consumption is 7 or more drinks. These first two results indicate that most students overestimate both the quantity other students drink as well as the frequency with which they drink.
I guess this is a situation where the glass is either half empty or half full. The Brewers would prefer to believe that the majority of respondents answered truthfully about their own drinking habits, rather than recognizing that university students often revert to third party descriptions of their own drinking behaviour, especially when speaking to authority figures or unknown third parties.
For example, if an uncle asks about activities during the first week in residence, the average freshman would respond: “Of course, I wasn’t there, but I heard about this wicked kegger last weekend where they filled the bathtub with Purple Jesus.”
The Ottawa Citizen covered the survey in a balanced manner (sub. req.), but influenced the reader’s perception of the issue by topping the article with an image nearly as large as the reporting – an image showing Will Farrell doing a funnel of beer after speaking to the Harvard graduating class this spring.
Finally, the drivetime radio shows this morning were taking calls from actual university and college students about their own drinking habits. Moderation was not the key theme here.
A social issue like binge drinking will obviously prompt people to take sides and offer opinions – even if an interested party like the Brewers of Canada makes a legitimate attempt to explore the problem in more detail.
The lesson to take away from this? Do not sell your management on a home-grown survey as a painless exercise guaranteed to produce favourable coverage. As with every communications issue, make sure to identify the negatives along with the positives.
August 30, 2004 by Colin
So, your graphic designer has brought in the cover concepts for the new report. It’s not meant to be an award-winner. Just a strategy document, to show to the advisory council next month. The designer’s pulled out all the tried and true graphic stereotypes for a strategy document: a compass, a ship under sail, even a Patagonia-clad climber on a West Coast cliff face.
You can live with those concepts – even if your co-op student could have whipped them up in an afternoon. Your real quibble with their ideas? The colours. What’s with all the browns and oranges? Where’s the blue? The taupe?
The Man in Blue is running an online survey to measure the colour sensibilities of designers versus the unwashed heathen: you.
Designers like to get people to worship our superior aesthetic sensibilities; which is easy given the revolting taste in color, shape, font, layout and imagery that the average person possesses. However, there’s never really been any quantifiable research done into this area that has allowed designers to scientifically prove their God-like abilities. Until now.
Fine, fine. You’re a god. But can you deliver this for under 65 cents a copy – including postage?
August 30, 2004 by Colin
I have to echo Tom Murphy’s comments about an elegant and persuasive weekend pitch from Dan Price. In my case, Dan opened up by discussing a previous post on VNRs that references his site, and then dropped in a casual mention of his new book, Slick.
August 25, 2004 by Colin
If you’re reading this by RSS, do you prefer the excerpt or a full post? I’m thinking of changing the setting. colin(at)canuckflack.com
August 25, 2004 by Colin
ESQ: How do you make a candidate feel relaxed and trust you?
SC: I approach all interviews with fear. I’m frequently afraid that somebody is going to take a punch at me. It’s only cowardice that keeps me from laughing …
ESQ: How will your election coverage be superior to the networks’?
SC: One word: pyrotechnics . And lots of smoke machines. All of the correspondents are going to be flown in on harnesses in spider costumes, and our new motto is “We’ll catch you in our satirical web!”
August 25, 2004 by Colin
They can be your allies or the bane of your existince. They can provide valuable strategic advice, or shred one of your documents beyond legibility. They’re the corporate counsel. The Houston firm Fulbright & Jaworski surveyed 300 US general counsels about their corporate and professional concerns, and there are startling parallels for PR folk.
While the actual survey findings deal with litigation trends, the comments made by participants in the “2004 U.S. Corporate Counsel Litigation Trends Survey” can apply equally to PR agencies. Here’s a sample of their advice for legal firms:
- “Define terms of realistic win rather than what client wants to hear”
- “Over communicate regarding status and strategy”
- “We need recommendations on both strong and weak points of a case”
- “Communicate a clear litigation plan and then follow it”
- “Understand business principles and match legal with business strategy”
- “Firms shouldn’t take cases they can’t handle”
Oh, and how many corporate counsel are concerned about media mishaps affecting their litigation strategy? 1%.
Request the complete survey here – it’s an automatic .pdf download.
Also found on their site – this saucy headline: “Fulbright Litigation Duo Ice Opponent for $600K Victory” It’s about roadway de-icer.
August 24, 2004 by Colin
No matter if it’s tricked-out, grassroots or just plain pimped, Clive Thompson appreciates the work consumers and companies alike have been putting into customizing their technology.
Anyone can mail off a picture of their dog to put on a mouse pad, but conceptualizing an entire electronic device takes, y’know, work. … I lust after iPods or Mini Coopers not because they’re unique, but because they’ve been so artfully made that I couldn’t imagine doing it better myself. And there’s also something fun about owning the exact same gadget as millions of other people. It makes you part of a tribe.(Slate)
Of course, there’s more than just well-crafted design behind the success of the iPod, Mini and Michael Graves toilet brushes: there’s oversize marketing budgets and well-targeted integrated campaigns at work as well.
But some members of the tribe don’t appreciate the careful and stylish blending of design and technology, in particular when it prompts a stampede of consumerism and shakes their thin grip on individuality/elitism. Some NY DJs really have a bone to pick. Their complaint? Celebrity guest DJs with their iPod playlists are ruining the club scene:
iPod-people can’t “beat-match,” blending songs rhythmically together into a seamless, layered flow, or deconstructing them into something new, unlike with a traditional twin turntable and mixer setup. … “The novelty of the technology has clubs dropping their standards,” says [D.J. Adam] Goldstone. (New York Metro)
Clive goes on about the intermingling of readily available customization, attractive and efficient design, and the disposability of modern technology. It’s worth a read.
“To create lipstick for honest whores is one thing, but to create deodorant for her pimp is another.”
August 24, 2004 by Colin
The National Post’s Aaron Wherry has analysed the lyrical stylings of the anchors hosting the coverage in Athens.
It’s not that we hate Bob Costas. It’s just that he makes us feel like our decidedly pedestrian existence is little more than a piece of wax that has fallen on a termite, who is choking on the splinters — a sentiment we steal from Beck, a singer/songwriter of fragile heart, who is as skilled at conveying irrelevance as NBC’s Costas is at convincing us of another unknown athlete’s importance.
Thankfully, the best snippet is exposed before the subscriber wall.
August 24, 2004 by Colin
Digging into my clippings pile, I saw this tidbit about the highly targeted marketing of The Passion DVD, due out today:
“We’ve initiated outreach to churches and para-church organizations,” [a FOX SVP] says. “There have been a variety of mailings and e-mail campaigns, much of it at a grassroots level.” In a unique promotion, Fox offered churches a preorder discount on bulk packs of 50 DVDs or 50 VHS tapes. For an additional fee, the packaging on each copy could be customized with the church’s name, a quotation from Scripture, or some other personalized message. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
Even more intriguing was the observation that this DVD would prompt many Christian families to finally move their viewing habits into the 1990s:
There will be an extraordinarily high number of sales in the box loads. That’s something you don’t normally see,” says Scott Hettrick, editor-in-chief of DVD Exclusive, an industry publication. “This title is bringing in a lot of people that never converted from VHS to DVD. You’re getting quite a new audience.”
August 23, 2004 by Colin
The takeaway: If you’re trying to do more with PR than just push laundry detergent or the newest spring line by Hugo Boss, then you need to get people educated about not just your issue, but the basic underlying policies or market forces that affect your issue. Take the lowest, most baseline understanding that you expect people to have — and lower it. A lot.
Having trouble with your syllables? Try this game from the BBC.
August 20, 2004 by Colin
It’s becoming glaringly obvious that ticket sales are down at the Athens Olympics. Empty seats scamper across the background of many camera shots. The event organizers are becoming, justifiably, defensive. Michalis Zacharatos is the Athens Olympic Committee media general manager, and he’s slowly being pilloried in the international media for his upbeat forecasts.
“As the competition grows in excitement and more medals are won, as the best teams continue to move forward, we will see a big increase in ticket sales” – … Michalis Zacharatos does what his job demands; puts on a positive front, ignores the empty stadiums and buries his head in the sand. (London Times)
Let’s remember the poor man works for a large Athens Olympics organization which, in turn, reports to the monolith that is the International Olympic Committee. Their performance this week is stellar compared to the horrible battering they took in the press leading up to Salt Lake.
Still, he does come across as a Ron Ziegler wannabe:
“We are happy to announce that so far we have done an excellent job.” (National Post, sub. req.)
August 19, 2004 by Colin
If you’re a student in a college town, there’s only one data point you regularly seek out in your community newspaper: entertainment options.
Today’s drink specials points the thirsy Kansan – or traveller – to the cheapest drinks around. Each bar listing is also cross-referenced with past reviews, upcoming music shows and scheduled events.
This isn’t the ideal application of community journalism, but it does speak to community needs – in a very direct manner.
August 18, 2004 by Colin
- Cherry Beach Express – Pukka Orchestra
- Wave Babies – Honeymoon Suite
- L’Affaire Du Moutier/Closer Together – The Box
- C’est Zéro – Julie Masse
- and Walter Ostanek, of course.
Here are David Akin’s suggestions.
August 18, 2004 by Colin
You’ve huddled, evaluated the situation and decided no good can come of responding to a reporter’s questions. It may just be a timing problem. Improbably, the VP actually is on vacation. Maybe you’re in a mandated quiet period. Now you have to rebuff the reporter’s firm advances in as few words as possible. What’s your favourite catchphrase?
- We’re just not speaking to that subject.
- Have you seen our backgrounder?
- Sorry, but we just finished briefing the WSJ on that.
- Have you heard of the new Amway soap line?
Tom Scocca, the New York Observer’s Off The Record columnist, had some blunt comments about how the media itself uses the technique:
It’s kind of a downer to have to confront the rank hypocrisy in your own line of work every single week — the editors who send reporters out to ask civilians questions about their business, then won’t talk to reporters about their own business. The spokespeople have this really cute line these days: “Thanks, but he/she’s going to pass on this one.” Like I’m coming around with a fucking tray of bacon-wrapped scallops on toothpicks. Chicken satay. I’m not offering you an hors d’ouevre, asswipe, I’m trying to get the answer to a fucking question. …
You failed. You haven’t parried the reporter’s questions. They still want a quote. Today. Why not an “email interview” – quicker, more convenient, seemingly more transparent, right? After all, it says right there it’s from the spokesperson’s email account!
I especially like it when an editor sends out a quote through a spokesperson. Oh, should I put that in quotation marks for you and pretend we talked? I’m sure a magazine editor would be really happy if one of his own fancy writers came in and said, “Well, chief, I couldn’t score an actual interview with Sofia Coppola — she passed on this one — but her spokesperson e-mailed me some quotes.” That wouldn’t violate any journalistic standards.(The Black Table)
Thanks to Romenesko for the pointer.
August 17, 2004 by Colin
I’m a month late on this meme, but it’s still a valuable read for PR folk. “Manifesto for the Reputation Society” is an exercise in sketching out the benefits and hindrances of encouraging a growing reputation system, based on easily available information, shared opinions, personalized experiences, categorized relationships and maybe a touch of accreditation or regulation.
The paper examines how reputation societies might grow, using increasingly popular social networks as building blocks to compile information, gather critiques, solicit opinions and bring together communities of interest to influence the decisions made by consumers, companies, markets and governments.
PR folk will be challenged by this paper. The future of the profession isn’t explicit in the system being proposed – unless you see your future in obfuscation, falsification, and the consternation of your audience.
Deliberate skewing of reputations by those who benefit from their inaccuracy is one of the greatest operational problems reputation systems will face, once they have dealt with implementation issues like privacy and authentication. The public relations agencies of today may evolve into the reputation manipulation and repair agencies of tomorrow, with expertise ranging from understanding why one’s reputation is in trouble to underhanded ways of gaming reputation systems.
Arenas with more heterogeneous interest groups like politics and commerce will naturally have more pressure for skewing reputations — consider the present–day difference in deceitfulness between commercial and educational Web sites.
We put a lot of our energy into developing relationships with reporters: how much effort will we put into understanding all our other stakeholders? You will have to understand the entire public environment affecting your issue, staff, development, process or company if you’re going to play in a reputation society.