Leasing a sheep for advertising – file that under markets for everything

04/24/06

shepwithcoats.jpg

The latest buzz accelerator is sheep. To be specific, sheep decorated with advertising for a Dutch hotel company. The gimmick has drawn the ire of an asthetically-minded local mayor, who has threatened fines if the sheep are not removed in short notice. The result? 60 hits on Google news and counting.

“…Hotels.nl Chief Executive Miechel Nagel said the company would respond by increasing the number of sheep it uses in Skarsterlan to 60 and changing the statement on their blankets to ”Thank You, Mr. Mayor.”

”Now it’s a freedom of speech issue,” said Nagel. He added the local economy also was getting a boost as farmers were being paid 15 euros to 20 euros ($18-$25) per sheep per month to wear the advertisements.

”Their value as lamb-kebabs is around 60 euros ($75),” Nagel said.” (AP/NYT)

Looking to lease a sheep?

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Canuckflack’s 1987 reading: Bunny Burgers and Gay RV Zines

04/17/06

Before Google News, before Yahoo, before (gasp) Pointcast … people had to buy magazines to keep up with current events. They were sold at places called news stands. They’re still around, I know. But for most people under a certain age (quick – fifty words on the influence of Dennis Haskins on your teenage years) a news stand is where you find your girlfriend’s Italian Vogue (or your British FHM). In 1987, I found two of the most interesting – and perverse – magazines. They were to grace the magazine rack beside my john for years to come.

The first was Spy, which we’ve all heard of at one point or another. There was the piece on American Kabuki (mascot costumes) and there was Bunny Burgers, testing whether public relations firms would recoil at representing a fast food rabbit meat chain.

” … We needed to come up with a venture that would have the look and feel of a big, well-financed, image-driven, Madison Avenue – created powerhouse yet somehow lack fundamental common sense. The bad idea we settled upon was simple and all-American: a fast food chain called Bunny Burgers Inc., which would be selling ground rabbit, as well as salads and french fried carrots, at dozens of outlets in the eastern United States and Canada.

The company could follow the Red Lobster model — diners would have the opportunity to pick their own bunnies (Tuesday is P.Y.O.B. Night!) for broiling. The whole idea appealed to us because it simultaneously evoked sweetness and made the skin crawl.

We invited nine PR firms to bid on the account and assist us in determining whether the concept was feasible, public-relations- wise, and if so, what measures could be take to mitigate public hostility toward the consumption of bunny meat at a time of burgeoning sensitivity toward the animals with whom we share this fragile planet. At the outset, we feared that PR firms would hang up on us when we phoned to describe our fictitious enterprise and ask for help.

None of the firms hung up on us.” (Full Text)

A recent piece in Metropolis magazine lookeds at the magazine’s enduring cultural and design influence:

“… “It was an exercise in shoehorning material,” [former art director Alexander Isley] says–and partly a product of a Mad magazine-inspired use of buried text: the best stuff was often in the tiniest type, in the marginalia or the captions. Deadpan delivery remains a key part of Isley’s design approach, despite the very American insistence that funnies be accentuated by the visual equivalent of a laugh track. “The key was not telegraphing the joke,” he says. …” (Metropolis, and more on Isley)

The other magazine – more of a ‘zine actually – was Monk. Two gay men, travelling across the United States with their two cats, building an audience with their Mac. Aside from the more flamboyant tales, I was interested in how Michael Lane and Jim Crotty discussed the characters and communities they encountered. Just as appealing was their threadbare appeals for money – $100 got you a lifetime after lifetime subscription. I remember signing up for two years after reading only one issue.

Interestingly, the two found that advertisers were loath to commit to such a small publication: “… “People told us we needed to print at least 20,000, so that’s what we did,” Mr. Lane said. Promising to distribute every copy, they sold $12,000 in ads, more than covering the $6,000 in printing costs.” (NYT)

Oh, what they could have done with AdSense or BlogAds!

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Public relations for Christians: it’s not just about Sunday mornings

04/16/06

Christianity, the Brand – today in the NYT. Featured is Larry Ross, who has made public relations with the Christian community his career and vocation.

“Ross characterizes part of his job as finding the sweet spot where faith and the culture intersect, because religion on its own often isn’t enough, as he sees it, to generate mainstream press. He offers his handling of T.D. Jakes as a typical example. Today Jakes is the pastor of the Potter’s House in South Dallas, one of the fastest-growing churches in the country, with 30,000 members; he is also behind the “Woman, Thou Art Loosed” novel, film and gatherings, and he created the Metroplex Economic Development Corporation, which sponsors homeownership conferences and organizes training sessions for would-be entrepreneurs.

After listening to hours and hours of the pastor’s sermons, Ross realized that what might appeal to a broader audience were Jakes’s efforts to economically empower African-American youth — Jakes was a business story, in other words. Not long after that, Jakes landed a Page 1 profile in The Wall Street Journal. It was the preacher’s first major national exposure.” (NYT)

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CSR: what is it good for? Huh!

04/11/06

Apologies for the affront to the collective genius of Frankie Goes To Hollywood/Edwin Starr. What is the true, quantifiable, worth of corporate social responsibility? Aside from polishing up Nike’s annual report? Or pulling a veil over the dirty workings of international oil conglomerates? Wal-mart must be wondering that as it tries to marshall positive voices in favour of its banking application, currently being heard by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Voices like Andrew Young and the Salvation Army.

Arrayed against the corporation, it seems, is every community bank in the country, local activists, and a sizable number of members of Congress. And the Wal-mart haters. Wal-mart flavoured haterade must be on sale, because there are some people with some real issues speaking out on this banking application:

“walmart has decided to try to rule the world. The stores and their domination are bad enough. If they have control of a financial institution it could be a disaster. All their friendly, good old boy, we’re with you America ads are just a sham. They are out for one thing, the all mighty dollar, and it has to go into their pocket. I’m not fooled by their folksy attitude one bit. If they control a bank in any area they control the area, if you’re not with them, you’re against them and you get no loan for your new business.” (FDIC submission, .pdf)

Hearings are on now at the FDIC offices in Virginia, and:

“At times, the hearing felt more like a referendum on Wal-Mart’s integrity than the wisdom of allowing it to open a bank, with friends and foes of the retailer marshaling character witnesses. Testimony touched on Wal-Mart’s role in port security, its efforts to recover missing children, the generosity of its health insurance plan and the cost of a shovel at its stores.”

(New York Times)

The corporation’s certainly facing an uphill battle. The lobbying battle against the application seems to be led, in part, by the Independent Community Bankers of America. Common themes, and phrases, run through many of the letters filed with the FDIC. Quite a few seem awfully similar, like the 49 or more nearly identical letters from the Citizen’s Tri-County Bank.

I understand the value, from the pespective of sheer quantity and physical impact, of organizing a petition or letter campaign. But what is the real effect of all that work (or, in the case of an online email campaign, not that much work)?

Research with members of Congress has shown that form letters, or letters that are evidently the product of an organized lobbying or petitioning campaign, are discounted by politicians. Communicating with Congress: How Capitol Hill is Coping with the Surge in Citizen Advocacy, prepared by the Congressional Management Foundation, provided quantitative and qualitative backing for this finding:

“I wish that outside groups would understand that overwhelming our office with form letters does
more harm than good for their causes.”

—House Correspondence Staffer

“One hundred form letters have less direct value than a single thoughtful letter generated by a constituent
of the Member’s district.”

—House Correspondence Staffer

“In cases where the Member/Senator has not reached a firm decision on an issue, 44% of staff surveyed said that individualized postal communications have “a lot” of influence, compared to 3% for identical form communications. As one House staff member noted, personal communications are more effective than form messages “because the recipient knows that the author was truly motivated by the issue.”

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McDonald’s, VOIP and long-distance orders

04/11/06

Your next drive-thru order at MacDonald’s may not be taken by a sweaty, slightly overweight and harried assistant manager with an ill fitting corporate dress shirt. If you’re in Hawaii, the person asking you about supersizing may in fact be over a thousand miles away – in Santa Maria, California.

Thanks to low-cost VOIP, centralized call centres and a standardized menu, remote order-taking has arrived.

MacDonald’s executives first floated the idea at a retail conference a year ago.

“”You have a professional order taker with strong communications skills whose job is to do nothing but take down orders,” said Matthew Paull, McDonald’s chief financial officer.

Paull said a “heavy percentage” of complaints the company receives are from drive-thru customers who got the wrong order. “Even if 95% of the time it is right, those 5% are very upset with us,” he said. (USA Today)

Today, the NYT details how one call centre 150 miles from L.A. is serving drive-thrus in Mississippi, Wyoming and Hawaii – among 40 locations.

“When the customer pulls away from the menu to pay for the food and pick it up, it takes around 10 seconds for another car to pull forward. During that time, [Doug King, CEO of the outsourcing firm Bronco] said, his order-takers can be answering a call from a different McDonald’s where someone has already pulled up.

The remote order-takers at Bronco earn the minimum wage ($6.75 an hour in California), do not get health benefits and do not wear uniforms. Ms. Vargas, who recently finished high school, wore jeans and a baggy white sweatshirt as she took orders last week. (New York Times)

I can see one benefit to the consumer: an outsourced call centre may be able to provide better service in spanish – if the right order-taker picks up. I don’t know whether these order-takers will be immediately familiar with local condiment or combo preferences.

Really, are we going to revert back to the old Automat restaurants, with giant displays of prepared food ready for sale at the drop of a quarter? It’s bad enough I can see the teenage “cook” take the sausage patty for my Egg Mcmuffin out of a plastic warming tray – like an Easy Bake oven – without dropped data packets ruining the call and completely depersonalizing the experience.

Remember, at lunchtime, Skype “Ronald’s McNuggets”

For further commentary, American Public Radio reported on the use of call centres in fast food in January 2005.

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Wal-mart’s blogging outreach: pick some better friends

03/07/06

The NYTimes look at Wal-mart’s blogger outreach program is now online: Wal-Mart Enlists Bloggers in Its Public Relations Campaign. As Paul Holmes has noted, “sadly, I just don’t see what the story is.”

Given the breadth of comment and criticism posted over the last five days by bloggers who were contacted by Barbaro, the NYT reporter, during his research for the article, we can identify some basic working tips for our emerging online outreach practices.

The nut graf for public relations staffers:

“… Copies of e-mail messages that a Wal-Mart representative sent to bloggers were made available to The New York Times by Bob Beller, who runs a blog called Crazy Politico’s Rantings. Mr. Beller, a regular Wal-Mart shopper who frequently defends the retailer on his blog, said the company never asked that the messages be kept private …”

Always remember to be open and transparent in your public outreach activities. That way, articles like on your ourtreach program woon’t blow back on your firm, your client or your strategies.

(I’ve already made my point about staff choice implying bias in your activities)

Just as importantly, be selective about the channels and blogs you pick for your outreach activities. It’s too simplistic to base a strategy on the principle that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The online discussion around the NYT article would be much more informative if it wasn’t coloured by interjections and polemics about the battle between conservative bloggers and the estalishment media.

I have to think this ideological mano a mano has tainted the Wal-mart blogger outreach program to some degree. A perfectly acceptable public relations tactic (and a commendable effort by a historically reticent corporation) has now been associated with negative opinion and emotion – both online and in print.

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Wal-Mart’s blogger outreach program

03/05/06

According to one blogger who emailed me, the NYTimes is getting ready to run a story on the blogger outreach program managed by Edelman on behalf of Wal-mart.

John McAdams provides quite a bit of detail on his correspondence with Marshall Manson, a senior account supervisor with Edelman. Manson’s blogger relations work on Wal-Mart’s behalf has popped up across the web. Interestingly, it seems to hit mostly on conservative blogs. (Examples can be found here, here and here.)

Or maybe that portion of Edelman’s outreach program targeted towards conservative bloggers just produces greater reverb. Do the macro-economic arguments in favour of Wal-mart work better for conservatives, or do they just provide another detail for reference in their vilification of mainstream and liberal media?

To be fair, Manson’s work has also popped up on liberal blogs (here and here). Being a PR professional, I’m sure Manson’s going to read this and think “Dammit! Those aren’t even my good hits!”

It seems that targeting conservative bloggers is a conscious decision on Edelman’s part. Businessweek highlighted this point last fall. The fact that Mike Krempasky was put on the Wal-Mart file shortly after being hired by Edelman seems to underline the strategy.

It makes perfect sense to staff up an emerging agency practice with experienced bloggers, and I also recognize that the public affairs environment in the United States is far more polarized than up here in Canada. Still, don’t your consumer clients twitch – just a little – when your outreach effort is staffed by PR staffers with a clear history and a sizeable axe to grind against some of the establishment media?

“… As it so often does, the [New York] Times’ agenda is apparent: paint the appearance of division amongst conservatives and provide fodder for the argument that right-leaning organizations, from the White House on down, don’t tolereate descension.

Whether the story is on target or not, no newspaper should be letting an agenda drive its news coverage. (Or, non-news coverage, as the case might be.) Of course, that never stopped the Times before.”

Of course, this blog work is only one small part of Edelman’s campaign on Wal-mart’s behalf. Kevin Dugan wrote up an overview of their efforts back in September.

Update: more bloggers (here and here) report on their contact with Edelman.

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media relations Wal-mart Edelman conservative blogs blog outreach

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Narnia Rap: cunning plan, or overzealous lawyers?

02/22/06

So. NBC asks YouTube to yank the Narnia Rap from their servers. Was this the product of a conscious campaign on NBC’s part to prompt a buzz spike online, as DataMining suggests? Let the video bounce around the ‘sphere for a couple of months, throw that word-of-mouth buzz into hyperdrive, then draw it back into the P&L bosom of the corporate mother ship to generate nice clean iTunes fees?

Or was Narnia simply the victim of a wide-ranging reaction from NBC’s legal team? The NYT coverage notes that NBC’s DMCA notice to YouTube covered 500 or so NBC clips. “Julie Summersgill, a spokeswoman for NBC Universal, said the company meant no ill will toward fan sites but wanted to protect its copyrights. “We’re taking a long and careful look at how to protect our content,” she said. (NYT)”

Pete Blackshaw extends the possibility that viral media could be further sandbagged by legal concerns, slowing or halting the flow of other consumer generated media like remixed or repurposed brand imagery or television commercials.

    “Will lawyers apply to same content restrictions to television commercials that are shared and spread online? If networks push too aggressively on such restrictions, will brands perceive less “ROI” in their advertising potential? Under what circumstances could “repurposed” ad copy be shared? Are consumers to blame if marketers put “send this to a friend” links all over their web sites?”

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Now THAT’S Bull – stepping up marketing on the PBR

02/13/06

The Professional Bull Riders circuit is busy expanding into the NorthEast and Mexico, looking at potential events in Australia, and keeping its eyes on the big prize: a breakthrough in public consciousness – and subsequent sponsorship and prize money – like that won by NASCAR.

    “”… But it’s still Middle America, without question. You know Flint Rasmussen?” Rasmussen is the in-ring clown; unlike traditional rodeo clowns whose job it is to protect the riders, he stays far away from the bulls. “Flint said to me recently: ‘Let me try a joke on you: If you ask a rodeo clown to autograph your cooler, you may be a redneck. Does that work?’ And I said, Yeah, it was funny. And he said, ‘Well, I just had about 100 people ask me to autograph their coolers in the lobby of the Marriott.”‘ (NYT Magazine)

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Numeracy and literacy: making accomodations in important documents

01/25/06

Do you even stop to think of the literacy skills among your target audience? What about the application of effective design to speed understanding? Maybe can apply some of the important work being conducted in the pediatric community to simplify consent forms.

Frankly, parents have a heard time interpreting relative levels of risk. And the poor communications skills exhibited by most doctors doesn’t help.

    “At the University of Michigan, Dr. Alan Tait has been working with colleagues in the department of anesthesiology to develop an improved consent form aimed at parents with low literacy skills whose children are facing surgery.

    “Using simpler, friendlier language is just the first step,” Dr. Tait said. The form in one experimental survey of 305 parents was vastly preferred by those who read well in addition to those with low literacy skills. It also used a larger typeface, shorter paragraphs, illustrations and bulleted points to help clarify the message.

    Elsewhere, health literacy specialists are working on audio or video consent forms – interactive audiotapes or DVD’s that can be navigated at a patient’s own pace via a telephone keypad, a touch-screen kiosk or an inexpensive DVD player.

    Most rely on live-action vignettes and colorful images instead of dense blocks of text to explain complicated concepts like the risks and benefits of different types of blood pressure medicines or asthma inhalers or the ins and outs of glucose monitors used for diabetes.” (NYTimes)

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McDonalds – we will fight them in the alleys, we will beat them with sausages

01/15/06

McDonald’s defeated by a small town baker – in 2002. In case you missed it (and you didn’t if you read organic food blogs), the NYT essentially reprinted an article from Libération, recounting the opening of a new McDonald’s in Altamura, Italy in 2001 and its closure in 2002.

For marketers, the message is that local businesses can compete with large multinational franchises – if they compete on price AND offer a distinctive product. A touch of cultural hauteur doesn’t hurt either.

    “Then there is the local food – cheap and overwhelmingly good – and the people who have eaten it for centuries and consider it as much their tradition as their history. Odd as it might seem in a corporate boardroom, they put no value on a McDonald’s in Altamura.

    “The majority couldn’t imagine McDonald’s becoming an integral part of their lives,” said Patrick Girondi, 48, an entrepreneur from Chicago who has lived here for 15 years. “McDonald’s didn’t get beat by a baker. McDonald’s got beat by a culture.”

The NYT accompanies their translation with a slide show of happy Altamurans picking up their fresh foccacia (looks quite good, actually).

If you want to get the story with more of an antiglobalization, anti-industrial food preparation bent, be sure to read the original article in french: Libération.

    “De nombreux mois ont passé depuis cette retraite en rase campagne de la grande multinationale américaine, mais Onofrio Pepe en rit encore :«Avec son mât comme totem, McDonald’s pensait nous assiéger ! Mais c’est nous qui les avons encerclés et bombardés coups de saucisses, de fouaces et de pain local. Nous sommes parvenus les repousser.»”

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Social media as the cultural mosh pit of our century?

01/03/06

Great quotes on the impact of documentaries (and social media in general) on our cultural consciousness below.

Katerina Cizek, writing in This Magazine, discusses the “documentary as democratic experiment, in which we can potentially all participate in the non-fiction genre, retelling and reinventing our own stories of the human condition.”

    “[Errol] Morris made the case in a recent New York Times editorial reflecting on the power of video images. He was considering, in particular, the many, disparate interpretations of the videotape of a US marine shooting an Iraqi insurgent point-blank during the invasion of Fallujah. “Unhappily, an unerring fact of human nature is that we habitually reject the evidence of our own senses,” he writes. “If we want to believe something, then we often find a way to do so regardless of evidence to the contrary. Believing is seeing and not the other way around.”

    In this respect, the documentary confounds and confuses the public good as much as it clarifies and illuminates. And the documentary genre—from big screens to blogs—continues its long, complicated relationship with politics, with participatory democracy, and with the truth. As the documentary gathers nuclear strength at the core of our culture, so too it converges, modifies and transforms into myriad cultural hybrids and transmutations. Banging up against journalism, music, animation and fiction, the documentary is in our collective central mosh pit, with its poetry and its flaws, mashing with the best of them, and, certainly these days, holding its own. What happens next will be up to us all.”(This Magazine)

So here’s my question: we’ve been hurriedly developing the technology to drive social media and participatory democracy into the farthest reaches of society. What tools have we developed for the general public to help them identify and interpret this mass of information, analysis and hyperbole?

Are we counting on them learning through practice, with myspace and blogger being the intellectual equivalents of the childhood tricycle?

(I know there are hard working activists trying to fill this gap … but they’re not being handed bags of money, are they? Somehow, they have to reprofile their work as Web 2.0)

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Abramoff, op/eds and the “invisible hand” of the free market

12/25/05

Both BusinessWeek and the NYT detail how Jack Abramoff paid certain think tank analysts to mention and praise his clients in their placed op/eds.

The NYT ran their piece on Friday – and BusinessWeek on the 16th.

Responses to the accusations were posted online at one think tank the very same day.

While this issue is interesting on its own, there is a dialogue developing in the comments on the BW website, where one of the individuals quoted claims Eamon Javers, the author, ” … misquotes both myself and Peter Ferrara, in that it omits distinctions made in the interviews.”

The decision to comment directly upon a web-published article marks a distinct shift in our relationship with reporters – a shift underlined by a comment filed by Javers the same day.

I can see how one of the authors might feel exposed by his quote:

    “Peter Ferrara, a senior policy adviser at the conservative Institute for Policy Innovation, says he, too, took money from Abramoff to write op-ed pieces boosting the lobbyist’s clients. “I do that all the time,” Ferrara says. “I’ve done that in the past, and I’ll do it in the future.” (BW)

Here’s Ferrara’s counter-argument, published online in response to this article.

If the allegations are true, that sure sounds like astroturfing on Abramoff’s part – and intellectual flooziness on the part of the writers involved.

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Garden State: How retail analysts look into their crystal ball

12/21/05

Wonder how retail analysts keep track of their companies? Other than quarterly financials, calls from the friendly IR department, the occasional visit to CEO and reading the weekly circulars? They try to visit retail locations as inconspicuously as possible. The Garden State Plaza in Paramus, N.J. is a favourite for NY- based analysts looking for a quick dip in the market.

    “… Thomas D. Lennox, the head of investor relations at Abercrombie & Fitch, jokes that on any given Friday afternoon “you will find more retail analysts at Garden State Plaza than on Wall Street and Midtown Manhattan combined.”

    … Retailing analysts and fund managers say they never base judgments – particularly recommendations to buy or sell a stock – on observations from a single mall. In interviews, half a dozen analysts said they visited at least three malls a month. But nearly all conceded that they returned, again and again, to Garden State Plaza, about a 20-minute drive from Midtown, making it perhaps the single most influential mall in the country.”(NYT)

How do these analysts, seeking partial anonymity while strolling through the mall in “suburban dad” clothes, judge the success or failure of holiday marketing campaigns? How do they “develop” the qualitative data for their reports?

    “…In the world of retailing analysis, even the size of the sale sign has meaning, conveying what [Harris Nesbitt retail analyst John D. Morris] calls “levels of desperation.” A large, bright sign positioned prominently outside the store in the mall’s main corridor is “very desperate,” whereas a small, unobtrusive sign, visible through a display window, conveys confidence.”

Really, the analysts don’t wield any specialist knowledge on the shop floor. The impressions they form are based on pricing, inventory and customer care signals that any experienced shopper can recognize.

    “… the peculiar craft of retailing analysis, in which a store’s strength is measured through dozens of tiny, seemingly imperceptible signs, ranging from the size of a 50-percent-off sale poster (revealing how desperate a store is to clear out merchandise) to the number of unfolded shirts on the sales floor (indicating a store, perhaps fearing poor holiday sales, has cut back on employment and is understaffed).”(NYT)

There are weaknesses in relying on the Garden State Plaza, which Retail Traffic called “the patriarch of New Jersey’s shopping centers.” Thankfully, the NYT acknowledge’s the mall unusually high average family income and other factors.

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The Mannheim Steamroller School of Marketing

12/21/05

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We’ve all heard Mannheim Steamroller at some point in the last 24 hours. Chip Davis, the music and business genius behind Steamroller, has sold 27 million Steamroller albums – many of them Christmas-themed. Davis moves product by making shrewd marketing decisions:

    ” … I asked Davis to explain the theory behind his marketing schemes, and he told me a story about the release of “American Spirit,” a collection of patriotic songs “done Mannheim style.” Just before Memorial Day in 2002, the CD went on sale in several stores at a busy Omaha intersection, including a Super Target and a Baker’s supermarket. The Target store, where the discs were discounted to $12.98, sold just a dozen copies, but the supermarket, which priced them at a full $15.99, “blew through 60 pieces.”

    Why? “We put the CD’s next to the hot-dog buns, where everyone was going for their holiday barbecues,” he told me. “We weren’t sitting in the music department with some big display saying, ‘Mannheim CD’s.’ We have a slogan around here: we try to put our music in the path of what people do everyday.” (NYT Magazine)

BTW – Davis was a key player in one of the tech booms of the 70s. As a copywriter in Omaha, he wrote the jingles that helped fictional trucker C.W. McCall to pimp for a local bakery. McCall, a regional hit, grew into a national singing sensation – remember Convoy? – that prompted thousands of teenagers to run out and buy whip antennas, CB radios and 30 watt amps for their AMC Eagles.

(Here’s McCall doing a 1974 radio promo for Great Country KSO, a Des Moines radio station. RealPlayer file courtesy of Desmoinesbroadcasting.com)

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Suburban lofts – you read it here second

12/12/05

On Sunday, the NYT Magazine featured “The Suburban Loft” in its Year in Ideas issue.

It’s an appealing idea, with plenty of the design quirks and individual touches that can break the monotony of a suburban and exurban development.

Which is why I blogged about it in May 2004. Karrie Jacobs wrote about the design in Metropolis magazine first, and you read it here second.

Technorati: home design suburban+loftsuburbs design

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Nielsen, outdoor advertising and OnStar

12/11/05

How do you measure the impact of advertising? Actual metrics that indicate take-up and consumer action, or that wonderful old catch-all “impressions”? Just as the rest of the world grapples with data-based results measurement, Nielsen is hyping up the results of its “Npod” test in the Chicago market.

This amazing gadget will help advertisers measure how many people pass by their outdoor ads, using GPS and a small electronic device. That’s right: pass by. Not read. Not “call the custom 1-800 number” or “visit the bespoke website.” For billboards built up alongside freeways, I wonder if their data will also provide average travelling speed while “generating impressions”?

If Nielsen can build enough credible data, one generalized application may be as a module in General Motors’ “OnStar” system, which has already made great strides in eroding consumer’s sensitivity to constant tracking by third party monoliths.

Just think of it: GM is now offering monthly “diagnostic” reports for OnStar subscribers.

What if GM’s partners could get reports on impressions generated by their outdoor advertising – broken down by marque? I have to imagine any incremental marketing data on Cadillac drivers would be worth a pretty penny – especially to auto insurers paying out on bumper-thumpers caused by distracted drivers.

The most remarkable finding of Nielsen’s work in Chicago?

    “To illustrate the seemingly improbable fact in this era of media oversaturation that “certain respondents in the sample were not exposed to any outdoor signs,” [Nielsen Outdoor exec Lorraine] Hadfield showed a slide depicting the commuting route of one of the few such participants.

    Sure enough, that consumer managed to elude the estimated 12,600 signs in metropolitan Chicago that were seen by almost all the other participants.” (NYT)

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Mobile phones, consumerism and Frank Navatsky

12/08/05

Walter Kirn seems far too young (43) to be truly anti-technology. Instead, I have to believe he has jumped upon the promise of mobile phone technology to make a point about the apparent disconnect between human desires and online shopping applications.

Kirn offers the example of a mobile phone, powered by pricing engines, product comparison services and extensive databases, that will eventually drive competition and force an equal price among retailers and manufacturers. Facing a market with perfect information, the consumer should be able to demand the cheapest price – arguably ruining the shopping experience in the process.

    “Despite the cost-controlled monolithic gloom of the Wal-Marts and Costcos of the land, human beings, deep down, are still creatures of the bazaar, with a restless desire to haggle and finagle that cuts across cultures and the centuries. …

    A penny saved is a nickel earned, to my mind, and though everyone paying the same amount for everything no matter where or when he goes to buy it may seem to some like a consumerist paradise, to me it sounds almost as stifling as Soviet socialism but without the vibrant black market that made it bearable.”(NYT magazine)

How evocative, drawing deep into our subconcious to draw parallels with historic shopping practices. You know what his prose reminds me of? Frank Navasky, the idealistic columnist played by Greg Kinnear in “You’ve Got Mail“:

    Frank Navasky: Kathleen. YOU, are a lone reed. You are a lone reed, standing tall, waving boldly in the corrupt sands of commerce.

    Kathleen Kelly: I am a lone reed.

The economic underpinnings of Kirn’s argument, however, are far too general:

    “The best price for something, in theory, will be the only price, everywhere and absolutely, and bargain hunting will be a hunt no more but something akin to a point-blank execution.”

He overlooks – maybe for dramatic effect – that consumers are individuals with individual tastes. Some of us like different colours. Some of us have a hate-on for a particular store or salesman, no matter what the price. And some of us live 800 miles away from the retailer. And some of us never, ever, buy retail.

Each of these points of differentiation may also lead to price differentiation. A truly comprehensive price database may help a consumer identify the cheapest price, but Kirn’s argument will eventually win or lose on an equitable distribution of goods: if my local retailer doesn’t have my widget in blue, I won’t buy it. And if my closest retailer is 800 miles away, shipping charges will factor into my purchasing decision.

Technorati: consumerism kirn

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Pharma Sales – she scrips, and she just may strip too

12/02/05

HEY! HO! HEY HO! LET’S GO! The new big thing in pharma sales? Hot cheerleaders.

I swear to god, I don’t make this stuff up.

    “As an ambitious college student, Cassie Napier had all the right moves – flips, tumbles, an ever-flashing America’s sweetheart smile – to prepare for her job after graduation. She became a drug saleswoman …

    … Known for their athleticism, postage-stamp skirts and persuasive enthusiasm, cheerleaders have many qualities the drug industry looks for in its sales force. Some keep their pompoms active, like Onya, a sculptured former college cheerleader. On Sundays she works the sidelines for the Washington Redskins. But weekdays find her urging gynecologists to prescribe a treatment for vaginal yeast infection.” (NYT)

Technorati: marketing pharma cheerleader promo

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South Park and Tom Cruise: it can only go up from here

11/16/05

Tom Cruise may have brought on an old guard publicist to recover from his summer of madness, but the blowback goes on. Just look at what may be on tonight’s episode of South Park:

    “…According to a source who has read a draft of the script, it begins with Stan leaving a psychiatrists office only to be hailed as a savior by the leaders of a strange, Scientology-esque cult because of his off-the-chart results on an E-meter-like personality test. A group of Hollywood A-listers quickly gather outside Stans house, were told, with Tom Cruise somehow ending up stuck in a closetleading a news crew stationed at the scene to report that Cruises fans fervently want the actor to just come out.

    In the end, R&B star R. Kellywhose multi-song summer opus gave the episode its nameswoops in to save the day. (We suspect Chef will be sitting this one out. A rep for Isaac Hayes, who supplies the voice of South Parks horny cook and who happens to be a Scientologist, said her client hadnt heard about the plot and that she didnt think Chef was even in it.(Radar)

As for the image management style of Paul Bloch, the new consigliere? As he told the NYT: “We just began,” he said. “We don’t want to talk about what we’re going to do and not going to do … “

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Wal-Mart’s War Room – a must read

11/01/05

Wal-Mart’s brought in the big guns from Edelman (and seemingly every political campaign of the last ten years) to help it beat back increasingly influential activist campaigns, sponsored in large part by union forces. This signals a radical shift in the corporation’s tactics – and when you bring in Michael Deaver, you’re really trying to send a message.

Read more about it in the New York Times today.

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Cosmo begat Maxim, who begat Porn Stars of America

11/01/05

Turns out the editors at Maxim were certain their ribald sexuality and explicit come-ons would succeed, because the dowager queen of women’s magazines, Helen Gurley Brown, had already blazed the trail. From Maureen Dowd’s NYT magazine article, “What’s a modern girl to do?“:

    “Oddly enough, Felix Dennis, who created the top-selling Maxim, said he stole his “us against the world” lad-magazine attitude from women’s magazines like Cosmo. Just as women didn’t mind losing Cosmo’s prestigious fiction as the magazine got raunchier, plenty of guys were happy to lose the literary pretensions of venerable men’s magazines and embrace simple-minded gender stereotypes, like the Maxim manifesto instructing women, “If we see you in the morning and night, why call us at work?”

    Jessica Simpson and Eva Longoria move seamlessly from showing their curves on the covers of Cosmo and Glamour to Maxim, which dubbed Simpson “America’s favorite ball and chain!” In the summer of 2005, both British GQ and FHM featured Pamela Anderson busting out of their covers. (“I think of my breasts as props,” she told FHM.)

    A lot of women now want to be Maxim babes as much as men want Maxim babes. So women have moved from fighting objectification to seeking it. “I have been surprised,” Maxim’s editor, Ed Needham, confessed to me, “to find that a lot of women would want to be somehow validated as a Maxim girl type, that they’d like to be thought of as hot and would like their boyfriends to take pictures of them or make comments about them that mirror the Maxim representation of a woman, the Pamela Anderson sort of brand. That, to me, is kind of extraordinary.”

    The luscious babes on the cover of Maxim were supposed to be men’s fantasy guilty pleasures, after all, not their real life-affirming girlfriends.”

Fellow men, may I just refer you to this best-of post from Craigslist: A letter from the Porn Stars of America.

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Slot cars and public opinion polling

09/26/05

Interesting presentation of data in a chart by 5W Infographic, prepared for a NYT article on the failure of government to serve the citizens of New Orleans. Kind of looks like an old slot car set – where you set the track up to launch the car over the buffet table, or the cat.













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How to break an airline union

08/22/05

I’m not saying I would fly NorthWestern while their mechanics’ union is on strike, but it seems that they laid out their strike/crisis contingency plan well in advance:

    “Over the last 18 months, the airline analyzed every job represented by the mechanics’ union at every airport and calculated the skills required to fix each of its planes. It then decided how many of those workers it actually needed and what kind of replacements it would require in the event of a strike.

    Northwest officials at each airport were given plans at the beginning of the year spelling out how the airline wanted jobs to be performed. Then, three months ago, the airline began hiring replacement workers, who received extensive classroom and hands-on training in Tucson.”(NYT)

The leftie in me wants to shout “union-busting!” but the comms guy in me can’t help but remark that “Damn! That’s good crisis planning!”

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Summer homes, elites and … baboons?

08/02/05

Apparently, it’s not enough to own a large house in the Hamptons … or Nantucket … or the Vineyard. Now, coded bumperstickers tell the world that you don’t spend your Saturdays sweating in a walk-up.

The NYT gives us details about the stickers and other subtle signs that help summer residents recognize one another “off-island”, but I was more interested in this quote about baboons:

    Robert Sapolsky, a professor of neuroscience at Stanford University who has studied primate behavior, said bumper sticker one-upmanship is similar to behavior he has witnessed in baboons. Baboons spend only about three hours of the day foraging for food; the remaining 21 hours of free time, he said, are a kind of behavioral vacuum – not unlike three days in the Hamptons – which baboons pass by annoying and harassing one another to no particular end, creating what scientists call psychosocial stress.

    “If you’re a baboon on the Serengeti, and you’re miserable,” Mr. Sapolsky said, “it’s almost certainly because some other baboon has had the free time and energy to devote to making you miserable.”

Of course, any self-respecting European would laugh at all this nonsense about stickers and custom tote bags. The real mark of a world traveller? A Lake Como sticker – on your housekeeper’s car.Como.jpg

There’s an interesting transcript of a talk Sapolsky gave to a Stanford writing seminar. Very colloquial but self-effacing.

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James Lipton: reaching out to suburban kids

08/02/05

James Lipton (Inside the Actor’s Studio) is now appearing in ads for DC shoes, alongside extreme sports stars like Dave Mirra, Danny Way and Travis Pastrana.

The NYT notes that Lipton thought the ads may be one way to broaden the demographic appeal of Inside the Actor’s Studio. I think that pony’s left the barn: tewntysomething viewers of Saturday Night Live have known of Lipton’s interview style and speaking idiosyncracies for years.

    “I felt like I was in a parallel universe when I was sitting there and he was talking to me,” [skater Rob] Dyrdek said in a telephone interview. “It was like ‘when worlds collide,’ almost.”

    Mr. Dyrdek said that “of course” he knew who Mr. Lipton was before filming the spots, but “it was like more Will Ferrell was James Lipton to me.” (NYT)

Has Lipton lost control of his identity among younger television viewers? SNL may have raised his profile with twentysomethings, but did it benefit Inside the Actor’s Studio? Is this ad campaign going to drive more viewers to BRAVO and the show, or will Lipton simply become a camp humour icon like Bob Uecker? (He’s likely reached that level already – but hasn’t cashed in with the beer ad money)

BTW: the ads are great – and online – but are available only on a stupid flash page.

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Why is R.W. Apple Jr. giving me menu tips?

07/21/05

What does it mean that I look forward to R.W. Apple’s food travelogues as much as I used to look forward to his political analysis?

Have my reading habits gone from ribald commentaries about the man in Boys on the Bus to stories about Philly’s hoagies?

I suspect The Two Fat Ladies had something to do with it. They introduced me to the idea that cooking could be as interesting – and as much of a guilty pleasure – as reading about Richard Nixon trying to undermine the government.

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The great donut showdown

07/12/05

As you may have heard, maple donut and coffee powerhouse Tim Hortons is being slowly rolled out in the United States by its corporate parent, Wendy’s. And the chain will conquer all challengers.

Like most Canadians, you will sit thirty cars deep in a drive-thru line-up at 7:46 in the morning to pick up a refreshing iced capuccino. (Hey! Even newly-released sex killers crave them!)

How can I be so certain? It’s all in the way U.S. retail chains are implementing their new research into customer behaviour:

    “The [new Path Tracker …] system revealed that morning commuters came to the front of the store where the bakery was located to buy coffee and a donut. By placing the bakery farther back and relocating the snacks along the aisle leading to the bakery sales of candy bars and chips have increased dramatically … ” (Infoworld)

That’s right, boys. If they’re coming into the store for a quick fill-me-up baked good, the first step to fulfilling customer needs should be to drive the customer farther into the store.

That may work within the footprint of the grocery store – but what if there’s a Tim Hortons/Wendy’s out on the standalone pad in the parking lot? Not only will the grocery lose the incremental sales, it’ll be sitting knee deep in recently defrosted centrally manufactured parboiled baked goods.

Side note: wondering why Tim Horton’s is missing the apostrophe? French language laws in Quebec.

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Why the common woman may not be ready for citizen media

07/12/05

The Greensboro News & Record is experimenting with an audience participation model, based around reader-submitted stories, pictures and comments. But some of their audience may not be ready to embrace the future. Just a snippet from a July 4 piece in the NYT:

    One, T.W. Caudle, who wrote about his grandson’s grand slam home run at a local baseball game, had submitted his article to the print newspaper, but it ran only online. His wife, Shelby, said the family was disappointed that the story did not appear in print because more people might have read it.

    ”I didn’t even know you could see the paper on the computer,” Mrs. Caudle said. She said she subscribed to the paper because she liked reading the obituaries and editorials.

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Steve Jobs and a murder in Brooklyn

07/06/05

Sometimes, the values of a company shine through in a moment of anguish.

Christopher Rose, a fifteen year-old, was killed during a fight over an iPod last week. In a remarkable display of empathy, Steve Jobs called and spoke to the boy’s father:

    “Calling him by his first name, Mr. Jobs asked how Mr. Rose was doing, he said, and conveyed his sympathies. “He told me that he understood my pain,” Mr. Rose said. “He told me if there is anything – anything – anything he could do, to not be afraid to call him. It really lightened me a bit.”(NYT)

iPods are apparently becoming the target of sidewalk robberies, especially among urban youth.

This week, Steve Jobs demonstrated that effective crisis communications doesn’t have to come from a rapid response binder, deployed by the corporate communications team.

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Pitching the principled influencer

06/28/05

Nic Harcourt is the host of Morning becomes Eclectic on KCRW, an LA listener-supported radio station. The show has long been a platform for emerging and aspiring musicians, but elements of Harcourt’s playlists have increasingly found a home in more mainstream music.

This, the NYT Magazine notes, makes him an influential (and much pursued) element in LA’s music industry:

    “Harcourt, whose show is broadcast daily from 9 a.m. to noon, has a knack for finding interesting new music ahead of everyone else: he was the first in America to play Norah Jones and Coldplay on the radio; like Jesca Hoop, the platinum-sellers Dido and David Gray were unsigned artists whose demos Harcourt originally spotlighted on his show; and more idiosyncratic unsigned acts like Damien Rice, Sigur Ros and Jem have all also become the object of record-company bidding wars as a result of Harcourt’s championing.”

At first glance, Harcourt may fall squarely under the marketing tag of an “influencer.” But, as he told Frontline last year, ”

    “I’m apparently unworkable, is what I’m told by various people …”

The usual promotional efforts, side deals and exclusive releases don’t seem to work with KCRW. Surprisingly, it seems that traditional PR tactics may be the best approach: study your audience, target your pitch, and demonstrate relevance and benefits. Harcourt again:

    “I’ve worked in the commercial world as well, so I understand that side of it. But I think what I found is that people in the business who understand what KCRW is, and what “Morning Becomes Eclectic” is, and maybe have a sense of who I am, realized that if they’re smart and they’ve got good music, and they’ve got an artist who deserves to be heard, then this is a place that they can launch that artist. And there’s numerous examples of that.” (Frontline)

A side note: I highly recommend the podcasts for KCRW’s The Business (with Variety’s Claude Brodesser) and The Treatment.

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When design gets too cute

05/04/05

Sprinting to the bathroom at a local Tex-Mex restaurant the other day, my five year-old was stopped cold in his tracks (despite a rather urgent calling) by poor design.

Faced with two doors, much like an abbreviated Let’s Make A Deal, he couldn’t decide which path to take. Cowboy or Cowgirl, the signs read. To me the choice was clear – then again, I can read. I understood the words and the context of the designer’s wry humour.

In their quest to develop themed spaces, are designers and developers overlooking utility and practicality as they pursue a vision or a unique experience? Frank Bruni examined some of the complications that are arising as increasingly self-important restaurants in NYC, ummm, “articulate their vision” in the restroom.

    “At WD-50 … the doors to the restrooms are so well disguised as sections of a bamboo wall that the restaurant has been forced to post an only marginally helpful hint. “Push the wood,” says a sign nearby.

    “We wanted to engage people throughout their time here,” said Wylie Dufresne, the chef and an owner of WD-50. “It’s all meant to be fun.”

    Before the sign went up, Mr. Dufresne said, diners looking for the restrooms often went astray. “People were opening up the door to the liquor closet, people were opening up the door to the linen closet,” he said. Something had to give.”(NYT)

To me, the need to post an explanatory sign means the designer has failed at the simple task of moving customers around the space. The more time I spend looking for the john, the less time I have to buy another high margin drink. Even worse – the more time it takes the server to cycle my table.

A hasty note taped to a bamboo wall is the physical expression of the “L for Loser” hand signal. That note should be a scarlet letter to be featured prominently in the designer’s book alongside their expensive pre-opening photos of the restaurant.

More on wierd bathrooms.

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The Times: Your morning blogging Bran Flakes?

04/06/05

The Annotated New York Times – a look at how the Times influences online commentary, indexed by story, author, section and many other keywords.

Just as Tim Porter works through how newspapers just don’t understand the myriad ways consumers now collect and digest information, Blogrunner puts a face to the problem. This site presents the stories, threads and spin-off conversations prompted by Times reporting.

There are conversations taking place out there – but the Times isn’t taking part.

Of course, the flip side of that observation is – surprisingly – that the Times continues to set the agenda for thousands of people online.

Thanks to Steve for the initial pointer.

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What tactic do you have lined up for daylight savings?

03/31/05

Hey! We all lose an hour of sleep Sunday morning thanks to daylight savings time (except Saskatchewan – don’t ask). Stuart Elliott’s covered the PR and marketing gimmicks now associated with the changeover.

Old Navy’s pushing flip flops, Swatch is hawking watches, Olay is pushing anti-aging products, and we all know that Duracell REALLY cares about your smoke detector.

What ideas can you think of to leverage your client’s issues?

– New town slogan: “Another year out of bankruptcy!”
– Agrifood lobbyist: “It’s a season for change: genetically modified milk”
– Cabbies: “We change our brakes, whether we need to or not!”
– Cleaning company: “Have you looked at your urinal cakes recently?”
– New York Mets: “It’s a new year, and we have brand new pipe dreams”
– Adult gift store: “Do you still get a buzz out of life?” (co-promotion with Duracell)

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Mama’s got a Munchbox, she wears on her …

03/23/05

I don’t know which excerpt I like better from today’s NYT article on the snack bar in a Flatbush Sears:

    “The cuisine, a sort of West-Indian-American fusion, is fresh, delicious and reasonably priced. The staff is friendly, and the dcor is best described as Midcentury Employee Break Room.

Or that the place is called the Munchbox.

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Baseball, steroids and identity

03/18/05

You could do worse than watch some of the testimony on baseball and steroids taking place in Washington.

As we PR folks prepare our clients for public speaking opportunities, we often suggest they “just be themselves.” Relax! You’re presenting your point of view! You’re an expert in the field! You’ve got this nailed!

And then we emphasize bridging to key messages. Staying on track. Avoiding the knockdown punch.

Jose Canseco – whether you believe him or not – seems to have moved beyond this artifice. Michael Chabon, writing in an NYT Op/Ed, observed:

    I’ve never seen a man who seems more comfortable with who he is than Jose Canseco. Not with who we think he is, like our current president, or with his best idea of himself, like our president’s predecessor, but with himself: charmer and snake, clown and thoroughbred.

That’s because he’s laid his entire identity on the line. And that was something Mark McGwire, lawyered up and seemingly concerned for the future, was not willing to do.

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Goin’ Back to the U.S.S.R – with Mr. X

03/18/05

After 101 years, George Kennan has shuffled off this mortal coil. His “Long Telegram” and subsequent “Mr. X” article in Foreign Affairs helped define forty years of East-West relations, and were staples in my international relations courses.

The NYT has a lengthy biography of the man. (r.r.)

And here’s a quote from his Long Telegram to consider (not that it has any relevance today, nudge, nudge):

    “[The Communist] Party line only represents thesis which official propaganda machine puts forward with great skill and persistence to a public often remarkably resistant in the stronghold of its innermost thoughts. But party line is binding for outlook and conduct of people who make up apparatus of power — party, secret police and Government — and it is exclusively with these that we have to deal.

A note to my younger readers: sixty years ago, the only way to get a message from Moscow to Washington in anything less than a week was by telegram, and you paid by the word. As a result, definite articles, adverbs and other useless verbiage was excised.

Hey! Imagine if blogs had to operate under the same conditions?

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Good speech vs. Bad speech

02/03/05

It’s three in the morning. Your office’s tiny little recycling bin is full of Coke and Red Bull cans, styrofoam coffee cups, and that bottle of Diet Dr. Pepper forced on you by the wonky drink machine on the third floor.

You’re pretty sure the landlord shuts the building’s HVAC off at 7pm – you can still smell that Dr. Pepper burp – and the flourescent lighting seems to be on some sort of irrational timer only reset by a switch forty yards away.

There are papers strewn about your office. Policy papers, spines snapped open, piled beside the HP printer. Multi-page memos folded and unfolded, underlined and highlighted, ripped at the staple thrown across the desk. Very important post-it notes with very important words piled up by the phone.

You’re working on a speech on short deadline, and past drafts are spilling out of the printer. A pile of annotated pages cover the floor around the recycling bin. Every executive, assistant, advisor and smart intern has chipped in with their comments and favourite phraseology – and they went home about seven hours ago.

Still, you’re in the zone. You’ve got some strong themes. You’ve got your speaker’s trust. You’re not tired. The ideas are popping, the words are flowing. Fatigue is only a flicker in your eyes, not a haze enveloping your thoughts.

Because you know what can happen at that point in the night: the trapeze act. Jumping from thought to thought, searching your brain for the easy transition. The speech becomes less of a work of art, and more of a compilation or synthesis.

Matthew Scully, a former Bush speechwriter, knows this is where speech writers can veer off the road:

    “Another great challenge in State of the Union speeches comes around Page 10, when the entire thing can easily turn into a tedious grab bag of policy proposals. This is averted by skillful transitions. It was a point of pride that rarely have Bush speeches fallen back on artless devices like: “As we meet dangers abroad, so our work at home continues.”(NYT)

Another revealing commentary comes from Bush I’s chief speechwriter:

    “State of the Union addresses often amount to not one but two speeches: the speech the president got stuck with, which sounds like a hodgepodge, and, somewhere inside it, the speech the president wanted to deliver, which sounds unified, authentic and complete.”

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Long socks and long faces: Election 2004

01/28/05

Apparently, the Dem’s loss on November 2 can be correlated with taking long hikes in the woods without the proper protection against deer ticks: long socks, long pants, long sleeved shirts and bug repellent. Just the sort of behaviour you’d expect from citified NorthEastern liberals (:-)

Two scientists have managed to turn rather mundane research into lyme disease occurrences into a nice little news bite:

    “A map showing results from the last presidential election is “remarkably similar” to a map of the distribution of cases of Lyme disease, a brief article in the current Lancet (r.r.) medical journal points out.

    The 19 “blue states” – those won by Senator John Kerry – account for 95 percent of the cases of Lyme disease reported in 2002, they wrote. The disease, caused by bacteria that are carried by deer ticks, is concentrated in the Northeast and Midwest.”

    … [As one of the authors speculated]: “We do not believe, however, that tick-borne diseases are likely to be a major factor in the 2008 presidential election.”(NYTimes)

The lesson for public relations pros: be creative when looking for a news hook. Don’t get bogged down in the details of your story – there may be a more appealing angle just waiting to be communicated.

And hope to god your technical experts are open to the suggestion.

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Martha, Pt. Deux: The Post-Jail Strategy

01/20/05

MSLO‘s stock is going up, likely driven by squeezed short-sellers and the irrational exuberance of die-hard Martha Stewart fans. She’s due out on March 6 – and her friends, advisors and employees have begun planning the next scene in an already event-rich herstory (housewife/stockbroker/home maven/ex-felon).

Remember way back in the fall of 2004? When we were all younger and more naiive? Millions of dollars were poured into a public relations campaign trying to shape perception among possible jurors in NYC and surrounding counties. Web postings helped Martha speak directly to her fans, in the process adding a layer of humanity to her (brand) identity.

Her friends have visited and are recounting how well she’s handling her prison term. Apparently, the prison yard yields edible greens, and she’s taken up crocheting to pass the time. She’s become interested in the re-integration of female convicts into society.

The cynic in me has to ask: has this brief stay in the big house had a life-changing effect on everyone’s favourite housemistress? Will her interests change? Will she wield some of her influence to benefit her ex-roomies (or even better, convicts at other, more harsh, institutions?)

We’ll have to see. Today, Mark Burnett’s working on a daytime talk show for Martha. Media planners are upbeat about the prospects for MSLO’s new Martha-light magazine. Executives at MSLO are trying to plan for Martha’s new role in the company.

You can only hope Martha will pull a Milken.

The NYTimes has more detail, and some interesting if vacuous comments from brand experts.

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