Williams, paid coverage and PR firms

01/12/05

When a PR firm pays off a commentator, who should be upfront in revealing that information? The commentator, or the firm? Or both?

We all know what’s been happening with Armstrong Williams, the conservative commentator who was paid by Ketchum speak in favour of the No Child Left Behind legislation.

But shouldn’t the PR firm be held somewhat accountable for chasing a contract that blatantly violates journalistic norms and the PRSA code of ethics? Apparently not. The President of the Council of Public Relations Firms, Kathy Cripps, told the NYTimes that:

    “”Public relations needs to express total accuracy and truthfulness,” Ms. Cripps said. However, she added, referring to Mr. Williams, “it was the spokesperson’s responsibility to disclose the affiliation” rather than Ketchum’s.”

She added that Ketchum hadn’t violated the Council’s Code of Ethics. Really? How about this part?

    “… To preserve both the reality and the perception of professional integrity, … the sources of communications and sponsors of activities will not be concealed.”

Paul Holmes cut to the chase in his assessment for the NYTimes today:

    “There are absolutely no circumstances under which this can be an acceptable practice. It’s a colossal error in judgment. It’s wrong on so many levels, I don’t know where to begin.

    “This undermines the very value public relations purports to bring to the communication sphere, credibility. And that credibility relies on what people say being earned, not bought.”

If you get caught laying a little astroturf, you should probably take some of the grief as well, don’t you think?

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Barry, baseball and the juice

12/08/04

The NYTimes has spoken to several baseball and marketing experts about how Barry Bonds might deal with ‘roid ‘rage building around him.

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Mis-spent teenage years or missed business opportunity?

12/05/04

I don’t know what I find more disturbing: that some teenage students at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Florida enrol in an on-campus media training and communication program, or that I didn’t think of it first.

IMG Academies specializes in providing intensive sports training to students and young athletes. Nick Bollettieri teaches there. Naturally, moving a kid into this sort of environment prompts a grab-bag of societal issues to be discussed over frappucinos – or around the Saturday soccer pitch, during the exurban 2:15-3:15pm semi-professional under-14 league game.

The NYT magazine ran a story on the facility last week.

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Declining newspaper readership

11/30/04

Old line media (I mean newspapers! Come on, people: stay with me) are facing a real problem: their circulation is declining. Younger readers just aren’t jumping at the chance to cough up $25 a month to have the paper delivered to their doorstep.

I suspect it has something to do with irrelevancy: this demographic doesn’t feel a pressing urge to spend time flipping through 35 pages of flyers, antiseptic comics, city editorials, birding columns or small-minded columnists to find the information they need.

As subscribers of the Sun Times, Newsday and others know, this decline has prompted some publishers to cook the books. Others have commissioned reader surveys to dig deeper into the psyche of the elusive Generations X and Y.

Their findings? As the OJR observed earlier this fall, young adults are picking and choosing their media: radio, alternative weeklies, RSS, Google News, and news service websites. Information doesn’t come a la carte anymore: it’s a multimedia all you can eat breakfast.

Last week, Wired reported on the results of focus groups commissioned by the Washington Post. Their stunning finding? A large number of young adults would not even accept a FREE subscription to the paper. Their principal objection? The clutter of old papers around the apartment.

The WPost ran an article about the circulation troubles today. You’ll have to look down, look wa-a-ay down to find mention of their own troubles.

    At The Washington Post, for example, daily circulation has fallen from 779,898 to 717,696 over the past five years … The paper chalks up some of that drop to the increased popularity of its Washingtonpost.com Web site and Express, the free daily it launched in August 2003, which will soon print 175,000 copies each day.

It’s a comprehensive article, covering the fraud, deceit and promotional gimmicks attempted in the quest to grow paper sales.

And that’s the problem. You’re not in the paper business, folks! You’re in the news business! Step out of the 1970s and smell the LCD screen, people! Give me some freakin’ options to consume your news!

Can I pay $2 a month to get movie listings and restaurant reviews for my neighbourhood delivered to my phone? How about a custom search function, a la Google Alerts, that delivers news of interest to me, billed to my credit card?

And not at the ridiculous rates you charge now. $4.95 for an article? That’s a pricing structure left over from when corporate librarians were the only ones with access to Dialog, LexisNexis and Infomart. It doesn’t reflect your costs of production, or your costs to store the information.

Oh, I know what you’re going to say. People like the touch, the feel, the smell of fresh broadsheet in their hands. There’s an existential aspect to old-fashioned newspapering. Sure there is. That’s why I have a printer which, after rebate, cost me $30.

The paper business isn’t going to die quickly. The technology is going to evolve underneath them. For example, the NYT ran an article on podcasting. But why don’t they make their “audio slide shows” accessible in this new format? These are revenue streams they’re not even considering.

Many news organizations will adapt, and many small community papers will continue to thrive thanks to a loyal local base, but they should stop and take their heads out of their paper mill invoices. Their readers will thank them, and the beavers, deer and eagles of British Columbia, Ontario and Norway will thank them.

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Diplomats, hacks and relatives: US is back in the international fair game!

11/05/04

Considering the hiccupps (okay, full-blown tuberculotic coughing fits) the US diplomacy program has been suffering, I really shouldn’t be surprised that the US government hasn’t participated in a world fair in several years.

In fact, Congress banned the federal financing of world’s fairs in 1999.

Luckily, the US pavillion at the 2005 fair in Aichi, Japan will be funded by private donations – and the VIP suite will be designed by Thom Filicia of Queer Eye.

As the NYT tells us:

    The 7,000-square-foot suite, Mr. Filicia said, will have a “clubby” look — with real leather floors donated by Edelman — and an industrial feel, since much of the building’s warehouse structure will be exposed. Mr. Filicia said that Pier 1 — which he represents on television — will donate dishes for corporate entertaining.

Leather floors? What sort of feature is that for a VIP suite? Maybe Thom can explain it:

    Thom: You know this leather headboard—which you can clean easily. I don’t even want to get into it, but just a little FYI.

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Scientists are sentitive people!

10/21/04

While some scientists may be lacking people skills, a stained labcoat and corrective lenses should not prompt PR folk to discount their work and strongly-held positions when developing a pitch and communications materials.

Some scientists working for one US government agency have begun to speak out about what they see as unwarranted revisions and spin by senior officials and public affairs staffers:

    “Political appointees have regularly revised news releases on climate from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, altering headlines and opening paragraphs to play down the continuing global warming trend.

    The changes are often subtle, but they consistently shift the meaning of statements away from a sense that things are growing warmer in unusual ways.

    The pattern has appeared in reports from other agencies as well.

    Several sets of drafts and final press releases from NOAA on temperature trends were provided to The Times by government employees who said they were dismayed by the practice.

    On Aug. 14, 2003, a news release summarizing July temperature patterns began as a draft with this headline: “NOAA reports record and near-record July heat in the West, cooler than average in the East, global temperature much warmer than average.”

    When it emerged from NOAA headquarters, it read: “NOAA reports cooler, wetter than average in the East, hot in the West.” (NYT)

Now, in this case dedicated scientists believe their findings are being undersold and misidentified. Usually, they find the media is too eager to zoom in on the sensational aspects of otherwise serious public interest science – like the study If You Drop It, Should You Eat It? Scientists Weigh In on the 5-Second Rule or An Analysis of the Forces Required to Drag Sheep over Various Surfaces.

Some scientists, however, see popular reknown as key to communicating their findings and their personal agendas. Think David Suzuki or Stephen Hawking – people who developed a personal brand while pursuing scientific goals. For others, popularity is a product of their academic strengths – their professional research and publication output is directly reflected in their Googlerank.

As for those communicators and scientists who need help translating esoteric concepts into popular analogies? Earlier this year, the Pfizer Journal (sure, a bit of self-interest for the firm there, but still interesting) ran an entire issue examining The Story of Science: Health Care and the Media

Up here in Canada, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council has prepared a very useful primer: Communicating Science to the Public: A Handbook for Researchers

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Times, WWD and photographers

10/19/04

A little bit of to-and-fro’ing this morning between WWD and the Times. The Grey Lady seizes a chance to take a swipe at comments made last week by a WWD correspondent about the latest YSL collection.

Why point this out to you, the reader?

  • The original WWD quote nails a visual in 16 words.
  • In typically NY style, the Times has taken pains to point out that WWD had their geography wrong – by 20 street numbers.
  • There’s actually a reference to the photographer – a normally unacknowledged partner in these reports.
  • It’s a beautiful gotcha.
    • Last week, Women’s Wear Daily, reviewing the Yves Saint Laurent collection, said that the designer Stefano Pilati became “woefully lost at a crossroads between the Saint Laurent archive and mid-80’s 530 Seventh Avenue.” The newspaper was correct about Mr. Pilati’s debut show, but a little off with the address. Those ungainly looks surfaced in the late 60’s, left, at 550 Seventh Avenue, in the showroom of Norman Norell. Bill Cunningham, the photographer for The New York Times, said he had that déjà vu feeling when he saw Mr. Pilati’s awkward proportions. He should know. He photographed them at Norell.

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David Byrne, trusted filters and parrots

10/07/04

Are you a trusted source of information or a corporate parrot? Are your relationships with reporters and editors one-way, or do you work to maintain a reputation as a reliable, informative and trustworthy source of information in your industry? Are you an artist or a mechanic? Are you shooting for a string of one-time hits, or is your goal a career of continuing success and a ongoing royalty cheques?

David Byrne spoke about his relationship with Nonesuch, his new record label:

    ”It’s a curatorial effort, a filter. The people who are at the head of it want you to trust their judgment, so that if you like one artist you’ll get to know others. A certain kind of relationship gets established, and it’s based on trust. That’s a very different concept from record labels that go for Top 10 hits. There’s no trust there at all — it’s about that one song.

    The reason the record business is in trouble is the things they’re selling — the hit singles and the physical records — have become devalued. If people can get those things for free, what do the record companies have left? Whereas what’s incredibly valued and needed is the relationship and trust.”

Parrotting the corporate line will get you through the day, but are you preparing for tomorrow, next month, next year? Are you a member of O-Town or Menudo?

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What if you had a party, and they said nobody came?

10/04/04

What if you were a national high fashion store, thriving upon glamour and allure and the whiff of exclusivity, and the major national paper reports that your big Toronto Film Festival bash attracted no celebrities?

Well, you’d probably try to correct the formal record – despite the model already having toppled off the runway, so to speak. That would produce this:

    Many celebrities attended the Holt Renfrew party at the Toronto International Film Festival on Tuesday night. Incorrect information appeared in an item in yesterday’s Review section. (pay article in the Globe and Mail)

Now, you can parse words and argue that Jennifer Tilly, Kevin Bacon and Heather Graham aren’t the brightest “stars” in the firmament – but remember, the salient point being driven home by Holts is that “celebrities” were there. Even Pauly Shore would count.

Fine. The Director of Communications did her job. The errant scribe has been corrected. But, as the NYT pointed out today:

    While Holt Renfrew, a upscale department store, was the main host, The Globe and Mail was one of the party’s co-sponsors …

    “We wanted them to know the party was a success,” [Holt’s Director of Communications] said. “They were the newspaper we partnered with.”

Ouch.

On another track: what sort of paper makes readers pay to view CORRECTIONS?

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Performance advice for an aspiring author

10/04/04

Amanda Stern (in the NYT) has some realistic advice for authors, poets, aesthetes and pretentious knobs facing their first public performance (likely in the Borders reading/conference/craft room), including:

  • Do not prepare with vocal warm-ups, neck rolls or the Japanese Suzuki Method of stomping.
  • Do not refer to the surrounding space as the ”mise en scene.”
  • Do not ask if there is Kabbalah water in the V.I.P. room.
  • Be polite to the computer-geek girl who wants to discuss her novel-in-blogs.
  • Do not engage the sociopath lurking in doorway.
  • You’re not going to just read, are you? Have time to learn banjo?

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Selling Policy? Drop the syllables

08/23/04

Greg’s played off a Marginal Revolution post and NYT article to make an important point about public policy communications:

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.

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How to make Christ your Spokesperson

07/05/04

Christian ministries used to depend upon tried-and-true direct marketing techniques to win your spiritual allegiance, your continued viewership, and your money. With every call, you might recieve a free book, christmas ornaments, or discounts at religious theme parks.

We’ve all moved way beyond 700 Club bumper stickers and Jesus Fish. Creation East, held late last month, offered an opportunity for Christians from across the spectrum to meet, debate, and buy an unprecedented number of themed t-shirts, tchotchkes and albums.

The parellel trade show, the NYT observed, reflected a growing trend towards expressing one’s Christianity in a non-traditional way, whether through rock music, independent ministries or witty t-shirts.

“I was never comfortable with the shirts in Christian bookstores,” said Jeremy Limpic, 28, who is selling his own line of punk-themed T-shirts and hats at about 10 Christian festivals this summer … he [is] sometimes uneasy about the intermingling of faith and commerce at the festivals. “You come in these places and it’s a major Christian marketing scene,” he said. “There’s a quick buck to be made for Christ. But the way I see it, I’m going to make money in a secular way or expressing my faith.”

Still, there is an uneasy relationship between religious activities and outright commercial activity.

As evening settled over the bands, three teenagers sat around a campfire, taking a break. A speaker earlier in the day had called for donations to missions in the developing world. At the end of a long day, the boys had come to regret their purchases.

“I spent all my money on five CD’s,” said Scott Hanson, 13, in a tone of self-reproach. “If I’d waited, I’d be able to spend that money on someone other than myself.”

His friend Luke Beckmeyer came away with a similar lesson. He had been reluctant to come because he didn’t like music, he said. But the band Pillar had converted him. “I came here hoping to get a new video card for my computer, but after doing small groups and hearing the music, I realize it’s not all about me,” he said. “The speakers really get to you. Too bad I spent all my money on a Pillar T-shirt and CD’s.”

Heh. I’d have to say the marketing overwhelmed the message in this instance.

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This being NY, spot the exhibitionist

06/24/04

Effective experiential/guerilla/street marketing depends upon the surprise and amusement of the general public. An imaginative campaign will draw the grudging admiration of a shopper, pedestrian and possible consumer, even if they are normally irritated by what they perceive as over-the-top marketing efforts.

I have to think the growing practice of building buzz by telling reporters about your impending “surprise” marketing tactic will eventually cause consumer skepticism to grow, and make this marketing genre backfire.

Sometimes an integrated marketing campaign isn’t worth it – especially when all you plan to do is flash people.

Outside Grand Central Terminal tomorrow, for example, six men and women will advertise a New York Health and Racquet Club class by spending hours flashing their underwear at strangers, who may notice that the club logo and “Booty Call,” the name of the class, appear on the garment.

“Our street team will be going around and mooning the message to the masses,” said Darren Paul, managing partner at Night Agency in New York, which organized the event. (NYT)

Come on – the least the agency could have done to earn the commission is hire J.Lo impersonators. Or RuPaul impersonators. Or RuPaul, I hear she needs the work.

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Some true words about red carpets

06/09/04

Observations on the finery and filligree at the Tonys, held this past Sunday. To think PR folk have it tough giving advice on which rep tie and button-down to wear for a TV interview.

It has been remarked before … but it is worth repeating. Red carpets need car wrecks. They need Bo Derek in cornrows, Cher in a hat inspired by the rings of Saturn, Bjork draped in an ornithological specimen.

One can probably blame the stylists, those stealth dictators of fashion, for taking the raw clay of, say, a former waitress or Juilliard student and transforming it into a vision so uncontroversially tasteful that the result is a sartorial yawn …

What confirmed the impression that Broadway’s salvation does not lie with a bunch of puppeteer former interns with big dreams and fauxhawks, was the alarming decision by most of the women to come dressed like prom-night chaperones. (NYT)

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Crackberry Love

06/01/04

There’s a meme bouncing around about the NYT article on Blackberries, Washington political aides, and cheap hook-ups. The winning reference, to me, is Wonkette’s:

You had me at “r u free?”

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The Body Man takes a punch to the kidneys

05/12/04

Buried deep in a NYT feature on New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson this past weekend was this nugget (reg. req.):

As the day was winding down, Richardson sat in the front of his S.U.V., munching on chicharrones and harrassing one of his media people for proposing a photo op on a lake he, rather unpopularly, ordered partially drained. ”Forget it,” the governor barked. ”They hate me out there.” Then he looked at me and rolled his eyes. ”This is my communications staff. This is positive image-building. I can’t wait for the next big idea.”

When it comes to the media, no one is shrewder in the Democratic Party than Richardson. In the end, that may be his biggest contribution to the 2004 election. The role of convention chairman is largely as talking head, master of ceremonies and (if need be) one-man rapid-response team, and this role is ideal for both Richardson and the party. Compared with the Republicans, who run a well-oiled media machine, the Democrats are disastrously bad at P.R. They’re dull. Defensive. Chaotic.

Richardson, on the other hand, is the Democratic answer to John McCain. He says pretty much what he’s thinking. Candor for him is both schtick and real. Several times a day, he beckons his assistant to come over and touch up his makeup in order to make him camera-ready; his press people carry extra foundation in their bags. They estimate that he gets three requests from the national news media per day, as well as one from the Spanish-language media.

Speaking of “body men,” maybe you missed the NYT article on Kerry’s “Chief of Stuff,” Marvin Nicholson. The Taipei Times has reprinted it, so you don’t have to register with the NYT.

And here’s an article about the body man for Gray Davis – when he was Lieutenant Governor of California.

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Looking through a lens to when your grandparents were young

05/10/04

You’ve likely seen excerpts from oral histories prepared by the US Works Progress/Work Project’s Administration (WPA). You ‘ve more likely seen the black and white photos taken as part of this multi-year chronicling of life in urban and rural America in the late 30s and early 40s.

The NYT (sub. req.) has prepared a slide show of newly released Kodachrome prints from the WPA. Many can be seen for the first time in ”Bound for Glory: America in Color 1939-43,” a new book just published by the Library of Congress and Harry N. Abrams.

There are other colour photos in collections sponsored by the Farm Security Administration during the same timeframe.

Take a look, and notice the stunning scarcity of brand names, images and promotions.

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How do you pitch the role of PR?

05/05/04

Ben Dutton, an account manager in New Zealand, has made a strong argument for the value of PR in an open and democratic society.

An open democracy operates in a free marketplace of ideas and information. A good analogy is the foreign exchange market …

Through partaking in public relations, companies, governments, organisations and individuals are all adding to the richness and diversity of the information available …

Public relations practitioners are the currency speculators of the information market, helping create an equilibrium of ideas in our society. This is an outcome that ultimately benefits everyone.

Of course, it doesn’t seem like an open and democratic society is the priority of the Disney corporation. (NYT, reg. req.) They’ve effectively blocked Miramax from exercising their North American distribution rights to a new Michael Moore film critical of President Bush.

Now, this may have something to do with Zenia Mucha, a former high-level aide to Governor Pataki of NY, being the head of comm for Disney. But it also has a lot to do with Disney being a stodgy and conservative company.

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Bad Creative: Are you really putting your heart into it?

04/30/04

While McSweeney’s may have the Create Your Own Thomas Friedman Op-Ed Column, it seems this proposed Friedman formula would equally apply to a lot of “on the scene” or investigative reporting and analysis, which seems to have become formulaic and predictable.

As readers, we expect “good” investigative journalism to establish a rhythm: open the story with a gripping scene, introduce the reader to a passionate and concerned character and his/her community, work through the practical benefits and complications of an issue, identify the hindrances (human or mechanical, cultural or geographic) and close with a hint of morality and hope. But does this only address our needs as readers, rather than as engaged citizens?

This question was posed as “the new journalism” built speed. Here’s a voice from the past, writing in a 1972 Atlantic article:

[Speaking about the NYT] If this is the voice of conventional journalism speaking to us about our world, it is likely to find an increasingly restless, disconnected audience. The voice speaks too thin a language. The world it tells us about so assiduously seems but a small part of the world that is actually outside the window—seems a dead world, peopled largely by official figures, and by procedural facts, and written about in a fashion which is doubtless intended to be clear, and clean, and easy to understand, but which instead is usually flat, and inhuman, and nearly impossible to connect to.

Of course, you could argue that Jack Kelley, Daniel Glass and Jayson Blair were in some way aspiring to meet the creative standards set by “new journalism” – but were more likely just trying to be interesting enough to keep the attention of their readers and, more importantly, their editors.

I’ve often heard the expression “phoning it in” used to describe a half-hearted attempt at completing a creative task. In Blair’s case, this was actually true. But it’s not a condition that only affects reporters. “Creatives,” whether in advertising, marketing or PR, often find ourselves stuck in a creative and inspirational rut. Faced with an immediate deadline, or an afternoon ballgame, or an upcoming vacation, we might be tempted to just pull something from the files, put some lipstick on that pig, and ship it out.

Stanley Bing (who we all know is really the VP responsible for PR at CBS) talked about the affliction of phoning it in over a year ago: (sub. req.)

I asked myself…so what? So what if this week it seemed that a bunch of guys were phoning it in from Planet Mambo? What’s the big deal?

I sat there for a while and thought about Sandy Weill and Jack Grubman, suspected of manipulating the rating of AT&T, the first because he wanted to rule Citigroup alone and the second because he wanted to get his tot into some snotty nursery school. How much of what we do is like that? Stuff that looks like business but is really just a bunch of guys scratching an itch? Once you start to think that way, it’s hard not to phone in the activities that feel inauthentic. And when you begin gauging the authenticity of the work you do, it’s a short step to picking up that psychic receiver and phoning in the whole deal.

I put on my jacket and went outside for a walk. You know what I saw everywhere? Thousands of people quite literally phoning it in, walking down the street yakking into their little handheld receivers, nowhere near a place where people do any actual business.

Fine. That’s how others may want to live their life. But are there products in your portfolio (or more likely your drawer) that shout “Jesus, I could have done better than this”?

There are some creatives out there that want to remind you of your weaknesses. Take a look at iamjack: Most Advertising Sucks. You Could Be The Reason.

Approve ads that kidnap mediocrity and bend it over a fencepost. Let your agency get away with something dramatic. Something simple. A TV spot that doesn’t lead with the offer and scream the phone number five times, or a print ad that doesn’t have a headline. Or a stock photo. Or 5 miles of disclaimer.

Come on. You know this hits home.

And in case you’re searching your memory about the “lipstick on this pig” tag line, check out this Slate article about the Charles Schwab ads of 2002.

Thanks to MarketingSherpa for the iamjack pointer.

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Now that’s gonna need a correction

04/23/04

Quite a doozy of a slip-up for the NYT, who ran this story (second item) earlier this week. As the Rocky Mountain News pointed out:

Thursday’s New York Times misidentified GOP Senate candidate Pete Coors as a Ku Klux Klan member who murdered a black sharecropper.

The Coors campaign found the error “so outrageous it’s kind of funny,” said spokeswoman Cinamon Watson.

“It could have been worse,” she joked. “Pete could have been identified as John Kerry.”

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Now THAT’s a magic eight ball

04/21/04

Two Democratic political consultants and a UCLA psychiatry prof have joined forces to fund a project exploring how the brain reacts to the stimuli from political ads. (NYT, Reg. req.)

How have they measured the reactions of their eleven test subjects so far? With an M.R.I. machine!

In the experiment … , researchers exposed [a subject] to photographs of the presidential candidates, commercials for President Bush and John Kerry, and other video images, including the “Daisy” commercial from 1964. In that advertisement, promoting Lyndon B. Johnson against Barry Goldwater, images of a girl picking petals from a daisy were replaced by images of a nuclear explosion …

“Brain imaging offers a fantastic opportunity to study how people respond to political information,” said Jonathan D. Cohen, director of the Center for the Study of Brain, Mind and Behavior at Princeton. “But the results of such studies are often complex, and it is important to resist the temptation to read into them what we may wish to believe, before our conclusions have been adequately tested.”

The NYT notes that others have looked into this area, including neuromarketers. Read Montague, the director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory at the Baylor College of Medicine, has conducted similar research.

”I keep joking that I could do this Gucci shoes study, where I’d show people shoes I think are beautiful, and see whether women like them,” says Elizabeth Phelps, a professor of psychology at New York University. ”And I’ll see activity in the brain. I definitely will. But it’s not like I’ve found ‘the shoe center of the brain.”’

Or the left-leaning/suburban mom/suv-owning/tough on crime center of the brain either.

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Takin’ the ‘A’ Train – to increased sales

03/29/04

Siemens has invested $16 million in designing, building and moving a 14 car train to target markets around the world. The promotion is intended to provide trade customers with an opportunity to view product lines and speak to technical experts about the range of Siemens products.

Jammed with technology, the 14 rail cars house 224 plasma screens and monitors, 189 DVD players, four servers, nine miles of electrical cables and almost two miles of data lines,

The train has been featured at major trade shows in Asia, Europe and North America. It has stopped in central locations like Grand Central Station and on sidings near major customers. Siemens has supported the effort with a detailed website and has drawn visitors in with giveaways like Masters golf packages, Alaskan cruise/train advertures, golf clubs, and Bose theatre systems.

For interest’s sake, here’s the website for the Chinese tour, the swing through Portugal and the site in Germany. And here is related advertising.

But is this effort worth the investment?

As the NYT notes, Siemens has good reason to expect the trouble is worth it. In Spain, where the train made its debut, Siemens’ market share for energy and automation products spiked 3 percentage points, to 16 percent, after the train went through.

There are ancillary benefits as well. Vendors have capitalized upon regional appearances of the train to reward current customers and reinforce their sales programs: for example, one NY lighting company encouraged customers to be their guest on a visit to the train.

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Writers working with numbers

03/23/04

Jim Horton has reminded us PR folk to tread carefully when working with statistics – especially in attempting to interpret the results.

How to Lie with Statistics” is a great primer for anyone interested in how to portray numbers, facts and trends accurately. The little book, first published in 1954, examines how polls, surveys and other data can be manipulated to support an observation or argument. Gee whiz graphs are just one gimmick singled out for criticism.

Edward Tufte continues to comment on how we choose to present data, and how our choices lead to confusion, misunderstanding or outright deceit. He has identified may examples of good information design, but just take a look at the graphs presented in this 1992 NYT article – they are stunning two and three dimensional representations of information.

Back when I was studying economic history, a prof required everyone to read “The Writing of Economics” by Deirdre/Donald McCloskey. Sold to us undergrads as “very short book with very few hard words,” it takes less than a hundred pages to explain how to write about difficult subjects, often math-heavy, with clarity and precision.

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Anchor or Commentator?

03/19/04

The NYT’s running 21 questions with Lou Dobbs this weekend. He’s a little testy, and a little defensive – maybe because of the coverage he’s generating on outsourcing:

Q: More globally inclined economists insist that the creation of a middle class in poor countries overseas benefits everyone. And aren’t people in India as entitled to jobs as people in America?

A: Are you willing to sacrifice 600,000 American jobs and employees to create jobs overseas? I love India. I love the Indian people. But the idea that we can sacrifice an American family to create jobs overseas is insensitive beyond belief.

Q. Actually, you look like a senator.

A. Well, thank you very much. I wouldn’t go into politics for any amount of money. I’m not capable of being nice to people who annoy me.

James Glassman had something to say about Lou’s protectionist proclivities (and here’s his interview with Dobbs). Jagdish Bhagwati, a prof at Columbia, has something to say as well.

And here’s Poynter’s tip sheet on outsourcing.

The WSJ argues that Lou’s a performer, not a journalist.

I think I just can’t get my head around CNN producing a “talking head” with buzz like Hannity, O’Reilly or Limbaugh. When’s the last time CNN was anything but boring?

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Text-messaging the ’04 election

03/11/04

Rock the Vote is launching a mobile campaign aimed at getting voters 18-30 engaged and involved in this fall’s election. As Wired reports, it will

… offer information on candidates’ stances on issues. Users also could request voter-registration forms. And the service will offer a candidate matchmaker quick quiz, which asks users for their opinions on major issues and tells them the candidate most in tune with them. Users also would be able to query their phone to find their polling place on Election Day. And … [receive] get-out-the-vote pleas recorded by rock stars.

How does this mesh with Joe Trippi’s observation to the NYT that

…cellphone text messaging didn’t work the way we had hoped. We really went after that hard. It went, but just didn’t really do anything … ?

Maybe Rock the Vote has focused on the two elements essential to the success of an SMS campaign: immediacy and personal relevance. Companies and marketers in Europe, India, Malaysia and Japan have discovered that sales can be increased if SMS messages are properly targeted and provide value to the consumer.

In England, Orange is launching a promotion giving customers who text a company number two-for-one movie tickets. Some retail chains in Japan are experimenting with texting coupons to registered customers – as they walk past individual stores. In Canada, beer companies had consumers sign up to receive exclusive invitations to parties and events.

MTV, Motorola and Rock the Vote seem to recognize that young voters will need an active exchange of information, targeted to their needs but offering tangible benefits. Who wouldn’t want a voice mail from, say, Bono, to keep on their mobile phone?

SMS isn’t really an organizing tool – yet. But it could provide that extra push for young voters to maintain an interest in the election and actually turn out in November.

As for Trippi’s plans – he had unnamed but glorious ambitions, but they were shortcircuited by reality:

… Trippi’s plans for SMS extend beyond just the surface and may have an impact on the election in ways unseen. Though he is unable to discuss the details, he [told imediaconnection last August], “We intend to use text messaging strategically in key caucus states.”

Here’s a recent Poynter tid-bit on SMS use in elections around the world.

BTW – the Rock the Vote campaign’s privacy statement is pretty lame.

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Which candidate will hang their hat on Styx’ “Mr. Roboto”?

01/12/04

MarketingWonk pointed to a new web site for Dean supporters today: Songs For Dean.

Political campaigns have long used music to motivate and energize their workers and supporters. As the result of endless repetition at campaign events, advertising and news coverage, some adopted campaign songs are more recognized for their political connotations than their original success.

The War Room, the successful documentary about the ’92 Clinton campaign for President, emphasized the influence of Fleetwood Mac’s Don’t Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow) – especially in setting the stage at the Democratic Convention in New York and at the Inauguration in Washington.

Farther back in time, Ronald Reagan used Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American” as a 1984 campaign theme. Walter Mondale tried to counterattack, and hard, with a brutal ad juxtaposing pictures of children with missles launching, set to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Teach your Children.”

Tim Robbins mined this vein of thought in his “mockumentary” about the political campaign of Bob Roberts, a right-wing guitar-playing candidate for the Senate.

Vincent Camby of the NYT nails the character: He’s young, healthy and sincere. More important, he appropriates gestures and language associated with 1960’s protest movements and uses them in the cause of his own brand of 1990’s right-wing rabble-rousing. He calls himself a “rebel conservative.”

One of my favourite singers, Billy Bragg, made similar comments about the Labour Party’s choice of song in 2001: it was “bland” and evoked “watered-down Conservatism”. He said: “I think so much of New Labour is about presentation rather than detail. “They are hoping we won’t listen to the verse and just hear the chorus – it’s style over content.”

Camby’s comment about appropriating the cultural indicators of the 60’s can
be applied to a number of candidates over the past thirty years, Dean included. On Songs for Dean, you can find titles like “I Want My Country Back,” “Battle Hymn of the Blog,” “Take Me Out To the Blog Game,” and, interestingly, “With Dean We’re Marching On” – which is sung to the Battle Hymn of the Republic. (warning: this wav is a real church school organ rendition)

Some more historic ditties can be found on Presidential Campaign Songs 1789 – 1996 (with some sound clips). Here’s a snappy LAT article on the subject, with choice selections from he 2000 election.

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