This stale PR-driven survey just needs some BBQ sauce


The surefire forumula for winning some soft feature coverage: take a common activity (like BBQ’ing). Add a methodologically suspect but topically appeallling survey. Time the release of your results to anticipate interest by feature editors preparing seasonal stories.

That seems to be the strategy for Weber Grills, who surveyed Canadians about their grilling habits. Great. It works. We’ll likely see Weber and their survey profiled as lifestyle editors roll out their traditional summer BBQ stories over the next four to six weeks. To guarantee coverage in community papers, it looks like Weber’s commissioned a rack of stories and recipes to be distributed through News Canada.


I understand that outdoor grilling tends to drop off over the long, cold Canadian winter. I recognize that the survey’s results are so soft and qualitative that they remain valid seven months later.

Still, there has to be some sort of standard for how long a PR team let a survey baste in order to maximize media interest. Otherwise, public and media irritation with client-commissioned research will only simmer and, eventually, fall apart.


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Strumpette and Flava Flav – Don’t Believe the Hype!



Strumpette continues to rail against the PR blog establishment and their reaction to that blog’s satirical, sarcastic and often biting commentary. The latest jab, Championship PR Midget Toss Sets Record, apparently hit a little close to home, prompting a critical backlash (in the limited volume only possible in the insular world of PR blogging).

Among the attacks: Strumpette’s volume cannot be as strong as claimed. Why do PR pros always concentrate on the size of the splash, not the duration of the ripple? I’d rather have one good hit as a feature, not a mcnugget of news in USAToday. After all, for most campaigns it’s the motion of the ocean that’s important, not the size of the ship.

” … See… their dig is just an immature ad hominem attempt to discredit us. They are trying desperately to discourage readership. Like the Edelman Gang at the onset, they have a vested interest to take us off line. Their “Me2Revolution” is a load of hooey and they’re afraid that we will continue to point that out.” (Strumpette)

The blogosphere is still enough of a juvenile and amateurish playground that readers are unlikely to be dissuaded and repulsed by accusations of illegitimacy and sensationalism. If anything, public relations counsellors should have the capacity to judge for themselves how to read blog posts, interpret their meaning and evaluate their repurcussions for their clients (and maybe their own organization).

It’s evident that Strumpette is having a good time tilting at some windmills and knocking over some apple carts, all the while injecting some humour into a community that is rushing to adopt an increasingly doctrinaire approach to preaching the books of Long Tail, Web 2.0 and the old testament of Conversations. After all, what’s a blogging practice without catchphrases, eight point action plans, the reflected glow of big agency approval and oversized ambitions for business development?

Still, the sniff of righteous indignation hanging over Strumpette’s retorts smells a little funky to me. The claims that “the man’s trying to keep me down” ring hollow. You want a true voice for the oppressed and under-represented? I present Public Enemy’s Don’t Believe the Hype:

Was the start of my last jam/
So here it is again, another def jam/
But since I gave you all a little something/
That we knew you lacked/
They still consider me a new jack/All the critics you can hang’em/
I’ll hold the rope/
But they hope to the pope/
And pray it ain’t dope/
The follower of Farrakhan/
Don’t tell me that you understand/
Until you hear the man/
The book of the new school rap game/
Writers treat me like Coltrane, insane/
Yes to them, but to me I’m a different kind/
We’re brothers of the same mind, unblind/
Caught in the middle and/
Not surrenderin’/
I don’t rhyme for the sake of of riddlin’/
Some claim that I’m a smuggler/
Some say I never heard of ‘ya/
A rap burgler, false media/
We don’t need it do we?/
It’s fake that’s what it be to ‘ya, dig me?/
Don’t believe the hype

(Don’t Believe the Hype – live on YouTube)

Strumpette even tries to appropriate some of the “voice of the common man” mojo:

” … They’d like you to believe that being dis-ed by the PR bloggers and the “Nobodies Club” matters. No. It just doesn’t. They, by-an-large, are a group of self-important PR juniors and empty Shels. They are PR people whose power, and credibility for that matter, is a total fabrication and not real. We are more credible as a character than all of their resumes. (Strumpette)

And that is really quite weak, if you consider that Public Enemy was singing about political and social empowerment in the face of continuing societal oppression, and Strumpette is mad that three or four white guys are ganging up on him/her/them/the collective.


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“Girls on Film” and your nosy neighbours


An exercise in difficult community relations: when your suburban cul-de-sac becomes a shooting location for porn movies, and how your neighbours react. In the LA Times.

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CSR: pity those poor multinationals


French fries and sneakers: pure evil” – that’s the title of Steve Maich’s column in the latest issue of Macleans. In his analysis, the corporate social responsibility efforts of the world’s biggest consumer brands contrast with their continuing poor showings in pubic CSR polling: Nike, Coca-Cola and BP all suffer at the hands of activist groups, and are affected by the public’s myopia for much more harmful activities by less profiled corporations.

After all, it’s hard to get your community group riled up about picketing a two story building in a corporate business park.

” … What started as a well-meaning movement, aimed at getting business to promote the greater good, has morphed into an industry unto itself: it’s the discontent industry, and it’s driven by image consultants and professional lobbyists, none of whom can present a coherent vision of what it means to be ethical. Instead, the public is fed a constant diet of anti-corporate polemics like The Corporation, No Logo and Super Size Me, all painting business as a hostile force, warping society into a bleak dystopia driven by endless greed.

… The result is a world in which arms manufacturers do brisk business with regressive dictators while tech companies eagerly assist autocrats in squelching democratic rights, and yet an entire generation of supposedly intelligent people seriously believe the world’s most unethical corporation sells hamburgers.”


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The New York Times lives on greenies and other corrective measures


Regret the Error may take the New York Times to task for its corrections, but internally the paper depends upon greenies. So says Jonathan Landman, the deputy managing editor for digital journalism at the Times:

” … Greenies? They are daily critiques of the newspaper, prepared by editors with contributions from staffers and circulated throughout the newsroom. The odd name comes from the habit of Allan M. Siegal, the assistant managing editor for standards who has been preparing critiques of this kind for decades, of using a green marking pen.) (Ask the Editors, NY Times)”

Landman doesn’t think, however, that readers should be given a public forum to highlight these errors.

” … We do, of course, publish corrections and editors notes to correct the public record. But it seems to me that fingering individuals in public for writing less-than-ideal headlines or overusing buzzwords or splitting infinitives would do much more harm than good, making people fearful and overcautious rather than diligent and responsive.”

One blogger seems to have noticed – quite a while ago – that the Times corrects these minor grammatical errors even after they’ve gone online and have been pumped out through the RSS feed. If you have an eye for detail, you can spot the greenies and then track their deletion through your feed reader.


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Car dealer advertising sure to draw negative associations


A car dealer in Prince George, British Columbia has managed to alienate a portion of his community – and customer base – by placing a poorly considered ad encouraging locals receiving government compensation cheques for past abuse to spend their money on his lot.

The car dealer is located in a community near an aboriginal residential school run in the past by the Roman Catholic Church. For a hundred years or more, members of Canada’s first nations were sent to live at these schools in an attempt to assimilate them.

“”You have a whole lot of individuals who went to residential school who were sexually and physically abused and working through settlements with the government and the churches, only to find out there’s some used car salesman at the end looking for your money,” [Grand Chief Ed] John told CBC News.

The dealer apologized in a subsequent edition of the paper:

“”Action Motors would like to apologize for our ad that ran Friday, April 21, in the Stuart Nechako Advertiser. We did not mean to offend anyone with this ad. We appreciate your support over the years and look forward to serving you in the future.” (National Post, behind firewall)

Or, to paraphrase: “Sorry about that. Still, whaddya think of that 94 Taurus?”

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Improving direct-to-consumer advertising – and slagging the Nasonex Bee


Oh, to have the measurement and evaluation money available to drug companies. Medical Marketing and Media has taken a look at The Science of DTC (pdf), discussing the growth in pre- testing of direct-to-consumer advertising, as well as efforts to improve the clarity of the many DTC formats.

In part, it’s a reaction to the scandal surrounding the side effects ofVioxxl and the resulting attention levelled at DTC advertising by the FDA.

“We’re trying to cut to the issues at hand in DTC advertising,” says [Merck consumer marketing manger Ed] Slaughter. “Every time an FDA official gets up and speaks at a conference, they say, ‘If anybody has any data on this, we’d love to see it.’ This is an attempt to move the ball forward and answer that in a scientific, data-driven way.”

MM&M calls upon industry insiders and critics to comment on past and current DTC practices, placing special emphasis on particular initiatives to improve consumer understanding of pharma advertising. Initiatives like Pfizer’s Principles for Clear Health Communication (pdf)

… Even the highest-functioning readers are hard-pressed to slog through the dense, highly technical text in a typical brief summary. To improve readability, Pfizer adopted its Principles, mandating that communications
should explain a drug’s purpose and limit content to avoid clutter; involve the reader; make text easier to read through use of active words, conversational style, chunking and road signs; make the look of the content more inviting through use of white space, good contrast and elimination of ghosting and other competing visuals; and
select realistic visuals that motivate patients to take action. The company’s new consumer-friendly risk information format for print ads, wherein easy-to-read chunks of information are presented in bulletpoint-happy bubbles, was one result of those principles. (MM&M)

Funny how the editors of MM&M couldn’t follow the same advice in constructing that last paragraph …

Some academics have critiqued the presentation and positioning of risk information in DTC advertising, claiming it understates risk – likely to the benefit fo a sales pitch.

“… Drug makers often use flashy, sparkling graphics to distract viewers and divide their attention when risk information is presented during an advertisement, [Duke University professor of psychology Ruth] Day said. “Risk information is there,” she said. “It’s physically present, but functionally absent.”

For instance, she explained, Schering-Plough uses a “charming” cartoon bee character in its commercials for its allergy product Nasonex.

But, Day exclaimed, “Watch his wings.”

She demonstrated for regulators a simulation of how the bee‘s wings move quickly during the commercial’s presentation of risk information. But, Day noted, when the narrator talks about the drug’s benefits, the “wings are not moving. In fact, he doesn’t have any wings at all.”

A plotting of wing flaps per second during the presentation of benefits and risks found “clearly more [flaps] during the side effects,” she declared.

Day’s research found that risk information is placed in less favorable locations in drug advertisements than is benefit information. (ASHP News Release)

Pharma Marketing Blog offered an alternate evaluation of Day’s presentation before the FDA.

Some more details on the creators of the Nasonex Bee (BBDO and Neal Adams here and here)

Technorati: DTC pharma PR measurement

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Media measurement takes a step forward in Canada


After several years hard work, the Measurement Committee of the Canadian Public Relations Society has launched a new media measurement tool to support the measurement and evaluation efforts of PR practitioners in Canada.

“The MRP™ (Media Relations Rating Points) system provides communications and marketing professionals with an easy-to-use tool that measures the effectiveness of any public relations campaign. The 10-point rating system can be used for any type of media coverage (i.e. print, TV, radio, online). The MRP system can also be used to measure crisis communications and unplanned media attention after the fact.

The primary objective of the MRP system is to create a standardized reporting mechanism that can be widely accepted and utilized with ease to measure coverage results. This system can be easily customized by Company or by project. MRPs provide clear metrics to evaluate media coverage, track total impressions and cost per contact.” (Media Relations Rating Points User Guide)

Tested, in some form, by organizations like the Bank of Montreal, Second Cup, Kellogg Canada and others, it has been endorsed by the CPRS and IABC, and is supported by a subscription databank established and maintained by News Canada.

Key in this initiative is its breadth: with such a wide-ranging and well-tested mechanism, an opportunity now exists to implement a common measurement standard that will help corporate shops and agencies alike to effectively measure, and compare, performance.

Technorati: MRP measurement media monitoring

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


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


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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Toronto Star adds bookmarking


Sometimes, fundamental shifts in how the traditional media works with its customers seem to fly under the radar – especially in Canada. Earlier this month the Toronto Star (a Toronto paper with national reach, circulation 984,700 daily ) added bookmarklets to all its online articles.

What does this mean? It means that columnists like James Travers, who today wrote about the new press regime being imposed by the Prime Minister’s Office, have a far greater chance of influencing online discussion of issues important to their readers – and the countless other people their readers influence. At least until his piece disappears behind the subscriber firewall after a week.

Unlike, say, the Globe and Mail, where columnists and editorials are always behind a subscriber firewall.

Which social media tactic has more impact, both on the reputation of the paper and the influence of the ideas it prints? The now ubiquitous “e-mail this” link? A site-based community for comment like you can find on, or a more paticipatory vehicle like

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CSR: what is it good for? Huh!


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.”

Technorati:Wal-mart haterade CSR

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Why does your client’s argument fall on deaf ears?


What logical structures guide public relations staff in building and deploying an argument in favour of their clients? When confronted with a demand for an explanation “why?”, there is always a “reason” underlying the logic in your media lines and storyline. In his book Why?, the sociologist Charles Tilly identifies four different types of reasons – or answers – that we all attempt to use at one time or another. Malcolm Gladwell wrote about Tilly this week:

” … In Tilly’s view, we rely on four general categories of reasons. The first is what he calls conventions — conventionally accepted explanations. … The second is stories, and what distinguishes a story … is a very specific account of cause and effect. Tilly cites the sociologist Francesca Polletta’s interviews with people who were active in the civil-rights sit-ins of the nineteen-sixties. Polletta repeatedly heard stories that stressed the spontaneity of the protests, leaving out the role of civil-rights organizations, teachers, and churches. That’s what stories do. As Tilly writes, they circumscribe time and space, limit the number of actors and actions, situate all causes “in the consciousness of the actors,” and elevate the personal over the institutional.

Then there are codes, which are high-level conventions, formulas that invoke sometimes recondite procedural rules and categories. … Finally, there are technical accounts: stories informed by specialized knowledge and authority. An academic history of civil-rights sit-ins wouldn’t leave out the role of institutions, and it probably wouldn’t focus on a few actors and actions; it would aim at giving patient and expert attention to every sort of nuance and detail.
Tilly argues that we make two common errors when it comes to understanding reasons. The first is to assume that some kinds of reasons are always better than others—that there is a hierarchy of reasons, with conventions (the least sophisticated) at the bottom and technical accounts at the top. That’s wrong, Tilly says: each type of reason has its own role.

Tilly’s second point flows from the first, and it’s that the reasons people give aren’t a function of their character—that is, there aren’t people who always favor technical accounts and people who always favor stories. Rather, reasons arise out of situations and roles. (New Yorker)

More detail can be found in a lecture by Tilly. I’ve included a sizeable excerpt after the jump, an excerpt that deals with how social scientists struggle to communicate their research and theory effectively to the general public.

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Muzak: programming the time of your life


Audio architects“: those are the specialists at Muzak that custom design playlists for their client companies. They pick and choose from artists like Roy Orbison, Motley Crue, Nathalie Imbruglia and thousands of others to help score your retail experience and subconsciously underline their client’s brand attributes.

As a career, I can only imagine that every day these Muzak employees live the same sort of life as Rob, the record shop manager in High Fidelity, who constantly sorts songs and artists into playlists and mix tapes. But without Jack Black as a foil.

“…If you are a company that sells candles, you want an experience that’s moody, low light, and very organic, and so you want a sound system that kind of envelops you. If you walked in, you wouldn’t see a speaker, whereas when you come into an environment that’s more youth-oriented, like this one, the speakers are right there, and they aim the music at you, so that you feel it and get a real sense of where it’s coming from. And at Old Navy the music would be even more in your face.”

Muzak’s audio architects do something analogous within programs, too: some customers want to establish different moods at different times of the day; some want current hits to repeat frequently, as they do on Top Forty radio stations; some want programs that are closely geared to the seasons. At some retailers, one of the biggest changes occurs at closing time, when the music becomes louder, more intense, and presumably more likely to include lyrics that could be mistaken for profanity. That’s an after-hours program, designed by Muzak’s audio architects for employees who restock the shelves.” (New Yorker)

Rob: The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don’t wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules. Anyway… I’ve started to make a tape… in my head… for Laura. Full of stuff she likes. Full of stuff that make her happy. For the first time I can sort of see how that is done. (High Fidelity)


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Moving designers offa Ramen and onto at least Chunky Soup


We both use pens, but to different ends. Words are our primary tool, pictures are theirs. Designers are driven crazy by frugal/cheap clients asking for “spec work” – either as part of a competitive process, or just to “give us an idea of what you’d do for us.” For public relations pros, requests for media lists, sample media plans or campaigns can be commonplace in some disciplines and some markets.

no-spec88u.gif No-spec is a designer-led effort to turn these spongers away at the door. Hyperlinks, posters and logo competition protest letters are all available to help the design community wean itself from this destructive behaviour.

One highlighted comment from athyrius, a design blogger tired of being asked for freebies:

“… I remember very clearly the day a fellow professional looked me in the eye and told me, “I don’t open a program without getting paid.” That day I went home, heated my Ramen and thought about it for a while before deciding he was absolutely right. …”

Ramen and designers? What an exaggeration! Or is it? Let’s close off with a backhanded smack from the Princeton Review:

” … Like other design fields (graphic design, for instance), industrial design is the unfolding of art into commodity–which is to say, a chance to work in a challenging, creative field and not eat ramen every day. Industrial designers–working with engineers, marketers, ergonomic experts, and, of course, clients–spend their time creating fresh, new or improved, user-centered products and environments that increase the aesthetic and efficiency of everyday life.”

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Add a little musical quirk to your marketing for greater retention


A quick bounce through the growth of “sonic branding” this month in En Route, Air Canada’s in-flight magazine.

The main tool in sonic branding is a short audio prompt inserted in a radio, tv or online ad to highlight a brand identity. Traditionally, these sonic brand triggers have been used in radio advertising, but these ear worms are increasingly being marshalled to impose a common brand-based cue to tie together large multi-channel and multimedia marketing campaigns.

Radio ads, television interstitials, animated banner ads, computer start-up sounds and ring tones: every one presents an opportunity to place a sonic brand trigger in an attempt to prompt and reinforce brand recall. They can also be rolled out as part of – god help me – an I.V.R script.

“Multitasking and endless distractions have also eroded the effectiveness of the traditional commercial, once a marketer’s dream. But a three- or four-second sonic brand is insidiously effective and can be absorbed even while channel surfing.” (En Route)

Everytime I hear one of these two, three or four tone brand signatures, I think of a movie scene – it may have been in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – where a secretary rings off the announcement tones on a small children’s xylophone.

The channel-surfing analogy is particularly apt here in Canada, where the Rogers group of companies (cable, radio, television, magazines, VOIP) has rolled out a short tonal signature to single out its various multimedia offerings.

Some examples of sonic branding from En Route:

Sounds Like a Brand

• The wacky Yahoo! yodel set to frantic banjo picking

• Lenny Kravitz’s new song “Breathe,” reflecting Absolut vodka’s “core values”

• Elwood Edwards’ chipper voice announcing to AOL users that “you’ve got mail”

• CBC’s new five-note “mnemonic” for its flagship newscasts

• T-Mobile’s cultish ringtone that has people with other phones clamouring (unsuccessfully) to download it.”

Dan Jackson, of the UK agency Sonicbrand, commented on the creative process behind the tactic:

“…”If we’re creating a company theme, or brand score, we ask clients for their brand values and music that they think represents those ideas. Corporations tend to use the same words – inspiring, forward-thinking, trustworthy… so we keep tracks that represent these values in our knowledge bank. We isolate what it is that our clients like about these tunes, then we go away and use our expertise to mix the ideas together to create an original piece of music.”

For example, Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”, from the Rocky soundtrack, comes up with alarming regularity. “It has a red feel to it, doesn’t it?” says Ali Johnson, Sonicbrand’s creative director. “It’s aggressive and positive. But we have to identify the element they see in that song that fits in with their brand guidelines. Is it the rock rhythm? Is it the driving guitar?”… (The Telegraph, 12/2004)

Is it the unspoken visual of the brand manager, american flag boxing shorts askew, standing over a toppled Apollo Creed?

Shout-out to AdAge for the initial pointer.

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Google: “talking out of its hat”?


There have been some questions about exactly what a Google senior policy counsel muttered about the FCC during a conference this week. Turns out he was citing an opposing viewpoint as an example.

Despite all the demonizing of the company in recent months, the number of mis-steps and retractions battering Google’s public image indicate that the company is still feeling out how to make the transition from a small business run by academics into one of the largest advertising delivery networks in the world.

Paul Kedrosky has some advice for Google staffers on how to make the leap:

“… it was a dumb thing to do. Why? Some reasons:

1. He is a senior Google rep, not some anonymous Slashdot poster
2. You should never say things in a public forum that can be excerpted and make you look childish
3. Google has developed a rep recently for talking out of its hat, so the company should be on its best behavior around media, not being silly and pointlessly provocative

What is it with these Google guys? Microphones are apparently like Kryptonite for ’em.

Also referenced by Kedrosky: Google Charm makes its debut (BBC)

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Rupert Murdoch on Technology and Media


I love it when significant newsmakers actually take the time to draw a picture of the links between historical trends and leaps in technology. And by trends, I mean events that took place before Steve Jobs and Bill Gates first leased storage space. Here’s Rupert Murdoch, speaking to The Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers in London:

“Those people, those companies, those nations which understand and use this new knowledge will be the ones to prosper and grow strong in our age of discovery.

History is populated with examples of how knowledge can transform the fortunes of a small company, a weak nation, a threatened tribe.

The caveman who first struck fire from a flint was possessed of knowledge that made him master of his universe – although not for long.

Knowledge, in the form of superior technology, won Nelson the Battle of Trafalgar. His brilliantly aggressive tactics decided the scale of the victory.

The victory itself was won before a shot had been fired.

The British ships had faster firing, more accurate, guns and better gunpowder.

That technological advantage ensured victory and allowed the British control of the seas in the decades that followed, contributing directly to the prosperity and innovation of the Victorian era.

From the wheel to the web, from the printing press to fibre optic cable, it has always been technology that has driven history. Those in the driving seat have always been those who fully understood and used that technology.”(Guardian)

You just know, subconciously, that Murdoch is imagining himself alongside Nelson, Stevenson and the Wright Brothers.

Or maybe he has a greater vision?

“In the first Age of Discovery, some six hundred years ago, the great European explorers stood on the rim of the known world and set sail, literally, into the unknown.

Technology had given them ships equipped, although barely so, for long voyages. Science provided rudimentary navigational aids, and royal and private treasuries the financing. But what sent Bartolomeu Dias, Christopher Columbus, John Cabot and Henry the Navigator across the ocean was not just a quest for new trade routes to the East.

They consciously sought to expand the horizons of humanity, to risk their lives to find a new world.

That is where we are today. We are immeasurably better equipped than our ancestors to face the challenges posed by some of the issues I have raised this evening.

But we must not lose our nerve. We must be prepared to take risks and accept that we will make mistakes, sometimes very large ones. Above all we must have what those great seafaring explorers had in abundance: the courage to use the technological change that is unfolding around us to help make a better world.”

I have to agree on one point, at least: we are immeasurably better equipped to launch blink-of-an-eye Web 2.0 apps from our den. Forget about that much larger hurdle of risking our lives for science, fame and glory.

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“I don’t like my job, and, uh, I don’t think I’m gonna go anymore”


Coming out this spring: “I Quit but I Forgot to Tell You,” a book from retail consultant Terri Kabachnik discussing your unmotivated employees, the ones who “physically attend but mentally pretend.” (NRF SmartBrief)

Or you could read the precis of her argument in a 2004 issue of the Retailing Issues Letter from Texas A&M’s Center for Retailing Studies.

Of course, her research and observations FOLLOWED the classic psychological analysis of “Office Space”:

Peter Gibbons: You see Bob, it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care.

Bob Porter: Don’t… don’t care?

Peter Gibbons: It’s a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don’t see another dime, so where’s the motivation? And here’s another thing, I have eight different bosses right now.

Bob Porter: Eight?

Peter Gibbons: Eight, Bob. So that means when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That’s my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that, and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.

Personally, I’m going to thumb through her book at the library, looking for the chapter on “blogging as an indicator of employee disaffection.” That’s right! I said it, bitches!

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Branding and Wal-mart: we’re going to market like its 1995


Wal-mart’s marketing efforts have been so price-driven that everyone seems quite stunned when Bentonville execs bring up words like “brand” and “influence.” A little late to the party, but good to see none the less.

” … Stephen Quinn, Wal-Mart’s senior vice-president of marketing, told investors at a Bear Stearns conference that while the retail giant had firmly established its reputation for low prices, “we’re becoming very aware that the brand experience is what people buy into when they shop at Wal-Mart”. …

More broadly, he adds, the retailer is undergoing a “full brand identity programme” that ties into the retailer’s broader effort to change its reputation through new initiatives on environmental and social issues, and its drive to counter its US critics.

That is aimed in part at the third broad target of Wal-Mart’s marketing: to reach beyond the loyalist and the selective shopper, to the Wal-Mart “sceptic”, who visits the store only occasionally, but does not see themselves as Wal-Mart shoppers.

“Our goal with her is really to just influence her,” says Mr Quinn. “Just to get into her consideration in the next year or two.”

(Financial Times)

branding Wal-mart

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Wal-Mart’s blogger outreach program


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.

media relations Wal-mart Edelman conservative blogs blog outreach

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Divine pitch: from a servant of God to your PDA


The Guardian tells us of Opus Dei’s preparations for the film adaptation of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, which portrays the Catholic organization in a negative light:

    “”There’s a huge contrast between the way we’re portrayed and the way we are in reality,” says Brian Finnerty, director of media relations for the United States division. He is one of two full-time staff who run the communications office in New York.

    A former journalist with the Los Angeles-based Investors Business Daily, Finnerty has been a member of Opus Dei since 1985 and has overseen the organisation’s increasing embrace of the media since 1995. “We consulted with various friends and experts in PR who were willing to help us out. They told us how to show the world that Opus Dei is about ordinary Catholics trying to get closer to God in their daily lives, and that we’re happy to share that with people.”

    However controversial Opus Dei’s vision of religion may be – it promotes the principle that holiness can be found through everyday tasks – it now comes complete with all the trimmings of 21st century marketing. The fact that it even boasts boasts a press office may come as a surprise to anyone whose first impression is derived from Brown’s story.”

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Hit ’em right back media relations


The Backbencher points out that Britain’s Office of the Deputy Prime Minister now features a “rapid rebuttal” section on its website (up to the right).

“Putting the RECORD straight” (their caps, not mine) offers short little retorts to recent news reports. Tidbits like:

    This report is utter nonsense. SAVE clearly are only interested in ill-informed scaremongering, not the facts. Nor are they interested in helping communities who have been blighted by low demand and boarded up homes – people who support their local pathfinder programme.”


    This is scare-mongering. We have made clear that any structural changes in local government will not lead to increased burdens on council tax payers.”

I’m tempted to call this the Dee Snyder school of media response. The responses posted so far vary between well considered FAQs and paragraph-long reaction pieces – the latter completely understandable but for the unsettling emergence of “scare-mongering” as a favoured phrase.

Especially when they can’t settle on how to spell the word properly.

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Blogger junkets: does that make a blogger your pimp or your bitch?


So, the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions is working with BlogAds to send 25 bloggers on a five star trip to Amsterdam. As Henry describes it, these bloggers will participate in a custom ad package tailored for their specific blog styles and voices, as well as contribute to interviews to be featured on a standalone website. There’s no commitment to write about the trip in their actual blog.

Fine. Henry is quite upfront that this is a custom ad package, not the traditional “send a freelancer to our new hotel in Bali so he’ll write a puff piece for Parade” junket.

Steve, though, inflates the idea:

    “…I am a fan of blogger junkets – if you can afford them. I think they have a lot more potential than traditional media junkets to build buzz because you can do things with bloggers that the press would frown on.

    … So, blog junkets are empowerment programs. Now I am not saying that blogger bribing should be your primary goal here. However, if you remain transparent and can walk the fine line between helping bloggers and engaging them in a real dialogue to get feedback (warts and all), you’re going to build word of mouth. As always, remain ethical, truthful and transparent.

What’s in this transaction for the blogger? Is it only a free trip? Even if they’re completely transparent about the arrangement, are well profiled bloggers actually willing to trade their valuable brand identity, hard-earned reader trust and perceived editorial independence for a trip and some ad placements?

Isn’t this junior varsity league behaviour? This is the sort of “pay for play” crap that’s always pitched to corporate PR staff. With this deal, a boxload of shiny vanity pubs for the corporate waiting area are replaced by a couple of blog posts?

Don’t get me wrong – I can see the value in the transaction for the sponsor/client. It’s a good idea to pitch as a public relations consultant. But I thought blogs were beginning to build some editiorial credibility?

Somewhere, a magazine publisher is wetting his pants thinking of this arrangement. Chinese wall between advertising and editorial? GONE! He can only imagine a freelancer writing his feature for free, their only compensation the free minibar almonds and ogling the rich girlfriends at the pool bar!

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Numeracy and literacy: making accomodations in important documents


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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Moving the conservative movement to the left, one John Hughes movie at a time.


As the Conservatives seem poised to assume power in Canada for the first time in 12 years, I stumbled across this comment from David Cameron, the leader of the Conservatives in United Kingdom, earlier this month. Either Cameron has a fondness for John Hughes movies, or his speechwriter is a smart alec Generation X type.

    “A few days after becoming leader, I was asked whether I wanted to replace Blairism with Cameronism and what the difference was between the two. The truth is, I’m not interested in either. That’s because I don’t believe in ‘isms’.

    Words like communism, socialism, capitalism and republicanism all conjure up one image in my mind: extremism. For politicians to stick rigidly to an ideology is to court disaster.” (Conservative Party website/Mail on Sunday)

What? That sure sounds like Ferris Bueller:

    “I did have a test today. That wasn’t bullshit. It’s on European socialism. I mean, really, what’s the point? I’m not European, I don’t plan on being European, so who gives a crap if they’re socialist? They could be fascist anarchists – that still wouldn’t change the fact that I don’t own a car. Not that I condone fascism, or any ism for that matter. Isms in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an ism – he should believe in himself. I quote John Lennon: “I don’t believe in Beatles – I just believe in me”. A good point there. Of course, he was the Walrus. I could be the Walrus – I’d still have to bum rides off of people.”(working script)

Some analysis of Tory reaction to Cameron’s piece by the New Statesman: Tory “leader writers sounded as if they had discovered mouse droppings in a relative’s kitchen.”

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Politics is retail – and you may just take a puck in the mouth


Given a choice between a politician and a hockey player, most Canadians will make a move for the guy with less teeth. Politicians who try to weeze da juice of the national sport usually end up looking out of place and decidedly unathletic (unless they’re Ken Dryden).

One candidate in the current national election found a way to marry the two at last night’s Ottawa 67s game. Out in front of the arena, a young volunteer was handing out brief flyers explaining the Conservative Party’s proposal for a tax credit based upon the registration fees paid for youth sports activities like hockey, swimming, soccer and skating.

A message that should resonate, aimed at a potentially receptive audience. Sitting directly in front of us was a complete PeeWee hockey team and their parents. Families could be seen throughout the arena. The 67s are a minor hockey team that emphasizes entertainment and links to the community.

There aren’t any $2 million contracts for naming rights for the arena. The place is full of ads for sub shops, accountants and construction companies. Sure, minor hockey still comes up with the occasional embarassing promotion. On the whole, however, these teams survive by selling space for targeted messages by local companies.

This was a political message, but it was squarely aimed at the people who normally attend minor hockey games, and promised real benefits.

Oh yeah – of course the flyer included a picture of the smiling Conservative candidate as well.

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


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.»”

Technorati: community building artisinal McDos

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Funniest Political Blog Posting Yet


Sure, it’s a faux blog – no comments, no real conversation with the reader – but Scott Feschuk’s “blackberry blog” has one of the funniest “official” posts of the campaign:

    January 15th – Day Forty-Eight: We Saw Nude-Type People Having “Relations” in a Car Last Night on a Main Street in Montreal. I’m Just Saying.

    10:12 AM – Before we head west to Vancouver, with stops along the way in North Bay, Ont., and Edmonton, the PM is going out here in Montreal this morning to announce more cash money for infrastructure as part of our municipal agenda. I haven’t read the policy in great detail, so I might not be your best source of information. But so far as I can tell the basic gist is that a Liberal government will build our cities, quite possibly on rock ‘n roll. This is terrific news for most Canadian communities, but a tragic revelation for residents of Funkytown, whose disco foundations disqualify it from both federal funding and classic rock airplay.”

Ads That Suck likes Feschuk as well.

BTW – Feschuk is the Prime Minister’s speech writer, and a former National Post scribe.

Technorati: campaigning

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At least our PR wannabes know how to dress


One British B2B newsletter publisher is really having trouble finding an entry-level reporter:

    “The warning bells started to ring when one candidate said at his interview: “Newsletters are one step up from spam, really.” Not exactly a great start. But there was more to come.

    I want to be a PR, but I thought I might as well apply for this, ’cause, like, writing’s creative, innit.”

    … One guy – who turned up to his interview unshaven, in sloppy clothes, and upended his worldly possessions out of an old carrier bag – emailed us four days later to say he thought the whole process had been “surreal” because the first question we had asked him was why he wanted the job.”

(Guardian, reg. req.)

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Some hints on prompting favourable third party op/eds


More muttering about the conspiracy between industry lobbyists and expert sources, this time as a result of the debate in the U.S. about the acceptable levels of perchlorate in drinking water. The WSJ (article republished in Pitt. Post-Gazette) examined the conflict between the Environmental Protection Agency and users of perchlorate (including manufacturers and the Defense Department), in the process identifying another tactic in the lobbyist’s arsenal: co-opting sympathetic expert sources.

    [At an EPA peer review meeting one of] … the speakers was La Donna White, president of an African-American doctors’ group, who said the EPA proposal would divert funds from “real health issues” affecting blacks and “scare the public.”(Video) She later repeated her points in an op-ed essay in a local newspaper — and in a news release put out by a lobbying group for perchlorate users, the Council on Water Quality.

    Dr. White, a family physician, says she had learned about the issues from a guest at one of her medical-society meetings, Eric Newman. He is a lobbyist for a Sacramento firm that has lobbied on perchlorate matters for defense contractors. Dr. White says she didn’t know he was a lobbyist when he asked her to speak to the EPA. She didn’t reply to an email asking whether anyone had helped her draft her perchlorate commentaries — two of which misspelled her first name. Mr. Newman didn’t return messages left for him.”

To be fair – it seems that “misspelled her first name” means the paper didn’t put the space between “La” and “Donna”. It’s not like the byline read “Madonna White, M.D.”

Still, the story certainly implies that Dr. White and Mr. Newman wanted to limit their public exposure once the WSJ started asking about the provenance of Dr. White’s commentaries. Is this a case of ghost-written work or simply a remarkable similarity between the key messages pushed by the industry and the work of Dr. White?

While the picture painted by the WSJ may not pass the smell test, is it really out of place for an industry lobbyist to communicate his clients’ point of view to an interested subject expert? (Okay, it may be immoral or illegal to provide an expert with a prepared – but unattributed – commentary for publication under their name. But I don’t know if the WSJ proved this argument to my satisfaction in this case)

Oh – the LA City Paper ran a story in 2004 about the level of another contaminant, Chromium 6, in Los Angeles’ water – which also mentions the lobbying efforts of Eric Newman.

Note: I think there is a place for lobbying in an open and democratic system where not all citizens have full knowledge (as they should) of the levers of power and influence. Still, from time to time I like to highlight the tactics, foibles, peccadilloes and outright deception of some members of the lobbying industry.

Technorati: govt comms lobbying community relations risk comms

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Blogs, malls and holiday co-op advertising


Anyone know of a mall property that’s using blogs to support its holiday co-op advertising?

It seems like such a simple concept to me: inexpensive and easy-to-use software, local or enterprise installation, single or multiple authors, and easily customizable templates.

It would be a low-cost solution for independent malls, regional concerns and national REITs.

And it could easily be worked into the existing co-op advertising program – with the added benefit that store operators that didn’t want to chip in pricing cuts or discount coupons could still be featured in brand-building articles.

A blog would also provide a flexible community relations tool for the mall manager. Charity promotional campaigns? On-site fundraisers? Local events? All could find prominent placement in a well-designed template.

Best of all? The mall’s underpaid marketing assistant would find a mall blog easy to administer.

Technorati: marketing advertising co-op community relations

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McKinsey’s building the argument for corporate investment in social networks


Should companies stop concentrating on outsourcing and downsizing, and instead invest more heavily in social networking software to increase the productivity of their most innovative and valuable workers?

That’s what some McKinsey consultants seem to be arguing in “The next revolution in interactions,” from the new edition of the McKinsey Quarterly.

The article differentiates between work that is largely transactional – tasks that can be clearly identified and whose work load can be mapped out, like air transportation, retailing, utilities, and recreation workers – and work that is tacit – tasks that depend upon information sharing, communication and negotiation skills.

The authors argue that companies should concentrate upon increasing the productivity of their “tacit workers” if they want to establish a new competitive advantage in their industry – and this will require new priorities in IT investment.

    “… new and emerging technologies will let companies extend the breadth and impact of tacit interactions. Loosely coupled systems are more likely than hard-coded systems and connections to be adapted successfully to the highly dynamic work of tacit employees. This point will be particularly critical, since tacit interactions will occur as much within companies as across them.

    Broadband connectivity and novel applications (including collaborative software, multiple-source videoconferencing, and IP telephony) can facilitate, speed up, and progressively cut the cost of such interactions as collaboration among communities of interest and build consensus across great distances. Companies might then involve greater numbers of workers in these activities, reach rural consumers and suppliers more effectively, and connect with networks of people and specialized talent around the world …

    Companies will also have to think differently about the way they prioritize their investments in technology. On the whole, such investments are now intended largely to boost the performance of transformational activities – manufacturing, construction, and so on – or of transactional ones. Companies invest far less to support tacit tasks …

    So they must shift more of their IT dollars to tacit tools, even while they still try to get whatever additional (though declining) improvements can be had, in particular, from streamlining transactions. The performance spread between the most and least productive manufacturing companies is relatively narrow. The spread widens in transaction-based sectors – meaning that investments to improve performance in this area still make sense. But the variability of company-level performance is more than 50 percent greater in tacit-based sectors than in manufacturing-based ones … Tacit activities are now a green pasture for improvement.”

Could Technorati, SixApart – even Wikimedia – end up with multinational sales forces and channel partners – like SAP, SAS or Oracle?

Analysis like this, from recognized management and business authorities, is essential if social media is to evolve – to move beyond circular debates among early adopters and online enthusiasts and become an essential component of the business strategies considered by the decision-makers in your C-suite.

Technorati: social media management McKinsey

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Conversations with Santa, pt. 1


    Hi Santa.Here at the family table, the whole gang is telling me to eat my parsnips and triple bean salad, because tomorrow is Black Friday. I need to build up my energy, they say, for twelve hours of Christmas shopping. The cute guy with the gray hair on CNN says it’s the busiest shopping day of the year.

    I guess that’s why Mom is going in to work two hours early. And coming home five hours late. And only getting paid for one hour of overtime. Sometimes I think she’d like to work at a different big box general merchandise store.

    Uncle Glen says I have to get up at 5, because he thinks I’ll give him an “edge” getting past all the people in line for the door crashers at Best Buy.

    How have you and Mrs. Claus done it? Push back Christmas into November, I mean? Your elves have already set up your throne down by the mall – and I see the price of the 4 by 8 photo package has gone up again.

    It also seems like you’ve set up quite a range of endorsement deals, because I see your picture on almost every flyer that comes with the morning paper. But is Discount Furniture Warehouse really necessary?

    I guess the National Retail Federation has something to do with it. And the Toy Industry Association. And maybe Drew Rosenhaus.

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Dunkin Donuts, flackery and messaging


Is the old school “black with two creams” coffee making a comeback? Looking at the expansion plans for Dunkin’ Donuts in the Big Apple, New York magazine plays up the contrasts between Starbucks and its downmarket competitor. Along the way, author Stephen Rodrick hits some points about:

Overeager Flackery

    “Imagine my surprise when I was met by not one, not two, but eight Dunkin employees. There was the flack, the outside-agency flack, three executives, the franchise owner, his son, and someone to drive the trail vehicle. Soon, I was deluged by a shower of business cards, fair-trade beans, and Coffee Coolattas.”

Packaging, Design and Self Identity

    “Unlike Starbucks, whose mermaid-logoed paper cups scream I am a person with some design sense and an environmentally raised consciousness, Dunkin serves its coffee in Styrofoam containers emblazoned with the companys cheerful puffy-fonted pink-and-orange trademark. Viewed through an upmarket lens, Dunkins cups suggest landfills and Gymboree classes. Theyre fine in the car up to New Hampshire, an Upper East Side publicist told me, but not so much on Madison and 52nd.

The Value-Added Menu

    “Starbucks cellophane-wrapped $6 sandwiches are a crime against commerce and fairness in pricing, but its unlikely those products will kill you. I feel fairly confident, on the other hand, that Dunkins new steak-egg-and-cheese breakfast sandwich is what the Grim Reaper packs in his lunch box.”

Retail Merchandising

    “Despite its aesthetically pleasing location and floor-to-ceiling windows, members of the ocho mumbled obscenities and rolled their eyes. Apparently, the promotional posters were not up-to-date.”

The Uselessness of Controlling the Message

    “On my officially sanctioned guided tour with the Dunkin boys, all the stops were spacious, airy locales, clearly chosen for their PR suitability. Alas, these turned out to be Dunkins Potemkin Villages. Many of the other stores I visited had all the ambience of a Texaco outside El Paso, resplendent with interrogation-quality fluorescent lights and pee on the toilet seats.”

Oh – and Rodrick works in some commentary on the Dunkin’ Donut’s customer segmentation from John Moore of Brand Autopsy fame.

Technorati: public relations

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Banner Ad on Yahoo? That’ll be 4,000,000 quarters.


Remember how cheap online advertising used to be? You could pay for those banner ads with a paypal account, or with change from the little dish on your dresser? Not any more. The prime real estate on major portals is so rare, placement costs on MSN, AOL and Yahoo are skyrocketing.

This from the WSJ today:

    ” … Yahoo said last month that prices increased by “double digits” in the third quarter from a year earlier, while AOL says prices for some ad units have increased as much as 20% since January.

    MSN says it currently charges between several hundred thousand dollars and $1 million for a prime, 24-hour ad spot on its home page. That’s up from about $25,000 to $50,000 four years ago.

    … By contrast, the average price of a 30-second TV ad for last February’s Super Bowl was $2.4 million, while a full-page color ad in People magazine costs $228,275. A 30-second spot on this week’s episode of ABC’s “Desperate Housewives,” which had 26.5 million viewers, cost $574,504, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus.” (WSJ)

It’s important to note that this rising market does not reflect a stampede to all things digital, as happened in 1998 and 1999. Rather, “In 1999, there was no research and people were chasing fear and greed,” says Greg Stuart, president of the Interactive Advertising Bureau. “Now there’s good data, plus marketers with their own real experience.”

In fact, the smaller, more specialized, sites have seen increases more in the range of 3% – their advertising real estate isn’t as limited, giving advertisers more choice and more negotiating power.

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Kurt Busch: one step away from meeting Sgt. Stedenko



How do you undermine your personal brand equity? Say you’re the reigning Nextel Cup champion, have just managed to negotiate your way off one racing team, and will be driving the #2 Miller Lite Dodge in 2006. Oh, and that your move to Penske Racing was likely the reason Miller Lite extended their sponsorship agreement through 2010?

Miller must be counting on the cross-promotion opportunities normally accorded a major NASCAR sponsorship:

    “[Kurt] Busch will participate in a number of personal appearances at bars, retail outlets and events on behalf of the brewer. In addition, his likeness will be featured on Miller Lite s retail and on-premise merchandising materials, promotional programs and on the companys web sites. (Paddocktalk)

Too bad Busch got pulled over for reckless driving last night. And we’re not talking Cole Trickle street racing, either.

    “Busch was stopped Friday night after trying to avoid another car and running a stop sign about two miles from Phoenix International Raceway … As a result of the roadside investigation the deputy did take Mr. Busch into custody for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol,” said [Lt. Paul Chagolla], a Maricopa County sheriff’s spokesman. (NASCAR/AP)

I bet that news is going over well in Milwaukee.

While Busch hasn’t had his day in court (or his day with NASCAR execs, which is worse?), he will be feeling some retribution for this. Somewhere, there’s a brand manager who’s had to come into the office on Sunday to work “court-ordered public service” into his Miller/Busch media plan.

“If we pick the right schools – like an inner-city school – we can work some extra media out of this! Does the Bondurant School count for public service?”

While this was no drug bust worthy of the fearsome Sgt. Stedenko, Cheech and Chong’s “Up in Smoke” probably had an accurate account of Busch’s police stop:

    Arresting Officer: [to Man] Sir, what’s your name?

    Pedro: Whut? I told you my name, man!

    Arresting Officer: [to Man] Sir… what’s YOUR name?

    Pedro: [to Man] Hey man! The dude wants to know your name, man!

    [Man vomits onto the floor of the car]

    Pedro: Uuhhh – His name is RAALLLPH, man!

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The rubber chicken circuit – a proactive strategy?


Where can a Canadian politician turn to float an idea or launch a theme, all in front of an audience of high powered Central Canada types, plenty of Toronto media, and somewhat valuable coverage by the national Parliamentary channel?

This week two opposition leaders, Steven Harper of the Conservatives and Jack Layton of the New Democratic Party, used their scheduled appearances at joint meetings of Toronto’s Empire and Canadian Clubs to slam the governing Liberals.

Leaving the political gamesmanship aside, former Tory Ontario Minister Tony Clement offered the National Post some comments about the value of this forum:

    “These are people who know a lot of people so you do want to make a good impression. …

    It’s also on cable … Every politician wants to be on cable as much as possible …

    You can use it opportunistically, and I mean that in a positive sense … You can use the opportunity to make something big out of it and know that it’s going to get some play …” (National Post, not online).

Clement’s mostly right (ha!) – but he should be wary of overstating the importance of CPAC, the parliamentary channel. In a year where the Gomery Commission has prompted greater national interest in the machinations of politicians in Ottawa, the channel’s weekly viewership has actually gone from 1.4 million to 900,000.

Even a recent rebranding effort faces an uphill challenge given the constraints of their public affairs programming, like the unedited speeches of political leaders delivered to rubber chicken lunches in Toronto.

    “There’s no question that CPAC has an outsized share of unprocessed programming Jack Layton making himself presentable to the Empire Club, say, or expensively coiffed parliamentarians talking back and forth across a committee table about avian flu while water jugs get passed around and the simultaneous translation lurches in and out.

    Squeezing in the rebranding images, most of which are the between-program diversions known as interstitials, becomes a greater challenge on a commercial-free channel when speeches, committees and parliamentary debates go on and on.” (Globe and Mail)

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“I Love Your Work” – but my producer’s the devil



I Love Your Work” is the latest indie movie from writer/director Adam Goldberg – otherwise known as Eddie, the crazy roommate from Friends. On KCRW’s The Business, Goldberg describes the nervewracking two year fight for the ownership and release of his film after one of his original backers goes bankrupt.

He’s witty and insightful while agonizing over the “faustian deal” that resulted in his independent work falling under the control of Canadian media conglomerate CanWest. Lord knows most of my media diet is under their control, what with their nation-wide print and television holdings.

It took a year of “autodidactic entertainment law school” for Goldberg to finally identify an “out” of the deal (spoiler: it involves Christina Ricci threatening to keep her name off the film).

A blogging angle can be found in this tale: some of the initial financing came from a company called Cyan Pictures, who apparently negotiated the right to have a blogger write from on set.

As Goldberg told the Hollywood Reporter:

    “…but I had to let this blogger come to the set and basically blog, which I nixed the second I saw the first blog go up, which just focused so much about how much Giovanni (and I) smoked that I was just like, ‘You know, this is silly.'”

An added feature to the KCRW adiostream/podcast: a lengthy piece on the trials and tribulations of the entertainment reporters exiled to shouting inane questions from behind the velvet rope on LA’s many red carpets.

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McDonald’s and Activists: Countdown to Turin


Attention food fanatics, anti-fatties, French epicures, anti-capitalists, the nutritionally obsessed and Morgan Spurlock: you have nearly four months to develop an anti-McDonald’s campaign based on their new nutritional information charts.

I may be biased, but I seem to have a thing for nutritional charts … and design. McDonald’s has developed new burger wrappers and packaging to communicate nutritional information, broken down per serving as well as a percentage of daily recommended allowances.

Initially, the design will roll out in several test markets, finally being launched in February at the booths in Turin for the 2006 Olympics.

There’s plenty of time between now and February 10, 2006 for your activist cell to plan, for a real opportunity exists to seize some valuable media real estate during the final launch of the design and accompanying packaging – with all eyes of the world upon you.

McDonald’s will only be supporting the new materials in-store and on the web – which means there will be a veritable print and visual vacuum for you to fill with redesigned charts, poorly imitated Hamburglar costumes, disillusioned McDonald’s employees from the test markets, near-sighted parents who didn’t know the caesar salad (with chicken, dressing and croutons) had 24 grams of fat, and the crazed Italian bistro owners driven bankrupt by corporate facilities sanctioned by the Olympic Committee.

But you better act quickly, because there’s sure to be some brand managers – outbid by their competitiors for Olympic sponsorship rights – drawing up their their ambush marketing tactics. Lord knows, your flash mob demonstration just won’t work if your grain-fed activists get waylaid at a food sampling station just outside the Olympic Village.

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