37 posts categorized "Public Relations"

November 13, 2009

What is "The Fun Theory" really worth?

A couple of people took note of VW's campaign "The Fun Theory." Most recently Corley suggested it "further's VW's corporate social responsibility." Ultimately, I believe she is correct in saying that, but it's a broad statement begging to be unpacked.

To be sure, this campaign isn't about VW being socially responsible. It's about VW wanting others to associate the word "Fun" with VW.

The campaign is simple, unexpected, concrete, and each of the demonstrations have the trappings of a story, and presumably the effort is designed to get people excited about the possibilities (emotion). Together, all of these are components of a sticky message (PDF).

But is it credible?

Let's take a look at some of the videos that are currently on their website.

One is the piano. The question is "How do we get more people to take the stairs instead of the escalator." According to VW, the answer is to make the stairs FUN, of course.

I guess that's one way to do it, if you have $40K (or whatever) to spend on labor and materials. The problem, in this case, is that the owners of the stairs get no benefit from such an investment.

Additionally, their efforts may actually lead to injuries due to people trying to play a song on the stairs. There's no fun in that. I'll bet VW won't post any videos of anyone falling down the stairs.

The other, more cost-effective way to do it, without unnecessarily increasing the temptation to be careless on the stairs, is to turn off the escalator. It doesn't cost a thing (it actually saves electricity), and the number of people who use the stairs instead of the escalator increases to 100%.

It reminds me of something I read from Roger von Oech. I'll do my best to not butcher it in my retelling.

Villagers of a certain town were horrified to discover evidence that they had been burying people alive. Exhuming a coffin, they found that the lid had been clawed by the (currently) deceased. Upon this discovery, they exhumed a few more graves and found many others with these same characteristics, letting them know that it was a normative problem.

The elders were gathered together to figure out how to deal with this. They came up with two ideas.

One idea was to run a string into the grave with the person believed to be deceased. One end of the string would be tied to the hand of the one they buried. The other would be tied to a bell in the graveyard. If the grave keeper heard the bell, he'd discover its source and save the person buried alive. The focus of this effort was to ensure no one was buried alive.

The other idea was to build a large spike into the coffin top, so that when it was closed, it pierced the heart of the body in it. The focus of this effort was to ensure that everyone buried was dead.

As I mentioned to Corley, the issue I have with the effort is that some of them are impractical, and I suspect VW knows that. What they're trying to do is give people a reason to think of "fun" when they think of VW. Regardless of whether the association has validity with respect to their automobile choices, if people believe it to be true, it may as well be.

However, if this effort gets people thinking about the ways they can increase the "fun quotient" in their user experience, they can increase adoption rates. This is laudable not only from a social standpoint, but also from a business standpoint.

Notably, it doesn't have to be an investment of tens of thousands of dollars unless there is a corresponding financial benefit for making the investment.

Whatever the case, I'm interested in seeing other entries in this campaign. Keep track with me at TheFunTheory.com, or enter one yourself. - Cam Beck

May 01, 2009

Who are you calling a sell-out?

Rocco-dispirito-new-show-casting-call Awhile back, I wrote about Anthony Bourdain's criticism of Rocco DiSpirito for what some of Bourdain's fans called "selling out." (Anthony Bourdain: Hypocrite ... or Genius?). I asked a Bourdain fan, who (about a year after I wrote the piece) came to criticize DiSpirito and praise Bourdain, exactly how "sell-out" is defined. His answer is revealing.

...but at one point he [DiSpirito] was a serious chef making good food ..then he made the decision of saying i want to become a "star" and ill do anything i can do get there. but i wont do it through my food, ill do it through a marketing machine...

This, he said, qualifies DiSpirito as a sell-out.

Specter I thought about this conversation again when Senator Arlen Specter from Pennsylvania switched parties because, in his own words, he did not think he could win as a Republican.

I am unwilling to have my 29-year Senate record judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate.

He also added, "I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans,"  but if that's the case I wonder why it took him so long to discover what the rest of the GOP has known for decades.

Like DiSpirito, Specter has been accused of being a sell-out. But also like DiSpirito, Specter simply made a calculated decision to do something that was in his own self-interests.

That alone doesn't make either of them a sell-out.

Even Specter's 2001 suggestion that representatives not be allowed to change parties between elections doesn't make him a sell-out. If you're tempted to call him one, it just means you have to better identify the principles that motivate him, not the principles that you think he should have.

Nm_keyes Alan Keyes, the former Reagan diplomat, political candidate, and occasional contributor to WorldNetDaily, deftly points out the hypocrisy of Michael Steel, the RNC chairman, to denigrate Specter's action as entirely self-serving. [pargraph breaks added for readability]

Steele has no problem sacrificing principle in order to keep politicians like Specter in the GOP ranks. He sees them as the key to victory and he has made it clear that, as far as he's concerned, winning is the only thing that matters.

Unfortunately for him, Specter's switch is entirely consistent with that principle.

Specter has rightly concluded that Republican primary voters will reject him in 2010, as they would have in 2004 had it not been for the help he received from Rick Santorum and others who put party loyalty above their commitment to the nation's fundamental moral principles.

By running as a Democrat, Specter feels that he stands a better chance of winning the general election. As far as principle goes, the only difference between Specter and Steele is that Specter will now reach for victory while being true to his leftist views.

Meantime, the Michael Steele Republicans, as they fume over his desertion, further demonstrate their willingness to seek victory by betraying the party's supposed conservatism.

Similarly, DiSpirito's decision to sell something besides the food he personally cooks doesn't make him a sell-out. It just means that he is interested in doing something other than what some people (like Bordain) want him to do.

That's his freedom. That's his right. And certainly in DiSpirito's case, it's entirely harmless.

To be sure, no one on this earth always live up to the principles they say they hold dear, 100% of the time with 100% consistency. One can make a mistake with respect to those principles -- or a series of mistakes -- and not be a sell-out.

But be warned: If you disappoint or mislead people who mistakingly ascribe certain principles to you, you will sacrifice your own credibility with those people, and you may not recover from it.

It's risky to be transparent and authentic, but hopefully the risk will just motivate us to be a better people who can act, more often than not, consistently with principles we've promised we have. - Cam Beck

P.S. For a great piece on branding and authenticity, I suggest this letter from Mike Rowe of The Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs.

April 29, 2009

FAA vs. NYC: A Federal Case Against Narcissism and the Abuse of Power

Air_Force_One_over_Mt._Rushmore Like a lot of people, I was outraged by the presidential airplane "photo op" that frightened a lot of New Yorkers. In spite of professed knowledge that the stunt could stoke the fears of residents and visitors, federal officials demanded secrecy and even threatened federal sanctions against the city if the secret got out.

Think about that for a second.

This wasn't a matter of national security. It was an attempt to get a cool looking photograph to put in publicity materials.

In other words, it was a "branding" exercise -- or at least what passes as branding in some circles.

Still, federal officials had the hubris to threaten peacekeepers and representatives with the full force and weight of the federal government for being so dastardly as to try to prevent the public from panicking.

(This, by the way, makes a strong case for diligently protecting individual liberty, for it is the peculiar nature of granting the power to incite and destroy that leads it to its intolerable abuse.)

The cost for this photo shoot, not including the time spent on damage control after the fact, was already $328,835, and according to an FAA memo, they knew it would cost that much. On a federal scale, $328,835 isn't a lot of money -- at least, when you're not concerned about whose money it really is.

But if they were committed to wasting taxpayer money (and I've never been alive to witness a time when the government wasn't so committed) they could have at least wasted less of it.

A decent painter -- or even a Photoshop expert -- could have simulated the event for much less.

Heck, with all the Obama sycophants out there, they probably could have found someone to donate their time to the cause of promoting him or the office he now holds.

It's true that the terrible memories of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks are still alive in New York. Given the repercussions of forgetting history, we can all be glad of that.

I suggest we follow New York's example by learning a lesson from this:

No matter how brightly we think our star shines, we cannot fool ourselves into thinking that our wants are more important than those we're supposed to serve. That is a foolish trap. Branding is a farce if we make it all about us. When we do that, it's not branding at all -- but narcissism. - Cam Beck

April 16, 2009

YouTube crisis management

Unless you've been sleeping under a rock, you should know about the Domino's incident that happened this week. In case you don't know here's one of about 100 videos on YouTube describing the incident:

What's interesting about this is that, in addition to firing the employees, Dominos had the video pulled from YouTube and posted this response:

I think it's a great idea to use the media to respond to the crisis but I'm not sure if I agree with them removing the video and with the format of the video response.

Pulling the video only allows others to re-post it more rapidly. It's a little like itching a rash caused by poison ivy. It spreads when scratched. If you really want to see the video, its now REALLY easy to find multiple places where its posted on YouTube.

The video response from the CEO is a little staged. It's not hard to tell he's ready a script off camera. There's also no information on cleanliness standards, number of restaurants and what they're going to do to prevent this in the future outside of "looking at their standards".

Truthfully I'm not sure there is much that can be done to keep this from happening. Truth be known, I'm sure it's happening at fast food places all the time, although I doubt it's too common. The response to me, though, gets a C. Yeah, they used social media tactics but there's no real thinking behind it.

- Paul Herring


Take a look at this apology from JetBlue from some time ago:

He even went on David Letterman to apologize. I think this is a much better model for how to handle a crisis that doesn't use social media just as a quick tactic but integrated into the plan. Thanks to Scott Monty for the Tweet!

February 26, 2009

What have you done for me lately, social media expert

Janet-rock-5 Since being on Twitter and following some of what I think are the greatest minds in social media, I've been overloaded with conversations and opinions. Some of are worthwhile, but I wonder whether or not they are tweeting just to tweet.

Those of us who work in this area, I have some news for you. We're not rock stars, even if we dress like them. Creating conflict for conflict's sake is not productive -- and sometimes it's just downright rude. Speaking in conferences, having your own podcast, pontificating about "new media" without providing specific examples, it's all good but of little value.

Maybe CMOs at big companies are impressed by books that you've published, conferences that you've spoken at. I'm not. Show me examples of where your ideas have been applied or better yet, show me where YOU have been part of the team who did it. I'm done with the fluff.

- Paul Herring

February 24, 2009

How to reach your audience without getting in their way

With all the criticism that Facebook received for appreciably changing their terms of service, it's interesting to note the positive way they responded that probably prevented any mass exodus.

Full disclosure: I have to mention that I completely empathize with their predicament. While their membership is growing by leaps and bounds across the world, they've had difficulty implementing an effective means to monetize that takes advantage of their unique data mining methods.

The market is fickle. People don't care that they're getting this awesome platform without any membership fees. When Facebook tried to monetize and launched one of its first initiatives, Beacon, the public revolted. Their 2008 ad revenue, in spite of the vast numbers of people using the platform, is less than that of MySpace.

By the time I got word that Facebook revised their terms of service, people had already started revolting.

Facebook then did two good things well. The first was in direct response to the outcry and threat of lawsuit from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), and the groundwork from the other was laid long before this was even a blip on the EPICs radar.

  1. They recanted the policy and solicited feedback from the audience
  2. They communicated directly with the members without the normal lawyer-speak.

(To show how fickle the marketplace really is (and what an itchy trigger finger people have),the executive director of the EPIC, Marc Rotenberg, withheld filing the his complaint with the FCC but promised to keep it in his back pocket.)

As for the other issue, here is the message Facebook sent out to all its members at the top of their member home page:

Facebook message

Notice the "Close" call to action in the upper right hand corner?

If the users don't really care about what's going on behind the scenes, they can just close out the message, and it won't return. I imagine Facebook can use this method to communicate any message they need to communicate to their audience about their service.

They kept it short and to the point, and it speaks directly to the people who were raising the fuss in the first place. In 4 short sentences, the Facebook team was able to explain

  • Why they're sending the message.
  • What they're going to do about it.
  • How to get more information.
  • Instructions on how to participate in the conversation.

That's all well and good. But here's the question:

If Facebook can communicate issues before the fact in a manner that provides an easy way to ignore it, if the users wish, can't they just have let their users know, in the same way, that their terms of service were going to change, and have solicited feedback before they pushed it live?

It seems getting feedback from the community before they blow up might be the best way to avoid these sorts of situations in the future.

And in the meantime, they might want to keep Marc Rotenberg's number on speed dial. Especially in a space where privacy is a huge concern, bringing in a privacy advocate (even if he does represent only the most privacy-conscious) for advice just seems smart. - Cam Beck

February 12, 2009

Authentic Suffering ... and Salvation

Recently I was honored to take part in redesigning the website for The Salvation Army's adult rehabilitation centers. Take a look for yourself and see how you like it.

The challenge was to effectively communicate the idea that when you donate clothing, cars, appliances, etc., to The Salvation Army, the sale of those items helps people in need of recovery.

This requires two things to make a compelling story:

  1. People in need
  2. People who were helped

Oh, and their stories needed to be real.

Happily, The Salvation Army has lots of stories that meet that criteria, and now they're posting them on YouTube. Be warned, though. It may be difficult to keep your composure as you watch them. Here's one of them:

Feed readers click through.

Sometime soon, these types of videos -- and other stories -- will find their way to their website as a means of communicating their message of hope -- hope they're able to deliver because of the people who donate items they're not using anymore, as well as those who buy these same goods.

If you need a reminder, just watch and listen to the stories of those who have recovered from some of the most difficult challenges anyone has had to endure.


I think we can all be glad organizations like The Salvation Army are out there fighting the good fight on the front lines of this personal turmoil.

But beyond that, I think we have to do our best to achieve our mission, in our own contexts and on our customers' terms, as successfully as The Salvation Army has for these people.

It isn't about whether we make commercials (funny or not) about overachieving horses or people throwing snow globes at other peoples' crotches. It's about truly helping others -- in whatever way that applies to you.

You want a way out of the economic mess? That -- not gimmicks -- is the way to do it. - Cam Beck

February 06, 2009

Blog, Facebook, Twitter and Myspace: Managing Your Profile and Hedging Your Bets

As they say, the only two things that are certain are death and taxes. The rest is open to interpretation. This includes the suitability of a candidate for any given position. Therefore, whether you're looking for a job or looking for a good person to fill a job, you're putting something valuable at risk -- either your time or your money. If job hunting is a gamble, then why not hedge your bets a bit?

The following is part of an exchange between banking guru J.P. Morgan and a member of a congressional committee in the early 20th century.

Congressman: Is not commercial credit based primarily on money or property?
J.P.M.: No, sir. The first thing is character.
Congressman: Before money or property?
J.P.M.: Before money or anything else. Money cannot buy it.

Long résumés and walls full of degrees and commendations have their place, but in the pantheon of qualifications, I wouldn't rank them the highest. Like Morgan, I would put a premium on character. In fact, here's how I would rank the order of importance.

  1. Character
  2. Intelligence (general and specific)
  3. Specific experience
  4. Education

Why you should be all over the 'net

The problem is that character and intelligence aren't easy to put on a résumé. Some people get by with listing experience (especially pro bono work they've done) and education, but that will only get you so far. Although they're often a good starting point, companies know the story doesn't end there.

And increasingly, they know how to use Google.

Knowing this, you really have only two choices:

  1. Ignore it and try to fly under Google's considerably effective radar, or
  2. Embrace it and influence it as much as you can

Number 1 may work only if you have no friends or a name like "Abraham Lincoln." In the first case, even if you try to fly under the radar, your friends may have other ideas about your desire for anonymity, and if you're not actively telling your story, someone else may be. In the second case... let's face it... Companies would be hard-pressed to find information about you when they have to navigate through all the information about that other guy.

Number 2, on the other hand, gives you an opportunity to tell your side of the story before anyone else does. If you're a private person and are uncomfortable with being "out there," you have the ability to moderate your level of personal disclosure.

If you're prolific, you can ensure prospective employers (or clients, if you're self-employed) can become convinced that you may have the qualities they seek in a candidate. If they don't value those qualities, they're probably not a good fit for you anyway.

That way, if there are any issues (fairly or unfairly) that call your character into question (Remember those parties you attended when you were 25?) they will be drowned out by the story you'd rather they see.

Just make sure your online persona is consistent with the way you want others to see you. - Cam Beck

February 03, 2009

Who Spins for the PR Agencies?

Is bribery still considered unethical?

When the UK tabloid, News of the World broke the story that Michael Phelps was photographed using a bong, two things immediately came to mind that confirmed, rather than shocked, my worldview. First, despite all of the hype and hero worship that typically surrounds sports superstars, this marvelous swimming specimen is still a young, immature kid in a world of highly permissive morality. Second, as is often the case in such an environment, this guy needs to find better friends and advisers.

I wasn't quite prepared, though, when I read the article that broke the "story," to hear that the agency that represents Phelps, Octagon, was accused of trying to bribe News of the World to keep them from publishing the photos.

From News of the World:
Phelps’ aides went into a panic over our story and offered us a raft of extraordinary incentives not to run the bong picture. … Phelps is represented by marketing giant Octagon, which works with huge brands such as Mastercard and HSBC. They admitted proven cannabis use would be “a major taint” on Phelps’ character.

Spokesman Clifford Bloxham offered us an extraordinary deal not to publish our story, saying Phelps would become our columnist for three years, host events and get his sponsors to advertise with us.

In return, he asked that we kill Phelps’ bong picture. Bloxham said: “It’s seeing if something potentially very negative for Michael could turn into something very positive for the News of the World.

Is it true? In a prepared statement that really took some chutzpah, Octagon denied the allegations, claiming News of the World, who broke the story that proved true, is a tabloid, and that tabloids are not to be believed.

Not only that, but Octagon wouldn't address the issue further, claiming:

"[W]e have no intention of getting into a shouting match with a tabloid."

No one is asking for a shouting match. Just an explanation. I want to know if the PR world thinks this sort of statement, in light of such accusations in a story that otherwise proved accurate, is sufficient. So far, I've only read one story on it, from a New York Times blog, "Notes on the News."

Obviously Octagon thought enough of the tabloid story to issue a statement on behalf of Phelps and to contact the publication respecting the story. Yet, when they became a part of the story, they claim they don't respond to tabloid stories, and that at least strains their credibility.

I'm not a PR professional, so I'd love to get your feedback.

What do you think? Should Octagon ignore News of the World, or does this situation require a more complete response? - Cam Beck

November 26, 2008

Taco Bell Gets Pwned by 50 Cent

300px-Taco_Bell_logo.svg In a move to be cool and connect to their young demographic, Taco Bell made a colossal blunder.  Never. Mess. With. A. Rapper's. Street. Name. Ever.

According to AdAge,  "Back in July, the chain sent an "open letter" over the PR wires encouraging 50 Cent to drive up to one of their locations, rap his order and then change his name to 79, 89 or 99 Cent, just for the day. In turn, the Yum Brands chain would donate $10,000 to the charity of his choice."

For those of you that haven't read 50 Cent's (aka Curtis Jackson) wiki entry, I implore you to do it now.  The guy was shot 9 times close range by Mike Tyson's bodyguard in 2000.  50 was shot in the hand, arm, both legs, chest and left cheek.  Jackson rebounded but Tyson's bodyguard was gunned down 3 weeks later.  I could go on and on because his story is fascinating.  Oh, and the name "50 Cent"? Jackson says it's a metaphor for change.  Jackson chose the name "because it says everything I want it to say. I'm the same kind of person 50 Cent was. I provide for myself by any means."

Jackson sued Taco Bell for not getting his consent.  For a brand that's trying so hard to be cool this just reeks of desperation.

So this begs the question, would you ever mess with a guy that can't die and will provide for himself by any means?  I know I wouldn't.  50 Cent = 1 Taco Bell = 0. - John Herrington