37 posts categorized "Public Relations"

August 22, 2008

The Problem with Deception

340x Poor China. On the brink of winning the greatest haul of gold medals by any country at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, some people are questioning the integrity of some of their wins. Did they follow the rules? There has been reason to suspect otherwise, not the least of which was reporting done by the government-controlled official news service, which contradicts their now-official story about the age of two of their athletes.

Since the questions were raised, China has produced official state documents, including passports and birth certificates, that "prove" that the young gymnasts, the remarkably young-looking He Kexin and Yang Yilin, are the proper age to compete.

"They have faced groundless suspicion. Why aren't they believed," asked China gymnastics coach Lu Shanzan. "Why are their children suspected? Their parents are very angry."

Well, let's think about that for just a bit.

Why would anyone not believe the official story of an oppressive regime trying to put a happy face on its historical and contemporary tyranny?

2702777114_f2037734b8_b But we're told to ignore all that, and we do for the most part because it's more comfortable to think of China in terms of its grand opening ceremony and rich culture on display throughout the Olympics.

Never you mind that elephant in the room. Look how well our 9 year-olds can lip sync "Ode to the Motherland."

It's very possible that the gymnasts and China didn't break a single rule. I want to believe that. I hope that's the case -- for their sakes. Our young should never be used as pawns to further our own selfish ambitions and obsessions.

Even if the worst is true, though, this action doesn't even approach the moral weight of infanticide, but it certainly does nothing to improve their standing.

The sad part is that, if the girls' ages are what they now say they are, they're made to suffer for China's human rights abuses -- and their constant push to cover it up -- over something that should have never been sullied.

A Marketing Lesson
According to USA Today, China now hopes to turn the exposure the country got into increased tourism.

Great.

But for all the glitter and glamour, do you believe for a moment the this changes the "product?" This is the same product that prohibits freedom of religion, arrests dissidents for political speech, and confiscates Bibles and other religious literature without compensation.

Of course not.

The pomp and circumstance are just marketing tools at best, and at worst, they represent a fraudulent picture of the very real abuses their government sponsors. Responsible consumers ought to think twice before falling for their marketing ploys that try to cover up or hide their real problem.

Most will see right through it.

As with most things, though, some people will fall for it. Some will continue to shun and condemn China.

A noble few will continue to do what they always have: Fight for the freedom -- in principle and practice -- the just people of China so richly deserve. And they will pay the price for it because they know it's worth the cost. - Cam Beck

August 13, 2008

Advertising as Content

Coke Please answer the following questions as quickly and as honestly as you can.

If you could watch TV without commercials, would you do it?

Would your answer change if you found out that, in lieu of advertising, advertisers strategically placed products throughout the show hoping that it would subtly influence what you buy?

Would your answer change if you found out that this technique was 100% more effective than traditional TV commercials in influencing consumer behavior? 1000% more effective?

Based on the answers to those questions, here's the big one:

What's the purpose of advertising?

Of course the example is bogus. I have no illusions about product placement within the content of a show being 100 times as effective as television commercials -- even if the product is the "hero" of the show.

The point is to get us all to think about the nature of advertising, where we draw our limits for acceptability, and why.

There are a lot of people who equate advertising as an attempt to manipulate people -- which is of course exactly true. We are social beings, after all, and we cannot escape the nature in which people interact and try to influence each other.

Advertising reflects our social nature. It did not cause it.

But the problem is that they see any form of manipulation as exploitation, which is false. Sometimes.

It depends on the end to which people are being manipulated. Are they being encouraged to do something good (e.g., brush their teeth twice a day with cavity-fighting toothpaste) or something bad (e.g. run up credit card debt in pursuit of social status).

Is Exploitation Really So Bad?
It seems like such a silly question that it shouldn't even need to be asked. But when you consider that not all people agree on where to draw the line between what is good and what is bad, you realize a fundamental dilemma: One person's exploitation is another's informed consent.

And when you consider that people and advertisements are diverse enough to please and offend equal portions of both, you can begin to see why people distrust advertising in general.

Conscience is a Minefield

This is one of the principle reasons advertisers desperately covet the ability to communicate:

  • the exact right message at
  • the exact right time to
  • the exact right person in
  • the exact right way

In the same order, to deliver that it requires:

  • knowledge of an individual's social and psychological makeup
  • knowledge of or access to his schedule
  • knowledge of his identity and location
  • knowledge of his moral scruples

Most people are uneasy about anyone having all of this information about them, because they already fear the prospect of someone manipulating them. They distrust advertisers.

So maintaining a healthy respect for privacy and to maintain effectiveness, it seems advertising must be framed as something else. However, not all efforts to navigate this landscape have been welcomed with open arms.

Here are some of the tactics in use today:

Product placement is just one example of this. Some groups strenuously object to this practice, calling it deceptive. In any event, those engaging in product placements will need to determine if the rewards justify the cost and if it can be reliably predicted and duplicated.

Search engine marketing is also an example of advertising as content, but with SEM, at least the user has expressed an intent to be exposed to something that might answer his question, and the advertisements are clearly marked. Plus, it's easier to track the immediate effects in real time.

PayPerPost is an attempt to frame advertising as content, but since blogger backlash forced them to require bloggers identify their endorsements as advertising (and some other issues regarding compensation), I tend to be skeptical about its long-term viability.

Blogger outreaches are efforts to marry bloggers to the right opportunities, in the hopes that they may speak favorably of whatever it is the marketing effort is promoting. This is a dangerous game, too, if it is done wrong. Some companies have been skewered by a segment of the community for the slightest hint of impropriety.

Of these efforts, the common characteristics people tend to appreciate most are transparency and authenticity. Of course, with product placement in fictional television shows or movies, this is a bit trickier. Working through that maze is a post in itself.

Where Does This Leave Us?
There is no panacea of marketing. All approaches we've discussed have their difficulties. They risk effectiveness, capital, or by virtue of the PR effects of wrongheaded planning or execution, both.

What's important to remember is our responsibility to serve our audience and the common good as a whole -- insofar as the common good can be objectively identified. With that principle in mind, we can fearlessly proceed with our best understanding, even knowing we'll make some mistakes. We'll be certain to be listening the entire way so that when we do make a wrong turn, our audience will be sure to tell us which way we need to go.

If we've been treating them right all along and continue to treat them with respect throughout our recovery, they'll not hold our mistakes against us for long. - Cam Beck

Disclosure: The coke can was unopened in the photo above.

Related Posts
Part 1: Give Them Ads You Want Them To See
Part 2: Give Them Ads They've Asked To See   
Part 3: Build Relationships
Part 4: Adopt Their Goals as Your Own

July 28, 2008

Superior Air Power: How the Airlines Can Win

Logo On Thursday I attended an excellent new media community workshop hosted by Refresh Dallas guest lecturers, Stephen Anderson and Travis Isaacs. The goal of the workshop was to teach the audience some techniques to organize information effectively. I have to hand it to the two Viewzi hotshots. It's apparent from their collections of spinach labels and IRS forms that they have been gathering material for this presentation for a long time. Strangely enough, one of the homework assignments got me thinking about the airlines' principal marketing dilemmas: how to increase customer satisfaction and build brand loyalty.

The assignment was to more effectively organize and prioritize airline confirmation information. We were allowed to invent our own contexts. This is what it looked like:

Flight

How should this be resolved? Read more at Marketing Profs: Daily Fix. - Cam Beck

June 05, 2008

Building Successful Microsites

Microsites1

Microsites are mini-websites are meant to supplement a company's primary website. They have their uses, but many times they are meant as a way to "introduce" a product to the general public.

Who they're for
A microsite shouldn't be built until this is clearly defined. For until you define the audience, you don't know if a microsite will appeal to them, or what sort of functionality to put on them.

Don't assume the first person you ask (even if it's the CEO) knows the audience as well as he thinks he does. Often the online audience doesn't perfectly reflect the audience the company reaches through other means.

Why they're used
Agencies like them because they are not as shackled by the design constraints and architecture of the primary website. Companies like them because they are relatively quick and inexpensive to set up (especially when put together hastily), and it gives them some ammunition to take to prove to their bosses that they're doing something "cutting-edge."

When they work
Microsites work when they're either especially well-thought out and fun, or when they actually provide a useful tool to the audience that they can't get somewhere else.

When they fail
All websites fail when they don't add sufficient value to their audience. Significantly -- and this is something typical agencies tend to forget as they're distracted by the Bright and Shiny Objects they're creating -- websites also fail if they do not deliver tangible results to the  client.

Therefore, defining your success metrics beforehand is critical, and it should never, ever be skipped.

How to do it right
Designers, cover your ears: Proper planning is the most important aspect of building a successful microsite. A big part of that planning is ensuring the right resources (including the design resources) are identified and secured.

Websites aren't like television commercials. People must actively choose to visit one, which means  to attract them, the site must provide something the audience wants or needs, and then it must provide that in a way that doesn't frustrate the users.

Even the most nifty design is useless if no one comes to it, so the planner must take into account how people would get to the site and what would motivate them to return (if that is, in fact, part of the plan). 

What it means to your brand
With the right strategy and execution, this method can build a strong affinity for your brand, which isn't exactly useless. However, that affinity doesn't always translate to an easily calculable ROI.

Because the microsite is a supplement and not the main course, poor execution here is most often low-risk, but poor planning can be, in certain situations, a public relations nightmare. Make sure you consider your contingencies and have the right stakeholders in the loop throughout the way.

One Important Caveat
Building microsites should normally take a back-seat to improving the performance of your main site. For creating a perfect microsite that is made popular by a clever promotional execution, can actually cause harm when the main site is useless and unusable.

Servicesites

- Cam Beck


 

May 02, 2008

Be Joseph Jaffe. Fight Cancer.

Camjaffe_2
Do You Want to Be Joseph Jaffe?

  1. Download and print Joseph Jaffe's Name Tag (PDF 408Kb).
  2. Take a picture and upload yourself holding it to this Flickr group.
  3. Upload a video of yourself saying "I am Joseph Jaffe." You can embellish this phrase however you wish. Katie had a novel approach (Language warning).
  4. Blog about it, including the picture. Link back to this post (That way I can consolidate them all for later and tally the results).
  5. Donate at least $25 to the Frozen Pea Fund to help find a cure for cancer.

The background:
Although he planned to attend, Joseph Jaffe became ill right before Blogger Social, and he was unable to attend. Several people in the room “faked” Jaffe’s presence through Twitter by claiming they observed Jaffe in various states of embarrassment.

(I got this information second-hand, though. I didn't read the posts personally.)

Also present was the family of Susan Reynolds, cancer survivor, inspiration to many, and the one who, along with Connie Reece, is responsible for the Frozen Pea Fund, an organization founded and promoted almost entirely through social media.

Montyauction Near the end of the event, crayon employee Scott Monty presented a check (courtesy of crayon client ooVoo) to the Reynolds’ family, for the Frozen Pea Fund, in the amount of $30,000. Once the excitement subsided, Monty made note of Jaffe’s absence and surprised everyone by auctioning off Jaffe’s name tag, with all proceeds going to the Frozen Pea Fund.

In short order, Geoff Livingston won with a $500 bid.

Geoff was sitting across from me at my table, and we discussed the possibility of letting anyone who wanted to be Joseph Jaffe for a day, for a $25 donation to the Frozen Pea Fund. Because of my proximity, I was the first to get the tag.

So what are you waiting for?
Download Joseph Jaffe's Name Tag. Fight cancer. Poke a little fun at one of the newest citizens of the U.S. Did I mention fight cancer? - Cam Beck

April 22, 2008

Ad:Tech Parting Thoughts: Are Conferences a Waste of Time?

This last week I had the great fortune of being invited to attend Ad:Tech San Francisco, along with Ryan, Sean, Katie, and Paul, on behalf of Tim and Wendy McHale of The Madison Avenue Journal. It was a fun, rewarding experience on a personal level, but when I came back, I knew I would have to answer the question (both for myself and for my company): Can companies regularly justify the (sometimes hefty) entrance fee for events like these?

I can't speak for all conferences, but on this one, I can say I will recommend my company, Click Here, send at least one representative per year, if not two.

To be sure, not all sessions had equal merit. Some of the panelists were throwing around buzzwords like they were going out of style. Several times I expected half the audience to stand up and shout, "Bingo!"

As Dave Barry would say -- I swear I'm not making this up -- I heard one panelists say "engagement" six times in one sentence. The more he used the word, the less it applied to me. I had enough.

Buzzwordbingo

Is there an echo in here?
Also, I didn't always agree with (or I didn't always understand) the keynote speakers and panelists. This is a good thing. I figure that, as a general rule, if you are attending only those conferences and speeches where everyone agrees with you and they're only talking about things that everybody knows, you aren't stretching yourself nearly enough.

If no one disagrees with you, you're probably in an echo chamber. That's a dangerous place to be. That's why, by the way, I told Ann Handley and Paul Barsch, in the comments of a post on MPDailyFix.com that I want to hear from people who hate what I write.

There's no way to get better feedback and fine tune your own thinking than to stand toe-to-toe with someone who will kill or die (figuratively) for a competing idea.

There were plenty of moments I was also in some speaker's "Amen" corner. There was some passionate disagreements between panel members -- and between the panel members and the Twitterers. These are the sorts of disagreements from which innovation springs.

5 reasons you should attend these conferences

  1. Networking. I met a lot of good people at Ad:Tech, and got an opportunity to see others I don't get the opportunity to see that much.
  2. Exposure. I don't care who you are, it's good for those in your industry to be aware of what your company does. If you need business, with over 10,000 people in attendance, this is a good way to build it. Maybe you have all the customers you can handle, and if so, good for you! But nothing is perpetual in business except change. So it will be nice to be on the top of someone else's mind when they happen across a situation that causes them to reflect, "Hey, I know the perfect company for your project."
  3. Education. We're apt to think that our problems and challenges are unique, but in reality there isn't much that is new under the sun, if you know what to look for. Chances are you'll come across someone, either in conversation or by watching a keynote or panel discussion, who has found a way to tackle something you've been struggling with, and it might spark an idea on you can approach your situation.
  4. Trend-spotting. Where is the industry heading? What are the buzzwords? Hint: If you haven't heard any new ones lately, see my warning about being in an echo chamber.
  5. Vendor research. This is sort of a combination of all of the other reasons, but it deserves its own space for the extent to which you can educate yourself about the companies out there who are, in pursuit of their own interests, dying to help you solve your business problems. I know a lot of us get pitched by potential vendors all the time, but it's hard to beat the opportunity to see so many of them in one place, at one time.

The ideal conference strategy
Depending on your budget and human resources, I recommend sending at least two representatives to these conferences. One person would be the designated seminar attendee, and the other would attend all the vendor demonstrations.

For a multi-day event, these attendees should meet 2-3 times daily to discuss what they learned, how it applies to their company, and what their respective next steps should be. Ask questions like:

  • What seminars should I attend?
  • Should I ask any questions?
  • What types of vendors should I look for?
  • What questions should I ask them?

It is impossible to attend every seminar. What's more, it's still difficult to attend seminars all day and still get a good run of all the vendors. With two company representatives in attendance, you can build enough contacts to keep several members of your company busy for awhile, just vetting out everything you have learned at the conference.

Yes, that takes time and effort and money. But the alternative is to become stale and to slowly lose relevance to your customers. It's much less expensive to simply attend the conferences. - Cam Beck

April 21, 2008

These 3 Letters Could Save Your Life

450pxaed_open This weekend the American Heart Association trained me in and certified me for CPR and first aid. It was the first time in about 16 years I'd been certified to perform CPR, although I had since been trained for particular emergencies (mostly dealing with sucking chest wounds and other battlefield injuries). A few things had changed since my last certification. One of them was something that someone might ask you for one day, and if you don't know what it is, the person being rescued might die. Also, if you happen to be the person in a dire situation, it's imperative that others know what it is, too.

It's called an AED, or Automated External Defibrillator. Until you get your CPR certification, what you need to know about it is this:

An AED could save your or someone else's life.

They're not always available when you need them, but many public places require them. They may be available at malls, airports, and other places where people gather in large numbers. Your work may even have one or several.

I write this now because, up until Saturday, had someone asked me to, "Call 9-1-1 and get an AED," I would have been able to do exactly half of that. I would have been clueless about the second half.

At a minimum, know what an AED is (they are not all identical in appearance) so that you can be useful should anyone suffer a problem that might require the use of one, but I also ask you to consider getting certified in CPR by visiting the American Red Cross or the American Heart Association.

The world is too small to assume it's someone else's problem. - Cam Beck

April 15, 2008

Absolut-ly Overblown

AbsolutRecently Absolut has found themselves in the midst of an uproar about their new Reconquista ad.  The ad, pictured here,  created by  Teran/TBWA in Mexico City, was designed to appeal to the Mexican consumers specifically without any ties to the current election and the much debated issue of immigration reform. Absolut said the ad was intended to recall "a time which the population of Mexico might feel was more ideal."

Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin posted the ad on her site while and hundreds of people have voiced their own ban on Absolut.  One reader had the following comment:

Absolut -

I run a bar in Pt. Richmond, California - where the Kaiser Liberty Ships were built during WWII. After seeing your ad Campaign where you show a western map of the United States in which California is part of Mexico again, I’ve decided to do the following…

1) Never carry Absolut. Ever.
2) Lower the price of Ketel One vodka to $2 a shot indefinitely to build loyalty.
3) Print a copy of your ad and put it above the Ketel One drink special.
4) Tell all my friends and family what Absolut thinks of the United States of America and our right to enforce border laws.

I am on the front line of illegal immigration and its effects. Where are you? Oh yes, Sweden.
Good riddance.

Sincerely,

Matthew Rogers
Pt. Richmond, Ca.

My take on this is that people are just itching this political season to find anything they can jump on to point the finger at someone else.  Clearly this ad wasn't a power play to infiltrate American politics and insinuate that Mexican borders should include Texas and all of the western states.  Even if Teran/TBWA and Absolut were completely malicious in their intent, how are so many people offended by this ad?  Mexico is as much a threat to the United States as MC Hammer is likely to have a comeback. In the end, Absolut has to love all the press they've received off the ad even if some nuts are up in arms. - John Herrington

April 14, 2008

Building a Website is Harder Than it Looks

Visa9thumb
When Wendy McHale of The Madison Avenue Journal first asked me to review a website for an Ad:Tech finalist, I chose Visa's Business Breakthrough because it is, in a way, a marketer's interactive dream project. It obviously had a large budget, and the video was skillfully shot and implemented throughout the site. A technician could certainly appreciate the production quality.

A big part of my job at Click Here is to troubleshoot websites at various stages of development, and this means looking for and finding the problems that do or might cause the users to fail completing whatever task they came to the site to accomplish. This way, I can cut through the bull to get to the meat of the issue, and everyone working on the project can do so with full awareness of what needs to be fixed and how to go about it.

My first review of the site, which I did not submit, was highly critical of the effort at businessbreakthrough.com. It reflected, I think, my typical approach to reviewing websites.

I reread it a few times, and I wasn't pleased.

As I thought about Steve Krug's mantra about website criticism, I reminded myself that it's always good to take a step back and remember just how hard it really is to build a website. Not only do you have the technical issues to consider, but you have to be able to:

  1. Pitch a concept internally and to the client (often in multiple stages),
  2. Secure the budget and resources
  3. Try to reconcile the visions of everyone in the project who has a say in it -- including the technicians who are telling you that what you're asking can't be done on this budget -- and
  4. Put together all the various pieces cohesively so that when users come to the site, it does not break.

The ugly truth about web design
I've been doing it for awhile, and though it's always enjoyable, it's never been easy (If it were, we couldn't be proud when we did it right). Everyone has a different opinion of what the site should be, and the person making the ultimate decision might not have the same grounding in the interactive space, including the way humans use it, as the people building the site.

So not only must those building the website be good at what they do, they also must have unimpeachable skills of persuasion. To convince the decision maker who might be biased toward another medium, they must be able to back up their claims with research the allotted budget of time and money didn't pay for.

The people paying for the site must feel as if the site is theirs.

Of course, we always have best practices to point to, but it doesn't help that the principle author of them is so hated by designers.

Because of this, those building the site must often sacrifice what they know to be right because of these external considerations, but that shouldn't stop us from admiring the things we know they executed well.

Click here to read the review, which is an edited version of my third draft. - Cam Beck

For more information: See Jakob Nielsen's latest synopsis of various usability mistakes made by several webites.

March 12, 2008

Much Ado About Nothing

Facebook_advertising The Internet is abuzz with a scandal that has threatened the sensibilities of the masses. Bloggers everywhere are upset and demand contrition. Some say there is no shame in what happened -- that everyone has faults and that the critics should just lay off, but opponents will not be satisfied until they have their pound of flesh. From the sound of it, you'd think this is the end of life as we know it. Personally, I don't see why it's a big deal.

No, this isn't about New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, but about the interview BusinessWeek reporter Sarah Lacey gave to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at SXSW in Austin.

Apparently folks think Lacey meandered too much in the interview and gave only softball questions. The 24 year-old Zuckerberg, possibly not the best of interview subjects (not because of his relevance, but in his skill at giving interviews), gave uninteresting PR answers to most of the questions.

The audience rose up, spoke out, and Twittered in protest. Lacey took it incredibly personally, and lots of respected folks wrote about it -- some in disgust and some in defense of Lacey.

Since it is already news and is being discussed, it might be useful to try to learn something from the event.

Speaking Coach Lisa Braithwaite identifies 2 types of hecklers.

...One heckler will repeatedly try to contribute to the discussion (aka dominating it), make jokes, or even challenge the speaker in order to show how smart he is, but he's not out to disrupt the presentation. The other heckler takes pleasure in messing with the speaker and seeing the speaker's discomfort and stress, and tries especially hard to discredit the speaker if possible.

Both types were present in Lacey's audience.

Her advice for the first type of heckler is to accommodate them. Let them know that their questions are welcome. When she assumed a defensive posture, Lacey failed to do this.

The second thing she did wrong was allow the hecklers to get under her skin. By playing the part of the victim, she brought more attention to it than it deserved. She became the story, when the story should have been Zuckerburg.

Screwyou_3

It's easy to be a critic. While the audience might feel as if they could have given a better interview, Lacey has something that they don't, and probably never will -- access to Zuckerburg and permission to call on him.

She has that access because she spent 5 years cultivating that relationship and building his trust. And yes, that means he was 19 at the time -- before a lot of us saw the real potential in the wunderkind.

That is laudable, and we should not underestimate its importance.

Even understanding that, like everyone else, she has room for improvement, let's not make too big a deal of this. She is young and will only learn from the experience.

We can only hope the hecklers will do the same.- Cam Beck

More public speaking tips from Lisa Braithwaite
How Thick Is Your Skin?
Never Lose Focus