Monday, September 20, 2010

PR firm or advertising agency?

History books will tell you that the modern public relations agency was born within advertising agencies.

So, what happens when an advertising agency tries to offer public relations? Or, vice versa.

Will the agency lose its advertising brand when trying to call itself a public relations agency? Will a public relations agency lose any appearance of its primary focus by also offering advertising services?

Many advertising and PR agencies have figured the best course of action is to create a separate company within a company - to ensure distinctive brands. My old firm - Stoorza - did this when they acquired an advertising agency.

Without the "separation" clearly defined, existing and potential clients can be confused. Worse, an agency risks diluting its strengths and brand image.

Case in point this week: A Southern California boutique advertising firm is called a "PR Agency" in a story. Adding insult - the reporter accepted on faith statements that this firm was one of the "best known PR firms" in the region and didn't bother to check there were at least three other true PR agencies in that region with higher billings, a longer client roster and higher name recognition. (Disclosure: Stoorza's office in this region evolved into one of those agencies. And, I provide consulting services to another one of those firms.).

I'm sure this advertising agency does great work. The diligence required for anyone seeking PR services is to, well, look first for a PR firm whose core strengths are PR.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Cause celebrity: Aniston and bottled water

Since I live in the LA basin, my non-California colleagues (or recent arrivals) ask about how to attach a celebrity to their cause-brand-product, etc.

I usually defer these questions to my good friend Rita Tateel - who does this for a living through her highly successful The Celebrity Source company.

But if you live and work in LA, you need to keep track of this stuff. The hard questions for PR pros are:

  • Credibility: Does a celebrity really help your product or organization if consumers questions that celebrity's actual private commitment to your product or cause;

  • Impact: Will a celebrity really make a difference to your cause?

  • Trends: The public can be fickle. (see below).

Old school thinking: Consumers are getting more savvy about celebrities and causes. Consumers were generally skeptical of celebrities who appeared out of nowhere to support a cause.

New school: Celebrities have become more savvy, in part to Rita's coaching, I'm sure. It can't be a one-and-done appearance for a celebrity. They need to demonstrate a lengthy commitment to a cause.

RE: Trends. Celebrities have led the way in environmental causes. Toyota's newly introduced Prius took off after a Los Angeles PR firm successfully convinced about a dozen well-known actors to show up at the Academy Awards in the fuel efficient vehicle (instead of gas-guzzling limos) as a pledge to help the environment.

But are all celebrities linked to environmental causes?

Just as it shocks us to learn not all actors are Democrats, it shouldn't shock us when someone as famous as Jennifer Aniston promotes bottled water. Gasp!

The furor over bottled water is still there. But will it harm Jennifer? Will it cause other actors to abandon their bottles?

No, not for now.

Although Peter Gleick went after Aniston in a recent Huffington Post piece and Peter has a good track record of starting a battle that he can win (and he has his own book to promote), the bottled water industry is not going away.

The news media (and, presumably, Jennifer's fans), were much more interested in Jennifer's "abs" in the photo spreads for her Smart Water advertisements. (Just Google Jennifer and Water Smart and see what I mean).

Which reminds us that our interest in celebrities begins and ends with their...well, celebrity.

Sure, celebrities - in their off hours - can have an impact on a cause. The "Stand Up To Cancer" show this Friday is fueled by celebrities. George Clooney was honored at the Emmys for his charitable efforts.

But Madison Avenue can still win over the color of ribbon you wear on a jacket, or the wristband.

At least, as I said, for now.

It's a matter of the economy. In good economic times, the public will be more receptive to making decisions based on the environment and other factors related to corporate social responsibility. When the economy still sucks, the public will look at price - and, in the case of bottled water - a beautiful, athletic and well-toned actress.

My only advice to Jennifer, and the rest of the acting industry keeping the bottled water industry in business: Be ready for the mood shift. Have your plan ready to explain how you also are taking extra steps - far beyond what most humans do - to recycle those bottles.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

How to pause on TV

Brain freezes happen.

As a reporter covering the Midwest campaign loop for the 1980 U.S. President election, I had writer's block for nearly 2 hours after a Ronald Reagan speech. Obviously, this was before the 24/7 news cycle or I would have been looking for a new career the next day.

Having coached dozens of executives and others for public appearances and on-camera interviews, I watched - like all of us - the recent awkward "silence" of AZ Gov. Jan Brewer during a live TV debate. (CNN covered it well here).

Two points from my end as a presentation coach.

1. The instant recovery. We are human. We make mistakes. We shouldn't expect perfection, even from polished politicians. (But, we do.) The trick is to be armed with a standard line when you stumble (and, you're going to stumble) or when asked a tough question. With a rehearsed line embedded into your brain, you can easily "fall back" to the defensive position, and use a trusted phrase to fill the "dead air," and give yourself a chance to recover .
Also, set your clock. The "trigger" for "dead air" is at three seconds. Practice this timing, so your brain knows when to bring up the instant "back-up" line.

There are straight-forward recovery lines such as: "Let me try this again." Or, when asked a tough question: "That's a good question. Let me make sure I understand exactly what you are asking."

But humor is better in the "brain freeze" moments because it quickly eases the tension and can evoke sympathy and empathy. "Well, that was a warm and fuzzy moment, wasn't it?" Or, "In the replay, I know this is going to sound better."

2. The longer recovery. Gov. Brewer did not have an immediate line at the time of her brain freeze. But, she did try to recover on a subsequent radio interview by confessing "It was the longest 16 seconds of my life." Fortunately for Gov. Brewer, the news media stayed interested in her (it is, after all, a governor's race in AZ) and she had opportunity to explain herself.

As much as we all want everyone to "move along" and forget a past mistake, some folks (like the news media and opponents) won't let go. The clip is now permanent and if it's good enough, it will make it to the Daily Show.
To win the "final word," you need to evoke poise, confidence and, again, a bit of humor. Also, gently insinuate that there are bigger issues to discuss by asking questions and putting others on the defensive.

If you don't take immediate control, then opponents have room to question your character and intellect.

The key is to not be defensive, not admit you made a mental mistake, nor dwell on the mistake. Address it with a quick reply, and transition to your message. It's not: "Look, I know I stumbled and had a brain freeze. We make mistakes, don't we? Can't we get on to the real issues?"

To appear you're in control and have collected your poise, it's: "I'm glad I can show that I'm human. (Or, with a grin on your face: "I'm glad you enjoyed my warm and fuzzy moment.") But did you catch the point I was making? We need to (create jobs/improve the economy/etc.)?"

And, it doesn't hurt to have staff providing the news media context and background about, say, how great leaders like to reflect on matters before making big decisions.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The young, the CSR and the Brand

What good is your effort to be a Socially Responsible corporation when a large sector of the population simply ignores that factor in their buying decisions?

A recent study of Canadians may upset the prevailing thinking about how companies improve their brand and their bottom line.

Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR, is an increasingly expensive branding proposition for companies. Most research shows consumers are increasingly looking at a company's reputation in their purchasing decisions. Even in a poor economy, more and more consumers are looking beyond just a good brand name or a discount.

While the actual percentages of CSR-based product purchases are still low, the trends tell companies they must keep examining which social causes to support. Like, saving the environment or cancer research.

However, research released this week by a Canadian advertising firm indicates the under-30 crowd are more ambivalent about a company's reputation in their purchasing decision. (Which seems strange to me, since I perceived all Canadians as being ultra-sensitive about the environment).

What's more, it seems social media has had a huge influence on how the younger audience developed a lack of interest in social issues. (Insert rant here about twitter and the devil).

It shouldn't be too much of a surprise that younger audiences are more swayed by "flash" and glitter and "coolness" versus whether a product is made by a company that wants to save the rainforest. If you've had a teenager in your life, you don't need research to tell you this.

But with this Canadian study examining a broader prime buying audience all the way to, gasp, age 29, the conventional wisdom is in a mild turmoil. Yeah, we can see how a 22 YO is not looking at social causes. But a 29 YO?

Prediction: Watch for a slew of more research diving into both of these issues (CSR among young folks and the influence of social media on social causes).
So, are you among the many professionals are scrambling this week - wondering if they need to recalculate their CSR recommendations based on one study, or wait for other research to come in?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Client Win - UCLA Extension

The Wolcott Company recently earned two positive and prominent placements in the New York Times on behalf of its client - UCLA Extension.

The first was an extensive piece about the value to mid-career professionals of returning to university for continuing education.

Click here to read some insightful quotes from UCLA Extension Dean Cathy Sandeen, and the perspective of a student.

The second story looked at how schools like UCLA Extension are offering foreign language courses to meet the growing demand among adults for a quick "immersion" in a language.