Monday, March 31, 2014

Tossing a ref rag on NFL's email strategy

One of PR's first rules: know your audience. Or, don't pitch a story about Manolo Blahnik shoes to Sports Illustrated.

The NFL recently sent emails from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and ex-coach and current TV pitchman Bill Cowher, telling me all they're doing to address the issue of head injury and trauma among young and pro football players. Here's a link.

People who play football experience head injury. No dispute there. There's a reason high schools with football teams hire a physician to attend the games. And TV news magazines have devoted airtime to stories of suicide among former NFL players whose behavior may have ties to head-to-head collisions on the field.

Another of my basic PR rules: ask a reader to take one action. And here's where the NFL's e-newsletter strategy misses the uprights.

First, I don't have kids, nephews or neighbors whose kids play league football. I've never coached a team. I'm not the right demographic for this message. Whatever e-mail list the NFL's using, it needs to be scrubbed.

Second: I only attended one NFL game in 2013. (Prior to that, it had been three years between trips to Ralph Wilson Stadium.)

Third: former coach Bill Cowher's current high-visibility gig is promoting cable TV service for Time Warner Cable. Message to me: the NFL hired a "favorite son" pitchman to front its issue. His credibility is a bit thin.

I clicked the "Sign Up Today" button in Bill's email. It whisks me to a website operated by USA Football, not the NFL. It leads me down a path to register and become a "Commissioner." I don't know what this means, and it asks for too much personal information.

From an image-management and PR perspective, the NFL's game plan to address the head injury issue -- without talking about what it's doing for afflicted former players -- draws a ref rag. It talks to the wrong audience. Yes, they got a morning talk-show segment on moms taking part in football training to better understand the issue. That's great PR.

But the NFL/USA Football email is vague and intrusive. At best, I'm a casual football fan. So I'm more likely to wear a cycling helmet when I ride than sign up for a mailing list about an issue where I have no stake in the game.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A practically perfect business blog

Today, I'm sharing a link to a 2013 post on the Disney Parks blog, written by my friend and colleague Bernadette Davis. Bernadette is a communications manager for the Disney Parks in Florida, and often helps out in special events that take place on the property.

Bernadette's post isn't a deep exploration of some industry topic, nor is it an essay on Florida tourism.  It's not an ad masquerading as a blog, either. It does share some interesting news about an event hosted by Disney that focuses on giving young people a closer look at career opportunities in sports.

What makes this blog post successful?
  • You get a small glimpse of Bernadette -- her interests, her family, and what she does -- in a brief sentence. Personalization is important in a blog post.
  • Her blog gives exposure to a newsworthy activity that might not gain visibility if shared as a conventional news release. It shows that Disney's corporate responsibility extends well beyond Soarin' and character autograph sessions. (Both of which are fun experiences!)
  • The blog post uses a few well-lit, engaging photos that don't look like everyday snapshots from a Disney venue. 
  • It demonstrates Disney's engagement in diversity and inclusion, without hitting the reader over the head with its message.
  • Bernadette's post provides links to richer, more detailed information about the MEAC/SWAC Challenge football game. The blog post itself is an on-ramp to a web page with richer details, but the post itself stays short and specific.
Not every blog post takes this path. But when you share a short, engaging story that shows a different side of your organization's work, you help change customers' assumptions, and expand how they view your business.  

And you leave readers with one new idea about your brand that they might not have known before. That's what a business blog can do.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Automating misinformation on LinkedIn

LinkedIn wants to be the business equivalent of Facebook. Too often, however, it's the social media version of McDonalds, with no room for individual preferences of its customers.

By Nan Palmero from San Antonio, TX, USA
(Linkedin Chocolates   Uploaded by JohnnyMrNinja)
[CC-BY-2.0 (],
via Wikimedia Commons
LinkedIn's frequent automated emails are triggered by minor updates to a user's profile. Many LinkedIn members tweak their profiles to reflect new skills or achievements. The site uses these minor updates to generate automated "say congrats" emails that may boost its traffic.

("Congrats" is the lazy person's way of saying "congratulations," "way to go," or some more-authentic kindness.)

It's true that I've recently branded what I've been doing for more than a year as "DSK Writing and Communications." I didn't get a new job. However, you may get an email from LinkedIn indicating that I have a new job. Which is inaccurate. Worse, it may send the wrong signal to business people looking to hire me.

I can find no way to turn off these automated email updates. All LinkedIn wants to do is up-sell me to a pricey premium account, which still offers little control over what it communicates about me. In some ways, these automated blasts of misinformation are a misuse of my personal information, leaving me little recourse to correct.

Unless you really need to know every person who's looked at your profile, you shouldn't buy LinkedIn's premium service. Wise PR people know that LinkedIn should be about growing your professional relationships. Nothing more.

Attention, LinkedIn? Time to update your algorithms to reflect how people really use your site. I'm sometimes skeptical of how Facebook manages personal information, but they do a better job of not disseminating misinformation to my contacts than you do. 

My best advice: be careful when updating your LinkedIn profile. You may trigger an unwanted email blast from a site that isn't paying attention to its customers.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Under the heat lamp: Sbarro's and America's pizza perceptions

Try to think of a time when anyone you know said: "Hey, let's pick up a Sbarro's pizza for dinner."

Odds are: never.

Sbarro isn't a destination eatery. You mainly find them in shopping malls and airports, and unless it's the lunch hour, the meal selections often look as if they've sat under a bright heat lamp longer than a Kardashian.

Today, Sbarro filed for bankruptcy reorganization a second time. You could target plenty of reasons why this chain's brand has been eclipsed by Papa John's, Domino's, or even Pizza Hut. Possible causes: saturated fat, sodium, or the reality that no one over age 17 enjoys the experience of eating in a mall's food court under flying sparrows.

My view: Sbarro might have done better to personalize its brand to help connect with consumers. They clearly don't have the media ad dollars to compete with Papa John's (and quarterback and Buick pitchman Peyton Manning), leaving their social media presence as one way to build relationships with its consumers.

Sbarro is on Facebook and Twitter, so there's a foundation to build upon. But these platforms need to drive relationships with customers. Sbarro's mages on both Facebook and Twitter look mostly like ads, not their customers. Example:

One image on Twitter shows two nightclubbers, doing their Lady Gaga thing. It's a submission from a Twitter follower of Sbarro, but it doesn't connect with anyone besides that one contributor.

Or consider the image at right. I'm a Star Trek fan, but this doesn't make me want to drive to a mall for a slice of pizza. (And there are better versions of pizza wheel cutters that resemble the starship Enterprise.)

Perhaps Sbarro is supporting some national or local charities. But it's hard to find evidence of this on social media or their own web site.

No one wants to see Sbarro fail, close stores, and send many workers to the unemployment line. But competing in fast-food requires more than republishing your ads and your followers' snapshots.

Lesson: a good PR strategy plan can't change Sbarro's menu, but it can persuade your customers that you're about much more than cheese, sauce, and folded pizza slices.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

And a little Crimea on the side, please

I'm not a political science whiz, nor am I an expert in geopolitics. My maternal grandparents emigrated from Russia before they met in the U.S. That's it.

So I can't pretend to have any ethnic knowledge of the issues embroiling Ukraine, Crimea, and Russia.

But from a PR perspective, I ask:

  • Did Mr. Putin really believe a couple of weeks of glowing TV coverage of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi would erase any notion of him as a control-hungry leader? 
  • Is there no one in Moscow who can teach him to scowl less often? 
  • And does the sight of Russian armored vehicles say anything besides "war," rather than "defending our people in Ukraine?"

We should all know better.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Don't fiddle around with business blogging

Last week, this blog outlined the benefits of enlisting a PR professional to produce your business blog. When you share industry insights and winning strategies, your blog can be an effective instrument in your overall marketing ensemble.

Writing and maintaining a blog is only half of the job. You also need a strategy to promote it. You can--
  • Link to your blog from your website. 
  • Reference it in a Twitter post or LinkedIn user group. 
  • Bring it to the attention of a editor.
  • Include links in your Constant Contact email. 
  • Maybe even send out a news release. (How retro.)
Your blog is one instrument in your marketing ensemble.
And yes, tell your friends.

Should you use Facebook, Tumblr, and Pinterest to draw readers to your blog? It's a tough call. Facebook, first and foremost, is a social network. Your friends are sharing family photos, cat humor, vacation photos, and the musings of George Takei. There's a chance they'll enjoy looking at your business blog as part of a variety of your posts, but they may also find it out of place. Especially if the blog is the only thing you post about.

You may need to create a separate Facebook page for your business, separate from your personal Facebook page and timeline. You can promote your business and blog there. It's not difficult, but Facebook will encourage you to spend money to promote it.

So, you need to create the blog, refresh it a few times a month, and promote it to constituents. It can be time consuming. But that's where a public relations professional can be a big help, especially if you have the rest of your business to manage.