Friday, November 28, 2014

Giving back in the direct marketing arena

Thousands of years ago, Bedrock Motors mailed Fred Flintstone a fake granite car key. The mailer promised a chance at starting a new car. Fred went over to the dealer, tried the key, and it didn't work. He was annoyed and left to shoot pool with Barney.

By Schumi4ever (Own work) [GFDL
or CC-BY-SA-4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0
, via Wikimedia Commons
And this hoary old marketing technique has continued unchanged ever since.

I'm sick of it. Even more today, because the fake keys sent by my town's Dodge dealer are plastic and metal -- and therefore not recyclable.

If the dealer sends out 1,000s of key mailers twice a year, that's a needless burden on the waste stream.

It's bad PR for his business if I mention the name of the Dodge dealer here. But there's just one Dodge dealer in my town. Its name rhymes with "arena." You can figure this out.

So, here's what I did:

I gave him back his key.

On Thanksgiving Day, when the place was closed, I went over to Rhymes-with-Arena Dodge, by the marina. I parked across the street, walked over, and placed the mailer/key under the snow-packed windshield wiper of a Hyundai. I'm hoping it will freeze against the glass when the temperature drops. Or make a wet paper mess if the temperature rises.

Then, I turned to Facebook to urge my friends and neighbors to do the same. As I'm urging you to do.

Look, direct mail marketing isn't evil. But all direct mail should be two things: informative and recyclable. Rhymes-with-Arena Dodge's direct mail isn't recyclable, and for that matter, treats me like a simpleton. It's also a cluttered graphic design nightmare.

So, in the spirit of the season, I've chosen to give back. Rhymes-with-Arena Dodge deserves their keys back. All of them. If you're in the neighborhood, they close around 9 pm. And there are plenty of windshields to choose from.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Cosby and the unending half-life of accusations

I can't begin to talk about the psychology of rape or rape victims. I don't know what I don't know. And, probably, neither do you.

But when the recent round of accusations against Bill Cosby surfaced last week, and the only rebuttals came from Dr. Cosby's attorney (an interesting choice of spokesperson), my PR gene kicked in.

By cropped by JGHowes from
File:Lee Archer memorial service
 (2010).jpg [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
Cosby calls these charges "innuendos." Given the number of women who've stepped forward with claims, the word "predatory" comes to mind. Either way, it's a sad capstone for Dr. Cosby's decades of professional achievement and acclaim. Here's a recent account:

The PR guy in me asked: "If I'm a beloved 77-year-old entertainer whose bank accounts total an estimated $400 million, and I'm facing rampant accusations in an era when nonstop media coverage amplifies any and every story, what's my path forward?"

My answer: I apologize. I donate a respectful contribution to organizations that work to help prevent rape and assist rape victims. 

And then, I retire. 

It's not like the era of matinee movie idols, when actors such as Errol Flynn's personal exploits were seen as "dalliances" and had a short shelf-life in glossy movie magazines. Media coverage on the Internet is relentless. One hard reality: rarely is an article taken down, even if it's later proven inaccurate. 

Cosby has had a great run. (Not counting Ghost Dad and Leonard Part 6). While continuing a string of concert performances and attempting to launch another weekly TV sitcom might fatten his wallet, these endeavors won't burnish his reputation. True or hollow, the accusations will dog him at every public or talk-show appearance.

As an entertainer, he has little left to prove.

Among the first comedy recordings I purchased was Cosby's hysterical 200 MPH LP. He was an innovator in stand-up, and as a black lead actor in the NBC-TV series I Spy. I'd prefer to remember him that way, not as a senior citizen fighting a chorus of charges by clamming up and delivering a silent 'No Comment.'

Monday, November 17, 2014

Talk to me and I'll follow you

Eric Friedman makes a number of good points about employee communications in this blog:

10 Steps to Keeping Employees Engaged and Motivated

-- but he skims past an important step: listening to employees, face-to-face.

His communications advice: "Communicate well and often. Training sessions, memos, newsletters, FAQs, and regular meetings can all be used to present your vision to your employees. Make sure to ask questions, and if they are confused, redesign the way the information reaches them."

"Trim for ansatte hos NVE" by
Henrik Svedahl/Norges vassdrags- og
 energidirektorat -
nve/4174242876/. Licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution-Share
 Alike 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
This advice feels at once both intelligent and dated, because Eric's cited source is about 10 years old. Memos and newsletters -- increasingly lost in today's daily crush of emails, and rarely committed to print -- are less relevant.  Many employees either don't have access to desktop or laptop connectivity, or are restricted from using mobile phones on the worksite.

So what's the solution?

Try listening instead of memo'ing.

One of my best supervisors in my corporate career, hours after assuming the job, scheduled short, face-to-face meetings with each team member. He asked what I did, where we were successful and where our efforts came up short, where I wanted to grow, and then asked what I needed to be more successful. He also spoke of taking ownership of decisions, and empowered me to make decisions -- but added, "I own every decision you make."

The relationship started off with a shared path forward, and I felt empowered for months after that 45-minute conversation.

Whether you choose to call this "emotional intelligence" or management by walking around, it's a very effective communications strategy. Until my last day with the organization, I knew that supervisor's objectives and knew how to meet and exceed our shared goals.

Yes, face-to-face dialogue is time-consuming. But it builds relationships that no newsletter, memo, or group meeting can achieve. It engages employees and gives them a sense of empowerment. And if you're building an internal communications strategy for managers, it's wise to equip those supervisors -- who may never have led others before -- on how to grow their listening skills.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Video with restroom acoustics

PR people know how to tell and sell a story. They know how to persuade.

They don't always know how to promote themselves.

This week, an agency sent a pitch and a link to their YouTube channel. They offered a series of 90-second clips showcasing their wisdom regarding social media. Here's one:

Each of their videos sounded like it was recorded in a restroom. At a fast-food restaurant. Not how I'd want to come across on the web.

PR is a business of persuasion. You must persuade clients that you know your topic, know your media targets -- and you know what you're doing.

I'm sure these people are smart. But when you post videos with poor audio quality, or don't re-shoot segments in which a speaker makes an obvious on-camera flub, you're not persuading anyone. You're only telling me that you don't attend to the quality of content that's the meat of social media.

Truly smart shops recognize that you can't persuade anyone with video shot on an iPhone, using an on-camera mike.

Some tips to avoid this:

  • Hire staff who know video and audio production. 
  • Purchase those services from external vendors. 
  • Buy a camera that can accept an off-camera mike.
  • Get over to a studio where the acoustics aren't school-corridor dreadful.

If you're going to self-promote using video, you must be sure the video content reflects the quality of your brand -- visually and audibly.

Monday, November 3, 2014

First move: Jian Ghomeshi and public opinion

This one's pretty simple, really. CBC talk show guru Jian Ghomeshi was let go last week by his employer. And before tongues started wagging, he got out in front of the story, publicly describing the circumstances surrounding his departure in an online missive.
Jian Ghomeshi (2009)
By Penmachine (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0
 or GFDL (],
via Wikimedia Commons

Both CBC and Ghomeshi claimed he was sexually active. Sometimes past the point you might expect. The Vancouver Sun has a succinct summary of activities to date:

Jian Ghomeshi’s CBC lawsuit is hopeless — even if he’s telling the truth

Credit Ghomeshi for getting his story out first. He defused the kind of protracted gossip and speculation that fuels much of the U.S. media's obsession with celebrity misbehavior.

The PR lessons:
  • Tell your story first, with a singularity of voice and message
  • Do it without a news conference
  • Give no interviews later on, to avoid extending the life of the story
I wonder why more public figures in the U.S. don't try this approach. It would have spared people like Mel Gibson, Amanda Bynes, and at least one Kardashian a great deal of protracted embarrassment.

The outcome's easy to predict, too. Ghomeshi's $50 million lawsuit against CBC is unlikely to come to trial. Neither side wants more salacious headlines. Although some women claiming to have had encounters with the radio star are coming forward, so the headlines may creep along.

There will be some settlement at some point, and CBC will run Q (Ghomeshi's talk show) with new hosts and contributors, until someone decides to rename it.

The real headache for Ghomeshi will be returning to employment in broadcasting, now that he's been very public about his sexual preferences. On the other hand, Rush Limbaugh's overdue for retirement.