Monday, March 30, 2015

Rubble is rubble

"Let's put a big banner on the building we're going to implode to celebrate our new line of printers."

I worked for the people who came up with that line of thinking. It was the demolition equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig. There's no way igniting a few hundred pounds of explosives and leveling a giant brick manufacturing complex can be perceived as a celebration. You can PR spin a ribbon-cutting or a golden-shovel groundbreaking. 

But, flying bits of concrete and debris?
Building 9 implosion, (c) DKassnoff.

It's rubble. It's the end of something. And if you view the video on the New York Times' website, it's anything but a celebration.

John Baldoni's recent essay on Forbes.com reminded me of that day, not too many years ago, when we tried to put a pretty bow on a scene of destruction. 

And we failed.

Past and current employees gathered for the event on a sunny morning (June 30, 2007). Most of them cried when the bricks tumbled. The company's marketing team flew in a comic actor who'd appeared in our promotional videos to serve as a quasi-master of ceremonies. They stomped on a fake oversize detonator button that didn't do a damned thing.

The building still fell.

I'm not writing here about the awful business decisions that ultimately toppled Kodak as the king of consumer photography. The company invented digital photography, then ignored it, then ultimately got trampled by it. That it's re-emerging as a business-focused printing and technology company, as Baldoni writes, is admirable.

I stood in the parking lot and captured this photo of the first implosion. It was simultaneously ghastly and thrilling to witness the destruction of Building 9. They liked my photo enough to put it on the business PR wire.

Our PR failure? There's no positive side to a building demolition. We ignored the lessons of countless implosions of Las Vegas hotels. We were foolish to think we could persuade our audiences that there was a "bright side." The forced festive atmosphere was, for many employees, like having a partly healed wound re-opened. 

I've been party to a great many PR wins. This wasn't one of them. It was disturbing to see in the New York Times' video, and it's painful to watch again.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Fine-tuning a virtual newspaper

Update on my Paper.li experiment:

A few weeks ago, I set up an online newspaper called PR Nomad. This exercise was enabled by Paper.li, which allows users to select content sources that auto-generate a daily compilation of articles on a topic of interest.

And then, I pretty much left it to seek its audience. I wanted to see how auto-generated content refreshed, and whether it remained compelling. Whether I received nasty-grams or, worse, cease-and-desist orders.

That didn't happen. However...

It's now a few weeks later, and I noticed few headlines repeating as lead stories: puffery about Electronic Post Office Corporation investigating the possibility of becoming a Public Company. CIO white papers. Stuff you wouldn't find interesting, because I didn't find it interesting.

So, I've performed a little housekeeping. PR Nomad will continue as a daily opus. However, I've blacklisted CIO Whitepapers and repeated pseudo-news about Electronic Post Office Corporation -- which I'm pretty sure will emerge as a penny stock, and then vanish.

Tip No. 1: if you're going to start a tech-oriented business in 2015, using the title "post office" -- a quaint Ben Franklin-ism dating well before 1776 -- is not a sound marketing strategy. Unless you're in Asia somewhere, using a 1970s-era dictionary to name your scam website.

Tip No. 2: white papers -- or the current iteration of them as a form of content marketing -- only appealing to authors of other white papers. Many writers disagree on this subject. They obviously have time to read white papers, but most of us don't.

My opinion: they're anachronistic, and in diversity circles, "white paper" leaves an unpleasant after-taste.




Monday, March 16, 2015

Shady PR and why my neck hurts

No editor is going to pick up the following two news releases. But, I will -- although not for the reasons they'd prefer.

Writing a news release is easy, if you believe web-based PR services that will post whatever you hand them. Writing a news release that editors will consider seriously? That's tougher.

Look, for example, at "Slide Share Publishes News About Serial Entrepreneur Vince Thadani," found on MyPRGenie.com. This news release promises "interesting news about the legendary commercial figure Vince Thadani." And it never delivers.

For starters, the mechanics are wrong. You don't use your email address as a dateline. You don't use two cities -- New York and San Francisco -- as datelines. You should think twice about quoting a self-written SlideShare presentation as a news article. (Hint: SlideShare.com doesn't post news.) And billing yourself as a "serial" anything isn't a wise strategy, if what you're really doing is promoting yourself as a scriptwriter.

(Vince apparently likes throwing away money on shady PR websites no one visits, including MarketPressRelease.com.)

Actual cervical traction device.
By U.S. Air Force photo by
Airman 1st Class Anania
Tekurio [Public domain], via
Wikimedia Commons
Moving on, there's a release titled: "WisdomKing.com Offers Neckpro Overdoor Cervical Traction System At $47.79!" Sounds like an ad, not a news release. Any editor would spike or delete this epistle without ever reading past that sales-y headline. Never mind that the release quotes nameless "executives" spouting error-filled copy points lifted from a product catalog.

That's a product I might have considered, after mildly injuring my neck last week. (See photo at right for a real cervical traction machine.)

Neither Vince or the WisdomKing people are writers. They don't understand that just because you type something and stick it on MyPRGenie.com, editors don't automatically publish it.

The real crime is that MyPRGenie doesn't have the ethical cojones to admit that their news releases aren't newsworthy. Nor does MyPRGenie employ a copy editor to help them write something halfway credible.

So, until MyPRGenie steps up and does the right thing, I suggest you skip their website. Don't purchase their services.

Just turn away. Slowly. So you don't sustain a neck injury.







Monday, March 9, 2015

McDonald's PR Un-Happy Meal

When I'm on the road, I buy hot coffee at McDonald's. Until now.

McDonald's Corp. is valued at $93 billion, but sales are declining. I'm part of the decline, and by the end of this tale, I hope you'll join me in dining elsewhere.
By Ramon FVelasquez, via Wikimedia Commons


Last week, the company -- still profitable, by any measure -- invited a band to play at their South by
Southwest showcase. Without pay. In turn, the band Ex-Cops used social media to expose McDonald's cheapness. Rolling Stone and other online media picked up the story. This gave McDonald's unwanted PR exposure it doesn't need, with the SXSW-age audience it so desperately needs to reach.

Worse? McDonald's media relations drone responded by essentially saying, "We're just paying artists the way other sponsors do." Except they aren't paying. Other SXSW sponsors pay their performers, says Ex Cops. And not with Happy Meals.

If SXSW were a country music mega-concert, it's a safe bet that McDonald's would find cash to get a Carrie Underwood or Blake Shelton on their stage. 

But that's not really the point. 

McDonald's, under constant fire for poor hourly wages, shouldn't espouse a practice of not paying artists. Its PR drone should have more brains than to say the equivalent of: "We're just as stingy as every other SXSW sponsor." On social media or any other medium. So she's a dolt. (More so by adding the #slownewsday hashtag as a slap at the writer who contacted her.)

The winning PR opportunity here would be to say: "We value and respect artists and their fans. So even if other sponsors aren't compensating their showcase acts, we're going to make things right and pay Ex Cops to play in our SXSW showcase."

So McDonald's blew a chance to bond with a coveted audience. Instead of saving a few bucks, it bought itself a super-sized meal of derision and unwanted media attention. In the media most frequented by the demographic it wanted to reach. 

What does McDonald's pay its hourly employees? Not enough. But to extend the "free fries in lieu of cash" practice to external event sponsorships is beyond heinous. It's evil. A $90 billion company should have a few dollars available to pay artists it hires, even if it's only for an afternoon in Austin.

Bye, McDonald's. Your $1 coffee was the only menu item I'd buy anymore. But it's still too much to spend at your restaurants. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

How not to use social media in PR

Social media and public relations can work quite well together. If you know what you're doing.

Trouble is, if Kelly Brady’s your expert on the topic, grab a parachute. Now. Your plane's on autopilot and you’re about to smack a mountaintop. 

Howcast.com posted a 2013 video with Ms.Brady expounding on the value of social media in PR. And very little of it has any basis in how social media really works for most PR pros.

Publicist Kelly Brady
Note: Ms. Brady believes landing a story in the New York Post is a good PR hit. If that's your paper of record, then her advice might be worth following -- if your client loves Page Six. (Learn more about Ms. Brady here.)

Here are excerpts of her pearls of wisdom:
  • “Social media is relatively a new tool in public relations.” Sure, if you’ve been living the hard-partying life since 2009. By then, Facebook had more than 100 million users. Today, it’s close to 1.4 billion users.
  • “Creating a buzz about the account you’re working on.” Nope. You should be creating conversations about your client’s products, services, and brand. Buzz is baloney; it doesn't create a lasting brand impression.
  • “You can really get that celebrity endorsement through Twitter.” Maybe, if you can create a relationship and write a 140-character agreement.
  • “You send a celebrity a product you’re pushing. They like it. They tweet a picture about it. It’s golden.” On what planet does this happen without an endorsement agreement?
  • “Another thing I love about social media is the access to mass people.” Huh? What is mass people? Hasn’t she heard about market segmentation? Narrowcasting? Targeted Twitter chats? Proper English?
  • “For some reason, (the editor) wasn’t responding to me over e-mail.” They may think she'll pitch them any half-baked story idea just because she has their e-mail address. They’re just not as in to you as you’re into you, Kelly.

Here's a reality check: social media, especially Twitter, is excellent for listening and engaging in conversations. Do this to learn what people think about issues and topics, especially those that intersect with your clients’ offerings. Twitter can help you understand what editors and reporters are following, and whether their priorities intersect with those of your clients.

Social media -- with the exceptions of YouTube and Pinterest -- are not a product placement party. Howcast.com should reconsider why this video was filmed, and perhaps shelve it. The party's over.