7 PR lessons from the Patriots

If the Patriots are successful in winning their fourth Super Bowl in seven years, the team will cement its legacy as one of the true dynasties in the National Football League. Nobody has gone 18-0 in one season, and if they go 19-0, they will likely be remembered as the best team of all time.

But the Patriots aren’t just successful a football team … they’re also a great PR machine. Here are seven things PR pros can learn from the Patriots:

  1. Stay on message – Everybody has a different style, but the bottom line is to stick to your core message. For the Patriots, the message is “one game at a time.”
  2. Keep your cool under pressure – Witness any of Tom Brady’s media interviews and he’s as cool in front of the camera as he is in the pocket.
  3. We’re a team – With the Patriots, it’s always “we” and never “I.”
  4. Trust your management – Bill Belichick has earned the respect of his players and sets the tone in the locker room and on the field.
  5. Keep your sense of humor – Plaxico Burress guarantees a 23-17 Giant win? Tom Brady jokingly acts dumbfounded that Plax thinks the Pats will only score 17.
  6.  Address issues head on with confidence, then move on – Spygate? It happened and it’s behind us. Rodney Harrison using steroids? He admitted it, served his suspension and moved on.
  7. Communicate, communicate, communicate – Every Patriot player knows his role because the coaches effectively communicate their expectations and demand high performance.

Many players have come and gone in the past seven years, but the management and the team philosophy has remained consistent. We can all learn from the Patriots run for perfection.

Go Pats!!! 

Bond with your bloggers!

I was in San Diego last week, speaking at a client’s annual customer conference. More than 5,000 people attended this popular event.
One of the most noticeable transformations we witnessed this year was the rise of the blogger. Out of the 150+ journalists who attended from around the world, about 10% were bloggers. Despite being “non-traditional” journalists, our client had the wisdom and insight to embrace their bloggers and make them part of their community.
Sure, some bloggers are a bit funky; with a different demeanor, attitude and style compared with the typical Fourth Estate (if there is a “typical” Fourth Estate). But bloggers have become a fresh voice in communications flow because they have bottom-up (vs. traditional top-down) grassroots impact as “citizen journalists.”   
Bloggers at the San Diego event weren’t ostracized or treated differently; they were mainstreamed with all the global press. They had the same access to senior-level execs and were invited to every press event.
I bring this to your attention because of today’s news about Target, the retail giant.
Today’s New York Times ran a story about Target’s reaction to ShapingYouth.org, a blog focused on how marketing impacts children.
The blog’s author called the company to complain about a new Target ad showing a woman with arms and legs spread out on a bull’s eye. “Targeting crotches with a bull’s eye is not the message we should be putting out there,” the blogger told the company.
I’m not here to pass judgment on the Target ad. A Target spokesperson told the NYT it appeared in a Times Square billboard and in sales circulars. But I would like to highlight Target’s corporate reaction to the blogger, delivered via e-mail.
“Unfortunately, we are unable to respond to your inquiry because Target does not participate with nontraditional media outlets,” a public relations spokesperson wrote to ShapingYouth. “This practice is in place to allow us to focus on publications that reach our core guest.”  
A Target spokesperson told the NYT, “We do not work with bloggers currently, but we have made exceptions.” The spokesperson said the company is reviewing its blogger relations policy and “may adjust it.”

I believe such an adjustment would be in Target’s best interests. After all, it’s a grassroots world and consumers are empowered like never before. Anyone can become a blogger. The impact of an ardent voice on a company’s brand reputation can be instant, widespread and profound.

Hair-Club-For-Men Marketing

This morning I heard a crazy radio ad. It was narrated by the owner of an identity theft protection company. His gimmick was revealing his entire social security number on the air. Pretty ballsy, I thought, daring any cyber-thief to try to steal his personal data. And he backs up his service with a million dollar guarantee to boot.
It’s straight from the Hair-Club-For-Men school of marketing. You know…the guy who plugged his hair loss treatment company on TV by showing off his own company-installed hair plugs? “I’m not just the owner; I’m also a client,” he quipped. Other examples that come to mind are James Dyson, who invented a new fangled vacuum after being frustrated by vacs that sucked at sucking; and good old Victor Kiam, the former NE Patriots owner who liked Remington razors so much that he bought the company.

I have to admit that the identity theft guy’s ad caught my attention. I’ve been way too promiscuous online, recklessly handing over my personal information to any web service that caught my fancy. The only place my online identity hasn’t been is Heidi Fleiss’ little black book.

So that got me wondering: do ads like these work? Do companies in which the owners have skin in the game come across as credible, or is it just personalized snake oil? Do these ads compel you to buy? I want to know. Vote up or down in the poll below. 

Hillary’s tears – PR stunt or true colors?

Were Hillary’s tears the master plan of some superstar PR person behind the scenes, or a genuine display of emotion from a tired, but still committed, presidential candidate? (See Maureen Dowd’s New York Times column for an interesting perspective.)
Pollsters and pundits are scrambling to figure out how they got Hillary’s surprise NH primary win so wrong. Whether it was a genuine emotional display or a calculated campaign stunt, the outcome was the same: it recast her from a toughened political automaton to a warm and vulnerable human being in the eyes of many voters.
Personally and professionally, I looked at this from several angles.
First, I’m a woman. My instinct was to believe her. After all, she was simply showing her emotions, and hasn’t she been criticized for being “the ice queen?” Give her a break, I thought, isn’t she allowed to shed a few tears in her quest for the top job? See Courtney Barnes of PR News blog on this topic. Men get emotional and people find it endearing. Women cry and we’re labeled weak.
Second, I’m a PR professional. If it was contrived, I’m impressed. Not only did her strategic advisors help her orchestrate an unexpected comeback, but they must have given her some phenomenal coaching to have appeared so genuine.
Third, I live and work in Portsmouth, NH – the scene of the actual “ice queen” meltdown! We’re smart people here. We don’t like the wool pulled over eyes. We want the straight facts and are rarely swayed by tears and sob stories.
Fourth, I’m human. I get tired. I understand where she’s coming from and everyone has a vulnerable moment. I admire her passion and tenacity, as well as all the candidates who keep going under such exhausting circumstances.
I wonder how this split-second event actually affected how people voted. It was reported the woman who asked Hillary the now infamous question ended up voting for Obama.
The bottom line is this: whether the crying bit was a brilliant PR move or a sincere response to one voter’s question it doesn’t dictate our vote. We still get to choose. It’s our right, our decision.
What do you think? Did she create the cry or was it from the heart? Does it matter in the end?


10 lessons from Carol Cone on cause branding

I broke bread with Carol Cone recently, enjoying a spirited discussion about social causes and how B2B companies can help make the world a better place.
If you’re not familiar with Carol, she’s widely regarded as the “mother” of cause branding, a philosophical and pragmatic movement she helped architect over 20 years ago. Carol created signature programs for a host of Fortune 500 companies, including the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade, ConAgra Foods’ Feeding Children Better Program, Reebok’s Human Rights Awards and Rockport’s Fitness Walking Program.
Last month, Ethisphere magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in “business ethics.” She was ranked just before Richard Branson. In addition, PR Week named her one of the industry’s 25 most dominant figures last October.
I asked Carol what B2B companies need to know when undertaking cause branding initiatives. Here are some lessons from the master: 
Lesson # 1: cause branding is a real commitment
Carol explains, “The company has to be in a state of readiness to do this. Cause branding won’t work unless it’s led out of the C suite at the highest corporate level. Social responsibility is driven by CEO’s.”
Lesson # 2: it starts with your own people
“This is purposeful work. You have to engage the whole person. Your employees are your brand ambassadors. It must be a shared value.”
Lesson # 3:  it must be authentic
“You can’t put a ribbon on something and call it real. This won’t cut it. It has to be authentic. You have to align your marketing and corporate communications with the values, behaviors and culture of your organization.”
Lesson # 4: your cause can be self-serving
“It’s okay to find a social cause that benefits your business. I call this a socially aligned business initiative. You have to find the intersection between a social cause with the greatest business value and the greatest societal need and impact.” 
Lesson # 5:   sustainability
Alignment with a social cause must not change from one year to the next. It’s not a bumper sticker or a message. It’s a deeply ingrained belief and commitment. “It has to be built to last,” Carol says.
Lesson # 6: get everyone involved
“Cause branding is all about creating behavior change within the organization. You have to move it from awareness to engagement, from passive to active. Cause branding creates employee and customer glue. You need a cross-functional team within your company, not just marketing and PR folks. ”
Lesson # 7: tell people what you’re doing
Not very long ago, it was considered somewhat taboo to tell the world (or at least your stakeholders) how your company is helping make the world a better place. This is no longer true. Cone’s 2007 Cause study revealed that 88% of Americans (up from 86% in 2004) want companies to tell them the way in which they are supporting causes.
Lesson # 8: create your own special cause niche
The four leading causes in America – based on the 2007 Cone study - are health; education; environment; and economic development. These are too general, however, to create successful branding. You have to dig deeper and use research to find and create a unique cause. Carol says, “You don’t have to be first, but you have to find a segment where you are first in your industry.”  She explained that PNC Bank had zeroed-in on education, but this was too general. “Thorough research revealed an unmet need in the pre-school through kindergarten niche, and that’s where PNC focused,” Carol explained.
Lesson # 9: it takes time
“It’s an arduous process to build an authentic, aligned program. In our experience, it typically requires six months to one year to put the key pieces together.”
Lesson # 10: it takes money
If you want to create a lasting, authentic cause brand alignment for your company, you have to make a financial commitment, not just a time commitment. Advertising is a common outlet for cause branding expression. “Be courageous,” Carol says. “Every company needs to be a good corporate citizen. We have to go so far.”    

Best news release lede ever

Though a bit dated, this news release from outdoor gear retailer Backcountry.com contains the best lede (lead) ever written in the high tech industry. Worth reviewing again, as we gear up for a new year of the same old stilted, formulaic news announcements.   

A music industry descending

Seth Godin posts one of the best analyses of the music industry's fading star -- and how to fix it -- I've read in a long time. Lots of good wisdom for those of us in communications who are not in the music business as well...

...particularly his long-tail insight about a musician's success not requiring billions of fans, and particularly the "Bob Dylan Rule":

Remember the Bob Dylan rule: it’s not just a record, it’s a movement.
Bob and his handlers have a long track record of finding movements. Anti-war movements, sure, but also rock movies, the Grateful Dead, SACDs, Christian rock and Apple fanboys. What Bob has done (and I think he’s done it sincerely, not as a calculated maneuver) is seeking out groups that want to be connected and he works to become the connection point.

By being open to choices of format, to points of view, to moments in time, Bob Dylan never said, “I make vinyl records that cost money to listen to.” He understands at some level that music is often the soundtrack for something else.

I think the same thing can be true for chefs and churches and charities and politicians and makers of medical devices. People pay a premium for a story, every time.

The Rocket's steady glare


Roger Clemens looks directly into the camera and in perfectly earnest tones rebuts the Mitchell report’s accusations that he used steroids to become “The Rocket,” one of baseball’s most durable power pitchers. The video, which Clemens posted on YouTube and his foundation’s Web site, is his first public response to the report’s allegations. Clemens isn’t the first celebrity to use a canned video to speak past the media directly to the public. Michael Jackson self-produced a video to rebut pedophilia allegations years ago. Clemens, however, is among the first besieged celebrities to mix old and new media in a crisis response strategy that takes advantage of both mediums’ strengths.

The punch line of Clemens’ video isn’t the denial itself, it’s Clemens announcing that he will answer the allegations in detail this Sunday (Jan. 6) during a one-on-one interview Mike Wallace on CBS’s “60 Minutes.” This is an innovative strategy because Clemens essentially used social media as a conduit to mainstream broadcasting. He is also avoiding the public sausage grinder also known as the open press conference. Clemens has chosen two controlled environments instead of one uncontrolled environment where he’s more likely to be knocked off balance by questions shot from every compass point. The video gave him 100 percent control over his message. It’s unlikely Clemens can control Mike Wallace; Wallace has been picking his teeth with the bones of guys like Clemens since the black-and-white era. But Clemens has more control over a one-on-one interview – even with a predator like Wallace – than he would with a roomful of reporters each pursuing their own agenda.
There are two weak spots in Clemens’ strategy, and it will be interesting to see how they play out. The first is that for all its flaws, the press conference gang fight bestows credibility. After his dalliance with a male prostitute came to light in the early 1990s, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) endured almost two hours of grilling from the Boston and national press corps on live television. It was like getting purified by flame. Frank copped out to what he did wrong, quelled speculation about what he did and didn’t do, and effectively took the steam out of the controversy. He had atoned in the roughest of public arenas, and the voters forgave him. The Wallace interview could exonerate Clemens in the court of public opinion, but it lacks the raw openness of a live press conference. Skeptics will always question whether there were off-camera agreements with “60 Minutes” to soften certain angles. They will speculate on what was edited out – or in.
The second weak spot in Clemens’ strategy is the most obvious. If it comes out that he’s not telling the truth, the final public verdict will be much harsher than if he had come clean, as his friend Andy Pettitte did when he was named in the Mitchell Report. If the facts line up against Clemens, the earnest expression and solid eye contact in his video will just be proof of George Burns’ immortal line: “Sincerity. If you can fake it, you’ve got it made.” And if you can’t, no combination of social and mainstream media will help.

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