What behavior is relevant to climate change?

Today's blog is posted by guest blogger, Ed Marshall, a senior account manager at Beaupre. 

“So the world ends Wednesday?”
 
That was a colleague’s snarky rejoinder to my explanation of the oil export crisis and the implications for our energy future. Perhaps my explanation was off. Or perhaps we're all suffering from a Hollywood-induced relevance deficit. Human response systems are really good at spotting and dealing with near-term problems. If it's not a clear and present danger, it's not relevant and therefore not motivating. Hollywood understands this and formulates its films to capitalize on it – particularly the action and disaster ones.
 
In a typical Hollywood disaster flick, the world crisis is glaringly apparent – and personally relevant - to viewers within the first 10-15 minutes of the opening credits and will be resolved within about 120 minutes. The real world doesn’t work that way, of course. However, our media-mediated lives often create a bleed-over of Hollywood-style expectations. No category five hurricanes raking the East Coast flat on a weekly basis? Well then, no climate change, obviously. Plants and animals shifting their ranges in response to climate changes is a subtle thing, ill-suited for hardy action heroes like Bruce Willis and Vin Diesel.

This lack of near-term urgency makes it tough to change behavior on important issues like climate change and carbon-intensive lifestyles. People tune out long-term problems. Clearly your warning to them has no relevance to their particular life.

That is the challenge for those in green tech seeking to motivate people. Rather than reflexively grabbing for a “Save the Planet” positioning, stop and look closer for angles that make what you're offering relevant to issues your target audience is grappling with.

Have an all electric car that makes polar bears want to hug people who own one? Great, but I'm pretty sure that's not relevant to anyone concerned about rising gas prices and the fact that increasingly complex internal combustion engines and their drive trains are making regular maintenance an expensive proposition. Electric cars are also kinda cool and hip. People like to be cool and hip, even if it costs more. Just ask Steve Jobs.

Find what's relevant, match it with what you have on tap and then sell. Maybe even get Vin Diesel to star in the commercial.

What behavior is relevant to climate change?

Today's blog is posted by guest blogger, Ed Marshall, a senior account manager at Beaupre. 

“So the world ends Wednesday?”
 
That was a colleague’s snarky rejoinder to my explanation of the oil export crisis and the implications for our energy future. Perhaps my explanation was off. Or perhaps we're all suffering from a Hollywood-induced relevance deficit. Human response systems are really good at spotting and dealing with near-term problems. If it's not a clear and present danger, it's not relevant and therefore not motivating. Hollywood understands this and formulates its films to capitalize on it – particularly the action and disaster ones.
 
In a typical Hollywood disaster flick, the world crisis is glaringly apparent – and personally relevant - to viewers within the first 10-15 minutes of the opening credits and will be resolved within about 120 minutes. The real world doesn’t work that way, of course. However, our media-mediated lives often create a bleed-over of Hollywood-style expectations. No category five hurricanes raking the East Coast flat on a weekly basis? Well then, no climate change, obviously. Plants and animals shifting their ranges in response to climate changes is a subtle thing, ill-suited for hardy action heroes like Bruce Willis and Vin Diesel.

This lack of near-term urgency makes it tough to change behavior on important issues like climate change and carbon-intensive lifestyles. People tune out long-term problems. Clearly your warning to them has no relevance to their particular life.

That is the challenge for those in green tech seeking to motivate people. Rather than reflexively grabbing for a “Save the Planet” positioning, stop and look closer for angles that make what you're offering relevant to issues your target audience is grappling with.

Have an all electric car that makes polar bears want to hug people who own one? Great, but I'm pretty sure that's not relevant to anyone concerned about rising gas prices and the fact that increasingly complex internal combustion engines and their drive trains are making regular maintenance an expensive proposition. Electric cars are also kinda cool and hip. People like to be cool and hip, even if it costs more. Just ask Steve Jobs.

Find what's relevant, match it with what you have on tap and then sell. Maybe even get Vin Diesel to star in the commercial.

6 reasons why social media didn't kill PR

There was steady chatter from 2007 through 2009 about the potential death of PR. Social media - the new game in town – might make PR irrelevant. Companies and organizations could now go direct, building their own conversations, communities and visibility.
Specialized social media experts (who were ahead of the curve in the early days) understandably trumpeted this view, leveraging the opportunity to directly or indirectly de-position PR agencies and professionals. Similarly, some journalists said PR’s traditional media relations centricity was a model for extinction.
In March 2009,Putting the Public Back in Public Relations” by Brian Solis and Deirdre Breakenridge was published, urging PR practitioners to master the art of listening, build meaningful relationships and leverage emerging social media. They educated and informed but also advocated quick, smart reinvention. They said PR practitioners should be brand/cause enthusiasts, “embedded in the communities shaping the future.” It was a needed call to action … and a wake-up for many.
Like many others, I shared my points of view along the way via blogs like Pitching is passé, What PR isn’t and Tired, faded and dead PR words.
As we enter Q4 2010, the heatedness of this debate has arguably dissipated. It’s interesting how much progress has been made. Six transformations triggered the shift:
1.       History repeated itself – remember when the www tornado caught many off guard in the mid-nineties? The communications industry was flat-footed. Web experts sprung to life - including specialized digital agency properties. For a period of time, specialists ruled – as they typically do in moments of change - to fill the knowledge vacuum.
2.       Agencies got religion –What occurred with the Web repeated itself with social media. Facing loss of relevance and revenue, many agencies, firms and communications professionals invested the time to question, listen and learn. They got smarter, broadened service offerings, aligned with experts and integrated across disciplines. Priorities and practices were re-shaped.
3.       It went from niche to mainstream – as time passed, organizations and companies also became more comfortable with social media. Ideas and initiatives that didn’t work (or make sense) were discarded; promising approaches were encouraged. As corporate and not-for-profit sectors got smarter, they ramped-up their own internal talent. Today, according to a June 2010 research study conducted by Digital Brand Expressions, 78% of companies are now using social media.
4.       Walls broke down –As the PR industry shifted from wide-eyed to eagle-eyed and as clients, companies and not-for-profits became more at ease, the early days of social media panic and pointing largely dissipated. Former adversaries let down their guards and began cooperating. This year, one of the first books on the subject “The New Rules of Marketing & PR” by David Meerman Scott was re-issued as a second edition, illustrating social media’s continuing maturation.
5.       Opportunity begat revenue – As social media transformed from emerging to embedded – and as knowledge increased - the revenue followed. An August 2010 Advertising Age article reported how social media is helping the public relations sector not just survive, but thrive.
6.       True public relations practices remained strong –the people who sounded the PR death knell were largely equating public relations with media relations. In that narrow zone, they were right. Traditional, one-way publicity is an old model that’s no longer relevant in an age of social-media-driven two-way conversations, communities and grassroots empowerment.                                        

But true public relations practice isn’t publicity. It’s much broader, taking into account every stakeholder (or “public”) with which an organization interacts: 

Strategically practiced, PR takes on a wide-ranging role, focused on earning a trusted reputation by acting in the best interests of these publics – not the organization’s own myopic agenda.

Social media is the latest expression of relationship building (a two-way model that’s far more inclusive and participative); other exciting new iterations will follow. Solis and Breakenridge were right, we’re the industry in the best position to “put the public back in public relations” and keep it there by never staying put.

Apple's sour grapes bruises a stellar brand

Even the ultra-cool sometimes just don’t get it.

After a few haughty responses earlier in the week to complaints about its iPhone 4 dropping calls, Apple made a smart move and offered free cases iPhone 4 consumers. The cases will prevent the “death grip” problem that cause the phone’s reception to fade and sometimes drop calls if held a certain way.
But Apple CEO Steve Jobs apparently just couldn’t just hand out the cases and live to fight another day. Standing on a dais in front of an image that said “Antennagate,” he had to show a video illustrating problems with competing phones like the Blackberry. Then he insisted there’s nothing really wrong with the iPhone 4 – that the situation is a media creation.
“We're not feeling right now that we have a giant problem we need to fix,” Jobs said during a press conference at Apple’s Cupertino, Calif. headquarters. “This has been blown so out of proportion that it’s incredible. I know it’s fun to have a story, but it’s less fun when you're on the other end of it.”
Has Jobs grown too accustomed to the rainbows and unicorns he usually gets from the media? I have to wonder if his PR people warned him he’d look like a whiner if he complained about the press because that’s how he came off – defensive. The media did not, as Jobs intimated, create this problem. Apple’s arrogant response to customer complaints did. When customers got the high hat from Apple, they started complaining publicly through social media and the news media picked up on the story.
When are executives going to learn a little humility and contrition go a long way in situations like this? You’d think that coming so soon on the heels of Toyota’s and BP’s PR Armageddons that Apple, normally a PR-savvy company, would have had a response as slick as its products. Considering the vast reservoirs of customer good will it has to draw on, Apple could have snuffed this out before it became a problem. It might have had to eat a little crow by admitting its hot-shot phone had a flaw, but at least it wouldn’t be getting bludgeoned in the press at the same time.

7 reasons why "pitch" & "pitching" need to go bye-bye

“Pitch” and “pitching” aren’t going away … but they should. They’re so frequently used in agencies, corporations, not-for-profits and organizations they appear current, reasonable and viable. But they’re not. They should be retired immediately.
Historic usage, prevalence and pithiness shouldn’t supersede relevance or appropriateness. If it did, words like: colored, going steady, secretary, sissy, stewardess and mental would still be in wide circulation today.
Here are seven reasons why we should drop the pitch:

1.    It's a dated form of PR  media relations used to be one-way. We’d craft our “pitches” and try to sell them to busy reporters. Please Walt Mossberg, notice me, listen to what I have to say, and I hope (and pray) you write something. Those days are increasingly over. The world of top-down media dominance has been replaced with a never ending grassroots conversation that’s lively, engaging, empowering and direct to consumer/customer.

2.    It de-positions the PR industry – most of us have worked hard adapting to - and adopting – many historic communications transformations. We’re not there yet… (may never be), but we’re in a better place. We’re taking the PR industry to a new position where authenticity and transparency shape our practice – not hype and selling. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to go back.

3.    It damages our reputation – pitch and pitching sound old-school – pre-social media, pre-community – and they are. When we say these words, they immediately date us, forcing astute listeners to categorize us as “hit and clip,” “press kit” era PR dinosaurs.

4.    It’s one-way pitching epitomizes the old-world model of one way communications. Shut up and listen, I've got something to say. I'm the pitcher, here's the pitch … I'll wait and see if you catch what I've got to say … or not. Yes, the great “pitchers” of the past weren’t this crass … they’d initiate a conversation. But lots of people continue to push out their packaged ideas via Twitter, e-mail, Facebook, etc., never inviting or urging a conversation.

5.    It’s arrogant I don’t like it when a car salesman makes assumptions about me when we’ve never met. I don’t like it when a telemarketer reaches me at home to sell me something I’m not interested in. I don’t like it when people try to convince me to support an idea I’m not familiar with or don’t believe in. Pitching has all these attributes, and more.

6.    It’s a turn-off – this approach helped give PR a negative reputation, a perception often shaped by aggressive, fake, single-minded people trying to get their way vs. earning respect and building rapport.

7.    It doesn’t work – instead of pitching, let’s enter a two-way conversation, tell a story, listen, learn, invest time and treat people the way we like to be treated. We may not always get where we want to go, but we’ll build genuine relationships that have more lasting value.

 

BP triggers dark side for augmented reality

No sooner did brand managers and marketers discover augmented reality (AR) as the next big marketing frontier then did consumers find a way to use AR to voice their own opinions.
 
AR developers Mark Skwarek and Joseph Hocking are keeping BP’s feet to the fire with a new AR iPhone app that lets users visualize the Deepwater Horizon oil spill at their local BP gas station or wherever they happen to see a BP logo.
 
Called “the leak in your hometown,” the app transforms the logo into the source of the deep sea gusher. Just point your phone at the logo and your outrage and sense of futility over the unceasing disaster is rekindled.

If you’re new to augmented reality, it’s technology that overlay’s digital information and imagery onto your view of real-world things, typically using a webcam or smartphone camera as the visual conduit.
 
The BP gusher app is pretty simplistic as far as AR apps go. Yet it’s a brand manager’s nightmare. As the app’s creators describe on their blog … 
An important component of the project is that it uses BP’s corporate logo as a marker, to orient the computer-generated 3D graphics. Basically turning their own logo against them. This repurposing of corporate icons will offer future artists and activists a powerful means of expression which will be easily accessible to the masses and at the same time will be safe and nondestructive.
Remember back when brand managers first swooned over the potential of social media as a new direct-to-consumer marketing channel, not yet realizing how the technology gives consumers their own, sometimes critical, voice? With AR, it’s déjà vu all over again. Google ‘augmented reality’ and ‘marketing’ and you'll see what I mean. But the effusive praise by marketers will soon be tempered as they discover that AR can be a double-edged sword, as much a threat to their companies’ corporate reputation as it is a powerful marketing tool. 

Next BP victim: 'brand journalism'

The brand journalist is the one of the most compelling marketing concepts I've encountered in a while. Leave it to BP to spoil a good thing.

Read more from our CleanSpeak blog here.

Beware of broadcast media coverage scams

I got a call today from one of our client CMO’s. He had spoken with someone who asked him several questions for a “television program he was producing.” He had a catchy name for the program.
After talking awhile, the TV person said his organization would like to “interview” the CMO’s company for the program. He talked-up the excellent national broadcast visibility it would generate.

It sounded intriguing until our CMO started asking a few simple questions, including:  

  • tell me more about your company
  •  tell me more about this show
  •  who interviews us
  •  what’s the story angle that interests you about us
  •  when and where will the story appear
Basic stuff, but the TV show rep stumbled and couldn’t answer any of them with credibility. Our CMO friend didn’t like the vibe; he said “the guy got all squishy on me.”
That’s when he picked up the phone and called me.
The instant he described the encounter I knew what it was; the latest version of a scam where a video infomercial production company passes itself off as a legitimate broadcast editorial opportunity. I’ve seen it many times over the past two decades.
Aside from the unethical behavior and misrepresentation, the heart of the scam is money. After hooking the unsuspecting prospect with dreams of broadcast coverage, they tell you it’s going to cost money to pull it all together. In this particular case, it was in the $20K+ range.
Sadly, some companies fall for it. Here are some of the broadcast scams in business today: http://bit.ly/9Q0Ujz and http://bit.ly/bevDP6.
If you’re ever contacted by someone who rather quickly promises to get your company broadcast media coverage, ask one simple question: is this going to cost my company any money? If the rep stammers, delays, gets “squishy” or says “yes,” run for the hills.
Real media coverage is earned, not paid for.

Seven social media lessons from Nestle's reputation crisis

If a company still doesn’t "get" how social media has changed the rules of branding by empowering consumers, look no further than the ongoing Nestle firestorm.
 
Nestle has been in trouble for awhile, mostly related to its continuing use of palm oil in its products. Palm oil is linked to environmental nastiness, including deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions and endangered species loss.
 
Caroline McCarthy of CNET News shared a balanced post about the Nestle brand crisis, triggered by ticked off consumers on Facebook. Nestle was clueless about the power shift enabled by social media and acted in an old-school authoritarian “we own the brand” way. It not only didn’t work, it backfired.
 
There are vital lessons from the Nestle debacle for professional communicators advising their execs or clients: 
 
1.     Before diving into social media, make sure key decision makers who think they want to go social media truly “get” how the game is played. It’s not a press release.
 
2.     Make sure they understand how Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. aren’t one way vehicles (where the brand dominates the message), but an invitation to a never ending dance with constantly changing partners, some of whom are never your friend and may only want to dance if they can slap your ego and try to make you a better dancer.
 
3.     Don’t go social media unless the brand is willing to take the risk of jumping off the cliff, giving up control to customers and consumers who will express their viewpoints, both positive and negative.
 
4.     If your company or client wants to control the message, then social media isn’t for them. Look at how Nestle tried to tell people not to post their logos. It will incur a wrath not unlike "It’s not OK for people to use altered versions of your logos but it’s OK for you to alter the face of Indonesian rainforests? Wow!"
   
5.     Creating LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter accounts is just the first step. The goal isn’t to tweet or post, it’s to build an active community and an authentic two-way relationship based on trust. It’s easy to get started in social media, but time-consuming and challenging to remain engaged and build a following.
 
6.     Remember that even if your company or client decides not to engage in social media, this won’t stop rants, rebellion and revolution. People will find a way to express themselves and let it be known they’re disturbed, upset, confused, disappointed or whatever the view. The train has left the station, so be prepared.
 
7.     As we’ve learned from Nestle (and so many others), people don’t want to be scammed, ignored or mistreated. It will come back to bite you. So if your exec or client wants social media to become a positive tool, the brand must be a concerned good listener prepared to take action to correct situations that aren’t right.

Thanks: African American PR Pioneers who shaped our profession

Ida B. Wells-Barnett

When I prepared for my Accredited Public Relations (APR) exams (oral & written) via the Public Relations Society of America , we read and talked about the history of the profession and the notables who shaped our industry.

I learned that Sam Adams moved and manipulated public opinion during the Revolutionary War. Alexander Hamilton published 85 Federalist letters urging ratification of the Constitution.

Amos Kendall served President Andrew Jackson’s “Kitchen Cabinet” as pollster, counselor, publicist and ghostwriter.

P.T. Barnum was a canny “press agent” showman who leveraged publicity for his Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.  

Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin
Parker & Lee opened the first public relations firm in New York City in 1904.

And Edward Bernays (who I had the pleasure of spending a day with in his Cambridge home) wrote many books about public relations, coined the term “public relations counsel,” and advised Presidents and CEOs.

But I never learned about notable African Americans who were influential in the formation of the PR industry.  

But now, thanks to Marcia Taylor from Norfolk State University, I know there were many

Inez Kaiser

African American PR pioneers. Her post in celebration of Black History Month made me smarter:

I now know that Ida B. Wells-Barnett promoted women’s suffrage and the abolition of lynching.

I learned that Bayard Rustin was the social cause strategist who organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his “I have a dream” speech.

And I know Inez Kaiser founded the first African-American, female-owned PR firm in America.

Thanks Marcia and PRSA, and congratulations to all the pioneers who should be recognized for their contributions to the PR industry. 

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