k101 Agency Case Study

17 06 2010

The Situation:

k101 was hired to coordinate and implement product placement targeted at a young, fashion-forward female demographic. The Coca-Cola Company saw an opportunity to capitalize on the popularity of the energy drink category after seeing the success of Red Bull. They opted to produce a more female-friendly drink with the retro appeal of Tab, a former best seller. We worked with Tab Energy’s strategic marketing group in New York and contacted a small list of business locations in Atlanta – from salons and spas to fashion boutiques – that catered to the young professional, female-heavy demo.

The Solution:

We arranged for them to carry the drink in-store as a value-add to their customers so that during the test period we could slowly integrate the Tab Energy brand into their visual vocabulary and encourage word of mouth advertising – a valuable tool within this demo. This integrated communication plan also assisted these businesses by creating cross-channel loyalty.

The Results:

Based on the success of the strategic product placement marketing initiative, Tab Energy launched a full-scale marketing campaign as a result of the positive feedback in the local markets.


Social Media Press Releases

15 03 2010

I posted earlier about the nature of the press release in today’s world of PR. I said that it will still be a relevant tool, as most journalists rely on them to create news content. Additionally, I said that journalistic content is amplified throughout the web via blog links and other aggregating factors. One of the best ways to maximize this effect is by distributing a dynamic release that incorporates the maximum amount of new media and social networking elements.

Pressitt.com has a fantastic free utility that allows users to make such a release, hereafter called a Social Media News Release.

A great SMNR would contain the traditional core elements of a press release. Listed initially would be the contact information for relevant individuals, including client, spokesperson and agency rep. Optional details, along with phone numbers would be email addresses, websites, Skype or IM handles, and links to twitter or Facebook pages.

The major text portion of the release would still be front and center, below the contact info, however severely reduced in volume. Major elements would include a carefully worded headline and subhead that clearly and concisely detailed the most relevant details of the new development. Here there could be body text but I believe that bullet points would be ideal.

Below the bullet points or body text would be either links to relevant sites (ideally within the corporation’s umbrella web site) or to coverage that had already been generated via other news outlets. Instead of links, a particularly savvy user could substitute RSS feeds, should he intend to add additional content as time went on.

For the boilerplate essential elements would include RSS feeds to new releases, a button for bookmaking the release. Additionally, links to whichever relevant news media aggregators (such as Digg or del.icio.us) could be incorporated here.

There would be two columns utilized here, on either side of the major text content. One idea that I think is great is to have a comment stream. This is a bit of a pandora’s box: most press releases are thought of as strictly one-way communication and not user-driven by any means. However if such a function was enabled and moderated it could prove a dynamic way to drive interest to the release and further engage non-journalists. A similar idea would be to provide trackbacks to any blogs that linked to the release, providing publicity as a reward to individual bloggers who drove users to the release.

The opposite column would need to be a way to simply and intuitively provide the mixed media with the release. This would include photos, podcasts or MP3 files, graphics or visually presented data and video or b-roll. Each element would need a separate URL as well as a link to embed it into social media sites.

For photos, I think that the “less is more” strategy would be the best. Two photos that identified the relevant development, product or service would ensure uniformity in coverage and maintain stronger brand identity. As for the audio, I think that an 8-10 minute clip that included interviews with C-Suite personnel, and any applicable demonstration of the product or service would be ideal. This would make great content for independent podcasters or traditional radio broadcasters. I believe that a downloadable MP3 file would be the best format here, save a serialized podcast produced by the PR professional.

Video is the most tricky here, as it has the most potential to dominate any given page. A small media player that had whichever clip was most relevant to the release ready to play upon loading the page would be best. While hovering over the image, any user should be able to maximize the screen size, get URLs or embedded links, or select to browse through other video content. I think if the company in question had a thriving B-roll interface elsewhere, a link to such content would be sufficient.

Some of my favorite SMNR’s can be found here, here and here.




Company Branding and Public Relations

15 03 2010

Business Dictionary defines the term branding as, “Entire process involved in creating a unique name and image for a product (good or service) in the consumers‘ mind, through advertising campaigns with a consistent theme. Branding aims to establish a significant and differentiated presence in the market that attracts and retains loyal customers.” Branding has become an integral part of many public relations aficionado’s daily agenda.

Danielle Blumenthal, a writer for brandchannel.com discusses how branding has become an integral step in any effective public relations plan. Blumenthal argues that reputation does not encompass the brand, yet transparency actually does. Blumenthal defines transparency as,

“The real job of a public relations professional (though they may not be able to express it in practice), means to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the organization, and in so doing to portray the organization as trustworthy. Therefore PR is actually the antithesis of branding, which is to tell a very partial, even propagandistic, truth. Really, branding is pure selling, aimed at owning a single idea in the audience’s mind.”

Blumenthal then argues that there is one exception — this is where PR comes in to play. As she said above she believes that the only reason to build up a brand to be associated with social responsibility or reputation is to protect the brand against damaging attacks.

While I agree with Blumenthal I think there is so much more to branding than what meets the eye. Branding creates a mental image or association for people pertaining to a particular brand. For example, people do not go to Starbuck’s because they use eco-sustainable beans, they go to Starbuck’s for “me time”. They go to Starbuck’s because it is an affordable indulgence. People associate Starbuck’s with great coffee, caring employees, amazing customer service, and a neighborhood family feeling.

Branding creates a companies’ “aura”. Are they a serious company that is conservative, or are they a fun, open company, which embraces their community and treats their employees with the utmost level of respect (Starbuck’s has a reputation for being a great place to work). Branding is accomplished by using visual images, creating a company environment, and creating a feeling or vibe that can be associated with a particular companies’ brand.

Ketchum Public Relations has stepped into the forefront as leaders in company branding and actually utilize entire departments to ensure proper branding for their clients. This attention to detail has led Ketchum to be one of most highly sought after firms in the world for effective and concise public relations strategy and tactics.

Branding involves several different vertically integrated specialties such as PR, advertising, and marketing. When all of these practices are employed in a manner that is consistent the message is effectively communicated to the target audience.

This increasingly popular method of integrated marketing communications, or IMC, has joined different aspects of communication into one integral team. By all working together it ensures the campaign, brand, and company message stays consistent to all audiences.

Dreaded question: So what is public relations?!

15 03 2010

I have held multiple internships and paid positions at various nationally based and boutique public relations agencies, however to this day there is no question I dread more than, “So what exactly do people in PR do?!” Why do I hate this question? The reason for this aversion is because public relations cannot be defined in a simple sentence; it is a complex, versatile, non-stop, set of practices that vary greatly on a day-to-day basis.

Another reason I do not like this question is because I feel that many people have preconceived notions about what people in PR do; some may crudely refer to those in the industry as spin doctors. The new reality show SPINdustry on E! stars Kim Kardashian as she works with a PR team to maintain her brand. Naturally, I was excited to see what the show had to offer, but after watching the pilot episode I was left with a bad taste in my mouth — the show seemed to be a gross interpretation of standard PR practices. I found myself thinking, “I guess people in PR in L.A. only plan parties, huh?” There was an absence of strategic planning, research, demographic studies, and polls. In no way did the environment of that office reflect any office I had ever worked in. Were they publicists? Maybe. Were they public relations practitioners? Absolutely not.

Getting back to the original question, what is public relations? People often confuse advertising with public relations. The biggest difference between the two is that advertising utilizes paid media, while public relations utilizes earned media. Cafe Press has created a great chart outlining the differences between the two.

Public relations has many functions such as building a favorable image for a company or organization, monitoring the media for coverage of clients, managing crises that may arise, conducting research and polls, community outreach programs, investor relations, internal communication, and publicity among other things. PR is a managerial tool to increase awareness, brand, and sales according to Know This.

The “Hollywood” image of what public relations entails is nothing more than a stereotype. I can only imagine what the industry leaders at famed firms such as Goelin-Harris, Ketchum, or Edelman are thinking as they see their industry become tainted by stereotype.

Overall the public needs to gain a clear perception of what those in the industry actually do, and how it is beneficial to the inner-workings of any company.

5 Easy Tips for Best PR Practices

15 03 2010

Books and articles abound with suggestions and theories about the best way to operate and execute public relations. I have found that the most useful guidelines, however are often the simplest. Below are a short review of some of these rules of operation.

  1. Make sure that you are using the correct tools. If a situation calls for a press conference, when there is substantial media interest and the need for a personal appearance, then act appropriately. When a few targeted phone calls can have the same effect do not waste valuable time and resources with such an event.
  2. Stay up on the news. Simple, I know, but nothing is more potentially embarrassing as a comment or statement ignorant of relevant current events. A public relations professional working on any given subject should be aware of any recent developments on said subject. Modern technology makes this extremely easy – a simple Google News Search can deliver the most up to date information on almost any subject.
  3. Keep your goals in mind. This means both short-term objectives and long-term goals. Before taking any significant action ask yourself: what will be the result of this action? Will it contribute to our long-term success? Is it consistent with our communications strategy at large?
  4. Maintain writing standards! Words are the bread and butter and the chief tool of any PR department. Things like excessive punctuation, improper use of the passive voice and misspellings are anathema to journalists who are under the same standards. Don’t take too much pride in your work – having others look it over before publishing is never a bad idea. Don’t rely too much on interns and subordinates to generate your copy. When in doubt, you can always consult the AP Styleguide. Also, try these top tips for editing press releases.
  5. Be honest. There is a difference between spin and deception, between argument and obfuscation. Despite how tempting it may be to veer from the truth most seasoned public relations professionals will tell you that lying will eventually come back to bite you in the a**. You can take this sentiment further by encouraging honest and ethical practices across your entire organization.

The Press Release – What is the modern role?

15 03 2010

The press release, that iconic tool of the PR industry is also one of the most understood. Those unfamiliar with contemporary pubic relations practices (and many an undergraduate communications major) are often under the impression that writing press releases is the sole major function of a PR department or professional. Conversely, those most up on the social media and Web 2.0 see the traditional press release as a dying institution and increasingly obsolete.

Neither of these myths are true. Press releases are simply a tool that public relations professionals use to convey their message. The entire tone and shape of any good press release is the product of countless hours of strategy, with the intent that any coverage generated is of a desired nature. What has changed is the format. No longer do PR offices fax out press releases by the ream to smoky newspaper offices; today’s press releases are distributed electronically and posted online in various ways to generate maximum coverage.

Some of the most prevalent arguments for the “press releases are dead” crowd include claims that no one has time to read press releases, press releases are targeted too generally, or that the press release format is too time-consuming and gets the writer behind the game in this age of instant information. I would argue that while some of these points are valid, they are simply describing the nature of today’s communication technology. It is up to the PR company to adapt to new conditions and see the prospects for increased coverage and visibility.

The fact is that press releases are still the main go-to for journalists hard-pressed for a story topic. Just because a particular topic is trending on Twitter or has generated a sizable Facebook group, writers still need hard data, usable quotes and credible sources. Additionally, professional journalists create the vast majority of original news content on the web. While their work may be reblogged, linked to, quoted or just straight-up plagiarized, the content is still driven by any press release that informed said story. Thus the information age has created a situation in which the information from press releases can be amplified to a substantial degree.

Part of the new reality concerning press releases is their entrance into the public domain. Before the web, most of the general public never saw them and was thus unfamiliar with the format. Today, press releases posted on a major company’s website instantly become part of the public domain. Spiders for search engines make press releases high in news searches. Amateur journalists and bloggers, should they take the time can pore over them here. Releases are linked to in both articles and sites like Wikipedia, making them part of the public domain as well a relevant piece of history.

Press releases will not die because they are the essential who/what/where/why, they are the raw data and building blocks for a good story. PR professionals who wish to stay ahead of the game must adapt to changing technological realities and write press releases that can be read by Pulitzer-winning authors as well as soccer moms blogging while the kids are out. Releases should be akin to blog posts, full of relevant links and rich media options. Great examples can be found for SoBe and Final Fantasy XIII here.

Eric Massa’s Tickling Scandal: A Serious Lesson in Crisis Management

15 03 2010

Politicians and their handlers tend to be adept at diffusing scandals. Employing traditional tactics such as interviews, written statements and press releases officeholders generally attempt to discredit whatever accusations thrown their way, or in some cases the accusers. Unlike corporations, politicians can often wait out bad press and hope it blows over before an election cycle, or hope that whatever superior controls their fate makes a similar gambit. This makes the spectacular meltdown of New York Congressman Eric Massa’s political career this week all the more  bewildering, incredulous and of course, entertaining.

Until last week Eric Massa was just a low-profile first-term congressman from western New York State. A moderate democrat who won the seat on the wave of a Democratic wins, Massa was most notable for his fickle support for President Obama’s attempted healthcare overhaul. Massa had a history of health problems, including reoccurring but reputably minor cancer.

On the 5th of this month, Massa resigned office effective the 8th in a post to his web site (which as subsequently been taken down). The resignation was reported on the 3rd by the political web site Rollcall.com. While the reason for the resignation was listed for medical reasons, it became immediately clear that several pending ethics investigations were relevant.

Several websites, including Politico.com broke news via tips from House staffers that said pending ethics investigations regarding Massa’s conduct with male staffers. According to the Washington Post, rumors had circulated for months that he had solicited sexual contact with male aides and staffers, and had groped several male subordinates. Massa made a flat denial of all such accusations, and even denied knowing of ongoing investigations, although this was proven to be false.

It turns out that Ronald Hiekel, Massa’s former Deputy Chief of Staff had come to the Democratic House Leadership twice in the fist week of February and complained of the the troubling conduct, and that a formal ethics committee investigation was underway. In a conference call to reporters the week of his resignation, Massa reiterated that the investigation played no part in his retirement:

“Do I or have I ever used salty language when I’m angry, especially in the privacy of my inner office or even at home? Yes, I have, and I have apologized to those where it’s appropriate,” Massa said. “But those kinds of articles, unsubstantiated, without fact or backing, are a symptom of what’s wrong with this city.”

Massa also contributed his weekly local radio address that week, clarifying some of the details about the accusations. Here he blamed the investigations on White House operatives trying to intimidate him into supporting their legislative priorities.

On Tuesday the 9th, things really got wierd. Massa made back to back appearances on CNN’s Larry King Live and Fox News’ Glenn Beck in which he attempted to clarify which charges were being levied against him. What ended up happening were digressions into the nature of male friendships, and detailed accounts of the tickling, wrestling and other conduct that seemingly characterized Massa’s congressional office. Massa dodged questions about his sexuality, and constantly reiterated that his behavior, which most adults would consider unprofessional at best, was appropriate and nonsexual. Both King and Beck had a hard time keeping up with the details, and all viewers took away was a picture of a confused, paranoid and very odd man.

The media circus that has come about as a result even led to not one but two Massa-related Saturday Night Live segments this past weekend, including one featuring a cameo by Jerry Seinfeld.

Such a disaster could have easily been minimized, if not avoided altogether. What has become clear is that coverage of Massa’s resignation by the media was fueled by conflicting information from Massa’s office as well as the incendiary nature of the allegations against him.

Massa’s initial resignation was the first crucial opportunity missed. The complaints against him were not yet reported by the media, and he had the chance to address and discredit them, taking control of the story. Instead, he cited health reasons, and allowed reporters searching for a story to resort to gossiping staffers and the congressional rumor mill.

Massa also failed from not having his priorities clearly in check. His relationship with the democratic leadership was clearly strained, but one would assume that he held personal loyalties to Democratic legislative priorities and would not wish to harm them by blaming the White House’s strongarm tactics. He should have set clear short- and long-term goals designed to minimize coverage of his departure, preserve his reputation and avoid jeopardizing Democratic priorities by discrediting party leadership or by simply hijacking media coverage for the week.

On a personal level, Massa failed by becoming emotionally involved in the story and taking the entire ordeal very personally. He should have immediately stepped back and handed press matters over to an experienced friend or even outside consultant (ideally someone insulated from the office conduct that got him in trouble in the first place). Anyone with half a brain would never have let him go on national television for hour-long interviews or let his personal sexuality and conduct become interview fodder.

Finally and most importantly, Massa’s inconsistancies in his story were particularly damning. First he claimed to know nothing of the allegations, then it became clear he did. He outright denied groping anyone on Glen Beck, then apologized for just that on Larry King. Such missteps are catnip for reporters, and Massa paid dearly for it.