Monday, June 22, 2020

Messaging Advice for Politicians During Black Lives Matters

1. Advice you might have for candidates trying to show compassion, empathy, appropriate response to constituents during a crisis like COVID-19 and protests.

Well, you’re in a catch-22: If you stay silent, you risk criticism for not saying anything. If you say something, you risk saying the wrong thing. As someone I follow on Twitter recently wrote, “Both are options; both are risks.” So whatever you do, you need to think about your words with great precision and great care. Be hypervigilant.

Here’s a quick example: According to both the Associated Press and Merriam-Webster, the word “black” is now capitalized. So if you don’t capitalize “black,” some people may think you’re making a deliberate decision to insult African Americans — even if your mistake was entirely innocent.

On that subject, talk to people of color on your staff. Seek out not only their perspective, but also their candid counsel. One of the best things about diversity if that it allows you to engage with people who bring different experiences to the table. So if you’re not bringing alternative voices into your discussion, there’s a good chance you’re going miss an important nuance at best, and exacerbate a tinderbox at worst.

Finally, one last tip: Have at the ready a list of things you’re doing, and have done. You should absolutely have this list memorized. Facts and figures are your friend.

“We’re working with the CDC to get ventilators to St. Barnabas Hospital.” “We’re committed to making sure that X percentage of our team consists of people of color.”

Avoid phrases like, “We’re studying the issue.” Cite specific accomplishments.

2. Tips for engaging constituents in Zoom meetings

Limit, moderate, and mute. Zoom meetings can quickly spiral out of control, so you want to remain in control of yours.

Limit. Just as you would in person, limit the number of people who can attend and restrict access. Cap attendees at a certain number, give out the dial-in info only to people who, say, provide their email address, and don’t allow people to move out of the waiting room if they don’t provide a name.

Similarly, moderate questions. You can require people to type their questions, then a moderator can read them. Or your moderator can vet the questions and then unmute the questioner to ask it him or herself.

Mute everyone by default. Many people will be multitasking. Vacuuming, doing the dishes, even going for a walk outside are some of my favorite ways to multitask. And with that, comes background noise.

A few other tips:

Set ground rules. Civility and respect should be the norm: Make it clear, in your invitation if not also at the outset, that while you’re eager for questions, this isn’t a place for grandstanding or for monologues. That is, you want to questions, not statements, and you reserve the right, to keep the meeting on track, to silence someone.

Also, tempers are running hot, and sometimes people just want to vent, so let them. Sometimes the best thing you can do is listen, actively and with respect. And then express gratitude for the fact that your constituent shared his perspective.

Finally, always, always, always identify common ground. Even if you disagree with everything someone says, always try to build a bridge. In fact, sometimes you can build your entire response around areas of agreement, rather than pointing out where the other person is wrong.

3. Value of op-eds from candidates and elected officials — best practices

I’m a big fan of op-eds. They’re a peerless way to deepen your reputation for wisdom, to demonstrate leadership in a crisis, to raise your visibility.

Of course, you’re asking a ghostwriter who writes an op-ed a month, so my first piece of advice is to hire a ghostwriter.

Look, it’s no secret that many politicians, like many chief executives, have ghostwriters. But for big stuff, they often bring in a specialist. That’s what the president traditionally does when it comes to jokes when he speaks to the annual dinner of the White House Correspondents’ Association. So consider hiring outside your inner circle for an outside perspective.

Second, consider a local or regional paper rather than a national one. One reason everyone knows about Tom Cotton’s op-ed in the New York Times (“Send in the Troops”) is because it was in the New York Times. The biggest microphone in the world is not always the smartest strategy.

By contrast, not only is it easier to get published in a smaller publication; you’ll also be better able to address your specific constituents that way.

4. Response to evidence from past bad behavior and rumors

If you want to talk about bad behavior, look no further than Donald Trump.

More broadly, the politicians who stick their foot in their mouth tend to be those who speak without thinking. I don’t believe this is a time for off-the-cuff ad-libbing; the slightest slip of the tongue can be this afternoon’s trending topic on Twitter.

In this sense, I think we can learn from pols who are known to be tightly scripted — people like Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton. They know how to stay on message, which in the rhubarb we’re in right now, seems smart.

5. Keep the candidate’s narrative authentic

It drives me nuts when consultants tell a client to “by yourself.”

For me, “being myself” means being casual and care-free. It means sporting flip flops and cracking inappropriate jokes. In this milieu, it’s easy to slip and share something I’ll later regret. (Just ask my girlfriend.)

By contrast, when I talk with a reporter, I’m on my best behavior. For one thing, I wear a business suit. That armor tells me that the given exchange is professional, not personal; this is business.

For another, I don’t wing it; I workshop my talking points in advance. That allows me to appear polished and poised rather than risking an ad-libbed gaffe.

Put simply, I’m not “myself.” I’m the best version of myself.

That doesn’t mean I’m inauthentic or insincere; it just means I’m prepared.

Addendum (6/25/2020): Success!

What Makes the Baywatch Bathing Suit Timeless?

The red Baywatch bathing suit — for both men and women — remains forever relevant for several reasons.

First, consider the opening montage of every Baywatch episode. The scenes were slowed down to parade around lifeguards running across the beach, bare-naked except for these form-fitting garments. For women especially, and especially for the singular Pamela Anderson, the suit bottom was cut high enough to leave little to the imagination. Which of course was the point: Sex sells, and nobody sold it better in the 90s than Baywatch.

Second, consider the consistency. Every lifeguard, no matter the season — or even the movie — wore the same iconic outfit. The color stayed bright and solid, the cut stayed tailored and tight, and the people stayed beautiful and tanned. That's smart branding.

Finally, consider the design. It's deceptively simple: Solid red with a yellow-and-white logo. Not only does that look stand out on a beach; it also brings to mind the pulchritudinous people who made it famous. In other words: If you’re wearing an all-red suit, you’re sending out an unmistakable message to the world: I’m a Baywatch babe. Who wouldn’t want that association?

Monday, June 8, 2020

The Work Wardrobe, Post-Covid-19

Working from home has dramatically relaxed the traditional office dress code. People we’ve never seen not in a business suit are now suddenly tieless. Women whose make-up was always perfect are now pulling their hair up.

These changes are here to stay for a simple reason: A home office is still very much part of your home. And unless you’re videoconferencing with a client, casual codes are perfectly permissible.

Of course, this New Normal poses a problem, because part of a person’s authority comes from his garb. Someone wearing flip flops who says the exact thing as a person sporting Oxfords is inherently less credible. This is why doctors wear those white jackets emblazoned with their names: Because it’s hard to take someone seriously who’s chosen to outfit himself in a T shirt.

(There’s a great scene from Curb Your Enthusiasm, where a lawyer, who’s dressed in jeans for casual Friday, has to explain to a potential client that just because he, the lawyer, is dressed casually doesn’t mean that he’ll treat you casually.)

Which professions are likely to resist this change? Lawyers, bankers, and others who charge a lot for their services. These folks deal with big amounts of money, and they need to convey authority and gravitas. That’s hard to do via a screen, and even harder when you’re in a hoodie.


Friday, February 21, 2020

Jeff Bezos’s Reputation

He’s buying mansions like the rest of us buy sneakers. He’s buying a newspaper, getting muscled upgetting divorced, getting hacked, embracing philanthropy — it seems he’s experiencing a rebirth and finally relishing the fruits of his labor. He’s unleashed and loving it.

In the past, he’s picked his public opportunities slowly and strategically. Indeed, Amazon PR is famous for being laconic. But in recent years, Jeff Bezos is everywhere: Sporting a super-expensive bathing suit that then sold out. Mingling with celebs in Hollywood. Posing with a sexy new girlfriend. The way he picks his opportunities, each one becomes news. And the more publicity he draws, the less mysterious and the more likable he becomes.

What little we know about the Everything Store and its founder CEO is the stuff of corporate lore. The two-pizza rule. The PowerPoint prohibition. The keep-it-instead-of-return-it policy.

Yet Amazon has also recently come under fire for a cornucopia of issues. It’s being investigated for antitrust violations around the world. Its warehouses skimp on air conditioning even as workers’ every minute is monitored for efficiency. Its outsourced drivers are urinating in their vans and killing pedestrians. It’s suing the Defense Department. It’s become a magnet for counterfeit products.

So, it’s possible that Bezos’s heightened profile derives from a simple cost-benefit analysis: The more good ink he generates, the less that people will fixate on Amazon’s bad ink. After all, he’s one of the few founders who’s still the C.E.O. of his now-publicly traded company, so his personal affairs are closely associated with his professional ones.

On the other hand, maybe he just likes the attention. Maybe, as the world’s richest person, he’s realized that he can do what he wants, when he wants. More power to you, Jeff.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Email-Marketing Best Practices

1. Don’t be a roach motel; make it easy for people to unsubscribe. There’s nothing worse than when you require people to jump through hoops, scrutinize small text for the “unsubscribe” link, or wait a week in order to stop getting your emails. Let go of those who don’t value your emails; focus instead on optimizing the experience for those who do.

2. Make sure your subject line is catchy without being clickbaity. You don’t want to dupe people, but you do want to entice them, to whet their appetite, to create a curiosity gap. This is a tricky balance to strike, but do it right, and you’ll increase your open rates dramatically.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

3 PR Subjects That Colleges Need to Do a Better Job Teaching Students

1. Business Writing

Here’s a fact: If you graduate from college without the ability to write well, you should ask for your money back. Good writers are inherently viewed as credible and smart, yet too many graduates today struggle to craft copy that doesn’t sound like a book report.

Ask hiring managers what quality they prize most in job applicants, and many will quickly tell you, “Excellent writing.”

2. Wikipedia

It’s a shame more colleges don’t teach courses on Wikipedia. Writing for Wikipedia offers several benefits. First, it teaches you how to separate fact from opinion. Second, it teaches you HTML, which helps you understand computer science. And, finally, Wikipedia — one of the web’s most valuable (and ad-free) resources — is in desperate need of new editors.

3. PowerPoint

When it comes to the most common tool in corporate communications — Microsoft PowerPoint — few students have had any formal education, any training, any professional development.

If you’re like me, you likely opened up the program one late night in college, cobbled together a deck, and have been learning on the job ever since. You’re self-taught, learning by trial and error.

That’s unfortunate. As anyone in Silicon Valley can confirm, companies are launched every day on the basis of their pitch deck. If you can master PowerPoint — not only how to create stunning slides, but also how to make them flow — you’ll be able to market your skills far and wide.

Friday, December 7, 2018

PR Winners and Losers of 2018

Winners
Disney
When Disney fired Roseanne, it did so with swiftness and decisiveness. From tweet to termination took less than 12 hours. This allowed the company to frame the narrative, to contain the damage, and to move on.

Starbucks
This spring, Starbucks faced a truly terrible situation of its own making. Yet, ultimately, the company handled the crisis with speed, seriousness, and transparency. Closing every single U.S. store for several hours to better train your staff means losing real money for the sake of a principle. That kind of bold leadership signifies a greater commitment and greater sincerity than a mere apology or donation.

Amazon #1
Since he was elected president, Donald Trump has relentlessly attacked Amazon. Amazon’s response: To ignore him. This shrugging strategy is smart — and a break from the Zon’s past, whereby the company has been known to push back aggressively on critical coverage. Getting into a public spat with an incredibly thin-skinned egomaniac who thrives on inflammatory and mendacious tweets is a losing proposition. Instead, Amazon has chosen to advance its interests through a quiet, yet formidable lobbying machine. Sometimes, it’s better to find common ground than it is to play tit for tat.

Amazon #2
In October, Amazon announced that it was hiking its wages to $15/hour. Not only was this good business (it likely prevented labor strikes around the holidays); it was also brilliant PR: How would it look for the world’s most valuable company, run by the world’s richest man, to benefit from major tax breaks while their hourly workers can’t afford healthcare? Indeed, Amazon’s move draw praise from one of its loudest critics, Senator Bernie Sanders.

Losers
The University of Maryland
The University of Maryland (UMD) committed an egregiously self-inflicted error this year. Right or wrong, reinstating two executives who oversaw the entirely avoidable death of a 19-year-old football player was terrible from a PR perspective. But the board of regents made a bad situation even worse when it forced its popular president to take the fall. Predictably, the backlash was fast and furious: After the president announced his resignation, after the football coach was fired (after walking away with $5.5 million), and after the chairman of the board resigned, the university’s accreditation is now being reviewed on account of ethical issues. The crisis at UMD is a perfect example of why PR is so important: Any PR pro would have known that the board’s tone-deaf decision would have been a bombshell. Instead, the board was grossly unprepared, and the largest university in the Washington, D.C., area is now suffering the consequences.

Saudi Arabia
On October 2, a Saudi-American journalist was murdered and then dismembered in a Saudi embassy in Turkey. In the course of current events, the fact that a dictatorial regime disposes of a dissident is, sadly, not especially newsworthy. Yet thanks to the media savvy of Turkey’s president, the story has stayed on homepages, newscasts, and breaking-news alerts around the world. That’s because Erdoğan resisted the temptation to release all the evidence at once. Instead, he slow-walked things, leaking lurid bit by bit in a piecemeal escalation.

IHOP
IHOP seems to have followed the Trump playbook for PR: It doesn’t matter what people are saying about you — as long as they’re saying something. Of course, this is a stunt. To be sure, stunts demand guts and creativity, but ultimately this one just confused people and dented a brand that was once singularly, gloriously associated with pancakes. “IHOB” sparked our attention, but left us with empty stomachs.

Addendum (12/17/2018): Success!

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Media-Monitoring Software

I am looking for an interview on using media monitoring/social listening/PR analytics for benchmarking and competitive intel. I’m looking for comments on tactics and strategies, not the specifics of tools.

1. Pay to Play (in a Good Way)

If you’re a serious PR pro, then you need media-monitoring software. Google Alerts won’t cut it. Professionals use tools they pay for; this way, they have access to a dedicated support team and patronize something they depend on.

2. Cast a Wide Net

The more info you have, the better. Algorithms can gather info, but it takes a real live person — ideally, a trained professional — to comb through the results and separate the signals from the noise. This is a case where less is less and more is more. I’d rather get duplicative results than risk missing something.

3. Conquer the Search Commands

If you want to get the most out of the software, you need to master the science of search queries and all the special commands and advanced operators. For example, don’t just search for “Walmart”; learn how to exclude certain articles, to rank articles by prominence, to analyze them by sentiment, and so on. The smartest media monitors memorize these keyword combinations the way most of us memorize Ctrl + Alt + Delete: We use them so much that they’re embedded in our muscle memory.

Friday, July 6, 2018

How to Negotiate Anything — From People Who Have Done It

1. How did you negotiate?

I didn’t — at least in the conventional sense. Instead, I named my fee, and when the prospect balked, I explained the value of the experience and expertise that I’d bring to the project. I wasn’t defensive or curt, but respectfully firm that this is the market rate for specialized work.

(It turns out his reluctance wasn’t a negotiating ploy; he didn’t understand the scope of the services I was offering, and so after a few emails, I ended up getting my full fee.)

2. What tips do you have for those who want to mimic the same success?

The key is not to present an ultimatum (even though that’s exactly what you’re doing); it’s to couch your language in a way that communicates firmness but respect. At the same time, resist the temptation to get chatty. Succinctness here is a virtue; often it’s best just to bottom line it and say, “This is my rate.” A caveat: If you go down this road, you can’t turn around; you must be willing to drive over the bridge.

Monday, July 2, 2018

PR Wins and Blunders of 2018

Starbucks faced a truly terrible situation of its own making. Yet, ultimately, the company handled the crisis with transparency, leadership, and bold action. Closing every single U.S. store for several hours to better train your staff means losing real money for the sake of a principle. That kind of bold, executive action signifies a greater commitment and greater sincerity than a mere apology or donation.

By contrast, IHOP seems to have followed the Trump playbook for PR: It doesn’t matter what people are saying about you — as long as they’re saying something. Of course, this is a stunt. To be sure, stunts demand guts and creativity, but ultimately this one just confused people and dented a brand that was once singularly, gloriously associated with pancakes. “IHOB” sparked our attention, but left us with empty stomachs.

Addendum (7/2/2018): Success!

Addendum (7/8/2018): Success!

Friday, February 2, 2018

How Do You Get Your Employees to Use Your Intranet?

Do you have any tips on driving employees to the intranet? I have a couple sources but would like to have another. Anything mobile related? Or any other wisdom on the topic would be welcome.

People in the workplace tend to gravitate toward what’s easiest, and intranets are notorious for being the opposite. Ask anyone about SharePoint, and he’ll no doubt complain that it’s sluggish and cumbersome.

To rectify this, employers have two broad options.

On one hand, you can employ brute force (or, in bureaucratese, “incentives”). Want to drive employees to your intranet? Make your intranet the one place where they can submit expense reports. Or time sheets or PTO requests.

On the other hand, you can put yourself in their shoes. In tech parlance, “You can eat your own dog food.” For example, most intranets were designed without any real attention to the user experience, or UX. As a result, they use an overly technical aesthetic, which creates a steep learning curve.

By contrast, look at that same company’s website. No doubt, it was the product of expensive developers and designers; it wasn’t an off-the-rack template. In other words: Just as you wouldn’t think about building your public website without a UX specialist, so you shouldn’t build your private site without one.

Addendum (4/2/2018): Success!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Lulu Flunks Out of the CIA’s K9 Bomb-Squad School

When most people of think of the CIA, we think of spies and torture. Homeland helped to humanize the agency, but now that the show is over, that critical task has fallen to the Twitter team. And, now, at least for the short term, whenever the CIA is mentioned, everyone’s first reaction will be, “Isn’t that the place that retired Lulu the bomb-sniffing dog”?

This is branding at its best. Putting a face (or a tail) on a deadly serious organization humanizes the agency, which by default operates in the shadows. This is especially important for government agencies, which the public too often associates with giant faceless bureaucracies.

Indeed, a little levity, done strategically, brings a lot of benefits. It can help recruit young people, improve goodwill on Capitol Hill, and enlarge the agency’s digital microphone.

Finally, this isn’t the first time the CIA has employed humor to rave reviews. Their very first tweet, three years ago, set the tone for what is now one of the government’s best Twitter accounts. No wonder they have more than two million followers!

Addendum (10/20/2017): Success!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Should Google Have Fired the Engineer Who Said Women Aren’t Interested in High-Stress Jobs?

I’m writing a quick follow-up about the Google engineer who was fired for writing a memo that questioned the company’s diversity initiatives. While many on Twitter are celebrating the firing, others are saying Google proved the memo writer’s point — that it can’t tolerate dissent. Should questioning corporate diversity policy be a firing offense? Is the reputational damage of a Twitter firestorm so great that employees should be shown the door for an internal email that leaks?

In a normal company, Damore’s letter would no doubt be a fireable offense. But Google is no ordinary company — not by a long short. To the contrary, Google prides itself on an unshakable willingness to challenge conventional wisdom — whether that means leaving China on principle, doing its IPO via auction, or bankrolling seemingly crazy R&D projects.

Indeed, Google’s founders are contrarian to their core. They often embrace ideas many of their competitors would sprint from. (Their original “founders’ letter” begins thus: “Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one.”)

I understand why Google did what it did. After all, it’s currently being investigated by the Labor Department for paying women less than it pays men.

But firing a troublemaker is the easy thing to do. Using this controversy as a teachable moment — convening a forum on diversity; writing op-eds; leading the charge on transparency in HR — would have been the right thing to do. It also would have been in keeping with the best traditions of being Google-y.

Addendum (8/9/2017): Success!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

PR Lessons From Bob Dylan

In honor of Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature (!), I’m looking for PR and communications lessons from his lyrics, life, personal brand or whatever.

1. Unbeknownst to many, Dylan is a master of rebranding. Born Robert Allen Zimmerman, he began introducing himself as “Bob Dylan” during his Dinkytown days. The new name was not only perfect (his expressive lyrics were influenced by the poetry of Dylan Thomas); it was also permanent. (If only George “T-Bone” Costanza were as successful as choosing his nickname.)

What’s more, when he tried to change his tune/brand, via the Bob Dylan Gospel Tour in 1979-1980, his exposure paled in comparison to that from his original persona

2. Dylan was a perfectionist — but not in the humblebrag way that most PR pros today claim they are. For example, he famously went through 40 pages in rewriting the song “Dignity,” which he ended up cutting from his album, Oh Mercy. (Note to junior account execs: how many drafts did you go through in writing your last press release?)

Addendum: Success!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Damage to Brand After Reporter’s Deceit

Got a reaction to this firing of a reporter for allegedly fabricating quotes? Did the Intercept stem the damage to the brand by acting quickly?

An editor’s note and investigation is one thing. But, ultimately, deeds matter more than words. Specifically, what’s the punishment? Has been Thompson been fired? Suspended? Put on probation? For “great lengths to deceive his editors,” coupled with noncooperation, the appropriate remedy would seem to be the former. That’s thorough and decisive.

In any event, people like you and me—the press and insiders—care more about scandals like this than do regular readers and advertisers. BuzzFeed is thriving despite Benny Johnson’s plagiarism. So is the Washington Post despite Lisa Rein’s and Wired despite Jonah Lerer’s. Plagiarism damages the plagiarist more than his publication. Exhibit A: Serial fabulist Stephen Glass still can’t get a job.

Addendum (2/4/2016): Success!

Friday, January 15, 2016

One-App Wonders

One of the stories I’m doing next week has the working title of “WTF Is Peach?” and I’m going to explore how brands can benefit from it (or how they can’t).

I haven’t used Peach, and fully expect it’ll flame out, a la Ello, Yo, Path, Secret, Meerkat, and dozens of other one-day wonders.

In this sense, if a brand wants to capitalize on these shiny new gidgets, it’s best to jump on the bandwagon at the very beginning — to strike while the app is on everyone’s five-second-long radar. That way, it’ll earn kudos for, and draw the visibility that comes from, being a first mover.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Anti-New Year's Resolutions

There is always buzz circulating about New Year's Resolutions, but what about the anti-resolution?

Send more emails. Email is a two-edged sword: it’s easy to send, but it’s just as easy to ignore. Indeed, even the Secretary of State needs to follow-up with her staff. So, in 2016, resolve to reply to more emails. The smallest acknowledgement — “thanks”; “confirmed”; “we’ll let you know” — will go a long way toward axing ambiguity and saving senders from crafting that dreaded “touching base”/“checking-in”/“circling back” missive.

Watch more cat videos. Everyone agency staffer has heard the phrase “viral video.” Whether a client wants one or you promise one, virality is near impossible. And yet, there’s one type of videos that consistently draws massive amounts of eyeballs. (Hint: they feature fluff and fur and... felines.) So, strive to watch more of these irresistibly funny animals in 2016. Study what makes them so fascinating, and then apply the same techniques to your own work.

Addendum (1/4/2016): Success!

Check out our first media mention of 2016!

Posted by The Jonathan Rick Group on Monday, January 4, 2016

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Google+

Google has been phasing out of Google+ for a while now and now, they’ve finally removed its links and reviews from search results pages. If you’ve got a second this morning, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

One thing you have to admire about Google is its restlessness, especially for such a huge company. It’s always testing—introducing and ending products as if it were a startup.

Google put tremendous resources behind Google+—even going so far as to tie employees’ bonus to its success. But lately, Google+ seems like the uncle who you have to invite to Thanksgiving, even as you gently suggest he might be more comfortable elsewhere.

We can see evidence of these nudges in the decoupling from Plus of Hangouts, Photos, and even a Google account. And, now, Google just dropped the big axe, booting Plus from Mountain View’s claim to fame, its search results.

In this case, I suspect antitrust concerns, combined with the disappointing and decreasing use of Google+, made this a relatively easy decision.

Addendum: Success!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Emojis

Starting Wednesday, you’ll be able to order pizza by tweeting the pizza slice emoji at Domino’s, and then other brands like Foot Locker and Burger King have their own straight up keyboards. Would love to hear your thoughts on the growth of brands using emojis.

This seems like a classic case of shiny new object syndrome, of putting the cart before the horse, of tilting at a strategy with a tactic. Emoji are popular right now, brands are thinking; we must join the bandwagon!

But, as Steve Jobs often said, sometimes saying “no” to new features is as important as adding them. Chasing new trends, especially frivolous ones, may engender buzz in the short term, but it’s not sustainable in the long term.

Addendum (5/15/2015): Success!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Press Release Grader

Any thoughts about this new press release grader?

Someday, algorithms may replace writers. But we’re not there yet. There’s just too much to good writing—creating a narrative, developing a flow, delighting readers with surprises—which machines can’t replicate. Yet.

Even the most seemingly straightforward or banal content contains nuance. Such wisdom is part of what differentiates us from HAL.

As a PR pro, I welcome services like this. Rather than jeopardizing my job, they unintentionally underscore how difficult it is.

Addendum (5/11/2015): Success!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Super Weird Campaign

I am working on something small and fun about what is possibly the weirdest campaign I’ve written about for since starting at ClickZ. Romanian KFC launched a website yesterday that translates to “Don’t panic, man” that automatically scans Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, etc., and if any of the sites crash… the site changes to have a big button that will send a digital coupon for a free KFC meal to your phone. The idea behind it is that lack of online communication is a huge deal to their target demo and this is softening the blow? I guess?

This is clearly a stunt, the first goal of which is publicity. From that perspective, it’s succeeding—after all, ClickZ is writing about it!

But I’m not sure it’s wise to build your brand on the basis of schadenfreude. Surely, there are ways to offer free food that don’t entail riding roughshod over and antagonizing the biggest Internet companies in the world.

On the other hand, this is a unique case study in real-time, mobile marketing. It’ll be interesting to see how the campaign shakes out.

Addendum: Success!

Monday, March 9, 2015

#WeaselPecker

I’m writing a piece on the #WeaselPecker meme on Twitter (the weasel riding on a woodpecker). Adobe initially fanned the flames (“Photoshop had nothing to do with this... yet. Let’s see what you badasses can do”), and British Airways posted a weasel riding one of their jets. The Today Show and others have joined in.

Why would a brand jump in on something like this? Is this still successful? Is everybody trying to redo the Oreo tweet?


This is a terrific example of two tried-and-true practices—newsjacking and humor—being fused together.

Will a hashtagged tweet boost sales? No. But it will heighten brand loyalty, which is social media’s sweet spot.

Too often, when brands on Twitbook reach for humor or newsjacking, they end up as an epic fail. But when they nail it—whether with #WeaselPecker or #TheDress—the result is funny and memorable, which is exactly what every advertiser is aiming for.

Addendum (3/10/2015): Success!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A-Rod’s Apology

I thought you might have some thoughts on Alex Rodriguez's handwritten apology, released today. I'm trying to write a piece dissecting the letter. Do you have any thoughts on the unusual decision to release a handwritten copy? Do you have any thoughts on the language itself?

Overall
It’s an apology with no explanation. At this point, I’m not sure how effective it’ll be, since most of us formed our opinions of A-Rod a long time ago. The delay is a big red flag: why say sorry now? Why the sudden and complete change of heart?

Substance
The good: He “takes full responsibility,” says “sorry,” and expresses remorse. The language is straightforward and the sentences are simple. He writes with nouns without relying on adjectives to drive home his points. He acknowledges his lack of credibility, and, in a nice touch, declares that he doesn’t want to further tarnish the pinstripes by apologizing on the field.

The bad: It’s not credible; there’s no emotion, no depth. What’s more, he spends 20% of his letter being defensive (the third graf), noting the length of his suspension and the “let’s-move-on” sentiments from others. Caveats are the mark of a bad apology; a good apology is unconditional.

Medium
To cut through the overwhelming noise that constitutes much of today’s media landscape, one must be creative. This is not only smart; it’s also necessary. With his handwritten letter, Alex Rodriguez is following the path of other superstars like Michael Phelps, who tweeted an apology for his recent DUI.

Addendum (2/19/2015): Success!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Twitter Ads

I’m writing about Twitter today, how they’re selling ads against Tweets embedded on other websites as a way to reach non-Twitter users. If you’ve got a few minutes today, I would love to hear what you think!

Twitter has it backwards. Instead of focusing first on monetization, it ought to focus on delighting customers. This is how Facebook and Google grew: by following the “if-you-build-it-they-will-come” playbook. By contrast, Twitter seems to be following the “if-we-build-it-they-must-be-monetized” playbook. Making money is the easy part; attracting a billion users is the hard part.

To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with Twitter’s idea per se. It’s the way Twitter is proceeding that’s troubling: without clarity, without partners, without vision.

Addendum: Success!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Snapcash

Snapchat just announced a partnership with Square for “Snapcash,” a new way for people to send money to their friends. So now Snapchat is involved in payments and Square is involved with social, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on what that can mean for the two companies.

I understand the urge to seize the momentum while you’re the hot new startup, but there’s a difference between innovating and trying to do everything—between perfecting that which you excel at and grasping for solutions in search of problems.

What’s more, Snapcash introduces a branding problem. The service is predicated on transience and frivolity. Traditionally, these are not values we associate with our bank account.

Addendum (11/18/2014): Success!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Alex From Target

1. Yesterday, Target tweeted: “We heart Alex too!” Do you think there’s more that can be done with the meme, or is Target’s acknowledgement enough?

2. It’s hard for brands to know how much to engage with memes and other inside jokes online. Can you think of some brands that have done really well on social with these sort of temporary cultural moments? Any that have backfired?

3. How can brands maintain a sense of humor on social media without becoming too silly? Is Target maintaining a good balance?

Brands are smart to join light-hearted bandwagons every once now and then. And social media is the perfect vehicle to express this levity.

Deploying humor online can be tricky, but when done right—as Target did yesterday—it can draw genuine laughs, build reservoirs of good will, and sharpen brand equity.

@GoldmanSachs did it right when @GSElevator’s book deal collapsed, snarking, “Guess elevators go up and down.” @CIA did it right when it joined Twitter, announcing, “We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet.” Even @WhiteHouse got in on the game, Rickrolling one concerned citizen who tweeted about the dry subject of fiscal policy.

On the other hand, miss the mark even by a little, and the joke can backfire. This happened to @WashingtonPost, which embraced an Upworthy-style headline in a tweet about child molestation, and @CNNBrk, which followed suit when reporting the stabbing of an 11-year-old girl.

The bottom line: “Alex From Target” has fueled feel-good, free press about the company, which should be happy to be in the news for something other than being hacked.

Addendum: Success!