Sunday, May 31, 2009

Could it be true?

The May 24 issue of Business Week asks the question: “TV commercials. Who needs them?” The piece goes on to talk about how companies – Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Kimberly-Clark and Microsoft are all shunning the venerable 30-second spot for other forms of advertising when launching new products. They’re doing it because in buying 30 seconds, companies are also throwing away tons of money.

What are these forms of mass communication, you ask? Well, online ads seem to be popular – more people watch videos online these days – as do other forms of advertising. However, the example author Burt Helm chose to call out didn’t seem to fit any description of advertising.

He describes how P&G chose to launch its pricy new toothbrush. The company sponsored a fashion show, had a model carry one on the runway and got the thing featured on a television show. The result? “The gimmick paid off, generating press on fashion and style blogs – and in mainstream newspapers.”

Funny, sounds to me like public relations.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Exceeding Expectations

I recently had the opportunity to fly Turkish Airlines. Granted, the airline was not my first choice, but the price was right, so I decided to give it a whirl.

After enduring all kinds of jokes from family and friends, I decided not to check any luggage – I was making a connection in Istanbul – and fly as light as possible. Since I was traveling alone, I figured I didn’t have much to lose and, so what if the planes were a bit older?

I was pleasantly surprised. The cabin crew couldn’t do enough to ensure my comfort and, almost to a fault, kept offering drinks on the long haul.

Compare Turkish, about which I knew nothing, to Continental (where I enjoy Elite Platinum status) which practically screams how great they are. On Continental, I get the feeling the crew is doing me a favor by taking my money.

What’s the PR lesson? Manage expectations. Granted, there are times clients need to hear your bravado, but, to paraphrase a motivational speaker I once heard: Under-promise and over-deliver.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Is Twittering the same as communicating?

Is Twitter changing the way public relations and communications are practiced? Should it?

Both The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times recently ran articles outlining some of the challenges Twitter is facing. The company is growing by leaps and bounds and in addition to enjoying all that success, it’s experiencing some growing pains.

I still haven’t made up my mind about Twitter. Sure, if you’re in the communications biz and don’t get excited when people start holding forth on the miracles and wonders of Twitter, you risk being labeled “old school.” Yes, Twitter is cool if that whole Facebook page is too much for you to consume and you want to know what I’m doing right now (writing this post) or need to know your best friend’s status (stressing over her upcoming history test).

Yes, Twitter is cool. But I’m not sure what the value is to communications pros (other than keeping tabs on journalists).

I can’t help but get that old “2001: An Internet Crash Odyssey feeling.” I can’t help but be reminded of colleagues who looked me earnestly in the eye and said things like “This is the New Economy; profits don’t matter anymore.” Or, “The company represents a paradigm shift away from the old way of thinking.” Or, “It’s all about eyeballs and content is king.” Or, my favorite from Razorfish founder Jeff Dachis, “We've…re-contextualized what it is to be a business-services.”

What’s the point? At the risk of sounding older and grumpier than I am, I’m not sure that compressing communications into 140 characters is a good idea. While “brevity is the soul of wit” and “heard melodies are sweet” continues to ring true, real communication still requires development of thought and appreciation of the process.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Two Great American Pastimes - Baseball and Criticism

Readers of this space will know I'm not a huge baseball fan. I certainly enjoy watching an occasional game and, when I'm offered tickets, I usually say yes. So, last summer, when a friend offered me four seats to a Yankees game that were so-close-to-the-action-you-could-see-the-sweat, I couldn't turn it down. Plus, it was close to the end of the last season the team would be playing in The House that Ruth Built.

What amazed me, though, was that there are people who actually buy those seats!

What I failed to comprehend, was how the Yankees organization could possibly think it would fill a new stadium with even more expensive seats.

Turns out, just about everything that can go wrong continues to go wrong. Here's a piece that carefully outlines why the new stadium is a PR disaster. Granted, it's written by a Red Sox fan, but I'm not sure how one defends the Yankees organization in this case. What's gone right with the new stadium?

So, what can management do to right the wrongs? It's obvious and will require a top-down approach to regaining the public's trust and admiration. What I hope is that when management wakes up, their plan will involve something a little more substantial than a pathetic "Fan Appreciation Day" (which always make me wonder, isn't every day Fan Appreciation Day?).

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

When "friendly" customer service isn't

It's always a pleasure to deal with a company that understands customer service. Their representatives are courteous, professional and polite. For example, when I brought my car in to the dealer for service, the manager listened carefully to everything I asked for and addressed each one of my concerns. He asked if there was anything else and then moved on to the next customer.

There are times, though, that companies go just a bit too far. And two of those times happened to me within the past week.

First, I called my PC vendor to address an issue. The rep logged into my laptop remotely and downloaded the drivers I needed; it took about 10 minutes. I was sitting quietly doing some work and he wouldn't stop asking me inane questions related to the weather.

Second, I called my cell phone company - which I've been with for a while - for some quick answers to a couple of questions. At first (after getting through endless voice-recognition prompts that apparently don't work too well), it was nice to hear how much they value my loyal service but, after the fifth time, it was a bit much. Then, the rep didn't stop with absolutely irrelevant questions about my travel plans which (1) were none of his business and (2) were absolutely the last thing on my mind.

My brother-in-law had an idea. Companies ought to offer, in their automated menu prompts, an option of mindless banter or not. Good idea.

Anyway, what's the point? I can think of two. First, make sure to value your customers' time more than your own. Second, there's such a thing as too much of a good thing.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

What's in a name?

Last week, the World Health Organization announced it would stop referring to Swine Flu as "Swine Flu." Instead, the WHO is going with the even-catchier "H1N1 influenza A."

Why? To protect the pork industry and pig farmers.

Too late. Consumers already equate the influenza strain with pigs and, in Egypt, 300,000 pigs were killed for absolutely no reason. (I wonder why there are so many pigs in Egypt as Islamic law forbids pork - I think.)

Renaming Swine Flu to its more accurate, technical name will be an exercise in rebranding that the WHO certainly will not want to get into. Perhaps the pork industry will.

But one thing's for sure: simply changing its name will about as effective as (ahem) putting lipstick on a pig.