Category Archives: marketing

On the road: Peachtree 10K

Well, gasoline is inching toward $4 a gallon for regular unleaded. And who says Bush’s adventure in Iraq isn’t showing results. Wonder if the petroleum industry needs an advertising campaign to make consumers feel better about all this?

Guess so. If fact, the American Petroleum Institute has started a “multiyear, multimedia, multimillion-dollar campaign, which includes advertising in the nation’s largest newspapers, news conferences in many state capitals and trips for bloggers out to drilling platforms at sea.” That according to an article in The Washington Post, “Oil Lobby Reaches Out to Citizens Peeved at the Pump.”

I’m all for advocacy communications. And certainly the American Petroleum Institute has the right to try to change public opinion on this — and good luck to them. It will need it as the price of gasoline keeps going up. And voters at some point put pressure on members of Congress to look at some alternatives beyond that idiotic proposed tax holiday.

And I guess that is the point of the industry advertising effort. Here’s from the article:

“The intended audience is elected officials and the public, with an emphasis on the latter. The industry is trying to convince voters — who, in turn, will make the case to their members of Congress — that rising energy prices are not the producers’ fault and that government efforts to punish the industry, especially with higher taxes, would only make pricing problems worse.”

I’d hate to be the douche bag responsible for the success of that campaign. Sorry, a little grumpy today. Had to run in a cold drizzle this morning.

And I don’t know if this is related at all, but I was actually thinking about the Peachtree Road Race 10K, held every year in Atlanta on July 4. I can’t go this year, but I’ve already committed to going in 2009 to run with my friends Walter and Jerry and some 55,000 others. If gasoline prices keep increasing, by that point the only ones on the roads will be runners.

And Walter and Jerry — I want you to know that I started my training last night. I’ve switched for the summer from scotch to gin. I’ll be ready July 4, 2009.

By the time we get together in Atlanta a double gin and tonic will cost far less than a gallon of gasoline. Trust me. But at least we can talk about the price of gas — and the industry’s advertising campaign — during the run. Nah. Probably not.

Help wanted: chief blogger

Oh, boy. Just as I am getting ready to retire from teaching at Kent State here comes a whole host of job opportunities. And maybe I will be rewarded for all the lonely hours I’ve spent cranking out copy for this blog.

It seems that companies are starting to hire “chief bloggers.” “Does Your Company Need a Chief Blogger?” That’s the headline for an Advertising Age article, published April 14. Here’s the beginning:

To blog or not to blog?

It’s a question marketers are still grappling with years after the first waves of corporate blogging flooded the web. But for better or worse, it seems corporate blogging — and the title of chief blogger — is beginning to hit its stride. Companies such as Coca-Cola, Marriott and Kodak all have recently recruited chief bloggers, with or without the actual title, to tell their stories and engage consumers.

I’m most likely missing the big picture here. But I recall having a job like this –“tell their stories and engage consumers” — 35 years ago. It was called newsletter editor.

I’m OK with having someone at a senior level advising management about communication strategy and techniques — with blogging included in the mix. And in fairness the article does get into this; it’s worth reading if you are interested in all of this or if you are considering a blog for your organization.

Here’s my take on all this. I understand how blogging can become an important part of the marketing mix if done effectively and ethically. And I guess a chief blogger could type his/her fingers off addressing sales (oops, meant marketing) and related subjects. Bob Lutz appears to gain high marks for this at General Motors. Although it hasn’t helped the share price much — or the employees who are trying to figure out whether it is better to take a buyout or stick around with the prospect of being laid off. I digress.

But if the corporation wants to opine on subjects covered by timely disclosure regulations, then the chief blogger better be the CEO. And that’s why blogs are never going to be a primary communications tool for publicly traded corporations — if you accept the idea, as I do, that blogs are really only beneficial when they lead to an exchange of views and information. Or, dare I say it, two-way communication?

The Advertising Age article says that today just more than 11 percent of Fortune 500 companies have corporate blogs, according to SocialText, and only a handful have a designated chief blogger.

Wonder if GE has a blog and a designed chief blogger? If so, I would like to know what the company’s sales and earnings forecasts are for the next several quarters. That way, my retirement savings accounts won’t take such a big hit — like last week — when GE reported lower-than-expected earnings.

And if AT&T blogs — think I could get an answer to my question about how much they are willing to pay for qualified customer service personnel? No response as yet (or ever) from the media relations staff.

Also, Jonathan Schwartz, the CEO/President of Sun Microsystems, is always mentioned in these articles and in every book about blogging. Maybe he is the best example — or the only one. I don’t know. But as a long-suffering shareholder, is there any chance he could take an occasional break from blogging and do something to increase shareholder value?

Chief blogger. Nah. Probably better off as a newsletter editor.

China and the continuing PR problem

It was an absolutely perfect morning for a run even at 5 a.m. Temperature around 55 with a light breeze. And I wasn’t even thinking about General Petraeus and his remarks before the Senate committee.

As best I can tell, Petraeus is saying that we ain’t ever getting out of Iraq. From that standpoint, it’s becoming like one of the lines at Starbucks. So it goes.

And I really didn’t have much to blog about until I took a quick look at the online version of The New York Times. The story: Monks Disrupt Media Tour in China.

According to the article:

Buddhist monks interrupted a government-managed media tour in Western China on Wednesday, waving a Tibetan flag and protesting that the authorities were depriving them of their human rights.

But here’s the paragraph that got my attention:

The disruption, in the city of Xiahe in Gansu Province, was another unexpected public relations setback for China, and marked the second time that monks have upstaged government efforts to control foreign media tours of Tibetan areas.

Say what? Another unexpected public relations setback? Not quite. A setback to the China government’s marketing activities. Maybe. But not public relations.

Marketing by nature is manipulative. And I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that. Public relations is based on truth, honesty and openness. The government in China is trying to reshape the image of the country — even though the truth is not going to support where they want to be. Public relations techniques — like media tours — can provide a way to gain attention. But those techniques and tactics are not in the long run going to change reality.

It’s going to be a long spring and summer.

Public relations and the Olympic torch

OK. A week or so ago I said it was going to be a long road for the Olympic torch from Greece to Beijing. Well the road passes through the United States later this week. And at some point the road is going to lead to corporate sponsors like Coke. Trust me.

So from the standpoint of crisis and reputation management, Coke and others better be thinking about their position on supporting the Olympics as corporate sponsors. The presidential candidates are doing this already as calls for a boycott continue to increase.

This ain’t going to be pretty folks.

Update: Kevin Dugan has an interesting post on this subject this morning on his Strategic Public Relations blog. And for those of you in my ethics class who read that post, check out the first few comments as well.

China and public relations

Too bad Ed Bernays, the so-called father of PR, didn’t spend some time writing a definition of public relations. Instead he gained his reputation, at least in part, by planning publicity stunts like the one that encouraged generations of women to begin committing suicide by cigarette — as Vonnegut said, referring to his own addiction. And gee. Was Bernays in this instance practicing public relations at all?

Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not sure I can define public relations. But I have a number of views about it. Here’s one. Advertising and marketing can alter your view of reality. After all, Pepsi is only colored sugar water and a dream. And Starbucks isn’t about coffee. It’s about creating a community of dilettantes willing to stand in the queue for an unlimited time to buy an over-priced honey latte. But I digress. Public relations, if done ethically, can only in the long run reflect reality. It can’t save Bear Stearns from pathetic mismanagement. And it can’t enhance a country’s (or an organization’s) reputation unless it’s justified — and true.

Here’s what got me thinking about this. As I was running on the treadmill this morning, the talking head on TV opined that China was heading for a public relations disaster. Oh, my. It appears that the Olympic Torch didn’t advance from square one in Greece yesterday before protesters jumped up to criticize China’s current actions in Tibet. Something tells me it’s going to be a long road to Beijing and the Summer Games.

Is this really a public relations problem? Or is it a problem involving the Chinese government and people who don’t really believe that China is as open and free as officials would like the rest of the world to believe? The Beijing Olympics, after all, were intended to showcase China to the world. Well here come protests — government restrictions — and dare I say it: reality. Good luck to the PR guys and gals.

So now, if you are a corporate sponsor of the Olympics, what would you do? Anne Applebaum has an interesting article in Slate that looks at this issue and others: Boycott Beijing: The Olympics are the perfect place for a protest.

The article says in part:

“We believe the Olympic Games are not the place for demonstrations and we hope that all people attending the games recognize the importance of this.”

That, according to the article, is the view of Samsung Electronics, one of 12 corporate sponsors. And I agree. Much better to protest at every store in the world selling Samsung products. But, again, I digress. And the sponsors knew what they were getting in to. Did they think they could change reality?

And another aspect of the so-called public relations problem. China, according to an article in The New York Times, has told broadcast officials that it will bar live television shots from Tiananmen Square during the Summer Games. Ouch. NBC , according the The Times article, paid $2.3 billion for rights to broadcast the Olympics in Athens, Turin and Beijing.

The marathon starts in Tiananmen Square. This should be interesting.

NBC declined to comment.

Three press officers with the Olympic organizing committee declined to comment.

Wonder what happens if someone has to clear a body or two from the track before the start of the 4×4 relay?

So China has a public relations problem? Nah. How about a reality problem.

Where’s Ed Bernays when we need him?

Eliot Spitzer: Some final thoughts

Admit it. Don’t you long for the days when Britney Spears and Paris Hilton dominated the news? I wasn’t going to write any more about Eliot Spitzer. Might as well wait until his book comes out. But as I was running this morning I thought that maybe this affair does provide a teachable moment in a few areas: media, history and writing. So here goes.

First media. Interesting story in The New York Times this morning by Susan Dominus, “Emperor’s Club Sold an Oxymoron: High-Class Prostitution.” Good perspective on sales — and marketing. And then there is the TV promo for Inside Editionkristen75.jpg promising the scoop on “Kristen” the woman who brought down the governor. Oh really. Wonder how many times she called him?

images.jpegNext history.  Given all the recent resignations and allegations about senior elected officials isn’t it time that we took another look at the legacy of Richard Nixon? I’m not sure that Nixon is getting the credit he deserves for the actions that led to his resignation. After all, Tricky Dick tried to screw all of us.

Finally writing. Anyone who has taken media writing at Kent State knows this only too well. Much better to be caught frolicking with a hooker than dangling a modifier. Or misplacing an apostrophe. OK. What is it? Emperors Club? Emperor’s Club? Or Emperors’ Club? Even The Times can’t seem to decide. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want my canceled check to show up on e-Bay with a punctuation error.

So it goes.

Jarvik and Clemens head to the bench

I’ve written previously about Robert Jarvik and Roger Clemens. Both were back in the news this week – for the wrong reasons.

Pfizer, the maker of Lipitor, the world’s best-selling drug according to The New York Times, had been featuring Dr. Jarvik in its print and TV commercials. The problem. The ads were deceptive. Here’s what The Times said in an editorial Wednesday: Lipitor’s Pitchman Gets the Boot.

The trouble was, its very first TV commercial with Dr. Jarvik was downright deceptive. It suggested that he was rowing a racing shell across a mountain lake when he was not, in fact, rowing. A stunt double was at the oars. And while the commercials have Dr. Jarvik enthusing over Lipitor “as a doctor and a dad,” he is actually an inventor and researcher. He has a medical degree, but did not go through residency training and is not licensed to practice medicine or prescribe drugs.

So under pressure from the House Energy and Commerce Committee Pfizer has stopped the ads. If I were reporting – instead of blogging – here are three questions I would ask a Pfizer spokesperson.

Did you know the ads were deceptive? If so, why did you decide to use the ads? If not, did you fire the advertising agency that apparently had a large role in this debacle?

One of the reasons I’m interested in this situation is because we talk about advertising in my ethics class at Kent State. The view of most of the advertising students is this. The primary goal is to produce compelling advertising. If an ad steps over the line and becomes deceptive – well there is always the government ready to come and take action? Wouldn’t it be easier just to do the ethically right thing and not be deceptive in the first place? I guess I don’t understand advertising.

So here’s where we get to with all this. Again from the editorial in The Times.

Pfizer has been relying on the reputation of Dr. Robert Jarvik, one of the pioneers in designing artificial hearts, to bolster sales of Lipitor, its cholesterol-lowering drug. Now that a Congressional committee is investigating the credibility of those ads, the company has dropped Dr. Jarvik as its pitchman. It was a telling reminder that consumers, besieged by drug promotion ads on television and in print media, need to take what they see, hear and read with a very large grain of skepticism.

Ouch.

And then there’s Roger Clemens.

When confronted with a “crisis,” the common public relations advice is to gain control of the story and get your position out quickly and aggressively. That’s the position Clemens took when he was linked by the Mitchell Report to the apparently widespread use of steroids in major league baseball.

Better add this to the public relations crisis management strategy: Make sure you are telling the truth.

I don’t know whether Clemens is telling the truth or not. But based on his testimony before a House committee a few weeks ago I guess we’ll find out. The matter has now been turned over to the Department of Justice to take a look at whether Clemens lied under oath. Might need to send in a relief pitcher here. Or at least another attorney.

In the meantime, others are having plenty to say about Clemens. Here’s Murray Chass, Chipping at Clemens’s Credibility, Piece by Piece:

Call this the crumbling case of Roger Clemens.

Piece by piece, item by item, his defense, his alibis, his excuses are crumbling, and soon he will be left with only his bare, unbelievable denials. He will be Pete Rose redux.

Gee. Truth. Deception. Credibility. Trust. Sounds a lot like what we talk about in our ethics classes.