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The World on Your Doorstep

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Larry A. Meltzer, Agency Principal

Recently I interviewed a new grad from one of the public universities in the Dallas area. Of particular interest, this individual told me that the first comm class of every morning started with a current events quiz. The purpose of this exercise is to prompt students to read a physical newspaper every morning, since that’s probably the best way to gain a broad overview of what’s happening in the world – and to score well on the morning quiz!

Some might say this exercise is a relic of times gone by, especially in light of research indicating that half of Americans get their news from Facebook and 10% of Americans think Facebook is actually a news outlet. Anything that gets students – and adults – reading and learning about issues in the world around them is a good thing, but I wonder what we’re losing in terms of knowledge with the decline of print media.

There are advantages to online news consumption, of course:

  • There’s the immediacy factor. When news happens, boom, it’s right there in multimedia, so we read, see and hear about it, not only from news sources, but from those in our social networks.
  • The presentation of news online also offers outlets the ability to incorporate interactive graphics to help explain the story in a way that amplifies – or even replaces – the narrative.
  • There’s the general notion of a news encounter. We’re online, scrolling through our Facebook feeds, and interspersed with a photo of a friend’s lunch are news items that we might not otherwise have scanned.
  • There’s the consumption of news itself. With so few Americans subscribing to news – either in print or online – the availability of information provides access to news that individuals otherwise might not seek out.
  • And of course there’s an environmental benefit, with less paper being used to produce a print product with an extremely short life span.

But what do we lose with the move away from print?

  • We lose the pass-by effect that comes with reading a physical newspaper. We may not read every article, but by flipping through the pages, we’re taking in all the headlines as we evaluate what we want to know more about. So even without reading a story, we’re gaining topline knowledge of key issues or items considered important or relevant enough to put in print.
  • We also lose a depth of information. With all the events occurring around the world, we shortchange ourselves by not delving deep enough into the facts, implications and analyses. The convenience of a snapshot in our Facebook feeds can never compensate for that level of detail.
  • Encountering news – a benefit of online news consumption – also is not the same as following news. Stories and events often play themselves over time, revealing new layers and nuances that help us form opinions.
  • And finally, as the success metrics for media have become more focused on eyeballs and click-throughs, media are presenting stories online with which consumers have the propensity to engage. Sometimes, what consumers want to read, and what they should read, are vastly different.

Knowledge is cumulative. It builds over time through repeated exposure to facts and opinions, and we build our understanding through context and various points of view. A well-written article – whether in print or online – teaches you something. It might present something familiar from an unfamiliar angle.

At the end of the day, I’m not giving up my newspapers, although after the morning read, I’m constantly online, consuming news from these same outlets in their digital counterparts. News outlets deliver the world on your doorstep, so open the door and start reading!

Starting with a Clean Slate

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Larry A. Meltzer, Agency Principal

There are two parts to our business: The issues-driven and reputation-focused work that is largely directed by external factors, and the marketing-driven work that can have a much longer lead time. Summer hasn’t even officially started, but we’re already well under way in planning marketing-related for activities to support the year-end holidays, and even preliminary 2018 planning. One of the big questions in our business is: How do you come up with ideas?

I recently came across two articles that addressed the ideation issue, coming at it from two different perspectives. The first article suggests that busy people need a “Shultz Hour.” Of course, that needs a bit of explanation. George Shultz, who was secretary of state in the ‘80s, carved out an hour each week to sit in his office with the door closed, with a pad of paper and pen, and thought about the strategic aspects of his job. He instructed his assistant to interrupt him only if one of two people called:  The president. And perhaps equally importantly, his wife.

Shultz worked in an era before the interruptions and distractions of email, smartphones, Twitter and the like, but I’ve always been a firm believer in carving out some “alone time” to think about a creative problem or strategic issue, whether in my office, while exercising, or even if I’m just doing chores around the house.

The second article suggests a less conceptual approach to generating ideas:  Washing your hands. A group of psychologists conducted a study in which individuals were instructed to focus on a goal, and then to wash their hands. After the physical act of washing their hands, they were more easily reoriented toward a subsequent goal. The physical cleansing created a psychological separation from the previous activity, enabling the individuals to focus more clearly on a new goal.

In many ways, we’re merchants of ideas. Whether great ideas come from dedicated reflection time – or from clean hands! – it’s less about the source and more about the results. What tips do you have for generating ideas?

Influencers: Today’s New Celebrities

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By Kara Simon, Assistant Account Executive

I used to sit at the dinner table growing up and listen to my parents talk about celebrities like Audrey Hepburn, Barbara Billingsley and Jim Backus, as if they were their closest friends. These individuals weren’t just stars to my parents, but people who were an integral part of their lives as they grew up to become the adults they are today.

But for me, celebrities are just that­ — celebrities. I am not saying they don’t have an effect on me. I still swoon as Jake Gyllenhaal’s face appears on any movie screen and deny that one time I screamed at an airport when I thought I saw Amy Schumer, but I don’t see them as people who shape my everyday life like my parents and many of those older than me do.  And, I know I am not alone in this thought.

Millennials, like myself, have our own form of celebrities — influencers. I am talking about bloggers, YouTube stars and Instagram sensations. The “Krystal Schlegel’s,” “Jenna Marble’s’” and “Shirley Braha’s” of the world. I wake up to emails from different fashion and food bloggers I subscribe to, scroll through my Instagram feed on my daily walks, and watch too many YouTube videos before falling asleep at night.

Why? Simple. They get me, and millions of others out there, too.

That is the beauty of influencers — there is someone for everyone. Let me say that again. Someone for everyone.

This is key for public relations and marketing professionals. No matter who your client is, or what the campaign entails, an influencer can significantly increase engagement with your brand. You can find an influencer who fits your exact target audience, which helps ensure that your campaign will have a positive return on its investment.

Plus, while influencers typically occupy one main medium, they are active on all. For example, if you are reaching out to a YouTube influencer, they most likely have an Instagram and blog with a large following. This means your message crosses multiple platforms by engaging only one individual.

Another great perk of influencers is that they are located everywhere – unlike celebrities – who are typically concentrated in L.A. or New York. If you are hosting an event and looking to increase attendance, inviting an influencer from your area is a more cost-effective way to attract a good turnout.

The greatest thing about influencers, though, is their price. While big names like Jenna Marble will come at a heftier cost, plenty of local and well-known bloggers come at a very reasonable price, especially when you consider the exposure you are getting in return. According to Inc. Magazine, most influencers range from $25 to $75 CPM, depending on their following.

So, the next time you’re starting a project, big or small, with a blank thought bubble over your head, hop on social media and see who you can find. Whatever you do though, don’t throw your copy of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” away.

 

Is Journalism Still Relevant?

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Rob Martin, Agency Principal

I can remember the first time I read an editorial comment that had somehow crept into a news story. It was in TIME magazine sometime in the early 1980s. Since studying journalism in college and launching into my career in communications, I had always followed the newswriting style in TIME – casual yet factual – as the standard that I would try to mimic.

I don’t remember the specific story I was reading, but I do remember the moment of surprise I experienced. What was that I had read? The writer’s opinion? I probably passed it off at the time, but now I see that moment as eerily prescient. Today we live in a world where it would be difficult to find any news story that doesn’t have at least an element of editorial opinion inserted somewhere – if not in the actual copy, then in the headline, placement, or sources included to support the idea. It’s the world we have built and chosen for ourselves, and it wouldn’t exist if it weren’t profitable – or at least perceived to be a path to profitability – for the media companies that propagate it.

So is there still a role in this world for basic journalistic principles based on truth, fairness, accuracy and objectivity? I certainly think so. I hope so. Not only is journalism one of the cornerstones of our democracy, assuming the role of public witness for members of society, but we all can benefit from experiencing the thrill of reading a well-written and thoroughly researched piece.

In the public relations profession, good writing still counts, and I’m excited to see new young professionals who bring these skills to their work. Part of what we’re selling is quality, and you can’t argue with a well-written sentence or clever turn of phrase.

In fact, respecting the principles of journalism in our work can provide a number of benefits:

  • Seeing multiple sides to a story
  • Learning what is newsworthy and what isn’t
  • Practicing objectivity and refining critical thinking skills
  • Speaking the same “language” as the editors and reporters we interact with
  • Adopting an approach to writing that is well suited to a variety of situations
  • Appreciating the craft of the p.r. business, not just the mechanics of it

I do believe that opinion is now an important part of journalism as well, and informed consumers will recognize the difference. In creating content for our clients, we can leverage the benefits of various types of media content while staying true to our roots in journalism. Don’t throw out that AP Stylebook just yet!

Is P.R. a Contributor to Fake News?

Blog image 5 26 17Rob Martin, Agency Principal

We hear a lot about “fake news” these days. But what is it exactly?

Usually the term fake news may refer to a story that is patently false, having been fabricated out of thin air. But some stories that earn this label may actually contain an element of truth that has been misrepresented or exaggerated in a way to mislead or generate profit. Thinking in those terms, does our work in public relations – with a focus on the positive and promotional aspects of a client’s business – qualify as one form of fake news?

First, some background. You may think “fake news” is a relatively new phenomenon, having achieved prominent notice during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Only the term is new, but the concept is quite old. Did you know that Roman politician Mark Antony’s suicide in 30 BC was due in part to a misinformation campaign conducted by his political nemesis Octavian? And there are many other examples of fake news through the centuries, including major instances during both world wars of the 20th Century, and Benjamin Franklin’s fake news story about murderous Indians working with King George III during the American Revolution.

Now, what about the public relations profession today? It may be true that we hope to present a positive outlook in our work, but our output doesn’t have to look like total propaganda. There are many things we can do to ensure quality and fairness:

  • Thoroughly check all facts to ensure accuracy.
  • Remain transparent, and don’t pretend to be something you’re not.
  • Use multiple sources to support the story, including analysts, customers and other third parties.
  • Recognize there are opposing viewpoints where possible.
  • Make sure it is clear that the client is the source of the material.

Finally, when writing a story, we should always adhere to sound journalistic principles.  That will be our topic for next week.

 

For Old Times’ Sake

Larry A. Meltzer, Agency Principal

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To the delight of some and the chagrin of others, TV viewers will soon be treated to reboots of “Twin Peaks,” “Will & Grace” and “Roseanne,” a trio of shows that enjoyed their heydays 20 years or so ago. Yes, nostalgia is back.

And manufacturers and marketers are following suit. From turntables and vinyl records, flip-phones and Oreos with “fireworks” (basically Pop Rocks), companies are tapping into consumers’ craving for the familiar. Why now?

According to research, people lean in to nostalgia when they’re feeling anxious about the present, and about the future. The past is safe, it was familiar, and what we see in the rear-view mirror tends to be rosy, whether that was the reality or not. We fill our rooms with mid-century modern, our pantries with Twinkies, and our tables with deviled eggs.

What are some considerations when tapping into nostalgia?

  • Nostalgia should be an entry point, not an end point. Leveraged correctly, nostalgia is an anchor to the past that grabs attention quickly due to its familiarity, but with a modern overlay. Think the VW New Beetle, introduced in the late ‘90s with a design that drew heavy inspiration from the original Beetle from the earlier part of the century. Think, too, the rebooted TV shows, which presumably will embody a more current take on characters that viewers came to know well during the first incarnation of their respective series.
  • Nostalgia is different for each generation. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. For example, the return of the iconic flip phone will likely resonate with Boomers, but for later generations, this might be an entirely new product that they haven’t seen before. Similarly, in our multicultural society, some retro-inspired products will have little meaning beyond the traditional core group to which they were initially marketed.
  • Nostalgia plays well on social media. While the overall notion of nostalgia correlates to traditional media, some brands are melding old and new media to strengthen consumer engagement. With the popular #TBT (Throwback Thursday) hashtag, auto makers Dodge and BMW have had success attracting eyeballs with photos of classic cars from their lineups through the decades.
  • Nostalgia won’t save a brand. Remember Radio Shack’s 2014 Super Bowl ad featuring pop culture icons from the 1980s? It was lauded as one of the best ads that year, but where is Radio Shack now? More recently, the 1990s hit Pokemon made a resurgence by adding augmented reality and creating Pokemon GO!, which burst onto today’s pop culture scene. But it’s rapid rise was matched by an equally rapid decline.

Like all good programs, a campaign rooted in nostalgia needs to be timely and relevant in order to be effective. So while the future of marketing might not be tethered to the past, a well-timed and carefully executed stroll down memory lane might bring a smile to consumers’ faces and stronger engagement to your brand. (But please, let’s leave parachute pants in the past!)

 

Let It Rain on My Parade

Larry A. Meltzer, Agency Principal

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Many marketers will say that digital is the new traditional.

There’s no arguing with the ability to deploy dollars in a more targeted way through digital channels, but some creative ideas can only come to life – and achieve maximum effectiveness – in the physical world.  The “tequila cloud” promoting travel to Mexico is one of those ideas that demonstrates the value of marketing in the physical world.

The goal of this German-based campaign was to promote travel to Mexico as a vacation destination. As part of a special exhibit in Berlin during the rainiest month of the year, whenever it rained in the city – which the ad agency said was frequently during the time of the exhibit – the tequila cloud also produced “rain” in the form of tequila raindrops. You can read more about how this was achieved here.

Could this same concept be produced in a digital environment? Sure, but the impact of watching a tequila cloud on a smartphone or small screen would likely have resulted in a ho-hum response, rather than an experience that prompts word-of-mouth pass-along. There is also some wisdom for marketers that rained from the tequila cloud. To wit, consider these three takeaways:

  • Experiences connect consumers to a brand. When you execute an idea that can stop people in their tracks, you really have an opportunity to connect a consumer to the brand. This type of experience defines and strengthens a brand in a way that online engagement can’t, because it has staying power in the real world.
  • Physical marketing lets you gauge emotions and reactions in real-time. While much of marketing is rooted in research and metrics, gut instinct based on experience still plays a role. When you can watch and gauge consumer reaction on the spot, you can dial up or down certain aspects to take advantage of consumer response.
  • Strong engagement gives you permission to grow a program. When you can see that consumers are engaged with your brand in the physical world, why not expand the concept further into the physical world, and into the digital world as well? This is where the blurring of traditional and digital proves that synergies do exist, and expansion of an engaging program delivers a longer shelf life and greater exposure.

When you’re brainstorming ideas for your next campaign, your head may be in the clouds, but sometimes it makes sense to have a campaign that’s rooted in the physical world.