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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.

 


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.


A Few Words to End the Week

 

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Larry A. Meltzer, Agency Principal

The current issue of Fortune includes a terrific book excerpt that describes the art and science that leads an individual to breakthrough ideas. From personal experience, I’ve always valued the structured brainstorm or ideation session in which group-think builds and shapes ideas. But I don’t think I’ve ever left one of those sessions knowing that we’ve hit on the creative answer that we were seeking. Inevitably that comes later, and it comes through the process described in this new book, “The Net and the Butterfly: The Art and Practice of Breakthrough Thinking.”

In brief, the book describes how you can get in your “genius mode,” and – not surprisingly to me – “one way is to sleep on it.” Throughout my career, I’ve found that some “alone time” – before or after a group brainstorm – is where the ideas really start to come together. Another piece of advice from the book when you’re facing a creative challenge? Take a walk. These activities or periods of time give your brain the space to focus, and to wander, letting your mind make connections among the knowledge you’ve built up over the years.

A few other bits that I’ve learned over the years:

  • Time isn’t just a luxury. Our industry is fast-paced, and carving out time to think shouldn’t be something that we think of as a luxury. Taking a walk isn’t necessarily idle time. It’s time to step away from whatever is on your desk – or whatever is distracting you on your phone – and letting your mind do its best work.
  • Read, read, read. I’ve counseled junior staff to follow their clients’ industries, as well as their own industries, whether in print, on air, or online. Great ideas happen when we connect what seem like disparate thoughts or pieces or information. So fill your mind with all sorts of information – whatever takes your fancy. At some point, all that knowledge will be used to make connections that lead to a collection of ideas, or even to that single breakthrough idea.
  • Don’t lose the idea! As the ideas percolate in your head – especially in that down time before you fall asleep – it’s easy to convince yourself that you’ll remember them in the morning. I’ve thought the same thing, only to wake up in the morning and ask myself, “What was that killer idea I had last night?!” Now I keep a pad and pen by my bedside. I’ve also called and left myself a voicemail when I’ve been out on a jog, or sent myself an email to make sure I have some notes on my thinking.

Now, how was I going to end this piece? I know I had a great idea … Oh yeah – when your day is done, sleep on some of these ideas.

 


A Few Words to End the Week

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Larry A. Meltzer, Agency Principal

Two events recently brought the world of direct selling back into the news:  The eponymous pink mansion in Dallas owned by beauty mogul Mary Kay was razed to make way for new development, and the Wall Street Journal published a feature on how Avon plans to revitalize the company.

While the direct selling model seems almost quaint today, in a sense it’s the same model that we use in our profession, except we have a different product and a different audience. It’s all about a personal approach to selling, whether we’re meeting in person, using digital channels, or picking up the phone. Some lament that technology has diminished the personal, relationship-based nature of our business, but I’d argue that if used appropriately, we can find a middle ground where we can leverage technology to get closer to our audience. Consider:

  • Opt for performance over convenience: It’s easy and convenient to rely on blanket technology, such as an email distribution service to send out communications in batches. But taking the time to develop individual notes personalized to the interests of the recipient will almost always deliver better results than the “spray and pray” approach. Individual emails also are less likely to get hung up by spam filters.
  • Engage even when you’re not selling: Too often, we get caught up in our own content, focused on building engagement with the brands for which we work. But it only takes a few minutes to read and comment on others’ blog posts and articles, building a stronger two-way engagement as we define and elevate ourselves as professionals.
  • Dive deeper in the tech you’re using: The major social media channels are continually tweaking their services to enable more precise targeting. If you’re using promoted tweets and sponsored posts to target audiences, try drilling down further into the demographic options. You can get down almost to street level to make sure your content is relevant to the audience.
  • Low tech can be good tech: At the end of the day, this is a business built on relationships. A few years back, I asked a colleague to check with a co-worker about the status of a project. The following day, she said she hadn’t received a reply email. The odd part about this? The two individuals worked in the same office … two doors apart! Sometimes a good old-fashioned meeting or phone call can do more to personalize an experience than any technology can ever accomplish.

The next time you see a pink Cadillac driving down the street, remember that you and the driver are taking a similar approach to the work you do!