Tiger Woods: Let the spin begin

December 12, 2009

As bored as I am by the whole Tiger Woods story, I am fascinated by the communications sub-plot. In particular, the decision to remove himself, indefinitely, from the public eye so he can focus on curing whatever problems caused this issue.

This move may be for him but it is clearly a move that was made with sponsors in mind, as evidenced by this quote, by Gillette spokesman Damon Jones regarding the company’s decision to phase Tiger out of its media buy:

“This is supporting his desire to step out of the public eye and we’re going to support him by helping him to take a lower profile.”

Original story on the BBC Web site.

What a great move from Team Woods to allow those sponsors who wanted to cut ties, to step down gracefully.

YouTube Friday – Gerry Dee

August 24, 2007

One of my first assignments when moving to Canada was to manage a media tour in four cities launching a pretty cool product called Snapple Lighten Up (no Web site).

To get the media’s interest, we decided to do a series of free lunch-time comedy acts and so we picked the comedians (two from each city) and did some media training before peddling them to the local media.

We got some pretty big hits and the campaign for both the comedians and the product was a success.

In Toronto, I had the pleasure of message training our comedian, a former teacher called Gerry Dee. He had a great act and was a real pro when it came to the interviews.

I had pretty much completely forgotten about him until a few weeks ago when I saw him on Last Comic Standing…and now he’s into the top five!

Here are some highlights:

On school projects:


This year’s semi-finals

An eight minute set with most of his best material

If you liked what you saw, head on over to the LCS Web site where you can vote for him to get through to the final four.

Is this a "good" media hit or a "bad" media hit?

August 13, 2007

…I can’t tell.

Via Rick Segal comes this Wallstrip (a financial video blog now owned by CBS) feature on Caterpillar. Apparently they make more than the steel toes boots I spent much of my teens in…

If you can’t be bothered to watch the whole video (below), here’s the drift.

The Wallstrip team wanted to do an interview on Cat’s stock (up some $62 a share from $20 in 1992) but were soundly rebuffed by Cat’s public affairs department because they “weren’t a good fit” according to Rachel A Potts.

Wallstrip being Wallstrip, that didn’t stop them and they borrowed some PlayMobil people to have some serious, and seriously off-message fun with Cat’s brand.

But here’s the thing. In poking fun of Cat’s refusal to speak to them, the Wallstrip gang inadvertently broadcast some of Cat’s key messages.

  • Huge, cool yellow machine with the company logo? Check.
  • Cat is the market leader? Check.
  • Cat is a share to buy – it’s doing well and will likely do better? Check.
  • Industries Cat sells to? Check.
  • Vehicles Cat sells? Check.
  • Foreman being crushed by said huge yellow machine with Cat logo? Check. Oh, wait…

So maybe they’re not all strictly on-message.

Sure Cat’s PA team takes a bit of a hit, but my overall impression of them just went up in-spite of Wallstrip’s best efforts.

What are your thoughts? Was this a hit or a miss from the Cat team? What should the team do next?

Maybe they should get a cheap high-def, straight to hard-drive camcorder (about $1500 last time I checked) and do some of their own videos. Not boring interviews with the forepeople of the factories but a “Will it Blend?” knock off. Such as “will it crush?”.

Something irreverent. After all, you can’t take life too seriously; you’ll never get out alive.

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Just a little outside

May 24, 2007

I’m no baseball aficionado, in fact my experience of baseball amounts to watching four live games, three in Toronto and one in Houston but I am starting to get the nuances of the game.

The focal point of the game is pitching (not unlike PR – you know where I’m going with this) but there is a subtle difference between chucking and pitching.

Pitching and Chucking

Chucking is about power, about getting the ball into the catcher’s mitt as quickly and as often as possible.

Pitching on the other hand is more cerebral. It’s about knowing the batter, their strengths and weaknesses. It’s about subtlety and a deeper understanding of the game.

A pitch and a chuck can be the same delivery at the same speed but what differentiates the pitch from the chuck is what came before it, not the delivery itself.

Chucking when you should be Pitching

It seems as if one of my colleagues in the Fleishman-Hillard family has gotten into a little bit of hot water for chucking when she should’ve been pitching.

The FH youth marketing and trend spotting group “Next Great Thing” (NGT) had launched their new blog and were reaching out to people they read in the same “ecosystem” to announce themselves.

[Dave has the pitch they sent out over on PR Works along with a good conversation.]

The end result is that a few bloggers got themselves mighty annoyed about the generic, and to be honest, rather condescending tone and have posted their feelings about it here, here, here and here.

My thoughts? Juuuuust a little outside.

Is it the worst pitch I’ve ever seen? No.

Is it the best pitch they could’ve sent out? No.

Is it the sort of pitch that could rile up a blogger who had just received six or seven unpersonalised and untargeted emails? Yes.

Does the email deserve to be called out? It depends. Personally, I don’t call out bad pitches publicly.

If the same email came from a “social media marketing consultant” promoting their own blog, and not from A Big PR Agency, would it have gotten the same response? Who knows.

Lessons Learnt

Don’t try to be clever. While the pitch itself is topical it is a little cute. Too cute. So, while it may work with traditional media where breaking through the clutter is the hard part, there’s the chance that a blogger will be less than amused.

Be clear as to what you want (and what you can offer). I had to read the pitch a couple of times to work out what was going on and it feels as if that was half the problem. Want someone to check out your new blog/post? Tell them. Asking for a link? Tell them. Trying to provoke a comment? Tell them.

Personalization is key. As others have said, and as I’ve alluded to, the pitch was generic and sent pretty much unchanged to a number of high profile bloggers. Personalization is key.

Final Sporting Metaphor

Speaking as a blogger who gets his fair share of bad pitches, bloggers have much larger egos to go with much tinier readership compared with the mainstream media. So tread carefully when you finally decide to engage with one. The game of blogger relations may look like media relations, but in truth the two are as different as rugby league and rugby union.

PR is the Experience Business

May 10, 2007

Care of “…the world’s leading…” blog comes news of the Intel Centrino Pro Challenge, a series of YouTube-ified videos that feature ZDNet Journalists (led by one Rupert Goodwins) taking on IT executives from Nexus in a University challenge style quiz.

The whole shindig is chaired by Intel’s UK CEO and was conceived by H&K’s London office. Kudos for executing what must’ve been a tough event to coordinate. Those journeys from London to Slough are tough…

I think the concept of the Pro Challenge is great and really goes to show that PR people are now in the experience business. The experiences of journalists we’d like to cover our client and, increasingly, the online experiences of people who want to interact with our clients.

The problem is that this project works extremely well in real life but doesn’t translate to an effective digital experience.

While this would’ve a great yarn for the beer hungry journos (Goodwins’ formula for media coverage depends heavily on the amount of beer you buy him involved in the briefing), Intel customers (no doubt to be quoted in a prominent upcoming case study) and Intel execs (see customers) I’m not sure why it needed to be broadcast on YouTube six times.

Yes there are a few funny moments, as twl points out, but it’s not a great viewing experience. Thank heaven for small mercies that the master clip was edited into smaller, more bite sized portions. 20 min of that would have been almost unbearable.

I’m a big proponent of great media experiences – FH Canada client Gatorade recently had a media hockey game and I caught this sponsored football match from the Talksport presenters a few weeks back.

But some word’s of advice for PRs –

More of this,

Less of this please.

If you’re reading this in a feedreader, please click through to read PR is the experience business and view the embedded videos.

News releases need more than writing and editing

March 16, 2007

The Getting Ink collective have a great post up about how junior technology journalists choose what to put in the NIB section (news in brief).

The key? Say what the company does with no jargon in the first paragraph.

…if it had the word ‘hardware’ in it, I wrote it up for the hardware news page. If it had ‘software’ in the opening par, I wrote that release up for the software section. And if it had ‘leading provider of turn-key, end-to-end solutions for mission critical, value added business process’ in the opening par? I binned it, and hoped nobody was any the wiser.

One of my old clients had a template news release that had an opening paragraph that went something like “client organization, leading provider of open-source, turn-key, end-to-end solutions for mission critical, value added business process, today announced…”

Clearly this worked for the client but not the journalist.

The problem, as I see it, is that companies are spending so much money on executive retreats to come up with strategy, messaging and…mission statements! Mission statements that have to be placed injudiciously into their news releases with the only purpse of confusing the journalist (is this my beat or not?) and even worse, completely alienating any poor customer who accidentally comes across it.

Guy Kawasaki suggested adopting mantras as opposed to mission statements. Mantras are short, snappy, invocative. Mission statements are long, over written, snore inducing.

How about “Nike, a sports company dedicated to authentic athletic performance, today announced…”? How would that work for your client? (updated – sports is shorter and sounds better than sportswear)

Make your news releases easy to disseminate, not impossible to decode.

**UPDATED – The point of this post was to try and encourage change on the client side; not to dole out advice on how to better spam journalists. Get your clients to donate the $25k they’d have spent on the executive retreat to a charity; then take five minutes to come up with a mantra for future news releases.**

A really inconvenient truth

February 27, 2007

Congratulations to Al Gore for winning an Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth.

And congratulations to Al Gore for spending about as much as I earn (net) in a year on his energy bills – and his own personal quest to prove that fairies global warming does exist.

Please bear with me because I do have a point with this rant.

Al – science doesn’t mean creating what you predict. If I predict a document won’t be done in time, it doesn’t make me a visionary, it makes me lazy.

From the Tennessee Center for Policy Research (which may or may not itself be a lobbying group for “Big Oil” but whatever, they give good quote):

Al Gore’s Personal Energy Use Is His Own “Inconvenient Truth”

Gore’s home uses more than 20 times the national average

Last night, Al Gore’s global-warming documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, collected an Oscar for best documentary feature, but the Tennessee Center for Policy Research has found that Gore deserves a gold statue for hypocrisy.

Gore’s mansion, located in the posh Belle Meade area of Nashville, consumes more electricity every month than the average American household uses in an entire year, according to the Nashville Electric Service (NES).

In his documentary, the former Vice President calls on Americans to conserve energy by reducing electricity consumption at home.

The average household in America consumes 10,656 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, according to the Department of Energy. In 2006, Gore devoured nearly 221,000 kWh—more than 20 times the national average.

Last August alone, Gore burned through 22,619 kWh—guzzling more than twice the electricity in one month than an average American family uses in an entire year. As a result of his energy consumption, Gore’s average monthly electric bill topped $1,359.

Since the release of An Inconvenient Truth, Gore’s energy consumption has increased from an average of 16,200 kWh per month in 2005, to 18,400 kWh per month in 2006.

Gore’s extravagant energy use does not stop at his electric bill. Natural gas bills for Gore’s mansion and guest house averaged $1,080 per month last year.

“As the spokesman of choice for the global warming movement, Al Gore has to be willing to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, when it comes to home energy use,” said Tennessee Center for Policy Research President Drew Johnson.

In total, Gore paid nearly $30,000 in combined electricity and natural gas bills for his Nashville estate in 2006.


­­­­­­­­­­The Tennessee Center for Policy Research is an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan research organization committed to achieving a freer, more prosperous Tennessee through free market policy solutions.

Just last week the National Post ran an article that asked some tough questions of environmentalist David Suzuki from Michael Crichton’s book State of Fear. The questions included –

– Why was climatologist James Hansen — the father of global warming–off by 200% in his prediction that temperatures would increase by 0.35 degrees Celsius by 2008 (the actual increase has been .11 degrees); and why did he (and colleagues) say in 2001 that “the longterm prediction of future climate states is not possible”?

– Of the world’s 160,000 glaciers, some are shrinking. But many –in Iceland, for example –have “surged” in the last few years, while most of Antarctica is getting colder; if warming is “global,” why?

– Why haven’t sea levels risen to the extent predicted? Why have the waters off the Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean not only experienced no rise over several centuries, but an actual fall in the last 20 years?

– Where is the predicted “extreme weather?” There has been no global increase, and in many cases a decrease, of extreme weather patterns.

– From 1940-70, carbon dioxide levels went way up, but temperatures went down so abruptly that a new Ice Age was the prevailing fear; wherefore this disparity?

– The Sahara Desert is shrinking–purportedly due to the greening effects caused by man-made global warming; but isn’t the greening of the desert a good thing?

The point

My point, and I do have a PR related one, is that your spokesperson could be the most influential person in the world. The most charismatic, the one with the highest IQ or the wettest kisses but that doesn’t mean they’re the right person for your campaign.

For all the things Al Gore is, and he is a lot of things to a lot of people, he is not a scientist, a weather expert or, as we can see, an environmentalist.

And even if you do find the right person for your campaign, make sure they’re prepared; not just for the softball three-pitch lobs you’ve message trained them on, but for the hard asks.

An example

David Suzuki stormed out of a radio interview because his interviewer had the temerity to suggest global warming isn’t the cut and dried issue some people insist it is. The interviewer suggested that many accredited scientists, like Al Gore, some professors from top universities, including Nobel Prize winners and a former president of the National Academy of Sciences, would argue that global warming is at best unproven and at worst pure fantasy.

Follow Up

Al retorts to this claim with the announcement that he is buying carbon offsets. People are skeptical about a rich guy just throwing money at the problem, instead of fixing the behaviour behind the problem. That’s a whole different post about the value of an outside marketing consultancy.

Follow Up Part Two

Now the PETA folks are having a pop at Al. Who else will jump on the bandwagon?

The Movie Industry: Doing Marketing Right

February 25, 2007

It’s Oscar night tonight and, while I haven’t watched many of the movies that have been nominated, it’s reminded me of something I’ve been thinking about.

Out of all the industries that depend on marketing, the movie industry seems to do it completely right.

If we go back to Al and Laura Ries’ flow chart of how to build a brand we can see that it should be built by PR and maintained by advertising.

Which is exactly what the best movies do.

  • Show film to critics
  • Chop up film into advert
  • Wait for reviews to be published
  • Overlay positive, third party endorsement over advert and add high energy music
  • Pray the opening weekend goes as well as the reviews
  • Rinse and repeat

As with all industries however, the “marketing” is only as good as the product – a pig is still a pig no matter how much lipstick you put on her.

My advice to the movie industry would be that to minimize the risk of the opening weekend going badly and not living up to the reviews (I’m looking at you MI:3), I’d open somewhere other than the U.S.

My A-level economics is a little rusty but I can remember the “perfect economy” depends on both perfect knowledge and being able to price according to supply and demand.

Therefore, for the movie industry to maximise its economics, they should go where the money for that movie is.

Don’t tie yourselves to the “most”, find the best market for your product. Add another facet to your story – the story of the “sleeper” hit that makes it big somewhere apart from the U.S. before it get’s released into the self-styled “biggest movie market in the world (TM)”.


And save a thought for the poor publicists working extra hard tonight. Guiding their clients through the perils of the red carpet, emailing the on-air talent who’s wearing their clients and making sure their clients’ sponsorship get the right photo op.

Tough on blogs; Tough on the monitoring of blogs

February 10, 2007

Bill Sledzik, associate professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at Kent State University, Ohio brings us news that 72 per cent of PRs have no formal way to monitor blogs. (Tip of the hat to Judy Gombita).


Additional topline findings from the survey, conducted in association with media monitoring service BurrellesLuce, include:

72.3% of respondents say they have no formal procedure for monitoring the content of blogs that may impact their businesses. Another 8% aren’t sure.

Of the 18.5% of [respondents whose] organizations…use blogs: 78.3% use blogs to connect with customers and end users; 42.8% to reach news media; 39.8% to communicate with employees.

16.5% of respondents say they are aware of existing employee blogs that discuss work-related activities, but very few actually monitor those blogs.

My Take

While the business case for companies starting their own blogs is yet to be *conclusively* proved by Forrester, there should be enough cautionary tales out there (Dell; Kryptonite) to persuade PRs that they should at least be monitoring what people are saying about their clients.

Seem sensible? In theory yes, but in practice, no. You’re reading this very niche blog about a very narrow subject. You’re engaged in the blogging community either as a reader, commenter or blogger. You know all this stuff already.

The 72 per cent of PRs who don’t monitor blogs are blissfully unaware of how the phrase “dell hell” originated or who “kryptonite” is. They may know from conversational experience that Dell has lousy customer service or that some bike locks could get picked with a pen cap, but they don’t know the deeper stories and communications learnings behind these anecdotal tid bits.

Advice for Junior/Mid-level PRs

If your account director/VP doesn’t make you monitor social media, why not manage upwards and get her to see why it’s important? Don’t march brazenly into her office and demand the account becomes focused on the citizen journalist; do it in a more insiduous way.

Start monitoring by yourself. Get a feedreader, set up some Technorati/Google Blog searches. Set up Google News alerts. Use Google Trends to measure the effectiveness of your campaigns and include the (free) graphs in your monthly reports.

See David Jones’ Squidoo lens for more free tools and how to use them for your account work.

We hear what they’re saying…what next?

You’ve successfully integrated blog monitoring into your account team’s repetoire and your client’s given you a mandate to reach out to key bloggers in your market. What do you do now?

I’d recommend doing what I did with the media when I moved to Canada. I worked out who the key journalists were for the accounts I worked on and gave them a call to introduce myself, my client list and to find out what they needed from me.

Do the same with bloggers. Work out the top…20 bloggers for a client. Subscribe to their feeds and read them for a month. Leave a couple of comments (with full disclosure of course) or introduce yourself to them by email.

Get their permission to send them  interesting news from the client and, if they agree, send them highly personalized notes. If they don’t want to get information from you, you’ve still got some 55 million other people who may and you’ve saved yourself and the client from an embarrassing entry in the Bad Pitch Blog. Congrats!

Analyze the results then rinse and repeat until you have a highly targeted list of bloggers who view you as a trusted source of information. It’s hard work, but it pays off eventually. Unfortunately, laziness pays off now.


January 27, 2007

**UPDATE** – I chatted with Dave Knight, from iStudio’s technical team about this and have a revised, remixed and improved posting over on the iStudio blog.

It’s a cold cold Saturday here in Toronto and instead of going to the gym, I’m trying to get a head start on my Blog Herald column. Now that the furore has died down somewhat, I though I’d riff on the “Social Media News Release” or, as we call it at iStudio, the Optimized News Release.

One of the many questions I have around the development of a standard ONR is the issue of microformats, hRelease and hAtom tags.

My html skills go as far as embedding a link in a blog comment, and even that is a toss-up sometimes, so I’ve been struggling to find out what they do and, more importantly, why we need a standard.

Definition of the crowds

The Wikipedia definition of a microformat is:

…(a) markup that allow(s) expression of semantics in an HTML (or XHTML) web page. Programs can extract meaning from a standard web page that is marked up with microformats.

Existing XHTML (and HTML) standards allow for semantics to be embedded and encoded within them. This is done using specific HTML attributes:

  • class
  • rel
  • rev

Adding microformats to a standard HTML web page allows machines to process HTML text and to possibly load data into remote databases. This would allow programs such as web crawlers to find items such as contact information, events, and reviews on web pages.

Layman’s explanation

So what does that mean? Well, I’ve started to think about it like this:

Most all of my blog postings have certain “tags” or key words that I use to describe them. These tags are, in turn, used to classify and group my posting in with others. So this post will be tagged “microformat” and, if you click on the link at the bottom, you’ll be taken through to Technorati where you’ll be able to see all other postings that have also been tagged “microformat“.

If that’s how tags are used, microformats are, as I understand them, used to identify and group pieces of information within the document.

With regards to the ONR, there is a standard format of what information needs to go where: headline; main copy; executive quotes; video etc. The microformats would allow PRs to tag each of these sections, not just the whole document, with relevant key words.

Practical application

How does all this help our core constituents, journalists like Mathew Ingram or bloggers like Mark Evans? Say I’m a real journalist and I’m writing a news story on SAS (an old client). I need some quotes to round it out but it’s the weekend and I can’t get in touch with my PR contact. Time’s running out and I need Dr. Jim’s word’s of wisdom ASAP.

One solution is to trawl through the many, many news releases hosted in the SAS news room. But there’s no time for that now. The microformat would allow you to go to a search engine (where ever that is) and look up all “quotes” tagged “jim goodnight” and “whatever I’m writing about”.

As long as SAS issues standardized ONRs and the PR/tech guys have done their job, a simple search would bring me up exactly what I need.

Caveat Emptor

As always, this is the utopian ideal. We’re hoping that

  • the quotes are real quotes and not “franken-quotes”,
  • that the microformats have not been abused or spammed
  • the (as yet unwritten) standards are being supported by the major search engines like Technorati, Google and Yahoo! (an FH client)
  • journalists give a damm

Apart from that we’re all set!

As I’m going to say on Friday, I think the ONR has a lot of potential both as a way of generating more coverage for a client (in the short and long term) and for improving the way in which PRs pitch journalists and bloggers.

There are, as always, many bridges to cross before we find ourselves there.

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