Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I Propose “Welcome to Earth! Souvenirs” to Compete with Betty’s Attic.

Dear Mr Tatulli: I’m already a fan but I’m no cyber-squatter. Even though I think there’s a great opportunity for some e-tailer to compete with Betty’s Attic, you came up with the name.

So – in case you decide to expand your horizons – is waiting for you, $12. Have a great week and thanks for the continuing entertainment.

Cartoon ©2010 by Mark Tatulli. Distributed by Universal Uclick.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Climate Change Has a Bad Week – Is New PR What’s Next?

Yesterday, the UN guy who’s been trying to guide climate talks to “a successful outcome” for almost four years resigned. Yvo de Boer said he’s quitting on July 1 to work in academia and business; he’s fed up to his necktie by “unrelenting bickering between rich and poor countries.” It’s just the latest PR hit.

Earlier this week, three major companies dropped their membership in the US Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) this week, announced in big, bold headlines from coast to coast. USCAP is a coalition that boasts “broad-based support for climate change legislation this year.”

BP, Caterpillar and ConocoPhillips have declined to renew their participation in a big-time lobbying campaign. USCAP assures its Washington audience, the main target of its efforts, that plenty of corporations support its positions. But the publicity surrounding the departure of three large companies raises a couple of points about a classic form of PR in action. (Readers, the climate change/global-warming issue does not admit of simple answers no matter how I turn it.)

No matter how effective a program, perhaps PR cannot fully overcome the fact that a proposed US cap-and-trade market would hurt the financial positions of large fossil fuel emitters. For example, the cost of carbon in the oil sector for the five largest oil companies — ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP and Royal Dutch Shell — is estimated to cost them from $247 million to $355 million.

(Call the median $300 million and say each company is equally burdened. That’s $60 million or so which would buy a whole lot of public relations to support other, more corporate-friendly initiatives, presuming that each of the oil companies spent it on PR instead of remediating refinery systems.)

USCAP touts the connection between cap-and-trade and innovation, but it appears that the climate change campaign no longer has quite the same compelling force. So, PR. Capital Research Center which asked and answered an key question in its “Organization Trends” newsletter: Who runs USCAP?

USCAP describes itself as a “business and NGO partnership,” but does not have its own staff. Like other DC-based coalitions that promote policy agendas, USCAP relies primarily on outside public relations and government consulting groups to conduct operations and coordinate the activities of members. It's how they earn their fees. Lighthouse Consulting, the Meridian Institute and the powerhouse PR and lobbying firm Powell Tate | Weber Shandwick are the wizards behind the USCAP curtain.

USCAP is quintessentially a public relations activity. And most recently, Outreach Strategies has been identified as the agency of record for USCAP (by the Potomac Flacks blog). This firm is composed of two agency vets from a completely different outfit, Tad Segal and Joe Clayton, who are supposed to focus on advocacy communications, issues management, stakeholder engagement and media relations. “Clayton recently served as CEO of Widmeyer Communications. Segal also recently left Widmeyer, having led the agency’s Public Affairs group.”

Following the currently twisty course of events, it is clear that USCAP and its PR operators still follow the definition set out by the PRSA almost 30 years ago: “Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.”

USCAP’s PR, like it or not, has been effective – at least for a while. I’m almost glad that the UN doesn’t have quite the same talent for mutual adaptation.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

AMAHouston Wants You: Seriously Fun Healthcare Marketing Seminar.

Smell the coffee, taste the bagels. Hear how outstanding marketing campaigns are planned. And see great creative in action at AMAHouston’s Healthcare SIG winter seminar.

Coming Friday, February 26, to the Houston Technology Center: “Outside-the-Box: Creative Healthcare Marketing.” It starts at 7.30AM and you can register by clicking here.

Three presenters promise a how-to morning. Partha Krishnamurthy is the Director of Institute for Healthcare Marketing at the University of Houston; he’s going to set the stage by addressing the metrics challenges.

Next: MD Anderson’s Associate Director of Marketing, Cara Zorzi. She will lay out the best-ever Texas medical campaign, “Making Cancer History” (there’s a late example, top).

Batting clean-up will be Steve McKee, President of McKee Wallwork Cleveland from Albuquerque. He’ll present the vivid work done for Presbyterian Healthcare Services in New Mexico. (That’s the second outdoor execution above).

You may be familiar with Zorzi and McKee; a review of McKee’s latest book, BTW, appears below.

They are all public figures who are strong standard-bearers for breakthrough creative. At this event, you can learn how creative expressions of marketing messages affect a brand. You can learn how to use such campaigns to generate higher levels of brand awareness, patient traffic, employee involvement and community recognition.

Karen Kershner, principal and founder of Communications Plus (excellent fun website, too), is the moderator. But come for more than the…moderation. Come for the excitement.

Be one of those elite early risers. Come down to the excellent venue (the Houston Technology Center, 401 Pierce Street 77002). Click here for the map – the “committee” will have the coffee and bagels waiting for you.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

McKee Comes Back for AMAHouston SIG and Dirkes Reviews His Book.

Laying pipe. It’s what this post does. Laying pipe for our February 26 Healthcare SIG seminar. Attendees will get plenty of advice and examples about “outside the box” marketing and ad campaigns – some from Steve McKee. Who has a book that’s more about management than marketing. Let’s start with this. (A later post will highlight the seminar itself.)

Aubrey Dirkes, who recommended McKee for this event, provided this review for Signalwriter.

Typically when the president of an advertising agency writes a book, the pages are filled with tales of glory about their special pixie dust. Hire their agency and you too will have memorable television ads. When Growth Stalls by Steve McKee, the president of McKee Wallwork Cleveland, isn’t that book. In fact he doesn’t mention a single ad by his agency, and the promotion “P” isn’t mentioned until the last 15 pages of the book. Luckily, he’ll be sharing his agency’s work at the Houston AMA Healthcare SIG meeting on February 26.

When Growth Stalls is really more like a series of executive coaching sessions for your management team. It is part “Good to Great,” part “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” and part personal diary all intertwined with recent editions of The Wall Street Journal. The result is a well-researched book that is timely and not only gives us the solace of knowing that every company stalls, but the hope that accompanies a step-by-step method to get growing again. Reading it reminded me of one of my favorite scenes from “The West Wing,” about the support a friend can provide.

The book acknowledges the reasons we blame for our company’s stall – the economic downturn, disasters, and other market forces that, in truth, our competitors face too. It then dives in to the real reasons that organizations of all sizes stall. This is a fitting discussion for the Healthcare SIG because of its direct correlation to the treatment of symptoms v. curing the patient’s problem. Both business and healthcare practice evidence-based approaches, and just as patient #1’s cancer is different from patient #2’s, the growth challenges of GE are different from those of Home Depot or Chrysler, and their treatment must take into account the individual or the result is disastrous.

The book identifies four reasons for stalling: A lack of consensus from leadership; a lack of focus; a loss of nerve; and inconsistent marketing. When the ground shakes, any one of these can cause an organization to stall. Worse, the failure of one can lead to the slippery slope that results in the failure of all four.

In the book there are great, real-world examples from different industries on how each can lead to stall. In your very real-world environment, where every aspect of the healthcare world is up for debate, I encourage you to give careful consideration to these factors before it is too late. (In my own experience I have had clients suffering from one or all with expensive repercussions.)

The subtitle of the book is How it happens, Why you’re stuck, and What to do about it. About half the book is dedicated to the last of these. It goes beyond the Mission/Vision/Values you all hang in your lobbies to define what success looks like, providing a measurable objective and a timetable that leadership can agree on, get behind and operationalize. After all, business, and healthcare, is about the acquisition and retention of customers. This will lead you to discussions about the importance of your people as the delivery devices for your brand and the compounding impact of your customers’ opinions and experiences. Then you are off to the races.

In reading this, you may say “obvious.”

I say “revolutionarily obvious” because the book will reaffirm the impact you can, and may need to, make within arms’ reach that will make all the difference.

Aubrey is a Philadelphia-based marketing consultant who creates successful customer acquisition and retention programs, brand experiences and award winning creative for hospitals and retailers nationwide. He plays 3x3 basketball in a barn built in the 1700s and refurbished in the 1870s. He interrupted shoveling 2,300 cubic feet of snow and helping four cars stuck in the snow on his street to send this book review to me. Steve, I hope you appreciate his sacrifice.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

At Chipotle, the Wooden Nickel Lives On: These Days It’s Worth 6 Bucks.

At last month’s AMAHouston Interactive SIG event, Chipotle Mexican Grill was not only a sponsor. Iliana Rodriguez, the eatery’s Houston marketing consultant, handed out hefty metal coins – each one good for high-quality burrito.

This promotion has the class I’ve come to associate with the Denver-based fast-food chain which is, at the same time, one of the stars in the world of ethical food producers. The branding thread of Chipotle’s “Food with Integrity” manifesto weaves its way all through the company’s online presence; it’s also clearly marked right on the metal coin (which plays an active role on the landing page). Nice weight in the hand, too.

So I’m standing there at the sponsor’s table with Rodriguez and Freeman-Leonard’s Steven Leeper, who’s on the Interactive SIG’s steering committee, and I point out that there’s really nothing new under the sun: This promo-coin thing’s been around for years and years, starting with the old wooden nickel. I managed to cram that together with a (prayerfully) short tale about the “old days” and the 5-cent lunch offers by bars and taverns.

I screwed it up – though I’m hopeful Rodriguez and Leeper will forgive me. First glance, wooden nickels don’t have anything to do with old-timey bar lunches. It is true that some histories identify the wooden nickel with the bank failures of the 1930s; in ’33, Blaine, WA issued round wooden coins when its bank failed. Commemorative nickels are then supposed to be an outgrowth of these legitimate wooden nickels. More accurately, though, collectible wooden nickels have been mentioned in print since at least 1888.

The famous tracer of lost catchphrases, Eric Partridge, puts “Don’t take any wooden nickels” back at least as far as the early 1900s. It’s a warning to be watchful for shady practices or goods. (And for mature ad guys with faulty memories.)

To add to the confusion, I also mixed up the free-lunch-with-a-5¢-beer and the nickel lunch…two different but historically accurate things. The free lunch helped win the 1890s beer wars for Adolphus Busch: With beer at five cents a glass, it was a luxury within the reach of everyone, however humble. The nickel, moreover, included a free lunch.

The nickel lunch was itself a common saloon promotion and quite a wonderful deal depending, I note, on which bar or café you favored with your custom.

Can you believe it? I’ve come full circle. Mangled history can’t keep a good promotion idea down. Here’s Chipotle putting the “nickel lunch” idea back to work not with a paper coupon (too easy to ignore) but with a weighty coin. It not only weighs more than today’s nickel. It’s worth more* at Chipotle Mexican Grill.

Who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch?

*The “rare” 2001 Chipotle coin is selling for $20 on eBay. Thanks to Chipotle Mexican Grill and Iliana Rodriguez for participating in AMAHouston. “New York Bowery lunch counter c. 1910,” 8x10 glass negative, GG Bain Collection, see Shorpy for all the details.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Four Crowdsourcing Ways to Multiply Marketing Power – and Two Warnings.

Crowdsourcing may be the “new big thing on the leading edge” or a dressed-up golden oldie. Either way, you can leverage the power of the Internet as a force-multiplier. Here are four ideas to get you thinking but don’t ignore the warnings.

1. Get to new products faster, more cost-effectively. Maybe you’ve heard of Threadless, a community-based T-shirt outfit that uses its public to both source and then evaluate its shirt designs. Loyal crowdmembers log on to to vote for their favorites. The winning entries are then printed and presented for sale – which generates double-digit millions in annual revenues. An article by Emma Johnson gives more detail about how Threadless uses the worldwide web and social networking to grow its revenues. Would it work for products and services with longer development cycles and heavy technical requirements? Sure it does. Procter and Gamble reportedly uses crowdsourcing (among 140,000+ freelance scientists and engineers from 170 countries) to help solve research and development problems with its products.

2. Get a survey online – get smart research data back in a hurry. Is any marketer not aware that the Internet is fundamentally altering how marketing research is done? Low-cost online survey tools like Survey Monkey make it simple for just about any company, institution or organization to design, and conduct survey research affordably. The use of social media for research is booming, too. This is where crowdsourcing ought to take off, especially if you want “smart” data – the stuff that you will be able to use to [a] impress company management and [b] actually use to adjust how you bring programs, products or services to your stakeholders. Aim for a combination of digital and analog answers and you can have your numbers and the psychology to back them up. All from sourcing to the right crowd.

3. Get users into your creative messaging process. You know that ad agencies pretty much hate the idea of “amateurs” making commercials and posting them on Youtube, right? But if there’s a mass market involved, crowdsourcing combines customer passion for your product or service with your prospect demographics and the new ways of distributing messages. Writing on BNET, Jennifer Alsever described how Chipotle Mexican Grill got its customers to make its TV commercials several years ago: Thanks to MySpace and YouTube, the 60 contest videos netted 17.3 million views in just three weeks in November, and one of the ads single-handedly garnered more than 8 million views.

4. Get total campaign production from anywhere in the world. A European crowdsourcing site called lets big and little companies – even big ones like Canon, L’Oreal, Vivendi and Vodafone to name just a few – the chance to access and use the creative talents of 75,000 “creators.” This is a virtual assembly of semi-professionals in the fields of graphic design, photography and videography who compete for prizes. Right now, Honda in France is looking for a video touting its hybrid cars – this one’s worth €9,000 ($12,000+) to the winning crowdsourcer.

Yes, share success when you succeed. That’s Warning No. 1: Reward your crowd. Threadless design winners get cash and swag. Chipotle YouTube commercial winners earned $50k. Failure to acknowledge your collaborators will result in (virtually) instant outing online. You don’t want your lack of courtesy to show up on Facebook, do you?

Then there’s the time suck. Warning No. 2: Managing crowdsource projects requires a lot of time. One reason companies of all sizes use crowdsourcing is to save money on professional marketing support. But there’s a strong need to manage the crowdsourcing process properly and that could mean hours and days. If you’ve got ‘em to spend, super-duper.

If your work-time is as limited as your budget, well, don’t start something you can’t effectively manage to a conclusion. Go ahead and use your ad agency or design firm instead. Tell them Signalwriter sent you.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Nah, Crowdsourcing Is Old Hat – Pillsbury Has Been at It Since ’49.

Crowdsourcing is being tipped as one of the big things to watch out for in the coming years. In essence, Crowdsourcing websites harness the power of their community to achieve common goals quicker and more effectively. This is a pretty apt description from the Storecrowd blog.

The word itself was invented in 2006 by a Wired magazine editor, Jeff Howe, when he started a blog of that name, to portray work that large, distributed teams of amateurs do, aided by the interconnectivity of the Worldwide Web. His contention is that such involved works were formerly the exclusive domain of corporations or isolated experts.

In this sense, crowdsourcing does seem to be a genuine product of the Internet. I’d probably still be agreeing if I hadn’t spotted the Pillsbury® Create and Easy Wow!™ 2010 calendar that arrived in the mailbox today.

The recipe-filled piece is a timely (and humbling) reminder that advancing technology only makes an activity easier to accomplish while the activity itself has been there and done that.

The justly famous Pillsbury Bake-Off® is the involving national competition that began in 1949. For decades, it has pulled in cooks of all sizes, shapes and sexes from all over the US. They’ve baked, cooked, slaved in thousands of kitchens and shared the winning recipes for more than 60 years. And the company has rewarded home cooks for their efforts – the first winner collected $50,000. Whoever wins the 44th Bake-Off, going on right now, will take home a million. Bucks, not biscuits.

This is crowdsourcing the old-fashioned way; the 2010 calendar features recipes from 2008 (Toasted Tuscan Walnut Squares by Jennifer Harkleroad), 1992 (Lemon Truffle Pie, Patricia Kiewiet), all the way back to 1951 (Topsy-Turvy Apple Pie, Mrs Donald W Gaard).

A recent speaker at amobile marketing seminar reminded the audience that cell phones represent a new distribution mechanism – it doesn’t replace human effort needed to create messages or business opportunities or baked goods. Neither does crowdsourcing. But both make their activities faster and easier.

Maybe that’s why Pillsbury stresses the word “Easy” in this 2010 calendar edition. You can get a free copy – and a lesson in original crowdsourcing – right here. Bake yourself something tasty.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Feds Nationalize “Avatar,” Intend Film Earnings to Cover TARP Shortage.

Declaring that “All your revenue are belong to us,” President Barack Obama announced that the US government was nationalizing James Cameron and his entire production team. In a Rose Garden news conference today, the President predicted that the runaway box office earner would support his administration “for years to come.”

“Avatar” is a fantasy film by Cameron. It was released in cinemas on December 16, 2009. Until this movie’s premier, another film by Cameron, “Titanic,” has been News Corp’s highest grossing film worldwide (and, yes, the highest grosser of any film ever) at $600.8 million.

The new film features tall blue aliens, not Leonardo diCaprio. It earned $30 million over this past weekend alone, according to studio estimates, with its domestic (US) total reaching $594.5 million.

Nationalization is the act of taking an industry or assets into public ownership by a national government. Some nations hold that no compensation is due, based on socialist notions of private properties, so Fox Studios, News Corp and other so-called “owners” of the film are completely screwed.

In Washington, a speaker for US Department of Agriculture has said the administration also intends to use the studio’s marketing arm to help sell General Motors vehicles for the next two years. “We’re going to figure out how to sell those Chevrolets,” said Deputy Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Ann Wright, “and we plan to use the world’s best marketers to do it!”

The nationalization process is the responsibility of the USDA because McDonalds restaurants are using “Avatar” toys in their Happy Meals.

USDA budgets, however, rarely equal those of consumer marketers. How much did the “Avatar” production team spent on marketing, advertising and licensing?’s Devin Faraci has noted, “The $400 million number doesn't include marketing, which is going to be monstrous for this film – well over $100 million in marketing, easily.” American Public Media’s marketing program estimates that the number is even larger, $150 million. Due to film industry accounting methods, no one will ever know the real figure.

After the announcement, the White House indicated that the film revenues would be used to cover budget shortfalls but had “no comment” about the President’s new look.

Photo appeared on by opchrom of Independents. All rights reserved.