Archive | March, 2009

The opinion ad

31 Mar

Newspapers are in a downward spiral

Every day there is more bad news for the newspaper industry. The New York Times will eliminate its City section, Chicago Sun-Times is filing Chapter 11, Washington Post is offering its fourth buyout in 6 years, and on and on.  Even CBS Sunday Morning covered the coming “death”  of newspapers.

Paid opinions

One area that is fairly unique to newspapers is the paid opinion ad. Usually a full page, this ad will carry the unadultarated opinion of an organization, group, industry or even individual. The target is public opinion and/or lawmakers. We’ve seen “it’s our fault” ads and “you’re wrong and here’s why” ads. In fact, this is a time honored way of getting opinions across without the filter of an editor or a reporter.

Where will they go?

Sure there is advertising on the Internet, between pop ups and banners, we’re often inundated with advertising messages. However, we can pretty much ignore these ads. Only if we are in the market for say, acai diet supplement, do we click to find out more. Opinion ads use the full page newspaper format because they need the space to communicate a complicated message. It’s not about a sale or product attributes. I can’t see how these type of ads will subsist in an Internet-only market.

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Marketing is personal

28 Mar

How do you respond when someone asks you for a favor?

Ideally, when someone asks you for a favor (some information, a quote, some advice) you respond nicely. Sometimes you may not be able or willing to grant the favor, and in this case, you still should be nice. Why? because people do business with people they like. And being not nice makes people not like you.

Sample negative conversation

Me: Hi, I am looking for a web designer for my client, and I am wondering if I could get a quote from you.

Graphic designer (sounding grouchy): (Big sigh) well, I don’t know. What kind of website?

Me: Mostly static, about 10 pages or so, and with some room to make changes, like on the staffing page.

GD (mumbling and sounding pissed): Hmm, well, we work with CMS, and it’s hard to just give you a quote, but you know websites start around $20,000.

Me: Well, it sounds like we aren’t a good fit for each other. Thanks.

GD (sounds relieved to not have to deal with me): OK.

This graphic designer, whom I had found listed through the AIGA (contact me if you want her name), was downright nasty. I have made many of these calls, and for the most part, the designers I have spoken to have been helpful. They ask questions, and they say they will get back to me with an estimate. Even if the estimate is not in my ballpark, I now have a graphic designer contact. You never know what can come up.

What would have made this conversation go better.

If she had said something like: “Thanks for your call. I am happy to do an estimate for you, but you should know our website designs start at $20,000. Is that within your budget?”

Marketing is personal because it is people who make decisions,  and personal biases affect decisions. Like I said before, we’d rather do business with people we like (or at least respect). Sometimes it is not your credentials, or your abilities, or your writing skill or your design skill, it is your likeability. Being polite and being nice can go a long way to getting you business, and conversely, being rude and being nasty can almost assure you of losing business.

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On doing things piecemeal

26 Mar

Are you a small business with a tight marketing budget?

If you are, you probably have fallen prey to the idea that you should do (marketing)  things as you can afford them. You know, an ad here, a brochure there. Budget-wise, this may make sense. After all, you can’t afford a large campaign, or an ad agency. Branding-wise, not so much. It’s tough to build up an image on unconnected pieces of the puzzle. The missing link is the connection, or the reason, behind each piece.

Think strategically

In business, there is strategy and there are tactics. Often companies fall into tactics without thinking about the strategy.  Many people can’t tell the difference. Here’s a quick example:  sending a press release is a tactic, achiving positive publicity is a strategy.  Ideally, tactics should follow your strategy.

You must know what you want to accomplish so that you can figure the steps to make it happen.

Often, small business owners are overwhelmed with trying to do everything: managing staff, invoicing, doing the books, buying inventory, negotiating. Marketing may be a distant thought, something to do when there is down time. This is unfortunate because marketing will bring business in. Neglecting your marketing will result in a business downturn, for sure.

Develop a  basic marketing plan

The easiest thing to do is to devote some time to thinking about what you want to accomplish. Perhaps you want more female customers, or larger organizations. Write these goals down. Figure out who your current customers are. Figure out how much budget you can afford to devote to marketing. See what you already have and what you need.

Here are some elements of a marketing plan:

  • Current situation/Situation analysis
  • Goals
  • Target audience
  • Budget
  • Tactics for reaching target audience (and this is where your ads, brochures, press releases fit in)

Remember, doing marketing piecemeal will only result in getting small chunks of  your target audience.

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It’s the media

23 Mar

Is it just me?

Or is it the 24 news cycle, but it seems that more and more the media is reporting on the media. Witness the Jon Stewart-CNBC debacle. It was reported on in every other media outlet.  Today, on a Washington Post blog, instead of doing any original reporting or commentating, the writer posted video of President Obama’s interview with 60 Minutes.  As well as there was a large piece in the Style section about Steve Kroft, who conducted the aforementioned interview.

Has the media itself become more newsworthy? Doubtful.

What’s making you sweet?

21 Mar

Is it HFCS?

In the past few months, the Corn Refiners Association has been running some ads featuring the much-maligned high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). In case you haven’t heard, many doctors and researchers blame HFCS for the obesity epidemic because HFCS is found in millions of food items and seems to be metabolized differently in the body. Recently some research found that the way HFCS is manufactured causes the release of mercury. Bottom line, corn refiners had to act. After all, their product is beginning to be perceived as bad for you.

The commercial

I am sure you’ve seen the commercials. A couple is sitting on blanket in a park (oh so idyllic) and she offers him a ice pop made with HFCS. When he recoils, she counters telling him it is made from corn and it’s fine in moderation.

You can see the commercials and read the “facts” about HFCS at the Corn Refiners Association website.

The backlash or the return of sugar

It turns out that sugar is not about to roll over and play dead. It is making a comeback. In fact, many products are using it as a selling point, as pointed out in this New York Times article. Of course, some products are just advertising that they are not made with HFCS (like the Thomas English Muffins’ package that blares no high fructose corn syrup).

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Again with public perception

18 Mar

In today’s Washington Post, Steven Pearlstein writes about Wall Street executives (more specifically AIG executives) who are so blind to public perception that they keep stumbling and looking worse.  In case you have been avoiding the news, AIG gave some of its top executives millions of dollars in bonuses, while on the receiving end of government/taxpayer money. Nobody but AIG is happy about this. Currently and mostly due to the economic crisis, there is a tremendous amount of populist rage and ill will toward Wall Street and “fat cats” such as Bernie Madoff, who seem to be living the high life while many people are down in the dumps.

Yesterday I wrote about the Facebook redesign and many others have been writing/complaining across the blogosphere and in real life.

What do AIG and Facebook have in common? Not understanding how they are perceived and that perception matters. Both companies have proceeded with business as usual without so much a look in the rear view mirror. Perception is currency, in the most real, dollar sense, which is why the practice of public relations exists. Companies hire PR agencies to help them manage and in most cases improve the public perception of them.

Sometimes, as in the case of Facebook, there seems to be a complete disregard for how core audiences will react to news and changes. There are simple ways to prevent this: testing in the form of focus groups or surveys or even simple conversations with current users.  It’s about getting outside the bubble. Come to think of it, don’t bubbles always burst? Soap bubbles, housing bubbles, tech bubbles to name a few.

In the case of AIG, it has much to do with Wall Street culture, in which greed is good (as the movie Wall Street pointed out) and money is king. The more money, the better.  After all, Wall Street is not some nonprofit organization with some altruistic purpose in mind. The whole raison d’etre for it is to make money. So it stands to reason that the only thing AIG execs understand is money. Something soft and unmeasurable like public anger is a small price to pay. Except when it isn’t. I think the fat cat era may be nearing its end (at least until the next bubble forms).

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How Not to Make Friends

17 Mar

Well folks, Facebook has done it again. It has irritated its legions of users by changing its layout. Apparently the folks at Facebook are not too savvy when it comes to public perception. If this was the first time, then we could let it pass. After all, Matt Zuckerberg is all of 12 years old or something such. But this is the upteenth time the company does something that alienates its core public, and thus creates NEGATIVE publicity for itself. Case in point, read this blog entry in the Huffington Post.  Facebook has been down this road before. And it doesn’t learn. I really wonder if Facebook understands anything at all about public relations. I don’t expect Zuckerberg to understand, but he should know enough to hire somebody that can provide him with communications counsel. If the company keeps doing stuff like this, it will become the Tylenol Poisoning example for the next generation (you know, how Tylenol dealt with crisis back in the 80s when someone tampered with its products…).  This is not a crisis, per se, but it creates ill will. Some people will use Facebook less, and that translates into fewer eyeballs for its one major source of revenue, the ads. And do I have to spell out what less revenue means? If so, let me introduce you to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, now online only.

It is ironic in the nth degree that Facebook is an online meeting place for friends. Friends like each other, generally speaking, and I am not liking Facebook right now.

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