Archive for the ‘Public Relations’ Category

Camp Okutta… or is it?

posted by Brendan Hodgson

I am constantly blown away (no pun intended, and you’ll see why) by the online creativity of non-profits who, for the most part, cannot afford the large-scale ad spends of their corporate counterparts.

This is perhaps one of the better examples of an emerging viral campaign I have seen in a long while: one that combines a highly compelling website built around a fictitous summer camp and outrageous (and not in the funny sense) viral video that puts AK-47’s in the hands of children. The organization behind it: War Child Canada. The campaign: the use/abuse of children as combat soldiers in conflicts around the world.

The humour of the video is grotesquely powerful (particularly being a father of young kids myself). and the site tells a real story that leads directly to the call to action. Kudos to the team behind it.

Update: well, it seems the site has also angered many in the Toronto area where posters also accompanied the campaign (clearly this is bigger than even I anticipated).  

Do you consider yourself a true PR hybrid?

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Meaning, do you get PR… and I don’t just mean marketing-focused PR, but corporate PR, reputation and issues management, and public affairs…? And do you get why it’s different from advertising?

Meaning also, do you get the web… traditional digital as well as social media, and not just from an advertising and SEO perspective?

And do you get how each of these elements interact, with each other and with traditional PR?

And do you get this, because you’ve spent a few years figuring this out (in a senior consultant or account director-level role)?

Cuz if you do, and if you’re in Toronto or Ottawa…. let me know, and tell me about it.

brendan(dot)hodgson(at)hillandknowlton(dot)ca

Sensory branding and PR… What does it sound like to you?

posted by Brendan Hodgson

The April 28th edition of the Economist included a brief yet fascinating article on sensory branding, entitled ‘Sound Effects: Companies tune in to the potential of sound’.

The article considers how ’sonic logos’ such as Intel’s highly-identifiable five-note jingle, are potentially the thin edge of the wedge for companies exploring how sound can help them sell product and boost employee productivity.

So what is the implication for PR? Does sound (beyond the spoken word) even have an effective role to play in the PR space in the same way that it does in advertising? (Anybody else still remember the Speedy Muffler song…?) To that same question, is it even appropriate or ethical from a PR perspective to apply sounds in such a way as to generate a specific response, much like some restaurants do to speed up the flow of diners, or to encourage consumers to remain longer in a specific store, and yet do it in such a way that it impacts such intangibles as reputation? Would that be construed – rightly or wrongly – as shameless manipulation or tugging on heartstrings?

The entertainment industry clearly understands the importance of sound to intensify our emotional response to certain scenes or experiences, proving that specific sounds can generate a shared reaction among large audiences. That BAA, through its testing of certain ambient sounds, was able to increase revenue in its Glasgow terminal by up to 10% clearly indicates the potential in a business context. But to what extent can that same experience be applied beyond a controlled setting such as a theatre, terminal or shop, or outside the context of a television advertisement? In a world where we are bombarded by thousands of sounds every day or, alternatively, using devices such as MP3 players to shut out any and all ambient noise, is it even possible or worthwhile to make your ’sonic logo’ stand apart?

Moreover, in the same way that companies link themselves to visual brands that may be construed as the antithesis of what they represent, could a company in a heavily industrial sector realistically link its brand to a sound – or collection of sounds - that represents its newfound commitment to the environment, for example?

A lot of questions. It’ll be interesting to see – and hear – what the answers are.

Transparency and message control are not contradictions

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Wired Magazine and now AdAge have piled into the rather amorphous issue of corporate ‘transparency’, along with a slew of bloggers and pundits. Both are important articles that should be read by communicators and marketers alike.

So what’s left to say then?… well, being an opinionated sonofagun, I felt that both Creamer and Thompson glossed over a couple of important issues, the most important being around the issue of what the corporation has to ‘give up’ in order to be more transparent.

Without question, and per Dan Gillmore’s assertion cited in Creamer’s article, the move by companies to being more transparent (as ‘hackneyed’ a metaphor as it may be) is definitely trending upward.

That said, transparency – for all the good it does – does not, in my view, contradict the need for an organization to be able to ‘manage’ or ‘control’ the message it seeks to deliver to its audiences, regardless from where that message is coming from (be it the CEO, corporate spokespersons, or employees). That shouldn’t however be equated with spin nor be misconstrued as an attempt to conceal. Consider that we individually ‘manage’ our messages every day: in job interviews, in sales pitches, on first dates etc… by strategically considering what we want to say, based on who we’re saying it to, and we do so with no malicious intent (though some may question that as it relates to the first date). This I would deem to be no different.

Of course, the moment our message is unleashed on the world, our ability to manage or control that message is largely lost or, at best, heavily limited. Not only do organizations need to accept that, they need to view it as a positive in that that it creates a living litmus test to the quality and relevance of those messages. From that perspective, I agree with the article writers: organizations will have to become even more forthcoming (read transparent) in order to validate their points of view. But again, the desire to be transparent does not imply that an organization must toss out its right to manage the messages it delivers. Although it does mean changing how those messages are delivered and by whom. And it does mean acknowledging the fact that what you say will face significantly greater scrutiny, so you better get it right first time.   

Moreover, and contrary to where I believe Creamer is going, I would not suggest that transparency is an either-or proposition (get naked or don’t). Many organizations – even the Southwest’s, the Sun’s, the GM’s and other corporations who have actively embraced social media – still rely heavily on traditional ‘one-way’ or ‘locked down’ PR and marketing to communicate their message. Should that be seen as a repudiation to their desire to be more ‘transparent’ and to engage in a more open and ‘transparent’ dialog with their audiences? I don’t believe so. Rather, I would suggest it acknowledges the very different expectations, and behaviours, of an organization’s audiences, and the strategies or processes required to address those expectations.

So yeah, I will continue to counel clients to get ‘naked’. Legitimate efforts to increase transparency do build trust, and will continue to have an increasing impact on reputation. At the same time, many of these organizations still have businesses to run – businesses that rely on reaching sizable audiences via the channels through which they still receive the bulk of their information. And that will still require more traditional strategic thinking. How well we bridge the traditional to the new in this age of increasing transparency will be a key factor in our, and our clients, success.

A few thoughts on what social media means to PR

posted by Brendan Hodgson
  1. It doesn’t replace the press release…
  2. it creates opportunities to move beyond it. 
  3. It rewards intelligent risk-taking…
  4. yet punishes deceitful intent.
  5. It puts the emphasis on content…
  6. while rejecting blatant spin.
  7. It succeeds and/or fails regardless of what we (the PRs) think…
  8. because what ‘they’ think will (and should) always matter more, and
  9. It’s a transaction (their attention in exchange for your information)…
  10. as much as it is an interaction.

Sure, there’s a lot more… but these stand out in my mind…

10 Reasons why PR ‘Matters’ in 2007

posted by Brendan Hodgson
  1. Because no self-respecting CEO should be without an avatar in second life.
  2. Because business journalists wouldn’t have anything to write about otherwise.
  3. Because CEO’s need to be convinced that bloggers are not voracious, flesh-eating fire ants intent on painfully stripping away the layers to reveal the truth about your ‘brand”.
  4. Because lawyers need to understand that “no comment” is not a legitimate key message.
  5. Because bankers need to understand that, sure, shareholders are important… but so are customers, employees, partners, suppliers, regulators, communities, NGO’s etc. etc.
  6. Because when things go wrong, it inevitably gets characterized as a “PR blunder”, and people need someone to blame.
  7. Because advertising doesn’t.
  8. Because perception is reality.
  9. Because bad things can – and do – happen to good companies.
  10. Because I wouldn’t be in this business otherwise.

(of course, some of this is tongue-in-cheek. I challenge you to identify which)

Getting Truthy about Transparency – One "Transparentist’s" view

posted by Brendan Hodgson

It’s snowing in April. Kurt Vonnegut is dead. This Blogger Code of Conduct nonsense is like a bad smell that just won’t go away. And now…. ?

Please, Mr. Webber. To consider that an organization even has a choice about being “transparent” (or being seen to be “transparent”) is laughable in 2007. Transparency is being imposed upon them whether they want it or not – and my guess is that they would chose the “not”. But does that really matter?

In an age where disgruntled and dissatisfied customers have the tools to broadly share and aggregate negative experiences with a specific brand or product; where activists or concerned citizens can post stories, videos and photos of inappropriate or unethical behaviour that contradict an organization’s flowery prose around social responsibility; and where employees can leak internal memos or expose management wrong-doing… PR people can’t simply counsel their clients or senior executives to circle the wagons and rely on spin to make the problem go away.

Granted, this doesn’t mean flinging the doors to the executive suite or the shop floor wide open (then again, what do you have to hide?), although where issues of personal privacy, material disclosure or other areas of legality come into play, clear lines have to be drawn.

Rather, it means embracing the notion that much of what you say and do (as an organization) – and more importantly, much of what your employees say and do (as representatives of that organization) - will be publicly scrutinized, and potentially challenged. Not only do we need to accept this reality, we need to re-think the practice of PR accordingly, and consider how we bridge the divide between what our customers are saying and what we’re saying, and ensuring that the relationships we foster are built on open, authentic dialog (not just from the perspective of the communications department, but from the organization overall). Because who are you going to trust otherwise?

Telling stories that are in the best interest of our clients is fine - but is it enough? And is the PR department the appropriate distiller of those messages such that they ring true to our constituents? Vonnegut wrote in “Breakfast of Champions: “The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become.” And that, to me, is what our business should be about.

Putting words into action – JetBlue’s Customer Bill of Rights faces its first test

posted by Brendan Hodgson

After storms resulted in the cancellation of 68 flights over the weekend, JetBlue now faces the first major test of its recently-launched, and much-touted Customer Bill of Rights.

YouTube videos by the CEO and ’enshrined’ commitments aside, and despite all the widespread backslapping across the industry – as much for the company’s use of 2.0 technology to communicate its apology as for its approach to managing the crisis – the proof will now be in the pudding as the company seeks to respond to the hundreds of passengers affected by this latest dose of Mother Nature’s wrath.

One hopes that JetBlue, in setting out its commitments, considered the potential of a repeat scenario happening within such close proximity to the first. Because unless you can respond adequately to those who challenge you to “prove” yourself able and willing to match your messages with substance, the damage to your reputation will likely be worse than having said nothing at all.

Willy Waller… a reflection of two solitudes?

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Together but separate, alone but together… a quirky condition for sure, and a Canadian cultural connundrum that continues to be debated even today. It is also one which make national communications campaigns in this country so interesting.

Case in point, Têtes à claques, arguably some of the funniest and most creative videos on the web today. Online since August 2006, and viciously viral,  Têtes à claques has taken Quebec, and presumably much of the french-speaking world, by storm. Quite simply, in my house and in the houses of francophone friends and relations (be they in Ontario or Quebec), and even among colleagues and clients who operate in Quebec, references to the more popular videos are everywhere… c’est pas beautiful?

By itself, the video for the Willy Waller 2006, a parody on late-night infomercials, has been viewed more than 6.5 million times. You don’t even have to understand french to find it hilarious (although I tend to have to rely on the translation support of my wife and friends). They have become so popular, kids have literally memorized entire clips.

And yet, strangely (or not), one hears nothing about this phenomenon elsewhere in Canada. Whether this is good or bad is debatable, and perhaps even irrelevant. However, in my mind, this only reinforces the notion that no matter how connected we become technologically, we must continue to respect local customs and values if our communications are truly to be successful.

The Pursuit of Perfection in PR: Lessons from Toyota

posted by Brendan Hodgson

“The pursuit of perfection is not focused on achieving perfection, it’s focused on chasing it. Perfection is unachievable… it’ll never happen. Unless you’re Buddha I guess.”

From Andy Lark via Guy Kawasaki comes this remarkable document: Elegant Solutions – Breakthrough Thinking the Toyota Way, by Matthew E. May.

Chockablock with thoughts and ideas that are relevant to just about any industry, my attention was initially side-swiped by this particular gem around perfection, and the pursuit of it. I’ve read a lot of PR plans – client-side and agency – in my 10 years of doing this stuff. And one thing I’ve discovered is that we sometimes try too hard to be ‘perfect’…

We write ‘perfect’ plans. You know, the ones that rarely take into account all the possible issues that could potentially derail it. We write ‘perfect’ messages that stroke our clients’ egos, yet fail to reflect the real needs and perceptions of their target audiences. We devise ‘perfect’ tactics that we know will work because they don’t deviate from the tried and true. We apply metrics that perfectly quantify the hits, visits, impressions, bums-in-seats, and AVE’s, yet fail to reflect whether that program actually resulted in any tangible behaviour or perception change. And we craft ‘perfect’ objectives that go to the heart of our clients’ businesses, but which are ultimately impossible to achieve. 

A while back, Caterina posted an inspired quote from Alan Watts:

To Taoism that which is absolutely still or absolutely perfect is absolutely dead, for without the possibility of growth and change there can be no Tao. In reality there is nothing in the universe which is completely perfect or completely still; it is only in the minds of men that such concepts exist.

Perhaps it’s time to challenge our clients’ thinking about what constitutes the ”perfect” PR campaign: to understand that no plan is perfectly linear, that course corrections are a fact of life, and that getting from A to B is never a straight-line effort.