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I occasionally let it slip to people that a set of images comes to mind when I think of the various social networks. I find these mental visuals helpful when I’m trying to decide how to best position a message, post, or strategy to fit each network.
My esteemed colleague Leslie thought my (possibly overactive) imagination might offer some insights into one of the ways we strategize for each network.
Rant Redux: 10 Reasons Why NBC Should Lose Its Olympic Broadcast Rights; Or “How I Learned To Hate The Coolest Sporting Event In The World” July 27, 2012Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Broadcast/Internet.
Tags: 2012 Olympics, American Olympic coverage, delayed broadcasts, live coverage, London, London Olympics, NBC, NBC coverage, Olympics, United States Olympic
As I’m writing this, it’s 11:30 at night in San Francisco, where only now, during the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremonies, the broadcast of the Parade of Nations is ending. This will go on at least until midnight, forcing my 11-year-old and me to stay up very late to watch the torch being lit in London. But for the Olympics? Of course we do it.
Only… it didn’t have to be this way. The Opening Ceremonies in London actually began nearly 11 hours ago. Presumably, the rest of the world watched live. But here in the United States? NBC, the broadcaster with the exclusive rights to carry Olympic coverage in the United States, was broadcasting “We the People with Gloria Allred,” “The People’s Court” and other such daytime television gems. Here on the Pacific Coast, we are among the last people in the world to be allowed to see it happen.
Once again, Americans are being prevented from watching live coverage of the Olympics. NBC, the FCC and the IOC have conspired to plug any Internet hole that would allow us to circumvent their barriers. Instead, tonight we were given blandly executed “interview packages” interspersed among the ceremony coverage, which was then crammed with commercial interruptions. Unable to join the rest of the world in real-time participation this afternoon, we turned to Twitter, where NBC was live tweeting the ceremony that it refused to broadcast live. Now? No surprises left.
Adding insult to injury, although NBC has had nine hours before we on the West Coast were allowed to watch it, apparently little helpful editing happened. Despite NBC’s insistence that the ceremonies “required context,” for American viewers before they could see them, mostly all I could see was the editing out of chunks of the ceremony while the network indulged in commercial breaks and filler. We missed four or five countries at a time in the Parade of Nations, for example — not exactly helping Americans with their notorious lack of grasp of world knowledge. Since we’re on tape delay, couldn’t we have seen all the countries walking? Yeah… that would be “no.”
And all the while we have endured inane chatter by NBC color commentators Meredith Vieira, Bob Costas and Matt Lauer, who went around blithely mispronouncing names of people and places, failing to understand who some people were, and making helpful “contextual” observations like ‘Djibouti’s name makes me smile‘ and that Rwanda has bounced back nicely from its genocidal “troubled past.”
Two-and-a-half years ago, I bemoaned NBC’s handling of the Vancouver Olympics. Despite the fact that we share a time zone with British Columbia, we saw nothing — yes, nothing! — from those Games live. I’m not yet sure if we’ll get live coverage this time around either.
Why? Why is it that NBC, the official (i.e. only) broadcaster of the Olympics in the United States, pretends the Olympics aren’t happening until prime time? It’s only Day One, and I’m already disappointed.
Just for fun, check out my post from 2010 about the Vancouver Olympics. It struck a nerve then; I received many thousands of hits, and hundreds of comments. Obviously I wasn’t the only American feeling this way, and I heard from many Canadians and Britons feeling sorry for us (and a bit superior, as well they may). Let’s see if NBC still holds its audience in such contempt this time around.
And meantime, as it nears midnight, the delayed broadcast continues in full force. If we had watched live, we could have seen the torch being lit at a reasonable 5 pm.
Tell me your thoughts! Does anyone else find this ridiculous?!
UPDATE: Saturday morning, after I wrote this post, I discovered I had missed something big. NBC edited out a performance during the Opening Ceremonies that has been interpreted by many people as a tribute to victims of the terrorist attacks that rocked London in 2005. In its place, we got to watch an insipid, non-revelatory taped interview between Ryan Seacrest and Michael Phelps.
James Poniewozik of Time magazine noted, “…A tribute to the missing seems like precisely the most sensitive section of a ceremony to edit out. And besides that, given the stranglehold NBC maintains on content for an event its audience has a massive interest in, why edit anything out? It may have been a long ceremony, as they always are, but there was plenty of time to air (the tribute)…” Which means that NBC’s contextual interpretation was that Americans don’t and shouldn’t care about a terrorist event because it didn’t involve Americans. Well isn’t that nice…
If you’d like to see it, you can view it here instead because Lord knows, NBC will never show it to you.
I guess we should be grateful that they’re showing ANY live coverage at all during the day this time around… even if you have to get most of it on your computer — provided that you’re a cable or satellite television customer. But NBC is proving all over again that its commitment to the American people is less important than… oh, pretty much anything else.
A word about press releases December 12, 2011Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
Tags: media, PR, press release, public relations, public relations strategy
Although it’s a common misconception, PR does not stand for “press release.”
I say that a bit tongue-in-cheek, but as PR professionals know, there is a significant number of people who question the value of hiring an agency (or in-house PR practitioner) because “I can write a press release myself.” I can almost hear the PR people out there nodding their heads in agreement.
PR is, in fact, public relations — a component of which is media relations, but it’s not by any means synonymous. If an activity has anything to do with actively relating with your audience, the public, investors, customers or anyone else: It’s PR. Customer service? Part of it is definitely PR. Social media? PR. Working with analysts? PR. I could go on.
But for the purpose of this article, let’s actually go there and talk about press releases… because even those who know a bit more about marketing and PR — enough to be dangerous, one could say — often believe that all news should be heralded by press release. And these same people will be disappointed when each release is not met with widespread coverage and a splashy above-the-fold article in the WSJ.
This is what I tell my clients: Press releases, while a perfectly useful PR tactic, are not always the best way to disseminate news. They don’t guarantee coverage and are not the perfect tool for every situation.
The absolute best public relations strategy is to determine the most effective strategy to reach people. Right? Most often, this means integrated campaigns as part of an ongoing communications process that includes social media, blogs, email, speaking engagements, webinars and podcasts, websites, conference activity, whitepaper placement, personal outreach and pitching to media, bylined articles — and yes, occasional press releases.
I use several criteria when considering issuing a press release to the media:
- How newsworthy do we believe this announcement is? Do we believe it stands a fighting chance of being the one release — out of the hundred a journalist or analyst will receive any given day — of being spared the recycling bin?
- What other announcements have we recently made or are planning to do in the near future? Less is more; releasing too-frequent announcements over a short period can detract from our PR program’s overall impact, even erode credibility.
- Is a release appropriate for the kind of announcement we are making? What are we trying to accomplish with a release that can’t be accomplished another way?
- Do the journalists/bloggers/analysts we are targeting for this story respond to press releases? There are also cultural norms that pertain to PR that vary around the world that we must take into account when releasing different news stories.
- Is a media pickup critical for this kind of news? Can we reach our audience more directly and more effectively another way?
The bottom line is that each organization has its share of important and exciting developments to announce, and each deserves its own considered plan based on available resources. Each announcement you make should be optimized for maximum reach. And if that plan includes a release, then great. But don’t feel too bad if your latest piece of news doesn’t make it into a release. It only means that there are better ways to get it out to the public.
It is, after all, called public relations!
The great enemy of clear language… (or, why your PR should use narrative and lose the technobabble) December 5, 2011Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
Tags: PR, public relations
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Today I came across a release on the wire. Here’s its lede:
“The new AXM-75 is a multi-function I/O extension module that adds A/D, D/A, and digital I/O signal processing functions to a FPGA processor board. Acromag’s extension I/O modules plug directly onto their PMC and XMC reconfigurable FPGA cards equipped with an AXM mezzanine connector…”
Here in the Bay Area with its preponderance of tech companies, I see releases such as this frequently enough: They’re ostensibly written in English but not really in what we might call language. The argument organizations use when they put out such news is that their core audiences will know what this technobabble means. But they forget that if they’re sending out over the wire they’re hoping it will get picked up by journalists and bloggers — not engineers. Journalists, whatever their medium, are looking for a story to tell so they can engage their readers. Has this release, and others like it, helped them do it? Will it speak to them? Did it speak to you?
Even tech PR can be written in plain, understandable English. Better, it can tell you right away what the takeaway is; what the news means to customers and the industry. And best, it can be told in a way that helps people understand the ideas and value that often get hidden behind the jargon. Think about it: If your product or service underscores your company’s creativity or problem solving abilities, wouldn’t you put your news into that context, making it engaging, likable and actionable?
In PR — whether it’s press releases, web copy, social media posts or video — whoever tells it best can cut through the clutter of people’s lives and really reach them. This doesn’t mean manipulation, or hard sell, or making things up. It means knowing what your value is and being able to convey it in a manner that people (and not only engineers) will be receptive to. And this means narratives, told in accessible language, accompanied by or made up with relevant and interesting images.
This is common sense, but there’s a deeper reason for it.
“The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action while reason leads to conclusions.” — Donald Calne, neurologist
As much as we’d like to think that we make decisions rationally and logically, it’s really our unconscious mind that drives most purchase decisions, and our unconscious responds to — and remembers — narratives. Those of us also in advertising pretty much know this already, but PR has been slower to adopt this attitude.
In the end it’s easy and even mindless to put out a release that mirrors exactly what your engineers think you should say. But we as PR professionals need to generate content that puts news into context and encourages emotion that allows our audiences to relate to our company, product or service. But: Only if you really want to reach humans!
Tweetjams: Tactical suggestions for this high-impact marketing tool November 10, 2011Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
Tags: tweet, Tweetjam, Twitter, Twitter chat, Twitter event, Twitter marketing
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Want to increase your number of engaged Twitter followers? Boost your website’s SEO? Increase awareness, brand esteem and perceived value for what you do? Extend the reach of your thought leadership? Promote your products/services and increase sales conversions? Showcase your brand enthusiasts and reach key influencers?… All for a few hours a month, and largely for free?
A secret weapon of marketers, Tweetjams (or Twitter chats) do all this and more — when done effectively.
A Tweetjam is generally defined as a fast-paced conversation held on Twitter around a general theme. A format that has been gaining traction quickly, these live events are a way to showcase your organization while furthering discussions already happening in your industry.
Although there are many ways to conduct a Twitter event — from the completely unstructured, “everyone-and anyone talks about anything they like” approach, to the highly structured panelists-only approach — for business effectiveness I recommend a middle ground, in which a handful of core panelists are invited to discuss a predetermined subject for an hour, while allowing commentary and questions from the Twitterverse. This approach enables full audience engagement, while making sure that there is a small group of industry experts to lend expertise and thought-leadership to the discussion. A moderator kicks off the discussion, keeps it moving, wraps it up and monitors for any irrelevant/disrespectful chatter.
When marketed well, planned with care and conducted regularly, Tweetjams can become a highly successful marketing program all their own. And ideally, you would be planning them two at a time so that you can promote the next event during the course of the ongoing event.
But what are some other considerations? How do you plan one effectively? Here are some tactical recommendations to help your Tweetjam program take off:
One month before your first event:
- Come up with a short yet descriptive hashtag. This will be your de facto event name and used each time you host a Tweetjam, so be sure it works for you from a branding standpoint. Use of this hashtag will allow anyone in the Twitterverse to follow the discussion and participate if they wish. And remember to keep it short! If everyone has to add #yourreallylonghashtag to the end of each tweet, your 140-character real estate will quickly be eaten up.
- Designate a moderator. Often, someone in marketing communications is the best choice. Decide whether your moderator will use his/her own Twitter handle, the organization’s handle, or a new handle created just for this use.
- Choose a topic, along with a set of 5-10 questions to periodically ask your panelists to keep the discussion moving. Make sure that it’s a subject that provides value to participants, panelists and the passive audience, either by being thought-provoking, or by providing them with information or perspectives they did not formerly have.
- Consult one of the several Tweetjam calendars on the web and open to the public to find the best time/date for your event. Perusing these calendars will also help you determine if the subject you have chosen is already being done elsewhere. Here’s a handy one to consult.
- Draw up a mission and guidelines statement specific to your event. This will be useful in spelling out value statements, firming up goals for the program, and listing expectations. It should also spell out panelist responsibilities, how you’ll moderate comments, and how you’ll any damage control issues that may arise.
- Create materials: To give to panelists, to use for your website, etc.
- Determine the appropriate technologies for conducting the chat. There are several free Twitter chat resources designed for just this purpose, Twebevent, Tweetchat and Tweet grid being just a few. Some of these enable participants’ tweets to be automatically tagged with the event hashtag, and make it easier for everyone closely involved to track the discussion. You’ll also need a conference call tool to use during the event to keep communications lines open between the moderator, panelists and any marketing teams. FreeConferenceCall.com is a good resource if you don’t already use one.
Three weeks before your event:
- Extend invitations to 3-5 panelists — these are your experts, who will lend gravitas to the event and keep the discussion moving. They don’t all need to represent your company; often it will help your cause to bring in experts who will lend outside credibility to your discussion (and, therefore, to you).
- Send panelists background information on how to participate in your Tweetjam: What it is, what they can expect, how it will work. Ask their help in promoting your event with their own Twitter followers. Send them the list of questions so they may begin formulating 140-character answers ahead of time (don’t worry: with plenty of public participation, this will just move the discussion along; it won’t come off as canned).
- Confirm your panelists’ bios, headshots titles and twitter handles
- Enlist marketing departments from panelists’ organizations to help promote the event, where applicable. Don’t forget to liberally tout and showcase the expertise of your panel. This is an excellent cross-promotional opportunity; take advantage of it!
- Hold a prep call with panelists to go over questions, rules of engagement, logistics, expected questions so they can prepare.
- Publish a blog post promoting the upcoming Tweetjam, along with promotions on social media, email marketing, and other blogs and message boards. Alert your staff and your panelists’ marketing departments to the blog so they can begin promoting it as well.
- Begin promoting the event daily on Twitter, including the event hashtag and the blog post.
- Begin writing moderator tweets in preparation for the event.
- Open up a conference call during the chat so that panelists, the moderator and the marketing teams can collaborate in real time during the Tweetjam.
- Moderator sets up the chat, kicks it off and keeps it moving, and closes it after an hour. Don’t forget to announce when and where results will be made available, and when next Tweetjam is scheduled (and what the topic will be).
- Thank panelists by phone or email, and definitely on Twitter, and provide them and their organizations with the raw transcript of the tweet capture.
- Within one day, publish a blog that recaps the event outcome and provides excerpts of the chat, and announces the next chat; promote the link to the blog.
Using QR codes to move down the sales funnel November 8, 2011Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
Tags: marketing, purchase behavior, purchase cycle, QR code
QR codes: You’ve no doubt seen these on transit advertising and magazine ads — even on your fruit from the grocery store. They’re all the rage in marketing circles at the moment. But that isn’t to say that they’re a passing fad. The idea they represent is here to stay.
Originally called Quick Response codes, they’re a type of matrix bar code that was developed for the automotive industry back in the ’90s. But now, marketers have discovered that they’re handy for giving traditionally one-way or static mediums — like billboards or product packaging — an opportunity to become interactive and engaging with the widespread use of smartphone apps like QR Reader for iPhone.
Sure, QR codes are shiny and new. But there’s a real opportunity to use these to create more touch-points and give people the single piece of information that they at that stage will use to move them further into the sales funnel. But used incorrectly, they’ll just lead to burnout. It’s not about slapping a sticker with a QR code on every piece of collateral or signage you have and expecting success; it’s where the code leads the person, what that webpage says or does, and how it helps engage them or move them toward taking action. They need to be actionable, contextual and relevant to where the consumer is at that moment in the purchase cycle.
A great example of this was when I was at a Halloween store a few weeks ago. My kids were looking at a mask that, when released from its packaging and worn, would become animated some way. But it wouldn’t work in the store, in its packaging. So what did the mask’s marketers do? They included a QR code on the packaging. When we scanned it, it sent us to a video of the mask in action. Scary! But excellently done. If we had been in the market for such a mask, this would have definitely moved us closer to purchase.
Notice that the QR code didn’t send us to the mask manufacturer’s home page. It didn’t send us to an online store. Neither of these would have moved us down the sales funnel the way sending us to a video demonstration did. The key here is sending your audience to a webpage specifically built for this purpose — without requiring the consumer to write down or remember or copy the URL — or giving them whatever content is most appropriate for where they’re at in the sales cycle.
Now, what if you’re a B2B organization and you’re not selling masks, fruit, or other consumer products? You can still use QR codes in several ways. For instance:
- Include in presentations for people to find more information on a particular subject; this is often more useful than providing a URL
- Flyers and/or schedule printouts, again for more information or for special pricing, promotions, videos, surveys, etc., or to lead to a mobile app
- Name badges
- Event exhibitors can use them when providing more information
- Promotions: Use them for the “around the world” promotions or QR scavenger hunt promotion
- Audience feedback/questions during live events
- Put them on event swag
- Put them on temporary adhesive stickers and affix them to banners and more for instant information
- Again, as long as this is relevant to where people are in the purchase cycle; or, to engage an audience further. Contests and promotions, or ways to supply feedback, are excellent for this use
- For hardcopy publications, print them on the covers or on stickers affixed to the covers. This way, no matter how the recipient gets the publication there is a way to engage them and drive traffic to your website. The great thing about this is, the web page it leads to can always be updated, no matter how things may change with time or circumstance (if there is a new edition, for example, or a related publication subsequently published)
- I scanned a bottle of wine recently, where the label included a QR code. It led to a review by Wine Spectator on that wine. Brilliant! Think of doing the same thing with a publication. Talk about moving someone toward a purchase!
These are just a few of my ideas. What are yours?
When a logo isn’t really a logo November 7, 2011Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
Tags: brand, brand awareness, brand building, brand experience, Logo, marketing, mindshare
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Throughout my career, client organizations have asked for some pretty interesting things. Once I’ve understood the “why” from a business perspective, quite often I’ve been able to make alternative suggestions that make better marketing sense. In other cases, a suggestion that at first blush sounds like a good idea becomes the one that makes no sense after all.
Recently, a client organization expressed a strong desire to begin widespread use a fragment of their logo, with the idea that they wanted it to become like the Nike “swoosh” in their industry. It sounded like a sound request — until I sat down to write a proposal for it. I ended up recommending that they didn’t follow through with their plan. Here’s why.
We all know what a logo is, but how does one actually work?
A logo is a visual mark that represents a company or brand. It allows people to find you, remember you and differentiate you from every other business on the planet. While a logo is not a brand, its design and consistent use will, over time, affect how a brand will be perceived.
There are two kinds of logos:
- Stylized company name logos. These include Google, Sony, FedEx, IBM, BP and Coca Cola, and 99.9 percent of logos used around the world.
- Iconic, nonverbal logos. These have evolved over time — from logos that once included the company name — and which are occasionally used alone only because of the worldwide brand recognition their companies enjoy. Nonverbal logos are the end result of years of brand building and ubiquitous consumer acceptance (even affection). These include Apple’s shiny apple, Microsoft’s multicolored flag, the Shell “shell”, Nike’s swoosh, McDonald’s golden arches, Mercedes-Benz’s three-point star and Chanel’s double “C”.
People need to experience logos many, many times before they “stick”. More importantly, they must be able to associate a consistent set of experiences over a significant period of time with your brand before that logo becomes meaningful to them.
For example, people seeing the green mermaid logo of Starbucks know that, no matter where in the world they are, their drink of choice will consistently taste the same and be served up in a place that feels familiar to them. As a result, they are comfortable parting with their money for the promise of a known consumer experience because Starbuck’s message and reputation have been consistent over a span of years. It all comes down to brand awareness and mindshare — the spaces you occupy in people’s minds when they see your logo. When your logo carries with it the authenticity of a brand experience to a broad audience, then your branding, your logo and indeed your business are a success.
The specific logo we were discussing was the first type of logo: a stylized company name logo. We had recently put it through a facelift, which had streamlined and polished it and made it more versatile in a variety of situations. It was easily recognizable, well designed and simple, and presented a constant visual style. It was a good logo.
This logo included the mentioned-above stylistic element that the organization wanted to stand on its own. But as I put some thought into it, I knew the logo itself had some challenges to overcome before we could even address using this element on its own.
It goes without saying that most brands do not enjoy the same kind of reflexive worldwide recognition the international brands mentioned above do. Further, having recently undergone a rebranding and its first-ever messaging exercise, this organization’s brand experience was not yet consistent or well established to a broad consumer base, and therefore its logo lacked intellectual and emotional meaning to most people who may have seen it. To those closest to the organization, of course, the connection did exist, and its newly consistent and compelling message was now being transmitted to thousands of people on a regular basis. Our challenge was now to solidify our brand building, manage it closely and extend its reach.
It was also the case that partners and third parties continue to misuse the logo and messaging despite legal efforts to defend them. As long as this continued to be a widespread challenge, the organization’s brand experience would continue to be inconsistent to the general public.
The bottom line was that the logo, and its connection to its brand attributes, were not yet firmly established and meaningful to most people. It was certainly on the right path. But it needed need more years of planning, maintenance and grooming.
What did this mean for the stylistic partial image that the organization wanted to promote? Well in addition to the work that needed to be put into growing the brand itself, this stylistic image was neither type of logo mentioned above. In fact, it was not actually a logo at all, but rather a fragment of one. And because of this, using it as a standalone symbol of the organization’s brand faced several challenges.
- Most importantly, the organization already had a logo
- If the actual logo was still striving to convey consistent brand attributes even to those closest to the organization, using a fragment of it to promote the organization would only have served to decontextualize and dilute the original logo and the brand it represented
- Introducing an alternate, fragmentary logo would have given short shrift to the lengthy process of establishing brand equity with a broad audience for the main logo
- When used among those who are most familiar with the organization, the stylistic element might — very occasionally — be used as shorthand for the full logo. But the danger of using it with regularity “out in the world” was that without explanation or context, it didn’t stand on its own. People will not spend precious minutes or even seconds dwelling on what it represents or investigating a mysterious logo fragment
- Adding another trademark element to the mix would have encouraged third parties to use it and possibly misuse it as well
- Usage of the stylistic partial image represented the organization’s logo; and the logo represented the brand of organization. It’s too convoluted for most consumers to reflexively translate when we’re striving for their instant recognition
Because of these reasons and more, there was no precedence I could find where an organization has successfully used a fragment of its logo that wasn’t either fully self-explanatory by itself, or representative of a global brand already known to millions.
Obviously, we all aspired to building the organization’s brand to a point where its standalone logo was instantly identifiable to all who saw it, and where the logo and the brand it represented were fully connected and clear in consumers’ minds. Until that time, however, my proposal was to use the stylistic fragment only in the following situations:
- Upon “second reference” in documents or other collateral when the organization’s logo had already been used
- As a shorthand in social media avatars, when it could be safely assumed that the organization’s followers knew who they were following
- Stylistically, in some design purposes, when the organization full logo, name and URL are also used
- At in-person events, when people are fully immersed in the organization’s culture, on places where a shorthand makes sense: i.e., napkins, pencils, etc.
By using the stylistic partial image sparingly in cases where it was paired with the full logo, or in contained environments among known brand enthusiasts, its use could be protected and used effectively to reinforce the organization’s logo and brand — not the other way around.
What do you think? What would you have recommended?