Archive for the ‘marketing’ Category

Disclosure shouldn’t just be for bloggers

Over the last number of years, there’s been a great deal of discussion about disclosure in social media. In fact, the US Federal Trade Commission has had disclosure guidelines since 2000, and revised them just last year. Unfortunately, Canada hasn’t provided people working in social media with such guidelines. The federal organization responsible is the Competition Bureau, and there’s nothing directly addressing this issue yet. The Privacy Commissioner and Industry Canada also have fingers in the disclosure pie, but at this point, anyone in Canada could write about anything for pay and never tell you a thing.

Lots of bloggers I know do disclose, and many quite clearly. For example, Amy Boughner often has blog posts with disclosures like: “Disclosure: I received the OgoSport Ballooza pack from PlaSmart for this review. All opinions are my own.” 

 This is a model to be emulated by people working in social media and receiving products or services or other forms of compensation in exchange for content. I’m far from the only person to be talking and thinking about this. Stephanie Fusco was writing about it in 2012. (and finding great images to illustrate the concept). And it’s a shame that 14 years after the FTC published its guidelines, Canada and the OECD are not there yet. It’s a gaping hole that needs to be filled in.

But two things I ran across by chance recently reminded me that disclosure is important no matter whether you’re a blogger getting a free set of headphones or an organization carrying out an advocacy campaign.

The first was a book excerpt in Maclean’s magazine titled “An outlaw’s vision for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.” The excerpt from an upcoming book on the museum by renowned non-fiction author Peter C. Newman and his longtime collaborator Allan Levine profiles the museum’s architect, Antoine Predock, by all accounts quite a character and a much-celebrated architect.

Because I’m a geek, I noted that the book was to be published by a company I hadn’t heard of before — Figure 1 Publishing. So I googled ‘em. Nice site, principal employees with serious publishing chops. But … a 2013 Vancouver Sun article profiling the company after its founding says:

“Figure 1 is operating under a different business model than a traditional publisher. Authors or organizations will pay the costs of production themselves and Figure 1 Publishing will look after editing, design, distribution, sales and marketing of the books they publish. Sales revenues will go to both Figure 1 and the author or organization, Nadeau said, adding the model is a hybrid between trade publishing and vanity publishing.”

So… who paid for the book? Who paid the authors? The printers?

I don’t know, because despite contacting Figure 1 several days ago, I haven’t yet received a response.

Also today I got pointed to an Upworthy video titled “No One Applauds This Woman Because They’re Too Creeped Out At Themselves To Put Their Hands Together.” The video is titled “The Secrets of Food Marketing,” and it’s a TED-style talk delivered by marketing consultant Kate Cooper. Well, actually that should be “Kate Cooper.” Because it’s actually actor Kate Miles playing a woman named Kate Cooper. And there’s no such thing as the TED-style “E-talks.” Well, there are several things called etalks, but this talk isn’t part of any series.

The following text appears if you scroll down below the video: “Original video by Catsnake Film. Full disclosure: The speaker in this video is actually an actress named Kate Miles, but the facts about produce and its marketing are 100% real. The audience is also real, and thus the looks of disgust are totally real too.” And then if you go to the Catsnake Film website, it explains further that the video was made on behalf of an organization called Compassion in World Farming.

I contacted both the film company and Compassion in World Farming to talk about the video. Catsnake Film wouldn’t comment unless I allowed them to vet this blog post. I don’t do that, so I have no comment from them. I sent questions to Compassion in World Farming by email on August 12, but haven’t heard from them yet.

There really aren’t any social-media equivalents to the communications professional associations like IABC or PRSA, which both identify a lack of disclosure as unethical in their codes of ethics. And it’s surprising to me that there is no mention of ethics at all on the website of the Association of Canadian Publishers.

In the unlikely event that anybody will offer me some sort of goodies, I’ll be sure to disclose it here. I don’t believe in not disclosing those things, and I want to know what might be influencing the way a piece of content — whether text, video, or whatever — was created.

And whether it’s a book, a blog, or a viral video, we all deserve to know just who was paying the piper.

Disclosure: A particular thanks to the folks at CIPPIC, an Ottawa organization that does superb work on Internet policy and advocacy, for their help in researching this post. 

I’m not your best friend. I’m a prospect. UPDATED

Like everyone else, I get inundated with marketing outreach all the time. Ads before YouTube videos. Newspapers. TV. Radio. Website banner ads. And on and on. And the phone. Which brings me to this.

Got this yesterday, on our landline. (Yes, we have a landline, we’re dinosaurs, ha ha ha) A little context: We leased a Hyundai. In 2002. At the end of the lease, we returned it, and since that time, to my knowledge, we’ve got a flyer about once a year from the dealership. We haven’t had any interaction for eight years. And then we get this voicemail. I eagerly await this mysterious letter.

“Oooh, you’re getting this special offer, it’s not going out to just any customers of ours, you’re very special and important.” Really? Someone who hasn’t had a moment of interaction in eight years is in some way deserving of a special offer from you? What does the customer who’s been loyal to you for multiple purchases get?

I know I’m a prospect. You know I’m a prospect. That’s why I’m in your CRM system. Why pretend that I’m any more than that? Be honest about your intentions, and I’ll likely be honest about mine.

UPDATE, August 11:

I got the letter from the car dealership. Here’s the envelope:

The more astute of you may notice it’s addressed to “Campbell LeDrew.” That’s my middle name. Which I never use. The letter suggests that I exchange my 2002 Hyundai Elantra on the purchase or lease of a new car. There’s a problem, though. I gave them back that car in 2006 when the lease ended. Haven’t seen it since. You’d think they’d know that, wouldn’t you?

So perhaps I can summarize their pitch this way:

Hey, person whose name we don’t know? Would you like to trade in the car you returned to us eight years ago on another car? We wouldn’t ask, except you’re a really special person to us and we care. 

Doing your own advertising? Some tips

There’s a pattern that computers and technology have made apparent over and over.

  • Pre-computers: music was recorded in expensive studios, controlled and distributed by labels. Post-computers: Computers come pre-loaded with free music recording software, and some of the music has gone on to great success.
  • Pre-computers: books were bought by publishing companies, printed on giant presses, distributed to bookstores. Post-computers: anyone (like my friend Sue, for example) can write an e-book (Produce: The Art of Creating Digital Content Using Professional Production Techniques)and take charge of distribution.
  • Pre-computers: making video required hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment and highly-professional staff. A few television networks distributed programs and sold advertising. If you didn’t make it on those networks, you didn’t make it on TV. Post-computers: People with consumer-grade technology make videos and upload them to Youtube and other sites, making money from advertising and sometimes getting millions of hits.

Another example of this pattern is advertising. When your media choices were (more or less) daily newspapers, radio, and television, most businesses didn’t do their own advertising. That was done by agencies, or by the media outlet. And it was expensive!

Then, pay-per-click came along. Google AdWords, Facebook, etc. etc. Suddenly anyone could advertise, even with just a few dollars a day to spend. Which is great! Except… sometimes it isn’t.

I saw a sponsored post in my Facebook feed earlier this week. Somebody did something right, because it was for a new microbrewery in my hometown. Except … the ad copy said “opening Spring 2014.”  Problem #1: the brewery  was already open. Problem #2: It was July.

I don’t want to call out the business in question — they’re a small startup, and there’s no doubt they have a million things that they’re trying to do. What happened isn’t a capital crime. But it did point out something that I think happens quite a bit with small businesses and new businesses — their online advertising just gets a little bit out of control.

So I thought I’d give you a quick checklist for your online advertising.

  1. Just because you’re not spending thousands of dollars (unless you are!) doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be serious about it.
  2. It’s not like traditional media — you don’t want ot run one ad or a couple into the ground. Have multiple ads running.
  3. Response on online advertising drops off like a rock off a cliff. That’s part of the reason to have multiple ads running at any one time, and also a reason to have an inventory of ads that you can swap in and out.
  4. If you use a calendar, or a whiteboard, or whatever to keep a schedule, use it to note when your ads should be staritng and stopping. Also use whatever scheduling options you have in the advertising platform to “set and forget” ads, but have a backup.
  5. Most online advertising gives you a limited amount of wording to play with, and an image. Work hard on those words and images, because they’re your only chance at getting people’s attention. Because you can create many ads, you can play with images and copy.
  6. Regularly review the performance of your ads. Be strategic — and by that I mean ensure that your ads are pushing the viewer to some ACTION.

If you’re doing online ads and want to do a little more education, I’m happy to help as much as I can — although I am not an online advertising expert. If you want to go deeper into this, there’s a ton of great resources out there. For example, e-commerce company Shopify (an Ottawa success story, yay us!) has this great guide up on line.

And Brian Carter has two great books out that can help anyone use online advertising to their advantage:

The Like Economy,

and Facebook Marketing:


If you get through all that, you’d likely know more about this stuff than I would!

(Photo credit: cc-licenced image by Flickr user Marcin Wichary)

When leaders sell their profession short

I was shocked today to get pointed to a post on the Hootsuite blog by friend Kami Huyse. The post “What is the most sought-after selfie?” looked at recent famous selfies. What galled me was this paragraph:

2014 was the year of the first billion-dollar selfie. During the 2014 Oscars, Ellen DeGeneres snapped a group selfie, rumored to be sponsored by Samsung, with the likes of Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Bradley Cooper, Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep. She then uploaded the photo to her Twitter account and ended up getting millions of retweets from people around the globe. Maurice Levy, CEO of advertising firm Publicis, said that the Oscar selfie was worth between $800 million to $1 billion to its client Samsung.

I immediately shared some inappropriate words, then I left a comment on the post. But apparently I still have more to say.

Lévy is the CEO of a gigantic conglomerate of agencies lumped together as Publicis Groupe, and he was doing a talk at the MIPTV summit in April, just after the Academy Awards. Here’s the crucial quote:

The quote: “The earned media —  all the buzz which had been done around the Oscars — represents roughly a value between $800 million and a billion US dollars, because it has been mentioned all around the world, and the Samsung phone has been either mentioned or seen.”

M. Lévy has, no doubt, achieved great things. His group of companies generated $2.3 billion in revenue (US dollars) in the first quarter of 2014. Compared to me, he’s a top predator, and I’m an amoeba. So I am shocked to see a man of his stature, in his position, use a metric that has been so thoroughly discredited — Advertising Value Equivalency, or AVE.

AVEs have been around for a long time. And despite the efforts of many professional groups and individuals, they remain. Why are they problematic? I can’t state the reasons much better than this 2003 paper from the Institute for Pubic Relations. I’ll turn the paper’s objections into bullet points for brevity:

  • There’s no factual basis for assuming that an “editorial” mention is equivalent to an advertisement
  • The credibility of media varies from one topic and one outlet to the other. So using one “multiplier” is impossible
  • AVEs only measure what APPEARS, while PR folk often work to minimize coverage or not see something appear at all. This is not measurable by AVE
  • Advertisements depend on repetitive mentions to build awareness. “Earned media” cannot do the same
  • Not everything is relatable to advertising. If there are no ads on the front page of a magazine, what’s the value of a cover mention?
  • If a story tangentially mentions a brand or an organization, does the equivalency relate to the entire story or the portion of the story mentioning the specific brand?

In 2010, a coalition of leading communication organizations agreed upon what came to be known as the “Barcelona Principles.” Principle number five of the seven principles states: “AVEs are not the value of public relations.” Yet, according to PR News earlier this spring, the principles are not being adopted as quickly as might have been expected. Or hoped. And when you have people in the position of Maurice Lévy using these discredited and disavowed numbers, while it remains disappointing, it becomes less surprising.

The lesson for us here? I could simply and flippantly say “Don’t follow leaders.”  But there’s a slightly deeper lesson here. Even if you’re working with a “top agency”, even if you’re hiring “the best” — you owe it to yourself and your business to be ready to call BS on what they tell you. Don’t simply assume they know best, that their advice should be taken. If you can’t understand the strategy, or the method of evaluation; if you can’t relate the tactics to your business goals: speak up. Ask for better.

And if you’re a communicator — find a way to help push our industry out of the bad habits that we’ve developed. We can do better. And we know how.

Social media mind, beginner’s mind

This is the kanji for Shoshin, the state of "beginner's mind" discussed in Zen Buddhism.

This is the kanji for Shoshin, the state of “beginner’s mind” discussed in Zen Buddhism.

Because I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years teaching at Algonquin College and at Eliquo Training and Development, and because I’ve done a fair amount of speaking on social media and communications topics, I’ve found myself doing lots of “social media 101″ talks. And I’ve written dozens of posts here under the “how-to” or “SMB101″ categories, which are posts particularly useful for people trying to get started in social media.

Do I find that repetitious or tiring? I suppose that would be possible. But as I’ve been doing this, I’ve become more and more convinced that even though “going deep” is appealing, business as a whole is still at the beginning stages of exploiting social media.

Given that social media has been a “thing” for a number of years, the following stats may surprise you:

These stats, and the feedback I get from students, tell me that while those of us who think about social media all the time are busy talking about some of the minutiae, trying to figure out the latest changes to the Facebook algorithm, and pushing the discipline forward, a large portion of the people who are actually working with customers are still trying madly to figure out if and how to do a blog, start a Facebook page, or get on Twitter. And another large group of businesses have started using some or all of those tools, but are floundering.

While it’s a joy to be on the cutting edge, it’s important to realize there are a lot of people out there running businesses who are just struggling to get by. It’s easy to say “Well, they just need to buckle down and get going,” but it’s nowhere near that easy to DO. Let’s not leave them behind.

 

The PR / journalist firewall is not a bad thing

I have to admit to some shock at the announcement that the just-announced successor to Ted Koppel at ABC News’s Nightline program is Dan Abrams. Why?

Because while Dan Abrams has some significant experience in journalism, he’s most recently been a CEO in the PR and marketing industry. Koppel, by contrast, was a lifelong journalist (and, of course, remains a journalist and commentator).

Many journalists leave that trade to begin working as public relations practitioners. That’s nothing new; there are decades of history pointing to that, including my personal history. It’s much less frequent to see people move from the PR industry back to journalism.

For what it’s worth, I think there are good reasons that PR people should be PR people and journalists should be journalists. When you embark on a media relations initiative, the theory is that media coverage tells the reader / listener / viewer that while there may be a “PR angle” to the story, the “media” have judged it worthy of coverage. Hence the phrase “newsworthy.”

There are many ways in which the wall between editorial decision-making and the advertising / marketing / PR / communications world gets chipped away. When I edited some magazines nearly 25 years ago, I would regularly have the sales manager come to me, saying “You know, it’d be great if you covered something about McBlatherston’s, they just took a full page…” I didn’t do that. And the ongoing tension and conflict was a big reason I left that job.

Publications often create “special advertising sections” that use cheaply produced or free copy that surrounds ads. There are  “infomercials” that try to mimic the look and feel of news reports or programs. There was the VNR, or Video News Release, which caused quite a scandal in the 2000s. And there are publications which simply sell their editorial space. Sometimes it’s completely obvious, as in a full-page article on a business with a facing page ad for the business; other times, it’s much more subtle.

When Abrams left journalism to start PR businesses, his first idea was to have working journalists consult with corporate clients on communications strategy. That didn’t fly, so he moved on to a suite of websites (probably led by Mediaite, a media news blog) and Abrams Research, “a full service digital and social media agency, specializing in the development of web-based digital marketing campaigns, in addition to advising on social media strategy for non-profit, international, financial, political, sports, entertainment and Fortune 500 clients. In a nutshell, we help brands direct their social media efforts to efficiently reach and engage their target audience(s).” Now, he’s back in journalism as the anchor of a TV show with a fearsome reputation for indepth journalism.

ABC has said that Abrams no longer has any responsibility within the companies that bear his name. But he remains an owner of those companies. I don’t like that. This is a game of perceptions. If and when I watch Nightline with Abrams, I don’t want to be asking myself if the guest is or was a client, or whether there were arrangements made with one of his companies regarding the questions to be asked.

I’ve noticed a trend in retail: auto parts stores selling grocery items; pharmacies selling electronics; office supply stores selling food; grocery stores selling DVDs. I want to buy my drugs and antiperspirant at the pharmacy; I want to buy my food at the grocery store. AND I WANT MY JOURNALISTS TO BE JOURNALISTS, NOT PR  PEOPLE.

I think that this sort of thing not only harms journalism, but also reduces the ability of a public relations campaign to actually influence its audience. If there’s no editorial coverage that isn’t bought, if there’s no more trust, why bother doing media relations at all? Just do social media.

Lots of news on group buying services

Groupon’s stock price: a symbol of the inherent problems with the group-buy model?

I’ve written several times about group buying services and the problems they can pose for businesses and for consumers. Here in Ottawa, a Byward Market butcher shop nearly ran itself into the ground after trying to use group deals to dig itself out of business trouble.

Well, I have to revisit the topic based on two news stories that I saw today.

First was news that king of the group-buy services Groupon had missed already cautious revenue and earnings targets. This led to its stock price dropping as low as $3.21, from a giddy IPO price of $20.

And back in Ottawa again, consumers are VERY upset with ambitious group-buy company Your City Deals. Why? They offered a $100 gas card for $49. After nearly 10,000 were sold, they announced they couldn’t fulfil the deal — the SAME DAY they announced a $50-million deal to expand their service.They’re getting lots of negative feedback on Facebook and on Twitter, as you might guess.

So there are a few things to point out here. Number 1: Don’t go on TV when you’re trying to drum up business and support for your fledgling group-buy company and say you’re in the business of supporting small to medium business marketing efforts when you’re offering up gift cards to a national gasoline retailer. What business is that helping?

Number two: What chump threw $50 million into a market segment that seems to be falling apart?

Number three: if you’re a business with $50M in financing, shouldn’t you do something about an office beyond renting a post-office box at a photocopy shop? That’s what CBC found out.

I have no idea whether this fiasco is just one more in a series of roup-buy fiascos, whether the people behind this company are simply in over their heads or whether there’s something more nefarious at play.

But if you didn’t already think that group buys were a really bad idea for businesses and consumers, I don’t know what more evidence you’d need. Or am I wrong? Tell me if I’m off base in the comments.

 

After this release I need a drink

I’m a major lover of whisky. In fact, for part of this weekend, I was rhapsodizing about the interesting whisky selection at a new LCBO store in my neighbourhood to all and sundry.

However, as a PR guy, this news release from giant whisky brand Johnnie Walker put me in need of a drink.

JOHNNIE WALKER® LAUNCHES BOLD NEW ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN

by Pat Roberts

Where Flavour Is King’ showcases products’ credentials rooted in the big, bold flavours of Johnnie Walker whisky

Johnnie Walker, the world’s number one Blended Scotch Whisky, is this week launching a new global advertising campaign. Entitled ‘Where Flavour Is King’, the campaign focuses on the array of rich and intense flavours that are found in each blend of Johnnie Walker whisky.

From its origins in 1820, the Johnnie Walker label has always been committed to its quest to blend whiskies of exceptional flavour, refusing to compromise on quality. This dedicated attitude to finding exotic and exciting tastes takes the product on a special journey of distillation, maturation and blending, to produce the ultimate, unrivalled blend. The flavours, derived solely from the simplest ingredients of barley, water and peat, are mythically transformed through distillation and years of maturation in charred wood casks before being unleashed through the craft of the master blender.” 

You can’t be serious. I don’t give a *@#%@# that you are doing a new advertising campaign.

Make good booze. Tell me about that. This is a far cry from the amazing short film that JW did a few years ago with the wonderful Robert Carlyle:

Now THAT makes me REALLY want a whisky.

Fish where the Socialfish are.

I’ve been more and more interested in smaller organizations lately. Many small businesses and associations are using social media very well. But many others — among them people who I’ve worked with or who I’ve taught social media courses at Algonquin College — find social media to be a perplexing challenge.

Maddie Grant

Maddie Grant, series creator

I think one of the biggest parts of the social media challenge for small businesses and not-for-profits is to create a strategy that allows them to be confident they can meet the demands that social media place on an organization. I think it’s crucial that organizations without giant budgets or staff have a chance to create and maintain an effective social media presence.

You’ll have a chance to learn how to create a content strategy as part of a small organization from… well, me, this August. I will be part of the Summer Think Tank Series presented by SocialFish and CommPartners. This series of webinars is bound to be useful for people working in associations, not-for-profits, or any small organization. Maddie Grant has led the development of this series of webinars, and she has done a pretty impressive job.

Check out this lineup:

Each of the webinars costs $129 US, and the whole series can be purchased for $499 US. And if you drop me an email, I might even have a discount code for you.

It’s a real honour to be in the lineup with these talented communicators who I like and respect. And I’m looking forward to finishing the presentation and doing it online, hopefully with you in attendance.

SMB 101 Post #9: Using free tools for measurement

Ad Budget

Hopefully, you know more about your advertising effectiveness than John Wanamaker did.

One of the classic quotes from the world of business is attributed to John Wanamaker:

 Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.

I’m guessing this is a familiar refrain for many business owners. It’s easy to spend money on advertising, whether it’s in the community paper, the local daily, radio, or online. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a gauge that you could use to measure the effectiveness of that advertising?

But before I give you a few tips, a couple of theoretical points to address. First, it can take multiple exposures to a message before people will act on it — or even notice it. This is called, in the business, “effective frequency.” So don’t think that you can simply run an ad, and based on that one exposure, people will flock to your business.

Second, advertising plays a different role for businesses at different stages of their lives. Al Ries, a renowned brand strategist, characterizes it this way: “PR creates brands; advertising defends brands.” So if you’re a new business, you might be focusing your efforts more on the PR side. If you’re an established, mature business, advertising may be taking a more prominent role.

So once you have a strategy in place and understand the role advertising plays in it… how can you tell if you’re wasting your money? There are some simple things you can do:

  1. Track online. QR (Quick Response) codes are those square barcodes you see on ads, posters, and the like. If you use QR codes in your advertising, you can track how many times those codes are scanned. Even if you don’t use the QR codes, utilities like bit.ly offer similar abilities to track clicks (By the way, bit.ly will generate QR codes that you can use too). And plan out what your call to action will be. Don’t just send people to your website — create a specific page to point them to. Then you will know by traffic if your message is getting through.
  2. A/B testing is your friend. This may sound a bit intimidating. But the concept is simple. Don’t just run one ad. Run two, with a variation in imagery, copy, and the like. Then use the tracking tools mentioned in tip 1 to look at which one is performing better. The easiest place to do this is online, using platforms like Facebook Adverts or Google Adwords, but you can do similar things with other forms of media, like print or direct mail. And it’s particularly important to do this when using Facebook ads, which according to online marketing smart guy Brian Carter, “burn out” far more quickly than other forms of advertising.
  3. USE YOUR KNOWLEDGE. All of this stuff is only cool if you use it. Tracking the impact of your ads, measuring A/B results — you need to dedicate the time necessary to understand what the numbers are telling you.
If you are out of your depth on this, think about hiring someone to help build or run a monitoring system for you. But it is possible to do this on your own. Every step you take along this path is an improvement over doing nothing.
(This is post number nine in an ongoing series of posts aimed at providing practical advice for small businesspeople in the areas of public relations, communications and social media. If you ever need help with your small business… why not get in touch?)