Archive for November, 2007

New PR Paradigm

November 27, 2007

Here’s the second installment from our CEO Emeritus, Charlie Weaver… from his recently-finished article that explores customer-created brands and the new battle for mindshare.

 

For some, public relations has become the new magic bullet. In their book, The Fall of Advertising & The Rise of PR, marketing strategists Al Reis and Laura Reis make a strong case for Public Relations as the lead marketing tool for those attuned to the new branding and communications realities.

The authors argue that traditional advertising has lost its communications function and, by extension, it’s role in development of mindshare. The primary purpose of advertising, they assert, is to defend a brand once it has been built by public relations and related third-party tactics.

It’s tough to argue with success. Many of the world’s most powerful brands have been built with little or no advertising. Google, Starbucks, eBay and dozens of other category leaders have risen to prominence on the strength of the new public-relations paradigm.

Or have they? While there is solid evidence that positive third-party media coverage played a strong role in propelling these and other brands into the public consciousness, it’s not time to transfer all your eggs into the PR basket just yet.

Pets.com Wimpers and Disappears

Take Pets.com, the ill-fated dot com start-up that set out to revolutionize the way people bought pet food. The venture capitalists ponied up $50 million. The technology gurus built a killer website. And the marketing team breathed life into the Pets.com sock puppet – a hit with consumers and an instant classic in advertising circles.

So what went wrong? Some would argue that this was a prime example of the growing inability of mass media advertising to connect in a meaningful way with its target audience.

It seemed that TV viewers, while entertained, could not be moved by the self-serving messages of an unknown brand. Yet Pets.com and its dot com contemporaries didn’t lack for PR either. Newspapers, consumer magazines and other media outlets overflowed with glowing reports of the dot com revolution and its power to liberate and empower consumers. Pets.com was one of the revolution’s early heroes and the recipient of lavish media coverage.

Trouble is, no one thought to check with the consumer. Brands like Pets.com, HomeGrocer.com, Jobster and TripHub didn’t fail from lack of effective PR, or because traditional advertising no longer worked, but because they didn’t have a viable value proposition and didn’t deliver a brand experience anyone cared about. They disappeared because they couldn’t convert mindshare into paying customers.

Linux Community

Then there’s Linux – the number one brand in the open-source software category and poster child for the PR model of mindshare building. However, the Linux brand wasn’t built by PR, but by a passionate and committed community of users and developers. PR followed mindshare, more than creating it.

Linux software grew out of a project at the University of Helsinki and was placed on the Internet where it was made freely available to programmers who could apply and modify it to suit themselves. It wasn’t owned by anyone. So there was no one to advertise it. And no one to send out PR releases touting it.

The power of The Linux brand, first popularized in the mid to late 1990’s, came from its ability to deliver a high-value functional brand experience consistent with the psycho-social and emotional mindsets of Linux users. They supported and defended the brand, first and foremost, because they passionately believe in it. Champions of the Linux brand were completely self-selecting – they themselves created the compelling experiences that gave the brand power. In the process, the lines between commerce and community virtually disappeared.

It wasn’t until after the Linux brand was embraced by the technology community, that companies like Red Hat and Novell refined it and built businesses providing related support and services. The brand came first, its commercialization second.
The same basic process unfolded with online brands such as social networking site MySpace and video sharing powerhouse YouTube.

Viral YouTube

From its May2005 launch, it took YouTube just six months to achieve national brand status, and under two years to command a $1.6 billion buyout from Google. Advertising had no role in YouTube brand ascendancy. And PR came along only after YouTube had been canonized by its user community and experienced by the millions who flocked online to get in on the fun.

Like Linux and MySpace, the YouTube brand was a viral marketing phenomenon—experience-driven, community-based, and pulled into existence by brand acolytes, rather than pushed by the brand’s originator.

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To read the entire article “The New Mindshare: Rise of the Customer-Created Brand”

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Wired Magazine Embarrasses PR Folk

November 19, 2007

Several weeks ago, Wired Magazine’s chief editor, Chris Anderson, took his “revenge” on the PR industry by posting on his blog, The Long Tail, the email addresses of several hundred PR people that sent him inappropriate press releases. The response was immediate and huge; over 300 comments on the blog.

Many agreed with him that PR people can be lazy and should stop spamming press releases without understanding a publication’s or editor’s needs and interests. Others blasted him for contributing to the spammer’s harvest with his spiteful on-line listing of hundreds of email addresses. Several cited the annoying spam they endure from Wired media sales reps bugging them to buy advertising space. My favorite was a short one: “Get Over Yourself.”

My take on this:

Yeah, yeah, true, PR staffers distribute press releases too far and wide. Why doesn’t Mr. Anderson do what many publications do and have an intern or clerical person sift through the public email box (or a “press-releases@” address) and keep a private address for his own network?

So now, instead, he’s into the shame game, embarrassing people from major PR firms like Edelmen. If “PR people” do nothing else, they talk. Does he really want a lot of them as Wired enemies?

My colleague, David Meerman Scott, agrees that PR people are spammers. His blog readers joined in heavily in the debate. David’s book, The New Rules of Marketing and PR, available from his site, is deep with alternatives to smothering journalists with press releases, by the way.

As for me, I’m not greatly impressed any more with Wired. Maybe I’ve been reading it too long. I do however thank them for inspiring the “It’s Lame” and It’s Game” format within this blog. Unfortunately, Wired is getting somewhat Tired.

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3200 PR Colleagues

November 14, 2007

IT’s GAME

A few weeks ago I attended the Public Relations Society of America national convention in Philadelphia. We’ll be hosting next year’s convention here in Detroit in twelve months.

Great networking, to be sure. Keynote speakers included Tim Russert (Meet the Press), an inspiration … as well as Donna Brazile. But this large a gathering begs the question:

What do you get when you put 3200 PR people in one room together? Obviously, a real lot of conversation. Sharing, caring, minimal blaring. A kind of Interview-apolooza.

IT’s LAME

From the convention floor, a concensus from the technology types: the word “enable.” Very over-used.

PRSA

That Single Idea

PR pro Ann Wylie writes in her current Writing Tips e-newsletter about sticking to a single idea in your messaging. Timely, with an election year approaching. As Ann says: “The more messages you cover in a campaign or communication, the less people will remember. So count the number of messages you’ve crafted. If the total is more than one, you have too many.”

She mentions Bill Clinton adviser James Carville and his gospel of “exclusivity.”

Carville says the communicators’ toughest job is to convince the client to stick to one message or theme. “People say I fill empty vessels,” he says. “But I empty full vessels.”

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