Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Mass Effect: PR Tactics

Opening rant

I'm not entirely sure who is doing public relations for BioWare right now, but whoever it is could school the industry a bit on generating buzz. I didn't take the time to do an extremely thorough search, so if anyone knows who the mastermind is behind yesterday's cryptic announcements, leave it in the comments. I was able to find some PR firms that BioWare utilized in the past on some old press materials, but they don't seem to have the developer listed as a client currently. I did also see some @bioware e-mail addresses on other materials, indicating that internal folks could be responsible for recent communication efforts.

Now, if you aren't a gamer, you're likely still staring at your screen asking, What buzz? And why the heck should I care as a PR professional about some video game developer?

Well, look, I'll catch you up on the news next. But you really should be paying attention to the gaming industry, which is comparable in sales ($10.5 billion in 2009) to the movie industry ($10.6 billion in 2009). Americans have already spent about $9.7 billion on gaming in 2010. And right now, the gaming industry is exemplifying good PR and marketing smartly.

So what'd they do this time?

BioWare is a Canadian-based video game company responsible for many bestsellers and gamer favorites such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect (and their sequels). The company is a subsidiary of industry heavyweight Electronic Arts.

Yesterday, Spike TV posted a video on its 2010 Video Game Awards site stating that BioWare will make an announcement during the awards show Dec. 11:

Gamers immediately began scouring the Web for information... is this a new franchise, or could it be that BioWare is already dishing out the next part of the highly popular Mass Effect series? (Mass Effect 2 only came out this year and is a nominee for the 2010 game of the year — even still, an announcement would likely mean a late 2011 release for a new game.) Not long after the promo debuted, a savvy poster on the gaming site Kotaku noticed that the rifle shown in the video was very similar to a rifle obtained in Mass Effect 2, the M-29 Incisor:

As if that wasn't enough to fuel the nerdy fire, moments later, BioWare's Facebook page (and its pages for Mass Effect, Dragon Age, etc.) posted two cryptic barcodish symbols:

This is where the PR buzz really exploded. Hundreds and hundreds of commenters and 'conspiracy theorists' across BioWare's various platforms and on Kotaku, IGN, Shacknews and elsewhere discussed what it all could mean, some fervently defending their positions.

The general consensus seems to be that the barcodes can be scanned in and translated to binary and eventually determined to equal the mass of iron and the coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth (temperature is apparently known as an effect in physics). Also, that temperature of -128.6 F was recorded in Vostok, Antarctica. Vostok is also a system in the Mass Effect universe. This has led many to believe that BioWare's Dec. 11 announcement will be Mass Effect 3, or a related spinoff game. Others think that because of the connection to a temperature on Earth and the prevalence of iron on Earth that the new Mass Effect game may take place on the planet (Mass Effect has never explored Earth previously, even though the Milky Way is a part of the lore).

A successful PR tactic

By the end of the day, BioWare had gained coverage on all of the major gaming and tech news sites, several gaming podcasts and all over the social media space. It will be interesting to see what ratings turn out to be for the VGAs this year, but I predict they'll be mediocre at best because (A) good luck figuring out what channel Spike TV is and (B) gamers would rather just find the info online during/after the show. For BioWare, though, this tactic of using a little mystery with some cross-promotion couldn't have gone better, and it's a perfect case study for PR professionals seeking some inspiration on innovative ways to connect with target audiences and get them talking.

Photos are from wikis, social media and officially released press materials obtained through Games Press.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Undead Nightmare Anything But for Rockstar Games

Just in time for Halloween, Rockstar Games has released its Undead Nightmare downloadable content (DLC), and the company might have a hit on its hands. Only time will tell, but one thing that's for certain is that the actions taken by Rockstar and its affiliates surrounding this release seem pretty smart. Perhaps it's just another example of the ever-growing gaming industry doing some smart PR.

If you aren't familiar with the video game world, DLC is content that gamers can download directly to their Xboxes and Playstations, usually as an add-on chapter to a full game they've already purchased in disc form. In this case, Undead Nightmare is a horror-themed add-on for the hit game Red Dead Redemption, the open-world Western journey of an outlaw across the American frontier in the early 1900s. What the new DLC does is essentially transform that world into a horror film, bringing back characters from the dead as zombies into the world players have already explored.

There are several reasons that Rockstar deserves credit from the business/advertising/PR standpoint for this move:

1. Zombies are a hot topic right now in pop culture, regardless of what season it is. The success of books such as World War Z, podcasts like We're Alive, movies in the vein of Zombieland and new TV releases such as The Walking Dead, have fed the market. While video games like Resident Evil and Left 4 Dead have been popular for years, capitalizing on the current popularity of zombies is likely a good idea.

2. Rockstar isn't just cashing in on an opportunity in the marketplace here, though. The company is known for making quality games, not just putting out products to make a quick dime. The fact that this DLC is a followup to one of the year's best-reviewed games means Rockstar is giving gamers more of what they want.

3. What really grabbed my attention here was that Undead Nightmare was advertised on TV, and the release being coordinated with Halloween (with ads on channels playing Halloween movies about zombies and such) is just one great promotional move by everyone involved with the project. Also, please leave comments on this blog post if I'm wrong, but I think this is the first time I have ever seen DLC advertised on TV instead of just a standalone game. (Note: Is this a first? I've tried confirming online but can't seem to find out. I've been thinking really hard about this and can't think of another ad for DLC on TV before. Unless they did this before with some of the extra GTA content?)

4. The coordination with Halloween audiences on TV was great, but just the idea of getting the word out about DLC is also a good idea. How often does new content release for video games but gamers have already moved on to another title? Giving them a little reminder somewhere other than their Xbox Live dashboard (because let's face it, that thing requires a lot of scrolling to find anything) certainly seems like a great piece of the strategic communication strategy behind this DLC's launch.

What else do you think Rockstar has done right/wrong with the communication about its products? Leave it in the comments!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

PR No-Brainers Managers Disregard

Set clear, measurable goals. Sounds simple enough, right? But CEOs and managers in organizations all around the country seem to get infatuated with ideas such as Oh! We’re going to make a really cool website! or Let’s see how many news releases we can get out this week!

Some officials seemingly go about these tactics without ever stopping to think about their overall strategy. Again, even if you get a lot of website visits and spam people with 40 news releases per week, it’s important to see if those materials are helping you achieve a clearly stated goal on which the entire public relations staff has been thoroughly briefed. Remember: Clear, measurable goals.

I’ve revised a slide from PRSA’s “Documenting the Business Outcomes of Public Relations” presentation to reflect the key public relations questions every practitioner should ask of his or her manager (presuming, of course, that person is regularly accessible, which sometimes isn’t the case):

  • Whom are you seeking to affect?
  • What about them are you seeking to affect?
  • How much must they be affected to be successful?
  • By when does this effect need to occur?
  • How are you measuring success or failure?
  • When are you adjusting your tactics according to your measurements of effectiveness or ineffectiveness?

If these questions have not been answered and effectively communicated internally, then forget having any sort of noticeable relationship management by any other way than luck (if you believe in such things). In order to begin answering these questions, quite a bit of formative research must be done. As often as vague objectives are poorly communicated to PR staffs, projects are launched before enough research is conducted. For example, how can you know what segmented audience needs a better relationship with your organization if you haven’t researched what specific public has issues and what those issues are? How can you know for certain that a website is the best medium through which to reach your target publics if you haven’t done research to find out what their preferred means of engagement are?

Once audiences, goals and tactics have been determined, the implementation of the overall strategic process can begin. Constant measurement of the effects of implemented tactics must take place in order to prevent wasting valuable time and resources. It’s not just enough to see website hits increasing — how do you know if your target audience is taking away the message you intend for them to if you aren’t interacting with that audience on a regular basis? Pretesting and post-testing in relation to your public relations efforts can be a great aid here. Remember, the business of public relations is about relationships, not sheer numbers.

I’ll leave you with two thoughts from two of my favorite communication scholars (and parents of the excellence theory of public relations), James and Larissa Grunig. This material came from a 2001 study on public affairs within a government agency:

“It is important to point out that measures of communication processes must go beyond measures of products. Too often, communication products (such as numbers of press releases or publications) are counted without understanding how those products fit into a strategic process for communicating with a particular public.”
Less-excellent departments conducted no formative or evaluative research and generally had only vague objectives that were difficult to measure.”

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Photo credit, Flickr Creative Commons uploader jayneandd.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Quirkiest Journalism

The other day, several of my coworkers and I were discussing our earlier days in journalism and some of the stranger pieces we had done in our careers before we started working in public affairs. One coworker told us she had reported on the "cat beat" for a short period of time, covering all things feral and furry. Another writer had a classic assignment — to write about a new doll that had been released for young girls. The conversation went on from there.

Here's an excerpt from my submission:
"We're setting up a gateway; we will invite the dead through so they can join us for our rite."
Read more here.

What's one of the more interesting pieces of journalism you've done? Talk about it in the comments and/or post a link there! You can join the discussion and become a fan on Facebook here.

Note: Feral cat photo is not actually a feral cat ... just a scruffy-looking cat to go along with the reference made to covering the cat beat. In fact, that cool-looking kitteh is a Norwegian forest cat, according to the photographer, Flickr user eva101. Check out the original here.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Gaming Industry Exemplifies Smart PR

One area of public relations that doesn't yet receive a lot of attention in communication research literature, in the classroom or in boardroom discussions is that of PR in the gaming industry. And no, I'm not talking about casinos.

Video game sales are way up — scoff not, this is a big business that has overtaken music sales. Since the latest generation of gaming consoles released — beginning with the Xbox 360 in 2005 and ending with the Wii and PS3 in 2006 — the industry has grown to epic proportions, and even nontraditional gamers began snatching up Wii consoles to try its unique motion controls (soon to be released by its competitors as well). Mainstream and high-end gamers stuck with the Xbox 360 and PS3, respectively. But now that we're years into the current gen, it's software (actual individual game) sales that are stunning.

photo of a truck driving across a mountainous landscape in halo reach
Bungie is allowing some players to test its new game, Halo Reach, in a beta test on the Xbox 360. Here, players use a vehicle to move across the game's world. | Microsoft photo

Well-known retailer GameStop reported a 13.3-percent increase in new software sales for its first quarter earnings this year. The year's big games once released during the holiday season, leaving what gamers referred to as a summer drought. But now, publishers are learning that with the right titles, marketed to the right gamers, they can sell games all year long.

So how has gaming become such a hugely successful industry? I could debate that topic for days, covering everything from achievement systems implemented lately in games to targeting new demographics to the immersion experience that movies and music can't provide to the increased popularity of mobile devices and therefore mobile gaming. But a large part of the gaming industry's success is thanks to good PR and marketing.

Game developers employ a two-way communication channel with the games' eventual players. Virtually every major company maintains forums where they have open conversations with gamers about what they want from games. These companies also know what type of people play first-person shooters as opposed to flight simulators — they put in the time to do good market research.

Perhaps one of the best moves used by the gaming industry is something we might think of as a pilot test in the communication realm — companies make end users a real part of the development process. Two of the top game makers in the business — Blizzard and Bungie — are both currently in the process of beta testing their latest titles with select loyal gamers. This is the process where gamers can sign up to actually play parts of a new game early in order to help tweak the balance of in-game characters and report bugs. This makes gamers feel more invested in the game, and even those who don't participate in the beta are more confident in buying the final product because they know their peers have already tried to 'break the game,' therefore making the retail version virtually a perfect experience.

PR practitioners should take a page from the growing gaming industry. Put more time and thought into the development of products and campaigns, open up communication channels with stakeholders and involve end users in the process to ensure a polished final result.

Want to know more about gaming? Joshua DeLung is also a D.C.-metro area gaming writer for You can find his articles here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tired of Poor Pitching

I'm a fan of The Bad Pitch Blog by Richard Laermer and Kevin Dugan — it's a regular must-read for public relations professionals. It is to that blog that I must give credit for the idea behind this post — a bad pitch.

The longer I'm in the journalism/PR fields, the more my name gets out there on random mailing lists of companies and people looking to sell something or hoping that I'll write an article or blog post about them. Most of them, like many of the companies Laermer and Dugan 'highlight,' do a poor job of this, simply because they are using outdated, traditional methods of pitching and primarily because they are mass mailing without taking the time to craft a real, dedicated pitch or without trying to learn anything about me as a practitioner or writer.

So, who am I about to call out? That would be Vycor Medical Inc., a "medical device company that designs, develops and markets next (sic) generation neurosurgery retraction devices." Bored yet?

Oh, where to start about the suck that is the e-mail I received today...

Salutation — There barely was one. The e-mail started, "Please let me know if you would like to connect with..." Well, don't try to get me excited or anything. The pitch didn't address me by name and provided little call to action up front. An ill-formatted link (they placed the full URL in the middle of a word, i.e., S"URL"ite) just made it even worse. Then, "Merilee" signed her first name, even though (A) I don't know her and (B) she never bothered to introduce herself in the e-mail.

Hed — "Vycor Medical's Revolutionary ViewSite(TM) Neurosurgery Retraction Devices Adopted by the North Shore-LIJ Health System" was the three-deck headline. Not only is the headline boring and way too technical, but also it's unrelated to anything I've ever written about for a news site or blog and also unrelated to virtually any entity for which I've ever done PR.

Sub Hed/Dek — A 52-word subheadline in italics is pretty much where I stopped paying attention. Get to the point already!

Dateline — Bohemia, N.Y. What? I could probably Google Maps this location, but instead, I'm just left wondering why I was sent this release. There's no topical relevance for me, and now I find out there's no geographical connection either. I've been in New York for less than an hour my entire life.

Lede — The lede and nut graf here are long, filled with URLs in parentheticals and riddled with technical jargon that tells me nothing about the newsworthiness of whatever it is Vycor is promoting (I'm still not sure, though I think it's some tool that makes brain surgery easier).

Content — The news release was lacking an actual narrative of any kind. The quotes within were stuffy and sounded as though they were crafted specifically for *gasp!* a news release. This isn't the way to catch a reporter or anyone else's attention. After rereading a few times, it seems this entire annoyance of a pitch was to announce that a health system in New England has adopted the company's neurosurgery technology. Again, tell your local paper, tell a medical journal — but why pitch to me? And why do it in such a boring way with a cookie-cutter, traditional news release? (A little research about me if they were going to pitch to me would've revealed that I'd prefer a well-done social media release.)

Boilerplate — As Bob Roseth would say, boilerplates are fine if you're from Purdue (home of the Boilermakers). But to refer to the BPB folks again, there's no better way to end on a lame note than the boilerplate. Words in Vycor's actual body copy — 252. Boilerplate words — 577. If your boilerplate crap is more than double the length of your 'news,' it's either probably not news or your boilerplate is too long — or in this case, both. The lengthy, mostly useless, legal jargon-filled ending to this release moved my snooze into a coma. End with something more useful and interesting, and link to this info if needed.

Final thoughts — To make matters worse, when I went to Vycor's Web site to find a copy of this news release to which I could provide a link, well, it wasn't there. In fact, the most recent release on the Web site is from 2008. If you're going to mass e-mail pitches with your Web site URL plastered all over them, wouldn't you at least make sure your site looks up-to-date?

The image included with the news release (above) is probably the most well-done part of the whole ordeal. The design is actually sort of interesting, even if the messaging seems more geared toward medical professionals than someone who would be interested in talking to company executives about publicity.

Has anyone else out there received similar pitches? What are your thoughts about companies that take this shotgun approach? What are your thoughts about folks who still use traditional news releases with corporatespeak and giant boilerplates?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Top-drafted Quarterbacks Likely No Good

By Guest Blogger Daron Williams

Editor's note: Every now and then, I like to add some variety to the blog and stray away from all PR/journalism posts and talk about some other stuff I love — family, food, football, you name it. And when one of my favorite guest bloggers sends something on a topic such as those my way, well of course I'm going to post it. Keeping in the vein of our theme, though, here is the result of guest blogger Daron Williams' journalistic digging that shows why potential top draft picks Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford might need a lot of PR in the future.

As I do every April, I’m thoroughly enjoying the hoopla surrounding the upcoming 2010 edition of the NFL Draft. This year, the talent pool has been classified somewhere between 'good' and 'very good,' and there are several juicy storylines to follow. Where will 'Jesus of Gainesville' land, and will there be some water nearby for him to walk on? Who will draft a boy named Suh? And what to make of the other QBs in the draft?

It is this last issue I want to analyze. With so much emphasis placed on the quarterback position, doesn’t it make sense to spend a little extra time breaking down the numbers? Without getting too technical, I’m going to undertake this effort, mainly with the intention of showing just why the Rams may want to think twice before taking likely no. 1 pick — Sam Bradford.

So let’s go. My contention is that no Big-12 QB is likely to succeed in the NFL. Two Big-12 QBs are generally listed among the top five (if not top three) QBs in this draft – Oklahoma’s Bradford and Texas’ Colt McCoy. Both come from powerhouse football farms, and both can boast record-setting offensive careers at their schools. But dig deeper.

Let’s look at the success, or lack thereof, that the current Big-12 schools have produced at the quarterback position. I’m going to focus mostly on the schools with big-name QBs in the hunt this year. For NFL purposes, I’m going to stick to the last 10 years or so because I look at St. Louis’ 1999 “Best Show on Turf” as being a pivotal moment in the proliferation of today’s pass-happy NFL offenses. You would think this would play into the hands of the Big-12’s also-pass-happy schemes. You’d be wrong.

The last three QBs drafted at Texas include Vince Young, who’s already experiencing his second NFL life, just four years after being drafted by the Tennessee Titans. Nobody doubts his athletic prowess, but I don’t think anyone sees him going to Canton either. And he still has plenty of doubters as to whether he can even throw a slant (believe me, speaking as a Titans fan, I know from whence I speak). Before that, it was Chris Simms, who’s had an unremarkable career thus far and may never start another game. Before that? Third-rounder Rick McIvor in 1984 – I’ve never heard his name, but Wikipedia tells me he played in six games over two seasons and threw four total passes (all incomplete).

OOOOO-klahoma, you say? They’ve had six QBs in the last 10 years to Texas’ four. Names such as Josh Heupel, Heisman winner Jason White and Rhett Bomar may ring a bell in college lore, but not one of them has played any real minutes in the Not For Long league. The only OU QB currently on a roster is Bomar, whom the Giants took in the fifth round, and he certainly won’t see the field behind Super Bowl winner Eli Manning.

After digging a little, I can’t really find much success in the QB ranks from any Big-12 program in the last 10 years, with the exception of Young’s moderate success with the Titans. There are currently two likely starting QBs from Big-12 schools – Young and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Josh Freeman (Kansas State), ranked the no. 16 and no. 28 QBs in the league, respectively. With two (likely) starting NFL QBs, that puts the Big-12 behind the Pac-10 (eight), the SEC (five), the Big-10 and the ACC (four each). USC alone has four current starters listed (Palmer, Cassel, Leinart, Sanchez).

So what’s the big deal? I can’t hold the professional failures of their predecessors against McCoy and Bradford, right? Watch me.

The point is, historical success by QBs hailing from a particular program, especially when controlled for coaching era in college and offensive era in the NFL, has turned out to be a great indicator of expected success for incoming QBs. The system that a player runs in college has a lot to do with how they will adjust to the NFL game, and Big-12 QBs simply haven’t cut the mustard, despite the high-flying offenses and gaudy numbers they put up in college. Why, I do not know – that’s for another column.

To be fair, one could apply the same logic to the NFL quarterbacking black hole that is The Swamp and say that Tebow has no shot at success, and one would be justified in saying so. But McCoy and especially Bradford are expected to sign sizeable contracts and challenge for starting positions immediately, and in this, one of the last few years of the pre-rookie-contract cap era, a team simply cannot afford to go wrong selecting a quarterback so high.

But they will. Sorry, Rams fans.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Toyota's Recovery: Inevitable or Out of Reach?

A couple months ago, the Toyota scandal was still freshly ripping through America, and it was the only thing you could find on the news, it seemed. Daily mentions on the 24-hour news cycle still happen, but health care, Tiger Woods, iPad disappointments and coal mining have all taken over the headlines for now. Slowly, but surely, the negativity surrounding Toyota is… well, not going away, but it’s on the agenda far less.

Shortly after the whole thing went down with floor mats and sudden accelerations and supercharged Prius hoaxes, I wrote about the importance of relational history for organizations and how, based on Toyota’s previous good standing with its customers, the company should be able to rebound. Heck, just look at Audi, once the target of similar scandal, now known as a high-class brand. Though, it did take the automaker 15 years to recover, and Audi was exonerated of building faulty cars in the end. The point, though, is — recovery is possible after a crisis.

Toyota’s problems might be more severe than originally thought, though. It seems there was deception going on within the company, as newly released internal memos urged officials to “come clean.” When the pre-existing good relationship with consumers was built on a lie, it certainly complicates image restoration. Again, here is an example where having a public relations professional at the table and actually listening to his or her expert advice would have come in handy. With all the available case studies out there, you’d think by now corporations would realize that cover-ups never, ever work — at least not for very long. Honesty always has been, and still is, the best policy.

Still, however, my prediction that Toyota should rebound from its crisis seems to hold some water. The company is doing some things right, such as offering unbeatable deals and promising via its advertising that it will do better in the future by its customers. Toyota’s sales were up a whopping 41 percent in March, compared to the same month a year ago. This increase was likely more a result of unprecedented deals than Toyota’s mostly successful social media outreach efforts since the crisis, considering you’ve probably never heard of the Toyota Digg interview. Regardless, 41 percent is quite a bit for a company the media has demonized enough to make any Toyota owner hesitant to touch the acceleration pedal.

It seems Toyota’s woes are far from over, but it also doesn’t sound as though we’ve seen the last of them. Will it take 15 years to recover? Only time will tell, but if Toyota plays its cards right by becoming more transparent, it should remain profitable.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Top Super Bowl Ads of 2010

The Super Bowl is over for 2010, and that means it's now time for the debate to begin about which ads were winners and losers. I had a great time seeing comments from some of my fellow advertising/public relations folks on Twitter during the game, and I definitely see an opportunity for a live-blogging exercise in the future for events relevant to our industry. Check out Twitter feeds for @joshuadelung, @rlaermer and @accessus for last night's tweets.

I'll say up front that none of this year's ads were phenomenal, and none of them really made an effort to break the rules, do something relevant with a target audience or provide a true call to action. However, I've rewatched all the ads one last time before making my judgments, and here are my top five Super Bowl ads for this year, followed by a couple of honorable (and not-so-honorable) mentions.

1) Google: Search On — It wasn't flashy. Heck, I could've made this ad in my living room. But the narrative that played out just by watching someone perform searches from falling in love to building a crib was a cute and genius way to show off Google's usefulness. This is a simple ad that shows people what to do and how to do it with a product, which is sorta the point. The other advertisers should take note.

2) Doritos: House Rules — A cute kid, tasty chips and hilarious dialogue. Is it going to make me run out and buy more Doritos? Probably not. Is it going to make me smile each time I walk past a bag of Doritos in the store for the next few months? Absolutely.

3) Mars' Snickers: You're Not You When You're Hungry — Who doesn't love Betty White? Seeing Betty White get tackled? Well, that's pretty funny, too. While the eat-a-Snickers-bar-to-transform-into-a-lean-mean-football-player trick was highly predictable, that doesn't mean we weren't still laughing when the screen faded to black.

4) Motorola: Megan Fox Photo — No, I didn't put this in the top five because Megan Fox is one of the hottest (if not also trashiest) stars out there. But the idea of her sending a viral pic of herself in the bathtub out via cellphone is not only tantalizing, it's also relevant in our Internet age, and the resulting distraction among American men shown in the ad probably isn't far from what would actually happen.

5) Volkswagen: PunchDub —I wasn't aware that the "Punch Buggy [Color], No Punch Back" game had now extended to all VWs, so I'm glad they decided to let us in on the secret while also getting people to talk about their cars more often when they see them out on the road. Genius. The whole Stevie Wonder thing is sorta played out, especially for Gen-Xers (and probably not even relevant for Millenials), but the addition of Tracy Morgan helped make that part of the ad at least slightly humorous.

Honorable Mentions:

Most Well-Written
Chrysler: Dodge Charger — This is perhaps the most well-written ad from the entire Super Bowl in 2010. It wasn't all THAT interesting, but if you listen to the dialogue, it definitely connects with the target audience in a way that no other ad did this year. Watch it.

Best Production Value
Coke: Sleepwalker — Coca-Cola's ads are always very shiny and fun to watch, even if they aren't all that memorable in the long run. Crisp, clear, great settings, music, and on and on... these were some well-produced ads and not much more. Watch it.

Most Worth Going Online For
HomeAway's "Hotel Hell Vacation" (Full Version: 13:52) — I think everyone was super-excited to see Chevy Chase reprise his role as Clark Griswold from those hilarious National Lampoon's "Vacation" films. And while the stand-alone ad was funny and a cool idea, it didn't quite deliver enough to make me remember to use HomeAway instead of one of the more well-known hotel rental sites. All that being said, the full version of the ad is available online and runs almost a full 14 minutes. It plays just exactly like a scene out of a brand-new Griswolds movie and offers plenty of laughs and familiar memes. Watch it.

Dishonorable Mentions:

Biggest Fail
Dockers: Free Pants — The ad wasn't original, as it was one of three pantless ads that ran during the Super Bowl from various companies. Then, it saved itself by mentioning a "free pants" giveaway online. It was sort of a form of bait-and-switch tactics, though, as visitors to the Web site could actually just enter for a CHANCE to win free pants. That is, if those visitors could get the Web site to work. For a good hour after the ad aired, the Twitterverse was alive with "Dockers Fail" tweets because the servers crashed. Even after the site finally loaded, then the entry form seemed broken. I finally got registered for my chance at some pants after many ill-fated attempts. But all this ad really proved is that Dockers is an aging brand that's out of touch in a technology-driven world. Watch it.

Biggest Waste of Taxpayer Money
U.S. Census Bureau: Preproduction Meeting — I am absolutely outraged by this ad. Just in case you don't realize it, YOU paid for this ad. Almost $3 million in taxpayer money was used for this spot that played out more like a sitcom preview than a government call to action. You should know that even if about one percent of the estimated 100 million people who were supposed to watch the Super Bowl this year mail back their Census forms, it will save taxpayers $30 million that would otherwise be spent sending workers door-to-door, according to U.S. Census Bureau spokesman Stephen Buckner. My question is: Why the heck didn't they just say that in the ad? Be direct already! As we recover from an economic crisis, saving taxpayer money is a hot topic to which people will pay attention. If you had just mentioned that little detail about how people mailing their forms back equals loads of saved money and preventing the inconvenience of Census workers knocking at your door, I imagine that this ad may not have been such a waste. Watch it.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Why Toyota Should Rebound

Prior Relationships Key to Image Restoration

What a mess!
Your company is taking hits left and right; your once-sparkling image is seemingly ruined forever, and things just keep getting worse. But what does the strategy behind public relations tell us about what lies ahead? Is there hope? Read on to find out …

Photo of the latest blue Toyota 4Runner model at the Washington Auto Show for 2010.
Toyota hopes its image is soon back to being as polished as this latest version of the 4Runner was at the 2010 Washington Auto Show. | Photo by Joshua A. DeLung

… In recent weeks, there has been quite a bit said about Toyota’s misfortune concerning recalls of certain models — floor mats, accelerator pedals and potentially problematic brakes. Yeowch! This is definitely not a situation in which a company wants to find itself. And while it may be every PR practitioner’s dream to successfully manage a crisis for an organization, when the actual event arrives, things don’t seem so glamorous.

I’m not going to focus on what has already been said day in and out. We know Toyota is in trouble, and we’ve seen plenty of prescriptions for what they should’ve done, could’ve done better and how and why and all that jazz. But the past is the past, and as PR folks, it’s our job to continuously perform environmental scanning (which might prevent a crisis altogether, but that's a post for another day). Seeing into the future is tough, but we have to make our best estimates, investigate trends and do some solid research when digging out of a crisis. Take note of what went wrong in order to avoid letting it happen again, but figuring out the next step quickly is imperative. That's where restoration and renewal come in.

The media offer didactic messages about lessons learned and adjudicative ones that tell us who to blame. But as practitioners, we must ask ourselves what part of our organization’s response has been positive in attempt to retell our story and push toward image restoration. Social networking sites and other outlets can help us circumvent mainstream media somewhat to start a new conversation, though we can’t underestimate MSMs (dwindling?) power.

In some cases, apologia and corrective action may be enough to restore faith in an organization, but in the event of a large-scale crisis, renewal efforts are more complex, requiring us to uphold our commitments to stakeholders and re-establish our core values. If your company is someone like, say, Microsoft, with a history of bullying and buggy software, then you might need to consider renewal. In other words, a rebranding of your organization — find a way to start over with a more positive way of doing business. For most organizations, though, image restoration is possible after a crisis within an organization where the culture has historically been one that encouraged ethics and responsibility.

And herein lies the key to being resilient after crisis: relational history. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of maintaining good relationships with key publics and encouraging an ethical and responsible culture at all times internally.

An organization has the best chance at bouncing back after a crisis situation by having a stellar and trustworthy reputation in the first place.

As PR practitioners, it’s our job to point out to CEOs (or anyone else) when their actions could taint the company's reputation. Because, let’s be honest, if you’re acting like an Enron Corporation all the time, then your chances at image restoration are slim to none.

This is why I think Toyota will eventually bounce back from its recent problems. I have heard plenty of doom-and-gloom statements about how the company is finished, especially in the U.S., but I’m not so sure. Will it take plenty of time? Of course. But Toyota wasn’t known for being flashy (Ferrari), luxurious (Mercedes-Benz) or rough-and-tough (Ford). Toyotas are known for dependability, practicality and being fuel-efficient and long-lasting.

It is because of these reasons that Toyota will be able to regain its customers’ support and eventually gain new buyers. That is, of course, considering it takes care of concerns about the recalls properly by getting it right the first time and by giving affected customers the red-carpet treatment. Establishing trust with key publics day in and day out should be utmost in the mind of every PR practitioner. If it is, then when a dreaded crisis strikes, image restoration will be an available next step.

Full disclosure: I own a Toyota, though not one affected by the recalls. I was not paid in any way for this post, nor did I have any contact with Toyota or any other company in developing the content for this post. These statements are strictly my own professional opinion.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Tweeting to Become a Better Writer, Editor

Want to increase your editing skills? Want to write more concisely? Then why aren't you using Twitter?

With its limit of 140 characters, Twitter forces you to become a better editor. Sometimes, what you have to say will go over the limit, so you must learn to edit out unneeded words and irrelevant points. Writing clear and concise statements that your audiences will understand (and that will save them time) is a must in today's 24-7 world of media consumption.

Not only will being part of Twitter help you edit down your work, but also you'll find it makes you more skilled at getting attention. Worried your headlines aren't interesting enough to pull in readers? Twitter can be a testing ground for your headline-writing and link-sharing abilities. Go in and start practicing writing headlines and sharing a link, and see how many people actually follow the link or say something to you about it.

Remember, Twitter isn't the here's-what-I-ate-for-breakfast tool that so many who just haven't given it a chance or don't fully understand its uses play it up to be. If you don't have something useful to share or something interesting to say, you're doing your followers a disservice. So wait. Make sure you share a good idea, or a personal thought that gives some insight into who you are. Be of value to your followers. Well-edited, catchy tweets will do just that, and those benefits will carry over to other elements of your work outside the social media realm.

Follow me on Twitter @joshuadelung.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Get-It-Before-It's-Gone Marketing Outdated

Just let me say, you'd better read this blog post before it's gone! I'll lock it in the Relatively Journalizing vault in just 24 hours! Yeah, right, you either (A) don't care that much, (B) don't believe me or (C) just copy/pasted the entire post to a Word document just in case. And those reasons, the latter one especially, are why get-it-before-it's-gone marketing is an outdated tool in the Internet age. If you want something, chances are you'll find somewhere to get it.

Yet, for some reason, the Mouse thinks this still works. Disney expects us all to become so frightened that we might not see The Little Mermaid for 10 years that we'll rush out to buy it on whatever format happens to be the trendiest at the time. Think again.

I checked to see what titles are currently in the so-called vault right now, and guess what? I was able to find multiple copies of all of them on Amazon for various reasonable prices in DVD format. Yet, I still see plenty of advertising for the titles the company plans to hide away from us all come Jan. 30, 2010. I'm not scared, are you?

So what leads Disney to think this sort of tomfoolery will still work in 2010? Your guess is as good as mine.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Guest editor over at The Bad Pitch Blog

I recently was given the honor of being a guest editor for one of Richard Laermer's posts over at the amazing public relations tome of knowledge, The Bad Pitch Blog. It addresses the very timely issue of NBC's PR fail in terms of programming, especially in regards to Jay and Conan. Check out the post here.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Give Your PR Team a Seat at the Table

Most of us with any formal education at all in public relations are familiar with the excellence theory, perhaps most notably attributed to James and Larissa Grunig’s IABC study while at the University of Maryland. While two-way, symmetrical communication might be the part of that paradigm that has generated the most content (including plenty of debate), my focus for this post is on the idea of the PR practitioner being part of the dominant coalition and its importance.

All too often, internal or external publics seeking information are unable to retrieve the info they need about you in a timely and helpful manner. I’ve seen this first-hand, as I’m sure many of you other communicators have, and the fix is really quite simple — make your PR (relations, counsel, communication, whatever you call them) person(s) part of the dominant coalition.

For you nontheoreticals out there (as I often am myself until a situation occurs for which theory offers a solution), this isn’t highly complex stuff. Let me break it down into one sentence: Make your PR people 100-percent aware of everything that happens within their area of responsibility, and give them a seat at the table when discussing important projects and company decisions. There, easy as pie.

For many CEOs or program managers, this idea might seem a bit abstract, out-of-the-ordinary, ineffectual or even intimidating. Get over it. If Journalist X calls your communication specialist, he or she should be an expert in your subject area, knowledgeable about all company projects, programs and communicative efforts. Journalist X should not have to wait on Practitioner Y to run every little detail by Program Manager Z. Practitioner Y should’ve been in on the meeting where Project ABC was discussed and should’ve been briefed already by senior leadership as to what information can or cannot be shared and in what forms.

If your organization does not employ well-informed practitioners who can make certain on-spot decisions and actually be helpful, acting as a spokesperson for your organization, program, campaign, etc., then you are going about PR all wrong. Don’t expect external publics such as journalists or potential stakeholders (and in some cases other people who work for you who need information) to show you love after a couple of ill-fated attempts.

Now, realistically, there are some questions that are going to need to go through senior-level folks. But an expert practitioner will know the difference between those and general questions that can quickly and concisely be answered to supply internal and external publics with key information that can get you noticed and make you a recurring source. Dominant coalition isn’t some fancy terminology just for those professors sitting at the great communication research universities. Forming a dominant coalition that includes your communication team is just a best practice in business.