This week the Mad Men crew got a present just in time for the Christmas episode: Pond's Cold Cream. One of the old characters returned, having just left one of the big agencies in town he showed up at the doorstep of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce holding a chance to win the business of Pond's Cold Cream. In 1964 dollars this was worth about $2 million a year. Not a bad little piece of business.
The story line pits the old-school copywriter, Freddy Rumsen, against Peggy Olson, the young, brash and bright copywriter who also happens to be a woman. While working on the ad the two argue over who should be the spokeswoman for Pond's. Freddy pushes for older actresses, some who have never left Broadway, while Peggy wants someone younger, like Elizabeth Taylor. Freddy also focuses on what Pond's does for your face and how it can help younger women find a husband, while Peggy wants to focus on the act of putting on the cream and how it makes you feel beautiful, not for a man but for yourself.
All very interesting arguments, so how does Pond's look in the cold, harsh reality of 2010? Well, it happens that it more resembles Freddy's vision than Peggy's.
Pond's is a subsidiary of Unilever, so this is a company that knows a thing or two about marketing. They've obviously positioned Pond's at the over-40 crowd. But one of the first thing that I noticed in looking for Pond's Cold Cream was that it's hard to find on Google. When you Google the brand a link to Drugstore.com comes up first, with the "Pond's Institute" the brand's main site, is buried deep in the selection list, though right above the Unilever brand site for the same product line. So the first thing we here at Fresh Ground would do is get a big jar of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and schmear it on the site.
I've also noticed that the forums seemed to be filled with people saying that they love the product, so why not try to capture that a bit? Sure, continue with the "over 40 celebrity" message, but start to incorporate some testimonials. In fact, start soliciting them a little stronger, both through forums and social sites like Facebook. Keep in mind that Facebook has great growth with people over 40, so it's a perfect venue for this kind of targeted demographic.
Message wise I may take things a bit further and look for mother/daughter combinations, or even grandmother/ mother/ daughter. A big part of the brand is that it has a long history, so why not bring that to the people? Actively look for mothers who helped their daughters discover Pond's Cold Cream and ask for their pictures together, either through a Flickr campaign or on Facebook by tagging images with "Pond's Cold Cream." You can drive that action by offering up something like product (free samples), coupons or even a chance to be featured in an ad in a major publication. This would be a great way to combine the social side of things with the tradition outlets that they're already accessing.
Dove, another Unilever brand, did something similar with its Real Beauty campaign, so it's certainly something that worked before and would work again.
All that being said, Dove is a sponsor of Mad Men, so I wonder if featuring Pond's in the script was part of the deal. If so, good move marketing folks at Pond's! Though, judging by the fact that someone started a Twitter account called PondsColdCream that appears to be a Mad Men thing, not belonging to Pond's, I'm going to guess that the folks at Unilever haven't yet figured out social media for this brand.
I love Mad Men. I love it for its 60s style, for its writing, character development and what it says about us today. The fact is, all period dramas (and futuristic science fiction) say more about who we are today than they do about the people they pretend to portray. In a way Mad Men lets us look back at our 1960s selves and say "aren't we better?" We don't smoke like that, we don't drink like that, we wear seatbelts when we ride in the car, we don't let our kids play with plastic, male bosses don't call their female colleagues "honey" etc.
The fourth season of Mad Men opened up with an episode named "Public Relations," which, being a PR guy, got me listening pretty closely. The last time I heard PR mentioned on Mad Men, lead-character Don Draper was deriding the profession by saying that PR guys think they can change the conversation, but they can't. Only advertising can change the conversation.
But in this episode "changing the conversation" is just what PR is expected to do. We open on Don Draper in the middle of an interview being asked by an Ad Age reporter "Who is Don Draper," a question that Ad Age has already said doesn't fairly portray who they were at the time (or are today). Yet, in the PR world this is a pretty basic question and one that can take up hours of pounding out to get right. We often open messaging sessions by asking "what does your company do?" and then spend the next 3 hours trying to answer that question. Seems so simple, yet, it can be much more nuanced.
Don blows the question.
A few scenes later they get the article and a Roger Sterling comments "this was supposed to be an advertisement for the firm." Wait, and ad? If they wanted an ad wouldn't they have bought one? Why an article when they wanted an ad?
Ah, we have a misunderstanding of what PR can do and what it does.
Still, PR does play a role. In a side-plot a few characters stage a PR stunt that gets the client in the Daily News, an ultimately successful gambit as far as driving sales. Yet, one laments "we can't charge them for this."
Oh really? Sure you can, but you're not a PR firm, you're playing in waters you don't understand.
The episode ends with Don in another interview, ostensibly having learned his lesson and now creating a much more interesting fact-based story. He is, in large part, using PR to change the conversation about himself and his firm.
All that said, people today still don't fully understand what PR does and what role it plays in a business. The one thing the leadership at Sterling, Cooper, Draper and Pryce never did was hire a PR firm. Why? Well, in a bit of fiction they just called up the Wall Street Journal and the reporter jumped.
What could a PR firm have done for the firm?
Set the message: Very simply put an outside firm would have helped define what this company is, who it wants to target and what key messages it needed to get across.
Position: Just a slight variation on the messaging, but during the episode you heard one of the sales executives trying to fit the new firm into the landscape of ad agencies around New York. A PR firm could help clarify this so they could speak to it in sales meetings.
Tell the story: In the course of the show we hear a bit about a controversial TV ad campaign for floor wax that Draper had created. I'm sure the Ad Age of 1964 would have loved a story that told the origin of that ad, what it tried to convey and its results.
Hit the media: Even in 1964 the Journal and Ad Age weren't the only two games in town. Not only were there the major daily papers, but there was also the evening newscasts as well as magazines and trade publications. I'm sure Supermarket News would have loved to know the results of a ham-selling campaign.
Yet, still today people don't fully understand what PR does. Not only in the context of needing a firm to help get the message out, but even in crafting what that message is. I recently watched as a group for which I do pro-bono work let an interview happen without my knowledge. The resulting article was of little help. It's not that the article is terrible, but it's just not as positive as it could have been. Just as the article about Don Draper wasn't terrible, but it wasn't nearly as useful to the firm as they needed.
It's no coincidence that Apple held its press event on a Friday. Anyone who has ever worked near politics will tell you that you drop a story on a Friday when you want it to die. It's an age-old trick. Even better, make it a summer Friday when all the editors are eager to start their weekends and people are less likely to be reading, watching and following the news on a Saturday.
So holding the event on a Friday at 10am PT (afternoon here on the east coast) was Apple's first great PR move in regards to "Antennagate." But oh, there were so many more.
The Song: Perhaps the best move was opening the press conference with a song that had gone viral thanks to a YouTube video and a bit of help from TechCrunch. It showed, up front, the key message Apple was trying to convey: our customers are happy, media are not. Of course, it also helped that TechCrunch promoted the video, so they felt good about themselves. Hold onto that fact, it'll come back later.
The Facts: Fact 1 is that Apple has facts and the media don't. Seems kinda obvious now, but it's difficult for people to argue for a recall when Apple can turn around and say that only .55 percent of people have complained about the antenna and the iPhone 4.0 has only a 1.7 percent return rate, far below that of the 3GS. Apple probably would have released these numbers over time, but Friday's event certainly gave them a bigger stage. Fact 2: All smartphones have the same kind of problems. This is probably the fact that will be most debated in the coming weeks, but it also turns the attention from the iPhone to the entire industry.
No Apologies: When Steve Jobs walks on stage you're not going to get an apology. No way, ain't gonna happen. He's there for good news and to tell you that the company is producing great things. He's not there to apologize. If you want that then you're going to have to speak with someone else. Still, he did admit that Apple isn't perfect, then positioned that in the age old "we strive to be better" message. That, of course, lead directly into the next positive.
Feel the Love: Oh how Apple customers love Apple. Even Michael Arrington is a fanboy. And Steve Jobs positioned everything perfectly, giving the press-conference equivalent of Paul McCartney standing on stage screaming to a loud fan "I love you too!"
Just one more thing: The iPhone will be available in white at the end of July. So I'm sure there are plenty of people ready to scream "shut up and take my money!"
Of course, not everything was perfect, but I have only one real criticism: Did Steve Jobs really have to spit in the eye of the media? He called a Bloomberg story "total bullshit," and called the New York Times liars by saying that their story about a forthcoming software bug fix was "patently false." Of course, the whole event was there to show how the Consumer Reports story wasn't worth the paper it's printed on, so I guess Apple did want to stick a thumb in the eye of the media. Though, starting with the Antenna Song certainly endeared Apple more to TechCrunch. So maybe Jobs is just playing to a specific audience.
It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but it may not be all that funny to some. Two stories in the most recent "On the Media" have me thinking about the shifting equilibria of both the legal and journalism worlds, and what their implications are for the rest of us...
In "The End of Libel?", Brooke Gladstone reports on the poor prospects that some lawyers at larger media properties are facing as the number of libel suits has dropped over the past few years. Before you get all teary eyed for the lawyers' plights (some of my best friends' wives are lawyers), there's some speculation in the piece that the lawsuits may simply be spread out more thinly as more, smaller properties pop-up in the post-broadcast landscape. But plaintiffs, the story concludes, may be best served these days by taking their case to the court of the public through their blogs, podcasts, Facebook pages, etc.
The other, more disturbing conclusion, is that news outlets -- blogs included -- are simply being much more cautious about potential lawsuits, and are avoiding deliberate, touchy issues. My gut -- call me the eternal optimist -- is that there will always be someone with nothing to lose, and now that it's so much easier to publish and reach a large audience, the power of the however more broadly defined "media" has not decreased. This may not be comforting to the corporate lawyers now facing the prospect of having to hang their own shingle after years in the corporate world.
In "The Crowdsourcing Dilemma," we see another dynamic playing out as Bob Garfield describes how he turned from believer (he used crowdSPRING.com to source the cover for his last book) to, well, nervous believer as he notes that the service has expanded beyond designers to also include writing projects. Like the corporate libel lawyer with no more business, he's worried he could eventually be replaced by cheaper labor. And crowdSPRING isn't the only game in town -- we interviewed Saul Hansell, the editor of AOL's seed.com project, in our inaugural podcast about that site's content outsourcing business model.
Just like the search game, in which both white hats and black hats work to strike an ongoing balance with Google's search algorithms to reach to top of the organic results (seed.com sits squarely in the white hat category), content (the good and the crappy, of which seed.com sits squarely in the middle) is in a fight with filters (technological and logical) to find its way into our inboxes, feeds and minds. Media outlets, to stay relevant, need to find multiple ways to connect with us, and give us the choice as to how we participate. There are still many opportunities for media to reach us, and as long as they are, there are opportunities to cross barriers of both taste and law.
And if you, dear reader, think the implications of this shifting dynamic are limited to just writers and lawyers, you've got a big lesson coming your way very soon.
His later cover story on math lead to a book contract for the Numerati, for which he took a sabbatical from his long-time weekly reporting job. Of course, he had to come back to BusinessWeek before setting off again, but this time the decision was made for him. Bloomberg had purchased the venerable publication from McGraw-Hill and changes there included massive layoffs.
Steve now blogs on his own site is writing a new book, which is due out in early 2011. During his interview with us via Skype, he talked about leaving BusinessWeek and starting a new phase of journalistic life. Among the interesting quotes from the interview:
"I didn't enjoy my time back [at BusinessWeek after the first book-leave] as much, in part because the magazine was failing and it's no fun to be part of sinking ship."
"The money [at Bloomberg] comes from the data, journalism by itself couldn't create the kind of empire they have"
"The advertisers can tune into your own interest and your behaviors, learn about you and target you with advertising, so they get to know you much better than an advertiser in a print publication."
"I think you need to accompany book writing these days with blogging and keeping up with people on Twitter and other more social media platforms. And then once you do a book then perhaps you can get more revenue by doing things like speaking."
"The one positive that comes out of [the changes in journalism] is that there is more opportunity for people in their 20s because organizations are getting rid of people like me in their 40s and 50s."
"Even writing about IBM… I'm benefiting from IBM's own publicity and in a sense I'm part of it. That puts me in a different role and I just have to be clear with people about what my possible conflicts are… but it's something that we all deal with in one way or another because we have to find new revenue streams."
As a PR person I find it oddly refreshing to be pitched. It's like the assignment Prof. Padwe gave us in journalism school to profile each other. You learn a lot when you hear your own life translated by someone else. Your own quotes come back sounding quite a bit different.
I recently received a pitch noting that I'd written about Foursquare, then went on to tell me all about another product that is similar to Foursquare, but never really told me why I should care. The PR person sent me links to a some great stories on the product, but it didn't encourage me to write at all. In a nutshell, the PR person forgot the "why." That is, why should I, as a blogger who writes what he likes, care to write about the product? To continue the pitch analogy, the PR person on the other side of this email "dropped the ball."
This isn't an easy thing. For journalists the why is pretty easy: they have to fill their content stream and something happening now often qualifies as news. Media relations folks like myself have made a career out of creating news hooks that encourage writing because those hooks answer the question "why should I write about you now?.
But targeting those motivations has become much more difficult as the ranks of journalists decrease. Plus, the rise of pageview journalism fundamentally changes the equation. Now, instead of relying on a journalist to write because your client is important to the industry, they must be sure that a story on the topic will drive readers. If it won't, then you're out of luck. Worse, if they write and find it doesn't drive readers, they're not likely to come back.
David Weinberger identified this problem by encouraging marketers to avoid the echo chamber, but the problem remains that journalists like the echo chamber as much as marketers. You want a story in in a top tech destination? First prove that you have an audience that will drive traffic to the story. But how do you build the audience without the exposure? Does building that audience even as you're in beta or stealth mode fit into your strategy? What work can you do to gain a foothold without broader media relations?
My previous life found me in the news rooms and control rooms of various Boston TV stations producing the days' news. And yes, I produced the occasional snow show.
Snow shows don't exist much anymore, but back then when a big storm came to town we'd do "wall-to-wall coverage" of this snow event. We'd put reporters on highways and in emergency bunkers. They'd stand out on street corners and on beaches. We'd jump from live-shot to live-shot warning viewers to stay in side, make some hot chocolate and continue watching our coverage.
On one level this was born out of public service. Following the Blizzard of '78, everyone in Boston knows that snow can be dangerous and being in it can cause problems. So TV found itself in a great situation of having a positive message that actually brought in viewers (and advertisers).
Also, people just love talking about the weather. So when you put snow coverage at the top of the newscasts and warn people of a pending storm, it brings in viewers. Will they cancel school? Will I make my flight? Can I skip work and justify a day in my jammies watching wall-to-wall snow coverage of fools in the snow while sipping hot chocolate?
The danger here is pretty simple. You become the boy who cried wolf.
Predicting the weather isn't easy. In fact, it's downright hard. The problem is that the TV stations promote their weather forecasts as accurate, so when they turn around and say "oops, we got it wrong" it erodes the trust they've built with the audience.
Right now I'm sitting in my kitchen and watching the snow NOT come down. Sure, more may come later, but my school district closed schools early today. Men and women who normally would be working had to take time off to get their kids. Kids who would be in school weren't and really, for what? A 1/4 inch of slush? This is Boston, we can handle that.
I don't mind being prepared, but TV stations please don't throw us into a panic. Because when you really do have a warning and it's something we should worry about, we won't.
Working on LaunchCamp Boston has been a pretty exciting thing this week. We've seen the sign-up list grow with some wonderful participants heard from some wonderful people who want to take part and add to the discussion along with the many who were already on board to work with us on this project.
It looks like the Microsoft NERD Center will be packed on February 4th.
Our goal is to help entrepreneurs make the decisions needed to launch their brand, product or service. While a lot of events help you learn how to find VC money or learn how to sell sell, this one falls in the middle by taking on the PR and marketing angle.
I've worked with many companies over the years that have struggled with just this problem. Years ago it was pretty easy, as the marketing options were much more limited. But today, when your Website is more than a billboard and you're tasked with engaging with your audience through social media, and on top of that, still need the exposure offered by traditional media, it can get very confusing. Today even your customer service and product development teams have become key parts of your marketing and PR effort.
But more than that, they're often not sure what pieces of the vast marketing puzzle they truly need. LaunchCamp is about understanding that puzzle and having the information to make informed choices.
Among the highlights is a panel hosted by David Beisel of Venrock Partners that also features:
The breakouts sessions themselves look to be pretty amazing and a chance for smaller discussions, but also as interesting is the PR Imrpov. This is something created by Adam Zand in which he takes the basic facts about a business from someone in the audience and "pitches" it to a reporter on stage. In this case Adam will be pitching to Scott Kirsner of the Boston Globe, as well as one or two other reporters who we're still lining up.
If you haven't seen it, it's a great way to understand the skills involved in getting your name heard.
Our goal is that entrepreneurs come out of this event with a much better understanding of the skills they need to fill on their teams to get themselves through launch.
Like any small business we here at Fresh Ground watch our pennies pretty closely. While we believe that there are many fine services worth paying for, we also realize that, for the short term, we can get by without many others.
In the past I relied pretty heavily on the ProfNet emails. These are emails sent out several times a day from PR Newswire that contain lists of requests from reporters. Looking for an expert to talk about security policy? Send out request. Need a mom to talk about how to create the perfect 1st birthday while still working a full time job? Send out a request.
But now there's Help A Reporter Out (HARO), as well as Twitter and Facebook. Most reporters who are looking for feedback use these channels for their instant gratification. What's more, they're free. HARO is closest at approximating ProfNet, though I always wonder if Peter Shankman will eventually burn out on it. He works pretty hard at it, mostly on his own.
So I asked my friends. I put out a Tweet asking simply whether ProfNet was worth the hefty ($2650) price tag or if the other tools worked just as well. I heard from plenty of people.
But not from ProfNet.
This is interesting since ProfNet is promoting its social media presence, boasting that they now have 10,000 followers on Twitter. It's not like they're being inundated with information on Twitter. A simple search on the phrase "Profnet" returned a managing sized list, mostly of people retweeting that Profnet is giving away a Snuggie. To get the Snuggie you have to retweet the following, now oft-repeated phrase: "#PR pros: Get your clients quoted in the media. Follow @profnet for updates on what reporters are working on. #profnet"
Maybe it's me, but responding to my question about their value may have been more than a blanket with sleeves. And if I can get the information by following ProfNet on Twitter, why do I need to pay for the email?
Oh, and the answer from my Tweeps was loud and clear: save your money.