Selling Out the Front Page

March 16, 2010 by  
Filed under PR

It’s no secret newspapers have fallen on tough times. With more people turning to the Internet for their news and a recession that put advertising sales in the tank, newspapers are struggling. But that’s no reason to comprise journalism ethics and values.

In the more than 10 years I spent in newsrooms across this country, there’s always been a distinct line between editorial and advertising – “separation of church and state” as it’s often called. Unfortunately, that line is blurring as newspapers look for any way they can to make up lost revenue.

A perfect example of this was splashed across the front page of the Los Angeles Times on March 5. The LA Times worked with The Walt Disney Co. to create a fake front page promoting Disney’s new “Alice in Wonderland” movie. A large photo of Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter covered a fake front page with the real front page pushed back to Page 2.

This incident makes my stomach churn. What it says to me is that advertising is more important than the news. It says news should take a back seat – in this case second page – to the almighty dollar.

I’m sure the PR professionals for Disney and the movie loved this concept. It was great exposure for the movie and the controversy surrounding it simply created more buzz about the film. But any self-respecting public relations professional – particularly those of us whose roots are in journalism – should value the sanctity of editorial content. There’s a reason you can’t buy coverage like a front page news story. At least that’s the way it used to be. This incident shows us apparently you can buy the front page.

Some may argue newspapers have to do what they can to survive.  Some may suggest that these sorts of promotions will keep more journalists from losing their jobs. That may be true, but at what cost? And do these journalists really want to work for a newspaper that values money over news? Newspapers should think twice before selling the front page – and PR folks should think twice before asking them to.

Is it Time for a New Approach?

February 16, 2010 by  
Filed under social media

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When you want to promote your business, organization, event or cause, the old standbys just aren’t enough in this all-media, all-access, all-the-time world. Twenty years ago newspaper advertising was critical. And, if you could afford it, a spot on the radio or television certainly were next in line.

But, the times they are a changin’, and a business that settles on just one or two traditional modes of communication won’t be hitting the whole market of potential customers, clients, donors or volunteers.

I’m not advocating against these traditional advertising avenues. As someone who spent more than a decade as a full-time newspaper reporter, I’ve received many a paycheck thanks to newspaper advertising. And, yes, it still works. People still turn to their local paper as a source of reliable local information and that includes the ads. Magazine advertising goes another step in reaching a more targeted audience, such as women, food enthusiasts or jet-setting travelers.

You don’t have to fully eliminate print, radio or television from the marketing pie, but you may need to make the slices a little smaller to accommodate nontraditional outlets and social media. I recently heard about a large ad agency that offered up its plans to a business for a new ad campaign. The plan included newspaper, radio, TV and billboard advertising. All great, but not particularly forward thinking.

  • Go where your audience is. For example, if you want to reach a national audience of moms, take a look at the vast community of Mommy Bloggers who wield a great deal of influence. Their blogs could be just the place for your message.
  • Don’t be afraid to try a new way of promoting your business. If you typically devote 50 percent of your marketing budget to newspaper advertising, try taking 25 percent to hire a firm to manage a social media campaign for six months. You haven’t eliminated newspaper advertising completely, but you’re trying a new way to reach your audience and promote your message.
  • Be consistent in what you say. You can’t have a newspaper ad that has one message, a radio spot with something different and a blog that focuses a third component. You can promote different aspects of your business, but with a consistent thread. You want consumers to recognize your message and the best way to do that is by being consistent in everything you say.
  • Track and measure. Don’t just throw money at every option out there. Be targeted in your approach and see what works. If you try something for several months with little or no return, then move on. There are so many options today for promoting your business you may have to tap around before striking gold.

Skittles: Innocent Candy or Evil Spammer?

March 3, 2009 by  
Filed under All, PR, social media

skittlesAnother week, another blow up in the Twitterverse. And this time it’s all down to a small, sugary treat.

If you haven’t yet visited, do so now. They have replaced a traditional website with a small navigation box which overlays a search for #skittles on Twitter, the Facebook Fan page, Flickr-hosted photos and a Youtube channel. The Social Web’s dream, right? Well, maybe.

I first came across it on Saturday evening and thought it was pretty cool, and more than a little daring too. Giving over complete control to the world? Huge potential for that to backfire. Still, a fun idea, and a lot more interesting than most product websites.

Well, as with so much on the internet, it didn’t take long for the backlash to begin.

  • Many pointed out that the concept was kinda-sorta ‘borrowed’ (wholesale) from Modernista, an advertising agency in Boston who had done the same thing last March.
  • Others complained about having to be an adult to see the site, as Tim Allick puts it, “Can’t believe that #skittles website bans KIDS! Doesn’t send them to a safe page, just tells ‘em to go away. How is this smart marketing?”. (He does have a point. It’s a kids candy after all. )
  • The Wall St Journal chimed in with a round-up of comments, most of them negative.
  • Joanne Jacobs wrote  a blog condemning the whole exercise as a failure – just one day after the site launch – Why the Skittles social media campaign failed’: ” Skittles has failed in its social media campaign because all it has done is hold a mirror up to conversations, without providing any content of its own, any context for remotely valuable conversation, and any rationale for productive engagement.”
  • A poll by PR Sarah Evans, shows that 60% of respondents wouldn’t be swayed by the new site to buy more Skittles.
  • Etc, etc, and etc

Sigh. Sometimes it all seems so predictable. The constant flow of negativity. The need to show that ‘I’m not taken in by their sneaky advertising’. Jumping on the ‘this is just a rip-off’ and ‘besides, it doesn’t work anyway’-bandwagons.

Come on people! Where’s the joy? Where’s the ‘Yes, we can’-spirit we keep reading about!?

My 6 year old has recently begun spotting website addresses on things that I ignore –,, – pretty much *everything* has a website now, and they’re all the same. A nice Flash intro. Maybe a game or something. A code you can enter to unlock the hidden area. Yawn.

At least didn’t do that.

So, personally, I’m sticking with my initial reaction, “It’s kind of cool”.

They may not have been first, but they were the first Big Name Brand to do it, and that’s something. It may not convince 60% of people to buy more, but that still leaves a lot that might. It has generated a ton of publicity, and got them over half a million fans on Facebook. And it’s different and interesting.

Unlike so much of the commentary around it.

Microsoft Ad Nails It

September 19, 2008 by  
Filed under All, PR

Well, after all the hullabaloo about the Microsoft Seinfeld ad and my criticisms (see post and Brand Bandits Podcast), it seems that Microsoft got smart and did it right. I’m sure it was after they read my wise comments.

So, the new ad takes a shot at the very successful Mac vs. PC ads and defends those of us who work on a PC as not being the nerds portrayed in the Mac ads. As my colleague Simon Ashton pointed out, compared with the Seinfeld ads, Microsoft came out looking better in the Mac ads! So very smart that they latched on to the success of the Mac campaign.

What they’ve done is given a voice to all the cool people who use a PC and through that, given a personality to the PC that is not nerdy (All the Seinfeld ad did is reinforce that, I thought). It’s people from both political parties; it’s scientists, it’s enviromentalists; it’s teachers, it’s students… You get the point. I have to say it even gave me the warm fuzzies a little. Loved the part of the people who work for both Obama and McCain.

So, two thumbs up Microsoft. Glad you heeded the negative banter and fixed your mistake.

Though I must quickly add that the whole backlash over the Seinfeld ads got so much attention that it really set this second round of ads up to be noticed. Do you think we’d be talking about this ad otherwise? I think not. Think they planned it that way? If so, I have to give them way more credit.

Microsoft Seinfeld Ad Debuts

September 5, 2008 by  
Filed under All, social media

So recently I noted that one thing that Microsoft was trying to do right to improve its image was a new ad campaign with Jerry Seinfeld. Well, folks, it’s debuted and well, it sucked… at least to me.

Why? It feels like Microsoft, despite being the resident aging geek, is making a last ditch effort to be a part of the cool crowd. Wow, the effort shows and it’s painful. Take a look at the video.

Find more videos like this on AdGabber

I mean first off, Bill Gates is TERRIBLE. How stiff and awkward is he? That’s exactly what they should be trying to get away from — stiff and awkward — and all they did is magnify it here by bringing so much attention to the ad.

And poor Jerry, his stuff just doesn’t make any sense. I mean, I’m all about off-the-wall comedy, but this just misses the mark and isn’t just off the wall; it’s out of the universe completely. Hopefully, this is not Jerry’s doing, but Microsoft’s. Microsoft, in their defense, says the ad will make more sense as the campaign moves forward.

What does this have to do with Microsoft? They’re going to invent something really cool down the road? Well, enough already. Invent it now, or really gosh darn soon, or the game may be over kids.

I hate to be so hard on Microsoft and Bill Gates. He is an amazing man and it is an amazing company that took computing forward in huge ways. I just want to see them adapt and be successful, and this just ain’t the way.

What do you think?

Save Bucks and Go Online

February 8, 2008 by  
Filed under All, social media

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Feeling the economy’s pinch? Lots of small — and big — businesses are these days. And for many, one of the first places on the balance sheet they go to cut costs is the marketing line. Is that the best idea? Well, as a marketer, I certainly don’t think so. It seems to me when you’re down, that’s when you need to market the most. However, it wouldn’t hurt to reevaluate what you are spending where and try to make your marketing plan as efficient as possible.

So where does Web PR come into all of this? Well, surprisingly, it’s one of the most affordable ways to market yourself. Think about the big dollars you may be spending on print or TV ads. And with traditional media readership and viewership in major decline, those dollars are less and less effective in reaching your target audience.

If you’re needing to save a few bucks in this new year, consider cutting some of your ad budget and shifting some of those dollars into online PR. If you can’t afford to hire a company to help you with your strategy and management, try it yourself. Heck, it’s free to create a profile on MySpace and Facebook and sites like Blogger here let you set up a blog for free, as well.

But be careful, just be sure you keep things fresh and updated or your marketing dollars spent online will be for nought, as you will quickly lose credibility and no one will pay attention to your efforts if they are only sporadic.

Do Social Ads Violate Your Privacy?

November 12, 2007 by  
Filed under All, social media

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An interesting debate has arisen since MySpace and Facebook announced their new ad options that allow advertisers to target people based on information in their profiles. The Center for Digital Democracy and the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups are protesting the new ads to the Federal Trade Commission, saying they violate consumers’ privacy.

These groups say that companies should only be allowed to do this if consumers have consented, and they worry that many people who sign up on these sites don’t realize the extent to which their information is being shared and how it is being used.

“We know that teenagers use the Internet to seek help for their personal problems and to deal with difficult issues in their lives. These activities give marketers unprecedented opportunities for massive data collection and behavioral targeting,” says Kathryn Montgomery, Ph.D., professor of Communication at American University and author of “Generation Digital: Politics, Commerce, and Childhood in the Age of the Internet” (MIT Press, 2007). “The loss of privacy is too high a price for reaping the benefits of the digital age.”

Read their press release and weigh in with your thoughts. Are you OK with such information about yourself being shared with advertisers?

Social Advertising

November 7, 2007 by  
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Well, the wars continue between MySpace and Facebook, this time over new advertising features. Today, Facebook unveiled a new ad platform called Social Ads which are small ads that show up on a profile page’s “mini-feed” (which updates that person’s new activities on Facebook) and on their friends’ feeds. The ads relate to products or services that person recently purchased or recommends.

Pretty clever I think. I talked in an earlier post about how I don’t feel online advertising has really reached its potential as of yet, but I think this has the potential to really work. Wouldn’t you be much more likely to click on an ad if you knew your “friend” recommended it?

Last week, MySpace made its own ad announcement. The new “SelfServe” platform lets small businesses target users based on interests they’ve displayed on their MySpace profiles. MySpace gives these smaller ad purchasers tools to customize their ads and target their reach based on geographic, demographic and other criteria.

Not as snazzy as Facebook in my opinion (but MySpace always seems to me to fall short in that category), but a useful tool for advertisers looking to get in the online game, nonetheless.

Do You Read Web Ads?

October 3, 2007 by  
Filed under All, social media

A new study from Nielsen found that Web advertising was the least trusted form of advertising. For once, traditional media, including newspapers, TV and magazines, came out on top of the Web! 63% said they trust newspaper ads; 56% trusted TV spots and magazine ads; 26% trusted banner ads; and 34% trusted search ads. And finally, mobile advertising (via cell phone) was trusted by only 18% of respondents.

I have to say, this doesn’t really surprise me. While I am in full support of increasing your online presence, I generally recommend doing it in a non-paid or “earned” manner. This is the difference between public relations and advertising. Using PR tactics, you attempt to increase your exposure/communicate a message without paying for an ad placement.

I am not on board with Web advertising yet. I rarely pay any attention at all to online ads and I think most people would agree with me. Certainly, this study shows that, as well. I do, however, fully support increasing your visibility on search engines, which I would venture is a much more trusted source of information, and doing blogs (note: 61% of respondents in the study said they trusted blogs and other forms of consumer-generated media as reliable sources of information), Podcasts, joining social networks and more to reach out to your target publics. If you’re considering advertising, though, I agree: stick to the traditional media that you know your audience pays attention to.

Do you trust Web ads? Please weigh in with your thoughts.

Making Online Newspaper Content Free

September 25, 2007 by  
Filed under All, PR

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Last week, the New York Time announced it would discontinue its paid subscription service, TimeSelect, following most other newspapers in the country. Sadly traditional media, like newspapers, are suffering declining readership due to the Web and many are struggling to adapt to the changing ways people are getting their news.

By opening up its content, the New York Times is opening the doors to many new readers, which likely will serve the famous paper well. With so many more viewers reading, emailing articles, blogging about the stories of the day, Digging their content and more, their reputation is likley to improve among those who find their news on the Web.

Free content will also give them better search engine visibility and many more potential advertisers and ad dollars thanks to a growing number of unique visitors to their sites. All in all I think it’s a smart move for the Times.

Now, if my very favorite paper, the Wall Street Journal, would just follow suit… They seem to be one of the last hold outs on the paid online subscription service, though a recent Wall Street Journal article stated that Rupert Murdoch is considering a move toward free content. Here’s hoping, so the world can access its insightful articles!