. The Transom .

Monday, February 23, 2009

Changes to The Transom

It's been far too long since my last post, both because I'm also now writing our agency blog (www.caccauldron.com) and for a personal issue that has now come to pass. I am committed to continue The Transom but am going to expand it to not just marketing issues, but greater business issues of the day.

As such, I had the opportunity to present a social media workshop to the Missouri Credit Union Association last week. It was both a rewarding and engaging experience and while I passed on a lot of useful information to the attendees, I also learned a lot about the workings of credit unions and how they differ from traditional banks. One of the key similarities to the credit union business and my business of public relations, is a complete lack of understanding by the vast majority of potential customers, or potential members in the case of credit unions. There is a clear financial advantage for most people to use credit unions, yet the overwhelming majority of people do not. There is a clear advantage to utilizing a more robust public relations approach to marketing, yet most companies fail to understand.

When it comes to public relations, most people have the Hollywood understanding of the business - media publicists or spin doctors. While there are a few of these rats running around calling themselves PR people, in truth they are publicists, and there is a big difference. And when it comes to credit unions, most people still think of them as exclusive, private organizations that only 5% of people can get in. In reality, more than 80% of consumers qualify for membership in a credit union.

I would bet that most people would do themselves a favor by exploring a little intellectual curiosity every now and then. Stop and ask yourself, is this the best way to do it or am I doing it this way because everyone else does? Is this the best place for my money or my budget, or am I spending it like this because it's what I am familiar with? Those companies and people that choose to do a sliver of homework on the subjects find great benefit in their new choices. I bet you can too.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tips for Holiday Downtime

Many businesses shut down operations or have so few client obligations that the days can be pretty slow for those of us that find ourselves at work when everyone else is on vacation or closed for the holidays.

This year I’d like to offer a few tips on how to spend a few minutes a day getting more up to speed with the world of social media. When your co-workers or clients come back after the holiday, you can impress them with your now-working knowledge of the subject.

Tip #1 – Do a Google blog search (
http://blogsearch.google.com) on your company, your competitors or your products. Read through some of what’s being said. Write down the name of the two blogs that have the most discussion about your search. Come back a day or two later and see how the conversation has progressed.

Tip #2 – Go to
http://search.twitter.com. Search using the same criteria as Tip #1. You are now searching Twitter for what people are saying in real time. This should give you a glimpse of the conversations happening about your company, brand or competitor that you couldn’t have known about before.

Tip #3 – Visit Wikipedia (
www.wikipedia.org). Search for companies, brands, people, etc. Encyclopedia Britannica is 97% accurate. Wikipedia is 94%. If your company or major products aren’t listed, ask your PR department why. In 90% of Google searches, Wikipedia information shows up in the top five results.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Bitten by the two-headed snake

There is a saying in our agency about being 'bitten by the two-headed snake.' It's an entertaining story and an example of how our business sometimes works.

Several years ago we represented ConAgra. During one particularly bad summer in St. Louis, the largest local food bank announced that it was nearly out of food and as a result, hundreds of homeless people and those dependent on the food bank would be left to fend for themselves. We told ConAgra about the situation and they decided to deliver three 52' trailers full of food to the food bank. This represented hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of food the company was donating - a very worthy media story.

We contacted all the local media and let them know when the drop would be made. We had a lead executive come in from Omaha for a speech. We directed camera crews where to go for the best shots of the food being delivered, and had the mayor lined up to talk about the food crisis in the city. It was beautiful. Until the day of the drop...

Our press conference was scheduled for 11:00am. We had confirmations from every TV station, every paper and radio station that they would attend to cover the event. At 9:00am that morning, the St. Louis Zoo announced that it had found a live two-headed snake and would be showing it off at, you guessed it, 11:00am. And because the media think that a freak of nature is a better story than a company literally saving the lives of hundreds of helpless people, we got shafted on our event. The local business journal was the only media to attend and cover the event. The Zoo was front page news for two days.

Ever since that day, when something happens that you can't control no matter how good or compelling a clients' story may be, we say that we were 'bitten by the two-headed snake.'

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Say what?

For a tour that is, in reality, struggling to compete for sponsors and ad revenue, the LPGA's latest announcement is quite a shock. As of next season, all players will be required to pass an oral English exam. Apparently, too many foreign players were winning events and sponsors didn't like handing out trophies by way of an interpreter.

It seems an odd move to me, given the fact that so many foreign players have done very well on tour. Both the PGA and LPGA tout how 'international' they are, thus the most dominant tours because 'this is where the best from around the world come to play.' If the players fail the test, they get suspended.

The last time I checked, hitting a golf ball from here to there in the fewest number of strokes doesn't require an English proficiency. What is going to be the rule for players who are deaf and have to use sign language? Will they get automatic suspensions?

This just reeks of an American tour being threatened by 'foreigners.' If the LPGA didn't want interpreters helping the golfers with interviews, maybe the American players should take some swing lessons from the Koreans and get in the winners circle more often.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

NFL reputation keeps getting better and better

Just when I thought the reputation of the NFL couldn't get any worse, I read about its latest venture. The NFL has actually hired 'experts' to spot and stop players from flashing gang signs during televised games. This of course leads one to believe that a) many NFL players are active gang members, b) the gang activity is so rampant that 'experts' need to be hired to spot it, and c) did I mention many NFL players must be active gang members?

For a league that spends millions of dollars in advertising trying to convince the public that it's players are socially responsible, active in the community, and good people, it sure seems like a waste of money. I guess they got the 'active in the community' part right, they just didn't expect gang activity to constitute "the community."

And they didn't explain who these 'experts' are but I'm dying to know who promotes their services in such a way that is searchable for something like this. Can you imagine the interview process? An NFL executive sits across the table from the candidate quizzing him by flashing gang signs. "What's this mean?" "Who am I dissing now?"


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Greatest Marketing Challenge of the 21st Century

Because of the recent InBev acquisition of Anheuser-Busch, we get to sit back and watch probably the greatest marketing challenge of the 21st century. On one hand, we have an iconic American brand that stands for America as much as it stands for beer. It has been family owned and operated since before the Civil War. It positioned itself against its competitors as truly American when they were bought by foreign interests. It is currently running advertisements all over creation claiming to be "The Great American Lager." It is, as its recent acquiring CEO Carlos Brito panned it, "America in a bottle."

Now on the other hand we have Mr. Brito's company, InBev, an international beer behemoth that is known for keeping brands but destroying acquired companies through extreme cost cutting and cultural gutting. Through whatever reasons, AB let itself be put in the position to be acquired, and InBev was as prepared as any company to do it. Striking quickly and openly, InBev got its trophy.

So the great marketing challenge of course is how to convince the American public that now being owned by a foreign company is a good thing and Budweiser is still the King of Beers, American, family-oriented, etc. Of course, the stockholders don't care. They just made a pile of cash. But is that worth an iconic American brand?

All eyes for the next 12-18 months will be on Anheuser-Busch InBev's marketing department and agencies as they try to achieve the nearly impossible.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

InBev vs. Anheuser-Busch: Which Buffett Are You?

As with most great debates, the InBev / Anheuser-Busch potential buyout ranks up there with most presidential political discussions, at least here in St. Louis. I just learned that two influential heavy hitters are on opposite sides of the debate. On the side of InBev, throwing his weight behind the merger is icon investor Warren Buffett. On the side of Anheuser-Busch is icon crooner, Jimmy Buffett, which begs the question... which Buffett are you?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Sarah Steelman: gun provider for minors

Sarah Steelman, who is running for Governor in Missouri, just bought her 13-year-old son a rifle. In fact, she brought the media along for the shopping spree just so she could make a point about her belief in the second amendment. After a brief speech on why hand cannons are a good idea for any American, she let her young boy pick out a stick of death. I wondered about this curious action that some would call a monumental lack of judgement or parenting, so I went online to www.sarahsteelman.com to check out her beliefs. Turns out her website lists only three at this point, gun control not being one of them. So I called her office. I wanted to ask if she had bought her 13-year-old son a cell phone yet. I'm guessing not, which makes it only more ridiculous that any child would own a gun before a phone, but that's just a guess. No one at her office answered. Probably out teaching her son how to kill things. If you want to call her office and ask, the number is 573-635-5385.

The curious part about her beliefs is that she is (obviously) pro gun, but also very much pro-life. This position has always perplexed me as a voter. Is she saying that we shouldn't kill unborn kids, instead waiting until they are older so they can be shot?

In terms on managing a reputation, whether on a campaign trail or not, hawking your 13-year-old son for purposes of publicity ranks right up there with selling your grandmother for prostitution. And in terms of her priorities, check out what's working on her site. There is nothing under News/Events. And apparently she only cares about three issues. But if you want to send her money or be a volunteer, both of those sections are working perfectly. She might think she knows how to manage Missouri, but until she figures out how to manage her reputation, she isn't getting my vote.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Papa John's customer service gets an A+

After ordering two pizzas online for my staff last week from Papa John's, I was told that delivery would be within 30-45 min. Ok, not too bad. I ordered at 11:45 and expected delivery sometime around 12:30. Well 12:30 comes and goes, and then 1:15 comes and goes. I made a call around 12:45 and was told it was already on its way. Finally, at 1:25 the pizza shows up.

But that's when the bad news ended. I went online to the PJ's customer feedback section and filled out my complaint form. Thinking this would get me nowhere, since that had been my historical truth with any other company, I explained the situation in detail, more for my venting purposes than expectations of anything on PJ's side. I hit the Submit button and went back to my cold (but still tasty) pizza.

About two hours later, I received an automated email saying my complaint was received and sorry for the inconvenience. I assumed this was the end of the line. I was wrong.

The next day I received a call from Papa John's corporate office saying how sorry they were that I had a bad experience. I was told my complaint was sent to the local store of purchase and that I could expect a call in the next few days. Yesterday I received a call from the store manager saying that she was out of town last week, but just got back and say my complaint. She apologized for my experience and immediately offered two free pizzas for my trouble. I didn't even have to pay twenty-three cents. Free!

So let this be a lesson to other customer facing organizations. Whether you sell pizza or widgets, there are two key lessons here that Papa John's aced. First, have a place for customer feedback. Nothing is more annoying than wanting to complain and not being able to. Second, actually follow up with upset customers. I didn't ask for or expect free pizza, but PJ offered it because they want my business and knew I was upset.

Will I order from Papa John's again? You bet.

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Monday, June 09, 2008

"Adverleading" and the NBA Finals

In watching game 2 of the NBA Finals last night, I recognized another example of the difference between today's advertising and PR. This example isn't limited to the NBA, but most professional sporting events. Many major American professional team sports (NBA, NFL, etc) have professional cheerleaders. One could argue that their purpose would be to lead the crowd in cheering for their team. One could further argue that it's their responsibility to get the crowd pumped up. However, professional sports cheerleading and advertising share similar traits.

First, no one goes to an NBA game to watch the cheerleaders. We're there for the game. The game and the players are the PR. The cheerleaders and stadium announcer are advertising. Sure, the cheerleaders are fun to look at and provide 'entertainment' when there is a break in the action, but they don't really serve their original purpose. Take last night for example. Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics goes in hard and slam dunks over Kobe Bryant, drawing a foul. It was a critical point in the game. As he walks toward the free throw line, he waves his hands in the air, signaling to the crowd to get louder. And the crowd responds. Why? Because their player is a) talking directly to them, b) genuinely wants support, and c) is the reason the fans are there in the first place. So why aren't the cheerleaders effective? Because no one pays attention to them. We know they want us to cheer. They are paid to, theoretically, get us to cheer. It's overt sales.

Advertising has the same dilemma today. It used to work. It used to be persuasive. Today it's mostly just eye candy. The world has changed. "Adverleading" has not.