Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday Freakin’ Three-fer!

Evolution of the uptempo song about homicide (middle-aged white-guy edition)

It’s a Freakin’ THREE-FER!

Save This Page

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Serial Shows = Narrative

My mother used to tell me that nobody cares if you’re having a bad day. If you’re in a bad mood, act like you’re in a good mood. Before you know it, you will be.

Good advice that I have not always taken.

Today, Seth Godin takes up the standard with his advice that “the difference between a company that makes stuff and a company that markets is that the latter is conscious of the fact that the market demands a show.”

I would take that a step further. Mr. Godin’s “shows” are vignettes: little snapshots that create an impression for your customers, business partners, &c. You string together a series of those vignettes and you’ve got yourself a narrative.

This applies whether you’re an airline, a soup kitchen, a client service exec or an employee: A man sees what he expects to see and disregards the rest.

Let’s break it down: If your organization develops a reputation for lousy service, almost anything negative that happens to your customers feeds that narrative. Run out of Michelob on the red-eye? Cheap SOBs. Lose my suitcase out of 150,000 you moved today? Careless. Give my kid a wings pin on his first flight? That’s a lame attempt to make amends.

A cynic would call that “just PR.”

Guess what: It’s all PR. Every interaction with your customers, vendors &c. is an opportunity to help or hurt your relationships with them. To advance your preferred narrative. Or not.

Too macro? How about at your shop?

If you have an employee who always arrives prepared, on-time and looking sharp; he gets the benefit of the doubt. The associate who tends to use all of the sick-leave on Mondays and Fridays? Probably not a good idea to show up late the day after the Super Bowl.

Historical Example: America’s first PR guy was Benjamin Franklin. When his printing business was slow he didn’t sit in the window and stare at the street outside his shop. At dinner time – after regular business hours when his prospects were making their way to dinner or the theater – he would hang a sign on the door announcing he was out on deliveries and then hurried up and down the crowded avenues of Philly pushing wheelbarrows full of worthless paper.

Seems quaint, but after running into him a few times you can’t help but think that guy works hard.

And he gives good service.

That’s the beginning of a narrative.

The rest, you probably know.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Public Relations: Let Us Yell Your Story

Tom over at Advertising for Peanuts (which is kind of cool) posts about Joining the Story versus merely telling tour story.

Spot freaking on.

If all you need is to have your story told, tell it. But that’s a monologue. See who listens. Still, involving your organization in a dialogue with its customers – and any other audiences – is much simpler.

That’s not to say easier.

The Dominant Narrative Theory is all about recognizing that the version you choose to tell about your brand (city, product, whatever) is not automatically the one that takes hold. That’s kind of where I come in, but I digress …

The old model – the mass media model – was to ignore all those other voices and try to shout them down. Buy more space, hang more paper, hold a bigger event. Essentially, spend your opponent into oblivion. See who can bleed the longest.

Let’s call that Yelling Your Story.

Technology and increasingly savvy audiences have created a new model: building relationships. If you’re not excited about your relationship with your customers, why should they be? That cute actor you hired to represent your company is not the only one who speaks for your company.

Who else? In a viral world, here’s a short list:

You, your boss, your team, your receptionist, your parking attendant, sales force, product specialists, mail room, landlords, janitorial staff, neighbors, friends, freight broker, employees, their families, their friends, their families’ friends, the guy who fixes the ice machine, the creep who follows you on Twitter, that old dude in accounting who doesn’t speak to anybody, the lady who sits next to him on the bus to work, the kid who brings the sandwiches, his mom, her sister, the guy who does their hair, all the other people whose hair he does, their families, their friends …

h/t: kd

Save This Page

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The (Absolute*) Last Word on PR Blacklisting …

… in which I cut off my own nose for your amusement.

I once got a call from a journo that started like this:

Me: Hello? This is Dan.


A little background may be in order. Per a prior agreement, the people I was representing had promised to make a certain significant announcement in one medium. The journo above [it should be obvious by now] represented a competing outlet. He had just had the misfortune of learning news about his beat on the way to work. On the radio.


[If you’re short on time, skip to Here’s the Deal below.]

It also may be helpful to understand that I was new on the job (see tail end of this entry) and it was about 7:45 in the morning (not the best time to take what my mother would call “that tone with me.”) So, after explaining that his editor would be furious – either a thinly veiled threat or a desperate cry for help – he began to insult the competing outlet. Its editors. Its audience. Why?! the journo demanded, had I made this terrible decision?

Did I mention I didn’t? Still, taking falls like this is part of media consultant’s job description. We continue …

[remember here that I didn’t make this call – I could have changed it, but by this point I’m glad I didn’t]

“NAME,” I said. You seem to be very upset.” [yeah, I’m a pretty passive-aggressive SOB early in the day] “It’s not that I didn’t want to give you the story, it’s just that a few weeks ago when I took this job we sent you a personnel release. You never ran it, so I figured you didn’t even know we were here.”

[earpiece on telephone becomes noticeably warmer]

“Is THAT what this is about?!”

Flash forward 45 minutes. The phone is ringing.

“Hello? This is Dan.”

He’s in mid sentence, reading headlines and leads from every story his outlet has published about my client in the past (as far as I let him get) four years. He didn’t write any of them, but that doesn’t seem to slow him down.

Finally, I interrupt:

Me: “I never accused you of ignoring [the client]. We had an agreement that was made before either you or I came along and I made a decision to honor that agreement. Now, what can I do to show good faith and start a good relationship with you?”

Journo: “Nothing. Nothing. The trust is gone. We have no relationship anymore.”

Me: “Did we have one before?”

Journo: “I have a lot of things to cover. I have [this] and I’m just getting to know [something else] and I don’t need this $#!7. This is a great way to introduce yourself. You have no trust here.”

Me: “Did you just call me to insult me because I have work to …”


Journo: “No, I want to get a quote from the CEO about this deal.”

Small victories.

S’anyway …

Flashback 15 Years

A publication important to my client called asking for confirmation that the company had just lost its biggest customer. This was a leading pub known for its ‘good news’ focus. Why had they singled us out? Again, I was new to the account so I can be (pretty) sure it wasn’t about me.

We tried to soften the blow, but the writer had sources. Whadaya gonna do?

Here was the client’s suggestion: “Let’s freeze ‘em out. They get nothing from us from now on.”

Obviously a strategic thinker.

Did we freeze them out? Get real.

Did we express our displeasure with their selective editorial policy? Absolutely, but it didn’t stop that story from running, nor should it have. Still, we made our point and the book remained receptive to our pitches throughout my tenure on the business.

Here’s the Deal

We need them. They need us. In a fragmented media environment we need each of them a lot less. In a multi-source wired environment they need any of us a little less.

But they still need us. And, yeah, we still need them. Is it so hard to understand that?

If any blogger, writer, editor, desk, pub … whatever … wants to turn a deaf ear to actual news to make a point, God bless ‘em. We’ll see them in the rear-view mirror along with the “let’s-freeze-‘em-out” guy.

There’s no room for them in the future.

We move on ...

Save This Page

*I hope

Monday, May 19, 2008

Drama Has Lessons for PR

In a previous post, I visited the whole idea of telling your story first. Unchallenged, most people – including the people you’re trying to influence – tend to believe whatever version they hear first. That version shapes their narrative.

It’s their Dominant Narrative.

In a conversation about movies with the creative director where I work, Eric Weltner, the whole idea of movies that mess your morality came up. In many classics the filmmakers (some would say directors but my vote is with the writers) get you to root for the bad guys because you know them. Because you know them, you understand and, to some degree, sympathize with their motivations.

There’s a lesson here, though it’s an admittedly awkward analogy.

If people have accepted you – your company, your brand &c. – as the GOOD GUY, you tend to get a pass on the small stuff.

As long as you stay within your narrative. Step outside, and it’s over.

While you chew on that, here’s the start of a list of productions that make you sympathize with unsympathetic characters:

• The Sopranos
• The Godfather (eye and eye eye)
• Psycho (Hitchcock films are noted for this)
• Office Space (yes!)
• Sweeny Todd

What else ya’ got?

Image Cred

Save This Page

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bad Public Relations! Bad! Bad!

Over at Mediabistro they’re having a good ol’ fashioned dust-up over blacklisting and [dramatic music] When Public Relations Goes Bad. [music fade]

Jeebus, is there a profession more filled with self-loathing than PR? Everybody gets that it’s a bad idea to waste your client’s money, the journo’s time and your own dignity by pitching something completely irrelevant to the medium at hand.

Paul Brown made that point – rudely and naively but pretty comically – in 1991. Is there really so much more to be said about it?

1991. What were you doing in 1991?

But let’s face it: We have clients (and bosses and shareholders) to serve and if you’re not willing to put your dignity on the line from time to time, you’ve got no skin in the game. And where’s the fun in that?

Now PRSquared is getting in on the action with a Seven-point plan to “wake up” the industry.

Thanks, guys.

We needed that.

Consider your relevant media tushes kissed.

There’s nothing wrong with the guidelines or code or oath or … whatever per se, but why the compulsion to change? To establish unilateral rules? At some point it’s like an abusive relationship where the victim resolves to “stop bringing it on myself.”

Here’s a nice rule, call it #8: Don’t be a jerk. Pretty simple, and it goes both ways. It means that if you’re working a media relations project and a scribe tells you that your story doesn’t fit, thank him or her for their time and wish them luck. If you’re a reporter and you get a call from somebody with an idea only tangentially related to your beat, say thanks but decline.

But have some bloody manners, both of you.

By the way, if you start a blog called and somebody pitches you a new microwave oven, have a little patience as you explain that your sole focus is on fluorescent vinyl siding. Or blenders. Or whatever. Then think about your naming strategy. Just a little.

One more thing: It’s a good idea for all concerned to remember that everybody has a first day … on the job, in the profession, on the account or on the beat. You did, too.

Be excellent to each other.

Oh yeah: And quit whining.

image cred

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Public Relations and Office Politics

I'm happy to be in a much different environment now, but about a hundred years ago I began my agency career with a very small office of the Very-Big-Advertising-and-Public-Relations-Agency-of-America.

We were teh 5h!7.

If you don’t remember A:/dos or B:wp this may not have the relevance for you it does for some. But we continue ...

About six months into the gig I decided that all the drama – real and imagined – surrounding me would make a great narrative so I began taking notes on the events and personalities I witnessed every day. Over the weekend, while going through the semiannual culling of excess inventory, I came upon those notes.

Bad news for some of my friends.

Anyway, on page 4, the twentysomething Lally proclaims:

Things Every Agency Man Believes

1. There is no business problem that cannot be solved with the right advertising campaign. [direct quote]

2. This agency can do anything – even if we’ve never actually heard of it before. [remember, this was before the internets]

3. The client’s idea can always be improved. [again, direct quote]

4. Nobody is as smart or works as hard as we do in the agency business.

Corollary: The people at our agency are smarter and work harder than they do at other agencies.

5. Someday – and soon – I am getting out of the agency business and going somewhere my talent will be appreciated and I’ll finally be paid what I’m worth.

6. With just a few people I know I could leave here tomorrow and start my own shop. My clients would follow me.

Corollary: I’m definitely taking you with me. [direct quote, minimum 17 times]

7. This is the best business in the world. [direct quote, at least once a week]

8. I hate the agency business. [direct quote, at least twice a week]

Image Cred

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Meta Twitter

So, after a week (yes!) on Twitter a friend asked me, "How useful is it?"

I told him I see a lot of potential for it (mostly for clients), but right now -- personally -- I would categorize it as a useful tool toy. Kind of like my night vision goggles.

Or my very first flash drive.

Helluva lot cheaper than the goggles, though.

Danger, Will Robinson

Sleep is out of the question, so WTF …

In the golden of age of childhood, which – of course – is whatever age the speaker was a child, we covered a lot of ground on Halloween. Kids in the city had maybe 15 feet (and perhaps a flight of steps in some neighborhoods) so the economic cost/benefit equation always seemed to support the decision to keep going until all the porch lights went out.

But what seemed like a tremendous haul back home, always shrunk in the light of the candy inspection. Maybe you do this now.

Unwrapped candy? Out.

Slightly torn wrapper? Pitch it.

Carefully dipped and wrapped apple? Where’d that come from?

We knew, because it was the … wait for it … Dominant Narrative that there were all kinds of creeps out there who got their jollies poisoning and injuring unsuspecting kids. It was our truth because we believed it, out parents believed it and the nice ladies on the teevee kept warning us about it.

But was it true? Have you ever actually heard of a needle-in-the-apple placed there by a complete stranger?

By a complete stranger?

Me neither.

Now I am not suggesting that anybody stop thinking twice about candy from strangers. Nor does anyone dispute that a healthy dose of wariness is a healthy skill to teach children.

But still.

Every autumn hospitals offer to x-ray bags of candy for children. Have they ever found the razor in the candy bar? If they have, it got ridiculously little coverage in the mainstream press.

That’s not to say those community hospitals should stop capitalizing on the dominant narrative. That’s, you know, what we’re all about here.

Especially if it gets me back my Reese’s cups.

But is it a good idea to scare the kids in the process?

Just askin’ …

Image cred:

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

History is Written by the Winners*

What do your remember from grade school history? Chances are it shapes everything you think … or know … about the world. For you, that’s the dominant narrative about what happened (for most of us) in Europe and the New World. It’s your truth.

Later on, as the missing pieces are filled in by high school and college courses, or even your own reading, your understanding may change. Still, all that new information is incorporated – even as an exception – into the dominant narrative.

Some of my favorite Thanksgiving table talk is about Squanto. You probably remember him from 3rd grade: He was the Native American who helped the settlers through that first cold winter and desperate spring. So here’s the question: In what language did Squanto greet the Pilgrims?

The answer, of course, is English as he had been to London.

So what happened in the 115 years between Columbus and Jamestown? I remember reciting something about the Fountain of Youth, Montezuma’s ransom and the Inca gold.

But what about Spaniards in Kansas?

Sort of gets left out of the narrative.

In A Voyage Long and Strange, Tony Horowitz picks up the story where most of the popular history books leave off. Along the way he encounters Samoset, the real first Native American to greet the English (in English) in Massachusetts. (His request: A beer. Good man.)

But Horowitz also finds French and Spanish adventurers crisscrossing what’s now the continental United States and eventually exploring half of the current states. He offers the description from a Conquistador lying on the plains of Kansas (“a sea of grass”) and marveling at how flat the land is.

So why haven’t we all heard this story before?

At the time it could gone any of several different ways. But the English (and their language) eventually won. Since then, nobody’s been telling that story and other narratives have become dominant.

And all the arguments would have been a little different.

* Alex Haley

Monday, May 5, 2008

Slugger Takes a Walk

The Dominant Narrative about José Canseco is that he’s, well … José Canseco. Libel laws and such prevent me from elaborating.

The Dominant Narrative about the CDO meltdown is that it’s affecting everyone.

So which wins when this happens?

Poor José.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Winning Narrative for a Second-place Horse

Caveat: I don’t pretend to know anything about horses other than they’re cool. I spent a good part of my childhood around two American Quarters, but one of them (Sheba) really hated me and I just gave him his space.

But this post isn’t about horses so much. It's about the fact that the PR counsel for PETA has got to have one of the 20 or so easiest gigs in the business. Anytime an animal hits the news, you go on the offensive. You can even admit upfront that you have no evidence, and still the verysmartpeople at the leading news organizations in the world will pick you up.

How cool it that?

The Kentucky Derby benefits from a very simple narrative involving tradition, our agrarian heritage and … well, hats. But still …

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has an even simpler narrative: YOU are exploiting defenseless animals in ways you haven’t even thought about and you should think about that.

Does the organization expect all of the investigations, suspensions, charges, changes, etc. called for in their release actually to happen? Of course not. But a bunch of people saddened by the Eight Belles accident will write checks in the next 30 days.

As long as there are Thoroughbreds in the world, there will be horseracing and jumping. (Not to mention trail riding and whatnot.) If we all agree to stop trail riding and racing and jumping horses … or even breeding animals for specific characteristics … what happens to that last generation?

It’s a fight PETA can’t win. But it’s a narrative that can’t lose.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Friday Freakin'

Remember the days of reallyreally pretentious pop music?

Message from a friend.

Reading List

Had a tangential conversation in a management meeting today in which we … okay, mostly I mentioned that certain books that are not at all about public relations, business, management or marketing per se can offer insights into how we can do our jobs better. The Malcolm Gladwell oeuvre comes to mind, but are there others?

Here’s my (very) short list:

Sun Tzu
The Godfather
Too Funny to be President (Mo Udall)

Whadaya got?

Or, what are you reading?