December 14, 2011

The brilliant branding move of Angry Birds.

Actions sure do speak louder than words.  And Teija Vesterbacka just proved it.

Teija’s husband Peter is the chief marketing officer of Rovio, the Finnish company that created the insanely addictive game Angry Birds.  Last week, the couple attended an event at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki to honor the country’s Independence Day.    Here’s what Teija wore:

Now…many media outlets have been crucifying – sometimes affectionately, sometimes cruelly – this “fashion nightmare” since the moment the photo was distributed.  Words used include hideous, ridiculous, the ultimate style sacrifice, and “no one else would be seen dead in this.” 

To all of these stinky-at-the-party journalists and bloggers, I say:  Damn, she sure got YOU.  Here you are wishing to shine the spotlight on what you consider to be her poor taste and yet…you’re shining the spotlight on her.  Do you honestly think she wore this gown because she thought it was high fashion couture or is trying to start a trend?  And had she worn a “normal” gown, would you have run her photo or written a single word about her attendance that night?  Doubt it.  So, basically…you played right into her hands, and I’m sure it’s no coincidence that her husband is the chief marketing officer.  My little branding-and-PR-oriented heart is giving her a huge hug right now.

Think about it.  In a media interview, Teija could have said:

  • I love my husband and I am so proud of him
  • Finland takes such pride in the creation of Angry Birds that I can wear this dress to the Presidential Palace with honor
  • I am playful, and don’t take myself so seriously…just like the whimsy of the Angry Birds game
  • My husband doesn’t just “talk the talk” on brand integrity and marketing…as a family, we join forces to “live the brand”

And yet, if she had merely said all of this…who would have cared?  And who would have believed her?  Instead, she wore the dress and she didn’t have to say a word to get her point across.  Brilliant.  That she’s sporting a serious face…not grinning constantly like a mischievous idiot…only increases my respect for her in the branding department.   

Brava, Teija.  The branding enthusiasts of Redpoint think you’re the cat’s meow.  Can’t wait to see what you wear to the company picnic.

Check out this earlier post to see how our friends at the Alamo Drafthouse movie theater showcase THEIR brand integrity when people talk or text during a movie.  Sometimes, good branding makes us crack up.

November 29, 2011

Cyber Monday 2011 proves: brand it, and they will come.

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and now Small Business Saturday. Can you say "baaa baaa?"

Ever heard of Small Business Saturday?  No?  Don’t worry.  Within the next two years, not only will you know about it, but you will feel magnetically drawn to shop at small, independent retailers on the Saturday after U.S. Thanksgiving. 

This past November 26th was only the 2nd Annual occurence of this made-up-by-retailers holiday (in this case, American Express), and yet, its Facebook page already has nearly 3 million “Likes.”  Impressive, considering that’s the equivalent of the entire population of Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

Watching the evolution of retail consumer behavior patterns tied to the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend is a fascinating lesson in branding and the combined power of internet-and-the-media.

Just look at Black Friday vs. Cyber Monday:

The term “Black Friday” first officially emerged as a moniker for the Friday-after-Thanksgiving shopping frenzy in the 1960’s, but it wasn’t until the late 1990’s that it gained widespread consumer awareness and participation.  And in fact, it wasn’t until 2002 that it became the season’s biggest shopping day each year, as confirmed by market research firm ShopperTrak.  That’s nearly 40 years from launch to goal line. 

In stark contrast:  Cyber Monday was launched in 2005 by a group called Shop.org as a way to boost online sales and encourage tech-shy consumers to become more comfortable with online spending.  (Note:  those were “prehistoric times”…high-speed internet was more readily available at businesses than residences…hence, the Monday strategy).  By 2006, online spend-tracking firm comScore Inc. reported Cyber Monday as the 12th biggest online spending day of the year.  Care to guess when it scored the top spot?  2010.  Just five years from launch to goal line.

This acceleration of consumer acquiescence bodes well for Small Business Saturday.  It is worth noting that Black Friday didn’t have the power of the internet at its inception, and Cyber Monday (while it obviously had the internet) didn’t have the power of social media or “apps” at ITS inception.  But Small Business Saturday has all of these lightening-speed marketing tools in its debut arsenal, and with that, I give you…nearly 3 million Facebook fans and counting in just its second year.

So, how does knowing about this acceleration pattern help your OWN business?  Three ways:

  1. Branding something – an annual sale, event, festival, start-of-season opportunity – turns it into a “rallying point” to create excitement, secure partners, and get consumer and media attention.  You can do this with ANYTHING, from planting your annual tulip bulbs to the day the first sand castle of the season is erected on your beach.  Brand it, create deals and events around it, promote it online and through email blasts, and soon…people will be trained to anticipate it.  It provides a “reason to buy.”
  2. Harness the internet to spread the word:  post it on calendars, optimize search terms, get partners to extend your email/website/social media audience, do some strategic online advertising, blog about it, send press releases to online media, and more.  What used to take decades to gain traction now can take mere months, or even weeks, and with far fewer marketing dollars than ever before.
  3. Ride the coat tails of this massive Thanksgiving weekend shopping power:  do you have a deal for Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or (perhaps?) Small Business Saturday?  Don’t let all that marketing equity (built on someone else’s dime) go to waste.  Be ready to join in the frenzy next year.

Of course, you may not have the marketing clout – and budget – of American Express behind you like Small Business Saturday does, but with a bit of focus and a dash of creativity, you can make an impact in your own way.  Think that’s not possible?  Redpoint made a business-building opportunity out of mud for the New England Inns and Resorts Association.  And if money can be made out of mud, surely it can be made out of anything.

Yeah…sometimes, we PR people play dirty.

Note:  Lots of research was done to gather information for this blog post, but special thanks goes to Time and the Columbus Dispatch for their very clear and succinct historical articles on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

July 21, 2011

Extra virgin olive oil gelato, mud, and elk bugling: essentials for a PR toolbox.

Who could walk by this board without at least looking at the first flavor?

The sign next to the L’Arte del Gelato cart stopped me in my tracks.  Extra virgin olive oil gelato?  Really?  While the thought of it didn’t actually make me salivate, anyone with a spirit of adventure (and Italian heritage in her DNA) would not pass up the chance to try this odd-sounding flavor.

The verdict after a sample taste?  Let’s just say that I won’t be forgoing hot fudge for olive oil any time soon.

But that one little taste was all it took to seduce me into buying a cup of Madagascar vanilla – $3.25 for a tiny cup that became a memory in 3 minutes – and, while waiting, studying the flavor menu committed me to a return visit (who wouldn’t go back for Nocciola delle Langhe?).

Curiosity prompted me to ask the server if the EVOO gelato is a popular flavor.  His answer:  “everyone comes in to taste it…and then they order something else.”

Hats off to L’Arte del Gelato, then, for a spectacular use of “intriguing weirdness” as a marketing hook.  The flavor gets top billing on the menu board, and they produce it regularly, knowing full well that very few people are really going to order it.  And damn if that gateway drug doesn’t transition people right into getting addicted to “the good stuff.”

The moral here?  When done tastefully (no pun intended), a little weirdness can be just the lure you need to cut through the clutter and grab people’s attention.  When Redpoint launched Mud Season Packages for the New England Inns & Resorts Association, we heard from several member properties that consumers who inquired about the quirky mud experience usually converted to a more “traditional” package booking (but they booked).  And when we created Elk Bugling packages for Gateway Canyons Resort, the same thing happened…media loved it and consumers were intrigued by it, but the increase in bookings had people rafting, biking, and horseback riding…NOT mastering the obscure art of elk bugling.

Business owners and brand managers often resist creating a package, product, or service that they know isn’t really going to sell, but the PR value alone can achieve an enviable ROI just by drawing eyes (and click-thrus) to the brand.  As long as it doesn’t cost too much to create, or require intense operational resources, a notably unusual offering can earn its keep just by luring in potential customers…and the rest is up to you.

And to the creative marketing folks at L’Arte del Gelato?  I see your EVOO gelato, and I raise you sundaes topped with insects, people chewing glass, and the spiritual benefits of shrinking your enemy’s head.  Ha!  Didn’t know that Redpoint represents Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Times Square, did ya?  Thanks to Ripley’s – the nirvana of odd things – we can pretty much take anyone in a “Quirky PR Throwdown.”

April 27, 2011

PR 101: “Spin” is free…6,000 red capes are not.

And did we mention the graphic design fees?

I would love to have been in the room (with a gong) when Workforce Central Florida decided that creating the cartoon character “Dr. Evil Unemployment” — and spending $14,000 on red satin superhero capes to hand out to the unemployed — was a fabulous idea.  True, hindsight is always 20/20, but how on earth could they have not forseen the misery this PR stunt was going to unleash upon them?

Unemployment is a serious issue that does not lend itself well to frivolity.   Sure, some people who collect unemployment are just lazy slackers abusing the system.  But for those people truly desperate to get a job…you’re looking at folks who are stressed out, struggling to feed their families, plagued by feeling unworthy, and seeking avenues to earn back their self respect.  Are these people likely to don a red cape in the hopes of “vanquishing” Dr. Evil Unemployment and take a picture thusly attired for the website photo gallery?  I think not.

Other elements of this $75,000 program include a Facebook contest and quiz (no joke:  “What Superhero Are You?”), photo opps for the unemployed with life size foam cutouts of Dr. Evil himself, billboards, and more.  Is it any wonder the campaign faced such criticism that they had to cancel it after the first week?  (For more details, here’s the original Orlando Sentinel story from April 15, and the Orlando Sentinel blog post from April 20th announcing the cancellation.)

The PR lesson to be learned here?  Do not use goofy, comical PR stunts to draw attention to grave issues…even when you’re the good guy who’s trying to solve them.  Now…if you’re a hotel company trying to showcase your fun side, and want to offer programs like, say…dogs cutting a record at a famous music studio in Nashville or learning to surf in San Diego…well, THAT’S ok.  Even the Today Show would approve of that (click here to see the clip…and yes, Redpoint masterminded this crazy – but successful – program).

But this doesn’t mean that serious issues like unemployment are off limits to PR people.   They just need to be treated with respect.  Take McDonald’s, for instance.  They made headlines in early April by announcing their intention to hire 50,000 people in the U.S. on April 19th.  Sounds amazing right?  Well, guess what?  They hire that many people every April anyway.  But some enterprising PR person in the McD’s food chain looked at that statistic and said, “Hey!  If we link this annual hiring spree to a specific day in April, we could probably get some positive press out of doing our part to reduce the unemployment rate!”  And voila:  they did.

Brilliant.  No cost, confessing to a little spin in their campaign (preventing the media from “exposing” it), and repackaging something they’re already doing to make it sound fresh and unique.  I love it.  Way to go, Mickey D’s.  You’ve done my profession proud.

Want a laugh?  Check out more examples of crazy but successful PR campaigns – including the Instant Gourmet Kitchen, the launch of the Department of Romance, and Playing Dirty During Mud Season – at redpointspeaks.com/results/case-studies/.

February 4, 2011

Why publicists don’t feel the love on Valentine’s Day…

Being a publicist on Valentine’s Day is a decidedly unromantic job.

Every year, we have to dissect and exploit the theme of love in new ways that garner media attention for our clients.  And while chatting over coffee last week, my Redpoint partner Vickie and I walked down memory lane on all the crazy Valentine’s Day promotions we’ve orchestrated for clients over the years, and…damn, if we didn’t end up feeling like romance mercenaries.  Some highlights…

  • Couples jumping over fire in Armenia for Tufenkian Heritage Hotels.
  • Wife-carrying contests in Finland (the man wins the wife’s weight in beer…how romantic).
  • “Sex at Sea” Survey for Royal Caribbean International, proving why “it’s better on the water.”
  • Do Not Disturb packages at Hyatt Resorts, based on our survey that found that intimacy is the number one reason couples put that sign on their door.
  • Search for the Greatest Romantic for Princess Cruises, a contest to award a free cruise to a person who could prove worthy (with a potentially viral video, of course) of this lofty title
  • “Puppy Love” packages at Loews Hotels:  who needs a man?…spend the holiday with your dog (cue cuddly visual below).  See related post about dogs surfing at Loews…we publicists seem to do an equally good job of “exploiting” pets too.

The lesson we learned here?  Publicists – and marketers – simply don’t get to be seduced by the magic of this “Hallmark holiday” like normal people.  We’ve peeked behind the curtain far too many times to swoon when romance knocks at our own door on Feb 14. 

I mean, really…what can the poor guy do?  We see a bouquet of flowers and we think:  Couples’ flower arranging classes at The Crillion…intricate rose petal patterns on the bed that spell out Will You Marry Me at La Casa Que Canta…exotic flowers arranged in bento boxes for sushi lovers…etc.  We see a box of chocolates and we think:  sensual chocolate wrap spa treatments in Maui…a diamond ring hidden in a Godiva gift box…48 hours of chocolate in New England…etc.

You get the idea.  Please don’t judge us for it…it’s an occupational hazard.  And truthfully, we’re all highly romantic and affectionate people here at Redpoint.  Just not on Valentine’s Day.

So this year, we’re going to declare February 15th “Love Your Publicist Day.”  Feel free to send us flowers, chocolate, jewelry, mushy cards…any traditional Valentine’s Day gift you wish.  Our romance-mercenary brains shut down for a while starting that day, so we’ll be quite receptive to anything you send.  But don’t wait too long past that date…magazines have long lead times, so we’ll be flipping that mercenary switch back on around July, already thinking of the newest outlandish idea to exploit love for next year.

It’s a tough job, but we do it because we ♥♥♥♥ our clients.

December 13, 2010

Musicians that play vegetables? Yeah, that’s AP-worthy…

If Associated Press (AP) has ever mentioned your (positive) story, then you know how seductive “syndication” is in the PR world.  With just one pitch or interview, your news is showcased in hundreds – sometimes thousands – of media outlets.  Talk about bang for your pitching buck and skyrocketing click-throughs to your website.

But how do you score such a home run media placement?  Surprisingly, it’s pretty simple…if you have the right story.  We recently spent 15 Minutes With… AP Travel Editor Beth Harpaz to learn exactly what it takes to catch her attention with a pitch.

Q:  How do you decide what stories make the cut for distribution over the AP travel news feed?

A:   Well, you have to remember that the AP is first and foremost a news organization, and therefore we take a “news journalism” approach to our story selection.  Even quirky, lighthearted things are almost always anchored to a major news angle, and many of the stories I assign or write are already being covered in the news some other way.  With the British Royal engagement announcement, you’ll be seeing a lot more stories about London…around the recent World Cup, we showcased several different story angles on South Africa…when new air travel regulations are passed, we might focus on the effect it will have on upcoming seasonal travel or how travelers can adapt to the situation.  Any event, announcement, or circumstance that puts a destination in the news gives us an opportunity to extract a story for the travel feed, and the angles we select have to somehow be of interest to travelers all over the world, not just locally.  Keep in mind that half of the stories I select for the feed come – not from PR people or company representatives – but from other AP news desks in the U.S. and around the world: business, entertainment, etc.  (click here  for more AP travel pitching tips)

Q:  If someone doesn’t know you, how can they get your attention to review their pitch?

A:  I read all my emails, even from people I don’t know, and it takes me just a few seconds to decide whether or not the pitch is of interest.  A straightforward email that just says “hey, I’ve got a cool thing that might work for you” is best…there’s no need to try to be clever about it.  The subject line and first few sentences of the email should give me a snapshot of the key points, highlighting what makes your story different, quirky, or of interest to readers everywhere.  Things that make people say “wow,”…things I haven’t ever seen or heard of before…things that are unexpected…all are reasons I might possibly be interested in a story.  Case in point:  Indianapolis recently had a big annual civic festival with this year’s theme focusing on food.  Well, food festivals are a dime a dozen now all around the world, but at this one?  They had a musician performing that actually played instruments made entirely out of vegetables (if you’re interested in learning more…click here).  It was the perfect inclusion for a round up of fall events, and I also tweeted about it.  I run very few deals (i.e. “third night free”) and packages (i.e. “Blissful Spa Getaway”) so people shouldn’t waste their time pitching me on those, but I do keep an eye out for packages that are tied to events already in the news (i.e. “Eat, Pray, Love Packages” or “Harry Potter Packages” launched in conjunction with the movie releases).

Q:  How much detail should someone share in a pitch?

A:  Well, I get hundreds of emails a day and craft only a half-dozen or so stories per week.  It’s fine to send a whole press release, because it doesn’t change the amount of time it takes me to decide whether or not I’m interested.  I’ll still just spend a few seconds scanning the gist of the story to decide if it has merit for AP.  Generally speaking, the shorter the better, and if what you send is newsworthy and I want more information…I’ll ask for it.

Q:  What annoys you most about being pitched?

A:  Follow up calls.  Especially repeated follow up calls.  I do look at all my emails, and if I’m not getting back to you, it simply means I’m not interested.  I try whenever possible to respond with a “no thanks” if I’m not interested, but that’s not an invitation to ask why I don’t want it or hear the angle spun in another way.  With the flood of emails and phone calls I receive each day from PR people and others pitching stories, I don’t have the time to explain to everyone why I’m not interested.  If I send a “no thanks” email, people should just be glad they received closure.  Sometimes, however, I will respond with further instructions for the person to contact me at a later date to revisit the story…and I don’t waste people’s time with stuff like that.  If I ask for that, I mean it.  And one more thing:  I don’t normally do “general, informational interviews,” especially in person.  PR people often pitch me that their client’s CEO is in town, and can they come by my office for a chat?…or try to get me to spend some phone time with a client on a get-to-know-you kind of call.  To me, it’s rare that these types of interviews have a point.  I will do interviews when a particular angle is on my radar screen, but otherwise, I don’t often go on “fishing expeditions” for other news stories.  So many timely and relevant stories land on my desk every single day that I have no need to spend my time in this way.

Q:  How do you decide when you can write a story “from your desk” and when someone needs to go out into the field to experience things first hand?

A:  We try to give coverage to things long before they happen, which gives travelers the opportunity to plan a trip to experience them.  In the Indianapolis example described above, it was more important that we cover it BEFORE the date, than to go experience the festival and write about it after the fact.  But when we’re doing a destination or neighborhood story, or something that’s a perennial or seasonal story, it’s always my preference to send a reporter and photographer to experience the story first hand.  In the case of the “Mud Season Getaways in New England” story you pitched me on a few years ago, I could have just done a round-up of the hotel packages offered, but the unexpectedness of the story seemed worthy of a broader perspective.  You don’t think of mud as a reason to travel – more like a reason to stay away – so it was the “man bites dog” aspect of the pitch that attracted me.  It was worth my sending in a regional AP stringer/photographer to explore the larger story.  When I have the resources and a local AP person to tap for on-the-ground research, I always prefer that to “desk stories.”

Last Q:  So, what’s one thing that’s on your radar screen right this very moment?

A:  Ireland.  I’m swirling around the idea that “Ireland is the new Iceland,” so I’m open for any and all story ideas about Ireland right now.

Want to try your hand at pitching Beth?  Email her at bharpaz@ap.org, and follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/AP_Travel.

 

August 2, 2010

Worth 1,000 words…and every penny.

There is a reason the phrase “A picture is worth 1,000 words” came into being.  And in the PR and marketing world, there’s a twist on that old adage:  “A cool photo shoot is worth every penny.”

When Redpoint launched a Learning Vacations for Pets program at Loews Hotels, we dutifully wrote up the details in a compelling press release.  But you want to know what got the most attention from journalists?  This…

Journalists — and “regular people” — love arresting visuals.  If you’ve got fabulous news to share…don’t cut corners by skimping on the photo shoot.  You can maximize your spend by using the photos in other ways beyond PR…on your website, in email newsletters, on Facebook and other social media sites, and much more.

The cooler the photo, the more likely it will command the attention you seek.  So, when a visual will help tell your story better than words can, bite the bullet and spend the money.  People will remember it long after your words are forgotten.