Tag Archives: #media placement

The Dirty Secret Behind Sir Richard Branson’s Attack on the Suit and Tie

Joseph Stalin Refused to Wear a Tie

For Sir Richard Charles Nicholas Branson – the English business magnate known for his Virgin Group of more than 400 companies, his daredevil exploits, his humanitarian deeds, and his estimated net worth of $4.2 billion – nothing is more important than brand image.

Largely because Virgins are always in short supply, Branson serves as the personification of his brand, and works hard to nurture the image of a counter-culture, free-spirited, creative thinker who’s always ready with new solutions to old problems, eager to challenge the status quo. The public’s role is simply to accept the underlying notion that Branson’s companies all embody the same sort of energy and positive thinking that he exhibits, and to ignore the fact that several of his ventures have gone belly-up over the years.

So it’s no great surprise for Branson watchers to see him crank up his PR machine to attack formal business attire – specifically the suit & tie – as the greatest threat to capitalism since Joseph Stalin (who, ironically, was never photographed wearing a business suit.)

Evidence of Branson’s well-managed crusade to disparage the defenseless suit & tie can be seen everywhere. He’s in London snipping off $125 silk ties from people he meets. He’s in Entrepreneur Magazine extolling the virtues of the open collar workplace. He’s on CNN, with his toothy smile, explaining why it’s impossible to be creative while wearing a business suit. Here’s a sampling of the Branson propaganda:

“Suits and ties in an office are just another type of uniform, but in an arena where uniforms no longer serve any useful purpose. At one time they probably showed that the wearer was, at the very least, able to purchase and maintain a fairly expensive piece of fabric. Now, however, in an individualized, interconnected culture, your achievements speak for themselves. The suit and tie is an anachronism.”

If businessmen believed that not wearing a suit & tie would make them more creative, move them up the corporate ladder faster, or get them closer to earning their first billion dollars, they’d all be on the Branson bandwagon. If casual wear was the proven secret to success, they’d all wear pajama bottoms, tank tops and Crocs to work (which happens to be the official uniform of everyone who works from home.)

But suit & tie wearing business professionals all know two important things that Richard Branson is never likely to understand or to acknowledge:

  • Throwing on a suit and tie at 6 o’clock in the morning requires very little time or effort, and involves zero concern that what you’re wearing will be the butt of jokes at lunchtime, and…
  • Rumor has it that Virgin Menswear LLC – a new concept in men’s fashion – is currently under development by Sir Richard.

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Did The New York Times Purposely Fuel the Goldman Controversy?

A Compromised Value Proposition?

If the biggest loser in disgruntled employee Greg Smith’s recent OpEd piece was Goldman Sachs, then the apparent winner in this high-profile media sideshow was The New York Times. Rarely has an opinion piece on any topic, published in any major newspaper or periodical, attracted so much attention and controversy.

The veracity of Mr. Smith’s opinion and the timeliness of his topic notwithstanding, is it ever appropriate for a publication as widely read and long-respected as The New York Times to provide a platform for one disgruntled employee? In publishing Mr. Smith’s description of Goldman’s shortcomings, and his heartfelt reasons for quitting the firm, did The New York Times supply an inherent level of credibility and endorsement of Mr. Smith’s position?

If The New York Times was genuinely interested in presenting its readers with a balanced viewpoint – traditionally a fundamental responsibility of the Fourth Estate – would it not have given Goldman Sachs an equal editorial platform to present the firm’s response to Mr. Smith – ideally in the same issue and on the same page as Mr. Smith’s OpEd piece? Or was the element of surprise part of the publication’s marketing strategy?

In the Greg Smith / Goldman Sachs matter, The New York Times appears to have borrowed a page from the playbook of now defunct Jobvent.com, a website that pioneered a viral platform for anonymous employees to post their titillating rants on real and imagined injustices by their employers.

As the line separating bona fide news reporting from entertainment continues to erode, and as advertising revenues disappear, in its decision to print Mr. Smith’s largely unsubstantiated viewpoint, The New York Times may be complicit in trading in its legendary journalistic standards for a temporary spike in brand recognition and readership.

By delivering self-serving content of this caliber, the Gray Lady likely revealed more about its own integrity than that of Goldman Sachs.

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Jimmy Webb and the Power of Storytelling for B2B Companies

Music critic Miss Universe on "A Hard Day's Night" movie set

Songwriting legend Jimmy Webb has written some of pop music’s most enduring ballads, including Wichita Lineman, By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Galveston, The Worst That Could Happen and the rock cantata MacArthur Park (simultaneously heralded as a musical masterpiece and the worst song ever written.)

The 66 year-old Oklahoma native now lives in Long Island and performs year-round at small venues in the US, Canada and abroad. Baby boomer fans pack the room to hear Webb strain to hit his own songs’ high notes, to listen to his tales of life on the road, and to get the real stories behind how and why he wrote specific songs.

At a show last weekend in New Jersey, Webb told fans about his first trip to London in 1964, where he fell in love with Miss Universe, who he met on the set of the Beatles movie, A Hard Day’s Night. According to the rambling story, in his attempt to impress the beauty queen – who had been cast as an exotic dancer and appears for 6 seconds in the film – Webb invited her back to his hotel room, where he sat her down next to him on the piano bench and performed his then unrecorded version of MacArthur Park. Unfortunately for Webb, the 7 ½-minute song failed to put her under his spell. She told him it was a silly song and left. Or so Webb’s story goes.

For the 450 people who heard Webb’s London adventure, all of whom have listened to MacArthur Park for decades, their musical experience has been forever re-shaped. When they hear that song in the future, it will provide a different context or a different meaning. Now, instead of cakes left out in the rain, they’re more likely to envision Jimmy Webb serenading Miss Universe in London. That’s the power of storytelling.

Social media and technology provide efficient ways for people to tell stories. But according to Dr. Pamela Rutledge, Director of the Media Psychology Research Center, “The human brain has been on a slower evolutionary trajectory than the technology. Our brains still respond to content by looking for the story to make sense out of the experience.”

Writing in Psychology Today magazine, Dr. Rutledge notes that, “When organizations, causes, brands or individuals identify and develop a core story, they create and display authentic meaning and purpose that others can believe, participate with, and share. This is the basis for cultural and social change. This is a skill worth learning.”

Increasingly, in B2B communication, companies focus on the medium and the technology, rather than the underlying message, its meaning or purpose.  In our world of websites, blast emails, podcasts, webinars, analytics, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, marketing automation, smart phones and mobile apps…it’s easy to forget that the quality of a company’s narrative drives people to notice, participate or care about what’s begin sold – whether that be a product, service or a philosophy.

We’re all familiar with how the big brand companies such as Harley Davidson, Jack Daniels, Levi Strauss, IBM and Ben & Jerry’s have leveraged their corporate narratives to build awareness and market interest. But most small and medium-sized companies, and B2B firms in particular, are at a loss to understand how the power of storytelling can showcase their core values, mission and marketplace differentiation. But this goal can be accomplished…not by cooking up elaborate tales about the company’s founders or its early struggles… but rather, by pulling back the curtain on how and why the company makes decisions, and by using real-life examples and incidents to provide interest and context.

A great example of effective storytelling involves Davidson Trust Company, a Devon, Pennsylvania-based investment manager with around $1 billion in assets under management. In a series of columns published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Davidson’s CEO Alvin A. Clay III used stories to establish relevance for his thoughts on issues of importance and likely interest to his firm’s current and prospective investors.

In one of his columns, Davidson’s CEO described how his father – a longtime professor at Villanova – had been the beneficiary of kindness as a young man, and had devoted much of his teaching career returning the favor to others. In another, Mr. Clay recounted a heated debate he had experienced with other business leaders, and how that exchange had shaped his decision-making process regarding publication of his company’s ethics statement on its website. In all of Clay’s columns, he used storytelling to deliver insight and to position the Davidson brand in a genuine, credible and memorable manner.

At his concerts, Jimmy Webb spends more time telling stories than he does on singing his songs. And these events typically end with a 10-minute standing ovation.

Earlier this month, Davidson Trust Company received its own standing ovation. Publicly traded Bryn Mawr Bank Corporation (NASDAQ:BMTC) announced plans to acquire Davidson.

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No-Cost, Cornball Marketing Can Drive B2B Top-of-Mind Awareness

LtoR: Heather Fuller, Andrew Crisp, Percy, Gary Thompson, Mickie Kennedy. Missing: Nimmi, the acrobatic dog.

eReleases competes with dozens of electronic news distribution services, all seeking to charge companies and PR agencies hefty fees to put their press releases in front of journalists, in hopes of capturing the media’s attention and coverage.

After some polite online badgering by eReleases, Highlander Consulting gave that upstart firm a shot last week; tasking them to distribute a press release for one of its clients, CAP Index Inc. – a leading provider of  crime forecasting data and risk analytics.  eReleases’ results were as good as, or better than, any of its larger, better-known competitors.

But what impressed us more than the quality of their service, was the no-cost, cornball guerilla (included in photo) marketing tactic that eReleases applied to thank us for our business.

A whacky whiteboard “eReleases Welcomes…” photo, personalized by name, sent by editorial director Heather Fuller, was embedded with this note:

“We just wanted to take the opportunity to personally welcome you as a valued eReleases customer and let you know we’re not just a website in some guy’s basement. 🙂

If you ever have any questions or concerns, pick up the phone and call us. All of our editors pick up the phone. No pushy salesperson or operator standing between you and us.”

So….what service provider will Highlander think of FIRST the next time we need to distribute a press release online?

Marketing Lesson: Cheap, clever and memorable can beat costly and sophisticated when it comes to driving top-of-mind awareness with targeted B2B audiences.

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BMW’s Storm Cooper: A Mini-Coup Rather than a PR Blunder?

Stormy Weather for BMW?

For a fee, Germany allows people or companies to sponsor the names of weather fronts. So last month, to promote the “wind and weatherproof” capabilities of its Mini Cooper line, BMW’s marketing agency purchased naming rights to a high pressure system that originated in Siberia.

But the Cooper storm turned out to be far more than weather forecasters and BMW expected. As the storm made its way through Eastern Europe, its sustained sub-zero temperatures were attributed to the deaths of more than 250 people.

PR industry pundits and critics have been quick to jump on BMW for its decision to associate its brand with what has turned out to be one of Europe’s most deadly winter storms on record. A headline in the Wall Street Journal announced: “Weather Deal Backfires for BMW’s Mini.”

But did it really?

Although BMW quickly and properly issued a statement saying that it regretted the weather front’s severity, and distancing itself from the deadly consequences of weather, the car company’s $400 investment in Storm Cooper may have been a PR bonanza rather than a black eye.

The Wall Street Journal’s position notwithstanding, few people are likely to blame BMW for the storm’s impact, or to associate the Mini Cooper brand with the casualties. However, if top-of-mind awareness is a beneficial marketing objective for a car company, then the exponentially greater, world-wide storm-related coverage for BMW’s Mini Cooper marque certainly won’t hurt showroom traffic or the company’s balance sheet.

In this case, the old saw, “All publicity is good publicity” may well be true. I’m confident that BMW’s marketing agency considers this a solid win, rather than a blunder.

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PR Lesson from a Twitter Flap

Emma Sullivan

@emmakate988

Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot

When Shawnee Mission High School student Emma Sullivan jokingly tweeted her friend on November 21st, expressing her opinion of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s education policy, she had no reason to suspect that her 87-character message would ignite a firestorm of national debate; generate media exposure from nearly every major news source; increase her Twitter followers to nearly 16,000 from 61; or make her the poster child de jour for the First Amendment.

It wasn’t Emma’s tweet that caused the high-profile controversy. The flap was created by a staffer in Governor Brownback’s office who was compelled to contact the leader of Emma’s “Youth in Government” program, who notified Emma’s high school principal, who demanded an apology from Emma, who responded by notifying the media that her God-given American right to tweet was threatened. Stop the presses: we’ve got ourselves a sexy story that’s ready for prime time.

At this point, Governor Brownback and the Shawnee Mission School District had a big decision to make: either hold your ground, or back off a controversy that the media was likely to milk for days, and would position the governor and educators as free speech bullies and social media terrorists.

Contrary to decision-making you might expect from politicians and bureaucrats, both parties immediately backed down. The governor issued an apology, and the school district publicly stated its support of free speech and said Emma was not required to apologize. Smart move.

The PR lesson from this tweet heard round the world is that an apology is often the most effective way to limit damage to one’s reputation or brand. It takes guts to admit an error, but if it’s done correctly, you can build goodwill that offsets the mistake.  For some guidelines on how to apologize correctly, check out Ken Makovsky’s blog post on John Kador’s book, “Effective Apology.”

Emma Sullivan might want to put Kador’s book on her Christmas wish list. She has yet to learn basic diplomacy skills from her Youth in Government program. To date, Emma has refused to apologize for her salty tweet.

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B2B Marketing Strategies and Insights

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Thought Leadership For Sale: Surviving in a Pay-to-Play World

Pay-to-Play Is a PR Business Reality

Most PR practitioners quickly learn that the Chinese Wall protecting editorial integrity from the influence of paid advertising can be, like the Pirate’s Code, “more of a guideline than an actual rule.” For better or worse, at a great number of well-known and respected media sources, advertising can purchase anything from regular coverage of meaningless news items, to top billing in an industry roundup, or even an outright puff piece.

Despite denials and indignation from journalists, money does talk at many print, electronic and online media sources; often in direct relation to the financial health and business prospects of its corporate owners. These quid pro quo arrangements are never in writing, and typically communicated over a lunch with a publisher or sales rep who, with a smile or a wink, assures the client or agency that, “I have no influence over editorial…but I’ll see what I can do.”

Trade and professional associations are not burdened with an obligation of intellectual honesty akin to that of the Fourth Estate. But it’s safe to assume association membership expects that guest speakers and “experts” featured on the agenda of their organization’s annual conference will be selected on the basis of experience, insight and presentation skill. A small number of these groups do restrict vendors from agenda participation, but at most industry conferences, any outside 3rd party can purchase a prominent place on the program agenda…and many of those presentations are poorly disguised sales pitches.

This sale of “thought leadership”– market visibility with inherent credibility – is neither a recent development nor a crime that deserves a congressional investigation. Pay-to-play is a fact of business life, and to deal with this reality, PR and marketing professionals can either:

  • Use the market advantage that deep-pocketed companies have over their (limited budget) client or employer as a convenient rationalization for their inability to generate (unpaid) thought leadership; or they can
  • Stop whining, get creative, and lacking economic resources, promote bona fide content and foster personal relationships as currency to generate thought leadership.

With the media, succeeding in a pay-to-play world means two things.  First, it means creating content that’s timely, tailored for the recipient and never delivered in a press release. Secondly, it means building good will with key journalists by consistently providing them with relevant information and ideas, regardless of whether it relates to your company or client, without any expectation of immediate return.

With public platforms, succeeding in a pay-to-play world mostly means advance planning. It can begin by attending the prior year’s event to get a sense of the organization’s membership, priorities and culture, and to meet the group’s leadership. Conference agenda development can start 9 or more months in advance of the event, so it’s important to be on line early with a topic likely to resonate with members. It also helps if your proposal features a dues-paying member of the sponsoring organization.

In both cases, succeeding in a pay-to-play world means managing internal expectations. From the outset, your CEO or client needs to understand that you’re running against the wind, and in exchange for that effort, you must be given permission to fail.

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