Crenshaw Communications Named PR Agency Of Record For Verizon Wireless

Big news! We’ve been named agency of record by Verizon Wireless for the New York metropolitan region. Crenshaw was selected from among 30 agencies participating in a competitive review. Our team will run media relations, multicultural outreach, social media and corporate communications for the region, supporting new product launches, retail events, and Hopeline, Verizon’s smartphone recycling program that benefits domestic abuse victims.

Verizon Wireless operates the nation’s most reliable and largest wireless voice and data network and serves more than 86.6 million customers. More details here.


Facebook Wants You To Like This – All Over The Web

Does Facebook have a problem with commitment? Or, on the flipside, has it fallen in like so hard that it wants to own both the word and the concept all over the Web?

There are a couple of ways to look at this week’s announcement that the Facebook fan page will soon be a thing of the past. Instead of clicking to become an actual fan of a brand or company – that is, really engaging with it – we’ll only be able to “like” it the same way we do personal updates.

I think of “liking” something, in Facebook terms, as fairly tepid, even lazy. Sure, it’s more natural, as Facebook executives point out. They say users click to “like” something twice as often as they become a fan of a page. But, to me, it’s the social media equivalent of a greeting card. It’s what you do when you have no time or can’t think of anything much to say.

So, why the thumbs up for like? Clearly, Facebook intends to create more opportunities for corporate advertisers. “Liking” a brand lacks the psychological hurdle of becoming a fan, and users can “like” the page’s content also, so the move will presumably expand page interaction and ad revenues. AdAge has a summary of the implications here. It’s not without problems, and there will surely be confusion among both users and marketers.

My first response to the move was that it devalues and dilutes the relationship between a Facebook user and a favorite brand. True, it might actually be good for small businesses like, say, a creative PR firm. It’s easier to put out content that others endorse (however casually) than it is to generate thousands of fans. But, if I’m Coca-Cola, I want to know where my hardcore enthusiasts live.

But, Facebook has big plans for that “like” button. As developers have heard, Facebook wants to expand it throughout the Web. It has visions of browsers instantly “liking” all kinds of content virtually anywhere. That way, Facebook can funnel more engagement onto its pages and enhance the virality of just about anything. Once the “like” button is popularized outside of Facebook, it’ll be easier for users to find the “most liked” content – as well as the preferred products and services – in their areas.

So, Facebook becomes not only a social utility, but a search engine that harnesses the power of social recommendations, which can be a great tool for marketers, and a benefit for consumers. Most of all, it helps Facebook. As TechCrunch and other sources explain it, Facebook will become more like Google.

Yet, while Google spends billions to index the Web, Facebook is trying to get the Web – or a big chunk of it – to index itself. And, what’s not to like about that?

How To Take A Vacation When On Vacation

Years ago, before the blackberry, I traveled to a spa in Mexico that had no cell service or phones in the rooms. Learning of a client company’s decision to restructure and fire my firm (as I crouched at a hallway pay phone, scrounging for quarters) didn’t leave me feeling exactly relaxed. And though the bad news had nothing to do with my choice of a remote getaway, it’s made me irrationally anxious about unplugging ever since. Launching my own business hasn’t helped, but truth to tell, it’s a personality thing. I’m a worrier.

Today, in the middle of a spring break vacation with the family, I’m taking a typical working holiday, attached to three wireless devices and serenaded by buzzes, pings, and ringtones. Guess what? It’s not so relaxing either. Studies show that the number of Americans taking working vacations doubled in the past decade – and that’s not even accounting for the economic downturn.

How, then, to hit a happy medium? To increase my vacation ROI – and maybe help others in my shoes – I put together a short list of tips for enjoying your holiday, if you’re a business owner, a consultant, or merely a control freak.

Time your vacations to minimize stress. Mini-breaks work best for start-up business owners, or inveterate worriers. I try to plan all my getaways during peak vacation seasons – Christmas week, July 4th, etc., when clients are most likely to be away as well.

Don’t be a slave to e-mail. Check it twice a day, and forward or respond to priority matters then, instead of scanning throughout the workday. This, of course, is a good rule in general, but I have trouble following it when in the office.

Consider office hours. If there’s a lot going on that requires your help, set aside two hours a day or whatever’s reasonable to have a telephone check-in with key staff or clients.

Invest in technology. For me, it’s just not worth it to depend on spotty WiFi or a slow connection. And, I’ve learned that redundancy when it comes to all technology – netbook batteries, rechargers, etc. – can save a world of frustration.

Do something. Sounds obvious, but I don’t always realize it. Planning enjoyable and immersive activities can be distracting and offer a natural schedule for work check-ins. If you’re just lolling by the pool, it’s  too easy to let thoughts drift to work and fire off unnecessary emails. If you must be productive, tackle a solo creative project.

Above all, don’t feel guilty. Remember the point of a vacation. It’s easier if you think of it in ROI terms. You’re supposed to come out of this relaxed, renewed, and refreshed, brimming with new ideas, or at least with a fresh perspective.

Ford Leads The Way For Influencer Marketing

As I’ve previously blogged, I get a charge out of the Fiesta Movement, Ford’s nontraditional campaign to promote its new subcompact car. Not because it’s innovative, although it’s undoubtedly a departure for the automotive category. I admire it precisely because it’s not groundbreaking in the truest sense. It’s something better.

The Fiesta Movement is a great example of  a simple idea and a classic public relations strategy – influencer marketing – adapted to the age of the social Web.  And, it’s a template for how a multi-platform social media campaign should be done. By offering cars to 100 carefully selected heavy users of social media, and letting their “agents” market the car for them, Ford has proven that social media can sell cars.

The company’s been very forthcoming about the results of the first six months of the movement. It’s already racked up 6000 pre-orders well in advance of the subcompact’s US launch. What’s more, it’s ignited interest among 100,000 more prospective customers. Those may not be huge numbers, but for a category like this one, in a year like the one we’ve just had, it’s pretty powerful. And it’s proof that social media can drive brand engagement as well as actual sales.

As Ford’s Scott Monty reminds us, this is all without a car in the showroom, and without spending on conventional advertising. “Social media can mean more than just Facebook and Twitter, if it’s done in an integrated way.” The PR mileage, as measured in traditional media coverage, has been pretty impressive as well.

The next leg of the campaign doesn’t sound quite as simple as the first one, which was part of its beauty. Apparently Ford will enlist 20 additional “agents,” who will engage in competitions in local markets that bring to mind “Amazing Race”-style antics. Except that the local contests are meant to “immerse them in cultural movements, allowing them to ignite passion into their communities through social media while opening the discussion about Fiesta.”

Hmmm. I’m not sure what that’s about. But, given the grassroots groundswell surrounding the first Fiesta campaign, we can probably count on more milestones in the near future. At this juncture, the Movement’s about more than just Ford or its subcompact; it’s become a symbol of marketers getting the customer religion. What’s wonderfully ironic is that it took an uncool, utilitarian brand from a tired and crumbling industry to show us the way.

Genius PR Move Of The Year – Conan on Twitter

Before late February, the closest Conan O’Brien came to social media was making lame jokes about tweeting celebrities on his show. So, when his updates came over my Twitter stream, I thought it was a clever way to stay relevant for a guy who’s barred from going on television for six more months.

@ConanOBrien‘s bio seemed to say it all. “I had a show. Then I had a different show.  Now I have a Twitter account.” The tweets were wry, self-deprecating, and occasionally absurd – vintage Conan. Within a day, he had 300,000 followers. Today, the count is over twice that number, easily besting @JayLeno.

TeamConan then proceeded to set up spin-off Twitter streams for some of the, uh, characters in his own tweets – Squirrel, Sharpie, his freckles, even. The man’s beard is in a mock-competition with his freckles and has over 10,000 followers. I’m not kidding.

So, when news of Conan’s multi-market comedy tour hit a couple of weeks later, I realized the motive behind the Twitter madness. Promoted with only a handful of tweets, the “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Comedy Tour” was sold out within the day, at least in New York. Fully in character, O’Brien was quoted in the closest thing he made to a press statement, “It was either a massive 30-city tour or start helping out around the house.” Nice use of social media…and celebrity, of course.

But what really got to me was Conan’s inspired choice to anoint someone at random as his sole, um, followee. Sarah Killen, an unassuming 19-year-old student from Michigan and Twitter novice, garnered thousands of followers after being selected as the one and only person that @ConanOBrien follows. Since then, @LovelyButton has received “a lot of stuff”,  including a custom-designed gown for her upcoming wedding, and the kind of notoriety usually reserved for reality-show fameballs. Which she is most definitely not.

Which is why the Twitter stunt worked so well. Conan fans are relishing his apparent outfoxing of the NBC brass and Jay Leno, whom no one would accuse of being a social media hipster. Yet, in bestowing Internet celebrity on the normal-to-the-point-of-boring Killen, Conan seems to be one-upping the master of the genre, David Letterman. It’s like Letterman plucking intern Stephanie Birkitt out of nowhere and making her a TV star – without the “creepy” soap opera that followed. And for social media marketers, he’s actually showing us how it’s done.



Goldman Sachs And The Cost of Bad PR

What’s a reputation worth?

For most businesses, there’s an obvious cost to negative publicity. Sure, a few are still stuck in the “any PR is good PR” camp.  And then there are those for whom public perception simply doesn’t matter.  A year ago, I would have put Goldman Sachs in that category. With a track record of breathtaking profitability, a well-deserved reputation for arrogance, and no public-facing businesses, it could afford to shrug off bad press and even public outrage.

That’s why Goldman’s latest annual report is so interesting. It includes a lengthy warning about the risks of the PR battering it has received. According to the disclosure, the “current political and public sentiment” will cost it time and money to respond to regulatory investigations; substantially increased penalties and fines; distraction from ongoing business; possible deterioration of staff morale; and, finally, a potentially negative impact on employee performance.

The disclosure is unprecedented, but it reads a little like lip service to PR. It wasn’t until the last part – about employee performance – that I was impressed. But even that risk is hard to measure.
Goldman’s market performance, on the other hand, is quantifiable. There are rumblings that its stock price has been depressed by the PR crisis. Financial blogs refer to worried investors. One warns that Goldman’s management of its bad PR “will likely be a major factor on where the stock goes from here.” Bloomberg’s Jonathan Weil says restoring Goldman’s reputation is Blankfein’s job number one.

I’m not convinced. The stock price, though below its 52-week high, has doubled in the past year. While Goldman paid out less in 2009 bonus compensation than expected, the $16.2 billion figure is still an embarrassment of riches. And, if I were Blankfein, I wouldn’t worry about my future workforce. In a 2009 survey of 6,207 MBA candidates about most desirable workplaces, Goldman ranked fourth. (Interestingly, Google was #1.)

But, the real problem is that Goldman has no strategy for rebuilding its depleted reputation reserves. Its response to public sentiment continues to be haughty, at times hostile, and nearly always reactive…the opposite of what you need to replenish a bankrupt public image. Its posture is embodied by communications chief Lucas van Praag. Recently parodied to hilarious effect on Twitter, van Praag has become a symbol of a communications approach that  The Observer‘s Max Abelson famously called “a stiffly extended middle finger.”

So, with all of Goldman’s skill in making valuations, I don’t think it has crunched the numbers on this one. The price of a good reputation – and the material impact of doing business without that most intangible of corporate assets – remains to be seen.

The Future of Celebrity Endorsement, Post-Tiger

Last night I had the pleasure of speaking at a symposium sponsored by The Cardozo Arts and Entertainment Law Journal. The topic was “The Tiger Woods Effect” on celebrity endorsement, contract negotiation, morals clauses, and a host of other legal, marketing and PR issues. Here’s my take on the discussion, from a strictly brand marketing perspective.

Brands will still get in bed with celebrities. So to speak. Yes, some point to a decline in athletic endorsements, and they blame the Tiger Woods effect. But my feeling is that the economy’s had a great deal more impact on sports deals than the scandal. Happily, the recent McDonald’s signing of LeBron James is an indicator that athletes are still very much in the endorsement game.

But, brand endorsements will be more limited. Though celebrity deals will remain valuable and attractive for marketers, it’ll be a long while before we see another Accenture-style campaign in which a non-sports company bases its entire brand positioning on a single personality, no matter how iconic. A year ago it seemed smart and even strategic to tie your brand to a breakout athlete in a metaphor for consistently high performance. Today, not so much. Look for companies to fall back on the “Taste great, less filling”-style product endorsement. It’s more cost-effective and far less risky.

For celebrities, privacy is over. If you’re pulling down millions in endorsements based on your professional performance and public image, you simply can’t have secrets. The 24/7  nature of media, ubiquity of social platforms, and tabloid culture make it impossible.

Contracts will be shorter and more flexible, with clear exit strategies. A ten-year deal suddenly looks a lot less attractive than a three-year one. Terminations and how they may be communicated will be carefully negotiated to protect the reputations of both parties.

Morals clauses will be tighter. An interesting aspect of last night’s discussion was the mention of “reverse morals clauses” for endorsers. So, presumably, if a top athlete or celebrity signs with…oh, I don’t know, let’s say a Japanese automotive company, he might negotiate for compensation in the event of reputation damage resulting from something like a massive product recall. Sports law expert Michael McCann says “it’s bound to happen.”

Deals will be formed with full-blown risk and crisis management plans. Marketers have given lip service to preparedness in the past, but as IEG’s Jim Andrews points out in a recent AdAge piece, sponsors need to have a plan for quickly changing creative materials and be ready to communicate its position effectively in the event of negative fallout.

Social media is a flashpoint. Lawyers hate Twitter, because they feel it’s particularly risky for those celebrities who are already prone to entitled and outrageous behavior – top athletes, hip-hop artists, and even reality TV stars. Though my feeling is that the problem lies with the endorser, not the media platform, it’s very possible that social media behavior could be restricted or prohibited in endorsement agreements. You can thank Gilbert Arenas for that one.

Top celebrity agents will be humbler and nicer. Actually that’s a joke. I’ll save that one for my “cold day in hell” blog post.

When Not To Hire A PR Firm

Like Tolstoy’s observation about unhappy families, relationships between clients and their PR agencies go bad for different reasons. That’s why I can’t respond directly to a piece in today’s Huffington Post that questions the relevance of PR firms today.

Grant Cardone’s “Do PR Firms Make Sense Anymore?” recounts his failed and apparently fruitless relationships with three different public relations firms. To make matters worse, in Cardone’s view, a friend with a vertical website was able to generate more attention for his online video than his PR team.

So, what went wrong? I don’t know, and I don’t blame Cardone for throwing in the towel. But I doubt that the real lesson here is that PR firms are no longer relevant. It’s more likely that he didn’t choose the right partners, or that the relationships lost momentum and direction after the honeymoon. Like the single serial dater who can’t seem to meet the right partner, he might need a little “relationship intervention.”

Here then, is my own list of “red flags” that could signal a bad match between a PR team and a client.

The chemistry’s great. Not that you shouldn’t get along with your agency team, but beware the too-dazzling first impression. I have a friend at an agency search firm who warns clients against the “chemistry test.”  What she really means is, don’t be seduced by charm. Look for compatibility instead.

You’re from different worlds. Let’s say the agency team is ultra-hip, and your brand isn’t. Don’t count on becoming cool by association. It’s more likely that the union will end prematurely. This is where cultural compatibility (which is not to be confused with chemistry) comes in. A fast-moving, high-energy entrepreneur won’t be happy with a large, bureaucratic firm, and chances are, the reverse is true. Look for a cultural fit.

They don’t listen. As with a self-involved first date, it’s a bad sign if the team leaders spend the entire time talking about themselves. There’s a fine line between salesmanship and self-centeredness. Look for a team where each person asks thoughtful questions and actually listens to the answers.

You can’t commit. As in real life, don’t start something if you don’t have the financial and human resources to make it work. And, if your emotional investment comes with an expiration date, be honest and say so.

You don’t communicate. Instead of a dog-and-pony show, try to structure your first meetings as a discussion. The firm will respect you, and you’ll find out more about them than you might in a canned presentation.

You have baggage. Examine your own agency history, and your reputation, with a cold eye, and do the same with the firm you’re considering. Short relationships and high churn are almost always a red flag. If the problems are on your side, consider getting help from a recruitment professional. Like a good therapist, they may see what you can’t. If you want a reputable agency, your own reputation should be impeccable.

They have issues…but haven’t learned from mistakes. Don’t just get references from current, happy clients; ask for permission to speak with a client who fired them. You may learn something by how they respond.

You expect perfection. Expectations are the key to most relationships. If you don’t start with clear-cut goals, or if they’re wildly unrealistic, you need to let your agency adjust them. Make sure your team offers input and signs off on the goals, and listen to their counsel.

You’re a user. Some clients churn through agencies in a continual search for fresh ideas; others are serial daters because they think they’ll keep their team on their toes. If you only want a short-term relationship, say so, and come up with a compensation structure that works for both parties.

They’re virgins. Experience really, really counts in PR. Choose a firm with applicable expertise, where the experience resides with the team members, not in a distant office. Most importantly, make sure that one or more senior-level team members will be engaged in your program for the long term.

There. You’ve done all you can to ensure a mutually beneficial and lasting relationship. May your marriage be a long and happy one.