Sleepy’s Names Crenshaw Communications As AOR

Sleepy’s, the mattress and bedding store with 700+ retails locations in U.S., has named Crenshaw Communications as agency of record. The CC team will launch a branded PR campaign linking Sleepy’s with better sleep. The campaign will kick off in January, when so many Americans resolve to get more and better sleep. For the full story, see the PR Week story.

Sleepy’s is a privately-owned 4th-generation company with retail locations in thirteen states, from Vermont to Virginia.


The Care And Feeding Of PR Interns

Guest post by Liz Savery

When I started in the PR business, interns fetched coffee and picked up dry cleaning for agency VPs. Serf labor. Then, after the Lewinsky scandal of the nineties, the very word became a punch line. But things have changed, right?

Not so fast. Last week, a fresh intern “scandal” broke after a BBC television “exposé” painted an unflattering portrait of a UK fashion agency for its use of 20 unpaid interns. That’s out of a staff of 70.

The truth is, the way an agency treats interns says a lot about the firm. Do yours sit in a cube all day updating media lists? At Crenshaw, ours do some of that, but they also staff events, spearhead research projects and have real input on daily account work.  Last summer, a stellar intern revamped the analysis we use for one client’s quarterly report, making it more streamlined and more readable. (We tried to persuade him to forget the college thing and come to work for us immediately, but back he went.)

So, how to make a PR firm internship a win-win experience? Here are some of our best practices.

Advertise. Many internships are filled by simple networking. But, if you’re advertising, I have a timesaving tip. I always put two questions in our ads. A proper response tells me that the ad has been read all the way through. It also indicates that the applicant can do basic research. The questions from my last ad were “What LCD manufacturer is associated with Quattron technology?” and “Name a spokesperson for this technology.”  (We are AOR for Sharp Electronics.) It saves us the trouble of looking at 50 replies from applicants who spotted  the word “intern” and assumed it meant a finance or advertising internship.

Appoint a mentor. Interns give junior staffers a wonderful opportunity to hone both people skills and time management  techniques. Mentors provide an agency orientation and are the first stop when interns have questions. You want to maximize the time invested by everyone, as well as promote your firm as a great workplace. A happy intern is a future Account Coordinator with a short learning curve!

Balance the workload. A Starbucks run every once in a while is fine, as is updating that ed cal list. Just make sure interns learn the basics of good press release writing and targeted pitching.

Consider job shadowing If you can set aside a day to allow your intern to shadow a more senior account executive, it can pay off for everyone. Or, invite the intern to sit in on your next client or new business meeting. If you warn them in advance, most clients will understand and appreciate what you’re doing.

Compensation. If you’re not offering payment, make sure that fact is clear upfront. But consider covering basic transportation costs, and if he/she goes above and beyond, offer some compensation or at least pay for meals.

Responsibilities. Above all, don’t use an intern where a regular employee would be a better choice. How to tell if you’re crossing a line: do your interns have direct responsibility for client deadlines?  If so, better hire an entry-level person…then go buy your intern a cup of coffee!

The Public Relations Society of America offers these guidelines for ethical treatment of interns.

Is Any PR Good PR?

Of course not.  PR agency professionals have been preaching that for decades. No marketer in his right mind would recommend a strategy that involves offending customers, or demeaning the brand. But, think about some of the celebrated marketing gaffes of the past two weeks.

Socially-conscious Super Bowl viewers were outraged at Groupon’s rookie commercial on game day. You know, the one that made light of a human rights struggle by highlighting the suffering of the Tibetans and the power of collective action – to get restaurant deals. A few days later, Fast Company blogger Adrian Ott made a pretty strong case that the blunder was what she calls “mea culpa marketing.” That’s a clever way of saying it was a PR stunt to get our attention.

And it did. According to CNBC, Groupon added more than 50,000 new subscribers after the Super Bowl fiasco. That’s some fumble. As I was pondering the method to its badness, Kenneth Cole put his foot in it by hijacking the Twitter hashtag “#cairo” to promote his spring product line. Again, the blogosphere erupted, and Cole was kicked around the Web until he deleted the offensive tweet and posted an apology.

I don’t know if Cole’s sales were helped or harmed by the tweet, but I did note he gained 1000 new followers and a heck of a lot of press. Bad press, right? It’s getting hard to tell.

It’s very possible that each incident amounts to the use of questionable humor that went too far, not a well-orchestrated PR play. But even if so, it’s another sign of what it takes to own a piece of the social news cycle these days. It’s as if multi-million-dollar marketing is like a giant reality TV show. You know the one, where bad behavior = attention = marketability.

Of course, for brands, the stakes are far higher than for a fame-seeking housewife or a reality show contestant with nothing to lose. Still, there’s a formula here. A brand pulls a tasteless stunt to get our attention, then follows with an apology PR strategy right out of the reputation playbook. Once the first news cycle is over, it works to win back the public’s approval. It may trot out the CEO to make amends, ramp up social media activity, or even launch a philanthropic campaign. In other words, it does everything it used to do that no one ever noticed before.

Mea culpa marketing isn’t a viable reputation strategy, and it’s not even a good short-term marketing gimmick. But in an era where the tenure of the average Chief Marketing Officer is just under 23 months, we just may see a lot more of it.

Can Eminem Save Detroit?

“This is the Motor City, and this is what we do.”

Hearing those words from Eminem, his finger wagging in my face, gave me chills. It’s the defiant climax of the two-minute Chrysler commercial that debuted during the Super Bowl. The spot grabbed everyone, partly because it stood out among the beer-serving dogs and predictable couple-on-a-date spots. But it also created controversy – the real kind, not the cooked-up PR stunt variety (are you listening, Groupon?)

And it may work harder as a PR campaign for Chrysler than it will as a commercial. Not that it isn’t a great ad. It’s gorgeously photographed, showing off Detroit’s most iconic venues as they’ve never been shot, in a snowstorm that you can almost feel in your bones. We don’t even see the Chrysler until halfway through it. The voiceover calls Detroit a city “that’s been to hell and back,” – pretty arresting for the category, which generally hugs the curb of convention in its advertising. The narrative takes us back to the city’s – and America’s – industrial glory, proudly proclaiming, “the hottest fires make the hardest steel.”

It’s the rising musical backbeat that has our pulses soaring. The instantly recognizable notes are from Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” which for years he steadfastly refused to license for any commercial purpose, until now. His Motor City line is the first punch, and the knockout is meant to be the tag line, “Imported from Detroit.”

Yet, for many, the spot is a triumph of emotion over fact. Let’s face it, a lot of people would say Detroit is still “in hell,” with no clear prospect for redemption. Why a struggling community in a nearly bankrupt industry are experts in producing luxury vehicles isn’t clear, even if the contradiction is beautifully visualized. Conservative pundits also attacked the ad over its cost, but how, exactly, is Chrysler supposed to get back in the fast lane without marketing? More to the point, auto buffs agree that it actually promotes the wrong car. (The Chrysler 300 is the better-received luxury model, but it’s made in Canada. Oops.)

Some have questioned the selection of Eminem in the spot, but, to me, he’s a terrific choice – unexpected, urban, authentic – and we’re clearly meant to see the parallel between his life and career and that of his hometown. That works. But, behind the wheel of the 200, he looks a little like he’s borrowed his accountant’s car for a quick spin downtown.

For my two minutes, the spot actually works better as an anthem to Detroit, and its battered industrial splendor, than a commercial for the Chrysler 200. But the strategic choice to pay homage to the Motor City may do more for Chrysler in the long haul than selling its lower-end luxury car. You’d have to be comatose to escape the symbolism here. By elevating one of America’s most storied cities in a gritty, but aspirational narrative, and using the flawed, but still relevant, Eminem in his backyard, they’ve given the city, the industry, even the country, a reason to be proud. I don’t know whether it’ll “move metal,” as they say in the auto business. But it sure moved me.

Does The Revolution Really Need Twitter?

A fascinating sidebar to the civil uprising in Egypt is the debate over the role of social media in the breathtaking rate of the government’s unraveling. After #jan25 happened, many enthusiasts took the opportunity to gloat over social media’s status as accelerant, first in Tunisia and now in Egypt. This revolution has not only been tweeted, it’s been hashtagged!

It seemed like a coup for those who had resisted Malcolm Gladwell’s “weak ties” thesis that social media promotes armchair activism more than high-risk action. The anti-Gladwell backlash here nearly mirrored the anti-Mubarak one there. Yet Gladwell stuck to his guns in a recent response to the digital bashing. His point is that revolutions took place long before the Internet. As he puts it, mob communication happened “through that strange, today largely unknown, instrument known as the human voice.”

Well, it’s hard to argue with that. But, it seems to me that Gladwell undervalues at least two factors here. One is the lightning speed with which social media ignites communication and amplifies its efficiency. There’s no doubt that new media, coupled with mobile communications, helped the protesters mobilize against the government. Why else would Mubarak have moved to quickly shut down the Internet?

Yet, social media evangelists oversimplify the picture. It cuts both ways. Those who glorify the new media are ignoring the obvious fact that the government has access to the same tools. The dark side of social media activism is that someone is bound to be taking names. No Twitter handle is anonymous, after all.

The other factor is more powerful in the long run, and more interesting, at least to professional communicators. Social media enabled witnesses like popular blogger and activist @sandmonkey to shape the narrative. As with the unrest in Tehran, being inside is very different from the experience of those who follow the situation via iPad. Influential witnesses, both inside and outside of Egypt, hammered away at their version of events, particularly at crucial points where the PR tide could have turned in favor of the government. Pro-Mubarak demonstrators were seen as government stooges, and terms like “unrest” and “chaos” became “uprising” and “revolution” in the mainstream media.

That story is more than just what you and I think. Its power reaches not just the Twitterati and the blogosphere, but Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Facebook and Twitter may, in fact, be about “weak ties,” but the narrative and images they carry transcend the medium. As every good communicator knows, it’s about the story.