Rebranding The Government Shutdown

As any PR or branding professional knows, words matter. And in politics, as in marketing, a product or event can be better positioned with a more precise or more upbeat label.  (Does anyone even remember what TARP stands for? Me neither, but it was better than “government bailout.”) At worst, it sugarcoats a distasteful or controversial idea or event.

Case in point: the recent government shutdown. Fox has already tried to minimize it by calling it a “slimdown,” which gave late-night comics more fodder to poke fun at both sides. But the war of words persists. Redstateblog insists – I hope with tongue in cheek – that all we need is a better name, preferably a term that involves the word “super,” since Americans are already super-crazy for that particular superlative. The blog suggests “supersequestration.”  It might work if making everyone glaze over in confusion is the goal, but I think we can do better.

In that spirit, here are our nominations for rebranding the shutdown. (Note that none has been poll-tested.)

Recess. This gets points for being innocuous. It may also be appropriate, given that members of Congress are behaving like schoolchildren, but since it already refers to periods when Congress is not in session, it’s superfluous. Maybe even super-superfluous. In rebranding, originality counts!

Intermission.  The word has a kind of dignity, and admittedly, much of what’s happening is great theater, but it’s a little bland and may be too upscale. A sports term might be more populist. Halftime? Seventh-inning stretch? The whole things is one big game, after all.

Breather or break.  This one could work well for government website messaging, as if they just needed a little “space” from a suffocating relationship. “We’re taking a break,” as a user update might help forge emotional connections with single voters.

Siesta.  Now we’re getting somewhere! This word adds a super-festive connotation to the also-likable “holiday.” Plus, it’s multicultural, which is very important. “Supersiesta” might be a winner.

Slimfast.  Granted, this one might have copyright issues, but it would poll-test well!  Alternatively, we could go with “Diet” or just “Government Fast” to try to tap into pop culture trends, but the former might be confused with the Japanese legislature. Actually, no one knows anything about the Japanese legislature, but both words signify deprivation. That’s a downer.

Power down. I like the appropriation of tech language here, but it could be perceived negatively to the Washington egos who think they’re still in power.

Superslimdown. Now, this one would delight the GOP, as it marries two conservative buzzwords. Plus, it has great alliteration.

Staycation. This one gets points for not going overboard. First, it suggests austerity, which is appropriate, yet somehow has a peppy, “can-do” connotation and implies a temporary state of affairs.

I’ve just scratched the surface here. Give us your best ideas for a shutdown rebrand and we’ll update the post!

Has PRankvertising Gone Too Far?

To think, just a few months ago, I wondered if Chipotle’s faux Twitter hack was a mistake, because it duped followers in order to cook up some quick PR.  But the stunt was nothing compared to the outrageous shock-ad campaigns from major international brands. Prankvertising – or what I think of as PRankvertising, because its goal is to generate free views of the reactions of the victims, is the newest way to grab attention in an always-on, media-saturated world. It’s like reality TV; we know it’s not completely real, but there’s a voyeuristic element that’s irresistible.

A recent example is LG. To promote its new HDTV, it created a scenario where candidates in the midst of a job interview were apparently fooled into thinking they were watching a sudden meteor strike through a building window. Of course, what they were actually watching was a disaster video on a large-screen LG TV.  But the terrified reactions are what make it so watchable; the job-seekers cower, scream, and flee in panic. Though the video was produced for the LG market in Chile, its reach is much broader. It’s generated 11 million views, which is pretty shocking in itself.

So, is LG risking its brand equity with the stunt? I was all set to hate the videos for scaring the wits out of innocent unemployed people, but it’s hard not to admire the strategy….and the ROI. To add to the intrigue, there’s ample evidence that the prank itself was faked….the job candidates are reportedly actors, and when examined closely, the whole scenario seems staged. So the tagline, “Reality? Or UltraReality? takes on a double meaning. A kind of “Is it real, or is it Memorex?” for the digital age.

LG isn’t a latecomer to pranks. It’s produced similar ads before, including a memorable series simulating a shaky elevator ride with the tagline, “So real, it’s scary.”  At the very least, the elevator mishaps and meteor attack speak to product benefits. Unlike other campaigns, namely the Nivea airport “arrest” videos that are anything but arresting, it has a crystal-clear message. And if the participants are paid actors, no one gets hurt.

The troublesome aspect for me is each spot seems to raise the bar. We surely haven’t seen the last of these brand-driven pranks. But the elevator videos were merely disturbing; the meteor prank shoots for apocalyptic. What’s next, an alien attack?

In fact, LG’s ultra-reality prank evokes one of the most famous publicity stunts of all time, – the Orson Welles radio broadcast about a fake Martian invasion. War of the Worlds was probably the original shock PR stunt and the grandaddy of PR-ankvertising. Maybe it’s not so new after all.


5 Hot Content-Sharing Tools For Tech PR

In tech PR, thought leadership requires more than innovative ideas. You also need an understanding of technology, as well as familiarity with hot platforms, so that you can pick the latest and greatest tools to effectively package and share your ideas with both media and influencers.

Basically, your musings on Twitter’s IPO should be shared—just don’t do it via MySpace. That’s embarrassing no matter how interesting the content is. There are more forward-looking platforms available today that you can use, with the platform serving as a reminder of your expertise.

Here are five of the most interesting, buzzed about tools for content sharing.

Medium & Svbtle
The brainchild of Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, Medium is a new publishing platform that emphasizes thoughtful, long-form content. What separates Medium from other standard blogging services, though, is the influential (btob) community that currently uses and supports it.

Thanks to Williams’ pedigree, media, business leaders and Silicon Valley’s Internet elite are all on Medium, either reading or writing. The interest in the platform is actually helping the content do well. Sure, it may be a niche audience, but it’s an influential one for marketing your own expertise. Svbtle is another publishing platform like Medium that’s similarly valuable for its influential community.

Here’s the kicker, though—for both Medium and Svbtle, reading is available, but writing is invite-only (makes shared content from either platform seem even more valuable—that you were accepted to be a writer indicates leadership). Invites are in-progress now (I just received mine!), so sign-up today.

Quora is a social Q&A platform that’s been around since 2009. You can answer any question posed by other users, or pose your own. But Yahoo Answers—a huge disappointment / mess—this is not. Quora is an actual value-add when looking at ways to highlight your thought leadership via content marketing.
You answer questions directly or via blog post – Quora has its own blog feature – which can build your online cred as an expert and, in some instances, generate leads. Moreover, though, Quora, like Medium, owns an influential, niche user base that you can interact with directly via questions and answers. This is key. There are other Q&A services out there, but they lack the insider chops that Quora has today.

LinkedIn’s SlideShare lets anyone share biz presentations and video. It also serves as a social discovery platform for users to find relevant content and connect with others who may share similar interests. The service has caught on beyond sharing, though and is literally seen as a content marketing channel.
The best part about SlideShare? Again, it’s all about community. SlideShare is a professional channel, with a who’s who of users in marketing, tech, advertising, etc. With it, you enable influence at scale and add substantial reach to your projects across a well-cultivated audience of btob professionals.

Facebook Notes
This might seem odd, but hear me out. Yes, Facebook has a micro-blog feature called Notes. No, you’ve probably never used it before (it’s buried in your third-party apps list). It’s actually, a strong, albeit basic, publishing platform. Many early adopters still use it, yet it hasn’t lived up to its potential.
So why should you use it? If you’re seeking to be a thought leader, you likely have an established following on Facebook, or at least you’re in the stages of building that following. What better way to connect with these followers than through Facebook, as opposed to new a presence elsewhere?

These are just a few of my favorite content-sharing services. Of course, there are hundreds of others. What platforms do you prefer?

6 Ways To Use Public Relations To Build Brands

“Brand public relations” – is it an oxymoron? Some say that PR builds reputation, while marketing actually boosts brands. But in reality, the two work in concert….kind of like brick and mortar. There are many ways to use classic PR strategies to add depth, color, and cohesion to the building blocks of brand identity. Here are some of the best.

Use data

Yes, “big data” is a buzzword that’s overused in our business, but what some companies don’t realize is that even small amounts of data can be useful for a PR outreach to media and influencers like analysts. An e-commerce client of ours recently noticed that millennials represent their largest  and fastest-growing customer segment. That simple fact, backed by the right data and company history, qualifies them to build content and create speaking platforms around what they’ve learned about marketing to millennials. It’s one of several differentiators we can use to help them stand out.

Tell stories

Storytelling is another overused term, but at its core, it means packaging information into meaningful and entertaining narratives to forge stronger emotional bonds with customers. And the best stories aren’t just splashy entrepreneurial chronicles, like Steve Jobs’ life or Richard Branson’s latest exploits. The most persuasive might be closer to home; they can be customer testimonials, community happenings, or employee exploits.

Look inside

Employees, in fact, can be both a rich source of stories and a powerful channel through which to tell them. One of our clients is a company that has landed on a few “Best Places To Work” lists, but they wanted to gain more visibility for their commitment to workplace wellness. When we placed a local newspaper story about an employee who lost 50 pounds and regained her health with the help of the fitness and wellness resources available to her at work, it added depth and credibility to the client’s reputation. Who wouldn’t want to work there?

Third-party endorsement

To be strong, a brand promise must be credible. The essence of good PR is having someone else talk about your brand rather than the company itself. The third-party endorsement – either implied or explicit – is often very effective, sometimes more so than paid media. It helps when the publicity results include “proof points” that reinforce a brand proposition or identity. A customer testimonial is an obvious example, but third-party endorsement can also come with content sharing and social media community-building.

Executive leadership

Staking out a position on a topical or important issue and offering insights or ideas can yield far-reaching brand benefits. When Starbucks’ Howard Schultz weighs in on marriage equality, or Sheryl Sandberg urges us to “lean in,” it’s more powerful than a corporate reputation campaign. It’s an example of thought leadership around a key issue relevant to many customers that has nothing to do with coffee or social networking. Yet, I’d argue that it has a strong impact on the brands attached.


“Education” can mean campaigns that look to change behavior for reasons of public interest, like anti-smoking programs or the wireless industry’s #itcanwait campaign against texting and driving. One of our clients, McGraw Hill Federal Credit Union, has embraced a campaign around financial wellness. It sponsors a series of Financial Learning Seminars, underwrites research about the cost of financial stress in the workplace;  and raises funds for financial wellness causes.

Download a tipsheet to learn about five effective PR strategies for brand storytelling.

In Tech PR, The Medium Is (Part of) The Message

I want to be seen as a thought leader,” said the tech company CEO to the PR professional.

We’ve all heard it. And it’s an encouraging sign for PR that CEOs at companies ranging from Fortune 500 businesses to startups are asking about it. They understand the value of building a personal brand and cultivating ownership of relevant issues.  And many technology businesses have a deep reservoir of talent and intellectual assets. They just need help to package and communicate those assets.

First, you need the thought capital. Innovative, differentiated points of view, coupled with insights that can move the conversation forward in your sector. That’s how you become a top voice—by having something interesting to say. Marc Benioff and Fred Wilson are great examples of thought leaders who got there not just by building successful businesses, but by having something to say.

But thoughts don’t translate into leadership unless they are shared and heard by the right people. There’s such a staggering amount of content available –  on the web, at conferences, and through direct sharing – that packaging and marketing those thoughts can feel like putting a message in a bottle.  You send it out and hope that it will find a receptive audience.

Great ideas need virality. They need legs. How to make sure they are shared?

Before you decide on tools to market your insight, consider this — in many technology sectors, the medium is also the message. Particularly in tech, the platform you use should have value beyond functionality. If it’s a cool, emerging medium, that in itself can help differentiate your brand.

That’s why services like Medium, Quora, SlideShare, Svbtle and Tumblr have weight.  Sharing content on platforms like these can infer a knowledge of technology and familiarity with hot platforms. It speaks to your interest in the space itself.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at this Gawker article. If you emailed a reporter with an AOL email address, according to Gawker, you’re “an old person, stuck in the mid-90s.” It’s a “digital AARP card,” they say. So yes, the tools and platforms you use matters.

This is where PR always helps—in creating or advising on content, but also on packaging. It can sound shallow, and there are exceptions that prove the rule, but the bottle that contains the message can say a lot about the sender.

In my next post, I’ll explore some of the newest and most interesting tools for sharing content.

PR Winners And Losers In The Government Shutdown

From a public relations, communications, or any other point of view, it’s hard to find much positive in the Congressional wrangling that devolved into a government shutdown last night. A quick overview of traditional media showed plenty of “he-said, she-said” punditry, message-point-stuffed interviews with elected officials, and a few polls showing that the American people were – wait for it – thoroughly disgusted by the shutdown showdown.

The frenzy took over major social platforms, with Twitter’s trending topics featuring dueling hashtags #HarryReidShutdown and #ShutDownTheGOP. Some PR-savvy Representatives tweeted that, when the shutdown caused government workers to be furloughed, they would forgo their own salaries. It was a nice gimmick;  pity Rep. Sean Duffy, the reality-star-turned-congressman. When aggressively and repeatedly questioned on CNN about whether he’d defer his own pay, Rep. Duffy could only stammer out his talking points.


Republican governors.  Basically, any member of the GOP who was able to remain above the fray probably comes out ahead here. N. J. Governor Chris Christie’s criticism of both parties made him sound like the only adult in the room full of tantruming toddlers.

Senator Ted Cruz.  This one is arguable, but I’d say that Cruz accomplished what he set out to do. Although he was plenty demonized by Democrats and others for his 21-hour faux filibuster on the Senate floor, it earned him enormous visibility, right down to the Dr. Seuss soundbites. For some, he’s the new face of the party, and a 2016 run seems inevitable.

The Affordable Care Act.  President Obama’s centerpiece legislative achievement has not only survived, it might have even benefited from the brouhaha. In fact, some early technical glitches around the opening of the online health exchanges would probably have received far more attention if they hadn’t been eclipsed by partisan squabbling.


John Boehner.  As was widely reported, Boehner showed that he has absolutely no control over his own caucus. After all, hammering out a consensus IS the Speaker’s job, so this one looks particularly helpless and hapless.

President Obama. POTUS probably belongs on both lists, since he has communicated with consistency and statesmanship around the budget issues, but I’m placing him here for balance, since entities like Congress, the American people, and all government workers are a bit obvious for analysis. Although the President made a resonant speech Monday in which he outlined the reasons he wouldn’t and shouldn’t negotiate on Obamacare, the brinkmanship pointed out the White House’s failure to fully explain the Affordable Care Act and sell its benefits to the public in the months that preceded the shutdown.

The Tea Party. Though it succeeded in triggering the government shutdown that many members had promised since they were elected in 2010, the party may have overplayed its hand. According to a CNN poll ending September 29, 54% of Americans disapprove of it, and Gallup reports that its strong opponents outnumber strong supporters for the first time. The word “extremist” has crept into the majority of news accounts, and when your most common descriptor is the same one used to describe foreign terrorists, it might mean you have a PR problem.