It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like…A Mobile Holiday Season

Retale, the Web and mobile platform that connects shoppers with their favorite local retailers, has released the results of its holiday retail shopping survey. It’s clear that our smartphones and iPads are essential holiday shopping tools,  with 73% of us using smartphones for shopping and nearly half (47%) preferring it to a tablet.

Retailers might want to customize marketing offers to owners of Apple devices –  according to the survey, they’re likely to spend more this holiday season than Android users.

Dr. Max Gomez With ZetrOZ

ZetrOZ on CBS

Our client ZetrOZ, makers of a first-of-its-kind wearable medical device, was recently interviewed on camera by Dr. Max Gomez, CBS News medical correspondent. The segment features Dr. Max trying out sam®, the miniaturized, FDA-approved device that uses ultrasound technology for therapeutic pain relief and wound resolution.

Here are Dr. Max and  Dr. George Lewis, the scientist behind the technology and co-founder of ZetrOZ. The story ran December 2, and it was terrific.



8 Sins Committed In The Name Of Good PR

ProPublica’s recent expose of The American Red Cross contained a colorful and symbolic detail that made PR agencies and their corporate communications counterparts cringe. The article reports that the organization drove around nearly-empty trucks in the wake of Hurricane Sandy “to be seen,” to give the impression that it was delivering aid when in fact it often wasn’t. It was all about the optics. The ARC has refuted many of the claims in the ProPublica piece, but it made me think about other “sins” that have been committed in the name of PR.


Astroturfing goes back at least to Edward Bernays, who hired women to march in support of their right to smoke in 1929 in a stunt he called “torches of freedom.” For a latter-day example of fake citizen experts, look no further than Edelman’s 2006 “Walmarting Across America,” a seemingly heartfelt celebration of the retailer by a pair of superfans who set off in an RV to visit every store and blog about the uniquely American experience. When they were exposed as paid endorsers, it turned into an industry scandal and a black eye for Wal-Mart. More recently, Airbnb was called out for front groups that promote liberalized home-sharing legislation in local markets.

Sock puppetry

It’s the digital equivalent of astroturfing, of course. A relatively recent case that shook up the PR biz involved Reverb PR’s fake reviews for videogame clients, which ended with an FTC settlement. Facebook has been accused of seeding fake comments on Reddit that praised its move to purchase virtual reality headset maker Oculus, but my favorites are the executive and celebrity posts, because they’re so embarrassing. The most memorable was Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s pseudonymous comments in praise of his own performance – and even his haircut – on Yahoo stock market message boards for nearly eight years.

The fake hack

This one’s particularly bad in my book, because it plays on common fears and trivializes them. Last year Chipotle drew attention with a series of nonsensical tweets from its official Twitter stream, then admitted to faking the hack as part of a 20th-anniversary scavenger hunt promotion. It’s a cousin to another sin committed in the name of PR, which is the fake ad ban.

The fake ban

It’s that time of year, alas. Before every Super Bowl, a few brands claim that the ads they submitted were too racy/edgy/controversial for the network to air on game day, but they’re available on YouTube for all to see. Some are established advertisers looking for extra spin, like GoDaddy, but many are smaller brands who wouldn’t be able to pony up a Super-sized ad budget in the first place. A tired play that’s just not very interesting anymore.

Stupid photo ops

Maybe these aren’t sins, but some have inflicted mortal wounds. Many today are too young to remember it in person, but the 1988 image of presidential candidate Michael Dukakis in a military tank is a lesson for every political advance person working today. More recently, some blame Chris Christie for his famous Obama hug after Hurricane Sandy. But while that may have been ill-advised (look for it in the 2016 primaries if Christie runs), it was surely heartfelt, not staged.

Stunts gone wrong

These are legion, with the best known probably being the giant Snapple popsicle that melted and flooded New York’s Union Square — a mess, but harmless. The 2007 “Boston Bomb Scare” was more sinister; it happened when Cartoon Network’s placed odd-looking LED signs all over Boston as part of a guerrilla marketing promotion for a new show. (The Boston police thought they might be improvised explosive devices planted by terrorists.)

My personal favorite might have been the challenge issued by the CEO of identity protection company Lifelock. He featured his own social security number in outdoor and internet ads and challenged anyone to steal his identity. Inevitably, many did.

Social hijacking

These include brands who invite digital hijacking through ill-advised Twitter chats or other social media promotions, like the Goldman Sachs Twitter IPO conversation that was torpedoed before it began. The latest example is probably that of comedian and accused serial rapist Bill Cosby, whose PR team invited fans to “meme him” on Twitter just as fresh assault allegations were starting to emerge. They got more than they bargained for.

The faux relationship

It’s old as the (Hollywood) hills. The Showmance. and its close cousin, the faux feud. These are arguably the most entertaining sins committed in the name of visibility, and even today, they sell newspapers and drive web traffic. Were Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson really a couple? What about the bad blood between Madonna and Gaga? Donald Trump and Just About Anyone?

We’ll never know for sure.

6 Ways To Get A Jump On Holiday PR

It’s now or never for 2014 PR results! And now is the time to ensure that your team is leaving no stone unturned in leveraging  opportunities for holiday PR events and stories. Here are some items for that list.

Find an unlikely holiday angle. What’s hot in the news right now that you can craft into a holiday story angle? We know some expert will be discussing how lower gas prices will affect travel, but do you represent an expert who can offer insights on what lower gas prices mean to holiday shopping? Or perhaps a psychologist or author to discuss the “positives” of working retail on Thanksgiving Day?  How about proffering a product that falls in sort of a “vice” category but is still hot and trendy?

Stuff your social stream with holiday tips and updates. Serious holiday shopping and planning begin this week. Own some of the chatter by offering timely trivia and useful advice on appropriate SM sites, from unique holiday decor on Pinterest to a party tip a day on Twitter; leverage your client and company expertise.

Pitch plenty of holiday round-up stories. No matter what product or service you have to offer, there is an end-of-year opportunity for you. Scour ProfNet and and HARO for reporters doing “trendiest holiday gifts” or “most ingenious products” and  look at reporters who produce these lists annually, such as “WTF Holiday Gifts”  then think beyond that. Package 1-2 from your portfolio and get a theme going.

Leverage charitable giving. This is a great time to align with a cause that reflects your company’s ethos in some way. Choose a recipient that allows your company and colleagues to do something (collecting coats, eyeglasses, food) or to be part of an event (serving at a soup kitchen, singing at a senior center).  Find a unique way to stay involved all year long and encourage others in your company and networking circles to do the same.

Get those holiday newsletters going. Consider something a little different for a seasonal update. It’s a time to be more personal or humorous and let your readers know your “softer side.”

Schedule those holiday lunches/cocktails. When was the last time you did something sociable with your clients and colleagues? Now is the time to connect on a less business-y level and reinforce your relationships as you go into a new year. Remind everyone you work with how much you  enjoy them as genuine people, not just business associates with one of these fun outing ideas. This goes for media contacts, key strategic business partners, etc. The personal touch can reap lasting rewards in these relationships.

Stories The PR World Can Be Thankful For

Sometimes it can seem like much of what we do in the PR agency business involves managing information and its potentially negative implications. The media love a “bad news” story, and crisis management is a multi-million dollar industry. That’s why it’s refreshing when you come across stories that just make you grateful. (And it’s scientifically proven that being thankful is good for your health!) So with Thanksgiving right around the corner, we’re taking the opportunity to give thanks for the stuff happening out there that has earned some well-deserved good PR, all on its own.

History in the making. The nomination of Loretta Lynch for US Attorney General was a historic moment in a historic administration. Regardless of where you might fall on the political spectrum, it’s something to be thankful for when we cross milestones that not too long ago seemed just about impossible.

#Beawesometosomebody. This is the hashtag claimed by the hairstylist-to-celebrities who decided to start cutting the hair of homeless people on the streets of New York, for free. Thanks to a buddy taking photos and posting them online, the story went viral, and generated the kind of inspiring stories in top tier media most PR people only dream of. We had the opportunity recently to work with the pair, who is connected to one of our clients, and can attest that they’re the real deal, and the good PR was well deserved.

Laughs that LIVE ON. Could anyone not break a smile when the famous Car Talk brothers are on? The news that one of the brothers — known for his raucous laugh — died earlier this month reminds us that there’s always a place for laughter, levity, and stories about people (even under the guise of being about cars). And since archived versions of the shows continue to be syndicated nationwide every week, the laughter will never really die.

#AlexfromTarget. The phenomenon of the 15-year-old Target worker who became a Twitter celebrity overnight warrants a good deal of head scratching, and the story, unfortunately, has its darker side. But Alex’s family, which is getting outside help, has said it wants to find a way to do something good with the teenager’s sudden and unplanned fame. With so many instances of instant celebs using their fame for more selfish reasons, the family’s response is something to admire.

Volunteers who risk their lives. While alarming headlines about the Ebola outbreak loomed like dark clouds for a while, one aspect of the story highlighted a praiseworthy angle deserving (more) good PR: the doctors, nurses and other health care professionals who risk their lives to care for the sick. Doctors Without Borders remains an unsung hero of the crisis, and stories chronicling their work inspire gratitude in all of us.

Is Anything Ever Really Off The Record?

Uber hit another reputation speedbump yesterday when one of its senior executives shared an unusual suggestion for generating better PR for the brand with a group of notables. At a celebrity-studded dinner in New York, SVP of Business Emil Michael floated the idea of hiring opposition researchers to dig up dirt on journalists who’ve been hard on the company in order to “give them a taste of their own medicine.” Michael singled out Pando Daily’s Sarah Lacy, who has accused Uber of encouraging a misogynistic culture.

Talk about a trainwreck (car wreck?). Apparently Michael thought he was speaking off the record, so the whole thing might have been another crazy cocktail-party story except for the fact that there were journalists present. One was Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith,  who promptly posted a story about the bizarre conversation, because no one told him anything was off the record, and therefore it wasn’t.  Twelve hours later, many are wondering if Michael will keep his job. Twitter dashboards lit up with the item, it was instantly picked up by major media outlets, and of course, Lacy responded to the story. The situation seems doubly ironic as it was intended as part of a charm offensive for Uber founder Travis Kalanick.

In nearly anyone’s book, Michael’s remarks were nutty. Probably the least remarkable part of it was his failure to confirm ground rules given the presence of media professionals. I don’t know if the fallout will actually hurt Uber’s business, but it’s bound to stall the PR engine. The lack of judgment and cultural arrogance that it takes to float a “black ops” campaign to a group of influencers is pretty staggering.

But for PR professionals and our clients, it also raises the questions what is off the record. It even made me think of the celebrated interview by the late Michael Hastings with General Stanley McChrystal. Possibly because alcohol was involved over the days Hastings spent “embedded” with McChrystal’s group, members of his entourage got cozy with Hastings and were way too free with the opinions they shared. They criticized President Obama, and after the story was published, McChrystal submitted his resignation.

It doesn’t have to be that way. PR professionals and journalists have worked together and shared mutually beneficial information for decades, and often part of a given exchange is off the record. It can and does work. But here’s what all of us need to remember.

Off the record means different things to different people. For most journalists, it means the information can be used, but not attributed to the one who divulged it. Yet to others, it can mean the information is not for publication and can be used only to search for corroborating information. It’s essential to spell things out.

Nearly all journalists will respond to clear ground rules. They may not agree to the rules proposed, but clarity will avoid a world of hurt. And I’ve never known a reporter to break his word once there’s a clear agreement not to use or attribute the information being shared. The point is, there are no rules until they are mutually agreed upon.

Anything off the record must be established in advance. Clients sometimes make the mistake of trying to do this retroactively. Don’t try to change the rules after the beans have been spilled. If the information is juicy, any reporter worth his/her stuff will run with the story.

Never assume a social conversation is private.  Just because it’s a holiday party or a wedding rather than a formal interview, you cannot conclude that anything in a journalist conversation off the record. A close friend of mine used to be married to an ambitious investigative reporter who would routinely chat me up about my clients. My answers were bland and boring. It was probably an overreaction on my part, but it’s simply not worth the risk to share anything interesting, let alone controversial.

Work with a media relations professional. Yes, it’s self-serving and obvious, but if a PR person had been in the room, I don’t think the web would be buzzing about Uber’s latest gaffe. When in doubt about media relations ground rules, it pays to consult with top-tier people who do it for a living.

5 Steps To A PR Influencer Strategy

Tapping the power of influencers can be a PR agency‘s not-so-secret weapon. It’s also an indispensable tool of good marketing.

Whether it was your best friend in middle school talking up the new boy band or curiosity about the champagne Kim Kardashian, ahem, poured in her ubiquitous photo, there are definitely personalities who can affect decisions. (Although in the case of the Kardashian image, the answer is none, since no champagne wanted that notoriety).

Influential figures who have sway because of their real or perceived authority, knowledge, or position, are of strategic significance when launching or re-launching a product or service. The rules of outreach have changed over the years, but there are some nearly surefire ways to use the power of influence effectively. And not all influencers are celebrities.

Don’t overlook the ones you already have

The most efficient way to start to build a list of potential influencers is by looking at who already likes, follows and tweets about your brand. Examining each individual in your brand or business’s existing sphere of influence will unlock potential additional contacts with a likely chance of sharing some affinity with it. Often you can cement the relationship with special treatment, swag, or insider access.

Don’t be too exclusive to start

Gauge influencer strength by who becomes a passionate and authentic advocate, not just by one’s Klout score or other analytic. Just because someone has a large following or has achieved certain success with content -haring doesn’t guarantee that voice will be the best one for your brand.

Be in it for the long haul

Of course there is pressure to line up influencers quickly and get a campaign off the ground, but true advocacy builds over time. Ensure that your initiative has short-term and long-term goals to maximize the brand/influencer relationships.

Be prepared to invest

For a health technology interested in securing athlete and broadcast figures, we struck up a relationship early on with a respected TV personality who allowed us to use photos and quotes liberally – and gratis. But that was a rarity, and it was important to prepare the company leadership for the reality that most other media or sports personality relationships would come with more of a price tag. The key is to determine in advance how much you are willing to invest and how you will measure the return on that investment.

Let influencers truly influence

The best don’t have to be sold on your product or service. They’ve already organically gotten to know features and attributes and can speak from the heart (not a script) when advocating, so let them. Invite them to give opinions on brand extensions or other ideas on the drawing board that only the privileged few are privy to, and let them know how much they are valued.

PR Lessons From Taylor Swift

There’s no escaping the Taylor Swift PR phenomenon – like it or not, the millennial pop  queen is everywhere! This week she promptly became the only recording artist in history to sell more than 1 million albums in a week, three times in a row. And her decision to pull all her music from the increasingly dominant Spotify only magnified the tidal wave of coverage surrounding the 24-year-old star, making it irresistible not to draw a list of PR do’s and don’ts.

DO speak to your audience.  Taylor Swift does this well. She knows exactly who her fans are and speaks to them like old friends. Heartache, bullying, peer pressure, self esteem? She makes sure teen and preteen girls know she’s right there with them.

DON’T try this at home. The Spotify model of music is here to stay, along with all its distressing implications for how artists are compensated (or not) for their work. Few people could pull off the stance Swift has taken against giving music away nearly for free, but pull it off she has — and that’s only because she has the clout to do it. So if you’ve got the big names and ammunition to take up arms, get in there. Otherwise, don’t try a Swift move unless you’re Taylor Swift.

DO use social media as a natural extension of who you are. Swift is a natural sharer, and the organic quality of her social media feeds appeal to her followers and serve to strengthen her “brand.” Yahoo Music might have the exclusive interview post-historic million album marker, but where else can fans see the “one time” her two cats were cuddling?

DON’T rest on your laurels. Swift was already making history before 1989 sold more than 1 million albums in its first week. But she continued to push herself, saying she wanted to strive for the goal of breaking 1 million if it was possible.

DO make it personal. PR pros know the best messages are ones that are tailor-made toward the recipients, because they stand the best chance of connecting. Swift capitalized on this in the lead up to her album release, flooding her Instagram feed with hand written lyrics to tease tracks in the new album. Connection made, even before the album’s release. Now that’s a communication success.

Six Reasons A PR Agency Should Drop A Client

As posted previously, the Jian Ghomeshi sex abuse scandal is a PR meltdown – a real study in a breathtakingly swift public fall from grace. In PR land, it’s also a knotty moral dilemma for any PR or crisis agency who might take him on.

The whole mess is a reminder that, just as no one marries with the thought of divorce, few agencies expect to have to fire a client.

Yet there are valid reasons for dropping a client company. Here are the most compelling ones.

Ethical objections. Every agency has its own criteria for the clients it accepts, as we saw in the pledge by many large PR firms not to work with companies who deny climate science. Of course, there’s a gap between promising not to take on climate change deniers in the first place, as many mega-firms recently did, and resigning a large client company because it works to block climate-friendly legislation, which no one seems to be rushing to do.  In my experience, it takes a lot to move a PR agency to quit a well-funded or well-known client, but if there’s a reputation cost, or if staff morale is impacted, it’s the right move.

Unreliable information. Or worse. This is apparently what happened in the Ghomeshi situation. If your client isn’t giving you accurate information, you can’t do your best work, and that’s probably the very best thing that will happen. Bad information can damage an agency’s reputation or even make it a target of litigation. (Yes, this why most agencies have a “hold harmless” agreement in their contracts, because lying for a client, even unknowingly, is not just unethical; it may constitute liability.)

Mission impossible. This is a more common reason for an agency to drop a client, although it’s typically a last resort. Occasionally, a client believes the agency team can work miracles, and when that fails to happen, no one is happy – not the client, the account team, or agency management. Ideally, a little expectations education before the LOA is signed will prevent a relationship doomed by unrealistic or misaligned goals.

It’s a (money) losing proposition. A well-known “secret” of agency life is that firms do sometimes take on clients that are below their minimum fee level, or that won’t be profitable, and for legitimate reasons:  it’s a brand name, it can help the agency win future business, or the work is particularly inspiring. But if the gap between scope of work and remuneration is too wide, and/or if there are several money-losing clients on the roster, the agency is probably flirting with disaster, and it may decide to cut its losses.

It’s a poor fit.  I’ve had a few clients come through personal references that are a bit out of our comfort zone, but where I felt it would be awkward to turn down the engagement, or I rationalized that we could make it work.  And sometimes you can, but it’s usually a fifty-fifty proposition at best.

It’s bad for the team. This one’s also rare, but it happens. A client contact is not merely demanding or difficult, but dysfunctional, or prone to outbursts of temper, or he/she delights in making staff run in circles. But removing a toxic relationship is always good for staff morale, and those who’ve done it swear that it’s invariably a business decision that opens new doors.

5 Ways Small Data Beats Big In PR Programs

PR is catching up to the Big Data boom. One of the goals of a strategic PR program is often a series of newsworthy stories that are jam-packed with tacts and trends. Nothing’s changed there.
But for many of us, the “last mile” of Big Data is actually not as big as we might think. Sometimes, it pays to think smaller. Here are some ways that PR programs can use “downsized data” to achieve our goals without impacting the quality of our outcomes or insights.

Crack a consumer niche

For a client that markets a high-end therapeutic device for pain relief, we needed to reach sports enthusiasts like marathoners and triathletes, and the people who influence them, like trainers and physical therapists. As with any other segment, from progressive seniors to multitasking Millennials, homing in on the end-user takes a deep understanding of their interests, daily routines, social habits and pain points (pun intended), cross-referenced with their propensity for using and providing testimonials. We don’t need Big Data – just highly qualitative and very granular insights.

Personalize the pitch

Media outlets love data, but the “smaller” you can make the proof points, the more human the story will be. For example, a mobile shopping study we conducted for a client had plenty of macro-trend information about holiday buying plans, but it’s the smaller facts, like the spending gap between Android vs. iPhone users, that attracted the most attention. The larger figures offer credibility, but the details about different shopping and spending habits of different segments provide the spice.

Downsize the budget (but not the impact)

A B2B client may think an exhaustive industry study or review of client/customer behavior is the only way to produce long-form content to attract customers and reinforce a leadership position. Yet, a $5000 omnibus survey can sometimes be as useful as a $60,000 marketing study. We have also recommended that companies make use of owned research on several topical, timely subjects throughout the year rather than one annual industry overview that can be costly and outdated by the time the results are released.

Own the analysis, not the data

With a fresh analysis, you may not even need to own the data. For a client with a message about healthy sleep, we sliced and diced public-domain information from a series of CDC studies that including U.S. sleep trends. All it took was statistical software to parse the data by geography, age, and occupation. We packaged it well and presented it as a branded “sleep index” to media, who responded to the timeliness and provocative tidbits.

Individualize the offer

Customized Facebook quizzes, email personalized through marketing automation, real-time offers – as data grows, so does the need to get more personal. Content designed for consumers will increasingly need to be individualized – smaller, tailored, and snackable – in order to engage end users.