Author Archives: Howard Schacter

You Need to Lean In or Think About Getting Out (of PR)

sheryl-sandberg-lean-in-book-cover-240xaWe have been following all the attention paid to Marissa Mayer’s “no-more-work-from-home” policy and Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In pronouncements.  These topics hit particularly close to home for us because the team culture here is perhaps the most vital aspect of life at DiGennaro Communications — it’s fun, collegial and collaborative.

It’s no secret that practicing public relations, and in particular practicing the craft within a PR agency, is stressful.  In fact, PR is routinely ranked among the most stressful vocations around.  So, here at DGC it’s important we cultivate an environment that provides a supportive atmosphere for our team.

It’s also smart business: A major value-add for our clients is our routine delivery of experiences, media contacts, pitch ideas and other critical support that emanates from across our entire team.  We like to say that our clients work with a dedicated account team, but in truth, they actually are assigned a 35-member account team.  Unfortunately, delivering on that promise is quite rare in this industry.

But back to Ms. Mayer and Ms. Sandberg.  One could debate (and many, many are) the merits of a work-from-home policy.  We’re actually testing one ourselves at the moment.  But it’s Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In platform that we identify with even more closely.  As Drake Baer so aptly reported in his Fast Company piece yesterday, Why Everyone—Not Just Women—Needs to Lean In, we don’t apply it exclusively to women.

An essential part of the earned media business is earning trust and building strong and mutually respectful relationships with journalists, clients and colleagues and this just isn’t achieved by “leaning out.”

Living and breathing a Lean In quality – showing a passion for your job, exhibiting a genuine interest in your clients and their companies, putting forward your opinions, raising your hand, finding ways to deliver the unexpected. It’s not a quality we hope employees bring to the table; it’s a prerequisite.  We’d argue it’s a requirement for anyone who wants to succeed in PR.

All-Stars Line Up to Follow Li-Ning’s Way of Wade

We had the pleasure to attend the NBA All-Star Weekend recently in Houston to support Chinese footwear brand Li-Ning and its Way of Wade sneaker partnership with NBA Superstar Dwyane Wade.

Like the Super Bowl and the Grammys, we’re seeing live events such as All-Star Weekend attract celebrities, fans and national eyeballs like never before, along with the marketing dollars that accompany them.

We were in the trenches helping pump up the Way of Wade brand through a celebration of the brand at a launch party which culminated in a performance by hip hop artist T.I. 150 VIPs including celebrities like Queen Latifah, Ludacris, Gold Medal Gymnast Gabby Douglas and Common graced the red carpet.

Dwyane_Wade-Queen_Latifah-Common

Common, Queen Latifah and Dwyane Wade on the red carpet at the Way of Wade event

DGC worked with the Animal Planet show, “Tanked,” on a segment to air in May focused on a specially designed fish tank the show installed, filled with stingrays and Wade’s special-edition Sting-Wade All-Star sneaker.  We also directed on-site interviews conducted by NBA TV, sneaker websites and a host of media from China. Sports and entertainment creative shop Zambezi also created the Make Your Own Way spot that launched over the weekend to help leverage on-the-ground activation.

The next day, DGC helped promote an art gallery transformed into a Way of Wade pop-up installation. Dwyane made a special appearance during the day to sign autographs and conduct a Q&A with fans. Attendance to the pop-up store was driven only via social media, yet the space was packed with fans during its six hours of operation.

The weekend was a major success. In the span of 36 hours, the Way of Wade brand made inroads with thousands of basketball fans and sneaker heads – exactly the audience Li-Ning is targeting to build excitement around the brand.  Event PR can seem daunting in the moment, but with a well-executed plan, it can drive great success.

Check out the “A Gentleman’s Weekend – 2013 All Star Weekend” wrap video:

Super Bowl: A Game of HORSE and the Pre-Game Debate

Twenty years ago, as a young PR buck, I was tasked with creating a strategy to help McDonald’s leverage its Super Bowl XXVII “Nothing But Net” spot.  I knew we had PR gold in our hands when the storyboards included Michael Jordan and Larry Bird in a game of HORSE. Slam dunk!

What wasn’t a slam dunk at the time was my idea: invite select media on-set (Entertainment Tonight, ESPN, a few others) to capture interviews with Jordan, Bird, director Joe Pytka and behind-the-scenes footage for segments that would air BEFORE the game to build anticipation and consumer engagement.

The heated debates at the Golden Arches over a concept that seemed heretical at the time were unforgettable. But, we hit pay dirt that year with phenomenal pre-game PR and a USA Today Ad Meter victory. It arguably kick-started what today is considered the first page of the Super Bowl Commercial PR Playbook.  In fact, now NOT finding ways to gain exposure for a brand’s Super Bowl spot before the game is considered heretical.

Stuart Elliott did a deep dive on the subject in The New York Times this week that’s worth reading…

Weiner: A Cautionary Tale for the C-Suite

Can a guy really be this stupid? I found myself pondering that question over the past 24 hours in regards to the Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) scandal. I wanted so badly to believe that this time there really would be a plausible explanation for this kind of situation. Certainly, Weiner read the coverage when his House colleague Chris Lee resigned under a cloud of humiliation for a similar transgression. Certainly, he read the coverage of Brett Favre’s cell phone seduction of NY Jets sideline reporter Jenn Sterger?

The answer is that Weiner of course saw the coverage, as well as the countless other instances of steamy texts and lewd pictures sent by a very powerful and very public man to a woman that’s not his wife. So, what causes a man of seemingly sound mind (and influence) to give in to the temptation of sordid, online behavior? Especially after watching, time and again, the devastating consequences to his family and career?

I believe the answer lies in one of the character traits that helps propel people to the top in the first place. Whether it’s a superstar athlete, an elected official, or a Fortune 500 CEO, at least part of what drives the ambition to reach the peak of the career pyramid is ego. That’s not a bad thing, mind you. Hey, whatever it takes, right? Ahh, but sometimes, as Mr. Weiner and those before him have learned, the “my s—t don’t stink” attitude leads to behavior that, well, stinks.

Here at DGC we’re fortunate to counsel some very talented and successful CEOs. They are some of the smartest, most visionary business leaders I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Sometimes, though, a crisis rears its head and we find ourselves suggesting a communications path that’s stunted by, well, ego. “That’ll never happen to us,” a CEO will declare when told the negative coverage a certain action (or inaction) will have.

We’ll stay resolute, but on some rare occasions ego has won over reason. And the results have been disastrous. The truth is, I’m not sure there’s much you can do when the CEO holds his or her ground like that. Perhaps have a clip book handy – of Mr. Weiner. And Mr. Lee. And Mr. Favre.

Are You Saving Trees?

Interesting news came out of the publishing world in recent weeks, with Hearst Magazines announcing a deal to begin selling three of its magazines – Esquire, Popular Science and O, the Oprah Magazine – for the iPad, using Apple’s subscription model. That came shortly after Time Inc.’s announcement about its Sports Illustrated, Time and Fortune titles, and was immediately followed by today’s news that Condé will soon offer iPad subscriptions to its Vanity Fair, Glamour, The New Yorker and others. Seems every major publisher is getting on board. The challenge, however, is how to get advertisers to do the same.

You’d think the ultra-targeting of ads that technologies like tablets offer, and the ultra-effective types of ad units publishers are developing for the digital realm, would help lock the deal. The challenge is how to count a digital subscriber relative to a print edition subscriber when it comes to determining ad rates. According to The New York Times, the Audit Bureau of Circulations has said that each digital subscription should count toward the rate base — the number of copies used to sell advertising. At the same time, publishers still demand a much higher premium for a print ad versus one that appears online.

It’s an interesting situation and one that I’ll leave to the advertising world to shake out. As a PR guy, there’s a similar issue to grapple with tied to earned media and its value, as dedicated online content delivered by publishers becomes more robust. Forbes’ CEO and CMO Networks, The New York Times’ Media Decoder, and Fast Company’s 30 Second MBA are just three of many highly influential online destinations we work with regularly to help showcase the vision and leadership of our C-suite clients. When a video interview posts to such a site, or breaking news hits there first, we can tell within minutes that the marketing influencers and brand decision makers we’re trying to reach are, in fact, paying attention to the message, sharing it with others, etc.

Despite the proven effectiveness of these types of placements as part of a broader thought leadership strategy, the fact is that many C-suiters ask that our efforts on their behalf focus almost exclusively on securing opportunities on the printed page. They believe their inclusion in a Fast Company printed edition story, for example, will carry a higher perceived value among prospects, clients, employees, investors and business partners than even deeper editorial coverage that would appear on FastCompany.com. We have a multitude of evidence that suggests otherwise, including their own admissions that they’re consuming most of their business reading online today. It doesn’t seem to sway them – yet.

What about you? Do you find yourself more engaged, persuaded, impressed, etc., by a story or mention that appears in print rather than – or in addition to – online? For me, the answer is a definite “no.” In fact, other than diving into that beautiful thing that is the Sunday New York Times every week, my life has become so “digital,” the impact of one distribution channel versus another has entirely faded away. I guess I’m saving a lot of trees. How about you?

A Different Type of Pitch…for Tomorrow’s PR Talent

We all know that identifying a newsworthy trend is a critical strategy in persuading a reporter to jump on a story. Well, there’s one such trend that’s not getting much coverage, and yet it deals directly with the media themselves. In fact, from where I sit, it’s having perhaps the single biggest impact on elevating the strategic counsel we’re delivering to our clients. The trend I’m referring to is the leap to a career in PR that so many business and marketing editors are pursuing nowadays.

Whether it’s a contraction in publishing, work/life balance, the opportunity to try something new, or financial upside, it seems each week we’re hearing from another influential journalist looking for insights about making such a switch.

Here at DGC, we’re thrilled to have added three former journalists to our growing team and the results could not be more positive. Our Chief Content Officer, Melanie Wells, joined us late last year from Forbes Media, where she served as an executive editor; Kathy Sampey is a seasoned former journo from Adweek; and Megan McIlroy cut her teeth as an agency beat reporter at AdAge. These outstanding execs took to PR agency life like a fish to water, and certainly much of it is because we specialize in an industry they already understood.

For us, their editorial training delivers incredible value every day – the ability to quickly synthesize complex business stories, package them for media just as they would have wanted to receive them, and, sometimes, call a story b.s. if it has too many holes. Of course, it should go without saying that their writing is exemplary, too, which benefits our entire team.

I’m not a fan of giving away any ingredients to our secret sauce, but it’s clear the cat’s out of the bag on this one. Journalists are flocking to PR fast, and I encourage my peers to give them great consideration. They’ll be your superstars of tomorrow.

AVE is DEAD

“How will you measure the success of our program?”

Many PR pros shudder at that question from clients or prospects and it’s understandable. How do you determine the right metrics to measure earned media, a platform that – while near and dear to my heart – offers little control of message, difficult monitoring challenges, and significant subjectivity regarding qualitative analysis. These reasons, among many others, are the basis for the reality that finding a universal measurement approach is the Holy Grail of PR.

Fortunately, Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE), a metric I’ve long-disdained, appears to have finally been kicked to the curb by the PR industry. A few days back, the PR Week Awards, among the most prestigious awards in the business, announced that AVE would no longer be accepted as a measurement of campaign effectiveness. This follows last year’s pronouncement that AVEs should not be viewed as an effective value of PR, as included in the Barcelona Principles. The Barcelona Principles are a series of measurement and evaluation practices to guide the industry developed by the Institute of Public Relations.

AVEs simply measure the cost of media space. For example, if you appear on a local lifestyle program for five minutes and the cost of a 30-second spot on the same show costs $5,000, the AVE is calculated as $5,000 x 10 = an AVE of $50,000. I always thought that was nonsense. Glad to know my peers agree.

I don’t have the answer to the right measurement approach to PR, and as an agency we prefer to collaborate with our clients to determine the mix of metrics that work best for them. However, I do believe wholeheartedly that the mix should include both quantitative and qualitative measures, with a bias toward real shifts in awareness, comprehension, attitude and behavior related to purchase, donations, brand equity, corporate reputation, employee engagement, etc.

Much more on this topic to come, but for now, bravo to the death of AVE.

I’ve Drunk the Tiger Blood Before

Just when you thought the blogosphere was at maximum capacity for another Charlie Sheen point of view, I’m throwing my own tiger blood into the fray. Truth is, having created partnerships for brands with a host of celebrities and athletes over the years, I am fascinated with Mr. Sheen and equally fascinated with America’s fascination with the story. But I’m hardly surprised.

You see, I’ve seen this script before. In fact, I helped write it at the time. Just a few years ago, as chief of marketing and PR at a national retail chain, we hit marketing gold by creating a low-cost, high-quality sneaker for the masses with NBA bad boy Stephon Marbury. Then a member of the NY Knicks, Steph had (most of) the ingredients you want in a celeb partner: he worked/lived in the media capital of the world, he drew press like moths to a flame, and – having grown up in a family that couldn’t afford to buy him “Jordans” all the time – he had an authentic story to tell about why the world needed a cool-yet-inexpensive sneaker. (Ours, which Steph wore on-court during NBA games, cost just $14.) Yeah, we could’ve gone with a safer choice. But Steph brought an authentic message to the table…that was key. In fact, it was so important that we overlooked the negatives. And there were quite a few. He was unpredictable. He was at war with his coach. And he was prone to outlandish TV interviews that were analyzed by on-air psychologists. (Sound familiar?)

The result of our partnership was nothing short of incredible. With a campaign fueled exclusively by social media and PR, the Starbury brand became one of the biggest marketing stories of the year, and arguably changed the sneaker business forever. Within weeks of a launch that saw thousands of customers wait hours in line just for a pair of $14 kicks, virtually every major sneaker company introduced their own entry-level offerings in our category.

Suffice to say, Charlie Sheen’s exploits bring back a lot of memories for me. They also remind me of a few valuable lessons. First, celebrity sells every time, especially when you have to rely on earned media to spread your word. Second, celebrity sells better when their message is authentic. And as we’re seeing, it doesn’t matter whether the message is sad or noble. If it’s real, we’ll pay attention.

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