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4A’s PR Forum: 8 Tips for Pitching Reporters

The 4A’s, the leading trade association for ad agencies, held its second 4A’s Public Relations Forum, this year at J. Walter Thompson’s beautiful NYC offices on May 14, and the event drew a packed house.

Dubbed “24/7 Always On Communications,” the event brought together business journalists and hundreds of communications professionals from PR agencies and ad agencies to discuss changes in news gathering and media relations practices.

Top reporters from outlets including Fast Company, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Ad Age, Adweek and USA Today, as well as PR practitioners from agencies including, CP+B, FCB and Mullen lent their expertise on topics concerning reputation management and crisis communications. Additionally, executives from Twitter and Facebook discussed how social media engagement and real-time communications continues to change the world of earned media.

Still, media relations is the bread and butter of the PR practice, and journalist speakers talked about how technology and emerging media channels continue to impact their profession.

Below are eight insights that PR practitioners should keep in mind when engaging with the media in this 24/7 “Always On” world.

  1. Technology works. Almost all reporter panelists said that if you sent an email, “we got your pitch, and there’s no need to follow up four or five times to check.”  That said, if you want to follow up once, Laura Petrecca  from USA Today suggests writing “FOLLOW UP” in your subject line to make your point clear.
  2. Relationships are key. Reporters are much more apt to take your call if they know you. The takeaway?  Build those connections now; they will pay off for years to come.
  3. Sometimes it’s just about luck: Ever wonder why the pitch you spent hours writing got no response but the one that took ten minutes got an immediate reply?  The truth is, there isn’t a real answer other than timing. As Fast Company’s Editor Bob Safian pointed out, “It’s like getting a parking spot in the mall at Christmas time – it could take one minute, it could take 20. It depends what’s happening on that specific day and time — don’t take it personally.”
  4. The “aha” moment. Reporters and editors are looking for something new and surprising for their readers. If your pitched doesn’t elicit an “a-ha” moment it will be deleted.
  5. Remember the “why.”  When pitching a story, it is essential to include the “why.” While this may seem like a given, the Wall Street Journal’s Suzanne Vranica said it was surprising how many pitches she reads that bury the “why.” Remember to include the business challenge or impetus for your storyline.
  6. Social media is critical. Reporters use social media to inform their stories and gauge hot topics of the day, so PR professionals should align pitches with topics reporters seem to have on their radars. As Twitter’s Melissa Barnes reminded the audience, “Not only are stories being discussed on the platform, sometimes they are breaking on Twitter.” With social comes more competition than ever for reporters, so it’s imperative to stay close to the real-time conversation and how it’s informing journalism.
  7. Deadlines don’t exist. They have become almost irrelevant.  Everything is so real-time that reporters don’t always have time to respond to your pitch.
  8. Be concise. Suzanne Vranica says that actually, a one-sentence pitch via phone is more effective than a three-paragraph email. Take that to heart.


Digital Denizens: Reporting from the Future

“Digital Denizens: Reporting from the Future” panel. From left to right: Michael Learmonth, Ad Age; Todd Wasserman of Mashable; Brian Braiker Digiday reporter; moderator is Jill Kelly, Chief Communications Officer of Digitas.

Re:Think 2014: Great Insights, Great Innovation, Great Results

Day Two at the Advertising Research Foundation’s Re:Think 2014 conference was about rethinking ideas to derive better insights, and ultimately better creative executions and results.

Lee Garfinkel, CEO of FCB Garfinkel, gave the first keynote of the day said the industry needs more clarity and simplicity in using smart research to inform smart advertising. Rather than wasting time thinking outside of the box, he encourages people to think about how to get out of the corner. “Science won’t get you great ideas alone. You need the gut instinct of great thinkers.”

Garfinkel’s other call to action was to come up with the great idea that will change the mind of the consumer. Demonstrated by his own iconic Diet Coke example from 1994,  he explained how the soft drink faced several challenges — from being too generic to being seen as for “women on a diet.” Garfinkel realized they couldn’t fix all of Diet Coke’s needs at once. “We asked the right question to get the right answer. The question was ‘which one of these should we address first?” Diet Coke’s response? “Make us relevant again.’”

Garfinkel and his team did just that, creating a spot that alleviated many of these issues and helped Diet Coke re-gain market share. The spot speaks for itself:

The second session keynote of the day was a fireside chat between Kim Brink, VP Marketing at NASCAR, and 4A’s EVP Michael Donahue, titled “Branding 180% Turnaround.” One of NASCAR’s marketing challenges is that people perceive it as a sport only popular in the South, without a huge reach. Conversely, the race car brand is second to the NFL in terms of recognition and hosts as many as 70 million fans at their events every year.

NASCAR’s goal was to have consumers rethink the brand. By tapping into insights around what its most rabid fans love about the sport, NASCAR was able to exact that passion and leverage it for new fans. The exercise allowed NASCAR to find its brand voice, which Brink acknowledged they didn’t previously have. NASCAR then signed their first ad agency, Ogilvy + Mather, and leveraged the insights about what rabid and casual fans love most, to create a dynamic spot that went on to be listed as the “Best Sports Commercial of the Year” in 2013.

The overarching message today was that marketers need to challenge their creative thinking by starting the process with smart research and clear insights.


4A’s Kicks Off with Keen Insights on Building Better Partnerships

It has been a busy month with numerous marketing and tech industry events taking place across the country, and this week is no exception. The DGC team is on the ground at the 4A’s Transformation conference in Beverly Hills with many of our wonderful clients, including the 4A’s itself. Not only have we already experienced an earthquake, but also we’ve gleaned some key insights into how collaboration, trust, transparency and talent can drive better business. Whether you’re on the client or agency side, here are three things to keep in mind to create better partnerships, and ultimately, garner better results: 

1. Collaboration, Collaboration, Collaboration: Always a hot topic, but even more so in today’s results-driven environment, collaboration was one of the most-talked about themes. Dana Anderson, SVP of marketing strategy and communications (and a seemingly part-time comedian) at Mondelēz, discussed the fact that successful collaboration is a two-way street, and that clients should endeavor to respect and support their agencies, with the goal of reaping better work. She stressed that the more direct and specific clients can be in their briefs; the more creative, strategic and cutting edge ideas agencies can derive. Offering her own ingredients for fruitful agency/client collaboration, Anderson said it is a lot like love: it requires trust, commitment and giving.

2. The Trust & Transparency Imperative: Definitely a hot-button issue as it relates to data and metrics, but also within the context of client/agency relationships, trust and transparency emerged as two non-negotiables for getting to good work. For PR practitioners, trust is the basis for successful results. Our relationships – with journalists as well as clients – are rooted in a common trust and mutual respect for one another. We can’t lead our clients and provide solid communications counsel unless they trust us enough to be open and transparent, and allow us the room to push back on them. John Hayes, CMO of American Express, went so far as to say that he loves it when one of his agency partners tells him he’s wrong. He said it tells him they are thinking about his business.

3. Talent Wars: When you get a group of 1,200 marketers together, where the majority of attendees either work or have worked inside an agency, you can bet the subject of talent is top of mind. With increasing competition from tech companies and start-ups, agencies are facing more challenges than ever in attracting and retaining their primary currency: rock-star talent. In a fireside chat, Andrew Benett, CEO of Havas Worldwide, told attendees that the CEO now needs to play the role of Chief Talent Officer, dedicating a significant portion of time to finding and nurturing talent. He also suggested aligning your best talent with recruiting efforts, saying that when you have your greatest stars leading talent and recruitment, they become the ambassadors of your brand and ultimately recruit more great talent.

Check out this video clip of DGC Founder + CEO Sam DiGennaro as she shares her initial observations on the key themes being discussed at this year’s 4A’s Transformation conference: 

Creating Awareness, Acceptance of Online Tracking is Critical for the Ad Industry

In the wake of the National Security Agency and Edward Snowden revelations about online surveillance, consumers are more aware and concerned about online tracking by the government and companies alike, according to a Monday session about online privacy during the 10th annual Advertising Week.

What does this mean for marketers and agencies? Dick O’Brien, EVP, Director of Government Relations for the 4A’s trade association, said that educating the consumer public about how and why marketers want to track them online is critical to making them feel more comfortable with the practice.

“The issue hit full boil when it became clear to many people that we [the ad industry] had such incredible ability to collect and analyze data and use it for targeting purposes,” O’Brien said, adding that the days are gone when brands just hoped that ads reached the intended audience.

In the wake of the Snowden story, many people began to conflate online tracking to the totalitarianism described in the writings of George Orwell, in Brave New World and that of a dystopian, Kafkaesque future, O’Brien said. Indeed, he acknowledged what consumers describe as a “creep” factor in receiving ads that are relevant to one’s online behavior, a sentiment that makes it critical for the advertising industry to address this issue head-on.

The Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) is working with other organizations to educate the public about the reasons the ad industry collects data. O’Brien explained that when “tracking” was put in simple terms –so football players won’t get ads for feminine hygiene products, say—and that paid advertising helps keep Web content free, people were more receptive to it.

When it’s explained to consumers that tracking allows them to receive ads about products that are relevant to them, and that ads pay for the free internet, then they understand, O’Brien said.

Click here for Dick O’Brien’s explanation about why standards for tracking must be established. 

Real-Time Marketing Is the New Reality

Is there such a thing as a real-time marketing plan? Nancy Hill, President-CEO of the 4A’s, opened a session with that question this week during OMMA Global at Advertising Week.

Hill moderated “’Real-Time’ Spells Real Change for Media, Marketers and Customers,” a panel that discussed all the challenges and issues involved in real-time interaction with consumers who are online 24/7.

As the panel revealed, the approach to real-time marketing differs for companies depending on whether their messaging is primarily B2C or B2B. Lisa Shallett, Head of Brand Marketing and Digital Strategy at Goldman Sachs, is in the B2B camp, and the company found itself backing in to content marketing because financial regulation and legal issues prevent the global investment bank from taking part in real-time conversations.

Because of those restrictions, Shallet told Hill that “oxymoronically,” Goldman Sachs needed a “real-time” marketing playbook that lays out all the possible “what if’s” of any situation and how their legal, compliance and marketing departments must come together to respond, if indeed, they choose to respond. The company is more disposed to listening to online chatter using tools such as Radian6 to at least have a sense of sentiment about the Goldman Sachs brand in worlds beyond finance. “It’s ironic to have a playbook for what ought to be spontaneous,” Shallet said.

At the other end of the spectrum was Alexis Maybank, founder, Chief Strategy Officer of online fashion retailer Gilt Groupe. Maybank said the site has evolved beyond an e-commerce site to a full-on content channel that provides a different experience each time a person lands on the home page and begins clicking deeper into the content. She explained that the company has invested heavily in real-time, regression analysis that is based on every click, every season preference, color, size and beyond.

“We need to keep up on a real-time basis,” Maybank said. “If someone is buying maternity clothing, we have to change their experience on the site very quickly.” Part of what keeps consumers coming back, she added, is that the Gilt Groupe site feels to consumers as if the brand understands their interests and serves up, based on past behaviors, the products and information most relevant to that person.

Another panelist, Lori Hiltz, CEO of Havas Media, North America, is somewhere in between. As the agency handling large consumer retail chains that offer various goods and services (Sears, Kmart), Havas Media has started from the inside of its own organization and worked outwards to serve its client.

Keeping a real-time dialogue going with consumers on behalf of clients that sell everything from bras to lawnmowers is extremely complex, and Havas Media has made significant investments across its talent base to cultivate fluency in data, optimization, algorithms and online behavior.

One of the biggest pitfalls in real-time marketing, the panelists all agreed, was knowing how to respond to negative feedback or conversations. That’s why, in addition to investing in the science side of the business, marketers and agencies need employees who understand the relationship aspects of any business.

Panelist Porter Gale, author of Your Network Is Your Net Worth, said that Red Bull, Old Spice and some entertainment properties are leading the way in terms of the real-time marketing conversation. She pointed to a movie studio that recently held a Google Hangout on the red carpet at a film opening.

Hiltz said her client, Dannon, is responding instantaneously to shopper marketing data right at the supermarket check out, such is the “yogurt world battle” going on now because of the popularity of Greek-style yogurt.

Ultimately, the panelists agreed, driving more engagement with consumers and viewers by optimizing their social graphs is an ever-changing process and will remain so for quite some time.

DGC Live from Advertising Week: Unlocking Client Creativity

Advertising Week X is in full swing and our clients wasted no time today talking about the creative process and what creative success looks like. In a session titled, “Unlocking Client Creativity,” Forbes’ Jenny Rooney talked with executives from DDB New York, sparks&honey, and 4A’s, as well as PPG, about the idea of co-creativity and how it impacts creative results.

Speaking on the panel were Peter Hempel (President & CEO, DDB New York), Nancy Hill (President & CEO, 4A’s), Rebecca Rehder (Account Director, DDB New York), Terry Young (CEO & Founder, sparks&honey) and Rob Horton (Director, Marketing, PPG Architectural Coatings).

Execs from DDB, sparks&honey, 4A’s and PPG Architectural Coatings chat with Forbes CMO Network Editor Jenny Rooney about the importance of co-creation in advertising.

Execs from DDB, sparks&honey, 4A’s and PPG Architectural Coatings chat with Forbes CMO Network Editor Jenny Rooney about the importance of co-creation in advertising

Centered on DDB’s “The Beast” campaign for Glidden, a paint brand, the panelists talked about the importance of not stifling client creativity, and thinking with an open mind when trying to engage with consumers.

Peter Hempel said co-creativity is not just a philosophy, but a way to attach all things creative to campaigns and ultimately to the consumer. He also cited that under DDB Founder Bill Bernbach’s leadership, the agency began to partner art directors and copywriters, an innovative idea for the time that led to inter-agency collaboration across the industry.

Working with other departments, which is a major part of co-creativity, provides a chance for agencies to re-align with a new idea and to let people from neglected departments and internal marketing teams back into the creative process, according to Nancy Hill. Nancy compared outside agencies to personal trainers for brands, saying they push brands a little harder to take risks they might not take themselves.

Continuing the idea of co-creation between agencies and brands, we caught up with Terry Young to elaborate on the number one thing that drives successful co-creativity. Check out the video below to hear what he has to say.

Terry Young, CEO / founder, sparks&honey shares his perspective on enabling client/agency co-creation following a panel at Advertising Week X.

Let’s Make the Industry 50/50 with ADC Initiative

ImageLast week, the advertising industry took a big step toward equal opportunity for all with the launch of the groundbreaking 50/50 initiative – an Art Directors Club (ADC) sponsored program focused on creating drastic, measurable change in the roles and participation of women within the creative communications industry. This means proactively seeking out and placing an equal number of women on award show juries, boards of directors, and speaker lineups.

DGC had the pleasure of sharing the news with media around the world and taking part in an exciting launch event. We saw firsthand some of the industry’s most talented and forward-thinking women such as IfWeRantheWorld’s Cindy Gallop, Creative Niche’s Mandy Gilbert  and our very own Sam DiGennaro speak to this incredibly important movement. In true ADC style, renowned photographer, Monte Isom, took part in capturing the moment.

Since the launch, other major industry organizations have joined the cause including the CLIO Awards, Social Media Week, the 4A’s, FID and the Tomorrow Awards. There is no doubt that it is an exciting time for the industry.

Perhaps Cindy Gallop, one of the 50/50 committee members, described it best when she said “what we do, what we create, has the power to change not only the future of the business, but the future of society.” Watch a clip of Cindy’s inspiring (and artistically backlit) call-to-action speech here.

To support this great cause, sign the 50/50 initiative petition

4A’s CEO Nancy Hill Sits Down with Forbes CMO Network


Nancy Hill, President-CEO of the 4A’s since 2008, sat down with Jenny Rooney, Forbes CMO Network editor, to talk about her tenure leading the 96-year-old trade association. Hill was the first woman to hold the position but insists: “When I first took the job, all of the reporters wanted to make the story about the fact that I was the first woman. I had to really turn the reporters and get them to understand that no, it’s because I worked in Baltimore, St. Louis, Los Angeles, [and] San Francisco, in all manner and sizes of agencies… That’s why I got the job.”

Other highlights in the interview are as follows:

  • In the past two years, the 4A’s has been gaining members rather than losing them
  • The 4A’s successfully collaborates with the IAB and the ANA on the privacy initiative and the three associations built the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), which now serves 1.3 trillion impressions a week with a small icon, informing consumers about how particular web sites use information gathered from “cookies.” Hill says the icon has 34 percent awareness just a year after its launch
  • Diversity. Hill says agencies understand more and more that inclusion is good for business
  • Talent development. Many industry execs say advertising is not a destination career any longer, and Hill admits that “we have an awareness problem among young people” but adds that the talent issue is multi-faceted and not limited to advertising because young people are more attracted to tech start-ups.
  • Collaboration with client-side executives. The 4A’s conference, Transformation 2013: The Idea Effect, takes place in New Orleans in March and has more CMO speakers than ever before. Hill says marketers and their agencies have a stake in issues such as, the agency review process, procurement, compensation models, and patent assertions

Hill tells Rooney that a lot of work has been done around the patent issue, also known as “patent trolling,” and member agencies can expect to hear more from the 4A’s about how it is combating the problem.

Practice Makes Perfect | The 4A’s Strategy Festival Workshop: Code for America

Today at the 4A’s Annual Strategy Festival, nine teams of advertising executives and planners presented strategy to build awareness for Code for America, a non-for-profit dedicated to increasing government service effectiveness and community awareness via technology. Participants were briefed on October 25 and challenged to answer the following questions:

  • How can we get citizens to value the work that local government does, while pushing it to do even better?
  • How do we get citizens to see themselves as the hands, as well as the voices, that make their local governments and communities work?
  • What would society look like if we felt about government the way we feel about our iPhones?

The judging panel, selected by Code For America, included Tim O’Reilly, O’Reilly Media; Beth Noveck, former Deputy CTO of the United States; Anne Milgram, former Attorney General of New Jersey; Kevin Slavin, founder of Area/Code; Tim Dierks, former Google engineering lead; and Owen Washburn, Brookings Institution.

An overarching theme that emerged from the event was a lack of community knowledge about government services and the disconnect between local governments and individuals.

Here are some examples:

  • Team 4: Sought to enable “city-fication” – a two-way rating system for community and government to interact, report and score service and contributions to the community – empowering “individual moaners to create a platform for social change.”
  • Team 5:  Recommended that government pair their functional services with individuals’ passions like running, their pets and more via  a challenge hosted on a website with a clever title like “”
  • Team 6: Presented “The Hero Next Door” in which the community sees their government employees as “real people.” For example the “librarian” she reads to your kids or the “police officer” the one that keeps your family safe.

The judges declared Team 6 as the winner. Overall the Code for America workshop was an impressive and thought-provoking exercise that allowed participants to activate on the themes and strategies discussed at the conference.

Creative Legends, Jeff Goodby and David Droga, Share Stage at 4A’s Strategy Festival

The DiGennaro Communications team gathered at the 4A’s Strategy Festival in New York City today, which annually coincides with the Jay Chiat Awards to support many of our clients, one of which is the 4A’s itself.

The sold-out event, which caters to agency strategists and planners, assembled an all-star cast of advertising executives to discuss how to bring “agility to strategy.”

Opening Remarks from CEO/President of the 4A’s Nancy Hill

Nancy Hill, CEO and President of the 4A’s kicked off the event, opening up the stage for welcome remarks by Edward Cotton, famed director of strategy and innovation at Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners. Shortly after, Jonah Bloom, chief strategist at kbs+ and former Ad Age editor in chief moderated a live discussion about the importance of strategy to creativity between Jeff Goodby, co-chairman of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners and David Droga, founder of Droga5. These creative legends were asked to give their perspective on “raising the bar” in the industry.

Goodby and Droga debated the role of strategy and planning in the creative process. Goodby equated the importance of planning to a T.S. Eliot reference that when two things that don’t belong together are fused, it can create something much better in the end. Droga stressed that “as a planner you cannot be average; you have to be exceptional.”

In discussing the development of great campaigns, Goodby admitted that “sometimes we mistake things that are informative for things that are interesting,” and it is important to know that the “biggest job for planners is to make people care.” Droga gravitates to the “things that make me think about a category in a slightly different way.”

Another challenge the two men cited as a link between a successful creative and planning relationship, is speed. In today’s fast-paced communications world, speed can both aid and stifle the process. Goodby warned that “speed can become an excuse to not interact with individuals and to ignore how well a message is received.”

Raising the Bar with Jeff Goodby and David Droga

In his closing remarks Droga advised, “have the creatives be in the trenches early on in brief development; then they’ll be more likely to let you be involved.” Goodby explained that raising the bar (as a creative or planner) requires “an innate desire and sense of urgency to create something different.” He urged planners to come up with something unique, because that is what makes one stand out in today’s industry.

Following the Droga/Goodby opening keynote, attendees could participate in a strategy workshop for Code for America, a non-profit that uses technology to improve local government efficiency. Teams will have 24 hours to turn around their strategic plans for review to a panel of esteemed judges including Tim O’Reilly, O’Reilly Media, Beth Noveck, former Deputy CTO of the United States, Anne Milgram, former Attorney General of New Jersey, Kevin Slavin, founder of Area/Code, Tim Dierks, former Google engineering lead, and Owen Washburn, Brookings Institution.

To wrap up day one, the 2012 Jay Chiat Awards were announced via a live presentation and were featured on AdWeek.

We’ll be back tomorrow with highlights from the final day of the 4A’s Strategy Festival.

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