Posted by Kailey Astor
...But you just can't make a good outcast like you used to.
Remember “third-party endorsements?" Getting influential people to pronounce their approve of a client was once thought to be the absolute brass ring in the PR biz. No more. Nowadays, if a junior account executive comes into your office with a scheme to get a client endorsed by some notable, well forget it. You've got no choice. It's obvious they're hopelessly clueless and you've got to let them go.
“You just don’t get it Jennifer. We're paid to get our clients market attention. No one gives a damn about Bambi anymore, Sweet Cheeks. Look at Paris Hilton! Look at Lindsay Lohan! Look at the Dixie Chicks for Christ's sake. It's all about creating controversy. Sex sells!!”
Today, the Dixie Chicks are more famous for being despised than they are for their songs. Given their new rep as brave and vocal soldiers of the First Amendment, the Chicks’ music is curiously pedestrian. Excuse me but they're more Dolly Parton than Marilyn Manson. But when country-music DJs and Republican politicians denounced them for dising President Bush, the Chicks immediately became one of the hottest acts in the country.
This was all recently documented by acclaimed filmmaker Barbara Kopple in her latest, "Shut Up and Sing." Kopple, who's won an Oscar portraying the downtrodden coalminers of Harlan County, Ky., knows virtuous martyrs when she sees them, even quadruple-platinum-record ones.
Unfortunately for the movie distributors, the Dixie Chicks’ CONTROVERSY was way back in 2003. Somehow, in the intervening three years, the gals have curiously avoided deportation and imprisonment. They weren't even reduced to playing seedy nightclubs or doing parking-lot tricks for 2 bits a throw. Nothing. Well today, hugely mundane turns out to be a huge PR problem.
Posted by Kailey Astor
The enduring refusal of PRWeak, the PR industry's leading flatterer and center for exaggerated praise, to confront the corrupt realities of the industry, cannot be better demonstrated than in Ted McKenna’s recent essay “Offering a considered response.” Ted sets out to give advice to agencies considering whether to respond to government RFPs; but seems to get all entangled. The reader gets the feeling McKenna was in the throes of some Thunderdome-like internal wrestling match. Good Ted wanted to please his publisher by making the PR industry look virtuous. Bad Ted is fed up with all the bullshit and ready to buff up his resume for a shot at Footwear News. (Note to Strumpette fans: indeed, bad is good.)
You can just hear the struggle in between his every line as he wrestles himself to the ground. Ted begins:
For PR and public affairs firms, RFPs are somewhat of a necessary evil. After all the time taken to research and respond to RFPs, agencies can't usually be sure they'll win. That's why they shouldn't bother in the first place, unless they're sure they have at least a fighting chance, executives say.
Good Ted: The competition among talented qualified agencies is bracing, so you have to be willing to work nights and weekends on a great proposal if you want to win.
Defining precisely what makes a winning RFP is tricky. It's not only because most every potential client and their RFP differs from previous clients and their RFPs, but also because no matter how hard an agency works on the RFP response, the decision may, in the end, boil down to "chemistry" among the potential client and the bidders.
Good Ted: The winning agency and the prospective client are going to be in the trenches together for a long time, so it’s important for the client to feel comfortable about the people they’re hiring.
Jerry Johnson, EVP at Brodeur, describes an RFP his firm responded to for work on a campaign in a particular state. It came down to just his firm and another one. The other firm, which won the contract, brought the client fresh-baked cookies in the shape of the state, Johnson says. Was that truly the deciding factor? Hard to know for sure, says Johnson, but doing something that grabs the attention of the prospective client probably doesn't hurt.
Good Ted: That cookie anecdote really shows the power of a creative idea to win business!
For the most part, RFP responders should stick to the rules, whatever they are. If they include not contacting certain people, then don't contact them, says Stephen Boehler, founding partner of PR consultancy Mercer Island Group.
Good Ted: Those government agencies are sticklers for keeping the process fair.
Wooing prospective clients should only go so far, though. For example, don't just tell clients what they want to hear. Kelli Parsons, GM of Hill & Knowlton's DC office, says her firm has won contracts that turned out to be based on flawed strategies. As a result, the firm has learned to be much more bold in providing frank counsel in response to RFPs.
Good Ted: You are the PR professionals! Give them your best counsel at all times, and don’t be afraid to speak truth to power.
Another key factor in whether or not to answer an RFP is gauging how genuine the search is. There are still issuers out there who are less than honest about the reasons for issuing RFPs, and what their criteria for selection are, notes Bob Witeck, CEO and cofounder, Witeck-Combs Communications. "I don't mean that most people do this, but on rare occasions there is a sense of potential clients fishing for things, like ideas .. and then they didn't hire anybody," Witeck says.
Good Ted: It would be a terrible shame if a PR agency gave away all its best thinking for free.
Finding out what the customer wants and expects is particularly important with government RFPs, which often come with more extensive requirements than private-sector RFPs. One cynical DC-area agency exec says in some cases the people nominally in charge of government RFP appear unsure of the real criteria for selection, which may ultimately be awarded based on political ties.
Good Ted: Political influence should not play any role in the selection of the best-qualified PR agency.
By the end of the piece when he gets to the “Dos and Don’ts,” it’s clear that this wrestling match has Ted staggered and on the ropes. Through broken teeth and swollen lips he lisps, “Check for typos.”
Yep. That’s right. Typos are the deciding factor. Well, unless the president of your agency is sleeping with the client. Then... not so much.
Posted by Amanda Chapel
WOMMA WAMMY: The Latest Blog Fraud
Remember, it’s not the transgression that will necessarily get you in trouble; it’s the cover up.
Do you know that this elaborate soft-shoe dance that the Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association did regarding the recent Edelman/Wal-Mart blog fraud, was all because Edelman PR is a major funder of the organization? Rick Murray, WOMMA’s Treasurer and member of their Governing Board, also heads the "Me2Revolution," the very Edelman practice responsible for social media.
Hmmmm. Here, let me put it more plainly: thief secretly pays off judge; judge gives thief a pass; judge makes broad public announcement of thief’s commitment to ethics; public fooled; judge then assists with the cover up by then frustrating media inquires.
On October 18, 2006, WOMMA issued the following: WOMMA STATEMENT ON EDELMAN BLOG DISCLOSURE ISSUE. Quote: "WOMMA has held discussions with top Edelman executives regarding this situation. The company has committed itself to a global training program to ensure that all of its employees and sub-contractors fully adhere to the WOMMA Ethics Code, and to establishing mechanisms to assure compliance. We are assured by Edelman management's public actions to accept full responsibility, pledge to make certain that the error will not be repeated, and again endorse the WOMMA Ethics Code. Mistakes will be made."
"HELD DISCUSSIONS WITH TOP EDELMAN EXECUTIVES"?! Excuse me, he's the Treasurer and member of the Governing Board for God's sake!
"MISTAKES WILL BE MADE"?! Ah, fraud is now officially an oops. What’s "fraud" exactly? It’s the "Intentional misrepresentation or concealment of information in order to deceive or mislead." Hello?! And the judge reduced it to a traffic violation and let the perp go.
What makes this incident so heinous? BL Ochman hit the nail on the head, "It's time for the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) to throw Edelman PR out. Edelman clearly violated WOMMA's ethics code, not once, not twice, but for four times. Or doesn't the code mean anything?"
Exactly. To her point, this judge here at least claims to be the adjudicator for the word of mouth marketing industry worldwide. Specifically, WOMMA's very mission is to: "set standards;" and "protect consumers and the industry with strong ethical guidelines." And here, right from WOMMA's Code of Ethics: "We comply with FTC regulations that state: 'When there exists a connection between the endorser and the seller of the advertised product which might materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement (i.e., the connection is not reasonably expected by the audience) such connection must be fully disclosed.'" The fact is, WOMMA didn’t... purposefully... and benefited financially.
So how much did it cost to buy this judge? As of the writing of this article, neither WOMMA or Edelman have responded to our inquires. But here’s what we know so far. Apparently, Edelman is a "Governing Member." That costs $10,000. That gets Edelman: a "Seat on the Leadership Committee;" "First choice of committee chairs;" and "Unlimited executive participation." Apparently, it also buys a "get out of jail pass" and a "BIG shill in a time of crisis."
Bottom line: An industry trade association in effect took a bribe and violated the very thing it’s committed to uphold and protect.
Posted by Amanda Chapel
A Lesson to Those that Bluff in the Bluff Business
Got a postcard email "Regards from Singapore" from Richard Edelman yesterday. He first gingerly accused me of being "convinced that PR must be the dark side." And to prove me wrong, he went on to give a couple examples. "How about... Trojan going to campuses to encourage women to insist on the use of condoms," he said.
Hmmmmmm. This is a good lesson to those that bluff in the bluff business. This is kind of a derivative of "you can never kid a kidder." Sure there are always exceptions but it's tough to find hard numbers in a business that doesn't measure all that well or often. What makes that a huge problem today is that the marketplace now calls your hand before you've had a chance to look at your cards.
The marketplace called Richard's hand directly...
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