Monthly Archives: August 2008

Business Blogs Blow


Biz Blogs Suck

Biz Blogs Suck

Just kidding!  Not all business blogs blow, just most of them.  


According to an article in Monday’s Washington Post, Technorati says that of 112.5 million blogs on the web, 5,000 are corporate.  I’d wager that the number of small business blogs is much larger.  A Forrester report from June finds that fewer B2B blogs were started in 2007 than in 2006.  That is startling. Forrester hints that the resources corporations expended on blogs did not generate the expected results.  

I think the problem is with the execution.

There are certainly some corporate blogs that work very well.  But here’s why most don’t:

Corporations don’t understand that blogs are best produced by people who know how to communicate. Since blogs generally come in written form, the best people to write blogs are people who can write.

Blogs are intended to start a conversation.  A conversation implies two-way communication.  Many businesses are afraid of two-way communication because they don’t want to hear other people’s opinions about their business, their products or their services.  Many companies want the conversation to be one-sided.  We call that advertising.

Business blogs are a great way for a business to be a part of the community and to create a community of key constituents such as customers, employees, suppliers, local residents and/or anyone interested in the offered product or service. Blogs provide a rare opportunity to put a human face on a company.  Most businesses don’t understand this.

Business blogs are the best but most underutilized consumer research tool available to business. Blog conversations are like free focus groups, you can learn a tremendous amount from listening to the comments.  Few businesses take advantage of this great opportunity and even fewer adjust their business or their offerings based on this feedback.

Blogs by commitee really blow.  One or two talented people can easily run a great company blog and still have time for other tasks.  The key is to have your finger on the pulse on the company and its community and then be able to use blog technology (thanks wordpress!) and your communication skills to reach your audience.  It ain’t rocket science and it doesn’t need a committee, a task force or any other corporate bureaucracy.  According to this post in Above the Buzz, the Forrester report found that team blogging didn’t work for B2B bloggers.  I’d venture a guess that it doesn’t work for B2C bloggers or any other blogger either.

Like everything else in life, the results are commensurate with the effort.  Too many business blogs are left to wither on the vine due to lack of attention.  Ignoring an audience is the best way to lose them.

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My Bottled Water Conflict


Selling Water Can Be Fun and Profitable!

Selling Water Can Be Fun and Profitable!

I recently came across this article about the launch of Nestlé Waters first ever marketing campaign targeting Hispanics.  The campaign includes an endorsement deal with Cristina, TV spots on Univision, spot radio in major Hispanic markets, print advertising (print lives!) a consumer contest and in-store hoopla.

The best thing about all of this is that the ads feature Cristina talking about health topics, including the risks associated with obesity and diabetes.  The campaign was created by the fine folks at Castells & Asociados.

Obviously there are a lot of ways to sell bottled water and I applaud Nestlé and Castells for using their marketing muscle to get behind reducing obesity and diabetes in the Hispanic community.  This is a cause which I cannot endorse more strongly.

In 2005, one in four U.S. Hispanic adults was obese (not just overweight).  But what’s most alarming is the trend with children.  One in six Hispanic high school students is overweight and 24% of Mexican-American children aged 6 to 11 are overweight, compared to 20% for African American kids and 12% for non-Hispanic whites.  It’s well known that obesity can lead to higher insulin levels and type 2 diabetes as well as other health problems like asthma, high blood pressure and sleep apnea.

There are factors that contribute to this situation, including genetics, that cannot be controlled.  But two major factors that we can impact are exercise and nutrition.  Any effort to get kids and their parents to dump the soda and other high calorie, low nutritional value foods, should be supported.  Everyone can benefit from drinking more water and from using water as a substitute for high calorie beverages.

But here’s the rub.  If you’ve been paying attention, bottled water producers are bottling and selling a product we don’t really need (tap water works just fine) and creating a nasty, land-filling byproduct in the form of plastic bottles that live forever.

So what’s a health conscious enviro-wannabe like yours-truly to do?  I’d gladly give Nestlé my frequently sought, yet seldom given, stamp of approval if: Nestlé also educated its consumers on the need to recycle those ugly little plastic bottles and better yet, provided an incentive for them to do so.  

After that, I’d hope that folks would get tired of expensive bottled water and turn to taps, filters and reusable bottles.  But one step at a time.

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Filed under Climate Change, corporate social responsibility, CSR, Green Marketing, Hispanic marketing, Multicultural Marketing

GCI Group is Dead

I recently read with interest in the Holmes Report that GCI Group, a member of WPP Group’s stable of public relations agencies, has been merged with WPP sib Cohn & Wolfe.  While no one will actually come out and say it (surprising for the usually forthcoming PR crowd), the inference is that GCI Group will soon cease to exist as a brand.

I was a GCI Group staffer in 1991, assigned to the agency’s Irvine, CA office where I worked on-premises at client Toshiba America Information Systems.  I wrote all of the press releases for the copier division and while it was far from glamorous, that’s where I learned to write (and where I learned to clear copier paper jams).

GCI Group started life as Grey Advertising’s PR division.  The GCI Los Angeles office to which we reported shared a hallway with Grey.  It was an odd relationship because I never spoke to anyone at Grey while I was there.  I had always assumed that GCI stood for Grey Communications, Inc., but I was told, “it doesn’t stand for anything.” Well alright then.

I was happy to move on from GCI Group, but my days there were made fun by my wonderful colleagues Laurie Nalezny and the late great Chuck Ramsey.  Chuck is the one who told me, “When you’re in PR, don’t let the fact that you don’t know what you’re talking about stop you from talking.” 

R.I.P. GCI Group

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A PR Person with a Sense of Humor?!

Almost every organization on the planet does something boneheaded and ill advised from time to time. The bigger the organization, the more likely it is to happen.  When the perpetrators of these errors in judgment are committing these crimes of idiocy, they seldom check with the organization’s PR person to get their opinion before they commit the act. But once the media gets hold of the story and runs with it (corporate idiocy being one of their favorite topics) everyone scrambles to the poor PR pro to make it go away.

I think that many of the PR people (especially you corporate soldiers out there) charged with handling these disasters used to possess a sense of humor about them.  But years of mopping up other people’s messes, particularly those stressful situations where everyone is breathing down your neck, takes its toll and it just ain’t funny anymore.  Thus we’re left with robotic and textbook answers to each and every media inquiry, regardless of the seriousness.  Now where is the fun in that?

It’s odd then that a ray of hope would emanate from the least likely of sources, that being our very own Richmond-based retailer-on-life-support that is Circuit City, and the guy who gets my vote for PR person of the year, Jim Babb.

The backstory is that MAD Magazine ran a parody of the store’s weekly ad that included some unflattering items, such as a Nintendo Wii that was guaranteed to be in stock, “if you’re friends with an employee who hid it in the back for you.”  I personally love that one, because when Wiis first came out I hunted them relentlessly yet unsuccessfully for months until I finally got tired of camping out in front of electronics retailers at 5am and broke down and paid an arm and a leg on eBay.

However, someone who does not subscribe to the theory that all PR is good PR, took such umbrage (and had enough leverage in the corporation) that they had all of the offending MAD Magazines sold in Circuity City stores removed from the shelves.  I’m sure they then said, “Not laughing anymore, are we Alfred E. Newman?”  In PR circles, that type of stuff is the equivalent of waving a big flag in front of journalists that says, “Corporate Idiots Ban Unflattering Media, Please Write About It.”  Not only was it a dumb move because it brought so much more attention to MAD than MAD would have ever received on its own, but the media loves these “book burning” types of stories so much they find them completely irresistible.  

Such was the case with Circuit City and its MAD debacle.  So what’s a PR superhero to do?  Why, laugh of course!  And that was the response of CC’s Jim Babb who (take notes kids): 1) Apologized for the error in judgment, 2) corrected the error by returning the magazines to the shelves, and last, but certainly not least, 3) made a joke out of it.  Jim said, “As a gesture of our apology and deep respect for the folks at MAD Magazine, we are creating a cross-departmental task force to study the importance of humor in the corporate workplace and expect the resulting powerpoint presentation to top out at least 300 pages, chock full of charts, graphs and company action plans.”  He also offered the editors at MAD a $20 gift card toward a Wii.  

John Ficarra, MAD’s editor, played along by saying, “We at MAD were shocked and confused by this entire incident — mainly because we had no idea that Circuit City even sells magazines.”

A job well done:  Jim Babb got CC out of the jam and even put the company in a positive light by showing that it may indeed have a rare sense of humor and MAD got more publicity than they could have ever dreamed of.  

Class dismissed.  Now go out there and laugh!

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Email Marketing Can Be Fun


BtoB Magazine

BtoB Magazine

I’m not sure if email marketing can be fun, but it is interesting. I became interested in the subject after I downloaded a white paper on 2008 email marketing trends from Exact Target while I was developing a speaker proposal for an email marketing conference.  

A great b2b email marketing resource is, oddly enough, BtoB magazine.  I recently read a couple of (thankfully) short and easy to comprehend articles on the topic.  One article was about personalizing your email efforts and the other was advice on nurturing leads via an email marketing campaign.

You can read the articles yourself, but these are my takeaways:

1.  Appoint an email marketing database czar.  Your effort is only as good as your data.

2.  Use segmentation to send the right message to the right prospect at the right time.

3.  Send email based on the prospect’s behavior.  For example, you should know if your prospects have visited your website and exactly what pages they viewed.  If they were researching a particular product, a well timed email offering a discount on that product may help get them off the dime.

Fishing for prospects to put into your email marketing database can also be fun.  Exact Target does a great job of this (full disclosure: they’ve paid me nothing) utilizing the excellent industry white papers that are available on its website.  The cost of downloading a white paper is providing them with your contact information and some other demographic data.  

My idea:  Collect demographic data that asks sports fans to name their favorite teams.  Then you have an excuse to send them a “How ’bout those Mets?!” message when their team wins.  They may even think of you when they think of winning.  And winning makes everyone happy.

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Hispanic Voters May Hold the Key

images-15My friend Robert Powell, editor of Virginia Business magazine, asked me to write a column about the importance of multicultural voters in the 2008 presidential election.  I really didn’t know what I would learn when I started writing (that’s what’s fun about pretending to be a journalist), but in the end I was impressed by how much power Hispanic voters will wield in November. Hispanic voters may hold the key to the identity of our next president.  Many thanks to my street-smart colleague Mark Magaña and to USC’s expert-in-residence Harry Pachon for their very generous contributions to this article.

UPDATE:  Scramblewatch ’08 has a great post about McCain’s Latino Problema and chronicles how many Latinos shifted away from the Republican Party (2006 being the Republicans’ highwater year) and toward the more friendly-to-immigration arms of the Dems.

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Filed under Hispanic marketing, Multicultural Marketing