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S&K’s End Game

images-3S&K Menswear took another step toward extinction this week when it inked a deal with liquidation firm Hilco Merchant Resources to sell the firm for at least $7.9 million.  Hilco has the option to keep S&K running, but I think that is unlikely.  If you’re going to keep the company going, you don’t sell to Hilco, who is best known for liquidating the likes of The Sharper Image and The Bombay Company.

While Hilco has the option of continuing to operate any or all of the approximately 100 stores that are left in the chain, Hilco hasn’t elected to continue operating any of the 30 stores they were handed in February and are in the process of liquidating.  To keep S&K running as a going concern, the company must file a new sales plan with the court by this Friday, 5/15.

As I wrote in my last post about S&K, I think S&K Menswear is done and these latest developments only help to confirm that conclusion.

Here’s an image that I can’t get out of my head:  I’m in the gym watching the local news on the big TV, and on the screen appears a gaunt and pale Joe Oliver.  He is wearing a bizarre looking shirt and vest combination that I wouldn’t wear on a dare.  I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but I was thinking, here is the president of a company that built its brand on business suits, modeling an outfit that is totally out of sync with its core customer.  I thought,  “What is he wearing?!”

In my opinion, S&K got crushed by a perfect storm of a horrible economy, changing workplace fashion and an inability to reinvent itself.  Being unwilling or unable to change a failing business model will never end well.

UPDATE: During a hearing on Tuesday in bankruptcy court, S&K indicated it could run out of money by the middle of June, as it has less than $1 million in cash on hand.  The company’s chief restructuring officer, Jonathan Tibus, says the stores are also running out of inventory.  Look for a liquidation sale to start by Memorial Day.

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J-Schools Plan for the Future

A Brave New World

A Brave New World

There is a great article in the New York Times about the future of journalism.

I was excited to read about how the journalism school at Arizona State University and other top j-school meccas have been leading the charge into a brave new world of the unknown.  It’s a poorly kept secret that the newspaper business model is badly broken and that publishers around the country are fighting for their survival as they thrash about trying to find a new model that will work in this digital age.

It’s refreshing then to know that academia is taking the lead in cross training journalists to transcend all existing media platforms and to report the news regardless of the medium.

Perhaps journalism is not dead.  It’s just waiting for a new Champion.

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Dominos: Crisis Communications (S)not So Hot

 

Dominos delivers!

Dominos delivers!

Dominos Pizza faced a dough tossers nightmare last week when a YouTube video surfaced, showing two moronic Dominos employees putting more than pepperoni in those pies.  Yuk!  I didn’t see the video on YouTube, it was shown on one of the local news shows here in Richmond.  Now that’s the power of social media!  To make the story even juicier (poor choice of words), the local yokels showed the video to passersby to gauge their rather predictable reactions. Sigh.

Dominos’ response to the crisis has been thoroughly discussed and dissected by PR wonks everywhere, so I won’t rehash the specifics for you here.  I assume they did the best they could under very difficult circumstances and overall I think they did okay.  There is an article in tomorrow’s edition of AdAge which does a great job of telling the story.

Here are my reactions to the Dominos crisis:

The AdAge story leads me to believe that Dominos never brought in outside PR help.  Why?  Now’s not the time to be cheap guys. Dominos clearly needed help and they should have brought in the experts.

Along those lines, it’s kind of shocking that one of the world’s most recognizable brands didn’t have crisis communications counsel waiting in the wings for just such an emergency.  If you’re in the fast food biz, you can learn a lot from this incident.

The YouTube video reply from Dominos, while a great tactic conceptually, was woefully inadequate from a production standpoint. Dominos CEO Patrick Doyle’s delivery was a worst case scenario for video production geeks.  It looked anything but heartfelt.  The reason: Doyle failed to look into the camera (what is he looking at?!) and he appeared to be reading from cue cards.  I’m sure PR folks everywhere are shaking their heads in disbelief  over this video.  Another learning experience.

As for me, the only thing I will now eat are peanut butter and jelly burritos that I prepare myself.  

Shut the door, it’s Dominos!

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The Top 7 Things Newspapers Need to Do to Survive

 

My newspaper crystal ball

My newspaper crystal ball

I was having coffee the other day with my friend Tim Loughran, general manager of Centro de Richmond, a Spanish-language weekly produced by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  The topic was how newspapers will survive and thrive during a time which does not seem to favor them.  That same day I noticed Jon Newman’s piece on the future of newspapers. All of this got me thinking, “what is the future of newspapers?”

 

As you’ve probably noticed, newspapers and their holding companies are struggling to ride out the current economic storm and some have resorted to filing bankruptcy  to stay afloat while others are shutting down completely.  I’ll blame the economy as the primary culprit for the current situation, but it’s no secret that newspapers were struggling before the current downturn.  In fact, they have been thrashing around for more than a decade trying to find a profitable business model in the digital age.  So far they have failed to find one.

Newspapers are frequently their own worst enemy.  I have a journalism degree and I’m aware of the struggle between those on the publishing side who are trying to pay the bills and those on the journalism side who constantly worry about the Chinese Wall dividing publishing and editorial.  Perhaps this is a valid struggle, but if the newspaper shuts down in the middle of the struggle, who wins? Certainly not the readers.  In this environment, the journalists and the publishers need to finally come together.

But that’s a relatively small thing compared to this:  When newspapers began publishing digital editions online and (for the most part) giving their content away for free, they sent a strong message to their customers that will be extremely difficult to take back.  Here’s the message:  “The price paid for subscriptions and newsstand copies are to cover the cost of the newsprint and the distribution.  The content itself does not have any value and that’s why we’re giving it away it for free online.”  I’m sure this is the last thing newspapers wanted to communicate, but that’s in fact what has happened.  It may be possible to stuff that cat back in the bag, but it’s gonna be tough.

Newspapers are “media” companies, but you wouldn’t know it.  Newspaper philosophy works like this:  Hire some reporters and editors and have them develop some content.  Hire some ad sales peoples and have them sell some ads.  Combine the editorial and the advertising (separately of course) into one nice looking publication and deliver it.  Do it again tomorrow.  Maybe it’s those daily deadlines that have blinded newspapers to the reality that every media company must know:  The number one job of newspapers is to connect people to the world around them.  Newspapers connect readers to their community and they connect advertisers to their customers.  The better newspapers understand this, the more successful they will be.  Newspapers are not the only ones guilty of not understanding their business .  Ad agencies often think their job is to create memorable ads and PR agencies may think their job is to crank out pithy press releases.  In fact, their job is also to connect people.

Unfortunately, newspapers have completely missed the boat when it comes to utilizing technology to connect people.  Bloggers, social media and niche media have steadily siphoned off consumers and advertising revenue in a game that newspapers were well poised to win.  That’s because “new media” understands what “old media”  seems blind to.  Connecting people is where the real value is derived.  

Here’s what newspapers need to do to survive.

1.  Jump on the social media bandwagon.  Newspapers are the medium best positioned to connect people who are interested in similar topics.  Social media “microsites” for local communities, for business, for sports, for real estate, etc. will help build the newspaper’s brand while establishing a sense of community among its readers.  Advertisers will surely follow.

2.  Embrace the bloggers.  Bloggers know that their post is only half of what interests readers.  Reader comments are the other half.  Newspapers still don’t understand this and relegate comments to micro-print at the bottom of an online story if they allow comments at all.  Comments and feedback are valuable content.  Why not highlight excellent comments by dragging them into the body of the story instead of relegating them to no-man’s-land?  Why not enlist well known bloggers to lead the discussion?  The fact that readers care enough to comment should be welcomed and celebrated and will help keep interest in the story going long after it’s publication.

3.  The 24-7 news cycle is killing newspapers.  If you know the newspaper business, you know never to pitch a story to a newspaper reporter after about 3pm, because they are often on deadline for the next day’s edition.  Reporters filed once a day and that was it.  That’s changing quickly as online editions try to keep up with breaking news, but it’s still deeply ingrained into the business.  Reporters need to report the news faster and worry less about the polish.  Newspapers need to deliver the news faster in non-traditional ways.

Speaking of non-traditional delivery of the news, here are some suggestions.

4.  Twitter:  Many traditional media outlets are now using twitter to promote stories that have already been written, but they need to use it to deliver the news as it happens in real time.  Forget the links, just send out the tweets until the story has been written, then link to it.

5.  Mobile devices:  The fact that Hearst is launching a wireless e-reader hints that they don’t “get it.”  I can read the news on my iPhone just fine, thank you.  Give me an app fine-tuned for your publication and I will download it and even pay for it if it’s a good one.  Create mobile websites for your advertisers so the content can be linked to the advertising.  Utilize text messaging to deliver editorial and advertising content to readers who are accessing your content on any platform.

6.  Audio:  Every news story of substance should be bundled with advertising into an audio file for download onto an MP3 player for listening in the car or anywhere else.  Webacasters are already creating content for niche audiences that are available live on their websites or can be downloaded for later listening.  

But besides content delivery, this is what’s most obvious and most lacking among newspapers.

7.  Newspapers need to become a marketing partner.  For many local businesses, newspapers may be their only advertising vehicle.  But few newspapers do more than just take ad orders.  Newspapers should be helping their advertisers by hunting for new ways to drive those customer relationships.  Why not offer a free “marketing audit” to make sure Joe’s Lamp Shop is following marketing’s best practices?  Why not offer seminars to businesses on social media, mobile marketing and all the other ways they can drum up business.  And have a product to offer in these areas.  Newspapers have a special and unique relationship with their customers which they must exploit.

Newspapers are the king of content.  They need to be the king of all media too if they are going to survive and flourish.

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Public Relations Trends for 2009

 

My Crystal Ball is Ringing and It's for You

My Crystal Ball is Ringing and It's for You

Some of my fellow bloggers have been banging out PR trends for 2009, so I figured I’d jump on the bandwagon.  And since I now have two weeks of insight into this New Year, my predictions will no doubt be far more accurate than theirs.

 

Here’s my list:

The Gatekeepers Look Scared

One of the most challenging things about media relations has always been coming up with a creative pitch you think the media will like, getting the media’s attention long enough to pitch it, hoping they like it enough to run with it and then praying the media doesn’t run to a water-main break instead of covering your media event.  But for today’s PR pros, there are numerous avenues around the Gatekeepers and directly to your target audience.  As the media continues to feel the financial pressure of a downturn, the Gatekeepers will become more scarce.  Become fluent in all the ways to reach your target audience and you’ll still be able to do your job regardless of the Gatekeepers.

This isn’t your Father’s Public Relations

On a similar vein, the changing media landscape is changing our business.  We now need to be fully conversant in media relations tools that didn’t exist 5 years ago.  Social media, mobile media and the like are great ways to start conversations, and after all we are in the conversation business. Think about all the ways you can start conversations with your target audiences and develop resources to navigate those channels.  Get aboard or get left behind.

The World is Changing, Change with It

In the past, “diversity” was frequently given lip service while business was conducted as usual.  No more my friends.  The demographics of this country are changing rapidly and the Obama Administration will be the face of a New America.  Hispanics will continue to grow in population and increase their economic and political clout.  Other ethnic and racial groups will become energized and outspoken about having their place at the table.  Design outreach strategies for these groups or suffer the consequences.

Global Warming Heats Up

Despite economic turbulence and see-sawing gas prices, Climate Change as a critical global issue is here to stay.  The incoming administration has made it a priority and PR pros need to be able to tell a positive environmental story about their company or client.  The best organizations will design proactive environmental programs that make it easy for their PR folks to communicate effectively to target audiences.  

Back to Basics

Despite the increase in tools and technology relevant to our business, there is no substitution for effective communication.  While the look and sound of that communication may change, one thing that doesn’t change is the critical need to make yourself understood by your target audience.  Effective writing doesn’t just mean good mechanics, it means communicating effectively so that the message is received and acted upon.  Good communicators are hard to find, treasure them.

Research and Measurement are Necessary Evils

Too many organizations and clients today want to do things on the fly or on the cheap.  Unfortunately, when you shoot the gun without aiming first, you will often miss.  The way to take aim is to conduct research on your issue, your product, your audience, your message, your media and so on until you develop a communications strategy that you can have confidence in.  Similarly, measurement must be done to determine if goals were reached (assuming you had measurable goals in the first place) and then adjust your strategy based on your findings.  Don’t take shortcuts when it comes to research and measurement.

Doing Less With More

I’m a stickler for doing things right, but at the end of the day you can only do the best you can with the resources you have.  That’s why it’s so important to find creative ways to harness the resources to do the job right.  Internal resources can often be begged and bartered, external vendors are more willing to strike a deal to get some work.  Don’t be afraid to be creative or haggle when it comes to marshaling resources.

SEO Needs SOS

Search engine optimization isn’t just for web heads anymore.  Nearly all of your target audiences will seek out information about your company by using a search engine.  All of the great PR in the world won’t help if the search engine results are not flattering, are inaccurate or point to a competitor.  PR people need to be vigilant about their organization or client’s search engine results and take action when necessary.  SEO strategies frequently span PR and web disciplines, so talk to your web colleagues today so you’ll be ready tomorrow.

Social Media Changes Everything

Social Media has created a tsunami of change for traditional media.  Newspaper circulation and ad dollars are plummeting while tech savvy consumers get their news from the web, from cell phones and from non-traditional sources like the blogosphere (because that’s the way we bloggers roll).  Networking sites like facebook and LinkedIn have created social and business networks that are radically changing the communications landscape due to their insular nature.  Many media consumers now feel they have everything they need within their network platforms and needn’t venture out to get anything else.  I can get a job, post a job, keep up with friends, keep abreast of current events and even buy products and services, often without going far from my network.  Finding ways to intersect and disrupt social networks without intruding will increasingly become a sought-after area of expertise.

Those are my Public Relations Predictions for 2009.  Feel free to put them to work for you.

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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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