1.14.2013

Tools for PR success: The Client Mood Ring


A lot of people find themselves compelled to ask me the same thing.   "Drew .... how do YOU find time for Parcheesi?"

Simply put, I'd be nothing if it weren't for my lucky astrology Client Mood Ring.

Employing the same arcane, chicken-sacrificing dark arts that led to the development of Crocs and Tom Brady, the Client Mood Ring changes color based on emotional mood of internal company contacts located hundreds or even thousands of miles away.  

Want to get the most out of your 60 minute weekly status call?    Just check the ring.

Looking for a green light on that NYC showroom event?  Do a pump fake toward the K-cup machine ... then check the ring.

Thinking about a 6% increase in your rates for the coming fiscal year?   Absolutely, positively check the ring before you make that call.

Reflecting a mood in a simple basic color, the Client Mood Ring reads a client's biorhythms, synapse activity, pulse rates, testosterone level, estrogen cycle, blood alcohol-and/or-caffeine content,  breakfast selection, and proximity to their own boss.   It incorporates external events as well, like how well that new trade show booth is coming along, the status of the workbook redesign, and the recentness of budget cut discussions targeting the marketing department.    

One simple color = a world of information.

Violet Blue
The client is happy.    All's good.    Things look great.   We can tackle that later.   This 60 minute status call should take only ten minutes.    Which means that they are about to head on vacation.

Blue
The client is calm, subdued and satisfied.    Sure, let's look at that fam trip idea for Fiji.   Which means that their boss has just left for vacation.

Green
The client is indifferent, underworked, and bored.   This never happens.

Yellow / Amber
The client is excited, in a good way.   They like your ideas.   They want to hear more of what you're saying.    They like the budget recommendation you sent over, and have given it full approval.    If you could bottle this energy and sell it, you'd be almost as successful as Scratch-and-Win RedBull Jell-o Shots.

Brown/Gray
The client is nervous, anxious and getting ramped up, in a bad way.    They didn't like your Christmas box of bacon.   They found seven dangling participles in your last press release draft.   They would like to see a decade-to-date summary of all agency activity with corresponding ROI so that they can put a value on every minute they've spent listening to you.    And they would like it by tomorrow.    

Black
The client is shopping around for another agency and will soon return your final invoice.   When they say the decision "came from above", what they meant to say is that it came from their brain before it got to their mouth.    They would still like to connect on LinkedIn, though.    And would it be possible to get some new waders before things wrap up?

1.07.2013

Does Made-in-the-USA matter?


It came like a tornado.   Things were grey and uncertain and a bit blustery, and then the sudden clarity pushed everything aside.

Green was good.   People couldn’t get enough of Green.   Gear was Green, restaurants were Green, Leonardo di Caprio announced that the Oscars were going Green, magazines rolled out special issues devoted to Green, and some folks went all in on Green.

In the land of PR, the email inbox rang off the hook for nearly two solid years with writers and editors seeking anything Green.    It was a macro story, the Big one, and it tapped into the holy trinity of publishing … advertisers, editors and readers all wanted it, and they all got it.

The end of Green, of course, coincided neatly with a nasty economic plunge.   Editorial calendars culled Green from their rosters, as the number one concern shifted from sustainability to survival.    Outside of publishing, numerous entities (companies, countries) also dropped the Green idea for much the same reason.

Green still lingers around, but it’s not the same.   As a client of mine accurately foretold years ago, eventually we’ll get as much credit for being Green as we will for taking out the recycling:  which is to say, not much at all.

The Next Big Story hasn’t landed yet.    It may be years or decades till things coincide like 2007 again.    But if I were picking a favorite to win the horse race, I know exactly what number I would root for.  

It’d be Made-in-the-USA.

Not so much the flag-waving, fourth-of-July, rah-rah, Made-in-the-USA story … but the close-to-home, increased-quality, lower-carbon-footprint story.    It’s the story of companies and brands and people who still actually make things.  And it’s the story of economic success.

To be accurate, that Made-in-the-USA tag should actually be Made-at-Home or maybe Made-Right-Here, as there are many more companies who make things “locally” in their own part of the world, and who should get just as much credit.

In all honesty, I’ve been surprised that Made-Right-Here hasn’t ascended to the level of the Next Big Story quite yet.   The stories are already out there, already compelling, and already practically written.    

Organically, our small agency has wound up representing numerous clients that are either wholly or increasingly committed to the Made-Right-Here concept …  Woolrich blankets, Dale of Norway sweaters, Westcomb outerwear, Simmsfishing waders, Kokatat paddle gear, Sea Bags totes, Farm to Feet socks.   

As much as I’d like to take credit for how we sought out and developed a client base brimming with the Next Big Story, it’s simply not true.   The truth is that this is a legitimate trend, that companies are thriving because of their Made-Right-Here programs, and that the idea is growing.

But it hasn't reached "that level" quite yet.   

Part of this is the fault of the Last Big Story.     During the eco-frenzy of five years ago, being labeled a “Greenwasher” … aka someone overstating the claims of environmental goodness … was a peril to be avoided at all costs.    Brands are leery of being seen as wrapping themselves in the flag, and many media companies seem to be tiptoeing around the edge … wondering if things are actually as they seem, or some sort of jedi mind trick from the PR cabal.

It also could be that the big blocker to being the Next Big Story is that Made-Right-Here is dominated by smaller enterprises.   Less than 100 employees, less than 50 and in many cases even less than 25.     

A few months ago I called into an NPR talk show devoted to the topic, and mentioned the strength of domestically made goods in the outdoor industry.     It didn’t really take … he was more interested in companies with thousands of employees worldwide, than of a sector within an industry supporting a leisure time category.  

However, for media covering that exact sector, the response has been even more lukewarm, if that’s possible.    A story here and there, and that’s about it.   

Putting myself in their shoes, I can hear the editorial arm wrestling from the budget meetings fairly clearly.    The story is too complicated, the story is too boring, quality product is what really matters, our advertisers aren’t supporting it.   And I can respect that.

I also respect that the story is happening right now, all around us.     People are making huge decisions about where to do things and why.       Quality is world-class.    And people care. 

1.01.2013

When friends die on Facebook


Peter Devin was an Outdoor Retailer Show Director, a Fly Fishing Retailer Show Director, a former client of mine, an outdoor industry colleague, and a friend.    

Not a Christmas Card friend, nor a Wednesday night beer drinking friend, nor even a golfing foursome friend, but a Facebook friend.  He lived a couple thousand miles away in Newport Beach, California, and outside of "industry" events that we were both attending, the only social interaction we had with each other was through social media.     

Peter died yesterday of Amyotropic Lateral Sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.   When he first told me about it his diagnosis a few years ago about at the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market show, I knew it was horrible news.   But it wasn't until that night in my hotel room, when I read the full Wikipedia post on the disease and its brutal effects, that I cried.   

The degenerative nature of ALS takes years to take its full toll.    And thanks to Facebook, we watched it all.

When Peter and I talked about the ALS that first time (3 years ago?), his voice was already significantly altered as difficulty speaking and swallowing is part of the drill with ALS.    But on Facebook, his voice was gentle, real and continual.    He wrote about awesome bucket list things like caddying for pros at the Masters, traveling with his family to Italy and fly fishing all sorts of killer waters.  He frequently posted incredible smiling photos of himself with family and friends.   While he certainly had the license to do some gratuitous over-posting, Peter was actually pretty restrained about the frequency of his updates.   

Over time, those status update smiles got thinner and more angular as his neck muscles faded and his head started to tilt.  A wheelchair began to be a constant companion in those photos, and then eventually it changed to a hospital bed.   

I'm not sure exactly when the authorship switched on his Facebook page, but at some point it obviously did.   It's pretty easy to figure out when the posts change to updates about hospital stays, near misses, and eventually a notice of his death and memorial service.

I didn't like anything about Peter's battle with ALS, but I was fond of seeing his posts.    Even the "trivial" ones about things like college football had a certain poignancy to them.    Not because they were meticulously crafted or framed with a colored filter, but because they were real thoughts from a real person who was steadily approaching the end of the line.

Facebook can be dumb, vapid, and wildly self-indulgent.     At times in the last 12 months, I've become increasingly concerned that the overcrafted, over-safe, and over-shallow nature of personal posts are the first hints of a social media death spiral.

But when things actually do matter, Facebook is a brilliant tool for the job.   I'm thankful for that, and I'm thankful to have had at least a small glimpse into Peter's world for the last three years.

Rest in peace, Peter.