Sunday, June 29, 2008

Anatomy of Auto-Reply: A Prime Marketing Moment

In an automated world, where so much is standardized and sanitized, it’s such a refreshing thing to see creativity jutting out of the most unexpected places.

Take the auto-reply process with emails. You know—those things that people create when they think folks can’t bear to be without a response in the next 7.3 seconds? Well, maybe 7.3 days is more like it.

Anyway, here, via the auto-reply vehicle, is a chance to demonstrate your individuality…elicit a laugh…just plain brighten someone’s day with a few well-chosen words.

What’s more, because of the auto-reply’s rapid-fire response nature, while you are sunning in Miami, hiking in the Andes or simply catching up on laundry, you are virtually guaranteed to capture more attention than usual with whatever it is that you have to say.

In this crazy world with messages zinging all around us, opportunities for slicing through the clutter don’t get much better.

But instead of seizing the moment, it seems as if just about every automated response in the world has been screened, scrubbed and sanitized by the International Council on Dreadfully Serious Messages, Which Shall Occasionally Include An Inexplicable Typo or Two.

Here’s a composite of every auto-reply I’ve ever gotten:

“Thaks for your email. I’l be out till July 10. If this message is urgent, please call my assistant, Bobby Dandridge, at 888-713-6589…”

Blah, blah, blah. I mean, what gives? Isn’t there a more fun, creative way of communicating? You don’t need to be in PR or marketing to benefit from coming across as a distinct, engaging and memorable human being.

And if you still need to note your mobile phone number, your backup email address and your 4th grade teacher’s name, go ahead. Just jazz it up a little, fool us so that we won’t suspect that you were frantically dashing to catch a plane to Wichita when you set up your auto-reply.

All of which is a rather lengthy way of introducing this fact:

I won’t be posting another blog until Thursday, July 3rd. Try to survive somehow.

I am going on a family vacation through Wednesday evening, and just established an auto-reply to incoming e-mails so folks aren’t wondering if I dropped off the face of the Earth when I don’t reply as swiftly as usual.

Maybe my auto-reply is what brought you to this post. If so, check out the archives and keep coming back! But if not, and you want to see whether I’m practicing what I’m preaching, drop me an email (before July 3rd) at

Bonus points if you tell me your 4th grade teacher’s name.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Honk For Peace? A Plea For Traffic Serenity

A regular staple of transportation media coverage is the Most Dangerous Intersection story. The subject is ripe for the reporter’s picking, with official statistics providing a tally on the number of collisions, injuries and fatalities at a given spot.

But today I offer another, more subjective category: Least Peaceful Intersection. In my neighborhood, a top nominee is the heavily traveled crossing at Harlem Avenue and Lake Street that borders Oak Park and River Forest, just west of Chicago.

This has always been a dicey area in which to maneuver. But on weekends lately, the Least Peaceful needle goes off the charts over there.

The biggest culprit?

Ironically, it’s the anti-war activists urging motorists to “honk for peace.”

All of those horns blaring create an unsettling, cacophonous environment that brings to mind the tale of the boy who falsely cried wolf. With so many toot-tooting and beep-beeping for peace, there’s little assurance that any one honk will be interpreted as a warning to avoid a collision.

Compounding the stress is the ongoing distraction that stems from motorists gazing at the homemade signs—and offering their reactions—to signs castigating President Bush. Meantime, pedestrians play a continual game of dodge-the-distracted driver.

So here’s a two-fold suggestion:

1. Honk-Your-Horn Rabble-Rousers: please step back a bit from the curb—rest assured that you will still get our dutiful attention.

And while you’re at it, change “honk” to “wave” on those signs. “Wave for peace” is more like it, don’t you think?

2. Motorists: please use the horn for its intended purpose. Most of us are blessed to have two hands, so here’s the strategy: keep one hand on the wheel even as you flutter your fingertips toward the well-intentioned peaceniks in our midst.

By taking these steps, we will truly display our commitment to peace, not only on foreign soil but also here at home.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Online Video: A Vital PR Channel

Four reasons why publicists should shoot their own videos:

1. It provides another avenue for communicating directly with your target audience. Uploading a clip onto a site like YouTube creates a permanent home for you to convey your message, long after the story pitch's original timeframe.

2. It is a helpful tool in making your story pitch to the media.

For example, consider the video on this post (Five Seasons Sports Club personal trainer Mike Nishimura training a client). In e-mail pitches to local media, I have included links to the clip, as well as a few other related videos, to augment a written release on a July 19 event dubbed Slug It Out For Special Olympics.

3. It eliminates copyright issues, since you are the creator of the content.

4. It's just plain fun.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Verizon Makes A Big PR Fumble

There’s a very good reason why Seth Godin is atop my website’s list of recommended resources:
(For a full RR list go herehere.)

In clear, compelling terms, on a recent blog post Seth explained why it makes eminently good business sense to re-allocate a relative tiny sum of money to ensure huge gobs of marketing money don’t go down the tubes.

It's sheer foolishness to waste customers’ time (read: treat them with utter disrespect) after you’ve gone to such great (expensive) lengths to get them in the first place.

On a related note, and drawing upon a personal experience I had a month ago, here’s a tip to hospitals and other entities in the life-and-death business: make sure clarity and accuracy describe the automated phone directions to your site.

Every minute counts for loved ones traveling from out of town and when the highway changes the exit number, your message ought to make the change too!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Doggone Break From The Usual

Amid all the seriousness and tragedy that so dominate media coverage, it's necessary refreshment to provide comic relief, silliness, and generally stuff that's off-the-beaten path.

It also helps immeasurably if it benefits a worthy cause.

That's why I'm excited to be the publicist for I Do, Doggone It!, an effort by Downtown Oak Park ( to raise money for the Animal Care League in town ( and, in the process, set a new Guinness World Record for a mass dog wedding.

So circle Saturday, October 4 on your calendar. And if you are anywhere near Chicago, and want to take part in history--albeit a thin, peculiar slice of it--keep tabs on the blog that I've created for the event:

And to see initial coverage of our doggone plans, go here:

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Fast-Changing Face of Journalism

I have healthy doubts about the integrity of the recycling process.

Here’s a true step-by-step story, from the past few months, to explain why:

1. After wading through a batch of newspapers, I go to conscientious pains to stash them all in a gigantic box stationed in a corner of my office.

2. I let the publications pile up as they threaten to swallow my office whole.

3. I risk wrenching my back as I lug the hulking mass of paper down the stairs of my office building and into the backseat of my Altima.

4. I make the 1.8-mile drive home, consuming 73 percent more gas than usual to accommodate Mr. Paper Passenger in back.

5. Leveraging every last bit of my 200-pound frame, I heave-ho the paper into the recycling bin behind my home.

6. A few days later, still in physical-recovery mode, I gaze out my window and see the garbage collector appear to toss the entire recycling shebang into his truck, commingled with trash.

The moral of this story?

It’s so much simpler—and greener—to read stories online.

Which brings me to last night, when I read a 5,300-word opus at Gapers Block ( The author was former Sun-Times reporter Howard Wolinsky, who in January, after 27 years at the paper, took a buyout and launched enthusiastically into the world of free-lance.

If Howard does not embody the changing face of journalism, particularly the role that the Internet has played in that transition, then he is certainly in the team photo.

So, whether you're a journalist, a publicist or a something else-ist, consider saving a tree, gaining some valuable insight and enjoying Howard’s thoughtful, wide-ranging piece here:

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Art of Effective Confrontation

You don’t need to see yourself as being “on a team” to benefit from The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, a fantastic best-selling fable penned by Patrick Lencioni. If you want to improve how you interact with others, and how they interact with you, I highly recommend this book.

Written in crisp, compelling style, and culled from his real-life experiences as a business consultant, The Five Dysfunctions is one of those page-turners aided and abetted by chapters sometimes briefer than a James Joyce run-on sentence.

One common woe that Lencioni emphasizes and rings especially true: our rampant, debilitating reluctance, even avoidance-at-all-costs mindset, about confronting others (on our team) when they are messing up.

Rather than deal with it head-on, we avoid it altogether and resort to gossip or resentment or some other dysfunctional response.

In short, we cultivate the false hope that the problem will go away on its own, or through someone else’s willingness to step up.

One of the reasons why, I believe, we so dread these dialogues: there are so many poor examples of going about confrontation that we associate the act with negativity and strife and stress. But, the word itself, in layman’s terms, simply means “to face head on.”

When employing tact and professionalism, confrontation can be an exceedingly positive thing. One of my mentors in this area is Joe Takash (, a top business consultant and presentation coach who, fittingly enough, turned me on to The Five Dysfunctions. Over a year ago, when I was assisting Joe with one of his all-day trainings, I grew too raucous at one point--the byproduct of too much caffeine too early in the morning.

Joe gently took me aside, a few hours later, and provided corrective instruction in such an encouraging, thoughtful way that I wound up feeling empowered. In the hands of most anyone else, the feedback would have been more pointed and harsh, leaving me discouraged and deflated.

This is no "soft" touchy-feely issue, as Joe so persuasively points out, but a bottom-line business imperative because it nurtures relationships for the long term and inspires people to greater effort.

For more confrontation tips, see my essay “Feedback: Do You Seek It To Glow or To Grow?”:

And to learn more about The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, go here:

Friday, June 20, 2008

PR Tip: Be Wary of Any Hyphenated Stat

"Fastest-growing” this,
"Biggest-dropping” that
Always be wary
Of any hyphenated stat

Of all the numeracy tips that I've shared with reporters and publicists, in training sessions and columns, this one about "fastest-growing" claims is certainly in the Top 5.

In the PR world, abusing and misusing the phrase leaves the user open to attack as either sloppy, deceitful, or both.

So in April, I couldn't help but notice this assertion on the home page of
"Headquartered in New York, with an office in Los Angeles, 5W Public Relations has been named the fastest growing PR firm in the US for the past three years."

I e-mailed the firm's president and CEO, Ronn Torrosian, complimenting him on a piece he wrote on Bulldog Reporter's Daily Dog (, which is what had brought me to his website in the first place.

I then cited the fastest-growing passage on the home page, adding:

"It's not clear who has named your firm fastest growing, since it's in passive voice. Also, it's pretty hard to maintain such a title more than once, let alone three times. Is there a missing prepositional phrase, such as "among the fastest growing...."?

Torrosian thanked me for the note, then addressed my question with sentences so brief they'd make Ernest Hemingway blush:

"Check Odwyers. 3 years in a row. Not among. Fastest. 3 years in a row. "

Of course, being a longtime reporter, I couldn't resist checking with O'Dwyer's (, a highly regarded publication that covers the public relations industry. Greg Hazley, a senior editor at O'Dwyer's, promptly furnished me with figures noting that 5WPR had, indeed, been #1 in growth for three years running.

[Communication tip: this is where it pays to be mindful of the potential flaws in your suspicions. In my initial note to Ronn, I'd hedged my skepticism, stating that it may well be that the firm had indeed earned the Hallowed Hyphenate three times running ("Triple-kudos in that case!" I told him.]

A post-script: in April, in providing me with data showing 5WPR's three-peat, O'Dwyer's also noted this detail: the firm had been toppled the previous month from its fastest-growing perch. Hardly any shame in that, given the increasing difficulty to keep growing at such a torrid pace and from an ever-rising base figure.

Here it is June 20. Another two months have come and gone. And a review of the firm's site shows that it has not yet changed the wording from "past three years" to something like "for three straight years, from 2005 through 2007," so a visitor might be left with the impression that the company remains the reigning "fastest-growing" PR champ.

Really, though, I don't blame Ronn for letting the murky phrase linger a wee bit longer. One can grow mightily attached to glowing characterizations about one's self and/or firm.

Now, about the prolonged, abbreviated sentence structure he employs in e-mails to pesky numeracy trainers/journalists-turned-upstart publicists: Those. Simply. Have. To go.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Marketing That Knocks Your Socks Off

If only I knew then...

About 20 years ago, in my late teens, I was too indifferent (or perhaps color-blind, in some cases) to match socks on a regular basis. My mom thought I was trying to be cool, but I kept explaining to her that nobody else that I knew of was doing it and I was simply trying to grab any two socks that would cover my feet.

Now I learn that I was a marketing visionary and didn't know it. See Seth Godin's recent blog post ("The power of remarkable") on a company that trades in mismatched socks:

Knowing my history, I would probably find a way to make mine match, of course.

Full disclosure (in the spirit of Seth's disclosure, if you want to check out his post):

I still mismatch my socks on occasion, and I still don't really care. And my mom still suspects I'm going out of my way to be cool.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Wallet Pop Weighs In On Inside Edge Blog

The saga of my sister and Citizens Bank's dubious sense of responsible and responsive banking made received coverage in today's Wallet Pop, at

Under the headline "Bank robs customer: a cautionary tale," writer Geoff Williams succinctly and fairly lays out the sequence of events. You can check out the piece here:

Like a penny doubled, or a snow rolling downhill, this could be the start of an interesting PR "situation" for Citizens Bank. After all, Wallet Pop is owned by AOL, a fairly significant media player that you may have heard of. What I especially appreciate is that the story is filed under two categories: "banks" and "ripoffs and scams."

Stay tuned. [Update as of 3 pm Central, June 19th: after the Wallet Pop item was headlined on AOL's home page, the number of reader comments surged from three to 300 in less than eight hours. Most chronicled their own beefs with banks, including Citizens Bank.]

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hypocrisy Spurs On PR Nightmare

Looking for a surefire way of attracting the wrong kind of media attention? Then be a hypocrite—say one thing and do exactly the opposite.

Claim to be for ethical, fiscally sound government and then develop a shameless Friends & Family hiring program.

Prosecute prostitution rings, Mr. Spitzer, and then spend thousands on your own call girl.

Publicly declare your commitment to trimming fuel costs…and then let your buses idle for ridiculously long periods of time.

This last scenario gained prominent mention in the June 16 edition of the Chicago Sun-Times, after an Evanston man, Bruce Witty, videotaped Chicago Transit Authority buses repeatedly idling for upwards of 20-plus minutes. This wasteful, pollution-laced practice occurs despite a CTA policy that tells drivers to turn off the engine if it has been idling for five minutes.

The episode underscores what I tell clients all the time: behave as if everything you say and do will show up on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper—because that might just happen.

A corollary to that caution: When it does show up in the paper, you want it to reflect well on you and your organization.

There's little that gets a journalist's crusading blood flowing more furiously than a classic case of "gotcha!" When I knew I had caught someone--particularly a public figure--in a lie, then nothing was going to stand between me and filing a story about it. Thus spawned stories like "Penguingate," the investigative piece I wrote about a township official, some 10 years ago, who spun tall tales of a professional hockey career.

Reflecting a few moments more on Mr. Witty's CTA surveillance: Do you remember the March 1991 videotape of LA Police officers beating Rodney King after a high-speed chase?

At the time, the notion that someone had captured the incident on film seemed like such a coup. Nowadays, with a camera embedded in everything but your kid's Scooby Doo lunchbox, it would seem unusual not to have some form of independent videotaping.

Speaking of Mr. King, an update on his life:

And if you want to take a look at the Sun-Times piece, which did an eminently fair job of providing the CTA with an opportunity to respond to the video:

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Opposite of Success Is Not Failure

As the school year wraps up, thoughts turn to visits I've made to area high schools over the years as part of Career Day events.

Below, from a 2005 trek to Taft High School in Chicago, is an excerpt of a handout I gave students. I hope you find it edifying as well:

Read as often and as much as possible.

Find a mentor, or even multiple mentors.

Develop a business mindset (time & money are viewed as investments).
Beware of a job mindset (time & money are viewed as costs).

When others ask, “Why?”…Ask, “Why not?”
When others ask, “Why not?”…Ask, “Why?”

Knowledge isn’t power—but the application of knowledge in everyday life is!

The opposite of success is not failure, it’s quitting...In order to succeed, you must be willing to fail time and again. How many shots did Michael Jordan miss? How many potential customers do not shop from any given business on any given day? How many thousands of times did Thomas Edison’s experiments fail?

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”—Albert Einstein

Most ask, “What do I want to do?” (the focus is on the PROCESS)

Few ask, “How do I want to live?” (the focus is on the RESULT)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Real Purpose of Calling A Journalist

Do you have 30 seconds? Is this a good time for you to read my blog?

Silly questions, I know. Why don't I just get to the point?

OK, here it is: When dialing up someone in the media, if you want to communicate with power and persuasion, then make sure they have at least 30 seconds to hear why you're calling.

How I typically start: “Are you on deadline, or is this a good time to talk for 30 seconds?”

Such a courtesy signals that I know their world—and I am not about to waste their time. This simple question alone helps me stand apart from the publicist pack, many of whom are self-absorbed and long-winded, not even bothering to check if the journalist has time to talk.

After gaining initial buy-in (and be ready for some wiseguys to say, "OK, the clock's!"), then it's crucial that you make good on the promise.

Succinctly and confidently explain why you are calling, and be ready to get off the phone within the time you've allotted. When I say 30 seconds, I mean it--I avoid saying "a minute" because people don't literally mean 60 seconds when they trot out that phrase, and I want to be abundantly clear that I'll be brief.

The phone call's purpose is not to sell the journalist on pursuing a story, anyway. It's simply to warm 'em up to the idea that the e-mail you're about to send is worth serious consideration instead of the reflexive tap of the DELETE key.

Win that battle, keep the dialogue going, be sure to have compelling content in that e-mail, and at least you'll have a fighting chance to get your story told.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Picture This: Photos Play A Vital PR Role

If 90 percent of life is showing up, then in the world of PR, 91 percent is showing up with a camera.

Proof of that is on Page 1 of the Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest, my hometown.

There, above the fold so prominently that his red hair juts into the masthead, is my 4-year-old son, Zachary. His face is firmly planted in a watermelon, as part of an activity sponsored by Downtown Oak Park (DTOP), an association of businesses seeking to boost commerce in their shops.

It was one of about a dozen photos I took of Zach and his twin sister, Maggie Rose, another ambitious watermelon contestant.

Moments before snapping the photos, partly proud papa and partly 24/7 publicist, I told DTOP Executive Director Pat Zubak that having photos in hand would at least give the group a chance of some additional coverage.

When I bumped into WJ managing editor Helen Karakoudas a few minutes later, she voiced regret that the paper didn’t have a photographer shooting the watermelon scene. I’ve got photos, I told her. “Please send them to me,” she replied.

Lo and behold, a few days later on deadline, a planned front-page story fell through and Helen needed to fill a hole. Enter Zachary, the face-in-watermelon kid.

This is only the latest example where my modest photographic skills have helped secure coverage. Another recent success came last month, when I furnished photos to a pair of Chicago newspapers, La Raza and Extra.

The images centered on a 16-year-old from Nicaragua who received a new prosthetic leg with the help of the Range of Motion Project (ROMP), Healing the Children and my client, Scheck & Siress. Both papers gave generous attention to the story, with the photos a focal point of their pieces.

Bottom line: if you don’t offer any photos to the media, then you are severely limiting your PR potential. Sometimes, it makes all the difference as to whether you get any coverage at all.

And, yeah, I guess it also helps to have a cute kid or two.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Is Your Luck Good Or Bad? It's A Gamble

Sometimes, it's hard to tell when luck is good or bad.

Take the story of a woman who recently hit the jackpot at the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin, the most profitable riverboat gambling spot in Illinois. Turns out that after she won an undisclosed amount, not only did she have a pair of fake IDs that landed her in jail but she also had placed herself on a "banned" list that meant any winnings she gained would be diverted to a charity.

The riverboat is a stone's throw down the hill from The Courier-News, a daily newspaper where I plied my trade throughout the 1990s. In my time at the paper, I must have written 200-odd stories (some quite odd) about the Grand Victoria, from its conception to its 1993 approval by the Illinois Gaming Board to its October 1994 grand opening and through the first five years of its operation on the Fox River.

As this recent good luck/bad luck reflects, gambling certainly has a way of creating "News of the Weird" candidates for the Chicago Reader.

One bizarre story that I wrote, and which stands out to this day, was of a man who claimed to have been robbed and locked in his own trunk at the casino parking deck. Police quickly sniffed out the real deal: he was trying to conceal from his wife that he'd squandered a load of dough.

Now that's a guy in desperate need of a publicist, at least for his first 15 minutes at the kitchen table with the Mrs.

For the Lady (Really Bad) Luck tale mentioned above, here's an account in today's Daily Herald:

Friday, June 6, 2008

Simple Words of Wisdom From Seth Godin

One of the most appealing things about Seth Godin, Intrepid & Prolific Author & Thought Leader for the Third Millennium, is that he writes the way most folks talk.

He uses words like "things," hence inspiring me to do the same in that first sentence. Hmm, I doubt he uses "hence" much, so I better watch it.

Anyway, Seth came to mind because I came across a rather insightful anecdote he made about the way the world is now, versus the way it was only a decade or so ago.

His story, which concludes with "now you have to be on the lookout for everyone," is reminiscent of my recent comment that the world is now filled with innumerable (Fight Back With) David Horowitzes (see the June 5 blog post below).

To get a dose of Seth-sagacity, go to: and scroll down to "Part Five: Everyone's a critic."

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Corporate Reputations Face Constant Scrutiny

When I was growing up, one of my favorite shows was "Fight Back With David Horowitz!" He was a crusader for the consumer, an aptly named David fighting the corporate Goliaths of the world.

Nowadays, with worldwide communication so rampant, there are millions of David Horowitzes hard at work, all the time. As a result, more than ever, companies need to know that their reputation is subject to constant scrutiny on sites such as and

The smart organizations take this issue very seriously. Others...well, let me share a story about Citizens Bank.

Below is a letter that I helped write for my sister, who was trying, politely, to get the bank to do the right thing—which, yes, entailed going beyond the bare minimum of what they were required by law to do and actually behaving in an ethical, responsible manner. (See the excerpt of the letter that is in bold.)

For the record, it's unclear how long Citizens Bank was improperly debiting money each month---it may well have been for upwards of 10 years or more. They have done nothing to shed light on that, and would have charged a $35 hourly fee to determine the answer. Imagine that: "we know that we ripped you off, and we're going to charge you more to find out just how long we we did it."

Citizens Bank refused the request spelled out in the letter. While their decision was disappointing, it was, sadly, not surprising. I’m sure it was nothing personal. In fact, it was quite impersonal--$imply a bu$ine$$ deci$ion for those fine folks.

But that decision has ramifications. What happens if this blog post captures the attention of a few people who opt to steer their funds clear of Citizen$$$$ Bank? (By the way, is a link you could pass along if you are so inclined---hint, hint.)

And now....onto the letter:

December 8, 2006

Heather Campion
Group Executive
Vice President
Citizens Bank
28 State Street, 38th Floor
MS 3845
Boston MA 02109

Dear Ms. Campion,

My husband and I have been account holders with Citizens Bank for the past 12 years. In that time, we have been pleased to entrust our funds with you.

Through a mortgage, an equity line of credit, and other major transactions, you have been a reliable partner in our journey as we have raised our four children.

We thank you and your colleagues for providing such excellent service all these years. My husband has overseen our accounts all these years. A few weeks ago, I questioned him about a monthly fee that appeared on our statement. He replied that he had assumed that it was a proper charge.

However, when I inquired further with Salem, NH’s branch, I learned that the fee ($17.50) had been mistakenly assessed, based on our having Circle Gold Checking. The fee would have applied if we had another checking account service.

A few weeks later I was speaking to Debbie Elliott, branch manager in the Windham, NH branch about some other matters and she reiterated what the Salem branch told me. I found Ms. Elliott to be professional, thorough and earnest in our conversation.

She noticed the credit to our joint checking account, $52.50, covering the previous three months. She also accurately pointed out that under the terms of our account, spelled out in what some might call "small print" language, the bank is under no obligation to reimburse us for the previous period of time when this fee was improperly assessed, month after month, year after year.

While you have no legal obligation to render credit for that period, I would like to believe that we are entrusting our money with an institution that doesn't seek merely to abide by the law to avoid prosecution, but holds itself to a higher standard of operating in a highly ethical manner to engender trust and respect.

Therefore, please consider this a formal request for full credit to the account for the entire length of time that the fee was incorrectly assessed.

Thank you for your kind consideration of these requests. It's my hope that you preserve our faith in entrusting our funds with you, and that I have a story of high corporate ethics to share with others in my life.


Judith Tremblay
Salem, NH

cc: Debbie Elliott, Citizens Bank branch manager, Windham, NH

Monday, June 2, 2008

Buzzmarketing: The Art of Out-Thinking

If you are interested in learning some new ways to think differently, especially in the the marketing realm, then I highly recommend Buzzmarketing by Mark Hughes. It is full of creative ideas and real-life examples that capture what Hughes and others have done to stir the public's imagination--and generate business for clients--without spending a ton of money.

To paraphrase a principle that Hughes hammers home repeatedly: Are you in a position to out-spend your competition, or to out-think them? (To check out his website, go to

The easy, seemingly safe thing to do is to buy a bunch of TV time, or radio spots, or a series of newspaper ads. And into the 1980s, those were your major options. But times, you may have noticed, have changed drastically.

When someone approaches me to discuss placing an ad in a newspaper, for example, I check my calendar to make sure it reads 2008, not 1978. Does this mean all TV, radio and print ads are fruitless? By no means---I'm just leery of viewing them as the first line of promotional thinking, particularly when working with companies or organizations that have modest budgets.

Here's one of my favorite anecdotes from Buzzmarketing:

Hughes was VP of marketing at and grew "attached" to a company sticker someone had slapped over the men's urinal. Though the sticker was removed, Hughes was left with an indelible impression---here was the inspiration for a more concerted marketing effort involving urinal screens, those rubberized pieces that prevent gum and other debris from clogging the drain.

The company printed this on $1.34 urinal screens: "Don't piss away half your money, head to"

The bathroom humor was a tad crude and, as expected, drew some criticism. But far more importantly, it represented clutter-free media (nobody else was competing with the audience's attention at the time!) and sparked media coverage from the likes of the Wall Street Journal, Fortune magazine and 60 Minutes.

So, men, next time you head to a public restroom, you may just get a close-up look at Inside Edge's foray into potty-mouthed marketing. Here are a smattering that have, um, flowed from a 15-minute brainstorming session:
Pissing away your publicity dollars?
Aim for

Feeling aimless when you gotta go PR?
Aim for

PR efforts going down the drain?
Take aim at

Got any PR leaks? Aim for the Inside Edge.

You take time to P. Now just add an R.
Aim for

I know what you must be thinking. "You're in over your head, Matt." (And, no, that wasn't a typo on "you're in." I do have a line I won't cross.)

Well, maybe so. Perhaps I do need some PR help. Got any suggestions? Pass 'em along and I may just include them in an upcoming blog post--or even a urinal screen that awaits your undivided attention.