Friday, June 27, 2008

c21 = Real Results

Results are our focus, and we put that into action for people who are affected by arthritis. We recently wrapped up national media relations outreach for the Arthritis Foundation Exercise Program study, and were thrilled to secure coverage on We hope this information will help thousands who suffer from arthritis to get moving and ease their pain. Check out the awesome slideshow iVillage posted here.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Update: Response to "The Flack Over Flacks"

Yesterday on CBS Sunday Morning, Gil Schwartz -- Executive Vice President, Corporate Communications, CBS -- gave viewers his own thoughts on Andrew Cohen's essay from three weeks ago. He rebuts Cohen's argument by offering solid examples to show that PR professionals are not flacks, in fact they provide a valuable service to journalists by arranging interviews, providing detailed information and more. In addition to his role at CBS, Schwartz also is an author and columnist for the New York Times and Forbes under the pseudonym Stanley Bing.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Raking It In in Margaritaville

Last week, I had the chance to see my second Jimmy Buffett concert (third if you count camping outside Fenway Park during grad school, too broke to go inside). Watching the 61-year-old musician/writer/pilot/restaurateur, I wondered how he managed to still sell out stadiums city after city, year after year. The answer I determined: Relevance. While many in his industry have failed to preserve their relevance (think Michael Jackson), Buffett has not only maintained his fan base, but has grown it.

How did he do it? First, he stayed true to his roots. Buffett built his career around his margarita-drinking, beach bum, living the high life persona, and no matter how his private life has changed as he’s aged, this will always be his public character, and he knows it. A 1998 Time article quoted Buffett as saying, “The set I’d like to do is all ballads.” Ten years later, he still hasn’t done it. Why? “The carnival atmosphere wouldn’t allow it. You’ve got to do what’s necessary for the business you’re in.” Remember that whole Garth Brooks is now Chris Gaines debacle of the 1990s? That’s the perfect example of an artist who did not stay true to his roots, neglected his core audience and still hasn’t completely recovered from the mistake.

Buffett also maintains relevance by offering his audience multiple touch points, but every single one of them is true to his persona. His Margaritaville restaurants are located in places you’d expect Buffett himself to be hanging out – Key West, New Orleans, Mexico, the Caribbean, etc. The day a Margaritaville opens in St. Louis is the day that Buffett will lose his relevance. Fans associate Buffett with an escape, a vacation. If he starts being associated with after-work happy hours and kids birthday parties, his restaurant, and therefore his brand, will become just another chain.

A similar approach that recognizes and capitalizes on brand strengths is sure to keep any brand from becoming a “Fruitcake.”

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The It List

When c21ers recently had the opportunity to present at the annual conferences of the Georgia Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America and Silverpop, a leading e-mail marketing service provider, one question seemed to be at the forefront of both audiences’ minds – How do you build a marketing database?

There are several steps you can take to create an effective database, but c21 preaches one concept above all others… Quality over quantity. We have created mailings to lists of 20 and lists of 20,000. Targeted, permission-based campaigns always outperform campaigns to purchased, borrowed and out of date lists. For example, we recently sent out an e-mail newsletter for an Atlanta homebuilder. One list consisted of 300 current homeowners and hot prospects who had visited the builder’s communities. The second list contained 16,000 names from a variety of sources – some of the names were purchased from a list management company and others had signed up to receive information from a local real estate agency – not from the builders the agency represents. The targeted e-mail outperformed the untargeted list by more than 350%.

So, if quality is king, how do you create a quality list?

1) Look at what you’ve already got – Who are your current customers and prospects? Who do you and your colleagues know? To get your list off to a strong start, add friends, family and satisfied customers – people who are familiar with your brand and who can help you expand your list further.
2) Create an online sign-up form – Link to a sign up form from your Web site so that visitors can easily express interest in receiving additional information. Sign up forms offer an unobtrusive way to gather data, and can easily be added to your Web site, blog, e-mail signature and more.
3) Be where your target audience is – Are they attending professional conferences? Send a representative who can network and gather contact information. Are they attending local festivals and fairs? Have a booth where people can learn more about your organization and sign up for your newsletter.
4) Offer an incentive to sign up – People are more likely to give you their contact information if they know they are getting something in return. One homebuilder we work with is offering a $100 Home Depot gift card to anyone who signs up and tours a model home. Offering access to white papers and research data is an inexpensive way for BtoB organizations to obtain qualified leads.
5) Create a referral program – Satisfied customers are your best brand ambassadors. A free gift or a deep discount for your best customers can result in new prospects that could translate into revenue.

List-building is an ongoing process. Large, qualified lists can’t be created overnight, but with the cost-effective steps above, you can build a marketing database that will yield a strong ROI.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Response to "The Flack Over Flacks"

I normally enjoy CBS Sunday Morning. At 24, I know that I'm not the target audience for the show, my parents and grandparents fit that bill, but I still find something intriguing about watching and listening to Charles Osgood and the correspondents give deeper insights into a moment in American history or an event that will soon become American history. Unfortunately, this past Sunday morning, the peaceful time I spend with my breakfast on my couch was disrupted by Andrew Cohen's essay "The Flack Over Flacks," in which the CBS News Legal Analyst spoke about Scott McClellan's new book, What Happened.

At first, I agreed with Mr. Cohen's analysis. There is certainly "nothing funny" about the revelation that Scott McClellan lied about vital policy decisions within the White House. However, his essay continued with:

"But in every tragic drama comes a moment of comedic Zen. And in L'Affair McClellan, that has come from the public relations community, where some now wonder whether the former flack violated the 'ethics' of his craft.

Apparently, an industry the very essence of which is to try to convince people that a turkey is really an eagle has a rule that condemns lying."

Even after doing his research and quoting the PRSA's Code of Ethics, he goes on to say:

"The reason companies or governments hire oodles of PR people is because PR people are trained to be slickly untruthful or half-truthful. Misinformation and disinformation are the coin of the realm..."

Admittedly, there are a few bad apples in the PR business -- which can be said about any profession. But, for Cohen to blanket a profession in which the majority of practitioners are truthful and strive to provide their audiences with accurate information is poor form. As a proud, honest member of the PR profession, I know that my colleagues do their best to present accurate information about the companies or clients they represent -- when asked to do otherwise, the answer is an emphatic "No." PR professionals must maintain their integrity since it is a vital resource when contacting reporters to secure media coverage, working with vendors for a special event, speaking with community leaders to gain their support or any of the other activities we do every day.

"Show me a PR person who is ‘accurate’ and ‘truthful,’ and I'll show you a PR person who is unemployed," writes Mr. Cohen. Well, I can name at least eight -- my colleagues at c21.

Get Fired Up

It’s what The Atlanta Hawks’ Web site tells us – and we’re listening. The Hawks advanced to game 7 of a first round playoff series after a nearly 10-year playoff absence, and a sold-out stadium of nearly 19,000 people greeted the team for its last two home games. The team was able to draw attention to its brand - with new uniforms and refreshed logo and Web site - at the same time it was climbing to the top of its game.

Timing is everything, and knowing when to re-brand can be difficult – especially for a highly visible brand like the Atlanta Hawks. The re-brand has been executed at a time when the sports industry is plagued with bad publicity a la Michael Vick, Roger Clemens and others, making it potentially risky. Still, the Hawks guessed right, and timed its re-branding perfectly to build a new corps of fans.

But does re-branding always work? What about Wal-Mart's "Save Money, Live Better" tagline? The brand's new tagline was relevant since it was rolled out at a time when Americans began feeling an economic pinch, but Wal-Mart drew heat from critics who failed to see the connection between shopping there and being able to afford the mortgage, a family vacation or a new car. Some also found the slogan ironic - coming from a company notorious for high health insurance premiums and low employee wages.

Whether you’re considering a complete overhaul or a minor brand refresh, give as much weight to the timing of the announcement as you do the planning stages, creative and design process. For example, you might consider tying your re-brand to a newsworthy event, like a tradeshow in which your company has a presence, or a milestone or significant occasion in the company’s history, which can help to leverage your message and make it even more relevant to employees, clients and stakeholders alike.

On c21's 15th anniversary, the company unveiled its new logo - a more contemporary design that embodied the company's cutting-edge marketing PR services and its expansion into new media marketing. We communicated the change via an integrated campaign consisting of media relations, e-mail marketing and a special event – all of which echoed the essence of the new brand. Learn more about c21’s approach to branding.