Friday, September 30, 2011

Local TV Spot Goodness: Cleopatra's Jewelry

Having a limited marketing budget can be a challenge. This is especially true for small local retailers. Many times they have to work with a local cable provider or an individual with limited experience to create and produce a spot. 

Sometimes magic happens. Yes, inadvertent magic, but magic nonetheless.

That is how this incredible spot for a now closed local jewelry store in Kansas City, Missouri came about. Heck, even the mall has been demolished. 

After you watch this video, I dare you to try and get the song out of your head. Just try. 

*Video Courtesy of the greatest Media Planner and Buyer the World has ever known. Jennifer Nugent

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Did the Cool Kids Just Arrive at the Google+ Party?

In an update to my comments last week, it now appears that we are seeing the big blip of growth in subscribers to Google+ now that it is open to the general public. Several sources are estimating that Google+ has hit the 50 million user mark and is growing at 4% a day. (PC Magazine: Google+ usage skyrockets, hits 50 million users) This is well and good, but my thoughts on it reaching the tipping point still stand.
 The next few weeks will be a litmus test for the social network. Will the opening of Google+ to the 'general public' spur it past the "must engage daily" tipping point? Just as important is the announcement of the new API Hangout. Allowing third-party application development could certainly kick the place into high gear. new features are being launched as well that hold a great deal of potential.  
 The rapid growth must continue unabated for months for it to reach the density of Facebook. Then it must work to build out the content and depth of information that makes Facebook so interesting. It is true that Google+ should not strive to replace Facebook, but to be a new and fresh alternative. As we mentioned last week, it is certainly appealing more to the media and is being embraced in some unique and fun ways. The Developers will be the ones who play the key role in this next step. The Applications they launch and the linkages they form with brands and content sites will either propel Google+ toward being the "must visit first" site or an languishing also ran to Facebook.
One application that I am sure some enterprising developers are working on is a "Transfer your Facebook content to Google+." This type of app will be important with many. Leaving the social media world they have built is not a comforting thought.

My initial love of the style and interactivity of Google+ has abated a bit. I had also started to lose a bit of joy for Facebook, that is until Timeline was launched. Now my excitement for Facebook is renewed. I believe we will see a protracted battle for users and daily engagement numbers. The real war will be fought on the ad revenue side. It might be a protracted battle, but I believe we will see a mass decline in usage in one or the other platform should a clear winner in the media emerge.

Cool kids want to be with other cool kids after all. The name brands that associate with Google+ and Facebook will help tip that decision.

Stay tuned. It's going to be an interesting ride...

Rockhill Recommends: Googlization

I took the time last night to attend a lecture at the Linda Hall Library on Google's impact on the Internet and our culture. More on that in a second.
First a brief shout out to the Linda Hall Library. It is one of the leading science, engineering and technology libraries in the World. 
The information they have archived, and the role they are playing in current innovation cannot be underestimated.
I would also recommend that you visit their latest exhibit, This Time It's Personal: Innovation In Your Home. From Aspirin to the light switch to Pez Candy, it covers the research, discovery, development and intellectual property of things we use every day.  

The opening speaker in support of the new exhibit was Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor of media and law at the University of Virginia. His talk was in support of his current book, The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry). He has a supporting website as well here. This post is not a review of the lecture or a commentary on the book. That will come later after I have had a chance to read the book and do some research. I would however, recommend that everyone take some time and check out a bit more about his thoughts on Google. 

Siva does a nice job of summarizing the incredible role that Google has played in our lives in the 13 years (yes, it has actually been that long) since its founding at Stanford in 1998. Early on the mission was simple, but oh so lofty...

He raises the valid question of why we should trust Google with this and how they have delivered.
Why this task shouldn't be entrusted to the academic institutions and librarians of the World.
Google determines how important search results are via their algorithms and he provides examples of Google modifying results for various reasons in spite of their claim that they do not alter search results. Some are for generally altruistic reasons such as a racist website "gaming" the results to get higher placement. He questions why we, as consumers accept this. Generally, it is because we don't know.
It is comforting to know that Google doesn't remove information. In that respect they really do attempt to archive all of the World's information. However, as a writer and researcher, I do find that you need even sharper personal analytical skills when working online.

He also offers a few other tidbits of insight that are worth considering:
  • We are not Google's customers. The advertisers are. Google only views us as customers so far as they need us to keep eyeballs on their site to sell to advertisers. 
  • As technology consumers we generally are willing to accept technology as magic and not explore how a product or service works. Companies such as Apple and Google benefit from this. 
  • Google fundamentally transformed the Internet for the better by working to filter out pornographic results that were served via spam or due to typographical error. This work to make the Internet safer for business and family use helped to also make the consumer feel safer about using the Internet for their financial needs.
  • When you use Google you are seeing the world through their lense. It is filtered. 
  • Google may be radically different in five years and may not even exist in ten. That is the type of technology world we live in.
Overall, Mr. Vaidhyanathan offered some great perspectives on the good and bad of Google. The questions that he poses are easily applicable to many other communications channels, social media et cetera. 

What he did not discuss is the rapidly expanding technology channels that Google is moving toward. For instance, I am typing this using Google Chrome browser. Google has mobile technology, hardware with Chrome Book and is developing a one-gigabyte Google Fiber technology in Kansas City. It is currently being installed outside my office window.

(Update) Google now has also opened a retail pop up store in London as reported by The London Evening Standard. This could be the direct assault on Apple that many have anticipated. The fundamental difference is, if Google is successful in hardware and retail sales, they will also possess an incredible wealth of content and the means of distribution.  
I look forward to exploring these more and sharing thoughts with my readers here. 

Possibly the most cogent and interesting comment was when he likened Google to Julius Caesar. A benevolent dictator who does indeed improve life for many but at what cost?    

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Angry Birds Stealing My Wallet?

Angry Birds are Everywhere
The Atlantic recently published an article, Estimating the Damage to the U.S. Economy Caused by Angry Birds, that caused quite a stir.
In the article, Alexis Madrigal offers up how much American productivity is lost by employees playing Angry Birds at work. He uses a a variant of a calculation that a consulting firm has used to determine lost productivity from the NCAA Basketball Tournament. I am not here to question his math, just the basis of the assumption of "lost productivity." 

In my professional career thus far, I have been a lowly account coodinator at a huge advertising agency and the director of accounts, with large teams of employees. I have also been the president of a region of a company and an entrepreneur of a tiny startup. Through all of these career moves I can assure you of one thing. People at work don't need a specific smartphone game to lose productivity. They (myself included) are perfectly good at seeking out ways to distract themselves from work. Referencing the hot new game is simply a device that journalists use to get the readers attention. An article titled, "Various Means Employed by People to Lose Productivity" isn't nearly as exciting as picking the hot new game or industry.    
Courtesy of The Atlantic

If we look back through the archives of 'lost productivity" articles I assure you they list causes such as the personal computer, phone, water cooler, windows, air conditioning, co-ed working environment... and so on. Therefore, the lost productivity idea is a fallacy as it relates to specific new technology advances. What the advent of smartphones and social media has done, is make it easier to hide the actual activity from their boss. But banning Angry Birds and social media doesn't solve the problem. It only leads more secretive activity and alternative forms of lost productivity, such as people standing around talking about playing Angry Birds!

I am certain there are plenty of great Human Resources professionals that could chime in and offer a great deal of suggestions on how to increase productivity in the workplace. I am not going to attempt to tackle the complete productivity issue. I do feel that it all stems from proper supervision and pro-active management with a human understanding of how people work and live.

I do want to take a minute and address the Angry Birds and larger social media challenge that employers face. How to best solve it? 

Employers should stop directing their IT staff to block offending games and sites. They should stop issuing corporate policies designed to prevent game play and social media (specifically Facebook and Twitter) usage at work. Instead, they should look at their customers and understand that they are probably using the same channels of social media and games. Enterprising marketing officers should be challenging their company to see how they can turn their most avid game playing employees and heavy Facebook users into defacto developers, idea generators and online brand advocates. By engaging with employees about their online activity, a company can better understand changing trends. If employees as unafraid to talk openly about what they are doing, ideas can be shared. 

- Integrate social gaming into company team building.
- Offer incentives for employees that bring ideas on integrating company products into social gaming or online advertising
- Focus less on restricting activities of employees and more on accountability of delivering results.
- Offer at work education on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. 
- Conduct education on what information employees can share about the company and its products. 
- Let social sharing about your company occur naturally.
- If you have active social media marketing staff already, they should add monitoring and reporting of social media activity to their responsibilities. 

There is a great deal of potential in leveraging the ideas from social gaming and the actual reach of social media. If handled proactively and positively by a company, you will be creating a large innovation team and social media marketing team from your existing employees. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Best 5:51 of Your Day: Doodlers, Unite!

This one is short, simple, to the point and best of all PERFECT. Doodling needs to come out of the hidden margins and to the main page. As a doodler myself, I am happy to know that it actually reinforces the messages I hear at conferences and meetings. I use doodles as meeting references and often place pages of doodles in my client files. many people in the advertising and design world think that only graphic designers are visual learners. As a strategist and writer, I can assure you that visual learning is at the core of my daily life.  

Doodle while you listen/watch this brief TED talk by Sunni Brown. Sunni has a deep passion for the study of visual learning and is great at conveying the information. Find out more about her and the work she is doing at her website.

Enough copy, to the video and doodling. Enjoy... 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Your Cure For Writer's Block

From time to time we all struggle with the dreaded writer's block. Those who write many column inches for a living struggle with it, and so do us branding and marketing types. For me it is concept creation and short form creative copy. My clients look to me for the next "big idea." They expect something that will stand out, fit their brand and be clever and creative. All of those things are what they should expect of course.

However, being creative and relevant to a brand in an on demand fashion can be taxing. Ideas don't work 9 to 5. That is why there is the handy Moleskine. One travels with me at all times, and one stays on my nightstand. They get filled with ideas. Some of those ideas eventually become workable solutions to a client challenge. Some become dreams for future work and some are simply terrible. The edible bike helmet "dream" for instance seemed great at 3am.

So, what do you do when the ideas are are clogged up somewhere in your head and just not flowing? How do you get those ideas going again? I have already mentioned that watching some TED talks gets me going. A little Spotify music helps. Taking a walk. Finding inspiring  work in unrelated fields, such as architecture and fine art. All help me to break the cycle of a creative block. But there is one other little secret that I would like to share and that is the New Yorker Magazine. Specifically, their cartoons.

You may not know this, but they have a weekly contest to write the headline to a published cartoon. It is a fun weekly challenge and blends a visual idea with short form copy. 

The Caption Contest is certainly a fun secret pleasure of mine. Though I have yet to win and have a caption of mine appear, it is a fun challenge to try and meet. Go give it a try and see if it works for helping to break your writer's block. 

I would love to hear what other ways people have for breaking their creative block.
I will update this post as people send me ideas.   

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Most Important Infographic Ever

After many months of extensive research and study, I have compiled a comprehensive Quadrant Analysis outlining where most industries fall in service and product quality.
Additionally, I have highlighted where there is a "white space" of opportunity.

For ease of use, I have bundled the companies by industry. The ones who fall within the "Opportunity" section I have listed by name.

Now, hopefully industry CEOs and CMOs will read and understand this chart.

The conclusion is that most companies need to adopt a mantra of "Don't Make Shit and Don't Be An Asshole." 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Google+, Party of No One?

Google opened up registration for it's Google+ social network to everyone today. That might be the catalyst that it needs to drive usage and propel Hangouts, and it might not. There is no doubt that the Google name propelled Google+ to near cult status at launch. Social media types bragged about invites and being a first adopter. Volumes were written nearly overnight explaining how this was a game changer. Google+ was the future. Facebook was going the way of Myspace. Twitter was dead... Most entertaining was that the death tomes were written and spread on the very networks that were supposedly dying. 

This Hangout is Awesome!
But a funny thing happened on the way to world domination. It appears that for all the members signing up, few are actually hanging out in the Hangouts. As reported by Dan Reimold for MediaShift, Google+ "is worse than a ghost town." While actual details on traffic and usage are hard to come by, more anecdotal evidence is suggesting that the assumptions of lack of volume is in fact the case. So what does this mean for the ever fracturing social media world?

First, it proves that the raucous social media landscape is the Wild West. While some continue to focus on niche applications, LinkedIn for example, others continue to drop into the general consumer arena. Over the next few years many corporate obituaries will be written, but the winners will be very strong players with some incredible applications. Buckle up, it is going to be a fun ride.    
It also reaffirms that Google is not King Midas. Like every other business, they will need to work hard to build relevance and be very strategic about it. If Google+ was actually a VC funded start-up void of the Google connection, I believe that it would have worked much harder to create category buzz. It would have launched a branding campaign and reinforced the natural occurring brand advocacy. In short, a boot strapped start-up would have fought and engaged earlier. They would have nurtured actively some initial category users. 

The next few weeks will be a litmus test for the social network. Will the opening of Google+ to the 'general public' spur it past the "must engage daily" tipping point? Just as important is the announcement of the new API Hangout. Allowing third-party application development could certainly kick the place into high gear. new features are being launched as well that hold a great deal of potential.  

Without a doubt, there are some exciting things occurring on Google+. It has some exciting features and is being adopted in very exciting ways by journalists the world over. The journalism potential is huge, and very exciting as we look at media convergence. 

The University of Missouri School of Journalism has taken the lead in the Google+ newsy world. KOMU TV, the school-owned NBC affiliate has embraced it 100%. They recently launched a 4p.m. hour-long web newscast. The U_News@4 anchored by Sarah Hill uses Google+ as a core component of the news. This application holds the potential to truly transform local television. While Google+ is a core component of this news program, it remains to be seen if it will become the vehicle or if another outlet will co-op the segment as more news outlets follow Mizzou's lead. I will write more about this specific item soon. TV NewsCheck has done a nice job covering it's launch thus far. 
Worth it in spite of our terrible graphics package

I look forward to following, engaging and seeing where this all goes. Based on what we have seem thus far, Google+ will have a future, but it may be far different than the Facebook killer it was purported to be. 

Until then. Get to Google+, grab a Hangout and see if it is indeed a party of one. 



Friday, September 16, 2011

Making Your Escape

Everyone needs to get away sometimes, be it literally or figuratively. 
We escape into a good book, music, sports... But sometimes you need to escape to an actual place. My retreats are usually neighborhood coffee shops and bookstores. There are some great ones here in Kansas City thankfully.

However, the place I envision when I need to really clear my head is 4532 miles from here. It is a place I have visited many times over the years. After each visit I leave inspired and refreshed. It is usually good for at least 10,000 words of creative writing. 

That place is a famous, if small, bookstore at 37 rue de la Bûcherie on the Left Bank in Paris. 
The wonderful Shakespeare and Company

Since most people, myself included, can't just drop in on a Friday, here are a few photos for a virtual escape.  
Enjoy... and remember 
"Be Not Inhospitable to Strangers Lest They be Angels in Disguise"  


The Best 16:17 of Your Day: The Origins of Pleasure

This one is a bit esoteric, yet incredibly relevant to marketing, branding and communications professionals. In short Mr. Bloom hypothesizes that our knowledge of the origins of an object is critical to our emotional response to it. He uses art and forgery as his primary example, but this is critical in our lives with brands and products.

In short, if we perceive a brand as an original, a brand of quality. One we have had positive experiences with before, we will respond to it with pleasure and enjoy it more.

I will leave it at that, and let Mr. Bloom explain the psychology of it. If you are in the marketing and branding world however, listen to this talk with an eye toward how you reach consumers. Is your brand, your story, reinforcing originality and trust... pleasure?

It is critically important to realize that the experience and perceptions of a consumer will determine your brand's fate with them, even if your product is identical to one they love. Think about that next time you decide to skip brand planning and go for a crowd sourced logo. The next time you consider skipping a review of your retail experience, your staff training.

Once you lose originality and the consumer loses that pleasure in your brand, it is gone.

Paul Bloom: The Origins of Pleasure


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Update: The Post Office Doesn't Like Radical Ideas

Last week I discussed some radical ideas that might save the U.S. Postal Service.

As it turns out, they seem to think that worse service is the answer to their ills. 
According to a recent Washington Business Journal article, they feel that closing processing facilities is the way to balance their budget. Given the decline in mail, closing some facilities may actually be needed. However, here is the problem. According to the Postmaster General this would result in much slower delivery of First Class Mail. Having worse service for more cost doesn't seem like a way toward solving their problems. 

Your new Post Office
On the bright side, they are actually implementing one of the Radical Ideas... Sort of. 

I proposed that the USPS sign a massive co-location deal with places such as McDonald's. They are not doing that, but they are moving forward with what they call "Village Post Offices." According to this CNN article, up to 3,700 mostly rural Post Offices could be converted to this type. Basically, small general stores will pay for the right to have Post Office services in their store. That way they can sell stamps with their Lotto tickets, beer and fishing lures. 

This isn't quite the massive transformation or positive brand relationships I would like to see, but I guess it is a start.  


AMC Not to Blame in KC Metro State Line Battle

Today we diverge a bit from the usual branding and marketing commentary to discuss economic development and civic engagement:

AMC Theatres is the latest in a long line of Kansas City area companies to use the state line that runs down the middle of our metropolitan area to their financial advantage. In May, it was Applebee's jumping to Missouri to take advantage of incentives. Now it is AMC, fleeing downtown Kansas City after 91 years, and taking over 400 employees to Leawood, Kansas. They have every right to choose the location of their company. They are not a public trust and owe the citizens and taxpayers nothing. In fact, the Park Place development they are moving to is a very nice location. AMC has a clear goal of minimizing corporate expenses and maximizing corporate revenue. They are owned by a multi-national investment company, the Carlyle Group, that according to their own media info, "seeks to deliver attractive returns for our fund investors." Pretty clear what AMC CEO Gerry Lopez has been tasked with delivering back to the parent company.  

AMC Theatres current HQ
 Much as they cannot be blamed for their decision, they also cannot be considered good civic citizens. In taking the tax incentive package, worth anywhere between $60-67 million they are certainly returning an attractive return to their investors. However, for the Kansas City metro area, those are tax dollars lost for core investments in our community. The economic development experts are not only shifting tax revenue from one state to the other, and from one municipality to the other, they are taking dollars out of the coffers of the entire metro. Does anyone believe that the Carlyle Group, or AMC for that matter, will invest those dollars back in our city? Will they be generating a bevy of new jobs? Will they create a multi-million dollar education fund? No, that is not the corporate mission of AMC.

Park Place development
The public relations spin placed on this decision is simple. AMC could have moved to any number of cities and taken all of those jobs out of our metro. In fact, by their own words they point out that Kansas City is only the 28th largest AMC market. Thereby hinting at the fact that there were 27 other possibly more attractive markets that they could have taken their headquarters to. I am sure that this is true. Many cities would have loved to have lured a Fortune 1000 company headquarters. So the Kansas City area may have avoided the disaster of losing another large employer. But what have we gained? Nothing.

So if AMC is not to blame for the metro area losing $60 plus million in tax revenue while gaining zilch, who is? The economic development officials on both sides of the state line are to blame. These men and women have done nothing to benefit the citizens of our area with this type of deal. They are fighting for bragging rights at the behest of the narrow geography they represent. They seem to forget that this is a complex metro area that does not exist within any one border. Hundreds of thousands of people cross dozens of political boundaries every day. Their lives are only improved when all of the areas they visit are improved. They don't care whose road it is, they just want it to be nice when they drive on it. Our economic development officials do not seem to get that. They are a myopic bunch at best.

So what can be done to improve our entire city? The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce recently launched their Five Big Ideas plan. It is an ambitious and worthy roadmap for our future. How does corporate poaching improve entrepreneurship? Translational technology transfer? When was the last time any of the economic development teams in Kansas City lured a Fortune 1000 headquarters from another city to anywhere in the metro area? If we are going to give away $60 million in tax incentives, shouldn't the return on investment be completely new dollars to the area? 

As citizens we musty demand better from all of our elected officials and the people they hire. The civic leaders of our city also need to stand up and work to grow our region, not just one small areas. The Greater Kansas City economy grew at only 1.52% in 2010, according to a report in the Kansas City Business Journal. That is good for 222nd among all metro areas. This does not even take into account our success globally. We are losing the fight, and we are losing it because we continue to let it be lost by fighting among ourselves. This is not unique to Kansas City, but we seem to do it better than most other metro areas. 

We need to understand and accept that businesses will act in their best interest every time. We should leverage that motivation and focus our energy as a metro area and a region on new business creation, employment expansion and new employment recruitment. Continuing to shift headquarters a few miles at the expense of millions in needed tax revenue is a fools game. Consider that the next time your municipality raises your property tax rate, fees and sales tax after granting millions to lure a new business across a street.     

Friday, September 9, 2011

Last Lecture by a Legend and Mentor

Dr. William Bondeson recently retired after teaching philosophy, medical ethics and humanities for 50 years at the University of Missouri. He truly defined the term Renaissance Man. Words cannot express the impact that this man had on my life and my career. The University of Missouri Honors College is truly a hidden gem, and among the greatest academic programs in the country. When I was considering colleges, Dr. Polansky, the recently retired Director of the Honors College, took me to Shakespeare's Pizza (how appropriate) on a high school campus visit. Dr. Bondeson happened to cross our path on the way and joined us for lunch. The conversation that ensued was unlike anything I had ever heard. The topics spanned the upcoming basketball season to the pasta served at the University Club with a healthy serving of philosophy and literature sprinkled in.  My college decision was sealed after that meal. 

Over the years at Mizzou, I was lucky enough to have Dr. Bondeson for six courses. He invited his students into his home, chatted with us on campus and invited theatrical performers for us to experience. I returned often, I volunteered at every chance to help recruit the best and brightest to Mizzou. I stayed passionate about the things he taught us. In short, he helped inspire me to care about gaining knowledge for knowledge sake. This emphasis on breadth of knowledge has served me better than any other specialty class or training.  

The following lecture is long, but well worth the time. I will leave you with one thought. 
Understanding the origins of ideas, the ideals of man, the philosophy and values through history and the role that the arts play in all aspects of our lives is the single most important knowledge you can possess. That knowledge allows you to understand the world around you and simply makes you better at anything you do in life. There are things you can memorize. There are things you can learn. Then there are things you must experience.   
The unexamined life is not worth living. -- Socrates
Hopefully you have had a mentor like Dr. Bondeson in your life. If not, soak up a bit of the wisdom of Bill and then seek our your own  great mentor. Enjoy... 

The Best 5:49 of Your Day: Jeff Tweedy Sings Black Eyed Peas

Happy Friday everyone. Celebrate with a little Jeff Tweedy and, wait for it... the Black Eyed Peas.
He took the stage in Chicago recently and Time Out Chicago was there to report on this epic event.
For those of you not in the know, Tweedy is a former founding member of Uncle Tupelo, and the current front man for Wilco.

Kick off your weekend right... 

Special Bonus since I love you all. Here is Mr. Tweedy with his rendition of My Humps.

Jeff Tweedy recites "My Humps" from Jasmine Davila on Vimeo.

Putting Relationship Back in PR

Original Building Plan Courtesy of Highwoods

I recently was interviewed in The Kansas City Star about a public relations disaster on the venerable Country Club Plaza shopping district. For those of you not from Kansas City, "The Plaza" is an historic and iconic luxury open-air shopping district just south of the urban core. So what was this disaster you say? In short, Highwoods, the North Carolina-based owner of the center announced haphazardly last August that they would build a new office building for a local law firm on the north edge of the Plaza. They released a preliminary sketch and told of "only needing to demolish a small section of shops and an apartment building." They released it as a simple business development story. But almost overnight, a development project that they assumed would be met with open arms in these tough economic times turned into a media disaster that eventually forced them to withdraw the plan. It spawned lawsuits, public outcry and a very vocal, if not reasonable, "Save OUR Plaza" group. It also harmed the reputation of the shopping center and further distanced the ownership from their customers. they burned a great deal of good will and equity. Good will that would have come in handy as they dealt with recent teen riots, tenant snafus and the lingering perception of being too corporate.

Here is what I had to say, as well as the article from Kevin Collison in it's entirety. 
Protest Group Sign
Anyone involved with commercial real estate needs to be continually engaged with the community, said Jon Stephens, the former manager of the Power & Light District, who now runs his own marketing firm. 
Whether it should or not, the perception is, everybody should have a say, and a company that doesn't understand that is clearly doomed for problems, he said. 
Had Highwoods properly vetted its Polsinelli plan, Stephens said, it would have found that razing the Balcony Building was a nonstarter.  I believe if they came out with the final plan as opposed to the first one wouldn't have been received nearly as negatively. 
Kansas City Star: Lessons from the Balcony Building Mess
The lesson in all of this, is it public relations is not about announcing projects. It is rather about continual community engagement, message management and understanding the customer, the community and the perceptions of your district. It is as much about being engaged in the community, working with your company executives to get involved in the community as it is planning an announcement.

I am not trying to vilify Highwoods. They are by all indications a good steward of their properties and for the most part have improved The Plaza and maintained a nice assortment of high-quality tenants in very tough times. However, they are miserable in their public relations and seem to make the same mistakes time and again. This has harmed them in several ways including people not giving them credit for the great tenants they do bring in.

So, what should they do going forward?

  • Identify a few select employees locally that can serve as the day-to-day voice and face of their company.
  • Train the Highwoods execs to be on message but also allow them to show some personality. Less corporate, more neighbor.
  • Look to a communications professional to assist them in guiding how they engage the community. Create an ongoing plan for reputation management.
  • Engage daily on issues big and small. Build communication pathways.
  • Realize that the citizens of Kansas City hold the area as part of their "public trust" and speak in that way when discussing the Plaza. 
  • Create a program for the 150+ tenants to give them the tools to be pro-Plaza advocates. 
  • Identify your true neighborhood and customer brand advocates and offer them previews and perks.
  • Push more regional and national media that will build pride in the community that they have a jewel in their own backyard. 
  • When big changes are considered, look to a few trusted experts for advice before going public. 

This entire mess may not have been avoided even with all of the above. However; if they had initially launched (with the revised plan that saved the historic building), had already built some equity in the community, and had a known local exec speaking out in a way that people could relate to, they just might have avoided the fight and harm they have done to their reputation.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Best 4:27 of Your Day: How to Make a Splash in Social Media

This is a story about Mr. Splashy Pants. The whale that hijacked a social media and web campaign for Greenpeace... and launched a movement. It is a very entertaining talk by Alexis Ohanian of His talk reminds us of some very important things to remember when you are marketing or promoting services on the web.

First, while deep pockets help, the Internet and social media is still one of the most level playing fields there is. A great idea, story, photo or simple message can gain traction and become a movement a meme or a t-shirt slogan.

Second, Be genuine, be yourself and have a sense of humor about it all. This is especially true for brands and companies. If you give your fans a bit of ownership and flexibility while also engaging with them you will come out ahead. You can't always anticipate how even the most well thought out campaign will unfold on the Internet, but if you monitor, engage and adapt while maintaining a sense of humor, you will come out ahead.

These are lessons that our friends at Kansas State University should have learned from their recent EcoKat PR disaster.

This is a fun one people. Enjoy Mr. Splashy...

Alexis Ohanian: How to make a splash in social media

Entrepreneurs and The Cult of Stubbornness

Definition of Stubborn adj.\ˈstə-bərn\
1. Having or showing dogged determination not to change
one's attitude or position on something, esp.
in spite of good arguments or reasons to do so.
2. Difficult to move, remove, or cure.

See also, 'Being a Dick.'  
I will admit that I am stubborn. From early childhood I was usually convinced that my way was the right way. My Lego airplane was perfect (even if it did have one wing twice as large as the other), my own special way of doing algebra was the right way, and so on. That carried over into adulthood, and on occasion, it still rears it's ugly head.
However, in advertising and design you need to let go of the ownership of ideas and realize that sharing, collaborating and refining a vision many times results in a much better outcome.
That is probably true in most life decisions, but for this post, I will limit it to simply my profession.
Over time, I came to the realization that letting go of my stubbornness, embracing new ideas and swallowing my pride in ideas usually led to more success.
That brings me to today's lesson kids.

In fact, the entrepreneurial community teaches and rewards stubbornness. It is a cultural problem as much as an individual problem. Institutions that breed founders of startups, the great MBA programs, the tech startups, the incubators and the entrepreneurial foundations ALL reward and admire stubbornness. They may mask it in business speak or call it a 'can do' attitude, but ultimately, it is stubbornness that hurts them.

Let me give you a recent example. While consulting with some of the most talented new entrepreneurs selected from over 1,100 applicants the number one refrain was "Your idea is the best." The second message was "Don't let anyone tell you it will fail." Waaaaaaay down the list of ideas taught where "listen to experts" and "value constructive criticism." So, what was the result?
Several of these fledgling start-ups eschewed expert advice on naming, branding, marketing, product array and market research. They were willing to stick to their idea even if the facts were stacked against them. They were unwilling to alter their idea even a bit.
Some even refused tens of thousands of dollars in free design and brand work provided by the non-profit in order to crowd source a logo from their own ideas. So what happens when the Cult of Stubbornness kicks in?

Invariably many of these stubborn entrepreneurs will succeed. The road may be tough and they may burn through a lot of good people, but they will probably succeed. Many will fail. Many would fail with great collaborative efforts. The belief however, that they succeeded by being stubborn is a fallacy. The institutions that teach and reward this stubbornness should instead instill in these entrepreneurs the value of collaborative work. They should teach them how to identify great talent. How to hire quality branding and advertising agencies. How to stick to the core idea that is their own, while collecting and sorting customer data and feedback to make it better.

Entrepreneurs that bring a great idea to the table and then bring the right partners on to refine it will have the best chance at success.
Great entrepreneurial institutions like the Kauffman Foundation could refine their message to benefit the entrepreneur and the great support network that is there to help them launch. VC firms should also insist on this before investing.

That is my stubborn idea. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Five Radical Ideas for Saving the U.S. Postal Service

The popular saying for the Post Office goes "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." However, it appears that changing consumer habits, poor management and a hesitancy over the years to close some of the now 32,000 postal facilities may doom the fabled institution
I am not going to discuss the politics, the structuring of the financing or any other of the more laborious and realistic next steps. 

Rather, I am going to look at a few ideas that could (or could have) been enacted within the retail and branding areas over the last few years to stem the tide of red ink and led to a more successful USPS for us and our children. 

1. The USPS should radically redesign itself and it's brand. No one has taken this issue to task better than FastCoDesign with their great summary last year on Radical Retro ReBrand


2. Rather than fighting to close existing Post Offices, the USPS should sign a long-term co-location deal with McDonald's. Move the vast majority of their retail outlets to cool new in-store kiosk facilities and even locate P.O. Boxes within McDonald's. The burger giant would always welcome the added traffic. Ideally they would have partnered with Blockbuster several years ago and also led in the mail order movie business that Netflix's move to streaming is now killing. Though that ship has sailed, it might not be too late for a radical retail overhaul.  
Your Neighborhood McPost Office

3. The USPS was once one of the most trusted brands globally. Why not trust your email security to the Post Office? Internet security is a real concern and a huge multi-billion dollar business. If you receive an email with an attachment that has been delivered and certified by the United States Postal Service you would trust it. A Norton-USPS partnership could generate a lot of revenue for both and embrace the one thing that is diverting the most mail.

4.  USPS Mail Carrier for rent. OK, so that is a bit much. However, with such a large employment base there are very few other employers that have that many feet on the ground in neighborhoods each day. Why not utilize them for services beyond letter delivery? 
Market them local to deliver door hangers. Generate revenue by selling limited sponsorship's on their uniforms and delivery vehicles. Local municipalities could save money by contracting with them for services such as meter reading. 

5. Don't get rid of Saturday delivery, but rather add Sunday delivery too. Make it weekend premium services and charge accordingly.

One more bonus idea:
6. Partner with Hallmark and others to create a unified campaign for special moment cards and deliveries. Demonstrate to people that while a Facebook Birthday is nice, people that really care about you will mail you a card. Make it a movement. Make it green and focus on the simpler more meaningful moments. 

So that is it. My thoughts on radically reshaping the USPS. Do I think any of these ideas will be adopted? No. Do I think we will see tens of thousands of employee layoffs and billions in loses? Sadly, yes. Should the Postmaster General think like a gutsy CEO of a new business start-up? Absolutely. 

Another great article that discusses the more mundane ideas:

Thoughts on The World's Hottest Brands

Courtesy Ad Age Magazine

Ad Age, the leading publication on advertising, marketing and branding recently released a comprehensive report that includes 30 case studies examining brand strategies as well as 32 videos of ads and viral content. It is a very well written and well researched piece that is certainly worth the subscription price. Yes, it is a fee based article to read and view the videos. If you are in the industry and deal with branding daily, I highly recommend that you read it in full. For the rest of you here are a few thoughts. 

They outline ten global brands, ten regional brands and ten local brands. Some you will have heard of and know a lot about, NikeMcDonald'sFacebook and Ikea for instance. Other great regional brands such as South Africa's Nando's, a chicken QSR with great advertising and Chinese 'local' brand Li-Ning, a multi-faceted sports and sporting apparel company. 

For the rest you will have to read the white paper. 

Here are a few of my thoughts as I read the paper:
  • Now more than ever, a consistent brand strategy and brand platform is imperative.
  • Local and regional brands are embracing their heritage, but looking and acting much more global.
  • Social media and the Internet have forever changed how we look at brands.  
  • The U.S. no longer has a monopoly on strong brands and advertising.
  • Brand immersion and experiential marketing are vital everywhere.
  • Successful brands are looking to multiple touch-points with their consumers via multiple product lines and activities.

Read the much more comprehensive article here with more thoughts from Ad Age:

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Best 17:52 of Your Day: On Being Wrong from TED

There is little better than ending the week with another incredible TED talk. This one by self described "Wrongologist" Kathryn Schulz. She makes a compelling case for not just admitting, but embracing our fallibility. I think that understanding why we refuse to admit when we are wrong not only impacts us as individuals, but also how we work and live.
It certainly has impacted our political process and, as I will comment on later, our entrepreneurs.

This one should generate some comments. Let me know what you think. I'll try not to tell you that you are wrong. 

Take a few minutes today, enjoy Friday, and embrace being wrong...

Kathryn Schulz: On Being Wrong

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Bulletproof Art+Copy Pecha Kucha Redux

In April the good people at the AAF-KC hosted an event called Bulletproof. It is the advertising community version of the popular Pecha Kucha. In short you are given little to no direction in creating a 20 slide presentation about most anything. Then the slides advance automatically every 20 seconds. Thank goodness beer is served and cursing encouraged.
This is the result of our first attempt at this. The subject is a recent trip to China.
I am looking forward to taking another stab at this great event in the future and step up my game.
The competition is great here in KC!

Art+Copy Presents BULLETPROOF 2011 // Megan Stephens, Willoughby Design, and Jon Stephens, Rockhill Strategic from AAF - Kansas City on Vimeo.

The Art & Science of the Startup

It seems that one of the hottest new trends is the attempt to define and compartmentalize the entrepreneur. To define how they are created, if they can indeed be created, who they know, how they were educated... on and on we go . I guess it is human nature to try and quantify then replicate the conditions that make a successful entrepreneur. I believe there are indeed some traits and experiences that can lead to success as an entrepreneur. There are also some pitfalls that lead to incredible failure, but more on that in a later post.

Having worked with a lot of entrepreneurs as clients, and with the leading entrepreneurial foundation, The Kauffman Foundation, it is my conclusion that there are some markers that help to define an entrepreneur. Those markers alone do not create success, however. You cannot crate a set path for individuals and expect the same outcome. Entrepreneurs are as diverse as the startups they create. They also need a level of support and guidance different from others. More on our work on that later as well.

Regardless of the value of determining the 'origins of entrepreneurs' our friends at LinkedIn have created a very nice summary of some of the markers that help us to define successful entrepreneurs. It is worth a look:

Sequencing the Startup DNA from LinkedIn

There is a link to a more detailed study at the bottom of the article.