You Say Blue Screen, I Say Gray Screen … of Death!

September 30th, 2010

N.B. This blog post started out talking about the latest Fisher Price toy recall.  (Their toys may cause “genital bleeding” – yikes!)  However, modern technology morphed the blog post into something entirely.

The Blog Aesthetic preaches about, well, smart aesthetic in communication.  In offering PR counsel, we draw inspiration from everything around us – we do so to be original in our ideas and push creativity to its limits.  As the corporate world is rife with really lame brands and stupid messaging, it’s worth taking the extra time to consider how customers and target audiences might develop certain perceptions or attitudes toward your business offerings… especially when promotional messaging can have unanticipated consequences or effects.

Business Insider, we’re talking to you.

Case in point: in-your-face online ads.  Many people are annoyed at ads that “take over” the website; you know, the ones that push the entire page content down and force you to click “X” to make them go away.  It’s bad enough that such ads can confuse the average user into thinking their browser is crashing.  But what about an ad that fools you into thinking your entire computer is melting down?

Apple laptops are notorious for something called “kernel panic.”  Although they have a variety of causes, recurring kernel panics might indicate that your Mac is a lemon and needs to be replaced.  Like the infamous Microsoft “blue screen of death,” kernel panic causes a similar “gray screen of death.”  The effect seems designed to scare the crap out of you; as you go about normal computer use, everything locks up, the desktop shades dark gray, and a new window slowly descends to give you this delightful warning message:

Now, imagine your Mac has ongoing kernel panics, and that you’ve had it repaired to fix the issue.  Despite the resolution, you remain nervous that the issue may linger and threaten your precious data.  So you decide to visit Business Insider to read about the Fisher Price story.  All of a sudden the screen shades gray…

… and a window starts to materialize.

That’s what happened to the Blog Aesthetic this morning, giving a nice nervous shake and cold sweat to start the work day.  Thankfully it was all just a page takeover ad, but the effect was eerily similar enough to kernel panic that it turned us off right away.  Again, we’re all about aggressive PR, but please – take time to understand every aspect of your publicity, from start to finish, before launching your messaging!

PR to Put F1 Circuit Builders in Pole Position

September 25th, 2010

The Blog Aesthetic is very excited for the impending return of Formula 1 racing to the US in 2012, a delay of too many years for the grand motorsport.  With Austin planning to host the next US Grand Prix, the international competition is sure to leave its mark in style on American soil.  This new presence includes the circuit being built to host the race.

And, when there’s hundreds of millions of dollars on the line, PR will always be a key – and necessary – part of the equation.  Case in point: the crushing criticism leveled by one of the sport’s most respected authorities against the racetrack designer.

In the latest episode of Formula One Debrief, the sport’s most comprehensive televised news report, racing analyst Sam Posey offered his prescription to correct some of the sport’s biggest troubles.  Posey lashed out at famous racetrack architect Hermann Tilke, claiming that Tilke’s firm was lazy and uninspired in creating challenging and dynamic circuits.  Posey’s lead message in his report, broadcast to millions?  “Stop Herman Tilke.”

Posey’s criticism, rightly or wrongly, carries huge weight and authority with F1 fans – and by extension, Formula 1 sponsors and investors.  If we were advising Tilke, we’d tell him to push back hard in the media and focus on a central message: the new Austin circuit is the wave of the future for F1Tilke certainly has the credentials to support his work, given that he’s developed 20 circuits for international competition.

As a basic public relations strategy, Tilke should immediately line up his firm’s business partners and F1 sponsors to provide ringing endorsements for the new Austin track.  Doing so would help stop Posey’s criticism in its tracks.  And that’s no small matter, given the massive global audience and stakes involved in F1.

Try the Frankenfish, I Hear It’s Excellent Today

September 22nd, 2010

Sick of crabcakes?  Do you cry “enough already” when scallops are the entrée?  Don’t pout (pun coming in a couple of paragraphs below) so soon, Frankenfish may be on your plate one day.

Here’s the PR dilemma: AquaBounty is a biotechnology company that genetically engineers various aquatic species for commercial use.  It’s not as bizarre as you may think; genetically engineered food has been around for a while as an accepted practice.

AquaBounty produces the AquAdvantage salmon, engineered in combination with the ocean pout, an eel-like fish, and growth hormone from another salmon species.  At question is how current FDA regulations affect labeling of genetically engineered foods.  Thus a titanic clash is brewing and groups such as organic food producers and issues-based groups are opposing the so-called Frankenfish.

As government regulation is in play, this becomes a classic public affairs battle.  In these fights, the key is to define the issues of importance to your side before the other side does.  Given that the word “Frankenfish” already has prominence in search results, it looks like AquAdvantage has lost considerable ground.

To make things worse, the company’s website has an overly technical and meandering FAQs ingrained with corporate jargon-esque doublespeak.  Instead of devoting so much attention to whether FDA regulations allow sale of such modified foods, AquAdvantage would be better off in the PR skirmish to talk more about the nature of the food, in everyday terms that key stakeholders – grocery shoppers, blogging moms, and food safety advocates – are likely to understand and appreciate.

Verdict: AquAdvantage?  More like AquaDisadvantage.

Your Product Just Got Slammed by the New York Times… Who’s Got the Champagne?

September 20th, 2010

Yes, it’s a slightly counter-intuitive headline, but there’s a PR upside to getting grilled by the New York TimesDavid Pogue, NYT’s resident tech guru, reviewed Monsoon Multimedia’s new Vulkano TV set-top box.  (Can’t say we’re crazy about the name, but it could be worse.)

Pogue didn’t have much positive to say about the new gadget.  He claims the Vulkano is “riddled with bugs, problems, limitations and absurd design flaws.”  If you’re in the market for any tech product, you want it to be reliable, flexible, and intuitive.  Based on Pogue’s review, Vulkano is the polar opposite of all those traits.

Now, you may think it’s time for Monsoon Multimedia to start drowning its collective sorrows… we’d argue that it’s actually time to pop the bubbly.  Here’s why:

You made the New York Times!  As the top tech reporter for the top media outlet in the U.S., Pogue no doubt gets inundated with freebies and other loaners for reviews.  There’s no way he’s got time to write up all of them.  The fact that he made Vulkano the needle in the haystack speaks well for Monsoon Mulimedia’s marketing efforts.

Lack of arrogance.  When Pogue asked the company if it was aware of Vulkano’s problems, no one did a duck-and-cover or feigned ignorance.  The product manager went on the record acknowledging that the flaws were real, and that the company is working on fixes.  People like to see businesses correct their errors instead of arrogantly proclaiming “all’s well” like some delusional minster of propaganda.

Small steps to earning goodwillPogue hints that if Vulkano gets its act together, he’d be game for a future review.  Presumably Monsoon Multimedia will follow-up at that time, and if the problems are resolved, a positive review (and additional media kudos) should follow.

Of course, sending your funky (as in nasty, not cool) flagship product for review isn’t an advisable PR strategy.  But in this case Monsoon Multimedia can turn glitches into ginger ale, and possibly get a solid PR outcome.

Boeing’s Space Tourism, Not Exactly “The Right Stuff”

September 16th, 2010

Off we go, into the wild blue yonder… At least that’s the plan in the next few years.  Virgin Galactic public relations has been building up buzz several years now for its space tourism outfit.  The sleek, sexy marketing campaign and eccentric CEO Richard Branson are sure to make SpaceShipTwo’s inaugural launch a one-of-a-kind, memorable event.

But this is space we’re talking about, and as we know, several big contractors have been in this game for a long time.  Boeing, in particular, has an impressive track record of success in this field.  You may have heard about this little thing called the International Space Station.  Yep, that’s Boeing!

So it’s no real surprise that Boeing wants in on the commercial space travel action.  The company just announced that it’s moving forward with plans to rocket space tourists to the ISS in the next few years.  Sounds great, right?  And, you’d also think that a company with a recent quarterly revenue of $15.6 BILLION (!!!) could afford some marketing that includes cool and inspiring imagery.  You’d think…

Let’s check out an image of Boeing’s tourist capsule:

Now let’s compare that to SpaceShipTwo:

Tell us, which one do you think looks more fun to ride in?

Remember, in marketing and public relations, every detail of aesthetic matters.  It doesn’t matter if your company offers service that is literally out of this world; if you don’t have the right presentation that meets your lofty objectives, you don’t stand a chance of swaying audiences and blowing people’s minds.

With a few thousand dollars of investment, Boeing could easily amp up its public relations effort and deliver images worthy of its grand plans.  Since the first flight isn’t until 2015, the company does have some time to get it right…

The Next Hub of Innovation Is … Chattanooga?

September 14th, 2010

Bravo to Chattanooga!  (Disclaimer: our president graduated from Vanderbilt, so the Blog Aesthetic has a soft spot for Tennessee!)  The city, famous for … er, take your pick, now has a new claim to fame:

1GB per second internet service!

Let’s put that in everyday terms.  If you want to download a song from iTunes, for example, the process would be complete in the time it takes to blink your eyes.  An entire Blu-ray disc’s content would get zapped to you in about 3 minutes.

Of course, the current $350 per month price tag surely puts the service out of reach to, well, just about everyone.  But that price will certainly drop over time, as it did for other services (consider that a decade ago, AOL monthly rates were significantly greater than options today).

In the meantime, the symbolic effect of Chattanooga’s new service is significant.  Combined with the new Volkswagen plant and SimCenter engineering lab, the city is poised to brand itself as the next great corridor of technology and innovation.  A smart public relations strategy will consistently link these three elements together to promote the city as a hub for tech investment and activity.  With a little luck, the city will attract the kind of investment that will boost the local economy and make the name “Chattanooga” resonate with cutting-edge trends and thinking.

And that, friends, is how thought leadership in-a-bottle is done.

Praecere in the News

September 13th, 2010

Advice for startups on how to hire legal counsel:

Interview with Sully’s Blog, where we discuss how domains, keywords, and SEO play an important role in trend-setting PR tactics:

We are featured in the latest issue of Quick Service Restaurant magazine, offering advice to CEOs on customer blogging tips:

PRWeek mention on our work for the International League of Conservation Photographers:

Don’t “Censor” Your Call to Action

September 7th, 2010

In the wake of Craigslist “censoring” its adult services section, commentators and the media continue to read the tea leaves rather aggressively, trying to divine what exactly are the site’s motives.

The move can be viewed as an absolute PR calculation.  Of course, when there’s subtext, it’s worthwhile to analyze what that is.  In this case, Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster has posted several entries on the official site blog that make the company come across as rather angry.  On the blog, Buckmaster takes shots at CNN, competitor adult personals sites, eBay (which owns part of Craigslist, oddly enough), human rights advocates, and various state attorneys general, amongst others.

CNN in particular gets quite a bit of heat, given its recent ambush interview of the site’s founder, Craig Newmark.  Of course, as a network that once paused for breaking news to report the incredibly pressing story “horse stuck in mud” and other hard-hitting content, Newmark shouldn’t lose too much sleep over CNN’s antics.

Still, tirades rarely go over well as a PR strategy, as the objective observer often assumes that passion, not reason, guides the aggrieved party’s messaging.  The same perspective certainly applies to Craigslist.  Even though countless advocates and communications experts agree that the site certainly has 1st Amendment protections for its content and a DMCA shield, simply applying the “censor” sticker without a call for action is, at best, a curious PR tactic.

If Craigslist simply wanted people to talk about the issue, then fine, mission accomplished.  But, if the site wants to mobilize the masses who peruse its 50 million new monthly ads and call out perceived hypocrites in the law enforcement and advocacy communities, it needs a more focused PR strategy with carefully articulated points (not random blog posts) and demands consistent with its goals of freedom and transparency in communication.

We’ve seen the launch point, now let’s see the follow through…

I Work in PR, and This Is What I Do

September 2nd, 2010

Once upon a time, a recruitment poster for an aid agency showed an American staffer and his Cambodian counterpart on motorcycles in the native jungles.  The basic message was, “this is my job, it could be yours too.”  Now – to someone who loved Motorcycle Diaries and dreamed of motorcycling through Cambodia (or any developing country), this was a very effective ad.  In fact, it helped spur The Blog Aesthetic’s love for international development and the NGO world.

As noted in a recent PRWeek bulletin, Praecere is the agency-of-record for the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP).  This amazing group parachutes the world’s best photographers into endangered and stunning sites to document what could be lost if a major development project in that area goes forward.  Ideally, these images spur public outrage and action against the project.  Praecere is guiding the iLCP’s current Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition (RAVE) in the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia.  At stake?  The rights of the First Nations people, one of the most pristine marine environments in the world, and the home of the mystical white “spirit bears” revered by the First Nations.  We are helping implement a social media strategy with dozens of partners, securing major Canadian and US television coverage, and planning a large press conference in Vancouver to release the images to the world.

As we sit here in Prince Rupert, Canada awaiting a floatplane to the Great Bear Rainforest, we can’t help but think we’re now the guy on the recruitment poster: “I work in PR, and this is what I get to do.”

PR often gets knocked for being too consumed with products, widgets, and sloganeering.  But the other side of the coin is that PR can be used to protect the environment, help defend the rights of indigenous cultures, and brand and grow an organization in the process.  This is the side of PR often not covered or even discussed.  If successful, we will stop a major pipeline project by a company with a horrendous track record of safety (or lack thereof) from destroying a place people rely on for their livelihoods.

Praecere took this account to publicize one of the most unique conservation groups operating today, and show everyone that PR is not an ugly term only used for shilling corporate goodies.  To follow this RAVE expedition and to stay abreast of the characters and storylines, please visit iLCP’s blog “Expose”, the iLCP’s Facebook page, and keep visiting The Blog Aesthetic.

Social Media 3.0: The “Next Big Thing” Just Might Be the “Great Tune Out”

August 30th, 2010

(Where is that “dislike” button when we want it?)

Everyone in PR is on a non-stop sugar high for the “next big thing” in social media.  We are curious as practitioners, and clients are equally curious on how to maximize business and outreach opportunities.

As with any discipline, the clues to the PR industry’s future could be in the past.  When we look at common forms of 1-to-1 marketing communications, we quickly see their pros and cons.  And, with each con comes a certain marketplace (or state) reaction.

Personal solicitation.  Pros: In person, face-to-face, about as direct as it gets.  Emotion and gestures significantly enhance the communication, and help the communicator gauge the recipient’s reaction and calibrate accordingly.  Cons: Um… when was the last time someone knocked on your door on a weekend morning?  Unless the recipient sought out the communication, solicitation is about as annoying and jarring as it gets.

Mail.  Pros: Targeted mailings can hone in on demographics and appeal directly to the likely customer base.  Low-cost production tools and software allow for slick material presentation.  Cons: Like solicitation, mail can be very annoying.  Using (wasting?) all that paper runs contrary to the common business drive to be eco-friendly.  Privacy concerns are real with stolen mail, such as credit card solicitations.

Phone.  Pros: Similar to personal solicitation, the caller can follow a script with options that directly address the recipient’s questions.  Cons: The advent of the government-mandated do-not-call registry speaks for itself.  Calls always seem to come when you get home after a long day at work, doubling your blood pressure.

Now, take a step back from the pros/cons.  If you think about it, each time these innovations in marketing/publicity appeared or became evident, they were heralded as the “new” way of communication, which everyone would be eager to embrace.  Yet as time wore on, each fell out of favor in that regard.  The communications tactics became associated with duplicity, insensitivity, and utter disregard for personal preference or privacy.

Fast-forward to today, and the hot tactic in public relations is… SocialMedia24/7In your face.  “Speak directly to stakeholders.”

As much as our industry extols social media as the most important PR trend, the problem with social media is that it too can overreach.  Indeed, with new technologies sprouting up that help people block social media feeds, it’s legitimate to ask whether social media risks being branded as the next big ANNOYING thing.  Even if users opt-in to your social media messaging, that doesn’t mean they’re thrilled with complete bombardment of everything and anything your company is doing.

Here’s a simple way to look at it.  Everyone on Facebook, Twitter, etc. likely has a friend whose inane status updates (“brushing my teeth” … “turning on the TV” … “wonders if it’s all worth it” … “boy it’s raining!”) have pushed that person to the block/unfollow wasteland.  Similarly, if your business has daily social media updates like “cleaning the floors” or “we love Mondays” or “high power bill, AGAIN!” then you’re likely overextending yourself.

The solution is to publish worthwhile content, thus not posting just for the hell of it.  This is a fact of life: when we’re wooing a client, customer, love interest, whoever – nothing speaks more than smart, substantive communications.  Your social media strategy should not be everything-and-the-kitchen-sink.  Target your promotions, updates, and messaging so that followers get excited when they read about your activity, instead of reflexively clicking “block this user.”

Take time to craft a metric-driven public relations strategy that leverages social media when relevant, but appreciate the fact that content is always king.