Posts Tagged ‘Brand’

Inspirational Bacon

March 8th, 2011

What is the other white meat?  The National Pork Board has made sure America’s known the answer since 1987.  But now the NPB has come up with a new slogan: Pork, Be Inspired.  Along with it they are assembling a comprehensive PR package, which of course includes our favorite avenue, social media.

Their package hasn’t fully rolled out yet, but what we’re seeing so far has some promise and we’re here to give our evaluation.  Of course we’ll throw in a few pointers too.

Social media is all about being, well, social.  Thus the website’s use of the recipe page is a great idea, and since it’s linked to their Facebook and Twitter they’re off to a good start.  The pork blog, Knife and Spoon, is also a key part of their strategy linking tasty ideas and videos.  They can bolster their content with something like Pork Facts, which could offer blog posts explaining little known trivia about pork.  Or they could have blog posts with snapshots of exceptional farms.

We know the traditional PR aspect of this campaign will be strong; we’re interested to see how the NPB roll-out on the social media front will ultimately progress.

Your Crisis Is My Crisis Too: The Tale of Brands and Microfinance

January 5th, 2011

A big part of PR is brand and association.  When we say “computer companies” you might say Apple or Dell… we say “Wall Street” you say Goldman Sachs…. you get the point.  But, what happens when we say “microfinance”?  Those outside the industry will probably scramble for answers.  That said, if your organization engages in microfinance, then your PR brand thrives or suffers along with the image of the industry – unless you’ve taken steps to distinguish yourself.

Microfinance was once lauded by politicians and the media.  One prominent microfinance institution, Grameen Bank, won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 along with its founder Muhammad Yunus.  But microfinance has come under serious scrutiny because several crises have arisen all at once.  Oversaturation of loans, high interest rates, mixed results for borrowers, and large profits for lenders have tarnished the industry image.

Grameen was harshly criticized in a Norwegian documentary which claimed that $100 million were improperly transferred to a bank affiliate.  SKS Microfinance, the largest microfinance institution in India, has been questioned about the suicides related to microloans in Andhra Pradesh, India’s fifth-largest state.  This isn’t the best kind of media attention.  Even worse, SKS doesn’t seem to be sympathetic.  Their statements to the press are bland (“The trigger factors for suicide are manifold, such as stressful situations at home,” according to Bloomberg).

When the PR and press were good, these institutions should have taken the opportunity to make themselves distinct, develop their brand, and control their own fate.  Instead they relied on the goodwill associated with the microfinance industry and now lack the tools to respond and manage the problems of the industry – in other words, they lack good PR.

Brand Recap: TLC – Um, What Exactly Am I “Learning”?

November 2nd, 2010

Branding an operation, company, product, or service requires serious considerations.  One is to never impose a brand that insults your target market’s collective intelligence.  Products such as KFC’s Double Down are prime examples of really bad branding, as the name actually asks the consumer to be stupid – that is, to “double down” on fat, cholesterol, salt, calories, poor health, and disgusting flavor.

In our quest to advocate a better media aesthetic, we’ve commented on content programming that really scrapes bottom.  Sadly, the nonsense continues to spread, delivering deceptive brands that even the most cunning totalitarian propaganda machine would admire.

Consider the Discovery Channel, a cable network that offers informative, interesting content laced with witty flavor.  Shows like “Mythbusters” and “Dirty Jobs” deliver engaging stories and soften the edge with a tongue-in-cheek approach.  This sets a positive tone for the Discovery Channel and helps viewers bond with the brand.

But Discovery has another horse in its stable, one that threatens its brand equity in the long run.

We’re talking about the cable network The Learning Channel, a subsidiary of the Discovery Channel.  As a brand analysis, let’s think about that name for a second.  Presumably, it’s all about “learning” – right?  Or maybe not, since the network parades the cuddly “TLC” acronym instead.  Judging from its programming, you’re bound to learn something… we think.  Here are some TLC shows:

• “19 Kids and Counting.”  Don’t confuse it with its predecessors, “17 Kids and Counting” and “18 Kids and Counting.”  Here, TLC teaches us about a world where contraception apparently doesn’t exist and procreation resembles sport.

• “Kate Plus 8.”  Also not to be confused with its predecessor, “Jon & Kate Plus 8.”  Again, what’s with this “we need more kids” theme?  And how does TLC feel about the off-screen train wreck these parents have become?

• “Toddlers & Tiaras.”  It’s one thing to parade families with lots of kids on TV; it’s another to underwrite the pathetic, disgusting, and shameless exploitation of toddlers by their morally-challenged parents.  There is simply no defense for this show, it appeals to every crass instinct of society and crams it into a televised format.

• “Property Ladder.”  Even if it means well, this show is horribly inconsistent with current economic reality and the crushing burden of mortgages and foreclosures millions of American families face.  As a show that gives tips on how to flip homes for investment and profit, “Property Ladder” makes TLC appear incredibly tone deaf to the plight of homeowners and the housing crisis nationwide.

The point is that branding goes beyond a particular institution itself, it colors perceptions on everything associated with it.  If you don’t believe that, consider the brand disasters affecting Phusion Projects (maker of “Four Loko”) and Gap (now stuck between Old Navy and Banana Republic).  In that sense, Discovery won’t have to look too far if TLC really steps in it one day.

Ask Yourself, What Does Your Brand Mean to You?

October 29th, 2010

Not to get too New Age-y, but… if there’s one piece of advice we can offer about branding as a business strategy, it is this:

Always resist the temptation to sell your brand short.

Each and every time you interact with customers, clients, potential new business, or any other element of company growth strategy, once the conversation is over, all that’s left is your brand.  If you knock down your standing, negotiate with too low of a bar, are too self-deprecating, then that will haunt your business prospects.

Believe in what your brand is worth, and understand the power of that stance when it comes to public relations.

PR Blunder in the Making: Who Will “Face” the Yahoo-AOL Merger?

October 14th, 2010

Tech Leaders: Jobs, Gates... Yahoo Smiley?

The tech sector is abuzz today with rumors of a Yahoo-AOL merger.  As this blog is all about media aesthetic, we offer commentary on popular branding perceptions of big players in the news.

AOL’s brand has been scaled down to accumulating content and being more behind-the-scenes than in your face.  After all, just reminiscing about the gameshow voice exclaiming “you’ve got mail” is enough to make you smirk and recall the heyday of the 90s tech boom.  And the Yahoo brand, once the darling of offering free services, has taken serious lumps in the past few years.  Maybe a merger is what’s best to leverage what remaining brand equity the two companies have left, in a hail-mary that ups the ante against their formidable competition.

Still, even if Yahoo and AOL merge, how will they dominate the industry?  More importantly, who will lead this new brand behemoth forward?  Let’s face it – every major tech company is defined by a face.  Apple = Steve Jobs, Microsoft = Bill Gates, Dell = Michael Dell, Facebook = Mark Zuckerberg, and so forth.  These company heads are all celebrities in their own right, and thus give an added dimension to their company brands.

So what about AOL?  Current CEO Tim Armstrong is credited with maintaining morale at the beleaguered company, and … well, maintaining morale at the beleaguered company.  And Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz – well, let’s just say that she’s not exactly the most cool and level-headed public personality.

The lesson here is that pre-merger hype offers a good chance to enhance present brand value, but should always be coupled with a smart PR strategy.  In this case, the merger’s interested parties should start teasing media as to who the new leader might be, and promote that person’s presence aggressively.  If not, it’s a missed opportunity to give the post-merger entity a strong media push out the gates.

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.

Brand Sleight of Hand, Brought to You by Toyota

August 26th, 2010

Another day, another Toyota recall.  In theory, any other brand that might have shouldered the weight of so much negative press would have collapsed.

When your brand faces a torrent of constant criticism like Toyota, the go-to PR tactic is to respond with positive messaging, namely in the form of ads – that’s the platform that gives you supreme control over the message and narrative.

But please – when considering such an approach, you must avoid over-the-top, absurd spin.

You may have seen Toyota’s recent commercials about how they’re spending $1 million an hour on improving their fleet’s safety.  As the New York Times points out, that adds up to nearly $9 billion a year.

Now that seems like quite a bit of loose change to spend exclusively on safety improvements, but as the Times explains, the devil’s in the video details.  The actual script of the ad says that “at Toyota, we care about your safety. That’s why we’re investing one million dollars every hour to improve our technology and your safety.”

That last sentence, if diced carefully, says that the money is being spent on technology improvement alone.  Yet during that specific narration, the words “INVESTING IN YOUR SAFETY” float on the screen (yes, the words are in all-caps in the commercial).

Nice subliminal trick Toyota, but when mainstream outlets devote their time to parsing the meaning behind your ads – and potential duplicity – all your company does is fuel the lingering mistrust on your brand’s safety record.  Not the wisest PR tactic we’ve seen.

PR Basics for E-Commerce Sites

August 3rd, 2010

From time to time, the Blog Aesthetic spotlights different industries and offers discussion and insight on relevant public relations trends and strategies.  In this posting, we examine the next phase of e-commerce, an industry that faces exciting possibilities as the U.S. economy continues its positive (if slow) rate of recovery.

To that end, what PR factors should e-commerce sites pay attention to?  Here are a few:

• Leaks, leaks, leaksData breach continues to be the most high-profile media narrative associated with e-commerce sites.  As much as news outlets may report on the success of an ecommerce platform, a significant data breach will always be a media lightning rod.  Has your site prepared a thorough crisis management plan that addresses all stakeholders?  If not, your new road to riches will surely hit a dead-end.

• Distinction.  Quick – in 30 seconds, explain the difference between Authorize.Net, PayPal, and Fiserv… Once you’ve hit the wall, you will probably see the problem.  All provide consumer payment processing for individual and business transactions, but what benefit does each offer that’s different than the other?  In other words, where’s the brand distinction?  Your e-commerce PR efforts must always work to show why your site or platform is the better alternative.

• Streamline customer interaction.  With social networking significantly reducing the cost of customer interaction, an e-commerce site should leverage different social media sites for particular avenues of customer engagement.  For example, a few tweets can offer quick bites of news updates, but a Facebook page may be better for carefully addressing consumer or merchant complaints.

• The next big thingE-commerce sites will, undoubtedly, significantly evolve as new technologies and online platforms emerge.  Change always catches people off-guard, so e-commerce sites must make sure stakeholders are fully engaged and informed before incorporating the “next big thing” into their business practices.  Smart PR can help an e-commerce site develop a thought leadership campaign on relevant industry issues, position the site favorably with business and consumers, and then capture market share as the standard business model evolves.

From the UN to Junior League: Good Membership Communications Are Vital

July 26th, 2010

Few things cause more damage to a carefully built brand than a disgruntled employee with an axe to grind.  A stream of allegations emanating from an insider – true or not – will be given credence because they come from close to the source.  This is the case whether the insider leaves on their own will, or is unfairly pushed out after being deceived with false promises as to the organization’s intentions.

This phenomenon was on full display last week when Inga-Britt Ahlenius, a retiring United Nations undersecretary, decided to inflict as much pain as possible on her boss, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.  Even worse for the UN, Ahlenius was in charge of combating corruption at the UN.  So it was catastrophic when she wrote the following in a 50-page memo to Moon, leaked to the international media:

“Your actions are not only deplorable but seriously reprehensible …. Rather than supporting the internal oversight, which is the sign of strong leadership and good governance, you have strived to control it, which is to undermine its position.”

Ahlenius goes on to accuse Ban of setting up sham investigations instead of seeking serious findings.  She sums up the entire UN under Ban’s leadership as “in the process of decay and … drifting into irrelevance.”

“Irrelevant” is the worst thing you can be considered as a professional association or membership organization, and that includes the UN.  An institution that depends on membership to survive must make communicating to its members the top priority.  Strategic communications can help associations and groups demonstrate their value to members – even if those members are nations.  A public relations agency can help messages reach your internal audiences and members to reinforce your worth as an institution.  So even if you have a UN-style incident, the goodwill and support you have cultivated in your members will overcome it.  Of course, you will also need a crisis communications/management plan to mitigate the damage and chart the way forward.

In addition, basic internal communication and management dictates you set up a grievance mechanism for employees, one that respects their concerns.  Even anonymous whistleblower functions allow employees to feel they have somewhere to go (Note: The UN has a confidential hotline but, at the undersecretary level, Ahlenius likely felt it beneath her).

Now of course, at 72 years old, the UN was likely Ahlenius’s last career stop – emboldening her to “tell all” since she isn’t worried about another job.  The UN spends a tremendous amount on communications and marketing worldwide, only to have it all drowned out by one employee.  The UN could react smartly and name a well-respected person to fill Ahlenius’s position and blunt the basis of her accusations.  Instead, it appears the UN has settled on an “as-yet unnamed Canadian woman” for the role.

The lesson here is that smart membership communications are vital, if only to avert your need for crisis management in the long run.