Friday, January 29, 2010

The annual Super Bowl ritual of Go Daddy's rejected ad

As sure as the sun rises, the milk is delivered and bad romantic comedies are dumped into theaters around Valentine's Day, Go Daddy had one of its forthcoming Super Bowl ads rejected by the TV network broadcasting the game (in this case, CBS).

This year's ad altered the playbook somewhat with a tinge of homophobia, featuring an "effeminate former football player who designs lingerie for women."

Winner of the best acting award for a company CEO, Bob Parsons, has his mock shock lines down perfectly: “It’s the first time for me I’ve been baffled. Usually we may get an ad rejected and we’ll understand. We may not agree, but we understand.”

It was a great trick the first couple of times, employing the often powerful "reverse psychology" ploy of purposefully calling attention to being turned down to drum up curiosity. Go Daddy milked it by showboating that the censored ad could be viewed on their web site, driving a ton of buzz and traffic there.

You would think guys didn't see enough scantily-dressed women just walking by any newsstand. But why deny the opportunity to see race car driver Danica Patrick slip out of a shower wearing nothing but a bathrobe and a smile?

There's no doubt that like clockwork, Go Daddy shoots one ad a little more risque than the others, submits it to the network, probably knowing fully well that it's going to get turned down... and it does... and then out go the press releases and claims of prudishness and unfairness.

The gimmick works great in a two-fold way: 1) it saves Go Daddy the exorbitant millions they'd have to foot for another Super Bowl spot by drumming up "scripted controversy" then screening on their web site and 2) it raises awareness that the Go Daddy ad that will air will probably be edgy and sexy too.

The press and the public have been to this well once too often, yet they can't stay away from a good "corporate guy unfairly beats down the little guy" scenario, even if it's clearly manufactured.

Not content to let Go Daddy hog the "controversial rejection" spotlight this year, Toronto-based gay dating site is getting into the act, reaping loads of press by loudly announcing CBS' rejection of their ad, playing the old "discrimination card." As Ad Age's Brian Steinberg said in his Twitter feed: "The furor over CBS/Mancrunch is sound and fury signifying nothing. These publicity stunts happen ever year and press falls for em every yr."

CBS said they turned down the ad partly because of financial reasons. Heck, I'm getting a bunch of my buddies together to chip in $10 each to shoot a cheapo Super Bowl ad for next year, touting our new "straight white people from Queens" dating service just to submit it, get turned away and alert the media immediately for our 15 minutes of fame.

I don't see why other marketers can't adopt this network rejection strategy for their own publicity buzz purposes. For example...

* Federal Express packages delivered by Maxim models. REJECTED!

* The Budweiser Clydesdales chasing lustily after a younger female filly. REJECTED!

* Female job candidates posting their photos and measurements in a ad. REJECTED!

* The E-Trade baby finally does a number one on camera. REJECTED!

* Dr. Pepper lets spokesman Gene Simmons really show what that famous long tongue is for. REJECTED!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Is SEO the name of an accounting firm? Q&A with search consultant Dan Rosenbaum

For all the hype around Twittering and Facebooking and blogging, I'm still convinced at least half the amount of public relations professionals know very little about social media.

Social media webinars are packing them in in 2010. It's the same group of 10 people teaching PRSA social media seminars every year.

So many publicists, so little time.

As a public service, I bring to you independent search consultant Dan Rosenbaum, who has been busy speaking to many large public corporations and was kind enough to answer some questions to help all of you learn more about hitting the top of the charts (Google, not Billboard, that is). Dan sings opera, so you know when he speaks, he projects.

There are still a large number of publicists who think SEO is an accounting firm name. Why do you think that is so?

This is a hard one to answer. I think it's a matter of short-term thinking versus long-term thinking. Some of it, I think, is because publicists are at heart a pretty conservative bunch. I see a lot of PR efforts handled as discrete events, rather than true long-term campaigns. Press releases are crafted, negotiated, and dropped -- like anvils. If they hit something on the way down -- a reporter calls, a crowd assembles -- the release is a success and tomorrow is another day. But SEO doesn't reward that. SEO, because it's based on reinforcing the popularity and authority of web pages, is part of a long term strategy that's too frequently absent from traditional PR.

How can publicists increase the search visibility of their press releases?

With Google and Bing's increased attention to real-time search, there's more opportunity than ever to get a press release into the main search index. Here are some tips.

a) The odds are vastly increased by using language that their audience uses. Let's say you're promoting a product that your company calls "The XD-5402 Jam Whacker, Left-handed," but which the market popularly calls "The Magic Whackinator." Don't be stuck up about it: prominently use the phrase "Magic Whackinator" high in your release. The most important thing you can do to optimize a press release is to use outward-facing language -- the language your target market speaks when it talks about your product and category -- rather than insider-oriented language. One real-world example is for a pharmaceutical company with a pain-relief product. They didn't know whether to use the medical term "neuralgia" or the more common-place word "pain." The wound up with two web sites: one oriented to doctors, the other to the public. The public-facing one used the word "pain" prominently; the industry-facing one used "neuralgia." Different audiences, different vocabularies.

b) Make sure your web site does all the right things technically: that Title tags are in place, that navigation isn't hidden in Javascript, that the right text is used inside headline tags. If you don't understand this paragraph, hire someone who does and let him or her tell you what to do. Then buy a book and learn HTML. It's easy, and should take less than an evening to get the basics.

What SEO recommendations would you make for a corporate web site?

Corporate web sites can be powerful tools to get a company's message out. One of the standard SEO tactics for big sites is to link aggressively among its own pages; pages with lots on incoming links generally rank better than pages with fewer. But be careful to follow the standard rules of the road. I had one client that centralized links to all its press releases across all its businesses on one page (which was good), but generated the list of links in Javascript, which search engines can't follow, so the releases all looked like there were no links to them at all, and therefore never showed up in search engine results.

Corporate sites should avoid falling into the trap of using content management systems that produce obscure URLs like Search engines have a hard time with query-driven URLs like that. Better are easily navigable URL structures like

How can PR people incorporate SEO into things other than press releases?

Any publicist worth a dime has a list of key contacts and second-tier contacts for each of his or her clients. The point of SEO isn't reaching those contacts. SEO is to reach the new class of influencers: people tweeting or posting about your clients or their products, people involved in the Great Electronic Conversation. Odds are, publicists don't know who they are -- and, to be frank, they may not be worth targeting individually. But collectively, SEO is a great way to find them, because it helps them find you. By optimizing press releases and client sites, you're increasing the odds that influencers and casual browsers will get your side of the story.

But again: you have to use their language. One client's product was named in a high-profile investigative article, which linked the product to deaths among its users. The company responded on its blog, but didn't actually use the product's name in its response, opting to refer to the general class of product. The result: anyone who searches for the product's name will find the accusation but not the otherwise effective response. Anyone who searches for the specific inward-facing product class will find the response but not the initial story. As PR professionaly, which would you rather have?

Once someone does find you through your SEO efforts and contacts you, have something more to offer than the press release. A briefing paper, a video, photos or diagrams. The press release becomes less of an anvil and more a wedge. Rather than hitting whatever happens to be under the anvilprint, use the press release as the starting point for a conversation, and hit it again and again.

SEO won't help you very much when it comes to reaching your core contacts. But it's vital in helping you reach influencers you don't know about -- and in reaching people who have a new need to know about your client and its products. It's a tool for expanding your PR footprint.

What kinds of questions should publicists ask their clients about their SEO efforts?

Ask, first of all, if they're doing anything at all. Some clients may be doing paid search (CPC, in particular) to drive traffic. CPC can be very effective -- particularly for crisis communications -- but it can get very expensive very quickly. Ask if they're tying their optimization efforts to any performance metrics: pageviews, additional clicks, name collection, any calls to subsequent action. Ask if they're tracking traffic, and what percentage of their traffic comes from organic search, paid search, direct traffic, and so on. Ask if they know who's linking back to them.

Ask, too, what technical resources are under their clients' control when it comes to the Web site. All too often, clients have outsourced Web development to shops that can (or will) only make changes for big bucks. If the developers have engineered an SEO-hostile site and won't fix it without undergoing a big and expensive project, you've got a problem -- and ought to be looking for a new and more cooperative Web shop. In many cases, the technical changes to optimize a site are not difficult. If your site is heavily dependent on Javascript and Flash, though, you're going to have an expensive problem.

What are three basic SEO tenets that every publicist should know?

1) Use customer facing language.

2) Don't expect quick results. SEO is a long-term game, and quick fixes will backfire.

3) Set key performance goals and track results. Are you looking for traffic to a given page or overall traffic to the site? Conversions? (And how do you define a "conversion"?) Do you want to build a backlink profile? Decide before you start why you're bothering with SEO, and build systems to track how you're doing.

When you speak about SEO in front of corporate PR departments, what are the most frequently asked questions/topics?

I usually get a lot of questions about the advisability of using Javascript and Flash, and how to optimize video for search. In some cases, that means that audiences are missing the point. In others, I get the distinct impression that they already understand the importance of messaging and language, but are having trouble building consensus around it in their own organizations; it's the technology that they're at sea about.

I get questions about how to get people to link back to corporate sites. And there are always questions about paid search and buying links.

Dan Rosenbaum can be reached at

Friday, January 8, 2010

NBC learns the tough lessons of overhype

Talk about your awkward timing.

As hundreds of TV critics descend upon Pasadena, CA for the annual Television Critics Association press tour, and the rest of the media journalism hordes are planted at Las Vegas' Consumer Electronics Show, word leaks out that NBC-TV is bowing to affiliate pressure and restoring Jay Leno to his old 11:35 pm time slot and bumping Conan O'Brien to midnight.

The NBC PR department is working overtime issuing flowery statements pleasing both hosts, which are all basically holding patterns:

"Jay Leno is one of the most compelling entertainers in the world today. As we have said all along, Jay's show has performed exactly as we anticipated on the network."

"We have the best comedy team in the business. We remain committed to keeping Conan O'Brien on NBC. He is a valued part of our late-night lineup, as he has been for more than 16 years, and is one of the most respected entertainers on television."

Consider the dilemma, NBC's PR department is really doing the best they can until somebody makes an official statement, tail between their legs. What could the PR department say except nice things soothing Leno and O'Brien until something is hammered out? As long as they don't lie, they're pretty much stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Is this a PR disaster, as somebody e-mailed me yesterday? I think it's an unfortunate result of the compulsion to overhype anything new without any regard giving it a chance to breathe and find its feet.

The road to Leno's new 10 pm show which premiered in September was paved by tie-in's with other NBC shows, tons of interviews, press conferences, and stunts. It actually got the point where Leno himself was mocking all the monstrous hype: according to an MSNBC article from last September, when Leno was asked at an NBC-hosted critics party if was nervous about having to save the network, he shot back: "The network is on its own. Screw them."

I know the basic DNA of executives and public relations professionals is to get as much press for anything as possible -- shoot for the moon. Man all decks, get the cover stories. In many cases, that's good to be ambitious.

However, the more you blow your own horn, the bigger the target that will be painted on your back. When it comes to something experimental in nature, such as Leno's move to 10 pm, it was probably better to take a more low key approach to curb expectations.

Hasn't anybody ever heard of the saying "You've got to walk before you run?"

Sometimes the best route is to let the press and audience discover things for themselves and keep the press on a low simmer. In that way, the kinks can be worked out over time and if the product works, it's a genuine success. If it fails, it doesn't look like a major calamity where you have to put out a million fires at once, the ones that were originally lit from all that over the top hype.

At least when Fox knew that there was a tidal wave of interest coming to its big winter movie, James Cameron's Avatar, it got fans and bloggers invested first. They were invited to 20-minute sneak previews last spring so they would be wowed on their own by the real thing, and let that carry the buzz all the way to December.

NBC took a multi-million gamble and now it looks like they lost with lousy ratings, no positive support from the critics and affiliate backlash. Well, things like this happen to large corporations all the time. They apologize, put on a calm face, find ways to correct the mistakes or rid themselves of a bad fit by selling or closing it, and then they move on.

The sting hurts and eventually it goes away.

However, the lesson of overhype does not.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Who fell asleep in H&M's PR department?

Was it weird coincidence that on the elevator to visiting my doctor this morning, the doors opened and it turned out H&M's US office were located there? Nobody was in the waiting room but perhaps everybody was in a meeting discussing an embarrassing article in the New York Times today.

According to Jim Dwyer's piece, a woman named Cynthia Magnus discovered that two Herald Square stores -- Wal-Mart and H&M -- were routinely cutting up unsold clothes and throwing them out in the evening for trash pickup.

"It is winter. A third of the city is poor. And unworn clothing is being destroyed nightly," Dwyer writes. He notes that right around the corner is a big collection point for New York Cares.

Wal-Mart's spokesperson Melissa Hill responded swiftly to reporter queries: the company normally donates all its unworn goods to charities, she says to Dwyer, and would have to investigate why the items found on 35th Street were discarded.

And H&M? Hello, H&M?

"This week, a manager in the H & M store on 34th Street said inquiries about its disposal practices had to be made to its United States headquarters. However, various officials did not respond to 10 inquiries made Tuesday by phone and e-mail."


"H & M, which is based in Sweden, has an executive in charge of corporate responsibility who leads the company’s sustainability efforts. On its Web site, H&M reports that to save paper, it has shrunk its shipping labels."

Double ouch!

I went to the H&M web site -- they certainly make their contact information very clear on the press section of the web site. It's hard to believe that not one executive or press rep returned Dwyer's queries.

It's press relations 101 that silence equals guilt.

Whether corporate headquarters knew about this or not, it is critical to respond immediately to the press, even if you say you'll investigate the matter, exactly what Wal-Mart did. To not respond at all is a complete corporate and public relations failure.

Whatever you may think of Wal-Mart, they took the high road of PR and took some air out of a growing menace.

With enough people linking to the New York Times story, Twittering and posting about this mess, a massive H&M backlash is right around the corner. Originally, I saw the story linked on Tameka Kee's Twitter feed. New York magazine already posted a pretty damning story on its "The Cut" fashion blog, and it's on Huffington Post too.

It is now Wednesday afternoon. Nobody at H&M has sprung into action to respond to the article, as far as I can see monitoring Google News. No sponsored links on Google. No statements to the press.

If H&M is concerned about seven consecutive monthly sales declines, as was just reported, wait until this black eye starts spreading across the face.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The one press release that should be eliminated in 2010

For 2010, in keeping with my "green" crusade to rid the world of public relations waste, I have declared that all press releases for almost all awards must be eliminated.

Other than global honors which have been around for decades and actually have meaning and impact such the Academy Awards, Grammys, Emmys, the Nobel Peace Prize and perhaps the Webbys, there is hardly an award out there that merits a press release.

My call to duty is based on one simple theory: if the award is important enough, the people who should know about it will.

For example, if you're a magazine that made Adweek's annual Hot List, then it will be in all the copies of Adweek, Mediaweek and Brandweek, and their respective web sites, attracting the industry trade publicity it merits. There is no need to waste time issuing a press release trumpeting landing on the list, stuffing it with all the usual "we are thrilled"nonsense and sending it out over the wires or to anybody else for that matter. Everybody who needs to know you won knows already. Who are you going to issue your release to -- Adweek's competitors? Take your award, hang it on your wall, insert an ad in the NY Times if you really feel rich, let your marketing department stamp it on everything, and your sales force has some new ammunition.

I know this is correcting years of publicity Pavlovian response to any award given out, but really -- nobody is going to read or care about your award press release.

Don't believe me? Read these explanations straight from the media's mouth...

"Not sure that I've ever written about any company winning any award for anything," says Peter Kafka, author of AllThingsD's Media Memo, part of The Wall Street Journal.

When asked if a company wins an award makes a difference to them, an industry reporter at a large newspaper replied: "Not really, unless it's a JD Power award of some sort." Would you ever write about a company winning an award: "Don't think I ever have or ever will." Which awards would you consider meaningful or meaningless? "Excluding Oscars, Pulitzers and Grammys, most are meaningless from a coverage point of view."

From a trade publication reporter: "Few awards are worth covering as news. Usually the top annual prizes in a given industry, and possibly some quirky other handout that people might find funny or interesting, generate enough reader interest that they're worth covering. But even the top annual prizes have very modest impact on the winners and losers after awards night is over. They possibly provide a little job security for whoever's most responsible for the win, and a win for a small contender over big favorites can help with visibility, but it's hard to see effects beyond that. Awards are also by their nature as publicized as possible as they happen, so structurally it's hard for them to offer reporters a chance to tell their audience something everyone else isn't already telling them."

Awards are about as common as TMZ stopping celebrities in front of Hollywood grocery stores. Trade organizations and publications give them out like candy every year. They're very nice, mazel tov, we're glad you took home the prize. They're like opinions -- everybody's got one.

I've had clients who have won awards for things they have either not applied for or didn't even know the award existed! My big red flag for dubious awards is when they distribute pre-written press releases to the winners, packaged with quotes and descriptions, knowing that winner's knee jerk reaction will be to issue it over a paid wire service, thereby improving the award's search engine visibility.

If only one publication reports an industry's awards, that's as far as it should get and that's all who really cares.

Water seeks its own weight, and it's no different with press releases.

VC's and advertisers are wise to awards that matter. They know which ones have real meaning and which are marketing ploys. Getting overzealous about second and third rate honors can only backfire and show you're playing in the sandbox while the big boys aim higher.

You want to do your part in keeping a green planet this year? If you're a publicist, marketing executive or CEO, before you're ready to pollute the in-boxes of countless journalists and pay good money to appear on press release storage sites like and through paid wires, think to yourselves: Doesn't everybody who matters know this already?

If you can go a whole year without issuing a press release about an award, you actually deserve an award. Just please don't issue a press release about it if I give it to you.