AWSC: The hardships of PR are the hardships of the media: how to increase your chances of getting a response

Originally published on theAWSC.com. 

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Getting exposure in this day and age isn’t an easy thing. With shortened attention spans and increasingly crowded news feeds, getting your brand (whatever it might be) noticed is a battle. There are many ways in which one could get exposure – from social media to spray painting your brand logo on crosswalks – but the one industry that will probably never go out of style is Public Relations. PR people are the folks that get your name into magazines and your representatives on TV screens, and their job, despite popular beliefs of glamour, is not easy.

I am not a PR specialist, so I’m not here to tell you how to do it right, but as someone on the receiving end of those efforts I think I can speak on behalf of the media industry when it comes to the consistency of mistakes people make when sending their message out there in the world. Over the years I’ve also noticed that many people do their own outreach or dash into the profession without training and not having being properly mentored. You can learn from books, from other people, from experience, and from your own mistakes. Busy people on the receiving end will not, however, send you a feedback card to learn from, they will delete and unsubscribe.

Here’s a shortlist of common mistakes that will send your precious press release straight into the trash bin.

Wrong contact person: in the spirit of saving time, many PR companies purchase lists and follow them for several years in a row. I strongly recommend going through that list at least once a year – manually. Yes, I know it’s very time consuming, but when you keep emailing your news to a person who hasn’t been with the publication for 3 years, we on our end get a little frustrated and it is a waste of your time.

Spell check the names: honestly this isn’t hard. The first thing you need to do is make sure you spell the person’s name correctly. Mistakes and typos happen but they can be avoided by a triple check and a quick Google search.

Wrong publication type: building on the previous point, and to better your own results, the list cleanse should also make sure that all publications on your lists are relevant to your product. It is good to be sure that your invitation for a tomato sauce tasting isn’t going to a fly-fishing magazine. It is also very unprofessional to open an email with “I know you are an expert on [fill in your product]” when that publication has nothing to do with that category.

Massive photos: I know it is tempting to let your large, beautiful photo say a thousand words so fine, go for it, do it, just not as an opening sentiment. If all people see when opening an email is an ambiguous photo past which they need to scroll to see the headline you might not get them very far. Always lead in with a convincing headline: unless you are inviting people to an art show or celebrity gossip forum this is very likely not the place or time to let the image say it all.

Links: we like links, not too many, just the relevant ones. Links to the product, to the event, to the song or movie trailer you are sharing. Not seeing a single link in the email press release is somewhat suspicious.

Name-dropping: when the subject line of your email has something about Drake in it and nothing inside the email is about Drake, you’ve lied. If you say Oprah would have loved this product but she hasn’t even seen it, you’ve lied. When you are saying this is the best tomato sauce we will ever try and the world hasn’t come to that conclusion because no one has even tried it yet, you’ve lied. Stop lying.

Too many emails: in this case I don’t mean too frequently, I mean too many copies of the same email. Please ensure your mailing list does not allow for double entries and that people you are sending these multiple copies to are not all the same person. Seeing four copies of your press release will only clutter and frustrate the receiver’s inbox.

Too many follow-ups: in reality it is highly likely your first email was unnoticed, especially if you do not have an established relationship with the publication – so it’s ok to send a follow up. Do not, however, send a follow up on the follow up on the follow up – writing that it is a follow up. If your email looks like a stepladder of your own emails you are doing something wrong. Be original with your follow up; do not just simply resend the exact same thing without a more personal note.

Just as all PR advice columns state you have to be short, sweet and to the point. No one has time to look for a jewel in your haystack of words since your one email is very likely one of three hundred. Be respectful, considerate and concise.

AWSC: Internet-bad vs Internet-good: Mitch Joel and Andrew Keen Debate the Influence of the Internet

There are a lot of topics that spark debates: religion, politics, Mac vs PC, Nikon vs Canon, Patriots vs Seahawks, and the list goes on. The good thing about debates is that they spark a healthy conversation. The bad things about debates is that sometimes you just have to agree to disagree.

Some debates are vanilla, some debates appear to be chocolate and end up being chocolate chunks with a drizzle. Earlier this week I got to witness a debate that ended up being the later: Is the Internet the Answer? Debating its Future Influence on Marketing and our Lives at FFW Advertising Week Canada.

Andrew Keen is an entrepreneur who recently released a book The Internet Is Not The Answer, in which he argues that the Internet contributes to inequality, unemployment, and surveillance. Mitch Joel, on the other hand, is a man behind the Six Pixels of Separation and CTRL ALT Delete, living and breathing digital revolution. Needless to say looking at the credentials of the panelists it was clear the debate was going to heat up.

Keen approaches the Internet the same way people looked at the Industrialization referring to the days when we stood in line to pick up a newspaper as the old-days. As soon as he made his opening statement it became clear I was going to stay on Joel’s court regardless of my education background being in the good-old-communications.

After stating that the Internet, and digitalization as a whole, are the cause of unemployment Keen referred to the jobs created by the Internet as the Gig Economy which takes jobs away from the working class. Quite frankly I believe that those dated definitions of social structure are no longer applicable to how we exist today. People of the ‘working class’ often exceed the incomes of white collar jobs and we are not a caste society. North America has gone through a rough recession and the Internet has allowed for people to not only expand their business using the World Wide Web but create their own jobs and run business they would not have been able to otherwise.

The web has an ability to increase visibility, grow customer base, and reach overseas markets. Without web presence a business is not a business and these days sometimes all you need to be a business is a website. Owning a retail store is an expense that runs many people into the ground but running a store on-line can be done by a single person out of a living room and many people do it quite successfully.

In the old days without the Internet bands could not be bands if they were unsigned. Today, even in this saturated music market, bands can become popular without any label support by getting their music out there for people to hear. You no longer absolutely need a music label to survive, talent and hard work can actually get you fame. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis got signed after they released The Heist and while they do charge for their music some bands (like Odesza) choose to giveaway their music for free making bank on tours, merchandise, and the ever-increasing demand for vinyl.

Admittedly the journalism industry was the most impacted by the Internet but it also allowed for people who could not get their content through to print publications become a person of interest for those same publications by growing a readership through their personal blogs (Mitch Joel being one of them). It allowed stay-at-home moms, retirees and people with weird hobbies to find ways to make money, supplement their income and survive with grace by doing what they enjoy. Yes it comes at the cost of advertising, but what business doesn’t need advertising to survive?

To touch on Keen’s last point, surveillance, I would like to bring your attention back to the good-old-days of Michel Foucault and Jeremy Bentham (the Panopticon model) – surveillance has always existed and it will always exist with or without our consent. There are probably at least a dozen cameras you pass on your way to work, do you know where that footage lives?

The Internet offers us a choice to decline the situations in which we are going to be surveyed at the cost of not using the services but we chose to agree at the cost of knowing that our information will be used (at least) for targeted advertising.

Internet is progress. It was that way when it first became a term and it will continue to be so simply because we cannot control it as a single enterprise. Although the web is governed in many ways at the end of the day it is a digital world created and operated by people.

The digital revolution is what we can do with the tools the Internet has to offer and while I agree that the fruits of such technology are not beneficial in all parts of the world (and not even in all parts of North America) the modern society we live in here now has been benefiting from the benefits of the Internet in ways no one had expected even when the built the first Personal Computer.

 

Originally published on Advertising Week Social Club here.

AWSC: Is the New Veet Ad Really Sexist or Have We Lost Our Sense of Humor?

Everyone has that brief they dread getting.

But there is one in particular no one wants to work on: female products. It doesn’t matter what the product is. It could be tampons or soda water. What makes this brief particularly dreadful is the target market.

She is concerned with her weight, she diets, or does not diet, she counts calories but loves chocolate and sweet flavored everything, she is concerned with how others perceive her, she has a dream jean size, a dream man and so on and so on. You get the point.

All of these briefs are the same.

Despite the fact that women, just like men, pets and exotic animals, come in different shapes and sizes with an avid range of interests, the advertising industry tends to put them/us into a very small box as a single group.

The scary part is many of these briefs are written by women, keeping us in that same box watching the same ad over and over: “be original, be you, be comfortable with your weight,” and so on and so on.

What happened to our other likes, hobbies and sense of humor?

Why are there so few ads that appeal to women in a none generic way?

I have been pondering the issue for a long time but the solution never seemed clear enough. Today, however, I think I finally got it.

While browsing the web for entertainment and creative inspiration, I came across the new Veet ad “Don’t Risk Dudeness.”

Immediately, I thought to myself: “this is some funny stuff.” While the concept isn’t all that original, the idea approaches female waxing products with a humorous perspective.

But, sadly, the concept will not live on. Veet’s marketing team had to make a public apology to the angered women of North America who immediately begun furiously accusing the brand of sexism and encouraging stereotypical gender constructs. Admittedly it’s not the most amazing concept but to say that this idea reinforces stereotypical gender constructs more than all of the women doing laundry in detergent ads is a bit aggressive.

We, as women, have fought so long for freedom of speech and opinion, the right to vote, and equal wage opportunities (still fighting that one), that we seem to have lost a sense of humor.

Men don’t get up in arms when their counterparts turn into Betty White when hungry. It’s funny. But no, not when it is women turning into bushy men. Women felt insulted, infuriated, misrepresented and swore off buying Veet ever again all because the agency pushed the idea of feeling a little less like a woman when unshaved into the funny park.

The stream of comments on the Veet Facebook page is astonishing:

“I’ll never buy Veet if this is how you think women should be portrayed in the media.”

“You intended to be funny, but what you ended up being was sexist, homophobic, body-shaming and transphobic.”

“You have no right to shame a woman who doesn’t follow what’s considered the norm.”

“I’m headed to Shoppers Drugmart right now. I’m going to write a short note explaining this event and post it on the Veet section of the store in the hopes that people will reconsider buying it.”

I know for a fact that I am not a particularly unique person. Like most people, I surround myself with alike individuals and while there are things that offend my female circle as women, this is not one of them so  find it hard to wrap my head around how many women felt offended by this ad.

Women often complain about how bad ads targeted at them are but it’s now clear to me that it is all their own fault.

Not all of us are alike. Some women exhibit a rather generous sense of humor (just read the comments for the BIC Pen for Her). But if this is a mass response it’s no wonder the industry is afraid to reach the edge of the box towards creative and funny.

So here is my question: how is it that in a world fueled by creativity, much of which comes from women, we tend to rise against everything that’s funny under the guise of feminism?

A majority of the comments on this ad were in regards to cosmetics ads telling women what they should look like and what the norm is, comments like: “Do you know why women hate themselves? It’s because you, the cosmetic companies, TELL US TO.”

But ladies, you know that saying: guns don’t kill people, people do? The point is we all have a mind of our own, you are all free to make your own decisions, you can chose to shave, or not shave, no one will stop you from going natural year round (and yes, there really is someone for everyone). No ad out there, in the 21st century, said “shame, shame, you forgot to shave!”

The real norm is what majority of the people do, not what the ads show. It’s no secret models are not “regular” people (but if you look closely they too have scars, stretch marks, cellulite, and all of those other same things we “regular” women do).

If we are going to be upset about this ad should we be upset about make up companies telling us to have longer eyelashes or plumper lips and to smell like tropical fruits and vanilla. Shouldn’t we than be also upset about women eating mostly salad and yogurt in ads? Why aren’t we this equally outraged about it being mostly women in capris and cardigans doing laundry on TV – I don’t see anyone taking their rage out on the Purex or Maybelline Facebook Walls.

Men may already know all of our dirty secrets and this is simply an exaggerated joke based on an insight that I am sure the agency, and some research organization, invested a lot of time in, talking to women like us.

They don’t go around complaining about the ads where they are shown fat, whipped, tired, feminine, or dumb because they see the humour in them, they can take a joke.

So why can’t we do the same?

 

Originally published on theawsc.com here.

AWSC: Setting Priorities is Half of the Battle

If I was to be the queen of anything it will have to be distraction. My biggest problem is that I have way more ideas than I can physically handle so learning how to prioritize is an ongoing issue. When I was in university I was able to concentrate on a stack of 10 books and sit without a break typing for 10 hours.

And then social media happened.

But looking back I think the ADD really kicked in when I started working in Advertising. I’m not sure if it was the advertising part or working full time but finally knowing how to execute projects combined with the desire to share and learn life became overwhelming and I did not even notice. While doing research for this column I was reading an article by Tomasz Tunguz titled “Startup Best Practices #5: Effectiveness, Not Productivity” and in it was a “Priority Matrix.”

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What a great idea! I thought to myself and immediately proceeded to draw my own version of the illustration to put up above the desk. Whilst coloring in the circles the irony of the situation dawned on me. But I’m not a quitter, so I finished the drawing.

The internet is full of advice on how to stay on point and how to be productive but the important part is that not all of those methods will work for you. We are all different, no snowflake is the same so you can read all you want but it is important to pay attention to what works for you. Here are the things that work for me:

Lists: having a list gives you a visual reminder of what you have to do, sometimes it looks terrifying but I found that crossing off things off that list with a thick marker is more satisfying than it is terrifying to look at it.

Calendars: For two reasons: to avoid double booking and to remind myself of the urgency of a certain task like doing the taxes.

Worst things comes first: Brian Tracy calls this process Eating The Frog, he wrote a book about it. There are 21 different ways to stop procrastinating in this book but my favorite is finishing things you are least excited about first thing in the morning. The logic is basic, once they are done your sky is clear blue for the day.

Web and Social blackouts: Staying on tasks is only possible when there are no distractions and I think we can all agree that the Internet is the biggest distraction of them all. For me the easiest way to black out and lock in is music, different kinds for different tasks, but it gives me a concentrated distraction from everything else in the room and on the web enough to look in one direction.

Draw a finish line: during her panel at Advertising Week last year Arianna Huffington held a panel on work-life balance and one of my favorite take aways from that was realizing our desire for conclusion. Whatever you are doing imagine a finish line, it might not be fully finishing the project, it could just be deciding to work till turn of the hour, even deciding not to finish a task is a conclusion and conclusions help us sleep at night.

Organization: whatever organization method works for you, stacks, flow charts, folders, find it and stick to it. You shouldn’t waste your time looking for things and phone numbers. I have all of those things and can find anything I need in no time, unless it was written on a bar napkin, though some of those are in folders too. The important and challenging thing in this case is putting things in the right place right away but that step eliminates future mess and once it becomes a habit it stops being a pain in the ass.

What helps you stay concentrated?

 
Originally published on theawsc.com