Everyday PR

From Dirt to Dollars: Brand Success

In 1969, Dan Evins had a brainstorm - to provide a reliable, convenient (as in right off the Interstate highways) place for travelers to buy gas, eat a home-cooked meal, get candy for the kids, and perhaps catch a few minutes of shut-eye. Evins and his contractor partner literally drew their building plans in the dirt on Highway 109 in Lebanon, TN, which eventually became the first Cracker Barrel Old Country Store location. 

 CB Logo

This year, the company celebrates its 40th anniversary of sticking to its original goal.  As I’ve previously opined, the company strongly emphasizes customer service. When combined with reasonably priced comfort food, a fun retail shop and friendly staff, it’s no wonder that Cracker Barrel has survived this recession and others before it.  Plus, I believe its longevity is partly attributable to its consistent, authentic and downhome branding – the kind of branding that works in good times and bad, the kind of branding that epitomizes value, and the kind of branding that exhibits a likeable personality.

Geert de Lombaerde of South Comm Communications recently interviewed Cracker Barrel President and CEO Mike Woodhouse about the company’s beginnings and growth. A few highlights:

*  Cutting corners on the quality and quantity of food isn’t an option.  After 40 years of building a loyal following and gaining customer trust, the company says that cutting corners on the product or reducing its investment in customer service training are non-negotiable.

*  Under Woodhouse’s leadership, shares of Cracker Barrel have risen 130 percent – more than 150 percentage points more than the S&P 500 over that time.

*  Cracker Barrel’s main key to success?  Staying true to its brand.

To read the entire interview and learn more about Cracker Barrel’s branding, zigging and zagging, advertising, exclusive marketing partnerships and relentless repetition, read the complete story here. 



Listening Works Every Time

The Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh recently opened its new campus designed by, of all people, patients and their families.  The hospital partnered with architectural firm Astorino, who actually listened to the client’s target audience. Following a four-month study, hospital leaders and design experts had an in-depth understanding of every imaginable hospital experience strictly from the patient’s perspective.  The result? A hospital designed to help facilitate healing.  Kudos to the client and the architects for proving that good, old-fashioned listening is a win-win for everybody.  Three cups of coffee – decaf for the children – on the house.

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The virtual Cup of Joe Award from EveryDayPR spotlights our pick of the week for a public relations performance –  good, bad or ugly.  If you’d like to make a nomination, contact shart@hartpr.com or www.Twitter/susanhartpr

How the NY Times Blogs

The New York Times currently has more than 60 active blogs written by a mix of staffers and freelancers. Times’ blog staff provide an inside look at how the they work to crank out hundreds of posts per day. Read more.

Why Ethics Codes Aren’t Necessary

From the American Association of Professional Geneologists to the Advanced Medical Technology Association, countless organizations provide a Code of Ethics to serve as guidelines for their members.  Like many nonprofits and trade associations, PRSA depends on its voluntary membership for compliance. In fact, September is PRSA’s annual Ethics Month.  For-profit businesses of all sizes often provide training on their “rules” and accountability measures for not following them.  If I were a betting woman, I’d say the number of organizations that have added some type of a Code of Ethics has significantly increased in recent years.  


Norman Rockwell's "The Golden Rule" beautifully illustrates the point in this painting.


With all these guidelines, you’d think that questions like the following would be easy:

1)    A home improvement show recommends the seller spray paint the dead grass in his front yard to make it look like real grass for that weekend’s Open House.  Is that full disclosure to potential buyers?

2)    Some medical companies provide financial compensation to doctors who prescribe the manufacturers’ products/devices.  Is that in the best interest of the patient?

3)    Companies outsource lower-rate hourly services and then mark up those rates to the client.  Is that ethical?

The answer is simple.  Just follow one rule – the Golden Rule.  Just treat people like you want to be treated.  Theoretically, if everyone applied the Golden Rule, then appropriate behaviors would follow suit.  Of course this doesn’t apply to the person who is of such low moral character that no amount of guidelines can help them.  Maybe I’m being naive, but I think Codes of Ethics wouldn’t be necessary if the Golden Rule were the standard. 

While I support PRSA’s annual Ethics Month, my hope is that people practice the Golden Rule all year long.

Upstanding Call by Vince Young

Tennessee Titans QB Vince Young, well known for his on-the-field drama last season, greatly upgraded his off-the-field performance this week by showing another side of his personality.  He surprised two sons of the late and great QB Steve McNair by taking them to an annual father-son event.  It’s refreshing to see a meaningful gesture of care and concern for others, especially during a week when behavior by other celebrities makes us question our society’s level of civility.  Three cups of coffee for a winning play by Vince!

3 cupsa

The virtual Cup of Joe Award from EveryDayPR spotlights our pick of the week for a public relations performance –  good, bad or ugly.  If you’d like to make a nomination, contact shart@hartpr.com or www.Twitter/susanhartpr

Silence Speaks Volumes

UPDATE:  Sept. 27, 2009 – Billboard magazine reports Taylor Swift’s “Fearless” album moved up two slots this week to No. 8 with 46,000 (up 37%). Per Billboard, Swift’s gain was likely the result of both her performance on the MTV Video Music Awards and the buzz regarding Kanye West’s antics on the same show.

ORIGINAL POST:  Sept. 15, 2009 – Taylor Swift’s response following Kanye West’s interruption of her VMA acceptance speech was nothing short of brilliant.  The silence by the Best Female Video recipient was deafening, yet perfect for the situation.

Taylor Swift's silence spokes volumes at the MTV Awards.

Taylor Swift's silence spoke volumes at the MTV Awards.

In the words of Katy Perry, it’s like “….West stepped on a kitten.”  President Obama even weighed in on the situation.  Nobody likes animal abusers, spotlight grabbers or plain old rudeness.  But Taylor Swift clearly proved that she can maintain her poise under some serious circumstances and kept her composure as she had to perform live within minutes of the kitten stomping.  Her family, record label, managers and handlers should be extraordinarily proud. Th 19-year-old demonstrated a level of maturity not often found with her age group – and with no girlie tears either.  By the way, West is 32.

As a writer and public relations professional, I can’t think of any words that would have been more effective than Taylor’s choice of no words at all.  Her silence spoke volumes.  And it’s highly likely that an entirely new base of fans developed overnight for her, including yours truly.  Music sales will speak for that.

Vick Jersey Making Money for NFL

UPDATE – September 14, 2009 - Despite being passed over by big retailer Dick’s Sporting Goods, Michael Vick’s Philadelphia Eagles jerseys sold well enough to make their debut at No. 4.  Top ten selling NFL Pro jerseys listed here.

ORIGINAL POST – September 8, 2009 – Michael Vick, Donte Stallworth, Travis Henry, Ray Lewis, the list of NFL players involved in criminal behavior goes on and on.  So what makes Michael Vick so offensive to Dick’s Sporting Goods? 


Why won't Dick's sell Michael Vick jerseys? They sell other criminals' merchandise.

The decision by the 394-store chain not to sell a Philadelphia Eagles’ Vick jersey defies logic.  According to media reports, Dick’s CMO stated the company was determining the sale of Vick jerseys based on demand from fans.*  So a publicly traded company – whose primary purpose is to increase the value of its stock for shareholders - is basing a sales decision on non-shareholders from a selected geographic area?  It’s like Whole Foods CEO John Mackey writing an op ed on health care for the Wall Street Journal.  Why did he think that was part of his job? I don’t get it. 

There’s no doubt that Vick’s criminal behavior was heinous and abhorrent, especially to animal lovers like myself.  But Dick’s sells Ray Lewis, Donte Stallworth, Travis Henry, Pacman Jones, et al, merchandise – are their criminal behaviors any less horrific?  It’s as if Dick’s has proclaimed itself judge and jury of others, but in the most inconsistent of ways.   

Call it profiteering or whatever you want, but the bottom line for a publicly traded company IS the bottom line.

We Can’t Afford to Forget

Today marks the eighth anniversary of 9/11.  Unlike most anniversaries, this is a sad and painful reminder of how determined radicals relentlessly pursued their mission, regardless of the human death toll.  At the same time, the day reminds us of the inner strength and innate goodness that countless people showed to help total strangers find safety and comfort.  May we never forget the victims, the families, the firefighters, the police officers, the medical staffs, the volunteers, the bystanders and all the others in NYC and DC who experienced life at its most fragile time on that tragic day.

Branding Grown Well

Congratulations to ESPN on its 30th Anniversary!  A recent tour of HQ by Ad Age’s MediaWorks helps explain how ESPN went from a small start-up to the world’s largest sports-media brand.  From employing new technologies to taking risks to adjusting its business model, ESPN consistently demonstrates some of the tactics it takes to grow its brand.  Coffee is on us today.

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The virtual Cup of Joe Award from EveryDayPR spotlights our pick of the week for a public relations performance –  good, bad or ugly.  If you’d like to make a nomination, contact shart@hartpr.com or www.Twitter/susanhartpr

Charities Need to Start Socializing

In the words of TV’s lovable Norm from the hit series Cheers, “it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and I’m wearing Milk-Bone underwear.” Norm should be glad he didn’t work at a non-profit, where just about everybody’s donning Milk-Bone attire.


Utilizing social media may help charities competing for the same dollars.

So what can charities do in this economic downturn? Plenty.  At the risk of stating the obvious, start with a plan that includes traditional media tactics, donor communications and ongoing fund-raising efforts. Then ask yourself the following:
*     How much impact did that segment on a local TV show have?

*     How do you know if people are reading your newsletter?

*     Besides the amount of the check, what do you really know about your donors? 

Are you satisfied with your answers?  If not, consider going social to supplement your plan.  At this point, many people will stop reading.  That’s too bad because some of their competitors won’t – the ones vying for the same dollars you are.

Social media is just that – socializing. It’s about engaging people, building relationships, learning from others and listening to feedback, all of which can help you increase the results of your public relations efforts.  And most social media tools are, in the most loved words of a true non-profit executive, free.     

It’s a world of competition out there. What are you going to do about it?

Susan Hart

Susan Hart, APR, is an independent public relations consultant with 25+ years of experience. Beginning as a journalist, she represents clients in health care, financial, technology and real estate. Accredited by the Public Relations Society of America, she serves as Co-Chair of the Ethics Committee for her local PRSA Chapter.

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