Everyday PR

Titans Coach Munchak: Be a Pro

Growing up in Scranton, PA, surrounded by five sisters, Tennessee Titans Coach Mike Munchak learned early on the keys to survival on and off the football field.

Speaking to a crowded room of business professionals this week, the Hall of Famer says his career started as a paper boy earning upwards  of $30 a week. When his interest in sports conflicted with delivering afternoon papers, he paid his sisters a $1 a week to take over the route, a wise business investment at age 14. Never mind that the topic remains a point of contention at family reunions.

That kind of strategic thinking attributes to the Coach’s business philosophy today. A self-described optimist and rule follower, this NFL coach says his leadership starts with being true to himself, being real and authentic, and being a professional, which he defines as knowing what to do and then doing it.

Other leadership qualities he invokes:

1)   Start with a vision. In his case, he wants to win a Super Bowl. So does Titans owner Bud Adams - which leads to the next quality.

2)   You have to want it. If you can’t tell that Adams wants a new Super Bowl ring, then you’re not paying attention. The recent and overt courtship of Peyton Manning exemplifies someone with a vision, knowing what they want and doing everything they can to get it.

3)  Have a plan. Explain the plan. As Monday morning quarterbacks and draft experts, everybody thinks they know more than the actual decision makers, players on the team, sports agents and bean counters. It’s how it works. But Munchak has a rationale for his decisions; you may not agree with his explanation, but he does have one.

4)  Be involved in the plan. This means aligning expectations, consistency and accountability.

5)  Get out of the way. Let people be themselves and do their job.

Key takeaways: You have to be yourself. You have to want it. You have to be a pro.



Komen’s Real Problem is Lack of Conviction

The best public relations move in recent days for the Susan G. Komen Foundation was to announce its about face on Super Bowl weekend. By the time the last of the pizza and beer had been consumed, consumers were rehashing Super Bowl bowl ads.

In an unusual turn of events, the color of pink was not positively supporting the Susan G. Komen brand last week.

Last week’s nightmare of “they fund us, they fund us not” isn’t about funding at all. It’s about who the Susan G. Komen Foundation is. It’s about the organization’s values, priorities and purpose. It’s the up close and personal part of branding that decidedly determines who you are and what you stand for regardless of public sentiment.  And therein lies the multi-level problem for this pink-until-you-puke group.

Based on last week’s turn of events, the group doesn’t seem convicted about its core brand.  Sure, there are multiple strategic questions such as:

*  Didn’t they consider the 2009 HHS debacle regarding age guidelines for mammograms?

*  Didn’t they anticipate the types and depths of backlash?

*  As a colleague in Chicago astutely suggested, didn’t they even contemplate phasing out funding for Planned Parenthood as opposed to a huge announcement?

Even if those and other vital circumstances were debated ad nauseam, the reality is that a wonderful cause - to save women’s lives – was founded in 1982 following the unimaginable pain of losing a loved one to breast cancer.

And that’s the point – the purpose of the organization is to help women be healthy. If you’ve hung your hat on that mission, then own it. If society, fundraising and/or the political climate impacts that bottom-line point, then either adapt accordingly or stick to your guns. Too many businesses lose sight of their fundamental purpose and end up with much less conviction, which leads to counterproductivity, inconsistent branding and, in this case, headline news.

Just be who you are. Know who you are. Own who you are. I promise, you’ll be much more effective.


Caylee Laws Just More Political Fodder

The more proposed Caylee laws I hear about, the more I’m embarrassed for the politicians supporting them. It’s ridiculous. Based on what’s already on the books and these sloppily written bills, the proposals are nothing more than knee jerk reactions playing on the emotions of those offended by the acquittal of Casey Anthony, which pretty much includes everyone.

These proposals are mainly photo ops for politicians to surround themselves with “little” Caylee lookalikes for a quick sound bite and future reelection ad.  How do I know?  Because if politicians were really, really, really that concerned with the issue, they would have done something in 2008 when it was discovered that Casey Anthony waited 31 days to report her missing child (technically, she wasn’t missing since the child’s location was known, but I digress). 

It’s three years later, and politicians are racing to see whose version of Caylee’s law will be the first to pass.  With all due respect for the loss of an innocent child, Caylee is not the first child to ever disappear.  What about the others who are, let’s say, from families who are less affluent, less lawyered up and way less white? 

Considering the timing of the proposed Caylee laws, I question the motives of lawmakers who are taking advantage of a media-magnified tragedy that caused emotional uproar across the country.  I’m unconvinced of the necessity of such bills that are illogically conceived and written when most, if not all, states already have mandatory child abuse laws in place. And I’m stupefied that the impetus for much of these political actions was because a prosecution didn’t convince a jury that the Mom was guilty.  If you want to add or change laws, do something to help the state in trying such offenders in the future.

The whole thing wreaks of insincerity and positioning from politicians, which only feeds into their already less-than-flattering image. 

Coming soon to a mall near you: Caylee Anthony lookalike auditions.  Sad, very sad.

Top Botched Brands in Past Week

Geez, you miss a couple of end-of-the-world predictions, and all your brand equity is shot to hell.  Family Radio Founder Harold Camping appears bewildered at the reality that his May 21 apocalypse didn’t happen.  What’s even more amazing is that people bought into his doomsday brand despite its shaky and shady past. 

From body builder to baby maker, Arnold's brand has definitely changed.

Other top botched brands in recent days include:

*     Arnold Schwarzenegger’s disturbing revelation that he has a 10-year-old son with a member of his household staff.  The former California governor’s brand as an actor-turned-politician-to-turn-back-to-actor is now questionable.

*    The head of the International Monetary Fund is on house arrest after posting a $1 million bond for rape charges of a hotel maid. BTW, what is the IMF anyway? In any case, its brand is botched, thanks to Dominique Strauss-Kahn

*    In a consistent series of brand botching, Charlie Sheen bashed Ashton Kutcher for accepting a job on Two and a Half Men.  Sheen’s brand is pretty much at the point of no return – boo hoo. 

*    Cyclist icon Lance Armstrong’s past may be coming back to haunt him concerning doping allegations.  The finger pointing and hearsay are so far down the path that Armstrong’s brand can’t help but be botched. 

*     “You Light Up My Life” songwriter Joseph Brooks commits suicide while awaiting a trial on rape charges.  A Grammy-winning writer who’ll now be more remembered for his dark decision on death than for his uplifting lyrics. 

Wow, some brands just blew their equity to pieces in recent days.  That’s the thing about  brands – sometimes authenticity comes through despite the “brand”.  

Any other botched brands I missed?

Make Content Real and Inspiring

So Aflac introduces the new voice of its infamous duck last night, but who could tell since the new voice sounds awfully like the old one? Nothing like sticking with your branding, which can be the right thing to do.   

Forget about the duck.  My questions are much more fundamental: what exactly does Aflac do, what does that weird word mean mean, what kind of character does the company have, and why use a duck? 

Aflac teamed with Macy's to sell these ducks for charity.


In the About Us section of the Aflac website, it says: 

Over 50 Million people worldwide have chosen Aflac because of our commitment to providing customers with the confidence that comes from knowing they have assistance in being prepared for whatever life may bring.  WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? 

Under Our Philosophy, it says: 

To combine innovative strategic marketing with quality products and services at competitive prices to provide the best insurance value for consumers.  SAY WHAT? 

Now take a look at some factoids found on Wikipedia about Aflac: 

* Headquartered in Columbus, GA, Aflac was founded in 1964 by three brothers as American Family Life Insurance Association Company.  I did not know that. 

* A publicly traded $84 billion company, the company has a huge amount of business in Japan.  You’d think that old voice Gilbert Gottfried would have thought about that before he publicly offended the Japanese. 

* Aflac contributes boatloads of time and money to great causes like helping children with cancer.  Major kudos to them. 

* The company has umpteen awards for corporate responsibility, high standards and ethical performance.  How many other insurance companies can say that? 

My points?  

1)  Be yourself.  So many organizations – even those on a stock exchange – feel like they have to go all black tie on their website or other collateral.  

2)  Keep things simple.  If you have a great story to tell – and everybody does – start by writing about it like you’re talking to a total stranger. Upgrade from there. 

3)  Be logical. I know the weird word “aflac” sounds like a duck’s quack. I get it. I know the duck can help humanize a company, especially one whose bottom line is the bottom line.  And I understand that the duck, like Geico’s gecko, serves as a type of shtick.  In other words, when you say “Aflac”, I say “duck”, but is that really what you want me to say?  That’s what I don’t get. 

Now that Aflac has a “new” duck voice, I hope the company will revisit its collateral materials.  In fact, all of us should take a look at our own pieces and those of our clients and read aloud the mission statements, core values and so on.  If you’re not inspired, verklempt or touched by what you hear, think re-do.  


Can Vick Rebuild His Brand?

It’s me writing again about Michael Vick, aka NFL quarterback, jailbird, animal abuser, athlete, product endorser, controversial figure and a top example of falling from grace.  Lately Vick has been on the comeback trial off the field as recently aired in this Wall Street Journal interview with Lee Hawkins, reporter of stories with names like Sheen, Brown and other bad boys.

Rebuilding his brand may be harder for Vick than playing pro ball.

But here’s the interesting public relations take on all this:  the court of public opinion is as indecisive as a squirrel trying to cross a road. Ray Lewis didn’t suffer nearly the reputation backlash as Vick did following Lewis’s highly questionable involvement in two murders, yet he’s a fan favorite and superstar for the Baltimore Ravens. Donald Trump declared several bankruptcies, yet he’s being talked about as a 2012 presidential contender. Martha Stewart was busted for insider trading, served time at a federal pen, yet hosts her own show between stays at her 35,000-square-foot second home in Maine.

None of the above-mentioned personalities has shown any remorse or issued any formal apologies, yet their reputations have bounced back in the court of public opinion.  Conceptually, Michael Vick’s case is no different; it’s his dogfighting deeds that make him different.  He’s apologetic, remorseful, regretful and per the Hawkins’ interview, wouldn’t change a thing in his past, which is a telling statement. He understands the damage to his reputation and is trying to bounce back like so many others before him. 

The most important public relations point?  He’s being authentic, real and transparent, a refreshing combination in today’s world of Madoffs, Lohans and Woods.

As an animal lover and parent to three rescue dogs, I get how some people might openly despise Michael Vick.  He, and only he, can re-build his brand, and he can only do that by being genuine.  It will take time – for him and the public.

Am I missing something, and if so, what?

Another Day, Another Technology

Just when we were mastering (as if) Twitter, Tumblr and Threadsy, a new technology (at least for some) rears its ugly head, making us all further scratch our own to determine whether or not we want to jump on yet another technological bandwagon.  Originated by a Japanese auto parts maker (no surprise there) and moving with a strong headwind from the West Coast, the new shiny object is QR codes, and if you aren’t using QR codes in your business, you may as well close up shop (according to some).

Ralph Lauren is an early adopter of QR codes as seen in this 2008 ad.

QR stands for Quick Response. Think bar codes, but with more data encrypted in the actual code, which looks like a cross between a bar code on a quart of milk and the Rorshach ink blot test.  The only required hardware for users is a Smart Phone downloaded with a free QR reader application like i-nigma.  You simply point the camera to the two-dimensional code and scan (like that quart of milk in the check-out line), and your phone displays whatever real-time data (text, URL, YouTube or otherwise) was embedded in that particular code. 

Users can download information from a QR code anywhere. If you’re lost on a large hospital campus, look for a sign with a QR code to get directions.  If you want more details about a new movie, scan the ad for it. If you’re in the market for a house, take a virtual tour of the listing by scanning the QR code on the For Sale sign.

Retailers like Ralph Lauren and Coca-Cola are among early adopters that incorporate QR codes in their existing print and other marketing tools.  It’s a savvy way to get their brand in front of consumers through online and offline avenues. Simply put, the QR code is another vehicle to instantly access information that can be part of a purchase decision, provide a branding opportunity or simply give basic data.

Getting customized QR codes is easy and free through multiple programs.  But before you start splashing it all over everything, you need to develop a strategy for implementation like every other marketing venue you consider. So what if you get a QR code – how are your target audiences going to know what it is, how to access it and what to do with it?  These questions simply beg for another post for explanation.  Not to worry, check back next week. 

In the meantime, what are you hearing about QR codes?  Please share.

If you’d like more information about QR codes and answers to the above-posed questions, please hit the Subscribe button in the top left corner.

How Space Affects Your Brand

Smart businesses like Starbucks and Target work hard to give consumers a positive feeling the minute they walk through the door.  When you think of your doctor’s office, day care provider, hair salon or corner diner, does their space give you a positive and strong first impression?  Does the location look and feel like it accurately represents the purpose of the business?  Or does the place have magazines from last century, mismatched furniture and questionable wallpaper?   Just like people only get one chance to make a good first impression, so do businesses.

The design of the corporate office can create a relationship between the “brand” and the “experience” of the office. The design of the lobby of a multi-tenant office building above is both professional and inviting, and it started with a dialogue between the Interior Designer and the client. Questions to consider include:
• What are our company’s core values?
• What are our company’s goals?
• What is our corporate culture?
• Are we progressive and modern?
• Are we serious and stable?
• Are we on the forefront of technology?
An experienced Interior Designer can help translate the answers to these questions into the work environment.

Some may ask “why bother?”  A few benefits of branding the work environment include:
• Strengthening clients’ perception of the company’s mission, values and identity
• Differentiating the company from its competitors, which is especially important in today’s economy
• Communicating visually to employees the company’s mission and values
• Improvement in the retention rate of employees
• Attracting quality recruits to company’s work force
A professional Interior Designer can enhance a company’s branding through the design of the work environment, which sends a consistent message along with the company’s other branding elements.  And the process must start before the customer walks in the door.

This post is one from several branding and marketing professionals who will be presenting at the 2011 Winter Session of Branding Boot Camp beginning Wednesday, January 12. Click here for details.

Ginny Caldwell, IIDA, is a professional interior designer who works with clients to enhance their brand through interior design. She can be reached at gcaldwell@southeastventure.com.

Is Jesus Christ the Ultimate Brand?

Think about it.  What other individual, organization or cause can you think of that could possibly surpass Jesus Christ as the ultimate, most sustainable, recognizable, experiential and consistent brand in history?  From toddlers to orphans to the Auca Indians, it’s reasonable to believe that the majority of people on this planet have heard of this Biblical teacher in some way making the brand reach alone exceed that of Coca-Cola, McDonalds or Google. 

But like any brand, its image can be tarnished.  When men and women of faith fail to uphold the Commandments (whether the Christian version of 10 or the Jewish version of 613), the brand takes a hit with nonbelievers touting their cry of “I told you that whole Jesus thing was a crock”.   When some new molecular activity is discovered a gazillion miles away, scientists shout “there’s other life forms out there”, compromising some Christians’ beliefs regarding the second coming of Christ.  And when bad things happen to good people, many question how a loving God could let such things happen without taking into account that God also allowed Jesus to endure unspeakable acts of torture, ridicule and a painful death. 

Like any brand, the concept can differ among users.  It’s all fine and dandy to quote Scripture when it supports our argument but when another part of the same source contradicts our concept brand, we become defiant.  Similarly, our brand experience varies.  A child’s innocent singing of “Happy Birthday” to Jesus this time of year juxtaposes an adult’s internal battle to be Christlike through such actions as acceptance and forgiveness.  And of course, the brand’s diversity has stood the test of time.  While I grew up believing that Jesus was white like me, my non-white, non-Jewish friends thought he was just like them.  Only my Jewish friends got it right.

Regardless of your beliefs, you have to admit that the brand of Jesus Christ is unmatched in longevity and stability.  The fact that the Bible is the best selling book of all time speaks volumes.  The fact that Christianity has more followers (an estimated 2.1 billion in the world) than any other religion tells us that recognition of the Jesus brand is staggering.  And let’s not forget that the world apparently is so fascinated with Oprah that her religious beliefs came into question earlier this year.  If that’s not the ultimate in brand popularity, I don’t know what is.

What do you think?  Is the “brand” of Jesus Christ the ultimate? If not, what is?

The More Choices, the Better for Biz

Quick: Which cola was Michael Jackson shooting a commercial for when his hair caught on fire? Who has the cola contract for most  of the major league baseball stadiums?  Who distributes Dr. Pepper?  

Coca-Cola began in 1886 in a fountain shop with people commonly describing the hand-made syrup concoction as a “magical” experience.  More than a century later, the company boasts 800+ Coca-Cola brands in the world with 600+ in this country. Coke is now one of the top two leading beverage brands in the world (take a guess at the other one).

In a recent talk by Chandra Stephens-Albright, Sr. Director of Marketing & Innovation for Coca-Cola, I learned about a new product being launched called “Coca-Cola Freestyle: The Ultimate Fountain Experience“. The product is a redesign of the classic soda fountain but updated with technology to give consumers 106 brands from which to choose to personalize their beverage.  The whole idea is to give the consumer more choices, and just as importantly, to give the individual a positive experience. I find it ironic that the company is trying to recapture its beginnings, along with that lost “magic”.  But I do find it encouraging that they’re investing in market research – as in years of staff time and thousands of consumer interviews – throughout their entire product development and launch process. 

The two consumer behavior lessons Coca-Cola has learned over time and that have led up to their newest venture are: 

1)  Sales volume grows as product variety grows. 

2)  The more choices a consumer has, the better for the consumer and the business. 

As an old fart, I find this behavior disturbing.  Seriously, how many different kinds of cola do we need?  Diet Coke, with or without caffeine, with or without carbs, with or without flavoring, with or without taste, it goes on and on.  The limitless cola formulas are juxtaposed with the good ‘ole days of a unified country, Americana, and a “less is more” attitude (as in the 1950s) when a child was lucky to get one toy a year, as opposed to the plethora of playthings consumers feel compelled to buy their children today.  No wonder so many other countries despise us, but I digress. 

The point?  Contrary to a marketing mindset, brand dilution doesn’t apply to some goods and services; rather, countless derivatives of an original brand can be successfully marketed. Or put another way,  it’s all about supply and demand; give consumers what they want; persuade consumers about what they want; make choices easy and experiential; design a product, find a market; continue pressure to keep up with the Jones, more is more, and above all, make money for the shareholders.  

How do you feel about so many brand choices or consumer behavior in today’s marketplace?  By the way, the answers to the three questions above are Pepsi, Coca-Cola and the Dr. Pepper/Snapple company. 

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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