Very Merry Media: BC Holiday Traditions and Picks

This holiday season we polled the professionals at Blattel Communications asking what media they will be consuming. The resulting list is a potpourri of movies, TV shows, books and even a newspaper section. We wish you happy holidays and merry media!

EllenEllen Blattel When I’m not enjoying the TV comedy The Big Bang Theory, I plan to turn to more serious subjects that will help put today’s politics in perspective. I intend to read Steve Swatt’s Game Changers: Twelve Elections That Transformed California. To get me in the mood of the season, I like to listen to my collection of holiday music sung by cats. Yes, each note of a tune is a different, recorded “meow.” It makes me laugh because it’s so silly (but I do love cats), and it drives my husband, family and friends crazy, which is fun!

MichaelMichael Bond —  I started and hope to finish John Hodgman’s most-recent book Vacationland. Hodgman, of Apple commercials (He played PC.) and Daily Show fame, has authored a memoir on his life and “minor celebrity” (his words) status. This new title follows three humorous compendiums of fake facts he previously published. I find Hodgman to be incredibly witty and incisive, and just a great writer. Check out an interview with him on the NPR/Maximum Fun Podcast Bullseye, itself always a great listen.

ChuckChuck Brown — I look forward to completing the series of Preacher, a comic book published by Vertigo. Consisting of nine graphic novels, Preacher tells the story of Jesse Custer, a preacher in a small Texas town that is accidentally possessed by a supernatural creature named Genesis. I read the first book after watching the television show based on the comic book. It will be enjoyable to finish the series and immerse myself in the crazy supernatural world created by the authors and artists.

PennyPenny Desatnik —  I’m looking forward to finding the time to dig into season two of Netflix’s The Crown. I’m a total anglophile and love to see such an important part of history played out in this beautifully written, acted (hello The Doctor!) and filmed series. I have some travel time coming up and am looking forward to filling my hours with the Queen and her Corgis before coming back to the real world.

 

VickyVicky Jay One of my holiday goals this year is to finally watch Elf, starring Will Farrell! Every year someone inevitably quotes the movie and I’m typically the only one that doesn’t get the reference. Aside from watching holiday movies, I’m excited to clear out the clutter in my apartment while I catch-up on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast. A stand-up comedian who is also famous for his UFC commentary and hosting the original Fear Factor, his podcast is a long form conversation with friends and guests that have included other comedians, musicians, scientists, historians and authors. The content is always interesting with an inquisitive and intense comedic style.

Michael PMichael Panelli I plan on reacquainting myself with one of my passions – criminology and criminal psychology. Watching Netflix’s Mindhunter reignited my interest in criminology for the first time since earning my B.S. in the field. I have a few books on my shelf that I plan on reading to immerse myself in the fields of crime and deviancy.

I also plan on taking in many visual forms of media, including catching up on the latest seasons of Homeland and Vikings and seeing Star Wars: The Last Jedi in theaters at least one more time.

TraciTraci Stuart — There are several special editions of the San Francisco Chronicle I relish annually, and the Geography Quiz that runs in the paper’s Travel section over the holiday is pretty high on the list (coming in just behind Michael Bauer’s annual round-up of the Top 100 restaurants, but that’s a spring thing). It’s a perfect read-aloud (over coffee) to test the family’s worldly knowledge (or reveal their lack of), pick up trivial tidbits to casually drop at seasonal gatherings, and fantasize about your next big trip. And if you’re an early riser that devours the paper before most are awake, you have a decided advantage when the final quiz results are tallied. (Although, my high schooler does have geography this semester – and it would be quite the gift to see him best me!)

JoeyJoey Telucci — Besides my annual binge of The Office Christmas episodes, I always look forward to watching my favorite holiday movies – some of which I’ve seen 15+ times. My #1 is definitely Elf with a close second going to such 90s classics as: Jingle All The Way (yes, with Sinbad and the Governator), All I Want for Christmas and Home Alone. A newer holiday tradition for me (since 2013) is watching the Warriors play on Christmas Day. It’s always fun to mix in a rivalry game with the usual Christmas activities – especially when it’s against the Cavs (even if the rest of the country is beyond sick of that matchup).

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December 21, 2017 at 4:24 pm Leave a comment

Quick B2B Takeaways from the Pending Blockbuster Disney-Fox Tie-Up

At first glance, it may seem there are few implications for professional services companies from last week’s announcement that The Walt Disney Company is acquiring – pending regulatory and shareholder approval – many of 21st Century Fox’s assets; however, the deal speaks to larger macro media and consumer trends that impact marketing and communications strategies for B2B companies.

Traditional Advertising in Decline – Disney’s stated long-game with Fox’s assets is to bolster its forthcoming streaming services, one for Disney/Pixar/Marvel fare and one for sports. Increasingly, young consumers are “cable-nevers,” picking and choosing entertainment options on demand and with far fewer commercials than the standard cable bundle. This accelerates the move away from ad-supported programming. A lower tolerance for explicit sales messages means an increased reliance on branded content – companies “advertising” through subtle messaging and by creating compelling media that drives thought-leadership. Bottom-line: traditional ads are more and more passé while blogs and podcasts are rising in status.

Adapt or Suffer – Netflix used to be a company that stuffed DVDs in envelopes and mailed them out to customers. Today, a whole generation has never known that side of the company, as it has transformed into a content aggregator and now creator – with an estimated yearly original content budget between $7 – 8 billion. Disney wanted Fox because it’s engaged in an arms race where millennials favor device and content accessibility and care little about brand pedigree. Professional services companies – especially post-Great Recession – are also finding that the name on the door isn’t a bulwark against disruption. Brands still matter, but consumers are more open to alternatives than in previous generations, and legacy defenses – “geographical fiefdoms” and the cable bundle – are no longer as meaningful. Professional services companies do well to avoid a mindset and marketing and communications strategy that dwells on company history without regard for where and how the consumer mindset is shifting.

Content, and Lots of It, Is Still King – Consumers today have access to virtually limitless entertainment fare – more TV shows, movies, news and music than ever before. Disney wanted Fox because it gives the company even more content to offer, from The Americans to The Simpsons. There is increasingly an expectation that professional services providers not just be good at the technical application of their jobs, but will also be insightful and personable. Consumers are more inquisitive and have more resources to learn about issues than in past generations. This is yet another reason that byline articles, blogs/guest blog posts, speaking engagements and third-party commentary should be the norm for business-to-business professionals.

Michael Bond

December 19, 2017 at 9:46 pm Leave a comment

The Value of Quotes, Even Without Mention of the Company Name

Let’s take a look at a not-uncommon scenario: you are connected with a reporter as an expert source for commentary and quoted in the resulting story. Great, right? Nope. While your name is mentioned, the company’s is conspicuously absent, creating a great deal of angst. This is when I, your trusted media liaison, am rudely awakened from the glow of landing a high-profile placement.

You: The quote is great, but where is the company name? Can you have them add it in to the piece?

Me: This particular publication does not list company names.

You: (Uncomfortable silence and internal stewing) I see. Well, doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose?

Let’s pause and reflect on the dynamics at play here.

Question 1: Why do some publications list companies and some don’t?

This is a highly publication-specific issue, and it’s governed mainly by each outlet’s internal style guide. Occasionally, a publication goes either way, with the reporter having final say. (This is rare.) As to the underlying reason, one can only assume that space concerns, dating back to the print-first era, are a partial answer. Other outlets and empowered reporters may feel, although never publicly announce, that listing company names is free advertising and dilutes the purity of the editorial content.

Question 2: Can a company name be added to the online version, assuming the print is already on newsstands?

Sometimes, but not often. Media reps can ask, but once this is denied by a reporter/publication, the question should never be posed again. A good communications professional will track which publications do/do not and offer this information up-front. But…

Question 3: If a publication isn’t going to mention my company, do I really want to be quoted in it?

This is a divisive question among PR pros. My answer is an emphatic, “Yes!” Why? Credentialing plus promotion equals positive brand building.

Being quoted in a third-party publication reaching a target audience is one level of promotion. Your name, even if not your associated company, is passing by the eyeballs of clients, potential clients and referral sources.

The next level of promotion is through company platforms – websites (main site and associated blogs) and social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn). Even if the publication did not draw a direct connection between you and your company, these posts will.

The final level is personal promotion. In addition to emailing key contacts (when appropriate and not gauche), you should be posting to LinkedIn (You have one, right?), tweeting/retweeting and even sharing to family and friends on Facebook. Oh, and let’s not forget adding the piece to your company bio.

Consider this ice-cream rooted analogy:

Quote – The ice cream in the sundae.

Company’s name mentioned – The whipped cream.

Title (e.g. “Managing Partner,” “Chair of XYZ Group”) mentioned – The cherry on top.

Put simply: Ice cream > no ice cream. And, sometimes you just have to make your own sundae.

While it can be frustrating to have your company’s name omitted when quoted, through effective promotion and the wonders of the internet, any media mention can be leveraged for maximum impact. Now, why am I craving an ice cream sundae all of the sudden?

Michael Bond

November 16, 2017 at 8:27 pm Leave a comment

Twitter’s Change Is Too Much, For Me

Twitter is setting us all free! We can finally tweet a full 280 characters! Life is great! Yeah, not so much.

Twitter’s move to expand its character limit is a change that may make the service worse. (This is not to mention rendering one of my soft “skills” – crafting 140-character posts – utterly useless.) One of the great things about the social network site is that it tamped down the urge to be overly loquacious. For professional services firms (and hey, even presidents), this meant brevity ruled. From a marketing and communications standpoint, it forced companies to boil their messages down to just the essence.

Despite the site lagging behind the popularity and active user base of Facebook, Twitter has become a key conduit for and window into the media. It’s transformed live events, particularly conferences, sports and breaking news. The shorter character limit meant posts actually read more like headlines, making a pitch for viewers to click-through or follow the user for similar, future content. This has always stood in contrast to Facebook, where lengthy posts are the norm, with lots of extra verbiage that may or may not offer additional value. My philosophy when writing social media posts has always been to start with a tweet and then write for other sites where you can add that extra word or two for emphasis or clarity. Twitter was one of the only spaces on the internet where editing was necessary.

You may be thinking, “C’mon, 280 isn’t such a change!” In absolute character terms, it’s a 100 percent(!) increase. But, yes, most of us fire off more than 280 characters in nearly every exchange. The bigger issue is that Twitter is changing its formula. It may not be its “New Coke” moment, but it is definitely a big shift – and one that ushers in the potential for extra-puffy posts.

It should be noted that I’m terrible with change. Almost every rebranding I see I think is a mistake. (Almost. Some companies and brands really benefit.) Maybe I can grow to love the new spacious Twitter. Perhaps. But, my counsel to professional services companies leveraging Twitter remains the same: keep it short. Everyone’s attention is going in a million different directions and delivering a targeted, concentrated message is the best strategy for reaching a target audience.

Michael Bond

November 10, 2017 at 2:55 pm Leave a comment

Disruption is Coming to Law Firms: Are You Ready?

Think about this for a minute: venture capitalists are looking to “disrupt” the sock industry. As chronicled on Marketplace, $110M has been invested in a sock company(!). This kind of investment in a static, eminently mature market is even more proof that disruption is coming and will continue for the legal sector, a $100-$400 billion-dollar piece of the U.S. economy. Plainly stated, there is simply too much money at stake for law firms and the standard legal services model not to be scrutinized and pushed towards change.

The bulwark surrounding the legal services industry is starting to show signs of strain. Consultancy firm PwC recently announced it is opening a law firm within its business; and, a Silicon Valley startup named Atrium is actively harvesting the insights and tracking the routines of attorneys to build an automated, A.I.-driven, low-cost law firm.

If disruption is to be expected, how can marketing and communications help in adapting to the changing marketplace? For this aspect, let’s consider the humble men’s razor. (No, really.)

The men’s razor industry traditionally was a bit of a two-horse race – Gillette was far-and-away the leader and Schick was in second place. In 2010, Gillette held 70 percent of the market. Then, the disrupters came in. By 2016, Gillette had lost 16 percent of its market share to the combined Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club. What are some of the key lessons that translate for law firms?

Geographic Fiefdoms are Over – Law firms can no longer rely solely on being, or having an office in, a particular location as a guarantor of business. Gillette owned all of the key distribution channels and still does for the most part. However, the internet has made physicality far less relevant. It’s important that marketing be done in a bimodal way – regional when materially important, but primarily national. “We’re a San Francisco firm” and a website containing only images of cable cars and the Golden Gate Bridge is limiting when looking to work with national clients.

Generational Habits are Changing – The next generation of decision-makers is fundamentally wired differently than its peers. Millenials survived the Great Recession and emerged with levels of cost-sensitivity not seen in Gen Xers. In addition, the latter portion of the  Millenial demographic group has no concept of pre-internet times and sees online marketing on even footing with traditional ads, despite the massive investment difference between Facebook and print ads. For Gillette, this meant that cheeky, cheap YouTube ads from Dollar Shave Club (NSFW) ate market share even when countered by big budget sponsorships, such as the NFL.

Brand Building is Exponentially Easier – Gillette literally invented the safety razor. It then pushed the limits of design, adding all the way up to five blades (plus a sideburn trimming one). Generations of fathers taught their sons to shave with Gillette razors. Harry’s, in less than 10 years, swooped in, contracted out manufacturing and scored market share. Harry’s ads are ubiquitous on podcasts, a low cost way to target Millenials. It scored a halo effect with mentions on popular programs and offers of promo codes. Harry’s brand grew in strength to the point that Target now features it in stores and on its website. All of this says to law firms, your reputation and carefully curated brand are important, but they only go so far. If a firm isn’t exploring new marketing and content distribution channels (especially social media), it risks being usurped by the new kid(s) in town.

Cost (and Transparency) Matter – As the name implies, Dollar Shave Club has pitched itself as a way to get a quality shave at a much lower price point than Gillette or Shick offers. Gillette for years added blades and increased cost. With a 70 percent market share, it had the leverage to do so, reaping huge profits with each successive product enhancement. An argument can be made that this dynamic led to complacency, which allowed disrupters to enter a market deemed inefficient. Recently, Gillette announced that it was dropping prices and now spends major TV money to convey this point. For law firms, having and promoting alternative fee arrangements is critical. The “taxi meter”/surprise bill for “services rendered” may boost short term profits, but in the long-term it hampers client relationships and impacts future engagements.

Quality Counts, To a Point – If lined up side-by-side, the fanciest Dollar Shave Club or Harry’s razor may very well underperform compared to the top Gillette model. But, as stories like this one illustrate, Millennial consumers are not swayed by marginal performance advantages. All things equal, a good shave at a good price point often beats a slightly better shave at a worse price point. For law firms, championing (and then demonstrating) cost-sensitivity and rejecting needless perfectionism or bill padding is essential. Just like the battery-powered “Fusion Power,” Millennials see through hype.

From a personal perspective, and as a regular shaver, I think Gillette razors are much better. But, from a marketing perspective, it would be foolish to assume that all are like me. This is a trap into which law firms can fall. It’s critical to understand and consistently deliver an entire suite of professional services – from prospective marketing and communications, to client service, to billing, to post-engagement outreach – that continually adapts to fend off disrupters. You can either change or be changed. Choice is yours.

Michael Bond

October 17, 2017 at 4:54 pm Leave a comment

Why Going ‘Off the Record’ is Perilous, Just ask The Mooch

In his short but impactful tenure as White House Communications Director, Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci taught anyone new at interacting with the press a valuable lesson – understand and be wary of going “Off the Record” (OTR) with the media.

OTR is the highest level of confidentiality an interviewee can request from a member of the media. It basically translates to: don’t quote, reference or allude to anything said under this cover. In practical terms, it is a very challenging method to employ. OTR implicitly requires a high level of trust with a reporter and works best when you have value, as a source for future stories, to bring to the table. The Mooch certainly had the latter, and had he requested to go OTR with New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza, his profane rant on White House happenings might have remained private. Media critic Margaret Sullivan at The Washington Post explored this issue in a recent column.

If asked, as a rule, we advise clients to avoid going OTR. Instead, every comment should be carefully considered and understood to have the potential to appear in coverage. Here are just a few considerations with OTR:

1.    It Isn’t Illegal to Break OTR Confidence – There is no law that says what is said under an OTR understanding will remain private. The dynamic is based on journalistic ethics, and as stated earlier, the need to value a source in the long run as opposed to chasing clicks in the short term.

2.    OTR Cannot be Assumed and Can be Denied – If OTR is desired, it must be verbally verified – upfront. “This is off the record, correct?” A reporter can also say no. One cannot ask for OTR retroactively. You may be denied.

The Mooch gave his explanation to the OTR gaffe:

Most of what I said was humorous and joking. Legally, it may have been on-the-record, but the spirit of it was off.

Lizza noted:

It was on-the-record and extremely newsworthy. And my job is to put that in the public domain.

3.    You Can Still Negatively Influence Future Coverage – If, for instance, you unload about dysfunction at a company involved in a transaction, you can be sure that an interested reporter will independently keep an eye on this issue. As The Mooch taught us, reporters are not therapists.

4.    OTR Should Only be Used for Strategic Purposes – Journalists and sources often develop friendly rapports. Traditionally, this has led to candid private conversations between say politicians and reporters. A senator might go OTR to say, “This bill is DOA.” The value in this remark is in fostering the personal relationship, which may help inform future coverage. Many interactions with the media, however, are one-offs, meaning that going OTR isn’t a good move. Value or candor is being provided, but it’s a one-way street.

5.    OTR Lies Can Have Major Repercussions – Being deceitful under the veil of OTR is never a good long-term move. Let’s say there is a real crisis at your firm. Partners are leaving in droves. You know that there is talk that the firm may need to reorganize. Asked by a reporter about the future of the firm you reply, “We’re actually about to announce a slate of new hirings and possibly acquire a firm. We’re growing, really.” You may help put off some negative coverage in the short term, but you are inviting a pillorying when the firm does indeed reorganize.

Be strategic, be judicious and be honest with the media. They have an important job to do, and you need to ensure that they are provided with pertinent facts, insightful and respectful commentary and nothing more. Save your salty language and your palace intrigue. Don’t be like The Mooch.

Michael Bond

August 9, 2017 at 8:23 pm Leave a comment

Beware Groupthink

In recent days, both Pepsi and Nivea have suffered public embarrassments caused by tone-deaf ad campaigns. In times like this, it is not uncommon to ponder the question, “What were they thinking?” The answer may very well hinge on the word “they” and the concept of “groupthink.”

Groupthink is when a group of individuals on a project become overly insular and fail to rely on outside thinking or fresh perspective. In professional services, branding campaigns and website redesigns oftentimes suffer from this affliction.

Large company marketing projects, and even communications channel launches (blogs and newsletters), are complex and potential hotbeds for groupthink. Here are some if the common issues that arise:

Too Much Democracy – Asking every partner, or even every member, of a company to weigh in on a design proposal is a recipe for delay and, often, derailment. The combinations are endless, and many professionals simply would rather (and probably should) focus their energies elsewhere.

Too Little Input – When considering a theme for a blog or features for a website, feedback on what content or capabilities and navigational tools will help clients is often not fully considered. Tap clients and family members to give candid, layperson feedback. Say, “While I have you on the line, what are your thoughts on this slogan?” Or, “What parts of our website do you find you use the most?”

“The Emperors” – In each organization, leadership is – ideally – viewed with both respect and a healthy amount of deference. A company’s “rainmakers” are often the meal tickets for many employees. But, respect and deference should not hinder constructive feedback and the airing of alternative ideas. Having open-minded leaders who stress free dialogue leads to better outcomes. Having an entirely sycophant workforce often creates serious blind spots and can lead to outcomes later questioned with, “How did we end up with this?”

Not Enough Perspective – Outside marketing and communications consultants are trained to examine every aspect of content and design, with an eye for catching potential issues and liabilities. Not to mention, these folks have probably seen a mistake before or are aware of the six other similar efforts in the pipeline. Close scrutiny of concepts can help avoid issues such as poor webpage navigability (e.g., no mobile presence), branding issues (e.g., domains and social media accounts being unavailable/leading to undesirable content) and tagline issues (e.g., use by a competitor, overly common or too opaque).

A word we always come back to is “process.” Creating properties and crafting content that increases engagement and leads to business development is a constant process. Awareness of issues such as groupthink is critical to ensuring projects meet performance, timetable and budgetary goals.

April 10, 2017 at 4:06 pm Leave a comment

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