Underground Marketing

I am enthralled by the trend of finding abandoned, unloved and seemingly hopeless spaces and turning them into something remarkable. New York City’s High Line is one example.

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Clicking for Coffee: Gevalia’s Coffee Break

For Gevalia, a direct coffee club from Kraft, Company B create an e-newsletter geared toward its loyal customer base. The goal was to enhance the consumer experience and excite them to spread the word virally.

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Working at Home is Not All Darks and Lights

“Snack Laundry Lunch Clean Snack,” was the headline of a recent article in Slate that shared the results of a new study that purported to show what people really do when they work at home. Not surprisingly, the study found that when left to their own devices, most people would rather do laundry than work.

Not exactly, but the study, conducted by Wakefield Research for the IT consulting company Citrix (says the Slate piece), found that “43 percent say they watched TV or a movie while working, 35 percent have done household chores and 28 percent have cooked dinner.”

Well? What’s the problem? If the study asked office workers what they do all day the headline might well be Snack Chat Lunch Facebook/YouTube Snack, oh, and Meeting, Meeting, Meeting.

Telecommuters may put up a load of laundry when they get up from their desks. At the office their colleagues might head to the communal lunchroom to grab a Snapple and one of those stale donuts someone left out from an early morning meeting. Back at their desks, they check Facebook (their feed, their friends’) before getting back into the thick of it. Is that any less productive than sorting lights from darks?

People who work from home get something that they likely don’t find at the office: peace and quiet and the ability to concentrate. Offices can sometimes be disruptive to work. Your presence is required at meetings both scheduled and impromptu. Working at home lets you work on that upper left hand quadrant of Stephen Covey’s priority grid– those non-urgent but utterly important things that often require close attention without distractions and can get your company ahead of the curve. At the office, urgent (and sometimes not important) often comes first.

For those bosses who look askance at telecommunting because they fear employees are watching the final episode of “Lost” for the 12th time, not to worry. Working at home, even for one day a week, will make workers more productive. There’s no commute, so they can get to their desk earlier; fewer distractions so they can get more work done more quickly; and a reason to be productive because if they aren’t, people will notice when they get back to the office.

So before using the Wakefield Research findings to prove that telecommuting is equivalent to another paid vacation day, take a look at how those workers who work from home perform while away from the office. Who cares if they’re at the driving range at 2 p.m.? If the work is getting done – and I bet that it is – it works.

Why Your Pitch Doesn’t Get Noticed

A new web community, http://www.pr-411.com has sprung up for reporters and PR people to comment, commiserate, complain and compliment one another. I was asked to be an early contributor and thought I’d take the opportunity to address a common complaint of PR folks, that journalists who don’t get back to you are, well, rude. I used to think that too.

Share your story here, or head over to PR-411.com and poke around.

Big Brands Need to Feel Custom-Made

Big Brands Need to Feel Custom-Made

Hijacking a Trend

I love things that are hand-made and have schlepped through more craft shows than I can count. I now consider myself to be a master of the strum stick and a Kettle corn connoisseur, that salty-sweet popcorn sold in gigantic bags at every craft show imaginable. When I discovered Etsy.com, it was love at first crocheted baby blanket.

The explosion of hand-made and custom-made sites like Etsy.com and CustomMade.com cater to people like me. But the cool cash that venture capitalists are putting behind these sites (Etsy just grabbed another $40 million in a round of financing) tells me that, duh, I am not alone.

It makes sense that handmade, custom-made, monogrammed, personalized things are booming now. In our high-tech, low-touch, mall-ified world, we all crave something that’s made just for us.

If I was developing PR and marketing programs for brands that are far removed from this trend, for example Quaker Oats, or Toyota Prius, or Aveeno, I would be asking: can we hijack this passion? What can we own about hand-made?

Duct Tape did this brilliantly with its duct-tape prom dress initiative launched a few years back. Sharpie does this well, too. But those are tools and, not to detract from the brilliance of the prom dress idea and the fun of Sharpie’s, it makes sense to see what you can make with products that help make other things. But when your brand is about warm cereal, saving gas while enjoying the open road, or eliminating wrinkles, the answer is not so clear.

To get started, imagine what your product would be if it were custom-made. Custom-made oatmeal? Sure. Create a custom-make-your-own oatmeal bar with all the fixings, put it in an unexpected place, have oatmeal fans share their favorite mix-ins. Have contests for the most fattening, the healthiest, the sweetest, the most savory. Invite home ec teachers to judge. (Do they exist anymore? If not, they should). Make an app. You get the idea.

Custom-made Prius? Maybe it’s not about the car, perhaps Prius has discovered that their customers are incredibly loyal, buying not just one, but many. Reward them. Make a contest of it. For every dollar saved on gas, maybe they earn points towards something planet-saving and custom-made. A partnership with Custom-made.com? Woodworking classes?  Just thinking.  Isn’t it fun?

Beauty brands like Aveeno might take another route, hitching their wagon to the custom-made star by organizing knitting or sewing or painting classes for bloggers. Creating how-to videos and sharing on YouTube. Taking a custom-made message to farmers and flea markets that dot high-end neighborhoods on the weekend, co-sponsoring programs with Fiskars or Brother sewing machines. Or, reversing that thinking, setting up workshops with large pharmacy chains.

The creative possibilities are there; but the custom-made essence must remain in order for the program to authentically connect with consumers.

Thinking about how your brand can connect with a white hot trend is a worthwhile brainstorming exercise and can result in a memorable campaign. What trends have you hijacked that are strategically aligned with your consumer? Remember, Food Trucks are so 2011. Look ahead. What’s coming up?  Share your story here.

The Pitch: How to Make Your Agency Look Great

Lessons for Public Relations People

I confess. I have only caught snippets of AMC’s new show, “The Pitch,” a reality show where two advertising agencies compete for business within a one-week window. For my weekly entertainment, I’d rather enjoy the mock-pitches dreamed up by the writers of “Mad Men.” As a creative PR and social media agency, “The Pitch” cuts too close to the bone. I’m afraid my heart would race in empathy with the competitors throughout each episode.

The one snippet I did manage to catch was the end of the Subway pitch episode. I heard what I assumed to be the head creative guy bid farewell to the potential client by saying, “We had a blast working on this.” The potential client gamely replied (I’m paraphrasing) “We’re glad you had fun.”

I knew that agency was doomed. I was right.

So, after I watched all of this week’s addictive “Mad Men” content on amctv.com, curiosity got to me and I clicked on a segment featuring the CMO of Subway explaining “Why they won.”

What I learned from the two-minute web video was something that I thought I already knew but is worth keeping in mind, for those of us who spend a lot of time pitching. Even though the brand may ask for a big idea (they always ask for a big idea, right?) what they really want is a big relationship with you. They want to like your agency (consultancy, freelance singleton) a lot – and they need to like your really good idea enough that they can see its potential.

At the end of the pitch, it’s not necessarily the idea that will win you the business. A brand wants to buy your story about them — the way you tell it demonstrates  your potential as a business partner.

How to do that? Start by showing how much you understand them. Their business, their competitors, their customers, their pain points. Then, before even sharing your idea, use your insights to take them to a place that they haven’t been before, but that still feels familiar to them. Color too far outside the lines and you risk them thinking that you don’t “get” them.

During the pitch, they don’t know you, so be explicit. Explain how you figured things out. Preferably, you did more than web research and got out and talked to people for insight. Share what you’ve learned.

Save those big ideas for last. You’ve got a seat at their table, so they already know about your good work. Now that they’re meeting you when you’re supposed to be at your best, they’ll also think that you’re smart. And because you’ve laid the groundwork, the insights will ensure that your big creative idea will be good and maybe even great.

Then, at the end of the hour, thank them for giving you the opportunity to think about their brand. Not because it was a blast for you, but because their brand is now already yours, too, and you will give it the fullest measure of your time and attention in your journey to tell their story.

Let me know your pitching tricks, what you think about “The Pitch,” and whether I should watch the show instead of the clips on amctv.com!

Original Modern Living: Building a brand for Shawn Henderson

Luxury interior designer Shawn Henderson, based in Manhattan, wanted to take his business to the next level. His goals were to extend his brand beyond private residences, launch a furniture collection and continue to gain notice as one of the industry’s top designers. After creating a Brand Thread, we determined that Shawn needed to be pushed out of his comfort zone and be noticed by an entirely new audience of influencers.

Our first step was to ramp up Shawn’s public profile. We started at the Democratic National Convention in Denver where he was tapped by Arianna Huffington to impart his trademark harmonious design for a pop-up spa. We used the spa and Shawn’s connection to The Huffington Post to tell his story to a new set of influencers and increase his media exposure. Additionally, Shawn blogged about the spa on The Huffington Post and eBay. The result?

We secured stories for Shawn in House Beautiful, O at Home and Country Living, among other publications.

Using the insights gleaned from the Brand Thread, we also developed a new logo and launched a new website, blog and, Shawn’s furniture collection, Amalgam.

In late 2009, Shawn was named a Rising Star by the International Furnishings Design Association and nominated as a Rising Star by Fashion Group International. You can hear about his design inspiration at his new blog, on his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter.