Good Old Tools

I just decorated my office. Because I wanted everything to be shiny and new, I bought a brand new stapler to match. My other stapler wasn’t broken, just old. I took it with me when I left my very first PR job (I confess!), and, after many years, it’s battered; and not in a good, steampunk kind of way.

I had an opportunity to use my new stapler when I had to put together a media mailing. (Small company owner, you know, wears lots of hats). It didn’t work. The staples didn’t squeeze tightly enough together to neatly secure two pages. Which got me thinking:  we’re so enamored with shiny new tools we often replace ones we have, even though they work ok. It’s a common trait in marketing and PR, embrace the newest, newest, newest of the new, because it’s, well, new.
Don’t get me wrong; I love new stuff – that goes for both office supplies (those gorgeous file folders) and social media tactics. Despite what Virginia Heffernan wrote in last week’s NYTs magazine, “The Demise of Datebooks,” I would never go back to my Filofax over Google calendar. Twitter has almost wiped out my need to check my RSS reader. And I am intrigued by using Foursquare beyond local retailing. But I think that before replacing something that works fine with something that looks better and shinier, I’ll remember to stop to ask:  why?

Now, I’m swapping back to my sturdy but worn Swingline. I don’t print out much paper anymore, so it’s likely to be with me for a good long time. And I’m fine with that even if it doesn’t match my decor.

What old tool do you want to keep?  What have you exchanged for a better model?  What’s your story?

Trend Spotting: Orange Pop

Trends We’re Noticing: Orange vintage mini-dresses, a-lined and late 60s, early 70s styled. Done in easy knits and sporty, they’re popping up like tulips on young women in Manhattan. On the first really hot springy day I spotted four different women on the IRT train wearing them. Most likely many were picked up in thrift shops or on a website like this ModCloth.

But why orange? It’s not an easy color to wear. Nothing says “anti-fashion” more than an orange double-knit. I think that compared with all those military jackets, ruffled and embellished tank tops and oversized necklaces that only look great on women with necks like swans, A-line orange dresses are refreshingly quirky without trying too hard. Plus, orange stands out.

If I were putting together an event or creating a special mailer for influencers this season, I’d have designers look at these photos and get inspired by the color and feeling to put a fresh spin on an old story.

How would you make the most of the trend? What’s your story?

The Press Release Users Manual

Ikea’s got it down right: when you purchase furniture that needs to be assembled, the instructions contain no words, only illustrations. Simple. Easy-to-follow. You can’t make a mistake. You know how many screws you have, how many bolts you need and are sometimes even given a mini screwdriver to put screw A into bolt B. When you put together a piece of furniture from Ikea, it’s unlikely that you’ll find an unused bolt on the floor when you’re done. They’re all accounted for.

If only all our user manuals could be that simple. No such luck. We recently purchased a new coffee maker and burr grinder. We had to read the instructions for use four times because they weren’t clear. My guess is that the instructions were written by someone who was so familiar with the device that they didn’t realize that they’d neglected to include an important piece of information in the manual. We had to figure out for ourselves where all the “bolts” belonged.

That’s what can happen in a press release. Written by insiders to be read by outsiders, releases are often over-written, and get tangled in insider-language that garbles the intent, confuses the reader and fails to tell your story clearly. Frequently, the critical piece of information is missing. Inside all the gobbledy-gook, it’s easy for that last bolt to go missing.

The next time you write a press release, think about the best set of user-instructions you’ve ever seen, and model your release on it. Does it come close to the IKEA model? Does it clearly illustrate how your story can be put together with ease? Are all the screws and bolts accounted for?

How do you ensure clarity in your releases? What’s your story?

Project Runway: is your story a collection or a line?

On the finale of Project Runway, Michael Kors made an intriguing comment: he said that there’s a difference between a fashion collection and a fashion line. He didn’t elaborate, but I knew what he meant right away. A collection tells a clear, fully elaborated story about the fashion house and the designer’s intent. A collection is the big branding statement – the “logo” of the brand, so to speak.

A fashion collection, is an idealized version, an over-the-top idea of what the designer says will be fashionable. It’s shown on a runway – as grand of a theater as any in the world.

A fashion line, on the other hand, is a more commercial interpretation of the collection. Designed to sell in department stores, a fashion line isn’t watered down necessarily, but edited and refined for a different audience, and meant to stand out in a completely different environment – a retail setting.

In PR, a collection would be the big branding event or stunt or pop-up store or digital event (think foursquare). It’s memorable. A line would be an ongoing media campaign (social or otherwise) that elaborates the brand story more fully. Both are necessary.

When planning how to tell your story, it’s important to consider whether you’re making a collection or a line. No matter what you’re selling. Is it the big bold statement, setting the tone and being staged in the biggest possible way? Or is a part of the line, extending the brand story, refining, editing and speaking to a new audience.

What’s your story?