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National Campaigns: Big Risk Can Equal Even Bigger Gain

19 Jul

One of the most rewarding moments in public relations is when the hours of account work, numerous calls and emails behind the scenes, and countless early mornings spent with a triple shot Americano payoff. When everything finally goes public and your client’s campaign is a success, there truly is no better feeling in the world of PR…

(Warning: What follows is not an advertisement, but may blur the editorial guidelines a bit. What can I say, I’m biased.)

Avery Dennison started in the middle of the Great Depression when young entrepreneur Stan Avery manufactured the world’s first self-adhesive labels in a tiny loft in Los Angeles. Seventy-five years later, the international brand is celebrating a milestone anniversary with the Give Back to Schools charity initiative. Giving back to those communities that made its success possible, Avery Dennison launched a program in the beginning of July with an online contest offering ten deserving U.S. schools the opportunity to win approximately $10,000 of premium Avery-brand school supplies.

Now, less than a month later they have created public buzz by generating stellar media hits and successfully pushing out the program through state education departments, industry outlets and social media forums. Going from a trade-only PR approach to a national consumer campaign is no easy feat and with a little help from a team of experienced publicists, their contest has gone wide with over 90,000 votes, and 268,000 page views just since the site launch (and these numbers have been tripling each week)!

The contest, scheduled to run through August 31 involves everyone from teachers and school representatives to parents and students, allowing you to vote online at Avery Dennison’s Give Back to Schools site . (You’ll have to excuse the blatant plug for my client, but after weeks of eating, sleeping and breathing Avery you can’t blame me for a little partiality). So pick your favorite school and vote to win them some valuable loot!

– Samantha O’Lea

A PR Postmortem of the College Football Scramble

16 Jun

Few things rival my obsession with football, although watching the media cycles churn – seeing what gets covered and doesn’t, dissecting carefully crafted statements for hidden meaning and witnessing perfectly timed leaks is another considerable fascination of mine. Both worlds collided in spectacular fashion recently, leaving me and many others with Pac-10/16/12 and Big 12/4/10 ties on the edge of their seats for a two week ride through what could have been and ultimately came to be.

I’m talking about the nearly colossal restructuring of the “power” conferences in college football, specifically the Big 12 who lost one and nearly half of their teams to the Pac 10 (after Nebraska bolted to the Big 10) with promises of a record-setting network deal that would guarantee each member of the Pac 16 upwards of $20 million per year for their athletic departments.

While the specific motivations and impact on college football, athletics and academics are being discussed at length elsewhere, I wanted to focus on some of the key events that reinforce many of the media relations topics we cover with our clients and during our media trainings.

Timing is Everything

A critical part of our role as communications counsel is keeping tabs of trends and topics and taking advantage of timing whenever possible.  While college football has a built-in audience starved for information during the summer months, the timing involved with this entire saga was masterful. The concepts of conference implosion and superconferences dominated the national conversation, media scrambled to get the latest inkling of where universities were leaning and many powerful people and organizations were driven into action to protect their own interests.

To recap, June 2-4 the Big 12 held their annual meetings where whispers of Nebraska being unhappy and potentially jumping ship with Missouri to the Big 10 started to gain momentum. Despite the rumor, all was relatively calm on June 2 as Big 12 Commissioner Don Beebe promoted the unity of the conference in prepared remarks to the media. But clearly all was not well, as Kansas Athletic Director Lew Perkins looked like someone was breaking in his back door when addressing the media about the Big 12’s future that same day.

The following day, Thursday June 3, Chip Brown from Orangebloods.com (a blog covering all things Texas Longhorns) reports that the Pac 10 plans to invite six Big 12 teams to their conference. Chaos ensues.  This leak is timed not only during media day, but hours before the podium mics go live.  The press conference is pushed back, then canceled outright, and both the commissioner and a few athletic directors escape from the assembled media through back hallways to their respective headquarters without comment. The rumors are now legitimized.

During that weekend the Big 12 issues deadlines for select teams to commit their loyalty to the conference, Pac 10 Commissioner Larry Scott declares he has carte blanche from the university presidents to expand and all eyes look to Nebraska as the first domino to fall for the Big 12 to begin its implosion.  (Cougcenter provides a thorough recap & breakdown of the carefully timed leaks here: PAC-10 EXPANSION: Scott, ADs shrewdly use media)

Throughout the course of many days and media cycles over the following workweek, Nebraska bails to the Big 10, Colorado joins the Pac-10 and reports from college football experts and insiders lean toward five more Big 12 universities following them, including the grand prize of the University of Texas. An official announcement is scheduled for Tuesday, June 15.

That leads us up to last weekend, where Commissioner Beebe starts to promise more money for the remaining schools, reassures Texas it can create and solely enjoy the proceeds of its own network (something the Pac 10 would not promise) and gives strong indications that they can pull in a conference network deal rivaling what the Pac 10 had to offer despite having only the two Texas markets in the top 25 compared to the six the Pac 16 would have.  By many, this was considered a hail mary by a man desperate to save the conference and his job. But on Monday Orangebloods.com broke the news that Texas was leaning toward staying in the Big 12 with ten teams because of this deal, with a potential announcement by end of day.  Once again, this blog covering all things Texas Longhorns was right.  The Big 12/10 survives and the dramatic reshaping of college football fizzles down to the swapping of a few deck chairs. In the aftermath, the question is whether Texas was ever serious in the first place or using the Pac 10 and media to get everything they wanted.

Regardless of the intent, this is a powerful example of timely, strategic communication and media relations that will be referenced endlessly by communications professors and PR professionals for years to come.

Blogs Reshape the News Cycle

The central role that Orangebloods.com and Chip Brown specifically played is a strong reminder that blogs – niche or not – can lead the news cycle depending on sources and timing.  Chip Brown had both on his side and elevated his name and reputation as a result, and was referenced as the source in nearly every ESPN and national media update. One can only imagine the traffic spikes to Orangebloods.com during the past two weeks.

Beyond the power of blogs, the story of Chip Brown itself speaks to the drastic changes in news media.  He once covered the Branch Davidian standoff for the AP and worked the Texas Longhorns beat for 17 years, including ten at the Dallas Morning News.  Sensing the decline of the newspaper, staff downsizing and the potential loss or merging of his beat, he jumped to Orangebloods.com in 2008.  Given the huge boost to this site, it not only looks like the right move but perhaps a trend that will continue – journalists turned bloggers with more contacts and familiarity about the subject than either the remaining traditional media or the blogger who simply sees a niche and decides to fill it.

Public Comments Often Drive Behind-the-Scenes Results

This Bruce Plante cartoon was inserted by the highly biased Longhorn grad Jess Flynn (Hook 'Em!)

From the beginning the University of Texas was the epicenter of potential change.  Their fans and alumni dominate two of the top ten U.S media markets in Dallas and Houston. Combining this with four more top 25 markets through the Pac 16 made the promise of $20 million per year in TV revenue legitimate and gave Texas the most clout of anyone – both conferences included.  They leveraged this clout publicly with the leaks and updates to Chip Brown, putting the Big 12 on the precipice and leading Commissioner Beebe to give them everything they wanted – more revenue (Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M will split the buyout money Colorado and Nebraska will pay the conference), the ability to create and harvest the proceeds of their own network and an even stronger competitive advantage in their conference and across college football.

No doubt there is more change to come, but the colossal shift appears to be off the table for now.  But the past two weeks have offered an unbelievable ride and many lessons for anyone involved with the media about the importance of timing, the substantial role that bloggers have and how media relations can drive results – behind the scenes and in the minds of your stakeholders. Now if we could just start the college football season already…

– Chad Biggs
(aka Red Sky Token Male)

Lights, Camera, Enter Product Placement

27 May

For those of you who know the world of public relations, you know that our work centers largely around relationship building, crafting important messaging and sometimes naming our first-born child after a reporter (yes, this is a joke), just to secure important editorial coverage. The value of unpaid placements is not often questioned and that is why the new trend in television and film product placement has thrown us all for a bit of a loop.

Television and film viewership numbers often rank in the multi-millions and it is no surprise that clients are jumping at the opportunity to have the newest, hottest A-list celebrity hold and promote their product on camera. The challenge that we as publicists are facing is the blurred line between which of these opportunities are paid, and which are not, and arguing the value for each. For example, the sparkling bling featured on the cast in the movie The Devil Wears Prada is unpaid product placement, the promotion of Ancestry.com in the new celeb series Who Do You Think You Are? is a paid sponsorship, and the episode-long iPad promo on Modern Family a couple of weeks ago, still remains a mystery.

Don’t be fooled by the categories of paid and unpaid product placement. Whether paid or unpaid, the clever weaving of products into a TV or movie script is not just luck. With a lot of proactive effort on the part of a skilled publicist and in some cases the use of pay-for-play as well, these items were carefully selected from a list as long as the Nile River. Brand integration is very competitive and some of us in the public relations business spend years and years developing valuable stylist and set director contacts for a chance to have our client’s newest gadget get its 10-second, famed moment in the spotlight.

So by all means, embrace the value of product placement on camera. Just be prepared to recognize the time and resources involved, and the value of having a qualified publicist to take on this monumental task.

– Samantha O’Lea