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Thursday, July 29, 2010

President Obama on 'The View,' Next Stop 'Celebrity Rehab'

To the annals of "great" moments in political/statesman communications -- FDR's Fireside chats, Nixon's Checkers comments, the Nixon/JFK debates, "Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall" -- we can now add President Obama on "The View." Next stop is sure to be "Celebrity Rehab" or "Intervention" as his communications team needs an intervention and his presidency and his image need a complete rehabilitation.

When we talk about "great" we can mean significance, as in I think this may significant and be remembered as one of the lowest points in the Obama administration, which has seemed to be flailing about more than ever recently.

This "tea summit" I viewed only because I was in my doctor's waiting room. I don't regularly watch "The View" (nor do I know anyone who does).

I sat there with my mouth agape and just laughed and laughed. I chuckled at the awkwardness of the situation (OK ladies, we just sit here and try to stay awake while he recites talking points) and the incongruousness of these hosts "interviewing" someone not famous for making bad movies or reality TV. They seemed as surprised as me that he was sitting there with him.

Of course they had to read questions their staff researchers prepared, to be vetted by White House communications, off of index cards. Of course I could barely understand what Barbara Walters was saying (something about why can't we just get out of Afghanistan?) Can anyone?

Our friends at HuffPo give a pretty good recap of the appearance.

So, now for our thoughts:

1. It's an embarrassment that this is the level of public discourse in our country.
2. It's quite possible this PR stunt by Obama's team is only setting the president up for ridicule (I'll be watching the Daily Show tonight fo sho).
3. From a comms perspective, it's sometimes good strategy to put the spokesperson (in this case, the President) in a friendly, non-threatening environment. Surely they made deals about what questions were going to ask and what topics would be covered. "The View" is certainly not a serious news organization with "journalistic" standards. Therefore, they would seem to be a flexible partner in getting your message out.
4. Not a bad play to try to appeal to women.
5. The Sherrod mess is a distraction from what has been a troubled agenda that needs the White House's focus more than ever. But, the story was going away on its own. He could have done this last week if the goal was really to get past that story. But of course, that isn't why he went on "The View."
6. Obama went on The View because:

A. His presidency is in serious trouble (as the mid-terms are all but certain to show): and

B. His strategists have simply run out of ideas: First it was "you're the hopey/wonky president" who's going to save the economy and end all wars. Then it was "more stimulus more stimulus and 'peace with honor' (or some variation of the Nixon trope)." We've heard about green energy economics and healthcare. None of these themes and their messages have had any permanent sticking power to help define this presidency. One can only imagine what the communications staff's message calendar must look like (if they even have one!).

I've worked in communications for a long time (including for senior elected officials) and we rarely see an administration that is SO ALL OVER THE PLACE. 

It is time for this president to define himself but I'm very afraid he's done it already: the Talk Show President.

Thanks for reading.
Jonathan Gardner

Monday, July 26, 2010

Weber Shandwick Says PR is Worthless

One of those big PR companies, Weber-Shandwick (no, not "Sandwich," but their name is making me hungry) has surprised absolutely no one by announcing that there is still no way to determine the value of PR. Measuring PR is hard, so it must be worthless, right? Or, maybe it's priceless? Who the f--k knows!

For years, the agencies have sent out these retardtastic reports, usually accompanied by a stack of clips or whatnot, that struggle to determine an "ad equivalency value" for all the media placements. Of course, everyone and their mother on both sides of the client wall has ALWAYS known that these claims were garbage ("This two-line mention in USA Today would be worth $450,000 if it were an ad. But it is EVEN MORE valuable because it is not paid media, so it has CREDIBILITY." Please disregard the fact that only the homeless, people waiting for their test results in VD clinics and dead-end mid-level business travelers read USA Today. Surely this placement is spot-on target for your desired stakeholder audience. [Sorry, I digress]).

We've all known FOREVER that there is no good way to measure PR "value." They even alluded to this on last night's season 4 premiere of "Mad Men" (Pete Campbell says, “It’s a PR stunt. We don’t do that?” When asked why not, he replies,”Because we can’t charge for it.”)

Media Bistro's PR Newser, a site that covers some PR stuff, had this report of people saying what the rest of us already know about these "ad equivalency" reports:

Today, Weber Shandwick endorsed the "Barcelona Principles" for PR measurement, which include a rejection of the reports.
The seven fundamental principles were published last week after being adopted in mid-June by 200 delegates from 33 countries at the 2nd annual European Summit on Measurement. We've listed all seven principles after the jump.

Some are vague, but the rejection of ad equivalency reports is included:
1. Importance of Goal Setting and Measurement
2. Measuring the Effect on Outcomes is Preferred to Measuring Outputs
3. The Effect on Business Results Can and Should Be Measured Where Possible
4. Media Measurement Requires Quantity and Quality
5. Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE) is not the Value of Public Relations
6. Social Media Can and Should be Measured
7. Transparency and Replicability are Paramount to Sound Measurement.

And THAT, sum total, is it. There is ZERO mention of any suggestions for something to replace these meaningless exercises in lying to the client. So, brilliant job, WeberSandwich, you've just repeated the same complaint we've all been making for years: the reports are worthless, we need something better. So, WHERE IS IT? 200 FRICKING "delegates" (VPs and "account supervisors" in "social media and measurement" or some wankworthy title, I would guess) from 33 FLIPPING countries couldn't come up with ANY ideas? And we go round and round. Don't even get me started on this "Barcelona Principles" b.s. REALLY? You're gonna be so grandiose to give this a title that sounds like a disarmament treaty or something?

So, you wanna know the true value of PR, kiddies? I think maybe you're having so much trouble measuring it because it truly is WORTHLESS. Or maybe just all those delegates are, I'm not sure.

Thanks for reading!
Jonathan Gardner

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

LG Admits Defeat with New Branding Campaign

Hiya sports fans! We're back after a long hiatus. Sorry for being gone, I'm sure we were missed.

Today comes news that LG, Korean maker of just about everything (a chaebol that has department stores, mini-marts, chemical companies and of course a consumer electronics division) has finally acknowledged that it can't compete with the likes of Sony or Samsung. At the same time, they've given up on trying to market their products as being technologically sound, decent or even remotely non-crappy. That's right, LG has decided to don the velvet sweatpants ("You know the message you're sending out to the world with these sweatpants? You're telling the world 'I give up.'") and launch a $100 million "emotional" branding campaign.

Said an LG spokesman:
“Although we don’t spend as much as Samsung or have the brand heritage that Sony has, there is a good opportunity for the LG brand,” he said. “We are addressing the market with a different strategy with an emotional approach, instead of focusing on picture quality or this function or that function.”
So there you have it, global business as an exercise in low self-esteem. Based on my experience back in the day at LG's Seoul HQ, this isn't surprising. This type of thinking is inherent in the business culture of  a Korean chaebol. Remember also, this is a country where Samsung is spoken of in reverent tones usually reserved for the almighty and they can basically do no wrong. The mid-level suits at the other companies such as LG go through their lives with a serious "second-class citizen" mentality due to never having made it into the ranks of the Samsung elite.

In the new "campaign," LG will talk about "‘Life’s Good’, freedom and infinite possibilities, all those kind of emotional attributes, for a broad range of products.”

This "emotional" approach may work for an established company that already has a brand image and solid profile (in the rest of the world, not just Korea), like a Coke or a BMW. Will it work in the outside world (read: the intended real market for such a campaign) where we don't have much of an idea, image or brand consciousness of LG at all?

Perhaps the bulk of the $100 million will be spent at home in Korea where the company leadership will see the branding everywhere and assume the campaign is working and LG's image has changed (the Westmoreland-in-Saigon form of blinkered leadership). Anyway, that really is not much money for a company that sells its products in 90 countries. How much impact will the velvet sweatpants campaign really have anywhere?

Thanks for reading.
Jonathan Gardner