Archive for April, 2011

The Lengths We Go To Shape an Image

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

“Image is everything” – Andre Agassi, former tennis pro

In the mid 1990s tennis star Andre Agassi was in a series of TV commercials for Canon that used this tag line. It was an interesting play on words because, for the most part, Agassi had been all style and little substance since he rarely won major tournaments. Granted, he would go on to shake that image and win major events, but the long hair, headband and rock-n-roll style of behavior made the tag line famous.

Andre Agassi

His commercials came to mind as I was reading a Wall Street Journal blog about how the Chinese government is using PR in the United States to improve its international image. China’s State Council Information Office, which is the voice of the government, has a series of famous Chinese images being shown in Times Square that are repeated 300 times a day. To help spread the gospel, there is even a new application for Apple’s iPad so that people can view these ads. Seems to me to be quite a bit of money and effort to try and shape the image of a repressive government, but that’s a story for another day.

But it got me thinking…when PR is used as a smoke-and-mirrors tactic can it be effective? If a dictatorship like China can simply share positive images via multiple technology platforms to try to improve its international image, then what’s so hard about conducting PR campaigns? I guess that all you have to have is money to share whatever ideas, news or images you want and voila you have a new image, right? If that’s true then the richest companies should all automatically win the PR battle.

While that may be true in many cases, there are notable exceptions. For example, could British Petroleum, one of the richest oil companies in the world, buy its way out of the Gulf oil spill? No.

Quality PR campaigns involve strategic planning which incorporates input from multiple people within a company. Questions such as “what brand image do we want to share,” “what do experts and third-party endorsements stand for,” and “what are customers saying after they use our product” are key questions that need to be asked before rolling out a campaign.

In my mind PR is about conveying a message or idea based on a credible reality, not implausible partial truths like the Chinese government is spreading. As long as the news headlines continue to be dominated by stories about censorship and repression, China’s image building campaign will fall flat.  Image building doesn’t work if you have a rotten core.  Major league baseball could talk all it wanted about steroid control, but until it truly started cleaning up the game its image was deteriorating badly.?

Successful companies or campaigns, such as Subway’s “Jared/eat healthy” campaign, are based on true stories with ideas that people can relate too since they know them to at least be grounded in truth. For tech companies, product launches can present many challenges including how to get the attention of editors, creating supporting documentation, developing consistent messaging, and securing referenceable customers. That last item is the key – PR efforts are most effective when built around products that customers actually want and that meet a real market need.

So the next time you are planning a new product launch or campaign, remember that PR works best when you REALLY have something to say.

Take me out to the ballgame – online

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

Sometimes in life we are blessed with the coming together of two things that we love. Milk and cookies, chips and salsa, and…baseball and technology? Yes, that’s right. The intersection of sports and technology is actually quite huge. Whether it’s fantasy league owners needing the most updated statistics or the college football junkie who needs to know the point spread on the big game, people everywhere are jumping on the bandwagon.

Major League Baseball’s opening day has arrived and a quick look online shows that a number of teams have fully jumped into the merging world of high tech and sports. Check these out:

  • The Cleveland Indians, not exactly burdened with a long history of success, have added a social media section to the stadium.
  • Applications about everything in baseball are available for the iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android and Blackberry.
  • The Oakland A’s, who have been in a political battle for over five years to get a new stadium on the edge of Silicon Valley in Fremont, have agreed to partner with networking giant Cisco. “Cisco’s networking equipment that will let fans use the latest available technology, so that they can do everything from upgrading tickets on cell phones to watching instant replays on handhelds.”
  • The entire March Madness – all 67 games of this year’s men’s NCAA basketball tournament – was broadcast live over the Internet in HD. Talk about ways to waste time at work. Thankfully, the boss button worked great.
  • And the best story, at least in my opinion, involves a creative idea. As reported on CNBC, a beer vendor who works at the Seattle Mariners games started a Twitter account so that he can take orders from fans in the stands. Simply send a message to @Msbeervendor with your seat number and your order and he’ll swing by. As 36 year old an entrepreneur/beer vendor and teacher (his day job) Kevin Zelko said, “Since the beginning of beer vendors, we’ve been walking up and down the aisles seeing who wants a beer, I’m going to try to change that.”

Follow @Msbeervendor to get your brews delivered at Mariners homegames

While there are many more examples of how professional sports teams and leagues have adopted technology, it’s important to ask yourself—why? Who cares if a baseball fanatic who can’t stop reading the box scores can get their hands on even more mundane statistics?

All cynicism aside (and believe me, I’ve heard all of the jokes about the pathetically slow pace of baseball), progressive companies are at the forefront of this seismic shift in how we view America’s pastime. Why do I consider these companies as progressive? It’s not about supporting the habits of statistical geeks, it’s really about improving the customer experience and securing customer loyalty—the Holy Grail of team owners. When a family of four has to shell out over $200 to enjoy a day at the park it’s in the team’s best interests to do everything possible to make the experience an enjoyable one. And if technology and social media can help, bring it on.

I remember growing up and heading to the ballpark with my grandfather and keeping the scorebook of the game. Found memories indeed. Now I get to take my kids to the ballpark and teach them how to keep score in a game on my iPad. Oh, how times have changed.

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