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James F. Thompson

James F. Thompson, a caffeinated Manhattanite, specializes in branding, PR, marketing and advertising. He published A Taste for Absinthe and The Cubicle Survival Guide with Random House, and his career spans digital and print, including C-SPAN.org, Dos Equis and Field & Stream. He self-published the novel Dead Animal People under the pseudonym Marina Nguyen. He has also taught English in Japan and literature on a Navy destroyer.

Al-Jazeera Makes the News by Being the Same as Everyone Else

America’s racists are having a tough week. Not only were many of them exposed earlier this week for freaking out on social media after a foreign, brown woman from the dubious nation of New York won the Miss America pageant, but it turns out Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based media juggernaut, is also messing with their bigoted characterizations of other races, religions and cultures.

In fact, the reporters, editors and producers at Al-Jazeera don’t want the death of America any more than CNN, FOX News or MSNBC. Need proof? Check out this report by the Pew Research Center, an independent think tank tasked with monitoring the media. As public relations professionals, we can only ask one question: Where does Al-Jazeera go from here?

What happens when the vilified boogieman turns out to be the affable cat lady? Al-Jazeera has missed a golden PR opportunity to differentiate itself in a meaningful way from the competition. The last thing America media needs now is another CNN, FOX News or MSNBC. Al-Jazeera was supposed to return real American journalism to America, while these other networks festooned with screaming eagles and undulating flags continued to feed the public emotional drivel, intellectual smut and political grab ass. Read more

PR Challenge: What Should the World’s Ugliest Animal Do Now?

This week the Ugly Animal Preservation Society announced that the blobfish has officially won the title of being the ugliest animal on the planet. This, of course, is not good news for any living creature—especially one that is endangered not because it is edible and delicious, but because it is brutally scooped up in huge trawling nets and discarded as worthless bycatch.

As PR professionals, there must be something we can do to help. This loveable monstrosity must continue to exist on earth and gross out our children and grandchildren for generations to come. Certainly, there must be something we can do. PR experts run towards these sorts of challenges, not shy away from them.

So, should the blobfish hit the talk show circuit and appear on The View, next to David Letterman, and beside Jon Stewart and plead its case to the public? Will the public ever accept the blobfish, rally around its plight and take action to guarantee its safety? After all, its not like the blobfish has been publicly derailed by a drug conviction, sex scandal or money laundering scheme. It’s one and only crime is that it is ugly.

As PR professionals, what advice would you give the blobfish that might save its very existence on earth? Should the blobfish publicly apologize for being ugly? Should the blobfish adopt a baby clownfish—everyone loves those from Finding Nemo? Or should the blobfish lay low and disappear for a while, fade from public view and hope for the best?

What advice would you give the blobfish?

How Netflix Changed the World One User Experience at a Time

The public loves Netflix. We just do. But it wasn’t always that way.

Remember in 2011 when Netflix raised prices and then announced it had splintered its streaming video services and DVD mail service into a company called Quickster? Well, the public went crazy, and ran from the brand like the last humans in a zombie movie.

Netflix, however, listened and made swift and dramatic decisions to keep all of the services under the recognizable Netflix name. Then the company launched sincere and formidable efforts to regain customers that had fled and to entice new ones to join. It worked. Today, Netflix isn’t only enjoying continued success, but has become the Robin Hood of television viewers, allowing budget-minded consumers to thwart the rich, powerful and predatory monopolies such as Time Warner Cable that treated their customers like piñatas full of cash.

Netflix understands that the public no longer consumes television the way it did only years ago. Television providers and networks made fortunes by treating all of their customers as if they were the same, and gave them little option other than buying the same bundle of visual junk that contained channels no one with a brain would want to watch. But we did. We had to. Time Warner Cable took its customers for granted, and that is something the public doesn’t forget.

Then streaming came along, and Netflix right there with it, offering consumers the type of freedom Braveheart talked about. Instead of telling us to take a day off of work and wait for a representative to arrive between 12 and 5pm, Netflix wanted to know if we’d seen this quirky new indie film much like the last one we enjoyed. It was almost as if Netflix knew what we wanted and didn’t want, because it did. And that’s what Netflix learned from Quickster.

The world isn’t taken over en masse. It’s won one user experience at a time.

How Fingerprints Are Putting Brands In Touch with Consumers

The good news about fingerprint technology is that no two fingerprints are the same. So, if a thief wants to steal your iPhone, he’s going to have to steal your hand too. Ouch.

However, there are other capitalistic entities out there interested in taking your money, and with this latest technology, they’ll be able to do it even faster—all with the public’s consent. Cash is becoming less practical in contemporary society—seriously, who can stand being behind someone fumbling for change? Grrrr—as the public increasingly conducts business via digital devices.

Touching a finger to a button is much more convenient than typing in a password, and this revolutionary change—though it only saves mere seconds of time—marks the first time people will have to use an attribute of their DNA, their very own human uniqueness, to interact with the world via their smartphones. This is the closest humans and technology have come to being integrated without surgery. And this connection also creates an opening for those trying to sell us their products.

Not only does purchasing items via our digital devices record our every shopping impulse, habit and financial capacity, but it also complies this information for brands and marketers who wish to exploit that information with the objective of selling the public more of their stuff. Sure, it’s not exactly The Minority Report, but it’s heading in that direction.

Fingerprint technology is at the forefront of the marketing for Apple’s new iPhone 5s, and thus far the public doesn’t seem very impressed. Who cares if our phones are stolen, and along with them so are our fingerprints? We do, after all, give our fingerprints to the government with very little protest, and it has always respected the integrity of our personal affairs. Ahem.

So the public has nothing to worry about, right? Let us know what you think!

Spin the Agencies of Record

“The shelf life of the average trade book is somewhere between milk and yogurt.”—Calvin Trillin

Following a summer-long search, Chobani has named two new agency partners: Droga5, which will lead advertising and marketing efforts, and Weber Shandwick, which will guide public relations and social engagement strategy. (Chobani, as we reported last week, recently tackled some PR challenges with a successful follow-up campaign.)

Throughout the process, both agencies demonstrated deep strategic thinking and creativity along with a profound understanding of our brand, values and vision.

Peter McGuinness, Chief Marketing and Brand Officer at Chobani, says: “…from Weber Shandwick, we excitedly anticipate a deeply integrated communications approach that will activate across PR, social, internal communications and more. Throughout this search, Droga5 and Weber Shandwick have come to the table with a clear vision for the brand and breakthrough communications that will be instrumental in helping us go to the next level. We cannot wait to get to work.”

“Age is something that doesn’t matter, unless you are a cheese.”—Luis Bunuel

Read more

American Public to Soccer: Now Is Not the Time to Take a Dive

Most kids in high school know one thing: the good looking girls like the popular guys, and if you’re on the football team—yes, American football—then you’re doing okay with the ladies. Meanwhile, the rest of us turn to unhealthy habits, The Catcher in the Rye, and hanging out in poorly lit parking lots.

Over the years, however, the sport of soccer—yes, European/South American/African/Asian football—has been making inroads with the American public. But it feels like it is taking forever. Seriously. Just when it appears the American public is finally going to fall in love with soccer, something weird happens. The public gets cold feet. The public backs away. It refuses to commit, and runs back to the stable, familiar, good-looking NFL and its bazillions of dollars and father who is a rich doctor and drives a Lexus. Poor soccer is left at home, brooding on the couch, devouring ice cream with its bare hands.

The American public loves a winner, and soccer hasn’t been able to throw itself that raucous champagne-drenched party for champions that the good-looking girls need in order to be popular.

Read more

Spin the Agencies of Record

“I base most of my fashion taste on what doesn’t itch.”—Gilda Radner

WORKHOUSE one of the country’s leading public relations and integrated creative agencies, announced that it has been selected as public relations and agency of record by B MICHAEL AMERICA, the American couturier and ready-to-wear designer who is known for his glamorous designs made exclusively in America and worn by many of the world’s most stylish women.

As the hallmark of the brand’s “Advanced American Style” heritage, B Michael remains committed to designing and manufacturing his collections in America, creating jobs for garment workers in New York City and supporting the heart of the U.S. fashion industry since 1999.

Fashion innovator, pacesetter and legend B Michael began his career as a milliner and honed his skills as a fashion designer and couturier while working in the ateliers of leading designers including Oscar de la Renta. Mr. Michael launched his own label in 1999 and is now at the helm of a multi-faceted brand that includes ready-to-wear, accessories and the treasured couture collection. A favorite among some of the most photographed women in the world, Mr. Michael’s designs have been worn by Cate Blanchett, Beyonce, Halle Berry and Cicely Tyson, among others.

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The M&M Project: Is Google Coming After Us Next?

Most of the public has that one sage family member who knows that leading a happy life means never getting too high on the highs and never getting too low on the lows. Maintaining a balanced and respectful approach to life and its capricious power over our existences is healthy.

Google has been high for quite some time now. Actually, today Google wields more influence over the human race than any other shared human experience since we all believed the sun and the moon had feelings and were watching us. It turns out the sun and the moon were never watching us. But Google is, as we all learned from its collaboration with the NSA. That’s when the public raised its discerning eyebrow. Read more

Radio Shack Chooses Playground Over Business School

The public takes no joy in watching the slow and painful demise of RadioShack. There was a time when RadioShack was a relevant brand in the retail technology game—before it became a larger version of that cardboard box in your attic full of forgotten accessories and tangled power chords.

RadioShack, clearly, has a public relations problem. In a world obsessed with the latest technology that offers the sleekest designs, fastest times and most powerful processors, nothing conveys the exact opposite image of modernity than the words “radio” and “shack.” Oddly, RadioShack’s name may be the most valuable asset the brand has going.

That’s how big the PR challenges are for RadioShack.

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Burger King Launches the Best PR Strategy Ever Witnessed by the Human Race

As public relations professional we are constantly extolling the virtues of listening to the public.

Sadly, many brands feel most comfortable being A-type personalities and feel as if they must own the marketing room whenever they decide to walk into it. What does the public want? Why, we’ll tell them what they want. Though this strategy exudes confidence, it also requires significant energy and a product and service to back up a grandiose brand promise.

Telling the public what they want is like teaching a cat to play golf. Cats don’t like to play golf. Cats like to do cat things. The public likes do public things. And what does the public like to do? Put french fries in its burgers. In fact, the public has been sticking french fries in its burgers since the 1970s at least, and probably long before then.

Burger King, exercising our sage advice that it is always a good idea to listen to the public, to study the public, to talk to the public and hold the public’s hand and ask if everything is okay, and then go back to corporate headquarters and start brainstorming PR strategies and marketing campaigns. The public will show you what they want; brands just have to pay attention. Read more

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