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Archives: November 2012

Will The White House’s New Social Media Strategy Work?

The White House Twitter Feed ImageThere’s no question that The White House knows its way around social media—President Obama’s “four more years” Instagram tweet quickly became the most liked and shared message in history.

Of course, officials like the President don’t just use Twitter and Facebook to post adorable pictures of themselves and their families—they also use it to drive strategy and influence policy. And yet, as we’ve seen in the past, social media is an unwieldy animal that many political groups struggle to master.

Exactly one year ago, The White House used Twitter to push an effort to extend a “payroll tax cut” that affected millions of Americans. That effort ultimately proved successful, but now Obama faces a new and potentially bigger challenge involving the much-discussed “fiscal cliff” that would result in massive spending cuts and the elimination of George W. Bush-era tax cuts if not addressed by congress before the New Year.

Obama recently debuted the hashtag #My2K, named for the approximately $2000 in yearly tax increases that would theoretically affect millions of middle-class Americans if congress doesn’t act. He tweeted his millions of followers encouraging them to offer personal stories of what that $2K might mean to them and their families—and to direct those messages to their representatives.

Sounds like a well-planned PR strategy—but will it work?

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‘Gay Cure’ Therapists Sued for Fraud

AP Photos/Tara Todras-WhitehillDepending on how closely you follow the news, you may have heard a bit about one of this country’s most unusual cottage industries: A series of independent practitioners offering a service called “reparative” or, more colloquially, “gay cure” therapy. The niche discipline is popular enough to earn an official ban from the State of California (when applied to subjects under the age of 18).

These “medical” professionals claim to be able to relieve individuals suffering from unwanted bouts of homosexuality; they’ve received a bit of attention from the political press over the past few years, and they’re about to face the biggest PR challenge in the history of their (relatively new) practice.

The most interesting part about this case is that it concerns the Orthodox Jewish community, most of whose members believe homosexuality to be forbidden by the Torah. Four young men whose rabbis urged them to seek reparative therapy with a group called JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing) are now suing the organization for fraud with the backing of the Southern Poverty and Law Center, a non-profit known for defending those with contradictory opinions both popular and unpopular.

The defendants’ lawsuit states that the group, whose director believes that “homosexuality is a learned behavior, which can be unlearned”, falsely advertised its services—and some of the practices involved in the JONAH “solution” are unconventional, to say the least.

One thing is clear: the immediate future presents a series of uphill battles for gay cure therapists.

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The Ticker: Political Twitter; Tablets Everywhere; EPA vs. BP; Groupon CEO; Sundance

Starbucks Unveils New $7 ‘Grande’ Cup of Joe

We’ve all heard more than enough about the prolonged American recession/unemployment crisis. We can’t blame the public for being confused about the fact that this very same struggling nation can set Black Friday sales records and create demand for—wait for it—a $7 cup of coffee at Starbucks. Huh?

Who, exactly, is spending all of this money on coffee–and where did they get it? Aren’t we all broke, unemployed and burdened by a lifetime of student loans? Champagne taste on a beer budget is one thing, but coffee doesn’t even have any alcohol in it. Has “a cup of joe” become the new glass of wine?

The Starbucks brand hasn’t just changed the way Americans perceive and consume coffee–it continues to guide our tastes and understanding of a substance that plays an increasingly prevalent role in our lives. Part of the coffee appreciation learning curve, apparently, entails pushing the boundaries of the ordinary. Sorry, Pike Place roast.

To capitalize on the public’s ceaseless search for something new, something better and something different, Starbucks now offers “high-end” Costa Rica Finca Palmilera coffee along with an extra-special variety called “Geisha”. Yes, that geisha.

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Driving Brand Journalism Through Social Media (Pt 1)

This week we bring you a special three-part post co-written with Tim Gray, content strategist at online marketing/web design firm Blue Fountain Media. Tim believes that brand journalism is indeed the future of PR–and that the best way to promote a brand is to create that crucial content yourself and promote it via social media.

The first step on the way to making brand journalism work: abandon the self-centered approach to messaging that formed the basis of the traditional PR playbook.

  1. Move beyond the standard PR mindset

For decades, brands bombarded customers with me-first messages pushing “my product, my service, my plan…that you the customer now have the pleasure to purchase at my command”. This approach worked because customers didn’t have too many options when searching for information. It doesn’t work any longer, because most web surfers will quickly abandon your page unless you present them with compelling, easily accessible stories that truly engage, entertain and inform.

The “if you write it, they will come” maxim feels a little too simple though, doesn’t it?

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Judge Orders Tobacco Companies to Apologize, Pay for PSAs

MarlboroOn Tuesday a federal judge ruled that tobacco companies must spend their own money to fund a public awareness ad campaign in which they admit to intentionally and repeatedly deceiving the American people about the dangers of smoking.

While some of the campaign’s details have yet to be determined (i.e. how much it will cost and which media will publish it), the judge did require the companies to use five specific statements in their ads. The first: “A federal court has ruled that the defendant tobacco companies deliberately deceived the American public by falsely selling and advertising low tar and light cigarettes as less harmful than regular cigarettes”. Another particularly pointed statement simply reads: “Smoking kills, on average, 1,200 Americans. Every day”. There’s a line you never heard coming from the Marlboro Man’s mouth.

Ellen Vargyas of the American Legacy Foundation, which is known for its “Truth” anti-smoking campaign, said, “These statements do exactly what they should do. They’re clear, to the point, easy to understand, no legalese, no scientific jargon, just the facts”. Unsurprisingly, big tobacco’s representatives were less vocal about the ruling. Bryan Hatchell, spokesman for Reynolds American Inc. said, “We are reviewing the judge’s ruling and considering next steps”, while a Philip Morris USA rep simply said that the company would be studying the decision.

We’ll keep you posted as the story progresses; an appeal seems all but inevitable. For now, though, we can file this case under major, long-time-coming wins for transparency in advertising on behalf of a bombarded public.

Sisley Cosmetics Sued for Pregnancy Discrimination

Sisley Cosmetics Counter at Bloomingdale'sThis afternoon, Buzzfeed Shift brings news of a pending discrimination lawsuit against French makeup giant Sisley Cosmetics that could turn out to be a very big deal.

In short, an employee returned from maternity leave to face questions about her future reproductive plans from managers who strongly implied that a second child “wouldn’t be good for her job” and all but threatened to make her “redundant” by eliminating her position. She also claims that her higher-ups increased her workload and that a less-than-sympathetic HR rep effectively told her “my hands are tied”. Six months after returning from a second maternity leave, she lost her job.

We don’t have all the details in this case, but the narrative as we know it paints Sisley as a company that views pregnant employees and mothers as liabilities. Perhaps more troubling is the fact that discrimination lawsuits are nothing new for this old-school Parisian brand: In 2011, a black employee who worked for the company’s Saks Fifth Avenue counter filed suit after claiming that her manager repeatedly used racial slurs when addressing her and complained about a lack of “blonde” sales reps. A third employee sued in 2009 after a boss forbid her from sitting down behind the cosmetics counter despite the fact that she’d just gone through a spinal surgery that limited her range of movement. Only the last case has been resolved.

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Pitch Your Clients to The Intelligent Optimist

Most sections of this positive pub are open for PR pitches, including features and book excerpts. Formerly known as Ode, The Intelligent Optimist boasts an international readership that is passionate about innovative technology, sustainability, health and spirituality, nutrition and personal growth.

For starters, publicists can pitch their clients for “Intelligent Optimist,” which focuses on individuals who know or are inspired by someone who fits the moniker, and “Possibilities,” which is devoted to innovative news, such as organic fast food chains or new ways to produce plastic.

Get editors’ contact info and more advice on what to pitch in How To Pitch: The Intelligent Optimist. [subscription required]

UK Authorities Axe Another Good Ad

Yesterday we reported on UK advertising authority Clearcast’s decision to pull an excellent SodaStream spot for “denigrating” major soda brands whose products don’t even appear in the ad. Today brings another story of a regulatory group killing a clever campaign, and we have to ask: have British people always been such irrational buzzkills?

Here’s the ad for travel metasearch engine Kayak:

The Advertising Standards Authority received more than 400 complaints about this video and decided to kill the obviously satirical spot “because it was too upsetting to individuals who have undergone brain surgery, and their families.”

OK, full disclosure: Your editor is one of those people who’ve undergone major brain surgery–and he does not find anything about this ad to be particularly offensive. It’s not like Kayak’s creative agency made a mockery of an entire culture or anything like that.

What gives? At what point do advertising and PR pros have to be intentionally boring in order to avoid ruffling a few feathers? Do our industries really have a creativity problem?

PR Chairman Sued for Using His Own Name

Brian Communications GroupToday in Inside Politics: Philadelphia’s Tierney Communications filed suit against its own former CEO Brian Tierney in a case amusingly titled Tierney vs. Tierney. His offense? Using his own name.

When Tierney left his old firm, he apparently agreed not to use the name Brian Tierney “for a public-relations, marketing or advertising business”, even going so far as to tell The New York Times that there were “millions and millions of reasons” for the agreement. While he initially sidestepped this formality by omitting his surname from the title of his newest endeavor, his former company now takes issue with the phrase “A Brian Tierney Company” appearing below its logo; the fact that he owns the URL briantierney.com may also violate that preexisting agreement.

According to the suit, Tierney plans to use this obfuscation to “confuse clients and prospective clients”, effectively diverting business away from The Tierney Group.

PR pros: what do we think of this suit? It’s all a bit convoluted, isn’t it?

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