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Archives: October 2012

NYT, WSJ Drop Paywalls for Hurricane Sandy

If you, like us, reside somewhere between Barbados and Sail Rock, Maine (and even if you don’t), you’ve almost certainly spent the last two or three days following Frankenstorm/Zombie-cane/”October Surprise” Sandy, which finally started bombarding our nation’s most important coast with winds, rain and transit closings last night. While we wish all residents well and don’t want to jinx anyone, we do have to say that the storm looks a little disappointing at the moment, especially given the massive buildup (kinda like The Dark Knight Rises).

Anyway, in more important news, our nation’s top two newspapers–The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal–decided to act in the public interest by dropping their premium paywalls “until the weather emergency is over”. Goody! Casual readers may now peruse more than ten Times articles before receiving a virtual spanking.

Don’t worry if you don’t happen to like either paper, because Business Insider columnist Henry Blodget already scored the day’s best Sandy headline:

“Hurricane Storm Surge May Flood New York With Toxic Poo”

And now, for no reason, here’s a brave Washington, D.C. man jogging through the storm wearing only shoes, shorts…and a horse mask. Just because.

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The Ticker: Hurricane Sandy; Halloween Candy; Toyota Corolla; Mad Magazine; DVR Usage

Biggest Stories of the Week

Famous Chefs Protest Against Seafood Fraud

Everyone loves the name Chilean Sea Bass. But when you think about it for a while, it begins to lose its appeal.

Chile, after all, is damn far away. Where in Chile was this sea bass caught, and by whom? How was it transported all of those thousands of miles only to end up in an alley behind the restaurant you are currently sitting in as a candle flickers on your table next to a hip Italian clay pot of fresh rosemary growing beside a bubbling indoor waterfall? It all seems so contrived.

That’s because it is. For starters, at home, the Chilean Sea Bass is also known as the Patagonian Toothfish, which sounds like something out of Jurassic Park III. Secondly, the fish has been the center of controversy among chefs, foodies, purveyors and environmentalists for a decade because it represents a much broader problem: seafood fraud.

Chances are, if that Chilean Sea Bass you just ordered could pull up a chair and join you for dinner, his version of his journey would differ greatly from the waiter’s version. Officially, all imports of Chilean Sea Bass should be accompanied by an official Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification, which chefs are supposed to check upon purchase.

But with so many customers craving that full, buttery taste–and so many restaurateurs and seafood providers willing to look the other way in order to remain competitive, the situation is ripe for corruption.

Now celebrity chefs Mario Batali, Rick Bayless, Thomas Keller and others are protesting for change by signing a petition demanding that the U.S. government prohibit illegal seafood from entering the marketplace by enforcing stricter regulatory policies regarding imported fish. The public should applaud this effort. Read more

Is Microsoft ‘Cool’ Now, or Was This Just a Big Stunt?

A couple of weeks ago we poked fun at Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for his brilliant plan to make the tech dinosaur “cool”  despite the fact that price has been its main selling point for some time. Yet today marked the official release of the Surface tablet and the Windows 8 platform and, based on the public reaction, we feel like Ballmer may have succeeded in spite of himself.

OK, we love our Xbox, but when was the last time anyone got excited about a new Microsoft product?

Apparently that would be yesterday. Microsoft aimed to make a spectacle out of its new product rollout, and the crowds at its Times Square preview event were surprisingly dense.

The craziest thing about the scene was the fact that none of the people who waited in line for a Surface last night actually got one. They paid for the tablet, and then they were told that they could either return at midnight to pick it up or “have it delivered to their homes or hotel rooms by noon tomorrow.”

Wow. That’s iPhone-level insanity.

Has Microsoft really become a contender for techie supremacy again?

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PR Nightmare: Teen Deaths Tied to Monster Energy Drink

We never thought an “energy drink” could have a poorer public reception than Four Loko, but Monster appears to have landed in an even deeper ditch—and its products don’t even contain alcohol!

A certain big-deal organization known as the FDA just released a report asserting that as many as five people died over the past three years after drinking Monster. While the report draws no direct, indisputable link between Monster and the tragedies in question, we can all agree that this sort of story is every company’s worst PR nightmare.

The victims, all of whom were teenagers, had a couple of crucial factors in common: each of them drank one or more 24-ounce cans of Monster less than 24 hours before dying of heart failure. The FDA also received multiple reports of consumers experiencing problems like “abdominal pain, vomiting, tremors and abnormal heart rate” after drinking Monster.

Does the drink really pose a risk to the general public? While every can contains 240 milligrams of caffeine, company representatives note that the average 16-ounce cup of coffee contains even more of the potentially damaging stimulant. That point may be irrelevant, though. The case got a lot bigger last week when one of the victims’ mothers responded to her daughter’s death by filing a lawsuit against the publicly traded company; its stock prices (NYSE: MNST) fell accordingly.

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Citi Analyst Fired, Company Fined Over Email Snafus

We didn’t think Citigroup could fall any lower on the public opinion scale. The abrupt departure of CEO/punching bag Vikram Pandit was bad enough: Business Insider columnist Henry Blodget just came very close to labeling his subsequent “I resigned” claim as fraud.

But Citi’s fortunes keep getting worse: The bank recently settled a suit over releasing confidential information about Facebook’s financial status before the company’s IPO, and today brought news of a $2 million fine and the termination of a highly respected financial analyst.

Here’s what happened: Analyst Mark Mahaney, who is widely regarded as the financial industry’s number one expert on big-name tech companies like Google and Facebook, emailed a French journalist with his unpublished thoughts on the financial prospects of YouTube. This kind of move blatantly encourages insider trading. It went against his company’s official non-disclosure policy–and it also happens to be illegal.

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What Do Commercial-Inspired Halloween Costumes Mean for Brands?

As the weekend approaches, you’re likely planning your costume for an upcoming Halloween party (or if you’re like us, you started planning in July). This PRNewser writer went to her first Halloween-themed extravaganza of the season as Flo from the Progressive Insurance ads (picture below).

I initially chose the costume simply because I think Flo is adorable (in a creepy, Stepford Wives sort of way), and because a recent donation to Locks of Love left my hair just short enough to pull it off. But then my costume choice got my PR-oriented brain thinking — superheroes, storybook characters, and familiar faces from TV and movies are always popular costume choices, but what does it mean from a PR and branding standpoint when a character created solely for an ad campaign becomes enough of a pop culture symbol to warrant Halloween costumes?

Insurance companies seem to have the market cornered on popular mascots (probably because insurance is duller than dirt without them). GEICO‘s Gecko, Progressive‘s Flo, and Allstate‘s Mayhem bring personality and humor to an otherwise much-maligned product, and however people might feel about insurance itself, they adore these characters. Case in point: while wandering around a costume shop, I saw a pre-made, pre-bagged “Insurance Lizard” costume hanging between the ever-popular Jack Sparrow and Spiderman.

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Pitch Early to Get Your Clients in Midwest Living

Midwest Living knows many publicists on a first name basis and accepts pitches for travel, home, garden and food. But, warns EIC Greg Philby, “Many publicists pitch too late: The season is over before we hear from them. The best pitches are those far enough in advance that we can react to them if needed and that we perceive have a specific Midwest hook.”

Travel folks, take note: It’s the category where editors nourish the strongest two-way relationships with PR pros. “We often contact them while researching stories,” said executive editor Trevor Meers. “And, in the best cases, we truly sense that when we ask, ‘Where’s the best burger in town?’ they’re giving us a straight answer, not just the ‘approved’ answer.”

Get more details and contact info for editors in How To Pitch: Midwest Living. [subscription required]

Roll Call: Mobility Public Relations, MWW, The Greenbrier Companies, and More

Mobility Public Relations has acquired L&O Public Relations. Paula Larson and Ellie O’Rourke, founders of L&O Public Relations, will join the Mobility Public Relations team along with all of L&O’s clients. Paula Larson has over 150 corporate and product launches under her belt, and she has created award-winning PR programs for numerous high-tech, industrial and consumer clients. Ellie O’Rourke has over 15 years of PR and marketing communications experience, working with high-tech clients on both the agency and corporate side of the business. She has extensive experience in the enterprise software, cloud computing, mobile apps, wireless and Wi-Fi fields. (EverythingPR)

Bradford Walton joined MWW as senior vice president of consumer lifestyle marketing at MWW Los Angeles.  Walton, a seasoned marketing, public relations and branding professional with more than a decade of experience in the industry, joins MWW from Edelman Los Angeles, where he served as vice president in the agency’s consumer and lifestyle marketing and CSR teams, working with global brands including Volkswagen of America, Nestle USA, PacSun, Starbucks, eBay, Feeding America, Movember and Product(RED), among many others.  He brings with him a breadth of experience in developing CSR programs and conceiving and executing award-winning national and local marketing and PR campaigns. (Release)

The Greenbrier Companies announced that Jack Isselmann joined the company as director of corporate relations and communications. Isselmann will lead the company’s interactions with political officials and candidates and provide strategic direction on legislative matters. He will also assume the public affairs responsibilities previously held by Susan Wilson, director, operations analysis and control & public affairs.  Wilson will continue to perform international consulting work for Greenbrier, reporting to the CEO and others as assigned. (Release)

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