Thursday, October 29, 2009

Is brand new better?

The Black Sheep have been doing a lot of driving lately, but we’ve always got marketing on the mind. One of the most common road-trip discussions we have revolves around the many billboards and buildings we see traveling from city to city – remember, we’re from Texas, so the only alternative landscape is a cow or two.

Now, we don’t consider ourselves opposed to change. We’re all about moving forward and staying ahead of the game. Everybody knows that. It’s just that we’re not sure we agree with some of the mumbo jumbo that’s going on out there. There seems to be a disheartening trend in rebranding, and frankly, we’ve got mixed feelings about it. Here are some of the brands that caught our attention:

Holiday Inn Express – Admittedly, this one needed some work from the get-go. I understand that they wanted to convey that their budget hotel is clean, green, fresh and modern. Fine. All good qualities for a $59-a-night establishment. But, in our opinion, they’re taking it too far. Their green is too green, their blue is too blue, and their “H,” while an improvement from their previous font, just seems to be trying too hard. What happened to classy and understated? This whole image just comes off as cheap, and while that’s also true of Holiday Inn Express, it’s probably not something they should flaunt in their logo.

Pepsi – This to me can only be described in three letters: W. T. F. They had one of the most iconic brands in the world. Their wavy circle was neither overbearing nor outdated. It was simple and clean. So why change it to whatever that thing is now? It accomplishes nothing. And again, it looks cheap. What’s even worse is their “Refresh Everything” billboard campaign that looks like it’s straight out of a third world country. I’m not hating on the industrially underdeveloped, but I don’t think anyone looks to them for advertising inspiration.

Jack-In-The-Box – This one we haven’t quite made up our minds about. It’s definitely a departure from their old look, which seems almost retro-kitschy at this point. Maybe that’s not a bad thing? Their ads in general have always been so great, it never really bothered us. But, maybe this new “3D” box isn’t so bad either. They are certainly guilty of over-modernizing, using robot-style fonts underneath the icon, which makes me think someone unaware of current styles made that selection. [Shrug]. I guess we’ll have to give them the benefit of the doubt. We’re keeping our eyes on you, Jack.

Let us just say, for the record, we’re totally in favor of revamping your company’s look. Dated brands are the worst, and they’re totally detrimental to your image. Just don’t go from bad to lame. This is a decision that has to last a long time, and you shouldn’t rush into anything. Hey, we’re still trying to figure it out ourselves.

So what do you think? Do like these new brands? Have you noticed any others? We want YOUR opinion!

Friday, October 23, 2009

What you can learn about crisis PR from Perez Hilton

Once you start, it’s nearly impossible to stop. You think you’ll do it once… just today… and then you find yourself a month later entangled in utter madness and completely devoid of rational thinking. They will make you do things and say things you never thought you – an intelligent, well-rounded person – could possibly do. They will change you. Forever.

I’m talking about celebrity blogs. Perez. TMZ. The Superficial. Defamer. Gawker. Click the links if you DARE.

But why are these trash sites so compelling, so completely… addictive? Because people love gossip. They love to see someone fall from grace, and they love to watch them suffer. Let’s face it. It makes us feel better about ourselves. And yes, I am a professional psychiatrist.

And that’s why, as PR professionals, our jobs are so important. Under careful supervision, follow the likes of PH and study crisis PR at its best… and more often than not… its worst. And then take what you’ve learned and apply the lessons to your clients’ crises. Lindsay Lohan will make your job look like a piece of cake.
For those of you trying to stay celeb blog-free (best of luck to you), keep in mind the following dos and don’ts of sticky situations.

DON’T avoid the facts – or the press. While celebrities have the option of living on a desert island for six months following embarrassing and/or difficult times, you don’t. Like, for instance, if you stage a hoax involving your small child and a large balloon, you’re probably not going to have the option of disappearing until it blows over [the state of Colorado]. Face the music and talk to the press to get the story straight. Once it’s all out in the open, people will move on to the next interesting news bite.

DO sincerely apologize if you’ve done something wrong. Even if you have to do it a million times… Kanye style. It’s hard to hate on people when they’ve admitted to the err of their ways and at least appear to be making amends. And if you need to apologize, DO it in person. Having the balls to say it out loud, face-to-face with real people will gain your audience’s forgiveness faster than anything else. David Letterman is the perfect example.

DON’T play the denial game. If you really didn’t do something, address it in a professional, tactful manner and approach the accusing party personally. If you DID, we’re going to find out the truth eventually, so why not save the embarrassment and move on? It’s hard. Everyone knows that. John Edwards knows that. Leann Rimes knows that. Jon Gosselin knows that. But you can be better than them.

DON’T make the same mistake twice. Once is forgivable… twice is embarrassing. If your client is not fixing their problems, it’s going to land on your face.

DO make an image-switch. This may be hard to pull off, but if your client’s on a rocky road, it’s your job to take things in a new direction. Ever notice that when celebrities (Paris, Nicole, Martha Stewart) go to jail, their next step is to pose for the cover of People magazine in a pastel twin set? See? They’ve learned their lesson, and now they’re good people because they’re wearing sweaters.

It seems like common sense, but questionable decisions are always made in the heat of a crisis. Plan ahead and know as much as you can about your client. The more informed and honest you can be, the better things will turn out for you and the people you represent. It’s a cruel world out there, so stay prepared and don’t spend any fewer more than 1.5 hours on tabloid sites daily. Shear Creativity’s all you need anyway.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

In marketing, all's well that blends well.

The other day Black Sheep had the opportunity to attend the Lucky Strike grand opening, and of course, because we’re all about knowing what’s going on in the World of Awesome, we went. And it was awesome. For those of you who don’t know, Lucky Strike is a bowling alley with a full bar. Basically take everything you associate with bowling and forget it. That’s what this place is. They serve champagne. Champagne! Absolute perfection.

This concept got me thinking, and you know what I realized? Some of the best things in life are unusual blends of seemingly disparate entities. For instance… peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, hybrid cars, iPhones, Ligers (bred for their skills in magic), laser-pointer pens, labradoodles, 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner… Heck, even Black Sheep’s leadership team is made of Aggies and Longhorns. It’s the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts theory,” and it’s what scientists call “synergy.”

This same principle also applies to marketing.

Marketing is a multi-faceted method for promotion and it encompasses several different strategic components. Public relations, advertising, social networking, Web marketing, guerilla marketing and branding work better alongside one another than they do by themselves.

Let’s say you sell pet rocks.

And you get a great article written up in the New York Times about how pet rocks are the most eco-friendly pets and that Paris Hilton and President Obama endorse them. Once millions of people read it, they’ll want to learn more… Where can I get my own pet rock? How can I get involved in sustainable pets? Well then, you’ll need a Web site. And that Web site will need branding featuring a unique pet rock logo and delivering all the information anyone could want through specific messaging. And that brand will depend on top-of-mind awareness through advertising and guerilla marketing…  Like when you decide to throw pet rocks in the middle of Grand Central Station. This will cause quite a ruckus, and tons of people will want to be your friend on Facebook.  While visiting your page, they’ll see the link you posted to your article in the New York Times. That’s only one theoretical chain of events that brings your marketing full-circle, but you can see how important each element is to the success of the entire campaign. And that’s synergistic marketing.
Black Sheep recognizes your need for synergy, and we can help create it. We work to establish all these angles for you and then bring them together. But, we are also happy to work with other advertising agencies, PR firms and your very own company too. Our goal is to make sure your entire marketing strategy results in something that’s bigger and better than any singular tactic, and we don’t care if we do it all or some of it. The goal is the WHOLE (that’s what she said), and we’re ready to do our part.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Theory of Evolution

The times, they are a changin’. Of course they are. Change is the only constant, even though it’s not always welcome. Texas adopted new cringe-worthy license plates… Vampires and cougars have taken over the world… Jim and Pam are getting married… And in PR-relevant news, major magazine publisher Conde Nast has shut down four of its magazines. Who’s next? Vogue? Glamour? After their four-issue expose on Bernie Madoff this summer, my vote goes to Vanity Fair.* (He ripped a bunch of people off in a giant Ponzi scheme…and he had a wife and a family. It’s a multi-faceted story. We got it. )

This is certainly not the first media giant we’ve seen fall – and fall hard – as of late, and as I’m sure my fellow PR peers can attest, it won’t be the last. So what does this mean for us? And what does it mean for our clients’ exposure? Well, we’ll have to be more adaptable and more ingenious than ever if we’re going to be successful. Smart businesses will look to new guidance in firms and agencies that aren’t afraid to try new approaches, and it will take just as much effort to publicize their companies as it will to gain their confidence. If your firm hasn’t opened its eyes to new ideas, odds are you’re about to get blindsided. Some things to look out for…

1. Social media. This one gets a big, fat DUH. We’ve talked about it before, and we’ll say it again, if you’re not doin’ it, and doin’ it and doing it WELL (whatever happened to LL Cool J? Oh right, NCIS.), you’re missing out. ‘Nuff said. [AND, be sure to sign up for Twitter Training THIS month.]

2. Personal connections. Sure, we proselytize Internet marketing and it’s benefits, but nothing can match real, personal interaction and customized strategy. For instance,  just last week, Black Sheep made significant progress targeting one of our most prized potential clients by sending our key contact personalized videos (no, not THAT kind of video) and 25 small, but unique hand-delivered packages. And you know what? We’re having lunch with him on Thursday… just wait ‘till he finds out how effing cute we are. This kind of practice definitely translates to our existing clients and their PR approach, and it’s that kind of thinking that these tough times require. Forget the process and the press releases – get creative.

3. Media strategy. This goes hand-in-hand with the advice above. Now, more than ever, editors and journalists are stretched so thin they don’t have the time or space to weed through formally written press releases about your company’s 27th hire in the past 6 months. They need REAL stories, so find out what they’re into and send strong pitches… do it on Twitter or Facebook in a few short sentences, and give them an angle that makes it interesting.

It’s all about being smart with your practices and staying cognizant of your surroundings. Darwin said evolution was survival of the fittest, but in marketing, it’s survival of the relationships – be it online, in person or with media. At Black Sheep, we’d LOVE to get to know YOU and bring your company into the future of marketing. We’re knowledgeable, we’re hip to what’s going on, and we’re happy to get you on the right track. Socialize with the Sheep by following us at @aimeewoodall and @lindsaybosslet on Twitter.

*In all honesty, I enjoy Vanity Fair quite a bit, and I’d hate to see it go. I just think spending too much time learning about greedy people is a waste.