Monday, August 30, 2010

Changing the Landscape

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day hustle and bustle of life, especially if you are a business owner. Things get busy. Clients come first. You’ve got to prioritize, and suddenly things slip through the cracks and you find you’re neglecting your true passion and purpose – the real reason you started doing what you’re doing in the first place. The stuff that,  deep-down,  sets you apart and drives you to make a difference.

Heck, with all of our client projects and obligations, we know exactly how you feel.

But we’re inspired. We’ve seen the possibilities, and we’ve followed the stories of brilliant people in and outside of our industry. We’ve looked at art and pop culture, music and the city streets, and we’ve reached an important realization: Sometimes, to make an impact, you can’t focus on what exists. You have to change the landscape and make the world your own.

So, thanks to the AMAZING creative geniuses at Culture Pilot (our partners in creative crime), we have. Our new website, set to launch later this week, features an entirely new environment where fans, clients and friends can come together to learn more about how we’re changing the landscape in publicity and marketing. Flying sheep, drive-in movies, winding roads and tweeting flowers set the scene for big plans ahead and all the uncharted terrain the future holds.

In celebration of this much-anticipated addition to the Black Sheep brand, we’re encouraging you to consider YOUR landscape and what you can do to change it for the better. What you can do to take things to the next level. To make a difference. To push boundaries.

This week, leading up to the launch of our site, we’ll be sharing our greatest muses, playing our most motivating tunes and featuring tons of fun activities to get your feet moving.
Whether it’s in your business or just an area in your life that could use a little fixer-upper, do it. Change the landscape in your community, and follow us as we change ours.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Is your head in the crowds?

One of the most prevalent buzzwords in the Web 2.0 community is crowdsourcing, the portmanteau of “crowd” and “outsourcing” (seriously, what isn’t a portmanteau these days?), and simply put, it is the act of calling on the masses for help with a project, idea, design or direction. Really, crowdsourcing works for just about anything. While the concept isn’t new, with the rise in popularity of social media (one helluva crowd), its prevalence has soared, and consequently, controversy and speculation has ensued. 

So what are the benefits? Crowdsourcing allows people and businesses to access a gigantic pool of talent and intellect they would not ordinarily be able to reach. You’ve probably heard of “the wisdom of crowds,” the viewpoint that, in many situations, two heads are better than one. In this case, 2 million heads are better than whatever the size your company is. Those heads might have a unique perception, different resources or generally, just a larger collection of opinions. Crowds can serve as focus groups, freelance designers, business consultants and creative teams… and more often than not, with little or no cost associated.

And what’s even better is that anyone can take advantage of the opportunity. And they have. The New York Times recently covered a one-man operation called Trek Light Gear that has used crowdsourcing for product development, product testing, and market research. Peperami, like many forward-thinking brands, has crowdsourced TV commercials to the general public, saving huge amounts in advertising costs. Do you have a weak spot in your business model? Well if you’re on Twitter or other social media platforms, all you have to do is ask – if you have the right people in your network and the right attitude, you’ll probably succeed.

Peperami, in case you weren't familiar.

But there is a downside. Sometimes you DON’T have the right people in your network, and your questions won’t get answered – or worse – they’ll be wrong. Furthermore, if you become one of those people who get sucked into crowdsourcing, you might neglect your real social media relationships and find yourself constantly asking for more, without giving anything in return.

And we’ve all seen those people. Every other question on their Twitter stream is a question asking YOU to help THEM. They’ve become dependant on their followers to give them everything from directions to the nearest pet store to advice on their tax returns, and there’s no incentive to contribute to those sorts of pleas. If you need more players in your court, then give them a reason to participate. Efforts that will allow them to expand their portfolio, gain credibility or even win some kind of prize, turn the arrangement into less of a favor and more of a trade. And always remember, you too are part of the crowd, and it’s your responsibility to the community to contribute as well, not to mention a great way to strengthen relationships.

Basically, crowdsourcing is just one more way to capitalize on the phenomenon that is social media – as long as you keep a few manageable rules in mind. Have you used crowdsourcing in your business? Black Sheep has, and we love it. Share your experiences in the comments below. 

Friday, August 20, 2010

Your mama’s so phat, she’s bigger than Twitter.

By now, we hope you’ve taken the leap and started becoming active in social media. We also hope that you’ve caught on to the very simple jargon and stopped using phrases like “so-and-so Twittered” and “I was Twittering today, and so-and-so @-ed me.” Mom, for the last time, the verb is “tweet.”

But, because TWEETING is so much fun, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and lose sight of the purpose. We start challenging ourselves to get ONE MILLION followers and we get greedy, using Twitter and Facebook as a platform for quick advertising and mass messaging. Instead of asking yourself how much stuff you can sell, focus on how you can strengthen your relationships and bring your followers into your community.

Which takes a little more strategy. We’ve put together a few tips for how you can not only maximize the quantity of your network, but the quality.

1. Find the people who matter, and follow them. What are you trying to accomplish and who are you trying to reach? Most likely it’s not a cat in Arizona or a scantily clad woman. Search for keywords that relate to your industry or make sense for your customer base. Explore the site WeFollow to find leaders in your field and people in your city who are relevant.

2. Get rid of the people who don’t matter. Not every follower is a good follower. Unless they are providing valuable content, you don’t need to return the favor. And if they’re not following you, then you shouldn’t feel compelled to let them clutter your stream (although there are exceptions). Use the tool FriendorFollow to weed out the junk, and do so on a regular basis.

3. Have conversations. Have you ever been on a date where the other person would not stop talking about him or herself? It’s annoying, right? So don’t act that way on social media. Make sure you’re asking questions and answering them thoughtfully, and focus on two-way interaction. If you’re not doing that, you’re wasting your time and everyone else’s.

4. Cross-promote. If you have a large collection of quality friends of Facebook, use that network to find people on Twitter or to add to your fan page. Encourage those people to check out your blog and website. Provide intelligent comments on other blogs, and start LinkedIn groups. Offer every valuable contact in your giant network to explore your different platforms, and reward them for doing so by presenting unique content accordingly.

5. Track your results. Wondering if you’re doing a good job? It doesn’t have to be a mystery. Record your blog comments, site visits, blog subscribers, social media profile engagement and tweet replies. You can even use Klout or the controversial Twifficiency to receive a score based on the quality of your conversation. While these types of programs are a good measuring stick, keep in mind that the results are based on algorithms and stats that aren’t necessarily indicative of your actual influence on Twitter. Still, you should monitor these metrics consistently to make sure you’ve been staying on track and adjust as needed.

Keep these suggestions in mind as you grow and evolve your social media network. This phenomenon is a 24/7/365 machine that never quits, so it’s important that you don’t either. Successful users will constantly build, weed, refine and refocus to stay targeted and dominant. You don’t have to go crazy – just hold your online community to the same standards as those in your offline one and become the best “neighbor” you can be. Social media networks are dynamic, so you can’t become complacent in your efforts to grow or stagnant in your content.

And mom, feel free to stop forwarding me email chain letters and pictures of animals in costumes while you’re at it. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Movers and Fakers

We’ve all seen the famous scene from When Harry Met Sally. Meg Ryan proved that “faking it” only requires a well constructed performance and perhaps a sense of humor.

And now, thanks to advancing technology and social media savvy, mock PR – whether for the benefit or disgrace of a company – has reached new heights. The good, the bad and the ugly publicity stunts that have recently surfaced got the folks at Black Sheep thinking... How do these disingenuous pranksters change the landscape of public relations?

Example 1: AT&T Twitter Site
Apparently, someone had their call dropped for the last time. While the rest of us at the end of our proverbial ropes would have just redialed, or at the very most resigned to a life without the iPhone and changed providers, the person behind the @ ATT_Wireless_PR Twitter had had enough. He/she started an entire Twitter account dedicated to negatively impersonating the cellular company. Most tweets (while sometimes accurate) are dripping with snark and lacking in cleverness. Plus, it’s just a phone company – not quite a life and death matter warranting the effort and dedication.

Example 2: BP Twitter Site
Equally as snide as the AT&T site, but with a little bit more cause for concern. An activist under the moniker “Leroy Stick” has garnered tons of attention and sold more than $10,000 worth of “free” t-shirts that benefit the Gulf recovery. More than 190,000 followers must find some kind of value in the @BPglobalpr content, which is mostly funny, but also a little petulant.

Obviously, these are not professionally run sites, and they are in no way an example of quality social media. What they do represent is the challenge facing companies today in terms of risk. Whether your business is on social media or not, anyone has the opportunity to criticize your practices on very public forums. While insults can clearly damage reputations, true stories can completely destroy them, so be weary of the dark side of the online force. If your company is in a situation that lends itself to PR crises, prepare a solid strategy for overcoming and managing social media outrage.

Example 3:
Clearly satirizing PR giant Fleishman-Hillard and the rest of the corporate public relations arena, this website was created in the same vain as our buzzword blog post, and we have to admit, it’s pretty damn funny. Again, it’s not being used to promote or even necessarily demote any particular party, but it’s another good example of the lengths people will go to make a statement, so watch out.

Example 4: General Mills Press Release
As nasty as our previous examples have been, this one takes the cake. Currently under legal scrutiny, someone sent out on wire a false press release announcing the presidentially mandated investigation of General Mills supply chain. The release was picked up (and then dropped) by the Wall Street Journal and other big-name news sources, causing potentially devastating effects and confusing tons of people. The danger of this is not only the immediate consequence, but the diminishing trust of PR professionals and their communication. If journalists can’t rely on newswires, then that’s a big game changer.

Bottom Line: In spoofy PR, the coin flips both ways. Social media gives everyone a voice, allowing two-way PR to take the stage. And while anonymity can diminish credibility, a certain audience will take what they read online at face value.

But does this mean you should steer clear of social media and interactive PR tactics? Definitely not.

Companies that avoid social media because of these fears, concerned that some measure of power is going to be taken away if they get involved on social networks, lose in the long run. What they don’t realize is that this power has already shifted, and whether they participate or not, they’re still fair game – to anyone. Those who avoid the social media platforms give “citizen journalists” the last word and miss the opportunity to be heard.

Instead, companies should dive in – with a plan. Outsmart the potential opponent. Consider all crisis situations that may arise and possible negative backlash. Planning ahead for such scenarios, and having written strategy in place to address each situation gives your business the upper hand. Monitor your brand thoroughly and assign damage control responsibilities to qualified members of your PR team. In extreme cases, respond quickly and tactfully, doing your best to let the public know you’re on top of the issue while providing one-on-one attention in private. If you already have a presence and an established reputation in the social media world, you will be better positioned to not only address criticism, but to use the negative attention to your advantage.

Do you follow mock Twitter sites? Have you fallen victim to online retaliation? What do you include in your crisis control plan? Share your stories and ideas in the comments below!

Monday, August 2, 2010

African marketing: What are you Ghana do?

[Black Sheep Lindsay Bosslet spent some time this summer in Ghana. Here's what she learned.]

Before I left my comfortable Houston apartment to spend some time in a rural village in Ghana, Aimee urged me to think about an important message I could come back with - a truth or bit of advice to share with our readers and clients that we might overlook in the great U.S.of A.

What I've learned about marketing on the other side of the pond is that, overall, Ghana does nearly EVERYTHING wrong. PhotoShop jobs look worse than a romantic comedy movie poster, and copy is downright erroneous 90% of the time. We're talking apostrophes for plural nouns (instead of for possessives, as is actually correct). And taglines?

The worst.


Obviously milk does not get creamier. Gross.

It should also be noted that there is a total lack of irony. I once saw a guy wearing a "welcome to the gun show" t-shirt, and I'm pretty sure it was a legitimate invitation.

Yet, for all of this, there are a few lessons here that can be learned.

1. Even in a place where the majority of all marketing efforts are bad, it still pays to be good. As I mentioned earlier, the billboards are atrocious. However, I once saw a Nike ad - one that would have been on-par with one in America - and it was all the more brilliant. I looked and studied as long as I could before the taxi drove off. And the people do too - Nike is by far the leader in sportswear, and in a nation where sports are king, that's a pretty big deal.

For our clients at home, it's important to keep in mind that the same principle still applies. Just because your competitors are doing one thing, and just because you're not used to seeing clever progressive marketing, there's no excuse for following the crowd. In fact, it's a waste of time. If the standards are low, it's your time to shine. If they're not, well you need to keep up!

2. Innovation and top-of-mind awareness go a long way. In Ghana, the two most marketed companies are MTN and Vodafone (cell phone companies that specialize in pay-as-you-go plans, like Cricket back in the States). And, while they both their fair share of billboards, ads and commercials, those methods are not what make them so well known. These companies literally miss no opportunity to brand an empty space.

Nearly every shack - even in the most remote areas of the country - is painted and logoed by one of those companies. I guess people are happy to have a little extra cash even if it means their home is painted a ridiculously bright color? These are desperate times. The total effect is that no matter where you go, you are constantly reminded of these companies... whether you like it or not.

Now, I'm not suggesting that we start taking out ad space on each other's houses or painting our town with our brand (hmmm... Black Sheep city...). But, we should consider every opportunity for creating awareness and look to never-before-seen and unexpected places to execute our plan.

3. Time is on your side. First of all, the World Cup in Ghana was huge- basically the only topic of conversation through July 11, and even weeks later, the most played feature on television. And the advertisers took advantage - nearly every ad in the month of July contained some sort of tie-in with soccer. While for us, not even the Super Bowl is a big enough event to influence and permeate all advertising, we should always remember that a current, relevant ad is going to elicit a stronger emotional response than a more generic alternative. (Strangely enough, people here are generally running late by 1-2 hours. No joke.)

It's always interesting to study advertising and marketing across the world, across the country and even across the state. Every place has something to offer in terms of knowledge and ideas, and these experiences make us more thorough and creative marketers. (But when it comes to food? There's no better place than Houston! Chips and salsa, here I come!)

Have you been to a different country? What did you notice about their marketing? Let us know in the comments!