Mar 22 2010

Creative Public Service

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Creativity is energy. It’s vibrant. It’s original. It should also be strategic and analytical. Above all it should be easy to understand in its execution.

I was baffled by the Census 2010 Superbowl advertisement, which was widely panned as a flop. The “public service” announcements featured cast members from Christoper Guest mockumentaries such as “Best in Show” in a pre-production meeting for the production of Snapshot of America.

The ad may have been creative, but only if you understood the Hollywood reference. From a strategy stand point, the ad failed miserably. The information component was missing.  What is the census? What is the value of participating? What was the incentive to visit the Web site?

During the NCAA tournament this past weekend, I saw another Census advertisement that was more promising in its mission to educate recipients and influence survey returns.  The punchy musical message shared the importance of mailing back the census survey in a creative and strategic manner.

This ad, along with videos on YouTube and the Census Web site more clearly articulate the reasons for completing the census. These are part of $340 million promotions and advertising campaign targeted to the 120 million household required by law to complete the census, including targeted audiences such as Native Americans and Hispanics.

What makes the music ad better the Hollywood teaser?  It’s simple, memorable and entertaining. More importantly it contains information that has the potential to influence and change behavior. You can’t measure creativity, but you can measure campaign objectives.

After all, the primary goal of a public service campaign is to educate and inform the public about a desired behavioral outcome. “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires.” “Stop. Drop. And Roll.” “Keep America Beautiful.” More contemporary public safety campaigns include “Click It. Or Ticket” and “Over the Limit? Under Arrest.”

Given the effectiveness of these public service campaigns — did you know Smokey the Bear was 65? — perhaps the census promotions would be more effective over a longer period of time. Not just once every 10 years.

Oct 21 2009

Yes Man, I’m Troubled

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I’m so incredulous about Monday’s faux press conference to announce the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s “reversal” on climate change that I’m not sure where to begin.

As a student cramming for the APR readiness review and exam, I’m dumbfounded.  How can a multiple choice exam assess my ability to apply PRSA’s code of ethics when privately funded morons like the Yes Men group have been pulling stunts like this for years?  I hope the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Press Club sue them for defamation.

Since many of my APR study group colleagues hadn’t heard of the fiasco, in summary:
Liberal activists staged a fake press conference, distributed a fraudulent press release, and created a sham Web site announcing that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was now supporting the assault on free trade and more business taxes. (OK. While I am a big proponent of alternative energies and grew up on the sustainability bandwagon in farm country—long before it was trendy—I think global warming is influenced at least as much by nature as by human interference. We should all relax before we legislate our way into an unsustainable utopia. Have another hit at the Oxygen bar. Remember those at the tech trade shows in the go-go days of the 1990s?)

On Monday morning, broadcast media reported the “ breaking news” as it was happening. Since I didn’t fault CNN for reporting on the Coast Guard drill on 9/11, I guess I should support the media in this case too? No. CNBC and others didn’t double source the story before running with it.  The media (and PR practitioners) have a responsibility to verify first and then report. It wasn’t until Fox Business News called the U.S. Chamber of Commerce did anyone realize it was a hoax (according to The Washington Post accounting).

If I were spokesperson for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, I’d be beyond livid. As someone who has prepared many crisis plans and spoken at conferences on the topic of crisis communications and reputation management, I’m flabbergasted. Even Greenpeace and PETA don’t sink so low as to impersonate their enemies. This recent stagecraft reinforces why hi-jinx scenarios should be in the crisis plan of every corporation/association/government/university.

Finally, I can’t bite my tongue any longer.  Why is the PRSay blog silent on this topic and so many others?  The last entry is from Oct. 15 – on measurement – another promotion for PRSA research.  Mike. Bill. PRSA leaders. Please stop obsessing about every blog post and BE the voice of the industry. Take a chance on “instant analysis” once in awhile and have a timely opinion. Get someone who can write daily and say something that stimulates dialogue. The blog is so corporate and instructional that it’s boring.

But I digress. What’s most troubling about this farce, balloon boy, Tom DeLay on Dancing with the Stars and so many other dilemmas in a YouTube world? We often forget to pause, question, and then judge. Every day, regardless of profession, we should take care to think twice – erring on the side of accuracy, not immediacy. It’s worth the trouble.

Sep 18 2009

Pearl of Wisdom for a Cause: Cervical Cancer

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Pearl of Wisdom Campaign

Pearl of Wisdom Campaign

Who knew September was Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month? What caught my attention? A pearl. Now I can add a pearl pin to my jean jacket collection of women’s health awareness campaign pins. My favorite is the Red Dress for the “heart truth”, followed by my Pink Ribbon for breast cancer.  October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month — complete with pink appliances.

What is cervical cancer? According to, “it is caused by “high-risk” types of the human papillomavirus (HPV),  a very common sexually transmitted infection…. HPV Infections that do not go away can cause cells on the cervix to change and become abnormal. Over time, abnormal cells can slowly develop into cervical cancer.”

Sadly, I know too many family members, friends and colleagues who have dealt with these life-threatening cancers personally. Thus when I receive contest solicitations for cancer awareness, I pause. Do we have play games and wear jewelry to have a conversation about women’s health?  The contests and pins capture attention and generate tanigble results — a primary goal of any awareness campaign.  In fact, several PR/Marketing campaigns for health issues have won awards for many public relations agencies.

While I wish behavior change could occur absent these promotional efforts, such gimmics are necessary. In the case of cervical cancer, the call to action is HPV vaccination and regular visits to your gynecologist for a PAP test.

Please share that pearl of wisdom generously with every woman.