Reach Your Audience by Filling 'White Space'

One way to cut through the clutter in the marketplace is to find trending topics, then look for the white spaces around the edges that you can fill with quality content and get noticed.

One way to cut through the clutter in the marketplace is to find trending topics, then look for the white spaces around the edges that you can fill with quality content and get noticed.

Breaking through and gaining attention in today’s crowded communications universe may seem insurmountable. But the secret to online prominence may lie in finding the white space in what’s popular and trending.

White space derives from visual arts. Also called negative space, it is the absence of any meaningful content that draws attention to the main objects. Painter Andrew Wyeth exploited what he called the positive space between subjects to give his art depth and realism. Sometimes portions of his canvasses contained nothing but switches of white paint.

In contemporary communications terms, white space means the margins between trending topics, the edges left uncovered and unexplored, but still of latent interest to the Internet herd. This is the place where you can stake a claim to attention.

Like a video game, finding white space is a moving target. It is not a destination; it is a gap you anticipate and exploit.

Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina World” shows the visual power of separating two subjects by a nondescript distance of what we call white space.

Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina World” shows the visual power of separating two subjects by a nondescript distance of what we call white space.

Finding white space takes concentration. You can employ social media tools to help, but the best detection devices are your eyes and ears. You aren’t watching and listening for what’s there. You are trying to decipher what’s missing.

When you find the hole – the white space, you need the savvy to know how to fill it. If something is missing, what will quench the thirst of the audience? This is a high-risk form of content marketing, but it offers a lot of upside with little downside.

You aren’t betting the farm on a major marketing campaign. You are betting you can spot an opening and close it with informative, relevant, useful and entertaining content that attracts an audience. To borrow a bad example, it is a lot like finding a date on the rebound.

Some have turned the exercise of looking for white space into a data plunger. But skip with cold waters and rely on your wit and intuition. Watch a story and see an opportunity. Be entertained by what you see, while being curious about what’s missing.

Your best opportunity to stand out is to stand in a space where no one else is present. You can get attention without a lot of competition. You can win the day by out-positioning your opposition. And you don’t have to push the tackling dummy an inch.

For better or worse, there is no pre-programmed formula for finding white space. You can use any tool you like, but your best resource is your own instinct. If you stay engaged and remain curious, you will inevitably see openings. Train yourself to chase those white space opportunities as soon as they appear.

White spaces aren’t permanent. They exist and cease to exist. You will thrive by exploiting their barren landscape and providing creative, compelling content that people are poised to hear. You will be the white knight that rides into battle with a fresh flag and a brilliant call to arms.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Showing the Evolution of Engagement

Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show caters to an online crowd, recognizing that a majority of viewers see the show when they want online. It is far cry from when viewer engagement with Johnny Carson and Jay Leno was attending their show on the Las Vegas Strip.

Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show caters to an online crowd, recognizing that a majority of viewers see the show when they want online. It is far cry from when viewer engagement with Johnny Carson and Jay Leno was attending their show on the Las Vegas Strip.

When Johnny Carson and Jay Leno hosted NBC’s Tonight Show, fans engaged with them by going to Las Vegas to catch their stage acts. With Jimmy Fallon, fans of all ages engage with him online.

Carson, Leno and Fallon are great comics and entertainers. But the shape of their TV shows reflects changes in media, viewership and engagement.

People made it a point to stay up late to watch Johnny Carson kid around with his laugh-track sidekick, Ed McMahon. Leno inherited Carson’s loyal audience, but saw it dwindle as new ways of watching TV began eating away at Nielsen ratings. Fallon’s ratings dropped, too. But his Twitter followers skyrocketed.

Increasingly, Fallon’s Tonight Show is geared for audiences accustomed to watching when they please. One estimate says more than 70 percent of Fallon’s audience watches his show online. The show is also geared to lure in a wider audience through online engagement that turns into comedy bits on the show.

Each week, Fallon tweets with a hashtag inviting viewers or people who are just curious to submit their personal stories relating to his clever hashtag. On his Wednesday show, Fallon reads a selection of the best submitted tweets.  Here is one based on the hashtag #HowIGotFired.

Fallon crowdsources content. He invites viewers his social media sites, such as Tumblr, to send in funny photos and video clips. He engages many of his on-air guests in silly games, resulting in breaking eggs on foreheads, chugging beer and wearing outlandish outfits, which encourages viewers to replicate the games and send in their video 

Perhaps the biggest form of online engagement is through YouTube. Fallon, as well as Stephen Colbert and other late night show hosts, post a lot of material, packaged to be easily viewable and shareable. One popular segment featured Fallon in a lip-syncing contest with actress Emma Stone, which has attracted a staggering more than 78 million views. Another involved Fallon and Justin Timberlake as irrepressible young campers who vexed the camp counselor. These popular clips posted on YouTube boost viewership and attract a wider audience for the show.

For advertisers, the switch to online viewing and more digitally oriented content poses opportunities and challenges. Instead of relying on TV viewing ratings, they have to gauge social engagement and “softer” metrics, such as association. The upside for advertisers is that they can target more than just night owls and an older demographic.

Marketers are catching up, as evidenced by the shifting tone of advertising, which often adopts a humorous tone and quick-paced editing that matches the comedy of late night TV shows – and the continually evolving viewing patterns of online audiences.

Super Bowl Ads Follow Advertising Trends to Digital

Super Bowl ads are still clever, creative and entertaining, but their real value increasingly comes from their extended shelf life on digital media – both before and after the big game.

Super Bowl ads are still clever, creative and entertaining, but their real value increasingly comes from their extended shelf life on digital media – both before and after the big game.

Super Bowl ads symbolize the winners and losers in the game of advertising. Instead of a dramatic single moment during a timeout in the actual football game, Super Bowl ads have become cogs in customer engagement strategies that begin long before kickoff.

“The evolution of something as iconic  as the concept of Super Bowl advertising gives us fascinating evidence of the powerful and unprecedented speed of transformation in the world of marketing around us,” writes Sanjay Dholakia in an online post titled, “What 50 years of Super Bowl advertising has taught us."

In the early days of the Super Bowl, advertisers generally ran their regular ads. That changed in 1984 when Apple, with the help of Ridley Scott, turned a single Super Bowl ad into a sledgehammer that crushed tradition. Since then, Super Bowl ads have become their own genre, generating heated anticipation before the big game and excited competition after the final gun sounded over the best, funniest and most clever ad. 

Dholakia observes that Super Bowl ads have been responsible for "lunatic” cultural behavior such as echoing the “WASSUP” line in a Budweiser commercial.

But the Super Bowl and Super Bowl advertising are not immune from TV-watching trends. Fewer people each year watch TV advertising. More people use streaming services. Ad blocking has become commonplace. Add to that a slipping audience for the NFL.

So instead of making the Super Bowl game the focal point of ad campaigns, advertisers have made ads part of customer engagement campaigns. The best example is Doritos and its long-running "Crash the Super Bowl" campaign that invites people to create their own ads about Doritos.  The campaign each year launches months before the game and has its own build-up with the selection of semi-finalists and online voting by fans.

The Doritos example has been mimicked in one way or another by other advertisers that have redirected their Super Bowl energy to digital media to stretch the shelf life of TV ads and provide more granular measurement of impact.

The Super Bowl, with all its hype and cross-ties with pop culture, may be one of the last TV events that holds the attention of a wide swath of American TV viewers. But the growth of digital media and reliance on customer relationship marketing may have helped salvage advertising during the Super Bowl.

The game has become for ad agencies what the Westminster Kennel Club’s annual dog show is for dog owners and trainers – a chance to strut your best stuff. Most Super Bowl ads are entertaining, and a few are provocative. This year will be no exception, based on “leaked” ads that have been circulating for a week or more. The ad about Adolphus Busch’s perilous immigrant journey to America has gotten the best running start.

One thing hasn’t changed in advertising, Dholakia says. “There is still one marketing truth that comes through loud and clear in the Super Bowl ads – creativity and storytelling still matter."

Why Spin Is Spin, Not PR

Public relations and marketing are based on authenticity, not disingenuity. Spin at your own risk.

Public relations and marketing are based on authenticity, not disingenuity. Spin at your own risk.

Spin isn’t and shouldn’t be a public relations tactic, says Jane Dvorak, who is this year’s national chairwoman of the Public Relations Society of America.

“Truth is the foundation of all effective communications,” Dvorak said in a released statement. “By being truthful, we build and maintain trust with the media and our customers, clients and employees. As professional communicators, we take very seriously our respond suability to communicate with honesty and accuracy.”

Cynics and critics have labeled PR professionals as spin doctors for a long time. “Spin City,” the television show about a fictional local government in which the character played by Michael Fox is constantly trying to twist the truth, didn’t help public impressions of “spin.”

But the issue of public fibbing has burst to the forefront on the tip of the tongue of President Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway who coined the term “alternative facts” to explain the discrepancy over the size of inaugural crowds.

Most marketing communications are intended to inform and motivate potential customers or clients. Stretching the truth or hiding part of the truth when communicating with potential customers can boomerang by eroding trust or loyalty. You might get a sale, but lose the customer.

As Dvorak explained, marketing consists of telling stories about companies, organizations or associations. Those stories need to be authentic and true or else credibility can be at risk.

"PRSA strongly objects to any effort to deliberately misrepresent information. Honest, ethical professionals never spin, mislead or alter facts,” she said. "We applaud our colleagues and professional journalists who work hard to find and report the truth."

One long-time Portland reporter told me, “Burn me once with a story pitch that is untrue or misleading and you don’t need to bother to call me again.” As a former reporter and editor myself, I recall saying something similar to news sources who offered up sketchy details and questionable facts.

It’s understandable brands and their brand managers want to put their products and services in the best light possible. But that doesn’t mean a false light. 

PR professionals and marketers have a professional and ethical obligation to produce communications with accurate and verifiable claims. If their clients insist on spin instead of facts, then the right move for PR and marketing pros is to disengage and avoid damaging their reputation. Clients considering the alternative fact route would also be well advised to choose a different road to travel.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Corporations Turn to Crisis Counselors in Wake of Trump Tweets

When the man with the most powerful two thumbs in the world makes you a target of his tweets, corporations are  seeking crisis counsel on how to respond. Photo Credit: AP/Evan Vucci/LM Ottero

When the man with the most powerful two thumbs in the world makes you a target of his tweets, corporations are  seeking crisis counsel on how to respond.

Photo Credit: AP/Evan Vucci/LM Ottero

Donald Trump’s pledge to create jobs is being fulfilled, but perhaps not quite in the way anticipated. Many major corporations, especially ones that do business with the federal government, are hiring crisis counselors to brace themselves for antagonistic tweets from the incoming President, who has the two most powerful thumbs in the world.

The pharmaceutical industry has seen its stock values plunge after Trump promised to bring down prescription drug prices. Trump’s threats to impose border taxes on imported cars prompted auto industry executives to play up plans to invest in US manufacturing facilities. Defense contractors and aerospace companies have felt the sting of Trump’s tweets and are promising reduced costs for new aircraft.

Competent crisis plans include advice on responding to Internet attacks, but few plans take into account attacks launched by the commander in chief. Tweeting by Trump hasn’t abated since his election and, if anything, has grown more pointed at policy targets and not just political foes.

“For the first time since the whole Internet revolution began, from the questions they have and from the look in their eyes, you can see the realization that [corporations] are facing a level of institutional, enterprise threat that obviates their whole crisis playbook,” PR strategist Richard Levick told Dominic Fracassa of the San Francisco Chronicle. “You might as well burn [those] crisis playbooks.”

Levick and others who provide crisis communications counsel urge corporations to assess their vulnerabilities and develop new crisis strategies. It apparently has become a booming new business opportunity for crisis counselors.

However, the advice on how to respond to a Trump tweet varies.  Some advisers encourage corporations that do business with the federal government or are subject to federal regulation to “genuflect” to Trump’s policy directions, especially when it comes to creating jobs in the United States.

Two examples – Alibaba’s president met with Trump and announced a plan to create 1 million US jobs by helping American small businesses sell successfully into Asian markets and Amazon’s pledge to create 100,000 full-time jobs in the next 18 months. Skeptics wonder whether all those jobs will materialize, but there is no doubt the PR value of the promises was highly valuable.

Other companies are banking on a Trump tweet boomerang. In his story, Fracassa said some corporations will see more upside in ignoring or capitalizing on Trump’s 140-character salvos. He noted Vanity Fair Magazine saw its subscription rate skyrocket after it ran ads ballyhooing itself as the “magazine Trump doesn’t want you to read.”

“Other companies will realize that the king doesn’t have a lot of clothing here,” Levick said. “At some point in the not too-distant future, a company will realize that there is greater value in being courageous and standing up to the president.”

Defending Against Hacks No Longer Optional

Computer hacks have become front-page news, but they become a very personal headache for businesses of all sizes unless you take steps to prevent cyberattacks or phishing.

Computer hacks have become front-page news, but they become a very personal headache for businesses of all sizes unless you take steps to prevent cyberattacks or phishing.

Hacking has become a front-page headline-grabber, but it also can be a very local headache for companies and individuals that get hacked. Hacking prevention needs to be on the agenda of many companies and high-profile nonprofits and individuals.

Cyberattacks have become commonplace and can wreak havoc with business operations, customer relationships and investor relations and expose companies to media coverage and legal actions.

After concluding a $25 billion deal to buy St. Jude Medical, Abbott Laboratories issued a software patch for the acquired firm’s heart implants, which the Food and Drug Administration warned were susceptible to hacking. A private investment firm had raised concerns a year ago about the potential for hacking, which St. Jude and Abbott dismissed as untrue.  The same firm now has questioned whether the software patch is sufficient.

You can appreciate how all that might cause palpitations in patients with St. Jude heart implants.

Yahoo was embarrassed by reports of massive hacking into its database, involving personal information of millions of users. American companies have routinely complained about industrial espionage conducted by hackers to gain access to proprietary technology and processes. Other publicized hacks accessed health records, bank accounts and, in the case of Ashley Madison, acts of adultery by married people.

And those are just the hacks that made into the public limelight. There have been thousands more that caused their own turmoil and resulted in personal or corporate losses. And a growing number of cyberattacks target small businesses, which often are defenseless.

When hacks occur, they can turn into crisis communications nightmares. So it makes sense to include strong protections against hackers as a best practice for businesses or high-profile nonprofits and individuals. Taking steps to bock cyber-intrusions also should be part of reputation management and crisis prevention plans.

Many companies possess sensitive information, including customer databases, which should not be undervalued. Intellectual property can be another prime target. Hacking also can be aimed disrupting services, which could cast a shadow of the reliability of a service or a business. And a hack in one company can migrate to a problem for another, as the breach of credit-checking company Experian did for 15 million T-Mobile cell phone customers.

Taking steps to prevent a crisis is usually the best crisis response. Protecting your cyber-flank has emerged as one of those important preventive actions you should consider.

Delaying because IT continues to evolve isn’t a very good defense if you get hacked. It’s like letting you teeth decay while waiting for a better toothpaste. Do what you can now and continue to monitor state-of-the-art improvements in cyber defense. Customers, stakeholders and other businesses expect companies with sensitive data to protect it. If you don’t, expect to be attacked by more than just hackers.

Remember It’s Brand + Journalism

Brand journalism is an effective way to connect with consumers, but only if brand storytelling resonates with viewers because it is topical, relevant and interesting.

Brand journalism is an effective way to connect with consumers, but only if brand storytelling resonates with viewers because it is topical, relevant and interesting.

Brand journalism is the rage. However, too often its practitioners focus on the brand and neglect the journalism.

Telling good stories about a brand can be cool and compelling. But brand journalism without good storytelling is a lot like Santa without a sleigh.

While the term “brand journalism” makes some traditionalists squirm, it shouldn’t. Journalism has played a long and legendary role in all forms of advocacy. The problem with brand journalism today isn’t tainting journalism; it's neglecting the key principles of journalism.

As someone who began my career working for daily newspapers, I learned long ago that journalism involves a lot more than the inverted triangle and short paragraphs. The most salient principle of journalism is finding the hook that makes a story somewhere between interesting and irresistible.

This lesson was illuminated for me as a cub reporter when I was assigned, with malicious intent by my managing editor, to write obituaries.

After grumping a bit, I started looking more closely at the notices sent by local mortuaries. Usually, they clinically listed date of death, the person’s birthday, surviving family members and a few sparse details of the dearly departed’s life. I made it my routine to call morticians to get more details. In small communities, morticians usually know the people who drive on their slabs. I also asked to talk to family members. The result was a gusher of fascinating vignettes about people who lived in the community and had done significant things. These vignetters often wound up as front-page feature stories.

All it took to uncover these amazing life details was enough curiosity to ask. I received diaries, journals, photographs, letters, commendations and news stories about people who had died. Their obituaries elevated from recitations of dry facts to stories that celebrated their lives.

Brand journalism should be borne out of the same kind of curiosity and storytelling. It typically involves talking about people, not products. It covers stories in depth that news media outlets cover superficially, if at all. Stories frequently center on customers, not company salespeople. The best brand journalism takes aim at what will resonate with an audience, not at what you want to tell the audience.

Brand journalism can take the form of native ads that appear like news stories or websites with a newsy look. Brand journalism also can include guest opinion pieces, newsjacking, blogs, Ebooks, real books, social media and, yes, even traditional advertising.

Walgreens' “Get a Shot, Give a Shot” TV commercial is a great example of brand journalism in a traditional advertising medium. It takes a cause marketing campaign to a higher place by telling a story that links to the drug store’s customers.

Zales Jewelers includes a same-sex marriage ceremony in its latest TV ad titled “Diamond Kind of Love.” The ad, which has sparked some online outrage, sends a clear message to the LGBTQ community and anyone about the brand’s inclusionary view of love. This is a riskier form of storytelling, but it is hardly new. Subaru blazed this trail several years ago with success using subtle storytelling in its ads.

Self-publishing has enabled brand journalism like nothing before it. However, having the power to push “post” doesn’t translate into good journalism. That requires discipline, curiosity and good stories, whether in writing, photography or video. 

If brands want to connect with consumers, brand journalism can be a good path to get there. Just don’t forget that journalism is part of the pathway. Think good stories that are topical, relevant and interesting, then convey them like a storytelling star.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Telling Your Story with Great Taglines

Taglines offer a great opportunity to tell your story along with your name and logo. The best taglines underline what makes your brand or organization different, special or unique.

Taglines offer a great opportunity to tell your story along with your name and logo. The best taglines underline what makes your brand or organization different, special or unique.

One of the best places to tell your story is in the tagline attached to your logo.

A brand or organization’s name can tell a lot. A logo can add depth. But a tagline can complete the sentence of what a brand or organization is all about. Here is a great example:

Most people know alzheimer’s is deadly, debilitating disease. The Alzheimer’s Association tagline tells you all you need to know about what it does, with a aspirational twist.

Taglines are not new. They have been used effectively to create brand patinas, such as the legendary BMW tagline, “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” Apple’s “Think Different" or Nike’s “Just Do It.”

As powerful as those taglines are, they tend to paint a picture, not tell a story. On the other hand, Dollar Shave Club’s tagline tells a very clear story, “Shave Time. Shave Money,” to describe its mail order shaving gear.

A classic storytelling tagline is M&M’s “Melts in Your Mouth, Not in Your Hands.” That influenced a lot of point of sale purchases by mothers who didn’t want to clean up a candy mess.

Bounty’s “The Quicker Picker Upper” slogan cleverly described the benefit of its sponge-like paper towels.

The New York Times conveyed its mission in its tagline, “All the News That’s Fit to Print."

Brands or organizations seeking broader awareness shouldn’t overlook the value of a tagline that tells its story in combination with its name and logo.  This is especially valuable for organizations with names and logos that aren’t very descriptive of what they do.

Taglines must be short and snappy, so the trick to using them for storytelling is to find a catchy way to say a lot. Think of State Farm’s tagline, “Like a Good Neighbor, State Farm Is There.” It conveys the sense that the insurance company will treat you like a neighbor, not just a policyholder when you file a claim.

The secret sauce of coming up with a tagline is to identify what makes your organization or brand different and to condense that differentiation into a few compelling words. Think of at least three options and, before falling in love with one of them, share them with fellow employees, customers and friends. See what works – and ask why.

Copywriter Neville Medhora provided an instructive example in a 2015 blog, using his 3-step process for creating a tagline that involves unpacking your business into a paragraph, trimming it to a single sentence and finally reducing it to a phrase. Here are the three steps of his example for a company called WP Engin, which has a name and a logo that offers little clue what it does:

Paragraph: “It’s really cheap to host a WordPress site, but when something goes wrong, your host will be no where to be found. Also, WordPress gets hacked if you don’t upgrade it or choose poorly designed plugins.”

Sentence: “WP Engine makes hosting a website on WordPress super easy. We’re liked the perfect website host.”

Tagline: “WordPress hosting, perfected.”

We went through a similar, but more elaborate process working with a graphic designer to develop a new identity for Central City Concern, a Portland-based homeless agency that does much more than provide shelter. The agency situates displaced people in housing, attends to their health and helps them get back into productive life with a job.

The Central City Concern example shows the value of developing a tagline at the same time as a new logo. But even if you stick with your current logo and name, devising a tagline that tells your brand or organizational story can pay huge dividends. It will put your value proposition front and forward in people’s mind when they hear your name or see your mark.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

The Clear Advantages of Digital Media

More people are spending more time on digital media with mobile devices, but there are more reasons than that to integrate paid digital media into your marketing mix.

More people are spending more time on digital media with mobile devices, but there are more reasons than that to integrate paid digital media into your marketing mix.

Paid digital media offers brands and organizations an affordable way to target and reach intended audiences. It is especially effective as part of an integrated marketing strategy.

As people have gravitated to online sources of information, it makes sense to follow them with advertising. But the advantages of paid digital media go far beyond tracking after eyeballs.

TV and newspaper ads reach “mass” audiences. They offer some ability to target an intended audience – buying ads in specific TV shows or sections of the newspaper. Paid digital media offers a greater range of targeting, including customized messages for groups of individuals aimed at the digital media and platforms where they pay attention.

Television advertising has an impact because it is visual. Digital media is also at its best visual. A key difference is the wider range of visual possibilities that work on digital media. Most TV ads try to appeal to a wide audience. Paid digital media can be designed to appeal to a narrow audience. If you wanted to advertise industrial land or available facilities to rent, you could produce visual tools showing off what’s available and direct those tools to industrial or commercial brokers. A restaurant could announce a special holiday menu via its Facebook page with a discount offered to loyal patrons who “like” the page.

The cost and lead time to produce and place a TV spot don’t allow a great deal of flexibility, especially compared to paid digital media that can be placed relatively quickly and affordably. Nimbleness permits an advertiser to engage in trial and error placements with less cost exposure than a full-blown TV ad campaign. Digital media provides solid analytics to guide modifications to the message and/or the channel. 

Paid digital media has the advantage of being portable. A coupon can be embedded in an ad and used at the point of sale, much like coupons printed or inserted in newspapers. Because the digital media ad is targeted, users don’t have to file through a stack of inserts or leaf through the newspaper itself.

Smart marketers recognize the advantages of paid digital and social media advertising. They also appreciate that an integrated marketing plan can achieve even more. Traditional media advertising can play a valuable role in raising the visibility of digital media opportunities by driving viewers to websites or other digital platforms. Earned media and content marketing strategies are also useful in building awareness and creating interest in opportunities accessed through digital media.

The simple truth is that consumers, businesses and anyone paying attention to media are bombarded with information and messages. It is easy to be overwhelmed, tune out and miss something of interest and value. Encircling your audience with impressions launched from different directions, which is essentially the point of integrated marketing approaches, offers a higher level of confidence you can have at least one and hopefully more touch points with the people you want to reach. You don’t need to put all your eggs in one marketing basket despite digital’s clear advantages.

A key to success on digital media is finding the right staff or marketing partner that can provide quality advice, good insight on content, up-to-date knowledge on paid digital media placement and demonstrable skill in using analytics to inform decision-making.

Scorning digital media or brushing it off as only valuable to connect with Millennials is unwise and, frankly, untrue. Most people have become digital creatures. And for increasing numbers of people, there main lifeline to the outside world is online.

Shooting the Moon on Your Cell Phone

The maker of a clip-on zoom lens for cell phones demonstrates the power of show-me communications that tells a complete story in a single image.

The maker of a clip-on zoom lens for cell phones demonstrates the power of show-me communications that tells a complete story in a single image.

In the world of visual communications, there is nothing better than showing what you mean. The maker of a clip-on HD360x zoom lens for cell phones provides a great example.

In a single picture, the manufacturer shows how the zoom lens works, where it goes on a cell phone with a built-in camera and what images it can produce.

Of course, the picture doesn’t answer the question of lens quality, price or availability. But the picture makes you want to look to find out.

When viewers click on hd360x.com, they are greeted by a quick-paced slide show that reinforces the “pictures tell the story” theme by showing what the lens can do (including doubling as a monocular) and providing key specifications.

An ad about a camera lens is a no-brainer for “show me” visual communications, but so are many other messages. Fast food chains zero in on their menu items. Car companies put viewers in the driver’s seat. Computer makers dazzle showing what their laptops and tablets can do.

At their best, visual communications demonstrate a solution to a problem. The makers of the HD360x zoom lens, for example, solve the problem of shooting far away subjects on your cell phone without toting around a separate DSLR camera.

The HD360x image also shows the relative simplicity of how the product works. You snap on the lens pretty much like a clip for an open bag of potato chips. Who hasn’t mastered that skill?

Most important, the image is eye candy. You can’t miss it and you can’t take your eyes off it.

Words still have a place in paid media, but powerful images that show, explain and satisfy to the eye are a dominant way of showing your value proposition in an instant. If you don’t try to find a visual to tell your story, you miss out on your own best punch line.

Another great example of an eye-popping visual story of ironworkers sitting atop a tall tower with the simple explanation: “Building America."

Holiday Season Ripe for Building Brand Loyalty

Subaru is a good example of a company that leverages its good works into brand loyalty. And the holiday season, when families are gathering and people are reflecting, is a perfect moment for such advertising.

Subaru is a good example of a company that leverages its good works into brand loyalty. And the holiday season, when families are gathering and people are reflecting, is a perfect moment for such advertising.

Black Friday sales started early this season, but companies that have announced Thanksgiving Day closures may have achieved more branding success.

Transactions are important. So is customer trust and loyalty. It’s possible to compete for sales and send meaningful messages.

The holiday season is a time when families gather and many people reflect on their lives. It is the rarest of moments during the year when companies can tap into a deeper conversation with consumers.

Tapping into deeper conversations requires more than sending bottles of wine or marking down prices. It demands a more authentic expression of the brand and its promise. Possibilities include:

  • Sharing the voluntary good works the company and its employees have done.
  • Touting the achievements and contributions of company employees.
  • Showing how a product or service delivers public benefit as well as consumer value.

Care needs to be taken to avoid coming off as self-aggrandizing or schmaltzy. The idea is to create an affinity, not a brag sheet.

Subaru provides a good example. The car company routinely runs TV ads emphasizing how its vehicles reliably protect family members and young drivers in car accidents. During the holiday season, Subaru is focusing on its pilot project with the National Park Service to eliminate trash in national treasures such as Yosemite, Grand Teton and Denali.

The partnership isn’t new. It began in 2015 when Subaru said it would share its knowledge of zero landfall practices with the National Park Service. The pilot project made a lot of sense. The National Park Services is forced to dispose of 100 million pounds of trash annually, and that doesn’t count the garbage left behind at park concessions. Subaru is credited with establishing the first U.S. automotive assembly plant in Indiana that has been designated as a zero landfill site.

The National Parks Conservation Association, also part of the partnership, hopes to use the Subaru-backed pilot project as a way to educate park visitors to their environmental footprint and provide a basis for expanding the program to other parks. The 832-acre site also has been designated as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.

The scale of this partnership should be dissuade companies for looking for opportunities to build consumer trust and community goodwill. There is no better time to create a sense of community for a brand than the holiday season.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at@GaryConkling.

Don’t Catnap and Miss a Newsjacking Moment

Don’t be caught catnapping and miss a newsjacking moment than can turn into an earned media bonanza.

Don’t be caught catnapping and miss a newsjacking moment than can turn into an earned media bonanza.

A minor car robbery in Kansas turned into a national earned media bonanza for Kit Kat, providing yet another example of the prowess of newsjacking.

A thief broke into a Kansas State University student’s car after spotting an unopened Kit Kat candy bar in the cup holder. The thief left a handwritten note saying, “I love Kit Kats, so I checked your door and it was unlocked. Did not take anything other than the Kit Kat. I am sorry and hungry.”

The K-State student shared the thief’s note on Twitter, where it was spotted by Kit Kat, which jumped in with both paws. “Who steals someones Kit Kat?! WHO DOES THAT?! Shoot us a DM and we’ll replace it for you.”

Kit Kat, smartly, did more than replace the candy bar. It sent enough product to fill the student’s car, creating a perfectly shareable moment – and photo opp. It worked. National media and social media treated it like a good-news feature story.

The student’s tweet of the thief’s note attracted more than 500,000 shares, so there already was a crowd paying attention. Kit Kat jumped in with its donation to ride the story another mile with a shareable product promotion.

That’s the potency of newsjacking – you capitalize on the momentum of a trending story to add your chapter to the story. The Kit Kat example is a no-brainer. The product donation was peanuts compared to the cost of advertising to get the same number of impressions in a wide mix of media.

Newsjacking opportunities aren’t always this obvious or easy. They often require imagination and effort. Most important, they won’t unfold unless you look consistently and relentlessly for opportunities.

Newsjacking needs to be part of your media relations arsenal, given the same level of respect and attention as press releases, events, blogs, website updates and presentations.  And, you also have to escape your own echo chamber and pay attention to what’s trending in your world.

Don’t let someone steal your Kit Kat and catch you catnapping. 

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Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at@GaryConkling.

Earning Media Coverage Demands Daring, Creativity

Stale press releases won’t grab media attention as well as clever events, creative storytelling or compelling videos.

Stale press releases won’t grab media attention as well as clever events, creative storytelling or compelling videos.

Too many press releases sound like they were written a century ago and dispatched via telegraph. They quote the CEO and describe the obvious. They seem oblivious to news trends or trending news. Not surprisingly, they often wind up in waste cans.

The art of earned media – getting your brand, client or subject mentioned in news columns in print or online – requires just as much creativity as paid media and often more daring. Potential rewards are worth the effort.

Getting attention is the point of earned media. A stale press release may not do the trick as well as staging a clever event, posting a thought-provoking blog, sustaining an engaging social media site or hopping onto a trending news story with your own relevant content.

If your earned media strategy consists of sending press releases and hoping for the best, you are missing out on the high-speed train known as digital media. A press release is like a prayer that someone will reprint it as a story. Digital media lets you be the writer, editor and publisher of your own story and broadcast it as widely as your wits can manage.

Online visibility is a core value of earned media these days. Your link can be embedded in stories, shared or circulated in channels where your dream audiences hang out. That visibility can translate into clicks on your website, blog or social media platform. In turn, that builds awareness and, in time, trust.

Paid media and even traditional medial relations are about getting attention, too, but typically on different terms. You are ending a message you want people to hear and heed. Earned media is increasingly about providing information that people are eager to know and are willing to access if you make it available.

Because of the blizzard of information whipping around all of us, your earned media content needs to stand out to be seen. That’s where daring comes in. Sometimes the best strategy is to follow the lead of bank robbers and go where the money is – or, in this case, where your audience is. That’s why newsjacking has become a staple of earned media campaigns. Why go from a cold start when you can tap into the energy of a story that is already buzzing.

Another key contemporary earned media tactic is to send your content out in as many channels as you can, not just to the local newspaper. Actually, this isn’t as new as you might think. Cigarette companies pioneered the idea of putting your product message everywhere, from race cars to billboards to scenes in Hollywood movies. Pushing content through multiple channels, digital and non-digital, recognizes that your target audience is on the move and not always in the same place to hear what you have to say.

Celebrity endorsements are common on paid media, but true influencers shine through better in earned media content that allows them to share their experience in more relaxed, less pushy terms in video or online accompanied by images and other information.

Paid media buys must navigate highly segmented traditional media. Earned media campaigns are less constrained as they range across the digital and traditional media landscape. While paid media buys must be targeted because of financial limitations, earned media outreach can be much more expansive and experimental. The idea is to shoot wide, then narrow according to actual results.

Integrated communications strategies can and should involve both paid and earned media. Strategies saddled with smallish budgets may find the maximum impact through digital media, relying heavily on solid content. Good information, promoted through a network of digital media, social media and email, can be an attractive, budget-friendly, audience-engaging option.

Old Blogs with New Tricks

When your run dry of new ideas for your blog, thumb through your own portfolio of old blogs for fresh inspiration – and quite possibly a perfect repeat performance.

When your run dry of new ideas for your blog, thumb through your own portfolio of old blogs for fresh inspiration – and quite possibly a perfect repeat performance.

Old blog posts don’t have to be yesterday’s news. You can always repurpose evergreen content to publish as if it's something new.

Good blog content is timely and topical, which is what attracts clicks. But the advice contained in these blogs may live on and can form the basis for a new blog post or retrospective. In either case, the source for more material can certainly be your own old blog content.

Clever bloggers can think ahead and plan for a future use of their content, especially for that time when new ideas  are hard to come by or when an old blog suddenly becomes relevant all over again.

Another way to approach vintage blog content is to use it as a jumping off point for a new, related thought. Perhaps you’ve thought more about the advice you once gave and can expand on it. If have changed your mind on the subject, you can share the reasons why. Maybe you have more expertise or a new perspective now. 

Some subjects, like last year's food safety crisis at Chipotle, merit repeat coverage. You may have a product or a service with multiple aspects. You can write new blogs that highlight aspects you may have only briefly mentioned in previous blogs.

A new event might occasionally call for revisiting an old blog that was once more pertinent. Update it if you need to or re-post it if you don’t. Either way, make it clear you addressed the topic before – and your advice or service is still relevant.

A perfect trigger to resurrect archived blog content is in response to a customer question. Some may ask about a subject you’ve already covered, which gives you a chance to rework and update your thoughts in the form of an answer. You have the best of both worlds – responsiveness to a customer inquiry and credibility for having the answer already on the record.

Anticipating an emerging situation can be another terrific cause to revive an older blog that dealt with something similar. Think of your revived blog as a newsjacking opportunity.

Many content marketers and the organizations they serve complain about how hard it is to dream up material to write about. But maybe they should spend time thumbing through their own archives for new inspiration or old blogs that deserve another day in the sun.

You wouldn’t have to wonder where to look. Just pull up your own blog. Remember, old blogs can convey new tricks.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at@GaryConkling.

Indulgent Comments Can Swamp Key Messages

Donald Trump demonstrated how an indulgent comment can drown out everything else you say.

Donald Trump demonstrated how an indulgent comment can drown out everything else you say.

Donald Trump demonstrated in the third and final 2016 presidential debate how an indulgent comment can drown out everything else he said.

Playing coy on whether he would accept the outcome of the election if he loses wound up obscuring Trump's best overall debate performance and virtually assured his sharpest barbs at Hillary Clinton would be lost in the waves of subsequent news cycles.

Then he doubled down on his comment the following day by saying he would accept the election outcome – if he won.

This is a much more widespread affliction than a presidential candidate on the precipice of losing. CEOs too often let hubris get in the way of doing their job to deliver a crisp, clear message. This affliction is aggravated by overconfidence and a failure to prepare. To play off a Trump metaphor, you think you are a Big Leaguer, but perform like a Little Leaguer. 

Strategic communication requires discipline not only in what you say, but in what you don’t say. Only fools assume that the news media, especially in highly charged moments, won’t seize on inflammatory comments.  

In Trump’s case, he began walking himself into the airplane propeller by raising the red flag of a rigged election. While an audience applause line at his political rallies, his claim baited reporters to find the evidence of fraudulent electoral procedures. Since a majority of local and state election officials are Republicans, they could be expected to take offense at his claim, which they vigorously disputed.

Then comes the penultimate presidential debate and Trump, having already pushed himself out on the plank, appeared ill-prepared for the question he knows is coming as sure as flooding flows from major hurricanes. He could have answered the question about his acceptance of the presidential election outcome in a lot of ways, but he chose the one way that would command the airwaves and submerge his other messages. He tried to be cute.

Whether or not Trump’s tactic turns the election tide is irrelevant to what his comment did to his campaign and his surrogates. He and they will be forced for days to justify ambivalence about a deeply held political tradition of graceful losers and peaceful transitions of power. This probably isn’t what Trump intended, but a man with his business and celebrity background should have known what storm his comments would cause.

It’s worth recalling that  a former BP president, besieged by the controversy of one of the worst oil spills in history, wished out loud he could get some rest, as if his anguish was greater than the lives of people directly impacted by the oil spill. His wish came true sooner than expected, and perhaps not in the way he would have wished it.

Slips of the tongue can occur. But when stakes are high, you have to play the game at full capacity. That means preparation and discipline, not winging it and indulgence. Trump’s comment and its aftermath should be an object lesson on the mind of every executive who is asked to step into the limelight.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary atgaryc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at@GaryConkling.

Some Thoughts on Thought Leadership

In the Information Age, thought leaders have value. However, that value is only redeemable if a large enough group of people know your thoughts are worth paying attention to.

As Ryan O’Connell of Influence&CO. wrote, “Sometimes, it’s not what you know – it’s who else knows that you know what you know.” You know what he means.

Being recognized as a thought leader can be heady, motivating and profitable. But such recognition rarely just happens. It takes concentrated effort.

First, you have to have some thoughts worth sharing. Second, you have to find ways to share them so people see them.

Thoughts worth sharing

Thought leaders push boundaries. They tend to point out what’s on the horizon, not what’s in the rearview mirror. They provoke, inspire and challenge.

But there is a more mundane side to thought leadership that is just as valid. This kind of thought leader is a star at explaining what’s useful and relevant to his or her followers. Their skill is making something muddy seem clear.

A trait of thought leaders is a willingness to share. Their currency is information and they trade what they know to learn what you know. Like any good trader, they know the value of arbitrage and can combine what they know and you know into something a lot of other people want to know. Think of it as a form of assembling a thought worth knowing.

Thought leaders are learners. They aren’t satisfied with what they knew in the past or know now. They are driven to find out what they need to know tomorrow and the next day. Their quest is a GPS guide of thought leadership.

Content marketing campaigns center on useful and relevant information, which is the terroir of thought leaders. In fact, content marketing campaigns don’t really bear much fruit without thought leadership.

Thoughts that get shared

If thought leaders jotted down their provocative, useful and shareable thoughts only in their own journals, they wouldn’t be leaders regardless of how thoughtful they might be. Becoming a leader with something to say requires becoming a voice that is channeled so it is heard.

The digital world has made that much easier, and much harder. There are many platforms that thought leaders can use to publish or broadcast their big thoughts. Blogs, websites, YouTube channels, podcasts, ebooks, webinars and online forums are just some of the stages where thought leaders can perform. And that’s what makes the task harder. It is humanly impossible to be a thought leader everywhere at once.

So, the challenge of being heard isn’t how much you do, but where you do it. You need to project your thought leadership to places where your followers are listening or at least open to your thoughts. This can involve trial and error. You might think one channel leads to the promised land only to discover that other paths are more productive. It is best to try multiple channels, then concentrate on those with the best results and best alignment with your message.

As TED Talk speakers have shown, your message will resonate more if it is presented in an entertaining way. Thought leaders should give their listeners the equivalent of an irresistible and much appreciated hot cup of cocoa on a snowy day.

The ultimate goal of a thought leader is to emerge as an influencer. Thoughts are good. Thoughts that lead are great. As is the case for all forms of leadership, you aren’t a leader unless you have followers. You gain followers by giving them the incentive to follow – and with clear directions on how and where to follow.

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Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at@GaryConkling.

What Snap Spectacles Could See

Snap has a new name, business model and product – Snap Spectacles that the “camera company” is pitching as a toy, but could be a shrewd attempt to convince people of the value of being ready to shoot what they see when they see it.

Snap has a new name, business model and product – Snap Spectacles that the “camera company” is pitching as a toy, but could be a shrewd attempt to convince people of the value of being ready to shoot what they see when they see it.

The company that pioneered the disappearing video has introduced glasses to capture a fleeting moment.

Snap Spectacles carry a camera, but not hefty expectations. Snap, Inc (Snapchat’s new official name) calls Snap Spectacles a toy – and now calls itself a camera company.

There is clearly some serious intention in the play. Snap wants to make wearable cameras normal so when more eye-popping capability is perfected, this digital device will seem as normal as a selfie-stick.

As Google discovered a few years back, wearable cameras raised eyebrows over privacy concerns. But Snap Spectacles show up on the scene after selfies and quickie videos have become more pervasive and less scary and over-the-top eyewear has become more common and acceptable.

A pair of Snap Spectacles is relatively inexpensive. They don’t transport anyone into the virtual, augmented or altered reality space. You shoot what you see. It is real-time, first-person reality.

So why does anyone care about this latest electronic gadget? Marketers care because the accumulation of Snap Spectacles footage could show what people choose to see and shoot. This “through-their-eyes” perspective is hard to get or replicate and can be extremely valuable in establishing a buyer persona.

The cross-section of people with the self-confidence or trendsetting sense to don Snap Spectacles may be limited at first. But even that could be an advantage of scouring the videos  shot by what some might see as early adopters and influencers.

The spark that launched Snapchat, according to CEO Evan Spiegel, was to communicate “the full range of human emotion, not just a pretty picture.” Real-time Snapchat images weren't Photoshopped and didn’t linger in the cobwebs of social media. Snap Spectacles extends that principle to an even more personal viewpoint. It’s not what you stop and shoot; it’s what you see and shoot.

Snapchat is known for its clownish filters. Snap Spectacles could inspire clownish behavior to create special effects.

While there is continuing buzz about virtual reality goggles, Snap seems to be focused on a simpler formula – making it easier to record what you actually see as you see it. Getting people used to that could turn out to be as valuable as convincing people they could have a computer in their pocket. 

Podcasts Add Audio Storytelling Layers to Your Content

Podcasts are becoming increasingly popular and can add a new layer of audio storytelling to your content marketing mix

Podcasts are becoming increasingly popular and can add a new layer of audio storytelling to your content marketing mix

The concept of links and layers on websites has its analog in radio with podcasts. And one of the top practitioners is NPR, which hosts a majority of the most downloaded podcasts.

The rapid rise in popularity of podcasts affirms that people still like to listen to news, information and music, whether it’s on the radio, laptop or mobile device. It should be a reminder that podcasts offer a relatively inexpensive channel to deepen engagement with an audience, followers or customers.

Much like online newsrooms that serve as self-publishing platforms, podcasts act like your personal radio station. You get to decide the play list. Whether it’s you talking, customers describing how they use your product or guests who pass along useful information.

NPR’s approach to podcasts is instructive. It airs stories and offers podcasts to allow listeners to get into the topic in more depth. A good example is a new series hosted by Guy Raz that zeroes in on entrepreneurs. One of his first pieces centered on Cathy Hughes, an African-American woman who broke the sound barrier on radio and now owns an empire of 50 radio stations. Listeners got a taste of the story on air, but can hear the whole story on a podcast.

This technique of layering a story works at multiple levels. Many listeners will be satisfied with the shorter version of the story on air. Others will want more. The podcast becomes that more.

Ray sets a good example to follow. As the host and editorial director of the TED Talk Radio Hour, Raz has mastered the art of visual storytelling that is seductively entertaining and informative. His selection of speakers, use of visual assets and promotion on channels such as YouTube have given TED Talks broad exposure and a loyal audience. Now he is bringing those same elements to audio storytelling with the use of podcasts.

Foundation Digital has created an infographic tracing the rise of podcasting (almost 30 million hours produced annually), some of its most popular applications (music, comedy and news)  and the average length (22 minutes).  

From 2003 to 2016: The Astounding Growth of Podcasting [Infographic]

From 2003 to 2016: The Astounding Growth of Podcasting [Infographic]

As we’ve mention in a previous blog about the Freakonomics Radio podcast, this audio platform can be an excellent addition to a content marketing agenda. But it takes a little more effort than whipping out a tape recorder and starting to talk.

Like other forms of content marketing, you need to think about your audience and what will interest them that you can provide. Your content should align with your brand and be relevant to your brand promise. And it should be professional. Good sound quality, sharp editing and a script that pops along are necessary ingredients for podcasts to be downloaded and heard.

The equipment to produce podcasts has become much more accessible, just like video tools. You might need a little help to get started and find your groove. The good news that you don’t need a sound stage or production house to create your own informative and entertaining podcasts. (Don’t forget the entertainment part.)

Podcasts can be posted on websites, blogs and social media, giving your audience a chance to sample your product, service of advice before taking a deeper drink. If done right, yours is the voice someone will be listening to while sitting in congested traffic going to or coming home from work. It’s the next best thing to having a captive audience.

Crack a Joke to Build a Brand

Comedian Jim Gaffigan quips in a new commercial about driving a Chrysler Pacifica minivan and retaining his manhood. It’s just one example of how humor has become a staple of contemporary marketing campaigns, especially ones trying to appeal to young adults.

Comedian Jim Gaffigan quips in a new commercial about driving a Chrysler Pacifica minivan and retaining his manhood. It’s just one example of how humor has become a staple of contemporary marketing campaigns, especially ones trying to appeal to young adults.

No joke, comedy can be a brand builder.

Think of comedian Jim Gaffigan and his ads for the Chrysler Pacifica minivan, which are designed to convince young dads that driving a family minivan doesn’t mean you still can’t be cool and yourself.

Humor has become a regular staple in many marketing campaigns, especially ones aimed at younger audiences that are drawn to the sassy comedy of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and satirical commentary in The Onion

Peppercomm, a new York-based marketing company, has made humor a hallmark of its own culture. Its management and account leader training includes instruction in stand-up comedy. Co-founder and CEO Steve Cody said comedy was embedded in training “because it improved presentation, listening and rapport-building skills while creating a unique culture.”

“Many in the industry scoffed, believing PR was a far too serious business for comedy,” Cody added. “Today, we’re routinely hired by clients and non-clients to stage comedy workshops for their employees.” And the firm is retained to inject humor into client marketing campaigns.

Humor can be a double-edged sword. An insensitive joke or an offending aside can damage a brand or at least cause embarrassment. But well-timed comedy can be entertaining and even endearing.

Southwest Airlines is a great example. Flight attendants are well known for stand-up routines involving safety instructions. The iconoclastic airline has hired aspiring actors as flight attendants to help realize its corporate goal of making passengers laugh and feel at ease.

A Southwest Airlines attendant quipped as the plane was taking a long time to taxi to the runway, “You know, we drive halfway and fly the other half.” Another attendant deadpanned, “If you smoke on this airplane, the FAA will fine you $2,000. At those prices, you might as well fly Delta."

Even when humor is a corporate goal, discretion and a sense of timing are essential. Like any form of communication, and especially comedy, you have to know your audience. And your critics. Kmart took a risk with the “I Shipped My Pants” TV ad campaign. The play-on-words humor offended some, but it did help the struggling retailer dramatically drive up its web traffic. Before the ad, no one ever accused Kmart of being edgy.

Dollar Shave Club leapt into business with a YouTube video that was described as “unconventional, outrageous and blunt” – and, of course, funny. The video made the rounds of social media with more than 17 million views and put the startup company on the shaving map.

Charmin marketed toilet paper with a #tweetfromtheseat campaign that encouraged people to share their most innermost inspiration while on the throne in their bathroom.

State Farm peddled insurance with its “Jake from State Farm” ads that were reprised with Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin reprising their Conehead characters from Saturday Night Live. Not to be outdone, Allstate hired Dean Winters, who had a role in 30 Rock, to personify mayhem in a series of laugh-provoking commercials.

Wonderful Pistachios took no chances and hired Stephen Colbert to create buzz for its brand at the 2014 Super Bowl.

It is necessary to hire a production company, and it doesn't hurt to bring in a TV star, to convey a compellingly comedic side of your brand. Marketers who make humor part of messaging say the secret is in authenticity with a little showmanship. Getting a consumer to laugh is one of the best hooks to get them to buy.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at@GaryConkling.

Old Blogs with New Tricks

When your run dry of new ideas for your blog, thumb through your own portfolio of old blogs for fresh inspiration – and quite possibly a perfect repeat performance.

When your run dry of new ideas for your blog, thumb through your own portfolio of old blogs for fresh inspiration – and quite possibly a perfect repeat performance.

Old blog posts don’t have to be yesterday’s news. You can always repurpose evergreen content to publish as if it's something new.

Good blog content is timely and topical, which is what attracts clicks. But the advice contained in these blogs may live on and can form the basis for a new blog post or retrospective. In either case, the source for more material can certainly be your own old blog content.

Clever bloggers can think ahead and plan for a future use of their content, especially for that time when new ideas are are hard to come by or when an old blog suddenly becomes relevant all over again.

Another way to approach vintage blog content is to use it as a jumping off point for a new, related thought. Perhaps you’ve thought more about the advice you once gave and can expand on it. If have changed your mind on the subject, you can share the reasons why. Maybe you have more expertise or a new perspective now. 

Some subjects, like last year's food safety crisis at Chipotle, merit repeat coverage. You may have a product or a service with multiple aspects. You can write new blogs that highlight aspects you may have only briefly mentioned in previous blogs.

A new event might occasionally call for revisiting an old blog that was once more pertinent. Update it if you need to or re-post it if you don’t. Either way, make it clear you addressed the topic before – and your advice or service is still relevant.

A perfect trigger to resurrect archived blog content is in response to a customer question. Some may ask about a subject you’ve already covered, which gives you a chance to rework and update your thoughts in the form of an answer. You have the best of both worlds – responsiveness to a customer inquiry and credibility for having the answer already on the record.

Anticipating an emerging situation can be another terrific cause to revive an older blog that dealt with something similar. Think of your revived blog as a newsjacking opportunity.

Many content marketers and the organizations they serve complain about how hard it is to dream up material to write about. But maybe they should spend time thumbing through their own archives for new inspiration or old blogs that deserve another day in the sun.

You wouldn’t have to wonder where to look. Just pull up your own blog. Remember, old blogs can convey new tricks.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.