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.

Rebranding Is Still Branding

There are lots of good reasons to rebrand, but throwing away your brand history isn’t one of them. Mr. Clean and its familiar jingle have been around since 1958 and have grown and evolved with the brand in step with the needs of their customers.

There are lots of good reasons to rebrand, but throwing away your brand history isn’t one of them. Mr. Clean and its familiar jingle have been around since 1958 and have grown and evolved with the brand in step with the needs of their customers.

There are many good reasons to launch a rebranding campaign – a new name, direction or product line. That said, though, rebranding shouldn’t abandon the original brand but instead move it to new ground with fresh expectations.

One of the worst outcomes of a rebranding campaign is to sacrifice the hard-earned capital of previous branding efforts. Even if a brand has some rust to shake off or a incurred a dent to smooth out, it still has residual value. Rebranding isn’t about starting over; it’s about refreshing (and fixing) what has been.

After a string of food safety issues, Chipotle received lots of advice about its brand. Some argued the company should scrap the name and start over. Others said the Mexican fast casual chain should retain its name and undertake a rebranding campaign that underlined why people like Chipotle's food and how the company has responded to its food safety crisis.

Like branding, rebranding is all about positioning. What makes your product or service distinct? What is your value proposition? Why should anybody care about what you offer?

Rebranding affords a chance to tell the world who you are in a fresh way, whether it’s updating your product or service line, using new tools such as video to tell your story or placing your story in new channels where customers hang out and pay attention.

Rebranding allows companies to respond to their customers' changes in taste. Think of all the food ads you now see that talk about being gluten free or produced without growth hormones.

Stodgy brands turn to rebranding to inject a youthful step into their offerings. You can still enjoy venerable Campbell’s chicken noodle soup, and now you can take it to work in a handy cup that heats up in a microwave.

One off the best uses of rebranding is to move from pushing a message to attracting viewers through informative, relevant and useful content. This can mean rethinking a website to relying on digital media promotion. A website makeover can evolve from what is essentially and electronic brochure to an information hub designed around how existing and potential customers or clients interact with a product or service. Moving to digital media could be as basic as relying less on the phone book and more on self-publishing content of value to customers or clients.

If, like Chipotle, a company is rebranding to move on from the past, then rebranding has to deal openly and honestly with the past. That honesty conveys its own freshness that customers often will reward. This requires more than lip service to change. Show the change with video and validate its value with credible third parties.

Rebranding is not a brand divorce. It is more like a brand family extension. The all-purpose Mr. Clean was introduced in 1958 with its own character and jingle that helped propel the product, originally developed to swab out ocean-going ships, into a best-selling customer favorite.

In 2016, after the Mr. Clean product line had expanded into a full line of cleaning products, including the Magic Eraser, the character and jingle were modernized. You could still recognize the spiffed-up Mr. Clean and the jingle struck a familiar chord. Instead of mentioning white sidewall tires and old golf balls, the jingle talked about using Mr. Clean to “clean your whole house and everything that’s in it.”

The rebranding has been an unquestionable success. And the jingle is the longest running advertising tune in television history.

Dancing with Truth and Consequences

U.S. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte wants to move on from his fractured hold-up story in Rio to ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” without dancing with the consequences of his cover-up lie.

U.S. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte wants to move on from his fractured hold-up story in Rio to ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” without dancing with the consequences of his cover-up lie.

The brand known as Ryan Lochte is broken. An apology isn’t enough to glue the legs back on his brand.

In another televised interview, Lochte admitted to lying about an armed hold-up at a Rio de Janeiro gas station that he and three other U.S. Olympic swimmers apparently vandalized when drunk. Apologies work when someone makes a mistake and owns it. They don’t settle the score when you make a mistake and try to cover it up.

For reasons that are hard to understand, Lochte continues to use the odd phrase “over-exaggerated” the truth. He didn’t exaggerate the truth. He lied.

Lochte blames the news media for fanning the flames and dragging out the story. He says, “I have a great team. They are dealing with it, all the legal issues. We’re just trying to get this over with. It’s been dragged out way too long. The media has taken this to a whole new level. I want to put this behind me and move on and move forward.”

Lochte adds, “There are other, bigger issues that this world is facing. I am human. I made a mistake, and that’s something I am going to have to live with.”

Yes, the world has bigger problems than Lochte. And, yes, he will have to live with his mistake. But if he wants his brand to shine again, he needs to redeem himself, less for the deed, than the cover-up and his continued whining.

Lochte already is pitching for his appearance on “Dancing With the Stars,” which appears on ABC, the same network that carries Good Morning America, where Lochte made his latest attempt at a cleansing apology.

If Lochte really wants redemption and to show he has a spine, not just swim fins, he might consider returning to Rio to face the criminal charges that have been filed against him. Would it be risky and could he face actual jail time? You bet. It would also show he is a grown up prepared to accept the consequences of his actions. Maybe he could agree to community service, working with young Brazilians who want to become world-class swimmers, but wouldn’t have an opportunity to learn from a world-class swimmer.

Showing respect for Brazil, its people and its laws would make Lochte respectable again as a brand. His actions would speak louder than his poor choice of words and his pathetic attempt to deflect blame for his misery on the media.

Acting like an adult might be inconvenient for Lochte. It might force him to miss his dance date on a TV show. That’s the price you have to pay for bad behavior. It's also the price you have to pay to redeem your brand, and perhaps even your own self-respect.

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.

Surprising Impact of Surprise and Delight Marketing

Apple’s use of Maya Angelou’s “Human Family” poem in a TV ad to mark the opening of the 2016 Rio Olympics is an example of how to capture attention through the use of surprise and delight in marketing.

Apple’s use of Maya Angelou’s “Human Family” poem in a TV ad to mark the opening of the 2016 Rio Olympics is an example of how to capture attention through the use of surprise and delight in marketing.

Poetry plays a paltry role in advertising. So when a great poem features in an ad, it has a huge impact.

Apple is airing a 60-second TV spot with the late Maya Angelou reading her Human Family over a series of engrossing photos of people from around the world shot on iPhones. The ad debuted during the opening ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympics, positioning Apple as an essential part of the human family.

Poems don’t work because of rhymes or clever cadence. They work because they are surprise content. They are so different than the norm, they captivate attention. If the poem or surprise content is good, the listeners keep listening and watching.

People like surprises. Studies prove it. And as much as advertisers obsess over the numbers of impressions an ad gets, a well-timed surprise can have as much or more impact.

The element of surprise doesn’t have to be of the jumping-out-of-the-cake variety. It can just be different or out of ordinary, like a poem.

Often, visual effects can surprise and delight an audience. Wieden + Kennedy’s ongoing series of ads for Old Spice relied on surprise elements from Terry Crews impersonating beard stubble to Mr. Wolfdog as director of marketing to Isaiah Mustafa on the beach showing how to smell like a man. The ads mostly appeared on Old Spice’s YouTube Channel, racking up nearly 100 million views. Instead of young adults bypassing commercials, they couldn’t wait to see and share these ads.

Surprise announcements can have an impact. MasterCard has a “Priceless Surprises” campaign that involves giving its  followers on social media gifts and prizes, such as a meet-up with Justin Timberlake or VIP tickets to the Grammy Awards. The campaign turned into an app that brings the credit card company even closer to its users through the use of surprise. The campaign and the app have resulted in greater brand loyalty and a barrage of positive online comments.

Apple, Old Spice and MasterCard can afford top-flight creative talent to produce surprising content and campaigns. So it’s important to note that surprise and delight doesn’t have to be a high-priced option. The auto mechanic who sends a thank you note, the vendor who unquestionably replaces a product and the sales rep who places a follow-up call to make you you successfully assembled a piece of furniture are examples of surprise and delight marketing.

The heart of surprise and delight marketing is making an emotional connection that instills loyalty. Kleenex took note that many of the status updates by its Facebook followers said they were sick. The company tracked down the actual addresses of 50 customers with colds and sent them a get-well basket of Kleenex products. Most of the surprised recipients took selfies with their surprise gifts and posted them on Facebook, attracting thousands of views.

The Apple commercial featuring an excerpt from Angelou’s well known poem was beautifully produced and deeply affecting. But in the end the ad was just a poem and photos taken on iPhones. Surprising people is less about money than imagination.

Human Family
I note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy.
Some declare their lives are lived
as true profundity,
and others claim they really live
the real reality.
The variety of our skin tones
can confuse, bemuse, delight,
brown and pink and beige and purple,
tan and blue and white.
I've sailed upon the seven seas
and stopped in every land,
I've seen the wonders of the world
not yet one common man.
I know ten thousand women
called Jane and Mary Jane,
but I've not seen any two
who really were the same.
Mirror twins are different
although their features jibe,
and lovers think quite different thoughts
while lying side by side.
We love and lose in China,
we weep on England's moors,
and laugh and moan in Guinea,
and thrive on Spanish shores.
We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we're the same.
I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.
We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.
We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

Don’t Be Put Off by the Term. Newsjacking Works.

Newsjacking is a way to ride the crest of breaking news or a popular event to tell your story and gain valuable exposure that would be virtually impossible any other way. And mostly for free.

Newsjacking is a way to ride the crest of breaking news or a popular event to tell your story and gain valuable exposure that would be virtually impossible any other way. And mostly for free.

“Newsjacking is the art and science of injecting your ideas into a breaking news story so you and your ideas get noticed.”

David Meerman Scott hijacked this term to describe a new type of media relations that hops aboard a trending story or topic instead of trying to launch a story from a cold start. Not everyone in the public relations world thinks newsjacking is a great term or idea.

“As a public relations executive with more than 20 years of experience and a track record for creatively connecting clients to top-tier media opportunities, I was initially amused by the mashup ‘newsjacking’ – but only for about 30 seconds,” writes Tracey Boudine, vice president of Wise Public Relations. “Who wants to position themselves as an expert on hijacking news?”

Seen as a form of hijacking, the concept isn’t all that attractive. But that’s not really Scott’s point. In explaining his view on newsjacking, Scott says:

“When there is news in your marketplace, reporters and analysts are looking for experts to comment on the story. Newsjacking gets you media attention. With little effort.

"As a story develops in real-time, buyers become interested in products and services based on what’s happening now. Newsjacking generates sales leads and adds new customers. For free.”

One of the most appealing elements of newsjacking is that anyone who is plugged in can do it. “Newsjacking is being used right now by nonprofits, political campaigns, business-to-business marketers and individuals,” Scott says.

Since a lot of newsjacking involves social media, the cost is minimal. The premium isn’t on how much money you have in the budget, but on how much imagination you have in the brain. “News gathering happens in real time, and it can encompass anyone who steps forward quickly with credible input,” Scott says.

Boudin takes issue with calling Oreo’s Super Bowl tweet about dunking in the dark an example of newsjacking. She says the trending tweet is better described as “real-time, social media marketing.” But that’s semantics. “News” isn’t restricted to what’s covered by newspapers or TV stations.

In an amusing recent segment, Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon noted that more people now get their news from Facebook than any other source. Then he provided some Facebook “news” examples: “Nobody Knows When to Unfriend a Dead Co-Worker” and “Wall Post Discussion About Pumpkin Spice Latte Still Ends Up About Obama.”

Those are fake headlines, but you get the point. News is what people make it. Newsjacking is just a tactic to surf on whatever news wave is sweeping by your target audience.

Don’t crinkle your nose over the term newsjacking. The concept works. Here is a great example from my PR colleague, Dan Keeney:

The Society for Heart Attack Prevention & Eradication (SHAPE) was frustrated by the slow adoption rate of its techniques to identify people at risk of an imminent heart attack. In the hours after former President Bill Clinton’s heart attack scare, Keeney coined the term “The Clinton Syndrome” and used it as an example of how SHAPE’s assessment process works to save lives. Keeney’s rapid response earned quality media coverage in major print and electronic media across the nation, including a cover story in TIME magazine. The exposure SHAPE gained from Keeney’s newsjacking of the Clinton heart attack scare created grassroots pressure and eventually led the American Heart Association to adopt guidelines based on SHAPE’s recommendations.

If you haven’t added newsjacking to your media relations arsenal, you are missing opportunities that literally are at your fingertips.

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.

Brand Stories Where Brand and Story Are Inseparable

The best brand stories are ones where the brand and the story are inseparable, like GoldieBlox, which makes construction toys for young girls to spark their interest in eventually becoming engineers.

The best brand stories are ones where the brand and the story are inseparable, like GoldieBlox, which makes construction toys for young girls to spark their interest in eventually becoming engineers.

Storytelling is in. Brand stories and storytelling are the vehicles of choice for content marketing. But not all stories are created equal.

One of the better brand stories is by GoldieBlox, which was launched in 2012 as a way to "introduce girls to  the joy of engineering at a young age.” Founder Debbie Sterling earned a degree in mechanical engineering and was struck by how few women studied to become engineers.

“Construction toys develop an early interest in science, technology, engineering and math,” the GoldieBlox website says. “But for over a hundred years, they’ve been considered boys toys. GoldieBlox is determined to change the equation. We aim to disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers.”

The young company, which went from Kickstarter funding to a $1 million in orders in six weeks, features BloxTown on its website. This is a storytelling showplace. There are videos, apps, toys and “The Gang” – four young multiracial women who personify the goals of GoldieBlox. There is Goldie Blox (mechanical engineer and Ms. fixit), Ruby Rails (software engineer and dressmaker), Li Gravity (daredevil who calculates the physics of her stunts) and Valentina Voltz (gadget lover and musician). They even have their own compatible pets, like Nacho, Goldie’s basset hound sidekick who “eats, farts and drools.”

Products are placed on the web page as just another avenue to adventure.

GoldieBlox has a blog with frequently updated content, typically featuring women engineers and technologists, who are called #goldmodels. The blog invites stories from women with careers in scientific and engineering fields (“Engineers in the Wild”), as well as from young girls whose interest in those professions has been piqued.

GoldieBlox is an excellent example of a brand built around and fueled by a story. The story and the brand are inseparable. The GoldieBlox brand story works for several reasons:

  • The story about the brand is authentic
  • The story has human appeal
  • The product and the brand story are closely linked
  • There is a clear call to action.

Too many brand stories are forced or superficial. They come closer to brand hype than a brand story.

Like any other good story, a brand story needs to resonate with its audience, to touch as many of their senses as possible so people feel transported to where the story takes place. That place can be as close as the family living room where a young girl constructs her first whirligig.

Portland’s Iconic Pitchman and Beloved Showman

Tom Peterson’s trademark flat-top image was everywhere in Portland – on alarm clocks, wristwatches and coffee mugs. And Tom Peterson was a constant presence on TV, inviting people to come to his “happy place to buy."

Tom Peterson’s trademark flat-top image was everywhere in Portland – on alarm clocks, wristwatches and coffee mugs. And Tom Peterson was a constant presence on TV, inviting people to come to his “happy place to buy."

Tom Peterson is easily the most recognizable pitchman for his own Portland brand of retail appliance, furniture and electronics stores. While his branding style may have seemed corny, it worked.

Peterson, who died last month at 86, was instantly recognizable because of his trademark flat-top haircut, his homemade TV ads and his favorite, highly inflected catch phrase, "FREE is a very good price.”

Peterson was more than just a pitchman, though. You could call him a true showman. He lived his brand, often greeting customers on his showroom floor with a friendly handshake as well as talking to them via his TV ads. He didn’t high-hat people. He knew his customers were typical working class Oregonians who wanted a value from someone they trusted.

Peterson was very engaging in person. Taller than he seemed on television, Peterson was anything but a self-absorbed celebrity. He was down to earth, even when he was TOM Peterson, the TV personality beckoning you to come to “the happy place to buy.”

Peterson’s legacy is that brands need to be personal. In today’s world, that means finding a way to engage customers. In Peterson’s heyday, it meant being the face of a brand that was as familiar to customers as cloudy days in Portland. People woke up to alarm clocks with Tom Peterson’s face, they wore his wristwatches and they drank morning coffee from mugs with his and his wife Gloria’s picture that marked the couple’s 50th anniversary.

You never were at a loss to know what Peterson was saying, but he didn’t shout. He used schtick to get and stay noticed. One of his gimmicks was “Wake up” ads that touted his stores staying open from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. to serve insomniacs and the curious.

Peterson was best man at a wedding officiated by beloved local professional wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper. He gave away Halloween masks in his image, which he printed in black and white in case anyone would try to use one while robbing a bank. He offered free flat-top haircuts in his stores. His iconic face appeared in comic books and stencil art. There was even a song written about him called “I Woke Up with a Tom Peterson Haircut."

Anyone around Portland in the 1970s  and 1980s knew the sound of “It’s TOM Peterson.” He was known more broadly, too. Northwest native Kurt Cobain wore his kitschy wristwatch. Director Gus Van Sant, who lives in Portland, cast Peterson in three cameo roles in his films Drugstore Cowboy, My Private Idaho and To Die For. Peterson also appeared in Mr. Holland’s Opus, which was filmed in Portland.

It’s a bit surprising that Peterson was never asked to play a starring role in Portlandia. The truth is, Peterson wasn’t viewed as a peculiarity. He was a Portland icon.

A victim of overreach and overwhelming debt, Peterson filed for bankruptcy in 1991. At his wife’s suggestion, Peterson talked candidly about his financial pickle on his TV ads as he was reduced to working on the sales floor to clear inventory.

Ever the optimist, Peterson became a motivational speaker and he and his wife emerged from bankruptcy to start a similar business in 1992 on a smaller scale, but with the same personality-forward brand – Tom Peterson's and Gloria's, Too! Tellingly, the sale of Tom Peterson memorabilia helped raise funds for their new venture.

Les Schwab, Orville Roth and Fred Meyer were the faces and often the voices of their brands. They were also the personification of their brands, the person customers trusted – Schwab with his tire guarantee, Roth with his signature green tie walking the aisles of his grocery stores and Meyer promoting one-stop shopping.

No one, however, has quite reached the iconic status of Peterson in Portland. Perhaps because no one thought about branding the way he did. When asked why he put his image on and his voice in an alarm clock that he gave away, Peterson said, “If you can put your face in 5,000 Portland homes, it certainly can’t hurt.”

Apparently not. Even the attorney for Peterson’s creditors in his bankruptcy case wore a Tom Peterson wristwatch.

YouTube Channels that Inform, Entertain and Humanize

Michelle Phan went from a makeup blogger to a YouTube phenom by combining her visual subject matter with a medium that matched her target audience’s preference and offering informative, entertaining and humanized video content.

Michelle Phan went from a makeup blogger to a YouTube phenom by combining her visual subject matter with a medium that matched her target audience’s preference and offering informative, entertaining and humanized video content.

People love to watch videos for information and entertainment. One way to capitalize on this popularity is to broadcast your videos on your own YouTube channel.

Socialblade.com has listed the top 100 YouTube channels, which confirms people, especially young ones, like to watch videos that are informative and entertaining. Many of the top 100 are YouTube channels for performing artists, such as Justin Bieber and Beyoncé. And then there is Michelle Phan.

Phan took a blog devoted to makeup tutorials and turned it into a YouTube powerhouse. She has uploaded almost 400 videos since 2007, which have attracted more than 1 billion views. One of Phan’s most viewed videos – 1.5 million views – shows how to style up when attending a music festival.

Other videos talk about hair removal, pimples and makeup tips and tricks. Phan provides trend reports on metallic lips, lift-up shoes, peel-off makeup and glitter freckles. There also are videos that address cyberbullying and acne shaming.

Phan, who was born in Massachusetts, posted a video earlier this year about her trip to Vietnam to meet with family members and discover her ancestral roots. The video is polished, with professional videography and quick clips that take you along for her ride without making you wish you could jump off the bus.

Michelle Phan went from a blogger to a YouTube powerhouse vlogger by using the visual strength of videos to bring her makeup tutorials to life.

Michelle Phan went from a blogger to a YouTube powerhouse vlogger by using the visual strength of videos to bring her makeup tutorials to life.

Phan is regarded as a YouTube personality and entrepreneur. But her secret isn’t really a secret. She took a subject that is highly visual and brought it to life on video. She mastered an on-camera style that makes a potentially boring subject interesting, or even exciting for young women intensely consumed with how they look.

Marketers encourage use of video content because it can boost clicks on social media and websites. Some recommend setting up YouTube channels to create your own broadcasting network to run parallel with a website. We agree with the power of videos, especially as more people interact with the internet on mobile devices.

But more is required than setting up a camera to capture a talking head or an unstaged and unscripted event. Videos worth watching are videos that have been designed with forethought. For example, Phan succeeds on YouTube because her message and her medium match with the preferences of her target audience.

AARP has a YouTube channel that features videos with clips of 1960s rock and roll bands, tips on how to avoid injuring-causing falls and look-backs to major historical events. The YouTube channel for Angie’s List contains videos showing to stain a deck, finding the best body shop after a wreck and deciding whether to repair or replace an air conditioner.

AARP provides a suite of video content on its YouTube channel designed to address issues of interest to older Americans, including an avenue for entrepreneurs to pitch ideas to help seniors maintain an independent lifestyle.

AARP provides a suite of video content on its YouTube channel designed to address issues of interest to older Americans, including an avenue for entrepreneurs to pitch ideas to help seniors maintain an independent lifestyle.

Video provides an opportunity to humanize your brand, infusing it with personality, a life story and first-hand experience. YouTube is a perfect channel to extend your story brand and engage customers. The key is to make your brand extension and customer engagement informative and entertaining so people tune in.

Avoid Killing Your Audience with Deadly Speaking Habits

Great speakers don’t kill their audiences. They build rapport, start strong, follow a clear path and finish with a pop. They don’t make lame jokes, read their slides verbatim or avoid looking their audience in the eye.

Great speakers don’t kill their audiences. They build rapport, start strong, follow a clear path and finish with a pop. They don’t make lame jokes, read their slides verbatim or avoid looking their audience in the eye.

You can spiff up your presentation skills. Start by taking the advice of an accounting intern. Seriously, take his advice.

Jeff Chappell, an accounting analyst intern at Dell, bases his recommendations for better presentations on experience. The experience of watching many awkward, emotionless and ineffective presentations. There is no better experience than that.

He identifies seven deadly presentation habits you need to shed to avoid putting your audience to sleep:

  • Treating a presentation as a teleprompter and reading each slide word for word, unless you're a pro script reader, like Jimmy Fallon.
  • Telling the audience you’re nervous or a bad public speaker.
  • Starting with a joke, which can often fall flat.
  • Zooming through the presentation like a race car driver seeing how fast he can finish.
  • Sticking with your script even when you see audience members squirming or checking their smartphones.
  • Maintaining weak or no eye contact with your audience.
  • Closing meekly.

None of these suggestions is revolutionary. Taken together, they represent pretty solid advice.

A boring presentation can leave you wishing you'd spent your time elsewhere. That's why it's critical to avoid bad presentation habits, which Jeff Chappell laid out this month on LinkedIn. 

A boring presentation can leave you wishing you'd spent your time elsewhere. That's why it's critical to avoid bad presentation habits, which Jeff Chappell laid out this month on LinkedIn. 

Think about dreadful presentations you have endured when speakers got off to a lame start, droned on and ended with a poof instead of a pop. What you remember was how bad the presentation was, not what the presentation was about. At best, you may have contemplated in your mind what the presentation could have been – informative, inspiring, interesting.

Chappell’s recommendations came in a blog he posted on LinkedIn. He attributed some of his suggestions to lessons he learned in a presentation skills class taught at Dell. Chappell said he wrote the blog because “the cost of having one of the seven deadly habits of public speaking is too high to be ignored.” And the price to correct these deadly habits is relatively inexpensive. “Practice,” he says, is the difference.

“It doesn’t matter if you practice on the phone, in the shower or in front of friends, just practice correctly,” Chappell advises. “After a few sessions of practice, you’ll be wowing the audience with your confidence and professionalism.” It takes more than that, but you would definitely be on the right track.

Great speakers start by establishing a rapport with their audience, then making a compelling introduction of their speech topic. They give the audience a map of where the speech will go, then walk them through key points. They build momentum and anticipation as they go along, then end with a powerful crescendo. They use body language to help tell the story.

Not all great speakers use presentations, but when they do, their presentations are graphically-based reminders of key points in the speech. The presentation reinforces the message rather than distracting the speaker or the audience.

You might call these the heavenly habits of great speakers, which will lift you up in the eyes of your audience and send them home with positive thoughts, clear impressions and indelible messages.

Making a Lasting Impression in a Minute

Retiring CBS 60 Minutes graphic artist Bob Corujo can teach presenters a lot about how to create a lasting impression in less than a minute.

Retiring CBS 60 Minutes graphic artist Bob Corujo can teach presenters a lot about how to create a lasting impression in less than a minute.

Presenters can take a lesson from Bob Corujo, the graphic artist who designed all the illustrations used to introduce stories on 60 Minutes.

Corujo retired last week after 35 years of creating striking “cover pages” for the long running CBS television news magazine. His book of art, which contains around 3,000 60 Minutes covers, is featured in a video.

The lesson from Corujo’s work is the value of absorbing, attention-grabbing images to begin presentations.

Below: three memorable Corujo covers.

Not everyone can afford an artist as talented as Corujo to develop cover pages or background images for presentations. But almost anyone can follow the formula used by Corujo to come up with his designs.

His process begins at the executive producer screening of a story, which in a corporate or organizational setting might be the equivalent of a meeting to decide what to include in a presentation.

Corujo takes what he hears and turns it into a sketch. It could just as easily be a stick drawing for the artistically challenged. The sketch-stick drawing is the seed. Corujo or anyone else then needs to search for how to plant that seed so it sprouts.

For a 2002 story about frozen assets, Corujo put a dollar bill in water, froze it overnight and the next day chipped away just enough ice to show part of George Washington’s face. Simple execution. Instant recognition. 

Like most presentations, the 60 Minutes covers Corujo designed only appeared on screen for a minute or so. They needed to make an impression and convey a point of view almost instantaneously. “I like simple,” Corujo says, because too much embellishment can lose the audience “in the sauce.”

Many of Corujo’s covers accompanied big stories, but he looked deeper than the obvious picture. He searched for an illustration that made a connection between the story and the viewer. Some were dramatic and emotional. Others were whimsical or witty, such as depicting gullible investors as people with pigeon heads. Most were memorable, leaving a lasting impression in the mind’s eye of viewers.

Quality photography is a must for effective presentations, but is not in itself the secret sauce of powerful presentations. That requires artistry and imagination to tell the story in a picture you see for only a minute.

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.

Emojis: “A New Language in Digital Media”

Emojis are emerging as a whole new digital language where a tiny icon replaces text to convey emotion and sentiment and to personalize online marketing interactions.

Emojis are emerging as a whole new digital language where a tiny icon replaces text to convey emotion and sentiment and to personalize online marketing interactions.

Visual communications can take odd twists, such as the emergence of emojis as defining icons for marketing campaigns.

An article earlier this year in Adweek went further, describing emojis as a “new language in digital media” that can communicate “tone and sentiment on messaging apps and social media among consumers.”

Whereas they used to be limited to a happy face and a sad face, now there nearly 2,000 emojis and the character count keeps growing.

Emojis have matured beyond being punctuation marks for text to becoming the message itself. Well known brands such as Taco Bell use emojis that correlate to their products in digital marketing via apps, social media and email. General Electric launched the #EmojiScience campaign that invited people to send emojis to get short video lessons from Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Twitter now enables marketers to target customers who have used specific emojis. Dominos has an Emoji Ordering campaign that centers on customers including the pizza slice emoji in tweets. Instead of zeroing in on key words, brands search for relevant emojis. Consumer brands with an eye on younger adults are eager to jump into emoji-based marketing.

While emoji marketing may work best for now with Millennials, it won’t be long before its appeal spreads, if it hasn't already. Who wouldn’t want to order a pizza by posting an emoji on an app? I received a message with a rose emoji from my wife after urging her to take a moment before going to work to look at the beautiful blooms sprouting on her rose bushes.

The advice to marketers at this point seems pretty basic. If you sell ice cream, look for the ice cream emoji. Keep up to date on the growing cast of emojis. Be sensitive to the details of these little drawings, which sport a range of skin tones and nuanced emotions. Don’t expect everyone to jump on board with your emoji campaign until you build some trust. 

Engaging people with emojis means using them as if you are actually communicating with someone. Expressing emotion or sentiment through an emoji can personalize a brand’s interaction with a consumer and sharply increase engagement rates.

Learning how to use emojis may not be quite the same as taking French lessons, but it kind of is. Emoji fluency is critical to say what you mean and not inadvertently communicate something you never intended.  When you are fluent in emojis, you can tell stories with pictures.

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 Face of News Media Keeps Changing

Newspapers continue to decline while more readers get their news via mobile devices, which has pulled advertisers into new platforms and still-emerging forms of advertising content.

Newspapers continue to decline while more readers get their news via mobile devices, which has pulled advertisers into new platforms and still-emerging forms of advertising content.

We may be trading dominance by communications conglomerates for dominance by a handful of gargantuan technology companies that are emerging as prime arbiters of our news feeds.

Given the recent flap over Facebook’s censorship of certain trending news, that could be a growing concern, rivaling worries over the likes of Rupert Murdoch’s influence over what is considered news.

It is no secret that newspaper circulation has continued to dive as many print publications have struggled to cash in on their digital siblings. But it has gone relatively unnoticed that eyeballs tracking the news have shifted so dramatically to Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft and Twitter – with $40 billion in digital advertising trailing along.

Microsoft’s $26 billion purchase of LinkedIn puts it alongside Google, Facebook and Apple as digital platforms intent on creating bubbles that users never have to leave to do their work, share information, network with friends or potential employers, be entertained and view the news.

According to the Pew Research Center's 2016 State of the News Media report, 2015 was the worst year for newspapers since the Great Recession. Circulation dropped 7 percent, advertising fell 8 percent and newsroom staffing shrunk 10 percent.

Michael Barthel, a Pew research associate focusing on journalism research, speculated, “Coming amid a wave of consolidation, this accelerating decline suggests the industry may be past its point of no return."

Meanwhile, TV and cable news operations held their own, thanks in part to a long and lively presidential primary season with lots of candidates and SuperPacs. News podcasting and live streaming are experiencing audience growth, but not revenue growth. If there is good news, they also are not cannibalizing traditional radio listenership and revenues, Barthel says.

Mobile devices are gobbling up audience attention and attracting more ad bucks -- and Google and Facebook are raking in the lion's share. The transition is more rapid than some may realize, with mobile advertising now outpacing advertising geared for desktop devices.

The question begged by the mounds of data in the Pew media report is “So, what does it all mean?” For one, it’s clear people appear more, not less interested in the news. They are shifting where they get their news, which is pulling advertising to new places and creating a demand for different types of advertising. But there is no promise current trends will persist. They may just be dog legs to the left on a course that is inexorably going into a water hazard on the right.

It seems obvious there is increased channel segmentation and a sharp divide in the news viewing habits of younger and older adults. But where does that lead? In an age of videos and visuals, why are audio-only communications picking up steam?  Will cable TV news retains its appeal after the November election? Would TV networks and stations have benefited as much by a more traditional contest such as Hillary Clinton versus a candidate like John Kasich?

Local TV stations have been buoyed by the buzz and business bump of morning TV shows, which feed into national news TV shows. Even evening TV news shows, which have been stretched over a range of “getting home” times, are prospering or at least holding their own. But how is this sustainable when younger adults no longer tune into traditional TV?

Media trends have a remarkable ability to mirror general societal trends. They show, as Pew reports, that people still thirst for news, but are willing to gravitate to different platforms and non-traditional sources to find it. Apple and Yahoo aren’t permanent emplacements. They can be as temporary as yesteryear must-sees, such as “Laugh In” and “Dallas.”

One thing is clear. In times past, all people could do is complain about the faults of their local newspaper or the bias of TV networks. But there is a lot more to fret about today when it comes to the news.

Rick Steves as a Guide to Value Propositions and Branding

Travel guide Rick Steves provides excellent direction on how to express a value proposition and back it up with authentic personal branding.

Travel guide Rick Steves provides excellent direction on how to express a value proposition and back it up with authentic personal branding.

Rick Steves says a good guide book is a $20 investment to ensure a great $3,000 vacation. His comment is the kind of crisp value proposition companies should emulate.

Many companies settle for value propositions that are inward looking and self-serving. A value proposition should say how your product or service will solve problems for or deliver benefits to your customers.

Junk the jargon and put aside the taglines. Use plain language to convey your value to customers in less than five seconds. Make your brand a living, breathing example of your value proposition. 

Steves has earned a reputation as a well-informed and informative travel guide. His guide books are chock-full of helpful tips from how to pack to where to go.

Steves hosts a travel show on PBS that reinforces the tips found in his guide books. He just aired a three-part series consisting of practical advice for European travelers that included smart ways to travel, how to protect your valuables from pickpockets and savvy moves to avoid long lines at major venues.

Steves doesn’t brag about his own guide books. He doesn’t have to. Users tell fellow travelers about them, including Steves’ advice to rip up his books so you carry only what you need during day trips. Those word-of-mouth recommendations are worth a lot more than advertising or self-promotion.

Implicit in Steves’ simply rendered value proposition is that the $20 you spend for his guide book will save you a lot more when on the road. Sometimes he recommends spending money – for an upgraded train ticket or an all-city venue pass – that enhances a trip and saves valuable time. Grabbing some shuteye on a train ride or bypassing a ridiculously long line can mean seeing another sight or spending more time in the place you’ve always dreamed of seeing. 

The Rick Steves brand is all about useful information that he has personally vetted. When you buy his guide book, you know the advice he dispenses is based on his own experiences. The combination of his TV show, guide books, guest appearances and audio tapes makes Steves your trusted travel companion. His advice is golden, whether it’s what shoes to pack, how much underwear to bring or where to store your suitcase on daytrips. You might even be inclined to buy the suitcase he designed for ease of travel.

A solid value proposition, as Steves illustrates, should provide a concrete result for a customer expressed in a short statement. Branding, which features your differentiation from competitors, is separate from the value proposition. If you try to conflate the two, chances are you will inject hype and undercut the authenticity of the value proposition.

Follow Steves’ lead in describing the value of his guide book to customers and living your brand so customers choose your book instead of a competitor’s. 

New Ad Campaign Example of Showmanship

Excedrin’s latest ad campaign uses virtual reality to show how painful and debilitating migraine headaches can be and why those who suffer them aren’t faking it.

Excedrin’s latest ad campaign uses virtual reality to show how painful and debilitating migraine headaches can be and why those who suffer them aren’t faking it.

A new Excedrin ad campaign addresses the common view that people exaggerate the pain from migraine headaches by replicating the experience through virtual reality. It is a great example of communication showmanship. 

Stung by criticism that a previous ad campaign trivialized migraine headache pain, Excedrin created the "Migraine Experience" which replicates the auras, disorientation, bright lights, floating spots and tunnel vision suffered by people with migraine headaches.

The pain killer company plans to make the migraine simulator available as a downloadable app, which can be experienced using Google Cardboard.

A scene from the new Excedrin ad shows a glimpse of how the world might look through the eyes of someone in the midst of a migraine. 

A scene from the new Excedrin ad shows a glimpse of how the world might look through the eyes of someone in the midst of a migraine. 

In one new TV ad, the mother of a young woman afflicted by migraines dons a virtual reality headset and is able to “see” her contorted world. She reacts emotionally, hugging her daughter with newfound empathy for the pain her daughter suffers from migraines.

The ad campaign is less about selling Excedrin than persuading people the anguish of migraines is real, excruciating and debilitating, often going beyond severe headaches to include nausea, dizziness and heightened sensitivity to sound. The ads serve effectively as an advocate for the 40 million people who are afflicted with migraines, Excedrin’s target audience.

This is a far cry from a few years ago when a previous Excedrin ad campaign drew fire by suggesting two-thirds of women who suffer from migraines would give up shopping to get rid of them. A website called thedailyheadache.com criticized Excedrin’s campaign for “minimizing migraines and treating women as superficial.”

The new campaign is very different. The simulator shows the severity of migraine headache pain and it tells heart-tugging stories that are relatable and shareable. Excedrin has created a strong web presence for the campaign, with more back stories, useful information about migraine symptoms and behind-the-scenes looks at how the Migraine Experience was created

“The reaction of loved ones to the experience spoke volumes,” Excedrin said of the ads. “Once the non-suffered experience what their friend or relative goes through during a migraine, their increased understanding led to a reaction full of empathy and love, which until now was harder to identify.”

The Excedrin ad campaign is further validation of the power of visual explanations that show what you mean.

Jimmy Fallon and Integrated Media

Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show follows the script Johnny Carson wrote years ago, but with a new twist – audience interaction via multiple social media channels.

Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show follows the script Johnny Carson wrote years ago, but with a new twist – audience interaction via multiple social media channels.

Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show is true to the legacy of Johnny Carson. Lead-off monologue. Soundtrack sidekick. Funny sketches. Engaging band. But there also is something new, even though that something is based on an old idea, too.

Fallon’s late-night show exploits engagement on social media. He crowdsources comedy on Twitter in a bit called #Hashtags. And he solicits raw material for sketches on Facebook and YouTube.

Engaging audiences – and fishing for expanded audiences – is an old idea packaged like a new one on social media. It is what marketing public relations is all about – contests, special events, loyalty discounts and social media interaction.

Dove sponsored soap-carving contests. BMW facilitated motorcycle workshops in home garages. Powell’s employees write reviews that are posted on bookshelves.

Fallon is a great entertainer and his show reflects savvy marketing to keep it at the top of the ratings and reaching out to new, often younger viewers.

The on-air show follows the form of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, but it has added twists. The celebrity guests don’t just show up to shoot the bull. The guests, who are curated to appeal to a wide audience, pitch their latest movie, album or book, then join Fallon in a game. Game of Thrones star Kit Harington and country crooner Blake Shelton played charades with Fallon. Rapper Drake and Fallon donned miniature baskets on their heads for a game of faceketball.

Occasionally Fallon breaks into one of his Saturday Night Live characters and he has recurring bits, such as his “thank you” notes on Friday nights and his frequent impersonations of Donald Trump. 

But the show doesn’t end there. Fallon asks viewers to send tweets using a hashtag he’s created, such as #ImDumb, which fetched some hilarious examples of people being stupid. He reads some of the best ones on air, but many others are included on the show’s website, which provides a convenient opportunities to watch – or re-watch – a Fallon skit or monologue.

Fallon invited young people to submit their “Fallonventions,” which will be featured in an upcoming show. An earlier invitation for funny faces turned into an on-air sketch with Fallon and Miley Cyrus trying to imitate the facial contortions.

Other TV shows use integrated media to connect with viewers. The Voice lets viewers vote via an app to decide who stays and who goes by purchasing performers’ songs on iTunes. Bones engaged viewers with an open dialogue online about favorite moments and clues on how to solve the crime. Person of Interest encourages fans to submit their photos, some of which appear on the drama.

Integration of channels may seem daunting, but it’s less arduous than it may appear. You don’t have to be a social media guru to make the kind of connections you want to achieve. Think of loyalty programs that you run through a platform like Facebook. You build a connection with customers that can be as simple as coupons or a flash sale. 

If you aren’t thinking about integration, you should. If you need inspiration, watch Jimmy Fallon.

Facebook in the News for News Bias

Facebook faces new scrutiny as a news provider after a Gizmodo journalist exposed a liberal bias behind the company's Trending stories feature. Hoping to smooth things over, Facebook CEO and cofounder Mark Zuckerberg says he plans to meet with conservative leaders to explain how the tool the works. 

Facebook faces new scrutiny as a news provider after a Gizmodo journalist exposed a liberal bias behind the company's Trending stories feature. Hoping to smooth things over, Facebook CEO and cofounder Mark Zuckerberg says he plans to meet with conservative leaders to explain how the tool the works. 

Facebook has continued to surge as the leading social media site to become a trusted news source. But news reporting suggests that it’s Trending stories may be different than advertised.

With a billion active daily users, Facebook is a commanding platform for news. In the United States, 41 percent of adults are on Facebook and nearly two-thirds of the site’s users say they get their news there, according to a recent Pew Research Center study.

However, one of Facebook’s key news features – the Trending story box located in the upper right corner of the newsfeed – isn’t as objective or automated as Facebook proclaims. In reality, the workers behind the scenes – called curators – apparently have kept popular conservative stories from showing up in the feed.

Gizmodo technology editor Michael Nunez broke the news in a series of stories over the last two weeks, picking apart the inner workings of the Trending news team.

“Facebook’s news section operates like a traditional newsroom, reflecting the biases of its workers and the institutional imperatives of the corporation,” Nunez concluded after interviewing a handful of former Facebook contractors hired for the project. “Imposing human editorial values onto the lists of topics an algorithm spits out is by no means a bad thing, but it is in stark contrast to the company’s claims that the trending module simply lists ‘topics that have recently become popular on Facebook.’”

The Trending feature has been marketed more or less as an automated aggregator that pulls in and promotes the most popular stories on the web. However, the operation actually relies on a lot of help from real people who handpick what makes it on the list and what gets cut, regardless of how much web traffic a story attracts. As Nunez learned, the sausage-making is heavily shaped by personal biases.

“Depending on who was on shift, things would be blacklisted or trending,’ said the former curator. This individual asked to remain anonymous, citing fear of retribution from the company. The former curator is politically conservative, one of a very small handful of curators with such views on the trending team. ‘I’d come on shift and I’d discover that CPAC or Mitt Romney or Glenn Beck or popular conservative topics wouldn’t be trending because either the curator didn’t recognize the news topic or it was like they had a bias against Ted Cruz.”

Facebook executives initially denied allegations of censorship and liberal bias in their news promotion, but they now admit the company’s curators exercise some editorial control over the Trending section. The Guardian’s Sam Thielman dug much deeper into the situation after receiving leaked internal guidelines that not only confirmed Nunez’ reporting, but revealed how deep the rabbit hole really goes:  

“The guidelines show human intervention – and therefore editorial decisions – at almost every stage of Facebook’s trending news operation, a team that at one time was as few as 12 people:

  • A team of news editors working in shifts around the clock was instructed on how to ‘inject’ stories into the trending topics module, and how to ‘blacklist’ topics for removal for up to a day over reasons including ‘doesn’t represent a real-world event,’ left to the discretion of the editors.
  • The company wrote that ‘the editorial team CAN [sic] inject a newsworthy topic’ as well if users create something that attracts a lot of attention, for example #BlackLivesMatter.
  • Facebook relies heavily on just 10 news sources to determine whether a trending news story has editorial authority. ‘You should mark a topic as ‘National Story’ importance if it is among the 1-3 top stories of the day,’ reads the trending review guidelines for the US. ‘We measure this by checking if it is leading at least 5 of the following 10 news websites: BBC News, CNN, Fox News, The Guardian, NBC News, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Yahoo News or Yahoo.’
  • Strict guidelines are enforced around Facebook’s ‘involved in this story’ feature, which pulls information from Facebook pages of newsmakers – say, a sports star or a famous author. The guidelines give editors ways to determine which users’ pages are appropriate to cite, and how prominently.”

Following the eye-opening reporting, media scholars, journalists and news consumers alike are taking a collective pause to reconsider Facebook’s role as a news source. The stories could be a game-changer for the site, which continues to outpace the online marketplace in raising ad revenue, partly due to how heavily the public has come to rely on Facebook for news.

Not surprisingly, the strongest reaction has come from right-wing pundits and news organizations and conservative politicians. Key Republican leaders, like Congressman John Thune who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee , are demanding an explanation from Facebook and an investigation into how its Trending section works.

Facebook CEO and cofounder Mark Zuckerberg plans to meet with conservative leaders to discuss the controversy over the next few weeks. That will be particularly awkward for Zuckerberg, considering that Facebook is sponsoring this summer’s GOP convention. 

The company launched the Trending feature in 2014, hiring a small team of young, Ivy League-educated journalists to serve as its curators. The group is responsible for writing headlines and summaries and linking back to news stories inside the Trending feed. The curators work on a contract basis, and Facebook seems to be showing signs of cutting the contractors and moving instead to a more automated operation as the company improves its algorithm.

Exactly how this flurry of scrutiny will reshape Facebook’s Trending section and the social network's role as a news provider will take some time to play out. 

Justin Runquist is CFM’s communications counsel. He is a former reporter for The Oregonian, The Columbian and The Spokesman-Review. Away from the office, he’s a baseball fanatic with foolhardy hopes that the Mariners will go to the World Series someday. You can reach Justin at justinr@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @_JustinRunquist.

Putting Entertainment into Your Content Marketing Mix

Viewers today demand content that is useful, relevant and entertaining. Usefulness and relevance are easy, but entertainment is harder to deliver. Airbnb offered up a good example of how to deliver a message in an entertaining illustrated story as seen above.

Viewers today demand content that is useful, relevant and entertaining. Usefulness and relevance are easy, but entertainment is harder to deliver. Airbnb offered up a good example of how to deliver a message in an entertaining illustrated story as seen above.

Good content must be useful, relevant and entertaining. Useful and relevant are fairly obvious. Entertaining, not so much.

Let’s face it, most of us like to be entertained but aren’t entertainers. So how do non-entertainers entertain? Here’s how: Turn a clever phrase. Tell stories. Show funny videos and photos. Hop aboard breaking stories. Share personal feelings. 

Your words, stories and images don’t have to be Oscar winners. Their purpose is to deepen interest in your useful, relevant content. Knowing how to fix your toilet is useful and relevant, but we probably wouldn’t pay attention unless someone showed us how in a clever, humorous way.

Entertainment isn’t the main act in content marketing. It's the set-up to your main message. If your entertainment is too entertaining, viewers won’t remember why they were watching it, like the TV ad that is so captivating, you remember the entertainment, but not the product.

Clever Phrases

Yes, it is hard to channel William Shakespeare and procreate a new word or pithy phrase. But you can write a snappy headline that turns heads. The snappy headline can parrot a clever phrase you coin in your copy. Nobody churns out chiseled prose like an assembly line. It takes time – and maybe some reflective moments in the shower or on your morning run. All the phrase has to do is spark a smile and encourage the viewer to read on.

     Examples:

  • “Success by Choice, Not Chance.”
  • “Fat Makes You Thin.”
  • “Six Instant Confidence Boosters."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Telling Stories

As children, we listen to stories to learn. As we grow older, we trade stories with friends. Older people share stories to pass along wisdom. Stories abound in our world, and our brains are wired to tap into their meanings. Stories can take many forms. Children’s books artfully blend text and illustrations. Stories can unfold in videos and picture galleries. Good writers can spin tales with words. The form in this case is less important than the function. Tell entertaining stories with a point that connects to the useful, relevant information you want to convey. 

     Examples:  

 

 

 

Videos and Pictures

Visual assets such as videos and pictures don’t always have to tell a story to draw attention. Sometimes they can just be fun – or funny. Good judgment is required to avoid images that mock or offend. But there are plenty of ways to use light-hearted and good-natured videos and pictures to entertain your viewers into spending more time on your website, online newsroom or blog to consume useful, relevant content. Videos are popular to share, so take pains to brand your visual content so it doesn’t spin away from the purpose behind posting it.

     Examples:  

 

 

Newsjacking

If you can be a free rider on a breaking story or trending topic, you will have a built-in audience. Your “newsjacking” may be a local angle on a national story, a deeper dive into a trending topic or a contrary take on the news. The newsjacking should lead to your useful, relevant content or at least point to the path to your content. This is entertainment by feeding the curiosity aroused by someone else’s story.

     Examples (good and bad):  

 

 

 

Sharing Personal Feelings

In this era of engagement, sharing feelings can be a path to establishing a solid connection with your consumers. There is an element of risk in becoming personal, but it is that exposure that creates an opening for interaction. Sportscaster Jim Nantz shared his personal story of caring for a family member suffering from Alzheimer’s as he urged people to donate to find a cure. A sizable number of supplicants on Shark Tank begin their investment pitches by relating a personal story that resulted in their product invention. As with any relationship, getting personal can get sticky, so choose what feelings you share carefully and make sure they link somehow to your useful, relevant content.

     Examples: