Walking through the halls of CES 2012, many people see flash and excess, maybe even view it as a signal that the economy is in recovery given that companies are spending money to share their story. What I saw was a lot of HARD WORK. Every banner that was visible to attendees was the thoughtful results of graphic designers, marketing teams, printers and who knows how many others --all before landing in the hands of someone with a forklift and support staff to dangle it from the rafters.
In our work with client SimplyHired.com, we are closely examining the trends around employment and reminded regularly that it is a tough job market out there. The effort and enthusiasm from booth and convention staff was refreshing—no one was taking for granted the opportunity to earn a living.
On the flip side, attendees were grumpy! You couldn’t go anywhere in, around or near the convention center without overhearing a personal “war story” from one of the thousands of attendees. Gripes about cab lines, food options and the outrageous cost for any fill-in-the-blank item was the main topic of discussion. Many aspects of the convention experience is perceived as broken and it made me think “Where there is a market problem, enlies a business idea!” Cab shortages?
What about bike rentals or PediCabs?
Long lines for unhealthy lunch options? The hotels should sell healthy BROWN BAG LUNCHES! It would be nice to get people thinking about active-lifestyle alternatives.
Speaking of active lifestyles, there was an admirable cluster of Digital Health and Fitness companies this year at CES. Everyone from Garmin to iHealth to Striiv, was showcasing new options for monitoring blood pressure and glucose levels or devices that keep you motivated to walk more (Striiv’s monitor, for example donates clean water to third world countries when its users hit certain milestones for daily movement).
I am anxious to see how this space shakes out from an adoption perspective. The amount of walking that was done over the course of the week makes CES attendees the perfect target for these devices. Maybe next year, someone can use the event as a test bed!
Other notable companies in the iLounge area were Mavizon, who was showcasing “Mavia” a socialization tool that ties into your car, Looxcie, a hands free camera with streaming capabilities, as well as Boost Case which won some CES award accolades for its slim cases that double battery life of your iPhone or iPod. I also enjoyed seeing the buzz around one-time client Dish Network’s launch of “Hopper”
its new DVR offering. Hopper messaging was everywhere, but this is the one I wanted to bring back to the office. It would be perfect for an office group nap!
Did you attend CES? Please send me a note at kangell at schwartzmsl dot com or comment here. I would love to hear your war stories or business ideas, maybe this time next year it will be in beta…
There has been quite a bit of discussion lately around the costs and benefits of getting a bachelor’s degree. With state and federal budget cuts, shrinking endowments and a lackluster economy, colleges and universities are dramatically increasing tuition costs. A lot of students have good cause to be frustrated; what other commodity or service increases its rates, on average, eight percent per year?
Late last year, Peter Thiel, co-founder of Pay-Pal, re-ignited the back-and-forth industry discussion by paying 20 (incredibly lucky) students $100,000 each to put off attending college. Instead of attending classes, seminars, club meetings and athletic events, the students were paid to enter the workforce years before some of their recently graduated peers. This was a win-win, right?
Not exactly. If you’d like to get a job in this economy today (and you didn’t make it into Thiel’s fellowship), having a degree is critical. Think about how many qualified or over-qualified applicants there are for an entry-level position these days.
In addition, the U.S. Census Bureau pegs your average lifetime earnings with a high school diploma at $1.2 million. Not too shabby. But, take a deeper look into the numbers. People with a four-year bachelor’s degree can expect an average of $2.1 million. Add on a professional degree later in your career and the amount doubles to $4.4 million over a lifetime. These are direct and tangible benefits of higher education. As a comparison, take a look at what people in your area and in your profession are making using SimplyHired.com's Simply Salary tool.
So what about the unquantifiable benefits of higher education? The new concepts, networking, social clubs, discipline and well-rounded outlook to solving the world’s problems today? You might not be able to see these things in the Greek and Latin inscriptions on your diploma, but they’re there.
Student loan debt is also an issue for students who have attended private and public universities. A graduate from a public university had, on average, $16,000 in debt; a graduate from a private school accumulated approximately $26,000 in debt.
There are resources out there to help pay your tuition and your debt. The first, of course, is FAFSA (www.fafsa.ed.gov) – the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. One you might not have heard about is CollegeNET.com*, which has opened its weekly scholarship (up to $5,000) to anyone with student loan debt.
Taking four years out of your professional and personal life certainly seems daunting, but in a 21st century economy and with so much intense global competition for quality jobs, it’s not a luxury people can afford to lose. The bottom line is pretty simple: college is worth the time and the expense.
As a history major and a PR practitioner, I never thought I’d say this, but do the math.
Written by Tommy Owens
*Full Disclosure: I work on the PR team for CollegeNET.
The old adage states that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but this isn’t quite the case. Those of us who make our living in consumer PR know that managing our clients’ reputations is a big responsibility, and that it is critical that our client’s brand is seen in a positive light. A recent stain on the public reputation of Food Network star Ina Garten shows illustrates how important it is to manage a brand’s reputation tightly.
The advent of the internet brought unparalleled benefits to humankind—instant, constant and limitless access to information has made our globe smaller than ever before. Unfortunately, the down side to this rapid flow of information is that mistakes can become public at a moment’s notice, and in some cases, causing permanent harm to reputation. Yet at the same time, harnessing the web is essential to successfully gaining visibility and loyal fans.
In the case of Ina Garten, a simple mistake has seriously called into question her likeability as a person, and by extension, as a brand. For the sake of full disclosure, I’d like to state that I’ve always been a fan of Ina’s. Her recipes are fantastic (if not a little heavy on the salt) and the image she portrays of life in the Hamptons makes me want to up and move every time I see an episode of her wonderfully entertaining show on the Food Network, “The Barefoot Contessa.” But Ina messed up recently, as we all do from time to time. When a six year-old boy with Leukemia requested to cook a meal with her through the Make a Wish Foundation, she declined. Twice.
At first glance this seems utterly heartless, and frankly, at odds with the public persona we’ve all come to love and admire. After all, she used to work in the White House! Her devotion to her husband Jeffrey is nothing short of heartwarming. Could she really be so cruel as to turn down the wish of a critically ill six-year-old? The short answer is yes, but for good (well, good enough) reason. In public statements, Ina’s representatives have emphasized the number of requests for perfectly worthy charitable causes the star receives in a given year—hundreds—stating that there are more than any person could conceivably take on. This is understandable.
The trouble is, the mother of this six year-old boy has a blog. And when she got the news that Ina had turned down her son’s invitation, well, she blogged about it. Suddenly this “snub,” which may well have gone completely unnoticed in decades past, went viral.
The resulting fallout was, frankly, a mess. Ina’s people made an attempt to schedule a meeting as a result of the public outcry against her, but to no avail—the child’s parents did not want to put him through any additional stress. He will learn to live with the disappointment, even as he faces Leukemia.
At the end of the day, the story is just sad. A six year-old boy will not get his wish, and a celebrity who (as far as we know) had good intentions must live with a less-than-savory reputation, at least for now. No one wins, but one thing is perfectly clear: the internet is powerful, and to underestimate its power will only end in trouble.
The lesson to PR professionals is clear: we live in a different world now, and one where we all must (and will) be held accountable for our actions. We must assume that anything that could be made public will be made public, knowing that a single headline can become a thousand headlines in a matter of minutes or even seconds. We need to tread lightly. With great power comes great responsibility; we must use it wisely.
So here’s the deal, last week New York City hosted the first of many firsts: the debut of the Daily Deal Summit. The daily deal industry has spawned over 500 similar businesses with the same general business model. The summit was an opportunity for all the players to come together as peers, rather than competitors, to discuss the ramifications they’ve placed on the consumer.
The business of couponing has now become a behemoth of an industry, taking a slide of the billions of dollars the U.S. retail industry U.S. generates. Just like a popularity contest, there are more recognizable brands then those that are the new kids on the “deal” block. Big names like Groupon, LivingSocial (who expects to earn over $1B this year alone) and Gilt participated in conference panel discussions, delivering snappy answers to the little guys’ questions on the pursuit of success.
One challenge that faces the whole couponing industry, and came up repeatedly throughout the day on panel discussions: How do you make daily deals matter to consumers who don’t want what everyone else has?
The word of the future is personalization.
In an era where a novel experience or product discount is simply a social coupon away, more online shoppers are buying discounts to things they wouldn’t normally be able to buy (or willingly afford to splurge on). Yet the problem that became apparent at the Summit was that while Groupon and LivingSocial can get you that once in a lifetime deal, can they keep you as a customer?
Most marketing communication strategies’ endgame is to retain customers. Daily deal sites offer the deal to millions of people, and 83% of them “can’t wait” to open their emails, according to VatorNews. Yet many purchasers are left grumbling. Why? Because millions of others are getting the same deal. We all want to feel special, especially if we’re paying a good amount of money for that treatment. And it’s these companies’ job to make us feel special. The novelty is started to dwindle, and daily deal marketing execs are scrambling to find ways to make the experience that much more personal. It’s the power of “I” marketing.
One of the ways that some of the more ingenious daily deal companies have found to do such a thing is by offering credit. DealPulp.com, the only national daily deal site that offers a 100% national online deal (even to rural Arkansas residents who for which no Groupon is relevant), occasionally offers $1 purchase deals for $10 in credit to use site wide over a period of time (full disclosure, DealPulp is a client in our Consumer PR practice). Out of 90,000+ subscribers, over 20,000 of them continue to open that day’s deal. It’s natural selection. Another marketing effort seen at the show is to offer rarely accessible bundles of things, like couture or vintage clothing a la Gilt or RueLaLa. Another option is go hyper-luxe: offer we consumers a vacation package to Malta or a private experience in a restaurant/theatre/adventure. This way, the average daily deal purchaser feels taken care of because the daily deal knows us.
Customer acquisition is a tough problem that every company with a product has. A retailer is more likely to have a customer become loyal if they can expect something that their friends can’t have. Make it about me. That’s not a request, it’s a demand. If you want to push product at me, it better be served on a silver platter. It’s the marketing mentality of pedestaling the purchaser. And people like me eat it up. Because really, I’m kind of a big deal.
Last week, Oprah announced her final show will air on May 25. After so many notable (and some infamous) moments, the world is abuzz with what is in store for Oprah’s farewell. We asked members of Schwartz Communications’ consumer practice to give us their predictions:
Allison VanNest: Oprah will invite President Obama and the first family to her last show. They'll talk about the American Dream and she'll provide audience members with scholarship funds. Stedman will join the show and clear up any lingering doubts about his relationship with the talk show queen, and they will announce that they are adopting a child together.
Andrea Hawley: To a certain extent, I expect Oprah's final show will follow the mold of other “farewell shows”: a trip down memory lane and a blooper reel (I just hope it includes a flash back to those early 90s commercials that proclaim "OPRAH'S ON!" and so you must stop talking, working, doing laundry, etc.) Any guests appearing on the final show will have a light hearted feel to them. And to top it off for all the lucky audience members, one of each of Oprah's favorite things for the past 25 years (and the money to cover the taxes on all those items!)
Carol McGarry: Oprah has been mending fences with old friends with whom she subsequently had a falling out. So perhaps on the last show, she’ll apologize to all the people who made fools of themselves on her show, by revealing way too much about themselves. Naturally, Tom Cruise will be at the head of the line. We can only hope.
On a more serious note, she is taking a big risk with her own channel. Will her audience follow her there? I’m thinking she’ll do a last show that is very personal and relates her personality very strongly to her viewers. Perhaps she’ll do a kind of Oprah travelogue that follows her emotional and professional journey since starting the show. She might have highlights of her favorite interviews. Or perhaps she’ll bring her staff in front of the cameras to thank them and end with a group hug, like the last episode of Mary Tyler Moore back in the day.
Chris Prouty: It’s possible that Oprah may put Stedmond and Gayle (as well as her long-lost sister) in the interviewee seat. She’ll do a recap of her career, along with a final group of her guests spanning from the beginning to the last show. She’ll have a musical guest like Jennifer Hudson or someone equally with pipes (Aretha, Aguilera, Jessie J, Alicia Keys, etc). Obama and Mariah Carey will do a live feed well-wishing.
The final product placement: cable for all her guests, since her new network OWN is on a brand new paid cable channel! That or she’ll offer to put every child of every guest through college, as that was a big topic for her.
Julie Goldman: I think as a final guest Michelle Obama is a definite contender. First, she is an easier “get” than the president, especially while there are so many major global problems. The First lady also combines a lot of what Oprah viewers love—smarts, family, fashion, and she brings a bit of politics without a heavy hand. And the Obamas’ Chicago connection can’t be denied.
As for a giveaway: During this season’s Favorite Things, Oprah said her all-time favorite Ting is her iPad and she gave everyone one. Now that the iPad2 is out, maybe Oprah will give her final audience the newest tablet.
Other random thoughts: Could she do a “walk down memory lane” of notable guests? I am thinking Maya Angelou, Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Jennifer Aniston (she loves Jen), and even infamous folks like James Frey (A Million Little Pieces). This season she has devoted entire episodes to catching up on big stories from years past. (UPDATE 4/21/11 According to TMZ.com, James Frey WILL be coming back to chat)
Finally, a crazy thought—Maybe there will be no guests. It will just be Oprah, alone, talking about the past 25 years, what it means to her, how it’s impacted her, what’s changed, what hasn’t, and her thoughts about the future, not just for the OWN network, but for her as a person.
Kim Angell: Oprah has launched careers for several people. I can envision Nate Berkus, Rachel Ray, Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz coming on to share what it means to be part of her inner circle. I think she will use her last show to announce yet another protégé and then give away tickets to be guests on their show.
Mark McClennan: I predict the show will open with Tom Cruise jumping up and down on the couch. It will then go to her last significant interview…with Barak Obama. For the next to last segment, she will have Celine Dion on to sing another song and talk about motherhood (Celine has been on the show more than anyone else). The final credits will have Oprah flying away in a plane piloted by John Travolta (her first guest).
As for the giveaway, I predict that GM will be on, giving everyone a new Chevy Volt. (Failing that they will donate the money the Volts would have cost to the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami relief in conjunction with the Red Cross).
Do you agree with any of the predications above? What (or who) do you most want to see in her final episode?
Most cereal eaters of the 80s let out a collective gasp when the rumors of Quaker’s Cap’n Crunch cereal being end-of-lifed circulated. The "cereal" killer here is labeling on consumer packaged goods (CPG), and the public relations campaigns that big food brands are doing around the health benefits of their food. Fox News discussed its demise as a result of the “food police” and the fact that the sugar content isn't boding well with discerning consumers who are paying more attention to what's in the food they buy and serve to their families.
Sales of Cap'n Crunch have been dwindling and this trend in consumer behavior reveals that brainwashing is starting to be a thing of the past. Take for instance what the Quaker (by way of PepsiCo) company says of its cereal on the Cap’n Crunch website: "Cap'n Crunch is a great-tasting, crunchy sweetened corn and oat cereal your whole family will love. It's an excellent source of seven essential vitamins and minerals, is low in fat, and contains zero grams of trans fat perserving." What it doesn’t (explicity) tell you is that there are 12 grams of sugar per serving, which nutritionists say is nearly half of the recommended daily intake. This fact is the tip of the iceberg for moms trying to start their kids off on the right foot.A recent study found that 84% of kids' foods that made front-of-package health claims didn't even meet basic nutritional criteria.
So, if you are a food manufacturer, how does this affect the future of consumer PR campaigns? Let’s look at this way: transparency isn’t only for top companies anymore. Keep your tagline- sure. But make sure everything else is included. Be aware. Give up the gimmick. Today’s consumer is informed, thanks to the media’s obsession with product reviews and consumer reports. Manufactured electronics, foods, clothing, daily dealsites, even iPad apps have to expose their own flaws if they want any credibility in the eyes of the shopper. You’re better off saying that you use a model similar to your competitors than completely denying it.
The average consumer is exposed to hundreds of ads a day via web, print and word-of-mouth proclaiming unique experiences. How does a new brand go toe to toe with the big fish? Communication will have to come clean if a brand wants to be trusted, especially during a rough economy where everything, from price to productivity, is considered. Flashy ads are a thing of the past- quality of service reigns supreme. In the end, hype is hype and the person buying your product knows it.
When I learned about this week's launch of a new review site for people, Unvarnished, I was reminded of squatters who reserved domain names for popular brands years ago, patiently waiting to cash in when companies paid to take ownership of domain names that some would argue should have naturally been theirs to claim in the first place.
The new website Unvarnished, which is being called the "Yelp for LinkedIn," allows anyone to create a profile and post an anonymous review about whoever they want. This has several implications, the first of which is how easily you could lose control of your own online identity and reputation if you don't put a stake in the ground by creating your own profile on websites like Unvarnished. The second concerns privacy; people who do not wish to have their information and profiles on social networks could then end up with an unsolicited or unwanted online profile -- positive or negative.
While reviews sites are nothing new, at first blush, Unvarnished appears to be more personal and spotlights the growing need for everyone to have their own personal PR plan that enables them to manage their online reputation much in the same way they manage their credit score and protect against identity theft. One company that identified this trend early and got an early start at helping consumers protect their only identity and persona is ReputationDefender. On the topic of Unvarnished, ReputationDefender founder Michael Fertik asserted last night on CBS news that "You have to take your online reputation seriously," something not a lot of people do. This notion is supported by a recent Microsoft study examining the hiring habits of HR Managers and the weight they place on job candidate's online activities and profiles.
In addition to an emerging market for tools that help you manage your online presence (including establishing a Google Alerts for your own name - something I would recommend for anyone in professional services ), there is also room for someone, or some company, to start educating people on responsible web posting. I am very curious to watch and see who takes the lead in this advocacy ...
Next week the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) takes place in Las Vegas, the venue which vendors debut the latest in the technology gadgets of the future. With so many new products entering the market, inevitably products that utilize older technology slowly reach end-of-life status. Along those lines Smartmoney.com has issued a list of "10 Things Not to Buy" with their predictions for the products where innovation will cease in 2010 and consumers should avoid purchasing in these categories. Next week on the CES show floor I will be very curious to see how vendors with these technologies are positioning (or repositioning) products that fall under these umbrellas.
Given some of Schwartz Communications' work in our growing Green PR practice, a couple of the items from the list that drew my attention include Gas-guzzling cars and Energy inefficient homes. As a consumer PR professional, number 6 on the list, newspaper subscriptions as an obsolete purchase, is disheartening, as I have always felt that sitting down with a cup of coffee and a newspaper is the best way to be thoughtful about the news we read.
Click here to view the full list, see you in Vegas!