Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Buzz Revolution: The Future of Product-Focused PR

Buzz/word-of-mouth marketing/public relations is all the rage these days.

Just the other day—on the Travel Channel (or was it Discovery?)—I saw a segment on a British taxicab driver who drives a cab decorated to be a moving advertisement for Las Vegas. When passengers hop in, he talks about how great Las Vegas is. He doesn’t ram it down his passengers’ throats, rather; he’s casual and genuine. And he’s serious too. He’s been on a couple all-expenses-paid trips to Sin City… and not on his dime. He was enlisted by London buzz marketing operation, which works on behalf of Las Vegas to tempt British tourists. Sounds pretty nice, right? I agree.

As this technique begins to takeoff, it begs the question, “Does the future of product-focused media relations appear to be LESS media relations?” People are increasingly cynical about major media and big business. Even the most glowing review of a new product through earned media—in a newspaper, magazine, or on a Web site—will likely be met with some skepticism. Why not put the product in the hands of well-connected mavens and let them sell the product grassroots-style?

Last week, I signed up to be an “agent” for a major buzz marketing/PR firm. After giving them some information about my interests, habits, and hobbies, the group added me to its list. Supposedly, I will be contacted to join in upcoming “campaigns.” What does this mean? From what I glean, it means that they'll send me nifty new products, which they think I'll enjoy, and ask me to do nothing but show them off to my friends and report back to them on any feedback I get.

I guess the idea is this: Sell one man an iPhone; he'll likely enjoy it. Give the right man an iPhone; he'll sell three.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Try the Panini. It's Amazing.

Almost exactly two years ago, I was sitting at the Sam Adams pub in the old terminal of DCA. I should have been en route to Chicago-Midway for a reunion weekend with some college buddies, but—due to over-the-top flight delays—I found myself sucking down seasonal beer with GW undergrads and eating a decent ham panini from a neighboring food kiosk.

A familiar face approached our group and—likely noticing my sandwich—inquired, “Where am I supposed to get something to eat around here?”

It was the fresh-faced freshman senator from Illinois—traveling alone and hungry. He was dressed in a sensible suit and slighter in stature than I would have expected. If I remember correctly, this was right around the time that people started buzzing about his potential as a 2008 presidential candidate.

I looked at my sandwich wrapper and then back up at the senator. “Here’s what you’re going to do,” I started, “You’re going to head over to that kiosk over there and get the ham panini. It’s amazing.”

“Thanks,” he said and beamed us a smile before walking off.

Later on, I saw him sitting alone. He appeared to be eating a salad.

Prior to boarding, I approached him. “Mr. Senator, would you mind a quick picture?” He graciously obliged and then boarded the plane to take his (middle!) seat.

Later that night—on Chicago’s north side—my buddies and I somehow ended up getting a ride home from a late-night spot in the back of a Sun-Times delivery truck. We had to pitch in and toss bundles at a few stops, but it was worth it to have shelter from the bitter, windy cold. Tragically, I lost my keys at some point.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

What do we want!? I'm not sure! When do we want it!? Sometime within the next eight days!

Heads up, Silver Spring, Md.

In a brazen display of calling anti-environment powerhouse Discovery Channel to task for its corporate social responsibility, MySpace crusader Lee, is mobilizing his army of 14 other MySpacers to march on Discovery’s headquarters in Silver Spring, Md. The protest will take place from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. for eight straight days (from Feb. 15-23). On his Web site (http://www.savetheplanetprotest.com/), Lee says, “I know the hours and days for the protest event seems a bit long, but if the Discovery Channel is going to take this protest serious, we need to show them we are serious and are willing to wait them out until they give into our demands.”

And his demands?

Sifting through his almost incoherent Web rant, I haven’t really been able to figure them out. I don’t think he’s sure either. He drivels out some potential programming ideas (including contests and game shows) before getting a bit winded and saying, “I don’t know, so long as it WORKS!” It looks like he’s calling out Discovery to solve climate change. I’m wondering why he’s singled this cable network out when—if I’m following his logic correctly—every other network, nay, every other corporation is equally to blame for insufficient action.

Perhaps the most curious element in play here is that Lee has taken out ads in the Washington Post Express promoting his marathon event. I’m guessing that Discovery will totally ignore this “campaign,” but an interesting issue is in play here. New media has allowed pretty much anyone with a laptop and an agenda—no matter how farfetched—to exercise their right to free speech. Whether you agree with him or not, he’s done a good job of getting his message out there. Discovery can't love the fact that there's an ad running in a well-read news source framing them as anti-environment. Could Discovery engage Lee to quell his gripe? Maybe they could send out Sigourney Weaver to talk to him. Her voice sure soothed the bejesus out of me narrating the network's brilliant Planet Earth series. I'm pretty sure I fell fast asleep during the Caves episode, which could be equally attributable to Weaver's silky pipes and the fact that that episode was pretty boring.