The Skittle Fairey…Yum!

19 03 2009

mb-headshot33This past weekend I went to the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston to see the Shepard Fairey exhibit Supply & Demand. You know him for his Obama portrait, a pop cultural icon that now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. For someone who came up in the art world by graffiti tagging and plastering stickers with the face of Andre the Giant and the word “Obey” just about everywhere, being featured at the ICA and National Portrait Gallery is a sign that what was once street is now truly mainstream.fairey

And when you think about it, what’s really happening in the world today, from a communications standpoint, is that the Shepard Faireys are taking over. Before there was a Facebook wall for you to write on, Fairey was tagging walls with his graffiti art, and spreading his stickers virally. His “Obey” stickers preceded the Internet age and became so ubiquitous that they’re the precursors to those “Original Irish Gifts” and other Facebook flotsam and jetsam that is seriously clogging up my information arteries (not that I don’t love a virtual Guinness as much as the next guy).

In the way that Fairey is subversive by taking traditional images of propaganda (Mao, Stalin, Bobby Seale) and giving them an ironic (and often hilarious!) twist, marketers are using the power of social networks to have you, the consumer, mess with their brand and help to define it anew, remix it, make of it what you will. Consider Skittles, the bite-sized candy in a rainbow of fruit flavors. I love them because they’re delicious. And as someone in marketing, I also love them because the brand is going outside of its safe zone. With its “Interweb the Rainbow” campaign, they’ve created a widget that floats from Facebook page, to YouTube channel, to Twitter, to product page so you can seamlessly experience their brand as a participant. Like Shep Fairey, you can “tag” Skittles by tweeting about them, creating a video and uploading it to YouTube, write on the FB wall, etc. Skittles is opening themselves up wide for all that YOU have to say about them.

We’ve all heard the joke about the bad blind date who talks on and on about his many accomplishments to his companion, and then pauses to say, “Well, enough about me, what do you think of me?” In our increasingly digital age, where self-publishing and social networking technology is free to everyone with a smart phone or an Internet connection, who you are isn’t what you tell the world, it’s what the world tells you. Now go have a Skittle.



In Facebook All Business Is Personal

11 03 2009

mb-headshot32Last week our agency received a visit from Lisa Hickey, a self-described “Slightly insane creative thinker and writer. Designer and strategist. Global conversationalist.” She worked at almost every local Boston area advertising agency (with the exception of Mullen) and when she was laid off last year, she re-branded herself as a social media consultant.

Her compelling tale of personal growth via use of Twitter, Facebook, etc. was stirring for all attendees. Given the tragicomic state of the economy today with layoffs everywhere, we can expect other marketers to follow her lead from the unemployment line into social media, and a proliferation of “social media gurus.” By the way, social media guru is a term that I personally loathe because in this day and age we should all be digitally literate, rather than relying on some sort of digital elite (See: Chinese Ch’an master Lin-chi I-hsüan and “Killing the Buddha”). 

Anyway, one thing she said really stuck with me: “Today, people are becoming brands, and brands are becoming people.” It’s true for Lisa, and it’s true for a lot of companies today. Consider how Facebook pages for companies have proliferated, and the very same week of Lisa’s visit Facebook changed those pages to resemble individual profiles. Check out this fantastic whitepaper from The Advance Guard on how those changes can be optimized.

Now, what Facebook doesn’t tell you is that if you wanted to get a customized URL for your company’s fan page that will start at around $100K and involves a media buy. Not a lot of individuals will be in a position to brand their own personal profile at that high price tag.  So, I guess companies are becoming more like individuals, but still get corporate pricing courtesy of Facebook. (Nice. But it’s probably better than spending the money on redecorating a bank’s bathroom.)

So what’s my point? I guess I’m left feeling like Randall Stross, who in his Digital Domain column on Sunday really opened up the can of worms that individuals becoming like companies, and companies becoming like individuals entails. His belief is that it’s ruining our sense of privacy: “When the distinction blurs between one’s few close friends and the many who are not, it seems pointless to distinguish between private and public.” It will be interesting to watch companies open up in the social world and see just how much they’re willing to share. What do you think? Are we over-branding ourselves and destroying what little is left of our private identities in the process?     


Seth Godin on PR vs. Publicity

10 03 2009

mb-headshot3I just want to celebrate Seth Godin and the wisdom he demonstrates in his post “The Difference Between PR and Publicity.” I can’t really write what he wrote any better than how he wrote it. But I think it’s important for all clients to understand the difference between PR strategies/counsel and getting ink, and to demand that their agency delivers both.

 I also feel that an agency that delivers great press coverage without great strategy is performing some kind of miracle. For great press coverage is the result of great PR strategy — the two are not mutually exclusive. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how an agency can deliver results without strategy, or strategy without results. I seriously doubt that it’s possible.

The Tribe Has Spoken

4 12 2008

mb-headshot3I spent some time last month listening to a free audio book called Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization. I knew that the book was available as a free download because I follow the Twitter tweets of Tony Hsieh, the CEO of If Tony, an innovator and business leader, recommended it to his followers, I knew that it would be well worth reading. He actually contributed to the audio book’s forward, and having listened to the book, I can see why the authors chose him.


The book revolves around the central concept of companies existing as bands of tribes (from as many as 20 people to 150 people per tribe). In effect, an organization is like a state with multiple small towns within it. These are not necessarily your department, but loose associations of thought leaders and colleagues. Tribal groups are formed by the replication of what the authors call “triads.” Triads are strong three-party relationships. This is important factor for organizations with a tribal culture, because the authors know that only a three-legged stool can stand, and that by sharing work among colleagues, there is a mutually-supportive structure, rather than a top-down, one-on-one, senior-to-junior dynamic at work.


If you look for it, you will see these triad relationships everywhere in successful companies. Think about LinkedIn, which relies on you working through your existing contacts to reach another contact in the system (a triad). The book also focuses on the fact that successful tribal company cultures are not about “me”, they are about “we.” While company cultures can focus on the superstars, they do so at their own peril. Real superstars are always forming triads and bringing out the best in their colleagues. They are using what helped the Celts win the championships – Ubuntu – and the knowledge that no one can make it alone.


The book provides case studies of the companies that are getting Tribal Leadership right, like Amgen. Companies, as well as individuals, can be found on a continuum from stage 1 (totally failing) to stage 5 (incredibly successful). About half of all companies in America are in stage 3 where self-accomplishment is the core value celebrated (it’s about my success). Companies at stage 5 are in a league of their own (they don’t see themselves as having competitors, just major problems to solve – cancer, bad customer service). Companies at stage 5 are also incredibly open and share information fluidly among the tribal members (and social networking is increasingly helping them create this openness and transparency).


There’s something extremely attractive about a stage 5 tribal culture, and a lot to admire in Tribal Leaders. While these leaders can exist at companies that have yet to make it to tribal excellence, the book suggests that through practicing the creation of triads, being group-oriented and checking their egos at the door, leaders can help to elevate their companies. Next time you’re in a meeting, count the number of times someone says “me” when they could be saying “we.” Now listen to yourself. And, definitely listen to this important book, for free.      img_book

How to spark creativity (literally)

21 10 2008

I think today’s post was meant to be. I was looking at some of my favorite Web sites for inspiration and came across this post on about a product that can increase creativity. An Australian scientist has developed a thinking cap that zaps the left side of the brain with magnetic pulses. In the trials, some participants showed increased levels of awareness and creativity.

*Image courtesy of

So the next time you’re struggling in a brainstorm, or are working to develop an attention-getting, non-traditional PR campaign, maybe you should slip on your thinking cap for a quick zap of insta-creativity. Because who wouldn’t want to look like this at the office:

*Image courtesy of

RSS: Really Simple Stupid

15 10 2008

mb-headshot3a>You are not stupid. You are smart. I am stupid.

I say this because for a long time I was using Really Simple Syndication (RSS) and I didn’t know it. I have a Google gmail account because I grew tired of my Hotmail address at about the same time they started asking for money for more storage. Also, I thought that “@hotmail” was kind of amateurish, along with my “@yahoo” address. I am neither a Bill Gates fan nor a Yahoo, and I wanted to be elitist, eat arugula, and show my love of Google.

Gmail got me to start using iGoogle, a service for those with gmail accounts to have a customizable landing page. My iGoogle site gives me what regular gives me, but it also enables me to display widgets (the weather, a world clock, my horoscope) and news items of my choosing (Slate, The Onion, Politico, New York Times, Newsweek). Grabbing the top stories from the publications that I read is very easy with iGoogle, and because my iGoogle page is my homepage in my browser, I am up to speed on all major global news that I care about.

Then, after years of envying my friends and colleagues, I bought an iPod. Not a touch — I’m not that tricked out yet. And I started using iTunes to download podcasts for free (National Public Radio’s “This American Life” is one of my favorites). The iTunes interface easily helped me find free podcasts and subscribe to them so I can listen to podcasts and view videos whenever I like.

OK, so as I was using iGoogle and iTunes, I didn’t realize that subscribing to news, podcasts and videos was only possible because of RSS. (Like I said, I was stupid.) But I want you all to know that I am getting smarter. I’ve even started to use RSS to get news updates in my Outlook email folders.

If you practice PR and you haven’t gotten into RSS yet then now is the time. If you’re relying on Google alerts to get news about your clients and their competitors, that’s great. But what if you want to read the latest articles as they come online from your target publications? In that case, you can either set up an iGoogle account, or you can do what I have done with Outlook.

First, do some web searches and find the publications, sections of publications, blogs, or whatever you want to read on a regular basis. Then, in Internet Explorer click on this symbol:

When you click on that symbol (sometimes called the RSS Chicklet) you will see an address pop up for a new URL in your web browser window. Copy that URL (control C).

Now, start your Outlook email program and do the following:

1. On the Tools menu, click Account Settings.
2. On the RSS Feeds tab, click New.
3. In the New RSS Feed dialog box, type or press CTRL+V to paste the URL of the RSS Feed. For example,
4. Click Add.
5. Click OK.
Now, you will begin to see in your Outlook Mail Folders articles popping up under the RSS Chicklet folder. Those new RSS feeds you’ve subscribed to will be filled up with news that you care about the minute the news is posted to the Internet.

If you care about getting news from the outlets, reporters or bloggers you track, then you have to try setting up RSS feeds in Outlook.

Now, you probably feel a whole lot smarter…I would love to hear how it’s working for you.

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A New BeginNING

8 10 2008

The very first post I made to this blog was about my old friend Tom Anderson, co-founder of MySpace. We were in a band together in college and I really admire all that he’s been able to accomplish with his social network. He’s taking it into new territory and putting music at the forefront, which is his true passion as a veritable walking encyclopedia of arcane musical trivia (Ringo – throw me a banana!). Don’t ask.


So that’s why I’m concerned about MySpace and Facebook. Are they losing their cache? In a recent PC World article on the “10 Most Overrated Products” Facebook loses to and reporter Darren Gladstone quips that Facebook has “free applications of dubious value, plus scores of plug-ins and games that draw you deeper into the Facebook rabbit hole until you’re spending hours a day befriending complete strangers with whom you have nothing in common beyond a shared love of Raisin Bran.”


And Mediaweek recently rated the Digital Hot List 2008, and MySpace wasn’t even listed. What’s going on? Is social media tanking? I don’t think so. What I think is happening is that more people are trying sites like to build their own social media sites where they can grow their own communities on the Internet.


Haven’t heard of Ning? I read a brilliant article on Ning in Fast Company earlier this year and I began using the site. Basically, it enables anyone with minimal knowledge of website design to create an online social network. That network can be open to everyone or closed and open to members by invitation only. The level of customization is awesome. Post videos and still images, blog, chat in real time, or create forums – most of what you can do with Facebook or MySpace is available, but you are essentially creating your own Facebook or MySpace with Ning serving as the backbone.


Marketers who have tried and failed to leverage social networking sites should pay attention to Ning because it provides the tools (at free or very low cost) to create a community with shared interests online. And it’s very cool. If Tom can create an empire like MySpace, you can create YourSpace with Ning. Let me know if you’ve played around with Ning and how it’s working for you.