musings on marketing, media, public relations....and life, by David Reich
Reich Communications, Inc.
Reich Communications, Inc. is a boutique public relations agency in New York City offering full service in a variety of areas, with specializations in business-to-business; advertising, marketing and media firms; transportation safety; non-profits, and select consumer products and services.
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So-called native advertising is ad content designed to look like the editorial content it's surrounded by. We used to call it "advertorial" long before "native" became the current buzzword.
By its very nature, native advertising is deceptive, since it is intended to make the viewer think it's real news, coming from the media outlet's reporters or writers. As such, it tries to pick up the implied credibility that would come with a legitimately reported news or feature story.
Not so. Native ads are, after all, ads paid for and written by an advertiser. You shouldn't expect native ads to be fair, balanced or even, unfortunately, totally accurate.
For years, advertorials in newspapers and magazines usually were labeled as ads or paid content, although often in small lettering that could easily be missed.
Then, as media went digital, the lines became blurred or disappeared altogether. Online media, including widely-read blogs, went for the money, posting paid content without disclosing it was sponsored.
The Federal Trade Commission issued a ruling that all paid content had to be clearly identified. I'm not sure if anyone has been fined or prosecuted for breaking that rule, but most legitimate media seem to have become more careful.
Despite this and perhaps proving that more noticeable identification as an ad is needed, a new study by a university in Georgia shows the vast majority of us don't recognize native advertising as a paid ad. The study, reported in the Journal of Advertising, found that only eight percent of people surveyed identified native advertising as paid marketing messages. So 92 percent were fooled into thinking what they had seen in print or online was real news or information.
No wonder native advertising has become the hot thing.
New York State yesterday approved a bill that outlines various forms of lobbying and requires firms that engage in those activities to report their actions.
I don't yet know what the reporting procedures are, but a troubling clause in that bill includes PR agencies' contact with editorial boards of newspapers.
The 10-page bill lists various activities that are excluded, including "normal" dealings with reporters on news and feature stories. But if I were to arrange a background session for a client with an editorial board or the opinion editor at a newspaper, it seems like I'd be obligated to report on that activity somehow. I don't yet know what and how much paperwork would be involved or if fines could be levied for failure to report.
The idea is a bad one, a clear overreaction to recent corruption cases up in Albany. It flies in the face of free speech.
Over the years, I've arranged meetings between clients and editorial boards. One example was for NHTSA, to encourage editorials urging readers to buckle up when driving, or not to drink and drive. Clearly, those are messages in the public interest, but I would now have to report on such sessions.
Traditional lobbying is another story, and I feel there should be much tighter restrictions on what lobbyists can do and how money they can distribute to public officials.
I've seen firsthand how lobbying works. Several years ago a client wanted to get Congress to pass stricter laws on a public safety issue. I helped them find a reputable lobbying firm. They began by identifying legislators who were on committees that impacted that issue. The lobbyist knew most of them. I helped them prepare position papers outlining the what and why of my client's objectives, and then they had meetings with the legislators themselves or key aides.
But here's where it got dicey. The lobbyist strongly advised my client to attend various events sponsored or supported by some of those targeted legislators. Some were fundraisers for nonpolitical organizations favored by the legislators. But in several cases, my client was encouraged to attend small-group luncheons or meetings, where the price tag was often $5,000 and up to sit across the table with a dozen or so people and the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer and Chuck Schumer.
All perfectly legal, but how fair is it, really? How many of us can afford to spend big bucks for such direct access? And you have to wonder, when really big bucks -- millions -- are spent, does a public official then feel obligated? Look at big spenders like the gun lobby and big pharma and think about the lack of action on some issues those industries face.
That's where attention needs to be focused. When I or another PR firm sits with a client to inform or try to influence an editorial writer, there are some big differences from lobbying public officials. Meeting with editorial boards, we make our best effort to explain our position on an issue. But the ultimate decision of if and what gets published is in the hands and heart of the editor, a journalist who tries to weigh facts before taking a position. And that choice is not impacted by money.
It's a big difference. So New York, especially in light of all the corruption that's finally being prosecuted in Albany, should focus on traditional lobbying and not dilute those efforts by trying to regulate normal media relations efforts.
It's not November yet, but you can cast your vote now.
We're in the second year of a program I set up for client The National Road Safety Foundation with the Chicago Auto Show.
We invited teens in the Chicago area to submit their ideas for a distracted driving PSA. The three finalists have been selected and now the Auto Show is asking the public to pick the winner by voting online. I'll announce the winner in a few weeks at the Chicago Auto Show. Take a look and vote for the one you think works best.
Catching up on the news is a Sunday morning ritual. For me and millions of others, that means enjoying a cup (or 2 or 3) of coffee while reading the fat Sunday edition of The NY Times and watching CBS Sunday Morning. Charles Osgood has been hosting that show for more than 20 years.
His calm demeanor always lends a feeling of "we'll get through this" when he reports bad news, and his dry sense of humor, his poetic interludes and his courage to play piano and sing as seasonally appropriate makes you think of him as a wise, erudite uncle. He's someone whose visits you look forward to.
Osgood had big shoes to fill when he took over the spot from Charles Kuralt, but he's done it well.
The Daily News today has a story saying Osgood plans to retire this year. At age 83, he's certainly earned it. Hopefully, we'll still see him doing occasional reports or think pieces.
And hopefully, when a new host takes over (Jane Pauley is seen as a front-runner), the program will stick with its perfect mix of hard news and features on happenings in the news, the arts and sciences, personalities and the occasional oddities.
I've met Osgood a few times, when he's been an honoree or a presenter at the annual Christopher Awards that my firm publicizes, and he is as charming and classy in person as he is on camera.
His presence on Sunday Morning will be missed. Sundays won't quite be the same.
It's been a year since we had to let our pal Loki go. It was a tough day. And every day since, we think of our Loki and miss him. We've become used to the emptiness in the house, but there's always something that makes us remember him.
He will always be our dear friend and he will always be missed.
Here's what I wrote a year ago....
Jan. 2, 2015
He's been our good friend for almost 14-1/2 years... a very good run for a big dog.
And today we had to say goodbye to him.
My heart is broken ... it hurts so much.
But we have so many fun things to think of that will always keep our pal Loki alive in our hearts forever. His love for his puppy pal Delia, who he's now playing with in dog heaven. His walks through Hunts Woods and dunking in the stream, even on the most frigid days. Running on the big lawn in Harpswell and going down to the beach to swim and scavenge for food. Standing by me at mealtime, barking for me to share my meal with him. Riding in the convertible catching the wind as the breeze blew his ears and jowls, spraying drool all over us. Rolling over for belly rubs. Looking out the window from his favorite perches -- his chair in our bedroom or on the steps so he could see through the front door window. Waking up to find him snuggled between us with his head on the pillow. Greeting me in the morning with endless kisses.
And so much more...
We'll miss it all, but we'll always remember our Loki.
Consumers really shouldn't believe advertising, said Suzanne Vranica, longtime advertising and marketing reporter for The Wall Street Journal.
She made the comment during an interview this morning on CBS This Morning, talking about news that artisnal chocolate maker Mast admitted it had used melted-down chocolate from other brands in its early days as a high-end chocolatier.
It's possible Suzanne may have intended to say something like you can't always believe everything in ads, or consumers should be careful and try to do their own research into claims made in ads. Live TV can do that -- catch you in a sentence that doesn't come out exactly right.
But if many people -- including one of the leading national journalists who covers the ad industry -- are skeptical of what they see and hear in ads, then maybe marketers need to look at other methods of getting the word out about their products and services. Word-of-mouth often comes up as the most trusted source of information, and it is often fueled by Public Relations.
The idea behind it is PR seeks to get exposure through media, which have an obligation to do their own vetting of claims made by marketers. So if a story in a trusted newspaper, magazine or broadcast or online outlet talks about a product in a positive way, consumers give it more credibility than a straightforward ad. Advertising, with its repetitive nature, creates awareness. Stories in the media via PR, which are tougher to gain, generally have more credibility.
That, in a longer explanation, may be what Suzanne Vranica was trying to say in a quick interview soundbite.
The age-old question of "who sees my ad" continues to plague advertisers.
Digital advertising now allows advertisers to get a better read on who looks at their ads and how long they spend looking, as well as lots of other information about us that we'd probably rather they not have. Ever wonder why, after you go to a site to look for information on travel to, say, Mexico, you all of a sudden start getting pop-ups and emails advertising destinations in Mexico? It's called behavioral tracking.
But as ads appear everywhere, we consumers look for ways to avoid them. It's almost like a game of cat & mouse.
With radio, simply hit the button to go to another station. Now, we have ad-free satellite radio or subscription services online like Pandora.
Back before DVRs or home video recorders, the only recourse we had to avoid ads on TV was either switch the channel (which pre-remote meant getting up to turn the dial) or leave the room to raid the refrigerator or take a quick bathroom break. Now, we simply click and the ads that marketers spent tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to put in front of us quickly zip by.
As our TV viewing habits are changing, advertisers are trying other ways to force us to watch their messages. Video on demand (VOD) from the networks usually disable the fast-forward feature on your clicker, so you have to watch TV the old-fashioned way -- ads included.
But the hot area these days for ads is online. We're close to the point where advertisers will be spending more money for online ads than for ads in traditional media. But even as this is happening, we consumers are finding ways to avoid the ads aimed at us on our computers, tablets and smart phones.
Banner ads have been shown to have limited impact on consumers. They're on our screens, but we tend to ignore them. Advertisers now use pop-ups that dominate the screen and override the content you're trying to view. Those pop-ups often have a box or circle with an "x" which you can click to have the ad go away. But advertisers are making those boxes smaller and harder to click on, especially if you're seeing them on a tablet or phone.
As a story in The New York Times recently said, it's becoming like the wack-a-mole game... trying to find the little "x."
This silly game becomes frustrating for consumers, and it hardly endears them to whatever product or service is being advertised.
One possible solution is to take a cue from pre-roll ads that pop up on some You Tube videos. There's a message, easy to see, that indicates that you can close the ad after 5 or 15 seconds ... and you see the time counting down. The viewer knows there will be an option and that he or she will just have to endure 5, 15, or 30 seconds before getting to the desired content. It's not as annoying as other pop-ups, and if the advertiser has created a compelling ad that catches you in those first 5 or 15 seconds, the consumer may opt to watch the entire ad, which could be 30 or 60 seconds, or even a lot longer.
It takes creativity. You can't simply use a regular TV ad and put it online. But if it works, it's win-win for both the advertisers and the consumer. It's a lot better than playing cat and mouse to try to avoid an ad.
My daughter Jennifer was taking her older son Jack, 10, to school recently and, as he got out of the car, he asked a question that worries many parents at this time of year. His question -- "Is Santa real?"
Jen didn't have a simple answer, so she said it was complicated and she'd tell him when he got home from school. She thought about it and wrote down her thoughts in a beautiful letter that I'm sharing below, with Jen's permission.
An interesting side note... Jen is Jewish and her husband Jon is Christian. The boys, Jack and his brother Gabriel, 6, are being raised with traditions from both faiths. Not necessarily the religious dogma, but traditions like lighting the menorah on Chanukah, having matzoh for Passover and, of course, at this time of year decorating the Christmas tree and waiting for Santa.
I am so proud of my daughter for expressing her thoughts so beautifully and helping keep alive a beautiful tradition that makes this time of year magical for so many people -- especially children. Wouldn't it be nice if in this way we could all retain our inner child?
Here's Jen's note to my grandson Jack...
You asked a really good question earlier and I didn’t have time to answer it then. It is a question I knew was coming sooner than later, and I had a feeling it might come around this Christmas. It is a question that parents all over the word have to face at some time, and it is bittersweet. So I came home and gave it some serious thought and here is my answer to your question, “Is Santa real?”
Yes and no. Your image of Santa, as a big, fat, jolly man in a red suit and a beard, flying all over the world in s sleigh, is not real. You are a smart kid and you probably have questioned for some time how that could be possible. The presents under the tree that are from Santa are in fact from Daddy and I, and we fill the stockings too. After you and your brother go to sleep on Christmas Eve, Daddy and I are hard at work, sneaking quietly to make Christmas magical- just like Grammy and Poppy did for Daddy, and their parents did for them.
And that is where the other part of the answer comes in- Santa may not be real in the way you thought, but the spirit of him is a real part of Christmas. The story of Santa has been around for hundreds of years and the magic his story creates for children is a beautiful thing. And for adults too! I know that Santa is not real in an actual sense, but I still believe in his spirit as a grown up. I still feel the beauty and magic and love on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, even though I know the truth. And I hope you will too.
Santa teaches love and magic, and hope and happiness. He creates the ability to believe that anything is possible, that there are miracles in the world, and that giving to others freely is the surest way to fill your heart- and theirs- with joy.
So while now you may know that Santa himself isn’t sneaking down our chimney at night, I sincerely hope that you can still believe in the magic and beauty of his story. I hope that Christmas still feels special for you and that one day, you will make the Santa story come alive for your own children.
Learning about Santa is a big step in growing up. I have to admit, I shed a tear or two writing this as there is a certain part of childhood you are leaving behind. But here is the neat thing: you now get to be a creator of this magic, a helper, and elf, if you will. It is important to let each child realize the Santa story on their own, or the magic can be ruined. You are now a guardian of Santa- like Daddy and I have been for you. You must keep his story alive for those that still believe, like your brother and your friends. It is a really big responsibility but one that you must take seriously. You can now help spread the love and the belief in miracles and the magic of Santa- you are now on his team, as Daddy and I have been for all the Christmas mornings you can remember. Welcome.
You may have more questions, and I am happy to answer them. Or you may just need to let this sit for a while. Just know that while the Santa you see at the mall surely is not real, the love and generosity and spirt of kindness and giving that he instills in people is very real and very important. Be sure to carry the Santa story with you in your heart forever.
New York City will soon be getting a new area code – 332. That’s on top of 718, 917, 646, 929 and the old standby 212.
212 is, and always has been, the “it” area code. It’s not easy to get a 212 prefix. In fact, you have to wait till current 212 lines are given up. There’s a company here that will purchase existing 212 numbers from their holders and sell them at a premium to people who simply must have a 212 phone number.
Even in these days of multiple area codes for larger cities, people everywhere still know that 212 is the center of New York City – Manhattan, the Big Apple, the hub of business and media and lots more.
What does 718, 917 or 646 represent? The outer boroughs, New York latecomers, cell phones. But not New York City!
When Ma Bell (remember the old phone company?) introduced direct dialing for long distance, we still had rotary phones which made clicks as you turned the dial. So with New York being the biggest market, 212 would be the fastest to dial with a rotary phone. Similarly, Chicago and L.A., as the next biggest population centers, got their 312 And 213 area codes, which were also quick to dial. Smaller markets got higher numbers, which took longer to dial. (Remember, this was before we had touch tone phones, which rely on different audio tones rather than clicks to represent numbers dialed.)
So, back to 212. You knew it was New York.
And thanks to area codes, we got to recognize where callers, or people or businesses we were calling, were located. 617: Boston, for wicked sure. 215: Philly. 214: Dallas, y'all. 415: San Francisco. 305: Si, Miami. Jersey was 201. Now, L.A. could be 818, 323 or 424. Calling across the river to New Jersey could now be 201, or it could be 973, 732, 908, 862 or a whole bunch of other numbers for what used to be just 609 for south Jersey.
And now, with cellphones and the portability of phone numbers, it’s hard to tell where you’re calling. My son lives in Hollywood, but his phone number starts with 914 – Westchester. My nieces live in Manhattan and Brooklyn, but their numbers are 617, from their days growing up outside of Boston.
Of course, many of us don’t need to remember area codes – or phone numbers - anymore. They’re just programmed into our phones. How many times, if asked for a phone number, do we have to look at the address book in our cellphones?
And imagine if E.T. wanted to phone home now. How many area codes would he need to try?
When I last wrote about magazines, back in August, things seemed to be bit brighter for publishers. But new numbers just out paint a different picture, with readership continuing the downward trend.
What's alarming about the numbers now is the downward trend is also being reflected in online readership, long thought to be the saving grace for magazines.
Erik Sass, writing in Publishers Daily, explains that declines in print readership had often been balanced out by increases in digital readership. But generally, he says, digital editions are a very small part of total magazine readership. And in some cases lately, digital audiences have also declined.
Measurement doesn't take into consideration readership picked up from websites, so the numbers may be a little less bleak than they appear.
At the same time, perhaps reflecting this trend, fewer publishers have taken the plunge with new titles. So far this year, 113 new titles have been launched, which is down by 41 percent from last year’s 190 new titles. The most popular categories for the new titles were food and lifestyle, followed by automotive, parenting, home and travel.
In the B-to-B category, 13 new titles launched, down from 47 launches in 2014.
Despite closures of some major titles like Details, Fitness and Lucky, fewer magazines shut down this year versus the year before – 35 in 2015, compared to 99 last year. That’s a 65 percent drop.
Seven B-to-B magazines closed up shop this year, versus 27 in 2014.
Mixed news, but at least it’s not all bad for publishers.