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Millions of people around the country are waiting anxiously by their cell phones and PDAs for what might be the most highly anticipated text message in the history of mobile communications. Presidential candidate Barack Obama—who has already blazed a bandwidth trail by his non-traditional online campaigning tactics—is expected to text supporters who have registered for updates his choice for a running mate, and that text will likely arrive within the next 24 hours.

It’s a wildly innovative approach, given the gravity of the announcement in contrast to the perceived casualness of text message conversations.  But, from a communications standpoint, it just might be his most brilliant move yet. After all, everyone knows that the most effective communications strategies are those that directly target and engage influential stakeholders—in this case, voters—and make them feel empowered. By using the announcement-via-text-message approach, Obama has signaled to his supporters that he wants them to be the first to know about his nomination, which has been one of the best-kept secrets in the weeks leading up to this moment.

Whether or not you are an Obama fan, this marks an evolution of digital, one-on-one communications strategies to the level of national politics.  When voters are able to cast their ballots via phone, we’ll know we have entered a new era.  Until then, the country waits with baited breath for a simultaneous beeping of cell phones signaling that you’ve got mail.

Seeing Red: China’s Olympic Image Channels Fabricated Perfection

So, how ‘bout China’s Olympic debut?  The nation of 1.3 billion has pulled out all the stops so far, wowing a global audience during the opening ceremonies (which were very “electric kool-aid acid test”) with special effects that appealed to every sensory organ, and absconding with the gold medal in women’s gymnastics after their team’s effortless performance shook the U.S. women to their very toned cores.

Both events demonstrated China’s capacity for greatness but, as seems to be an ongoing struggle for the nation, both were tainted by scandals and allegations.  For starters, the pigtailed 9-year-old girl who performed “Ode to the Motherland” before an audience of more than one billion viewers happened to be lip-synching. She was chosen based on her “cuteness,” but another little girl—Yang Peiyi—happened to be a better singer; organizers just felt Yang wasn’t as internationally appealing, so her brief moment of fame came in the form of a voice recording.

From a PR point of view, maybe there isn’t much to talk about, but it struck me as shameful that the literal meaning of image was more important than its connotations. For singers so small, it seems that the greater statement would be one founded upon transparency and sportsmanship, where the true talent is given the stage she deserves.

Then there are the allegations that China’s team of itty-bitty gymnasts don’t actually meet the age requirements (turning 16 in the year 2008), which undermines their victory over the United States. Whether or not they are true, the suspicions are warranted enough to cloud the accomplishment in controversy.

I guess it just reiterates that the Olympics may be greatest demonstration of sportsmanship the world has to offer, but “greatest” is all relative.

By Courtney Barnes

‘Oh, We Can Do That…And That’

Al Riese’s article this week at adage.com on “The Pitfalls of Branding” should be a must-read to all PR execs. Or at least those who are creating new products, new practice areas and specialties as quickly as Fox launches a reality show. Riese’s article discusses the perils of mega-branding and line extensions that blur the raise d’etre for the brand itself. Do we really need (or want) 11 flavors of Wheat Thins? Despite umpteen extensions of Coca-Cola, consumption of the brand as a whole is declining. Are you a PR firm that specializes in tech, healthcare, manufacturing, entertainment, defense, energy, telecom, automotive and childcare issues? How special is that? There’s nothing wrong with having multiple practice areas and being positioned as a full-service firm across many vertical markets. But there are pitfalls to that strategy as well. Perhaps you specialize in reputation management across those markets. That might be a better connector with your stakeholders. A blog entry I wrote earlier this year advised Starbucks to stick to its knitting, avoid introducing products that deviate from its core identity and smell up the place (like egg sandwiches). We now know there’s more brewing at Starbucks than the espresso. So what does your product stand for: are you trying to be all things to all people, or do you have the restraint to focus on a few things you can be great at, that defines your brand and your own raise d’etre as a brand and product steward? PR should lead the way.

- Diane Schwartz

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