Lucy in the Sky with Viral Marketing

Of all the surprising news over the past few days, it was the origin of the Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” that caught me off guard. For nearly four decades I was convinced that the song was about the drug LSD.  Why? Because my friends, cool neighbors, all-knowing aunts and uncles,  older cousins and even my babysitter all corroborated the canard that the song was Lennon’s and McCartney’s tribute to psychedelic drugs.  While Lennon held claim that the song was not about LSD, McCartney stirred the pot by saying it was indeed.  I never, not once, heard of the other origin of the song — though like all great viral marketing, you might hear what you want to hear. The word of mouth was so strong that I not only believed in the “LSD version” of the song, but the scandalous nature of this information spread under the radar and over the hills of my white-picket-fenced Baltimore neighborhood and made me want to listen to the song all the more.  This was truly viral marketing at its best. Of course, as a grade schooler in the ’60s, Word of Mouth did not contain a capital W and M.  It was what it was — one person spreading information to the next, and so on and so on.  The truth about the song — based on John Lennon’s son Julian, 4 years old at the time, drawing  a picture of his classmate Lucy O’Donnell and telling his dad it was Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds – was revealed in the wake of Lucy’s premature death on Sept 29 from lupus. Perhaps it was serendipity that the initials of Lucy, Sky and Diamond matched LSD.  Either way, this blog entry is a tribute to the power of Word of Mouth Marketing: a legal drug for communicators world-wide.

– Diane Schwartz

Oops, He Did It Again: John Edwards Continues His Epic Fall From Grace

Disgraced former senator and almost-Vice President John Edwards can’t seem to find his way out of the bottomless hole that is his current baby mama drama. And what a drama it is: Over the weekend, news of recent developments in the Edwards scandal began to circulate, all of which were damning of his assertion that he is not the father of mistress Rielle Hunter’s 19-month-old baby girl, Francis.

Long story short, Andrew Young, a former aide to Edwards, revealed a number of sordid details pertaining to the Edwards-Hunter affair in a book proposal, which was examined by the New York Times. Among the claims:

• Edwards is in fact the child’s father and, what’s more, has known it all along;
• Edwards promised Hunter that he would marry her in a rooftop NYC ceremony once his cancer-stricken wife, Elizabeth Edwards, passed away; and,
• The Dave Matthews Band would be performing at said ceremony.

In the wake of these revelations, news reports are now suggesting that Edwards is considering an abrupt reversal of his public posture and may very well claim paternity. This development in Edwards’ epic fall from grace does little to defend any shred of integrity he still clung to, and it also raises a huge question (assuming Young’s claims are true): Why vehemently deny something that is true, only to change your position down the road?

It’s a “crime” committed by so many types of people, from politicians and business executives to entertainers, so it’s all the more surprising that no one seems to learn from the mistakes of those who’ve gone before them. Plus, in a situation like Edwards’, there are genetic tests to prove or disprove the validity of one’s claims. (There is also something called “family resemblance,” which isn’t helping Edwards’ case either—photographs have shown baby Francis to be the spitting image of her maybe-father.)

Edwards’ strategy (or lack thereof) for handing the situation makes me wonder why apologies and admissions of guilt are too little, too late, in too many instances. Wouldn’t it be better to own up to your wrongdoings, pay the price and maybe—just maybe—bounce back? Not to condone Eliot Spitzer’s own version of infidelity but, when compared to Edwards’, at least Spitzer knew when to say when—that is, when to realize the evidence against him outweighed any lie he could come up with.

Besides not doing something so egregiously wrong in the first place, I’m not sure what the best course of action is for Edwards now (I certainly wouldn’t want to be his PR person). But I do think the situation underscores the value of uttering two simple words early and often:

I’m sorry.

By Courtney Barnes

The Outburst: For What It’s Worth

So, did you watch the MTV Video Music Awards? More likely you watched Kanye West make Taylor Swift feel bad for winning Video of the Year over Beyonce.  Great PR for the VMAs, bad PR for Kanye and good PR for Taylor.  Or maybe not. Kanye’s blog and web site were inundated with fans and haters alike so he got some attention for being a bad boy. Yours truly is referring to him by his first name rather than “West” as would be the appropriate journalistic reference:  So I’m a little caught up in the moment, too.  Kanye apologized to the public and to Taylor Swift for his outburst on the stage. He knew what he was doing (as he’s done this sort of thing before), and also knew that he would apologize and he’d get a lot of attention for both.  In the scheme of things, what he said and did is not a big deal. Surely it was inappropriate and the standing ovation for Taylor Swift secured her standing in the popularity contest.  Meanwhile, Joe Wilson, the Republican South Carolina congressman who shouted “You Lie” during Obama’s speech last week before Congress, has apologized but noted this week that he’s not going to apologize again.  His outburst has raised awareness, or rather $1 million, from supporters.  It’s likely Kanye will profit from this “bad PR” through song downloads, T-shirt sales, and ironically sales of “Thank You and You’re Welcome” – his collection of “Kanye-isms.”

– Diane Schwartz

Running the Gauntlet: Communicating Your Way into—and out of—Sticky Situations

If you thought you or one of your clients had a bad run in media coverage recently, think again. Or, more specifically, think of Caster Semenya, the South African runner whose record-breaking 800-meter sprint at last month’s World Athletics Championships prompted an investigation into whether she was actually a he.

If that wasn’t bad enough for the girl, news that the results would take weeks to get fueled a maelstrom of humiliating coverage as to how it could be so difficult to figure out her sex. In the weeks that followed, media from around the world weighed, with some calling for the IAAF to back off its investigation and others arguing that Semenya should be disqualified.

Here’s a quick run-down of the situation. Under International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) rules, if ever there is suspicion about an athlete’s gender, that athlete may be asked to undergo a medical evaluation. In Semenya’s case, the 18-year-old runner’s stunning performance (she crushed her rivals—and previous records), coupled with her noticeably muscular—some would say masculine—physique, resulted in a formal investigation into her gender. If she was revealed to be genetically male, initial reports said, she would be stripped of her medal and excluded from further competition.

Well, today CNN reported that two media outlets—one in the UK and one in Australia—obtained the results of the gender tests. Both reported the same conclusion: that Semenya is a hermaphrodite. Once again, she is in the spotlight, facing unknown consequences for a situation that is out of her control.

The reason I bring it up in the context of a discussion surrounding PR is simple: How does one manage communications around such a delicate—and global—issue? Semenya’s so-called “agency,” in this case, appears to be Makhenkesi Stofile, Sport and Recreation Minister. CNN reported that he said he was “shocked and disgusted” at the treatment that Semenya has received from the media, the IAAF and the world.

I’d have to agree with him. None of the parties involved in the situation have done much to protect her privacy. Then again, at this point, where do you even begin managing the media coverage? If you think about it as, say, a reputation or brand crisis, and if Semenya was your “client,” what would you do?

By Courtney Barnes

Linking, Following, Friending: Just Send Me a Thank-You Note

You can’t blame the interviewee for wanting to get LinkedIn with you. And you can’t blame the interviewee for following you on Twitter. And you can’t blame him for trying to add you as a friend on Facebook. And wouldn’t it be nice if you came to his band’s gig on Saturday night? Nice of him to send you an invitation.  You can’t blame this interviewee, but you sure don’t have to hire him for the job. Which brings me to the new frontier of the interviewing process, where it is isn’t over once the formal meeting wraps up.  I’ve noticed, as a very part-time hiring manager in my job as group publisher,  that I’m getting more LinkedIn and Facebook requests (often within hours after an interview) than an actual thank you note from the person.  Considering the job market and the many new modes of connecting quickly, it’s smart to use social media to try to advance your career.  It’s also smart to wait it out, time your social media activities so that you are not brushing too closely against the interviewing protocol.  The basic tenets of smart communications hold firm in the job search too:  know your audience, do not oversell yourself and understand your purpose in the process (is it to get a job or become the hiring manager’s new buddy?).

Diane Schwartz

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