Was Press Release Ruling the Right Stuff?

Warning: A press release has been deemed as promotional in a court of law, which could result in a lawsuit.

Late this week I received one of Michael Lasky’s law alerts, and it really got my attention. Lasky, an attorney at Davis & Gilbert LLP, is always ready to offer sage legal advice to communication professionals. This alert was particularly interesting.

The case involved AT&T, then Cingular Wireless, and their issuing of a press release on PRNewswire.com that mentioned Gen. Chuck Yeager, the celebrated pilot who’s exploits were featured in the movie The Right Stuff.

Here’s what was in the release: Nearly 60 years ago, the legendary test pilot Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier and achieved Mach 1. Today, Cingular is breaking another kind of barrier with our MACH 1 and MACH 2 mobile command centers, which will enable us to respond rapidly to hurricanes and minimize their impact on our customers.

Lasky’s summary of the case stated that Yeager got wind of the release and sued AT&T for statutory right of publicity. The jury ruled in favor of Yeager. A district court recently upheld the verdict, rejecting AT&T’s contention that the California statute only applied to “traditional, paid advertising.”

The court held that there was sufficient evidence in the record for the jury to conclude that Cingular’s press release used Yeager’s name to promote its services, and, therefore, that the press release fell within the purview of the California statute.

Lasky’s conclusion:  Right of publicity laws are not limited to traditional paid advertisements but, depending on the state, apply more broadly to communications which promote the company or sale of a service or product. Therefore, press releases and other publicity efforts that are outside the context of traditional advertising can subject companies to potential liability for violating an individual’s right of publicity, even where those tools are directed to the news media and are not directly intended for consumers.

So, the judge didn’t get the memo that PR is different from advertising. But in this case, was the press release overly promotional? Did its language warrant a ruling in favor of Yeager? I’d be interested in your opinion.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01

The OHIO Rule: Only Handle It Once; Easier Said Than Done.

How many emails do you open every day that you choose not to respond to, saying to yourself, “I’ll get to that later”?  How many papers, magazines, memos come across your desk that you put in a pile to read later? Worse yet, how many conversations do you have with peers, direct reports and customers where you dance in circles rather than address the point at hand?

We are guilty of all or some of these actions, as it’s undeniable that we’re inundated with too many messages, too much to do, and possess an imaginary back burner that conveniently expands to size.

So when I came across the new book Extreme Productivity I was intrigued.  With the word Extreme in the title, you know the author is not messing around.  The author, Robert Pozen, is a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, senior fellow at Brookings Institution and former chairman of MFS Investment Management and Fidelity Investments. Oh, and he’s written six books.  He manages his time by going to less meetings, not sweating the small stuff, sleeping at least seven hours a night, and sticking to the OHIO rule: Only Handle it Once.  The OHIO Rule is decades old, and gets better with age.

If you are able to apply the OHIO Rule in a typical day, you will most likely open up hours in your workday.  Imagine how much roomier that convenient but annoying back burner will be. I’ve read statistics that say people read the same email anywhere from twice to five times. Apply the OHIO Rule, and there’s an action taken on that email right away.  There are exceptions to this rule and naysayers of the OHIO Rule – some might rightly argue that it’s worth reading something once and coming back to it later for a more measured response. Sure, that applies sometimes – but not most of the time.

To add to the OHIO Rule, the 4T’s, compliments of mommy site Momeo, are a nice companion for those seeking to be productive, and possibly extremely productive:

Tackle It – do something now with that email/memo etc

Task It – schedule a specific time on your calendar to handle it

Toss It – self-explanatory

Transfer It – forward it and delegate it to a more suitable team member

There’s a reason why Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign resonates across generations. It speaks to our desire to succeed but our inclination to procrastinate.  While all eyes are on Ohio the state on Election Day, OHIO the rule should be a handy reminder to just do it.

What do you think? Are you a believer in OHIO?

- Diane Schwartz

On Twitter: @dianeschwartz




Tired of Election News? Here’s What You’ve Missed

Maybe it’s just me, but are you getting presidential election fatigue? With all of the talk of spin rooms, binders, “optimal” and fact checking, I’m ready to go out and vote this afternoon just to be done with it.

Being a PR pro, you’re most likely a voracious consumer of news and information. But the bulk of the news has been all-election all the time. So in the interest of keeping you up-to-date on other important news you may have missed because of the election onslaught, here’s a quick synopsis of a few stories that are equally—well, almost—important:

Ellen DeGeneres Wins Mark Twain Award at Kennedy Center: The tables were turned on DeGeneres as fellow comedians doled out some gentle barbs for her collecting the top comedy award. Of course, DeGeneres couldn’t resist a political joke, thanking PBS, which is broadcasting the show next week, with a nod to Mitt Romney’s sentiments toward continued government funding of public broadcasting: “Thank you, PBS. I’m so glad to be part of your final season.”

S.F. Giants Storm Into World Series with 9-0 Win Over Cardinals: Down 3 games to 1 in the NLCS series, the Giants came back to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 9-0 Monday night to advance to the World Series against the Detroit Tigers. The city of San Francisco went wild, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported that bars were full of fans—and none of them wanted to watch the presidential debate that was airing at the same time as the game. Giants fan Matt Garret was quoted as saying, “I’ve been a Giants fan my whole life and I already know who I’m voting for.”

Justin Timberlake Gets Married in Italy: Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel got married in Italy over the weekend, with guests including SNL pals Jimmy Fallon and Andy Samberg. The ceremony was truly romantic, as Timberlake reportedly serenaded Biel with a song he penned expressly for the big day. It was also reported that the pair was extremely serious about getting back to the U.S. to watch the Romney-Obama debate, as shown by this photo at the airport.

iPad Mini and Windows 8 Launch This Week: Both Apple and Microsoft are launching new products on Oct. 26. The new iPad Mini is the most portable and pocketable tablet Apple has produced, reports Pocket-Lint. Meanwhile, Microsoft hopes Windows 8 will put the company back on the cutting edge of technology, with an operating system that offers a “fast and fluid experience” across traditional PCs and touch-screen tablet devices, enabling users to move seamlessly between them, said Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft’s Windows division at a press conference Monday in Shanghai. Yet Apple may win Friday’s launch war simply because it was reported that President Obama surfs the Web on his iPad every night before going to bed.

On second thought, I give up. Back to C-SPAN.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01

Blood, Sarcasm, Fake CEO (and Social Media) Make For A Perfect Viral Campaign

It’s that time of the month: when a campaign goes viral and everyone is abuzz about the surprising creativity and through-the-roof consumer engagement of an under-the-radar product or news item. There is no escaping this phenomenon, so we might as well embrace and learn from it.

The most recent is Bodyform’s response to a British man named Richard Neill who rants on the company’s Facebook page that the feminine hygiene maker has been lying all these years about the joys of menstruating.  Tongue firmly placed in cheek, he just wanted to point out that his girlfriend is not a joy to be around roughly one week out of every month.

“As a man I must ask why you have lied to us for all these years,” Neill wrote. “As a child I watched your advertisements with interest as to how at this wonderful time of the month that the female gets to enjoy so many things, I felt a little jealous. I mean bike riding, rollercoasters, dancing, parachuting, why couldn’t I get to enjoy this time of joy and ‘blue water’ and wings !! ”

The UK-based maker of Maxipads saw this post (some are saying it planned the post), and responded with a witty, come-clean video in which an actress posing as the Bodyform CEO and clasping a glass off blue water, told Neill that he is indeed correct. All their commercials depicting a wonderful time of month for women are just wrong.

In the 2-minute video, the “CEO” notes: “There’s no such thing as a happy period…” [There's] the cramps, the mood-swings, the insatiable hunger, and yes, Richard, the blood coursing from our uteri like a crimson landslide.”

More than 80,000 people have “liked” Neill’s post and roughly 2.2 million people viewed Boydform’s video response on YouTube, as of today.  The video campaign was a collaboration of agencies Carat and Rubber Republic and PR firm Myriad. Forbes is touting this campaign as an excellent example of “Brand Improv.”  The power of social media is the major player in this campaign and even if you don’t buy Maxipads,  you must buy into the influence of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other sharing sites in moving brands in new directions.

Interestingly, the real head of Maxipads is not a woman, but a man named Magnus Groth, who heads up parent company SCA’s consumer goods products in Europe. It might have been interesting to see Magnus on that video rather than a female actress pretending that the head of the company is a woman, but that is another issue.  And it would get in the way of a good chuckle and outstanding buzz.

People want to laugh. They want to be surprised. They want to discuss taboo topics in the comfort of their social media worlds.  When Kotex took to Pinterest and found out what inspired 50 women whom they deemed to be influencers, they sent the women a customized package of inspirational items (plus one less-inspirational product: a package of Kotex), and asked them to take a photo of the gift, re-pin it to their Pinterest board. And re-pin, post and tweet, they did, in a campaign that has generated nearly 695,000 impressions.

It is refreshing to see these campaigns embraced. They are smart, witty and don’t take themselves too seriously. What will be interesting to watch is if Maxipad and Kotex product sales go up as a result of the generous media coverage and consumer approval. It will also be interesting to see if the relationship between Richard Neill and his girlfriend will last. After all, he called her “the little girl from the exorcist with added venom and extra 360 degree head spin” when she has her period.  Reality show producers, take note.

 - Diane Schwartz

On Twitter: @dianeschwartz



CSI-The Biz-Ness of Giving Back

I have to admit, ever since I began covering Corporate Social Responsibility issues close to three years ago when I started as editor of PR News, I’ve been somewhat skeptical.

I questioned whether organizations really give back, help their own communities and people around the world—while tying it all to the business bottom line. After all, the bottom line is what matters most. I began to think most companies were just paying lip service to CSR.

But on the last day of the PRSA International Conference here in San Francisco, my outlook on CSR is changing. It started on the opening day on Sunday, when Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, serial entrepreneur and one who defines the phrase “cool nerd,” gave his views on CSR—or rather “CSI” as he terms it—corporate social innovation. “CSR sounds so ball and chain,” said Stone during his keynote. He’s right about that.

Stone believes giving back is going to be a main pillar of business going forward, and I tend to believe him. The secret? “Just have your products and services have a meaningful impact on people,” said Stone.

Of course, for some companies, that’s easier said than done. I’ve found some CSI efforts to be forced. And it’s pretty easy to believe someone like Biz Stone, who has plenty of dollars to give back.

Then, today I attended a session led by brand builders Citizen Paine, where its CEO, Daryl McCullough, managing director Joe Cronin and Daniel Lemin, owner of Social Studio, showed examples of their award-winning work with big brands.

A Duracell campaign in partnership with the NFL—Trust Your Power—stands out. The effort features  NFL players in the communities in which they play—like Atlanta Falcon Roddy White, who enrolled in an Atlanta high school for a day.  A camera followed White as he participated in school activities while handing out battery packs and calculators to the students. Of course, the student’s own battery powered electronic devices recorded the action as well.

Along with these live appearances by NFL players that create buzz, fans can tweet with the #TrustYourPower hashtag or share a story of trusting their power on Duracell’s Facebook page. With each story, Duracell gives $1 to provide disadvantaged youth scholarships to ProCamps.

The beauty of the ongoing campaign: The Duracell brand’s presence isn’t overt, and isn’t forced.

I believe this is the key to “CSI” success.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01

PBS PR Flies High Through Big Bird Story

After last week’s presidential debate, Big Bird was big. I mean really big. Perhaps bigger than he’s been in a long time.

After Republican challenger Mitt Romney told the world that Sesame Street‘s famed character would likely be killed if Romney were elected president (meaning no more federal funding for PBS), Big Bird was ever so popular, with most people coming to his defense online.

CNET reported that a number of new Twitter accounts popped up, including BigBirdRomney (nearly 11,000 followers as of Wednesday afternoon), SadBigBird, BIGBIRD and Fired Big Bird. One tweet stated: “100 Retweets and I’m going to make my nest outside Romney’s bedroom window.”

While all of that demonstrates the “power of Twitter,” as people like to say, the impressive part of the story is not about the bird, it’s about PBS. CNET reported that the public TV network bought a promoted tweet tied to the term “Big Bird.” Anyone searching for Big Bird would see the tweet that said, “PBS is trusted, valued and essential. See why at http://www.valuepbs.org.”

Now, PBS has had a reputation of being a bit antiquated, a bit staid. Yet I say this Twitter tactic is a savvy PR move. The valuepbs.org page has a number of interesting facts and figures related PBS’s impact on the public. And at the bottom of the page there’s a “Get Involved” link, which takes you to a donation page. And if any organization needs donations right now, it’s PBS.

The network has done what every communicator should do: get your message across via the practice of newsjacking—linking your own story to hot, breaking news.

I would, however, put that “Get Involved” link at the top of the page, not the bottom.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp

Don’t Do It! 7 Cardinal Mistakes of Event Attendees

Event season is upon us and there’s no better time to catch up on Facebook, respond to old emails and make some Amazon purchases, right? Of course not.  But in this age of short attention spans and social media consumption, the term “face to face meeting” is rather quaint and seemingly optional -  even if you show your face at a conference. So easy is it to hide behind your screen, typing away, checking statuses and news updates and not doing what communicators do: communicate. As the PRSA annual conference approaches, followed by PR News Media Relations Conference, the Bootcamp For Emerging PR Stars and other industry events, it’s a good time to take stock of your Conference M.O. and avoid these mistakes made by others:

Do you have some conference attendee “mistakes” you can add to this list?  Please share!

– Diane Schwartz

On Twitter: @dianeschwartz

The Big Blur Theory: PR’s New Role Will Be a Wondrous Fusion

You’re in PR, but you’re really in Customer Service.  And in Human Resources.  Add to that Marketing and Investor Relations. Oh, you’re also in Sales.  Welcome to the new PR, where the lines are blurry and your role is no longer boxed in and only slightly matches the job description you received way back when.

This is a good thing.

Even before social media changed our worlds, PR professionals were talking about breaking down the silos between PR and Marketing.  We were partnering with HR on internal communications efforts and helping Sales meet their quarterly goals. At a PR News conference earlier this year, one speaker noted that PR will not be called PR in five years; it’ll be called Integrated Communications.

It will still be called Public Relations.

And my prediction is that it will be more powerful than ever, as PR has taken the lead in Social Media and has proven itself to be a nimble, cost-efficient and smart way to improve, fix and build reputations and brands.  But we have to get comfortable with the blurriness.  The most dangerous move is for PR to invade its counterparts’ territories, to take too much credit and to demand  more respect.

That respect will be earned, by partnering with HR, IR, Marketing, IT and other internal departments and making sure PR is woven into the fabric of the business plan.  The PR department will truly help set the strategy for the organization, whether it’s the company’s social media plan, its sales forecast, product launches, or its hiring of the next CEO. PR will be in those discussions at the start – not near the close of those decisions.

Embrace “The Big Blur” and turn theory into practice every day.

What’s your take on the new PR: are the lines blurry or clear?

Diane Schwartz

On Twitter: @dianeschwartz

Can Positive PR Save the Susan G. Komen Foundation?

October is breast Cancer Awareness Month, and all eyes will be on the Susan G. Komen Foundation to see if they can get back to the business of raising money for breast cancer research and out of the business of digging itself out of a massive public relations hole.

If you will recall, six months ago, the foundation pulled $650,000 worth of funding to Planned Parenthood in a move that was widely perceived as political in nature. The PR crisis that followed was horribly mismanaged, with Founder Nancy Brinker slow to respond, then responding with contradictory messages and then ultimately apologizing. Finally, after months of internal struggle, Komen reversed the decision to pull the funding.

In the aftermath, Komen has taken a huge hit and there is no guarantee they will ever fully recover. According to a report in Advertising Age, donations are down 30% and participation in the organization’s fundraising races is down as well. Funds that otherwise would be going to help find a cure for breast cancer are being diverted to the organization’s public relations and advertising campaigns.

The foundation has hired several PR agencies and has launched a multimillion dollar advertising campaign that is geared to repairing their image in the eyes of current, former and potential donors. Most importantly, it is aimed at major corporate donors who are seriously questioning whether they will continue to be involved with the tarnished foundation.

The campaign is aimed at refocusing people’s attention to the great work for which the foundation was known. Front and center are the women who have benefited from the programs funded by Komen. Brinker, who had been at the heart of much of the Foundation’s messaging, is now in the background.

I am rooting for Komen. Their new campaign hits the nail on the head. Over the years, they’ve done some truly admirable work and they need both corporate and public help to continue that great work. There’s no denying they made a major error. There’s no denying they’ve severely tarnished their name. But it would be shocking if they were to make the same mistake twice.

Other brands have learned from their mistakes, listened to their publics and went on to greater heights. Based on the great work Komen has done in the past, let’s see if they can do the same.

Follow Jon Gelberg: @Jon_Gelberg

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