PR and the Airline ‘Fat Tax’: Endless Possibilties

Recently, Dr. Bharat P. Bhatta of Sogn og Fjordane University College in Norway, laid out a modest proposal in the Journal of Review and Pricing Management: Airlines should charge overweight passengers more for their plane tickets than thin passengers.

The result of this move would allow carriers to save money on fuel, which could mean possible discounts for slimmer passengers.

Specifically, Bhatta had three proposals: The first would be a straight price per kilogram; the second a fixed low fare with heavier passengers paying a surcharge and lighter passengers being offered discounts while the third suggests dividing passengers into heavy, normal and light categories and charging them accordingly.

Bhatta’s idea spread through the media like wildfire. After all, while the chances of this idea being implemented are slim to none, it was an intriguing proposal for the public to consider. As I was hearing people shout discrimination or, “Hey, that’s not a bad idea,” I began to think about what would happen from a PR standpoint if the airline industry decided to adopt Dr. Bhatta’s proposal. How would an individual airline communicate such a change?

No doubt PR pros could leverage the benefits of maintaining a healthy weight. They could even take a page out of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s stalled Big Soda initiative with the message: “Not only will being overweight cost more at the airline counter, it can kill you.”

I envision health clubs opening up in airport terminals and, for people who need to lose extra pounds quickly, portable saunas and elliptical trainers set up at departure gates. Sure, there will be disgruntled customers, but PR can counter that by touting success stories.

Yes, getting this “fat tax” across to the public would be a Herculean PR challenge. Do you have some ideas that will fly? We’d like to hear about them.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01

9 Pieces of Advice to Act On Today (I Swear!)


Advice is easy to come by and just as easy to dispense. What’s more difficult is heeding advice. At a recent awards luncheon in Manhattan hosted by PR News sister brand CableFAX, a group of young “executives to watch” shared useful advice that has helped them succeed in the challenging and ever-changing cable/entertainment industry. I thought it worth sharing these morsels of advice, applicable to any business professional and then apply these 9 tips to a real-world situation:

  1. Don’t take the credit.
  2. Keep a swear jar in office.
  3. Listen to what people are saying on social media.
  4. Simplify.
  5. Edit down your business plans.
  6. Be kind.
  7. Look at all sides of the issue.
  8. Innovation can be found at all levels.
  9. Don’t drink and tweet.

In other words:

You don’t have to take credit (1) for a job well done; it will be noticed at some point sooner rather than later. And sometimes you just want to scream F&*% You!  And that’s OK, because there’s a swear jar (2) for that. Once you’ve calmed down, check out what your customers are doing and saying on Twitter and Facebook and learn from it (3). Doing so might help you simplify your next PR campaign (4) and result in a business plan that you’ve edited down to its most cogent parts (5). Later that day, a colleague takes credit for the business plan you spearheaded, and you decide to be kind 6), and let it go. You attend a business meeting and disagree with just about everyone in the room. You think about the swear jar you’ll use later, but better yet, you begin to look at all sides of the issue (7) and realize that the new hire – just two years out of college – has the best idea in the room (8). It’s happy hour and you are a bit bored. You check out your Twitter feed, oblivious to the human beings around you. You lift your head for air. You go back to Twitter and are feeling very prolific, 140 characters at a time. But you realize there is life outside Twitter. You put down the iphone (9) and engage in real-world conversation.

It’s that simple (4).

- Diane Schwartz






‘Stuffy Old Men’: Report Acknowledges GOP’s PR Problem

The GOP has a PR problem. The party so much as acknowledged that on Monday with the release of a 100-page report  detailing messaging shortcomings that Republicans say are the cause of its jarring defeat last November to incumbent President Barack Obama, as well as the loss of several seats in the House of Representatives.

In announcing the “Growth and Opportunity Project” report, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who on Monday celebrated his birthday, detailed some of its conclusions: “The report notes the way we communicate our principles isn’t resonating widely enough,” Priebus said. “Focus groups described our party as ‘narrow minded,’ ‘out of touch,’ and ‘Stuffy old men.’ I’m only 41, by the way. Today.”

At least Priebus can keep a sense of humor about a pretty serious communication problem. He went on to say, “It all goes back to what our moms used to tell us: It’s not just what we say; it’s how we say it,” Priebus continued. “The promise of opportunity will be our message, and a spirit of optimism will infuse everything that we do.”

Besides making the point that the GOP must be more welcoming to different points of view—immigration and gay marriage, for example—the report calls for  improved digital outreach to voters. On that end, The Wall Street Journal reported today on a digital initiative backed by GOP  strategist Karl Rove, with Sun Microsystems co-founder Scott McNealy serving as an advisor.

The venture will focus on how to create a digital platform to better target voters and donors—something that  the Democrats have done to winning effect in the last two presidential elections.

Even with improved digital and social media outreach, however, the paramount question should be: Can Republican dismantle their image as “stuffy old men” and agree on a more inclusive  message? The communications  behind the strategy will be key to voters answering the question.


Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01

Why I Didn’t Ignore Your PR Pitch

The commonly used word “pitch” can be a disservice to the PR trade.  Pitching a story to a reporter assumes there’s a catcher (often there is no one on the other end to receive it or the recipient isn’t paying attention). Pitching an article idea assumes there is a distance between the pitcher and the catcher. In reality the best PR pitches are those in which the distance between the two players is short.

My colleague Tony Silber wrote a telling blog post for PR News this week on why he eventually ditched a story idea from a PR person and left the situation annoyed rather than nonplussed. The good news for the PR person was that Tony opened the email and considered the idea. That’s the first step. But in the end, the pitch was poorly conceived, so the results were even worse than if he ignored the pitch altogether.

The PR industry has gotten considerably better at media relations. There are less bad pitches and more effective media outreach than ever before. As with every profession, there are people who give PR a bad name – “I wish that flack would stop calling me”  is a common refrain among journalists and the equivalent of “You smell!” on the school playground. But for the most part, PR is doing a better job at partnering with the media and shortening the distance between the two closely-linked professions.

As the group publisher of PR News, I receive about 15 emails or calls every day from communicators hoping to get coverage in our newsletter or on our web site. In my 17 years with the brand, I am pleased to say that the likelihood of my forwarding those emails or calls to someone on our editorial team is higher than ever. Why is that? It’s not because I’m more patient or gullible. It’s because many of the story ideas are compelling, timely and designed for PR News. Here are a few pitches I didn’t ignore in the last few weeks:

* An interview with the team behind a new social media analytics platform

* The author of a book on morale in the age of cubicles and how “Lean In” will have an impact on telecommuting

* A Q&A with a communications consultant on how the Catholic Church can overhaul its communication efforts

* An interview with a consultant to the cruise industry on crisis management do’s and don’ts

* An infographic on the most over-used words in press releases

Additionally, there are countless PR professionals with whom I have developed great working relationships. Over the years, we have had conversations in which no story idea was pitched to me but we shared “war stories” from each other’s camps or exchanged observations on a hot topic. If they call or email me, I respond. The distance between us — pitcher and catcher — is short.

My colleagues and I won’t ignore your pitch if  we recognize who you are and your aim is true.

- Diane Schwartz





Why I Ignored a PR Pitch

Last week I got a pitch from a PR person related to the magazine industry. (I’m also general manager of Min and Folio:, brands that serve that market).

I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, but the pitch was a followup from one the day before, and that one was a followup from one sent two weeks earlier, which I didn’t respond to.

But there was a reason I ignored those e-mails, and perhaps there’s a lesson for PR professionals in an exploration of that reason.

The e-mail was a press release announcing how a supplier to the magazine industry that serves a narrow and declining niche had deployed a new software solution. Essentially it was a commercial.

The writer was very cordial, even after my first two non-responses. So far so good. I know how difficult it is to not get replies, and how you can sometimes get irritable when people don’t acknowledge your work at all. But there were larger challenges. The pitch was for a “case study.” Then it became a suggestion for a “post.”

Those suggestions for format demonstrated a lack of understanding of the mission of my magazine-industry brands. That is usually a non-starter for a journalist. It’s cognitive dissonance. Apples and oranges. Square peg in a round hole. Folio: is about case studies of how media-company operators run their businesses in new and innovative ways. Min is about the people and the community around consumer-magazine publishing.

Neither brand is remotely likely to do a case study or a blog post on how a vendor rolled out a new software capability. For busy journalists, it’s kind of a non-starter. Even if it was a good story and not a commercial for a supplier, it’s hard for the journalist (remember, the mission is to find innovative publishers and write about what they’re doing) to take that press release and think through how it might morph into a story.

It would have been much more effective—though not necessarily successful—for the PR communicator to pitch me with a case study of one of the vendor’s clients, demonstrating how the use of this new software tool helped the publisher doe one of three things: Generate revenue, reduce costs, or work smarter and faster.

My advice to the writer of the e-mail? Help me understand why the press release is a story for me. Read my brands in advance of your pitch. Understand my mission. Be creative in showing me how it’s a story for my brand.

That’s the clearest and smoothest path to publishing your press release. Otherwise, suggest it as a “vendor briefs” item, which is what it was. Unfortunately, neither Folio: nor Min have vendor briefs columns.

By Tony Silber

Half-Baked Digital Ideas Will Leave Your Customers With a Really Bad Taste

While nearly every brand is online  – be it with a Web site, email marketing programs, social media, apps  – many brands make the mistake of going a bit too far by not going far enough. I’m not talking about chasing the next shiny object. I’m referring to some basic digital communication strategies. Let me share with you a few experiences to illustrate the point that if you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all:

My first short story is about my favorite local hair salon, which created an app to allow customers to schedule appointments without having to call.  Simple enough so I tried it.  Three hours later I received a voice mail message from the receptionist saying I needed to call them back to verify the appointment. If I didn’t call back within 24 hours, the appointment will be voided. That seemed a bit stringent, not to mention antithetical to the app scheduler concept.  Good thing I had a phone.

Switching gears to my dentist,  one of the few people I see often whom I hate to see often, he began offering text messaging to verify your appointment, similar to the hair salon but only on appointments already made. Cool – one less call-back I had to make.  You know where I’m going with this: I got the message on my phone to text “Yes” to confirm the appointment. An hour later the receptionist calls me to confirm my appointment.  I ignored her message since I already texted Yes.  The next day she called again and because I didn’t want to lose out on some deep gum cleaning, I answered. I asked what the point of the text messaging service was if she had to call me anyway. She said she didn’t know from such things.

One last story illustrates the perils of personalized email marketing. Several years ago I sent flowers to an ailing aunt. I used one of the top national flower delivery services and gave them my email address, thinking I’d unsubscribe after the delivery was confirmed.  Too busy making hair and dentist appointments, I forgot to opt out of their email promotions.  So roughly every quarter I receive promotions from them to send my aunt flowers. Let’s say her name is Aunt Marie (not her real name, but used to protect the innocent and the deceased). Aunt Marie passed away almost two years ago. This flower company sends me quarterly emails with the subject line: “Don’t forget Aunt Marie this Mother’s Day,” or “Take $100 off on Your Bouquet to Aunt Marie.” I am at once flabbergasted and fascinated, so I have chosen not to opt out of those emails. In a strange way, it keeps Aunt Marie top of mind. But for this flower company it keeps them bottom of the list of retailers I’d choose for my next delivery.

The next time you plan to roll out a customer-service program, be sure it’s fully baked and ready to be served.

 - Diane Schwartz





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