Tag Archives: New York Times

The Pepsi Spot Is Brilliant

Every human in America, seemingly, has piled on in the unending criticism of Pepsi for its “tone deaf, ” “inauthentic” spot featuring Kendall Jenner. I think the spot is brilliant.

What did Pepsi hope to accomplish with the Kendall spot? I wasn’t privy to their team’s planning sessions but my guess is: To generate buzz, to stir emotions and to build brand name awareness. Bingo, bingo and bingo.

The controversial spot features a well-known celebrity who walks away from her photo shoot to participate in something more meaningful. Which cause are the marchers supporting? That remains vague. Is it a “resistance” march? Is it a campus “free speech” march? Is it a “Black Lives Matter” march? Doesn’t matter. People who might’ve marched (or wanted to march) for any cause during the last couple of years are likely to pay attention to the spot.

The payoff comes when Kendall hands a can of Pepsi to a security person. (Maybe a policeman, maybe a campus cop, maybe a private hire—not a threatening hard ass with a billy club.) It’s a nice gesture.

The blowback was instantaneous. One imagines the Pepsi team knew the spot would be polarizing, but not to what degree. In short order, the spot was pulled. But we have seen it again and again on social media and on TV news shows. Exposure was not unlike those Super Bowl spots that are “banned” because they are too controversial or racy. Those “banned” spots then get millions of views on Youtube, as has the Pepsi spot.

The Pepsi spot was parodied this weekend by SNL. An op-ed in the New York Times called it “a spot that says that racialized police brutality is really a big misunderstanding that can be solved with a soda and a Kendall Jenner fist bump.”

However, comments on the K-104 website (KKDA-FM, a Hip-Hop radio station in Dallas/Fort Worth) include these remarks: “BEAUTIFULLY DONE PEPSI, YOU TOOK ON A RELEVANT AND SOMETIMES SENSITIVE ISSUE & MADE IT POWERFUL AND NOT OFFENSIVE,” “I dont see anythin wrong with it… i love it and i am black,” and “Blends all cultures and it’s about togetherness.”

According to several analyses I read about the Pepsi spot, it was not “genius” like that “I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke” spot from 1971.

I recall many of us, back in the day, thought the Coke spot was a bunch of “Up With People” mindless “feel good” pap in the midst of the ugliness of the Vietnam War, the Nixon/Agnew regime and unrelenting racial tension in America. (I think the final episode of Mad Men may have something to do with the current renewed affection for the Coke spot.)

To me, the Pepsi spot, despite its many perceived flaws, reflects the culture and vibe of its day more accurately than the Coke spot did.

Once again: Did the Pepsi/Kendall spot generate buzz? Yes. Did it stir emotions? Yes. Did it burn the name “Pepsi” into the nation’s collective consciousness? Yes. But will it help grow Pepsi’s market share? Let’s check back in a few months and find out.

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What’s The Story, Morning Glory?


A mass shooting occurred in California. The hard facts—the casualty numbers—were widely shared. But Americans wanted to know… Who? Why? What’s the story?

The U.S. banking industry had a meltdown in 2008. Houses were lost, jobs were lost, money was lost. What’s the story? A movie opening this month called The Big Short attempts to explain what happened. It’s a complex tale, but it presents those events through the personal stories of those who were close to the action.

A chef appears on TV showing off a special dish. It looks good. The host asks the chef, “What’s the story?” How did he come up with the dish? He tells his story about a trip to Tuscany and a restaurant owner named Antonio who invited him into his kitchen where he shared family secrets.

A reporter interviews a hospice owner who shares the basic facts about this specialized type of care. The reporter asks, “What’s the story?” Why did you start this organization? Her story reveals that her dad’s hospice care years before had been sub par and she thought she could do better.

What’s the story on… chicken jugs? In his obit in yesterday’s New York Times, Williams Sonoma founder Chuck Williams is quoted as saying, “I’ve always been attracted to items that have an interesting story to them.” That’s why he stocked jugs shaped like chickens!

When sharing information, a story gives life to simple statements of fact. Having an interesting story is a good. Telling that story in a manner that compels an audience to listen (or watch or read) closely is even better.

(Next post January 11. Have a nice holiday season!)




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Can You Teach A New Dog Old Tricks?


Newspapers are dead, according to common belief in 2015. (Just don’t tell that to the people who drop off the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Wall Street Journal and New York Times at my house each morning.)

Certainly the transition to online communication from ink on paper is continuing full steam ahead (full lithium battery ahead?) and is revealing that some purveyors of online content don’t know when to stop.

A key component of a successful newspaper, for at least the last century, has been the columnist who shares opinion and information with a personal writing style. Newspapers have traditionally limited the amount of space on the page a column may occupy. Tight editing allows more space for ads and other content.

In an online context, however, a writer has an almost infinite amount of space to spew his or her thoughts. If you consume a large amount on online content, you have certainly encountered articles that run too long. You may have slogged on to the end and breathed a sigh of relief when you got there.

You have also read articles that kept your undivided attention from start to finish and, occasionally, left you wanting more.

Though the initial reason for limiting newspaper columnists may have been conservation of valuable space on the page, writers and editors have learned over the years that there are optimum lengths for columns that ensure reader engagement. These may vary from paper to paper and section to section, but a good columnist will develop the ability to compose her or his content within established parameters.

How can these old newspaper methods apply to today’s new communicators? These “new dogs” can read columnists from today’s major papers and take note of their “old tricks.” Practice self-editing. Check for redundancies. Read your prior posts and consider how you might have made them tighter. Ask your readers and associates for candid feedback.

If it takes too long to read through the piece you have written and posted, your reader may check out halfway through and move on the next article on his/her agenda. Know when to say when.

(photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/81881849@N00/2089122314 via http://photopin.com, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)

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The Truth About The Truth


  1. My version of The Truth is different from yours. Take note of testimony regarding recent local cases, the JFK assassination and other events witnessed by many. My version of The Truth is filtered through all my life experiences including prejudices I’ve felt and prejudices I’ve been subjected to.
  2. The Truth is subject to manipulation. In PR/marketing/advertising, what’s generally shared is a portion of The Truth. Look at ads for movies containing critic blurbs. You’ll see “laugh-filled romp” but you won’t see “tedious drivel.”
  3. The Truth is subject to revision. E.g., Santa Claus.
  4. The Truth can be subject to doubt. Have you ever actually seen a water molecule? Probably not. You likely believe, however, that it’s The Truth that it’s composed of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom in a certain structure. But are you sure?
  5. A good documentary film supports an advocacy position. This does not mean such a film is untrue. It is a version of The Truth.

I’ve been thinking a lot about The Truth lately. I recently read The Night Of The Gun by David Carr. In writing his memoir, he went back to people who were in his life in prior decades for The Truth about episodes that had become blurred through the fogs of addiction and time.

Following questions about The Truth of the movies Selma and American Sniper last winter, I’ve seen two recent movies, True Story and While We’re Young, that examine The Truth and its manipulations. Articles this past weekend in the Wall Street Journal (click HERE) and The New York Times (click HERE) consider the importance of The Truth in reporting.

I strive to deliver The Truth in all of my messaging. Communicating my messages and those of the people and organizations I work with involves versions of The Truth. By necessity, when one simplifies a message to make it easier to consume, one must be selective about what stays in and what is edited out. As Oscar Wilde said (and David Carr quoted in his book): “The Truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

(photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/62518311@N00/11155039524, http://photopin.com, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)









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On Sharing Discouraging Words


Last week I watched the PBS Frontline program “Being Mortal,” featuring Dr. Atul Gawande. A main focus of the show was the difficulty doctors have sharing bad news with terminal patients. Dr. Gawande spoke to doctors, patients and family members about the reluctance to utter discouraging words.

Because one of my clients is a St. Louis area hospice and because I am a fan of clear, concise communication, I found the program informative and instructive. There are lessons to be learned here that apply beyond the medical world.

Regarding situations that do not involve life or death, most of us can recall work/business occurrences when we were given unwelcome news: “we’re hiring someone else,” “we’re going with another agency” or “we are not at all interested.”

Our feelings may be hurt and we may be upset or angry. But, at least, the person delivering the news had the guts and integrity to communicate directly and clearly. It certainly beats being strung along and/or getting the scoop from a back channel source. I once learned, in the midst of what I thought to be productive contract negotiations, that my employer would not be renewing me. I found out from a media gossip website.

(I choose not to venture into the area of personal romantic relationships here, although some of these thoughts may apply in those circumstances as well.)

Yes, it can be difficult to tell a person something that he or she does not want to hear. But it is generally better to share that news than to say nothing.

Former Sony Pictures head Amy Pascal is quoted in last Friday’s New York Times as saying: “You should always say exactly what you think directly to people all the time. In the moment, the first time.” (She was referring to having been “fired,” rather than resigning, as had been reported.)

I would add that being tactful and respectful is to be desired when you share discouraging words. I’ve been told “no” politely and I’ve been told “no” rudely. I prefer the former.

(If interested, you can click HERE for a link to Frontline: Being Mortal. The program runs 54:11.)

(photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/16210667@N02/8131195146, http://photopin.com, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/)






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If You Don’t Ask, The Answer Is Always No

Last Friday’s New York Times had an interview with a young entrepreneur named Angus Davis. When asked for career advice for students, he said, “If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.”

How many times in your personal or professional life have you been afraid to ask for something because of your fear that the answer would be no? In some cases, you may have simply presumed that the answer would be no.

Rejection can be hard to handle whether it comes from asking your mom for a cookie when you’re small or asking a bank for a loan when you’re older. This explains why some people are not cut out for sales positions.

As Davis continues his advice he says, “What’s the harm in asking? What’s the worst that’s going to happen?” If you ask for a hotel or airline upgrade and are told no, have you lost anything? If you ask a car dealer if he’ll take your lowball offer and he says no, are you damaged in any way? If you ask for a raise and/or a promotion at work and are turned down, is it a bad thing?

In many cases, the upside possibilities of a positive reply are so great that we have to ask the question. (For instance, “will you marry me?” That’s a big one.)

Asking can often establish a dialogue that will help you obtain what you want in time. Even if the answer you get today is no, the answer next week/month/year may be yes.

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Out With The Old; In With The New

Jay Leno is leaving The Tonight Show this week to be replaced by Jimmy Fallon after the Olympics. After screwing up the Jay/Conan transition in 2009, NBC may actually get it right this time. The earlier switch was hastily arranged in 2004 when the network became aware that Conan was being wooed by competitors.

This month’s changeover was planned better. When management has time to consider ratings, research, revenues, salaries, production costs (along with advertiser and affiliate input), it’s easier to make the right moves.

The key to a more successful change this time, I believe, is Fallon’s likability. Conan is hip and funny but is not as personally engaging as is Fallon. Some older viewers who loved Jay had a hard time warming up to Conan. Fallon, even going back to his Saturday Night Live days, has always warmer and friendlier than Conan.

Fallon also possesses skills beyond delivering a monologue and interviewing guests. He can sing, play guitar and act. Jay’s older viewers will, I believe, embrace Fallon.

Surveying the late night landscape, Fallon matches up well against ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel who is delivering consistently good shows with fresh, clever, funny material. David Letterman is still a master at his craft, but much of his content is becoming stale. The Daily Show and Colbert are well written and hilarious. And Conan rolls on at TBS.

So what becomes of Jay Leno now? He’ll continue to make big money doing standup gigs. He should disappear from TV for a year or so. He could return doing occasional variety specials formatted like the old Bob Hope specials, heavy on topical jokes within a monologue, plus a few skits and musical numbers.

On the PR front, Leno and NBC have handled this changeover better than the previous one. The network damaged Conan’s chances for success in ’09 by keeping Leno around in that primetime experiment. And Leno, undeservedly, was made to be the villain after affiliates screamed for Jay’s return to The Tonight Show and Conan bolted.

Leno seems sincere in his recent complimentary remarks about Jimmy Fallon. He claims he understands the network’s rationalization for making the move. (He also made it clear that he would like to keep working.) NBC was gracious enough to thank Jay in a full-page ad in yesterday’s New York Times. Additionally, moving The Tonight Show from Burbank to New York has generated great buzz.

Change is inevitable. No one is indispensible. Stay tuned. More to come.

One more thing: The best book every written about the way broadcast management regards talent is The Late Shift by Bill Carter. It tells the story of Jay Leno’s ascent to The Tonight Show throne, which David Letterman had thought he would inherit. Published 20 years ago, it still has relevance for those who work in media or are interested media observers.

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How Much Do You Charge? The Arbitrariness of Pricing for Services

The best answer to the above question, of course, is how much can you pay?

Is a press release for which a client pays its writer $300 necessarily better than a release written for $50? Is web content for which I pay $10 a month necessarily better than that which I obtain free? Should I have to pay that serviceman who comes to my house the minimum $85 hourly fee if he solves my problem in two minutes? No, no and yes.

When you pay a premium rate (such as for the $300 release), you are not only paying for the current output, you are also paying for training, experience and track record. You are paying for the comfort level you enjoy from knowing you have hired someone whose work is more likely to yield a positive outcome.

Because of their enterprise reporting and overall writing talent, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times can command payment for their online content. But can a person be relatively well informed without paying to access their web work? Yes, certainly.

Can my neighbor Ron help me with water heater pilot light issues? Yes, he can. (And he has done so.) But for more serious problems, I call an experienced pro.

A veteran free-lance writer was recently asked to rewrite an article to be published on The Atlantic’s website. He was told that he would not be paid, but his work would receive good exposure. He chose not to do it and complained publicly.

When services are given away, they are, in my experience, frequently undervalued. My pro bono PR work, for example, extensive in the past, is now limited because some organizations fail to appreciate time spent and results achieved.

Fees are not always determined by market conditions or by an etched-in-stone rate card. As indicated above, the best indicator of a proper fee for services may be a client/customer’s budget. My cousin, who owns a same-day dentures company in Alabama, bases his fees on a patient’s ability to pay. It works well for his patients and for him.

The discussion of pricing for services is one that is likely to be ongoing. But if customer/client and service provider are both happy with the work and the fee, that’s a good indicator that the price is right.

Happy spring break! Next post here on 3/25/13.


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