Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Allergan's blog post is nothing to sneeze at

Did the CEO of a major pharmaceutical company really publicly vow to “not engage in price gouging actions or predatory pricing”?

Yes, Allergan president and CEO Brent Saunders really did, in a blog that he posted on the company’s website this morning.

When I learned about the blog post from an article on TheStreet.com, I jumped to the post itself looking for fodder for a piece I planned to write about the dangers of making false promises in the digital age. I mean, we live in the era of the 300 EpiPen, where you have to increase the price of your pharmaceutical products by 4,000 percent before anybody pays attention to you. There was no way Allergan’s CEO promised to “take price increases no more than once per year and, when we do, they will be limited to single-digit percentage increases.”

But he did. And he encouraged his CEO peers to do the same.

And while this is fascinating in itself and good news for shareholders (Allergan closed up 1.34%), what I found most intriguing about Saunders’ blog post is that it was a textbook example (or would that be a “kindle example” now) of effective 21st century communications.

Here are four lessons you need to learn from one of the most unlikely blog posts on the Internet today.

You have to have something significant to say. I’ll admit I struggled a bit as I waded through the first few paragraphs of corporate-speak about “commitment to innovation, access and responsible pricing ideals” before I got to “we will limit price increases.” But then I was hooked.

You have to be candid. Check this out. Not only does Saunders vow that, “We will not engage in the practice of taking major price increases without corresponding cost increases as our products near patent expiration,” but he accentuates the point by admitting they have done just that in the past. “While we have participated in this industry practice in the past, we will stop this practice going forward.” That’s gold, Jerry! GOLD!

It helps to speak from the heart. I’m sure Saunders’ post had to get cleared by Legal, but it still contains the language of a man who is being honest. One small example: “I don’t like what is happening, and despite the fact that it is hard to speak out publicly on this, now is the time to take action to spell out what this social contract means to me.” 

Deliver a call to action. A good blog post inspires. A great one directs people to act. And Saunders does just that. “For our industry to remain a vibrant and important part of the healthcare ecosystem, Allergan commits to this social contract and I encourage others to formulate their own self-policing actions.”

It’s not often that I am impressed by a corporate blog post, especially one signed by the CEO. But this one is worth the read.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Four tricks to help you build a loyal, engaged, and responsive Millennial audience. Sirius-ly.

"Look at me! Look. At. ME!"
At 11:02 a.m. on May 25, Millennial Ashley Parker, a New York Times reporter embedded with the Clinton campaign, tweeted: “Young embed (born in ’91!) next to me: What the hell is Whitewater?! [Begins Googling].”

Minutes later, Baby Boomer Karen Tumulty, the Washington Post’s national political correspondent, responded: “SMH. Seriously, youth is not an excuse. You are covering this candidate. READ A BOOK, PEOPLE.”

And so began the great generational tweet-off of 2016

But as entertaining as the dust-up was, the fact is there was no reason Jimmy Olsen, cub reporter and child of the digital age, should have heard of Whitewater. Just as there is no reason we relics of the Huntley-Brinkley era (google it) shouldn’t have.

We had no choice … and he had no need.

We old dogs got our news dolloped out to us on a strict schedule by a handful of “trusted” news hounds. When Whitewater was declared news, we wolfed down Whitewater stories every weekday night at 6:30/5:30 Central.

Our reporter pup and his millennial pack, on the other hand, are grazers who consume their news all day long from countless sources. They don’t have many cultural touch stones catalogued in their heads for two reasons. 1. With so many news outlets today, it takes a monumental story indeed to achieve “cultural touch stone” status. And 2., if they do need to learn about a historic news item, they know how to find everything they need.

So if you plan to communicate with Millennials, you need to understand that their way of consuming information is very different from ours. You can’t simply shout “news treat!” and expect them to come running. You’ve got to create content that interests them, and then put it where they can sniff it out themselves.

Here are four simple ways to do just that:                 

Discover your passionate audience. You need to identify who really cares about your issues. If your strategic communications plan calls for you to target “women 35 to 54,” you’re not really targeting anybody. To discover your passionate audience, you have to forget size and focus instead on common interest. I can guarantee you that there are plenty of people you’ve never even heard of who are passionate about some aspect of your organization’s quest. Your job is to discover who they are so they can discover who you are.

Learn where the Venn diagram of your story overlaps with their interests. Nobody cares about every aspect of your organization’s mission, except your CEO. And he may be jiving, too. To understand what your audience wants from you, you have to understand what aspects of your quest people care about enough to talk about. To do that, search Twitter using terms that reflect your quest and see who is tweeting (and re-tweeting) about them. Or visit the sites that cover issues directly and indirectly related to your quest and read the comments section see who has dropped by. 

Keep the relationship alive. When you have found your audience, connect with them on social platforms, subscribe to their blogs, react to their posts, react to their influencers’ posts, comment on articles that they are reacting to. (You’ll recognize the more fruitful avenues by the enormous number of “shares” and “likes.”) In short, develop a genuine relationship with your audience.

The power of the “share.” Nothing pleases a blogger more than someone sharing her post. If you find interesting content, share it. But don’t just put it on your website, because nobody goes there—not even you, if we’re being honest about it. Instead, scotch tape it to the Internet’s refrigerator—Facebook, LinkedIn and other social platforms.

It will take effort to build your audience. And your metrics will not be nearly as impressive as the proverbial “three billion impressions,” which as we all know is the teacup poodle of metrics: fascinating but absolutely useless. But this investment will result in a dependable, useful, and exponentially more engaged audience—a King Shepherd of an audience, if you will. And that will make all the difference.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Turks and Caicos!

Welcome aboard! You represent the 96th nation to visit this little shake shack! Come on in and meet all the folks!! There're are cold beers in the fridge and some M&Ms and pretzels on the coffee table. Mind the iguana. He tends to snap at strangers.

To reach your audience today, fire Ted Baxter and color outside the lines

"Oooo, part-time clerk
at Toys-R-Us! That sounds
fun, daddy!!"
I discovered the secret to effective online communication before Mark Zuckerberg lost all his milk teeth.

It was in the mid-1990s and my new boss, Rick Berman, was not pleased with my progress in generating media coverage of an economic study entitled, “Effects of Minimum Wages on Teenage Employment, Enrollment and Idleness.” I just couldn’t seem to craft a press release that made that topic interesting to reporters. Imagine that.

Following yet another of his increasingly menacing pep-threats, I locked myself in my office, thought back to my days as a reporter at The Red Bank Register, and tried to imagine what might make me pick up the phone and call the guy flacking this report. Then I drew my “press release.”

It was a mock-up of the faux resume of one “Les Likely,” an unremarkable teenager with a spotty work history and a very poor command of the English language. I added a coffee-cup ring stain in the corner and a red stenciled “REJECT” stamp in the middle of it and had the graphics department lay out and print 150 copies. Then I sent them to my media list with this short note attached: “Les Likely is about to lose his job again. Give me a call and I’ll tell you why.”

And they called. And I never wrote a traditional release again.

The lesson I learned then—which I use to this day—is this: before delivering any message, I must first determine exactly what it is about what I have to say that could possibly be of interest to my audience.

And as important as that lesson was in the 1990s, it is imperative today. You see, the days of making declarations in your best Ted Baxter voice and expecting the fish to bite are over. In fact, the more Ted Baxter-y you are the less likely you are to connect with your audiences.

Of course, there are inherent risks whenever you color outside the lines, but the benefits of creativity 
are worth the occasional ding, such as that time my laminated dollar-bill plan got us on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, above the fold. I’ll let them recount it, since they tell it best:

We were intrigued by The Employment Policies Institute's latest cost-saving endeavor. To protest President Clinton's proposed minimum wage increase of $1 an hour, the Washington, D.C., business-funded think tank mailed laminated $1 bills to 300 reporters at various news outlets. According to our calculations, the cost of that little stunt could've furnished a minimum-wage earner with more than two months of the boosted hourly rate.

It’s true that my heart stopped beating briefly when I read the Journal that morning. But that hit actually lit up the phones with calls from other reporters interested in the study, demonstrating once again that any press is good press.

Monday, March 21, 2016

How to win friends and influence people ... through creative conflict

"I did NOT shred my own shirts!"
The secret to successful conflict is knowing what you want to get out of the engagement before the opening bell.
Some time ago, my then local dry cleaner shredded the back panel of two of my dress shirts. I’m not talking about a slight tear. I mean this was full post-bear-mauling Leo DiCaprio. Obviously, something went very wrong in the back room of the Bradlee Dry Cleaners.
But when I brought them back for restitution—or at the very least a heartfelt apology—the proprietor said that I had dropped them off in that condition.
I went Hulk-O-Rama so fast and furiously that I popped the collar button off the shirt I was wearing.
Didn’t matter. He wasn’t budging. As I walked out in defeat (three shirts to the wind, as it were), I vowed never to step foot in that shop again! Nine years later, they went out of business, which I like to think I had some small hand in.
Fast forward to last week when, running late for a breakfast meeting, I saw that my freshly dry-cleaned shirt had a large grease stain running down the left sleeve from the elbow to the cuff. I grabbed a second shirt and it had a stain in the same pattern on the same arm.
Was I angry? You betcha. But this time I was ready. All I wanted from my dry cleaner was an acknowledgement that they stained my shirts. And in order to get that, I took the issue off the table.
“Hey, these two shirts both came back with these identical stains.”
                “Hmmmm.”
“Now, I’m not sure how they got there, but I would imagine it happened during the dry cleaning process. It’s possible, of course, that I brought them in with these stains.”
                “Hmmmm.”
“It doesn’t matter how it happened, really. I just wanted to bring it to your attention in case you had a mechanical problem that you should check on before this happens to someone else.”
                “I’ll refund the cost of cleaning these two shirts.”
 Victory!
Now, if I had centered the conflict on who actually wrecked my shirts, her natural reaction would have been to defend herself. And—once our respective perspectives were established—any forceful argument I made would be met by an equal and opposite forceful argument from her.
Call it Newton’s Third Law of Emotion.
But by setting aside the very point I needed to win—and even interjecting a smidgen of her perspective—I completely de-fanged her opposition. And then I sealed the deal by suggesting that I only brought the issue up out of concern for her other customers. Check and mate.
They may not have paid for the shirts they ruined, but they at least fessed up topossibly having had something to do with it. And that’s gold, Jerry. Gold!

Friday, March 4, 2016

A lesson in humanity--from a robot

"Well, so it's mechanical!"
Oh ... I get it now.
Machines have two primary functions: they perform the task they were built for or, failing that, they serve as emotionless objects through which we can vent our pent-up rage and frustration. 
Who among us hasn’t wanted to go all Office Space on the company printer? We slam our car doors, punch parking meters, and throw our remotes against the wall. (You guys do that, right?) And we take out our aggression without a hint of remorse because these are victimless drubbings. We’re thrashing machines, not people.
But what if that machine looked a lot like Dave from Shipping (or at least had Dave’s stumpy-legged gait) and you saw him being tormented by Rick the floor manager as he was trying to pick up a box? You’d feel some anxiety. Really, you would. See for yourself, starting at 1:22. 
You see what Rick is doing with that hockey stick? It’s inhuman. Watch as Rick pushes the poor bastard onto his “face” at 2:05 and tell me you don’t feel anything. You can almost hear what Dave is thinking as he slowly rises to his foot-pads.
Then, after he pauses to collect himself, you can see Dave consider and decide against extracting robotic revenge, instead walking slowly out the door--which he does not slam because, being a robot, he isn’t mad. We are. At Rick, for tormenting a machine.
It’s a natural response. Even Martin Shkreli would feel for that robot because it seems human. It’s just how we’re wired. According to research by University of Chicago psychologist Nicholas Epley, anthropomorphism “reflects a deep drive to form social connections, even with objects made of metal and wire.” And this drive, he found, increases as our sense of social isolation grows. 
And if research from Duke University and the University of Arizona is any indication, anthropomorphism is going to skyrocket as social media (ironically) makes us all feel more socially isolated. 
So keep that in mind as you try to connect with your audiences. Rather than speak of the sweeping societal benefit of your organization, product, or service, describe instead how your organization, product, or service helps Dave in shipping. 
As novelist Richard Price said, “The bigger the issue, the smaller you write. Remember that. You don't write about the horrors of war. No. You write about a kid's burnt socks lying on the road. You pick the smallest manageable part of the big thing, and you work off the resonance.” 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Seven Commandments of Social Media Marketing

"I don't want to alarm anyone, gentlemen,
but now might be a good time
to start praying."
Just hours after some drunk guy Kamikaze-ed a stolen Cessna 150 into the South Lawn of the White House, my boss came down to my office to personally express his disappointment that I hadn’t briefed him on the incident.

It was September 12, 1994 and the PR world was trying to re-calibrate itself into the perpetual “rapid-response mode” that was the hallmark of Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign, made famous in the documentary “The War Room” that had come out the year before.

Once that film hit the theaters, my boss put me in charge of gathering up the world’s news and reading the summaries to him every morning at 7:00 as Earl drove him to the office. If a plane crash landed at the White House in the middle of the night then, “Dammit, John, I need to know about it!”

Fair enough. But this was 1994 and the Internet—and my twin daughters—were still toddlers and no help whatsoever in gathering news. So I had to get up at 5:00 a.m., scan four newspapers, watch CNN and the local news programs, and listen to the radio news station all while feeding my kids breakfast—one Cheerio at a time. A War Room operation this was not.

I was reminded of this Cronkite-ian nightmare recently when a new movie, also called “The War Room,” broke the box office with its unconventional promotional strategy. Marketed solely through social media, the movie debuted at number two after “Straight Outta Compton,” raking in $11.4 million in its opening weekend—nearly four times what it cost to make. (As of yesterday, it had racked up $65 million in ticket sales.)

Much like the original “War Room,” this movie provides critical lessons about the changing rules of successful marketing and communication. Here are seven big ones:

Be religious in your audience targeting—“The War Room” was made by evangelicals for evangelicals. Period. “Our bull’s-eye audience are people of faith and the church,” said director Alex Kendrick. And because he wasn’t trying to entertain a mass audience, Kendrick’s film resonated with his religious audience.

Preach to the choir—According to Kendrick, they “intentionally showed the film to pastors and community leaders to get their support.” But the power of these co-conspiratorial relationships is magnified exponentially on social media. People listen to people they trust. And while you may not have a network of churches in your LinkedIn contacts, you do have a flock of Facebook friends who, in turn, have flocks of their own. And so on.

Don’t worship false matinee idols—Do you remember Johnny Depp’s blockbuster hit Mortdecai? Of course you don’t. It disappeared from the theaters faster than John Wilkes Booth. The fact is A-list star power doesn’t guarantee butts in movie-theater seats anymore. But if you cast an unknown, you might have a prayer. And if that rookie actress happens to be Priscilla Shirer—best-selling author and daughter of the Rev. Tony Evans, one of the most well-known pastors in America—well, buddy, your prayers are gonna be answered. 

In the beginning, move heaven and Earth—There’s a reason people dress like over-stuffed Oreos and dance at shopping malls. There is a power and excitement to launches that is only magnified by social media. To hype their opening weekend, the producers spent months reaching out to fellow pastors, Christian book stores owners, and community leaders, and implored them to “encourage the people that you’re leading and the people that you are influencing … to see ‘War Room.’”

Cast bread upon the waters—And this outreach paid off in ways they probably hadn’t anticipated. After seeing several Facebook posts about the movie, Danielle Wright—the host of an online radio show called “Power of Prayer”—arranged a private screening for more than 200 church leaders a day before the film was released. Guess what they preached about that weekend?

Judge not? Best ye be judged—If you want to secure that critical buy-in from influential community leaders, you’re going to have to invite critical comments from them first. In order to build strong bonds with the network of influential pastors who drove millions of parishioners to the movie, the filmmakers invited the pastors to view and criticize early versions of the film … five times. This was quite clever, really. Once the pastors had a hand in editing, the film’s ultimate box-office success was now their responsibility.


Remember the Good Book—Social media marketing is a multi-platform affair. To inspire communication about their movie, the producers wrote seven different online “War Room” bible study guides, including a “leader kit,” that can be yours for the low low price of $24.99—less than the price of a bag of buttered popcorn and a small diet Coke. Bless their hearts.