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Archive for the ‘Integrated Marketing Communication’ Category

For thousands of motor racing fans, including me, today is a very special day. The running of the Daytona 500 is Super Bowl and World Cup and World Series and Stanley Cup and Masters all in one spectacular event.

But in these times of economic turmoil, which has hit the auto industry particularly hard, would it be as big a deal as in the past? From the look of things today, you bet.

The event was sold out. Over  200,000 race fans were on hand to see NASCAR’s biggest event.  Even though rain stopped the race with about 50 laps to go, veteran race car driver Matt Kenseth sobbed over winning this premier event. It’s ironic; a guy like Kenseth who can race a car three-wide on a high-banked oval at 190 miles per hour inches from the next cars, breaks down and weeps over winning this prestigious event.

This is the Daytona 500. It’s Ben-Hur versus Messala with 600 horses powering their chariots.

Detroit’s Big Three, GM, Ford, and Chrysler, have all cut their marketing budgets, but they only trimmed their NASCAR expenditures. I’ve read estimates from auto analysts that GM cut its spending on NASCAR from a high of approximately $125 million a year to about $85 million. Ford is reported to have cut its NASCAR spending by approximately 35 percent. The auto companies usually won’t disclose the information. But there is no way they will abandon NASCAR.

Savvy auto marketers know that stock car racing remains a great way to attract buyers. It’s simple enough to see why NASCAR and the auto makers are so dependent on each other.  A winning Chevy or Ford or Dodge or Toyota brings buyers into the showroom. To withdraw from this scene might surely mean loss of market share.

NASCAR-related expenditures for advertising and promotion pay big dividends for a wide variety of products, not only autos. NASCAR fans are traditionally fiercely brand loyal to products that support NASCAR racing. Just read the drivers’ racing suits and the decals on their cars. You’ll see all types of products that marketers know have hugely loyal followers because they support their beloved racing.

The Daytona 500 kicks off the NASCAR racing season. The show of loyalty and enthusiasm over today’s race was startling given the economic gloom and doom that surrounds us. Perhaps people need the race to forget about the hard times for a while. Or perhaps, as with a hint of spring, there is some optimism creeping in.

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It’s a beautiful and serene snowy day here in Vienna, Virginia. Looking out my home office window at the falling snow, it is hard to believe that Spring semester begins January 28.

I’ll be teaching a new class (new for me anyway) — Principles of Strategic Public Relations and Integrated Communication. Towson’s 200-level Principles course is the first required course in the PR Track. As such, it is a larger class. I’ll have 36 eager young minds to fill with the history, theory, ethics, and practice of PR.

I will also teach my regular courses, two sections of public relations writing with 40 students total and a strategic public relations planning and management course with 25 students. I will also serve as faculty advisor to 5 students on internships, a couple of independent studies, and be faculty advisor to our PRSSA and IABC student chapters.

Did I mention that I will also take a doctoral course, Legal and Ethical Issues in Instructional Technology? It is shaping up to be a busy spring semester.

Oh well, as we used to say down South: “Don’t worry about the mule; just load the wagon.”

Please do not take the commentary on my schedule as whining. On the contrary, I am celebrating the many and varied things I get to do.  In my corporate communication management and consulting days, I would regularly work 60 to 80 hours a week, plus travel extensively. My workload at Towson is both manageable and extraordinarily stimulating. I am blessed to have this opportunity at this stage of my life.

But with it comes a great responsibility. I have a total 106 students spring semester. I consider it an honor and a privilege to be responsible for their academic preparation. But more important than that, I want to teach them skills and abilities that will help them have productive and rewarding careers.

I make it a point to know all my students’ names and something about them early in the semester. I run my classes as staff meetings in a corporation. I am the supervisor, and they are my direct reports with specific job assignments. In so doing, we discuss real world PR issues and approaches to solving problems. 

It is most important to me that students learn problem-solving skills and the application of workable strategic communication/PR/IMC techniques appropriate to typical on-the-job situations.

Employers want communication/PR/IMC practitioners who can solve organizational problems. It is my job to prepare my students to fill that role. The wagon is loaded.

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This Christmas, what does the strategic communicator need? What’s on his or her wish list?

A Christmas wish list usually implies “stuff” like the latest laptop,  music player, digital camera, etc. But most strategic communicators have those now. No, what’s really needed is the knowledge and ability to truly be a strategic communicator.

Such knowledge and ability is like Eddie said of Clark’s Jelly of the Month Club gift in Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation movie, “it’s the gift that keeps on giving.”

Following is a strategic communicator’s Christmas wish list:

Research. The first gift is the ability to conduct research, both formative and summative/evaluative. To be strategic, communication programs must be built on fact, not fiction. That means conducting formative research to know as much as you can about issues facing an organization. Formative research can be primary, that is, original, designed and conducted by the communicator to address specifics of his/her organization’s situation. Or it can be secondary, adapting already-conducted research that relates most closely to his/her organization’s situation. Primary research is the most demanding and expensive, but yields the best results. It is made up of qualitative components, like interviews and focus groups, and quantitative components, like surveys and questionnaires. The completed research then becomes the basis of writing a credible situation analysis.

Goals and objectives. Once a situation analysis is written, then the strategic communicator has a basis on which to make his/her recommendations. That involves setting goals and objectives. Goals are broad brush, over-the-top, higher level concepts of what needs to be accomplished, like to improve an organization’s relationship with key publics or enhance its reputation/image among key publics. A number of objectives then come in under a goal to help manifest it into reality. Objectives are the work horses here, for each should be specific, measurable, time-sensitive, attainable, and relevant to accomplishing the goal it serves.

Strategy and implementation. Now that goals are set with appropriate objectives, the strategic communicator must decide on a mix of tactics that will reach target audiences. This involves dipping into the strategic communicator’s tool kit and selecting a mix of tactics that will reach the audience in a timely and cost-effective manner. A mix of tactics that have the highest credibility with target audiences is always better than a few tactics only. Devising effective strategy also must take into account the time schedule for tactical implementation. Gantt charts work exceptionally well for this.

Budgeting. Now that recommendations have been formulated and backed up by strategy and tactical  implementation schedules, the strategic communicator must budget the activity as competently as would be expected of any business manager. The greatest tool since the hand-held calculator for this purpose is the Excel Spreadsheet to play “what if” games until the budget is within guidelines and meets needs.

Summative (or evaluative) research. Now the strategic communicator comes full circle. You begin with research to know what needs doing. Now you end with research to see if your strategic communication efforts have accomplished goals and objectives. The key here is to concentrate on measuring and evaluating the success or failure of your objectives, the work horses of strategic communication. Strategic communicators don’t wait until the end of the planned work to evaluate it. It’s too late then to do anything about it, except learn from mistakes. Strategic communicators monitor and evaluate all along in order to make any needed course corrections to stay on target. Final evaluation then can help set up success in the next cycle of activity.

Merry Christmas to the More With Les learning community. Thank you for making this such a special year for me.

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To Facebook creator and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, Beacon must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

Beacon is a form of online tracking, a popular advertising technique. Other companies, like Microsoft, AOL and Google, regularly check what sites people access and then target advertising to them based on their patterns of usage. It is usually very descrete.

The purpose of Beacon is to run ads next to purchase announcements. When Facebook members made purchases online, Facebook sent notices to their friends.

If I understand Zuckerberg’s thinking, Beacon is in keeping with the whole Facebook phenomenon of friends sharing information and preferences with friends. As Zuckerberg tries to make money on his creation, Beacon probably seemed like a logical extension. So, what’s the big deal?

Privacy, that’s the big deal, users say. And to me, the big irony. Over 50,000 Facebook users have already signed a petition protesting Beacon as an “invasion of privacy”. Some say they do not want to endorse products. That makes sense.

But privacy? That’s odd. How many of these people have talked about the most intimate details of their lives and posted revealing photos of their actions on Facebook?

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If Yoda taught Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC),  he would most likely be considered a Constructivist.

Yoda was the teacher of Jedi knights in Star Wars. He was the senior leader, the Grand Master, of all Jedi masters. He was strong in the power of the Force. As a teacher, he urged Luke Skywalker to see an outcome and work through the problem until the outcome manifested into reality.

The design model for Constructivist Learning Environments (CLEs) conceives of a problem, question, or project as the focus of the environment, with various interpretative and intellectual support systems surrounding it. The focus of the CLEs is the question or issue, the case, the problem, or the project that learners attempt to solve or resolve. Students learn domain content in order to solve the problem.

To instruct my students in IMC, I use Case-Based Learning. Based on my 35 years of experience as an organizational communication management professional, I develop case studies that mirror real world situations that the students will face when they enter the job market. 

Applying IMC to real life situations is quite complex. There is no “one size fits all” strategic thinking and management solution to contemporary organizational situations. Therefore, my instructional design must accommodate the development of strategic thinking skills and abilities that graduates can apply across a wide spectrum of organizational problems and opportunities.

Constructivist learning assumes that knowledge is individually constructed and socially co-constructed by learners based on their interpretations of real world experiences. As an instructor, I must become Yoda, that is, to be coach and helper in that construction. But instead of saying, “Student, use the Force,” I say, “Student, use your strategic thinking skills.”

To develop those strategic thinking skills, I use a combination of what instructional designers Wiggins and McTighe (1998) called “backward design”, which is similar to Stephen Covey’s 1989 advice, “begin with the end in mind.” Backward design is seeing an expected outcome and working to manifest it into reality. It is very Yoda-like. For example, a relationship problem with a key public. What is the organization’s desired end result or outcome? A mutually beneficial relationship with that key public.

Now I must teach learners how achieve that outcome. I must teach learners a strategic way of thinking that will lead them to the right actions. Following Wiggins and McTighe’s model, that includes three basic steps that my instructional design must follow:

  1. Identify the desired results or expected outcomes. This is what the learners must know, understand, and be able to do to be successful on the job. In other words, to think and manage IMC strategically.
  2. Determine acceptable evidence. This refers to how I will know as an instructor that learners have achieved the strategic thinking skills and abilities necessary to be successful on the job. What evidence of students’ understanding and proficiency will I accept?
  3. Plan learning experiences and instruction. This refers to the activities I must design that will equip students with the necessary knowledge and skills to be successful problem solvers on the job in real world IMC situations. What do I need to teach? How will I teach it? What materials will I need to prepare?

I believe that having students work with case studies provides the best learning to prepare them for success on the job. Combined with internships and participation in student professional associations (PRSSA and IABC student chapters), I believe that students will have a well-rounded education to develop their skills for career success.

Or as Yoda might say, “Strategic thinkers are we, not this crude matter.”

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Richmond-based Consultant Extraordinaire Robert J. Holland has written an insightful and educational piece on the recent Boston guerrilla marketing campaign gone bad.  The link is:

http://www.richmond.com/business/output.aspx?Article_ID=4570724&Vertical_ID=127&tier=1&position=6

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A “marketing campaign” tactic by Turner Broadcasting’s Cartoon Network TV to promote Aqua Teen Hunger Force went wildly wrong yesterday, shutting down the city as peoples’ fears in the post-9/11 world took hold.

The tactic involved almost 40 blinking signs placed in a wide variety of locations, including bridges and security-sensitive buildings. The signs were of a cartoon character and designed to promote a show. The signs were about one-foot tall and looked like a circuit board with wires sticking out, not too cool in this time of fear about terrorism.

The reaction of the people of Boston — and their elected officials — was to shut down the city as bomb squads were called in. People were furious over what happened as a result of the “marketing” tactic. Legal action is being pursued against the sponsors of this fiasco.

What can we learn from this? In my strategic communication planning class yesterday — even as events were unfolding in Boston –we were teaching that PR’s purpose is to build and maintain positive relationships with an organization’s publics. Marketing seeks to build an economic exchange between the organization and its consumers concerning products and/or services.

What happened in Boston?

  • Is this really “marketing?”
  • Is this a cheap publicity stunt that went terribly wrong, or a savvy, if  drastic, way of promotion?
  • What will be the lasting public relations impact on the organization that sponsored the sign tactic?

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