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By on September 21, 2009 in Uncategorized with 3 Comments »

Last week, I attended the first-ever “Swagapalooza,” which was billed as an “experiment in viral media” and allegedly featured the world’s most-followed bloggers, twitterers, and digital influencers, all gathered at a nightclub in Manhattan to review new companies showcasing their products and services.


As we know, swag bags (or “goodie” bags) are often superficial aspects of an industry conference, awards banquet, benefit, or other event.  At Swagapalooza, far from being an afterthought, they’re the Main Event.  Nobody in attendance was pretending this was anything more than a series of shameless, promotional plugs by entrepreneurs.  All documented in real-time in a meta, self-referential style by a live Twitter-feed broadcast on a monitor immediately to the right of presenters onstage.  The effect was an entertaining social media Gong Show of sorts.  Live tweets ranged from hysterical and often harsh commentary on speakers, products, and audience members… to annoyingly distracting asides — depending on your perspective.


PR’s come a long way, baby.  In the New PR, the free stuff is the new “pitch” or newshook.  The bloggers are the new journos.   But for emerging businesses presenting at the event, which included mSpot, Switch2Health, Surprise Industries, and Bruise Relief among others, it was an opportunity to introduce and market their products with the goal of creating a buzz online via social media channels.   It remains to be seen what the impact will be on their brands and bottom lines, but considering the virtually zero level of investment of all involved, it’s hard to see a downside.  Any return at all will be a bonus.  Can’t beat that, especially in the current economic environment.


The fresh-faced organizer of the more than 200 people selectively assembled for this Swagapalooza experiment was 24-year old Alex Krupp, who conceived the concept with advice from Seth Godin.   In keeping with the theme of the event, the keynote presenter was Peter Shankman, a PR entrepreneur who boasts experience with viral experiments of his own. Shankman’s latest endeavor applies an efficient crowd-sourcing type model to connecting reporters with sources for their articles.  For those unfamiliar, Help-A-Reporter-Out (@helpareporterout) enables anyone on an opt-in email distribution list to receive nearly a hundred queries daily from media seeking interview sources.  I confess to using the service to promote our clients, as well as securing visibility for our own business where we have a relevant voice to add to a story.


The event was nothing if not innovative.  An illustrator from Image Think, also a presenter, worked in real-time to capture a “graphic recording” to document the proceedings for posting online afterwards.  The result was a fascinating visual map summarizing presenters’ products and key messages.


Participants of the swag-meet seemed delighted with the outcome so far.  Voyage TV, a travel company giving away a free trip for a winning tweet of 140 characters or less detailing a dream vacation, tweeted “Home run at #Swagapalooza! Big news soon” before the crowd was barely out the door.


Undoubtedly, Swagapalooza will raise the ethical bar for bloggers who review consumer products.  The blogosphere has been buzzing for months with debates on the ethical implications of accepting corporate “sponsorships” of blog content.  Absolute transparency in disclosing when bloggers and other digital cognoscenti receive free products is a must for any subsequent or related commentary referencing said brands and products on blogs, tweets, or anywhere else.


One could view the event as a step closer to removing objectivity and credibility from the blogging community, who claim to evangelize the concept of authentic engagement with the public and consumers. Indeed, the temptation to blog for no better reason than landing more swag looms large.


Swagapalooza participants, however, took a leap of faith in coming at all, considering the concept was little more than getting bloggers to show up for free stuff.  For now, I’m willing to give this new form of event marketing the benefit of the doubt.   You could even say I’m looking forward to its next iteration.


Oh, and full disclosure: I took home no swag. At least, not this time around.

By on March 11, 2009 in Uncategorized with 2 Comments »

If you hadn’t heard, Barbie had a birthday. Yup, in March the plastic hottie celebrated her big 5-0.

To celebrate, Mattel – Our Toys – Barbie promoted the heck out of its idollic (sic) Ms. B, grabbing nearly as much media attention as the First Lady’s bare arms, the $40,000 Jennifer Aniston haircut and the Cathay Pacific tantrum lady combined. 

And while Mattel’s hot, flashy babe celebrate, this hot-flashing Baby Boomer wonders how, if not why, Barbie always seems to transcend the decades.  After all, the anorexic-looking model has become a fashion don’t, the bejeweled beauty crown has somewhat tarnished, and recently a West Virginia state lawmaker has introduced legislation to ban the sale of Barbie and similar dolls who he finds promote physical beauty to the detriment of girls’ intellectual and emotional development. But through all this, the ubiquitous “pink one” continues to endure the winds of change.  

Admittedly Barbie’s sense and sensibility perplexes me. She came out of the Sixties Feminist Movement practically unscathed.  She later entered the world of business with her own successful beauty salon. Like such notable fashionistas as Donna Karan/DKNY, Kimora Lee Simmons  and Daisy Fuentes who have taken large space at Macy’s, JC Penney, and Kohl’s, Barbie has earned her rightful place at FAO Schwartz.  She not only has been able to ascend the glass ceiling, she earns well more than the average woman’s salary of 80 cents on the dollar,

The question is: How has Barbie continued to mirror the images in advertising, film, and MTV, from early days of Mad Men to Madison Avenue? The answer: Mattel has continued to play its Barbie brand card well.

Barbie’s 50th party celebration is just another example of her parent company’s integrated strategic/creative success.  First it rounded up all the usual rich and famous subjects, including Karl Largerfeld who custom-dressed Barbie for display in the windows of Paris’s trendy Colette boutique.  And a “Barbie room” was being installed on the first floor to present Jeremy Scott’s new collection of Barbie clothing.   

Next there came Fashion Week, where Barbie seemed to dominate the runways, with a variety of designers dressing their models as the female wonder.  Even Tarina Tarantino debuted a Barbie Doll collection. 

The Wall Street Journal published a piece on Mattel’s New Shanghai Barbie Store, a six-story emporium complete with a spa, a cosmetics counter, a cocktail bar and offerings from chi-chi designers Vera Wang, Patricia Field, and Judith Lieber.  Barbie’s sleeveless ivory wedding dress from Ms. Wang costs $15,000. 

I read in The Motor Report about the deal between Fiate Centro Stile and Mattel, who joined forces to offer a special Fiat 500 dedicated to the “pink one,” formerly known for her Ferrari.

Even the hospitality industry jumped on the Barbie “brandwagon”. According to Hotelchatter.com , the Milwaukee Iron Horse Hotel was throwing a Barbie birthday bash, inviting guests to bring a Barbie to its Branded bar, entitling them to drink specials and their very own pink boa.  And if you’re headed to the UK for more celebrating, the May Fair London’s pink Schiaparelli Suite is ready for your arrival.   

And seemingly unfettered by the mortgage industry climate, Mattel moved Barbie into the fire and flood zones of sunny Malibu, building an expensive 3,500 sq. ft. manse overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  I hope Mattel provides her plenty of insurance.  According to a report in Associated Press,  Barbie’s real-life Malibu Dream House designed by Jonathan Adler  boasts wall-to-wall pink flooring that would make even pop singer Pink blush, a closet full of pink peep-toe heels that Legally Blonde’s Elle Woods would feel comfortable in, and a pink Volkswagen New Beetle with motorized pop-up vanity in the trunk that a Mary Kay saleswoman would die for.  An Andy Warhol portrait of Barbie valued at over $200,000 hangs on the wall. 

Following the festivities, the majority of Barbie’s custom decor will be shipped to the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, to furnish a special pink-tinted Barbie Suite soon available for bachelorette parties, birthdays or anyone who wanted to live the Barbie dream. Other items will be available from the “Jonathan Adler Loves Barbie” collection would launch in September.  

As always, Mattel remains zealous in its attempts to protect Barbie’s image over the years, launching a series of perceived copyright violation and defamation lawsuits, including the Danish group Aqua, whose hit song ‘Barbie Girl” had lyrics, like “Kiss me here, touch me there, hanky panky.”  Mattel lost.

This all being said, we all know that if Barbie were a REAL woman, her physical proportions would have her toppling over the runway. I imagine if Tim Gunn were consulted, he would tell Barbie to dress less like a 21-year old and more like the graceful, aging woman she has become.  And while skimpy tight fashions may work for the Real Housewives Orange County, bet your bottom dollar that even Rachel Zoe would prefer to see Barbie appear like Elizabeth Hurley rather than Elizabeth Berkeley in Showgirls on the red carpet. 

I even hear Barbie may be getting a tattoo soon. Who knows where?  Maybe Ken.

By on March 4, 2009 in Uncategorized with 14 Comments »

I recently engaged in a lengthy Twitter dialogue (as lengthy as that gets) with Robert French, @rdfrench , an insightful teacher of public relations at Auburn University.  Our topic?  The biggest changes occurring in PR during the past ten years.

His question got me thinking.  We read every day about another newspaper or magazine calling it quits, as traditional publishing struggles to create a sustainable business model in this brave new world of social media.  Print and broadcast media have been segmented, de-fragmented, and literally co-opted by new media tools, technologies, and platforms.  Readers and viewers do everything from create and interact with content via blogs, YouTube, vlogs, Flickr, Twitter, Digg, et al, to control where and how they view content both online or off, via Tivo, Hulu, and the rest.  You literally can’t keep up, no matter how fast you’re tweetin.’

My take? PR hasn’t changed nearly enough in the past decade.  PR should be leading its own industry evolution to adapt to the wild, wild west of social media.  Are we doing enough?  The old rules no longer apply.

As an old-school PR vet, I began my career building contact databases consisting of thousands of reporters, editors, and producers… clearly, the ground has shifted under our feet.  The shift happened subtly, yet with profound implications for the PR business.  Does it still make sense to use news releases as a core tool of outreach?  If real-time, personal communication blasted out 24/7 in the form of mobile data is now the norm, should we still focus our resources and priorities on how media used to function in producing news content for our society?  

Today’s social media environment demands collaboration and engagement with your audiences.  Often directly, no media required.  There are great examples of pioneering new efforts to inform and mobilize the grassroots via social media.  Witness the Obama campaign.  Ditto for boutique PR agencies forging new paths, whether harnessing social media for clients (@TDefren at SHIFT Communications, @briansolis at FutureWorks) or achieving remarkable success as “virtual” operations  (@missusP at PerkettPR).  This ain’t your grandfather’s PR, kids.

As the latest imbroglio over Skittles’ home-page-cum-Twitter-newsfeed experiment attests, one can always get attention.  In the old world, all publicity was good publicity.  By that measure, Skittles’ execution was brilliant.  By today’s standards… it’s a lot less clear.  PR practitioners need to cede control.  Accept that “engaging” may be the new PR, as much or more so than educating and influencing.  How about focusing on helping clients create and produce original content, whether blogs or otherwise? Craft stories designed for them to interact directly with their customers via social media.  Help them identify whom to target in social media conversations, how, where, when and why.  In short, facilitate and enable conversations. Then get out of the way.

Would love to see some of the behemoths in the PR industry (you know who you are) take a leadership role in re-defining PR for this new era of communication and marketing.  Not by attaching a “new/social media” arm or other reactionary move, but by reconstructing the business with social media integrated at its core.  We’ve made progress, but still have a long way to go.    Who knows, maybe we’ll even improve and evolve our own image as a profession in the process. 

What are your ideas for the new PR?