Social is no longer an experimental strategy

July 27th, 2012

Social media has proven itself a critical element of most communications efforts. This is so for a number of reasons. Social media is among the most efficient global accelerators of a campaign message. It is used to build online communities, create online experiences, and stimulate online interaction among people unlikely to interact otherwise. For me, however, the hidden value of online communications is its ability to encourage the desired action offline.

The overarching business objective in many of our efforts in the healthcare arena is to stimulate a change in behavior. Whether it is to follow a type 2 diabetes-healthy diet, seek information about a clinical trial, attend a local event, or ask the doctor about symptoms or a new medication, our endgame is an offline activity that happens in real time. Social media is one of a mix of tactics that completes the communications transaction.

Using digital engagement to pull through offline elements of a campaign is not only cost-effective; it can also offer a satisfying experience for the end-user. Interacting with social media makes people feel connected. This is especially true among seniors. There is not a single older person I’ve talked to who uses Facebook to stay in touch with a daughter-in-law or grandchild, or casually says, “I learned this on the Internet,” who doesn’t feel a certain satisfaction in the feeling of being in tune.

This was supported in a recent survey of 15,000 women conducted by Women’s Marketing Inc. and She Speaks about women’s use of social media. Among the findings is that 30% of women queried said social media has made them more social offline. While many, 48%, say that social media makes them feel delightfully connected and a little over-stimulated at times, a similar sized group, 42% said they just felt positively in touch.

Leveraging the good feelings generated by the online media to stimulate a healthy behavior or next step is the job of the offline communications tactic. Finding the right balance here is no different from working out whether or how much of the focus is national and local. The blend is determined by the objective, the nature of the audience, and the message and the goal.

Devising a strategy that connects the power of social media to the desired offline action as well as the alchemy of the mix is what yields the most effective programs.

The Olympic Games missed PR opportunity

July 25th, 2012

The Summer Olympics buzz has been building for months. Now that we’re less than a week away, I’m as jazzed as the next person to watch amazing displays of athletic prowess. This year, I also can’t help thinking about the missed PR opportunity.

Obesity is a worldwide epidemic. Childhood obesity rates are especially alarming. Obesity was brought to the Olympic stage a few weeks ago when the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges openly criticized long-term Olympic sponsors McDonald’s and Coca-Cola for their roles in propagating the problem. The Olympic governing body weighed in as well, stating their concerns about obesity, but the millions of dollars in sponsorship are much needed and cannot be turned away.

McDonald’s countered with statements about the healthy choices they are providing like porridge, smoothies, and salads alongside fries and Big Macs. McDonalds also plans a multichannel exercise program aimed at kids. Admirable efforts that would be far more impactful, as well as credible, if positive health messages played a bigger role in, and were pulled through more of, its communications.

I just saw a story about a new McDonald’s TV spot, for example. The ad is cute, focused on some tension between a son who stays up far into the night to watch the games and his dad who turns off the TV knowing the boy needs sleep. The commercial ends with the father proffering a peace offering of a bag of McDonald’s fries and then they watch together happily huddled beneath a sheet. Would the impact be lost if the dad pulled out a bag of McDonald’s apple slices instead?

McDonalds, Coke, and the US Olympic Committee could each handle this situation better from a PR perspective. I also wonder why no company, group of companies, or industry association operating in the healthcare space sees the Olympics as a platform for a powerful, global message about an important health issue. The high price tag for sponsorship is undoubtedly a deterrent.

However, now that British doctors have thrust obesity into the headlines, I am cautiously optimistic the healthcare industry will step up to the Olympic plate. Already GlaxoSmithKline is serving as the official laboratory services provider for the Games this year, providing anti-doping testing. But what if a group of the leading worldwide pharmaceutical companies each diverted a portion, say 5% to 10%, of their annual DTC budgets to a pooled global Olympic sponsorship dedicated to awareness of a worldwide health issue. The PR opportunities are endless, from multiple stakeholder engagement and global media coverage to the overall halo effect that would last well beyond the games.

The most effective campaign, of course, would be a cooperative affair including PR, advertising, CRM, digital, and professional outreach.

The Winter Olympics are in 2014. It is not too soon to begin planning.

The role of PR in creating a new vocabulary

July 24th, 2012

Advertising is often credited with creating new vocabulary about a particular brand or topic. Snappy copy, memorable taglines, and lots of repetition contribute to this success. How often have you used the phrase “Just do it” for virtually any effort where a little extra motivation is needed? We all have our favorites. PR also plays a critical role in establishing new lexicon through well-placed and timed media coverage, everyday engagement, and effective campaigns of our own.

Nowhere is this more evident than in healthcare. For example, a brand that works via a novel mechanism of action needs to offer language patients can relate to and genuinely understand if it wants to carve out a distinctive position. New language, perhaps first revealed in advertising, also needs to be presented by, and accessible through, trusted sources. The lexicon gets a different treatment here, less commercial, more credible, permitting patients and consumers to feel comfortable using it themselves amongst friends and family and in conversations with physicians. PR, working independently or better still, as part of a well-integrated team with agencies from other disciplines, brings the vocabulary to life through the myriad outlets we use so effectively.

Consider the disease state that many feel is too “private” to talk about, such as vaginal atrophy or erectile dysfunction. Or the condition that can be misunderstood (very high triglycerides) because it is overshadowed by a more established condition (high cholesterol). What about illnesses that may have a stigma attached to them (depression)? Some highly treatable health problems (opiod-induced constipation) go untreated because patients and their families or caregivers don’t have the words to describe the symptoms. Developing vocabulary people can use and then gently but effectively easing it into everyday vernacular and circumstances can make the difference between silent suffering and productive action.

Well conceived and executed PR has contributed to the successful introduction and use of socially acceptable language for a variety of illnesses. Considering the growing importance of audience segmentation, it may be even more likely that no one vocabulary fits all for any given condition. Geographic, socio-economic, cultural, and demographic differences will dictate how to best communicate about any given disease state or medicine. PR has the flexibility and the tactical arsenal to make a new lexicon about a difficult subject relatable no matter where the target audience is sitting.

Delete Creativity? That’s Bad for Business

May 19th, 2012

Take Risks to Find the Most Effective and Most Talked-About Solutions

We recently designed a dashboard for the internal PR department of a multinational company. Included were metrics that executives could use to judge brand communications campaigns. These included overall impressions, reach with priority audiences, message penetration, creativity of the approach or communications solution, alignment with other elements in the marketing mix, and line-of-sight to brand goals. The dashboard came back with one change: delete creativity. Reason: creativity is not a “must have” for an effective campaign that meets business objectives.

Wow. Is creativity now just a “nice to have?” Is that how little it is valued? New York Times columnist David Brooks suggested in a recent article that creativity has been trumped by the desire to edge out the competition. Competitive “myopia” has taken over, he laments, undermining innovation.

Besting the competition is the endgame of most marketing, and one of the most enduring and reliable ways of so doing is a creative idea. Whether it is an unexpected exploitation of a competitor weakness, a cool use of a new medium or a brand use that had been hidden in plain sight, creative solutions have always been a must. The most creative campaigns are also the most effective and most talked-about.

Creativity takes work. It requires risk taking and a concerted effort to identify and think through a new idea, make it work and sell it up the line. Will your internal and external audiences “get it?” Will it convince customers to choose this brand? Or, in the case of a pharmaceutical brand, ask their doctor about it? Coming up with a creative idea requires far more human resources than buying more advertising in a different medium, developing coupons or offering free trials.

Campaigns that generate buzz, change behavior or become models in the industry typically center on a creative idea or a creative execution of a brand insight. Creativity breaks molds, takes us to places we didn’t think possible. Creativity is exciting. It is often why marketers got into their profession in the first place.

A CEO with a reputation for creativity can lead a company out of a difficult period. A Forbes writer I follow recently suggested, for example, that the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca consider Apple Chairman Art Levinson for its open CEO position. As chief executive, Levinson had built the biotechnology company Genentech into a powerhouse, but his last 12 years with Apple make him more than just a successful pharmaceutical executive. He is the type of leader who can harness the power of creativity to motivate.

Creativity still has a high premium in some corners of marketing. According to a survey of agency and client executives conducted for OMD by AdAge and Erdos & Morgan, creativity tops the list of qualities that clients look for in media agencies, closely followed by followed by data and analytics and efficient business processes. While creativity is at the top, these numbers reveal the tightrope that marketers are walking between a desire for innovation and the determination to win.

To keep the creative juices flowing, here are a few suggestions:

  • Identify which brands and circumstances would benefit most from a creative idea or solution.
  • Stay open-minded when it comes to customer desires or unmet needs. Respect, but do not be restricted by, market research, keeping in mind what Henry Ford said: “If I asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.”
  • Demand creativity, creative thinking, and creative solutions of your teams and from your agencies.
  • Find a balance of creativity and business objectives within your overall brand strategies.

In the 1990s, senior marketers at Absolut used to debate whether the company’s iconic advertising campaign was a case of creativity trumping strategy, yet who can argue with the success of the brand or the campaign? Take a risk. Blue Cross Blue Shield North Carolina embarked on an integrated “scapegoat” campaign designed to position itself and the health insurance industry as part of “the solution.” The grassroots effort features a mascot — a real goat!– that makes appearances at farmer’s markets, business meetings and sporting events. Web advertising and PR and print ads round out the mix.

There are many ways to win in marketing or beat the competition. Market research, analytics and a tight strategy all have their places as “must haves” — alongside creativity