Archive for April, 2010

Who’re You Going to Believe?

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Headlines this week are filled with the SEC lawsuit against Goldman Sachs. Bank leader Lloyd Blankfein continues to assure anxious employees and shareholders that Goldman has done no wrong and they’re ready for the fight. In the meantime, the rumor mill is swirling and some are questioning whether the Goldman reputation for putting its customers first is fact or a mirage.

Who are you going to believe?

Andre Agassi once said in his campaign for Canon, “perception is everything.” With Madoff fresh in our minds and the once trustworthy Toyota apparently failing to disclose problems with some of its models in a timely fashion, we’d say “credibility is everything.” Now more than ever companies from corporate leadership to brand managers need to stand by their mission statements, deliver against brand promises and live up to their reputations. Talking the talk is not enough. Neither is walking the walk. Only walking the talk will suffice.

Nobody questions a company’s right to be successful, however success is defined. Healthy earnings often yield a whole lot of good for everyone. For pharmaceutical companies, profits allow for deeper investment in research and development. For health insurers, a bottom line firmly in the black supports partnerships with community organizations that provide easier access to important health information and services. Of course, corporate success and the resulting greater good are not exclusive to healthcare. If Nike wasn’t so successful, they wouldn’t be able to resurface playgrounds in inner cities or dedicate resources to children’s athletics.

It’s when success seems at the expense of others – investors, patients, consumers, you and me—due to a lack of candor or a sense of wrong-doing or not following through in some way that the tide turns. Public opinion matters and ignoring this simple truth comes at considerable risk.

Companies and marketers operating in industries are already mired in mistrust need to work even harder to walk the talk. It is the credibility that is built up over time, through actions, programs that not only sell a product but deliver against a higher cause, straight-talk by senior executives and transparency that earns the support needed in times of need.

People stand by those they believe and believe in. We do. Don’t you?

The Not-So-Odd Couple

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

This week’s New York Times featured a front page business section story on the partnership between UnitedHealth Group and the Y.M.C.A. They are joining forces, together with retail pharmacies, to help people at risk for diabetes decrease their chances of developing the disease through weight loss, healthier diet and regular exercise. The Times called the partners an “odd couple.”

We’ve seen odder couples at our son’s soccer matches.

Health insurance companies are often the ideal partners for awareness and wellness programs like the one described in the article. The health-conscious and those who eat right, exercise, maintain appropriate weight and stay on top of their conditions do not file ever-growing medical claims. Talk about your motivation.

The Y has a long-standing heritage nationally and in communities for providing access to health, fitness. Add in the retail-pharmacy and pharmacists, both trusted sources, and you’ve got a winning combination.

In this diabetes program, UnitedHealth Group is paying the Y.M.C.A and pharmacists to keep people healthier. Also odd? We don’t think so. These programs cost money. The budget needs to come from somewhere. The bean counters at UnitedHealth Group must have done the math and realized that more well people will result in lower premiums all around. Further, the costs for the effort are far outweighed by the mid-and long-term financial and other benefits such as goodwill, good PR, positive relationships and, most importantly, healthier people with reduced diabetes risk.

Sometimes it’s the least likely bedfellows that result in the most meaningful partnerships. Once the value proposition is laid out, the benefits to all parties made clear, a game plan agreed and roles and responsibilities divided, it is surprising how like-minded organizations with seemingly disparate goals are.

We’ve put together very effective collaborations for our pharma clients with managed care plans, community pharmacies, retail chains, employers, employer groups, churches, non-profit health organizations, among others. Sometimes it’s a twosome; occasionally a threesome. We’ve also done foursomes. To say that there was sometimes skepticism at first would be an understatement, but in all cases, it didn’t take long for the parties to realize the upsides and team up. It’s not that we’re so clever. Our position is simply that common ground can be found when it comes to enhancing health awareness, understanding and action, regardless of the business objectives of the players. It shouldn’t matter if you’re for profit or not-for-profit so long as there’s a worthy endgame. Which makes it odd that it would seem so odd to work together.

Ode to Simplicity

Friday, April 9th, 2010

Jeremy had a long-time client who opened every meeting with the following phrase: “Be brief. Be brilliant. Be gone.” All meetings were restricted to 30 minutes. If you couldn’t state your case in a half hour, it probably wasn’t worthwhile in the first place. He demanded from PR a smart idea, a straightforward message, and an approach for telling his brand’s story that made immediate sense and had a better than fair chance of delivering the results he was looking for. Simple, right?

Keeping it simple in public relations strategy, planning and execution has real, unassailable value. Does a new PR campaign always require a phone-book size slide deck? Is a handful of well-researched, solid facts insufficient evidence to validate a new approach? Is it always best to deliver all brand messages in every press release?

We say nay.

Simplicity should not be confused with being bare-bones or uncreative. On the contrary. The most effective campaigns are often those with the simplest messages. They are easiest to remember, seem so obvious, and the audience –from the client pitch to the end-user—gets it with little to no explanation.

Sometimes keeping it simple requires paring the core brand attributes or the key messages to just the one that speaks most powerfully and persuasively, and then linking it to what we often refer to as a “higher cause.” One example we love of this strategy at work is Tide Detergent. The higher cause: pride. The functional attribute: whiter whites. How much simpler can it get?

It can be difficult for marketers who are very close to their brands to choose one attribute or a single message. It’s like asking them to pick a favorite among their children. There is also the “scaleability” argument. In the pharma world, it can go like this: since we only have x years left on the patent, we need to tell the whole story and provide fair balance in every tactic and have the outreach be as wide as possible, as casting a wide net is the most efficient use of our limited marketing budget, and the best way to make an impact fast.

To this, we say OK. Have other elements in the marketing mix be the spaghetti and PR the meatball. We then work to land on the single functional brand attribute (efficacy? safety? mechanism of action? rapid onset? unique nature of the core ingredient?) or message (disease education? symptom awareness for self-identification) we want people (target consumers and the media) to remember most, and identify the higher cause that will not only garner media attention, but also trigger an emotional connection to spur the most likely portion of our audience (at-risk population? women as healthcare gatekeepers? key markets only?) to take the desired action (e.g. get tested, visit a website, talk to their health care provider, download and use a coupon, enroll in a program). Once at this point, the rest is simple – from the tactical plan to the integration, from execution to results measurement.

And if more convincing were necessary, imagine this…a world where all meetings were brilliant and over in 30 minutes.