Like many longevity brands, the Academy Awards faces the ongoing challenge of creating a classic but youthful image. Yet last night’s Oscars showed that connecting with a younger demographic doesn’t mean pulling weird stunts and packing the stage full of young people – in fact, by curating a balance of classic and up-and-coming, the event was a glittery case study in branding and engagement. Below, three of the evening’s many takeaways.
— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) March 3, 2014
Ellen Breaks Twitter
Host Ellen DeGeneres managed to crash Twitter with her celebrity-packed selfie that garnered a record 2.7 million retweets and took down Twitter. DeGeneres prefaced the whole selfie incident by stating that she wanted to set a record for retweets and of course, the fans obliged. This was hands down the most successful social media stunt the Oscars has ever pulled – DeGeneres (and the masterminds behind the ploy) not only asked for retweets, they made a whole schtick out of taking selfies and posting them to Twitter. I wonder how no one thought of it before – though the stars aligned with Samsung as a sponsor and a TV host with a huge fan base.
Interestingly, Ellen’s “most epic selfie of all time” didn’t feature a gaggle of young starlets (23-year-old Jennifer Lawrence is the youngest), but a sampling of some of the most established stars in Hollywood. The average age of those in the photo (excluding Lupita Nyong’o’s brother, Peter, whose age I couldn’t find) is 43, showing that being “epic” is no longer quite as contingent as being in one’s 20’s.
What they did right: Stated their goal of getting the most retweets ever, made taking selfies an interactive process, added humor, got a host with a large fan base and loyal online following to give it a push (I can’t imagine working with past hosts like Seth McFarlane or James Franco and Anne Hathaway).
What didn’t work out so well: Twitter wasn’t ready for the traffic, Ellen tweeted a backstage photo from her iPhone.
Engagement takeaway: State your goal and make the process fun. Doesn’t hurt if you can get nearly a dozen big celebrities, and it’s not only young people who resonate with young people.
Bringing Back Classic Stars
The evening was supposed to be a return to tradition and the classics, as evidenced by appearances from Kim Novak, Sidney Poitier, Liza Minnelli, Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler, and John Travolta. I have to admit, I found Midler’s performance of “Wind Beneath My Wings” at the In Memoriam section a bit of a head scratcher. For a brand like the Oscars that so plainly pursues a younger demographic, it seemed weird to me to have Midler, who was at the height of her fame decades ago, sing in what is possibly the most emotionally moving spot of the evening. However, it seems it may have been a good move since one of their goals was to consolidate their base (women) and there were a lot of positive reactions on Twitter, even though it seemed counter-intuitive to the goal of projecting a younger image.
What they did right: Going out on a limb and choosing a star who isn’t young but is classic, nailing a balance between old and young Hollywood, Pink’s excellent cover of “Over the Rainbow” gave a new take on a classic song, symbolically passing it down to the next generations but maintaining the power of the original. The right way to do a tribute.
What didn’t work out so well: Not having Minnelli involved the tribute to The Wizard of Oz, in which her mother, Judy Garland, starred. It’s entirely possible that Minnelli didn’t want to sing, but regardless of the circumstances, a lot of people on Twitter thought it was odd that Pink would sing the tribute while Minnelli was feet away. If Minnelli didn’t want to sing, she should have at least introduced the number so that it wouldn’t look like she was being slighted. And if she was being slighted, they made it super apparent.
Branding takeaway: It’s not always the wrong move to choose a spokesperson who is classic, as Midler is, so consider whether that person will resonate with the audience you’re most doggedly pursuing. Strive for a balance between reviving classics with new faces and bringing back the originator. Also, remember to consider appearances – examine something from all angles to make sure it doesn’t look like you’re slighting someone.
ABC and the Academy announced their Twitter initiative, #MyOscarPhoto, in which users who followed @TheAcademy (and who signed a practically hidden online release) could Tweet a photo of themselves using the hashtag, and then during the red carpet pre-show, a celebrity would take a photo with a TV screen showing the photo the Twitter user had submitted, and some photos would be shown on TV. It was, at best, awkward in on-air execution; when the model and red carpet host Tyson Beckford modeled the first example, it looked forced. ABC only aired one more instance of #MyOscarPhoto, but clearly they got some traction, as their Twitter feed has over 400 tweets of stars posing stiffly with a television screen.
What they did right: Sourced user-submitted content and made non-celebrity fans feel like part of the event.
What didn’t work out so well: Execution was awkward, they only showed two photos (including the introductory example) so it seemed to dwindle quickly. Maybe they needed a hastagectomy. Also, if people need to sign a release, you should probably mention that in your explanatory tweet.
Engagement takeaway: Don’t let engagement initiatives fizzle; if you say you’re going to air photos, air a bunch of them, and publicize the release well ahead of time.
A political and media kerfuffle ensued late last week after Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor and former Republican presidential candidate, spoke at a Republican conference. Below is his full quote:
If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it, let’s take that discussion all across America because women are far more than Democrats have made them to be.
Soon after, CNN journalist Dana Bash tweeted this:
Then NBC reporter Kasie Hunt tweeted something similar:
These tweets, which did not accurately represent the context or content of Huckabee’s remarks, spurred a number of clarifications and a whole lot of discussion. Even in a political and media issue such as this, there are plenty of takeaways for PR pros:
Be sure of the proper context
Bash’s tweet made it sound like Huckabee said he thinks women are “helpless without Uncle Sugar.” The reality is he accused Democrats of thinking women are “helpless without Uncle Sugar.”
Quoting someone? Triple check you’ve got the context right. Sometimes there’s a disconnect between what we know and what we write, so if you’re quoting anyone, make sure the quote and the surrounding content very clearly state the context of who said what. This is just as important, if not more so, when you’re summarizing in 140 characters or less. If it’s not crystal clear, don’t tweet it.
Especially if you’re live tweeting. As Bash and Hunt both exemplified, tweeting with no or incorrect context leads to backlash and completely derails a conversation, especially if it’s political. Suddenly, the story focused not on what Huckabee said, but on the media getting it wrong (even though it was only two reporters out of hundreds).
PR pros are in a similarly visible field, and this is an era in which out-of-context or ill-thought-out tweets can land you in hot personal and professional waters (as Justine Sacco proved late last year), whether it’s warranted or not. Particularly if it’s your message at stake, or that of your industry, you don’t want the focus to shift from your message or meaning onto a silly mistake.
Edit without losing context
There’s an easy fix to Bash’s tweet. Had it been worded: “At RNC meeting @MikeHuckabee says ‘Dems believe women can’t control their libido w/o birth control,” the problem never would have arisen.
The first way to edit within context: listen fully. This means paying attention and not letting your personal opinion get in the way. Then, distill selectively. Determine what the two or three main points of the quote are and summarize from there. Remember: quotes are not malleable; either it was said, or it wasn’t. Be accurate from the get-go, because issuing clarifications or retractions detracts from credibility.
Quality over speed
The nature of Twitter means that live-tweeting has become not only de rigueur, but practically mandatory not only for journalists, but for people attending anything of note, like awards ceremonies or industry events. It takes a lot of concentration to listen to someone speak while quoting what they said two or three sentences back. Unless it’s expressly necessary and you can be sure you’re representing the quote accurately, be very careful when tweeting of-the-moment.
The demand for immediate tweets is a classic GIGO scenario: it takes our focus off of the importance of what’s being said, places it on being first to tweet it, and disregards sharing quality tweets. When we put out words that haven’t been verified, checked, or thought-out, it shows.
The digital age has given fan bases and brand advocates the tools to unite with unprecedented speed and volume, something Variety no doubt learned this weekend when one of their writers incited a fan firestorm.
The Television Critics Association winter press tour began last week, and naturally, television critics were covering it in force, one of them being Malina Saval, associate features editor at Variety. In her article, “12 Cable Shows That TCA Convinced Us to Watch,” Saval mentioned Starz’s upcoming series Outlander. Here’s how she described it:
“This new series is based on the internationally bestselling novels by Diana Gabaldon that bored middle-age housewives have been going absolutely bananas over. It’s set in the 1700′s, involves time travel and sexy period-piece costumes, and its Harlequin Romance-esque plot is sure to fuel breathy playground chatter for the next year. “
A few months back, we noted how successful Starz’s viral campaign became even before the shooting began. That success was – and still is – due in large part to a vast and very dedicated fan base. A few people in that fan base saw Saval’s article, posted it to online fan groups, and some of the fans mobilized. Variety’s articles usually get comments in the single digits, but Saval’s article has nearly 500 comments at the time of posting, every single one of which refutes Saval’s characterization of Outlander and its fan base.
I’m a fan of the books (and, if it matters, neither middle-aged nor housewife). But I don’t have to be to see that Saval’s comments were incorrect (the books are not genre romance novels, and ergo cannot be Harlequin) and, more importantly, misogynist; Saval not only implied that female tastes are inherently “frivolous,”* but that by virtue of the series being popular with women, it’s not to be taken seriously. This synopsis also did nothing to endear the many men who enjoy the series.
My first instinct was to think that Saval had inadvertently caused the flurry of comments with a flippant two-sentence synopsis. But let’s also acknowledge that journalists are in a tough spot: in a contracting profession with heavy emphasis on digital presence, there’s pressure to get high traffic and rankings. So it’s conceivable that, in trying to garner page views with a segment that is not Variety’s primary audience, Saval, knowing the strength of the Outlander fan base, phrased her synopsis as she did in a bid to reap comments and page views. Machiavellian? Yes. Effective? Very.
Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of the whole situation was the 48 hours of silence from Variety and Saval. Engagement – with your fans, your readers, even with your badvocates – is one of the top credos of modern-day PR, and the comments went unacknowledged until yesterday afternoon, when Saval tweeted:
If Saval’s comments weren’t intentionally provocative, her response certainly was. Comparing fans’ responses to a fatwa isn’t engagement – it’s on the verge of trolling, and is a pretty great example of how not to respond if you actually want to engage. And while PR bandies the word “engage” around a lot, we need to recognize that it goes far beyond making a melodramatic comparison to political persecution; it’s about reaching out to those who have had a negative response and acknowledging their experience. Community is about the conversation; it’s what makes the comment sections important in online media.
If the tone of her initial synopsis wasn’t intentional, Saval unwittingly turned herself into a classic example of one of the tenets of PR: don’t underestimate the power of a fan base. It doesn’t matter if it’s your base or someone else’s fan base, because there will be backlash.
That’s why engaging your fan base is so incredibly vital: Your fans and advocates are crucial to your success. One of the reasons the Outlander television series has almost every fan on board is because the main cast, writers, producers, author, and even the costume designer continually engage with fans on Twitter. They make the fans a part of the brand they already love, and respect them for who they are. When you nurture your audience like that, they come to your defense in force; when you ignore them, they’re left with a bitter taste and negative feelings.
*Quotation marks connoting not that Saval said such tastes are frivolous, but that “chick lit” and romance novels get the (undeserved) reputation of being frivolous
Last night, The Wall Street Journal reported that their parent company, Dow Jones & Co. sued Real-Time Analysis & News Ltd., a financial news aggregator service known as Ransquawk, for illegal distribution of the Dow Jones content without publisher consent.
Dow Jones claimed in its complaint that the London-based Ransquawk accessed the DJX newsfeed, which Dow Jones’ real-time financial news subscription service, and republished the content “verbatim, within seconds” of its publication. Ransquawk’s website says that it provides live news headlines in a 24-hour scrolling news feed, as well as real-time audio with breaking news and instant analysis, drawn from over 100 news sources.
In a statement on the Dow Jones Press Room, Jason Conti, SVP, general counsel and chief compliance officer, wrote that Dow Jones “refuse[s] to sit back when others swoop in to swipe our content.” He also claimed that Ransquawk is “systematically copying, pasting, and selling our journalists’ work.” There’s not much of a reply from Ransquawk; chief executive and co-founder Ranvir Singh said only that, “We obviously strongly deny any accusations made against us by Dow Jones … we will only be in a position to make a statement tomorrow.”
As we discussed on Monday, copyright compliance is a primary concern in media monitoring and news aggregation. This case looks to be very similar to that when the Associated Press filed a lawsuit against Meltwater for copyright infringement, a case which the AP won.
Why Ransquawk didn’t take notice then, we’ll never know, but they certainly shouldn’t be surprised at the lawsuit given that in recent years Dow Jones filed – and received large settlement claims from – other “hot news” misappropriation lawsuits against Briefing.com and Cision.
Once again, BurrellesLuce is not an aggregator but a curator, and we negotiate licensing fees with our providers to ensure our content is copyright compliant. We strongly believe that news outlets must be fairly compensated for their content, which EVP Johna Burke blogged about just three days ago. PR pros rely on content generated by high-caliber content produced by the AP, Dow Jones, and other providers not just for those valuable media mentions, but also for measurement purposes. In their need to be on top of the news, PR pros should protect the content they need and value by using services that respect and compensate the very publications that produce that content.
So many of us are committed to “community” nowadays, but where would the PR community be without journalism? Media and PR may be separate yet tandem communities, but they are part of the same ecosystem, and without balance on both sides, that ecosystem will crumble.
Native advertising has been enjoying considerable resurgence the past year, due in no small part to its potential to be mutually beneficial to advertisers and publications. Traditional sources like The New York Times are embracing native advertising as part of their strategy, with “high hopes” for its payoff. They follow online sites like Buzzfeed, Mashable, and The Huffington Post, all of which have already been using their editorial and production departments to generate sponsored content.
Native advertising is becoming more main stream, but that’s not the end of the conversation. Native advertising occupies such a gray area that the Federal Trade Commission titled a conference about native advertising after Robin Thicke’s popular but unfortunately misogynistic song “Blurred Lines.” Advertorial-wise, these out-of-focus lines arise when paid content resembles editorial content.
Why does this matter to PR pros? One of the appeals of native advertising is the chance to catch the attention of and appeal to a certain audience segment and receive instant feedback to reader reactions. In its worst cases, native advertising is a bait-and-switch routine; in its best, it’s an informative, useful item that also happens to be paid for. Enter the FTC, which hopes that not only will there be a clear demarcation between editorial content and native advertising, but that the advertisers and marketers will self-regulate.
There’s nothing unethical about native advertising, as long as it’s clear to the reader that it’s sponsored. Of course, defining “clear” is a murky process, but we’re not here to define any guidelines; we’re here to look at ethics and best practices that PR pros can employ for native advertising. And many marketing or advertising pros aren’t so keen on labeling their advertisement, fearing that it undermines the purpose of the advertorial in the first place. But this fear may be misplaced, as some preliminary research shows that a third of consumers don’t care if content is an advertisement or editorial, and that many would be more likely to select an item if they knew it was an ad.
Being an ethical PR practitioner means that you don’t want to compromise a journalist’s ethics, either. And since one of the tenets of ethical journalism, according to the Society of Professional Journalists (SJP), is to “Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two,” the best way to start is with transparency instead of worrying about labeling the ad. This includes not only a label stating that it’s sponsored, but also physical demarcation such as borders and a different font. The FTC stressed, however, working towards such transparency should be a joint responsibility of publication and marketer.
During the FTC workshop, advertising widgets such as Outbrain or Tabula were a popular topic, however FTC staff pointed them out as specific examples of native advertising which were difficult to distinguish form editorial content.
The lack of hard and fast rules means that communication between PR/marketing/advertising and the publication is absolutely necessary. One way to do this is to work with outlets like Buzzfeed, which creates branded content in tandem with sponsors. It’s up to the outlet to ensure that in creating both editorial and advertorial content that journalism ethics are upheld.
An excellent resource to help ensure native advertising meets existing regulations is the FTC’s .com Disclosures: How to Make Effective Disclosures in Digital Advertising, and make sure to check it for periodic updates.
How do you work with ethical issues in native advertising? Will the FTC’s findings impact content marketing pieces picked up by another outlet, and what implications would there be?