Category Archives: advertising

The local store that made our Christmas

Shop local.
I experienced the importance of this a few weeks ago. Dunham’s Department Store in Wellsboro is a family-owned  store founded in 1905.
They’re also one of my wife’s clients. She came home from a meeting with owners John and Nancy Dunham after Thanksgiving and over supper talked about the meeting.

“After the meeting, when I was looking around, I saw the most beautiful coat,” she said.  I was half listening but remembered something about “soft” and  “rust color.”
It was so beautiful, she said, and there was only one in her size. She was sure it would be gone in a few days.
A couple weeks later, I did a book signing at From My Shelf Books, another locally owned, indie business. I walked up to Dunham’s, hoping they might still have the coat and could identify it with my meager two clues.
I ran into John and Nancy in the snack shop, sat down and had a bowl of soup and coffee.
“Linda saw a coat,” I said. I don’t know anything about it except it’s soft and rust colored.”
Nancy thought it over. “Well, I think I saw her looking at a coat in the display window.” She thought some more. “Based on what she’s bought in the past — like that white jacket a couple years ago. . . I think. . . let me go look.”
She returned with a coat. I had no idea if it was it. “I think it is,” Nancy said. John nodded in agreement. “That looks like her.”
For the first time in my life I said, ‘I’ll take it” without even asking the price.
“Do you want it wrapped?” Yes.
I was pretty nervous Christmas morning. If it wasn’t the right one my wife would be very disappointed. If it was the right one, it would make her whole Christmas.
It was the right one.
Imagine this.  Go to Bon Ton or Sears, or Macy’s . Can you sit down with the owners and have a coffee? Can you say your wife saw a coat two weeks before, give a couple vague clues and have them bring it out and hand it to you gift wrapped?
Not a chance.
The Dunhams know  all their regular clientele so well that on buying trips they pick out clothes based on their customers’ tastes!
Yes, I also like the idea that I’m supporting local business and keeping money circulating in the community, contributing to it health.
But I’m also grateful to John and Nancy for making my wife’s Christmas special.  (It’s nearly impossible for a man to buy a woman clothes she actually likes.)
Dunham’s has been around for 112 years, succeeding on the premise that knowing and caring about your customers is the best kind of marketing.

Marketing, Consulting and Human Emotions

For you PR and marketing types,  read “Bud’s Big Blunder: Letting Consultants Steer The Brand in Advertising Age. about Budweiser’s failed “drinkability” campaign. The article explores Anheuser-Busch’s hiring of the consulting agency, Cambridge Group and what happens when a portfolio management group extends outward and creates problems with the creative aspect of marketing.

At the core of the piece is the  division between linear thinking and human emotion.

Actually, the best part of the article is the comment section.  There are 44 comments, many in-depth, from marketing and consulting professionals which hit on numerous aspects of consulting, the creative part of advertising, and methods.

It’s interesting to note, too, that most of the comments come from seasoned professionals, which translates into middle aged white men used to creating brands and massaging minds in 20th century  traditional  print and broadcast advertising.

Despite the mildly Jurassic framework, most of the ideas are still valid,  especially from those who hold forth that emotion sells.

This is a must-read for PR folks in any field.  Most of you have been in similar discussions range from boring and silly to maddening (as in “how can I, with gentle electronics, eliminate his vocal cords?”).

Anyway, it’s a great set of pitches, including offenses, defenses, accusations , and occasional chest-thumping.  There’s some humor, a lot of anger and  just about every business-related cliche ever invented.

Unfortunately for the “Drinkability” creators, almost everyone agreed that it was a bad campaign.

This is a discussion among the real Mad Men.  I sat through it imagining a chat room full of cyber smoke swirling in slow motion, Pandora piano music in the background accompanied by the clink of Second Life martini glasses.

Ideas and emotions = great drama every time.

FYE Training Needs Help

FYE has some problems with customer relations.
FYE takes in DVD’s and CD’s for store credit. So, in November, I took some  DVD’s  over to my local FYE on a Saturday afternoon.
A young man at the counter politely  explained that they don’t take trades on the weekend. It’s too busy. Come back during the week. I nodded and said I would, thanks.
I work weekdays  so it was a few weeks later when I had a free evening and made a special trip back to FYE with my DVD’s.
Another employee, a pleasant young man, said, “I’m sorry but we’re not taking any trades now until after Christmas. Our stock is too full.”
I was mildly irritated but understood.
A few nights ago I tried it again. I walked in at 8:05 p.m.
I plopped my booty  on the counter. Before I could say a word, a rather forceful young woman shook her head: “We don’t take trades after 8 o’clock.”
I’m a mild mannered guy, patient. To a point.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“No,” the woman said. “Not after 8. It’s store policy.”
A young man next to her, ringing up a customer, said, “It’s company policy. It’s always been that way.”
I felt my face get hot. “Do you have any other little rules and policies you haven’t mentioned? This is my third trip here.”
“No,” the girl said. “We have to process them and that’s why we don’t take them after 8.” She saw my anger and softened. “We take them during the day and even Friday nights — before 8.”
I walked out without another word.” I’ve never done that before.
But they did everything wrong. The girl, while not confrontational, was not friendly. She was the epitome of the cold bureaucrat “just following orders,” just adhering to “company policy.”
Anyone in PR or marketing knows that she should have been — right or wrong –  apologetic:  “I’m sorry no one explained that to you . . . I’m sorry you had to make three trips in. . . .”
Her partner should have kept his mouth shut. First, he was dealing with his own customer and should have been paying full attention to him. The customer should not have been put in an uneasy position of now being part of something unpleasant.
And please, don’t ever, ever tell me “it’s always been that way.”
Though the kid didn’t mean it to be, it’s condescending. It inherently says, “you’re new to this game and you didn’t play by our rules– rules that we’ve always had.”
Yes, I’m new to bringing in DVD’s for credit but I’ve been a customer with FYE and its predecessor, Record Town, for longer than these two clerks have been alive.
I’ve spent thousands of dollars in this place.
I do not blame the clerks. I blame management. There are holes in the training.

Isolated case?  Maybe, but there shouldn’t be isolated cases in customer relations.

This was bad customer relations.  Bad public relations.  Bad marketing.

Business is business. Right?

Not when you’re dealing with people.

Kill These Words & Phrases Part 3

“Put a unique spin on this, throw it out there so it can grow legs, get some traction and go viral.  I want a footprint!”

I woke in a cold sweat.

Words and phrases that should be killed are sprouting faster than zombies in a George A.Romero film.   They’re more persistent than sallow vampires in the twilight.  I can’t stop thinking about them though some say I’m anal (props to Freud for that evergreen).  Others have likened our kind to being word police, but I consider us mavericks.  No, wait.  The paunchy maverick slid back to the Senate  and unleashed The Rogue.

Yikes!  I step back from that since the first definition of “rogue” in is “a dishonest, knavish person; a scoundrel.”  Hmm.  Well, I guess it’s safe to call yourself a rogue if you know your audience never uses a dictionary.

Actually, I’m just a guy who loves the language, respects the creative use of it and dislikes lazy use of language, especially among “educated” professionals.  I’m just giving you a heads-up that.

Really, I’m being totally transparent.

The phrase making the sales rep rounds is “reaching out.”  Several, from different parts of the country have used that on me, always beginning, “Dennis, I’d like to reach out and see how our company can help you.”

Well, friend, it’s like this:  if I’m drowning, I really want you to reach out and help me.  However, if your goal is to fill inventory, get the manager off your back and boost your commission, a simple media kit will do.  If it looks like your station is a good fit, I’ll reach out to you.

And then you know what we’ll do?  We’ll have a conversation!

Actually I’ve heard this in higher ed more than in the media.  It usually begins with a problem (masked as “a challenge”) between two people or parties who disagree (have “different goals”) and the path to a solution is to have one of these conversations.  Conversation implies civility which means you can’t raise your voice or even let your face get red from rising blood pressure.

“Conversations” are bland, mishmashes of buzzwords that suffocate our ancient instincts to reach out and kill the opponent.

Hey,  I’m just sayin’. . . .


( I’ve had a lot of feedback from readers.  I’m thinking of setting up a separate page with all three posts and everyone’s contributions.  So please send me the words and phrases that drive you nuts.)

Note:  Thanks to the guys over at Target x  who picked up on our shared love of language and continued the, umm, conversation.

More Words & Phrases I’d Like to See Dead

Back in January I did a post on Words and Phrases That Should be Buried.

I’m on Rant 2.

“Literally” is still the most overused word.  It is the Ramen of our vocabulary.

Here are more additions:

Wrap my head around it. I never got this phrase.  It conjurs up something you’d see  watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon.  I think this image came from an aging hippie suffering one too many acid trips.

Getting eyeballs is  overused in the worlds of advertising, marketing and the Web. It’s a disgusting image, conjuring up pictures of those bloody eyeballs you see on low budget horror films and Garbage Pail Kids trading cards.  “Getting eyeballs” still doesn’t address getting the mind behind the eyeballs to concentrate on the message.

Silos. I’ve just starting hearing this in office conversation and I’ve seen it a few times in writing.  It’s one of those words that creates an appropriate image.  (See yourself as dried corn nestled in your own comfortable silo not wanting to communicate with the corn in the other silos).  The image was used as early as 1989 in the context of “vertical silo syndrome.”   Now I hear it on campus as in “departments are silos,” not caring about other departments.  It’s going to wear itself out fast because it’s an easy concept for lazy speakers.

Butts in seats.  Kind of like “getting eyeballs.”  Butts in seats, of course, is filling seats with people.   So why can’t we say we want to “fill seats?”  We’ve broken humans into butts and eyeballs.  Not a pretty picture.

I don’t know wherecreepy edged into the national daily dialogue but it spread like The Blob in a microwave.    It probably evolved from “it creeps me out.”  I suppose it’s popular because it’s fun to say and is easily inserted into any kind of description of something somewhat distasteful.  I think it’s adolescent and no one over the age of 18 should be using it.

Unfortunately they do use it.  I heard a middle-aged secretary today relating a story of a couple accidents in which two friends in different parts of the country died about the same time.  “That’s creepy,” she told the other secretary.  “Don’t you think that’s creepy?  I just think that’s really creepy.”

I crept out, wrapping my head around a silo of sanity, keeping my eyeballs straight ahead and my butt far away from any nearby seats.


Please send in your candidates for instant death.

The Grocery Store Survey

“It’s a company doing a marketing survey on food buying,” my wife said, handing me the phone.
Yes I do the grocery shopping. I volunteered several years ago to give her more time to attend to her production agency.
I took the phone.  “Hi, my name’s xxxxxx and I’m calling on behalf of Sirs, a marketing  firm. . . . .”
I try to cooperate with marketing firms doing surveys for obvious reasons.
The questions were well structured and it soon was clear that I shop at three different stores: Tops, Wegman’s and Shure Fine. At first, the answers were easy.
As we drilled down, the answers were not so easy. Rate the quality of the selections; rate the variety of offerings; rate the price. . . .
Finally I cut in and said, politely:  “This survey is skewed in the sense that our Shure Fine is a small neighborhood grocery store, not nearly the size of Tops and Wegmans.  There’s no way Shure Fine can compete on selection, variety, even quality on certain things. Can you make a note of that?”
“Well, there’s no place here. . . but I can tell my supervisor.”
I knew where that would go. No room for exceptions in a database that’s already been set up in a world built for Excel, speed and efficiency.
I finished out the survey, which, in my mind, was already worth less than when we started. Tops came out on top because that’s where I shop every week and spend the most money.
Nowhere will those reading the results know that I stop in at Shure Fine three times a week for dairy products, meats and other convenience items.  Or that I’ve done it for 30 years.
It probably won’t matter that the place is clean, the tellers are friendly and the local owner hires and trains local high school students who learn, among other things, interpersonal skills and how to be polite.
There’s nothing in there noting that the owner inherited the business from his father and three generations of the family have contributed enormously to the community.

Again, Sirs is a reputable firm, the questions were well-thought out and logical and the whole experience was professional.

But the results are skewed.

It’s a reminder to take any survey or poll with a healthy grain of salt.

Putting The Public Back in Public Relations: Part 2

I enter part two of the review of Putting the Public Back in Public Relations reminding you that I think the book  is  valuable.

Putting the Public neatly summarizes the demise of the traditional media and the rise of the social media and PR 2.0.

It’s  ironic that the authors understand and capture  well the new media and the need to communicate ideas  in a quick, concise, clear way that’s tailored to our particular audience, and it takes them 300 pages to do it.

-A 300-page novel is not outmoded.

-A 300 page book on social media is.  With more thought and a good editor it could have been at least 50 fewer pages.

-As soon as it’s published, any references to Robert Scoble’s posts, or Chris Anderson’s blacklist is not news.  In the PR 2.0 world, this stuff is ancient history.

Granted, the  book is both a guidebook and history. But 300 pages is still too long.

The authors repeat things over and over.  I’m sure they’re doing it to drive home their points.  But I, like others, am reading this book because I already read the leading blogs,  listen to podcasts (which is where I heard an interview with them, leading me to buy the book), engage in Twitter, read AdAge and Wired and and follow Scoble.

In the larger picture, these are niggling complaints.  The authors have done a service to a profession in profound evolution, providing a pioneering work that’s  a textbook for the future of PR.

As the authors point out, we’re in the time of a huge transition.  PR is in an era of telling stories and being a part of a community that we understand and contribute to.

With each chapter I found myself grabbing a pencil to mark passages where Brian and Deirdre offer up insight, truth and a clearer way into PR’s future.

Just as importantly, I’ve subscribed to their blogs and sites to keep up with the conversation that they initiated.