MK 354 Spring 2010

April 10, 2010

Has Social Media Actually Changed Public Relations?

Filed under: blog #9 — Tags: , , , — Zach Cole @ 2:46 pm

It’s the all-too-common question that every public relations professional over the age of 40 fears. How are you using social media to supplement your public relations plan? For many, the sudden rise of social media is a shocking trend, which is all the more reason to not ignore it. Okay, so maybe the social media trepidation is no longer as rampant as it used to be, but don’t be fooled – it still exists. PR practitioners across the globe are in awe of how social media is changing the public relations landscape, but to what extent have things really changed?

Esther Schindler wrote an article dedicated to this very subject in 2008, and despite its two-year-old tag, it still holds enormous relevance. Her primary thesis was that social media has changed public relations, but not to the extent that everyone seems to think. Her contention was that public relations is still public relations no matter the medium, and that fundamental persuasive and marketing skills are still vital to the success of any campaign. Schindler stated, “PR done well doesn’t change, even if the communication medium does; and PR done poorly quickly becomes spam to the wrong recipient, no matter which medium is used.”

This topic is important to Berklee’s Office of Public Relations for a number of reasons. At the moment, the majority of the office’s communication practices involve traditional PR – the press release, the media database, and the follow-up. This is all good and well, because the staff of the office is highly skilled at what it does. But due to a declining print industry, the office’s staff may want to consider embracing the new age of PR a bit more.

Although Schindler notes that social media has not drastically altered public relations, she does point out many of social media’s advantages. Using social media makes it easier to instantaneously reach potentially millions of people. Social media can also be highly targeted and is easily measurable. The advantages of social media coupled with the traditional PR-savvy of the office’s staff could increase Berklee’s online reputation and help generate more buzz and word-of-mouth.

Note: Overall, the topic of social media and its implications for marketing and social media can apply to any nonprofit organization. However, I felt that this article and trend was particularly applicable to my site, where I have had the chance to observe the communications practices.

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April 4, 2010

Music Educators Weigh in on Music Technology

Filed under: blog #8 — Tags: , , , — Zach Cole @ 1:26 pm

Berklee College of Music claims to be “the world’s premier learning lab for the music of today – and tomorrow,” by evolving to “reflect the state of the art of music and music business.” In order to substantiate its claim, it is imperative for Berklee to remain on the cutting edge of music technology by understanding emerging trends, embracing musical innovations, and applying the new technology to the classroom setting.

Steven Estrella of Shearspire, Inc. compiled the results of survey of music educators and music technology into a 2005 report detailing numerous technological trends in the music education field. The report does quantify which technologies (notation software, music programming and engineering software, musical instruments) are most prevalent in the education environments – but as interesting as the quantitative results are, the qualitative findings from the survey reveal the most interesting trends.

The report notes that the majority of music educators (estimated 80%) actually need to be assured that embracing new technologies will help their teaching methods and their students. This means that outside of the early adopters, many teachers are hesitant to change their teaching habits to adapt to an ever-changing musical world. The music educators’ concerns stem from a variety of sources. They fear that learning about a new technology will be too time consuming, especially given their already hectic schedules.

Furthermore, many educators simply fear that their departments do not possess the necessary budgets to incorporate new, expensive technology. However, despite budget concerns, the report notes that, “the cost of technology has dropped enough so that teachers can engage in using music technology, even if it’s just one computer with a screen, free or inexpensive software, and an inexpensive MIDI keyboard controller. Some music educators may not be aware of how low the prices have actually dropped.”

Berklee may wish to address how its educators feel about incorporating new music technology. After all, it is important for the staff to adhere to Berklee’s mission because everything about Berklee communicates. The teachers must firmly believe that music technology is an integral part of the Berklee education, and that it helps contribute to Berklee’s position as “the world’s premier learning lab for the music of today – and tomorrow.” Without teachers who believe in music technology, Berklee may soon lose it’s positioning, which would detract from its prestigious appeal.

March 24, 2010

Rallying for Music Education

Filed under: blog #7 — Tags: , , , , , — Zach Cole @ 11:48 pm

As funds for public schools diminish in many areas of the country, more and more school boards are faced with the difficult choice of deciding where to cut funding. Some school districts have chosen to cut funds for physical education programs, which is has obvious negative consequences. In Ithaca, NY, funding for music education programs may be cut back, much to the dismay of local musicians, students and parents.

According to WSYR Syracuse News, the plan calls for the removal of five music positions and the elementary instrumental music program. Because much of Ithaca revolves around its local arts scene, these cuts are creating a sizeable commotion in the area. On Tuesday, March 23, students gathered for a musical jam session to protest the proposed cuts and to promote awareness for the need for music education.

News like this is problematic because it represents what may become a growing trend in school districts that are being pressed to make financial changes. Fewer elementary music programs may very well lead to fewer musicians as children grow older. According to Ithaca College Music Professor Beth Peterson, if students are not getting music education in elementary school, they are less likely to take up music in the 6th grade.

For Berklee College, a school that revolves around music education and needs a steady flow of up-and-coming musicians to stay relevant, diminishing music programs are something to keep an eye on. If there are fewer young musicians, there will be fewer applicants to Berklee, and the college may need to make cuts. Sure, it may seem like one school district is too small to have a grand effect, but if Ithaca’s proposed plan truly represents a growing trend, there may be cause for concern.

As the leader in collegiate musical education, Berklee should consider speaking out on this topic publicly, perhaps through PSAs. There are already a number of grassroots organizations and petitions advocating for music literacy in children, and Berklee could readily partner with any number of these groups to lead the fight for strong music education programs.

March 17, 2010

Making the Wind Interesting

Filed under: blog #6 — Tags: , , , , — Zach Cole @ 11:19 pm

The name Epuron isn’t likely to carry a whole lot of meaning for the average person. Unless you’re a serious environmentalist, you probably don’t know that Epuron has been leading the charge for renewable energy for well over a decade. Epuron does great work, but it faced a great challenge. How could its marketers make people care about renewable energy? After all, energy isn’t really all that interesting; in fact, it’s not even tangible.

The answer to Epuron’s problem was found in Mr. W., a tall brute dressed in a dusty black suit with an odd black hat. Mr. W. was a man who had trouble connecting with people because he constantly did unpleasant things. He ruffled the finely groomed hair of pedestrians and blew sand in the eyes of children on playgrounds. People simply do not like him.

The key here is that Mr. W. does not actually exist. He is a personification of the wind in a television commercial for Epuron. Finally, Mr. W. meets a man who understands him and who understands how to use Mr. W.’s power to help, rather than annoy people. This man, of course, represents Epuron, the company that understands how to harness wind energy to help people.

According to Chip and Dan Heath, stories are great marketing tools because they guide us through a series of events as we simulate them in our minds (213). People have a natural tendency to simulate scenarios in their minds because seeing events unfold helps them obtain a greater understanding of the events. Stories simply act as a catalyst for simulation.

By using the story of Mr. W., Epuron found a way to successfully engage the viewer in a story that makes it easier to understand why wind energy is so valuable, while simultaneously raising awareness of Epuron.

Chip and Dan Heath outline three types of story plots: challenge, connection and creativity (226). The Epuron advertisement uses both connection and creativity plots to help its story unfold. Connection plots have to do with interpersonal relationships (229). The viewer is interested in Mr. W.’s plight because he/she wants to understand why Mr. W. is so different than other people. Creativity plots have to do with solving a long-standing puzzle. The man who personifies Epuron has a creative breakthrough when he figures out how to relate to – or use – Mr. W. It is this side of the story that connects the plot to Epuron’s marketing objectives.

The Epuron advertisement is unexpected, and concrete, but without its story it would fail to engage an audience, and wind energy would still be just boring, old, wind energy.

February 28, 2010

Don’t Text and Drive, K?

Filed under: blog #5 — Tags: , , , , — Zach Cole @ 2:30 am

Sure, it seems like common sense to most of us: texting on your phone while driving is a bad decision. It causes car crashes, injuries and deaths. It is particularly dangerous for young, inexperienced drivers who are already more prone to car accidents than older generations. But texting is just so easy and convenient. And sometimes you just have to tell your bff that you cnt rlly talk, but ur on ur way.

So the question is, are those little everyday texts actually worth putting your life on the line? According to one particular British public service announcement, the answer is a resounding and horrific “no!” The video, which was rumored to have been banned from American airwaves due to graphic content, unfolds much like a short film. Three cheery girls are driving around, and just as the driver takes her eyes off the road to send a text message, she swerves into the next lane, crashing into a car coming the opposite direction. It doesn’t end there – the girls’ car is then blindsided by another oncoming car, sending all three into a hellish spin, complete with shards of glass, bloody foreheads and snapped necks. Her two friends die. The passengers of the other cars die.

Not only is this unexpected (few car crashes are depicted with such detail), but it is scary. The viewer fears allowing this sort of incident to ever occur and subconsciously vows to never text and drive. Chip and Dan Heath note that getting someone emotionally invested in an idea is a sure way to make the idea stick (167). However, the mere shock and fear factor of the car crash here is just the tip of the emotional iceberg.

One of the best ways to get someone emotionally attached to an idea is to speak to their interests. The viewer/listener must understand the benefits of the benefits that can be reaped from a particular idea (Heath, 179). In the case of the British PSA, marketers want teenage drivers to understand the benefits of the benefits of not texting while driving. They clearly express the idea that drivers who do not text while driving are far less likely to get into a car crash – that’s the immediate benefit. But what is the benefit of not getting in a car crash? The answers to this are obvious and plenty, but most importantly, the answers are poignantly detailed in the PSA. You won’t kill your friends if you don’t get in a car crash. You won’t kill a young child’s parents and baby sister if you don’t get in a car crash. The list goes on and on.

The marketers responsible for the PSA knew what they were doing when they tapped into the emotions of the audience. The viewer takes away an immediate sense of fear from this PSA. But thanks to the director’s keen understanding of emotional attachment to ideas, the viewer also takes away a sense of the benefits – all of them – that come from driving safely. That is why the images in this PSA are sticky and stay with the viewer long after the clip ends.

February 20, 2010

It Just Tastes Better!

Filed under: blog #4 — Tags: , , , , — Zach Cole @ 1:04 pm

You like Pepsi. I prefer Coke. Why? The answer is simple: we think one tastes better than the other. As the two major players in the soft drink market, Pepsi and Coke realize that taste is of the utmost importance. If the product tastes bad, it simply will not sell (see Coca-Cola Blak). Therefore when marketing their products to the public, both Pepsi and Coke must position themselves as great tasting beverages first and foremost. Everything else is secondary to taste.

However, as consumers we have grown very wary of believing marketers’ claims, especially if we feel that they are not credible. What makes a Coca-Cola spokesman believable when he tells you that his brand of drinks tastes better than Pepsi’s? Nothing. He is supposed to be telling us that, because he wants to sell us his product. In other words, in order for these two soda giants to better market their drinks, they need to find credible ways to tell us that their drinks taste better.

It just so happened that Pepsi beat Coke to the punch. With its Pepsi Challenge campaign, Pepsi found a credible way to deliver on its core message of great taste by using actual consumers as its spokespeople. After all, actual consumers are much more trustworthy than company spokespeople because actual consumers don’t care which brand other consumers buy; they are not biased. The Pepsi Challenge involved having a consumer drink samples of the two different colas (Pepsi and Coke) out of unmarked cups, and deciding which sample they thought tasted better. Naturally Pepsi found that consumers preferred the taste of their own drink the majority of the time (or else there never would have been a campaign in the first place).

By letting the people at home know that ordinary consumers found Pepsi to be the better tasting cola, Pepsi made its claim credible. According to Chip and Dan Heath, having your customers test a claim is called a “testable credential,” (Heath, 157). Testable credentials are great at boosting credibility, and increased credibility leads to more effective – and sticky – marketing campaigns.

February 14, 2010

Run Faster, Jump Higher

Filed under: blog #3 — Tags: , , , , — Zach Cole @ 3:33 pm

The year was 1982. Basketball players were stronger and faster than ever, and they needed a sneaker that could keep up. Their tattered Converse Weapons and Chuck Taylors could no longer withstand the NBA’s furious pace while still providing the comfort that players demanded. Enter the Nike Air Force 1.

Promising a sneaker that would make players run faster and jump higher was a seductive pitch, and the fact that the sneakers were supposedly more comfortable and lightweight than others was equally advantageous. However, simply suggesting that a sneaker will provide players with a more comfy ride down the court and a cushioned landing atop the hardwood floors was not enough. Nike had to find a concrete way to show that the Air Force 1s would meet expectations.

It was rumored that Nike’s new shoes were so far ahead of the competition because the soles were infused with air. This was a great idea on Nike’s part because saying that running in these sneakers is like running on air is more concrete than simply saying that the shoes are comfortable. But who could be sure the air was really there? Was the idea concrete enough?

When The Nature Conservancy campaigned to save a certain region of somewhat unattractive wildlife, it found that giving the area a concrete name was enormously effective. Naming things gives people something they can wrap their minds around, thus making the named entity sticky (Heath, 103).  Nike took the same approach with the Air Force 1. Not only is the air in the sole suggested in the title of the shoe, but the word air is also physically legible on the back of the sneaker’s sole.

By having the word air written in concrete, tangible letters, Nike gave consumers an idea of what was inside the shoe that made it superior. Of course Nike eventually grew to create sneakers that showed an actual air pocket in the sole, which is just another step of concreteness that consumers could see, feel and touch. The reason that Nike’s idea of creating a visual representation of the air in the sole works so well is that it relates back to the core message about their products. Their products stand for the finest in performance athletic equipment, and air fits within that message perfectly. The concrete representation of air in the sneaker made Nike’s claims believable, launching Nike into the sneaker market’s elite.

February 7, 2010

When Vampires Break the Guessing Machine

Filed under: blog #2 — Tags: , , , , , — Zach Cole @ 10:56 pm

Everyone loves vampires, right? How else can one explain the recent sudden burst in bloodsucking books, movies, and television shows? Clearly, American society has been conditioned to fear these undead killers, and therefore is predisposed to an unbridled vampire fascination. Right?

Wrong. The reason shows like True Blood have garnered such cult followings is that they are written around unexpected ideas and events that break the viewers’ guessing machines. By doing so, the viewers’ interest is not only gained, but sustained as well, causing the show to be extra sticky and addictive.

According to Chip and Dan Heath, our brains are programmed to expect a logical progression of ideas. When this logical progression is broken by something unexpected, our brains are triggered to pay attention. In other words, surprise is triggered when our schemas fail (Heath 67). True Blood first gained attention by breaking the traditional vampire schema. Rather than a world where vampires terrorize unsuspecting humans, True Blood created a world where vampires and humans co-exist peacefully (for the most part).

That the vampires were notably different than any other vampire in the mainstream media was a nice, unexpected surprise. However, just getting attention is not enough. After the initial surprise there must be interest in order to sustain attention. Mysteries are a fantastic way to move the audience from general surprise to undivided attention, because mysteries require closure (81). According to George Loewenstein, curiosity happens when we sense a gap in our knowledge. These gaps cause pain, and we require answers to fill the gaps and appease the pain (84).

In order to ensure that viewers keep coming back for more True Blood week after week, every episode leaves a main character in some sort of unexpected peril or dramatic circumstance. Otherwise known as cliffhangers, the suspenseful final moments of every episode leave the viewer with seven days to ponder the possible outcome. That’s seven days without closure, and the pain caused by the gap in knowledge grows each day.

So can True Blood attribute its overwhelming success to all those same vampire fanatics who were waiting in line for tickets to see Twilight days in advance? Maybe. But more likely, True Blood succeeds because its writers understand what it takes to get, and keep, a captive audience.

January 29, 2010

Just Do It (But Keep It Simple).

Filed under: blog #1 — Tags: , , , , , — Zach Cole @ 2:14 pm

Just do it. Three simple words that need no introduction. Nike’s slogan embodies determination, motivation, and success. Nike is positioned in the mind of consumers as the leader in athletics, with products that will make consumers run faster, jump higher, and perform better. Of course these are aspirational benefits, but Nike wants its consumers to believe that with its products, they can just do it. Nike wants to motivate its consumers.

Nike’s slogan works as much more than a catchy marketing tool to draw in consumers. It stands at the core of their brand. Nike has been, and forever will be about success, achievement, and just doing it. With three short words, Nike sends a compact message that defines the brand’s purpose – motivating athletes to succeed. Compactness makes core messages easy to understand, and most importantly, compactness makes core messages sticky. Everyone remembers “Just Do It.”

However, a compact slogan is not enough. That’s why Nike ensures that every one of its communication points relates back to its core idea of motivation. Nike recently ran an outdoor ad campaign, in which a gigantic white billboard read, “Yesterday you said tomorrow.” The campaign itself is blatantly simple – black text on a white background. However, it is sticky as well. The text implies that the reader must get motivated to be active, or as Nike might say, to just do it. In four simple words, the billboard ties back into Nike’s slogan, perfectly fitting the core message of motivation.

By having all of its communication points work within the core compact idea of Nike’s brand identity, Nike avoids burying the lead. In other words, the core message is always placed first. Therefore the core message will always be the first message relayed to the consumer, which in marketing is the most important step.

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