Category Archives: Articles: The PR Business

The PR Business

Scott G on iPod with Rings - Phil Hatten Design

Communication Nation: Apple Wins Olympic Gold

COLUMN: Billions in bucks are being paid out to be official sponsors of the Beijing Olympic Games but there is already one big winner: Apple. Capitalism comes to communist China and both ideologies are the worse for it. According to Advertising Age magazine, sixty-three sponsorship and/or partnership arrangements have been made between corporations and the Beijing Olympics, with a reported four to six billion dollars changing hands for the privilege of getting into bed with the repressive regime.

Just to keep that dollar figure in perspective, it is somewhere between $4,000,000,000 and $6,000,000,000. But I don’t believe that counts the local ads we’re all enduring here at home. Taken altogether, it is a stunning waste of time, energy, talent, and economics.

Scott G on iPod with Rings - Phil Hatten Design
Scott G on iPod with Rings - Phil Hatten Design
All anger aside, I will admit it is entertaining to watch the pandering on the part of the world’s corporations. Invite friends over to play a few rounds of Whose Ads Are the Scummiest? No extra points for the firms with the most dubious relationship to athletics, including Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Budweiser, and BHP Billiton. (Don’t recognize that last one? Talk to anyone living near one of their gargantuan land-defacing mine operations if you’d like to learn about that collection of friendly folks.)

Once past the silliness of the ads for John McCain, we’re left to blur our eyes at hype for Panasonic, Samsung and General Electric; Nike, Adidas, and Kodak; Volkswagen, Visa, and UPS; Johnson & Johnson, Staples, and Lenovo (China’s largest PC manufacturer, as far as I know). It’s mind-numbing, all this scratching for awareness, buzz, mindshare, and brand identity.

There is one clear winner in the Bei-ca-ching advertising and branding sweepstakes…

Apple.

Yes, I know they don’t appear to be on any of the lists of official partners, sponsors or suppliers. Yes, I know they don’t seem to be purchasing any ads. But what is the one thing viewers keep seeing on such athletes as super swimmer Michael Phelps? The distinctive white ear buds of Apple’s iPod.

This may be the finest example of product placement in world history. And it may have cost Apple absolutely nothing.

How do we know those ear buds are attached to an Apple product, I hear someone ask. Couldn’t they actually hook up to a Zune?

Well, no.

First of all, Michael Phelps is a winner.

Second, and most important, it doesn’t matter if they’re hooked up to an Apple product, a Zune, or nothing at all (sorry to repeat myself). The point is that Apple owns the white cord and buds so when you see them, you think “Apple.” I do believe they call that part of the branding thing.

It takes big brains but it doesn’t necessarily take a big budget.

Photo of John Scott G by Snook/Immedia Wire Service.

[tags]Beijing, Olympics, Michael Phelps, Apple, iPod, Zune, marketing, branding, Scott G, The G-Man[/tags]

Scott G gets the point about PR

PR Blunders: Avoiding Mistakes in Marketing and Publicity

How Not To Write A Press Release. There have been many articles on this topic, but this may be the only one written by someone who works as an editor and writer. Using real-life examples, Scott G examines some ins, outs, dos and don’ts of public relations and publicity.

You have just announced your latest accomplishment (album, product, song, tour, Podcast, interview, press kit, etc.), but no one seems to be paying attention. News editors and feature story writers are all too busy commenting on celebrities who are drunk, stoned or cavorting nude in public.

Clearly, it is time to call attention to something more important in the world, namely your magnificent work.

So, you decide to send out a press announcement. Do it right and your story will be seen by hundreds of thousands of people. Do it wrong and it will be seen by zero of thousands of people.

Three Questions
Before PR professionals begin to write a press release, they ask three questions: What are you selling? To whom are you trying to sell it? What are the interests, or “hot buttons,” of your target audience?

Scott G gets the point about PRWe’re going to use real-life examples in this article, so let’s pick a subject that will be of interest to everybody. Something like, oh, say, my seventh album, Burning Man Soundscapes, which will released by Delvian and on iTunes and Rhapsody.

Naturally, you’re fascinated by this news, but the trick is getting a ton of other people to be aware of it. If I proceed like a pro, I would look to those 3 questions and do the following:

* Define the product (it’s an album of groove-oriented electronic-pop instrumentals)
* Describe the target audience (lovers of new styles of rhythmic music; people with an affinity for the Burning Man event)
* Determine the target audience’s hot buttons, or things that turn them on (describing Burning Man Soundscapes as being like “Gnarls Barkley meets Booker T and the MGs”)

Now, let’s examine the mistakes you can avoid when you create your press release.

Mistake 1 – No Go Pro
You can get off to a bad start by not hiring a professional PR person. Instead, just Do It Yourself and “save money.” Well, sure, it costs less for a DIY approach, but unless you really follow the advice in this article, you’re not likely to achieve much in the marketplace. Ask yourself if you know how to:

* Have your press release submitted to the news editors of the 1,200+ daily newspapers, 5,000+ weekly newspapers, 2,500+ magazines, 12,000+ radio stations, and 1,700+ TV stations in the country

* Get your information indexed by Google, Yahoo, and the major search engines

* Have your press release distributed by RSS feed

* Feature your story on Web portals

* Submit your information to social networks like DIGG, Fark, Furl, Newsvine, Del.ico.us, YahooMyWeb and others

* Embed keywords to enable Technorati to cover your news

* Get your press release onto News.Google, Moreover.com, XTVworld, BlogBurst, eNewsChannels.com, and hundreds of other news content sites

* Have your announcement run as a news item on more than 10,000 Web sites

* Get your information considered for further dissemination by such organizations as the Associated Press, Newsflash, and the Viral Syndication Network

* Make sure your story is “spidered” by news clipping services and news-robots like eWatch, CustomScoop, WebClipping.com, CyberAlert, and InBox Robot, among others, so they deliver your news to their subscribers

Mistake 2 – Ban the Plan
If you avoid those three critical questions mentioned earlier, you might turn out a press release with no purpose or direction. A lot of musicians do this. As an editor at the Music Industry Newswire, I see about three cubic tons of press releases each year, and the majority of them are anemic, muddled, ham-fisted and/or stylistic monstrosities.

Mistake 3 – Heads Down
Another easy goof to make is sending out a press announcement using a headline only you and your mother could love. Here’s an example of a perfectly wretched headline: “Scott G (recording artist The G-Man) releases 7th album called Burning Man Soundscapes on Delvian Records.”

That’s a boring headline. Bore-ing! Stuff like that is virtually guaranteed to be ignored by editors, news directors, music writers, bloggers, ezines, publishers, and wire services because it doesn’t give their readers any news they can use.

Do not write a headline that is “inner-directed.” In other words, don’t write about what you want to say. Instead, write about what your audience wants to read.

Consider these possibilities for headlines:

* Burning Man communal festival inspires creation of electronic-pop music
* Subsonic harmonics create controversy on new CD release
* Music genres are bent, blurred and blended on new indie album
* New album is a soundtrack to the Burning Man festival

It seems counter-intuitive, I suppose, not putting your name or the album name in the headline. Yet the point is to gain readership for your release by creating a story that intrigues your intended audience. Only then do you mention your album title and artist name.

Mistake 4 – Open With Nothing
There are many creative ways to write the first paragraph of a press release and none of them work very well. As a songwriter and composer, I enjoy and respect creativity, but the fact is that a unique approach to writing a press announcement is usually not effective. There are exceptions (as when your audience already knows who you are), but usually what works best is the tried-and-true method of putting a few important points in the opening sentence (or at least in the first paragraph) of the release:

* Name of the person/place/product
* What that person/place/product is doing (especially if it does something for you, the reader)
* Web site of the person/place/product
* UPC code of the product

It may not seem very original, but using the old newspaper story requirements of Who, What, Where, When, Why and How will hardly ever steer you wrong.

Mistake 5 – Babble On
Hey, what is your story all about? Just say it. Say it in a straightforward way without too many adjectives. Say it as soon as you can in the release. And please forget the techno-terminology and psychobabble jargon.

After all, wouldn’t you prefer to read this:

Burning Man Soundscapes was designed as an electronic-pop film score with dynamic tunes and mysteriously swirling ambient tracks.”

Instead of this:

“The composer has developed the 14 stunning tracks on Burning Man Soundscapes into what can only be termed an electronic-pop film score utilizing a full range of ultrasonic configurations in a program that alternates between exciting up-tempo tunes and mysterious ambient sounds.”

Shorter is better.

If you’re not sure about what to write, pretend you’re sitting next to someone at dinner and they ask you “What are you up to lately?” How would you explain it? Would you attempt a snow job with big words and convoluted concepts, or would you just speak normally and let them know about your project? Take that approach with your press release.

Mistake 6 – Spel Ling & Grammericality
Sorry, but spelling counts. It’s a credibility issue. If you don’t know the difference between “there,” “they’re” and “their,” or “two,” “too” and “to,” hire someone who does.

Mistake 7 – Embellishments
There’s usually a paragraph near the end of the release that has a subhead like this: “About Scott G” or “About The G-Man.” Unless you have sold numerous humor columns to several different publications, don’t be funny here. Just write the facts.

The Right Way:
Scott G is co-owner of music production and publishing company, Golosio. As recording artist The G-Man, he has a half-dozen albums in release and has composed music you’ve heard on commercials, in clubs and on college radio.

The Wrong Way:
In addition to his ongoing efforts to bring more zip codes to Antarctica, Scott G is astonishingly erudite about the insect population of Wisconsin. Being one of only a handful of people to have survived encephalitis as a child, he has only two passions: revenge politics and groove-oriented music. So, purchase Burning Man Soundscapes or he will be forced to give your e-mail address to every inhabitant of Nigeria.

You may find it funny, but I guarantee you many editors won’t be laughing and your release will not achieve your desired goal. Besides, even if people find it humorous, it distracts readers from the main point of your release.

Mistake 8 – Who Ya Gonna Call?
Hey, everyone knows you. You’re famous! So there’s no need to put contact information in your release, right?

There are two contact names and numbers that accompany every press release. One goes into the press release itself. It might look like this: “For information about Burning Man Soundscapes, visit www.delvianrecords.com or www.burningmansoundscapes.com.”

The other goes at the end and looks like this: “Media Contact: Scott G, 818-223-8486, g@gmanmarketing.com.” This is not for the public; it’s for members of the press. It can be your name, or your brother’s name, or whoever. But make certain the number and e-mail work because this is where the press will try reaching you if they’re interested.

Mistake 9 – Put In Everything
Editors have lots of spare time and would love to read a 5,000-word essay on the history of your band and your philosophical approach to sonics. Sure.

Keep your press release between 300 and 400 words. And that counts the headline and the contact information. If you truly have more to say, include a link to an online press kit or PDF file. Or send out more than one press announcement.

Mistake 10 – Getting Attached
Yes, everybody is going to fall in love with that high-resolution TIFF image of you pretending to eat your guitar while standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon with that cool PhotoShop image of a Lockheed-Martin X-35A Joint Strike Fighter attacking a stegosaurus over your shoulder. Yup, that’s especially keen because it takes up so much space in an editor’s e-mail in-box.

If you e-mail your PR, remember: no attachments. Well, possibly a .txt file. But usually you should just send an e-mail with the text of the release and a link to your site. Then ask politely if you can send a file as an attachment or mail them a full press kit.

Mistake 11 – Oh, the Humanity
Just because editors also make mistakes, that doesn’t mean they’re human. They may not recognize the brilliance of what you’re sending them. In other words, they may not write about you. You’re going to contact them with profanity and screaming until they say something like, “We’re so sorry, we didn’t realize this was an important news announcement.” Oh yeah, that’s going to happen.

Don’t do anything about it. No angry calls, cards or e-mails. After all, you’re going to want to send them something else in the future (you do have an ongoing career, right?) and you don’t want them thinking “here’s something from that rude bozo.”

Mistake 12 – Throwing in the Towel
Sometimes people get discouraged. Not enough press, not enough sales, not enough gigs, not enough income. But if you give up, the doubters win. Keep going; it’s the only way you can win.

[tags]PR, press release writing, gman, Scott G, Burning Man Soundscapes, guide to PR[/tags]

Contextual Counter Branding

Contextual Counter Branding: Your Pizza is My Pizza – Why Search Engines Want to Sell Your Trademark to Your Competitors

While the subject of contextual branding against other company’s trademarks will not be a new issue to some people, and I had been aware of the problem from the past couple of years of litigation between major companies and search portals like Google and Yahoo!, nevertheless I was a bit surprised when my brand was targeted by an upstart competitor.

Pay per click (PPC), and pay for position (PFP), advertising was pioneered by the folks at Goto.com (which became Overture, now part of Yahoo!), then picked up as a good idea in different flavors by companies like Findwhat.com (disclosure: I was on the FW launch team), Google, and MSN. It’s a great concept, type in a search for tennis shoes and you might find an ad for my favorite online shoe store Eastbay.com, or type in computer parts and you might find a popular PC parts vendor Newegg.com.

That’s great for advertisers, and great for online shops and sellers. It is called “contextual advertising,” where ads which are related (in context) to what somebody is viewing, are shown. Makes total sense. If you’re doing a search about guitars, why shouldn’t you see advertisements about guitar shops and online music stores?

Contextual Counter Branding Where this process gets a bit contentious, and in some cases downright ugly, is when you type in a search for a major brand, or even a registered trademark, and competitors can bid to buy a spot higher than you, under your own brand. Imagine looking in the white pages of your phone book and right above the listing for Pizza Hut (alphabetically), there would be a boxed add for Domino’s Pizza. Might this not cause confusion, or be some kind of unfair competition?

You might think so. However did you pay for that white page listing? No. Similarly you and I are not paying Google to list our site in their directory (arguably if you’re paying Yahoo! to be listed this could be treated differently, as we’ll see later). So, in effect, Google’s builders believe that they can do anything with what is in their system and your trademark, brand, personal name, or product, is fair game to any advertiser.

Well, isn’t that free enterprise? Sure. But what got my nipple nuts in a twist was the placement of Google’s AdWords advertising and Yahoo! ads within other sites’ content under my registered trademark — my brand which I’ve spent seven hard years building into a respected entity in the PR business.

Mixed Messages in Advertising Placement
For instance, not long ago I happened to be looking on Technorati for my site’s submitted content under our brand, Send2Press�, and I was a bit surprised to see an advertisement for some newbie upstart in my industry called Mass Media Distribution with an ad right above my content listings, and then again in the middle halfway down the page. I thought… “W.T.F.” then said it aloud for personal emphasis to mine own ears.

I contacted Technorati, and was told they couldn’t do anything about it since it was Yahoo! ads being served based on the keyword or searched term. (Note: coincidentally, about a month after my complaint, Technorati changed their page layout, and the contextual ads don’t sit within content listings for tag searches, but do still sit atop results for “in blog posts” results. Oddly, when I checked today, they have now switched to Google ads in place of Yahoo! results.)

So, I trundled (virtually of course) off to Yahoo! and tracked down the page on their website to issue a complaint about unfair use of my precious U.S. registered trademark. Yes, steam was coming out of my ears, but admittedly, partly because I’d been caught with my pants down by somebody who found a loophole in non-traditional advertising and was trying to put their brand name front and center in front of my clients and audience. All I could think though, was “Damn dirty apes!” and let my fingers stab at the keyboard while hunting down where Yahoo! hides such information in their advertising system.

First thing to do was go place a bid in Yahoo!’s ad system, and suffer the indignity of having to outbid some upstart company for my own trademarked brand. Done. Then I went again in search of the page on Yahoo! to address this. Luckily, since Yahoo! does offer paid inclusion in their search, they do have to respond to this kind of issue since it’s arguably a conflict of interest to sell inclusion, and then let somebody bid on an advert that will run above your listing in their search engine. Or, at least that was my thinking, which could be blind hope on my part as to what’s right and what’s wrong in this mixed-up world of online advertising.

So, I was unable to locate the trademark page, but I did put in a query with their information request form, and they sent me back a personal response and link to the trademark page: “Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention. So that we may properly investigate this issue, please go to the appropriate page on our Web site, as outlined below and provide some additional information: http://searchmarketing.yahoo.com/legal/trademarks.php. Once there, please review our trademark policy and provide us with the information. Please send the information directly to the e-mail address given on the Trademark Information page: trademarkconcern-ysm @yahoo-inc.com.”

One minor amusing point is that all of the emails back from Yahoo! on this matter all came from the Overture mail system. Hasn’t it been a couple of years since Yahoo! switched Overture’s brand out of the mix?

I was pleasantly surprised to find that three days after sending in my concerns and proof of the problem, my trademark status with the US PTO, and heartfelt ramblings, I got this letter back from Yahoo’s support:

Dear Chris:
Thank you for your correspondence. This email will serve as our response, you will not receive further notification from us.

Yahoo! Search Marketing does not approve of or condone websites that infringe trademarks. However, we generally have no control over the content presented by the advertisers who list their websites on our search engine. Yahoo! Search Marketing does require that each website be relevant under our guidelines. To summarize, we allow advertisers to bid on a search term that may be the trademark of another party so long as their listing meets one of the following conditions:

1. Reseller: The advertisers site must sell (or clearly facilitate the sale of) the product or service bearing the trademark (for example, an online shoe store that sells Nike shoes on their landing page would be allowed to bid on the search term nike).

2. Information Site, Not Competitive: The primary purpose of the advertisers site is to provide substantial information about the trademark owner or products or services bearing the trademark, AND the advertisers site does not sell or promote a product or service that competes with the trademark owners products or services (for example, a site that provides product reviews may bid on the brand names of the products being reviewed, and a site that provides news information about a company may bid on the company name as a search term).

3. Generic Use (Non-Trademark Related): The advertiser is using the term in a generic or merely descriptive manner unrelated to the trademark owners goods or services (for example, we would allow an advertiser that sells apples to bid on the search term “apple,” whereas an advertiser in the computer software/hardware industry bidding on the term apple would be required to have relevant content regarding the Apple Computer, Inc. brand of computer products and comply with our policy as described above).

For additional requirements and information on Yahoo! Search Marketing’s policy on trademarks as search terms, please visit our Trademark Information page at: http://searchmarketing.yahoo.com/legal/trademarks.php.

While we are not in a position to arbitrate trademark or other intellectual property disputes between third parties, if a trademark owner brings a website to our attention that it believes does not contain relevant content, we will review the website for compliance with our guidelines. Therefore, we will review the search results returned through Yahoo! Search Marketing’s search services on the search term(s) in question, and the corresponding websites, and will take appropriate action. Please note that it may take up to ten (10) business days for the results of our review to become effective in our search results. You will not receive any further notification from us.

Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions. We hope that we have addressed your concerns.
Thank you.
Trademark Department
Yahoo! Search Marketing

First, I was happy to get any response from Yahoo!, since other queries to the company over the past few years related to content and branding proposals have gone into a black hole of doom (aka the round file). And, about two weeks later, the little varmint who had been buying ads against my brand on Technorati was no longer included. Yahoo! had gone with the side of right and helped protect the big guy from the little guy.

Yahoooo oooooh! (How do you do the Yahoo! yodel in print?)

The Goo the Bad and The Ugly at the Googleplex
Whew! Now, onto the Google side of this story. At about the same time, I went and bid on my own brand on Google AdWords, which I’d never had to do before, except when my main company changed its name from Mindset to Neotrope� at the end of the ’90s. I still run an ad for Mindset, so that my old customers and friends can track me down, since the business was known as Mindset from 1983-1999. That’s where contextual advertising really comes in handy. (Ahem, ironically, the companies now calling themselves Mindset might complain, but since they are part of the reason I changed the company name to avoid spending tens of thousands of dollars to litigate them, I will state that I have every right to be doing the exact thing I’m complaining about, in this particular instance).

Just for laughs, I went and did some test searches, and it seems like the Mass Media Distribution folks are trying really hard to let everybody else know about them by buying ads under every major player in the news distribution business: Send2Press�, Business Wire�, PR Newswire�, Market Wire, and even the outfits that resell PRN services such as eReleases�.

To mess with these Mass Media Distribution folks a little bit for a couple of months in response to their activities, I bought a keyword against their company name so when you typed in “Mass Media Distribution,” you would see one of my ads next to their Google listings. Tit for tat, baby. Seems like eReleases had the same idea, since they’re buying ads under “mass media distribution,” as well. I’ll probably stop, since it’s a waste of money in my opinion.

On the other hand, to take things a step further, since my company has been one of the leaders in SEO since 1996, I started to do some “keyword seeding” in our ContextEngine� system under “mass media distribution services” and my site now comes up as the second organic site listed in Google out of 12.1 million results. And this was without even trying. Since their brand consists of three common words, it is not particularly challenging to build content around those words. They will also have issues trying to trademark their dotcom business name, since it’s so generic.

It’s all about competition in the marketplace, right? Where I think this gets really annoying is that if you build a brand called “Mary’s Wedding Dresses of Santa Barbara” another seamstress across the street could buy ads and even outbid you for your own company name, if not your own personal name, simply by buying an ad on Google.

What is Google’s response? First, their form is hard to find, is badly implemented, and states you need to fax or mail them the information, which it seems you do not, since once the form is submitted, they tell you you’re done and need do nothing else. Their trademark form, which you will have to search for here: https://adwords.google.com/support, requires you to list a number of things such as the trademark, registration number, and ownership info.

The canned response reads like this (Jan. 8): “Thank you for using our online trademark complaint form. We have received your complaint and have queued it for review. Once our investigation of your complaint is complete, we will send you an email confirmation. Please note that we receive a high volume of trademark complaints and address them in the order they are received. We appreciate your patience.”

About a month later (Feb. 6), here is the final response: “Thank you for sending us your trademark complaint letter. Your complaint has been processed and the ads in question no longer include your trademark: SEND2PRESS. Please note, we only processed the exact trademark you submitted. If you would like us to investigate variations or misspellings of your trademark, please supply us with a list of the exact variations or misspellings and we will review them. If you have additional questions, please ask.”

Thanks Google. But hey, guess what. Now there are three companies bidding against my trademark, which includes a sister company to MMD, called PRbuzz (well, of course by company, I mean a website), and I’m no longer the highest bidder. Not that I plan to get into a bidding war for my own company name. One study suggests that actually being the lowest bidder on the right in Google ads, when there are less than four advertisers, is actually more visible to viewers, since if somebody reads down the page in organic listings, then reads back up the right side, the lowest advert is actually seen first. But that’s minor comfort.

It turns out that Google’s trademark policy turns out to only protect brand holders from advertisers using the brand in their actual ads. So, this means that the Mass Media Distribution and PRbuzz people can buy ads which appear under my trademark, and even outbid me for placement all over the Internet for Google AdSense placements, but they cannot use my brand in their ads. So, they couldn’t have an ad reading “We will Send2Press your press release.”

Perhaps this is better than nothing, since it does provide some protection from a company saying “We have better services than mass media distribution,” or “Why settle for a ‘prbuzz’ when you can get real coverage with a legitimate newswire.” Of course, those “brands” are not registered U.S. trademarks, so under both Yahoo! and Google’s rules, I could conceivably use those brand names in my own advertising. Maybe I should do something like “get the REAL prbuzz here” or “Send2Press offers the best mass media distribution since 1983.” But that would be wrong, wouldn’t it?

pay per click attacks
ARE YOU SURROUNDED? Examples of counter branding: 1) buying the top spot in Google AdWords, which appears above the organic listings; 2) secondary bidders against a brand term or trademark; 3) organic placement using SEO methods against a brand name.

Confusing the Consumer for Fun and Profit
I personally find this irritating, not simply from a competitive standpoint, but from a “confusing the customer” perspective. I run into customer service calls all the time from people who don’t understand how to use search engines, what the information being presented to them really means, or where they are being sent when they click links.

I had one person call me last year who complained I was spamming them about my PR and press release services. I replied that we never send spam to anybody, ever, and it’s our corporate policy to never send promotional emails about our company or services. She said I’m seeing your page right here on my screen, and I said where did you get that URL from? And she said your promotional email. I said what company sent you the email, and she rattled off some no-name start-up news spammer claiming to send 10,000 people a press release for $50. Stupidly, they had put a Google AdSense box across the top of the page which was feeding ads from all other press release services firms, one of which was my site. So, since it was at the top of the page (above the logos and navbar for the site), she assumed it was my site and that I had spammed her. She clicked the link from that site in the ad box, which sent her to my site, which is how she got my phone number.

Ironically, she ended up becoming a customer once I showed her that we were a real 24-year old PR and brand identity company and not a dotcom sending out spam to try to sell questionable bulk email services to people wanting to send press releases to the media. And this woman was a veteran PR professional, not a first time Internet user.

With this example in mind, I am worried that easily confused potential customers who type in my company name in Google — perhaps after seeing one of my many interviews in Entrepreneur Magazine, or my inclusion in a new business book for women business owners (Career and Corporate Cool™ by Rachel C. Weingarten, ISBN-10: 0470120347), or similar — and then see a new competitor’s ad in a featured box above my organic listings, might thus cause my customer to be directed elsewhere than to me. While my new competitors want exactly this kind of thing to happen on Google and elsewhere, I do not. (I use the word “competitor” loosely, since I don’t expect them to steal much business after looking at what they do, but you never know.)

Planning for Contextual Counter Branding
When planning any contextual marketing and PPC or PFP program, the issue of counter-branding such as MMD is doing, is something every company should take into account. Much like buying up alternate domain names to protect your brand identity from “typo squatters” it now seems more important than ever to include a budget component for PPC against your own brand and product names to ensure transparency with potential customers as to who is whom.

For search engines this is, of course, a win-win for them in getting more advertising from both sides of the counter-branding arena. So, there is no great incentive for them to change, unless the lawyers get involved.

One easy way to check if your brand or product names are at risk is to log-in to your advertising account with any major search portal and do a bid against your company name or product brand, and see if there are other bidders. Depending on the bid preview, you may have to enter the smallest acceptable bid and see if somebody else would have a higher position. Simply checking the search engine by typing in your brands may not always reveal everything, since all contextual ad accounts allow for budgeting, such as “stop when it reaches $100″ so it might be that you have a competitor whose ads only show for the first week out of every month, or only show up on content sites and not the main search engine results.

Using SEO practices to counter-brand can be tricky since litigation can ensue for mis-use of a trademark. For example if MMD started putting my registered trademarks within meta tags of their site pages simply to show up in search results under my brand, they would get an immediate cease and desist from my lawyer.

It seems more important than ever to spend the money and get yourself a trademark attorney (I use a fellow by the name of Matthew J. Booth, www.boothlaw.com) and register any brand you consider viable and which is not simply a dotcom that you’ve thrown up to stick your toe in the water. With some search portals, like Yahoo!, having a registered trademark can be critical to removing potential confusion by way of keyword brand bandits.

And, of course, the best solution is to simply do a better job than your upstart competitors. Strong deliverables, long-term stability, credible management and staff, and proof of performance for any service business will still always put you on top in any marketing program.

All trademarks, service marks, and registered trademarks in this article are the property of the respective mark holders, and are acknowledged.

[tags]contextual counter branding, trademark bandits, Christopher Laird Simmons, When Advertising Attacks, legal issues with context ads, pay per click bandits, mass media distribution services, getting the prbuzz[/tags]

Scott G lurks behind a mic

Ads Masquerading as Content

Paid placement is a dirty little secret of advertising and public relations. Scott G explores a few of the subversive, sneaky, snaky, snarky, sleazy and very profitable methods of putting your product in front of the public in just the right light.

Scott G lurks behind a micOn the Internet, we all know the difference between banner ads and editorial. On radio and television, we all know the difference between commercials and content. In magazines and newspapers, we all know the difference between ads and articles. In news broadcasts, we all know the difference between opinion and fact.

Or do we?

When Paula Abdul holds a Coke on American Idol, we know it’s because a promotional fee has been paid. But it doesn’t stop there. Her clothing, shoes, hair, makeup, lip gloss, eyelashes, and jewelry didn’t just appear there by whim or accident.

The same thing can be said for ______ TV and movie personalities. Fill-in-the-blank with: A) some; B) many; C) most; D) all.

There’s the problem: we don’t know what appears on screen through free choice and what appears there because of a marketing decision and the exchange of some filthy lucre.

Pay-to-Say
In prior articles, I’ve spoken of our living in a pay-to-say society. If you have the money, your point-of-view can be stated over and over in front of millions. You could even be making things up, as on “Fox News.” The facts are not important. Commerce is important.

How many times have you enjoyed a book or CD review without considering how the selections were made? My sixth music album is being released this month and I asked about submitting it for review to one of the popular DJ-oriented glossy magazines. “No, we don’t buy ads in that company’s publications so there’s no point sending them the album,” was the distributor’s reply.

Wait. Are reviews of new albums actually miniature ads? Perhaps. Even if a reviewer’s opinion isn’t influenced, the fact that the deck is stacked in terms of the selection of product seems to go against the very nature of a “free press.”

Is the same thing true of many other “editorial” sections of newspapers, magazines, e-zines, radio shows, and TV news? When I’ve raised this issue amongst marketing and public relations professionals, the reaction has been along the lines of “Scott, stop being naive.”

Payola
As long as we’re had popular music, we’ve had payola. Recent lawsuits by Eliot Spitzer’s office have alerted the public to the practice of radio conglomerates accepting money to play non-hits often enough to have them called hits. Yet it’s the innocent recording artists who were named in most of the news stories, not the executives at the stations. Why? Because the executives are going to be buying ads in the future.

Possibilities for Hidden Persuasion
Okay, now consider other forms of “editorial content” and take a moment to speculate on the possibility of some guidance from the “hands of commerce.” Story on political candidates. Round-up of the latest electronic gadgets. Descriptions of new kitchen appliances. Article on housing developments in your area. Automobile reviews. Stories dealing with new pharmaceutical products.

See any potential problem areas? I do. Working in advertising, marketing and public relations, I have watched some very smarmy deals go down.

What About This Column?
Nope. I’m not for sale. But as a human being, I sure as hell can be influenced. And in today’s world, how can you tell the difference?

Photo illustration by Phil Hatten Design.

[tags]G-Man, Gman, gman marketing, Scott G, Communication Nation, advertising, marketing, ad rants, paid placement, public relations[/tags]