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Senators Obama and McCain at a recent debate

Senators Obama and McCain at a recent debate

We’re almost there!  It’s almost over!  One week to go!  Phew!!!

In the context of what communications professionals consider, how have these two candidates delivered on the brands they have worked so hard, spent so much and taken so long to develop?  More specifically, how have they broken the promise of these carefully crafted brands?

Well, of course, books may be written on this single topic and this post shares simply one view.

A “brand” is really a promise.  It’s a promise that when you make that “purchase decision” you’ll be rewarded with things important to you. 

Of course, the nature of a promise implies the forming of a relationship, the making of an emotional commitment.  The worst thing that can happen to any relationship (to any promise), is that it is violated, broken, that someone did not live up to the promise made.

From my perspective, each presidential candidate has built their core brand equity around change.  Not surprising for an election with no incumbent, an unpopular two-term President, a Nation at war and, recently, historic and dramatic financial and economic turmoil.

Each candidate has added some context to their change promise.  For Senator Obama, it is change with better judgement, with a disdain for politics as usual and a promise of a new way of business in Washington.  For Senator McCain, it is change with the right experience, with the integrity and independence to take on Washington and his own party. 

Each has demonstrated discipline in reinforcing their change equities but, of course, each has also strayed away.  You may have your own list of broken brand promises for the Presidential candidates.  Here is mine:

For Senator Obama: His campaign’s promise to accept public financing after the primary and later refusal to do so.  It felt to me like a promise broken, a reversal, the same old, same old from a D.C. politician.  That said, it also feels like inside baseball and probably won’t have much of an impact on the ultimate “purchase decision” next week.

For Senator McCain: His campaign’s tireless efforts (from the stump, in paid advertising, campaign literature, robo-calls, etc.) to connect Senator Obama to William Ayers with references to Ayers’ association with the Weather Underground and their radicalism in the 60s.  To me this feels dirty or unseemly … un-McCain-like.  I think it challenges McCain’s claim, his promise, of integrity.  It just felt like the worst of the bare-knuckle politics that people seem to disdain but which, admittedly, may actually work. 

Each candidate’s V.P. running mates have also stretched the credibility of their own carefully crafted brand identities.  While Tina Fey may have helped reinforce Governor Palin’s “hockey Mom” appeal, a $150,000 shopping spree at Nieman Marcus and other high-end shops did anything but.  Senator Biden’s claim that FDR appealed to American on TV when the stock market crashed in 1929, despite the fact that FDR wasn’t President in 1929 and TV didn’t exist, did little to add to his credibility. 

Would love to hear other’s thoughts on broken brand promises in the 2008 Presidential Election.  At the same time, save us all any partisan rants and please approach this discussion as professional communicators.

Jim Stengel - Retiring P&G Global Marketing Officer

Jim Stengel - Retiring P&G Global Marketing Officer

One more short post about Jim Stengel, the retiring Global Marketing Officer from P&G. 

Jim spoke on Friday at the Association of National Advertisers Masters of Marketing Conference in Orlando.  This author did not attend, but read this post today by Karl Greenberg on MediaPost Publications Marketing Daily about Stengel’s speech. 

I thought I would share Jim Stengel’s “Five Lessons” as reported by Greenberg.  Here you go:

1. Put people at the center of all you do. 

2. Engage your heart and mind in everything you do.

3. Results.

4. Creativity is about solving problems.

5. Have a purpose.

We can all learn a lot from a guy whose been on point for a great company selling great brands with great success. 

In our previous post on Vr3, we shared some of Jim Stengel’s discussion with a group of agency executives in Cincinnati.  He talked about agility and value, with value being as much about “values-based” and “purposeful” as being about worth to a consumer.

My take-away:  having a purpose works for a company, for a brand, as much as for a person.  And, the purpose for a company can be about more than making money.

Nigel Dickson -

Jim Stengel - Retiring P&G Global Marketing Officer (Photo: Nigel Dickson -

Jim Stengel has been leading P&G global marketing efforts since 2001 and has been with P&G since 1983.  He’s as good as it gets and as smart as they come.

He is retiring at the end of the month and spoke to a small group of agency executives in Cincinnati yesterday about his post retirement plans (think tank, book, consulting … pretty exciting and heady stuff) and some key learnings from his tenure at P&G. 

He also pitched the United Way of Greater Cincinnati in a not-so-subtle reinforcement of what he spoke to us about. 

What he shared applies to to the work of all professional communicators, whether in PR (like Vehr Communications) or advertising agencies.  In this October 8 post in ANA Marketing Musings, Bob Liodice summarizes much of what Jim shared, with one add by this author. 

Jim talked about the importance of agility and value as keys to being successful in not only these turbulent times, but over the long haul.  

My take on his reference to “agility” is the ability of a brand (product, corporation, organization, etc.) to anticipate, react and respond to the market … to stay ahead of changes and make the smart decisions.

My take on “value” has two pieces.  First, to provide value – something of worth – to the person making the initial purchase decision and the all-important re-purchase decision.

Second, and this is my add to the ANA post, Jim shared a strong belief that today’s consumers want more than just value … they seek an understanding that what they purchase is values-based.

Importantly, he shared a strong belief that the great companies in the world care about the world.  Their key people – all of them – believe that their company does more than produce or provide a service, that they do good. 

Some call this Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) or Cause Marketing.  Jim’s point is that it matters more and more.  He claims that today’s young consumers are different – that they demand more than just good price and performance.  Younger consumers seem to want to know that when they spend, it makes some kind of difference. 

I am certain that Jim’s book will dissect this all rather neatly.  I hope it comes out soon.  PR professionals can learn a lot from great CMOs like Jim Stengel. 

If what we do is about reputations, relationships and results, then understanding better how to advise our clients to anticipate, respond and react and how to connect on a personal level with their audiences – to develop a deeper relationship – then we’ll be better at what we do.


Esteemed candidates - one view (

“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Sir Winston Churchill,
Hansard, November 11, 1947
          British politician (1874 – 1965)


About 25 days to go.  Will we survive? 

Well, of course we will!  Hasn’t it been fascinating and enlightening and frustrating and dumbfounding all at the same time?  The fiscal and economic crisis come to light in recent weeks has been especially challenging. 

Many experts believe the breadth and depth of the economic challenges would have been manageable but for fear and panic driven by uncertainty.  While there are massive challenges out there, driven by questionable policies and greed, I have to wonder if there would be so much uncertainy but for a Presidential campaign with no incumbent and two candidates running against whatever the prior administration had done. 

Both candidates are trying to define their core equity, the value they will bring to the American people and the world, as being the ability to change all that is wrong.  So, of course, all needs to be wrong.

Anyway, PR professionals, and we at Vehr Communications, have and will continue to learn a lot from this Presidential contest.  Not surprisingly, there is no better example of how, why, when and what candidates communicate being at the core of their success or failure. 

Perhaps of equal importance, and what may distinguish campaign 2008 (and 2007 and 2006) from any other in our past, is how, why, when and what the communities of communicators did with what the candidates did or said.

Whether CNN, FOX, NBC, ABC, CBS, CNBC, NPR, BBC or any others, to their analysts, experts, advisors and other talking heads, to bloggers and online communities that have swelled up around candidates and special interests, what they say is almost as important as what the candidates say.

I am convinced that the debates don’t matter as much as how they are dissected and spun by others after the fact.  SNL’s Tina Fey is so good as Sarah Palin, that it wouldn’t surprise me if most Americans really do think Governor Palin was disappointed that there wasn’t a talent contest in her debate with Senator Biden.

PR professionals are learning more about how new online communications and community building tools will help corporations, communities and non-profit organizations grow, preserve and protect their reputation and develop, maintain and strengthen relationships. 

The speed of need for these new and better developed tools may seldom be as great as in a Presidential election, but the need will still be there.  So, that’s one bit of good to come from this grueling campaign.

The chief of the now-bankrupt Lehman Brothers, Richard S. Fuld Jr., told irate members of Congress that all his decisions “were both prudent and appropriate” given the information he had at the time.

The chief of the now-bankrupt Lehman Brothers, Richard S. Fuld Jr., told irate members of Congress that all his decisions “were both prudent and appropriate” given the information he had at the time.

Often, individual companies need to defend the reputation of their brand.  They often ask PR firms, like Vehr Communications, to help.

The CEO of Lehman Brothers found himself defending his company (and himself) on Capital Hill yesterday as discussed in the NYT (10.6.08 – story by Bernie Becker and Ben White) with this photo by Doug Mills.

From Bear Stearns to Lehman Brothers to AIG to Merrill Lynch to Indy Mac to Fannie Mae to Freddie Mac, the financial services industry has been slammed.  Some say it is well deserved.  Others are charged with protecting and preserving brand equity.  This post is for them.

Yesterday evening, NPR ran an interesting story that was all about reputation management in tough times for independent community banks (link to hear the story)

Apparently, the times are not so tough for all banks.  Members of the Independent Community Banks of America (ICBA) seem to be weathering the storm well.  Apparently, many investors and individuals see community banks as a safe haven from the turmoil of the big guys.

The link above is to ICBA’s recently released PR Campaign for its members to personalize within their markets.  Basically, the trade association has developed a comprehensive plan with a whole menu of tactics to better enable its members to protect and preserve their brand equity and even enhance their reputation. 

In this case, there’s little doubt that the real gain from protecting brand equity is increased deposits.  Nothing wrong with that!

I offer no comments on the quality of the materials provided.  Kudos to ICBA for thinking ahead on behalf of its members.  They know that newsrooms across America (online and offline) will soon begin looking for the silver lining in the storm cloud of financial crisis, assuming the storm cloud clears just a bit. 

This one trade association clearly understands the value, efficiency and effectiveness of PR at a time of crisis and were proactive on behalf of those who matter most to them – their members.  Good for them.

PR is all about developing, building and strengthening the relationship between the product/service and its consumer, whether a person, a business or a community.

Social networks and their pervasiveness, speed and ability to personalize, are like performance-enhancing drugs for the practice of PR. 

In today’s NYT, an article by Brian Stelter explores how media companies are trying to make it easier to share links with friends, add comments to articles and extend users’ online identities.

Media companies are clearly figuring out how to develop deeper relationships with readers, listeners and viewers.  It reports how CNN will be connecting “The Forum,” its site for political expression, to Facebook enabling users to talk about the presidential debates and see what their friends are writing.

Fascinating stuff.  I’m happy to pass it on and encourage you to dig deeper and learn more about how social networks enable PR practitioners to enhance client relationships with people, businesses or communities. 

That’s precisely what we are doing.

If you’re reading this, you understand the importance of search engines to finding nearly anything on the face of the earth you would want to find.

But, as a PR professional, are you certain you are maximizing opportunities for your clients?

There are several PR blogs I try to read regularly.  There are so many people who know so much more about the world of social media that I try to be disiciplined to find the time to learn from them.  It isn’t easy. 

PR-Squared is one of those blogs.  It is written religiously by Todd Defren of Shift Communications.  Never met him.  Don’t know him.  But, he seems to have been doning this social media stuff for awhile (longer than me) and I think his brain-pan must be some multiple of mine.

Anyway, in his most recent post (“Google: Not Just For Your Grandma”) he reminds PR professionals of the importance of considering Google (Yahoo, MSN, etc.) when implementing media programs for our clients.  He reminds that just as we (and lots of people on the globe) use search engines almost without thinking, so do reporters.

Here’s an excerpt:

But don’t forget that there is yet another reason for PR pros to care about Google: journalists use it, too, for their research. 

And that doesn’t just mean, “they’ll Google your client” in researching a story.  It also means that whenever the reporter searches for terms related to your client, you want the client’s name/content to crop up frequently.  

Don’t forget that while you are doing PR for Client X, somebody else is doing PR for Client Z – their competitor.  Every now and then, despite your canny communications skills, Client Z’s agency is going to create an opportunity that you know nothing about.  (We’ve all gotten that call, eh?) … But if you’ve done your job right, every Google search on Client Z (and related terms) will also prominently expose content on good ol’ Client X.

So, this is really good advice for PR pros.  I also like the way Defren writes and I learn something almost everytime I read a post.  I hope you do as well.

Our PR firm (Vehr Communications) was recently invited to join IPREX, a partnership of more than 60 idependently owned PR firms from North America, Europe, Pacifc Rim and the Middle East.  In addition to being able to provide in-market expertise and experience virtually anywhere in the world, IPREX partners benefit from collective experience.

At a recent meeting in Boston, members shared strategies for managing their firms in the current tough global economy.  I thought I’d share some of their thoughts.

  • Project Revenue Conservatively:  Project revenues conservatively.  Without a contract in hand, do not count on the cash.
  • Manage Cash Flow Aggressively:  In tough times, cash is what matters.  Stay close to your accounts receivables.  Don’t let them drift, they may find their way back. 
  • Retainer v. Project:  We all like retainer work.  In tough economic times, though, it might be time to do some project work to keep your people busy, keep some cash flowing, and develop some new relationships.
  • Stay Close to Your Clients:  They’re struggling, too.  Communicate even more often.  Be flexible, but be smart. 
  • Stay In Touch:  If client contacts are laid off, stay in touch with them.  They’ll turn up somewhere and it could end up being a new client.
  • Sell PR as a Value:  Often, PR is part of a company’s marketing budget.  When corporate says, “cut the budget 25%,” make sure your client understands that the value of PR per $ spent is significantly higher than the value of advertising.  It is also true that advertising compromises a signfiicantly larger part of the budget than PR.  Fight for share of spend to maximize your client’s share of voice.
  • Strategy – Play to PR’s Strengths:  In tough times, solid strategy, exciing but disciplined creative and painstakingly consistent execution is more important than ever.  Your client’s competition is confronting some of the same issues, so figure out how to be smarter and do more with less.  Position your client to win in the down-cycle so they can dominate when the market returns.  In tough times, you can gain more ground with less if you do it right. 

These ideas, and others, are from folks who have been through several tough downturns like this.  They’ve come out the other side stronger and smarter.

I appreciate the wisdom and experience of my IPREX partners and hope it helps you as well.