Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Financial services marketing: expanding your customer base in uncertain times

December 2, 2015

Certainly the financial world is keeping one eye on interest rates, but regional financial institutions are more focused on keeping their customer base strong amid tight local competition. Diversified revenue streams help to protect them from over-dependence on interest income, and they must stay nimble enough to compete on a number of different fronts.

Deciding which front to watch most closely is a tough call, with a constant churn of external factors keeping the marketplace waters muddy. Some timely questions may help determine where the best routes lie:

  • Will the emphasis on fee income shift when rates increase, with some customers re-evaluating their balance of dividend-yielding stocks and insured deposits?

Just as the balance sheet benefits from a diversified approach, so too does marketing. The right mix of messages emphasizing local service and a long term view of customers’ financial stability can set a foundation that allows banks to pivot with the landscape. By leading with a value proposition focused more on partnering with account holders than pushing them product, banks can build a layer of trust that will allow them to engage customers throughout their lifecycle.

In an ideal world, that mindset translates into making direct connections with customers. Tactics like social media engagement, highly targeted digital campaigns, direct marketing, and public relations should not be planned in isolation. When financial companies coordinate these elements around a consistent message and thoughtful rollout, they are much more likely to make an impact on the market that will outlast sudden shifts in sentiment. Simply put, a well-rounded approach brings deeper, broader relationships.

Financial institutions have no shortage of challenges to choose from. Whether seeking opportunities to expand geographically, reaching out to a different customer segment, or reacting to a competitor’s new local branch, business and marketing strategies must be fluid and multifaceted. Those companies that embrace a flexible message that transcends any given moment will find their customer base is more likely to grow with them.


Thank Goodness for Public Relations

August 6, 2015

Hand to God

Even if you’re not a Broadway fan, there is some news that PR pros need to talk about.  If you haven’t heard, a desperate phone-out-of-battery audience member at a performance of the Broadway Play, Hand to God jumped on stage with his charger in hand.  The anxious theater goer was scanning the theater ready to plug his phone into a visible outlet. Before he could realize that the outlet was fake and simply a part of the set, security intervened and led him back to his seat as to not disrupt the rest of the audience.  Sounds like no big deal right? However, the entire incident only lasted seconds, but the reaction lasted weeks.

The audience member not only delayed the play and interrupted the entire performance, but he also added to the never-ending observation of how attached people are to their phones. Because of this, people were eager to tweet, post and share their opinion about society’s dependence on technology, causing a reaction from Hand to God’s publicity team.

As in any unexpected situation, the reactions go viral immediately- especially in a world where social media runs untamed. The need for thoughtful PR has increased as silly incidents like this one have become more frequent and more viral. The lesson for brands is that they can’t always control the incidents that will spark chatter on social media, but they can control their reactions- especially by using PR.

What’s more, it is exciting to see the story lines and headlines that can result from an unexpected situation. For example, this incident drew attention to the play’s craftsmanship of the set design (due to the realistic outlet). That discussion was a great way to lead to positive attention from the media.

With their own initiatives, the play’s publicity team were able to control the reactions that yielded the most results. They created a hashtag, #Chargergate, created their own video, and even forgave the audience member when he came forward and apologized on camera– right in front of the theater itself. They took advantage of this interruption, and turned it into a full-fledged PR campaign.  And to boot, the buzz encouraged people to ask how they could buy tickets to see the show!

As a PR Account Coordinator, it was interesting to me to watch this event unfold and watch the conversations in the media develop.  I believe that PR pros can make a reactive campaign that works by controlling the conversation on social media  and using the attention to reach overall marketing goals. I give Hand to God’s PR team a standing ovation- they did everything right, and used great responsive PR techniques to boost their brand.

Post-‘Call Me Caitlyn’: What happens now?

June 18, 2015

There truly have been few news stories more captivating than the Caitlyn Jenner story, at least that I can remember. The first time we heard her story was in the 20/20 interview with Diane Sawyer back in April. Sawyer interviewed Bruce Jenner, who told America he would be transitioning to the woman he always felt he was come the end of Spring. Then, on June 1st, Vanity Fair released the now-famous “Call Me Caitlyn” cover that finally introduced her to us all.

The feedback CCaitlyn-Jenneraitlyn has received is particularly interesting. We live in a time where the media, particularly the tabloid media the Jenner-Kardashian clan is accustomed to, is notoriously cruel to its subjects. But the majority of people seem really united on this: Caitlyn Jenner is being unapologetically herself and it’s awesome.

So, while this may seem like a “cultural tipping point” on our acceptance of people that seem different than us, the advertising industry still needs to be careful. Whether due to the wishes of Caitlyn herself, or advertisers, most big brands have kept quiet on whether they plan to approach her for endorsements. And it might be for good reason. We may have reached a point where an overwhelming majority of Americans are supportive of Caitlyn Jenner, but it’s still easy for a campaign to go wrong. The reality is this is this is a lot of individuals first exposure to a transgender person, and knowing which pronoun to use can sometimes be tricky.

For those brands who decide to take the leap with Caitlyn Jenner as an endorser, here’s what they’ll need to get it right:

  1. Authenticity – Of course having Caitlyn Jenner’s name attached to your brand is publicity. But this kind of partnership will require authenticity beyond that. For a lot of people, Caitlyn’s story is also deeply personal and sensitive for them, as well. If brands are in it just for the publicity boost, or even worse – to poke fun, it won’t go over well.
  2. Deeper connection – Makeup brands, female-oriented clothing stores and even female-oriented workout gear are obvious choices for Caitlyn. For it to not seem like brands in these categories are jumping on a bandwagon, they’ll need to have a certain edge, progressive attitude and history of supporting causes such as this. Brands like MAC – with a long legacy in the LGBT community, fit the bill.
  3. Conscientiousness – For whichever brand (if any) sign on Caitlyn Jenner, knowing exactly how they are portraying her and exactly what they are saying at all times will be key. This is too much of a hot button topic and too personal for many people for a brand to slip up at any time.

Caitlyn Jenner as an endorser is certainly not about capitalizing on the hot news story of the day. For many people, whether part of the LGBT community themselves or not, she is a powerful beacon for being yourself, and has the ability to start conversations about things our society desperately needs to talk about. Sensitivity will be key for the brands aligning themselves with Caitlyn Jenner. But for Caitlyn, a great endorsement could bring an even higher profile to one of the most inspiring figures in recent memory.

Red Nose Day…Takes a Nosedive

June 3, 2015

red nose day

This year, the U.S. was introduced to Red Nose Day – a campaign that originated in the U.K. dedicated to raising money for children and young people living in poverty by simply having fun and making people laugh.  Since 1988, Red Nose Day has raised more than $1 billion in the U.K. Through several different advertising platforms, companies like NBC and Walgreens (the exclusive retailer for Red Nose Day) attempted to educate the nation about Red Nose Day and encourage donations to the Red Nose Charity. NBC spearheaded the event and hosted a live three hour show on May 21st featuring all of Hollywood’s biggest names – Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, Seth Myers, Neil Patrick Harris and more – which helped raise more than $21 million. Unfortunately, while the U.S. was able to raise a significant amount of money for the charity, the campaign paled in comparison to the numbers the U.K. has been able to put up in years past.

Two things interested me about this campaign. First is the amount of media space donated to promote the initiative. From print and digital space to airtime for spots to billboards, media partners such as Outfront Media, Conde Nast, iHeartMedia, Rolling Stone, Spotify and more generously donated their coveted ad space to promote the NBC program and the entire campaign. According to AdWeek, “NBC puts the value of the donated media ‘in excess of $10 million.’” I’ve seen media companies donate space before – back in 2012 a number of them made sizable donations to charities to benefit the victims of Hurricane Sandy. To me though, because this was a scheduled event (whereas nobody could have predicted the damage that Sandy left behind) it impressed me how much these media partners stepped up.

What also interested me about Red Nose Day was that even though over $10 million dollars was spent to promote Red Nose Day and the telecast on NBC, ratings for the program were nothing short of disappointing. Even though over $21 million was raised, the three-hour charity comedy show received just a 0.8 rating — down 27% from the previous week’s primetime lineup — among adults 18-49, and averaged a modest 3.2 million total viewers (U.K’s program saw over three times that amount).

This started to raise a few questions. Was it a lack of brand awareness? Did people not know about the telecast? Or perhaps people simply skipped out early for the holiday weekend. A quick poll of the Ebben Zall office went pretty much like this: “I’m writing my blog on the Red Nose Day show” “…the what?” It was hard to believe that while the event is so popular in the U.K., the U.S. would fail to bring in a large audience.

In my opinion, the show should have been on another night. Even though it was in prime time, by Memorial Day, many people have said goodbye to TV until after the summer. Their favorite shows have just wrapped up and they’re ready to enjoy summer and being outside again. Honestly, any show would have put up disappointing numbers that week. Also, the campaign needed more brand awareness – more in your face advertising. With a lineup of celebrities ranging from comedians, actors, reality TV starts, country artists, rock artists (the list goes on and on!) there’s no reason people would not be interested in the show NBC put on.

So until next year, Red Nose Day. I’m looking forward to you not only raising a lot of money – but a lot of ratings too!

“You are Entering Journalism and Public Relations in the Middle of a Storm”

May 21, 2015

It is officially graduation season! Guaranteed during this wonderful time of decorated caps and gowns and the passing of diplomas, is the abundance of commencement speeches attempting to give graduates words of wisdom. I do not intend to stray from this tradition here, and there is specific advice for graduates who have earned their degree in Public Relations or expect to continue their future in the communications field.

There is something unique and exciting about continuing down the path of press releases, media lists and connecting with the general public. Which is why if you are going to listen to any commencement speech besides your own, listen to Jorge Ramos, news anchor, author and TIME 100 honoree, and his commencement speech at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Jorge Ramos speaks directly to those who have a passion for the Communications field and gives graduates a future to look forward to in the ever changing, whirlwind of a career that is Public Relations. As Ramos explains, wealth is not guaranteed, the new rule is “digital first,” and you are about to begin “living the equivalent of climate change, with the fundamentals of the business melting like icebergs in the summer, being flooded by social media and looking outside the window with anxiety and uncertainty.” With all of this in mind, he assures us that we can still succeed.

One piece of advice from Ramos: “You are in the business of telling the truth, in the business of speaking truth to power. You are in a business in which credibility and trust are the most important things…Always push for the truth to be shared. The secrets are never secrets.” Lying, stretching the truth and spinning–none of these devices are in a Public Relations tool kit for a reason, and they never should be. In today’s world of constant communication, a Public Relations professional can only rely on one’s integrality. “Your integrity and reputation is your only career-long capital.”

There is also a comforting revelation within Ramos’ words. “If hell is doing over and over again things that you hate to do, journalism and public relations is exactly the opposite of that. No day has ever been the same for me in decades. And that is paradise.” No matter how hectic this career path may become, you will love how thrilling it can be, and I can absolutely attest to that.

View Jorge Ramos’ commencement speech in its entirety below, and to all of the graduates of 2015 with a degree in Communications, I leave you with this one last parting thought from Ramos–“So take a stand, be present, be bold, ask tough questions, tell the truth and, please, enjoy the ride. This is the most marvelous profession in the world because the world is your newsroom.”

Apple Watch: PR Blunder or PR Perfection?

May 14, 2015

Two words can instantly spark a heated debate: Apple Watch. The device has created two schools of thought- it sucks, or it’s genius. Try to find someone on the fence and you’ll be sorely disappointed. For Apple “fanboys” like me, there’s no doubt it’s a cool device – well-designed, fills a niche no other technology I have does, and above and beyond any other wearable on the market. To everyone else it’s “Why do I need it?” “Why would I spend $800 to not look at my phone as much as I do now?” or “They’re just dumb.” Debate aside, one thing seems to escape everyone talking about it. If you’re debating the watch, Apple’s unmatched PR machine is working.

Does anyone need a smartwatch?
Apple Watch is a hard sell. It has incredible capabilities but do mainstream consumers think they need them? Probably not, but they may want them eventually and Apple has the clout to make that happen. Before Apple Watch, smartwatches were clunky, fairly ugly and nearly all were marketed to the same audience as Casio’s calculator watches from the 80s. They had no mainstream appeal and even less functionality.

On the other hand, Apple has an ecosystem of more than 3,500 apps for Apple Watch alone and 1.2 million on iOS. Developers will innovate new apps specifically for Apple Watch, leading to more coverage of the watch, more interest and more debate as the device’s appeal continues to grow.

Apple is making smartwatches cool.
Apple’s already won the battle in making a smartwatch cooler than they’ve ever been. But is that enough for a device with a price tag ranging from $349 to more than $14,000? Apple’s betting on fashion-aware celebrities and consumers to adopt the watch. And shortly before launch it was already around the wrists of Beyonce, Pharell, Drake, Sam Smith, Katy Perry and Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld. Meanwhile the Apple PR team made no small effort to make sure the watch was reviewed by fashion magazines from GQ to Vogue and the most influential watch experts in the world, making the device known as more than just a “mini-computer.”

In order for Apple Watch to be successful it needs to be seen as cool, fashionable, desired, capable and most importantly worth your money. For an item nobody truly needs, Apple’s already proven that they’re able to make people want it. In the end, that’s all that matters. The reviews have been positive (with a caveat here or there), the thousands of articles keep on coming, the debate wages on, yet the bottom line remains – Apple has already sold 3.2 million watches in just over a month.

The Apple Watch is already set to outpace the iPhone in first-year sales. It looks like their PR team is succeeding where others have failed, again.


Serial-ously Considering Podcast Advertising

January 9, 2015

Not everyone is an NPR nerd like me, so it’s quite possible that some of our readers have missed out on the viral phenomenon that is Serial. Serial is a podcast spinoff of the preeminent public radio program, This American Life. Just a few short weeks ago, producer Sarah Koenig introduced us to a fifteen year-old murder case with a few grey areas. Serial follows Koenig’s research into the 1999 murder of 18 year old Hae Min Lee in Baltimore, MD, by her ex-boyfriend, 19 year old Adnan Syed.

The basic building blocks of the case are as follows: Syed was convicted of his ex-girlfriend’s murder under shaky testimonies, questions about the competence of his lawyer, and a rather mind-numbing trip through the 1999 cell phone records of a teenager. It’s incredibly captivating to hear Koenig walk us through the details of every aspect of the case, including the not-so-stable evidence. I’ve been listening since October and was hooked all through the end. It’s no surprise the show has shot to the top of the podcast charts with its provocative tale.

The show’s popularity has me wondering about the opportunity for advertisers if podcasts really take off. Serial’s main advertiser – MailChimp – has gone viral due to the show’s success. The pre-roll audio ad plays at the start of every new episode, and I’ve noticed a few more ads included in the opening theme music of the show. It seems like podcast advertising is finally about to go mainstream, and here’s a few reasons why it would be silly not to.

  1. Active listening: Some companies are opposed to radio advertising because music stations don’t necessarily lend themselves to an active listening environment. It’s easy for an ad to get lost in the shuffle and become background noise.  With podcasting, listeners most likely won’t press play just to tune the episode out, meaning the advertisements should be getting noticed.
  2. Target audience: Part of the podcast’s allure is the sheer volume of shows available. There are the NPR-produced shows that reach your typical NPR-type audiences, but there are also the famous comedians, scientists, movie critics, conspiracy theorists, and fantasy baseball analysts (even Alec Baldwin) who have found a voice through podcasting. No matter how diverse an audience is, a company can hit it by advertising on a podcast because there is something for everyone.
  3. Native feel: MailChimp’s Serial ad is successful is because it sounds as though it’s part of the story. Listeners hear the voice of the show’s producer (at the very end of the MailChimp spot) telling you she essentially produced it herself. The spot even follows the interview format that mirrors the podcast’s structure. The advertisement feels native, like it’s a part of the show itself, lending itself to credibility, engagement and proper message delivery.

What do you think? Should podcasts enjoy their fifteen minutes of viral fame, or are they truly a viable channel for many advertisers to look at?

What’s my favorite ad of the year? The one that was able to make it.

December 4, 2014


Well, another year has passed and it’s time to evaluate which ads have been great and in some cases, not-so-great.

In the spirit of being optimistic, I’d like to focus on my absolute favorite advertisement of the year. Ironically, the ad that did it for me was a Super Bowl ad that actually didn’t even play during the Super Bowl. I know, you’re probably thinking-how can an ad get Super Bowl street cred without actually airing during the big game? Yes, some ads are just that good.

Well if you were fortunate enough to see Newcastle Brown Ale’s advertising campaign “If We Made It” starring Anna Kendrick, then you probably understand the value of this ad. And I’m not the only who gets it- the spot happens to be Adweek’s pick for the No. 1 ad campaign of 2014.

For those who haven’t seen it – Newcastle had big plans to buy one of the most coveted advertising positions out there, a 30 second spot during the biggest sporting event of the year. After crunching the numbers however, they suddenly realized that they were missing one minor detail: money. Not exactly a technicality, right? Well Newcastle’s rebound plan was nimble and smart. Perhaps it would be more accurate to call it a touchdown-right?

Realizing they were short on funds, Newcastle decided to go the self-deprecating route and be open and forthcoming in their ads. “If We Made it” was Newcastle’s way of acknowledging their potential for an amazing commercial- hence the “if we made it” title.

“The whole concept and the meta wormhole that it went down was just too beautiful not to do,” says Quinn Kilbury, who (as Newcastle’s brand director at the time, oversaw the effort). He tells Adweek, “It just felt very clear—‘How could people not talk about this?’ As long as the creative was somewhat reasonable—because the idea is so different and unique and completely contrary to everything else that happens in the Super Bowl.”

Newcastle launched this campaign a few weeks prior to the Super Bowl airing, and it almost went viral immediately.

The campaign generated over 1 billion media impressions! That’s right, 1 billion- and according to Kilbury, the statistic puts him in the same playing field as the advertisers who ponied up millions of dollars for a spot during the actual game. “That’s what the big Super Bowl advertisers do,” says Kilbury. “If you hit a billion you’re happy—like at Pepsi, it means you did your job.”

In my opinion, this humbling and in-your-face approach was genius and provided the results Newcastle was looking for. Because Newcastle didn’t try to compete with competitors like Budweiser on advertising spend, they had to rely on the intellect and creativity to intrigue their audience in a completely different way. The bubbly celebrity appearance by Anna Kendrick didn’t seem to hurt either. Anna currently has a Twitter following of over 3 million and several blockbuster movies- she’s the perfect spokesperson for a beer brand. Check out this edgy girl-next-door breaking barriers by endorsing products, and doing it well.

If you haven’t seen Kendrick’s new Kate Spade ad, you’re missing out! Watch it here:

Does Thanksgiving Need a PR firm??

November 21, 2014

Norman-Rockwell-Thanksgiving-thanksgiving-2927689-375-479With Thanksgiving around the corner, consumers are bombarded with holiday music at every turn.  From the radio to department stores, it seems like we were just saying “trick or treat” but now we’re screaming, “Jingle Bells” on our morning commutes .

Not that getting into the holiday spirit early is a bad thing, but since when did it become acceptable to forget about Thanksgiving? Thanksgiving seems to get lost in the shuffle due to the lack of big commercialization, flashy window displays, and a lack of magical figures like Santa Claus providing gifts and treats all month long.

Now more than ever, people are focusing less and less on Thanksgiving and more on the holidays with big purchasing potential. With corporations and businesses opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day, poor Thanksgiving is primarily known as the beginning of Christmas.  It begs the question: does Thanksgiving have a Public Relations problem?

When we thought Macy’s was only responsible for the Thanksgiving Day parade, they pivoted their strategy and are opening their doors on Thanksgiving to encourage holiday shopping. The department store that has always upheld one of our biggest holiday traditions will open at 6:00 pm on Thanksgiving–two hours earlier than last year and just around the same time Americans begin to digest their turkey dinners. Other stores opening along with Macy’s include Best Buy, JC Penney, Toys R US, Target, Sears, and many others.

On the other hand, Thanksgiving-friendly businesses pledged to keep their doors closed–and the public is responding nicely. BJ’s distributed a press release announcing their decision of “…bucking the retail trend of putting sales on Thanksgiving above family time.” Similarly, BuzzFeed released an article listing the confirmed stores who pledge to stay closed in an effort to keep Thanksgiving as a family holiday.

With the pressure surrounding this decision, retailers and businesses have been placed in an awkward PR light. According to Macy’s Spokeswoman Holly Thomas, in 2013 its flagship Herald Square store broke its record with about 15,000 people waiting for the doors to open Thanksgiving Day. A survey by consulting firm Accenture has found that 45% of Americans do plan to shop and put their Thanksgiving dinners aside.  Allowing consumers to get a jump on their holiday shopping could serve as a last hope for some business like JC Penney, which has struggled in recent to keep revenue up.

Even with revenue at the center of the debate, it’s still difficult to ignore the outcry of Americans who want businesses to close their doors in order for employees to have a day with family and friends. As public relations professionals, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Thanksgiving is losing steam and taking a back seat to the heavier hitting holidays.  Thanksgiving used to have a great PR message: we had turkey, stuffing, pilgrims, and Football. We had A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and drunk relatives passed out in the arm chair.  It’s important Thanksgiving revitalizes these all-American themes – without them, Christmas will be here as soon as they leaves turn red and the temperature drops below 50.

No matter which side of the “holiday-shopping-on-Thanksgiving” debate you stand on, businesses are receiving attention for their decision—which could end up working in turkey day’s favor.  People are fighting for the Holiday in one way or another, even if traditions are changing.

Whether you decide to spend it at home enjoying a turkey dinner, braving the crowds, or even working at one of the many open stores we hope you at least enjoy it with friends and family – which is exactly what Thanksgiving promotes all on its own.  No flashy window displays required.

EZG goes to Lasell College

November 7, 2014


The Boston area is home to many rich universities and colleges that boast the country’s best and brightest students. We’ve been fortunate to have several communications, PR and advertising majors through our doors as interns, and as a firm, we always enjoy working with young adults who are just venturing out in their careers.

It’s rare that we are awarded an opportunity to work with students inside their classrooms, and not inside our agency’s (bright yellow) walls. This past week though, two of us EZG’ers were guest-lecturers at a Lasell College “writing for advertising and PR” course. We thought this would be an excellent format to talk to the students about what we learned while working with clients to meet their advertising and PR goals.

While the presentation consisted of case studies and real-life examples, one of the most important lessons we included discussed writing for advertising and PR in today’s evolving media landscape.

For those of you who weren’t able to attend our guest-lecture presentation, we thought we’d give you our five tips for effective advertising and PR writing.
• Keep it Clear- when writing for advertising or PR, it’s crucial to stay clear and concise- the audience should not have to hunt for important information, if they are required to they will not stay engaged.
• Stay far away from slang– clients want their companies and reputations to remain professional, make sure the writing remains consistent with company’s brand and image. Using slang can derail proper branding in a heartbeat.
• Target the writing– make sure the content is tailored to the specific audience it is intended for. In today’s communications landscape, it’s vital for content be targeted to the audience most interested in the material.
• Include multi-media! This is a curve-ball because this tip doesn’t actually have to do with writing, but the truth is multi-media elements are a must. Text can be boring, and spicing up material with an infographic, video or compelling photo can actually say more than words.
• Make it shareable – by writing a dynamic headline or tagline, readers are more likely to share your content with their networks. Visibility is important and by highlighting the most interesting information, the content is placed on the right track for shareability.

Thank you for pulling up a seat to our scaled down version of our Laselle lecture- and don’t worry- an EZG final won’t be headed your way any time soon!

What are some of your best writing tips? Tell us @ebben_zall

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