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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Lessons Learned from Pfizer: Choose A Spokesperson Carefully

Having a spokesperson for your business is only a good idea if the spokesperson truly represents your message. Using a celebrity either of the hollywood or ground-breaking kind can really give your product or service a boost. But when the chosen spokesperson is scrutinized for not being all that your company purports, your company receives unintended negative attention.

That is what happened to Pfizer recently when its commercials featuring Robert Jarvik were scrutized for offering "misimpressions." You might remember Jarvik as the pioneer behind the artificial heart. In Pfizer commericals for Lipitor, Jarvik refers to himself as a physician. It is that reference that is under scrutiny.

You see Jarvik is not a practicing physician - anywhere at this time. I have seen the television commericals featuring Jarvik (prior to the scrutiny) and I wondered whether he was still a practicing physician myself. You see I remember all of the hubbub over the artificial heart and I know for a fact that I was just a little girl. It was at least 28 years ago. So when I saw the commerical for the first time, I said to myself "is this guy really still a doctor?" Obviously, that same thought came to the minds of the Federal Drug Administration officials - hence the removal of the ad campaign.

So Pfizer has now pulled all of the ads featuring Jarvik. But I wonder who were the marketing and advertising executives that thought it was okay to have a non-practicing physician reference being a doctor or physcian in an advertisement? Had someone on the advertising team (external or internal) raised their hand and asked "Can we have Jarvik reference being a physician even though he is currently not?" I would not be writing about this topic. But alas, I am because someone on Pfizer's team failed to do their due diligence on the matter. Just think, if he had only referenced his experience in the medical field rather than calling himself a physician these ads would have been fine and still effective. Who would lik

The lesson here is to choose your celebrity carefully and conduct due diligence. Yes, it might be nice to have a local celebrity represent your car dealership in ads and commercials, but it will do your business no good if that same celebrity has a record of DUI's and perhaps one of them driving one of your cars.

Do your business and yourself a favor: when selecting a company spokesman make sure you ask the right questions of your spokesman and your marketing team. Avoid embarrassing moments like having to pull all of your advertising (which wastes money) and having to apologize to your customers.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Industry Ticks Up and Down Can Yield Opportunities for Small Businesses

In the Wall Street Journal's Small Business section, a story ran about how a small cleaning company was reaping the benefits of the housing downturn/subprime fiasco. Because many homes have gone into foreclosure or people are simply walking away (leaving physical and financial messes behind), banks are left with homes that are not clean or presentable enough to put on the market. That is where the small business came in.

The small cleaning company was able to secure multiple contracts with realtors eager to put foreclosed homes on the market. The cleaning company actually got a surge in new business because of the housing crisis.

The above is a great example of how to innovate your business to keep pace with market trends. No matter what industry, you can create opportunities generate new business to establish an edge over your competition.

Eco-friendly products and services are huge. Is there a way for your business to take advantage of the green phenomenon? Examine your business for green opportunities. If you run a business that uses chemicals for various purposes, are there green products you can use or offer your customers? Can your use green office supplies or institute green policies to save energy at your company? Seize the opportunities and once you establish your green initiative, you market your efforts via your website or promotional materials.

Buy Green& Save Green on Earth Friendly Products at Office Depot!

In order to ride the wave of today's trends, your small business must constantly look for ways to leverage what's hot in the marketplace. Keep in mind your competitors might be looking for an edge up to, so be vigilant and leverage industry ups and downs to maximize your company's performance.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Maximize Holidays to Boost Your Brand and Sales

On the morning of Valentine's Day, as I neared my office in New York City I noticed a new street vendor. As I got closer, I noticed that it was a hotdog truck. I thought it was odd for a hotdog truck to be open for business at 7:45 am, but then I noticed that he wasn't selling hotdogs.

The truck had been transformed into a street-side Valentine's Day gift shop. He had large gift baskets wrapped in red cellophane with teddy bears and candy stuffed inside. The gift items were displayed in the customer window and he setup three tables in front of the truck that were stacked with Valentine items. Behind the woman in the customer window you can see the soft serve ice cream machine (obviously not running in 30 degree temperatures) which I am certain gets lots of use during the summer months. They even had roses for sale in a bucket of water.

The hotdog truck vendor made good use out of his truck to benefit and hopefully profit off of what I call a built-in marketing opportunity - Valentine's Day. Hate it or love it is here to stay. And as long as people are willing to spend money on flowers and candy, retailers will always promote it.

Obviously, this street vendor knows a thing or two about consumers. If you bring it, they will come. The spot where he was setup has thousands of professionals and tourists walking by. He is sure to sell his items to those who need a quick gift on the run.

Sometimes a simple idea can lead to big profts. When a high profile holiday comes around, consider doing a promotion of your own. For some businesses, it may not be appropriate to take advantage of a holiday. But for retailers and restaurants, leverage built-in marketing opportuntities such as President's Day, Christmas or Mother's Day can give your business a jolt.

I have noticed that more and more restaurants have "Mardi Gra" promotions. Who said it is only celebrated in New Orleans. For the last several years, chain restaurants all over the country now promote Mardi Gra by giving out beads, decorating and having special "Fat Tuesday" promotions. The idea is if you cannot make it to New Orleans you can still celebrate at INSERT YOUR FAVORITE RESTAURANT HERE.

Check the calendar for the next big holiday. Maybe there is a way for you to leverage the holiday and market your company.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Recession Proof Your Business with Steady Marketing

During down times, many large companies make cutbacks to departments that are considered excessive overhead. In many cases, the marketing department is the first to conduct layoffs and cutbacks in a down economy. For a large multi-million or billion dollar company that may mean releasing half of a 100 person marketing workforce and reducing advertising spending by 50%. Even with a reduction, large organizations can still have a decent amount of marketing to get the job done. Smaller firms should not follow this approach and actually do the complete opposite -keep spending.

Economists are forecasting that we are heading toward a recession (with some saying we are in one already.) Small competitive businesses should not look to cutback on their marketing and advertising. In fact, small businesses should be spending as much as money possible on marketing to keep new business opportunities coming in.

For business-to-business companies the strategy is simple, invest in marketing and advertising to increase/maintain your company's brand awareness. In no way do I suggest that small businesses divert all dollars toward marketing and branding efforts. Instead, small firms should consider maintaining or stepping up existing marketing initiatives. This could mean taking out a few extra targeted ads in print publications or conducting a smart online ad campaign on high traffic website your customers might visit. It also means keeping your sales force strong and providing additional incentives to keep them motivated.

Business-to-consumer firms should offer more incentives to keep customers spending. Perhaps, offer reduced prices on slow moving inventory to generate more sales. Post new banners and signs in store front windows letting your customers know about deals you are offering. Start a Do-It-Yourself email marketing campaign to increase buzz. If you have a nice office or store space, offer your space for a charity event and draft a press release to send to local media.

When it comes to advertising, you may find that publishers might be willing to reduce advertising fees due to a decrease in advertising volume. You might be able to negotiate rates for a series of advertisements that meet your budget. Maximize your ad dollars by placing ads in programs or journals at business events in your area. There are many ways to advertise without breaking the bank, investigate the opportunities that best meet your business goals.

Brand awareness is essential to the ongoing success of your business. Make sure that when the economy is at its worst that you are poised to remain competitive and provide services as you always have. Stay top of mind and make it easy for your customers and clients to continue spending their dollars with your business.

About the Author:
Shakira Brown is an award-winning public relations and marketing professional with nearly 15 years of experience in radio, print, and television journalism and corporate communications. She has worked with high profile news broadcasters, entertainers, moguls, financial experts, small business owners and c-suite level executives in various industries. Learn more about Ms. Brown at and

Monday, February 4, 2008

Super Bowl Ads: The Smart, the Bold and the Funny

It was no doubt a great football game. The New York Giants gave it their all to beat the once thought unbeatable New England Patriots. But admidst all the excitement was the high price legendary Super Bowl advertising blitz. Some big brands spent their advertising dollars wiser than others, but there were some clear stand out favorites. But I must mention that those who did spend the millions to run their ad during the super bowl invested well since the ads will get even more exposure from where the ads can live on in infamy - at least for a little. This is due to FOX (which ran the game) and Myspace both being owned by News Corp. which is clever in leveraging its popular social networking site.

A few years ago, a little internet technology company named spent major bucks on its first television ad that ran during the Super Bowl. (Those who are fans might remember an attractive woman in a court scene in a skimpy outfit that few have forgotten.) It was a very sexy commercial which had everyone buzzing and talking about Godaddy. This year, instead of giving one of their sexy ads direct to Super Bowl viewers, they chose to use the ad to tease the sexy ad now appearing on the website. This ad was smart because there is no better way for an internet-based company to get consumers to its site than to have a sexy video running on that will no doubt become viral. Plus, they will more than likely convert many of the gawkers into paid clients. A smart move indeed.

Bridgestone over the last years has been marred by a tire scandal and definitely needs a fresh start with consumers. Two Bridgrstone commercials ran during the game that were quite humorous. One featured furry animals screaming in fright as a car with Bridestone tires came barreling toward them (no animals appeared to be harmed.) Another featured metal legend Alice Cooper and exercise guru Richard Simmons who escaped being run down by a car with Bridgestone tires. These were fun and light-hearted ads that appealed to animal lovers and Richard Simmons haters.

My favorite commercial was the Diet Pepsi Max (energy beverage) commercial featuring the song "What is love?" by 90's one hit wonder, Haddaway. You might recall a skit from Saturday Night Live (SNL) by Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan dressed in shiny suits going club hopping and incessantly bopping their head to the Haddaway tune. Well, the Pepsi Max commercial played on the head bop by showing actors and well-know celebrites needing a little boost of energy to get their heads bopping. Some of celebs featured included: Troy Aikman, Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliott and LL Cool J. After getting fueled with the beverage, everyone was shown bopping their heads to the tune just like the famous SNL skit. Chris Kattan made a cameo at the end yelling "stop it" - seeming annoyed that everyone was STILL doing his old routine. This commercial used an infamous tv skit to get its point across. Brilliant!

Audi used a memorable scene from The Godfather to introduce its new luxury muscle car the "R8". The commercial took The Godfather scene in which a movie executive wakes up screaming in horror to find that his sheets are wet with the blood of his thoroughbred horse's head that was lying at the foot of his bed. In the commercial, the actor wakes up to find oil all over his beautiful sheets and the front end of his luxury car (could it have been a Mercedes?) at the foot of his bed. The commercial ends with the R8 racing of the man's estate. I loved this commercial because it used the same intimidation The Godfather's Corleone family did to "send a message" to its foes. Of course, those who have never seen The Godfather were oblivious to this, but those few should check the movie out.

Fox was the biggest winner. The network intertwined its Super Bowl coverage with branding from its new show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. The NFL on FOX has a big football player robot that jumps around during interstitials. During the game, the NFL robot still jumped around, but had a few encounters with the Terminator robot. They battled for three interstitials with the last one ending with the Terminator robot being approached by two other NFL robots. The use of these built-in interstitials to promote network programming was extremely clever and done quite effectively. Although, I do not watch the Terminator program (and I have no intention on watching it) I appreciated the co-branding and thought behind the promotion.