I’m a frustrated academic at heart. Two of the happiest times in my life: senior year in college while completely immersed in writing my thesis on Henri Matisse, and two years of M.A.-level study in art history and criticism at SUNY Stony Brook. From where I sit now, a creaky working gal toiling in the real world of clients and profit margins, those student days seem like a carefree nirvana where the only real worries I had were whether my housemate would let me borrow her Mac Classic, and how to keep straight the definitions of structuralist and semiotic. So imagine my bliss to discover the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. Just the sound of it sets my inner grad student all a-quiver. The focus, from their website:
“Beyond catalyzing changes in what we do, technology affects how we think. The Internet has emerged as a new context for self-exploration and social encounter; psychopharmacology, robotics, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, biotechnology, and artificial intelligence — all are technologies that raise fundamental questions about selfhood, identity, community, and what it means to be human. “
Professor Sherry Turkle, founder and current director of the Initiative, has edited a collection of essays entitled “Evocative Objects: Things we Think With.” It’s got prime position on the top of my nightstand pile and is a fascinating look at how we imbue the everyday objects in our lives with great meaning, memory, affection…any PR practitioner in the business of helping clients sell stuff would be well-served to read it.
Back to art history, taking a cue from Rene Magritte: when is a Tupperware* cannister not a Tupperware cannister? Oh, say, when it’s a receptacle for every positive childhood memory you ever had of making (and storing) holiday cookies with your mom every Christmas. Keep going with that train of thought, and the plastic container becomes a symbol of the very essence of your relationship with your mom, and all the baggage that comes with that…you get the idea.
The more we understand about how we interact with the everyday things surrounding us, the better we can tap into the emotional wellsprings from which meaningful product stories emerge.
*DeVries Client Alert
Pedigree PSA – Echo
Pedigree, you rock. If you have a pulse, this PSA will move you. (Unless of course you hate dogs which I suppose is possible..?) If my dog’s tummy could handle anything other than raw beef and brown rice, he’d be getting Pedigree at every meal.
St. Jude “Thanks and Giving” PSA
This PSA usually runs with the previews in movie theaters. It’s easy to tune that stuff out, but this is a beautiful program that’s worth your attention.
Those personal passions of mine (PR, mom stuff, pop culture) converged in a perfect storm while in Chicago for the Cause Marketing Forum these past two days. It was triggered by a pay-per-view hotel movie (no, not that kind.) I can never sleep on business trips, so I end up doing marathon PPV movie sessions. Decided to watch “The Mist,” not a great idea. Not because the movie sucked (it didn’t); it was plenty disturbing. What messed me up most was not watching the adults get picked off by the slithery CGI creatures, it was the sobbing 6-year old kid at the center of the action.
Nothing like a little blonde boy in peril to yank my heart right out of my chest, let me tell you. I am, big surprise, the mother of a little blonde boy. (Won’t tell you what happens to the kid at the end because it is WAY. TOO. DISTURBING.) Next day, I see a paparazzi shot from the set of the film adaptation of “The Road” which is about a dad and his (of course) little boy fighting for survival in a post-apocalyptic world. Photo of yet another child in peril drags me once again into quicksand of maternal angst.
Before I had my son this kind of thing never happened, this overwhelming urge to protect children in distress (both fictional and real). But I can’t assume all mothers are automatically hardwired this way, and since there are plenty of childless women who happen to have a great natural instinct with kids, it’s foolish to make blanket statements about the protective maternal urge and what drives it.
But what does this have to do with work? I’m lucky enough to be helping one of my clients who happens to market only to women develop a major cause platform. And I notice as we vet charity partners my kneejerk pull towards the ones in the business of helping kids. Because that’s the obvious cause space for a woman-centric marketer to play in, right? Or is it? Where’s the segmentation data that tells us the PSA for St. Jude Hospital makes her cry vs. the Pedigree one about dogs in shelters? How do we know what will move her so powerfully she’ll be compelled to click the “donate here” button, or throw a philanthro-party with her friends, or otherwise lend the precious resource of her time? We may know a lot about her, but we don’t yet know that. And until someone commissions that study, we do what good PR people have been doing for years, and that’s go on gut — or shall I say, woman’s intuition? — to help inform our choices.
More on this as it unfolds. Meanwhile, I’m posting those aforementioned PSAs — both of which make me cry.
Am here in Chicago for the annual Cause Marketing Forum Conference. Theme this year: “New Approaches for New Times.” Sat through a terrific working session today led by Jason Saul of Mission Measurement, LLC on — you guessed it — mission measurement Jason, who has an endless font of knowledge from all the work he’s done helping organizations measure the social impact of their programs, was able to make the session relevant to the diverse lot of us: directors of non-profits, corporate types and — like me–agency players straddling both worlds as matchmakers between worthy causes and marketers yearning to do good (or fix a business problem…or both…)
I blew through an entire Westin notepad in my effort to capture all the flashes of insight stimulated by the discussion: here are some of my many a-ha moments:
1. Good marketers think in terms of strategy of course but the ones I work with, even those committed to doing good, have not yet defined their social strategy. There’s a useful conversation to initiate with a client.
2. You must create a common language of impact and desired outcomes when engaging in cause. This avoids reinventing the wheel of what success looks like with every change in brand management. And avoids conflict with your nonprofit partner, who may be a development person fluent only in the language of fundraising — not of marketing.
3. A valuable role for us as PR people is to help introduce our clients to this common language and broker an equation for success that all can align on.
4. Jason discussed flipping the planning process on its head: don’t start with tactics (“Let’s have a walkathon! Let’s sell a pink/red/yellow doo-dad!”), start with the big picture impact you want to make (eradicate a disease, create a healthier society, feed hungry families). Then retro-engineer your campaign by identifying the theory of change required to accomplish that goal. This gets you to the priority objectives of the campaign.
5. Leverage the business! We talk about causes that are “organic” to our clients’s brands (e.g., a Pantene cause campaign that focuses on donating healthy, beautiful hair to create wigs for cancer patients). But is there another way to think about organic? A more helpful way to frame that question (at least for me) is, how do we put the brand’s stock-in-trade at the heart of the campaign? Great example: OfficeMax gives away free office supplies in an ongoing effort to eliminate teacher-funded classrooms (nod again to Jason, who presented the case study for this amazing program). In what way can a marketer leverage its business assets to create an order of magnitude beyond what a mere financial donation could accomplish?
More on this later. Tomorrow our break-out sessions include a talk from Unilever’s Stacie Bright on the ubiquitous, love-it-or-hate-it Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. I feel at this point I’ve heard, watched and read all I need to on this campaign in its various permutations — perhaps I’ll use that 45 minutes to sniff out a Starbucks on Dearborn Avenue — or perhaps I’ll stay and heckle Stacie about the retouching scandal. Or would that be tacky?
Final note as I sign off for the night: am giddy with excitement, Netflix alert just popped up informing me that George Romero’s “Diary of the Dead” is on its way — I’ve had that bad boy pre-ordered I swear for a year. (That’s right — I just segued from cause marketing to zombies. Got a problem with that?)
Despite the fact that some of the most mind-opening, inspiring and thought-provoking (not to mention entertaining) content I’ve found in the past year has come from blogs, I’ve remained a relative blog virgin until now. I’ve been posting over in the cocoon of my agency blog (do drop in: www.devriesconversations.com) but have been reluctant to start blogging on my own. Much easier to lurk. Till my colleague and head of digital strategy at DeVries Public Relations dragged me here (thx, Cronin. You are the Obi wan to my Luke. Or would that be Leia.) So despite my fear of blogosphere rejection and/or irrelevance, I’ll start sharing some of the things that move and motivate me, influence and inspire me, all at the wacky confluence where public relations (day job) meets parenting (24/7 job) meets popular culture (my obsession, my passion, my distraction).