From Video to Mounts, from Speakers to Control…Caster Clients totalled more than 500 stories off CEDIA

October 15, 2009

Coming off CEDIA is always a busy time at Caster. With ten clients on the floor, prepping for the show is hard enough, but coming back everyone wants their show reports. The line up of press stories they had is what keeps our clients smiling and keep us slammed through Columbus Day. If you estimate seven clients with two news releases each multiplied times 50 top tier news outlets covering the show, we captured over 500 news articles.

These are some of my favorites this year:

1. Paradigm: CEPro’s Julie Jacobson’s recap of her Toronto trip and blind listening of the new SE speakers attained a lot of buzz. Steven Kim at Engadget sure appreciated the story and supplied his take, the comments are especially titillating

2. Control4: With back to back shows, news from Control4 spanned the energy and utility space and its core business in home automation. Smart Grid News offered this take Texas Utility Choses Control4 for HAN Control and Energy Management while Stewart Wolpin wrote this on the new EMS 100 system for DVICE. Janet Pinkerton’s take on how the Smart Grid is going to impact CE retail and custom installers was a hit over at Dealerscope.

3. NuVo had a tremendous show nabbing  2009 CEDIA Manufacturers’ Excellence Award, Best New Product: Renovia and the press agreed with stories like HomeTheater.com – NuVo Renovia May Be Harbinger of Future and Twice’s  Retrofit, Remodeling Get CEDIA Expo Focus.

4. OmniMount had a powerhouse of a show as furniture and  TV Mounting Options Continue To Expand and with lots of sightings of their OmniLite Series, New Classic Series and Modena Series, and a huge volume of hourly giveaways posted through their Twitter site.

5. MartinLogan impressed the audio crowd at this year’s  Expo.  HomeTheaterForum.com offers this CEDIA 2009 Martin Logan Booth Tour and BigPictureBigSound.com highlights MartinLogan Shows Wireless Subwoofers: Dynamo 700 and 1000.

6. Anthem ran a great demo showing of their Statement D2V, fans flocked and the booth was slammed throughout the show. Home Theater Review posted their thoughts on the Anthem Statement D2v with Anthem Room Correction Reviewed.

7. Runco rounded out our clients at CEDIA with one of the most applauded video demos at the show, from their new entry level LightSyle to the debut of their Quantum LED line, the pools of drool were deep and accolades many as attested by Projector Central’s  Runco Takes Xtreme DLP Projection to the Next Level…  and engadgetHD.com with their Price check – Runco’s LS-3 projector within reach of mere mortals.

All in all, I’d say a very good show!

Posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter : newscaster


How to Lose a World in 10 Minutes

October 13, 2009

It’s almost impossible to squander a gift from the PR heavens such as the Nobel Peace Prize that was awarded to President Obama this month, but the United States has, sadly and predictably, done it.

Here we were, with our country’s highest elected official Binarybeing recognized as an international symbol for peace and hope. Here we were, with an international image and reputation as battered and tattered as it has ever been. And here we were, with the same very loud people who shortly before raucously cheered when Chicago lost its bid for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games because it represented damage to Obama’s image, squawking loudly that Obama did not deserve and even should refuse the award because he “hasn’t accomplished anything.” Keep in mind that these are much the same people who tried to make American flag lapel pins and “USA! USA!” and pledges of unquestioning patriotic virtue mandatory tests of our “American-ness” during the previous administration.

Well, Obama did accomplish something. The prize represents the world effectively saying, “We’ve been feeling rather uneasy about the United States for quite some time, but now we feel a lot better about you. Welcome back to the global community.”

Isn’t that something to celebrate? Isn’t that a reason to put our deep differences as Americans aside for just one day and simply, joyously celebrate being respected world citizens again?

The sad answer is that it isn’t.

America can no longer stay on message.

And America can no longer stay on message because every single aspect of our governance has been politicized to such an extent that it has lost any utilitarian meaning almost entirely.

Starting with the Vietnam War and Watergate, and intensifying through the Carter and Reagan and Clinton and both Bush administrations, our country has become an increasingly binary place. There seem to be only two sides to every issue, with no gray area in between, no nuance. As a result, our game is rigged: There can’t be a positive without a negative. It’s logically impossible.

Talk radio and cable news screamfests have turned our political process into bloodsport, little more than a game where there is never anything but winners and losers. There is no in between. There is no higher calling. The “issues” are merely footballs, thrown around and tossed in the garbage when they are worn out. We all suffer as citizens because of this. There is no longer an “us”. There is just “us versus them”.

Those outlets – Rush Limbaugh, FOX News, MSNBC, Huffington Post – are extremely good at staying on message. But the messages are hollow, mean-spirited, and reactionary – on both sides of the aisle. Unfortunately, the only thing that brings America together now is mutual enmity, choosing sides. There is no collective, universal truth, no common rallying point, no common message, for us all to proclaim as a people. We can’t even agree on what “freedom” and “liberty” mean anymore.

And so it is that the United States cannot simply, modestly accept the honor bestowed upon its president, because there are no timeouts in the pointless and endless grudge-a-thon that both fuels and sickens our society and our entire way of life.

We can’t stay on message because we don’t have one. We can’t enjoy a gigantic PR benefit because there is no longer an American “we”. America has become Coke and Pepsi, the Yankees and the Red Sox, the North and the South, all at the same time. And when did any of those yins ever agree with their respective yangs?

Like Obama, don’t like Obama. Fine. But weep just a little for what our country has become. And try to make it better. And maybe one day we can put all of the bile aside and concentrate on what we have in common.

I’m not holding my breath, but I can hope.

Posted by Joe Paone


AUDIO ONE NAMES CASTER COMMUNICATIONS PR AGENCY OF RECORD

October 9, 2009

Custom electronics installer to the rich and famous seeks to spread the word about his services.

 Miami, FL – October 7, 2009Audio One, A Frangioni Company, announced today that it has selected Caster Communications at its public relations agency of record. Beginning today, Caster will implement a national PR campaign to generate awareness of Audio One.

 Audio One has been recognized many times over within the custom electronics installation industry for its superior and inventive work on behalf of its clients. The firm, led by founder David Frangioni, possesses the experience to deliver amazing audio, home theater, home automation and home recording systems that meet every client’s exacting needs and requirements. Noted for its attention to detail and consideration of every client need, Audio One takes the time and effort to make sure every installation is the right fit for every home. Its esteemed client list is comprised of music industry idols, sports figures, and even Hollywood icons. Audio One’s repeat business is living proof that it keeps its promise to keep the design and installation process simple and effective.

 Caster will bring notable Audio One installations to the attention of the press and the public. It also will make Frangioni available for guest columns, interviews, speaking engagements, panel discussions, webinars and more.

 About Audio One Audio One provides its clients with the smart homes of their dreams. The firm, led by founder David Frangioni, possesses the experience to deliver amazing audio, home theater, home automation and home recording systems that meet every client’s exacting needs and requirements. Noted for its attention to detail and consideration of every client need, Audio One takes the time and effort to make sure every installation is the right fit for every home. Its esteemed client list is comprised of music industry idols, sports figures, and Hollywood icons. Audio One’s repeat business over the past 20 years is living proof that it delivers on its promise to keep the design and installation process simple yet effective. Visit Audio One at www.audio-one.com.

 
Press Contact:     Caster Communications, Inc
Kimberly Lancaster Twitter: newscaster
401-792-7080
klancaster@castercomm.com


A Year of Twitter

October 8, 2009

It occured to me the other day that October 1, 2009 marked a year since I began using Twitter.  I went back to my very first tweet, which was of course hopeful and abstract.  A lot has changed since that first tweet, both my perception on the concept of social media and its value and my preconceived notion that 140 characters was simply a useless amount of information.

I remember the first staff meeting when I brought up the idea of making our blog more dynamic, switching platforms (we were using a terrible self-hosted platform through our web server company) and setting up some additional accounts on social media networks….like, you know, Twitter or something.

The reaction, needless to say, was less than enthusiastic.  My boss seemed somewhat convinced but a week later after she began tweeting, she came back to the table uncertain of its value.

I didn’t know much, I will admit, about social media at that point.  But I had a gut feeling it was going to be important, more important than we were treating it at that time.  I knew it was foolish of us as an agency to present ourselves as cutting edge if we didn’t understand the current influencers in the new media space.  There was still a good 3-4 months of complaining and general cynicism around the table and I say this not to pat myself on the back for being right (though, I was…ahem) but more to point out that there are still people who don’t believe in the value or power of Twitter and social media in general.

Going through my Twitter feed last night, I was able to view my life, mostly professional but some personal milestones, connections I made and general growth I experienced.

For me, Twitter has:

  • Greatly expanded my contacts in the green and sustainable industry
  • Connected me to some influential editors, writers and analysts in my clients’ markets
  • Showed me some really fantastic stories I might have otherwise overlooked
  • Taught me brevity can be powerful and at times completely enough
  • Given me an outlet
  • Helped to gain expanded readership on both our blogs (here and Green Life Smart Life)

The list could go on and on.  I can look back on Twitter and see the first time I successfully pitched an NBC producer, the connection I made with a green editor at the New York Times, my acceptance to a PhD program, my first solo press event at Microsoft, the 3 (or 4) trade shows I attended in the past year, my triumphs and failures, the points where I had to make a big decision (and subsequently drink a lot of wine) – it’s all there.  140 characters or less, my work and life laid out in a nice little timeline.  1,590 tweets and 831 followers later – it turns out it’s not the numbers necessarily or the popularity.

Social media creates real connections.  Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

first tweet

Posted by: Ashley – who can be found on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ashleydano


FTC Guidelines: How They Relate To Your Blog

October 7, 2009

Earlier today, I was asked a question that threw me off guard a bit, vaguely formulated as follows:  “what do you know about social media as it relates to PR?”  I muttered a joke about seeing people create PR nightmares for themselves via Twitter and Facebook and then got down to business, stating that “it’s a cheap and effective way to get your message out to tons of people” – pretty standard, ay?  

I decided to do some digging and find out what the industry pros have to say about Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media/networking sites that exist around the web and instead found an interesting article (10 Simple Things to Know About the FTC’s Rules for Blogs and Brands, by Augie Ray) about a document released by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) today outlining guidelines for advertising and branding via social media.  These guidelines are not laws, but rather suggestions for companies as to how to best situate themselves so that they are abiding by the existing laws in place regarding advertising.

 For the most part, these guidelines address whether or not it should be considered advertising if a blogger writes a positive review of a product.  It seems that the general idea of the guidelines is as follows:  if you are a blogger on the receiving end of a benefit from a company for favorably reviewing or using their product, then you are – in fact – an advertisement.  If I were to run out to the corner store and buy myself a pack of gum that I truly enjoyed, and I came home to blog about it – that would not be considered advertising.  However, if the gum company were sending me free packs of gum on a regular basis – or any other product that their company manufactures – and I took to my blog to spout the wonders of this product, then that would in fact be considered a sponsored endorsement, since I am regularly receiving treats. 

Most relevant to the PR world is the fact that many workplaces are now looking into adopting Social Media policies, and if they are not – according to the FTC and Augie Ray – they should be.  It is important that in a time where it seems everyone has a Twitter account, which could lead to easy and free advertising for your company for 140 characters or less, you are monitoring and managing these networks.  If an employee of a company logs into their personal Facebook account and reveals to the public their employer’s product is their all-time favorite, without disclosing that they are an employee of that company, they are opening the company up to legal ramifications and they may not even realize it.

Courtney Danielson (candidate for a Caster job)



Big Agency versus Small: Bigger Is Not Always Better

October 1, 2009

This is a topic that’s been on my brain as of late and I stumbled upon this article today.  It says everything I’ve been thinking but with far more eloquence and far less frustration than I’ve been able to muster.  Thanks to Mr. Saffir, an industry veteran and a former Porter Novelli executive for saying what so many of us who work for small agencies are thinking.

Big Agency versus Small: Bigger Is Not Always Better

By Leonard Saffir

I have helped manage one of the biggest agencies in the world and one of the world’s smallest — my own one-man shop — and firms of every size in between. Big is not always better (though it’s certainly the most expensive). Oftentimes the only difference between a big agency charging $20,000 a month and a small one charging $3,000 is $17,000.

I have sat in on many new business sales presentations along with highly skilled colleagues after which we, the new business team, won the accounts but spent very few hours on the new clients’ business. Some agencies tend to over-promise the everyday services of their top executives. In fact, I left the big-agency world because more and more of my time was spent pitching new business and less on the day-to-day creative side.

Any firm with anything on the ball at all is good at presentations. The senior people and the top agency talent spend a lot of time and effort on new business, sometimes giving short shrift to existing clients.

The new business team will have developed a polished dog-and-pony show. The basics of all effective new-business pitches are pretty much the same: demonstrate a dazzling flair, show extraordinary sensitivity in responding to a potential client’s concerns, promise enduring cooperation and high-level results.

Merilee Kern runs her own small PR/marketing firm in San Diego, Kern Communications, and she loves it just that way.

“I think that younger and/or smaller shops have less bureaucracy and more flexibility that allows them to quickly adapt with the times…new technologies and otherwise,” she told me.

With a specialty in high technology, Kern believes “technology and the ever-changing Internet space have vastly changed the PR landscape.”

“My boutique firm handles clients quite effectively and, more important, successfully all over the country. I’ve found the client proximity is truly insignificant and that being in the same city as a client can actually be counterproductive since more time is spent meeting rather than producing. And, again, with the advent of technologies, my small shop is able to provide the same level of service as the giants but with more flexibility,” she said.

Many small firms enter into alliances with other firms in or out of their areas and call them in as needed.

Bob Dilenschneider is one of the giants of public relations. The Dilenschneider Group, of which he is CEO, is a partner firm in the Worldcom Group, the world’s largest organization of independently owned public relations consultancies with 91 partner firms and 113 offices on six continents.

I asked Dilenschneider for his comments on big agencies versus small agencies. Here’s what he told me:

“The size of the agency makes no difference at all. Nor does the scope, nor the geographic reach of the agency make a difference. The difference for any client is really in the people. Do they bring the experience, knowledge, insight, and contacts to a client that will make a difference in that organization’s results and bottom line?”

“Is big better?” I asked.

“Many agencies, both large and small, are stuffed with people who couldn’t get jobs elsewhere and whose approach to the field is remedial at best.”

Dilenschneider believes “clients should seek original thinking and people who can look around corners and forecast what [is] coming; individuals who have the integrity to work whatever hours are necessary to get the jobs done; people who can share opinions and come up with better ideas as a result, rather than being polarized in terms of their own views; and individuals of high ethical standards.”

“Does a big agency benefit because it can put 30 or 40 people into the field to help drive a point of view,” I asked.

“Not necessarily,” Dilenschneider responded. “It’s been proven over and over and over again that one person who understands how to work with the media, outside interest groups and others of similar ilk, can be as effective with six or seven paragraphs and can find ways to protect them over and over again.”

Dilenschneider told me a story about the late Roy Battersby, who, he said, could work any situation:

“He could send a story to the press on butcher paper with the blood dripping off the sides or to an editor in Beijing as well as New York on the same grounds as long as he had a story.”

“Does a big agency help when it comes to generating research?” I asked.

“Only if the researchers are really good. The small or medium-sized agency can reach out to research sources just as easily as a big agency and often more efficiently,” Dilenschneider said.

A Munich, Germany, technology firm learned about me from my last book. The program I developed for them was a big one, too big for my one-man shop. So I brought in a local PR firm to handle some of the nuts and bolts, and we were able to put many people on the account. Patti Giglio, founder and owner of PSG Communications in the metro Washington, DC, area, has a small firm that can grow as needed.

“The bottom line is that through strategic alliances I can offer the same services, only better and cheaper, as the big PR firms,” Giglio told me. “In addition, when you hire me — or most any independent — you get my personal experiences and strategic support engaged in the decision-making process. When one hires an independent PR professional, you get personal service from an experienced pro and are never handed over to a junior account manager. I like to say, ‘When you hire me, you get me in a chair.’ Also, in my opinion, it is good to hire independents because independents do a good job or they don’t eat.”

Veteran PR guru Al Croft of Sedona, Arizona, agrees.

“What’s really made it possible for smaller, independent firms to compete with the big ones,” Croft told PR Week, “is, of course, technology. With the influx of computers and the Internet in the past two decades, it no longer makes a difference where a firm is located.”

I can attest to that. When I left the big-agency world and moved to Florida as a lone practitioner, I had more clients from out of state than in Florida.

The story is the same for Sharon Dotson and her Houston-based Bayou City Public Relations firm. She doesn’t go after the companies that earn $10 billion a year but sets her sights on companies that make $10 million annually.

“Winning the trust of small companies and getting them to cross the line and do business with me rather than a large, prestigious PR firm is now possible through the miracle of the computer and the Internet,” she told me. “By the way, I never bad-mouth any competitor, big or small. I only talk about the concept of big firms versus small ones.”

How PR Is Billed

Big agencies, for the most part, work on an hourly fee basis, like lawyers, after they estimate how many hours they will put in and what the hourly rate will be of all the people who will be working on the account. Everyone bills his or her time, down to the secretary.

Here’s how one big agency described its budget and fee structure in a proposal to a small startup dot-com company:

“Two months fee calculated at $40,000/monthly will be required before work will begin. Based on our initial recommendations and early discussions, we project our professional fees will be in the range of $40,000 monthly. This estimate is based on our combined professional hours. If the client selects programs and activities that exceed this budget, our professional fees will be higher. Expenses are generally approximately 20% of the annualized fee budget. The level of activity and projections for professional fees and expenses will be provided on a monthly basis for approval.”

The prospective client had a choice: write a check to the big agency for $80,000 and pray, or go to a smaller, experienced agency at $3,000 a month and pray. The decision was a no-brainer.

When I worked for the Richard Weiner firm — a highly successful national firm operating only out of a New York office — we billed on a monthly fee basis. If at the end of six months or a year we found we were putting in more time for a client than the fee we were getting would cover, we would renegotiate the fee.

At the Weiner agency, if our profits before taxes were 15-20% of our billings, everyone received bonuses, and champagne flowed at the end of the year. Things changed when the Weiner agency was acquired by the advertising giant BBDO and ultimately merged with Porter Novelli and came under the newly formed Omnicom Group.

Our profits under Omnicom had to reach 25%. If we were falling short, we had to bring in new business or fire people to make the numbers. Omnicom projected its numbers to Wall Street, and all subsidiary companies had to deliver on Omnicom’s projections.

Were our clients better served? I didn’t think so in the early days of Porter Novelli.

The clients who knew me wanted to see me regularly. However, as I was a member of the management team, more and more of my time was devoted to bringing in new business and controlling our expenses, and less was spent on creative work.

Incidentally, Philip Morris was one of my longtime clients at Porter Novelli. When we converted to hourly billing, they said they’d had bad results in the past from hourly billing. They told me that for them to continue retaining us, the billing would have to remain on a monthly fee basis. I argued for them, and Porter Novelli and Omnicom management went along. After all, Philip Morris was one of our largest accounts. When I left Porter Novelli, Philip Morris dropped the agency.

Large public relations agencies are like advertising agencies in that they add people to service accounts and lay people off when they lose accounts. Turnover at the margins may look high. But a prospective client ought to know if there is relative stability at the core, among the senior associates and the key creative and research people. If not, why not? Have people resigned, or have they been fired? What happens to the account when a key individual leaves?

Small business owners should note with interest the way in which the pitching agency talks about turnover. Some will be candid: “He quit because he had a better opportunity at Ruder Finn.” Others will have a battery of alibis — the person who left was just not cutting it, or whatever. Others may hint at client pressure: “They changed marketing VPs and asked that we shake up the team.”

Public relations agencies that seem overly susceptible to client pressure are agencies to beware of. The savvy client wants an agency that will fight to keep a professional in place, in spite of problems, if they are convinced that the professional is right for the job. “Yes persons” who seem to promise that the client will have extensive personnel control are not to be counted on as strong counselors.

After nodding through the usual litany of clients, the prospect should ask about the ones that got away. Since every agency loses clients, the agency must have lost some accounts. How many did it lose in the past year? Who were they? Why did it happen?

These are tough questions. Some PR new-business presenters will try to slide past them, saying that, of course, there is always flux in the business and that it is complicated to find the reasons for partings of the ways, and often the separations have been by mutual agreement, etc., etc. Prospects ought not to be satisfied with agency representatives who merely parrot the words of the innocuous press releases that may have been sent out at the time of the change. Agencies should be willing to admit that they are not perfect and talk about their own share in the responsibility for losing accounts.

All some PR practitioners “learn” from losing an account is that the client was unreasonable. Good PR practitioners should be willing and able to analyze their shortcomings, draw principles from them, and demonstrate how they have translated these principles into action.

Can the $2,000-$3,000-a-Month Agency Handle Your PR Needs?

Yes and no.

The larger agency obviously has larger expenses in terms of rent, salaries, and particularly high-priced executives, and that’s part of what you, the client, are paying for. The smaller agency may have only a few people on the payroll working out of a low-rent office or, like sole practitioner Sharon Dotson, doing the laundry while talking to a client with a wireless headset.

The key question always is who will be doing the actual work on your account. The big-agency new-business pitch will be made by a star-studded lineup, the top — or at least very senior — people in the agency. The makeup of the team that will handle the day-to-day affairs of the client is another matter. In handling the question “Who will be working on my business?” agencies are often tempted to use certain standard evasions:

“I’ll be personally keeping an eye on things.” (Eye-on is not hands-on.)

“When you have a question, call and ask for me.” (To ask is not necessarily to receive.)

“Every one of us at the table will be actively involved in your account.” (Until the contract is signed.)

Big numbers do not necessarily spell good service. The prospect should concentrate on the one person who will be the captain of the team. One person with brains, common sense, guts, and know-how is better than 10 Ivy League drones.

The small agency may be run by someone with vast experience with big agencies where he or she billed time at $250 an hour who now works for half of that amount.

The agency should be forthcoming about who will be working on the account and what they will be doing. Will your account person be available on call, 24/7, if something breaks in your organization?

The small agency should be able to talk comfortably about where to get additional staff as needed. Large agencies can point to a lot of bodies and say they are right there when needed on a moment’s notice. A savvy one-person band, operating out of a cell phone, can get freelancers or moonlighters when necessary, and these people can be as good or a lot better than available staff people in a larger organization.

The agency’s professional who is assigned to the account ought to function practically as a member of the client company. When Philip Morris was a client of mine, I was given a picture ID card so I could enter their midtown New York City skyscraper offices at any time of day…and I did many a night and weekend.

If you can’t trust your PR person to be part of your company or business, you will be wasting your money by retaining an agency and then keeping them in the dark.

The Experience Trap

Picking a PR agency primarily because it has experience in the company’s specific industry can be a fatal mistake. This experience can take a number of forms: the agency actually has, or has had, clients in the industry, or the agency produces staff members who can boast of specific experience. Since the idea of a client in the same or a similar business may raise questions of conflict of interest, an agency going after a new account may scour the payroll for people who have toiled in the vineyards occupied by the target company. If someone with the requisite experience is found, that person is trotted out as an asset.

Such “experience” should be discounted substantially, if not ignored entirely. The client company should be far more interested in getting the services of keen, gifted people rather than those who happen to have already been around a particular track. There can be far more benefits in getting the fresh thinking of a professional who comes with a new slant than in getting the well-worn wisdom of somebody who knows the industry. Good PR practitioners are quick studies. They can learn the relevant essentials of the business in a remarkably short time.

In pitching for new business the public relations agency submits a written proposal of substantial length. Such proposals tend to follow a pattern. They state goals and objectives, give a terse recap of strategies, discuss target audiences, and then spend a lot of space on tactics or the nuts and bolts of implementation. Then there is a fact sheet about the agency.

Too often the new-business proposal becomes cast in concrete. The people putting together the new-business presentation are busy at other jobs, so they save time where they can. One way to save time is by using off-the-shelf material for the bulk of the proposal.

A written proposal that seems truly fresh and innovative and that is truly aimed at the client, without a lot of boilerplate, speaks well for the agency. However, the prospect should not write off an agency just because the proposal seems blah. Many agencies are better than they look in their formal new-business prospectuses.