The Newest Member of Caster

October 16, 2009

We are so excited to announce the addition our newest staff member, Miss Courtney Danielson who will be joining us in the junior account services position. With two-plus years of supporting a wide breadth of volunteer PR projects including the CVS Charity Classic and Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition, Courtney will apply her experience supporting the account services team in a wide range of projects ranging from media support and follow up to blogging and social media ORM. Courtney received her B.A. in History and Communications from UMass Amherst.

We asked Courtney to say a few words for the blog and introduce herself:

Graduating from college early seemed like a smart, money-saving move. However, upon the realization that I would need to get a job and leave my friends that logical reasoning became less enticing. During college I completed two internships in the public relations field, and also oversaw the public relations endeavors for a number of on-campus organizations/activities, including a large student-run charity event. Beginning in October of the year I graduated, I began fervently searching for PR jobs, to no avail. I accepted a job in Boston at a completely non-PR-related company and stuck it out almost 1 year until I realized that just any job wasn’t going to cut it. I made the decision to search for the job of my dreams, and on my final day of employment in Boston, I received an offer from Caster Communications.

During the interview process, I felt like Caster would be the perfect place for me – they seemed like genuinely fun and caring people, who knew what they were talking about and – more importantly – were just as eager to teach me as I was to learn. As it turns out, I was right. I’ve been here only 3 days, but have already gotten my feet wet working on a number of small projects. I’m not ready to be released out into the wild on my own just yet, but with Caster employees leading me every step of the way, it shouldn’t be long before I am.

We don’t think it will be long at all.  Welcome Courtney!  We’re thrilled to have you.

Posted by: The Caster team

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

When it’s all pay for play

October 1, 2009

PR is widely recognized as more cost effective alternative to a massive and expensive ad campaign.  The main difference between advertising and PR is the value add inherent in a monthly PR retainer versus the one time cost = one time exposure nature of advertising.  I’m certainly not knocking advertising, for many clients we advocate a hybrid program to maximize coverage and brand awareness.  But it goes without saying that a little PR can go a long way and articles and feature story tends to hold more worth with readers than the ads next to them.

That said, there is a bit of a disturbing trend happening within both mainstream and niche industry publications.  It’s a trend I saw from the moment I set foot in the PR world but one I would argue was instigated by the recession.   The idea of advertorials is certainly a familiar one – pay money for a more editorial type feature in a magazine or publication.   Simple – you know you’re paying for it and the reality is, most advertorials look like, well….advertorials.  They’re easy to spot and although maybe more informative to read than a regular advertisement, still a pay for play scenario.  But there seems to be a severe blurring of the lines lately, due in large part (no doubt) to the extreme budget constraints publishing houses are facing today.  My colleagues and I regularly get emails about award submissions, previously free to enter, now with a hefty fee attached to them – or holiday gift guides and/or buyers guides previously free, now a pay per product deal.

There was even a rumor of a publication making companies pay to have their product reviewed.  That’s the one that really got me.

Here’s the thing – I get it, the financial crisis they’re all facing, I do.  But it’s a dangerous line to walk and it seems the line is getting smaller and smaller.  I see two main problems with the selling as many features of our publication as we can strategy.  One is more obvious – it devalues the actual coverage and editorial you do include.  If the book is 60% or more paid for by the manufacturers covered, it really becomes nothing more than a big book of ads.  And who wants to read that?  The second problem may be less obvious but is probably just as real.  If I advertise in book XYZ, spending $50k or more a year on a regular advertising program and that publication starts offering $3,000 for a product review – why wouldn’t I just pull my regular ads and buy 6 or 7 reviews for the year?  The reviews will probably have more impact on my sales then the ads themselves and I’ll spend around $36k instead of $50k and up.  The publication has just lost $14k of business as opposed to gaining another few thousand in revenue.

I think ultimately, publications have to decide how much they value their audience and what type of media outlet they’re really trying to be.  It’s certainly a delicate balance – staying in business and maintaining integrity but ultimately, I believe that the two have to coexist or the very thing you’re trying to prevent (going out of business) is inevitable anyway.

Posted by: Ashley / follow me on Twitter

Should PR Folks Expose Crooked Product Reviewers?

August 12, 2009

Unknown PR folks are often viewed by their media counterparts as spammy email inbox polluters. In cases of laziness, they are. However, the bridge to unscrupulous behavior goes both ways and there are myriad “media” who pass themselves off as legitimate product reviewers, even going so far as to sign product loan agreements, with no intention of returning requested gear. An industry colleague of mine is dealing with this right now and at a loss.

When a perishable or mass merchandised product is in play, most companies are OK with eating the cost since the battle to get it returned will cost more in people hours than the value of the product. In this case, PR reps often send out product without being solicited  so they have no recourse anyways. For those who deal with high-end products, loan agreements and make-or-break reviews, the stakes are a little higher. Granted, most legitimate press outlets would never play this game but the influx of new websites and blogs billing themselves as the end-all-be-all resource can give newbie PR minions delusions of grandeur. 

Firstly, any agency that values retaining its clients should have a detailed  loan agreement (reviewed by a lawyer) outlining the following: exact products being reviewed and cost, how long the product stays for, who is responsible for damage to the product under certain conditions, editorial expectations and a signature from the reviewer themself. Without all of this covered, you’re swimming in shark-infested water.

If you’ve taken the necessary steps to protect your client’s products contractually and you still have a “reviewer” who’s not responding to inquiries or refuses to return gear, here is a list of steps that should be taken.

Step 1 – Leave messages via every medium possible (phone, email, twitter, LinkedIn) giving the reviewer one last chance to post editorial or return the product

Step 2 – Contact a supervisor or the person’s editor if they have one

Step 3 – Create an invoice for the products sent and have a lawyer draft a letter to accompany explaining what will happen if product is not returned

Step 4 – Lodge a complaint with the BBBonline (internet Better Business Bureau) and consider posting a note on or some of the other user sites for reporting fradulent online behavior

Step 5 (optional) – If still no response, consider outing them publicly. This doesn’t mean mudslinging and calling names but a simple, “Beware of person or site, they sign product loan agreements but do not run reviews or return product, proceed with caution,” posted on a blog and/or twitter feed should suffice.

Fortunately, Caster has never had to resort to Step 5 because we only send product to reviewers we know and trust or those we’ve vetted carefully. But since Chris Anderson of Wired created his blacklist of PR email addresses way back in 2007, it’s only fair for a PR resource to exist under a similar guise. Be forewarned, outing ANYONE publicly is a creaky rope bridge over jagged rocks, so make sure it’s treated as a service to fellow PR brethren and not an opportunity to skewer someone you think is unethical. Chances are if they’re shady enough to steal product, they’ll have no problem slandering you and your client on top of it.

Posted by: Nick Brown


Twitter Snapshot – A Random Sampling of Recommended Reading

July 15, 2009

In a departure from normal pontificating, today I am making Twitter work for me by allowing the social networking service to write my blog post. All of these “tweets” were copied from my feed of followers on July 15 between the hours of 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. It would be a lie to say I thoroughly read all of  articles or posts linked below but I still think it’s an interesting snapshot.

The tweeps I follow are an assortment of PR 2.0 mavens, brand managers, social media gurus (hate that term), foodies and various tech/consumer media. That said, I can’t confirm the profundity of items listed below so if you have a beef with what’s written, take it up with the person whose feed is listed at the beginning. The only rule is that the person must be linking to an article or post of some sort and not selling a service or hawking something they’ve created.

@rvabusiness – RT @LaniAR: 1 click & Kraft donates 10 boxes of mac to Feeding America

@swoodruff  – Face-to-Face Still Tops for Purchase Decisions – MarketingVOX

@socialMedia411 – Hundreds Of Confidential Twitter Documents Hacked Via Google Apps Hole And Sent To TechCrunch:

@Sirjohn_writer – RT @charbrown: “Lethal Generosity” – The Coin of the Realm in Social Networking  Please retweet.

@wbaustin – If you want a kitten, start out by asking for a horse.  – Naomi, 15 Advice from Kids

@GuyKawasaki – How to be a great panelist:

@SteelyDaniel – Virgin w/Down syndrome rejecting offers to get laid #digg

@briansolis – Reading: Advice for Graduating PR Students by @nicolejordan

@HighTechDad – Consumerist – Unruly Teen Charges $23 Quadrillion At Drugstore – Visa buxx (me: one way to jump start the economy!)

@RobMcNealy – Can wellness programs save companies money?

@SiliconVllyNews – SFGate: United Air Lines learns the power of viral revenge Full

While this blog effort reeks of laziness, the bigger goal here is to show non-twitter users the type of on-demand information available, compelling or not. Whether it’s professional development, instant news updates, crappy one-liners, virginity or even local traffic reports, chances are you’ll find someone doling it out on Twitter.

Posted by: Nick


Social media: You’re not notable by your absence

July 1, 2009

Lots of companies, especially smaller ones, are a little freaked out by social media. They might not fully comprehend the purpose. They may feel it is a risky, uncontrollable venture. They may view it as the domain of the young and those with too much time on their hands. They may consider it a potential time-waster, or they may not see the value in devoting money and human resources to it, especially when they can still invest money in the tried and true marketing methods they have employed for years and, in some cases, decades.

It is time for businesses of every size to throw all of these caveats out the window. A lack of participation in social media at this point is akin to a lack of a web site or e-mail. Social media offers a terrific, relatively low-cost opportunity for every sort of business that wants to build stronger, more interactive relationships with its customers and spread the good word about its products and services.

Still, admittedly, social media can be a little overwhelming. Where to start?

Read the rest of this entry »

It’s a Millennial Thing. You Just Couldn’t Understand.

June 18, 2009

Here’s a somewhat soapy story that for whatever reason didn’t shock me: A recent college grad applies for a PR job, has a so-so interview, lays a fat egg on the writing test, and then goes psycho e-ballistic on the interviewer (who is having his own issues) and, by extension, the prospective employer. Bonus: this linked yarn contains a subtle threat of regional blackballing!

I can’t even say I fault the young woman because her attitude reflects present-day society’s increasingly pervasive philosophy that if you want something bad enough, it should be yours, simply because you want it and, ipso facto, deserve it; your talent, ability and knowledge are secondary factors, if they’re even factors to be considered at all.

The core issue here is what will be more valued going forward: competency or confidence? The two appear to be on the verge of becoming mutually exclusive.

At the end of the day, though, this tale—and what’s going on not just in PR but in media in general—is mostly just another battle playing itself out in another classic generational war. Hey, “Jane”, I waged these battles myself back in my day, so I feel ya, boo. However, my Gen X workplace struggles against the dreaded Baby Boomers somehow felt a bit more noble, purpose-driven, constructive and, ultimately, uplifting. But what do I know? I mean, seriously: what do I know? I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast yesterday. Getting old is a heck of a drug.

On an unrelated note, if you didn’t see The Daily Show Tuesday night, Jon Stewart dressed down CNN for relying increasingly on Twitter and other unsubstantiated, subjective sources for its news coverage. I won’t turn this into a morality play or a lecture on the merits and demerits of journalism in a Web 2.0 world. Instead, I’ll kindly point out that CNN’s behavior provides a great example of how powerful social media has become as a method of shaping perception, getting attention and securing coverage. As a PR person who traffics in truth-telling (it’s a curse, I know) on behalf of his clients, this continuing development is exciting. But less ethical people in the PR sphere should be careful not to abuse this method of communication, because the backlash justifiably can be swift and severe.

Posted by Joe Paone