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

The Art of Balance: Going Back to School in a Recession

June 30, 2009

Earlier this year, I was faced with one of the biggest decisions in my young professional career.  Upon being accepted to two programs, one a full-time PhD and one a part-time MBA, I  had to decide how to proceed.  The economy, having dove headfirst into a recession, didn’t offer me any comfort when considering the possibility of leaving my job to become a full time student.  However, the decision to take on both school and work full time seemed a bit daunting.  Both programs were distinct and unique and both offered me new opportunities and yet presented very different paths.  In the end, mine was a decision that many professionals, both early career and seasoned have found themselves considering in some capacity.  

Ultimately, I chose the MBA program with a concentration on sustainable business for a variety of reasons; but mainly because it offered me the opportunity to advance my degree and knowledge in a growing field while staying at my job.  It can be an overwhelming feeling, taking on more debt and going back to school, even after being out of college for less than five years.  I settled quickly into the pace of being a full-time professional and adding school into the mix has proven to be a juggling act. 

The recession has presented some unique challenges to our agency and our clients and we are working now more than ever to deliver results and display our talents.  Our expansion into new markets and building bridges across industries has everyone growing their knowledge base and discovering new fields of interests in order to evolve with our profession.  I find that working, now more than ever, is giving me a chance to truly grow as a professional.  But at the end of the day, I have to find time to focus on schoolwork – papers, studying, reading, researching – and it can be tricky.  Though I’ve only just begun my journey, I’ve already learned some key points that have made the transition that much easier.

  • Let your employer know you are going back to school.  It’s important to be upfront about your committments while still maintaining your workload and assuring your employer that you intend to utilize your new skills in your current job.
  • Set up a work space at home that allows you to concentrate and focus.  It is very easy to become unmotivated after work 9 hours in front of a computer to go home and continue work well into the evening.  Setting up a space allows you to separate relaxing at home from doing schoolwork.  The two should be separate entities.
  • Stay on top of your coursework and set aside certain days of the week to complete assignments.  I have found myself having to turn down social invitations in order to complete work – but I know on Sunday and Wednesday nights, I have to do school work and therefore no longer make plans for that timeframe. 
  • Research grant and fellowship opportunities – the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act provided a decent amount of funding to federal and state agencies for higher education initiatives, particularly in the green sector. 

Being back in school is certainly adding a new factor of business to my life but one that hopefully will payoff in the long term and increase my opportunities and skill set down the road.  Stay tuned for (many) more blog updates on my adventures as a grad student!

Posted by: Ashley /follow me on Twitter

We All Need Good News

March 17, 2009

At a time where print magazines are going out of business left and right (or switching to an all digital format), there are some books that seem to be not only surviving, but thriving.  One of these is my personal favorite magazine, a fairly recent discovery actually.  Ode Magazine is the self-proclaimed publication for “intelligent optimists” – in a world where almost all the news is bad news, Ode prides itself on the beacon of light it provides in the midst of the storm.   Ode looks to communities where people are doing good things, staying positive in the face of adversity, coming up with new solutions to age-old problems.  The magazine is truly an ode to these new inspired visions.

Ode targets the audience deemed culture creatives – the 50 million or so of us who make our purchasing decisions based on our moral, ethical, social and environmental concerns.  According to the Natural Marketing Institute, the LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health & Sustainability) sector is worth more than $209 billion in the US alone. 

Ode presents a mix of stories – profiles of social entrepreneurs, community outreach and activism stories, energy and environmental news and health and science updates.   While it doesn’t ignore the real problems facing modern society, Ode offers a more positive reflection on current events, pointing out those who are working to move forward as opposed to spending time on 24 hour news networks pointing fingers at who’s to blame. 

If you’re looking for some good news (as I suspect we all are), check out Ode Magazine.  I promise you’ll feel better.

Posted by: Ashley / follow me on Twitter

Ode to Feeling Better

December 18, 2008

I’ve been searching for a blog topic all day when the lovely Becca handed me this month’s copy of Ode Magazine.  For those not familiar, Ode is a relatively new publication focused on the community of “intelligent optimists” who strive to make the world a better place.  Idealistic?  You bet.  But as I scanned the pages, I stumbled across the feature article – “In Praise of Intelligent Optimists” written by Jurriaan Kamp.  (I searched for this article online but it looks like their website is still featuring the December issue articles.)  As I scanned the article, it is this paragraph that struck me

It’s at times like these that optimism is more essential than ever.  It’s easy to be an optimist when things are going fine.  But optimism is a quality anyone can practice in every circumstance, especially during difficult times.  Optimism isn’t about denying reality; it’s about creating a better reality than you’re facing….The Intelligent Optimist knows a half-empty glass is also half full.  And she knows more can be gained by focusing on what she has than by focusing on what she’s missing.  Intelligent Optimists know that for every problem there is (at least the beginning of) a solution, and that the search for that solution can be inspirational in itself.  At the same time, they’re not afraid of negative thoughts, which they realize help them stay realistic.

The truth is, we are facing a very troublesome time.  It’s hard to escape the bad news – it’s truly everywhere.  You have to dig for a ray of hope or a glimmer of a positive announcement in every newspaper, magazine and online publication.  So what do you do?  It is easy to be a pessimist.  A pessimist never has to take risks or be afraid of failure because essentially, the inevitability of failure is their M.O.  But to be optimistic despite facing terrible, terrible odds?  That takes true courage.

I like to think of myself as an idealist but even I’ve been having trouble finding the bright side.  But I know I need to because progress?  Well, it never comes from thinking failure is inevitable.

Tomorrow is the last day of our food drive.  I wanted to do something, anything, for the people who can’t afford to feed their families during the holidays because as bad as you might think you have it, someone always has it worse.  So on Monday, I’ll drive to the Food Bank in Providence and know that our donations won’t fix everything.  But it’s a start to fixing something.  It’s a start to being optimistic in a very pessimistic time.

Posted by: Ashley / ashleyatcaster on Twitter

Friends Flail Amidst Feeding Frenzy of Fear

November 12, 2008

If markets are psychological, as we’ve been told countless times over the years, then this market needs to have the suicide hotline on speed dial.

There seemed to be a palpable sense of dread and anxiety hanging over the otherwise fabulous CES Unveiled event yesterday in New York. The electronics industry is usually full of swagger, confidence and can-do moxie, especially at this time of year, when the holiday season beckons and CES is imminent. This year, however, I experienced a widespread degree of discontent, disillusionment and outright disbelief at the current state of affairs. I heard exasperated and deeply concerning statements to the effect of “I’ve never seen anything like this before” from many wise old hands who have been around the block and through the dingy neighborhood of Recessionville several times in their careers. Even CEA’s normally bold predictions of upward industry mobility were positively muted from all accounts I received.

Even though this Unveiled felt in some ways more like a wake than a celebration, it just proved how powerful and important this yearly get-together really is. I’ve long held that Unveiled is the best pure social event in the CE industry, with lots of people connecting and reconnecting in all kinds of productive ways each year. This year, Unveiled functioned more like a support group. It was good for everyone to see everyone else and gird for the coming upheaval, whatever that may bring.

Hopefully we all get through this and come out the other side intact. As we head into the holiday season, we need all the positive energy we can generate. Maybe if we think positively enough, we can make this troubled market smile a little again yet.

Posted by: Joe Paone