In the Office

Weekly Wrap-Up #134

Football, buckets of ice, generation Z…read the latest in this week’s wrap up:

1. #StrikeOutALS #IceBucketChallenge

Unless you have been have been living under a rock, you have more than likely been bombarded with videos of your peers dumping buckets of water on their heads in the name of ALS. Time reports a $15 million increase in donations since the start of the challenge at the end of July, and more than a million videos posted on social media. Numerous ALS patients have taken part in the challenge as well, and the goal of raising awareness has certainly been reached.

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Weekly Wrap-up #121

This week saw the release of new studies and the introduction of new ventures. Get caught up with the latest edition of the Weekly Wrap-up.

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A Warm Welcome to Nicole Johnson

Welcome Nicole Johnson!

Nicole joins the Howard/Merrell family as a Senior Media Planner/Buyer. She is a familiar face in the hallways of the agency as Nicole has been freelancing for us for quite some time.

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Please Don’t Go

Recently I’ve been trying to cut down on the number of e-lists that I’m subscribed to. I just get way too many emails that I simply delete without opening. Every day. Again and again.

So during this purging process I’ve experienced a lot of unsubscribe pages. Some difficult to navigate, as if they had me held hostage. Some simple and quick, like they could care less if I left. Good riddance. I really didn’t think much about these experiences. It was a nuisance that had to be endured.

That is until I encountered the one from Sears. It was easy to use, which was nice. But it also included a series of simple videos. Some random dude in a robe, who looks like he just rolled out of bed, was begging me to stay. It wasn’t that they were super funny, or even well produced. It was just that someone cared enough to make something of a very simple experience. And that made me think that staying on this one email list wasn’t such a big deal. They must really want me to stay.

It’s these small moments that help a brand have a dialog with consumers. Like a 401 page that pokes fun at itself, or an on-hold message that you actually want to listen too. And these little opportunities are everywhere. Find them.

If you’ve encountered similar experiences, I’d love to hear them. Just leave a comment below.

The Candy Cottage Sponsors Gingerbread Jamboree at Marbles Kids Museum


On Sat., Dec. 15, Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh, N.C. hosted their first annual Gingerbread Jamboree. At the center of the sold out holiday event was Howard, Merrell & Partners’ client, The Candy Cottage. We proposed the idea to Marbles Kids Museum and helped coordinate the event to ensure The Candy Cottage received maximum exposure. The Jamboree was promoted through public relations, social media and other marketing efforts. As the event’s official sponsor, The Candy Cottage was promoted before, during and after the event.

Attended by more than 60 families, the event scored great visibility among consumers and helped to create sweet memories at the same time. Families who attended the event were given a Candy Cottage to decorate and take home. With a plethora of decorating goodies from candy canes to frosted cereals and even pretzels, the kids and parents had a blast creating their own keepsake Candy Cottage.

Following the Jamboree, attendees gave very positive feedback:

“I just wanted to tell you how wonderful the event was today! The cottages were so easy to decorate, the selection of decorations was incredible and creative and the staff was so helpful and friendly. My kids and I had an absolutely wonderful time and I am sure we will use the house again and again. I hope you have the event again next year…”

“I am writing to say that the day was a wonderful success for my family and we were very impressed with how well it was organized. We could hardly believe the room was full of excited families. It was fun and we hope to enjoy this event for many years to come. Thank you for your efforts.”

If You Build It, They May Not Come

Wondering why customers aren’t flocking to your company’s blog, Facebook page or Twitter profile? Why should they? What are you giving them?

Social EngagmentAs Stanford Smith points out in his blog post What the $200 Million Tweet Can Teach You About Personal Influence, if we have a social media presence, we have influence. But, we must understand our influence – no matter how large or small – and harness it by being relevant.

This means all of your company’s on-and-offline efforts must be strategic and consistent – reaching your potential customers with smart, diverse and interesting messages.  This is a basic branding concept, and it strongly applies to social engagement, because every person connected to your organization is part of your brand – whether you like it or not.

If you’re working to grow your company’s influence online, here are some important steps to building a loyal and engaging audience:

  • Seek & Find – Do your due diligence and know where your audience engages online. To manage a profile on any platform takes time and resources. Don’t waste them by going down an empty rabbit hole. If you sell a technology product and your customers are men ages 28 – 50 in IT, then Pinterest
    probably isn’t the place for you. And, be sure to look outside the top five social networks – many organizations are creating their own communities. While they may be small, if that’s where your audience is you should be there too.
  • Content Is King – Think quality, not quantity. Delivering educational and engaging content is key. And, it should all connect via a hub – much like a web. Maybe this is your website, a blog, or online community.  Write blog posts. Tweet about them. Post them to Facebook and reference them on forums and in blog comments. Be transparent. And don’t just promote your own musings. Rather, offer a mix of your own content and content created by other experts. Make it fun and keep it quick.
  • Listen – Your customers have something to say. It’s likely relevant to your business. Listen to them. Glean relevant insights from them, then interact. Remember, social media is a two-way communication vehicle its important to engage with your users with a human touch.
  • Bring Old School to The New School – Don’t forget traditional advertising and communications tactics. They can deliver your message to a broader audience and help build your company’s relevance.

How is your company building influence online? Is this part of your 2013 planning? Share your thoughts with us below. 


Looking Ahead to 2013

As each year draws to a close, we as communicators naturally start to reflect on the news we saw unfold, the trends that came to fruition and how these all impact our daily lives. More importantly, we try to look ahead, identify emerging trends and brace ourselves for change and evolution.

2012 was packed with events and advancements that will add color to marketing history: the U.S. Presidential election, the Lance Armstrong scandal, the continued growth of mobile apps, Facebook’s IPO and subsequent stock plummeting  — just to name a few. Mainstream media had its hands full covering all of the above. But 2012 was really no different than any other year. No year will ever be dull when it comes to news and technological advancements with far-reaching implications.

What will 2013 bring? We’ll see many of the same trends that emerged in 2012 really take shape in the New Year. I think it’s safe to say that we’ll see an increase in the use of visuals to communicate with one another. Even with all the existing technology that makes work and life more efficient, we still long for the human touch. Visual images draw us in and force us to feel a deeper connection. For this reason, we’ll start to see more business applications of Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube and infographics to reach a broader audience. These new visual communications tools are enabling modern society to more easily digest, interpret and act on information.

In 2013, mobile will continue to impact the way marketers think about messaging and consumption. The concept of “social, local, mobile” (SoLoMo) has demonstrated how consumers want to consume content. As marketers continue to take their websites and apps mobile, their content must address all three dimensions in order to meet users’ needs and desires.

In 2011, eMarketer predicted that U.S. online video ad spend would grow 52.1 percent to $2.16 billion in 2011, before reaching $7.11 billion in 2015. Without a doubt, YouTube and other video channels will play a major role in brand communications. Often underestimated, video – when used properly – can be highly engaging, drive brand loyalty and keep customers coming back for more. Marketers should explore ways to leverage video, even with limited budgets.

What other trends do you expect to emerge? How will your company use new social media, mobile or video applications to reach existing and new audiences? We’d love to hear!

My Favorite Time of Year

Sure I love the Fall because it gets cooler, football season is finally back and the leaves change color, but as a marketer I really love Fall because that means we are approaching planning season. It is the time of year we get to look back at what we have accomplished and look forward to the future. We get to have long brainstorm sessions with our clients and think through the best strategies to meet the opportunities and challenges their brands face.

As you look forward to Halloween and Thanksgiving don’t forget to pull out your planning hat and remember to keep three things in mind to ensure you have a solid Marketing Communications Plan for 2013.

Business Planning 2013 Diagram

  1. Update Your SWOT: Too often marketers neglect to reassess their company or brand’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Looking at these internal and external factors is critical to developing realistic goals and objectives and the supporting strategies.
  2. Look For Trends: You should be staying on top of this throughout the year, but now is the time to revisit the articles, surveys and research you have been collecting to pull out implications. Finding out things like how your audience is currently consuming digital and social media may be critical to your plan next year. Looking at trends will also open up your mind to new options and out of the box thinking rather than simply adjusting the status quo.
  3. Include Measurement: Often thought of after the fact, the details of how you will measure your plan may not only help you sell it through to senior management and provide data to validate mid-year adjustments, but when successful you’ll have a greater sense of accomplishment that can truly energize the organization.

What key indicators are you planning for 2013? How will you create and execute a strategy that will drive success in the coming year? Share your thoughts and ideas below.


Transparency in Marketing Communications – The pursuit of a relationship.

With the advent of Social Media, the need for transparency in marketing communications is a subject that’s often broached when working with clients. Recognizing that transparency falls on a spectrum and should range from “tell only the good stuff but never lie” to “put it all on the table” is important when crafting marketing communications.
I propose that a company’s relationship with a customer isn’t all that different from a romantic relationship between two people. More »

Weekly Wrap-Up #39

It is official: summer is starting to wind down. The signs are all here. The temps are slowly climbing back down, and you are no longer dripping with sweat from a 10-second walk to your car. You are beginning to pull out your favorite football jersey in anticipation of the big game. And when you walk into Wal-Mart you spot aisles full of Christmas items. We can’t stop fall from coming, but to help ease your grieving we can give you the top five stories from this week you need to be reading.

1. What’s My Age Again?

There is a certain stigma with being young in the public relations world. A prime example appears in this widely distributed INC. article. The author bashes companies who trust social media to their interns and entry-level employees. And in a great twist of stories, a blogger wrote a post (which was reported by PR Daily) explaining all the reasons why companies SHOULD let newer and younger employees take larger roles in social media. Both sides make valid points, but we all applaud Lauren Rothering for taking a stand for the 23-year-olds in this field. It’s an important lesson to learn that you have to value all of your employees. Even if you think they are not as knowledgable, everyone has a perspective and value to add to your company or agency.

2. They’re baaaaaacccckkkk.

Say hello to QR codes. They seem to creep in every corner. They pop up on packaging, and you can rarely get a mailer without one jumping in your face. We could debate all day about the uses/strengths/weakness/etc., but this PR Daily article is reporting a whole new place they are most frequently being used – inside consumer homes. 60 percent of users who are scanning do it from home, reports Scanlife. This may not be groundbreaking or exciting, but it says something about how to reach consumers with these tools. With this information opens new doors and its time to start thinking how your QR code can get into the homes of your consumers.

3. Ben & Jerry’s Helps You Fix Your Sweet Tooth and Find Your Perfect Spooning Partner

We are the first ones to admit we love a great pun – which is probably why we have to love this new app by Ben & Jerry’s. It is common knowledge that most people don’t really know at least 50% of their Facebook fans. Never fear, Ben & Jerry’s enters in with the Wanna Spoon? App. The app looks for common connections between yourself and your friends on Facebook. When you match with someone, you can let them know with a message that includes “Ben & Jerry’s decided we’d make great spooning partners.” Ah, it’s pun heaven! You then are able to get a coupon for their new Greek Frozen Yogurt. Delicious and fun – best way to serve apps. (We weren’t kidding about the puns.)

4. Google Uses Newspaper Advertisement to Sell Google Advertisements… Cue Head Scratching.

In what they hoped to be a clever way to point out that newspaper advertising is dead, Google bought ad space in the Canadian Globe and Mail. The copy was simple, highlighting that people looking for services are searching online, not the newspaper. It is debated in the comments and reopens the question of how relevant newspapers still are. It is an interesting twist on advertising, and we almost admit it is clever. Not many people would think to advertise in the competition’s playing field. We should all take a lesson from Google and try to stretch beyond the norm. After all, if digital advertising is putting placements in print advertising space, can anyone really say there are limitations anymore? Read all about it on Mashable.

5. An Ode to Pepsi Advertising.

To warn you all: we could easily write 1,000 blog posts explaining all the reasons why we love Pepsi’s advertising strategy. It’s the way they beautifully target the young “Pepsi Generation.” Then, add in Pepsi’s ability to get influential stars to sell soda in such elaborate costumes (Everyone must give props to Nicki Minaj for making pink hair look normal). Then, the way they keep every advertisement similarly messaged while making them all feel different. It is literally advertising genius. To really get hype going about their “Live for Now” campaign, during the Nicki Minaj concert Pepsi live-streamed fans tweets in Times Square, as detailed in this Mashable article. While this isn’t the newest strategy, it’s important to highlight what an impressive and cohesive campaign Pepsi ran. They truly have targeted their fans and included their interests into every piece. The commercials always make you stop and watch. The radio advertisements are clever and witty, and the website with pop culture references and stories screams “Pepsi.” They really have committed to the “Pepsi Generation” strategy.