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Communications Line - Issue 33 - July 2006

John Bishop's Communications Line

Issue Thirty Three July 2006

Media Advice Aplenty

Giving advice on how to get one's organisation, brand, issue, personality, or opinion carried in the news media is a regular attention getting device for PR advisers (and I was at it myself with two free presentations in Wellington in the last fortnight). Two techniques used in the USA and reported in the Ragan Media Relations Report recently are worth considering.

Press releases with 'tude, dude

In other words make the media releases consistent with the client's brand image. For example; Mike Geraci, owner of Base Camp Communications in Jackson, Wyoming, works with adventure sports and travel clients whose credibility often hinges on their coolness. This is what he wrote for the relaunch of Swobo, a San Francisco bicycle apparel maker that had closed down in 1999. "Friends, neighbors, co-defendants ... they stop us on the street and wonder, 'When, where, why, WTF... ?' And we're like, well, what can we say? We were expecting to have the store opened sooner, but one thing led to another, and the next thing you know you're putting that little French maid costume on again for yet another Halloween. Time flies in drag... "

Obviously, this isn't the kind of press-release lead that you'd write for a Fortune 500 company - but for Swobo, it fit the brand, Geraci explains. "If we had written a traditional press release, people would have thought the brand had changed, or that the company had sold out," he says. The press release helped the company land coverage in all of the major biking media outlets, plus an item in Business 2.0 - all of which led to some 7,000 people signing up for Swobo's e-mail newsletter right after the press release went out.

In another case for a company called, the second-largest outdoor e-commerce company in the country after REI, Geraci needed to craft a financial results press release that didn't sound like it was written by a bunch of bankers. Here's the lead "Park City, Utah, April 12th, 2006 - How do you follow a 2004 that saw $27.4 million in sales representing 88% year on year growth? 2004 was a good year for us, one we were proud of, but '... not really Princeton material, now are you, Joel?' So in 2005 we all dug in and pulled harder, and the customers responded. In 2005, ( leapt to $52 million in revenue. We rocked the warehouse crew so hard that they were crying 'Uncle'... right up until we gave them a new shiny Ferrari of a warehouse: 210,000 square feet of gear flying off the shelf heaven. You could race a car through this thing... and we did, right before we put up the shelves."

Media-friendly surveys

California IT company SonicWall used a survey that wrapped the substantial in unsubstantial outer garb, as the marketing VP Steve Franzese put it.

"We're a technology company trying to discover patterns in technology usage." The company surveyed home workers' attitudes towards their jobs asking how careful they were careful about protecting login passwords, and how productive they are vs. office workers. That was the substantive part of the survey, which would give SonicWall an opening to talk about the value of its security and productivity solutions.

The fun part came when the PR team included questions about how often home workers showered, what they wore when they worked at home, and if they napped during the workday. (According to the survey, conducted by Insight Express, 12 percent of men and 7 percent of women wear nothing at all to "work.")

Playing up the fun and the serious angles, the subject line for the e-mail pitch read, "Survey shows remote/mobile employees rate productivity high, security and clothing low." The press release touted the fact that the survey respondents felt they were very productive, but that they didn't believe information security (or proper attire) was a high priority. It got a lot of coverage.

Media Relations Workshop

One of my themes is that the case for using the news media as a channel to reach your key audiences needs to made on a case by case basis. It ought not to be assumed; it is a case to be proven by evidence. It has to work for your organisation and your audiences, otherwise don't bother. I will be developing that theme in a Conferenz Workshop Developing a successful media relations strategy that suits your organisation. It follows the Media Relations in Wellington on 11/12 September; the workshop is on the morning of 13 September See

P**n hits

Spam messages promoting pornography are 280 times as effective in getting recipients to click on them as messages advertising pharmacy drugs, which are the next most effective type of spam, according to a New York Times report. The third most successful variety is spam advertising Rolex watches, 0.0075 percent of which get clicked on, according to an analysis by CipherTrust, a large manufacturer of devices that protect networks from spam and viruses. "Successful spam is about impulse purchases," said Francis deSouza, a vice president at Symantec, which makes antivirus software. "Things like home mortgages have a lower success rate than things you'd buy on impulse. Things like Viagra, porn."

Finance is a hot seat

The politics of being in charge of the money and being deputy to a strong leader has reached new heights in recent days - on both sides of the Tasman.

In Australia, John Howard's deputy, Peter Costello, who looks and sounds like a white shoed Paramatta used car salesman, but is actually much smarter than that, seems to be mounting a challenge to Mr Howard, whom Mr Costello claims promised him the leadership, a claim Mr Howard now seems to deny. Whatever the truth of the claims Mr Costello has stepped up to produce some policy ideas.

Costello wants to fix Aboriginal disadvantage, lift low fertility rates, revamp constitutional arrangements between the national and state governments, and fix the huge environmental problem of secure water supplies as well as championing an Australian republic, according to a Reuters report yesterday.

Reporter James Grubell writes of Peter Costello, "He married in 1982, but found himself confronted by a difficult moral decision in 1987 when wife Tayna fell dangerously ill while pregnant with their second child. Costello had to decide whether doctors should try to save his unconscious wife or the unborn child.

"My decision was to treat the mother and hope for the best with the pregnancy," he said. His wife recovered and the pregnancy was saved, but the issue left a mark on Costello, who remains pro-choice on the divisive abortion issue. "

Meanwhile in NZ, the Minister of Finance issue presents itself differently. If, as many believe, Michael Cullen's moral authority has gone because of his dogmatism over tax cuts, it logically follows that he should be replaced. And there have been reports that he is contemplating going at the next election anyway. So who replaces him? There is no obvious or easy answer for the PM.

There seem to be only three candidates, all of them with deficiencies. One is Phil Goff, who is safe, sensible and from the wrong faction of the party for the PM's taste. He has the gravitas, and is probably acceptable to the public and the markets, but lacks recent experience in a finance job. Trevor Mallard has experience as an Associate Minister and now in the Economic Development role, but looks and acts like a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Competent but rough trade. Finally there's Steve Maharey, a smooth talker, but perhaps lacking the following in the caucus, the party or in the public mind to command respect. Finance Ministers need to be respected, and even feared. That's how they get their way on spending. So Helen has a problem, and it will need to be solved reasonably soon.

Do we fear growth?

According to a very comprehensive study undertaken for the government's Growth and Innovation Advisory Board in 2004, nine out of ten people in New Zealand agree that business success ought to be encouraged, and 77% support economic growth as a primary goal for the country, but the research company UMR, noted that support for growth was 'lukewarm' and 'lacked passion'. Only 10% of New Zealanders rated economic growth as 'very important to them personally'. Our 'quality of life' rated 46% by comparison. While our relative standard of living continues to decline, we fear that economic growth would affect core New Zealand values like egalitarianism, teamwork and a healthy environment. The arguments about prosperity are canvassed in this article in Plenty magazine

Meanwhile the pro-growth lobby group Parties for Growth has changed its name and is starting an education campaign to keep growth up there as an issue. See

Sponsorable Species?

In June I reported that almost all companies who used names of New Zealand wildlife in their brands had turned away from an appeal to support conservation of those same species. Susan Sweetman who runs a wonderful Victorian B&B in Auckland replied, "I believe we all have a responsibility to our native flora and fauna. There's not much that a B&B owner in Auckland's CBD can do, but we try." See

Family Silver

Richard Shallcrass, the man who sold many state assets in the privatisation period, has published an autobiography. In Family Silver he interweaves personal reflection with political and economic history and recounts some events in a "commendably pungent way" as former cabinet Minister , David Caygill put it. In one example Shallcrass refers to the plight of the Bank of NZ, just prior to the 1990 election. Labour Ministers had prepared but not completed a taxpayer funded bailout. Mr Caygill, then the Finance Minister said that the signoff would occur after the election, and if National won the election, it could either sign off or allow the bank to collapse. Mr Shallcrass says, "I couldn't decide whether this was a masterstroke, a cynical ploy, or simply practical necessity." Mr Caygill responded at the launch of the book this week, "I recognise all three elements." See

Silence on Air NZ Tasman bid

Air New Zealand's bid with QANTAS to rearrange its trans tasman air services is mired in the Ministry of Transport and a wall of silence has gone up, as officials work through the complexities of how the Minister is going to decide on the airlines application. Legally it's a mine field, in which every public law specialist in the country is contributing their "two bob's worth." See

In the language mangler

I was given a card the other night that thanked me for "dinning": at One Red Dog, the well known Wellington pizza restaurant. The food is better than the spelling.

Wilson and Horton has replaced the lackluster and poorly presented Western News (my local suburban paper) with City Life, with the first edition having a headline Petone now has it's (sic) very own Precious Vessels.


Communications Line deals with media, marketing, political and management issues. It's free to subscribers. Please feel free to pass it on to friends and colleagues.

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John Bishop is a speaker, writer, trainer and facilitator. He also practises public relations, writes speeches and works as an MC and as a social and political commentator. See

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