Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Social Media 101: Maximizing Your Brand’s Social Matrix

By: Alexis Acosta

I recently attended a South Florida Business Journal Social Media Workshop, and while there was over three hours of viable information that I learned, there were a handful of strategies that stood out to me as crucial when building and maintaining your brand’s presence online.  Social Media is an ever-evolving and necessary marketing tool that, when executed properly, will maximize your brand’s success.

Below are the top five strategies to grasp before you dive into the many realms of social and brand integration.

The magic and pitfalls of Facebook.
Arguably, Facebook is the world’s favorite social network, however, it is no longer the “free-marketing” tool that we used to know and covet. Especially with the most recent upgrade to Facebook’s algorithm, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get a share of your followers Facebook feed without paying a price. Although it is a wonderful tool and a vitally important component to your brand strategy, it is not the be-all and end-all of your social presence.

Completely integrate your online marketing with the building block that is a blog.
If you’re finding that your social networks aren’t producing the kinds of results you’re looking for (e.g. not enough website traffic, leads, likes), start a blog that addresses typical questions that your client might have. Create link-backs and embed keywords in every post. Promote them on all your channels (Facebook, Twitter, website, etc.) This will help with that three-letter acronym that most people don’t understand: SEO.

Your email lists are gold.
If you’re not collecting emails at every chance you get, you’re not maximizing your full potential of online resources. Newsletter sign-ups are great, but give them a reason to give you their email; nothing in life is free.

Get to know Google+ for local businesses.
Find your business. Claim your business. Have your clients review your business. Maps can be one of your greatest tools, as it is one of the first places potential customers go to find you. Like I said before, nothing in life is free. If you’re a cupcake shop, give your customer an extra mini cupcake, just for reviewing you on Google. They’ll probably get their friends to come back for more AND post that cupcake on Instagram.

"A picture is worth a thousand clicks."
It takes a very high level of understanding to “get” your audience. What gets them excited? The only way to truly grasp this is by trial and error. Don’t be afraid to take a slight risk with your posts to find out what resonates with your followers. If it works, keep doing it; if it doesn’t, try something new. 

Good luck and happy socializing!


Friday, February 6, 2015

Well Played, Jobs Report

By: Ashley Rodriguez

The January jobs report exceed pretty much
everyone's expectations.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released its much-anticipated January jobs report this morning and it was pretty solid news all around. Here are some highlights:

In other positive economy news, The Washington Post reported earlier this week that the fast casual industry is up 500 percent since 1999 -- more than 10 times the growth seen in fast food. In fact, fast casual now controls five percent of all restaurant traffic. That's good news for our clients -- brands like Tropical Smoothie Cafe and Captain D's -- who all reported strong 2014 growth and are continuing to expand across the country in 2015.

For the sake of a shameless plug:
  • Captain D's and Tropical Smoothie Cafe both reported all-time high AUVs in 2014 and increased same-store sales (4.1 percent and 11.14 percent, respectively).
  • Burger 21 is planning to open 10 restaurants in 2015 -- almost doubling its current size of 15 locations.
  • McAlister's Deli opened 19 restaurants in 2014 and is planning 30 new locations in 2015 in cities like Chicago.
So job growth is strong, wages are up, people are confident and fast casual is killin' it. Happy Friday, all.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Nationwide Just Bummed Out Millions of People

By: Ashley Rodriguez

If you haven't seen Nationwide's "Make Safe Happen" Super Bowl XLIX ad, get ready to be bummed out the rest of the day.



Taken out of the Super Bowl context, I think the ad is great. It addresses an issue no one wants to talk about, which ultimately did exactly what Nationwide wanted it to do -- "start a conversation, not sell insurance." That's according to a statement issued by Nationwide following a national backlash that erupted immediately.

Really, Nationwide's ad is not unlike the "It Can Wait" ads by AT&T that debuted a few years ago. Remember how awful they were to watch? They were dreadful. But AT&T sparked a national dialogue around the dangers of texting and driving.

Had Nationwide's ad run in a different time slot, it probably would have had a different reaction. Shocking -- yes. Depressing -- yes. Controversial -- yes. And maybe there still would have been a backlash. But I don't think it would have been as widespread.

No one wants to be bummed out during the Super Bowl.

I repeat...

No one wants to be bummed out during the Super Bowl.

Way to kill the party, Nationwide. Fire your media buyers.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Quasi-Franchising: The Future of Franchising?

By: Ashley Rodriguez

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal suggests what the future holds for the franchise business model.

As millennials get older, we (I'll say "we" because I am one) are increasingly becoming more qualified to be franchisees and -- as it seems is the case with most things millennials touch -- we want to have an influence over how things are run.

And so the idea of "quasi-franchising" is born.

Quasi-franchising, The Wall Street Journal reports, lets entrepreneurs "do want they want, make a business their own, while letting the corporate bosses do what they do best -- handle the behind-the-scenes machinery of the operation that's so tough for a business owner to build from scratch."

It's all the benefits of franchising -- a proven concept, plus the support of the franchisor -- with the personalization I want as a millennial. Sounds good to me.

What are your thoughts? As a franchisor, would you be open to quasi-franchising? As a franchisee, would you buy into the concept? Tell us in the comments!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

For First Time, Advance #SOTU Text Available to Public

By: Ashley Rodriguez

For the first time, the White House released the full text of the State of the Union to the public in advance of the President's address. 
One of nearly a dozen social media graphics available
via the State of the Union address on Medium.com.

Typically embargoed, the State of the Union this time was shared a few minutes (22 minutes to be exact, according to USA Today) ahead of the live broadcast on Medium, a free blogging platform open to the masses. It came complete with Twitter-ready graphics.

So why the break from tradition? Here's what the White House wrote on Medium:

There is a ritual on State of the Union night in Washington. A little before the address, the White House sends out an embargoed copy of the President’s speech to the press (embargoed means that the press can see the speech, but they can’t report on it until a designated time). The reporters then start sending it around town to folks on Capitol Hill to get their reaction, then those people send it to all their friends, and eventually everyone in Washington can read along, but the public remains in the dark.

For the first time, the White House is making the full text of the speech available to citizens around the country online. On Medium, you can follow along with the speech as you watch in real time, view charts and infographics on key areas, tweet favorite lines, and leave notes. By making the text available to the public in advance, the White House is continuing efforts to reach a wide online audience and give people a range of ways to consume the speech.

The New York Times reports the Obama administration put a new spin on its communications strategy for the State of the Union as part of an attempt to bring "a classic old-media event" to new audiences. How well did that strategy work this year? Probably not well, figuring most people probably just stumbled upon it as they were scanning their Twitter feed. (At least I did.) But next year, more will be on the lookout.

Monday, January 12, 2015

House Passes Bi-Partisan 40 Hour Work Week

By: Chad Cohen

Taken directly from the International Franchise Association's Government Relations & Public Policy Update and very important to the franchise industry as a whole.

Last Thursday, the House passed H.R. 30, the Save American Workers Act, with a final vote of 252-172. The bill, which would reform the definition of "full-time employee" in the Affordable Care Act to the industry-standard 40 hours per week, was one of IFA's top legislative priorities. IFA identified the vote on H.R. 30 as one of the year's "Key Votes". The More Time for Full Time Initiative, a coalition of leading business groups started by IFA, played an instrumental role in lobbying Congress to support this legislation. Companion legislation, S. 30, the Forty Hours is Full Time Act, has already been introduced in the Senate with bipartisan support.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Q&A with Aurora Rodriguez, Editor at Where South Florida

By: Lauren Simo

Aurora Rodriguez, Editor of Where South Florida Magazine 

As the newest member to this school of Fish, I was eager to reach out to my close media connections and share with them my new contact information. Enter Aurora Rodriguez. I’ve known Aurora for a few years and have had the pleasure of working with her on a few stories for past clients. One thing has stayed the same throughout the years I’ve collaborated with Aurora: she’s one busy woman. When she’s not serving as editor for Where South Florida magazine, she’s working on the Tampa Bay, Southwest Florida and Gold Coast editions of the magazine. Still not busy enough? Aurora also moonlights as a journalism professor. That’s why I was a little hesitant to ask this super busy pro for one more thing, but thrilled that she took the time to respond! Take a look below to get a glimpse of what makes this modern-day media maven tick.

Do you prefer getting pitches via email, phone or social media platforms such as Twitter or Facebook?

My preferred way to get pitches is through email and Facebook. I always have my phone on me and it’s great to stay connected at all times and be able to get back to my contacts in a timely manner. I am a believer in keeping my connections close and I love being responsive at all times. If you don’t hear from me, I am probably under a very tight deadline and will get back to you no matter what.

What’s the most important thing for PR reps to know / understand about your job?

My job is hectic. And I am sure they can understand that well. As Editor for Where South Florida magazine, I also handle the Tampa Bay, SW Florida and Gold Coast regions, meaning I am always working on a publication. Once I am done with one deadline it’s on to the next. Also, we are currently revamping our wheretraveler.com website, so I love getting pitched fresh travel stories and ideas that can populate the site with fun engaging content.

Aside from being the Editor at Where South Florida - what has been a major accomplishment that you are proud of?

I am so proud of the 2014 Florida Magazine Association Award that we won for our May/June 2013 cover. That was a fun one that we envisioned and shot specifically for that issue. I am also a proud professor at Miami-Dade College and I love my kids. I teach journalism courses, which include reporting and editing. I am also proud of making the decision to move to Miami from Puerto Rico in 2004 to pursue a master’s in mass communications and bilingual journalism. Best decision of my life!

What kind of stories interest you right now? Any specific types of pitches from PR pros you’d like to receive?

Currently I am interested in dining, entertainment, shopping and culture stories for the magazine. I am also interested in pitches for online, such as travel ideas and what travelers can expect from the lovely South Florida area. We really want to make Where Traveler online pop in 2015.

If you weren't a writer, what profession would you want to pursue?

I would be a teacher! Yes, I like talking to people and inspiring others.

We know you’re an avid reader. What’s the one book you could read over and over again?

I am actually an avid YA (Young Adult) book reader and the library is my best friend! Right now I could read Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” over and over…it’s a great and exciting dystopian thriller which has also transitioned into a Hollywood blockbuster in 2014. The second part comes out in March 2015, “Insurgent.” That whole series is great and I highly recommend it at any age.
                                        


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Viber Announces "Public Chats" and I Don't Get It

By: Ashley Rodriguez

They're here… Viber's Public Chats. One of the many ways to get a little peek into the lives of celebrities and other high-profile personalities (musicians, fashionistas and the like). As of 11/24/14 at 9:15 p.m. EST, Kim Kardashian has yet to join, but it's only a matter of time, I'm sure.

In case you were wondering, yes,
Public Chats are full of selfies.
At first I thought it was a way to contribute to the conversation. Like an actual chat with a celeb. But TheNextWeb.com says, no, users can't participate at the moment. Viber "does plan to enable user comments in the future." OK, so then… how is this not just a mishmash of Twitter and Instagram? How is my following Perez Hilton's ramblings (Exhibit A, at left) different than what I could be getting from any of the other social media platforms he's on?

I don't get it.

I could see it being really cool if average people like me could participate, but I can't. So it's like reading a big group text I'm not invited to and that everyone knows I'm reading, so… yeah.

It will be interesting to monitor this as more personalities and brands join. Right now, the launch partners are Perez Hilton, Tyler Oakley, Next Models, WWF-Malaysia, Paul van Dyk, Copa90 Football and a few others. But until I can feel like I'm not just eavesdropping and actually can contribute, I'm not likely to stick around.




Monday, November 24, 2014

The Argument for Encouraging Guests to Keep Their Phones on the Table

By: Ashley Rodriguez


Peacock Cafe in Georgetown (Washington, D.C.)has delicious gluten-free food. #YoureWelcome
With so many amazing restaurants in the world -- heck, in my backyard of Northern Virginia and D.C. -- it would be a shame not to share. Yes, on important occasions, I will put away my phone. But you can guarantee when I'm celebrating my husband's 30th at Restaurant Eve in a few weeks, I'll be snapping some pics. But given that the restaurant's Instagram account has a new photo every day or two, I assume photography is encouraged.
I read a story on HuffingtonPost.com today making the case for why restaurateurs are banning cell phones. No, it's not a new idea, but it's certainly one I'm kind of tired of hearing about. That's probably because I work in PR. If I owned a restaurant, I'd encourage people to refrain from checking their phones. But by all means -- please -- take (discreet) photos. Share with your friends. Hashtag it #BestRestaurantEverOmgDelicious. Give me the free PR.

Case in point. The article mentions Rogue 24 -- a Washington, D.C. restaurant aptly named for the 24 courses served during dinner -- once had diners sign a contract in which phones were banned. I haven't been to Rogue 24, but if I'm going to spend several hours eating 24 delicious (and I'm assuming equally beautiful) courses, I'm going to have my phone. So I can Instagram the highlights. Not because I have this inherent desire to share every detail of my life, but rather because I like telling people about great food. And I assume that fellow foodies appreciate that.


Todd Thrasher of PX in Alexandria, Va., gets it, telling USA Today, "These people are paying me and doing social media for me. It's the greatest thing ever for me." (If you haven't been to PX, it's definitely photo worthy since it's a hidden speakeasy tucked away on a side street of Old Town -- complete with bartenders donning suspenders and rocking old-timey mustaches. Seriously. Go there. Just look for the blue light.)


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Is Your Company's Digital Transformation Really Happening

By: Chad Cohen

Great story highlighted below from Melissa Hoffman of AdWeek, which actually shows a disconnect between perception and the reality inside the digital world. A huge number of brands are steering their ships towards a digital-first direction and while most believe they are deeply involved in the transformation, only a quarter have a clear understanding of what this means.

 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

8 Iconic Brands That Have Disappeared

By: Chad Cohen

In the business that we specialize in here at Fish, we see a lot of franchise brands come and go. It's an unfortunate part of 3business, but one that strikes event the biggest of industry giants. That's why I posted this story by Melissa Locker from Fortune below to remind ourselves that business can sometimes be fickle and that every day, brands must rise to the challenge of meeting consumer's expectations of today and in the future. 

Soon Nokia will be no more.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Finnish tech company made the must-have mobile phone. It became the world’s No. 1 mobile phone maker and a global technology tastemaker. Now comes news that Microsoft is phasing out the brand it recently acquired, in order to focus on the Lumia phone line. With the name switch, the 147-year-old Finnish company’s name will disappear from the technology it helped create.

It’s not the only well-known company to stage a vanishing act. Recently it was announced that the once-ubiquitous Hess gas stations that dotted America’s landscape will also disappear as the company focuses on oil instead of retail. While Hess’s and Nokia’s impending disappearances are playing out in the headlines, take a look back at eight other brands that were once household names, but have since disappeared.

PAN AM
Pan American World Airways, or Pan Am as it was more commonly known, was founded in 1927 in Key West, Fla., to carry mail between the U.S. and Cuba. Operations soon expanded to Central and South America as the unofficial airline of the United States, being the so-called authorized "Chosen Instrument" of U.S. travelers to foreign countries.

After World War II, an interest in air travel and a boom in tourism encouraged the company to expand its operations from its Worldport hub at New York’s JFK Airport around the globe. Pan Am soon became the go-to airline for the glamorous jet set of the 1960s and ‘70s, all of which was captured by the 2011 television series Pan Am.

However, the company was hit by two events over which it had little control, but ultimately proved insurmountable. The first was the tragic 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The second was a jump in fuel prices caused by the Gulf War, which shook the company’s finances. Pan Am filed for bankruptcy in January 1991 and closed up shop in December of that year.

BLOCKBUSTER
In 2000, Reed Hastings, the founder of a startup business called Netflix NFLX -1.15% , approached Blockbuster CEO John Antioco with a partnership proposal. Antioco turned him down flat, because his company was at the top of the video rental market with solid profits, thousands of retail locations, and millions of customers eager to rent their movies and videogames. It’s a meeting that has gone down in the annals of business lore. Blockbuster’s business faltered, and it declared bankruptcy in 2010 while Netflix thrived.

As Internet-based services such as Netflix, Hulu, iTunes and cable on-demand services continued to grow their businesses, Dish Network Corp., which acquired Blockbuster in 2011, announced that it was closing the last Blockbuster retail stores in the U.S. by early-January 2014. While Blockbuster stores no longer dot strip malls and roadsides around the country, the brand lives on in an on-demand format, attempting to rival their one-time potential partner, Netflix.

AMOCO
The Standard Oil Company was founded in 1889, and acquired the American Oil Company in 1910. That new company was called Amoco and it went on to revolutionize the gas station in America by introducing concepts like the metered gas pump, the drive-through gas station and the tanker trucks used to refill them. The company became a mainstay of American life on the road, with its ubiquitous signs dotting the side of the highway across the country. It eventually became the largest natural gas producer in North America and a leader in solar power.

In 1998, Amoco announced that is was merging with British Petroleum (BP) in one of the largest takeovers of a U.S. company by a foreign corporation. Originally, Amoco was to stay open in the U.S., but BP changed their mind and announced that all Amoco stations would be rebranded as BP. With that decision, Amoco the brand disappeared.

ENRON
In the late 1990s, Enron earned a reputation as an innovative energy and commodities company that was disrupting both industries long before “disruption” was even a thing. The Houston-based company carved out whole new categories for commodities, including Internet bandwidth and weather futures, making money where none had existed before. Enron quickly became the model for how old guard utilities could operate in the new frontier of economy 2.0 and its stock price soared.

Except, of course, it all came crashing down under a hailstorm of scandal. Enron had been hiding losses and huge debts in a vast array of shell corporations and phony partnerships. Enron declared bankruptcy in 2001, causing the loss of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars as the stock price tanked. The ensuing investigation revealed a massive fraud and Enron’s auditing firm, Arthur Andersen, ended up closing up shop as CPAs in 2002 when they were found guilty of criminal charges for their involvement in the Enron cover up.

OLDSMOBILE
Founded in 1897 as the Olds Motor Vehicle Co. by Ransom Eli Olds, the Oldsmobile became a true American icon. When Olds left to start the R.E.O motor company (named after his initials), Olds Motor Vehicle Co. became a part of General Motors in 1908, where it stayed for a hundred years.

During its century-long history, 35 million units were sold and its Cutlass and Cutlass Supreme models became some of the most recognizable cars coming out of Detroit and Lansing, Mich. Oldsmobile sold more than 1 million vehicles per year during the 1980s, but its sales started to tumble in the 1990s. The company marked its centennial in 1997 with a shortfall in sales, and it became clear that the brand couldn’t compete with smaller and more fuel-efficient cars from competitors like Hyundai, Honda and Toyota and from other GM lines like Pontiac.

In 2000, General Motors announced that the Oldsmobile brand would be phased out. The last Oldsmobile rolled off the assembly line in April 2004, and the company closed its doors soon after.

WOOLWORTH
Frank Woolworth opened the Great 5 Cents store in Utica, N.Y., in 1879. He added a dime to the name a year later and changed the way that people shopped by selling everything—from groceries to shovels to diapers and even hot lunch—under one roof, paving the way for a future of one-stop shopping destinations like Wal-Mart .

Woolworth’s dominated the discount market for much of its 117-year history, pioneering retail marketing practices still in effect today. Business started to wane in the 1980s and in 1986, the five-and-dime store branch of the Woolworth conglomerate reported an operating loss of $37 million. In 1987, The Woolworth Corporation announced it was closing the last 400 of its five-and-dime shops.

BORDERS
While Michigan may be best known as the home of American auto manufacturing, the state was also home to one of the country’s biggest book sellers: Borders. Founded in Ann Arbor in 1971, by brothers Tom and Louis Borders, the bookstore grew to 21 locations. Then in 1992, the Borders brothers sold the chain to Kmart for about $125 million. Three years later, Kmart spun off the brand along with another of their book brands, Waldenbooks, and the company went public, expanding throughout the 1990s.

Ultimately, though, the store was unable to compete with the rise of the Internet, technological advances in e-readers and digital music, and online retailers like Amazon AMZN -0.51% . After 40 years in business, the company's original Ann Arbor store closed up shop in 2011, and the company declared bankruptcy. Rival bookseller Barnes & Noble BKS 1.06% acquired Borders's trademarks and customer list. Web searches for Borders now are directed to Barnes & Noble's website.

GENERAL FOODS
Back in 1895, Charles William (C.W.) Post made a batch of Postum cereal beverage in Battle Creek, Michigan. He incorporated as the Postum Cereal Company in 1896 and started a long history in the food business. He debuted Grape-Nuts breakfast cereal in 1897. As the company’s offerings moved way past cereal, it changed its name to General Foods in 1929. The company grew for decades, acquiring products like Bird’s Eye frozen foods, Sanka decaffeinated coffee, Kool-Aid, Jell-O, Tang, the Burger Chef restaurant chain and Oscar Mayer.

In 1985, General Foods itself was acquired by Philip Morris (which later became Altria Group). When Philip Morris acquired Kraft in 1988, the two food companies were merged and spun off in 2007 as Kraft General Foods, making it the largest food company in the U.S.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Q&A with Kate Taylor, Staff Writer, Entrepreneur.com

Credit: Kate Taylor
By: Becky Peterson


In our continuing series profiling top-notch journalists, here's our recent conversation with Kate Taylor who writes the Franchise Players column, among other entrepreneurial stories, for Entrepreneur. She has covered various Fish clients including McAlister's Deli, ServiceMaster Restore, Baskin-Robbins and Merry Maids. Prior to her present gig, she was at Forbes where she helped create the 100 Most Powerful Women and the Top Colleges lists. But there's more to this well-rounded journalist. Before writing for franchises, she co-wrote an advice column and, wait for it, wrote her senior thesis at Dartmouth College on prostitution laws in Victorian England. She says she apologizes to her Twitter followers for her "random low-brow pop culture tweets on Kanye West and Taylor Swift." Enjoy a glimpse of our chat with Kate.


What’s the most important thing for PR reps to know / understand about your job as a journalist?

Just because I don't respond to your pitch doesn't mean I didn't read it! I receive so many pitches that I can't always respond to all of them. Additionally, sometimes I'm not sure how best to proceed with a pitch, so I won't respond right away. I've responded to some PR reps weeks after their initial emails more than once. Sometimes, it takes a little while for it to be the right time to write about a specific topic, but I do save interesting emails.

Do you accept PR pitches and, if so, what's the best way for you to receive them?

I do accept pitches, though if it is not for a profile or an infographic, it is rare my article will closely mirror the pitch from a PR rep. Often I'll receive a pitch and save it to my "potential stories" folder if the topic is interesting, but the timing is off. Then, information from different pitches can become parts of larger stories on trends or research. Because I like keeping all this information organized in one place, the best way to get a hold of me is via email.

How do you feel, specifically, about Twitter pitches…love or hate them?

I don't hate them, but I will admit I often miss them. I rarely check my messages, and my notifications can get a little crazy, so things slip through the cracks. I'm all about email.
                                                                   
What do you like best about working with PR reps? 

PR reps know their clients way better than I do. It's great to have access to that resource!

What kind of stories interest you right now? Any specific types of pitches from PR pros you’d like to receive?

My focus is on the franchising industry, so anything related to that is the best way to get my attention. The pitches that are most likely to get a response are potential franchisees for my Q&A series, Franchise Players. If the franchisee has an interesting story, and I haven't recently covered another franchisee from his or her franchise, I am almost always interested. Other franchise-related topics that I would love to get more pitches on are research on the franchise and/or restaurant industry and industry news.

Aside from editing the Franchise Players column, do you cover other areas for Entrepreneur?

Franchising is my primary focus, but that touches on a lot of different areas. I love writing articles about weird food trends, like restaurants serving bugs or the fast-food chains adding random food mashups to their menus. Additionally, I'm always interested in entrepreneurs that don't necessarily fit the stereotypical entrepreneur mold, whether they are franchisees or in other business sectors. 

If you weren't a writer, what would you be doing?

Hard to say! Probably working at a nonprofit, or maybe in grad school.

Friday, October 31, 2014

UberKITTENS Is Uber Brilliant

By: Ashley Rodriguez, Resident Cat Lady

So your client is a car service. And National Cat Day is coming up. And the client wants media coverage. Too much of a stretch, right? Wrong.


In what is obviously a magical combination of cars and cats, UberKITTENS let people across Washington, D.C., New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Phoenix, Austin and Chicago request 15 minutes of afternoon cuddles with kittens -- all delivered on demand by Uber drivers.

A great PR stunt, yes. But it also had a warm and fuzzy (pun intended) side. Every dollar of the $30 fee was donated to a local participating shelter. Uber also matched the donations. And in most cities, the kittens were available for adoption.

This was the second year for UberKITTENS and it landed Uber media coverage everywhere, from Mashable to Business Insider, MSN.com and even Politico.

It's a pawsitively purrfect (see what I did there?) example of a brand taking advantage of a seemingly unrelated holiday to create something everyone just had to have right meow. (OK, I'm done.)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Thoughts on Branded Content from a J-School-Student-Turned-PR-Rep

By: Ashley Rodriguez



Last night, the usual happened: I was skimming through Twitter, saw an interesting hashtag and then next thing I know a full hour passed as I was sucked into a single conversation. The CUNY Graduate School of Journalism hosted a panel last night on branded content featuring Lauren Drell, Mashable's head brand content editor; Jeremy Caplan, director of education for CUNY's Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism; Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson, U.S. news editor of The Financial Times; Shane Snow, cofounder and chief creative officer of Contently; and Liz Spayd, editor-in-chief of Columbia Journalism Review.

Titled "Branded Content: The Death of Journalism or Its Savior?", the panel sparked a heated debate on Twitter. According to one tweeter, Edgecliffe-Johnson posed the interesting question, "Is it journalism, or advertising copywriting?" But the tweet that really sucked me in was from Daniel Roberts of Fortune:
So I started Googling. Indeed, THE New York Times ran a lengthy story in June on the unique needs of female inmates in the prison system. (Read it here.) But it was paid for by Netflix as a way to promote its hit series, "Orange Is the New Black." It's written by a j-school grad (yes, I LinkedIn stalked) for the publication's in-house branded content department, T Brand Studio. Looking at it online, it's very clearly a sponsored post -- from the paidpost.nytimes.com URL to header with Netflix / OITB logos -- but only mentions "Orange Is the New Black" once. PR pros are no stranger to pay-for-play content that really pushes a marketer's message, but this is different. It's a well-written piece that at first glance could easily be editorial. But it wasn't.

Which begs the question -- would this story have been told otherwise if it had not been sponsored by a brand looking to get a small mention in a reputable publication? And is it ethical to somewhat "trick" readers into thinking it's editorial? Does it matter?

As a former journalism student now working in the PR world, branded content intrigues me. It's an interesting hybrid of the two fields that is blurring the line between true editorial and paid placements with a different agenda. Such content is here to stay, it seems, so I'll be curious to see where it goes from here. Will journalists -- suffering from cutbacks at big publications -- make the move to branded content? Will PR pros with journalism backgrounds do the same?

To read more of the convo, check out #deadlinepanel on Twitter.