Wednesday, March 31, 2010

eBillme cashes in on the creative and compelling with Gregory FCA PR campaign

Posted by Greg Matusky
Gregory FCA loves clients that are continually in motion, reinventing themselves and their public relations programs. Over the past five years, no client has been more successful at this than eBillme.

They came to Gregory FCA in 2005 as a fledgling start-up from Ottawa, Canada, with a concept that frankly was way ahead of its time. eBillme provides a secure way to buy online without using a credit card, but rather by paying cash drawn from online bank accounts.

It's the brainchild of entrepreneur Marwan Forzley, who came up with the concept well before the credit collapse and America's return to cash. His brother, Samer Forzley, has led the company's constant marketing metamorphosis, transforming eBillme into the undeniable leader in online cash payment options serving over 800 e-tailers, including Sears.com, Kmart.com, and TigerDirect.com.

What we love about eBillme and the Forzley formula for marketing and PR is that they are willing to try the big idea, and embrace new social media to help along the way.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

From the frontline of the PR revolution

Posted by Greg Matusky
The revolution started that day in 1995 when a pony-tailed entrepreneur met me at the front door of a former train station and pointed to a server, sitting under a table in his inner office. "Every time that red light flickers," he said referring to the hard disk drive, "I make a little money."

The pony tail belonged to Jason Olim, who, along with his brother Matthew, founded CDNOW. He was an early pioneer of e-commerce and online music sales, and a guy who was well before his time and the market.

I had the privilege of working with Jason as CDNOW grew, and in return, he rewarded Gregory FCA with a shout out in his book, "The CDNOW Story," when he thanked us not only for the national exposure, but also for the storytelling -- the ability to position a brand-new company, a brand-new industry, inside a single paragraph.

And so began the digital revolution in my life for a guy who started working in communications on an IBM Selectric typewriter, which quickly gave way to a Kaypro, then an IBM PCjr, up until today, as I sit on a waiting list for the iPad.

What began back then continues today, as public relations undergoes tremendous change and evolution. If you had walked with me over the past 10 days as I met with Fortune 500 companies and their marketing people, one point stands clear: Human communications is undergoing a maelstrom of change that will have a greater impact than the telephone, and more meaning than radio and TV combined.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Gregory FCA sponsors The Art of News and Storytelling in the Age of Social and Digital Media panel discussion April 15

Posted by Greg Matusky
A panel comprised of reporters, writers, editors, social media directors, and a nationally recognized professor from Columbia University are coming to Philadelphia, as part of a panel discussion designed to shed new light on the news business, storytelling, and social media in the digital age.

The Art of News and Storytelling in the Age of Social and Digital Media is a presentation and panel discussion that will take place Thursday, April 15, 2010 at the Pyramid Club in Philadelphia from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

The panel includes working journalists and social media commentators who will discuss the changing media landscape and provide a national perspective on how blog and news stories are developed, told, and shared.

Panelists will also share their thoughts on how the media is evolving and what communications, marketing, and media professionals need to know as the rules continue to change.

The two-hour event, which is sponsored by Gregory FCA, is open to students, the public, executives, and marketing and communications professionals. Students are free. The $15 admission fee is being donated to NewsTrust, a nonprofit organization helping people find and share good journalism online.

Panelists include:
The Pyramid Club is located at 1735 Market Street, 52nd Floor, Philadelphia, Pa. 19103. You can register by writing to Dana King or RSVP'ing online.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Gregory FCA's "Today" show challenge

Posted by Greg Matusky
I tell anyone in consumer products that if you want to get on the "Today" show, talk to Jackie Zima -- our consumer products PR pro here at Gregory FCA. She has a three-year run of landing weight loss clients on the set, chatting with Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira. She's got the format down pat, and works six months in advance with producers to frame show ideas and then deliver our clients within them.

So when Jackie's colleague, Katie Nicolai, told me she was going to New York to meet with "Today," I laid down the challenge. Get the Gregory FCA name on national TV in the "Today" show receiving line, and Gregory FCA would pay $300. With her usual youthful exuberance, Katie took me up on the offer.

Kate Nicolai in the "Today" show receiving line
Her unconventional approach deserved an unconventional payoff. So I rewarded Katie with the cash. Congrats to Katie!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What Peggy Goldman taught Gregory FCA about social media

Posted by Greg Matusky
Peggy Goldman talks about good marketing the way a former Supreme Court Justice talked about obscenity, "I just know it, when I see it."

Such was the journey Gregory FCA began nearly a year ago when we took on the assignment to build a blog and social media campaign for Peggy's exotic travel business -- Friendly Planet. Peggy went into the project with no preconceived notions. Rather, like many of our clients, she was determined to use digital communications to direct her own narrative and express the emotional connection she holds for her business and its customers, as they experience the wonder of travel to locales that include India, China, Nepal, or the Galapagos.

Her personal commitment is a tough story to tell through traditional public relations. In an economy still teetering, the travel media is fighting for its own survival, fixated on travel deals as a way to connect with hard hit travelers. Peggy certainly has the deals.

Her 10-day, $999 China trip broke all kinds of booking records. And part of her public relations campaign has included an aggressive outreach to traditional media, such as The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic Traveler, and others who now cover her travel packages extensively. But telling a more nuanced story required tools only now available to public relations practitioners, which brings me to blog.friendlyplanet.com.

Better than any other Gregory FCA case study, Friendly Planet's blog demonstrates how companies can take control of their message and integrate real content into the online marketing of their products and services.

Monday, March 15, 2010

As the PR industry embraces Web 2.0, PR suppliers fail to keep pace

Posted by Greg Matusky
More than anything, Web 2.0 is about lowering the costs of doing business while delivering better results, more quickly than what could be achieved in the paper-and-pencil or even Excel world of yesterday.

We're all about that here at Gregory FCA. Our social media services leverage the power of Web 2.0 to let our clients direct their own narrative, own and develop their digital channels, and deliver their message directly to online target audiences. This helps them win visibility, sell more products or services, and establish thought leadership.

So why aren't our PR suppliers keeping up with the industry's commitment to innovation? Why aren't they helping to reduce our costs, and in turn, those of our clients?

At the beginning of the year, a number of suppliers unilaterally increased fees at a time when innovation should be lowering the cost of doing business.

Some vendors did it more egregiously than others. Last week, on a call I had with one national provider of PR services to the industry, Gregory FCA insiders listened as the vendor's management team explained a recent 35-percent rate increase.

It wasn't based on better service or greater value. Rather, the vendor claimed that the rate they once charged was simply too low, and that because of their mistake, Gregory FCA has to swallow a one-third rate increase. I told them point blank that they are risking offending the very people who pay their bills, Gregory FCA's nationwide clients.

I was then told that their so-called pricing flaw is now Gregory FCA's problem to explain to clients -- clients that have built their budgets based on past pricing. The vendor's faulty logic was made even more infuriating by the fact that it took this supplier two weeks to return our call, and the fact that they recently changed the way their product is distributed, vastly reducing its value.

It got me thinking. If my clients are asking us to do more with less and if we have been able to do so through innovation and the power of the Web, then it's time that suppliers to the PR industry start working with agencies to reduce their costs, and not annually increase fees as if it's the go-go years of the tech or real estate bubbles. Here's a game plan for how to accomplish just that.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Gregory FCA unveils the magic of movie making

Posted by Greg Matusky
A couple of weeks ago, I shared a video with you that we produced when we presented to and won as a client, Leggett & Platt (NYSE: LEG), a Missouri-based, $3 billion S&P company. Creativity and enthusiasm won the day with our parody of Philly's favorite film, "Rocky."

Ever since I wrote the post, I have been hammered by clients and our growing online audience of readers to come clean and admit whether we really ate raw eggs before crashing out of the offices and running through the streets of Philly and up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum.

Creativity is one thing. Salmonella is another. To learn the secret, watch the follow-up video and learn how we set up this simple special effect.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Pay for sway? Hardly. O’Dwyer’s pulls rank, Gregory FCA faces a decision

Posted by Greg Matusky
Here at Gregory FCA, we try not to comment much on insider PR news and views. Nothing is more boring than PR people sniping at one another.

But the recent dust up at O’Dwyer’s made me realize that their decision to charge to rank PR agencies is one that more media will have to make in the future as subscribers and advertisers disappear.

For those of you outside the PR industry, Jack O’Dwyer is a long time booster, critic, and commentator on PR, whose annual ranking of PR firms sets the pecking order for our industry.

Gregory FCA has been a beneficiary of O'Dwyer's rankings. As we have risen in the rankings, so too have the number of unsolicited RFPs we receive, often the result O’Dwyer’s rankings finding their way into corporate decision making.

Jack called me the other day from New York. As usual, he was out of breath and manic. He goes on to compliment Gregory FCA for once again being named one of the country’s largest PR firms. Then he gets down to business. The fact is, he’s hurting, and so too are his newsletter and annual rankings. He’s being hit by the same forces that are undermining mainstream media. No one wants to buy traditional ads or pay for subscriptions. It’s that zero sum logic that information should be free.

I appreciate his candor. Then he tells me that O’Dwyer’s simply can’t afford to publish the rankings any longer without more support from the PR industry in general, and Gregory FCA in particular. From here on out, he is charging the country’s largest PR firms, including Gregory FCA, to be included in his ranking.

I think for a moment about all the implications. Does this smack of pay for play? Should Gregory FCA be in the game or out?

I know firsthand how much work rankings demand, especially when you are dealing with cagey PR people given to huff and puff. In my own world, I contend with a local competitor that is forever telling local media they can’t disclose revenue because they’re owned by a public company and restricted by Sarbanes Oxley. It’s a sham, of course. SOX is about transparency. It’s more likely the competitor wants to unethically inflate numbers, and the public parent objects.

Then it occurs to me. If we want to continue to have media at all, the media needs to find novel ways to tap new streams of revenue. If you want a media property to invest hundreds of hours in researching and vetting an open and true industry ranking, then those who benefit from the ranking should be willing to send in a check along with their applications.

If media continues on its current self-destructive course and refuses to charge appropriately for content, then not only is the press in jeopardy, but so too is the PR industry, which depends on this inelegant symbiosis for its raison d'ĂȘtre. Pardon my French. And anyway, where is it written that readers, viewers, or listeners have the right to consume reporters’ work and publishers' property for free, simply by searching Google?

Rankings and awards are two areas that can be clearly delineated from content, and should be fair game for revenue. After all, the media often sponsors trade shows and charges their loyal followers handsomely for the right to hobnob.

Rankings are a similar gray area that, in these desperate times, should be targeted. Jack also deserves kudos for the transparency of his decision. O’Dwyer’s blog published comments from both sides, those in support and those who now consider Jack the Antichrist (which is not too far from my opinion on my competitor’s decision to hide behind SOX rather than disclose real revenue numbers). You can read the gory details of the controversy on the O'Dwyer's PR Blog.

So Jack, I've sent the check! Your work has been too important to the industry and too important to my firm to ignore your plea. I'm happy to pay up for work well done.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

"Precious" and "An Education" to upset Oscars?

Posted by Greg Matusky
One of the things I am most proud of is my work with the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. It's not a Gregory FCA client. Rather, I serve on the Institute's board and do what I can to support the organization, which is committed to film, film education, as well as the preservation of a historic theater here on the Main Line.

Its President, Juliet Goodfriend, is a tremendous advocate and ambassador of film. My support fits well with a lifetime commitment to communications -- this one being in the visual arts instead of strictly media.

For fun, we worked with Juliet to conduct a study of who will win the Oscars. (Incidentally, the Institute is holding an "Oscar Bling Fling" party this Sunday night to celebrate its fifth anniversary and watch the Academy Awards. Tickets are still available online.) We used Neilsen BuzzMetrics to review online sentiment for nominees up for Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Actress.

Obviously, no one can predict who will win. But we thought it would be fun to see who had the most positive buzz leading into this weekend's awards. We found that in many cases there was a tie -- and even an upset. The envelope please ...

Deconstructing new media: Five ways to show and tell

Posted by Greg Matusky
Harvey Levin beat me to the punch. Nightly, "TMZ's" host challenges a group of 20-something producers to give him the story. He pushes and prods. Laughs and cajoles. I often think our in-house media meetings at Gregory FCA would make similarly great TV, as we challenge each another to find and frame the story, and serve it up.

That serve is increasingly visual. Even print media today wants visuals to spur Web traffic. It can be a video, photo slide show, narrated PowerPoint, or animation. And for their online properties, print media wants the attention-grabbing visuals that engage and hold their audiences.

Rich Levin, our crack Editor-in-Chief and social media director, is the best I've ever worked with in delivering visuals. Collaborating with Kate Richie, one of our top media placement pros, they approached Fritz Nelson at InformationWeek with a challenge: Video our client creating an enterprise application in five minutes, without programming. It's something their editors have never seen before. So it was a good story presented to the right person at InformationWeek.

InformationWeek loved the idea. The resulting video is worth more than a thousand words (or clicks).

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Yo, Adrian! When Philly firm goes hunting, it relies on creativity to land Leggett and Platt

Posted by Greg Matusky
I am often asked by peers who started with me in public relations, "How did you manage to create a breakout firm, one that lands national clients?" I've always hated sharing trade secrets. But I believe creativity and enthusiasm are the keys to convincing prospects, regardless of where they are located or how large they might be, to engage a Philadelphia-based firm to manage their public relations or social media programs.

One recent example is how we won business from Missouri-based Leggett & Platt, a $3 billion S&P 500 company. We had done business with Leggett on a limited basis in 2006, but when they put their entire account out for national bid, we needed a creative way to showcase our enthusiasm and ability to serve them working out of Philadelphia. I think the resulting tongue-and-cheek video, which we presented to their executive team at the pitch meeting, says it all. And yes, we did get Leggett's corporate work!

How Gregory FCA jumps into action for fellow colleagues

Posted by Greg Matusky
Granted, I am an unabashed booster to Gregory FCA. Can't help it. My name is on the door. But sometimes it's important for the world to understand our culture and what it means to be part of the mission. And when I say mission, I do mean mission. We work under the mentality of "brothers in arms," fighting together for the greater good of our clients.

So I thought today, I would post an unsolicited e-mail I received from our head of investor relations, Joe Hassett. Joe joined us in 2005, when we acquired his successful IR practice. He brought with him a tremendous amount of financial communications know-how, as well as a can-do attitude that's made him a fan favorite with clients and colleagues.

Here's the actual e-mail, with slight edits for clarity, he sent me on a snowy Saturday morning.
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