In this episode of the Roundtable, I’m joined by Doug Haslam to discuss three topics:
— How should communicators be looking at keyword-targeting campaigns, like sponsored tweets, in an era in which real-time events may cause unintended consequences?
— How should brands address things like the 9/11 anniversary? Some argue for silence, but is there room for respectful recognition of the day?
— A new survey says that 35% of online donors give more because of compelling content, especially personal stories. What lessons can we take away from this as communicators?
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CHIP GRIFFIN: Hi, this is Chip Griffin from Custom Scoop with another episode of the “Media Bullseye Roundtable.” I’m very pleased to have back at the table my good friend Doug Haslam. Welcome, Doug.
DOUG HASLAM: Thank you. Welcome. Thanks for having me.
CHIP GRIFFIN: That’s okay. You can welcome me, too.
DOUG HASLAM: We’re recording on Monday morning. That’s how it goes.
CHIP GRIFFIN: That’s right. It’s an early start to the week for us; but, hopefully, we’ll still have lots of interesting things to say so that we don’t put anybody to sleep over the course of the next thirty minutes. And, of course, I will try to stick to thirty minutes, even though I apologize to all three listeners, or four listeners – whichever we counted to now – for the fact that I’ve gone a minute and-a-half over the last couple of weeks.
DOUG HASLAM: I’ll do my best to make you break that promise again.
CHIP GRIFFIN: Well, I appreciate it. Anyway, so let’s dive right in to the first topic, then. And that is, you know, in the last week or so, we’ve seen yet another example of key word targeting campaigns for sponsored tweets and other things that had unintended consequences, shall we say. And in this particular case, you know, some of the news surrounding both Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson led to some brands having some ads showing up on football streams that – you know, you have an ad for, say, soda right on top of something about Adrian Peterson; and it’s a little bit awkward. So, what do we take away from that?
DOUG HASLAM: Well, I guess just to kind of set up where this topic came into my head is on Friday I heard about Adrian Peterson being indicted for child abuse charges. I went to search “Adrian Peterson” on Twitter to see if people had links to news or to see just how people were reacting to it, and on the search page on the Twitter mobile app the first thing that came up was a big ad for Wal-Mart to buy soda. Below that was another promoted tweet for Wal-Mart. So Wal-Mart was all over this. So I concluded that Wal-Mart had bought a lot of NFL-related keywords including the names of star players and their ads just automatically show up in the Twitter stream if you searched for these people. The problem that became evident on a day like that is you get news that you did not expect that renders your keyword radioactive and you perhaps don’t have the means or aren’t employing the means to pull ads like that the moment it becomes a problem. So all of a sudden I see that Wal-Mart is sponsoring Adrian Peterson. They didn’t want to sponsor someone who’s accused of child abuse. That wasn’t their intent, but is there was way for them to be a little bit more flexible in how this- basically it’s an ad planning problem or a media planning problem. Where can they be flexible pulling ads particularly on something like Twitter at a moment’s notice if something happens even if it’s late on a Friday?
CHIP GRIFFIN: You know, one of the challenges there obviously is that they need to remember that they purchased that particular keyword, right? Because particularly when you’re talking large brands they’re often buying huge swaths of terms, and so oftentimes the first indication you have a problem may be the fact that someone starts complaining. You still want to be able to respond quickly at that point. But I think particularly where you have- even small brands are buying a lot of key words- it’s often hard to predict every possible outcome and to respond as quickly as you’d like to.
DOUG HASLAM: Right. You couldn’t have anticipated that, and I’m sure that my search was fairly early on in the news cycle on this. And that they may have pulled them since then. But it just goes to show that there’s no such thing as too fast to react to something like that. I’m smart, and I don’t blame Wal-Mart for promoting child abuse or anything like that. But still it does make you look bad and people will react. People will have knee jerk reactions, and brand watchers out there will cry foul in these situations. A slightly different situation that a lot of people talked about last week was DiGiorno’s Pizza which has a reputation for a very cheeky twitter handle. And they did a tweet based on- they used the hashtag #WhyIStayed which was a big, serious discussion about domestic abuse and tied it to delicious pizza without really reading what the hashtag was about. Really, really dumb mistake. Now this wasn’t media planning; this was something they actually did without thinking. The other side of that, of course, and maybe we’re starting to segue into another topic here, so I apologize for the digression, but one thing I wanted to point out there is I thought DiGiorno did a great job of realizing quickly what they’d done and apologized. And I thought their apology was appropriate. A lot of people were slamming the brand for not thinking and doing something dumb. Yeah, they did. But they didn’t just delete it and pretend it didn’t happen. They just said, “Ooh, we screwed up” and owned it.
CHIP GRIFFIN: And you have to be ready to do that these days because you know as I’ve talked about many times on this show before there is an angry mob out there, and they tend to coalesce even when you don’t expect. Something like that is a pretty obvious one, but there are other times where it seems perfectly reasonable to most people who look at it, but then you get an element who sees it in a slightly different light and all of a sudden it mushrooms almost out of control at least in the short term. Getting back to the original point about the targeted campaigns, one of the other challenges that I think that brands are going to see is- a lot of these ad companies now are trying to be “smarter” and instead of being a direct match for keywords, they try to find related stuff technologically. And so in some of those cases you’re going to run into even ones where it’s almost impossible to try to figure out “how do I stop it from showing up here?” Because let’s say for example that there was an algorithm where you put in NFL as your term, but it intelligently includes star names or something like that. I’m not saying that’s what happened here, certainly, but it is something where a lot of ad platforms are trying to get smarter in order to provide, as they would say, more opportunities for their advertisers. In other words, to create more saleable inventory. But that’s something that I think that brands are going to have to continue to battle as well.
DOUG HASLAM: Yeah, there has to be a mechanism to react to news that changes the nature of the keywords just like in terms of social media management if there is an event out there that means it makes sense to maybe stop posting on social media it’s kind of a similar principle. A) we’re going to look insensitive and B) no one’s paying attention to us or wants to really read about us in this context so we have to consider whether or not we even want to be out there. The media planning needs to be part of that thinking. The Adrian Peterson thing- if you’re attached to anything that might have something to do with that you’ve got to really think hard and long about where you’re being exposed and what you want to do about it or do you just want to pull back until such time that it makes sense to get back in. Yeah, that’s talking about both media planning and proactive social media.
CHIP GRIFFIN: Yeah, and you have- this is not really a new challenge. I remember back in 1998 I was doing media relations for a political group, and one of the things that we were trying to tout as part of this organization was the growth of the stock market and how various policies had helped encourage that. And so we had targeted one of these to go out on a particular day, and we’re getting ready to put it out. And of course back then it wasn’t really by email; it was by fax. And we were sending out to reporters and activists and all that, and so we had a fax list literally of 30,000 names, and I have to tell you that that is one of the most expensive things I have ever done in my life is to distribute messages. This faxing on a regular basis of 30,000 phone numbers.The bill at the end of the month was just stunning to look at, but fortunately I didn’t have to pay it. In any case, so we’re getting ready to put it out, and the stock market- we’re putting it out at 10:00 in the morning. At that point the stock market was down a little bit, and people were saying it’s just kind of a natural thing. It’s just a normal day. And so we reworked the lead of the press release just slightly to acknowledge that fact. And then as soon as we hit “send” on the thing, the market just starts to plummet, and it turns out to be one of the biggest losing days of the decade. It was the top story on the evening news, and so meanwhile, we’ve got this release that’s sitting out there touting how great the stock market is. And my boss was all over me. He called me up that afternoon just screaming. “Look, it was fine when I sent out the release. I didn’t know.” So it’s not a new problem, but with particularly so many people trying to take advantage of news cycles or doing so many different things that you don’t necessarily control it in the same, pristine way you did old-fashioned press releases, there are going to be more of these problems over time.
DOUG HASLAM: Yeah, well we talk about news jacking. In terms of the media planning and the original story we talked about in terms of unjacking- how do you extricate yourself from a planned media advertising when you realize the advertising may seem very inappropriate?
CHIP GRIFFIN: Yeah. Well, speaking about inappropriate, I think that’s a great segue to our next topic. You must have done radio at some point, Doug.
DOUG HASLAM: Oh, yeah.
CHIP GRIFFIN: We’ve had, obviously, in the last few days the thirteenth anniversary of 9/11, and this is something that for probably at least twelve of those thirteen years we have had brands do some incredibly stupid, thoughtless things. But I guess we also have brands who are trying to be respectful but also sometimes get whacked for it. So on the one end of the spectrum you have the people who are treating 9/11 just like they do President’s Day, and so “We’re going to have a 9/11 sale.” I kid you not, I was listening to a local radio ad up here in New Hampshire last week, and they were talking about a car sale around 9/11. And I was stunned by that. That just strikes me as not smart. At the same time though, we do have somber, what are supposedly somber holidays like Memorial Day that have transformed over the years into something where- with the exception of a very small pocket who may do remembrance type things on Memorial Day it really is more about kicking off the summer and selling cars and mattresses than anything else you could think of. 9/11 obviously isn’t that, but I guess my question is is there a role for brands to have on that day? Can they offer respectful messages of remembrances? Or should they simply shut up and stay quiet for that day?
DOUG HASLAM: First, in terms of comparing it to Memorial Day, I would compare 9/11 as a – I don’t think holiday is the right word – but as a day of remembrance I would compare it more to Pearl Harbor day so it’s really attached to a specific event. And you don’t even – how long has it been? Sixty, seventy years later you don’t really see people having car sales around Pearl Harbor day.
CHIP GRIFFIN: Who wants to buy a car in the middle of December?
DOUG HASLAM: Well, that, and the obvious fact that a lot of people drive Japanese cars, and it’d just be problematic all around.
CHIP GRIFFIN: Wow.
DOUG HASLAM: Yeah, I went there. But the idea that this is tied to a specific event makes it a bit more of a challenge to just do anything around that. But in terms of your question, the default should be just shut up and stay the heck out of it because if you don’t have really anything to do with what went on, even if you have the best of intentions it’s probably good to resist hitting that. One of the exceptions – and people at least in my circles seem to have really liked the messages that went out -was that one or both of the airlines that had highjacked planes that day, United and American, I think it was American at least sent out a message. Very simple acknowledgement of the day not going into details. But considering how they were inextricably linked to that day it seemed appropriate. On the other hand, Build-A-Bear putting out a camouflage bear and using that as a remembrance of 9/11 and at least subtly as a promotion, that didn’t go over so well. And I saw a lot of people attacking that. Even then they probably had good intentions. They weren’t necessarily trying to sell anything; they were trying to mark the occasion, throw their product into it because not so much as pushing the product maybe, to be generous to them, but just “Alright, this is our identification and our branding and this is our message.” But sometimes you’re just injecting yourself into a conversation that you really have no business being in. Again, the default to me on this sort of this is just to shut up and stay out of the way.
CHIP GRIFFIN: Yeah, I think that certainly is the safest approach and probably for large brands, good advice. For smaller brands I think we often sometimes don’t realize the connections that a smaller brand might have to an event like that, and so they may feel like they really want to say something because of what that connection is, but maybe they don’t want to mention it. I know that frankly September 11th has been a day that I’ve always wrestled with at least for the last thirteen years. Not before that obviously. Because I had a friend who was on one of the planes or the plane that hit the Pentagon. So I always sort of sit there that day and try to figure out what is the best approach. I will generally post something very briefly about her. The rest of the day I do try to go about as normally as possible because part of my theory is if you go completely dark that’s letting the bad guys win essentially. But I did see some people who said brands should simply do no marketing at all that day let alone anything tied into September 11th. I think that’s a bit much.
DOUG HASLAM: I think so, too.
CHIP GRIFFIN: It’s okay to say, “Let’s try to stay away from it because it’s risky,” but I think trying to say, “You really need to shut up and sit home” is also- personally I don’t think it’s the right approach.
DOUG HASLAM: December 7th is pretty much a normal day these days, and I think September 11th is very slowly, very gradually getting to be that sort of day where we’ll always acknowledge what happened but it won’t be a day where we just stop everything. I felt like I didn’t really realize what day it was until at least middle of the morning. I know people who were affected by that directly as well, but with time it becomes a different thing. But still, I guess there were some friends who said- I forget who said it, but it was probably said by several people- no company or no brand ever got excoriated for failing to recognize 9/11 in a tweet. So that’s maybe the way to think about that.
CHIP GRIFFIN: And probably a good one. Okay, so let’s move on to the next topic then. And that is there’s a new survey – and unfortunately I don’t have it in front of me so I don’t recall exactly who sponsored it – but it said that thirty-five percent of online donors give more because of compelling content, and the content especially when it’s personal stories tends to work best. Obviously some of our listeners are engaged with nonprofit fundraising activity. I know that’s something I consult on. You, obviously, have been involved with the Pan-Mass Challenge. But I think this is something we can learn not just from a nonprofit perspective but also from a for-profit one. Compelling content actually does produce value. But I’d be interested in your take on this research particularly as someone who has for last six, seven years does the Pan-Mass Challenge and been involved in fundraising for it. So you’ve got sort of personal, firsthand direct experience because you create content for it. You take pictures and videos and things like that.
DOUG HASLAM: Right. And the survey was done by Cantico Software, and they basically- just looking at the top line numbers here- thirty-five percent of those who donate online are sometimes wooed to give more than planned when presented with compelling website content. I’m reading that directly from a bulldog reporter article. And the gist here seems to be that it’s very hard to find new donors which I think is true. And compelling content, what it does, for lack of a less crass term, helps you upsell people to give more. And those things do enter my mind in terms of “What can I do as an individual participant?” So I don’t represent Pan-Mass Challenge, which is a two-day bike ride to fight cancer, but I participate in it, and I’m on the hook for raising a certain amount of money every year. So I do keep track of the numbers and the methods with which I do it. What’s interesting about this year is I didn’t do a lot of special content. What I found is after my seventh year doing the ride, I’m in a certain phase of maturation that if I want to get more new donors I agree that I’m going to have to find new ways to reach out to those people and new ways of outreach. But in terms of nurturing the current donors I could do more compelling content. In the past I’ve done things like more videos of train rides, how can I make those better has been the problem in my mind so I’ve kind of scaled back. I’ll think about next year what I can do to make things that I know people will watch.
CHIP GRIFFIN: Crashes.
DOUG HASLAM: Crashes are great.
CHIP GRIFFIN: Just keep running it, and only show the crashes. It’s sort of like a NASCAR highlight reel.
DOUG HASLAM: You know, it’s funny I had a crash this year. I didn’t have my camera running, but there was one year at the Pan-Mass Challenge where I fell. I wasn’t going very fast. We were going up a bridge, and somebody stopped, and I just fell over. I had just one little video of me falling over from my point of view. And people actually enjoyed that.
CHIP GRIFFIN: There are a lot of sick people like me out there.
DOUG HASLAM: Another thing I did was to spotlight donors and do blog posts with a little bit of a profile of the people who give to kind of give you an idea of who gives and what and perhaps why if they’d like to say so. One other thing mentioned in the survey is people like stories. So if you go into what’s the personal story so I can talk about people in my life that have had cancer or even died from cancer and why I’m doing that. And that certainly does- it’s a little bit of a tugging at the heartstrings thing, but it really makes the effect and the appeal of it very real. And I think you couple that with – just looking at doing this for seven years, I actually keep track of things like average donation. Which, expect for one outlier year, was pretty high. Average donation a few years ago about $55, but the last two years it’s been above $70. So I have done something to get the donors, and I have about an eighty percent rate of- eighty percent of my donors from last year- eighty percent of my donors this year have given in the past. So it’s getting to the point where I’m getting fewer new donors and getting a lot of the same people donating over and over and over. And again, I agree, I don’t have a good story about this year- about doing compelling content that got them to give more, but I did do certain things like more direct appeals rather than spamming out tweets and Facebook messages, which I did do, I also sent a couple of emails, and it’s not just the compelling content but when you send it how you state things knowing your audience. And these are mostly people I know. When you’re talking about an organization on a bigger scale there’s a bit more of a generality to things, I think.
CHIP GRIFFIN: I guess I always tend to harp on this, but it’s not purely a digital thing. The Jimmy Fund, which is involved with the Pan-Mass Challenge, has always been very good at leveraging personal stories from a fundraising perspective. For many years I was very actively involved as a donor with the Jimmy Fund. I would go to the annual auction they would have at Fenway Park. As part of that they would always bring in these kids with cancer, and so you got to meet them. You go in saying, “This is what I’m going to give,” and then after you hang out with the kids for a couple of hours all of a sudden you’re giving double that because it really just pulls at the heartstrings. For me, the toughest thing was because I was involved for a number of years each year you would go, and each year you would then see the parents of some of the kids who were there last year but unfortunately were no longer able to be there obviously. And that’s particularly compelling. I think that one of the challenges, and I loathe to bring up the ice bucket challenge again because we’ve talked about it way too much everywhere including on this show, but I think one of the things that that showed was that content is a key part of giving. But I think the flip side that a lot of people don’t think about is that in some respects giving is a zero sum game. People don’t truly have more money to give, so if you come up with that compelling content for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge more money will be given there, but it probably means that something less is given somewhere else. Certainly people can in general cause a slight uptick in their own personal giving, but we all have our limits as to what we can do in any given year. And so providing the good content is not just important for telling your own story and perhaps getting more from your donors, but it’s so important from separating yourself from all of the other very worthy causes out there who are doing their own thing to try to get the stories out.
DOUG HASLAM: Yeah, well there’s definitely a lot of competition among nonprofits to be able to raise money. They’ve got to figure that there’s a limited pie even if they grow the pie a little bit due to the attention. There was actually one other thing in that survey that I wanted to call out. They didn’t talk just about compelling stories, which is very emotional and gets people to open their wallets because of the emotion involved with what they’re hearing and seeing, but also data and statistics. That’s something the Pan-Mass Challenge equips their riders and volunteers with a lot of that. They give them a data sheet about cancer statistics. So it’s not just those sorts of statistics like how many people get cancer, what are the survival rates for now versus in the past. And even things like fundraising pastors who are able to say “100 percent of what I raise goes to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund.” So when you get past the compelling content or the viral things like the ice bucket challenge where you have that participatory social media, how do you sustain that? People at some point, if you want to get those people who donated to come back, at least a percentage of them are going to want to know what good is this doing? Where is my money going? What are the real numbers in this case? ALS- how many people are affected? What has been the progress? How does this money help find a cure or treatment for the disease? And I think a lot of the cancer charities are more mature and have a lot of answers for that. It would be interesting to see how ALS does that over the next year because they’ll have a challenge to try to keep a certain percentage of these new surge of donors that they have. And using compelling content that they develop themselves this time as well as using numbers and persuasion. “Persuasion” meaning bringing out facts to persuade people to stay on your side and continue to give will be interesting. When you participate in something, and again, bringing this back down to this individual participant level for me, how do I find a new way to say the same thing every year? And it comes down to the content and anything new in the data that’s compelling because in the end you’re basically trying to get people to give you money. And you have to give them a good reason. Sometimes you have to give them a new reason every year.
CHIP GRIFFIN: Right. And compelling content is- and this is in both the nonprofit and for-profit realm- really is building that relationship between an organization, which is- organizations by their very nature are impersonal. You have to provide personality by including stories and people and all that sort of thing. But the relationships you can build through compelling content is what I think helps bring people back over time. Which is the kind of thing from our perspective at Custom Scoop- we put out what I hope is compelling content through this podcast, our blog, etc. that are designed to build relationships with people so that when they’re thinking, “Hey, I need a media monitoring service,” or “Hey, I don’t like my current provider. I’d like to switch” we’re top of mind and we’ve built that level of trust with them and shown them the kinds of things that we’re about. And so if I’m a nonprofit I want to be doing that. If I’m a for-profit I want to be doing it. It’s just that, I think content is just so key to building that relationship.
DOUG HASLAM: I think when you come to the for-profit world people struggle with the “We just need to get out there and market and sell” or “We just have to get out there and put out content” and how do you put those two things together and what are the bits that join those two things? Putting out content, that doesn’t necessarily directly sell. How does that lead to helping my business meet its bottom line?
CHIP GRIFFIN: Yeah, no, absolutely. Unfortunately I think the bottom line here is I think we’re going to be slightly over so-
DOUG HASLAM: Yes!
CHIP GRIFFIN: You win, Doug. Congratulations.
DOUG HASLAM: 2-0.
CHIP GRIFFIN: You and Chuck and Mark, you guys are great at carrying us over. Not surprisingly Jen Philips is good at keeping us on time probably since she hosted the show for a long time and had to try to do that math in her head herself. Anyway, I hope it was some compelling content for our four, five listeners. I’m going up to five this week. I like five. It’s a nice round number. I really appreciate you being with me, Doug, even though you did draw us over time, and I look forward to having you back on the round table real soon.
DOUG HASLAM: Alright, well thank you so much.