Archive for June, 2008

New respect for PR? If Ad Age is any indicator, maybe so!

Sally Saville Hodge


That’s my somewhat gleeful chortle at the ironies of life as I ruminate on ongoing changes in the advertising/marketing/PR landscape, reflected in the pages of Advertising Age.

I really started paying attention back in January when the publication – considered by many as the Bible of the ad industry – actually named a PR firm as its Agency of the Year.  You could almost hear the collective gasps of surprise, chagrin, horror and what all as the big ad agencies and marketing firms opened their copies of that particular issue to find Richard Edelman’s smiling face looking out from the prized spot (subscription required) in the magazine.

What I found interesting was not just the nod to the job Edelman PR’s done in managing – being on the forefront, actually – all of today’s converging media. It was the implicit acknowledgement of the philosophy Richard espouses and that I, for one, agree with wholeheartedly. As he says on Edelman’s Web site: “PR should lead the communications mix because we uniquely engage all stakeholders in a dialogue that is timely, consistent and credible.”

Ad Age has only added insult to injury by continuing to play up PR-related trends and issues in prime real estate once devoted to the ad campaign du jour. On the front page of the June 9 issue, for example, it delved into how the spinmeister sector was coping with communicating about its biggest current issue: the slowdown in business. (Who’s glossing it over? Who’s actively concerned?)

And then…Ad Age had the nerve to opine that Jet Blue, beset with PR woes, actually NOT advertise (as per the carrier’s new push), but instead get back to the basics that set it apart to begin with:  “Customer service and good internal and external communication.”

I can’t say that I actively participated in the hand-wringing over the lack of respect that PR has typically gotten over the years from non-PR communicators, decision-makers, and, of course, the media in general. But it is nice to see that we’re getting some credibility outside of our own little sphere of influence.

Living up to the promise, though. That’s the challenge facing the PR brand moving forward.

June 9, 2008 at 9:30 pm 4 comments

A brand promise story with a happy ending?

By Chris Scott

Everybody has a horror story dealing with a utility company – from telephone to gas to electric service provider. But few of these companies inspire more customer wrath than the cable company, especially one with a shoddy reputation.

How many times has a friend moaned about the cable company’s missed installation appointments, surprise billing errors, intermittent service or rude customer service?

The complaints I’ve heard usually involve one of the biggest players: Comcast. In recent years, it’s moved into providing Internet and phone services alongside its cable TV offerings for residences and now for businesses. Oh joy. Now they can screw up all of our electronic connections to the outside world simultaneously!

So when we decided to research a new Internet and Internet-based phone service provider for Hodge Schindler, Comcast was last on our list, especially because its push into business services was an unknown quantity. We had visions of the phone cutting out for no logical reason, or losing e-mail and Web access for an extended period of time.

Imagine our surprise when Comcast (and its Business Services department) came through not only with Internet speeds four times faster than our previous service, but also with reliable VoIP phone service for our 10-person office. We’ve had the service for nearly a month now and have (knock wood) experienced very few problems. (The company even threw in free basic cable TV service for our conference room set.)

And all of this costs about 30 percent less a month than the old service for the next three years – the regular price, not an introductory rate.

Not that there weren’t some glitches that had us questioning the entire deal for a time: pre-installation issues with certain Comcast technicians telling us to pay a separate contractor to wire the cable from our building’s basement to our offices; unreturned phone calls seeking answers on installation timing; and, yes, a missed appointment from a technician.

Our skepticism was heightened when it appeared as though Comcast wouldn’t live up to promised pre-installation services due to a lazy technician who lied about his actions (or lack thereof) to the bosses back in the office.

Still, the tale ended happily, partly because we contacted a newly installed Comcast customer ombudsman. And also, I think, because the company really wants to expand its local business customer base. As the beneficiaries so far, that’s pretty cool.

So what have we learned?

  • Comcast is trying (with some success) to overcome its negative brand associations and really is able to offer reliable Internet and Internet-based phone service to businesses at reasonable rates.
  • Albeit with a bit of arm-twisting, Comcast is willing to do what it takes to expand its business client roster, to the extent of wiring an old, not cable-ready building.
  • Sometimes it pays off for customers to take a risk, even when a potential vendor’s poor reputation makes you take pause at doing business with them.

Let’s keep that last point in mind the next time a company suggests giving them a try for a service you might be shopping around for. We certainly plan to.

June 3, 2008 at 3:27 pm 4 comments

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