Posts filed under ‘Resources’

A Tale of $10,000 Tweets

By Sally Saville Hodge

Despite being a faithful (if abashed) reader of celebrity publications like People magazine, I somehow missed the hubbub over one of my favorite pseudo celebrities (not): Kim Kardashian.

Kim, of course, is emblematic of a new phenomenon with the American public: The elevation to star status of people who have absolutely no discernible talent or skills, but have been smart enough to hire effective publicists. (See Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie.)

She does have one thing going for her, however. She Twitters. Over 3 million people actually follow her tweets. That apparently gives her some degree of influence over the masses. And so, in a new twist on a time-honored marketing ploy, Kim is now in hot demand as a celebrity endorser via Twitter.

It’s called “sponsored Tweets,” a gentler term than advertising and presumably one that resonates more positively in an environment where authenticity supposedly rules.

Kim is at the top of this particular heap and reportedly rakes in a cool $10,000 per tweet. She’s not the only “publisher” to do so – just for lesser amounts. Dr. Drew is a big draw and so is Lindsay Lohan and her ex, Samantha Ronson. Even business groups with a big following – the CBOE and Stock Futures Forecast – are registered as being available via the leading matchmaking platform,

The whole business raises a lot of issues relative to transparency and authenticity, the ultimate barometers of successful social media interactions. claims that the endorsed tweets it brokers are identified through the “#advertising” disclaimer at the end of each post.

But a growing number of concerns are entering the fray and may not be so principled. And unfortunately, while the Federal Trade Commission issued guidelines on celebrity (and other) blog endorsements last year, requiring full disclosure, it somehow left the Twitter issue to fall between the cracks.

Ultimately, the $64,000 question is whether a Twitter post by Kim or Dr. Drew or even the CBOE is going to pay off with new business. At least one expert says, “Not so much.” At last month’s Ad Age Digital Media Conference, Yahoo’s principal research scientist Duncan Watts told the audience: “If I had a fixed budget, I could get more value from a small amount of very influential [influencers], or a lot of smaller influencers, on Twitter. If you recruit enough people who, on average, influence just one other person, you could get a much better return on investment if you aggregated them and altogether paid them a tenth of what Kardashian gets.”

I’d settle! And to that end I’ll need to build up my followers. Follow me at @sallyshodge so I can give Kim a run for her money.

May 14, 2010 at 4:50 pm Leave a comment

PR and the respect factor

Sally Saville Hodge

rdPublic relations has always been like the Rodney Dangerfield of the communications field. You know: We just don’t get any respect.

Our collective inferiority complex has been self-created, to a significant extent. The tendency by many in the profession to use overstatement and hype as their stock in trade hasn’t helped the cause. And high profile ethical lapses haven’t added any to the practice’s luster. (Remember Ketchum PR’s payment of $240,000 to minority radio broadcaster Armstrong Williams to tout on air and with his peers the No Child Left Behind program?)

That’s on the public side. Generally speaking, PR is low on the totem pole among business professionals as well. Never mind some of the more unfortunate associations that play down PR’s value. The term “free publicity” is emblematic.

I’ve always thought much of it related to how much of a budget PR commands and controls, particularly vis a vis the far weightier purse carried by Marcom and advertising. After all, money equals power, and it’s not unusual to see ad budgets of the big players in the millions of dollars – hundreds of millions, even. On the other hand, a million-dollar PR campaign is considered exceedingly healthy.

The irony is that for all the disrespect, and for whatever reason, it’s PR that really has the power to build a brand. For all of traditional media’s failings (and recent flailings, for that matter), it’s the news coverage that PR helps bring about that carries credibility, not the “they’ll say anything to make you buy” advertising messaging that’s so transparent to the public. And that’s only part of the powerful overall PR package.

We’re hearing more stories these days of some recession-hit businesses cutting their marketing budgets, but diverting more funds into PR programs instead. I don’t know that I’m ready to call it a trend, unfortunately. We just haven’t managed to do the job of convincing our partners in marketing (and higher up the food chain) that we can be more than simply masters of spin.

Or have we, but marketing leadership just can’t bring itself to respond accordingly?

Michael Dunn, Chairman of Prophet (full disclosure: a client since 2001) has just authored a book called The Marketing Accountability Imperative. It’s a heavy read, but a must-read for senior management. But apropos to this conversation, here’s a pullout worth thinking about:

    “Our 2007 senior marketer survey showed that B2B companies believe that public relations is the most effective activity for long-term brand building and the third most effective at driving short-term sales (after field sales activities and outbound marketing). No form of advertising came close to PR in its perceived long- or short-term effectiveness. Despite this, B2B marketers spend only about 1 percent of their budget on public relations and over 20 percent on advertising. The effectiveness of PR is also rated higher than advertising among B2C marketers and their contradictory spending relationships are even more pronounced.
    …[M]arketers’ behaviors seem somewhat puzzling – they do not believe that the marketing activities that they are spending the most on are the most effective, yet they are unwilling or unable to take the steps necessary to quantify this performance.

Puzzling, indeed.

April 6, 2009 at 5:17 pm 1 comment

Atwitter over Twitter? It could happen

Sally Saville Hodge

Here’s what I’ve learned in the last three months or so that I have more actively started Twittering:

  • The name is silly, but so apropos. After all, when you’re communicating in short bursts of words (140 characters max) and following more than one or two people, it does create something of the same cacophony on your senses as a large flock of birds.
  • It has a ton of fans, some of whom are rabidly judgmental. Don’t let them scare you off though, because…
  • …despite the judgmental folks, there are no real rules for using it.
  • You really have to use it to get it and its implications.
  • It’s an incredibly exciting example of how users are shaping the experience – far beyond what the people who created it ever intended or expected.

To the last point, here’s an interesting presentation by one of Twitter’s founders explaining the original idea and how users have innovated around it. Next week, I’ll take a look at some of the reasons for climbing aboard – whether for fun or for profit.

(And by the way, if you sign up for a Twitter account – it’s free – look me up at @sallyshodge.)

March 2, 2009 at 8:51 pm Leave a comment

Another word…or two…on HARO

Sally Saville Hodge

In my humble opinion, the new Help A Reporter Out (HARO) media matchmaking service comes out ahead of the venerable ProfNet by virtue of the KISS factor, if nothing else.

I did a down and dirty, point-by-point comparison a week or so ago from my perspective as a communications professional who’s been using ProfNet almost since its inception, and who has now added HARO to my bag of tricks.

But here’s the deal. The scuttlebutt I’m hearing from my friends on the other side of the fence is that journalists actually like it too. Who knew? Especially since I’ve lost track of the times I’ve listened to them complain about how so many PR folks abuse the ProfNet service.

By not being an abuser myself is how I met Deborah Cohen, a Chicago freelancer who, among other assignments, writes a weekly small business column for Reuters. I actually knew how to respond effectively to a ProfNet post in February, and she called me minutes later to tell me so, and get more information.

Today, she’s pretty much abandoned ProfNet for HARO. “I’m seeing a lot more legitimate sources on it, instead,” she tells me.


What she means by that is, primarily, sources who have not been filtered through a PR functionary. Deborah recalls posting on HARO for people who could share their experiences utilizing merchant cash advances or were experts on the topic. She got some very on-target responses, including one from a business owner who had been burned using this financial tool.

“On-target” may be the operative words. She would consider “illegitimate” the number of responses she got off many of her posts with ProfNet that were often not even remotely related to the query and/or broke the accepted rules, like including attachments (massive case studies, for example), waaaaaaay long pitches, and the obligatory follow-up call for the unwary who make the mistake of including their numbers. In short, so-called PR pros who are looking to get lucky even if their clients’ relevance to the query is marginal, at best.

What I find interesting is that apparently, a fair number of non-PR types subscribe to HARO, no doubt a function of the pricing structure (like free), which makes it all the more attractive to savvy bootstrappers, who may just get how to work the deal better than a lot of so-called professionals. That’s a pretty sad commentary.

C’mon people. Let’s all do better. HARO’s Peter Shankman plans a teleseminar to help at 1 p.m. (EST) September 9. Keep checking the HARO site for info as it develops.

August 27, 2008 at 5:54 pm Leave a comment

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

And the battle twixt technocrats and luddites rages

Sally Saville Hodge

One of the never-ending discussions in both the PR/marketing blog world and in related traditional media focuses on who gets it and who doesn’t when it comes to social media strategies. By now, it’s become obvious. Only a chosen few apparently get it.

The most recent salvo, picked up by the media and bloggers alike, was issued in the form of a recent survey of senior level corporate marketers by TNS media intelligence and Cymfony, a marketing influence analytics firm. Agencies – marketing, advertising and PR – are all behind the eight-ball, was the consensus: They lack practical experience and tend to try to shoehorn traditional tactics into social media space.

To me, this study shows some flaws. For starters, only 70-some senior level corporate marketers were included in the survey, and those apparently with Fortune 500-level firms like Hewlett Packard, Hyundai and Johnson & Johnson. That’s not a huge base. Moreover, to my mind, such players have the financial flexibility and the human capital that smaller businesses don’t of being able to take the risk of experimenting.

And for all their talk, yes, big businesses are shifting more of their budgets to social media, but the lion’s share is still directed toward traditional channels. To be sure, a study last year (subscription required) by Ad Age of major advertisers’ spending showed the most growth in non-measured media (including some forms of digital communication, like paid search). But nearly 60 percent of their ad spend still goes to TV, print and some forms of Internet advertising.

Bottom line, though, is that I find this ongoing conversation both troublesome and irritating.

On one hand, the smug superiority of many of the social media specialists is irksome. (One tells ClickZ’s Mike Grehan that she believes traditional PR shops are “on their way out.”) Do they think they invented this next best thing? Do they truly think the once and future interests and needs of all audiences are met solely through this one channel? Please.

But I also understand the disdain they feel for some — too many? – of the traditional shops that don’t even try to grow some modicum of understanding of the power some of these new vehicles have to grow a brand. Call it inertia. Call it lazy. Call it incurious. Or something else.

Personally, I put it down to something else. Like the “order taker” mentality that is way too prevalent, both among agencies and professionals on the client side. If clients and employers aren’t pushing for it, why should PR and marketing professionals move themselves to advance along the learning curve? Other factors: Fear of failure. Risk aversion. Discomfort with change.

I agree with what the senior level marketers seemed to be telling TNS and Cymfony. Those of us whose clients and bosses aren’t pushing us to test these new waters should at least be trying them on our own accounts and measuring how they’re working. That way, we’re in a much better position to recommend some of these strategies that might augment what’s being done on the traditional side.

There are experts out there who are willing to share, especially when there might be an opportunity to partner on business in the future. We’ve found them and tap into them regularly, and never once has anyone with my shop been called a Luddite (even if some of us might deserve it)!

And for heaven’s sake. Anyone who doesn’t have “familiarity with social media and search” as a prerequisite for new hires needs to wake up. These folks are out there, too. Bill Sledzik, who teaches PR at Kent State writes about making his students blog – or they fail. “You won’t grasp the ‘zen’ of Web 2.0 until you become one with the medium,” he writes.

As much as some wish they would, the new communications channels are not going away. In fact some are expanding on a monthly basis. Instead of resisting and lamenting halcyon days gone by, marketers need to stop whining, hold their nose and jump into the deep end of the social media pool.

March 11, 2008 at 5:01 pm 2 comments

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