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Couric loses 20 pounds in CBS Photo August 30, 2006

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In yet another photo retouching scandal, CBS slimmed down news anchor-to-be, Katie Couric, by some 20 pounds in a newly released PR photo.  CBS made light of it, but this comes back to an issue of trust and integrity from a news source.

Are news anchors “spokesmodels” or journalists?  I keep hoping for a backlash against the ageism and always-28 syndrome that the media and fashion industries seem determined to put on women.

As noted in the Washington Post: “Couric debuts in the anchor’s chair Sept. 5. CBS has spent millions on marketing to prepare viewers for her arrival.”

Are we now so image and celebrity-obsessed that even the non-tabloid media is willing to risk it all on a phony PhotoShopped image of the new anchor for a major broadcast network?

Of course, it’s “all about the Benjamins” – aka advertising dollars and bottom-line revenue for CBS.  I expect to see the tabloids go to town on this with a series on Couric’s weight – which trivializes her as a professional news person.

Maybe there is no more news on broadcast TV – maybe it’s all just a front for marketing, ad dollars and revenue, in this case, for CBS’ owner, Viacom.


Reports of the Death of the Press Release Greatly Exaggerated? August 30, 2006

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As noted in the previous post – there is currently much discussion about the fate of the PR staple: the news release or press release. 

Longer approval cycles due to corporate control designed to reduce legal liabilities and increase brand equity, are holding up product and company news that is coming at a faster rate.  With time-to-introduction so reduced, it is getting harder to schedule a release for a certain date and then back up for pre-promotion, so the media aren’t getting old news or news thrust upon them without time to react.

Yet, the amount of news release volume seems to be exponentially increasing for a number of reasons:

1.  SEO links back to one’s web site

2.  Company web sites becoming self-publishing information sites that require fresh news

3.  Web sites that aggregate daily news

4.  The growth in low-cost web-based news distribution services

5.  The demand by upper management for quantifiable results (“we want to see 20% more news announcements than last quarter” – I’ve heard that more than once)

6.  Online access to virtually any journalist or blogger

and other factors.

Yet, as innundated as the media are with news releases, they often rely on them.  One week pre-promotion time is about as much as PRs are going to get, so we make the most of it. 

Large enterprises with major PR budgets (40k/month and up) can afford to hire large PR firms who can put a team of people on to alerting media to future announcements, along with information or access beyond the release itself. 

Start-ups, non-profits or emerging growth companies are often better off with a smaller, more strategic boutique PR firm (a category in which Agora falls) or single experienced PR contractor who can alert a smaller group of influential media, bloggers, pundits and industry analysts, that can achieve corp PR goals while remaining within a much smaller budget.

We’ll continue to discuss this. 

Whither the Press Release? August 26, 2006

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Is the staple of the high-tech PR profession, the news release, seeing its glory days behind it?  There are now forums discussing the death of the release – yet, with what will it be replaced? 

Old world – months to prepare a news launch and PR materials: data sheet, customer quotes, etc., brief the industry analysts, brief the monthlies, brief the weeklies, brief the dailies, brief AP or Reuters then put it out over Business Wire or PR Newswire.

New world – instant publication on the web – no lead times.

I need to finish this after Sabbath – so come back for more.

Today I posted my blog on BlogHer August 24, 2006

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My client and mentor in Web 2.0 marketing, Ed Prentice the CEO of TeleVoce, told me about the site: BlogHer, which is a wonderful aggregate of blogs by women on dozens of topics.  They had a conference which I was sorry to miss – 300 women bloggers – a sold out crowd, but it I hope to make the BlogHer Business conference in March at NYC in 2007.

Speaking of women’s blogs.  My 19-year old grandson, Gregory (my husband’s grandson, but he has lived with us on and off since he was seven, so he is flesh & blood to me), was bored, he told me.  So he went to iTunes, under podcasts, and searched for “wtf,” hoping someone had blogged on “what the ^%$!” which he expected to be a collection of random thoughts; and instead came to a blog that said, “No, this isn’t a what the #$^@! blog, it is Women Trying to Figure it Out! One disappointed grandson.

I’m excited to be a part of the BlogHer community and invite everyone to give them a view at http://www.blogher.org.

Who Do You Believe? Me or Your Lying Eyes? August 14, 2006

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This title is the punchline to a joke my husband told me.  I won’t repeat it here, but it made me think of the brouhaha around doctored Reuters photos vis-a-vis the war in Lebanon. (Link to play a video by supporters of Israel that embellishes the original story broken by the blog: Little Green Footballs.)

Beyond the tragedy of war and so much suffering on all sides – this news story brings up some issues about maintaining integrity in news reporting and news promotion.

We live in a time of instant communication – and pictures are probably the most powerful communication vehicle of all.  A picture is visceral, provides a reality check to the text one is reading, and has the capability of adding credibility to a product launch, gravitas to an executive or hip personality to a company depending on how it has itself photographed.

Because of the desktop tools we have today, such as PhotoShop, it has become easier and easier to doctor photos.  I have heard that some fashion photographers have to add flesh on models so thin they are unattractive (except as walking clothes hangers – and here I digress – when did it happen that women needed to change their bodies to fit clothes?? – being slender and healthy is one thing – making oneself ill or hating how one looks is something else). 

In the same way, there are times when magazines will doctor a female actor or model’s bust or stomach – creating unrealistic images that are factors in causing low self-esteem and serious eating disorders among younger and younger girls. 

So, we in the marketing profession have an obligation not to present false images, I believe. Yet where is the line between using the photographer’s (& stylist’s & make-up & hair artists’) skills to make a compelling – or unusual – image and creating a false image that is intended to deceive?

More Magazine has taken this on – they worked with Jamie Lee Curtis to show a 40-something woman’s body as it is – and while she is healthy and exercises – as she said – she’s no longer 21.   It was a bold move and one which won kudos for both Jamie Lee Curtis and the magazine.

The truth is – almost all images for publicity or marketing purposes are retouched.  Why is this done?  For legitimate to crossing the line reasons. 

In my opinion. legitimate reasons include: to correct something that wasn’t captured quite right in the photography process, to add an artistic background or to remove glare from someone’s eyeglasses.  In other words, the image processing is not an intent to deceive.

Reputable news organizations, because they have so much influence, have no choice but to take strong measures against those who would “doctor” a news photo, as has apparently been happening more often these days.

I love fashion photography and arty corporate background shots.  They are leading-edge, can quickly convey marketing messages and are often stunning – and, nine times out of ten, heavily edited (the equivalent of “retouching” or “air brushing”). 

It can be a challenge for us in the electronics world of semiconductors, or VoIP services that don’t lend themselves to interesting photography, to come up with visuals. 

That is why many of us are looking to add animated characters to our web sites and HTML emails – or find images that present an illustration. 

One image we developed for our client, TeleVoce, I love – and I realize I am somewhat biased here! It is the image my partner developed that illustrates the tagline “teaching old phones new tricks.”  We paid for the rights of a dog stock photo, that we have named “Sebastian” after our Australian Shepherd who looks quite similar, and ‘PhotoShopped’ the image so the dog has old-style phone handsets in its mouth – it was a huge draw as our booth graphic at CES and we’re using it on TeleVoce’s e*commerce web site and other promotional materials – this kind of imaginative use of photography it both challenging and fun when you get it right!

While a picture may be worth a thousand words, sometimes, illustrations and animation can express what a still image cannot.  Next post, we’l look at how and why people are using animated characters to increase sales, “buzz” and customer retention.