NIVEA Global was looking to partner with a celebrity who could genuinely represent its skincare products in a worldwide marketing initiative celebrating its 100th year. Enlisting the services of Brand Synergy Group, a marketing firm with strong ties in the entertainment industry, NIVEA discovered a perfect match in singer Rihanna, who had been introduced to the brand by her grandmother.

BSG Partner and Vice President Laura Striese joined former Island Def Jam Music Group co-worker and current BSG CEO Jeff Straughn when he founded the firm two years ago, combining their experience in strategic marketing for the entertainment industry to build a marketing agency that pairs celebrities with corporations for advertising and promotional campaigns.

The five-person firm’s portfolio has grown to include partnerships across various industries between well-known names such as Cee Lo Green and Duracell.

“(We) create strategies, really take time with our clients to sit down and decide what it is they’re looking to accomplish and how we can partner them with artists to help them do so,” Striese says.

Identifying constituents’ needs and goals is the first step to facilitating a successful partnership. Begin by reviewing clients’ past methods and strategies, identifying failures as well as successes.

“You never want to spin your wheels and work on something that’s already been vetted, tried and executed, and failed,” Striese says.

This interaction should be direct and personal.

“It’s really important to maintain that level of face-to-face interpersonal communication,” Stirese says. “You have to spend plenty of time sitting down with the client and really getting an understanding of what they’re looking to achieve. And it’s not just a matter of sitting in one meeting; it’s a matter of spending a lot of time with them to understand their long-term goals. Work alongside their existing agencies. … All the information is out there – the goals of all their different silos, be it digital or sales, whatever.”

In addition to giving deeper insight, this personalized association fosters trust – a necessary element for collaboration.

“It’s a bit intimidating,” Striese says. “Where do you begin? How are we going to be able to work together? How do we even begin to have that conversation?”

“A lot of this comes down to word of mouth and the element of trust. … They feel comfortable sharing the information with us and letting us know where projects are going, because they too see the value in this partnership marketing.”

Maintain this personal level of interaction even when not face-to-face to strengthen the relationship, as well as bolster creative exchange.

“Pick up the phone and call people when you need to speak to them, and really work through ideas that way,” Striese says. “E-mails (you) can rely on to follow up and do the next-step-type stuff, but the conceptualizing and getting those ideas fleshed out, we need to really speak to one another.”

Direct communication also ensures clarity.

“When you can deal directly with the brands and with the artists, you understand what both agendas are – you don’t have other people weighing in about their cut of that.”

Once the needs and goals of your constituents have been identified, you can more accurately plan potential partnerships. Brand Synergy Group uses a methodology called Brand Alignment Matrix to evaluate artists’ and brands’ compatibility.

“On one axis we list all of the artists we’re considering for a campaign, and on the other we list all of the brand’s attributes,” Striese says. “We determine which artists are really going to fit for the brand and make sure they will resonate with the brand consumers.”

After taking the time to identify and align constituents’ needs, you then need to facilitate communication between the involved parties.

“Often times they probably feel as though they’re speaking different languages, but at the same time, ultimately, you can help decipher what they’re saying because at the end of the day, they’re both looking to achieve the same thing,” Striese says.

How to reach: Brand Synergy Group, (212) 584-8045 or www.brandsynergygroup.com

Direct approach

Personal communication is a key focus internally for Brand Synergy Group.

“Work really hard as a team to make sure that the team members have all the information that they need, that they’re well-informed, that they have the insight they need to be confident in their ability to create and execute a strategy,” says Laura Striese, co-founder and vice president.

Face-to-face interaction is integral to ensuring employees are well informed.

“Even though we’re in this digital age where e-mails are supposed to help keep businesses moving and flowing, I think a lot of times … that can slow you down,” Striese says. “Get up, get out of your chair and go talk to them.”

This will also push employees to be more independent.

“If you can always reach somebody by e-mail, you can always ask somebody else what you think you should do,” Striese says. “It’s really about delegating and making sure there are great people on the team that are all responsible for different aspects of the business.

While we all work together to strategize and execute, ultimately one or two people are going to be closest to the project and be responsible to make those decisions. So they feel confident they don’t always have to check with everybody else - sometimes there are just moments where you have to make those decisions on the fly, and because they’re closest to it, it’s a well-educated decision.”

Published in National
Tuesday, 13 September 2011 14:38

A leader in the language learning industry

After Rosetta Stone’s original founder passed away in 2002, the then-small company of 90 employees needed a new leader with passion and direction.

At the urging of his lifetime friend, Tom Adams met with the founder’s family and asked to come on board with the company as CEO.

Swedish by birth and raised in both France and England, Adams said he brought his lifetime experience of learning languages to the company. When he was 10 years old, he moved to England and was placed in school without knowing the English language. He said he learned through immersion.

“It was a very painful experience, but it developed a lot of intuition about what works, what doesn’t,” Adams said. “I kind of just feel it.”

As president and CEO of Rosetta Stone, Adams uses his experiences to enable others to learn languages more rapidly and efficiently.

Q: You came in as CEO; on day one, what did you bring to the table?

I know what learning strategies deliver results when you are trying to acquire a new language. I learned other languages after (learning English). But beyond that, I think people who know me know that I am very competitive. I’m also a visionary in the sense that I have a vision of where things need to be, and that allows me to be bold.

My core is passion and a vision of how language learning should be. It should be much easier than most people have experienced; it should be much more effective. And technology can deliver a much better experience now, especially if you adopt the right methods, the right pedagogy. You can have much greater success than people have experienced in school.

Q: What were some of the challenges you faced in taking over the organization?

We had less than $1 million of cash in the bank. We didn’t have the budget to spend on a big media splash. What we had to figure out was how we could advertise to create a little awareness, and make sure that that little bit of awareness actually paid off.

We developed very technical approaches to marketing, inspired by other companies, but developed organically within the business. People developed their own solutions to the problems of doing micromarketing, and we embraced that and started scaling it. As we found things worked, we repeated the things that worked. We didn’t repeat the things that didn’t work, and so we got scale.

Q: So what worked?

Print advertising, where we would run an ad that essentially explained our method and stipulated who was using us. We had a phone number that they should call, and by having that unique phone number, we knew which publications worked. We were successful with the Atlantic Monthly and then with The New Yorker, and from that base, we continued to build.

Q: What didn’t work?

In the beginning it was a lot of the administration systems and managing external vendors. We found that incredibly hard because we were trying to build an e-commerce system that could handle thousands and thousands of transactions seamlessly that it would all flow through.

You would read the (information) from the vendors of these IT systems, and with enough money, they work the way they describe them. But as a company that was getting off the ground, it was just really expensive. So we had a false start and had to reflect if we should continue and put more money into the company to get a result from all the investment.

But we did eventually decide to put more money in (and buy the systems). In the end, we believed that we had very strong potential and that we would become a large company. We’re still on our way there, but having that technology as a back end supporting our growth was key.

Q: How long did it take before you were getting traction on sustained growth?

It was about six to nine months before some of the ideas started proving themselves. We were so excited. And, we were so experimental. I find it hard to pick a time when we knew were going to succeed because we thought we were going to succeed the entire time. We thought it was just a matter of testing, with enough frequency and enough different ways, as well as having the discipline to interpret results.

Q: Did you find that you had to continually communicate to your staff, asking them to trust you on what would work?

Our staff is just as passionate about the course, so we are a fortunate company in the sense that Rosetta Stone is a much bigger thing than a company. It’s more of a movement to change how people learn languages. As a result, our staff tends to base their expectations and their tracking of the company on things other than just the economic performance of the business.

But sure enough, we had economic success, and so it was reinforcing the overall hypothesis of how we would build Rosetta Stone into the game changer in the language learning industry.

Q: How do you see your role at Rosetta Stone these days versus when you took over?

When I started out at Rosetta Stone, I was really about working collaboratively with the senior team to figure out what we were going to do. Once we had done that, my job became to be the chief cheerleader, so once we committed around a vision, I was the evangelist of it. I was the one who would take the hardest stance to defend that core mission we developed.

How to reach: Rosetta Stone, www.rosettastone.com

Interview by Dustin S. Klein / Story by Jessica Hanna

Published in National
Wednesday, 06 July 2011 10:30

Can AOL cook up a winner with Patch?

In the last two years, AOL has become a target for criticism of its acquisition strategy. AOL purchased the controversial niche news service TechCrunch and then bought the even more controversial Huffington Post, making its founder Arianna Huffington, the editorial chief of AOL’s burgeoning online content operation.

One wit said, “AOL’s is changing its familiar ‘You’ve got mail’ to ‘You’ve got problems.’”

Despite the slings and arrows of financial television show hosts, AOL may have a trick up its sleeve. The company could, according to Auctionbytes, use its content to increase its share of the burgeoning market for online advertising.

The company acquired a local news and information company called Patch in June 2009, a company founded by Tim Armstrong. Armstrong was the president of AOL at the time of the acquisition, which means that Patch was important to the long-term content strategy of the floundering AOL. At the time of the acquisition, I assumed that Armstrong was negotiating the deal. In “Back to the Future,” AllThingsD.com reported that Armstrong allegedly told AOL staff that he would not make a profit on his stake in Patch. At about the same time, AOL bought Going, which was a social networking company.

News is circulating via blog stories like “AOL’s Patch, AmEx Targets Groupon with Patch Deals." The idea is that AOL wants to be a player in the local online advertising market. What makes the AOL rumors interesting is that unlike some of the companies competing in this sector, AOL has local content, a social networking technology, millions of users and a number of high traffic websites that can generate buzz about AOL’s products and services. A Web watching blog, WebProNews.com said, “AOL Launches Patch Deals…Yes, Another Deals Service.” The blog crept out on a limb and said that the service would be a Groupon clone. The roll out is slated to take place in the fall of 2011.

First, what is Patch? The service is a bit like the local newspaper. Unlike the print publications that are created to serve a narrow geographic region, Patch describes itself as “hyperlocal news.” With most major newspapers chasing big stories and recycling content from various services and syndicates, information about the local soccer club tryouts and the junior college play schedule are difficult, even impossible to find. Google indexes billions of pages, but the search system does not make it easy for me to find out when the Montgomery County Seneca Valley High School book sale will be held this year.

Patch captures news and information from small cities. The goal in 2010 was to cover 500 U.S. cities. The company uses paid staff and has a “foundation” to help “improve the quality of life in underserved communities across the globe and through access to trusted local news and information.” One of the advisors to AOL Patch is Jeff Jarvis, a college professor and expert on Google. He complements a full lineup of professionals.

The one issue that I have is that I have not encountered anyone who uses Patch. In a recent story of local online advertising, the sample included in our research did not mention Patch a single time. AOL has a formidable marketing machine, but in the noise about local advertising, local search and local maps, AOL’s voice is not being heard.

There is a website, quite a fancy one in my opinion. Navigate to Patch.com. You will see a list of states in which the local information service operates. I am writing this column for a company based in Cleveland, Ohio. According to the map of Patch coverage, Ohio is one of the states the service covers. Kentucky is not so lucky. Neither is Texas, Indiana, Oregon and two dozen others.

The cities Patch “covers” in Ohio are Avon Lake, Avon, Beachwood, Brecksville, Cleveland Heights, Cuyahoga Falls, Fairlawn-Bath, Hillcrest, Kent, Lakewood, Mentor, North Canton, Solon, Stow, Strongsville, Twinsburg and Westlake.

If we dive into a community with which I have some familiarity, Cuyahoga Falls is among the more affluent cities within commuting distance of Cleveland and the now shuttered marine park. A click on the Cuyahoga Falls Patch link displays news about a ceramics program for those 60 and up, a “Mid Day Serenity” event at the Paradise Club and ballroom dance lessons at 6:30 p.m.

The content seems to be a blend of bylined stories; for example, the “Q&A with Woodridge Graduate Jessie Greene-Hill” was written by Alanna Klapp, who is a freelance writer.

For a merchant in Cuyahoga Falls, the opportunity to put a message in front of Patch information consumers in Cuyahoga Falls makes perfect sense. There is one big challenge — traffic. Small communities will have smaller populations. Cuyahoga Falls is a reasonably affluent community, so one would expect that most households would have a computer and a good percentage Internet access. Smartphone penetration would also be higher than the phone penetration in Harrod’s Creek, Kentucky, by way of comparison.

However, when I checked Patch traffic on the Compete.com service, Groupon was in the 29 million unique range, LivingSocial was 14 million, and Patch.com was 5.5 million. Compete reports that traffic for Cuyahoga Falls Patch is climbing, hitting 8,000 unique visitors in April 2011 up from about 700 uniques in December 2010. The growth of the service is excellent, especially at a time when many websites have been adversely affected by Google’s anti-spam activities called Panda.

Details about Patch Local are sketchy. Some broad outlines of the service may be discerned in the information leaks surfacing in the Internet media.

Patch wants a piece of the advertising revenue in certain cities. Like Cuyahoga Falls, Patch wants to capture some of the advertising dollars flowing to hard copy newspapers service cities like New Canaan, Connecticut. In the city, BNet reported that there is New Canaan Patch, the New Canaan Advertiser, and a weekly Hearst paper, New Canaan News. Patch, not surprisingly has the AOL.com online brand and a staff of Twitter savvy professionals plus and a motivated president, Tim Armstrong, a former Google executive.

Patch’s angle may be a lower cost, lower risk alternative to Groupon. After fees, merchants using Groupon have to cover the customers from what is 25 to 30 percent of the regular price of the product or service. Groupon has been attracting some negative feedback when a poorly conceived coupon promotion creates a money losing situation for an advertiser. Patch and its partner American Express may pursue small businesses with combination offers. A joint promotion to American Express card holders and the AOL online user community could be an angle that puts traditional media and newcomers like TryItLocal.com under pressure. A price war could make online local advertiser a bargain for merchants who have an appetite for new media marketing.

AOL has played a role in online communities since its inception. I recall attending a conference at which AOL and CompuServe executives discussed the vibrancy of forums and discussion groups. The Facebook DNA, in my opinion, can trace its heritage to the early and largely unmoderated forums on these early online services. Unlike companies that talk social like Groupon and LivingSocial, AOL has deep social technology roots and quite a bit of experience in leveraging its customer base.

The Patch Deals FAQ provides additional early stage details about the forthcoming AOL service. Keep in mind that with a release date months in the future, the exact shape of the service at launch can change significantly. AOL Patch’s key differentiator is that advertisers will not have to make an upfront payment, obviously an alternative to the Groupon method of getting the merchant to pay upfront fees. AOL makes clear that it will promote the service “a couple of different ways: “via e-mail, through Patch’s daily and weekly newsletters, and thorough social media such as Facebook and Twitter.”

When Patch becomes available, should a local business consider advertising on the service? Will Patch pose a challenge to local newspapers and information services from bloggers and commercial publishing operations? Will Patch be able to carve out a profitable niche in a very crowded sector?

These questions are difficult to answer. AOL needs a revenue win, and it may have the right combination of ingredients: A dash of Huff-Po, a chunk of Patch, and a smidgen of AOL. Might be a Top Chef recipe.

Stephen E. Arnold is a consultant. More information about his practice is available at www.arnoldit.com and in his blog at www.arnoldit.com/wordpress. His most recent book is The New Landscape of Enterprise Search. For information, visit http://arnoldit.com/wordpress/landscape/.

Published in Akron/Canton

Eighty percent of Court McGuire’s communication with clients is done either through Facebook or texting.

“Our clients kind of know how we communicate, because it’s not like it’s the fax, the typical phone call, the typical e-mail,” says McQuire, president of Boca Raton-based Green Advertising. “Nowadays it’s a text. It’s a Facebook message or it’s a privatized YouTube channel.”

By keeping Green Advertising on the pulse of the new media and marketing initiatives that resonate with today’s consumers, McQuire and Green’s founder and chairman, Phyllis Green, have both kept the firm relevant as well as grown the business to $42.5 million in revenue in 2010.

Smart Business spoke with Green and McGuire about how new media has changed the advertising industry and how it’s changing brand communication.

What are the advantages of advertising in today’s media environment?

McQuire: What’s happening is that interactive or online or social media has a new layer to it that traditional advertising and broadcast never had. It doesn’t play a passive role. It has to play as a participant.

To reach your very specific consumer will be a little bit more homework and a little bit more challenging, but the good news is you can do it better and more effectively and find out what kind of analytics and performance tracking we have in their consumption of that media.

Interactive has a very unique thing. It levels the playing field. So if you’re Joe Shmoe with a concept and a business or you’re a multimillion-dollar New York Madison Avenue company, you can compete head to head with paid search, with the big dogs.

What’s on the horizon for brand communication?

Green: Our clients used to say, ‘Oh we need a brochure.’ Now we’re telling them, ‘No, you don’t need a brochure. You need a video.’ That’s how people are consuming content. They are reading it less. They want to see it. They want to understand it better.

McQuire: Video in social media is huge. A lot of people just think, ‘Oh, it’s my status on Facebook,’ but people are so interested in videos that make them laugh or think or educate them. … We bust our butt on lots of video content, because that’s what’s really emerging as the best return on investment for brand communication.

What is the key to a successful online media strategy?

McQuire: It’s performance tracking. If you are doing interactive and you’re doing social media, and if you are even doing broadcast, you have to be able to performance track your media. Years ago it was much more difficult to do, but with the online component you know where [customers] are coming from, when they’re interested in buying, who they are, where they are located.

Court McQuire, president, Green Advertising

Should companies try a social media strategy on their own?

McQuire: It doesn’t take one person. It really takes a team. … Often I have that problem where it’s, ‘Eh, we don’t want to pay a social media retainer. We’re fine with just these fees for broadcast.’ And we have to say, ‘Well look, you’re going to create an orphan to your brand. We need to know that mommy and all of her kids have the same message and the same mission.’ So we really have to convince them that to take on social media, ‘Yes, we can make it affordable for you, but no, you can’t do it as well as we can.’

What advice would you give clients and firms in regards to advertising today?

McQuire: They have to embrace new media, emerging media. They have to embrace interactive advertising. They have to be very open to the idea that there’s not just one way to reach my market. Now there are many ways and I need to spend some time and understand it.

Green: The market tells you what’s happening and the economy tells you and clients tell you, and you have to be a good listener — keep your ear to the ground...In today’s competition, our vision is ‘We’re only as good as we are today.’ And everyone here has bought into that.

How to reach: Green Advertising, (561) 989-9550 or www.greenad.com

Published in Florida
Thursday, 31 March 2011 20:10

Getting the word out

If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound? Another way to position the general topic of the riddle is: Can something exist without being perceived? For the sake of argument, and this article, let’s just say that the answer to the riddle is no.

If sound is only sound when a person hears it, in order for an organization, company or individual to “exist” in the eyes of others, it has to make a sound. In other words, you need to get the word out about who you are, what you are doing, what your benefit is and where you can be found. Otherwise, no one is going to hear you.

You may have the best deal in town or be an expert in a particular field or offer a superb service, but if you don’t publicize it, then how will others know about it?

The first thing that comes to mind to most is to advertise, but that may not be appropriate for your line of business or may be cost-prohibitive to carry out effectively. So, how do you make a sound? The old-fashioned way: You walk, talk and announce.

Here are a few ways to let people know about your product — be it your organization, company or profession:

  • Develop a simple website that provides information about your company, your qualifications and areas of expertise. Write articles that are related to your line of business and submit them for publication or post them on your website or blog.

  • Start an e-newsletter and send it to clients and prospects on a regular basis. Provide them with useful tips and updates on your business.

  • Create an identifiable logo and/or stationery that represent your business.

  • Get involved in various business and civic organizations and get on at least one committee. Get to know the people in the organization. Position yourself as an expert in your area of business by seeking speaking engagements through business/civic/trade associations and organizations that may be interested in what you have to say.

  • Network, network, network. Every person you meet — whether it is at a business or social event — is a potential client. Your business can’t grow if you don’t network. Let people know what you do and “talk shop” with anyone willing to listen. Make sure that you always have a business card handy. Also, follow up with the people you network with by e-mail or using a handwritten note.

  • Finally, don’t be shy about what you’ve achieved. Publicize your accomplishments, including speaking engagements, appointments, awards and honors, new products and services, and so on.

Unlike traditional advertising, these public relations steps will help you build relationships that will either turn into direct business or referrals. Though each item may seem obvious, it is the synergy and consistency of “walking, talking and announcing” that will help you make a sound. While an ad in the paper can gain you instant recognition, it can’t substitute for third-party verification and it can’t build a reputable reputation. Only you can do that by making a sound and leaving an impression. Do these things on a regular basis and you can ensure a steady flow of business for your company.

Janice B. Gonzalez is the president and CEO of JBG Communications, a full-service marketing advertising and public relations firm that specializes in strategic marketing. In 2010, she honored by the Coral Gables chamber of commerce as a Business Woman of the Year finalist. Reach her at jbgonzalez@jbgcommunications.com.

Published in Florida