Thursday, March 22, 2012

Death at a Press Conference

As a public relations professional, I have heard many interesting stories over the years about press conferences going horribly wrong. From product demos not working properly to botched interviews to breaking news events across town forcing all of the gathered press to unexpectedly pack up and leave… I have heard a lot of nightmare tales of the best laid PR plans going awry. But never had I heard of the star of a press conference being killed at his very own event… until now.

Last week, a small zoo in eastern Germany held a press conference to introduce the world to its newest attraction, a 17-day-old rare bunny named Til who was born with a genetic defect of having no ears. The cute, earless and shy Til was hiding in some hay on the floor waiting for his big moment while the media in the room was setting up its cameras and getting ready to meet Til. That’s when the big moment came… While setting up his equipment, a TV cameraman took a step backwards and stepped on the tiny Til… killing him instantly, abruptly ending the press conference and making cute, earless bunnies even rarer.

The shocked director of the zoo later explained that Til “did not suffer” as the crushing misstep was a direct hit and that the cameraman was “distraught” over the accident. What a bummer press conference. As a PR practitioner, you never want years of therapy to follow your press conferences. Instead, hopefully everybody makes it out the other side alive with some good resulting press coverage as long as it’s not an obituary.   

To add insult to injury, zoo officials have reportedly frozen Til’s body until they decide whether or not to have him stuffed. Suddenly, I am feeling pretty good about my next press conference. 

Mitchell Schmale is Vice President of Maroon PR.  Contact him at 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Homelessness…a new digital career?

Using the homeless for internet access…and I thought getting a free connection in Starbucks was unique.

At last week’s SXSW Music Festival in Austin, TX, New York City based advertising agency, Bartle, Bogle and Hegarty (BBH), introduced festival goers to the first “Homeless Hotspot,” a trial initiative aimed at improving the lives of the homeless, as well as providing the public with an instant internet connection outside of normal business centers and coffee shops.

Throughout the festival, homeless individuals from the Front Steps Shelter in Austin had the opportunity to sign up for the Homeless Hotspot program. Each participant received a MiFi device and t-shirt which read, “I’m (insert name), a 4G hotspot” (see photo). Customers could approach the homeless person and login to the 4G network using their phones/tablets/laptops for a quick internet connection. The homeless were paid $50 up front for their service, and were able to keep any tips received. Customers were encouraged to donate $2 for every 15 minutes of internet usage.

While some critics argue that such a program exploits and takes advantage of the homeless, others believe it to be beneficial to the lives of the homeless and an opportunity to aid and assist those less fortunate. When some of the homeless participating in the program were asked, many said what they enjoyed most about the initiative was the human interaction, when usually they were ignored or treated as nonexistent. To them, it wasn’t only putting quick money into their hands; it made them feel as though they had a purpose. One man said this was the first honest job and honest living he made in a long time.   

However, since receiving national attention, the backlash received from around the country has halted future plans for Homeless Hotspots at this time in cities such as New York.  Although I admire BBH’s innovative and creative, outside the box idea, and would probably use this service if offered, I do think it could cause additional controversy if the trend were to spread. For example, I am not homeless, but what if I wanted to stand outside and let people pay me for internet access? Could the program turn you down for not being homeless? What might start as an honest way and innocent way to assist those less fortunate could end up a way for others to take advantage of the program. 

Kristen Seabolt is an Associate Account Executive at Maroon PR. Contact her at 

Monday, March 19, 2012


Like most horse racing fans I was eager to watch the pilot episode of Luck when HBO gave a sneak preview of the show in December.  Luck boasted great writing and an all-star cast, with horse racing footage that would keep you on the edge of your seat.  After one-and-a-half episodes, I feel asleep. 

I tried to keep an open mind, but the show just didn’t do it for me and I didn’t think it would last very long.  Taking the horse racing scenes out of it, the story lines weren’t captivating, and I didn’t feel like wasting hours of my time waiting for characters to develop. 

But there was some hope as I followed along people in the horse racing industry on Twitter.  The National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) hosted a successful #LuckChat on Twitter each Monday night with actors from the show and fans of horse racing.  Although I didn’t participate, the discussions were fun to follow and more interesting than the show.   

This week HBO pulled the plug on the Luck, they say, as a result of three unfortunate horse deaths behind-the-scenes.  The news has caused quite a stir from animal rights activists, horse racing fans and other people that have no idea what they are talking about.  The story put horse racing in the mainstream for the wrong reasons.  People who don’t normally follow the sport are now captured by negative headlines, and people have been coming out from everywhere calling for the sport to re-evaluate all of its safety measures.

It’s pretty clear HBO was trying to pull a clever PR maneuver and use the accidental horse deaths as a way out so they wouldn’t have to say they were cancelling the show because of its declining ratings.  As someone who works in the industry of horse racing and public relations, I didn’t like this strategy at all and felt it was a little sleazy. The irony is that in the pilot episode of Luck, the show glorified a fatality on the race track, and just a couple months later the creators of the show cancel it because of accidents they couldn’t control.

When the show first aired, I heard many people say that Luck was great sports marketing.  Yes, to have a show about a sport that needs help drawing the mainstream audience can be a good thing.  However, in this case the attempt to create a mainstream television program about horse racing backfired, which hurt the sport and gave a bad impression of what public relations professionals do for a living.

Chris Daley is a Senior Account Executive at Maroon PR.Contact him at 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Building Your Brand beyond the Field

Whether it is Peyton Manning trending on Twitter or a March Madness bracket consuming your work week, one thing is for sure – sports is no longer simply a game.  The sports world as we knew it has evolved from an isolated competition into an entirely new ecosystem of sports entertainment.   

That’s the belief of Beverly Macy of the Huffington Post – and I tend to agree with her.  She described in a recent article that aggressive marketing changed sports at the professional, collegiate, and even local levels into “sports entertainment.”  Sports entertainment - a phrase once reserved for steel chair-wheeling professional wrestlers now encompasses everything from a Coach’s post-game tirade to an athlete’s high ankle sprain.

And at the center of it all is social media.  A world that first gained popularity in sports from athletes putting their foot in their mouth, transformed into a medium that allows an individual to contact thousands of fans – potentially generating millions of dollars through appearances and endorsements.  With that type of exposure, brand awareness becomes essential.

A brand is not simply a logo.  It is not a business card, letterhead, or a website design.  In my opinion, a brand is the reaction a person gets when they hear a name.  For example, when I say “Nike” – what do you think of?  As a brand manager, if there is a negative perception it is my job to change that.  If there is a positive reaction, I want to reinforce it.  That’s what makes a successful brand, I believe.
An athlete’s social media perception needs the same brand management.  Professional athletes are already fortunate enough to have thousands, if not millions, of fans.  With strategic use of social media platforms, an athlete can easily build a brand strong enough to turn their on-field fans into loyal followers for life.  With that sort of incentive, I would not be surprised to see more athletes focusing as hard on their social media campaigns as they do on their sport.

Pete DeLuca is Manager of Creative Services at Maroon PR.  Contact him at 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Oh Tweet! What is Free Speech in a Social Media World?

Buried amidst the Peyton Manning soap opera, the glory of championship week, and NBA and NHL regular season madness was a short, couple graph story from the Associated Press about Twitter violations by NCAA athletes.

Yesterday, the University of Michigan football team received a verbal commitment from Ohio high school junior linebacker Mike McCray to play for the Wolverines starting in 2013. As a junior, McCray was only allowed to verbally commit to the Wolverines, not sign a National Letter of Intent, or a contract stating he will play for the school. A verbal commitment is non-binding and allows the recruit to continue the recruiting process if he so chooses.

Shortly after McCray committed, two current Michigan football players tweeted at him to congratulate him on being a Wolverine. One, redshirt senior wide receiver Roy Roundtree, attended the same high school as McCray. Redshirt senior linebacker Kenny Demens, the other tweeter, did not. Michigan was then informed that they may have broken a secondary NCAA violation which prohibits someone affiliated with a school from sending messages to recruits via social media.

The issue, or non-issue as many would argue, brings up a couple of questions: does the NCAA, or an individual institution, have the right to monitor what its members say online? Is there a difference between interaction via social media and interactions in person? Does one’s speech being public, and in many ways permanent, change the definition of it being free?

Social media is, by definition, social. It allows us to communicate with people in quick, short bursts no matter location or time of day. But social media is also a powerful news and marketing tool. There’s a difference between talking to a friend in a restaurant and communicating with someone for the whole world to see. College athletic departments are brands, as is the NCAA, and they want to protect that image. Neither tweet was incriminating, nor did they offer the promise of lavish gifts, or anything at all.  But Roundtree and Demen did break a (silly) rule and it briefly hurt the athletic department’s image and credibility.

In all likelihood the NCAA MAY slap the Wolverines on the wrist. On an ever increasing list of possible violations being committed around the country, a congratulatory tweet from a couple players is miniscule at best. However, schools are wising up to the importance of maintaining an image on social media. The University of North Carolina has stringent social media rules for theirstudent-athletes, and many others may follow suit. The College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) put out their own list of Twitter tips forstudent-athletes. It focuses a lot on not only maintaining the college’s brand, but the student-athletes’ personal brand as well. And if you think professional athletes aren’t immune from Tweet-lash, outside the confines of the NCAA, think of Pittsburgh Steeler running back Rashard Mendenhall.

Free speech on social media is one of many issues facing collegiate athletics, yet it applies to students, companies, pretty much everyone. For individuals and companies out there on social media just remember: you are what you tweet!

Jen Schiller is an Associate Account Executive at Maroon PR.  Contact her at

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


By Katy Fincham

If you haven’t already heard of the latest social media craze, Pinterest, then you’ve clearly been living under a rock! A co-worker showed the site to me back in December, right in the peak of the hype, and like many, I signed up for just for the heck of it. Unlike Facebook or Twitter, I had to wait for an invite…basically an approval of my inquiry to join the “cool kids club.” Ever since then, I’ve been addicted!

According to research reported by, Pinterest is currently dominated by female users (87%) between the ages of 25 – 54. The site has quickly grown to 11.4 million users in less than a year, with the largest jump in the last four months. As a 27-year-old female who is currently planning a wedding, I am the average user. But as someone who works in the PR industry, my company has taken quick notice to the unique opportunity to help our clients brand themselves on a new social platform. recently suggested eight strategies for launching your brand presence on Pinterest. These strategies mentioned include:
  • Reserve Your Space - Just like you would reserve your Facebook or Twitter handle, you should make sure your brand/business has a handle reserved
  • Themes, Not Product Promotion – Pinterest is extremely visual and is currently centered on interests such as weddings, home d├ęcor, recipes and color themes. Your board should not look like a product catalog!
  • Use Hashtags – Just like Twitter, Pinterest uses hashtags in interest descriptions. Use wisely to ensure creative, yet consistent messaging.
  • Engage with the Community – “Like all other social networks, you need to listen and engage, not simply broadcast your message. Try allowing members of the community to post to your boards, but be sure to monitor activity for appropriate content.”
First thing to do is make sure the Pinterest is the right venue for your brand or business. If it is, Pinterest is a great way to spark interest in a more creative and visually stimulating way. Now is the time to jump in and thank outside the box.

Happy Pinning!

Katy Fincham is an Account Executive at Maroon PR.  Contact her at