The Hired Hand – Not just another blah-blah-blog

May 31, 2014

Hire me – Part II

Filed under: Advertising,Public Relations,Social Media — Darcy Grabenstein @ 11:33 pm
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To new beginnings.

The day I was laid off from my job at the ad agency (along with 11 others, thanks to the loss
of two major accounts), we had tickets to a Phillies game that night.

My son (of legal drinking age for five whole days) and I did what any self-respecting Phillies fans would do… we started “tailgating” that afternoon at home. I promptly poured him a beer, poured myself a glass of champagne and toasted to new beginnings… and then I promptly posted my celebratory photo on Facebook. I’m not one to cry over my glass of wine; I’m one to raise it in toast.

As we got ready to head to the stadium, I kept thinking what a great PR idea it would be to
announce my job status at the game. After all, there would be thousands of prospective employers fans there (well,
only about 24,000 fans – but that’s another story).PR at the Phillies game

“So I got me a pen and a paper” and I made up my own not-so-little sign. Forgive the improper grammar; I couldn’t resist citing those familiar song lyrics. What did my sign say? It read: “Hire me! Darcy G at LinkedIn.” I promptly posted it on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Since we were in the nosebleed section, I didn’t make it on camera or the jumbotron. I’m getting a little more mileage
out of my photo, however, by blogging about it.

To cap off my stellar day, my seat number was 13, and the Phillies lost 4-1 to the Mets.

There’s always tomorrow….

May 29, 2014

February 28, 2014

Using cause-related emails as a PR tool

Filed under: Branding,Email marketing,Public Relations — Darcy Grabenstein @ 12:55 pm
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by Darcy Grabenstein

Many companies use cause-related marketing to boost their brand image, build goodwill and create positive PR. This is widely apparent at holiday time and during October, for example, as businesses jump on the breast cancer awareness bandwagon.

Following are several examples of how companies employ cause-related marketing in their email campaigns.


Bon-Ton wisely incorporates social media into this anti-bullying campaign, using both Facebook and Twitter (even asking for a retweet). The subject line, although a bit long, is designed to attract anyone who wants to join in the (virtual) fight against bullying or who simply can’t resist a contest: Support STOMP Out Bullying + enter for your chance to WIN!

While the email audience is likely parents, not kids, Bon-Ton also encourages subscribers to send a text for discounts. Bullying has become a hot topic lately, and the moms who receive this email probably will give Bon-Ton a few brownie points.

Bonton email - stomp out bullying

Calvin Klein

Calvin Klein includes a celebrity endorsement – from model Christy Turlington – in this striking email. The fact that the email is in black and white makes it stand out from others in the inbox. The subject line is as simple and straightforward as the email itself: Calvin Klein Supports Every Mother Counts. However, the preheader is basically a repeat of the subject line. Instead, CK could have stated the offer: We’ll Donate $1 for Every Bra Purchased.

Calvin Klein email - every mother counts

Alex and Ani

This email also captures your attention, but with a strangely compelling image. Who knew monkeys were so fashion conscious? Alex and Ani is betting on the hope that its subscribers are environmentally conscious, too. The email is a perfect example of how to tie in a cause to your product line. And the subject line – Monkey around for charity – and headline add a lighthearted touch.

Alex & Ani email - animal welfare


Most of us can agree that texting and driving can be a deadly combination. This email from AT&T promotes its participation in the “it can wait” campaign. The dynamic subject line of this email is an effort to personalize the message: [First name], take the pledge to end texting and driving.

While I’m not convinced that a pledge alone will keep people from texting and driving, I applaud AT&T for taking part in this educational campaign. (However, pledging via Facebook for all your friends to see is a clever option.) What’s truly admirable about the website is that the sponsors’ logos are not plastered everywhere. In fact, the “Champions” (sponsors) are accessible from a link in the footer. (Other sponsors include Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, among others.) The campaign, apparently geared more toward teen drivers, includes the hashtag #itcanwait and video endorsements from the likes of One Republic, Demi Lovato, Olympian Gabby Douglas and more. Other videos, on the par of those you might remember from your driver’s ed days, are also featured. There’s even a simulator so you can see how texting impairs your driving ability.

AT&T email - don't text and drive

Brooks Brothers

This email does a nice job of driving traffic to retail stores. The subject line says it all: Ends Today – Enjoy 25% Off When Donating a Coat. And the headline has the double meaning of both physical and emotional warmth.

 Brooks Brothers email - give a coat, share the warmth


Belk also drives traffic to its stores, but takes it a step further by emphasizing support for the local community.

Belk email benefitting local charities


Walmart leaves me wondering how I can help fight hunger. Personally, I’d like a few more details before I click through to its site.

Walmart email - help make a difference for hungry families

Ethan Allen

While I give credit to Ethan Allen for offering a discount, I’m not sure 20% is enough for victims of Hurricane Sandy. The subject line reads: Still recovering from Sandy? We’ve extended our special savings offer. (Full disclosure: I’m a New Jersey resident.) The question is whether those hit by Hurricane Sandy would even have Internet access, depending on when this email was sent and how long the offer ran. To truly reach those most impacted, the email could have included wording along the lines of: Know someone who is a victim of Hurricane Sandy? Share this information with them today!

Ethan Allen email - discount for Hurricane Sandy victims


“Join us in global change. Vote to make a difference” reads the subject line. The H&M Conscious Foundation asks subscribers to vote on which three initiatives it should support. I find this interesting, as H&M in the past has been the focus of complaints regarding labor violations in Third World countries.

H&M email - vote for your favorite cause

Jos. A. Bank

With all-American colors – and even a photo with an American flag in the background – this email plays to the patriotic pride of its subscribers. The rather long subject line spells out the promotion: Buy 1 Suit, Get 2 FREE + ‘Give’ 1 to a Returning Veteran.

Jos. A. Bank email - helping veterans

Stella & Dot 

Stella & Dot follows suit (pun intended) with this subject line – Support our troops – and offer:

Stella & Dot email - support our troops

Michael Kors

Michael Kors uses an indirect product tie-in to its campaign against hunger.

Michael Kors email - campaign against hunger

Warby Parker

Following in the footsteps (pun intended again!) of TOMS shoes, Warby Parker donates a pair of glasses for every pair purchased. By the way, TOMS also donates glasses as well as shoes.

Warby Parker email, donating glasses to those in need

Juicy Couture

Instead of featuring a photo of a needy child, Juicy Couture features a photo of Lydia Hearst. Who is Lydia Hearst, you ask? Obviously the subscribers know who she is, since the subject line is: Lydia Hearst hearts Operation Smile!

Lydia Hearst is an actress, fashion model, columnist…and, yes, socialite and heiress to the publishing fortune. As someone who has developed materials for a company in support of Operation Smile, I have to wonder about this approach and can only assume that it resonates with Juicy Couture’s audience.

Juicy Couture email - Operation Smile

Supporting a cause is commendable, but it works even better when the cause ties in to your company’s product line. Asking subscribers to join you in the effort increases the likelihood for buy-in, and creates a sort of team spirit. I would suggest that, depending on the size of your company, you focus on a single cause instead of diluting the effectiveness across several causes. And any time you can share a personal story of how the campaign positively impacted someone’s life, it creates an emotional pull that draws in your subscribers.

January 24, 2014

The downfall of data

Filed under: Advertising,Direct mail,Public Relations,Social Media — Darcy Grabenstein @ 3:44 am
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by Darcy Grabenstein

Office Max has taken targeted marketing a bit too far.

The company is making headlines after one of its customers received a direct-mail piece addressed to “Daughter Killed in Car Crash or Current Business.” Unfortunately, the data was spot-on.

The recipient, Mike Seay, had lost his daughter in a car accident a year earlier.

So how did Office Max acquire this information and, more importantly, how did it end up on an envelope addressed to Mr. Seay?

Office Max is pointing fingers at a third-party data provider.

No matter how the error occurred or who’s responsible, the incident raises questions about the data industry as a whole. Data sellers – and buyers – need to be held more accountable for the use of customer information, particularly sensitive information.

Privacy has long been a concern among consumers, especially in terms of online marketing. This, however, was a traditional direct-mail promotion.

The point is, it’s not the channel that’s the culprit. It’s the methods of capturing – and using – data that need to be revisited.

Can you imagine a mailer promoting a weight-loss product being addressed to “Overweight mother of three”? Or a rehab clinic sending an email with the subject line “Fallen off the wagon again?”

Office Max (after a manager initially doubted the error when Seay called to report it) followed up with an apology. It issued a formal statement, and a company executive called the Seay family to offer a personal apology.

But an apology is not enough. Office Max needs to take the lead and ensure that this type of incident won’t occur again.

What turned out to be a nightmare for the Seay family doesn’t have to be a PR nightmare for Office Max. It simply needs to revamp its data collection procedures, and encourage other marketers to do so as well.

December 11, 2013

WestJet publicity stunt puts the ‘Merry’ in ‘Christmas’

Filed under: Public Relations — Darcy Grabenstein @ 3:19 am
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WestJet video

by Darcy Grabenstein

Kudos to Canadian airline WestJet, which staged the perfect holiday publicity stunt, complete with a virtual Kris Kringle. Here’s the video – narrated with a script mimicking “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” The video included a Twitter hashtag as well: #WestJetChristmas. (My only criticism is that the apostrophe is backward on the introductory frame of the video.)

WestJet managed to give customers with a good feeling about not only the airline, but about the dreaded baggage claim area as well. The airline is certain to get a lot of mileage out of this one.

Here’s my humble homage to WestJet:

’Twas a day prior to Christmas, when all through the land
PR people everywhere proclaimed WestJet as grand.
The preparations were made by WestJet with care,
including a video, which thousands did share.

You see, the virtual Santa was more than a display
for the lucky passengers who flew WestJet that day.
He asked each one what they wanted to receive
before they boarded the plane and were to leave.

As the passengers were flying up in the air
(like Santa and his reindeer, if you must compare),
WestJet workers were busy making a list
to make sure no passenger’s wishes were missed.

They bought all the gifts, which they proceeded to wrap
and brought them to the airport in a snap.
When the passengers arrived on the WestJet plane
they didn’t know they were part of a PR campaign.

Young and old alike approached the baggage claim
and as the conveyor belt moved, they began to exclaim.
Expecting to find their luggage and bags,
they found something else (and later hashtags)…

Instead of their luggage they each found a gift
and – just like an airplane – their spirits did lift.
Low tech, high tech, even a big-screen TV,
the passengers’ reactions were a sight to see.

The geniuses who envisioned this caper in their heads
deserve a standing ovation – it goes unsaid.
And the employees who willingly played Santa’s elves
thought more of others than they did of themselves.

WestJet had some help with its PR tour-de-force
from Best Buy, Under Armour and other fine stores.
So I say to WestJet, which knows how to do PR right,
“You certainly made the holiday season more bright!”

September 3, 2013

Cross off one item from my bucket list

Filed under: Culture,Media,Public Relations — Darcy Grabenstein @ 3:12 am
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I don’t have a huge “bucket list.” Here are a few outstanding items:

• Swim with the dolphins
• Take a cruise to Alaska
• Visit the Newseum
• Take a cruise to Bermuda

The Newseum in Washington, D.C.

This weekend, I was able to cross off one of the above. I visited the Newseum in Washington, D.C. It was everything I expected, and more.

You see, I began my career in newspapers. As they say, you can take the girl out of journalism but you can’t take the journalism out of the girl.

I was lucky to be accompanied by my niece, Hannah, who is an accomplished journalist. We started our self-guided tour at the exhibit of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs. The images ranged from starving children to war-torn countries to acts of heroism. People dabbed at their eyes as they somberly made their way through the exhibit.

Like most writers, one of my least favorite sayings is “A picture’s worth a thousand words.” In the case of these photos, however, this rang true. Or perhaps the opposite. The exhibit left me speechless.

As a former journalist, my visit to the Newseum was an emotional one. And as a citizen of the world, it was a humbling one.

Pieces of the Berlin Wall stand as a monument to the media and its impact on society. Another display chronicles the Sept. 11 attack on the United States. Plastered on a huge wall are front pages of newspapers across the globe, reporting the infamous day in history.

A memorial gallery pays tribute to journalists who lost their lives in search of the story… the photo… the interview. All pursuing their passion. I paused in front of Daniel Pearl’s passport and laptop. These are my role models, my heroes.

On a lighter note, one exhibit showcases images of presidential pooches. It’s a welcome respite from the heavy themes found in the much of the museum.

Another exhibit, “Creating Camelot,” focuses (pun intended) on the photography of Jacques Lowe and how it presented a personal, intimate portrait of President John F. Kennedy and his family. To me, it represented how public figures – with the help of key media advisers and PR teams – can use the press to its advantage.

Media analysts have been speculating about the demise of newspapers for quite some time now. That made me wonder, as I walked the halls of the Newseum, whether in a few years printed publications will truly be museum exhibits, on display behind glass as a nod to the journalism of yesteryear.

Whether newspapers or magazines are around in print or digital format is inconsequential. The reality is, journalists and journalism are here to stay. They will continue to fight for First Amendment rights, uncover corruption and give a voice to the downtrodden.

I can say I’m very proud to have been among the ranks of journalists. What a noble profession.

Check out Darcy Grabenstein on Google+

January 29, 2013

Digital marketing D – A – R – C, that’s me!

Hello My Name Is badgeMy first name, Darcy, is admittedly a bit out of the ordinary. Over the years, I’ve learned to answer to Marcy, Dorothy, Darby – you name it. One nickname that has stuck, however, is Darc (rhymes with parse).

That’s why, when I read a recent article, “How the HubSpot CMO Screens for Top Marketing Talent,” I couldn’t help but think “That’s ME!”

The article states (the comments in italics are my own):

“The perfect inbound marketing manager has a variety of different skills.
At HubSpot, we like to use the acronym ‘DARC,’ which stands for digital, analytical, reach, and content:

  • Digital means they live their lives online and are familiar and comfortable with blogging, social media, and the web in general.While we’re on the topic of names, Digital could be my middle name. For the past 12-plus years, I have lived/breathed e-commerce. My current focus is on email marketing. I remember early on being at conferences where they asked for a show of hands who uses email and IM… who texts… telecommutes… or has an online portfolio… and eventually a smartphone… a Facebook page… a Twitter account… a LinkedIn account… a blog… a Pinterest account. Invariably, I was one of the few who had my hand proudly held high. Truth is, my writing now flows directly from my brain, out my fingertips and onto my laptop screen. Don’t even think about asking me to write something longhand.
  • Analytical means they like to measure what they do, and they make decisions based on data.

    I’ll admit that I usually leave the actual number crunching to the analytical folks. But that doesn’t mean I don’t incorporate their findings into my work. This is particularly crucial when it comes to email marketing. With so many variables to test – from the “from” line to subject lines, copy, graphics, calls to action, landing pages, social sharing, time of deployment, list segmentation and more – “test, test, test” has become my mantra.
  • Reach means they have a knack for growing their network by creating a gravitational attraction to what they do – and people want to follow their work.You’re here reading my blog, aren’t you? My blog is one way I reach out to my peers and prospective clients. And, as they say, there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel. So I’ll post links to my blog on other networking sites. I don’t expect people to find my blog on their own – I make it easy for them to do so, by posting content where they live (and work) online.
  • Content means they are naturally a content creator, and they’re not afraid of it. (You’d be surprised how many people are scared of writing a blog article.)”If content is king, then I consider it my crowning glory. In the days of print publications, I was known as a writer or a copywriter. Now I’m called a content creator. It’s just semantics. What I do is develop messages targeted to a specific audience, with a specific goal in mind – such as generate brand awareness, educate, sell a product or service, increase membership or sway opinion. There’s a lot of buzz out there about SEO content, but the bottom line is you’ve got to write for real people, not the search engines, in order to establish a true connection.

So feel free to call me DARC. I’ll take it as a compliment.

Check out Darcy Grabenstein on Google+

November 7, 2012

Election Day: Part II

So I faced the campaigners at the poll today. Their brazenness brought to mind a previous presidential election. We were all stuck in line at the polling place (in Pennsylvania), turning up our collars to the cold – and turning a deaf ear to the campaigners working the voters like a receiving line.

One of the campaigners approached the man in front of me in line, and the voter gave the guy a piece of his mind (and mine as well). He went on a tirade, telling the campaigner – in so many words – that he had a lot of nerve, preying on voters in a last-ditch attempt to win their allegiance. I couldn’t have said it better myself (at least verbally, that is).

Don’t get me wrong. As a former journalist, I staunchly defend the First Amendment and the right to free speech. However, I also defend the right of citizens to vote their conscience and not be intimidated at the polls. My neighborhood has a high percentage of immigrants, and I can’t help but wonder if campaigners beef up their efforts at polling places in such areas.

So I decided to give the campaigners a taste of their own medicine today. I went to the polls armed and ready. No, I wasn’t packing a pistol – I was packing the weapon of words.

You see, when the campaigners thrust their pamphlets in my face, I didn’t utter a word of protest. Instead, I reached into my pocket and handed them a card with the URL of my blog written on it.

I entered the polling center with the smug satisfaction that I had one-upped them. As I exited the polling center, I heard one of the campaigners utter my name to her cohorts and glance my direction with a look of disdain. Obviously, she had used her smartphone to access my blog.

No matter who wins the election, I won a small victory today at the polls.

Check out Darcy Grabenstein on Google+

November 6, 2012

Get out and vote… and get outta my way!

Image courtesy of

After all the struggles groups such as women and blacks have gone through in order to vote in America, the right to vote is still taken for granted – or, worse, ignored – by many.

Voter turnout is typically sparse for local elections. Of course, when it comes to the presidential election, public interest ratchets up a few notches.

I’m not going to complain about those who do or do not exercise their right to vote. I am going to complain about the campaigners who get in your face at the polls – at least in Pennsylvania.

You see, in Florida where I voted for probably half my adult life, campaigners are not allowed to solicit voters within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling facility. Thank you, Florida.

Not so here in Pennsylvania. It’s like an obstacle course simply trying to make your way down the walkway and through the door. Campaigners flank the sidewalk, waving sample ballots in your face, smiling their Cheshire cat smiles, and blurting out the names of their particular candidate. In fact, one year I had to elbow my way past the campaigners and accidentally bumped one as I, like a football fullback, tried to reach the goal… the polling booth. As I passed her, I heard her outraged complaint about how I almost knocked her over. She’s lucky I didn’t go for the tackle.

I guess you can’t blame them. They’ve got a captive audience. And, during a presidential race, voters could be stuck in line for quite a while.

But seriously? Do they think I’m so naïve or uninformed that, minutes before I enter the polling booth I’ll sway my vote because of their strong-arm tactics? In my book it’s a new form of PR: Political Rudeness. It’s an insult to my intelligence.

Unfortunately, enough voters must be influenced by these carnival-like hawkers to make it worth their while. I wonder if any exit polls have been conducted to find out if these campaign tactics have a negative effect on voters’ behavior at the polls.

In any case, I will make my way to the polls today and put up a brave front against these in-your-face campaigners. (Actually, I try to avoid all eye contact. Maybe today I’ll pretend I don’t speak English.)

So who will be worth of my vote? The candidate who institutes a mandatory “no soliciting at the polls” law across the nation.

Now go do your civic duty.

Check out Darcy Grabenstein on Google+

June 22, 2012

The end of lifetime as we know it

Filed under: Public Relations — The Hired Hand @ 11:49 am
Tags: , , , ,

American Airlines AAirpassI have something in common with Jacques Vroom and Steve Rothstein. Well, sort of.

These two men had purchased an AAirpass with American Airlines. For about $350,000, they bought the right to unlimited, lifetime first-class flights, anywhere in the world. Sounds like a pretty good deal, eh? Apparently, it was too good a deal.

After each traveler racked up approximately 40 million air miles, American Airlines  banned them from further air travel – at least until the courts sort all this out. The airline has claimed to have lost millions of dollars each year since the AAirpass program began in 1987. Last year, the airline filed for bankruptcy, and it currently is in contract negotiations with unions.

While the two men may have stretched the rules of the frequent flier program to the extreme (think of it as frequent fliers on steroids), they did not technically violate the terms of the program.

So what do I have in common with these guys? I’m certainly not a world traveler (although one can always hope). Let’s face it, I don’t even sit in first class. Sigh.

It appears we’ve all reached the end of our lifetimes.

Their AAirpass programs were supposedly good for lifetime use. I had not one but two gym memberships that were said to be lifetime, but – poof – they’re gone. Does that mean I am gone, too?

OK, the first membership was paid for and the second one was a gift from the gym. But the point remains: Doesn’t “lifetime” mean for one’s entire life?

As I usually do, I think of these types of consumer experiences in terms of PR. American Airlines may have lost money with its AAirpass program, but now it’s also losing invaluable public relations points as a result of revoking these travelers’ privileges.

The gym that canceled my free membership is losing my positive word of mouth (and gaining negative word of mouth). When I used the facility or attended classes, I would rave to my friends about it. Now I’m ranting instead of raving.

What it boils down to is that people don’t like to have things taken away from them.  It’s your inner toddler shouting: “Mine! Mine! Mine!”

I can think of other examples where companies taketh away, whether from customers or employees:

  • A company that offered summer hours to employees, then cut them back to half the summer, then to every other week for half the summer. Employees still must work the required number of hours every week, so what’s the big deal here?
  • A company that had a “casual Friday” dress policy (jeans) but backpedaled on it – even for employees who have no contact with clients. Say what?
  • A company department that doesn’t allow its salaried employees to work remotely or make up a few missed hours here and there (other departments do). Aren’t we all adults?

So I guess it’s caveat emptor.

All I know, is we’re so irate we’re rolling over in our graves.

Check out Darcy Grabenstein on Google+

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