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

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
Tags: , , ,

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
Tags: , , ,


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.

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+

April 18, 2012

The quiet person’s guide to getting people talking online

My blog post originally was published by SmartBlog on Social Media.

Computer screenMuch to my chagrin, behavioral experts would consider me an introvert. For a PR professional, it’s almost a death knell. For a creative type, however, it can be a blessing. And for someone who dabbles in the digital space, it could be a perfect match.

Lucky for me, I’m all of the above.

Let’s get something straight: An introvert isn’t necessarily a shrinking violet. Technically, an introvert is someone who finds crowds draining and who is energized by solitude.

Research has revealed that introverts not only are highly creative, they also can be extremely effective leaders. What do Albert Einstein, Warren Buffet, Charles Darwin, Mahatma Gandhi, Al Gore, Sir Isaac Newton and Rosa Parks have in common? You guessed it. They’re all introverts.

So what’s all this got to do with social media? With a little creativity and a lot of savvy, introverts can use social media to their advantage as a public relations tool. (Don’t worry, we won’t get into the discussion about who should “own” a company’s social media outlets — PR? E-commerce? IT? That’s a topic for another day.)

Here’s how introverts can maximize their social media moxie in terms of PR:

  • Learn from being a lurker. If you observe more than participate on social networks, that’s OK … to a point. Take the time to understand the various players — customers, media, competitors — then use that knowledge to best position your product or service.
  • Make the most of online relationships. Introverts, as a rule, are more comfortable with one-on-one communications. That’s the beauty of social media. While you have access to many audiences at once, you can focus on one conversation at a time. There’s a reason it’s called public relations.
  • You’re a good listener. Prove it. Compared to their extrovert counterparts, introverts are said to be exceptional listeners. Listen to what your customers are saying about your company — both good and bad. Listen to what people are saying about your competitors — both good and bad. Go beyond just listening to your constituents. Let them know you truly hear them.
  • Devote some face time to Facebook. I’m not asking my fellow introverts to share your personal lives with thousands of your BFFs. Instead, make sure your business has a separate Facebook account/page, and use it to interact with current and prospective customers. You’ll be surprised at the honest feedback you’ll get.
  • You’re a person of few words? No problem. Twitter’s the social network for you. You’ve got 140 characters to state your case, so make them count. Twitter is ideal for customer relations and crisis communications. You can deal with crises in real time — and even avert crises with timely, up-front tweets about the situation at hand.
  • You’re a person of even fewer words? Pinterest is for you. Take a few pointers from Kotex Israel, which launched a successful PR campaign on Pinterest. Here’s a snapshot (pun intended) of the campaign: Kotex targeted 50 inspiring women on Pinterest, then created personalized gift boxes for each, based on their boards. To receive the gift boxes, the women had to repin the Kotex invitation. The key takeaway here is that Kotex, with help from the Smoyz agency, took the time to get to know its target audience. PR professionals can do the same, whether it’s the media or consumers.

So don’t use your introverted nature as an excuse to shy away from social media as a PR vehicle. In fact, social media is tailor-made for us introvert types. Gone are those awkward silences we so dread in face-to-face communication.

See you online.

Check out Darcy Grabenstein on Google+

March 27, 2012

The blog that wasn’t

My blog disappeared in cyberspace. One minute it was there, the next it wasn’t.

So I’ve found a new home for my blog, and I’ve been furiously re-creating it as best I could. Thank goodness for the Internet Wayback Machine.

Now that “Mad Men” is back on the air (hooray!), I’m sure I’ll have a few snarky comments from a copywriter’s perspective.

Stay tuned.

Check out Darcy Grabenstein on Google+

Talk about sticking it to the consumer…

New Zealand agency Colenso BBDO went out on a limb with its recent ad campaign for crushed cider.

Colenso packaged twigs inside random 12-packs of client Monteith’s Crushed Cider. The point? To reassure consumers that Monteith’s is made using fresh fruit, not concentrated fruit syrup.

Billboards and mock apology ads read “Sorry about the twigs. Not from concentrate.”

My guess is they didn’t run this PR stunt by their legal department, which undoubtedly would have put the kibosh on the campaign.

Supposedly the stunt led to a massive run on their cider. That may be great in the short term, but what about the long-term fallout? It’s a sticky situation.

In my opinion, they should stick to more traditional methods, going back to the roots of responsible PR.

Check out Darcy Grabenstein on Google+

Speed dating for brands?

Originally posted in November 2011


Some people talk the talk. And some walk the walk. And some, like entrepreneur Jeff Pulver, do both.

Pulver organized the recent BrandsConf – “Exploring the Humanization of Brands” – in New York. As emcee for the daylong event, Pulver certainly put a human face on the conference. He gave each presenter a big hug as he or she walked onstage, and another hug after the presentation. You could say he Pulver-ized the participants by embracing their ideas – and embracing them literally.

The BrandsConf was part of the #140Conf series, with individual presentations limited to 10 minutes and panels from 10 to 20 minutes. These events are based on the Twitter concept of brevity, where posts are limited to 140 characters. It was like speed dating on steroids for branding; the day featured more than 50 presenters.

Successful brands must know their audience, and Pulver’s format was perfect for this attention-deficit group. A glance around the darkened audience revealed the eerie glow of laptop, tablet and smart phone screens. But were these audience members really engaged?

I can think of several times during the day when the audience was riveted to the stage. As if reinforcing the day’s themes of community and storytelling, all eyes where on the big screen (not laptops, tablets or smart phones) when Tony Heffernan showed a video tribute to his young daughter, who died of Battens Disease. The father from Ireland, whose son also was diagnosed with disease, launched to provide support and information. His story made an emotional connection with others, compelling them to engage.

Greg Corbin also managed to grab the audience’s attention. Corbin, executive director of the Philly Youth Poetry Movement, is passionate about what he does. It shows. And it’s contagious. He shared a poem with the audience, and they listened. There’s a lesson here as well. Sometimes, if we change the manner in which we present our message, it’s more likely to be heard. I’m not saying all our ads need to rhyme like Dr. Seuss, but we need to make our message stand out from all the clutter.

It’s no surprise that Mallika Chopra, CEO of and daughter of physician/spiritual healer Deepak Chopra, asked the audience members to close their eyes for a moment of meditation. It was a brilliant exercise, for it forced the digital addicts to turn their attention inward – away from their devices – if only for a short time.

Gideon Gidori and Leah Albert also managed to capture the attention of the audience. So who are they? The masterminds behind Fortune 500 companies? The next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg? They’re more likely to be the next Neil Armstrong or Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (she’s the president of Libya, BTW, and the only elected female head of state in Africa). You see, Leah and Gideon are 7th-grade students at the Shepherds Junior School in Tanzania. So what where they doing at a brands conference in New York, you ask? Their moving stories illustrated how personal experiences can be used to help garner support for a cause and help shed light on social justice issues. Their tiny yet confident voices resonated with the audience, proving that you don’t have to shout your message in order to be heard.

In a brands conference that focused mainly on social media and online communication, it’s not unusual to hear the term bytes or to discuss cookies and their impact on marketing. However, it was the edible kind of cookie that was mentioned on more than one occasion.

DoubleTree Hotels celebrated the 25th anniversary of its popular chocolate chip cookie last summer with a cross-country Cookie CAREavan. A hotel-sponsored food truck visited major cities, giving out free cookies at every stop. The event was considered a huge success, resulting in more than 2 million media impressions and 35,000 Facebook friends.

Jonathan Kay, ambassador of buzz for, used cookies to thank a blogger. Grasshopper provides virtual phone systems for small businesses. A blogger with a modest following wrote about the Grasshopper service, and Kay said Grasshopper sent him three homemade cookies as a thank-you. It’s another example of how a brand can connect one-on-one with its customers.

If you were to ask organizer Pulver, he’d probably say social media is one big group hug. It’s about reaching out to your audience, listening, and responding in a caring and informative matter.

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a group hug.

Check out Darcy Grabenstein on Google+

The tricks of treats – the beauty of PR swag

Originally posted in October 2011

Living within a train ride’s distance from New York City has its advantages. Like being able to sit in the audience for a national TV talk show.

Two years after my friend had applied online for free tickets, she received confirmation that she had finally received them. You’d think she had won the lottery.

I was one of her lucky friends invited to accompany her to The Big Apple. We began our journey at the crack of dawn, and it paid off – we got to the studio so early that we were allowed to sit in on two tapings that day. A stand-up comedian (actually more like a cheerleader on speed) and snacks were part of the effort to “prime” the audience for the actual tapings.

During the first taping, everyone in the audience received two tickets each to a Broadway show. As someone who’s usually on the other end of product placement, I had to laugh at the audience’s naïveté. It was obvious that the majority of those in the studio audience thought the tickets were courtesy of the show itself. Of course, I knew better.

If I were to thank anyone, it would be the producers of the show and the theater hosting it. The tickets were for a weeknight performance, most likely when ticket sales are lower, and probably given as an effort to fill the house. To be honest, I don’t care who donated the tickets or what the reasons were; I was just happy to have two tickets in hand.

There’s another element of PR that was lost on at least one of the TV hosts. During breaks in taping, the hosts would come out on the set to interact with members of the studio audience. My friends and I noticed that all but one of the hosts came out to mingle with the “commoners.” We couldn’t help but wonder: Was she too good for the likes of us? Is she a diva? Who does she think she is? She fell several notches on our PR Richter scales.

As we sat through taping of the second show, we hit the jackpot. One segment was devoted to showcasing the season’s “hottest” products. I’m sure that “hot” was defined by which company was willing to cough up enough swag for the couple hundred people in the studio audience.

But that was irrelevant to us. Everyone in the audience won a tablet and accessories, worth more than $400. We also received online vouchers for shoes (two different brands), apparel, food and more. And we had to lug home on the train a kitchen item and other goodies. At least we also received a large tote bag in which to stash it all.

To be honest, I had never purchased anything from most of the companies providing the swag. Did it convert me into a paying customer? Maybe. I had thought about purchasing at least one of the items previously and, after having an opportunity to try out the product gratis, I was sold.

So is product placement of this magnitude worth it to a company? I think it depends on the cost of the product – and use of the product. A food item, for instance, is enjoyed and then gone forever. Even though the tablet was a high-ticket item, it will be used often – and for years. A company must weigh the cost of the promotion against the prospect of acquiring loyal customers. Calculating the lifetime value of these new customers will help determine whether a company should go the swag route.

However, the true value of the swag is not with the studio audience, but with the millions of viewers in TV land. The cost per number of impressions for on-air swag, compared to the exorbitant cost of a 30- or 60-second commercial, is nominal. Plus the company enjoys the PR benefits of additional airtime and the perceived endorsement of the TV hosts.

As a member of the studio audience, however, I would beg to disagree. I think we won the lottery.

Check out Darcy Grabenstein on Google+

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