Late last week, as the holiday weekend was approaching, a team of Madison Avenue’s best and brightest spin doctors sat around their desks bouncing ideas off each other on whether or not to lean any of their brands into a trending Twitter meme: #ThingsJesusNeverSaid.
“‘When I die, I want you to give out chocolate eggs’ is probably the best one,” Tom Pompei, managing supervisor of FleishmanHillard’s East Coast social media practice, said to the rest of the bullpen during one of the team’s regular morning newsroom sessions. “‘I’m not really a fan of that Russell Brand look’ is another one that had a lot of engagement,” he continued, adding: “There no brand involvement and I doubt there will be -- do not touch, fragile!”
The session, which like many others scattered across Madison Avenue these days, takes place every weekday morning and as social media managers, analysts and content marketing specialists scrape the the earliest possible signals of news, cultural trends and trending social media memes to identify which, if any, have potential application and resonance for brand marketing and communication. While such brand newsroom meetings often take on the air of a late-night talk show comedy writing bull session, the one that took place last Thursday morning was even wackier and zanier than normal, because it came the day after April Fools’ Day, and most of what was thrown against the walls of the bullpen didn’t stick, because it was either too dicey or just old, hackneyed and tired.
“It’s kind of over,” the team’s commander-in-chief, Ephraim Cohen, proclaimed of brands banking social media campaigns around April Fools’ Day, adding that “most of it was your standard, run-of-the-million jokes that brands did.”
In fact, the only execution fielded by the team was for a real product that was so funny the agency had to label it as not being an April Fools’ joke: a social media campaign promoting client Insurance Auto Auctions Inc.’s auctioning of an Amish buggy that had been in a car accident.
The team rattled off lists of cute -- but mainly lame and trite -- ideas such as Oreo’s “double cookie” (instead of double stuffing) role reversal, or T-Mobile’s “family calling plan for your pets.”
The FleishmanHillard team debated the merits of the executions and concluded that the only truly imaginative ones were done by tech giants Google and Microsoft. Google’s included the launch of “self-driving Chromebooks” and “Google Fiber dial-up,” which tickled the social media experts, as did Microsoft’s launch of MS-DOS -- or old school disk operating system -- for mobile. “It was April Fools’ Day in the DOS format,” said one of the members of the bullpen, adding, “You had to type c:/ on your smartphone.”
As funny as those executions seemed, one of the agency’s executives noted that it was only a year ago that AT&T joked about launching a “connected” belt. “It’s funny, a year later, that’s real,” noted one of the members of the team, which led to a discussion about all of the improbable things that are now connected technologies.
“Smart forks, smart underwear -- they’re all real products,” noted Cohen. When one of his team asked what smart underwear does, he quipped: “It texts you when you have a problem.”
The session, which took place in a bullpen known as “The Daily Planet” (the practice’s offices are located in New York’s News Building, which was the setting for Superman’s Daily Planet), may have seemed sillier than normal, but not by much. A similar session attended by this writer following the CES conference in January was nearly as wacky.
That’s the fun stuff. The hard part, says Cohen, is figuring out how to leverage news and culture trends to optimize a client’s story. And that requires not just good instincts, wit and intelligence, but some scientific application of data and state-of-the-art content production and distribution.
Posing in front of the practice’s multi-screen real-time data dashboard, Cohen points to some of the unique data applications being used by the FleishmanHillard team to give its clients what he believes is a competitive advantage. His favorite, he says, is a modeling technique the firm developed that factors the real reach a social media campaign will generate among the audience a client actually wants to reach.
The firm created it, he says, as a way of differentiating FleishmanHillard from the outrageous claims made by many social media practices that they reach “billions” of people.
“If you walk into a C-level meeting with a report showing that you’ve generated 750 million impressions, it falls short, because it’s just not realistic and gets thrown out the door,” he explains, adding that the firm’s solution was a model that factors only the percentage of social media users that are likely to take an action as a result of being exposed to the campaign.
He calls it “version 1.0” of the method, because currently it can only estimate the percentage of meaningful users reached. But he says FleishmanHillard’s analytics team is already working on an enhanced model that will enable it to “predict” how a campaign or execution might reach them in the future.
“We started by at least trying to whack this huge number down to something realistic. In many cases, it is at least a third of less,” he says, adding: “but the main thing is it is more believable to the C-level we need to report to.”
The approach isn’t just used to make clients feel better about the firm’s deliverables, but to help the firm deliver on its objectives. Among other things, Cohen says the real number helps the team develop realistic reach and frequency curves and strategies for executing social media and content marketing campaigns.
He calls that process “market prep,” and by doing its homework in advance, he says the social practice understands exactly which portions of the audience it is targeting are most likely to respond to specific types of content or stories it puts into the marketplace and therefore can plan it scientifically.“One of the benefits of doing it upfront is we know the actual number of people we need to reach, and how many times we need to reach them to prep a market,” he says, adding that the method utilizes the same classic principles of reach and effective frequency as traditional advertising and media-buying campaigns, except that it is using so-called owned (content) and “earned” (social sharing) media.