Snowmobiling with the Rushmore Mascots

Working for a full-service advertising and public relations firm in the Black Hills, you never know what project you might be doing. Some are downright fun. I mean, how can you not have fun snowmobiling in Spearfish Canyon with George, Tom, Teddy and Abe?

Our client, Spearfish Canyon Lodge, wanted photos of the Mount Rushmore Mascots aboard snowmobiles in Spearfish Canyon. The Rapid City Convention & Visitors Bureau was good enough to let us use their mascot costumes. The Lodge staff was good enough to wear them.

The canyon was gorgeous the day TDG’s Sadie Snyder and I hopped on a snowmobile and followed the big heads up to Roughlock Falls. Sadie, it turns out, is a much better snowmobile driver than I am. She’s also a great photo assistant/art director.

I have to say, there’s something disconcerting about working with terrycloth figures who have enormous heads and absolutely no facial expressions. ”As you drive by, try to get as close together as possible,” I said. Four blank stares. “Can you hear me?” More stares. (Inside the heads, they were nodding in agreement.)

I wouldn’t want to play poker with these guys.

— DAN DALY

Best tourism website in Illinois! Congrats to Blackhawk Waterways

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A  TDG Communications website won the Illinois Governor’s Award of Excellence. Our client, Blackhawk Waterways Convention & Visitors Bureau in Polo, Ill., won the award Monday night at the 2014 Illinois Governor’s Conference on Travel & Tourism in Chicago.

The website features the outdoor activities, history, dining, arts and rural culture of the four-county Blackhawk Waterways region of Northwest Illinois. It was named the state’s best website among Illinois tourism groups with a budget of less than $700,000 a year.

"Our new site is simple, sharp, and inviting — just like our region," said Diane Bausman of Blackhawk Waterways CVB. “Thanks and credit go to TDG for all the blood, sweat & tears they put into it."

The website, launched last spring, was the first among any Illinois CVB websites to use responsive design, a technology that makes a site easily viewable on a cell phone, a tablet, a laptop or a desktop. The site adjusts itself to fit the screen on which it is being viewed.

“In our experience working with tourism clients in South Dakota, Illinois, Montana and other destinations, we know that a website has to be more than just a destination showcase. It has to be an effective tool for tourists to make the decision to visit, and to help them plan their trip,” Monte Amende, creative director and partner in TDG Communications.

Check out the website visitnorthwestillinois.com

If you make a living in the public eye, free speech has a price

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At a newspaper I worked for several years ago, there was a young guy who worked part-time as a photographer. One night, after a few too many beers, he wandered into a convenience store to use the restroom. The clerk wouldn’t give him a key.

So he went out to his car, returned with his camera and started shooting photos of her. When the clerk asked what he was doing, he said, “I’m a photographer for the newspaper, and I’m going to do a story on what a b**** you are.”

The clerk didn’t see the news value. Neither did the editor, who fired the photograph the next morning.

A reporter at the same newspaper was a pro-life activist who spent a lot of her personal time at abortion clinic protests, often ending up in jail. Eventually, she too was fired. The stated reason: missing too much work. However, she was convinced that it was a political move by a controversy-shy publisher.

I bring up these stories because I’ve been reading lately about Justine Sacco’s racist tweets that got her fired from a top PR job, and Phil Robertson’s gay bashing that got him banned from “Duck Dynasty.”

There has been a lot of talk about free speech, censorship and private vs. public activity. After more than two decades as a journalist, I can tell you: If you spend any time in the public eye, then everything you do is public. If you put yourself out there, especially when someone pays you, then you can’t choose which part of your visible life is off the record.

That applies equally to the mayor of Toronto as it does to journalists, radio personalities, bloggers, PR people and reality TV stars. It’s not about censorship — the First Amendment protects you from the government, not your boss — but about consequences.

If your employer puts unreasonable restrictions on your free speech, find a different employer. Or shut up.

— DAN DALY

The smell of victory

Montana’s awareness programs are the best. How good, you ask? This campaign worked so well, that even when expired, it caused mild panic and evacuations.

Here’s the story: 

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — Those scratch-and-sniff cards the energy company sends to customers to teach them to recognize the artificial smell added to natural gas? Turns out they work pretty well.

Energy West general manager Nick Bohr tells the Great Falls Tribune that workers recently discarded several boxes of expired scratch-and-sniff cards in Great Falls. But when the garbage truck picked them up and compressed the load Bohr says “it was the same as if they had scratched them.”

The resulting odor prompted numerous false alarms and building evacuations as the garbage truck traveled through downtown Great Falls on Wednesday morning, leaving the smell in its trail.

Bohr says the company apologizes for the disruption.

Impressed? They did good work and sent a message, all while smelling like old eggs. Here’s to hoping your media can cause a stink.

If you type in “bad design,” Google sleuths you up a site called Good Design // Bad Design. The first good post shows Star Wars pictures, told with a typographic flair. There’s Yoda, with angle-bracket ears, upside down parenthesis for well-worn cheeks, and a discreet capital “D” turned on its side for a nose.

It’s the type of design that leaves you curious, wanting more. That coming from a person who’s never in the history of life wanted anything “more” regarding Star Wars. Good design has this ability to take you out of your realm and get you thinking about what could be.

So. If good design gets your heart all aflutter, what does bad design do? Well, it doesn’t hurt - not necessarily - as long as you’re not designing grenades and the like. Bad design, it’s just not well thought-out. I have this beautiful red bowl at home. At first, it’s shiny and invites you on a date for cookie-dough ice cream. But then after you wash it, the red dulls. You pour in hot ramen, and the inside cracks. Its little blue stain reminds you of the blueberries you ate — four weeks ago. That’s just inconsiderate.

Bad design isn’t always downright ugly. It just…disappoints. I guess the point is this: If you can design your own Yoda, do it. If you want to make your own damn ice cream bowl, be my guest. But if in two weeks your ice cream is leaking all over the place, well, you have a decision to make.

You could devote a big hunk of your spare time to practicing construction of ice cream bowls. Until you do enough research and learn all the technical skills that go into making stuff, perhaps leave it to the professionals.

To see TDG’s gallery of ice cream bowls*, click here


*And by ice cream bowls, we of course mean design.

- katie

Coming to an address line near you — Ellipses.dotdot

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Just had a brainstorm. … OK, maybe a squall.

Soon companies will be able to create their own dot-Brand domains, like “fiction.amazon” instead of amazon.com/fiction.” According to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, nearly 2,000 companies and regions applied last year for the new extensions.

“We are standing at the cusp of a new era of online innovation,” said Rod Beckstrom, CEO of ICANN. “That means new businesses, new marketing tools, new jobs, and new ways to link communities and share information.”

I got to thinking. “tdg.tdg” seems redundant and repetitive. So, I’m going to suggest that we change the name of the company to Ellipses, and get the domain extension of dotdot.

Then we could have a web address of ellipses.dotdot — Get it?

- DAN DALY

Mobility movement is gaining speed

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The other day, I went to a 2-hour appointment and accidentally left my phone at home. I thought about going back for it, but didn’t. Who can’t go two hours with a phone? … Me, apparently. I wouldn’t describe myself as depressed for those two hours — but I had this nagging feeling that there were things happening in the world, important things, that I was missing.

I’m not the only one. Today I saw a study by IDC (funded, I should point out, by Facebook) that examines our obsession with smart phones and social media. First, IDC noted that in the U.S. there are 155 million smart phones in use, which means half of all Americans use them. By 2017, nearly 68 percent of us will be smart phones users. (I suspect that number is low.)

Some tidbits from the survey:

  • Just 16 percent of our smart phone use involves actual phone calls. The rest is texting, browsing, posting photos, etc. Rather than smart phones, they should be called pocket computers.
  • 78 percent of us reach for the smart phone within 15 minutes of waking up. (44 percent of us use it as an alarm clock.)
  • 32 minutes is the average time spent on Facebook each day.
  • 33 percent of Facebook users say they used Facebook to send and receive private messages to friends. Could Facebook replace email as the primary way to communicate online? (Did I mention who sponsored the study?)

— DAN

Meet MAX

South Dakota Housing Development Authority’s new incentive, called the Mortgage Credit Certificate, allows borrowers through its First-Time Home Buyer Program to recoup 20 to 40 percent of their mortgage interest as a tax credit. For most borrowers, that could be worth up to $2,000 a year — for the life of the loan.

Are you still awake? … My point exactly.

TDG’s challenge: Take this very important message to a demographic group whose eyes tend to glaze over during discussions of things like tax credits and mortgage interest.

One of the older staffers suggested we do a takeoff on the old “C.C. Rider” song from the 1960s. You know, “M-C-C rider, well now see-ee what you have done. …”

After blank stares from the rest of the staff, we moved on.

How about a super hero? Save the day, bring the American Dream to young folks sitting on the home ownership fence? That’s how Max was born — MAX $2,000, that is.

Derek Olson, our gifted graphic artist, animator and wallyball champ, created SDHDA’s new hunky hero. In this animated video, the couple is literally sitting on the fence. MAX carries them to home ownership — literally.

You’ll be seeing more of MAX. He’s a big part of the MCC campaign that we are rolling out this spring.

— DAN DALY

Nothing Makes an Impact Quite Like Clever Advertising

Of the many things I appreciate in my line of work, a truly clever advertisement might be one of the best. I appreciate advertisers who prefer to make their audience think rather than simply trying to beat someone over the head with their message. Because, from where I’m standing, if you can get your audience to notice your ad, take the time to understand your ad and actually be impressed by the message and creative, the chance of them remembering your brand is infinitely greater.

Here are two examples to help explain what I mean that I came across while doing research for a medical client. I’m not going to explain what they are or who they are for, because that would defeat the purpose of this whole post. But, I hope you appreciate the thought that went into these ads as much as I do.

So, here’s to you clever advertisers. Job well done!

-Chad

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Public Relations Blogging: Just Be Honest!

As you know, I’m pretty new at this “blogging” thing. It’s actually pretty fun for someone who has an ego like me, so I’ve been drawn to some of the successes and failures of blogs. I was reading about blogging recently, and I came across an article about how one of the “big boys” — Wal-Mart and their PR agency — got caught being not-so-honest in the blogosphere.

Have you ever noticed all the RV’s that pile up in the Walmart parking lot? I have, and thought, “What a great idea! With gigantic moving homes parking in your lot, you’ve got built-in customers. They all need food, gas, clothing, housewares…” A couple of Wal-Mart enthusiasts decided to take an RV trip across America this way, taking lots of photos, and publishing stories about the intriguing people they’d met in Wal-Mart parking lots. They called it, “Wal-Marting Across America.” It’s an interesting travel story, right?

Unfortunately, it all turned out to be a publicity stunt paid for by Wal-Mart to boost the company’s image — but when the facts came out, it had the opposite effect. After Businessweek.com uncovered the truth, “Wal-Marting Across America” went on to make CNN Money’s list of the year’s 101 Dumbest Moments in Business: “The stunt is especially bad news for [Wal-Mart PR firm] Edelman, since it violates ethical guidelines it helped to write for the nascent Word of Mouth Marketing Association.”

Clearly, this is the wrong way to blog. What’s the right way? Take a page from Coke, whose “Happiness Machine” commercial went viral (now over 5.2 million views).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqT_dPApj9U

The moral of the story?

Just be honest!

-Scott

Everyone Needs a Social Media Plan

Social media promotions can be a great way to boost the number of followers and likes for your brand. The downside? Contest-style promotions can be easily manipulated. Take, for instance, Time Magazine’s recent online Person of the Year poll, which was hijacked by users of the 4chan message board to place North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un at the top

One of our favorites? When Wal-Mart decided to launch a campaign to juice the number of Facebook likes for its local outlets, Boston Phoenix writer David Thorpe intervened. The contest offered to send Miami rapper Pitbull to the Wal-Mart location whose local Facebook page garnered the most likes. After persuading by Thorpe, some 60,000 Facebook users decided to “exile” the entertainer to Kodiak, Alaska - a 5,000 mile trip from southern Florida. 

For better or worse, everyone has a voice now.

Having a strategy and plan for your social media is probably a good thing.

-Scott

Marketing Is Changing… Fast

I’ve been working in web development for over 14 years. No, I don’t program. I don’t even design layouts. I’m in business development. I’m the guy that shows up at your business with ideas on how we can make your marketing more effective and give you a higher return on investment. I have a job because things are changing: your customers, technology, and marketing. How many times have you been asked how your marketing is working… and you’re not sure what the answer is?

Marketing is changing, and changing quickly.

“Marketing today is difficult,” Michael Brenner, Senior Director of Global Marketing at SAP wrote recently. “There are 200 million people on the U.S. ‘Do Not Call’ list. Over 86% of TV viewers admit to skipping commercials. Forty-four percent of direct marketing is never opened. Roughly 99.9% of online banners are never clicked. Buyers wait until they have completed 60-80% of their research before reaching out to vendors”.

So now we need to be experts in design, web development, public relations, SEO, SEM, social media and other facets of non-traditional advertising.

Perhaps this has happened to you: a prospective customer types keywords relevant to you into Google, but none of the search results are yours. Actually, you’re on page four.  But your web developers provided good, relevant content, the format is easy to read, you have a call to action, your headlines are compelling, you have nice photos and graphics anchored to keywords, you even have great testimonials and links to relevant sites. Everything looks okay. But you’re not getting the traffic you expected. Now what?

That’s why companies like TDG are growing. It’s a difficult task to keep up with changing marketing trends and new technology. Our team can help. We can advise you if your website needs tweaks to title, H1, and meta-description tags — three of the fundamental web page elements search engines utilize for search ranking and display on a search engine results page (SERP).

Of course, our experience creating killer creative, dynamic web development, engaging social media and targeted public relations doesn’t hurt, either.

-Scott

Nothing could be finer … than a zombie diner

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Anyone who ever said there’s no such thing as a bad idea has never worked with me. I’m full of bad ideas. Even when I’m asleep.

Case in point: I had an extremely vivid dream the other night that I was pitching a proposal for a zombie-themed diner. We would name it Apocolypto. All of the waitresses, dishwashers and cooks would be made up like zombies, and we would encourage customers to do the same.

"And the best part is," I said excitedly in my dream, "is that nobody will bother to complain about the food or service. What do you expect from dead people?"

OK, it’s probably a bad idea. Who wants to order food from a waiter whose forehead looks like roadkill? And the health inspectors’ heads would be spinning, so to speak.

But in this business it’s important to keep the ideas coming. How would this work? Why would that be good? Who would respond favorably? What could go wrong? Tomorrow could be the day I come up with a really, really outstanding idea.

Meanwhile, if someone wants to open a zombie diner, they’re welcome to name it Apocolypto.

- Dan

Writing for others; a cautionary tale

Today, it’s no secret that important people’s words are often written by others and scrutinized by many more before they are ever available for general consumption. From pop musicians to politicians to global brands, each word or lyric is a finely crafted for a specific purpose. And, even though most people are familiar with ghostwriters, it’s important that the ghost part hold true.

That was not the case for one Montana-based ad agency who was working on behalf of their State Tourism office.

As you can see, this ad agency employee mistakenly posted a very personal Facebook message on behalf of Montana Tourism. Once the mistake was realized, the post was quickly deleted. However, as with anything posted on the internet, it will surely live on in internet fame. At least, until the next cat meme goes viral.

Moral of the story? If you have multiple administrative privileges on Facebook, make sure to check your settings before posting anything.

-Chad

(Source: adweek.com)

Google’s Start to the Day: Bad News, Everyone!

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Google quietly pulled an anti-Farnsworth this morning and began the day with a round of bad news: they’re pulling the plug on free use of Google Apps for Business, their suite of tools for cloud-based e-mail, calendar and document sharing.  

When we work with small business clients that don’t have an existing solution for these things (or they have one that works poorly), we’ve often recommended Google Apps. It’s a great productivity suite, it’s easy for our web team to setup and support, and the price point couldn’t be beat - at least until this morning. Of course, it’s still a great tool. Clients will just need to budget for $50 per user per year for the privilege of using it.  

Perhaps more interesting (from the PR perspective, anyway) was John Koetsier’s analysis of the Google announcement over on VentureBeat. His dissection of the blog post reveals Google’s tried-and-true formula for announcing the bad news: 

  • First Graph: How we got here.
  • Second Graph: Identify the problem.
  • Third Graph: The change. Good first, bad second. No apologies. 
  • Fourth Graph: Why this is actually good news.
  • Fifth Graph: One last sugary-sweet point about how we’re saving the world together. (Optional.)

Google’s not alone, of course - this formula is pretty common in corporate blog posts and press releases that deal with bad news for customers. 

-Dustin

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