Too little, too late, too lame? Initial thoughts on #fishfulthinking

by Susan Getgood on March 2, 2009 · 17 comments

in Blogger relations,PR

Yesterday morning my friend Julie Marsh sent me an example for the bad pitch file, an email pitch for a campaign called Fishful Thinking from Pepperidge Farm Goldfish. As she notes on her blog this morning, the offer was somewhat interesting, so she had followed up, twice, with the agency to no response.

She thought that a bit odd, that they didn’t bother to respond. I did too, given the tone of the email, but didn’t have any time to do much with it then as we were off to Boston for brunch and the musical Dirty Dancing.[Brief aside, if you have the chance to see it, go. Makes you feel just as good as the movie, the dancing is excellent, and male vocalist Ben Mingay has a voice to die for.]

Checked back in after dinner to see there had been quite a discussion over Twitter during the day #fishfulthinking. Turns out about 200 mom bloggers had received this “special invitation” to participate in the Pepperidge Farm program, many responded positively and most NEVER heard back. That is, until the discussion started on Twitter yesterday.

Representatives from the agency, including the boss,  then contacted mom tweeters and bloggers to explain the situation, but as Julie notes in her post, and others have tweeted, the explanation isn’t terribly satisfactory. Kristen Chase, who also received the invitation and replied to thunderous silence,  has a summary of the sequence of events and some good advice for the agency on what they should have done.

I’m going to break this down even more, using the information I have at hand. I’d love to hear from the agency or company and will be sending an email with a link to this post later today.

All marketing outreach, including blogger relations,  has three components: the target audience or list, the pitch/program and the execution. Success requires careful attention to all three. So where did Fishful Thinking fail?

First, it made what appeared to be an attractive exclusive offer:

“We are recruiting 10 insightful moms to become key influencers in this nationwide campaign.”

to 200 women. Mass outreach, micro tactic. Not a good match.

Reread the email — I have many times. It  reads like the recipient has already been selected. Not that she is one of 200 randomly selected mom bloggers and must pass an interview process to participate. Which was the information that surfaced yesterday.

That’s problem number two. The pitch misrepresents the program. It offers the mom an opportunity for a trip to New York for a training session and a stipend. Sounds good. Except the real offer is to INTERVIEW for the opportunity.

Finally, execution. Bad enough to send a misleading pitch to a large list of mom bloggers. But then, when the women are interested,  to not follow up? Until the mess made it to Twitter that is, when it HAD to follow up or look really stupid.

Unfortunately, the explanations that have surfaced to date don’t seem to be much more than attempts to smooth over the situation with offers of free goldfish.

If you are counting, that’s a failing grade on all three elements: audience, pitch and execution.

The whole mess reminded me quite a bit of Camp Baby, except Johnson & Johnson immediately apologized and made an honest effort to understand where it went wrong. Not saying we won’t see that from Fishful, but so far things seem more like boilerplate and justification.

More importantly, Fishful Thinking had the Camp Baby example to learn from. Same target audience, similar program, at least on its face. The definition of insanity is to repeat the same actions, expecting a different outcome. The Fishful campaign certainly seems to qualify.

Kristen and Julie have already done a fine job telling Fishful what it should have done differently. I’m going to frame my advice for a company considering a similar program.

  • Exclusive offers have to be a a micro tactic. You should never reach out to more than you can afford to fulfill. That means you have to qualify your list very carefully and narrowly. Consumers talk to each other. Bloggers talk to each other a lot and not just in the public channels.
  • You can mix exclusive offers and mass tactics but the mass offer, such as the free goldfish or public seminar, can’t be a consolation prize for a poorly executed exclusive offer. That just sends the wrong message to everyone. What you can do is make the exclusive offer to a highly targeted, narrow population with a very clear criteria and then have a mass offer to a broader population. It’s also a good idea to have some time between the two programs. Compounding the fishy confusion is that the agency was apparently doing two simultaneous programs, the exclusive one and a promo for a public seminar in White Plains this weekend.
  • Don’t mislead in an attempt to entice. Make sure the offer and any requirements or qualifications necessary to participate are clearly stated. Err on the side of OVER not under-communication.
  • On the other hand, the promotional-speak, the self congratulations. Keep those to a minimum. Elementary school children can tell when they are being spoken to in message points.  So can their parents.
  • Make sure you have sufficient resources to execute. Enough people to respond to the bloggers. Enough products or whatever your offer is to meet the demand. If you target your good pitch appropriately, you should have a fair idea of the response. Staff accordingly. If you misjudge, staff up. Get a temp. But don’t let weeks go by without responding to an email from someone YOU approached in the first place.

I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about the Fishful campaign over the course of the week. I’ll be sure to report anything interesting.

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1 Mom101 March 2, 2009 at 1:49 pm

You always provide such thoughtful analysis of these things.

I think what people misunderstand is not that this is a little pr snafu, but they’re toying with a very busy, very frazzled, and sometimes not very marketing-savvy audience. Moms spend the time to clear their calendars and arrange childcare and prepare for a trip to NY , they start getting excited about all the bills they’ll pay with that $2000, and suddenly the offer is rescinded.

That’s gotta hurt a little.

Mom101´s last blog post..And with that, the mom blog world subdivides once again

2 Busy Mom March 2, 2009 at 1:56 pm

Thank you so much for your insight, I always learn so much here.

I recently had a wonderful experience at a Campbell’s blogger event and this whole thin makes me kind of sad, really because the company does get it and treated us well.

Busy Mom´s last blog post..Tiny Prints and Wedding Paper Divas Discount Codes

3 Busy Mom March 2, 2009 at 2:02 pm

Um, “thing” makes me sad.

Am available to go to blogger typing event wherever someone wants to send me.

Busy Mom´s last blog post..Tiny Prints and Wedding Paper Divas Discount Codes

4 David Wescott March 2, 2009 at 2:05 pm

nice post. I think the point you made about exclusivity should be obvious but sadly isn’t, and I’m glad you made it. I’ve worked on campaigns (online and off) before where there’s a goal of recruiting x people for a cause and knowing that I need to reach out to 3x or 4x just to hit that number. But I think that’s backwards. I think you get to know people first then think about what would appeal to them – the whole idea of bloggers being passionate for something that you’ve mentioned before – and connect the dots.

Further, I think it’s sad but necessary that you have to admonish people against overselling.

David Wescott´s last blog post..The Mom-O-Sphere Goes Corporate and Cultures Clash

5 mothergoosemouse March 2, 2009 at 2:08 pm

So many great points here. As someone on the receiving end of outreach, I’d say your bullets are all spot on.

mothergoosemouse´s last blog post..Something fishy this way comes

6 Her Bad Mother March 2, 2009 at 2:34 pm

“the mass offer, such as the free goldfish or public seminar, can’t be a consolation prize for a poorly executed exclusive offer. That just sends the wrong message to everyone”

All of your points are spot-on, Susan – but this one in particular needs to be highlighted. I don’t think that it was clear to the company that it was borderline offensive to offer the opportunity for doing (uncompensated) promotion for them as a token of their remorse for having botched the outreach. Why would I give away what they didn’t seem to value in the first place? It worked to underscore the general problem – that they didn’t know who they were pitching and didn’t understand the value of what they seemed to be taking so lightly.

That said, they have been responsive, and are attentive to the uproar. Which is good. But the jury is still out.

Her Bad Mother´s last blog post..And On The Seven-Hundred And Second Day, She Took It All Back

7 Motherhood Uncensored March 2, 2009 at 2:44 pm

I get needed to do the 4-5x the number to find the bloggers.

But c’mon. They were offering $500/month. Most people are going to dig that, especially in this economy where many moms have laid off husbands.

I do get the sense that the company will say “Well, we didn’t really offer them anything so why are they so upset.”

Really, we sort of feel a bit duped by the misleading email. The request for phone numbers, conference calls.. well that sort of says “hey we’re interested” and not “we’re interviewing for 10 positions.”

Just fully disclose your intentions. Or better, ask Susan to help you with your outreach.

Motherhood Uncensored´s last blog post..I don’t think I could have even staged this if I tried

8 Susan Getgood March 2, 2009 at 3:16 pm

Thanks for all the comments. The CEO of the agency responded to my email immediately. I’ll post a summary of the call and my final thoughts, at least for now, later tonight.

9 Stefania Pomponi Butler March 2, 2009 at 4:34 pm

The worst part about the whole experience, at least for me, was that the program actually sounded cool. As a mom which Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies sitting in her cupboard right now and as a mom who is paid to write about companies “doing good,” I welcomed the opportunity to learn more about the brand.

I hate that I went as far as discussing the potential opportunity with my husband (who was excited for me), and started plans in motion to arrange childcare. That makes me feel gross. I hate that I sincerely reached out in an effort to find out more and cleared a whole morning awaiting a call that never came. That made me feel used.

10 Jenn March 2, 2009 at 9:38 pm

As always, I learn so much from reading your site. Thanks for posting this.

Bloggers most definitely talk. And when PR people who host events and jobs keep (pardon the pun) fishing from the same pond, this is going to happen just like it has before.

I am so far out of the loop these days when it comes to the invites, I don’t even see the loop. 🙂 I do know that I can always come here to get the real deal. Thanks for keeping it real, Susan!

Jenn´s last blog post..Decisions. Changes. Life without regrets.

11 Jessica (from It's my life...) March 3, 2009 at 3:58 pm

I was one of the 200 targeted and until my husband, a lawyer, read the email did I realize that I wasn’t selected, but being invited to be interviewed. To say that it was a let down is an understatement!
Then, unlike others, I was interviewed and the poor interviewer had to learn from me that my kids were much younger than those of their target moms. Hello! Do your research.
To compound my annoyance I never even got an email saying that they’d selected anyone or anything. I would have understood not being picked, but being blown off is harder to swallow, especially after believing that I’d been hand picked!

Jessica (from It’s my life…)´s last blog post..Some Little Girls Want to Be Just Like Daddy

12 Audrey - Mom Generations March 4, 2009 at 3:09 pm

I was one of the 200 moms sent that email. Mine actually came from Facebook! Someone contacted me through my FB page. I was enticed… did the interview… told I was a GREAT candidate and that I would hear the final results around 2/9. I emailed twice in February and even sent a YouTube video of my son eating Pepperidge Farm crackers as simple nudge – like HELLO? Any word yet? I got a call TODAY. The CALL WAS PLACED today regarding the decisions. And I was then asked if I still wanted to participate… but for free – the content on their site would be payment. Yeah, no thanks.

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