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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