The discussion recently at a four-year old birthday party took a different turn when someone blurted out, “So I’m never eating at Chick-fil-A again.” Several guests joined in, either whole heartedly agreeing or some fervently opposing the view – and voices started to climb the decibel scale. Thank goodness it was time to blow out the candles.

In case you missed the recent coverage, Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy, whose father founded the business, recently reiterated the company’s belief in “the biblical definition of the family unit.” This led to an outcry from same-sex marriage advocates and the social media sphere blew up with boycott demands. Suddenly neighbors found themselves either pro-delicious chicken sandwich or opting to go to its competitors to satisfy their fast food craving.

When companies and organizations go off the key message cue card and make social or political statements, do consumers suffer? No matter your stance – does consuming a large waffle fry mean you’re expressing to the world your social and political views?

CNN asks this same question in the article “When a sandwich becomes a social statement.” Instead of communicating its appreciation for its consumer base, Chick-fil-A’s PR team has been working double time steer the discussion away from the political game.

Sadly, USA Today announced late week that Chick-fil-A’s chief spokesman for company “died early today amid the furor sparked by his boss’ biblical opposition to same-sex marriage.”  The article noted he had just recently issued a statement “expressing the company’s desire to ‘not proactively being engaged in the dialogue on gay marriage. ‘Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena,’ his statement said.”

When an organization goes off-message – it’s important to get back to basics. Revisit your core business and communication goals for your target audience and move forward. Although Chick-fil-A is known for its religious ethos tied into its operations, surely its core goal is to make and serve quality food. As Alan Pearcy noted in PR Daily “Maybe the company—particularly its president—should let the chicken do the talking from now on.”

Melissa Mauldin, Senior Marketing Specialist

While many businesses have decided to get their feet wet in the realm of social media (and yes, some are still hesitant), it’s apparent that some businesses do so without proper planning. Lack of planning causes wasted time and often includes inefficient methods. Social media, like any form of marketing for a business, must involve strategy.

As we all learned from the popularization of social media in 2009 and the enhancement of the medium in 2010, social media can be a truly efficient and effective way to communicate to stakeholders on a different level. It’s no longer a “new” medium, rather it is broadly being incorporated into business marketing plans and is a sought after resource in communicating businesses key messages, events, and product news and promotions directly with customers.

I recently came across a blog on socialmediatoday.com indicating the 12 reasons why businesses will fail at social media in 2011. Overall, many of the issues stemmed around businesses not incorporating social media as part of their strategic marketing plan. Rather, businesses attempted to use the medium because they thought they should get on board. Wrong. Below are a few tips to keep in mind to help businesses utilize this popular medium efficiently.

Understand the medium.

Social media is not a tool that’s going to fix a broken business or be the answer to down sales or a poor reputation. Social media will actually enhance these issues, if not conducted properly. Businesses need to have a true understanding of the medium and have a strategy in place before engaging.

Plan, plan, plan.

Businesses without a plan will fail. Otherwise known as Random Acts of Social Medial, or RASMs, no one can afford to waste time. Avoid the randomness and develop a strategy and appropriate messaging for utilizing this tool as part of your overall marketing plan. Think about the big picture as well as the logistics involved in the strategy. (i.e. What is our key message? Is our messaging appropriate for the audience? How much and how often? Will we develop any special events/promotions for this audience only? Who will manage our presence on social media sites? Who will have access? Do we have the manpower to devote one person to manage social media activity? If not, how can the workload be divided?)

Don’t expect too much too early.

Certainly, online resources provide data and feedback immediately upon entering this world. However, it takes time to understand the environment, engage with the audience and build a following that will respond, before determining the success or failure of this resource.

So, have you planned your social media participation strategically? This year, get on board with a strategic goal and action plan that’s in line and in support of your marketing efforts. Social media can help contribute to building your brand, as part of your overall marketing plan. Ensure you’re messaging correctly and devoting the resources needed to be successful in this ever-changing and continuously evolving medium. Don’t waste time.  There never seems to be enough anyway!

Melissa Mauldin, Senior Marketing Specialist, A. Bright Idea

Think about a good customer experience you’ve had: how elated you were and happy to share the news with your peers! In a world where we’re surrounded by negative-toned news, we often feel overjoyed when someone does something nice for us.

I recently had a nice experience with the online discounter, Groupon. I purchased a Groupon offer as a gift for my sister-in-law but later found out the retailer was not meeting Groupon’s criteria (obviously Groupon received complaints from people attempting to use their coupon for services and were not getting what they were promised) and as a result, Groupon provided a refund to everyone who purchased the coupon and they stopped offering the deal. I was so impressed with the fact that Groupon took care of me, when I called my sister-in-law to tell her that her gift no longer worked I explained how great Groupon had been – and how awful the retailer must have been to have Groupon nix the deal for everyone. Customer service in this case elevated my perception and loyalty to Groupon, but it also made me an advocate of how providing bad customer service can bite you.

When you have bad experiences (and those seem to stick out more than the good ones) they leave a taste in our mouths that you’re only too happy to share with your friends and neighbors. Add social media to the mix and now your interactions with bad customer service are known to millions of people.

An article in the recent issue of Marketing News cited that people generate nearly 500 billion online impressions on each other in regards to products and services each year. It went on to say Nielsen Online estimates the total number of online advertising impressions comes in around just under two trillion. Put that together and you could say people are generating around one-fourth as many impressions on each other as the entire marketing industry is generating. Now, taking that into consideration, who are you most likely to believe – a user of a product or service, or the company that provides it?

While testimonials are nothing new as a method of marketing for businesses, they become increasingly effective in the online age – prone to stimulate greater impressions among viewers – when they are honest responses from an end user and customer. When your business considers its marketing and advertising plans for the coming year, it’s important to check up on your operational touchpoints to ensure your customer experience lives up to your brand promise.

Ensure you have the resources and training to provide good customer service. Laying the groundwork will support the marketing messages communicated to your intended audiences, thereby increasing the brand loyalty and continued growth via word of mouth and blog to blog.

Melissa Mauldin, Sr. Marketing Specialist

I recently saw a news report that discussed how the public is becoming increasingly aware and more concerned about their online persona than their “real-life” persona. While it was shocking to hear this at first (“hello, we live in the real world!”) as I thought about it more, it made more sense. Your online persona can be potentially viewed by millions of people, whereas you may only interact with a few hundred or so. How you appear to millions of people versus how you appear in your immediate interactions might allow for some additional pressure.  This obviously not only affects one’s personal image online, but has potential risks and opportunities for businesses to take note.

An article on American Public Media’s Marketplace discussed how consumers are getting more and more accustomed to providing businesses information about themselves and their friends through that ubiquitous little “Like” button on Facebook. Who wouldn’t want to give a “thumbs up” to their favorite salon, soft drink, clothing store, politician, bank or dare I say it…advertising firm!

The “Like” button is a tremendous tool for businesses. When you as a consumer “Like” something, you are endorsing that company or product. You’re notifying the business that you are someone interested in what they have to say, you like what they sell, not to mention that you’re informing all of your (thousands) of closest friends that they should take note and interest too. One example mentioned a scenario that sounds not hard to believe:

“Say I’m searching for an Italian restaurant…If I see seven of my friends all like one restaurant, I’m going to go there and I don’t care what else is on a search engine.”

While Google may not like this, this is an important opportunity for businesses to take note. Social media is continuing to encroach on our world. People are turning more and more to social media for referrals. Your online presence will continue to be an important aspect of your business persona and should be an increasing focus of your marketing strategy.

While we all still live in the real world and relationships have and will continue to drive business, how we utilize the marketing tools available to spread the message and build relationships in new ways will help businesses move the needle and evolve in this ever-changing and competitive market. The online accessibility through social media allows us to communicate to our potential audiences and their “friends.” However, it’s worth noting that in order to be successful, our online persona must match our “real-life” persona.

Reference: Marketers like that you “Like,” American Public Media, Oct. 1, 2010, http://bit.ly/bpXrtv

A Day to Remember

abimaster

Today marks the 90th anniversary of women’s suffrage, and as I reflect on this day one cannot help but think that without the work of our predecessors, the successful women entrepreneurs, politicians and leaders of today would not have a platform to impact our world. On this occasion, it only seems fitting to take a look back on the women who paved the way for our women-owned business, A. Bright Idea to become a possibility and a success.

The road to women’s suffrage was not an easy one, it began long before the Civil War, and took decades of hard work and negotiating before it was achieved. The following are some of the noteworthy events that led to women gaining the right to vote:

  • The Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 was the first true attempt in   pursing women’s suffrage.
  • The 15th amendment granted African-American men the right to vote. Prominent women’s leaders such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and others refused to endorse the 15th amendment because it neglected to grant women the right to vote.
  • Stanton and Anthony created The National Woman Suffrage Association to work for suffrage on the federal level as well as the granting of property rights to married women.
  • Lucy Stone created the American Woman Suffrage Association, which focused on securing women’s suffrage through state legislation.
  • In 1890, the two groups united to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). When Wyoming entered the Union, it became the first state to grant general women’s suffrage.
  • In 1915, Carrie Chapman Catt became the president of NAWSA, and Alice Paul organized the National Woman’s Party, which used tactics such as mass marches and hunger strikes.
  • It was due to the perseverance demonstrated by these women that led to the eventual success of the movement when women gained the right to vote on August 26, 1920.

Without our rich history of women trailblazers who fought for their beliefs and independence it would be impossible for women to be such an integral and important part of society, business and the political world. I look at successful women who have broken the glass ceiling such as Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice, and this just further proves to me that there are no limits to what women can achieve.

The women in history who fought for suffrage are the foundation for inspiration of women today. So on this 90th anniversary, let’s celebrate these groundbreaking history makers of the past. Their actions continue to pave the way for women owned companies like A. Bright Idea, female entrepreneurs and leaders.

Jamie Nola
Jamie Nola, Interactive Programmer, experiencing his very first snowball

Of course, it’s been a typical Maryland summer over here on the East Coast – humid, humid and more humid! No worries though, A. Bright Idea to the rescue with the best snowball flavors you just have to try – and take a sweater because you’ll be cooled off in no time with these top picks!

1. Egg Custard
Yes, it sounds weird, but this classic is a winner in our books. After all, our own Jamie Nola chose this flav for his very first snowball experience. PS – he’s in his 20’s and had never had a snowball – can you believe it?!

2. Spearmint
Don’t knock it ‘til you try it. Spearmint will have you feeling so refreshed and ready to conquer the nasty heat after the first bite.

3. Sky Light (with marshmallow)
Brings you back to childhood, huh? We thought so too! Plus, who doesn’t love blue lips after a nice big snowball? We’ve got to give a shout out to Linda Jennings Hawes for sharing this timeless pick with us via Facebook.

4. Cherry
For all you plain-Jane’s out there, this one had to make the top list. Just remember, when there’s too many choices, Cherry is always a safe fall back!

5. Chocolate (with marshmallow)
Just think Oreo Cookie and take a bite!

6. Fuzzy Navel
Really, they couldn’t just call it Peach? We think this made the Top 10 just because the name is fun!

7. Ice Cream
For those who are watching their weight, Ice Cream flavor is the perfect way to stay lean but still indulge.

8. Pink Lemonade
It’s a classic that’s frozen. It’s just that simple.

9. Pina Colada
This is the snowball flavor for those “Oh man, I wish it was 5 o’clock” moments. With this pick, it’s always island time.

10. Sour Apple
If you’re looking for an adventure, go with this list-topper. You’ll get a kick in the mouth and a refreshing feel all at once!

If you missed out on giving your two cents for this month’s Top 10, no worries, we’ve got another one coming in September. Keep an eye out – we’re looking for your favorites too!

Melissa Mauldin
Melissa Mauldin, Senior Marketing Specialist

It seems like only yesterday we heard the call of summer, which always began (for me) with The Fresh Prince’s “Summertime,” for others maybe it was Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” or The Drifters’ “Under the Boardwalk.” Well, just as it seems summer began, it’s time for all of those summer anthems to come to an end.  Although some of us are looking forward to cool off from this “Cruel Summer,” I think most of us can agree we’ve had enough “Hot Fun in the Summertime” to last three summers! Okay, enough of the songs, it’s time for the books.

Getting ready for school is an exciting time. As a child I’d go every year to buy a new pair of Stride-Rite shoes with my grandma and we’d shop for new school clothes until we literally dropped. Of course, school wasn’t all about new clothes, but new friends, new classes, new experiences and new lessons. It was exhilarating to delve further and further each year into the areas I was interested in – English, art and social studies. Conversely, I dreaded the not so interesting classes for me – chemistry, geometry and yes, gym class! As I got older I couldn’t wait to be finished with school – I’d have so much more time then (yeah, right).

Now as an adult I know there is no such thing as more time, unless someone invents the 30-hour day. But I also learned my education did not end with graduation or receiving my degree.  As many of us know, in order to stay ahead, or be considered a knowledgeable expert in our field, we must continually educate ourselves, learning new trends, new practices and new studies, whether it be in a classroom setting, online, attending seminars, joining professional organizations, etc.

The benefit of continual education has many folds. Not only does it grow your own depth of knowledge, but it also impacts those around you – colleagues, clients, customers, peers, competitors and so on. Not to mention it serves the American dream. It’s our endless hunger for knowledge, to think of the next big thing and spurn on innovation.

So as we get ready to send the kids off to school, take a moment and reminisce about your own school days. Remember the excitement and the challenge, and find a new way to enhance your skill set with the many programs and educational opportunities around you.

Below are some of the recent seminars team members at ABI have attended:

  • American Marketing Association (AMA) Baltimore/Baltimore Public Relations Council (BPRC), Marketing Adventures with Dan Cathy, President of Chick-Fil-A
  • Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Maryland Chesapeake Conference
  • Baltimore Public Relations Council Annual Conference
  • PRSA Maryland Accredited in Public Relations (APR) Bootcamp
  • Social Media Bookmarking and Tagging and PR
  • U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) training
  • Pixibility Webinar, Social Media Video Secrets with Peter Shankman
  • AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts), Design Army Graphics presentation
  • AIGA, Lecture with Steven Heller
  • PaperSpecs, Direct Mail and Postage seminar
  • PaperSpecs, FSC Certification and Labels

Upcoming events of interest:

  • Advertising Week, Washington, D.C. (9/20-9/24/10)
  • AMA Virtual Event: Getting to the Core of Social Media and Mobile Marketing for Higher Ed Institutions (9/22/10)
  • PRSA Maryland, Writing Series for the Public Relations Professional, a three part series (beginning 9/23/10)
  • AIGA, Lecture with Debbie Millman (9/23/10)
  • AMA, Social Media seminar, Washington, D.C. (10/12/10)
  • Annual government security training
Social Media Today
www.socialmediatoday.com

I remember wondering early in my career, as blogs emerged, how many people would really undertake the responsibility of writing and maintaining a website devoted to their own musings or watchdog tactics, and how many blogs would keep readers’ interest. Of course, anonymity was a plus, but could bloggers really develop a loyal following?

More than 12 years after the introduction of the blogosphere, blogs are alive and well as bloggers create niches and everyone from corporate executives to mom and pop at the shop on Main Street begin to grasp the value of starting a dialogue and engaging multiple viewpoints.

Technorati tracked more than 112 million blogs in 2008, which provides a pretty succinct answer to my one-time question about who would carry the blog flame throughout cyberspace. And of course, blogs have loyal followers as evidenced by commenters and repeat commenters. It’s still difficult to track the exact demographic of loyal blog readers, yet highly targeted topics and analytic software can track hits and impressions.

Now, other technology makes it increasingly easy for us to share blogs that we read regularly and even those that we stumble upon and want to share. Sure, we can subscribe to a blog’s RSS feed to catch up on our RSS Reader or sign up for email notifications when a new post is made. But with the integration of more than one million websites on the Facebook Platform – including two-thirds of comScore’s U.S. Top 100 websites and half of comScore’s Global Top 100 websites according to Facebook – receiving updates on new blog posts as part of your news feed or sharing via the Like button nails the “touch it once” rule suitable for both organizing your desk and managing a busy social media network.

Around the agency, we value blogs on industry news and cutting-edge trends. We’re inspired by art techniques and the clever integration of the verbal and visual because it’s what we do! We also appreciate the quirky and downright creative. Enjoy a few of our favorites and look forward to exploring a few of yours.

Social Media Todaysocialmediatoday.com

Useful nuggets of info on social media that we can implement immediately plus valuable resources too

Message With A Bottlemessagewithabottle.tumblr.com

A freelance writer turned stay-at-home dad armed with a pen, post-it notes and hysterical observations about “the kid.”

Beast Pieces, Blog of Studio on Fire – www.beastpieces.com

Hybrid design and letterpress concepts from the Studio on Fire workspace in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Dralin Design Co. – www.draplin.com

Satirical approach to the daily life of designers who love what they do

Stuff No-One Told Me –  stuffnoonetoldme.blogspot.com

Comic strip-style blog with new lesson or saying for each day

All Businesswww.allbusiness.com

Compilation of bloggers on business intelligence, small business, finance, operations, sales and technology

Catalogue Livingcatalogliving.tumblr.com

“A look into the exciting lives of the people who live in your catalogs.”

Daily Hellerwww.printmag.com/dailyheller

Commentary on graphic design pieces from industry expert, Steven Heller

Designwww.design.org

A blog about anything and everything design

Woot! The Blog –  www.woot.com/blog

Information on technology and technology based products

Designer Dailywww.designer-daily.com

Design inspiration and resources for industry professionals

Think Designthinkdesignblog.com

Designer blog with freebies, resources and inspiration

The Daily Reckoningdailyreckoning.com

A veteran blog, giving advice for how to live well in uncertain times

Felt & Wirewww.feltandwire.com

Impressions from the paper-obsessed

Lifehackerwww.lifehacker.com

Better living through technology

A List Apartwww.alistapart.com

Critical thinking, industry trends and fantastic tutorials for designing on the web

DC Radio and Televisiondcrtv.com

Information/gossip on the media scene

Simply Recipessimplyrecipes.com

Food blog for easy meals–beautiful pics too!

TJ Brightman
TJ Brightman is the VP of Client Services at A. Bright Idea

I just found out my daughter is “in a relationship” and her anniversary is 11 months from now.

My wife just gave one of our friends a “birthday gift” yet she never bought or wrapped a thing.

Someone just “tagged me.”

That girl I knew in high school just announced that she wants to “connect with me and be friends.”

Someone just “tagged me” again.

My wife just told the world she has walked into a restaurant to sit down and eat.

Someone just “wrote on my wall.”

All of this is so strangely familiar because it seems social media takes over our lives a little more each day.  Twitter this, Facebook that.  Don’t forget about Skype or Bing, or the latest Zang.  Ok, I made the last one up.  But, I bet you were about to reach for your computer to google the latest and greatest social media network just to stay in the loop.

I have a confession to make.  I just joined Facebook!  I apologize to my friends who along with me swore we would never give in to the establishment and found the whole idea kind of silly.  Don’t get me wrong.  Someone who lives, sleeps and breathes the world of advertising and marketing everyday certainly can recognize the power of social media and the benefits it can provide to one’s business.  I have been a communicator my entire adult life.   However, the idea of sending someone an electronic birthday gift never crossed by mind, maybe because I thought the whole idea about giving a gift was watching someone open it in front of you.

In many ways, I guess I’m still part of a generation that grew up getting their information from traditional media and stayed in touch with friends the old fashion way.  This way there are less casualties along the way and no need to “reconnect” with that guy in high school or the old girlfriend who you really don’t want to get to know better.  I am not too old to remember when the days of staying connected with friends meant finding the best deal from the telephone company on your long distance service.  Today, my daughter doesn’t know what long distance means and can stay in touch with her friends or upload a photo in seconds via her Facebook account.

My decision to join Facebook had nothing to do with the fact that I just turned 40 this year and I somehow felt the need to stay more in touch and savvy in front of my kids.  Really, I am being honest:)) (Did I really just put a smiley face at the end of the last sentence?  I don’t remember that form of punctuation in my AP Style Book from college.) My decision to join Facebook was largely due to the recent book I read titled, “The Accidental Billionaires.”  This national best seller by Ben Mezrich is the story of the 20-something  genius Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook.  Soon to be made into a movie, “The Accidental Billionaires” is a great read and not only captures the entrepreneurial spirit of this young company, but the idea behind the birth of social media in general.

So, I have taken the leap.  I have dipped my toes, (maybe just one toe) into the sea of social media that is Facebook.  Don’t expect a transformation overnight.  I am still the same old-fashioned guy who believes in staying in touch with friends by way of a phone call and building business relationships through a face-to-face meeting and handshake.  Maybe this only means that I am becoming a little more open to new ways of communicating in my next 40 years.    We will see how this works out.  I gotta go.  Someone just said something about me in my news feed……

Has last minute planning left you in a crunch for summer vacation details? Check out some of the places A. Bright Idea creatives have been and will be going this summer. We bet you’ll be inspired!

1. Barcelona, Spain

www.aboutbarcelona.com

What’s better than a taste of the Mediterranean with a Spanish flare? While in this spectacular city, don’t miss the beaches, music festivals, dancing, excursions, shopping and nightlife.

2. Disney World, Florida

www.disneyworld.disney.go.com

Does this one even need a reason? Take the kids to see all their movie favs and step back to your younger days with a magical trip to the wonderful world of Disney. Limited ages 0-99.

3. Cozumel, Mexico

www.islacozumel.com.mx

Sun, sand and always a drink in arms reach – need we say more?

4. New York City, New York

www.nycgo.com

Lights, camera and shopping, shopping, shopping! The only thing you need to take with you on this vacation is a lot of caffeine and a large memory card for the camera.

5. Paris, France

http://en.parisinfo.com

It’s all about cuisine, history and site seeing at this European destination. Don’t miss out on the Cathedral of Notre Dame, The Louvre, and make sure to bring us back some Crepes, please!

6. Manchester, Vermont

www.vermontvacation.com

Experience a taste of American history in this New England state while exploring historical architecture, beautiful landscapes and rich culture.

7. Kingston, Jamaica

www.visitjamaica.com

Take a trip to the island, mon and get into the reggae spirit while enjoying the arts and cultural landscape of Jamaica’s epicenter.

8. Ocean City, Maryland

www.ococean.com

Maryland’s number one beach destination spotlights miles of beautiful beach, hundreds of unique eateries serving up Chesapeake favorites and boardwalk shopping and rides, all tied together with the quickest drive to vacation-time.

9. Chicago, Illinois

www.choosechicago.com

Not just home of Mr. Pres, the Windy City also has everything you could ask for on a vacation – beaches, nightlife, shopping and of course the best deep dish pizza you’ll ever find.

10. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

www.cityofmyrtlebeach.com

As one of the biggest beach destinations on the east coast, you won’t be bored with everything this town has to offer. From people watching and sun bathing, to shopping and mini golf, the whole family will love this one.

Stay tuned next month for another ABI Top 10 list!