Too cute by three

Posted February 9th, 2011 in Communications, Marketing, Public Relations, Social Media, Twitter, Uncategorized by Jeff Bentoff

PR and ad pitches tied to current events can be very effective, as can using humor — when it makes sense and is done with care. But people – please, please, please be sensitive.

Critics have understandably savaged three recent corporate PR and ad efforts for insensitivity, ridiculousness or both. Perhaps the companies simply wanted good press and they goofed big time. Or perhaps, as a few have suggested, they purposely flirted with controversy, hoping for attention, even negative attention. If so, they got it.

Groupon seems to have achieved the unique feat of paying $3M to lose customers who previously loved them.

Three recent PR / Ad Hall of Shame nominations…

First, commentators have almost universally trashed Groupon’s Super Bowl ad, which insensitively morphed from talking about the Tibetan crises to getting a deal at a Tibetan restaurant. Watch:

The interwebs are full of criticisms about this, plus you can read Groupon’s unsuccessful attempt at explaining why they did what they did. One tweet during the Super Bowl said it all: “Groupon seems to have achieved the unique feat of paying $3M to lose customers who previously loved them.”

Second, a similar example of trying to find humor in exploiting tragedy comes from fashion maven Kenneth Cole. Cole himself allegedly sent this tweet, which a company store in San Francisco apparently liked so much it turned it into a window display:

In addition to bringing tons of angry commentary, Cole’s tweet prompted an angry critic to create a mock Twitter account (@kennethcolepr) that is faux tweeting as the company with sarcastic little ditties such as: “Jeffrey Dahmer would have eaten up our spring collection.”

Finally, Allstate Corp. last week issued “a tongue-in-cheek press release correlating zodiac signs to accident rates, but nobody got the joke,” according to a CNNMoney story. Allstate was forced to retract its release, saying that it “led to some confusion around whether astrological signs are part of the underwriting process. Astrological signs have absolutely no role in how we base coverage and set rates.”

What’s amazing about all three efforts is that weren’t necessary because of external pressure. Someone simply dreamed them up and thought they were good ideas. Someone approved them — probably a lot of people, including lawyers. Yet somehow no one saw the train wrecks they were creating.

The lesson here: Before communicating, think about your goal. Think about your audience. Think from every angle about how your communication will be perceived.

And don’t joke about human rights violations or civil unrest.

Barcodes for the masses (like you and me)

Posted February 4th, 2011 in Marketing, Mobile, QR Code, Smart phone, Social Media, Technology by Jeff Bentoff

You may have seen them. Strange-looking icon-like squares filled in with black lines and patterns. They’re weird. They’re cool. And they may be the future.


They’re called QR Codes, short for “quick response.” They’re two-dimensional bar codes. Developed by Toyota for industrial purposes several decades ago, they reveal encoded data when scanned. The growing use of QR Codes in our everyday lives stems from the ability of smart phones to serve as scanners, courtesy of free apps. Scanning a QR Code with an iPhone or Android can quickly take you to a website, no pesky typing of URL code required, or give you other information. Doing it is kind of fun.

They’re showing up in magazine ads, billboards and elsewhere. They’re even inspiring objets d’art. My recent trip to Minneapolis ended up being all about QR Codes.

I opted for the first time to get my boarding pass texted to my phone. I received the text, which included a URL. When clicked, it opened to an electronic boarding pass – with a QR Code.

I showed the image on my phone to the ticketing agent when I checked my bag. No problem. When I got to TSA, I showed it to an officer who pulled out a metal scanner and had me pass my iPhone screen over it. Voila, I was cleared. I don’t know what he saw, but it got me on the plane.

Once in Minneapolis, my wife and I went to dinner at a highly recommended restaurant in Uptown called Chino Latino (cool place with a great menu and food). Seated at a window, we saw a huge billboard across the street advertising the restaurant we were sitting in. The billboard featured a large QR Code.

Curious about it, I pulled out my iPhone and used a QR Code scanner app called i-nigma. With the app, I basically took a picture of the billboard from my table, through the window, zooming in on the code. The app processed the image and led me to a URL. That opened a web splash page the restaurant developed for this purpose. Check it out here.

Our waitress stopped by the table as I was looking at the website on my phone. I showed it to her, and she said, “You get a half-price drink for showing me that!”

As cool as all this was, it seems like a long way to go for a half-price drink. Typing a URL or doing a Google search is sometimes a pain, but honestly, opening an app, taking a picture and then clicking a URL isn’t super smooth, either. The “wow” factor was great, but would I do this a lot?

Creating your own CR Code is easy. Search for a free CR Code generator online. Here’s one that converts URLs, text or phone numbers into scannable QR Code.

Here in Milwaukee, the only CR Codes that I recall seeing were on Meet Meme Trading Cards. They’re akin to social media business cards and were developed by techno-marketing whizzes at Translator here in town. In addition to a photo and other info, these clever cards feature QR Codes that lead to an e-version of the cards themselves.

I’m just starting to pay attention to how QR Codes are seeping into my world. Seeing them around your world, too? Any particularly clever QR Code tactics impressing or exciting you?

“Plenty o’ nuttin’”

Posted December 2nd, 2010 in Communications, Marketing, Media Relations, Music, Public Relations by Jeff Bentoff

Communicators often find there’s one obstacle that’s hardest to overcome.


We sometimes fall in love with the sound of our own voice, the words we choose, the cadence. And that can get in the way of the message and our communications judgment.

If you’re falling in love with what you’re saying, remember the words of that great philosopher, The Robot: “Danger, Will Robinson, danger!”

[Warning, warning: From the classic 1960s TV series, “Lost In Space.”]

Blogger Rob Parnell writes in a post called “Murder Your Darlings”:

As Elmore Leonard once said, “If I come across anything in my work that smacks of ‘good writing,’ I immediately strike it out.”

Finding the right words to communicate your message usually involves deleting, not adding. Think focus.

Two good examples come from new books about musicians – and the examples involve words, not notes.

In “Frank: The Voice,” author James Kaplan tells how in 1943, Frank Sinatra’s new publicist, George B. Evans, coined the moniker that helped define the great singer.

According to a New York Times review of Kaplan’s book, Evans didn’t like the wordy slogan Sinatra was known by at the time: “The Voice That Has Thrilled Millions.”

“Certain he could come up with something better, Evans closed his eyes and imagined what drove Sinatra’s fans in bobby socks into a frenzy and suddenly realized he didn’t have to add anything. “All he had to do was subtract. Frank was just … the Voice.”

Another example comes from a world of music far from Frank’s – the world of Rolling Stone Keith Richards and his highly acclaimed autobiography, “Life.”

Richards earned honor as co-writer of some of rock-‘n’-roll’s greatest and most legendary songs. James Fox, a journalist who collaborated with Richards on the autobiography, found the guitar slinger and tunesmith to be a talented editor, according to Janet Maslin of the New York Times.

Maslin quoted Fox:

“What I couldn’t guess was that he’d be such a very good natural editor,” Mr. Fox, reached by e-mail, says of Mr. Richards. “He cut, accordingly, for pace and rhythm — a real musical cut. As for calling the book “Life,” Mr. Richards did some editing there too. “My Life” was what the book was to be called. “I said ‘I tell you what, just cut off the ‘My,’ and you’ve got a title,” he says. He might just as appropriately have used another title he likes, “Keep It Dark.” But, he says, “I’m saving it for a song.”

Actually, it’s not surprising that Richards is a smart editor. Rock-‘n’-roll and the Stones are about directness, if nothing else. And in rock-‘n’-roll, directness communicates.

One way to sum this all up – in song, of course – comes from ol’ blue eyes himself.

This song isn’t about editing, but it kinda fits. Enjoy.

Welcome to Bentoff Communications.

Posted May 13th, 2010 in Marketing, Media Relations, Public Relations by Jeff Bentoff

Welcome to the new website for Bentoff Communications.

Although the website is new, Bentoff Communications (and parent company Bentoff LLC) has been active since February 2003. I founded this company after two decades of firsthand experience in the fields of public affairs and media relations. (To learn more about my background, as well as the strengths of Bentoff Communications, visit the About page.)

Moving forward, I’ll use this blog to share strategies, tips and other industry advice about public affairs and media relations, In the meantime, if you have questions or are facing your own communication challenges, send me a message. And thanks for visiting