Takin' it [marketing] to the streets

I will soon be leaving my loft apartment with the spiral staircase on Lake Woodcross to buy a new home, complete with an office, craft room and garage! All this house-shopping, packing and planning has me thinking about the versatile nature of neighborhood association marketing.

Most neighborhood associations have low-tech communication techniques. A favorite tool is the mailbox flyer, which is often used for announcing crime watch meetings or coordinating Christmas luminaries. Always the enterprising entrepreneur, Jerry Fowler developed a special brand of sticky notes to leave messages on voters’ doors while he was running for the school board. I’ve also seen smokers get a clear message of discarded cigarette butts placed in a Ziplock bag on the front step. Sometimes you need to communicate a stronger stance beyond the subtle state of your porch light on Halloween!

Then you get into the high-end neighborhood association marketing techniques. Lake Carolina has convenient, approachable shops for residents at its Town Center (talk about recruitment!), and there’s even a neighborhood church. After all, who wouldn’t mind living in Pleasantville when you can walk to Groucho’s?

The variance is incredible. Cobblestone has a high-end marketing directory of preferred providers for everything from photographers to attic cleaners. Meanwhile, residents at Green Springs banded together by word of mouth to help a cancer survivor save her beloved egret. Assorted communication techniques fit the needs of different neighborhoods while producing the same result: bringing people together. And regardless of where you live, garage sales will always be announced by simple, directional cardboard fliers!

Despite the freedom of communication forums, all neighborhood associations must be aware of the public relations implications of their actions. For instance, Green Springs residents repainted a sprawling fence and spruced up the entryway — communicating a message of pride in the neighborhood.

On the other hand, the usually slow-moving Harbison Area unilaterally decided to exterminate the geese at Lake Woodcross and feed them to the homeless without consulting residents several months ago. It made the evening news, complete with close-up shots of silent feathers.

Since then, Lake Woodcross has attracted a whole new brood of geese, and Harbison has gotten smarter. They constructed permanent signs several feet from the watery shoreline shaped like a mother duck and her flock to warn visitors that the lake is a “no feeding zone” for wildlife. The signs are attractive and artistic — and they explain that human food can interfere with animals’ natural feeding and migratory patterns. It’s just a shame it took an enormous PR blunder to produce such a welcome educational tool!

The lessons we can take away from this situation are: 1) Make sure your communication methods are approriate for the neighborhood where you live, 2) Plan for public relations issues that may affect your neighborhood, and 3) The problems you try hardest to remove from your neighborhood always have a stubborn way of returning. Let’s take a lesson from the geese!

To read about some great Northeast neighborhood associations (written by yours truly), visit
http://www.thestate.com/mld/thestate/15731939.htm.

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Seeing pink over cancer promotions

Hey, did you happen to notice that it’s Breast Cancer Awareness month? Yep — it’s practically a new holiday season, shuffling in pink trinkets and fuzzy survivor stories before the Christmas rush. All the major companies are encouraging us to fight cancer through commerce.

The thing is, I was aware of breast cancer before it became fashionably pink. My dad’s sister was diagnosed in the early ’90s, back when the death of Jackie O. was still stinging. Aunt Janet was incredibly brave throughout the whole ordeal, and every year she raises money for breast cancer research. Janet is collecting sponsors and walking 60 miles at the age of 60 for the cause. She had trained for months to physically and metaphorically win the breast cancer battle. Now that is the type of commitment that we should honor during Breast Cancer Awareness Month!

But it’s not easy to walk 60 miles or dredge up significant support pledges. As a result, companies are catering to our philanthropic desires with an increasing array of pink products. You can apply pink ribbon make-up, sport a pink Cartier watch or take home a pink Dyson vacuum cleaner for $399. Despite the mass appeal of these products, Time’s October 16 “Pink Ribbon Promises” article by Stacie Stukin, shows that companies often donate miniscule percentages of sales or set tight caps on “pink payouts.” seems like everyone has jumped on the bandwagon: gossip magazines are selling tight “Save the Tatas” T-shirts and Hooters is even sponsoring “Save Our Hooters” fundraisers. Pink marketing is the biggest gambit to hit the U.S. since Tickle-Me Elmo! And while participating in this Pepto-hued promotional craze may ease our minds, it will actually have detrimental long-term effects.

One problem with breast cancer merchandising is the sense of complacency it creates. Buying pink frou-frou houseslippers that include a $2 donation to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation may make you feel like a real do-gooder, but you’d make a significantly higher impact by wearing socks and writing a check directly to BCRF for the $40 price tag. And instead of sending in Yoplait’s pink yogurt lids for a 10 cent donation, why not send the 39 cents it would cost for a stamp directly to the Komen Foundation?

The most unsettling component of the breast cancer bandwagon is the inevitable backlash it will create. During a phone conversation last night, my best friend admitted that she was annoyed by all the breast cancer buzz. And though it makes us feel guilty, we can’t stand to buy another pale pink charm bracelet or keychain!

Public awareness is important, but we cannot allow marketing frivolities to distract us from the terrible reality of breast cancer. Not everyone lives. Some struggle through debilitating chemo sessions. Some lose their breasts and a very personal aspect of their femininity. We need to see beyond the stylish ads and realize that shopping doesn’t make us pink-ribbon heroines. But standing up to a harrowing disease and walking 60 miles at the age of 60 just might qualify.

Q, H and Grey's Anatomy

I’ve been incommunicado for awhile. And I must admit, I’ve been spending much too much time trying to learn Audrey Hepburn’s moves from the latest Gap commercial. (A unique dance is my only hope in a scary world of skinny jeans!). But here’s a snapshot from my marketing world:

Car Crash Commercials:
AllState and Volkswagen have both taken to portraying car crashes in graphic detail. Volkswagen’s latest commercil even features a conversation discussing the annoyance level of the commercials (until the car gets sideswiped, that is). Yes, crashes happen. But not in my living room, thankyouverymuch.

Grey’s Anatomy: New York & Co. has some great direct mail pieces featuring McDreamy, and they don’t even sell men’s clothes! As if we care.

Sunset Tattoos: Finally, Columbia has a tattoo shop that’s dedicated to art! And its MySpace page is too cool for words. Check out the grand opening on Friday the 13th.

Spinach: Will it ever recover from its PR nightmare, or will it be replaced forever by arugula? Most people were still avoiding the salads at the Summit Club this week. But we may never know the culprit: fear or shrimp ‘n grits?

JCPenney: The department store will make its official entré into the Columbiana crowd with a grand opening tomorrow. And it’s great that the whole country is celebrating with sales. But I wish I got something special for coming to this one.

Canalside: I love the billboards, and the Time ads are a smart investment! Now if only I had several hundred thousand dollars to spare –

Hydrogen:
Can this buoyant chemical raise Columbia’s economy in the next 15 years? Engenuity, USC and the Innovista investors say yes! Now we just need to convince everyone else to follow suit: a true case where marketing can create an alternate reality!

Syrup: The fictional cola wars in this Maxx Barry novel are described with jewels like: “Marketing (or mktg, which is what you write when you’re taking lecture notes at two hundred words per minute) is the biggest industry in the world, and it’s invisible. It’s the planet’s largest religion, but the billion who worship it don’t know it. It’s vast, insidious and completely corrupt.”

Motorola Q: Sleek and cool, it’s the next generation of the Blackberry. And with Verizon’s EV-DO network, you can blaze through webpages at (comparatively) lightning speeds. Now, if I could just shake this Solitaire addiction and use it for work-.

Now, whatcha know good?