Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Rocky Mountain Bicycles: Mission Accomplished

As you all know by now, I'm not the bike geek of the group. Tim's mentioned before that I bring a unique perspective to the Krew because, well, I'm not a cyclist. I ride my bicycle. Sometimes. I'm what you would call a recreational rider. Plain and simple. It's why I actually like to look through Bicycling Magazine every month. It is written for folks like me. Velonews is for the true cyclists who love racing and love to follow the sport (ok, I read that, too...).

What does all of this fascinating personal tidbit mean? It means that I pay attention to the ads in Bicycling - ah-ha...this does have to do with marketing and not just my pitiful recreational riding!

Got the new Bicycling today and found an ad that is perfect in its simplicity. It reminded me that sometimes simple is better. As marketers we want our collateral pieces to say it all. Ads should give our full message and then some, right? After all we pay a lot of money for creative and then the ad buy - it should just sell our product right from the page, right? I mean...Right?! So we contort ourselves to be original and stand out in the crowd and jam it all in to one 8x10 page or one tri-fold brochure. Well, frankly, sometimes it gets cluttered and too much.

Then there are the ads that use the pro cyclists. Sure, they can be very simple - a pro crossing the line first in a stage of the latest tour using X product. Great...except that Suzi Recreational Cyclist (me and thousands like me) isn't going to be entering any races and she'll think it's too above her level (maybe she's right).

How do you get to everyone? Suzi Recreational and someone who is serious about riding, be that road or mountain bike? Easy. Find something simple and universal to hit upon in your ad or message. Yes, I know, easier said than done! But Rocky Mountain Bicycles has done just that in their latest ad, in my humble opinion.

The full-page ad is simply a picture of a hand - palm to the camera/viewer. Where there are life lines and such there are three bike tire treads. Two lines of copy at the bottom left corner simply say:

Hand-crafted bikes since 1981.
It's our life.

Wow. That says it all to me. This is a company with passion. Passion for cycling. Passion for the product they manufacture. It's not just a place that makes bikes for a living - this is a way of life for this company. It doesn't hurt that their website is www.bikes.com either. Passion.

See? Packed a lot of message into one photo and two little lines. Ok, I don't know if that is what they were trying to convey or not, but it's good messaging even if this is slightly off what they had in mind. I have a great feeling about this company from their ad and, actually, went and checked out their website because I wanted to know more...yup, me...Suzi Recreational. They got me to go to their site because of their ad - mission accomplished. Ok, the full mission is to get the reader to buy the bike and I'm not going to do that because I don't need a new bike, but it doesn't mean that someone else who went to the site isn't going to go to their local shop and try a Rocky Mountain Bicycle.

Bravo to the Rocky Mountain Bicycle marketing team!

Posted by Donna Tocci at 3:08 PM 4 comments

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Tim Trivia

You all know Tim as the Chief Dispenser (CD) here at the Krew's site and some of you know him as Masiguy. However....
- did you know that Masiguy is originally from Alabama?
- did you know that Tim has worked on a shrimp boat?
- did you know that CD once worked in a hat shop?

How do I know all this? Read it in Tim Jackson's Blogger Story. Check it out and learn more about our favorite Dispenser.

Posted by Donna Tocci at 2:40 PM 3 comments

Friday, May 19, 2006

Truth and fiction in advertising. (Alternate title; Calling all fact checkers.)

My buddy Chris Lesser will approve of this following rant...

Before I get going here, let me just say that I really like the people and the company that is FSA (Full Speed Ahead). I think they make great products and all of the people that I have had the pleasure of working with have been great to deal with. So in advance, I want to make it clear that I am not attacking FSA...

I just received the July '06 issue of ROAD magazine this week (what's with getting "July" in May anyway?). In the magazine is a good ad from the folks at FSA showing Fabian Cancellara, winner of this year's Paris-Roubaix. For those who are not familiar with the event, it is decidedly one of the most grueling one-day events on the calendar and consists of brutal sections of road that are paved with centuries old cobblestones- many believed to have been laid by the Romans. These roads, though they do not comprise the bulk of the event, are the toughest single day of competition that a professional cyclist and their bike will see. This is the proverbial "crucible" for equipment. Due to this, many teams run special products designed to handle the severe punishment of the harsh conditions. Conversely, this event can vault a product to a reputation of being utterly dependable or raise serious questions.

Anway, on to the ad...

Great photo of Fabian kissing his winner's cobblestone. An epic image that will remain etched in many people's minds for many years. It was a great race this year with plenty of drama and controversy- everything the race is famous for. Now, the ad showcases a product and though it does not explicitly say that this is the same product used by Fabian, it certainly alludes to it.

Just one page before this ad, in a two page spread, is a shot of Fabian racing along on his way to victory in the event.

If you look closely at the photo, you'll notice that Fabian is not riding the cranks shown in the FSA ad. I'm not sure if he is riding another FSA non-carbon product instead (which would be the smart choice) or if it is a product from another company (like Shimano).

Now, it isn't a crime to advertise an item that isn't used by your sponsored athlete, but it hurts your credibility, which is my whole point here. FSA makes a very credible product, but the ad suggests something different than reality and, in my opinion, hurts the credibility of the brand. Again, I really like FSA, but this just misses the mark to me. In this new era of transparency, this ad muddies the waters and makes FSA look dishonest. I am pretty sure that is far from what they intended. Seeing as to how FSA makes other products that were actually used on Fabian's winning bike, it would have made sense to either highlight those items or just simply create a "win ad" (where you congratulate your sponsored athlete, while showcasing your involvement with their success).

For FSA, I understand the desire to showcase the success of their sponsored athlete. I would just prefer to have seen the ad reflect reality a bit better, rather than create a possibility for pundits (like me) to question their motives instead of feeling really happy for their success via their sponsorship.

Tim Jackson; Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser

(4/25- I received a pretty severe reaming over this post. So let me just reitereate a point made in the beginning of this whole thing; I am in no way attacking FSA. I personally use FSA products and have spec'd them on Masi bikes as well. FSA is a great company with great products. I certainly expect that I will continue to do business with them, unless I get fired for my opinions or FSA refuses to do business with me any longer. The point was with the potentially misleading tone of the magazine ad. It is quite true that many riders/ teams use equipment that is not from the sponsor it is purported to be from and that many riders/ teams ride frames not made by the company whose name is shown on the frame. There's that Merckx guy who rode a Masi with a different name on it, for example...

My apologies for any hint of hypocrisy.)

Posted by Tim Jackson at 9:07 PM 18 comments

Monday, May 15, 2006

Blog-Humbug

I hereby proclaim myself the Scrooge of the Kool-Aid Krew. I'm not yet ready to roll over concede that blogs are the best thing since sliced bread and I've got a few semi-recent articles to blather about.

All the hoopla about blogs has always reminded me of a scene from the 1967 classic "The Graduate," when a businessman sidles up to a young Dustin Hoffman at his welcome home party with some sage advice.
Businessman: "I want to say one word to you. Just one word."
Hoffman: "Yes, sir."
Businessman: "Are you listening?"
Hoffman: "Yes, I am."
Businessman: "Plastics."
I'm not saying blogs are a fad, they're not. Neither were plastics, which of course are so ubiquitous these days that to hype them now is just silly. Maybe in a few years when we look back on all this trumpeting about the revolutionary power of blogs it will all sound a little like the "plastics" proclomation.

I've talked with Kool-Aid Krew Chief Jackson about this before—early on in this blog's history the ratio of actual posts to posts about posts about the site was pretty uneven. Kudos overdose, the echo chamber effect, navel gazing or even "masturbatory,"—call it what you like, all the back patting leaves little energy for wading through the blogosphere. (People want content, damn it.)

Now that this blog is getting on its feet a little more it's nice to see fewer self-congratulatory posts and more meat-and-potatoes marketing discussion (which I know little about other than dealing with the constant barrage of press releases/marketing spiels/story pitches that came across my desk when I was working full time for BR&IN).

All that said I've come across a few articles I've been meaning to post something about, RE: "Power of blogging... again," and again, and again...

The first is from The New York Times: Wal-Mart Enlists Bloggers in P.R. Campaign. It starts:
"Brian Pickrell, a blogger, recently posted a note on his Web site attacking state legislation that would force Wal-Mart Stores to spend more on employee health insurance. "All across the country, newspaper editorial boards — no great friends of business — are ripping the bills," he wrote.

It was the kind of pro-Wal-Mart comment the giant retailer might write itself. And, in fact, it did.

Several sentences in Mr. Pickrell's Jan. 20 posting — and others from different days — are identical to those written by an employee at one of Wal-Mart's public relations firms and distributed by e-mail to bloggers..."
The article goes on to paint a pretty ugly picture of blogging gone bad.

Of course, the bike industry is small potatoes in comparison—far less insidious potatoes at that. Indeed, on this site the posting of others' press releases whole-hog, is overt and deliberate, not surreptitiously.

But, the Wal-Mart example shows how PR people have gotten their collective hand in the blogosphere. No, it's not the kumbaiya, lets-all-get-along, bikes-are-great warm and fuzzy feeling you get from what little of the bike industry has entered blogosphere, but it's all the same end game: spinning in favor of your company.

The Wal-Mart example is an extreme one, a bookend to the trend of the PR industry using blogs to communicate (read: advertize) a message. On the other end of that PR/blogger spectrum you have the honest, open types like Tim Jackson and Donna Tocci who really just want to engage their customers and put a face to a (brand) name, as it were.

But all the while the blog tidal wave this very blog is purporting to be riding might not be as big or as real as we all thought it was, after all.

At least, William Powers, a media writer for the National Journal, thinks so. In a recent article he compares blogs to Bode Miller, says blogs are "flat lining" and points to the fact that "[t]he suits—corporate and PR types—are muscling into the blogosphere."

Now I know of no one in the industry outside probably some honchos in Taiwan who actually wear a "suit" to work, but bear with me for comparison's sake.

Love them or hate them, blogs are still the "next big thing" in communication—if sometimes nauseatingly so. Indeed, the National Journal's Powers notes that "the end of the hype-fueled blog mania might be the best thing that could happen to blogs, because it had created such absurd expectations."

Power's also weighs in on the Old Media v. New Media debate:
Media serve three major functions: 1) convenience (organization of news and information in user-friendly formats); 2) truth-telling (digging up important stories and holding powerful people accountable); and 3) pleasure (the sheer fun of reading, listening, or watching). Newspapers thrived for as long as they did because they were good at all three. And they've declined as they've lost their competitive edge in these same areas, especially convenience and pleasure.

Though blogs are young, they've already proven adept at all three functions. Many are convenient harvesters and organizers. Some are fearless truth-tellers. And the best are a total pleasure to follow. If they're doing all this now, imagine what they'll be like in 10 years.
So he's not all gloom and doom. Despite his harangues, Powers has positive and refreshingly realistic expectations about the future of blogs. Meanwhile The Philadelphia Inquirer's Jonathan Last concedes some of blogs' virtues, but also points out what he calls their "pernicious effects."
"[Blogs] elevate analysis over news-gathering; they value speed over judiciousness; and they encourage the practice of journalism to turn in on itself, to tend ever more toward navel-gazing."
New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald, in a in a speech in March at Marquette University, also touched on the blogger/journalist dichotomy (a speech that sparked a torrent of discussion in—what else—the blogosphere). He said, in part:
"When I'm talking about the difference between facts and truth, facts and knowledge, it's the difference between a journalist and a blogger. A journalist is dealing in facts. Bloggers deal in their own truths, which may or may not be based on facts."
Not that journalism and blogging are mutually exclusive. Certainly there are armies of journalists that blog. I concede that companies that blog, and blog well, are creating some of the more exciting marketing opportunities out there, as long as they stay transparent. And whether you're blogging as a journalist, as a marketing person or blurring the line between both, the pitfalls can be the same—blurred "truths" and on overvaluing of speed and opinion over research and objectivity. But if you can meet Powers' three criteria for succesful media: convenience, truth telling and pleasure—and of course if you can meet all three while maintaining credibility, then the upside can be phenomenal.

All apologies for the long, wandering (and navel-gazing) post, if you've gotten this far.

*"Blog-Humbug" borrowed from Jonathan Last, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Posted by Chris Lesser at 8:01 AM 12 comments

Friday, May 05, 2006

Yes, we're still alive...

It's that time of year, for many of us in the bike industry, when it is very hard to keep your head above water. It feels like you are just barely staying afloat some days (for some of us that is the feeling nearly every day). Maybe you are a Brand Manager, scrambling feverishly to complete your product line, finish graphics, work on a catalog, figure out budget planning for next year and still find time in the schedule to travel and sell. Maybe you are trying to cover the racing scene. Maybe you have lots of travel and seminars to attend, presentations to make and people to talk to. Or, maybe, you have a new child and are reveling in parenthood and are missing a little sleep. Right now, for many of us, this is about at "bad" as it gets. (For the record, none of us are complaining because we know we've got it good.)

With that said, please don't give up on the Krew. We're here. We still have ideas. We still want to talk and share and keep the dialog going. On behalf of my fellow contributors, I'd like to assure you that we haven't gone anywhere. On top of that, some big things are on the horizon that you will not want to miss. You just have to trust me when I say that things are going to just get better around here.

So please bare with us as we all struggle with deadlines and hectic schedules. We'll be back bigger, badder and better than ever.

Tim Jackson
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser

Posted by Tim Jackson at 8:56 PM 3 comments

How not to keep a sponsor or get a new one.

I admit, up front, that this post is probably a bit more personal bias than it is marketing related. Bare with me on this and wait until the end to pass judgement... even though this is sure to stir a bit of discussion.

Wear your damn helmet Jackass! Ok, I said it. I got it off my chest... I feel marginally better now. As mentioned above, hear me out...

I am alive today because I wear a helmet. I didn't always and I will occasionally ride from my office, two blocks to the deli to pick up my lunch without a helmet on, but outside of that I wear a helmet every single time I get on a bicycle. Sure, maybe I'd gain style points and Euro-wannabe steet cred' if I trained without a helmet on. With a wife and two children though, I'm not just riding for myself anymore. Every action I make effects other people who rely on me to come home each day. That's a pretty strong motivator for me. Plus, as much as I hate to admit it, my "public life" makes me something of an example to a few people who happen to pay attention to what I do or say. Believe it or not, that means something to me. Yeah, yeah... I know the lame argument of freedom and comfort, but that is the lamest BS I've ever heard. How cool or free are you going to be when you are in a hospital bed with a tube in your mouth doing the breathing for you while your friends and family stand around wiping the drool off of your face? In my humble opinion, not too darned cool. Hey, I'll happily stay a nerd with zero style if it keeps me alive long enough to watch my kids grow old. (I had a teammate once, on a really powerful team, who would turn around and ride a different direction if anybody showed up without a helmet for a training ride because he didn't want to be the one to have to call somebody's wife and tell her that her husband was dead or injured because he was too cool to wear a helmet.)

I'm done with the preaching part of all of this and will now step down off my high horse and off of the soap box. I'm not saying I won't be there again, but I'm done for the moment. Long enough to get to the point anyway.

I won't name names, but there is a local club here in San Diego that has a pretty good elite race team. This elite team has done really well this year too. Won some nice races against some pro teams even. They should be proud of themselves and I know that they are. This team is supported, in part, by the club of probably more than 300 members. This club works very hard to promote the sport of cycling and to develop junior riders who will one day move up to become great pro riders or elite amateurs. They are an ambitious club and they have done a lot in San Diego over the years. With all that said, their elite team has done a great job of insuring that I won't be sponsoring them. I might be willing to work out something with the director of the junior program, but the elite team is out of the question.

Why is this? Well, as you might have guessed by the opening paragraphs, it's because they don't wear helmets. The entire elite team isn't guilty and they all have to wear helmets during races, since those are the rules, but I almost daily see members of the team out on training rides without helmets on. On a personal level I see this as total idiocy, but as a manufacturer in the industry (and this is the whole point of this diatribe) I see this as very poor potential representation for my brand. These guys are supposed to be representing their sponsors and their team, but they are doing a crappy job of it. I don't honestly know if they have an official team helmet sponsor, but if they do and I was that helmet sponsor I'd be really pissed. If these morons want to look cool, fine, do it out of the team gear. If you're going to be making an ass of yourelf, at least do the team and the sponsors the favor of wearing clothing that doesn't tie you to them. Guilt by association, as the saying goes.

Honestly, I don't want to have anything to do with the team for this reason. It proves to me that they do not honor their sponsors or the values of the club. Remember, this club is developing junior riders too. Whether the guys on the elite team want to admit it or not, the junior kids are watching them and what they do and some of them even look up to the guys on the elite team and want to be like them. (I do not support athletes serving as role models and think it is ridiculous for people to expect them to be "perfect".) I don't like it any more than the elite riders do, but that is what happens.

If I provided the team with frames and then saw the guys racing on another brand, I'd be pissed off and would be having a serious talk with the team director. If I were a helmet sponsor for a team, even a Pro Tour team riding the Tour de France, and the riders were always being photographed without my helmet on, I'd be pissed off and pulling my money out of the program. Maybe I'm alone, or nearly alone, in this particular belief. Maybe not. It is something I feel strongly about though and is something that teams should consider when sending me their sponsorship requests.

Bottom line, for teams looking to gain new sponsors or keep existing sponsors, the name of the game is "be a good ambassador". Look good. Act smart. Be thankful.

Tim Jackson
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser
(In all fairness, this critique applies to the wonderful Pro/ Elite team that I currently sponsor. Wear your helmets if you want to keep your sponsorship... I won't be at the next training camp if a helmet rule isn't enforced.)

Posted by Tim Jackson at 8:53 PM 6 comments