The Actors Fund Bombshell Backfires

The Actors Fund

The PR bonanza named Bombshell has been showering The Actors Fund in glorious news coverage and giddy Tweets since last December when it was announced that The Actors Fund would stage a major fundraiser: a one-night-only concert staging of Bombshell, the make-believe musical about Marilyn Monroe, that was the center of the NBC musical drama, SMASH.

The Actors Fund is a 133-year-old non-profit organization dedicated to providing human services to all entertainment professionals in all disciplines across the country. The Fund provides emergency grants for everything from food to medical bills and also supports nursing and retirement homes.

It’s a worthy organization. More artists and technicians in the entertainment industry live paycheck-to-paycheck than from poolside-to-penthouse.

Since the announcement, thousands of Broadway theater enthusiasts (myself included), looked forward to the chance to buy tickets. Prices ranged from $120 to $1,000. (Needless to say, most of us were planning to bring opera glasses.)

To cover the production costs, The Actors Fund launched a Kickstarter campaign, hoping to raise $50,000. Kicking in gave donors a leg up on ticket sales. Make a donation and you got a pre-sale code that allowed you to buy two tickets a day ahead of the general public.

Eager to get an edge, 1,485 people (myself included) donated. The campaign raised $318,120.

At 11 a.m. on April 13, pre-sale codes in hand, we clicked on “Buy Tickets”, typed in our codes, and many of us were told, “Your presale code is invalid.”  At 11:04, I was locked out of the site completely. At 11:06 I sent an email to The Actors Fund explaining my code was apparently invalid.

Turns out the codes for many people were “invalid.”

Twitter came alive with tweeters (myself included) crying foul. Some even using the other “F” word: fraud.

The show sold out in an hour. The raging tweets continued for hours, with never a peep out of The Actors Fund, Ticketmaster, or Kickstarter.

At 8:44 p.m. I got a reply from The Actors Fund to my email:

We apologize for any inconvenience. There were issues with the Ticketmaster site due to the overwhelming response. Again, with thanks for your support and with our apologies. 

At 10:57 p.m., they Tweeted that I should see their “refund offer to generous Kickstarters.”

What’s interesting—and mind boggling—about the offer to refund the Kickstarter donations is that it never mentions the invalid pre-sale codes. It was a non-apology. It was a non-acknowledgement of screwing up.

As I explained to the gentleman from The Actors Fund who apologized for “any inconvenience,” people don’t feel inconvenienced. They feel played.

From the moment this event was announced, we all knew there would be a finite number of tickets for an infinite number of buyers. We all knew the show would sell out quickly. That’s part of the fun of the game.

What The Actors Fund should have known from the moment it received $318,120 in pledges ($200,000 of it reportedly in the first 18 hours), is that Ticketmaster would be hit hard at 11 a.m. on the 13th.  The Fund should have gone to Ticketmaster and said, “We’re expecting at least 1,500 people at exactly 11 a.m. Can you handle this?”

Ticketmaster has sold far more tickets to far larger venues than the 1,621-seat Minskoff Theatre. Ticketmaster is the culprit for the technical breakdown, but The Actors Fund owns the bad PR. A few no-brainer rules were broken here:

  • Don’t sit silent for hours while your brand is in crisis.
  • Don’t pretend the bad stuff isn’t happening.
  • Own your mistakes.
  • Don’t offer an apology that doesn’t acknowledge your mistake.

I did not request a refund of my small donation, but many did. The comments on The Actors Fund Kickstarter page are overwhelmingly negative. Phrases like “deeply disappointed,” “terrible job,” and “formal complaint” certainly are not what they wanted for a one-of-a-kind event meant to support a worthy charity.

In truth, the mainstream media coverage of the sold-out show is fine. It glosses over the faulty pre-sale codes and focuses on the good news, perhaps as it should. But PR is more than media coverage. It’s Public Relations. And The Actors Fund has lost not only donations but also a degree of credibility with many in their natural donor base, the theater-going public.

Millennial Viewing Killed The Video Star

Are #mobile #Millennials driving PR? .@KnightCanney looks at the stats.

It’s not a big surprise that we – and especially millennials – increasingly are consuming video via bite-size pieces on something other than a traditional television screen.

The New York Times recently reported that more than 6.2 million people tuned in live to watch the World Surf League’s Billabong Pipe Masters. “Those numbers exceeded the American television audience for the final game of the 2014 Stanley Cup hockey finals. Not a second of the surfing competition was shown on traditional live television in the United States; instead, it was streamed on YouTube, with 35 to 40 percent of its viewers on mobile.”

The Times also noted that both the N.H.L. and the P.G.A. have teamed up with lightweight-camera maker GoPro to post real-time highlights on social media.

According to a recent analysis by Criteo – a company that “helps advertisers generate more sales at a global scale” – in 2015, mobile devices will account for 40 percent of worldwide eCommerce sales and more than 50 percent of such sales in the U.S., Japan, and Great Britain. Criteo also predicts that “eCommerce will become ‘do or die’ for brick-and-mortar retailers in 2015 as they experience the increasing impact of shopper ‘webrooming’ and ‘showrooming’ behavior.

In late 2014, Nielsen noted that television viewers “aren’t just surfing through channels when the TV is on anymore; they are riding the waves of second screens [laptops, tablets, and smartphones].”

And a study conducted last year by consulting firm Deloitte found that while the average American views 71 percent of his or her media on a traditional television screen, the majority of 14-to-24-year-old millennials’ video consumption happens on laptops, smartphones, and tablets.

All of which is a long-winded way of pointing out that mobile is rapidly becoming a significant part of the video universe, and is poised to become the dominant platform – particularly among younger consumers.

That means that your advertising, marketing, public relations, and communications strategies need to embrace these second screens. But it’s not enough to slap your Presidents’ Day mattress sales TV spot on your website and call it good. Mobile platforms require a more nuanced approach.

Because the screen on even the biggest smartphone is tinier than the smallest laptop (and dozens of times smaller than a wall-mounted flat screen), your video message needs to be scaled accordingly:

  • Big graphics
  • Compelling copy
  • Shorter length
  • In-context messaging

Also, assume that mobile-video consumers are younger and less susceptible to traditional advertising/marketing approaches, and then craft your message accordingly.

Last month, Forbes published an analysis on millennial consumers. Among the findings:

  • Just one percent said that a compelling advertisement would make them trust a brand more
  • 33 percent use mostly blogs to help them make a purchase – only three percent rely on TV news, magazines, or books
  • 62 percent said that if a brand engages with them on social media, they are more likely to become a loyal customer

Yes, it’s a brave new consumer world, but if you’re savvy, you can engage those hard-to-engage consumers and get them to buy a mattress.

But first, switch out that George Washington actor for a Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, or Taylor Swift impersonator.

Your Customers: Now Leaving From Platform…?

Nielsen’s quarterly cross-platform report was just released and it revealed that (no matter what their weight) Americans still are heavy television viewers – if you include digital viewing.

As Dounia Turrill, Nielsen’s senior vice president for insights, wrote. “Today we are challenged with an important transition in how media is consumed. Overall time spent with media content has increased. While traditional television viewing is down, especially among younger viewers, overall media consumption is up and growing, driven by an impressive growth in digital video viewing.”

Among the findings:

  • The average viewer watches more then 4.5 hours of television every day (yes, every day)
  • Traditional TV viewing is down among young consumers, especially 18-to-34-year-olds
  • That same demographic increased its digital viewing by 53% in the past 12 months
  • Digital viewing among 35-to-49-year-olds grew 80% in the past year
  • Digital viewing among 50-to-64-year-olds grew 60% year over year
  • With smartphones and tablets near 70% and 50% penetration, respectively, the growth in digital consumption will only increase

It’s important to note that while digital viewing is increasing, the bulk of video viewing is still via that 50-incher in your den. But because older viewers are rapidly embracing digital viewing, and iPads and iPhones are so ubiquitous, you need to rethink the ways you reach your customers.

It’s no longer sufficient to cut a 30-second TV spot, place it on local TV and local cable, post it on your website, and use the voice track for your radio buy. More than ever, you need to engage the viewers who, when they decide to watch something they see on Facebook or YouTube, want to be entertained first, informed second.

The recent – and brilliant – Ikea “bookbook” ad is a case in point. It not only spoofs Apple, it also compels you to watch all two-and-half minutes. There isn’t a false step in the humor or the presentation. Best of all for Ikea, it has gone viral, as evidenced by the fact that it has replaced the Ice Bucket Challenge as the most ubiquitous post on your Facebook feed.

This is not to suggest that you need to invest six figures in a slick commercial, but you do need to know your audience. That may require distinct approaches for TV, radio, print, and your website, blog, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, and YouTube outlets.

Let’s say you own a travel agency. A 50-to-64-year-old traveler might respond more readily to your promotion of a trip to Venice Carnival 2015 while an 18-to-34-year-old customer might be more enticed by your offer of limousine service to Burning Man. The Venice Carnival trip might be perfect for broadcast and print promotion, but Burning Man will likely resonate more effectively on YouTube and Twitter.

As consumers continue to migrate from broadcast and print to digital, you need to as well. Think of how you (probably):

  • Watch TV when you awake
  • Listen to the radio on your drive to work
  • Check your smartphone and laptop for Facebook, Twitter, and news updates multiple times a day
  • Post on Instagram while you prepare dinner
  • Check in with your iPad while you watch Boardwalk Empire or Bachelor in Paradise

You are not alone. Your customers are also engaging in a variation of this multi-platform ritual – well, except maybe for watching Bachelor in Paradise.

I Just Want Stuff To Work

As a Summer Solstice shout-out to four dozen brands, companies, and notable names, I’d like to start with my past week:



  • My six-month-old Epson printer wouldn’t fulfill its primary function – printing. It was seemingly stymied by clogged ink-jet nozzles, except those nozzles couldn’t be cleared because the unit was experiencing a – phantom – paper jam.
  • My Time Warner Cable feed went south. This quarterly adventure, which I’m told has something to do with the TiVo interface, forced me to call the automated help line, say “yes” or “no” to a series of questions, wait for a pulse to be sent to my cable box, and watch as only the local broadcast channels re-appeared – which forced me to call back and again wade through the menus until a live person figured out that I needed a service call to restore E!, Al Jazeera, SyFy, and the hundreds of other channels I will never view.
  • My newly serviced Black+Decker lawnmower refused to start after its gas tank was refilled; causing my partially mowed lawn to look like a Mr. Peanut crop circle (don’t ask).

I’m not alone, of course, in being subjected to the glitches and frustrations of our cyber-electronic-fossil-fuel life. And that’s the problem – for which I blame Bill Gates. His Windows-powered Microsoft personal computers were a revelation when they hit the market in the early 80s, but they were also as buggy as the Everglades. Dealing with the Blue Screen of Death, disappearing documents, and endless software patches made us long for a Soviet-era breadline. And yet, we consumers rode along.

It could be argued that we were never a very discerning bunch:

  • We opted for the captured-war-footage quality of VHS over the vastly superior Sony Beta format.
  • We put up with the less-than-high-fidelity MP3 music downloads even though an ostensible reason for switching from vinyl to CDs in the 1980s was because of superior audio quality.
  • We decided that dropped cell phone calls and barely-there audio was a fair price to pay for a device that also allowed us to tweet, Instagram, and crush candy.

We are no longer completely surprised that our world features faulty GM ignition switches, Sirius-XM satellite radio signals with the fidelity of an RCA 8-track, bad batteries in Boeing 787 Dreamliners, Ticketmaster algorithms that take a Starbucks break just as we’re about to order Miley Cyrus tickets, or – coming in 2015 – Netflix streaming of Star Wars VII that we know will buffer just as Harrison Ford breaks his foot on the Millennium Falcon set (director’s cut only).

This incurious consumer attitude about modern technology is bad news for companies. For example, even though the retainer that General Motors is paying its PR-damage-control specialists could probably buy enough Corvettes to stretch from Midtown Manhattan to Manhattan Beach, the damage to the automaker’s reputation will have long-term and even more expensive consequences. Loyal customers will look elsewhere (get ready, Kia), rival companies will learn (one would assume) from GM’s manufacturing and corporate-culture mistakes, and none of this will bode well for the efficacy of GM’s (hoped for) self-driving cars.

Some companies do get it:

  • Apple’s Genius Bar is – well – genius. You can have your iPad’s retina display tweaked while you succumb to the lure of Beats headphones or a two-terabyte Porsche Design hard drive and charge $300 to your Mastercard (which you hope was not hacked during your purchase of Fresh Step cat litter at Target).
  • L.L. Bean is a paragon of online, on-phone, and in-store customer service. Need a Garmin GPS and Teva water sandals for your Old Town tandem kayak? No problem, they’ll be at your house tomorrow. Free shipping.
  • Google, for all its “don’t be evil… but rule the world” ethos, works as advertised: You type in “celebrity selfies” and Rihanna, James Franco, and Anthony Weiner’s NSFW photos magically appear.

Call it arrogance, incompetence, or the complexity of running a business, but many companies are headed for oblivion simply because a customer-first attitude does not exist. Yes, survival of the fittest is at play here, but why consciously aid in your company’s extinction? I’m looking at you, Air France.

For me, it comes down to the simple protest that Howard Beale (Peter Finch) expressed in the movie, Network: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to – ” Oops. Sorry. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for the rest of that line – my Samsung Blu-ray player is reloading.

Net Neutrality Is Stuck In Neutral

Net Neutrality Is Stuck In Neutral

Net neutrality is one of those concepts that seems easy to comprehend – until you try to comprehend it. Then your brain begins spinning like that Apple pinwheel.

At its most basic, net neutrality means that, for example, an episode of Scandal that you wish to stream from Hulu over your Comcast Internet service provider (ISP) arrives at the same time and speed as it would for any other user on any other service: Time Warner, Verizon, AT&T. Without a consistent delivery speed, that episode of Scandal is likely to slow down – buffer – just as Olivia Pope is about to bed:

A. The President

B. The commander of B-613

C. Jack Bauer

So, net neutrality is a good thing – yes? Predictably, there are two sides to this story. Hulu, Netflix, Google, Facebook, and most every content provider favor net neutrality while most ISPs don’t.

The Federal Communications Commission is now weighing whether ISPs should be allowed to create a “fast lane” for Internet data – essentially, deliberately slowing data and forcing content providers to pay for that fast lane. That increased expense would be passed along to the consumer (of course), meaning your episode of Scandal would arrive quickly and un-buffered – if you paid a higher fee. But if Netflix, et al chose not to travel in the fast lane, or if you decided not to pay for that fast-lane service, your high-speed friends would know well before you who spent the weekend in bed with Olivia Pope streaming season two of House of Cards.

As the New York Times has posited, “Is high-speed Internet service similar to a utility company transporting water or electricity, and therefore subject to heavy regulation? Or is broadband service so integral to what makes the Internet thrive that regulation would destroy the incentive for companies to create new online technologies?”

Verizon speaks for the ISPs when it claims, “For the FCC to impose 1930s utility regulation on the Internet would lead to years of legal and regulatory uncertainty and would jeopardize investment and innovation in broadband.” Consumers Union speaks for the content providers and for consumers when it says that the FCC’s plan “appears to go against the principles of ensuring [an open Internet]. The proposal could negatively impact consumer prices, choices, and access to the Internet, as well as free speech and innovation.”

On a more granular level, what it means for those of us who have clients who regularly post informational videos on everything from the intrinsic value of the arts and humanities to scenes from the charity fun run, is that an Internet fast lane would increase the cost of entry. That could result in fewer such postings. After all, a slowed down fun run isn’t a run and isn’t fun.

Net neutrality should be preserved. There should be no slow lane on the information superhighway because establishing one will push the smaller content providers all the way over into the breakdown lane, while making customers pay for the fast lane.

Hey FCC—don’t make us sic Jack Bauer and Olivia Pope on you.