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Black Swan in the Black Sea
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March 27, 2014
By  Christopher Harrison

The recent conflict in Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula have grabbed headlines around the globe. While the world watches what develops in Ukraine, I’m interested to see how saber rattling and economic sanctions could have a larger impact than the conflict itself.

Ukraine was governed until February 28th, 2014 by Victor Yanukovych, who was a staunch supporter of Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation. On November 21, 2013 Mr. Yanukovych and his cabinet abandoned an agreement on closer trade ties with the EU in order to receive benefits from the Russia Federation, including economic aid and reduced gas prices.

Ever since, conflict in the region has dramatically escalated with a popular uprising removing Mr. Yanukovych from power and potential armed conflict with Russia in Crimea raising concerns about the affect a disruption in the area would have on economic recovery worldwide.  While we have not yet seen a significant impact to the US economy, we have seen some hints of what could happen if there is sustained unrest in the area. On March 3rd, 2014, when President Putin received authorization for armed force, the price of wheat rose 4.5%, oil jumped more than $2/barrel, and gas jumped 9.5%.

Relations between Russia and the West continued to deteriorate after the Crimean Referendum, when the US imposed economic sanctions and travel bans against government officials, business owners, and military officials. In a familiar tit-for-tat  move, the Russian government has imposed sanctions on congressional leaders, and their advisors. Senator John McCain even had to cancel his spring break plans.

While such sanctions can be dismissed as harmless slaps on the wrist, there is the potential for the situation to devolve into a trade war which would lead to deeply negative consequences for financial markets.  Currently, sanctions have been primarily imposed on cronies of President Putin but there is the high probability that sanctions will escalate and widen their scope to affect the greater population.

The next G8 meeting, which was to be held in Sochi, has been suspended and will be held instead in Brussels without Russia. Additionally, President Obama is pushing for the expulsion of Russia from the G8 and further sanctions against Russian banks and oligarchs. While the US is keen on pushing stinging economic sanctions, the EU on the other hand has much more to lose in an economic war with Russia.  Roughly 30% of the natural gas consumed in the EU is imported from Russia.

Additionally, Germany, Russia’s largest European trading partner with more than 6,000 companies doing business in Russia,, has a lot to lose by increased economic sanctions. A 100€ million contract with German defense company, Rheinmetall, has been already been indefinitely suspended and Russia is notorious for banning business in retaliation.

For now it seems that Russia is content with its annexation of Crimea and there are doubts that the conflict will extend further in the region. But what would happen if cooler heads do not reign? Will the looming threat of economic sanctions come to fruition and dampen the economic recovery in Europe and globally? Or will leaders step back from the edge? What are your thoughts?

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The Anonymous Short: Seeking Alpha and Message Boards
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March 20, 2014
By  Lewis Goldberg

KCSA represents a lot of smaller public companies that often have a very vocal group of retail investors with large short positions.  The “shorts” will often write negative content about these companies in an attempt to drive down the price of the stock and generate significant and outside returns.  Our clients are very sensitive to this activity because their stocks are their currency and “shorts” can have significant negative impact on the business decisions made by management.  Often, after a particularly scathing post on Seeking Alpha or a Yahoo Message board, we will get a call from a CEO or CFO ranting and raving about blatant lies being posted and asking what we can do to either get the post removed or rebutted.

New York Times columnist, Andrew Ross Sorkin, reported in the March 18th issue of the paper that David Einhorn is taking Seeking Alpha to task via the courts to reveal the name of an anonymous blogger who wrote about a position that Einhorn’s Hedge Fund, Greenlight Capital, was taking in Micron ( which is not a KCSA client).

Was this blogger giving the market information it needed to make informed buying or selling positions?  Was he/she trying to influence the stock performance for personal gain? Do they have the right to remain anonymous? My take is nuanced.

The only way the capital markets are supposed to work is if any and all investors have access to the same information at the same time. When information isn’t readily available, or when insiders know something before others do and are able to trade on this information, an imbalance occurs and individual (and institutional) investors suffer. As Sorkin wrote, “In an industry whose lifeblood is information, this case underscores the struggle between secrecy and transparency.”

Furthermore, when lies, half-truths and falsehoods are given equal footing with the truth, and when there is a shield behind which to hide when spreading these lies, the market suffers.

The problem is that for outlets like Seeking Alpha that rely upon anonymous insiders who have vested interests taking a position (either long or short) in the companies they blog about, that anonymity can move markets and hurt companies and investors.  Einhorn’s suit raises major issues for both the financial markets and for the media that covers them.

“If Mr. Einhorn were to prevail, the case could have a chilling effect on the free flow of information to traditional news outlets.

But the result could force Seeking Alpha, which traffics in financial rumors and speculation for more than two million registered users, and other sites like it to change their practices, preventing anonymous contributions.

And Mr. Einhorn, a longtime champion of transparency when he singles out companies and other market participants, may find himself at the center of a tricky balancing act.”

What’s your take?  Where should anonymity stop and transparency reign?

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Get Your Priorities Straight: One of the Most Important Skills for a Communications Professional to Have
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January 24, 2014
By  Samantha Wolf

Those of us who work at an agency are no strangers to juggling. Not one member on the KCSA team only works on one or two accounts; more likely it is closer to seven or eight. To compound the frenzy of addressing multiple client needs, most of us have to prioritize tasks from several managers on a daily basis, making this ability one of the keys to success in agency life.

As KCSA’s resident OCD team member, I’d like to offer up the following tips on how to get tasks done in the most efficient and timely manner, with as little stress or miscommunication as possible.

  • Write it down – Sure, you have all of your meetings for the day scheduled in Outlook and some random tasks floating around in your inbox to check off, but having your to-dos in multiple places is setting yourself up to drop the ball. Make one to-do list each day – I like to write mine before I leave for work the night before to feel more organized in the AM – and include all tasks, from meetings and administrative items to phone calls and document drafting.
  • Communicate with your managers – If you have multiple tasks and overlapping deadlines, the best way to make sure all of your to-dos are completed on time is to speak to your managers. What would they like you to focus on first? Is there any wiggle room for the deadline of a certain project if you need extra time?
  • Know how you work best – Some people like to check all of the small tasks off their lists before tackling bigger projects; this is how I work. Others like to dig into a bigger project before getting to the minutiae. Know what style makes you most comfortable and allows you to work best and go by that, but always understand and respect deadlines.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute – Think you work best under pressure? Maybe, but don’t leave the other members of your team hanging while you wait until the last minute to complete a task. Make sure to give yourself enough time to check in with the rest of the team so that the deliverable isn’t due to a client before the rest of your co-workers have time to review or edit a document if necessary.
  • Check in – This goes hand-in-hand with communicating with your managers – if you thought that a task would only take two hours, but you’re three hours in with no end in sight, have a discussion. If you want a manager to look at the work you have so far to make sure you’re not spinning your wheels or going down the wrong path – ask!

At the end of the day, we are all communications professionals here. The bottom line is to be transparent with your team about what you have on your plate, ask for help if you don’t know what task should be completed first and be honest with yourself about how long certain assignments will take you.

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Social Media: What to Expect in 2014
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January 3, 2014
By  Kristen Massaro

It’s nearly impossible to predict what the social space will bring in the coming year but that won’t stop us from having a little fun and taking a look into the “social media crystal ball” to predict what might happen in 2014.

  • Filling in the Generation Gap: In the past few years we’ve seen social media go from being a hangout (if you will) for early adopters and millennials to a place where all generations can engage, share their thoughts and opinions.
  • Employees Are Your Biggest Fans: In 2013 companies took notice that employees can be a brands biggest asset … or in some cases the biggest downfall. When brands put in place simple guidelines that allow employees to use their digital savvy to build up awareness for their companies and activations, they can see that their best brand advocates are their own people. Companies like Mastercard are leading the way in these efforts.

  • Video Is Necessary: This is something that will certainly carry over from 2013 but will be even more important for brands in 2014. Brands, if they haven’t already, will need to start to embrace short form video, like Instagram’s 15 second format, which will allow companies to create content that is both easily digestible and more cost efficient.
  • Social Media Is Not Free: This seems to be an annual mention – and in turn a prediction, however as the years pass brands are starting to realize that like all marketing efforts, a little money can go a long way in the social space. In 2014 brands will realize that there is a strong return on the investment and therefore a value in putting money behind their social media efforts.
  • Social Ad Integration: Each year we see that ads across all social media platforms become more and more entwined with organic social media content. This will continue to happen throughout 2014 as we see ads appear in our Instagram feed and will soon pop up in your Google+ feed. So what’s next? Snapchat ads? :)

What do you think are some upcoming trends? We’d love to hear your thoughts – email me at kmassaro@kcsa.com and let’s chat!

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A Bit about Bitcoins
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December 23, 2013
By  Vincent Piazza

Bitcoins were created in 2008 as an open-sourced peer-to-peer payment system. Since then, they have evolved into the world’s first  digital currency, traded by individuals and accepted by merchants across the globe. Unlike traditional currencies, the transfer of ownership for bitcoins is tax-free and completely unregulated.

The growing utilization and popularity of bitcoins as a currency and investment has sparked an interesting discussion about relative value, a fundamental concept for any investor relations professional. The market value of anything, whether it is an investment, currency, or product stems from demand for that item due to its relative scarcity. Nothing can be valuable unless there is a limited supply of it. People can want it; for example if a stock has high appreciation potential it will be in demand. But there is only a dollar amount assigned to each share because there is a finite amount of shares outstanding. In investor relations, we try to communicate the value of each of those shares to the investment community.

Interestingly, the value of bitcoins has appreciated only because there is a limited supply; with only approx. 12 million in circulation. It’s deregulated and decentralized — it’s not tied to anything — so its value is completely determined by the asker and the bidder within each transaction. It’s not as if they created a bunch of bitcoins, and one central body priced each one for a certain amount and negotiated with buyers, like a bank might do with an IPO.  Instead, they created the bitcoin peer-to-peer network, and during each transaction let the global market regulate itself. As the bitcoins became more widely used and legitimized, their value potential was realized.

Bitcoins have established a new model of creating currency. The old way was tying notes to or simply exchanging precious metals, such as gold. The currency’s value reflected how much an individual would be willing to pay for gold — a historically scarce item. Now, in our global economy, most countries’ currencies are only worth their comparative value to international currencies. That is in turn driven by each of these countries’ money supply and economic conditions. Bitcoin is novel because its value was established by artificial scarcity and realized through usability.

Alternative currencies are rapidly gaining acceptance in the mainstream economy. Companies like OKCupid and Overstock.com have begun to accept bitcoins, startups for digital wallets have flooded the Silicon Valley, and the Winklevoss twins of Facebook fame have filed with the SEC for approval to begin trading bitcoins through an exchange-traded fund.

Now, that’s not to say that developing a new currency wouldn’t have its share of hiccups. Recently, regulatory agencies in the People’s Republic of China action moved to ban the usage of bitcoins. In October, the FBI shutdown the black market website entitled “Silk Road,” which supposedly hosted nearly half of all bitcoin transactions. Well, as my favorite history professor in college once told me, “Human history shows that bad people are going to do bad things whenever the opportunity presents itself.”

A cap has been put in place that the mining of bitcoins will cease once 21 million are in circulation. Bitcoins are quickly becoming an artificially created tangible “future,” similar to oil, gold, and other precious metals, of which market price is determined by what an individual is willing to pay for it. Fascinating stuff.

Without question, the history of bitcoins up until now has unveiled a very intriguing perspective on how the markets, or human beings, perceive and apply relative value.

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Marketing Highlights of 2013
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December 20, 2013
By  Stephanie Stuchin

As we approach the holidays and the beginning of a new year, I thought it would be fun to take a look back over 2013 to see what brands and campaigns stood out with a real marketing moment. It seems that 2013 was all about content and how brands used that content in different channels to connect with their core audiences. Here are a few of my faves…

Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches”

I loved this piece and thought the brand message was spot on. In this video you see an artist sketching different women without actually seeing them. The sketches are based on how the women describe themselves to the artist. The artist then creates a second sketch of each woman by hearing a description of her by a friend. It’s interesting to see the differences between the two images because boy, are we women hard on ourselves! It was emotional and heartwarming and really draws upon Dove’s ultimate brand message that real women are beautiful. The overall message it leaves viewers with is one of empowerment, inspiration and confidence, all attributes you associate with the Dove brand. Way to go Dove, #WeAreBeautiful.

DiGiorno Live Tweets Sound of Music

I love musicals and therefore was sucked into watching NBC’s The Sound of Music Live along with nearly 19 million other viewers a few weeks ago. Maybe it wasn’t quite as many viewers as the Super Bowl, but it was still a touchdown for NBC and a great opportunity for brands to take advantage of this captive audience. DiGiornio Pizza jumped on this opportunity and began live tweeting during the show with catchy tweets integrating The Sound of Music with pizza. Some of my favorites (no pun intended) include:

  • “Dough, Ray, Me = Pizza party with me and a guy named Ray.” #TheSoundofMusicLive
  • “So long, farewell, the Pizza’s gone no reason to be here anymore.” #TheSoundofMusicLive

And the list goes on. It reminds me of Oreos taking the blackout situation at the Super Bowl and turning it into a marketing opportunity when they tweeted “You can still dunk in the dark”. Both examples show not only the power of social media for brands but the power of being nimble, showing relevancy and connecting with your audience. As a result, DiGiorno picked up about 4,000 new followers and their first tweet got approximately 550 retweets. Not bad!

Got a new job? Get some free underwear from Fruit of the Loom

Even the most mundane brands need to find ways to use creativity to connect with their audiences and build awareness with consumers. Fruit of the Loom did this recently by partnering with LinkedIn, offering free underwear to every LinkedIn member who either changed jobs or got a new job for a 30-day period. Why? They said “Great fitting underwear can help you start your workday in a great mood.” The box of undies for new employees said “Fresh Fruit for your Fresh Gig”. Apparently the campaign has helped sales and new employees are feeling happy. Everyone’s a winner here!

The list could go on and on as so many brands delivered incredibly creative and thoughtful campaigns and content this year. We saw this in the examples above as they drew us in, kept us engaged and ultimately impacted our brand awareness and perception. I look forward to seeing how brands capture our attention in 2014.

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What Makes a Great Pitch?
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October 30, 2013
By  Caitlin Kasunich

A couple of months ago, I came across a journalist testimonial on Muck Rack on the 10 things that PR professionals do that immediately get their e-mails deleted by reporters. In the piece, the journalist, USA Today writer Natalie DiBlasio, infers that while she understands how stressful the public relations environment can be, account executives and publicists should still take the time to craft a pitch that’s appropriate for each reporter and outlet they want to reach.

She goes on to mention a couple of (embarrassingly) common PR tendencies that we’ve all seen at one point or another during our careers: getting reporters’ names wrong in the salutations of pitches, sending reporters unrelated story topics in the midst of an unfolding national crisis and pitching story ideas that are identical to pieces that reporters have just covered, to name a few. As I read through the list, I started to think about other, more basic aspects of pitches that I believe make certain ones more effective than others. Here are a few:

  1. Brevity is key.
    Every word that a journalist puts into a story is there for a reason, and pitches should be approached in the same way. It’s important to formulate each sentence in a succinct, straightforward manner. There shouldn’t be any flowery language in the pitch, and it shouldn’t take long for PR professionals to get to the point.
  2. Target the right people.
    Even though most, if not all, public relations employees keep media lists with reporters’ beats and contact information, it’s essential to go through these lists regularly to ensure that they’re up-to-date. Reporters change jobs. Reporters change beats within the same jobs. And the nature of what constitutes a beat changes over time. If an account executive or publicist pitches a story to a reporter that he or she would never typically cover, it shows the reporter that the PR professional didn’t do the necessary homework before reaching out.
  3. Know what’s going on in the news (and what’s already been covered).
    This applies for not only the beats that your clients typically appear in but also for those that they wouldn’t appear in. You never know where you can insert your client into the conversation, traditionally or nontraditionally, and it’s a good idea to be as well rounded as possible when it comes to reading and current events. The more that you’re in touch with the news, the more opportunities that you will be able to generate for your clients.
  4. Tell a story.
    The job of a journalist is to tell a story—not to promote a product or campaign. When talking to reporters, don’t waste any time highlighting the implications that your pitching initiative has for real people in real communities. Pitches aren’t meant to be sales-y or self-serving; they should be direct in telling reporters why they have an obligation to let their readers know about the story. The pitch should have a clear news hook right at its opening.
  5. Sometimes, a little wit and humor helps. With some pitches, you may even have the opportunity to have some fun with the language. While it’s important to keep the tone somewhat light and conversational in any pitch, I’ve found that subtle humor and wit can also go a long way with a reporter for certain initiatives, as long as it’s not forced and the subject matter is appropriate.

On any given day, journalists receive hundreds of e-mails from persistent PR people who are trying to get coverage for their clients. With that in mind, constructing a pitch that is both memorable and informative will not only keep you out of future Muck Rack PR nightmare stories but also increase your chances of attracting media attention and aiding in the making of news stories simultaneously.

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Coca-Cola Journey
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October 24, 2013
By  Danielle DeVoren

I recently had the opportunity to hear Ashley Brown, Group Director of Digital Communications and Social Media at The Coca-Cola Company speak at the PRWeek Annual Conference. For a PR professional, like me, it was both scary and inspiring at the same time.

Coke, a behemoth organization, took such a risk with its communications function that it has made me rethink what is possible.  Coke’s corporate website? Gone! Microsites? Never to be created again! Coke’s PR professionals? They are content creators! Coke’s press releases? Reduced in half with the goal of eliminating them completely.

Everything that we’ve come to know about PR was replaced by Coca-Cola Journey. Journey is Coke’s corporate story telling mechanism. Go there! You would think you are checking out a very consumer-oriented news site… It kind of is, but it’s much more. It is Coke’s new way of creating content that showcases the Company’s values, priorities, and…. Oh yea, products!

Coke isn’t the only one taking this approach to communications. Nissan is doing something similar. They have actually created a video news studio on their campus in Japan.

Public relations and corporate communications doesn’t need to be just the bucket of ’same old’ tactics we are used to. It can and should be great story telling.

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A Call for Independence for the Securities and Exchange Commission
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October 18, 2013
By  Jeffrey Goldberger

After recently scoring a string of successes and appearing to have the wind at its back, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) took one on the chin earlier this week when a Dallas jury cleared Mark Cuban of insider trading charges. While this is not a big case in terms of scope or dollar amount, anytime you go up against a high-profile individual—whether it’s Martha Stewart or in this instance, Mr. Cuban—exposure and scrutiny increase dramatically.

When all was said and done, the SEC had far more to lose than Mr. Cuban.  Already known for his outsized and bombastic personality, the most that could have happened to him was a few million dollar fine and a smudge on his reputation— but no jail time.

Conversely, the SEC walks away battered and bruised, once again failing to win big against a formidable opponent.  With that said, I tip my hat to the SEC for at least having the guts to proceed with this case, which is more than we tend to see from government agencies.

And therein lies the problem: Because the SEC is an agency of the U.S. government, I believe it is impossible for it to act independently of the government influence. Time and again, we have seen examples where the SEC has chosen to turn a blind eye to potential malfeasances that have been committed within the scope of the capital markets.

While I don’t purport to understand the nuances of each example, the Monday morning quarterback in me can’t help but conclude that government, including state and federal agencies, has unfairly influenced the decision-making process of the SEC: i.e. which cases to pursue and which cases to offer a free pass.

For the sake of the reputation of the SEC, and to empower them to effectively do its job, I suggest that the SEC be “spun out” of the federal government so as to be able to maintain its true independence.  While cutting these ties won’t completely eliminate or deter illegal behavior, it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

Anyone who has seen a good Western film knows that when the bad guys becomes too much for the Sherriff to handle, he often turns to bounty hunters and the like to clean up his mess.

While I’m not prescribing anything so drastic, I do believe that if the SEC was truly independent, it would be far more successful in bringing down the bad guys.

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A Completely Avoidable Mistake Becomes a Lesson in Mea Culpa and Crisis Communications
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September 19, 2013
By  Katherine Swift

Massachusetts Port Authority What Where You Thinking?!

On Wednesday, September 11, 2013, on the 12th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport) conducted a fire training exercise at Boston Logan International Airport.

Really?

Yes, really!  Unfortunately, Massport made a major PR blunder in the planning and execution of this fire drill, which could easily have been avoided with a simple call to their PR team.

Yes, Logan did make an announcement regarding the drill at about 9:30 a.m. that morning, but it was only a brief two sentences on Twitter: “The Fire Department will be training this morning. Smoke on the airfield is part of the training.” Too litte, too late.

Television news camera footage later showed a large structure looking much too similar to a plane (!) with a large fire and billowing black smoke rushing out of it.

This one just baffles me. Seriously, Massport, what the heck were you thinking????! With all the people needed to organize this drill, the fact that you conducted it on September 11 is just astonishing. Didn’t anyone object?

“It’s just dumb,” Boston’s Gov. Deval Patrick said. “The timing could not be worse.”

That’s an understatement!

Sure, Massport pulled a mea culpa saying, “Safety and security is our top priority and constant vigilance and readiness is critical, but the exercise should not have taken place on the anniversary of 9/11,” Massport’s apology stated. “The airport community recognizes the day with moments of silence, a service in the chapel, and a wreath at the 9/11 memorial.”

Every company, listen up! Use this as the benchmark of ‘what not to do’. Massport had 364 perfectly good days to conduct this fire drill, but didn’t. I guess you could say it sure did turn into a fire drill – one of crisis management – fanning out the flames of absurdity or poor planing. If they had conducted it on one of the other 364 other days of the year, no one would have cared or even known about it.

Hey, Massport, you have a PR team, next time use them. And, if they did think September 11 was a fine day for a fire drill, then fire them and call us! We’ll help you out!

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