by John Fries
John Fries Communications
Pittsburgh, PA

Providing companies and
organizations of all types
with strategic expertise
and a full range of
creative services.

Public Relations
Graphic Design
Web Design
Event Development
Audio/Video Production
Public Speaking Coaching

[ Read John's bio ]


American Copywriter
Be A Design Group
Seth Godin
Guy Kawasaki
Hello, My Name is Scott
Idea Sandbox
John C. Maxwell
Tom Peters
Laura Ries

Dave Barry
The Busman's Holiday
Malcolm Gladwell
Pete Hamill
Brian O'Neill
Mary Schmich

Buzz Nutley
Cinerama Adventure
John Mayer's Blog
Pittsburgh Guitars
Pittsburgh Radio Nostalgia

Guerrilla Marketing Gets Noticed

First blogs. Now this.

By now, you've no doubt read or heard about the Cartoon Network guerrilla marketing campaign that went a little awry earlier this week in Boston. Two guys engineered an initiative that included placing a number of unusual light-up signs around the city.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Teresa F. Lindeman wrote an excellent article that appears in today's edition:

Guerrilla marketing and "buzz" marketing has become pretty trendy over the past few years, and for good reason. With all the marketing messages we're exposed to on a daily basis (some estimate it as high as 2,000), there's a real need to break through the clutter and get your message seen, heard and, hopefully, remebered and acted upon.

The objective is to do something that grabs attention, arouses curiosity and gets people talking about the product or service.

Sometimes, it's done with great results. For example, the now-classic promotional activity of a few years ago in which agents, posing as tourists, approached people at popular locations and asked them if they would take a photo of them. Then, instead of handing the agreeable fellow tourist a camera, they were given a cell phone with picture-taking capabilities. This helped spread the word about the new phones with built-in cameras.

Is it ethical to do this? That was a question I was asked when I recently spoke to a graduate PR class at Point Park University.

My response was that in marketing and public relations, it's NEVER, EVER ethical to lie or deceive. In our business, honesty, integrity and credibility are absolutely crucial.

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That said, it's also necessary to grab the public's attention. That's one of the fun, challenging parts of the job. Trying to find ways to say and do things that will invite response. Yesterday, I sat in a meeting and contributed suggestions toward an initiative that employed a variety of tactics that were nontraditional, to say the least. It's exhilirating to come up with stuff that no one else is doing.

I work closely with my clients to help them find the relevant points-of-differentiation (PODs) that enable them to stand apart from their competitors. Or, if I'm fortunate enough to be part of the product development process, I work with the client to develop the PODs.

Grabbing the public's attention isn't always easy. You have to be very creative to cut through the clutter in the marketplace. And I suggest, and often do, some very outside-the-box things on behalf of my clients to get their messages across. Nothing illegal or deceptive, but definitely noticeable.

The Boston guys seem to have accomplished what they set out to do. They grabbed attention. Their efforts were noticed. They got tons of national media coverage.

For those of us who work in this industry, it's an interesting case study that shows how far things have come since the days of the man in the gray flannel suit.

Feb. 2 , 2007 | Contact Me

Battle of the Blogs

Do blogs work? Well, here's something interesting. Last year, my friend, Pittsburgh radio personality John McIntire, asked me to create a blog site for him. John is smart, funny and outspoken. His daily blog provides him with an opportunity to comment on current events. He writes his thoughts and posts them for the world to read every weekday morning.

A couple weeks ago, John blogged a story about a Pittsburgh elected official who allegedly had a run-in with the law. The buzz about his blog made its way to the local mainstream media, and it became a news story for a few days.

Yesterday, another local elected official--a city council member--launched his own blog. His first posting mainly criticizes John's blog. The bottom line is that there's a special mayoral election planned for May. Our former mayor, Bob O'Connor, was well-liked and popular; however, he suffered an untimely death from cancer last year, just a few months after taking office. So, the former president of Pittsburgh City Council and now, mayor, Luke Ravenstahl is running to keep his office. His challenger is Bill Peduto, a city council member.

From a communications standpoint, it's interesting that blogs are starting to have a higher profile in Pittsburgh--and are now being covered by the mainstream media.

January 30 , 2007 | Contact Me

Speak Up in 2007

Don't know if you speak to audiences, but it's a great way to share your expertise with companies, association memberships and others, while getting your name out there.

You've probably heard that public speaking is many people's number one fear. Having taught many classes on public speaking and coached many a person in preparing for and delivering a speech, I understand the trepidation many people have.

So, I've developed a brochure with some helpful hints. It's free and it's here as a download. Feel free to read it and, hopefully, get a few good ideas from it. It's excerpted from an e-book I'm working on, and I'll post when that will be available.

January 3 , 2007 | Contact Me

Back to Business...Almost
The holiday rush is over, and it's almost time tojump start marketing

There was an interesting article last week in one of my local newspapers. Teresa Linderman, who covers PR and advertising for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, wrote about how many in the media have been inundated with public relations materials for the past few weeks. Mostly, as you might guess, they're pitches that relate to Christmas gifts and other holiday-related fare.

The numbers were huge, with lots of stuff for writers, editors, producers, bookers and others to wade through, hopefully consider, but--just as likely--discard.

On the other hand, if you have a great story to tell that's NOT strongly connected to the holiday, why not wait until just after the new year to pitch it? Once the New Year's Resolution articles and features have been published and broadcast, media professionals will be looking for stories to tell.

December 27, 2006 | Contact Me

A Legend's Passing
His masterful direct mail letter sold $2 billion in Wall Street Journal subscriptions

Martin Conroy died this past Tuesday at age 64. You may not know him by name, but you may be familiar with his work--specifically, one piece of work.

Conroy was a freelance copywriter who, in 1974, wrote one of the most famous direct mail ad/letters of all time: Two Young Men. This letter, which compared the parallel lives of two young men, one of whom was a Wall Street Journal reader, reportedly sold $2 billion (with a "B") in subscriptions for the paper.

The letter was incredibly well written, contained the elements of classic direct mail copywriting. It told a story that made you want to continue reading, was used for many years and pulled a huge response. For those of us who write marketing copy, that's the best you can ask for with such a document.

You may recall a TV commercial based on the letter that aired frequently a few years ago.

December 23, 2006 | Contact Me

I Need a Brochure...Or Do I?

Often, people who own companies and businesses realize the need to market their products and/or services. Then, they call a marketing professional (like me) and say they need a brochure. Always, when I meet with people, I ask them how they plan to distribute the the brochure so I can get an idea of how it will be used.

Sometimes, we realize that there are either more effective ways to reach their target audiences with the intended messages...or, that other strategies and tactics should be considered in addition to the brochure.

To market effectively, a number of points should be considered. Among them:

1. Define what you want to accomplish. Create awareness...grow sales, etc.
2. Identify your audiences.
3. Determine what makes your product or service different, distinctive or unique. What will make potential customers want to take action and do business with you?
4. Determine what the benefits are to your prospective customers after they purchase what you have to offer.
5. Determine the best, most effective ways to reach your customers, specifically decision-makers.
6. Figure out ways to motivate response and create a strong call-to-action. Consider an incentive for response within a limited time.
7. Develop a strategy that focuses on meeting specific goals and objectives.
8. NOW, develop your marketing materials. Make them look, feel and read professionally.
9. Once you start putting your messages into the marketplace, begin tracking what's bringing your strongest responses and keep that information handy as you move forward.
10. Listen to your customers. Marketing ideally needs to be an ongoing activity, and knowing what your customers want and need will help you stay on the right track as you move forward.

November 10, 2006 | Contact Me

Building Book Buzz the Streetwise Way

Sal Greco has the right idea.

I spotted the Pitttsburgh author, an old friend of mine, recently at my local Starbucks. I was sitting at my usual table with my laptop, working on a project, when Sal walked through the door.

It had been a while since I'd seen him, so I congratulated him on the publication of his book, "Left For Dead," the true story of a mobster-turned-minister. Sal mentioned that he's been engaging in an interesting form of grassroots marketing for the book. He carries copies of the book with him, and gives one to people he encounters who, in his words, "look like mystery readers."

Inside the front cover of the book is a message from Sal to recipients. He asks them to write their name and the date they finish reading the book inside the back cover, then to pass the copy of the book along to a friend. He's been doing this for a while, so the book is slowly building buzz.

I'm reading the book now, so I have to thank Sal for the copy he gave me. If you'd like to read the book, but don't run into Sal anytime soon, it's available in bookstores and on

November 3, 2006 | Contact Me

WOW-ing Your Way to Business Growth

Looking to grow your business, gain awareness and increase profits?

You might be amazed at how many companies started small and grew into hugely successful enterprises. It doesn't have to take months or years of research or complicated methodologies.

The fact is, you can start doing it today--if you have what you believe is a truly great idea, make it mean something important to your intended audiences, wrap it in a remarkable customer experience, and take the time to build awareness for it.

Do this, and you can have the same kind of success as the countless people you read about in the business papers and magazines day after day, week after week.

The mavericks among us appreciate the results achieved by the mavericks who have been dramatically successful.

Remember, someone had to be the first person to suggest a portable phone that didn't have to be plugged in. Someone else had to be the first person to think of installing a digital camera into a telephone. And, someone had to be first to suggest that you can download songs you like for a buck a piece, rather than buying a CD with two songs you like and ten you might not.

Here are a few examples of efforts that resulted in successful brands:

Back in the early of the World Wide Web (around the mid-90's), when the public started learning how to use search engines, most of them were presented on web pages full of information, pictures and text. The problem was that most of us were accessing the web on slow, dial-up connectionsÑso search engines with all that stuff on the page, could take a while to load.

Then Google came along.

A start-up company started offerering a simple, uncluttered search engine interface that not only loaded quickly, but searched the web and provided results just as quickly. Today, they're reported to be the most-used search engine.

There are, and have been people who took their ideas and turned them into business success.

During the 1950's, a young commercial artist from Pittsburgh was trying to get his career started in New York. Initially, he supported himself by doing illustrations for books and magazines. However, he was also part of a small group of artists who took a different approach to fine art--they wanted to creat art that reflected everyday life--comic strips and items from store shelves. Because of his different approach, he became one of the founders of the pop art movement. His approach was DIFFERENT, and made art dealers and patrons alike go WOW.

Today, Andy Warhol's paintings command extremely high prices.

Several years ago, a young American was attending college in London. While studying for a career in the hospitality industry, he got a craving for something very simple, yet very American and also very inaccessible--a hamburger. The problem was that he couldn't find one in London. So he did what any fledgling entrepreneur would do in that situation--he opened his own hamburger restaurant. It was a small place, but it was DIFFERENT from what people were used to, and it made people go WOW.

Within a few years, the Hard Rock Cafe had become a global institution.

Once upon a time, computers filled entire rooms. The idea of a small, user-friendly on your desktop was just inconceivable. When computers did appear on desktops, you had to know a special language to make them work. Then, two young guys in Silicon Valley came along. They spent countless hours in a garage trying to build a better boxÑone that provided a user-friendly graphic interface and was not only easy, but FUN to operate. The Macintosh was DIFFERENT, and it made people, especially those in creative fields, go WOW.

To this day, many creative professionals are dedicated Mac users, and the company is now changing the way people listen to music.

Michael Dell, while still in high school, began buying computers, adding features to make them work more efficiently, then selling them. This formed the foundation for Dell Computers, which was the first computer company to sell directly to the consumer.

By taking an approach that was DIFFERENT, Dell made customers go WOW.

Mark Gaston, president of Florida-based GSS, Inc., is a good friend and client of mine. Hurricanes are a major problem in the South, and Mark is an internationally recognized expert in home, building and vehicle security. Not long ago, he launched the first-ever do-it-yourself home window protection kit--one that anyone can quickly and easily apply and one that provides amazingly excellent protection for a fraction of the cost of professional installation.

You might think that a product like that would have been on the market forever--but it hasn't. Mark's was the first. It's DIFFERENT that anything on the market. It is an ongoing great experience for me to discuss the product with everyone from building professionals to members of the media, and to hear WOWs on a regular basis.

In each of these situations--and in countless others--what were the common threads that led to the rest of the world going WOW? After all, restaurants, computers and art had been around for many years.

Creating a WOW requires a number of things, including the following:

An IDEA that's DIFFFERENT. And not just different, but different in a way that means something to--or has clear value for--your existing and potential customers. It's often not easy to take the path less chosen; however, it's often the people who do that who get noticed, buzzed about and are most successful.
The ability to LISTEN. Communication is a two-way street, and sales professionals will tell you how crucial it is to listen to your customers needs. The WOW part is when you give them what they want, in a bigger and better way than they ever expected.
PASSION and ENTHUSIASM for your idea.
Believe in your idea and do what it takes to make it happen.
FOCUS on your GOAL. Knowing what you want and doing whatever it takes to achieve it.
CONFIDENCE. Sure, there's risk in everything. But successful businesspeople focus beyond the risk and on the potential rewards.
TAKING ACTION. Doing it. Making it happen.

November 1, 2006 |
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Copyright 2006 by John Fries Communications, Pittsburgh, PA. All Rights Reserved.
Please direct all correspondence to [email protected]