Five Things Marketers Could Learn from Ashton Kutcher

December 11, 2009

I try to keep up on news in my industry, so it was with great interest that I read the latest cover story in Fast Company about fellow Twitter lover, Ashton Kutcher and his production company, Katalyst.

The cover provocatively asks if Kutcher could be “a new kind of media mogul.”

My answer?


As a strategist, I can recognize a solid and smart marketing process when I see one – and Kutcher’s is watertight:

  1. Be hot, famous and prolific in some key social media channels.
  2. Watch as step 1 generates a large following of gawkers and fans.
  3. Watch as steps 1 and 2 attract large corporate brands who want to sell stuff to hordes of gawkers and fans.
  4. Let those brands piggyback on, or co-opt the content within, the aforementioned channels.
  5. Monetize participation, release co-opted content to the aforementioned hordes and make beaucoup money.

As the article states, Kutcher intends to become, “the first next-generation media mogul,” using his own brand as a springboard and syndication system.

And, I have no doubt he’ll be successful at it.

But his strategy (heck, his whole company) is uniquely suited to capitalize on Kutcher’s stature, connections and lifestyle.

So where does this leave the rest of us whose personal brands aren’t so much springboards as they are teeny planks?

Me? I was never on a TV show. I’m not married to a celebrity. I have no pre-existing corporate endorsements. I’ve never punk’d Justin Timberlake so bad that he nearly cried (btw…that was a great episode, AK).

And yet, I’m working this space just as aggressively as Kutcher and his posse. And, I’m looking to magazines like Fast Company for ideas and inspiration on how to be successful in my own right.

Is there anything a regular lady from the Midwest like me can learn from “team Ashton?”

While the consensus online seems to be that Fast Company took a gigantic jump over a very attractive shark in writing this article, I still think the answer is “yes.”

1. Find your hook

I’ve got two words for you: trucker hat. Kutcher knows the value of a gimmick, a prank or a well-positioned must-have accessory, and he works that sucker for all its worth.

Do you have a “trucker hat” idea for your business?

  • Is your value prop that you “do good work?” (Congrats, that’s true for every other company in America too. What else you got?) Are you the “first,” the “best,” the “only,” or the “award-winning” anything?
  • Is your hook easy to identify, ubiquitous and a key player in every facet of your overall marketing strategy?
  • Will your hook translate well across multiple platforms and media spaces?

2. Mix the mediums

Social is not the end-all, be-all of marketing. Part of the key to the success of Kutcher’s company is that they are integrating content across multiple platforms, and seeding projects in television, movies and the Web.

Are you thinking outside of the social media box, too?

  • Are you creating marketing content that is snackable, portable and customizable across a range of platforms?
  • Are all your marketing channels designed to work together symbiotically?
  • Are you keeping an eye on emerging technologies so you can be the first to identify the new places where your clients or customers might want to play?

3. Pretty it up

Yeah, Kutcher’s good looks are doing him some favors in his race to “mogul-ness.” But, “be hotter” isn’t a real practical strategy for the rest of us to pursue. Perhaps a more tangible lesson we can learn from this former model is that working your looks is just as important as having them.

Is your company ready for its close-up?

  • Do you have a consistent and appealing visual identity across all your marketing platforms and spaces?
  • How is that headshot of yours holding up? (Is it reinforcing your brand, or is it just a so-so pic you shot with your laptop cam?)
  • Are you striking some awesome, “blue steel” marketing “poses” via your podcasts, video and writing?

4. Keep an eye on the Benjamins

Kutcher knows Hollywood, and he’s cannibalizing that world to build his new business model. One lesson we can learn from him (and that world), is that everything costs money. (In Hollywood, it takes a village to raise a celebrity…and all those villagers need to get paid.)

Are you ready to capitalize on your new media investments?

  • Are you approaching your contacts and pitching unique marketing partnerships where you can share the work and the wealth?
  • Do you have clear strategies in place for ensuring that the content you give away will come back to you as revenue down the road?
  • Have you identified some companies who are doing this well? Are you tracking their every move and taking copious notes?

5. Enjoy yourself

For all we know, Ashton Kutcher could be reading Ayn Rand books in his spare time. But in public, the AK brand is all about having fun. And you know what? People loooove to have fun, and they are attracted to other people having fun. Marketing doesn’t get any more simple than that.

Are you having any fun?

  • Do people enjoy reading/watching/listening to your marketing? (Um…do you?) Is it interesting? Provocative? Funny?
  • Are you enthusiastic about what you do? Are you letting that enthusiasm bleed into and invigorate your brand?
  • Are you remembering to break a few rules now and again?

Ultimately, Ashton is an anomaly…

So it doesn’t really matter if he’s the “first next-generation media mogul,” or not.

Really, the more interesting question is…

…who will be the second?


RIP Press Reports.

April 27, 2009

For decades, PR professionals have demonstrated their performance and value by providing clients with regular press reports accompanied by press clips – quantifying every media mention of the client, and proving that time spent on press releases, news distribution, pitches and interviews was worthwhile.

Enter social

With the rising popularity of social media, PR pros monitoring every mention of their client (and oftentimes, client’s industry, competitor’s, etc.) are inundated. TweetBeep and Google alerts flood our inboxes with Internet chatter. Fellow PR people have asked me, “How do you report on all of this?”

My answer?

There is no place for social media in the traditional press report.

That’s right. I said it. PR people need to cut the chord from the coveted press report and take a step back and take a look at what we’re actually trying to achieve.

ROI vs. ROE – Investment vs. Engagement.

Before, we measured Return On Investment.

Traditionally, if a client was announcing a product launch, for instance, the PR pro would draft a press release, distribute it, pitch the appropriate editors/reporters, follow-up as necessary, and ideally, it would result in print coverage on the client and their new product.

This is earned placement, old-school style. That diligent PR pro would then summarize each of these mentions in a press report, along with quantitative information (often things like circulation, ad equivalency) to provide the client with a monetary ROI.

Now, we can measure Return On Engagement.

And, return on engagement can’t be quantified.

In today’s socially networked world, a PR pro may announce a client’s product launch with an SMR (social media release) and share via social networks.* By nature, these mechanisms are designed for sharing – the information spreads naturally between people and across networks.

This coverage does not belong in a traditional press report.


It’s not an accurate measurement of the conversation.

Conversations about your clients take place in countless places – dinner parties, parks and in phone conversations. Do these get included in press reports? Of course not. It’s just as ridiculous to think that social media coverage can be reported in this way.

Because we have the ability to monitor social media, however, (it’s much more difficult to monitor all those dinner party conversations), it is our job as PR professionals to listen, report and respond in a meaningful way.

We could try to attach a “hits viewed” or a Nielsen NetRating or Alexa rank to these online mentions, or make an attempt to arbitrarily calculate some sort of advertising equivalency for what the space would have cost had we purchased an ad on Facebook and on Google, but why? What would that tell us about the conversation, those who shared it and those who received the message?

A message spread through social networks is PR, but this engagement not a direct result of PR.

Take for instance, Kane Co’s efforts to promote our recent workshops. I created an SMR and shared it with our networks, which include media and bloggers. Suddenly, we had “coverage” in places we didn’t know existed. My favorite example – a long-time friend of Jen’s got wind of the event via our Facebook Group. He shared the information on his blog. A friend of his then shared the event with her Google group. Within the Google group, another friend of Kane Co sparked a conversation on the speakers and the relevance of social media.

In this strain, there were at least four mentions of Kane Co and our event. And not a single one of them was earned as a direct result of our PR effort. Rather, because of the equity we have in a network that we nurture, ambassadors told the story for us. Reporting them as separate mentions wouldn’t do justice to the value behind the conversation and how it spread.

The success lies in the return on engagement. In this instance, Kane Co learned that:

1) We’ve got some excellent, fertile soil in our online networks

2) We’re planting our seeds in the right places

3) These seeds will sprout and grow, on their own, into beautiful flowers

4) We need to nurture the garden so flowers continue to grow

(What can I say…we like metaphors).

The fourth point, above, is where, as a PR person, I find my place. What’s the next story we tell? With whom do we share it? With which of these “flowers” can I cultivate a more personal relationship?

Brand equity is built over time. In the same way, the extent of social media “results” will continue to surface over time. Because results are ongoing and dynamic, it’s nearly impossible to accurately measure them at any given time.

The most immediate, quantitative results from ROE might be increased sales (our in our case, registrations). The more valuable results, however, are qualitative, and occur long term. It’s not possible to quantify the value of a brand ambassador, who is essentially doing your PR for you. One exchange could plant the seed that eventually grows into a lead, a new client, or a partner.

*Please, don’t get your panties in a bunch – online efforts aren’t always a replacement to traditional media relations campaigns. They can, and often should, co-exist.