Building the Perfect Spokesthing

Mr Show pIt-pat Spokesthing

The “magical, pan-sexual spokesthing” Pit-Pat is introduced by David Cross’ character on “Mr. Show With Bob And David.” While the sketch lampooned business and marketing alike, it’s proven to be a great influence in the creation of several social media characters by yours truly.

By Jake Ten Pas

I don’t know who first coined the term spokesthing, but I initially heard it on a “Mr. Show With Bob And David” sketch about a decade ago. Being the irreverent sorts they are, Odenkirk and Cross used it to poke fun at marketing/advertising types, and they hit the nail on the head. I won’t link to the sketch in question here because it is full to bursting with foul language, but if you desire to seek it out, I certainly won’t try to stop you.Regardless, I just like the word spokesthing. It’s funny and gender-neutral and hints at the meta nature that marketing achieves at its most clever.

When I made the jump from journalism to public relations, one of my first tasks was managing the social media presence for Tillamook Cheese. One day, I thought it would be funny to tweet at people as if I WAS the Baby Loaf of Tillamook Cheese, and when a follower responded, “Is @Tillamook Cheese tweeting in first person? Brilliant!,” the character of Loafy was born.



Yes, that’s me dressed as Loafy. No, Tillamook didn’t let me keep the costume.

Notice I didn’t say that the character was born when I thought of him. The character was born when one of Tillamook’s fans responded to him. That’s the way social media works. People don’t want to be marketed to anymore. They want you to have a conversation WITH them. When I realized this was a concept with resonance, I set about fleshing out the character of Loafy, and an entire mythology of my new spokesthing was born.

Recently, when AM:PM PR was hired by The Original WOW! Burger, a new gourmet burger joint soon to be debuting in the Portland market, I again started thinking about what makes for a great spokesthing. Creating a good character that will resonate with your fans is important, but as Pat likes to say, we were born with two ears and one mouth for a reason. You can be the cleverest boy in all the land, but if you don’t listen to what your customers are saying and respond to them genuinely, it’s all for naught.

Dean Winters Allstate

The one and only Dean Winters plays Mayhem, Allstate’s imaginary reason to buy more insurance. Not sure if the Facebook account is written by the same folks that write the ad copy, but both are pretty choice.

One of my favorite spokesthings is Allstate’s Mayhem persona, who is played on TV by the killer character actor Dean Winters of “Oz,” “30 Rock,” “Rescue Me” and “Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles” fame. The commercials are short and humorous, and the Facebook posts carry that over well. Not sure why Allstate hasn’t brought this character to Twitter, where it would fit in well. My only complaint is the imbalance between the number of posts “likers” of Mayhem are leaving on the page and the number of responses Mayhem is offering. Clearly, the account is doing a great job of generating interest, but as a listening tool, it’s somewhat less effective.

Back when I was still managing the Tillamook account, I quite enjoyed posts by the Quiznos Toaster, more conceptually than consistently in practice. For some reason, I’m drawn to the notion of inanimate objects talking to me, which could explain part of my love for Tom Robbins’ “Skinny Legs and All.” Unfortunately, the Toaster got increasingly lewd as time went on, and it appears that Quiznos has now pulled the plug on him. I like to imagine a Hal 9000-esque scene playing out at the end there. The Kool-Aid Man had a funny Twitter account for a while, too, although whether it was ever connected to the brand remains a mystery to me. It no longer exists, which makes me doubtful.

Elsewhere, a slew of companies continue to try to convert their advertising spokesthings into social media spokesthings. From Bob’s Big Boy to Cheetos’ Chester Cheetah to M&M’s to the unholy insurance onslaught of Progressive, Aflac, Geico, etc., they achieve their objectives to varying degrees. The true measure of a spokesthing’s success in my eyes isn’t to transition the same old marketing messages over to social media. It’s to capture the imaginations of fans and inspire in them the desire to essentially create short bursts of fan fiction about you.

Even more, the goal of any spokesthing should be to disarm fans and followers and make them feel comfortable engaging in a conversation with you. If you can do that, and turn off your clever little marketer brain long enough to listen to what they have to say, then you’ve accomplished two invaluable goals at once – learning and creating. You’ve learned what your customers want and created a whole new legion of brand ambassadors in the process.

browser logos

Browser browsing: Not just for web designers anymore

by Cam Clark

Today’s blog is a bit of a PSA for all of you lovely people out there. You may or may not know that, just as you need to change the oil in your car regularly, you should be updating your web browser regularly, as well. “But why?” you ask.

browse happy
The number one reason is that using an outdated browser makes your computer unsafe. Older browsers lack proper or full web standards compliance. Some older browsers have implemented web standards incorrectly, and new web standards are being introduced all the time. This allows web designers’ work to be increasingly creative and efficient, and it greatly enhances your web browsing experience.

Another reason is that while all web browsers will get you to the web, they all do it a little differently and with their own flair. Go ahead and give some of the alternatives a test drive. You might be surprised that you like what you find. I keep at least the top three web browsers installed on my computer at all times. When I come across a web site that is not quite working right, I can load it up in another browser and it usually works fantastically.

So, how do I find the latest and greatest in browsing nirvana? I would like to introduce you to BrowseHappy.com.

According to the site, “Browse Happy is a way for you to find out what are the latest versions of the major browsers around. You can also learn about alternative browsers that may fit you even better than the one you are currently using.”

This concludes my technology PSA for today. Just remember Browse Happy, my friends.

browse happy my friends

changing of the guard

The Changing of an Era?

mark hatfieldDominic Basulto’s blog yesterday at WashingtonPost.com saw the changing of an era in the confluence of events last weekend.

The events he referenced were the unprecedented S&P downgrade of U.S. government debt, and the concurrent 20th anniversaries of the Lollapalooza music festival and the World Wide Web.

The death of former Oregon Governor and U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield and the apparent ascendance of Apple over Exxon as the highest-valued public company in the world also make me feel as if we’re turning a page in our history.

Basulto wonders whether those coming of age in 1991 could ever have foreseen the changes that would take place over the coming 20 years. This year’s college graduates will witness even more rapid change with a Web that is truly worldwide today, increasingly accessible through the ubiquitous technology of cell phones and other mobile devices.

I know far less about Lollapalooza, though I was sorry to hear that Portland band Portugal. The Man had its equipment stolen after playing a set at the festival.

The S&P downgrade hit me like it did most Americans – in my wallet. The market chaos this week has played havoc with my personal portfolio. Unfortunately, that portfolio doesn’t include stock in Apple. But I can assure Apple stockholders that I’m ready when the iPhone 5 is released next month to help push stock values even higher with my early purchase.

I worry that the petty partisan squabbling that led to the downgrade and market volatility is a sign that dysfunction has replaced dialogue in D.C. In 1991, Mark O. Hatfield was sworn in for his final term as Oregon’s senior United States Senator. Powerful and principled, Hatfield embodied the independence and leadership we desperately needed, and that is so obviously absent among our political leaders today.

And I wonder what today’s 20-somethings will reflect on in the summer of 2031.


10 Tips for a Perfect Party

We’ve all been to particularly fun events that leave us wishing they lasted a few hours longer. We’ve also been to some that can’t get over quick enough. Here are some fundamentals to keep in mind when planning an important event. They’ll help make sure that your party falls into the former category.

1. Location, location location!

AM:PM PR party

Choosing the right location for an event is key. You want the venue to impart the vibe you’re aiming for. Is it going to have a street fair vibe? Is it a swanky cocktail soiree? Or is it a barn dance? If so, you need a barn. Find the location that’s right for the feeling you want to create for your guests.

2. Party time

What time, day and week make the most sense for your guests? We have found in the past that Thursday early evenings tend to work well for a lot of people. However, some Thursdays are “First Thursdays,” “Last Thursdays,” or some other themed Thursday that might conflict with another big event. Also, if you hold your event while people are at work, only those who can get time off will attend. Choosing the best day and time will vary based on types of guests, but there is no sense in putting on an event if most invitees can’t make it.

3. Lock down the fixtures

This isn’t the sexiest part of party planning, but it is essential. Depending on the scope of your event, you might need tables, chairs, tents, table coverings, bottled water, ice, storage containers, plates and utensils, serving apparatuses, etc. Start thinking about this early, and the day of your event will be a whole lot less stressful. While your DJ, vendors, caterers and other party participants aren’t exactly fixtures, organization will similarly pay off when dealing with them. Keep them apprised of what’s expected of them, and check back as often as is necessary to make sure everybody’s on the same page.

4. Serve tasty beverages

Clearly, this is the most important component. Okay, maybe not the most important, but it’s right up there at the top. Drinks, even if they’re not of the alcoholic variety, make people feel comfortable and more apt to loosen up a bit and chat. There is a reason booze is often called a social lubricant – it makes conversation slip off the tongue more easily and makes interaction feel more natural. Be sure to take care of this important detail.

5. Feed the people

AM:PM PR partyThis one seems obvious, but it’s necessary. People will stick around longer if tasty treats are available. At our recent anniversary party, we served finger foods from a local caterer that were all but demolished within a few hours. People congregate around food tables, so sometimes a couple food stations will keep people moving through your venue with fewer traffic jams.

6. Play good tunes

Many events, though not all, are even more awesome with good music in the background. If budgets allow, a live DJ – or band – is better than an iPod, but a custom playlist in iTunes will work just fine. And remember to keep the volume at a level that keeps the conversation the star of the evening.

7. Put thought into your guest list

It’s too easy to forget to invite guests if you rush and wait until the last minute to compile your guest list. Make an initial list, wait a couple days, then go back and make sure you included everyone.

8. Promotion

When you go through the trouble of planning an event, you want people to show up. I recommend covering your bases on the invite front. The ubiquitous Facebook invite is never a bad idea — you’re reaching people where they already are. For those invitees without a Facebook account, or those who tend to ignore invites, EventBrite is a great option. You can create custom invites and send them out via email – or snail mail for your more traditionalist guests. Using these platforms in conjunction makes it more likely that you’ll reach everyone on your list. Plus, you can easily track your RSVPs.

9. Be a good host

Though exhausting, being a good host is vital to making sure the vibe of your event remains social and fun. Be sure to introduce guests to one another when convenient, especially if they have common interests. If you’re doing your job of keeping the food, drinks and people moving, you’ll only have 10 minutes or so to spend with each guest, so make sure they have plenty to talk about “amongst themselves.”

10. Main Attraction

Whether your event revolves around a guest speaker, like our extra special, month-end editions of PR 3.0, a live band, an anniversary or simply a theme – tiki beach party, zombie prom, what have you – it’s important to identify that main attraction early on and use it as an integral part of your promotion and conversations about the event. This will create excitement and guide some of the other tough choices you’ll have to make along the way to the perfect party. Finally, remember that there’s actually no such thing as a perfect party. Into every social gathering, a little awkwardness must fall. But if you grin and keep your wits, and a modicum of grace, about you, your guests will barely notice the difference. At least we hope so.

* This blog post was made possible through a generous grant from the Jake Ten Pas Brain Trust. No, seriously, we recently planned the AM:PM PR Birthday Bash together, and wisdom contained herein flowed naturally from that process.

The (millennial) Kids Aren’t Al(ways)right

Jake Ten Pas sneerby Jake Ten Pas

If you’ve been reading the blogs of my boss, Pat McCormick, then you know he’s an optimist who views the younger millennial generation’s contributions to evolving communication trends with open-minded anticipation. He bucks the stereotype of the technophobic member of the silent generation, and it’s this spirit of enthusiasm and youthful energy that made me instantly like him when first we met.

On the other hand, he’s wrong. Not about kids and their communications habits pointing the way toward the future. No, that’s happening, and we’re powerless to stop it. What Pat’s mistaken about is that this is a good thing.

tiny keyboard

Clearly, texting on a miniature keyboard is the best way to communicate. Why make all of your fingers work when your thumbs can carry the burden for the rest of them.

When Mark Zuckerberg announced earlier this year that he was changing the way Facebook’s messaging platform functions because some of his younger relatives told him that email is too slow, I rolled my eyes so hard that my spirit animal briefly changed from a badger to a pug.

How to put this delicately? If email is too slow of a format for you, then there’s something wrong with you, not email. If email is too slow for you, you should automatically get a prescription for Ritalin in the mail. If email is too slow for you, you should stop trying to write in sentences and just resort to a series of grunts and exaggerated hand gestures. This is technology as regression, not progress. It’s using new communication opportunities as a chance to unleash your inner caveman.

You know what isn’t hard? Typing a subject line. In fact, it might actually help you assemble your thoughts into something coherent, as opposed to the absolutely pointless, unfocused ejaculations that seem to pass for conversation these days.

Perhaps I’m picking up Pat’s slack by reinforcing the stereotype of the grumpy old man, but I find it hard to be inspired by the communications trends of generations Y and Z.

Justin Bieber

Seriously, would you listen to anything somebody with this haircut told you? No? Then why take your communication cues from Gen Y?

Texting is your go-to communication method? Seriously? What is it that you find so scary about the human voice? And don’t even say that you’re too busy to talk on the phone. If you have time to watch “Jersey Shore” and listen to Justin Bieber, you’ve got time to talk on the phone or send a proper email.

Texting has a place. It’s for quick, pertinent exchanges of information. It isn’t for discussing the fate of your relationship or other important conversations in which the likelihood of misunderstanding increases exponentially.

Which reminds me, why would you take advice from a generation of kids that thinks low-rider skinny jeans are cool? Why listen to people who can’t discern between music made by artists in a studio and music that’s made with an iPhone app? Why listen to individuals who pay money, over and over again, to watch vampire movies in which the vampires are about as threatening as male models on a hunger strike and the female protagonist’s only goal is to court one of these anemic mope-heads?



If you think the Twilight movies are good – and I mean seriously good, not just good fun to laugh at because of how terrible they are – then the medium by which you communicate is probably irrelevant.

So what if they grew up with the technology and are immersed in it in a way that my generation and older can’t understand. That just sounds like a lack of context and perspective to me. Because I remember a time before people conversed only by text, I can speak in complete sentences and occasionally put a paragraph together. I can make use of new technology without ever thinking that it’s the end-all-be-all of communication. I see a Tweet as a means to an end, and not an end in and of itself.

Sure, I’m stereotyping here. There are many young people today who are turning to vinyl as a reaction to my generation’s obsession with tiny technology. There are young people who are reading actual books and watching quality movies and listening to music that wasn’t popularized on YouTube. To you, I offer my unbridled respect. Being cool at your age takes even more hard work than it did when I was a teenager, and we thought Starter Jackets were stylish and Stone Temple Pilots was a good band.

This is an important point to make. There’s nothing inherently wrong with generations Y and Z. We all like stupid stuff when we’re kids. I liked Hammer pants, the movie “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” and professional wrestling when I was younger. Fortunately, nobody was turning to me for advice at that age. The mistake we’re making as a culture is thinking that young people should be steering us. That’s what they call the tail wagging the dog.

Perhaps technology will eventually facilitate conversation that isn’t as brief and vapid as what most people say via text and tweet. Perhaps it will usher in a new era of democratized, personalized exchanges, as Pat suggests. Until then, we seem to have mistaken technological advancement for its own sake with true progress. While this willy-nilly dive down the rabbit hole might be shaping the brave new world one nano-second at a time, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be a world any of us take pride in populating.

The upside, of course, is that introspection will by then have been bred out of the gene pool, and people will judge their quality of life by the richness of their tan and their ability to afford a variety of flavors of Axe Nutrient Spray, which will replace both food and deodorant by 2050.

Meanwhile, I’ll be keeping up with the technology so that, A) I don’t lose all touch with where we’re headed as a society, B) nobody can say that I fear it because I don’t understand it, and C) I can keep an eye on you lunatics so I don’t have to scream and gnash my teeth after the fact like Charlton Heston in “Planet of the Apes.”

Don’t worry. That reference can’t be lost on somebody who doesn’t have the attention span to read past the first paragraph. Put that in your phone and text it.