A Conversation with Melissa Robinson of Weber Shandwick and Tara Settembre of The Walt Disney Company & When Tara Met Blog
By UCLA X425 Student Cathy Flynn
Tara Settenbre: “Don’t call me Maria.”
The best advice Tara Settenbre, “one of the 20 most influential people in LA” suggested at UCLAx425 was: “Don’t call me Maria.”
If you want to attract the attention of a blogger, especially one with 4,404 Twitter followers like Tara, you have to do your homework… which includes knowing the blogger’s name. Tara recommends doing research on the blogger’s background and making an effort to“become their friend first.”
You don’t need to leash up a bloodhound to find out what makes Tara tick. She has been blogging since 2004, back when most people thought “blogging” was “flogging” with a lisp. The “When Tara Met Blog” ‘About’ page reveals that her name is not Maria, but her middle name is Renee, which rhymes with her last name Settenbre. Tara’s allergic to curry, her favorite board game is Taboo, and she mentions yoga three times, which explains her lithe figure.
Tara’s day job is in PR for Disney consumer products, but her fame comes from her blog, regular pieces in The Huffington Post and her nearly 600-member LA Cupcakes MeetUp Group. Despite her affinity for yoga, it is truly amazing that Tara remains such a teeny-tiny thing since she harbors an intense love of cupcakes, and relishes the opportunity to insert her cupcake passion into both her day and night jobs. During a promotion for the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox, she and 16 of her friends ate their way through a cupcake tour of Los Angeles – fortunately not on the same day as her lavish taste-testing of beer-filled cupcakes.
One of her current big PR promotions is for Disney Baby, and she tells how the shoe was on the other foot when Nordstrom’s insisted she attract the attention of a particular blogger with only 200 followers. Apparently it isn’t all about who has the biggest number of followers – it’s about who has the target followers that will get those overindulgent mothers into the department store to buy oodles of Tinker Bell onsies (or rather “bodysuits,” since Tara tells us that Gerber holds the patent on the name “onesies”).
She brings up a promotion that backfired, when Disney Baby gave Mario Lopez a baby basket, only to have angry customers complain that they can’t afford diapers, yet a Dancing with the Stars celebrity gets free swag. Nonetheless, Tara and her team were able to turn the incident into a great opportunity to publicize all the products they donated to the victims of the earthquake in Japan.
Tara offers some valuable tips to the aspiring blogger, including not revealing too much information. She sidesteps what is probably a very entertaining story starring “MarriedManinTexas,” only to say that she doesn’t publicly reveal what street she lives on. “I hate it when I’m having a bad day at work because I can’t go and bitch about it,” she moans. Although her blog may feel like a free-for-all, “ I wouldn’t do crazy politics or talk about my sex life,” Tara admits. She adds, “Once you put something up there, someone might take it. I found my photos on someone else’s Facebook page.”
One final piece of advice she offers for aspiring bloggers is tying the whole package together. Tara suggests that you “definitely buy your own domain name and arrange for your own hosting, so you don’t have ‘blogspot’ in the web address,” and then make sure you link everything with the same name.
This is why her blog “When Tara Met Blog” links to her Twitter account @tarametblog, her Facebook page (TaraMetBlog), her email address (firstname.lastname@example.org), and her YouTube account (When Tara Met Blog videos)… which are all very good reasons why you shouldn’t call her Maria.
“Infuse yourself into the conversation”
Whether it’s “getting butts into the seats” of GM cars or talking turkey (or rather turkey burgers) with Carl’s Jr., Melissa Robinson knows the secret recipe for melding product marketing with social media.
As Senior Vice President of Digital Communications at Weber Shandwick, a leading global public relations agency with offices in 74 countries around the world, Melissa has also handled campaigns for Pepsi and Langham Huntington, the luxurious 146-year old hotel in Pasadena.
Whatever the product, Melissa believes that a more personal approach to marketing is the key to increased sales. “Find out what people are talking about,” Melissa suggests, “and infuse yourself into the conversation.” She goes beyond traditional PR to promote her clients in new and different ways using Web 2.0 technology.
“For every event we do with GM, we do behind-the-scenes video,” Melissa says. “There’s a lot of grassroots activation,” she adds, which is why she promotes the “butts into seats” strategy. She also mentions the Carl’s Jr. “Miss Turkey” campaign, which more people have now seen on YouTube than via the actual TV commercial. Melissa’s goal is to have fans follow the product on Facebook and Twitter, and find something that “will give us a buzz online,” asking the question: “what will give us social legs?”
Her company manages client websites, videos, and even tweets for them. Melissa explains the advantages of advertising through social media: “It’s not expensive to do a Tweet; It takes 30 seconds.” She adds, ”More and more brands are launched on virtual mediums because it’s a very efficient use of dollars.”
Like Tara, Melissa recommends that you do your homework before approaching a blogger for product promotion. “Read as much as you can on that blog to find out what that blogger is into,” she suggests, adding that you should also try to determine their tone. “Are they snarky? There are a lot of curmudgeonly journalists out there,” so Melissa proposes that “you should be very colloquial.” Some bloggers love video, so “give them something they value.” Other tips include making sure that their blog is relevant to your product, finding out if they provide links to sites they write about, and assuring that the their tone is qualitative.
One aspect of PR that Melissa is very experienced at handling is crisis management. An example she discussed involved a large and very vocal environmental group that was continuously bashing GM on the company’s Facebook page, literally filling it up and prohibiting those who “like” GM from adding their comments. GM approached the group, offering to have an actual conversation offline with GM’s CEO. It worked.
“What’s the common psychology of these people?” Melissa asks. “They want to be heard. We had a conversation and it diffused the situation.”
It’s a valuable lesson Melissa passes on to the neophytes: in a nutshell, make sure you promote the “social” part of “social media.”