Posts Tagged ‘promotion’

Hot Dog on a Stick: Sticking a Smile on a Gable PR Employee for 20 Years

Friday, February 8th, 2013

Fun Food

Posted by Katelyn O’Riordan

The red, white, blue and yellow colors light up the food court, beckoning mall visitors with the bright and inviting façade. The friendly employees clad in uniforms in company colors and matching chapeau catch my eye. I immediately picture them handing over a paper boat filled with a crispy, golden-brown treat – the iconic Southern California Hot Dog on a Stick, with a cup of fresh lemonade. It was one reward my mom would offer my brother and me for our patience after dragging us elementary school kids around to stores like Ann Taylor and Crate & Barrel.

To this day, every time I visit the Fashion Valley mall, near our office in San Diego, I visit my old friends at Hot Dog on a Stick and indulge in an ice-cold fresh lemonade. Memories of my childhood always come rushing back and now I have a greater understanding of the work and passion that go into each store location.

It wasn’t until working for Gable PR that I got the rare opportunity to learn about Hot Dog on a Stick’s brand and the company culture behind the menu items and colorful uniforms. Gable PR was retained to promote the company as it expanded nationally through franchising and a new drive-thru concept. Our research and working directly with their passionate team afforded me the chance to build on a fun family memory that has endured for years and continues to make me smile (proving that the Hotdoggers behind the counter really do live up to their mission, “to stick a smile on your face!”).

For me, a remarkable trait of working in public relations is you are given ongoing opportunities to learn about a company or brand that you may have only known superficially.  In preparing to launch a creative, strategic PR program, you discover a wealth of information: the company’s history, mission, vision, inner workings, team ethic, culture, history and personality.

Here are 10 interesting facts about Hot Dog on a Stick:

  • Hot Dog on a Stick started in 1946 next to the sandy beaches of Santa Monica, Calif., and was originally called Party Puffs. Founder Dave Barham changed its name to Hot Dog on a Stick in 1948, and the company has since flourished into 100 stores, spread throughout 12 states and three countries.
  • Employees have a vested interest in company success; Hot Dog on a Stick is actually a 100 percent employee owned company!
  • Hot Dog on a Stick’s leadership team has as an average tenure of more than 19 years with the company; several started as Hotdoggers and worked their way up.
  • Founder Dave Barham used to call the signature uniforms “red, white and blue, with a splash of lemonade!”
  • Past celeb Hotdoggers include actress Eva Mendez and singer Sara Bareilles.
  • Dave Barham created Hot Dog on a Stick’s “Party Batter” using his mom’s delicious cornbread recipe inspired from his childhood on his family’s Missouri farm.
  • The employee uniform has changed over the years from polka dots and berets, straw hats and knee-length shorts to the catchy striped uniform and hats worn today.
  • The lemonade is made fresh every two hours, and all menu items are made-to-order using fresh ingredients.
  • Hot Dog on a Stick has new growth initiatives that include franchising and opening more drive-thru restaurants away from the traditional malls.
  • If all the fresh lemons used in one year by Hot Dog on a Stick (more than 6 million) were laid end to end, they would reach from Los Angeles to Monterey!

The knowledge gained from research, interviews, writing, and ongoing involvement in new client activities gives the PR team priceless insights to help plan community events, drive media coverage of a new store, and land a print article or a broadcast segment for a company or brand that you believe in. The results bring a special joy and sense of accomplishment that I hadn’t found in other industries, putting another smile on my face!

Media Tweetups: beyond digital – valuable face time with followers, media, new connections

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011
Hello my username is... tweetup

Going Live!

Posted by Trish DaCosta

Tweetups with the media are my new favorite thing as a PR professional. When I heard NBC San Diego was hosting a Tweetup to “meet their followers,” the PR light bulb over my head turned on immediately: this would be a great chance to kick off relationships with the news team! Having just started at Gable PR two weeks prior, I was eager to build the relationships that could benefit our clients and the Tweetup could be a good start.

Tweetups are a somewhat odd concept. The host can be anyone or anything – a company, a celebrity, bar or restaurant, news organization, or a random party organizer. Moreover, objectives can vary considerably. NBC San Diego did a stellar job indicating the purpose of the event which opened it up for just about anyone to attend. Others use the occasion to ‘celebrate’ a milestone, such as getting 500,000 followers, or promote an event, grand opening or other milestone. Whatever the reason, the Tweetup is prime networking time, and here’s why PR Pros must get on the guest list:

  1. Meet new people, or more specifically, media people who could one day be essential to your work.
  2. Build existing relationships with industry insiders or media.
  3. Make connections with potential new leads. Who doesn’t like new business?
  4. Generate buzz for yourself, your company, and your client. A fellow Tweeple in attendance might know that editor you’ve been trying to reach for months. She can formally introduce you. Or better yet, you can meet the editor face-to-face and tip her off on an exclusive right then and there with your client. Win-win!
  5. Practice your pitch. Hey, now is the time to fine-tune your presentation skills, which should come in handy when you reach out to editors over the phone.

The Tweetup is far more than a social mixer; it’s a watering hole of eager, hungry professionals all looking to make some kind of connection. Attending one, or several, gets your name out there to potential new businesses, editors, and mentors. Don’t rule out Tweetups that may seem irrelevant to your company either. You may work strictly in fashion PR, for instance, but that lifestyle editor you’ve been trying to reach may very well be attending a Tweetup party focused on technology. You never know who’ll be in attendance. So make the time to go, grab your smart phone and your business cards and get going. Oh, and don’t forget to tweet about it, too.

Check out pictures of Gable PR at the NBC San Diego TweetUp on our Facebook page and on NBC San Diego’s website

“I Like It on the What?” — Good PR fun, no payoff?

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Posted by Lauren Miller

This week the phrase “I like it on…” has dominated women’s Facebook statuses all over the U.S. and left many men in the dark, wondering “what the heck?” This provocative campaign was launched with the intention of raising breast cancer awareness during October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Organizations around the U.S. that support this cause are getting very creative and some have wondered if they have lost sight of their objectives in driving education and, more importantly, fundraising.

As reported in The Washington Post and elsewhere, women are posting where they like to keep their purses when they come home, but they conveniently leave out the word “purse.”

While we must appreciate the creative techniques and fun “members only” campaigns many organizations pursue, we must also ask tough questions such as are these campaigns relevant or useful? Posting a status such as, “I like it on the floor,” while provocative and no doubt a conversation starter, doesn’t clearly relate to breast cancer or awareness of cancer for that matter. How does writing a provocative, ambiguous message draw attention and awareness to a disease that, according to the American Cancer Society, will claim approximately 38,000 women’s lives in 2010?

Many critics argue that creativity for the sake of creativity campaigns don’t work because they lack relevancy. While people are talking about the messages and the innuendos, they miss the true meaning and point of the campaign. Is there a logical transition to encourage women to sign up for yearly mammograms, encourage individual involvement or donate money? Proponents argue that the causes are being discussed and through these titillating off-the-wall social media campaigns, more people are getting involved in one way or another — joining a team, hosting an event at their office, or as simple as making a donation.

Whenever a company, a charity, or an organization is brainstorming on new ways to raise money for their cause they need to ask “how will this plan and medium help us accomplish our goal? “ The Facebook campaign for breast cancer awareness, while not directly relevant, has garnered lot of attention from the media and the average person who used Facebook on a regular basis. The cause is being talked about and women are participating in the Facebook campaign with their comments, which is easy to do. Whether or not that leads them to get more involved in the cause is another story. At least the main objective of brining awareness to this disease and shedding light on it during this month has been accomplished.

And for the record, I like it on the kitchen table!

Facebook Follies: Making Sure Social Media Fits Within Your PR Strategy

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Rolling out new tools

Posted by Laura Woods

The public relations profession is at a wonderful and challenging crossroads in its evolution. No longer can the traditional approach of solely using press releases be effective in building a client’s reputation and media presence. Now PR professionals have to be comfortable integrating all aspects of social media — blogs, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other tools – into their strategic arsenal. Beyond proactive approaches, PR pros need to be diligent in setting high standards for all communications and monitoring for questionable or negative impacts. (more…)

Weighing In on the Taco Bell Drive Thru Diet – A Belly Laugh or Two

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Worked for me!

Posted by Krista Rogers

Among the top New Year’s resolutions are pledges about weight loss and exercise, so it is no surprise that when January rolls around we are besieged with gym and health-food advertisements. Ironically, as awareness of unhealthy transfats and the American obesity pandemic grows along with our waistlines, the fast food restaurants that have been guilty of clogging our arteries for years are now tooting their healthy-choices horn louder than ever. This makes sense from a marketing standpoint. People want healthier options, so it’s smart to truthfully highlight the healthier menu items. What doesn’t make sense is when a popular fast food chain tries to convince a nation that their “Drive-Thru Diet” is a weight loss secret. (more…)

Making the Online Video Boom Work for PR, Branding

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Getting Visual

Getting Visual

Posted by Krista Rogers

You can run but you can’t hide. The online video boom is here and it is not going to go away. And it is a great thing. Online video presents an incredible platform for public relations practitioners to help their clients or organizations improve communication and tell stories in new and imaginative ways. But the question is, “How?”

Earlier this month I participated in the PRSA teleseminar: Tapping into the Online Video Boom hosted by Mike McDougall, APR Vice President of Corporate Communications & Public Affairs at Bausch & Lomb that answered the questions so many companies are wrestling with.

Mike said online video should be an essential part of any corporate communicator’s toolkit. He really put the value of online video into perspective. It is no longer limited to channels such as YouTube or traditional broadcast media. It is becoming a cheap and effective tool that can be integrated into all of your communication tactics.

To quantify just how much impact online video has on internet users in the United States, here are some numbers from the results from a January 2009 Comscore report:

  • Over 147 million U.S. Internet users viewed an average of 101 videos each in January (more than three a day!).
  • 76.8 percent of the total U.S. Internet audience viewed online video.
  • The average online video viewer watched 356 minutes of video in January, (approximately 6 hours), up 15 percent versus December.
  • 100.9 million viewers watched 6.3 billion videos on YouTube.com (62.6 videos per viewer).
  • 54.1 million viewers watched 473 million videos on MySpace.com (8.7 videos per viewer).
  • The duration of the average online video was 3.5 minutes, up from 3.2 minutes per video in December.

Mike was kind enough to share his ideas for using online video to show off an organization’s attributes, all within a strategic plan. Here are his top tips with a little Gable PR insights as well.

ELEVEN ONLINE VIDEO TIPS

  1. Let your spokespeople speak! Be casual and non-slick.
  2. Show your lighter side. Be careful though, there is a caveat; don’t make it too light. Make sure the video is appropriate to the company’s personality and culture.
  3. Show what is special. What could you use to increase internal morale or external interest? Talk about how many patents you have? Secret ingredients in your hotel’s recipes? Brilliant engineering in your medical device? Special relics in your museum? You can even interview someone who has been with the company for many years and share that with the world!
  4. Become an expert. Share your knowledge! (Check out Gable PR’s Guru ™ Program)
  5. Dust off the archives. People like to reminisce and witness a company’s evolution and vitality.
  6. Tap the unexpected. Are people using your product in a different or creative way? Build on that!
  7. Make the complex simple. Let video explain the complex.
  8. Supplement a news release with a video clip or link to a YouTube video to further explain your points and add personality to the organization.
  9. Turn your blog into a vlog (video log). Share your opinions, ideas, etc. through a vlog instead of a blog to better engage viewers and enhance your point.
  10. Celebrate global efforts if they exist. Use personalities and experiences from other countries. Highlight it and show it off.
  11. Highlight success. Milestones are a cause for celebration and an opportunity to say, “Hey! Look at us!”

One of the greatest aspects of the online video boom is the bang you can get for your buck. Grab an HD Still Camera for $130 that will have video and be up and vlogging in no time. Need an event documented at your European headquarters in Germany? Don’t send over a whole crew. FedEx a $130 camera and have the footage uploaded in an hour (or have them buy it there if the price is right).

YouTube experts blogged about three factors that contributed to driving an overall growth of 1700 percent in uploads in the last six months: new video-enabled phones on the market, improvement of the upload flow and a new, streamlined process to share videos on social networks. The new technology creates accessibility that allows for endless opportunities for anyone to jump on board and use online video to their advantage. And it’s a must-have addition to almost every PR communications tool kit.

FTC to Bloggers: Disclose Freebies, Payments. Blogestapo in the Works? Implications for PR?

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

FTC Finds Blogger Freebie
FTC Finds Blogger Freebie

Posted by Tom Gable

As reported by the Associated Press, The New York Times and others, the Federal Trade Commission on Oct. 5 voted 4-0 to approve final guidelines for regulating anyone who reviews a product, including bloggers. As the AP reported:

The FTC will require that writers on the Web clearly disclose any freebies or payments they get from companies for reviewing their products. The commission also said advertisers featuring testimonials that claim dramatic results cannot hide behind disclaimers that the results aren’t typical…For bloggers, the FTC stopped short of specifying how they must disclose conflicts of interest. Rich Cleland, assistant director of the FTC’s advertising practices division, said the disclosure must be “clear and conspicuous,” no matter what form it will take.

Bloggers have long praised or panned products and services online. But what some consumers might not know is that many companies pay reviewers for their write-ups or give them free products such as toys or computers or trips to Disneyland. In contrast, at traditional journalism outlets, products borrowed for reviews generally have to be returned…The FTC’s proposal made many bloggers anxious. They said the scrutiny would make them nervous about posting even innocent comments.

Consumer advocacy groups were quoted as saying lack of disclosure is a big problem in blogs. They suggested putting more pressure on bloggers to “behave properly,” according to AP.

As reported in The New York Times:

The new rules also take aim at celebrities, who will now need to disclose any ties to companies, should they promote products on a talk show or on Twitter. A second major change, which was not aimed specifically at bloggers or social media, was to eliminate the ability of advertisers to gush about results that differ from what is typical — for instance, from a weight loss supplement…For bloggers who review products, this means that the days of an unimpeded flow of giveaways may be over. More broadly, the move suggests that the government is intent on bringing to bear on the Internet the same sorts of regulations that have governed other forms of media, like television or print.

The buzz on the blogosphere ranged from taking umbrage and pleading First Amendment privileges to those who felt bloggers needed to be held accountable and readers deserved to have all the facts, including those of sponsorship and freebies.

Then there are the concerns about business bloggers and experts who comment on companies, industries and trends rather than products. What type of disclosure is required if they have been paid by the company they are commenting on, or a direct competitor or consulting firm with ties to the company, its competitors or the industry? One “mommy blogger” from the United Kingdom questioned how it would impact those who receive free books to review.

I review books because I love them, and getting some for free is a bonus – now the US is cracking down on us mommy bloggers…They call it blogola – payola for bloggers – the term for free stuff that bloggers get to review on their site and even the cash that some accept for those reviews. Those “offers” can also take place on micro-blogging sites such as Twitter, as exemplified by the recent controversy surrounding the #nestlefamily event – in which bloggers have agreed to take part in a promotional event organised by the multinational company.

PRSA looked at the FTC notice and offered some possible applications of the guidelines:

  • Bloggers who receive cash or in-kind payment (including free products or services for review) are deemed endorsers and so must disclose material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.
  • Any firm that engages bloggers by paying them outright to create or influence editorial content or by supplying goods or services to them at no cost may be liable if the blogger does not disclose the relationship.
  • Advertisements or promotions that feature a consumer who conveys his or her experience with a product or service as “typical” should clearly disclose what results consumers can generally expect or specify how the results were unique to the individual circumstances.
  • If research is cited in an advertisement or promotion, any sponsorship of the research by the client or the marketer should be clearly disclosed.
  • Celebrities who make endorsements outside the context of traditional ads, such as on talk shows or in social media, should disclose any relationship with the advertiser or marketer.

One thing absent from the debate so far: enforcement.

Is the pronouncement actually part of a clever strategy to grow the FTC bureaucracy? After all, government is one of our few growth industries.

Will the FTC create a new Blogestapo modeled after the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)? Staffers in blue uniforms will sit hunched over computers in new facilities throughout the land reading a zillion tweets, clicking through to a million blogs and news Web sites and looking for evil-doers. Next, a press conference featuring the media-savvy President Obama talking about the importance of saving our country from the new Axis of Evil: Twitter, Facebook and Blogging.

Politics, PR and Promotion: When is it good for business?

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Attention Companies

Attention Companies

Posted by Erin Koch

As a rule, most companies, from small storefront shops to multinational corporations, try to avoid the appearance that they favor one political viewpoint over another … and with good reason.  If I am a strong supporter of Candidate A, and I see a sign for Candidate B in the window of my regular dry cleaner, I might choose to have my shirts pressed elsewhere.  Likewise, if I am a supporter of progressive causes, but learn that the former CEO of a nationwide pizza company gave millions to conservative groups, I might order my pepperoni pie from a competitor.

So, most businesses remain (publicly, at least) neutral, rather than risk alienating half of their customer base.  Two well-known companies recently contradicted this apolitical strategy – with very different results.

Since it was sold to a major food company in 2000, ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s has worked hard to maintain its image as a progressive, forward-, and free-thinking company.  Earlier this year, the company renamed one of its ice creams “Yes Pecan” to honor Barack Obama’s swearing in as President (a play on his campaign slogan “Yes We Can”.)  Then earlier this month, the company renamed its popular “Chubby Hubby” flavor “Hubby Hubby” to commemorate the fact that the state of Vermont legalized gay marriage.  (That new name will only be used in Vermont.)

While some may be annoyed at the ice cream maker’s partisan spin, I think their strategy is sound.  Why?  Because it remains authentic to their brand and their core principles.  Their loyal and generally liberal customers will probably love it.  And they’ll get lots of media attention, which means more mindshare and the potential for more customers.  (My favorite flavor is chocolate fudge brownie and, come to think of it, I haven’t had any in quite a while!)

A contrary example comes from similarly progressive mainstay Whole Foods.  Company CEO John Mackey wrote an op ed that was published in The Wall Street Journal critical of President Obama’s health care plan.  The resulting reaction has included storefront protests as well as a growing “Boycott Whole Foods” group on Facebook (now approaching 34,000 members).  There has even been speculation in the financial media that the CEO was going rogue, and acting based on his personal beliefs rather than what is best for the company.

While I certainly agree with John Mackey’s right to self expression, I don’t think the critical op ed was a wise move from a reputation management perspective.  Given the company’s progressive and politically active customer base, voicing a personal opinion that likely runs contrary to what most of his core customers believe could have been strategically misguided, leading to long-term damage to the brand image.

In sum, taking a highly visible political stand is almost always risky, particularly if (as for most companies) “being political” is not part of your corporate reputation and image.  But if you do find your company thinking about making such a leap, look first:

  1. Who is in our customer base and what will they think of this?
  2. Does this align with our core values and principles?
  3. What are the short term risks and benefits?
  4. And what are the long term risks and benefits?

Photo credit: zoovroo

Great coverage, fatal PR? The Algae-Fueled Hypemobile Rolls On

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

Tricked out Hypemobile

Tricked out Hypemobile

Posted by Tom Gable

Gable PR works with several renewable energy clients, participate in clean tech and other organizations and our teams are always watching for good news on advances in technology that can help wean our world from its addiction to foreign oil.

Last week, our news trackers picked up the announcement of what appeared to be a great concept – a cross-country tour to promote the use of algae as a source for fuel to power automobiles. This could create what some PR professionals refer to as “rolling thunder,” where you launch something and watch the results roll across the country making big noise at every stop, with awareness and reputation building accordingly.

Unfortunately, this particular trip may be producing an ill-wind along the way (some cynics might use more descriptive and colorful terms). To start you on the journey, here are the first two paragraphs of the news release announcing the tour from the Sapphire Energy Web site:

“Veggie Van Organization and the FUEL Movie to Unveil the Algaeus”

Los Angeles, CA (August 27, 2009) – Green Fuel is real fuel as the Algaeus, the world’s first plug-in hybrid vehicle to cross the country on fuel containing a blend of algae-based renewable gasoline, hits the road to celebrate the launch of the award-winning film FUEL. Sponsored by the Veggie Van Organization, the eco-aggressive, 10-day cross country tour features a caravan of high technology ‘green’ vehicles, led by the groundbreaking Algaeus, which is fueled by Sapphire Energy. The tour kicks off on September 8 in San Francisco and culminates in New York City on September 18 to celebrate the nationwide premiere of FUEL, the movie that inspires green energy solutions such as those demonstrated on the tour.

Sundance Film Festival Winning Director of “FUEL” and Founder/Co-Director of Veggie Van Organization, Josh Tickell, says of the big news, “What better way to show that the energy solutions we have been waiting for are here than driving the world’s first algae fuel powered, 150 mile per gallon, plug-in-electric hybrid vehicle across America to celebrate the opening of a movie about a new green economy.”

What better way, indeed, until one starts probing into the facts of the case and the details of the car, a converted plug-in Prius; the deal is 95 percent hype and 5 percent reality.

The hype: using just 25 gallons of fuel to cross the country in the hybrid electric vehicle with just 5 percent of that algae-based fuel, or 1.25 gallons. The trek started with the unveiling of the car in San Francisco on September 8. For the 1.25 gallons, Tickell and his FUEL promotion team and Sapphire Energy achieved incredible media mileage, garnering attention from environmental bloggers, television and print media. Then, critical comments started popping up on multiple renewable energy Web sites and blogs. Here are a few highlights:

  • Well it’s not getting across the country by algae; it’s getting 5% of the way across the country by algae.
  • I suppose a publicity stunt is what is needed, but there are a lot of deceptive words in the press release…Because of the ethanol mandate, it could have more corn ethanol than algae fuel, yet it’s touted as being powered by algae…Why not call it the Cornius?
  • The car could probably succeed on 5 percent Mazola oil or recycled cooking oil from the McDonald’s deep fryers along the way. Does this really prove anything scientifically? It’s just a promotion from the Fuel movie and the media are going along for the ride.
  • So, a plug in hybrid, that utilizes a 5% algae gasoline mix will go coast-to-coast on only 25 gallons of fuel! So, what that means is that this vehicle and this publicity stunt, will be running mostly off of plug in power and good old fashioned gasoline. What that means kids, is that, the primary fuel being used for this little escapade is gasoline! 23.75 gallons of it, to be exact. The secondary fuel will be coal! Coal fired power plants will generate electricity which this vehicle will steal from hotels across the nation.
  • 0.5 gallons of algae fuel per tankful. At that rate, you could put that much water and an emulsifier in the tank and claim that the car runs on water!
  • The economy comes from the fact that it is a P-HEV, not from the fact it runs on algae ethanol…The overwhelming majority of the energy for this trip comes from oil based gasoline and electricity from a high carbon grid. Still fuel efficient, no contest there, but (it is) no more efficient or exciting as any other P-HEV on the road, except for the paint job. GREENWASHING!!!
  • If they’re going to use just 5% algae in the fuel, fine — but then they shouldn’t claim that the car is “powered by green crude” and paint a big “powered by ALGAE” sign on the side.
  • We need real green tech, not phony marketing ploys. This stunt could do more to discredit green technology than promote it. Some people will look at this, find out the truth, and conclude that biofuels are a hoax. Sad, because biofuels are actually a good idea that just hasn’t quite arrived yet.
  • I like the comment about substituting the algae fuel for the same amount of water and you call the car the Aqua-us!
  • How stupid do these PR brats think the public is? This…is all about drumming money out of gullible investors along the way, not about saving energy or the planet.
  • Seems to me that the Josh Tickell polluting the green movement are the reason that any viable “green fuel solution” is still well beyond the horizon…It would be real interesting to hear T. Boone Pickens’ take on this cross-country charade.

For further details, check the sponsoring Veggie Van organization Web site, which almost looks like a put-on. Its mission is “to facilitate the transition from fossil fuel use toward a new green economy by educating people about sustainable energy and providing them with appropriate pathways for integrating sustainable energy into homes, schools, communities, cities, states and ultimately nations.” The main vehicle for doing this (other than the colorful and media-friendly vehicles in its fleet) will be “to create a green curriculum that is nationally accredited for K-12 and to make available, free of charge, a 35 minute educational version of ‘FUEL’ to every school in the United States.”

The bottom line: generating more promotion for the movie and not much action in supporting the somewhat fuzzy mission statement. It will be interesting to see how the media react when the Hypemobile arrives in New York City on Sept. 18 for the theatrical launch and press event.

GM Volt Hits Reputation Management PR Hype Trifecta; Math Strangely Missing

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009
What's behind the curtain

What's behind the curtain

Posted by Tom Gable

General Motors held a major media event to promote the 230 mile-per-gallon capability of its Volt electric car, preceded by a “What is 230″ viral campaign.  PR and marketing experts jumped in quickly to question the goal of the hype program for a car that wasn’t due out for one year.  Was it a preemptive strike against other electric cars in the queue? Or one small step for GM in repositioning itself?

The campaign did create buzz, plus questions, criticism and skepticism – the PR reputation management Trifecta.

Even worse, the media missed the big story and one that potentially pops the 230 MPG bubble: the Volt will be more costly to own and operate than less expensive cars getting far worse gas mileage.

The media debate centered on the validity of the MPG claims. The Los Angeles Times pointed out that the 230 MPG was based on city driving where the car might never use the gasoline engine. GM had calculated highway mileage for longer trips but didn’t release the data. Cynics wondered if the number fell in the Hummer range.

CNET raised similar questions about the mileage calculations and said it “begs an obvious question: how can the mileage of electric vehicles be compared to gasoline cars?”

AdAge took umbrage with the “What is 230?” buzz campaign.

“The push was flawed because it was ill-timed, targeted a group that is not likely to be the core Volt buyer and — most of all — didn’t offer enough clues to engage people,” Abbey Klaassen wrote.

Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus, said he saw more talk about the government moving onto a 230-volt standard than this being for an electric car. Jokesters wondered if the question came from Conan O’Brien asking what was the new weight of Christie Alley.

Scout Labs, which measures social-media chatter, noted in AdAge that the “What is 230″ buzz also helped deliver a spike for rival Toyota’s Prius, an unintended consequence.

AdAge asked GM why do a teaser campaign. CEO Fritz Henderson said that in order to win a new generation of buyers, “we need to relate to people between 16 and 30. They communicate differently and we need to make sure we plug into that.”

“That may be true, but so is this: At $40,000, the Volt will be too expensive for much of that demographic,” AdAge notes, which gets to the BIG issue.

Surprisingly, if you do the math on costs of the Volt versus traditional cars costing less and getting significantly lower miles per gallon, the Volt loses.

The following table shows the cost of owning and buying gasoline for cars costing $20,000, $30,000 and $40,000 (estimated cost of the Volt). The 48-month and 60-month payments were calculated at 10 percent interest using Bankrate.

For mileage, the calculations were based on driving 10,000 miles a year and getting 20 or 40 miles per gallon at a price of $4.00 a gallon. We rounded off the Volt to 200 MPG from 230, assuming there might be a little highway driving.

In the worst-case scenario of traditional cars getting 20 miles per gallon over five years and a total fuel cost of $10,000 versus $1,000 for the Volt, the $20,000 and $30,000 cars are $16,496 and $3,748 cheaper to own and operate than the electric Volt. At 40 MPG, the savings are $21,496 and $8,748 over five years ($5,000 total fuel cost versus $1,000 for the Volt).

Bottom line: before using all your big guns, tools and tactics to launch a new initiative, position or product, analyze the backfire. Will it be minor, from the omnipresent critics and skeptics, or could it create long-term damage to your reputation and future business and marketing goals?

Four and Five Year Costs – Volt Versus 20MPG and 40MPG Cars Costing $20k and $30k

Car Cost

48

Annual

Subtotal

20 MPG

TOTAL

Diff

$20,000

$507

$6,087

$24,349

$8,000

$32,349

$17,147

$30,000

$761

$9,131

$36,522

$8,000

$44,522

$4,974

$40,000

$1,015

$12,174

$48,696

$800

$49,496

48

Annual

Subtotal

40 MPG

TOTAL

Diff

$20,000

$507

$6,087

$24,349

$4,000

$28,349

$21,147

$30,000

$761

$9,131

$36,522

$4,000

$40,522

$8,974

$40,000

$1,015

$12,174

$48,696

$800

$49,496

60

Annual

Total

20 MPG

TOTAL

Diff

$20,000

$425

$5,099

$25,496

$10,000

$35,496

$16,496

$30,000

$637

$7,649

$38,245

$10,000

$48,245

$3,748

$40,000

$850

$10,199

$50,993

$1,000

$51,993

60

Annual

Total

40 MPG

TOTAL

Diff

$20,000

$425

$5,099

$25,496

$5,000

$30,496

$21,496

$30,000

$637

$7,649

$38,245

$5,000

$43,245

$8,748

$40,000

$850

$10,199

$50,993

$1,000

$51,993