Vero Shows That the ‘Who’ in Brands is More Important Than Ever

By: Miguel Piedra
As Instagram continues to gobble up one-time rival Snapchat’s market share, it makes sense that a third challenger in the photo-sharing space should find breathing room.

That challenger, it seemed, was Vero, an ad-free and algorithm-free social platform that has hovered near the top of the App Store’s rankings of late. Touted by almost every major media outlet in recent weeksand by CNBCUSA Today and Fast Company in on 24-hour span alonethe upstart app promises “True Social” and has actually been around since 2015, but is enjoying a renewed surge.

Vero has been so popular, in fact, that it has struggled to keep up with demand and says it is scaling its server space to meet the increased bandwidth needs. So with all this heat, why is one of Vero’s trending topics on other platforms “cancel Vero”?

What is with the undercurrent of negative brand sentiment that appears to be eroding Vero’s nascent momentum?

Who Owns Vero?

Start with ownership. Vero is run by CEO Ayman Hariri, a billionaire Lebanese businessman whose father, Rafic, was prime minister of Lebanon before his assassination in 2005.

The younger Hariri’s other past work experience includes a tenure as deputy chief executive officer and vice chairman of Saudi Oger, his family’s construction company that has a long history of unfair labor practices and failure to pay wages to workers. The company was cited more than 31,000 by complaints from its workers, including allegations of internment.

Vero’s problems don’t end there. The leadership team is overwhelmingly comprised of Russian men, which on its own is not a crime. But in the current climate of renewed suspicion of all things Russian among about half the country, and in the light of the current gender equality conversations happening in this country, such a leadership makeup is, to quote the current parlance, “problematic” and not likely to engender support.

What’s interesting in this story isn’t alleged employment malpractice by multinational conglomerates or monochromatic boys clubs in leadership—those elements are nothing new to the startup world. It’s how Vero’s users became aware of it, and, in response, have begun uninstalling the app and canceling their memberships.

The Tone at the Top

It’s happening everywhere. The Weinstein Company, which has won countless awards and was a thriving film studio just one year ago, recently announced it will file for bankruptcy following the outing of its president Harvey Weinstein as a sexual miscreant of epic proportions.

The aforementioned Snapchat weathered its own storm when news broke that founder Evan Spiegel had sent misogynistic emails and behaved generally like a jerk. And the Holy Grail of polarized brand engagement based on the behavior of ownership is of course the Trump brand, whose patronage or abstention has become a larger-than-life symbol of identity in our modern politicized world.

Brands used to worry far less about what their leaders did when they weren’t running their brands. That’s no longer the case. The “who” of your brand matters today. Leaders have always been public figures, but in the age of social and search, they are truly out there.

Google has existed for 15 years, but only recently have people sought out information about companies, becoming galvanized, activated, even radicalized to make lifestyle consumption choices based on available information. During the 2016 election season, brands like Home Depot and Starbucks each earned cheers and jeers for their respective leaders’ political leanings.

We no longer live in an age where the principles behind a brand can operate in a vacuum. Consumers are more savvy than ever and no matter how deep you push those skeletons to the back of the closet, they’re likely to find them.

Miguel Piedra is an Emmy Award-winning former broadcast journalist who now runs RockOrange, a full-service marketing, communications and branding agency in Miami, with his life-long best friend.

Follow Miguel: @miguelpiedra

Everything to Everybody: Internal Comms When Stakeholders are More Than Just Employees

It’s never been more important for brands to be good at talking to themselves. But today, that can mean communicating to more than just employees.

Often, those who have spent time outside the corporate world can be blissfully unaware of its realities. With large teams and budgets, the common misperception is that it is easy to get new initiatives implemented and to get everyone on board, paddling in the same direction.

But effecting change across large organizations is more often like slaloming the Titanic through a gantlet of icebergs. The lurking danger, just under the surface, is lack of communication.

This is why we have seen an evolution during the past 10 years toward seamless intranets that integrate into workers’ day-to-day activity. It’s about communication, getting every single member of the organization to lean left, then to the right, in concert.

But organizations are changing. Communication is no longer as simple as us (employees) versus them (the public). Today, brands need their own internal PR to speak with contractors, vendors, equity and commercial partners, board members, franchisees and other stakeholders.

Recently, RockOrange developed and launched a complex, multi-pronged internal communications portal for an automotive aftermarket-franchising client using proprietary software called Jive. The client is a conglomeration of some 10 separate, unique brands, each with their own distinct business model and footprint across North America. It was our second such project in the past three years that focused not just on employees but networks of franchisee and store-level managerial constituents—the first having been for quick service restaurant giant Burger King. In these engagements, the threads weave together to form complex permutations of different user roles, permissions, communication types and requirements. By necessity, these platforms must take fragmented needs and coalesce them, becoming all things to all people.

Don’t worry—it’s only half as daunting as it sounds. To find out how to do it, click through and subscribe to PRNews to read David Quinones, RockOrange’s VP Editorial & Content article on how to build an intranet that works for internal stakeholders across the board. The article was published in two parts in the weekly PRNews Pro newsletter: Before You Build an Intranet Listen to Employees and Determine KPIs (published Oct 24, 2016, Issue 41) and, Why Feedback is Important as You Build Your Intranet (published Oct 31, 2016, Issue 42).

You Can’t Force Diversity. Instead, Look For Places Where It Grows Naturally.

By Miguel Piedra, Principal & Managing Partner, RockOrange


Last month, Palo Alto-based computer hardware developer HP made news when its CMO issued an ultimatum to its PR and advertising partners, exhorting them to submit plans for those agencies to become more diverse in the next 30 days.

In the letter, Antonio Lucio put HP’s roster of agencies on notice. That includes some of the most prominent names in our industry: FleishmanHillard and Porter Novelli for PR; and BBDO, Fred & Farid, and Gyro for advertising.

Lucio’s goal is laudable. The communications and creative world is overwhelmingly white and male. Hispanics, African-Americans and women are chronically underrepresented—doubly so in leadership roles. This at least partly explains many of the embarrassingly tone deaf and cringe-worthy campaigns that have tried unsuccessfully to court these demographics. To understand a culture, one must have at least some mooring in that culture. To execute a successful campaign, you need at least one person in the room who understands the target demographic. Too often, there are none.

But for diversity to take hold and deliver real, positive outcomes, the organization must truly believe in it. Lucio’s heart is in the right place. But from an internal, agency perspective, I can see the natural progression of what will come from this strategy. Ultimatum delivered, the hiring partners will scramble to keep the business. No one is in business to lose money. So whether or not they believe in the core value of diversity becomes beside the point. They will have their talent acquisition and human resources teams do what is necessary to ensure the business is kept. But in the end, if someone is hired as a show pony, or as a token nod to diversity, that is how he or she will be treated. How does that achieve the desired end of viewing projects through different lenses?

Understand, diversity is two-pronged: you must first hire a collection of individuals from different backgrounds, and then empower them to have an effect on your business. It is hard to imagine an agency compelled to hire or promote to meet a client ultimatum will deign to do the latter. The only thing that gets more diversity is the Meet the Team page on their website.

Instead, brands like HP would do well to hire agencies that already value diversity and show the veracity of that belief through their staffing.

There are many agencies around the country that look and act like ours. At RockOrange we are not only minority owned, but more than two thirds of our agency is comprised of women and at any given moment we are 75-80 percent black or Hispanic. Our RockStars range in age from 22 to 50s. We draw from a rich array of life experiences, employing talent from all walks of life and socioeconomic backgrounds.

It wasn’t difficult to do this, and it wasn’t an accident. Miami is an overwhelmingly diverse city, a tapestry of black, white, brown, and all shades between, serving as a model for the next American generation. If you’re a believer in demographic data and population trends, Miami—and by extension our agency—looks a lot like how the country will look in 2050.

But our adherence to diversity as a value is rooted in more than simple geography. Many of our team members have worked in homogenous environments where everyone is from the same place and brings similar experiences. The effect is a deafening echo chamber where disagreement is viewed as dissention. Lack of diversity fosters groupthink, narrowing the collective view. The narrower the view, the broader the blind spot. It’s a dangerous way to do business. It’s how a campaign winds up comparing Naomi Campbell to a chocolate bar. It’s how every Latino menu item at national chains ends up being “spicy” or “fiery”.

For executives like Lucio who understand the underlying business proposition behind diversity, there are alternatives to shoehorning it into the vast organizations they hire—admirable a goal though it may be. Our agency has diversity baked into its very DNA. And while we work with mostly national or international brands, everyone’s unique point of view is not just respected—it’s required. We make diversity work for us, and for our clients.

Instead, try working with agencies that are already built that way. As someone who has worked on both the client side as a chief communicator and the agency side as an owner, I can attest that the work product is guaranteed to be more authentic and appealing when it comes from a room of different people with diverging opinions.

An agency that needs to be told to make itself more diverse has a long hill to climb before it becomes truly diverse. For those who see the value, there’s no such thing as scrambling to keep the business with token hires.

A Creative Force Joins The Fold

Innovation drives Sam Rodriguez, RockOrange’s new head of creative. The latest RockStar, Sam is a visual artist who has crafted nationally recognized campaigns through design, still images and motion pictures. A Miami native and a graduate of Miami’s Institute of Art and Design, Sam’s mastery of visual storytelling will help expand RockOrange as a creative force in marketing and communication. He joins us after more than a decade as creative director at kabookaboo in Coral Gables.

A self-taught photographer, composer and animator, Sam works rigorously to refine his craft every day. His meticulous attention to detail and desire to grow helped him turn his love for photography into marketing campaigns for large firms in the wine and sprits industry.

As a nationally recognized designer, Sam’s work has been the cornerstone of iconic projects here in South Florida and around the world. Throughout his career, he says he’s found it essential to understand every aspect of a project’s lifecycle – from idea, to creation, to execution.

Sam’s hire was noted in several South Florida media outlets, including the Miami Herald, Sun-Sentinel, AgencySpy and South Florida City Biz List.

As the leader of RockOrange’s burgeoning creative team, Sam will guide a group of talented, promising young designers as they continue to deliver the kind of beautiful, game-changing work that our clients have come to expect.

Along with his talent, Sam also brings a deep understanding of the agency world from both the employee and leadership points of view. Early in his career, he ran a successful creative business before ultimately selling. Fresh out of high school, Sam considered becoming an architect until he realized he could turn his love of art into a business unto itself. He found his passion in creating marketing campaigns that, as he describes it, “affect people’s psyches.” He loves to call out the differences in the brands he represents from the countless other choices consumers have.

And most of all, he’s not afraid of adversity—an important trait for a creative director.

“Challenges help you get out of your comfort zone and think differently about a particular project,” he said. “It can bring out the best and the worst in people. I always strive to bring out the best.”

RockOrange Wins PR News Social Media Award with History-Making Facebook Campaign

RockOrange has added another award to its growing list of accolades by taking top spot in the ‘Facebook PR Campaign’ category at this year’s PR News Social Media Awards.

Why did we win? Quite simply because, with Macy’s and Thalia, we made Facebook and Fashion history.

In early 2015, RockOrange incepted and managed the first-ever Facebook Fashion show to promote the launch of Macy’s first-ever Hispanic-backed exclusive clothing line Thalia Sodi for Macy’s. The show aired live on Thalia’s Facebook page to millions of fans around the world and RockOrange reached across social media platforms and promoted the hashtag #thaliaformacys, which became a top trending term during the event and in the hours that followed.

The activation was a drop-dead success on all levels. As the first-ever Hispanic-backed exclusive clothing line to span several internal departments at the quintessential department store, the Facebook runway reveal also became the first of its kind in the history of the ubiquitous social network. The launch was one of the largest in Macy’s history.

More than 5,987 people viewed the show live and 410,134 more engaged with the event live. In its first 15 minutes of broadcast, some 34,000 people viewed the video of the fashion show. Over the next two hours, that figure ballooned to over 300,000. Today, more than three million people have seen the show.

Beyond the immediate success of the show, our Facebook Live Streaming was a trendsetter for numerous other brands that would execute similar campaigns in the following year. The trend has been followed most recently by Versace, Kate Spade, IDENTITIES, organizers of London and New York Fashion Weeks, and, ahem, Crochet Empire’s jock strap fashion show, just to name a few.

The full list of winners from this year’s PR News Social Media Awards can be found here.

Raising dough for Red Nose Day

What’s red and sweet and delicious all over? You guessed it, RockOrange’s Red Nose Day bake sale!

To give a little background, Red Nose Day was started by a UK non-profit organization, Comic Relief, in 1988. The fun and silly day devoted to raising money for children in poverty around the world has collected more than $1 billion in the last 25 years.

RockOrange joined the Red Nose Day bandwagon last year and continued to #RockTheRedNose last Thursday, May 26. We raised major dough (pun intended!) with a FUN-raising bake sale. Normally, orange is our color, but on this day each of our RockStars brought 12 red baked goods and we decked out our office kitchen in matching red.

We had delicious red treats like: red velvet cupcakes, chocolate covered strawberries, strawberry shortcake cookies, cookies with red M&M’s… We’re getting hungry again just thinking about it. Some of our teammates donned their creative cooking hats and brought dark chocolate bites with goji berries sprinkled on top or cookies filled with guava. (Yes, they were just as delicious as they sound.)

RockOrange raised a grand total of $245 to benefit children worldwide! We want to thank everyone who contributed to this great cause.


Nostalgia, Celebrities, Easy Cultural References and Dumb Laughs: What Grinds My Gears About Super Bowl 50

By David Quinones

Last week, our RockStars ranked their favorite Super Bowl commercials of all-time. Now, on the heels of one of the least exciting games in recent Super Bowl memory, during which the world’s attention drifted from the subpar play on the field to the 30 and 60-second spots, we thought we’d take stock of this year’s crop.

Frankly, the slew of offerings was about as underwhelming as Cam Newton’s postgame press conference. Mildly entertaining? Sure. Memorable? Maybe a couple. But where were the game-changing, imaginative and innovative campaigns we’ve become accustomed to?

The creative process for conceiving a Super Bowl commercial, which this year cost some $5 million per 30-second spot, seems to have been reduced to a paint-by-numbers template approach: find a celebrity people know, surround them with a few widely shared cultural references, and pepper in a few easy sight gags.

Comparing this year with years past, we see some trends:

Absurdist humor: Whether its aliens dryly joking about Scott Baio and murder or a gaggle of Ryan Reynoldses hawking Hyundais, the humor has gotten decidedly more random and scattershot. This is likely an outgrowth of the general trend in comedy, which has been led by the likes of Upright Citizens Brigade alumni, Louis CK, Will Ferrell and Judd Apatow. A lot of today’s commercials echo sketches from The State 20 years ago.

Remember when?: Nostalgia and a yearning for a time-gone-by drive a lot of creative choices in the modern Super Bowl ad.

Multi-celebs: One famous person will help your brand get noticed. So it stands to reason a bunch of famous people will really help your brand get noticed. Ensemble casts are in.

Cars are more than cars: Almost every car commercial—the leading industry among Super Bowl advertisers—is focused less on function and more on lifestyle. Car commercials on this stage have become exclusively “what the car says about you,” not what the company has to say about its car.

Cinematic look’n’feel: It’s becoming increasingly common to see brands make 30 or 60 second commercials that rival big budget Hollywood blockbusters in production value and tone.

Animals work: Dogs, Clydesdales, bears and #puppymonkeybaby. Anthropomorphism is so hot right now. So is dressing up animals. Even though they probably hate it.

Not all of these elements are required, but they are almost universally adopted.

Sometimes, it comes together quite well. Case in point…

Here, the right celebrity (Janelle Monae) is paired with an inventive throwback through-the-years soundtrack concept and visuals that hit all the right notes.

Sometimes, it doesn’t work:

And sometimes, it just feels like they’re trying too hard.

These celebrity ensemble casts in commercials always seem to come across as a group of people thirsty for attention with their own products to shill. In this case, they came right out and said as much. We couldn’t remember what the commercial was for after it was over (Amazon Echo).

A few more celebrity-driven low fruit entries…

Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen get all mumblecore in this Bud Light spot that seems more like a parody of a Bud Light spot in a Judd Apatow movie.

Liam Neeson for LG because… ?

T-Mobile convinced Steve Harvey to poke some fun at himself in this spot:

Another celebrity smorgasbord, this time a bit more pretentious, from Mini USA:

Plus Helen Mirren sweating drunk drivers on behalf of Budweiser:

And Kevin Hart starring in a commercial trope as old as time, except this time Kevin Hart is in it:

From “people we know” to “things we know”, Coca-Cola used an odd couple of Avengers (without actually using the actors’ faces): traded on the recognition of the Jeffersons theme song:

Audi using David Bowie’s Starman:

And Acura using David Lee Roth’s vocals:

Maybe it’s best to understand rather than lament the lowering of the brow and bar. As a brand, if your budget is already hamstrung by a $5 million buy-in, the deep, difficult creative work of devising a truly nuanced, compelling ad campaign might not be worth the investment. Better to just dress up some wiener dogs like… wieners?

Unless you are Avocados from Mexico, that is. Their commercial, #Avosinspace, was legit funny. Moreover, it was a truly original commercial that did not take the easy way out by relying on nostalgia, celebrities, easy cultural references or dumb laughs.

(Ok, we hear you, but one second of Scott Baio doesn’t technically count as nostalgia, and the commercial didn’t hinge on it.)

A few others are worthy of credit for originality and not pandering to the easiest common denominator of celebrity/call-backs/cute animals.

Colgate devoted their time to a message more powerful than dental hygiene:

A group of character actors who once upon a time played the Sobotka clan in season two of The Wire got back together on screen as a group of goofball bank robbers for Prius:

And then there was this, which we’ll just leave right here…

Top 10 Most Memorable Super Bowl Ads

Millions are getting ready for the biggest sports event of the year, those of us in the PR and advertising industry are paying close attention to the highly anticipated commercials that Super Bowl 50 will bring this weekend.

Each year, brands pay millions of dollars for a 30-second spot during the game in hopes of connecting with consumers, and this year is no different — the base price for a spot in 2016 is estimated at $4.5 million.

As we prepare for the Big Game this Sunday, our RockStars looked back at some of their favorite ads, and put together a list of their top 10 most memorable Super Bowl ads:

The Force: Volkswagen Commercial

Budweiser Super Bowl XLVIII Commercial Puppy Love

Doritos Superbowl Commercial Contest 2015

Budweiser “Lost Dog” Superbowl 2015 Commercial THE FEELS

Betty White Snickers Super Bowl Commercial 2010

Bud Light: Satin Sheets

GM Robot Super Bowl Commercial

BMW i3 – “Newfangled Idea”

Newcastle Brown Ale Commercial 2015 – Aubrey Plaza Prepares You for Band of Brands

Taco Bell: ‘Viva Young’


Happy Holidays featuring Adelf

While we’re always working to deliver solid, fresh ideas for our clients, one of the best parts of the holiday season is that we get to have a little bit of fun thinking out of the box for our more festive projects.

This year, once again, we wanted to share some humor and holiday joy with you, our friends and clients that have made 2015 such an incredible year for us. In our first year, our Elf on the Shelf came to life. Last year, our Elf showed you how to take an Elfie. And this year, we’re excited to bring you… ADELF.

We had a lot of fun producing this parody — but we went the extra mile and held a Fresh Ideas Challenge among our RockStars, too. Everyone took key scenes from the video and created some pretty funny memes. It was a true roller coaster of emotion — from the awkward, to the heartbreaking, to the hilarious. Take a look below!















Adelf on the Shelf

Join in on the fun by making some memes of your own and use #AdelfontheShelf!








10 Ways to Rock It in PR, by a Pro in the Know


I’m writing this on a plane bound for Washington, DC as I prepare to accept the Rising PR Stars 30 & Under Award from PR NEWS. I’m incredibly excited and humbled (thank you again, PR NEWS!) The team at my agency RockOrange, thought it would be a good idea for me to share a positive top 10 list of advice for millennials and other aspiring PR pros.

I don’t have every answer, but I know what’s worked for me, and maybe it’ll work for you!

1.  Always answer the phone… on the first ring!

There’s no better way to learn the job than being on the front lines. And in our business, the front lines are the phone lines. Be eager to grab incoming calls, and take the time to really listen. Lessons can be learned from the most surprising people.

2.  Show up early, stay late. First in, last out.

Whether it is with your time, or in the way you dress or speak, show your dedication to your teammates and your boss that you are aspiring for the job you want, not the job you have.

3.  Always ask questions.

Something can be learned from everyone you meet. You should think before you speak, but never be afraid to ask when you do not know—the risk will outweigh a mistake down the road. People that sit quietly on the sidelines and never ask questions don’t have the answers. They’re just scared to speak up.


4.  You’re only as good as your team.

Trust in them, and let them trust in you. Help elevate them, put them in a position to succeed. It’s good practice for being a leader one day.

5.  Always be a team player

This sometimes may mean doing things you don’t want to do (including riding in the trunk, if you are the smallest member on the team!) Collaboration is key to taking ideas and building them into something even bigger and better!


6.  Learn everyone’s name.

At RockOrange we share a building with our largest client. During my first few months with the agency, I made it a point to have a personal conversation with everyone I could—not just the executives and decision-makers, but cleaning crews, custodians, security, lunch crew, interns and everyone else. Along with just being a nice thing to do, it’s also a strategic advantage that cannot be quantified.

7.  Do the stuff no one else wants to do.

If you do it now and don’t complain, you won’t have to do it for long. It’s the nature of agency life.

8.  Embrace new challenges.

Not in a fortune cookie kind of way, but in a real, I’m-too-petrified-to-even-think-about-doing-this kind of way. Take challenges and learn from them to grow.

9.  Don’t let yourself be pigeonholed.

Be open to diversifying your skills. It will open more doors for you in future career opportunities.

10.  Most importantly, have fun!

We could have chosen to do a lot of things with our professional lives, but we picked this field. There’s a reason. At the end of the day, we’re passionate about this work and we enjoy doing it!





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