Monday, December 19, 2016

New York Times Validates Our Prediction on the Gig Economy

We posted our list of annual trends starting yesterday afternoon, with this blog article hitting this morning -- and on our first day we scored a hit.

In today's New York Times, former labor and workplace reporter Steven Greenhouse wrote an op-ed entitled, "The 'What Is It' Economy" (in the print edition) and "The Whatchamacallit Economy" (in the online version) that sets to more accurately define the gig economy and sharing economy -- which can be two sides of the same coin.

Airbnb is part of the sharing economy but those who rent out their homes actually have a new gig of cleaning up and preparing their homes for Airbnbers. Uber is also considered part of the sharing economy but Uber drivers are definitely part of the gig economy.

In our trends, we said we need to better define gig and sharing to understand the impact they're having on our overall economy.

Some are calling it the "Exploitation Economy," and that might be a fair assessment.

But as the media and Americans in general look to Trump to bring back good jobs, the nature of what work is like in the 21st century will have to be part of that discussion. There are a lot of people who prefer to live in the gig economy, and benefit from doing so. There are also a lot of people who are in the gig economy and don't want to be.

We need a better understanding of this to help those who want full-time jobs and protect those who prefer gigs.

You can check out our prediction here.

Friday, December 16, 2016

TrendReport 2017: Our Annual Look at Media and PR Predictions

As we have done for the past 15 years, here are this year's annual list of predictions of media trends. We use this annual process to identify issues to help our clients brainstorm how they fit into what the media will cover in the upcoming year. We have a lot of fun developing these, and will be rolling out additional trends next week.
  1. Fake news won’t fade in 2017. When you cut out all the costs involved in actually reporting news, as fake news does, financial sustainability isn’t an issue. Fake news will continue as long as it remains profitable or ideologically effective. It will take more than big brands pull their advertising on fake news sites (or try to get their ads off those sites) to stop fake news. Facebook, along with Twitter and Reddit (not really among the “Big Social”), are taking steps to reduce the spread of fake news. Some critics call “enforcing user guidelines” a form of censorship, and we expect that the Big Social will be accused of doing too much by some and not doing enough by others. Both Facebook, whose advertising tools have made it easy for fake news sites to promote their content, and Google, whose AdSense has enabled fake news sites to monetize their content, indirectly profit from fake news. While both have said they will work to rid it from their platforms, fake news is like spam: the only way to truly kill it, is to have people to stop clicking on those links – but there always seems to be enough people who fall for it to make it worthwhile for the content providers. 
  2. Big Social will evolve in 2017, but not necessarily in a good way. We expect more trolling and twitstorms on social media. The future of Donald J. Trump’s go-to social media platform, Twitter, is very much in doubt. It lost $500 million in 2015, and $1.6 billion since going public. If Twitter is not financially viable as a standalone platform, its survival becomes a real question. Although profitable, Facebook is facing the problems of ad counting and fake news. All of this turmoil will benefit Snapchat, which is already is favored by the millennials, and Gab, described by the New York Times as the social media platform for the alt-right, a “throwback to the freewheeling norms of the old internet, before Twitter started cracking down on harassment and Reddit cleaned out its darkest corners.” From a demographic perspective, we think Snapchat will be the dominant social media platform by 2018, along with Instagram. We also think LinkedIn will thrive as long as it remains (as we think it will) apolitical.
  3. The media cycle will speed up. There used to be a lag between the time an event took place and the time it could be reported. In the era of social media dominance, it seems to take a nanosecond between an event and the social response to it to hit Twitter, followed by an ensuing twitstorm.  This is further fueled by the participation of anyone with the app, as evidenced by the many who felt compelled to stay on top of the developments during the campaign and afterwards, regardless of whether they cheered or jeered. We expect twitstorm, and coverage of those twitstorms followed by outcry to the initial response to be a mainstay of broadcast coverage in 2017.
  4. The gig economy and the sharing economy will continue to go mainstream. There are people who work in the gig economy who don’t necessarily realize it – including, for example, teachers who tutor after school. We need to more accurately define the gig and the sharing economies (i.e., Uber, which touches on both; as well as Airbnb) and to identify and track meaningful metrics, both to gain an accurate portrait of overall U.S. economy as well as develop appropriate policies regarding taxes, healthcare and social services.
  5. IoT will continue to open the door to cyberattacks. We saw one major cyberattack via the Internet of Things (IoT) in 2016, and we expect more to occur in 2017. The challenge for IoT companies is to be able to deploy security protocols that are flexible enough so IoT devices in your house (or office or car) can talk to each other, yet also prevent hackers from getting access. We expect there will be much media coverage in 2017 on cyberattacks, in general, whether perpetrated by foreign countries or other parties.
Please let us know if you agree or disagree with these trends. If we missed something, let us know. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

TrendReport 2016: How We Did WIth Our Predictions for This Year

Other people look forward to the end of the year for holidays, but we look forward to looking back at our predictions to see how well we did.
Before getting to the results of how we did on the trends we picked, let's start by noting which trends did not pick. First, we stayed away from talking politics and making predictions about the election -- and we're glad we did. (While our parents told us not to talk about politics, we are interested aspects that affect the media, and we will pick up some of the implications in our predictions for 2017 -- so stay tuned.) We also failed to predict that the Chicago Cubs would win the team's first World Series in 108 years (but we'll go on record that Theo Epstein, who was in charge when the Red Sox won its first championship in 86 years and was the brains behind the Cubs, is a lock to make it into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame).
Here's a look at how we did on the predictions we did make:
1.      The media will have a good year. Overall, 2016 was a difficult year for the media so we got this one mostly wrong. That said, from a business perspective, we said, "Some media outlets still haven’t figured out how to build a sustainable business model from paywalls, online ads, and native advertising (aka clickbait)" -- and we were right about that. But campaign dollars did not do as much as we thought to boost traditional media revenues. Worse, the credibility of the media was attacked by both political parties and by the media itself. This is a serious problem, especially considering the attack on "facts" that occurred as a result of this year's political campaign. Grade: B-.
2.      Drug pricing will get a lot of attention. We got this one right. There was a lot of media and social media attention, mostly regarding the rising cost of EpiPens. What we overestimated was the level of action that Congress took (not much beyond some hearings). Grade: A-.
3.      Tech turns into Towers of Babel. We overstated the situation for Internet of Things. It made progress but not yet the way we thought. It did turn into something of a backdoor security issue, and we certainly can expect more of that to come. Grade: C+. 
4.      The rise of Artificial Intelligence. We said, "The ways we can use AI and machine learning will increase in 2016, helping us make better business, personal and health decisions and helping to address security concerns." We think that's right (and we're not saying if our use of AI helped us come to that conclusion. People will continue to be concerned about the implications of AI, but like IoT, we think those fears won't slow down acceptance. Grade: A.
5.      Whither unicorns and their business models? We got this right, too: Some unicorns  startups valued at upwards of $1 billion – faced some serious issues. Even as Trump used Twitter to win the election (according to him), Twitter the company encountered problems as it tried to sell itself to companies no longer interested in the little blue bird. We believe it will be increasingly difficult for Unicorns or Unicorn-wannabes in 2017. Grade: A.
6.      Content management remains king. This was an easy one. Grade: A.
7.      More will cut the cord in 2016. Despite this headline, we actually said that "we expect some people not to cut the cord because it’s more complicated and not necessarily cheaper if you cut the cable cord." But we did say that people are more likely to watch TV on devices as opposed to gathering around a big screen TV to watch as a family; that's on the decline. Grade: A.
8.      The importance of a college education will continue to generate media interest. Student debt was a topic during the primaries but faded as the campaign went on. So we mostly overstated this; we also said that the nature of education will have to change in an age of instant access to facts, making memorizing certain facts not as helpful as actually understanding the underlying issues around history, science, literature, etc. Grade: B-.
9.      The gig or on-demand economy will continue to grow. We're not sure if the number of people in the gig economy has increased -- since we don't know if there's an accurate way to measure the gig economy -- but there has become more media coverage and mainstream. Grade: A.
10.   Virtual Reality won’t go mainstream, yet. Media outlets like the New York Times, Wall St. Journal and USA Today now offer virtual reality content but VR is still much more of a novelty than an accepted mainstream technology. It could become more mainstream by 2018. Grade: A.
11.   The market for wearable tech and for IoT will continue to grow. But it didn't grow as much we expected. Grade: B.
12.   3D printers will be popular in schools. We said don't expect 3D printers in every home just yet. We were right. Grade: A.
13.   Crowdfunding will lose buzz. People are still using crowdfunding but we feel we were right that "the novelty of crowdfunding... (will) fade. Grade: A.
14.   eBook sales will plateau. We don't think eBooks will fade but we were right in that there wasn't much media buzz about eBooks in 2016. Grade: A. 
15.   Drones may start falling back to earth. Consumer drones like the one that fell on the White House lawn (in 2015) have caused some issues and demands for regulating their use, but drones are not the buzzy media topic they once were, as we predicted (and as validated by the New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo. Grade: A.
16.   Will FinTech shake up traditional banking? Apps that support banking and financial services, like Apple Pay, Google Wallet and others, are disrupting (or disintermediation) traditional banks. But credit cards are not about to be displaced so easily, which is why we think FinTech isn't really shaking up the industry yet. No doubt it will get there, within three to five years. Until then, don't throw away your check books. Grade: A.
17.   China may live in interesting times. China got the media's attention -- including for regarding the valuation of the Renminbi and cybercrime perpetrated against the U.S. and U.S. businesses -- but not as much as we expected. We think the new administration will focus more attention on China. Grade: B-.
18.   The concern about cybersecurity, privacy, encryption and government surveillance is already changing. Last year, we did not predict that Wikileaks, with apparent help from Russia, would play such a significant role in this year's election. But the party that did not get hacked is being led by someone who seemed to campaign on the promise to do more with cybersecurity to catch domestic-based terrorists before they carry out attacks. Grade: B.
19.   A big issue with driverless cars won’t be the technology or safety record. Actually, there's still an issue with the technology but the insurance requirements and state laws remain an obstacle. Grade: B+. 

Now, we're looking forward to our next favorite part of the year: Making predictions for next year. Look for them to hit in mid-December.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

3 Tips for Pitching Nonprofits/NGOs During a Crisis or Trendjacking for a Good Cause

When a crisis hits, NGOs and other nonprofits often seek to raise awareness of their missions and how they are helping people in need. The term for this is trendjacking or news-jacking, capitalizing a trending topic to bolster one's brand in the marketplace," according to an article, "Does Trendjacking Work: And Should You Be Doing It?" on the TweakYourBiz site.

Trendjacking can be a good way to leverage existing interest in a topic -- but it's not without risk. The main risk is for an organization to look like it is exploiting a trend or crisis -- and that can damage the organization's brand.

But there are times when a worthwhile organization should at least consider whether or not to leverage a trending topic. If you do decide to move forward, there are some logistical issues to address.

We have advised several terrific NGOs and charities, and here are five lessons we learned. 
  1. It's not enough to have experts, you need to have spokespeople with specific expertise on the ground. A nonprofit that helps with adoption from Africa seemed one that reporters would want to speak to as they wrote about children who were orphaned by Ebola -- but the media wanted someone they could interview in an Ebola-infected community. The media all felt the organization was doing good work but the organization didn't have specific information about what was being done for Ebola orphans and had no one who could talk about specific adoptions that had taken place in which a child, whose parents had died of Ebola, had been placed with a family in the U.S.
  2. Speed matters. It's amazing how fast network news can work to pull together stories. By the time you’ve read or watched an article about it, the producers will feel they’ve already told the story; there’s nothing more to pitch. To get the media's attention, you need to develop and implement your strategy, tactics and messages at the start of the crisis. You basically need someone on the ground or with direct expertise in the first few hours, especially someone who can do an interview over Skype. 
  3. Bring something strikingly new to the game by uncovering what the media hasn’t covered. Make sure to differentiate the charity from what others are doing, and from what the media perceives the story to be. Otherwise, reporters’ basic response will be, "Good to know there’s another organization that can talk about conditions on the ground but we've had already covered that angle."
Unfortunately, to get the media's attention, it takes more than doing good work to help people in a crisis. The point of helping an NGO during a crisis is to help further NGO's mission, which can include offering tips for others facing the crisis or offering additional ways for people to help those caught up in the crisis. 

The above tips assume you are working with an above-board organization. It might be worthwhile to develop a trendjacking plan to help you move more quickly in the case of a situation in which your organization's spokespeople can provide useful information that can help those caught up in the crisis.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The State of Mom/Dad/Parent Blogs

Recently, because there are people who always ask if something is "dead," a PR outlet asked if mommy blogs are dead.

Mommy blogs are far from dead – but those who treat it as a hobby may not have much of a future. This has nothing to do with the quality of their content.

There are two challenges facing mom bloggers and dad bloggers, too.

  • If you treat it as a hobby, it stays a hobby.

Those who treat their mommy blog as a hobby tend to start writing when their kids are newborns, and the content they provide can often be interesting, humorous and helpful. 

But then, their kids get older, and the issues facing teens and the parents of teens tends not to be as cute. (I say this as the father of three teens.)

And that's when mommy bloggers who are hobbyists tend to stop their blogs. 

At least that's what we found on behalf of a client looking to connect with local mommy bloggers. Our research found a lot of previously dynamic local mom bloggers had stopped maintaining their blogs within the past 18 months. In fact, we found that even a collective of mom bloggers (who had teamed together to create a more robust local mom blog) had pretty much shut down.

When we did some digging to figure out what had happened, it seemed that those who shut down had older kids. 

That might seem anecdotal but after that project, I came across a New York Times' blog post by Elizabeth Bastos: "Why I Decided to Stop Writing About My Children." In explaining why she wrote about her children, Bastos writes, "There is a hunger in our culture for true stories from the parenting trenches where life is lived mud-flecked and raw...We live in a break-the-internet arms race of oversharing." She initially defended a recent blog post "I had written about my son’s first signs of puberty," saying "adolescent sexuality is an emergent, fascinating topic, especially for parents who are figuring out how to address difficult questions with their children."

But, Bastos realized, "My children didn’t give me their permission to tell their stories...If I’m going to continue writing, I realize I need to find some new material, and for that I’m going to have to look more deeply within myself or entirely outside."

That's part of the problem for mom bloggers. What to write about. It’s hard to write about sleep training and other infant and toddler issues when you’re now focused on homework, screen-time addiction, etc.

So, there may be a natural life cycle for parental blogs -- I've seen the same thing occur with daddy bloggers, too.

  • It can't be only about your blog.

Another challenge for parental bloggers is that blogs themselves may not be the best mechanism these days. 

If your audience is on Facebook, parental bloggers need to make sure they’re doing more than writing new blog posts. They also need to constantly update their Facebook pages, Pinterests, Instagrams and Snapchats. It’s a lot of work.

And it helps to have a strong point of view and to think about reviewing and updating content along the way. That's what magazines geared to an age group (Cricket, Seventeen, Boys Life, Redbook, etc.) do -- they write new articles covering a standard set of topics like beauty, body, life, love and shopping (the key navigation buttons on I say this with deep respect for these publications that continue to cover similar issues but find new ways to address their readers' interests and needs.

It certainly takes more work, and it may well be challenging to come up with yet another new slant back-to-school shopping tips, but that's what parenting bloggers need to do to -- if that's their goal -- to maintain their blogs after the kids become teens.

The good news is, of course, there will always be another generation of clueless parents (speaking as one) who need parenting advice and will look for it online. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

In Gawker v. Hulk Hogan, I vote for Gawker

I am neither a fan of Gawker or Hulk Hogan, but the recent trial that resulted in $140 million in damages to be paid by Gawker to Hogan is wrong.

And I thought so before it came to light that billionaire Peter Thiel spent millions to fund the lawsuit against Gawker.

The facts are that Hogan 1) was a public figure who 2) talked publicly about his sex life and 3) the video in question also appeared on other sites. (One could also argue that Gawker has kept Hogan in the public's eye, enhancing his ability to generate cash.)

Gawker isn't a paragon of journalism in terms of always pushing for the greater good but trying to put them out of business seems to be an overreach. Now, the company has declared bankruptcy, and will try to sell itself and will layoff reporters.

As it is, already Hogan's lawyer has threatened Gawker with another lawsuit. And, at a time when a major presidential candidate is expanding the number of publications banned from attending his political events, this looks like part of a war against journalists -- and that's not a good thing.

I hope the Gawker gets the chance to appeal its case.

What hangs in the balance isn't just Gawker and its employees.

It's a matter of what standards apply to public figures. One can argue that a sex tape of a public figure is not Pulitzer Prize-material but the implications of this lawsuit is that journalists may decide to back off on how they cover public figures for fear of unreasonable damages. Think I'm overstating things? The other lawsuit threatened by Hogan's lawyer is because of an article Gawker wrote about a hair treatment clinic whose main client, apparently, is Donald Trump. While Trump is not the one threatening legal action for the article, it now seems to be open season not just on Gawker but our free press.

Again, that's a bad situation for our democracy.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Five Tips for B2B Startups Considering PR and Social Media

I was recently asked for five tips for B2B startups considering PR and social media. I came up with these five somewhat random tips, and will come up with more next month. This is not meant to be comprehensive but they are intended to help be specific to the process of PR and social media.

Let me know what you think.

1.      If your startup has never engaged in PR before, ask the following questions:
·        Are you ready? We’ve had some clients who thought they were ready to launch but weren’t. It can take time to actually be ready – but you don’t necessarily need a finalized product or service. You do need to have strong positioning and compelling messages, a clear understanding of what differentiates your business from the competition. This can be a challenge since startups often pivot their business model until they get traction.
·        Who will be coordinating the PR program? Will it be the founder, a marketing executive, an office manager, or someone else? And will that person have the time and resources? We’ve worked with people at those levels, and have made it work but it can be difficult if PR is just another plate they need to keep spinning.
·        Do you need ongoing PR or is project-based a better fit? From an agency perspective, an ongoing PR campaign is better – and not just from a cash flow perspective but because it enables long-term strategies -- but that may not be ideal for cash-stretched startups with not a lot of news. Talk to your prospective agency; if they aren’t interested in project work until your startup has established a regular flow of news, they might not be the right agency for you.
2.      Are you goals realistic? There are two levels to this:
·        Are you realistic in terms of your story, resources, customers, etc.? You may have a great product and a great proof of concept, but if you don’t have a paying customer, some media won’t be able to cover you. (This is particularly true in B2B markets.) We’ve also been told by clients that they want to launch within two months but when we get in, we find they’re not ready (see #1, above).
·        Are you realistic in terms of your goals based on your budgets and internal resources? Recently a prospective customer with the related businesses asked us to 1) Pitch radio and podcast interviews for both businesses 2) Get bloggers to write about them; 3) Identify speaking opportunities; 4) Provide content to external sites that will create back links; and 5) Maximize earned media. All these goals were reasonable – except his budget had only enough in it to pursue only one of these goals, not all five of them.
·        Are you realistic in terms of outcomes? You may have a great announcement but the media and those on social media may not be able to write about it. A reporter once turned down a story about a $30 investment round because he had declined to cover a larger round that had been announced the week before.
3.      Can you be a thought leader? To be successful and to engage with current and prospective customers on social media, you need to continually develop new content on topics relevant to your customers. You can use these pieces to show that you understand your customers’ pain points and can help them address them. These thought leadership pieces don’t have to be white papers and case studies – they can be 300-word articles. But it is important to make sure these pieces are useful and not all about you.
4.      Even if you don’t have the budget yet, plan for marketing integration. That means, make sure whoever is writing your thought leadership content also knows what your keywords are. Make sure your sales keeps you informed about key trends affecting your customers as well as customer wins and milestones – those are things that can be turned into articles and press releases. Make sure whoever is handling your social media is aware of what everyone else is doing – they can post content about your latest article or case study, about your trade show booth or speaking opportunity or sales promotion. Even at small startups, it’s interesting how many of those activities are kept in separate in a silo. But you can generate much more traction if you leverage all the sales and marketing efforts your undertaking. And, if you’re not investing in all these tactics yet, that’s okay; just keep them in mind for when you do.
5.      When focusing on social media, keep in mind: clients don’t like to be marketed to. So make sure only one in 10 posts is a true marketing post – the rest can be about your industry, your region, but especially about your clients pain points as well as about your company’s personality and values. More than ever, people want to do business with companies they like, and social media is a great way to create and enhance your company’s personality.