Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Using this blog to give my two-cents -- if you can ever find the ¢ mark anymore

Bloggers generally don't do first-hand reporting, according to legendary New York newsman Pete Hamill (discussed in previous post).

I was about to give my two-cents -- my opinion about that -- when I realized you can't find the "cents" mark easily these days. Like floppy drives, drive-in theaters, and standalone movie theaters (not located at the mall), the "cents" symbol has all but disappeared.

We have not benefited from its disuse. Instead of the efficiency of writing "2¢," we now must write "$0.02," a waste of time and space of two characters.

Instead of ¢, our keyboards now offers symbols I never use, like the "^," the French circumflex accent. I took French for four years in high school and college, and I don't remember how it affects pronunciation. If I were a maître d'hôtel, I guess it would matter.

You can't find the symbol for degrees on your keyboard, either; you have to look it up, and then hope people remember what it means.

I don't use the "~," the tilde, either, although for some reason, coders have revived it and the "@." A decade before email, the @ had fallen in disuse.

It took me five minutes to locate the character, ¢. Which is why I'm trying to use it a few times to make the search for it seem worthwhile. (I felt like an archaeologist digging through our typographical past, searching through the detritus of symbols no longer used.)

I'm not going to mount a campaign to revive the ¢ symbol. Every so often, Congress considers legislation to stop minting pennies because they cost more than 1¢ to produce. If that happens, there's not much hope for the ¢ itself.

If Congress does discontinue the penny, it would finally become collectible, and probably be worth at least 5¢. (I can see the auctions now on eBay, although they would stop having to claim the item is in "mint" condition.)

I wonder what that would mean for the nickel. As it is, the old five-and-dime stores have long since closed, replaced instead by dollar stores.

And there are people who claim we don't have an inflation problem .

Doesn't make much ¢, does it.

Anyway, this is the result of some first-hand reporting. Although, to Hamill's point, I didn't actually leave my desk. Except for lunch.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Pete Hamil on blogging vs. journalism

In an Q&A interview published in the Boston Sunday Globe, veteran journalist and author of books, memoirs and novels, including "News Is a Verb: Journalism at the End of the Twentieth Century" (1998), Hamil said: "Papers have a function now that they didn't have before, a verifying function. The blogosphere might be very useful as propaganda or as therapy. But it's not journalism...Of course, the Internet has got great tools. How we lived without Google all those years I don't know.

The downside is too many young guys think if they've worked the Internet they've done the reporting. But there has to be a time when you get out of the building, you go to the place, you look at the thing.

The kind of columns we wrote, the authority depended on the reporting. You went there, you looked at it, you could have the right to some kind of opinion.

And the blogosphere is unpaid and unedited. There's no editor leaning over your shoulder saying, that third paragraph really should be the second.

Boston Globe: Editors -- can't live with them, can't live without them.

HAMILL: But you've got to have them. Particularly with young reporters, the way you learn best -- because it's a craft -- is not in the classroom but from another craftsman.

And I'm afraid that with the blogs you become an opinion maven before you've done the reporting, and have understood from reporting how complicated the world is.

That seems like the main problem when people talk about blogging communications as a PR tactic. Contacting bloggers may work for some clients, but it's about opinion, not reporting. Hamill says that newspaper columnists do actual reporting before delivering their opinions. I think that does make a difference, and are not the pontifications of a man who also addresses the hold nostalgia has on people (including himself) in the same interview.

Blogs are another channel to communicate, but they're about opinions, not necessarily facts or reporting -- what Stephen Colbert famously coined "truthiness." (Defined on Wikipedia as "things that a person claims to know intuitively or 'from the gut' without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or actual facts.)

From a PR perspective, that means your approach to reach bloggers must be different from media outreach since bloggers' goals and approach are vastly different.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

News aggregators are not the same; or all headline pick-ups not equal

Increasingly, while monitoring potential coverage for our clients, we land on headline sites that aggregate disparate press releases in attempts to drive traffic to the site. The reason: site owners can boost the fees they charge on click-through ads when the number of clicks to their sites increase.

In our opinion, these site are less than useful, they are website spam. They are not destination blogs, even those that slap on a title for the site, claiming to be focused on a topic. They are useless compared to search engines, especially because they post truly random headlines. For example, Security Consultants on Security on AbangPOWER,, includes the following headlines:

  • Turkey Declares 'Security Zones'
  • Pope in procession after security scare
  • Red Hat, Symantec bundle security offerings
  • American Academy of Actuaries to Discuss Medicare & Social Security

Design News,, doesn’t seem to post actual design news, instead it posted stories about Spider-Man 3, a study of unexplained respiratory infections, a bomb threat against Sen. Clinton, and the new French president walking on a red carpet during inauguration (one wonders how he might react to Joan Rivers' asking him "who are you wearing?").

We have found a few such sites that actually offer focused headlines. But I’m still not sure why you’d go there instead of a search engine or a trade publication for industry news. We recommend clients ignore these sites, and that they don't count those pickups when looking at how their competitors are doing or when looking at how well they're doing in comparison. They're just not quality hits.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Business Week's asks if there's is life beyond Second Life?

The online virtual world Second Life has become enormously popular, and has received massive hype as a place where businesses should set up a "virtual shingle" and connect with young, educated, wealthy people -- even though it could cost $15,000 or more. Reuters even "opened" a bureau to report on life in Second Life.

Our main concern: can a virtual presence serve as a lead generation tool in the real world?

Now, Business Week is reporting the first of what may be the Second Life backlash: "Beyond Second Life: Companies thinking twice about the popular virtual world are finding more security and flexibility in alternatives."

As Business Week points out, there may be some real value to virtual worlds -- for education purposes (Stanford University’s Medical Media and Information Technologies center is using virtual worlds to give "medical students to practice responding to a triage situation in a mass-casualty event such as a chemical, biological or radiological attack—situations the students typically don’t have much opportunity to experience in reality). Or as an alternative to video conferencing.

But not necessarily for lead generation, making the upfront investment difficult to justify for B2B companies. Adidas and GM sell digital versions of Reeboks and Pontiacs, according to the article; I wonder if they post their virtual earnings each virtual quarter. Even some consumer companies -- like Coke and Starwood Hotels, have found Second Life gives them a virtual headache.

On the other hand, participating in online communities and networks may certainly serve as a worthwhile lead generation tool.

B2B Marketing and corporate aspirations

There’s an old joke about two grandmothers in Miami Beach – long before it became today’s fabulous Miami Beach, when it was still populated with retirees. The two women hadn’t seen each other in a while. The first said, “My youngest grandson just became a doctor.” “Big deal,” replied the other. “My Howie’s in the medical profession, too. He’s a patient.”

I thought of that joke recently when some friends who served with me on our college newspaper sent around emails commenting on one of our few colleagues still working in journalism. He’s been working for one of the country’s best regarded newspapers, and just published another well regarded book. Big deal, I thought; I’m in the journalism field. As a consumer of too many newspapers and magazines.

But because I work in public relations, I still care about journalism, still try to think like a reporter when advising our clients, still come up with story ideas that I hope will interest reporters and editors, and still stay on top of trends.

Of the editors and writers who served on the college paper, there are three I know who still work as journalists. One works as Pennsylvania State House reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Which is great, if you don’t mind living in Harrisburg (official motto: “Making Cleveland Look Good”).

Another is a freelance reporter, who now writes for national magazines. But her first jobs included writing for a trade publication for yarn manufacturers. She used to talk about the challenges of writing for the Knitting Times included getting industry executives to take the time to be interviewed by her. One day, after placing numerous calls to a reluctant exec, the receptionist misheard my friend, and, thinking she had said she was a reporter for the New York Times, put her right through. The executive was none too pleased when he realized the mistake.

As for our former colleague who writes for one of the country’s best-regarded newspapers, after sophomore year, he decided that college wasn’t going to teach him what he needed to become a reporter, so he quit. He somehow got a job writing for that paper’s suburban weekly section before moving up, ironically enough, to serve as one of the paper’s education reporters. These days, he covers Washington, DC politics, has written books, and appears on political talk shows, providing his opinion.

Somehow, on those lofty programs, no one ever mentions that he never graduated from college.

On the other hand, there’s Harry Bernstein, who at age 93, after years editing a trade magazine for builders, generated tremendous reviews and interest with the publication of what the New York Times said is “a deeply affecting memoir,” a coming-of-age story that “is an eloquent evocation of a particular time and place,” namely a poor mill town in northern England before and during World War I. Though Bernstein had published a number of short stores in the 1930s, he didn’t achieve real literary success until seven decades later. But he kept trying.

The common denominator here may be trite as much as it’s true: you need to figure out your dream and pursue it. The lack of traditional credentials hasn’t prevented my former classmate from succeeding. The lack of full-blown success didn’t frustrate Bernstein from continuing to work on his writing to finally get a book published to enthusiastic reviews.

But from a business perspective, it’s important to remember aspirations. Lots of B2B companies talk about how they solve customer pain points. It’s an important message.

Companies often forget that their B2B customers also have aspirations that are more than eliminating pain…which, after all, is a negative focus. B2B customers also have goals they want to achieve – that include, but are not limited to profitability, expansion, market share, etc. B2B companies have keep their customers’ goals in mind, and find ways to help them succeed. Those companies that can help their customers achieve those positive goals will connect more closely with them, develop stronger relationships, and thrive.