Friday, June 27, 2008

Watch the Upscale Business Magazines

How do you know if you're reading an upscale men's business magazine? By the types of ads the magazine carries.

No, not ads for golf clubs, single-malt scotch or investment houses. Those are meaningless. Pennysavers have those ads.

Check out the watch ads. Lots and lots of high-end watches with tons of features most people have never heard of. And there's never a price or MSRP for the watch. (Here's my essential checklist for buying a watch: 1. Does it tell the time? 2. Do I need a new watch.)

If there are two watch ads or less -- think an Airline publication -- it's not really an upscale magazine.

But that's only part of the equation to determine if the magazine is truly upscale.

The other part are ads for executive jets.

Now do the math: more than three watch ads but none for jet ownership -- not even fractional jet ownership -- it's not really an upscale magazine. Let's call it a faux-scale magazine.

The corollary to that equation never occurs.

You never see a magazine with several ads for even fractional jet ownership without several ads for high-end watches.

There's just something about watches and planes.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Three Stages of Merger Communications

The media may love hostile takeover attempts—witness the amount of ink devoted to the second attempt by Microsoft to acquire Yahoo, or last year’s purchase of the Wall Street Journal by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. But these are the exception. Of the more than 8,795 mergers and acquisitions deals announced worldwide this year, the vast majority have been friendly.

From a communications perspective, friendly deals have three phases: pre-deal planning, deal announcement and post-integration. (In contrast, hostile deals, which require 24/7 crisis management, have more phases, and can include lobbying shareholders for proxy votes and litigation.)

If you're interested in M&A communications, check out my article, "Three Stages of Merger Communications," published by the IABC's CW Bulletin.

The CW Bulletin is the e-newsletter supplement to CW magazine. Sent each month to all members, every issue of CW Bulletin presents articles, case studies and additional resources on timely topics in communication.

You can also check out Mass High Tech, which published a different article on M&A communications here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Richard Wolpert's Rules To Follow When Cell Phones Drop Coverage

After yet another dropped call from a friend who calls on his commute home in suburban New Jersey, I thought there must be a better way of calling back.

Check out Richard Wolpert's description of what happens after a dropped call: "So you both call each other back at the same time and get each others voice mail. So you realize the other person is calling you back (you both realize this at the same time). So then you, and the other person, both decide to not dial again and wait for the other person to call you back."

He has a simple rule, available at his blog here:
  1. if you initiated the call and it drops you call the other person back.
  2. if you received the call and it drops you just wait for the call back.
Guy Kawasaki referenced it on Twitter, and I plan to mention to everyone I talk to via cellphone.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What Do Most People Use Facebook Applications For -- It May Not Be What You Think

Interesting Wall St. Journal, "Some Facebook Applications Thrive, Others Flop: Popular Programs Are Useful, Entertain and Let Friends Mingle." The headline almost says it all.

But, according to a chart only available in the print edition, the Journal reported that 26% use Facebook applications for enhanced communications. What's surprising is that Facebook is supposed to enhance communications, so I would've thought the number would be higher.

Twelve percent use Facebook apps for comparing themselves with others.

The other reasons include: playing social games (11%), profile enhancement (10%), categorizing friends (10%), sending gifts (7%), media sharing (5%), self-expression (5%) playing with a digital pet (3%) and playing games (3%).

Ok, I don't understand why you'd want to play with a digital pet. You can get an offline digital pet so you don't need to sit at your computer to use it. In fact, my middle son has one, it's very annoying, and I'm willing to make it available for the right price, but the advantage of his digitial pet is, again, you don't need to go online to use it.

But we've got a problem, I think, with the people who play games but not playing social games. What are they doing -- playing anti-social games? That would explain why it's such a small group. These people need to get some friends. But can someone let me know the difference between playing games and social games?

Monday, June 23, 2008

How Many Social Networking Sites Can One Person Belong To?

If I were to keep up with all the social networking sites out there -- aside from Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo & Twitter, I might never get any work done.

A former colleague told me she uses LinkedIn on a daily basis -- she told me this using LinkedIn's email system -- but then told me that was the case when she was looking (and found) a new job. I've been on the site, and it's been helpful tracking down former colleagues just as Facebook has been useful tracking down former classmates.

And that's been nice, catching up with old friends.

But LinkedIn is often cited by reporters as a business-oriented site. I see it as a networking/connecting site, and I do know of some people who use it as part of their job search. But I have not seen any business from it. The same is true for Facebook, Plaxo and Twitter -- and would be, too, if I went to MySpace.

Now there are industry-specific social networking sites, like PR OpenMic. I checked it out, and it seems to be mostly college students and some practitioners. And while I found it interesting to see how some of them view social media since I figure they should be closer to it then I am, I kept thinking: do I need another social media site to check out?

The answer is probably not.

As for the mainstream social networks, I'm not knocking the ability to reconnect with old friends. But the media has often reported on the above sites as being useful for business. I just don't see it, and have not experienced it.

I see them as nice to-do's. As long as you don't expect to generate business leads from them, you won't be disappointed.

Friday, June 20, 2008

10 Twitter Etiquette Rules

Long since anointed by the media (over the past year) as the NBT (next big thing), Twitter has a bunch of local customs that people new to it need to learn.

I've started compiling some etiquette and best practices for using Twitter, which limits users to 140 characters. Most ideas come from other sources, to which I will give due credit. Most of these tips are most appropriate for people new to Twitter. (Apologies is any or most of the tips seem familiar to people who have used Twitter for a long time (i.e., several months).
  1. Remember, Twitter is a conversation. When responding to other tweets, try to give context by mentioning the subject or question you're responding to; that makes it easier for your followers, saving them from having to go back to the beginning of the thread to figure things out.
  2. Ask questions; don't just pontificate.
  3. What part of 140 chars do you not understand? (Thanks to jyarmis).
  4. Discretion: Some things are better left unsaid. So avoid stream-of-consciousness-blogging via Twitter. Check out this article about what happened when a tweet backfired.
  5. Transparency is vital -- just as with any other social media.
  6. Consider quality vs. quantity. (I am going to look at what makes for a useful tweet in the next few weeks.)
  7. Many users provide links to interesting articles, information, etc. Guy Kawasaki does this many times a day.
  8. Use proper grammar. Check out Mignon Fogerty, the host of the Grammar Girl blog/podcast who tackles proper grammar usage on the popular micro-blogging site. Her tips are available at"Grammar Girl's Strunk & Twite: An Unofficial Twitter Style Guide," and include:
    1. "Don't start posts with 'I am.' You're answering the question, 'What are you doing?' It's OK to answer with fragments in a conversation."
    2. "Use proper capitalization. Typing in lowercase doesn't save characters; it's just lazy." I totally support this tip.
    3. "Don't use abbreviations such as 4U and L8...Shorthand symbols such as >, =, &, and @ are allowed."
      1. For an interesting look at the impact of Twitter, IM , SMS and texting may have on language, check out the Boston Globe's "Is language dead or evolving? Some see the use of shorthand and abbreviated text as the beginning of the end. But studies say students know the difference between formal writing and instant messaging."
    4. "Use numerals, not words, for all numbers."
    5. "If you can't say it in 140 characters, reevaluate whether you should be posting it at Twitter."
    6. "Provide links and context whenever possible. Remember that many of your followers can't see what you are responding to."
  9. If people follow you, it's polite to "follow" them back. However, because of that, be careful about adding too many people at one time -- that's the Twitter version of spamming. People will think you're trying to sell/hype something rather than start a conversation.
  10. It's really about conversation. When I tweeted about writing a blog on etiquette, I got a lot of response. But be careful contacting someone you don't know -- like in real life, you could be seen as butting into someone else's conversation. If they don't know you, they may not respond. (A better way to initiate a conversation would be to comment on that person's blog. That assumes, of course, that the person has a blog.)
    1. In fact, according to jljohansen in a tweet written after my first draft of this article, he said, "First rule of Twitter is 'Don't be creepy' after that, Right and Wrong are dependent on social contract of your friends/follows.
    2. To which Nedra said, "Sadly, the creepy people don't realize they're being creepy."
    3. See, how the conversation idea works?
Check out some other articles: Twitter + Etiquette = Twitterquette?, Twitter Fan Wiki, and "The 10 rules of Twitter (and how I break every one)" by Robert Scoble.

Of course, there may be a rule that I've just broken, according to a comment on Scoble's blog, Scobleizer: Don’t blog about how you use Twitter.

Here are a couple of other good how-to Twitter articles: "Twitter for Beginners"; Ten ways market your blog on Twitter without being a spammer; and "The Art and Science of Retweeting for Twitteraholics."


Thursday, June 19, 2008

How to Work with Bloggers -- and How not to Work with Them

Stevie Wilson of LA Story wrote a response to the question of a previous post, "Guy Kawasaki on the impact of bloggers on PR and buzz" that contained fascinating insight about swag and gifts (they're not the same thing), and how some in Hollywood treat bloggers as persona not so grata.

Here's her comments:

Swag is the name of the game in Los Angeles– in a city that lives and dies by celebrities getting swag and quite frankly are the least needy for that - because they have the $$ to pay for anything given to them.

Yet they give the products to those who can afford them and won't give a darn thing (really -- I have been dissed to my face because I am press-- particularly online as bloggers are thought to carry no power. Really? You would think that some pr people would be aware of the power of immediate press and going viral but not so)

Swag has a bad connotation because it smacks of pandering and frankly payola. However when it comes to blogging– depending on the topic of course–one can hardly blog about a skincare line if one hasn’t tried it — or has tried it for only one week and doesn’t own up to the fact.

Gifting is somewhat different. Sometimes it’s a holiday or birthday gift that really is a “gift” between a corporate entity and the blogger for the support (if there has been support and I don’t mean Perez Hilton type support that has been advertised) that the blogger may have given. Or it can be something that the corporate entity has done to gain the attention to the brand in such an unusual and interesting way that it definitely gains the immediate attention and enthusiasm of the blogger– like a video iPod that has videos of fashion shows or make-up tips from NY Fashion Week.

In LA, there is a gifting process that is quid pro quo but typically, for the more visible press— which means stylists who bring in celebrities to a suite whose promoter gives them a trip or a great big fat goody bag of stuff (the same goody bag given to the celebrities)
However, that being said, even the stylists are shunned despite bringing or sending in celebrity friends, clients or contacts.

Some PR and brands don’t think that bloggers count. Trust me– we can reach people faster if you are kind, polite and friendly.

Agreeing with Chris here that offering me some worthy information is well worth it — whether it’s to be written about or giving me some heads up on a trend or event that’s about to launch.
I have pr people who slip me the 411 on celebrity clients wearing the brands they represent before anyone else has it. You can bet I run that information and pronto!! Others tell me about new things just because they know I can help support that when it launches– because I can “plan” for blogs around it.

It all depends on how and what you value. I have yet to see anyone gift me something so amazing that I would jump. Been promised things (cars to come get me and other trinkets), but they never come through– suddenly bloggers are persona not so grata.

What's really interesting is that when you are persona not so grata that when they *NEED* you particularly when they want you to cover something at the last minute-- a day or the day of or 2 -3 days before when they have all the 411 at least a couple weeks before.

Bloggers have schedules too and to be so "off the cuff" and treat a blogger as "less important" most of the time but then come to them at the last minute to get some coverage-- how cooperative do you think that blogger will be? Karma baby, karma!

Check out Mashable's post, Social Media’s Delusion of Grandeur

Lots of media coverage about social media -- clearly we're due for the media backlash. If it's too popular, reporters have to write a new story, usually one countering the hype.

Check out Mashable's article, "Social Media’s Delusion of Grandeur."

Twitter is a newfangled party line filled with cross-conversations (check out "Pillow Talk" if you need to know more and if you're young enough that you never saw the Doris Day movie).

Eventually, party lines faded away. While there are still party lines advertised late at night to presumably meet "exciting" people, Twitter and its kind could be more successful and survive.

But I still understand it -- even as I use it.

Meanwhile, apparently, Gartner has a list of the top 10 disruptive technologies (the list is available here from the Oracle Fusion Enterprise Content Management blog):
  • Multicore and hybrid processors
  • Virtualisation and fabric computing
  • Social networks and social software
  • Cloud computing and cloud/Web platforms
  • Web mashups
  • User Interface
  • Ubiquitous computing
  • Contextual computing
  • Augmented reality
  • Semantics
Six of those 10 fall into the Web and Enterprise 2.0 realm, as the Fusion blog notes. The question remains, though, how are most people going to monetize Web 2.0 and if they can't monetize it, how will they justify it?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Thoughts on Thoughtcasting

N'Gai Croal had an interesting column in Newsweek, "Thoughtcasting: U R So Vain: Twitter and Tumblr make it so easy to publish whatever's on my mind, they started to seduce me into actually doing so."

He asks a question more of us -- including myself -- should ask: "Just because I can publish my every thought, does it mean that I should?"

He also asked his "followers" -- a grandiose and inaccurate term, I think -- about what sort of things are appropriate, and got the following responses:
  • "Things I would talk about on my blog."
  • "Anything I can be seen to be doing in public."
  • "Things that wouldn't disqualify me from running for public office."
  • "The Mom test ... would I want my mom seeing it or not."
"I'm still figuring out this thoughtcasting stuff," Croal writes, "but Mom and common sense sound like a good place to start."

I agree.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Influence of the Blogosphere: AP Doesn't Want to Play

For those who don't think blogs are important, the Associated Press is drinking the Kool-Aid.

It thinks blogs are so important, the AP is establishing blog-use guidelines. Check out the PC World article about it, "Associated Press Clamps Down on Blogs" on the topic.

Should You Scale Back Marketing in a Downturn?

Wall St. Journal's Kelly Spors interviewed Stefan Tornquist of MarketingSherpa in a timely article, "Don't Back Down: Thinking of cutting your marketing efforts? One expert argues that a faltering economy is a great excuse to expand them."

Tornquist said that one trend is for companies to shift their marketing spend, "taking traditional advertising and direct-marketing campaigns and putting it online."

This will exacerbate traditional print media's problems, by the way, unless traditional media can come up with a way to be more flexible, more measurable, and more valuable. Cutting staff and sections -- which the major chains are doing -- does not seem to address the fundamental problems, a point that's been a recent theme of this blog.

Tornquist also makes the point for some patience: "There's something about the Internet's effect on advertising" -- read: marketing and PR -- "if you don't get something immediately, you assume it's not working. What we lose sight of it that brand activity makes us trust a company and buy when we see their ad later on. One of the greatest challenges for small companies is to make a name for themselves, and a downturn actually provides an opportunity to do that because it tends to suppress the branding activity. There's absolutely the opportunity to leapfrog competitors, especially if the local leader is using the downturn to curtail their (marketing) activities."

We see the same issues in PR, especially those clients who could make an impact in the online world, but want instant success. One thing I've learned is that you have to make a commitment to an online program; you can't helicopter in and expect to be part of the fabric and conversation.

Check out the entire interview.

Monday, June 16, 2008

To Swag or Not To Swag -- Actually Chris Abraham Clarifies the Notion of Swag

In response to my blog entry, Guy Kawasaki on the impact of bloggers on PR and buzz, Chris Abraham has provided additional perspective about swag in his post, "Gifting Bloggers Doesn’t Mean Pushing Swag."

Check it out, but here's some of what he said:

  • "Gifts don’t have to be free stuff — like books or iPods — gifts can be in the form of knowledge, intellectual property, insider access, or blogger exclusives; gifts can be informational, gifts can solve a community problem, or customer service issues.
  • "What a gift needs to be is super-valuable to the recipient — the value of a gift is based on perception. You need to be willing to give the gift that the blogger wants and not the gift you are prepared or want to give.
  • "What is not cool is half measures or crappy, throw-away gifts, the Internet version of key rings and a bowl of candy. Offering throttled, limited or restricted demos (without access to the full version when it is released); offering a single book chapter (without the whole book being an option); or granting “exclusive” access to something that is already released is just plain lame and will result in severe negative consequences."
  • "It is pretty bad to not give a gift when you reach out to bloggers just because you feel entitled or represent a fancy client but it is worse to be stingy about the gift you do give. Make sure the gift is generous — give until it hurts."
This is very useful. I'm sorry if I misrepresented what Chris was telling me about swag.

More Bad News for Newspapers, Part III

The Wall St. Journal reports more bad news: "McClatchy to cut work force by 10% to save $70 Million."

Here's a snapshot from the article: "The move underscores the industry's growing difficulty as readers and marketers shift away from newspapers. The downturn is particularly painful for McClatchy, which owns large newspapers in Florida and California, states hit hard by the real-estate meltdown."

Guy Kawasaki on the impact of bloggers on PR and buzz

In his June column in Entreprenur, Guy Kawaski's makes an important point about the importance of blogging relations.

"Blogging has flipped traditional PR on its head. It used to be that ink begot buzz. Life was simple then: You sucked up to the The Wall Street Journal, one of its reporters wrote about your company, and the buzz began."

One of his tips is to "Give swag" -- a point that Chris Abraham emphasized in a recent interview. The reason is that blogging is often a second career and there are few perks so swag can make a difference to get bloggers to respond.

One of the most important tips was this:
  • "Make connections before you need them. Mediocre marketers try to befriend bloggers when they need them. Good marketers befriend bloggers before they need them. Great marketers befriended bloggers while they were working at their previous companies. Make lots of connections. Today's egocentric, self-indulgent blogger with five page views per day may well be tomorrow's Technorati 100 stud."

The challenge in following that tip is that clients may be reluctant to engage in a blogging outreach campaign if there isn't a short-term payoff.

But here's a point I think worth keeping mind: short-term payoffs are unlikely. If social media is about conversation -- something that PR is supposed to be better at than advertising -- you've got to start the conversation as a monologue before others will start talking to you.

For clients, and their agencies, it's about having faith that it's the right thing to do. Which is a tough sell. And it's not the right bet for every client.

Still, Kawasaki's tips are worthwhile -- even if they help you decide not to engage. Check out his tips at "Mind Your Manners To take advantage of free buzz from bloggers, make sure to follow the code of conduct."

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tim Russert's death leaves void at the cross-section of politics and media

Tim Russert's death today is a big shock and a big loss. A decent, smart interviewer, his was a steady, tempered voice at a time when too many deliver shrill, partisan analysis. Russert was credible.

The media and political worlds were better for him.

His death today leaves a significant void.

Ben Stein's Father's Day Gift: "When You Weren’t Looking, They Were Working"

I've always liked Ben Stein, the writer, actor and economist perhaps best known for playing the uber-boring economics teacher in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (1986) though I haven't always liked his New York Times columns, "Everybody's Business." Too often, I think they don't cover "everybody's business."

However, his column, "When You Weren’t Looking, They Were Working,"is particularly good and meaningful to me, given the loss of my father last Thanksgiving. Stein's column is about the fact that business can be difficult, and that children don't usually understand what their parents go through to make everything possible, and that children should be grateful to their parents.

"So start now, and make it a habit to be grateful to your parents..." Stein ends his column, noting, "How I wish I had done more of it. Now it's too late (since his father died in 1999) -- but it's never too early."

No One Covers the Travails of the Wealthy Like The NYT, Part Duex

Another day, another article from the New York Times about the travails of the wealthy.

Today, it's owners of second homes who can never get friends to visit.

Get out your handkerchiefs, and check out "Regrets Only: Despite all the invitations, some second-home owners find that filling the guest room is a challenge."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

No One Covers the Travails of the Wealthy Like The New York Times

No one covers the travails of the wealthy like the Times -- except, perhaps, New York Magazine. I've cited this before. As a media issue, it shows the Times covering a coveted advertising demographic: people who make multimillionaires look impoverished.

But as a cultural issue, it's kinda difficult to get all teary about people who have given up their NetJets for first class seats -- OMG: commercial flights!

The latest are two stories in today's paper, "When Conscience and Closet Collide: Recession fears and consumer guilt make high-end consignment shops chic destinations" by Ruth La Ferla in the Style section, about women who have jumped onto the green bandwagon -- because green is the new black -- and are finding new strategies during a recession to stay fashionable while reassessing their priorities.

“Instead of buying that ChloĆ© jacket that I want right now," one woman was quoted in the article, “I’m much happier purchasing something at a consignment store that is much less.”

If only more Americans spent their tax rebate checks like that!

The other great article was "Mystery on Fifth Avenue" by Penelope Green (no relation to "green is the new black") that appeared in the Homes section.

Describing the private-equity firm owners of "an enormous ’20s-era co-op with Central Park views (once part of a triplex built for the philanthropist Marjorie Merriweather Post)," Green describes them as "At first blush the family that occupies it looks to be very much of a type."

But here's the twist: the family wasn't happy with the 4,200-square-foot apartment for they had bought $8.5 million in 2003.

“I just didn’t want it to be this cookie-cutter, Upper East Side, Fifth Avenue kind of place,” the wife, a former managing director at Bear Stearns, said.

As a born-and-bred New Yorker transplanted in the Boston suburbs, I know what she means. That's why I left Manhattan -- I just couldn't stand the idea of living in a cookie-cutter $8.5 million 4,200-square-foot apartment.

Dell's Blog Campaign Clicks In -- Even to this Blog

It took less than 2 days, but Dell found me, and posted a comment about my previous posting that referenced Dell.

I didn't really expect a comment from them since my article did not reference a problem with Dell (as Jeff Jarvis famously did a few years back) .

Here is some background from RichardAtDell:
- On average there are 4000 conversations online everyday about Dell. We do not respond to all of them...in some cases we drop by, listen and learn and go back with a stronger and better customer point of view inside our business every day.
- since we started our work the negative commentary about Dell has declined by 30% and positive commentary has increased;
-sharing of nearly 5000 "accepted customer solutions" has reduced costs
- the team can point to retained and new sales
-Ideastorm produced ideas that were not on the product roadmap which have generated increased sales for systems with Linux operating systems; continuing to offer XP; Product (Red) and other business improvements
- generally, more and more of customers are coming online, connecting and sharing information. There is a value to us in the direct relationship we have with our customers, given that it underpins our business model and is what we are all about at DELL.

Some very interesting points.

Check out this Fast Company video interview with RichardAtDell:



PS -- Can you even do a PS on a blog? -- RichardAtDell, I would love to spend a few minutes discussing lessons learned for a future article about blogging relations. Please let me know if that's possible.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Remaking of U.S. News & World Report -- less news, less world, more consumer reports

It's tough out here being a newsweekly. U.S. News, which had reduced publication to 32 issues this year, will reduce its frequency even more so. Starting in 2009, U.S. News will publish biweekly (that's every other week for those confused with semimonthlies, which is twice a month), focusing on consumer reporting and product rankings, according to a New York Times article, "U.S. News Plans to Publish Biweekly and Expand Consumer Focus" by Richard Perez-Pena.

Just as I noted in my post from April, Wall St. Journal looks at "what's next for newsmagazines?", Perez-Pena looks at the counterintuitive success of The Economist.

Meanwhile the privately held U.S. News continues to lose advertising dollars and pages; so far ad pages have dropped 35% according to the Magazine Publishers of America cited by the Times as the result of publishing fewer issues.

U.S. News' executive editor admits he hasn't figured out the right path. "Nobody's got it figured out yet. Everybody's looking over everybody else's shoulder," he told Perez-Pena.

No word if U.S. News will change its name to reflect its new focus:

Less News, More Rankings Semiweekly -- I know it isn't easy to say, but the same could be said for U.S. News & World Report.

Actually, I'm sad to see U.S. News take this path. Its ranking reports (Best Hospitals, Best Colleges, etc.) certainly sell well and get good advertising support, but it sounds like it could easily turn into an advertising-supported Consumer Reports. And I think Consumer Reports has a tremendous head start, a strong brand and great integrity.

For another look at the implications, check out AdAge story, "U.S. News Loses Weekly War as Sector's Ad Pages Plummet."

How Do Broadcast Journalists Smile When They Deliver Bad News

Up early this morning, and turned on one of those before-the-dawn network newscasts. The anchor (I won't disclose both because I was tired and it's not really about this particular, unfamiliar anchor, but about so many of them), smiled brightly and said, "Good morning."

And then launched into the following stories:
  • Huge floods in the Midwest, half of Iowa has been declared disaster areas. (A snarky commenter might say, "How could they tell?", but the footage looked awful.)
  • Heat wave on the East coast, responsible for several deaths.
  • Water funnels -- tornadoes -- off the Florida coast.
  • An airplane crash -- with footage of flames around the fuselage -- in which fewer people than originally estimated were killed, but 66 still unaccounted for.
  • Fires in Northern California destroys homes.
  • Gas prices continue to climb.
And as she tossed things over to the weatherman, she asked, basically, what's in store for us today on this good morning.

I did not get the actual toss word-for-word except for these words "this good morning."

My conclusion is this: she could not have possibly been paying attention to the words she had been uttering or the video on the monitor. The news on that segment was not good. Yet she continued to say so.

On mornings like this, I think anchors -- and the weather guy, too, who also said "good morning" with a strong emphasis on the word good -- would be better served if they had a welcome greeting that might reflect that it's not so good out there. The broad smiles that accompany these "good mornings" make it worse.

How about a stoic face when saying good morning? How about some way to acknowledge it's in fact been a tough morning?

Once, when I went to buy a car on a gray, drizzly day just short of being miserable, the salesman greeted me the same way this morning's anchor did, saying about the nice weather outside. He wasn't being ironic. Or trying to be funny. We left quickly, thinking if he was going to lie to us about the weather, what else would he lie about?

The same could be said about anchors who proclaim it a great day after reading reports about awful events.

They really need to come up with an effective way to say hello to new viewers.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The True State of the Economy -- and Does it Really Matter?

In its Business Outlook column, "A Not-So-Widespread Downturn: So far, the weakness has been largely confined to the housing and automotive sectors—suggesting the economy may be more resilient than it appears," from this week's BusinessWeek, James Cooper wrote -- well, the headline says it all.

Except I don't believe it.

Cooper, a senior editor and senior economist who writes the Business Outlook column, is no doubt a very smart, accomplished person.

But his conclusion doesn't feel right to me.

I don't know anyone who feels the downturn has been contained.

He says the economy shows strength in "the service sector, which accounts for nearly 60% of GDP."

I don't know anyone in the service sector who feels unaffected by the downturn.

Could it be the escaping-gravitational pull of the oil prices, which last week jumped up more than $11? (The largest single-day jump on record according to CNN.) Or that gas in the U.S. now averages more than $4/gallon?

I hope Cooper is right, and that my opinion is just a matter of "truthiness." (But check out the Wall St. Journal article on gas prices, "Gasoline Hits Average of $4 a Gallon: Price Shock, AMong the Worst in a Generation, Will Worsen the Risk of Recession.") I posted similar comments to the article here.

I don't believe anyone reading this blog is unfamiliar with truthiness, but in case you are, check out this video explanation.

Monday, June 9, 2008

More Bad News for Newspapers, Part II

I wrote today's first post over the weekend, before seeing today reading today's New York Times article by Richard Perez-Pena, "Uncertainty as Tribune Prepares to Retrench."

Here are some additional points that Perez-Pena made:
  • Watering down the product can hurt staff morale.
  • "'To the extent you diminish your product, I think you diminish your success in print or online. In the long run, it's going to be harmful to newspapers' brand names, which is the strongest thing they've got,'" John Morton, an independent newspaper analyst. "Offering readers less, trying to cut costs and preserve unrealistic profit margins. 'It’s a strategy, basically, of gradually closing down,'" Morton added.
  • Although not addressed in last week's analyst call, Sam Zell has said that he thinks too many resources have been allocated to international and national news -- information available from other resources on the Internet -- and that local news is what's most important to readers of local newspapers.
    • The implications include smaller national and international sections -- and heavier reliance on wire service copy.
  • "But a newspaper dominated by wire articles would offer little that was original — and little temptation to a reader who could just as easily go to Google or Yahoo for news."
What's the biggest problem facing newspapers? Cost structure and circulation are issues, but not the real problem. According to Mike Simonton, senior director at Fitch Ratings in Chicago, quoted in the article, "The biggest problem still is the loss of ad sales...I think there’s very little evidence that any of these strategies and changes will change that.”

Again, the point I've made before in this blog, as much I respect journalism, its survival mostly rests on being an effective mechanism to distribute advertising -- not on circulation or journalism awards. (The same is true for broadcast TV, which has been more successful in experimenting with new means to distribute advertising via product placements, even as viewership has declined.)

More Bad News for LA Times, Chicago Tribune -- and Other Major Newspapers

During a recent conference call with financial analysts, billionaire owner Sam Zell said that the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune will cut staff and the size of each paper to get to a 50-50 ratio of editorial copy and advertising.

The Los Angeles Times could lose 82 pages a week, leaving regular daily issues with just 56 news pages. (Sundays issues would have bigger page counts.)

Of course this means cutting reporters. How will Tribune Co. determine which reporters to layoff?

By measuring journalists’ output. According to a New York Times article, "Tribune Co. Plans Sharp Cutbacks at Papers," Randy Michaels, the Tribune Co.'s COO, said, “'When you get into the individuals, you find out that you can eliminate a fair number of people while eliminating not very much content.' He added that he understood that some reporting jobs naturally produce less output than others."

This is a new approach to the industry, but one, that according to the article, "would save on newsroom and newsprint costs, which together typically account for 25 percent to 30 percent of a newspaper’s operating costs."

Additional changes include: redesigning newspapers' formats, like the Orlando Sentinel, to feature “maps, graphics, lists, ranking and stats...(because reader surveys showed that's what readers want, and) we’re in the business of satisfying customers, and we will respond to what they say they want,” Zell wrote in a note to employees.

In other words, the readers' experience with the paper will be totally transformed.

Even though the company says decisions will be based on productivity, the result means that Tribune Co. newspapers will be unable to adequately cover their markets. We've already heard that response from reporters themselves at the Boston Globe, Associated Press, Reuters and other news outlets. That does a disservice to readers and the community.

But at least they'll get the perception of more ads in their shrunken papers -- and we all know how people's main complaint about newspapers has been they just haven't gotten enough ads.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Hyperlocal is the new local -- but it's not just the vision, it's the execution

Being hyperlocal was supposed to help big market papers that were struggling in the ad-important suburbs. That may be true, but execution of that strategy is critical to success.

According to the Wall St. Journal, "Big Daily's 'Hyperlocal' Flop LoudounExtra.com Fails to Give Lift To Washington Post," the Post blew its opportunity.

Some mistakes seem obvious -- like posting breaking news about Loudoun County on washingtonpost.com, but not on the Loudoun County website. But that shows the importance of focusing on the details.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Check out Media Standards Trust, a nonprofit with the old-fashioned goal to foster high standards in news

There are still people who think the news media should have high standards. Martin Moore, director of the UK-based nonprofit, Media Standards Trust, and the recent winner of Knight Foundation News Award, has an interesting blog.

I'm not saying this because he liked some comments I made to a recent blog, Why charities need to become more like news organisations. I think he's asking some interesting questions, and is looking for new ways to achieve strong standards in an age when anyone with Internet access and a blog can call himself a pundit without having to do real hard work of journalism. (I include myself in that category.)

How Do You Establish Metrics for a Blogging Initiative? Take a page from the campaign for Jerry White's book

BusinessWeek's recent cover story, "Beyond Blogs: Three years ago our cover story showcased the phenomenon. A lot has changed since then,"raised -- or raised again -- the question about business and blogs.

But there's one thing that I don't think the article didn't adequately cover: establishing metrics for determining a successful blogging initiative.

As with other Web 2.0 initiatives, it seems that metrics will have to be determined on a case-by-base basis.

So let me give you an example of a good blogging initiative.

Guy Kawasaki recently posted an interview on his blog, "How to Change the World: A Practical Blog for Impractical People" entitled, "The Art of Survival: An Interview with Jerry White."

Around the same time, I got an email from Jerry White's organization, the nonprofit Survivor Corps., asking whether I would review his book, "I Will Not Be Broken: Five Steps to Overcoming a Life Crisis." It provides a terrific perspective that has a number of different elements to it -- and that's one of the first lessons I took away, after talking with Chris Abraham, who is handling the outreach to bloggers.

According to Chris, the book appeals to many segments, including cancer survivors, veterans and their families, Christians and leadership. They've developed outreach for each segment. While that makes sense, too often organizations do a one-size fits all approach, and miss out working with individual segments.

What they've also done is make it really easy for bloggers to write and post about the book with a download page that provides:
They even made it easy for people to join Survivor Corps' mailing list.

I will continue to explore other elements about blogging relations, based on an interview with Chris Abraham over the next week.

Aside from the well-executed blogging campaign for the book, I do think the book itself, "I Will Not Be Broken: Five Steps to Overcoming a Life Crisis," is helpful. As Daniel Goleman, author of Social Intelligence, wrote (in the Reviews and Testimonials section), The book "offers wise, practical, and inspiring steps to come back from life's worst setbacks. Jerry White speaks with compassion and authority—and an abundance of emotional intelligence.”

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Dell's Blog Campaign Clicks In

BusinessWeek's recent cover story on blogs, "Beyond Blogs: Three years ago our cover story showcased the phenomenon. A lot has changed since then,"did a good job updating general business readers on the state of blogs -- but it missed an important issue for companies, especially those in the B2B space: The metrics by which to judge the success of corporate blogs. Is there an ROI for blogging? Can it lead to new business and stronger client relationships?

For B2Bs, I'm not so sure. I will be exploring blogging campaigns over the next few days.

But for B2Cs, I think the answer is definitely yes.

Check out Ben Worthen's the article in Wall St. Journal, "Dell, by Going Click for Click With Web Posters, Ensured Bloggers Saw Its New Red Mini Laptop,"in which he reports:

"Dell Inc. hit a viral-PR home run last week when photos of a not-yet-released computer -- a candy-red miniature laptop -- swept across the Internet, creating excitement in advance of the release.

"The buzz wasn't an accident: It was the payoff from a year-long effort by Dell to engage more directly with bloggers and others who write about the company online."

Worthen's article provides an overview of Dell's blogging campaign: "Today, it's nearly impossible to find a story or blog entry about Dell that isn't accompanied by a comment from the company. Dell left a comment in response to a recent post on WSJ.com's Business Technology Blog about the personal-computer maker's plan to offer premium customer service. Another Dell correspondent wrote an entry about the post on the company's blog."

That's a very intense, time intensive program, known as online engagement -- and it must be done transparently, letting people know that the postings are part of a corporate initiative, and entails understanding the tone and subtle rules for each blog, forum, etc. Get the tone or other variables wrong, and the company can be accused of "astroturfing, " a term for artificial grassroots programs. (For more on astroturfing, check out the Wikipedia entry. While I still don't like aspects of Wikipedia's culture, and believe more strongly than ever that it needs a massive copyediting makeover, it is a decent source -- as long as you look at it skeptically. My posts from Aug. 2007: Yet more about Wikipedia..., More advice on Wikipedia, and Some things to know about Wikipedia.)

Dell's initiative appears to be working because it was willing to invest the time and resources. Worthen reports, after all, that the campaign took more than a year. What's interesting is that Dell can point to success by pointing out that whenever someone blogs about Dell, whether it's positive or negative, there's a corporate comment in response. I would be very interested if the company could discuss the ROI for its campaign or to other metrics to demonstrate its success. In other words, can Dell demonstrate the value of its blogging outreach in terms of sales, visibility, new business/lead generation, customer retention, etc.?

It will be interesting to see if Dell responds to this post, by the way.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Can PR Embargoes Survive in a Web 2.0 World?

In the journalism sense, an embargo means "do not publish a story until such-and-such a date."

New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and other peer-reviewed journals rely on embargoes to give mainstream reporters enough time to study up on a particular topic. If the journals didn't do this, health care reporters wouldn't have enough time to understand the issues around the latest cardiac, cancer, diabetes or autism study. (This is not a knock against reporters; there is a reason doctors specialize -- but you can't run a newsroom with a dozen different reporters who each cover a different health care specialty. Again, embargoes provide reporters time to talk to appropriate experts.)

Beyond health care, lots of businesses, especially in the tech arena, try to have embargoes. In that case, the goal is the same: to give reporters time to write about the story.

Recently, we've been finding that embargoes have become less effective, and other than when supporting a health care client's study that's about to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, we've been advising clients not to embargo an announcement.

Two recent blogs back up that advice.

Jeremy Wagstaff, a former Technology Columnist at The Asian Wall Street Journal and Wall Street Journal Online, wrote an interesting post on his blog, LooseWireBlog, entitled "How to Get Your Pitch Read Part XIV" that says embargoes don't work.

Stephen Baker, a senior writer at BusinessWeek, and writes the Blogspotting blog, commented on Wagstaff's blog, "Embargoed: Oh, forget it." According to Baker, "No doubt it works on occasion. A beat reporter covering Microsoft or Oracle can’t afford to follow the competition on a software release. But for me, an embargoed release screams out from my inbox: 'Erase me.'

Shrinking Expectations of the Super Rich

I began reading a New York Times article, "It’s Not So Easy Being Less Rich," on people whose "incomes have shrunk, say, to $2 million/year from $8 million," available here.

It was difficult to read.

The secret, apparently, is to sell things that your rich friends wouldn't notice. Prominent art might get noticed, what with the now open space on your salon wall. But jewelry you rarely wear seems to be a good way to raise $2 million, according to the article.

So there is hope.

Andy Borowitz's "Next Month's Business News" -- One of the best features in Portfolio Magazine

The best way to describe Conde Nast's Portfolio magazine is to describe it as Vanity Fair meets Fortune.

In other words, it covers the glitz and glam areas of business: billionaire hedge fund managers (but not necessarily on the hedge fund business itself), fashion (a recent two-page spread looked at the value of the Chanel brand); Culture Inc. (a feature subtitled "Where art meets commerce") and publishing and media.

If you think publishing and media are the same because you didn't realize publishing meant book publishing, you're not in the magazine's target demographic.

And if you think media means something other than the big time traditional Allen & Co. Sun Valley Conference players, then you're not in its target demo. (If you're unfamiliar with the annual Allen & Co. Sun Valley Conference, check out its Wikipedia entry and pick up some other business magazine.)

However, there's one small section that I turn to each month -- it's Andy Borowitz's always funny "Next Month's Business News." This month's predictions of next month's business news includes several great items, including:
  • "The Economy sux:(. In a sign of consumers' increasingly gloomy mood, the use of frowny-face emoticons in text messages will surge."

I also liked the one about the Verizon analyst call that "will be dropped for no apparent reason."

Only a few of his columns are available online, but check out a sample here.