Monday, September 29, 2008

Entrepreneur Magazine Looks at 21 Ways to Get Noticed -- Not Sophisticated Enough

Entrepreneur Magazine is a good magazine, filled with useful tips. The Oct. issue contained an article that, for novices, provides some good marketing ideas.

But the article, "Get Noticed: Shine a spotlight on your business with our 21 low-cost marketing moves," does not provide information useful for entrepreneurs who have some marketing experience.

For example, no marketing how-to article would be complete without urging readers to blog. But blogging is not a shortcut. It takes time and commitment to do it right. And it can be difficult to measure ROI, much less than to find the time to write a blog.

However, I did like the idea to make employees a sales tool -- too many companies forget to do that.

Still, if you don't have much marketing experience, check out the article.

Friday, September 26, 2008

How Does the Media Cover the Current Economic, Um, Cr-- no, Meltd-- nope, Situation?

According to blog favorite, Richard Perez-Pena of the New York Times, the current economic situation has been a "lesson in semantics" as they avoid words like "crash," "meltdown" and "apocalypse."

Very interesting. Check out "Amid Market Turmoil, Some Journalists Try to Tone Down Emotion."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Global Finance's Annual Best Investment Banks of 2008

Okay, so this isn't fair since Global Finance Magazine's Sept. issue went to bed before the Sept. economic crisis.

But in its annual ranking of the "Best Investment Banks of 2008," the magazine noted: "The past 12 months have been some of the most difficult ever for investment banks, but many institutions continue to provide outstanding services to their clients."

That subhead deserves to be nominated in the category of "Biggest Understatement in a Magazine in 2008."

Except that the article may be nominated in the "Ironic Rankings List" for 2008. In the Best Equity Bank, Global, the winner was Merrill, Bank of America's Merrill Lynch unit.

BofA's ML also won Best Equity Bank, North America and Best Bank, U.S. (and Argentina!), as well as in three industry sectors (though not real estate).

The formerly independent Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley also won honors in the sectors' list.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Political Ads Used to Set Media Agenda

No matter which politician you support, what's certain is that both are using what's known as "vapor ads" to get out claims against the opposing candidate -- without the expense of actually buying time for the ads. The media treats the ads as if they appear in heavy rotation on broadcast outlets, which means the campaigns generate a huge payoff with minimal expense.

Check out an interesting Washington Post article, "The Ads That Aren't: Candidates Let Media Spread the Message" by Paul Farhi.

For businesses operating in a competitive sector, this approach would not work because typically businesses do not engage in head-to-head competition through commercials. But, while it took years and year, Microsoft has finally responded to Apple's very funny & successful "I'm a Mac" campaign -- and I think the new campaign (after the funny-but-ineffective Seinfield commercials) is actually quite good.

But here's the point for this blog: whether through advertising or word-of-mouth, competitors always seek to reposition your products or services. The challenge is to make sure you are constantly communicating your position to key audiences. If you're not, your customers might only hear what your competitors are telling them about you and your product or service.

No One Covers the Travails of the Wealthy Like The NYT, Unless It's the Wall St. Journal. Cutting back on caviar

The Wall St. Journal keeps the pressure up on the New York Times in terms of coverage of the impact of economic problems on the super rich.

The latest installment: "As Times Turn Tough, New York's Wealthy Economize: Plastic Surgeons, Jewelers, Yacht Builders Brace for Leaner Times; Saying No to Caviar." One anecdote made the point that ostentatiousness is in decline -- even if actual amounts the wealthy spend is not. One person, throwing an elaborate dinner party, made some changes to the menu: "Out went the caviar and truffles and in came Wagyu beef instead. The new menu won't cost any less...but "it's less overt."

'Saying no to caviar"?

Is nothing sacred?

On the other hand, the Journal subsequently ran an article about the impact of the economy on health spending: "Consumers Cut Health Spending, As Economic Downturn Takes Toll."

That actually seems more relevant than people cutting back on caviar purchases.

Monday, September 22, 2008

How Targeted is Targeted Marketing?

The claim for targeted online marketing -- which can include mining publicly available data sources ranging from real-estate documents to motor-vehicle records as well as using cookies to track users' movements online -- is that it is superior to traditional advertising is by being interactive, it can learn more about consumers, interests and behaviors than, say newspaper advertising, which can't tell you if someone even opened the particular section where your ad appeared.

By mining clicks and embedding cookies, target marketing can overcome that information gap.

In "Mistaken Identity: A reporter learns what target marketers know about her -- and don't," Emily Steel wrote about the information that two targeted marketing firms had on her. And the problems with the underlying premise.

Here's Steel's premise: "But for all the excitement about this emerging field, as I surf the Web I'm struck by how few of the ads that appear along the way are relevant to me. The last one I remember clicking on intentionally ... was last fall. Marketers don't seem to be targeting me very effectively."

In terms of collecting user data from the Internet, here's how that work: companies make deals with thousands of sites for "permission to collect data about visitors to those sites. When a person lands on one of the sites, the targeting technology places a "cookie," or small string of tracking data, on his or her hard drive. The technology can read the codes embedded in the cookies to see which other sites in the network the person has already visited. Based on that information, it automatically decides which ads to display."

Here are two examples of why targeted marketing are not 100% accurate:
  • "One reason behavioral targeting is still such an imperfect science is that firms can easily make false assumptions, especially if they are relying on Web-only information. Executives at some firms I talked with said, for example, that if I were to visit an airline site and then a bridal registry -- as I did recently -- their technology would peg me as a newlywed. In fact, I was shopping for a friend who is getting married."
  • "The data that the firms collect for their clients aren't tied to individually identifiable consumers, but rather to the Internet Protocol addresses of their computers. Those addresses are then scrambled to keep them anonymous. While that pleases privacy advocates, it creates more guesswork for marketers. Advertisers have no guarantee that it's the same Web surfer sitting at the computer all the time. Families often share computers, and individuals often use more than one machine. To further complicate matters, the ad-targeting firms create a different profile for each browser that a person uses on a particular computer. The bottom line: One ad-targeting firm can be maintaining multiple profiles for the same person -- and never unify that information."
I'm not suggesting targeted marketing isn't worthwhile, just making this point: new technology continues to be a means -- albeit a much more data-driven one -- to identify consumers. But as with social media as part of a campaign to reach consumers, new technology doesn't necessarily solve the problem as it raises new issues to be solved. Social media is replacing traditional media, but it's not always a better, more efficient way -- reaching out to bloggers can be more time intensive than reaching out to reporters. I also don't think new technology can be ignored; just needs to be approached carefully to ensure it's more than a fad.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Do We Really Want Our News to be Fair & Balanced?

I think the news should always be fair.

But I think the news-consuming public, to a significant degree, is saying that it doesn't really want balance.

That's especially true when it comes to blogs, with people self-selecting those whose views validate their own.

And it's also true when it comes to TV news. Because people seem to self-select the sort of news they want to hear/watch.

That's the entire premise of Fox News, after all, which says it has the most viewers (compared with CNN). And that embrace of things more liberal is one reason MSNBC has seen its ratings improve.

Now Fox News' tagline famously says it is "fair and balanced," but after watching Fox News side-by-side with CNN this morning, I have to say I think Fox's definition of "balanced" means "when averaged in against other broadcast outlets."

Both Fox and CNN covered many of the same news items -- namely the election and the financial crisis. How could they not?

But there was a significant difference in how the two outlets approached the news.

Fox News' "Fox & Friends" had a former Wall Streeter-turned-author on to talk about the underlying cause of the current economic crisis. His point was that politicians on both sides of the aisle are to blame. One of the first questions from Fox tried to tie blame for the current crisis on the Clinton Administration for allowing deregulation to occur (irony alert: that's something conservatives usually champion).

The author pointed out that Republicans controlled Congress during the Clinton administration, and that they had pushed for deregulation. He then repeated his statement that it's a bipartisan, systemic problem in part due to lobbyists and donations to politician's campaign funds. The Fox co-anchor agreed, pointing out that Obama and Biden had accepted PAC funds. When the author pointed out that every politician, including McCain, accepts money from lobbyists, the Fox co-anchor made a distinction between PAC money and other kinds of donations. The segment appeared to end abruptly when the author disagreed, saying it is not accurate to blame one party over the other.

The Fox segment seemed neither fair nor balanced.

Meanwhile CNN featured interviews with apparent experts who tried to provide context about the current financial crisis. I did not see any attempt at finger-pointing on the part of the anchors, reporters or guests.

Next up on both networks was the claim that political ads are negative and filled with lies. Fox interviewed an editor at the conservative National Review, who said that after studying one of the ads (about sex education) and talking to a politician who helped draft the bill (no mention of her political affiliation), his conclusion was that the truth was more ambiguous. Probably more truth than not, according to the National Review. The segment did not look at Obama ads, so no attempt to be balanced there. Just felt that editorially it was okay to have a conservative review McCain's ad to say it was actually mostly on the mark.

That would be like asking someone in Boston who's been the better team over the past decade: the Yankees or the Red Sox. Yeah, the Yankees, having a terrible year, have been to the playoffs almost every season during that time but the Sox have won two World Series -- that would be fair and balanced. But there's no doubt someone from Boston would always say the Sox was better. Just as there's no doubt someone from New York would say the same about the Yankees.

Meanwhile, CNN's segment on the candidates' ads included someone from, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania that says it accepts no funding from business corporations, labor unions, political parties, lobbying organizations or individuals. The segment included a look at an ad from both campaigns.

Fox claims it is more balanced than CNN, but a random 30-minutes' look at both Fox and CNN showed that Fox did not live up to its tagline.

From what I know, "balance" in journalism has not always been valued highly. Accuracy is clearly important, but many newspapers in other countries are open about their political bias. That was true in the U.S. as well. The Watertown (WI) Leader started off as the Watertown Republican in 1860. The Sonora (CA) Union-Democrat has been the leading newspaper of the Mother Lode since 1854. Objectivity in journalism is a recent change. I get my balance by reading the New York Times' editorial pages -- and the Wall St. Journal's editorial pages.

Here's where balance doesn't make for good journalism: a politician's attack ad may contains lies -- but the news media will give a he-said/she-said quote, which gives the attacking politician the chance to rebut accusations that the ad contains lies. In the need to appear objective and nonpartisan, the media diminishes its role as serving as a check-and-balance to misstatements. (As a teenager, I once tried to characterize a lie to my parents as a misstatement. They didn't buy it -- and neither should we.)

If a politician is lying, the media should report it; give him/her a chance to rebut, but then provide objective facts that the statement is a lie, and call it as such.

And if news media can connect with readers by taking a particular political stance -- I think they should. After all, if the only newspaper in a city starts tilting right or left, it may find more readers who are more passionate about the paper. If readers don't like it, even in a somewhat less free-market economy, I bet someone else will decide to publish a paper that tilts in the opposite direction.

Perhaps the future of journalism in regard to balance should tear out a page from journalism's past. Be biased but be upfront about that bias.

Update: After I posted this article, the New York Times' Patrick Healy wrote about the use of the word "lie" in politics in an article entitled, "Let’s Call a Lie a Lie ... Finally. Check it out.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

More Bad News for Newspapers, Part VI

The bad news continues...and, in a sign of the times, the news made it to page B7 in The Wall St. Journal -- not even front page of the Marketplace section, although it was above the fold: "McClatchy Cuts Jobs; Star-Ledger May Shut."

The Star-Ledger is a good paper, well respected, and it covers New Jersey closely. It will be more than shame if it does shut down. A year ago, even a month ago, there might have been a Wall St. hotshot with enough ego to want to keep the Star-Ledger going. But now, in the wake of the turmoil on Wall St., I don't think that's even within the range of an unlikely possibility.

Commercials about Nothing

Microsoft's ad campaign with Jerry Seinfield is apparently being canceled, according to ValleyWag and the Journal's Kara Swisher. Like "Seinfield," the commercials are about nothing.

Unlike a sitcom, commercials have to be about something, and I don't think these sell Microsoft very well. And they certainly don't take on the "I'm a Mac; I'm a PC" campaign run by Apple.

But I found them funny.

Check out the Times' interesting article about the campaign: "Echoing the Campaign of a Rival, Microsoft Aims to Redefine ‘I’m a PC.’" It's very interesting in that Microsoft has let Apple position PCs for years without rebutting or repositioning it.

Over the years, potential clients have shrug off the need to update their positioning, and we've seen cases where their competitors were actively positioning against their products/services. If you don't respond, the only message that gets through is the competitors'. That's why political campaigns have war rooms -- to quickly respond. Most situations don't require that kind of response, but companies do need to respond.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

If News Embargoes are Dead, What about Press Releases?

There have been separate discussions about whether the news embargo is dead.

Jeremy Wagstaff, a former Technology Columnist at The Asian Wall Street Journal and Wall Street Journal Online, and Stephen Baker, a senior writer at BusinessWeek who writes the Blogspotting blog, both say the news embargo is dead. (Check out my previous blog on the topic here.)

I think that except for embargoes for peer-reviewed articles at top publications like New England Journal of Medicine or the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), embargoes are dead.

However, that doesn't mean "advanced looks" are dead.

Mark Harrison of Abraham Harrison said that giving bloggers a heads' up to news before it hits can be a good approach. And Stevie Wilson of LA Story has posted a comment to this blog that touches on the value of getting a heads' up so that bloggers are not at a complete disadvantage.

The difference is that when you give reporters and bloggers an "advance look," you don't mind if they immediately post information about the news. With an embargo, you want all coverage to hit after the embargo time: news that hits before 11:10pm, for example -- bad; news that hits after 11:11pm is good.

Is that clear?

Now, back to the topic based on the headline: what's the deal with press releases in a Web 2.0 world?

In a panel discussion turned blog article, "PR in the Face of Web 2.0 and Social Media - Part II," Brian Solis discusses the state of the press release. Is it dead? let me know what you think.

On a related topic, check out "Does Good Tech Need PR?" on the ReadWriteWeb blog, written by Richard MacManus.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Solved: Why the Wall St. Journal is Competing Against the Times in Reporting about the Difficulties of the Wealthy

Readers of this blog know that I've been closely following the competition between the New York Times and the Wall St. Journal in covering the impact of the economic downturn on the super rich.

For a long time, the Times seemed to have this category to itself. I wondered why the Journal was trying to compete in this niche.

Now I know why. The Journal is launching a new magazine. Read about it in "A Magazine for the Rich (and Lucrative Ads)."

We can bet the Times and Journal will continue to compete regarding who can better cover the travails of the super-rich.

Just check out, "In Tough Times, Even the Billionaires Worry," which ran last week in the New York Times.

Monday, September 15, 2008

When Google News' Search is Too Good

Turns out that UAL, parent company of United Airlines, is not going bankrupt. But shareholders found out only after shares dropped $3.50 on rumors.

What fed the rumor?

Google News, whose web crawler found an old, undated article from 2002 when UAL did file for bankruptcy. Since the article was undated (it has since been sourced and dated), it pushed the article out as new.

After Nasdaq investigated, the truth came out.

But not until after people lost money.

With a current client, we saw some news that should have been posted on Yahoo! but didn't make it. No one lost money on the glitch, but it shows one thing that we sometimes forget.

Google and Yahoo! are great, but they are far from perfect.

Check out "A Mistaken News Report Hurts United" and "United Airlines Issues Statement."

Friday, September 12, 2008

Why is The Daily Show the Only Program to Highlight Political Hypocrisy?

Shouldn't real news programs highlight discrepancies? And ask politicians on both sides of the aisle about double standards?

If they did, might we now be spared this whole distraction about lipsticks, pigs & pit bulls? (If you're going to call yourself a pit bull with lipstick, shouldn't you be able to dismiss a reference to pigs and lipsticks?) Does addressing pigs and lipstick solve the problems we're facing, end the war, put the economy on solid footing, stop people from losing their homes? Don't we deserve an election about real issues? (Sorry for the rant, but I cannot believe how long the media has focused on pigs and lipstick as opposed to substantive issues.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

NY Times looks at "Business-like Hugs" or What are the factors that make a Business-like Hug is just a Business-like Hug?

Ok, this is not a PR or media topic, and I'm not trying to suggest anything untoward about McCain and Palin. But in its article, "To Have (as a Running Mate), and to Hold (Politely),"the New York Times raises an issue that at times has confused me and others I know, men and women alike.

The Times describes the body language John McCain uses with Sarah Palin as a "businesslike (hug), to the point" when introducing her on stage.

What is a business-like hug?

I guess I know a non-business-like hug.

But what are the characteristics of a business-like hug -- do you know it when you see it? And when are they appropriate. I guess they are now appropriate when introducing your running mate during a campaign stop. But what about the rest of us?

When is a business-like hug appropriate for colleagues? For clients?

With a male client, there would have been no question: just a handshake. But yesterday, I shook hands yesterday with a woman client yesterday, and then felt perhaps it should have been a business-like hug. (There were no voters in the hallway, no introductions to a crowd.)

By the way, what's also interesting is that in 1984, Geraldine Ferraro and Walter Mondale had a no touching rule out of concern that people might think they're dating. Perhaps that's why McCain makes it a point to give his wife a peck when she's on stage, too.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

WSJ Article on Online Corp. Reputation

Online corporate reputation management is going to continue to be an issue for companies, given the proliferation of blogs, micro-blogs like Twitter, etc.

The Wall St. Journal ran an article about an oldie-but-goodie: the "gripe site" run by disgruntled former employees and customers.

Check out: "How to Handle '': Some Firms Buy Up Negative Domain Names To Avert 'Gripe Sites.'"

Basically, according to the out-quote in the print edition: "Companies should use these sites as a vehicle to solicit feedback."

For example, visitors to and get a guest-satisfaction survey and the customer-service page, respectively, to register complaints.

The article notes that Dell does not own many gripe-site names. The reason, as readers of this blog know, is that Dell has found it more effective to conduct a thorough outreach program to identify and work with bloggers and others who complain about Dell. That program seems to be extremely successful.

Monday, September 8, 2008

If You Were to Publish a Tech Magazine for 15 Years, How Many Times Would You Mention "Gates" and "Jobs?

According to the Sept. issue of Wired, there have been 183 issues published over the past 15 years. Of those issues, 150 mention Bill Gates while just 110 mention Steve Jobs.

Now that Gates has retired, perhaps Steve Jobs can catch up.

No mention in the graphic as to whether the current mention counted to the totals of both executives.

Friday, September 5, 2008

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

The New York Times has done it again.

In "Downsizing in Los Angeles: Mansion to $47 Million Condo," The Times writes about Candy Spelling who has paid $47 million to purchase a condominium on two penthouse floors in a Robert A.M. Stern-designed building, The Century.

Spelling plans to move from her home, known as The Manor, "a 56,500-square-foot French chateau-style home known for its size and extravagance — it includes a wine-tasting room, a bowling alley, a silver room, a china room and a well-known gift-wrapping room."

The reason for the move: she's at a point in her life when she wants to downsize, and is shrinking the size of her staff from 20 to less than half, according to the Times.

This all to highlight a trend that Los Angeles is building more high rises to avoid urban sprawl.


And check out "Billionaires’ Yacht Rivalry Spills Into Courtroom: A $10 Million Vessel May Be Ruled Out of Race for Cup."

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Beware of the Open Mic

It's an important lesson that even the most experienced need to be reminded of...make sure the microphone is off before you make a comment you did not intend to be shared with the nation via YouTube.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

More Bad News about Advertising

According to BusinessWeek (via Advertising Age), some of the biggest blue-chip companies are cutting back their ad budgets. Anheuser-Busch, Coke, GM, Nissan and Procter & Gamble have all announced plans to cut back or to impose tighter financial discipline on their marketing strategies.

This will have implications for PR teams, which are likely to see decreased budgets, too, or increased demands for ROI and metrics -- unfortunately, it often requires additional investment to establish and track metrics.

I'd be interested in suggestions to address that.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

How to Keep Your Mind Focused in the Midst of Multiple Demands

Since we all multitask, here are some good tips from Romanus Wolter, author of Kick Start Your Success and Kick Start Your Dream Business, that were published in the July issue of Entrepreneur, as "Time on Your Side: How to keep your mind focused in the midst of multiple demands."

Here are the key points:
  1. Focus on obtaining a specific result.
  2. Seek alternative ways to accomplish tasks and produce results.
  3. Unload your thoughts and link your various achievements.
  4. When interrupted, consciously mark where you left off.