Friday, November 11, 2011

Johnson & Johnson Misdiagnosis of its Crisis

Perhaps it depends on how you define "crisis," but there are more than 200 articles by the third day of the month about the concerns about Johnson & Johnson's baby shampoo as well as a movement to boycott J&J. (Not every call for a boycott is a crisis -- on Facebook, there's a list to boycott those who boycott Arizona, so you can have counter-boycott boycotts.)  In fact, this is a big crisis for a brand that last month ranked by Forbes as the most trusted brand in America. This is particularly true because of the concern that some ingredients put babies at risk.

Yet Johnson & Johnson doesn't seem like it's hoping the issue will go away, even as it has posted some information online and on a couple of its Twitter feeds.

For example, there didn't seem to be much activity on Facebook about it, including on the J&J page -- there's one post from the company, from Tues., a day after much of the coverage started hitting. Meanwhile, there are 45 posts on the J&J Facebook wall, most of them from people venting how upset they feel, how they feel the company betrayed them and put their kids in danger.  The lack of engagement is turning off some customers, so that they're feeling as if J&J is not listening to them.

I don't think that's the case, though. I'm sure J&J is listening, but is figuring the company doesn't get much benefit from engaging with angry customers. And there isn't much benefit to engaging if the company is not willing to make changes that address customers' concerns about the possibly carcinogenic ingredients.  The company says it has been reformulating and phasing out some ingredients, but two years have passed and there are still some ingredients that have yet to be replaced in the new formulation.

Meanwhile, J&J has posted a handful of Tweets pointing to the long statement.  Again, it doesn't seem like the company is going out of its way, and possibly for the same reason.  While the company has several Twitter feeds, you'd
have to know where to find them (@JNJStories, @JNJHistory and @JNJComm) to see the posts, which merely offer a link to the long statement. Even the blog post (called JNJ BTW) isn't effective.

Part of the problem is that there's a lack of emotion or a lack of conveying that the company understands the emotion that its customers are feeling. While the organization raising awareness about the ingredients has a Twitter ID (@nontoxicissexy, and while much of the coverage includes a photo of an adorable baby, J&J's "A Statement on Ingredients in the News" doesn't address the emotion and concern -- it doesn't even include a photo of an adorable baby.  Instead, the statement is a rather dry, stoic response, one that hides behind language like "The ingredients used in JOHNSON'S® Baby products, including preservatives that are designed to release tiny amounts of formaldehyde to protect against harmful bacteria growth, are safe and approved by regulators in every country or region in which they are used, including U.S., EU, and China."

Really? J&J should have realized that citing the fact that some ingredients meet the standards set by China would not help its case.  After all, China has its own safety and quality control issues, since the country has repeatedly let toy companies export lead-paint-covered toys, among other harmful ingredients and products.

I would be surprised if J&J does not completely reformulate its products to take out formaldehyde and other preservatives. As it is, the company merely says, it takes reformulating its products require "extensive efforts, which require complex testing and significant clinical studies to insure that new formulations meet our high standards for safety, mildness and gentleness." But I don't know why J&J doesn't just announce that it responding to concerns, and that will finish that process within a set timetable. They would be in a better position if they did so. Right now, it seems like the company is taking a hit it doesn't need too -- because it will eliminate formaldehyde. The challenge for J&J is that when it does finally sell formaldehyde-free baby shampoo, the company can't really make a big deal of it. It has a teachable moment that it's not effectively using.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Some Good YouTube Tips

Just a quick post for those interested in YouTube tips.  Check out Katherine Boehret's article, "Hidden Tools Find What You Want on YouTube."

Among the tools she mentions is the Quick Key, which allows you to generate a URL that enables you to share the video from exactly where you want to share it...meaning you can spare friends the long, pointless introductions before they get to the LOL cats.

Also check out "Tips on Taking Advantage of The YouTube Juggernaut."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Amazon Validates Our Prediction about 2011: The battle between iPad and the iPad Killers

With the announcement last week of the Kindle Fire, its color e-reader based on the Android platform, Amazon has validated our prediction that an important trend/story this year would be the battle between the iPad and the iPad Killers. (Check out: Birnbach Communications' Top Predictions for 2011, Part I.)

In the wake of perceived and actual failures like RIM's PlayBook and H-P's TouchPad, the iPad competitors have not lived up to the "killer" designation. Which explains some of the interest in the Kindle Fire as perhaps being a good challenger to the iPad. 

Is the Kindle Fire an iPad killer? Probably not in version 1.0, but it almost doesn't matter. From a media perspective, the Kindle Fire breathes new life into the iPad vs. competition story.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Fee, Fie, Foe -- 3 Lessons learned when companies mishandle how they communicate their new fees

In the wake of Netflix's mishandling its new pricing structure and sub-brand (Qwikster, in case you misspelled it), Bank of America recently also blundered in announcing a new charge for debit card customers (check out the Time Magazine about it here and a Financial Times article here).

With a US economy that continues to fluctuate wildly, and continued bad global economic news, it's probably a safe bet that more companies are going to look to raise prices and implement new charges to boost their embattled bottom lines. It's also a safe bet that as they do so, other companies (besides Netflix and BofA) will mishandle their communications around the price hikes.

You can check out Nine Lessons from Netflix and the 'Half Apology." 

Here are some thoughts about lessons from BofA:

  1. Some companies may feel that their customers are captive and don't have much of an alternative, but even if that's true -- and I think it's more difficult to change banks than to switch TV channels -- companies need to realize there is a price to pay for mishandling communications. Beyond a company's reputation, publicly held companies have seen their stock prices fall as a result of negative consumer backlash.
  2.  Companies need to provide context for restructuring their prices and fees. Blaming new government regulations, as BofA has done, will likely appeal to some customers, but when so many people think the government bailed out the banks while holding consumers accountable for bad mortgages will not generate much sympathy overall or provide enough of an explanation as to why BofA will soon start charging $60 a year for the privilege of using debit cards instead of checks or credit cards.  Especially right now, when there's a lot of anger towards Wall St., with in-person and online protests like #OccupyWallStreet. So for BofA and other banks like Chase, SunTrust, Wells Fargo, Regions, establishing new fees will likely be seen as another example of banks putting their interests ahead of their customers. 
  3. Communicating solely by Twitter can be partially effective to get what amounts to a headline, but is not effective in providing detail. Our advice to BofA: Consider steps to take to mitigate the consumer backlash, especially since some reports attribute the drop in its share price to the negative consumer response to the new fees. If the only place BofA has addressed this issue is on its Twitter feed, @BofA_News, the bank should start communicating beyond Twitter.  First, because its 140-character limitation, Twitter is not the right means to communicate a complicated message. Second, fewer than 9,000 people currently follow @BofA_News so the bank can't be sure it's actually and effectively reaching its customer base. 

For example, the bank should prepare a detailed FAQ inserts to accompany its monthly statements and post that information on its website, about the new fee. The FAQ should explain the economics of the fee, should include a statement that explains the reluctance with which BofA realized it had to initiate the fee, and include information about ways that customers can avoid being charged the $5 per month fee -- for example, apparently using a debit card at an ATM won't trigger the fee but using a debit card at a retailer will. Meanwhile, explaining that Platinum customers will be exempt from the debit card fee, will not placate the majority of customers who will soon be charged the fee.
Other companies considering price increases or the implementation of new fees should learn a lesson from Netflix, which did an arguably poor job in communicating the context for its increase of fees. Even if you're in a position where you must pass along higher fees, it helps to explain the reasons for the increase. Otherwise the increase will seem like a slap in the face to its customers.  Again, I have no doubt that we'll see more companies considering raising prices and charging new fees in the near future -- and that there will be negative response if the increases are not communicated effectively.  What's also clear is that companies that mishandle their price increases may also pay a price -- in their stock price, as BofA and Netflix have seen.  With the right planning, companies can announce price changes that don't have to lead to crisis communications. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Need to Expand Beyond Traditional Channels

The current Fast Company's special design theme offers up some interesting articles. Its article about the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum ("Mister Moggridge Has Mad Ambition") raises some interesting questions about the broad field of design.

What I also find interesting was a quote about the nature of museums, from Richard Kurin, the Smithsonian's undersecretary for history, art, and culture -- and someone who understands how museums work:
"Museums originally were founded as 19th-century institutions. Well, now we exist in a different kind of world. A hundred-thousand people came to an exhibit? Well, a hundred-thousand people watching a TV program is very little. A hundred-thousand people watching a YouTube video is puny! And so I think the idea is, How do we take the stuff of the museum, the visceral experience of the object, and somehow translate that to other forms of media? We haven't figured that out yet."
That's a challenge all communications functions need to solve in their own way: how to take an organization's traditional content and push it out to make it more accessible by the people who can't visit your corporate equivalent of a museum gallery.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Nine Lessons from Netflix and the 'Half Apology"

Until two months ago, Netflix offered one monthly fee of $7.99 to order videos by streaming and DVDs by mail. Then Netflix announced it would charge its customers $7.99 for a subscription to its streaming service and another $7.99for Netflix' mail-order service -- representing a 100 percent increase.

Then, on Sunday, Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix posted an explanation of sorts: "An Explanations and Some Reflections" only to cause more problems for Netflix. Hastings may have intended it to be an apology, but one person termed it a "half apology," and I think that's about right.

Here's a list of nine lessons learned from this incident:
  1. Companies need to provide context when the price customers are going to be charged will increase significantly. Changing the fee can be a critical time in almost any company-customer relationship. But that's especially true when the increase is so dramatic. Hastings said he should have provided more of an explanation about why the company increased its subscription fees. But Hastings's explanation notes that a full justification "wouldn't have changed the price increase." 
  2.  Waiting two months to respond was probably too long. The company lost about a million subscribers recently -- probably due to the price hike. Hastings said the company is moving and evolving quickly, but that's not the impression one gets from a two-month lag time before Hastings responded.
  3. When communicating with customers, make sure the information you provide them is focused on their needs. While Hastings's  explanation on his blog did a fine job of laying out the company's vision and goals, it didn't really address customer concerns.  Instead, Hastings used the blog post to explain why Netflix is changing the name of its DVD-by-mail service to Qwikster, and to prepare customers for what that change will entail. His explanation was focused on the company, not the customer. Hastings explanation is focused on discussing the upcoming changes from the company's perspective, not the customers, and is tone deaf in addressing customers' needs and perspectives.
  4. When launching a company, a blog post on a Sunday night might not be the best strategy. It's difficult to know how much planning when into the spin-off of Qwikster, but the company look unprepared with a lack of a Twitter ID, Facebook page and website, even as placeholders.  
  5. If you do use your blog to launch a new business, don't bury the lead.  Hastings' post first mentions the Qwikster name change midway through the post. It made Qwikster seem an afterthought. The post is fairly clear on what the Qwikster experience will be like -- i.e, Netflix with a different name -- but I don't think it does a good job of serving as a launch pad for the new brand. 
  6. When seeking to appease your critics, try to lock down areas that might spark further criticism.
    As laid out in the post, Qwikster is likely to continue to rub customers the wrong way. Customers have to log onto separate sites to select a DVD-by-mail and to download a video; they have to look at reviews on two different sites (because Netflix and Qwikster will now offer separate customer reviews); they have to update credit card and other information into two different systems, and they will receive two separate charges on their credit card statements. I understand the need for separate brands but there could have been ways to streamline the customer experience.
  7. Naming a new brand is very difficult these days; while it's hard to come up with a great name -- and I think Netflix is a great name -- it should be easy to identify a lousy name.  For example, Qwikster.  It's easy to misspell. It doesn't actually deliver on its brand promise (instant downloads are fast; delivery by mail is not quick). And it sounds too much like Friendster.  That said, even though I don't like the Qwikster name, I think the reason behind changing the name makes sense because separating the Netflix brand from DVDs-by-mails may have a better chance for survival if people no longer associated Netflix with its iconic red envelopes. After all, AOL is still associated with slow dialup service, and it gave up that business a few years ago. 
  8.  If you're going to claim you messed up, you should explain the steps you will take to prevent a similar mistake in the future. Especially when you identify the nature of the mistake as being not communicating enough.  Hastings may mean for this to be his "sincere apology" but he doesn't outline how he'll make sure that both Netflix and Qwikster will make sure to overcommunicate critical information in the future.
  9. Listening and responding to customers' concerns goes beyond branding -- even though it is a big issue for the Netflix brand. Getting this wrong can also exact a real cost to the business. In this case, Netflix has lost subscribers (even as its total subscriber base is larger this year than it was last year; the company has lost about a million subscribers over the past two months).  And Netflix has also seen its stock price drop, too, and that has financial implications as the company continues its global push.
Let me know if there are additional lessons to be drawn from Netflix.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Five Qualities of Innovation

The New York Times' Steve Lohr wrote a nice article about Steve Jobs and innovation a couple of weeks back: Reaping the Rewards of Risk-Taking.

In addition to all the usual points made about Jobs in just about every article about him after his resignation from Apple, Lohr's article makes the point that Jobs himself feels that getting fired from Apple, and finding new experiences -- like founding Pixar -- helped him when he returned to Apple.

Lohr also referenced Jobs in a review of a new book, "The Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators," co-written by Clay Christensen and Hal B. Gregersen, a professor at the European Institute of Business Administration, or Insead, which identifies five traits that are common in disruptive innovators:
  • Questioning.
  • Experimenting.
  • Observing.
  • Associating
  • Networking.
According to Lohr, innovator's "bundle of characteristics echoes the ceaseless curiosity and willingness to take risks noted by other experts. Networking, Mr. Gregersen explains, is less about career-building relationships than a search for new ideas. Associating, he adds, is the ability to make idea-producing connections by linking concepts from different disciplines — intellectual mash-ups.'Innovators engage in these mental activities regularly,' Mr. Gregersen says. 'It’s a habit.'”

Might be worth picking up  "The Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators."

Friday, September 16, 2011

The New York Times Looks at The Times' Business Coverage

New York Times' ombudsman Arthur Brisbane raises interesting questions about coverage in his columns. One I meant to look at was a recent column, "Financial News for the Rest of Us," in which Brisbane looks at the impact of the growth of resources and digital space allocated to the Times' DealBook section.  Edited by Andrew Ross Sorkin, 10-year-old DealBook, which started out as a newsletter that aggregated breaking mergers-and-aquisitions news, focuses on Wall Street issues, and in print covers part of a page in the daily business section. Online, Dealbook now has a staff of 15, and is able to dig deep in its coverage, so sometimes it's very much inside Wall St. baseball.

Brisbane makes the point that while DealBook serves an important constituent among Times' readers, other urgent business stories may go untold.  While lauding DealBook's coverage of the Google acquisition of Motorola "served a broad readership’s desire to understand what this might mean for Google and its quest to exploit mobile technology," Brisbane wonders, "A week before that, though, when the world economic system shuddered and stock markets dropped, I was left wondering whether The Times should have spent its money not on expanding DealBook but on enlarging its stable of journalists aimed at the wider subjects of international banks and sovereign debt."

Brisbane provides insights into the print business section and the needs of the online reader when he quotes  Larry Ingrassia, the Business Day editor, who said, "that while in print The Times can succeed by broadly addressing 'the five or 10 most important things you need to know,' the Web demands narrower and deeper offerings."

Interesting perspective, especially when combined with a recent David Carr column in the Times: "News Trends Tilt Toward Niche Sites," which makes the point that news giants being outmaneuvered by smaller sites with passionate audiences & sharply focused information.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Notes from the FutureM Conference

The FutureM conference in Boston yesterday featured an interesting panel on the Future of Advertising, featuring executives from DataXu, Mullen, Localytics, Digitas, Arnold and CampusLIVE.

The panelists agreed that future of advertising will be measurable
-- even as some said there are some things you can't measure.


Though one panelist said that "Some things that are not yet measurable may soon be measurable -- and be developed by someone in this room."

Currently what we measure traffic, click-throughs, etc., but that doesn't necessarily capture key factors that marketers need to measure and understand, such as being able to the value of community and other long-term issues, including how do you link content and marketing initiatives to the long-term actions.

One frustration noted by the panel is that organizations don't necessarily want to spend money to measure.

Another question the panel examined was: Is conventional advertising dead?  Some on the panel Some said conventional advertising is dead -- just like some say the press release is dead. I disagree.

The problem with looking at online vs. conventional marketing is that people access info across platforms so you need communicate that way.  It's how you use advertising, a number of panels said. And it's important not to put initiatives into buckets. I remember that a cable client kept referring to the difference between cable and TV, and I pointed out that for those outside the industry, most people look at the TV and their remote, and don't think too much about the differences between cable and broadcast. Now, given the range of ways we interact with media -- via TV/cable, smartphones, tablets, etc., brands must look cross-platform, to enable people to access content whichever way they may want. And how they access content changes throughout the day; during their commute, it may be radio. While grabbing coffee, it may be their smartphone. During the day, it's their computer. And somewhere along the way, it's their tablet. The point some panelists made was that you ignore potential customers if you ignore one platform.

That holds true for those focusing exclusively on social media.  Twitter should not be the only channel. Remember, one panelist said: Twitter is not as pervasive as it is in the room.  Companies need to make it easy for people to connect, whichever way they want to.

That said, a big point of discussion was the need to monetize and measure social media, and not be afraid to experiment.

One of the last questions taken up by the panel is do most brands need a mobile app? The answer: assess the need for a mobile app on a case-by-case basis.  But every brand needs to make sure their sites are mobile-optimized. (One panelist made the point that if Android continues to gain share over iOS on smartphones, optimized mobile sites will be more important that apps, since the app-based approach and app market really belongs to Apple.)

The final question was whether panelists feel we're in the middle of a unprecedented marketing transformation.  One panelist said, "No. I think we're just at the beginning."

Redesigning Workplace

Thanks to technology, the workplace has changed dramatically. A decade ago, you probably carried a huge brick of a cellphone and a heavy laptop. Today, you probably carry some combination of a smartphone, an MP3 player, a tablet and a laptop -- and all the accessories and chargers. While that may seem like a lot of devices to lug around, the fact is that they free us up to work and play anytime, anywhere.

One of the technologies that interests me most -- videoconferencing -- was a solution 10 years ago that only big businesses could have afforded, with room systems costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Today, smartphones and tablets now offer video chat capabilities.

As people become accustomed to videoconferencing at work, businesses need to redesign cubicles to enhance videoconference experience for those on the other side of the videoconference. For people who work next to a window, outside glare can cause people to squint, for example. Or, because of current office lighting, people may appear to be either lurking in the shadows or checking in from a desert. In the Aug. issue, Fast Company ran an illustration of an updated cubicle (Redesigning: Cubicles). Some of it was tongue-in-cheek, like Dilbert creator Doug Adams' suggestion of "adding a foldout seat [that as] soon as it's down, 'a timer starts that makes your phone ring after a few minutes, so you can excuse an unwelcome guest."

But at least one suggestion makes a lot of sense: "Webcam lighting: To streamline digital meetings, [a} switch instantly adjusts cubicle lighting to offset the brightness of the computer screen."

That makes a lot of sense to us. Check out Redesigning: Cubicles for other tips.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Adopting our workplace for how we work today

On paper (for whoever still uses paper), it might seem unlikely that a Duke University English professor is a driving voice in how to approach and address the "bewildering pace of technological change."

But Cathy Davidson is interested in more than essays and punctuation.  As profiled in last month's Fast Company, Davidson is the "cofounder of HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory), an international network of academics inspired by new technology, which administers the annual Digital Media and Learning competition with the MacArthur Foundation. Davidson believes that true conceptual innovation is needed to reinvent our homes, schools, and workplaces for the demands of the digital age. She calls her approach 'technopragmatism,' or 'technorealism.'"

As Beloit College's annual Mindset List points out, this year's freshman class barely remembers dial-up Internet access. Davidson says, "We're at the perfect moment to begin reimagining our institutions and developing practices to deal with the onslaught of information, the reality of constant connectedness, and the challenges of global collaboration."

The way we collaborate has evolved significantly from the "Mad Men" era. And it continues to evolve quickly. Offices and the nature of the workplace need to evolve to enable people to collaborate effectively wherever they are. Especially, as Davidson points out in her new book, "Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn," distraction is a significant factor in our 9-to-whatever days. Also check out the Fast Company article, Duke's Cathy Davidson Is Fixing The Future Of Distraction.

Friday, September 9, 2011

10 Years Later

Earlier this week, Bret Stephen in the Wall St. Journal published a 9/11 essay I liked: "9/11 and the Struggle for Meaning; An act of evil has been reduced, in our debased parlance, to a 'tragedy.'"Discussing the search for meaning in the tragic events of 9/11, Stephens wrote "there's something dangerous ...about 9/11 being reduced to a 'tragedy," noting
 Dangerous because we risk losing sight of what brought 9/11 about. Dangerous because nations should not send men to war in far-flung places to avenge an outrage and then decide, mid-course, that the outrage and the war are two separate things. Dangerous above all because nations define themselves through the meanings they attach to memories, and 9/11 remains, 10 years on, a memory without a settled meaning.
I was in Boston on 9/11, when I looked up at the TV in my office and saw that CNBC was showing a fire in the World Trade Center on an otherwise clear, crisp beautiful fall day in Manhattan.  I'll never forget what happened next.

If we can look beyond "tragedy," we can, perhaps, find glimmers of positive meaning from 9/11. As others have pointed out, the first responders. And the people inside the World Trade Centers who put themselves at risk to help others escape. The people who came from around the city, from New Jersey and Connecticut, to help. The people on Flight 93 who fought back. The global response, even for a brief moment, that "We are all New Yorkers today" and "We are all Americans today."

Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the families and friends directly affected that day, to those who helped and continue to help rebuild lives and rebuild part of New York City cruelly impacted that day.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Paul Gillin's Trouble with Klout & the need for a true measure of social media impact

Paul Gillin, a columnist for BtoB magazine, has been at the forefront in terms of discussing metrics for social media.  I recently came across a five-year-old column by him that spoke to the need of being able to measure social media impact, made the case that we need to define commonly assumed social media metrics -- like circulation or readership are for advertising and PR.

Klout, a service that says it "measures influence based on your ability to drive action" online, is trying to be the new standard by which people and organizations can measure their online impact.  And in his blog today, Gillin points out the many flaws in Klout's approach and methodology, such as the limited transparency into how Klout generates its scores and the fact that having a Klout account will raise your Klout Score.  (Check out his blog, The Trouble with Klout for more.)

I've discovered two issues with Klout:

1. Klout's algorithm identifies the top three topics you are most influential about -- but Klout is not always accurate. According to Klout, I'm influential about three topics I don't remember tweeting about:
    (Ok, I once mentioned Friendster, but it was ironically. And while I actually might like to be influential about parties, doubt I am.)  Another person I know found out from Klout, much to her surprise, that she's influential about community management and wheelchairs. Both are worthy topics but not anything she addresses. 
2. It's possible to game the system and boost your Klout score just by tweeting a lot. Earlier this year, after my name was mentioned in some spammer's tweet, I checked out the person via Klout. I found that he had only 11 followers but a Klout score of 59. How was that possible? Because he had posted 9,156 tweets.

What that says is that it's easy to manipulate the Klout algorithm by tweeting a lot.  Doesn't matter if no one else replies or retweets what you've said.  I've been able to boost my Klout by posting more frequently -- talking about four or five times a day, not anything like 9,156 tweets. (The converse is true, when I tweet less frequently; my Klout score always drops over the weekend, when I tend not to tweet.) 

I understand why my score will drop during periods on inactivity, but just posting a lot should not be a way to boost a Klout score. If someone posts a lot in a short time, and no one responds, they shouldn't see their Klout score increase.  More posts do not mean you're more influential. Also, on an interesting note, I've noticed that when I tweet something negative about Klout, my Klout score drops within a day, even when the frequency of tweets has not changed. Coincidence -- I think not.

Meanwhile, five years after Gillin's BtoB column about the need for metrics, we still need reliable metrics. Klout is interesting tool, but it is hardly comprehensive or accurate. I also check out from HubSpot.  I find that a more useful tool because I have not seen the same inaccuracies that I've seen with Klout.

Let me know if you're experiences with Klout and TwitterGrader are different.

    Monday, August 15, 2011

    Two Worthwhile Articles about B2B and Social Media

    Every once in a while, we meet a prospective client who is unsure whether their company, always a B2B tech company, should engage in social media.

    Often, they tell us, their series customers aren't engaged in social media.

    However, according to Forrester Research analyst Josh Bernoff, "Parametric Technology Corp., a company that makes product development software, found in a survey that more than 80% of its customers were consuming social content. This helped persuade the corporate executives that its customers were ready for a community." Check out his article, "Four social tech tipsfor b2b professionals."

    In "Your social marketing strategy needs some big ideas," another Forrester analyst, Jeff Ernst, made a key point about using social media as part of a thought leadership:
    This is a great opportunity for you to use social media to reach and engage potential buyers early in their problem-solving process and start to build a trusted relationship with them, so they're more likely to consider your company when they do enter a buying process. But you won't do it by tweeting product announcements.
    Why? Business buyers don't “buy” your product or service; they “buy into” your perspective and approach to solving their problems. To attract these folks to your company and engage them in a conversation, you need to share big ideas and compelling positions on the issues your buyers face, and establish your business as a thought leader in your market.
    We've got a B2B client that has recently started a thought leadership program via social media, and they're finding that they've started reaching other major thinkers in their space -- and are helping achieve the "buy into: their approach.

    Check out the two articles -- they're worth reading.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011

    Check out "Rate this Article" in Wired

    I really liked Chris Colin's article, "Rate This Article: What’s Wrong with the Culture of Critique."

    He makes the point that we now review the reviews we read. At the end of all Amazon's reviews, it says, "Help other customers find the most helpful reviews. Was this review helpful to you?"

    Many comment boards ask you to recommend or report abuse for others' comments.

    In one of the article's main points, Colin quotes Wired contributor Erik Davis as saying, We've started replacing actual experience with someone else's already digested knowledge."

    So I'm not going to summarize Colin's article any further. Go read "Rate This Article: What’s Wrong with the Culture of Critique" yourself. (Don't worry, it's short.) 

    Monday, August 8, 2011

    Check Out InformationWeek's "10 Lessons In IT Strategy From Ex-HP CIO Randy Mott"

    The July issue of InformationWeek offers interesting advice from ex-CIO at HP about tech development. While this blog generally looks at issues related to traditional and social media, there's still an interest in understanding our clients' customers, often CIOs within the organization.

     Check out the article, but here are some key lessons that can apply to communications functions as well as IT:
    • The Revenue of IT: companies need to establish metrics for IT projects, and meet them, in order to have credibility with higher ups.
    • It's Tough to Imagine Fast Enough: You need to think about getting the technology into people's hands faster. Sometimes the same is true about project updates.
    • Fewer Projects at Once, Finish Them Faster. When you're working on too many projects, it can take more time to complete all of them. Instead, orgs should focus on fewer, but get them done sooner.
    • Time Doesn't Make it Better. Extending deadlines doesn't necessarily improve project outcomes. As is often quoted, sometimes "good enough" (that's delivered on time) is better than "perfect" that's delivered late.
    Mott makes some other fine points, which are worth checking out here from a communications management perspective.

    Wednesday, August 3, 2011

    More Validation for Our Battle of Tech Titans Prediction

    Earlier this year, we predicted that a continuing story line in 2011 would be: The continuing battle among tech giants: Google vs. Apple vs. Microsoft vs. Cisco vs. EMC vs. HP vs. Oracle vs. SAP. (See our blog post: Birnbach Communications' Top Predictions for 2011, The Top 12 Business & Technology Stories, Part IV.)

    The latest evidence came from Google's purchase of patents from IBM, which has been cast as "So, Is It Google & IBM vs. Oracle?"

    We think the clash of the tech titans will continue to be an ongoing story line for some time in the future.

    Also, we will point out that back in Jan. we missed a big story of the moment: the phone hacking scandal that continues to ripple through the News Corp. empire. Well, can't get them all.

    Tuesday, August 2, 2011

    Looking back to Red Herring's Top 10 Trends of 2001

    Remember Red Herring? It was a hot must-read dot-com-era publication that did not fully survive that era. At least the print edition did not survive. An online version continues to operate.

    In cleaning out some old file drawers -- remember paper? -- I tossed out a lot of old clips.  One I looked at on its way to the blue recycle bin was a "Top 10 Trends 2001" article from Red Herring.  (Is it worth noting that Red Herring itself no longer hosts that page?)

    The pace of technology has been fierce over the past decade.  (In 2000, an article offering tips on how companies should explore using the Internet noted that technology is "likely to continue to evolve in the next few years" -- ya think?)  Even as Red Herring's editors said they were going out on a limb in some cases, here are some key predictions:
    • Venture capital.  Bricks and mortar retailers are upstaging startups left and right, forcing venture capitalists to return to basics.  New business models don't cut it anymore.  Innovation, management, and focus on real products, revenues, and profits will. 2011: Actually, new business models still generate excitement, even ahead of revenue (I'm talking to you, Groupon, Twitter, Airbnb and a cast of too many others to name.  I'm not saying they're not going to generate profits, just that there's a lot of interest despite not being profitable.
    •  Wireless.  The advent of products using Bluetooth (a short-range wireless protocol) will create a raft of related startup companies.2011: Bluetooth is useful when you need hands-free capability to call people when driving or connecting to your iPad, but it's not as important as it was perceived to be in 2001.
    • Government.  The Internet is a global network with no master and continues to grow in power, usefulness, and importance.  Governments will join together to regulate it. 2011: Rather missed this one, I think.
    • Energy.  Fuel cells will finally make their way into homes, businesses, and automobiles, reducing our reliance on oil.2011: Give this partial credit. Fuel cells have become more mainstream, but we have yet to reduce our reliance on oil.
    Actually, the got some other things right, including the impact of decoding the human genome to impact the way news drugs are developed and that the debate over intellectual property intensified. In 2011, it's also access to content like movies and music, which seems to controlled by a few sources.

    Because we generate our own annual list of trends and predictions, we know how tough it can be to come up with interesting trends. But for me, the look forward from 2001 was worth the detour to look back from the vantage point of 2011 to see how much our technology focus has changed.

    Thursday, July 28, 2011

    Good Tips for Maintaining Online Privacy

    Ironically, News Corp., which is not currently known for appreciating privacy -- given the phone hacking scandal involving its now-shuttered News of the World tabloid -- has provided some good privacy tips in its Wall St. Journal.

    Here are some of the more important tips:
    • Browse privately
    • Disable those cookies
    • Get privacy add-ons
    • Tighten Facebook privacy
    • Log off
    Check out the article for more details.

      Wednesday, July 27, 2011

      Mid-Year Trend Update

      It's a bit early for our annual report card on our trends and predictions, but I wanted to take a look at one prediction: The battle between the iPad and the iPad Killers, the race for apps and the impact of tablet computing will be a main theme (you can find an extended discussion about this here).

      We were right about the battle of iPad and iPad Killers -- every new tablet reviewed this year has been reviewed in terms of the iPad. The conclusion: a lot of good tries, a lot of misses, and no other tablet has killed off the iPad 2.

      But there's one aspect to the iPad vs. iPad Killers that we missed. When it became clear that no other tablet would dethrone the iPad, the media shifted to another story angle: the iPhone vs. the iPhone Killer -- by which I mean, of course, Android. One of the first of these articles appeared in April's Wired, How the Android Ecosystem Threatens the iPhone. 

      Other articles have appeared in other major outlets, including Bloomberg BusinessWeek.

      It's a microtrend we overlooked, but an interesting lesson for those of us who pitch the media. The point is that the media often look for a backlash story, even if it's not a direct backlash. Even if the target is Apple, which generally gets very positive coverage.

      Monday, July 25, 2011

      Apple Continues to Vallidate 2011 as the Year of the App Subscription

      Earlier this year, we predicted 2011 would be the Year of the App Subscription.

      By that we meant that publishers are going to need to figure out the mechanics of charging for app-based subscriptions. Regardless of whether or not they actually develop an app specifically for the iPad or a competing tablet platform, and whether or not they actually roll out a subscription fee for app-based access, what's clear is that 2011 will a make-or-break year in terms of how publishers and readers approach app-based access to magazines.

      Since then, we've seen Apple make a significant change in its subscription policies, as reported in the New York Times -- a breakthrough we had said would be necessary for magazine publishers and subscription platforms: "Apple Offers Subscriptions for All iPad Publications."

      The latest validation of our prediction comes from the Wall St. Journal, which reported today that Kobo would not be allowed to sell digital books directly from its apps -- due to pressure from Apple. At the same time, the Journal announced that it will stop "circumventing Apple's payment system by providing links to its website from inside the iPad app, (and) will soon remove ll purchasing option in the app in response to Apple's new rules." Instead, people "will have to either call customer service or visit"

      While both announcements represent a step backwards for consumers, it shows that Apple is taking a strong stance in protecting app subscriptions.  Making things more complicated is not a win-win for content developers, consumers or, ultimately, Apple, I think, because consumers will be frustrated with both the content developers and Apple. In an interesting article about Hulu, the New York Times reported about consumer frustration with the lack of availability of some TV programs via Hulu -- for example, some programs are available on any platform, some limited to only your laptop.

      For app subscriptions and video content to continue to be pervasive, they must make it easy for consumers to purchase. Setting obstacles is the wrong policy. I expect that ultimately consumers will get what they want, but that may turn 2012 into the Year of the App Subscription, Part II -- while things sort themselves out.

      You can read more about the issue at Technologizer by Harry McCracken.

      Friday, July 22, 2011

      3 Reasons for Small Businesses to Engage in Social Media

      According to Small Business Success Index, cited by Entrepreneur Magazine, small businesses reported the following results from being engaged in social media:
      • 59 percent Identifying and attracting new customers 
      • 61 percent Developing a higher awareness of the business in a market 
      • 63 percent Staying engaged with customers
      Some pretty good reasons. They appeared in a sidebar to Chris Brogan's regular column in Entrepreneur.

      Tuesday, July 19, 2011

      What the News Corp Scandal Tells Us

      Given all the ink or pixels devoted to covering the scandal at the 168-year-old News of the World and parent company, News Corp., I'd have to say that the scandal has become one of the summers top two biggest stories.

      The other, in case you've been able to forget, is the political machinations around the debt ceiling.

      From a practical matter, it seems that executives other than the editors had to have been aware of some of the money being paid out to British police officers. After all, someone had to prepare the checks or withdraw the cash while someone had to approve the payments. And those payments came out of someone's budget. (Knowing how budget meetings go, I would have liked to have been in the room when those budget items had to be justified.)

      But what's interesting about the scandal isn't the scandal itself.

      It's that I've yet to see much noise/buzz/commentary on what the scandal says about journalistic integrity and standards. 

      Most news organizations today are focused on covering breaking news -- which is not always the same as breaking the news itself. For example, lots of local TV news stations boast about covering breaking news by which they mean local crimes, water main breaks, storms hitting the area, etc. They rarely talk about their role in uncovering the news.  (In terms of local TV news, perhaps that's because a lot of their news -- like the water main breaks -- impact entire communities and are rarely "Exclusives.")

      So in a culture of covering breaking news, getting the news out first is a priority.

      News of the World, however, had a culture that also prized the ability to uncover news, to generate exclusives -- and that may have helped it become England's largest Sunday paper by circulation.

      But the end result, as we know all know, is a culture that led to breaking the law. Even before laws were broken, the News of the World's culture led its reporters, with the knowledge and approval of its editors, to push beyond the limits of journalistic integrity. 

      More than ever, because of the scandal, the media must also look at what "integrity" means. Exclusives can be important, but journalists and bloggers need to define what steps they will and won't take. Will they pay money to get access to a noteworthy source for an interview? If they pay money to  that source, how will they disclose that fact? (And how will they vet that the source is factual?)  What criteria will they use to determine whether they use confidential source (those quoted without direct attribution)? The New York Times has a criteria it published online but a lot of other news organizations have not made clear the criteria they use.

      The media should also ask itself about where the limits should be -- where that line is -- and what steps they'll take to prevent reporters, editors, bloggers, etc. from crossing that line.

      It's not only journalists who should be asking and answering these questions. It's also the consumers of newspapers, magazines and social media, who are important because they make the decisions about issues and subscriptions to buy.

      What's interesting is that more than ever, journalists, publicists and social media practitioners are in some ways more tied together than ever. Or perhaps it's that journalists and publicists are in the same boat and are re-arranging the deck furniture.

      Either way, we all must work on an evolving definition of what's news and how to communicate news, opinion and press releases.  For bloggers and reporters alike, that includes disclosing potential conflicts of interest. For PR functions, when you work with bloggers and other social media influencers, it's important to make sure they disclose any conflict of interests.

      Interestingly, the Journal's Bret Stephens wrote an interesting column today (after I wrote the original version of this blog article last night) that discusses journalistic integrity by comparing WIkiLeaks to News of the World  as a way to compare news in the public interest (such as uncovering government corruption) and news "merely of interest to the public," which Stephens defines as "just so much tittle-tattle about essentially private lives." I don't necessarily agree with Stephens' conclusions, but I think it's a discussion worth having.

      What should "journalistic integrity" is now an open question, one that we must address in the wake of the phone hacking scandal.

      Wednesday, June 29, 2011

      Leadership Ideas from GM's CIO

      Here's a good summary of ideas from GM's CFO, Chris Lidell, taken from a letter to the editor in the current CFO magazine:

      (1) Data. Don't just crank out data; turn it into actionable information and insight that others can use to grow the business forward.
      (2) Dialogue. If you have one hour for a presentation, spend a little time presenting the data and much more time in a two-way conversation about how to take action.
      (3) Drive. Get out of your office and talk to employees and customers. And by "driving every car in the portfolio," you can experience products firsthand (data) and take action.

      For more, check out "GM's Chris Liddell Takes Stock."

      Monday, June 27, 2011

      QR or Not QR

      As in to use a Quick Response or not to use a QR code, a 2-dimensional bar code that looks like this:

      QR codes are used on printed materials, like an ad, to provide a quick link to additional information. The idea is that by using your smart phone's camera capability, you can take a photo, scan the bar code and launch to the Internet for more information -- without having to remember an often complicated URL.

      Interesting concept, once that the CueCat (below) pioneered a decade ago, but failed miserably in its attempt.

      Now that scan-and-go concept is back, but there are still problems. Apparently there are good QR scanners for iPhone and Android users, but there doesn't seem to be a decent QR scanner for BlackBerry users.  I've tried four, and find that with all of them, I've had to try scanning several times before the bar code is decoded and my smart phone's web browser is launched to the correct page. At that point, I'd prefer to have the URL so I can just write it down and enter it the next time I'm at a computer.

      Meanwhile, Steve Smith, a contributing writer for MediaPost, has written a worthwhile article for those interested in how to deploy QR codes as part of their marketing.  Check out "How Not to Dig a QR Rabbit Hole," but here are a few key points:
      •  Mike Wehrs, CEO of ScanBuy, told Smith, "Don't create a code and just point to the home page of a [standard] website." I clicked on the QR code for "Midnight in Paris," and landed on the same website I would have found through any search engine.  Same for ads for Porsche. I was expecting something more than their home page.
      • Wehrs said it's worse when the link is for a standard website that hasn't been optimized for mobile users.  Don't forget: most people using a QR scanner are going to access the link from their smart phones -- so the landing page should work for a smart phone user!
      • Links from QR codes should add value for the user. Smith Cites Macy's as using QR codes for coupons -- that makes a lot of sense to me.
      • Wehrs suggests providing a headline so that users know what to expect. For Home Depot, ScanBuy used the headline "Scan the code for more Martha" to support a Martha Stewart promotion.
      Those are some good points for communications functions considering the use of QR codes. Check out Smith's article for more thoughts.

      Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that business cards are being transformed or even replaced by QR codes; check out the article here. Two other good Times articles to check out are "Cracking the Q.R. Code" and "Connecting With Clients Through the Power of Tech."

      Tuesday, June 21, 2011

      TVBlog's Perspective on Jon Stewart's Interview with Chris Wallace on Fox

      Over at TVBlog's David Goetzl provided a recap of Jon Stewart's interview by Chris Wallace on Fox News.  What I found interesting is that it proves the challenge of political bias because we took the same interview very differently.  You can check out his article here.

      Here's my perspective.

      1. Chris Wallace wanted to nail Jon Stewart to admit that Stewart is biased.  Wallace said he was just trying to understand Jon Stewart, but many of his questions seemed designed to elicit one response: to get Stewart to admit that he's biased and that he's out to get Fox News. What Stewart said was that say while his ideology informs his comedy, his main goal as a comedian and political satirist is to make people laugh by spotlighting absurdity, hypocrisy and corruption. 

      2. Was Wallace unfair to Stewart? If saying Wallace is a counterweight to Hannity and Beck, as Stewart alleged, is unfair to Wallace (and I'm not sure it is) -- wasn't it also unfair of Wallace to make the same point about Stewart and other Comedy Central programs? (Wallace had prepared footage of Comedy Central programs and said he sat through hours of "South Park.") By the way, Stewart agreed that his show serves as a counterweight to "South Park" and other shows.

      What's striking is that in responding to Stewart's point that Wallace is a counterweight to other more opinion-based Fox programming, Wallace responded by making the same point about Stewart, thus equating a news network and a comedy network.   It should be apples to oranges, but Wallace made a direct comparison.

      3. Stewart may have a left-wing bias, but Fox doesn't admit that it has a right-wing bias. I understand the point Wallace was attempting to make about Stewart and newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post. but if it's important to understand left-wing bias of the media, shouldn't it be important to understand the right-wing bias of the Wall St. Journal, New York Post and Fox News?

      In fact, the concept of objective journalism in the U.S. is a modern contrivance. In the mid-1800, newspapers openly declared their perspective, whether the Waterbury (CT) Republican-American, which was founded in 1844 and takes a conservative perspective, or the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, founded in 1833. Interestingly, given's Fox's slogan, the Democrat and Chronicle was first called the Balance, before becoming the Democrat (and later the Democrat and Chronicle).

      Perhaps it would be better if all media acknowledged the filter that its editors take on the news it covers.  And it certainly would be better if those who use sweeping negative terms to describe the other side were to stop doing so and to accept the fact that they've done so. At the end of the interview, Stewart said he was guilty of that himself, but you don't hear anyone else coping to that. Partisans on both sides are to blame for this.

      4. Taking facts and delivering perspective that makes people laugh does seem like more work. So, does Stewart work harder than Wallace? Stewart can be more selective in what he covers -- he's putting together a comedy show after all, not a news program. But in covering the same story and when conducting interviews on those topics, Stewart also has to make people laugh. That's definitely a tougher challenge.

      5. Stewart's biggest point got left out of the recap. His goal is to follow a tradition set by Mark Twain: to hold up absurdities of American life and politics -- and now, its 24-hour saturation media.  

      Here's the interview in its entirety:

      Monday, June 20, 2011

      How to Motivate Employees Who Otherwise Might Feel They're Doing Grunge Work

      An Inc. Magazine article about a hair-drying chain contained some interesting tips on creating excellent customer service.

      As reported in Inc., Leonardo Inghiller, author of "Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization," said one of the most important things a company can do is to "give employees permission to wax creative."   Inghiller, who once worked at Walt Disney, said:
      "We always told the housekeepers, "You are not here to clean rooms. You are here to create a memorable experiences for your customers. We had housekeepers who would take little Mickey Mouse plush dolls and put them in children's beds with a note, 'I was waiting for you.'
      "If your employees understand the mission and have the freedom to do great things, then they will do great things."
       He's right -- an uncleaned room would certainly detract from the wonders of Disney. And what an interesting way to motivate employees!

      Wednesday, June 15, 2011

      Forbes Validates Our Prediction about Curation

      In our annual list of predictions, we said we expect to see a lot of "curation" this year. In an April column, Lewis D'Vorkin wrote, "The soul of media: Curation and editing, all one in the same."

      Interesting all the more because on Jan. 12, 2011, we posted "Birnbach Communications' Top Predictions for 2011, Part III," in which we said,

      As used in 2011, curation does not have anything to do with healing. Sometimes known as "digital curation," the term generally refers to the concept of a website that offers information selected and maintained by an actual human (who might be known as a curator if this were a museum), not by an algorithm. In newspaper circles, this person used to be called "editor."
      Read D'Vorkin's column, it worth checking out. But it's also nice to see another prediction validated.

      Tuesday, June 14, 2011

      Could it be the work of the Hamburgler: McDonald's Confronts an Online Hoax

      McDonald's was the subject of a hoax, involving the following photo:

      Turns out that that the phone number listed on the false notice actually goes to KFC.

      And, it turns out, that the notice was not true.

      McDonald's has a strong track record of diversity. And once the company found the hoax, it tweeted a response and then retweeted others who supported the Golden Arches.

      But there are some, including's Matt Wilson, who asked, "Did McDonald’s do enough to correct a Twitter hoax?"

      Check out the article, but here are some points to consider about McDonald's response:
      • People started using the hashtag #seriouslymcdonalds to comment on the issue. In my search, I did not see that McDonald's used that hashtag, so that people looking at that as a trending topic probably would not have seen McDonald's response. Instead, McDonald's retweeted some other folks' tweets that included the #seriouslymcdonalds hashtag. 
      • They could have made a temporary change to the link listed in the McDonald's bio; right now it links to the @McDonalds Twitter Team -- but the company could have added a temporary statement about the hoax and its track record in supporting diversity.
      • Since this was a hoax perpetuated outside the company -- i.e., was not an employee prank, like that video from KFC's employees or a mistweet by the Chrysler social media agency or the Red Cross employee --- McDonald's could have taken a more aggressive stance in getting out the news that the photo was a hoax, and to have pointed to its decades of diversity success. The company may have wanted to be cautious for fear of unleashing copycat hoaxes, but I think it's an opportunity to tout its record on diversity. And, as some noted in Wilson's article, this hoax is likely to re-appear anyway because it can be difficult to kill rumors (Pres. Obama's birth certificate is just one example).
      As for suspects behind the hoax, I'm sure McDonald's will investigate who might be behind it.

      I have no way of knowing, but am wondering if ex-McDonald's employee, the Hamburgler may still carry a grudge.

        Monday, June 13, 2011

        Fortune Looks at the Qualities That Make for an MVP CEO

        Just as Major League Baseball compiles its annual list of National League and American League All-Stars, Fortune is compiling its list of CEOs to comprise Fortune's "first Executive Dream Team."

        I'm not sure of the value of an "Executive Dream Team," but editors and readers like lists. And like the All-Star balloting, readers can vote for the CEOs of their choice. However, the link is embedded in the print edition as a QR code, and voting page was not available by searching for it online; so if you have a BlackBerry, for which QR code scanners are unreliable at best, you probably can't vote. And if you don't get the print edition, you probably can't vote. (Which is why I'm including the URL here.)

        According to long-time management reporter Geoff Colvin, there are five "tasks that star CEOs of tomorrow will need to do extraordinarily well. While I don't disagree with Colvin's choices, I think some of those tasks are more important than others and that there are a bunch he left out.  Here are some from his list I agree with:
        • Understand global business in their bones.
        • Change strategies and business models more than before. I think this is very important.
        • Identify and manage risks before they become disasters. Also very important.
        But that list is not complete. There are other qualities, too, that an Executive Dream Team should have, especially when considering the executives (see below) on Fortune's ballet. Qualities such as:
        • Understanding how to execute.
        • Providing leadership.
        • Taking care of employees, including training and succession planning.
        • Fostering innovation. You can't update your business model if your organization isn't innovating.
        • Being able to work with board members and customers -- different selling skills, but both are important.
        • Understanding marketing.
        • Anticipating trends that will drive sales.
        Which CEO would be on your Dream Team?
        • J.P. Morgan's Jamie Dimon
        • Apple's Steve Jobs
        • McDonald's Jim Skinner
        • IBM's Sam Palmisano
        • PepsiCo's Indra Nooyi
        • IBM's Sam Palmisano
        What other qualities did Fortune overlook? Or that we missed? Let us know.

        Thursday, June 9, 2011

        11 Lessons from Weinergate

        We knew it was a train wreck when Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) said he could not say "with certitude" whether or not that now infamous photo was of him.

        Here are some lessons learned from the past two weeks.
        1. Do not take a picture of your junk. If you feel compelled to do so anyway, do not take the photo with your cell phone and do not load it onto your computer -- it's too easy for something unpleasant to happen.  This might seem obvious, but clearly it's a lesson that Brett Favre and Anthony Weiner could have benefited from.
        2. Do not share pictures of your junk. Nothing good can come from it. Doing so is unlikely to get you what you want. And, if you're a public figure, is more likely to make the day for your political enemies and late-night comedians. Even Jon Stewart, who on previous editions of the "Daily Show" has said he's good friends with the congressman, had to take Weiner to task.
        3. Social media is a great way to connect and engage with people you've never met, but limit the nature of the conversations you have with people you don't know. Your parents told you not to talk to strangers for a reason. This is particularly true for the Internet, where no one know if you're a dog. (Apparently in more senses than one.)
        4. If you feel you must respond when a woman says she thinks you're politics are "hot," focus on the politics, not the "hot." It may be flattering for someone to call you "hot," but it's never good for married politicians to respond to those compliments.
        5. If you're not sure if a conversation you're contemplating or actually having is appropriate, it probably isn't. Before you post or hit send, ask yourself, if this is made public, how would TMZ respond? What will Andrew Breitbart do with this content? 
        6. A little flirting may be okay, but persistent over-the-line conversations are not. Keep in mind that those online conversations that you think are sexy and fun will actually look especially sordid and creepy when other people can read them. Keep that in mind the next time you consider engaging in those sorts of conversations.
        7. If a photo or conversation is made public, do not lie and say your account was hacked if, in fact, your account was not hacked. Eventually, the truth will come out, and now people will know, among other things, that you a liar. And a bad one at that. 
        8. Remember: it's usually not the deed but the cover-up that causes problems. True, it would have been embarrassing for Weiner to admit at the start that the photo was his. But had he admitted the truth up front, he would have spared himself two weeks of humiliation. And he would have more credibility.
        9. By not answering questions clearly and succinctly, you actually raise the distraction level. Weiner is an otherwise feisty, smart and astute politician, with a lot of media experience. He should have realized that providing fuzzy, contradictory answers only stoke the scandal's flames (and not in a way he wanted to via his online exchanges).
        10. If you schedule a press conference to finally admit what we all know to be true, do not let anyone else -- especially a political enemy -- commandeer your podium before you get there. Instead, if you're going to be late, at least station a staffer to prevent anyone else from usurping your microphone and airtime.
        11. If you hold a press conference to make a teary confession, do not take questions afterwords. Make your statement, explain that you're sorry you've hurt those closest to you, that you made and learned from your mistake, and then left the podium. There will be no sympathetic of softball questions from the media, like, "Congressman, now that this is behind you, are you glad to get back to focusing on the business your constituents elected you to do?
        There's clearly a 12th lesson here, one best illustrated by the Daily Show, especially in this faux press conference.

        Check out Don't Be A Weiner for other lessons and a good post on, 5 Tips for Handling a PR Crisis like Weinergate. If you have other lessons from this recent crisis, let me know.

        Friday, June 3, 2011

        The Future of Advertising, Social Media & PR

        Earlier this week, Alex Poulos at LaunchPad Media, wrote an op-ed in the Boston Globe that discussed the future of advertising, "‘Mad Men’ of the future: The world of advertising — consumer, beware."  In the piece,
        Poulos makes a few points about what the future of advertising holds, which, because of new technologies, will bring about new levels of:
        • Intrusiveness.
        • Invasiveness.
        • Interactivity.
        • Integration.
        It's this last point that interests me the most. Poulos says that "advertising, marketing and PR will be indistinguishable. Yet words used now to hasten that day -- 'integrated,' 'synergy' and 'holistics' -- will seem silly in the future."

        I agree with that -- just as we predicted in the 1990s that so-called "new media" would just be called "media." Until, of course, we got to a new "new media," also known as social media. 

        I think there's a chance we'll stop referring to social media even as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and others are integrated more closely into our smarterphones and are embedded in all sorts of devices, including cars.  (For example: you'll be able to enter your friend's location from your contact database to program the address into your GPS.) That convergence will just be the way we live.

        And I think the current wave of new media will just be called media by the middle of the decade.

        Of course, it will be supplanted by even newer media.  But that's grist for another blog article.

        Thursday, June 2, 2011

        7 New Business Mistakes Agencies Make

        Earlier this week, I wrote about mistakes clients make during the new business process. Today, I want to take a look at mistakes agencies make -- these are mistakes we try to avoid, but we've made them, too.
        1. Not answering direct questions. There are some questions that are difficult to answer, including the quantity of articles an agency might expect an announcement to generate or a question about budget levels. But too many agencies hem and haw when a client seeks a clear answer. Hemmimg and hawing makes it seem like you don't know or won't answer.
        2. Being too vague when it comes to program specifics. There's a debate about how detailed agencies should get in their proposals. If you don't provide enough detail, you may not provide the prospective client with enough information to ascertain whether or not you would be suitable to serve as their agency. Part of the debate is this: which is more important -- the ideas or the execution of those ideas? As the head of an agency, I think both the creative and the execution are important, and work hard to excel at both.  At the proposal level we want to provide enough detail to prove our thoughtfulness and experience without handing a document to a prospective client that enables the organization to implement the program without us. (We've heard of cases were clients take the ideas generated through the RFP process and implemented those concepts themselves, without hiring a new agency.)  Getting that balance right is a challenge.
        3. Not developing reasonable metrics to measure and evaluate the client's marketing investment. In fact, too often agencies don't see a campaign as "an investment," so they think in terms of generating coverage (via traditional PR) or generating followers (via social media) but fail to focus on the need to generate leads. I realize setting expectations and metrics for social media can be a challenge -- especially because metrics for one company may not be appropriate for the next company. But because clients see PR and social media as part of their marketing investment, we need to do a better job of quantifying our proposals and campaigns so as to help determine the ROI for that investment.
        4. Pursuing clients that are not good fits, based on your experience. In a down economy, agencies are more motivated to pursue any new business. But there are clients -- while worthy organizations -- may not be a good fit for you. It's not worth pursuing that kind of new business, if only because those assignments may not be a good fit for the agency, its culture and its other clients.On the other hand, I'm not saying agencies must limit their new business only to the sort of clients and industries with which they've worked previously. It's hard to expand if you don't push the boundaries. But agencies and clients should be cautious.
        5. Not delivering what the client wants or focusing the proposal only to the needs of the day-to-day contact and not the marketing chief. We did that once -- provided a good program that addressed what the potential day-to-day client told us she wanted but ignored what her boss wanted.  She had told us she was the key decision maker, but that turned out not the the case. Meanwhile, too many agencies seek to solve the prospective client's marketing challenge from the agencies' perspective and not take into consideration the client, the client's culture, resources and needs.  The client is looking for a partner, an agency it can work with. By not addressing the client's needs upfront, the agency shows that it doesn't really care. (It's a big tip-off if the client's name is misspelled or if another client's name is listed in the body that the proposal didn't get a lot of thought or interest from the prospective agency.)
        6. Not showing any interest or enthusiasm for the client, its business and sector.  I'm always surprised when clients tell us that their current agency no longer seems interested in the business, and yet we hear that about other agencies. If agency personnel don't seem excited, it will be difficult for them to generate excitement among reporters, bloggers, etc. 
        7. Playing bait-and-switch by bringing only senior people to the pitch meeting and then asigning only junior staff to the account.  This has been going on a long time. Some clients we now work with have specifically told us they liked that our account teams all have substantial experience, and that the people who pitch the account actually work on the account. For us, that makes sense for how we run the agency and our mindset about our corporate culture. 
        We don't mind if other agencies make this last mistake, actually. Or any of the other mistakes we've highlighted above. We continue to look for ways to improve what we do. And since we wrote about the mistakes prospective clients make -- based on a blog post -- we thought it only fair to point out mistakes agencies make.

        Let us know if there's an agency new business mistake you've seen that I have not captured above.

        Wednesday, June 1, 2011

        Mistakes Clients Make When Choosing an Agency: RFP process

        In Part I, I responded to a blog post by Avi Dan on "The 7 Biggest Mistakes Clients Make When Choosing An Agency." In Part II, I want to explore the Request for Proposal (RFP) process.

        The RFP process is intended to be a level playing field for all participating agencies, which would be fine and fair. But in practice, RFPs seem like a more complicated process, for clients, who have to develop them, and for agencies, who have to respond to them. 

        I actually don't know anyone who likes the RFP process.

        The problem is that too many of them seem poorly designed.

        A few years ago, we got one from an engineering-driven company, and it was clear that the committee that developed the RFP was comprised of engineers, not marketers.  The tactics and strategies that are important for successful marketing were included -- but at the end, under a Miscellaneous heading. Sometimes RFPs have questions that don't even address the issue.

        Here are some elements that are the hallmark of a well-conceived RFP:
        • A clear explanation of why the organization is conducting an RFP now, including the challenges the company faces. We've seen RFPs that provide minimal background, which makes it difficult to address key challenges. For example, one RFP was clear on the key challenge -- the organization was launching a new first-of-its-kind product; unfortunately, a quick search found that their product wasn't the first, and that that affects the strategy, messaging and positioning. 
        • A clear explanation of what the organization is seeking in an agency, particularly the skill sets and experience.  There are lots of blurred lines out there among agencies: there are traditional PR agencies; hybrids (likes ours, cover PR and social media); and social media agencies as well as ad agencies focused on digital. Part of the process before the RFP should be to pre-qualify the sort of agency, its expertise and background that can help an organization achieve its goals. That pre-screening can help agencies determine whether they should participate. 
        • Specific objectives for the program. 
        • A realistic time line for the process. We've seen RFPs that requested a great deal of work to be completed in two weeks, with the promise the prospective client would respond in two weeks. That happened recently, but that's the exception. I remember one RFP process in which the client said they would make a decision within a week...which stretched out to more than a month. And I knew going into it, based on what the prospective client said, that they were never going to meet their deadline.
        • A clear overview of the scope of work. One challenge is that the scope of work for a social media campaign can vary widely depending on the company, its resources and culture. This is especially a challenge when it comes to talking about social media, which can cover a lot of ground and tactics, and can require lots of multimedia content that can entail out-of-pocket expenses. 
        • A clear overview of the budget. I understand the challenge in talking about budgets -- as a company you don't want to set the bar too high (say, $20,000 per month) if a hungry agency is willing to underbid (say, $10,000 per month).  But without a range, or some guidance, it's difficult for an agency to know what's realistic or not. Because one prospective client said, "we really want to see your best ideas," "we're entering an important make-or-break growth phase for the company" and "budget isn't really an issue," we provided some great creative ideas...that also happened to be thousands of dollars more than they could stomach. Knowing that budget was more of an issue, we would have provided more ideas that fit that parameter.
        • A clear sense of how the proposals will be evaluated, including the structure you're looking for. A recent RFP we heard about generated proposals written in PowerPoint, Word and Excel. If there's that much confusion in how the document should be presented, there may be other problems with the procees. By the way, preparing a template for the proposals will also make it easier for the evaluating committee to review all the proposals and select a winner.
        There are some other good ideas regarding RFPs on LinkedIn Groups available here; I liked the response from Paul Gilbert, a regional Director at Forrester Research.

        If you disagree, please let me know. If you agree and have a great story to share, please let me know.

        Meanwhile, to be fair, check out my blog post, "7 New Business Mistakes Agencies Make."

        Tuesday, May 31, 2011

        Mistakes Clients Make When Choosing an Agency

        Avi Dan, founder of founder of Avidan Strategies,  recently wrote an interesting article on, "The 7 Biggest Mistakes Clients Make When Choosing An Agency."

        Of the seven, I agree with four of them:
        • Forgetting that the most important reason for choosing an agency is its ability.
        • Not aligning client and agency interests and priorities is another mistake.
        • Leaving the compensation discussion to the end of the process can cause contentious misunderstandings.
        • Giving equal weight to all opinions at the company ignores the fact that different managers have different levels of experience, and sometimes, different expectations.
        Dan suggests that conducing a search without using a search consultant is a mistake, but I disagree.  We're seeing fewer companies engage a search consultant, and yet we continue to nurture long-term relationships with our clients -- even through the roughest economic period in memory.

        That said, I think a search consultant could be useful when companies decide to select an agency based on a Request For Proposal (RFP) process.

        In part II, I'll write about aspects of RFPs.

        Friday, May 27, 2011

        Interesting Look at Oprah's Final Season

        There was a time when it seemed as if nearly every potential client, even B2B companies, asked about getting onto "Oprah."

        We did get a client onto the show. The producers saw a a More magazine article on aging women athletes, and produced a special segment that featured a customer of one of our clients.

        That was great, and a bit lucky, too.

        For all the interest among potential and actual clients, a challenge in getting onto the program wasn't just the stiff competition to get producers' attention. It's that the show evolved into covering celebrities, and single-themed shows that were not appropriate for technology.

        Bloomgberg BusinessWeek ran a graphic that dissected Oprah's last season, and found the shows could be identified across eight categories:
        • Celebrity (84 shows)
        • Tragedies (23 shows)
        • On the Road (13 shows)
        • Self-help (12 shows)
        • Weird and wild (12 shows)
        • Looking Back (12 shows)
        • Self-Improvement Gurus (6 shows)
        • Oprah's Favorite Things (4 shows)
        Perhaps the last season was skewed, but based on the breakout of topics, "Oprah" didn't present a lot of opportunities for tech clients. You can check out the original Bloomberg BusinessWeek article here.

        Of course, these days, we still get queries about viral videos.

        Ah well.

        Monday, May 16, 2011

        Lesson from Google's Introduction of its Chrome Laptops

        Last week, Google introduced Chromebook, a new laptop based on Google's Chrome operating system. What makes Chromebooks interesting is that it stores everything online -- the apps, the data, etc. are all stored in the cloud.

        Google says that Chromebooks turn on instantly (as compared with Microsoft-based PCs) and can be simpler to maintain (again, compared with Microsoft PCs).

        But what's instructive for the rest of us not directly involved in the Google v. Microsoft battle is that Google made sure to launch Chromebooks with several beta customers.

        The fact is that Google has a strong reputation for its products, services and programmers. If Google says it's delivering something, most people will accept that the technology delivers what Sergey Brin, Google's co-founder, says it does.

        And yet, Google felt it needed the credibility of beta customers to support the need for this new laptop with its new business and operation model. And yes, Google had pre-briefed industry analysts at Gartner and IDC but realized they needed validation from actual users. Check out this New York Times article, "Google’s Chrome Laptops to Go on Sale in June," which includes quotes from Jason's Deli, a chain of 250 restaurants and Logitech. Additionally, Google cited other users (note: the article does not call them customers) such as Intercontinental Hotels, Group and Logitech, saying they "had already begun using Chrome."

        We always tell clients that having customers who will talk to the media is an important element for securing media interest. It's instructive to realize that having customers is an important element to a product launch even for Google.

        The important point about naming organizations "using Chrome" is this: it doesn't call them customers so we can't be sure they're actually paying to use Chrome. In other words, sometimes, even for Google, it's worth giving away technology in exchange for citing or quoting them in press materials.

        Tuesday, May 10, 2011

        New Study Suggests Lessons for Online Journalism

        According to a new study cited in today's NY Times, journalists need to rethink their online models.

        Perhaps the most significant recommendation from the 139-page report, published by Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism is to change journalists', and their audiences', relationships with advertisers.

        Times reporter Brian Stelter quotes Bill Grueskin, the academic dean for the journalism school and a co-author of the report as saying: “We’re not suggesting that journalists get marching orders from advertisers. We are suggesting that journalists get a much better understanding of why so many advertising dollars have left the traditional news media business.” 

        Other recommendations include:
        • Journalists must understand their businesses. The report makes the point that journalists “gain a fuller appreciation for how advertisers now reach their customers via social media, new-media ads and search engine optimization,” and that larger news organizations should consider creating or re-creating separate digital staffs, “particularly on the business side.” 
        • Journalists need to have a “faster and more consistent pace of innovation and investment” in digital technology. (As a counterpoint, please note that the report itself was printed on 139 pages. Perhaps the authors should follow their own advice.)
        • "Advertising on the Web tends to have less value for the consumer than advertising in other formats." 
        • Newspapers need to look past the traditional cost-per-thousands advertising model to offer creative ways to package ways to reach audiences. The study cites the Web site of The Dallas Morning News, which has a section for high school sports. A package deal for advertising on the section during a recent football season included print ads, a player-of-the-week contest and a banquet for players at the end of the season."
        For corporate communications functions, this study -- The Story So Far: What We Know About the Business of Digital Journalism, published in the Columbia Journalism Review -- is useful in terms of helping guide clients to embracing a new way to look at media.  It's also interesting in that the reporting about the study shows limitations in the current model. For example, I'm a big fan of the Times' reporter, Stelter, but his article did not mention Columbia Journalism Review nor provide a link to the study itself. It just goes to show that we all need to think through how we make content available across multiple channels.

        Meanwhile, here are the chapter titles for the extensive report. I plan to read through the report for future blog posts.

        Chapter One News From Everywhere: The Economics of Digital Journalism
        Chapter Two Traffic Patterns: Why Big Audiences Aren’t Always Profitable
        Chapter Three Local and Niche Sites: The Advantages of Being Small
        Chapter Four The New New Media: Mobile, Video, and Other Emerging Platforms
        Chapter Five Paywalls: The Price Tag for Information
        Chapter Six Aggregation: ‘Shameless’—and Essential
        Chapter Seven Dollars and Dimes: The New Costs of Doing Business
        Chapter Eight New Users, New Revenue: Alternative Ways to Make Money
        Chapter Nine Managing Digital: Audience, Data, and Dollars

        One question: in an age of 140 characters posts on Twitter, was 139 pages a bit overkill?

        Thursday, April 7, 2011

        The ABCs Don't Work in Social Media -- The Always-Be-Closing Sales Mentality

        According to some salespeople, including the characters in David Mamet's "Glengarry Glen Ross," the secret to selling is as simple as ABC: Always Be Closing.

        But that's not true in the social media universe.

        If you're "always be closing," you'll turn people off. Instead, you need to help people solve their problems by offering insights and tips. In other words, ABH: Always be helping. (I know -- it's not as good an acronym, but it's what works.)

        I mention this because this some people still don't get that.  Some continue to think they need to continue to hard sell to generate leads.

        But the fact is no one really cares about your product or service. Instead, they care about how you, your products and services, and your ideas can help solve pressing problems.