Friday, December 19, 2014

Track Record of Our 2014 Predictions, Part VI: Ongoing Consumer Trends

Today's look at our track record will set the stage for us to announce our trends for 2015. In the meantime here's the final set:

General news stories

  • More interest in workplace diversity. Unfortunately, this topic did not generate as much ink as we expected. Grade: C
  • Growing Hispanic influence. Except in terms of reforming our immigration policies, this did not generate as much as attention as we had expected. Grade: C
  • Real estate market. This generate some attention but not as much as we expected. Grade: B
  • The new Thanksgiving tradition is shopping on Thanksgiving.  As much as we don't like it, this was definitely a thing in 2014. Grade: A
  • Stock market and the biotech bubble. While we didn't see much about a stock market bubble, we did see more about a biotech bubble that didn't arrive. Yet. Grade: B-
Ongoing stories we’ll see covered in the media. Each year we provide a list of stories the media will continue to cover, which include:
  • Obamacare and midterm elections will be the never-ending stories in 2014.  'Nuff said, really. Grade: A
  • Deficits, spending cuts, taxes, etc.: This wasn't a dominant story line but it popped up fairly often. Grade: B
  • Cybercrime and cyberwarfare: Still important.  Grade: A
  • Privacy and security will continue to be issues that only experts care about. Consumers are generally ok with posting information about themselves to generate more followers, likes or subscribers or to get coupons or discounts. Grade: B+
  • Bitcoin and cashless payments will continue to generate interest. BitCoin is not yet broadly used by consumers. But the advent of Apple Pay, its e-wallet app, now available on any Apple devise using iOS8.1, it could be bigger in 2015. It did generate a lot of coverage at the start of the year. Grade: A
  • Star Wars: Not something our clients could leverage -- B2B enterprise software is not often discussed in that galaxy far, far away -- but there's huge interest, even a 80-second trailer is endlessly analyzed for clues. Grade: A
Ongoing Tech Trends we expect to continue:
  • The battle of tabletsGrade: A-
  • Mobile everything will be important, including mobile search and mobile recommendations. Grade: A
  • Crowdsourcing will continue to be a source of investors and a marketing boost. But that will primarily be for consumer-oriented products, not B2B technology. Grade: A
  • Virtual startups in otherwise unlikely fields. Grade: B+
  • 3D printers are still not yet ready for prime timeGrade: B+
  • Big data: Grade: A
  • Consumerization of enterprise apps: Grade: A
  • Second screens: Grade: B+
  • Cognitive and context computing:  A bit early on this. Grade: B

Overall, we did pretty well this year. If you have questions about these grades and how we settled on them, please let us know. We tried to be fair and accurate. 

In the meantime, get ready for our 2015 trends!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Track Record of Our 2014 Predictions, Part V: Ongoing Consumer Trends

Here's a look at how we called Ongoing Consumer Trends affecting us in 2014:

  • The Battle for the Living Room.  Grade: B
  • Cord-cutting will continue to be a top story. Grade: A
  • Consumers still expect Apple to unveil a new way to watch TV, but Apple will offer, instead, the iWatch.  We nailed this one except we got the name of the Apple Watch wrong. Grade: A
  • Premature deathwatch of things that are very much alive. People love to predict the death of various, usually popular items, devices or technology. Here are candidates for 2014:

o        PCs: We said PCs are not dead yet and corporate sales kept the category from seeing overall declines. Grade: A
o        Cable TV: We said, “We don’t think cable companies will disappear anytime soon because they’ve made bundling – phone/cable and Internet – so indispensable.” Grade: A 
o        Press releases: Despite social media, there’s still a place and a value to press releases. Grade: A
o        Media relations: We said it would continue to be important, and we feel it still is, despite inroads from social media. Grade: B+
·     Actual deathwatch: Things we feel are actually dying.
o  The phrase “at press time”Grade: A
o  Paper-based holiday cardsGrade: B

o  The words “authentic” and “artisanal”: As much as we’d like these words to die, they remained strong in 2014. Grade: C-.

Tomorrow, we'll wrap things up with the last set of trends we identified for this year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Track Record of Our 2014 Predictions, Part IV: Technology Trends

Here's how we did based on the predictions we made about Technology Trends:

  • Cloud computing will still be the big tech trend. A no brainer but still true. Grade: A
  • 2014 is the year people experience Tech Fatigue. We didn’t see a lot of stories about this but we feel it’s somewhat true based even on the reaction to the unveiling of new versions of smartphones. Because those smartphones are only incrementally better – A better camera sensor, big deal – people are disappointed. Grade: B
  • Cars and clothes will increasingly include design features for smartphones. Have definitely seen this in clothing but has not hit yet with cars. But it will. Grade: B+
  • Upgrading the retail experience. This was true but the bigger story seems to be same-day delivery of online purchases, whether by messengers in big cities or by drones in the future. Grade: B+
  • Drone deliveries will not take place in 2014. We’re right but same-day deliveries became a big deal in terms of buzz. Grade B+
  • The continuing battle among huge companies. Google v. Apple v. Samsung v. Microsoft, Oracle v. Everyone Else. Again, continuing a trend from prior years. Grade: A
  • Wearable technology is still ahead of the curve but will generate some coverage as part of the Internet of Things. Google Glass fell off the cliff relatively early in 2014 but the Apple Watch (coming in 2015) validated the category, as did fitness trackers. Grade: B+
How did we do with Consumer Trends? Find out tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Track Record of Our 2014 Predictions, Part III: Marketing Trends

Here's our look at Marketing Trends:

  • Thought leadership will continue to be important to B2B companies. This is going to be true for at least several years to come. Grade: A 
  • Sales and marketing need to be more integrated. Perhaps this seems like a no-brainer but we’ve seen this doesn’t happen enough. Sales and marketing need to work together on direct marketing, web content, marketing automation, advertising, social marketing and PR to generate qualified leads and move them through the sales pipeline. Grade: A 
  • Social media tracking services will hit it big in 2014. More measurement We probably overstated this. They’re important but there are too many different solutions measuring too many different variables. And even when they’re measuring the same variables, the algorithms generate different results that it’s hard to know what’s accurate. Grade: B
  • CES is no longer the top tech convention. This is continuing a downward trend. Grade: A

  • PR Spam will still be an issue. Now there’s concern that too much social media content is just repurposed press releases. We believe that’s more true than we’d like. Grade. B+
Tomorrow, we'll look at how we did based on the technology trends we predicted. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Track Record of Our 2014 Predictions, Part II: Media & Social Media Trends

The first set of trends we'll review are: Media & Social Media Trends

  • The media business has not stabilized.  Unfortunately we got this right. The New York Times just completed a buyout program of 100 newsroom employees that saw some prominent reporters like Stuart Elliott, a leading advertising columnist, and Bill Carter, author of several best sellers about the TV industry, leave the Grey Lady. Yet the Times claims that it still has approximately the same number of newsroom employees – just different mix of skills. Grade: A
  • Journalists continue to use social media to announce and report – and broadcast reporters often recap the mood on Twitter. Reporting on what celebrities are Tweeting about a news incident is not, by our definition, news but we’re seeing a lot of that on broadcast news, even online – when, if I want to see what at celeb is Tweeting, I can go right to that celeb’s Twitter ID. Grade: A
  • Traditional media will be burned in 2014 by jumping on a social media trending topic. This feels true even though we can’t point to a specific episode. Grade: B
  • Native advertising will be big in 2014. Clickbait or Native Advertising is a big deal in 2014. A lot of people don’t seem to like it but it seems like it’s here to stay for the near future. Grade: A
  • Marketing via flash mobs will seem so 2009. We were right about this.  Grade: A
  • Instagram and Pinterest will remain important sources for recommendations and inspiration.

o  Neither site was dethroned in 2014 but Tinder may have captured the prize for generating the most buzz in 2014. Grade: A because we were right about the importance of Instagram and Pinterest as well as a growing awareness that there is a disparity between what people post and the lives we actually live, and that marketers need to make sure they develop easy-to-capture-and-share content, particularly with regard to video and still photography.

    Stay tuned for a report on Marketing Trends, tomorrow.

    Friday, December 12, 2014

    Track Record of Our 2014 Predictions, Part I

    For more than a dozen years, Birnbach Communicates has compiled an annual list of media trends for its clients, who operate across a range of industries, including technology, financial software and services, unified communications, storage, security, biotech, healthcare, clean tech, senior services, consumer, social networking, nonprofit and education sectors.

    There were a lot of big stories, many of them international and tragic in scope, in 2014 that we did not predict including: Malaysian Airlines Flight 370; the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa and patients in the U.S.; Ferguson, the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, protests and the racial divide; domestic violence, Ray Rice and the NFL; ISIS, the beheading of kidnapped Americans and the re-engaging by the U.S. in Iraq and Syria; the kidnapping of Israeli teens that sparked fighting in Gaza; the Crimean crisis; the heroin epidemic; e-cigs and vape; the deaths of Robin Williams and Joan Rivers; the fall of Bill Cosby and the senate report on torture. There were also a lot of positive news we didn’t predict including: the Noble Peace Prize to Malala Yousafzai; the Ice Bucket Challenge and ALS; LeBron James returning to Cleveland; the identification of King Richard III’s remains; the Rosetta Mission landing on a comet; the amazing cultural phenomenon of “Frozen”; and the worldwide, non-ecumenical appeal of Pope Francis (could he be Time Magazine’s first consecutive person of the year?).

    And some business stories we didn't expect, such as the competition between Uber and Lyft, along with Uber's probably over-the-line aggressiveness or the rise of Snapchat supplanting Facebook (which, in a kiss of death for teens, is more popular with middle-aged parents than with their kids).

    The trends and topics we identify help the agency work with its clients to engage more effectively with reporters, producers, bloggers and other influencers. We also look at the way topics are being covered by media and in social media, and at how those stories are told. We continue to see that the way stories can and should be told is shifting.
    What follows over the next few posts is our annual report card of how we did with our 2014 predictions.

    Check back on Monday, to see how we did.

    Wednesday, October 1, 2014

    Today's Wall St. Journal Theme: Heroics & Online Personality Quizzes

    The media always runs on themes. On any given day, the media will cover a couple of themes. If the big story is the White House intruder who got further into the White House than was first disclosed, you can expect (as we did get) stories about the Secret Service chief, another story about past problems with the Secret Service, additional background on the intruder (with quotes from family, friends and acquaintances), and more. 

    It's the media's way of providing context. And broadcast, print and online media all do the same thing -- they look for trends behind the lead. The longer the main story remains significant, the harder the media has to dig to come up with some fresh angle that hasn't been covered before.

    That's not what I want to talk about right now, though.

    According to an old journalism adage, the definition of news is whatever interests the editor -- or the editor's spouse. Especially, sometimes, the editor's spouse.

    And that can lead to mini-themes of stories and headlines that hit over the same day or time period. Sometimes they're unintentional, which makes them fun to catch. In this case, I think it's clear these mini-themes did not spring from an editor's directive.

    For example, in today's Wall St. Journal, there were two stories about heroics.  But not the usual sort of heroics.

    Here are two headlines from yesterday's paper:

    One could make the case that both the headlines and the articles are designed to help Wall St. Journal readers feel like heroes -- even when it comes to two activities that are rarely seen as heroic: taking vacation photos or working out. If that's the case, what else could we expect to see: articles on meeting heroics? Ok, that was intended as a joke but the Journal also recently covered how to network better -- "Turn That Soul-Crushing Conference Into a Win; How to Get More Out of a Conference." So perhaps there is something to this min-trend. I will talk with our clients about pitching article ideas that position WSJ readers as winners and heroes. Meanwhile, another min-theme I've noticed involved two articles about online personality quizzes:

    There are these kinds of serendipitous trends or themes all the time. It's just a matter of paying attention to them, and then thinking about if there's a way to leverage those for your clients or organization. 

    Monday, September 22, 2014

    What's in a Startups' Name: Five Things to Consider from a Social Media/PR Perspective

    Parents often agonize before selecting a name for their child. They often study books of names to check on potential meanings. They might even check the Social Security annual list of popular names.

    When it comes to entrepreneurs deciding on a name for their company, it can seem like a different story.

    Instead of taking the founder's name (Ford, Dell, etc.) or picking two words to convey something about the company (
    Best Buy or Home Depot), many startups picks one-word corporate names that aren't usually descriptive and often have unusual letter selections, favoring lessor used letters like V (Fivver) X,(Ameex Tech) Y (Lyft) or Z (Zlio), a number (29 Prime, Netcomm3) or some combination (X5 Networks) . 

    Sometimes the startup's name combines two words into one to let you know what they do (Pinterest) while others seem to convey something but don't -- like SuperFish (a visual search company). And often enough the name is a deliberately misspelled variant (Bizness Apps or SeaSnax).

    We're not in the naming business but we do work with startups that sometimes pick trendy-sounding names that cause problems for them with the media -- that's why I'm writing about this now. And this is not based on a current client. 
    But we've compiled five considerations as you're developing a name for your startup.
    1. There's a thin line between interesting corporate names and dumb ones. Make sure you pick a name on the right side of that line. Not sure? Check out this article: "The 15 Dumbest Names for Web 2.0 Startups." (If you represent one of those companies, don't blame me; I just pointed out the blog post.) For an example of successful naming, check out this Eddie Izzard clip about the singer once known as Jerry Dorsey.
    2. Your name is also your major brand identify. (Again someone else can help you pick wisely, for example, check out "5 Startup Naming Rules from SXSW.") Which means, you should make sure a URL, Twitter ID, and other social media platforms are available for your startup. Keep in mind: even if your name is a made up name, with odd spelling, someone else could already have that name, as we found out for a couple of past clients with rather unusual names. (This was not a case of brandjacking because the Twitter IDs had been created before the startups had been a gleam in the eye of the founders.) This left the clients with two options 1) Find another way to represent your company and brand, or 2) Try to negotiate and buy the URL, Twitter or Instagram ID. There is a downside to both those options.
    3. Make sure you and all your employees know how to spell it. That's not as simple as it sounds, even if you're working with a naming company. Take real companies like SwiftPage, Onesource Virtual, epTonics, Stemexpress and Jaybird -- all of them have capitalization errors -- it should be Swiftpage and OneSource, and EPTonics but there's nothing inherent in those names to guide you. So you can be sure people won't necessarily know how to spell your brand. It can get worse. I knew of a company that used an exclamation point to replace the "I" that was the first letter in its name; all the coverage we generated in national media outlets refused to use the "!"; instead they used an "I."
    4. Make sure you and your employees know how to pronounce your company, including how to pronounce the vowels and which syllable to emphasis. For example, the Brits pronounce a lot of words differently; like Al-u-MIN-e-uhm for Aluminum or herb with a strong H as if it were short for Herbert. Inconsistent pronunciation could put customers and employees in an awkward situation of having to correct other people.
    5. If you make up a name, you should research to make sure it doesn't have any not-safe-for-work connotations. Or ironic implications. The famous example is the Chevy Nova, which did not sell as expected when exported to Latin America -- that's because someone forgot to see if Nova meant something else in Spanish. It does: it means no go or doesn't go. With a new name, it might have sold well in Spanish-speaking countries. But it's helpful to have a story about why your corporate name fits your culture, market, etc. We've come across (non-clients especially) whose companies have interesting name but no compelling backstory. The backstory can be important because it can help make the company name more memorable.
    My goal here is not to embarrass any organization but we've found that sometimes these issues are not considered when companies are named, and by the time they're ready to launch, it can be too late to make a change. And that can affect how we pitch the client to the media. (It's not good for anyone if we have to spend much of our time on the phone explaining how to pronounce the client's name.)

    Let me know if you have any PR- or social media-related stories regarding poorly thought out corporate names.

    Monday, August 25, 2014

    7 Tips on Developing a 3rd-Party Spokespeople Database

    One things many companies, especially start-ups, need to do is to recruit customers to serve as third-party spokespeople to provide quotes for the media and analysts as well as talk with prospective customers.

    One of the challenges of enlisting customers is to make sure you have a database set up to take advantage of the customers, their different stories -- so that they don't remain only in the heads of the sales people.

    Here are some steps to consider as you develop a compelling customer spokesperson program:

    1. Create a template of contact info: The template is important to make it easy to gather and search among your different customer. The template should include sections that include the general story for which they could serve as a spokesperson as well as customer segment, internal sales rep, etc. 
    2. Write a letter to explain this initiative: To explain what you're looking in terms of the program and their help. This will help customers understand their commitment.
    3. Design media training guidelines: This is to help customers know how to describe your company and product. (You might be surprised that even enthusiastic clients might not describe you and your product the way you would like them too.)
    4. Develop standard internal interview questions: This will make the database consistent so you will have a better idea of what the customer is willing to do, which can range from a willingness to talk with the media based on a background-only basis (i.e., not for direct attribution), talking to the media on a first-name-only basis (Norman, a father of three, said…), providing an attributed quote willing to provide photo, willing to talk only to analysts or some customers, only, etc.
    5. Create a process to triage media opportunities. This is important to help work with reporters, who are often on deadline, along with customers, who are often busy working on their own jobs. Part of that process should streamline the demands on your customers, provide your customers with background on the opportunity so they can feel comfortable conducting the interview, easily confirm interview times, and provide them with any resulting coverage (which they can use internally).
    6. Distribute periodic updates/info about your company: Once you have identified the customers who have agreed to serve as spokespeople, and once you have interviewed them, you need to make sure they are up-to-speed on the latest developments in your products and company -- so that they can talk to reporters about current products and direction.  Depending on the number of customers willing to serve as spokespeople, these updates can be distributed as part of a newsletter or as part of personalized outreach to these customers.
    7. Check in personally to make sure the client continues to be happy. Beyond updates on your business, it's important to check in to make sure your client continues to be happy. This is an important way to maintain the quality of your third-party spokesperson program. For example, customers may move within or leave their organization, and the worst time to find out is when you're trying to get them to talk with a reporter on deadline. Periodic check-ins enable you to keep the list current. 
    Following these tips by themselves won't guarantee a successful third-party spokesperson program. But they are essential to running a smooth, efficient program. 

    Thursday, August 7, 2014

    7 Tips for Welcoming Reporters at Events

    In this age of webinars and online events, it can be easy to forget that there are still a lot of in-person events that may require to check-in attendees, events like conferences, trade shows, galas, annual meetings and press conferences. Organizations remember to provide VIP guests with special care and handling but sometimes overlook the fact that media attendees also need special care when being checked in to an event.  

    Based on more than two decades of working with reporters at press conferences, trade shows and other events, here are some best practices on how to handle media.

    1.   Make sure the media qualifications/credentialing process is up-to-date. Ten years ago, to be considered a member of the media, one had to be either a staff reporter or editor or a freelance writer with a number of recent clips. These days, bloggers, podcasters and others are now considered media – and turning such people away could cause more problems via negative blog posts, tweets, etc.
    2.   Maintain a separate, up-to-date media database. To be effective, media relations teams must research and maintain a database of their key reporters. Because reporters move around so often these days, media databases are valuable only if they are kept up-to-date. Often times, when reporters show up to register to attend a conference or event, they often provide updated information that is important to capture.
    3.   Make it easy for reporters to register and check in. Consider offering online registration to speed onsite registration, and make sure to have pre-printed press badges, blank extras on hand for last-minute walk-ins, along with extra press kits (whether electronic, on flash drives or paper). Also consider having a separate registration area, with clear signage, and trained personnel to check reporters in – particularly reporters who, at the last minute, have decided to attend an event, which means their names may not be in the media database. Having a separate registration station means that reporters won’t get in the way of other VIP attendees such as speakers, sponsors and benefactors, board members, etc.
    4.   Make it easy to capture walk-in reporters’ contact info. If reporters walk up to the same registration tables as the general public, their information may not get forwarded to the correct people. If a walk-in reporter’s information goes to a general volunteer, it may get lost, making it difficult to track media attendees and to follow-up with them afterwards. It is vital that media contact info gets forwarded to the media list for future events; instead, if contact info gets included in non-media databases, it will be impossible to find that data and to use it to the organization's advantage in the future.
    5.   Train key staffers on how to work with reporters.  Untrained volunteers can actually damage relationships that an organization needs to maintain with reporters. For example, a couple of years ago, at a nonprofit's big event, a well meaning volunteer turned away a wire service reporter, who walked walked away in a huff, and never wrote about the organization.  On the other hand, trained volunteers and staffers would know how and be empowered to handle reporters, especially walk-ins, who otherwise might be turned away. Reporters are looking for a quick, efficient way to check in; they want to work with people who know how to work with them. Organizations can easily get a reputation for being unprofessional and hard to work with, and it’s important to take the steps to prevent your organization from being seen in that light.
    6.   Identify locations, times, etc. that may offer better photo and story opportunities. Reporters often rely on the people registering to help them get a sense of where they can find good visuals, good stories, etc.  Make sure the content you've developed is shareable by social media, which includes using a hashtag for your event.Typically, general volunteers are focused on separate issues, and end up being a hindrance to reporters, which again could damage a relationship. Those trained in how to deal with the media, on the other hand, can enhance the trust necessary for strong relationships with reporters.
    7.  Make sure to follow-up appropriately. While reporters usually don’t like “follow-up calls,” it’s different if you are able to offer photos, video, audio or other content, including interviews with people they weren't able to get. These calls are part of the process of helping reporters so consider asking their feedback in terms of what could be improved to help the media cover similar events in the future. For example, years ago, after a reporter complained about the sound quality at the back of the room where the TV cameras were positioned, I’ve always made sure to have technology in place that can enhance the audio feed.

    Checking in reporters professionally and efficiently with the help of people trained and equipped to work with media can make a big difference in the relationship that organizations can build and maintain with those reporters. 

    Let me know if you have other tips.

    Monday, July 28, 2014

    What Happens to Forbes, Now That Has Been Sold

    Earlier this month, I wrote a column for CommProBiz called "What the Selling of Forbes Tells Us about the State of Business Media" that raised some key points about the health of business media, namely:
    • Establishing a strong brand is important for readers and advertisers but can be difficult to truly monetize.
    • Standalone magazine companies are at a disadvantage to conglomerates that can spread costs and profits across a family of magazines. 
    • The value shoring up Forbes is not its free popular website or its steady level of subscribers — but its conference division. 
    • Forbes is very creative in finding revenue but not all ways of charging access -- like paywalls (which Forbes does not have) or separate digital subscriptions (which it does) -- are reader friendly. 
    Soon afterwards, on July 18, Forbes, which had put itself up for auction in the fall of 2013, announced that it had sold itself for more than $300 million to Integrated Whale Media Investments, a Hong Kong investor group. The asking price had been above $400 million, and the Wall St. Journal had said some "traditional media companies" had offered bids of $200 million but were rebuffed by Forbes. The valuation of Forbes Media is at $475 million, roughly what the family had been asking for.

    As part of the sale, Elevation Partners is selling its entire stake. According to the Wall St. Journal, Elevation Partners, which had invested $264 million in 2006, "would recoup substantially all of its investment." Which is to say: Elevation did not make money on owning a portion of Forbes. 

    Additionally, "The Forbes family will take some cash out as well, although the precise amount isn't known." Which means the Forbes family has limited its potential liabilities without making much money on the deal.

    Meanwhile, here are a few key facts about the business of Forbes from the sale include:
    • Forbes's print circulation increased in 2014 to 6.1 million, a record for the magazine and much higher than competitor Fortune (at 3.6 million, down from 3.8 million a year earlier). However, Forbes offered heavily discounted subscription fees that shored up its print circulation.
    • Print advertising has continued to drop, declining 11% to 650 pages compared with 2013. (Fortune's ad sales declined 4.7% to 665 pages over the same period.
    • Traffic to Forbes's websites increased 17% to 27.7 million unique desktop and mobile visitors last month in the U.S., which makes Forbes the third-largest business and financial news provider online behind Yahoo and Dow Jones.
    In my next blog post, I'll address the editorial implications of the sale of Forbes.

    Thursday, July 24, 2014

    Top 7 Things to Understand about Magazines' Lists

    If the age of social media and native advertising has taught us anything, it's that people love lists: 
    • "15 ways to waste more time on the Internet."
    • "10 useless facts that will bore your friends at cocktail parties."
    • "10 secrets to reduce procrastination." 
    Those aren't real lists but they aren't so far off from native advertising articles (my favorite native ad headline of the day: "Warren Buffett Tells You How to Turn $40 Into $10 Million." Native ads are so prevalent, that The Onion recently launched a spinoff site called Clickhole that serves up faux native ad-like headlines and stories. The main problem is that the blurred line between Clickhole stories and real, unironic native ads.)

    No business publication "gets" the importance of lists than Forbes, which researches, compiles and publishes dozens of lists each year, beyond the iconic Forbes 400 of the wealthiest Americans (by which Forbes tends to mean U.S. citizens or residents).

    Here's our own list based on Forbes' range of lists.

    1. You can never have too many different flavors of lists. In addition to the Forbes 400, Forbes also publishes the Worlds Richest Billionaires issue; "Richest Families in the U.S."; as well as the "Best & Worst Cities for Jobs," "The Best Cities for Business"; "The World's Most Powerful Celebrities" and "The Top Earning Actors" and "The Highest Paid Athletes" and don't forget: "Superheroes of the Celeb 100" and the "Richest Fictional Characters." (Seriously -- Mr. Monopoly ranked #13.) Several lists seem like variations of another list; the most powerful celebs includes top earning actors and athletes.
    2. Publishing lists as a slideshow can be great because each click improves the traffic counts on your website. Instead of printing the top 10 of a list on one page, which generates only one click, slides of the top 10 whatevers generates 10 clicks.
    3. Lists work best when they are quantifiable, which is why Forbes allocates resources to compile these lists. But there is a lot that can be hard to pin down, even when it comes to net worth. A lot of other lists are subjective, even as they try to apply some framework to the list. For example, Forbes ranks author John Green at 79 on the Most Powerful List, with JK Rowling at 84 -- really? Perhaps it's a nuance of power, but I would think Rowling still has more "power" to get published and movies made than John Green (not to take away from Green) but perhaps Forbes has a different definition of "power."
    4. Realize that most rankings are designed to generate a barroom discussion and are not scientific. Most rankings should be taken with a grain of salt. What stars earn each year can be variable, with payouts dependent on sponsorships and multi-album deals. Same for CEOs and stock options.  
    5. Even if Forbes provides some quantifiable numbers, there's a lot of guesswork and sometimes those numbers don't really matter. On the "Most Powerful Celebrities" list, which looks at earnings, money rank, press rank and social rank, LeBron James is ranked number 2 (after Beyonce). But King James' scored 19 on the money rank and 22 on the social rank; his highest ranking was the press rank at 9 -- so how can Forbes justify his top-two ranking? Well Forbes adds a "cultural figure," which is not clearly defined.
    6. There are always questionable selections. Some of the stars on the Most Powerful list certainly deserve to be there -- Beyonce, LeBron, Dr. Dre, Oprah, Ellen, Jay Z, people known by their first names. But some of the rankings are questionable: Does Floyd Mayweather belong at #7? Roger Federer at #16, the Eagles at #36, One Direction at #28, Justin Bieber at #33? That doesn't include some folks I haven't heard of (because that may say more about me than them). Then there are celebs who don't seem particularly powerful like Avicci (#47), Kate Upton (#94), Kaley Cuoco (#99) and therefore don't belong on the list at all.
    7. The teams that compile these lists do not always read the rest of the magazine -- and vice versa. On the very next page of the printed edition, Forbes reported that Michael Jordan is now a billionaire.  Here's the news blurb in its entirety from Forbes' "Scorecard" column: "Jordan never retired. Still earning $90 million a year selling shoes, he ups his stake in the NBA Charlotte Hornets and becomes the first NBA star worth a billion." If I were compiling a list of "Most Powerful Celebrities," I would have included Michael Jordan.
    I don't mean to pick on Forbes or that particular list. I like lists as much as the next person but at some point, most are subjective, and that's okay. Cases in point: People's "Most Beautiful" and "Sexiest Man Alive" lists, various magazine's Best (and Worst) Dressed lists, and hundreds more. I think it is helpful to understand how the lists are compiled and why publications rely on them as long as readers take most of them with a grain of salt.

    Friday, March 7, 2014

    What the Selling of Forbes Tells Us about the State of Business Media (Part I)

    According to the New York Times media columnist David Carr, Forbes will be sold to an international company sometime in the next few months. You can read his article, "Foreign Buyers Eying Forbes Magazine, a Chronicler of the World’s Wealthiest." 

    But here are some lessons learned, gleaned from the article and our experience:
    • Standalone magazine companies are at a disadvantage to conglomerates that can spread costs and profits across a family of magazines, according to Carr. For the most part Carr is right -- but Forbes actually publishes several other titles -- ForbesLife, Forbes Europe, Forbes Asia as well as 29 international editions. (It's probably not a good time to purchase advertising in Forbes Russia, Forbes Ukraine.) Forbes also runs a very popular website (more on that below) and family of website. Our point is: it's not just publishing a range of publications -- it's publishing magazines that reach a range of readers. After all, if you put all your eggs in one high-value Birken bag, when advertisers pull back on your demographic, you could get hit 29 times.
    • Sometimes selling isn't a matter of making money but in preventing additional losses. The estimated price that Forbes may sell is $250 million (though some say that estimate is low). But Elevation Partners paid $264 million for a minority stake -- so their portion is certainly underwater. Carr says the Forbes family is unlikely to make money from the sale. The question becomes: why sell? Seems clear that the reason is that it continues to be tough for media companies to build value.
    • The value shoring up Forbes is not its popular website -- but its conference division. The publication is probably generating tons of revenue from its growing number of conferences, including luxury cruises offering insights and access to top stock pickers. Conferences have re-emerged for Forbes and other publishers as a profit generation tool. Conferences may have been a difference in the valuation of BusinessWeek for $5 million (and the assumption of debt) when it was acquired by Bloomberg. The same for Newsweek, which had no conferences and was sold for $1 and the assumption of debt. The bottom line lesson: perhaps leverage a successful conference series and turn that into a multimedia property (which is what TED is doing). 
    • Forbes could generate more money by establishing a paywall around its content. Carr makes the point that Carr makes the point that others -- including the Times and Wall St. Journal -- have successfully boosted revenue by establishing paywalls around their content. Yet aggressively promotes the website in a bid to generate views that can translate into higher revenue. It has been very successful in developing a community of columnists (many of them people trying to position themselves as thought leaders). The bottom line here: there's still no single, accepted way to generate sustainable revenue online -- neither free access (and higher revenue from advertisers) or paywalls (and subscription fees from access) are really replacing print advertising revenue that will never return to pre-mobile/digital levels.
    • Circulation is holding steady but it may not generate steady revenue. Last year, Forbes was offering print subscriptions for $10 -- that's a steep discount from prior years. Keeping circulation high is important to advertisers (and the amounts you can charge them) but discounting clearly hurts profits.
    • Forbes is very creative in finding revenue. It's been a leader in pushing advertorials. It can sometimes feel like a 1/5th of the magazine is devoted to advertorials. But more significantly, Forbes is a pioneer in native advertising (though I don't think that's the term they use) through its BrandVoice section on the website and in the magazine. Here's how Forbes describes it: "Forbes BrandVoice™ is an integrated and by-invitation content-sharing platform ...(that) is an innovative approach to integrating marketers’ content with Forbes’ editorial and users’ content — allowing marketers to demonstrate their thought leadership on the Forbes platform using the same tools as content creators." What does it take to receive an invitation to be a Forbes BrandVoice partner? We've heard estimates of $800,000 in annual advertising just to get to the point of discussing BrandVoice. (In other words, BrandVoice spending is on top of a company's annual advertising buy.)
    • Not all ways of charging access are reader friendly. While Forbes doesn't charge to access its website, it does charge to access its content via your iPad. If you're already a subscriber to the print edition, Forbes charges $9.95 for an annual iPad subscription.  When you consider Forbes' $10 print subscriptions price, charging $9.95 to access the iPad version is like a 100% tax increase.
    Carr makes the point that it's ironic that a magazine with a strong heritage of America-first is now being sold to an international company. I agree -- but I also think that the sale (likely to an Asian company) makes sense because Forbes is more likely to be seen as a trophy property for companies based in Asia than anywhere else in the world.

    What Carr doesn't discuss or speculate is how an international owner will change Forbes. For that, stay tuned! You can check out a subsequent look at the selling of Forbes here

    Thursday, January 23, 2014

    Wall St. Journal & Boston Globe Validate Biotech Bubble Trend

    The validation is coming in fast and furious regarding our biotech bubble prediction. We said:
    Stock market and the biotech bubble. 2014 will be marked by concerns about the health of the stock market. Of the different sectors, rising biotech shares will generate growing concern of a biotech bubble. That concern will affect all parts of the industry, especially startups as VCs start getting nervous about their portfolios. Implications: There’s not much publicly held companies can do – except, as a Forbes reporter once told us, have you company “do better…and boost its share price.” We just think it’s important to understand how editors allocate their resources (reporters’ time and the outlets’ news hole).
    The Wall St. Journal validated that with an article, "Hot New Biotech Knows Roller-Coaster Feeling" and the Boston Globe validated it with "After boom, 2014 repeat for biotech is uncertain."

    We know that talking about bubbles can take on a certain air on inevitability, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. We hope we're wrong in this case.

    Tuesday, January 21, 2014

    More Validation from NY Times about Privacy and Security

    "Stop Asking Me for My Email Address" and "Tech Security Upstarts Enter Fray" by Nicole Perlroth (@nicoleperlroth) at the New York Times are just two more examples of coverage that validate our predictions about ongoing interest in privacy and online security. 

    Apparently the security market for software itself will generate $67 billion.

    These are two themes that will continue to generate coverage over the rest of the decade. As self-driving cars (SDC) get ready for prime time (is it time to retire that phrase? -- probably), expect privacy and security to focus on new issues related to cars, like in this recent Times article: "The Next Data Privacy Battle May Be Waged Inside Your Car." There will be privacy reporters concerned about the ability to track other people's cars -- whether you're joining them at an event and want to know where it is or when they're getting their or if you're stalking them -- and security reporters concerned about the ability to hack and take over someone else's car. 

    Friday, January 17, 2014

    Was This the CES that CES Needed to Be?

    In our annual forecast of marketing trends, we said this about CES:

    The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has been eclipsed by South By Southwest (SXSW) but both need a breakout show in 2014. Last year’s CES and SXSW were not as successful in generating buzz as in prior years. The problem with the last two years of CES has been its focus on the latest TVs – at a time when people are more likely watching TV on their tablets than on a “TV set.” (Also Apple does not participate in CES.)

    Based on articles like Nick Bilton's in the New York Times: "Disruptions: At CES, a Big Stage for Big Dreams but Fewer Surprises," that CES 2014 did not quite deliver on the excitement and buzz. Here's Bilton's recap of CES 2014:

    But in some ways, this year’s show was a far cry from the shows of old. CES has been around since 1967 (it was held in Manhattan until the late 1970s), and over the years it has been the place to spot some real innovations. In 1970, the videocassette recorder was introduced at CES. In 1981, the compact disc player had its debut there. High-definition TV was unveiled in 1998, the Microsoft Xbox in 2001.
    This year’s crop of products seemed a bit underwhelming by comparison.

    Ouch if you're CES.

    For companies considering CES 2015 to launch new products, you may want to think of a different strategy. This is at least the second consecutive boring CES (which we predicted last year, too). For the news programs that are thinking about sending their weathercasters to the show next year, you might encounter turbulence because highlighting cool, must-have tech is apparently getting harder. 

    The one exception that could help next year's CES (as it did this year's): wearable tech and devices that are part of the Internet of Things. (I know we sound self-aggrandizing here but we are trying to track which predictions we got right or wrong, but we predicted wearable tech and the Internet of Things to be big in 2014. Our usual tone is not so self-congratulatory.)

    Thursday, January 16, 2014

    Bonus Prediction for 2014: Olympic Coverage

    We left out one topic in our list of general news stories in 2014. It's the 2014 Sochi Olympics, which run from Feb. 6th through Feb. 23rd.

    There will, of course, be a lot of coverage building up to the Olympics, including stories about somewhat obscure sports like curling (see "Curling: How Hard Can It Be?" in the Wall St. Journal). There will also be a lot of ads featuring Olympic athletes (including from employers showing how great they are to work for -- especially if you're an Olympic athlete) or Olympic-themed story lines. After all, the Olympics aren't just about world-class athletics and peaceful competition among countries. The games are also a world-class marketing opportunity.

    We can also expect a lot of coverage of Russia, including its anti-gay laws, the security protecting the Olympic village, and the state of Russia today, its economy, its freedoms, and more about Vladimir Putin.

    We probably have no excuse for omitting the Olympics -- except that we expect coverage to end on Feb. 24th.

    Let us know if you think we missed anything else.

    Wednesday, January 15, 2014

    Wall St. Journal Validates Our Privacy Predictions

    As part of our measurement process in looking at our annual forecast, we keep track of how we do -- did we get things right? Did we miss things?

    As part of the ongoing news stories we think will generate coverage in 2014, we picked privacy along with cybercrime. The ever-increasing numbers of Target customers affected by the hackers -- well, that unfortunately validates the cybercrime story angle.

    But the Wall St. Journal, which closely following the privacy story over the past two years, continues to think it important to understand the crossroads between marketing and privacy. The latest article validates our privacy prediction. Check out "What Secrets Your Phone Is Sharing About You; Businesses Use Sensors to Track Customers, Build Shopper Profiles."

    So far, looks like we're doing well in terms of our forecast. Of course, we did not identify a scandal involving the Christie Administration and traffic shutdown on the George Washington Bridge so we do miss some big stories.

    Let us know what you think about privacy, cybercrime or any other trend.

    Monday, January 13, 2014

    Bitcoin Already a Hot Topic in 2014 -- Validates Another Prediction

    In our annual trends and predictions, we identified Bitcoin as being a hot, ongoing topic in 2014.  We said:
    Bitcoin and cashless payments will continue to generate interest. We’ve seen a rise in interest in bitcoins, and it appears bitcoins may be on the edge of going mainstream. We don’t think that will happen in 2014 but we do think the topic will get discussed.
    But more retailers are evaluating whether or not to accept Bitcoins for payment, and already there's been a lot of coverage about bitcoins: such as:
    And those are just within two hours of when I was writing this post.

    We still don't think most consumers will pay with Bitcoins in 2014 but more retailers will announce they accept it for payment in 2014 -- as a way to highlight their being on the cutting-edge.

    Meanwhile, we also saw another story prediction get validation. In our list of ongoing tech trends we identified cognitive computing, led by IBM Watson, to score coverage. Here's a recent Wall St. Journal article: "IBM Struggles to Turn Watson Computer Into Big Business;Revenue Is Far From Company's Ambitious Targets."

    Thursday, January 9, 2014

    New York Times

    In our annual look at general news stories that will get covered by the media, we identified two story-angle predictions that have already been validated:
    1. More interest in workplace diversity. Spurred by SNL's hiring of two black women comedians (at press time SNL had not hired any black comic/actress this season but we expect they will hire two black actresses), we think there will more attention paid to diversity in TV shows and movies, and that this could lead to a larger discussion about diversity in the non-celebrity-filled workplace. 
    2. Growing Hispanic influence. This is a demographics story, one that will get mentioned a lot in the run up to the midterm elections, especially if immigration reform gets discussed.
    The first prediction was validated by articles like "‘S.N.L.’ Hires Black Female Cast Member" when SNL hireed Sasheer Zamata, "a young sketch comedian who has been performing in the New York area for the last four years," according to the Times. We expect more coverage when Zamata makes her debut. We continue to think SNL will hire a second Black comedienne. Further, we think the media will continue to ask questions about on-screen diversity. 

    Also, earlier this week, the Times reported on a "New Agency, a Spinoff, Will Aim Its Message at a Hispanic Audience." We continue to expect to hear more about the importance of Hispanics as coverage of the midterm elections cranks up.

    Please let us know if you disagree with any of our predictions for 2014 or if we missed something important.

    Wednesday, January 8, 2014

    NY Times' David Carr Validates Media Still Distabilized Prediction

    In our annual set of predictions, we said 
    The media businesshas not stabilized... (and) publishers still have not found a sustainable business model.  
    That prediction was validated earlier this week by media columnist David Carr in his article: "Print Starts to Settle Into Its Niches." Check it out about a look at Kevin Kelly's return to print book publishing.

    Also, the Times validated "The Internet of Things" prediction and the one we made about the challenge of selling TVs when people are watching on devices. Check out "‘Smart TVs’ Are Next Bet for Makers as Sales Languish."

    Tuesday, January 7, 2014

    CES and Wall St. Journal Validates Our Prediction about the Internet of Things

    In our annual set of predictions, we said that the Internet of Things -- Internet-connected devices -- will get attention in 2014. Check out our prediction here.

    If there's a theme for this year's CES, it seems to be the Internet of Things. Check out this Wall St. Journal article: 'Internet of Things' in Reach; Companies Rush Into Devices Like Smart Door Locks, Appliances, but Limitations Exist and Smartwatches Pop Up All Over CES; Electronics Show Has New or Updated Devices From Pebble, Kreyos, Archos and Samsung.

    Also the Journal validated our prediction about cybercrime: "Companies on Guard for New Legal Pitfalls;Cybercrime, Labor Rules, Financial Penalties Add to General Counsels' Concerns."

    Birnbach Communications' Top Predictions for 2014, Part VII: Ongoing News Stories

    Each year we provide a list of stories the media will continue to cover, which include:

    1. Obamacare and midterm elections will be the never-ending stories in 2014. seems to have turned a corner from its rough start but given midterm elections, the state of Obamacare will clearly be a never-ending story. Implications: Not so much a story that clients will want to touch, but it will generate attention from reporters and bloggers. 
    2. Deficits, spending cuts, taxes, etc.: As with healthcare, expect that editorial and op-ed pages as well as political radio and TV shows will be littered with opposing perspectives of the steps the country should take. Debate may be worthwhile but don't expect Congress to be any less dysfunctional. 
    3. Cybercrime and cyberwarfare: We’ve picked this as one of the most important trends of the decade so expect a lot of reporting about this throughout 2014. 
    4. Privacy and security will continue to be issues that only experts care about. Experts will talk about the death of online privacy but actual users don't really care. They will continue to post information about themselves because we live in a culture of documentation, in which MIT professor Sherry Turkle observes that our experiences don't seem to matter if we don't actually share them via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. That said, we expect continued coverage of privacy issues, especially connected to the NSA or advertisers even though strangers can access information about where they live, where and when they travel, what they buy, etc. We also expect that cyberattacks and cyber warfare will continue to generate coverage in 2014 and beyond. Implications: From a privacy perspective, we think there could be a backlash if the big data about consumers' habits that are being shared with advertisers enables too much contact that makes advertisers appear "creepy." 
    5. Bitcoin and cashless payments will continue to generate interest. We’ve seen a rise in interest in bitcoins, and it appears bitcoins may be on the edge of going mainstream. We don’t think that will happen in 2014 but we do think the topic will get discussed. Meanwhile we continue to expect digital wallets or e-wallets to go mainstream in 2016. As we get closer, we expect there to be articles comparing bitcoin vs. Google Wallet vs. Isis (from AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile), focusing on security and privacy issues around each standard. 
    6. Star Wars: Currently scheduled for a 2015 release, the next Star Wars movie will be cool but, even with director JJ Abrams at the helm, it may not live up to fanboys’ overactive imaginations. Meanwhile, expect Comic-Cons 2014 and 2015 to get major coverage.
    Thanks for staying with us. That's the end of our list of predictions for 2014 -- though we may add more. After all, it's still early in the year!

    Let us know if you agree or disagree. Click here for Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V or Part VI.