Monday, November 27, 2017

Final Recap of Our Predictions for 2017

As part of our predictions for 2017, we also looked at some ongoing trends from prior years that we thought would continue into 2017. Here's our list and how we did.

Ongoing trends:
1.      NFL ratings will continue to decline. Whether it’s overexposure or kneeling, we got this right. Grade: A
2.      Drug pricing will get a lot of attention. We got this right, too. Grade: A
3.      Wearable tech will still not be as mainstream as people in the industry were hoping. Fitness trackers aside, this was true. Grade: A
4.      Progress to a driverless-car future will slow down. We thought the problem would be a combination of needing to solve some technical issues as well as liability issues but we were wrong. Seems driverless-cars are moving forward quickly. Grade: D (because liability issues have not been resolved)
5.      3D printers will continue to proliferate in schools but remain unnecessary in the home. Still right about that. Grade: A
6.      Cord cutting will be expensive and complicated. There continue to be more streaming services but add up Internet access and lots of $10 monthly fees from many different providers (Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, CBS, etc.) and it will quickly add up to be equal to your regular cable bill and vastly more complicated to juggle from one service to another. Grade: A
7.      eBook sales will continue to plateau while traditional book sales increase slightly. Actually, eBook sales declined nearly 20%, according to CNN. So we got part of it wrong – but printed books increased. Grade: A
8.      e-Wallets still won’t be as widely adopted as some were projecting. We said, “they will go mainstream but not in 2017 or 2018” and we’re probably right but we’re seeing more retail terminals taking wireless payment methods even if most purchases we’ve seen are conducted with traditional credit cards. So, while not everyone has transferred all wallet items into e-Wallets, certainly it’s a growing trend that’s alive and thriving. But could somebody please, please tell school photographers that we haven’t needed 1x4 wallet-size photos of our kids, much less eight 1x4s, in at least a decade. We have all the photos we need on our phones, thank you very much. Not even grandparents want them. Grade: C+ 

You can check out our other recap here and the first five here.

Look for our predictions for 2018 before Christmas.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Recap of Our Predictions for 2017, Part II

We identified 16 trends for 2017, and graded the first 5 here. Here's how we did on the second set.

1.      2017 will be a tough year for traditional media. 
Again, unfortunately, we got this right. We identified several key variables – including the ascent of fake news, which has damaged traditional media’s most important value: credibility. We’ve seen layoffs and buyouts at the top of the food chain (i.e., New York Times, Wall St. Journal) and among the cool kids (Mic), including complete shutdowns (Gothamist, DNAInfo). In prior years, we thought local news would do fine because there’s been a big interest in hyperlocal; with the demise of Gothamist and DNAInfo, both owned by billionaires for whom the budgets were rounding errors, we now think local media needs to find new ways to make money.

Grade: B+

2.      Social media addiction becomes recognized as a thing.
There are, of course, quizzes you can take to see if you are addicted, from reliable sources like Psychology Today. It’s definitely a thing, and we really don’t know anyone not afflicted.

Grade: A

3.      Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality still won’t be everywhere.
Last year, we said, “We don’t think VR or AR like the faddish Pokemon Go will be ubiquitous yet in 2017” because of problems like clunky VR headsets and a lack of compelling VR and AR content to encourage people they need to have it. At its Biennial this spring, NYC’s Whitney Museum offered a VR exhibit entitled “Real Violence” but according to the New Yorker, “Early reviews called the work disturbing, horrifying, repellent, nausea- and P.T.S.D.-inducing, but also a gratuitous trick, tin-eared and cheap.” So not yet ready for prime time, we think.

Grade: A

4.      Expect a cloudier 2017. 
This is an easy one. This is ongoing tech trend will continue beyond 2018.

Grade: A

5.      Artificial intelligence will continue to surge. 
AI became a huge story in 2017. We said, “we expect to see AI built into all sorts of consumer and B2B environments – and to be featured in more Hollywood movies and TV shows.” If anything, AI and robotics became one of the biggest tech trends of the year, and we see that continuing in 2018 and beyond.

Grade: A+

6.      Drones still won’t take off. 
We said, Consumer drones look like fun – for a couple of hours. We think the real market will be B2B, not just for deliveries (which we think is still a couple of years off).” We believe we were right about both sides of that.

Grade: A

7.      Globalization will be a hot topic. 
Globalization was discussed in in 2017 but mostly in terms of tariffs and trade deals, nativism and globalists (which some felt is a bad word). But it was not a major topic by itself in 2017. That said, we expect trade deals to be more of a topic in 2018.

Grade: B

8.      Interest in voice speakers will turn up.
Last year, New York Times tech columnist Farhad Manjoo predicted gadgets were dead, and we said he was wrong, pointing to interactive speakers (in our original piece we called them “voice speakers, not sure why) like Alexa and Google’s Home as bright spots in the tech world. We were right.

The interactive speakers incorporate AI to serve as virtual assistants, and AI, along with IoT and smart appliance connectivity, will likely go mainstream in 2018. If anything, we underplayed how significant this trend is; for consumer tech reviewers, interactive speakers are now a must-review gadget.

Grade: A+

9.      Boycotts Will Be Big Trend in 2017 – but by big brands and there could be implications for their marketing functions.
We think we were right to predict that boycotts would be a trend in 2017 – boycotts by corporations not against them. We said, “the big brands (will) seek to avoid controversy so they are trying to avoid placing ads on or working with sites that don't resonate with their consumers.” This certainly came into play this year – and is significant in an increasingly polarized society that some things are not acceptable. This will continue into 2018.

Grade: B

10.   The death of retail.
This was a later addition to our initial set of trends but we think the Amazonification of retail is a real thing – destroying traditional retail. Amazon’s retail power continues to grow, and the impact both on how we shop, our expectations for shopping and the negative impact on the real estate market (especially in small communities) and on the decreasing number of retail jobs, is substantial and has long-term implications that no one is discussing. And yes, we used the word, “Amazonificatin.” We feel this is an extremely important story that will continue to play out in 2018.

Grade: A+

According to the New York Times, "The basic idea behind it (Universal Basic Income) is that handing out unconditional cash to all citizens, employed or not, would help reduce poverty and inequality, and increase individual liberty." As the tax reform bill works its way through Congress, this may be a topic that gets more attention. So far, we think we overstated this topic.

Grade: C

Let us know if you agree or disagree. We have one more set of grades coming up.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Recap of Our Predictions for 2017

We feel it’s not enough to issue predictions for the upcoming year. We also think it’s important to look at how we did with predictions for 2017.

A brief recap – though we predicted a shorter news cycle in 2017, we did not expect it to be this fast/short. Whether or not you’re a news junkie (and if you’re reading this, we assume you are), 2017 has been an unusually exhausting year. Even generally apolitical Jimmy Fallon envisioned Halloween nightmare that entailed being unable to escape the news cycle. There were a lot of stories this year that we (nor anyone else) predicted – a list of so many, mostly political (which we avoid), we are not going to list them here. We will say that we did not expect the solar eclipse to generate so much coverage.

One of the big themes late in the year was the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in Hollywood, politics, the media, and pretty much every field; we hope awareness of and concern regarding sexual harassment continues to be a public conversation that will make it difficult for those perpetrating the harassment to get away with it. We also hope that it will be easier for victims to be believed and supported.

Here are our assessment of our predictions for this year.

  1. Fake news won’t fade in 2017. 
Unfortunately, we were right about this one. “Fake news” is too broad a term says Claire Wardle, Strategy and Research Director of First Draft News, a nonprofit research group housed at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard University. Wardle told CNN’s Brian Stelter on his “Reliable Sources” podcast that there are “three different types of problems:
    • Mis-information: “the kind of false information disseminated online by people who don't have a harmful intent.”
    • Dis-information: “false information created and shared by people with harmful intent. False news reports around presidential candidates ahead of the 2016 election fall into this category, and so does their social media amplification from malicious accounts.”
    • Mal-information: “the sharing of ‘genuine’ information with the intent to cause harm. That includes some types of leaks, harassment and hate speech online.”

Keep in mind: the general definition of “fake news” tends to be news the speaker doesn’t agree with – it’s actual truth, notwithstanding.

We think Wardle’s definitions are useful to understand there are flavors of fake. But we don’t think the distinctions will become mainstream because currently there isn’t much consensus on facts (or “facts”), with one person’s dis-information (harmful intent) being someone else’s mis-information (false information passed along with non-harmful intent).

Meanwhile, we said it will be difficult for social media sites to combat the spread of fake news, especially because they profit from fake news.

Grade: A+.

  1. Big Social will evolve in 2017, but not necessarily in a good way. 
Unfortunately, we were right about this, too. We said, Twitter’s future “is very much in doubt,” and that continues to be true. We said that Facebook is facing problems about fake news, and that was proven true in November’s Congressional hearings. But we left out Google – oops. We said, “all of this turmoil will benefit Snapchat, which is already is favored by the millennials,” and Instagram, and we think that’s right – butt we overstated things when we predicted that SnapChat will be the dominant social media platform by 2018. We also predicted “LinkedIn will thrive as long as it remains (as we think it will) apolitical,” and that’s been true.
Grade: B+

  1. The media cycle will speed up. 
This certainly was true in 2017. While President Trump’s use of Twitter to announce official government policy certainly is a major reason, it’s just one factor. Another: a recent Pew Research Center report found that, “About a quarter of all U.S. adults (26%) get news from two or more social media sites, up from 15% in 2013 and 18% in 2016.” So expect this trend to continue into 2018 and beyond. (This is not necessarily a good thing but was predicted in the early 1980s by futurist Alvin Toffler.)
Grade: A+

  1. The gig economy and the sharing economy will continue to go mainstream.
Independent contractors or contingent employees – as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) used to refer to them – now comprise an estimated 30% of the U.S. workforce. The BLS and U.S. Census Bureau plan to do a better job of tracking the gig economy. In the meantime, we were right when we said, “We need to more accurately define the gig and the sharing economies… to gain an accurate portrait of overall U.S. economy as well as develop appropriate policies regarding taxes, healthcare and social services.” Both the New York Times and Wall St. Journal validated our predictions.

Grade: A

  1. IoT will continue to open the door to cyberattacks.
This was not as big an issue in 2017 as we expected. That does not mean the threat is over. As the Internet of Things (IoT) does go mainstream, cyberattacks remain a significant threat – though likely more targeted to companies than to the average home. But overall, we overstated this.

Grade: C

We will post more of our annual recap in the next few days.

Friday, September 8, 2017

More on the Death of Retail

On July 17, we asked if Americans were seeing the death of traditional retail. In its July 31st issue, Time Magazine asked the same question. In its "The Death and Life of the Shopping Mall," Time not only shared some scary statistics -- like, "This year alone, an estimated 8,600 stores could close, according to industry estimates, many of them brand-name anchor outlets" -- but raised a point we didn't think of.

While we touched on the disruption to the commercial real estate market, we didn't discuss (except among ourselves) the impact of Amazonification on small towns. When local retailers can't keep up with Amazon (even as Amazon opens brick-and-mortar bookstores and supermarkets, now Whole Foods), they will close up, resulting in a problem for local towns from a tax revenue and employment perspective.

But it gets worse. As Time points out, many stores, including local malls, are not just places where people work or shop. As Time notes, "The shopping mall has been where a hug swath of middle-class America went for far more than shopping. It was the home of first jobs and blind dates, the place for family photos and ear piercing, where goths and grandmothers could somehow walk through the same doors and find something they all liked."

Retail can be a gathering place. They can act as town centers, giving people a reason to gather, not just to spend, and to work. Even if current retail staff switch from sales to warehouse, even if some don't lose their jobs, their communities will lose something important.

Without local stores and malls, where do people gather on bad weather days? Sure, restaurants, pubs, etc. will likely remain but other stores will have a tougher time. And that will have further implications on small communities.

Perhaps we're giving up something in exchange for efficiency and cheaper prices.

Anyway, check out the Time article. This will continue to be a trend we monitor because its implications are significant.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Expect to see more about "Universal Basic Income"

We usually save our trends and predictions for the end of the year but we wanted to set a reminder for ourselves for later by discussing a new bubbling policy trend, which is something we tend to avoid.

We'll make an exception for Universal Basic Income, which is getting some consistent attention at top-tier media even as it isn't setting the world on fire. According to the New York Times, "The basic idea behind it is that handing out unconditional cash to all citizens, employed or not, would help reduce poverty and inequality, and increase individual liberty."

It's being tried in a few places, including Finland, and the reason is that artificial intelligence (or, if you prefer, machine learning -- the terms of often used interchangeably), automation (also known as robotics but could also include driverless trucks and cars) will irrevocably change the nature of work.

Combined with the gig economy, those other trends will redefine what it means to be able to earn a living.

If drones are better than humans at spotting sharks, and can protect lives that way, they certainly may replace us in other jobs and capacities. 

This is where UBI comes in. It gives people some money to live. It's not welfare but would help to mitigate being pushed into lower-wage jobs if your job is replaced by a robot.

As we approach Labor Day, we're not going to debate the pros or cons of UBI. Our point is, however, that UBI is likely to discussed more as we head into 2018 because fears of being replaced by AI and robots is growing -- see our trends for 2018, to be issued in Dec. -- and we think that UBI is a topic that will be discussed by people who aren't afraid of the rise of the machine age but still want to help insulate others in what could be a "painful economic transition," as Fortune describes it.

We will write up more in Dec. but in the meantime, let us know what you think.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Accuracy Checklist to Improve Professionalism of a world of fake news

Just a quick post, more as a reminder for us in the future, too. "The Accuracy Checklist for Content Marketers," by Ragan's PR Daily, is very helpful. Worth keeping it somewhere that you can refer back to it.

(Click to enlarge.)

Monday, July 17, 2017

Is Traditional Retail Dead?

In Manhattan, there are always a bunch of stores -- aimed at tourists -- that hang huge banners proclaiming "Going Out of Business Sale -- huge discounts."

Some of those stores have been in business, it seems, for decades.

The overall retail sector may have a lot in common with those stores.

According to "The Death of Retail is Greatly Exaggerated,"

As of early May, S&P Global Market Intelligence tallied a record 18 retail bankruptcies, al­ready matching the total for all of 2016. The carnage is on full display in the new Fortune 500 list: Household names like Macy’s, Sears, and Kohl’s all took tumbles down the list, as did other struggling chains like GameStop (GME, -0.37%) (falling 19 spots, to 321) and Dillard’s (DDS, -0.94%) (which fell 37, to 417).

We began seeing/predicting the fact that retail would go through a rough 2017 back in Q1, and feel that it is a big issue because:

  • The U.S. retail sector contributes $2.6 trillion annually to U.S. GDP, according to the NRF, approximately 15% of the total economy. That includes retailing companies along with other companies that support the retail industry, such as logistics, including trucking and shipping; warehousing; construction and maintenance; agriculture; manufacturing; technology; and health care. Basically, if the retail sector takes a hit, the rest of the economy will suffer.

Does this mean the retail sector is dying? Not really. The parts of the retail sector is somewhat cyclical and other parts are very sensitive to external factors -- like the weather or other trends. So a downward trend, by itself, is not necessarily troubling. And some retailers continue to do well, including Walmart, Home Depot, Costco, TJ Maxx and Best Buy, according to Fortune. 

What is troubling is that there's a fundamental shift going on, towards online and mobile. Bricks-and-mortar stores may no longer be about buying but sampling and community, according to another Fortune article. Instead, retail may seek to leverage: "newly available real estate to experiment with boutiques, showrooms, and pop-up shops." If that trend continues, it will mean a further decline in the number of full-time retail jobs and a further decline for companies that support retailers.

While reshaping retail to better meet the needs of consumer is good news, and more efficient, that's not good news for the long-term health of the sector. A lot of retailers that sell fashion commodities such as basic Ts and jeans will likely not survive in an e-commerce playing field. 

And one more thing, which has been overlooked by retail reporters: According to the NRF, 98.6% of businesses employ fewer than 50 people.  In a world in which most retail transactions take place online or via an app, these local mom-and-pop stores don't stand a chance. They may not have the skills and resources to move their business online, and may not be able to compete on price. They won't be able to survive the Amazonification of retail. This could decimate small retailers and small towns around the country.

That's going to be a big story the rest of 2017 and going forward.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Is Your Organization Social Media Responsive?

What seems like a long time ago, the news cycle was about 24 hours -- from the time "news" happened to when it would appear in newspapers and then on TV and radio. (At that time, cable news didn't really exist.)

Now, the news cycle is probably an hour -- tops -- before it hits social media.

It used to be that if you were in a crisis, you had hours to assess and determine how to respond.

Hours is a luxury.

Six years ago, during the Arab Spring, Kenneth Cole, a clothing designer also known for provocative ad campaigns, posted a provocative tweet in the morning and didn't check back until late in the afternoon when he realized Twitter was in an uproar because he didn't update or apologize in the initial blow back.

The fact that he was in meetings and busy was seen as no excuse.

Companies no longer have hours -- they didn't even have that back in 2011 -- to contemplate a response.

We see the implications of this everyday, whether it is a tweet rant from Trump or a poorly executed tweet from a brand or media property.

Unfortunately, most companies aren't social media responsive, by which we mean: able to respond quickly to a problem involving them on social media.

Here are some steps to consider:

  • Don't rely on apps that post content to also alert you to a potential problem. Posting content is very different from monitoring and generating alerts. Consider subscribing to an alert service so that you don't find out about a problem only the next time you log on to the app. Too many services -- even Twitter -- do a better job of capturing mentions without doing a good job alerting you. (We're not going to mention specific potential suppliers since some of these companies and a lot of their functionality can change very quickly.)
  • Make sure appropriate trusted people within your organization have the username and passwords for all major social media platforms, and are comfortable posting onto them. Too often, the login information for a company's social media accounts are held by different people so that if a problem happens, and the person managing Twitter is in an all-day off-site, there's no one else who can access the site to try to put out a fire. Sometimes, we've seen, the person in charge of, say, Facebook, has left the company without designating someone as the administrator, only as someone who can post. It's important that trusted people can back up the main driver if that driver is out of the office. Also, for this reason, it's important to know when key people -- whether it's the social media guru or the executive to be quoted -- are on vacation or otherwise unreachable for long periods.
  • Do scenario planning to practice how to respond. One hopes to never have to use a crisis plan but it really is helpful to develop one, even if just for social media. In this case, you would look at likely areas for concern -- could it be a customer complaint? A rogue tweet (meant, perhaps, for someone's personal account)? A hacked account? A legal issue? What should you do to address this issues? Without a scenario planning, you may not have an idea of what to do when seconds count.
By the way, the same should be done with a look to how to respond to the media. 

For example, there used to be something known as a "day-two" story -- a story that provided a different aspect of the story getting media's attention. On the first day, the news breaks. On day two, one might pitch a story that provides more context to yesterday''s breaking news.

As with everything else, the time to develop and pitch day-two stories has shortened considerably. Now known as "news jacking," the idea of responding to breaking news and inserting your company in an appropriate and positive way, you need to respond with a contextual pitch within hours, not days. The context to the story that former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick started hitting as soon as the initial stories began hitting. 

While it's true that stories still appeared about a week after he was pushed out, the names of the executives who were being quoted were big name celebrity executives like SalesForce CEO Marc Benioff and former Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer. 

If you want to be able to position yourself as an expert to the media on a breaking news topic, you need to respond much faster than you used to in order to get coverage.

Of course, you still have time to write a blog article for your corporate blog (like this one) after the fact but that's not the same as being quoted in a reputation-making outlet, blog or podcast. Your team and the executive(s) in charge have to have a sense of urgency.

Without that urgency, you may be able to respond but you won't truly be responsive.

As a caveat: Not every organization can or should move that quickly. But we're speaking to those organization whose marketing director is looking for quick hits by news jacking without providing the resources or the ability to move as quickly as you have to secure coverage.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Internal Communications When an Acquisition Deal Does Not Get Completed

A few years ago, I wrote an article, "Three Stages of Merger Communication" for IABC's online newsletter. Recently, I was asked if I had any advice when a merger does not go through. Here are some thoughts, that were originally published in CommPro.Biz.

It seems to go unnoticed but a portion of announced merger or acquisition deals do not go through. Reasons range from regulatory issues, such as antitrust issues; management retention issues (the length of time they are to remain in current or similar positions, non-competes for senior management, etc.) as well a pricing issues, working capital requirements, deal-related and non-deal-related lawsuits, and other due diligence issues.

After a company has announced it has come to an agreement to purchase another company, typically the CEO and management team of the acquirer will convene a town hall meeting at the target company’s headquarters to address employees to explain the rationale for the deal – why the two companies will be stronger together than on their own – and what changes new employees can expect.

If the deal falls through, the target CEO and management team need to again meet with employees and discuss why the deal fell through (with input from legal counsel). Management shouldn’t delay getting in front of employees because they’ll already have a sense of whether or not the acquisition or merger is working out. Again, with input from legal counsel and the company’s communications staff and advisers, management needs to address the following:
  • How to address any rumors that might be circulating prior to the official announcement that the deal fell through. There certainly will be rumors flying around.
  • How to address the company’s future. Management needs to discuss its new road map – will it continue as a standalone or will it search for a new, better partner.

o   If the future is to remain a standalone, management needs to explain why that makes sense in light of the fact that it had recently been ready to be acquired or to merge with another company.
o   If the future is to find another partner, management needs to discuss what lessons it learned, what it will now look for in a new partner.

Mostly, employees want to know – and management needs to reassure them – that the company’s future is assured, that employees should be focused on the future, proud of what they will continue to build.

Though this is not an internal communications issue, management needs to also reassure customers, partners, vendors, investors and other stakeholders – as well as current and prospective employees – that the company is stable and has a future. This may be a challenge if the target company had stated during the initial acquisition announcement that a primary reason for the deal was to access the necessary capital to expand. So management will need to find a way to credibly walk back that reason.

Mostly, the once-target company needs to be prepared that others may start circling the company, looking to offer a lower price because the target is considered damaged (since the deal did not go through – even if the problems was with the acquiring company). It is crucial to be able to discuss a stable, strong future.

Some things to keep in mind:
  • Don’t wait too long to announce that the deal will not move forward. While no company, especially publicly held companies, want to address rumors, management needs to get ahead of the news rather than for it to come from outside. If you wait too long, you’ve lost control of the narrative.
  • Be clear on what you’re communicating. Your answer needs to be consistent and accurate. It undermines employees’ faith in management if conflicting messages are offered up by management.
  • The almost-acquiring company and the nearly acquired company will continue to have different goals at this point, especially since people may want to point blame to one party or another (which can include management teams, attorneys, bankers, etc.) While communications teams of both companies worked together to prepare for the initial announcement to coordinate priorities, next steps and goals – that almost won’t be the case here. So one company may want to go back to reporters who originally covered the announcement while the other company may want to let the news fade. Ultimately, you need to be professional and act in the best interests of your company.
  • There could be lawsuits as a result of the failed deal, certainly from shareholders and possibly from one company suing the other. If there is a lawsuit, the company needs to reassure employees so they don’t get distracted by the lawsuit (and any coverage of that suit) so they can stay focused on the company.
  • Internal communications needs to help reassure employees – rather than give them reasons to bolt to another company, which could include  the former acquirer. As you develop your communications plan, keep asking: Does this address employees’ concerns and fears? Does it speak to them in a way that seems authentic (as opposed to legalese, which does not reassure parties of either the first or second part).
  • Don’t ignore employees (or customers, partners, vendors, investors and other stakeholders) and hope everything will be okay. Now, more than ever, they need to feel that management has things under control and can deliver on a steady, stable future.

Monday, June 26, 2017

What's Your Story?

I realize that might sound aggressive? "What's your story?" may sound like, "What are you looking at, bub?"

But what we mean is this: Do you know your story? Are you communicating it effectively?

A recent AdWeek article talked about "taking the brand out the branded content," saying "marketers must be confident enough in their own storytelling not to cast themselves in the leading role." The example of putting the brand in a leading role, which backfired, is the recent Pepsi ad featuring Kendall Jenner.

Written by Molly DeWolf Swenson, the article urges brands to "believe the story is worth telling and that people care about it and want to hear about it."

That's an important point so I will highlight:

  • The story must be worth telling.
  • People will care about it.
  • People want to hear about it.
Too often, the story we want to tell is about ourselves. And it may be a story worth telling.

But it may not be a story people care about.

And even if it's a story they might care about, that doesn't mean they want to hear about it. At that moment. 

You don't want to be, or your organization to be, that guy at a party whose small talk is boring everyone else. Who's clearly working on a angle without really interacting with the people he's speaking to.

What that means is that we need to figure out not just what our messaging and positioning is but what is our story. And once we figure out our story, we need to ask: "How do we make sure people will care about it."

We recently heard about a client who desperately wanted to break into a new category, and ahead of doing so, wanted to speak to reporters covering that category. The reporters weren't interested. Not surprisingly. That's because the client didn't have much of a story to tell yet. It had a good story from its internal perspective -- we've been successful in category A and now want to enter category B. But with no clients, no experience directly in category B, reporters in category B don't care yet. 

If the client (not one of ours but this is true for every company in a similar position) does get a customer in category B or has some true insight into the category, then reporters are likely to be somewhat more interested. But their readers won't care until the client has a story that is relevant and compelling to them.

That's the part of having a story people often forget. 

Without developing a story that's relevant and speaks to your key audiences, you're a bit like asking someone to see your vacation photos. They may be great photos. You may have had a fantastic time. But there's not much of a story there, unless it's a place I want to go to or have been to before.

Look, companies (like people) need to believe in themselves and their stories. But in a social media world, they need to make sure their resonate outside the company. And if it doesn't, they need to work on developing a story that connects to their audiences. 

Without that, it shows you don't understand your audience. That you don't really care about them -- except in terms of making a sale. That's what's in it for you. They want to know what's in it for them.

So make sure your story does that.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Why Has It Gotten Harder to Reach Reporters & Four Questions about Working with Reporters in An Age of News Distraction

I've been noticing that it's been harder to reach reporters live, on the phone. My suspicion has been that a lot of people are being distracted by news from Washington, DC. and yet I've also been concerned that I'm grasping at straws and that the problem lies elsewhere (such as possibly poorly written pitch letters that are too long or poorly delivered pitches delivered on voicemail that go on too long).

Mostly I've been trying to figure this out to improve what we're doing on behalf of clients.

I've checked with other colleagues outside my firm to get a sense of what they're seeing. Checking with people working with different clients across a range of industries.

They've been reporting the same sort of things. It's harder to reach reporters, more difficult to get them interested.

The thing is: all the people I checked with are PR professionals. They've been in the business for decades, have strong relationships with the media, and know how to tell a story and how to pitch. They're seeing the same thing.

Here's how I know I'm at least partially right that the news from DC is sucking up the oxygen and attention of reporters.

I tried calling an education reporter at a Florida newspaper for a story about a local EdTech client. Couldn't reach her live -- and I tried several times without leaving a message (because, after leaving a message, I can't call back for a couple of days).

What's going on?

When I checked her Twitter feed, I found confirmation of my theory.

Of her last 10 tweets and retweets, going back to May 13, one was a retweet about a compelling story in her paper, one was about an education reform bill being considered in the FL. legislature (so very work related), one was about a story in the Atlantic (about slavery) -- and the other seven were about DC news. Of the seven tweets today, only one (the Atlantic story) was not about the swirl of news coming from DC.

Keep in mind, I am not criticizing her or any other reporter about this -- I find many PR people I know to be equally concerned, preoccupied and distracted -- but none of today's tweets/retweets dealt with her beat.

I also checked out a Culture Desk reporter at the New York Times, and he posted 11 times today. Of those, one was about cultural news, one about Star Wars, and one about a boycott of ABC for cancelling Last Man Standing -- so those three are work related for that reporter. But the rest? All about the news from DC.

I checked out the tweets of a consumer tech reporter, and of his 19 tweets today, only one was about his beat area (about the latest trend about fidget spinner, one was in response to something else entirely, one about Trump and the economy, and the rest about the news from DC.

I also checked the Wall St. Journal investing columnist whose tweet about the economy was retweeted by the tech columnist. His nearly 30 tweets/retweets covered a broader range of topics: most were about investing and the economy, some not at all related to politics or possibly his beat area (manuscripts of Emily Dickinson; police spying on those texting and driving) -- but even he wrote about the latest presidential news.

So that's a total of four reporters, an admittedly small and random sampling. Two of them are reporters I've pitched, two are not. The vast majority of their tweets today -- I didn't have time to do more thorough sifting of tweets -- were about the political storm in Washington.

This is not about politics. This blog is about, at least for today, confirming that there's something distracting reporters, making it harder to be effective and productive. (when reporters are glued to the news feed that has nothing to do with the news they cover).

Perhaps today's news was especially distracting. I get that. But we've been having a lot of days like that recently. I call it news distraction or DC addiction. (I don't mean to be insensitive to those with real addictions; people who track the news hourly seem to have similar symptoms to real addiction.)

Which means, we as PR professionals need to discuss the following:

  1. How to reach reporters when they are distracted by news outside their beat areas.
  2. Should we try to reach them when they -- and, presumably, their readers -- are also distracted by the news? 
  3. Is anyone really paying attention to other news?
  4. What can we do to get out our news when reporters who cover the beat aren't able to focus on it?
What do you think? Let me know if you think I'm overstating things or if you have suggestions of other questions we should be asking as PR professionals trying to do our jobs.

Friday, April 21, 2017

TrendReport 2017: Additional trends to expect

Each year we post our annual list of trends and predictions, as we did in Dec. 2016. We only posted our top five trends but, as usual, we actually identified many more. We recently added a new one about boycotts, with the twist being the boycotts were conducted by big brands not by consumers against those brands.

But each year, we typically identify more than a dozen trends, and we felt we should post the rest of these here (actually, we meant to post them a couple of weeks ago but have been busy).

Here are the rest of the trends we think will have an impact in 2017.
1.    2017 will be a tough year for traditional media. Financial sustainability used to be print media’s primary challenge. Not anymore. While still an issue, it has been replaced by the ascent of fake news, which has attacked traditional media’s most important value: credibility. In the last three months of the campaign, according to BuzzFeed’s Craig Silverman, fake news stories outperformed and were shared more frequently than real news. Publishers need to figure out how to re-establish their own credibility, make facts relevant and attract readers (and revenue) who may or may not care about whether news is fake or real. We expect to see declining circulations and revenues at real news organizations, followed by more layoffs and smaller papers.
2.    Social media addiction becomes recognized as a thing. It’s not just kids who can’t put down their devices. It’s everyone. We expect more stories (spread on social media) about how to break the social media/device addiction. Here’s the problem: You can’t live without your smartphone: You don’t know anyone’s phone number without it. You can’t text them without it. Meanwhile look at all you can do with it: pay for things, shop for things, turn on and off devices in your home, much less use it to not have to interact with anyone. Taking a break from your device is healthy but impossible, and we expect more content in 2017 about this as an issue.
3.    Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality still won’t be everywhere. Many newspapers feature VR content. And the NBA is now testing VR. But we don’t think VR or AR like the faddish Pokemon Go will be ubiquitous yet in 2017. Solvable problems include VR headsets that offer an improved immersive experience than the cardboard headsets (that resemble cereal-box prizes) distributed by some newspapers so readers could access VR content or the current high-end headsets. Providing a feedback loop from user to the headset/content could be around the corner – a real corner. As with other tech, VR and AR need more content to encourage people they need to have it.
4.    Expect a cloudier 2017. Cloud computing has been a full-fledged trend for several years now. But we expect that it will evolve, to reduce the costs of cloud computing and to enhance capabilities.
5.    Artificial intelligence will continue to surge. AI become the big tech trend covered in the media in 2016. While there is overblown fear that AI-enabled robots will take over humanity, we expect to see AI built into all sorts of consumer and B2B environments – and to be featured in more Hollywood movies and TV shows.
6.    Drones still won’t take off. Consumer drones look like fun – for a couple of hours. We think the real market will be B2B, not just for deliveries (which we think is still a couple of years off). We expect B2B drones to help do things that are hard or risky for humans to do such as checking train tracks or oil pipelines in rural, hard-to-otherwise-reach locations. B2B use of drones, like B2B use of robots, will drive the market.
7.    Globalization will be a hot topic. From free trade agreements to tariffs, job losses, Brexit and the U.S.’s relationship with other countries, and the nature of globalization itself will be a very hot topic in 2017 and beyond. 

8.    Interest in voice speakers will turn up. Farhad Manjoo at the Times says gadgets are dead but there’s one area that he’s wrong: digital voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home. These two assistants/speakers are designed to be more helpful than digital assistants, and we believe this will be a big year for them, and that IoT connectivity will likely operate through them. Alexa and Home are the killer app for smart home technology in the living room, like lighting, home Wi-Fi networks, and thermostats but also may be the key to IoT in kitchen appliances.

Ongoing trends:
1.  NFL ratings will continue to decline.
2.  Drug pricing will get a lot of attention
3.  Wearable tech will still not be as mainstream as people in the industry were hoping.
4.  Progress to a driverless-car future will slow down – but not for the reason you might think. The closer we get, we will recognize that aspects of driving that we took for granted are more complicated to solve when a human is not driving. These tech issues must be solved even before we get to solving liability issues.
5.  3D printers will continue to proliferate in schools but remain unnecessary in the home.
6.   Eventually consumers will realize they can’t easily, more efficiently or more cheaply cut the cord to cable – since the bandwidth comes from the cable company. But it might not matter. People watch on many devices – but usually not on their TVs – so streaming services will continue to be popular, even if duplicating cable offerings.
7.  eBook sales will continue to plateau while traditional book sales increase slightly. (Meanwhile, sales of vinyl records will continue to climb but will remain a niche market.)
8.  e-Wallets still won’t be as widely adopted as some were projecting. They will go mainstream but not in 2017 or 2018.

This now completes the list of most of the new and ongoing trends we identified in December. We purposely did not want to add new trends that came to light as a result of changing global political realities or predictions that only would have been obvious after the fact (like Bill O'Reilly's departure this week from Fox). 

Let us know what you think about our list -- what we missed (not including political or unlikely predictions like one about O'Reilly). As always, we will issue a report card on these trends later in November.