Friday, December 14, 2007

The Forbes Fictional 15 -- I am not making this up

The media has a fascination with lists. None more so than Forbes.

Each year, Forbes publishes an growing number of lists...It is perhaps best known for the The Forbes 400, in which one billion dollars is no longer enough to get into America's most exclusive club. (I imagine those billionaires who have only -- only 1.1 billion are envious of those who came in at 398 and 399, and feel certain that next year they will be able to displace No. 400.)

Forbes also publishes
But wait, that's not all.

Forbes also publishes:
And more:
And yet more:

Here are some travel lists...
And we're not done yet.

Nope, still not done:
Whew. Talk about milking a concept. The producers of "Ocean's 13" have nothing on Forbes.

Perhaps my favorite example of reporters and editors with too much time on their hands is the Forbes Fictional 15 -- Forbes' "annual listing of fiction's richest. This year's list boasts an aggregate net worth of $137 billion. (I also like Forbes' Top-Earning Dead Celebrities, and have written about them previously in a post entitled Dead Man Branding on Nov. 1 available at

How do you qualify for the Fictional 15? Forbes applies a rigorous standard:
  • "We require that candidates be an authored fictional creation, a rule that excludes mythological and folkloric characters." (That knocked out Santa Claus, who had made the 2005 list. This is interesting because some on Forbes' editorial staff are convinced there is a "War Against Christmas" so why did they take Saint Nick of the list? The explanation: "We still estimate Claus' net worth as infinite, but we excluded him ... after being bombarded by letters from outraged children insisting that Claus is 'real.' We don't claim to have settled the ongoing controversy concerning Claus' existence, but after taking into account the physical evidence--toys delivered, milk and cookies devoured--we felt it was safer to remove him from consideration.")
  • "They must star in a specific narrative work or series of works. And they must be known, both within their fictional universe and by their audience, for being rich.
  • "Net worth estimates are based on an analysis of the fictional character's source material, and are valued against known real-world commodity and share price movements.
  • In the case of privately held fictional concerns, we sought to identify comparable fictional public companies. All prices are as of market close, Dec. 10, 2007.
Weirdly, some fictional characters fell off the list including "Atlantic City real estate magnate Mr. Monopoly, who lost everything in the subprime mortgage crash. Archaeologist Lara Croft is missing and presumed dead after her plane disappeared above the Congolese jungle. And narco-capitalist Tony Montana, aka Scarface, was finally confirmed dead by a joint CIA/FBI task force."

They also published for the first time this year, "the largest fictional companies in the universe. The task was a mammoth undertaking: Dozens of reporters spent countless hours poring over financial documents, a far-flung network of correspondents traveled much of the space-time continuum, and sophisticated algorithms were perfected to perform the tricky business of converting gold pieces, Zorkmids, other exotic currencies into 2007 U.S. dollars."

Yes, that's right. Forbes editorial staff may not have time to write about real companies because they are too busy tracking down the net worth of fictional characters and fictional companies. (Fill in your own Enron joke here.)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Business Week predicts that Rupert Murdoch won't destroy the Wall St. Journal

I think it is safe to admit that selling advertising space on its front-page has not destroyed the Wall St. Journal. The quality of journalism has not declined. The esteem with which the paper is held has not diminished.

Now people are wondering the same thing about the Journal now that Rupert Murdoch owns it.

I don't think Rupe will ruin the Journal. It is his crown jewel. It will feed his Fox Business News. There's no reason to downscale or dumb-down the would destroy the value of the franchise.

That's not to say he won't tart it up a bit. But I think we can rule out Page Three pin-up girls (as in the London Sun) or Page 6 business gossip (as in the New York Post's gossip page).

Business Week's media critic, Jon Fine, made the same prediction in the Dec. 10 issue.

I made that same prediction in a post entitled The Wall St. Post on Aug. 10, 2007. Check it out here. That's four months ahead of Jon Fine.

Meanwhile, look for our media predictions in the next few days.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

New York Times looks at the Wall St. Journal: "Remaking The Journal"

From its headline, "Remaking the Journal," the front page of the New York Times' business section about Rupert Murdoch and the Wall St. Journal seemed like it could be interesting.

Mostly the 1600-word article reported on rumors about changes Rupe planned to make or decided against making.

According to the article, there are already plans to eliminate the Journal's Marketplace, "containing articles on business trends and technology, in the first half of next year, with a new section taking its place, according to people at Dow Jones and the News Corporation who have been briefed on the changes. The editor of Marketplace, Melinda Beck, recently left that post to write a column on health, and no replacement has been named."

The article also noted that "The Journal has been hiring new reporters and has made lucrative offers to a number of prominent journalists at The Times and elsewhere, mostly unsuccessfully."

But the article contained little that was news or insightful.

For example, because of the uncertainty, some reporters have left the Journal. In fact, the Times recently picked up Tara Parker-Pope, a long-time Journal health reporter who is now reporting and blogging for the Times.

Here's an example that the Times didn't have a real story: Take a look at the last line of the article: “A lot of us are at least a little worried about what this place will become,” said one veteran reporter at The Journal. “But right now our attitude is, wait and see.”

Monday, December 10, 2007

What does it mean that Fortune & BusinessWeek have undergone makeovers

Earlier this year, Fortune & BusinessWeek both unveiled new designs. BusinessWeek has specifically said that it updated its design with the intention of being more web-like.

One unusual aspect to its new design is that BusinessWeek articles now offer links to articles and sites from non-BusinessWeek articles and sources.

Although I can't pin down the last time both publications revamp their designs, I do believe the last time was earlier this decade -- which represents a much shorter time between redesigns.

That is another indication that Fortune and BusinessWeek realize that they must continue to work to relevant to web-savvy readers.

Interestingly, both publications have also redesigned their websites. They share similarities but are not 100% similar.

What's also interesting is that some of the print design elements seem as if they are designed for mobile users, and are less glitzy, less interesting.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Unfunny Comic: Mallard Fillmore

When the Boston Globe has made changes to the comics it publishes, the editors get lots of irate emails. Seems people are passionate about their favorite cartoon strips.

I think the Globe publishes a lot of unfunny comic strips -- some are not intended to be funny (like "For Better or Worse." But "Mallard Fillmore" by Bruce Tinsley seems to want to be funny, and consistently fails.

That may not be surprising for a strip whose character -- a duck -- is based on a pun referring to an otherwise forgettable president. (Quick: name one thing Millard Fillmore can't. He wasn't event elected president, but as vice president, and became president when Zachary Taylor died in office. Fillmore was not re-elected. He continued to try to be re-elected as the candidate of the Know Nothing Party -- which should tell you everything you need to know about him.)

Today's strip, for instance, is an example of the one-sided perspective that typically passes for humor. Mallard, who is a reporter, is interviewing Stephen Colbert about the current writers' strike, and says, "Mr. Colbert, shows like your 'Colbert Report' had to use reruns when the writers' strike began...Does that mean you can't be funny with a stable of writers?"

The Colbert character replies with an empty "thought balloon" (which indicates a character's thought or comments).

Mallard's response: "Woo! Did you just ad-lib that?"

Again, Colbert responds with an empty thought balloon.

Tinsley takes a cheap shot since he never questions whether politicians (on either side of the aisle -- although he would probably only accuse Democratic politicians of doing this) actually write their own speeches. Or take into consideration that Colbert and others may want to show solidarity with their writers by not continuing to produce the show during the strike.

Actually, I think Tinsley could use a stable of writers to improve the strip.

On the other hand, as an example of a strip that can be funny, there's "Monty" by Jim Meddick.

In today's strip, Monty is getting ready for Thanksgiving, and asks a recurring character, a professor from the future, "So Professor, do they still have Thanksgiving in the year 2525?"

The Professor is baffled, so Monty explains: "Don't tell me there isn't any Thanksgiving in the future."

"Well," says the Professor. "We celebrate a holiday on the 4th Thursday in November, but it's called ThanksGetting Day."

Now Monty is baffled.

"Yes," says the Professor. "As in 'Getting' great deals on name-brand merchandise. It's for procrastinators who didn't begin their holiday shopping on 'HallowPricesWeen..."

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Administration Goes Official with Fake News

The Bush Administration, seeing the popularity and influence of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report," has apparently gone into the fake news business for real.

FEMA wanted to hold a press conference but didn't give reporters enough time to actually attend the conference. FEMA went ahead with the conference anyway.

According to the New York Times, "With no reporters in the room — only television camera crews — FEMA’s public affPublish Postairs department decided to go ahead with the event anyway. The agency’s own staff played the role of the press corps, posing unusually respectful questions for the deputy administrator, Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson Jr., retired. 'Are you happy with FEMA’s response so far?' one asked."

The PA executive ultimately resigned, and was designed a new government job.

Again, according to the Times, "In retrospect, he said (the official), when he realized that no reporters were in the room and it was the agency’s staff that was asking questions, he should have called off the news conference. 'I should have jumped up regardless of how awkward it would had been and said, "Wait a minute, time out,” he said. “My mistake.”'"

I wonder if FEMA will borrow "The Daily Show's" old slogan, "When News Breaks, We Fix It."

Supermodel Gisele Bundchen vs. Ben Bernanke on monetary policy

I'm not sure it's a coincidence, but now that Rupert Murdoch owns the Wall St. Journal, its editorial page is taking a down-market approach. How else to explain the Journal's Editorial about monetary policy that cites supermodel Gisele Bundchen as a monetary policy expert? (The editorial is available here.)

The premise of the editorial is that the Brazilian supermodel "is reportedly now insisting that she be paid in a currency other than the U.S. dollar." Not that the Journal has confirmed that Bundchen is actually getting paid in euros, but that there's a rumor that her currency of choice is the euro. Perhaps the Editorial Page considers this an important development because Bundchen influences the behavior of lots of other supermodels that it represents not a run on the U.S. dollar, but a catwalk strut to the euro.

I actually agree with the Editorial Page's perspective that a declining U.S. dollar can be a bad thing for Americans.

But when the Editorial Page concludes with a reference to Bundchen's boyfriend (Tom Brady, the New England Patriot quarterback , for those sleeping under a rock), I think its clear that the vaunted Editorial Page of the Wall St. Journal can be safely accused of tarting up its opinions. What's next? A look at supermodel foreign policy?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Dead Man Branding

I was going to call this "Dead Men Don't Wear Brands," but the fact is they do.

If there's anyone left who doesn't believe we live in a brand-savvy age -- with one major, glaring exception that this decade has not yet been named -- Forbes' annual list, "Top-Earning Dead Celebrities" shows the power of branded-but-dead celebrities. biz-media-deadcelebs07_cz_lg_1029celeb_land.html.

The 13 legends in our seventh annual list of the Top-Earning Dead Celebrities grossed a combined $232 million in the past 12 months. Many are instantly recognizable one-name wonders (Elvis, Marilyn, Warhol) who still command attention worldwide, making them marketers' ideal pitchmen."

What's incredible is not the fact that these dead celebrities made much, much more than I did over the past year without working -- while I put in thousands of billable and (like the writing of this blog) nonbillable hours. It's how consistently the Forbes' Top-Earning Dead Celebrities remain on top, year after year. Elvis, Charles Schultz and John Lennon were the top three when the list first came out, and continue to be the top three this year. (See the list, below.)

That's not just remarkable. That's the power of terrific branding.

Perhaps it's different, perhaps it's not branding for dead celebs like Elvis, Beatles John & George, Bob Marley, writers Schultz and Dr. Seuss (see, the value of a medical degree, even a phony one), or even the hardest-working men in the afterlife, Mr. James Brown and Tupac Shakur (who continues to issue new posthumous albums). For them, I understand the case could be made that it's their music, books, or art that people keep buying. (Although one might have thought two decades after his death in 1987, Andy Warhol's 15-minutes would certainly be over by now; yet he made $15 million last year.)

But what about Einstein ($18 million), Marilyn Monroe ($7 million), Steve McQueen ($6 million), or James Dean ($3.5 million)? No one's buying new scientific discoveries by Einstein. There aren't that many people trashing their VHS tapes and buying blu-ray versions of movies with Monroe, McQueen and Dean.

Writing about Dean, Forbes notes, "The 'Rebel Without a Cause' has a different moniker in the licensing business: Old Faithful. The iconic Dean image--squinty eyes, cigarette dangling from his lips--remains a staple of college dorm rooms everywhere. Dean's image has cropped up in ads for Barneys, Chrysler and Lee Jeans."

That is the power of branding.


Forbes Richest Deceased Celebrities
Rank Name 2000 Earnings
1 Elvis Presley $35 million
2 Charles Schulz $20 million plus
3 John Lennon $20 million
4 Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel $17 million
5 Jimi Hendrix $10 million plus
6 Bob Marley $10 million
7 Andy Warhol $8 million
8 J.R.R. Tolkien $7 million
9 Frank Sinatra $6 million
10 Jerry Garcia $5 million
11 Keith Haring $4 million plus
12 Marilyn Monroe $4 million
13 James Dean $3 million

The Lucky 13 in 2007

  1. Elvis Presley

  2. John Lennon

  3. Charles Schulz

  4. George Harrison

  5. Albert Einstein

  6. Andy Warhol

  7. Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel)

  8. Tupac Shakur

  9. Marilyn Monroe

  10. Steve McQueen

  11. James Brown

  12. Bob Marley

  13. James Dean

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Fantasy Baseball -- a dream come true?

I know that Fantasy Baseball -- what academics might call Meta-baseball, despite the similarities to a so-called baseball team -- is very popular. There are lots of Fantasy Baseball sites. Thousands of players across the country paying companies regular fees to pretend they're managing a baseball team.

But I don't really understand its appeal. I thought playing pretend was something you stopped doing during childhood.

Apparently it appeals to the rapid fan for whom living vicariously through their favorite team is not enough.

I wonder: when looking at the results of their teams, do Fantasy Baseball managers chew virtual tobacco? If their team doesn't do well, do they virtually fire themselves? Do they have fantasy negotiations with virtual Scott Borases?

Now, as I watch the Boston Red Sox feeble ALCS series, I can certainly understand the appeal of Fantasy Baseball. Right now, I am imagining that the Sox are sweeping the Indians.

It's not really that satisfying a fantasy...since it looks like the Sox have basically given up.

For me, Fantasy Baseball would consist of my playing in the Major Leagues...though I can't decide if it's better to pretend I'm a hard-hitting outfielder or a hard-throwing pitcher.

Because I know I'm probably not ready for Fantasy Baseball, I've been looking into Fantasy Minor League Baseball...which consists of pretending to play for a major market team, traveling first class, and having actual fans -- and best of all, fantasy endorsement deals worth thousands of fantasy dollars. In my Fantasy Minor League Baseball, I also make it to the Majors after one season.

Right now, because I haven't looked for it, I think there's no competition in Fantasy Minor League Baseball, so I think I'm about to win the Fantasy Minor League Baseball World Series (a concept I'm now trade-marking). I can't wait for my Fantasy interviews on the morning shows, where I can say, "It's a great team of guys. We just focused on the day-to-day, but winning the Series is a dream come true."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Another reason I don't like October

October has a history of bad news for the economy...with market collapses in 1929 and 1987.

There's been a rising amount of negative news in the business sections, lately, like an "Economic View" column in the New York Times, "Sniffles That Precede a Recession."

Major global banks have been hit by subprime mortgages crunch to the tune of billions of dollars.

There will certainly be more fallout from the subprimes.

The question is: how long will it take for the economy to shake off the subprime blues?

The say J.D. Rockefeller knew to get out of the market when his shoe shine boy gave him stock picks. The same thing happened during the dot-com crash, when everyone was trying to make a killing. It certainly seems familiar, what with easy credit and second mortgages fueling a lifestyle beyond the salaries of most Americans.

Right now, the worst, unimaginable thing is that the Canadian dollar is worth more than the US dollar. When it's too expensive to visit Canada, I think we're in trouble.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Not So Noble Wall St. Journal

As everyone knows by now, Al Gore won the 2007 Noble Peace Prize.

You might not know it from reading the Wall St. Journal's editorial page. In an editorial entitled, "Not Nobel Winners," the Journal's editorial team named a lot of worthy people and organizations who might deserve to win, but didn't.

The editorial also didn't mention Gore's name at all.

I'm not judging the Journal's editorial page. Just reporting on it. As its sister media outlet, Fox News would say, you decide.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Network News Program Adapts to the Web

According to the New York Times, "ABC Reshapes the Evening News for the Web," "ABC is the only major broadcast network that is using the staff of its evening newscast to produce a separate and distinct daily program for a Web audience.

"The 15-minute Webcast often features Mr. (Charlie) Gibson (whom the article notes later is the oldest of the network anchors) in the anchor chair, but the similarities end there: the segments can run long, and they purposely look raw and personal, as if they were made for MTV rather than ABC."

The article notes that the Webcast has evolved over the past 20 months, when it had been a Web-only distillation of the regular news. The Webcast includes more pop and tech news than the on-air edition.

In contrast, CBS and NBC repurpose their regular evening news onto the Web.

Makes ABC News a much more interesting media to work with.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Yet More about Forbes' James Michaels

The Wall St. Journal also ran an interesting obit on former Forbes editor James Michaels, available at And the Times' Sunday Business section published a column by Gretchen Morgenson entitled, "A Taskmaster Who Changed Business News" (available at

According to the Journal,
  • "As editor of Forbes for nearly four decades, James W. Michaels favored notes short and acerbic: 'This is stenography,' he often wrote of copy that lacked point of view.
  • "'It was entirely Michaels's magazine and his vision and style,' says Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst at the Poynter Institute. While Fortune was known for longer articles and Business Week for a survey of the week's news, Forbes specialized in 'having a fresh take and holding businesses accountable from a small-investor viewpoint,' Mr. Edmonds says, adding that a marker of Mr. Michaels's strength is that 'the magazine is not especially different from what it was when he was editor.'"
  • "One thing he taught was to buck conventional wisdom...'It is always safe to take counter-cyclical positions in a cyclical world,' Mr. Michaels told Ad Week in 1985."
It's worth repeating two items in that paragraph:
  1. "While Fortune was known for longer articles and Business Week for a survey of the week's news, Forbes specialized in 'having a fresh take and holding businesses accountable from a small-investor viewpoint.'"
  2. "The magazine is not especially different from what it was when he was editor.'"
According to Morgenson's "Forbes as the Abuse File," Michaels would say:
  • “This is badly written and badly edited. It would be an insult to foist it on the reader.”
  • “This is a real snoozer, lacking in specifics. Why not just send them a nice lacy valentine and forget the prose.”
  • “I’m sending this one back because the character is deader than a dodo.” Can’t the writer “inject a little life without adding 10,000 words?”
  • “A good story turned into oatmeal by bad organization.”
  • “Please fix this quickest. It lacks most of the ingredients of a Forbes story. The quotes are room emptiers.”
  • “This is the kind of sentence that drives readers to stop reading.”
  • “This is a paid advertisement. Did you forget to say he walks on water?”
  • “If I can’t stay awake editing this, how can a reader stay awake reading it? What’s the point? If it has a point, maybe we can make a story of it.”
  • “I can’t make head nor tail of this. There’s a story buried in all this confusion, but I can’t find it. Fix it or kill it.”
  • “This is a remarkable job of interviewing an interesting and colorful man and getting precisely one quote.”
  • “This is exactly the sort of lazy writer jargon that will put us out of business. Please use the rich resources of the English language.”
  • “Too bloody complicated. That’s not writing. Make it simple and interesting. That’s writing.”
  • “This is so full of holes, it’s like Swiss cheese.”
  • “Here’s another one I can’t understand without help from a lawyer and accountant.”
  • “This is more an essay as written than a Forbes article. It badly needs the concrete images, the real people that will anchor it to reality. It’s called shoe-leather reporting.”

"He regularly banned words and phrases he considered overused. 'Fast track,' 'game plan,' 'bottom line' and 'superstar' were some examples. 'Upscale' was another: 'If I see this word again I’ll upthrow,' he wrote.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Update on when a link is not a link

So I asked BusinessWire about these virtual links -- for example, they've got in the URL, but you can't find them when searching Google or using the search bar.

The response makes some sense but is not completely satisfying: "Business Wire posts a release to over 3500 web portals and databases. If someone signs up for an RSS feed or email alert through on of these sites, your clients release will be pushed to them if your clients release fits the users criteria. This is another great way to reach more people.

"The NewsTrak Posting report that you receive is intended to provide a quick snapshot of your release as available on key portals and news sites.

"In regards to, your release did post to Forbes even though it is not searchable. Public company releases are searchable. "

I guess that means we should have more public companies as clients.

Monday, October 8, 2007

I don't like October

Some people don't like Mondays, but I don't like October. It has nothing to do with the start of another Supreme Court session. Or with the start of baseball post-season -- as a Red Sox fan, things are looking good this year. (But as a lifelong Mets fan, well, sigh, that's another story.)

I don't like October because for the past 26 years, Forbes magazine has published its list of the 400 richest Americans.

And, just like the past 26 years, I didn't make the list.

This year, it took $1.3 billion to make the list, up $300 million from the previous year.

I'm not good at math, but by my calculations, I was just $1.4 billion away from the list. If only I had insisted in getting paid in Canadian dollars...I would've been just $1.3 billion short.

I know I shouldn't feel so bad. There are 82 billionaires who didn't have enough to make the list this year along with 57 slackers who had appeared on last year's list but didn't make it this year.

I wonder if they throw you out of the billionaires' country club if you don't make the list. Or perhaps the others on the list make a show of signing for your bar bill since you've hit tough times.

Then there are the billionaires who lost a ton of money. One guy lost $1.5 billion last year -- which provides some context to the Mets' season.

Interestingly, while consistently I have not made the list, there are 32 billionaires who have made the list every year since 1982. Some are worth approximately the same amount back then as now. I feel badly for them, too. Sure $2 billion was a lot of money in 1982, but it's worth a lot less in 2007.

Kirk Kirkorian can be an inspiration for us. At 79, he earned $9 billion last year -- on top of his other billions, but still. Perhaps when I get to his age, I can have a $9 billion year. Of course, by then, given inflation, the $9 billion might be just enough to pay for private college tuition for a year.

A lot of the Forbes 400 made their money through inheritance. I don't blame my parents. I blame my grandparents. (All I got from one grandfather was my first name.) When I called my parents this week to complain about their parents, I actually got a lot of support.

Others made it on the list through inventing. I can kick myself because I came up with a concept years ahead of its time. I vividly remember watching on TV the splashdown landing of one of the Apollo rockets. My parents weren't around but I thought they'd be interested in the news, so I decided to tape it for them. I brought over my parents' portable wheel-to-wheel machine and held up the microphone to the set's tiny speaker in order to capture the news report. (By the way, I believe my parents still own that wheel-to-wheel recorder.)

In those days, each rocket launch was followed very closely by television news. And those days, we only had three network channels, plus two independent stations and PBS. I remember developing a vision for the future of television, and thinking one day there would be 11 channels on a kind of information highway -- I remember distinctly the number 11 since I think that was how high I could count at the time.

If only I had pursued my vision for a video recorder and expanded choice of programming....I could have made it onto the Forbes 400.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The late James Michaels, and his impact as longtime editor at Forbes

Today's New York Times contained an obit of James Michaels, a longtime Forbes editor.

The article, available at, contained some interesting observations about how Michaels reshaped Forbes' editorial voice. And while I had heard many of them (and more), I think it's worthwhile to hear them again because Michaels' philosophy is ingrained in the Forbes culture.
  • He made Forbes opinionated, interpretive and often indecorous, a magazine that was staunchly pro-business (and, its critics said, pro-wealthy) but did not hesitate to skewer companies and executives it saw as failures.
  • He often refused to permit articles on topics that other publications had covered, no matter how appealing or important, insisting that his staff find good stories ahead of the competition.
  • He strove to make articles shorter and more blunt, with a more clearly stated point of view.
  • He belittled the “on the other hand” kind of balance so many publications strive for as mere wishy-washiness.
  • Former reporters and editors recall weekly story meetings as a trial by fire, when anyone with a proposal had to be ready to fend off a barrage of harsh questions from the editor.
"Mr. Michaels embraced a rough image of the magazine, and himself. When an editor of the rival Fortune magazine was quoted as saying of Forbes, 'They’re nasty, venal people,' Mr. Michaels pinned the quotation to his office wall, and said, 'I just thought it was terrific.'”

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The difference between Forbes & Fortune

Each magazine works hard to develop its own personality, to provide information and perspective differently from its competitors.

While Forbes and Fortune have a similar 26-issue publishing schedule and both tend to cover large companies (while devoting one issue per year on small businesses), there are some significant differences.

First, let me say, both publications are terrific, interesting, and are very good at understanding what their advertisers and readers want.

But even given that readers of both magazines have a high net worth, their approach to the same news and the same demographic is quite different.

And I'm not talking about the fact that Forbes does not refer to the group of 500 large corporations as the "Fortune 500." (The same is true of BusinessWeek, by the way, which refers to the BusinessWeek 1000.)

Let's look at the cover stories of both magazines that appeared the same time.

Forbes published its 26th annual list of the richest 400 Americans, known as the Forbes 400. This issue is devoted to the unimaginable wealthy, how they earned it and how they spend it, and claims an accuracy within $100 million. (Apparently my net worth is not even a rounding error.)

On the other hand, Fortune's cover story is devoted to "How to be a great leader." To be fair to Forbes, Fortune cover story from the previous issue was "The business of luxury," filled with items only the super-rich can afford.

In pitching Forbes, the undercurrent is how to get rich.

In pitching Fortune, the undercurrent is how to be a better manager.

This is not a judgment of their editorial missions or approaches. It's just that from a PR perspective, it's important to understand the difference.

By the way, BusinessWeek is totally different. BusinessWeek covers news more closely than either Forbes or Fortune (since BusinessWeek publishes 50 times a year, nearly twice Forbes & Fortune). BusinessWeek is far less likely to devote itself entirely to luxury topics; it's a more serious read than its two competitors. (For example, Fortune runs the humorous Stanley Bing column at the back page of each issue, while Forbes ran a Chris Buckley-written multi-page humorous look at billionaires through the ages going back to the Biblical era. I'm a Chris Buckley fan, but BusinessWeek would never run something so frivolous.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

When is a link not a link?

A big question these days is about press release-pick up.

There are lots of spam sites that pick up parts of press releases in the hopes that web surfers (do people still use that term) who land on the page may decide to click onto one of the ads on the side of the page. If even is a small percentage of people landing on the page click on an ad, the site pays for itself.

But from a client and agency perspective, these sites are meaningless. I've discussed this before, but those sites draw random people, not potential customers for our B2B clients.

On the other hand, there are media sites that regularly pick up press releases. Media sites that range from smaller TV stations around the country to publications like Forbes. Recently, we distributed two press releases over PR Newswire for the same client; the report we got back included pickup on the Forbes site. The client was thrilled, as we've seen with other clients.

But we decided to investigate further. Going to the site, we entered the client's name in the search box....

The result: nothing.

No link to the client's press release, even though we had a URL that showed the release. In other words, the pick-up existed outside's search engine, and could be located only by clicking on the link provided by PR Newswire.

We are now advising clients not to get too impressed by the pickup of the release. Not to pick on PR Newswire or, I'd bet the same is true for BusinessWire, too.

One measure of a successful press release is the number of stories generated by them. But these days of smaller editorial staffs, just getting a press release picked up on relevant, meaningful, non-spam sites can be a measure of success.

Unfortunately, that doesn't mean the press release has real impact.

Bottom-line: The industry needs a better way to measure the impact of a press release.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

More about Magazines

The New York Times ran an interesting interview with George Green, the chief executive of Hearst Magazines International, which sells foreign versions of Cosmopolitan, Esquire and other Hearst publications. In the interview, Green says, "The economics are hugely different (inside the U.S. and outside). The United States is the only place where the postal service gives incentives for mailing magazines. So here, about 90 percent of magazines are sold by subscription, only 10 percent on newsstands. Outside the United States, that’s reversed. And no one overseas expects a huge discount from the cover price when they do subscribe. The business is driven entirely by ad revenue here, but elsewhere it is driven by circulation as well as ads."

In other countries, magazines are sold at newsstands, which affects the way Hearst designs its magazines and how it sells advertising in them.

According to Green, they use much heavier paper. "Since we don’t mail many magazines, we don’t have to worry about postal weight, and the heavier paper gives a higher-quality look on the newsstand. You hardly ever see newsstands in the United States anymore, but overseas you see them everywhere. The concept of a rate base — promising advertisers a certain level of readers — doesn’t exist in other countries. So you don’t have to spend a lot of money on promoting your new magazine to lots of readers. It can take more than three years for a new magazine to break even in the United States. Overseas, you can make money with your second issue"

One interesting concept of reselling/republishing U.S. magazines, content, and format to readers in other countries. Hearst doesn't just translate U.S. content into the local language. "We make the American content available, but it’s up to our partners whether to use it or not. At first they use lots of it, but over time it goes down to about 20 percent. After all, the women of Australia are not like the women of Korea, who are not like the women of France," Green said.

From a global messaging perspective, what's also interesting is that Hearst does not offer package deals, offering space in five countries for the price of four.

"We rarely bundle," Green said. "Media buyers tend to operate locally, with localized budgets. It’s rare that someone in Korea is buying ad space in Latvia."

That's important because often U.S. advertising and PR clients think it should take one budget to cover Europe. There are some pan-European publications -- the International Herald Tribune (which caters to Americans), The Economist, The Financial Times and The Wall St. Journal Europe are the main English-language exceptions. But generally, "covering" Europe requires translating messages into the local language and culture, and having people on the ground in each country. That often requires separate budgets for each country and plans customized for each country.

The full interview is available here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Magazine Death Pool

Business Week's media critic, Jon Fine, wrote about, a blog that seeks to predict which magazines will fail and when. The blogger, apparently a magazine publishing insider, does a good job of explaining what turns out to be an epidemic of closings of major magazines. The latest victim: Business 2.0, which it first predicted in Feb. 2006:

It's not surprising that the Internet is putting pressure on print magazines. (I've already discussed that in earlier posts.) Apparently Time Inc. feels the smart business decision is to close a well-received magazine like Business 2.0, despite a strong circulation. MagazineDeathPool notes that Business 2.0 is "the forgotten business magazine of the Time Inc. empire" which also publishes Fortune, Fortune Small Business (FSB) and Money, and that is "in the same category as another barely-breathing dot-com relic, Fast Company."

What's surprising, though, is this: Time Inc. feels that they can't sell the advertising to support Business 2.0. Remember: circulation for most general magazines is only one sign of a magazine's health -- but it is not the most important. Advertising underwrites subscription fees for most magazines; publishers often reduce subscription fees to boost circulation and in turn to raise fess they can charge advertisers.

Having a strong circulation, which an involved readership, is not enough reason to keep a magazine around.

There's an increase in magazine's death rate because -- and this isn't getting a lot of coverage yet -- advertising is going through a slump. In the tech press, some ad reps blame industry consolidation: too many mergers reduce the number of companies that need to advertise.

From a PR perspective, this is bad news because:
1. Fewer magazines means fewer opportunities for coverage.
2. Fifty percent of any issue of a healthy magazine is advertising copy. Any cut in ad pages = cut in editorial copy -- again reduced opportunities for coverage.
3. Fewer opportunities leads to increased competition for remaining editorial.

Of course, this is not the first wave of magazine closings -- there were a lot following the dot-com crash, and in the early 1990s and in 1987, too. While PR will survive as it embraces new channels (and re-evaluates its priorities of traditional print to online), the challenge for the magazine industry is more significant. To capture readership, particularly those younger than Baby Boomers, magazines will need to find new ways of being relevant...and that may mean moving to a completely non-paper basis.

Somethng in the water...

There must be something in the water. Fast Company's July/August issue, featuring enviro-spokesmodel Al Gore on its cover, also features an article about bottled water that reports that bottled water is wasteful -- just in terms of the all the plastic bottles produced to hold the water.

On Aug. 12, New York Times published "Water, Water Everywhere, but Guilt by the Bottleful" (

Maybe it's a summer trend -- hot days and not much news -- but there's been a spike in news about bottled water.

I've seen articles about Coca-Cola acknowledged that its Dasani brand is made from tap water. That Pepsi's Aquafina brand will be labeled tap water.

The first article I saw was in March, but
there seems to be a rising tide (sorry) of criticism against the bottled water industry. There's even an article, from, that's gotten significant picked up around the world. It's headline: "The New Public Enemy Number 1: Bottled Water."

I could use a drink.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Yet more about Wikipedia...

I'm not obsessed with Wikipedia -- it may only seem that way. The same could be said the New York Times, which ran two articles recently about Wikipedia.

The New York Times had an interesting article, "Seeing Corporate Fingerprints in Wikipedia Edits," makes the point that Wikipedia does not like corporate meddling on sites, and that it is now easier to find out who has edited those entries thanks to ", created by a computer science graduate student, cross-references an edited entry on Wikipedia with the owner of the computer network where the change originated, using the Internet protocol address of the editor’s network."

Interestingly, the article found "most of the corporate revisions did not stay posted for long. Many Wikipedia entries are in a constant state of flux as they are edited and re-edited, and the site’s many regular volunteers and administrators tend to keep an eye out for bias."

The second article, "Defending Wikipedia's Impolite Side," provides an interesting look Wikipedia's perspective on "being punk'd" online. The bottom line: Wikipedia isn't doing much to correct possible defamation in entries.

Friday, August 17, 2007

More advice on Wikipedia

Here's some more advice on Wikipedia:

6. Sometimes dis-contributors (see earlier posting) will delete entries from Wikipedia newbies just because they have no track record. The best way to overcome this objection is to build a track record. And the best way to build a track record is to edit pre-existing entries. The secret to that is simple: There are truly lots of misspellings and grammatical errors throughout Wikipedia -- so it is not difficult to contribute to an entry without having to have factual expertise on a topic. Just click onto "Edit This Page," and, just like MS Word, Wikipedia software uses a red underline to identify misspelled words. Once you correct them, the page goes into "Your Contributions" page. Of the more than two dozen entries, just six are new material. The rest were copy-editing changes. Which, believe me, Wikipedia desperately needs.

7. The secret to working successfully with Wikipedia and other social networks is frustratingly simple: you need to make the investment of time. Time to check out the site and learn the ground rules. Time to contribute following those ground rules. And time to make sure your contributions remain, and don't get edited out by dis-contributors. Clients who want a quick turn-around and quick results are going to be disappointed because it takes time to be seen as a useful member of these online communities. If you rush into things, you'll make mistakes, and could inadvertently harm your client or cause.

8. Many contributors to Wikipedia seem to be lazy. By leaving the Wikipedia world, and doing a little searching on the Internet, I've been able to find credible sources for correct misinformation. Again, if the dis-contributors did a little digging and more copy-editing, they could actually make a real contribution to the Wikipedia world.

9. Lee Gomes, a Wall St. Journal reporter and "Portals" columnist, makes an interesting point in his recent column, "Forget the Articles, Best Wikipedia Read Is Its Discussions." Discussion pages are "where Wikipedians discuss and debate what an article should or shouldn't be." Gomes discusses issues raised on the Ireland entry (should the entry be called "The Republic of Ireland"?) or the page for kittens (an "editor was objecting to the statement that most people think kittens are cute"). While I understand discussions about subjective perspectives, some discussions about facts get heated, but could be readily solved by further research. For example, there was a debate on the discussion page for Joan Didion surrounding the term "prose stylist." The term was deleted from her entry by someone who felt that all writers could be classified as "prose stylists." (That is not the case with many Wikipedia entries, in my opinion.) Others stated that "prose stylist" is a valid description of Didion. This debate started April 2005 and continued through Aug. 2007. Part of the problem was getting a citation to back up the description of Didion as a prose stylist. I did a quick Google search, and found a reliable citation from the New York Times. Problem solved. That's an example of Wikipedians being too lazy to find information outside the Wikipedia world.

10. There's a lot of movie and entertainment information on Wikipedia, and I found that many of the articles include citations from Internet Movie Database ( So that in some cases, the Wikipedia entry doesn't offer as much trivia or interesting dialog lines as IMDB. While IMDB does have user-generated content, it could do a whole lot more by letting its users know to add content there, and for making it easier to post content onto the IMDB site. I've added information to IMDB before, but it took several days before the information appeared -- which is a benefit of Wikipedia: you can see your information instantly.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Washington Post & Hard Times

In "Hard News: Newspapers are dying. At the Washington Post Co., CEO Donald Graham is banking on the Internet to save serious journalism," Fortune's Marc Gunther takes a very interesting look at the need for old media to adapt.

Citing the Post as his "'$0.35 edition' in his blog," a Post reporter is lauded for being "platform-agnostic, which is a nice way of saying that his bosses are no longer big believers in print. Today a small army of bloggers, podcasters, chatroom hosts, radio voices, and TV talking heads, as well as a few old-fashioned ink-stained wretches, populates the newsroom at the 131-year-old Post. "If circulation is dropping," the Post reporter said, "and we're trying to figure out how people are going to get their news, who am I to say no to trying out new avenues?"

One of the secrets of the Post, according to an editor there, "Investigative reporting is our brand."

According to Fortune, "The Post has two goals online. It wants to become a must-buy in Washington while increasing its share of national ad dollars. Right now ads aimed at local readers account for about 60 percent of revenues. The site offers a vast trove of local content - going-out guides, traffic, weather, sports. Says Graham: 'We have a map of D.C. with every school listed, with test scores and other things parents would want to know. It's not all-inclusive, but it's a lot of information, and you couldn't do that in the paper.'"

The implications for those of us in PR is that we need to make sure our information is platform-agnostic, and look to use the Internet in ways that go well beyond the paper-based press release. It is likely to cost more to produce, certainly at first, but be much for effective.

The Wall St. Post

Of course ownership by Rupert Murdoch has not yet changed the Wall St. Journal...It has not morphed into a tabloid, with a headline, "The Economy is hot, hot, hot!!!" accompanied by a photo of scantily clad "Page Three Girl." (According to Wikipedia, "Page Three Girl" are those who appear topless in the British tabloid, The Sun, which is owned by Murdoch.)

Yet many are concerned that he will change the Journal as he has nearly every existing media property he has acquired.

In its article, "America is coming to terms with Rupert Murdoch's purchase of one of its great journalistic institutions," "The Economist" makes an interesting point about the nature of the Journal: "The Journal is not really one newspaper but two -- a newspaper and a highly opinionated conservative magazine. Hitherto it has succeeded in drawing a line between them. Will Mr. Murdoch resist allowing his own conservative opinions to blur that line?"

My bet: Murdoch will certainly start asking questions of his new management team at Dow Jones about the Journal's business, approaches, margins, etc. And asking these questions -- should the be available by subscription only, thereby limiting access and lowering its rankings on search engines as limiting the number of people online who can view its articles -- will change aspects of the Journal. But he is too shrewd a businessman to want to tamper too much with his new crown jewel.

Shrinking Times

I know I feel there's never enough time. Now I feel there's barely enough Times -- New York Times, that is. This week, the New York Times changed the size of the broadsheet page it's been printing on for generations.

The Times made the change as a cost-cutting move, and joins the Wall St. Journal as broadsheet newspapers that have shrunk the size of their pages.

From a media business perspective, I understand the need to cut costs (especially in a post-Bancroft-family-owned Wall St. Journal, whose lackluster performance made its ownership by Rupert Murdoch possible, and pressures the Sulzberger-family-owned Times). But that's not going to solve the Times' business challenges. You can't cut costs to greatness. In other words, shrinking its pages is a short-term move. The more important, long-term moves will be those that position the Times as a 21st-century media property, embracing multimedia channels. (For an interesting look at what one newspaper, the Washington Post, is doing, check out Fortune's "Hard News: Newspapers are dying. At the Washington Post Co., CEO Donald Graham is banking on the Internet to save serious journalism" by Marc Gunther.)

From a reader's perspective, I don't like this move because it shrinks the editorial and op-ed pages. The section devoted to letters has been cut in half; the Times says it publishes more letters on its website -- but that's not the same thing, at least for those of us who still, anachronistically, feel there is more prestige to be in the print edition.

There is also less space on the op-ed page.

Since both the letters to the editor and the op-ed page are designed to provide a sense of dialog between the Times (comprised of its editorial writers, reporters, and editors) and its readers, the cost-cutting decision seems to say the Times is less interested in a dialog. The only other way readers can communicate with the Times is through its ombudsman; while that has been an interesting outlet, appearing every other week in the Sunday Op-Ed pages, letters to the ombudsman do not have the prominent placement either online or in the print version as compared with the letters to the editor or the op-ed page.

This is significant in that, given the advent of Web 2.0 tools and social media like blogs, other companies are moving in the opposite direction -- to having more dialog with their customers (aka readers).

The Web 2.0-isation of PR is significant, even in a discipline that always said its communication process was much more of a two-way street than advertising and other marketing initiatives. It opens new opportunities and new challenges. The same is true for journalism. The road to survival for PR and journalism alike will be to adapt to the new ways that people use and interact with content.

But in shrinking its pages and limiting dialog with its readers, the Times is taking a step backwards.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Waiting for Business 3.0

According to widely circulated rumors, Time-Warner will shut Business 2.0 after its Sept. 2007 issue.

Business 2.0 still has a strong circulation base, and says its readers are "very entrepreneurial, concerned with how they can work as if they were running their own company, even if they're working for a big company. Many are young executives who haven't read business magazines before. They're looking for ways of navigating the new world of business through easily digestible stories for a busy lifestyle."

But it seems as if Time-Warner decided Business 2.0 and Fast Company were competing after the same readers, and decided to focus on Fortune as it continues to battle with Forbes and Business Week.

It's too bad. Business 2.o was a good outlet. Perhaps when big media figures out a new business model, TW will relaunch the magazine as Business 3.0

Some things to know about Wikipedia

For all the hype about Wikipedia, about how thousands of people work together to improve the site and the collective knowledge it offers, the reality can be a lot different.

1. It may represent the collective wisdom of crowds, but the crowds have a problem with grammatical errors, misspellings and poorly organized entries. The site should enlist copyeditors to catch these problems. I've seen a number of entries that contained redundant information because an editor didn't review the entire piece.

2. The site tries to be neutral and objective, but Wikipedia is much more subjective and less authoritative, than it claims to be. Different contributors' personal interests often skew the emphasis of the information. One entry emphasized a minor career move while overlooking major accomplishments.

3. Despite the concept that every contributor to Wikipedia serves as a fact checker, I've seen factual errors in articles. For example, an introduction claimed the subject to be an only child when the body of the article included information about the subject's sister. Yes, I corrected the information but the article was more than 18 months' old, and should have been corrected a long time ago.

4. It may be easy to post information, but it's not so easy to keep your article on the site. Wikipedia has self-proclaimed watchdogs whose main goal is to delete entries -- sometimes minutes after the entries have been created -- even if they have no real expertise in the subject matter. One contributor's page says: "I like to specialise in clearing up Wikipedia of all the unnecessary articles, i.e. adverts and spam, which prevent Wikipedia from being enjoyed by those looking for serious information." The result: a self-selected group who should be called dis-contributors because they rarely add information and are too quick to delete entries made by others. While I understand the need to protect Wikipedia from frivolous entries, I think the dis-contributors could play an important role if they spent their time as fact checkers or copy-editors.

5. If you post information on Wikipedia, you must also commit yourself to monitoring your entries. Otherwise, the entries could be deleted or edited by others who may add irrelevant or incorrect information.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Ram Charan, Know-How and Early-Warning Signs

Consultant and former Harvard B-School Professor Ram Charan is the subject of an interesting recent Fortune profile, “The strange existence of Ram Charan,” saying “What he does is hard to describe. But the most powerful CEOs love it enough to keep him on the road 24/7 and make him the most influential consultant alive.

His latest book is "Know-How: The 8 Skills That Separate People Who Perform From Those Who Don't." I've just started reading it. He spends a good part of the early chapters on positioning, and the issues, challenges, and skills sets necessary to correctly reposition companies.

I thought his list of early-warning signs that a company needs to consider repositioning itself was worthwhile, and includes:
  • Nontraditional competitors entering the market.
  • Competitors repositioning themselves. (In a very competitive space, a major competitor's change, even if wrong, will affect you, and you should at least monitor the change before deciding whether to adjust your positioning.)
  • New consumption patterns.
  • New customers.
  • Decline in current customer sales.
  • Changes in cash flow, particularly negative cash flow.
  • Declining margins.

I haven't gotten to the part, yet, about how to respond to these early-warning signs. I suspect the answer entails having the Know-How to succeed. But some of these issues are important for PR and marketing people to know so they can adjust marketing accordingly.

If new consumption patterns emerge, such as customers with more money looking for more stylish products, as opposed to rock-bottom prices -- well that becomes an issue for Wal-Mart and for Target (an example in the book). And sometimes the answer is not just more emphasis on media relations (as PR people tend to think) but a more systemic issue that needs a deeper internal response.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Chronic Subscription Fatigue Syndrome

Brent Schlender, Fortune editor-at-large based in the West Coast, has identified an illness that afflicts techies in general, and media junkies in particular: Chronic Subscription Fatigue Syndrome, which Schlender defines as "a 2lst-century malady loosely related to mouse-induced carpal tunnel syndrome and to the neurological disorder that habitual videogamers call the 'twitch.' It's the kind of infirmity that sneaks up on you, sort of like 'feature creep' - the slow accumulation of arcane bells and whistles that transforms perfectly usable software like Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop into an intimidating, leaden mass.

"Every month I pay a dozen separate bills, mainly for various digital communications services - landline telephone, long-distance, cell, broadband, cable and roaming Wi-Fi, not to mention digital content from Netflix and download allowances for my daughters at the iTunes Music Store, etc.

"All told, my monthly subscription nut comes to $863.09. On top of that, I spend $1,812 a year on magazine and newspaper and online services, ranging from satellite radio to NBA League Pass to New York Times crosswords. That's $12,168 a year just for subscriptions. I wish I'd never counted. But the first step in conquering CSFS is confronting the fear." Link:

I certainly understand the staggering nature of CSFS. Just this week, in cleaning up the global world headquarters, I noticed about a dozen different newspapers and magazines cluttering things up. That doesn't include online subscriptions.

What's interesting from a PR perspective, as a bonus, was this: Schlender's subscriptions include "a few business-related publications (Business Week, Wired, Forbes and Newsweek) and annual online subscriptions to The Wall Street Journal ($99) and (The New York Times Select premium content ($50)."

I've always known that business reporters at major magazines know about the competition -- particularly stories on clients that appeared elsewhere -- but it's nice to see a reporter actually acknowledge that they spend as much time poring over the media as much as we do.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Tony Blair & the media

In stepping down as Prime Minister, Tony Blair characterized the media in a June 12th speech as a "feral beast" that "hunts in packs." The Economist called the speech ironic, given that Blair was an expert at leveraging the media.

Still, The Economist says that "Mr. Blair has a point when he identifies this age of journalism as one of mass impact. Many newspapers and television producers have discovered that people have short attention spans and a hunger for scandal, gossip and disgust. They feed them accordingly, often ignominiously, by bugging telephones and badgering celebrities (or merely those unlucky enough to have dated them).

This mindset does not generally affect the B2B news or necessarily the business section, but marketers have to be aware that the rest of the paper or program may often take this approach.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Using this blog to give my two-cents -- if you can ever find the ¢ mark anymore

Bloggers generally don't do first-hand reporting, according to legendary New York newsman Pete Hamill (discussed in previous post).

I was about to give my two-cents -- my opinion about that -- when I realized you can't find the "cents" mark easily these days. Like floppy drives, drive-in theaters, and standalone movie theaters (not located at the mall), the "cents" symbol has all but disappeared.

We have not benefited from its disuse. Instead of the efficiency of writing "2¢," we now must write "$0.02," a waste of time and space of two characters.

Instead of ¢, our keyboards now offers symbols I never use, like the "^," the French circumflex accent. I took French for four years in high school and college, and I don't remember how it affects pronunciation. If I were a maître d'hôtel, I guess it would matter.

You can't find the symbol for degrees on your keyboard, either; you have to look it up, and then hope people remember what it means.

I don't use the "~," the tilde, either, although for some reason, coders have revived it and the "@." A decade before email, the @ had fallen in disuse.

It took me five minutes to locate the character, ¢. Which is why I'm trying to use it a few times to make the search for it seem worthwhile. (I felt like an archaeologist digging through our typographical past, searching through the detritus of symbols no longer used.)

I'm not going to mount a campaign to revive the ¢ symbol. Every so often, Congress considers legislation to stop minting pennies because they cost more than 1¢ to produce. If that happens, there's not much hope for the ¢ itself.

If Congress does discontinue the penny, it would finally become collectible, and probably be worth at least 5¢. (I can see the auctions now on eBay, although they would stop having to claim the item is in "mint" condition.)

I wonder what that would mean for the nickel. As it is, the old five-and-dime stores have long since closed, replaced instead by dollar stores.

And there are people who claim we don't have an inflation problem .

Doesn't make much ¢, does it.

Anyway, this is the result of some first-hand reporting. Although, to Hamill's point, I didn't actually leave my desk. Except for lunch.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Pete Hamil on blogging vs. journalism

In an Q&A interview published in the Boston Sunday Globe, veteran journalist and author of books, memoirs and novels, including "News Is a Verb: Journalism at the End of the Twentieth Century" (1998), Hamil said: "Papers have a function now that they didn't have before, a verifying function. The blogosphere might be very useful as propaganda or as therapy. But it's not journalism...Of course, the Internet has got great tools. How we lived without Google all those years I don't know.

The downside is too many young guys think if they've worked the Internet they've done the reporting. But there has to be a time when you get out of the building, you go to the place, you look at the thing.

The kind of columns we wrote, the authority depended on the reporting. You went there, you looked at it, you could have the right to some kind of opinion.

And the blogosphere is unpaid and unedited. There's no editor leaning over your shoulder saying, that third paragraph really should be the second.

Boston Globe: Editors -- can't live with them, can't live without them.

HAMILL: But you've got to have them. Particularly with young reporters, the way you learn best -- because it's a craft -- is not in the classroom but from another craftsman.

And I'm afraid that with the blogs you become an opinion maven before you've done the reporting, and have understood from reporting how complicated the world is.

That seems like the main problem when people talk about blogging communications as a PR tactic. Contacting bloggers may work for some clients, but it's about opinion, not reporting. Hamill says that newspaper columnists do actual reporting before delivering their opinions. I think that does make a difference, and are not the pontifications of a man who also addresses the hold nostalgia has on people (including himself) in the same interview.

Blogs are another channel to communicate, but they're about opinions, not necessarily facts or reporting -- what Stephen Colbert famously coined "truthiness." (Defined on Wikipedia as "things that a person claims to know intuitively or 'from the gut' without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or actual facts.)

From a PR perspective, that means your approach to reach bloggers must be different from media outreach since bloggers' goals and approach are vastly different.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

News aggregators are not the same; or all headline pick-ups not equal

Increasingly, while monitoring potential coverage for our clients, we land on headline sites that aggregate disparate press releases in attempts to drive traffic to the site. The reason: site owners can boost the fees they charge on click-through ads when the number of clicks to their sites increase.

In our opinion, these site are less than useful, they are website spam. They are not destination blogs, even those that slap on a title for the site, claiming to be focused on a topic. They are useless compared to search engines, especially because they post truly random headlines. For example, Security Consultants on Security on AbangPOWER,, includes the following headlines:

  • Turkey Declares 'Security Zones'
  • Pope in procession after security scare
  • Red Hat, Symantec bundle security offerings
  • American Academy of Actuaries to Discuss Medicare & Social Security

Design News,, doesn’t seem to post actual design news, instead it posted stories about Spider-Man 3, a study of unexplained respiratory infections, a bomb threat against Sen. Clinton, and the new French president walking on a red carpet during inauguration (one wonders how he might react to Joan Rivers' asking him "who are you wearing?").

We have found a few such sites that actually offer focused headlines. But I’m still not sure why you’d go there instead of a search engine or a trade publication for industry news. We recommend clients ignore these sites, and that they don't count those pickups when looking at how their competitors are doing or when looking at how well they're doing in comparison. They're just not quality hits.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Business Week's asks if there's is life beyond Second Life?

The online virtual world Second Life has become enormously popular, and has received massive hype as a place where businesses should set up a "virtual shingle" and connect with young, educated, wealthy people -- even though it could cost $15,000 or more. Reuters even "opened" a bureau to report on life in Second Life.

Our main concern: can a virtual presence serve as a lead generation tool in the real world?

Now, Business Week is reporting the first of what may be the Second Life backlash: "Beyond Second Life: Companies thinking twice about the popular virtual world are finding more security and flexibility in alternatives."

As Business Week points out, there may be some real value to virtual worlds -- for education purposes (Stanford University’s Medical Media and Information Technologies center is using virtual worlds to give "medical students to practice responding to a triage situation in a mass-casualty event such as a chemical, biological or radiological attack—situations the students typically don’t have much opportunity to experience in reality). Or as an alternative to video conferencing.

But not necessarily for lead generation, making the upfront investment difficult to justify for B2B companies. Adidas and GM sell digital versions of Reeboks and Pontiacs, according to the article; I wonder if they post their virtual earnings each virtual quarter. Even some consumer companies -- like Coke and Starwood Hotels, have found Second Life gives them a virtual headache.

On the other hand, participating in online communities and networks may certainly serve as a worthwhile lead generation tool.

B2B Marketing and corporate aspirations

There’s an old joke about two grandmothers in Miami Beach – long before it became today’s fabulous Miami Beach, when it was still populated with retirees. The two women hadn’t seen each other in a while. The first said, “My youngest grandson just became a doctor.” “Big deal,” replied the other. “My Howie’s in the medical profession, too. He’s a patient.”

I thought of that joke recently when some friends who served with me on our college newspaper sent around emails commenting on one of our few colleagues still working in journalism. He’s been working for one of the country’s best regarded newspapers, and just published another well regarded book. Big deal, I thought; I’m in the journalism field. As a consumer of too many newspapers and magazines.

But because I work in public relations, I still care about journalism, still try to think like a reporter when advising our clients, still come up with story ideas that I hope will interest reporters and editors, and still stay on top of trends.

Of the editors and writers who served on the college paper, there are three I know who still work as journalists. One works as Pennsylvania State House reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Which is great, if you don’t mind living in Harrisburg (official motto: “Making Cleveland Look Good”).

Another is a freelance reporter, who now writes for national magazines. But her first jobs included writing for a trade publication for yarn manufacturers. She used to talk about the challenges of writing for the Knitting Times included getting industry executives to take the time to be interviewed by her. One day, after placing numerous calls to a reluctant exec, the receptionist misheard my friend, and, thinking she had said she was a reporter for the New York Times, put her right through. The executive was none too pleased when he realized the mistake.

As for our former colleague who writes for one of the country’s best-regarded newspapers, after sophomore year, he decided that college wasn’t going to teach him what he needed to become a reporter, so he quit. He somehow got a job writing for that paper’s suburban weekly section before moving up, ironically enough, to serve as one of the paper’s education reporters. These days, he covers Washington, DC politics, has written books, and appears on political talk shows, providing his opinion.

Somehow, on those lofty programs, no one ever mentions that he never graduated from college.

On the other hand, there’s Harry Bernstein, who at age 93, after years editing a trade magazine for builders, generated tremendous reviews and interest with the publication of what the New York Times said is “a deeply affecting memoir,” a coming-of-age story that “is an eloquent evocation of a particular time and place,” namely a poor mill town in northern England before and during World War I. Though Bernstein had published a number of short stores in the 1930s, he didn’t achieve real literary success until seven decades later. But he kept trying.

The common denominator here may be trite as much as it’s true: you need to figure out your dream and pursue it. The lack of traditional credentials hasn’t prevented my former classmate from succeeding. The lack of full-blown success didn’t frustrate Bernstein from continuing to work on his writing to finally get a book published to enthusiastic reviews.

But from a business perspective, it’s important to remember aspirations. Lots of B2B companies talk about how they solve customer pain points. It’s an important message.

Companies often forget that their B2B customers also have aspirations that are more than eliminating pain…which, after all, is a negative focus. B2B customers also have goals they want to achieve – that include, but are not limited to profitability, expansion, market share, etc. B2B companies have keep their customers’ goals in mind, and find ways to help them succeed. Those companies that can help their customers achieve those positive goals will connect more closely with them, develop stronger relationships, and thrive.