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: http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2007/07/23/100135663/index.htm?postversion=2007071105.

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.