Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The New York Times on "Buzzwords of 2008" -- Which will Survive & Which We Can Forget?

Check 'em out: "The Buzzwords of 2008."

You're sure to find a favorite.

Here are ones I think will last:
  • Frugalista: A person who is frugal but fashionable.
  • Nuke the Fridge: To ruin a movie franchise; usually attributed to the arrogance of a successful producer or director. The term was coined based on a scene in the latest Indiana Jones movie, in which the hero survives a nuclear blast by hiding in a refrigerator. The term is patterned after jump the shark, coined a few years ago to refer to anything that had peaked in popularity or quality and was now on a downward slide toward ridiculousness and irrelevancy. However, I think "Jump the Shark" will be the preferred term.
  • TBTF: An initialism for “too big to fail,” used to describe very large financial institutions that many believe should be protected from financial collapse. Unfortunately, this will survive long after this recession.
  • DWT: Driving While Texting. You know you shouldn't do it, but it's difficult not to multitask. The situation will improve when we can do speech-to-texting. Look for that in 2010.
  • Staycation: A vacation from work or school that does not involve traveling. This term will survive 2008. but it still won't be as much fun.
Here are some I don't think will survive:
  • Recessionista: A person who stays fashionable during an economic downturn without spending a lot of money. Too similar, and longer way to refer to a Frugalista.
  • Terrorist fist jab: A knuckle-to-knuckle fist bump. If the Obamas continue to use that gesture, expect it to be referred to by its initials: TFJ.
  • Hockey Mom. Was 2008's Soccer Mom. But in the U.S., more children play soccer than plan hockey so expect to see Soccer Mom prevail as the term of choice in the next election cycle. (That's when pundits talk about demographic groups.)
  • Sister Wife: A woman who shares a husband with another woman. Used by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Texas and other polygamous groups. Will retreat to the shadows unless there's another raid on a polygamist home(s).
Interestingly, I had thought buzz words were two words, but the Times considers it to be a single world.

Monday, December 22, 2008

CNN Drops "The Crawl" -- Are "Crawls" Dead...Yet?

New York Times' new media/tech reporter, Brian Stelter reports that CNN has dropped its crawl -- "the unending stream of news capsules that have inched relentlessly across the bottom of cable news programs for seven years, disappeared from CNN last Monday."

Survivors include CNBC, Fox and other cable and broadcast news programs.

Now I wish CNN would stop proclaiming everything it covers as "breaking news." Turning to CNN at random times over the past week, every story seemed to be accompanied by on-screen graphics claiming this to be "breaking news," but most were not. Brian, can you get on that, please?

Meanwhile, check out the story, "The Flipper Challenges the Crawl."

Friday, December 19, 2008

TechCrunch Proclaims "Death to the Embargo"

TechCrunch has been scooped. By PRBackTalk in June. TechCrunch recently announced Death To The Embargo, but we figured embargoes don't easily exist in the Web 2.0 world. Check out my initial post: Can PR Embargoes Survive in a Web 2.0 World?

Now it's true that TechCrunch says death to the embargo from a very different perspective. But the conclusion is the same.

The TechCrunch death-to-embargoes is another example of the growing tension between journalists and publicists (hacks vs. flacks). I've been observing online the growing frustration on both sides (latest installment: PR and the fine art of not being crazy and BadPitch), and while most don't seem to care about it, I think it's fairly obvious what's causing the tension:
  • Media companies are going through the worst down cycle since 1987, and perhaps the worst time since the 1930s. The advertising-supported business model no longer works.
  • Traditional media is also in the midst of seismic changes. We're moving to an online-only model for most newspapers and magazines -- and traditional media doesn't like it. Neither do most PR agencies because clients still want national print coverage, and don't consider online media to be important/worthwhile.
  • PR agencies can't agree on metrics for online media so can't merchandise their success the way they could with circulation numbers.
  • Online media distinctly works in new ways from traditional media -- and the new rules, which are evolving and not set in stone yet -- are frustrating both hacks and flacks because neither side "gets it" right now. Both sides are operating on assumptions -- like embargoes, for example -- that don't make sense to the other party. (Embargoes, and the penalties for breaking them, used to be something both hacks and flacks understood. That's no longer true.)
As PR executives, we strive to make sense of the changing media environment, and work to educate our clients based on what we see, what we read and what we hear from reporters. But it's important for PR folks to make sure we understand the culture of each channel (like blogs, Facebook or Twitter). Social media isn't a short cut, it's just a new channel. To do it right takes time, patience and understanding.

WSJ Article Serves as Reminder: Keep Confidential Information Confidential

For all of us in PR, the headline says it all: "Husband of Partner in Financial-PR Firm Stole Information on Mergers."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Newspapers, Magazines Aren't the Only Media Facing Tough Times

Noticed I didn't ask if local broadcasting is dead -- I know it might appear that I've been fixated as of late, but it's been tough times.

In a story yesterday, "Local broadcasters scale back as advertising fades," the Boston Globe reported that local broadcast media -- TV, cable and radio -- are all expecting cutbacks in advertising revenue in 2009, and that most have made administrative and on-air cutbacks.

The article points out that 2008 was a good year due to political ads, and that post-election years are always lower -- so that this trend is not related to the mass migration of print consumers to the Internet.

But it's a reminder that the downturn is casting a wide net, and that traditional media is poised for a tough 2009. That said, until online media can adequately monetize their users, online media is going to face a tough 2009, too.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Are Tech Conferences Dead?

According to the Wall St. Journal, "R.I.P Tech Conferences." The evidence is circumstantial: Apple declined to attend MacWorld.

Apparently, Apple left a note, saying, it has been scaling back its involvement in conferences for years and that “like many companies, trade shows have become a very minor part of how Apple reaches its customers."

Tech conferences began going on life support when Comdex, once one of the biggest conferences in the world, died. CeBIT in Germany is still alive as is CES, but attendance at that show, held the first week in Jan., seems to be down.

I think that large tech conferences are like dinosaurs. They are being replaced by smaller, more focused conferences.

I don't know that in-person trade shows will be replaced by virtual conferences. Those don't seem to have caught on yet.

Webinars are popular, but have not allowed the networking that some people need to do business.

Monday, December 15, 2008

More Newspaper Cutbacks; Expect a Dozen to Be Online-Only in 2009

To the list of online-only newspapers and magazines that started with the Christian Science Monitor and U.S. News & World Report, add the Kentucky Post, and, more significantly both of Detroit's daily papers, the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News.

According to the New York Times' Richard Perez-Pena, "Detroit Newspapers May Sharply Cut Home Delivery; the wounds of both a troubled industry and a hard-hit region," both Detroit dailies will cutback the number of days they deliver their papers to home subscribers -- perhaps as much as three days each week, including Sunday, one of the most profitable days for a home delivery. The papers will also reduce the number of pages they publish that will be available at newsstands.

At this rate, we expect that in 2009, there will be a dozen newspapers that will have transitioned to an online-only business model.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Are Slogans Dead?

This week's articles seem to all be about what's dead or not.

No question that a whole lot of traditional media -- and PR -- is changing.

In the Dec. issue of Fast Company, best-selling authors Dan Heath & Chip Heath argue that we should "Fight the Urge to Think in Clever Taglines." (The article was re-titled from "Kill the Slogans Dead" for the online version.) "Made to Stick: The Anti-Slogan Argument: Fight the urge to think in clever taglines."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Are Newspapers dead?

Check out http://www.newspaperdeadpool.com/.

Also, check out "Media Companies Cull 30,000 in Fight for Their Future." The subhead is instructive: "Execs Blame Recession as They Wield the Ax, but This Is About Reinvention, too."

While it's not relevant to newspapers, NPR to Cut Expenses, Shrink Staff, according to Wall St. Journal.

This some hope for journalism in "Beyond the Great Press Crash of 2008" by Peter Osnos, Century Foundation:
So here, in the briefest of summaries, are avenues for innovation:

1. Reestablish the principle that news has to be paid for by someone: the consumer, the advertiser, or the distributor. (See the Platform for November 3, 2008: “Make Google Pay.”)

2. Private equity investment in new brands or renewed confidence in such stalwarts as the New York Times and the Washington Post, which are hurting badly but would revive if they can make money from others (for example, search engines) through fees for their content.

3. Accept the role of news as a public service to be supported by the community through public funds, membership, and sponsorship of various kinds. This is, of course, the model that has been in place for decades at public radio and PBS.

Thomas C. Rubin, chief counsel for intellectual property strategy at Microsoft, recently gave a thoughtful speech to the U.K. Association of Online Publishers, making many of the points reflected above. As precedents for the news business to consider, he cites the challenges to Napster’s effort to make music free, which fell apart when it was found liable for copyright infringement. Music again became a saleable commodity with the advent iTunes. Next came YouTube, which was helping itself to content—until it was sued for a billion dollars by Viacom. Now Hulu is gaining traction by selling the same sort of material. Why can’t the news business challenge free use of copyrighted material? It can, and almost certainly should.

The financial model for gathering news can definitely be revived. No one disputes how bad things have gotten. So the only way forward is to focus on solutions. Innovation, please.

Is the Financial Crisis Impacting "The World's Oldest Service"?

The answer, according to today's New York Times, is yes.

Reporting that "an industry always considered recession-proof is now suffering. You can read the entire piece in "Financial Crisis Tames Demand for World's Oldest Service"

They should apply for a bailout. Considering that they probably already have friends on Capital Hill, they may get a quicker bailout package than Detroit.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Is Lifecasting Dead -- Mostly

ValleyWag posted an interesting article that I think makes for a good follow-up to yesterday's post about blogs. In "Why there's no money in being a Web celebrity," former Business 2.0 reporter Owen Thomas makes a very good case that Lifecasting -- basically filming your entire life and sharing it online -- is dead.

A bunch of startups including Ustream.tv, Justin.tv, Kyte, Mogulus, thought there would be viewer and advertising interest in lifecasting.

For the most part, there's not much interest in watching every detail of someone else's life.

Want to know why?

What's interesting is that Fortune also ran an article that made a similar point.

Check out: "User-generated video under siege: Remember how home-grown online video was going to be the future? Well, it's not turning out that way. "

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Are Blogs Dead?

The print edition of the Nov. Wired ran an article called "Kill Your Blog." The online version had a different title, "Twitter, Flickr, Facebook Make Blogs Look So 2004 ." Paul Boutin, a correspondent with ValleyWag, summarized his own article like this:

@WiredReader: Kill yr blog. 2004 over. Google won't find you. Too much cruft from HuffPo, NYT. Commenters are tards. C u on Facebook? That's all you need to read from my essay at the front of Wired's new November issue. The rest is good, thanks to stellar editing, but these days a 600-word essay — and a headline like "Kill Your Blog" — only stand out in print. See? They changed it online.
I think blogs will continue, but the article makes at least one interesting point:

Scroll down Technorati's list of the top 100 blogs and you'll find personal sites have been shoved aside by professional ones. Most are essentially online magazines: The Huffington Post. Engadget. TreeHugger. A stand-alone commentator can't keep up with a team of pro writers cranking out up to 30 posts a day.

I don't think blogs are dead. But I do think it's much more difficult now for bloggers to break through the clutter. That doesn't mean you should stop blogging. It just means don't expect tons of advertising revenue and a book deal.

Is the Tribune Co. dead?

According to the New York Times, "Advertising is in a free fall, and every newspaper is suffering." And the Tribune Co. is preparing to file Chapter 11.

Doesn't mean the sector is finished -- because the purchase of Tribune by Sam Zell was a bad deal from the start.

But it's not a good sign.

Monday, December 8, 2008

People Seem to Accept The Prediction That Tangible Media Will Disappear

What's the future of print media? In new business meetings, I mention that I've seen predictions that the majority of tangible media -- especially print newspapers and magazines -- will transition to online-only in the next five years. So far, no one has doubted or pushed back on that statement.

In a recent Forbes article, Where's Media's Silver Lining? The industry is in its demise, but there are opportunities to be had, Scott D. Anthony, president of Innosight LLC, an innovation-strategy consulting firm, and Clayton M. Christensen is the cofounderof Innosight, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and the author of a half-dozen books on innovation, raise some interesting questions that they suggest media executives should ask themselves:

"What business are we really in?" The best way to answer that question is to understand what consumers and advertisers want. What job are they trying to get done? Do they want mindless entertainment? To be part of a community conversation? The answer can lead companies to focus resources on a few, well-chosen innovations.
But Anthony and Christensen don't provide a real answer.

"Media companies still have ample opportunities to create and capture value around localized information," they write, while noting that "Many small businesses spend nothing on advertising, either online or off."

The real challenge is that an online-only business model has not proven to work yet. Sure, online-only news organizations don't need printing plants or the workers who print and deliver the papers.

But paid-subscription models seem to work only for the Wall St. Journal and Consumer Reports. The New York Times' subscription plan failed, as did the Financial Times. Ads placed around editorial do not (yet) bring in enough revenue.

I think most print will transition, but many will continue to struggle because, as Anthony and Christensen write, "Big media's problem is that it was built on scarcity: one newspaper in a city, three broadcast channels, ten radio stations. Now anyone with an opinion, fact or photo can self-publish."

The real question is how do you get online consumers to value editorial content so much that they'll pay for it?

By the way, the same is true for magazines.

Although it makes money through its conferences, Forbes had better find an answer, too, to surviving in an online-only world.

The 22 Step Social Media Marketing Plan

For organizations looking for a checklist approach to social media, here's a very good list of initiatives you should consider. Keep in mind, that there may be some items on the list that are not as relevant or appropriate for your organization -- and that even those that are appropriate must be customized to your particular situation, needs and capabilities.

The 22 Step Social Media Marketing Plan

Friday, December 5, 2008

New study finds that fast-forwarding past ads still raise brand awareness

A new study published in the Journal of Marketing by two Boston College business school professors found that people actually may pay closer attention when zapping past commercials on TiVo -- if only to look out for the end of the commercial so they don't miss the continuation of the program they were watching.

What's more, the researchers found that commercials designed for brand awareness -- including a logo, and simple info/storyline -- could be quite effective.

Check out The Economist article: Watching the watchers: Television advertisements can work in fast-forward.

The challenge for advertisers is that while they need to keep fast-forwarding in mind, they can't make every ad a brand awareness ad. They've also got to sell products.

Perhaps that's good news for PR functions.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The future of PR in an online world

According to a blog post by Chris Abraham, "Chris Brogan said it best the other day on Twitter, “customer service is the new PR.” Looking at what @comcastcares has been able to do, customer service is the new PR, the new marketing, and the new advertising.

I'm looking into the future of PR as struggling traditional media transitions to online-only.

Twitter and other social networks does provide companies with new ways to monitor what's being said about them. Both Comcast and Dell have been lauded for their successful online initiatives.

It seems to me that customer service is important -- esp. during a downturn -- and that it is a function that is undervalued (and likely underfunded), and deserves a place at the table.

But to limit PR, marketing and advertising to a support role in the customer service world seems to do a disservice to each discipline. It's vital to keep current customers happy, but the population of a company's customers using Twitter may be a subsection of the total. I use Twitter (PRPresident), but I think marketers need to keep in mind two things:
  1. Not everyone uses Twitter.
  2. Twitter and a number of the other social networks either have not monetized their services or have an advertising-supported business model -- and we're in the midst of one of the longest post-WWII recession. So who knows how long these services can survive in their current form?
Marketers need to reach out to customers and potential customers in a variety of channels and approaches. PR is more than customer service -- they should work together, and I'd bet not enough companies currently are doing so.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Interesting comments about online revenue from Boston Globe

Here's an excerpt from an interesting interview with Boston Globe publisher Steve Ainsley that ran in the Boston Business Journal.

Ainsley feels that it’s longer than five years or 10 years away before print newspapers disappear.

Asked what the Globe look like in five years, Ainsley said:

Generally speaking, newspapers, whether they’re the Globe or smaller market newspapers, are going to continue this push toward really intense local coverage — because that’s what we do best, and that’s where we have our feet on the ground.

Intensely local is not surprising...this blog has already discussed that focus of local media.

But a second question is one that has not been addressed: "What percentage of revenue will come from online in five years?"

I think it’s going to have to be well north — and the five-year period I’m not comfortable with — I think we’ve got to get up to a quarter or a third pretty quickly, if we’re going to make the business models work. And it’s growing. Our online revenues, both as an industry and here on a percentage basis, are growing quickly. But, it is a business model of such that it is difficult to get the same rate that you get from print — that’s any newspaper’s challenge.

That still is the challenge that newspapers have not solved: it's not just how to cut expenses, but how to boost online revenue.

Can Marketers Learn Something from the Obama Campaign?

Last month, I wrote about an article in the New York Times Magazine that looked at McCain's campaign from a messaging perspective. Check it out here: New York Times Magazine Article Looks at McCain's Campaign: The Making (and Remaking and Remaking) of the Candidate -- fascinating. I still think it's an interesting look at the McCain campaign.

Jon Fine, media critic at BusinessWeek makes some interesting, contrarian points in his recent column, "Marketing Lessons from Obama's Campaign: Why the winning Presidential strategy, though remarkable, won't sell yogurt, cars, or virtually any other consumer product."

Namely, "a candidate's brief is much different from a product's. Coke may seek to get drinkers of other sodas to try its wares once, or try them again, because in mature categories your gains come only at your competitor's expense. Not so in politics, wherein you do three thins: build awareness, turn on (and turn out) supporters and try to sway undecideds."

To target undecideds, political campaigns generally launch negative ads, which most consumer products avoid.

Fine makes some good points, as usual.

But the Times article also makes some good points. Read 'em both.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Jeremiah Owyang's The Five Questions Companies Ask About Social Media

Forrester analyst Jeremiah Owyang has an interesting blog on web strategy. In a post from earlier this year, he suggests The Five Questions Companies Ask About Social Media.

I assume that our clients will already have asked the initial question: "What is Social Media?" But I think the other questions are worth asking, including:
  • Why does it matter?
  • What does it mean to my business?
  • How do I do it right?
  • How do I integrate across the Enterprise?
These are good questions that companies should ask themselves. The answers are likely to be different for each client, but should be asked.

Meanwhile, check out Burger King's very interesting viral video, "Whopper Freakout," cited by Ad Age as a brilliant digital initiative. It's not the right approach for every company, but it's effective here.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Twitter Takes Down Moms & Motrin

Twitter has come of age in impacting a marketing campaign. Check out two interesting articles -- Ad Age: "How Twittering Critics Brought Down Motrin Mom Campaign" and New York Times: "Moms and Motrin."

The two articles show how an edgy campaign can backfire.

Here's how the Times' Lisa Belkin covered it:

By Sunday afternoon a few bloggers and tweeters had gotten the ad agency that created the ad on the phone, to find they didn’t know a lot about Twitter and didn’t seem to have a clue that there was so much anger piling up online.

One thing we're suggesting to clients is that you need to have an online presence before a crisis happens. It takes time to build up credibility and to get engaged in conversations. You can't flick a switch, and expect to have a conversation on Twitter or Facebook. You need to consider starting now, for when you need the credibility later.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

PC Magazine goes online-only + More Bad News for Newspapers

After 27 years, PC Magazine goes online-only, in part because ad revenue is falling. Its last print edition will be in Jan. 2009. What's significant is that "PC Magazine is Ziff Davis' Flagship magazine.

According to the Times, "The change will not require much of an adjustment, because the focus has been on getting articles to the Web first, said Lance Ulanoff, the editor of the PCMag Digital Network, which is what PCMag.com and its accompanying Web sites were renamed on Wednesday. “All content goes online first, and print has been cherry-picking for some time what it wants for the print edition,” Mr. Ulanoff said.

Here's a key point:
  • “If you look at the list of the magazines that have gone to online, almost all of them have been magazines in trouble,” said John Fennell, a professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. “Magazines in general are going to be dependent on print advertising for a long time into the future,” he said.
  • But magazine and newspaper publishers have been contending with a decline in advertising at the same time that their costs, including ink, printing, and distribution, are rising.

And we can expect further bad news: "Advertising pages for the December issues of monthly magazines are down more than 17 percent from the December issues of 2007, according to the Media Industry Newsletter, and that is leading to layoffs and the closing of titles."

Even more foreboding is a report that Harvard Square's iconic Out of Town News will be closing after more than 50 years. Here's how the Boston Globe reported it, "Plan to shutter newsstand pierces heart of Harvard Sq."

"It is not the profitable location for us that it once was," said Laura Samuels, spokeswoman for the owner, Hudson News of East Rutherford, N.J.

"The possible demise caused shock and dismay yesterday in Harvard Square, where shoppers took it as a wrenching sign of a rapidly changing world, where print news is dying..."

If people are not buying print newspapers and magazine in Harvard Square, what's the likelihood they will continue to buy them elsewhere?

But here's the real problem even for online-only publications: Costs are down, but they are more dependent on advertising than ever since none of them currently charge for online subscriptions. How will they make money when advertising is down?

Meanwhile, the Boston Business Journal reports that the Boston Globe is losing $1 million a week, which prompted the paper's latest redesign that cut 24 pages each week and latest buyout rounds. (However, the Globe's new "g" section now offers more comics than ever -- is that really what we want or need?) The Globe's problems are impacting parent NY Times' cash flow. No one is suggesting the Times is going under, but it certainly must be considering how to divest itself of the Globe.

Even as Technology Impacts PR, There's Still Tension Between Journalist Hacks and PR Flacks

Been seeing a higher-than-expected number of posts, Tweets, etc. from journalists annoyed with publicists and responses from flacks about the hacks' complaints.

This tension has been going on since I entered the PR biz two decades ago. And I know that it was going on long before that.

What's changed is that through Web 2.0 media, both sides can vent their feelings much more readily. Wired's Chris Anderson posted a list of flacks, including agencies, he has banned: "Sorry PR people: you're blocked." CNET's Rafe Needleman also has a list of blacklisted flacks and, in some cases, entire agencies -- but does not post the list.

Rafe also has compiled a list of lessons that tech flacks should review, esp. before pitching him. Pro PR Tips has some basic, and some not-so-basic, advice. The main value is to remind publicists the importance of remembering there's a human being on the other side of the email.

On the flacks side, Steve Kayser, a writer in Cincinnati, wrote a thorough rebuttal of journalists' complaints: In Defense of PR Pros.

While there is no doubt lots of lazy flacks out there, it is also true that there are lazy hacks, too. I suspect there would be more complaints from publicists if they weren't afraid of being blacklisted.

The shame of it is that journalists and publicists do need each other -- even if the former doesn't always see that. Without in-house or agency publicists, companies would be less accessible not more. Companies would be less prepared to help in large and small ways. For example, not every executive is able to deliver interesting, succinct answers that are suitable for quoting -- but media training helps them. Many companies wouldn't have photos available -- how do I know? Over my 20 years in the biz, many companies didn't think about photos until we asked them.

I could go on, but I've got work to do...developing an interesting pitch for a client.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Andy Sernovitz's Word of Mouth Marketing Manifesto

Since I've wrote about how to manage negative word of mouth, I thought it important to talk about the positive side of things.

Here's The Word of Mouth Marketing Manifesto by Andy Sernovitz
Adapted from Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking, by Andy Sernovitz.

1. Happy customers are your best advertising. Make people happy.
2. Marketing is easy: Earn the respect and recommendation of your
customers. They will do your marketing for you, for free.
3. Ethics and good service come first.
4. UR the UE: You are the user experience (not what your ads say you are).
5. Negative word of mouth is an opportunity. Listen and learn.
6. People are already talking. Your only option is to join the conversation.
7. Be interesting or be invisible.
8. If it’s not worth talking about, it’s not worth doing.
9. Make the story of your company a good one.
10. It is more fun to work at a company that people want to talk about.
11. Use the power of word of mouth to make business treat people better.
12. Honest marketing makes more money.

For more, got to Word of Mouth book. (c) 2006 Andy Sernovitz. This work is licensed
under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 License.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Andy Sernovitz's Rules on How to Manage Negative Word of Mouth

Andy Sernovitz' "Word of Mouth Marketing" provides some good insight into word of mouth or viral marketing.

If you've been involved in Web 2.0 and social networks, some of the book is not new -- today. But two years after it was published, the book is still relevant -- which is unusual among marketing books, especially those focused on the quickly-evolving social networking world.

A decade ago, prospective clients would ask, "How can we get on Oprah." Today, prospective clients ask about viral marketing, expecting PR itself to deliver the answer.

According to Sernovitz, the key to word of mouth marketing is to give people a reason to talk about your stuff, and making it easier for that conversation to take place. As examples, he cites the elaborate packaging of gifts purchased from RedEnvelope.com (sometimes recipients are more impressed with the packaging than in the gifts, Sernovitz says). Or Zappos free & fast shipping and no-questions-asked returns policy that enables customers to return shoes even 364 days after purchasing without paying for shipping.

Clearly those examples go beyond traditional PR -- and into a company's culture.

But PR can help clients package information to make it easier for talkers -- those customers and employees who serve as informal or formal brand ambassadors.

And PR can certainly help companies manage negative word of mouth.

Here are six key points Sernovitz makes, along with my commentary:
  1. Know what people are saying. Too many companies aren't tracking what people are saying about them online. For one cause-related marketing client, we found that people on Twitter were writing about the initiative -- something that was driving action to the site, but not showing up via Google Alerts or other monitoring services. Doesn't mean it wasn't happening, just that at first we couldn't measure it.
  2. Build credibility before you need it. The time to start engaging people in a conversation is before a crisis or a problem. After writing about how companies are going pro-active about layoff news, I checked out one company that posted a heads' up on its blog, and that the blog had been regularly updated with news and observations. So they had built credibility on the company's blog. But I saw that there were a couple of Web 2.0 sites they had only started working on a few weeks earlier, and so had not had time to build up credibility among these other communities. This company (not a client) will do fine, but it might have helped to make sure it has a presence on key sites to build that credibility.
  3. Show that you are listening. Dell has done a terrific job of monitoring sites and responding appropriately to negative comments, and has turned people who had complained about Dell into evangelists for the company. The Web 2.0/social networking is all about engaging in a conversation, not just talking at audiences.
  4. Enable your hidden supporters. These are people who like and support your company but are not necessarily your Talkers. According to Sernovitz, the best way to engage them is by conducting an open conversation with them about the issue at hand.
  5. Convert critics when you can. Seems basic. Sernovitz says companies should treat critics like valuable customers and to try to win them over with special treatment. It's well known that people who have had negative experiences are more vocal than those who have had positive experiences so it's important to work to try to win over/back critics.
  6. Don't try to win. You can't always win, so try to at least tell your side of the story. I've seen that on eBay feedback, where a buyer says something negative about a seller and the seller responds saying something negative about the buyer. Setting the record straight can at least enables others to make their own more informed decisions.
One other point Sernovitz makes about responding to blogs is worth citing. Don't forget that blogs are upside down, the most recent posts are higher up, and newer posts show up higher in search rankings. So people who come upon your response may see that first before the initial complaint. "How you end the story is what people see first in the permanent record," he writes. So it's important, when responding, to be clear about how you want to frame the situation.

For more, check out "Word of Mouth Marketing."

Monday, November 17, 2008

It's That Time in the Economy Again: TechCrunch Layoff Tracker

TechCrunch has begun tracking all of the relevant layoffs in the tech sector with the TechCrunch Layoff Tracker. And Philip Kaplan, founder of the last recession's bellwether, F*ckedcompany, has nearly 4,000 followers on Twitter.

According to TechCrunch, more than 58,709 people have lost their jobs since Aug. 27, 2008. That total, derived from 198 tech sector layoffs, is a global count, including US, Finland, India, UK and a surprising number from Israel. (What's scary is that that total was 49,000 and 179 layoffs just last week.)

The results may have more to do with who's submitting the layoff tips than is representational of the actual total.

But the implications are clear -- there have been a lot of layoffs, and there are, unfortunately, more to come.

From a client perspective, we expect to see lead gen to be even more important for marketing departments than it has been until now, as companies focus on driving sales.

From a PR agency perspective, we expect layoffs like the 20% at Racepoint ("Racepoint points 20% of staff to the door," Mass High Tech) to fuel new virtual agencies. The challenge for these new PR startups is that they will be competing with small agencies that got started in the last downturn and have had years to build up a track record of success.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Guy Kawasaki's 10 Tips to Generate More Twitter Followers

Guy Kawasaki has written an excellent primer on how to generate more friends/followers on Twitter. It's available at "Looking for Mr. Goodtweet: How to Pick Up Followers on Twitter."

It's a really comprehensive article, and well worth reading -- even for those who have been on Twitter for a while.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hoax Shows How Easy It Is to Fool Bloggers, Media

Citizen journalism can be a great thing by enabling anyone who wants a way to express themselves beyond their immediate friends, colleagues and family.

Yet one of the strengths of traditional journalism is training and judgment, and the need to source information. The old adage that traditional journalists heard at some point in their careers is that if your mother says she loves you, check it out. In other words, trust no one until you can get two sources to verify.

Blogging often seems about opinion, so fact checking sources gets little attention. And because of the speed of the news cycle -- I remember before the 24/7 cycle -- many people want to get information out there fast. This includes traditional media, picking up stories that bubble up in the blogosphere.

The New York Times wrote an fascinating article about Martin Eisenstadt, a senior McCain advisor, who turned out to be a hoax. Check out the article, "A Senior Fellow at the Institute of Nonexistence," for the details.

But the point is that most bloggers, and quite a few journalists, accepted at face value the news and opinion from Eisenstadt (played by Eitan Gorlin) without digging deeper. There were clues out there that Eisenstadt wasn't who he said he was, according to the article, for anyone to find. But in the rush, not enough people actually did. Interestingly, there was one blogger who kept on the Eisenstadt trail, pointing out discrepancies in his story. And reporters at major media, when they found out the truth, did apologize and publicly comment. I'm not sure, though, that the disclosure changed procedures/policies anywhere.

That's a challenge for those who turn to the Internet for facts and trend data. It's a challenge for PR departments when reaching out to bloggers.

Cavaet Blogger!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

How to Explain Social Media

Common Craft, which makes videos for businesses, made a good introduction to social media. Check it out: Video: Social Media in Plain English.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Do Half the Analysts on Your List Belong: Fixing an Analyst Relations Program

Sage Circle, an analyst relations firms, makes an controversial statement in a recent blog post: Your analyst list is likely wrong - half the analysts should not be on it, half that should are not.

I tend to agree. Just as I would that half the reporters on the average media list don't belong -- or, at least, won't be interested in most the news coming out of most companies. (In terms of media lists, many lists contain reporters who are likely to write about a company, but that determination may be based on a single article caught by a PR staffer, and that article could have been written to fill in for another reporter. It's like reading tea leaves.)

One reason analyst lists could be wrong is that analysts may have moved to another firm, another coverage area -- the same is especially true of media lists, by the way, given layoffs, shifts to cover the Wall St. crisis (and until last week, the election).

Here are reasons that Sage says leads to analyst lists containing wrong media.

  • Perception that there is no time to do the work
  • Lack of formal analyst list methodology
  • Inadequate consideration of corporate, business group and team objectives
  • Lack of carefully considered weighted criteria
  • Infrequent review of the analyst marketplace for changes in analysts and coverage
  • Lack of mechanism for capturing how analyst list decisions were made
  • Focusing on large firms while giving boutiques short shrift
  • No access to a database of analysts
  • Internal political pressure
  • External squeaky wheels
In another blog post, Sage says it's important to understand how an analyst list was compiled, and notes some important questions:
  • Which criteria were used?
  • How those criteria were weighted, and so on?
  • When was the list created?
  • Has it been maintained?
Good points.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Layoffs & PR Strategy

We've seen a growing number of startups announce layoffs as a way to "cut the burn rate" and "extend the runway" -- two terms rarely heard after the dot-com crash.

Call these preemptive layoffs, they are intended to help startups keep enough cash to survive until the end of the economic crisis (which a friend yesterday called the "new normal") when, presumably, there will be more interest in their product or service.

Lawrence Coburn, CEO of RateItAll, a distributed consumer review company, makes an interesting point in a recent blog post: "Layoffs should not be part of your PR strategy."

I totally agree.

On the other hand, the New York Times' Claire Cain Miller wrote an interesting article, "In Era of Blog Sniping, Companies Shoot First," in which she reports that companies need to get aggressive to communicating key messages about layoffs because of blogs and Twitter.

Unfortunately, I totally agree with that, too.

In the end, for the sake of transparency, I do think that companies will now need to acknowledge layoffs -- before the ex-employees do. I think companies now need a communications strategy to deal with the Web 2.0 world when layoffs are planned. But I still feel that companies shouldn't use layoffs as part of their PR/marketing strategy.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Other Shoe Drops for US News

Earlier this year, US News said it would change its publication schedule from every week, and that it would change its emphasis from news to consumer reports -- since its many ranking issues (Colleges, Hospitals, etc.) have been very popular.

So I think it should have, at that point, dropped the phrase "& World Report" from its title.

Actually, I think it should have dropped the word "News" from its title, too, since it clearly wasn't covering news.

I think the reason the magazine didn't is because there's already a magazine called US, and readers would probably get confused. (Not that I think that US is every about me, but that's another posting.)

Now, the other shoe has dropped in that US News & World Report has announced it will stop publishing its print edition to focus on being a web-only publication.

If we soon can't call the Christian Science Monitor a newspaper anymore since it won't be delivered on paper, can we can call US News (or whatever a more accurate name would be) a magazine anymore?

Not sure.

But I think the new slogan for the Christian Science Monitor could be -- Read the CS Monitor on Your Computer Monitor!

Meanwhile, if US News & World Report maintains its name, since there is brand equity in it, the publication won't be the only one with a misleading name. Industry Week isn't really about industry, but about plant management, and it doesn't publish weekly. Redbook isn't actually bound in red, nor is it a book.

One thing's for sure: because of the lousy economy, we can expect other print publications to move to an online-only strategy. Most of these will be second-tier publications. I am still convinced that there is a need for print publications -- if only because Kindle and other similar electronic reading devices are not as widely available as MP3 players. Yet. I also think top publications will still be able to sell print editions to advertisers and readers. It just might be a small group of top publications.

We can survive this, yes we can.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Interesting Thing about TV Election Coverage

It's not about media bias, although it was clear some on Fox were disappointed. (For example, one pundit said that Obama had won by a landslide -- another pointed out that the popular vote was actually fairly close, it's just the Electoral College that makes it seem like a landslide. A point I'm sure would not have been made if McCain had won.)

What was interesting is how conservative with a lower "c" before calling states for Obama or McCain. In fact, many websites were calling states, even the entire election well before 11pm when the networks decided they had enough hard evidence to call it.

Jacques Steinberg in the New York Times wrote an interesting article about "Burned Before, Networks Prove Reluctant to Name Next President Early" about the situation.

Personally, I've seen lots of tech reporters who were scarred and burned by the dot-com crash decide not to cover small companies for the same reason.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Are Advertising Agencies Like Cats, PR Agencies Like Dogs?

104 West Partners principal makes the case that ad agencies are like cats, PR agencies are like dogs in an interesting blog post, "Reigning Cats and Dogs."

In the article, he makes the case why, during an economic downturn, marketing should go to the dogs. Here are two key points:
  • Traditionally, PR is good value for money, to borrow a phrase from my British friends. The cost of a traditional PR media effort that has even mediocre results can return a 'CPM' (now before we get in a lather, I know it's not a perfect analogy, but it's what I got) of somewhere around 40 cents. And that's pretty conservative. That is only the pure media ROI and doesn't include non-media efforts like speaking engagements or strategic counsel. But we should also look at the non-traditional advantages. PR is essentially the ability to sway opinions. (Some might suggest it's more pedestrian than that; I'm not sure the pedestrian assessment isn't an undervaluation, as much as mine may be an overvaluation, but it's my blog.) And there is an opinion that this economic crisis is very much the result of emotion and opinion. Now I am not downplaying the reality of the credit crisis or the housing slide, but markets are very often driven by emotion. How else would you account for 1000 point swings in the Dow Jones Industrial Average in a matter of minutes?
  • In terms of Web 2.0 approaches, Ward says, "The solutions offered by others instead of PR simply don't scale. The complexity of the communications effort needed to justify expenses on goods and services in the coming months will not lend itself to marketing's blunter instruments and even if they did, the cost of making them successful is incongruent with the belt-tightening we are all facing."

Friday, October 31, 2008

Sometimes Gimicks Still Work to Generate Media Coverage

We've been working on a corporate social responsibility initiative for several weeks, and have generated some decent coverage. The client asked us to get morning show coverage, and we worked up a number of different approaches. But before we could pitch the angles to morning show producers, the client used a gimmick that communicated a simple key message during the talk-to-the-crowd segment on "The Today Show."

It was a far shorter message than we were looking to get by pitching a segment on this CSR initiative -- but the gimmick got the job done.

Sometimes we overthink things when trying develop killer story angles. The gimmick was not rocket science or ground breaking. It wouldn't be appropriate for every client, but it was basic, easy to manage (in other words, it did not involve significant cost or other complicating features), and it worked.

Congratulations to the client. And here's to a reminder that not every solution to a PR goal is complicated or needs to be Web 2.0ified.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

New York Times Magazine Article Looks at McCain's Campaign: The Making (and Remaking and Remaking) of the Candidate -- fascinating

Our agency's slogan is "Why the Story Matters," and has been for eight years because we think our clients' stories important -- important as a part of their brand, important as a component to their messaging and positioning, important to generate interest among reporters. We spend a lot of time upfront and at regular intervals to refine clients' stories.

I bring this up because there's a fascinating article in the New York Times Magazine about the McCain Campaign: "The Making (and Remaking) of McCain" by Robert Draper. The premise of the article, supported by quotes from senior McCain advisers and anecdotes, is that a big challenge that McCain campaign has had is in developing the right narrative to use in describing McCain and the reason to elect McCain as president.

This article is not a look at his personality, experience, political record, ideology, fund raising, etc. Instead, the article could almost be a look at a troubled marketing campaign.

Which is why I think it's instructive to PR and marketing pros.

Here are some relevant lessons:
  • Develop a story that defines the candidate/company/product, but also gives you room to adapt. With the McCain campaign, they kept picking messages that didn't necessarily connect to the previous messages; claiming the surge is working in Iraq did not connect to the message that Barack Obama is the world's biggest celebrity but isn't ready to lead.
  • Changing the story line makes it difficult to develop traction in the minds of voters/consumers/shareholders.
  • You need a story and messages that give people a reason to buy your product/company -- not just a reason to not buy the competing product/company.
  • The story has to make sense to key stakeholders. With the addition of Palin to the ticket, the McCain campaign changed its message from readiness to change. The selection of Palin certainly meant change, but voters may be feeling that McCain's been in Washington, for too long to represent change. (One might make the case that in selecting Joe Biden that Obama was picking the status quo and was not making the case for change. I'm surprised the McCain campaign did not make more of that.)
  • Brands live or die by their integrity -- or in the case of the McCain campaign, but the character of the candidate. Savvy marketing organizations, like Procter & Gamble, spend a great deal of effort on brand management, making sure that their brands stands for something, and that all consumer touch points reinforce the values and personality of the brand. The article makes the case that the McCain campaign was desperate enough to score points, that it decided to launch negative ads -- even though McCain had renounced negative ads after his failed 2000 campaign had been beaten by the negative campaign ran by George W. Bush (and Karl Rove). If a brand is to have meaning, it needs to consistently reinforce the brand value; launching negative ads undercut the meaning of McCain's brand.
A lot of good lessons for brand managers, marketers and PR professionals.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Christian Science Monitor to Cease Publishing Print Edition, and the Latest in Bad News for Newspapers

The Christian Science Monitor, founded 100 years ago by church founder Mary Baker Eddy, has announced that it will be the first national newspaper to cease publishing a print edition. The last printed regular paper will be published in 2009.

Some of the coverage, including the AP's "Christian Science Monitor to end daily publication," read like obituaries. I kept expecting to learn that survivors include the Christian Science Church and a diminished newspaper sector.

Meanwhile, the Audit Bureau of Circulation announced the latest circulation figures for U.S. newspapers -- and the figures are not good for the country's top 10 papers by circulation.

Only USA Today and Wall St. Journal boosted circulation -- by 0.01%.
  • The New York Times: -3.58%
  • Los Angeles Times: -5.20%
  • New York Daily News: -7.16
  • New York Post: -6.25%
  • Washington Post: -1.94
  • Chicago Tribune: -7.25
  • Houston Chronicle: -11.66
  • Newsday: -2.58
The Audit Bureau looked at 507 newspapers, and the average circulation drop was 4.6%.

Sunday circulation dropped faster than weekday circulation -- which is unusual.

So the question is: when will other papers stop publishing print editions? And if they stop printing hardcopy versions, should we stop calling them papers?

In today's Times (which I read after initially writing this post), David Carr's article, "Mourning Old Media’s Decline," makes an important point:

The paradox of all these announcements is that newspapers and magazines do not have an audience problem — newspaper Web sites are a vital source of news, and growing — but they do have a consumer problem.

Stop and think about where you are reading this column. If you are one of the million or so people who are reading it in a newspaper that landed on your doorstop or that you picked up at the corner, you are in the minority. This same information is available to many more millions on this paper’s Web site, in RSS feeds, on hand-held devices, linked and summarized all over the Web.

“The auto industry and the print industry have essentially the same problem,” said Clay Shirky, the author of “Here Comes Everybody.” “The older customers like the older products and the new customers like the new ones.”
In other words, there's still a need for newspapers -- but the delivery mechanism is outdated. Unfortunately, so to is the business model, which depends on print advertising. But there's no doubt that more papers will join the Christian Science Monitor and will stop printing hardcopy issues. I still think there'll be a demand for print editions for another five years; after that, who knows? But I do believe we still need branded journalism -- at least online.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

NY Times' Stuart Elliott Writes Follow-up Article on Advertising & Hollywood -- mentions two movies mentioned here

In his email to me following his New York Times article about the number of movies or TV shows set in the glamorous world of advertising, advertising columnist Stuart Elliott said he might write another column about the movies and TV shows he left out of the original column. (See, For 60 Years, the Ad Game Has Been Fodder for Scripts -- Why not PR?)

In today's Times, "A Cultural Affinity for Madison Avenue," Elliott wrote his follow-up article that mentioned two of the films I suggested, "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" and “Good Neighbor Sam.”

Meanwhile, I am still looking for other movies or TV shows involving a PR executive. In the NBC sitcom, "Mad About You," Helen Hunt's character was a PR exec., but her job was not a sustained focus of the show.

Let me know if you know of other PR-inspired movies or TV shows.

Friday, October 24, 2008

How to Leverage Media Placements

There's a lot of advice on how to generate media coverage, but a surprising lack of information on how to leverage the coverage once you've generated it.

The process doesn't end with the clip itself. There are ways to make your media coverage continue to payoff.

Here are some ideas to expand the impact of your media coverage.
  • Update your website to include the list of coverage. The coverage can showcase expertise and depth of experience, which may be important to clients and prospective clients, partners and employees. Another reason to post links to your website is that people may miss the article when it was originally published; this way, it’s available long afterwards.A growing list of coverage can help raise your website rankings because search engine algorithms like links. Please note: due to copyright issues, it's best to provide a link to the original URL where the story appeared rather than posting the article directly to your website; you should also check with the copyright holder to find out its reprint policies.
  • Consider reprinting articles, and including them in your printed marketing materials. Article reprints can be good tools to include as part of any direct mail campaigns or leave-behinds at speeches or meetings. Some organizations, especially community organizations or nonprofits, may consider highlighting their name and post the articles on community bulletin boards in libraries, supermarkets, etc. However, please note: if you are reprinting articles, you should check with the copyright holder (typically the media outlet that published the article) to find out its policies, costs, etc.)
  • Frame your great media coverage for others to see. This is another way to enable prospective clients, partners and employees to see the coverage. Seeing these articles on the walls of your offices may help impress visitors.
  • Mention recent coverage to others. When talking to prospective clients, you can mention that you were just quoted in the media about a relevant topic. The next time you’re speaking at an event, ask the group’s presenter to mention the article, or work it into the speech if it's on the same topic.
  • Include “As Seen In…” Signature lines on emails, brochures, newsletters, cover letters, etc. can include a list of recent coverage cited “As seen in…”
  • Mention in advertising. If you do any advertising, consider mentioning your coverage. This might be easier to do in print advertising, where you might be able to reprint headlines in the background. But it also may make sense for online advertising as well.
For additional ideas, check out "7 Ways to Milk Your Media Coverage Get the most out of your publicity, long after you've left the spotlight," published in Entrepreneur Magazine.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Why Andrew Sullivan Blogs: Interesting Article in The Atlantic

Andrew Sullivan wrote an interesting long article about blogging. "Why I Blog" is worth checking out.

How to Create a Media Log -- and Why

Deborah Zanke, a freelance consultant specializing in the nonprofit social services industry, wrote a useful blog article about how to create a media log -- a tool that can help track who you've talked to, how often you talk to the reporter, and the results of your contact.

Her article, How do you track your media coverage? is useful, especially for organizations that are looking to establish themselves.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Surveys Can Help Generate Coverage -- Tips on How to Develop Interesting Surveys

Surveys can be very valuable communication tools because they can validate an organization’s expertise and provide an opportunity to contact the media. For the media, surveys are very popular because they can validate a trend or provide perspective on a timely issue.

By providing fresh content, surveys can be valuable even without securing media coverage – just as there are occasions when media coverage is not the end goal for a press release. For example, when a company signs new customers, media coverage might not be as important as demonstrating that the company is gaining wider acceptance for its products or services.

However, numerous surveys are conducted each day by for-profit companies, nonprofit organizations, and the media that are expected to generate coverage. This is especially true during the current U.S. presidential campaign.

Given this deluge, the challenge for companies is to identify survey topics that will interest its customers and the media.

We ask 10 questions to get at what’s newsworthy, starting with determining the goals for media coverage.

Questions include:

  • Are there seasonal trends we can play off of?

  • What’s the conventional wisdom on an issue?

  • Who will care about the survey results?

  • What are three key messages the company wants to deliver through this survey?

For other tips for improving, check out: "Improving a Questionnaire" by Alex Hiam.

Monday, October 20, 2008

NY Times' Ombudsman Column Focuses on Biases -- But It's Not What You Think

There's heightened sensitivity about media bias because of the presidential election, especially about the usual suspects like the New York Times, Wall St. Journal and Fox News.

The Times' Ombudsman, Clark Hoyt, wrote an article, "Keeping Their Opinions to Themselves,"
about readers' reactions to Times political coverage, making a couple of interesting points:
  1. "There is an entire body of scholarship devoted to what social scientists call the 'hostile media' syndrome, the belief of people with strong feelings about an issue -- any issue that the news media are hostile to their side."
  2. Speaking at a group in Montclair, NJ, Hoyt asked how many felt Times' coverage is biased, and more than half the hands went up. One audience member complained that the Times "always plays up scandals involving Republicans and buries scandals involving Democrats." Hoyt pointed out that the Times broke the Spitzer scandal and published extensive reports on Rep. Charles Rangel. The audience member's response: "I'd call that good journalism."
  3. Journalists "do have personal biases, and a long line of studies has shown that they tend to be more socially and politically liberal than the population at large...." but Hoyt cited a study that said "a link between reporters' political beliefs and news coverage has never been convincingly established." Just ask Democrats who work for Fox News.
What's most interesting, I think, is that Hoyt acknowledges that journalists do have biases -- but it's not the kind most would consider, though it is important for PR departments to be aware of them. "Journalists are biased:
  1. Toward conflict.
  2. Toward bad news because it is more exciting than good news, and, obviously,
  3. Toward what is new.
Now conflict and bad news are things most organizations want to avoid in their day-to-day operations as well as in their media coverage. The challenge is to come up with something news -- not just for the company. That's an important criteria all of us in PR need to work harder to define and achieve.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Free Download Available of Seth Godin's New Book, "Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us "

Author and marketing guru Seth Godin's latest book, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, is available for free audio download. Check it out here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

How to Market in a Down Economy -- Interesting Entrepreneur Article Has Suggestions

Many companies think about cutting back marketing during a downturn.

According to "Turn It Around: When the economy takes a tumble, don't let your marketing go down with it. Stay standing by retuning your message," companies "can successfully market your way through an economic downturn by implementing a recession-minded strategy. It's essential to adapt and retool to find the smartest routes to increasing market share and ROI."

Among the best suggestions is to better understand customer behavior and market to current customers.

Check out the article for some good ideas.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

How is Broadcast News Covering the Economic Crisis?

The election is helping to boost ratings of late night comedy shows like the Daily Show and Colbert Report as well as SNL, Leno, Letterman and O'Brien (That's Conan O'Brien, in case anyone forgotten.)

But one question is this: is the economic crisis generating stronger viewership for broadcast news?

I've written before that I think broadcast news could do a better job in covering the crisis (rather than using dominoes to demonstrate the problem, as CBS recently did).

Check out BusinessWeek's article about Fox Business News: "The Uphill Battle at Fox Business Network: The economic crisis may give Murdoch's year-old business channel a lift in its battle with CNBC." Seems the crisis is helping bring in bigger numbers -- more than 100,000 viewers at a time -- but that may not be enough to compete with CNBC.

Monday, October 13, 2008

When Google News' Search is Too Good -- Part II

The New York Times' Noam Cohen wrote an article that takes a deeper look to an issue this blog identified in Septmber, When Google News' Search is Too Good. Check out "Spinning a Web of Lies at Digital Speed.

The article looks at ireport.com, CNN's user-generated site, which has posted some wrong information that nevertheless got picked up as true. Some for Digg.

Jay Adelson, Digg's chief executive, told the Times, "There is almost a short-seller mentaility in the blogosphere. We allow anyone to submit on a level playing field. We allow the digital democracy to be the fact checkers. There is definitely some risk to that."

Citizen journalism has its risks. It will be a challenge to PR functions to approach these sites to defend negative news -- just as it will be a challenge to use them effectively to promote positive news without being seen as too self-serving. Transparency may address the situation in part, but will not eliminate it.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Daily Show Follows the PRBackTalk on Looking at How the Broadcast Media Has Been Covering the Economic Crisis

On Wed., Oct. 8, I posted an article, "How did Broadcast Business News Cover the Financial Crisis?

The answer: Not well, overall.

On Thurs., Oct. 9, The Daily Show took it's own look at the same topic.

Jon Stewart's version was funnier. I'm okay with that.

But I'm pleased that we covered the topic before he did.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

How did Broadcast Business News Cover the Financial Crisis?

Not well, overall.

Yes, the situation itself was confusing.

But the reporting was confusing, too, especially broadcast news.

One reason is that stories typically run 110 seconds or as much as 3-5 minutes, so it's difficult to encapsulate a complicated story in a short time.

Another reason, Dean Starkman, managing editor of the Audit, the business-press section of the Columbia Journalism Review, told the Boston Globe is that TV business news coverage isn't really about business -- "They basically cover the stock market. One is a subset of the other. But to equate the two" is wrong.

Too many times clients ask us to pursue broadcast outlets without realizing Starkman's essential truth: broadcast outlets, especially local affiliates, generally cover stock market news and large companies. That's not to say they don't cover smaller companies -- just that you need to be more creative about it.

In future postings, I will look at some ways to tell a business story for broadcast media. Meanwhile check out this Globe article that also discussed how the business media handled the financial crisis: "Is frantic TV coverage giving us the business?"

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"Free Sarah Palin" or How the Blogosphere is Influencing Mainstream Media

The blogosphere tends to be self-congratulating. But I think there's one way the blogosphere is impacting mainstream media, particularly broadcast: because anchors can now provide useful perspective and draw conclusions.

CNN anchor Campbell Brown provides the latest example when she recently launched a rant that the McCain campaign should "Free Sarah Palin." Brown's point is that by limiting Palin's access to journalists who are going about the usual process of vetting a candidate for national office, the McCain campaign is showing itself to be sexist because:
By treating Sarah Palin different from the other candidates in this race, you are not showing her the respect she deserves. Free Sarah Palin. Free her from the chauvinistic chain you are binding her with. Sexism in this campaign must come to an end. Sarah Palin has just as much a right to be a real candidate in this race as the men do. So let her act like one.”
Check out a post-rant profile in the New York Times: "Weighing In: An Anchor Tacks Toward Commentary."

My point here isn't about Palin, actually. It's about whether news should be balanced. "Ms. Brown, 40, does concede that the kind of journalism she is now doing at CNN is less traditional than that taught at journalism schools," according to the Times.

“As journalists, and certainly for me over the last few years, we’ve gotten overly obsessed with parity, especially when we’re covering politics,” Ms. Brown said. “We kept making sure each candidate got equal time — to the point that it got ridiculous in a way.”

“So when you have Candidate A saying the sky is blue, and Candidate B saying it’s a cloudy day, I look outside and I see, well, it’s a cloudy day,” she said. “I should be able to tell my viewers, ‘Candidate A is wrong, Candidate B is right.’ And not have to say, ‘Well, you decide.’ Then it would be like I’m an idiot. And I’d be treating the audience like idiots.”

The other way bloggers and the Internet have impacted mainstream media is that rise is articles that seek to fact check the campaigns' ads and statements. I don't think the level of lies about an opponent's record or policies is much different from previous election years, but I do think there's much more of this kind of fact checking, again, as the result of the Internet.

For PR executives, but here's the point: until now, it's fallen to pundits or columnists to draw actual conclusions -- or reporters being interviewed by other media/outlets (recently I heard a great interview with the Times' Gretchen Morgenson, who provided much more insight into the financial crisis during her NPR interview than her balanced article in that morning's Times). But I think we will see continued blurring of the line between reporting and analysis/perspective, especially tech trade reporters.

I'm not sure if it's a good or bad step.

But PR functions need to be aware of it, and adjust their media programs accordingly.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Backward-Looking Complaint in Wall St. Journal is Itself Backward-Looking

Readers of this blog know I don't go political, but I will look at how the media handles politics if it is instructive for PR professionals.

This may be an exception. But please note, the point I do want to make is not about politics but about the final product, an opinion column in one of the best newspapers in the world.

Today's Wall St. Journal ran an opinion piece,"No, Iraq Wasn't a 'Distraction': What if FDR had stuck to fighting the Japanese in the Pacific?" by David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey, Washington, DC lawyers who served in the DOJ under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush and advise John McCain's presidential campaign.

Here's the first sentence of the second paragraph, which sets the argument: "As Mrs. Palin pointed out, when it comes to foreign policy, the Obama-Biden team is backward looking. It continues to view international issues through the prism of opposition to George W. Bush."

Here's the fifth paragraph in its entirety: "This is exactly what President Franklin Roosevelt did in World War II when he chose to dedicate initially the bulk of American resources to the European theater, believing that destroying Hitler's Reich was the most urgent task and that Imperial Japan could be dealt with in turn; history proved him right. Yet, under the Obama-Biden playbook, FDR blundered by getting distracted from the 'real' war -- in the Pacific, where America had been attacked.

So, if you're paying attention, the Obama-Biden team is guilty of having a backwards-looking foreign policy. And how did the authors, two McCain campaign advisers, make the point that Obama-Biden's policy is dangerous? By citing U.S. strategy used to fight World War II, an example from more than 60 years ago.

I'm not trying to raise the issue of politics here (or whether Iraq is Hitler's Germany to bin Laden's Japan, according to Rivken & Casey's analogy), but of copyediting. Here, in part, is the summary of the article: "Our opponent has a backwards-looking foreign policy, and here's an example from more than 60 years ago that proves that a backwards-looking policy could be disastrous."

I've been told by a generally reliable source that the Journal's editorial staff has been reduced from seven to three staffers. So I'm wondering if the smaller staff and greater demands prevent the Journal's editors from carefully reading this piece before it was published? I've published op-eds before, and I know that editors used to not only fact check articles but also make sure the internal logic was consistent.

In this case, it appears the Journal did not.

No One Covers the Travails of the Wealthy Like The NYT or Wall St. Journal? Last in a Long Series on This Blog

As readers of this blog know by now, both the New York Times and Wall St. Journal spend a lot of resources and ink on covering the super rich.

The latest examples:
So here's the deal: if you are working in marketing or PR, here's the lesson: Look for story angles or proof points that show something counter-intuitive about the super rich. It doesn't even have to be so counter-intuitive. For example: "The turmoil on Wall Street has not only taken down once-solid companies, it has cut into the wealth of some Americans whose fortunes were tied to those companies. So the wealthy — and many still are that, by most measures — are postponing big purchases."

Meanwhile, because the point has been made by now, I will stop counting Times or Journal articles that document how the downturn is impacting the super rich. I think we get it.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Guy Kawasaki & 10-20-30 Presentation Rule

Tech evangelist Guy Kawasaki has a lot of good advice for giving speeches.

One is to not read your slides -- your audience can read faster than you can speak it, and they will think you do not know the material.

Check out: "11 Public-Speaking Pointers A successful speech should always end with a standing ovation--here's how to get yours. "

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Forbes Peter Huber Agrees with PRBackTalk: The Web Lets People Disconnect

In Aug., I posted an article that argued that social networks don't actually bring people closer together. (Check out: Do Social Networks & Video-sharing Sites Bring People Closer Together?.)

In the Sept. 29th issue of Forbes, Peter Huber, a senior fellow of the Manhattan Institute and coauthor of The Bottomless Well, wrote an interesting article that validates my article: "Cronkite vs. the Web."

In the article, Huber wrote, "The Web's real power lies as much in its ability to separate, divide and take apart markets and people...The Web doesn't bridge divisions; it multiplies and sharpens them. It doesn't build consensus or national coalitions; it grows factions. Truth be told, the Web doesn't network people at all--it lets them network themselves, which is quite different. The Web is the place where people can roll their own, and given that freedom, people tend to coalesce in relatively small, insular groups...The real genius of the Web, in short, is that it lets people disconnect. That's why it has obliterated the old media. During the Tet Offensive of the Vietnam War, President Lyndon Johnson is reported to have said, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America." Nobody would ever say that about anything posted on a cronkite.com or a CronkiteTube. There are too many celebrity sites, scattered all over the digital landscape, and they're all saying different things."

Very interesting.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Entrepreneur Magazine Looks at 21 Ways to Get Noticed -- Not Sophisticated Enough

Entrepreneur Magazine is a good magazine, filled with useful tips. The Oct. issue contained an article that, for novices, provides some good marketing ideas.

But the article, "Get Noticed: Shine a spotlight on your business with our 21 low-cost marketing moves," does not provide information useful for entrepreneurs who have some marketing experience.

For example, no marketing how-to article would be complete without urging readers to blog. But blogging is not a shortcut. It takes time and commitment to do it right. And it can be difficult to measure ROI, much less than to find the time to write a blog.

However, I did like the idea to make employees a sales tool -- too many companies forget to do that.

Still, if you don't have much marketing experience, check out the article.

Friday, September 26, 2008

How Does the Media Cover the Current Economic, Um, Cr-- no, Meltd-- nope, Situation?

According to blog favorite, Richard Perez-Pena of the New York Times, the current economic situation has been a "lesson in semantics" as they avoid words like "crash," "meltdown" and "apocalypse."

Very interesting. Check out "Amid Market Turmoil, Some Journalists Try to Tone Down Emotion."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Global Finance's Annual Best Investment Banks of 2008

Okay, so this isn't fair since Global Finance Magazine's Sept. issue went to bed before the Sept. economic crisis.

But in its annual ranking of the "Best Investment Banks of 2008," the magazine noted: "The past 12 months have been some of the most difficult ever for investment banks, but many institutions continue to provide outstanding services to their clients."

That subhead deserves to be nominated in the category of "Biggest Understatement in a Magazine in 2008."

Except that the article may be nominated in the "Ironic Rankings List" for 2008. In the Best Equity Bank, Global, the winner was Merrill Lynch...um, Bank of America's Merrill Lynch unit.

BofA's ML also won Best Equity Bank, North America and Best Bank, U.S. (and Argentina!), as well as in three industry sectors (though not real estate).

The formerly independent Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley also won honors in the sectors' list.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Political Ads Used to Set Media Agenda

No matter which politician you support, what's certain is that both are using what's known as "vapor ads" to get out claims against the opposing candidate -- without the expense of actually buying time for the ads. The media treats the ads as if they appear in heavy rotation on broadcast outlets, which means the campaigns generate a huge payoff with minimal expense.

Check out an interesting Washington Post article, "The Ads That Aren't: Candidates Let Media Spread the Message" by Paul Farhi.

For businesses operating in a competitive sector, this approach would not work because typically businesses do not engage in head-to-head competition through commercials. But, while it took years and year, Microsoft has finally responded to Apple's very funny & successful "I'm a Mac" campaign -- and I think the new campaign (after the funny-but-ineffective Seinfield commercials) is actually quite good.

But here's the point for this blog: whether through advertising or word-of-mouth, competitors always seek to reposition your products or services. The challenge is to make sure you are constantly communicating your position to key audiences. If you're not, your customers might only hear what your competitors are telling them about you and your product or service.

No One Covers the Travails of the Wealthy Like The NYT, Unless It's the Wall St. Journal. Cutting back on caviar

The Wall St. Journal keeps the pressure up on the New York Times in terms of coverage of the impact of economic problems on the super rich.

The latest installment: "As Times Turn Tough, New York's Wealthy Economize: Plastic Surgeons, Jewelers, Yacht Builders Brace for Leaner Times; Saying No to Caviar." One anecdote made the point that ostentatiousness is in decline -- even if actual amounts the wealthy spend is not. One person, throwing an elaborate dinner party, made some changes to the menu: "Out went the caviar and truffles and in came Wagyu beef instead. The new menu won't cost any less...but "it's less overt."

'Saying no to caviar"?

Is nothing sacred?

On the other hand, the Journal subsequently ran an article about the impact of the economy on health spending: "Consumers Cut Health Spending, As Economic Downturn Takes Toll."

That actually seems more relevant than people cutting back on caviar purchases.

Monday, September 22, 2008

How Targeted is Targeted Marketing?

The claim for targeted online marketing -- which can include mining publicly available data sources ranging from real-estate documents to motor-vehicle records as well as using cookies to track users' movements online -- is that it is superior to traditional advertising is by being interactive, it can learn more about consumers, interests and behaviors than, say newspaper advertising, which can't tell you if someone even opened the particular section where your ad appeared.

By mining clicks and embedding cookies, target marketing can overcome that information gap.

In "Mistaken Identity: A reporter learns what target marketers know about her -- and don't," Emily Steel wrote about the information that two targeted marketing firms had on her. And the problems with the underlying premise.

Here's Steel's premise: "But for all the excitement about this emerging field, as I surf the Web I'm struck by how few of the ads that appear along the way are relevant to me. The last one I remember clicking on intentionally ... was last fall. Marketers don't seem to be targeting me very effectively."

In terms of collecting user data from the Internet, here's how that work: companies make deals with thousands of sites for "permission to collect data about visitors to those sites. When a person lands on one of the sites, the targeting technology places a "cookie," or small string of tracking data, on his or her hard drive. The technology can read the codes embedded in the cookies to see which other sites in the network the person has already visited. Based on that information, it automatically decides which ads to display."

Here are two examples of why targeted marketing are not 100% accurate:
  • "One reason behavioral targeting is still such an imperfect science is that firms can easily make false assumptions, especially if they are relying on Web-only information. Executives at some firms I talked with said, for example, that if I were to visit an airline site and then a bridal registry -- as I did recently -- their technology would peg me as a newlywed. In fact, I was shopping for a friend who is getting married."
  • "The data that the firms collect for their clients aren't tied to individually identifiable consumers, but rather to the Internet Protocol addresses of their computers. Those addresses are then scrambled to keep them anonymous. While that pleases privacy advocates, it creates more guesswork for marketers. Advertisers have no guarantee that it's the same Web surfer sitting at the computer all the time. Families often share computers, and individuals often use more than one machine. To further complicate matters, the ad-targeting firms create a different profile for each browser that a person uses on a particular computer. The bottom line: One ad-targeting firm can be maintaining multiple profiles for the same person -- and never unify that information."
I'm not suggesting targeted marketing isn't worthwhile, just making this point: new technology continues to be a means -- albeit a much more data-driven one -- to identify consumers. But as with social media as part of a campaign to reach consumers, new technology doesn't necessarily solve the problem as it raises new issues to be solved. Social media is replacing traditional media, but it's not always a better, more efficient way -- reaching out to bloggers can be more time intensive than reaching out to reporters. I also don't think new technology can be ignored; just needs to be approached carefully to ensure it's more than a fad.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Do We Really Want Our News to be Fair & Balanced?

I think the news should always be fair.

But I think the news-consuming public, to a significant degree, is saying that it doesn't really want balance.

That's especially true when it comes to blogs, with people self-selecting those whose views validate their own.

And it's also true when it comes to TV news. Because people seem to self-select the sort of news they want to hear/watch.

That's the entire premise of Fox News, after all, which says it has the most viewers (compared with CNN). And that embrace of things more liberal is one reason MSNBC has seen its ratings improve.

Now Fox News' tagline famously says it is "fair and balanced," but after watching Fox News side-by-side with CNN this morning, I have to say I think Fox's definition of "balanced" means "when averaged in against other broadcast outlets."

Both Fox and CNN covered many of the same news items -- namely the election and the financial crisis. How could they not?

But there was a significant difference in how the two outlets approached the news.

Fox News' "Fox & Friends" had a former Wall Streeter-turned-author on to talk about the underlying cause of the current economic crisis. His point was that politicians on both sides of the aisle are to blame. One of the first questions from Fox tried to tie blame for the current crisis on the Clinton Administration for allowing deregulation to occur (irony alert: that's something conservatives usually champion).

The author pointed out that Republicans controlled Congress during the Clinton administration, and that they had pushed for deregulation. He then repeated his statement that it's a bipartisan, systemic problem in part due to lobbyists and donations to politician's campaign funds. The Fox co-anchor agreed, pointing out that Obama and Biden had accepted PAC funds. When the author pointed out that every politician, including McCain, accepts money from lobbyists, the Fox co-anchor made a distinction between PAC money and other kinds of donations. The segment appeared to end abruptly when the author disagreed, saying it is not accurate to blame one party over the other.

The Fox segment seemed neither fair nor balanced.

Meanwhile CNN featured interviews with apparent experts who tried to provide context about the current financial crisis. I did not see any attempt at finger-pointing on the part of the anchors, reporters or guests.

Next up on both networks was the claim that political ads are negative and filled with lies. Fox interviewed an editor at the conservative National Review, who said that after studying one of the ads (about sex education) and talking to a politician who helped draft the bill (no mention of her political affiliation), his conclusion was that the truth was more ambiguous. Probably more truth than not, according to the National Review. The segment did not look at Obama ads, so no attempt to be balanced there. Just felt that editorially it was okay to have a conservative review McCain's ad to say it was actually mostly on the mark.

That would be like asking someone in Boston who's been the better team over the past decade: the Yankees or the Red Sox. Yeah, the Yankees, having a terrible year, have been to the playoffs almost every season during that time but the Sox have won two World Series -- that would be fair and balanced. But there's no doubt someone from Boston would always say the Sox was better. Just as there's no doubt someone from New York would say the same about the Yankees.

Meanwhile, CNN's segment on the candidates' ads included someone from FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania that says it accepts no funding from business corporations, labor unions, political parties, lobbying organizations or individuals. The segment included a look at an ad from both campaigns.

Fox claims it is more balanced than CNN, but a random 30-minutes' look at both Fox and CNN showed that Fox did not live up to its tagline.

From what I know, "balance" in journalism has not always been valued highly. Accuracy is clearly important, but many newspapers in other countries are open about their political bias. That was true in the U.S. as well. The Watertown (WI) Leader started off as the Watertown Republican in 1860. The Sonora (CA) Union-Democrat has been the leading newspaper of the Mother Lode since 1854. Objectivity in journalism is a recent change. I get my balance by reading the New York Times' editorial pages -- and the Wall St. Journal's editorial pages.

Here's where balance doesn't make for good journalism: a politician's attack ad may contains lies -- but the news media will give a he-said/she-said quote, which gives the attacking politician the chance to rebut accusations that the ad contains lies. In the need to appear objective and nonpartisan, the media diminishes its role as serving as a check-and-balance to misstatements. (As a teenager, I once tried to characterize a lie to my parents as a misstatement. They didn't buy it -- and neither should we.)

If a politician is lying, the media should report it; give him/her a chance to rebut, but then provide objective facts that the statement is a lie, and call it as such.

And if news media can connect with readers by taking a particular political stance -- I think they should. After all, if the only newspaper in a city starts tilting right or left, it may find more readers who are more passionate about the paper. If readers don't like it, even in a somewhat less free-market economy, I bet someone else will decide to publish a paper that tilts in the opposite direction.

Perhaps the future of journalism in regard to balance should tear out a page from journalism's past. Be biased but be upfront about that bias.

Update: After I posted this article, the New York Times' Patrick Healy wrote about the use of the word "lie" in politics in an article entitled, "Let’s Call a Lie a Lie ... Finally. Check it out.