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."