Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Growing Support for Cash-for-Clunkers -- an idea we espoused in Dec. 2008

There's growing interest in cash-for-clunkers -- an idea we espoused in Dec. 2008 via Twitter:

@JOHNABYRNE If we bail out Detroit, we should distribute cars to Americans. Get old clunkers off the road, empty the lots of unsold cars.5:48 PM Dec 8th, 2008 from web in reply to JOHNABYRNE

Glad there's growing interest in the idea.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Could Twitter Help Newspapers' Decline

According to a recent post on Media Bullseye, Old Media's New Voice, newspapers that embrace Twitter are actually doing well -- as long as they don't see Twitter simply as an RSS feed.

A reporter at the Austin American-Statesman, Robert Quigley says, being on Twitter for a newspaper is "not just about driving page views to our site (which it does), it's also a marketing campaign."

Further, he provides some advice that's useful for any organization either thinking of or already using Twitter: "Put a real person behind that account. Twitter is too personal, in my opinion, for RSS feeds. That back-and-forth conversation can be very rewarding."

Among other reasons to be on Twitter, Quigley notes that it's a great platform to reach mobile devices.

Check out the article.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ann Arbor News to Shift to Online-Only

Sounds a bit like that old song by Queen: Another One Bites the Dust.

174-year-old Ann Arbor News will shift to online-only model in July. I wonder why, now that decision has been made, the publisher, Advance Publications, is waiting that long to switch over.

The shift leaves the college town with no regular newspaper. I'm sure the college paper will step up as will the local alternative weekly.

Which leads to an important question: when mainstream media moves to online-only, where does that leave alternative weeklies? What are they alternatives to now in an online-only world? I guess as a produced-on-paper publication, alternative weeklies serve as the alternative to online-only. But it's not much.

Meanwhile, Advance owns other papers in Michigan, and they are apparently all shifting to online-only. That leaves a gap for any organization looking to reach suburban Michigan residents. Of course there will still be the online-only websites, but who knows if local readers will log onto www.annarbornews.com or will click to larger market papers, like the Detroit Free-Press and Detroit News, both of whom will shortly stop printing a full week's paper.

The shift to online-only is gathering steam (an outdated reference, of course). The problem is that no one has proven that online-only really works -- for publishers, who are giving up 90% of their revenue stream; for advertisers, and for readers.

As they used to say on radio drama, stay tuned tomorrow...

Monday, March 23, 2009

Difference Between Blogs & Twitter

Here's one difference between Twitter & blogs:
  • I've published this blog since mid-2007 & have posted more than 275 articles.
  • I've been on Twitter since mid-200 & have posted 600 tweets.
Okay, so because they are limited to 140 characters, tweets are faster to write.

But I find greater interaction on the same topics -- which I think is due not just to the quick-hit nature of a short sentence on Twitter, but also because Twitter feed makes it easier to find and interact with others' ideas.

I'm not giving up on this blog. Just thought it is interesting to evaluate my output as well as the input.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Economics of Online-Only

In the aftermath of the closing of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Wall St. Journal wrote an interesting article: "Hearst Shuts Down a Seattle Paper: Post-Intelligencer Will Become a Laboratory for Web-Only Edition."

Here's the interesting point about online-only: "It isn't clear that an online-only P-I will be financially viable. Hearst is giving up more than 90% of the revenue that a newspaper typically generates from sales of print advertising and circulation, and that won't easily be replaced by online dollars."

Also: "The P-I's new model hinges on slashing its work force, scaling back its news coverage and selling different kinds of online advertising. The P-I is retaining just 20 of its journalists to work on the online operation, leaving nearly 90% of its newsroom employees, or 145 people, out of a job. The P-I, which prints its last edition Tuesday, also is hiring more than 20 people to sell advertising for its Web operation."

In terms of big-market newspapers, the P-I.com is changing "the familiar model of a big-city daily as a catch-all of local and national news and features. Instead, it will cover local events and publish blogs and columns from staff, readers and prominent local citizens. It also plans to link liberally to other news sources in the Seattle area."

Also check out the New York Times article, "Seattle Paper Shifts Entirely to the Web."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Five PR Steps AIG Should Take

There's been some discussions online and on Twitter about whether some companies are beyond the help of PR.

Mostly, the discussion centers on AIG.

If they don't change how they operate, then I agree: AIG is beyond the help of PR.

But I don't think that has to be the case.

Pre-crisis, AIG needed to focus on investor relations, not consumer PR because it does not sell to consumers. That has changed. As taxpayers, we now own 80% of AIG, having contributed more than $170 billion. AIG still needs IR, but it needs to reach out to the rest of us, too.

Here are five PR steps AIG needs to consider:
  1. Apologize for mistakes made. Make it sincere, make sure people have a chance to hear it. It better be sincere because the public can tell when it's not. Act as if your jobs depend on it -- because the taxpayers and the country need you to get this right.
  2. Explain the steps they're taking to get on solid footing. The taxpayers have committed at least $170 billion. Depending on whether you prefer the government cliche -- sooner or later that will add up to real money -- or the advertising spend cliche -- I know I waste 50% of my media buy, I just can't figure out which 50% -- AIG needs to clearly explain how it is using taxpayer money to get on solid footing. JetBlue pubslihed it passenger bill of rights, explaining the steps it would take; AIG needs to publish something similar, something easy to understand. This is complicated stuff, just check out part of the current explanation: "The facility carried a rate of LIBOR (the London Interbank Offered Rate – a widely used benchmark used to set short-term interest rates) plus 8.5%, a commitment fee of 2% on the loan principal and a fee on the undrawn portion of 8.5%." Meanwhile, the document that includes "AIG’s Plans Going Forward" could include some specific bulleted points to make it easy to understand what the company is doing.
  3. Recognize that the culture of million-dollar bonuses and life pre-crisis has changed. They need to start by rescinding the bonuses. But they need to go further, and make significant changes to how the company and its employees interact with the public. Goldman Sachs employees now visiting New York City have to stay at Embassy Suites, not the Ritz, both to save money and because it owns Embassy Suites. Employees are grumbling about the change, but it's the right thing to do. In fact, AIG needs to take a hard look at the way it operates, from catered lunches to offsite golf boondogles and ask themselves, "Would I like news of this to be on the front pages of the New York Times?" Or, worse, "Would I like to see this as a segment on the Daily Show?"
  4. Make sure PR counsel has a seat at the table, and listen to them. If they say a move or decision or event would look bad if made public -- listen to them. Realize you're operating under crisis conditions, and your PR should reflect that. Yes, that can be an expensive way to conduct a PR program, but it may help avoid significant problems. After all, taxpayers who feel wronged are more outspoken than shareholders. Taxpayers will complain, loudly and often, to politicians. And that won't help down the road, when AIG needs more money.
  5. Continue to provide status updates on the progress AIG is making, be accessible, and engage by offering ways for the public to provide feedback. The image right now is a company run amock. AIG's senior management needs to continue to demonstrate that it is getting its house in order. That means being transparent. That means being accountable. That means making significant changes to "that's the way we always did things." By the way, AIG does have a web page devoted to informing the public; it's called AIG Moving Forward, and it's available from a button off the home page. The last time the page seemed to have been updated was March 2 -- that's more than two weeks ago -- with one link from March 14. It needs to be updated on a daily basis. It needs to have its CEO Ed Liddy regularly provide a video update on its site. And AIG Moving Forward needs to make it easier for people to comment and provide feedback. Overall, the site didn't look very friendly or engaging.
There are more specific steps AIG should consider -- namely measure stakeholders' attitudes, establish benchmarks, develop a stakeholder communications strategy. But that would require AIG to want to engage the American people. So far, the company has not sought to engage us. It has taken our money but shown little desire to be accountable or to act as if it finally recognizes that the new normal means the old way of doing business no longer works.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

For Bailed-out Companies, PR is More Important Than Ever

After the example the chiefs of GM, Ford & Chrysler flying on separate private jets to attend a Congressional hearing to discuss bailout plans, AIG has raised scorn for paying out millions in bonuses -- including to those in the Financial Products unit responsible for "credit default swaps" -- which generated the huge loses.

It's clear that the Big 3 auto makers and AIG, Merrill Lynch (now part of Bank of America), and other financial services firms receiving billions of taxpayer dollars in bailouts made huge mistakes in running their businesses.

But what's also becoming apparent is that these companies are failing to understand the new operating culture.

It's no longer business as usual for them. For financial services firms, the time has past when they could justify huge bonuses as a way "to keep its talented executives." Where else can these people go? There aren't enough banks or jobs left.

In the new operating culture, bailed-out companies must be more accountable but also must understand how their actions play on Main Street.

On Main St., people don't fly private jets to meetings. They also have plans to present when they're asking for a loan -- something the Big 3 chiefs lacked the first time they met with Congress.

On Main St., people don't get million-dollar bonuses when the performance of their business unit cratered. Those so-called bonuses do not provide an incentive to actually produce positive results.

On Main St., bankrupt companies do not hold multimillion dollar golf retreats just because that's how things were done.

In the new operating culture, bailed-out companies need to think carefully about their public's perception of them. If they don't, you get nasty headlines like, "The real scandal of AIG: We're helpless" in Salon, where you might expect it. But you also get headlines like "Political Heat Sears AIG" or an editorial "The Real AIG Outrage" in the Wall St. Journal, where you wouldn't expect it.

These PR fumbles may be more significant than before because taxpayers are even more cranky than shareholders, and they complain to politicians much more -- much more often and much more loudly. And it's going to be much more difficult for AIG to make a case that it needs to receive more TARP money (now at $70 billion, not including another $100 billion in other government aid it has received). And I have no doubt that AIG will need additional infusions of capital.

Interestingly, a good high-level PR consultant or agency costs far less than what AIG is going to pay in terms of angry politicians, increased and tighter oversight by the government.

There might even be a sub-specialty practice in crisis communications to help these companies get with the new program. They certainly are demonstrating they need the help.

For Two-Paper Markets, And Then There Were None...

The prognosis is looking bleak for newspapers. Whereas last year it seemed like some two-paper towns might be affected, experts are now suggesting that some single-paper markets could lose their paper, becoming no-paper markets. That's partly because several newspapers have been put up for sale -- but there are no takers, even after months.

Even Joel Kramer, former editor and publisher of The Star Tribune and now the chief executive of MinnPost.com, an online news org, said this to the New York Times' Richard Perez-Pena: "It would be a terrible thing for any city for the dominant paper to go under, because that’s who does the bulk of the serious reporting. Places like us would spring up,” he said, “but they wouldn’t be nearly as big. We can tweak the papers and compete with them, but we can’t replace them."

Check out the article, "As Cities Go From Two Papers to One, Talk of Zero." It's especially worthwhile to check out the accompanying graphic, "Bad News for Newspapers."

Monday, March 16, 2009

Boston Globe & McKinsey Identify the "New Normal" -- Which We Named in Nov. 2008

In Sunday's Boston Globe, long-time reporter, editor and Business Intelligence columnist Robert Weisman wrote an interesting column, "What will business as usual look like?" In the column, Weisman cites an essay in the March 2009 McKinsey Quarterly entitled "The New Normal," written by McKinsey's worldwide managing director Ian Davis, which makes interesting points that:
"It is increasingly clear that the current downturn is fundamentally different from recessions of recent decades. We are experiencing not merely another turn of the business cycle, but a restructuring of the economic order."
I think McKinsey's David and the Globe's Weisman are absolutely correct to call this business environment "The New Normal."

I just wished they had acknowledged that this blog had identified this new phase in a post on Nov. 7, 2008.

Davis referred to his article as "a Conversation Starter." I refer to it as a "Conversation Continuation."

But it's worth reading the Globe and McKinsey articles even if they don't cite my article.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Wal-Mart selects five PR agencies

A big trend in PR among clients, a few years back, was to consolidate the number of agencies to boost efficiencies. IBM Software, which had multiple agencies operating in the US, led the consolidation trend about a decade ago.

Now, signaling a change in direction, Wal-Mart has decided to enlist five agencies, instead of one, to get best of breed capabilities. Apparently, they found that so-called efficiencies came at a price in terms of effectiveness.

If other companies follow Wal-Mart's lead, that could bode well for smaller agencies.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Time Magazine: "The 10 Most Endangered Newspapers in America"

Time Magazine lists what it calls the "Top 10 Most Endangered Newspapers in America." For readers of this blog, the newspapers that made the list are not surprising.

The list includes a lot of two-market newspapers -- Boston Globe, Philly Daily News, Detroit News, San Francisco Chronicle -- with two single market papers, which is a problem. The Miami Herald and Cleveland Plain Dealer, both of which are well regarded for producing meaningful journalism.

The article predicts the Miami Herald will shift to online-only, with English and Spanish websites. The Plain Dealer may shut or go online-only, probably the former. That would leave Cleveland with no daily paper, which I think is a real problem.

Meanwhile, Time Magazine has an interesting article, "The Race for a Better Read." Veteran tech journalist Josh Quittner suggests that the salvation could be through electronic devices such as a Kindle to be able to charge for content. I think it's an interesting but flawed idea because I think 1) content will still be available on the Internet; and 2) the iTunes analogy is flawed because people like to listen to music again and again whereas news articles are more disposable.

Still, I'm interested in any idea that goes beyond the same-old since that hasn't helped print newspapers.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

No more free content -- NY Times' David Carr recommendations

The New York Times' David Carr wrote a very interesting column about the future of print journalism, "United, Newspapers May Stand."

Some of his ideas include:
  • No more free content.
  • No more free ride to aggregators.
  • Throw out the Newspaper Preservation Act.
Check out the article for more of Carr's insights.

Also check out "What is Bad for Newspapers Might be Good for the World...." by David Cohn, a journalist turned entrepreneur. Currently running spot.us a nonprofit to support indy journalists. In response to Carr's piece, Cohn writes that "I think we have LOTS to lose if newspapers go under. But I also think there is an inflated sense of self-worth" in articles such as Carr's. According to Cohn, "Yes - putting content online for free has caused economic problems for newspapers - but it has made mankind better:
  • How many people have been informed because newspaper content was made available online for free?
  • How many people made better decisions because they were engaged in online conversations - that reacted to newspaper content?
  • How many young people learned to appreciate high quality journalism because it was easy to access?
Again, check out Cohn's post, too.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Seattle Post-Intellencer Will Likely Go Online-Only

Looks like Seattle will soon go from being a two-newspaper town to a 1.5 newspaper town. The Seattle Post Intelligencer is probably going to shift to an online-only model, with fewer reporters.

Last week, the Rocky Mountain News went a different route, shutting down completely, leaving Denver a one-paper town.

I know I'm the only one keeping track of this tidbit: but I've written op-ed articles for the Rocky, the Seattle P-I...and the San Francisco Chronicle.

And the SF Chronicle isn't looking too healthy.

I'm trying not to take this personally.

After all, I've written op-eds for other newspapers that at this point I don't want to name in order to help them survive. Back in 1987, I wrote articles for a number of publications that failed before the articles could be published. I felt pretty badly about that, too.

I'm sure it's just a coincidence.

Let's hope the Seattle P-I's move to online-only is successful.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Is Twitter Over? Is this the start of a Twitter Backlash?

Jamie Gangel, a national correspondent at NBC, is working on a story about Twitter. She's asking politicians and other prominent folks about how and why they Twitter -- and is asking if Twitter has "jumped the shark."

I don't think Twitter has jumped the shark, but it seems to be continuing to gain members each day.

Aside from the fact that Twitter Inc. has not explained how it will generate money, I think the real question isn't whether Twitter is shark-jumping. It's does it continue to be a useful platform as millions flock to the site. At a certain point, you can't follow thousands of people -- but accumulating thousands of followers seems to be the game for many people.

I can see the value in having a large network, but when does the value chain break down?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Some thoughts on hyperlocal media & the nature of PR

I had an interesting conversation on Twitter with Todd Pipitone, aka tjpip on Twitter, a marketing coordinator handling PR, social media, and marketing for a nonprofit. He's also a local newspaper reporter.

Responding to a previous blog post, that pointed out that the owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer was a PR executive and that experience hasn't turned out well (since the paper is in bankruptcy), Todd wrote, "What if PR folks started online localized news site & then published paper?"

I thought that was an interesting question.

Especially since the PR industry is being impacted by the huge shock waves impacting print journalism.

So did Todd think that PR folks could start their own news sites as a a way to reach new clients? Or to communicate messages via a new channel? Either way, how would such a news site pay for itself?

Todd responded, "That is the kicker. I'm thinking it would have to be free, but ads? Also possible subscription? Are blogs filling the gap now?"

Blogs may be filling the gap -- although not in covering mundane but important things like town meetings.

And even if blogs do fill the gap, few blogs can cover everything a newspaper has covered, making it more difficult to find information in one place. And that makes it more difficult to reach people, especially as they are searching for exactly what they want while ignoring even scanning headlines of other news that may impact them -- but they won't know about it in a search-focused world.

One challenge will be that we're seeing the fragmentation of communication channels, and that increases noise. Todd suggests, and I agree with him, that the "time is ripe to provide it all in one spot again on hyperlocal level."

In fact, an opportunity may exist in tapping local pride, if marketed correctly, "similar to what happens on college campuses with their paper" and how the subscriptions are sold to alumni."

I agree. I think to succeed with hyperlocal will mean rethinking the value that readers want. But personalized news readers have not taken off as a true replacement. Clearly an answer has yet to come.