Friday, August 28, 2009

The Importance of News

In "Losing the News: The Future of the News That Feeds Democracy," Alex Jones, director of Harvard's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, makes an important argument: that newspapers serve democracy in ways that websites have not.

According to Jones, 85 percent of fact-based news comes from newspapers. Other media, including TV and the websites, pick up their news and analysis from what's uncovered by newspapers. This has been true for a long time -- I've seen many cases were NY Times stories set the agenda for the morning shows and have a domino impact throughout the day. Jones says that's still the case today.

The news is not merely what happened yesterday, but an awareness and context for information. For example, it can takes months of investigative journalism to sort truth from rumors and provide the public with information.

And, Jones claims, 150-word articles on a website are not designed to ferret out that kind of news.

The solution: We continue to need organizations that track and uncover news. It just might not be traditional newspapers, although Jones is more optimistic on this point. Well worth checking out. Or, if you don't have time, check out Harold Evans' review in the New York Times.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Death to PowerPoint?

There's been a lot of discussion about whether the press release has outlived its usefulness.

I don't think the press release is dead yet. Well, the old fashioned, text-only release from a decade ago isn't doing too well, but web-enabled, multimedia press releases are doing fine.

I also read that blogging is dead.

And certainly print newspapers are dead.

Now, the Wall St. Journal, in an article entitled, "Speaking Truth to PowerPoint," suggests that PowerPoint is past its prime.

That's one item I would like to believe is past its prime.

While PowerPoint is a significant improvement over slide shows -- cheaper, more resilient (no broken glass slides), more portable (can fit on a flash drive instead of having to lug a carousel and a slide projector), and easier to update. We've all been through too many boring presentations known as death by PowerPoint.

As it is, the highly regarded tech conference DEMO has a number of rules for presenting companies, but one of the more challenging rule is "No PowerPoint." Why, Neal Silverman, a DEMO exec, is quoted in the Sept. Fast Company, "We're looking for real products, not canned presentations." So they don't want presenters relying on PowerPoint as a crutch.

The only question: what replaces PowerPoint?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Why "Portfolio" Closed?

Conde Nast has been a very successful magazine publishing company for decades, and its Vanity Fair magazine has done extremely well since its relaunch 25 years ago.

But when it decided to launch a business oriented Vanity Fair called Conde Nast Portfolio, I had some doubts.

The magazine was well-written. But just as Vanity Fair often seems like an upscale People magazine, with a strong focus of inside Hollywood and inside Manhattan scandals, Conde Nast Portfolio seemed like it was primarily focused on hedge funds, Wall St. and the media world -- which left most of the business world.

For our clients, it was unpitchable. They didn't cover tech, for example. There was not way in, from our perspective. Nor would our clients be interested, really, in the readers of the magazine -- even though I was a subscriber.

In "Lessons learned from a closed "Portfolio,'" BtoBOnline quotes a disgruntled former editor, Jeffrey Chu, senior associate editor of Portfolio from early 2007 through last August, who said that when it came to pitch meetings -- the meetings in which reporters pitch stories they'd like to write -- "every thing could be a business story, but it had to be about rich people, hedge funds or finance...It was about rich people's toys. It was about dressing a diamond mining executive up in a fancy dress and making people look glamorous—but from worlds that kind of already were famous.”

The rest of the article looks at Portfolio as an advertising failure. But from my perspective, a business magazine that really doesn't cover business was the problem.

After all, people reading business magazines are not looking for scandals or glamour. What they want are either investment opportunities or management advice. Forbes provides the former; Fortune provides the latter; BusinessWeek provides news coverage with a smattering of the former and the latter.

But Conde Nast Portfolio provided neither. It often served up scandals among the wealthy, frequently those well known within Manhattan -- and the market for those stories and the people interested in them already have media outlets for that: Vanity Fair, the New York Observer and New York Magazine.

There wasn't room or interest in another option.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Good Article from The Deal about the Finances of Newspapers

"Black and white and red all over," which appeared in The Deal, offers an interesting look at the financial problems affecting the newspaper sector.

One of the points the article makes is that newspapers used to cost $0.05 in 1908, or about $2.67 today -- that's still more than most daily papers charge. (Sunday's editions are often more expensive.) The reason: publishers dropped the price to boost circulation to be able to increase the fees they charge advertisers.

(As faithful readers of this blog know, the U.S. has had an advertising-driven newspaper and magazine sector, meaning that print media (with exceptions like Consumer Reports) are generally advertising supported. Without the advertising, it doesn't matter how large the circulation.)

One suggestion in the article for improving the profitability of newspapers is to increase subscription costs. Another is to print only a Sunday edition while maintaining a 24/7 website. Doing so would reduce the costs by as much as 60%, the article claims.

Yet, the article says newspapers won't be able to make the transition to paying readership for their websites.

So we're still left with the question: how do you make online content pay. But The Deal's article is worth checking out.

Measuring Social Media ROI, According to Paul Gillin

Journalist-turned-social-media-guru Paul Gillin provides some good advice for addressing the Holy Grail of social media.

Well, one of the Holy Grails.

The first Holy Grail is the viral video: that cheap-to-produce video that generates millions of downloads.

But the second Holy Grail, and the one with a greater likelihood of success is finding appropriate metrics to measure the impact of a social media program.

In my (old-fashioned-now-recycled-paper) files, I came across an article from 2006 that said social media (then comprised only of blogs and podcasts) was great, but that the big challenge was to measure the impact of a social media program.

Three years later, that still hasn't changed.

The need to measure continues to be the big challenge. Especially for client organizations headed by people who don't think social media is right for them. (And, by the way, I think there are some organizations for whom social media is not the right solution.)

So, back to Gillin's metrics, in "You CAN measure social media ROI." He lists 10 variables and details, but here are the ones I think most important:

  • Focus on the business goals and five metrics that matter most.
  • Know what works. This isn't always easy, but with experimentation, it can be easier to determine what doesn't work, and go from there.
The rest seem like guidelines or recommendations. For example, he says, "It's not just about your site." And he's right: there can be important sites for your company that are not your website. But that's not really a metric.

He also reminds us of what I call Gillin's Law: Successful programs build affinity over one or two years. Ditch the 13-week thinking." That's very important, but more of a guideline than a metric.

So, alas, the quest for this Holy Grail continues.

Seinfeld Said Answering Machines Prolonged Friendships Past Thier Expiration Dates; WSJ Says Same about Facebook

Elizabeth Bernstein wrote a terrific article in today's WSJ about Facebook, making the point that Facebook prolongs or has revived friendships way past their expiration dates.

I made some similar points in the Boston Herald back in Feb. 2009, "Virtual world of trouble."

But it's always nice to be validated by the Wall St. Journal.

Monday, August 24, 2009

In Search of an Alternative to the Billable Hour

Over the past year, due to the recession, there have been a number of articles in the Wall St. Journal and New York Times about the billable hour, the standard metric used by law firms (and PR agencies) by which they bill their clients.

The latest ran on the front page of today's Wall St. Journal, "'Billable Hour' Under Attack: In Recession, Companies Push Law Firms for Flat-Fee Contracts." Companies like AmeicanExpress and Pfizer are requesting their outside law firms to offer flat-fee contracts instead of billed-by-the-hour contracts.

There are some clients who want flat-fee contracts from their PR agencies.

I certainly understand clients' desire to reduce invoices they receive. But moving to a flat-free model would require changes on both sides.

First, PR agencies would need to develop more accurate estimates for the work being requested, and provide more specifics of what fits into the scope of work. Second, agencies need to reduce the level of mission creep -- because agencies often end up taking on additional responsibilities for the same budget.

A friend who is a commercial contractor says that they write up work orders every time a new request comes in on a project. And they don't do the work until the client approves the work order.

Under a flat-fee contract, agencies would have to submit and get approval for work orders in order to take on additional requests. This might slow down work but also not achieve the intended goal: Instead of a flat-fee invoice, clients could see a lot of add-on invoices.

Also, as the Journal article points out, flat-fee contracts don't work well when clients and firms are dealing with complex issues.

Look, I think there are a number of reasons a flat-fee contract would be better. But I also see a number of reasons why the billable hour makes sense for both client and agency. After all, when it comes to media relations, trying to reach reporters and bloggers, efficiency isn't always what you want or can deliver. What you want is to generate interest and ultimately coverage, and that can take time to develop, even with reporters you know.

Where the Moms Are: Online

It's always been difficult to reach men -- that's why the Super Bowl developed into a big advertising day.

Now it's getting more difficult to reach women, too.

Media fragmentation is impacting how organizations reach and engage with their customers. With the demise or circulation declines of printed newspapers, reaching mass audiences is more difficult than ever.

So where are moms? These days, they're often online. A survey quoted in a Wall St. Journal article, "A Pitch Only a Mother Could Love: Newspaper Sites Seek Local Appeal With Parenting Sites," found that 86% of moms go online at least once a month as compared to 68% of women without children, who went online once a month.

There are a lot of "mommy bloggers," and the Journal article is a good overview of them.

It's still going to be difficult to reach mommy bloggers because there are so many -- and most of the blogs lack the large readership compared to print magazines like Good Housekeeping or Working Mother. But moms and women in general are too big an audience to ignore, even for tech companies.

We've already seen the power of mommy bloggers to derail ad campaigns.

But it's important to keep in mind what columnist Teressa Iezzi wrote in May about an ultimately insulting attempt by Dell to talk directly to women via a microsite called Della: “But now that more marketers do seem to be attempting to appeal directly to women, the execrable results speak to a culture that’s still mired in biased, old-timey thinking...Women aren’t a niche.”

Friday, August 21, 2009

Should Newspapers be Not for Profits?

Ok, so a lot of newspapers are not making a profit right now -- which makes the answer to the question: What would be the difference?

But the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, $1.86-billion foundation, is looking at ways that it and other foundations can shake up journalism, according to an interesting article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, "Knight of the Newsroom." (Available by subscription.)

There's been talk about bailouts and loans (one may be made by the city of Boston to the Bay State Banner, a weekly paper geared to the African American community). And there are a number of fledgling nonprofit journalism organizations.

Knight Foundation president and former publisher of The Miami Herald, Alberto Ibarg├╝en, also asked an important question about a journalism program the foundation was funding: "How can we teach best practices when we don't know what the field is going to be?"

That was the genesis of the Knight News Challenge, a $25 million grant "to support a variety of digital experiments using new, and sometimes controversial, ways to spark local reporting and deliver information."

The Chronicle describes the Knight News Challenge this way: "Started in 2007, the challenge seeks ideas for cutting-edge technology that delivers timely information and is being applied to a locality. Instead of seeking out only nonprofit groups, Knight is willing to support individual blog writers or media companies — essentially, anyone with a good proposal. And it tries to tap into a diverse collection of candidates by making the competition worldwide and marketing it in nine languages."

Each year, the Knight News Challenge funds a winning organization that has found new ways of gathering and reporting news.

Check out this slide show (no subscription required) of some of the organizations that the Knight News Challenge has funded.

Some answers to how PR must evolve might be found among the ranks of the Knight News Challenge winners.

Tough News For Rupert Murdoch -- and implications for the sector

While some people are pointing to the smallest bit of positive news, the bad news for the newspaper industry continues.

Here's a quick round-up:
  • The Tribune Co. is likely to be owned by its lenders, instead of real estate magnate Sam Zell, who bought the company two years ago. This potentially good news, but likely means more changes for the Chicago Tribune, LA Times and other media properties the company owns, including the possible sale e of those properties.
  • Philadelphia Newspapers LLC, which owns the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia News, has filed plan to sell itself to a new group of local investors. This move, too, signals more changes for the two papers.
Ok, now for the tough news for Rupert Murdoch. He's taken a 40% pay cut for 2009, and saw his bonus drop 69%. If the smart folks at News Corp. thought the turn-around was here or near, I don't think they would have cut Rupe's compensation so drastically.

Of course, his take-home compensation was still $18 million, so need to hold a fundraiser for him. But last year, he took home $30.1 million. Even for the super-rich, that's a big difference.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Does Social Media Help with Branding?

The answer, of course, depends on the organization, its culture and skill sets.

BtoBOnline asked the question, "Does my brand campaign need a social community component?"

And I think if clients or management asks the question, the answer should be: In 1995, it was big news when Fidelity launched its website -- it was a large, mainstream company and it signaled that the Internet was ready for business. (Before that, Internet users complained when companies used the Internet and email for advertising/marketing.)

Now every company has a website. You can't think of launching a business without one.

The same is true for social media. In a short time, companies won't consider not having a social media presence. I've even seen TV commercials now that point viewers to the brand's Twitter feed.

Yes, I know, some organizations are not ready yet. But they will need to be soon. There are conversations going on without them.

Of course, it is important to figure out where your customers and partners are so that you can develop a strategic campaign. That's why the discussion about metrics and case studies is so important.

Five Tips for Facebook Marketing -- But in social media, one size does not fit all, and five tips won't work for everyone

I'm a sucker for quick tips, but increasingly, I've found that many of the tips I come across are not necessarily appropriate for our clients.

It's not that the tips are wrong or stupid. Just not right for the way our clients operate, their budgets or their goals. After all, our tips may not be appropriate for other situations and clients, too.

With more than 200 million users, Facebook represents a great opportunity to reach an engaged audience.

So I checked out "5 tips for optimizing your Facebook marketing" in BtoBOnline only to find that the first tip was obvious -- "Have a strong presence."

And yet, many companies do not have a regular strategy posting updates and interesting content. Most companies are not enlisting their employees to sign up as fans of their corp. Facebook page so that their friends and people doing Facebook searches can find your company.

The next two -- "do some advertising" on Facebook and "create an application" -- make sense for consumer companies, but I don't think make as much sense for B2B companies. (I admit I don't really dig widgits.) And, yes, I realize that the article I'm citing is from BtoBOnline.

I think "Throw an Event" works for most B2Bs, though I've got a friend who runs a marketing company that uses Facebook to announce wine-and-cheese events at his office. Since he's half-way across the country, I don't know if these event notices work; I'm sure they do, but you have to pick select markets to make it work.

Of the five tips, I think the most important one is "Syndicate your content." For example, you can use your Notes page to import blog posts or the My app to imporant bookmarks (if you've saved bookmarks). You can also use Simply RSS to bring all your RSS feeds to your Fan page. By the way use get RSS on Facebook, click here.

So, I'd mark this a 1.5 out of 5, which, scored on a sliding scale basis, is actually quite good.

Good Article About the Need for Continual Improvement -- Of Yourself

I'm not usually a fan of inspirational work-related articles. But I actually liked "You're a Success, Now Get Down to Work," in today's Wall St. Journal.

We've been spending a lot of time looking at ways to improve our service offerings, even before the so-called Great Recession. You can't get complacent, especially when dealing with the rapidly evolving world of public relations. But I've heard clients complain about same-old-same-old thinking from other agencies they've worked with or interviewed before hiring us.

It's worth the few minutes to read this article, which includes a quote from ubiquitous business guru, Marshall Goldsmith.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Peter Drucker and Why Companies Fail -- and the Reset Economy

A lot of people have been talking about needing to hit the reset button on business and the economy, but are we really ready for the Reset Economy?

BusinessWeek certainly seems to think so.

It used the term in at least two articles in the current double issue -- averaging, of course, one per week.

But in one article, aside from referring to the new normal -- a term we started using in Jan. 2009 --Paul Laudicina of A.T. Kearney referred to something I found quite interesting:

"Peter Drucker used to say that companies fail not because they do the wrong thing or because they do the right thing poorly, but because they fail to understand a fundamental shift in the theory of business. (GE CEO Jeff) Immelt calls it an economic reset. Drucker called it a change in the theory of business. But you could call it a fundamental transformation. The most important thing any company could or should be doing now to prepare for the post-recession environment is to look at all of the fundamentals and reexamine what changes in the theory of business might mean for their core competencies, for their ability to meet the new consumer demand."

Why Did an Unlikely Media Land Ahead of Forbes and BusinessWeek on a List of Top B2B Outlets?

Back in May (I’m playing catch up), BtoB Magazine presented its annual list of top media. Some of their picks are not surprising – like Wall Street Journal (1), (2), The Economist (3), Yahoo! (4), Forbes/ (7), and BusinessWeek (9).

My nine-year-old could’ve come up with that list (since he’s seen me read most of them or search for info on them).

But a re few are surprising, like TechTarget (6) and InformationWeek (10).

Please keep in mind: BtoB editors and reporters used “both objective and subjective criteria” in compiling their lists. “They evaluated data such as ad revenue and audience, and interviewed top media buyers, advertisers and industry analysts for their opinions on the most powerful and targeted b-to-b advertising venues” so these may not be the best outlets for every B2B client, but it’s a decent starting point.

As for why TechTarget scored higher than Forbes or BusinessWeek, here’s what BtoBOnline noted: “With the recession putting tremendous pressure on marketers to deliver ROI, “we've been focusing more than ever on helping advertisers prioritize leads and nurture them,” said Greg Strakosch, co-founder and CEO of TechTarget. “We're giving advertisers much more information about those leads so that they can take the proper actions and get revenue more quickly.”

TechTarget is also helping its customers get to know their IT customers better. “We've partnered with Google on research on how IT professionals use search and how their search habits change at different stages in the buying process,” he said. TechTarget held half a dozen regional meetings to disseminate the findings and produced two annual Online ROI summits for high-level technology marketers and agency people.


Here are some other sections to check out:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Paul Gillin Offers Social Media Case Studies

Paul Gillen, who has transformed himself from a journalist to a social media guru, has some advice for B2B companies in BtoBOnline magazine. His "Tap into social communities: 5 tips for marketers seeking to connect with prospective customers online" doesn't provide new ideas. But it does provide come interesting mini-case studies -- and that can be useful when talking with clients or others who might be reluctant to jump into social media.

Lead generation continues to be a big issue for many clients, and Gillin does provide a good case study of using social media to generate leads.

It's worth reading.

Sign of the Times: Reader's Digest Files Chapter 11

The once immensely popular Reader's Digest has announced it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. While its flagship magazine was once ubiquitous on checkout lines and in doctors' offices, it's been harder to find lately. As I read the news, "Reader’s Digest Plans Chapter 11 Filing," it occurred to me that I don't remember seeing the Digest during recent doctors visits, and I can remember seeing other magazine covers while standing on checkout lines, but I don't remember seeing Digest lately.

I'm not entirely surprised because the sort of condensed content that was the essence of Reader's Digest is now easily available online. In fact, unlike long-form journalism like The New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly, whose articles can be too long to read on a computer screen, the Reader's Digest format is ideal for the online age.

I think the only surprising thing is that Reader's Digest, which always condensed bestsellers, reached chapter 11. I would've thought it might have been able to condense the bankruptcy filings to Chapter 7.

Would Adverting Agencies, Spending Their Own Money, Buy Ads or Engage in PR?

When it comes to spending their own money, advertising executives may choose not to advertise because that's too costly. Instead, according to a panel discussion, they may choose product placement, sponsorship, and digital PR.

In a panel discussion of "New Idea Agencies" that appears in the July/August issue of Fast Company, Carl Johnson, cofounder of Anomaly, said of marketing their own brands, "One of the most amusing things is, of course, we haven't bought a single ad in support of any of our brands. Not one... Why would we? You can do so much if you know what you're doing with product placement, sponsorship, digital PR. It's that whole 'I haven't got any money, so I'll have to think.' It makes you much better at grinding out media without paying."
That's a wonderful tribute to the power of PR. Check out the entire article, "More Creative Shops Are Commercializing Their Own Product Lines: With major advertisers cutting costs, creative shops are increasingly commercializing their own product ideas."

Monday, August 17, 2009

Living in a Distributed World

Remember the paperless office? That was a hyped trend of the future, based someone in the 1970s. I know that hasn't happened yet, because I spent a weekend earlier this month, cleaning out old papers from my office. (It's been two weeks, and I've been able to maintain a low-paper office.)

In the early 90s, came the officeless office. In other words, companies tried to reduce their costs by "hoteling" office space for their sales force, who were out on the road most of the time, and only occasionally needed to work from a corporate office. "Hoteling" referred to the fact that these always-on-the-road employees would reserve space in the corporate office when they needed to come in from the cold.

The officeless office, however, has evolved, with " third of the more than 150 million working Americans telecommute at least occasionally," according a Wired article, "Home Sweet Office: Telecommute Good for Business, Employees, and Planet," Branden Koerner.

Here are some interesting facts about telecommuting:
  • Only 40 percent of companies permit any sort of work-at-home arrangement, which means most insist on full-time attendance.
  • According to a 2006 survey by the Telework Exchange, the top fear among resisters is that they'll lose control of their employees.
  • Researchers from Penn State analyzed 46 studies of telecommuting conducted over two decades and covering almost 13,000 employees. Their sweeping inquiry concluded that working from home has "favorable effects on perceived autonomy, work-family conflict, job satisfaction, performance, turnover intent, and stress." The only demonstrable drawback is a slight fraying of the relationships between telecommuters and their colleagues back at headquarters — largely because of jealousy on the part of the latter group.
  • An IDC report from Asia found that 81 percent of managers believe telecommuting improves productivity, up from 61 percent in 2005. The increase is attributable largely to the proliferation of unified communications technologies — tools that connect mobile and remote workers. These include products like LifeSize Express, the first hi-def videoconferencing system priced at less than $5,000, as well as Web-based services like Google Docs and Glance, which let users view a remote colleague's onscreen work in real time (in the case of Glance, with cursor movements and all).
Interesting facts to support telecommuting -- which we believe is the wave of the future, that more companies will embrace remote workers to improve their costs as the tools improve to enable us to collaborate more.

Also interesting is an article from BusinessWeek that looks at the impact of stimulus funds on pushing broadband service into rural areas, "A High-Speed Race for Broadband Billions: Companies are jostling for the stimulus spending earmarked to deliver faster Internet to rural America" by Rachael King.

In a sidebar, King notes "for every one-point increase in the percent of U.S. households with broadband, nearly 300,000 jobs will be added to the economy." That's significant!

Should Agencies Be Their Own Clients?

Why shouldn't agencies be their own clients -- develop and market their own brands?

Increasingly, ad agencies are considering going into business for themselves: creating a brand, producing the product, and selling the item.

As Ben Maldon, managing partner BBH Labs, told Danielle Sacks at Fast Company, "By creating our own brands, we wanted to make ourselves recession-proof -- or at least more recession-proof than other agencies."

A look at what a few are calling "New Idea Agencies," the article, "More Creative Shops Are Commercializing Their Own Product Lines: With major advertisers cutting costs, creative shops are increasingly commercializing their own product ideas," provides some interesting insight as to why agencies should be their own clients. The article also provides a couple of reasons clients might want to work with "New Idea Agencies."

Here are two good reasons to be your own client:

  • You become commercially aware. According Carl Johnson, cofounder, Anomaly, "When I started a million years ago, I almost didn't know money had anything to do with the advertising business. You had a meeting, took a brief, made some work. It seemed enormously detached from selling something to people."
  • "You get exposure to the full gory detail of how clients make and lose money," Malbon said.
Here are a couple of reasons why being your own client may not be good or easy:
  • It's is a big distraction to ongoing client work.
  • Clients may wonder: are they working for me to putting their best efforts into their product?
  • You may get specialized insight into the category, yet it also prevents you from taking on from competitors in the same category.
  • Your partners in the development and manufacturing of your product may represent a conflict with a future prospective client.
  • Since you're potentially investing not only your own time but also your own money into a product, you could wind up losing both.
  • If your brand fails, your people may lose equity they shouldn't have counted on, but did anyway. That's a double loss.
  • If you need to run your own business to understand the pressures your clients feel, you may need to change how you operate.
By the way, one of the more amusing points made in the article is that one of the advertising executives said they did not spend a dime on advertising:

JOHNSON: One of the most amusing things is, of course, we haven't bought a single ad in support of any of our brands. Not one.

VITRANO: That is incredible.

JOHNSON: Why would we? You can do so much if you know what you're doing with product placement, sponsorship, digital PR. It's that whole "I haven't got any money, so I'll have to think." It makes you much better at grinding out media without paying.

Well, when it comes to spending their own money, advertisers said they did not buy ads, but relied on several marketing disciplines, including digital PR. Very interesting endorsement.

Turning Distribution Into Revenue

The thing about journalism is this: reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated.

People continue to want news. They just don't necessarily want it in print form.

It's too slow. It's about what happened yesterday, after all.

It's not convenient. You can have it delivered to your home or office or pick it up from a newsstand -- but the printed newspaper isn't available on your smart phone, your iPod, etc.

It's too expensive.

What's interesting is that technology has transformed the first two complaints: you can now get real-time news updates and you can access it on your smart phone, on e-readers like Kindle, etc.

Technology has improved distribution of the news. But while it has brought some costs down significantly, technology still hasn't generated revenue streams to pay for the news.

Even providing an iPhone App hasn't solved the revenue question, as reported in the New York Times, "There’s an App for That. But a Revenue Stream?" Check out "For Murdoch, It’s Try, Try Again" by the Times' David Carr, which looks at ways Murdoch, the Times, Boston Globe and others are thinking about getting consumers to pay for news content.

As Murdoch told the Times, "Quality journalism is not cheap, and an industry that gives away its content is simply cannibalizing its ability to produce good reporting. The digital revolution has opened many new and inexpensive distribution channels but it has not made content free. We intend to charge for all our news Web sites.”

By doing so, Murdoch and others will establish a wall that will prevent search engines from finding the content, and reduce the number of people able to access that content. Then it will become more important for PR functions to use social media to raise awareness of the coverage about their client or organization.

Still, the first challenge is to get people to pay for general news. Check out a New York Times article from today about the Financial Times, "Financial Times Feels Vindicated by Web Strategy," which looks at how the FT's strategy of putting its content behind a pay wall has been paying off. Up next for the FT is a system of micropayments.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Meanwhile Bad News in NH After a Newspaper Closes

So while the Seattle Times is doing better, another paper has closed. I had never heard of the Claremont (NH) Eagle Tribune, but the Boston Globe ran an interesting article about the impact on the town when the Eagle Tribune shut down.

Check out the article, "In N.H. city, a hard-to-fill void after paper closes." The Globe also includes a video to add more interactivity to the story.

Seattle Times Doing Well Since Seattle P-I Went Online

One of the important questions for the future of newspapers is whether the online-only model can generate enough revenue to sustain newspaper operations.

In the five months since the Seattle Post-Intelligencer shifted to online-only mode, with a much smaller staff (now at 20, down from 165) and more than 200 unpaid bloggers, kept much of the reader traffic it had as a newspaper site. According to its owner, Hearst Corp., audience and revenue are "ahead of projection."

So a scaled-down version of local news can work.

What's also interesting, according to the New York Times' Richard Perez-Pena, "Seattle Paper Is Resurgent as a Solo Act," the Seattle Times is now profitable.

Which proves that demand for print journalism continues. For now.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Wired's New Rules -- Did they get it right?

The cover story for Wired's current issue is "How to Behave: The New Rules."

I think some of these so-called New Rules are, unfortunately, not actually new.

For example, etiquette around dropped calls seems new, if you're living in 1995. Same for "Provide subject for all emails."

Look, I agree with "ditch the headset," and "delete unwanted posts from your Facebook wall."

Rules about dealing with exes on Facebook and whether to friend bosses on Facebook or follow them on Twitter are more current. (It may be interesting to note that the AP earlier this summer issued rules dealing with Facebook, and one of them was that AP managers are now prohibited from friending their underlings. It may also be worth noting that Wired's JargonWatch column reported on "Frolleague, a work colleague friended on a social networking site" in Dec. 2008 -- so Wired should have said something about bosses not friending the people they supervise at that time.)

But many of these seemed to be rules for dealing with Facebook like "Don't lie with your Facebook photo."

I agree with "Don't blog or tweet anything that has more than a half a million hits" because you'll risk looking outdated by the time you post something. (And, yes, I know I'm at risk for blogging about a Wired article.)

But I think we need more current New Rules.

I don't know what they are yet -- but I think most of Wired's new rules are tired (as they would say). I do think one rule should be that each company needs to figure out how to use social media, including Facebook and Twitter, based on its culture, and that it should consider, based on its culture, whether to establish groundrules for its employees, too.

What do you think are some good new rules?

Twittering Interns: How do you build awareness on social media and protect your brand?

According to the current issue of Fortune, a number of high profile companies have hired interns whose job is to be brand ambassadors on Twitter.

Part of that makes sense. Although I've seen demographic data that shows that the largest percentage of people using Twitter are in their 3os and 40s, but clearly college kids "get" social media easier than the rest of us.

But it's a bit concerning, I'd think, to put control of your brand in the hands of someone who understands the technology but might not understand the brand's heritage.

According to the Fortune article, "Summer Twittering," HP's CTO will let two interns live in his house next summer -- for the third year. HP says this lets it understand its younger consumers." Um, ever hear of focus groups, HP? This sounds more like the premise for an MTV reality program, "The Nerds Next Door."

The three other companies cited in the Fortune article -- Butterfinger, Pizza Hut and Papa Johns -- are consumer brands much more than HP is. And their "funterns" (Butterfiner), "twintern" (Pizza Hut) and, um, intern (apparently Papa Johns doesn't give its internship program a cutsey, possibly demeaning term) actually can post some success.
  • The Pizza Hut twintern "started tweeting about pizza rolls in June and quadrupled the company's followers to more than 14,000," Fortune reported.
  • Meanwhile, interns at Papa Johns ("Pinterns"?) blogged, tweeted, and shot video all summer. The company now has more than 300,000 Facebook fans."
Yet, what happens when those PaJinterns go back to school in the fall? Who will maintain the brand's presence in social media from Sept. trhough June?

More than that, I wonder since the interns at Papa Johns ("PaJinterns"?) spent real money shooting video, what kind of quality controls Papa Johns put in place to protect the brand's image.

Look, using interns on social media can make sense, but social media is a channel thought which to engage with customers. But a brand is a major asset for a company. Instead, I think, companies should train their brand management teams on social media so that they can make sure the social media activities present a consistent, accurate brand experience.

That consistency is one of the reasons ESPN, which has been involved with social networking for "a long time" (could mean more than 12 months) issued new guidelines for its staff regarding what they can or can't do on social media.

According to the New York Times, "ESPN Limits Social Networking," these guidelines say "that on-air talent, reporters and writers are prohibited from having sports-related blogs or Web sites and that they will need a supervisor’s approval to discuss sports on any social networking sites. They will also be restricted from discussing internal policies or detailing how stories are “reported, written, edited or produced.”

Why implement these guidelines? According to the Times article, “The first and only priority is to serve ESPN-sanctioned efforts, including sports news, information and content.”

Presumably, on-air talent, reporters and writers are familiar with the ESPN brand -- and even they're not allowed to use social media without a supervisor's permission.

So the question remains: who should companies put in charge of their social media presence? How can they ensure they balance that with protecting the brand attributes?

Companies will have to figure that out.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Wired's Look at "The Great Wall of Facebook"

The media loves to report on great corporate battles.

There were the "Cola Wars" between Coke & Pepsi.

There was Microsoft vs. IBM.

Google vs. Yahoo.

Microsoft (now with Yahoo! search) vs. Google.

Even an MSNBC vs. Fox. (Read "At Fox and MSNBC, Hosts Refire the Insult Machines," by Brian Stelter.)

Now there's Google vs. Facebook.

Check out Wired's "Great Wall of Facebook: The Social Network's Plan to Dominate the Internet — and Keep Google Out."

According to Wire, here are four critical steps that PR functions should be aware of in terms of understanding how to work with Facebook:
  • Build critical mass. With more than 200 million users, I'd say Facebook has done that.
  • Redefine search. Very interesting -- enabling people to use their Facebook friends for advice instead of Google search.
  • Colonize the web. Facebook Connect allows people to sign on and comment about posts from other sites, but the comments appear on their Facebook page.
  • Sell targeted ads, everywhere.
Check out the article.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

New York Times Magazine Looks at the Implications of a 'Big City Without a Newspaper"

In an interesting article in the New York Times Magazine, "What’s a Big City Without a Newspaper?"a former Philadelphia reporter, Michael Sokolove, makes good points, including:

  • The parent company of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia News, Philadelphia Media Partners, has declared bankruptcy, and if agreements can't be reached, both papers may fold, leaving Philadelphia without a daily newspaper.
  • Alberto Ibarguen, president of the Knight Foundation, said "It's going to happen somewhere" that a major city will lose its daily newspaper.
  • According to Brian Tierney, now head of Philadelphia Media Partners and formerly "the city’s most prominent public-relations executive," the two papers have "been operating at a profit, if you exclude debt obligations...." even after substantial drops in paid circulation. That "holds out the promise that print journalism without excessive debt, in Philadelphia and elsewhere, may be sustainable, if not an overly lucrative, business."
  • Tierney told the Times, "he thinks the industry shares too much bad news about itself — 'The audience for TV news is tanking, but do you ever hear them talk about that?'" I think he's right about that, by the way.
  • What's broken, Sokolove says, is not journalism. "Journalists still know how to gather news. And the Internet is a step forward in disseminating it. What's broken is the pipeline that sends money back to where the content is created." Another point of what's not broken: people still want news; they just don't need it in print format.
  • Interesting, smaller papers, with circulations of 50,000 or less, are doing fine -- not great, not horrible. That supports a prediction we made about the need for local media will continue.
While the article doesn't truly look at life in a major city after it loses its major paper, it is worth reading.

One point not in the article I think is worth making: For much of the 20th century, there were lots of newspapers in major cities. At one time, New York, Boston and Philadelphia had a dozen papers each -- not community ethnic weeklies, but regular, mainstream morning and evening papers. Then we got consolidation, down to two papers in those markets (or one in smaller markets).

Some are suggesting the alternative is all the local bloggers out there. And the complaint is that there are too many of them, leading to a very fragmented, hard-to-reach media environment. That's certainly true. But I wonder if that's not analgous to the dozens of different papers, and that over the next decade, we'll see consolidation among local bloggers, too.

Is Chris Anderson Right or Wrong? Or Free or Not Free, that is the question

There's a lot of debate about Chris Anderson's new book, “Free: The Future of a Radical Price.”

Malcolm Gladwell reviewed the book negatively in the New Yorker, in a review entitled, "Priced to Sell: Is free the future?"

Seth Godin responded by writing, "Malcolm is wrong."

Then Bruce Nussbaum at BusinessWeek looked at the debate in "Seth Godin Vs. Malcolm Gladwell on Chris Anderson's Book, Free," and declared the winner to be...


Then more people weighed in on the debate. You can check out the debate here.

What do I think?

I think there's a lot to be said on both sides of the debate.

But here's my question: If Anderson believes in free so much, how come: he's charging $26.99 via Amazon -- full price, too! How come his magazine, Wired, charges a subscription fee?

Suddenly free isn't so appealing, I guess.

Monday, August 10, 2009

How to Write an Earnings Release? Follow Bing's Advice for Flacks & Hacks

The press release is not dead, but is evolving. But one version of the press release is alive and doing ok even as it has not evolved.

That is the earnings release for public companies. Part of the reason earning releases have not evolved is due to legal and financial constraints. Investors expect these releases to contain specific information. The SEC expects the releases to meet certain standards.

Fortune columnist Stanley Bing, who in real life heads up CBS' communications department, offers up a template to make it easier for flacks to write earnings release each quarter. Bing also offers a template for hacks to write articles on corporate earnings each quarter.

Following Bing's templates, outlined in The Mad Libs Report, would save time, minimize stress for PR pros and journalists alike.

Why My Kids Love Star Wars -- and perhaps a reason talk radio does so well

My kids have been on a Star Wars kick ever since we let them watch the original movie last Dec. Since then, they've watched all six of the movies almost every chance they get to see a DVD. They've read Star Wars chapter books and books that explain details for each of the six movies, including some devoted just to the ships, doids and weaponry. My eldest son studies this as if it were real history.

So, last night, in the interest of providing an alternative to a Star Wars DVD, my wife and I picked a movie we liked, The Pink Panther.

They were a bit reluctant, but my youngest liked it (her older brother said) because of the word Pink in the title.

And while they did enjoy it, I learned something I think interesting.

The bad guys in the Pink Panther are a bit complex, sometimes acting evil, sometimes not. My kids kept asking who was the bad guy was in each scene.

These are kids who understand the difference between all sorts of minor aspects of Star Wars, but they had a bit of trouble figuring out the bad guys.

And that, aside from the special effects, is perhaps what makes Star Wars so compelling to this new generation of fans. It's really easy to tell who the bad guys are. In all six movies, I think there are only two characters who at first introduction is seems good but later turn out to be evil. And (I don't think a spoiler alert is necessary, but if so, you're now warned) we soon find out about Senator Palpatine. (The other character, of course, is Anakin.)

Otherwise, the bad guys are always bad, and some even have evil-sounding music to accompany them.

Meanwhile, all the good guys are generally pretty good. Primarily Han has some momentarily ambiguous elements, but he comes through in the end.

Understanding good vs. bad makes it easy for kids to understand what's going on in Star Wars.

That's why some comedies are more difficult for kids to "get," because ambiguous characters are more difficult to understand.

Ok, so why discuss the nature of good characters vs. bad in movies?

Because I think that's what some talk radio hosts do quite well -- cast the people they like as unambiguous good guys while they constantly depict the others are evil.

That seems to be the M.O. of Rush Limbaugh and others. And that, perhaps, explains their success. It's much easier when you know whom to root for, and whom to jeer.

As companies look at developing story angles, especially in dealing with issues or crisis management, keeping track of the good guys and the bad guys is an important step.

Meanwhile, check out this Fast Company blog post, "What Brands Can Learn From Luke and Leia."

Friday, August 7, 2009

Internet 2.0 and the Future of Collaboration

One of the things futurists often discuss is convergence and how future technology will make collaboration and the way we do business easier, more intuitive and more productive.

Remember the paperless office?

There's a new round of talk about the future of collaboration around social media. In a profile of John Chambers of Cisco that appeared in the Wall St. Journal ("Silicon Valley Survivor"), Michael Malone refers to the Internet 2.0.

Frankly, I thought we were up to Internet 3.0.

In a rare mention of one of our clients in this blog, Avistar has been doing more than talk about the future of collaboration via videoconferencing -- as Chambers does in Malone's article. Nice to see Avistar's vision being validated by Cisco.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

How to Disrupt Democracy

No matter your political opinion, there's an interesting lesson to be learned from the current town halls being held around the country to discuss health care reform.

It's how activists representing a minority opinion can hijack the debate.

Whether you see them as anti-health care reform operatives or status quo activists, they've done a great job, interrupting the conversation, turning a dialog into a diatribe.

And what's fascinating are the tactics they've successfully compiled, distributed and implemented.

According to the Boston Globe, "Tips from the right on disrupting meeting," "here are some guidelines for conservative activists, published by the operators of, a website based in Fairfield, Conn., on how to pack and disrupt a local town-hall meeting sponsored by a Democratic member of Congress:

▸Alert people in the district to watch for the first announcement of a town hall - there could be as little as a week’s notice.

▸The team should meet outside the hall with voting records and questions distributed. Everyone should be asked to use one of the questions or a similar one that boxes in the rep. The team should also be advised to spread out within the hall but should try to get seats in the front half.

▸The objective is to put the rep on the defensive with your question and follow-up. The rep should be made to feel that a majority, or at least a significant portion, of the audience opposes the Socialist agenda in Washington.

▸You need to rock the boat early in the rep’s presentation. Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the rep’s statements early. If he blames Bush for something or offers other excuses - call him on it, yell back and have someone else follow-up with a shout-out. Don’t carry on and make a scene, just short intermittent shout-outs. The purpose is to make him uneasy early on and set the tone for the hall as clearly informal and free-wheeling.

▸If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right down. Look for these opportunities before he even takes questions.

Very interesting, very successful tactics.

Yet shouting down opponents is not actually engaging in a dialog. says, "We support the open exchange of a broad range of ideas within our educational institution," though by these tactics, I assume that by "open exchange," they mean they want to be able to shout down opposing perspectives.

I don't generally write about politics, but I am concerned about democracy, and the free flow of ideas. Shouting people down does not promote democracy, and it's not as if people who are upset about health care reform don't have many channels through which to communicate their ideas.

If they believe in the free marketplace of ideas, they should let all of us decide which is the better solution to our health care problem. Have the debate, but actually let it be a debate, a productive exchange of ideas.

The way these activists operate, we both lose.

New Front Opens in Battle Between Flacks & Hacks: Bing vs. Jarvis

In Jeff Jarvis is a twit, Stanley Bing takes Jarvis to task for suggesting:
  1. The press release is dead.
  2. Journalists do not need PR pros.
I've written before that I don't think the press release is dead. It is evolving. It is interactive, multimedia and SEO'ed, but not dead.

And I also think journalists do need PR pros -- and PR pros, of course, need journalists.

But there's long been a tension and a war of words (on Twitter, that's a war of 140 characters) between flacks and hacks.

Technology hasn't changed the battlefield.

It's only made it easier for everyone to watch and participate.

Read Bing's rant. It's a good defense of PR. Of course, when he's not a columnist, he's the head of corp comm for CBS. So read the comments, too, to get more of Jarvis' perspective (he responds on Bing's blog).

But the most important point is Bing's final sentence: "nobody benefits when the hacks attack the flacks." I would add, flacks don't benefit when they attack hacks.

What we really need to do is respect each other.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Analysis of a Print Newspaper Article on Social Media

The Wall St. Journal ran an article today about text acronyms, "Quick! Tell Us What KUTGW Means." In cleaning my office, I came across a similar article from the New York Times from 1999 on the new lexicon.

While the world of social media has changed a lot, not much has changed since 2006 in terms of teens developing a new language of their own that takes advantage of new communications tools. The article cites, after all LOL, ROFL, OMG and other examples that have been around so long that some established dictionaries now include them.

What's new is that there are more websites that serve as an English-text dictionary, primarily for parents concerned with what their children are doing and for marketers trying to reach children.

But that's not why the Journal ran its story today. Or why the Times ran its story three years ago.

Fact is: the kids who use the acronyms know what those acronyms stand for -- unlike the person cited in the Journal article who thought LOL meant "Lots of love," and included it in a condolence email. So the new shorthand isn't news to the people using them. They're not necessarily news to the parents or marketers, either.

The Journal, like the Times, ran its article to show that it's with-it, that it "gets" what the kids are doing, and is a relevant as parents who learn the lingo to stay in touch with their kids.

On that score, I'd tell the Journal, Keep Up the Good Work (KUTGW).

But don't expect the kids to be fooled. And don't expect the Journal, when it decides to GETW (get back to work) to start text shorthand in its articles.

BusinessWeek's Jon Fine Agrees with Us: Local Media

In Jan. 2009, we issued our annual list of media predictions. One of them was that local cable/TV operators will have a bumpy road but will survive.

In the Aug. 3rd issue of BusinessWeek, media critic Jon Fine wrote that when the recovery returns, local TV is likely to see the biggest return.

Of course, since his column validates our prediction, I agree with him. Check out, "The Big Bounceback? Local TV; Why local TV stations may have several advantages over other media such as national TV and newspapers when the ad market finally turns."

Keep in mind:

"Make no mistake: TV station groups won't be rolling in the roses once a recovery finally arrives. The business will still face numerous challenges. The sector may not be the play so much as picking its survivors—the stations and companies that will best endure. I'm not sure anyone looking to invest in traditional media companies these days is wise, but if you're determined to make this bet, local TV may be where to place your chips."
In other words, it's going to be a bumpy road, just like we said.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Can Local Bloggers Replace Local Newspapers?

According to BusinessWeek's media critic, Jon Fine, one of the problems facing advertisers -- and I'd add PR functions -- is that the demise of local papers makes it much more difficult to reach local markets.

In "Taming the Web for Local Advertisers," Fines' focus in on a company, GrowthSpur, that aims to connect businesses with fragmented audiences.

Fine makes the point that what's replacing local media are local bloggers, but that they're often one or two person operations for whom blogging is a hobby.

What's more, the problem with the fact that a "zillion local blogs have popped up" is that "some of them have real value. But the thing is, there's a zillion of them, and few have followings of any size, so you have to amalgamate ad buys across 10 or 15 blogs to get anything resembling a decent audience."

This fragmentaiton of local media is a significant challenge for organizations that want to reach local markets. GrowthSpur aims to assemble a network of local bloggers for advertiser. That may work nicely for advertisers, because they're paying bloggers for ads, that doesn't work as well for PR efforts since we don't pay for coverage.

And while some bloggers do expect swag or payments from companies to blog about their products or services, that's not appropriate or acceptable for many organizations, including our clients. Even if the bloggers disclose the fact that they've received payment or gifts in kind in exchange for a positive mention in their blogs.

In PR, we've got the same problem: We've got to target more local bloggers than we once had to when we targeted only local newspapers. Clients sometimes think that social media is a ticket to quick and inexpensive buzz -- but it often takes more effort to reach a similar result to a media campaign a few years ago.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Accidental Entrepreneur: Evan Williams & Biz Stone

In case you haven't heard the background of Twitter, and how Evan Williams and Biz Stone developed the company as a side project, Michael Malone's article, "The Twitter Revolution: The brains behind the Web's hottest networking tool" in the Wall St. Journal is worth reading.

There's a lot of emphasis in the small business publications like Inc., Entrepreneur, FSB, and BusinessWeek SmallBiz, on developing a business plan.

And a lot of emphasis on tons and tons of hard work to execute against that business plan.

Williams, however, started as a side project while at Pyra Labs, as a way to make notes as a kind of project management tool. went on to be sold to Google for millions.

Then they started a new company, Odeo, developed a new business model as a podcasting company. And, once again, developed Twitter as a sideline. Which took off.

I guess the point here is that business plans are important but you have to be able to adjust.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Social Media Advertising: IDG launches new initiative

Social media is coming to the advertising world through a new initiative, IDG Amplify.

According to B-toBOnline, "IDG creates social media ad opportunities," the way it works is:

“An advertiser would run an ad on our site. It would look like a regular display ad, but it could say, "Question of the day. What do you want to see from a smart phone: option A or option B?' And the user could click on that and say, "I want to see option B.' ”

Without leaving the IDG site, visitors could join the conversation about either option A or option B.

What's interesting about this is the that it blurs the line between advertising and editorial, for example:

"The online conversations could also be started by editorial content. For instance, in an article about networks, a user could roll over a highlighted word—say, “routers”—and join in a conversation started by a question from Cisco Systems. However the conversation starts—either from editorial content or an online ad—the b-to-b marketer would pay a marketing fee to start this conversation."

This opens up new ways of working with IDG properties. Of course, we would recommend that organizations be transparent in posting content to articles that mention -- or should have mentioned -- their client or company.