Wednesday, September 30, 2009

It's the Info, Not the Culture: CNBC expands overseas

Great article about CNBC's international growth by Brian Stelter in the New York Times: "Overseas, Sedate Affiliates Give CNBC a Lift."

The subhead in the print edition tells the story: "The Same Brand, But Less Shouting." I'm not sure why summary is not available on the online version because it's very helpful, and was the highlight (used to be solid lines of text), which said, "No stock tips, and an aversion to the parent's over-the-top enthusiasm."

What's interesting is how brands are translated to different cultures. In the States, we think we export our culture (certainly our movies).

But for global marketing functions, it's important to understand what does not translate well. This article gives some useful insight.

William Safire on "How to Read a Column"

Bill Safire, long-time conservative Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times, wrote an excellent and humorous op-ed in 2005 that's worth reading in these polarized times.

Check out "How to Read a Column."

His advice includes:
  • Never look for the story in the lede.
  • Watch for repayment of favors. -- Saw a lot of payback recently in reviews of
  • Cast aside any column about two subjects. (He's got good reason for this.)
It's good advice, too, for people trying to contribute articles to op-ed pages.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Role of PR in Marketing in a Web 2.0 World

There's a lot of concern about the role of PR in a Web 2.0 or 3.0 world.

I don't really believe them.

I think there will be a need for what PR can do for companies, even if print media continues to be replaced by online-only media.

BusinessWeek's current issue has an interesting story that supports that notion. Check out: "The Great Trust Offensive; Companies as diverse as McDonald's, Ford, and American Express are revamping their marketing to win back that most valuable of corporate assets."

I think social media belongs in the realm of PR, not just marketing or customer service.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What We Can Learn From the Amish Newspaper

Check out "Exploring News by the Amish Online," an interesting New York Times article about an Amish newspaper, The Budget, the Internet, and the original citizen journalism.

The Budget, whose staff is comprised of non-Amish, now has a website, which got a lot of Amish subscribers and contributors upset.

The paper is generally written by contributors from around Amish communities. If they write 12 times a year, they get the printed paper for free. So about 10 percent of their readers write reports each month.

Norm Brodsky's The Knack: Good Resource for Entrepreneurs

I'm still reading and liking Inc. columnist Norm Brodsky's new book, "The Knack: How Street-Smart Entrepreneurs Learn to Handle Whatever Comes Up."

In the "Decision to Grow," Brodsky makes the following points:
  • Business is a means to an end. Entrepreneurs should do a life plan -- figure out where they want to be -- before developing a business plan (after the business has been in operation for a while). His point: growing a business through acquisition may not actually help you achieve your personal goals. (One friend expanded his store, which increased revenue, but he leveraged himself in doing so that he ended up making less money, after paying off loans and higher rents.)
  • When trying to move to the next level, don't assume you know all the factors that led to your success. It can be easier to understand what went wrong than it is understand what went right.
  • Before deciding to grow a business, make sure you know what you want to do and why you're pursuing growth. At one of my earlier jobs, the CEO met with different teams to let them know his plans for growing the business. I asked him why growth was so important, why not keep doing the things that had enabled the company to double in a few years -- which is great -- rather than push for even more growth. The result of the push for rapid growth:
  1. a lot of people from the "old days" mourned the transformation of the company culture.
  2. We pursued businesses we shouldn't have. (We went from Fortune 500 clients to pursuing dot-coms.)
  3. We saw a lot of churn in the clients we did sign. I remember one client that spent $35,000 per month for the first three months, and then stopped paying because they ran out of funds. Apparently, they thought the $100,000 PR budget would help them close another VC round within 90 days.
  • The agency ultimately survived, but personally, I am not convinced that growth for growth's sake always makes sense. It certainly not always in the interest of the customer.
  • Bigger is not always better. Small companies, Brodsky says, have some advantages over large companies.
Some interesting points to consider. Now I know that many still feel the recession, and that any growth would feel good. I'm saying this because I do think we'll see a recovery, or at least less of a decline. I'm sure some businesses will make the mistake of the last two recoveries, and grab as much business as possible, even if they can't manage it well. I believe in growth, but it's got to make sense for us and our current clients. Anyway, interesting chapter.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Worst Headline of the Day: NYT: Newspapers Have Not Hit Bottom, Analysts Say

The real news is that newspaper declines should slow in Q4.

Ok, so that's not as catchy a headline.

And that's not as if the analyst is predicting an immediate recovery.

But slowing declines is good news.

You'd think the Times would want to publish a headline that positioned the industry better than "Newspapers Have Not Hit Bottom, Analysts Say."

Perhaps that's another problem with newspapers: they focus too much on the negative.

The Importance of Client Communication

Sunday's Boston Globe's "On the Hot Seat" column, a question-and-answer column with a local CEO, validated a theory I announced to our monthly all-hands meeting on Thursday: that client communication matters.

We recently stopped using a vendor whose reporting was lackluster. But we told them why we were willing to pay more to one of their competitors -- better reporting, which helped us demonstrate value to our client. The sales rep said they were working on updating their reporting, and that it would take several months, but they'd get back to me.

It actually only took them several weeks, and the reporting is much better than it was. As compared to the competitor, their reporting is better in some areas, equal in others, and perhaps still not there in a others.

But they improved our ability to go with them by listening to and addressing our concerns. I'm not saying they made the changes just for us. I doubt that. But I am saying they listened, and helped a small business address an issue we had with our client.

The client communication lesson is one I learned in another area, as a director of a small export/import business. I know we're a small customer, but something's changed. When we started working with this company, we'd get a response, usually email even if the original contact had been by voicemail, within a day. Now, into our second year with them, I find that we generally hear back from them (always by email now) about a week after the request for information. And when we do hear back from them, the information's always incomplete because they're waiting for information from some third-party. I've seen some email threads, so I know some of the delays are attributable to third-parties. Fine, but I think we still deserve a timely response letting us know they're waiting for third-party information, especially because our requests for information is not unreasonable (we're not asking lots of questions for arcane details, and telling them we need the answers in an hour, or a day). We just want a sense of progreas.

The rest of the directors are upset, partly about the quality of the work but also about the responsiveness. I'm going to let this vendor know about our concerns, and give them a chance to improve. But this time, I don't know if the vendor can make the changes or if they're willing to. It wouldn't take much to repair the relationship, and I'd think in this economy, they would try, but we have told them our concerns earlier this year, and have only seen responsiveness decline.

Meanwhile, here's a link to the Boston Globe article. The entire article doesn't address the point about client communication, but the headline does, Client communication is key in ad industry, and the latter part of the article does.

It's an important point, and one we're constantly reviewing to determine how we can improve communication with our clients.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Pitch is Just a Pitch -- How to Pitch in the Web 2.0 Age

There are fewer reporters at traditional media to pitch, but a greater number of influencers and bloggers to pitch.

That's a significant problem for PR functions.

It used to be easier when you just had to pitch reporters.

But influencers and bloggers require more specialized outreach.

Our rule of thumb had been that it takes about 30 minutes to pitch a reporter: that includes emailing, following up, scheduling an interview, etc., with some reporters taking more time and some (who say no) taking less.

That's changed now. If only because there are fewer reporters but an exponential growth in influencers and bloggers in the Web 2.0 Age who can be courted by publicists.

However, it takes more time to pitch influencers and bloggers because they often write for themselves about what interests them, and can ignore stuff that annoys them. (Reporters have some obligation to cover even stuff that annoys them if it's news.)

Pitches have to be really customized now -- because if they're not, bloggers can easily write about the off-target pitch. Take publicist and influencer, Sarah Evans. In a recent post, "Turn that pitch around," posted a pitch to her as a blogger that was way off target.

So here are some ideas how to pitch in a Web 2.0 age:
  • Make sure you understand what the blogger covers and who she or he reaches. In Evans' example, they say something about her Canadian readers (Evans is based in the US).
  • Keep the pitch short and relevant.
  • Make it easy for the blogger.
  • Make the pitch actually offer them a story, not just content.
In fact, while these points are basic, I'm sure they are overlooked, especially because PR people, like the journalists and bloggers they pitch, are overworked, have too much to cover, and don't put enough time to put into crafting the pitch.

I'll add more suggestions in the future.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Is Twitter's $1B Valuation an Example of Dot-Com Bubble Redux?

According to TechCrunch, Twitter is being valued at $1 billion. Meanwhile, one valuation for BusinessWeek came in at $1.00.

Could there really be such a huge gap between the two properties? BusinessWeek reporter Stephen Baker mused about this in his blog posting, "Could Twitter be worth one billion BusinessWeeks?"

Since Twitter has no revenue model in place, it's easy to consider that we're back in the dot-com bubble days. AOL was once considered to be much more valuable than Time Magazine. Does anybody remember AOL?

I like Twitter, and it's certainly generating load of coverage -- Jay Leno mentioned it at least three times during last night's show. But I have to wonder how much can Twitter be worth when the site generates no revenue.

Do you think Twitter is worth $1B? Do you think BusinessWeek is worth $1.00? Let me know.

Using Analytics to Program Radio Shows

Technology is helping radio stations schedule guests, even callers. The Wall St. Journal wrote about how radio stations use an audience monitoring tool, the People Meter, to make booking suggestions for their programs.

The article, "Radio Shows Tune In to Listener Habits," cited a KPWR program director who decided not to invite back a guest after "realizing the station lost listeners during each of his last three airings on the morning show."

Now a case could be made that it was the topic, not the guest, that turned off listeners.

But the overall case makes sense -- even given some questions as to the accuracy of the People Meters -- that the radio station loses listeners.

PR funcstions should keep this in mind when pitching radio producers. It's not that you'll likely have access to the numbers/ratings. But it's at least helpful to understand that they're looking for ratings on segment-by-segment basis.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Will Bay Area Residents Turn to the New York Times for Local News?

The New York Times is regarded as a national newspaper of record (check Wikipedia for a description of "paper of record") but the Times is now trying to more closely cover San Francisco.

The Times currently a Sunday circulation o f65,000, but hopes to boost that number by devoting more resources to covering news from San Francisco.

Not coincidentally, the Times' arch-competitor, the Wall St. Journal is also devoting more space and resources to covering San Francisco news in order to boost its circulation.

Interestingly, while Times did not disclose its plans, the Journal leaked its plans.

The Journal plans to start in Nov. or Dec., "by adding a page or two of general-interest news from California, probably once a week, produced by the large staff it already has in the Bay Area."

Doesn't seem like much of an increase in coverage, but it's an experiment.

One worth watching since newspapers are cutting space and resources, and this goes in the opposite direction.

For more details, check out "The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times Plan San Francisco Editions."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Google's Fast Flip Offers Micopayments to Content Publishers

Google has unveiled a new offering designed to make it faster for people to scan through news content and to enable content publishers collect payment for their content. Fast Flip takes some getting used to but seems like a concept that will help readers and publishers.

Micropayments for News Content Faces Significant Reluctance

Free may be a great price to pay, but for content on the Internet, it's an unsustainable business model. Especially for journalism.

I realize I'm giving away content on this blog for free, but this blog is not my main source of income. Offering opinion is easy. Researching and conducting real journalism takes time and money.

Last week, the New York Times wrote about a number of organizations that are trying to find a system to charge readers for news content. In the article, "Lots of Fee Ideas for Media Online," Richard Perez-Pena wrote that Steven Brill, News Corp., Google, Microsoft and I.B.M. have all offered up approaches.

Brill's Journalism Online says it will have a system in place within months, one that could be used by hundreds of sites.

The challenge, according to Alan D. Mutter, a media entrepreneur, consultant, and an investor in a failed startup that tried to develop a micropayment solution, “There is no unanimity among publishers about what to do — whether to charge for content, how to charge, whose solutions to use — and most people in the business still don’t believe they can put up a pay wall without repelling a large part of their audience.”

Actually, Mutter told the Times that there's another hurdle, too, “I doubt you’re going to see a lot of companies spend a lot of money building a system for the newspaper industry as long as there’s no resolve on the part of the industry about what they want to do.”

The Times article covered the lack of a technological solution to the problem.

What has yet to be fully addressed is that consumers love "free,"and have grown accustomed to not paying to get news content. What's ironic about the fact that Google provided some ideas on a payment structure, is that Google has helped fuel the decline in the demand for print newspapers because its Google News makes it easier and faster for some people to get just the news they want.

The declining demand for print is coupled with the disinclination to pay for news at all. I saw this article on the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club that makes the case that people don't want to pay for content.

In Print-only experiment upsets online crowd, the SFPPC reported that a San Francisco Chronicle column critical of SF Mayor Gavin Newsom by Phil Bronstein's column "appeared briefly on the site and then was pulled." Apparently, the Chronical had intended the column to appear only in the print edition, and not online, as a way to boost newsstand sales.

The reaction to the SFPPC's article itself is what's instructive: "Sorry, but I'm not paying a dollar for a daily, local newspaper. Too little news for too high a price." Another comment said, "print's dead. this experiment was doomed. hope the chron/hearst/sfgate has learned a lesson: back away from print and go entirely online."

Go entirely online means no payments.

Without finding ways to generate revenue, online news content is doomed.

I like free, too, but the news sites we like to visit will be in a death spiral unless they can generate revenue from online users.

Perhaps multimedia content like the Times' Gauging Your Distraction could help generate revenue, although I'm not sure how the Times would charge for that. (Per time playing the game?)

What Brill, Murdoch and the rest of the news sector must do is start making the case why online news content is valuable, and that people who access online news content will either have to support it or get used to dwindling sources for news.

Avoiding Gobbledygook

In "Goodbye, Gobbledygook; PC Makers Are Dropping Sales Pitches Built on Complex Specs," the New York Times reports that the computer sector is finally learning a basic marketing lesson: avoid jargon.

After two decades, PR manufacturers are also learning a lesson from Apple: Consumers don't like tech for tech's sake. They like what tech can do for them.

The article notes that Intel, Dell and others are finally focusing on what the computers can do, not the internal configuration. This is a critical time for the sector -- facing next month's release of Windows 7, the popularity of low-priced, low-margin netbooks, the industry seems to be at something of a crossroads.

The release of Windows 7 should push computer sales, especially of those with dying laptops waiting to skip Vista.

But it will be interesting to see if the non-jargon marketing will be successful.

I hope it will be because that will help PR functions help our clients in product marketing to focus on the benefits of their technologies, not the features or specs.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Understanding BusinessWeek

BusinessWeek, which seems to be overpaying on the rent it pays to parent McGraw-Hill (to the tune of $26 million in charges like overhead and rent, according to the Times), is facing significant challenges. As the deadline for a possible bid approaches, I thought it worthwhile to provide some context to BusinessWeek, some of it gleaned from a New York Times article, "BusinessWeek, on the Block and Ailing."
  • BusinessWeek founding missions was to summarize the week’s business news. It soon became a handbook for managers, covering strategy, marketing and the big issues affecting business, like policy, energy and debt.
  • In Feb. 2009, BusinessWeek updated its mission: to focus on what executives needed to know for their jobs -- business leaders, and not consumers. In so doing, the magazine droped "sports, lifestyle and politics articles." According to a mission statement unveiled then, “Our mission is to move business forward....(and to help readers) make smarter decisions in their businesses, careers and investments.”
  • However, to succeed,“They have to be unique, must-read,” Stephen B. Shepard, who had served as editor of BusinessWeek for 20 years and is now dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York.
That's just from a journalism perspective.

From a business perspective, BusinessWeek is losing money, even without the overpayment to McGraw-Hill.

According to the Times, ad revenue for BusinessWeek dropped to "an estimated $60 million this year, from almost $110 million in 2006." Meanwhile, its website has been doing very well in generating traffic, yet web-based ad revenue increased by less than a million to an estimated $20.5 million this year.

To understand the gap between web traffic and web revenues, it's important to understand this:
45 percent of pages views of are from slide shows. Apparently, slide shows are considered to be gimmicky. (That may be, but as I wrote earlier today, Using The Power of Multimedia to Make a Point -- Will this be the new journalism?, such gimmicks actually take advantage of the Internet so perhaps that mindset will change.)

In fact, only 16 percent of page views came from original articles, and pulls in just $19.28 per thousand ad views, almost a quarter lower than what it was earning three years ago. And it sells only about 38 percent of the available ads, down from 79 percent in 2006, according to a document cited by the Times.

What this means is that, despite six companies interested in bidding on BusinessWeek, its long-term prospects are not great. BusinessWeek seems to have fixed its journalism model, but it still needs to solve its business model.

Using The Power of Multimedia to Make a Point -- Will this be the new journalism?

Driving while texting is being covered as a significant safety issue. But to illustrate the point, the New York Times did more than just quote experts on either side of the issue, did more than cite peer-reviewed studies.

It developed a driving game, Gauging Your Distraction, that shows people how much texting impairs their ability to drive.

The background of the game is interesting, so check out the New York Observer article, New York Times Interactive Crew Gets In On the Game: Gauging Your Distraction.

But check out the game itself, too, because while it's not entirely realistic -- you have to change lanes more often than you ordinarily need to in real life and you don't have to worry hear about other drivers or pedestrians -- it is a convincing demonstration that people should not drive and text at the same time. It even includes comparisons of how you scored vs. the general public.

What's interesting is that the game is a game-changer in terms of traditional journalism. It's not reporting and it's not exactly an opinion article.

But it uses the power of multimedia to make a point -- and while it's not the best game ever, it is impressive. The Observer reports the development of the game did not take that long but there was a cost to it, and I wonder how the Times can justify that cost, or the cost of developing future multimedia games to accompany articles.

PR functions need to consider recommending multimedia elements to illustrate their companies offerings. Unlike the Times needing to justify development, organizations can look at it from not only a media-relations effort but also as a lead gen initiative for the website.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Lifelogging...BusinessWeek's Look at Gordon Bell

Good article on Gordon Bell in the current BusinessWeek, "This Is Your Lifelog: Gordon Bell sees beyond the Twitterverse, when we'll be documented in digital detail." If you're interested in blogging you're entire life, check out the article, which includes a look at some tools to use.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tips on Using LinkedIn

Boston Globe's Scott Kirsner wrote a very useful article, "Make better introductions: LinkedIn can be a valuable networking tool - but are you maximizing its potential?" on using LinkedIn.

Some of the advice includes:
  • Spell your name wrong. That's important if you have a name, like mine, that's often misspelled. By including the commonly misspelled variation in your profile, you can help people find you.
  • Write a compelling headline.
  • List everything. Because it enables more people to be able to link to you.
Check out the article.

Survey Design Tips

There was a time when everyone:
A. Issued press releases whether or not they had news.
B. Asked about getting on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."
C. Conducted surveys that all too often did not contain news.
D. All of the Above.
E. Didn't think this was a cute or clever way to introduce a blog post about surveys.

Ok, the answer may be D & E, but since organizations still conduct surveys, I thought it useful to cite some good points from Paul Gillin:
  • Validate assumptions -- surveys should be a fishing expedition.
  • Match the survey type to your objectives -- online surveys are good for some purposes, focus groups for others. Make sure you understand the benefits and risks of a survey type before fielding it.
  • Make the survey interesting -- seems basic, but many surveys are not.
  • Keep it simple -- again, seems, um, simple, but many surveys are not.
  • Avoid the most common questionnaire errors -- such as "leading the respondent with questions that mention your product name or use your marketing language."
Gillin's article is hard to find, but I found a version of it here.

Management Advice from Alan Mulally

According to Alan Mullay, CEO of Ford, he focuses on four things:

  1. We’re here to create a business of serving customers with the best cars and trucks in the world, so where is the world going? Where is the technology going? Where are the customers going? Where is the competition going?
  2. What business are we in? What are we going to focus on? What’s going to be our business? Are we going to have a house of brands of vehicles? Are we going to focus on the blue oval? Are we going to be competitive on quality and cost and fuel efficiency? Are we going be best in class? So what’s our point of view about the value proposition of our company?
  3. Balance the near term with the longer term. And especially in the environment like we see today, where you absolutely want to keep investing for the future, even though you could invest less and make your business performance look better in the near term. Do we have a plan that works in the near term and also creates value for the long term?
  4. The values and the standards of the organization. What are the expected behaviors? How do we want to treat each other? How do we want to act? What do we want to do about transparency? How can we have a safe environment where we really know what’s going on?
Good advice, I think. Check out the entire article at "Planes, Cars and Cathedrals."

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

How to Approach Social Media

One reason I think that some people are reluctant to engage social media is that they are concerned about not knowing the rules, not knowing how to allocate resources, and about making mistakes.

Previous blog articles have addressed some of the rules. (Check out: How Many 10 Commandments of Social Media Do You Need?) And others have addressed resource allocation and metrics.

But I haven't really addressed making mistakes. The fact is that everyone's going to make mistakes because social media is about experimenting to figure out what works. And "what works" is likely to be different for each organization (thus the many version of the social media 10 Commandments).

It's also worth reading "Put Ad on Web. Count Clicks. Revise." from the New York Times. The key point here is: Revise. While the article focuses on advertising, not PR, the point about looking at metrics and then revising approaches to determine what works is relevant to PR functions, too.

The numbers we're dealing with -- like click-throughs on Twitter -- may not be large numbers. But some argue that a positive mention from a trusted source via Twitter or a blog is worth as much as thousands of media impressions for ads. There are all sorts of things to experiment with, such as tools, services, approaches, etc. And it may take time to figure out the best approach for you.

So stop worrying about mistakes. Think about how you can experiment, gain knowledge and be more effective.

For a Good Look at How Book Publishing Has Changed Over the Years, Check out Joni Evan's NYT column

Since my first career after college was in book publishing, I found this Joni Evans column in the New York Times, "When Publishing Had Scents and Sounds," to be interesting. It looks at how technology changed the world of book publishing.

What I don't understand is why the Times chose to run it.

Only the 2nd-to-last paragraph actually deals with present-day issues.

But it did bring up memories. Like the time when Shirley Maclaine, who at the time was better known for her new-agey books than for her acting, called at Bantam Books, where I worked. She had just written about past-live regression. I answered the phone, took Shirley's message for the editor I worked with, and then, as the call was about to end, Shirley said, "Your voice sounds familiar. Have we met before?"

Not in this life, I wanted to tell her. As for meeting her in a past life, she'd know better than I.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Prospect for Hyperlocal Continues to Look Good -- But can it capture the ad market?

As print media continues to shed reporters and readers, the hyperlocal continues to show potential. That's because while there will always be sources for national news, people still want local news.

The problem for marketers is that there may be too many hyperlocal sites online and those sites don't generate mass-market traffic, making for a very fragmented user base. Targeting hyperlocal blogs and sites can be a great way to generate coverage, but it takes more effort to reach the many hyperlocal sites, and those sites reach a smaller group than maligned print media.

In an interesting story, "Can Anyone Tap the $100 Billion Potential of Hyperlocal News?," Fast Company looks at the problem from an advertising perspective -- that's the $100B in question.

What's interesting about news by search engine is that it has enabled users to select the news that interests them, which is a far less worthy slogan than the Times' "All the news that's fit to print." (Will the Times have to update its slogan to "All the news that's fit to text?")

While a lot of people consider it to be better, news by search engine (NBSE) actually destroys substantial value. By way of example, the Boston Globe was worth $1.1B when the Times bought it a decade ago. But now the Times can't even give away the paper, despite the fact that it's the market leader, is nationally known, wins journalism awards, etc.

The bottom-line is that hyperlocal should survive, but it won't pick up all the advertising dollars that no longer go to print.

I'm not sure where that money will go, but I do know that's bad news for traditional journalism even as its practiced online. Fully researched journalism takes time, resources and money, and without subscription fees and without advertising support, only a few outlets will be able to maintain journalistic standards.

Some colleagues and clients have been talking about the implications of that. It is in the interest of PR functions that journalism maintains its credibility. I'm going to explore this further in future posts. Let me know what you think.

Marketing Tips from American Express -- Do they make sense for today's economy?

In an interview in BtoBObline, Marcy Shinder, VP of Brand Strategy and Marketing at American Express OPEN, offered up these tips (in a different format):

  • A downturn is a good time to identify ways to transform a company.
  • A lot of companies look at delivering better customer service as a differentiator. (For service organizations, this can be a challenge since your competitors are likely to be trying the same things. Instead, think about what improvements would deliver the most value.)
  • Companies need to stay relevant. (In other words, think about the problems customers buy from you, and make sure that what you provide truly solves their problems.)
  • Provide tangible value. (We have a client with a fascinating vision of the future of technology in their sector, but we've advised them to make that game-changing vision a secondary message because their first goal is to sell product. So they need to focus on ways they provide real value to their customers. A compelling vision of what's to come is good, but that doesn't always help customers when deciding to buy now instead of putting off the purchase for later.)
  • Companies need to market differently from the day of the 30-second spot. They need to provide insight, inspiration and advice during every customer interaction.
  • Companies need to answer what they can do for their customers.

Some good common sense advice, yet I'd bet a lot of companies don't follow up on this. Check out the complete article, "American Express' Shinder on marketing to small businesses," and let me know what you think. Do these tips makes sense? Will following them make a difference to customers and bring in new or incremental business?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Survey Results: How Do CMOs Feel They're Doing With Digital Marketing

During every new business meeting, clients ask about our experience with social media. Three years ago, only the occasional new business prospect asked that question. Today. we get worried if we don't get asked that question.

Yet despite being asked that question by every prospective client, there's often far less interest in actually conducting a digital marketing or social media marketing program, no matter what term you use.

I've anecdotally validated this by talking with colleagues at other agencies: When it comes to actually developing and implementing an integrated communications plan, many clients prefer to focus their PR/communications resources on traditional media. That happens even when, going into the presentations, the client has said that social media is important to them.

So I was interested when I came across a Heidrick & Struggles study that "found that the majority of senior marketing executives believe their companies are behind the curve when it comes to digital marketing."

Results from the Digital Marketing Standard: Executive Perspectives on Digital Marketing included:

  • 60% said their companies “were behind the curve.
  • 33% felt they hired/acquired or developed the internal talent to handle digital marketing – which means that two-thirds do not feel they have the right internal talent.
The main challenges to embracing digital marketing included:
  • Legacy issues from an analog age.
  • Bricks-and-mortar mentality.
  • Lack of available resources to move quickly into the digital age.
Since Heidrick & Struggles is a recruiting company, its survey focused on hiring and developing the right talent. Which is why, a key insight for them was this: The problem for some companies is that the right hires will feel that digital marketing is perceived as 2nd place behind traditional marketing.

We've seen that, too. That social media is a lessor priority for some clients. Why?

According to a BrandWeek article summarized by G. Robert Bishop, a recruiter specializing in marketing hires, on his blog, The Marketing Recruiter:
“On a more granular level, the respondents rated marketing ROI, Web behavioral analyses and CRM as the most important parts of their digital marketing mix. Not many marketers thought that they were good at those functions at this point. Only 18 percent said they were “very satisfied” with their ROI analysis, only 13 percent said the same of their CRM program and 19 percent were happy with their search engine optimization.”
The need to benchmark digital marketing efforts is critical. In cleaning up my office the other day, I found lots of articles from 2006 about social media -- but things have changed so much since then that the articles were like faded 1960s color photos: more color than black-and-white photos but pale color representation by today's standards. The only point still relevant from one article I tossed into recycling: the need to develop metrics.

Three years -- and many social media paradigms later -- the challenge still facing CMOs remains this:
  • Determining how to use social media/digital marketing to reach their customers.
  • Developing ROI and other metrics to justify their digital marketing programs.
I'd say that's why CMOs feel like they're behind the curve.

Let me know what you think. You can also check out excellent summaries of a couple of articles about CMOs and digital marketing at Bishiops' blog, "CMOs And Digital Marketing Disconnect."

Friday, September 4, 2009

Does Facebook Kill Friendships? A Response to the WSJ Article

Last week the Wall St. Journal ran an interesting article, "How Facebook Ruins Friendships," which I commented on in a post entitled, Seinfeld Said Answering Machines Prolonged Friendships Past Thier Expiration Dates; WSJ Says Same about Facebook.

Turns out one person who was quoted in the Journal article actually doesn't feel Facebook ruins friendships. Yianni Garcia, a consultant who helps companies use social media (but whose blog does not actually make it easy to find his name), wrote a rebuttal, "WSJ Misses The Point on Facebook and Relationship Piece."

I'm not sure where I fall in this debate. I know Facebook enabld me to find people I used to be in touch with and others find me. But I also think it prolongs some relationships longer than necessary. And I do know for sure that some people share more info via Facebook than they would share even around a water cooler (does anyone gather around a water cooler anymore?).

What do you think? Is Facebook friend or foe?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

More Bad News for Sun-Times & Community Papers

The AP reports that the Sun-Times will be closing its Chicago-area printing press. That press prints up local community weeklies.

No word (printed or otherwise) about the implications of the press closing will have on those community papers.

If those weeklies move online, they'll disenfranchise seniors who tend to prefer print newspapers as their source.

Getting on "The Oprah Winfrey Show"

There was a time when a lot of prospective clients asked about getting on "Oprah."

We can point to success in that a client's customer once made it onto the program. The show's producers saw an article in More Magazine that featured a senior athlete, and taped a segment with her for the episode.

I came across a good article, "How to Get On the Oprah Winfrey Show? Getting Pierce Mattie PR Clients on Oprah!"

They suggest asking the following questions:

1) How do I see myself or my product fitting into the format of the show?
2) Why would Oprah put me on her show?
3) Is my story new, unique, different - not yet covered?

There's a bit more to the article; it's worth checking out.

Measuring Tips for Social Media

One of the challenges of social media, one of the reasons clients often have difficulty in being able to pay for social media is the lack of standard metrics. Remember: it's not that organizations don't want to use social media. They often don't know how to justify allocating resources towards social media.

BtoBonline ran a sidebar, "Common metrics for social media" that provides a list of metrics to evaluate. Unlike newspaper circulation or broadcast viewership, there are still no standards of success.

And some of the metrics may not apply to every situation, client or campaign.

But it is at least useful to start.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Marketing & The Importance of Claiming an Attribute

One of the goals of marketing is to get people to care about your product or service -- and to associate a specific attribute with your brand. Even if that attribute might not seem important outside the context of that need.

For example, Charmin. "Please don't squeeze the Charmin" got you thinking about softness of bathroom tissue (as they called it, instead of toilet paper). But did anyone actually squeeze toilet paper like it's a piece of fruit? Doesn't matter. All those annoying ads with Mr. Whipple registered with the public.

How about the need for mountain-grown coffee? For years, Folgers claimed its mountain-grown coffee was the richest, most aromatic kind of coffee. 

What Folgers didn't tell you is that all coffee is mountain grown.

But that's an attribute they made you care about.

Wired recently provided a similar look at beer marketing: "3 Smart Things About Beer Marketing." You should check out their points because there's a lot of beer advertising promoting attributes that are either wrong or common attributes of other beers.

My favorite, which they did not list, is drinkability. Bud Light apparently thinks that all other beers -- including, one must suppose, its non-light beer version -- lack "drinkability." I think that's an absurd attribute to define, defend and associate with a beer. (I bet if you drink too much of Bud Light you might lose the ability to say drinkability.) On the other hand, pour enough money into the ad campaign, and perhaps consumers will start assessing the drinkability-ness of their preferred beverage.

Value Charts, Pricing & Cash Flow: Three Aspects to Focus on in the New Normal

To succeed in the "new normal," i.e. that period after the economic recovery, businesses are going to have to make new assumptions and take new approaches to their businesses. Media properties, for example, can't expect that a recovery will lift them back to the good ol' days of 2006-2007.

That's certainly true when it comes to the strategies and tactics companies should deploy as part of their PR initiatives.

While I generally address the media and PR, in this post I thought I'd quickly address three critical success factors for companies that want to survive in the new normal.

First ideas came from Norm Brodsky's excellent book, The Knack: How Street-Smart Entrepreneurs Learn to Handle Whatever Comes Up. Brodsky is a serial entrepreneur -- actually a concurrent entrepreneur, running several businesses at the same time -- and a columnist for Inc. Magazine. According to Brodsky:
  • Protect your capital. Spend it only on things you're certain will generate positive cash flow in the short term.
  • Maintain the highest monthly gross-profit margin you are capable of achieving. Do no go after low-margin sales. It's too much work and costs too much money to chase low-margin customers.
  • Spend time developing relationships with your highest-margin customers. Let low-margin customers come to you, and negotiate the price up.
  • Balance the need to make the sale with an understanding of the risks and costs involved.
I subsequently found a blog posting from LeveragePoint, a Cambridge consultancy that helps its clients evolve their marketing strategies, about Value Charts.

We've met with LeveragePoint, and are impressed with their intelligence and insight. Its blog on Value Chart brings an interesting perspective on developing "value models that clearly show how much economic value your customers get" from using your offerings. The article, "Using Value Charts to Plot Pricing Strategy," looks at four key scenarios:
  • Premium Strategy: in which the customer is "willing to pay more because they perceive higher economic use value." This can help you achieve Brodsky's goal of selling at the highest margins you can achieve.
  • Penetration or Discount Strategy: in which the company decides to aggressively grab market share with a low price.
  • Neutral Strategy: In which the company selected a price equal to its competitor with the goal "to be the preferred vendor because of better differentiation."
  • Low Cost Leader: "essentially a more extreme form of Penetration Pricing... Obviously this strategy can only be sustained with a significant cost advantage."
For more insight on this topics, check out Brodsky's book and LeveragePoint's blog.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Lessons Learned from Keeping a Clutter-free Desk

I've kept my office clean for a month.

That may not seem like much of an accomplishment to you. For far too long, I lived by a desk cluttered with files. I always knew where things were so I didn't think I needed to make a change.

But my wife finally, um, helped me see the errors of my ways.

Actually, I think she didn't believe I'd be able to keep my desk clear of clutter. And I wasn't sure if I could, either.

But I have. And I like it.

I learned some good lessons in clearing the clutter and maintaining a clutter-free desk.

  • It's easier to actually be organized than not.
  • I have more room to spread out papers and files when I need to. (And then I can put them away when I don't need them.)
  • Old clips and notes are like boxes that remain unpacked 60 days after a move: You'll never get to them. (This weekend, I also cleaned out a box at the basement at home from when we last moved -- 12 years ago.)
  • Social media tips from 2006 no longer are that relevant. Yes, we're still in the midst of a social media revolution, but way back in 2006, the focus was on blogs and podcasts, not social networks like Facebook (mostly MySpace), YouTube and Twitter.
  • Back in 2006, trying to figure out appropriate metrics for social media did not exist. The lack of accepted metrics continues to be a problem these years later.
  • I actually get more things done.
  • I have a nice cherry wood desk.