Thursday, December 23, 2010

Is the Register Citizen Setting the New Standard for Hybrid Print-Online Newspapers?

Interesting article from the New York Times, "Walk In, Grab a Muffin and Watch a Newspaper Reinvent Itself" about the Torrington, CT Register Citizen.

In a town suffering from the recession, the Register Citizen has taken several steps to remake itself, including:
  • Developing a new slogan: "Digital First.. Print Last."
  • Moving into a new building "designed to mirror the open, collaborative culture of the Web."
  • Inviting town residents to participate in the paper's editorial meeting, offering coffee and muffins at the Newsroom Cafe and bringing in a new level of transparency to the paper.
  • Embraced a new business plan "based on making The Register Citizen’s Web site a magnet for all things local and thus an attractive place for advertisers, sponsors and others who can replace declining newspaper subscribers and advertisers."
This type of community engagement seems to be working both with readers, especially online, and with advertising, which now comprises 17 percent of total ad revenue.

It's still at the experimental stage. But the Register Citizen could be a model for other papers. Since the paper is owned by the Journal Register, which owns 300 other papers, we just might see the modeler extend to other local papers.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What Can We Learn From the Possible Merger of Salon

The news that is looking for a possible partner, "Who Wants to Buy Anyone?" raises some interesting points about online media's business, namely:
  • It's not only print media that can generate million-dollar annual losses. Salon has lost $15 million over the last five years, including an estimated $5 million in 2010.
  • Driven by the need to generate the revenues necessary to sustain a journalistic operation, Salon is shifting its coverage from politics and news to softer, shorter lifestyle coverage. The problem: we already have a lot of sources for lifestyle news while we have fewer sources for traditional news coverage.
  • Standalone media properties can't hope to compete against media conglomerates -- even today. That's the lesson, too, to be drawn from the recent Newsweek-Daily Beast merger.
On the other hand, the FT recently scored a success with its iPad app subscription, "Financial Times iPad app scores success: Paper increasing its digital-only subscription base at a rate of about 500 a week, with strong growth in US," according its competitor, The Guardian. But while that's good news, it's still not self-sustaining.

One thing for sure, 2011 will continue to see pressure on traditional and online media.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Forbes vs. Fortune: Most Powerful Women Edition

Even as the dynamics of print publishing have changed dramatically since I last about Forbes vs Fortune in 2007 ("The difference between Forbes & Fortune"), the two magazines seem to continue to compete primarily with each other, ignoring any online competitors.

One thing for certain: the only people outside of Fortune who read Fortune as closely as PR people do are the editors and reporters at Forbes. The same is true of Forbes, too. (I vividly remember talking with a Forbes reporter who was as well informed as I was about how BusinessWeek and Fortune had covered a client of mine. And that reporter's knowledge was based partly on interest in my client and mostly due to how Fortune was covering the sector.)

Both Forbes and Fortune have redesigned their print publications; Forbes has undergone a more comprehensive makeover while Fortune has added some accessories.

So it's interesting -- and no coincidence, really -- to see that Fortune ran its "FORTUNE's annual ranking of America's leading businesswomen) in its Oct. 18th issue while Forbes ran its The World's 100 Most Powerful Women in its Oct. 25th issue.

The differences in the lists and their methodologies tell us a lot about the two magazines.

It goes beyond the fact that Forbes offers twice the number of powerful women than Fortune. And that both lists contain many of the same women, including Oprah (No. 3 in Forbes and No. 6 in Fortune), Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi (No. 6 in Forbes, No. 6 in Fortune). Wellpoint CEO Angela Braly (No. 12 in Forbes, No. 4 in Fortune), Yahoo CEO Carol Bratz (No. 42 in Forbes, No. 6 in Fortune), and BofA Merrill Lynch's Sallie Krawcheck (No. 44 in Forbes, No. 24 in Fortune).

  • Forbes and Fortune agreed on one women: both ranked Kraft CEO Irene Rosenfeld as No. 2. The other women who appeared on both lists were ranked at vastly different levels: Avon CEO Andrea Jung was No. 47 in Forbes but No. 5 in Fortune; Fidelity's Abigail Johnson was No. 59 according to Forbes, but No. 21 in Fortune; Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was ranked No. 66 by Forbes but reached No. 16 in Fortune.
  • The Forbes list includes some women from outside the US like Gail Kelly, CEO of Wespac in Australia. The Fortune 50 list is comprised entirely of Americans. That said, Fortune also includes its global list, the International 50.
  • The Forbes list also includes politicians while Fortune lists "Washington's power players," and both lists include Hilary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, SEC's Mary Schapiro, and Justices Elena Kagan and Sonja Sotomayor. Interestingly, Fortune did not include Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (but Forbes did) and Forbes included Michelle Obama at No. 1 while Fortune did not her at all.
  • Forbes includes celebrities while Fortune is more serious, and does not. Thus Forbes ranked Lady Gaga at No. 7; Beyonce at No. 9 (but includes her last name (Knowles) for its readers who may not be familiar with her work; Ellen DeGeneres (No. 10); Angelina Jolie (No. 21, and, surprisingly, did not include a photo); Madonna (No. 29 and no photo), Chelsea Handler (No. 33 -- I like her show but I still don't know how she made this list); Sarah Jessica Parker (No. 45); Suze Orman (No. 61), Rachel Ray (No. 78), and Martha Stewart (No. 99).
  • Forbes, which loves celebrities, also listed models: Carla Bruni-Sarkozy (No. 35 and also the First Lady of France, and instead of a photo of her, there was a photo of the Eiffel Tower); Heidi Klum (No. 39); and Gisele Brundchen (No. 72). Forbes also ranked designers Tory Birch (No. 88), Vera Wang (No. 91) and Donna Karan (No. 96) as well as news anchors and editors Katie Couric, (No. 22), Tina Brown (No. 34), Meredith Vieira (No. 40), Diane Sawyer (No. 46), Rachel Maddow (No. 50), and Christine Amanpour (No. 73).
  • Forbes also ranked female athletes including Serena Williams (No. 55) Venus Williams (No. 60 and Danica Patrick (No. 93).
  • Forbes also listed a number of politicians including those named above as well as Sarah Palin (No. 16), Meg Whitman (No. 47), Carly Fiorina (No. 51), and Maria Shriver (No. 53). I suspect that, if written after the midterm elections, Meg and Carly would not make the list.
  • Forbes also includes royalty, including Queen Elizabeth (but not the richer, commoner JK Rowling).
The main criteria for Forbes was dollar amount, including company revenue, and "buzz" factor, defined as the number of Factiva hits, Google hits, Facebook fans, Twitter followers, and radio and TV appearances over the past 12 months.

The main criteria for Fortune "is four-fold: the size and importance of the woman's business in the global economy, the health and direction of the business, the arc of the woman's career, and social and cultural influence." According to a blog article by longtime Fortune reporter, Patricia Sellers, the pattern for selection for Fortune appeared to be that "the consumer packaged-goods industry is welcoming to top-level women."

Monday, November 29, 2010

David Pogue's Lessons from a Decade Covering Tech

On Thanksgiving, New York Times consumer technology reviewer, David Pogue, drew some lessons gleaned from 10 years of tech reviews, "The Lessons of 10 Years of Talking Tech."

The bottom line: It's been a decade of jaw-dropping change: "Think of all the commonplace tech that didn’t even exist 10 years ago: HDTV, Blu-ray, GPS, Wi-Fi, Gmail, YouTube, iPod, iPhone, Kindle, Xbox, Wii, Facebook, Twitter, Android, online music stores, streaming movies and on and on."

Here are some key lessons:
  1. Things don't replace things; they just splinter. There are no such thing as an iPhone killer, for example -- despite all the products positioned as such. These killers may be alternatives, but they don't actually replace prior technology. A point Pogue did not make is that there has been a backlash to CDs recently, and while not a full mainstream trend, people continue to buy vinyl records because they offer better sound.
  2. Some people's gadgets determine their self-esteem. I think this is one of the most important points in the article: " Today’s gadgets are intensely personal. Your phone or camera or music player makes a statement, reflects your style and character. No wonder some people interpret criticisms of a product as a criticism of their choices. By extension, it’s a critique of them." Pogue then draws a lesson that may be more important to tech reviewers ("You can’t use the word 'Apple,' 'Microsoft' or 'Google' in a sentence these days without stirring up emotion.) while overlooking a key point to tech companies and startups trying to sell new products: that technology is like the fashion business -- driven by trends. Look at that list in the second paragraph: "HDTV, Blu-ray, GPS, Wi-Fi, Gmail, YouTube, iPod, iPhone, Kindle, Xbox, Wii, Facebook, Twitter, Android, online music stores, streaming movies and on and on." Most are all built on trends. My point is that companies developing consumer tech products, gadgets, platforms, etc. need to understand the trend wave they need to catch -- and I wonder if most realize that.
  3. It’s not that hard to tell the winners from the losers and Some concepts’ time may never come. These two points follow my point. Look, unfortunately, revolutionary does not mean necessary, and a lot of better technology has been out-marketed by lessor technology. But check out what Pogue says.
Pogue also makes very valid points about the transient nature of technology, suggesting that we understand when we buy technology that it won't last more than a year: "Of the thousands of products I’ve reviewed in 10 years, only a handful are still on the market. Oh, you can find some gadgets whose descendants are still around: iPod, BlackBerry, Internet Explorer and so on. But it’s mind-frying to contemplate the millions of dollars and person-years that were spent on products and services that now fill the Great Tech Graveyard."

His conclusion: Nobody can keep up with all the technological change, not even Pogue, for whom it is his primary job.

Some really good observations, and well worth reading the entire article.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Liberty Mutual's Paul Alexander on Branding

Last month, Paul Alexander, CMO at Liberty Mutual, a Fortune 100 insurance company, spoke at the Ad Club's CMO Breakfast, and said some interesting points about branding and marketing in a social media era.

Here are some key points to Alexandar's approach:
  • The definition of death is a toilet paper focus group....Insurance is often seen as a commodity business. But you can still have fun.
  • Successful marketing is about partnership (with PR and design firms as well as ad agencies), publishing (content) and PR.
  • We've gone from a lean back and absorb information to seek out information, where you can keep out content. That means that companies need to take a different approach to marketing. Otherwise, you can be locked out.
  • It's no longer about protecting the brand. It's about projecting the brand, where important qualities are find-ability and share-ability.
  • You have to try and improve your batting average, knowing that you're not going to get a hit every time out.
  • You need to engage via social media and to take a cross-platform approach.

o You don't need to use every element, but there should be some cross-over with logo architecture, color palette, and sell line.

In the interest of transparency, Liberty Mutual is now a client but was not at the time of the CMO Breakfast, which was open to the public. Additionally, we do not work directly for Alexander. However, I think his points about branding are interesting and worth posting.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Do We Still Need General-Interest Newsweeklies?

One of the reactions to the news that Newsweek will combine with The Daily Beast was coming up with a new joint name for the two money-losing-but-worthwhile publications.

In Newsweek Weds Daily Beast? Good Luck, The New York Times' David Carr clearly doesn't think that marriage can be saved. The print edition of the Times called the new combined outlet NewsBeast.

Which is better than the name that really symbolizes the problem: The DailyWeek.

Or the actual name of the new parent company, The Newsweek Daily Beast Company.

Given the estimated combined $35,5 million in estimated annual loses of the two combined companies, the more serious question is: do we still need general-interest newsweeklies?

Or, in blogese: 2010: The Year Newsweeklies Died. (That's because I see so many blog posts claiming something else we've all used has died, like email, press releases, etc.)

I actually don't think press releases have died, and I think email will be replaced by texting among people 28+ (those under 28 don't use email).

But I do think the age of the general-interest newsweekly has passed. Time is still around, but its circulation is half of what is was at the start of this century. US News is fading away. And while the print edition of Newsweek seems likely to continue -- for now -- its online version,, will be shut down in order to drive traffic to the Daily Beast.

The only newsweekly that appears to be doing well is The Economist. I also like Bloomberg BusinessWeek and The New York Times' Week in Review section, that is published on Sundays. But neither The Economist nor Bloomberg BusinessWeek are general interest publications -- they're designed as overviews for people interested in business. There are some other weeklies, but they seem to have a specific political perspective (which puts them into a different category from general interest).

Yes, I know there are lots of other weekly People, US, etc. -- but those are celebrity and entertainment publications, not general interest. Since we live in an age that seems obsessed with celebrities (including those whose names are known even if they seem to have no real discernible talent), I don't think the death of the general-interest newsweekly will impact People, US or the others.

In the end, I think it's difficult for readers to justify subscriptions to a general-interest newsweekly -- and difficult for advertisers to justify advertising in them unless they want to target an older demographic.

Meanwhile, the people behind a campaign -- seems like staffers or former staffers, makes the following worthwhile points:
  • What will be the ramifications for Newsweek’s Web presence in terms of SEO? For branding? For our partnerships with MSNBC and MSN? What happens to Newsweek’s (still-unleveraged) archives? How do you preserve a “national treasure” (as Harman has called it) without a Web presence bearing its name?
  • By rolling into The Daily Beast, the hope—at least according to the Times—would be to absorb the some of the 5 million unique visitors Newsweek clocks each month. But at least 60 percent of those visitors come in through the back door, through Newsweek’s partnership with MSNBC, links on MSN, Newsweek’s Twitter feed, its Tumblr, and elsewhere. If less than half of Newsweek readers log onto’s actual homepage, how much traffic will really be gained? Certainly not five million uniques.
What do you think? Are newsweeklies dead yet or just going to evolve?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Current Listening Tools for Social Media are not Enough

There are a lot of tools that PR functions can use to monitor social media.

But the New York Times points out collecting what a company posts on various social media platforms can be difficult. You can search on Twitter or on your blog post or Facebook, but none of the current tools are 100% accurate. There are lots of times when Twitter can find recent posts, much less those going back a year or more.

The New York Times points out the problem in an article worth reading, "Tools to Help Companies Manage Their Social Media."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Stealth or Not to Stealth -- Tips from the "Using PR and Social Media" Panel, Part V

As we prepared for the "Using PR and Social Media to Generate Buzz for Your Startup," sponsored by the New England Venture Network (NEVN) and co-sponsored by Birnbach Communications, the four panelists -- blogger Paul Gillin, Xconomy's Greg Huang, BBJ/Mass High Tech's Galen Moore, and's Dan Primack -- discussed the concept of startups and stealth mode.

A lot of startups operate in stealth mode because they want to to avoid alerting competitors or the marketplace before they are ready to "come out of stealth mode," usually when they have a product in beta.

The problem, the panelists noted, is that stealth mode is hard to actually maintain. For example, sometimes executives actually list their current company on their LinkedIn profile.


Also claiming stealth mode is a way to make startups seem more important -- at least to employees and potential investors -- than the company might really be. They find out the bad news when they try to come out of stealth, only to find that there's still not much interest in them.

In fact, one panelists referred to this as the "idiocy of stealth mode."

Reporters may care about stealth mode if there's something of real interest but the perception was that more companies act in stealth mode than need to be. The problem: their products may be ready for customers, but they're trying to go from zero to 60 in telling their story, and reporters and bloggers need time -- as in any sales process -- to determine what the story is, if it's credible and viable.

The point: it's not always easy to operate in complete stealth mode and it's even more difficult to quickly exit stealth mode.

In fact, the panelists said they'd be interested in a panel discussion of VCs and CEOs talking about their experiences and perspectives on stealth mode.

The panelists also suggested one of the problems in exiting stealth mode is the tension between the VCs and the CEOs, especially in terms of timing and in terms of who is going to drive the message. They really need to message together, but that doesn't happen as much as you might think, one of the panelists noted.

What do you think about stealth mode? Does it make sense? Does it work? Let me know.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Do You Need Videos to Promote Your Business on YouTube?

According to a Wall St. Journal article case study, you don't need video to engage with customers on YouTube.

What companies can do to leverage YouTube can include:
  • Make sure to listen to what others are posting or commenting. This is basically the first rule of engagement for social media, but it often gets overlooked by those who want move forward quickly.
  • Cultivate relationships with video bloggers (vloggers). Some companies hire vloggers to serve as product ambassadors and host as in-store demos.
  • Comment or answer questions posed by those posting videos that either directly involve your product or involve your product category. Remember: do not make this a hard sell.
This approach can entail viewing and commenting on lots of videos without seeing much initial response or payoff. But one company quoted said it could not afford to produce as many videos about its products as get posted -- so this was a way of extending the company's reach.

Check out the Journal article, "How to Sell on YouTube, Without Showing a Video
Seems like worthwhile advice for those who can patiently put the time in: By making comments, companies can engage potential customers in conversation."

Seems like a worthwhile approach for those who have the patience to plug away at it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

When Is a Press Release Appropriate -- Tips from the "Using PR and Social Media" Panel, Part IV

According to the panel of experts -- blogger Paul Gillin, Xconomy's Greg Huang, BBJ/Mass High Tech's Galen Moore, and's Dan Primack -- at last month's "Using PR and Social Media to Generate Buzz for Your Startup," sponsored by the New England Venture Network, the press release is not yet.

I don't think they came to that conclusion because they're waiting for the press release that announces its own death to make it official.

The panel concluded that the press release is still necessary, but that the question now is when is a press release or a blog post or Facebook or Twitter update more appropriate.

Primack referenced an example where Microsoft announced a small acquisition via a blog post, not a press release since -- we assumed -- the acquisition was not material to Microsoft's stock price. The software giant never got around to issuing a press release about the news, but it still got some attention for it.

On the other hand, the panels concluded, the press release is not dead because there's a certain weight and formality to it. But it's seen more as a commodity once competing reporters and bloggers all get the release.

An important factor now is how unique is the information the reporter or blogger is getting. That discussion goes back to the question of exclusives and how and what information you spread around to meet the needs of different reporters and bloggers -- as well as to the other people you might want to reach.

On the other hand, Microsoft announced its recent quarterly earnings on its website, joining an estimated 11 other companies that publish their earning results directly on their websites. The SEC has provided guidance that companies can use the web to meet public-disclosure requirements. But there are critics that say small investors may be adversely affected because they then have to go to different corporate websites to get the information that otherwise is available more easily. Check out a recent WSJ article, "Microsoft Adopts Website Release for Earnings."

Friday, November 12, 2010

Carnival's Crisis Turns Into Social Media Case Study

There's a lot of potential for crises in the travel business than most outsiders realize, either from equipment problems like Qantas experienced and Carnival's Splendor fire to natural disasters like the Icelandic volcano that disrupted travel to and from Europe this spring and the Indonesian volcano that erupted this week.

The combination of smartphones and social media makes it very easy for stories to get out to a wider audience than would have been possible just five years ago. We can expect that these kinds of stories will continue to generate noise, and companies need to prepare for that eventuality -- as opposed to hoping that the public's interest and appetite for such news will wane.

This week's two crisis alone provide an incentive for travel companies (but not just travel companies) to update their crisis plans to make sure they address social media as a communications vehicles, something Qantas did not do. (See, Five Lessons on Twittering During a Crisis: Lessons from Qantas.)

Here are some lessons learned from Carnival's response:
  1. Carnival did a good job using Facebook and Twitter. There were regular updates on Carnival's website, and links posted on Facebook and Twitter. Carnival might have posted more frequently than once or twice a day, but it did respond when someone said the link to the Splendor's status was not working. (When I clicked on it, the link worked.) And the company posted more frequently as the Splendor reached San Diego.
  2. Carnival did a good job when it posted links to the on-board blog post written by Splendor's cruise director, John Heald. The post was positive but also acknowledged the reality, noting: "most important facts and those are that the ship is safe, the guests are safe and that nobody was injured in what was a very difficult situation. I also want to tell you that the guests have been magnificent and have risen to the obvious challenges and difficult conditions onboard."
  3. Once Carnival started reporting on the Splendor, the company halted its regular promotional posts -- the ones highlighting locations, ships, even a regular weekly contest -- clearly recognizing that business as usual was not appropriate while a ship was stricken. That was a good move.

In terms of what's next: I think there's some concern about the conditions, and whether or not the ship really turned into "passenger hell," so a lot of the immediate coverage will focus on those conditions. The fact remains that the passengers and crew were safe -- that's important.

Carnival should continue to use social media to communicate any feedback the company gets from passengers -- and already there's a lot of positive feedback on its Facebook page. I think the company should report back on any lessons learned, perhaps something like, in the even a ship is similarly disabled in the future, Carnival will get non-perishable food other than Spam and will develop a process so that people don't have to wait two hours in line for Spam sandwiches.

It's been a busy week for travel crises and social media. There are certainly things that Carnival can improve -- what other lessons do you think are important, please let me know,

(In the interest of disclosure, I've had past connections to Carnival, but I do not and have not worked for the company. )

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How Do You Define What's Interesting About Your Company -- or how to separate news from snooze

The Wall St. Journal recently published an article entitled, "How to Score Press Coverage," that had a lot of good advice.

But one item is a bit more complex: to "pitch interesting things about your business."

Of course, you need to pitch interesting aspects of your business. But what's interesting can be very subjective.

We've seen some clients who think everything they do is interesting -- and others who think nothing they do is particularly interesting, even as they sell software that delivers on marketing's promises. (For example, we worked with a client who sold middleware software to large companies -- our client's software was vital to making things work, but was always referred to as the software equivalent of plumbing -- important but boring.)

Here are some questions to help make a determination about whether or not your story is interesting to outsiders:
  • Does it significantly impact a lot of people, a company or industry? For example, does your company, through its products or services, impact how consumers live their lives? Especially in terms of technology coverage, reporters are interested in consumer technology -- even though B2B technology generates more in annual sales -- especially gee-whiz technology, the latest cellphones, current apps, TVs, etc.
  • Does your company impact on how people work? To have a real chance for national coverage, the technology must be used directly by employees, not just by the IT department. Enterprise software can be absolutely "mission critical" but if no one but the CIO and the IT team know about it, it's going to be a tougher sell. Case studies and ROI metrics can help sell the story, but national media doesn't cover enterprise software itself -- they cover the big companies that make enterprise software.
  • Does your company involved in an interesting competitive battle? The media's interested in Google vs. Apple and Oracle vs. H-P vs. IBM but they're also interested in companies with huge ambitions that are trying to take on the Googles. Reporters may be interested if you can discuss why you're targeting the big players and can demonstrate/validate why you have a chance.
  • Does your company have an unusual story? Look at how it was founded (if it's a startup), how it's grown (if it's an emerging company), etc. Reporters often look for a human element in the stories they tell. What can you offer?
  • Can you portray your corporate story in a new light? Let's face it, humans have been fishing for thousands of years; and the fishing shows I saw when I was a kid were boring: a couple of guys sitting in a rowboat somewhere. But positioned as the World's Deadliest Catch, you've got a compelling show that offers an unusual look at gathering food. You don't need to position your company as the world's deadliest programming environment to get coverage. But you do need an angle.
  • What existing trends are you part of? Cloud services is a big area of interest. If you can tie your company to a hot trend, either further evidence of the trend or evidence that the trend is changing, you stand a chance of getting coverage.
  • Can you provide advice or tips to consumers or businesses? We live in an age where everyone's looking for tips, when so much of what we do entails rapidly evolving approaches. So if you can provide advice that can make sense of the world, people tend to be interested.
Of course, this list is not an exhaustive one, and it is focused on traditional media. For social media, you need to ask a different set of questions, with some overlap.

Ultimately the test of whether or not your story is interesting to the media depends on figuring out what's new and unusual about your story and why it matters for the broadest possible audience.

The above advice is based on a basic presentation I've delivered, Separating News from Snooze.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Five Lessons on Twittering During a Crisis: Lessons from Qantas

Twitter may still be a punchline for late night comics, but PR and communication functions can't treat it like a joke.

That's especially true during crises when information may be posted before traditional journalists can process the news. And I mean "process" in a good way -- checking out the information, confirming facts, etc. If journalism is history's first draft, then Twitter may be history's notes.

The Qantas incident is a case in point about Twitter. (Check out a good overview article here,
Qantas A380 incident: a lesson in social media and web PR.)

Apparently, at the same time Qantas responded to broadcast reports, the company ignored information on Twitter. Some bloggers correctly said that if Qantas was able to make statements to broadcast news outlets, it should have also posted the same response via Twitter.

I agree. But having worked with global companies, I think the problem with Qantas' response isn't that the company doesn't "get" Twitter.

I think some of the problem may have been structural. Here are some points global companies need to consider to effectively manage a crisis.
  1. Positive news about a company may only appeal to a specific in-country geography, but a crisis crosses borders. For example, we had a client that launched retail technology in England for a US company -- and every US-based outlet said they could only cover it when the technology was available in the US. (Despite multiple stores using that technology in England, we finally got coverage when a single store in Cleveland started testing the technology.) But bad news, as Qantas found out, isn't limited to Singapore and Sydney -- it can become global. Companies need to think about a global response, not just one focused in-country.
  2. Global companies need to make sure their communications functions are thinking globally. In this case, the communications team in Sydney may not have thought to respond on a Twitter account in the US because the accident occurred en route from Singapore to Sydney. Part of the problem, as we've seen with some global clients, is that communications functions are distributed by geography, with little interaction or coordination among teams. Instead, companies should consider a global response so that PR functions in different countries have the tools -- latest information, for example -- to respond to reporters and bloggers in their own countries, even if the crisis happened overseas.
  3. Global companies need to make sure to prepare for and incorporate social media as part of their response to a crisis. But they also need to make sure in-country PR functions think globally during a crisis. After all, even if Quantas had thought about updating its US Twitter feed, it would not be unusual for the communications team in Sydney to not have the password for the US Twitter feed.
  4. Companies need a better way to manage their social media assets, and a crisis is a bad time to find out that you're not prepared. We've seen a number of global companies that have different Facebook pages and Twitter IDs for each geography and language, which makes sense for day-to-day business. The problem is that key communications people in other geographies should be able to update social media sites in cases of emergencies. (If it's not an emergency, people outside the geography would have no need to update the site.) Instead, companies should develop a comprehensive list of all social media accounts, user names and passwords from all geographies, as well as the "owner's" names and contact info, in one document. For example, it's not enough for each geography to compile a list of all social media accounts, user names and passwords -- a step that I'm sure most companies do not take (but should). That way, if a crisis occurs in Sydney, there's someone in Sydney who can post information on the US Twitter account without having to wait several hours before being able to connect to someone in the US who can find the person with access to the Twitter account. With that comprehensive document, key people in different geographies can update accordingly and on a timely basis.
  5. Global companies should consider maintaining a global corporate Twitter ID to address global issues.Apparently, Qantas only had two accounts, one for the US market and one for travel agents. Not enough -- because where do people in other locations turn to for information?
For more insight, check out Matt Wilson's article on, "Qantas’s big #fail in quelling tweeted rumors of a crash."

Monday, November 8, 2010

Three Ways Social Media Has Changed Media Relations & Journalism -- Tips from the "Using PR and Social Media" Panel, Part III

For those following the tips from the "Using PR and Social Media to Generate Buzz for Your Startup," sponsored by New England Venture Network (and co-sponsored by Birnbach Communications), today's report looks at how social media has been impacting PR and journalism.

Not surprisingly, the panelists -- blogger Paul Gillin, Xconomy's Greg Huang, BBJ/Mass High Tech's Galen Moore, and's Dan Primack -- said their jobs and those of their colleagues have changed significantly.
  1. Access to information has changed. A decade ago, reporters would check for a company's website. Now, they're also checking Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms and tools. While companies don't need reporters as much as they once did -- because social media provides another, faster way to communicate externally -- the same may be true for traditional sources. Reporters can find out a lot by monitoring what people are saying, posting, tweeting via social media. Yet because that information can be so fragmented, good PR people and sources still play a role.
  2. Reporters and bloggers have more ways to connect to sources. They no longer have to count on running into people at a trade show. They can follow them on Twitter. While in some ways, the way reporters and sources connect can be more structured than 20 years ago, the panelists agreed that the importance of personal relationships and trust has not changed. In terms of social media platforms, Primack noted that you can more easily start relationships via Twitter than you can on Facebook. (He also noted, as did the other panelists, that he doesn't know many people who actually use services like Foursquare, much less use located-based sites to find sources.)

  3. Reporters have new ways to communicate. Social media creates more questions and requires more decisions about what to do with information. This is true for companies as well as journalists. But journalists need to decide: do I tweet about the news? Do I blog about it? Do I write for a traditional print publication? There are positives and negatives for each different way to communicate. Primack, for example, said he might tweet about an article that he will be posting soon just so he can be the first to break news.
No doubt that social media has had more impact on PR and journalism. If there are other ways you think are significant, please let me know.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Three Quick PR Lessons from the Midterm Elections

The pundits and politicians on both sides of the aisle are trying to draw lessons learned from this week's midterm elections. Based on "lessons" apparently learned the last few election cycles, I think it's fair to say all three parties are drawing the wrong lessons.

But this is not a political blog.

Instead, since this is a PR-focused blog, here are some PR lessons to consider:

1. Differentiation is important to prevent commoditization. But being too different -- Christine O'Donnell -- may not work either.
2. Spending tons of money can make you more competitive by building awareness. But it can take more than money to make a compelling case that closes the deal.
3. Communicating an aspirational vision or one that captures emotion is more compelling than selling the status quo, particularly if the status quo doesn't feel so good. That's why consumer product companies, including auto manufacturers, constantly sell New & Improved versions of the same old products. In 2008, Obama communicated an aspirational message and story. But he wasn't able to do so this year. Meanwhile, this year, the GOP, and the Tea Party in particular, was able to capture anger that resonated and energized its base as well as independents to swing the balance.

I do believe these lessons are applicable for PR functions. Let me know if you think there other lessons we can draw.
Norman Birnbach
Birnbach Communications, Inc.