Monday, December 31, 2012

Check out the 2012 Pogies from David Pogue

Check out David Pogue's annual Pogie Awards for the Brightest Ideas of 2012. These aren't for the best-selling or best-executed ideas, but for the best concepts.  

Friday, December 28, 2012

If Social Media Can Work for George Takei, Could It Work for B2Bs?

The New York Times wrote an interesting article about former A-list and B-list celebs who are using social media to recapture relevancy. Check out the article: Tasting Fame Again, Tweet by Tweet, which profiles George Takei's success on Twitter and efforts by Jennifer Grey, Sally Jessy Raphael.

Key points include:
  • Without social-networking platforms such as these, “I think I’d be in, ‘Is she still alive?’ heaven,” Ms. Raphael told the Times.
  • No longer must celebrities of yore resort to appearing on campy reality shows to remind the public they exist.
  •  “When you look at these faded personalities, imagine what the pitch would be if you were a publicist trying to get press on one of these people,” said Janice Min, editorial director of The Hollywood Reporter. “You absolutely could not.”
For a lot of B2B companies, it can be difficult to generate coverage in major market newspapers. We think social media can work to make B2B companies relevant, and that smart B2Bs are using social media as a  key aspect of their thought leadership programs.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Zuckerbergs Confront Online Privacy Issues

We continue to think online privacy issues will be important -- and confusing -- to navigate.  The recent situation involving the leak of home photos posted by Randi Zuckerberg onto Facebook in a way she thought made them private (check out the USA Today article here: ) raises etiquette questions and highlights privacy issues.

First, if Randi Zuckerberg, Mark's sister and former FB insider, has trouble navigating FB's privacy controls, what hope is there for the rest of us.

Second, some suggest that Randi was able to get the photos taken down because no one wants to mess with a Zuckerberg -- and that the rest of us would not have been able to convince someone else to pull down similar, mundane photos. (Disclosure: I have had prior contact with Randi on behalf of a client, and have found her to be smart and professional.)

What do you think are important issues with regard to online privacy in 2013?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Getting Ready to Issue Report Card on Our 2012 Predictions

It's one of my favorite times of the year -- when we start evaluating our annual trends to determine how well or poorly we did.

My gut tells me we did particularly well this year. But we'll lay it out by early January.

In the meantime, we're also gearing up to finalize our annual trends for 2013 (also due in Jan. 2013).

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wall St. Journal Validates Cord-Cutting Predictions

Seems like cable companies have noticed that that people are cord-cutting to save money from ever-increasing monthly fees -- just as we predicted back in Jan. 

Check out the article: Cable Firms Making Offers Cord-Cutters Can't Refuse.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Is Print Media Dying? Is It Still Worth Pitching?

Elections aside, there's been continuing talk about the prospects of print media. There was even a reporter for a PR trade that asked the question, "Are print outlets still worth pitching?"

And while there's still turmoil in the print world -- witness Newsweek's move to online-only and this recent headline: "Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia to Lay Off Staff and Reduce Magazines" -- the online-only media isn't a sure bet, either.

So here are five reasons why print is worth pitching.

  1. People are still reading print media. Depending on your target audience, print may be the preferred medium.
  2. Most print media also publish the same content online (just under SEO-optimized headlines). Even if online-versions of the articles are hidden behind a paywall, subscribers can still access them.
  3. Although you can't pin print-only coverage on Pinterest, you can still highlight print coverage on your website, blog, Twitter feed, etc.
  4. Your parents -- who still may not understand what PR is -- as well as your clients' parents are more familiar with print media. If you tell them you got a client mentioned in the New York Times, they'll be able to appreciate that whereas they may not have heard of or care about getting a placement on Mashable or GigaOm.
  5. You can more easily frame a terrific print hit to hang on your wall -- while online coverage doesn't always look as good hanging on your wall.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that you should only pitch print media -- just that there's really no reason to not pitch print media. You can continue to pitch online outlets and continue your social media programs. For most clients, It just doesn't make sense to not pitch print.

Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Talking Politics in the Workplace

I generally don't talk about my politics in the workplace. If I do discuss politics, it's generally to discuss lessons learned that can be applied to a client.  There are campaigns that handle social media well while others are still not "getting it."

For example, there are some that embrace new platforms -- both Mitt and Ann Romney use Instagram (Mitt has 61 photos and 84,000 followers while Ann has 33 photos and 9,658 followers) while Barack Obama may not have an Instagram account.  (There is an account called Obama2012 that has 15,000 followers and 12 photos but it says, "This account for campaign Barrack (sic) Obama on 2012," so I don't think it is officially connected to the actual president.) So the question I ask is: what can we learn about the use of Instragram as part of a communications campaign?

Meanwhile, Ann Romney has 14,052 followers on Pinterest based on 175 pins and Mitt, who uses Photostream has 636 followers on Pinterest and 79 pins. By contrast, Michelle Obama has 45,345 followers on Pinterest and 80 pins while Barack Obama has 36,034 followers on Pinterest and 238 pins.

I realize some observations may not lead to lessons learned but I've always felt asking questions is an important way to learn.  (I realize that candidates wives are often viewed more favorably than their husbands but I'm not sure how to apply that insight to our B2B clients, yet.)

On Monday, a business acquaintance blasted an email out to his list explaining why he would be voting for a particular candidate. I tweeted that it's not so much his politics I minded as that I didn't ask him. I guess it comes down, for me, to having a don't ask, don't tell approach to politics.

I don't really want to know.

However, that changes if a client, colleague or business partner espoused hateful hateful ideology or said something racist, homophobic or anti-Semitic.  At that point, you have to take a stand. 

In the meantime, check out this Wall St. Journal article, Big Bet 6 Months Ago Paved Way for President Whatever your politics, this article makes the case for defining your competition early.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Important Business Lesson from Blue Man Group

Here's a quick post based on another Fortune article: "How Blue Man Group learned to see green."

The brief article provides an interesting overview of the accidental national theater group that was generated by brought to you by the color blue, but there's at least one bit of advice worth considering, from co-founder Chris Wink:
If you can be a good collaborator, it's like having a superpower because you can connect your gifts with that of someone else. The point is to get the work done and not look out for your own celebrity or money. I stopped trying to have my own career, found some friends, and worked with them.
Since I was talking with a client last week about the power of collaboration, I thought this was worth sharing on our blog.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Another Wall St. Journal Article Validates Cyberattack Prediction

This is a trend prediction we hate to be right about, but in our set of predictions published on Feb. 2, 2012, "Ongoing stories we’ll see covered in the media," we included:
"Cyberwarfare: the act of attacking one’s enemies by hacking. It’s happening on both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the US media has reported that China is using cyberwarfare against the US, including corporate espionage, so expect it to spread elsewhere."
Unfortunately, we've seen a spate of articles covering cyberwarfare, including this one from the Wall St. Journal (but the story appeared elsewhere, too): "Iran Blamed for Cyberattacks; U.S. Officials Say Iranian Hackers Behind Electronic Assaults on U.S. Banks, Foreign Energy Firms."
Here's the New York Times' take: "U.S. Suspects Iran Was Behind a Wave of

We can add Iran to the list of countries conducting cyberwarfare.

We think coverage of cyberattacks will continue because the number of cyberattacks will continue.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

3 Lessons from Great Fortune Article about IBM's CEO Ginni Rometty

As compared with Forbes, which is more focused on investment opportunities, Fortune has staked out management as its focus.

Jessi Hempel wrote a terrific profile of IBM's Ginni Rometty in the current "Most Powerful Women" issue. What made the article, "IBM's Ginni Rometty looks ahead" so worth reading is that Hempel not just the insight into Rometty's personality and career achievements. It's that the article contains at least three pieces of business insight that all of us can use.

Here are the three lessons I learned from the article:
  • "Whatever business you're in -- it doesn't matter -- it's going to commoditize over time. It's going to devalue. You've got to keep moving it to a higher value." We should all look at where we can improve the value of our services and products.
  • "IBM's most senior executives have long served on three teams -- operating, technology, and strategy -- to help guide the company. Rometty created a fourth leadership team, the Client Experience Team, which she chairs. There are no senior executives on the team. Rather, she appointed a series of client-facing executives to meet with her once a month."
  •  To open new markets, sometimes you need to find new problems to solve for new internal customers.  For Rometty growth comes not just from inventing new technologies to sell to her existing clients. "Growth at IBM's scale also means creating new markets...Now Rometty is making a similar pitch to marketing executives, promising that technology will change the way they do their jobs. It won't be an easy sell: Marketers are less apt than bureaucrats to be wowed by a charismatic CEO or statistics about petabytes. Many are accustomed to seeing computing as a tool to support their creative endeavors, not the starting point."
Some good business lessons from a terrific article.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Fortune Validates

Back in Feb., we issued the prediction that focus on mobile payments would increase.

Last month, Fortune joined the New York Times and Wall St. Journal and other top-tier media in validating our prediction. Check out the cover story: "The Death of Cash: Tech giants - and startups like Square - want you to use your phone to pay for everything from gum to train rides. Here's how they plan to achieve cash-free nirvana."

We predicted that e-wallets would be mainstream in five years but we may move that up to four years, based on the kind of media coverage we've been seeing.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Bloomberg BusinessWeek Validates Cybercrime Prediction

Cybercrime -- which we also predicted (see original column here) as one of the top ongoing stories the media will cover in 2012 -- continues to generate media headlines.

The latest is from Bloomberg BusinessWeek: "Life in Cyberia: A new brand of warfare is under way. Our five experts discuss the best defenses."

With news just this month of malware attacks on Lebanese banks (potentially to uncover links to terrorists; check out Forbes' article on Gauss) and airports (see a separate BusinessWeek's article), expect coverage of cyberattacks and cyber warfare to continue into 2013.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Even Comcast's CEO Talks about Cord Cutting

Beyond multiple articles in the Wall St. Journal, New York Times and other publications that have validated our "Cutting the Cable" prediction that people are moving away from cable, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts was quoted in a Bloomberg BusinessWeek interview addressing "cord cutting" by saying:
"So with all the press about cord-cutting, facts would say that [Netflix] has really been more additive. There are more multichannel video subscribers today than there were a year ago. People want more control, more choice, and more personalization."
Of course he'd say that cord cutting isn't an issue for Comcast. What else would you expect him to say?

And while I do think of Netflix as additive, today, I don't think that will necessarily be the case in the future. People do like the control of being able to watch programs on whatever device they've got or will buy, and if traditional cable companies don't provide that choice, people will cut the cord.

That will increasingly be the future of how we access the kind of content formerly known as TV shows. After all, in our always tethered to the Internet world, you really don't need cable as a transmission vehicle. Or satellite, either.

You just need Internet, which you're already paying for.

And if you access TV shows on a device, there are already many ways to connect tablets to your TV. All I'm saying is that cable is an easier way, today, to access that sort of content. But it soon won't be. I can access HBO shows on HBO to Go, its iPad/iPhone app, because I'm a cable subscriber. But I see no reason that I shouldn't be able to subscribe directly to HBO, and not have to go through a third-party like Verizon to get it.

Just saying that cord cutting will continue to gain momentum.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Progressive Insurance's Crisis Response Looks a Little Regressive

People like to complain about several types of businesses: among them, cable companies, airlines, telemarketers, used car dealers, and insurance companies.

So on Monday, when comedian Matt Fisher published a devastating blog post entitled "My Sister Paid Progressive Insurance to Defend Her Killer In Court," about how Progressive mishandled (from his perspective) issues after his sister was killed in a car accident, the story took off and became a social media crisis.

From a crisis communications perspective, Progressive also mishandled this crisis.

That's surprising because Progressive has a Twitter team of 11 people, posting more than 6,100 total tweets, averaging a couple of tweets per day. So I might have thought the company would be more nimble to the negative response to how Progressive handled the Fisher case.

Yet, Progressive did not post any tweets on Monday. And did not post anything until nearly 3pm on Tuesday.

Instead, Progressive's initial reaction was an auto-response tweet, “This is a tragic case, and our sympathies go out to Mr. Fisher and his family for the pain they've had to endure. We fully investigated this claim ... and feel we properly handled the claim within our contractual obligations.”

Part of the problem with Progressive's response is that it seems biolerplate, detailed by legal counsel, not by actual human beings with real empathy for the situation.  

It's yet another example of by-the-book crisis communications that turns people off.  

As a public company, Progressive has to balance the necessity of its fiduciary responsibilities to its shareholders -- the fact that the company feels it "properly handled the claim within our contractual obligations" -- along with its need to maintain a brand that appeals to consumers.  One other variable affecting Progressive's strategy is that its stock price actually improved a few cents after the social media storm hit (from a low on Monday of $19.67 to a high of $19.96 midday Tuesday).

Progressive seems to have made the decision to ride out the social media storm, and cynically, that may be the best approach. Even if the company communicates its fiduciary responsibilities and explains more fully its "contractual obligations," those obligations can't hold up in a court of public opinion when compared to Fisher's horrible story. Progressive's approach: if we can't win, we won't play...for a few days.

Finally, just before 3pm on Tuesday -- basically 20 hours since Fisher's post -- Progressive finally posted a response to the criticisms.

It's a better response, and I think it's because someone inside Progressive realized that its brand image was being affected, even if its stock price was relatively unaffected. Progressive has invested years and millions of dollars to develop a recognizable brand epitomized by good-natured, slightly wacky Flo -- while portraying the other guys as working for a company that places "contractual obligations" over policy holders. 

Progressive finally recognized that they had to make a change to its response, and did so by putting a specific person's name to the response, and while it wasn't warm-and-fuzzy, the explanation -- "There was a question as to who was at fault, and a jury decided in the Fisher family’s favor just last week. We respect the verdict and now can continue to work with the Fisher family to reach a resolution" -- shows them moving for a solution. 

In this case, I hope they follow "contractual obligations" and pay the Fisher family the full balance owed them under the policy.

But Progressive's reaction -- its officious initial comment, the delay in responding -- shows the failure of following by-the-book response crisis management that generates a generic response that can be used in almost any crisis.  Instead, crisis communication templates should always provide room to customize the response to address the specifics of the current crisis. That's something a number of recent responses to crises have forgotten.

Monday, June 4, 2012

New York Times Continues to Validate Our Prediction about Cyberwarfare

In addition to reporting on privacy issues, as we predicted, The New York Times has also been reporting on cybercrime -- which we also predicted (see original column here) as one of the top ongoing stories the media will cover in 2012. The Times had already validated our predictions with several articles on the topic (see here), but over the past few days, the Times has written at least three articles on cybercrime and cyberwarfare:
  • Asleep at the Laptop by Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York.who frames the discussion as "Cybergeddon; the next Pearl Harbor; one of the greatest existential threats facing the United States. With increasing frequency, these are the grave terms officials invoke about the menace of cybercrime — and they’re not understating the threat....With all the attention paid to the so-called fiscal cliff approaching at year’s end, it is equally important to ask whether collective inaction has us simultaneously barreling toward a cybercliff of equal or greater height."
  •  Expert Issues a Cyberwar Warning about the implications the Flame virus afflicting computers in Iran and the Middle East.
  • Mutually Assured Cyberdestruction? which reports on a (now not) secret program called “Olympic Games.” Apparently dating from "the last years of the George W. Bush administration, the United States has mounted repeated attacks with the most sophisticated cyberweapons ever developed. ...
    But precisely because the United States refuses to talk about its new cyberarsenal, there has never been a real debate in the United States about when and how to use cyberweapons."
We expect to see more articles about cyberwarfare, including attacks on the U.S. from China and originating from the U.S. on Iran and elsewhere.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wall St. Journal Nominates "Innovation" as Most Overused Word in 2012

Each year, we make predictions as to what may be the most overused phrase in 2012. In April, we nominated the word "pivot," used to indicate when a business (generally always a startup) changes its focus, its technology, its strategy, etc. to find a new business model.

Pivot is still getting a lot of ink (or, more accurately: pixels), and is being used in a lot of meetings we've been attending.

However, the Wall St. Journal has nominated another word as most overused word or phrase for 2012: Innovation. The article, "You Call That Innovation?" makes the case that "Companies Love to Say They Innovate, but the Term Has Begun to Lose Meaning." saying:
"Businesses throw around the term to show they're on the cutting edge of everything from technology and medicine to snacks and cosmetics. Companies are touting chief innovation officers, innovation teams, innovation strategies and even innovation days.
"But that doesn't mean the companies are actually doing any innovating. Instead they are using the word to convey monumental change when the progress they're describing is quite ordinary.
Even Clayton Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School and the author of the 1997 book, "The Innovator's Dilemma," thinks companies are overusing the term: "Most companies say they're innovative in the hope they can somehow con investors into thinking there is growth when there isn't."

The Journal has compiled good proof points to support its claim: 
  • "A search of annual and quarterly reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission shows companies mentioned some form of the word "innovation" 33,528 times last year, which was a 64% increase from five years before that."
  • "More than 250 books with "innovation" in the title have been published in the last three months, most of them dealing with business, according to a search of"
Check out the article "You Call That Innovation?"because it also includes more proof points about the overuse of "innovation." We've already advised clients to reduce their reliance on the word.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Entrepreneur Validates "Lean In" in Jargon of the Month

Back in January, we predicted that "lean-back/lean forward" might be one of the most overused phrases this year.  

As background, Lean-back activities are those in which users passively access content, like watching TV. Lean-forward activities are those in which the user is actively engaged in consuming content, as when they’re searching for content on the Internet or via an app. 

The May issue of Entrepreneur, not yet available online, validated that prediction with its "Jargon of the Month" for May: Lean In. Ok, so it's not lean-back, but, according to Entrepreneur, "Lean in" can be used to define "the act of making yourself appear engaged and interested when the person addressing you bores you to the point of exhaustion."

Not really so far off, actually. I'll give this a B in our end-of-year wrap up on how we did with our predictions.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

New York Times Validates Cashless Wallet Prediction

Back in Feb., we issued the prediction that focus on mobile payments would increase, saying:
Spearheaded by Google Wallet, Visa's, and Verizon, 2012 looks to be a big year for mobile commerce. Using your smartphone to make purchases will not attract most Americans this year, but a growing part of the population will love the convenience of not having to find an ATM or not paying fees to use another bank system’s ATM. You can delay the day our society becomes a cashless one, but eventually going cash free will be mainstream by the end of the decade.
Last month, the Wall St. Journal article validated our prediction in an article entitled, "Retailers Join Payment Chase; Two Words: Digital Wallet—Wal-Mart and Target Join Project Aiming to Make Plastic." The big issues for adoption by retailers are potential security and privacy issues.

Yesterday, the New York Times validated our prediction, too, in an article entitled, "Many Competing Paths on the Road to the Phone Wallet." According to the Times, "The idea of using a smartphone as a wallet has been slow to catch on in the United States," and that "a big part of the problem has been that most stores do not have the proper physical equipment to allow customers to pay by tapping their phone."

That will change, the Times noted, due to "heavy pressure to upgrade their payment terminals to accept smart cards. Over the past few months, Visa, Discover and MasterCard have said that merchants that cannot accept these cards will be liable for any losses owing to fraud."

Check out the rest of the article for more details. But what that means is that the adoption trend for mobile payments will increase significantly.  Some analysts and industry players believe that mobile payments -- powered by near-field communications (a technology standard to connect devices like smartphones by bringing them into close proximity with other devices) -- will be mainstream in five years.

That's five years ahead of our prediction, but that's okay with us.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

"Natural" Causes Problems for Companies like P&G, J&J and Kelloggs

This week, we've seen two consumer companies get called out for misleading consumers about the ingredients in their products. 

Procter & Gamble was subject of calls to reformulate its Tide Free & Gentle (fragrance free) and Tide Original Scent because they included low levels of a 1,4 dioxane, a possible carcinogen. And Kashi was booted off the shelf of an organic food store because the owner found Kashi uses genetically engineered, non-organic ingredients.

Both companies issued non-apologies that stated they did not break laws of do anything wrong.

Legally, that seems to be correct. But both brands have a responsibility to their consumers that go above "not breaking the law" -- and that is to make sure their ingredients live up to its marketing.

This is more of a challenge in an age of social media, where this kind of information can spread quickly. Transparency when it comes to ingredients is important given the trend that public health advocates are looking at the formulations of products Americans use to see if the products are natural, if that's the claim, or might harm users.

Knowing that, companies like P&G, J&J and others should get out in front, start evaluating and reformulating their products. The fact is they're going to reformulate their products -- P&G did so with its Herbal Essences line last year and J&J is going through with its reformulation of Baby Shampoo despite initial response that it wouldn't do so.

The point is these companies should get ahead of the issue -- even highlight being proactive in weeding out problematic ingredients. But for some reason they're not doing so. They're risking controversy that they can avoid.  True, some consumer don't care, but committed "natural" consumers do care, and it makes no sense to alienate these consumers. And, to be clear, the alienation happens twice: once because of the ingredients and again because of non-apologies that don't address the consumers' concerns.