Sunday, May 29

Blogging To Journalism

While it might not be new that a preliminary ruling a few months ago held that three bloggers who published leaked information about an unreleased Apple product must divulge their confidential sources, what is interesting is the growing pressure to define a journalist. Some are reporting that if the ruling holds, it will set a precedent because it will mean under the law bloggers aren't considered journalists and are not privileged to the same protections. Right. For about five seconds.

Media Law 101: 1. The First Amendment wisely guarantees, but does not define, freedom of speech or the press. 2. The Fourteenth Amendment wisely guarantees that any person within its jurisdiction shall have equal protection of the laws.

Neither amendment defines the press or 'journalists' as people who are affiliated with big media conglomerates or whose work is distributed on paper. Most dictionaries, however, do. A journalist is: 1: one whose occupation is journalism 2: one who keeps a diary or journal. And journalism is defined as: the collecting, writing, editing, and publishing of news or news articles through newspapers or magazines (and, as generally accepted, through broadcasts, which would include the Internet).

Despite this, one foolish judge seems to be sympathetic to court papers that claim that the people who run the sites targeted by the lawsuit aren't "legitimate members of the press," and therefore they should not be granted the same privileges as the press. Ahem. I hate to point it out, but none of the founding fathers of this country were "legitimate members of the press" either. Not one.

I looked it up. They were businessmen, lawyers, merchants, boaters, securities speculators, farmers, shippers, scientists, physicians, and minsters. Not one of them considered their primary occupation to be a publisher or journalist, yet they were the very people who wanted to protect the free exchange of ideas. That is what the First Amendment truly aims to protect.

The medium of publication, distribution, or circulation is irrelevant. Sure, I appreciate the angst that some journalists feel when they are cast in the same category as bloggers, but it hardly justifies treating the profession as a regulated field. Like it or not, a journalist is someone who shares their ideas or observations through publication or broadcast. This includes blogs.

Not to mention, at least one of the three named bloggers is considered a 'legitimate journalist' (whatever that means) outside of his Web log. And, in the larger blogging community, many notable bloggers have decamped from mainstream media sources or created their own blogs to write freely.

Sure, some blogs have also gained a reputation for inaccuracy, but inaccurate reporting and outlandish opinions are not exclusive to blogging. Those nasty little side effects have been around long before the printing press was invented and, based on the number of 'whoopsie' moments in the mainstream media let alone bloggers, are not likely to change in the near future.

It seems to me the real question people should be asking is not whether bloggers should be protected by the First and Fourteenth amendments, but whether they should be held to the same standards as mainstream journalists in regard to accuracy and libel. Maybe it's time they were, especially those that unjustly libel individuals and coworkers whenever they like. With freedom comes responsibility.

Thursday, May 26

Customizing Media Relations

While I was in San Diego meeting with some new clients last week, I was asked how Copywrite, Ink. had expanded its core service, writing, to include creative and strategic communication services. I had provided several examples that illustrate the evolution of our company, mentioning that we often begin working with clients as writers and then provide additional services as these clients start to recognize us as trusted communication advisors.

What I did not know at the time was that we would be contracted to provide what is another example of how our company adapts to meet very specific communication needs. One of our longtime clients, a major utility, recently identified a need to provide media relations training to employees who work at offices located throughout their extensive service area. By doing so, utility management hopes their staff will be better equipped to provide timely, accurate, and coordinated responses to local media inquiries. It makes sense.

Since I had conducted several media relations workshops attended by their corporate communication team (and had the privilege of teaching two of their employees at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas), they asked if it would be possible to adapt our media relations knowledge into something they could then use to train employees in other towns and cities.

After meeting with them to conduct a situation analysis and establish objectives, it became apparent that the most effective way to meet their objective would be to co-create a custom, versatile PowerPoint presentation to be used as a guide for internal media training and, potentially, public safety presentations. Providing such a service goes beyond traditional writing services as much of the presentation material will come from our knowledge, experience, and expertise in the field.

The project will also require strategic communication skills in order to recognize and remedy any crisis communication or reputation management issues the company has yet to address as it relates to its extended service area. In short, we will apply our knowledge to their corporate environment to produce a custom training module for their company for less than it would cost to contract us to personally train employees in three states.

How does this tie into what we were asked in San Diego? Simply put, whether Copywrite, Ink. works with a corporate client direct or is subcontracted by an agency, we excel in developing custom solutions for a variety of communication challenges. The difference: when given the opportunity, we would much rather be asked ''do you think we need a brochure?'' than ''what kind of brochure do we need?'' We're happy to answer either question, but the first question almost always seems to deliver a much more interesting and effective communication solution.

Sunday, May 22

Knowing Your Client

The Washington Post recently ran an article about a freelance writer that was paid $7,500 by an agricultural department to write articles touting federal conservation programs and place them in outdoors magazines, according to agency records and interviews. The records show Dave Smith was contracted to craft five stories for $1,875 each, and also was to "contact and work magazine editors to place the articles in targeted publications."

The articles, which targeted hunting and fishing magazines, described the "benefits of NRCS Farm Bill programs to wildlife habitat and the environment," according to agency procurement documents obtained by the Washington Post. Smith said he was paid between $7,500 and $7,800 on the contract, but the total could have been as much as $9,375.

For those who don't know, there was no real foul on the part of the agency or Smith. According to Smith, he told the magazine editors of his government contract, and received no payment from the publications. From that point, it was up to the editors of the publication to decide whether or not to run the stories and how to identify Smith. (In one article, they chose to identify him as a freelance writer who works as a biologist for the agency.) Or, they could have treated the articles as feature releases, mining them for background material so an in-house or publication-contracted writer could rewrite it or develop a new approach.

While I respect the Washington Post's position of implied impropriety, neither the agency nor Smith did anything wrong. Had Smith pitched the stories as a freelance writer seeking an assignment with a publication without disclosing his relationship with the agency, and received payment from the magazines, then that would have been an ethical breach. In this case, no such ethical lapse occurred.

As a writing services company that sometimes wears both hats, writing for publications and writing on behalf of a company, there is one very simple method to ensure we maintain objective: we ask ourselves ''who is the client?'' If the company is the client, we write and send the stories out as feature releases (generally lighter and longer than a new release) and accept neither byline nor payment from the targeted publication. When we accept an assignment from a publication, we never accept payment from any sources nor grant those sources any editorial oversight.

It's about that simple. Identify your client and write accordingly. Regardless of that, always write the truth.

Thursday, May 19

Recognizing Market Change

Research and Markets, which is a leading source for international market research and market data, may finally dispel some outdated ideas about seniors and the Internet with its new report, Seniors Online: How Aging Boomers Will Shake Up the Market. In the report, they reiterate that there is a contrast in computer and online usage among those 50-64 and those 65+ as is evident in a study by Kaiser Family Foundation (2004) and another by Pew Internet & American Life Project (2004).

Unlike today's seniors, boomers (post-World War II children born between 1946 and 1964) are dedicated Internet users and broadband fans. As they approach the next phase of their lives, the report says that they will challenge companies to keep up with their ever-demanding ways, both online and off. There is little doubt. For one thing, Boomers have $1 trillion in spending power. For another, the Boomer demographic is a perfect target for online marketing.

According to the report, they are frequent, engaged online users approaching a stage in life with major issues: the decision to stop working, investment planning, health care, downsizing a home. Other key questions answered in the report: How fast is the boomer online population growing, how will usage patterns differ between today's and tomorrow's seniors, what sites are boomers more likely to visit, and what changes in Web design will be necessary as Internet users age?

It will be an interesting challenge for communicators to appeal to both boomers and the other fastest-growing segment of the population. Ages 13-24 made up 37% of the U.S. population in 2000 with ages 13-18 making up 22% of the population. But regardless of how this challenge is addressed, one thing is certain: some long-held beliefs that seniors don't 'log on' are about to be dismantled. IMO, it's about time.

Sunday, May 15

Crafting A Core Message

While I often advise clients that consistency remains the rule rather than the exception for a business blog, there are times when I place blog posting on the back burner for a few weeks at a time. It's par for the course. Like almost every firm in our industry, client communication needs supersede our own.

The pace we've set in May is partly attributed to integrating several new accounts into our schedule, but the primary reason I had to place posting on hold for a few weeks is because we've been implementing core message strategies for two different companies. The first is an innovative manufacturing firm that is continuing to capture a significant market share in the outdoor living/garden market. The second is a new national cable network that will break from traditional programming trends and provide viewers, particularly families, a true choice on television.

While I cannot share specifics on what we are doing with either company because it's our policy to never reveal work in progress until it becomes past tense, I can share some details about our core message system. Simply put, this strategic product is a process that extracts internal and external research, stakeholder information, and market knowledge in order to identify, determine, and develop specific key messages that can be clearly, consistently, and convincingly communicated to a variety of audiences under very diverse circumstances.

Upon completion, the organization benefits from a consistent message that can be employed in communication materials and one-on-one communication at every level to demonstrate a true contrast between the company and the competition, defend against critical review, and encourage a consistent message regardless of the situation, scenario, or circumstance. It moves beyond the traditional model of identifying the sometimes introspective benefits of a unique selling point and more toward an external view that discovers the primary contrast between a company (its philosophies, products or services) and its competition (their philosophies, products or services). We did not invent the concept, but we did refine the original model to work even better for companies and non-profit organizations than it does in the political arena. That's where the original model comes from.

I learned about contrasting messages a few years ago when a now-retired political campaign manager and dear friend of mine, Benay Stout, invited me to attend a grassroots workshop hosted by the Leadership Institute, a training organization for public policy leaders founded in 1979 by Morton C. Blackwell. One of the session segments included how to develop contrast messages for candidates (especially useful when two candidates seem to share similar philosophies on the surface). Shortly after this introduction, it occurred to me that businesses could benefit from such a process with some adjustment. Later, I discovered this process works better than I ever imagined on the front end.

To date, of more than three dozen core message strategies developed for clients and client accounts, we have a 100 percent track record. If the company embraces and implements a core message strategy, they will succeed. It's that simple.

With it, we've helped a tech services firm increase its client base by 720 percent in record time, a commercial real estate company move up two positions to be ranked number one in the market, a business philanthropy organization secure a national grant and increase membership by 80 percent, preserve funding for a state commission at a time when the state legislature had targeted it to be cut ... and the list goes on. In each case, every company and organization that has worked through the process and implemented the core message strategy has succeeded.

The businesses we work with direct love it because of its implementation versatility, making an impact on not only external communication but also internal operations such as human resources and product/service development. The agencies we work with love it for their accounts because the process not only produces results but also solidifies their relationship with the business. For internal communication professionals, it is one process I know of that permanently puts them at the table with senior management.

We love it because there is nothing more rewarding for us than to see our clients and our clients' accounts win. So sure, it might mean that we have to put our own communication strategy on hold from time to time, but then again, I never really set out to write about my own company. For us and those people who work with us, we find fulfillment that is best summed by a quotable I wrote a few years ago to help launch one of the most successful advertising agency starts in Las Vegas: ''follow other people's dreams, my friend, and you may just find yours along the journey.''
 

Blog Archive

Google+ Followers

by Rich Becker Copyright © 2010 Designed by Bie Blogger Template