Friday, March 30

Playing Shell Games: Communication Experts

All you need to play a shell game (or Thimblerig according to Wikipedia), is three shells and a pea. Sometimes it is portrayed as gambling, but it is often an illegal confidence trick used to perpetrate fraud.

Now, I am not saying that most people in communication (marketing, advertising, public relations, and related fields) mean to do it (oh, a few of them do), but social media has accidentally unmasked the communication shell game with industry buzz terms and gibberish.

For example, and I cannot be clear enough, social media cannot replace reputation management. Reputation management is a strategy. Social media is a tactic. For the most part, strategies are not measured. Tactics are measured. But the tactical measurement can influence the strategic direction. Confused yet? It gets better when shell gamers get hold of it.

You see, there are plenty of firms who agree that social media is a tactic, but then they try to sell social media "strategies" complete with analytics (the fancy name for Web tracking), saying "never mind the reputation management, because everybody knows reputation management cannot be measured by click-throughs."

Oh gosh. So now it's all about click-throughs? Stop. You're killing me. What about those folks who don't click-through? I see those people all the time who mysteriously find their way to the exact page they want on my blog because those sly little Internet savvy voyeurs don't click ... they re-input the Web address. Darn you. You know who you are (and I'm joking ... come here any way you like).

Or how about those experts who damn traditional media, er, mainstream media, er, MSM, er, whatever, because blogging, er, social media, er, SM, is so powerful that businesses just don't need traditional media anymore. (By the way, they say, did we mention that we are so right about this ... that we're being interviewed by a major print publisher? Egad! I thought you said it didn't matter so why brag!?!)

Or maybe, if you're very lucky, they'll invent a whole new term to explain what other people are already doing, just so they can look like experts. It works like this ... today, I'll call social media, um, a social computing network. Then, when competing firms come knocking, I'll say "Naw, they are no good, I bet they don't even know what the social computing network is." (I don't do that ... as I have said before, I'm happy to speak any variation of English, having already learned if the client wants to call a brochure "chicken soup," then I'm all in for chicken soup. Why split hairs?)

Recently, a self-described student of social media (I love his humility, considering he's more an expert than some experts), Amitai Givertz unmasked one of them on a slide show at Blogversity Blog. At first, it gave him pause.

There's nothing wrong with that. And then, when I hinted that the entire slide was baloney, he was all in to be more specific in what he was thinking. And, not surprisingly, we agreed.

The presentation said things like this (no order):

"Blogging changes the writer’s behaviour more than it changes the readers’ behaviour."

"If your brand is going to blog you need to understand what you want to change about it."

"Social media demand that you trade control for influence."

"Brands only have a role if they can make the conversation more interesting."

"We have to get comfortable with managing the immeasurable."

"Maybe media agnostic would be a better term."

Media agnostic? Remember what I said about inventing terms. Yeah, now you're seeing it.

This is all utter nonsense. Twenty-six slides that smack of a shell game. For instance, if your blog controls your brand and affects your behavior more than than the consumer, you've got real problems.

However, as I pointed out at Blogversity, there is an erroneous assumption that brands can be controlled. It only takes … one tanker spill in Alaska … one tire recall … one bad bunch of spinach … to see how fragile brands can really be.

Givertz goes on to point out some of the flaws in the slide (there are too many to correct in a single post; each slide could be a post in fact). One of my favorite slide rebuts from him reminds us that the brand and its message to communicate and stimulate emotional attachment and identification of the subject with its consumers must somehow correlate with the medium, when in fact, whether the medium is a billboard, blog, or urinal splash-mat ... it is nothing more than a means to an end.

Yep. The medium is the messenger for your brand, but not necessarily the message. Or, in other words, your brand and message should dictate how you use any number of tools at your disposal, including blogs or social media or whatever the term du jour is.

Hey, I'm coming dangerously close to touching on the validity of strategic communication, something I know a lot about. But I don't want to do that today so here is a nutshell version...

Strategic communication is the best method of thinking to align strategies like reputation management, mission statements, corporate values (and whatnot) AND integrate marketing, advertising, and public relations to deliver a core message (not key messages) interwoven in multiple mediums like blogs, ads, direct mail (and whatnot) to change the behavior of consumers, specifically to get them to buy your product as opposed to someone else's product and, at the same time, make them feel good about their purchasing decision so they'll tell other people to do it too.

Wow! That's an awfully long sentence and here is the rub: anything can influence strategic communication at any level, but the control is best preserved by the executive management team with consult from your lead communication expert (provided they know what they are doing).

Ironically and unfortunately, a good number of communication experts know that strategic communication (meaning all communication within an organization) can be influenced by any department or subcategory or tool to such a degree that it places a stranglehold on the entire organization and forces them to move in a direction that does not make sense for the company (Ah ha! That IS what Julie Roehm tried to do to Wal-Mart!). And THAT is also the communication industry's shell game.

No wonder recruiters and executive employers always seem miffed when every interviewee is using terms that are alien. Worse, recruiters and employers become so entrenched in buzz words perpetrated by the last "expert," they begin to perplex the next interviewee with useless questions like how big is your Rolodex. Frankly, it gives the industry a bad name.

Here is the bottom line: If you're a recruiter or executive, don't be fooled by all this nonsense. At the end of the day, there is only one measurement. It's called SALES.

Sales and cost savings are the ultimate ROIs (not to take anything away from market penetration or market dominance). So if your communication is driving sales or at least helping your salespeople make sales — or some new communication tools are saving you money — then your communication is working, provided your company is reaching its full sales potential.

So the next time you meet with a communication expert (marketing, advertising, public relations, social media), ask them what are the quantitative and qualitative (measurable) results of their work. If they cannot tell you, keep your eye on the pea ... 'cause they might start talking about click-throughs and being comfortable with non-measurements.


Thursday, March 29

Using The Force: Social Media

"It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together." — Obi-Wan Kenobi

I'm fully prepared to take a little flack for drawing an analogy between social media and the Force from Star Wars, but the comparison can be as startling as it is humorous. Like the Force, social media has various manifestations with the light side focused on elegance and beauty and the dark side aligned with fear, hatred, aggression, and malevolence.

One side doesn't impose any restrictions on the use of this binding, metaphysical and ubiquitous power. While the other, well, it includes a moral compass. No wonder businesses are reluctant to use what I recently called a 5-in-1 tool because some people are bent on making social media more mysterious than it is with terms like "social computing," "message salience," and "first source analytics."

This thinking serves as a precursor to tomorrow's post on the shell game being played with social media when I'll try to sound more like Qui-Gon Jinn than Yoda who might say "social media is everywhere, and everywhere is social media." Ha! Today, I'm more inclined to address a few heroes and villains in the new world of social media.

There's a smart post from Dina Metha in India pinpointing a very real Sith-minded threat against what I would say might be the least likely blogger to deserve it, Kathy Sierra. This is pretty serious stuff despite my resolve to remain light in this post. What else can you do?

Death threats against people in the public eye or with a public opinion predate blogs by a few million years. Ask any celebrity or politician on the planet and you'll find most of them have more than their fair share of nasties tucked in between the fan mail. It's not right, but it's certainly the price of being a public figure. My sympathies to Sierra; I am hopeful they catch the perpetrators. Indeed, a death threat is NOT protected speech.

In a seemingly unrelated-yet-related story, stands Julie Roehm, who is hoping social media begins to buy into the idea that the evil empire is Wal-Mart. She told the Associated Press in a statement and anyone else who will print it that "...Wal-Mart is insinuating things about my personal life and pretending I violated some code of ethics with advertisers, all to distract from the reality that it didn't want my form of progressive marketing." And then goes on to say: "When you patch together pieces of messages sent at different times, you can create pretty much any story you want."

I'm sorry. For all of Wal-Mart's overspun and supposed "public relations" woes (which is baloney, considering the public seems to shop there with a clear conscience ... giving rise to the notion that Wal-Mart has media relations challenges, not public relations challenges), it's hard to misconstrue "kissy face" e-mails. I write e-mails to people all the time, and don't recall ever needing to mention how I like to look at their face when I'm kissing it, in context or not.

The tie-in here is how some folks like Roehm attempt to manipulate mainstream and social media. Sorry Ms. Roehm, the ethics debacles are your own and I have yet to see any progressive marketing. (Clarification: I have nothing against Ms. Roehm, but I disagree with the concept that you can sue your employer for your own bad behavior.) Still, it's working. Ho hum. Some bloggers are beginning to feel sympathetic toward her (Google: Julie Roehm sympathetic and you'll see). Given many of her supposed professional decisions were obviously for personal gain, how can we really separate the two?

And finally, in what almost became its own post entitled "A Tale Of Two Idols," some folks seem confused as to why Antonella Barba and Alaina Alexander can create such different online images by doing virtually the same thing. In what some might call the school of new social media ethics, it's pretty easy to understand.

Barba, who doesn't sing well (but wants to be a singer without selling sex), presented herself as a good girl but secretly enjoyed bad girl behavior. While Alexander, who can sing pretty well (but is happy to sex it up), presented herself as a borderline bad girl (who burps) who decided to go for it without any remorse on MySpace. The difference is miles apart, but both hoped to sway public opinion by employing traditional and social media directly and indirectly for their own gain. Given the two outcomes, it proves once again that publicity without strategy is fraught with disaster.

The lesson for today, before tomorrow's more business-minded post, is simple enough. Social media (and the publicity that comes with it) is not all that dissimilar from the Force. The big picture is that the social media world, or blogosphere if you prefer, is a collective that binds people together, and is ripe with Sith, Jedi, and everybody in between. There will be those who use it to create wonderful things and those who abuse it for their own agenda, even if that agenda is nothing more than to fulfill their own source of self-loathing by sending death threats.

Really, it's not any different from any community with its heros and villains. It just "feels" different because the community is newer, bigger than ever, and the people, by in large, seem less reluctant to interact with anyone they meet in passing. For those who use the Force for good, you need to know that it takes some resolve, courage (preferably fearlessness), and skill to swim in these waters because the better you swim, the more likely someone will come along to try and sink you.

No wonder executives are unsure of social media. It seems crazy, unless you accept that most often, like anywhere, you create your own experience in the blogosphere just as Roehm, Barba, and Alexander created their own experiences. (I'm excluding Sierra here because I just don't get it beyond the idea the death threats are merely random acts of violence.)

You see, business blogs or any other blog ideas I shared a few days ago do not need to be controversial to be effective. They simply need to be strategic. Oh, and you might want to look for social media Jedi, avoid the social media Sith, and use the Force for good. Just don't fear it because, well, you know, "… fear leads to anger... anger leads to hatred ... hate leads to suffering."

May the Force be with you. Ha!


Wednesday, March 28

Spinning Silly: Julie Roehm

The Wall Street Journal has published a statement (for subscribers) from Julie Roehm. Here's the opening of the 520-word story:

"When I look back over the whirlwind of the last 15 months of my life, here's what I see: I left a successful career in Detroit, uprooted my family to move to Arkansas, and took on a demanding job at Wal-Mart as part of its shift in marketing strategy. I threw myself into the job, traveling constantly and working tirelessly to master several components at the same time. ..."

Apparently, Roehm has decided to put on her best spin until the very end. Here's what I see: someone who regrets a whole bunch of choices she made because it didn't work out as expected, despite saying she has no regrets. From this opening line, it is difficult to buy into a message that ties in the very family she recklessly gave up for what she thought was an marketing upgrade.


Wrapping Up Mooninites: TBS

A few days ago, Marianne Paskowski, writing for, covered the Women in Cable & Telecommunications conference in New York, and shared how Shirley Powell, senior vice president of corporate communications at Turner Broadcasting System, was quite open about Cartoon Network's marketing ploy for Adult Swim that went awry, costing the company $2 million.

Although Powell said there is no crisis management playbook that prepares public relations executives on how to deal with this kind of outcome, there really is. Just not the play book people want. They want multiple choice if A = B then C answers when most communication problems are problem-solving exercises.

Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman wrote about the same problem in science, noting that students were very adept at remembering facts but not so good at thinking new problems through. "I discovered a strange phenomenon," he wrote. "I could ask a question, which the students would answer immediately. But the next time I would ask a question—the same subject, and the same question, as far as I could tell—they couldn't answer at all!"

Simply put, Feynman was writing about memorized bullets vs. applied thinking. Communication is like that today, with lots of people trying to write rules and then forcing those rules to every equation. It's crazy of course, but that has pretty much been the approach to most crisis communication problems in recent months with rare exception.

TBS is one exception because it did a fabulous job for its part, while its vendor, Interference Inc., struggled with the viral outdoor marketing campaign crisis. What's the difference? TBS applied thinking. That's what Powell told the conference attendees when she said "You just jump in" and put out the fire.

I wasn't there, but I'm pretty sure most attendees considered that information useless though Powell was mostly right. There is a play book, but there is not a play book. And the probelm with the play book is that most people use it wrong anyway.

Back in February, for example, Sam Ewen, founder of Interference Inc., finally talked to BRANDWEEK about the subject of the unfortunate Boston bomb scare. Here's an excerpt of Ewen wrapped up a bit too tightly in his message:

BW: Were these devices supposed to look like bombs? Was that your intention all along?

SE: It was certainly never our intention to create something that would scare people. I couldn’t comment on whether they looked like bombs or not. It’s not my training or specialty. I know that they were designed to highlight the show’s character.

BW: Was there any concern in the planning stages that it could be taken out of context? Somebody could see this as a scary threat? If so, did you have any kind of backup plan or any idea . . . just in terms of maybe a brainstorming meeting? Do you have to get permits to do that sort of thing or was it all kind of done on the sly?

SE: The signs were never designed to scare people, to get people into a panic state. They were designed for what they were, which was a showcase, the characters, the flight. That’s as much as I can tell you, anyway.

BW might as well as asked if the signs had something to do with the "cow jumping over the moon." Ewen would have answered the same, he is not an expert on farming or planetary bodies, but the signs were not designed to scare people. We're sorry. And that's that.

Let me briefly interject that this is not a dig on Ewen. He had enough drama about this incident as far as I can tell, and Interference Inc. has often produced some pretty good viral marketing ideas before the the Cartoon Network one-upmanship stunt got away from them.

But as a study in post crisis communication choices, it seems someone gave him a formula to always bridge back to a specific message. What they forgot to tell him is that message management is often a framework for communication and not just a few lines you say over and over again. You may as well not do the interview if you are going to do that.

So what's the answer? Same as it always was: recognize the real issues, identify the crisis team, determine potential impacts, prioritize your publics, synchronize the message, designate and prepare spokespeople, determine message distribution, collect feedback, and adjust.

In such a simple, no-nonsense format, just recognize that this isn't a checkbox exercise. You have to have someone who can think it through rather than someone going through the motions. If I have learned anything over the years about crisis communication, it all comes down to understanding that every crisis is different and requires thought before formula.

It's very rare to have two companies handling the same crisis, especially when one did everything right and the other did everything not so right. The bottom line: Turner applied thinking. The guerilla firm did not. And as a bonus, they proved once again that not all publicity is good publicity. Case closed.


Tuesday, March 27

Peddling Fear: Royal Spring Water

There are several ways to effectively market an IPO, but distress direct mail marketing with multiple messages from a mysterious third-party publisher is not one of them.

Of course, that did not stop Texas-based Royal Spring Water from giving it a go last week. A "special report" published under the banner of American Water Stocks, but devoid of contact information, claims two billion people will soon be in dire need of drinking water and that is why you should bank on a water stock with potential gains of 220 percent. As a communication observation, I can only guess
that Royal Spring Water is gambling on the idea that even a faceless smoke-and-mirrors endorser (but disclaimed as a paid non-endorser) can generate capital to offset operating losses.

Sure, this bottler and distributor of pure water from the Artesian wells of the "Ogallala Aquifer" has added a warehouse and distribution center in Los Angeles in order to meet sales demands in the state of California. It has reportedly concluded a private label deal with Vista Ford dealerships and Pacific Athletic Club, both in California, among others. And, its pitch that it has an exclusive "structured water" formula, sold under the label "RHYTHM Structured H2O — A life Changing Experience" sounds interesting enough.

Yet, this is precisely why one has to wonder about a company that would gamble with its reputation and possibly garner legal consequences by spending $20,000 with American Water Stocks in a mailer that comes dangerously close to crossing the stock "solicitation" line. (Right. For $20,000, you too could see your company projection to be "overperform" if you don't mind the half-page disclaimer underneath that refutes its own claim, assuming you can find the ghost of a company that did the piece.)

The reason why aside, the multiple messages mangle any sense of logic. The opening message to "forward-thinking investors" reads:

"Forget about oil shortages, flu pandemics, and terrorist attacks. The world is on the verge of a crisis that's unprecedented in human history. Because when water becomes scarce, nothing else matters.

What I'm about to tell you in this special investor report may shock you, sadden you, and even make you a bit angry. But I feel it's my duty to let you know how the world's most precious natural resource is in serious danger of depletion.

I'll also show you how the demand for clean, safe water is exploding around the world, and I'll name a company that's gearing up to supply this growing demand—and which could potentially make its early investors very wealthy as it grabs a share of the $420 billion market for freshwater."

The mysterious "I" person is never named, but goes on to fulfill his or her promise that 12 pages of fear marketing can indeed shock, sadden, and even make people feel angry. Unfortunately, not for the reasons they hope.

You see, it's no surprise to me that the executive management team of Royal Spring Water got their start as independent film producers of movies that didn't go anywhere (one was about how a transcriptor struggles to keep up with the rapidly changing technology around her. Oh my!). Today's equally compelling plot line links the end-of-the-world water to unbelievable stock gains. Simply put, it is investor prospecting communication at its very worst.

Look, there is no refuting clean drinking water is an issue worth consideration or that the bottled water industry is booming (Aquafina, Dasani, Arrowhead, and others all posted gains last year), but this hardly doubles as an excuse to misrepresent paid advertising as a special report from a third-party source. And personally, I would be disappointed to see more of it.

Lessons for today: First, never risk your company's reputation for a get-rich-quick stock scheme, especially when you seem to have a markable product. Second, never assume in today's world that your targeted mailer will only be seen by unsavvy investors willing to gamble on your hype. One of them just may be a member of the social media with an eye out for communication. Good. Bad. Or indifferent.


Monday, March 26

Recognizing Change: Jon Ralston

Jon Ralston is one of the most recognized political analysts in the state of Nevada, particularly in southern Nevada, reaching readers in print, online, and on television. Last Sunday, he made a candid observation about social media, especially in politics, in his Flash Point column header that appeared in the Sunday combined edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal/Las Vegas Sun.

"These are embarrassing times for those of us in the MSM. That's mainstream media for those of you not savvy to the acronymic insults hurled our way by bloggers. We sit idly by and watch the bloggers do what we so rarely can: Move political establishment. And now it is on both sides.

First, the Democratic blogosphere types pummeled the Nevada party for partnering with Fox. What was just noise eventually catalyzed action and forced the dissolution of the partnership. Now, on the GOP side, led by activist Chuck Muth, the bloggers have forced the party to reconsider its caucus date, which now may be moving to Jan. 19 to compete with the Democrats. So I guess I should ask the cyber hit men: What's the next big story?"

Indeed. It's very telling when political analysts share observations with some apparent frustration over social media. It's not surprising to me that political bloggers are at the front of the social media pack, but not just because they blog. However, as I've said before, it's not the tool, but who wields it.

Muth wields it pretty well over at Citizen Outreach. Citizen Outreach is self-described as a limited-government public policy organization dedicated to putting the “public” back in public policy. Whereas Muth has always been adept at shaping policy and writing columns for various publications around the state, he has found blogging to be the best place to make a case for everything else. In Nevada, he is not alone.

The reasons are pretty simple. In politics, blogs are becoming especially impactful, primarily because politics has always been a forum where squeaky wheels either get the grease or, in some cases, get greased. Blogs are extremely useful in this quarter because unlike accepting the burden of becoming a print publisher, there is virtually no real overhead (print publications are exceedingly expensive to print and time consuming to publish if you want to do it right).

More and more legislators and elected government officials on every level, for better or worse, are also discovering that blogs can be a great way to keep in contact with their constituants, defend their positions, and perhaps maintain a base against future challenges. (Unfortunately, most will likely get in trouble because they write it themselves with little or no help from consultants, doing little more than penning the groundwork for their next campaign's potential hit pieces. Oh well.)

Regardless, as the MSM, as Ralston calls it, continues to see the influence it has enjoyed in the past erode, some will get grouchy about it. Others will recognize it for what it is: a redefinition of the landscape and the roles people play in them.

The way I see it, social media is suggesting the mainstream media take on new marching orders, asking them to cover the news rather than set it or have an agenda. Or, in other words, maybe traditional media was never meant to move the political establishment, but rather to report that movement. You know, tell the truth and shame the devil. It's an honorable profession, one devoid of stating which party you belong to or whether you personally think more taxes are in order.

Certainly, in some cases, mainstream media took the wrong path somewhere along the line with too few actually acting as political analysts and too many acting like the political activists they were supposed to cover. It seems to me this is precisely why online self-proclaimed media watchdogs such as Media Matters and News Busters broke onto the national scene to begin with, each claiming that media bias is too conservative or too liberal (sometimes both at the same time, depending on the topic).

Labels, labels, everywhere labels. So let's set the record straight. There are no cyber hitmen. There are only political activists with a new tool.

There is rampant media bias, except in rare instances when the truth actually overpowers political leanings (newspapers have been known to aggressively support candidates, but wash their hands of them if any corruption is exposed, preferably before people realize the paper chastising them today helped get them elected last month).

There is little difference between what Ralston did in 1993 when he began publishing the political newsletter "The Ralston Report," except that bloggers have less overhead and don't ask their readers to pay an inflated subscription price.

There really are no "bloggers" beyond those citizens who write online diaries, even though the label is often bandied about with ardent enthusiasm or apparent attempts to discredit (sometimes at the same time). In actuality, there are simply new political activists who never had a voice before, or, as in my case, industry experts who are willing to share their insights or business people who see the natural crossover to employ blogs as a tool not all that dissimilar from politics.

How so? While I maintain it's not for every CEO to have a blog, it does provide an answer to management consultant Laurence Haughton's question over at Recruiting "But what tells you that 'all the talk about how companies need to have a dialogue with customers' is serious talk?"

A few graphs up, I mentioned legislators beginning to use blogs to have contact with their constituants, defend their positions, and perhaps maintain a base against future challenges. Is that so very different from one of several business blog uses: connect with customers, promote products, and build brand loyalty? Unless you're hung up on semantics, not really.


Friday, March 23

Blogging ROI: ADWEEK

ADWEEK said it all about blogs.

"Despite all the talk about how companies need to have a dialogue with customers —it was brought up yet again several weeks ago at the 4A's Media Conference by Procter & Gamble chief marketing officer Jim Stengel—only a handful of CEOs, outside of the technology industry, are blogging."

So why is this? Debbie Weil points to the Forrester's report, which revealed 60 percent say the ROI of corporate blogging does NOT need to be quantified and/or tied to the bottom line.

Why the heck not?

Maybe I'm just feeling melancholy because I wrapped up my last class this spring, but I'm feeling disgusted by the folks driving the social media bus (and I don't mean Weil; she's actually very good). By in large, the bus drivers all agree that social media is a tactic not a strategy, but then they run around and pitch it as a strategy and wonder why the CEOs are not creating social media budgets. Well, against the wishes of my partner who says I give away too many ideas, I'll tell you why.

Blogs are not hammers. They are 5-in-1 tools.

I learned about 5-in-1 tools when I worked part-time as a colorologist at Sherwin-Williams (the guy who matches your paint color to a pillow case) while trying to start my then freelance writing services business on a monochrome Mac Classic and a fold-out kitchen table in a one-bedroom apartment. (My, how things have changed.)

5-in-1 tools are cool because the blunt edge can be used to open a paint can and, in a pinch, it can double as a flat-head screwdriver to tighten or loosen screws. The sharp edges are useful to remove paint. And the pointed edge can be used to get into the crevasses and remove a lot of debris. There are many other uses; all you need is imagination.

That's what selling blogs is about. After you get past the ridiculous term "blog," you have to identify where the technology might be best applied for that specific company. If you do that, the ROI becomes easily measured.

Unfortunately, communication-related professionals (advertising creatives, public relations practitioners, etc.) are running around saying CEO blogs are the first step. That is not going to fly, so give it up.

Blogs don't have to be about CEO insights (though that may be useful for some companies) and, in some cases, they probably should not be. Instead, the application of a blog is best determined on a case-by-case basis. Like what? Here are a few ideas ...

I'm working on three Web sites right now where the client balked at blogs, but loved the idea of a news feed instead of scrolling word files.

The general concept is that the news feed highlight "box" will appear on the front page of their Web site with the latest three items. When clicked, they will go to a blog page that is seamless from the rest of the design. There's the mysterious example of a social media newsroom that targets both social media and traditional media. Oh, and there will be no comments, but "labels" will help journalists find related releases.

Even better, because it is a hybrid for traditional media and social media (and customers), the client won't have to be as sensitive to the rules of "newsworthiness" when they post. The releases that are newsworthy can be sent to traditional media and social media as applicable with a link to the "newsroom." Those that are not will simply appear on the blog.

Or how about this? When you add up the expense of a face-to-face executive meeting, some companies will invest six digits per hour. So if you can cut out even one executive meeting, you've more than paid for a private, secure executive blog that will enhance executive communication so the HR people know what the communication people are doing and vice versa. It's better than e-mail and provides a history.

Or what about this? Create an internal employee-only blog on an intranet that engages employees in real time and encourages them to give feedback so you can capture all those great ideas that never make it past the front line.

Or what about this? A blog that is really a living FAQ page. So rather than be static with the most common questions and answers on a PDF that was created by the best guess of communication people, you can begin to capture questions in real time and have the answer, linked by labels and search engines, for anyone else who happens to come along.

Or what about this? A joint or cross-linked internal-external blog between corporate human resources, recruiters, and maybe corporate communication so everybody can stop arguing about budgets and work together for a change.

Or what about (fill in the blank)? Give me a company to evaluate and I'll be happy to consult on how they might best apply this amazing 5-in-1 tool. For some folks, I'll even tell them how to potentially earn bucks on their blog. It's not that difficult, er, well, maybe for some people...

I suppose that is the real question. Why aren't communication-related people getting it? Because for years and years, they have created mini-ecosystems where marketing, advertising, public relations, investor relations, internal communication, government affairs, community relations, and half a dozen other supposed specialties are so segregated that they are all fighting over the same limited, and perhaps shrinking, budget.

Simply put, the people who will win in the years ahead are pragmatic generalists who see strategic communication as the means to shape a corporate message based on the company's business model and then deliver that message by perhaps overseeing those various specialists who have grown too comfortable in their roles as tacticians and fooled themselves into believing departments should jockey for leadership in order to have more influence over the real strategies of a company.

In the future, I will hazard a guess that the communication industry (as I call it) will not consist of designers, copywriters, public relations specialists, etc. but rather communicators because that is, and has always been, the real function of the job.

If you need real evidence that these titles are getting in the way of progress, take a hard look at how social media is being developed. It's apparent with different sub-industry people trying to apply this 5-in-1 tool to their specific sub-niche without looking outside their own area of speciality, leaving CEOs confused, unconvinced, and wary about missing the bus.

Maybe they would not miss the bus if more communication specialists would stop trying to make companies conform to a tool, but rather make the tool work for the company. If you ask me, if anyone starts to do it right, then social media might actually produce tangible results or, better yet, ROI. If not, we're going to be wallowing in discussions about whether social media is worth it or not for the next decade.

Okay. Sorry for the interruption, you can all go back to the important task of twittering. I have a meeting to go to on this very subject.


Thursday, March 22

Receiving Recognition: Kamikaze

The reason we're sometimes referred to as hired guns in communication-related fields (advertising, marketing, public relations, political campaigning, publishing, social media) is because we're very adept at meeting specific needs (filling niches no one else will) under the umbrella of strategic communication.

Some advertising agencies hire us for copywriting, creative direction, and public relations support; some public relations firms hire us for advertising support and overflow work; some companies hire us direct to fill mini-niches for departments or to provide overall communication consultation and implementation, helping top executives align their communication.

It seems like a mixed bag to be sure, but I like to keep things interesting. I also fully admit it sometimes mangles our message (are you a public relations firm ... um, no, but we can support your public relations efforts), but we've grown comfortable with front-end confusion in favor of serving select clients. (Don't get me wrong. We have a message and you can find it at Copywrite, Ink.) The result is always interesting and the diversity of work keeps things engaging.

Kamikaze provides an excellent example because, for the most part, they feel very comfortable in managing most of their communication (eg. they designed their Web site). However, they wanted some very specific help in developing a new logo and stationary package.

When judged by major market advertising agencies, they said my work with Seattle-based designer Curtis Sharp was spot on, earning a Bronze Addy Award last Saturday at the Las Vegas Advertising Federation Addy Awards. We're honored, mostly to maintain our presence in the market and to provide our client additional exposure.

To appreciate the logo, it might help to know that Kamikaze is the divine wind of worldwide entertainment, aerial acrobatics, camera mounts, and rigging. The mark is the culmination of "flying people, the rising sun, and the first letter of the name." The mark can also stand alone, works in one color, and easily imprints itself as a recognizable icon.

More importantly, Trent Sherrell and Virginia Reddin are great people. In fact, they were one of the first to fly in on our online merchandise concept Back Lot Projects, allowing us to add their logo to giftware. The store is still in development, but we already have signed a sponsor agreement with a very visible in-market non-profit organization.

We're about a month out from adding five designs to help them raise funds; tomorrow I'm meeting with another not-for-profit prospect. As the product lines grow so will the potential for all our participants.

All in all, regardless of the strategies and tactics we're asked to assist with, there are common denominators that stand out. We apply strategic communication to everything we do (whether or not we tell the client that is what we are doing). That means everything from designing a logo with an assist from an out-of-market designer to developing what we call a core message system that would make tactical decisions (like how to employ social media) super easy.

In closing, I would like to again thank Kamikaze for being a great forward-thinking client and receptive to a brand-driven mark that drifted away from some early ideas. Also, a big kudos to Sharp for not exhibiting any designer ego in jointly developing this logo that will help take Kamikaze internationally. Great ideas. Great results. That's what it's supposed to be about. Thanks and congratulations!


Wednesday, March 21

Selling Change: Roehm & Womack

Emotional Intelligence enthusiasts might see a "change agent" as the perfect person to help a struggling company or industry out of a rut, but CEOs need to be careful with them because change agents can put big holes in the wall as easily as they can pound nails in the right spot.

In other words, a change agent might fearlessly introduce new ideas to enhance a company. Or, a change agent might might become addicted to seeing themselves influence the world around them. In a marriage, one might respark the existing relationship while the other will have an affair.

Juile Roehm and Sean Womack seem to be the latter. Unable to secure a dream offer after the Wal-Mart scandal, they are back in action, pitching a concept that "change for the sake of change" really works, because, well, everything is changing so everyone must change all the time. They call it "marketing 2.x" because they say people are more receptive to "upgrades" than "changes."

There is an irony here because the real drawing power of the dangerous duo seems to have little to do with anything new. Roehm has made sure of that. Back in December, she said "I have enjoyed my time at Wal-Mart and I wish my many friends and colleagues much future success." Of course, that was before she filed the wrongful termination suit, which seemed to beg that Wal-Mart release all its evidence of the illicit affair and other ethical breaches that broke company policy (to say nothing of the vows they once had with other people). As the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for.

As a self-proclaimed marketing expert, she should know that when you wrap up a brand too tightly to a single negative event, eventually the incident will become the brand. It is the very reason that not all publicity is good publicity. Sure, you might capture headlines, but with what consequences? Did Firestone benefit from denying the need for a recall? Did Stoern succeed in establishing scientific credibility? Does anyone really want to hear Barba sing?

Embrace the wrong message and sooner or later everything published about you on the Internet will stick, proving that what is published on the Web can impact your personal brand and future employment. This is the very reason Roehm was ill-advised to file a wrongful termination suit, further damaging her already questionable credibility as a public figure.

In Wal-Mart's countersuit, there are even claims that the pair "misused the agency review process and engaged in travel paid for by Wal-Mart and for the ostensible purpose of furthering Wal-Mart's business interest, but for the actual purpose of spending personal time with Womack." As reported by BRANDWEEK, the court papers reveal Womack was very candid in his e-mail during the review process: "Speaking of equity ... we're both interested in having a stake in our next gig ... More importantly to you, in the two of us you have a team that can help lead your organization in a powerful way. But the opportunity will need to be broad enough."

In another signed "Sean & Julie," the message was: "P.S. These Gmail accounts are WM [Wal-Mart] safe. So, we can have candid conversations."

What lessons can be re-learned from all of this? Several. Not all publicity is good publicity. Never attach yourself too tightly to one bad incident. Protect your personal brand by being ethical, if nothing else. While adaptability is an asset, don't let anyone fool you into believing that change for the sake of change is a good idea. And, as I have said before, e-mail is NEVER private.


Tuesday, March 20

Punting With Legal: Roehm

As if Wal-Mart didn't have enough antics from Julie Roehm last year, the retailer has filed a countersuit against Roehm's legal punt. The suit purports to include the texts of steamy e-mails between Roehm and another former Wal-Mart executive, Sean Womack. I'll be looking at this issue a bit more tomorrow (since I keep suggesting that e-mails are NEVER private).

In the interim, you can catch a good summary of the story by BRANDWEEK. There, you can even see things like a message from Womack to Roehm as saying: "My Gmail is secure ... write to me. Tell me something, anything ... I feel the need to be inside of your head if I cannot be near you."

Overloading Communication: Twitter

Random Twit: Subscribed to Twitter, refilled my Ritalin prescription, and all is well.

Considering Ritalin and Prozac are two of the most widely prescribed medications in history (Prozac claims 54 million patients worldwide alone), it might be time to ask just how much communication is too much interference.

Random Twit: I hope Mindy didn't stay up all night. I don't care just so long as she takes me and picks me up from court.

There is even a term out there (coined last year) specific for online users, Digital Attention Deficit Disorder (DADD) and covered by Leon Gettler. The general idea is that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), also referred to as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), is a neurobiological condition affecting children and adults. And in many cases, it's linked to information overload.

Random Twit: twitter cats are so much better than real cats.

It's something to consider when talking about Twitter. Certainly there are some worthwhile applications for broadcast IMs, microblogs, or whatever other label you want to put on them. But never before have I seen so many people embrace intrusive communication, including advertisements, and wonder if they may be susceptible to distractibility, impulsiveness, and in some cases hyperactivity.

Random Twit: using some of these other 3d shareware packages to create things makes you realize just how cool and easy second life is.

Twitter adds to the already overbearing communication mix. I once had a client who asked me to subscribe to Skype. It worked well for the task at hand, but I wasn't interested after that. (He keep calling me to ask why I wasn't online all the time). I had to ask myself how many communication streams do I want to allow into my life.

Random Twit: Wondering how Justin Timberlake songs fool me into thinking that I can dance.

The answer was none. No more. Not at least until I could get rid of the older ones. You see, at the time, I had two phones, one fax, one cell, three e-mails, two blogs, several forums, three instant message accounts, chat etc., etc., etc. Add in everything from stat tracking, Reddit, Digg, continual media pursuing for candidates and clients, and you'll see how easy multiple communication streams can be an asset or, perhaps, unnecessary potential stress points. Most of them did nothing more than add unneeded layers of interruption (even if that interruption is a microsecond to respond to an IM).

Random Twit: sleep cause i got to go to new york for the tax man, i am tired

I'm all for multi-tasking, but I'm not a fan of multi-annoyance. So I decided then to use Skype when needed — when conducting a conference call with multiple parties, including Japan — but that's it. So went Skype, so went instant messaging and chatting ( and I'm very close to losing our fax number too). I also stop giving out my cell number (except for political accounts and close clients/friends), all in an effort to control the growing buzz of one communication stream after another.

Random Twit: Just dropped off Beetle at school and am watching Fritz now as Gert gets ready.

The biggest boon of all was the decision to let nothing pass the front door of the gym for an hour or hour and a half every day. No communication needed except an iPod. Some people might call that isolationism or even anti-social, but I call it self-preservation without the need for medication.

Random Twit: home sick today again

I guess I don't see the need to know that a perfect stranger is home sick today, though it is somewhat fascinating to me that he felt a need to share it with the world. Creating Passionate Users called this one right: maybe Twitter is too good. Kathy Sierra goes on to point out Twitter is a near-perfect example of an intermittent variable reward, a creator of a strong "feeling of connectedness" that tricks the brain into thinking it is having a meaningful social interaction, and a contributor to the growing problem of always-on multi-tasking.

Random Twit: Does anyone else think Veronica Belmont looks like she's twelve?

I especially like her point on the "feeling of connectedness" because, business applications aside, instant messaging and Twittering only seem important if you lack meaningful social interactions in the real world. I didn't miss instant messaging nearly as much as I thought I would. But I suppose the same can be said for any addiction.

Random Twit: Looks like BBC World has had a make over. Reds and blacks have become greens and blacks. Clever.

Addiction? Well, considering the relatively few people who have said Twitter ain't all that, it seems odd to me that Twitter fans would call them a conspiracy to shut Twitter down before they try it. Not that long ago, only pod people and borgs made that argument. (In fact, one Twitter I saw yesterday claimed remorse over the fact that some guy's dog had a better stream than he did. )

Random Twit: No, it is *you* who are linearly polarized!!

Resistance is not futile. I'll take a pass on this one, despite being receptive to new technology. I can say that because I was one of the first people to meet a future spouse online. Funny. I didn't miss chatting once she moved here. Enough said.

Except maybe, be wary of anyone who says Twittervision will cause you to waste your whole day. It held my attention for about the time it took to write this post (and that was only because I was pulling a few random twits for this post.)

Random Twit: Cleaning up all of the debris that imified caused to my Twitter.

Random Twit: showing a coworker twitter

Random Twit: Alright, Alright, I'll do my work...


Monday, March 19

Proposing New Choices: SHIFT

The Society for New Communication Research released a SHIFT Communications (SHIFT) designed "Social Media News Room" template that seems to succeed as a starting place to ask questions rather than receive answers.

Before I consider the merits of the template, I'd like to clarify that SHIFT Communications is a San Franciso-based public relations agency that seems to be working hard to take a lead position on the social media front. As such, I can only commend them for the effort and hope visitors read this post for what it is and nothing else: a point of dialogue.

With that said, I would be remiss not to point out that, much like Web site templates, one size is unlikely to fit all. This newsroom template design seems to be most suitable for people who like buffets. There's nothing wrong with buffets per se, but there is a lot to be said for controlling the experience like a fine dining establishment. So I am thinking that what seems to be at risk is losing sight of the first priority of any communication: a clear message.

I felt the same way when I saw SHIFT's 2006 Social Media Release template. There is so much going on that I couldn't help but to wonder what the intent of any communication tucked into this format would achieve. It begs to be questioned. Will we overcomplicate communication by paying too much attention to the delivery and not enough on the content? Are we to resort to sound bites and bullets so our messages become a bed of nails that have no impact? Does the future of social media relations (if we call it that) mean abandoning all the lessons learned from the past by attempting to start over from scratch? Are we trying so hard to reinvent the wheel to a point where it no longer functions like a wheel (or does it make more sense to add rubber to our preexisting models)?

For social media releases, I propose the future needs a simpler approach: send a one or two paragraph news summary and a link to a longer blog-embedded news release that includes other delivery and cross reference materials. After all, if you cannot capture someone in the first two paragraphs (preferably the first sentence), then the rest of the information doesn't matter much anyway. Keep it simple.

The same goes for newsroom templates of the future. While I respect Todd Defren's, principal of SHIFT, position that "all visitors should be able to easily pick-and-choose, receive-and-share only those content aspects that are relevant to them, as individuals" has merit, I'm also wondering if too many choices might be just that … too many.

I think we can all relate to the idea that buffets, like cable service with DVRs or Tivo, require more effort to review than it does to enjoy the choice. However, that is not to say that SHIFT is doing anything wrong. On the contrary, SHIFT is doing something, which is much better than nothing because, like it or not, social media is changing the way we employ communication.


Friday, March 16

Chasing Newspapers: Social Media

With all the talk about the decline of traditional media, especially newspapers, I decided to take a peek for myself, given I often quote Bruce Spotleson, group publisher with Greenspun Media, who once observed that, to date, "no new media has ever replaced another media." Here is what I found...

In 2006, the magic number was 102,406 — the circulation needed as a publisher to break into the Top 100 U.S. Daily Newspapers by circulation. Not to take away from whatever East Valley Tribune (Mesa, Ariz.) is doing right, but that number seems somewhat paltry to me given there are blogs that easily draw a heavier readership.

In fact, not counting Sunday circulation (most newspapers usually have larger Sunday circulations), none of the top 51-100 broke 200,000 in 2006, according to BurrellesLuce (using figures filed with the Audit Bureau of Circulations), a leading media monitoring company. Only three — USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times — break the one million circulation mark.

In contrast, you need significantly more visitors to touch the Top 100 Web sites; several of which — Yahoo, MSN, and Google — provide news content. More specifically, many top social media outlets (blogs) have a higher readership than almost all daily newspapers.

If you need any more proof that daily newspapers are in trouble, consider that comScore Networks announced that 747 million people, ages 15+, used the Internet worldwide in January 2007, a 10 percent increase from January 2006. Or that PEW/INTERNET recently noted that 15 percent of Americans cited the Internet as their primary source of political campaign news in 2006, doubling since the last mid-term election.

Does this information mean I'm changing my position and beginning to think that traditional media is dying? NO! Not for many reasons, including that more targeted publications (magazines, weeklies, etc.) are still growing in America. My position remains that all media, social or otherwise, is important to public relations professionals.

However, this information does indicate that it is time for newspapers to realize that each, on its own individual merits, must decide whether it will evolve or die. For everyone's sake, I hope they all choose to evolve.

Spotleson, who spoke to my "Writing for Public Relations" class last night, asked a pretty pointed question. Given that daily newspapers traditionally inform/educate (in more detail than broadcast), stir public opinion, cover politics, provide a forum for ideas, entertain, and recognize individuals ... "Who will pick up the slack (if daily newspapers die)?"

It's an excellent question because it seems to me that daily newspapers function differently than the Internet news outlets. Generally speaking, a newspaper reader peruses newspaper sections and stumbles upon news they never thought to look for. Contrary, Internet news readers search for specific topics or look for popular topics with the advent of user-powered content like Digg, Reddit, Yahoo, Technorati, etc.

The difference between these two styles of news consumption is larger than the Grand Canyon. If we always consumed news like we do on the Internet today, it is possible some of the greatest stories of the last century would have never been covered.

I'm not saying one news consumption is better than the other, but given it is often traditional media that is investing the money to cover (or uncover) the news that social media then opines on, one might wonder if social media can afford to lose newspapers.

As much as I'm becoming more vested in the concept of social media and how it might benefit clients, I also concede that social media and information sources like Wikipedia are not always the most credible sources. Just ask actor-comedian Sinbad who recently commented on his presumed death (thank you Kristen Hunsaker for the tip). This bit of trivia doesn't even touch on the idea that most, if not all, political blogs are even further to the right and left of traditional media.

What I am also saying is that as much as I am a fan of social media, I am also a fan of traditional media. And that, if individual daily newspapers want to survive, they need to begin thinking harder about business and technology right now.

There is an immediate need for newspapers to improve hard copy content, enhance content delivery online (beyond search engines), develop better analytics for advertisers, rethink subscription rates, abandon this notion of one day charging for online content, and half a dozen or so other things. (Frankly, sometimes I think I had a better business model to integrate hard copy/Internet circulation and advertising sales five years ago before blogs even entered the picture.)

After all, I can only guess that there are reasons that both the Associated Press and PR Newswire have agreements with Technorati, which tracks 71.5 million blogs. I imagine, in part, they are preparing for a world where their biggest distributors might not be dailies but rather bloggers who are even less inclined to fact check.

There is an old saying that if you want to save the world, save yourself. Nowadays, it very much applies to daily newspapers.


Thursday, March 15

Targeting Gibberish: David Meerman Scott

Most people would never know it, looking out over the vast expanse of desert, but Nevada's biodiversity ranks as the fourth highest in the United States, placed near Florida and Hawaii. There are many reasons for what some call an environmental paradox, but the simplest explanation is the combination of dramatic elevations and abundance of mini-ecosystems that were created when the ocean receded from the Great Basin.

Not dissimilar from business, each complete ecosystem provides a home for tiny pockets of unique animals and plant species that can survive nowhere else. Just as Devil's Hole pupfish adapted to living inside a limestone cavern, business people in every industry adapt to the language used by their company. Inside, it's a matter of survival to know the terms; outside, no one really gets it.

David Meerman Scott gets a hat tip today for sharing how an agency public relations professional, who obviously learned to survive in the "comprehensive electronic document management" industry, forgot that those survival skills might not translate into the real world. Scott didn't get what the company (Esker) does and I suspect that the pupfish, er, public relations professional, still doesn't understand why.

Scott goes on to ask that public relations professionals eliminate gobbledygook and try to speak like human beings. If your mother doesn't know what the company does, neither will the media that you are trying to pitch. He also defines that gobbledygook often resembles the meaningless terms he found in 388,000 news releases in 2006 alone; words like next generation, scalable, and mission critical.

I appreciate what he is talking about because there are many days I want to take down "Words. Concepts. Strategies." from our banner and put up "Translator." The only reason I don't is because some people will not appreciate the humor when I begin listing industries as opposed to foreign languages. You see, I believe that business communicators and writers are the ones who are supposed to translate all those inner ecosystem terms into words that everyday people can understand.

Usually, after I make this case, someone like Eric Eggerston will come along (he commented on Scott's blog) and say “Most administration managers or IT managers know what a document management system is, so I don't think the jargon will get in the way of communicating with their target market."

Hmmm... since when did the burden of communication become the responsibility of the listener and not the speaker?

The answer is never. As Scott points out, the media, analysts, employees, partners, and suppliers don't really want to learn a new language every time they turn around.

No, I don't mind learning new terms because I enjoy working in many different industries. However, when it comes time to communicate to a specific public (and all those other publics), I think it's best to drop the jargon and speak English. (I am not even going to touch on anacronyms, considering I recently spent 20 minutes discovering that "I-n-A," as pronounced, means "Information And Assistance," which is what you need when you first hear the term.)

One of the first examples I share with my "Writing for Public Relations" class is a very telling example: a writer working for us asked me my opinion about a sentence that started "The object of sequential inputs for counting..."

"What does that mean?" I asked.

"I don't know," she said. "That's what they told me. Does it sound good?"

Yeah, well, um, maybe … maybe it sounds good to the five people on the planet who actually know what you are talking about.

The sentence was promptly tossed out. It's a good trick. If an editor with little or no experience on an account can understand the communication when they read it, then you are on the right track. Sure, naysayers will always come back to the idea that everybody in their ecosystem understands what they are saying. Fair enough...

However, if you go out into the world wearing your "burro" suit, don't be offended if someone thinks you're just a ... um, burro.


Wednesday, March 14

Answering Questions: Richard Becker

As an optional assignment for students of my "Writing for Public Relations" class, I offered to become the subject of their project by answering 10 questions (with 5 follow-up questions as they deemed necessary). From Internet research and answers to these questions, the assignment was to write a 2-page news or feature release about me or the company.

The assignment presents an interesting opportunity to practice a real life client-story exploratory, applying economy with interview questions, working around communication and time limits, building a story from interview answers, additional research to fill in blanks, and, of course, writing a news or feature release while adhering to AP Style, etc. In sum, it's not an easy assignment, but certainly a worthwhile instructional exercise.

At the risk of publishing an overly gratuitous post, I thought I would share the first round of questions and answers, edited a bit to make the session more palatable. (By the way, the boon for the student is that I doubt I'll ever forget her after she took on an extra assignment for the sake of learning.)

Q: Did you open Copywrite, Ink. in 1991?
A: Yes, but not as Copywrite, Ink. I originally entered the Las Vegas market, after returning from Reno, Nev. as a freelance writer because advertising agencies in Las Vegas, impacted by a recession, were not hiring copywriters or creative directors with a writing background. They were more interested in account executives and graphic designers who understood the computer graphics programs that were coming out at the time.

My first client was Collins Communications. I had worked in-house with Cathy Collins for about two months. We decided we liked each other's work, but could not coexist under the same roof, mainly because she wanted an account executive too. Collins started her business after leaving R&R Advertising (now R&R Partners). I still miss working with her (may she rest in peace) and sometimes wonder what would have happened if I took over her agency like she hoped I would one day.

Anyway, the name Copywrite, Ink. was introduced in late 1992 because a production company I worked with suggested "freelancer" meant "looking for employment." Turns out the producer was right. A few years later, we incorporated.

Q: How many awards have you won?
A: I've made it a point never to count awards because I believe that awards should be the sequel, never the pilot. That is my cute way of saying that the goal should always be about results for the client before anything else. I do know, however, we've won more than 100 awards in every medium, from news releases and articles to television commercials and total integrated communication plans. I've been honored with some professional awards too, over the years.

Q: Are there any you are especially proud of?
A: If I had to choose, I would have to say the Community Achievement Award from the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce because it recognizes professionals for contributions in their community as well as their profession. I received that in 1999, which seemed like a considerable accomplishment given my age and the caliber of the other nominees in my category.

The other one that always comes to mind is Outstanding Small Chapter of the Year from the International Association of Business Communicators. The Las Vegas chapter received the award after my term as president (for my term). I appreciated it, not for me as much as for the board. Every one of my board members met every goal we set and then some, moving the chapter from small to medium in the course of a single year. This was also important because it helped reinforce that Las Vegas did have credible business communicators at a time when this community was not taken seriously in the field.

Q: What was your first award?
A: My first award was in Cub Scouts, but I think you're asking about those related to the field. My first advertising-related award was for a traffic safety poster contest sponsored by the City of Las Vegas in 1986. I didn't even know I was going to pursue a career in advertising or communication, but it was still a pretty big deal for a high school senior. We were taken to lunch and met the mayor.

Q: Why do you think you are so recognized?
A: Well, every award program has different criteria (some even dedicate entire workshops on how to prepare a work plan), so it would take considerable time to explain in some cases. However, I can safely say it has NOTHING to do with the budget.

That aside, I can also say that I am blessed to work with some of the best people in the business — clients and vendors alike. As with most things, the better the team, the better your chance to produce results. For example, we're up for an award
this weekend. I teamed with a designer in Seattle to do it. We blended our ideas, he executed some drafts, and I refined it. We also had a client who was very receptive to ideas despite a small budget. The end result is a powerful logo that will help the client meet his objectives. Teamwork.

Of course, this assumes you enter. We work with several clients who enter awards programs. Surprisingly, we don't enter too much; our clients do. However, when we do enter, we do it to as a means to earn recognition for our clients and vendors.

Q: Is there a certain person in your field that you admire?
A: I have always been fond of David Ogilvy for two reasons: he believed that every advertisement is part of the long-term investment in the personality of the brand; and one of my professors, years ago, was Bourne Morris, a former president of Ogilvy & Mather.

If you want me to pick someone closer to home, I have to recognize Keith Sheldon, ABC, APR, who was largely responsible for encouraging me to go beyond advertising and begin thinking in terms of strategic communication. He pointed me in a direction that changed the way I think about communication and perception in general. If I quote anyone in class most often, it would be him. Besides that, he's a fun person to travel with while in Mexico.

Q: Has there been an award that you received that you felt should have gone to someone else?
A: No, but mostly because most advertising/communication award programs are not structured to only have one winner. The work competes with nothing but the judges' sense of what is considered best in the field.

However, going back to the Community Achievement Award, I was in a category with Michael Berk, producer of Baywatch. To be honest, I didn't think I had a prayer. (He received an award in a different category the following year).

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
A: Good question. I think the answer to that rests on the integration of technology. I believe that we are moving to have all communication and entertainment devices combined into one media. If we continue on the path we are on and people can tune into a blog or vlog as easily as they thumb through cable stations today, then I think we're headed for a real shake-up of how we perceive traditional media. The future applications of social media are just being written today.

Of course, I'd like to continue working with the clients we have, even if we eventually relocate to another city. Thanks to the Internet, location is becoming meaningless. Right now, about 50 percent of our work is out of market. New Hampshire and Washington are among our top picks. But that's a few years down the road. We contribute to whatever community we live in.

Q: How do you give back to the community?
A: Currently, I serve as a governor-appointed state commissioner, accreditation examiner for IABC, part-time instructor at UNLV, and co-sponsor of the Nevada Business Community Blog to name a few. Traditionally, we've donated our time to improve communication for various nonprofit and professional organizations locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. Since 1991, we've probably assisted 30+ organizations. Recently, we signed an agreement with a non-profit organization to sponsor a product fund-raising idea for them in the near future, but we're not ready to release the details. Regardless of the effort however, I have always felt giving back to the community and profession is essential. It's just part of who I am.

Q: If you had to do it all over again, would you do anything differently in regard to your career?
A: Yeah, yesterday would be nice to do over. Ha! I'm joking. Look, I used to think that I would like to do a lot over again, but I don't anymore. There is no right and wrong to any decision, provided we learn something from it.

I mean … would I like to have $50,000 in cash rather than $50,000 in worthless stock from one company I did work for? Or would I have liked two subsidiary ventures to survive after 9-11? Well, yeah, I suppose so … but then again, if I didn't have those experiences, maybe I would not be where I am today. I like where I am today and where I am going, so I guess I would do it all over again the same way. You know, it might have been nice to learn some mistakes don't mean the end of the world (even though it feels like it) much earlier in life, but that's part of experience. Good. Bad. Indifferent. Might as well enjoy it.

Good job, Tracy. Only a few were closed, potentially yes or no answers. Look forward to seeing what you do with it.


Tuesday, March 13

Thinking Out Loud: AgencyNext

Sterling Hager sees the world differently than most public relations firms or marcom agencies in Boston, or anywhere for that matter. He tends to be a bit more aggressive on the merits of social media, falling just shy of boycotting traditional media relations all together (or maybe he has, it's hard to tell from a couple posts). However, we both see tremendous potential where most people in our industry (or any industry for that matter) do not.

Recently, Hager posted his take on what he calls "CR," which includes constituency relations; customer relations; client relations; consumer relations. It's another way to say direct-to-consumer communication or one-on-one communication, which social media seems to mirror for those who use it wisely.

Where I depart a bit from Hager is I tend to see traditional media and social media as different tools to achieve the same strategic objective, without one necessarily replacing the other. However, every day, I see more evidence that suggests social media might not be just about talking to the wingnuts of the public: the 10 percent on either side of a bell curve with 80 percent of the mainstream public sitting somewhere in the middle. It might be today, but it won't be tomorrow.

What difference does that make? Traditional advertising and public relations prowess tells us not to waste our time on wingnuts, people who love you or hate you. It's best to target the 80 percent because if you can move it even 5 percent, you've changed the landscape forever. Until recently, I suspected that similar to the Revised Technology Adoption Life Cycle that Harry Joiner was nice enough to link at Recruting, active social media represented a small segment of wingnuts, about 10 percent of our population, overall. You know, not-ready-for-prime-time players.

What Joiner did by posting that graph and accompanying report was remind me that the wingnuts of today (innovators and early adopters) are the shapers of the mainstream public tomorrow. Sure, sometimes they don't get things off the ground: hovercrafts and electric cars among them. But sometimes they do: cable TV companies and cell phones. He also reminded me that sometimes you have to look outside your industry to find the answers (duh! I learned customer service from concierges not designers).

So that's what I did in between deadlines today. I didn't have to look far. Last August, I posted about how AT&T U-Verse provides all-digital television on your TV and home computer at the same time. Sure, that's only one example. Until you consider Apple's iPhone or Verizon's "Personalize Life" concept. Or, well, take your pick. Everybody from the makers of iPods to PlayStations are pushing for the next communication revolution to be all about the total integration of the broadcast/gaming/cable/celluar/Internet.

Why is that significant? Totally integrated entertainment/communication means traditional media and social media will be on a reasonably level playing field with the only differential being their ability to capitalize on brand and consumer product delivery.

So no, Hager is probably not right that traditional media can somewhat be discounted today. However, this is hardly a criticism as I think he is just a few years of ahead of what will one day be inevitable. Anybody with a blog or vlog will be able to compete with mainstream media because the distribution method is only a few short years away from being permanently level.

Provide the right content mix and Recruting Animal's radio show might compete with Howard Stern or Aaron Krane could be the next Dan Rather. Of course, that all assumes some of our clients don't launch the "fill-in-the-blank" company channel and newsblog, with anything and everything you can think of. Hmmmm... this seems to be much more exciting than moving from typesetting and paste up to camera ready computer art. And, you know, I think the transition might be even faster.


Monday, March 12

Talking Transparency: Fox News

On Friday, the Nevada Democratic Party backed out of a FOX News-sponsored presidential debate after Roger Ailes, president of FOX, made some remarks, jokingly comparing Democratic Senator Barack Obama to al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

As written up by the The Huffington Post the remarks prompted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Tom Collins, the head of the Nevada Democratic Party, to cancel the debate. The letter read:

"A month ago, the Nevada Democratic Party entered into a good faith agreement with FOX News to co-sponsor a presidential debate in August,'' Reid and Collins said in the letter. "This was done because the Nevada Democratic Party is reaching out to new voters and we strongly believe that a Democrat will not win Nevada unless we find new ways to talk to new people. To say the least, this was not a popular decision. But it is one that the Democratic Party stood by.''

"However, comments made last night by FOX News President Roger Ailes in reference to one of our presidential candidates went too far,'' the letter went on. "We cannot, as good Democrats, put our party in a position to defend such comments. In light of his comments, we have concluded that it is not possible to hold a Presidential debate that will focus on our candidates and are therefore canceling our August debate. We take no pleasure in this, but it is the only course of action.''

Politics aside, this living case study brushes up against the concept of transparency in business. Just how much is too much? For Ailes, his political leanings obviously have real life consequences, if nothing else, giving Democratic leaders the excuse they needed to cancel under pressure from the more than 265,000 people who signed a petition calling Fox "a mouthpiece for the Republican Party, not a legitimate news channel." At the same dinner where Ailes made the controversial remarks, he also offered a warning about a growing trend.

"Pressure groups are forcing candidates to conclude that the best strategy for journalists is divide and conquer, to only appear on those networks and venues that give them favorable coverage...This pressure must be resisted, as it has been in the past," Ailes said. "Any candidate for high office of either party who believes he can blacklist any news organization is making a terrible mistake."

While Ailes is right, it seems he was equally wrong by being, perhaps, too transparent in his remarks, reinforcing a growing belief that today's media, particularly broadcast media, is biased toward one party or another. Clearly, it seems over the last ten years, traditional media has shifted from reporting the news to setting an agenda to having an agenda.

In part, it is for this reason businesses are looking (or will be looking) for new ways to create more open and direct dialogue with their consumers by employing, among other vehicles, social media. The question that remains unanswered, however, is whether traditional company presidents and CEOs have the skill sets required to get the job done. In many cases, there is growing evidence that suggests they do not.

In their quest to be more transparent, presidents and CEOs tend to be either too tight or too loose with their lips. A few days ago (thanks for the tip Amitai Givertz ... your new "blog-enabled" Web site is looking up!), The Melcrum Blog highlighted an article in the Financial Times UK edition that reminds us of some recent CEO gaffes...

"I don't borrow on credit cards because it's too expensive." — Matt Barrett, CEO of Barclays.

"People say how can you sell this for such a low price. I say because it is total crap." — Gerard Ratner, CEO of Ratners

"Assets like [Sainsbury] don't come on the market very often. Your shareholders would think you were an idiot if you didn't consider it. Watch this space." — Stuart Rose from Marks & Spencer, uttered over a "glass of wine," which was followed by an 'official announcement' declaring that the board of Marks & Spencer had decided it did not intend to make an offer.

For the best CEO practitioners of transparency, the rewards of mastering this double-edged sword are pretty great. According to the International Association of Business Communicators, 72 percent of consumers say reputation influences their buying decisions, 80 percent of employees will accept less money to work with a company that has an excellent reputation, and 82 percent of consumers say reputation is the tie-breaker between equal choices.

Case in point, recently I entertained a relatively gruff recruiter who wanted to establish a "relationship" in case my career goals might change in a few years (probably not, but whatever). It didn't take long to deduce that she only wanted to fill one job (that wouldn't have been challenging for me) and rob my contacts to do it. Even more perplexing was her insistence that strategic communication had something to do with how big your media contact Rolodex is (what's a Rolodex nowadays, anyway?) I've decided against publicly chastising her ignorance out of respect to my friend who referred her, but it fits within the context of mastering transparency basics to remember:

• You are never off the record (you're being interviewed even when conducting an interview).
• You cannot buy it (creating a flog, making false promises, or shifting agendas midstream).
• You cannot fake transparency and hope to retain your reputation over time.
• How you react to a mistakes will have greater weight than the original blunder.

The bottom line is that corporate transparency is not all that different from recognizing that you are in the public all the time (even when you don't think you are). Some people are good at it. Some are not. For starters, however, you have to have a message that is aligned with your business objectives, sensitive to the audience you are communicating to, and not insensitive to other publics who are likely to hear what you said anyway.

For Ailes, whom I generally like, unless his objective was to have the debate canceled, he only considered one of these three elements. Sure, what he said might convey how he really feels, but it always helps to remember that being honest and overly opinionated are two different things.


Friday, March 9

Targeting Boomers: CNCS

The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) recently released a revealing study that tracked volunteering among a large sample of Baby Boomers from year to year. We published the entire release at Nevada Business Community Blog, but highlight several communication points here.

• Boomers in their late 40s to mid-50s are volunteering at higher rates than previous generations. (Boomers volunteered at lower rates than predecessors while in their 30s.) According to the study, the more Boomers are engaged, the more likely they will be retained from year to year.
• Boomers who engage in professional activities — such as managing people or projects — will continue to volunteer the following year (75 percent).
• Boomers also exhibited higher retention rates when they were engaged in music or some other type of performance (70.9 percent) and tutoring, mentoring and coaching (70.3 percent).
• Boomers who volunteer for general labor or supply transportation regularly drop out at a higher rate (55.6 percent).

"The Boomer wave signals one of the largest opportunities the nonprofit sector has ever had to expand its pool of resources," said David Eisner, CEO of the CNCS. "Only the nonprofits that retool their ability to engage citizens will reap that reward."

For a broad view of American Demographics, vist Wikipedia or visit the U.S. Census Bureau for its latest release.


Paying For Infamy: Antonella Barba

On Wednesday night, Simon Cowell made note that Antonella Barba had "taken a lot of stick in the media. I think you’ve handled yourself well throughout and I don’t think anyone should be put in that situation.”

But when pressed that perhaps she was not on the same footing with the other female contestants, Barba claimed she was different and unique. Her comment prompted Cowell to be clear, saying she had "gone as far as you can go ... I don't think your voice is going to get any better."

On Thursday night, she was voted off. Unlike Sabrina Sloan, Jared Cotter, and Sundance Head, the judges had no comments for Barba after her "farewell song." American Idol host Ryan Seacrest simply asked her to step to one side, ending what was one of the odder runs in American Idol history.

Without question, Barba got a lot of stick in the media for borderline racy photos, the worst of which were not her. (For the life of me, I cannot see how anyone can claim the two girls are the same. There were many differences beyond the ears.) But the rest was all her, lackluster singing and sometimes smug comments. And that is the price of being infamous.

One poll before the Thursday show even placed her in first, supposedly capturing 26.8 percent of the poll vote, demonstrating, once again, that polls can be very unreliable. For the show, it's probably for the best the poll didn't stand up given Rosie O'Donnell's erroneous attack that Idol is racist and "weightest" in order to drive up her show's ratings. (Nowadays, O'Donnell will say anything to get attention.)

Given Barba still holds the top spot on search engines, even after being voted off, it is a clear indication that the public is mostly interested in what she'll do next. She has some options, but most, SugarDVD or Girls Gone Wild would likely lead to instant cash without any real entertainment career. According to Hollyscoop, the choice is hers to make, given she is staying in Los Angeles to sort through offers.

"It was hard to deal with it. It was an unnecessary distraction ... trying to stay off the Internet," said Barba, according to the blog. "I tried to get through it. My family has been so supportive, they told me to stay focused and we will worry about all that later."

She might rethink that decision and worry. As a semi-public figure hoping to eek out another five minutes of fame, her next decision will be her last decision for the rest of her life. Instant fame has always been a double-edged sword and not everyone can handle it. The price: loss of privacy and even some personal choice, once the public brands you.

For Barba, she obviously wasn't ready. A little more humility might have given her a leg up to something else. Instead, she insists she's good enough. Now the only question that remains is "good enough for what?" Case closed.


Thursday, March 8

Influencing Industry: Recruiting Animal

If you can get past the moniker, odd assortment of pop culture images, and colorful — sometimes snarky — commentary, you'll find an influential early pioneer in recruiter blogging based in Toronto. Of course, he'd prefer to deny the influential part as the "lack of blog influence" in the recruiting industry was the topic for his first BlogTalkRadio.

Despite denial, however, he continues to attract and influence recruitment bloggers at Recruiting Animal and Recruiting Bloggers, compelling them to take playful beatings on his blogs, and, more recently, compelling several industry blog leaders to participate in an hour-long radio show that asked if recruiter blogging was influential or if they are (recruiter bloggers) just blowing smoke. You can find a somewhat skewed recap of the show Recruiting Radio Shatters Myths or listen to it at the link above (warning: the first 15 minutes of the show includes on-the-job tech training).

Who should listen? Anyone interested in the advancement of social media into the mainstream, especially those public relations professionals who are among the 72.3 percent of public relations professionals who do not have a formal system for monitoring the blogosphere.

The show is one of the reasons I accepted the invitation to participate on Recruiting Bloggers in the first place (there are others). What the recruitment industry seems to lack in corporate communication (several on the show still think transparency is what got Jason Goldberg into trouble, when it is clearly faux transparency that got him into temporary trouble), they make up for in the fact that they've positioned the recruitment industry ahead of several other industries on the merits of social media, including my own.

Of three questions asked, the one that deserves the most attention is "How have blogs become an industry partner (in recruitment)?" You can read responses from Neil Bruce, vice president of alliances for Monster; Russell Glass, vice president of products and marketing for ZoomInfo; John Sumner, CEO of Interbiznet; Matt Martone, recruitment media sales executive at Yahoo!; CM Russel, author of; Steve Levy, principal of Outside-the-Box Consulting; Dave Lefkow, CEO of TalentSpark Consulting; Glenn Gutmacher, senior researcher at Microsoft; and Harry Joiner, executive search recruiter at No Blog, No Sale. In the end, they all seemed to agree that blogs have the potential to have influence in their industry, but it has not happened yet despite the fact there are plenty of success stories where most can hang their hats.

In terms of the recruitment industry, they are almost right. The question is off the mark because it seems to me that blogs are about as influential as a news release, and new releases are not industry partners. More likely, as in any industry, there are influential industry professionals who have taken up blogs as a means of communication. Each, on their own merit, may be influential or not. Some might even gain influence through this medium, but only because they already had the potential to become influential in the industry.

The same can be said of any industry. It is not blogs that are influential, but the authors of those blogs in their respective industries (and some industries are ahead of others in terms of how many leaders are participating). Currently, it seems to me that entertainment gossip, technology, and politics are the leaders (but even political consultants claim blogs are mostly read by insiders and not voters). In fact, you might notice that traditional media is most often likely to turn to these social media niches for stories too.

It seems clear to me, as an outsider looking in, that recruiter blogging is also light years ahead of other industries, not because they are so great as much as it is because they have the semblance of foundation for a niche industry, whereas communication (advertising, marketing, public relations, etc.) seems stranded in debating what recruiting already resolved two years ago. (Besides, communicators keep getting hung up on this idea that applying social media is too much work. Ha!)

Sure, recruiting blogging may not be story sourced by traditional media yet, but that may change in the near future (unless other industries, like communication, manage to mount a rapid pace after they finally get out of the gate). All in all, it's a horse race and the recruiting industry seems to be among the early leaders.

So what is the question? The question is: who will be considered the social media experts of the future? Entertainment gossip aside, it seems to me the snapshot (today, maybe not tomorrow) is tech bloggers, political bloggers, and maybe recruiting bloggers will eventually begin converting their skill sets to focus on communication vehicles beyond their current industry niche. And, unless traditional corporate communication professionals and related communication fields wake up and sharpen their social media game, they will become second tier professionals, working for some of the guys I named above (much like some communication professionals ended up working for IT guys overseeing Web site design).


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