Monday, April 30

Advertising Research: Harris Interactive

Harris Interactive, a full-service market research firm with more than 40 years' experience, provided a free webinar on
Apr. 26 that treated participants to the future of integrated media, especially as it applies to mobile advertising (cellular phones).

Led by Judith Ricker, (president, marketing communications research) and Joseph Porus (chief architect, technology research practice), the webinar presented preliminary data that suggests when consumers are educated, mobile advertising will work in some exciting (perhaps spooky) ways. The research is solid, and with some minor modifications in my opinion, some of their ideas have a potential that exceeds current consumer imagination.

Ricker and Porus are spot on in recognizing that the Internet is capturing a higher viewership than traditional media (no wonder Viacom is ready to invest a half billion dollars in digital media); that continued breakthroughs in mobile technology (such as the Apple iPhone) will change the way we perceive integrated digital communication (innovation); and that the time has come for companies who view their communication as decentralized to rethink that old model (I'm big on integrated communication).

According to Harris Interactive, mobile advertising is particularly adept at strengthening the bond between the brand and the consumer, communicating messages, and changing behavior. I agree, absolutely. One question that remains is: are consumers ready?

From Harris Interactive's research, only 10 percent of consumers are open to the idea of mobile advertising. However, when paired with incentives, this number jumps to 36 percent. When I first wrote about this subject, I wasn't impressed with these numbers. However, when applied with the Revised Technology Adoption Life Cycle, 36 percent is enough momentum to break into the mainstream.

That is not to say adoption is not without potential pitfalls. Of those who expressed interest in mobile advertising, 66 percent said that consumer choice (the ability to opt in or out) is paramount to ensuring public acceptance. Ricker and Porus reinforced the point several times, saying that as soon as consumers begin to feel like the advertising messages they receive are spam, every potential outcome could be limited by legislation. I hope not because Harris Interactive has some stellar ideas. Here are four subject area highlights (though there are much more worth consideration):

Test Message Ads. Harris Interactive places weight on text messaging because 56 percent of those surveyed said they would prefer it over other forms. I differ here, but only because the consumer's opinion seems attached to how they perceive cell phones right now. Text message ads also have the potential to be the most intrusive. Where I see them best applied is as opt-in sale announcements to remind consumers when Macy's is having a white sale or Borders has a book signing.

Locational Advertising. Harris Interactive suggests consumers can be pointed to a sales rack with the exact dress they are looking for (though the concept does not have to be this precise). I find it spooky that advertisers will know where I am all the time with new GPS features in our phones. However, when I asked my wife, she thought that was a great idea!!! So who I am to say?

Content Advertising. Harris Interactive broke it out differently, but I see it as all the same: entertainment, news, games, social media, downloads, ring tones, and Web browsing. If the foundation is built right, content developers — blogs, digital media, etc. — could receive a real financial boost provided content distribution remains open. Consumers would, in my opinion, have no problem with content advertising if that meant their options could be provided for free (Joost is playing with several ideas right now; Revver has a great one in place).

However, as Harris Interactive pointed out, everyone wants a piece of the action: content developers, content distributors, and service providers. At the end of the day, who knows what it will look like. I have some hunches, but at the moment, they are only that. Despite these hunches, I'm hoping content developers come up on top.

Consumer Profiling. This is perhaps my least favorite trend, but consumers see it differently. Overwhelmingly, as Harris Interactive presented, consumers embrace profiling because they can limit their own advertising exposure based on preferences. They already accept it at ITunes, Amazon.com, and with Internet cookies. So, I'm in the minority. Personal preferences aside, writing individually specific ad messages would benefit someone in advertising like me.

Certainly, there is no way everything presented could be confined to a single post. However, the topic is important and something that I'm certain I'll be revisiting time and time again. Sure, I have some concerns, especially about advertising becoming more pervasive and losing its effectiveness as a result. But as an ad guy, it's part of my job to figure out the best way to solve that problem.

In sum, kudos to Harris Interactive and its work in the field. I intentionally entered as a skeptic to see how difficult it would be to come out a believer. While I could discuss some finer differences, the net result is that it was not difficult at all. Harris Interactive is an excellent research resource in subject matter and my compliments on seeing them take the lead.

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Sunday, April 29

Making Improvements: BlogCatalog

There are dozens of blog directories on the Internet; too many according to some. But with its recent format change, BlogCatalog stands out.

Like many directories, BlogCatalog's purpose it to list and categorize blogs available on the Internet. Originally, it was mostly a search engine and directory categorized by topic folders, countries, and languages. In fact, I had almost forgotten all about it until I noticed a few more visitors dropping by from BlogCatalog.

So I revisited the directory yesterday and found something much different from what I remember (more than a year ago). The format is cleaner, user profiles enhanced, and blog page profiles now include a front page preview, recent viewers, neighborhood subscriptions, teaser feeds, rankings, ratings, reviews, discussions, and more. Sure, you can find these features on other sites, but BlogCatalog demonstrates that that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.

I don't want to be a spoiler. If you have a few minutes, it's well worth the visit. The submission process is painless; and members have more than enough choices to control their own experience. Very well done.

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Friday, April 27

Addressing Ethics: Virginia Tech

One of the prevailing themes that continues to be discussed in the media, recently on PBS News Hour Extra, is NBC's decision to air the the Virginia Tech killer's so-called manifesto.

NBC didn't have to, as I pointed out last Thursday and again on Monday. However, that is not to say I don't appreciate the decisions that networks face.

When I teach public relations practitioners about media ethics from the perspective of reporters and new editors, I borrow a technique from my media law professor years ago. He asked everyone who believed you "should never publish the name of a 14-year-old rape victim" to raise their hands. About 95 percent of the class raised their hands.

But then, he asked anyone who would change their minds if the victim was related to an elected official to put their hands down. About one third of the raised hands went down.

What if an elected official was the perpetrator? Only about five percent of the hands raised.

What if every other paper is already running her name? Not a single hand remained.

"Oh, so much for never publishing the name of a 14-year-old rape victim," he said. "And that's the point. Most ethical dilemmas are not black or white. It depends."

In the case of Virginia Tech, as noted in the PBS News Hour Extra, the decision to air the gunman's video was one of the toughest. CBS "Early Show" anchor Harry Smith told the Associated Press, "I felt manipulated by the fact [Cho] was getting exactly what he wanted. We could have used the tape more discreetly." And Canadian Broadcasting Corporation news chief Tony Burman called the airing of the video by American broadcasters a "mistake," warning it could lead to copycat killings.

Some of the attention on the crisis and related sub-controversies are somehow partly responsible for what the FBI says have been 35-40 mostly school-based copycat threats since the Virginia Tech tragedy. (We had one somewhat related incident in Las Vegas and even more in nearby California so the figure might be more than the FBI reported.)

From my perspective, I think it was a mistake because the media could have reported on the video without airing it. Still, I find it promising that NBC and other major networks such as ABC, CBS and Fox have since decided to stop or limit broadcast of the video and images. I think that is a positive step toward responsible reporting without regard for ratings.

Not everyone agrees. Some feel the footage is a necessary part of the entire truth and others said it demonstrated how the gunman had really planned everything out. It's an interesting position that might make one wonder about about the public's appetite for voyeurism. As one station executive once told me, we air murders, car accidents, and robberies in that order because when we don't, no one watches.

Ethical dilemmas. They are not always black and white. For my own part, this post will likely be my last on the subject. For those impacted by the tragedy, including some associates, my sympathies and prayers are with you.

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Thursday, April 26

Selecting Stories: Content Editors


Story selection is never easy. Yesterday, there were dozens of news releases (on the wire and in our e-mail) and hundreds of stories in the news about companies working to raise funds for nonprofit organizations and worthwhile causes.

From this ocean of news, we settle on a single story every work day on our other blog. I thought it might be worthwhile to share why we selected yesterday's story at the National Business Community Blog (NBCB) as a glimpse into story selection.

While not all stories are chosen for the same reasons, we picked up on the BMW of North America's online auction to occupy the 18th man position on the BMW ORACLE Racing yacht because it is an excellent example of creative, non-traditional fundraising and exposure to benefit a worthwhile cause.

The prize is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure to Valencia, Spain, where the winning bidder will occupy the 18th man position on the BMW ORACLE Racing yacht during the fourth race of the Louis Vuitton Cup Semifinals on May 18. If the BMW ORACLE Racing team wins and advances to the finals, they will take the 18th man position to race with the team in the America's Cup finals.

The benefactor of the auction is the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which is dedicated to finding a cure for breast cancer. (It's important to me because my grandmother, who raised me for many years, died of cancer when she was 59.) While she did not have breast cancer, it is my hope that every cancer cure will eventually lead to the eradication of all cancer.

That was not the only reason to highlight the good work BMW is doing. While smaller businesses might not have what really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it demonstrates how partnering with companies like eBay and organizations like Susan G. Komen for the Cure can make a difference.

The story is business focused. The primary objective of the blog is to share how businesses are helping non-profit organizations and encouraging volunteer efforts. It is our hope other businesses of all sizes will be inspired to duplicate these ideas.

The idea can be duplicated. Almost any business can partner with a local media outlet (or even eBay), a nonprofit organization, and, perhaps, other businesses to host an auction or even a drawing for any number of causes. That makes it a best practice, in my opinion. (eBay frequently teams with companies and charities to make this happen).

The story is somewhat unique. While businesses do not have to own a yacht or racing team to gain attention or be creative, this auction item is especially unique. It is a one-of-a-kind experience. That helps it stand out.

The release is well written. While it is not a criteria, it certainly helps us quickly share the news rather than rewriting it or attempting to follow up with the company. Unfortunately, we don't have unlimited resources to do more so better releases play a role. (The release does not over-promote the company either).

The cause is worthwhile. While there are many worthwhile causes, we usually focus those that provide a direct benefit. Susan G. Komen The Cure is a fine example. Local charities are fine too; size is less important than benefits provided.

For a different blog or publication, we might set different criteria, which addresses the importance of knowing the publication or blog a public relations firm might contact with a story. But for the NBCB, we keep it pretty simple.

In the days ahead, I might provide a more general list of what mainstream media frequently considers news, but in this case, it seemed a very specific selection process might be more useful.

If you want to learn more about this auction, this link will be active through April 30. I look forward to seeing how much is raised.


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Wednesday, April 25

Kidnapping Posts: Story Indeed

Someone thinks they have a good thing going. The blog they are working on mirrors a questionable trend in social media that I've seen before. All seven of the associates listed on the somewhat unconstructed Story Indeed site seem to be joining the ranks of republishing blog posts without citing the sources. (My apologies if the links no longer exist after this.)

Sure, they all have their own blogs and some look pretty good. At a glance, I might even be flattered that they decided to rerun some of my posts, if not for fact that they do not cite the source. Hmmm... what was that word ... oh right, plagiarism. Who knows? Maybe they know it too, because when I commented on the blog in question, citing myself as the source, the comment was quickly removed, within five minutes.

To be fair, they are young, but seem just old enough to know better. Search for them yourself. While I only linked to one associate in the original post, I am all for giving credit where credit is due: Alex King, Donncha O Caoimh, Dougal Campbell, Matthew Mullenweg, Michel Valdrighi, Mike Little, and Ryan Boren. Any of them are invited to post a comment on my blog and clear up the, er, content confusion. Oh, as it turns out, someone else posted for them and noted the default setting on Word Press always lists them as associates. It seems a risky default when you don't know what someone will do with a blog, but it is what it is. For these talented developers, my apologies.

You know, one would think that with so many bloggers willing to participate on blogs, they could come up with volunteers for content. Yet, this is also not the first time that I've seen this misguided idea in action. To be clear, the idea is to kidnap posts from those who understand SEO Writing (Search Engine Optimization writing) in order to lead people to a site that has little to do with the author.

Instead of searchers finding what they are looking for, these content confusers are hoping to get people to click on Google ads and Google search engines located at the top of the page. The first time I saw this gimmick was here. It's a shame to see it again.

* this post has been corrected and explained in italics.

Solving Mysteries: Rosie O'Donnell

When I participated on the The Recruiting Animal Show, I ended by saying that "If you live only by publicity, you will likely die by publicity." Recruiting Animal called this statement a mystery. Today, Rosie O'Donnell solves it.

She is leaving ABC's "The View" when her contract expires at the end of this season. She made the announcement at the top of today's program. Sure, she said she will be back as a guest and Babara Walters claims O'Donnel is leaving on good terms.

However, in the last few months O'Donnel has made dozens of "publicity stunt" comments designed to do nothing more than raise eyebrows and hopefully ratings. Some of the more notable comments included accusations that "American Idol" is "racist" and "weightist" (ignoring evidence that suggests otherwise) and her ongoing conflict with Donald Trump (making erroneous personal remarks about him) after the Tara Conner scandal.

Now it seems the publicity stunts didn't pay off enough. ABC Daytime was unable to come to a contractual agreement with her. So while time will only tell whether or not "The View" viewers will care, publicity alone was not enough.

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Advertising Everywhere: Harris Interactive

Last October, Harris Interactive released survey results that claimed about one-quarter (26 percent) of current mobile phone subscribers say they would be willing to watch advertising on their cell phones if in return they were to receive free applications for their phones. Smaller numbers (7 percent) of wireless subscribers say they would be interested in receiving promotional text messages if they were relevant.

Today, Harris, which is the 12th largest market research firm in the world, is revising its bid for mobile cellular advertising, saying that cell phone users are more willing than ever to receive advertising that is relevant and has a clear purpose. They believe it enough that they are reprising their presentation from this year's Mobile Advertising USA event, delving deeper into consumer acceptance of mobile advertising and its impact on the cell phone industry.

In other words, much like you might expect from polling experts, they don't want to take no for an answer. Even in October when they first released the idea, Joe Porus, vice president and chief architect for Harris Interactive called the 7 percent of the 1,125 U.S. adults who took the online survey "a huge market."

Sure, I know he meant 7 percent of the 200 million cell phones in the U.S., and not the approximately 78 respondents who took the survey online (not on their cell phones). But one has to wonder whether or not advertising is becoming too pervasive to be effective.

Just yesterday, Sterling Hagar at AgencyNext cited an Alain Thys' slide show that says: In 1965, 80 percent of 18 to 49-year-olds in the U.S. could be reached with three 60-second TV spots. In 2002, it required 117 prime time commercials to do the same. That number is considerably worse today.

Look, I appreciate that Harris Interactive is very excited to get something going, but I am starting to believe they are going about it all wrong, er, maybe. To know for sure, you have to register for their free webinar from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. EST tomorrow (April 26). I'm not sure if I will make it or not, but the new pitch promises to include: overall consumer acceptance of mobile advertising, effects of incentives on acceptance levels, advertising format preferences, and consumer feelings about profiling.

So why do I think they have it wrong? Oh, I don't know. I'm thinking that they might have missed the entertainment-broadcast-technology industry's bid to reinvent the cell phone. While some people might be okay accepting advertising while they watch live TV on their cell phones (or click an ad after a small Internet segment), I don't think they'll appreciate program and mid-song interruptions from text message advertisers or third-party application ads.

Simply put, the phones they will be talking about tomorrow will likely not exist the day after tomorrow. Yep. Dead horse.

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Tuesday, April 24

Educating Companies: Idea Grove

Idea Grove, led by Scott Baradell, which also owns the very popular spin-shaming site Spin Thicket, believes in educating the industry. As a former Fortune 1000 media company executive and award-winning journalist, Baradell understands media relations from both sides of the fence.

Yesterday, he shared an obvious public relations tip that he learned, much like I did, from working a dual career path: Don't ask someone to take down a blog post.

"We just had a call from someone from a company that did not like what we said about them in an earlier post. The company representative was very gracious in acknowledging our criticism, even offering a service discount as a way of making amends.
Then ..... HE ASKED IF WE WOULD TAKE DOWN OUR BLOG POST," wrote Baradell.

Call me crazy, but I think there is a word for this ... um, yep, it's called bribery. A bribe is something, such as money or a favor or service discount, offered to someone in a position of trust to induce he or she to act dishonestly. Of course, I am not sure the service discount was contingent on taking down the blog post. Maybe it only seems that way because a few hours later an anonymous commentator posted: "Why would you mess with a company who could possibly help you in the future. Smart move."

Baradell is not the only one to experience such blogfoolery. I've had my share of interesting e-mails and phone calls.

Two of them provide an interesting contrast. I'll take a page from Baradell's post and skip the names this time.

One CEO, who I opined about on this blog, called me months after a post, but not to ask that the post be removed. Instead, he complimented me on the greater work that seems to be going on here. He said he learned a few things and has become a fan. Who knows? One day we might even work together, but there won't be any conditions to take any posts down. Why? It's called mutual respect.

In complete contrast, after another company smoothed over its public relations practitioner's error and subsequent mishandling of an incident, their public relations person (who is accredited of all things) took time out to write: "Good of you to take a minute to contact me a second time before blasting away. Totally professional approach." And a few other choice quips that I won't repeat here.

For the record, I had contacted him a second time. However, as I noted in my e-mail back then, the burden is not on media,
social or otherwise. It was his responsibility to follow up, not me or his client as he claimed in his e-mail.

While there were no bribes, both provide a pretty clear picture of how to handle bloggers with journalistic backgrounds. In the first instance, I have nothing but good feelings about the company and CEO. In the next instance, I have nothing but bad feelings about the public relations firm.

The fact is that I could have posted the public relations guy's e-mails and commented. Instead, I think I did something more damaging. Despite seeing the potential to write good things about his client (because they do have a few good things going on), I've decided to never write about them again. Hmmm ... maybe no ink is worse than a little you don't like.

So where does this "sense" of social media ethics come from for people like me and Baradell? I cannot speak for him, but I would guess it comes from working as a journalist. You quickly learn some things just aren't done when you work in the media: good public relations practitioners don't ask for story retractions, never mention that they buy (or could buy) advertising in the publication, and appreciate that lavish gifts and extravagant lunches come across as bribes. Why? Because as a journalist, it's irritating to be asked to taint the truth and insulting when someone thinks you'll taint it for favors.

Sure, there are some bloggers who will take down posts upon request (and maybe some who can be bribed), but only because they haven't learned some hard lessons working as a journalist. In time, those bloggers will find that ethics is not for sale.

As for the public relations practitioners who prescribe bribery, huffery, and blackmail, one day they will learn that's no way to manage a practice when asking for a post correction or clarification might just be enough. As for those who won't learn until they learn the hard way, well, you know … thank goodness it's their career and not mine.

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Monday, April 23

Confusing Crisis: Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech provides an interesting, somewhat disturbing look at American voyeurism, media sensationalism, and fear-peddling communication spin. When tragedies occur in America, people from all sides find ways to further agendas, gain ratings, and deliver questionable content.

In the wake of Cho Seung-Hui killing 33 innocent people at Virginia Tech, dozens of organizations, groups, and individuals have attempted to capitalize on the tragedy, some of them under the guise of good intentions. The net outcome is the same: polarization.

"Our legislation, had it been in place last week, may well have stopped last week's unspeakable tragedy," New York Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) said to CNSNews.com. "But we know that someone like Cho Seung-Hui should never have been allowed to buy a gun. Our legislation will take one step toward preventing more people from falling through the cracks, and will try to make sure that such a horrible thing doesn't happen in New York, or Virginia, or anywhere else ever again."

“Anybody who’s going to go on a murder spree and then kill himself is not going to be deterred by a law or regulation," said
Virginia state Del. Todd Gilbert (R), in an unrelated story that mirrors one run by The Washington Times. "He’s only going to be deterred by the end of another gun.”

Personal views aside, gun control is neither the problem nor the solution. Truth be told: no law or lack of law killed anyone at Virginia Tech. Cho Seung-Hui did. So we might all be better off giving the media a break from having to report on new debates that detract from the facts and focus on the Second Amendment.

Sure I suppose the Second Amendment has some thread of a connection between the issue and the incident. It's better, though not much better, than the Westboro Baptist Church's original threats to picket the funerals of the victims. Sure, Westboro Baptist Church removed the call to picket from its Web site after public outcry, but one wonders if they really thought "all publicity is good publicity."

To be fair, the church is not the only one trying to hitch a ride on tragedy. Even atheists have something to argue about, spurred on by Dinesh D'Souza's story. Huh?

People sometimes ask me what constitutes spin. The spin in this case comes in the form of linking unrelated topics to the tragedy. There is no relation between the shootings and economics. There is no relation between the shootings and gun control. There is no relation between the shootings and ... pick any other topic under the sun.

Yet, knee-jerk legislation, reactionary arguments, and unrelated sub-stories continue to erode common sense, keeping the pain of the tragedy alive in all of our hearts and minds for months and months, years and years. It needs to stop, but it will not any time soon. This story's next step will be a movie of the week, needless legislation, and more divisiveness between groups that were never divided before. So what is the communication lesson to be learned from all this?

Reactionary communication almost always includes erroneous thinking, especially during and after a crisis. All we can hope for is that the public becomes wary of those too quick to attach some cause, any cause, to this tragedy.

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Saturday, April 21

Surfing TV: Revver, Joost, And Everybody

Revver was one of the very first video-sharing platforms to track and monetize videos as they spread virally across the web. As such, we've noticed some interesting concept ideas that are already popping up there, including viewer-driven content like this video from itsallinyourhands.com. The audience votes on the outcome.



At the the same time, Viacom Inc., a leading global entertainment company, and Joost, the world's first broadcast-quality Internet television service, are gearing up for a professional distribution channel with Viacom being a key content partner. MTV Networks, BET Networks, and Paramount Pictures are all part of the partnership to provide television and theatrical programming on demand. (The latest buzz is all about beta invites, by the way.)

Wow. It seems like only yesterday that we were talking about Beth Comstock, president of Integrated Media, NBC Universal, and her company's partnerships with Fox/Newscorp, MSN Video, and SoapBox. Well, not yesterday. More like ten days ago. (And we haven't even had time to talk about Apple TV.)

Look, nobody really knows what the future broadcast-Internet industry (the term digital media has stuck) will really look like in the months ahead. But one one thing is certain. Shorter segments, greater diversity, and an initial shortage of quality content providers will all play a major factor in the foundation of digital entertainment.

Meanwhile, most companies are still thinking of all these trends in terms of "advertising reach" as opposed to "company-driven content development." Hmmm... I'll give them some more time. The writing already seems to be on the, er, wide screen … what, with The Coke Show just one step away, as they ask for visitor-generated characters, songs, skits, and more. Its first challenge ends in just 15 days.

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Friday, April 20

Giving For ROI: Wall Street Journal

As part of National Volunteer Week, I wanted to remind everyone that The Wall Street Journal picked up on a study from the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) back in January. It deserves more attention. The study revealed corporate giving can increase company profits at a rate of return of 200 to 300 percent.

The study, examined 251 corporate donors and their giving contributions from 1989 to 2000. Led by Prof. Baruch Lev at New York University’s Stern School of Business, the researchers found that corporate giving is associated with subsequent sales growth, particularly when consumer perception is important.

(Side note: This information has been around for some time. As far back as 1999, one report, from Cone/Roper Cause Trends Report, noted that 76 percent of consumers said they would switch brands/retailers to one associated with a good cause if price and quality are equal.)

Keep in mind, most of the firms in the SSRN study spent 50 times more on marketing than philanthropy, and their average giving was only 0.1 percent of average sales revenue. Still, the rate of return on giving exceeds the investment and, depending on what a company considers measurable results, business giving and volunteer programs deliver substantial benefits inside as well as outside a company, especially for small businesses with limited resources.

Business Giving Benefits
• Improves customer loyalty; impacts profitability
• Increases employee morale, loyalty, and productivity
• Establishes new internal and external relationships
• Improves internal communication and teamwork
• Enhances employee recruitment and retention
• Encourages new approaches to strategic business objectives
• Positions a company as a leader in the community
• Increases brand recognition and community awareness

Employee Volunteer Benefits
• Strengthens employee leadership and decision-making skills
• Encourages teamwork to develop positive communication
• Enables unrelated departments to interact and network
• Reduces work-related stress and increases morale
• Creates a better quality of life where employees live and work
• Increases employee awareness and interest in community issues
• Generates increased sense of patriotism, citizenship and civic pride
• Develops a community-minded culture, improving customer service

You see, most programs don't have to be large, cumbersome, costly, or time-consuming to develop win-win-win solutions. The best starts can be as simple as thinking about what your company can do.

For example, just today, we reported on TXU Electric Delivery's partnership with the Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. The company relies on the center to rescue and remove birds, including blue herons, that have nested in electrical equipment.

To support the center, TXU Electric Delivery is raising funds by recycling printer ink cartridges and used cell phones; some employees have also volunteered to work on a number of special projects at the center this summer. It's simple, effective, and everyone wins: the company, the employees, the center, and the community.

While I'm not sure if TXU Electric Delivery has a formal giving program, I do see they've taken the first steps. Mostly, however, I just like their case study because it demonstrates how relatively easy it is for a company to develop some type of program, formal or informal.

Here are a few other tips we've picked up along the way from working with nonprofit organizations and dozens of companies:

Create A Statement: Some people might call it a mission for a strategic philanthropy program, but I suggest smaller companies or independent professionals keep it simple. The real goal is to define when and how your company can best give back.

Choose A Niche: Focus on a specific need or a few needs within your community, which will give your company a better chance to measure results within the community. You can choose something that is important to your employees or closely aligned with what your company provides.

Develop A Road Map: Many companies will call it a strategy, but what we're really talking about is a road map to help you get where you want to go. For example, one company we know has an advocacy campaign aimed at increasing its role as a specialty provider in elementary school curriculum.

You can learn more about business philanthropy on this blog. In 2005, I republished a three-year-old article I wrote on the topic for the publication we were managing at the time. Don't let the date fool you; or that the entire article is tucked in the comments section. (I posted it back when I was led to believe all blog posts had to be short ... darn those useless rules other people promote!)

The article, Business Philanthropy | The Impact of Giving, included interviews with Microsoft, Salesforce.com, and the Business Community Investment Council.

I'll be happy to post more on business giving and community relations in the future, assuming there is an interest in the subject. Right now, we simply post best case studies on our other blog.

Next week, I'll be back to offering up some biting commentary on some communication disasters we missed this week, including a few sad thoughts on a few groups hoping to capitalize on the tragedy at Virginia Tech. Publicity, ho hum, indeed.


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Thursday, April 19

Addressing Perception: American Idol

American Idol judge Simon Cowell demonstrated he understands something about negative publicity, even when such publicity stems from perception, speculation, and rumor. You address it.

That is precisely what Cowell did Wednesday night after social and mainstream media criticized him for an annoyed look he appeared to give contestant Chris Richardson, who is from Chesapeake, Va. The look came after Richardson followed his performance with a comment about the 32 innocent people killed at Virginia Tech.

Richardson had said: "My heart and prayers go out to Virginia Tech. I have a lot of friends over there. ... Be strong."

As the cameras cut to Cowell, he looked annoyed, rolled his eyes, and raised his eyebrows. But he wasn't rolling his eyes at the Virginia Tech comment. He was rolling his eyes at Richardson's earlier comment that nasally singing was somehow an accepted singing technique. More precisely, Cowell was still addressing the comment with Paula Abdul in a side conversation unrelated to what was happening on stage.

"I was saying to Paula, 'What does he mean, he sang nasally on purpose? I didn't understand what he was saying.' So I hadn't even heard what he did. Then my eyes rolled, given what I was saying to Paula," said Cowell.

American Idol producers went one step further by playing the video footage of Cowell's side conversation, which clearly and quickly proved the point. For some, it also demonstrated the power of perception over reality. Often, on video, what we see is dictated by camera angle and, in this case, which camera.

"I did want to clear this one up because, you know, this is a very very sensitive subject. The irony is that we did want to try and set the right tone on the show. And then something like this happens, and it just starts fanning the flames," Cowell said. "And people need to understand, there are families involved. It's not right."

Cowell went on to say that he might not be the nicest person in the world, but he sympathizes and appreciates what the contestants and affected families were going through. Well spoken, considering most celebrities and executives forget to keep their cool in order to keep the focus on corrections and clarifications. He did not apologize, because there was nothing to apologize for in a presentation that exemplified credibility and transparency.

"I would like to say, on a more serious note, just to pick up on what Ryan said, on behalf of the three of us, that we would also like to offer our best wishes and support to the families of this tragedy, as well," Cowell said, adding that it had been a tricky weekend for the contestants, some of whom were close to the families there.

In many ways, the show outperformed its critics who have taken to giving Cho Seung-Hui, the Virginia Tech gunman, a forum for his perceived grievances against rich people. Perhaps some networks might remember that while it is appropriate to report the news, the reporting of the news does not necessarily have to provide forums for killers. Sometimes there are not two sides to a story. And sometimes the best displays of empathy would be not to air a video that gives into one confused person's perception, at least not over and over again.

To make a point on communication, Cowell demonstrated how best to address misinterpretation. To address the misconception that "seeing is believing," it isn't (especially when what we see is spliced together with multiple camera angles). And to the tragedy, myself and everyone we work with echo the original words of Richardson…

"My hearts and prayers go out to Virginia Tech. I have a lot of friends over there. ... Be strong."

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Wednesday, April 18

Business Blogging: Eric Mattson

Eric Mattson is a Seattle-based marketing consultant, podcaster, and expert in social media. His joint research with the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth has appeared in BusinessWeek, Inc., and Foxnews.com. What did it say?

Social media is here to stay.

Message boards, social networks, online video, blogging, wikis, and podcasting are all utilized by more than 10 percent of Inc. 500 businesses. Sixty-six percent said social media is important (which indicates a large gap between business and public relations).

Blogging, specifically, is utilized by almost 20 percent of these businesses. To me, this seems significant because business blogs are only a step away from becoming a tangible mainstream business tool. They are a 5-in-1 tool, if you ask me.

Are professionals in communication-related fields ready? I'm not sure. It seems most are still wondering whether blogs are valid.

I'm not surprised because some people are still confused how blogs might impact communication. I submit it does not matter whether 10 percent of people read blogs. It's the "pass-on" message that counts.

Right. Readers generally pass on insights they read on the Web to co-workers, industry peers, friends, and family. Some content spills into mainstream media.

Did you hear? Did you see? Did you know? And from these leads, the messages perpetrated online become the stuff of rumor, gossip, and infamy, making it difficult to track, difficult to identify sources, and difficult to manage.

It's easy to see some consistent patterns on this blog and others we manage. One blog entry might be read by one or two people (or 100), who pass it on to their co-workers, shareholders, friends, etc. Some pass links. Some pass e-mails. Some cut and paste content.

Occasionally, mainstream media might use it as a story source, either cited or used as a backgrounder for another, seemingly unrelated, story. And sometimes, the story or viewpoint might be used to spark additional observations and posts on the Web, creating a tsunami-like effect — rolling out over to New York or London or Primorsko-goranska. And then, the wave comes back, and out, again.

The bottom line: ignorance is not bliss when it comes to blogs or social media. No, I am not saying every blog entry someone writes will have an impact on your business, but eventually one just might.


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Tuesday, April 17

Censoring Farce: WorkFarce

Sometimes it's hard to distinguish the heroes and villains of social media. It is the person or persons who moves to censor supposed blog bullies? Or is it the anonymous blogger penning satirical prose? Or maybe, there never were any heroes or villains to begin with. Maybe there is only a whole bunch of people who could accidentally send us into the dark ages.

Sure, most people outside of the recruiting industry have never heard of WorkFarce, which was an anonymous satirical blogger who some might say crossed the line of professional decency while others might say made pointed observations of the absurdness of the industry, the world, and human nature in general. But for people who did know him, the surprise success of his blog seems well-grounded in its objective: give people a good laugh without revealing himself, his employer, or making apologies.

Most people will never hear of WorkFarce because one or several people tracked him down and contacted his employer, demanding that, he says, "I publicly reveal my identity, (who I am, what I do and who I work for) and then issue a public apology." Hoping to circumvent harm to himself, his family, and his employer, he elected self-censorship in the face of threat and ultimatum.

I'm all for calling a duck and duck, and in this case, the duck was blackmail. WorkFarce's only crime was naivete.

Yes, it is extremely naive to believe for one second, that as an anonymous blogger, you will remain anonymous forever, especially if you have taken to criticism, whether or not such criticisms are labeled satire. It is as naive as sending a critical e-mail without the assumption that someone might turn it in to the person you are criticizing. It is equally naive not to recognize that the closer your satire or criticisms touch the truth, the more likely someone will attempt to embarrass, malign, or censor you.

I see censorship as, once again, a growing trend in America and this trend is something that needs to be much more than watched. Censorship, misrepresentation of statements made within a context, and blackmail are beginning to win over "truthful, accurate and fair communication that facilitates respect and mutual understanding."

All around us, singular comments are taken out of context or turned into something they were never intended to be. Bryan Ferry, Don Imus, and a host of others are all being targeted by censors, blackmailers, and people who prey on the fears of others.

To be clear, while I do not endorse or condemn (though I may question their style, logic, and word choice) what any of the above public figures have said, we must be more careful not to confuse the cries of censorship as more valid than the speech they attempt to censor. The remedy for the abuse of free speech is always more free speech.

In an effort to keep this confined to a manageable topic, I was not a fan of WorkFarce and rarely read his material. Many people, however, did. We had an engagement once or twice, but nothing beyond that. On occasion, I freely admit there was something relevant in the writing and the wit could sometimes, er, once in a great while, be appreciated. No, I am not a fan of anonymous blogs, but far be it from me to judge what others feel they must do for the preservation of their jobs and livelihood. Being anonymous is their burden to bear, not mine or anyone else's.

I am also not a fan of blackmail. And in this case, the move to supposedly unmask, embarrass, and censor WorkFarce was pathetic at best, an exercise in malice at worst. Given WorkFarce has gone to great lengths to protect his employer (and hopefully did not attack others in the industry simply for the potential benefit of his employer), the only harm that could have been done to anyone was only what they chose to infer from his posts.

In fact, by most accounts, WorkFarce was not a potential shill, backed by people with political or business agendas. So given that the apparent unmaskers are hoping to conceal their own identities in doing so suggests to me the ultimate in hypocrisy.

Let me say it again: the remedy for the abuse of free speech is always more free speech, lest we forget the immortal words attributed to Pastor Martin Niemoller:

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I did not speak out;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.


Ergo, be careful with cries for censorship. For when the worst comments go largely unanswered except for censors, even the worst ideas are more likely to take root within the fabric of the people for all time. Yes, though I am disgusted by the notion, moving to censor hate speech will only lead to more hate speech.

Sure, some might say it seems I am contradicting my own advice on message management within the context of strategic communication. But for me, the difference is exceedingly clear: message management is about trust, honesty, and consensus not fear, force, and censorship. Good night and good luck.

Monday, April 16

Giving Back: National Volunteer Week

This week, April 15-21, is National Volunteer Week, which is about thanking America's most valuable assets — volunteers — and calling the public's attention to all that they do to improve our communities.

Sponsored by the Points of Light Foundation and supported by USA Freedom Corps, this year's theme is "Inspire By Example." Copywrite, Ink. has long encouraged the businesses we work with, and communication-related companies within our field, to find new ways to give back to the community. We try to lead by example.

While we are currently engaged in several non-profit ventures, I would like to highlight just two projects today...

The first is our support of the National Business Community Blog, which is a nationwide community web log and news feed for businesses releasing information about their non-profit contributions and volunteer efforts.

Originally, we developed the blog for the state of Nevada, but recently decided to expand its exposure. As some of the most inspiring stories and charitable ideas from businesses (that could be implemented in Nevada or elsewhere) come from all over the country, it made sense.

Now, every work day, we share one example of a business giving back to its community or communities. Today, you can even learn more about National Volunteer Week.

The second, which will officially launch May 1, is our new agreement with the Volunteer Center of Southern Nevada (Volunteer Center) to provide a merchandise fundraising solution. As a sponsor of the Volunteer Center, we are developing a merchandise product line to help raise funds for its great work in Nevada. A portion of all proceeds from merchandise sales will help support the organization.

We encourage you to visit its Web site. The Volunteer Center helps people deliver creative solutions to community problems through volunteerism.

They will be one of two non-profit organizations that will benefit from our online mall concept. Once both non-profit organizations are added, we will be inviting others to participate as well.

The basic concept is to provide product lines for several companies and non-profit organizations and highlight them all within one online store. Since each organization will assist in driving traffic to the site, all participating companies and organizations will receive greater exposure and a greater fund-raising potential.

We have already amassed a team of more than 20 designers, beyond our in-house team, who are willing to participate in developing products for non-profit organizations. Each of them will receive recognition for their work as their designs are accepted.

In conclusion, I will be posting again on National Volunteer Week this Friday, specifically addressing how business giving has a tangible ROI for businesses, regardless of size and resources. Until then, I ask that everyone take a moment to stop and recognize some volunteers that you know this week. There is no doubt that they make the world a better place.


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Friday, April 13

Surviving Animal: Mr Moustache

Some professionals might think twice about appearing on radio show with a host sometimes called the "shock jock of the recruiting industry" and refers to you as "Mr. Moustache," but not me. I say go ahead and feed the Recruiting Animal. Sure, some people will claim he bites, but I think you'll respect him all the same.

At least that was my experience on his show "The Recruiting Animal Show", where for a little more than an hour we discussed whether or not there is such a thing as bad publicity. While there seemed to be some consensus that not all publicity is good publicity, not all who called in agreed.

While we agree on a great many things, Laurence Haughton disagreed on this point. Haughton, a writer, a speaker, and a management consultant, said that all publicity is good publicity because visibility is everything. I disagree, largely because publicity (especially bad publicity) is mostly a random roll of the dice and has the potential to mangle any message or established identity out in the field.

It seems to me that not all publicity has paid off in recent months. While JetBlue has captured headlines, it is fighting to reverse the negative impressions of a February storm. Steorn, which used publicity to market the claim of having free, clean and constant energy, has been slow to regain its credibility after a publicity stunt last year. The blogger Spocko, who was responsible for his own publicity as well as the negative publicity surrounding KSFO radio, has slowly dropped from his once glamorized position as a top search tag.

While these cases can be seen as extreme forays into crisis communication, I believe they have some commonalities. It seems to me that people, places, products, and companies that benefit the most from publicity are those who have exposure in their areas of expertise or in ways that closely align with their brand and identity. The further away the exposure is to their brand or identity, the greater the potential for damage or maligning their own message.

Don Imus is experiencing this now, after making statements that have been labeled racist. While some might argue these statements have given him exposure and may have briefly increased his ratings had he not been fired, several advertisers would NOT bank that all publicity is good publicity. They pulled their advertisements off the air. Staples Inc. and Procter & Gamble Co. were the first to leave, refusing to associate with the radio show host despite apologies. Would others have risen to replace them? Maybe. It's a dice roll that didn't happen because CBS wasn't interested in taking chances.

We touched on Imus briefly during the show, but with such an abundance of topics we sort of took a "salad bowl approach," as Amitai Givertz, called it before raising several brilliant points, including the benefit of transparency for companies who are mindful of their messages. He also helped me frame my feeling about the show: If there is one good thing about salad bowls, it's that someone will always find something they like in them: lettuce, carrots, radishes, dressing, and even a few Garbonzo beans ... we talked about them all.

Likewise, Dave Manaster made several excellent contributions, reinforcing the idea that there is indeed another step: you have to know what your message is before you can shape it. He's also right that crisis communication is often reactive whereas strategic communication is proactive.

"If you don't manage your message, your message will manage you." — Richard Becker

Manaster reminded us that crisis communication is not the norm and helped move us in a direction that takes communication to an individual level. Communication management is also where Animal seemed most skeptical, likening it to a Big Brother approach or creating company shills. It's a topic I'll save for next week, much like I'll work up a more definitive definition of the difference between publicity and public relations.

A thanks also to Jason Davis, who asked about the monetization of blogs that I alluded to but hardly fully answered. Of course, this makes sense given our salad bowl discussion (I think that's funny). While some questions were answered, many more questions were raised that could not be easily answered in the confines of a single show.

Good thing Animal and I were shamed into a second show together, er, some day, to address his millions of visitors. With no bite marks to speak of and not a single silver bullet spent this time around, I survived to live another day. As for Animal, as I have said before, he has a real winner of a show. The program, which is available online, is one several great segments that not only cover but also transcend the recruiting industry. Kudos all around.

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Wednesday, April 11

Exploring Ethics: Social Media

I'll be writing a post show wrap-up that covers my experience on The Recruiting Animal Show tomorrow, but had another topic in mind for today in regard to ethics and social media. (Ironically, we touched on it briefly during the show, but already had a full plate of topics!

Kathy Sierra, author of the popular blog Creating Passionate Users returned to her blog on April 6 after taking a self-imposed hiatus because threats of violence were made against her over her blog. Although she is back, she says it will never be the same. I hope she changes her mind because I would hate to think that one bad incident, even as bad as that, would continue to have power over her.

However, that is not what this post is about. This post is about the new call for a code of ethics in social media that seems to have gained some traction out of this incident. Several bloggers have written, published, and posted about a new code of ethics for social media. While there is nothing wrong with this, I'm not convinced it is needed. (Make no mistake: death threats go well beyond moral decency and good taste and are NOT protected under the auspices of free speech.)

Yet, I'm still not convinced a new code is needed because several codes already exist within the fields of public relations and communication. If bloggers take the time to consider them, an entirely new code might not be needed. One can be found at the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and the other at the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). Both are long established and thoughtfully written codes with some similarities.

As an accredited business communicator through IABC, I am partial to its code of ethics because the organization's principles "assume that just societies are governed by a profound respect for human rights and the rule of law; that ethics, the criteria for determining what is right and wrong, can be agreed upon by members of an organization; and, that understanding matters of taste requires sensitivity to cultural norms."

The code itself is based on three different yet interrelated principles of professional communication that apply throughout the world:

• Professional communication is legal.
• Professional communication is ethical.
• Professional communication is in good taste.

Recognizing this, members of IABC agree to engage in communication that is not only legal but also ethical and sensitive to cultural values and beliefs; engage in truthful, accurate and fair communication that facilitates respect and mutual understanding; and, adhere to the following articles of the IABC Code of Ethics for Professional Communicators. IABC offers 12 articles in all.

PRSA offers a different take on the subject, but the spirit, if not the verbiage, is virtually the same within the context of five member values: advocacy, honesty, expertise, independence, loyalty, and fairness. From these values, PRSA proposes several code provisions that are also worth consideration.

As I said, I am partial to IABC's code of ethics, but both have merit. So before bloggers and social media practitioners attempt to forge new ground, I suggest they consider one or both tried-and-true codes to serve as their own guides.

As for me, I do consider ethics with every post, even those that sometimes appear critical of others. In doing so, it is always my hope that people learn something, think more about their own communication, and attempt to be a beneficial presence wherever they might interact.

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Tuesday, April 10

Becoming New Media: NBC Universal

Beth Comstock is the president of Integrated Media, NBC Universal. She’s smart. In fact, she’s very smart.

I’m not just saying that because she told WALLStrip via Revver almost everything I’ve been telling people in private circles for more than a year, occasionally hinting about it on this blog (April 6 and Aug. 29), and dropping teasers elsewhere (places like Passion, People and Principles and Recruiting Bloggers.com) last month.

But, of course, those are only glimpses at a much bigger picture.

Perhaps I’m being a bit a more forward today because the time to move on digital media is now. It is so NOW that traditional media is already entering a transition phase to reinvent the broadcast industry. You see, they already know what other companies refuse to believe: digital media (and aspects of social media) is a sure bet to gain exposure and make money, er, if you do it right.

I know Comstock is right because we’re sitting on several content concepts and production models that can be customized and deployed for the right companies. (So far, we are in preliminary planning phase to help just one.) We also have a couple feelers out with people we like, but we’re holding back the whole picture for now. Contracts make me a bit more conversational. Ha!

Here’s the short version: under the umbrella of what we call “income marketing,” the investment to launch something does not have to be huge or time-consuming. Yet, it does have the potential to deliver a return on investment that exceeds the project investment. Right. Marketing with a profit margin.

To do it, the project has to be smart. Very smart. Comstock kind of smart. It also has to have the right content with the right content marketing (two things we’re very good at, with broadcast and publishing content development experience). It’s the kind of stuff that would be right for Wal-Mart or perhaps a competitor. But we see applications in several industries: recruiting, politics, and even one groundbreaking idea for the right broadcast company or someone who wants to start one.

The bottom line is that the future broadcast-Internet industry (or digital media industry) — thanks to the advent of smart technology from people like Apple, AT&T, and others — has a small window of opportunity for anyone. However, this window is much shorter than I originally imagined because of smart people like Comstock. It's only a matter of time before some smart people and companies fill the ever-expanding media deliver platforms that are coming into existence today.

You don’t even have to take my word for it. Take the word of Beth Comstock, president Integrated Media, NBC Universal.

“If you have great content … you’re always going to find distribution platforms.“ — Beth Comstock, Integrated Media, NBC Universal

Yep. She's smart. And she's someone to watch.

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Monday, April 9

Chatting With Animal: Copywrite, Ink.

On the last day of my "Writing for Public Relations" class at UNLV (a few weeks ago), I mentioned to my public relations students that I would be a future guest on an online talk radio show. Talking about the show made sense because it fit within the framework of our discussion: industry trends and the impact of social media. This show certainly qualifies.

They seemed very excited by the prospect that I would be actively engaged in what I talk and teach about (teaching is only a sliver of my time) and several of them asked for a time and date. "But wait," I said, hoping for a drum roll before revealing the details. "I haven't even told you whose online radio show... it's ... are you ready ... it's The Recruiting Animal Shooowww!"

Their enthusiastic expressions quickly turned to looks of sheer terror and inexplicable horror. Surely, their instructor had not lost all his marbles and taken to open discussions with someone who bills himself as "neither man nor wolf." Obviously, it must be a mistake. After all, experimenting with Recruiting Bloggers.com was one thing, but to openly engage the same person who, in their minds, vilified me with the moniker "Mr Moustache" ... well, that was something else all together. "Don't do it!" They warned.

Of course I will! Why not?

The topic, time, and date are set:

The Recruiting Animal Show.
Topic: Does bad publicity exist?
NOON EST (9 a.m. PST) on Wed., April 11
Call to talk: (646) 652-2754
Listen On: Windows Media
MSN Messenger: recruiting_animal@hotmail.com

On the show, I will attempt to answer the question "Does bad publicity exist?," strike a blow at the very heart of this erroneous myth that "all publicity is good publicity," mention the difference between publicity and public relations, and talk about a few publicity examples discussed on this blog, including (but not limited to) the public relations nightmares experienced by Jason Goldberg, CEO of Jobster (it is a recruiting industry show, after all).

Can I do it all or did I set myself up like the fine folks at JetBlue, with too many exceptions and not enough time to deliver?

I don't really know. I guess we'll find out this Wednesday. Whatever does happen, I'm almost sure it will be entertaining if not educational. In fact, the only thing I can be 100 percent sure of is that as much as I have grown very fond of the infamous character that is The Recruiting Animal, I'll be packing some silver. (You can never be too careful these days. Ha!)

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Pushing Apologies: JetBlue Airways


On March 23, JetBlue Airways accepted delivery of its 100th Airbus A320 aircraft, complete with a one-of-a-kind 100-themed blue livery, giving the airline the world's largest fleet of A320 aircraft.

But what could have been a press conference about the growth and success of a low-cost, low-fare, value-oriented business model turns into more of the same: why talk about leg room when you can talk about being sorry?

It wasn't just at the JetBlue JFK hangar, decked out with balloons for about 200 JetBlue crew members. And it wasn't only in the March 20 follow-up YouTube video. It's anywhere and everywhere David Neeleman, founder and CEO of JetBlue Airways, happens to be or has anything to say.

It's in the Sun-Sentinel. It's in the Chicago Tribune. It's in the Baltimore Sun. JetBlue is sorry. Neeleman is sorry. All the employees are sorry.

And, when you get right down to it, this has gone on so long — apologizing for winter storms on Valentine's Day that left passengers stranded on airplanes — I'm even sorry, despite having never tried a flight on JetBlue. I'm sorry they didn't read my posts on Feb. 23 and Feb. 22 that both pointed to the same problem JetBlue would face if it did not stop saying "sorry."

It is estimated JetBlue has spent as much as $30 million in overtime, added crew costs, and free flights. Meanwhile, shares of JetBlue are down 18 percent this year. Its customer-first image, despite launching a "Passenger Bill of Rights" immediately following the debacle, remains in the toilet as exemplified by its name being crossed out on the cover of BusinessWeek in a story on companies with the best customer service. And why is this?

Well, when your most powerful and memorable message is entrenched in what some might call your worst mistake for too long, nearly two months and counting, it will become your only message. And in this case, it worked. Nevermind all the good stuff about JetBlue. The only thing that people think about now is that it had problems. And ironically, probably half of the people who know there were problems don't even remember what the cause of those problems were.

All they know, thanks to improper, overbearing, and too much negative messaging, is that JetBlue did something very, very bad and JetBlue is very, very sorry. So sorry in fact, that its endless apologies overwhelm all other messages.

For everything it did right as outlined by Richard Levick, president of Levick Strategic Communications, JetBlue is doing a lot of things wrong. Sure, it could lobby for new industry standards and get out in front of other airlines with sensitivity training designed to make employees think and feel like passengers as Levick suggests (smart stuff), but first and foremost, it needs to shift from negative messaging — over-apologizing — and get back to what makes it, as an airline, different from anyone else.

JetBlue needs to turn off the sob stories related to what Levick calls the "Valentine's Day massacre of passenger rights" and move off the tarmac and up into the clouds.

Unfortunately, it has been apologizing for so long, the transition will take that much longer. You see, from a more simplistic view of the world, it works something like this: negative messages are 8 times more powerful than positive messages. So if it takes 80 impressions to make a positive message stick, we might conclude it takes 640 impressions to erase a negative message. Neeleman and JetBlue have so masterfully elevated the awareness of one problem that the number of positive messages they need to get beyond Valentine's Day might not fit on a calculator. But, even before they can do that, they have to stop apologizing before it's too late.

You see, in addition to their own "problem-centered" messaging are scores of customers since Feb. 14 who blog about every little bad thing as evidence that no sweeping changes are being made. Usually, it doesn't matter whether one piece of luggage is lost for awhile or that a single flight has a delay (those things happen), but now these things mean everything to JetBlue.

The perception is that it had customer service problems, made promises to fix those problems, and cannot deliver on those promises, probably because those promises (in perception, not reality) were too big for anyone to deliver on in the first place. And the only reason this perception exists is because JetBlue made it so.

Look, I'm all for crisis communication as I've outlined and Levick has outlined, but there is also some common sense and practicality that is missing in this case study. It's something I learned as an intern (later, a communication consultant) at Sierra Pacific Resources.

As an intern, my first task was to write a letter of introduction to the communications department. I was so excited that I fired it off and placed it neatly on everyone's desk (no IMs in those days, hey). The next day, I was called into my mentor's office so he could point out two typos. Needless to say, I was mortified and immediately suggested I apologize with a second letter.

"Here's the thing," he said. "Ninety five percent of the department didn't see any errors because they read right past them, but they will all see them if you apologize. So the best thing you can do for the 5 percent, who think I may have made a mistake in picking you as an intern, is to causally address your mistake to them if they bring it up. More importantly, you need to make your first assignment for the company really shine."

Sound advice. No one ever mentioned those typos. And typos were not something they ever saw again, which is partly why I easily transitioned from intern to communication consultant.

Now, I am not suggesting that JetBlue did anything wrong by apologizing in the first place. That was smart. It was crisis communication on social media steroids and it worked.

What I am suggesting is that there is no possible way that JetBlue will ever overcome this crisis if they keep talking about it. As I have said before ... most people take long looks at car accidents (I'm not one of them), but a car accident can only hold their interest for so long.

However, if you force them to look at your car accident, in painstaking detail, long after they are interested in something else, then they'll become disenfranchised and tune out all your other messages. Or worse, they'll become disgusted or even angry at you and your company.


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Friday, April 6

Counting Casualties: DraftFCB

Of all the casualties related to the Julie Roehm vs. Wal-Mart legal battle, the quietest past participant seems to be nursing the largest wounds. According to Noreen O'Leary's Apr. 2 story in ADWEEK, DraftFCB is still in the shadow of scandal.

Although there is no public evidence that the agency's recent account woes are linked to Wal-Mart, O'Leary writes that some claim reviews of the $1.5 million John Deere and $3.5 Applebee's account may both be linked to the scandal. (DraftFCB will not participate in these reviews). Along with these accounts, Qwest Communications, a $95 million client that generates about $15 million in revenue, confirmed it is launching a creative review. The story also implies that S.C. Johnson and Verizon Communications are less secure.

"Whenever there's negative press, there's going to be short-term damage. But I don't think there's any fundamental damage to Howard or his agency," said Michael Roth, chairman of Interpublic Group. "In this business, you're only as good as your last account win. This model of the future, of putting these two companies together and winning Wal-Mart, proves the validity of it. I'm still very bullish about this (the DraftFCB merger)."

Others disagree. One former FCB employee described the mood at the company's New York flagship as "grim," according to O'Leary. "Everyone knew from the beginning that Draft would take the lead, but still, it's as if 100 years of FCB heritage is being shredded by Howard Draft."

I think Roth might be right. If DraftFCB can land a major account that gives it the opportunity to demonstrate creative result-driven work (which has not been easy for the Draft side, some say), it may be able to reverse its course. However, this is a very tall order and will require a sympathetic high-profile major account.

Part of the challenge will no doubt be reflective of the ADWEEK poll that revealed 29 percent of the 2,400 respondents said Draft fared the worst in recent industry scandals, second only to Roehm, with 46 percent. Although recent publicity that revealed Wal-Mart's past electronic surveillance and other espionage missions against employees was extreme, only 10 percent said Wal-Mart fared worst.

Here's my unsolicited take for the three most visible parties might consider for turnarounds and wins in the months ahead:

DraftFCB — Since you already made amends by supplying e-mails to Wal-Mart, take a page from the JetBlue crisis communication plan (sans apologizing forever) and create an agency ethics guide. Take a breath and consider some Ragan Communications findings that suggest: more than 60 percent of mergers and acquisitions fail to deliver the benefits that are promised—often because of the poor quality of communication. You need a message beyond picking up 90 smaller accounts worldwide. The message you have, Draft ROI with FCB creative, doesn't seem to be working. Spark up some integrated social media pitches and that will frighten other agencies, after they stop laughing.

Julie Roehm — Stop calling yourself a "change agent," drop the suit, get out of the press, take an extended vacation, come back refreshed (perhaps a bit remorseful), and start your own "marketing 2.x" firm, whatever that is. Your first few clients will likely be smaller accounts, perhaps in the automotive industry, but sometimes smaller accounts can turn into giants if your ideas really work. (Bonus tip for Sean Womack: stay away! Stay far, far away!) Marriage counseling wouldn't be a bad idea either, even if you didn't do anything as you said. (By the way, I'm married. Don't e-mail me!)

Wal-Mart — Sure, you asked Roehm to pass on perks from vendors and it didn't work. It's not your fault. But the time has come to give up on the notion anybody will make you happy with traditional marketing. You do need something new, but new doesn't mean Roehm's "progressive" and "sexy" that would have never reached your target anyway. So the best advice for the fine folks working on your next campaign is simply this: to get back to basics and rekindle that grassroots shopping for common people concept you once had before all the public relations nightmares and bad communication consulting distracted you. Who knows? Maybe what I call "income marketing" would be right up your aisle.

"Income Marketing" is marketing that generates income instead of simply producing expenses so that even CFOs might like it. Sure, it sounds like something that goes against my shell game post, but one of my colleagues told me to call it something. Besides, that was part of Amitai Givertz's excellent comment at RecuitingBloggers.com.

Have a nice weekend and happy Easter!


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Thursday, April 5

Validating Critics: Jeff Hunter

While this post touches once again, ho hum, on Jason Goldberg, CEO of Jobster, it is not about Jason Goldberg. If you want another post on him today, visit Workfarce. It's not a great post, but it is an interesting continuation on communication myths that seem to creep in as well as a fine example of the the love-hate relationship some fans seem to have from the nosebleed section.

Personally, I'm more interested by a comment left by Jeff Hunter on Cheezhead, which originally sparked the revival of the Goldberg discussions. Hunter quoted President Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.”

Now, Roosevelt was an amazingly smart and astonishingly multifaceted man. He is one of my favorite leaders in American history and you can read more about him at Theodore Roosevelt Association. His quote, above, made a lot of sense within the context of what he was talking about.

However, and I mean no disrespect to Hunter, I don't think it applies to social media. Sure, it's the cornerstone of the argument that "only Jason Golberg knows what's happening at Jobster" so you have no right to write about him even though he wants to be written about, unless you're promoting his message, whatever that might be.

Perhaps because I've worked as a paid journalist/critic (about 10 years total experience or so) — dining reviews, show reviews, tourism reviews, company reviews, political reviews — it's easier for me to see the distinction between armchair quarterbacking, customer feedback, journalistic feedback, and what occurs within the context of social media.

Not always, but more often than not, the purveyors of blogs are more than merely critics. On the contrary, they are the very people whose faces are marred by the same dust and sweat and blood that mars the people they write about. And I, for one, do not see criticisms as criticisms as much as I see them as conversational discussions between industry leaders to guide the direction of the industry and ensure it is not shaped by someone who might very well be wrong.

This was one of reasons I began changing the format of my blog in mid-August last year. I saw people shaping the direction of communication through social media (and I am not saying they are all wrong), but they didn't know much about strategic communication. Many of them were too busy being "agents of change," willing to blow up everything in favor of, well, nothing … provided they can put their name on it.

While the thought is well intended, I don't agree with the idea that criticisms jeopardize any industry, provided that those criticisms are valid or at least lead to some other validity with open, honest communication (short of malicious intent).

Further, I don't believe it needs to be the obligation of industry leaders to lift every other industry leader up in the face of adversity for the betterment of the industry. In fact, I have been a board member of too many non-profit professional organizations where out of the well-intended notion that "we all need to support each other and every idea all the time" came erroneous actions that resulted in the death or near-death of an organization or program.

Ergo, criticisms are only invalid when the discussion of an idea gives way to popularity contests between people and not their ideas or undue polarization of an issue where people try to convince everyone that it is either all or nothing, black or white.

Recently, Jim Durbin rightfully took me to task when he wrote that I stretched too much in my attempt to take "a major issue issue (the January layoffs and Goldberg's December posts), and conflating them with other issues that are not related and of the same magnitude." While the stretch was intentional, though not obvious enough as I conceded, kudos for Durbin.

That is the way it should be. In fact, had it not been for his post, I may have never dug a little deeper and visited Blogpulse. If you trend "Jason Goldberg," you'll see my stretch wasn't all that far off. The largest spikes tend to be the result of negative news and commentary, including one some might call an insignificant disagreement between two bloggers.

In the realm of social media, it seems that exchange has as much impact as any. Perhaps even more telling is this: on the same day the "Knowing When To Post" went up, Richard S. Levick, president and CEO of Levick Strategic Communications, posted a comment on my February "Discussing JetBlue" post, which I responded to. Those two comments on JetBlue beat out Jobster 5-to-1. (Heads up: I'll revisit JetBlue on Monday.)

What does this mean? Well, that has never happened before. So could it be that interest in Jobster has waned? Maybe. At minimum, when bad rumor spikes begin to outweigh good news spikes, it's time to rethink your strategy. Sure, people gawk at car accidents, but car accidents will only hold their interest for so long.

Anyway, thank goodness for people like Durbin who take the time to ask questions and offer comments. If people like him stopped doing it, then entire companies, organizations, industries, and countries could be led in the wrong direction. But then again, what do I know?

I only know that not so long ago, a public relations professional engaged me in an e-mail exchange that insisted my critique on his non-recruiting client's release was unfair and unprofessional. Then, he basically asked me to shut up. Who am I to argue? If he wants to insist that silence is golden, then so be it. I won't write about his client again, which is a shame, because I had some good things to say.

So I wonder what would have been worse: writing up his second public relations debacle or not writing anything at all...

Critics. We don't always like them, but maybe we need them.

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Wednesday, April 4

Pushing Publicity: Thorntons


Most people who visit now and again know how I feel about publicity, particularly the erroneous idea that all publicity is good publicity. However, that is not to say that I think all publicity is bad.

If you are wondering what constitutes good publicity, look no further than Thortons in London. Yesterday, this British chocolate company unveiled an 860-pound (390 kg) pure chocolate billboard. In fact, it was the world's first edible chocolate billboard, measuring 14.5 feet by 9.5 feet. For more photos courtesy of the BBC, please visit the source site at yumsugar.

This single, simple, and fun publicity stunt is very strategic in approach and execution. The message is smart, "The Art of the Chocolatier," reinforced by the image, activity, and execution of something no one else has done.

All the shots even feature one of its biggest target audiences and the timing, a few days before Easter, is pretty hard to beat. It's smart, fresh, new, and no one was harmed in the making (or unmaking) of what has become a global advertisement. Not bad for a 3-month investment plus 300 hours to assemble.

It's also an amazingly tasty contrast to some of the other publicity stunts we've covered here — ranging from selling stocks with fear to bomb scares in Boston to endless antics from CEOs trying to wade the sometimes murky waters of social media. For all of the their dark side efforts, none of them come close. You don't have to take my word for it. Just ask one of the 50 girls from the Brownies who were commissioned to eat it up.

Special thanks to Hank Hope at R&R Partners for the e-mail tip. It will certainly come in handy next week when I discuss the difference between good publicity and not-so-good publicity. (Yes, that would be a good hint for some). You made my day and I'm hopeful this post will pay it forward.


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Tuesday, April 3

Knowing When To Hint: Jason Goldberg

Joel Cheesman, president of HRSEO and Oaseo, is considered one of the most widely-read bloggers on emerging recruitment issues. On his blog, Cheezhead, he has an online poll that asks if Jason Goldberg, CEO of Jobster, is killing the company.

Sure, it's not the best poll (sorry Cheesman, but it's not) and voters are allowed to vote more than once, but it does serve as an interesting conversation starter, especially if one asks if Goldberg is committing suicide by social media.

Voters seem to think so, with 51 percent of votes claiming "the dude's gotta go," outpacing the erroneous idea "all publicity is good publicity," which garnered 38 percent. The comments tell a different and perhaps more accurate story. Goldberg is surrounded by wingnuts: either fiercely loyal or venomously vindictive. Some excerpts:

"Jobster’s board and employees are 100% behind Jason. He is a thought leader in the industry and while sometimes controversial, that controversy is expected around disruptive companies." — Christian Anderson

"Clearly the young man has gone off the deep-end. He had a great vision and built an AMAZING team, which he then proceeded to destroy and dismantle." — claimed Former Insider

"I don’t know exactly whats gone on at Jobster but I do know a lot of people that have worked there. They all have mixed emotions on what happened." — Ryan Money

Exactly. And former employees are not alone. For Goldberg, social media saves him as often as it slays him. Or perhaps, it's the other way around. Goldberg gets himself in trouble by creating the very rumors that continue to assault his company.

The most infamous of these began when he used his blog to hint at, then deny, then confirm layoff rumors during the holidays. The story has been covered by anybody and everybody (Jobster), including the New York Times and, more recently, Wired magazine as Cheesman reported:

"Goldberg probably hopes that little incident will quietly fade away. But it won’t, for one simple reason: When you type ‘Jason Goldberg’ into Google, a link to an International Herald Tribune Story detailing the entire debacle appears near the top of the first page of results. Anyone who searches for Goldberg will immediately trip over the biggest faux pas of his career. It has entered, as it were, his permanent record."

However, this social media assessment is hardly the entire story because every time Goldberg misapplies social media, dozens, perhaps hundreds, of fanatical allies — most of which were made using social media — rally to his defense with statements that basically argue that Goldberg should never be held accountable for his own actions because they love him.

As I said yesterday, it's the ultimate social media paradox: social media saves him as often as it slays him. And he is extremely fortunate on that point because Goldberg is his own worst enemy, nobody else. The culprit is always the same: message management. At Jobster, at least for Goldberg, there is no message management.

Almost like clockwork, usually toward the end of the month, Goldberg hints at something ugly and creates a social media/industry rumor that detracts from all his other messages. In January, it was layoffs. In February, it was his feigned challenge over my assessment of his mishandling of crisis communication. In March, it was yet another hint on his blog at Jobster: "While recruiting.com has basically been running itself for the past year (with Jason Davis prodding it along), I've recently been putting some thought as to where we should take the recruiting.com site next."

Days later, after returning from a vacation, Davis was forced into a position to post his own explanation: "My decision to move on is entirely personal."

Rumors. Rumors. Everywhere rumors. Where is the reality amidst all this perception? The reality is far less dramatic. They mutually agreed to allow the contract to end well before Goldberg hinted, then denied, and then took action to implement new changes for recruiting.com.

Message management might have left everybody feeling excited for Davis and happily wondering about Goldberg's purported future changes at Recruiting.com. Then again, if Jason is not his brainless, uncontrollable namesake from Halloween with one too many sequels, then perhaps he's auditioning as a drama queen who creates his own publicity at the expense of others. I mean, come on, if we want to talk rumors... what if every apparent debacle was a calculated ruse to get the blogosphere buzzing so they would come to Jobster's blog and find posts that piggyback his dismissal of Davis...

Goldberg announcing a dozen or so features that include: the new Jobster Employer Training and Education Site, the new Jobster Blog Buddy (beta), the new Jobster Career Networking (beta) and Network Feeds, and on, and on, and on. Could it be the high-flying CEO at Jobster is simply eccentric or undeniably evil? Of course, if that were true, then he might as well play Russian roulette. As Barry Hurd pointed out on the Cheezehead blog...

"A lot of CEOs and execs are playing in a very complex public relations audience, and I think the primary difference that separates success vs failure in blogging was that Kelman (CEO of Redfin) had a more consistent message and he didn’t change course as often. He was also more brutally honest on his own actions, with statements about bad expos and poor decisions."

Bingo. Goldberg is no Kelman. Message management trumps publicity stunt. And sometimes, the difference is knowing when to hint. Apple is very good at it. Microsoft, not so good. Hinting at business, unlike politics where Goldberg got his start impersonating the President as an intern, is best reserved for good news. Yet, Goldberg likes to hint at bad news.

In contrast, if I said chapter one of an upcoming book this year might be entitled a "The Jobster Paradox" that would be a pretty good hint. If I said I might invite Goldberg to contribute his defense of my position, that would be a pretty bad hint.

It all comes down to one of several simple truths when you peddle publicity, hints, and rumors: the further you force a perception away from reality, the greater the risk. In every case study, the picture is crystal clear. It's not "what you do" as much as it is "what you do as compared to what you say you do."

And for Goldberg, based on Jobster's history and the recent Recruiting.com message mismanagement (no matter what "New Coke" du jour he has plans to introduce there), perception is often as far from the truth as one can get.

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