Saturday, June 30

Embracing Jericho Fans: CBS

Watching the CBS-produced fan video featuring BlogTalkRadio radio host Shaun O Mac, it's almost hard to imagine any ill words spoken during the show cancellation protest a few weeks ago. CBS seems to have embraced the fans.

"Seems" might be the operative word. Jericho fans are learning that passion-infused protests are much easier to orchestrate (if they catch fire) than an organized fan base for reruns. It's also one of the reasons I advocated for the creation of an association of sorts, back on June 10, to keep people engaged.

Some Jericho fans have hinted that the fan club is something they would love to do, but aren't sure how to do it (some insist anything beyond an individual "uncollective" is unwelcome). Others hope CBS will take the lead, but I'm unconvinced this will happen until the network officially goes beyond seven new episodes. Regardless, the longer it takes to create an engaging organization, the more difficult it will be to retain active participation and capture media interest, which has long tapered off (no surprise; there is no new "big" news).

As a somewhat related side note, I want to highlight that the three different fan bases I've covered, all have very different structures. Veronica Mars fans are interconnected groups of individuals that come together not unlike Tinker Toys, with hubs and spokes that branch out forever; fans of The Black Donnellys are generally centralized as a single body with a few offshoots; and Jericho fans operate like a donut, with various equal bodies but no clear center. Each structure has its advantages and disadvantages.

Specific to Jericho fans, however, is the need to add a centralized body in the center of their donut, which might provide CBS the direction it needs to endorse, if not support, some representative body. How can this be done?

Organize A Delegation. Last week, Jericho fans clearly demonstrated that unless they become sidetracked, they are people with principles (not just passion). Given this, it seems to make sense that a fan club might be created by having each group nominate an equal number of individuals (1-3) to represent their various forums and collectives. (These individuals may or many not serve on the board once the club is ratified. I recommend picking those who have consensus-building skills, not necessarily leadership skills, at this stage.)

Create A Name And By-Laws. Having written and revised several organizationd' bylaws, I know finding the right example is not difficult. Although unrelated, The Winnepeg Goldeyes have excellent bylaws that could serve as a starting point. Here are a few other points to consider:

• Keep the focus large and fill in details (like member dues) later.
• Draft bylaws within the delegation, outside input is not needed.
• Create an executive body that is elected by the populous.
• Allow the board to consist of representatives from each group.
• Keep it simple. Four traditional executive roles could be enough.

Upon completion (again, without some details in place), give each group an opportunity to ratify the document (so to speak). Send along a courtesy copy to CBS so they are aware of your intent, but don't be overly concerned with an endorsement at this stage.

Elect Interim Officers/Board. Officers could be elected by the entire populous (all groups) and other board members elected from their representative groups (I appreciate there is crossover; but you have to start somewhere ... ask people to vote in only one group). This interim body will be charged wih taking care of the details.

Consolidate Resources. Most fan clubs have to determine overhead and cost of operation at startup. Jericho fans will also, to some degree, but they seem to have more flexibility in being able to adopt/endorse existing projects that have already seen some success (merchandise, newsletters, blogs, etc.). This will help defray any initial costs and communicate ongoing progress.

Legal Requirements. One of the responsibilities for this central body will be to take care of the details: establishing membership dues (even token dues), sponsorship/donation opportunities, filing bylaws, opening an account, setting up an Amazon affiliate program to sell DVDs, etc. Keep CBS apprised of all activities; encouraging them to eventually endorse the group by demonstrating solidarity.

Create A Community. While the last thing Jericho fans seem to need is another forum, there is the possibility of creating a social network on a platform like Ning, linking to and/or adding RSS feeds to the various represented bodies. Promote the launch of the community, keeping in mind that the goal is not so much to create a new group as much as it would be to provide a neutral community to conduct business, etc. (Various groups/forums are free to pursue their own efforts as they currently do, with the only added task of enrolling members in the fan club.)

The benefits of a central organization for the promotion of the show, various represented group activities, and eventually its own endeavors, would provide a long-term strategy that will help ensure the success of Jericho. And, even in a worse case scenario, provide a mechanism to expand the Jericho Universe in the event CBS abandons the show.

However, the real benefits will be made apparent when the fans succeed. It could become a centralized body that works closely with CBS in developing fan-generated marketing and promotional items while drawing attention to each represented group's best practices.

At least, that's the way I see it from a conceptual standpoint (if you need more guidance or I'm not clear, just ask in the comments). But then again, I'm a big fan of the republic.

In closing, here's an update on last week's DVD tracking via Amazon for anyone interested (alpha order)*:

The Black Donnellys
(Reviews: 24; Sales Rank 1,576; Peak Rank: 356)

Jericho
(Reviews: 58; Sales Rank: TBA; Peak Rank: TBA)

Veronica Mars #3
(Reviews: 32; Sales Rank: 15; Peak Rank: 8)


*represents what we saw; not necessarily an official number. We'll be watching Entertainment Weekly once all three are released.

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Friday, June 29

Guessing Intentions: Burger King, McDonald's, Wendy's


As reported by the Associated Press, Burger King, McDonald's and Wendy's are all balking at New York City's new rule that will require them to post calories on menus. Taco Bell and KFC won't talk.

"They are afraid that when people see these eye-popping calorie numbers, they might switch to a smaller size," Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a health advocacy group, told the AP. "They feel it is going to hurt sales."

Jacobson's answer likely comes from a question I usually advise our clients not to play along with. While the wording might be off, it's a good guess the AP reporter asked "Why do you think Burger King, McDonald's and Wendy's are afraid to post the calories?"

Speculation can be a dangerous game, even if you are an advocate of the new rule that covers some 2,000 New York City eateries. More likely, the only reason three chains are taking a harder stand is because the New York State Restaurant Association challenged the rule in court, the city said it won't fine anyone until October, and the "calorie counts" are required to be the same size as the price.

While this story appeared on SpinThicket as a PR Nightmare, I'm wondering if it isn't just good old-fashioned spin and not on the part of the quick service industry (that's the PC term for fast food. Ha!).

True, quick service is not the most nutritional choice for lunch (neither is what most of our children are served for school lunch). But also true is that, sometimes, elected officials overreach in creating regulations that are meant to "protect us from ourselves" because, frankly, it looks bad to serve a term in office without making something up. I think this might apply.

What New York City has going for it is perception: hamburgers are somehow evil. What it has going against it is reality: adults don't need to feel guilty about their choices.

Besides, most of this information is available anyway. As Denny Lynch, spokesman for Wendy's, told the AP, Wendy's has made this information available for 30 years. Indeed, it's been a unique selling point on more than one occasion.

Hmmm ... sometimes business has a tendency to set industry standards without an assist from government. So if Subway, KFC, and Wendy's haven't been able to cut into competitor sales on the selling point they have lower calorie choices by now, then I doubt very much city government regulations will either.

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Surviving Social Media: IABC/Las Vegas

A little more than two years ago, I posted my confession that it was my partner (not me) who said Web logs (blogs) were going to have a lasting impact on the communication industry in late 2003.

Fortunately for me, despite my skepticism, I approved what became a yearlong study on the patterns, perceptions, potential, and business application of blogs. The early work led me to speak at an International Association of Business Communicators/Las Vegas (IABC/Las Vegas) luncheon, were I concluded: no matter how you felt about it, social media was influencing the public and the media about products, services, policies, daily operations, and a company's bottom line.

Was I right about social media?

It resulted in the Singapore government paying out S$150 million to about 330,000 low-income workers five days before an election. It underpinned the biggest television show cancellation protest in history with Jericho fans shipping 40,000 pounds of nuts to CBS. It was behind the move by shareholders to oust JetBlue’s founder as president. It thrust the local Towbin Hummer flag controversy into the national spotlight. And, it is the reason behind Wynn Las Vegas becoming the first resort casino to have unionized dealers.

Amazing to me, despite the fact that social media has changed the communication landscape, most communicators (and even some bloggers) remain in denial. They say social media is a fad or not to be taken seriously. But the truth is (much like your message): if you don’t manage social media, social media will manage you.

On Friday, July 13, I've been asked back to speak at IABC/Las Vegas to present on a slightly different topic: what does it take to make social media work for you and not against you. While I'll touch on how to determine which tools — blogs, podcasts, digital media, and even PR Newswire releases — might work best for your company or clients, I'll also provide an inside look at some of the case studies we've covered and why this blog became the top ranked communication blog in Nevada.

Host: IABC/Las Vegas
Date: Friday, July 13
Time: 11:30 a.m. (networking)
Location: Las Vegas Country Club, 3000 Joe W. Brown Drive
Cost: $26 for IABC members and students, $30 for guests
RSVP: Visit www.iabclasvegas.com by July 11


While some readers know I have social media experience — contributing to RecruitingBloggers.com, participating on SpinThicket, assisting on a BlogCatalog project, working to partner with The Buzz Bin to develop something on myRagan, and launching three blogs for various clients — social media is only some of what we do (although some days, I wonder. Ha!)

So, in the hope of promoting this IABC/Las Vegas program to social media skeptics, I'm also an accredited business communicator who has worked on more than 1,000 accounts, written hundreds of magazine articles, contributed to five books, and scripted a documentary for PBS. I currently serve as an examiner for the IABC International Accreditation Board; governor-appointed state commissioner for the Nevada Commission for National & Community Service (AmeriCorps); honorary member of Les Clefs d’Or; and Educational Outreach instructor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Within the past three years, I've also served as an international research committee member for the IABC Research Foundation; director of public service for the Las Vegas Advertising Federation; director of public relations for the Business Community Investment Council; and in several other positions to assist nonprofit professional and community service projects. My work has earned numerous awards, including several Addys, EMAs, and Quills for writing, creative, and strategic direction. I've been honored as IABC/Las Vegas Communicator of the Year, WIC Agency/Production/Public Relations Principal of the Year, with the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce Community Achievement Award, and others.

Prior to Copywrite, Ink., I was creative director at an advertising agency in Reno and worked in the corporate communication department of a major utility. I'm a proud graduate of the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno.

I don't blog in pajamas or bathrobes (not that there is anything wrong with that), but some people might be surprised by the caliber of our clients (small and large) and, even more so, the results we've helped generate for people, products, companies, and even elected officials. So, if you're in Las Vegas on July 13 (and you've RSVPd by July 11), drop by for a few hours. We're even going to give away some quirky Jericho-inspired Copywrite, Ink. "blog promo" T-shirts.

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Thursday, June 28

Controlling Community: John Sumser

John Sumser has taken on a mission impossible because there seems to be a desire to transform Recruiting.com, which is currently defined as blog community portal, into a niche social network that will be managed like an online magazine with Sumser as editor.

It cannot be done.

Sumser is not alone in making the mistake of combining what are opposing objectives. Many companies are struggling with the same self-created issue, which is what often gives rise to community members screaming unfair criticism, blatant censorship, and/or totalitarian fascist rule. Eventually, it leads to protest, exodus, or even negative public outcry beyond the niche it serves.

You can see it all over the net. It ranges from alleged censorship of The Black Donnellys fans at NBC online and Jericho fans during the cancellation protest at CBS online to the broadest brush strokes and ample examples being advocated by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. All of it, big and small, stems from the same problem: a lack of strategic oversight on the part of the site moderators that often leads to gross confusion over whether or not the First Amendment might apply on the part of the participants (mostly, it doesn't), which I'm inclined to write about another time.

Today, I'll stick to the misconception being applied by some companies: they think "if we build it (a framework for an online community of sorts, whether it be a blog, portal, forum, social network, or some combination), they will come." And, as soon as the "open" sign goes up, sometimes they do come — participants who quickly take up residence and build their community.

Did you catch that? I said "their community" because it's the most important part of the equation. Companies that create online gathering places only own the framework; it's the participants who own the community. Because without them, there is no community.

And that brings us back to Recruiting.com. Whereas Jason Davis (former management at Recruiting.com) moderated with a guiding hand, Sumser seems to use the rule of law. After all, as editor, Sumser claims it's his job to ensure the content is worthwhile by some subjective standards only he knows.

While I understand this thinking from someone who often considers social media and blogging as, more or less, immature and brutish (although, mysteriously and magically, not so in many, many places), it represents the direct opposition to developing an online community. You see, the model for editorial control, beyond the loosest guidelines, (eg. no pornography, etc.) is much better suited to running an online magazine or news source like, well, Electronic Recruiting News.

For a blog portal, like Recruitng.com, any sense of community can only be accomplished by applying the simplest of concepts: "it's easier to pull a chain than to push one." That means "editors" must abandon their propensity to manage and attempt to lead.

Real leadership does not work under the rule of law. It requires something else all together. So instead of "editing" and reserving the right to make even the best intended critiques, the moderator who hopes to build a community will see better results if they focus more on making people feel welcome, praising those who provide the best examples, and adding unique value for the residents.

No, it doesn't have to be this way. Recruiting.com could just as easily operate as an online content provider or magazine (in which case, it needs more exclusive content) and a blog portal, giving up on the idea that it is somehow a community (it's not). While this means it will rarely be considered home, the model can work just as well while affording the owners control, which they seem to want.

From a more general perspective, any time a company, organization, or group launches a product, service, or online "something" (or applies sweeping changes to such things), it's always best to develop a strategy first. And, if these things already exist, it's never a good idea to remove previous tactics without knowing what you need to replace them with. Ergo, if you blow little things all up without a plan, you might be surprised to find out some of those little things made the big thing work.

Ideally, developing a strategy can be largely accomplished by understanding the environment in which you hope to operate and your true competitors. Then, you offer added values to your product/service/offering or, at minimum, positive communication contrasts between yourself and your competitors.

Apple and AT&T's positioning of the iPhone is a pretty good example. Verizon's new message, which they think will keep customers from switching to an iPhone, is not.

The bottom line. You cannot be all things to all people, especially when you aren't all things.

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Wednesday, June 27

Behaving Badly: Jobster CEO

Jason Goldberg, CEO of Jobster, an online career network, has once again succeeded in doing what he seems to do best. Any time the sailing seems too smooth or the skies too blue, he veers his venture capital-funded ship and its shareholders’ money off course to find a storm of his own creation.

This time, apparently prompted by moderately reliable Alexa analytics, he sent former employee and shareholder Jason Davis a cease-and-desist letter to either close down Recruitingblogs.com (which I recently reviewed) or force broker a deal to, in Goldberg’s words, “work this out in a way that benefits everyone.”

According to Goldberg’s letter to Michael Arrington at TechCrunch, Davis is in violation of a non-complete clause that Davis signed as part of a contract to manage Recuiting.com for a year (after he sold the site to Jobster). After the one year contract was complete, Davis launched Recruitingblogs.com. Goldberg’s position and the message he thinks he is communicating is this:

“Our overarching intent at Jobster and with our Recruiting.com Website remains to foster online community in the recruiting industry — the more the better. At the same time, Jobster needs to ensure that our employees and contractors uphold their commitments.”

It seems to me and others that Goldberg is communicating something else …

• He has not learned that virtually no communication, especially bad communication, will remain private. Sooner or later, it will be made public.

• He is not above attempting to manipulate and intimidate people into giving Jobster and Recruitng.com some sort of leverage over others, Recruitingblogs.com in this case. It’s laughable at best, unethical at worst.

• He does not have faith in John Sumser’s management of Recruitng.com to retain and attract visitors. If he did have faith, there would be no reason for Jobster to threaten legal action to protect a Digg-styled blog portal against a very different offering, which I called an open niche social network on Ning. (Even Sumser, who I enjoy from time to time, doesn't seem to have much faith in his abilities either.)

• He is a rash, impulsive executive without empathy; it sometimes seems like he wants to come across as a hardhearted bully, but in reality, this action seems more like a spoiled child throwing a tantrum because he made a bad decision in not renewing Davis’ contract.

• He comes across, once again, as being disingenuous by saying that “We at Jobster are actually big fans of the Recruitingblogs.com Website … we’ve also offered/suggested that there is probably a good way for us to work together going forward.” A cease-and-desist letter is usually the last communication, not the first communication, in fostering positive business relations.

From a communication perspective, legality issues aside, even if Goldberg and the much-loved-by-the-recruiting-industry Davis can reach an amicable agreement as they both suggested they might, Goldberg has already lost. He has created a potential crisis in using the supposed weight of his company to censor a niche social network, that has yet to make any money, just because he feels threatened by even the most indirect competition and comment.

Goldberg’s best course of action, assuming he doesn’t want to become another “laugh piece” for The New York Times, is to admit that he overreacted and retract any hint of taking legal action. If he does not, the potential ramifications will likely be that Recruiting.com will continue its decline (caused by its own inability to remain relevant even though it could be), and Goldberg will solidify his personal brand as someone who is either not to be taken seriously or to be avoided at all cost. This would not bode well for Jobster, as mentioned on the Recruiting Animal Show.

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Tuesday, June 26

Falling Skies: Daily Mail

The sky is falling! The sky is falling! And the culprits bringing it down are anyone who happens to use the Internet, especially youth.

At least that is what A.N. Wilson with the Daily Mail would have us believe with this article, entitled "The internet is destroying the world as we know it."

It was brought to my attention yesterday, being cited as a discussion point by the collective Amanda Chapel, this time at myRagan.com.

"Your child is next door on the computer, destroying the world as we know it and wrecking two of the most fundamental values that underpin society..." leads Wilson.

Yep. Ten-year-olds are the new villains of modern society, responsible for destroying the record industry, the publishing industry, newspapers, and cinema; while amazingly enough, still finding time to become addicts of gambling, pornography, and insidious forms of self-deception.

Fortunately, my son is still two years shy of this now infamous age group when he will be formally indoctrinated into the new axis of evil that is the Internet. Or maybe, something much simpler will prevent him from taking the plunge. What's that? Parental guidance.

So at the risk of sounding like overly cautious parents, we created a hot list of sites that he can visit and put up parental blocks on those he cannot. (And never mind what I think about most shows on Cartoon Network, which he no longer watches.)

To be fair, Wilson starts by thinking through some questions about online privacy (though sadly, no one seems to care). But then, it turns toward good old fashioned doomsday op-eding. You know the kind; the same stuff that sold millions of Y2K books.

For example, Wilson warns us that the Internet is filling our children's heads with blatant propaganda by drawing a comparison between Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica online, but never gets to the real reason Wikipedia is better read (online, at least).

It seems to me that the so-called seductive power of Wikipedia is not the reason it ranks higher than the Encyclopedia Britannica on the Web. It's much simpler than that: Wikipedia is free, void of excessive advertising, easier to navigate, and enjoys the benefit of major consumer marketing. (Despite this, I too caution people against considering Wikipedia the most reliable source on the planet.)

So where does this leave us? Are we to bar our children from all things Internet, starving their development to make independent judgements?

Hardly. Our responsibility lies in guiding our youth (our own children, specifically) who sometimes place too much faith in a single source of information (like television commercials with irresistible toys or Wilson's article for that matter). And, we can educate them so they know that history is being rewritten as we speak, every day, and has been for all of, well, history. Among other things.

Then again, maybe Wison and the collective Strumpette aren't really to blame for this point of view that puts our children at risk. Perhaps it is because they too, it seems, bought a questionable bill of goods. The argument they are forwarding is not original; it comes from author Andrew Keen, who claims to "have invented the model of integrating commerce, community, and content." He's also a F**ked Company Hall of Famer.

Ironically, Keen employs the same tool he chastizes for creating a "grand utopian movement" similar to "communist society" that "worships the creative amateur: the self-taught filmmaker, the dorm-room musician, the unpublished writer," preferring, I imagine, a fascist, snobbish world where an elite class of overmen might dictate who makes the cut into the professional talent pool.

Never mind that almost all of our greatest writers, artists, poets, and filmmakers once belonged to the ranks of this lowly amateur class. (No, Keen, not everybody starts as a child television star, not that there is anything wrong with that; some of us start by mowing lawns and drawing pictures of the neighbor's dog.)

So therein lies the rub. Just because something has a cover doesn't make it any more truthful, credible, or accurate than something you might find online (and vice versa). To find the truth, you have to dig deeper, look at multiple sources, ask the right questions and, if you are able, conduct your own research beyond giving in to citing other people (including polar opposites, which is the trend nowadays).

I think social media is as much the same today as it was when I likened it to the Force a few months ago. How one uses it will make all the difference. How we teach our children to use it will also make all the difference.

There are Sith, Jedi, and everybody in between. But the Internet is largely just a public space that can be used to further a business strategy, for individual or collective good, for entertainment, and, as some people know, to peddle "fear" and polarizing viewpoints as if the world were black and white.

Fortunately, the world is not black and white. The sky is not falling. And our children (though you might want to check up on them) are not ushering forth a world of unparalleled evil because of the Internet. On the contrary, they might just use the Internet to prevent it.

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Monday, June 25

Understanding Connections: Social Media

As part of my study of human capital a few years ago, I tapped insights from a fast growing company called Direct TV. At the time, Direct TV was simply known as a company to watch. Today, it is the largest provider of DTH digital television services and the second largest provider in the multi-channel program distribution industry in the United States.

What Direct TV understood then, and still does today, is that even "soft" employee programs foster better communication. While social media was barely a blip on the radar of communication, it doesn't take much to see how what was being done then could be reinforced with the tools we have today.

"Fifty to 75 percent of our employees at the corporate office attend every program," said Caroline Leach, ABC, then senior manager of employee communication for Direct TV (now vice president of communications for Direct TV). "Typically, we host them at noon or late in the day. Sometimes it's a recognition program or simply coffee and donuts with executives. They help maintain our family-oriented, entrepreneurial style."

While some companies will always remain skeptical of employee programs, Direct TV found they worked well in moderation. Specifically, they connect employees to management, exposing people to different departments they had no contact with, and generate new ideas. The programs were augmented by a well-defined, integrated employee program, strong benefits packages, and performance incentives.

"Measurement is key to understanding what your employees want," Leach said. "For example, we survey employees electronically after every company broadcast, which gives us an immediate response to how well the information was received. The surveys are anonymous, which empowers the employees to give us candid feedback."

From a broader perspective, the company's (then eight years old; now 13) strategy was simple. The executive team communicated the top one to four quarterly goals to each department while managers were charged with translating these goals into terms that individual employees can apply.

At the same time, employees were empowered to be part of the decision-making process. After the company implemented quarterly bonuses (based upon earlier satisfaction with annual bonuses), employees evaluated and eventually requested an annual bonus over four quarterly bonuses.

The reason in 2002: because Direct TV is an industry with seasonal growth, non-performing quarters (without bonuses) were found to be disheartening and counterproductive to the overall success of the company. The old adage "success produces success" stands.

"Employees also prefer to get most of their information direct from supervisors," said Leach. "We try to augment any communication with face-to-face communication. Our president's day breakfast with 8-10 employees, for example, has a powerful ripple effect throughout the company when the employees return to their departments and share highlights."

Flash forward to today and it is not difficult to imagine how internal social media might have been employed to augment such proven internal communication practices. In fact, it demonstrates something that we've offered up here on several occasions. If 8-10 employees can create a powerful ripple effect throughout a company after a single breakfast with decision makers, imagine what 800-1,000 readers might do after reading an authentic executive post where they can engage the executives by asking a few questions on an Intranet. Hmmm... virtual coffee and donuts with that many more in attendance.

In addition, through such online interaction, companies might be better equipped to solve a growing problem for many businesses (according to an article in the Harvard Business Review, which I'll be writing about later this week) and that is developing a talent factory to fill what seems to be an ever-shrinking pool of strategic thinkers.

Sure, I doubt social media will ever replace face-to-face communication as the most powerful tool in the communicator's arsenal, but it stands to reason that more companies will find unique internal communication methods that demonstrate social media will become the second most trusted source of information within a company (assuming the company does not over-propaganda it).

And, if it can work within a company to provide a bird's eye view to keep departments up to speed, then what is the difference between an internal social network or one consisting of loyal consumers? Virtually none at all.

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Sunday, June 24

Selling DVDs: NBC, CBS, and The CW


In Nov. 2003, after seven months of strong DVD sales, The Family Guy became the first canceled series to be revived based on DVD demand and syndication ratings. More than one million DVDs made it the top-selling TV show on DVD and fourth most bought television title ever (in 2003).

Often overlooked, strong DVD sales and impressive fan support campaigns also revived Firefly (Fox 2002) for a movie spin-off, “Serenity," in 2005. In 2006, fans then released a documentary called Done The Impossible. It features interviews with various cast members, making the words "Firefly and Browncoat symbolize a sense of community, family, and believing that the impossible can be accomplished."

Currently, there seems to be three standout TV series that were cancelled (with one already resurrected) that networks will be watching closely. Maybe one of these will be the next big DVD sales surprise.

The Black Donnellys. Due to be released Sept. 4, DVD sales seem to be the most important aspect of this fan effort if there is any hope of pulling off the impossible on any level.

Working for the fans. There seems to be a well-executed effort by Universal to deliver a 3-disc product that promises to do justice for Paul Haggis' smart, well-written crime drama. It may have been too powerful for prime time, but it might be perfect for DVD. They also have the benefit of a Sept. release and still active NBC page.

Working against the fans. TBD has a smaller fan base (but no less passionate) given the series did not have a full season. There are almost no Amazon reviews and online HDNet sydication did not help these fans as much as reruns on another network would have. (Amazon pre-order sales rank, pre-order: 2,441)

Veronica Mars. The third season is due to be released with a 6-DVD set on Oct. 23 (not available for preorder on Amazon). Although fans pulled together a campaign that sent Mars Bars (Snickers and marshmallows too) to The CW, creator Rob Thomas confirmed a dead end on June 12.

Working for the fans. They have two seasons under their belt, both with very strong sales. They've earned Thomas' appreciation as fans, and he promised to do something with the Veronica Mars character if not in comic books, then perhaps in a new series based on the character or even a film (if you believe some rumors).

Working against the fans. There is the simple fact that many of the stars (Kristen Bell, Chris Lowell, Enrico Colantoni, and Tina Majorino) have already moved on to new TV and movie projects. So even if a character revival rumor beyond comics became true, it's likely not to be Bell. (Amazon season one sales rank, 634; season two, 573)

Jericho. The DVD, recently bumped from Sept. to Oct. 2, is not yet available on Amazon. However, it has managed to earn 47 5-star reviews.

Working for the fans. Momentum is clearly on their side, given they already scored the largest show cancellaton protest in history, fastest network cancellation reversal, and the knowledge that CBS is already considering moving beyond seven shows. They also have a very large fan base that can turn on a dime (it took fans less than three hours after yesterday's post for them to become upbeat like they used to be). Jericho DVD sales will also be pre-supported by reruns starting July 6 and new episodes this fall.

Working against the fans. Not too much as long as they stay focused. CBS might do more to target new viewers as opposed to simply pleasing the fan base with Internet ads. And one wonders whether the availability of Jericho on iTunes, CBS Innertube, and now the new Amazon download feature will dampen DVD sales. But then again, some fans have pledged to buy five sets and send them to friends so who really knows. (Amazon sales rank, not yet available)

Of the three, Jericho seems to be the easy favorite to lead the pack, which could make all the difference in securing season three despite what numbers Nielsen offers up. While Veronica Mars seems likely to have comparable sales, The Black Donnellys may find DVD sales are their one real shot to be publicly counted.

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Saturday, June 23

Casting Shadows Of Doubt: Jericho Season 3

As much credit as I have given to deserving Jericho fans for convincing CBS to reinstate their program, I'm equally inclined to write how they could unintentionally be responsible for destroying any chance for a season three. Right now it seems, the only shadows being cast by their cause are shadows of doubt.

You only have to look at history to find some similarities between the town and its historic namesake to appreciate that if the walls of Jericho are going to fall, it's likely to be from the inside out. Sure, it hasn't happened yet, but the writing is all over the CBS boards. Without a common enemy any longer, fans now fight from within.

It's disappointing, but not surprising. Throughout history, and even today in faraway places like Iraq, humankind has an uncanny ability to put differences aside in order to rise up for a common cause. But then, they are equally inclined, after winning the day, to quickly descend back into tribal rivalries, jealousy, and petty bickering.

Ergo, I like Jericho fans (you've all been good to me), but after reading an "Open Letter to Jericho Fans or CBS and other boards," I think it's time someone reminded them where the focus should be.

If the fans continue to single out people who helped move the protest forward, guess at their motivations, and levy charges against them that smack of character assassination, then all your efforts will be for naught. As I cautioned back on June 10, only focus will ensure continued success and see this show capture a third season.

Worse, what new fans will want to participate on boards ripe with infighting as opposed to the finer points of programming that appear front and center on the CBS message boards? This is precisely why I suggested you move such discussions off those boards.

Alas, the egos (not the eagles) have landed in the fan base and my second case study on Jericho is coming dangerously close to crashing down as fans pit themselves against one another. Why is it happening? History repeats. A lack of organization, not all that dissimilar to several Jericho episodes, demonstrates how internal politics is always the greatest threat for any loosely formed government, organization, company, and, well, fan base.

Never mind the details of the arguments as they are always the same, regardless of the group. Never mind them because none of them does anything to further where the focus should be: in establishing a fan club, promoting the reruns, and creating a friendly environment for new fans who are interested to see if season two is warranted.

No, some would rather argue the finer points of things like whose name might appear on the Guinness application or how much effort needs to be devoted to taking down Nielsen. Ha! Since the fans are not privy to everything we know, please allow me to spell it out.

You don't have to change Nielsen because Nielsen already knows it needs to change. In fact, just yesterday, it already did. The Nielsen Company (formerly VNU) and NetRatings, Inc. completed the previously announced merger of NetRatings with a wholly owned subsidiary of The Nielsen Company.

They know they need to change because advertisers are not as enamored by them as some people have suggested. Just yesterday, one of my clients (whom I won't name), a mid-sized agency in my market, declared they were tossing out all their Nielsen and Arbitron books because the rating system is broken after being sliced too thin in an effort to retrieve more ethically diverse demographics.

"We don't need to look at ratings to pinpoint where our clients' consumers are coming from because we already know what they watch and listen to based on our own independent research," said the agency principal. "So, the only time we need to know the numbers, which are provided by local stations on demand anyway, is a matter of price point negotiations and nothing more."

But never mind, go ahead and beat the dead horse anyway. That makes much more sense than organizing show promotions and being the front line of communication in a viral consumer-based marketing effort that welcomes new fans with enthusiasm. That makes much more sense than flushing out the expanded Jericho Universe since CBS is too slow to do it for you. That makes much more sense than allowing Jericho Monster to host the Nielsen debate because she does a better job at it than the fan boards.

Ho hum. I would have much rather written about solutions today than a potential fan base meltdown, but I'm not the one who distracts the focal point of the story as much as fans do. Some fans seem to have made this the most visible priority, not me. And frankly, if there is any lesson to be learned here, unless Jericho fans reverse course today, than let it be for fans of The Black Donnellys. Whatever TBD fans do, don't do this.

With luck, maybe next week will bring happier news for Jericho fans as the countdown to bringing the show back continues. Today, however, it seems to me that the Jericho fans are on the wrong side of the mountains in the picture that accompanies this post.

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Friday, June 22

Collecting Unconscious: Godin & Maister

Right now, I’m on a plane headed toward Reno to attend a state commission meeting in Incline Village. So I wrote this last night and asked my partner to post it this morning (rather than double up on Thursday and be dead on Friday).

The Internet makes it possible: you can post a piece of the past in the present and nobody knows it, unless you tell them. I found it fitting to mention because this is an odd little post about the collective unconscious, which was Carl Jung’s theory that we can all pull something down from “a reservoir of the experience of our species.”

It happens in my field every now and again. Someone comes up with an advertising campaign at virtually the same time someone else does, leaving some of them to wonder who came up with the idea first. Maybe no one did. It happens on blogs as well. Sometimes two authors write about virtually the same thing even though the inspiration is unrelated. It happened with David Maister and Seth Godin this week.

Maister posted about Passion, People and Principles, which is not only the title of his blog, but also three ingredients that make up a recipe for success.

Passion alone, he rightfully points out, can be dangerous. You’ll seduce a lot of people to your side, but you’ll end up fooling or betraying them. If you have principles and understand people, you risk being righteous but ineffective. You need all three in everything, which is so right, almost no one could add anything to the proposed discussion.

The day before, Godin posted a similar point, talking about drive, which is another way of saying passion.

He’s right too. Most successful organizations are driven by something, for a while anyway (not all drives are sustainable, largely because they neglect the other two ingredients). He then runs down a list of drives associated with some companies (eg. paycheck driven, marketing driven, fashion driven, etc.).

Market driven, which he says most people claim to be but really aren’t, is about creating what the market wants. It seems to me that of all the drives that he lists, market driven is most likely to carry the passion, people, and principles equation. Maybe that’s why it is first on the list.

I always understood, but never really cared for Jung. Still, he laid some important groundwork for other psychologists and theorists, especially in terms of identifying behavioral patterns, dream interpretation, and, yep, the collective unconscious.

Hmmm … I wonder how many times Jung’s name came up in the news during the last month and if that’s why I reached up and pulled down collective unconscious after seeing a coincidental link between two blogs. It’s not the first time; and likely won’t be the last.

Regardless, there is a collective truth to what Maister and Godin offered up. And me, well, I’m content to make my way as a beneficial presence. Maybe you can figure out where that might fit within two contexts. I think it fits quite nicely.

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Thursday, June 21

Seeing Green Over Nikon: Eric Eggertson


Eric Eggertson calls it envy. Mark Rose called it a big payoff. Jordan Behan, who pens Tell Ten Friends (a good blog too) agrees that it is polarizing bloggers, but opted to post his thoughts as a comment.

Never has a digital camera been blamed for so many things or been called so many names. So much so that one might think the "D" in the Nikon D80 stands for Darth Vader. Although the people of Picturetown USA only received free D40s, you would think neighboring towns would form a Rebel Alliance to strike down the Imperial Empire seeded by Nikon.

At least that is what you would think the way some bloggers talk about the 50 long-term loaners (with the option to buy at a discount after one year) that Nikon passed out as part of a blogger outreach campaign. Some think it is important enough of a discussion that CustomScoop's PR Blog Jots even noted Eggertson's and my brief discussion (though reading Eggertson's reply to my inquiry, one might think it was a debate). CustomScoop even asked who might be right, which is humorous to me because I hadn't taken a real position other than to point out there is no ethical breach in blogger outreach unless the loaner is conditional on positive reviews (it is not).

Really, for me, the whole discussion is much ado about nothing. Or, if it is something, then that something is the propensity for bloggers to sometimes make something out of nothing. Eggertson, whose blog I actually like, drives this point home by suggesting the Nikon campaign was designed to create envy in other people ...

"There are giveaways every day on radio stations, in newspapers and elsewhere. And the suppliers of the prizes get more than a product mention in return. Their product is positioned as something that, under other circumstances, you might have received. They are objects of envy."

No, the best blog posts don't always come from comments. Giveaways are not designed to make people envious and jealous (though that might be an unintended side effect). They are and always have been something much simpler: the human equivalent of a Skinner Box.

A Skinner Box, which is a laboratory apparatus used in the experimental analysis of studying behavior, is designed to reward the behavior of an animal (most likely a mouse or a rat) until instrumental conditioning occurs and the animal repeats the actions even without the reward. In humans, it works even better because we don't need to receive a reward; we can simply imagine one, which is why so many people play McDonald's Monopoly.

The Nikon blogger outreach program doesn't really make the cut in being a true giveaway because there is nothing you can do to get the reward. Well, maybe, as Eggerston went on to mention, "I’ve had my eye on the Nikon digital SLRs for years, since I have a few thousand dollars worth of Nikon lenses.'

Ho hum. Cameras don't create envy (or jealously for that matter), people do. Both are emotions: jealousy being the fear of losing something to another person (which clearly does not apply here) and envy is the pain or frustration caused by another person having something that one does not have oneself. Over a camera?

You know, having worked on a few campaigns that have put envy into play, the goal was never to create envy in other people as much as it was to make consumers who could afford the product think that their purchase would create envy in other people. That makes a lot more sense because there would be no point in Nikon trying to create "blogger envy" in an outreach campaign.

No Iago, envy only resides in people who succumb to it. But then again, I'm more inclined to celebrate other people's wins than fret over them or attempt to make them feel less credible just because they happened to have better Flickr photo files or whatever arbitrary measure was applied in deciding which blogger was invited to participate. That's right. Good for them.

As I said before, other than MWW CEO Michael Kempner saying that some bloggers were complaining about the campaign because they did not get a camera (a tactic that surely would produce the opposite of what a blogger outreach program is intended to do, er, I hope), the controversy over the Nikon camera campaign is much ado about nothing. Case closed.

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Wednesday, June 20

Enhancing News Releases: International Paper

International Paper (IP), which is a global uncoated paper and packaging company, demonstrated what is likely to be considered by most to be a best practice in blending traditional news releases and digital media features. And they did it for the right reasons.

In a news release (we ran a portion of it on our business giving blog), International Paper recognizes two outstanding efforts to protect natural resources through leadership in conservation and education. Most public relations practitioners know the drill: Company X together with Nonprofit Z recognized so and so and so and so on date at place.

Sure, the release is mostly traditional and follows an emerging trend of being "pat" quote heavy: "So and so and so and so are great people who do great things," said so and so. "And that is why it makes sense that our great company and a great nonprofit gave them a great award." Only one quote survived in our version and that might have been too much.

(Note to IP: I'm not making fun of the release as much as I am poking at public relations rules, which seem to only work for members of the media who claim they want to write their own stories. I've written several thousand releases, just like this one, but perhaps with a few quotes less.)

So what caught our attention?

There is an added element that, although easily missed, is brilliant. In addition to the sum-ups of John Tippett (2007 IP Conservation Partnership recipient), who was recognized for his work to protect Virginia's Rappahannock River, and Donald Sprangers (2007 IP Environmental Education recipient), who was honored for outstanding curriculum innovation and cooperative education, IP linked to two mini-documentaries on YouTube. They focus on the merits of each individual's program.

You can catch Tippett's IP-produced video here and Springer's IP-produced video here. While we could probably nit pick a few camera angles, these documentaries, at just over three minutes each, add volumes to the release.

So what makes them work?

Strategic Consideration. Much like the recognition program and release, these documentaries fit the company's strategic message to make products in a safe and healthful workplace, to manage natural resources wisely, and to continually improve its environmental performance.

Multipurpose Communication. While they won't draw as much attention as the latest uncensored celebrity video or campy college pick, the videos stand alone in telling two interesting environmental stories separate from the release. In sum, while the release works for the media, the videos will work for anyone. As a bonus, both groups now have a 3-minute presentation about their efforts.

Message Reinforcement. The videos reinforce the release with new, detailed information that drives home precisely why these two conservationists were chosen. It establishes credibility that few releases do while avoiding the duplication of information.

Demonstrated Credibility. The award program, which is a joint program between IP and The Conservation Fund, is a great example of business giving and philanthropic partnering with its own merit. With the documentaries, IP didn't flood the footage with executive cameos and company quotes (thank you), making it a fine example of credible corporate generosity.

I could list at least a dozen more reasons why this is a best practice without the benefit of seeing a work plan because the strategy is obvious and the tactical craftsmanship spot on. Sure, not every company will be willing to invest in digital media to enhance a news release, but I'm thrilled IP did.

Not only did IP demonstrate communication savvy, but it also gives us a glimpse into why we don't necessarily have to reinvent the news release to make it work with multiple audiences. Public relations professionals who are crafting "social media releases," please pay attention.

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Tuesday, June 19

Revisiting Human Capital: Social Media

Yesterday, when I wrote about David Meerman Scott's book, something stuck in my head: social media is a medium about people. It wasn’t until this morning that I realized why it stayed there. It reminded me of an article I wrote some time ago about human capital.

Human capital is nothing new. Borrowed from economics and broadened to reflect human potential as an asset, it has been contemplated by organizations for more than a century. It has also been proven to be critical to success and tied to shareholder value. (One Watson Wyatt study concluded that firms with high employee commitment averaged three-year returns of 112 percent while those with low employee commitment averaged 76 percent.)

Back when I wrote the article, I was asking experts if human capital was so critical, then why do companies lay off employees anytime increased competition cuts into profit margins, economic conditions deteriorate, or a crisis occurs. While some people pointed to the concept that layoffs are “just part of business,” I found another answer all together.

While there are times when there is no other option than downsizing (eg. a high growth company over staffs), most companies have another reason for laying people off — they don’t know who their employees are, which makes them expendable.

“Executives and managers pursuing their MBA are not taught people skills or how to manage employees,” James Lukaszewski, one of the most prominent advisors and crisis communication strategists in the country, told me then. “In most companies, there is a clear division between management and employees.”

The division, more often than not, is non-communication. Employees do not have a clear understanding of what they are supposed to do and, from executive management to key supervisors, no one knows how to tell them.

“Negative communication is non-communication,” he said. “Managers and supervisors are so busy telling people they did it ‘wrong’ or ‘that’s not the way we do it,’ they forget to tell employees how to do it, if they say anything at all.”

Rather than evaluating employees on what they did wrong or focusing on what they did not accomplish, Lukaszewski said companies are better served by applying positive communication that clearly defines what to do next. If they know where the department or company is going and what they can do to get there, it will produce more positive opportunities for the future.

“Yesterday is over. And frankly, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “Companies that will succeed are outcome forward. It’s human nature for people to want to please their supervisors so it’s up to supervisors to show them how to do it.”

We then went onto discuss employee evaluations (noting, at the time, less than 40 percent of employees received meaningful evaluations because they were outdated, did not reflect job descriptions, or were misunderstood by supervisors). But that drifts too far off topic to share as this post applies more to social media.

If you’re a communicator or public relations practitioner who wants to embrace social media but cannot seem to find any executive support, the first step is education. Much like their own employees, most executives have no idea who bloggers, vloggers, and podcasters are because they’ve gotten it into their heads that they are bathrobe experts with blow horns, not to be taken seriously.

Sure, it used to be that way, but not so much anymore. Everyday, I see more and more experts breaking into social media because they are beginning to understand that this medium is about people.

Why should executives care? Well, it seems to me that some bloggers are starting to understand employees, consumers, and even shareholders better than most companies understand these publics. And unlike journalists, some bloggers could care less about being objective or sourcing two sides of the story.

How is that relevant? For companies that do not have a social media presence today, it's more than relevant because if the company doesn’t understand or have the ear of its employees, consumers, and shareholders, then certainly, someone else will (most likely someone in social media).

Currently, most companies treat bloggers just like employees. They ignore them, until the blogger writes something they don't like. Only then will the company address what the blogger wrote to say it was ‘wrong’ or ‘that’s not the way we do it,' as if to imply some secret method to the madness exists behind closed doors (rarely).

That's backwards thinking and I'm not surprised. There are plenty who like to pretend product and price is the end all to everything. In fact, these are the same folks who think backwards about media too. (Please write about us when we need help promoting a product, but kindly stay away when dark clouds loom on the horizon).

Instead of ignoring social media, companies might consider that the social media represents a great communication tactic to reach people in various publics and, if done correctly, better tap into the idea that human potential is an asset, inside and out.

There are several ways to do this with social media: establishing a direct connection with employees, better understanding consumers and motivating them in way that they assist in marketing efforts, or considering that the double-edged single-view sword of blogging can work for a company as much as it can work against it.

Ergo, if social media is a medium about people, it might be time to consider how social media could enhance human capital. But, of course, this assumes you have the right message to communicate anyway. Unfortunately, most companies and organizations are still struggling with that. (Hint: what consumers, employees, and shareholders value is almost never what top executives value.)

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Monday, June 18

Making Rules: David Meerman Scott

When David Meerman Scott first posted his long list of thanks to more than 150 bloggers (myself included) for adding something that influenced his book, The New Rules of Marketing & Public Relations, different bloggers had different reactions. They ranged from gratitude and excitement to bewilderment and feelings of obligation (some even called it “obligatory” in their headlines).

Before I toss in my one-and-a-half cents on Scott’s book (it’s more commentary than review), I want to briefly address the latter. Obligatory links, posts, comments, and reviews are a myth. Nobody has to write about anything they don’t want to. Just because someone sends you something or mentions your name doesn’t mean you owe them anything.

Sure, Scott’s original thank you post was part sincerity and part promotion, which certainly has its place in the world of social media. Only Scott knows how much he leaned toward one or the other. In doing that, it was interesting to watch how some people responded to it. Some posted links to everyone mentioned, some did not, and some (like me) tried to find a happy medium (I added the links in a comment because this blog was not well suited to include the list in my post). I did it because I wanted to; no other reason.

That said, there’s only one reason I have something to say about Scott’s book: it has merit to have something said about it. (Never mind the gracious inscription on the advanced copy I read, which I appreciated.) Scott did something with his book that is not easy to do. He hit the fast-moving target that is social media in such a way that his book will actually have shelf life.

I know it’s not easy to do this because when I look back on my first social media PowerPoint presentation (mostly blog focused) from 2005, I know that most of it has become but a snapshot of living history. Yep, time travels ten times as fast on the Internet.

But Scott finds the middle, offering up a mix on social media rules that will change and some that will not. In that way, it succeeds especially well in giving those interested in social media a crash course in catch up.

Any company interested in becoming more customer-centric owes it to themselves to take a long, hard look at social media because this is a medium about people. While some claim the risks are too great (because there can be unexpected consequences) and the reward too small (what does it do for sales, they ask), Scott makes the case that social media will soon be as common as a Web site, assuming it doesn’t profoundly change Web sites all together with added features. Right. Anything and everything from niche social media networks to full-length company-focused video programs.

The real benefit has been and continues to be a chance for companies to interact with consumers directly. Those that want to win with such an endeavor only need to conclude a few things — including that solid content will win over spin every time.

Done right, Scott says you can reach niche buyers with targeted messages for a fraction of the cost. Personally, I don’t think social media can replace every element of an integrated campaign. It’s a tool not a strategy in and of itself. But this idea is one that will permanently stick by year’s end.

Here, I’ll infuse one of my talking points on social media as an example. If you compare one post that attracts 10,000 to a direct mail piece that attacts the same number, assuming we use the lackluster 2 percent response rate on direct mail (our company does better than that average, hitting somewhere between 7-50 percent, depending on the company, offer, target, etc.), the cost savings is impossible to ignore. For the two hours it takes to write a planned post for a client, it would take 500,000 pieces to generate the same amount of traffic. At $1.50 to $2.50 per piece, what is the smarter investment? (And no, I’m not suggesting we dump direct mail completely.)

For public relations, where the best approaches are still being debated (as if it isn’t clear), Scott says that the audience is no longer a handful of journalists but millions of people on the Internet. He’s right there too; there is even a hierarchy of sorts and companies need to find the right mix of consumers, various bloggers, and journalists.

As Scott points out, bloggers tend toward promoting a single viewpoint as opposed to journalists who attempt to avoid their own views and focus on the views of others (bias aside). It’s one of the reasons I’ve likened blogs to op-eds as rather than reporting (though some of that exists too). Naturally, some are just diaries, etc. but more and more people are asking if anyone just blogs anymore. (Less and less, it seems to me, which is a shame.)

There is good and bad in this singular viewpoint. The best of it fills a void created by a growing group of journalists who think you always need two views. You do not. In fact, I still think the best journalists shoot for the truth, and sometimes that means two sides aren’t needed. (Do we really need to find wingnuts on either side of the issue every time?)

If Scott falls short anywhere in his book, it might be in that the choir of social media believers doesn’t fit the primary target audience. Sure, social media experts and seasoned bloggers could pull hundreds of post ideas right out of this book, but much of what is here can be found, well, from the blogs and sites many of us visit (including Web Ink Now). Yet, I’m the first to admit that Scott’s book was desperately needed, and only hope those who haven’t tested the social media waters will have the sense to pick it up.

Another area where my praise becomes a whisper is in the potential for some people to mistake excellent tactical examples as some semblance of a strategy or strategies. I hope not. It’s something to keep in mind if you are among the greater body of traditional marketers and executives who thought social media was a fad (some still do) but are now terrified that you somehow missed the train (don’t worry, there’s more than one stop on this ride). Instead, think of this book as a tool that will help you get your arms around many interesting ideas being tested today.

In sum, Scott’s book is snapshot of what is happening right now. It provides enough content to help convince executives that entering the sea of social media is worth the investment. It can bring traditional communicators up to speed. And, it can give experienced bloggers content ideas along with a roundup of details in case they missed one.

I like it enough to add it to our book shuffle weeks ago. It will stay there, at least until something better comes along, probably by Scott himself.

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Sunday, June 17

Rolling Clovers: The Black Donnellys


When I first wrote about Jericho being cancelled (at the urging of my wife and company team members), it was because they proved to me with pre-post research that CBS had a crisis in the making. (One of the things we do here is help people facing a crisis communication situation.)

The Black Donnellys doesn't really seem to have that element for NBC. It's not very clear the fans can bring the show back (though someone spiked Wikipedia with a rumored return). And it's not even clear that the fan base is a mile deep in clover as Jericho was with nuts (but they are good people). So why write about it?

Well, I've been turning it over for a few days and decided it provides an interesting contrast to the Jericho story while links to the fan dissatisfaction over the The Sopranos ending. I'll get to that in a minute, but need to drop in a quick backgrounder for those who have no idea what I'm talking about.

The Black Donnellys only aired on NBC from Feb. 26 to April 2 before it was "demoted" to an Internet series (one day, very soon, such a move will not be a demotion) over poor ratings. It was replaced by the Real Wedding Crashers, which convinced me why I needed a DVR (so I don't have to rely on network lineups). The net result was that Donnellys was officially cancelled.

There seems to be little doubt that the Donnellys failed because of its marketing. Thinking back, I never really got that it was about an Irish crime family pitted up against Italian mobsters in Hell's Kitchen.

Unlike Jericho fans, Donnellys fans seem most interested in lobbying HBO to pick up the show than convincing NBC to reconsider. Sure, they have a petition for NBC, but HBO is the target of shamrocks, quarters, and crackers.

What makes this interesting is because while Jericho fans did make an appeal to TNT, they mostly focused on CBS (and only picked one primary item to send beyond postcards and letters). So while anything is possible, I think moving a show from one network to another seems very daunting, perhaps even more so than resurrection.

Why it would work for HBO. HBO is better suited for a crime family story than a prime time network because there are fewer restrictions on the grit. HBO also just wrapped The Sopranos, whose viewers could potentially be converted from Italian to Irish family fans (and maybe even quell fan anger over The Sopranos ending, especially if they found a way to link the shows for some crossover). And then, of course, there is an existing loyal Donnellys fan base, which isn't bad considering the show didn't have a full season.

Why it wouldn't work for HBO. HBO is all about original programming. Of all the networks, it seems the least likely to pick up someone else's marketing miss. The idea that The Sopranos fans could be converted might backfire, making it even worse for the network (not to mention, the Donnellys would forever be compared to the predecessor). And, most importantly, one has to wonder how long a show can be wrapped before a revival is impossible beyond a made-for-television reunion movie.

To me, the best bet for the fan base is to keep doing what they are doing. Promote the series at NBC online, which has a great streaming setup with limited commercials. And, drive the numbers up on the HDNet reruns. While I’m a big fan of intermixing qualified research with quantified research, most networks are still about numbers (and playcating critics). Go Irish!

In closing, let me remind everyone that it won’t be long before there is nothing to distinguish digital media from traditional television. When that happens, and it will, there will be more changes than anyone imagined. I’m confident programming and the measure of it will only get better while giving independents a leg up.

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Saturday, June 16

Promoting Jericho: Fan Buzz

Since reversing its decision to cancel Jericho, CBS has entered into a developing partnership of sorts with fans. The network released the summer rebroadcast schedule for them to promote (9 p.m. Friday, July 6), requested input on the Jericho boards (hint to CBS: see NBC's Heroes), and engaged some fans with direct participation.

Keep in mind, it has only been 10 days since Jericho was resurrected (even though it feels much, much longer). How are the fans doing? Not bad. Slowly, there has been some semblance of organization, but overall, the focus seems to be on ideas (even on the CBS message boards). So, we thought it might be fun to highlight a few ideas that stand out and skip on organization for now, hoping things don’t become more fragmented.

Fan Ads. "Rubberpoultry," who has designed several ads and banners for Jericho fans, has become a central contact for promotions. He designed the ad above, which has great graphic merit despite missing a bit on the message. While the message appeals to fans, the copy would be better served if it was written for non-fans, providing a better call to action (same with the banner). Don't get me wrong though, it's among the best of the best. For a fairly comprehensive roundup of images, scroll to the bottom of this Jericho page.

Fan Radio. If anyone earned the moniker "voice of the fans," Shaun O Mac nailed it. Enough so that CBS flew him out to meet some of the stars (Skeet Ulrich, Brad Beyer, Richard Speight, and Bob Stephenson) and Carol Barbee, executive producer of Jericho. CBS filmed some of the tour; and the footage is rumored to be made into a video news release or perhaps make the DVD. On June 10, Shaun invited me as a last-minute guest on his show. It was fun, but Jericho fans will likely enjoy some earlier shows with several of the Jericho's stars and Barbee. Shaun's someone to watch, er, listen to when he talks Jericho or not.

Fan Forums. While most fans seem to use the CBS message boards as a focal point, I still think Jericho Rally Point is better suited for fan business (unless fans want CBS to usher in the fan club). NutsOnline also launched a Jericho fan forum with the best idea there to break up the forum into states, similar to an effort on Yahoo Groups.

Fan Groups. Speaking of fan groups, Lisa Lludvicek has done a solid job communicating and coordinating some efforts in Kansas, including her promotion of 11 viewing parties before the debut of the second season. The viewing parties, held at Governor’s Stumpys Grill Kansas City, are purposely not held on nights that CBS airs Jericho. They do provide fans an opportunity to meet each other, rally more viewers, and raise funds for Greensburg, which was devastated by tornadoes.

Fan Blogs. Several blogs have sprung up and JerichoOnCBS is one of my favorites. Lisa Coultrup (kystorms) has done a solid job keeping up on the news and adding some great round-ups, including: letters from producers and celebrities, and various online contact points. In many ways, she’s providing a centralized round-up that forums just can’t deliver (check out rubberpoultry's Star Wars/Jericho parody there!). Another blog, Jericho Monster, provides a broader view, which includes conversations about the Nielsens and a link to the Black Donnellys petition.

A few other ideas that deserve mention are the pursuit of the Guinness submission and the Jericho Saved site by Jeff Knoll. The latter includes a great summary of his media tour with Lennie James (that was as brilliant as the purposefully stark nut ads Knoll produced).

So, assuming the fans still have an 8-9 million viewer base to work from, they only need 3 million more viewers to have a hit show or close to the top 20. It's doable. It seems to me CBS is doing its part on several levels, making me seriously doubt those rumors that the new seven episodes were nothing but a ruse to end the war. I think CBS has decided it might as well go for a winner with Jericho. Kudos to them for doing what appears to be a 360-degree turn on how CBS sees its viewers.

That's not to say the story is all hugs and roses. Far from it. Some fragmentation, duplication of efforts, and the lack of a solid message targeting new viewers are all working against the greater effort (before it was nuts, but nuts doesn't seem like the right message anymore). It's not surprising; protests are always easier to grow than a fan base. To her credit, Schumi has done some good in delegating "idea" categories to willing volunteers. While I wish it would have been done a bit different, it's still a step in the right direction.

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Friday, June 15

Going Social: MyRagan, RecruitingBlogs, BlogCatalog

Social networks and online communities deserve consideration for just about anyone hoping to have a presence on the Internet. They come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from headline roundups and forums to search directories and profile pages.

Although there are hundreds to choose from, I'm mentioning just three today because they demonstrate very distinct approaches. For lack of a better definition, let’s call them a closed niche membership, open niche membership, and open general membership.

MyRagan.com. MyRagan.com has corporate communication and related professionals, especially public relations practitioners, buzzing with excitement. It uses the Me.Com platform, which allows people to “rapidly deploy, customize and administer a social network specific to their interests.” Maybe.

I call it a closed niche membership because MyRagan.com does not really allow for easy navigation throughout the Me.com network. So, in many ways, it’s self-contained. It’s also extremely niche specific, so much so I that I’m not sure if a non-communicator would get it.

Stand Outs: MyRagan has a built-in audio-visual chat and IM features. It also has a direct link to the Ragan Career Center. Mark Ragan and his team are working very, very hard to make this work, recently asking for five or six volunteers to provide ideas for improving the network. The members, the ones who aren’t lost, are very helpful. I was also able to add my widget to my in-progress profile page. Cool.

Stand Offs: MyRagan is a navigational nightmare, especially because it toggles back and forth between MyRagan and other Ragan Communications sites. One also has to wonder how much is too much. There are forums, bulletins, discussions, groups, community blogs, personal blogs, and ... yeesh! To quote Geoff Livingston at The Buzz Bin: “It’s not the most aesthetic site, but it’s very, very functional.” (It is functional if you narrow your focus to a few features.) Now, if we can only teach social media newcomers what to blog about so the community blog doesn’t die off as a “promo post” board.

RecruitingBlogs.com. RecruitingBlogs.com was created by Jason Davis after he, um, retired from Recruiting.com. It’s everything a niche social network should be and opens to the Ning platform. Bouncing around Ning helps you connect with people in many fields and industries.

Thus, in many ways, RecruitingBlogs.com is an open niche network. It’s laid out extremely well as everything is on the front page, including scrolling RSS feeds from every recruiting blog on the planet (that’s worth reading) and then some. Keep in mind though, not all Ning networks are created equal; Davis really knows his stuff.

Stand Outs: RecruitingBlogs.com not only benefits from an expert network creator, but also an experienced group of recruiters who blog. Many of them have had blogs for two years or more. They also make up some of the best read blogs on the Web, which means most content is razor sharp. It is a niche model to be followed, pure and simple. To check out the greater Ning network, click one button. Done.

Stand Offs: Not much, unless you just don’t like recruiters (I do). While I know Davis is not able to do everything he wants to do on Ning, most people would never know it. Seriously, other than the occasional lag and maybe a missing “about page” or “highlighted features page” for newcomers (eg. I know what the chatter wall is good for on my profile, but newcomers might not), I love it.

BlogCatalog.com. BlogCatalog.com is the fastest-growing social blog directory for a reason. It is completely open to anyone and, as long as your blog is approved (about 48 hours unless you have questionable content), you’ll be able to meet some wonderful people.

BlogCatalog.com is also different from the aforementioned niche networks because it owns its own technology, features, and widgets. Antony Berkman bought a dying directory six months ago and turned it into a company worth watching.

Stand Outs: There is a real benefit in having a general open network because the skill sets of the staff and membership are deep. The newest feature is brilliant, making it the first stop of the day for many bloggers. Right on your profile, you can add some of most popular communities you belong to: AIM, del.icio.us, Digg, Facebook, Flickr, Last.fm, MyBlogLog, MySpace, StumbleUpon, Technorati, and Twitter. And that's just for starters.

Stand Offs: None to speak of. At a glance, some professionals might be miffed by the abundance of active members with personal blogs and monetorization blogs, but only until you get to know them. They are extremely nice, approachable, and deeply talented. Collectively, they know more about social media than any niche group I’ve come across. You also won’t find a BlogCatalog.com blog as Berkman and his staff mostly communicate on the discussion board (but they all have their own blogs). Yet, they are among the most engaging and friendly non-niche social directory hosts anywhere.

So there you have it. While each has its own culture and climate, they are just like any group you might belong to in person: you get back what you put into them.

The best bet is to put your company (or personal) strategy first. Then, join several but only become active on those that best fit your objectives because as we all know (I hope), there is no such thing as a social media strategy. Social media is a versatile tactic.

Beyond that, social networks are allowing people to participate online without ever starting a blog, vlog, or radio show. But for those who do, they represent the best way to gain targeted exposure.

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Thursday, June 14

Whacking Wal-Mart: BusinessWeek

If there ever was a case study that I would like to see concluded, it is the continued controversy and media spectacle between Julie Roehm and Wal-Mart. In the end, of the two parties still playing (the rest had the sense to exit gracefully), no one is going to win.

Some members of the media are working hard to make sure of it, looking under every stone for evidence to prove that Wal-Mart is not only unethical but also the embodiment of corporate evil (if you believe some of their accounts). Sure, part of it is Wal-Mart's fault, because if a public relations problem has truly grown out of the case, it is Wal-Mart's apparent inability to keep the story simple: its former marketing executive allegedly based her multi-million dollar advertising campaign decision on who could wine, dine, and woo her the most while using company money to fund an affair.

But that's not the story people are writing. Instead, the latest story to surface in the media's "Whack-O-Wal-Mart" game is BusinessWeek with a write-up penned by Pallavi Gogoi. The lead that Gogoi unearthed from nowhere is the story of Chalace Epley Lowry, who started working at Wal-Mart as an administrative assistant in the communications department in January.

Lowry says she was subjected to a day-long orientation with a heavy emphasis on ethics and was told "if we see something that has the appearance of something unethical we should report it." The person she reported was Mona Williams, vice-president for corporate communications, for what seemed to be related to "insider trading" in Lowry's eyes.

"In all honesty, Mona's transactions could all have been above board," Lowry says, "but I acted in good faith, just pointing out that there might have been some wrongdoing."

According to Wal-Mart, Lowry was confused. The company says she mistook a deferred compensation form for an options exercise request and that Williams did nothing wrong. Williams also learned of the complaint, prompting some inner office tension that resulted in Lowry leaving to find new employment.

There is a lot wrong with this story, but perhaps not in the way some people might think. Although employers might provide ethics training, I suggest employees pursue a better understanding of ethics on their own. Even if your employer tells you to report "the appearance of something unethical" that is not an appropriate solution. Of course, you'll never get this out of the BusinessWeek article.

In this case, Lowry would have been better off asking Williams what the documents were before reporting it. Had the papers been related to stocks and tied to insider trading (as Lowry believed and Wal-Mart refuted after an investigation), she could have given Williams the chance to correct the ethical breach, with an understanding that Lowry would report it if no course correction was made. It's about that simple.

Now I don't believe that Lowry intentionally meant to break her supervisor's trust and breach ethics, but she did. And while that is not the story I read in BusinessWeek, that is what the real story is: give your co-workers an opportunity to correct an ethical breach before going over their heads to report it. If more people did that, maybe there wouldn't be a Roehm/Wal-Mart scuff-up to write about.

Right. Sean Womack could have said, "Gee Julie, those e-mails are a little racy for my taste. Please don't send them." Ho hum. At least he had the good sense to get out of a fight that no one is going to win.
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