Tuesday, July 31

Creating Conversation: BlogStraightTalk

Next Mon. (Aug. 6), Geoff Livingston (The Buzz Bin) will begin to test drive BUMPzee! with a joint community called "BlogStraightTalk."

We were originally going to host BlogStraightTalk on a new closed niche social network that allowed some semblance of group discussions. In fact, it was this closed niche social network that initiated our conversation.

In reviewing the network, I mentioned it might work "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."

"Well, why don't we do something about that?" Livingston asked.

"Why don't we ... ? Um, social media overload," I offered. "Besides, I'm partial to BlogCatalog.com, RecruitingBloggers.com, and RecruitingBlogs.com, etc., etc.”

Eventually, he persuaded me based on the content model and a modest time commitment (on my part). Besides, it might even be fun to banter about social media somewhere other than our blogs since we do not always agree (but never take those disagreements too seriously).

We were approved and set to launch in early July, but then the term "closed" in the closed niche social network was suddenly taken a bit too seriously for Livingston. It seems that my original definition might have been more accurate if I had said "closed niche commercial network."

Regardless, we found ourselves with a decent concept but no platform for it until settling on BUMPzee, which allows bloggers to develop niche communities around their blogs. I learned about it from Walter Burek and Theresa Hall who host a developing writers community there (I have since joined).

So what's BlogStraightTalk?

BlogStraightTalk is a weekly discussion on the best and worst of blogging content practices, presented in a contrarian format (eg. Ebert & Roper or Kornheiser & Wilbon).

We'll alternate the discussion between best/worst concepts and blogs (or social media) reviews. The basic concept is to open up a discussion among experienced bloggers while allowing those who are newer to social media to gain insights into content development.

Anyone can join as a member of the community and participate in the discussion. Members who have established blogs (with at least 10 posts that positively contribute to the development of social media) may be added to the blog roll.

As Livingston offered up on his blog, "Rich and I do go back and forth on some issues, so it could have a nice Pardon the Interruption “dueling pundits” feel to it."

Does this mean I have to disagree? Find out next Monday.

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Monday, July 30

Acquiring Social Media: Ad Age

A few days ago, Advertising Age (Ad Age), which has a combined online and print reach of 697,000 readers (approximately half online), acquired Todd Andrlik’s “multi metric” methodology, the ranking system used to create Todd And’s Power 150, which is probably the most quoted blog ranking system around.

What does that mean?

That seems to be the question of the week. The acquisition has created a buzz, especially among those who have submitted their sites and are currently ranked. In fact, enough social media insiders like ExperienceCurve and The Viral Garden have asked "What does it mean?" that Andrlik went back and compiled the answers from Jonah Bloom, editor of Ad Age, asking: What does it mean?

“The fact we’ll now also be ranking the media and marketing blogs says a lot about how important that community has become in a very short time,” said Bloom. “Here at Ad Age we have no immediate plans to monkey with Todd’s subjective evaluations. I like that the ranking does have a qualitative filter, and that Todd is that filter.”

What does that mean?

It means more than it says. It means magazine editors are becoming much more adept at talking like public relations practitioners. It means Andrlik will be sticking around as long as it suits Ad Age. It means Ad Age will keep the ranking system in place for the short term. It means Ad Age has acknowledged the growing influence of blogs at a time when print media prefers to ignore them (not one print publication has formally announced the acquisition, including Ad Age). And it means Ad Age, given its close proximity to communication-related industries, recognizes that the time to position a publication as an online content leader is right now.

What does that mean?

It means convergence through quiet acquisition. As I have written before, the future of social media will likely play out much like the Web site boom in the early 1990s. On the front end, advertising agencies called Web sites a fad that targeted too small of a niche audience to be acknowledged whereas IT people saw it as a pristine time to charge tens of thousands of dollars to do what no one wanted to do.

It didn’t take long before advertising agencies realized that the high price of Web site design was cutting into their advertising budgets. So, they quickly and quietly bought up the competition. While there are still a few Web design firms in existence today, the field has been largely absorbed by communication-related companies.

Social media will likely go the same way over time; this time with advertising agencies, public relations firms, companies, and print publications all quietly taking a keen interest in and then acquiring social media content providers. Unlike Web sites though, there will always be new start up content providers waiting in the wings.

When will this happen? Um, long before yesterday.

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Sunday, July 29

Writing Fan Fiction: Richard Becker


Yesterday, we launched an unofficial Expanded Universe Short Story Competition fan fiction contest to promote Jericho for the fans, expand its universe (outside of the town where it largely takes place on television), and demonstrate the possibilities of its rich story line. While I don't write fiction all too often (though commercial advertising sometimes crosses over), I thought it might be fun to share a non-submission. It's a good thing I can't submit, because I broke the 1,000 word cap. Ha! Hope you enjoy.

Bacon by Richard Becker

The hearty wooden scent would fill the lake cottage every summer Sunday before the break of dawn. You had to get up early to get some before pitching off the pier with the hope of a catching a muskie in between the ever-abundant supply of perch and northern. The scrambled eggs and bacon already cooking on the stove made the early morning wake-up call bearable.

Grandma was always good about that, sneaking out of bed almost half an hour before anyone else just to start us off. She didn’t need an alarm clock to do it. It was Sunday and she’d say that’s how every summer Sunday ought to be.

She made it easy. With a smile and quick kiss on the cheek, she’d wave us off just as the white caps sparkled silver in the sunlight as it peeked above the tightly packed tree line; white cedar, jack pine, green alders, and birch.

And every Sunday, it was the same. Four lines dropped into the water, two near the boat with fresh minnows to pick up passers by and two cast out with our respective lures. My grandfather charged nothing more than the price of a little company.

“You’ll never catch any today,” he said, pulling a white handkerchief from his pocket and clearing away his rusted lungs.

“You always say that.”

“And even if you do, you can’t eat it,” he said, looking out in the distance. “You wouldn’t know … “

“Hey, you were there … I caught that …”

"Shush now,” he said, looking at me like a stranger. “We’re not alone.”

“What?”

My head hurt as the quiet swell of a rocking boat replaced itself with the hard, compacted ground from the night before. My eyes stung in the light as the campfire smoke circled around in my direction.

“I said … shush now,” the stranger said. “You’re not alone.”

I reached for the G36, a rare find, lifted from the trunk of an abandoned police car outside Charlotte a few days ago; maybe weeks.

“Don’t bother,” he said. “I’m not taking any chances with you blowing my head off or even your own. What’d you do to get this gem anyway, kill a cop?”

“Where’s my stuff?”

“Don’t worry yourself none about it,” he said, cracked lips breaking a smile above a wiry beard, graying red. “You’ll get it back. I only want one thing from you anyway.”

“What?”

“Fair trade,” he said. “You have a fire. I have the bacon. A little company.”

Bacon. I had almost missed the scent of it under the smell of ash. How long had it been since I smelled bacon? Weeks? Months? Probably a couple dozen years, before I took to squandering Sunday mornings with a Power Bars, coffee, and whatever remedy was required to cure the hangover from the night before. But even that seemed like a lifetime ago since the country broke apart.

“Yeah, sure, whatever,” I said.

“Yeah, sure, whatever,” he winked, grinning like a wood elf as he looked over the G36. “So what? You killed a cop? This ain’t issue everywhere, you know.”

“Be careful with that.”

“Be careful with that,” he mimicked. “Bah, somebody else might have already killed you. Pretty foolish, if you ask me, drinking yourself away like that.”

“You were watching me?”

“Yeah, I was watching you. We’ve been headed the same way for days, not that you’d notice,” he set the gun down beside him. “Would’ve said hello sooner, but I figured you might shoot me. Ah heck, suppose it doesn’t matter how you got it. Even if you said you didn’t kill a cop, I probably wouldn’t believe you.”

“I found it, so what?” I muttered, leaning forward out of the smoke to get a better look. Bacon. The smell was strong enough to cover up the taste of stale VO from the night before.

“See. You told me and I don’t believe you,” he squinted his eyes and drifted. “So what. So what. So what if I just came around last night and … fsshtp, fsshtp … skinned ya stem to stern. Oh, don’t think I didn’t think about it, either. I’ve killed people. Korea, Vietnam. You wouldn’t be the first. Probably not the last the way things are. But then … I saw what you did, helping those folks down the road a few days ago. They won’t do it, so I thought I’d pay it forward for them.”

“Pay what forward?” I said, seeing that bacon wasn’t the only thing on the fire. It was weak, but the tawny colored water in the pot was close to coffee.

“Tell you a secret,” he leaned in. “Shhh… you’re going the wrong way.”

“How would you know?’

“It’s Rome, I imagine. You’ve been headed mostly north but staying clear of hot zones,” his animated eyes remembering. “Whoosh. You should’ve seen it down near Miami. Poof. Gone. All gone.”

“Yeah, I am going that way, maybe to help,” I said. “So that’s where you’re from, Miami?”

“Me, no. But I went south from the panhandle before I went north,” His smile faded. “Hell of a mess down there. Hell of a mess. People herded up like cattle into camps. All of them, those who live there and now all those greenhorns running from winter. For most, I suppose it don’t matter where they go. But me, no. I’m what you’d call retired.”

“But you said you’re going to the same way?”

“Not to Rome. They’re making government in Rome.” He laughed. “Government made this mess; so you can bet it won’t be fixing it. Everybody all taking up arms, drawing boundaries, calling themselves these United States. Over in Rome, they’ll either kill ya or draft ya to kill other folks. Here… it’s done.”

It was burnt, dry, and hard to keep from crumbling. But even so, it was almost as good as every summer Sunday. No, not as good as Grandma’s by a long shot, but with most days serving up only canned goods and beef jerky looted from houses long abandoned, it might as well have been steak and eggs.

“Thanks,” I blinked. “So where then, if not north I mean?”

“You? Go west,” he said, pouring off the contents of the pot into two well-used tins. “They weren’t hit too hard out west. Some folks are even trying to live free.”

“West? I thought Lawrence was gone.”

“Lawrence is gone,” he said, pursing his lips around a strip of bacon. “So don’t go through Lawrence. Go, I dunno, go around to New Bern or someplace. Hell, go to Jericho. I dunno. Go anywhere the masses aren’t headed. Besides, you might like it. I lived in Kansas before my wife convinced me to retire to a trailer park.”

“So is that were you’re headed now. Kansas?”

“Me? No, I’m too old,” he said. “So I’m going to my real home. I'm going to Providence.”

“Kind of close to Boston, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, but home is home,” he smiled, tossing the rest of this coffee on the fire and pulling a white handkerchief from his front pocket. “For young folks like you, go live free or whatever. For old folks like me, well, home is good enough.”

“Yeah, right,” I said. “Jericho, huh? Why not.”

“Why not,” he smiled, humming to himself as he passed over my pack and the G36. “When the world is all on fire and overrun with man’s desire, why not Jericho.”

“Appreciate it,” I said. “I mean the company.”

“Now don’t shoot anything with that,” he waved me off. “Even if you do, you can’t eat it. There won’t be nothing left to take for granted.”

“You always say that,” I said.

“You wouldn’t know,” he said, reminding me we just met.

But he was right. There was nothing to take for granted. Not bacon. Not coffee. Not a little bit of company.

Disclaimer: "Jericho” and its related characters are the property of CBS Paramount Television Network and Junction Entertainment. This contest is solely for entertainment purposes. Neither Richard Becker nor Copywrite, Ink. is affiliated with CBS or Junction Entertainment.

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Saturday, July 28

Expanding Jericho: Season Two Fan Fiction


It seems Jericho fans had plenty of reason to cheer this week. CBS recognized fans for sending custom label water bottles; launched a blog called The Salty Scoop; made plans to promote Jericho Season 2 at Comic-Con in San Diego; and sent out a promising message from Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment, publicly stating that while the rerun ratings are modest, 23 percent of the viewers currently watching first season Jericho reruns never watched the show before (hat tip to Jericho Saved).

“Just as encouraging, this research shows that one million viewers who left the show after the mid-season hiatus have returned this summer to catch up on the episodes they missed,” Tassler said. “We still have a LONG way to go. But, I wanted to share this news and express our continued appreciation for your support of " Jericho." You have quickly and firmly established "Jericho" as the show with the most passionate and vocal fan community on television. Please keep spreading the word.”

All right. We’ll lend an unofficial assist that we will promote deep …

Every now and again, I have an idea that I want to see come to fruition. One of them is the expansion of the Jericho Universe. While the waters have been tested a bit by fans, we kicked an idea around the office last week on how we might capture new viewers while expanding the Jericho Universe. Done.

Expanded Universe Short Story Competition

The Story. Write a 250- to 1,000-word short story about something happening in the expanded universe of Jericho (outside of Jericho) with original characters. While Jericho can be mentioned, please refrain from using anything that may interfere with future plot lines. Your name and address must be included on the e-mailed entry (we will publish pseudonyms upon request).

The Submission. Please submit the story in the body of an e-mail (no attachments, please) to expanduniverse@yahoo.com by no later than 5 p.m. PST on Aug. 17, 2007.

Entry fee. Nada. Zero.

First Place.
• The story published on the Copywrite, Ink. blog on Sept. 2, 2007
• An authentic hand-signed autographed picture of Skeet Ulrich (above)
Jericho- The first season on DVD (upon release)
• Choice of Copywrite, Ink. “Covering Nuts” or “Remember Jericho” T-shirt

Second Place.
• The story published on the Copywrite, Ink. blog on Sept. 9, 2007
Jericho– Official 11x17 reproduction poster
• Choice of Copywrite, Ink. “Covering Nuts” or “Remember Jericho” T-shirt

Third Place.
• The story published on the Copywrite, Ink. blog on Sept. 16, 2007
• Choice of Copywrite, Ink. “Covering Nuts” or “Remember Jericho” T-shirt

Winners will be announced on Aug. 31, 2007. Entry assumes that you agree to grant us first electronic rights (only) for publication on this blog in the event you win. If you do not win, you retain all rights. And by entering, you also agree that the story you submit is your own original work.

Tips. As we tell any writers, be accurate, clear, concise, human, and conspicuous. Since we are writers, spelling and grammar count. We also reserve the right to edit the stories and/or not award some or all prizes if no suitable entries are submitted.

If you are unfamiliar with Jericho, you might visit the Emmy-nominated site for backgrounders. If you have any questions, feel free to comment.

If you need additional inspiration, visit tomorrow because I’ll be posting a fan-fiction piece that I wrote last weekend (geez, hope you like it). Naturally, my example is not eligible to win nor can anyone else employed by Copywrite, Ink. enter.

Disclaimer: "Jericho” and its related characters are the property of CBS Paramount Television Network and Junction Entertainment. This contest is solely for entertainment purposes. Copywrite, Ink. is not affiliated with CBS or Junction Entertainment.


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Friday, July 27

Ordering Up Ethics: Flogs, Blogs, And Posers

After reading that 279 U.S. chief marketing officers, directors of marketing and marketing managers polled in the PRWeek/Manning Selvage & Lee (MS&L) Marketing Management Survey revealed some confusion over ethics, I posted a poll to see if a self-selected group of participants could determine which of eight case scenarios might demonstrate the greatest ethical breach, noting that some were not ethical breaches (but have had some people attach ethical arguments to them).

While the poll was well read, only 22 people participated as of 9 a.m. this morning (before PollDaddy had some challenges). There are several other accounts for low participation, including: ethics cannot really be measured in terms of “greatest;” not everyone was familiar with the various cases; and people are generally confused and/or don’t care about ethics anyway. All valid points.

Fortunately for me, a few people opted in because I promised to make no claims that this is a scientific survey, but rather a discussion opener for today (and an opportunity to try PollDaddy). So here’s our take on eight...

(Poll 23%) John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, Inc., anonymously posted disparaging remarks about Wild Oats, a company that Whole Foods is now hoping to acquire. We considered placing this in a secondary position, until Vera Bass offered the following on BlogCatalog: “… I believe that breach of the more specifically defined duties (especially fiduciary duty) and obligations that are developed and maintained by those who carry more responsibility for others than most people do, is, by this definition, a greater breach.” Clearly, this is an ethical breach; and we’ll be adding something to our case study next week.

(Poll 18%) Julie Roehm accepting gifts from advertising agencies while they were seeking the coveted Wal-Mart account. While there are allegedly other ethical breaches related to this case study, we limited the poll to a single breach because it’s enough. While some argue wooing guests is an industry norm, the truth is Roehm knowingly violated her company’s policy and has been spinning ever since. While the initial action was bad enough, her defense of it continues to damage an increasing number of people.

(Poll 36%) Edelman Public Relations Worldwide published a fake blog (flog) last year for Wal-Mart (there were three actually). What makes this scenario stand out is that it was premeditated by people who knew better. The real irony is that Wal-Mart could have avoided the breach with disclosure. Perhaps more ironic, no matter how you feel about Wal-Mart, it has enough good news not to need fake news. We placed it third, but only because no one seems to have been hurt.

None of the other five are ethical breaches. At least, not to date.

(Poll 14%) While the Cartoon Network bomb scare illustrates a worst case scenario for a guerilla marketing campaign to go wrong and clearly impacted Boston (closing roads, tunnels, and bridges for hours), it is not an ethical breach. While ill-advised and perhaps not well thought out, it really wasn’t about ethics. In truth, Turner Broadcasting Systems acted very quickly and accepted all responsibility. The guerilla marketing firm that oversaw the campaign, on the other hand, was much slower to respond.

The (Poll 0%) Microsoft’s laptop giveaway, (Poll 5%) Nikon camera outreach program, and the (Poll 5%) McDonald’s mommy bloggers have all been questioned and talked about by bloggers. While all of them have the potential for an ethical breach, none of them did (that we are aware). As long as bloggers disclose the gift, loan, etc. and do not allow these items to bias their opinions and/or encourage/obligate them to make false claims, then no ethical breach can occur.

The last scenario, where Jobster sent Jason Davis a cease a desist letter, claiming Davis had violated a non-compete clause for launching a social network called Recruitingblog.com, was not an ethical question. While the method was not prudent, there was no ethical breach. The two have since reached an amicable agreement.

So why do we care about ethics? To take from the preface of the International Association of Business Communicators’ code of ethics, because: “hundreds of thousands of business communicators worldwide engage in activities that affect the lives of millions of people, and because this power carries with it significant social responsibilities.”

However, as mentioned, this responsibility is two-fold. I believe that we must be cautious in applying ethics so broadly as it continuously raises doubt in or damages the reputation of people, regardless of rank or position, who have not breached ethics. As is often the case, asking the wrong questions — “Is it ethical to ask for comments on a client’s blog?” — can create more confusion than clarity.

As the best measure of our ethics, we must not only be honest with others but also, and most importantly, with ourselves. If you are ever in doubt, the simplest ethical self-test is to ask yourself one of two questions ...

“Would I be proud to tell my grandmother?” or (depending on who your grandmother was) “Would I be proud to see a story about what I am doing on the front page of the New York Times or Wall Street Journal?” If you can answer “yes” to either, you’re likely in good shape. Case in point, I think Mackey would have answered "no."

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Thursday, July 26

Accepting Leadership: ERE Network

If there is one “most important” lesson to be learned from an ERE Network dispute that became a public dispute, it is that those who begin to assume leadership roles, even within social media, must be willing to embrace the responsibilities of leadership no matter how unpleasant they may seem.

Neither David Manaster nor Karen Mattonen, the two most public parties who have participated in this dispute, perceive themselves to be leaders, yet I keep seeing the term continually attached to their names within the recruiting industry. Manaster is CEO of a network that is comprised of 50,000 members and Mattonen operated four discussion groups within that network.

“A leader is an individual who influences, motivates, and enables others to contribute toward the effectiveness and success of the organizations in which they are members.” — R.J. House

This could include any number of organizations, ranging from families and fan clubs to companies and industries. Based on varied responses and comments from other members, I would say both qualify.

They are not alone. Hundreds and thousands and millions of people all over the world, online and off, proliferate the idea that somehow they are not leaders while assuming roles that clearly have leadership responsibilities. And yet, somehow, they fool themselves into believing that if they exempt themselves from the title, they are somehow excused from the accountability of being effective.

As much as I like both Manaster and Mattonen, it seems to me that their unwillingness to apply some principles of effective leadership stems from being in denial that they were leaders, though perhaps in different ways. Had they seen themselves as leaders, I suspect the outcome would be very different.

Having spoken to both parties, it seems futile for me to attempt to explain the actions, events, and perceptions that led to this point. The simplest but somewhat debated summation is this: Mattonen, who led discussions on difficult topics such as ethics and law on the ERE Network, allowed herself to be baited into a personal dispute by another party or parties. The result of this, since she already received a warning for a similar dispute, was her dismissal from the ERE Network.

Any time a leader is banned from a network, whether that position is in title or by default through opinion or action, there are bound to be questions and disagreements over the decision. There were.

As a result, Manaster attempted to move these questions from the ERE Network to a different forum, his personal blog, where those who disagreed with the outcome could express their grievances rather than infuse their questions into discussion groups where perhaps they did not belong. While he achieved this outcome (to his credit), he misidentified several steps in crisis communication.

The most obvious of these was that he may have been better served by making it clear to Mattonen why the decision was made and then directing concerned members to her. As an alternative, he may have created a thread or group within the network and allowed Mattonen to temporarily participate. He may have benefited by keeping the message and focus on the outcome of the dispute rather than attempting to explain the decision for the ban, which shifted the focus from the original dispute onto Mattonen's ban. This created the appearance that Manaster had taken sides.

Truly, Manaster seems to have had the best intentions, but all too often the best intentions do not produce the desired outcomes. In this case, the impact of the communication made the dispute more public; expanded points of potential dissension about Mattonen’s dismissal; increased the number of participants in what became a perceived debate (those vocal and not vocal); created the perception that Manaster had taken sides (as the piece defends his reasoning for banning Mattonen rather than how he chose to handle the dispute); created consequences for Mattonen that extended beyond the ERE Network; and did not provide her any opportunity to respond (she can no longer post anywhere on the ERE Network). Mattenon did eventually respond on a new blog, elevating the crisis.

Fortunately, as with all crisis communication situations, the last step resets the process: collect feedback and adjust.

• There is an opportunity to recognize where the initial communication did not achieve the greater goal of bringing resolution to an unfortunate situation and unnecessarily focused on one individual in a dispute that involved several members. (All involved members, I am told, received warnings. As not all received a prior warning, not all have been dismissed.)

• There is an opportunity to reinforce the finer points of the initial message that seemed buried by comparison: Mattonen has made contributions within the recruiting industry and on the ERE Network specifically, and Manaster has every confidence that she will continue to make such contributions to the industry. Given the response, he may encourage other groups not to base their relationships with her on this network decision, which is isolated to ERE.

• There is an opportunity, it seems to me, that as leaders, both Manaster and Mattonen owe it to any respective followings to discuss, with an arbitrator familiar with the industry as needed and with a very narrow focus, how they may mutually and beneficially conclude the relationship so they may peacefully coexist within the industry. While this may not benefit either party per se, it will benefit those who know them and help prevent further polarization.

While this seems to be an isolated situation, the ERE Network might also review its terms of service, conflict resolution practices, and crisis communication policy. Quantified counts are not an appropriate measure to determine whether the policies that are in place may work or not. On the contrary, if the policies in place worked, there might not be a crisis today.

This leads me to the second “most important” lesson to be learned. There seems to be a trend in social media to push the concept of transparency onto every situation. This is a misconception. Conflict resolution for private matters is best conducted in private, with an arbitrator as needed, because once it is made public, it becomes even more difficult to resolve.

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Wednesday, July 25

Branding Champ: Coca-Cola


For the last several years, when I ask people to think about a successful brand, I often ask them to think of Coca-Cola because, well, Coke is it. I don’t even have to drink it to appreciate why Coca-Cola has risen to the top of Harris Interactive’s “Best Brand” poll.

When Ron Kalb, associate director of public relations for R&R Partners, spoke to my class earlier this year, he shared what I thought was one of the most significant studies on branding I had ever seen, which underpins part of the “Fragile Brand Theory” that I have been working on for a few months. The study, conducted by Baylor College of Medicine a few years ago, showed the huge effect that the Coke label had on brain activity related to the control of actions, the drudging up of memories, and things that involve self-image.

The results were nothing less than amazing to me. When Coke and Pepsi were presented to participants in a blind test, their brains did not respond. When Pepsi was presented with its label, their brains did not respond. When Coke or Pepsi was presented with the Coke label, bingo, their brains lit up. Wow! It seems Kalb really did find the perfect quote to reinforce this concept in his presentation …

“Brand is the relationship between a product and its customer.” — Phil Dusenberry, chairman of BBDO Worldwide

Sure, when I talk about it, I tend to go a bit further to conclude brand is the relationship between a product and everyone (customers or not). But both ideas and the concept basically demonstrate that brand is not the product. Brand exists in the world of perception.

Another reason I like the Coke brand so much is because it provides an excellent example of something else I’ve discussed. The consistency of behaviors, actions, or messages can reinforce or detract from the brand. And, the closer a perception is to reality, the easier it is maintain. Coke is beautifully consistent and its messages continually reinforce its brand and reality.

This is true, so much so, that if you walk into a store and find one damaged can of Coke, you are likely to conclude the grocery store clerks are responsible. Yet, if you purchase a bag of Fritos and a tiny pinhole or other damage has allowed the chips to become stale, you are likely to conclude something happened on the Frito-Lay production line. Why is this? Brand.

The same can be said about the concept of polls. In the AdvertisingAge article that I’m about to link to, Matthew Creamer asks what the whole Best Brand poll really means. Robert Fronk, senior VP for Harris' brand and strategy consulting group, is wonderfully honest about it.

"Some of these polls are done for newsmaker purposes, as you know," he said. "Our PR firms love these quick little things to be able to work with."

And so do journalists. And so do bloggers. In some ways, no matter what the methodology is, we are preconditioned to give polls and surveys more validity. When it comes from Harris Interactive, even more so. In fact, I frequently raise an eyebrow when the methodology seems flawed, the number or respondents seems light, or someone assumes a poll does much better than provide a snapshot at the moment, assuming you have the right demographic mix.

In this case, I have to agree with Fronk’s assessment that on one hand, a one-question poll is not going to help a brand marketer. On the other hand, the one-question poll doesn’t diminish the fact that certain companies come to mind.

Sony, for instance, which held the top spot for the last seven years, dropped to No. 2. Does this mean Sony is doing something wrong? Probably not. Personally, I like Creamer’s take on it. He correctly attributes it to Apple’s ability to dominate the portable music-player category. Dell, which had been in the second spot last year, drops two spots to No. 4 this year. Maybe it has to do with their need for a new advertising campaign.

Hey, that was fast. It seems Michael Dell wasn’t joking when he said he wanted to reboot the Dell brand.

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Tuesday, July 24

Publicizing Bans: ERE Network

Although I've always liked David Manaster, CEO of Electronic Recruiting Exchange (ERE) Network, which is the largest active community of recruiting professionals online, he recently published something on his blog that left me confused. There seems to be little communication logic behind publishing the banishment of a member from his organization.

"To date, I've avoided posting about this decision because I didn't want to needlessly embarrass anyone (which is also why I am not using her name in this post)," he wrote. "However, my lack of explanation and transparency in decision-making has resulted in a number of people publicly speculating about what happened, and that is further disrupting the experience of the silent majority on the ERE site — the exact opposite of the intended effect."

While the most obvious is that silence always leads to speculation, there are several other problems with his post from a communication perspective. Today, I'll share the first two. First, Manaster writes that "the other 49,990 members of the network don't care about these personal disputes." Yet, that didn't stop him from sharing this personal dispute with the rest of the world. Second, since everyone in ERE already knew who he was talking about, how does not mentioning her name make any difference?

Now it seems Karen Mattonen, the person Manaster referenced in his post, wants to know too. She posted several questions along with her side of the story, which includes, among other things, dated e-mails and several other names of those involved. One of the e-mails is from Manaster that says: "We can have any conversations that we need to via email, and they will remain private unless you choose to take our conversations public. What is it that you would like to discuss?"

Regardless of which side (if there are sides) people fall on, one thing is certain. It is never a good idea to publish someone's banishment (or loss of employment) on a blog because it broadens the debate and could potentially lead to other problems. In fact, companies might like to know that even journalists will respect "no comment" if the explanation would force the CEO to share a personal evaluation about a former member or employee. A better answer might have been: ask Ms. Mattonen.

Sooner or later, someone always comes forward with additional information that could cause a communication crisis, one that seems to lend itself to a case study. In this case, the person who came forward was Mattonen herself.

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Protecting Consumers: King County


Some people misunderstood me when I suggested local governments might have better things to do than require quick service restaurants like Burger King, McDonald's, and Wendy's to post calorie counts on their menu boards.

The King County Board of Health can be counted among them. Although the New York City case hasn’t had its day in court, new labeling requirements in King County, Washington, now call for all chain restaurants, those with at least 10 branches nationwide, to list calories, saturated fat, carbohydrates, and sodium in each regular food item they serve.

"The Board of Health is responsible for passing laws to protect the health of the public, and to promote healthy behaviors that improve health and prevent illness," Board of Health Chairwoman Julia Patterson said. "There is no better example of our commitment to residents' health than the legislation passed today that protects us from dangerous trans fats and promotes consumer education and informed choices by labeling menus."

May I offer another suggestion? Do what they do in the United Kingdom (as illustrated above) and force these restaurants to say what you mean: “eating large quantities of food may lead to obesity.”

Before you think I am only being sarcastic, CPSI and Public Citizen say almost exactly that in the subhead of their release, which touts who has joined them in “support of rule to combat obesity epidemic,” after they filed a friend of the court brief in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York supporting New York City’s Board of Health against a lawsuit filed in June by the New York State Restaurant Association.

“The stakes in this lawsuit are high,” said Deepak Gupta, a lawyer at Public Citizen who wrote the brief, according to the release. “A victory for New York City’s law could help clear the way for similar laws throughout the country.”

But will it really solve the so-called obesity epidemic? As James Vesely points out in his humorous (or maybe tragic) column in the Seattle Times, “Yoder, whose place is popular with knowledgeable diners and serves as many calories as the next guy, is exempt from the calorie count on his menus — it depends on how many eateries you operate. So Anthony'sHomePort is not exempt, but along Shilshole's watering spots, Ray's Boathouse next door is exempt. Same calories, different menus. A menu at Denny's will be draped with calorie numbers; the one at Metropolitan Grill will not.”

Vesely then says that the new, calorie-clad menus are not going to be popular, or particularly useful. I agree. Despite all the money spent on lawsuits (money that could be applied to consumer education about a healthy diet), consumers are likely to tune them out.

Sometimes we tune them out for good reason (besides the occasional chuckle): Sainsbury’s peanuts warns us that they contain nuts; an American Sears hairdryer warns us it is not to be used while sleeping; and, one of my personal favorites, found on a blanket: not to be used as protection from a tornado.

So please forgive me if I do not feel any safer knowing that 20 states, cities, and counties are considering legislation or regulations that would require fast food and other chain restaurants to provide calories and other nutrition information on menus and menu boards.

The most obvious truth is, when you get past all the spin on an issue like this, the snack, cookie, and soda aisles at our local grocery stores take up the most space for a reason. They're yummy.

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Monday, July 23

Preserving Freedom: Net Neutrality

According to Ghost In The Machine, written by Sharon Herbert, more than 29,000 comments were submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) since it opened an inquiry into net neutrality. An additional 670 comments were filed by groups and individual Internet users on the deadline, July 16.

So is that it? Theresa Hall reminds BlogCatalog members that’s not it. She wrote U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Maryland) with her views that Internet service providers should not be allowed to discriminate by speeding up or slowing down access to Web content based on its source, ownership, or destination.

How did the senator respond?

I understand your concern that the Internet should not favor certain content or services over others. I believe that the Internet is not only an important tool, but a vital resource. It has allowed millions of Americans to communicate instantly with people around the world. It has put access to libraries of information at everyone's fingertips. The use of the Internet continues to grow, and the ways we use it continue to expand. Your views on network neutrality will be very helpful to me as Congress considers this issue.

As someone who frequently works in political arenas, I might point out that Sen. Mikulski's response is largely neutral, demonstrating little movement from her position last year. This is surprising to me, given Maryland state legislators acted on their own to put a mandate into place.

So what is this all really about? Some, like the New York Times, suggest it has to do with Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, and others always being afraid of the competition, which is why iPhone is only available from one carrier (in Europe, you can change carriers any time regardless of the phone you want). In the years ahead, that competition is likely to include companies like Skype and Google, which have called on the FCC to open up more equipment and software options in the wireless industry. In fact, Google is looking for another leap forward with a wireless spectrum in which chunks of radio frequency currently used for analog TV would be freed up by a switch to digital.

Regardless of this behind-the-scenes wrangling, however, the real stake holders in net neutrality are people like you and me because we funded its creation with a combination of tax dollars and subscription fees. Without net neutrality, Internet carriers would very feasibly be able to control content on the Internet by favoring those sites willing to pony up cash for the carrier; or, as they have with mobile phones, lock up technologies so they can be exclusive providers; or create steeper tier systems similar to cable programming; or, quite possibly enforce net censorship.

I suggest, as always, education is the key to understanding. Catch the entertaining video version on YouTube, keep up to date by visiting sites like SaveTheInternet.com, and write U.S. senators and representatives in your state so you have a better understanding of their positions.

In fact, I am doing the latter today and I'll be happy to share their responses in the days ahead. Good night and good luck.

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Saturday, July 21

Turning Tassler: Jericho Rangers


One of the greatest successes made in the past few weeks by Jericho fans is that Nina Tassler seems to have been turned into a “Jericho buzz believer.” Rob Owen, with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette even captured part of the puzzle of what turned Tassler around from saying as go the ratings so goes the show.

It seems beyond 20 tons of nuts; dozens of forums; thousands of mainstream and social media stories; and tens of thousands of calls, letters, and e-mails; her entire life was immersed in nothing but nuts and Jericho.

While buying a piece of camera equipment at a neighborhood store, the clerk saw Tassler’s name on her credit card… "I sent you an e-mail,” he said.

When she was about to receive test results from a new doctor … "He comes in with his white lab coat and puts his hands in his pocket … and pulls out a bag of peanuts," she said.

And even now, Tassler finds that when she goes out to plug other shows, like the questionable Kids Nation, the talk always turns to Jericho fans making history.

As Tassler talked it over, she says it dawned on her that this was an example of the “social networking" that the fast-talking, 30-something head of CBS Interactive, Quincy Smith, was always bringing up. And she has even acknowledged that taking Jericho off the air for several months last season "maybe wasn't good for the show."

But let’s hang on that “maybe” for a moment. While I’ve grown to kind of like Tassler, lest we not forget she’s always been a dancer. Even when asked by a critic asked whether she had ever disagreed with CBS’s CEO Les Moonves two years ago, she qualified her answer a little bit…

"Hmmmm. No."

Rule number one, according to Tassler last year, is you never say no (at least when you are, um, hearing a pitch). In fact, that is why in October 1999, even though she said she was worn out after the long "pitch" season as head of drama development for CBS, she took a last minute cell phone call from a producer friend who begged: "He said, 'Look, I don't know if you're going to buy it, but I promise you it'll be the most entertaining pitch you've ever heard. I said okay...."

The show, of course, was CSI. But I submit that Tassler has changed a bit over the past few years as president of CBS Entertainment. And that will continue to be important for Jericho fans to remember. She has long since abandoned her love of promoting great stories in favor of the ratings.

"We've really said to the fans, who have been incredibly loyal and incredibly devoted, 'You have got to be our "Jericho" Rangers. You've got to recruit more viewers,'" Tassler has said. "And so far, it looks like that's what we're going to do."

Of course they are, and then some. Even though we are only in the summer rerun schedule, not a week goes by that I don’t receive a reminder to watch Jericho. But even more telling is that these fans, after Tassler plugged jerichorising.com too early (there’s nothing there yet), had a revelation...

If Jericho is to be saved for a complete second season and then a third, it will not be by anyone at CBS. It has to be by the fans. And to do that, they have to move ahead, carving out what is being called Jericho’s Coalition of the Willing.

What this means for CBS is simple. Even if the fans do not overrun the ratings at the start of Jericho’s second season (I think they will because few shows have this much buzz), CBS will be unable to say the fans didn’t do their part. That will be an odd position for the network because social media can be a double edged sword. The more organized fan efforts are today and the more vested they become, the more likely 20 tons of nuts may be an appetizer.

At the same time, Jericho fans might remember that Tassler has gone to bat for many dramas over the years, perhaps even too many. So while there is little doubt her earliest comments conveyed she was uncommitted to the show, I also believe she was likely one of the first advocates to bring Jericho back because of the buzz.

What’s the point? If fans want to turn Tassler from a “Jericho buzz believer” into a full-fledged “Jericho Ranger,” only ratings will do it, no matter what is being said.

Why? Because there may be some reality to the rumor that an abbreviated seven-episode season 2 was to offer closure. And the only way to debunk this notion is to turn even more people beyond Tassler into Jericho buzz believers too. That and, as several stated before, DVD sales.

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Friday, July 20

Revealing Ethical Realities: PRWeek/MS&L

Some public relations professionals and communicators scratched their heads because I didn't call for the resignation of John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, Inc. despite the obvious: what he did was wrong. Perhaps part of the answer can be found in the PRWeek/Manning Selvage & Lee (MS&L) Marketing Management Survey.

The survey polled 279 U.S. chief marketing officers, directors of marketing and marketing managers that are focused on consumer-generated media, integrated marketing, and industry ethics. Although some of the questions were somewhat phrased oddly (they are paraphrased here), some of the results might surprise you.

• Wal-Mart’s non-disclosure of its authorship of a blog was a breach in marketing ethics. 55 percent agreed.
• Julie Roehm’s acceptance of gifts and dinners from future advertising agencies was unethical. 46 percent agreed.
• Turner Broadcasting placing magnetic lights in Boston that resembled bombs was a breach. 41 percent agreed.
• Microsoft acted unethically in providing Windows Vista on laptops to technology bloggers. 32 percent agreed.

Clearly, there seems to be some confusion over ethics. Originally, I was going to write something about this, but then decided it might be fun to run a poll to see what some readers think first. Which of the following do you think constitutes the greatest breach of ethics? You can vote for only one (and some might not be ethical breaches); we'll share our take on it next week (after the poll closes).



Incidentally, the MS&L survey also revealed that 17 percent of senior marketers say their organizations have bought advertising in return for a news story; 7 percent said their organizations have an implicit/non-verbal agreement with a reporter or editor to see favorable coverage; and 5 percent of marketers said their companies had paid or provided a gift of value to an editor or producer in exchange for a news story about their company or its products.

So much for the notion that all journalists are somehow pre-equipped to make the right ethical decisions. As I have said before, ethics begins with the person and not the profession. Bloggers have an equal opportunity to be ethical and to suggest they cannot, as some people do, only indicates their own propensity to have an ethical lapse.

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Thursday, July 19

Telling No Truths: Whole Foods Market, Inc.

"I sincerely apologize to all Whole Foods Market stakeholders for my error in judgment in anonymously participating on online financial message boards,” says co-founder, Chairman and CEO John Mackey, Whole Foods Market, Inc. “I am very sorry and I ask our stakeholders to please forgive me."

With the lead up to his apology and the very limited number of people he apologized to, I’m not sure this was the best decision, but the fact that this decision was made means fun time is indeed over. Given the possibility that Mackey did not act alone (or at least was not anonymous to everybody who perused Yahoo financial chat boards) while playing the part of the great masked Wild Oats stock vandal, “rahodeb,” it might be for the best. Will it work? Probably not.

Make no mistake, the Whole Foods Market, Inc. board retaining the firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP to advise it during an independent internal investigation means that the damage down the road may very likely exceed “rahodeb” having fun at the expense of others. (The SEC began its investigation the day before.)

While there may be many revelations made during the internal investigation (let alone the SEC investigation), the need to investigate seems to mean: more people may have been involved (it’s hard to keep a secret identity secret for that long without sharing) or they feel a need to analyze whether any of Mackey’s comments did in fact impact Wild Oats stock at any time (online or off). Even more obvious, Whole Foods Market, Inc. wants to apply one of the few “golden no comment” clauses that most journalists respect.

"The Company intends to fully cooperate with the SEC and does not anticipate commenting further while the inquiry is pending." ... "The Board will refrain from comment until the internal investigation is completed."

Why does the “golden no comment” clause work? From a communication perspective, provided the board doesn’t start to squawk, refraining from comment during an investigation gives the company a badly needed pause in its communication, which to date, can be likened to someone hemorrhaging at the mouth. To be clear, the board is concerned about something enough that they feel it is prudent to censor their outspoken CEO for fear it will get worse before it gets better. Most journalists will respect such restraint provided it holds.

Why doesn’t the “golden no comment” clause work? Once a company issues the statement that silence is golden during an investigation, reporters have a nasty habit of looking for anyone and everyone for input and opinion. It almost assuredly increases speculation 100-fold because journalists can no longer turn to the primary source and they have to go out and look for new sources. There is also the risk of someone developing a Deep Throat complex and leaking information to the media, whereby the company won’t be able to respond to any of it unless it gives up its communication blackout. And once you give it up, it’s not fair to ask for it back.

There are other major downsides to applying “no comment during an investigation,” including: all other company news becomes irrelevant (you can’t effectively talk about produce in the room but skip the part where the elephant ate half of it); it makes the company look like there really is a fire under all that smoke (whether there is or not); and, finally, most importantly, it contradicts the concept that someone always talks (because they almost always do).

So, given the company's statements, we have moved from “whole” truths to “no” truths in the case study of Mackey and Whole Foods Market, Inc. Or perhaps, more appropriately, since others are ready to pick up where Mackey left off, we have entered the spin zone where there will be ample hot air about how it’s unfair to comment on a CEO because, as Laura Goldman submits, “I checked with lawyers and confirmed that the postings themselves are not illegal.”

With no disrespect intended, Ms. Goldman is right that this incident should not undo all the good work Mackey has done nor does it invalidate Whole Foods Market, Inc. as a viable company. However, even Journalism 101 students know that you can always find ample lawyers to argue either side of a case. Heck, that’s what makes court reporting sensational enough to have plenty of programming.

Besides, I think journalists and stock traders have been surprisingly kind to Mackey; it’s the public relations and communication people who seem to want his head the most (I’m in the minority by not asking for it, though I think he may have lost it anyway with the apology). Unfortunately for Mackey, I also think the split opinion over his fate will solidify in time; the reactive silence will point most in one direction.

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Wednesday, July 18

Increasing Awareness: Organ Donation

If you trend “organ donation” on BlogPulse, an automated trend and search system for blogs developed by Neilsen BuzzMetrics, you’ll notice a spike yesterday. Today, when the results post, it will be larger.

Why the sudden interest in organ donation, a topic that generally sees only one or two mentions in the mainstream media? Two words: Antony Berkman.

This awareness spike is why I sometimes think of Berkman, president of BlogCatalog, as the polar opposite of Andrew Keen. Berkman believes social media can do great good and, every now and again, he sets his sights on an underserved or underreported social awareness issue to prove it.

Last time, members of his social blog directory focused on education, a campaign that directly benefited more than 1,000 students through DonorsChoose.org.

This time, after members requested an international issue, Berkman settled on organ donation. And, with an assist, BlogCatalog.com even received some mainstream media attention, including Medical News Today (the number one medical news search engine with 1.7 million visitors a month), drawing attention to what has become a global member-driven social awareness campaign. For his part, Berkman encouraged scores of bloggers to make history by participating in the campaign. It looks like they did it.

So who are these bloggers? As an open social blog directory, BlogCatalog.com members include people from all over the world, each with a blog (some have several), who cover a diverse range of topics. But today, most of them focused on some aspect of organ donation, depending on what best served their readers.

Some focused on success stories like Alex Pratt, who suffered from kidney disease for more than 20 years until finding a match at Matching Donors, some wrote on the darker topic of the Black Market as recently covered by Slate Magazine, and some asked their readers to visit OganDonor.gov or provided links to programs within their own countries. Others included how many people are waiting for transplants, ranging from more than 1,700 in Australia to over 2 million in China.

“When you look at the numbers, it’s very frightening. People are dying because they need organs and there are not enough available,” Berkman told me when I asked for NBCB why he chose the sometimes controversial topic. “So we asked ourselves what would happen if we chose one day to make organ donation the most talked about topic on the Web, and then asked our members to write around this important issue.”

Berkman says he is inspired with each new post on blogs like Go! Smell The Flowers, Healthy Lifestyles, and Sensibilid (AD). Together, he says, he knows they have all made a difference.

I think so. Not only does it raise awareness, but it shows me that we often find what we look for in the world or on the Web. Whereas some people work to support antidotal thinking that suggests social media is evil, Berkman employs it to encourage people to do good.

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Tuesday, July 17

Flapping Over Flags: City of Las Vegas


In May, I wrote about a local controversy over Towbin Hummer's 30-by-60-foot American flag and how the Las Vegas City Council ordered it down after residents complained that it was just "too aesthetically unpleasing, too commercial, and too loud."

Today, The Las Vegas-Review Journal reports that the Las Vegas City Council will rehear the case on Aug. 1. The reason: District Court Judge Michael Villani sent the issue back to the City Council on Friday, finding that business owner Dan Towbin should have been allowed to have an attorney represent him before the council.

Adding this quick update seems especially appropriate today because while the Las Vegas City Council will discuss whether flying the American flag is "too aesthetically unpleasing," Nevada brothels were just given permission to advertise their services in Nevada counties where prostitution is illegal.

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Selling Sex: Nevada Brothels

Steve Sebelius, editor of CityLife, seems especially happy in his post on July 12, reporting that U.S. District Court Judge James Mahan made a ruling for summary judgment on behalf of the plaintiffs in Coyote Publishing et. al. v. Heller. He should be: CityLife has some new potential advertisers.

What is Coyote Publishing et. al. v. Heller? It is a lawsuit filed by Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada on behalf of several newspapers, that sought to void two state statutes that prohibited brothel advertising in counties where prostitution is illegal.

Right. Although some people do not know it, while the majority of the state allows legal prostitution, the two largest populated areas, Clark County (including Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson, Boulder City, and Laughlin), and Washoe County (including Reno and Lake Tahoe), do not have any form of legalized prostitution.

I co-wrote, with our former employee Ellen Levine, a feature on this subject for a First Amendment magazine back in 1994, when the Clark County Commission attempted to hinder legal and licensed escort services from passing out handouts because they were “a pedestrian hazard.”

Some of the arguments were sound, like those of Jim McDonald, a vice squad detective for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, who said once non-prostitution escort services were licensed, they had a tendency to add services until it was often difficult to distinguish whether they crossed the line or not. Other arguments were not so sound, those made by the Clark County Commission at the time, claiming “handicapped people in wheelchairs might not be able to get by someone handing out fliers.”

To be honest, it was hard not to sympathize (a little) with police officers despite the fact that escort handouts were protected by the First Amendment. Why? Well, a lot has changed since then; but in 1994, a modest $1 million per year paid five officers to make approximately 20 arrests per night. At the time, there were only about 200 illegally working girls in Downtown Las Vegas (considered the lowest) and up to five times that amount on the Las Vegas Strip (where the girls worked casino bars), depending on what events were in town.

But for the department, they also had a daunting task because many tourists have heard that prostitution is legal in Nevada, but do not know it is illegal in Clark and Washoe counties. Risqué escort advertising only reinforced the confusion. In fact, Thalia Dondero, then a Clark County commissioner, told me that the confusion would be even worse if it wasn’t for the restrictions of brothel advertising. (Brothels in other areas of the state could not even buy a tombstone advertisement in the Yellow Pages.)

Of course, the new federal ruling changes all this, allowing brothels that are legal in neighboring counties to advertise their services in counties where prostitution is illegal. I can only imagine the confusion will increase tenfold.

Despite leaning toward being a First Amendment purest, I wonder what this ruling might mean for the rest of the nation, given there are many legal products restricted and/or barred from advertising, tobacco and alcohol included. I can’t help but wonder if Judge James Mahan’s logic means it might even be okay for Amsterdam businesses to advertise hash in the United States.

I appreciate this might sound strange coming from someone who assisted a few gaming properties in their case to loosen or remove casino advertising restrictions, but my reasoning was pretty clear then: legal casinos have a right to advertise anywhere gaming is legal. But this new ruling, which I have yet to form an opinion about, seems to suggest legal businesses have a right to advertise even where their products or services are illegal.

“But for our part, the motive wasn't financial. (We're not going to get a raise, or avoid a cut in pay, because of this lawsuit.),” says Sebelius. “The motive was philosophical: We honestly believe that telling a newspaper it cannot accept truthful advertising from a legal, licensed business is wrong. It's prior restraint, and it does violence to the First Amendment's guarantees.”

You know, I’ve always liked Sebelius. For the most part, he’s a straight shooter. But this time around, even I have to wonder when he suggests that Coyote Publishing et. al. v. Heller won’t be a boon for media outlets, billboard companies, and publications like CityLife.

“Speaking of money, some will argue that the corporate masters of CityLife pursued this litigation only to make money from brothel ads. Personally, we don't think there's a gold mine there, but certainly, making money is what corporations do,” he said.

No gold mine? In Storey County, money made from licensing brothels generates the county’s entire operational funds. In Lyon County, the licensing supports most if not all of the county’s hospital. In fact, Dennis Hof, owner of the Moonlight Bunny Ranch and Bunny Ranch Two in Lyon County, has already said he will be tripling his advertising budget to go big in Reno.

Hmmm … I’m starting to think, no matter what anybody thinks of prostitution, that this First Amendment “victory” will eventually backfire, thereby allowing government to find new ways to limit free speech. Nowadays, you never know.

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Monday, July 16

Underthinking Mackey: Steven Silvers

Is it possible to be right and wrong at the same time? Steven Silvers is the principal at Denver-based GBMS, Inc., a group of professionals who “understand the complex nexus of business, government, media and community in which organizations operate today.” And, as focused as he is on complex issues, his well-written post says the Whole Foods Market, Inc. crisis might not qualify. On one hand, he is very, very right.

There was little need for the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) to send out a news release about "reputation impact of undisclosed-identity executive internet postings."

"Corporate executives in all areas of a company must be acutely aware of the ethical implications of communications they initiate, including those under the auspices of being a ‘private citizen,’" said Rhoda Weiss, national chair and CEO of PRSA, in the release (highlighted by Silvers) that aims to capitalize on the case with reactive comment.

Most people get that, I think, which is why Silvers proposes that the most simplified version of the Mackey study is “smart people sometimes do stupid things.” Then he goes on to write a better version of the release: “Don’t post comments on the Internet promoting your company’s stock and slamming your competitors while pretending to be someone else. This is wrong. You could cause a huge PR problem for your company. You’ll probably get sued, and you might be breaking the law. …”

It made me smile, before departing from his assessment a bit. It would be simple, but nowadays things have consequences that are not confined to where they belong. This will not be confined to Mackey. This will not be confined to Whole Foods Market. And this will not be confined to, well, anything.

The consequences, as expected, are likely to be tossed about by folks like Andrew Keen in his admittedly biased war against anonymity and amateurs on the Web. And perhaps, they will even reinforce the call for a code of conduct. And perhaps, there will be some new legislation. And perhaps, we’ll polarize it all.

“We have the most protected, covered, cautious and public relations-barricaded generation of leaders in history. Today’s tightly controlled, artfully packaged executives want to release and spout off, and they somehow think this is a forum where they’ll be held less accountable,” says Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld, a professor of corporate governance at Yale. Indeed, and executives are not alone in feeling this way.

"It doesn't seem likely that investors who may have read these chat rooms would have had reason to act, thereby materially affecting the stock price, because the CEO's identity seemed to be concealed and the materiality of the comments made looks low," Stephen C. Chick, JPMorgan, wrote in a client note, adding that while Mackey's actions "lack judgment," they are unlikely to affect Whole Foods' stock price.

And there it is. Why is this case study complex? Under the surface of simplicity resides the very foundation of an increasingly challenging issue caused, in part, by public relations’ attempt to mold people into something they are not; the media’s shift to be less concerned with finding the truth and more concerned with gathering up polarized viewpoints; and the public’s desire to create labels for everyone but themselves, good or bad.

The concept that “perception is everything” has permeated every facet of our society to such a degree that most people are increasingly judgmental about the actions of others. And perhaps, it is from this very place where the desire to be anonymous in today’s society seems to have very little to do with people wanting to behave badly and much more to do about their fear of being judged.

Adding rules and increasingly strict guidelines on the Web will only make it worse. I propose our time and energy is much better placed in educating people that it doesn’t make much sense to lend anonymous sources credibility beyond a single comment. While some have better intentions, others have agendas.

"They [the FTC] are quoting rahodeb in some of their legal documents and no doubt seek to embarrass both me and Whole Foods through these disclosures," Mackey has said. In fact, Mackey reports he had fun doing it, implies that he has no regret or remorse, and doesn’t seem to know the difference between making casual anonymous comments about his competitor and manipulating stock.

Is it because he is eccentric or ignorant? Don’t be silly. Mackey isn’t typical, but he isn’t stupid either. He knows that the day he admits that what he did was wrong and apologizes for it will be the same day that the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) will no longer need to prove that Mackey knowingly violated securities law, intentionally using his anonymous postings to manipulate price.

To be clear, of course what Mackey did was wrong. But virtually every outcome in this case will have little to do with reality and much to do with perception.

The Federal Trade Commission’s ability to prevent the merger will be based on perception. The outcome of the SEC investigation will be based on the determination of motivation, which will be based on perception. Shareholders will decide to buy or sell Whole Foods Market stock based on their perception. And the argument whether anonymity might be protected or abolished will be based on perception. It’s all based on perception because we live in a world that is increasingly focused on, well, perception.

After years of watching us trend toward creating pristine perceptions while nurturing the fear of being judged by others (who might discover the "truth"), maybe it’s time we remember that it is much more dangerous to allow the perception of a personal brand to drift dangerously away from reality and toward some idealized label than it is to manage a brand that represents who we really are; good, bad, or indifferent. (As even Albert Einstein once confessed, he only combed his hair that way for the benefit of the media.)

Or, in other words, Mackey might have considered it would have been equally “fun” to post his comments as himself. People would have the perception he was wacky (they do anyway) and there would be no crisis. But that's the simple part. The harder part is recognizing this issue is complex because we have made the environment complex.

Once we hung horse thieves, now we try to understand and justify them. Once we sought truth, now we celebrate opinion. Once people said what was on their minds, now they hide their thoughts unless protected under the veil of anonymity. Once we shopped because eating dinner with our family was fun; now we ask Whole Foods Market to make it fun for us. Simple indeed.

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Sunday, July 15

Questioning Perception: Geoff Livingston

Geoff Livingston, who pens The Buzz Bin, says the concept of "burying bad news and negative posts with a flurry of good news keeps coming up" again and again. He says it does on New Media Nouveaux and again online via an internal friend’s post at Pownce, which is a presence applicaton that allows you to send messages, links, files, and events to a defined network of friends.

Sure, I've seen this "bury bad news" tactic bantered about plenty: those who promote it (with qualified justifications) and those who do not (see rule 17). Some have even been suggesting that the Online Identity Calculator I employed on Thursday demonstrates why burying bad news and negative posts might work. It does not.

The argument for it is not new. It predates social media and is grounded in the argument that perception is reality. And there really is only one answer to whether that is true, um, sort of: yes and no.

In the world of communication (advertising, marketing, public relations, political consultation, etc.), people, products, and companies live and die by perception every day and all the time. But, to actively live with the mistaken belief that perception is reality is fraught with peril, delusion, and consequence.

For the past 25 years, I've nurtured what once was a .49 cent store-bought spider plant that has followed me from Las Vegas to Los Angeles to Las Vegas to Reno and back again. As you might imagine, after two-and-a-half decades, the plant has grown quite large — around 7 feet in diameter.

Anyone who visits my home is compelled to comment on the spider plant, usually something like "that is the largest spider plant I have ever seen" or "my goodness, your wife must really have a green thumb" (my wife always corrects them) or "you do a beautiful job at taking care of your plants, they are all so healthy."

Although several of these statement grace truths, all of them are really perceptions. Sure, I smile, nod, thank them, but never am I silly enough to believe that their perceptions, as welcome as they are, are grounded in reality. The truth is that my spider plant was in desperate need of a transplant; a pretty big job given the amount of soil and pot size. So despite its rich green color and vibrant leaves, I had been ignoring my plant much like some people ignore their personal brands.

The worst of it occurred while I was on holiday. One missed watering and record aridness (we are now the most arid city in the nation), prompted me to dig a little deeper past all the lush, beautiful green outer leaves to find, um, a crisis. While perception seemed to dictate everything was okay (except some minor bruises), the plant had three major problems: it had created a root layer that was preventing water from reaching the lower layers of the soil; the lower layers of the soil were bone dry as a result; and the plant had literally uprooted itself, with a good 3 inches exposed.

Fortunately, I am good with plants so I managed to save it. Of course, now it only measures 5 feet in diameter and will take a couple of days, if not weeks, to fully recover. I even potted all the babies to produce what will be another beautiful plant. So what does my plant have to do with personal brand?

You can bury bad news and negative posts all you want to create the illusion of a huge and beautiful online image, but sooner or later something will need to be done beyond burying damaged roots with big leafy stories.

Now I cannot go as far as Livingston does and say that all "bad news or negative posts" need to be addressed very publicly (every situation is dependent on too many factors to apply a formula), but I do agree that burying anything is an erroneous idea. As I mentioned when I shared the first sliver of my Fragile Brand Theory, brand damage is generally proportiate to the discrepancy between perception and reality.

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Saturday, July 14

Rating Jericho Reruns: E! Online & Buddy TV


Despite having the disadvantage of returning for a summer rerun schedule during a long holiday weekend when many people were traveling, Jericho won its July 6 time slot. This leaves everyone, including E! Online and Buddy TV wondering whether Jericho succeeded in capturing new viewers or those responsible for the cancellation protest.

Given all the curiosity that non-viewers have, wondering what they missed before the controversial cancellation; the enthusiasm of existing fans; and several creative though inconsistent fan-generated campaigns; I'm more convinced than either entertainment media outlet: the bulk of the Nielsen families watching the show were primarily new viewers and the most diehard of Rangers (those fans who could watch a rerun front-to-back and back again).

However, I'm less convinced that the recap show did much to secure new viewers as this spliced together story line was just as jarring as it was when Jericho returned from that ill-fated mid-season hiatus last time. But, the only indication we will have whether the strategy to air the recap (and not another regular show) worked will be the number of viewers who stayed on for the full episode at 10 p.m.

It seems to me that recap shows appear to work better for reality TV than serial dramas, and even then those are painful to watch. That said, perhaps a better indication of Jericho's future success will be if items like the May 29 edition of Daily Variety that is up for auction on eBay will actually sell.

With a starting bid of $2.99 and s/h cost of $5.30, I can only imagine what that might one day mean for those who purchased fan-generated items prior to the return of the show (or the six people who won Copywrite, Ink. "Covering Nuts" T-shirts after I spoke at yesterday's IABC/Las Vegas luncheon).

Will Jericho memorabilia eventually match Veronica Mars or The Black Donnelley? I suspect we really won't know until more episodes are ordered for Season 2 or CBS commits to a Jericho Season 3.

In the interim, there are several interesting online consumer marketing approaches out there and today I'll mention two. First is Remote Access's weekly Jericho guest blogger feature. Second is the art for Jerichon 2007 produced by "rubberpoutry" for Guardians of Jericho as it appeared in the Jericho Times.

Jerichon is a convention being held by fans in the least likely convention hotspot of Oakley, Kansas. While some fans were concerned about the lack of accommodations in Oakley (despite Oakley having some Jericho-like characteristics), the Hays Daily News is all abuzz about the prospect of welcoming 300-500 attendees in a somewhat off the beaten path location. Then again, you never know. No one expected thousands of wayward rockers at Woodstock either.

In sum, although CBS, E! Online, and Buddy TV are sure to be watching the summer rerun ratings (that’s what they do), it might be everything but ratings that indicate the true temperature of this famous fan base. Hot or cold may ultimately be the indicator that attracts new viewers or not. It certainly won’t be CBS marketing efforts.

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Friday, July 13

Telling Whole Truths: John Mackey

According to the Core Values of Whole Foods Market, there is only one way to satisfy the needs of stakeholders. And that is to satisfy customers first.

Oh, make that two ways. According to The Associated Press (AP), John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market Inc. (Whole Foods), found that posting under the anonymous name “rahodeb” was a pretty good way to satisfy the needs of stakeholders as well.

According to the story, Whole Foods announced it would buy Wild Oats for about $565 million, or $18.50 per share. But unfortunately, this comes after “rahodeb” posted the stock was overpriced; predicted the company would fall into bankruptcy; claimed it would be sold after its stock fell below $5 per share; declared Wild Oats' management "clearly doesn't know what it is doing;" and that the company "has no value and no future."

Obviously, “rahodeb” must have miswrote because Wild Oats does have value: $18.50 a share, which is sharply steeper the $5 per share that “rahodeb,” er, Mackey, um, "rahodeb" had hoped for as the masked Wild Oats stock vandal.

In fact, Wild Oats is so valued by Mackey, he has taken to misappropriating his company's public relations and social media communication to flame the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Apparently, he is not happy they made his anonymous comments public in an attempt to block the merger nor does he accept that the FTC is trying to prevent the elimination of another competitor.

"As previously announced, we set an intention as a company to be as transparent as possible throughout this legal process, and this blog entry is my first detailed effort at transparency," said Mackey in a news release that neglects to reveal how posting anonymous comments on Internet financial forums for seven years might be transparent.

“I provide explanations of how I think the FTC, to date, has neglected to do its homework appropriately, especially given the statements made regarding prices, quality, and service levels in its complaint. I also provide a glimpse into the bullying tactics used against Whole Foods Market by this taxpayer-funded agency,” Mackey continues on his blog. “As stated in our initial press release about Whole Foods Market's challenge to the FTC's complaint, we set an intention as a company to be as transparent as possible throughout this process. This is my first detailed effort at transparency.”

Hmmm ... I suspect if there is any "whole truth" that could potentially win a fruit basket then “this is my first effort at transparency” must be it. Unfortunately, had Mackey done his homework, the best time to be transparent is before one damages personal credibility. So, what this all means is the happiness factor of Whole Foods (where I shop sometimes) is about to be spoiled.

How do I know? Well, some of the writing is already on the blog. Mackey, just days before this seven-year ethical breach came to light, published the graphic above for one of his more colorful, but long-winded posts, Conscious Capitalism: Creating a New Paradigm for Business. He says the image represents “a common view of the good, altruistic non-profit organizations versus the evil, selfish, greedy corporations.”

Overall, I don’t subscribe that the notion that this is really the "common view." It seems more likely to me that each company is charged with its own reputation management. And, with this responsibility, each is free to nurture positive public opinion in any it feels fit, starting with the behavior of its CEO.

But then again, if the "common view" is that corporations are “evil, selfish, and greedy,” it seems to me that any CEO who would attempt to drive down the stock prices of a competitor, under the veil of anonymity, certainly isn't helping this perception go away.

In sum, Mackey wants us to accept that there are truths, half-truths, and now “whole truths.” And while that might sound all fun and amusing (enough to start a living case study), the SEC isn’t laughing.

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