Wednesday, October 31

Scaring PR: Chris Anderson, Wired


If you are a public relations professional who likes to pitch everything in your arsenal of potential communication and hope to get lucky, Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired, has sent you a message right in time for Halloween... BOO! YOU’RE BANNED!

Not only are you banned, but you are also publicly banned with your e-mail address published for the whole world, including spam bots, to see. Yikes!

It’s days like that when I am so glad that I don’t own a public relations firm (though we provide support services). It’s days like that when I wish all the public relations practitioners took my spring class at UNLV. Don’t spam publications, I tell students (most of whom are already working). They don’t listen, but I do tell them.

Based on the comments alone, some PR folks are not ready to listen to Anderson either. (They’re more concerned that they are on the list.) Sure, I think publishing the e-mails might have been a bit over the top, but I also know that warnings don’t seem to do the trick or treat for some flacks. Maybe a shock-and-awe slasher fest was warranted.

It’s a wake-up call that Mark Frauenfelder at BoingBoing agrees with. For the past week or so, he’s been “blacklisting PR flacks” from his email inbox too, but he stopped short of publishing a list (those folks may never know they are banned).

For anyone who finds this surprising, Anderson and Frauenfelder are just revealing what journalists and editors have been doing for years and years, long before email blasts became all the rage. Some public relations people just didn’t know it.

Three bad or irrelevant releases, if you were lucky, and the firm’s public relations envelope started going into the trash unopened. A few years later, I personally saw reams of paper piling out of the fax machine at the Las Vegas Review-Journal; a mountain of uninteresting and poorly written blast faxes. And then, as editor of a hospitality trade publication, I’ll never forget warning a publicist to stop sending non-news with a 10MB photo every other day. He responded by sending me five photos the next. BANNED!

The horror. The Horror. THE HORROR.

More horrible is that some comments on Anderson's post allude to the idea that it’s always better to call editors instead. Look, in case you missed it, Anderson is no more likely to field 300 calls a day then he is to skim 300 emails a day. So the solution sequels floating around out there may be more frightening than the original.

Here’s an idea: give editors and journalists what they want because unlike what Kent State University tells its journalism students — PR people are obstacles on the pathway to the truth — PR people are supposed to make the job of an editor and/or journalist easier, not harder. (Bill Seldzik’s blog is how I learned about the PR witch hunt at Wired. Good one, Bill!)

Did you get that? Give them what they want! Some like e-mails, some like calls, some like attachments (some don’t), and some even like releases sent to them via fax or snail mail (if you can imagine).

None of them want to "figure out" if your client has anything interesting for them or for you. None take any joy in reading painfully written news releases or ridiculous pitches. And if you don’t know who is who, then you aren’t really doing your job.

Personally, wearing my past (and future) editor hat, I think banned on first abuse is a bit extreme. I give flacks at least three tries to get it right, under the assumption that everybody has a bad day. Then I ban them.

I also hate pitch calls. There’s nothing worse than being stopped in the middle of a deadline to take a call from a flack who wants to chat it up like a used car salesman as if he or she wants to develop a relationship. Calls are reserved for clients or people who actually do something interesting enough that as an editor, I might call them.

My point here is: don’t talk about authenticity if all you want to do is pitch non-news and non-not-news while pretending we’re buddies. I actually like news releases, provided they are well crafted, but mostly because it’s easier to delete them based on the subject line (and lead line if I get past the subject line).

I can't speak for Anderson or Frauenfelder, but most editors and journalists tend to be more forgiving if they sense they weren’t simply added to a spam list. So here's a tip: pitch when it is so good that it smacks of a groundbreaking exclusive. Email or mail releases (as they prefer) to the appropriate people (some editors like them; some don’t). Add attachments only when you’ve been invited to do so.

You never know. If you do it right, maybe you will develop a relationship out of mutual respect. Now that would be scary.

Happy Halloween!

Digg!

Tuesday, October 30

Faking FEMA: Reporters Optional


"At the end of the briefing, questions were asked. I should have intervened and I didn't," said John P. "Pat" Philbin, former external affairs director for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) about his involvement in staging a fake news conference last Tuesday on the California wildfires.

The decision to stage questions with stand-ins for a FEMA news conference came after reporters were given only 15 minutes notice. While the agency also made an 800 number available for call ins, it was a listen-only arrangement. Several channels broadcasted parts of the conference live via a video feed.

Philbin will no longer take over public affairs for the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), which he had previously been offered by Mike McConnell, director of the DNI. Philbin said he understood McConnell's decision.

“It was one of the dumbest and most inappropriate things I’ve seen since being in government,” came the harshest criticism from Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff. “I have made it unambiguously clear, in Anglo Saxon prose, that it is not to ever happen again, and there will be appropriate disciplinary action taken against those people who exhibited what I regard as extraordinary poor judgment.”

Philbin may have been the fall guy, but the entire external affairs team could have been let go. No one of them, not a single team member, seemed to comprehend that staging a fake news conference was ridiculous, unethical, and a severe breach of public trust.

Let’s star over.

“Public Relations is the art and science of analyzing trends, predicting their consequences, counseling organization leaders and implementing planned programs of action which will serve both the organization’s and the public interest.” — First World Assembly of Public Relations Associations and First World Forum of Public Relations, 1978

Nowhere in this definition is a public relations professional asked to spin, lie, cover up, or otherwise present fake and fraudulent information for their employer. What is clear, however, is that professionals are to serve both the organization’s and public interest.

Maybe I should make it as clear as I make it for public relations students: the organization you defraud the public for will survive and may even thrive over time, but any abuse of public trust or the media will stay with you for the life of your career.

In this case, FEMA will carry on, while Philbin is out of his DNI job. While I admire his sincerity in saying “at the end of day, I’m the person in charge and responsible for this,” he is not doing any favors for new public relations professionals. The truth is that every single participant was responsible — whether an intern or seasoned pro. Any one of them could have suggested they skip questions and simply make a statement.

Digg!

Monday, October 29

Demonstrating Non-Communication: IABC And Ragan


Last week, I mentioned a communication breakdown. On the front end, it was confined to the chair and president of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), which is a global network of communicators working in diverse industries, and IABC member David Murray, who has his own ideas about what IABC should be doing. Shel Holtz did a good job with the recap so I won’t repeat it. It’s not very entertaining, er, or is it?

If it was an episode of The Office, it would have went something like this…

Dwight: I’m so excited! We have a new Scranton plan and I want to share some of it early! Listen up, everybody; this is going to be great! … Blah, blah, blah.
Toby: Blah, blah, blah? That’s stupid, Dwight. You can’t do it that way. It has to go through corporate.
Dwight: Oh, come on … maybe you just need to hear a little more.
Toby: No, Dwight. I don’t. It’s stupid.
Michael: Hold on. If anyone is going to call Dwight’s plan stupid, they have to call me stupid too. It was my plan.
Toby: Whatever, Michael. It’s still stupid and I’m calling Ryan.

So what really happened?
Todd Hattori, chair of IABC, made the mistake of pre-releasing some strategic plan summaries to the public before the plan was ready for members (let alone the public) because he was enthusiastic about it. Murray, an IABC member with his own ideas about what needs to be done, publicly criticized the summary.

Hattori and Julie Freeman, president of IABC, attempted to respond, trying to defend the unreleased plan by sharing more information. They didn’t need to go beyond adding a comment to Murray’s blog, perhaps asking Murray to wait for the plan to be released. But they did, and that made matters worse. Go figure.

So what could have happened?
IABC could have released the strategic plan to various internal stakeholders, incorporated the best input as needed, and then released the completed plan to the public. Communicating change works best from the inside out.

The Story Continues…
Ragan Communications noted the tussle and thought it would be fun to cover. Last week, I thought it was a good thing that Ragan Communications gave the criticism a forum out of principle. I’m less inclined to think so today, because Ragan appears to have a stake in the outcome. The Ragan a la Michael Klein addition to the non-communication went something like this…

Toby (into phone): Ryan, yeah, it’s Toby, I have a problem.
Ryan: Toby, I’m busy. Let Angela work it out until I can get there.
Angela: Well, this plan doesn’t include Ryan’s ideas, so Toby is right, it’s stupid. But if you want, I’ll be happy to listen …
Michael and Dwight: Okay! Blah, blah, blah.
Angela: Blah, blah, blah? No, it’s definitely stupid. Let’s take a vote.
Ryan’s fans: Whatever Angela says!

So what really happened?
Klein, who also has ideas about what IABC should be doing, first wrote an op-ed mostly highlighting Murray’s point of view and infused some additional points (fair enough). And then, Murray seemed to ask for an objective “interview.” Hattori and Freeman accepted, despite all this being well beyond objectivity.

So what could have happened?
I appreciate that Hattori and Freeman were trying to be responsive, but it came across as somewhat defensive. It certainly did not serve members to make the IABC Strategic Plan the subject matter of a pretend news source. Ragan has some good content, but its flash-in-the-pan style often dilutes its value.

The Story Continues…
About that time, it seems Shel Holtz and I stumbled upon the conversation, both wondering if it was worth commenting on at all. That went something like this…

Jim: Hey, what are we voting on in here?
Kevin: Hey Jim, It’s confusing, but I’ll map it all out for you.
Jim: Sure, map away. It all seems kind of silly.
Michael: Jim, can you define silly?
Dwight: What part’s silly? Mine? Or Toby’s?
Jim: You know, maybe I ought to keep out of it.
Kevin: That might be best. Nobody cares anyway.
Jim: You might be right.
Ryan (finally walking in): Nobody cares? Everybody cares! At least they used to care!
Kevin: Good point, Ryan. Why doesn’t anyone care?
Toby: That was my point all along.

So are there any real issues?
I see several issues buried somewhere in all the bias, but I think even those are trumped by the simple fact that this strategic plan has not been released. As for IABC members not chiming in en masse, I can only guess that most are wise enough to avoid a conversation about something they have not seen, which is why I’m waiting until the strategic plan is released.

Except, I’d like to note that the entire dialogue (and I use that term loosely) was an exercise in non-communication with no more validity than a basic blog drama. You would think that people who are communicators would know better, given they are all professionals. For some reason, everyone treats social media like it somehow supercedes proven communication practices. It does not.

Digg!

Sunday, October 28

Digging In: Jericho Rangers


Today is Jericho Digg Day, one of the many creative ways fans of the Jericho television series, disillusioned by CBS, are working to revive interest in a show in stasis until it returns in January or, speculatively, sooner.

Kick started by the author of Jericho Junction, it is one of the first unified efforts since fans sent nuts to CBS by the truckload. In preparation, some fans even created stylized content to remind fans why they tuned in to Jericho in the first place. The objective is to get Jericho on the front page of Digg. It’s a start.

Here is a quick round up of primary fan communities coming together to Digg:

Jericho CBS Message Boards. The message boards double as “Jericho Rising,” a Web address that was originally teased as a standalone site by CBS, before the network decided to redirect traffic back to the original boards.

Jericho Rally Point. This was originally the “second line” of defense during the show cancellation protest for fans to stay connected in the event they were banned from the CBS boards or if CBS pulled the plug.

Radio Free Jericho. These message boards were developed as one of the first standalone fan sites. One of the primary purposes was to provide a “free speech” zone for fans.

Jericho Times. This site, originally called the Jericho Armory, developed out of an electronic newsletter. Its original purpose was to round up and report on various Jericho fan groups.

Guardians of Jericho. This site was developed for the primary purpose of organizing Jerichon, which is the home of the annual convention for Jericho fans.

NutsforJericho. This forum was developed by NutsOnLine as a commitment to Jericho fans after the show cancellation was reversed and the drive to buy nuts concluded.

The image accompanying this post is a 15-second solution to develop a message aimed at prospective viewers as opposed to the “Come Home To Jericho” message that is better aimed at existing and lost fans. The artwork was graciously donated by RubberPoultry after I tossed out a Band-Aid message based loosely on what might be the focus of the truncated second season. (You can catch some of the text on the Flickr caption.)

The reason I say “loosely” is because other than what I’ve been able to glean about the second season from bits and pieces (eg. Jericho will be occupied and the United States is a civil war of sorts), there is nothing to go on. You can find some bits here and there on the Jericho Wiki.

This is one of the reasons I’ve been reluctant to “cross the line” as an observer and do anything beyond track fan activities. The irony here is that CBS was originally watching to see what fans could develop on their own, but then failed to recognize that even viral marketing needs a point of origin (hint to CBS: usually networks provide that point. Just ask NBC … they did it twice last season).

Digg!

Saturday, October 27

Posting For Hope: Bloggers Unite


On Sept. 27, BlogCatalog became the first social network to ask its members to collectively call for an End To Abuse. On thousands of blogs all over the world on the same day, BlogCatalog members and other bloggers did.

Google revealed more than 66,000 mentions of “Bloggers Unite” and abuse; more than 10,000 of those included “BlogCatalog,” linking back to the campaign so other bloggers could be discovered. Collectively, it represents a powerful call for awareness and action that is hard to ignore: links, comments, etc.

But are these the measures? In terms of increasing awareness across the Internet perhaps. But more important than any numbers are the individual posts themselves. Each, on their own, had the power to touch people’s lives. These represent the real outcomes.

To highlight a few, Copywrite, Ink., in cooperation with BlogCatalog, invited any blogger who participated in this campaign to submit a link and other measurements for consideration in our Blog For Hope Post Competition.

Six judges painstakingly read more than 100 entries, representing a mere sliver of Bloggers Unite posts written by thousands of bloggers. From these, we tasked ourselves to select eight. While there are no losers, we’re pleased to highlight a sampling of the work from caring individuals who made a difference. The work speaks for itself...

Highlighted Bloggers — Three Powerful Posts

First Place — Lisa Wines, O my word

Wines wrote about an everyday hero. Robert Miley (pictured), an artist in Phoenix, has developed a workshop curriculum for abused children and at-risk youth to discover themselves and gain empathy for others through art. Art is often used as a medium for children who have suffered abuse to transform their pain and association with the abuse into something manageable. Wines’ efforts to recognize Miley through Bloggers Unite brings awareness to a technique that helps victims cope with abuse.

Second Place — Barbara Sweat (Jane), Jericho Monster

Sweat chronicled how verbal abuse sometimes escalates from put-downs under the guise of jokes into disparaging comments that aim to control, manipulate, and intimidate, leaving an impact on the victim forever. She then gave readers information from several sources and prompted the victims of verbal abuse to contact the state branch of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence if the abuse crosses into domestic violence.

Third Place — Verna Corbett, Keep It Simple Solutions

Corbett revealed a very personal story of how, by learning more about the foster care system, she was personally touched and moved to action. Her family has adopted ten children from the foster care program and is now working to build a group of homes for siblings, children and youth on 80 acres of land so they may receive the caring, understanding, and unconditional love they deserve.

Honorable Mentions — Five More Touching Posts

Hartley B. Singer, PetLvn summarized dozens of powerful posts to call for an end to animal abuse. He includes information about what you can do to help.

The NAFASG Team, NAFASG captivated readers with a powerful tribute to a Nurin Jazlin, who was abducted and murdered. The story is shocking; the call to action memorable, with scores of people joining their efforts to end child abuse.

CreativeBlogger used ProBlogs to share the undeniably tragic story from Africa — adults infected with HIV sexually assaulting children, which is a death sentence beyond the abuse these children already endure.

Cynthia Newcomer Daniel, Jewelry Tales, gave up space to recount her personal story of abuse, demonstrating true courage in sharing her story so that others might know they are not alone.

Saphyre Rose, Sun And Moon Sorcery, who is a 25-year cancer survivor, stopped us with a powerful introduction: I was a victim of abuse. She shares her personal experience and prompts victims to have the courage to take action.

In the weeks ahead, I will be contacting the first three bloggers, mentioned above, to make arrangements so they may receive additional recognition. For details, please visit the competiton post. We will also be profiling one of the first three bloggers, every Sunday, starting next week. Thank you for touching us. Thank you for making a difference. And thank you for giving us hope.

Digg!

Friday, October 26

Outing The Media: J.K. Rowling


As hard as it is to imagine, one of the hottest topics on the Internet is the sexuality of a fictitious character. For days now, new media and mainstream media have all weighed in with opinions on the “Outing of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore,” the headmaster of Hogwarts from the Harry Potter series.

It doesn’t really matter. And yet, it seems to matter.

The outing came seven days ago at New York City's Carnegie Hall. A young fan made the mistake of asking whether the headmaster had ever been in love.

"Dumbledore is gay, actually," said J.K. Rowling before revealing Dumbledore loved a fellow wizard, Gellert Grindelwand.

So, the correct answer might have easily been “yes, …” making a better distinction, perhaps, between love and orientation. But Rowling did not, and now the topic she chose is overshadowing any other merit of her books, good, bad, or indifferent. And that’s a shame. She hasn’t been able to go anywhere without it being asked about again, and again, and again. Her choice, I suppose.

Brands are fragile things, even for fictitious characters. Not that there is anything wrong with Dumbledore being gay, but Rowling has only succeeded in confusing an identity that fans have established. It could have been any other shocker; she could have said he was a Republican or Democrat. It doesn’t really fit because orientation isn’t what the stories are about.

From a communication standpoint, the dramatic brand shift for Dumbledore isn’t so much about him being gay as it is about a shift in his established brand. If you do not believe me that dramatic shifts mean something, ask Sen. Larry Craig.

Or maybe, as a complete contrast, we can look at Ellen DeGeneres. Nobody cares about her orientation anymore; they do seem to care about her joviality, which came apart over the Mutts & Moms controversy. In Canada, the brand bamboozling revolved around St├ęphane Dion.

My point is that reactions in the media and around the Web have less to do with what was announced and more to do with the degree of separation from what seemed to have been established. We might all keep that in perspective.

For example, Mark Harris, writing about Potter for Entertainment Weekly (linked above), made a poignant remark. He pointed readers to a story by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation that shows only 1.1 percent of characters on scripted network series are gay, which he says is an underrepresentation of their presence in the population. Maybe so or maybe not.

There are many shows where orientation doesn’t even enter the equation. Do we really need to know the orientation of every character? Big Bird, maybe?

This time around, I think Bill O’Reilly might have called it right. Rowling seems to be a provocateur. After years of claiming she has difficultly with the press, is "thin-skinned," and dislikes the fickle nature of reporting, none of that seems to be an issue any longer. It’s invited.

In many ways, Rowling’s revelation is a bigger brand shift than the one imposed on Dumbledore. With a single sentence, she demonstrated the sometimes triviality of reporting today; and proven she isn’t all that thin-skinned after all.

It makes you wonder. Who was really outed after Carnegie Hall?

Digg!

Thursday, October 25

Mixing Nuts: Ragan Communications


If you ever want to see an organization that inspires admiration and loathing at the same time, look no further than Ragan Communications. If you don’t know, it is a publisher of information about corporate communication and internal communication. It also hosts a social network called myRagan, which is both useful and clunky at the same time (but better than when I first reviewed it).

Admiration

On one hand, Ragan Communications gave Michael Klein a great platform to discuss the merits and shortfalls of the International Association of Business Communicators’ new staff-driven strategic plan. David Murray also has a fine sum-up about the communication backlash.

If you don’t know, IABC is a professional network of more than 15,000 business communication professionals in over 70 countries. One of the cornerstone principles for IABC is that it is a member-driven organization, which pinpoints why a staff-written strategic plan (that few have seen) may not be palatable for many members, especially because it was set in motion before it was released for review. Yikes! Time to brush up on those “communicating change” skill sets.

I haven’t had the opportunity to fully immerse myself in the real issues, but I’ll poke around next week. One thing I do know, having been around IABC for quite some time, members sometime feel that they do not have enough input into shaping the organization. When members do mention that, it’s usually defined as lambasting the organization.

For the moment, I will mention if Klein is right and “increasing mainstream media mentions by 20 percent” is part of the plan, IABC might have a rocky road ahead. Counting media mentions is not a suitable measure, which, ironically, is something I learned from IABC. More importantly, Julie Freeman (IABC president) and Todd Hattori (IABC chair) must demonstrate due diligence so this does not turn into an “us vs. them” communication challenge. More next week.

Loathing

Sometimes Ragan Communications buzz e-mails are so silly it’s hard to take Ragan seriously. For example, in marketing its upcoming 90-minute webinar with Southwest Airlines next Tuesday, the e-mail headline reads:

Q: How many customer comments are there on Southwest’s blog this month? A: 209. The time is now to start a dialogue with your customers.

The irony here is that I can almost guarantee Southwest Airlines does not include blog comment counts as part of their organization’s business objectives. (I won’t bother mentioning the clunky headline structure.)

Fortunately, Southwest Airlines’ Brian Lusk, manager of customer communication and corporate editor, and Paula Berg, public relations manager, are including: how to align a corporate blog with your organization's business objectives. So, the whole comment count thing is mute as a selling point. There is little doubt that Southwest Airlines seems to know the difference between outcomes and blog buzz even if Ragan Communications likes to mix them up.

In fact, Southwest Airlines has one of the better customer-focused blogs around. More importantly, this foray into social media is partly responsible for the best opening three quarters in the airline's history. Right on. Southwest Airlines also attributes $150 million in ticket sales to its "Ding!" widget.

So let’s see … if you are in the target audience, what might resonate: $150 million or 209 comments? Sure, the comments are cool in that they demonstrate some customer engagement. The more I think about them, the more I see comments might even be worth adding to the qualitative research column (if you employ comments).

However, my main point here is that Ragan Communications irritates me because they dumb down communication value. Yes, it’s great fun for a select audience who understands something about social media, but it also drives away those who need to understand social media the most. More to the point: if you don’t have a blog, you certainly don’t care about comment counts.

Digg!

Wednesday, October 24

Tracking Ads: Google & Nielsen

The shortcomings of the rating system as offered by Nielsen Media Research has become a popular target for television fans. And for good reason. However, if there is one thing Nielsen has been doing right, it is listening to consumers.

Recently, they told networks that they would no longer combine two airings of the same show. And, they are allowing longer time periods to count DVR viewers, which has increased some show's ratings as much as five percent. Both moves came out of public outcry.

Today, The New York Times reported that Google will be announcing a partnership today with the Nielsen Company in order to give "advertisers a more vivid and accurate snapshot of how many people are viewing commercials on a second-by-second basis, and who those people are."

“We want to bring all the advantages that we see in online advertising — like more accountability, a better sense of the audience, better tools to optimize a campaign — and bring them to television to make TV advertising more effective,” Michael Steib, director for television ads for Google told The New York Times.

Google has been experimenting with television advertising through a cable operator, the DISH Network, which reaches 13 million subscribers. Several advertising executives predicted that it would be only a matter of time before other cable operators signed up, making the measurement system offered by Google TV Ads more broadly available.

Seems we too were early in connecting the dots, seeing cable operators as both the most obvious answer to better measurements as well as the eventual convergence of television and the Internet. While no old media has ever been replaced by new media to date, it sure seems like all media is undergoing a rapid and dramatic transformation.

Digg!

Increasing Traffic: Magazine Publishers


“The advertising dollar has never been more scrutinized, measured and quantified than it is today. What was once a bottomless pit of marketing capital emptied into the hands of advertising mavens, today’s advertising dollar is being doled out with expectations for a tangible return on investment.” — Thomas Banks, CEO, FlexSCAN, Health Business Week

You know the Internet is having an impact when Magazine Publishers of America (MPA) compiles independent research that documents how various online and offline media influence consumer behavior online.

The research, which includes third-party surveys and new quantitative analysis, is aimed at the role of media in driving online traffic, search, and purchase behavior, as well as the role of media in driving consumer response to online video ads. The conclusions, published across several reports, demonstrate the significance of an integrated communication. Here is a sampling:

• Offline media perform well in driving Web traffic and search — often better than online media, even when URL addresses are missing or not prominent.

• Media synergy is important, although each medium influences online behavior differently and plays a distinctive role.

• Looking at qualified search—those consumers ready to make a purchase—paints a different picture of media usage than total search, which is most often the focus of advertisers.

• When looking at the role individual media play in driving Web results, magazines most consistently drive Web traffic and search.

One must-read is How Media Drives Online Success that includes the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association (RAMA) study. It looks at which media performs best at influencing consumers to start a search for merchandise online.

Another must-read is a two-part report, Accountability and Accountability II, that also looks at consumer online behavior. One of the most significant findings from my point of view was the impact of integrated communication or what the MPA calls "media synergy."

Media synergy: more media gets better results.

While we were not surprised that integrated communication had a better impact across all measures than one medium — brand awareness, advertising awareness, message association, brand favorability, and purchase intent — we were taken by the extent. Print (magazines), television, and online advertising, when used together, delivered 2.5 times to 4 times more impact than one medium alone.

However, what the study does not include, is that magazine advertising (which the report says drives the most Web traffic and search) tends to be more in sync with accurate message delivery than television or online advertising. Television advertising tends to lean toward overly creative, sometimes convoluting the message, whereas online advertising, for the most part, tends to be devoid of message in favor of logo banners.

Until communicators sync messages, internally and externally, it seems likely that communication and marketing plans will continue to deliver mixed results. Public relations and social media practitioners would also be well served to be on the same page, shifting focus to stories and opinions about anything to get ink and toward reinforcing their core message.

What does that mean? It means to stop asking the majority of people to learn 100 things about your company on one medium and focus more on that one point across all media (as your budget allows). One core message across multiple communication streams will deliver better results than multiple messages across one stream.

Wow. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Digg!

Tuesday, October 23

Screwing Originators: How To Do Things


Flattery will get you everywhere. At least that's what HowToDoThings.com seems to think.

“We recently visited your website's copywriteink.com page and thought that as a trusted expert in the field, you might want to write a "how to" article or articles on a topic that you are knowledgeable and passionate about.”

I declined, with exception to one tiny part (explained later), but not because it was a form letter. I declined because if you put aside the gratuitous e-mail and read their content submission agreement, you might find one of the most overreaching and abusive policies that I’ve ever had the privilege, er, pain, to read.

Sure, I’m not an attorney and this is not legal advice, but even slivers of HowToDoThings’ 4-page “take everything, leave nothing” submission policy provides a very clear picture of why content originators (bloggers, writers, etc.) need to read, very carefully, any such terms before entrusting their content to anyone.

You hereby irrevocably assign, transfer, and quitclaim to HowToDoThings (or such third party/ies as HowToDoThings may elect) all right, title, and interest. You may have or hereafter acquire in and to all Published Content, either directly or indirectly, along with all intellectual property rights and other proprietary rights relating to all Published Content, including any and all registrations with respect thereto, whether foreign or domestic, and all renewals and extensions thereof, as well as related rights of priority under international conventions, and all rights to sue and recover damages for past infringements.

Right. For the promise of a 50-50 Google AdSense split on that page (according to the e-mail), the originator would surrender all rights, indefinitely, including intellectual property rights that are a derivative of the work, to the site. That’s terrible and it gets worse.

You authorize HowToDoThings and its successors and assigns to use one or more of the following: (a) your name; (b) pertinent biographical information relating to You; and (c) your likeness in connection with the publication of any Published Content, as well as any derivative works based upon any Published Content, without further compensation or consideration to You, and without your further review or consent.

In other words, not only will they own the originator’s content, but the originator’s likeness and name as well, and reserve the right to attach it to derivative works without review or consent. And there’s more.

If HowToDoThings requests that You sign any documents or take any other actions to confirm the rights granted under this Agreement, You agree to do so. You hereby irrevocably appoint HowToDoThings as your attorney-in-fact (which appointment is coupled with an interest) for the purpose of executing such documents on your behalf.

Not only would the originator sign over their content, likeness, and intellectual property rights related to the work, but also appoint HowToDoThings as their attorney-in-fact, indefinitely, with permission to act on their behalf. All this despite another provision that claims this is not an agency, partnership, joint venture, employee-employer or franchisor-franchisee relationship. Unless, of course, there is any libel or copyright infringement. Then, the originator is on their own to protect what the site claims as their property. And there’s more.

You hereby grant to HowToDoThings the exclusive, royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, transferable, worldwide right and license (including the right to sublicense through multiple tiers of sublicensees) to use, reproduce, publish in any form, whether tangible or electronic, and sell all Published Content.

I know what some might think. In a world where people are so willing to share, isn’t it a genuine offer to split Google AdSense? Unfortunately, there is no provision of this in the submission agreement. But there is a provision about such promises.

This Agreement, together with the Guidelines, which are incorporated into and made a part of this Agreement, each as in effect and posted on the Site from time to time, constitute the entire agreement between You and HowToDoThings and supersede all prior understandings, whether written or oral with regard to the subject matter of this Agreement.

Add to all this a termination agreement that allows HowToDoThings to terminate the agreement at anytime (with them keeping your content, likeness, and intellectual property rights), and it’s easy to see why content originators need to read these agreements closer than ever. That is, unless you can afford to pursue arbitration in San Mateo County, Calif., which is your only recourse according to the agreement. So what tiny part of what they are doing do I agree to?

We are actively looking for your feedback on our site.

Okay, here is some feedback: I think the submission agreement makes HowToDoThings look like an online piranha, attempting to take advantage of and prey off of less experienced content originators by stealing away their rights, names, likenesses, and intellectual property for the promise of, well, nothing and the loss of, well, everything.

The only rights online publishers need to request is first electronic rights, which would grant such a site the right to publish original content first, perhaps with a built-in provision that the originator cannot resell the material for a set time period, not to exceed 30-60 days. While it makes sense for publishers to retain bylines and likenesses with the published content, it is ridiculous to ask for any provision that assigns such identifiers to derivative works that may or may not have anything to do with the originator.

By the way, it also pays to read the terms of social networks. Some are playing shell games too, claiming to be distribution channels on one hand and publishers on the other hand. Their definition depends exclusively on their win factor.

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Monday, October 22

Serving Up Stress: U.S. Employers


Watson Wyatt, an international association of human resource professionals, released a study today that may send shivers down the spines of management: a large majority of companies in the United States and around the world are struggling to attract and retain top-performing and critical-skill workers.

The study, which included 946 companies and a complementary survey of 13,000 employees, found that the United States has the highest median voluntary turnover rate, at 11 percent, while Latin America has the lowest, at 5 percent. In addition, more than half of the companies report difficulty retaining top-performing (52 percent) and critical-skill (56 percent) workers. But that is not the most significant finding.

What is most interesting to me is the apparent disconnect between employers and employees on pinpointing the problem. Fifty-two percent of the employers say the number one reason they struggle to retain employees is base pay whereas 37 percent of employees cite stress levels (base pay came in second, followed by promotion opportunities, career development opportunities, and work/life balance).

The study found that when employees are satisfied with stress levels and work/life balance, 86 percent are more inclined to stay with their company (versus 64 percent when dissatisfied) and 88 percent are more likely to recommend it as a place to work (versus 55 percent when dissatisfied).

“Worldwide, the frenetic pace of modern business is taking its toll on employees,” said Adam Sorensen, global total rewards practice leader at World at Work. “There’s no question that employees are more likely to leave or speak badly of their workplace if they feel overburdened. Companies that take steps to ensure that stress levels are not onerous will save money in the long run by reducing attrition.”

The concept that employees are feeling overburdened in the workplace is not new. There was an article by Douglas Ready and Jay Conger about this subject in the Harvard Business Review in June. The authors had conducted a study in 2005 that revealed virtually all companies indicated that they had an insufficient pipeline of high-potential employees to fill strategic management roles.

In the article, they pinpointed that passion must start at the top and infuse corporate culture; otherwise, talent management processes can deteriorate into bureaucratic routines. In other words, when you tally up the studies, companies are throwing money at employees but money does not make people feel passionate about their jobs, probably because the stress levels aren’t worth it.

Much like we see in social networks, it’s too much management and not enough leadership. And, obviously, there is a breakdown in communication because employers think that throwing money at employees reduces stress.

If there was better communication, companies would already know that it’s not the money, it’s the environment. Case in point: one-half of the companies said that their managers do a good job at performance management, but U.S. companies received the lowest management ratings (Asia-Pacific companies received the highest). Do you think there might be a correlation to management, non-communication, employee stress, and retention? Naw, couldn’t be. Could it?

What seems to be happening is that companies are attempting to bribe their way out of developing positive corporate cultures by increasing incentive programs while raising financial targets to earn those incentives. The reason they think it works is because the people most likely to be promoted and support these models are those who chased after financial lures in the first place.

But for the rest of the stressed-out workforce, they seem to be escaping through Facebook and other online social networks where they hook up with recruiters and potential employers who promise that the grass just might be greener someplace else.

Time out. That's not measurable, some might say.

“Unlike processes, which can be copied by competitors, passion is very difficult to duplicate. Nevertheless, there are companies that can build it into their cultures” — Harvard Business Review

The beginning of a solution is right in front of management’s nose (literally so if you are reading this post). More than anything else, companies that want to succeed tomorrow must invest in better two-way communication streams between themselves and their employees (never mind consumers for a minute). Because the simple truth is that if this communication existed, then there would be no disconnect between why employees leave and why employers think they leave.

So if you ask me, employers need to train management to be strategic and passionate leaders who motivate not just with Jolly Ranchers (like they try to do to my son when he is in school) but with open communication that instills a sense of passion and trust with the company. Training managers to communicate goals rather than enforce corporate policy is one solution. Closed social networks or even internal blogs for employees might be another (recognizing many social networks struggle with the concept of community).

“Employers that are best at building and maintaining the right workforce are often the best at aligning workers’ rewards with the company’s goals. Their performance management programs clearly communicate what workers need to do to get ahead and to improve company performance. This builds a sense of teamwork that makes it easier to retain employees, as well as attract high-potential newcomers.” — Watson Wyatt

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Saturday, October 20

Raising Neptune: Veronica Mars Fans


Kristen Bell, best known for her role on the cult hit Veronica Mars, will be joining the cast of Heroes this Monday. And with her, she may be bringing thousands of Veronica Mars fans.

Veronica Mars fans have long since noticed that the Veronica Mars DVD will be released the day after Bell’s debut as a new character with mysterious electric powers. In preparation, hundreds of fans have downloaded fliers to help promote the Save Veronica Mars Web site under their combined group banner Neptune Rising.

As part of their DVD promotion efforts, Veronica Mars fans have even pooled together enough money to, weather permitting, fly a banner "Buy Veronica Mars Season 3 On Sale Now" from Middletown, Ohio, to Cincinnati.

“The flight will be approximately an hour long and we are hoping to hit rush hour traffic along two expressways,” says Mark Thompson, who operates the Save Veronica Mars Web site. “Cloudwatchers flew one for Veronica Mars to get us a Season 3 and campaigners for the show Invasion flew one trying to save their show last year as well.”

Thompson says renting planes is becoming commonplace for fan groups. CSI fans, he says, are looking to rent planes with banners to save a character on the show. In addition to the plane flight, they are recruiting bloggers and other fans to make noise on the Internet this Monday and Tuesday.

Veronica Mars fan Rachel Gerke, who pitches better than many working public relations professionals I know, tells me that on Oct. 23, Veronica Mars fans will begin collecting letters to make fan scrapbooks for Kristen Bell, Rob Thomas, and Alan Horn, president of Warner Brothers. The scrapbooks will take some time to get together, but fans are hoping to complete the project as a holiday gift. And, half a world away, a Veronica Mars fan has been promoting an Oct. 26 start date for Veronica Mars syndication in Australia.

Combined, Veronica Mars fans have easily redeemed themselves since the Buddy TV story in June told them to turn to Jericho fans for help. Nowadays, it almost seems to be the other way around.

The difference isn’t in the fans; it’s in network communication. Jericho fans are still mending fences after fan fallouts caused by some who lobbied Nina Tassler’s message, which implied that CBS fans might save the show if they simply “hung out” on the CBS message boards. While most fans are friendly, visiting the kitchen tends to drive more people away over disputes than it can keep.

For Jericho, the best ideas continue to be those away from the network (it’s about time). Next week, I’ll be looking for them to see if we can find some kind of sum up and solidarity.

If there is a lesson to be learned by networks, there seems to be two distinct ways to work with passionate fans: either partner with them and provide the support they need or stay far, far away. Unfortunately, CBS tends to fall somewhere in the middle, floating messages out through select fans and editing posts that might distract from those who seem closer to them.

Although the stay “far, far away” approach might seem frustrating for Veronica Mars fans at times, they should be happy not to have a halfway headache. The result is a clear focus: Veronica Mars Season 3 DVD goes on sale Oct. 23. If you haven’t heard, I expect you will.

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Friday, October 19

Saying Tomato: Whole Foods Market, Inc.


Whole Foods Market, Inc. (Whole Foods) has completed its investigation into CEO John Mackey’s online financial message board postings related to Whole Foods and Wild Oats Market (Wild Oats). The fiasco began months ago after it was revealed that Mackey posted disparaging remarks about Wild Oats on Yahoo financial boards using the anonymous name “Rahodeb.” He did this for years, stopping several months prior to the Whole Foods acquisition of Wild Oats.

The result was one of the biggest games of “you say tomato, I say tomoto” in recent history, with some people insisting it was all good fun (including Mackey before he admitted a lack of judgment) and some people claiming it is an ethical breach of his fiduciary duty with the insistence that he be immediately removed as CEO.

The Whole Foods Board, led by Rahodeb and including "Divad," "Nhoj," "Elleirbag," "Ssah," "Sirrom," and "Hplar," has reaffirmed its support of Mackey. (By the way, Divad, Nhoj, and Hplar led the "independent" investigation.)

So why did they say tomato? They won't say. It’s a secret.

“The Company and the Board intend to cooperate fully with the SEC in completing its related inquiry. Due to the ongoing SEC inquiry, the Company and the Board have no further comment at this time.”

Instead, they have turned over their investigation to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which is charged with determining if Mackey violated the law. I do not envy the task; exonerating Mackey will smack as permission for more colorful CEOs to do the same. Not to mention, the media, which was once sympathetic to Mackey, is starting to lose their patience with the whole sordid story.

They have several reasons. Mackey’s activities were carried out despite knowledge of them by senior executives and several knew of the postings as of 2001, according to three people familiar with the matter, reports The Wall Street Journal. The independent investigation no longer looks so independent. The company will not comment further. And, the longer it takes to resolve a crisis communication situation, the less likely the media will be on your side.

So why did they say tomato? That’s no secret. It’s simple.

The Whole Foods Board has nothing to lose by doing so. If the SEC does decide to call Mackey’s antics less than vine ripe, then it simply has to announce something like this … “In light of the SEC investigation, which uncovered additional information, we have decided to say tomoto instead of tomato.” And then call the whole thing off.

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Thursday, October 18

Understanding Semantics: PR Students


“If A equals success, then the formula is A equals X plus Y and Z, with X being work, Y play, and Z keeping your mouth shut.” — A. Einstien

There are two things I always take away from teaching. First, semantics can sometimes mean the difference between discussion and dispute. Second, teaching, in and of itself, is learning (as long as the instructor listens now and again).

I have yet to teach a class where I do not walk away learning something new. Last night, I learned as much if not more from guest teaching social media for a Fundamentals in Public Relations class, normally taught by Keith Sheldon, ABC, APR, than the students. Then again, they were not only students. Most are also working professionals in media, public relations, and advertising. So it was in discussing social media with them that I learned about several social media roadblocks from the perspective of their respective employers. Here are four:

Social media practitioners claim comments are required.

If there is one stumbling block for companies and organizations it is the erroneous belief that blogs require comments. Concern over comment moderation is one of the largest roadblocks for having blogs deployed.

Reality check: the purpose of the communication dictates whether or not a blog is served by comments, not the medium in which the message is communicated. The conversation does not need to take place on one blog, but can take place across many blogs. (Living in reality: BlogStraightTalk members.) The root of the semantic confusion: practice vs. purpose.

Social media practitioners advocate complete transparency.

The erroneous idea in social media that all employees simply share their thoughts at random and ad nauseam, even if it means disagreeing or damaging the principles or principals of their company. Message control should be abolished, they say.

Reality check: Smart public relations firms never advocated message control; they advocated message management. Given the best communication occurs from the inside out, one wonders what consumers might think when different employees deliver conflicting messages. While some say this all equals transparency, multiple messages can shred authenticity. (Living in reality: Brian Clark).
The root of the semantic confusion: control vs. manage.

Social media practitioners support social media measures.

Across social media, including communication-related blogs, several practioners are pushing measures like Google page rank, Technorati links, friend/follower counts, and Alexa traffic (usually when it suits them). Currently, Alexa traffic is sitting at the top of the heap.

Reality check: The accurate measure of any communication is its ability to engage consumers, change behavior, and/or produce outcomes. While some people mistake the term “outcomes” to mean sales, it is simply means meeting the objective of the communication. In terms of traffic, blog dramas can create some interesting spikes, but if traffic really counts, we might all be better off blogging about Britney Spears. (Living in reality: Robert Scoble). The root of the semantic confusion: buzz vs. outcome.

Social media practitioners always talk about conversation.

Social media practitioners claim that it is all about the conversation and companies should be compelled to have a dialogue with them.

Reality check: If social media is all about the conversation, then why are so many practitioners talking and so few listening? Ergo, what seems to be is that some practitioners are more interested in driving their own one-way communication than they are willing to have a real dialogue with those they demand it from. Some practitioners create blog dramas or storm away in the face of fair criticism, the exact opposite of open two-way communication. (Living in reality: David Maister). The root of the semantic confusion: dialogue (communication) vs. dispute (non-communication).

"If you don't manage your message, then your message will manage you."

While the class revealed additional social media roadblocks, many of them can be traced back to a root cause related to semantics, including the difference between criticism and cynicism. However, I also noted a tremendous difference between these public relations students and communication practitioners and the class I taught just six months ago.

When I told these students that the communication landscape had changed, none of them looked slack-jawed, appalled, or bemused. While only three of them raised their hands when I asked if anyone was engaged in social media (not one blogger), the definition was already familiar to them. What is significant to consider is that participation in social media does not always mean practicing in social media, which again dispels the myth of counting blogs as a measure of acceptance.

More to the point, they made me wonder. Maybe the biggest roadblock that prevents social media from becoming mainstream is not the public as much as the practitioners. In other words, maybe social media is having trouble managing its own message. How ironic.

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Wednesday, October 17

Drumming Up Interest: Anthony Miranda


When Anthony Miranda was playing drums for Johnny Mathis, he needed to add metal sounds to a hand drum set. But what he didn’t know ten years ago was that a single YouTube video would garner more attention for his solution than he ever received touring with the Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter or attending trade shows and conventions for five years.

Now, Miranda will be considered as an act featured on Late Night With David Letterman. Representatives from the show caught Miranda's demonstration of his invention, Fingerstix, on what appeared to be a spontaneous YouTube performance in a restaurant.

“My marketing director brought up filming a YouTube video,” says Miranda. “So I concepted the idea of doing it in a restaurant with plates and glasses.”

In many ways, dinner plate performances had previously been proven. Always the entertainer, Miranda had played in restaurants for his friends for years. His talent is amazing; the video a must see. Almost immediately following the launch of the video, Miranda noted increased exposure and sales on his Web site, where you can catch several more dazzling clips.

“Any great idea has to find the right path to market,” Miranda told me. “I’m an inventor and creative person by nature, but even I knew finding the right people to help me take my product from an idea and onto people’s hands was key.”

Five years ago, when Miranda first decided to take his invention public, he went the traditional route. He took it out to trade shows like NAMN and had some success with resellers. It made sense. After all, Fingerstix were responsible for the unique percussion sounds on several albums and movie soundtracks

“I also used them in concerts and clinics and sold numerous sets to the attendees,” he said. “But all of these traditional methods targeted a very focused segment of the market.”

Given Miranda has performed with Mathis, Madonna, Natalie Cole, Gladys Knight, and Tom Jones, one would assume the traditional route would have been enough. However, Miranda gives ample credit to the power of social media.

“It [the video] opened up Fingerstix to a much broader audience,” says Miranda. “The YouTube video was shot in one take and the Fingerstix team posted it a couple days later. I couldn’t believe that hundreds of people watched it shortly after and they still do.”

Miranda says that the Fingerstix team has always used some guerilla marketing techniques to improve sales, but nothing like the YouTube video. Currently, they are working on his next YouTube video. And while Miranda wouldn't give up the concept, he did tell me that it is sure to be sensational.

I have little doubt about that. Who knows? Maybe the next YouTube video will include Hilary Duff. It could happen. Miranda recently added movie producer to his long list of credits and credentials.

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Tuesday, October 16

Drinking Games: Bud TV


Two years ago, Bob Lachky had enough creative vision to become executive vice president of global industry development for Anheuser-Bush, Inc., which made him responsible for representing the company to alcohol beverage industry groups nationally and abroad, and to enhance the overall image of the beer industry with both the public and within the industry. Fresh off seven consecutive wins in the Super Bowl’s USA Today Ad Meter Poll, he seemed like the perfect match.

“I am excited and inspired by the challenge that has been put before me. And, after leading our creative team to seven consecutive wins in the Super Bowl’s USA Today Ad Meter Poll, I am grateful to be leaving my job as head of brand creative on a high,” Lachky said then.

More recently however, he showed that oh-too-transparent side as he delivered an acid-tongued review of Bud TV with a quotable or two that rivals Lauren Caitlin Upton, Miss South Carolina.

“…as you can tell, I was doing something else at the time, I think had a little stronger sell on this,” said Lachky during Masters of Marketing. “… kind of a flawed idea but a brilliant concept.”

Okay. Sure, Lachky is technically accurate, in that a concept is an abstract and an idea is a visible representation of a concept, but the rest of the summed review of his company’s own communication effort reveals Bud TV wasn’t such a brilliant concept at all. And based on the previews alone, it’s easy to see Bud TV is exactly how Lachky described it: a purposeless waste that featured ‘bizarre’ content and no branding. (A classic example of more buzz, less outcome.)

None of the content is ‘bizarre’ enough to be that funny except one gem on YouTube. The rest is simply a good indication of why Bud TV captures about 50,000 unique visitors per month (that’s on par with some mid-level blogs). Still, the company says it has faith, enough to let all it all run through 2008.

Not to be deterred, Tony Ponturo, vice president of global media and sports/entertainment marketing at Anheuser-Bush, recently tried to put the decision in perspective as the company intends to invest more in entertainment and the digital space.

"We wanted to get through the step of, 'OK, should we continue into '08 as we build our marketing plans?' and that was the decision," he said during a keynote speech at Online Media, Marketing & Advertising Conference & Expo. "I think it (Bud.TV) is something that could have an ending someday, but I think if we keep learning from it and if we keep seeing assets from it ... then it makes sense to continue the site.”

You can catch more of Bud TV talk over at iMedia. But right out of the gate, Ponturo tells us why Bud TV doesn’t work.

“We wanted to go into this sort of new world because of what we are seeing, and what our research suggests, that adults 21 to 27 are using the Internet minimally six hours a week, and obviously that's growing.”

No, no, no. If you want it to work, stop talking about why you did it and start talking about what it promises to deliver (just make sure it delivers something, which it doesn’t at the moment). And, you might ask Lachky to stop poking at the ashes with critiques that reinforce the idea that Bud TV is dead anyway. (I'm still wondering what he was doing while millions were poured away.)

So here are are quick fixes. If you want to save Bud TV, dump the ego-creative concepts and provide content people who drink beer want to see. Like, um, how to brew beer at home. Or maybe, follow a NASCAR driving team around the circuit (oh right, you more or less gave that content model over to Coors). Or maybe, you could cover the Beer Pong championship. Or maybe, you could put in some product placement, since, well, they are your shows. Or maybe, ask people who watch Bud TV to provide some content from time to time.

I dunno. Whatever Bud does next, let’s just hope they don’t launch a completely different channel and spread out their already thin fan base. Oh right, they already did that too, several times over.

Not to worrry, there is always a bright side: after spending $30 million for a site that is less than fluid, some people on the team will likely need a beer in 2008. It brings new meaning to the term case study.

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Monday, October 15

Winning & Losing: Al Gore


As part of Blog Action Day, I’m adding a communication bent to environmental awareness as some inconvenient truths are being reported about An Inconvenient Truth. (Hat tip: State Sen. Bob Beers).

The Credibility Question

The timing of Justice Burton’s ruling — that British teachers showing the film must tell their pupils that Gore makes several false or unsupported claims (although the work is broadly correct) — could not come at a worse time. After all, Gore and the United Nations Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) just received a joint winner of the Nobel peace prize for educating the world about climate change.

After possibly overreaching on some points, Gore has succeeded in fueling additional conflict over his message of environmental crisis. According to Times Online, the court ruling is the first of many battles ahead. The campaigners who supported the court case will now send copies of The Great Global Warming Swindle, a counter claim funded by Viscount Monckton, to these schools.

The Communication Considerations

What is most interesting to me is how Gore will handle what is his greatest triumph and looming crisis over the same work at the same time; whether the topic of global warming will become even more polarizing for British students than it already is for world leaders; and will this impact the public’s belief in global warming? As the story unfolds, we will begin covering these questions as part of a living case study.

The Environmental Considerations

Recently, I participated in a discussion that accepted the premise that global warming was beyond our control. My point in this discussion was simple enough. Regardless of global warming, we still need to consider alternative fuel sources.

Unless we change current fuel usage in the United States between now and 2030, one-third of the world’s population will be using unhealthy and environmentally damaging fuels to meet their daily energy needs. As it stands now, 1.6 billion people do not have access to electricity, 2.4 billion people rely on traditional biomass such as wood and dung, and 99 percent of these people live in developing countries that will need energy.

As these countries develop, demand will increase at exponential rates, making our traditional model too expensive to maintain anyway. Not to mention, China’s continued development is having an increased demand on the world market (faster than the U.S.) and oil remains one of the most unstable fuel sources for our country with 37 percent of all imports currently being supplied by OPEC.

As I mentioned in January, the debate about global warming, and add to that the need for alternative fuels, is over. Everybody lost. And now that it has been over for some time now, it still seems to me that people need more saving than the planet. Here is one way to help both.

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Saturday, October 13

Recognizing Leadership: Social Media


The quality of leadership, more than any other single factor, determines the success or failure of an organization. — Fred Fiedler and Martin Chemers

All across the net — in forums, social networks, fan bases, and even well-read blogs — some people are elevated up by any number of measures and any number of reasons to become perceived leaders in their respective communities or industries.

And yet, unfortunately, when the concept of being a leader arises, whether sought after or rejected on its face, few realize it is not leaders that these varied communities and industries crave. It is leadership.

In June, a few fans, in consideration of my suggestions to promote fandom asked me how to organize a fan club. I obliged them, but was surprised by the response of some, who rejected the idea on its face because Jericho fans did not want any leaders. Off with any leaders’ heads, some said, we are all equal here.

What was missed is that I was not advocating for leaders as they defined the term as much as I was advocating leadership. The two are vastly different.

Leadership is not defined by power, privilege, rank, title, position, or authority. Leadership is a quality of action, one that rarely requires force of law, threat, manipulation, control, or the attempted shutdown of dissent. On the contrary, leaders welcome all parties, all views, and then effectively match those to organizational goals and not necessarily their opinions or preferences.

A successful leader transcends their personality in order to ensure any following is aligned to the organizational goals and not themselves as individuals. The very best of them continually challenge any followers to reach higher obtainable goals, encouraging them to apply leadership as well.

In social media, some bloggers, social network participants, forum administrators, group hosts, and even online talk show hosts become leaders either by pursuit of action, grant of title, or by default simply because others recognize them for their insights and expertise. Yet, relatively few recognize the role they have assumed or accept the responsibility of it. Fewer still have ever been exposed to the difference between leaders and those who think they are leaders.

You can tell which are which. Effective leadership looks for objectivity and truth, taking responsibility for their actions and win the hearts of any following. Whereas those who think they are leaders are subjective, obscure facts, and promote their own partisan interests and make demands while denying the role for fear of being held responsible or accountable. Sometimes, they attempt to force others to succumb to their will because of any number of erroneous qualifications: experience, seniority, title, rank, traffic, followers, friends, links, etc.

Leadership requires none of these things. Rather, it revolves around vision, motivation, inspiration, empowerment, and authenticity. And very likely, but not certainly, it seems to me that Jericho fans are well overdue to find those few who are capable.

If not, the craving for leadership will continually lead toward elevating those who are popular and not necessarily those who have the skill sets necessary. The results can be disastrous, as they have been for the last two weeks.

You see, there is a vast difference between those who start something, provide a forum to talk about something, and those who lead something. Last week, someone responded to me and said he did not want to be a leader. It reminded me of an episode in Jericho, when Gray Anderson was ready, once again, to relinquish authority to Johnston Green. Green basically told him to accept the responsibility or stand aside.

The lesson was as clear in the show as it is for fans today. As I opened, the quality of leadership, more than any other single factor, will determine the success or failure of a third season. Good night and good luck.

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Friday, October 12

Stuggling To Be Relevant: Old Media


Last year, most people said it wouldn’t happen. Now it is happening out of desperation. The people who social media participants and bloggers call “old media” are working as quickly as possible to change everything and become the, um, new new media.

Old media is not struggling; they are fighting for survival.

According to Bloomberg, BusinessWeek is doing everything possible to keep up. The magazine is undergoing a facelift and adding stories on new products and personal finance. It is updating its logo and typefaces.

Advertising pages dropped 20 percent and advertising sales dropped 15 percent. Hard copy circulation is down 1.2 percent. Online, the story is different. Its Internet readership is up to 6.5 million unique visitors a month from 1.7 million a month in 2004. But ad sales online only account for 18 percent of its revenue.

“All traditional business publishers are struggling to find the right formula,” said Peter Kriesky, Kreisky Media Consultancy in New York. “None of them have reached the promised land.''

What if there is no formula?

ABC seems to be asking the same. So while it tends to be the quietest of all networks about its plans for network-Internet convergence, The New York Times says it is the only major network that is using the staff of its evening newscast to produce a separate and distinct daily program for a Web audience as opposed to repackaging (that’s largely true).

The 15-minute Webcasts often feature Charles Gibson in the anchor chair and ABC News correspondent. Bill Blakemore recently finished a special on global warming. I watched their Web segment on the Pennsylvania shooting plot this morning. It’s not perfect (ABC needs a full screen option, among other things), but it is a step in the right direction and more promising than repackage plus option being made by other networks.

Innovation will lead the way.

This is not to say traditional media is not content relevant (they are). They simply lack in platform building, appropriate technology, and understanding active consumers (as opposed to passive readers and viewers). Too many are following old models and formulas.

Time Magazine’s Bill Tancer found one piece of the puzzle: according to the Solutions Research Group, roughly 37 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 12 use their computers while watching television at home.

What's the answer? It seems to me that consumers want integrated print, broadcast, and Internet. And while mobile devices seem to be chugging along, we’re still past prime time for a dual-device entertainment interface that allows people to watch programming on a big screen while participating online with their smaller screened laptops that function like a universal remote. Of course, all this assumes cable companies stop double dipping by charging people twice for essentially the same service.

Sounds like an Apple of an opportunity to me.

As for where print and broadcast seem to be missing the mark online right now, maybe that’s better served up in the weeks ahead. At the moment, I have some old media ads to write. As much as times are changing, some things have not changed.

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Thursday, October 11

Punching Monkeys: Nielsen Survey


Last week, a Nielsen study proclaimed that traditional advertising is still more credible than ads on search engines, Web site banners, and mobile phones.

Have you looked at most banner ads? Most aren’t trying for trust.

Since when has punching a monkey established credibility?

On the contrary, most online ads — whether simple and straightforward or monkey punching — aren’t trying to sell you anything. All they want you to do is click on the link and visit the Web site. And that is where the sale might take place because, according to the same study, brand Web sites are the fourth most trusted sources of information. So what are we missing?

The Web site is the advertisement and the banner ad is the ad for the Web site.

Not surprisingly, word-of-mouth advertising scored high. Seventy-eight percent of those surveyed said recommendations from other consumers was the most credible form of advertising. It has always been this way, which also hints at the power of communication.

Social media is front line communication. The resulting conversations are word-of-mouth advertising.

But not all word-of-mouth marketing sparked by bloggers or advertising gurus or public relations professionals is credible. As Sterling Hagar recently noted at AgencyNext: “When PR people resort to dress-up, play-acting, waitressing and such it suggests one of two possibilities to me: the client doesn't have a strong message or the PR people are having a hard time articulating it.”

Right on. Even people can look like monkeys.

Speaking of monkeys, the survey’s methodology included about 26,000 people on the Internet in 47 markets around the world, which means about 550 people per market. We're not even sure if they were shown ads to establish a context or what ads those might have been. Mediums don't create credibility; messages do.

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Wednesday, October 10

Advertising Online: Intel & Everybody


Advertising online is the only medium that has seen substantial gains in spending. According to the Internet Advertising Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers, Internet ad revenue totaled almost $10 billion, which represents an increase of nearly 27 percent from the same period a year ago.

This is one of the reasons that Intel is bringing a larger portion of its extremely successful co-op advertising budget to the Internet with 10 to 20 percent of its own budget being spent online. And where the “Intel Inside” campaign goes, so goes Intel marketing partners — at least 35 percent of the ad dollars Intel provides must be devoted to online marketing.

“It was a big change for us,” said Kevin Burkum, vice president for marketing at the egg board in Park Ridge, Ill. told The New York Times. “TV is still very important to us, but it’s not the be-all and end-all as it used to be.”

Maybe that’s because Internet users are conducting about 1.4 million searches every minute — with about 60 percent of those searches occurring on Google. At least that is the word on MSNBC. Citing a study by comScore's qSearch 2.0 service, more than 37 billion searches worldwide went through Google in August. (Side note: they just bought Jaiku.)

Yahoo Inc. was second worldwide with 8.5 billion, followed by Baidu at 3.3 billion, Microsoft Corp. at 2.2 billion, and NHN at 2 billion.

With so many searches, online media buyers might be wondering if buying up keywords and Google click-throughs is the way to go. Sure, but it is not the only way and maybe not even the best way.

One of the more compelling studies that I’ve come across is from the Atlas Institute, which points out what I hope other advertisers and marketers know — 67 percent of all consumers are influenced by more than one ad before they purchase. In other words, they might see an ad here and go somewhere else, forget about it, see it again, conduct a search, and then click on it again.

It’s something to think about if you are a content provider. Your click-through ads have a greater chance of supporting someone else’s shared revenue. But more importantly, marketers might be a bit more careful about where they think click-through purchases are coming from … the prospect likely came from somewhere else.

All of it provides great food for thought and suddenly makes concepts like social media relevant. Thinking about this sure beats writing about the bubble. Besides, Eric Eggertson already did an outstanding cover of the bubble buzz around the second departure of the not-so-anonymous Amanda Chapel. I pretty much closed my case study on them in July after discovering they were causing their own brand damage.

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Tuesday, October 9

Chatting Jericho: Richard Becker


When I first began covering what began as a crisis communication case study of CBS over the cancellation of a television show, Jericho, and the fan outcry that followed, I could have never imaged meeting such a great group of passionate people.

They are not what I expected; certainly not what CBS expected. You can learn more about them in the comment thread of this post, aptly titled “Understanding Viewers.” There, they left more than 194 comments, about themselves and why they cared so much.

Since CBS reversed its cancellation decision, I’ve usually confined the second case study to tracking consumer marketing behaviors as the fans have worked hard to secure a third season after what will be a short second season, which will probably be introduced during a mid-season break.

In doing so, I am sometimes reminded how easy it is for fans to lose sight of their original reasons to pull together, but I know what they sometimes do not: they are still those same people, perhaps just a bit frustrated in attempting to find their own way. I met many of them at a forum called Jericho Rally Point.

So when one of them sent me message last week or so, it was easy to accept Morgan’s invitation to join them for a chat session at 5 p.m. (PST) on Wednesday, Oct. 10. I have to be honest: I haven’t entered a chat room in years. I expect it will be fun, hopefully engaging, and certainly interesting.

Thanks for the splendid introduction in the forums, Morgan. I'll do all my best.

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