Thursday, January 31

E-Mailing Everybody: Marketers Say Spam Works

Forget Facebook and other online advertising models for a minute. Datran Media released a study that says direct-to-consumer e-mail spam works.

More than 82 percent of the marketers surveyed indicated that they plan to increase e-mail marketing this year. That’s a whole lot of e-mails.

Why? As much as everybody complains about e-mail advertising, it seems to work. The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) even released a report that says e-mail ROI can hit as much as $45.65 on every dollar spent, which is twice as much ROI earned from other mediums.

This study mirrors other industry specific releases sent out by the DMA, including one that predicted e-mail from the insurance industry will increase as much as 23.4 percent in the next few years. The insurance industry is not alone. E-mail advertising has become a red-hot choice among marketers nationwide.

Except. There are some things working against e-mail ROI. There is the increasing pressure on state legislatures by the public. There are the issues that cross over into the Federal Trade Commission’s consideration of online advertising. And, of course, there is the growing problem of over saturation.

Simply put, the more e-mail advertisements that consumers receive, the less effective the medium will become and the more likely it will be prone to stricter regulation. There are other considerations too, including that the DMA study on ROI in terms of dollars does not adequately consider long-term brand consequences or negative impressions. It also doesn’t consider the risks that more consumers associate with it.

Like most advertising and communication, direct e-mail advertising is a tool. It does not work for all companies or products, and can even be detrimental for some. Inc. recently published a great column that helps temper the hype and brings it back into focus.

Personally, before considering an e-mail campaign, I think many companies are better off thinking about a well-executed social media plan. Social media can be equally, if not more, effective because it allows the consumer to receive information when they want it and how they want it: RSS feed, e-mail subscription, social network announcement, Google search, etc.

Sure, social media, such as a blog, is considered passive by comparison. But then again, the communication doesn’t rely exclusively on an e-mail list either. In other words, while more than 70 percent of marketers said they intend to use e-mail to enhance consumer relationships, one wonders if consumers share their point of view.


Wednesday, January 30

Yodeling Less: Yahoo! Cut Backs

Yesterday, Yahoo! announced that what was expected to be hundreds of layoffs will be rounded up to more than 1,000 jobs cut. Unfortunately, the writing has been on the wall for some time as several Yahoo! assets were underperforming.

Yahoo Video fell 80 percent while traffic to rival YouTube grew by nine percent. Metacafe grew by 27 percent. Traffic on Yahoo! asset MyBlogLog, a social network for bloggers, has been declining since a poorly communicated move to Yahoo! IDs. Gmail seems to have an edge over Yahoo!
Mail, which is a bit more clunky than it used to be and is largely unusable by Safari (a small, but still viable percentage of accounts).

Not all the news is sour mind you. Yahoo! and AT&T are expanding their alliance. Yahoo! has cornered a big share of the $548 million market for online ad revenues for sports sites, says Forbes. And most people seem to like Flickr. Even their front page news is pretty good, even if you don’t use the search tool. These are just a few of the reasons I suspect people like the Silicon Valley Insider is calling for any ideas that might “help save” Yahoo!

Part of the challenge isn’t technology as much as it is communication, inside and out. Outside, members of various assets call Yahoo! unresponsive. Inside, layoff rumors have been whispered about for some time. Even The New York Times called said the Tuesday conference call droning and jargon filled.

Since the best communication happens from the inside out, it seems to me that how Yahoo! handles its layoffs will largely dictate how long the road of recovery will be. Large-scale layoffs, especially when no one knows which business areas will be hardest hit, can demoralize employees to the point of paralysis.

It’s especially important for Yahoo! to avoid the concept that there is some magical "clean slate" once layoffs are over. Why? As Umesh Ramakrishnan, vice chairman, Corporate Technology Partners, said: "The biggest challenge Yahoo! has is cultural. It's gotten away from the creative company it used to be—that's the difference between it and Google. Yang needs to bring that culture back and bring innovation to the forefront."

I could not agree more. Yahoo! needs to get away from being too myopic and retain some of the color and creativity that seems to escape every time it purchases a company. Instead of telling employees what to do and online members what will be done, invest more time into discovering why the acquisitions were performing so well to begin with, sans the Yahoo! brand.

By almost every account, Yahoo! is not a sinking ship. But it could be, unless someone inside makes a serious push to bring the passion back from the inside out. And that is always much more difficult to do, when almost one in 10 employees won't be there to help.


Tuesday, January 29

Mixing Media: The Recruiting Animal

Last March, the unabashed shock jock of recruiting, best known to the industry as the “Recruiting Animal,” launched an online radio talk show. Since, the show continues to capture growing interest, maybe even contributing to his recent win as the “Best Recruiting Blogosphere Personality” gratis Best Recruiting Blogs Of 2007.

You think? No way, says Animal.

“I feel guilty about the prize because David ‘Bull Doza’ Mendoza of Six Degrees From Dave put me on his slate of candidates and sent a request to his super huge network* to vote as he advised,” explains Animal. “I have to assume that most of the voters didn't know anything about me.”

Whether they did or not, I doubt he feels guilty. At least not since the contest organizer stripped him of one coveted treat. There was no Starbucks coffee in the prize package.

“Have you ever heard the word schnorrer?” asks Animal. “Jay Dee (Jason Davis of is my friend, so he thinks that what's mine is his.”

Adding Practicality To Punch Lines

The Recruiting Animal is not the only one to add podcasting to his repertoire. Since August 2006, BlogTalkRadio has added thousands of shows, including several authors and celebrities in addition to bloggers. It makes some wonder. Is it worth it?

“I think it is easier to get other people to contribute their expertise because they don’t have to write anything,” says Animal. “But it does take preparation to do it well. Writing a good intro for the show is as time consuming as writing a long blog post, but you don't do it every day.”

In addition to the introduction, good online radio hosts have to spend considerable time researching topics and giving the information advanced thought. And, a blog or Web site is important for show promotion.

There is also considerable effort in developing a workable approach. While Animal says he is still in the process of formalizing his interview approach, there are a few things he has learned along the way.

• Always research the featured topic and examples
• Always plan questions thoroughly, including follow ups
• Sometimes pre-interviews can make a huge difference

“I did a pre-interview this past week and it made a big difference,” says Animal. “If I know something about the answers in advance, then I don’t have to struggle to get a clear statement from my guest.”

The pre-interview technique also put him in a position to clarify answers without losing the spontaneity that keeps the show fresh. And, he says, they are more appropriate than supplying advance material or scripts.

While advance material has been helpful for what he affectionately calls “The Animal Panel,” guests tend to know their subject and need more flexibility. On one occasion, he did plan a show with a guest and it backfired, with the guest refusing to stick to the script. Animal filled in some blanks, but the interview seemed like guest baiting to industry insiders as opposed to a fun show.

Balancing Acts For Guests And Listeners

Even with some tried and true tips, there are no hard and fast rules. One of the challenges Animal faces on a weekly basis is finding the right mix for guests and listeners. People don’t necessarily want a plodding question-interview session, but rather a fast-moving, entertaining, and informative show.

If he is too polite to guests, he says it makes for a less interesting show. Most people want what they are used to: blunt remarks, raised voices, and interruptions that sometimes have nothing to do with the subject. So Animal is always looking for balance between his colorful— sometimes snarky — blog persona and a radio show host who doesn’t frighten guests away.

“Since I know that I can find people to interview, I'm probably
better off telling guests that it's going to be a rough ride,” says Animal. “But if I don't sober up, I wonder if it might be hard to get certain interesting, but straight-laced types, on my show.”

Somewhere in between entertaining and outlandish seems to be the answer for him, even if it means losing certain guests to someone else. If he plays it too straight, his listeners let him know. Great introduction, they might say, but what a dull interview.

Live Listeners Are A Fraction Of Audience

Many online radio talk show hosts avoid answering questions related to live listeners, but Animal helped put this into perspective. He says live listeners aren’t as important as some people might think. While he would like more callers because they add value to the show, the bulk of his audience comes from people who download podcasts.

“I derive a lot of benefit from my regular callers. You meet a lot of intelligent, talkative people in blogging. When people like Maureen Sharib, Harry Joiner, Dave Manaster, or Jason Davis call in, they ask good questions that I wouldn't think of,” says Animal. “They also make good remarks and add a lot of variety.”

The show itself, much like The Recruiting Animal’s blog, is geared more for recruiters in the business than it is for recruiting clients and candidates. As a result, readership and listenership tend to be more narrowly focused. However, Animal is still surprised by how many people listen or write reviews of past shows, making podcasts a better measure of his reach.

“I do get the odd review in which someone I don’t know says they find it entertaining,” says Animal. “That’s a real treat.”

Currently, Animal is working to build a subscription network and that might give him a better idea of who and how people listen to the show. This may eventually help produce a show with online sponsors that will keep his Starbucks cup full.

So is it worth it? It seems to be for Animal. But like all online tools, it’s best to match what you do best with the available applications. If you have a good speaking voice and can dedicate time to online radio, it provides a richer experience and relationship than other formats. Animal is a natural for radio, and he didn’t pay me to say it. Listen for yourself.

You can also catch an essay discussion opener on BlogStraigthTalk on adding podcasts.

*note comments: Animal was dreaming.

Monday, January 28

Corresponding Attorneys: Andrew Dwyer

Corresponding by e-mail with Andrew Dwyer, the employment litigation specialist who owns The Dwyer Law Firm, L.C.C. and is representing Steve Biegel in the Biegel vs. Dentsu case, reminded me why some reporters become cynical over time.

Many journalists are privately bombarded with persuasive babble, coercion, and spin, based on little more than the erroneous notion: if the reporter writes what we want, they are intelligent; if they do not, they are “morons.”

Journalists are not really paid enough to put up with it, but they do.

For those who have been following the suit, a District Court judge recently rejected Dentsu's motion for a summary judgment in the case of Steve Biegel v. Dentsu Holdings. It really wasn’t enough for me to post about, but I added it as an update to previous posts, preferring to wait to see how things plod along before considering it a topic again.

The reason Dwyer contacted me yesterday was to retract a comment that I left on a MultiCultClassics post, which had less to do about Biegel and more to do with some anti-Japanese sentiments that were anonymously left on my blog and elsewhere. Specifically, Dwyer claimed that I had “endorsed” the author, HighJive, whom he has a very low opinion of; that I called his client, Biegel, intolerant against Japanese and a “racist;” and that I might even qualify where I was in agreement with the other author and where I was not.

All of this comes from an attorney who previously told me “none of the posts on any of the blogs will ever have any relevance, except perhaps to support our claims of retaliation by Dentsu.” For someone who had expressly stated his low opinion of blogs in general and dismissed them, there seems to be ample attention paid to them outside the public eye as well as any comments that might accompany them.

No matter. Some might also consider it admirable that Dwyer is obviously looking out for his client. And given that, I did add clarification to the comment.

Unfortunately, the clarification was not good enough. Dwyer wanted a complete retraction and/or removal of the aforementioned comment, which I am not inclined to do because I did not call Biegel intolerant of Japanese.

In lieu of this, I suggested highlighting some of the more interesting points, especially since Dwyer said he would “love” to post his e-mail to me on the MultiCultClassic blog, but the author allegedly only allows comments that fit his agenda. Dwyer rescinded the idea, objecting to anything except the publication of his entire e-mail, going so far to suggest that if I only published portions of it, he would never correspond with me again. In other words, Dwyer is only inclined to allow public discourse to take place when it fits his agenda.

Around and around we go.

Without some compelling reason, I have no intention of publishing his e-mails as this blog tends toward being an op-ed on communication and not Dwyer’s forum for retaliation against the opinions of others. Besides, it would likely be embarrassing for him if I did. Ironically, this is why many journalists probably would publish them, or portions of them, as they feel fit.

So what is the takeaway? If you don’t like "the circus" atmosphere surrounding a subject, then don't create that atmosphere by lending heavy-handed e-mails to it. In this case, Dwyer continually risks more than he hopes to gain by writing e-mails that aim at little more than persuading people to do his bidding behind the scenes.

While it has no bearing on what my opinion might be in terms of the ongoing Biegel vs. Dentsu case, it certainly has a bearing on my opinion of the value of Dwyer’s correspondence. While he closed his last e-mail saying he wouldn’t waste his time thinking I am any different than the HighJives of the world, I couldn’t help but think he wasted mine given he opened with a similar statement.

Don’t they know anything? I might care what Dwyer thinks, but I really don’t care what he thinks about me. Most journalists are the same way. Some bloggers are too. And if he thought more about his communication, he might have better served himself and, who knows, perhaps his client too.

Instead, he did neither. There is no retraction. His points are not heard. And, on the contrary, the comment in question is more prominent than ever. With results like these, one can only hope his effort doesn’t end up in the billable column.


Friday, January 25

Counting Words: 16 Makes A Sentence

Almost every year, I set up the students in my Writing For Public Relations class by asking them “how many words does it take to write the optimum sentence?”

Inevitably, several will enthusiastically answer. Sixteen words!

“Ah ha!” I smile, walking a bit closer to anyone whose eyes might have drifted downward for lack of answer. “It’s always good to know who is reading the assigned chapters … and who might not be. I’m even more impressed that some of you have already committed that gem to memory.”

“Too bad though. That answer is absolutely WRONG.”

Seriously, if it wasn’t for the fun discussion that Doug Newsom’s text has provided me for the last several years, I would instruct the students to immediately leaf over to page 96 (depending on what version), tear the page out, and destroy it before the nasty notion that sixteen words makes a magic sentence sinks in.

Newsom got the idea from Robert Gunning, author of The Technique of Clear Writing, who noted that most modern prose read by the public has an average sentence length of 16 words. Thus, he concludes, if your sentences are much longer than that, you are likely to be diminishing readability.

“How many words does it take to write the optimum sentence?”

As many as it takes to clearly communicate your point. Period. If it takes one word, do that. If it takes 13,955 words, er, it’s likely to be too long, but you never know. It worked for Jonathan Coe. (Previous contenders for the world’s longest sentence include William Faulkner and James Joyce.)

Of course, I forgive Newsom for several paragraphs of misrepresenting sentence lengths, but only because he pays tribute to Albert Einstein who wrote one of the shortest sentences in a scientific paper.

“If, for instance, I say, ‘That train arrives here at 7 o’clock,’ I mean something like ‘The pointing of the small hand of my watch to seven and the arrival of the train are simultaneous events.”

You cannot be much more clear than that, although others in the scientific community may have needed several pages or even books to explain the same. Interesting stuff, this language.

All of this touches on some blog banter, back and forth, with Valeria Maltoni on the economy of language. Most recently, she cited her appreciation for Reader’s Digest, noting that David Ogilvy did too. Ogilvy, for those who don’t know, is one of my favorite greats among advertising copywriters.

Memorable writing does tend to be simple, and not just for copywriters. As I said there: very often, the only reason writers are not able to discuss complex subjects in simple terms is because they either do not understand it themselves, live within a confined industry ecosystem, or try too hard to be clearly brilliant when all they really need to do is be brilliantly clear.

Of course, none of this really means that we must all become Hemingway. Economy of language means thinking about what you write. No matter what the purpose, the burden of communication best remains with the writer and not the reader.

This seems to be the very reason that James Michener struggles over his words, stopping to retype everything four, five, and six times. And, from the opposite end of the spectrum, it seems to be why William Saroyan used to throw things out because they weren’t great. That is, until one day, he realized it didn’t need to be great.

It needed to be clear.

Clarity and word counts are not the same thing. Although G. Donald Gale, with whom I once sat on a panel discussion about writing, was fond of saying even Winston Churchill said short words are the best words

There might be something to that, though I am probably more apt to say the best words are the right words, every time. Because, after all, there are no rules. Not really.


Thursday, January 24

Checking Reality: Writers Strike

Yesterday, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) began informal discussions to determine if there is a basis for both parties to return to formal negotiations. Restarting negotiations has not come soon enough.

For weeks now, the writers strike forced networks to scramble and offer an increasingly odd array of reality shows to the public. As long as people tune in, some of these quick creations might even replace a few favorites. For example, “American Gladiators” is surpassing the scripted show it replaced.

Advertisers are also discovering something about reality shows. Product placement is easier, at least according to yesterday’s story by The New York Times. And, reality shows seem well suited for “branded entertainment.”

“People are watching television; they're just not watching commercials,” said Lynda Resnick, chairwoman of Teleflora, the company that signed onto the NBC special “Teleflora Presents America’s Favorite Mom,” which is using the Internet to increase its presence. “That is the distinction.”

The concept of branded entertainment is not entirely new. Just one example that comes to mind is Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. It is still going strong, though certainly not as top-of-mind as it was when I was growing up in a world where you had four choices as opposed to four million.

Revising branded entertainment and product placement options is one of several reasons the concept of old media seems dead to us. Not because we anticipate networks to die, but because they are acting more and more like new media.

As touched on in comments last week, some networks are intentionally pre-releasing episodes of some shows to help drive buzz with the hope that viral marketing occurs. Yet, buzz is not a measure nor do these prerelease promotions always consider writers and producers.

“Personally, I don't think running an entire episode as a "promotional" tool is smart business for the writers or the studios. Movie studios don't run their films free of charge for two and a half weeks, in the hopes that it will translate into paying customers later,” longtime Simpsons writer Mike Scully wrote on United Hollywood. “In my opinion, promotional use should have a limit of 3-5 minutes of program content, just enough to get the viewer to sample the show. However, if an entire episode is going to be made available, it should not contain any ads and should be limited to a window of no more than 48 hours. If they are being paid for promotional use, so should we.”

I tend to agree, and encourage people to read the full post. With the exception of a season one pilot, perhaps, I still don’t see how giving away a product, week after week, makes much sense, especially as people are become increasingly Internet savvy. At the very least, they are savvy enough to find downloadable content. BitTorrent, for example, continues to double its visitor volume every six months.

Then again, maybe all of this is a short-term problem as we seem to be trending to “On Demand” everything. Watch what you want, when you want it, and where you want it.

Long term, I can only imagine that this will result in some sort of tiered pricing structure that blends commercial free programming (rent or own) at a set price and commercial-laced programming for free (prerolls, pop ups, and bars) with product placement becoming as apparent as the parody we once laughed at while watching the movie Wayne’s World.

It won’t just change media, but the advertising industry as well. Maybe our culture too.


Wednesday, January 23

Improving Advertising: Nine Rules, Part 2

“Copy is a direct conversation with the consumer." — Shirley Polykoff

For all its benefits, social media communication sometimes misses. One of my favorite misses is the constant buzz of conversation and how it differs from traditional communication. It’s even one of the premises in Join The Conversation, recently reviewed by Valeria Maltoni.

Yet, despite never being engaged in social media, Shirley Polykoff felt the same way. She was a copywriter — the first woman copywriter for Foote Cone & Belding, and best known for her work on the Clairol account. Her work increased hair-coloring sales by 413 percent in six years and expanded the market from 7 percent to 50 percent of all women.

Most of Polykoff’s work was grounded in conversation, not all that dissimilar from the famous Volkswagen ad I reference last week after revisiting Fred Manley’s satirical “Nine Ways To Improve An Ad.” Once upon a time, almost all ad copy was a conversation or, at the very least, an invitation to have one.

Many advertising agencies have lost sight of this in the last decade, leaving some to become mired down in rules, committees, or exercises in attempting to “out clever” the other guy. Sure, that’s all fun and good, but communicators today might take more time to understand that social media, blog posts in particular, are sometimes similar to classic advertising, which was conversational.

If you don’t believe it, ask the man in the Hathaway shirt. Or consider the writer.

“If you're trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, and the language in which they think. We try to write in the vernacular." — David Ogilvy

Only a fraction of ads today seem to grasp what Polykoff, Ogilvy, and other greats really meant. So what happened? Well, I have some unsubstantiated theories, but those can wait for another day. Today, I’m sharing some real advertising rules, the companion piece to last week's post.

The Real Nine Rules Of Advertising

Rule 1: There are no rules. Most memorable ads in the last century broke some, if not all, conventional rules. Like Manley, Ed McCabe often said he had no use for them.

Rule 2: Most products are not unique. Finding the right value proposition or product/service contrast is more important than a clever ad touting the same selling point. Copying the other guy just doesn’t work.

Rule 3: Brands are important. Despite this new Advertising Age article, brands are important (image campaigns, maybe less so). Brands represent the relationship between the consumer and the product, person, or company.

Rule 4: Advertising messages are unimportant. Given that people are bombarded with thousands of messages every day, advertising tends to be unimportant, which is why every ad needs to be communicated effectively.

Rule 5: Clients are already convinced. Clients and their spouses almost always think they have a better product or service; whereas advertising is an exercise in convincing others. In other words, it’s not about you.

Rule 6: Many people lie. Sometimes they lie in surveys, polls, focus groups, and rating systems. There are many reasons, and sometimes, there is no reason. My favorites were early studies that suggested Perrier would never work. Pay more for water? Bah! See rule 7.

Rule 7: People are irrational. Sometimes we buy things for no reason at all. It is why checkout stands at the supermarket offer great product placement and probably why I’m convinced Comet is better than Ajax.

Rule 8: Clichés are boring. With very rare exceptions, people tend to tune out clichés. The only exception, and even then they might not work, is when drawing attention to the cliché or challenging it, without being “cute.”

Rule 9: There is always a better way. There are a few great ads, some good ads, and a boatload of bad ads being produced every day. But even the best ads can always be made better.

There are a few others, but these are nine favorites. Not one tells you what to put or not to put in a headline, despite how many people have told me to, um, never ask a question in a headline. Good thing they didn't tell Polykoff.


Tuesday, January 22

Blogging For Kindness: Mental Stimulation

“The world, Rich, needs more togetherness,” she said. “More healing. And I feel Bloggers Unite brings people closer together.”

Simply stated, but inspired.

Dee Graham (a.k.a Iriegal) is one of those bloggers, like many I have met through BlogCatalog’s Bloggers Unite social awareness campaigns, who turns blogging stereotypes inside out and upside down. And maybe that’s because there is no “them.”

You see, Graham was diagnosed with cancer in 2003. But she seldom has time to allow this fact to shed a dour shadow on her life. Instead, she says, she chooses to live life rather than allowing her life to live her. It’s just one of many reasons that she opened a computer repair business last year.

“It was a big step, but I love what I do. I love the freedom of being in charge of my own destiny,” she says, and that includes blogging. “I can’t see myself not blogging. I love to write and I love the connection with people.”

In fact, blending these two passions is what has since led her to create not one, but five different blogs. A Fe Mi Page Dis Iyah to share her love of Jamaica. Time to Eat Mon to share a surprising variety of Jamaican drinks, dishes, and recipes. Postal Jokes to cover an endless assortment of postal humor that touches every corner of the globe. Dark Child where she explores news, politics, celebrities, and everyday life within the African American community. And Mental Stimulation, which she considers her personal blog and where her second place blog post appeared.

As part of the Bloggers Unite campaign, which this time asked bloggers from around the world to perform an act of kindness and share a post, picture, or video about it, Graham added on to her 10-year volunteer commitment at a local youth center and decided to visit the senior center.

“I know how lonely it can be during the holidays, especially for the seniors with no family in our community,” Graham said. “I started working with Gladys and she appreciated our time together so much that I decided to stay the week.”

For an entire week, Graham served meals and spent time with Gladys, a 72-year-old woman who sometimes lives at the neighboring senior living center and gets lonely now that her children are older and busy with their own lives. Most of the time, they played hearts or spades, but Graham made a small grocery shopping trip for her as well.

“She was really proud of her children. Her daughter is a nurse and her son is in the military,” Graham said. “Oh, she beat me, by the way.”

For her inspiring account of her service, which was accompanied by a photo taken by the receptionist at the senior center, Graham will receive a 1/2-page advertisement in Blogger & Podcaster magazine. However, Graham never intended to win.

“I’ve been a member of BlogCatalog since August and they’ve become a new family,” she says. “That is what I can truly say about BlogCatalog for me. Family. It is a part of my daily life. Much like doing things for people.”

You don’t have to do big things, she adds. Just small acts of kindness that help your community. But this is no surprise coming from a woman as persevering as Graham.

Her passion for writing grew out of using it to heal after a painful divorce almost five years ago. Her passion for people was made evident in October, when she wrote about her daughter for the first time. Her daughter has autism, which keeps them apart much longer than they would like.

“She is my heart,” say Graham. “It was the happiest time for me in a long time.”

Simply stated, but inspired. Or perhaps better stated, if I am using it correctly, “One Love” as they say in Jamaica.


Monday, January 21

Remembering Greatness: Martin Luther King, Jr.

Every year, Americans observe Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday (Jan. 15, 1929) on the third Monday in January, sometimes leaving others from around the world to wonder why. The reason is simple enough.

“The Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday celebrates the life and legacy of a man who brought hope and healing to America. We commemorate as well the timeless values he taught us through his example — the values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service that so radiantly defined Dr. King’s character and empowered his leadership. On this holiday, we commemorate the universal, unconditional love, forgiveness and nonviolence that empowered his revolutionary spirit.

We commemorate Dr. King’s inspiring words, because his voice and his vision filled a great void in our nation, and answered our collective longing to become a country that truly lived by its noblest principles. Yet, Dr. King knew that it wasn’t enough just to talk the talk … that he had to walk the walk for his words to be credible. And so we commemorate on this holiday the man of action, who put his life on the line for freedom and justice every day, the man who braved threats and jail and beatings and who ultimately paid the highest price to make democracy a reality for all Americans.

The King Holiday honors the life and contributions of America’s greatest champion of racial justice and equality, the leader who not only dreamed of a color-blind society, but who also lead a movement that achieved historic reforms to help make it a reality.

On this day we commemorate Dr. King’s great dream of a vibrant, multiracial nation united in justice, peace and reconciliation; a nation that has a place at the table for children of every race and room at the inn for every needy child. We are called on this holiday, not merely to honor, but to celebrate the values of equality, tolerance and interracial sister and brotherhood he so compellingly expressed in his great dream for America.” — Coretta Scott King

Martin Luther King, Jr. represents someone who believed that all people could be great because all people can have a voice, can be heard, and can serve each other on the path of greatness. This idea, that we are all created equal with an equal opportunity for greatness, was part of his dream.

In addition to promoting his call to service in cooperation with the Volunteer Center of Southern Nevada, we will be placing a remembrance video on Revver and a copy on YouTube with the hope that some people will gain a deeper appreciation for his work.


Friday, January 18

Needling Romney: The Associated Press

The exchange between Mitt Romney and Associated Press reporter Glen Johnson yesterday provides an interesting glimpse into everyday media relations. It’s being covered from several angles, but not so much from a communication perspective, where my interest resides.

Here is a quick link to the video of the exchange from CBS News’ Scott Conroy.

At a press conference inside Staples in Columbia, South Carolina, Romney was delivering a point that his campaign team has identified as one of several contrasts between himself and other candidates. It’s one of the most challenging points to successfully deliver in any campaign, primarily because all candidates speak with lobbyists at one time or another.

“I don’t have lobbyists running my campaign,” Romney said. “I don’t have lobbyists that are tied to my … ”

“That’s not true, governor!” Johnson interjected. “That is not true. Ron Kaufman is a lobbyist.”

Kaufman, chairman of Washington-based Dutko Worldwide, is a well-known lobbyist, and former advisor to President George H.W. Bush. He has been frequently seen on the road with Romney during the campaign, purportedly as an unpaid advisor who is not privy to senior strategy meetings for the campaign.

"Did you hear what I said? Did you hear what I said, Glen?” Romney continued. “I said I don't have lobbyists running my campaign, and he's not running my campaign."

"So Ron's just there, window dressing; he's a potted plant," said Johnson.

The comment is a form of an aggressive reporting style, identifiable as needling. Needling is the patented rejection of whatever the speaker says (eg. “Oh, come on now, you don’t really believe that, do you?”) In this case, despite Romney delivering a not great, but fair answer to draw a distinction, Johnson continued to push his own definition of having lobbyists tied to the campaign.

I’ve never been a big fan of needling, but it exists. So rather than bemoan the interview tactic, it’s better to prepare clients for the eventuality that it will happen because it will happen sooner or later.

Romney would have been better off restating the distinction to the audience (as opposed to engaging Johnson direct) and then defusing the situation by offering to show Johnson his campaign’s organization chart (which he did anyway, but by then it was too late). While it might not have changed Johnson’s argument, it could have minimized what’s become a heavily discussed story.

Even more striking to me, despite receiving a little less attention, was the second, quieter exchange between Johnson and Eric Fehrnstrom, press secretary for Romney’s campaign. Fehrnstrom seems to push the limit in telling Johnson he was argumentative with the candidate and it was out of line.

“Save your opinions and act professional,” Fehrnstrom said.

Public relations practitioners are often put in a position where they might need to be firm, but it’s generally not a good idea to question a reporter’s professionalism. Why? Because even after the campaign attempted to mend fences with Johnson by showing him their organization chart, he published his evidence that lobbyists are an important part of the campaign.

Besides, candidates, public relations professionals, and members of the media all have varied definitions of what professionalism means anyway. These differences are about as plain as what they are all wearing and where they are speaking from in the video. No comparisons are needed.

Net sum: While there is enough difference between offering advice to a campaign and being a paid member of the campaign team to conclude that Romney wasn’t attempting to lie as some suggest, the net outcome is still a communication loss for Romney.

Case in point: In delivering what was meant to be a contrast point between Romney and Senator John McCain, most members of the media reported the opposite, writing stories that deepen Romney’s ties to lobbyists as opposed to diminishing them. By any measure, that’s a tough luck outcome for what didn’t even add up to three minutes of tape.


Thursday, January 17

Catching Buzz: Richard Becker

On Jan. 4, Geoff Livingston tagged me with the popular “eight random things about you” meme, but with all the great questions recently posed by Livingston and Larissa Fair in my interview at The Buzz Bin today, the last thing I want to do is talk about me.

So this time around, I’m going to cheat the meme by directing my response to the first time I was tagged with it. You can find it over at RecruitingBlogs. Yes, that meme is the same “random eight things about me” meme that forced me to defend one of my many stranger than fiction stories.

So what I would like to do instead is to add some additional insight into something I mentioned in the interview.

Welcome, Sweat

Popular Jericho blogger Barbara Sweat (aka Jane Sweat) will be interning with us as an online research assistant, effective Feb. 1. Having watched her skills evolve over the last eight months has been very rewarding, punctuated by her interview with writer Matt Federman today.

We offered the internship to Sweat so she could start getting her feet wet in professional communication beyond social media, which she already has a strong grasp of from the perspective of an independent blogger. (Enough to win Best TV Blogger on the Hey!Nielsen site. She has received ample recognition for her blogs elsewhere too.)

While her blogs remain independent of the work we do, it’s my hope her work with us will turn into some amazing opportunities. In some ways, she herself is becoming an example of parlaying a personal blog into a professional opportunity.

On the surface, this might seem avant garde to a few, but not so much to me. We managed 40 writers around the world for a hospitality trade publication several years ago (and still work with several), much the same way: we sourced their resumes, asked for work samples, and gave them assignments via e-mail. Before that, I would pitch and write articles for magazines by contacting editors through the mail. What’s the difference?

I appreciate that some people will never adopt social media, but I do think the time has come for some to let go of the notion that new technology and tools somehow changes everything.

On the contrary, they don’t change what is done, just the way it is done. That said, I’d like to tag some other people for the “eight random things about you” meme, starting with Jane Sweat.

I’ll also tag three more bloggers who deserve some long overdue recognition for helping me with the >BlogStraightTalk group at BlogCatalog: Alan Jobe, Dane Morgan, and Mark Stoneman. I couldn’t do it without them.

Likewise, I'd like to extend an additional thanks to Livingston and Fair. It’s an honor to have been included. I truly appreciate the hospitality.

Wednesday, January 16

Ending Rumors: CBS Clarifies Release

If some fans are still wondering, and some of them are, CBS did release episodes of Jericho Season 2 to the media. But it only released these episodes to the media, which is a common practice in the industry.

This isn't a guess. CBS was kind enough to follow up today after I requested clarification. Given this, any speculation that the network intentionally leaked three episodes for general consumption and Internet download appears to be untrue.

Personally, I want to offer my kudos to Jericho fans for their resolve in promoting the show on their own, without links to the full episodes. Instead, many of them have sent invitations to watch the new season on Feb. 12 or asked potential viewers to visit the CBS Jericho site for abbreviated sneak peeks and promos.

Assuming there isn't another source that could have distributed these episodes, it does leave me wondering. How much has new media changed all media, when full length screenings can no longer be entrusted to critics without being openly released on the Internet?


Improving Advertising: Nine VW Rules, Revisited

On Monday, after alluding to advertising rule number 5 (people sometimes lie), which is simply meant to remind professionals not to follow qualitative focus groups or quantitative surveys on blind faith, I received an e-mail asking me what some other "advertising rules" might be.

I thought about posting a few, but then decided doing so deserves the same pretext I provide public relations students (sometimes public relations professionals write ads in a pinch). Before sharing any advertising tips, I always reference Fred Manley, then vice president and creative director of BBDO.

In 1963, Manley wrote “Nine Ways To Improve An Ad.” He didn’t use just any ad. He set out to apply "rules" to the 1960 classic “Think Small” Volkswagen ad, which many in the advertising industry and Advertising Age have since called the best ad of the 20th century.

There is also an Apple/Microsoft branding parody that conveys a modern take on Manley’s musings. You can find a link to it right here.

Both presentations are pointed, but Manley’s original and less available version, last republished by Communication Arts in March/April 1999, is exquisitely timeless. Here is a summarized version that strips away the satire, but, hopefully, still conveys the point…

Nine Rules To Improve A Volkswagen Ad

• Show your product as large as possible
• Include the product name in the headline
• Add in some “news” about your product
• Never use negative words in headlines
• Show people enjoying the product
• Make the logo as big as possible
• Add snazzy copy, bullets, and sales points
• Always localize ads, eg. make it American

In the article, Manley successfully transforms the classic headline, “Think Small,” into “New! From Volkswagen! A ’63 Sizzler with new sass and skee-daddle!”

Yes, yes, pretty heady stuff for an ad in 1960s. And yet, we still run into clients who tell communicators and copywriters stuff like this all the time, forcing their companies and brands to conform to rules invented for a medium. (Hmmm. Reminds me of … social media.)

So there you go. I’ll post a few smarter “rules” for advertising next week, but the most important rule is the one Manley conveyed so well. Advertising Rule Number 1: There Are No Rules.


Tuesday, January 15

Banning The Net: Survey Says 31 Percent

Every now and again, Ragan Communications hits upon a good story related to social media. Michael Sebastian did yesterday.

Less interesting are the feuding comments that followed, which do nothing more than polarize the issue into this or that, black and white. Despite the back and forth, everyone seems to ignore that lost workplace productivity, now blamed almost exclusively on social networks, predates the social network explosion last year.

In 2006, it was estimated that employees spent an average of 1.86 hours every eight-hour workday on something other than their jobs, not including lunch and scheduled breaks. Some of it was surfing the net. However, many attributed time wasting to socializing with co-workers, running errands outside the office, and "spacing out."

The Recap

Ragan Communications polled 430 professional communicators from North and South America, asking them if their companies permit access to social media sites. The majority said they did, but 31 percent are still left in the dark.

The list of banned sites includes just about everything: Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, Squidoo, Second Life, blogs, podcasts, video-sharing sites, streaming, and, er, everything.

But does banning these sites from the office reverse wasted productivity attributed to “spacing out?” Probably not. Will employees be given enough to do to fill their time? Doubtful. Will leadership engage employees on a level that motivates them to excel? Unlikely.

Banning Abounds

The “workplace bans Internet” topic is being listened too despite being tired. Ironically, while Americans seem chafed that countries ban certain sites, they’re happily banning themselves under certain circumstances.

Not only at work, but more universities are continuing to ban Google and Wikipedia. It's common nowadays and hardly news.

While it is true that neither Google nor Wikipedia are adequate sources when working on "scholarly" papers (or client projects, I might add), banning Internet resources negates suitable uses for the tools, much like banning them at the workplace.

There is nothing wrong with using these tools to “source” for sources, in my opinion. Sometimes searching for key information is quicker, leading you to the appropriate journal, article, newspaper archive, published government report, interviewee, or lecture podcast from Harvard. And I guess that brings me to wonder ... why?

Social Media Is A Tool

I never understood the concept that social media is more of a lifestyle choice as opposed to a versatile tool, especially in academics and in the workplace. While people keep framing it up as "good or bad," it seems to me that it all comes down to acceptable usage and asking the right questions.

Do we want an air traffic controller surfing the net? Probably not. But open access to the net sure seems to make sense for an employee in charge of business development. Competitors have Web sites. And some of them have FaceBook accounts. So do prospects, I imagine.

So what’s the right question? How about … how do we teach students and employees to use the net for specific purposes that coincide with their assignment or job as opposed to overreaching or simply entertainment? And, if their productivity drops as the result of abuse or if they cite Wikipedia as a primary source (yikes!), what constitutes appropriate action? That seems more productive to me.

In contrast, blanket bans seem to limit how much material might be considered for a scholarly paper and/or dictate how you want your employees to waste their time, which they might just do anyway.

“We’d rather they just space out, Richard.”

Survey says … just space out? Six percent already do.


Monday, January 14

Employing Social Media: Del Monte Foods

According to The Wall Street Journal, Del Monte Foods employed social networking while considering a new breakfast treat for dogs. It sent out a note to its private online community of dog owners called “I Love My Dog," asking them what they most wanted to feed their pets in the morning.

The consensus answer was something with a bacon-and-egg taste, which led Del Monte to introduce its Snausages Breakfast Bites. They are flavored like bacon and eggs, and contain an extra dose of vitamins and minerals, which the dog owners said was also important to them.

"It is not just a focus group that you see for three hours; you are developing a relationship with these pet parents," Gala Amoroso, Del Monte's senior manager of consumer insights, told The Wall Street Journal.

As far as I know, Del Monte Foods doesn’t have a blog, but it is exploring social media in other ways. As Emily Steel points out in her article, using the Internet as a tool for consumer research is spreading to diverse companies such as Coca-Cola and Walt Disney.

Last year, Southwest Airlines, which does have a blog, did something similar when it asked its readership whether assigned seating would be a welcomed change. Their readership provided a mini-focal group, which overwhelmingly provided Southwest with an overwhelming “no.”

All of this adds up to some interesting approaches on how companies are employing various techniques and tactics with social media, some of which are not transparent but a step in the right direction. Consumer engagement is alive and well online.

Sure, there may be wrinkles at times. For example, the makeshift online input employed by the producers of the “camptasic” Snakes On A Plane didn’t necessarily help the movie with their experimental approach to engaging future fans. But that’s the way it is with focus groups, formal or informal.

Consumers and brand evangelists are great, often providing insights never conceived by those closest to the product or service. However, like traditional focus groups, they can also lead companies in the wrong direction for any number of reasons, including influencers who intentionally or unintentionally hijack a group, advertising rule number 5 (people sometimes lie), and my personal favorite, “developed by committee.” (Many of us know what that is like).

As with most things, objective reasoning provides the potential to carry the day. Somewhere in between the qualitative and quantitative research from consumers and individual experience and analysis is the truth. In other words, sometimes consumers know what they want and sometimes they really do not.

For Del Monte Foods, they seem to have a leg up on hitting the middle. Selected participants provide input, and then the company accurately translates it into a product that makes sense for everyone. Pretty smart, not to mention some interesting evidence that suggests companies are more engaged in social media than “blog counting” might lead some to believe.


Sunday, January 13

Leaking Jericho, Season 2: Three Full Episodes

In 2006, Jericho Season One was one of many new shows with its first episode or so leaked to the media and across the Internet for early viewing. The same now seems to hold true for Jericho Season Two. At least three episodes can be found on the Internet. Maybe more.

Post spoiler: if you are looking for a download link, you won’t find one here. I have verified their existence, but do not support the proliferation of what may be bootlegged content.

One of the earliest mentions of the leak popped up on TorrentFreak and then again by a fan from the United Kingdom on the CBS Jericho message boards, leaving others to wonder when, where, who, how, and why, but most importantly, will it help or hurt ratings come Feb. 12?

They are all good questions. And there are no easy answers, especially when it is uncertain who was the source of the leak and whether or not it was intentional. Regardless, releasing three episodes from a truncated seven-episode season seems to be severe by any measure.

Unintentional Leak

Reviewers and critics are privy to advanced screenings in order to give them a leg up on their publication deadlines. Sometimes, spoilers and advanced screenings are, er, accidentally leaked to the public. This can help a show, or hurt it. It’s a craps shoot.

Given Jericho is one of the few non-reality shows to have any unaired content while the writers strike continues, releasing three of seven episodes to anyone seems excessive. I’ll wait to be enlightened.

Intentional Leak

Sometimes, networks, studios and producers do leak information and complete episodes to generate additional buzz and excitement for a show, especially if they lack confidence in the product and/or promotion. (Then again, BitTorrent continues to see an increase in intentionally leaked network shows, regardless of merit.)

For me, there doesn’t seem to be any logical reason for CBS to intentionally leak Jericho, which has survived almost a year as the most-talked about show without a schedule in the last decade, maybe history. But that's not to say CBS doesn’t make mistakes now and again, especially when it treads the unfamiliar territory that surrounds this crazy town in Kansas.

If anything, an intentional and 3-deep leak for this show would have risked much more than it could ever hope to gain, potentially derailing all efforts that have been mounting buzz around the countdown. Worse, it could be a disaster if non-fans circumvent fan efforts by harshly critiquing these shows simply because they can.

As I’ve said throughout this campaign, there are some people who would like Jericho to fail, especially those who despise popular movements and, well, social media in general.

What To Do About It

From the fan perspective, pretend it doesn’t matter. Focusing on the leak is nothing more than a buzz kill for the countdown excitement, which is where it will matter most to capture Nielsen families.

If the leak becomes the only news, and it might, then it could trump consumer marketing efforts much like child labor law news damaged Kid Nation. In other words, staying the course seems smart for fans, even if it is only out of feelings for solidarity.

Besides, many fans have been working hard to drum up some interest on their own with some worthwhile ideas slowly taking hold as their first prize is only weeks away. I suggest people let them do it their way. It’s their show as much as anybody else.

Disclaimer: This is Monday’s post, leaked Sunday night. Darn.


Friday, January 11

Blogging For Kindness: Listening..Learning..Living

Sometimes a single photo can lend even more to a story, which is why Bokjae (a name given to him by his Korean business contacts) included this one with his post as part of a social awareness campaign organized by BlogCatalog. The campaign asked bloggers from around the world to perform an act of kindness and share a post, picture, or video about it.

Bokjae chose the picture of John Gebhardt comforting a young girl. She was the sole survivor after her family was executed by insurgents in Iraq. Here, she is still recovering from a gunshot wound to the head.

“In all honesty, we believe John Gebhardt is the real winner because he is one who cared enough to do what he did,” says Bokjae, who originally learned about the story from a friend. “He is the real hero and it would be nice to reference John and his wife Mindy.”

Absolutely. According to the story, the nurses said Gebhardt was the only one who could calm the girl down. So he took it upon himself to hold her every night until she was closer to recovery. It’s amazing story, one that Bokjae says “it touches our hearts and its more than kindness, it’s Love of God who works in willing vessels!”

Although Bokjae, a retired telecommunications manager and qualified electronics specialist, isn’t quick to recognize it, the same can be said about him. He is a full-time caregiver to his wife, who is a stroke survivor.

“At the encouragement of a friend, we started our blog to share our experience through the process of stroke recovery from a caregiver's and a survivor's point of view,” says Bokjae. “One thing we have learned is that there are many kindhearted people in this world who really care. It’s very encouraging.”

Although being homebound, Bokjae is no stranger to service. After retiring, he and his wife became very involved in their local church and several organizations, helping orphans, seniors, and people enrolled in drug rehabilitation programs.

It’s not uncommon in Malaysia, he said. Everyone gives generously to worthy causes, including the corporate sector.

“Malaysians are a caring lot!” explains Bokjae, sharing his enthusiasm for his country. “Malaysian bloggers are no different from those around the world, except for the nuances in expression and Malaysian way of using English!”

In fact, since he first started blogging, he continues to be impressed with the friendships he has made. Blogging, he says, helps break down international boundaries, enhances tolerance, and builds understanding between cultures.

These are also among the reasons that Bokjae decided to participate in Bloggers Unite. He said it was opportunity to contribute something positive to the world, never believing that the judges would select his post.

They did. As one good deed deserves another, he will receive a full page ad in Blogger & Podcaster magazine, an iPod Touch donated by BlogCatalog, and admission to the next BlogWorld conference.

Congratulations again, Bokjae. And on behalf of the judges, thank you for sharing this amazing story as well as your own. It makes us look forward to sharing five more Acts of Kindness stories in the weeks ahead.


Thursday, January 10

Checking Reality: Business Blog Validity

Liz Fuller, who writes Business and Blogging, recently pulled together a list of Fortune 500 blogs. In sum, she found 8 percent of Fortune 500 companies had some level of corporate blogs. Two of the top ten — GM and GE — have blogs.

The GM Fastlane Blog, of course, has been sourced as a best practice staple for some time. It appeared in my first presentation on business blogs in 2005, cited for its human approach, industry insights, product updates, press rebuttals, industry passion, and responsiveness.

While Fuller meant her post to be a precursor to evaluating 41 corporate blogs — the good, the bad, and the ugly — in the weeks ahead, longtime recruiting blogger and recently named “Best Recruiting Blogosphere Personality” Recruiting Animal flipped the headline to conclude Business Blogging Flops, adding in a reference to The Guardian article that notes the one percent rule is an emerging trend.

The One Percent Rule

The one percent rule is that if you have a group of 100 people, one will create content, 10 will interact, and 89 percent will just view it. That’s about right, unless you nurture engagement.

For example, our BlogStraightTalk group has 200 members with slightly better numbers, with 10 percent helping to create content, 30 percent offering comment, 50 percent viewing it, and 20 percent never dropping by again. However, although I have been focused on other projects, encouraging engagement is by design.

Honestly, this isn’t all that much different from face-to-face organizations. Without encouraging engagement, members of any organization, regardless of where it forms, will likely follow similar behavioral patterns: 1-10 percent lead, 10-20 percent manage, 30-80 quietly participate, and the balance forgets why it joined in the first place.

There is no difference, leaving The Guardian’s information interesting, but its conclusion is invalid because it fails to draw a comparison to real life.

Business Blogs Flop?

This knowledge brings us back to the headline flip. It seems to me that blogs and other social media/new media applications are sometimes too easily dismissed as viable because the expectation is an 80-100 percent adoption rate.

This isn’t realistic. In fact, with the possible exception of business cards, I don’t believe any communication tactic —brochures, newsletters, radio, television, Web sites, etc. — has an 80 percent adoption rate. So why have we set the expectation higher for the newest communication tool on the block?

Exactly. It doesn’t make sense.

The Truth About New Media

I can no longer open any communication-related publication without reading about the application of social media. Even Communication World (CW), which is a magazine for communication management, promoted “Social Media: Extend Your Reach” on the cover of its Jan.-Feb. issue.

Given the organization that publishes CW tends to be more conservative and representative of corporate communicators than advertising agencies and maybe public relations firms, it seems to me they present an accurate picture of where business communication is headed. Much of it will be online.

Will that mean every company will have a blog? Probably not. But not every company buys a television spot either. There are virtually hundreds of ways that companies can become engaged in social media on some level. And there are dozens of ways to employ a blog to fit the specific strategic communication needs of a company.

As I’ve pointed out several times, a company might not have a formal social media program in place, but they are most certainly engaged in it whether they know it or not.

For example, Bank of America might not have a blog, but I have more than 500 network connections (the maximum number returned) to existing and former Bank of America employees and associates in my Linkedin network alone. Even more telling, a quick Google blog search on “Bank of America” reveals more than 2.7 million hits on blogs. (That’s just blogs.) Similar results turn up on the other eight companies that round out the Fortune 500 list.

Simply put, most companies are engaged in new media. Whether or not they monitor or manage their message or support a corporate blog is a different question. Because the truth is, whether they do or not, it seems painfully obvious that their customers, vendors, and employees do.


Wednesday, January 9

Engaging Students: AAF and Heineken

In communication, especially advertising, there is no substitute for practical, hands-on experience. It’s something that underscores any class I teach.

I’m not alone in this belief, of course. There are several opportunities for college students to find experience across the country, including the American Advertising Federation (AAF).

Every year, the AAF hosts the National Student Advertising Competition (NSAC), which provides a candid, real world situation faced by a major account. More than more than 150 colleges and universities participate in the challenge. This year’s competition is being sponsored by AOL. (Good luck with that.)

While not as publicized as the NSAC, the AFF also hosts a Public Service Advertising Competition with Heineken USA (and this year, the Ad Council), which I wanted to lend some attention to today.

National Public Service Advertising Competition

Participants, which must be age 21 or older and members of an AAF college chapter, can submit their intent to participate by Jan. 15. The intent to participate form here.

Unlike the NSAC, the Heineken USA/AAF Public Service Advertising Competition allows students to enter as individuals or teams of up to three, providing even more flexibility. As participants, the students will produce print, radio and new media (demonstrating just how deep new media is taking hold).

Winners of the competition will receive $3,000 and a chance to pitch Heineken USA executives in White Plains, N.Y. (The second-place, third-place and up to five honorable mention campaigns also receive cash awards.) The winners will be announced in April, during Alcohol Awareness Month.

Why Experience Is Important For Students

As a student, it’s not always whether you win or lose (though winning can be pretty fun), but what you can take away. Despite already working in the field, one of my most memorable real life lessons came out of an advertising competition hosted at the University of Nevada, Reno (which now participates in NSAC).

Our class was randomly divided into two teams and asked to develop an advertising campaign for the Reno Philharmonic. It was fun, challenging, and provided some surprising true-to-life experiences that could never be duplicated in a regular class setting.

As “co-creative director” on the team, I learned that popularity sometimes influences what campaign is produced. Since my co-creative director lobbied the team for his spirited campaign, it became the one everyone wanted to produce.

I wasn’t so sure the campaign was right for the demographic, but had to admit that daring the maestro to conduct an orchestra from an Indy car or roller coaster was pretty creative. The judges thought so too. Our team won for creative prowess based on their scores.

Unfortunately, we lost the account based on the maestro’s comfort level with the campaign and the budget. As went the client, so went the competition.

Right on. It’s not always about being clever. Sometimes it's about connecting to the audience and, well, the account. That's something you don’t always learn in the classroom.


Tuesday, January 8

Missing Customers: Verizon Tries Distress

While most cellular phone customers are savvy to text messaging, some are becoming all too familiar with distress messaging. Specifically, anyone who makes up the 27 percent of the smart phone market captured by the Apple iPhone, especially if they were a Verizon customer.

These folks, like me, are probably receiving distress message mailers. The latest from Verizon, sent about two weeks after I become an AT&T iPhone windfall customer and about a week after Verizon’s letter that claimed “I made a mistake,” tells the real story:

We miss you already.

• Free BlackBerry Pearl with GPS Navigation
• $100 off any phone of your choice
• Free activation

Call today!

While I’m not privy to the response rate, my best guess is that it’s flat. It might also be causing some brand damage to what once was the network of choice among 1 million subscribers, at least those who recently made a switch.

Messages such as take $100 off, come back and save, and come back to the network you trust are emblazoned on almost every panel of an 8-panel direct mail piece. Most of them, if not all of them, are misdirected, clearly reinforcing that Verizon has no idea why it has to send a “miss me” mailer anyway.

It’s not the network, it’s the phone. But now, looking back, maybe there is something questionable about the service strategy at Verizon anyway. As a former customer, why did I have to quit in order to get offered the best package perks ever?

For all these efforts, they were four months too late. That was the beginning of the end. Four months ago, my second-to-last Verizon phone was damaged during my ”never fly US Airways unless I absolutely have to again” flight.

Naturally, once I returned home, the first order of business was replacing my broken phone. The choices were slim without a contract. So, my company made a Band-Aid LG phone buy. It was the worst phone I’ve ever owned.

Contrary to the mailer’s claim “Your phone is only as good as the network it’s on,” $5 more per month for an iPhone opened my eyes up to what I was missing, starting with unlimited data, something Verizon never wanted to talk about until now, assuming you’re a lapsed customer (ie. unlimited data is now available on select phones, for new and returning customers, with one- and two-year contracts, for about $5 more than AT&T offers with the iPhone). They don’t get it.

“The best time to start missing a customer is before they stop being your customer.”

Sure, no one can say that Verizon is dead, but it’s very telling when a once perceived market leader does more following than leading. While they did pretty well launching the LG Voyager concept copy, a phone that Today’s Paul Hochman called the only viable competitor for the iPhone (I’m less convinced). However, the plan still lacks where AT&T came through. Customers don’t want 2-year contracts because technology is changing too fast to commit.

More to the point, Verizon would be better served by revisiting its marketing strategy from the ground up. They need to invest more on existing customers, recognizing that the recapture rate seems thin if you wait until after a lost customer already signs another contract or are unlikely to use their iPhone as a paperweight. Besides, it costs more to recapture a lost customer than attract new customers. Why? Lost customers already made up their mind once.

Here are a few quick tips for the Verizon marketing department:

• Improve your marketing to existing customers before their contract ends
• Re-engage customers who fulfill their contract with new customer perks
• Keep existing customers engaged, offering opt-ins on new customer perks
• Stop playing games with location rates; a national price plan is long overdue
• Verizon is a prime new media candidate; a presence last year would have went a long way, especially if you could have hinted at Voyage 9 before people bought iPhones

But above all, fix your messages. Touch gets more stylish? Come on. Honestly, the best thing Verizon has going is the geeky phone guy. He’s become a great icon on television but everything with text falls flat. It doesn’t connect to the smart phone market, which by all accounts, is the new market. Even Citigroup knows that. And they’re not even in the phone business.


Monday, January 7

Defusing Perception: Naked Communication

It might seem odd to some people to draw a comparison between Lifetime’s new makeover show, “How To Look Good Naked” with Carson Kressley, and business communication. But the analogy might be compelling for some.

Most business owners and/or executives have a perception about their companies that will never match marketplace realities. Many market themselves based upon what works for competitors, resulting in some disastrous advertising and marketing campaigns, because one size does not fit all.

“We want to do this,” they say. “Because it works for our competitors.”

On the premiere episode of “How To Look Good Naked,” available as a free download at iTunes, Kressley asks his guest, Layla, to identify where she “thinks” she fits in a lineup of women with hip sizes ranging from 40 to 50 inches. She places herself between 47 and 48 inches. In reality, her hips measure 43 inches — the complete opposite end the lineup.

Imagine how this impacted her life. For 20 years, she had been making fashion decisions based on her perception that her hips were 6 inches larger than they were. The result: she looked heavier in clothes she chose than she ever looked naked.

Companies often do the same thing. They apply erroneous perceptions to their communication strategy. Early last year, we were contracted by a water purification company to script three :30 radio station-produced spots because the owner wanted to mimic the market leader’s buy. He had already ordered a 32-spot buy based on the urging of the station’s account representative.

Never mind that the market leader was already running 240 :60 second spots a week on the same station, compete with exclusive endorsements from the most listened to talk show hosts on the station. We did everything we could to convince the company to rethink its decision. But sometimes, people have already made up their minds when they call us.

“You’ll never look good in a size 6 when you’re a size 12 company.”

It’s something you learn working with the best of the best, let alone covering the fashion beat in Las Vegas for several years. Yep, even I know that size 6 women don’t always look good in size 6 outfits. So much depends on the designer, cut, and pattern. (Not to mention how important underwear can be.)

Sure, we did everything we could to convince the company to rethink the decision. But in this case, their minds were made up. Despite being station-produced, one of the spots even won an award. But in terms of results, all they really did was reinforce the need for water purification, prompting listeners to call the competitor whose brand dominated the station.

Sometimes perception is like that. You think your company looks one way, even reinforced by misapplying SWOT. But in reality, it really looks like something else in the marketplace.

Much like Layla, they attempt to mimic the identity of their perceived competition by wearing several sizes too small (because they refuse to wear a size bigger) or settling for cheaper, baggier clothing to hide perception rather than embracing their best qualities in reality.

In terms of Kressley’s show, no doubt some people will have mixed feelings about convincing women to parade around naked for a photography shoot. But if you can get past that little bit of Lifetime novelty, I suspect it stands a good chance of delivering on the promise of a perception revolution for women looking for a self-esteem boost. You can look successful and beautiful at any size.

Of course, the same thing can be said for companies, which brings me to the takeaway. Communication plans don’t work unless you know what you look like naked. And most companies have no idea what they look like because they rely too heavily on looking in the mirror. Don’t they know? Mirrors only show you want you want to see, and almost never what is reality.


Friday, January 4

Partnering With Consumers: Brand Evangelists

According to PQ Media's word-of-mouth marketing forecast and reported by Adweek, consumer marketing is expected to top $1 billion in 2007, up from $980 million in 2006. It is expected to expand by $4 billion by 2011.

“Technology has leveled the marketing playing field for brands. In the new world of marketing, customer evangelists are the key influence on what consumers buy." — Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba, Creating Customer Evangelists (cited by Adweek).

Izea in one of several companies that seems to be moving right in step with the trend. Their newest social media marketing program, Social Spark, hopes to bridge the gap between blogger networks and brand advocates. You can catch a platform preview video here. The presentation is interesting enough that we've added Social Spark to our watch list.

Combined, all of this is adding up to an increased emphasis on integrated marketing and public relations. Companies are looking to support traditional advertising with aggressive website strategies and early ad pre-releases on the Internet in order to boost conversations and buzz about their message and brand.

For example, Nielsen BuzzMetrics applied a Brand Association Map (BAM), which plots how consumers naturally think and talk about brands across billions of unaided conversations online, last October. They found that over 33 million messages were posted to 457 automotive CGM sites from January 1 through September 10, 2007. These conversations revealed:

• Shoppers actively discuss current automotive dealer and manufacturer incentive programs available.
• Full-size trucks were referenced most often in relation to incentives during this period, fueled by the introduction of the Toyota Tundra.
• Consumers frequently reference when seeking vehicle pricing and incentives, reflecting shared dealer experiences among peers.

A few days ago, I mentioned that companies are engaged in social media whether they realize it our not. In the Vehicle Transaction Price study release, Bill Stephenson, VP and Practice Lead, Automotive, for Nielsen BuzzMetrics, a service of the Nielsen Company, punctuated this point:

“Shoppers are going online to learn what other buyers have paid for the car they are interested in. This trend is driving transparency among automakers and dealers because now, all of a sudden, shoppers are privy to the best deals that others received.”

This isn’t exclusive to the automotive industry. Consumers are seeking online information to influence their decisions on just about everything, including the President of the United States.

Remember last year when I mentioned the number of voters who consider the Internet their number one source for election coverage would double? It did. And then some.


Thursday, January 3

Taking Action: Bloggers Unite

If you ever wondered whether there is any truth to the idiom “actions speak louder than words,” you might find some proof perusing more than a thousand stories shared by bloggers on Dec. 17.

These bloggers, hundreds of them, performed various acts of kindness — small and large, simple and complex, personal and public — and then posted about it.

They didn’t do it to be pretentious as the “LoneRanger” from Voice of America suggested on a Digg comment, but rather to support each other in reponse to Tony Berkman and the BlogCatalog team.

The challenge? Perform an act of kindness and share it in a post, photo, or video on the same day. Many went above and beyond, sharing stories that will touch your heart, ranging from a daughter’s love for her mother and a group of fans saving a family pet to cleaning up a neighborhood (donating the proceeds to a non-profit organization) and thanking a reggae street performer in Rome.

Together, the results demonstrate how one blogger, joined by many bloggers, can make a tangible difference, online and off.

Three Highlighted Acts Of Kindness

First Place — Bojak, Listening..Learning..Living

Second Place — Iriegal, Mental Stimulation

Third Place — Blair Corbett, Keep It Simple Solutions

In addition to the prizes and recognition listed on the BlogCatalog mini-site, I’m honored to be profiling these three bloggers in the weeks ahead, along with three others from the Top 20 posts selected by six judges who took the time to read every post submitted (and then some).

Seventeen More Stories Of Compassion

Guiding Vision, JerichoMonster, Jessica In Rome, Katalusis, LifePrints, Live From Waterloo, Local Biz Bits, My Den, Original Me, Ruthie’s Reason, Sharani – Girl On A Road,
Sinigang for the Soul.
, Sushi for Lunch!, and Wahm Café.

Thank you all for taking the time to do something kind. And thank you all for sharing your stories. While some might say that good deeds are best kept secret, I personally think such acts of kindness need to be shared more often. You see, pebbles cast on still waters tends to make ripples.

Thank you all for inspiring others and the inspiration. All my best.


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