Friday, October 31

Eclipsing Nevada Day: Everything

Today is Nevada Day, but most Nevadans barely know it.

Nevada was the 36th state and admitted to the Union on Oct. 31, 1864, rushed in by President Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War. It became a state only eight days prior to the presidential election to help ensure Lincoln's reelection on Nov. 8. The only real reminder for some citizens is the phrase "Battle Born," which resides above a single star on our state flag.

Although I'm a native of Wisconsin, my family relocated here after a major airlines moved my stepfather to help open its first route to Las Vegas in the late 1970s. Perhaps it was my Midwest sensibilities or maybe being raised a good part of my life by grandparents, but one little bit of culture shock that still remains with me is the apparent lack of attachment to the state by a large percentage of our population.

What Eclipses Nevada Day?

The most obvious is Halloween. It's even more prevalent today since the population exploded from 250,000 people in southern Nevada in 1980 to about 2 million today; most kids relate to having the day off in celebration of Halloween. (To be fair, northern Nevada has a much better sense of things).

The pitfalls of a democracy. In 1997, voters advised the 1999 legislature they wanted to celebrate Nevada Day on the "last" Friday in October beginning in 2000. However, the few mini celebrations in southern Nevada occur on Saturday. It's more confusing than ever.

The proximity to Election Day. Since Nevada is a battleground state for the presidential election, some celebrations might be trumped by get out the vote efforts.

Why Bother With Nevada Day?

According to Las Vegas Sun, state admission is no big deal to post about. They report Nevada is one of the few states to celebrate its entrance into the Union, and then simply direct people to celebrate by voting on Nov. 4. If that's true, maybe that's something that states could reconsider.

Every four years, voters take an interest in elections because of the one office that probably impacts them the least. This isn't to say voting for President isn't important, but rather a nod to the notion that we don't pay close enough attention to local or state races, where our votes directly impact our daily lives. It's also the reason that other than the occasional communication issue post, I'm mostly quiet about the national races.

You see, unless you are a pundit, personal branding and political posts don't mesh well, which is why I haven't shared too much on the state races in Nevada despite the fact that dishonest campaigning has reached historic proportions. Likewise, all I can say about national campaign messaging is that neither side deserves congratulations.

While the election is still a few days away, most people recognize that Sen. John McCain's campaign has consistently missed the communication mark, that the media has been overwhelmingly quiet on some issues (such as the unfair investigation of Samuel "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher), and that Sen. Barack Obama was named Marketer of the Year.

However, winning Marketer of the Year is not necessarily a feather in the cap of the candidate, in my opinion. Sometimes he spins too much, including his joke the other day in an attempt to dismiss his previous comments on redistributing wealth.

"Y'know, I don't know when they decided they wanted to make a virtue out of selfishness," said Sen. Barack Obama. "Y'know, the next thing I know, they're gonna find evidence of my communistic tendencies because I shared my toys in kindergarten — cause I split my peanut butter and jelly sandwich with my friend in sixth grade."

No matter who you vote for in the upcoming election, framing up tax increases in this manner concerns me because wealth redistribution is not the same as a charitable contribution. When government "pre-collects" contributions, it denies people the opportunity to be selfless and distances them from the direct contributions they make to worthwhile causes every day.

In other words, if Sen. Obama really did split his peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a friend in sixth grade, it might be admirable. But if someone took three quarters of his sandwich, ate half of it, and then stole that selflessness by dividing the rest among three strangers, then all it accomplishes is leaving everyone, except the distributor, largely undernourished.

Yeah, it's Nevada Day. And for all the challenges our state faces, it reminds me why I'm glad we're part of the United States and not the United State or why there are still a few people in this republic who recognize that two foxes will vote to eat the one sheep in a democracy.


Thursday, October 30

Avoiding Echoes: Beware The Bubble

"My idea is fabulous!"

"Your idea is fabulous!"

"He said her idea is fabulous!"

"She said he said her idea is fabulous!"

"See ... they all said my idea is fabulous!"

Yes, yes, but what if it's not? What if the idea isn't so fabulous as is often the case in politics, public relations, public perception, and social media?

After all, echo chambers sometimes promote the silliest of notions, especially when it starts from its central most people, without much thought to what is said or where those messages might go or how they might be interpreted. It's not just social media. It's everywhere.

The messages, both good and bad, bounce around from one "influencer" to another with no real consideration for the customer, client, intended audience, or outcome. However, some of them are heavily promoted with that sometimes unspoken/spoken rule to "always elevate our peers," as if the world really works according to Warren Buffett.

While sometimes it is easy to miss in the world of social media, we all know it exists. Anyone who has served on a professional or non-profit board can tell you that the world works differently when echo chambers take hold. It goes something like this:

The lead influencer proposes that the organization's luncheon (or whatever) be changed to breakfast, based on a successful case study conducted by another organization about 400 miles away. Once proposed, two or three enablers will quickly support the idea simply because of who proposed it.

Sometimes, there might be one lone dissenter; someone who suggests there is no evidence to support a breakfast will be better attended. The criticism is then quickly slapped down by another influencer, who suddenly and casually proclaims they will be the first to reserve a seat after the meeting, which prompts the remaining six board members to look up from their phones and hypnotically nod in agreement. Meeting adjourned.

Two weeks later, just days before the actual event, the organization learns the horrible truth. Only three people reserved seats: the speaker, the initial influencer, and the dissenter.

Sometimes it happens just like that. In fact, for all we know, echoes might have led Edelman to select 25 bloggers to debut Pepsi’s new can design. It makes sense because Edleman, like many social media experts, tends to overstate the role of influencers (probably because they are one). Yet, for all the limited buzz about the Pepsi identity change, it just doesn't strike me like the real thing.

Conversations have outcomes, but outcomes are not conversations.

Greg Ippolito recently wrote an article for Adweek about something similar. He called it "the psychology of sameness" among creative professionals who start to convince themselves to be part of the herd. The end result is a whole lot of non-thinking that he illustrated with this quick two quote story:

"OK," I started, "explain to me why our customers should go to their dealerships for service. Why would that be good for them?"

The AE stared at me with a deer-in-headlights look. "Bee-cause ... " she searched her brain for an answer, "our clients are looking to increase their parts and service revenue?"

Ho hum.

Look, I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with peer participation (assuming you save time for client industry-specific associations), but it never pays to operate exclusively in any industry bubble or you might get stuck in the rut.

And then, before you even know it, your desire to become a "thought leader" leads you to become a "cheer leader" for someone else who is only guessing at echoes too. That would be too bad. The best innovations occur outside the bubbles.


Wednesday, October 29

Shifting Concepts: Newspapers Need To Look At TV

And so it begins. The Christian Science Monitor has become the first national newspaper to abandon print and move its daily content online. While the publication will print a weekend magazine, the move represents a shift that many other national dailies will eventually follow.

“Everybody’s talking about new models,” John Yemma, editor of The Monitor said. “This is a new model.”

According to The New York Times, smaller papers have already made the transition, including The Capital Times in Madison, Wis. and The Daily Telegram in Superior, Wis., which will only publish a print edition two days a week.

The downside, as most newspapers know, is that such moves cannot replace the revenue gap between print and online ads. It will not, at least not as long as newspapers continue to look at the new space like print. Instead, they might consider entirely new constructs.

One of the better examples some newspapers might follow is Hulu, which offers free, ad-supported videos of TV shows and movies from NBC, FOX, and other networks. The joint project has been successful enough to beat YouTube hands down.

Within a few months, Hulu has grown to 142 million streams with 6.3 million unique viewers, according to Nielsen Online. It is now the sixth-most-popular online video brand in the United States, surpassing ESPN, CNN, MTV, and Disney.

Part of the success is related to its advertising approach. Fewer advertisements means fewer program interruptions for viewers and less competition for advertisers. It's a win-win, with some additional twists that include viewer rated commercials, ad selection, and interactive games.

“The notion that less is more is absolutely playing out on Hulu,” Jason Kilar, the chief executive of Hulu, told The New York Times. “This is benefiting advertisers as much as it is benefiting users.”

It only makes sense that broadcast would weather convergence a little easier than print, which is why it might be time for print to give up traditional modeling all together. It needs to think more like broadcast and I don't just mean arming journalists with video cameras.

What I mean is: newspapers that are migrating more content online need to quickly develop better advertising vehicles than banner ads to stay viable. The only alternative is to continually cut staff to match shrinking circulations, which no one can really afford to do anymore. Why?

Journalists are already overtaxed on time. The result is that many newspapers have given up on digging deeper and vetting facts in favor of "he said, she said" reporting. "He said, she said" reporting only resembles objective reporting in that it leaves readers to sort out which "he" or "she" might be right or telling the truth. Unless newspapers hold a higher standard and provide trusted content, it seems to me they will risk losing even more readers in a space where content is still king.


Tuesday, October 28

Killing Blogs: Wired Likes Linkbait

Ever since Wired magazine saw some success by declaring newspapers dead, it seems to have developed an appetite for declaring everything dead. The latest victims? Blogs. Yep, Paul Boutin says blogs are dead.

"The blogosphere, once a freshwater oasis of folksy self-expression and clever thought, has been flooded by a tsunami of paid bilge," wrote Boutin, who also writes for Valleywag. "Cut-rate journalists and underground marketing campaigns now drown out the authentic voices of amateur wordsmiths. It's almost impossible to get noticed, except by hecklers."

Hecklers like, um, Paul Boutin? (Joke.) Come on, the linkbait has never been so obvious. So here's one study Wired didn't consider:

Blog influence on consumer purchases eclipses social networks

BuzzLogic, a social media analysis company, recently released a study that suggests frequent blog readers (defined as consumers who read blogs more than once per month) use blogs as the top online navigation tool to discover other blog content, ranking higher than general searches on search engines. Here are some other findings after surveying 2,000 online consumers in the United States:

• 38 percent said blog links were the top tool for discovering new blog content, edging out 34 percent who said search engines.
• 39 percent said blog links appear to have similar impact as a trusted recommendation from a person.
• 40 percent of blog readers have taken action as a result of viewing an ad on a blog (50 percent for frequent readers).
• 50 percent said blogs influence purchases and that they find blogs useful for purchase information.
• 56 percent said blogs with a niche focus and topical expertise were key sources, making consumer useful.

"For a portion of Web users, blogs rival search as a navigation tool, which has really interesting implications for advertisers," said Rob Crumpler, CEO of BuzzLogic. "Blogs are becoming trusted guides, steering users who are seeking very specific information to places of interest online."

Crumpler is right, of course. But what makes the difference? Boutin seems to have fallen for the buzz of blog generalization. As I continue to tell my friends in the media, blog credibility doesn't come from the tool; it comes from the individuals who share insights, experiences, and knowledge. How they share information is of little consequence.

Each "blogger" has an opportunity to establish themselves as a trusted source among their readers. And, one way to damage that credibility is to rely too heavily on linkbait that declares things dead too much (like blogs from a blog, no less). Oh well, at least it's not as scary as what they put out last Halloween. Boo hoo.

A few other posts on the topic of blogs being dead, including the blog that Boutin also writes for:
Pulse 2.0


Monday, October 27

Talking About Social Media: Solutions Stars Video

Geoff Livingston released a sneak peak of NetworkSolutions' upcoming Solutions Stars Video, a 45-minute video that compiles an overview of social media for small businesses from the viewpoint of several pros across nine different topics:

• Building Web Presence
• The Social Opportunity
• Start with Listening
• Strategy Drives Outreach
• You Need Social Networks
• To Blog or Not to Blog
• Visibility Through Search
• Rising Above the Noise
• Time Demands

The video will be released online at 1 p.m. this Wednesday, Oct. 29. It will also be available on Facebook and Yahoo Events, and includes a chat session with some participants.

The sneak peak includes sound bites from Brian Solis, Rohit Bhargava, Tim Ferriss, Steve Hall, Toby Bloomberg, Ryan Anderson, Darren Rowse, David Alston, Mari Smith, Liz Strauss, and Paul Chaney.

Standing On Grammar: Sacramento, Calif.

A recent post by Asylum, which features 50 signs with errors, reminded me of the photo I took in Sacramento a few weeks ago. The sign was posted in several areas inside an airport shuttle.

No Standees In Raised Area

I couldn't help but wonder if that made me a "sittee" since there was plenty of seating. Or maybe it was meant to segregate select breakfast diners from Chicago. Or maybe the mass transit system in California has a problem with cut-outs crowding buses. I really don't know.

Sure, Wiktionary has revived the relatively arcane word that seemed to fall out of favor in the early 1900s after playhouses were ordered to make people sit. But if people are really being forced to stand on a shuttle, they can hardly abide by the rule anyway. So what's the point?

Lesson for today: simple makes sense. "No Standing In Raised Area" could add clarity, with the same number of letters.


Friday, October 24

Spotting Convergence: Wall Street Journal

With the Newspaper Association of America (NNA) expecting newspaper advertising to drop another 11 percent this year, The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post are already looking to evolve. Both publications are training journalists to shoot video while reporting.

"We've put dozens of cameras out in the hands of reporters," Alan Murray, deputy managing editor of the The Wall Street Journal, said in a brief online interview with "By putting video cameras in their hands, it gives them another way to tell their stories."

Both publications began recruiting and training reporters since June, which was part of their restructuring in July. They are also actively recruiting talented video journalists worldwide to shoot and edit video on a freelance basis through recruiters. Meanwhile, the Washington Post has trained more than 185 reporters.

To illustrate how rapidly convergence is taking place, consider this post from August 2006 or this post from March 2007. Both were written at a time when new media still seemed far far away. But nowadays, it's old media that seems a distant memory.

As predicted, old media is dead. There is only media, aging new and adapting old, sharing the same space online. In other words, it no longer pays to ride a horse in a world of automobiles.


Thursday, October 23

Twittering Works: And Then Things Spread

Ryan Anderson recently did something remarkable. He wrote a post, but it wasn't just any post to me.

He wrote a post a few days after sending me a check for $60, money that was never meant to be paid back. Since the check was unexpected and unnecessary, I donated it in his name to the Arthritis Foundation where it will do the most good.

After I did that, he wrote a post that talks about how this $60 will go a long way to help children like my daughter, who was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis just before her second birthday. On Saturday, she will be walking with Team Beers. You can see her donation page here.

“I don't let it get me down, but JRA is tough. Since there are no doctors in Las Vegas who can treat JRA, Dr. Lisa Majlessi travels here from California a few days each month to treat children like me. We need more doctors like her," it reads. “I will be in my stroller at the Arthritis Walk, but I hope you might sign up and walk next to me. Or, if you would like, please make a small donation to help me and my friends at Team Beers raise funds for arthritis research.”

You know, I didn't think much about helping Ryan after his wallet turned up missing, perhaps stolen, in Las Vegas. But I do now.

Sometimes social networks are social. And sometimes they just work.

Ryan Anderson didn't have to write the post or mail me a check or send a "thank you" basket. And I suppose he might argue that I didn't have to respond to his tweet or give him a ride or give him enough money to eat or donate his unexpected payback to charity. But that's the point, isn't it?

Neither one of us had to do anything, except we did. And it's this kind of simple, often neglected, never talked about, every day stuff that reminds me how kindness can spread well beyond two people without any other third-party intervention whatsoever. Governments, companies, and social networks are all merely tools; it's up to us to decide how we might use them rather than allow them to find ways to use us.

Give people a chance to use them right and they will work. After that, you never know what might just happen. Except, I can probably say with quiet certitude that Ryan and I won't think each other strangers next time nor wonder how Twitter works.


Wednesday, October 22

Branding Inside Out: Ketchum's Global Food & Nutrition

"A brand isn't what you say about it, it's what other people say about it." — Linda Eatherton, partner and director of Ketchum's Global Food & Nutrition Practice.

At least that is what Eatherton told Marketing Daily on the heels of a study that reveals: branding lags well behind taste, quality, and price when consumers choose food. While there is no doubt that Eatherton's statement might be music to some people's ears — as it is what many social media experts have been saying for some time — it's also misleading.

Brands are not only built by what others say about them.

Brands are built by many factors, including what the company says about itself and others, what the competition says about themselves and others, and what other stakeholders, including consumers, say about all of them.

In the food industry, branding tends to play last for several reasons. First, many companies invest in product branding over company branding. Second, food branding tends to include the qualities and properties of the product, such as taste, quality, and price. Third, grocery store branding, locality, and stock also plays a fundamental role, at least in the United States.

In other words, people tend to think they need "bread crumbs," drive to their preferred grocer, and choose from the available selection based on those qualities mentioned. There are some exceptions. Rather than think "cereal," someone might think "Cheerios" because they already associate some qualities with that brand (enough to pass on any imitations, anyway). But "General Mills," the company that makes Cheerios, may never even enter their mind.

Highlights from the Ketchum's Global Food & Nutrition Practice survey.

• 74 percent cited taste as a key consideration, except China, where 78 said health benefits were more important.
• 66 percent said that where the food comes from is important, but 60 percent said taste still always trumps food sourcing.
• 63 percent said they want to recognize all of the ingredients on a food label, with Argentina being the most concerned.
• Only 33 percent said that “brand name” is among the most important factors when buying food, with brand slightly more important in China and Argentina at 45 percent.

The survey polled 1,000 consumers in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Argentina and China. It included 200 respondents from each country. For additional details, you can find the release here.

The Global Food & Nutrition Practice survey reminds companies to think.

In my opinion, the survey is interesting and useful in that it reminds companies to think in terms of the obvious. If the food does not taste good, people won't buy it. If too many foods from the same manufacturer do not taste good, or if a crisis occurs, then consumers might avoid it. In extreme cases, the entire product line, regardless of manufacturer, might also be avoided (think bagged spinach last year).

So the bottom line is that if manufacturers hope to build a brand that people remember, then the branding is best built from those qualities that consumers are looking for. And once a brand is established, then the brand needs to vigilantly demonstrate that the qualities associated with it are true.

Hmmm ... isn't this the very lesson we recently learned in the soup war between Campbell and General Mills? They both concluded that the back of the can has become more important than the front of the can. And, in a classic case of how brands are shaped by what companies say about their competition, Campbell learned it's never a good idea to throw stones at MSG-laced soups if consumers might discover that the pot was calling the kettle black.


Tuesday, October 21

Astroturfing: Las Vegas Police Protective Association

In one of the most fierce and costly state senate races in the history of Nevada, dishonesty has reached epic proportions as The Las Vegas Police Protective Agency (LVPPA) risks losing all credibility as an endorser.

In the LVPPA's latest mailing to discredit Sen. Bob Beers, the association calls the state senator's law enforcement endorsement false, even though it is undeniably true. Sen. Bob Beers posted a copy of the endorsement letter from the Peace Officers Research Association of Nevada (PORAN) on his Web site.

It's not the first erroneous attack by the LVPPA, but it does demonstrate why one local retired police sergeant, David A. Freeman, was prompted to write a letter:

"During my 30 years with the Las Vegas Protective Police Association, I can't remember a time when they ever polled members and asked for their opinions; most decisions were made by a select few who never sought the approval or disapproval from the men and women who guard and defend our communities," he said.

Given that fact, it seems to me that this might be a good time for rank and file officers to review the charter. When organizational leaders resort to mailing blatantly false accusations, they do more to damage the credibility of the people they serve than anyone else. But that tends to be the way it is with short-term smear campaigns and emboldened rhetoric: Any short-term gains tend to have long-term consequences.

The same holds true in the national races. I've seen several bloggers jump the shark this election cycle, never appreciating that their short-term fervor for one candidate or another could have long-term consequences in how people perceive them. And from a communication standpoint, that is always something to think about.


Monday, October 20

Blogging Right: Bloggers Unite

About six months ago, BlogCatalog members, together with Amnesty International USA and Copywrite, Ink., asked bloggers from around the world to Blog for Human Rights. On May 15, they did.

Although BlogCatalog has been the epicenter for several such events, no one expected what happened next. By 6 a.m., CNN had tracked 1.2 million blog posts ranging from heartfelt posts about Darfur to Myanmar. And then?

If you read some critics, it lost momentum.

I suppose you could make the case if you read a recent report from a United Nations official that 40,000 more civilians have been displaced in Darfur. Or perhaps, you might conclude it indirectly touched a team of Brazilian footballers who are now playing in charity matches to raise funds for the cyclone victims in Myanmar, which left 138,000 people dead or missing.

Or maybe it's simpler than all that. Maybe people who never thought about Amnesty International USA before thought about it on May 15. Or maybe the additional coverage from CNN gave people who never think about human rights their first thought about human rights.

Or maybe, for some, these thoughts turned into actions with some joining Amnesty International, some raising money for places like Darfur and Myanmar, and some simply being impacted by stories from around the Web.

If you read some participants, it was just a beginning.

First Place — Montessori Students and the Amman Imman Project

Second Place — I My Me by Id it is

Third Place — Identity Check by Anok

Seven more blogs that made an impact: Nardeeisms; Lord I Want To Be Whole; DrowseyMonkey; One Cool Site: WordPress Bogging Tips; Clio and Me; Pedestrian Observer GB; Blog De Lengua Espanola.

Or maybe one good day deserves another.

Shortly after Bloggers Unite exposed human rights to millions of people and inspired thousands into action, Refugees United contacted BlogCatalog and set a date for a related cause with a very specific mission. Refugees United provides refugees with an anonymous forum to reconnect with missing family members anywhere in the world. As a new service on the Internet, no one knows anything about this organization. You can learn more here.

Bloggers Unite For Refugees on Nov. 10

On Nov. 10, thousands of bloggers will join together again. This time to make a tangible difference by writing about the plight of people like the 40,000 new refugees in Darfur, the thousands still struggling in Myanmar, or several million you can find almost anywhere in the world. Some might even write about the thousands of people who remain displaced in Houston, Texas.

The choice is yours. The impact is permanent. The outcome is measurable, just not in the way we might expect.


Friday, October 17

Allowing Anonymous: Communicators Divided

Ragan recently released the results of a poll that asked a series of questions regarding anonymous comments. More than 1,000 communicators responded.

Highlights: How Organizations View Anonymous Comments

• 46 percent of their organizations do not allow anonymous comments.
• 46 percent of their organizations do not allow comments of any kind.
• 14 percent of their organizations do allow anonymous comments.

Highlights: How Communicators See Anonymous Comments

• 37 percent were undecided whether anonymous comments should be allowed.
• 31 percent said anonymous comments on blogs and article should not be allowed.
• 32 percent believe anon anonymous comments on blogs and articles should be allowed.

“Our company does not appreciate feedback of any kind from employees, not even on a person-to-person basis. Management is averse to following anything to be made publicly available without executive review.” — Anonymous

How Companies Might Come To Cope With Anonymous Comments

Social media — blogs, forums, Internets — is not a cookie cutter operation, internally or externally. And the decision to allow or disallow anonymous comments might be made with that in mind. Take a look around the Internet and you'll see a great variety of conclusions on the subject to guide you.

This blog, for example, allows anonymous comments. The only comments that are ever deleted are spam ads. We made this decision because we wanted a place where people could engage in open, candid discussions about communication.

However, I also believe that there are only two ways that anonymous posters demonstrate credibility: the quality of the comment, which means whether the post provides insights over insults. And, how or if we respond to the comment.

Why Companies Might Consider Moderated Comments

We manage several other blogs that are much more heavily moderated. The National Business Community Blog is not well-suited for unmoderated comments.

It only has one purpose: to share stories about companies that do good. Every now and again, one example or best practice comes from a company with known dissenters and we become privileged to receive a deluge of negative comments about it.

None of these comments are ever published because we feel strongly that it distracts from our intent. Every now and again, people like to visit a blog void of discussion or drama. We do read the comments though, and on one occasion removed the post.

Why Companies Might Consider No Comments At All

The intent is myopic, like using a blog to publish new releases, white papers, and feature stories about the company. Many social media experts disagree with me on this point, but my feeling is that the long tail of social media need not wag the company dog. If a company doesn't want to benefit from any dialogue from employees, customers, and any other stakeholders, then there is no need for us to force them to.

The only other reason I can think of is that the company representatives, whether a CEO or communicator, are not well skilled in dealing with the occasional criticism, call out, or attack. It takes a balanced hand to respond, which is important to consider since most crisis communication situations have very little to do with what happens and everything to do with how we respond.

What I Teach Students About Being Anonymous

There is no black or white and yes or no answer. Each company, hopefully with input from their communication team, can make the right choice.

However, and I cannot stress this enough, I do advise communicators and public relations professionals to never make anonymous comments or, if they do, they need to be prepared to answer for such posts in a world where no communication is really private. Not anymore.


Thursday, October 16

Advertising Negatives: From Soup To Nuts

Almost every editorial on the final debate between U.S. Sen. Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. John McCain leads the same way. It only took 20 minutes before both candidates forgot about the issues and shifted toward political campaign ads.

They were kidding, right?

No, no, I suppose not. While the last reason I would elect a president is based on the prowess of their television production teams, most political talk seems to be all about the ads.

Some are even arguing over which side has more negative advertisements than the other. The University of Wisconsin Advertising Project says Obama airs the larger percentage of negative ads. The Nation says that is not true and McCain ads are much more negative. Has everyone forgotten grade school?

When Billy lies about Sally twice and Sally lies about Billy once … Ms. Clark made them both clean erasers after class.

So let's talk soup.

When it comes to negative advertising, there is no clear winner in another brand battle taking place across America. There are only losers.

For several weeks, Campbell and General Mills have been in engaged in an ongoing soup battle. Cambpell launched the first attack ad in The New York Times, claiming General Mills' Progresso soups are made with MSG. They are. General Mills fired back, saying some Campbell soups have MSG. They do.

So Campbell counted all of its soups to conclude that 124 soups have no MSG.

"The pot can't be calling the kettle black if it has the same problem itself," Laura Ries, president of Ries & Ries, told Brandweek.

So let's talk nuts.

One would think that after noted author Geoff Livingston wrote that astroturf comes in a variety of colors, including blue, someone might get the hint. Not so with Allison Copening and crew. They are dead set to stay the course with a $1 million smear campaign against State Senator Bob Beers — a campaign that almost everyone calls pathetic.

Their solution? Allison Copening's backers, who admit that the negative advertising has backfired because some residents "have stopped opening election mail” are now moving their lies onto television. Some estimate they will spend up to $500,000 on television, splitting the figure between attacking State Sen. Bob Beers and State Sen. Joe Heck, who is another elected official targeted this campaign cycle.

Given the size of the media market in Las Vegas, the television buy is equivalent to tossing a glass of water into a swimming pool and hoping to splash a few people. If it does splash some people, one can only hope that those splashed will know that most messages move beyond distortion and are of the plain old-fashioned lie variety.

As it turns out, it would not be the first time Copening has played a PR spin game. She was once a marketing director at PurchasePro, a company charged with stock fraud. She also worked as a public relations specialist for a homebuilder when it dealt with rat infestations and home fire sales that left new residents with mortgages higher than their assessed value.

She claimed that the rats were part of the allure of the desert. She rebuffed reporters when the homebuilder cut home values by simply saying they were too busy with other things.

Ironically, she claims it is Sen. Bob Beers who makes up stories. For his part, Sen. Beers has remained focused on campaign issues. In one case, he criticized a third party mailer that attacked his opponent's math skills and called them below a fourth grade level. As it turns out, he is not the only one tired of campaign ads that deviate from the truth.

Several states away in Minnesota, U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman recently said his campaign would halt negative advertising in a race recently dominated by it. "I want folks to vote for me, and not against the other folks," he said.

Wednesday, October 15

Discussing Poverty: Blog Action Day

There were blue tickets and there were red tickets.

Blue tickets for the kids whose families could afford a 30-cent lunch. Red for those who could not.

My ticket was red. And as red ticket holders, usually kids with large patches on secondhand pants, we lined up last as if a class system somehow existed within our public schools. Maybe it did. After lunch, most of us red ticket holders were ushered off to portable classrooms dubbed the "barracks." Education sometimes seemed optional.

Don't get me wrong. I was never afraid of missing a meal or going hungry. My grandparents, survivors of The Great Depression, were poor but understood priorities. Education and values, they said, are two things you can keep with you for life.

They were right. Even being enrolled one year at the Holy Redeemer Christian Academy in Milwaukee lasted a lifetime. It did for several reasons, but mostly because it removed the labels that had begun to become the ties that bind.

Today is Blog Action Day and thousands of bloggers from around the world are taking part to raise awareness about poverty. Blog Action Day, much like BloggersUnite, does a lot of good because it helps you stop and think.

Almost 40 million Americans are living in poverty.

Of course, thinking about it is not always enough. After that, the opportunity to turn words into action is up to you.

Since 1991, Copywrite, Ink. has donated time and resources to more than 60 nonprofit organizations with the hope of empowering people to help others by giving them a hand up. So, as a communicator, I could probably give you about a hundred different reasons for businesses to support their communities. But not today.

Suffice to say I believe that the children we help rise above poverty today will eventually grow to up to be the people who help others rise above poverty tomorrow. At least, I like to think so.


Tuesday, October 14

Campaigning For A Weak Economy: $100 Million

Kearsarge Global Advisors (KGA), a government affairs and communications firm based in Washington D.C., calculates that nearly $100 million has been spent in negative messages about the economy.

To put that number into perspective, it is the same amount Ford spent marketing the 2008 Chevy Malibu, Microsoft spent marketing Windows 2000, and Gillette spent marketing the MACH3 razor. And, of course, none of these products had the benefit of daily earned media and a few million blogs.

"As businesses and government seek to build confidence in the markets, they should also consider the direct affect these ads are having on people throughout the country," said Jim Courtovich, managing partner of KGA. "The trend in spending on these negative messages has no end in sight and could be a continued drag on confidence in the markets."

This isn't to say that current economic challenges aren't real, but it does acknowledge how negative messaging can exacerbate problems. According to the release, KGA says the bulk of these negative messages (51 percent) came from presidential candidates. The balance came from congressional and state races. Why?

Simple. Most people don't want change when the cheese tastes good.

Monday, October 13

Editing: One Class At A Time

"Is it me or does there seem to be an epidemic of illiteracy and/or carelessness in campaign materials this cycle? Candidates who don't know the basic rules of grammar or spelling are legion." — Jon Ralston, Las Vegas Sun

No, Jon, it is not you.

While I cannot preach from the pulpit of good grammar without admitting an error or two or three on this blog or in the comments section where they occur too frequently (especially since the comments section does not have a post edit feature), there is an epidemic of bad writing and it's not limited to campaign materials. In the haste to communicate, candidates and companies are laying waste to the written word.

Newspapers are not exempt either. I don't know any reporters or columnists who profess perfect writing. Not anymore.

It seems all of us are so hardwired to mentally correct mistakes as we read, doubly so if we only proof on the screen. The net result is that more and more errors go missed in everything from government signs to the simplest letters. What I've also noticed occurring with more frequency is the propensity for other people to make additional errors while correcting the author's original errors, sometimes at a rate of three errors for every two corrections. And then, add to all that a whole lot of people who think they know.

Editing And Proofreading Your Work — 9 a.m. to noon, Oct. 18

One of the topics I spend some time on in my half-day Editing And Proofreading Your Work class at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas is undoing the damage that other instructors have laid before me. Amazingly, at least 75 percent of the students (many working professionals) who take the class profess to be above average when it comes to good writing, editing, and proofreading.

It generally takes two exercises to undo this idea that they know. The first is to provide them an in-class editing exercise that usually results in startled expressions when they self-correct the assignment. After five years, I have yet to have a single student catch every error, and that assumes they don't correct what doesn't need to be.

The second is reading fifteen sentences with two word choices, and asking them to make the appropriate choice. Here are five:

1. Damage/Damages from the hurricane totaled more than $1 billion.
2. This is the photographer who/whom I had seen earlier.
3. The family emigrated/immigrated from Russia in 1995.
4. Neither the reporter nor the editor were/was pleased with the article when it was written.
5. The publisher's praise of my article was entirely pretense/pretext.

The last time I read this list, the class was overwhelmingly wrong. Not a single student could profess to have all fifteen right nor did the class ever overwhelmingly support a single correct word choice. Not once.

So that is what I do twice a year. For three hours, I try to help 15 to 20 students improve clarity, consistency, and correct usage. Does it work? Sometimes. But even then, only at the pace of one class at a time.


Friday, October 10

Pushing Vendetta: When Past Clients Go Bad

Yesterday, I received an e-mail from one of our clients with a rather cryptic lead. And, as it turned out, it wouldn’t be the last e-mail I received from other concerned parties.

“I think she got it wrong about which company decided to change.”

Scrolling down, it became all too clear what she was referring to. One of our accounts, an image consultant we resigned several months ago (before sending her to collection), had decided to use an e-mail blast and blog to paint an inaccurate picture.

“… After reconciling for a short period, we decided to go ahead and divorce. On top of that, the company I was using to edit my posts and I decided that our working relationship was no longer working,” wrote the image consultant, making the case that, perhaps, she let us go.

In most cases, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought (just like I didn’t give it a second thought several months ago when she posted it). Except this time, she sent the blog link to a compilation of e-mails from a speaking engagement that our company had arranged for her just prior to resigning the account. In other words, the audience just happened to consist of colleagues and clients. Ho hum.

What I Wish Everyone Would Take Away From Social Media

A few days prior, Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Al Gibes shared what some of my students at the University of Las Vegas, Nevada might take away from my half-day social media class. (You never really know until you see the post commentary.) An excerpt:

"It's not an opportunity to create 'spin,' but rather authentic information. Be real about your communication," [Becker] said. "We're bombarded with so many messages per day that every message has to count. If you don't manage your message, your message will manage you."

Of all the lines and slides, the one above is precisely what I hope students and professionals take away form what I teach. And, it seems to me, such a shame that the image consultant never did. She would have been better off moving forward instead of looking back.

At the same time, I suppose it raises an interesting lesson for future social media consultants who may one day face a former client who decides to use the tool you taught them against you. What can you do?

A Few Tips For Social Media Pros When Past Clients Go Bad

1. Privately address any concerns that exsting clients who brought it your attention and thank them for doing so. Beyond correcting any inaccuracies, do not use that communication to attack back. It’s not worth it.

2. Privately notify the offending party that you are aware of the inaccuracy, providing them an opportunity to correct the error. If there will be additional consequences, outline what those consequences might be.

3. Consider the audience that is receiving the erroneous information, with the knowledge that most people who spin tend to communicate their own ignorance more than they communicate anything about you. Generally, it’s not worth expanding the audience.

4. If the offending party makes the matter more public (our former client resent the e-mail, without any correction, after being notified), then consider your options including whether or not the incident is a foreshadow of a crisis communication to come. (Fortunately, my example is not.)

5. In some cases, a well-thought out response in the comment of a post might be enough. If comments are moderated on that blog, you can always discuss it on your own after conducting the appropriate assessment.

6. Be prepared. On the off chance that the past client aims to escalate the drama, the general principles of crisis communication may apply. In the end, you always have to have faith that truth has a tendency to win.

For additional insight, consider a few past posts, here and here. Hopefully the takeaway from those will be that social media, especially when it is used for professional communication, is no place to seek out a personal vendetta.

As for the example I shared: since any concerns from those on the list were immediately quelled when the consultant resent the e-mail, I’m inclined to forgive it. After all, we cannot control what people say about us, we can only manage what we say about others and ourselves.


Thursday, October 9

Helping Bloggers: PicApp

McCain And Palin Hold Campaign Rally In Pennsylvania
Given one of the most common challenges for bloggers is fresh photography, PicApp seems to be the right online service at the right time. It allows bloggers to access some striking stock and editorial photos from places like Getty and Corbis at no cost.

The search engine is fast (with your choice of creative or editorial searches), the terms fair, and you need never worry about copyright violations again. One setback for some bloggers might be the inability to alter the photos (check the comments for additional problems), but PicApp otherwise allows for sizing. Members can choose from three sizes and set alignment.

“We wanted to help bloggers by giving them the ability to legally use some of the best stock photography out there," Etay Geller, CEO PicApp, told me at BlogWorldExpo. “The companies whose photos we use were interested because it discourages copyright violations and provides advertising revenue [at no cost to the blogger].”

In other words, it might be a win-win.

I used a PicApp photo to illustrate. Since Sarah Palin continues to be a hot topic in the news, a simple search on PicApp pulled several dozen recent photos of Palin, some of which have been used by editorial teams at the local and national newspapers. Then, I added the javascript into the post. Done. (And then, not so done. See the comments.)

Additional Photography Options For Bloggers

Original Photography. While original photography is always best, most of us don't have every shot under the sun nor the time to go out and get it.
Professional Stock Photography. Some of us, especially anyone working in advertising, tend to amass a private library of files and discs over the course of several years. Storage is sometimes an issue, but it works.
Member Generated Sites. Sites like iStockphoto have done a great job at making stock photography accessible for frequent use. There is a cost, but it's nominal compared to owning the disc.
Flickr. Since usage terms are clearly identified, thanks to a partnership with Creative Commons, finding photos on Flickr is easy. Just keep in mind, some folks might not own the rights to what they upload.
Google. It's possible, but a little more time-consuming, to find photos in the public domain on Google and other search engines. Just remember that unless fair use applies, those photos need to be clearly identified in the public domain.
Fair Use. Section 107 of copyright law contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered “fair,” such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. (For example, fair use may allow you to screenshot our Web site and critique it. But you cannot reproduce elements of it and use it for unrelated purposes.) You can learn more about Fair Use here.


Wednesday, October 8

Taking Photos: Brazilian Tourism Portal

While not all U.S. companies understand social media as a viable communication tool to reach American consumers, other countries seem to be on the front end of understanding it well enough. The Brazilian Tourist Board, EMBRATUR, is offering Americans who travel to Brazil the chance to participate in an essay and photo contest.

Entries will be accepted through November 21 and judged by Peter Guttman, a photographer, writer, and author who traveled on assignment to more than 200 countries. He recently returned from assignment in the Brazilian Amazon.

“The wondrous scenes and memories a photo can record -- especially when traveling -- inspire others to try similar adventures and seek out marvels of the planet," says Guttman. “Travelers with just a handful of pictures can collect memories and amazing stories.”

Despite economic worries in the United States, Brazil experienced a 9.6 percent increase in American tourism last year. And, according to the Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, American visitations to South America is still up 5.7 percent, a growth rate that is on pace with the Caribbean for the first time.

While the photo contest Web site interface is notably clunky, the concept still represents a step in the right direction. Most Americans might be passive about creating their own blogs, but an increasing number of them are very interested in participating on platforms managed by someone else.

So what might we do differently? We'd move the consumer marketing concept to the next step by running a photo blog that highlights one photo pick per day. It would give entrants a chance to check the status of their photos and Brazil enthusiasts a reason to return, over and over again.

The top entry will receive an all-expenses-paid return trip for two to Brazil.


Tuesday, October 7

Pushing Print Down: Gloomy Headlines

The Newspaper Association of America (NNA) says newspaper advertising is going to drop another 11 percent this year. Even more troublesome is that the NNA isn't so bullish on online ad revenue growth for newspapers this year, which it sees as low as 1.8 percent. Maybe next year will better, the report says.

Part of the challenge goes beyond the migration pains of moving print to an increasingly digital world. The recession is slowing down local media markets. According to American Express' Open Small Business Monitor as reported by AdvertisingAge, concerns about cash flow have risen since and capital-investment plans are among the lowest since the study first began. Just under half of small-business owners plan to cut back or delay marketing expenditures.

Such cutbacks go much further than impacting newspapers. Local radio and television stations are feeling the pinch. And, along with them, so are the agencies paid to produce the work. Public relations doesn't seem to be exempt, but the idea it owns social media is tenuous at best.

Now everyone wants a piece of any space showing the slightest signs of growth. But trying to crowd ten "social media experts" in a boat built for two seems pretty risky, especially if the pitch sounds even more snake oil than every other Tuesday.

So who will fare well in the communication industry? Like always, companies with diversified interests and relatively few cash cows tend to fare better. Local retail is still very strong and necessary services (like plumbing and electrical) are outpacing others. It's also the reason that some agencies are, so far, content to offer messages of strength.

Why? It's not rocket science. When economic times seem tough, you tend to want to work with those who seem largely unaffected.

You know what I mean? It's hard to buy a newspaper ad when everyone seems to think their money is best spent elsewhere and the industry's decline shows few signs of flattening any time soon. I don't think that's a good thing, but it will not change until newspapers stop forecasting their own demise.

Monday, October 6

Picking Targets: Max Gladwell On PR

“The PR firm pitches your story to their friends in the media, which includes so much schmoozing and schwagging. You get stories written about your company or product, also known as “hits,” which raises your profile. Except that this has never actually been 'public' relations.” — Max Gladwell

Gladwell hits the target in a post that points out blogger relations and media relations need to be handled differently. Too many public relations firms are attempting to apply the weakest media relations 'tactics' to blogger relations, claiming that the same methods will hold true: that massive e-mail lists, non-news social media releases, and "relationships" are more than enough to grab up earned social media. Enough so that some are asking bloggers to place "pitch terms" on blogs, the exact opposite of what would be required to forge a relationship.

If you know a blogger, no public pitch terms are necessary. Right?

At first blush, the post perfectly reminds public relations professionals about the pitfalls in their practice. But after doing well to define blogger relations and separate out media relations from public relations, it also adds to the confusion that has become too typical in the field. Among them: promoting some pretty painful myths like counting column inches and proclaiming that those hits have an advertising equivalent (hopefully more than the retainer, they say).

But alas, not all column inches are created equal. Are they?

Column inch counts are quite possibly the single biggest contributor to massive e-mail lists, blind pitches, non-news releases, and the idea that "relationships" have become overemphasized in the game to grab up earned media. All of these 'tactics' lend well to capture space, but the quality of the space and the ability to move people to action remain elusive.

There is a cultural attraction here in Las Vegas that claimed to have several million in earned media (column inches). Yet for all that publicity, it still remains well off the Las Vegas visitor "must see" list, is largely ignored by locals, and its number one speaking point remains the public price tag — $250 million in a state with a budget crisis. Effective?

Done correctly, public relations tends to be a bit more involved. So, I'd suggest turning to Bill Sledzik's non-definitions instead.

Sledzik, an associate professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at Kent State University, shared a few definitions from the past. And, he followed them up with what public relations is not.

As for social media, the concept that it's consumer relations as a counterpart of customer service doesn't hold true. In fact, I have yet to see a suitable definition of social media as a communication tool, probably because the publics are just as varied online as they are offline.

Friday, October 3

Walking For Arthritis: Arthritis Walk 2008

My daughter is only two years old, but she wants to walk for arthritis on Saturday, Oct. 25 in support of the Southern Nevada Arthritis Foundation.

How do I know she does?

You’d never know to look at her, but she is one of the 46 million Americans living with arthritis, the nation's leading cause of disability. She has juvenile rheumatoid arthritis in both ankles and one hand, a bitter reminder that underneath her firecracker smile she’s always had to fight a little harder. There are no free rides.

What’s worse for us is that Nevada is only one of nine states in the U.S. that doesn’t have a pediatric rheumatologist. In lieu of seeing the specialist she needs to, we take her to a clinic that specializes in children with cancer. One of the doctors there flies in from Calif. four days a month.

We’re just grateful she was diagnosed. The quick care doctor who initially saw her rejected the obvious: the first ankle had swelled to twice the size of the other. He thought it was a hip infection. (The misdiagnosis might have been worse had some legislators not fought for tort reform.)

Tort reform in Nevada.

A few years ago, Nevada was facing a very real medical crisis. Doctors and nurses were being squeezed out of state as the cost of malpractice insurance continued to rise and health insurance companies added more hurdles than help. (Health care premiums for families here have increased 54.6 percent in the last seven years.)

State Sen. Bob Beers led the fight for tort reform in the state of Nevada and continues to fight for doctors and nurses, which is one of several reasons that the Nevada State Medical Association, the Clark County Medical Society, and Southern Nevada Medical Industry Coalition endorsed him.

It’s very sobering when you can make personal connections between your life and state government. For the three plus months we lived in Summerlin Hospital NICU, rarely did a day go by when I didn’t wonder what might have happened had the doctors and nurses who saved my daughter’s life moved on to greener, more doctor friendly states.

She won’t walk alone.

Two years later, add my daughter to the list of his endorsements.

Sen. Bob Beers told us yesterday he would take a few hours off the campaign trail to help her raise money for arthritis. In fact, since his father also suffers from arthritis, he asked that we set up my daughter’s page under the Team Beers banner. His campaign will be jumpstarting my family’s modest $5,000 fundraising goal with the first $1,000.

For more information about the walk, visit the 2008 Arthritis Walk schedule. And if you’d like to help us reach our goal, you can find the Team Beers page here.


Thursday, October 2

Engaging Fans: Why The NHL Needs Social Media

If there was ever a sport that could benefit from increased social media exposure, it could be hockey.

Sure, the National Hockey League (NHL) has made some striking improvements to its online offerings. The Web site has made marked progress in personalizing the connections to fans, and it’s already seeing momentum with a $15 million advertising campaign being managed by Young & Rubicam.

So why more social media?

While the emphasis about social media tends to be focused on exposure, customer engagement — direct player to fan engagement in this case — is less talked about but easily the strongest counterpart to online communication. For some companies, especially those with limited customer contact points, some social media tactics increase customer contact without being as intrusive as “customer care calls” with additional plus sell incentives.

The concept is not new. One of the best findings in the original Gallup study demonstrated constant contact increased consumer loyalty.

Using the case study of the airline industry, five times the number of Southwest Airlines customers were fully engaged over United. Considering Southwest Airlines was only in the initial phases of developing a viable social media component, it’s very likely they have widened the gap.

For the National Hockey League, it almost seems too easy. Team correspondents augmented by perspective posts from players could add a real element to the sport as it strives for its comeback. The more fans feel they know a player, the more likely they will never miss a game in person, online, or on television.

Hockey might even be one of the best suited sports for it. My partner, who is an avid autograph collector, frequently mentions that NHL players are among the most accessible of any sport. Online engagement would only deepen that relationship among more fans.

On a smaller scale, it works for busy consultants and professionals too. For example, almost every accountant I’ve ever worked with has mentioned there is never enough time in the peak season to develop relationships with clients, and not enough good reasons to contact their customers the rest of the year.

It makes you wonder what would happen if accountants invested time online, providing customers tax tips all year long rather than offering postscript conversations because it’s already time to file.

The same might hold true for hockey. After all, the number one reason for many people to attend sporting events is because they already know someone on the ice. Besides all that, who wouldn't want to read a quick Tweet from the penalty box?


Wednesday, October 1

Answering Questions: Are Teachers Too Old To Know?

Q: What does a digital native, born close to 1990, need to learn from a digital immigrant who graduated before the IBM PC was launched in the UK, and who wrote magazine articles back in the 1980s about how businesses were adopting a new communications device, the fax machine. — Valrossie

A:The capacity for a person to learn, dream, and achieve is not defined or limited by his or her history but rather enhanced by it, provided he or she does not have the propensity to limit themselves by history, regardless of age, birthright, or any other measure.

That understood, the digital immigrant has become experienced by living with rapidly increasing changes in their environment, and is hopefully wiser in understanding which tenets of something like strategic communication might survive under such remarkable pressures. Whereas the digital native may never have the benefit of knowing those tenets nor are they assured to demonstrate their own wherewithal to continuously adopt to the numerous changes ahead of them.

I was part of a strategic communication think tank a few years back. The discussion revolved around the need to address communication issues related to the Blackberry. The solution, some said, was to devise an entire working study around Blackberry text messaging. Net, net, I said, by the time you are finished with your study, the entire world will have changed and the Blackberry as we know it today will be on the verge of extinction under the weight of another emerging technology.

I didn't know it then, but that would be the iPhone.

Better to devise a study on adapting to rapid technological advancements in communication, I offered.

By the way, I know you weren't talking about me specifically in the question left on the previous post, but I would like to point something out anyway. I'm not so old ... just old enough to remember gumballs. ;)


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