Friday, April 30

Creating Success: The Psychology Of Winners And Losers


Some people don't understand how 73 percent of small business owners can remain optimistic about their business futures despite 52 percent thinking it is worse than it was twelve months ago. And even while the financial stressors are considerable, the Pitney Bowes survey reveals most small business owners have two or three more options before they would have to consider closing their companies (hat tip: MarketingProfs). Even if they did, 28 percent would start a new business.

Top Financial Concerns For Small Businesses

• 74 percent say decreased sales is their top concern.
• 52 percent say health care costs are a top concern.
• 42 percent say late payments from customers.
• 42 percent say greater restrictions on corporate financing.

But there is something else too. Small business owners tend to be among the most adaptive and resilient during the worst economic conditions. They tend to be optimistic even in the face of adversity, especially those that had the audacity to start their businesses during a recession.

It strikes at the heart of the challenge. Many small business owners opted to believe that the recession was optional. It was a case I made on a couple of occasions during the last two years, asking leadership to start by engaging their employees.

Some bigger companies agreed with me too. You can see it based on performance. United Services Automobile Association, Republic Services, Wells Fargo, Dollar General, Visa, PNC Financial Services Group, JPMorgan Chase & Co., CenturyTel, Merck, and O'Reilly Automotive (among others) all posted profit gains of 65 percent or more. For them, the recession was optional.

And while we all might wish that the media covered more success stories to help lift the general population out sooner, most were too busy covering the recession. In fact, most were covering the pending recession as much as two years before it happened. Now, many news outlets are trying to shift the story in a new direction; expect to see more success stories soon.

What Makes Some Companies Succeed And Others Fail?

The only answer is their outlook. Earlier today, Ernie Varitimos shared a link to his video about winners and losers as it relates to investors. While there is a certain combatant mentality in the video that I don't personally share, Varitimos nails the psychology of it all.

He applies it to investing, but it accurately describes the relationship of trends and reversals to several arenas. As he points out in his video lesson, trends are easy because they move in straight lines and, unless you're a loser, you follow the trend to the end. That is how many companies, good and bad, made money in the last three decades. You didn't have to be good. You only had to follow the trend.

Reversals are not so easy. It begins when one trend ends and another begins, marked by a change in attitude. Basically, when the trend changes, people who were winners during the trend begin to feel like they are losing control. And as they lose their belief in themselves, this allows others — the anti-group as Varitimos calls it— to snatch control away from them. How does it happen? In defending their position, the previous followers make mistakes and eventually lose.

It doesn't just happen in investing. It happens in politics. It happens in business cycles. It happens with marketing. It happens in social media (with blog traffic or whatever). The psychology of success is directly linked to the optimism of leadership and their willingness to adapt to changes in the marketplace. It's also why my company will end in a better position than when the recession started. How about you? How are you doing today?

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Thursday, April 29

Advertising Challenge: Apple Suggests No Crappy Stuff


"As a creative director, I can completely understand that they [Apple] created this new baby and they want to make sure it gets born looking gorgeous. But as a creative director, I don't feel completely comfortable letting Apple do the creative." — Lars Bastholm, chief digital creative officer at Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide.

That was what Bastholm told The Wall Street Journal on the news that Apple's upcoming iAd program will require advertisements to go through an approval process and require Apple to build the ads for aesthetic and functionality reasons. It is one of several hurdles, along with price (1 cent per banner impression and $2 per view),  to reach more than 85 million iPhone and iPod Touches sold.

For the launch, marketers will pay as much as $10 million, which is much higher than the $100,000 or $200,000 most agencies are used to paying. One early example is Nike (it has endorsed the Apple creative), which Apple has been using to introduce the iAd concept. How to build an app advertisement isn't the only advice Apple CEO Steve Jobs recently shared with Nike.

Mark Parker, president and CEO of Nike, shared Jobs' advice at Fast Company's Innovation Uncensored conference. "Get rid of the crappy stuff," he said.

The Apple Approach.

There are two ways to take anything Steve Jobs says. You can think of him as an egomaniac, as some people reportedly do. Or, you can think of him of someone who is always trying to raise the bar higher, which is why you won't see Adobe's Flash technology on an iPhone. He said more than that.

"Flash was created during the PC era--for PCs and mice," Jobs said in the letter. "New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too)," Jobs recently explained in an open letter. "Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind."

Adobe won't argue the point. It is reported to be working to improve Flash, specifically to appease Mac, despite what Philip Elmer-DeWitt had to say about it.

The Advertising Challenge.

When you add it all up, some people might think Apple only wins because its competition is lousy. But maybe Jobs and crew would welcome the opportunity to be pushed a little harder, with someone not only developing better products but better advertising to boot.

While there are some great examples out there, communication has become more complacent as of late. While social media has shown some companies how integrated communication can work, turf battles still exist with everyone — public relations, advertising, marketing, corporate communication, etc. — fighting for dominion over the same space.

The results are sometimes convoluted. According to one recent survey by Vocus, 43 percent of public relations professionals feel they should own social media and 34 percent of marketers feel they should own social media. Seriously?

Seriously. Someone should sit those folks down and tell them no one owns it. Or, perhaps, more accurately, nudge and remind them that the company not only owns social media but their departments or contracts as well. The first rule of order ought not to be who's in charge, but how can we accurately and provocatively communicate the company's message.

And with that in mind, can anyone blame Apple for wanting the opportunity to set a higher bar for advertisements? Say what you will about the company, but its messages match the product across all communication channels. The company already knows that the the communication of tomorrow will be both striking (advertising), responsive (public relations), and interactive (technical). See for yourself.

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Wednesday, April 28

Deciphering Diatribe: Arizona, Alabama, Immigration


diatribe (noun) [dahy-uh-trahyb]. Definition: A bitter, sharply abusive denunciation, attack, or criticism.

That is the definition, but the history of the word tells the real story. It's Greek, derived from the verb diatrībein, made up of the prefix dia-, "completely," and trībein, "to rub," "to wear away, spend, or waste time," "to be busy."

It's a word every American ought to know. And if they knew the word, they might recognize it as the perfect definition of the political climate today, fueled by one of the most divisive administrations in history. When you see it, it's easier to dismiss it.

Diatribe In Arizona

The Arizona law didn't start as diatribe, but it certainly has ended up there.

While national estimates bear out a decline in illegal immigrants (sometimes called unauthorized immigrants), Arizona has seen a 42 percent increase in the number of illegal immigrants from 2000 to 2009.

The intent of Arizona Senate Bill 1070 was to curb illegal immigration apparently propelled by a recovering economy and talk of amnesty (with U.S. Sen. Harry Reid among the biggest supporters of including amnesty in immigration reform). Among the most debated provisions in the law is whether police officers in Arizona can ask for identification based on suspicion or whether such a provision leads to racial profiling and subjects legal citizens to unnecessary scrutiny.

The entire issue has drifted into diatribe after the law has been branded "racist" and "anti-immigration." When the conversation shifts in that direction, it's diatribe. There is nothing left to be discussed because it is a waste of time.

Diatribe In Alabama

In Alabama, the driver's license test is currently offered in twelve languages. The expansion of multiple languages likely came into existence because once the test was offered in an alternative language, the state could hardly discriminate against other alternative languages. The cost to the state is considerable.

For whatever reason, Tim James decided to make the issue one of his platform planks as part of his gubernatorial campaign. He produced a television commercial that has since been called controversial.


The entire discussion has drifted into diatribe, being branded as "racist." On the heels of Arizona Senate Bill 1070, it's now considered another example of "racist" legislation with diatribe thwarting any reasonable discussion.

Immigration And English

When my grandmother immigrated to the United States in the 1960s, she did so legally. Still, she remembers how frightening it was arriving in New York City without being able to speak a stitch of English. Doubly so because the person who was to meet her arrived late. For a few hours, she was on her own and was occasionally asked for identification.

There were no special provisions for her. She had to learn to speak and read English. And even when she did learn, her accent frequently drew derogatory comments like "kraut" from some citizens still reeling from World War II. Over the years, she came to realize that the discrimination she experienced was the same as anyone who was part of any mass migration into any country.

Immigration requires something from everyone. It requires citizens to accept a certain enthusiasm (or, at minimum, tolerance) for cultural differences. And it requires immigrants to accept a certain amount of responsibility to partially assimilate, starting with a respect for the law and language. Until people figure this out, there seems to be little room for discussion.

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Tuesday, April 27

Pushing Pies: Pizza Hut, Domino's, Papa John's


With speciality pizzas ranging from coal-fired to innovative gourmet pies crowding out chains for the sitdown crowd, the big three — Pizza Hut, Domino's, and Papa John's — are looking to retain dominance over the delivery game. So who's winning?

A Breakdown Of The Big Three.

Pizza Hut. For Pizza Hut, U.S. sales are up 5 percent in the first quarter after struggling last year. The turnaround is hot as the chain believes it found the magic formula. When people order pizza, what they really want is an unbeatable value and quick order convenience.

Pizza Hut has a clear advantage in this arena. By investing in easy order applications across various platforms and networks, ordering is super simple. Quick order apps have also helped make Pizza Hut the most talked about online, often by a margin of 2 to 1. And while the 1958-established pizza chain doesn't cross-connect its online assets, it has still attracted 1.3 million Facebook fans and 29,000 Twitter followers.

Of all its smart moves, the one that stands out the most is its work to implement a global marketing strategy with a localized appeal. Every application allows users to pinpoint their local Pizza Hut and receive hyper-localized offers from franchisers. The biggest misstep, of course, was attempting to be super cool in calling itself "The Hut."

Domino's. Domino's seems to have been hit by a string of bad publicity luck, ever since it accepted blame for two employees who ran amok on YouTube. Every time someone searches the headlines, Domino's has the corner on bad behavior.

Its marketing isn't always much better lately. Even on its Web site, the pizza company calls out its competitors, driving up their brand names as if this number two pizza chain was somehow a distant third or fourth. As for the 30-minute guarantee that helped it rise to to the top? Long gone.

The most recent marketing investment demonstrates heavy exposure without the buzz in connection with American Idol. However, what seems to have always worked well for Coca-Cola didn't translate for pizza pies. The campaign was barely mentioned by anyone online. (In contrast, fans are still taking about Justin Bieber's cameo on the show.)

When Domino's is mentioned online, most of it is related to the recipe mistake. Most people post how bad it sucks. On Facebook, Domino's is closing in on 500,000 fans. On Twitter, a scant 12,500. The most noticeable reason is that there doesn't really seem to be a reason to join. Its increasing corporate image is a turn-off.

Papa John's. No matter what you might think about the Papa John's push to be more Italian, which seems to drift well away from beginnings as humble as Pizza Hut, there is always something to be said for the pizza company that came on strong enough to carve out a niche that used to belong to Little Caesar's and Godfather's.

Despite its 1.2 million Facebook fans, it isn't talked about much online, capturing only a fraction of mentions when compared to Domino's or Pizza Hut. On Twitter, it has only managed 12,000 followers, which is simply a matter of its shout out, no-follow approach to messaging.

Papa John's is hoping to change all that with its "Papa's Specialty Pizza Challenge." People join on Facebook, submit topics, and provide a short write-up of why their pie is unique.

The fine print makes the contest a bit of a spin. The winner gets 1 percent of the sales, up to $10,000, and free pizza for life. The contest finalist also receive $1,000 to help market their creation to victory.

It's Not All About Social. Stick With Core Services.

In terms of domestic sales, the three pizza chains are lock step in order, with Pizza Hut on top, Domino's second, and Papa John's third. If Papa John's could make a break in some segment of its marketing, it could theoretically take on Domino's for the second spot in the next two years (with better expansion plans). Unfortunately, the social media contest isn't it.

The reason Pizza Hut is winning with its promotions isn't only about price. It seems the pizza company has figured out what hits the right spot with U.S. consumers. When consumers want cheap, convenient pies, they want cheap, convenient pies. Pizza Hut is delivering these two points, leaving social media to take care of itself. Consumers seem to like it that way.

In contrast, Papa John's is shooting for social to attract new fans despite saying they are offering the content to "loyal customers." While they might attract pizza fans, the real question is whether they can convert those pizza fans into Papa John's lovers.

Maybe. But right now, it seems more likely they'll attract contest entrants just before those entrants click on one of those super simple Pizza Hut apps and then tweet their friends how easy it is. Get it now? Give people something to talk about and social media will follow. Cater to them too much and they'll talk about everything except your product.

Monday, April 26

Nothing Has Changed: The Social Media Constant


Smart Brief recently released some results from a survey that asked corporate leaders how they view social media today. The results are not surprising. And yet, they are surprising.

What's Not Surprising About The Smart Brief Survey.

• 83 percent say that social media gives them a window into what their customers think.
• 75 percent say they were either knowledgeable or actively trying to learn about social media.
• 63 percent say that social media is not a fad, but is very "over-hyped."
• 55 percent say that social media is not a waste of time.
• 51 percent say their companies are actively using and exploring social media.
• 40 percent fear that they are are falling behind their competitors because of social media.

What's Surprising About The Smart Brief Survey.

What's surprising is that the Smart Brief survey isn't all that different from surveys published in 2005.*

• About 70 percent say they were either knowledgeable (55%) or actively trying to learn about social media.
• About 60 percent say that social media is not a fad, but is "over-hyped."
• About 55 percent say that social media is a waste of time.
• About 50 percent say their companies are actively using and exploring social media.
• About 40 percent fear that they are falling behind their competitors because of social media.

*In some cases, we had to adjust the prevalent buzz words of the day to match the statistical data, e.g., "blogs" or "new media" or "social networking" since social media had yet to be adopted as a buzz word. Also, listening wasn't even on the radar, back then.

There are only a few explanations for such a chronic state of sameness: the original surveys skewed toward people already using social media (new users are most likely to answer surveys), people generally lied about adoption for fear of looking like they are falling behind, or perhaps there is something else missing from the state of social media.

Given our research back in time to 2005 revealed the same blog headlines we read today — such as "is social networking replacing SEO" and "Is social media a fad" — we think it's a little of all three, with the third revealing something especially interesting. While this isn't scientific per se, we have noticed that different countries lean toward different social media information on this blog.

The United States tends to focus on tactical tips whereas India tends to focus on strategic solutions. The United Kingdom tends to focus on predictions to determine what's next whereas the Netherlands tends to focus on research to determine what's most recent. The Philippines, on the other hand, tends to focus on pop culture tie-ins, which means they probably have more fun.

Why is this interesting? It might suggest where different cultures are focusing their energies. And if there is any validity to tracking topics of interest, it certainly foreshadows why different countries will end up in very different places five years from now, with the U.S. currently demonstrating a healthy appetite for sameness.

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Sunday, April 25

Embracing Universal Truth: Fresh Content


If there is a secret to social media, then the secret is that there are no secrets at all. Our roundup of five fresh content posts proves the point as social media — for all its newness to some people — is evolving to embrace the very theories, concepts, and ideas it once thought to shrug off.

The reason is simple enough. Tactics change but strategy tends to remain consistent. How people interact, fabricate, mislead, organize, and even tell a story remains the same as it did before social media entered the scene. So what's changed? It's even easier to see it online, which makes it especially fascinating. See for yourself.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of April 12

Online Network Theory And Politics.
Jed Hallam shares some insight into the analysis of networks on the Internet and how people connect, interact, and share ideas as they pertain to politics. He does an excellent job taking his readers through the steps: identifying sources, evaluating influence, assessing connections, and then determining the best route to introduce messages. It's an excellent introduction to what a few people do every day.

• Imported Turf.
Ike Pigott's ongoing assessment of interaction contains a refreshing amount of dedication and detail. He continues to consider what dailies and other news outlets might discover about astroturfing if they didn't ignore it (coincidently, AOL is currently revamping its comment section for this reason). Outlined in this post, Pigott shows how some commenters masquerade as people with invented identities. On occasion, they even create supporting fake identities so they have "someone" to respond to.

More Absurd Social Media Analysis – The Value Of A Fan.
Adam Singer was one of the first out of the box to debunk a theory floated by Vitrue that "fans" and "friends" could be reduced to a monetary value of $3.60. He provides eight points why that valuation is off, before pointing out the premise is flawed. But more than that, he makes the case that such formulas mislead companies into placing too much emphasis on mass and not enough emphasis on real marketing and customer relations. We followed up on his post here.

• Framework and Matrix: The Five Ways Companies Organize for Social Business.
Jeremiah Owyang's presentation on the various frameworks companies and organizations employ online is right on target. He presents five different organizational models that companies frequently embrace in social media, which provide a simplistic but accurate view of the way things work. While his assessment doesn't account for every model, it does accurately portray how companies create information structures not unlike those we tracked three years ago as they related to online fan bases.

• The Art Of Storytelling Is In The Telling.
A few weeks ago, someone asked if communicators get tired of telling the same story over and over (I offered they need to consider the listener is hearing it for the first time). A few days later, Ben Decker penned a post that eloquently conveys this point, using Up in the Air and himself as the example. He says that he tends to lose his gusto after telling a story for the first time whereas his mother-in-law can tell a story countless times with the same enthusiasm, often better with each telling. Exactly right. She appreciates that the story might be old to her, but it's new to the next person she tells. Perfect.

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Friday, April 23

Placing Behaviors: Does Advertising Shape Social Norms?


A few days ago, Abby Ellen, writing for The New York Times, covered how something as simple as food advertising can shape our thinking. She uses Kelly D. Brownell's “The Psychology, Biology and Politics of Food” Yale class for an opener for her article.

The class begins with Brownell asking students to fill in the blank: "I go cukoo for ___." "Break me off a piece of that ___ bar."

The article stuck in my head not as a casual reader, but because I do something similar in one of my classes. I ask students to match taglines to companies, ranging from "Just do it" and "You deserve a break today" to "A diamond is forever" and "Tastes great. Less filling." Even students that were not overly exposed to some of the older campaigns can still make a connection.

No matter how many times I use the tagline retention test in class, it still amazes me. That's the power of a singular message.

The Same Lesson Takes Students In Two Directions.

Of course, Brownell and I have very different reasons for our respective lessons. Mine is to demonstrate how message retention increases with the reinforcement of a singular message reinforced by varying context. The commercials change, but they always circle around to a singular point that can be easily retained. I ask them to consider the lesson when they build their public service messages.

Brownell uses his lesson to build a case for social change, requiring Yale students to develop op-ed articles about social change with an eye toward publication. Suggested op-eds revolve around how advertising shapes how we define good food, how much should the government be involved in shaping the nation’s diet, can food (especially foods with sugar) be addictive, and so on and so forth.

I use my class to teach students how to develop commercial messages that stick. Brownell uses his to make the case that public policy needs to take control of the obesity crisis in this country. But there is another difference. I always ask my students when was the last time they actually bought the products I mentioned. (Generally, they don't.) Brownell doesn't, which likely leaves students with the feeling that advertising does more than persuade or inform people about products, but brainwashes them too.

Advertising Isn't Brainwashing.

While changing behavior is part of effective communication, advertisers generally keep the intent narrow. For example, if you're going to eat chocolate cereal, they want you to buy Cocoa Puffs. If you're going to eat a candy bar, they want you to buy a Kit-Kat. They don't really have much intent to brainwash you in bingeing on other brands unless the message is broad (although I could make the case that diamond sellers did a splendid job elevating demand over other rare stones).

Real brainwashing is much more subtle than sales. Generally, it's confined to public service announcements. But recently, it has crept into television programming with behavioral placements. While we're much more attuned to the notion that advertisements sell, we're a bit more open to embedded messages.

Embedded messages have garnered more attention lately, but these have been around a long time. Popeye the sailor ate spinach for a reason. Some television shows make political statements for a reason. And Brownell builds a case for public policy intervention for a reason.

It's all kind of creepy, really. But it does go a long way in demonstrating that advertising is the least of our worries.

Case in point: medicating children with antipsychotics wasn't caused by advertisers, much as advertisers were attuned to increasing demand. And given that children covered by Medicaid are prescribed antipsychotics at a rate four times higher than children with private insurance, public policy seems to be driving demand. Now that's a public policy we might do something about.

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Thursday, April 22

Overdosing On Climate Change: Earth Day


"Mister!" he said with a sawdusty sneeze. "I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues. And I am asking you, sir, at the top of my lungs" — he was very upset as he shouted and puffed — "What's that THING you've made out of my Truffula tuft?"

For most people, Earth Day started some 40 years ago. For me, given I was only 3, it started a year later in 1971. 1971 was when was the year Random House published The Lorax by Dr. Suess. It was also the same year Iron Eyes Cody debuted as the "crying Indian" in the "Keep America Beautiful" public service announcement campaign. The messages matched the appetite of the populous.

There were lessons to be learned. We could all do our part. All of it was in our best interest.

Wisconsin was well ahead of the environmental bell curve too. Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson proposed Earth Day in 1969 and had intended it to raise environmental consciousness through rallies, symposiums, and discussions on college campuses and in cities across the country. His work had started much earlier as governor. Earth Day matched the sentiment of the state, especially because of its blended assets with forests and lakes to the north, farm and dairy land to the south, and industry to the east along Lake Michigan.

So what happened on the way to a greener planet in the last 40 years?

Geoff Livingston made an excellent observation about Earth Day yesterday. There isn't as much fanfare about Earth Day.

The answer might be found, in part, from another observation last year in the Washington Times. They compared Arbor Day and Earth Day to conclude that Arbor Day was largely non-political and positive where was Earth Day was political and pessimistic.

When did that happen? While the stage was already set, the shift in direction of our environmental conscience occurred in 2006 with the winds of climate change and global warming. The inconvenient truth was very much like a wild part of proof for all of us concerned about the environment, but it eventually came with one of the worst hangovers ever because some of the numbers were fudged.

That wasn't the worst of it. The inconvenient truth also took away the individual's ability to do their part and focused heavily on regulating others to do their part. The immediate impact of divide and conquer politics becomes clear enough. It shifts attention away from what "we" can do and onto what "they" can do. So "they" defend themselves while "we" forget to buy lower emission cars, recycle, and whatever. And overdosing on climate change for all its faults has made the problem bigger than any individual can fix.

Sure, I know for a fact that many manufacturers are willing to sit on emission controlling technologies (literally keeping them secret) to avoid sweeping regulations that occur at a faster pace than they can implement. But at the same time, most of those manufacturers are tied to defending their position because of pressures — price, profits, and employment — that those same regulating individuals benefit from. In other words, we're all in this together folks.

Messages make all the difference.

There have been a lot of clever and creative environmental messages since 1971, but few of them have become as iconic and legendary as the crying Indian or The Lorax. Ever wonder why?

The 1971 messages are stories that bind us together in the choices we make as individuals, with no distinction between producers and consumers or companies and people who litter. Both messages ask us to make a choice: which person do you want to be? The choice seems logical enough. Most of us want to be the solution instead of the problem.

Even the Lorax, though disgusted by the greed that came with the invention of the thneeds, left a last chance in the hands of the Once-ler, despite the Once-ler's responsibility for making the mess. The message, if you remember, is unless.

"No more trees. No more Thneeds. No more work to be done. So, in no time, my uncles and aunts, every one, all waved me good-bye. They jumped into my cars and drive away under the smoke-smuggered stars. Now all that was left 'neath the bad-smelling sky was my big empty factory ..."

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Wednesday, April 21

Defining Engagement: The Value Of People


There seems to be some push back against the notion that social media "fans" can be valued at $3.60 each. But Vitrue, a social media management company, doesn't miss a beat. The $3.60 valuation tag placed on people is just the "tip of the iceberg," they say.

The message seems to resonate with plenty of companies, as Vitrue includes Ford, P&G, Best Buy, Unilever, Pringles, and plenty of others. Companies that ought to know better, in some cases. What's more, Vitrue doesn't seem to consider those fans owned by the brand. It boasts the combined total of its clients as their fans, about 45 million. People they "manage" every day.

Why don't most communicators accept the $3.60 valuation?

Adam Singer provides part of the answer on The Future Buzz. He provides eight points why that valuation is off beat, before pointing out the premise is flawed. Worse, they mislead companies in thinking that hordes of fans are final frontier.

Sean Williams provides another part of the answer on Communication Ammo. He offers four points, before noting that the formula fails because it sells the idea that social media is all about increasing advertising impressions.

Oliver Blanchard, who can be found at The BrandBuilder Blog, had a brief discussion on Twitter. Because he is outcome oriented, he points out the pitfall with two sentences under 140 characters.

Outcomes have value; people are priceless.

The real problem with valuations like the one Vitrue floats is that it mistakes an online environment as nothing more than media. People behave online much like they do offline in that their interactions mimic spatial actions. The only time online actions resemble media is when the engagement is media oriented (like watching a program on Hulu).

Placing a "value" on fans can be likened to claiming a product can earn media impressions simply by sitting on the shelf of a supermarket, based on a ratio of everyone who walks in the front door, even if they skip the aisle where your product is located. And doubling, tripling, or quadrupling those impressions is only a matter of adding another row of product.

Using this logic, Brillo could be placed on every shelf on every aisle and capture all past supermarket visit impressions times the total number of products. It's absurd, especially because many "fans" never return to the product page once they friend it, especially if they were driven there by a one-time incentive. Thus, every fan is not equal to any dollar amount.

And that leads us to the second biggest danger in the formula. An overly formulaic approach that relies on reach as the end measurement as opposed to a singular portion of the equation, devalues customers. After all, if we were to be so brazen in our attempts to monetize the value of people, then the Vitrue valuation gives equal value to window shoppers and customers (which also happens to be the biggest mistake among online crowd sourcing). Except, that temptation is also wrong.

Net, net, as tempting at it is to count up some 1 billion "fans" we've touched online for our clients, beating Vitrue almost 20 to 1, I'm still inclined to believe that the people we've touched are worth more than $3.60 per head. As a matter of fact, people are priceless. Outcomes have value. Engagement is an investment. And impressions are nothing but potential.

When you understand this and do the math, you get different results. You know, the kind that suggests ten people on the showroom floor of a car dealership might have more, um, "value," than 100 people who will never buy one.

Vitrue devalues its industry with a weak message.

All this made me really curious what Vitrue did. So, I took a look. It does offer some value, specifically in providing Facebook and a few other marketing-oriented applications. This, combined with some investor affiliations (like Steven J. Heyer) gave them a leg up despite being a late start-up company in social media. There is nothing wrong with that. It's not an ignorant firm.

What is happening here is the same thing that happened in public relations. Executives wanted someone to put a price tag on the return on investment, so they did. Public relations did it by counting column inches against ad rates or Rolodex card counting. Marketing did it by overemphasizing cost-per-impression. And Vitrue does it here in much the same fashion. All of those formulas did more to devalue their respective industries than any other.

But what's most striking about such counting systems is that people generally want to believe them. They want to believe them much in the same way that they were actually relevant to the clients listed beyond the sale of a single application.

But this shouldn't surprise you. Rule No. 8 in advertising is "people are irrational." That simple truth doesn't change with the favor of a title that can condensed to an acronym. CEOs and other decision makers are equally swayed by all sorts of messages, even when those message value them at $3.60 too.

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Tuesday, April 20

Swirling Communication: A New Ning Taste Test


What's in the promise of a lollipop? Something sweet? Something sour? A little swirl of both?

Messages are often like that. And Jason Rosenthal, chief operating officer at Ning, Inc. (Ning), which is a platform that once allowed people to develop their own social networks for free, provides a near perfect illustration of a candy-coated message that only looks sweet on the surface of a plastic wrapper. Let's open it up.

Hi Everyone,

1. Flavor: Sounds sweet. Tastes sour.
2. Aftertaste: Most networks only post salutations when things are bad. Very, very bad.
3. Verdict: By everyone, Rosenthal means people who pay and 60 percent of employees who still have jobs.

As many of you know, we made a decision yesterday to focus 100% of the company on enhancing the features and services we offer to paying Ning Creators.

1. Flavor: Sounds sour. Tastes like unsweetened cocoa.
2. Aftertaste: Surprisingly bitter about the reaction to date.
3. Verdict: Ning has no empathy for anyone who doesn't pay. It's a brave new network.

The tens of thousands of you who already use our paid service represent over 75% of our traffic, and we’ve heard repeatedly from you ways that we can deliver a killer service to help make your Ning Network more effective.

1. Flavor: Sounds sour. Tastes like orange peel.
2. Aftertaste: Did he really call Ning a killer service after killing the service?
3. Verdict: Ning has/had 2.3 million networks. It intends to keep a small percentage of hundreds of thousands.

Some examples of things we are working on that you’ve asked for include new APIs, a new mobile experience and new advertising and revenue opportunities.

1. Flavor: Sounds sweet. Tastes laced with MSG.
2. Aftertaste: Chemically altered air, with a hint of chalky residue.
3. Verdict: There will be more space for new programming features once the deadbeats who made us popular are gone.

As part of this change, we’ll be phasing out our free service. On May 4, 2010, we will share with you all of the details of our new offering, including features and price points, through a series of blog posts, emails, and conference calls.

1. Flavor: Sounds fresh. Tastes stale.
2. Aftertaste: As dry as coarse sand.
3. Verdict: They've been plotting the demise of freemium services for almost two years; spam to follow.

We recognize that there are many active Ning Networks for teachers, small non-profits, and individuals and it’s our goal to have a set of product and pricing options that will make sense for all of them.

1. Flavor: Sounds sweet. Tastes metallic.
2. Aftertaste: None, beyond utter numbness.
3. Verdict: It's alway pointless to sound altruistic when you plan to squeeze blood from stones.

For Ning Creators using our free service who choose to move to another service, we will offer a migration path and time to make that change. We will still continue to allow free trials and test networks on the Ning Platform.

1. Flavor: Sounds hearty. Tastes like nine parts water.
2. Aftertaste: A hint of ice cold chicken stock.
3. Verdict: The moving truck will be here soon so we can make room for transient renters.

We look forward to talking to you further on May 4th.

1. Flavor: Sounds like peppermint. Tastes like uncrushed pepper.
2. Aftertaste: Acidic, causing indigestion.
3. Verdict: They haven't figured out what to say, but someone is hoping people cool off by then.

Jason Rosenthal

1. Flavor: Sounds savory. Tastes like an imitation.
2. Aftertaste: Sometimes the messenger is the message. And Rothenthal isn't a co-founder.
3. Verdict: Given his experience being on the acquired end of acquisitions, the writing has been on the wall for almost two years. Marc didn't write this one for a reason.

Ning is no more. At least not the Ning you knew.

There is much more to the story, enough to constitute a living case study as it seems pretty clear the company's communication is already past the expiration date. No one seems capable of talking their way past the plastic wrapper. It seems obvious someone wants the company primed up and ready to sell. But there is a good chance all these plans will backfire.

After all, Ning doesn't seem to consider how often paying Ning social networks recruit new network members from non-paying networks. And, in addressing the future migration solutions, they've already set themselves up to break another promise. They know any such move will hardly be seamless. In the meantime, here are five more voices.

Re-Align-Ning: Is “Free” Eroding? by Doug Haslam
Ning and Customer Betrayal by Valeria Maltoni
Ning Reneges On Its Core Promise, Shatters Customer Trust by Shel Holtz
Traffic Isn’t Revenue: Twitter and Ning Reach Different Crossroads by David Crotty
• The Free Internet Loses Another One: Ning by Alexa Salkever

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Monday, April 19

Finding Truth Online: People Don't Want Online Friends For Every Product


If you work anywhere near social media, you've probably read plenty of studies and opinions that people respond to friends who represent brands over the brands themselves. And while the idea plays well for public relations firms soliciting companies with online public relations spokespeople, is it always true?

A new study from Q Interactive's Women's Channel, which researches women's online behavior, seems to suggest otherwise. They found that women respond better to intuitive online advertising over spokesperson insight. Specifically, women are all too happy to have a relationship with the "brand."

"We asked women about brands online in relationship terms, too," said Emily Girolamo, vice president of marketing and corporate communications at Q Interactive. "Significant for marketers, we found, with women, you have to give a little something - whether it is an offer or information. Women best connect with brands who know them and see the relationship as a two-way street."

Highlights from the Q Interactive study.

• 88 percent "wish brands they trust sent them more tailored offers."
• 65 percent want to feel like they receive online advertisements specific to them.
• 53 percent believe they have "relationships" with sites and brands.
• 37 percent consider online brands to be "good partners" and 19 percent trust of them.
• 58 percent want brands to provide a good offer with only 19 percent wanting to get to "know" someone.

So how can this be? While prevailing thought in social media seems to run counter to these findings, some of it make sense. While women who have a vested interest in social media prefer to connect to someone in order to develop content, the average consumer may be overwhelmed by the idea that they need a "friend" for every purchase.

This morning, for example, I probably came into contact with 50-100 products before sitting down in front of the screen to write this post. Do I need a "friend" associated with every one of them ... from toothpaste to carpet and tile? Probably not. The very idea seems overwhelming, especially along lines that include multiple brands.

Even in venues where it works better, it can get annoying. iPhone customers probably become as tired as Droid customers in hearing how the brand is somehow better from "friends," "fans," and people they trust online. Some may switch, sure. Some may switch back. But the majority of consumers are becoming settled.

Marketers in such venues will eventually have to make a choice. At what percentage does it make more sense to tailor your message toward your customers as opposed trying to convince people to convert? Do you really have a product that includes a personal online connection with a dedicated service agent? Or, more specifically, does anyone really need to read colorful antecdotes from the social media expert who drew Quilted Northern Ultra Plush as a client?

Don't laugh. You might be surprised how much toilet paper advice is really out there. And most of it seems related to secondary purposes such as making a Kazoo or even papering someone's Farmville Barn.

The point is that consumers don't necessarily need a friend in the toilet paper business (and that is not to say a toilet paper social media account wouldn't be fun) to feel good about the brand as much as coupons for the brand they buy. That makes sense. The alternative, of course, would be 30-50 trust agents, public relations pros, social media gurus all trying to make friends with you, just to influence the way you wipe.

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Sunday, April 18

Dividing Tactics And Strategies: Fresh Content


While most people consider social media mainstream, it's still very much in flux. The rules of the road are constantly changing as more technologies are made available and others die off. They change fast enough that companies relying on professionals who count six-hour courses as all the experience needed to become a quasi-expert will eventually falter.

What this means for communicators is that they not only need to pay attention to trends, but also how tactics change along the way. They also need to identify strategies that will stand the test of time. Ergo, anybody can pump up your Facebook fan page or create traffic spikes. But it takes something all together different to develop a long-term communication strategy that enjoys tactical lifts without becoming reliant on them.

This week's review of fresh content provides insights from five voices who know the difference. If you read these posts carefully, you'll find a deeper view of the division between tactics (sometimes unethical, in one case) and strategies.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of April 5

Measuring Brand Value.
Patrick Collings, brand strategist and partner for a South African-based management and creative consultancy, delivers a presentation that provides an introduction to brand valuation. The presentation includes several global methodologies across a robust 113-slide deck. It includes the average contribution of brand value to a company in established and emerging markets. It also fits in nicely with communication measurement models that we've developed, which considers how brand value provides a leg up for communication programs.

Google PageRank Update – Internal Pages and Top Content.
Sometimes analysis is full of surprises that turn common belief systems on their head. In her analysis, Kristi Hines demonstrates how popularity does not equal PageRank. For her purposes, Hines suggests PageRank is not all that important as she places an emphasis on content that provides readers value. In her experience, popularity often comes before PageRank.

Journalistic Sodbusting.
Many people know that astroturfing is on the rise, especially in the unweeded comment sections of dailies. This post, penned by Ike Pigott, details how in evaluating 336 comments, he found comment names might have changed but not the tone, style, and talking points. It's a common enough practice that I advise clients to ignore the comment sections of dailies. It's often the playground for people with agendas, paid or not.

McKinsey's Four Ways to Get More Value from Digital Marketing.
Valeria Maltoni offers up four points that pinpoint one approach to digital marketing by way of a content-based brand strategy. The points are solid enough: coordinate online activities; syndicate content that empowers customers; increase multimedia coverage; and make decisions on how to properly use the data that is available. It's smart stuff, with much of it pointing to badly needed integration.

5 Ways to Leverage Real Time Search in Your Online Marketing Mix.
Most people know that SEO is evolving, but Michelle Bowles nails five considerations that can help companies stay ahead of the curve. She details how content, fans, news, content promotion, and optimization all play a role in developing a better SEO strategy. Among the most important tips, from our point of view, is the increasingly important role of real time search. As more micro content from social sites appear in search results, tinkering with keywords on Web sites is not enough.

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Friday, April 16

Guessing Games: The Psychology Of Choice


"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." — Proverb

This isn't meant to be a political post, but politics does intersect with communication. And sometimes, I find myself wondering if the stewards of our country appreciate what they communicate when they play shell games with public policy.

One of the most recent shell games is whether or not President Obama raised or cut taxes. There are varied opinions about it, but the truth is that he did both. He cut taxes with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. (However, proponents neglect to mention that many "tax cuts" are "targeted relief," which really means "tax incentives" for people who meet specific requirements or do certain things.) He also raised some taxes and increased the threshold for deducting medical expenses, among other things.

Naturally, none of the conversation accounts for the impact that federal policy has at the local and state level, where the discussions of tax increases are epic. It doesn't accept the reality that the federal government consistently talks about raising taxes in the future. And it hardly accounts for the common public sentiment that suggests that the government is overspending and wasting tax dollars. It doesn't consider American ideology.

When there is talk about taxes nowadays, most people seem to frame it around the idea that we have two choices: embracing more taxes or abandoning neighbors in need. Baloney. That is no choice at all. They may as well be asked if they want to cut off their right arm or left.

The truth is that America is neither a country where it is every man and woman for him or herself nor is it a country where every man and woman must make involuntary sacrifices for their neighbor, leaving them both wanting (except in times of war). It is a country that embraces the sentiment contained in the proverb mentioned above.

Sure, for those that know (plenty people don't), the proverb is hardly American or European. It's Chinese, and most often attributed to Lau Tzu or Confucius. Both of these men also lived under repressive governments, believing that leadership requires humility, a restrained approach in governance, and they shared some ideology with our founding fathers.

"I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I traveled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer." — Benjamin Franklin, 1766

As someone who grew up poor, I tend to accept Franklin's wisdom. As politicians wrestle with politics that sometimes bear little resemblance to the ideas presented by our founding fathers, they would do better to stop talking about European ideology and more about American ideology. We did, after all, throw away our envy of European statesmanship hundreds of years ago (meaning no offense to my friends abroad) in order to preserve freedom and liberty over governance and public provisions.

Simply put, American ideology comes in two parts: empowering people and empowering giving. No choices are necessary.

Empowered People.

As Franklin alludes, this is a country that works best with the promise that honest work will eventually result in a steadily increasing quality of life, from which each generation benefits from an improved starting point.

Ergo, my grandfather did not have a college education, but he instilled in me the value of education and a work ethic to invest in one for myself. Sure, sometimes the ideal isn't as easy as all that. My grandfather was also a son of the Great Depression, which erased much of his opportunity. So what he could not share in financial aid, he shared in a principled approach.

Unfortunately, the communication undermining our current economic recovery seems to be related to the constant buzz of continually increasing taxes against specific brackets, thereby creating a greater burden on the principle of upward mobility from honest work and education. In sum, the very remedy that will supposedly propel people up is also the very burden that will create deeper dips in retained income at each step. And that hinders mobility and widens the gap between rich and poor.

All the while, some politicians have forgotten that that American people don't work harder with an expressed interest in helping the government spend more. They only do so in order to help their families and endow their future generations with the ability to have an improved starting point. Their honest work is its own reward.

Empowered Giving.

Having worked extensively with the nonprofit sector, I don't believe Americans are by their very nature "greedy" people. From those who have helped me with specific causes, they seem to understand that helping their neighbors, strengthening their communities, and taking pride in American exceptionalism wherever it can be found goes hand and hand with any success they might enjoy.

The vast majority do so voluntarily, with each citizen determining the extent to which they can help. Generally, they prioritize with a tendency toward teaching people to fish over giving people fish. They do so with the hope that those they help will also find that honest work is its own reward. They do so because they are prudent with their charity.

One wouldn't always think so listening to some stewards in this country at times. On the contrary, the communication consistently seems to be that anyone who receives any reward from honest work is obligated to share it not with neighbors but whomever the steward sees fit. Even if they don't need it.

And sometimes, the steward says, maybe the standard is too high, meaning to take any extra fish and then some. Unfortunately, when Americans are faced with such uncertainty or downward mobility, they tend to brace for crisis.

Changing Choices.

The general practice of tossing up two bad choices has got to stop. While Americans have become almost complacent in picking from whatever choices are on the table (e.g,. a bad health care bill or no health care bill), there comes a time when someone could stand up and say that the smarter choice is not to participate at all.

Right now, the only solution politicians need to pursue is empowering people to reach a position so they can help their neighbors become empowered too. Anything else is little more than a shell game. At least, that might be the advice we can glean from previous generations who had fewer assets but somehow created more value for all of us. Good night and good luck.

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Thursday, April 15

Painting Truths: Let's Colour Project


The photos are striking. The before and after shots are cool. And the idea is worthwhile.

The "Let's Colour" project by Dulux trades in grey and gloom with blues, reds, and other hues. It's beautiful, perhaps with one exception. In attempting to cross authenticity with action, Let's Colour came up with a peculiar shade of green that Karthik S, head of head of digital strategy for Edelman India, thought might be astroturf, or if you read the comments, maybe not.

Maybe it's a matter of perspective. Let's find out.

Remixing The Communication Points

Karthik's point seems clear enough to me. Euro RSCG is handling the Let's Colour project blog but "presents" like the Akzo Nobel paint team's content with as many as twelve bloggers. It's not. Most of it is written by Rebecca Campbell, who is contracted by the Euro RSCG. The balance of the contributing bloggers are a mix of agency employees who can, but don't seem to, add their experiences.

"The fact that we have an official blogger is very simple: we need someone to keep the blog interesting, fresh and to be 100% dedicated," explained Fernanda Romano, creative director for the agency. "Rebecca is our employee, she is the official blogger. This doesn’t mean the rest of the team cannot blog."

But they don't, which was another of Karthik's points. Instead, if there is any blog ownership, it really belongs to Campbell, who is by all accounts, a blogger for hire. There is nothing wrong with that.

Her Spike experience is exactly why the agency hired her. And despite being based in London, the Australian native presents project content as if she is on site in real time. By agency account of the comments, she sometimes is, but not always, maybe. From a reader's perspective, it's hard to tell where creativity begins and reality ends.

So what's the big deal? As a matter of historical perspective, it's not all that different from the Edelman Public Relations Worldwide flog for Wal-Mart in 2006. While I disagreed with the assessment of our non-scientific poll participants in 2007, they identified it as the number one breach of communication ethics compared to several other breaches back then.

In sum, the flog was presented as two average Americans who parked their RV at Wal-Marts across the country and wrote about their experiences. The bloggers were paid, much like Campbell. And since the disclosure was less than obvious it was eventually deemed a disaster.

So what's the difference between the Let's Colour project and the Wal-Mart RV debacle? Um, nothing. Except, well, people love to pick on Wal-Mart much more than what appears to be a nobler cause like Let's Colour. So it gets a pass. As I've said before, Wal-Mart doesn't have a public relations problem as much as a media relations problem. Dulux does not.

However, let's be even more honest for a moment.

Since 2006, many social media experts have carved out positions within companies or have been contracted as company representatives under the auspices that they are somehow above bias. Maybe they are. Maybe they are not. From the pubic perspective, acceptance always boils down to the brand relationships between the people, products, and companies. We know so and so, the public says, so they get a pass. We aren't sure about so and so, the public says, so they get burned at the stake.

It hardly seems fair, but social media is anything but fair. It's currently the only place in the world where nice guys and gals finish first, even if they're pretending.

But all that aside, for agencies hoping to solidify the lines between right and wrong, I'll share a few techniques to ensure you can draw a clear enough line to remain on the right side of it. And, as often is the case with our firm, the approach is always situational because every client is different. Right on. They come in every color of the rainbow, but never artificial green.

As for this case, it seems clear that the agency had other plans from the outset. They meant to have a multi-author blog and something, perhaps budget constraints, prevented them from fielding twelve people. So, those other voices fell away. As to the convoluted nature of who works for whom, there weren't clear disclosures no matter how the explanation is framed up.

Perhaps, on the front end, the idea of volunteers or Dulux employees or even agency peeps penning posts was what won the pitch. But in terms of practice, it wasn't very practical. So, like agencies do, they shifted to some middle ground because it just didn't seem as sexy as having a full on single agency employee penning posts for a client.

Whatever. It could have been. People don't really care where the content comes from as long as its good, cool, and real ... it just has to be even better when public relations people become spokespeople.

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Wednesday, April 14

Developing Internships: A Win-Win Playbook


Think "win-win" as the endowment of an abundance mentality. Why? Because your security comes from principles." — Stephen Covey

The continued conversations about whether or not to pay interns generally falls somewhere in between amusing and disturbing. In one case, a regional director of public relations and communications at a Fortune 1000 proclaimed they had no budget for interns.

It might make sense, given the company has suffered significant losses for three consecutive years. But then you have to wonder whether a student might do better somewhere else. As it is, accepting an unpaid internship is easily likened to giving (not receiving) corporate charity. And, if the thought process is that the company "needs" interns, one has to wonder how it can afford to put so much effort into looking for ways to work around government guidelines. Time is probably better spent elsewhere.

After all, first and foremost, paying interns is a matter of principles. And while I would be the last person to judge an independent contract between students and would-be employers, I can offer a few solutions that would add value to an internship program, thereby maximizing the value of the intern while maximizing the value of the intern experience.

Five Tips To Developing An Internship Program That Works

1. Develop a program plan. While it doesn't have to be written, planned internships define a series of step expectations during the course of a finite program. This reminds the mentor to assess and review the intern at one, two, and three months while providing the intern with tangible goals. Better performance equals a richer, more well-rounded experience.

As possible, these steps could focus on core skills (first month) such as research and writing/editing, enhanced skills (second month) such as creative projects and client products, and advanced skills (third month) such as heading up a project or participating in strategic planning. The intern only advances when they demonstrate some mastery over the previous step. The best interns also try to match their interests (public relations, creative, social media, etc.) with the firm.

2. Set assignments at their pace. Some firms assign interns client work that the mentor doesn't want to do, often without client knowledge, and others attempt to use them as personal assistants and coffee fetchers. Neither maximizes performance.

• Community service and self-promotion. Since both types of projects tend to take a back seat to client work, they are ideal communication projects for interns. Community service projects generally have a faster learning curve than some commercial accounts. And self-promotion projects have longer lead times while providing the intern an opportunity to learn more about the firm. At the same time, they offer no risk to clients. (The first assignment can even be writing an intern hire release.)

These base assignments can be augmented with editing the work of other communicators, which will prime the intern to work on select accounts in the second month. Research projects are also worthwhile because they introduce interns to industries served by the firm.

• Select client assignments. Within 30 days, even part-time interns begin to demonstrate an aptitude and interest for specific accounts. With full client disclosure (some clients are receptive to interns working on their accounts in tandem with their account executives), the intern can be assigned client work suited to their skill sets and interests.

While all students vary, they tend to perform best working on simpler accounts (consumer products, special events, etc.) than complex accounts (financial, medical, etc.). It makes the best sense to start with one account and gradually increase the mix to help them round out their portfolios.

• Challenging assignments. By the third month, interns that perform well can be given a more complex assignment that they spearhead from start to finish with oversight (like a press kit), work as part of a strategic communication team, or an assignment from a complex account. While oversight remains, the point is to give them a project that they feel belongs to them beyond any other tasks they've accepted along the way.

3. Provide self-starter training. Training interns isn't rocket science. Most well-established companies ranging from quick service restaurants to major utilities all follow the same approach. (Many firms make the mistake of jumping to the third step, which increases the training time and sometimes frustration.)

• Show them what to do. Either provide an example or let them stand over your shoulder, depending on the assignment.
• Supervise the assignment. Talk them through the process as they do it, standing over their shoulder as appropriate.
• Let them do it and review. Give them the assignment, allow them to complete it, and then review the work.
• Give them the responsibility. At some point, the review process can be reduced to a quick review of the work.

4. Expose them to meetings. Whether interns work on specific accounts or not, allowing them to join and sit in on client and vendor meetings provides benefits for everyone. Most of all, it provides the intern an opportunity to listen to how the mentor communicates with clients and vendors.

Beyond communication, interns are sometimes eager to offer academic solutions after the meetings. Sometimes they fit; sometimes they do not. Regardless, it opens a dialogue for mutual education, adding value on projects even if the intern never directly works on them. Clients, in particular, are generally receptive to having interns sit in, allowing them to contribute to the education of the intern. Some interns also demonstrate they are capable of working with vendors on behalf of the firm.

5. Help them set priorities and provide incentives. Some interns excel at setting priorities and others do not. In addition to communication-related assignments, ongoing work (such blog posts or weekly interdepartmental memos), clerical, or other task-oriented work is fine to assign, with the understanding most of it is meant to be completed in tandem with skill-building programs.

While incentives vary, internships that succeed have very definite end goals. It might be to have the intern work into a full-time position, extending their internship as an independent contractor, or an open letter of recommendation. Whatever it is, make it clear during the interview process. For future account executives, you might even offer a commission on new business.

Yeah, but what's in it for the mentor?

Some professionals keep asking "what about the value professionals deliver interns?" While there is no harm in asking, this is really unproductive thinking. The modern internship works best when it's a win-win experience.

Students are not interns just to "learn" as they did or do in school. If it is really their first job experience in the field, then they are there to contribute and their contributions have value. Some of that value is returned in the form of insight and experience. Some of it is returned in a nominal hourly amount. (Incidentally, paying interns empowers mentors to fire them too.)

The average hourly rate for public relations firms and advertising agencies ranges between $150 to $600 per hour. Excluding management, PayScale places the average hourly pay for in-house public relations professionals at $14 to $20 per hour (1-4 years) and $18 to $30 per hour (5-9 years). Ad agency professionals average $14 to $26 per hour, which is less dependent on years of experience and more dependent on performance.

Interestingly enough, many professional occupations pay interns and for residencies. But in creative and communication-related fields, more interns have not only asked to accept unpaid internships but some do so while paying for required academic credit.

Some Different Thoughts:

• Hey Intern, Get Me A Coffee And Stop Whingeing
• Will Prohibiting Unpaid Internships Kill the Fashion Industry?
• Unpaid Internships In The Crosshairs

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Tuesday, April 13

Closing A Case Study: Tiger Remains Virtually Unchanged


Not everyone believed that Tiger Woods might escape relatively unscathed despite departing from the traditional tenets of crisis communication. But the outcome was already set. When one aspect of a brand is large enough, all other aspects can be spun away leaving the core unchanged.

At his core, Woods is a golfer. And as he walked from the 11th green to the 12th tee, men and women of all ages rose by the hundreds and greeted him with a warm, crackling roar in the backwoods. Never mind the back story.

All Woods had to do is prove he still had what it takes to put the ball in the cup at the 2010 Masters Tournament. And by all accounts, he did just that, finishing fourth along with K.J. Choi.

Suddenly, no one much cares whether the Rasmussen Reports found only 43 percent regarded the golfer's public apology as sincere. And hardly anyone will remember the creepily exploitive Nike advertisement that accompanied his return to the tee.



No matter what you thought of the affairs or how they came to light, Tiger Woods is still a professional golfer whose achievements to date rank him among the most successful golfers of all time. And since his other exploits are unrelated to his golfing career, none of what he did has any affect on that fact beyond changing how he is presented as a brand.

The loving husband image is gone, but the guarded golfer lives on.

If public relations professionals underestimated anything about Woods, it was how much his brand was related to what he did on the golf course as opposed to off of it. Sure, some people felt he was big on selling himself as a family guy. But most Americans only know him as a golfer who putted against comedian Bob Hope on national television when he was 2 years old.

For those preplexed by it, the Fragile Brand Theory sheds some light on the subject. Some people like Tom Cruise crash for far fewer transgressions while others, like Woods, won't.

Public perception plays the role of setting expectation as, for whatever reason, the public saw Cruise as a package with his boyish charm turned “rugged good looks, flashy smile, and three Oscar nominations.” Actor had equal weight or even less weight than all the other messages that revolved around him. Woods, on the other hand, had two huge attributes: private and golfer. As long as those remain in tact, Woods will remain in the game.

Sure, some brands bolted, but only those that enjoyed those lesser messages. Nike, on the other hand, had no qualms about keeping him. Woods is an athlete. Nike is about athletes. The only prerequisite Nike has is that the athletes are good. Had Woods finished 30th or if his infidelity had something to do with steroids or sports wagering, then they would be less inclined to stick with the cooperative brand relationship. It's about that simple.

That still doesn't excuse the ad as a "Just Don't Do It" moment.

Sure, it's creative. There is no mistaking it as divergent thinking. It takes a wild twist of thinking to get a golfer to surrender audio tapes of his dead father to overlay on top of his near expressionless, somewhat brooding likeness. I don't have any reservation saying it would have never occurred to me.

All that aside, it's an ad that only advertising and public relations professionals would like. For most people, they just walked away from it confused or disgusted.

THAT is the measure of an effective advertisement. It's never about what the ad gurus and communicators think. It's always about what the public, specifically the intended audience, thinks. The question isn't whether it's creative. Creative is easy.

The questions are: Does it make you want to like Woods and Nike? Does it make you want to buy shoes? Did Nike learn anything? I suspect it learned that other than the parodies, the Nike ad helped make the entire sordid affair seem old.

And if that was the intent, they did a fine job. If the intent was to sell Nike products, it fails twice. It doesn't make anyone want to buy a product. And while it shows Nike will stick by Woods, it disrupts the Nike brand in that no one ever anticipated the company would would fund the production of a tasteless, despite being creative, commercial. Yawn.

See what I mean. It's a tired tale. Case study closed.

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Monday, April 12

Guessing At Recovery: Expect A New Consumer


"The question is whether [March retail sales] are a trend or a blip, and my guess is that this is more of a blip." — Ken Goldstein, economist for Conference Board

He is not alone. That seems to be the assessment from many economists despite the sudden strength of consumer spending across several categories. In addition to an upturn in the auto industry, consumers are eating out more, buying more apparel, and are less likely to wait for coupons or price promotions to buy cosmetics and toiletries than they were a few months ago.

Understanding A New Economy And Slow Recovery

However, not all data is so rosy. Consumer confidence remains at levels typically seen in the depth of recessions, reports Advertising Age. Even in a recovery, sentiment will likely lag behind. Bruce Kasman, JPMorgan Chase, suggests it is indicative of a shift in the U.S. economy from a debt and consumption economy to a savings and export economy, not all that dissimilar from what The Futures Company suggested last year in its Darwinian Gale white paper.

So what's the hold up on recovery? The Associated Press Economy Survey, released today, tells the story. Most of it is related to what many consider the pillars of the financial security — jobs and the housing market.

• Unemployment will remain high over the next two years, perhaps 8.4 in 2011.
• Home prices will remain flat, with no gain this year and only a 2.3 gain the next.
• The economy will grow 3 percent this year, which means a very slow recovery.
• The Federal Reserve will begin raising short-term interest rates in the fourth quarter.

What this means for marketers is settling in on a new but smaller base of consumers, those people who are employed but operating with a much more conservative approach to spending. More than likely, the uptick in some sectors indicates that this group is tired of waiting, waiting, and waiting for the economy to improve on its own.

It also means marketers need to get back to the basic tenets of marketing and rethink strategies that used to work in an optimistic growth economy. Michael Shepherd, owner of The Shepherd Group, will be one of those who can help. Like our firm, Shepherd believes a marketing message must be tied to a business strategy to succeed.

The New Rules Of Marketing Are Old Again

In some ways, this better explains why consumers pushed back against brands as social media became mainstream. It wasn't because brands needed to give up control over their marketing messages to consumers as much as consumers finally having the opportunity to tell companies that their marketing messages were out of sync with their business strategy (and some companies didn't even have sound business strategies).

Specifically, when marketing messages are aligned, things tend to work. Apple provides a great example, selling 300,000 iPads on its first day. The iPad is not a must-own product, but it represents something Americans haven't seen enough of lately — innovation, even if that innovation is a first step toward fully functioning tablets that may one day replace laptops (trust me on this, it all depends on what such technology can dock to and not what many critics keep crying about).

Selling the iPad was only the tip of the iceberg for Apple. Three hundred thousand iPads means a surge in application purchases, no matter what anyone thinks about the product. But this isn't an iPad post. It's just an example of what sound marketing does despite the economy, shift toward a more cautious consumer, and how marketing tied to business strategy syncs with social media.

It also represents a better tact for marketers than the new mood of government, one that opens: "Over the past year, the Recovery Board has received its share of gratuitous criticism from some journalists and Internet grouches." It then goes on to explain that it didn't waste $18 million on a site redesign. The site only cost $6.8 million to date.

This isn't about politics. It's about contrast. Apple accepted the criticism and still stayed true to its marketing message. Government has been leaning heavily on push back public relations, feeling secure in winning a shrinking percentage.

Successful marketers in the near future are best served if they understand the difference. Marketers can no longer rely on mass media alone to reach the optimistic spenders made up of the sons and daughters of the generation that survived the great depression. The new consumer is looking for innovation, authenticity, and value. Count on it.

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