Wednesday, March 30

Checking Vision: A Starbucks Lesson For Small Business

Someone asked a good question last week. Fredrick Nijm, co-founder and CEO of Addoway, mentioned that many companies, especially startups, sometimes see too many changes to adhere to a vision statement.

He's right to some extent. But before discussing why he is right, consider what Howard Schultz, president and CEO of Starbucks, discussed this week with NPR. As soon as he returned in 2008, he closed about 7,000 stores for several hours to retrain Starbucks employees.

Why? In Schultz's opinion, growth had given way to small changes that was driving Starbucks away from its vision. One example cited in the article related to how the company steamed milk. Size and scope had prompted stores to re-steam milk, which is more profitable and produced a higher yield. But it's also one off from the mission and vision of the company in terms of meeting its commitment to excellence.

"To establish Starbucks as the most recognized and respected brand in the world and become a national company with values and guiding principles that employees could be proud of.“ — Starbucks vision statement, 2008

StarbucksThe vision was not perfect, given the first part is not necessarily achievable and the second is, arguably, already achieved. But incidentally, the company has been working toward developing a new vision. In the interim, it has mostly been operating on a mission to "inspire and nurture the human spirit - one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time."

What is interesting is that the mission has little resemblance to the one employed by Starbucks four years ago — "Establish Starbucks as the premier purveyor of the finest coffee in the world while maintaining our uncompromising principles while we grow." Both, I might note, weave in elements of the vision. And, you have to consider the various principles and values the company has adopted to appreciate the full scope of what Starbucks is trying to do.

This change no doubt plays into the logo change earlier this year. While the company received its fair share of criticism over the matter, the change of the mark wasn't made on a design whim. It was made because the company had already been changing its mission and vision in ways that included coffee but went well beyond the primary product.

How Do Startups Keep Pace With Change And Maintain A Vision?

To Nijm's point, vision statements are less about corralling a company and more about providing a bellwether (along with a mission and values) that the company can measure ideas against. Ergo, while reheating milk makes the company more profitable and speeds the process, it also fails in the face of the company's mission and vision.

Although Starbucks is a big company, this case study fits well within the biggest challenge small companies and startups face on a near daily basis. I'm working with one company right now (not even launched), which in staying true to its preliminary vision, decided to make manufacturing a core component of its operation as opposed to contracting the manufacturing and branding the product.

ExamIn the short term, contracting out the manufacturing seemed like a good idea because it would reduce startup costs. However, in retrospect, the owner decided contracting out would compromise the quality. He is right. After all, many people know that the McDonald's of 30 years ago is not the McDonald's of today, which also required a vision change to keep pace with growth.

It was a defining moment for that company, for instance, to decide that growth and profitability was more important than purchasing a specific quality of beef. And therein lies how a well-defined mission, vision, and values are a bellwether.

Growth. Companies need to revisit their mission, vision, and values during growth spikes that clearly cause them to move away from their foundation. (When growth or profitability take precedence, a company like McDonald's may de-emphasize quality. And lately, the company is being forced toward health consciousness.)

Acquisition. When companies purchase other companies, they need to determine whether the acquisition can adjust to the parent company or if the subsidiary can reasonably act autonomously with its existing mission. (This has been the Achilles of Yahoo since its beginning, buying up companies that were poor matches and attempting to make them yield.)

Shift. When companies take on new niche products or services, sometimes those products or services slowly begin to dominate the initial scope of a company. (For example, I recently worked on an account to rebrand a mold remediation company that grew into an environmental demolition and construction company.)

Era. Not all products and services are timeless, especially in the medical and technology industries. Consider all the industries that are struggling — print publications, auto manufacturers, etc. — and you'll recognize what happens when companies begin to believe they publish newspapers instead of journalism or work in autos as opposed to transportation. Or perhaps the better example is how the March of Dimes transitioned from ending polio to benefiting premature babies.

Exploratory. Small business owners and startups are often given opportunities well outside their scope of service or expertise. The existing vision can easily help them decide whether or not the opportunity is worth changing their direction. Or, they may operate in a temporary exploratory mindset, provided they understand that they will have to adopt some permanence.

Weakness. Or, as mentioned in the original article, companies might consider their vision when it's already failing for one reason or another. Perhaps it is because they hired people who never embraced the original vision or perhaps it is incredibly weak and not transformative. Either way, companies without an adopted vision tend to have various departments and individual people who could be working against each other or in different directions (whether they know it or not).

The short answer for small companies and startups on when they might change their mission, vision, and values is at a major event. However, the better answer is to weigh every operation and decision against the vision to begin with. If those decision makers did that, chances are that there would be fewer sweeping changes as they developed.

But then again, that may even be the difference between a company vs. an enterprise or an organization vs. an initiative. While both usually have some direction, one doesn't necessarily have any end in sight, which is probably why most enterprises and initiatives eventually end.

Monday, March 28

Creating Community Or Capturing Fans: Facebook

FacebookPerhaps even more so with the launch of Facebook Sponsored Stories, there is increasing division about how marketers might approach Facebook. There are four primary approaches that marketers can make in any combination. And depending on the mix, those efforts produce two types of outcomes — collections or communities.

The four approaches to Facebook.


The invitation is the most prominent tactic, which commonly includes listing the address on any number of marketing materials. By adding a button on websites or icons on print advertisements, companies share that they exist on Facebook.

It's self-selected, usually undertaken by one of three types of fans — loyal customers, prospective customers, and perpetual dreamers (with the latter existing for select brands). For example, Porsche is made up of people who own Porsches, people who are considering a Porsche, and people who've always dreamed of owning a Porsche but more than likely never will.

There are spammers too, but well-managed accounts can deal with them effectively enough. Deleting spam posts (irrelevant content) or banning people who have no purpose other than tossing up junk links can be removed. But for the most part, the only accounts that keep them are number focused.


Facebook AdsThe introduction generally consists of well-placed advertising that attracts people to the site. It became even more common when Facebook launched its advertising program.

In this case, the primary driver was that a marketer could target specific demographics, proximity, or an expressed interest in something. Deciding which works best for the Facebook page is as varied as the account type. For example, a restaurant might benefit from focusing on proximity or a specific product might appeal to a certain demographic or a publication might write about a specific interest.

Advertising for a Facebook page can be added off the page too. But mostly, Facebook's program works well enough inside the platform. It makes more sense to promote a website beyond the program because people can always connect via the page.

Not all introductions are paid, of course. The sharing function within Facebook is generally well liked. People share topics of interest all the time with their friends. But it also relies on the strength of the page community.


The newest advertising feature on Facebook empowers marketers to capitalize on shared stories by turning them into advertisements. The position of Facebook is that since the person already shared or endorsed or liked a page, someone else sharing this information (including a marketer) isn't any different.

While the shared stories concept has raised privacy concerns (including some advising people not to like anything), Facebook does have a point that it's not very different from the way the concept works today. Some marketers, brands, and companies have been sharing content all along. This simply moves it to the sidebar.

But the bigger question to ask is what kind of person does it attract to the page. If the consumer is drawn more by the relationship to another person and less for some of the reasons expressed in the other approaches, a marketer could gain more connections but not necessarily more interest in the product, service, store, or content.


While just as old as any other approach, some people very literally purchase connections. They earn their "likes" by either purchasing connections outright, any number of link exchange programs (points or mutual), or coupon bribes and discounts.

While the latter doesn't seem to have as many issues as the first two, the primary objective of those who engage in any kind of purchased connection schemes is to run up big numbers. But numbers aren't a very good measure online. At least, not as good as some people would have you believe.

While it is true that popular pages tend to increase the likelihood of a page being liked, numbers alone do not guarantee it. People often look at several factors before liking a page, including its interaction with the members and among members.

The Two Types Of Divergent Outcomes.

The Capture.

Marketers that are intent on capturing fans ought to have no real problems. But the downside to chasing numbers is there are no real benefits either. There might even be unseen challenges.

Someone we work with used this approach on the front end of the Facebook experience and quickly captured 2,700 "likes" without much sweat. They were captured in about one month. However, what most people will never see is the story behind the scenes. These 2,700 connections have an interaction of 300 visits every 30 days and falling. And about 1,500 page views over the same period.

Even when new customers or self-selected connections join the page, the silence of those members encourages them to do the same, which is virtually nothing.

The Community.

Facebook PageConversely, there is a page that we manage that was operated on an organic-only approach, which means the page only used self-selected community members — either invitations to people visiting the site or people with a specific common interest.

It had a modest following of 1,000 members. It took approximately seven months. However, behind the scenes, it has an active and growing community with 1,500 visits and growing at a steady, if not exponential, pace. And about 35,000 page views over the same period. When new connections are made, they are much quicker to like, share, and comment on the page just as they see other members do.

Interestingly enough, which touches on the concept of marketer-selected shared stories as opposed to friend-selected shared stories, some of my friends joined the 1,000-member page but never participate. Conversely, non-friends on the page have become friends over time through repeated interactions.

Is Friendship Enough?

Facebook says that its sponsored story tests had higher recall and were much more likely to result in an action (such as a friend liking a page too). However, our research is continuing to show that overemphasizing a friendship connection over a common interest connection actually drags down the interactions of the community.

The reason is psychology. Sometimes people like a page because a friend likes it. They may even recall which friend likes it and why. Liking it might even be less of an expressed interest in the page as much as it is a nod recognizing that a friend likes it.

However, such a scenario is much different than two friends who like the same things on the same page. In those instances, the two friends are much more likely to interact with the page, and perhaps, reinforce their mutual interests.

This isn't to say the sponsored story concept isn't intriguing. It has the potential to work, especially with the right company. The Starbucks example in the video is a good one. I can see how it might work for a restaurant. But for something else — let's say an environmental survival store — people might like the page because they want to support their friend's interest and feel more environmental for the day. But, they are likely to never visit the page again let alone buy anything from the company.

Friday, March 25

Getting Noticed: Top Five Ways To Get Media Attention

Everyone seems anxious for publicity these days. So much so that Patrick Garmore published 109 ways to make your business irresistible to media on Copyblogger. Some of those ideas might work, but Garmore curiously left off the top five.

What's more, none of the top five really require social media (but social media will give you an attention-getting boost). So much so, there is a good chance you will be booked on talk shows for weeks, even if you have never developed any relationship with the media before. So can you handle the truth?

The truth is that all of these proven publicity tactics are so effective that most public relations professionals will never present any them. Why not? Because they just don't know they exist. And, because it demonstrates just how easy it is to drive hits on YouTube and land national news coverage any time you want.

Top Five Ways To Get Media Attention And They Never Grow Old.

1. The Streak. There is nothing more effective than streaking at a sporting event. It's guaranteed to make the evening news and generally draw more than one million hits when it lands on YouTube. Just remember to wear a hat, especially one that can be easily identified with your business.

Planning for a streak session requires just enough exercise to outrun security and the price of admission to a sporting event. Add two or more people to the streaking session for maximum impact. Risks associated with this stunt include angry players, fans, and the possibility of arrest.

2. The Shoe Toss. Originally made famous at the expense of President Bush, the shoe toss remains one of the best ways to gain not only media attention locally but also around the world. It all just depends on the prominence of the person you toss the shoe at or how prominent you might be. The original shoe tosser was thisclose to sparking an international incident. Wow!

Planning for a shoe toss requires a balanced hand at picking the right shoe. The shoe needs to be soft enough not to cause any real damage, but aerodynamic enough to hit the target. It also helps to pick someone not as athletic as President Bush, given it made his assailant look so amateurish with two big misses. Risks associated with this stunt include criminal arrest, deportation, disappearing, and possibly being shot.

3. The Squirrel. Although some stunts have become cliche, waterskiing squirrels or other pet tricks still command attention. In some cases, pets don't even have to have talent if they are cute. But the waterskiing squirrels still rock on both counts, making them the leader of the pet trick pack.

Planning for a waterskiing squirrel or other pet trick is a serious commitment. It could take months or years before it pays dividends. On the plus side, as long as you are kind to your animals and they don't get hurt, there is no downside. They draw crowds when they are at live events and are good for one to three videos.

4. The Rant. While it helps if you are somebody, near incoherent rants from anybody are worth their weight In gold. And if you think the video rant can only be employed by the likes of Charlie Sheen, then you must have forgotten that the reigning rant champ (37 million views) was none other than Chris Rocker.

Planning for the perfect rant is not as easy as it looks. While it can be scripted, rants only work if they appear spontaneous. They also require one seamless take so prepare for several attempts before you get it right. The downside to the perfect rant is that the better the rant is, the harder it will be to top it. Sheen was smart to play his rants down just enough to give himself wiggle room for future toppers. Rocker, on the other hand, quickly lost the momentum.

5. The Flub. While it takes more effort to find the right venue, blowing an answer on live television or anything that looks remotely like a spontaneous man-on-the-street interview is big business. Case in point: While blowing an easy question is still preferred, Kellie Pickler makes her blown answer into a masterpiece as she throws out half a dozen unrelated answers that are also wrong.

Planning to toss out a series of stumbles and still maintain face can be difficult. This is why we picked Pickler as the best example. She has always managed to be graceful in never allowing what she doesn't know to outshine her talent. Prior to Pickler, Miss South Carolina had the crown (but she had more difficultly overcoming the moment).

So there you have it. Making yourself irresistible to the media has never been easier. In fact, we have a list of about two dozen more tactics that have proven effective time and time again. And, much like the top five above, none of them require any hard work like those offered up by Copyblogger. All it takes is the guts to seize your moment, assuming you really want it.

However, there is one primary caution to employing any of these proven publicity techniques: Never mix and match any of them. A rant followed by a shoe toss, for example, will make you look overly aggressive. Answering questions with dumb answers after streaking devalues the original scheme. And any of these actions around animals — such as poodle tossing or appearing naked with animals — will permanently damage your credibility. That said, have fun and get ready for your close up!

Copywrite, Ink. does not endorse any of these tactics per se. They should only be done by trained professionals who are cognitive of the risks, especially any of those that could result in serious harm or fatal embarrassment.

Wednesday, March 23

Winning: Maybe Eyeballs Measure Absurdity

SheenAuthor David Meerman Scott says Charlie Sheen is winning. And he's not alone. Many people seem to think so. He's winning publicity, which is always admirable.


Sheen isn't the only one grabbing headlines. Muammar Gaddafi is grabbing headlines. So is the tragedy in Japan.

Are they winning? Do they need a fan page on Facebook? A Twitter account to promote a book tour? A blog or YouTube channel to rant about it all?

The new rules suggest old measurements are dead then toss out eyeball counts too.

One of the lessons I frequently share with public relations professionals every year is the concept of what makes news. And of the various topic choices — impact, proximity, timeliness, importance, prominence, conflict, novelty, human interest, sensitivity, and special interest — most of them skew toward conflict. And even if they do not, headlines are skewed toward it.

There was a small sliver of time that media covered news you needed to know. Nowadays, most media merely packages it in such a way that it makes you think you need to know it. It's done for all those topic choices mentioned above because journalists didn't invent the list. The public purchasing papers did. Media tends to deliver what people want nowadays.

When Charlie Sheen kisses Jimmy Kimmel, he capitalizes on prominence, novelty, conflict, timeliness, proximity, and special interest. He is smart to do it.

USA Today recently mentioned how these things work out. The public jumps for the ringside seat at various celebrity train wrecks for a few minutes before moving to the next. The stories are all the same — prominence, novelty, conflict, timeliness — every single time.

tigerThe media played it the same way with radiation reaching the United States. Several networks elevated the level of fear (causing some people to buy and take potassium iodide‎) to drive viewership and then continued to attract readership by refuting their own case before repackaging it into another alarmist story about the safety of the nuclear facilities in our own backyard. These proximity twists prolong eyeballs for as much as 90 days.

Some local programs even prompt government agencies to jump on it. Never mind California, there were news stories in New Hampshire. How did that work? It was simple enough. Someone at the news station wanted to capitalize on the news by ramping up proximity. So they called state officials.

No matter what state officials said, the news station had a story. If the state was monitoring radiation, it creates alarm. If the state isn't monitoring radiation, it creates alarm. In this case, either story taps impact, proximity, timeliness, importance, prominence, and conflict. And it makes you wonder. Is radiation winning? Does it need a fan page on Facebook?

The majority of news is negative so maybe publicity isn't a win.

The majority of news stories across ANY topic is negative. It doesn't matter what the topic might be. Almost 65 percent of media headlines (if not the story itself) lean negative, 15 percent positive, and the balance neutral. (This was from a scan of several statistical counts ranging from the economy to politics). It's no surprise. Psychologically, we're hardwired to react to negative because because it feels like it has more immediacy than positive.

winnerGiven those percentages, someone could easily make the case that news coverage means that you're losing, not winning. Sure, you might be "winning" publicity, but what does that really mean? Does it mean that Charlie Sheen needs to run for president? Maybe. The public likes him more than Obama or Palin, even if the same poll shows that almost no one has any respect for him.

Consider that for a moment.

Personally, I have no feelings toward Sheen (other than I liked him in Platoon some years ago). But I do have feelings about the measure of followers on social networks. Three million followers do not make you somebody. Or to borrow a quote unrelated to Charlie Sheen...

We don't hate you because you're famous. You're famous because we hate you.

Or maybe it's because you're a novelty. Or a threat. Or some other attention-grabbing reason, like saying "We are high priest Vatican assassin warlocks. Boom!" If that is winning, I'm happy to set my measures on a different track all together. But still, I will given Sheen this — at least he's doing something. Doing something is how you win with social media.

And if he hadn't done anything, then he wouldn't have broken the fastest person to reach one million followers record, even if more than 80 percent of those people were jumping on to see a meltdown. Maybe he will. Maybe he won't. I hope he doesn't, but I'd be as cautious about adopting the Sheen publicity model as I would be Gaddafi or a tsunami. What you do will eventually matter.

Monday, March 21

Working Without Vision: How Flailing Begs Failure

visionIt doesn't happen often, but it happened last week. Someone from an Internet publicity company challenged the importance of having a vision during a Kaizen discussion. The discussion was framed around a recent poll suggesting almost 80 percent of all companies deviate from their strategic plans. The professional received ample push back, given the audience.

"Vision is not necessary for profitability, neither long term or short term," he said.

At a glance, the numbers certainly bear out his argument. Marketing consultant Kevin J. Clancy has researched this topic before. He found as many as one-third of all Fortune 500 companies do not have a vision statement. And, of those that do, only 22 percent have transformational vision statements, which strive to change the world (or at least the segment of the world in which they operate).

However, the story of visionless Fortune 500 companies is misleading. David Kinard dug up some interesting research last year. One-third of all Fortune 500 companies in 1970 had ceased to exist by 1983 and nearly two-thirds had vanished by 1995. Not surprisingly, he alludes to the idea that of those that failed, most lacked a working strategic plan, which includes a well-defined achievable vision.

So the answer is more of a mixed bag. You can be profitable without a vision (or an outmoded vision). But the real question is for how long? Ten years? Fifteen years? That might work for serial entrepreneurs, but it doesn't do much for a sustainable company.

Given the failure rate of small businesses and upstarts is even greater, it might make you wonder why so many fail or, more appropriately, why do so many fail despite success and profitability.

More than likely, it seems short-term success can be managed with a mission alone but long-term success is the function of operating in a singular transformational direction or frequently updated adaptive direction. Either will do, but companies, much like people, are apt to be pulled in too many directions without one.

Three examples of failings for abandoning or operating without a vision.

1. Focus failure. An advertising agency start-up earns immediate attention because of its cutting-edge creative and begins to grow. As it does, it also begins to solicit larger accounts that have a stronger voice in the creative process, forcing the agency to produce substandard creative work in favor of retaining the larger accounts.

2. Growth failure. A hamburger stand that prides itself on fresh ingredients reaches critical mass and decides to open two more stores. However, the continued growth forces it to streamline its operations to keep up with demand. So, instead of preparing all the ingredients at each site, it decides to centralize prep work with the consequence of losing its proposition.

3. Profitability failure. A frozen dinner manufacturer develops the right recipes and quickly dominates its niche. However, in order to continue growing, the company has to maximize profits, which could mean smaller portions, cheaper ingredients, or inferior packaging. Any number of these decisions could have consequences.

BlockbusterThose are a few examples, but there are plenty to choose from, small and large companies alike. Blockbuster comes to mind in that its struggles were largely related to moving away from a vision that hinged on its diversity and toward a protectist model.

Had the company stayed focused on its vision, it would have led the electronic rental models (Netflix) and developed blue box (Redbox) before either competitor saturated the market. But it didn't. It did have, however, a solid 25-year run.

The simplicity of a vision and the complexity of applying it.

A vision statement is nothing more than knowing what your company is going to be when it grows up (or in 10-30 years if it is already grown up). And its values are the limitations it has adopted while pursuing that vision. While writing a mission statement can be just as important, the vision statement pinpoints the destination you are hoping to arrive at sooner or later.

Nike is hinged on inspiration. Apple is hinged on (simplified) innovation. Toyota Worldwide is hinged on harmony. And the more aligned they remain with their vision statements, the more likely they will still be successful in 10, 20 or 100 years. The more they are driven by outcomes like expansion, profitability, or market share, the less likely they will achieve that destination.

It's not confined to business alone. While it doesn't have to be formalized in writing, most successful people pursue a vision or sense of purpose. And it is on this micro view that the function of a vision might make the most sense. Even if it is not written per se, people tend to have one whether they realize it or not. All movement leads to a destination.

roadThis might even be why it's important not to mistake vision for outcomes like job security. Outcomes are usually the by-product of a vision, not the pursuit of a destination. For example, someone pursuing job security might stay with a job they dislike until their position or company is no longer secure. Someone who pursues to be on the leading edge of a field, however, is likely always to have job security no matter where they work.

Companies operate in similar ways. If a company is always challenging itself to be innovative, it will win. If a company is challenging itself to earn profits, it may enjoy short-term success until someone else delivers an alternative. If a company doesn't have a vision, it may still move in a direction but the destination will be anybody's guess.

Friday, March 18

Strangling V: Did Online Rights Kill The Show?

VLast year, ABC initially thought it might have tapped into next franchise sci-fi relaunch success story like Battlestar Galactica. The television series V had it all: a riveting premiere, strong story potential, and ample buzz from fans nostalgic for the original series. The premiere drew 14.3 million viewers.

This year, things look very different. Despite ugly angry aliens in Battle: LA helping the war flick with a science fiction twist to claim the number one spot at the box office, audiences have no appetite for the passive aggressive aliens in human skins like those found in the television series V. Its recent ratings, 5.5 million viewers, is considered an uptick.

There is no other way to say it. It's a dead show walking.

But the show didn't commit suicide on its own. ABC had placed it on the bubble last year. It could almost be considered a miracle that the series saw a single second season show.

However, if there was any hope that the series might survive, other decisions clinched its demise. ABC ordered a truncated season 2, first 13 shows and then only 10. It also slated the show for a slot that followed a weak opener on a bad night for the network. And finally, the network decided to withhold electronic distribution of season 2 on all fronts.

Fellow V fans,
It is with much regret that we must inform you that full episodes of V will not be available on or Hulu for Season 2. Just like you, we truly wish full episodes were playing here. But we also hope our detailed recaps will keep you informed and entertained should you ever miss an episode.

Best always,
The Team

Just like you, we truly wish full episodes were playing here?

Despite rumors, the avoided answer — ABC didn’t acquire the online rights for the second season — does exist. And this fits in with Time Warner not liking the price of online content.

VIt would have made more sense for ABC to spell it out, but it seems painfully obvious they don't want to answer the second round "why?" It's likely related to the price of online licensing. And ABC is just as happy to kill the program. (Although they haven't officially killed it yet.)

It seems to beg the question. What is the fair price of a single season? On iTunes, a season of House sells at $60 for high definition and about $40 for standard definition (22 episodes). Amazingly, people still watch first runs and replays, even if they buy it. So perhaps the question that ought to be asked is — what is the value of a product nobody can watch?

Network schedule-only shows cannot survive in an anytime environment. Period.

V was okay, but it never really lived up to satisfying any nostalgic sensibilities. It was good enough to watch now and again, but only on a consumer schedule. In other words, it worked for semi-interested viewers who tuned into or purchased the season on iTunes. But if it wasn't available there, there wasn't much compulsion to purchase a DVD for $30 (or maybe $15 given there are only 10 episodes)? It doesn't make sense.

Digital frees the consumer from shipping costs. And it frees the producers from packaging costs. It's easier to store too. Real space is best reserved for those special collector's packages or those few movies where physical copies feel right for some reason.

Sure, not everyone has a digital device or a component video cable to make their computer-television conversion seamless. But eventually they will. And if not with a hard cable connection, then with WiFi sharing. With this in mind, $40 to $60 per season seems reasonable because it's the standard networks and producers set when they wanted to cash in on videos and compact discs.

But more importantly, when viewers cannot catch their shows or forget to set their DVRs (because they missed the first few episodes or have too much in memory already), then limiting distribution won't gain viewers or increase the value. It will diminish viewers or possibly turn them off entirely (with the possible exception of a few shows).

Profit doesn't come from protection. It comes from innovation.

Wednesday, March 16

How To Win With Social Media: Do Something Else

Gertrude McFuzzThere once was a girl blogger named Gertude McFuzz. And if the name sounds familiar, it should.

She is inspired by Theodor Seuss Geisel, the American writer and cartoonist better known by the name Dr. Seuss. And in his story, of course, Gertude McFuzz was but a sad little bird with the smallest tail feather ever.

But I know plenty of bloggers and social media enthusiasts who feel equally blue. They spend most of their days and nights gazing upward, ever upward at fancier bloggers and tweeters and face-bookers too. They're just like the bird McFuzz followed; her name is Lolla-Lee-Lou.

"If only I had more followers and friends and traffic and clicks," McFuzz would lament. "Then people would notice me."

So they scoured the net, looking for tips and gimmicks and tricks and top ten lists. There are plenty of remedies for them to find too, you see. Of course, most of them are tied to promoting other bloggers or investing cash money. In fact, all of those social media experts, with their heads in the clouds, are mysteriously supported by those searching on the ground.

But no matter. Most of the bloggers with a name like McFuzz are equally content to give each other some lift. They'll promise to give you a leg up, if you give me a click. And that might even work for awhile, those bubble building networks, exchanges and schemes. People promising something reciprocal, even if no one reads anything their fellow followers put up, as it seems.

Sooner or later, deflated and nearly beaten, some bloggers like McFuzz will eventually try cheating. And much like the bird who ate from the pill-berry bush, their numbers will soar.

"It's easy to buy followers when you go to the store," said McFuzz, feeling better much like a bird with a plume full of feathers.

McFuzzEventually, however, it all crashes down. McFuzz will run out of hours in the day or run out of bought buzz. That is what happens when you promise a reciprocal ratio of 1:1 (or 1:10 if they're famous) or spend all your savings on potions, elixirs.

So wait, what's the answer? In the story by Dr. Seuss, it was simple enough. Just be yourself and be happy about stuff. Other people have said it, so enough about that is enough. I'll go a step further than Dr. Seuss for anyone who sometimes feels like McFuzz.

Do something else.

It really is that simple. Do something. The truth about blogging specifically, and social media more broadly, is that only two kinds of people ever really soar more than a few feet off the ground. Either you become one of those who climb higher on the promise you'll teach those below what you learned or you do something.

It doesn't really matter what it is, as long as it's something. Take a long hard look at some of the "most successful" bloggers and social networkers (besides those who operate Ponzi schemes). What you are likely to find is a whole bunch of people who do something. They are speakers, authors, musicians, publishers, business owners, marketing professionals, programmers, photographers, artists, travelers, creators, etc.

So maybe it's time you remembered to flip the scale. If you invest all your time sharing, following, reading, commenting, and promoting everyone else to get ahead, you will eventually run out of time to do anything worthwhile enough to be noticed.

Right. There are only a few micro-famous people who ever got ahead on social media alone. Most of the people who succeed are too busy doing something else entirely. And then, after that (or in between non-social projects at least), they use social media to talk about it. Or, if you need a more direct example — visit an author blog or two.

And then ask yourself — did social networks make them an author or did becoming an author make them successful at social media? The split is probably somewhere around 99-1, with the great majority being people who took the time to do something.

Monday, March 14

Finding A Niche: Why Sell Lemonade?

lemonadeAs the weather slowly starts to warm across the country, a few industrious children might put aside their game consoles and opt for something a bit more enterprising like opening a lemonade stand (assuming regulators allow them).

Nowadays, there are only a few, maybe one per city. But let's assume for a minute that more children were ambitious. Let's say all of them.

Can you imagine? In every neighborhood, down every block, and in every driveway, folding tables and handmade signs would color the entire city yellow with packets of Kool-Aid piling up in trash cans. Except, Kool-Aid packets wouldn't pile up. With so many of the same choices, there would be nothing to help the would-be consumer to distinguish which stand to visit.

Marketing Is Much More Than Numbers.

The only possible way for any of these kids to manage a successful lemonade stand would be to develop specializations. There are dozens of ways to do it. They could specialize with a focus on the market, customer, product, or marketing mix.

Demographic specialist. Perhaps one child would specialize in an older demographic, turning on a portable stereo and playing old hits from the 1980s.

Product specialist. Maybe another child skips the Kool-Aid mix and decides to only use real lemons handpicked at the local farmer's market.

• Packaging specialist. Perhaps another child decides to skip Dixie cups and only serve the lemonade in frosted glasses that can be kept as long as the customer is willing to pay a premium.

sugae cookies and lemonadeService specialist. Maybe another child decides that they can afford to invest in baking sugar cookies, which are offered alongside the lemonade, distinguishing them from the various vendors competing for attention.

Channel specialist. Perhaps yet another child makes it easier for customers to order their lemonade and introduces a free delivery service that brings the lemonade right to their doorsteps.

Discount specialist. Maybe one of the children, especially facing pressure to meet all these growing specializations, decides to mark down their product five cents.

Geographic specialist. Perhaps one of the children emphasizes the location of their lemonade stand, offering up that a percentage of their sales will be donated to a local cause such as cleaning up the neighborhood park.

Disruption specialist. And yet another child decides that the competition is much less fierce if they decide to offer cranberry juice instead.

Product-line specialist. Perhaps another child recognizes that the organic lemonade shop is struggling to keep up with business so rather than selling lemonade to consumers, they focus on squeezing organic lemons to help them keep up.

Broadcast specialist. Maybe another child decides that they can leverage the power of their brand by franchising their lemonade stand to nearby neighborhoods and thus creating a consistent brand message.

And the list goes on, with the underlying premise being that all companies are dependent on whether they are a market leader, challenger, follower, or uniquely specialized as these various lemonade stands became.

Sure, not all of them will be successful but more of them will be successful than if they all tried to produce the same product. And most costumers will be happy because they will be given an increasing number of choices that all the customers will enjoy.

A Quick Look At Black Hat Marketing Tactics.

Of course, there will be a few children who might not appreciate any competition. And they might engage in any number of tactics that aren't designed to benefit the customer but instead diminish the the competition's ability to sell products.

Legislative disruption. One child might, for example, lobby legislators to pass a law requiring special insurance that makes it more expensive for the channel specialist to employ drivers.

lemonade bustFire sale disruption. Perhaps another child doesn't cut his price by a nickel but decides to sell it for a nickel for an extended period of time, taking on substantial debt until successfully forcing competitors out of business.

• Purchase disruption. Maybe another child has more money saved up and buys up all the other lemonade stands on the block for no other reason than to curb competition.

Recommendation exchange. Maybe two or three children team up and praise each other's lemonade while discounting all the other stands in the neighborhood.

All four of these tactics are viable approaches to businesses and are practiced daily. They are not necessarily ethically challenged in every case, but it's easy to see how they might disrupt the marketplace and work against consumer interest. In some cases, such actions create a marketplace very much like concept we started with when every child was selling virtually the same product.

Where Marketing Naturally Meets Social Media.

When most people think of marketing, they immediately think sales. But marketing isn't about sales at all. It's about product differentiation, especially among niche companies.

When you look back at some of the most successful marketing stories in history, almost none of them have anything to do with sales. In fact, those that abandoned product differentiation for sales have since lost some of their initial luster.

Sure, the ideal niche mix is to find an area of specialization that has a strong enough interest and reasonable growth potential, which will result in sales, but sales don't have to be the primary objective. Finding the right consumers make a bigger impact.

This plays out in social media too. Right now, most people are focusing on new numbers instead of sales — connections, shares, comments, etc. that somehow indicate visionary influence — but none of those things will really bear out over the long term as much as building the right relationships.

lemoade standIn other words, the organic lemonade specialists might not be able to capture all lemonade lovers but they might be able to capture a significant portion of organic lemonade lovers. It might even be to their determent to target all lemonade lovers, people who will complain about the higher price point, bemoan the lack of delivery, or want cranberry juice served too.

Social media has grown up. In the years ahead, expect to see more attention being paid to the marketing side of social media. Companies won't celebrate crossing the one million fan mark as much as they will celebrate crossing the 80-20 percent split between loyal customers and potential buyers.

The same can be said about bloggers too. Content is a product of sorts and the last thing consumers want or need is the same content on every single site. You can differentiate a blog much like companies differentiate their products.

Companies might have to approach any social media campaigns the same way too. Twenty juice companies writing about the industry is boring. Twenty juicers writing about different but related topics that appeal to their demographic might be noticed.

Friday, March 11

Commenting On Chrysler: Farcical From The Start

ChryslerIt's almost impossible to classify the recent communication focus surrounding Chrysler. Crisis Communication? Overreaction? PR lesson? Damage control? Best practice? PR disaster? Obscene tweet? Social media failure?

Are you kidding me? It's farcical.

All of it. It's especially farcical that less than 140 characters can create a global reaction. But to really appreciate how farcical it is, you need a broader context. The post (that some people have called a best practice) from Chrysler CEO Ed Garsten nails it. (His words in italics).

The hurtful tweet that sparked a firestorm. Oh my.

When a reporter called yesterday snarkily asking, “seen any good tweets lately,” I knew exactly what was coming next -- a firestorm across the web regarding an errant tweet by a now-former employee of Chrysler’s social media agency.

The tweet denigrated drivers in Detroit and used the fully spelled-out F-word. It was obviously meant to be posted on the person’s personal twitter account, and not the Chrysler Brand account where it appeared.

The tweet, reportedly written by Scott Bartosiewicz, account supervisor at New Media Strategies, on Chryslar's Twitter stream, read "I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to fucking drive."

tweetHe worked for the agency for eight months. He's a long-time Michigan resident, maybe a native. He made a mistake. It wasn't even a big mistake.

A big mistake might be having to recall 248,000 crossover wagons and minivans or 20,459 Jeep Wranglers. A tiny mistake is saying the wrong thing to 7,000 people who happened to follow Chrysler at the time ... minus spam accounts, minus people who weren't on Twitter, minus people who don't pay attention but follow the brand anyway.

Right. About seven people saw the tweet, including a "snarky reporter" as characterized by Garsten. Hopefully, the reporter is less sensitive than Detroit drivers are toward being "unfairly criticized."

The mean agency fired the guy before they were fired. Oh my.

First, Chrysler did not fire this person since this wasn’t one of our employees. The agency did. It was their decision. We didn’t demand it.

No, Chrysler did not fire the employee. They fired the entire agency. However, some have suggested the change was already top of mind. The errant tweet was just the final straw.

Let's be honest. Had the employee not been fired, he would have been after Chrysler pulled the account.

The sheer horror and anguish of being powerless to stop it. Oh my.

Second, as the day and night wore on, comments on various social media sites increasingly expressed either dismay that someone would lose their job over an online oops and that Chrysler was acting, as one poster put it, “in a stiff, corporate way.” Some posters even asked why we didn’t make light of an accidental “f-bomb."

Exactly right. The mistake didn't cause any sensationalism. It was the initial lie — our account was compromised — that sparked conversation.

You can even see it in the screen shots. The initial tweet wasn't retweeted even after being up for more than three hours. The correction, however, drew immediate attention.

And then, after the firing, the audience for the "incident" swelled from seven people to seven million. And on. And on.

The insensitivity of people for not recognizing all the hard work. Oh my.

So why were we so sensitive? That commercial featuring the Chrysler 200, Eminem and the City of Detroit wasn’t just an act of salesmanship. This company is committed to promoting Detroit and its hard-working people. The reaction to that commercial, the catchphrase “imported from Detroit,” and the overall positive messages it sent has been volcanic.”

chryslerVolcanic? Chrysler is doing better, but it still has a long, long way to go. U.S. sales might have risen 13 percent, but Chrysler Group sales were already up 17 percent in 2010 compared with 2009.

But even those numbers don't tell the whole story. You have to appreciate how far sales had to drop before the company could have a gain.

The entire future of the town rests right here. Oh my.

Indeed, as an automaker that went through the roughest of times just two years ago, we appreciate the challenges Detroit faces in reclaiming its place as a vibrant, world-class city. Inside Detroit, citizens are becoming even more proud of their town, and outside the region, perception of Detroit is rapidly improving.

With so much goodwill built up over a very short time, we can’t afford to backslide now and jeopardize this progress.

We need to keep the momentum going -- rebuilding a region and an industry, and not let anything slow us down. It’s what we do.

Is he really saying that 140 characters could somehow undermine the entire economic future of the region and erode all the pride that Detroit citizens have in their town? That's crazy talk. If Detroit is a tough town, one accidental tweet would not undermine their spirit. Heck, even if they did care, hurling a few F-words back at Bartosiewicz would have sufficed.

Suck it up. Unless a crisis is catastrophic (e.g., oil spills and product recalls), the organization establishes the severity of the so-called crisis. This wasn't a crisis. It has, however, become a publicity circus. And honestly, it's not even a very good circus.

The farcical commentaries that suggest tweet "recovery" strategies.

SquirrelWhen you consider what constitutes news, the entire incident can be likened to the :15 second clip of a squirrel on water skiis. It's an oddity that we all might chuckle about it instead of trying to frame it within the context of tragedy.

And yet, hundreds of communicators have treated the entire affair like a serious crisis communication case study. The worst of it includes offering up of social media safeguards and running down communication response punch lists. They might as well write a contingency plan for an employee with a hangover. The seriousness of it all just can't be taken seriously.

No one needs a communication strategy for one errant tweet. All anyone needs is common sense. Use common sense and lighten up.

Wednesday, March 9

Buying The Field: Marketers Staff PR And SM

Marketers Look To Social
According to The Creative Group Hiring Index for marketing and advertising professionals, 12 percent of the executives said they plan to add full-time staff in the next three months and only three percent said they plan to reduce staff. But the more interesting aspect of the survey points to integration.

For the first time, social media topped the index as the area where marketing and advertising executives were planning to increase employment. Almost 20 percent said they planned full-time staff additions within the area of social media. Combined with Web design (13 percent) and interactive media (12 percent), the direction of advertising and marketing is clearly digital.

"Many firms have increased their digital marketing budgets in response to growing consumer demand for content and in an effort to build customer relationships," said Donna Farrugia, executive director of The Creative Group. "Employers seek experienced professionals to develop engaging social media campaigns, as well as online video and advertising."

The other interesting aspect of the study suggests marketing and advertising professionals might be losing their interest in hiring out-of-shop public relations firms. Twelve percent of advertising and marketing professionals plan to hire public relations professionals. The change makes sense as more marketing shops bring online public engagement into their marketing plans.

Anticipated Hiring Focus For Second Quarter 2011

Social media 19%
Media services 16%
Account services 14%
Brand/product management 14%
Web design/production 13%
Interactive media 12%
Public relations 12%
Marketing research 11%
Print design/production 10%
Creative/art direction 10%
Copywriting 8%

Working in an integrated communication field.

The study matches some independent research we've conducted in the last three months and even the makeup of my Writing For Public Relations class at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. For the first time since I started teaching in 2000, marketing professionals make up about 65 percent of the class.

"Our organization has grown weary of paying a $4,500 monthly retainer that almost always includes overages and additional charges," said one student. "While we might contract public relations on occasion, marketing will be taking over the bulk of the work."

Her observation seems to play out after looking at The Creative Group Hiring Index in the fourth quarter. Social media placed third, but public relations had topped the most likely additions for advertising and marketing. One possible explanation is that once public relations professionals were added, marketing executives reconsidered social media skill sets — seeing that much of the function better aligned with their growing digital marketing teams.

It begs the question. Did public relations miss its window to own social* once marketers discovered public relations professionals didn't have all the skills needed, or has marketing just decided to own everybody?

*Nobody owns social, not really.

Monday, March 7

Closing The Count: Popularity Vs. Quality

Fresh ContentThis is an imperfect accounting of the Fresh Content Project, but the case is made. There is no correlation between popularity and content quality. None at all. Not a stitch.

When comparing fresh pick authors against Alexa traffic measures*, the scale is neither right side up nor upside down. The better call is semi-random. It seems to be semi-random because marketing makes up the difference. The more people market their content, the more popular their blogs. Nothing more or less.

Ergo, the people in the top spots make it their business to be there. The people who do not have a different business.

The following is a list of 84 of 250 Fresh Content providers. There might have beeen an oversight. If there is, it isn't intentional. Visit the link for each quarterly list.

Likewise, some positions may change in the final report or ebook. And, there are many ways to consider the count. For example, combining multi-author blog picks would elevate several. For the purposes of this round up, we concentrated on authors.

There is also no distinction drawn for frequency. Looking at the percentage of posts published vs. the percentage of those picked could suggest some very different conclusions. So can looking at this list in such a raw form. Because it is not a rank.

beansThis list is nothing more than a count — determined by picking a single post per weekday. We then compared this count to Alexa global traffic (*hardly a perfect measure) but against those that are listed. In some cases, we identified non-principal authors as contributors, showing the rank of the blog they contributed to as opposed to their personal blogs.

Please keep in mind that the list is not an endorsement per se and we may have a different outlook on some blogs today. But specific to the experiment, there were many days when five fresh pick posts might be published (and we only picked one) as well as days when a post that would have never been picked suddenly soared to the top.

But all that aside, taking a look at the list shows how 'semi-random' popularity can be. The complete list of fresh pick authors is below.

84 Fresh Content Authors From A Field Of 250.

1. Valeria Maltoni. Communication, Traffic Rank 23.

2. Geoff Livingston. Communication, Traffic Rank 35.

3. Ike Piggot. Communication, Traffic Rank 55.

4. Ian Lurie. Internet Marketing, Traffic Rank 12.

5. Jason Falls. Social Media, Traffic Rank 13.

6. Roger Dooley. Neuromarketing, Traffic Rank 24.

7. Adam Singer. Digital Marketing, Traffic Rank 18.

8. Brian Solis. Social Media, Traffic Rank 8.

9. Bob Conrad. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 66.

10. Louis Gray. Technology, Traffic Rank 31.

11. Bill Sledzik. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 69.

12. Jay Ehret. Marketing, Traffic Rank 33.

13. Chris Brogan. Social Media, Traffic Rank 3.

14. Danny Brown. Social Media, Traffic Rank 14.

15. Lee Odden. SEO, Traffic Rank 5.

16. Beth Harte. Marketing, Traffic Rank 45.

17. John Bell. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 41.

18. Dave Fleet. Digital Media, Traffic Rank 34.

19. Shel Holtz. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 42.

20. Mitch Joel. Digital Marketing, Traffic Rank 20.

21. Andrew Weaver. Traffic Rank 70.*

22. Jay Baer. Social Media, Traffic Rank 15.

23. Jeff Bullas. Social Media, Traffic Rank 16.

24. Jeremiah Owyang. Web Strategy, Trafic Rank 11.

25. Arik Hason. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 39.

26. Jed Hallam. Social Media, Traffic Rank 61.

27. Kami Watson Huyse. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 49.

28. Jennifer Riggle. Marketing, Traffic Rank 36.

29. Maria Reyes-McDavis. SEO, Traffic Rank 33.

30. Dan Zarrella. Social Media, Traffic Rank 21.

31. Gini Dietrich. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 22.

32. Heather Rast. Branding, Contributor Rank 13.

33. Jeremy Myers. Internet Marketing, Traffic Rank 59.

34. Ben Decker. Communication, Traffic Rank 48.

35. Jon Jantsch. Marketing, Traffic Rank 6.

36. Mike Schaffer. Social Media, Traffic Rank 62.

37. David Armano. Digital Marketing, Traffic Rank 26.

38. Marketing Profs. Marketing, Traffic Rank 4.

39. Amber Nusland Social Media, Traffic Rank 27.

40. Olivier Blanchard. Social Media, Traffic Rank 28.

41. Priya Ramesh. Marketing, Traffic Rank 36.

42. Doug Davidoff. Public Relations, Contributor Rank 22.

43. Didi Lutz Public Relations, Contributor Rank 22.

44. Len Kendell. Marketing, Contributor Rank 22.

45. Patrick Collins. Branding, Traffic Rank 55.

46. Francois Gossieaux. Marketing, Traffic Rank 52

47. Shane Kinkennon. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 63.

48. Anna Barcelos. Marketing, Contributor Rank 22.

49. Pamela Wilson Writing, Contributor Rank 2.

50. Adam Vincenzini Social Media, Traffic Rank 44.

51. Carl Haggerty. Communication, Traffic Rank 66.

52. Kyle Flaherty. Communication, Traffic Rank 68.

53. Mike Cassidy Social Media, Contributor Rank 15.

54. Rachel Kay. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 64.

55. Sean Williams. Social Media, Traffic Rank 67.

56. Sree Sreenivasan. Journalism, Contributor Rank 1.

57. Lauren Fernandez. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 54.

58. Lisa Barone. Branding, Traffic Rank: 7.

59. Sean D'Souza. Writing, Contributor Rank 2.

60. Jordan Cooper. Branding, Contributor Rank 13.

61. Taylor Lindstrom. Writing, Contributor Rank 2.

62. Rob Reed. Mobile, Traffic Rank 46.

63. Peter Himler Public Relations, Traffic Rank 57.

64. Christina Kerley. B2B Marketing, Traffic Rank 47.

65. Michelle Bowles. SEO, Contributor Rank 5.

66. Audrey Watters. SEO, Contributor Rank 5.

67. Larry Kim. Social Media, Contributor Rank 2.

68. Jonathan Fields. Social Media, Traffic Rank 17.

69. Kristi Hines. Blog Marketing, Traffic Rank 10

70. Barbara Nixon. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 56.

71. Aaron Brazell. Social Media, Traffic Rank 31.

72. Mark Smiciklas. Social Media, Contributor Rank: 13.

73. Joel Postman. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 51.

74. Callan Paola. Advertising, Contributor Rank 40

75. Jason Keith. Social Media, Traffic Rank: Social Media, Traffic Rank 38

76. Erin Greenfield. Public Relations, Contributor Rank 43.

77. David Meerman Scott. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 25.

78. Ted Page. Advertising, Traffic Rank 58.

79. Christian Arno Social Media, Contributor Rank 16.

80. Julien Smith. Internet Marketing, Traffic Rank 19.

81. Kelly Day. Advertising, Traffic Rank 40

82. Chris Koch. Marketing, Traffic Rank 50.

83. Ari Herzog. Social Media, Traffic Rank 29.

84. Marta Majewska. Social Media, Traffic Rank 60.

85-250. It Doesn't Matter. Traffic Rank: 1-250.

There is nothing to be gained from listing the 160+ blogs that never saw a post picked. While it is true that several land at the top of some lists, this experiment always aimed to celebrate authors rather than disparage them. Being picked even once ought to be an achievement given the caliber of the people writing content on a daily basis.

If quality doesn't equal popular than why do some blogs become popular?

Fresh ContentIf popularity is your objective, it all comes down to common sense. Market your product heavily. Investing time in social networks and money (design, search engine optimization, and traditional marketing) will accelerate readership until hitting a proverbial tipping point where popularity can propel the project forward alongside marketing.

It's much more difficult to publish quality. In fact, quality seems to make little difference at all, with grocery vanilla, not flavored content drawing more interest. No, processed content is not better for your readers. It's only better for you.

You can see it traffic numbers across the board — 2007 was a defining year for communication bloggers. Social networks provided an opportunity for blast marketing. Never mind what some people advise. Those who poured on between 50,000 to 100,000 tweets saw traffic spikes (50-60 per day).

And that was only Twitter. There were dozens of others too (some now long forgotten). And, there was a surge in opportunities for grassroots marketing, everything from business card books to speaker droughts. Some even called for businesses to be more human while stripping away any human element from their home pages and replacing it with hard cold sales messages.

There is nothing wrong with any of it. But there most certainly is a difference. Anyone who worked hard to position themselves at the top deserves some admiration in that anyone could have but did not. However, don't think for a minute that heavy marketing (time or money) is any indication of someone being better than someone else. On any given day, number 32, 84, 156, or 245 could have been number one.

"Is a single leaf any more or any less part of a tree because of the length of the branch it grows or the proximity of other leaves around it or its current condition without regard to the potential it will achieve? Well then, there is your answer." — Rich Becker

Friday, March 4

Questioning PR: Bruce Buschel At Southfork Kitchen

Bruce Buschel on PR
While traveling through Europe, Bruce Buschel, who now owns the Southfork Kitchen (Southfork), was struck by the abundance of restaurants that served food with locally grown or raised ingredients. He believed opening a New York restaurant based on that idea would be a winner in the Hamptons.

The idea isn't as novel as it sounds. Celebrated Houston Chef Clive Berkman always tells me the same thing. If he cooks while traveling, he always leans toward making a menu based on local ingredients. But that's neither here nor there. This is a lesson for PR, especially my students.

A Rehash Of The 'Public Relations' Problem.

What makes Buschel interesting is his New York Times column about opening and managing a restaurant. The last two columns were especially interesting to anyone in communication: The Problem With Public Relations and Do P.R. People Have To Like The Food. They offer an unabashed glimpse inside how the restauranteur views public relations.

Buschel was originally dazzled by a local public relations firm's pitch and just as easily disappointed when they didn't produce a single story before the opening. When he called them on it, they pushed the err on him. His restaurant was "too hip to be square and too fishy to be hip," they said. And specifically, as Buschel lists in his column, these were the firm's primary issues:

• The New York Times blog was a problem, scooping PR or getting in the way.
• Area restaurants were equally sustainable and/or organic (no contrast).
• We have to taste your food in order to get excited about doing our jobs.

SouthforkBuschel really took exception to the third point. He thought it was ridiculous that paid help would have to like the food. So he sacked the first firm and tried a second firm whose principal blogged for the the Huffington Post and appeared as a judge on Iron Chef. Except, go figure, the second PR firm eventually left a bad taste in Buschel's mouth too. He was especially unhappy after receiving a list of everything his restaurant did wrong after the guru/principal dined there with a fellow critic. The guru didn't even like the name anymore. The name?

So Buschel wrote a post about it and criticized PR. Of course, as you might imagine, the mostly neutral story drew the ire of public relations professionals on both sides of the line — those who sided with Buschel and those defending their industry. (It almost always happens that way.) Then, Buschel cherry picked one response for a follow up — a parsed point-by-point rebuttal.

The Real Problem With Public Relations.

The real problem with public relations in this case is that Buschel didn't want public relations and the first PR firm didn't promise public relations. He wanted publicity — high-priced cheerleaders without sexy legs. They promised publicity too, but then couldn't deliver it. So they invented excuses like all faux public relations firms do.

The tell is in the third excuse. The firm promised pre-opening buzz and accepted a check without tasting the food. But then when they failed to deliver results, they wanted samples. Dopes.

The second PR firm wasn't much better. Buschel still wanted publicity and the second PR firm promised publicity. But after what seemed to be a promising start, that PR firm stopped offering publicity and started offering consult beyond public relations.

The tell is in claiming the eatery has the wrong name. It seems likely the name game was stolen from the food critic's notes because if the name was so bad to begin with then why wouldn't the firm had mentioned it before? Baloney.

All this leads me to believe that the real problem is in the definition. It's a common problem too. People say public relations but they really mean publicity. Here are some thumbnail versions of longer definitions to provide the basic context.

Public Relations. The job is to provide counsel on the exchange of mutually beneficial communication between the organization and various publics.

Media Relations. The job is to maximize positive coverage in the mass media without paying for it directly through advertising.

Publicity. The job is the deliberate attempt to manage the public's perception of a subject, which often includes an emphasis on media but is not limited to it.

pr cheerleaderAt a glance, it might seem that the second PR firm was attempting to offer some semblance of public relations. However, the approach in how they passed along conversational notes after dinner with a critic was more confrontational than mutually beneficial. The story sounds more in line with what we might expect a celebrity social media ego to do — act as paid adversaries to their own clients, beating them with customer comments.

All in all, despite the propensity for public relations professionals to jump into one camp or the other, there are no camps. Everyone looks equally foolish, but not everyone looks fraudulent. Buschel might be like hundreds of other clients in that he was hoodwinked by non-performing publicists into accepting an erroneous definition of the trade, but his intent seems pure.

Bolstering Southfork Kitchen Would Benefit From Integration.

It seems to me that there are a variety of real and perceived challenges that the restaurant might want to overcome. First and foremost, forget the babble about the name. You can call a company anything and it will stand the test of time once it earns a reputation. One of the most talked about computer companies in the world is named after a rather generic fruit, after all.

Some of the other conversation threads are clutter too. PR firms can do ground work before tasting any food; most of them assume they will for awhile, especially during a pre-opening period. The New York Times column was not and is not a liability; it is an asset. (Even if there were some cannibalized stories, plenty of other stories remained.) Even most of the opinions pushed back on Buschel could be chalked up to bringing in the wrong audience.

With all of these tidbits out of the way, there is only one potential problem left on the table: the unique selling point. If this argument is valid, then the solution needs to come from marketing more than public relations. Specifically, Buschel might consider re-prioritizing his contrast points. I wouldn't abandon organic, but maybe it's not the number one focus or perhaps some added clarity would help make it distinct.

Other than that, the problem may have nothing to do with the restaurant. The real problem may have to do with the liberal use of terms. Mixing up public relations and publicity always creates a breakdown in client-vendor communication. It's an industry problem.

farmerIf either PR firm really did public relations, the local farmers would be promoting the restaurant, area associations would be booking luncheons, and the sudden interest would have attracted the interest of foodies and faux foodies because those folks hate to be left out.

As for additional media exposure, there are enough stories to sell assuming the firm would work beyond their normal lists. They may need a new one for this unique venue. And, if select critics didn't like the food or service, the firm would be charged with finding common ground and providing feedback. They would not simply bleed the client as if they were the owner.

Then again, I'm not convinced Buschel wanted public relations help. It seems to me that he wants publicity help even though he is doing a fine job on his own. The truth is that he already nailed one surefire way to get publicity — if you want people to write about you in a social media world, write some smack about public relations.

Any time anyone writes smack about public relations, the entire bubble blows up in a public debate between those who claim to know and do not versus those who might know but never do more than communicate tales of industry woe. Buschel said he finds this ironic, but ironic isn't the right word. The right word is pathetic.

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