Showing posts with label book reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book reviews. Show all posts

Saturday, August 5

Reading Early Reviews: Third Wheel

I was having lunch on Balboa Beach when I received the review notification for my debut novel, Third Wheel, from Kirkus Reviews. A mist was over the water, and a dead seagull washed up in the surf. It didn't seem like the best of omens.

My daughter encouraged me to load the review anyway, a daunting task with only one service bar on my phone. She was amused to see me a little nervous and reassured me it was a good book. I shrugged. She had only read two chapters. 

Maybe I should have let it load in the parking lot. Maybe I should have just forgotten about it and enjoyed the view. I might have if it wasn't for the seagull. I already had two early reviews, both positive. And you know the old saying: Two in the pot is better than one caught in a tug of war between the sea and sand.

"Writers aren't supposed to care about reviews, anyway," she mused. She would say that. She's an artist.

Writers don't care about reviews, do we? Yes and no. You get good ones. You get bad ones. It's easy enough to weather reviews nine months down the line as readers express their impressions. It's a little harder to ignore the early editorial reviews ahead of a launch — you kind of need them to give your book lift on the front end.

My first editorial review came from the OnlineBookClub. I had steeled myself through the first paragraph, which is almost always a revised description before the hammer. You hold your breath for paragraph two.

"Third Wheel by Richard R. Becker is an exhilarating story... I rate the book five out of five stars." — OnlineBookClub 

I could breathe easy after that, insomuch as anyone can when there are still two or three more due. The second one was from Readers' Favorite. I wasn't sure what to expect because my debut book, 50 States, received a rave review, but only four stars there. 

"The best part is the way Becker’s storytelling technique incorporates realistic characters and subplots into a vivid story that is as engaging as it is thought-provoking. Becker deserves plaudits for the effort that went into creating this book and I enjoyed reading it." — Readers' Favorite

With reviews like this, my daughter was probably right. Don't worry about it, not even if the seagull washes right up to our newly purchased beach blanket. So I turned the phone over and then looked again anyway.

"A dark and skillful teenage crime novel with plenty of heart."Kirkus Reviews 

The review went several steps further, praising the prose and my my handling of a challenging protagonist. The verdict was to get it. It's a good book. I took screenshots and sent them to my wife anyway, asking if it was a good review. She smiled at the reviewer referencing John Hughes movies (except darker and more nihilistic) because there's some truth to it. We all lived like that in the 80s. I'll take it.

So my daughter and I decided to celebrate in our own way, dashing across town to catch a mere six innings of a Los Angeles Dodgers game against the Toronto Blue Jays. My book, Third Wheel, fared better than they did. They were trounced. 

Third Wheel will be released on Aug. 21, 2023. Members of Goodreads can enter a giveaway ahead of the release, with winners announced one day after. If the contest goes well, there may be another. Thank you for all the support!

Interested in exclusive content? Rich has a newsletter for that! Sign up here for Scraps

Friday, August 3

Marketing In The Round: Gini Dietrich And Geoff Livingston

The best thing about Marketing In The Round by Gini Dietrich and Geoff Livingston is it offers up a litany of questions, ideas, and thumbnail case studies. The worst thing about it is that it doesn't always know what kind of book it wants to be or for whom it is intended.

So perhaps that's the best place to begin. Who could benefit from Marketing In The Round?

Small business owners. People who need a crash course in marketing, one with an emphasis on the changes taking place in the market today. While many small business owners will find the details to be overwhelming, the book provides enough insights and ideas to help them ask the right questions.

Middle management marketers. This isn't necessarily the stuff of senior management, but it does provide enough material for middle management to check their work. It could be useful in comparing some of the concepts and constructs that Dietrich and Livingston lay out and making adjustments.

Multi-discipline communicators. Given that the central theme is really about convergence, Marketing In The Round provides a Rosetta stone approach for future advertising, marketing, public relations, and social media professionals. Along with them, it can serve specialists who are finding more and more of their work is falling outside their specialty, whether they working in any of those fields I mentioned.

Those are the people who could most benefit, along with those who find themselves communication curious and don't mind a book that attempts to bridge the gap between anecdotal and textbook. It doesn't quite do the job at finding that elusive middle, but it's a good effort to move conversations about marketing, public relations, and social media into a more mature, professional, and educational discussion.

The three strongest aspects of the book revolve around big concepts. 

As the title suggests, this book is about forming a more integrated approach to marketing. The solution is feasible in that the authors suggest finding someone to champion the construct by drawing in one person from various communication departments to make it work.

Anyone who has worked on campaigns involving a partnership among several specialized firms knows how it will work (even if it sometimes produces mixed results depending the players). It's the right way, even if there isn't enough space dedicated to the plan pitch for bigger organizations.

The other construct introduced in the book is a marketing model based partly on The Book Of The Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi. In this case, the analogy applies the five primary approaches of strategic engagement to marketing, allowing for top-down, direct, groundswell, and two flanks.

While it would be easy to quibble with the idea that advertising is a flank, the analogy isn't far off in providing a means to help various specialists to stop thinking about communication from their specialized perspectives. The goal here is to get everyone to the same table.

There is considerable strength in that Dietrich brings public relations experience to the table while Livingston has a background in marketing. There is some give and take here, rather than an attempt to pit one expertise over another. Also, they both have ample social media experience.

Because of this, they also decided to include some tactile tools into the mix: checklists, questionnaires, forms, and exercises to help move the book from a concept into something concrete. It will be appreciated, especially because the publisher has made them downloadable (negating the need to recreate the lists or scan the pages).

The weakest aspects of the book revolve around the superficial. 

The book is well-written from a technical aspect, but it's not reader friendly. The content pummels, making it impossible to read as a single serving. It's best read no more than one chapter at a sitting with time built in to reflect on how it applies.
Likewise, if you are hoping to bring the ideas into an organization or a classroom, you have to read it with a notebook nearby. While there is a reason why Marketing In The Round is organized like it is, you are precluded from starting any exercises early. For example, if you start writing out "smarter goals" at the end of chapter one, you will certainly rip them up by the time you reach chapter four.

This isn't the only way Marketing In The Round will make you work for it. The book does a great job introducing various thumbnail case studies that are always useful. However, it will require savvy communicators to search for additional resources for anyone not familiar with specific cases.

It's important, because you might draw different conclusions than the ones the authors have laid out. Sometimes they are needed and absent; other times they just feel forced. The Netflix case study is one example of the latter. It felt like affirmation mining — where the author wants to quickly prove a point and plugs in a case study as it fit, but neglecting all the blemishes and bruises that some with it.

All in all, those are relatively minor distractions. The only areas where I thought Dietrich and Livingston fell slightly short was in competitive analysis and measurement. While they succeed in delivering a solution, there just isn't enough content on these subjects. Specifically, there is a difference between knowing your competitors and providing a viable contrast, and benchmarking is always a good idea but it's only the tip of the measurement iceberg.

The net sum of all things related to Marketing In The Round. 

The kinds of people who I think would most benefit aside, Marketing In The Round is an excellent mining book, meaning that there is more here to mine than can be included within the confines of a single review. There is considerable content that can be extracted, adapted, and deployed for the classroom or an organization.

All in all, it makes you appreciate that Dietrich and Livingston wrote a textbook that could have benefited from the space that writing a Marcom textbook would have provided. This in itself is a refreshing change from the anecdotal waste that pretends to be work in the field — books that are best described as a big "business card" or professional "memoir." Instead, the authors of Marketing In The Round actually want to teach you something. You're likely to learn something too.

I received a copy of the book Marketing In The Round for the purposes of review. If you cannot tell, neither receiving a copy nor having prior contact with the authors had any influence. In fact, I am predisposed to review marketing and public relations books exceptionally hard, which is why most people are too afraid to send me marketing or business books for review. You might also like to know that prior to receiving a copy, I had already planned to write an unsolicited review of this book.

Wednesday, March 7

Finding Spin: Bob Conrad Cuts Through The Spin!

Misinformation is a conversation that frequently comes up in my public relations courses, with no single source of information exempt from bias, fabrication, and blatant slant. One could easily argue that it makes up the majority of the information we are exposed to every day and the trend — driven by popularity and shareability — is increasing exponentially, with the media being especially suspect.

Where did all the objective reporting go anyway?

In his book, Spin! How The News Media Misinform And Why Consumers Misunderstand, Bob Conrad captures some of the story, leaning more toward current events than the short history of objective journalism and why it is changing (regressing) today. And missing the history of it all is probably the greatest flaw in an otherwise well-presented thesis book.

After all, one cannot fully discuss objective journalism without discussing Walter Lippman, who set the standard for it. Prior, journalism wasn't even considered a real profession. And why would it be? For all of the good people like Lippman were trying to do, other publishers like William Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer used sensationalized news to drive circulation much like media outlets do today. They did it enough so that both are readily linked to helping start the Spanish-American War.

How ironic that 100 years later, with new media on the rise and mainstream trying to drive circulation, we find ourselves relearning the same circular lesson. Unless, of course, you look at it all differently. Although yellow journalism did not get its name until the turn of the late 1800s, it was alive and well in the United States, both preceding the American Revolution (to prime independence) and immediately following it (to mutually ridicule emerging political parties after the writing of the Constitution).

But other than this omission, Spin! tells some of the modern story. 

Based on the assumption that journalists still pine away for objective journalism (they don't), Conrad captures several concerning stories in less than 90 pages. In the telling, he also catches more than one journalist tripping on his own logic.

"Our job is to tell stories, to make facts relevant, but never skew them." — David Baker, State News

Conrad takes the logic to task because he rightfully points out that interpreting and shaping the information is how it becomes biased. And, in fact, it is worse than the front end suggests. Many journalists who put pen to paper in 1960s and 1970s discovered new styles for writing the news — with the aim to set agenda or sometimes entertain with one.

From there, Conrad moves into other stories to demonstrate some of the real challenges that face journalism today: reporter bias, anointed elitism, and defensive posturing. Most of them fall into one of the six divisions of modern media, but a few go further in describing a blatant disregard for the truth, something a few journalists have used to gain attention and awards (e.g., those who make it up).

All of it makes for good reading. And yet, if the real measure of Conrad's book can be found in solutions, then it doesn't seem promising for us in this brave new world of media manipulation from outside and within. His seven solutions, some new and some old, include: creating space for more citizen journalism, reestablishing the barriers between news and opinion, adopting principles from public relations, holding journalists accountable, and raising the bar in expert selection.

Will any of these solutions work to curb misinformation? 

Not one of them is necessarily a bad idea and all of them can be starting points for consideration. But unfortunately, none of them can reach the ultimate goal. They cannot bring back objective journalism.

If we really want credible and objective news, then citizens have to support it while learning to suppress their growing appetite for affirmation news. And right now, feeling freed of inconvenient facts that run contrary to their own individual ideologies, it's virtually impossible for a major media outlet to survive and maintain objectivism.

If I had to guess, I would say that today's media needs a wide-reaching and catastrophic miss that results in massive public outcry. And if we are to avoid such a costly blunder, then we need an emerging voice within journalism like Lippman in his era.

Ergo, someone needs to shame the media into making the truth their ultimate goal once again. And if someone doesn't soon, then it will take something bigger than any of the examples cited in Conrad's book, which is a frightening thought.

I used to think, much like Conrad, that a collective voice might emerge from the ranks of citizen journalists to get the job done. But I don't see this happening anytime soon. As long as popularity and perceived influence are more cherished than the truth, then we will continue to be buffeted back and forth by polarized opinion, popularizing misinformation, and selective facts.

Where Spin! wins despite some shortcomings in research.

While it might not sound like it at times, I would recommend Spin! to anyone hoping to gain a better grasp of where the media are today. Not only does Spin! make a great catch-up primer and indispensable resource, it also sets an agenda for a conversation that needs to happen. Given you can consume it all in a few hours (and then spend weeks chasing down conclusions), all the better.

However, that doesn't mean you can afford to dismiss your own due diligence after reading it. Conrad brings in much of his arguments from what he is exposed to, which sometimes skews his own perspective. While he disclaims some of this in the preface, it's still bothersome to see someone attributed as if they coined "he said/she said" journalism  when they didn't, the omission of a historical context, and his own personal bias (which I have to point out despite agreeing with much of it).

In other words, it's a must-read book for anyone with an interest in media and citizen journalism, but only as a primer for a much bigger pool of knowledge that is out there and waiting to be assembled. Still, I will recommending it to my class. I regularly recommend his blog for good reading too.

I received a complimentary copy of Spin! How The News Media Misinform And Why Consumers Misunderstand by Bob Conrad with the understanding that the book would be reviewed.

Wednesday, June 1

Reading Livingston: Welcome To The Fifth Estate

Welcome To The Fifth EstateIf you conduct a rudimentary search for social media on Amazon, you'll pull up more than 150,000 titles. And so many of them, quite frankly, aren't much more than anecdotal paperweights or maybe fire starters.

Yes, even those that drip with praise from their fellow colleagues. The way I see it, if I'm ever to be accused of doing any favors for any colleagues in social media, let it be said the favor is not reviewing their books. I read them and sigh. It's the same reason I've passed on two invitations to write one.

There are some exceptions. Social Media ROI by Olivier Blanchard is probably one of them. I've only put off reading it because I know Blanchard and he and I see so closely on the subject it feels like volunteering to be the choir. And then there's Welcome To The Fifth Estate by Geoff Livingston.

A Review (of sorts) of Welcome To The Fifth Estate by Geoff Livingston.

One of the reasons I've been looking forward to Livingston's book beyond our longtime friendship, is the subject he chose to tackle. The premise seemed one off from social media. Pulling from history, Livingston notes that if the media might be considered the Fourth Estate then social media has helped give rise to the Fifth Estate (the masses), individuals who use technology to provide their own news, or more than likely, vet the news that is coming at them.

I've had an interest in this subject, citizen journalism, for years. I'm often torn between the those who see it is as good and those who see it as bad — watching firsthand some valiant or obscure individuals attempt to restore objectivity to the news even while so many lazier journalists long for reinstating yellow journalism.

But that isn't really what Welcome To The Fifth State is about. It's really an organizational primer that would help public relations and marketing professionals demonstrate the difference between an organization's traditional marketing efforts and communicating with the various social structures of online communities and social networks.

It’s an important lesson for any organization, even more so when you consider the online medium isn’t mass media as much as it is a media by the masses.

Livingston does a fine job with this, opening up with a warning to companies that advocacy consumers with journalism-like followings are on alert and waiting for them. And, in doing so, he helps recast how organizations might view this environment — especially using a significant number of case studies and references that sort our halo stories or horns — before they dive right in.

Welcome To The Fifth EstateThe best of the book is the call for companies to move away from silos to hives. I might call such a move integrated communication, but the analogy is strong. Designating different non-communicative budget-competative departments (silos) is no longer functional. All of the various communication-related roles need to work together. (Ergo, it doesn't make sense to have a Twitter account offering to assist with customer service problems if they have no direct tie to customer service solutions.)

I'm also happy to give props to Livingston for always being smart in helping organizations move away from thinking of everything in terms of tools and tactical counters. Instead, he rightly tees up considering the organizational strategy as opposed to the piles of tactics they have become.

However, he then drifts into providing tips on developing a social media strategy, which will help organizations refine their programs, but ruffles me up a bit because it's not really strategic communication. It's broader conceptual tactical thinking, which is a step up from what most companies do but still a rung down from strategic communication.

Why Welcome To The Fifth Estates Works As A Primer.

I don't mean to dismiss his central theme. (It might even be a case of semantics.) Contrary, what Livingston is attempting to drive home is that you cannot interrupt a conversation about a baseball with a message to sell someone a baseball bat. Doing so is asking for trouble and dilutes or destroys the brand.

Instead, he advocates for participating with the community on their terms. And that's smart. In other words, by talking about the game with the people talking about it, you might just sell a few bats too. Really, it's not unlike the difference between people you chat with at a professional luncheon and those who are too busy pumping their business cards in your hand.

All in all, Livingston does deliver a book several steps above the books littering online shelves. It seems to me the people it would best serve fall into three categories: People who are taking an interest in social media (or being thrust into it), executives who won't be doing it but want their team to start doing it, and a whole lot of "tool strategists" that count how many followers they have.

At the same time, you also expect Livingston to simplify some complex organizational concepts in an increasingly conversational way that anyone can relate to. It's a super fast read and presents several case studies that aren't talked about as often. You can finish it in a weekend afternoon and feel smarter for it on Monday. (And that doesn't even mention the introduction by Adam Ostrow, which I'll save for another day.)

That is not to say there aren't some "devil in the details" issues to watch out for. There are typos, too many. And on occasion, you might want to recheck some references because the stories don't mesh well with how events played out. (The one that stands out the most is JetBlue, but only because I covered it. Their blog only went silent as Neeleman was pushed aside.)

Who Might Be Best Served By A Visit To The Fifth Estate.

Welcome to the Fifth Estate is even stronger for Livingston than Now Is Gone. And it will open up more speaking opportunities for him as a professional who adds more quality to the field than people who "seem" to be more popular.

I can easily recommend it for executives who have less interest in social media but know their company needs to adopt it. There is no doubt it will help them avoid being sold snake oil. I also think it's a very worthwhile read for anyone who isn't up to speed on strategic communication but operating in social media. Livingston will take you half to three-quarters of the way there. And lastly, I appreciate the opportunity to have read an advanced electronic version because it provides a great snapshot of where we are on the path to wherever we might end up.

Tuesday, November 16

Seeing Better: How Flipboard Enhances Twitter

As of a few days ago, Twitter had every right to boast about its 175 million registered users, up from 145 million in early September and 105 million in April. According to Ronny Kerr, Twitter could be seeing as many as 15 million new members each and every month (minus 1 million for people with multiple accounts).

What is interesting about the Kerr post is that he points out that Twitter has seen three major growth spurts in the last couple years and each can be directly assigned to individually significant site developments. What does he claim they are?

The first was in mid-2009, a direct result of widespread media coverage of the site because of Ashton Kutcher. The next surge was in its smart phone offerings, with the launch of official iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry apps, that new registrations would flow like a flood again. And the newest surge, he says, has to do with site design.

I don't think so. The new two-column platform detracts from the user experience, squishing the conversation to one side. It seems more likely the influx of new people is related to the adoption of companies, organizations, and promotion by media.

The reason could be that the entire interface is flawed, something that never occurred to me until viewing Twitter on Flipboard.

How Flipboard, despite some shortcomings, is intuitive.

Legal questions aside, while Flipboard is not suited to dialogue between people (beyond a one comment quip), it does help sort the valuable content from the chaff because it ports in the first few graphs of any link. And, after experimenting with it for a few days, it saves me considerable time and adds value for two reasons.

• Flipboard allows me to immediately see what is behind any link, beyond the 140-character pitch.
• Flipboard helps me find valuable content without relying on other factors like trust and frequency.

In other words, it levels the playing field for everyone I have weaker relationships with while vetting the content being shared by people I have stronger relationships with. And, it does this effectively enough that unless Flipboard disappears, there is no better way to consume content (noting that as I already mentioned, you cannot engage in a two-way dialogue).

The concept was originally developed as an alternative to the various applications that some publications are putting out, but some of the real value comes from social network streams like Facebook and Twitter. Interestingly enough, the Facebook experience on Flipboard is neutral because Facebook never adopted the truncated communication model.

Sure, it would be even better if you could import one blog or feed or web address as opposed to a Twitter stream, but Flipboard works well enough for now. Likewise, if little chat bubbles could accompany the one-time comment option (much like Echo Phone allows), it would change from a content delivery option to a dialogue option.

But more importantly, and the point of this post, it really demonstrates the inherent weakness of Twitter's communication model. As an interface, I've become more fond of Fried Eggs and Facebook for this reason. Both encourage shorter communication without the lockdown on those occasions when you want a longer dialogue.

Don't get me wrong. I still value Twitter because of my connections there. Or, perhaps, I ought to say I value my connections so much, I'm willing to put up with Twitter. However, long term, I wonder how Twitter will fare unless it can develop interfaces that break away from its original, ever more confining quip of 140 characters or less. How about you?

Wednesday, June 23

Going Somewhere: Why Bhakdi's Web 3.0 Feels Like Web 2.1

Johannes Bhakdi, chef knowledge architect of, published an interesting little book earlier this year that has gone largely unnoticed. There many be some good reasons for that.

The book comes across as a fleshed out PowerPoint. The price point is high. And for all his experience working with companies like McDonald's, MasterCard, Microsoft, Siemens, and Unilever for BBDO and J. Walter Thompson, Bhakdi isn't necessarily established in the social media mix where this book might be appreciated (despite the price point).

Like many creative strategists, he tends to be less visible despite his contributions. And with the exception of Slideshare and perhaps a slow loading Klatcher site, his social media presence doesn't seem especially established. There may even be an irony in that Bhakdi wanted to implement his book using a model in the book, which suggests success provided the marketing is right. Unfortunately, I'm not convinced the marketing is right.

Web 3.0 User-Generated Business • and why everyone becomes a media entrepreneur

But where Bhakdi is at the moment hardly matters within the context of the book. The real question is whether or not there is any real value inside the pages of Web 3.0 - User-Generated Business. There is some.

The Historic Context. The opening chapters present a quick history of Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. They are interesting enough for any newcomers to the Web, with an underlying emphasis on why Web 2.0 was a disaster. Specifically, the average online author earns about 25 cents per hour. Yep. That's a disaster for anyone except hobbyists.

The Theoretical Sidebar. One of my favorite portions of Web 3.0 has little to do with the Internet. What Bhakdi does very clearly is define the two faces of capitalism against socialism. The latter, he says, tends to organize people in working for the common good but falls short because then people are less inclined to contribute anything useful.

As for capitalism, he discusses how one facet can be destructive and exploitive, driven by ruthless people looking to earn quick profits for as little value as possible. And he stresses that it doesn't have to be that way. Most business people have a more transformative view of capitalism and add positive value on their terms and then change the world with a win-win construct. It's eloquently explained, certainly worth a follow-up post here someday.

The Visionary Construct. Personally, I was never very fond of the assumption that everybody would become a media entrepreneur, but I've always been comfortable that "anybody" could be. This one word makes a big difference.

Otherwise, I've never understood this ever-present assumption that people want to be media entrepreneurs. From everybody I've spoken with online and off for the last ten years, most people can't be bothered. Sure, some like to create and share content, but most just want to connect with friends, play games, and read the news.

Still, even for that small percentage of people who do want to create content, Bhakdi raises one good point. The current Web 2.0 structure allows platform providers to generate income from content creators who work for free. Ergo, Twitter would be nothing without the flurry of moderately visible pros who put up content and contribute daily.

However, Bhakdi's solution to fix this doesn't necessarily add up as much as he would like. Eventually, he sees Web 3.0 as a place where content is assigned value. In other words, quality content would receive higher compensation over the shareable silliness that tends to drive Web 2.0.

As much as I agree with the idea, I'm not sure it's pragmatic. Intellectual property has variable values that are largely based on perception.

The Blueprint. Bhakdi does a solid job at outlining a social media content business model in the last chapter. For me, I wish it came much earlier. Reading 150 pages of anecdotal conversation when the real content starts on page 151 is troublesome. It's the primary reason I read so few social media books.

By the time you arrive at the last chapter, Bhakdi outlines Web 3.0 into three parts: outreach (social networks), core media assets (a site or blog), and opportunities for monetization (Zazzle, Ad Sense, Lulu.) There is nothing wrong with that except that it's what exists now. So unless I missed something, the blueprint is not so unprecedented.

Final Thoughts About Web 3.0 User-Generated Business

Web 3.0 User-Generated Business has some high points, but it's difficult to consider it a book. It's a PowerPoint conversion with added conversation. There are a few high points and novices might find it worthwhile. But anybody beyond the entry level of monetization concepts will find it anti-climactic.

Simply put, if you are among the relatively small audience who is already dabbling in becoming a media entrepreneur, you aren't likely to find a breakthrough in this book. However, if you are a blogger who is just considering monetization, then Bhakdi's book may help you get up to speed, assuming you haven't connected with people who write about this stuff daily.

Otherwise, Web 3.0 User-Generated Business comes across as what I call a "business card book," which is indicative of most books being introduced in the field. I don't get it. Most social media books are long on attempting to demonstrate thought leadership by sharing what a healthy percentage already know with the shrinking pool of people who don't know anything.

Further, in using his own social media assets as examples, the book seems to miss out on a viable purpose. If the book, using its own blueprint, aims at being the revenue generator, then more care might have been taken to ensure it didn't pitch platforms owned by the author. That said, the book seems less interesting than the impossibly slow-loading Klatcher (the first time anyway) or Bhakdi's posts and presentations. Get to know him in those places first.

Wednesday, March 24

Marketing Public Relations: Publicity On SM Steroids

Did you ever open a book and want to like it? Gaetan Giannini Jr., chairman of the business, management and economics department at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pa., delivers exactly that when he attempts to combine marketing, public relations, and social media into Marketing Public Relations (MPR). It's a book you want to like.

Wanting to like it wasn't always the case for me. A few months ago, I didn't want to like MPR. I alluded to as much when I first mentioned it after listening in on a webinar.

So I have to give Giannini credit for contacting me after that post. He put Marketing Public Relations: A Marketer's Approach to Public Relations and Social Media from Pearson into practice, believing that if I read the book then he might sway me from the light of collaborating professionals and toward the dark of combined disciplines. He was partly right.

When I opened the shipping package and thumbed through it for the first time, I immediately wanted to like Marketing Public Relations. I really did. And I still do.

Why you'll want to like Marketing Public Relations.

Marketing Public Relations is packed with content, skipping across the varied subjects of marketing, public relations, and social media. As a comprehensive textbook, it reads several generations ahead of anecdotal pop trappings that tend to masquerade as marketing and social media books nowadays.

There are ample models, studies, and diagrams. Giannini introduces classic concepts such as The Business Strategy Diamond from Carpenter, Mason, Sanders, Gerry, Strategic Management and Maslow's "A Theory of Human Motivation" alongside studies by PEW Charitable Trusts and the Keller Fay Group.

There are adequate applictions. Some of the suggested assignments would even benefit working professionals, helping them rethink how they apply communication. For example, in one chapter, Giannini suggests that students think of the most expensive purchase they made, track their purchase decision-making process, list all of the connectors (influencers) that contributed to the purchase, and identify what messages they delivered to the student.

There are ample tip lists tucked inside every chapter. In writing press releases, Giannini suggests illustrating real-life examples, sticking to the facts, picking an angle, writing in active voice, and using correct grammar. But then he also advises to never write a release in all uppercase letters, never writing the release online (use a word processor), never include html links, and never write a release that is less than two paragraphs. (I shook my head at a couple of these tips too.)

The case studies that precede each chapter seem fresher than inclusions in most books. He offers up snippets from Ecover, Red Bull, Hannah Montana, and Ben & Jerry's. About Harry Potter, Giannini frames up J.K. Rowling alluding to the demise of two familiar characters on a British talk show. He attributes resulting mainstream and social media frenzy to marketing public relations in action, which departs from what most public relations professors might call it. Most would call it publicity.

But that is the point. All of these elements are used to underpin the premise of Marketing Public Relations. And although Giannini doesn't provide a crisp one or two sentence definition of what MPR really is, you can surmise it is the practice of delivering planned marketing messages to very specific and targeted intermediates (connectors and influencers), with the intent that they will carry a closely aligned message forward to the audience you want to reach.

While I'm not certain how this differs from how communication has always worked, whether marketers recognized it or not, Giannini works diligently to consider this the cornerstone of MPR and then aims to cherry pick principles as valid under the new construct. When it works, different disciplines will benefit from a perspective they may have neverconsidered. When it doesn't work, everyone will be even more confused.

Why Marketing Public Relations is a dangerous book.

While I could write extensively about the sometimes painful organization of Marketing Public Relations, there is more pressing problem. And, unless the reader understands this problem, it could lead to some very dangerous conclusions. You see, for all the excellent material, it's difficult to forgive the initial definition of public relations, which is not public relations. Here is the definition:

"Traditionally, PR is defined as a firm's efforts to build good relations with its various publics by obtaining favorable publicity, building up a good 'corporate image,' and handling or heading off unfavorable rumors, stories, or events."

This disaster of a definition is not Giannini's fault. It belongs to Gary Armstrong and Philip Kotler, from Marketing, An Introduction, 9th edition. That makes sense to me in that Kotler, who is a brilliant marketer, has always aligned public relations under sales promotion. In fact, it is Kotler who originally coined the term Marketing Public Relations, but with very different origins than the one proposed by Giannini.

In Marketing Management: Analysis, Planning, Implementation, and Control, 6th edition, Kotler outlines public relations as handling press relations, product publicity, corporate communications, lobbying, and counseling. Marketing PR, he wrote, is an advent of companies developing departments to set up a special section that directly supported corporate/product promotion and image making.

The old name for Marketing Public Relations, Kotler says, is publicity. And publicity, as we hope all public relations practitioners know, is not public relations at all. What is even more perplexing, however, is that Giannini calls Marketing PR the birth of a new paradigm when it would really be a rebirth with the inclusion of the more publicity-oriented activities of social media.

Where Giannini differs from Kotler, however, is that he assigns some propaganda duties under the the direction of MPR. Specifically: building the identity, increasing the visibility, establishing subject matter expertise, educating stakeholders, shaping public opinion, maintaining the image during a crisis, and stimulating repeat usage.

In sum, these tasks encompass some public relations and advertising duties under the world view of publicity in order to serve marketing. Except, they generally manifest themselves as "the coverage of a story by media or the recommendation of a friend without a paid solicitation." The risk, naturally, is that the intended message can sometimes be altered, such as the reckless Aqua Teen Hunger Force case study from 2007.

Ergo, if we mistake promotions and publicity as public relations, even under the banner of marketing public relations, it is likely we will further erode the core competencies that public relations could offer today and help it descend back into the ooze of propaganda where it originated. Only this time, it would be supported by social media. Perhaps unfortunately, where Giannini might be right is that is precisely what public relations professionals want to do.

Having a cracked foundation isn't the only issue in the book. There are several other questionable concepts that could mislead practitioners, including the overemphasis of blogger popularity in order to separate top-tier social media outlets from the "chaff," considering "thought-leaders and "influencers" as one in the same, and misdefining promotion as paid messaging.

On those points: never mistake page visits as an indicator because you never know who reads that blog; popular bloggers, influencers, and thought leaders are all very different; and promotion, even from a traditional view, is not confined to paid messages. There is more to vet, but the point is clear. In some cases, Giannini has adopted the mistakes some social media and public relations experts are making because they do not know any better.

What to do about Marketing Public Relations.

There is no denying that there is extensive value in Marketing Public Relations by Gaetan Giannini, Jr. He is a smart researcher, substantive educator, and intelligent practitioner who has presented material proving that the author didn't sit down and write this book on any given Sunday afternoon. Not all marketing, public relations, and social media books are like that nowadays.

As a textbook, it comes with a steep price of admission, retailing at $96. Even the used books are selling at above $60. The price point comes from the inclusion of graphs, charts, and full-color pictures. The three reviews on Amazon all rave about it.

For me, I have to go back to my opening point. I want to like this book. I really do. In a convoluted sort of way, it represents everything that other books on social media miss and leave instructors wanting. And yet, when the very principles contained within would force instructors to vet more than their fair share of material, how can it be sent up with a recommendation? In a word or two or three. It can't be.

Marketing Public Relations is a missing link between the business card books being offered by most publishers and what markers, public relations, and social media experts really need. However, it's only one step in the evolution of the communication chain and, without careful vetting in the classroom, it cannot be certain whether this mutation would lead to what we will one day call modern communication or if it is merely a branch that will see the same fate as the Neanderthal.

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Thursday, September 17

Unselling Sex And Other Stuff: Buyology

With 25 percent of all search results for the world's top brands linked to blogs, forums, and tweets, is it any wonder communication is being challenged? But just as fast as social media professionals are chatting about the tools they use on a daily basis, neuroscience is also opening up doors and changing convictions that were long thought to be held true.

Sex Doesn't Sell

Sex doesn't sell, at least not according to research conducted by Martin Lindstrom, whose book, Buyology: Truth and Lies about Why We Buy. Lindstrom's case is simple enough: it detracts from the intended message and seems to hold true based on brainwaves.

It's also one of the many sound bites that most reviewers picked up on because, unlike sex, controversy sells (or so says the author). It helped sell the reviews; and it helped sell the book. (The down side is controversy is not sustainable.)

So how can that be about sex? Because what the author doesn't reveal is that most communicators knew sex never sold. It simply captured people's attention. After that, the ability to sell the product relies on the ability to move the reader into something else. Unless, of course, you are selling sex. And that is a different subject all together.

But It Tried To Sell Buyology

Buyology certainly has some high points, given I had recently read What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis (which I have no desire to review) and was reminded by Lindstrom that Ford Motor Company had asked consumers to build their own car well before Jarvis was shouting that companies ought to do the same. The model flopped.

Sometimes people don't really want what they say they want. And sometimes, they certainly don't always want what they want for the price it takes to deliver.

Lindstrom does a great job demonstrating exactly that, using brain scans to confirm what people say and how they really feel (whether they know it or not) are not often the same. In the book, study participants said they liked one television show better than two others, but their brain scans revealed a different outcome. And these actual outcomes, when the shows aired, mirror their success.

Unfortunately, the few high points in the book are too few and far between. For anyone studying or working in the field of studying neuroscience and advertising, the book mostly presents a recap of studies and experiences that are all too familiar, including my personal favorite, Coca-Cola.

For example, dedicating an entire chapter to fragrance and sound experiments conducted by large companies might be new to some. But for anyone who has ever worked with a home builder, adding some ambient music and the scent of freshly baked cookies has been proven effective for as long as I can remember (and for much less than grander experiments).

Another example is Lindstrom's assessment that says infusing fear into a message can work for the short term, but sometimes scares people away from a product. The better communicators already know that. In much the same manner, fear can immobilize people from giving to nonprofit organizations if the organization makes the challenge seem insurmountable.

And finally, the section on subliminal advertising didn't really belong. It's a subject frequently covered, generally conclusive, and relatively understood. I saw it work first hand in 2008 when it was used against a political candidate we were working with. The opposition ran television ads that included a fractional clip of a gun pointing at his head.

However, I won't go as far as some detractors and say the book is worthless. There are certain people who would benefit from the book — especially novice communicators who do not have the benefit of experience or familiarity with some classic studies that Lindstrom cites and social media professionals who want to take some edge off the ask-the-consumer-everything "Kool Aid" or appreciate that social media by-in had initially hindered its own adoption rate with too much fear messaging.

But even for these professionals, the book faces some hurdles with too much memoir writing, the promise of neuromarketing science (which is basically applying neuroscience to marketing) with too little science, and not enough focus on the studies Lindstrom conducted. There is also an overemphasis on the idea that people never make rational purchases, which is only partly true.

If you can get past these problems, it's a quick read that might may you rethink a few popular ideas out there right now, assuming you can draw up your own solutions. If you cannot get past those problems, then you might find it to be another business card book that presents an argument and ties it together loosely with a few cherry picked examples to prove the position but no real solutions (which is why I can't even review the title by Jeff Jarvis). Or, you can always visit Lindstrom's site.

From Others Who Bought Or Didn't Buy Buyology

• Buyology by Martin Lindstrom is a compulsively readable account at FutureLab

• Book Mashup: Saving the World at Work and Buy-ology by Bobbie Carlton

Book Review: Buyology by Martin Lindstrom by Nicholas Kinports

Buyology: Sound Science or Wishful Thinking? at ResearchTalk

• "Buyology" Illuminates Unlikely Marriage of Science and Consumerism at Fast Company

Wednesday, February 25

Planning Breakthroughs: Mike Ferrell

"Success is simple. Do what's right, the right way, at the right time." — Arnold H. Glasow

Simple becomes the operative word in describing Mike Ferrell's new book, Ultimate Breakthrough Planning, from Scarletta Press. It's simple enough that it risks being overlooked by varied best seller lists, but important enough that small business owners and managers would benefit to see it there.

Ferrell, president of The Pinecrest Group, has been involved with eight different start-ups, with considerable time working in the financial services arena. He has also presented to thousands of people at workshops and seminars. But that's not why management could benefit from the little red book that could.

"In 2005, 544,800 small businesses closed for a variety of reasons: lack of capital, lack of customers, poor location, bad service, or the wrong product," writes Ferrell. "How many of these could have avoided this fate if they had an easy-to-follow plan, or blueprint, that would help them succeed?"

Ultimate Breakthrough Planning defines itself as the blueprint that can help small businesses move away from thinking in terms of a traditional business plan and into an actionable business funnel approach. While I found the funnel to be similar to other models we've helped businesses adapt in the past, Ferrell puts down his approach in a much more comprehensible format and then goes a step further. He starts with the six key elements of success ...

Vision and Branding. How to determine what your business will look like and how it will function.
Leadership and Team. How to clearly communicate vision with your team to make it more effective.
Marketing Systems. How to create marketing that is done consistently across a variety of mediums.
Sales Process. How to understand your customers and develop stronger relationships with them.
• Exceptional Service. How to take good service to a higher level, and engaging your team to do it.
Strategic Alliances. How to determine what you do well and find people to do what you don't do so well.

... and then, he drives each of these critical areas through his funnel process. It seems to me that it is this process where Ferrell's ideas for an executable business process take hold. He does not force businesses into a cookie cutter model, but rather guides his readers through a process, from the macroscopic concept to the microscopic action.

What's the difference? Most business advisers define vision and branding in typical terms and then produce various statements that are sometimes mocked until they are long forgotten. Contrary, Ferrell suggests all six elements are all executable by identifying priorities, setting goals and objectives, defining strategies, determining tools, communicating and training, creating tasks and timelines, tracking results, and rewarding success. While the outcome of this process for each company would produce very different conclusions, each would benefit with an equal propensity for results.

That is the point isn't it? Personally, I have yet to find any two companies that are the same. And yet, every day, marketers and business consultants insist that all companies adopt the same models, marketing, or priorities. Why? Because that is what most businesses want to hear. Never mind what works for our employees and customers, they say, I want to do what works for someone else's customers because we want their outcomes. Ferrell spells out the problem with a sports analogy.

"When a football coach designs a game plan, he doesn't focus on the eventual outcome of the game; he focuses on the specific offense, defensive and special teams plays that need to happen to affect the eventual outcome in his favor," writes Ferrell. "Too many business owners focus on their plan and skip specific steps needed to achieve those results.

He's right. The reality of any game is this: we do not know the outcome. So while setting goals is useful, the focus needs to remain on the strategies and tactics that are required in order to achieve those goals. It's not all that different from what I've been suggesting with the ROC abstract.

It's also this kind of thinking that makes Ferrell's work immediately applicable. Every business has strengths and weaknesses, and there is ample material to help determine which areas — offense, defense, or special teams — could be brushed up for better results. More importantly, Ultimate Breakthrough Planning helps business owners think about and evaluate their businesses as if it was the first time, which far too many forget to do.

With the exception of a few minor blemishes throughout, the only soft spot in the book can be found in the Question and Exercises chapter where Ferrell suggests a self-analysis for Vision and Branding that is a bit too introspective for my taste. I believe even the smallest businesses can benefit by involving key members of the team to answer the questions he proposed. There is no need to wait until the second element before you bring them into the process. Engage them at the beginning.

Otherwise, it's easy for me to recommend this book. It's straightforward and clearly articulates what businesses ought to do if they want to make success simple. That is what we want to do, isn't it? After all, if a business isn't focused on success but only "survival" in a down economy, then it's already operating at a deficiency and heading for a loss.

Monday, May 19

Taking The Next Step: Michael Port

If you’re not familiar with Michael Port, he is a high profile business coach who has provided consulting to more than 20,000 business owners in the last two years. The Wall Street Journal calls him a “marketing guru” and his first book, Book Yourself Solid, was a national bestseller.

His newest book, Beyond Booked Solid, was released in April. I’ve had the galley on my desk for several few weeks now, meaning to review it. But as a member of the audience the book is intended for — someone who has a decent stable of loved clients but is sometimes short on time — I had to place the review on hold.

Ah yes, irony. Or maybe not. We’ll see.

“With every new success comes new challenges and this repeated cycle is a constant state of being for the entrepreneur. Each time we solve a problem, we begin a new game at a higher level, in which are facing new problems,” reads one of the opening paragraphs.

He’s right. People, especially entrepreneurs, who are not continually facing new challenges, are not moving forward. They might not even be entrepreneurs unless they are moving forward. It’s about that simple. And simple is one of the reasons I’ve always liked Port.

You only have to watch his dismantling the concept of the elevator speech on YouTube to immediately appreciate him. Elevator speeches sometimes circumvent one’s ability to learn something about a prospect. A better solution is to apply a thinking process over the quick fix. Sure, sometimes quick fixes and systems work. It depends on who you are and what you do. And this is where it gets tricky.

On one hand, Beyond Booked Solid is the book I needed ten years ago. That’s when I faced some of the challenges it addresses the most: a small business owner who wakes up to find that they put themselves on an imbalanced life treadmill, never thinking for a moment that there were other options (even though I had already been there before).

For the most part, it’s the by-product of someone who sells service. Sooner or later, there are not enough hours to sell, even with new staff and outsourcing.

This is where Port’s book works best. His book helps service professionals come to the conclusion that at the end of the day —whether they are a doctor, attorney, instructor, or other service provider — there are more options than simply filling every hour of every day, especially if it throws your life-work balance out of whack. What always seems to work better is saving some time to invest in building a better business model, the one that allows you more resources not less resources at the end of the day.

Port even tackles the excuses that might be standing in your way.
• My system is too complicated for me to explain to other people or write it down.
• I couldn’t trust anyone else to do it better than I do.
• I’ve had systems, and they’ve been a waste of time and I don’t want to spend time fixing them or developing new systems.

Personally, I’ve always been amazed by the number of people willing to put cannot in front of something that can be done. Even last week, I felt my skin crawl when a subcontractor said “I just can’t see it” to a viable communication tool. Right on. I get it.

I don’t see how someone could land on the moon with a computer less advanced than a pocket calculator, but they did it. Part of the success was developing a system (multiple systems), possibly more complicated than many business systems, and it got the job done. Then again, there is that tricky part.

As some people know, I’m not a big fan of systems. However, every now and again, I ask myself if whether I am against systems or the abuse of systems. For example, having an elevator speech was never meant to be a scripted memorization as much as an ability to define what you do. It also only works if you can make it work for you. Port did that. And that’s what makes systems work, provided there is a thinking process behind them.

There are several standout areas in the book, but I’ll stick to highlighting two. Port walks the reader through how to document processes and then provides several personal examples of how he applies it. Second, to illustrate possibilities, he provides some solid case studies as a guide, providing business owners some flexibility. The case studies are not as engaging as those in Accidental Branding by David Vinjamuri, but they serve their purpose.

Do you want to be a franchise? Create a product line? Purchase and rebrand businesses? Diversify your market presence? Etc. And because he asks the right questions, many people will find the right answers for themselves.

Of course, many will not want to do any of these things because not everyone is comfortable with the idea of transforming their service into a business model, which is why not everyone is an entrepreneur. As this is the case, I’m not sure Beyond Booked Solid will appeal to as large of an audience as Book Yourself Solid did. However, it’s nice to know that someone wrote a book that reminds professionals that there are many other options.


Monday, April 14

Writing Accidental Books: David Vinjamuri

After reading a few chapters of “Accidental Branding” by David Vinjamuri, I was perplexed. Could it be that a former brand manager at Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola and marketing guru for recent Google-acquisition DoubleClick and, wrote a book that is both gratifying and grasping at the same time? Exactly so.

“Accidental Branding” is gratifying in that the research and interviews are worthwhile; the writing is vivid and engaging; and the case studies — John Peterman, Craig Newmark, and Roxanne Quimby (among them) — timely. The modest cover price of $16.47 for Accidental Branding via Amazon works.

Without question, Vinjamuri succeeds where so many other business writers fail — by bringing passion to pages of businesses. He does it with flair and style, creating case studies that you actually care about. I love that about the book, enough so to recommend it. Chances are that you will love the book, enough so that you might fall in love with it like Diane K. Danielson did.

But there is something troubling too. “Accidental Branding” seems to drift into a trend that is becoming troublesome. In attempting to dispel the myths of what they teach in business school as being wrong or incomplete (which is largely correct), the author presents solutions that are not strong enough to unseat traditional teachings despite finding case studies to back up his argument.

It makes me wonder. What are we doing nowadays, anyway? Social media is becoming the boom and bane for business in ways that very few have ever expected. And when books are written with the Internet communication in mind, they tend to forget their intent and fill pages with more inspirational ideas than concrete solutions in the way that books like In Search of Excellence used to do.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but it makes one wonder if the next wave of entrepreneurs are somehow missing out because the business and marketing books being written today are chock full of case studies designed to prove some clever ideas. For example, Vinjamuri presents six: sweat the small stuff, pick a fight, be your own customer, be unnaturally persistent, build a myth, and be faithful.

The fifth is especially interesting to me because Kevin Goodman recently asked me about how viral marketing myths might mirror the urban legend phenomena, something Chip Heath, associate professor at Stanford University, wrote about four years ago.

“Creating the mythology for your brand means that you have to understand both
the narrative and how it will be spoken and shared…,” writes Vinjamuri. “… By crafting this story carefully, you will make a better case for your business than
any presentation or advertisement possibly could.”

While there is certainly some truth to the concept that storytelling works (better than bullets anyway) because it’s memorable, creating a mythos for your brand can have some unintended consequences that run afoul in what I call the Fragile Brand Theory . Specifically, a mythos can sometimes overtake the sustainability of the brand and when that happens … they risk collapse. And yet another pitfall that can transpire a well-positioned myth comes straight from the urban legend department: over time, the point of origin becomes expectedly fuzzy and may even be stolen away by someone who demonstrates your story better then you do.

“Mary Worth … Mary Worth … Mary …” ... You get the idea. The story variations have overshadowed the point of origin.

Sure, I suspect Vinjamuri might think I’m missing “rule six,” which reminds entrepreneurs to remain faithful to their brands. He’s right, but sometimes brand busting moments are not manageable as several dozen companies can attest. Brands are much more fragile than that.

Even so, and I cannot stress this enough: where I part ways on some conclusions presented by Vinjamuri, I can appreciate excellent storytelling around some very interesting break-the-mold brands. They are often not covered enough, and Vinjamuri presents those as masterfully as one might suspect from someone who works on Starwood Hotels, among others.

Now the only question that remains is whether his “Accidental Brands” can move beyond the moment and capture its own mythos. We shall see. I hope so.


Monday, February 11

Going, Going: Now Is Gone

It has been four long months since Now Is Gone by Geoff Livingston with Brian Solis first landed on Amazon and bookstore shelves. That’s a long time in the world of new media, making me wonder whether another review serves any real purpose, especially from someone who was included.

Yeah, about that. When Livingston visited us in Vegas, I told him I would have to ding my informal poll’s inclusion in the book, given how it is presented. I might as well start there. Sure, poll respondents called the Wal-Mart flog the biggest social media transgression to date (36 percent), but only 23 people voted.

Nine opinions is hardly as valid as it seems in print. What’s also missing is that I followed up on the subject, stating that the poll participants were a bit off: John Mackey and Julie Roehm had much larger lapses in ethical judgments. The Wal-Mart flog merely stands out because it was perpetrated by a number of people who knew better, and could have been avoided by the tiniest of disclosures.

This doesn’t really detract from the book; it’s just something to keep in mind. Like all books on new media (and everything else for that matter), sourcing the original content is important because, in understanding the greater context of the conversation, readers may come up with different conclusions than those laid out before them.

Livingston does one of the best jobs in helping people find such content, citing direct links that can be easily tracked back to the source. It makes sense.

Why Now Is Gone Works

Now Is Gone is a book that attempts a daunting task and mostly succeeds. It captures new media conversations by communication leaders as it occurred. It’s something David Meerman Scott did with The New Rules of Marketing and PR. For this reason alone, Now Is Gone is exactly what it says it is: a primer on new media for executives and entrepreneurs, people who are starting to realize they need to catch up on several months or years worth of conversation.

Livingston and the forward by Solis do a good job in presenting this, providing dozens of lessons learned, best practices, and case studies. It is often encapsulated into sound advice bites — “one new thing new media creators can learn from traditional media outlets is the creation of phenomenal content can be targeted toward a particular community” — which rightfully points to an idea that new media doesn’t require trickery as much as honest, targeted content.

Another common theme is how new media often requires active participation. Case in point: Livingston was one of several people who encouraged me to participate across more social networks than I ever intended. He’s very, very good at it (I'm just okay). He may even be one of the best at it, because he practices what he preaches…

“Social Networks that feature opt-in friends or followers can be great ways to engage sub-communities outside of a corporate social media initiative. By building value for these contacts in a participation-oriented, value-building manner, organizations can intelligently build an extended community of brand loyalists.” — Now Is Gone.

While it’s true this is sometimes time-consuming, time management and targeted participation makes the return well worth the effort. Coming away from reading Now Is Gone for the second time, it also reinforces how social networking may even be more important than a blog in that it exposes the participant to a bigger world view. It’s not all that different from participating in a professional organization on a local level. Sure, the lines are blurred and the network is bigger, but the sociology is the same.

Now Is Gone doesn't stop there. It also works hard to prove that social networks and social media cannot be ignored, no matter how much people think they can be. It is in this topic that Livingston and Solis both make their best cases for the idea that new media is changing marketing, advertising, and public relations in ways that no one expected.

They are right, even if some of the changes seem to be taking us back to the golden era of advertising when people like Ogilvy, Polykoff, Manley, and a slew of others knew that effective copywriting was all about engaging consumers in conversation. It’s the conversation, not the art or price point alone, that changes behavior.

A Cautionary Note About New Media Books

In addition to the rush to market, which sometimes leaves communication colleagues miffed by rough writing, there is something to keep in mind when reading any book about new media. And that is... it's new media.

It’s so new that some social media proponents struggle with one critical piece of wisdom: the work they are doing today is important, but it may not be strong enough to make them immortal or any more correct in being among the first. The scientific field is much more versed in working in such an environment. More than one scientist has experienced a moment when their biggest contribution is proven to be slightly flawed on the front end, making an entire volume of work invalid.

The Permian-Triassic extinction event about 250 million years ago comes to mind. There were dozens of theories floating around about the extinction for decades, ranging from large and multiple impacts and increased volcanism to methane releases from the sea floor.

However, with a single new discovery, some of these theories (and theories built on top of these theories) were suddenly left behind as entire volumes of research needed to be rewritten. The only difference, it seems to me, is that scientists are a bit more prepared for this to happen. Social media proponents? I'm not always sure they are.

Given how often I see some write that we “don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” I’m unconvinced that they are ready for for sweeping changes that occur when the wheel is reinvented. If there wasn't a need to reinvent wheels, we'd still have giant log rollers under our cars and trucks, Flinstone style. And we certainly wouldn't need new media.

Of course, this isn’t a criticism of the book. This is an area where Livingston always stands out. He allows the conversation to speak for itself, perfectly content to see it disproved, overturned by new ideas, or evolve in ways that early pioneers never intended.

You can see some of this happen in real time on the Now Is Gone blog. It’s a great read, with multiple authors picking up where the book leaves off.


Wednesday, November 14

Smoking Strategies: David Maister

Beginning straightaway with the title of David Maister’s new book, Strategy And The Fat Smoker, he shares the pointed observation that most professionals, especially managers, already know what to do for long-term success (and why to do it), but are too easily swayed by bad habits, short-term temptations, and misaligned measurements.

It’s a classic definition of the difference between intelligence and wisdom: smart enough to know, but not wise enough to do.

We already know that our business goals are best served by developing long-term relations with our clients and customers, but we’re too easily distracted by chasing any and all new business because the short-term transaction is so very, very tempting. In advertising, it translates into runaway creative without the benefit of communication purpose. For social media, it might mean link love and buzz vs. the pursuit of tangible business outcomes. In our personal lives, it might be super sized fries for lunch, every day, because packing a sack is too darn inconvenient.

We already know what we could be doing but until a crisis occurs, we’re forever stuck on the short-term treadmills that take us nowhere. Well, most of us.

You really don’t have to endure a crisis to actualize a better business strategy. As Maister, a recognized authority on the management of professional service firms and former faculty member of Harvard Business School, notes: all businesses talk about outstanding client service, teamwork, healthy work environments, and investing in the future. But so few really do, largely because their statement of objectives does not match the outcome they want to measure — increased revenue and profit margins.

We know it’s true, despite the fact that very few companies tell the truth, plainly stating that they are most interested in chasing cash and, nowadays, Web traffic. And, most that don’t talk about it are usually delusional or just plain liars. No wonder there is a disconnect between businesses and their customers.

Where Maister will likely strike a chord with some is in pointing out that applied wisdom leads to sustainable success. He presents a case for how individuals, managers, and organizations can put what they know how to do into action. However, we can only hope that someone inside every fat company can use the various tools, techniques, and thought processes to convince the executive team that a diet is warranted.

While some will find the shifts between individual and organizational strategy, as well as some personal experience tossed in, a bit jarring at times (along with frequent references to his other books), it’s not enough to detract from the value that can be gained. Maister expertly paints an accurate, if not frightening, picture of business as usual today.

“It is not uncommon for me to be told even by the most senor people that their firm’s impressive financial results have been accomplished by a management team which has consistently created an environment of fear and insecurity,” writes Maister. “The simplest explanation for the prevalence of this ‘abusive behavior’ is the simple fact that, in the right situation, it works!”

However, he distinguishes that such short-term work-under-fire tactics are exactly that — tactics that will eventually lose their effectiveness and eventually elicit resentment. In contrast, proactive, passionate, and positive management teams energize and excite people about what they do, which in turn becomes tangible in the way the workforce interacts with clients. Long term, applied wisdom will lead to better financial results.

He’s right. As I’ve often advised agency owners, especially those who have an account executive background, negative reinforcement can teach mice to press a bar for cheese, but it never did anything for creativity. And even with mice, too much negative reinforcement will eventually immobilize them.

My net assessment of Strategy And The Fat Smoker is that it provides some much needed advice for the increasingly fast-paced world of random transactions, especially those that occur online. Business, especially communication, is poised for a shift toward relationships that mean something, whether that means people to people or product to consumer.

Strategy And The Fat Smoker is an important first step for managers and leaders to look in the mirror and take action before the crisis. And based on the Watson Wyatt study highlighted in October, I suspect Maister’s book will be on the shelf none too soon.

In the interim, I highly recommend his blog, one of the few I frequently read without ever becoming irritated by the content. But then again, as a strategist in principle if not always practice, I prefer it over the noise that sometimes overshadows good work elsewhere.

It’s good enough that I’ll refer to and reference his book often. It's just another observation: with social media, almost no review is limited to a single post, but instead becomes infused in the principles of the writer. With Maister's principles so close to my own, it's easy.


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