Showing posts with label jobster. Show all posts
Showing posts with label jobster. Show all posts

Friday, July 27

Ordering Up Ethics: Flogs, Blogs, And Posers

After reading that 279 U.S. chief marketing officers, directors of marketing and marketing managers polled in the PRWeek/Manning Selvage & Lee (MS&L) Marketing Management Survey revealed some confusion over ethics, I posted a poll to see if a self-selected group of participants could determine which of eight case scenarios might demonstrate the greatest ethical breach, noting that some were not ethical breaches (but have had some people attach ethical arguments to them).

While the poll was well read, only 22 people participated as of 9 a.m. this morning (before PollDaddy had some challenges). There are several other accounts for low participation, including: ethics cannot really be measured in terms of “greatest;” not everyone was familiar with the various cases; and people are generally confused and/or don’t care about ethics anyway. All valid points.

Fortunately for me, a few people opted in because I promised to make no claims that this is a scientific survey, but rather a discussion opener for today (and an opportunity to try PollDaddy). So here’s our take on eight...

(Poll 23%) John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, Inc., anonymously posted disparaging remarks about Wild Oats, a company that Whole Foods is now hoping to acquire. We considered placing this in a secondary position, until Vera Bass offered the following on BlogCatalog: “… I believe that breach of the more specifically defined duties (especially fiduciary duty) and obligations that are developed and maintained by those who carry more responsibility for others than most people do, is, by this definition, a greater breach.” Clearly, this is an ethical breach; and we’ll be adding something to our case study next week.

(Poll 18%) Julie Roehm accepting gifts from advertising agencies while they were seeking the coveted Wal-Mart account. While there are allegedly other ethical breaches related to this case study, we limited the poll to a single breach because it’s enough. While some argue wooing guests is an industry norm, the truth is Roehm knowingly violated her company’s policy and has been spinning ever since. While the initial action was bad enough, her defense of it continues to damage an increasing number of people.

(Poll 36%) Edelman Public Relations Worldwide published a fake blog (flog) last year for Wal-Mart (there were three actually). What makes this scenario stand out is that it was premeditated by people who knew better. The real irony is that Wal-Mart could have avoided the breach with disclosure. Perhaps more ironic, no matter how you feel about Wal-Mart, it has enough good news not to need fake news. We placed it third, but only because no one seems to have been hurt.

None of the other five are ethical breaches. At least, not to date.

(Poll 14%) While the Cartoon Network bomb scare illustrates a worst case scenario for a guerilla marketing campaign to go wrong and clearly impacted Boston (closing roads, tunnels, and bridges for hours), it is not an ethical breach. While ill-advised and perhaps not well thought out, it really wasn’t about ethics. In truth, Turner Broadcasting Systems acted very quickly and accepted all responsibility. The guerilla marketing firm that oversaw the campaign, on the other hand, was much slower to respond.

The (Poll 0%) Microsoft’s laptop giveaway, (Poll 5%) Nikon camera outreach program, and the (Poll 5%) McDonald’s mommy bloggers have all been questioned and talked about by bloggers. While all of them have the potential for an ethical breach, none of them did (that we are aware). As long as bloggers disclose the gift, loan, etc. and do not allow these items to bias their opinions and/or encourage/obligate them to make false claims, then no ethical breach can occur.

The last scenario, where Jobster sent Jason Davis a cease a desist letter, claiming Davis had violated a non-compete clause for launching a social network called, was not an ethical question. While the method was not prudent, there was no ethical breach. The two have since reached an amicable agreement.

So why do we care about ethics? To take from the preface of the International Association of Business Communicators’ code of ethics, because: “hundreds of thousands of business communicators worldwide engage in activities that affect the lives of millions of people, and because this power carries with it significant social responsibilities.”

However, as mentioned, this responsibility is two-fold. I believe that we must be cautious in applying ethics so broadly as it continuously raises doubt in or damages the reputation of people, regardless of rank or position, who have not breached ethics. As is often the case, asking the wrong questions — “Is it ethical to ask for comments on a client’s blog?” — can create more confusion than clarity.

As the best measure of our ethics, we must not only be honest with others but also, and most importantly, with ourselves. If you are ever in doubt, the simplest ethical self-test is to ask yourself one of two questions ...

“Would I be proud to tell my grandmother?” or (depending on who your grandmother was) “Would I be proud to see a story about what I am doing on the front page of the New York Times or Wall Street Journal?” If you can answer “yes” to either, you’re likely in good shape. Case in point, I think Mackey would have answered "no."


Friday, July 20

Revealing Ethical Realities: PRWeek/MS&L

Some public relations professionals and communicators scratched their heads because I didn't call for the resignation of John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, Inc. despite the obvious: what he did was wrong. Perhaps part of the answer can be found in the PRWeek/Manning Selvage & Lee (MS&L) Marketing Management Survey.

The survey polled 279 U.S. chief marketing officers, directors of marketing and marketing managers that are focused on consumer-generated media, integrated marketing, and industry ethics. Although some of the questions were somewhat phrased oddly (they are paraphrased here), some of the results might surprise you.

• Wal-Mart’s non-disclosure of its authorship of a blog was a breach in marketing ethics. 55 percent agreed.
• Julie Roehm’s acceptance of gifts and dinners from future advertising agencies was unethical. 46 percent agreed.
• Turner Broadcasting placing magnetic lights in Boston that resembled bombs was a breach. 41 percent agreed.
• Microsoft acted unethically in providing Windows Vista on laptops to technology bloggers. 32 percent agreed.

Clearly, there seems to be some confusion over ethics. Originally, I was going to write something about this, but then decided it might be fun to run a poll to see what some readers think first. Which of the following do you think constitutes the greatest breach of ethics? You can vote for only one (and some might not be ethical breaches); we'll share our take on it next week (after the poll closes).

Incidentally, the MS&L survey also revealed that 17 percent of senior marketers say their organizations have bought advertising in return for a news story; 7 percent said their organizations have an implicit/non-verbal agreement with a reporter or editor to see favorable coverage; and 5 percent of marketers said their companies had paid or provided a gift of value to an editor or producer in exchange for a news story about their company or its products.

So much for the notion that all journalists are somehow pre-equipped to make the right ethical decisions. As I have said before, ethics begins with the person and not the profession. Bloggers have an equal opportunity to be ethical and to suggest they cannot, as some people do, only indicates their own propensity to have an ethical lapse.


Sunday, July 1

Covering Hot Topics: Second Quarter 2007

Every quarter, we publish a recap of our five most popular communication-related posts, based on the frequency and the immediacy of hits after they were posted. While we base this on individual posts, some are related to larger case studies.

Jericho Fans Make Television History

When CBS executives cancelled Jericho over Nielsen ratings, fans of this post- nuclear terrorist attack/small town survival drama went nuts, literally. Using the Internet and social media as their point of organization, they launched the largest cancellation protest in history: sending 40,000 pounds of nuts (from just one store); rallied almost 120,000 petition signers; cancelled CBS related-cable subscriptions; boycotted network premieres; sold network stock; sent in countless letters, postcards, and e-mails; captured media attention in every major newspaper and tabloid; and flooded the network with phone calls. Within a few weeks, CBS reversed its decision in record time, heading off what was quickly becoming an exercise in crisis communication. Of all the posts, pointing out the error in CBS’ marketing of Jericho took top honors with over 10,000 hits.

Link: Jericho

Wal-Mart Strikes Back Against Julie Roehm

If networks are looking for a new made-for-television docudrama, the ongoing Julie Roehm story continues to turn heads (and maybe stomachs). Filled with twists, turns, sex, back room deals, character defamation, lawsuits, countersuits, media bias, allegories, and more spin than the planet Jupiter (which rotates once every 10 hours), this story demonstrates the pitfalls of second-tier executives becoming public figures and the companies that keep them. In the end, if she has any credibility left, Roehm’s personal brand will always be linked to the short-lived, um, alleged Wal-Mart funded affair with a subordinate, her master-class ability to spin herself into another lawsuit and, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, being more indestructible than a cockroach.

Links: Julie Roehm, Wal-Mart

Digital Media Will Change Everything

While some might say it was the very loose Jericho link, we like to think it is related to the increasing interest in the future of digital media, specifically how old media is becoming new media. When we gave some attention to how News Corporation and NBC Universal are speeding ahead with the addition of FUEL TV, Oxygen, SPEED, Sundance Channel, and TV Guide as content partners committed to bringing programming to Web video consumers, people wanted to know what it might mean. To us, it means that one day very soon, broadcast news and entertainment will be forever fused with the Internet, people will access it all via versatile technologies like the iPhone, independents will have the potential to break into the big leagues overnight, and businesses will fully develop what we sometimes call income marketing.

Links: Digital Media, NBC Universal, FOX

Paris Hilton Splits Public Interest

We don’t know about you, but Mika Brzezinski of MNSBC perfectly captured the public’s sentiment over Paris Hilton. In a YouTube clip, Brzezinski refuses to lead the news with Hilton, but then goes on and on about how she refuses to cover it, making her refusal to cover Hilton carry on probably three times longer than if she would have just read the script. Love her, hate her, love to hate her, or hate to love her, we’re not buying that you’re not interested because if we post about her, we always see spikes even though we generally only cover communication side items like blaming publicists, marketing humor, and overly long media statements from jail. Hmmm… maybe that’s why Hilton took second against Roehm in terms of most read public figure.

Link: Paris Hilton

The Office Parodies A Public Relations Nightmare

Although some follow-up stories to JetBlue and Jobster came close, NBC Universal's 2006 Emmy Award-winning show, The Office, proved fictional crisis communication is sometimes more fun than real life. For our part, we wrote up how The Office episode "Product Recall” mirrors how executives sometimes allow a crisis to run away from them by applying “tried and true” communication strategies. In the show, Michael Scott (Steve Carell), regional manager of Dunder-Mifflin, applies the practice of “always running to the crisis and never away from it” after a disgruntled employee at the paper mill put an obscene watermark on one of their most popular paper products. The operative word in this case is “always.” Crisis communication rules are only guidelines, silly.

Link: The Office

It’s very promising to see non-bad news posts starting to give bad news posts a run for their money. We're still hoping good news and educational posts might one day dominate the top five (admittedly doubtful). For example, when it comes to social media, we’d love to see more attention given to our underpinning concept that strategic communication is best suited to drive social media despite the fact that most companies seems to be trying to do it the other way around.

Anyway, while those were the top five posts (and related case studies) for the second quarter, several others came close (and almost all of them beat out last quarter). Runners up (no order): Fans of the The Black Donnellys lobby for HBO to save the canceled NBC show; PR bloggers made a non-issue into an issue over Nikon; JetBlue proved you really can overapologize in a crisis; Jason Goldberg of Jobster goes a whole week or so before behaving badly again; and our sum-up of Harris Interactive mobile advertising research despite my initial skepticism, mostly fueled by a not-so-great Webinar release.

So there you have it, except for one very, very important ingredient: thank you all for dropping by, adding comments, promoting several stories, and continuing to bring communication issues to our attention so we may offer up our sometimes serious, sometimes silly take on them. Whether you agree or disagree, all of it lends well to the discussion and I appreciate those who remember to target the topic and not each other in providing input.


Thursday, June 28

Controlling Community: John Sumser

John Sumser has taken on a mission impossible because there seems to be a desire to transform, which is currently defined as blog community portal, into a niche social network that will be managed like an online magazine with Sumser as editor.

It cannot be done.

Sumser is not alone in making the mistake of combining what are opposing objectives. Many companies are struggling with the same self-created issue, which is what often gives rise to community members screaming unfair criticism, blatant censorship, and/or totalitarian fascist rule. Eventually, it leads to protest, exodus, or even negative public outcry beyond the niche it serves.

You can see it all over the net. It ranges from alleged censorship of The Black Donnellys fans at NBC online and Jericho fans during the cancellation protest at CBS online to the broadest brush strokes and ample examples being advocated by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. All of it, big and small, stems from the same problem: a lack of strategic oversight on the part of the site moderators that often leads to gross confusion over whether or not the First Amendment might apply on the part of the participants (mostly, it doesn't), which I'm inclined to write about another time.

Today, I'll stick to the misconception being applied by some companies: they think "if we build it (a framework for an online community of sorts, whether it be a blog, portal, forum, social network, or some combination), they will come." And, as soon as the "open" sign goes up, sometimes they do come — participants who quickly take up residence and build their community.

Did you catch that? I said "their community" because it's the most important part of the equation. Companies that create online gathering places only own the framework; it's the participants who own the community. Because without them, there is no community.

And that brings us back to Whereas Jason Davis (former management at moderated with a guiding hand, Sumser seems to use the rule of law. After all, as editor, Sumser claims it's his job to ensure the content is worthwhile by some subjective standards only he knows.

While I understand this thinking from someone who often considers social media and blogging as, more or less, immature and brutish (although, mysteriously and magically, not so in many, many places), it represents the direct opposition to developing an online community. You see, the model for editorial control, beyond the loosest guidelines, (eg. no pornography, etc.) is much better suited to running an online magazine or news source like, well, Electronic Recruiting News.

For a blog portal, like, any sense of community can only be accomplished by applying the simplest of concepts: "it's easier to pull a chain than to push one." That means "editors" must abandon their propensity to manage and attempt to lead.

Real leadership does not work under the rule of law. It requires something else all together. So instead of "editing" and reserving the right to make even the best intended critiques, the moderator who hopes to build a community will see better results if they focus more on making people feel welcome, praising those who provide the best examples, and adding unique value for the residents.

No, it doesn't have to be this way. could just as easily operate as an online content provider or magazine (in which case, it needs more exclusive content) and a blog portal, giving up on the idea that it is somehow a community (it's not). While this means it will rarely be considered home, the model can work just as well while affording the owners control, which they seem to want.

From a more general perspective, any time a company, organization, or group launches a product, service, or online "something" (or applies sweeping changes to such things), it's always best to develop a strategy first. And, if these things already exist, it's never a good idea to remove previous tactics without knowing what you need to replace them with. Ergo, if you blow little things all up without a plan, you might be surprised to find out some of those little things made the big thing work.

Ideally, developing a strategy can be largely accomplished by understanding the environment in which you hope to operate and your true competitors. Then, you offer added values to your product/service/offering or, at minimum, positive communication contrasts between yourself and your competitors.

Apple and AT&T's positioning of the iPhone is a pretty good example. Verizon's new message, which they think will keep customers from switching to an iPhone, is not.

The bottom line. You cannot be all things to all people, especially when you aren't all things.


Wednesday, June 27

Behaving Badly: Jobster CEO

Jason Goldberg, CEO of Jobster, an online career network, has once again succeeded in doing what he seems to do best. Any time the sailing seems too smooth or the skies too blue, he veers his venture capital-funded ship and its shareholders’ money off course to find a storm of his own creation.

This time, apparently prompted by moderately reliable Alexa analytics, he sent former employee and shareholder Jason Davis a cease-and-desist letter to either close down (which I recently reviewed) or force broker a deal to, in Goldberg’s words, “work this out in a way that benefits everyone.”

According to Goldberg’s letter to Michael Arrington at TechCrunch, Davis is in violation of a non-complete clause that Davis signed as part of a contract to manage for a year (after he sold the site to Jobster). After the one year contract was complete, Davis launched Goldberg’s position and the message he thinks he is communicating is this:

“Our overarching intent at Jobster and with our Website remains to foster online community in the recruiting industry — the more the better. At the same time, Jobster needs to ensure that our employees and contractors uphold their commitments.”

It seems to me and others that Goldberg is communicating something else …

• He has not learned that virtually no communication, especially bad communication, will remain private. Sooner or later, it will be made public.

• He is not above attempting to manipulate and intimidate people into giving Jobster and some sort of leverage over others, in this case. It’s laughable at best, unethical at worst.

• He does not have faith in John Sumser’s management of to retain and attract visitors. If he did have faith, there would be no reason for Jobster to threaten legal action to protect a Digg-styled blog portal against a very different offering, which I called an open niche social network on Ning. (Even Sumser, who I enjoy from time to time, doesn't seem to have much faith in his abilities either.)

• He is a rash, impulsive executive without empathy; it sometimes seems like he wants to come across as a hardhearted bully, but in reality, this action seems more like a spoiled child throwing a tantrum because he made a bad decision in not renewing Davis’ contract.

• He comes across, once again, as being disingenuous by saying that “We at Jobster are actually big fans of the Website … we’ve also offered/suggested that there is probably a good way for us to work together going forward.” A cease-and-desist letter is usually the last communication, not the first communication, in fostering positive business relations.

From a communication perspective, legality issues aside, even if Goldberg and the much-loved-by-the-recruiting-industry Davis can reach an amicable agreement as they both suggested they might, Goldberg has already lost. He has created a potential crisis in using the supposed weight of his company to censor a niche social network, that has yet to make any money, just because he feels threatened by even the most indirect competition and comment.

Goldberg’s best course of action, assuming he doesn’t want to become another “laugh piece” for The New York Times, is to admit that he overreacted and retract any hint of taking legal action. If he does not, the potential ramifications will likely be that will continue its decline (caused by its own inability to remain relevant even though it could be), and Goldberg will solidify his personal brand as someone who is either not to be taken seriously or to be avoided at all cost. This would not bode well for Jobster, as mentioned on the Recruiting Animal Show.


Tuesday, June 12

Saving Jobster: Joel Cheesman

In December 2006, Jason Goldberg, CEO of Jobster (one of the first employee recruitment search engines and “somewhat, sometimes” transparent CEO blogs), embarked on a perilous crisis communication adventure when he asked his employees to ignore rumors of a mass layoffs. "Put down your pencils .... calm it down, relax a bit, and have a nice holiday,” he said. “We’ve got big news to give ya before the new year."

Although Goldberg dismissed outsider speculation, despite leaving hints on his own blog over the holidays, 60 of the company’s 148 employees were laid off, which was much worse than any one had guessed.

For my part, the entire story presented itself as a living case study in crisis communication (what not to do) with one question that remained unanswered for the better part of six months: could Jobster erase the reputation damage it endured externally and the employee morale flogging it weathered internally?

While I appreciate there are still plenty of people who say Jobster’s business model (or lack thereof, some claim) will one day be its undoing, I submit that the company has moved beyond the employee post-holiday massacre. Yet, perhaps even more ironic, some of the credit to ending the great Jobster layoff debate doesn’t even belong to Goldberg. It belongs to Cheezhead’s Joel Cheesman in April.

How did Cheesman help save Jobster from existing in a Groundhog Day-like movie, reliving the layoffs over and over again? Simple. After promising a public smack down between himself and Goldberg at a recruiting conference, Cheesman, in his own words, left people with “less rumble, more mumble and fumble.”

True. The worst of the four non-smack down questions was when Cheesman asked Goldberg “what does Jobster want to be when it grows up?” And then, after Goldberg appropriately addressed his understanding of the modern career market (you cannot intern with a master-class spokesperson like President Bill Clinton and not learn a few presentation skills), the Cheezhead summed up an even better answer for his so-called adversary, saying Jobster wants to be “a career center for the digital age.” Yep. That will work.

The better questions, perhaps the only questions that really needed to be asked, have never been answered: why did Goldberg hint, then deny, then confirm layoffs at Jobster? And, how can Goldberg think he was being transparent when all of his actions represented the exact opposite of transparency? But alas, asking those questions and two or three follow-ups is what makes for a great aggressive media session. (I’ve had clients reach over the table as if to hit me during mock media sessions before they are reminded that it’s only practice and my questions are nothing but “acting” the part.)

I don’t think Cheesman has had such training so it’s no surprise that he killed the great Jobster layoff debate by jumping the shark in a face-to-face venue that is remarkably well suited for Goldberg (as if we didn’t know that; he founded a company with about $40 million in venture capital). Of course, I am not saying that Cheesman “saved” Jobster single-handedly. Goldberg has done a fine job at improving Jobster’s communication, including the Jobster blog.

While you won’t often find the kind of entertaining hot talk and foodie reviews that used to drive traffic there, the blog does read better and includes a few more voices than it once used to. So while the traffic numbers are much lower than before, the blog seems to be better targeted in attracting the attention of people who might be interested in Jobster as a customer or investor.

Although Goldberg still likes to hint on occasion, and sometimes without a payoff on those promises, he still tosses out ideas that seem interesting to me. Can anyone really become a sourcer with some simple online technology? Will the pay-for-applicant model really revolutionize recruiting? Can Jobster really keep its communication tight, focusing more on its message than everyone else’s? Will the now Goldberg-employed John Sumser save Jobster-owned or let it fade away into the abyss of forgotten blogs?

I don’t know. It is certainly something worth watching even though the living case study on Jobster’s layoff debacle has come to a close (I meant to wrap it weeks ago until Jericho fans pushed back the post for days and then weeks). That said, you’ll have to wait for a book that recaps the Jobster case study with some additional insights. Yep. For better or worse, Jobster earned its chapter.


Monday, April 9

Chatting With Animal: Copywrite, Ink.

On the last day of my "Writing for Public Relations" class at UNLV (a few weeks ago), I mentioned to my public relations students that I would be a future guest on an online talk radio show. Talking about the show made sense because it fit within the framework of our discussion: industry trends and the impact of social media. This show certainly qualifies.

They seemed very excited by the prospect that I would be actively engaged in what I talk and teach about (teaching is only a sliver of my time) and several of them asked for a time and date. "But wait," I said, hoping for a drum roll before revealing the details. "I haven't even told you whose online radio show... it's ... are you ready ... it's The Recruiting Animal Shooowww!"

Their enthusiastic expressions quickly turned to looks of sheer terror and inexplicable horror. Surely, their instructor had not lost all his marbles and taken to open discussions with someone who bills himself as "neither man nor wolf." Obviously, it must be a mistake. After all, experimenting with Recruiting was one thing, but to openly engage the same person who, in their minds, vilified me with the moniker "Mr Moustache" ... well, that was something else all together. "Don't do it!" They warned.

Of course I will! Why not?

The topic, time, and date are set:

The Recruiting Animal Show.
Topic: Does bad publicity exist?
NOON EST (9 a.m. PST) on Wed., April 11
Call to talk: (646) 652-2754
Listen On: Windows Media
MSN Messenger:

On the show, I will attempt to answer the question "Does bad publicity exist?," strike a blow at the very heart of this erroneous myth that "all publicity is good publicity," mention the difference between publicity and public relations, and talk about a few publicity examples discussed on this blog, including (but not limited to) the public relations nightmares experienced by Jason Goldberg, CEO of Jobster (it is a recruiting industry show, after all).

Can I do it all or did I set myself up like the fine folks at JetBlue, with too many exceptions and not enough time to deliver?

I don't really know. I guess we'll find out this Wednesday. Whatever does happen, I'm almost sure it will be entertaining if not educational. In fact, the only thing I can be 100 percent sure of is that as much as I have grown very fond of the infamous character that is The Recruiting Animal, I'll be packing some silver. (You can never be too careful these days. Ha!)


Thursday, April 5

Validating Critics: Jeff Hunter

While this post touches once again, ho hum, on Jason Goldberg, CEO of Jobster, it is not about Jason Goldberg. If you want another post on him today, visit Workfarce. It's not a great post, but it is an interesting continuation on communication myths that seem to creep in as well as a fine example of the the love-hate relationship some fans seem to have from the nosebleed section.

Personally, I'm more interested by a comment left by Jeff Hunter on Cheezhead, which originally sparked the revival of the Goldberg discussions. Hunter quoted President Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.”

Now, Roosevelt was an amazingly smart and astonishingly multifaceted man. He is one of my favorite leaders in American history and you can read more about him at Theodore Roosevelt Association. His quote, above, made a lot of sense within the context of what he was talking about.

However, and I mean no disrespect to Hunter, I don't think it applies to social media. Sure, it's the cornerstone of the argument that "only Jason Golberg knows what's happening at Jobster" so you have no right to write about him even though he wants to be written about, unless you're promoting his message, whatever that might be.

Perhaps because I've worked as a paid journalist/critic (about 10 years total experience or so) — dining reviews, show reviews, tourism reviews, company reviews, political reviews — it's easier for me to see the distinction between armchair quarterbacking, customer feedback, journalistic feedback, and what occurs within the context of social media.

Not always, but more often than not, the purveyors of blogs are more than merely critics. On the contrary, they are the very people whose faces are marred by the same dust and sweat and blood that mars the people they write about. And I, for one, do not see criticisms as criticisms as much as I see them as conversational discussions between industry leaders to guide the direction of the industry and ensure it is not shaped by someone who might very well be wrong.

This was one of reasons I began changing the format of my blog in mid-August last year. I saw people shaping the direction of communication through social media (and I am not saying they are all wrong), but they didn't know much about strategic communication. Many of them were too busy being "agents of change," willing to blow up everything in favor of, well, nothing … provided they can put their name on it.

While the thought is well intended, I don't agree with the idea that criticisms jeopardize any industry, provided that those criticisms are valid or at least lead to some other validity with open, honest communication (short of malicious intent).

Further, I don't believe it needs to be the obligation of industry leaders to lift every other industry leader up in the face of adversity for the betterment of the industry. In fact, I have been a board member of too many non-profit professional organizations where out of the well-intended notion that "we all need to support each other and every idea all the time" came erroneous actions that resulted in the death or near-death of an organization or program.

Ergo, criticisms are only invalid when the discussion of an idea gives way to popularity contests between people and not their ideas or undue polarization of an issue where people try to convince everyone that it is either all or nothing, black or white.

Recently, Jim Durbin rightfully took me to task when he wrote that I stretched too much in my attempt to take "a major issue issue (the January layoffs and Goldberg's December posts), and conflating them with other issues that are not related and of the same magnitude." While the stretch was intentional, though not obvious enough as I conceded, kudos for Durbin.

That is the way it should be. In fact, had it not been for his post, I may have never dug a little deeper and visited Blogpulse. If you trend "Jason Goldberg," you'll see my stretch wasn't all that far off. The largest spikes tend to be the result of negative news and commentary, including one some might call an insignificant disagreement between two bloggers.

In the realm of social media, it seems that exchange has as much impact as any. Perhaps even more telling is this: on the same day the "Knowing When To Post" went up, Richard S. Levick, president and CEO of Levick Strategic Communications, posted a comment on my February "Discussing JetBlue" post, which I responded to. Those two comments on JetBlue beat out Jobster 5-to-1. (Heads up: I'll revisit JetBlue on Monday.)

What does this mean? Well, that has never happened before. So could it be that interest in Jobster has waned? Maybe. At minimum, when bad rumor spikes begin to outweigh good news spikes, it's time to rethink your strategy. Sure, people gawk at car accidents, but car accidents will only hold their interest for so long.

Anyway, thank goodness for people like Durbin who take the time to ask questions and offer comments. If people like him stopped doing it, then entire companies, organizations, industries, and countries could be led in the wrong direction. But then again, what do I know?

I only know that not so long ago, a public relations professional engaged me in an e-mail exchange that insisted my critique on his non-recruiting client's release was unfair and unprofessional. Then, he basically asked me to shut up. Who am I to argue? If he wants to insist that silence is golden, then so be it. I won't write about his client again, which is a shame, because I had some good things to say.

So I wonder what would have been worse: writing up his second public relations debacle or not writing anything at all...

Critics. We don't always like them, but maybe we need them.


Tuesday, April 3

Knowing When To Hint: Jason Goldberg

Joel Cheesman, president of HRSEO and Oaseo, is considered one of the most widely-read bloggers on emerging recruitment issues. On his blog, Cheezhead, he has an online poll that asks if Jason Goldberg, CEO of Jobster, is killing the company.

Sure, it's not the best poll (sorry Cheesman, but it's not) and voters are allowed to vote more than once, but it does serve as an interesting conversation starter, especially if one asks if Goldberg is committing suicide by social media.

Voters seem to think so, with 51 percent of votes claiming "the dude's gotta go," outpacing the erroneous idea "all publicity is good publicity," which garnered 38 percent. The comments tell a different and perhaps more accurate story. Goldberg is surrounded by wingnuts: either fiercely loyal or venomously vindictive. Some excerpts:

"Jobster’s board and employees are 100% behind Jason. He is a thought leader in the industry and while sometimes controversial, that controversy is expected around disruptive companies." — Christian Anderson

"Clearly the young man has gone off the deep-end. He had a great vision and built an AMAZING team, which he then proceeded to destroy and dismantle." — claimed Former Insider

"I don’t know exactly whats gone on at Jobster but I do know a lot of people that have worked there. They all have mixed emotions on what happened." — Ryan Money

Exactly. And former employees are not alone. For Goldberg, social media saves him as often as it slays him. Or perhaps, it's the other way around. Goldberg gets himself in trouble by creating the very rumors that continue to assault his company.

The most infamous of these began when he used his blog to hint at, then deny, then confirm layoff rumors during the holidays. The story has been covered by anybody and everybody (Jobster), including the New York Times and, more recently, Wired magazine as Cheesman reported:

"Goldberg probably hopes that little incident will quietly fade away. But it won’t, for one simple reason: When you type ‘Jason Goldberg’ into Google, a link to an International Herald Tribune Story detailing the entire debacle appears near the top of the first page of results. Anyone who searches for Goldberg will immediately trip over the biggest faux pas of his career. It has entered, as it were, his permanent record."

However, this social media assessment is hardly the entire story because every time Goldberg misapplies social media, dozens, perhaps hundreds, of fanatical allies — most of which were made using social media — rally to his defense with statements that basically argue that Goldberg should never be held accountable for his own actions because they love him.

As I said yesterday, it's the ultimate social media paradox: social media saves him as often as it slays him. And he is extremely fortunate on that point because Goldberg is his own worst enemy, nobody else. The culprit is always the same: message management. At Jobster, at least for Goldberg, there is no message management.

Almost like clockwork, usually toward the end of the month, Goldberg hints at something ugly and creates a social media/industry rumor that detracts from all his other messages. In January, it was layoffs. In February, it was his feigned challenge over my assessment of his mishandling of crisis communication. In March, it was yet another hint on his blog at Jobster: "While has basically been running itself for the past year (with Jason Davis prodding it along), I've recently been putting some thought as to where we should take the site next."

Days later, after returning from a vacation, Davis was forced into a position to post his own explanation: "My decision to move on is entirely personal."

Rumors. Rumors. Everywhere rumors. Where is the reality amidst all this perception? The reality is far less dramatic. They mutually agreed to allow the contract to end well before Goldberg hinted, then denied, and then took action to implement new changes for

Message management might have left everybody feeling excited for Davis and happily wondering about Goldberg's purported future changes at Then again, if Jason is not his brainless, uncontrollable namesake from Halloween with one too many sequels, then perhaps he's auditioning as a drama queen who creates his own publicity at the expense of others. I mean, come on, if we want to talk rumors... what if every apparent debacle was a calculated ruse to get the blogosphere buzzing so they would come to Jobster's blog and find posts that piggyback his dismissal of Davis...

Goldberg announcing a dozen or so features that include: the new Jobster Employer Training and Education Site, the new Jobster Blog Buddy (beta), the new Jobster Career Networking (beta) and Network Feeds, and on, and on, and on. Could it be the high-flying CEO at Jobster is simply eccentric or undeniably evil? Of course, if that were true, then he might as well play Russian roulette. As Barry Hurd pointed out on the Cheezehead blog...

"A lot of CEOs and execs are playing in a very complex public relations audience, and I think the primary difference that separates success vs failure in blogging was that Kelman (CEO of Redfin) had a more consistent message and he didn’t change course as often. He was also more brutally honest on his own actions, with statements about bad expos and poor decisions."

Bingo. Goldberg is no Kelman. Message management trumps publicity stunt. And sometimes, the difference is knowing when to hint. Apple is very good at it. Microsoft, not so good. Hinting at business, unlike politics where Goldberg got his start impersonating the President as an intern, is best reserved for good news. Yet, Goldberg likes to hint at bad news.

In contrast, if I said chapter one of an upcoming book this year might be entitled a "The Jobster Paradox" that would be a pretty good hint. If I said I might invite Goldberg to contribute his defense of my position, that would be a pretty bad hint.

It all comes down to one of several simple truths when you peddle publicity, hints, and rumors: the further you force a perception away from reality, the greater the risk. In every case study, the picture is crystal clear. It's not "what you do" as much as it is "what you do as compared to what you say you do."

And for Goldberg, based on Jobster's history and the recent message mismanagement (no matter what "New Coke" du jour he has plans to introduce there), perception is often as far from the truth as one can get.


Monday, April 2

Covering Hot Topics: First Quarter 2007

Last year, we published a recap of our five most popular communication-related posts, based on the frequency and the immediacy of hits after they were posted. Today, we've decided to keep it simple, covering the top five of the first quarter.

Antonella Barba Buzzes Up American Idol

When photos of the presumably modest Catholic University student and American Idol contestant posing in front of the U.S. war memorial in Washington, D.C. surfaced on the Internet, everyone from the cruel and crude to the curious and complimentary surfed the Web to see what was there or perhaps not. For our purposes, Barba proved to be an excellent case study in publicity gone wrong. Although we were among the first to call the pornographic photos phony, Barba's insistence that she could sing despite some obvious inability, landed her a series of offers that suggests she has different talents. Recently, Star Magazine listed her as more foolish in Hollywood than no-talent American Idol Sanjaya Malakar. We know why. Do you?

Link: Barba

Julie Roehm Sues Wal-Mart For Her Behavior

Maybe it's because some people still think Julie Roehm sports some nude photos too or because "anything Wal-Mart" always seems to command attention. Either way, the suit and countersuit, that reveals scores of ethically challenged e-mails, raises dozens of questions related to business behavior in a new world with social media. Workplace privacy, business ethics, and the pitfalls of second-tier executives becoming public figures are all part of the equation. Perhaps we're oversimplifying, but our interest in this case study is about whether it pays to draw continuous attention to your own shortcomings. Roehm would have been better off leaving things alone than attacking a former employer who is tired of hearing her name.

Link: Julie Roehm

Jason Goldberg Can't Shake Bad Habits

Jason Goldberg, CEO of Jobster, presents the ultimate paradox in social media. In 2006, he used social media to float the rumor of layoffs at his company and everyone from the New York Times to (most recently) Wired Magazine, as reported by Cheezehead, has chastised him for it. Yet, as crazy as it sounds, social media saves him as often as it slays him. So in what has almost become one sequel too many for the story that would not die (much like the Halloween franchise), Goldberg seems to have taken some lessons to heart despite being unable to break bad habits. He has a nasty tendency to hint before taking action as evidenced by the layoffs, his brief 'engagement' of me, and recently, about the fate of much-loved Jason Davis at, who is allowing his contract to end after Goldberg hinted that changes were in the works (Davis was not fired nor forced to resign). We're adding a post to this living case study tomorrow, hopefully to shed some light on the continuing confusion.

Link: Jobster

Royal Spring Water Dances With Creative Ethics

Although new, Royal Spring Water seems to be gaining traction as another case study to watch. Just a few days ago, we called the company on peddling fear with its anonymous publisher-produced direct mail piece that sold stocks and the end of the world. Hailing water as the new oil, Royal Spring Water seems to be coming under fire for questionable marketing practices, stock valuation, and its product, billed as "structured water." While most of the muck seems buried by a mountain of news releases about anything and everything to demonstrate momentum, we cannot help but to wonder what the future holds for a company headed by former filmmakers.

Link: Royal Spring Water

Blogging ROI Is Real With The Right Measures

We are always a bit discouraged knowing that bad news tends to trump good news in attracting attention (for traditional and social media alike), but one idea surfaced above the clutter this quarter. Although it is only a sliver of a bigger theory we're working on in between servicing our clients, the 5-in-1 tool concept for blogging accomplished its objective: we were hoping executives and communication-related professionals would think of social media as a very versatile tool rather than force cookie-cutter frameworks upon companies. Simply put, appreciating that social media is a tactic and not a strategy, we recommend looking at existing communication challenges and/or opportunities before attempting to apply social media. By doing so, it's easier to establish measurable objectives that can deliver a tangible ROI.

Links: Blogging ROI, Social Media

Those were the top five most read posts for the first quarter 2007. Runners up (no order) included: Julio "Assad" Pino, JetBlue, Social Media Influence, AP Style on Web site, Using The Force.

A special thanks to all those who dropped by, added comments, and continued to help us shape a blog that is hopefully more useful than entertaining, but sometimes entertaining all the same. Thank you very much. Until tomorrow.


Tuesday, February 20

Knowing When To Comment: Jason Goldberg

Starting in December 2006, Jason Goldberg, CEO of Jobster, embarked on what the New York Times and many others have classified as crisis communication gone wrong. Using his blog as a primary means of communication, Goldberg hinted at, then denied, then confirmed layoff rumors during the holidays with such abandon that the company’s Technorati ranking knocked Britney Spears out of the top spot for popular searches. Through it all, most members of the media and social media scoffed at Goldberg, calling him everything from insensitive and ignorant to brash and dishonest.

While most companies find away to move beyond bad news that impacted a mere 60 positions, Jobster seems unable to break away from the dated story despite Goldberg offering a belated apology and Jobster making several announcements that seem to suggests its business model is working, including the news that it beat Monster out on the coveted deal with Facebook.

So why can’t Jobster shake it off? Because Goldberg has a reputed disdain for menus; the man already knows what he wants. Why waste time on an exhaustive list of options?

When your communication, even blogging, becomes formulaic and you’re not willing to consider others options, you’re almost always going to make mistakes. Sometimes the mistake is simple, like missing the special everyone is raving about. Sometimes the mistake is more costly, like the host putting in your usual order on the one day you wanted something else.

I think that is exactly what happened when Goldberg erred in choosing to comment on a largely unrelated post to presumably, according to some, challenge my assessment of his mishandling crisis communication (which he already admitted to and apologized for anyway). Known for being fierce with critics once upon a time, he ordered up a “chat” of sorts when a chat wasn’t really what he wanted.

When you attempt to take a casual observer to task after the newsworthiness of the incident has long died out and most people have forgotten, you are almost always betting against yourself because the misguided incident will be rehashed all over again. What you really risk is diluting and distracting from any good or fluffed news you have. So why bother?

Compounding this apparent timing issue, Goldberg never considered that the person he was sizing up as opposition not only teaches continuing education courses as part of his community service commitment, but also happens to be a hired gun of sorts for dozens of companies when a crisis does strike (among other things).

Of course, this assumes I was ever opposition, which, based on my posts (you can source by clicking the label “Jobster” on my blog), I was never exclusively an adversary. Sometimes I was a cheerleader in my assessments, when warranted.

Highlights of positive comments are not limited to: complimenting him on continuing to address the media and social media during the crisis he created, the well-thought out layoff announcement that was better than par, the offer to help place his former employees, and his public apology (though belated). In one post, I also defended Jobster when a competitor missed its news opportunity to pick on the company. In fact, in several incidents, one might even surmise that Goldberg coincidentally adopted strategies similar to those I posted as part of my living case study assessment.

The best time to comment on a blog, or engage the media and/or social media, is when the engagement is timely. Waiting almost two months only serves as a reminder that something bad happened.

If you are engaging to challenge the writer or to correct any errors, it’s probably best to conduct an assessment of the work. For media, the rules have always been fairly clear when you are the subject of a story:

• Are all the facts in the piece accurate?
• Is the story complete or cite additional resources?
• Is the story and any opinions offered fair and relevant?
• Are opinions included from multiple sides and sources?
• Was there appropriate depth to the story given the topic context?
• Was there an appropriate opportunity for others to leave comments?

In the case study of Jobster’s crisis communication debacle, at least on my blog, the answer is yes to all of these questions. Certainly there could and can be disagreement on the partial menu of communication choices I shared (as Recruiting Animal argued about in one post), I proposed any number of them would have been better than the non-menu approach chosen at the time.

In fact, Goldberg’s first comment to me is unsurprisingly similar to the case study. Originally, he teased at, then denied, then confirmed layoffs. Now, Goldberg teased at, then denied, and has apparently confirmed no public conversation with me. While that is fine with me, it doesn’t make sense from a communication standpoint. His real critics must be wondering if he has cold feet.

Look, if you want to comment or perhaps correct media or social media errors, it’s best to (but hardly absolute) do this:

• Choose to respond in a timely manner when the topic is still hot.
• Read the entire body of the ongoing work to ensure you are not mislabeling someone.
• Gather at least some knowledge about the person, people, or media you are responding to.
• Stay positive and reasoned, keeping your cool in order to keep the focus on corrections and clarifications, unless you’ve created a more satirical persona.
• Stay focused on what matters if you hope to maintain credibility and transparency.
• Recognize that engagement is a limited commitment, and that the person you engage will likely respond.

Of the three questions Goldberg asked, only one was worthwhile while two read as nothing more than an exercise in puffery, in my opinion. Nevertheless, I answered them all conscientiously; especially the first, as it was a fine example of the smarter questions Goldberg has been known to ask about blogging.

Unfortunately, the allusion that there would be a conversation seems to have been an illusion, probably because it wasn’t so sincere of an offer anyway. It’s a shame really. I have often found many of his previous questions relevant though sometimes not with the best timing, perhaps because he doesn’t like menus.

And, in the end, all he gained was an opportunity for people to learn how not to manage bad news, like layoffs, all over again.


Friday, January 26

Moving Beyond Bad News: Jobster

If Jason Goldberg, CEO of Jobster, is wondering why HouseValues didn’t have to endure a blog swarm over layoffs while Jobster remains the poster child for inappropriate blog posts (made about a month ago), the difference can be found in their approach to crisis communication, inside and out.

Ian Morris did it 89 percent right. Goldberg did it 99 percent wrong.

As a result, from a communication perspective and not necessarily a product review, HouseValues is in a much better position to move beyond its recent bad news than Jobster. The difference is clear.

Whereas the Lukaszewski Group Inc. might call it mismanaging the victim dimension (the treatment of the victims will maintain or destroy trust) and I might call it demonstrating a lack of empathy for those who were impacted, the outcome is the same.

If you do it right, the public is satisfied and their interest wanes. If you do it right, your company might even find protection from having the issue resurface a month, a year, or ten years later.

In politics, it’s called inoculation: a clearly defined explanation of what happened, what was learned, and what was done to rectify the situation. With a good candidate, bad news can even be reframed as good news, all assuming they handled the bad news properly and actually learned something from the mistake.

Companies can move beyond bad news too, assuming the same. While this only touches on the surface, there are a few questions you can ask to guide yourself away from reliving the same bad story over and over again.

Did you acknowledge something went wrong? At Jobster, Goldberg never really apologized for his blog posts regarding the layoffs, which he still muses over today, even referencing that he blogs about what is on his iPod.

Did you apologize? At Jobster, Goldberg didn’t apologize for the posts that caused his former employees to wait on pins and needles through the holidays.

Do you offer explanation? While others have speculated on Goldberg’s behalf — that he was torn between keeping the layoffs under wraps and letting his employees know — he never really said.

What did you learn? It’s difficult to say whether Goldberg learned anything based upon his questions about blogging after the situation unfolded. Contrary, it seems he missed that the situation had little to do with CEO blogging and much to do about hinting at but denying layoff rumors.

Have you satisfied the public interest? If you want to move beyond bad news, you have to commit to regularly reporting additional information until no public interest remains. This includes all positive steps being taken to address the situation and any remedy for the victims. To his credit, Goldberg has done some of this by profiling former Jobster employees.

Did you verbalize empathy, sympathy or even embarrassment? There seems to be no time for that at Jobster, given that Goldberg and some crew have been too busy playing with the office’s new camcorder.

Did you seek outside consult? While Goldberg did ask people to hire his former employees, he remains dead set against turning to his public relations professionals for counsel, likening it to being “handled.”

Did you offer restitution? There seems to be little evidence that Goldberg has gone beyond community and victim expectations in order to remediate the problems.

Of the eight, Goldberg seems to have done one and a half, which was further overshadowed by bouts of arrogance, unpreparedness, and ignorance.

For example, as if he read a line right out of what not to do, Goldberg at one point asked (paraphrased, as this is actually a line from a Lukaszewski example): "Why are the bloggers interested in this anyway? It's nobody's business, but ours. They'll just get the story all mixed up; they simply can't get it right. We certainly can't let our employees talk about this!" One of Goldberg's actual posts is here.

In complete contrast, Morris at HouseValues sent a memo that details to employees (first) everything that will be done, why it will be done, and what measures are being taken to ensure the solvency of the company going forward. There is a certain amount of empathy and regret.

While it seems to me that the release that followed placed too much emphasis on the addition and promise of Barry Allen as chief financial officer and executive vice president of operations, among others, in order to bury the bad news of cutting its workforce by about 12 percent, its overall communication as summed by John Cook of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer — the internal memo, quotes to journalists, etc. — are just enough on par to avoid the ire of the public.

Case in point: "Today is a truly difficult day. And the departure of friends and colleagues is very painful for all of us," Morris said in the memo. "But the decisions we have made -- to focus 100 percent of our energies on the success of our real estate agent customers -- are the right ones and they will enable us to profitably grow HouseValues in the future."

All this seems to indicate, in my opinion, that HouseValues is in a better communication position to avoid reoccurring stories about layoffs. Jobster, on the other hand, continues to demonstrate a communication strategy that will be written about over and over again as how "not to do it." It will very likely be immortalized and will certainly resurface every time Jobster has even marginal news (let alone bad news) again.

Worse, despite hoping they could get over it, it is quite possibly too late for Jobster to regain any semblance of being credible with its communication. While the company may succeed, it will always have this dark piece of history lurking over its head.

Monday, January 22

Making The Times: Jobster

There are many reasons for a CEO to be excited when his or her company makes the pages of The New York Times. Unfortunately for Jason Goldberg, it was for all the wrong reasons.

Just when Goldberg probably thought that all the flack about posting was over, Damon Darlin of The New York Times decides to rehash the 20-some day old news. The article is titled "A Boss Takes to His Blog to Deny, Then Confirm," which pinpoints the original problem for those few who still don't get it. No, it wasn't that he had a blog or writes about foodie sites. It wasn't about whether his "handlers" check his posts or that sometimes he considers capital letters optional. It was all about hinting at the inevitable when it was clearly the wrong thing to do.

The reason I say this is unfortunate is because a lot of people in the recruiting industry seemed excited about Jobster's new features. Forty-one people voted for his write-up covering the Jobster's new features at I was one of them, mostly because I've been covering Jobster for a few weeks now and secretly hope, er, not-so-secretly hope, that it can patch up the hull of its ship and sail on to better things.

But unfortunately, it seems some journalists have different ideas, preferring instead to make Goldberg the poster CEO for inappropriate posts in contrast to Jonathan I. Schwartz at Sun Microsystems. Darlin even cited Goldberg's own words as to why this has come up once again: "It’s the nature of Web 2.0 and new media that if you don’t embrace openness, it will come back and bite you.”

Ouch. Shakespeare could not have written a better foreshadow.

As Jobster remains a living case study, I'll post some notes on "moving beyond bad news" when you actually have some good news ahead (this Friday). I mean, Exxon got over it. And while the handling of Jobster's layoffs were deplorable, they were nowhere near as bad as Valdez. Unless you were laid off, I suppose.

Personally, I'm starting to think Goldberg should take his own advice and hire a public relations professional from his job bank. It seems to me they need someone on the inside who really knows this stuff, inside and out.

Not everybody needs someone inside. For many, a consultant or outside firm is perfect. For Jobster, a company that relies so heavily on daily blog posts as a preferred method of communication, inside could very well be a "must have." Besides, his current public relations team couldn't even get The New York Times to write up something nice in between Darlin's post show commentary. Post show? Right, we're saving that one for after the Superbowl.

Tuesday, January 9

Missing News Opportunities: TalentZoo

Yesterday, I called Talent Zoo's "press release" a demonstration in communication ignorance, largely because it failed to meet any measurable objective and partly because it was in poor taste. More than anything, it was a missed opportunity that could have captured a few headlines.

No one really cared, except John Cook gave it a comment-less mention, probably because proximity is one of the many ingredients that journalists use to define news. Really, it would not have been difficult, in an industry that estimates more than 50 percent of corporate recruiters have been laid off or reassigned since November 2000, to do a better job.

There is news here. Plain as day. Based on its release, Talent Zoo is one of a handful of recruiters out there that is hiring people instead of laying them off. It's a nice contrast and makes people wonder "What's up with Talent Zoo?"

Except Talent Zoo did not include this in the release. Their communication contrast was between themselves and Jobster. Okay, so they are hiring a few days after Jobster laid people off. Oh yeah, they obviously have a grudge against Jobster, which seems more memorable than the mention that they are "aggressively" hiring 20 people.

The release gets worse before it gets better. Here are a few gems (ignoring grammar and usage errors):

"Talent Zoo’s growth has come largely due to increased employment needs among marketing, advertising, and public relations companies." Translation: We're lucky to have picked the right niche, um, unlike Jobster, who we don't like.

Personally, I would have placed more emphasis on the fact, according to Talent Zoo, that "both job boards and recruiting firms typically fail to offer the services of the other" while Talent Zoo does. Certainly, there is a better way to write this too.

"'Our strategy has always been to steadily grow our business by filling customer needs with superior products and services,' says Rick Myers, founder and CEO of Talent Zoo.” Translation: We lifted this off a thousand other company news releases because it sounds slick, even if it doesn't mean anything.

"Myers attributes Talent Zoo’s success to maintaining it’s self-funded existence rather than using venture capitalist financing to grow.” Translation: The company communication folks attribute the growth to the industry, but Myers does not. He says the reason for this growth is because, er, they are not like Jobster. On the plus side, only a few folks invested in us.

“Myers adds, 'I’m sorry to hear about the misfortunes of Jobster’s staff. It always frustrates me to learn about hard working people who lose their jobs. Talent Zoo is always interviewing and we are always interested in talking with anyone, whether they are fresh out of school, on the unemployment line, or just looking to join an exciting and growing company.'" Translation: I can hardly contain my glee, and, oh, by the way, feel free to call me if you worked at Jobster, but don't expect to be hired because we talk to a lot of people, anyone, in fact.

In all, of seven paragraphs, not counting the cutline, six can be directly or indirectly attributed to Talent Zoo talking about Jobster. Not too bad for Jobster, considering it didn't pay anything for all this name recognition in a release that "pokes fun at" but doesn't do any real damage. If anything, Talent Zoo lost some credibility points and the few that read the release ran over to Jobster's Website to learn more about its new direction or potential sale to Monster, if you want to entertain rumors.

Imagine how much more effective the release would have been if Talent Zoo would have stuck to its news: We're growing in an industry that BusinessWeek says is poised for consolidation. We must be doing something right. Hmmm... if they did that, then maybe, just maybe, BusinessWeek would have been interviewing Myers instead of Keith Stemple.

Who knows? If the release had been written better and gained some traction, then Myers could have slipped in some of his bloodlust for Jobster in a national magazine, maybe even a few, during some interviews. Then he would have looked as if he was just commenting on current news or citing one example of a hundred he could have chosen. Maybe, if he was really prepared, he could have struck a death blow, driving negative Jobster impressions through the roof on national television.

Ho hum. Instead, Talent Zoo's release is destined to become a mere footnote in the annals of The Seattle Times and maybe a brief conversation point on how not to write a release in my class at UNLV.

In conclusion, even if the primary objective was to smack Jobster around in the media, the release still fails. On this measure, I liken it to throwing punches in an empty ring and without an audience. Worse, Myers gave all the advantage to Jason Goldberg. Goldberg can choose to ignore it or toss in a much harder-hitting punch at his leisure. Either way, Goldberg wins.

I dare say, had it happened differently, Talent Zoo may have gained some recognition, made some money, and the recruiting industry's wrestling fans would have been much more entertained.

Monday, January 8

Feeding The Animals: TalentZoo

If you ever wondered whether communication ignorance is contagious, visit Talent Zoo. There you will find a news release that attempts to one up Jobster, not at being a better company, but by demonstrating its people lack the most basic understanding of public relations and strategic communication, which is ironic given they serve "communications" executives (they mean communication, but let’s not split hairs). The release opens:

“Award winning niche job board and recruiting agency and former Jobster rival, Talent Zoo has announced plans to hire an additional 20 people in the next four to six months. Talent Zoo’s hiring plans announced today are directly contrary of those declared yesterday by venture capital funded Jobster, who announced it was laying off 60 employees, or nearly half its workforce.”

The need for style and usage edits aside, it seems to me that Georgia would expect more from a company led by someone recently named one of Atlanta's 40 Under 40 Most Promising Young Stars by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Instead, the Jan. 4 press release (which excludes electronic media outlets, since electronic outlets do not have presses) reads as nothing more than one child thumbing its nose at another.

As much as the lead sentence sets up the news release as an opportunity to show a fair contrast between it and the rest of the industry, the second sentence takes it all away, changing the entire thrust of the release into “let’s show everyone how smug, vindictive, and possibly unethical we can be because the lawsuit we filed in 2005 was not enough.”

After searching for results, the only mention of this release (beyond MediaSyndicate, a news release distribution service) was by Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter John Cook, who calls it mostly right in saying that “Talent Zoo Chief Executive Rick Myers tosses a few darts at Jobster” in the release. Cook is kinder than a former editor of the Las Vegas Business Journal, who once lambasted a public relations representative for the local Girls Scouts for trying to capitalize on a court ruling over the Boy Scouts.

Now, it’s pretty obvious that I am no fan of the communication savvy or lack thereof that Jobster demonstrated in the midst of its restructuring, but it’s almost forgivable because I have come to believe that Jason Goldberg honestly didn’t know better (he may have, but it doesn’t seem so). In fact, he has since made a conscious effort to improve in this area. But Myers, founder and CEO of Talent Zoo, who gleefully participates in this release offering quotes like “It always frustrates me to learn about hard working people who lose their jobs,” knows exactly what he did. And in addition to being possibly insincere, he knows it was wrong to do.

If we take my first Jobster analogy, that alludes to the sinking of the Titanic, then this release can be likened to the captain of the Titanic's sister ship, HMHS Britannic, saying “I’m sorry to hear about 1,522 who perished in the accident, but maybe they should have sailed with us.”

If Forbes, which once awarded Talent Zoo with "Best of the Web" for niche job boards, doesn’t write this release up as “Best New Release Blunders,” then I hope The Wall Street Journal picks it up because Myers deserves his 15 minutes of fame on this issue. Luckily, most editors filed the release under "amusing, but trash."

Tomorrow, I'll offer how Talent Zoo could have turned this release into major headlines instead of a forgettable heckle; they didn't have to mention Jobster to do it.

Thursday, January 4

Working In A Bubble

There has been ample discussion about transparency, as it relates to blogs in particular, but it seems to me corporate transparency is optional, and best left to the discretion of each individual company. You see, I don't subscribe to the notion CEOs shouldn't blog. I think it depends on the CEO and, more importantly, the company's business strategy.

It seems to me the only problem with corporate transparency is the number of CEOs that try it without really understanding what it means. Worse, few consider that working in a bubble might be a different environment all together, becoming a public figure aside.

Maybe the answer to the question, whether to blog or not, lies within a seemingly unrelated question. How prepared are we to manage our reputation once we gain transparent visibility?

It's tricky stuff, doubly so if you have any hope to keep your message consistent. Here are 8 basic questions (I collected them from several experts and executives over the years) to ask about your corporate reputation management, adjusted a bit to skew toward CEO blogs.

1. Can you keep your focus narrow and potential issues manageable?
2. Are you willing to take responsibility (not necessarily accountability) for all employee actions and outcomes, even those outside of your control?
3. Will you maintain a positive, assertive, calm communication style that focuses attention on the most important aspects of any problem?
4. Are you willing to move toward resolution despite any negativity, including antagonistic reporters and crazy bloggers?
5. Are you ready to concede that if your local disaster becomes regional or national, that it is totally your doing?
6. Do you realize that your actions and posts will influence those around you and have an impact on your reputation and the company?
7. Are you prepared to answer tough, probing, and sometimes trick questions from not only the media but also anyone who happens by?
8. Are you willing to share your ideas internally or with consultants prior to posting in order to ensure everyone is on the same page?

If you answer no to any of these questions, then you should probably stay out of the business of blogging. Of course, if you answer no to any of these questions, your company is operating without any concern for reputation management anyway, and sooner or later you'll learn the hard way (these questions apply to picking a company spokesperson too).

Having worked with CEOs and, even more maverick, politicians, I can safely say that the decision to be transparent or blog is an individual question. As many as I have advised to blog, there are dozens more I have advised not to blog. For each, I base my advice on whether it makes strategic sense for the company and if the CEO (or anyone for that matter) is fit to be a blogger.

Or perhaps I shouldn't say "blogger" given the industry push to change the term. What is a blog? Seems to be a lot things to a lot of people, and I don't think narrowing the definition will change that.

Of course, if we are all going to make our companies "bubbles," I propose a new occupational title: "window washer." Just kidding.

Wednesday, January 3

Managing The Message

“I still feel like a passenger on that JetBlue flight that's watching helpless on my seatback satellite TV as the plane I'm on makes a crash landing,” said one Jobster employee about the recent interest in Jobster, fueled largely by one of the most horrifically handled communication accidents in recent memory. Unfortunately, unlike JetBlue, not all passengers will be landing safely.

According to Jobster, the reorganization to better align its business to focus on the most efficient sales and support channels, as well as its Website, will result in the loss of 60 positions, primarily those supporting in-person sales and support efforts. From a communication perspective, Jason Goldberg and Jobster — which maintains their first priority was to inform affected employees who were left waiting for days to learn their fate in between ill-advised blog posts — lost much more than that.

Although it reads as one of the better posts ever presented under Goldberg's byline, one that causes me to sincerely hope Jobster's smaller and more focused vision for 2007 will return the company to the start-up success story it was in 2004, I wonder if it will be enough to erase the reputation damage it endured externally and employee morale flogging it weathered internally.

You see, reputation management, which includes crisis communication as noted in my last Jobster-related post, can be equal to if not superior to a successful product. When you lose control of it, which is relatively easy to do, it's difficult for anyone to believe your next message.

If we subscribe to the ideal that it takes 80 impressions to make a message stick (and that negative impressions are eight times more impactful than positive messages), Jobster's rebranding as a company and employer that can be trusted will be a difficult, though not insurmountable, task in the year and years ahead.

The reasons are simple enough. As much as we (especially those of us in the advertising and communication field) would like to believe that we control the definition of our company or clients' companies, we really don't most of the time.

Instead, companies are defined by everything executives and employees communicate about themselves daily (whether written, spoken, or by action); everything executives and employees say about the internal working environment; everything others (from members of the media and bloggers to customers and competitors) say about the company, whether real or perceived; and everything other companies (primarily competitors) say about themselves, which causes people to wonder if the company measures up.

At the end of the day, you add up all these messages and therein lies the "real" (not self-perceived) definition of a company. While there are strategies in managing all these messages, most companies or even advertising agencies do not know where to begin. I'll work harder at sharing some insight here and there for those who care to know; most answers take longer than the single confines of a post to appreciate (and that's not to say I have all the answers), starting with eight questions to ask yourself if you are managing your reputation, which I'll share tomorrow.

To all the other social media experts and bloggers who have contributed to (and will continue to contribute to) this living case study, my gratitude. To all the folks remaining at Jobster who read my posts, I sincerely hope you did not find my criticisms and comments too harsh, but an attempt to provide objective commentary. To Jason Golberg, I hope you keep up honest blogging, perhaps though, with a bit a more sensitivity to the message you want people to read. And to all those who are being asked to leave Jobster, this too shall pass. Good night and good luck.

Monday, January 1

Managing Bad News

Happy New Year!

Last week, I offered to provide some basics in managing bad news when faced with a situation like Jobster as part of a living case study in communication. (Spoiler: If you're looking for dirt, I am sorry to disappoint. You can find plenty of nastiness on Jobster's own blog.)

Perhaps James E. Lukaszewski, APR, of The Lukaszewski Group (one of the most quoted crisis communication management consultants and prolific authors in the field), said it best during his speech to the Canadian Investor Relations Institute in 2001: In the era of instant communication, people will likely bet against you when trouble comes. "Your ability to understand and communicate with confidence in real time with constituents will be the key to winning the perception struggle that crisis always creates," he said.

He is spot on of course. With the exception of crime, malfeasance, or environmental catastrophe, most crisis communication situations are all about perception, and this seems to be the area where Jobster has struggled the most.

You see, downsizing, unfortunately, is part of business when companies are not performing as expected. There is nothing wrong with it, other than the unfortunate impact it has on people. Most people understand this and most CEOs lament the decision, which means companies are generally judged solely on management's handling of layoffs. This is also why I suspect Jason Goldberg's decision to blog about upcoming changes before clearly communicating all the details to employees (just prior to the holidays) was met with such widespread criticism.

Why? First and foremost, he didn't seem to understand he was in a crisis communication situation. Usually, crisis communication situations are identified by one of the following: a dramatic drop in stock prices, a member of management is indicted, outside activists attack the company, acquisitions/mergers/takeovers, anti-corporate government action, and the one that is hardest to identify but best applies here — founded and unfounded rumor.

It doesn't make a difference whether a rumor is founded or unfounded, both can have equal impact on a company's reputation and it is up to a CEO to manage them, with or without the advice of communication specialists (not necessarily public relations practitioners). If they do not, they run the risk of demonstrating that they are not leaders, but simply managers. The difference is that managers generally run an organization by the numbers (try to make the forecast or exceed it at all costs) whereas leaders lead through inspiration, motivation, strategic vision, and people management.

When faced with bad news or a crisis, assuming management recognizes it as such, the best leaders will always consider the following (a sliver from my playbook) once the founded or unfounded rumor surfaces:

• Talk about it as soon as possible.
• Tell the whole truth, even if it means bad news, negligence, or wrongdoing.
• Be clear and concise, addressing details without obscuring the situation.
• Offer full disclosure of all relevant facts, history, and related information.
• Demonstrate empathy or remorse as appropriate to the situation.

By all counts, it seems to me that Jobster did none of these things. They did not seem to consider that, in today's world, communication has an impact on ALL company publics very quickly (employees, shareholders, media members, customers, etc.) and each of these publics will react to information differently. They did not seem to consider most people have gut reactions before listening to the facts and background or waiting for post-holiday explanations. They did not seem to consider that all information, no matter how contained it seems, will eventually be released by someone. And they did not seem to consider that the media, people like the Seattle Times, will frequently turn to additional sources for opinions and comments when management avoids an issue, which could further erode the reputation of the company.

Suffice to say, even if Jobster finds a way to keep every employee (I hope they do, and am sorry if they don't), how the rumor and supporting evidence was managed will still have a negative impact on the company, especially on employee relations. Sure, they don't teach most of this in many MBA programs, but the most experienced leaders in today's business world learn it anyway, either the easy way from "handlers" as they are called by Goldberg, or the hard way.

Given that reputation damage most often occurs from the inside out, I sincerely hope others learn from this living case study. History does not have to repeat, even though it almost always does. Companies are fragile things. Treat them wisely.

In conclusion, I would like to mention that there has been much criticism over whether people should be discussing Jobster at all. Sorry, but I have to disagree. Jobster executives and team leaders have to appreciate that no one but no one gets to choose what others find newsworthy or interesting. On the contrary, you invited bloggers and members of the media to take an interest in the company from day one. You cannot "uninvite" them.

That, in essence, is what public relations (just one aspect of strategic communication) is all about. It's about managing communication, perception, and reputation in good times and in bad. Never should a company expect one without the other. That would be silly.

Friday, December 29

Remembering Top Posts Of 2006

With the new year upon us next week, we would like to say goodbye to 2006 with a recap of our five most popular communication-related posts, based on the frequency and the immediacy of hits after they were posted.

Wee Shu Min’s Post Impacts Economic Reform

When Wee Shu Min, the teenage daughter of a Singapore member of parliament, stumbled across the blog of a Singaporean who wrote that he was worried about losing his job, she thought she’d give him a piece of her mind. She called him “one of many wretched, under motivated, over assuming leeches in our country” on her own blog and signed off with “please, get out of my elite uncaring face,” a post that received international scorn and had such an impact that the Singapore government paid out S$150 million to about 330,000 low-income workers five days before its recent election.

Links: Wee Shu Min, Wee Siew Kim

Jobster Loses Control Of A Blog Rumor

After starting a rumor that 2007 would mean more profitability for Jobster, the rumor runs away from the company as bloggers speculate whether that will mean layoffs at the young, but fast growing online recruitment company. The outcome leads to one of the worst public relations and internal communication nightmares in recent memory. From the net to mainstream media, the Seattle Times picks up on what continues to be an interesting communication case study. A few more days and Jobster might have overtaken Wee Shu Min’s post. Go figure.

Link: Jobster

Wal-Mart Fires Julie Roehm

Julie Roehm never intended to gain her most fame for being fired by Wal-Mart, but that is exactly what happened after Wal-Mart allegedly grew uncomfortable with her friendly connection to Draft FCB, which she had pushed for to become Wal-Mart’s agency of record. Draft FCB was fired three days after Roehm. Still spinning an upbeat message, Roehm told Advertising Age she would take “60 days to find out exactly what I want to do and take advantage that people want to talk with me…” Her other alternative, she said, is to open her own shop.

Links: Roehm, FCB Draft

Jim Gibbons Elected Nevada Governor

Fueled largely by last minute assault allegations made against Jim Gibbons by Chrissy Mazzeo, a 32-year-old cocktail waitress at Wynn Las Vegas, the governor’s race in Nevada became a hot topic nationwide. Eventually, Gibbons overcame the obstacle after video evidence proved he was not in the location where the incident supposedly took place. Gibbons won over Dina Titus, 48-44. For our part, we worked on Gibbons mailers for the Nevada Republican Party’s Victory 2006 campaign after working with State Senator Bob Beers on his spirited policy-changing primary.

Links: Jim Gibbons, Gibbons Wins

Miss USA Crowns In Turmoil

The Miss USA pageant scandals remind us that all of us have personal brands. Donald Trump capitalized on the publicity by teasing Miss USA Tara Conner with the statement, made days ago, that he would be "evaluating her behavioral and personal issues and would make an announcement within the week." He forgave her, but Miss Nevada, Katie Rees, did not fare as well when 3-year-old photos surfaced on the Internet. The decision prompted many to ask whether the Miss Universe Organization had double standards in regard to ethics rulings.

Links: Rees, Conner

Those were the top five topical posts in 2006, followed closely by predictions for YouTube, e-mail disasters, Stoern’s publicity stunt, business card techniques, and Sam Sethi’s dismissal from TechCrunch.

Links: YouTube, E-mail, Stoern, Business Cards, Sethi

Let us hope 2007 brings more attention to the best practices as opposed to the biggest mishaps. Happy New Year!

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