Wednesday, March 14

Answering Questions: Richard Becker

As an optional assignment for students of my "Writing for Public Relations" class, I offered to become the subject of their project by answering 10 questions (with 5 follow-up questions as they deemed necessary). From Internet research and answers to these questions, the assignment was to write a 2-page news or feature release about me or the company.

The assignment presents an interesting opportunity to practice a real life client-story exploratory, applying economy with interview questions, working around communication and time limits, building a story from interview answers, additional research to fill in blanks, and, of course, writing a news or feature release while adhering to AP Style, etc. In sum, it's not an easy assignment, but certainly a worthwhile instructional exercise.

At the risk of publishing an overly gratuitous post, I thought I would share the first round of questions and answers, edited a bit to make the session more palatable. (By the way, the boon for the student is that I doubt I'll ever forget her after she took on an extra assignment for the sake of learning.)

Q: Did you open Copywrite, Ink. in 1991?
A: Yes, but not as Copywrite, Ink. I originally entered the Las Vegas market, after returning from Reno, Nev. as a freelance writer because advertising agencies in Las Vegas, impacted by a recession, were not hiring copywriters or creative directors with a writing background. They were more interested in account executives and graphic designers who understood the computer graphics programs that were coming out at the time.

My first client was Collins Communications. I had worked in-house with Cathy Collins for about two months. We decided we liked each other's work, but could not coexist under the same roof, mainly because she wanted an account executive too. Collins started her business after leaving R&R Advertising (now R&R Partners). I still miss working with her (may she rest in peace) and sometimes wonder what would have happened if I took over her agency like she hoped I would one day.

Anyway, the name Copywrite, Ink. was introduced in late 1992 because a production company I worked with suggested "freelancer" meant "looking for employment." Turns out the producer was right. A few years later, we incorporated.

Q: How many awards have you won?
A: I've made it a point never to count awards because I believe that awards should be the sequel, never the pilot. That is my cute way of saying that the goal should always be about results for the client before anything else. I do know, however, we've won more than 100 awards in every medium, from news releases and articles to television commercials and total integrated communication plans. I've been honored with some professional awards too, over the years.

Q: Are there any you are especially proud of?
A: If I had to choose, I would have to say the Community Achievement Award from the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce because it recognizes professionals for contributions in their community as well as their profession. I received that in 1999, which seemed like a considerable accomplishment given my age and the caliber of the other nominees in my category.

The other one that always comes to mind is Outstanding Small Chapter of the Year from the International Association of Business Communicators. The Las Vegas chapter received the award after my term as president (for my term). I appreciated it, not for me as much as for the board. Every one of my board members met every goal we set and then some, moving the chapter from small to medium in the course of a single year. This was also important because it helped reinforce that Las Vegas did have credible business communicators at a time when this community was not taken seriously in the field.

Q: What was your first award?
A: My first award was in Cub Scouts, but I think you're asking about those related to the field. My first advertising-related award was for a traffic safety poster contest sponsored by the City of Las Vegas in 1986. I didn't even know I was going to pursue a career in advertising or communication, but it was still a pretty big deal for a high school senior. We were taken to lunch and met the mayor.

Q: Why do you think you are so recognized?
A: Well, every award program has different criteria (some even dedicate entire workshops on how to prepare a work plan), so it would take considerable time to explain in some cases. However, I can safely say it has NOTHING to do with the budget.

That aside, I can also say that I am blessed to work with some of the best people in the business — clients and vendors alike. As with most things, the better the team, the better your chance to produce results. For example, we're up for an award
this weekend. I teamed with a designer in Seattle to do it. We blended our ideas, he executed some drafts, and I refined it. We also had a client who was very receptive to ideas despite a small budget. The end result is a powerful logo that will help the client meet his objectives. Teamwork.

Of course, this assumes you enter. We work with several clients who enter awards programs. Surprisingly, we don't enter too much; our clients do. However, when we do enter, we do it to as a means to earn recognition for our clients and vendors.

Q: Is there a certain person in your field that you admire?
A: I have always been fond of David Ogilvy for two reasons: he believed that every advertisement is part of the long-term investment in the personality of the brand; and one of my professors, years ago, was Bourne Morris, a former president of Ogilvy & Mather.

If you want me to pick someone closer to home, I have to recognize Keith Sheldon, ABC, APR, who was largely responsible for encouraging me to go beyond advertising and begin thinking in terms of strategic communication. He pointed me in a direction that changed the way I think about communication and perception in general. If I quote anyone in class most often, it would be him. Besides that, he's a fun person to travel with while in Mexico.

Q: Has there been an award that you received that you felt should have gone to someone else?
A: No, but mostly because most advertising/communication award programs are not structured to only have one winner. The work competes with nothing but the judges' sense of what is considered best in the field.

However, going back to the Community Achievement Award, I was in a category with Michael Berk, producer of Baywatch. To be honest, I didn't think I had a prayer. (He received an award in a different category the following year).

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
A: Good question. I think the answer to that rests on the integration of technology. I believe that we are moving to have all communication and entertainment devices combined into one media. If we continue on the path we are on and people can tune into a blog or vlog as easily as they thumb through cable stations today, then I think we're headed for a real shake-up of how we perceive traditional media. The future applications of social media are just being written today.

Of course, I'd like to continue working with the clients we have, even if we eventually relocate to another city. Thanks to the Internet, location is becoming meaningless. Right now, about 50 percent of our work is out of market. New Hampshire and Washington are among our top picks. But that's a few years down the road. We contribute to whatever community we live in.

Q: How do you give back to the community?
A: Currently, I serve as a governor-appointed state commissioner, accreditation examiner for IABC, part-time instructor at UNLV, and co-sponsor of the Nevada Business Community Blog to name a few. Traditionally, we've donated our time to improve communication for various nonprofit and professional organizations locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. Since 1991, we've probably assisted 30+ organizations. Recently, we signed an agreement with a non-profit organization to sponsor a product fund-raising idea for them in the near future, but we're not ready to release the details. Regardless of the effort however, I have always felt giving back to the community and profession is essential. It's just part of who I am.

Q: If you had to do it all over again, would you do anything differently in regard to your career?
A: Yeah, yesterday would be nice to do over. Ha! I'm joking. Look, I used to think that I would like to do a lot over again, but I don't anymore. There is no right and wrong to any decision, provided we learn something from it.

I mean … would I like to have $50,000 in cash rather than $50,000 in worthless stock from one company I did work for? Or would I have liked two subsidiary ventures to survive after 9-11? Well, yeah, I suppose so … but then again, if I didn't have those experiences, maybe I would not be where I am today. I like where I am today and where I am going, so I guess I would do it all over again the same way. You know, it might have been nice to learn some mistakes don't mean the end of the world (even though it feels like it) much earlier in life, but that's part of experience. Good. Bad. Indifferent. Might as well enjoy it.

Good job, Tracy. Only a few were closed, potentially yes or no answers. Look forward to seeing what you do with it.


Tuesday, March 13

Thinking Out Loud: AgencyNext

Sterling Hager sees the world differently than most public relations firms or marcom agencies in Boston, or anywhere for that matter. He tends to be a bit more aggressive on the merits of social media, falling just shy of boycotting traditional media relations all together (or maybe he has, it's hard to tell from a couple posts). However, we both see tremendous potential where most people in our industry (or any industry for that matter) do not.

Recently, Hager posted his take on what he calls "CR," which includes constituency relations; customer relations; client relations; consumer relations. It's another way to say direct-to-consumer communication or one-on-one communication, which social media seems to mirror for those who use it wisely.

Where I depart a bit from Hager is I tend to see traditional media and social media as different tools to achieve the same strategic objective, without one necessarily replacing the other. However, every day, I see more evidence that suggests social media might not be just about talking to the wingnuts of the public: the 10 percent on either side of a bell curve with 80 percent of the mainstream public sitting somewhere in the middle. It might be today, but it won't be tomorrow.

What difference does that make? Traditional advertising and public relations prowess tells us not to waste our time on wingnuts, people who love you or hate you. It's best to target the 80 percent because if you can move it even 5 percent, you've changed the landscape forever. Until recently, I suspected that similar to the Revised Technology Adoption Life Cycle that Harry Joiner was nice enough to link at Recruting, active social media represented a small segment of wingnuts, about 10 percent of our population, overall. You know, not-ready-for-prime-time players.

What Joiner did by posting that graph and accompanying report was remind me that the wingnuts of today (innovators and early adopters) are the shapers of the mainstream public tomorrow. Sure, sometimes they don't get things off the ground: hovercrafts and electric cars among them. But sometimes they do: cable TV companies and cell phones. He also reminded me that sometimes you have to look outside your industry to find the answers (duh! I learned customer service from concierges not designers).

So that's what I did in between deadlines today. I didn't have to look far. Last August, I posted about how AT&T U-Verse provides all-digital television on your TV and home computer at the same time. Sure, that's only one example. Until you consider Apple's iPhone or Verizon's "Personalize Life" concept. Or, well, take your pick. Everybody from the makers of iPods to PlayStations are pushing for the next communication revolution to be all about the total integration of the broadcast/gaming/cable/celluar/Internet.

Why is that significant? Totally integrated entertainment/communication means traditional media and social media will be on a reasonably level playing field with the only differential being their ability to capitalize on brand and consumer product delivery.

So no, Hager is probably not right that traditional media can somewhat be discounted today. However, this is hardly a criticism as I think he is just a few years of ahead of what will one day be inevitable. Anybody with a blog or vlog will be able to compete with mainstream media because the distribution method is only a few short years away from being permanently level.

Provide the right content mix and Recruting Animal's radio show might compete with Howard Stern or Aaron Krane could be the next Dan Rather. Of course, that all assumes some of our clients don't launch the "fill-in-the-blank" company channel and newsblog, with anything and everything you can think of. Hmmmm... this seems to be much more exciting than moving from typesetting and paste up to camera ready computer art. And, you know, I think the transition might be even faster.


Monday, March 12

Talking Transparency: Fox News

On Friday, the Nevada Democratic Party backed out of a FOX News-sponsored presidential debate after Roger Ailes, president of FOX, made some remarks, jokingly comparing Democratic Senator Barack Obama to al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

As written up by the The Huffington Post the remarks prompted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Tom Collins, the head of the Nevada Democratic Party, to cancel the debate. The letter read:

"A month ago, the Nevada Democratic Party entered into a good faith agreement with FOX News to co-sponsor a presidential debate in August,'' Reid and Collins said in the letter. "This was done because the Nevada Democratic Party is reaching out to new voters and we strongly believe that a Democrat will not win Nevada unless we find new ways to talk to new people. To say the least, this was not a popular decision. But it is one that the Democratic Party stood by.''

"However, comments made last night by FOX News President Roger Ailes in reference to one of our presidential candidates went too far,'' the letter went on. "We cannot, as good Democrats, put our party in a position to defend such comments. In light of his comments, we have concluded that it is not possible to hold a Presidential debate that will focus on our candidates and are therefore canceling our August debate. We take no pleasure in this, but it is the only course of action.''

Politics aside, this living case study brushes up against the concept of transparency in business. Just how much is too much? For Ailes, his political leanings obviously have real life consequences, if nothing else, giving Democratic leaders the excuse they needed to cancel under pressure from the more than 265,000 people who signed a petition calling Fox "a mouthpiece for the Republican Party, not a legitimate news channel." At the same dinner where Ailes made the controversial remarks, he also offered a warning about a growing trend.

"Pressure groups are forcing candidates to conclude that the best strategy for journalists is divide and conquer, to only appear on those networks and venues that give them favorable coverage...This pressure must be resisted, as it has been in the past," Ailes said. "Any candidate for high office of either party who believes he can blacklist any news organization is making a terrible mistake."

While Ailes is right, it seems he was equally wrong by being, perhaps, too transparent in his remarks, reinforcing a growing belief that today's media, particularly broadcast media, is biased toward one party or another. Clearly, it seems over the last ten years, traditional media has shifted from reporting the news to setting an agenda to having an agenda.

In part, it is for this reason businesses are looking (or will be looking) for new ways to create more open and direct dialogue with their consumers by employing, among other vehicles, social media. The question that remains unanswered, however, is whether traditional company presidents and CEOs have the skill sets required to get the job done. In many cases, there is growing evidence that suggests they do not.

In their quest to be more transparent, presidents and CEOs tend to be either too tight or too loose with their lips. A few days ago (thanks for the tip Amitai Givertz ... your new "blog-enabled" Web site is looking up!), The Melcrum Blog highlighted an article in the Financial Times UK edition that reminds us of some recent CEO gaffes...

"I don't borrow on credit cards because it's too expensive." — Matt Barrett, CEO of Barclays.

"People say how can you sell this for such a low price. I say because it is total crap." — Gerard Ratner, CEO of Ratners

"Assets like [Sainsbury] don't come on the market very often. Your shareholders would think you were an idiot if you didn't consider it. Watch this space." — Stuart Rose from Marks & Spencer, uttered over a "glass of wine," which was followed by an 'official announcement' declaring that the board of Marks & Spencer had decided it did not intend to make an offer.

For the best CEO practitioners of transparency, the rewards of mastering this double-edged sword are pretty great. According to the International Association of Business Communicators, 72 percent of consumers say reputation influences their buying decisions, 80 percent of employees will accept less money to work with a company that has an excellent reputation, and 82 percent of consumers say reputation is the tie-breaker between equal choices.

Case in point, recently I entertained a relatively gruff recruiter who wanted to establish a "relationship" in case my career goals might change in a few years (probably not, but whatever). It didn't take long to deduce that she only wanted to fill one job (that wouldn't have been challenging for me) and rob my contacts to do it. Even more perplexing was her insistence that strategic communication had something to do with how big your media contact Rolodex is (what's a Rolodex nowadays, anyway?) I've decided against publicly chastising her ignorance out of respect to my friend who referred her, but it fits within the context of mastering transparency basics to remember:

• You are never off the record (you're being interviewed even when conducting an interview).
• You cannot buy it (creating a flog, making false promises, or shifting agendas midstream).
• You cannot fake transparency and hope to retain your reputation over time.
• How you react to a mistakes will have greater weight than the original blunder.

The bottom line is that corporate transparency is not all that different from recognizing that you are in the public all the time (even when you don't think you are). Some people are good at it. Some are not. For starters, however, you have to have a message that is aligned with your business objectives, sensitive to the audience you are communicating to, and not insensitive to other publics who are likely to hear what you said anyway.

For Ailes, whom I generally like, unless his objective was to have the debate canceled, he only considered one of these three elements. Sure, what he said might convey how he really feels, but it always helps to remember that being honest and overly opinionated are two different things.


Friday, March 9

Targeting Boomers: CNCS

The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) recently released a revealing study that tracked volunteering among a large sample of Baby Boomers from year to year. We published the entire release at Nevada Business Community Blog, but highlight several communication points here.

• Boomers in their late 40s to mid-50s are volunteering at higher rates than previous generations. (Boomers volunteered at lower rates than predecessors while in their 30s.) According to the study, the more Boomers are engaged, the more likely they will be retained from year to year.
• Boomers who engage in professional activities — such as managing people or projects — will continue to volunteer the following year (75 percent).
• Boomers also exhibited higher retention rates when they were engaged in music or some other type of performance (70.9 percent) and tutoring, mentoring and coaching (70.3 percent).
• Boomers who volunteer for general labor or supply transportation regularly drop out at a higher rate (55.6 percent).

"The Boomer wave signals one of the largest opportunities the nonprofit sector has ever had to expand its pool of resources," said David Eisner, CEO of the CNCS. "Only the nonprofits that retool their ability to engage citizens will reap that reward."

For a broad view of American Demographics, vist Wikipedia or visit the U.S. Census Bureau for its latest release.


Paying For Infamy: Antonella Barba

On Wednesday night, Simon Cowell made note that Antonella Barba had "taken a lot of stick in the media. I think you’ve handled yourself well throughout and I don’t think anyone should be put in that situation.”

But when pressed that perhaps she was not on the same footing with the other female contestants, Barba claimed she was different and unique. Her comment prompted Cowell to be clear, saying she had "gone as far as you can go ... I don't think your voice is going to get any better."

On Thursday night, she was voted off. Unlike Sabrina Sloan, Jared Cotter, and Sundance Head, the judges had no comments for Barba after her "farewell song." American Idol host Ryan Seacrest simply asked her to step to one side, ending what was one of the odder runs in American Idol history.

Without question, Barba got a lot of stick in the media for borderline racy photos, the worst of which were not her. (For the life of me, I cannot see how anyone can claim the two girls are the same. There were many differences beyond the ears.) But the rest was all her, lackluster singing and sometimes smug comments. And that is the price of being infamous.

One poll before the Thursday show even placed her in first, supposedly capturing 26.8 percent of the poll vote, demonstrating, once again, that polls can be very unreliable. For the show, it's probably for the best the poll didn't stand up given Rosie O'Donnell's erroneous attack that Idol is racist and "weightest" in order to drive up her show's ratings. (Nowadays, O'Donnell will say anything to get attention.)

Given Barba still holds the top spot on search engines, even after being voted off, it is a clear indication that the public is mostly interested in what she'll do next. She has some options, but most, SugarDVD or Girls Gone Wild would likely lead to instant cash without any real entertainment career. According to Hollyscoop, the choice is hers to make, given she is staying in Los Angeles to sort through offers.

"It was hard to deal with it. It was an unnecessary distraction ... trying to stay off the Internet," said Barba, according to the blog. "I tried to get through it. My family has been so supportive, they told me to stay focused and we will worry about all that later."

She might rethink that decision and worry. As a semi-public figure hoping to eek out another five minutes of fame, her next decision will be her last decision for the rest of her life. Instant fame has always been a double-edged sword and not everyone can handle it. The price: loss of privacy and even some personal choice, once the public brands you.

For Barba, she obviously wasn't ready. A little more humility might have given her a leg up to something else. Instead, she insists she's good enough. Now the only question that remains is "good enough for what?" Case closed.


Thursday, March 8

Influencing Industry: Recruiting Animal

If you can get past the moniker, odd assortment of pop culture images, and colorful — sometimes snarky — commentary, you'll find an influential early pioneer in recruiter blogging based in Toronto. Of course, he'd prefer to deny the influential part as the "lack of blog influence" in the recruiting industry was the topic for his first BlogTalkRadio.

Despite denial, however, he continues to attract and influence recruitment bloggers at Recruiting Animal and Recruiting Bloggers, compelling them to take playful beatings on his blogs, and, more recently, compelling several industry blog leaders to participate in an hour-long radio show that asked if recruiter blogging was influential or if they are (recruiter bloggers) just blowing smoke. You can find a somewhat skewed recap of the show Recruiting Radio Shatters Myths or listen to it at the link above (warning: the first 15 minutes of the show includes on-the-job tech training).

Who should listen? Anyone interested in the advancement of social media into the mainstream, especially those public relations professionals who are among the 72.3 percent of public relations professionals who do not have a formal system for monitoring the blogosphere.

The show is one of the reasons I accepted the invitation to participate on Recruiting Bloggers in the first place (there are others). What the recruitment industry seems to lack in corporate communication (several on the show still think transparency is what got Jason Goldberg into trouble, when it is clearly faux transparency that got him into temporary trouble), they make up for in the fact that they've positioned the recruitment industry ahead of several other industries on the merits of social media, including my own.

Of three questions asked, the one that deserves the most attention is "How have blogs become an industry partner (in recruitment)?" You can read responses from Neil Bruce, vice president of alliances for Monster; Russell Glass, vice president of products and marketing for ZoomInfo; John Sumner, CEO of Interbiznet; Matt Martone, recruitment media sales executive at Yahoo!; CM Russel, author of; Steve Levy, principal of Outside-the-Box Consulting; Dave Lefkow, CEO of TalentSpark Consulting; Glenn Gutmacher, senior researcher at Microsoft; and Harry Joiner, executive search recruiter at No Blog, No Sale. In the end, they all seemed to agree that blogs have the potential to have influence in their industry, but it has not happened yet despite the fact there are plenty of success stories where most can hang their hats.

In terms of the recruitment industry, they are almost right. The question is off the mark because it seems to me that blogs are about as influential as a news release, and new releases are not industry partners. More likely, as in any industry, there are influential industry professionals who have taken up blogs as a means of communication. Each, on their own merit, may be influential or not. Some might even gain influence through this medium, but only because they already had the potential to become influential in the industry.

The same can be said of any industry. It is not blogs that are influential, but the authors of those blogs in their respective industries (and some industries are ahead of others in terms of how many leaders are participating). Currently, it seems to me that entertainment gossip, technology, and politics are the leaders (but even political consultants claim blogs are mostly read by insiders and not voters). In fact, you might notice that traditional media is most often likely to turn to these social media niches for stories too.

It seems clear to me, as an outsider looking in, that recruiter blogging is also light years ahead of other industries, not because they are so great as much as it is because they have the semblance of foundation for a niche industry, whereas communication (advertising, marketing, public relations, etc.) seems stranded in debating what recruiting already resolved two years ago. (Besides, communicators keep getting hung up on this idea that applying social media is too much work. Ha!)

Sure, recruiting blogging may not be story sourced by traditional media yet, but that may change in the near future (unless other industries, like communication, manage to mount a rapid pace after they finally get out of the gate). All in all, it's a horse race and the recruiting industry seems to be among the early leaders.

So what is the question? The question is: who will be considered the social media experts of the future? Entertainment gossip aside, it seems to me the snapshot (today, maybe not tomorrow) is tech bloggers, political bloggers, and maybe recruiting bloggers will eventually begin converting their skill sets to focus on communication vehicles beyond their current industry niche. And, unless traditional corporate communication professionals and related communication fields wake up and sharpen their social media game, they will become second tier professionals, working for some of the guys I named above (much like some communication professionals ended up working for IT guys overseeing Web site design).


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