Wednesday, March 21

Selling Change: Roehm & Womack

Emotional Intelligence enthusiasts might see a "change agent" as the perfect person to help a struggling company or industry out of a rut, but CEOs need to be careful with them because change agents can put big holes in the wall as easily as they can pound nails in the right spot.

In other words, a change agent might fearlessly introduce new ideas to enhance a company. Or, a change agent might might become addicted to seeing themselves influence the world around them. In a marriage, one might respark the existing relationship while the other will have an affair.

Juile Roehm and Sean Womack seem to be the latter. Unable to secure a dream offer after the Wal-Mart scandal, they are back in action, pitching a concept that "change for the sake of change" really works, because, well, everything is changing so everyone must change all the time. They call it "marketing 2.x" because they say people are more receptive to "upgrades" than "changes."

There is an irony here because the real drawing power of the dangerous duo seems to have little to do with anything new. Roehm has made sure of that. Back in December, she said "I have enjoyed my time at Wal-Mart and I wish my many friends and colleagues much future success." Of course, that was before she filed the wrongful termination suit, which seemed to beg that Wal-Mart release all its evidence of the illicit affair and other ethical breaches that broke company policy (to say nothing of the vows they once had with other people). As the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for.

As a self-proclaimed marketing expert, she should know that when you wrap up a brand too tightly to a single negative event, eventually the incident will become the brand. It is the very reason that not all publicity is good publicity. Sure, you might capture headlines, but with what consequences? Did Firestone benefit from denying the need for a recall? Did Stoern succeed in establishing scientific credibility? Does anyone really want to hear Barba sing?

Embrace the wrong message and sooner or later everything published about you on the Internet will stick, proving that what is published on the Web can impact your personal brand and future employment. This is the very reason Roehm was ill-advised to file a wrongful termination suit, further damaging her already questionable credibility as a public figure.

In Wal-Mart's countersuit, there are even claims that the pair "misused the agency review process and engaged in travel paid for by Wal-Mart and for the ostensible purpose of furthering Wal-Mart's business interest, but for the actual purpose of spending personal time with Womack." As reported by BRANDWEEK, the court papers reveal Womack was very candid in his e-mail during the review process: "Speaking of equity ... we're both interested in having a stake in our next gig ... More importantly to you, in the two of us you have a team that can help lead your organization in a powerful way. But the opportunity will need to be broad enough."

In another signed "Sean & Julie," the message was: "P.S. These Gmail accounts are WM [Wal-Mart] safe. So, we can have candid conversations."

What lessons can be re-learned from all of this? Several. Not all publicity is good publicity. Never attach yourself too tightly to one bad incident. Protect your personal brand by being ethical, if nothing else. While adaptability is an asset, don't let anyone fool you into believing that change for the sake of change is a good idea. And, as I have said before, e-mail is NEVER private.


Tuesday, March 20

Punting With Legal: Roehm

As if Wal-Mart didn't have enough antics from Julie Roehm last year, the retailer has filed a countersuit against Roehm's legal punt. The suit purports to include the texts of steamy e-mails between Roehm and another former Wal-Mart executive, Sean Womack. I'll be looking at this issue a bit more tomorrow (since I keep suggesting that e-mails are NEVER private).

In the interim, you can catch a good summary of the story by BRANDWEEK. There, you can even see things like a message from Womack to Roehm as saying: "My Gmail is secure ... write to me. Tell me something, anything ... I feel the need to be inside of your head if I cannot be near you."

Overloading Communication: Twitter

Random Twit: Subscribed to Twitter, refilled my Ritalin prescription, and all is well.

Considering Ritalin and Prozac are two of the most widely prescribed medications in history (Prozac claims 54 million patients worldwide alone), it might be time to ask just how much communication is too much interference.

Random Twit: I hope Mindy didn't stay up all night. I don't care just so long as she takes me and picks me up from court.

There is even a term out there (coined last year) specific for online users, Digital Attention Deficit Disorder (DADD) and covered by Leon Gettler. The general idea is that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), also referred to as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), is a neurobiological condition affecting children and adults. And in many cases, it's linked to information overload.

Random Twit: twitter cats are so much better than real cats.

It's something to consider when talking about Twitter. Certainly there are some worthwhile applications for broadcast IMs, microblogs, or whatever other label you want to put on them. But never before have I seen so many people embrace intrusive communication, including advertisements, and wonder if they may be susceptible to distractibility, impulsiveness, and in some cases hyperactivity.

Random Twit: using some of these other 3d shareware packages to create things makes you realize just how cool and easy second life is.

Twitter adds to the already overbearing communication mix. I once had a client who asked me to subscribe to Skype. It worked well for the task at hand, but I wasn't interested after that. (He keep calling me to ask why I wasn't online all the time). I had to ask myself how many communication streams do I want to allow into my life.

Random Twit: Wondering how Justin Timberlake songs fool me into thinking that I can dance.

The answer was none. No more. Not at least until I could get rid of the older ones. You see, at the time, I had two phones, one fax, one cell, three e-mails, two blogs, several forums, three instant message accounts, chat etc., etc., etc. Add in everything from stat tracking, Reddit, Digg, continual media pursuing for candidates and clients, and you'll see how easy multiple communication streams can be an asset or, perhaps, unnecessary potential stress points. Most of them did nothing more than add unneeded layers of interruption (even if that interruption is a microsecond to respond to an IM).

Random Twit: sleep cause i got to go to new york for the tax man, i am tired

I'm all for multi-tasking, but I'm not a fan of multi-annoyance. So I decided then to use Skype when needed — when conducting a conference call with multiple parties, including Japan — but that's it. So went Skype, so went instant messaging and chatting ( and I'm very close to losing our fax number too). I also stop giving out my cell number (except for political accounts and close clients/friends), all in an effort to control the growing buzz of one communication stream after another.

Random Twit: Just dropped off Beetle at school and am watching Fritz now as Gert gets ready.

The biggest boon of all was the decision to let nothing pass the front door of the gym for an hour or hour and a half every day. No communication needed except an iPod. Some people might call that isolationism or even anti-social, but I call it self-preservation without the need for medication.

Random Twit: home sick today again

I guess I don't see the need to know that a perfect stranger is home sick today, though it is somewhat fascinating to me that he felt a need to share it with the world. Creating Passionate Users called this one right: maybe Twitter is too good. Kathy Sierra goes on to point out Twitter is a near-perfect example of an intermittent variable reward, a creator of a strong "feeling of connectedness" that tricks the brain into thinking it is having a meaningful social interaction, and a contributor to the growing problem of always-on multi-tasking.

Random Twit: Does anyone else think Veronica Belmont looks like she's twelve?

I especially like her point on the "feeling of connectedness" because, business applications aside, instant messaging and Twittering only seem important if you lack meaningful social interactions in the real world. I didn't miss instant messaging nearly as much as I thought I would. But I suppose the same can be said for any addiction.

Random Twit: Looks like BBC World has had a make over. Reds and blacks have become greens and blacks. Clever.

Addiction? Well, considering the relatively few people who have said Twitter ain't all that, it seems odd to me that Twitter fans would call them a conspiracy to shut Twitter down before they try it. Not that long ago, only pod people and borgs made that argument. (In fact, one Twitter I saw yesterday claimed remorse over the fact that some guy's dog had a better stream than he did. )

Random Twit: No, it is *you* who are linearly polarized!!

Resistance is not futile. I'll take a pass on this one, despite being receptive to new technology. I can say that because I was one of the first people to meet a future spouse online. Funny. I didn't miss chatting once she moved here. Enough said.

Except maybe, be wary of anyone who says Twittervision will cause you to waste your whole day. It held my attention for about the time it took to write this post (and that was only because I was pulling a few random twits for this post.)

Random Twit: Cleaning up all of the debris that imified caused to my Twitter.

Random Twit: showing a coworker twitter

Random Twit: Alright, Alright, I'll do my work...


Monday, March 19

Proposing New Choices: SHIFT

The Society for New Communication Research released a SHIFT Communications (SHIFT) designed "Social Media News Room" template that seems to succeed as a starting place to ask questions rather than receive answers.

Before I consider the merits of the template, I'd like to clarify that SHIFT Communications is a San Franciso-based public relations agency that seems to be working hard to take a lead position on the social media front. As such, I can only commend them for the effort and hope visitors read this post for what it is and nothing else: a point of dialogue.

With that said, I would be remiss not to point out that, much like Web site templates, one size is unlikely to fit all. This newsroom template design seems to be most suitable for people who like buffets. There's nothing wrong with buffets per se, but there is a lot to be said for controlling the experience like a fine dining establishment. So I am thinking that what seems to be at risk is losing sight of the first priority of any communication: a clear message.

I felt the same way when I saw SHIFT's 2006 Social Media Release template. There is so much going on that I couldn't help but to wonder what the intent of any communication tucked into this format would achieve. It begs to be questioned. Will we overcomplicate communication by paying too much attention to the delivery and not enough on the content? Are we to resort to sound bites and bullets so our messages become a bed of nails that have no impact? Does the future of social media relations (if we call it that) mean abandoning all the lessons learned from the past by attempting to start over from scratch? Are we trying so hard to reinvent the wheel to a point where it no longer functions like a wheel (or does it make more sense to add rubber to our preexisting models)?

For social media releases, I propose the future needs a simpler approach: send a one or two paragraph news summary and a link to a longer blog-embedded news release that includes other delivery and cross reference materials. After all, if you cannot capture someone in the first two paragraphs (preferably the first sentence), then the rest of the information doesn't matter much anyway. Keep it simple.

The same goes for newsroom templates of the future. While I respect Todd Defren's, principal of SHIFT, position that "all visitors should be able to easily pick-and-choose, receive-and-share only those content aspects that are relevant to them, as individuals" has merit, I'm also wondering if too many choices might be just that … too many.

I think we can all relate to the idea that buffets, like cable service with DVRs or Tivo, require more effort to review than it does to enjoy the choice. However, that is not to say that SHIFT is doing anything wrong. On the contrary, SHIFT is doing something, which is much better than nothing because, like it or not, social media is changing the way we employ communication.


Friday, March 16

Chasing Newspapers: Social Media

With all the talk about the decline of traditional media, especially newspapers, I decided to take a peek for myself, given I often quote Bruce Spotleson, group publisher with Greenspun Media, who once observed that, to date, "no new media has ever replaced another media." Here is what I found...

In 2006, the magic number was 102,406 — the circulation needed as a publisher to break into the Top 100 U.S. Daily Newspapers by circulation. Not to take away from whatever East Valley Tribune (Mesa, Ariz.) is doing right, but that number seems somewhat paltry to me given there are blogs that easily draw a heavier readership.

In fact, not counting Sunday circulation (most newspapers usually have larger Sunday circulations), none of the top 51-100 broke 200,000 in 2006, according to BurrellesLuce (using figures filed with the Audit Bureau of Circulations), a leading media monitoring company. Only three — USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times — break the one million circulation mark.

In contrast, you need significantly more visitors to touch the Top 100 Web sites; several of which — Yahoo, MSN, and Google — provide news content. More specifically, many top social media outlets (blogs) have a higher readership than almost all daily newspapers.

If you need any more proof that daily newspapers are in trouble, consider that comScore Networks announced that 747 million people, ages 15+, used the Internet worldwide in January 2007, a 10 percent increase from January 2006. Or that PEW/INTERNET recently noted that 15 percent of Americans cited the Internet as their primary source of political campaign news in 2006, doubling since the last mid-term election.

Does this information mean I'm changing my position and beginning to think that traditional media is dying? NO! Not for many reasons, including that more targeted publications (magazines, weeklies, etc.) are still growing in America. My position remains that all media, social or otherwise, is important to public relations professionals.

However, this information does indicate that it is time for newspapers to realize that each, on its own individual merits, must decide whether it will evolve or die. For everyone's sake, I hope they all choose to evolve.

Spotleson, who spoke to my "Writing for Public Relations" class last night, asked a pretty pointed question. Given that daily newspapers traditionally inform/educate (in more detail than broadcast), stir public opinion, cover politics, provide a forum for ideas, entertain, and recognize individuals ... "Who will pick up the slack (if daily newspapers die)?"

It's an excellent question because it seems to me that daily newspapers function differently than the Internet news outlets. Generally speaking, a newspaper reader peruses newspaper sections and stumbles upon news they never thought to look for. Contrary, Internet news readers search for specific topics or look for popular topics with the advent of user-powered content like Digg, Reddit, Yahoo, Technorati, etc.

The difference between these two styles of news consumption is larger than the Grand Canyon. If we always consumed news like we do on the Internet today, it is possible some of the greatest stories of the last century would have never been covered.

I'm not saying one news consumption is better than the other, but given it is often traditional media that is investing the money to cover (or uncover) the news that social media then opines on, one might wonder if social media can afford to lose newspapers.

As much as I'm becoming more vested in the concept of social media and how it might benefit clients, I also concede that social media and information sources like Wikipedia are not always the most credible sources. Just ask actor-comedian Sinbad who recently commented on his presumed death (thank you Kristen Hunsaker for the tip). This bit of trivia doesn't even touch on the idea that most, if not all, political blogs are even further to the right and left of traditional media.

What I am also saying is that as much as I am a fan of social media, I am also a fan of traditional media. And that, if individual daily newspapers want to survive, they need to begin thinking harder about business and technology right now.

There is an immediate need for newspapers to improve hard copy content, enhance content delivery online (beyond search engines), develop better analytics for advertisers, rethink subscription rates, abandon this notion of one day charging for online content, and half a dozen or so other things. (Frankly, sometimes I think I had a better business model to integrate hard copy/Internet circulation and advertising sales five years ago before blogs even entered the picture.)

After all, I can only guess that there are reasons that both the Associated Press and PR Newswire have agreements with Technorati, which tracks 71.5 million blogs. I imagine, in part, they are preparing for a world where their biggest distributors might not be dailies but rather bloggers who are even less inclined to fact check.

There is an old saying that if you want to save the world, save yourself. Nowadays, it very much applies to daily newspapers.


Thursday, March 15

Targeting Gibberish: David Meerman Scott

Most people would never know it, looking out over the vast expanse of desert, but Nevada's biodiversity ranks as the fourth highest in the United States, placed near Florida and Hawaii. There are many reasons for what some call an environmental paradox, but the simplest explanation is the combination of dramatic elevations and abundance of mini-ecosystems that were created when the ocean receded from the Great Basin.

Not dissimilar from business, each complete ecosystem provides a home for tiny pockets of unique animals and plant species that can survive nowhere else. Just as Devil's Hole pupfish adapted to living inside a limestone cavern, business people in every industry adapt to the language used by their company. Inside, it's a matter of survival to know the terms; outside, no one really gets it.

David Meerman Scott gets a hat tip today for sharing how an agency public relations professional, who obviously learned to survive in the "comprehensive electronic document management" industry, forgot that those survival skills might not translate into the real world. Scott didn't get what the company (Esker) does and I suspect that the pupfish, er, public relations professional, still doesn't understand why.

Scott goes on to ask that public relations professionals eliminate gobbledygook and try to speak like human beings. If your mother doesn't know what the company does, neither will the media that you are trying to pitch. He also defines that gobbledygook often resembles the meaningless terms he found in 388,000 news releases in 2006 alone; words like next generation, scalable, and mission critical.

I appreciate what he is talking about because there are many days I want to take down "Words. Concepts. Strategies." from our banner and put up "Translator." The only reason I don't is because some people will not appreciate the humor when I begin listing industries as opposed to foreign languages. You see, I believe that business communicators and writers are the ones who are supposed to translate all those inner ecosystem terms into words that everyday people can understand.

Usually, after I make this case, someone like Eric Eggerston will come along (he commented on Scott's blog) and say “Most administration managers or IT managers know what a document management system is, so I don't think the jargon will get in the way of communicating with their target market."

Hmmm... since when did the burden of communication become the responsibility of the listener and not the speaker?

The answer is never. As Scott points out, the media, analysts, employees, partners, and suppliers don't really want to learn a new language every time they turn around.

No, I don't mind learning new terms because I enjoy working in many different industries. However, when it comes time to communicate to a specific public (and all those other publics), I think it's best to drop the jargon and speak English. (I am not even going to touch on anacronyms, considering I recently spent 20 minutes discovering that "I-n-A," as pronounced, means "Information And Assistance," which is what you need when you first hear the term.)

One of the first examples I share with my "Writing for Public Relations" class is a very telling example: a writer working for us asked me my opinion about a sentence that started "The object of sequential inputs for counting..."

"What does that mean?" I asked.

"I don't know," she said. "That's what they told me. Does it sound good?"

Yeah, well, um, maybe … maybe it sounds good to the five people on the planet who actually know what you are talking about.

The sentence was promptly tossed out. It's a good trick. If an editor with little or no experience on an account can understand the communication when they read it, then you are on the right track. Sure, naysayers will always come back to the idea that everybody in their ecosystem understands what they are saying. Fair enough...

However, if you go out into the world wearing your "burro" suit, don't be offended if someone thinks you're just a ... um, burro.


Blog Archive

by Richard R Becker Copyright and Trademark, Copywrite, Ink. © 2021; Theme designed by Bie Blogger Template