Friday, April 6

Counting Casualties: DraftFCB

Of all the casualties related to the Julie Roehm vs. Wal-Mart legal battle, the quietest past participant seems to be nursing the largest wounds. According to Noreen O'Leary's Apr. 2 story in ADWEEK, DraftFCB is still in the shadow of scandal.

Although there is no public evidence that the agency's recent account woes are linked to Wal-Mart, O'Leary writes that some claim reviews of the $1.5 million John Deere and $3.5 Applebee's account may both be linked to the scandal. (DraftFCB will not participate in these reviews). Along with these accounts, Qwest Communications, a $95 million client that generates about $15 million in revenue, confirmed it is launching a creative review. The story also implies that S.C. Johnson and Verizon Communications are less secure.

"Whenever there's negative press, there's going to be short-term damage. But I don't think there's any fundamental damage to Howard or his agency," said Michael Roth, chairman of Interpublic Group. "In this business, you're only as good as your last account win. This model of the future, of putting these two companies together and winning Wal-Mart, proves the validity of it. I'm still very bullish about this (the DraftFCB merger)."

Others disagree. One former FCB employee described the mood at the company's New York flagship as "grim," according to O'Leary. "Everyone knew from the beginning that Draft would take the lead, but still, it's as if 100 years of FCB heritage is being shredded by Howard Draft."

I think Roth might be right. If DraftFCB can land a major account that gives it the opportunity to demonstrate creative result-driven work (which has not been easy for the Draft side, some say), it may be able to reverse its course. However, this is a very tall order and will require a sympathetic high-profile major account.

Part of the challenge will no doubt be reflective of the ADWEEK poll that revealed 29 percent of the 2,400 respondents said Draft fared the worst in recent industry scandals, second only to Roehm, with 46 percent. Although recent publicity that revealed Wal-Mart's past electronic surveillance and other espionage missions against employees was extreme, only 10 percent said Wal-Mart fared worst.

Here's my unsolicited take for the three most visible parties might consider for turnarounds and wins in the months ahead:

DraftFCB — Since you already made amends by supplying e-mails to Wal-Mart, take a page from the JetBlue crisis communication plan (sans apologizing forever) and create an agency ethics guide. Take a breath and consider some Ragan Communications findings that suggest: more than 60 percent of mergers and acquisitions fail to deliver the benefits that are promised—often because of the poor quality of communication. You need a message beyond picking up 90 smaller accounts worldwide. The message you have, Draft ROI with FCB creative, doesn't seem to be working. Spark up some integrated social media pitches and that will frighten other agencies, after they stop laughing.

Julie Roehm — Stop calling yourself a "change agent," drop the suit, get out of the press, take an extended vacation, come back refreshed (perhaps a bit remorseful), and start your own "marketing 2.x" firm, whatever that is. Your first few clients will likely be smaller accounts, perhaps in the automotive industry, but sometimes smaller accounts can turn into giants if your ideas really work. (Bonus tip for Sean Womack: stay away! Stay far, far away!) Marriage counseling wouldn't be a bad idea either, even if you didn't do anything as you said. (By the way, I'm married. Don't e-mail me!)

Wal-Mart — Sure, you asked Roehm to pass on perks from vendors and it didn't work. It's not your fault. But the time has come to give up on the notion anybody will make you happy with traditional marketing. You do need something new, but new doesn't mean Roehm's "progressive" and "sexy" that would have never reached your target anyway. So the best advice for the fine folks working on your next campaign is simply this: to get back to basics and rekindle that grassroots shopping for common people concept you once had before all the public relations nightmares and bad communication consulting distracted you. Who knows? Maybe what I call "income marketing" would be right up your aisle.

"Income Marketing" is marketing that generates income instead of simply producing expenses so that even CFOs might like it. Sure, it sounds like something that goes against my shell game post, but one of my colleagues told me to call it something. Besides, that was part of Amitai Givertz's excellent comment at RecuitingBloggers.com.

Have a nice weekend and happy Easter!


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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.

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Wednesday, April 4

Pushing Publicity: Thorntons


Most people who visit now and again know how I feel about publicity, particularly the erroneous idea that all publicity is good publicity. However, that is not to say that I think all publicity is bad.

If you are wondering what constitutes good publicity, look no further than Thortons in London. Yesterday, this British chocolate company unveiled an 860-pound (390 kg) pure chocolate billboard. In fact, it was the world's first edible chocolate billboard, measuring 14.5 feet by 9.5 feet. For more photos courtesy of the BBC, please visit the source site at yumsugar.

This single, simple, and fun publicity stunt is very strategic in approach and execution. The message is smart, "The Art of the Chocolatier," reinforced by the image, activity, and execution of something no one else has done.

All the shots even feature one of its biggest target audiences and the timing, a few days before Easter, is pretty hard to beat. It's smart, fresh, new, and no one was harmed in the making (or unmaking) of what has become a global advertisement. Not bad for a 3-month investment plus 300 hours to assemble.

It's also an amazingly tasty contrast to some of the other publicity stunts we've covered here — ranging from selling stocks with fear to bomb scares in Boston to endless antics from CEOs trying to wade the sometimes murky waters of social media. For all of the their dark side efforts, none of them come close. You don't have to take my word for it. Just ask one of the 50 girls from the Brownies who were commissioned to eat it up.

Special thanks to Hank Hope at R&R Partners for the e-mail tip. It will certainly come in handy next week when I discuss the difference between good publicity and not-so-good publicity. (Yes, that would be a good hint for some). You made my day and I'm hopeful this post will pay it forward.


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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 recruiting.com 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 recruiting.com 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 recruiting.com.

Message management might have left everybody feeling excited for Davis and happily wondering about Goldberg's purported future changes at Recruiting.com. 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 Recruiting.com 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.

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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 Recruiting.com, 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.

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Sunday, April 1

Gmailing Funny: Google

With a single mock marketing Web page, Google demonstrates that it understands social media and "smart" publicity better than most. I will not be surprised to see its April 1 Web page content cross over to mainstream news today and tomorrow.

As an April Fool's prank, they introduced Gmail Paper, which allows you to "print one, one thousand, or one hundred thousand of your emails. It’s whatever seems reasonable to you." And even better, "the cost of postage is offset with the help of relevant, targeted, unobtrusive advertisements, which will appear on the back of your Gmail Paper prints in red, bold, 36 pt Helvetica. No pop-ups, no flashy animations—these are physically impossible in the paper medium."

On the mock marketing page, you can even read a few testimonials, including Kevin S., CEO AdventaStar Inc., who says:
“I've always felt uneasy about the whole internet thing. With the help of Gmail Paper, now I'm taking matters back into my own hands, literally.” Or Bill K., Armchair Futurist, who explains: "It's paper, plain and easy. I sometimes find myself wondering: what will Google think of next? Cardboard?"

The third image says it all. A woman receiving an extremely large Gmail box, apparently filled with printed e-mails. Kudos to Google for a good gag that everyone is talking about. It fits well with their brand, a prank that not everyone could pull off.

There are only two dark clouds on the entire concept. First, it really demonstrates how easy it can be to write typical ad drivel that some companies try to pass off as a real marketing message. And secondly, some people will no doubt complain tomorrow that Gmail Paper isn't real or that the prank isn't funny. I say "polliwogs" to the critics. Three cheers for Google.

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