Saturday, October 6

Promoting Jericho: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly


On Oct. 2, Jericho Rangers started promoting for their first real measurement since they sent 20 tons of nuts to CBS months ago. This time, the measurement is in DVD sales.

The Good.

Jericho Rangers are tracking DVD rankings at Amazon (Reviews: 70; Sales Rank: 51; Sales Rank in Boxed Sets: 20; Sales Rank: 28) and Barnes & Noble (Sales Rank: 30), which features a flattering 2006 review by Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide. Of course, the real measure of their success will come in total units sold and not sales rank. However, there are benefits for DVDs that retain top sales positions (based on hourly sales; not total sales) on these two popular Internet order sites.

But beyond simply trying to drive sales up, they are also raising money to send care packages to the troops that include a Jericho DVD. Many of them are also purchasing DVDs for family and friends. And many more are spreading the word in whatever way they can. They know that DVD sales will likely be the best measure of their success.

The Bad.

As Amy Vernon notes on Remote Access, two endings have been shot for the seven-episode Season 2. This news came out of a TV Guide interview with producer Carol Barbee during the Season 1 DVD release party.

Vernon picked up on the same message I did. One alternative ending is the ending that “won't close off the whole story but it will show you where we would go in a third season." The other ending “gives you a huge mythology so that you understand so much about what has happened."

Alternative endings mean exactly what one might think. Jericho’s continuation on CBS is about as certain as the day it was first placed on the bubble.

The Ugly.

If there is any distraction from promoting DVD sales at the moment, it comes in the form that frequently surfaces from the fan base. Someone places too much weight on their own shoulders, distracting otherwise like-minded fans.

It’s the kind of story worth following up on when you’re tracking the promise and pitfalls of spontaneous consumer marketing efforts. Jericho fans are not alone. If there is any reoccurring theme in the scheme of social media, it is in the abundance of people who suddenly find themselves in the semi-public spotlight without any real leadership training. Here’s one tip I picked up almost a decade ago …

“Angels have wings because they take themselves lightly.”

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Friday, October 5

Creating Conversations: Safety Glass


When I wrote about how I broke into journalism, Lewis Green suggested the bigger lesson was never missing an opportunity to start up a conversation.

He’s right. One perfect example is my good friend James Hoke. He recently became one of the executive producers behind the Hilary Duff and Steve Coogan movie Safety Glass, which is due to be released in 2008. How recently? The movie’s financing received a green light, just before we went to a late lunch today.

Safety Glass, yet to be revealed on IMDB, is about a New York reporter sent to cover a hometown Challenger Space Shuttle hero, but then finds another story when he follows a group of students whose teacher commits suicide. While covering the new story, the reporter is drawn in by this group of confused and combustible students, becoming their "substitute" hero and willing participant in their twisted universe.

Hoke, who is also president of Las Vegas-based Destination Marketing Group, broke into becoming one of the five partners in the new production company Five Kings Pictures, LLC because he didn’t miss his opportunity to start a conversation. The conversation began more than a year ago when he was promoting Matsuri, the number one stage production in Japan, while it performed a limited engagement in Las Vegas (a promotion we were fortunate to work on with him).

It was during Hoke’s promotion of Matsuri that he started a conversation with Joe Nahas. While working together on a couple of projects that are still under wraps and in development, Nahas called Hoke one day and asked him a life-changing question.

“Do you want to start a production company and make a movie?”

“’Yeah, sure,’ I told him. ‘Let’s do it,” Hoke said. “What’s to think about? All my life I’ve wanted to make movies. So I called my friend Anthony Miranda and the three of us founded Three Kings Production.”

Three Kings Production then teamed with two more people — Nick Nahas and Elie Samaha — to form Five Kings Pictures. Samaha most recently produced Rescue Dawn with Zach Grenier, Marshall Bell, and Christian Bale. He is best known for producing The Boondock Saints, The Whole Nine Yards, and City By The Sea (along with scores of others).

“You’ve heard about napkin deals in Hollywood?” asked Hoke. “Here’s one … right here.”

Tacked to his office wall, the entire production budget for Safety Glass is sketched on a single piece of yellow notebook paper by Samaha. The edges are worn, small tears along the top and bottom, but the handwriting — written with a black Sharpie marker — was everything needed to produce the film. It is also a representation of the chain of events that started with one conversation.

“It’s unbelievable. I’m one of the executive producers of Safety Glass, written by Jonathan Kyle Glatzer and Robert Lawson,” says Hoke. “We’re producing in Canada with Nasser Group North and Montage Films. I’ve worked for this my whole life.”

I saw it for myself. Laid out in analytically organized piles across his floor, it was the makings of a movie. Three different companies tucked inside neatly labeled binders on the shelf, with more to be added in the days ahead. Phone calls and e-mails waiting to be answered.

Amazing. Even more so when after lunch, I sat in with Hoke as he made numerous calls to set the next step in motion in between celebratory cheers as the news rolled across the country. Safety Glass was moving forward.

“I’ve worked on dozens of movie soundtracks,” said one of Hoke's partners, Miranda, during one of several calls placed after lunch. “This moves it to a different level. It’s the right movie with the right script and the right people at the right time.”

A new level indeed. Hoke has three additional movies that they are working on to ensure Safety Glass is only the beginning of Five Kings Pictures. The others, of course, will be balanced against his schedule, commuting between Las Vegas and Canada.

Even more remarkable, all of it can be traced back to a single conversation. And all of it will create more conversations in days, and weeks, and months to come.

In fact, I’ll be interviewing Miranda for another reason soon. He’s likely to appear on David Letterman in the next few months because of a single YouTube video. But that’s a conversation for another time.

Dreams and conversations. You never know where they might lead.

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Thursday, October 4

Blogging Buzz: Gilbert Arenas


What is it about blogs that makes everyone go batty?

When I first spotted Stephanie Kang’s article in The Wall Street Journal that suggested brand marketers aren't sure about endorsers who blog because of Gilbert Arenas, it seemed like a "must read" despite the obvious.

The obvious is that celebrity endorsements have always been a mixed bag — as anyone who picked Michael Vick can tell you. The value of the endorsement is tied to the status of the celebrity, based on professional performance and personal brand.

But then this story goes off the wall a bit. You can read it if you like. It's a story about a Sept. post that “shocked” Adidas when Arenas blogged about a redesign. Arenas, it seems, didn’t like the first draft.

”So I looked at the shoe and I straight killed it. I killed it so much I think I made everybody uncomfortable. How do I go from the Gil Zero to this? That was my whole argument. Nobody is going to wear this shoe.”

Supposedly, this blog criticism of Adidas' new signature shoe forced the shoemaker to rethink the design. Adidas spokesman Travis Gonzolez even said they took a step back. He told The Wall Street Journal they decided “It's Gil being Gil and there's not a lot we can say. We don't want to affect what he writes.”

But something doesn’t add up. According to the post, it seems the resolution to fix the shoes was already made. So how could the post be a shocker that sparked a redesign? If anything, it was a sales pitch. Arenas mentioned all 20 different versions of GilIIZero shoes, included release dates, and plugged his input into the redesign. Wow!

Look, here's the meat: celebrity blogs mean big business for endorsers and the companies they blog about. In recent months, Arenas has “extended an existing contract with Adidas, signed a deal to be on the cover of 'NBA Live 08' from Electronic Arts Inc.'s EA Sports, and signed a four-year deal with basketball maker Spalding, a unit of Atlanta-based Russell Corp. Mr. Arenas also endorses Coca-Cola Co.'s Vitaminwater.”

This is one Wizard who is pretty smart. He knows that lightly criticizing his marketing partners drives traffic. In fact, criticism with a happy ending as presented in the Adidas story is probably better than a straightforward sales pitch. He’s not the only one who knows it. EA Sports is already on board.

"We knew if there was something he didn't like, he would say so -- probably to everyone," Jordan Edelstein, marketing director at EA Sports, told The Wall Street Journal, but ultimately the company decided that Mr. Arenas's honesty was a plus: "That's why his fans respond to him. ... We felt it was worth the risk."

Of course it is worth the risk! Anytime Howard Stern or David Letterman talked about their bosses, the ratings went up, not down. It’s not about blogs, it’s about old-fashioned buzz. Blogs are optional.

If you want something else about Arenas with more substance, check out Basketball is Brotherhood coming this month. Now that's a campaign.

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Wednesday, October 3

Playing It Again: From Freelance To Journalist


There is an unwritten rule for people who “also” work in public relations. When you’re talking to a journalist about your client, it’s bad form to bring up that, you too, have worked as a writer, journalist, or publisher. Many journalists are rightfully turned off by the statement (a topic for another time).

I’m going to bend this rule again for the benefit of bloggers and novice freelancers who might be interested in breaking into traditional print by sharing the story about my first paid assignment some 15 years ago. It happened a little bit by accident, but the insight might serve some as a starting point.

After leaving a full-time position with an advertising agency (they became my first client so it wasn’t that bad), I was pretty nervous in thinking that my debut in Las Vegas could quickly come to an end. So I called the few contacts in Reno and asked for some advice.

The first person I called was Warren Lerude, professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno and Pulitzer Prize winner (among other things), who offered to find me a spot at a daily if I was wiling to relocate. The reasons are not important now, but I wasn’t ready to leave. (Lerude also said if I ran into trouble to call again; the school invests time in the employment of its grads.)

As this was the case, he suggested the next call to be Bob Alessandrelli, who was my mentor at Sierra Pacific Resources, first as an intern and then a consultant. Alessandrelli gave me the name of a public relations professional who worked at one of the top five advertising and public relations firms in Las Vegas. While the public relations professional didn’t have any work, he did invite me to a press event at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino. It would be good experience, he said, if nothing else.

It was much more than that. While attending the press event, I struck up a conversation with the one attendee at my table who seemed least interested in mingling with the other reporters and journalists. His name was Jim.

He asked all sorts of questions, starting with who I was and why I was there (since he had never met me before and said he knew everybody). Then he asked what I thought about the new slot machines being unveiled. They featured a second monitor that could play sporting events, old movies like CasaBlanca, live keno, and special event promotion (a predecessor to some of the entertainment-infused games we have today).

“I think it might forever change the way we think about gaming,” I said.

“Really,” he said. “That’s an interesting perspective; I wasn’t thinking that at all.”

“Sooner or later, reels are not going to be enough to capture the interest of gamblers,” I offered. “This moves gaming toward entertainment.”

“Do you think you could write about that?” he said.

“Sure,” I said. “Why not?”

“Let me reintroduce myself, I’m James McGlasson, editor and general manager of Showbiz Weekly. We’re the largest entertainment weekly in Las Vegas,” Jim said. “Give me 500-700 words on spec by next week and if I like it, I’ll pay you $75 and run it. What do you think?”

I took the job. It was published. I was paid. And McGlasson gave me my next assignment with Showbiz Weekly, which turned into an out-of-house staff position. It also provided me an opportunity to pitch another story with the Las Vegas Business Press and another with its sister publication.

These articles became the basis for pitching stories to larger publishers like Career Woman and Prentice Hall, which then led to other more stories and publishers calling me from time to time, like the Los Angeles Times and Fodor’s Travel Guide. It also served as my training ground before serving as an editor of three different publications a few years later (all while building this company).

Keep in mind that much of the early work took place when the Internet was still in its infancy. Stories were delivered on paper and then 3.5 diskettes (not e-mail). And for this reason, I suppose, I tend to think that if a blogger or freelancer was so inclined, it might be a bit easier to break in today.

If a blogger was so inclined (and not all of them are; there is much more freedom in writing a blog), they could build a portfolio by adding the occasional journalistic post to their blogs. In turn, those stories and clips, along with a well-crafted pitch letter, could open an opportunity to land assignments with smaller publications, online and off.

It’s more demanding work (maybe): finding story leads, conducting multiple interviews, digging up online and offline research, and tying it all together (and for very little pay). However, if it’s your dream, it’s good to know many old hurdles have been removed. One reason: when publishers assign stories, they often base their decision on samples and not necessarily which publication.

This piece was inspired by a spirited conversation by BlogStraightTalk members.

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Tuesday, October 2

Paying For Politics: You And Me


“Thousands of active troops and veterans were subjected to Mr. Limbaugh’s unpatriotic and indefensible comments on your broadcast,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in his letter to Clear Channel Chief Executive Mark Mays, which mirrors his statements on the Senate floor.The Hill.

Yet, as far as I know, the only people subjected to Rush Limbaugh are people who listen to his show. But, nonetheless, so it begins. Tax dollars, yours and mine, are being spent this week on letters and speeches delivered in Congress to denounce, discredit, and censor. We might as well enjoy the circus, provided the price is nothing more than tax dollars and not free speech or the right to address grievances with our government.

“Well, I don’t know. Maybe he [Rush] was just high on his drugs again,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, (D-Iowa) as reported by Michelle Malkin. “I don’t know whether he was or not. If so, he ought to let us know. But that shouldn’t be an excuse.”

Taking time to record that comment into our Congressional records is so much more important than “providing assistance for poor and elderly families to afford to heat and cool their homes, and the need to continue our commitment to improve education for our nation's children."

This week is banned booked week. It’s sponsored by the American Library Association, American Booksellers Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the Association of American Publishers, the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the National Association of College Stores.

Hundreds of books are challenged every year. And those who aim to strike them from the shelf often use statements that sound dangerously similar to those of Sen. Reid’s … “This comment was so beyond the pale of decency that it cannot be left alone."

Indecent. Immoral. Impudent.

What are these books? You know the ones: The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, “The Chocolate War” by Robert Cormier, the Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds, “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck, and “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou.

All of them round out the top five most challenged books since 2000, but Judy Blume is still the most challenged author. In fact, there were more than 3,000 attempts to remove books between 2000-2005.

You might note that these challenges are not ancient history. On the contrary, they are alive and well today. Challenges to our civil liberties that unnoticed would silence our people. Challenges that aim at radio talk show hosts for talking about what other people already knew. Challenges that convinced me to lend some of my Sunday to The Gylon Jackson Show to discuss a few free speech concepts:

• Don’t allow the ignorance of others to have power over you
• The abuse dies in a day, but the rule of law lasts forever
• We have to protect free speech, even speech we find offensive
• The remedy for the abuse of free speech is more free speech
• Most people want free speech for “them,” but not other people
• Critical speech gives you an opportunity to gauge issue temperature
• Specific words that offend people tend to change over time

Today, given the controversy surrounding Limbaugh, we might remember those points. Or perhaps, maybe it would be best to remember the words of Dwight David Eisenhower …

”And we have got to fight it with something better, not try to conceal the thinking of our own people. They are part of America. And even if they think ideas that are contrary to ours, their right to say them, their right to record them, and their right to have them at places where they're accessible to others is unquestioned, or it's not America.” — Eisenhower

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Monday, October 1

Covering Hot Topics: Third 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.

Nina Tassler Talks; Jericho Fans Listen

If there is one person at CBS who has captured the curiosity of fans that have a passion for the nuclear terrorist attack/small town survival drama Jericho, it is Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment. While most of her attention has been vested in putting out fires related to the rating challenged, nothing-but-controversial buzz that has become Kid Nation, when she speaks about Jericho, fans listen. Of all our coverage related to consumer marketing challenges and successes of this television show in stasis, none compares to the Tassler post that asks if she has surrendered her early edginess to wrangle ratings. Jericho fans hope they can turn Tassler into “Jericho buzz believer” into a full-fledged “Jericho Ranger.” It won’t take a miracle, but it will take a season 2 start date.

Links: Jericho, Nina Tassler

Bloggers Blog Against Abuse

People spend a lot of time “talking” about social media, but Antony Berkman, president of BlogCatalog (and the entire BlogCatalog team), is one of the few who talks less and does more and has fun doing it. Determined to prove that bloggers can do good and social media can influence change and produce outcomes beyond the Internet, he asked BlogCatalog members to post against abuse on Sept. 27. BlogCatalog members were not the only ones: more than one thousand bloggers from all over the world made abuse the most-talked about topic on the Internet. The largest social awareness campaign in history moves beyond buzz and produces tangible outcomes — bloggers who inspired tens of thousands of people to take action. For our part, we launched the “Blog For Hope Post Competition in cooperation with BlogCatalog. The submission deadline is Oct. 10.

Links: Bloggers Unite, BlogCatalog

Borg Think Infiltrates Social Media

It takes many forms, some with the best intentions, but there is only one outcome. In hoping to guide social media into the mainstream, sometimes prevailing blog think leaders overstep sharing their opinion and offering guidance by staking leadership claims over the Internet. Whether written up by a few as a code of conduct over the many, or proclaiming territorial dominion over the ideas that litter the Internet in posts, on blogs, and a myriad of PDF files, we can only hope that forced assimilation doesn’t sweep across the entire social media structure. The outcome would lead to the denial of new ideas and inability to challenge old ones. While civility is always appreciated on the Web, the pioneers today might remember that collective think or the promotion of fear is not the answer. The solution is clear: lead by example, not by force of law or pirate threat.

Links: Borg, Pirates

John Mackey Tells Whole Truths

John Mackey and Whole Foods Market Inc. (WMFI) beat the Federal Trade Commission with the $565 million purchase of Wild Oats Markets Inc. (maybe that’s the good, or not), but the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation still ongoing. While some people frame the issue up as a possible SEC violation or transparency issue, one of the most pressing aspects of this case study is how it chips away at what some call the tenets of crisis communication. In the case study of Mackey, he largely ignored these tenets and managed to remain at the helm of Whole Foods, with more people defending him for posing as “rahodeb” and using the pseudonym to disparage and deflate the competition before purchasing it.

Links: John Mackey , Whole Foods Market

Veronica Mars Fans Organize

Fans of Veronica Mars, the critically acclaimed teen drama/mystery neo-noir series starring Kristen Bell, demonstrate that they are not to be underestimated in their efforts to encourage Warner Bros. to syndicate the show and prove the power of this fan base is strong enough to support a movie despite the cancellation of the series. In their efforts as consumer marketers, they have developed action points that are reminiscent of a communication plan while remaining courteous and supportive of Bell and series creator Rob Thomas. Unencumbered by the rules of communication, Veronica Mars fans are working to prove consumer marketing works.

Link: Veronica Mars

Runners up (no order) include: Buzz Is Not A Measure, which reminds blog evangelists to focus on outcomes as opposed to buzz metrics; the Jericho Fan Fiction Contest, which shared some great stories and promoted a different look at Jericho on more than 50 sites, blogs, and social networks; one of two blog dramas turned positive by reminding people one gumball is not better than another; the results of an unscientific online ethics poll; and our use of the Career Distinction’s Online Identity Calculator as the basis to flush out the online identities of various public figures individuals.

While a few “bad news” case studies made it into the top spots, this is the first quarter they have given way to education-oriented and social media action, which represents a pleasant surprise. Last quarter, we wished for more attention to be given to our underpinning concept that strategic communication is best suited to drive social media and it looks like we’re getting it.

So there it is once again; the top posts as tracked by reader interest. Thank you all for dropping by, adding comments, promoting 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 not, we appreciate that in our pursuit to tackle such issues, our readers have remain steadfast in never mistaking communication discussion for anything but objective discussion of issues, actions, and behaviors as they relate to communication.

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