Wednesday, November 7

Risking Credibility: Biegel vs. Dentsu


Brands are fragile things, like snowmen in spring. That’s what Julie Roehm learned with Wal-Mart, a case study we concluded back in August. And now it seems Steve Biegel, former creative director for Dentsu America, is about to learn the same thing.

Effie, Clio, and David Ogilvy Award-winning ad veteran Biegel filed a lawsuit against his former employer that has the advertising industry shaking its head, not its fist.

He alleges that Toyo Shigeta, CEO of Dentsu Holdings USA, took and shared upskirt shots of women (including Maria Sharapova; see Adrants), forced him to visit a Prague brothel, and required workers to have sex with prostitutes. Advertising Age has published the entire lawsuit online. It makes the Roehm scandal look rated G for gratuitous.

“If Steve Biegel had exhibited as much creativity and effort when he worked here as he has on manufacturing this frivolous complaint, the company would not have fired him,” Dentsu America CEO Tim Andree told Adweek.

Dentsu has also vowed to file a countersuit, primarily alleging libel because a lawsuit draft was sent to its clients. (If Biegel did send Dentsu clients drafts, he may be forced to prove every point true to avoid libel.)

As with most legal wrangling, some of the non-court communication hints at the truth. Did the events take place? Probably. Was Biegel horrified and sexually harassed? Only Biegel really knows, but his credibility is in question because based on the lawsuit and subsequent communication.

It seems all too likely that he was more horrified about losing his job than some of the events that seemed to have occurred as much as three years prior. It also doesn’t help that Biegel did not find the alibi or ally he thought he might with his friend Scott Weitz, a staffer with Driver Media who was present during the Prague brothel incident. According Adweek, Weitz said that Biegel never complained about Shigeta encouraging or forcing him to engage in such behavior and that Biegel went into a private room with a prostitute. (Eesh! To think that if Hostel came out one year earlier, all this may have been avoided.)

To be clear, sexual harassment in the workplace is wrong. However, advertising is probably not the right career path for those who shy away from an industry that claims “sex sells.” At least, it’s not really suited for someone who claims to be as horrified as Biegel now says he is (not that our industry requires bath houses or brothels, of course).

Still, what employees need to know, I suppose, is that just because your employer tells you to do something, it doesn’t mean you have to do it. Um, you can make your feelings known immediately, file a complaint while you’re still employed, or walk out the front door before you’re fired. Heck, I’ve even terminated an account or two after becoming uncomfortable with advances that persisted after warnings.

Just say NO!

But, then again, I’m not writing from a legal perspective (because I’m not an attorney). I’m writing from a communication perspective that suggests: it’s probably best not to be the freewheeling creative ad guy for years and then attempt to play bashful family man shortly after you are terminated.

The less than $1 million lawsuit and potential damage from a libel countersuit (not to mention potential personal brand and credibility erosion), is not worth it. Or, in other words, if Biegel really wanted to win this case as opposed to shooting for a settlement, he would have employed the most basic premise of crisis communication and “talked about it as soon as possible.” That would have been three years ago.

Still, this lawsuit comes at a bad time for Denstu. It just recently made a push toward taking a more visible foothold in the international marketplace. Although it is one of the largest advertising companies in the world, only eight percent of its revenue is generated outside Japan. (Japan is the second largest advertising market in the world.) Its clients have included Canon, Toyota, HarperCollins Publications, and Toshiba America, among others.

As a side note, Dentsu America’s mission statement is to “influence by telling the truth in new ways.” And how. Case study? I'm not sure yet.

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Tuesday, November 6

Gaining Ground: Consumer Relationships


It’s about time. According to Jonah Bloom’s article in AdvertisingAge, marketers are moving away from numbers and toward measuring changes in consumer attitudes and behaviors.

I’m not sure the solutions that the article alludes to are the right ones, but the premise — as the media landscape changes so is advertising — is spot on. Marketers and advertisers are beginning to consider media reach as less important than the platform's relationship to the audience.

Effective communication is about changing behavior.

Now that more are adopting the concept, one question remains: do they know how to do it? Procter & Gamble (P&G) seems to.

"Historically at P&G we looked at product performance. We didn't pay as much attention to product experience," Claudia Kotchka, vice president of design innovation and strategy at P&G, told ADWEEK, discussing how Gain Joyful Expressions’ curvy shapes and bright colors played a factor in it becoming a billion-dollar brand. "Obviously the product cleans fabulously, but this is all about joy. When consumers open the bottle, they like the smell. The bottle itself is much more whimsical. It's about taking the elements people wouldn't think are important and having them add up to the overall brand experience."

Product design is not the only place P&G is working hard to win over consumers. P&G recently rolled out an online campaign within Facebook to tout odor-eliminating Febreze to college students. You can access the group at Whatstinks.com. (Talk about changing behavior. I wish it were around when, as a resident advisor, I had to counsel a young freshman why his unsanitary habits were driving roommates away.)

Of course, few things are wrinkle free; online consumer relationships included. Specifically, online consumers have noted that new custom advertising is kind of creepy. In fact, it took Facebook and MySpace proposed ad platforms to open their eyes to just how much online tracking there really is. Enough so that Facebook’s idea to target consumers based on what is in their online profiles has caught the attention of online privacy advocates and the Federal Trade Commission.

In other words, any backlash from overzealous consumer profiling could land squarely on Facebook. We mentioned that potential hazard when Harris Interactive released preliminary information about mobile advertising back in April. During the Webinar, Harris had cautioned advertisers not move too fast without opt-in and opt-out features or consumers and privacy advocates might push back.

It looks like some are pushing. In fact, some are pushing so hard that BusinessWeek noted how a "do not track" list could backfire because it could mean even more advertising, not less.

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Monday, November 5

Finding Nemo: PR Professionals


There is no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and shame the devil. — Walter Lippmann

Considering some public relations professionals are still smarting from Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired, and wondering if anyone loves them (boo hoo), I thought it might be useful to provide a few basics so some don’t have to keep learning the hard way.

Sure, I know working in public relations is not necessarily easy, but it does not have to be exceedingly hard either. Every spring, I share six tips with public relations students at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) on how to be an effective public relations practitioner:

• Think like a journalist
• Act like a businessperson
• Dig deeper than a lead investigator
• Write with the passion of a novelist
• Speak with the conviction of a communicator
• Exhibit empathy like an advocate for various publics

It’s no easy task, and not everyone is capable. But the best and the brightest in the field all have these qualities (at least the ones I know). Unfortunately, the great majority of public relations professionals (about 80 percent, I might guess) never even make it past the first bullet. So that's all I'm going to write about today.

It's not about how many of their posts or articles you read; thinking like a journalist is all about finding Nemo.

That's right. You need to find "the better fish story." And based on box office gross alone, Nemo was the best fish story of all. Seriously, that movie contained almost everything needed to make the news.

Here’s my quick tip sheet for public relations students, which originated with Jake Highton, a longtime journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Reno as well as some tips from the The Missouri Group. I’ve added and embellished them over the years, working with a foot in each field.

What Makes News Or How To Find A Nemo?

Impact. How much is an audience effected, how direct is the impact, and how immediate is the effect? The greater the impact or magnitude, the more likely it is news.

Proximity. How close is the action to a locality or how direct to a specific industry? The closer the connection is to home or to a particular audience, the more likely it is news.

Timeliness. When is the action is occurring or when did it occur? The fresher the story, the more likely it is news.

Importance/Effects Of Change. How will it change people’s lives, like a new law or a price increase? The more it changes people’s lives, the more likely it is news.

Prominence. Who is involved and do people know who they are or what company they work for? The more prominent the individual or company, the more likely it is news.

Conflict. How volatile are the combatants and how colorful are the characters? The bigger the conflict or rashness of the characters, the more likely it is news.

Novelty. Does it occur often or infrequently? The more uncommon the occurrence, the more likely it is news.

Human Interest. How touching is the act of kindness? The greater or more direct the gift, the more likely it is news.

Sensitivity. How disastrous or emotional is the result? The greater the misfortune, the more likely it is news.

Special Interest. Does the editor of the publication have an interest in the subject matter? The more specialized the story to a specific publication, the most likely it is news.

Almost all stories need at least one of these elements (generally, more than one) to be considered news by most journalists. It’s about that simple. If you have many, you have yourself a Nemo.

Do you get it now? At the very least, it might dispel the mystery of why a small company launching a new widget is probably spam as opposed to a salmon. It also explains why the huge whale tale seems to have been the Apple iPhone (called the invention of the year no less).

So there you have it. Where some (not all) public relations professionals are going wrong is that they are promising clients a certain amount of releases every month, but never look for anything that remotely resembles a minnow let alone a clown fish.

Who knows? Maybe that will make my "stars align" comment more palatable. That point was never meant to suggest more spam.

I was making the case that even if you have a Nemo, someone else might have a Nemo plus one. Too bad. It sucks. But there is only so much time or space a journalist or editor (or even a blogger) has to work with today, tomorrow, next week, or all year.

The general lesson is simple: don’t waste their time, especially since the average journalist’s salary is $30,000 per year and the average public relations professional is paid about twice that, which is why I can almost guarantee that the “it’s my job" sob or “you need me" cry or “I’m too busy to use AP Style" whine won’t really cut it. If anything, it will probably strain the relationship even more so. Instead of crying or inventing formulas, go find the better fish story.

And while you're at it, treat those journalists with respect. And, if they don’t respect you back right away, try to remember that other PR folks have probably lied to them a hundred times (just last week). So I'm sorry, but it's the burden of the PR professional to overcome any barriers caused by others in the field. Reporters owe you (or me) nothing. Not even a return call.

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Sunday, November 4

Blogging For Hope: Lisa Wines, O My Word

artheals
Lisa Wines, who pens of o my word, is as authentic as they come. The youngest of six children who moved from Philadelphia to Phoenix, she graduated a year early from high school and chose a life filled with drug smugglers, prostitutes, their attorneys, and other “interesting” people. Wines also knows about abuse.

“I have experienced different kinds of abuse in life, primarily a rape while in college, where I was held captive in a guy’s house for a couple days and then hospitalized,” says Wines. “It’s interesting that I didn’t write about my own experience. I guess I’m not ready for that.”

Instead, as one of 10,000 bloggers who participated in Bloggers Unite, a social awareness campaign organized by BlogCatalog, Wines decided to write about her friend Robert Miley, an artist in Arizona who developed an art workshop curriculum for abused and at-risk youth.

“I have known Robert Miley for years and have always been touched by his work with abused children,” she says. “I think art can be magically healing. People can express their emotions, rage, sadness, fear, through art, and get beyond the pain and move forward.”

Wines’ post received first place in the Blog For Hope Post Competition, sponsored by Copywrite, Ink. in cooperation with BlogCatalog. Among the prizes, Copywrite, Ink. will be donating $250 to Robert Miley’s Release The Fear in her name as well as proceeds from “Art Heals” T-shirts, which her post helped inspire. According to Wines, her post also represents the most she has done for Miley’s worthwhile endeavor.

“I had been self-absorbed for many years … working myself to death. I never seemed to have time for Robert’s or any other charity. But he would lure me in here and there,” she said. “I have helped him with minor writing tasks and have shown up at meetings and events. But I have never played a major role. I was very happy to finally draw attention to his work through my blog.”

While it doesn’t read like a new blog, o my word is relatively young to the blogosphere. Wines, a freelance commercial writer, started it in March as an essay blog that features observations and confessions about her life. Filled with little bits of wisdom from living an unconventional lifestyle, she shares anything and everything that happens to strike her. Often amusing and always straightforward, she also writes about her adventures as an American living in Paris

“I love my o my word blog, but have a love/hate relationship with my political blog,” she confesses. “Things are bleak in America today, so I get tired of bitching. Instead, I prefer reminiscing or telling stories about my life.”

In some ways, the Miley post in an exception, sparked by the Bloggers Unite campaign. Wines became interested in the campaign after reading how many bloggers were making a difference. She immediately thought of Miley.

“I think children need to feel safe, and then feel that they can be loved,” she says. “They need a way to express themselves and to shed the shame that is always associated with abuse.”

The six judges — two from BlogCatalog, two from Copywrite, Ink., and two who are not affiliated with social media — thought so too. Their decision to recognize Wines’ post was based on this program’s ability to help heal the pain associated with abuse. Although unrelated, Miley’s program is similar to “Gaining Your Voice Through The Arts,” a juried art show that highlighted artists who also use art as a means for healing in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Like Release The Fear, Gaining Your Voice focused on teaching people to transform their pain and suppressed emotions as an abuse victim into something else. By doing so, it helps abuse victims change the way they think about their experience and helps others to gain their voice as well.

It’s a solution — whether written in a blog or splashed across a canvas or captured in a photograph — that has been proven to work. Just ask Wines. Despite her own painful experiences, she still maintains an infectious sense of humor — the least of which is exemplified by her request for donations to buy some Depends. (Not really, but that’s what makes it funny.) Congratulations again, Lisa.

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Saturday, November 3

Striking Writers: Writer's Guild Of America


Although a federal mediator has called a last minute Sunday morning meeting between major media and the Writer's Guild Of America (WGA), it seems certain that 12,000 writers will go on strike Monday.

From the network perspective, budgets are going up while ratings are going down. From the writers perspective, they want higher residuals, especially from DVDs (they are asking for eight cents per copy as opposed to three or five cents). And they are serious.

As Jericho fans know, the strike could return Jericho to the small screen much earlier than as a truncated midseason show in January. But as the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for.

Coming back as a Band Aid for CBS would mean limited promotion time prior to a start date (not that CBS seems like it would go gangbusters on it anyway). This also assumes Jericho fans and new viewers will be satisfied with some lower budget solutions that made it impossible to pick up where the season one cliffhanger left off. And, with only seven shows in the can, even if season two was a hit, fans would once again find themselves looking at yet another long wait between seasons.

From the fans' perspective, it doesn’t make sense. For Veronica Mars fans, on the other hand, a writers strike could help return it to syndication, giving new viewers a chance to see the series for the first time. You never know what might happen if that happened. Why? Because in new world of media, crazier things have, are, and will happen. Don’t believe me?

• ABC recently asked Rob Thomas to bring back Cupid, a 15-episode series that debuted in 1998.

• The Teamsters’ 4,500 truck drivers, casting directors, and location managers may join the WGA strike. ABC, on the other hand, suggested writers consider dropping or converting their WGA membership to work anyway. Yep, crazy.

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Friday, November 2

Tagging Snackers: Conversation Agent


When Jeremiah Owyang, senior analyst for Forrester Research, presented Media Snackers, I didn’t give it much thought. I don’t believe it’s new. Like much of social media, it’s an old concept, repackaged under the premise that new media has changed everything.

Social media has changed the world; communication, not so much.

The general concept of MediaSnackers is sound, except as Owyang pointed out, it's not just young people — everyone is consuming, creating, and sharing media differently because they can access whatever, whenever, and wherever. Or, as I’ve said, passive viewers have become active consumers.

Six things that social media is changing:

• Speed of delivery
• Locality of contact
• Size of audience
• Depth of content
• Number of voices
• Degree of engagement

Six things that social media isn’t changing:

• Cognitive thinking
• Appeal of authenticity
• Varied behavioral styles
• Emotion-driven decisions
• Justifying decisions with logic
• Tendency toward organization

Social media is neither an opportunity nor a threat; it's both.

Valeria Maltoni, Conversation Agent, who tagged me with this topic task, used the movie Sliding Doors as a great analogy, noting that most companies size up social media as an opportunity or a thread. (That’s funny.)

It’s neither and both. That’s the beauty of social media. Much like life, you will find what you seek out. And much like life, you ignore it at your own peril.

Do I change my communication to cater to media snackers?

I don’t. Not really. I don’t believe effective communication begins with a medium. It begins with a deep appreciation of communication, which starts by recognizing that varied people have varied behaviors and respond to communication differently. The best communication makes sense to anyone even if it changes no one.

Social media has not changed this. However, for meme purposes, here are few tactics that media snackers might appreciate (no order):

• Employing Twitter, networks, and aggregates like snack shelves
• Finding key information from multiple sources and noting patterns
• Bolding critical information, points, quotes, or adding subheads
• Allowing readers to determine their own depth of interest
• Engaging people in comments, allowing them to share input
• Mixing and matching styles, stories, and analogies for fun
• Hiding full-course meals in many of these daily media snacks
• Serving up honesty and authenticity, even if it means telling people I like that they have mustard on their chins (and asking people to do the same for me)

So what do I think about social media snackers? I think that they are yummy. But then again, I like everybody, which is while I’ll tag: John Sumser, Jeremy Pepper, Doug Meacham, Lee Odden, and Steven Silvers for their take on social media snacks.

(Thanks to Kami Huyse, who published a list of contributors today.)

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Thursday, November 1

Making News: Publication Editors


Jack Payne, a business author (1.1 million books sold) and publisher of Six Hours Past Thursday left the kind of comment on my Chris Anderson, Wired, post that inspires me. Having "sent 15 releases over the past eight months," he has no idea why some releases get 15 pickups and others get four. (Jack, nice record).

Neither do I. Well, that’s sort of not true. Why do some releases run?

Space. Time. The Stars Align.

While this is an exercise in putting the cart before the horse (usually I share what constitutes news before making this point), there is only one thing that defines news — news is whatever the editor says is news. Period.

Key News * Las Vegas was a hybrid local/international trade publication for concierges and hospitality executives. We owned and operated it from Sept. 99 to Aug. 03 before selling it. Despite the super high cost per impression, our advertisers included In Celebration of Golf, Lladro, McCormick & Schmick’s, Lawry’s, The Venetian Grand Canal Shoppes, and many others. I was the editor; you can find a few details on my incomplete Linkedin profile.

In this publication, there was only one section where a news release could even hope to find a home. It was in a section called “Key Notes,” a two-page spread of news bits and other loose ends. At most, we had room for fourteen burbs, some of which were pre-designated. I randomly picked up an old issue today from 2002 to share why we picked ten headlines over about 500 other releases.

Concierges Added To The River Empress (Switzerland)
The publication description might be the giveaway. We were always interested when concierges were added to a property or cruise ship. Picked up from PR Newswire (it had a nice photo too).

Bonnie Springs Ranch Adds Horseback Riding (Las Vegas)
This was a local interest story. We would always have one purely local interest blurb. Plus, the cover story was on ecotourism. The owners sent me an email. They were nice.

World Tourism Organization (WTO) - Year Of Ecotourism
World tourism was always underreported in Vegas. We often covered WTO news (and other trade sources). Did I mention the cover story?

U.S. Senate Passes Border Security Act
The Travel Industry of America (TIA) had a major victory when it convinced Congress to extend the deadline for biometric passports (H.R. 3525). Biometric passports impacted $40 billion in tourism spending so, naturally, we were following the bill.

Fifth Annual ArtFest of Henderson
This was a local interest story from our longtime friend and client, the City of Henderson. We helped launch ArtFest and supported more off-Strip cultural events anyway. The timing of the event, more than the relationship, was the deciding factor.

Travelog Offers Self-Guided Tours
At the time, Travelog looked like a smart idea. It made self-guided CD tours for people who wanted to explore Nevada. A percentage of its proceeds benefited the Les Clefs d’Or Foundation. Enough said.

Local Concierge Spotlight
Every issue, we would publish the names of new local concierge association members as well as those who earned Les Clefs d’Or status. This was designated space.

National Tourism Week, May 5-11
This was a story about National Tourism Week and included a local tie-in. This was a good blurb to run because it touched local and national readership. Readers are why publications exist.

Nevada Joins U.S. Postal Service Campaign
The U.S. Post Office had unveiled its new commemorative stamps for the See America campaign. It was interesting and still exists. Check out See America if you're interested.

U.S. Grape Growers Target France
Most of our readers were affluent (they owned and operated hotels worldwide) and you would be surprised how many hotel guests ask concierges for wine tips. It was a natural fit and another PR Newswire pickup.

Do you notice anything? Not a single direct-to-publication news release made that issue, but that wasn’t always the case. On average, about 1-3 direct-to-publication news releases made it into the Key Notes section. So let’s run down the tips again:

Space. On average, we could publish “1-3” new releases. We had some 500 releases to choose from (if I could call some of them that).

Time. If I was going to pick up a release, I wanted it to be clear, crisp, newsworthy, and interesting for my readers. Since I also have a company, time was always a premium when it came to the publication. In other words, we didn’t have time to rewrite bad releases, make 10 follow-up calls (or emails), wait for PR firms to get back to us, or find the story that a PR firm missed. With 500 releases to choose from for 1-3 spots, why would we?

Stars Align. Nobody knew what the focus of our next cover story would be. So if someone happened to send in a release on something like ecotourism when the cover story was ecotourism, it automatically moved to the top of the list.

While I still think it was over the top for Anderson to publish all those email addresses, maybe this demonstrates why I am sympathetic to his plight against PR spam. Of the 500 some releases we skimmed for three spots, it used to go something like this:

• About 50 were on target, but I didn’t have space, pure and simple. Basically, they were trumped by other stories.

• About 50 had the right content for us, but were poorly written or required follow-up calls. Key Notes was always the last section to be written so time was always against our editorial team. Besides, there were 50 other stories ahead of them.

• About 400 had nothing to do with anything we published, were already covered, or were just so horrible that we were afraid the PR firm would think they were doing it right (headline example: The “blank” hotel just got bigger. Yikes!)

• Of these 400 low level releases, about 100 would contain hyped, dishonest, and even downright dirty lies. Not surprisingly, the worst 100 releases were the most likely to be written by PR people who would call me. They would ask if I got their releases, get mad if I told them there was no news value, and would try to pin me down on what I wanted. Honestly, I knew what was news when I saw it.

Is this information useful to you? It’s not always about ego, it’s about the truth. Public relations firms tend to think in formulas, but their formula does not often match any given publication. Plus, PR firms get better clients, in part, based on the decisions made by the editorial team. These editors know it. They also know that many PR firms are only interested in getting their clients ink, which is the polar opposite of editors want to do — serve their readers.

More to the point, while I agree with Geoff Livingston that being an editor doesn’t give anyone permission to be a punk, public relations firms would be best served by considering the editorial team’s needs, which varies by publication.

You see, this is all very relevant to me at the moment because, if all goes as planned, I will be wearing an editor’s hat again for “Project X” in 2008. It won’t be related to hospitality, but I already know my email inbox will be saddled with spam. Woo hoo.

Next week, I'll share a few journalist tips on what might constitute news. Why next week? Same reasons: space, time, and the stars did not align. The next three days or so on my blog are slated.

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Wednesday, October 31

Scaring PR: Chris Anderson, Wired


If you are a public relations professional who likes to pitch everything in your arsenal of potential communication and hope to get lucky, Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired, has sent you a message right in time for Halloween... BOO! YOU’RE BANNED!

Not only are you banned, but you are also publicly banned with your e-mail address published for the whole world, including spam bots, to see. Yikes!

It’s days like that when I am so glad that I don’t own a public relations firm (though we provide support services). It’s days like that when I wish all the public relations practitioners took my spring class at UNLV. Don’t spam publications, I tell students (most of whom are already working). They don’t listen, but I do tell them.

Based on the comments alone, some PR folks are not ready to listen to Anderson either. (They’re more concerned that they are on the list.) Sure, I think publishing the e-mails might have been a bit over the top, but I also know that warnings don’t seem to do the trick or treat for some flacks. Maybe a shock-and-awe slasher fest was warranted.

It’s a wake-up call that Mark Frauenfelder at BoingBoing agrees with. For the past week or so, he’s been “blacklisting PR flacks” from his email inbox too, but he stopped short of publishing a list (those folks may never know they are banned).

For anyone who finds this surprising, Anderson and Frauenfelder are just revealing what journalists and editors have been doing for years and years, long before email blasts became all the rage. Some public relations people just didn’t know it.

Three bad or irrelevant releases, if you were lucky, and the firm’s public relations envelope started going into the trash unopened. A few years later, I personally saw reams of paper piling out of the fax machine at the Las Vegas Review-Journal; a mountain of uninteresting and poorly written blast faxes. And then, as editor of a hospitality trade publication, I’ll never forget warning a publicist to stop sending non-news with a 10MB photo every other day. He responded by sending me five photos the next. BANNED!

The horror. The Horror. THE HORROR.

More horrible is that some comments on Anderson's post allude to the idea that it’s always better to call editors instead. Look, in case you missed it, Anderson is no more likely to field 300 calls a day then he is to skim 300 emails a day. So the solution sequels floating around out there may be more frightening than the original.

Here’s an idea: give editors and journalists what they want because unlike what Kent State University tells its journalism students — PR people are obstacles on the pathway to the truth — PR people are supposed to make the job of an editor and/or journalist easier, not harder. (Bill Seldzik’s blog is how I learned about the PR witch hunt at Wired. Good one, Bill!)

Did you get that? Give them what they want! Some like e-mails, some like calls, some like attachments (some don’t), and some even like releases sent to them via fax or snail mail (if you can imagine).

None of them want to "figure out" if your client has anything interesting for them or for you. None take any joy in reading painfully written news releases or ridiculous pitches. And if you don’t know who is who, then you aren’t really doing your job.

Personally, wearing my past (and future) editor hat, I think banned on first abuse is a bit extreme. I give flacks at least three tries to get it right, under the assumption that everybody has a bad day. Then I ban them.

I also hate pitch calls. There’s nothing worse than being stopped in the middle of a deadline to take a call from a flack who wants to chat it up like a used car salesman as if he or she wants to develop a relationship. Calls are reserved for clients or people who actually do something interesting enough that as an editor, I might call them.

My point here is: don’t talk about authenticity if all you want to do is pitch non-news and non-not-news while pretending we’re buddies. I actually like news releases, provided they are well crafted, but mostly because it’s easier to delete them based on the subject line (and lead line if I get past the subject line).

I can't speak for Anderson or Frauenfelder, but most editors and journalists tend to be more forgiving if they sense they weren’t simply added to a spam list. So here's a tip: pitch when it is so good that it smacks of a groundbreaking exclusive. Email or mail releases (as they prefer) to the appropriate people (some editors like them; some don’t). Add attachments only when you’ve been invited to do so.

You never know. If you do it right, maybe you will develop a relationship out of mutual respect. Now that would be scary.

Happy Halloween!

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Tuesday, October 30

Faking FEMA: Reporters Optional


"At the end of the briefing, questions were asked. I should have intervened and I didn't," said John P. "Pat" Philbin, former external affairs director for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) about his involvement in staging a fake news conference last Tuesday on the California wildfires.

The decision to stage questions with stand-ins for a FEMA news conference came after reporters were given only 15 minutes notice. While the agency also made an 800 number available for call ins, it was a listen-only arrangement. Several channels broadcasted parts of the conference live via a video feed.

Philbin will no longer take over public affairs for the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), which he had previously been offered by Mike McConnell, director of the DNI. Philbin said he understood McConnell's decision.

“It was one of the dumbest and most inappropriate things I’ve seen since being in government,” came the harshest criticism from Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff. “I have made it unambiguously clear, in Anglo Saxon prose, that it is not to ever happen again, and there will be appropriate disciplinary action taken against those people who exhibited what I regard as extraordinary poor judgment.”

Philbin may have been the fall guy, but the entire external affairs team could have been let go. No one of them, not a single team member, seemed to comprehend that staging a fake news conference was ridiculous, unethical, and a severe breach of public trust.

Let’s star over.

“Public Relations is the art and science of analyzing trends, predicting their consequences, counseling organization leaders and implementing planned programs of action which will serve both the organization’s and the public interest.” — First World Assembly of Public Relations Associations and First World Forum of Public Relations, 1978

Nowhere in this definition is a public relations professional asked to spin, lie, cover up, or otherwise present fake and fraudulent information for their employer. What is clear, however, is that professionals are to serve both the organization’s and public interest.

Maybe I should make it as clear as I make it for public relations students: the organization you defraud the public for will survive and may even thrive over time, but any abuse of public trust or the media will stay with you for the life of your career.

In this case, FEMA will carry on, while Philbin is out of his DNI job. While I admire his sincerity in saying “at the end of day, I’m the person in charge and responsible for this,” he is not doing any favors for new public relations professionals. The truth is that every single participant was responsible — whether an intern or seasoned pro. Any one of them could have suggested they skip questions and simply make a statement.

Digg!

Monday, October 29

Demonstrating Non-Communication: IABC And Ragan


Last week, I mentioned a communication breakdown. On the front end, it was confined to the chair and president of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), which is a global network of communicators working in diverse industries, and IABC member David Murray, who has his own ideas about what IABC should be doing. Shel Holtz did a good job with the recap so I won’t repeat it. It’s not very entertaining, er, or is it?

If it was an episode of The Office, it would have went something like this…

Dwight: I’m so excited! We have a new Scranton plan and I want to share some of it early! Listen up, everybody; this is going to be great! … Blah, blah, blah.
Toby: Blah, blah, blah? That’s stupid, Dwight. You can’t do it that way. It has to go through corporate.
Dwight: Oh, come on … maybe you just need to hear a little more.
Toby: No, Dwight. I don’t. It’s stupid.
Michael: Hold on. If anyone is going to call Dwight’s plan stupid, they have to call me stupid too. It was my plan.
Toby: Whatever, Michael. It’s still stupid and I’m calling Ryan.

So what really happened?
Todd Hattori, chair of IABC, made the mistake of pre-releasing some strategic plan summaries to the public before the plan was ready for members (let alone the public) because he was enthusiastic about it. Murray, an IABC member with his own ideas about what needs to be done, publicly criticized the summary.

Hattori and Julie Freeman, president of IABC, attempted to respond, trying to defend the unreleased plan by sharing more information. They didn’t need to go beyond adding a comment to Murray’s blog, perhaps asking Murray to wait for the plan to be released. But they did, and that made matters worse. Go figure.

So what could have happened?
IABC could have released the strategic plan to various internal stakeholders, incorporated the best input as needed, and then released the completed plan to the public. Communicating change works best from the inside out.

The Story Continues…
Ragan Communications noted the tussle and thought it would be fun to cover. Last week, I thought it was a good thing that Ragan Communications gave the criticism a forum out of principle. I’m less inclined to think so today, because Ragan appears to have a stake in the outcome. The Ragan a la Michael Klein addition to the non-communication went something like this…

Toby (into phone): Ryan, yeah, it’s Toby, I have a problem.
Ryan: Toby, I’m busy. Let Angela work it out until I can get there.
Angela: Well, this plan doesn’t include Ryan’s ideas, so Toby is right, it’s stupid. But if you want, I’ll be happy to listen …
Michael and Dwight: Okay! Blah, blah, blah.
Angela: Blah, blah, blah? No, it’s definitely stupid. Let’s take a vote.
Ryan’s fans: Whatever Angela says!

So what really happened?
Klein, who also has ideas about what IABC should be doing, first wrote an op-ed mostly highlighting Murray’s point of view and infused some additional points (fair enough). And then, Murray seemed to ask for an objective “interview.” Hattori and Freeman accepted, despite all this being well beyond objectivity.

So what could have happened?
I appreciate that Hattori and Freeman were trying to be responsive, but it came across as somewhat defensive. It certainly did not serve members to make the IABC Strategic Plan the subject matter of a pretend news source. Ragan has some good content, but its flash-in-the-pan style often dilutes its value.

The Story Continues…
About that time, it seems Shel Holtz and I stumbled upon the conversation, both wondering if it was worth commenting on at all. That went something like this…

Jim: Hey, what are we voting on in here?
Kevin: Hey Jim, It’s confusing, but I’ll map it all out for you.
Jim: Sure, map away. It all seems kind of silly.
Michael: Jim, can you define silly?
Dwight: What part’s silly? Mine? Or Toby’s?
Jim: You know, maybe I ought to keep out of it.
Kevin: That might be best. Nobody cares anyway.
Jim: You might be right.
Ryan (finally walking in): Nobody cares? Everybody cares! At least they used to care!
Kevin: Good point, Ryan. Why doesn’t anyone care?
Toby: That was my point all along.

So are there any real issues?
I see several issues buried somewhere in all the bias, but I think even those are trumped by the simple fact that this strategic plan has not been released. As for IABC members not chiming in en masse, I can only guess that most are wise enough to avoid a conversation about something they have not seen, which is why I’m waiting until the strategic plan is released.

Except, I’d like to note that the entire dialogue (and I use that term loosely) was an exercise in non-communication with no more validity than a basic blog drama. You would think that people who are communicators would know better, given they are all professionals. For some reason, everyone treats social media like it somehow supercedes proven communication practices. It does not.

Digg!

Sunday, October 28

Digging In: Jericho Rangers


Today is Jericho Digg Day, one of the many creative ways fans of the Jericho television series, disillusioned by CBS, are working to revive interest in a show in stasis until it returns in January or, speculatively, sooner.

Kick started by the author of Jericho Junction, it is one of the first unified efforts since fans sent nuts to CBS by the truckload. In preparation, some fans even created stylized content to remind fans why they tuned in to Jericho in the first place. The objective is to get Jericho on the front page of Digg. It’s a start.

Here is a quick round up of primary fan communities coming together to Digg:

Jericho CBS Message Boards. The message boards double as “Jericho Rising,” a Web address that was originally teased as a standalone site by CBS, before the network decided to redirect traffic back to the original boards.

Jericho Rally Point. This was originally the “second line” of defense during the show cancellation protest for fans to stay connected in the event they were banned from the CBS boards or if CBS pulled the plug.

Radio Free Jericho. These message boards were developed as one of the first standalone fan sites. One of the primary purposes was to provide a “free speech” zone for fans.

Jericho Times. This site, originally called the Jericho Armory, developed out of an electronic newsletter. Its original purpose was to round up and report on various Jericho fan groups.

Guardians of Jericho. This site was developed for the primary purpose of organizing Jerichon, which is the home of the annual convention for Jericho fans.

NutsforJericho. This forum was developed by NutsOnLine as a commitment to Jericho fans after the show cancellation was reversed and the drive to buy nuts concluded.

The image accompanying this post is a 15-second solution to develop a message aimed at prospective viewers as opposed to the “Come Home To Jericho” message that is better aimed at existing and lost fans. The artwork was graciously donated by RubberPoultry after I tossed out a Band-Aid message based loosely on what might be the focus of the truncated second season. (You can catch some of the text on the Flickr caption.)

The reason I say “loosely” is because other than what I’ve been able to glean about the second season from bits and pieces (eg. Jericho will be occupied and the United States is a civil war of sorts), there is nothing to go on. You can find some bits here and there on the Jericho Wiki.

This is one of the reasons I’ve been reluctant to “cross the line” as an observer and do anything beyond track fan activities. The irony here is that CBS was originally watching to see what fans could develop on their own, but then failed to recognize that even viral marketing needs a point of origin (hint to CBS: usually networks provide that point. Just ask NBC … they did it twice last season).

Digg!

Saturday, October 27

Posting For Hope: Bloggers Unite


On Sept. 27, BlogCatalog became the first social network to ask its members to collectively call for an End To Abuse. On thousands of blogs all over the world on the same day, BlogCatalog members and other bloggers did.

Google revealed more than 66,000 mentions of “Bloggers Unite” and abuse; more than 10,000 of those included “BlogCatalog,” linking back to the campaign so other bloggers could be discovered. Collectively, it represents a powerful call for awareness and action that is hard to ignore: links, comments, etc.

But are these the measures? In terms of increasing awareness across the Internet perhaps. But more important than any numbers are the individual posts themselves. Each, on their own, had the power to touch people’s lives. These represent the real outcomes.

To highlight a few, Copywrite, Ink., in cooperation with BlogCatalog, invited any blogger who participated in this campaign to submit a link and other measurements for consideration in our Blog For Hope Post Competition.

Six judges painstakingly read more than 100 entries, representing a mere sliver of Bloggers Unite posts written by thousands of bloggers. From these, we tasked ourselves to select eight. While there are no losers, we’re pleased to highlight a sampling of the work from caring individuals who made a difference. The work speaks for itself...

Highlighted Bloggers — Three Powerful Posts

First Place — Lisa Wines, O my word

Wines wrote about an everyday hero. Robert Miley (pictured), an artist in Phoenix, has developed a workshop curriculum for abused children and at-risk youth to discover themselves and gain empathy for others through art. Art is often used as a medium for children who have suffered abuse to transform their pain and association with the abuse into something manageable. Wines’ efforts to recognize Miley through Bloggers Unite brings awareness to a technique that helps victims cope with abuse.

Second Place — Barbara Sweat (Jane), Jericho Monster

Sweat chronicled how verbal abuse sometimes escalates from put-downs under the guise of jokes into disparaging comments that aim to control, manipulate, and intimidate, leaving an impact on the victim forever. She then gave readers information from several sources and prompted the victims of verbal abuse to contact the state branch of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence if the abuse crosses into domestic violence.

Third Place — Verna Corbett, Keep It Simple Solutions

Corbett revealed a very personal story of how, by learning more about the foster care system, she was personally touched and moved to action. Her family has adopted ten children from the foster care program and is now working to build a group of homes for siblings, children and youth on 80 acres of land so they may receive the caring, understanding, and unconditional love they deserve.

Honorable Mentions — Five More Touching Posts

Hartley B. Singer, PetLvn summarized dozens of powerful posts to call for an end to animal abuse. He includes information about what you can do to help.

The NAFASG Team, NAFASG captivated readers with a powerful tribute to a Nurin Jazlin, who was abducted and murdered. The story is shocking; the call to action memorable, with scores of people joining their efforts to end child abuse.

CreativeBlogger used ProBlogs to share the undeniably tragic story from Africa — adults infected with HIV sexually assaulting children, which is a death sentence beyond the abuse these children already endure.

Cynthia Newcomer Daniel, Jewelry Tales, gave up space to recount her personal story of abuse, demonstrating true courage in sharing her story so that others might know they are not alone.

Saphyre Rose, Sun And Moon Sorcery, who is a 25-year cancer survivor, stopped us with a powerful introduction: I was a victim of abuse. She shares her personal experience and prompts victims to have the courage to take action.

In the weeks ahead, I will be contacting the first three bloggers, mentioned above, to make arrangements so they may receive additional recognition. For details, please visit the competiton post. We will also be profiling one of the first three bloggers, every Sunday, starting next week. Thank you for touching us. Thank you for making a difference. And thank you for giving us hope.

Digg!

Friday, October 26

Outing The Media: J.K. Rowling


As hard as it is to imagine, one of the hottest topics on the Internet is the sexuality of a fictitious character. For days now, new media and mainstream media have all weighed in with opinions on the “Outing of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore,” the headmaster of Hogwarts from the Harry Potter series.

It doesn’t really matter. And yet, it seems to matter.

The outing came seven days ago at New York City's Carnegie Hall. A young fan made the mistake of asking whether the headmaster had ever been in love.

"Dumbledore is gay, actually," said J.K. Rowling before revealing Dumbledore loved a fellow wizard, Gellert Grindelwand.

So, the correct answer might have easily been “yes, …” making a better distinction, perhaps, between love and orientation. But Rowling did not, and now the topic she chose is overshadowing any other merit of her books, good, bad, or indifferent. And that’s a shame. She hasn’t been able to go anywhere without it being asked about again, and again, and again. Her choice, I suppose.

Brands are fragile things, even for fictitious characters. Not that there is anything wrong with Dumbledore being gay, but Rowling has only succeeded in confusing an identity that fans have established. It could have been any other shocker; she could have said he was a Republican or Democrat. It doesn’t really fit because orientation isn’t what the stories are about.

From a communication standpoint, the dramatic brand shift for Dumbledore isn’t so much about him being gay as it is about a shift in his established brand. If you do not believe me that dramatic shifts mean something, ask Sen. Larry Craig.

Or maybe, as a complete contrast, we can look at Ellen DeGeneres. Nobody cares about her orientation anymore; they do seem to care about her joviality, which came apart over the Mutts & Moms controversy. In Canada, the brand bamboozling revolved around St├ęphane Dion.

My point is that reactions in the media and around the Web have less to do with what was announced and more to do with the degree of separation from what seemed to have been established. We might all keep that in perspective.

For example, Mark Harris, writing about Potter for Entertainment Weekly (linked above), made a poignant remark. He pointed readers to a story by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation that shows only 1.1 percent of characters on scripted network series are gay, which he says is an underrepresentation of their presence in the population. Maybe so or maybe not.

There are many shows where orientation doesn’t even enter the equation. Do we really need to know the orientation of every character? Big Bird, maybe?

This time around, I think Bill O’Reilly might have called it right. Rowling seems to be a provocateur. After years of claiming she has difficultly with the press, is "thin-skinned," and dislikes the fickle nature of reporting, none of that seems to be an issue any longer. It’s invited.

In many ways, Rowling’s revelation is a bigger brand shift than the one imposed on Dumbledore. With a single sentence, she demonstrated the sometimes triviality of reporting today; and proven she isn’t all that thin-skinned after all.

It makes you wonder. Who was really outed after Carnegie Hall?

Digg!

Thursday, October 25

Mixing Nuts: Ragan Communications


If you ever want to see an organization that inspires admiration and loathing at the same time, look no further than Ragan Communications. If you don’t know, it is a publisher of information about corporate communication and internal communication. It also hosts a social network called myRagan, which is both useful and clunky at the same time (but better than when I first reviewed it).

Admiration

On one hand, Ragan Communications gave Michael Klein a great platform to discuss the merits and shortfalls of the International Association of Business Communicators’ new staff-driven strategic plan. David Murray also has a fine sum-up about the communication backlash.

If you don’t know, IABC is a professional network of more than 15,000 business communication professionals in over 70 countries. One of the cornerstone principles for IABC is that it is a member-driven organization, which pinpoints why a staff-written strategic plan (that few have seen) may not be palatable for many members, especially because it was set in motion before it was released for review. Yikes! Time to brush up on those “communicating change” skill sets.

I haven’t had the opportunity to fully immerse myself in the real issues, but I’ll poke around next week. One thing I do know, having been around IABC for quite some time, members sometime feel that they do not have enough input into shaping the organization. When members do mention that, it’s usually defined as lambasting the organization.

For the moment, I will mention if Klein is right and “increasing mainstream media mentions by 20 percent” is part of the plan, IABC might have a rocky road ahead. Counting media mentions is not a suitable measure, which, ironically, is something I learned from IABC. More importantly, Julie Freeman (IABC president) and Todd Hattori (IABC chair) must demonstrate due diligence so this does not turn into an “us vs. them” communication challenge. More next week.

Loathing

Sometimes Ragan Communications buzz e-mails are so silly it’s hard to take Ragan seriously. For example, in marketing its upcoming 90-minute webinar with Southwest Airlines next Tuesday, the e-mail headline reads:

Q: How many customer comments are there on Southwest’s blog this month? A: 209. The time is now to start a dialogue with your customers.

The irony here is that I can almost guarantee Southwest Airlines does not include blog comment counts as part of their organization’s business objectives. (I won’t bother mentioning the clunky headline structure.)

Fortunately, Southwest Airlines’ Brian Lusk, manager of customer communication and corporate editor, and Paula Berg, public relations manager, are including: how to align a corporate blog with your organization's business objectives. So, the whole comment count thing is mute as a selling point. There is little doubt that Southwest Airlines seems to know the difference between outcomes and blog buzz even if Ragan Communications likes to mix them up.

In fact, Southwest Airlines has one of the better customer-focused blogs around. More importantly, this foray into social media is partly responsible for the best opening three quarters in the airline's history. Right on. Southwest Airlines also attributes $150 million in ticket sales to its "Ding!" widget.

So let’s see … if you are in the target audience, what might resonate: $150 million or 209 comments? Sure, the comments are cool in that they demonstrate some customer engagement. The more I think about them, the more I see comments might even be worth adding to the qualitative research column (if you employ comments).

However, my main point here is that Ragan Communications irritates me because they dumb down communication value. Yes, it’s great fun for a select audience who understands something about social media, but it also drives away those who need to understand social media the most. More to the point: if you don’t have a blog, you certainly don’t care about comment counts.

Digg!

Wednesday, October 24

Tracking Ads: Google & Nielsen

The shortcomings of the rating system as offered by Nielsen Media Research has become a popular target for television fans. And for good reason. However, if there is one thing Nielsen has been doing right, it is listening to consumers.

Recently, they told networks that they would no longer combine two airings of the same show. And, they are allowing longer time periods to count DVR viewers, which has increased some show's ratings as much as five percent. Both moves came out of public outcry.

Today, The New York Times reported that Google will be announcing a partnership today with the Nielsen Company in order to give "advertisers a more vivid and accurate snapshot of how many people are viewing commercials on a second-by-second basis, and who those people are."

“We want to bring all the advantages that we see in online advertising — like more accountability, a better sense of the audience, better tools to optimize a campaign — and bring them to television to make TV advertising more effective,” Michael Steib, director for television ads for Google told The New York Times.

Google has been experimenting with television advertising through a cable operator, the DISH Network, which reaches 13 million subscribers. Several advertising executives predicted that it would be only a matter of time before other cable operators signed up, making the measurement system offered by Google TV Ads more broadly available.

Seems we too were early in connecting the dots, seeing cable operators as both the most obvious answer to better measurements as well as the eventual convergence of television and the Internet. While no old media has ever been replaced by new media to date, it sure seems like all media is undergoing a rapid and dramatic transformation.

Digg!

Increasing Traffic: Magazine Publishers


“The advertising dollar has never been more scrutinized, measured and quantified than it is today. What was once a bottomless pit of marketing capital emptied into the hands of advertising mavens, today’s advertising dollar is being doled out with expectations for a tangible return on investment.” — Thomas Banks, CEO, FlexSCAN, Health Business Week

You know the Internet is having an impact when Magazine Publishers of America (MPA) compiles independent research that documents how various online and offline media influence consumer behavior online.

The research, which includes third-party surveys and new quantitative analysis, is aimed at the role of media in driving online traffic, search, and purchase behavior, as well as the role of media in driving consumer response to online video ads. The conclusions, published across several reports, demonstrate the significance of an integrated communication. Here is a sampling:

• Offline media perform well in driving Web traffic and search — often better than online media, even when URL addresses are missing or not prominent.

• Media synergy is important, although each medium influences online behavior differently and plays a distinctive role.

• Looking at qualified search—those consumers ready to make a purchase—paints a different picture of media usage than total search, which is most often the focus of advertisers.

• When looking at the role individual media play in driving Web results, magazines most consistently drive Web traffic and search.

One must-read is How Media Drives Online Success that includes the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association (RAMA) study. It looks at which media performs best at influencing consumers to start a search for merchandise online.

Another must-read is a two-part report, Accountability and Accountability II, that also looks at consumer online behavior. One of the most significant findings from my point of view was the impact of integrated communication or what the MPA calls "media synergy."

Media synergy: more media gets better results.

While we were not surprised that integrated communication had a better impact across all measures than one medium — brand awareness, advertising awareness, message association, brand favorability, and purchase intent — we were taken by the extent. Print (magazines), television, and online advertising, when used together, delivered 2.5 times to 4 times more impact than one medium alone.

However, what the study does not include, is that magazine advertising (which the report says drives the most Web traffic and search) tends to be more in sync with accurate message delivery than television or online advertising. Television advertising tends to lean toward overly creative, sometimes convoluting the message, whereas online advertising, for the most part, tends to be devoid of message in favor of logo banners.

Until communicators sync messages, internally and externally, it seems likely that communication and marketing plans will continue to deliver mixed results. Public relations and social media practitioners would also be well served to be on the same page, shifting focus to stories and opinions about anything to get ink and toward reinforcing their core message.

What does that mean? It means to stop asking the majority of people to learn 100 things about your company on one medium and focus more on that one point across all media (as your budget allows). One core message across multiple communication streams will deliver better results than multiple messages across one stream.

Wow. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Digg!

Tuesday, October 23

Screwing Originators: How To Do Things


Flattery will get you everywhere. At least that's what HowToDoThings.com seems to think.

“We recently visited your website's copywriteink.com page and thought that as a trusted expert in the field, you might want to write a "how to" article or articles on a topic that you are knowledgeable and passionate about.”

I declined, with exception to one tiny part (explained later), but not because it was a form letter. I declined because if you put aside the gratuitous e-mail and read their content submission agreement, you might find one of the most overreaching and abusive policies that I’ve ever had the privilege, er, pain, to read.

Sure, I’m not an attorney and this is not legal advice, but even slivers of HowToDoThings’ 4-page “take everything, leave nothing” submission policy provides a very clear picture of why content originators (bloggers, writers, etc.) need to read, very carefully, any such terms before entrusting their content to anyone.

You hereby irrevocably assign, transfer, and quitclaim to HowToDoThings (or such third party/ies as HowToDoThings may elect) all right, title, and interest. You may have or hereafter acquire in and to all Published Content, either directly or indirectly, along with all intellectual property rights and other proprietary rights relating to all Published Content, including any and all registrations with respect thereto, whether foreign or domestic, and all renewals and extensions thereof, as well as related rights of priority under international conventions, and all rights to sue and recover damages for past infringements.

Right. For the promise of a 50-50 Google AdSense split on that page (according to the e-mail), the originator would surrender all rights, indefinitely, including intellectual property rights that are a derivative of the work, to the site. That’s terrible and it gets worse.

You authorize HowToDoThings and its successors and assigns to use one or more of the following: (a) your name; (b) pertinent biographical information relating to You; and (c) your likeness in connection with the publication of any Published Content, as well as any derivative works based upon any Published Content, without further compensation or consideration to You, and without your further review or consent.

In other words, not only will they own the originator’s content, but the originator’s likeness and name as well, and reserve the right to attach it to derivative works without review or consent. And there’s more.

If HowToDoThings requests that You sign any documents or take any other actions to confirm the rights granted under this Agreement, You agree to do so. You hereby irrevocably appoint HowToDoThings as your attorney-in-fact (which appointment is coupled with an interest) for the purpose of executing such documents on your behalf.

Not only would the originator sign over their content, likeness, and intellectual property rights related to the work, but also appoint HowToDoThings as their attorney-in-fact, indefinitely, with permission to act on their behalf. All this despite another provision that claims this is not an agency, partnership, joint venture, employee-employer or franchisor-franchisee relationship. Unless, of course, there is any libel or copyright infringement. Then, the originator is on their own to protect what the site claims as their property. And there’s more.

You hereby grant to HowToDoThings the exclusive, royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, transferable, worldwide right and license (including the right to sublicense through multiple tiers of sublicensees) to use, reproduce, publish in any form, whether tangible or electronic, and sell all Published Content.

I know what some might think. In a world where people are so willing to share, isn’t it a genuine offer to split Google AdSense? Unfortunately, there is no provision of this in the submission agreement. But there is a provision about such promises.

This Agreement, together with the Guidelines, which are incorporated into and made a part of this Agreement, each as in effect and posted on the Site from time to time, constitute the entire agreement between You and HowToDoThings and supersede all prior understandings, whether written or oral with regard to the subject matter of this Agreement.

Add to all this a termination agreement that allows HowToDoThings to terminate the agreement at anytime (with them keeping your content, likeness, and intellectual property rights), and it’s easy to see why content originators need to read these agreements closer than ever. That is, unless you can afford to pursue arbitration in San Mateo County, Calif., which is your only recourse according to the agreement. So what tiny part of what they are doing do I agree to?

We are actively looking for your feedback on our site.

Okay, here is some feedback: I think the submission agreement makes HowToDoThings look like an online piranha, attempting to take advantage of and prey off of less experienced content originators by stealing away their rights, names, likenesses, and intellectual property for the promise of, well, nothing and the loss of, well, everything.

The only rights online publishers need to request is first electronic rights, which would grant such a site the right to publish original content first, perhaps with a built-in provision that the originator cannot resell the material for a set time period, not to exceed 30-60 days. While it makes sense for publishers to retain bylines and likenesses with the published content, it is ridiculous to ask for any provision that assigns such identifiers to derivative works that may or may not have anything to do with the originator.

By the way, it also pays to read the terms of social networks. Some are playing shell games too, claiming to be distribution channels on one hand and publishers on the other hand. Their definition depends exclusively on their win factor.

Digg!

Monday, October 22

Serving Up Stress: U.S. Employers


Watson Wyatt, an international association of human resource professionals, released a study today that may send shivers down the spines of management: a large majority of companies in the United States and around the world are struggling to attract and retain top-performing and critical-skill workers.

The study, which included 946 companies and a complementary survey of 13,000 employees, found that the United States has the highest median voluntary turnover rate, at 11 percent, while Latin America has the lowest, at 5 percent. In addition, more than half of the companies report difficulty retaining top-performing (52 percent) and critical-skill (56 percent) workers. But that is not the most significant finding.

What is most interesting to me is the apparent disconnect between employers and employees on pinpointing the problem. Fifty-two percent of the employers say the number one reason they struggle to retain employees is base pay whereas 37 percent of employees cite stress levels (base pay came in second, followed by promotion opportunities, career development opportunities, and work/life balance).

The study found that when employees are satisfied with stress levels and work/life balance, 86 percent are more inclined to stay with their company (versus 64 percent when dissatisfied) and 88 percent are more likely to recommend it as a place to work (versus 55 percent when dissatisfied).

“Worldwide, the frenetic pace of modern business is taking its toll on employees,” said Adam Sorensen, global total rewards practice leader at World at Work. “There’s no question that employees are more likely to leave or speak badly of their workplace if they feel overburdened. Companies that take steps to ensure that stress levels are not onerous will save money in the long run by reducing attrition.”

The concept that employees are feeling overburdened in the workplace is not new. There was an article by Douglas Ready and Jay Conger about this subject in the Harvard Business Review in June. The authors had conducted a study in 2005 that revealed virtually all companies indicated that they had an insufficient pipeline of high-potential employees to fill strategic management roles.

In the article, they pinpointed that passion must start at the top and infuse corporate culture; otherwise, talent management processes can deteriorate into bureaucratic routines. In other words, when you tally up the studies, companies are throwing money at employees but money does not make people feel passionate about their jobs, probably because the stress levels aren’t worth it.

Much like we see in social networks, it’s too much management and not enough leadership. And, obviously, there is a breakdown in communication because employers think that throwing money at employees reduces stress.

If there was better communication, companies would already know that it’s not the money, it’s the environment. Case in point: one-half of the companies said that their managers do a good job at performance management, but U.S. companies received the lowest management ratings (Asia-Pacific companies received the highest). Do you think there might be a correlation to management, non-communication, employee stress, and retention? Naw, couldn’t be. Could it?

What seems to be happening is that companies are attempting to bribe their way out of developing positive corporate cultures by increasing incentive programs while raising financial targets to earn those incentives. The reason they think it works is because the people most likely to be promoted and support these models are those who chased after financial lures in the first place.

But for the rest of the stressed-out workforce, they seem to be escaping through Facebook and other online social networks where they hook up with recruiters and potential employers who promise that the grass just might be greener someplace else.

Time out. That's not measurable, some might say.

“Unlike processes, which can be copied by competitors, passion is very difficult to duplicate. Nevertheless, there are companies that can build it into their cultures” — Harvard Business Review

The beginning of a solution is right in front of management’s nose (literally so if you are reading this post). More than anything else, companies that want to succeed tomorrow must invest in better two-way communication streams between themselves and their employees (never mind consumers for a minute). Because the simple truth is that if this communication existed, then there would be no disconnect between why employees leave and why employers think they leave.

So if you ask me, employers need to train management to be strategic and passionate leaders who motivate not just with Jolly Ranchers (like they try to do to my son when he is in school) but with open communication that instills a sense of passion and trust with the company. Training managers to communicate goals rather than enforce corporate policy is one solution. Closed social networks or even internal blogs for employees might be another (recognizing many social networks struggle with the concept of community).

“Employers that are best at building and maintaining the right workforce are often the best at aligning workers’ rewards with the company’s goals. Their performance management programs clearly communicate what workers need to do to get ahead and to improve company performance. This builds a sense of teamwork that makes it easier to retain employees, as well as attract high-potential newcomers.” — Watson Wyatt

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Saturday, October 20

Raising Neptune: Veronica Mars Fans


Kristen Bell, best known for her role on the cult hit Veronica Mars, will be joining the cast of Heroes this Monday. And with her, she may be bringing thousands of Veronica Mars fans.

Veronica Mars fans have long since noticed that the Veronica Mars DVD will be released the day after Bell’s debut as a new character with mysterious electric powers. In preparation, hundreds of fans have downloaded fliers to help promote the Save Veronica Mars Web site under their combined group banner Neptune Rising.

As part of their DVD promotion efforts, Veronica Mars fans have even pooled together enough money to, weather permitting, fly a banner "Buy Veronica Mars Season 3 On Sale Now" from Middletown, Ohio, to Cincinnati.

“The flight will be approximately an hour long and we are hoping to hit rush hour traffic along two expressways,” says Mark Thompson, who operates the Save Veronica Mars Web site. “Cloudwatchers flew one for Veronica Mars to get us a Season 3 and campaigners for the show Invasion flew one trying to save their show last year as well.”

Thompson says renting planes is becoming commonplace for fan groups. CSI fans, he says, are looking to rent planes with banners to save a character on the show. In addition to the plane flight, they are recruiting bloggers and other fans to make noise on the Internet this Monday and Tuesday.

Veronica Mars fan Rachel Gerke, who pitches better than many working public relations professionals I know, tells me that on Oct. 23, Veronica Mars fans will begin collecting letters to make fan scrapbooks for Kristen Bell, Rob Thomas, and Alan Horn, president of Warner Brothers. The scrapbooks will take some time to get together, but fans are hoping to complete the project as a holiday gift. And, half a world away, a Veronica Mars fan has been promoting an Oct. 26 start date for Veronica Mars syndication in Australia.

Combined, Veronica Mars fans have easily redeemed themselves since the Buddy TV story in June told them to turn to Jericho fans for help. Nowadays, it almost seems to be the other way around.

The difference isn’t in the fans; it’s in network communication. Jericho fans are still mending fences after fan fallouts caused by some who lobbied Nina Tassler’s message, which implied that CBS fans might save the show if they simply “hung out” on the CBS message boards. While most fans are friendly, visiting the kitchen tends to drive more people away over disputes than it can keep.

For Jericho, the best ideas continue to be those away from the network (it’s about time). Next week, I’ll be looking for them to see if we can find some kind of sum up and solidarity.

If there is a lesson to be learned by networks, there seems to be two distinct ways to work with passionate fans: either partner with them and provide the support they need or stay far, far away. Unfortunately, CBS tends to fall somewhere in the middle, floating messages out through select fans and editing posts that might distract from those who seem closer to them.

Although the stay “far, far away” approach might seem frustrating for Veronica Mars fans at times, they should be happy not to have a halfway headache. The result is a clear focus: Veronica Mars Season 3 DVD goes on sale Oct. 23. If you haven’t heard, I expect you will.

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Friday, October 19

Saying Tomato: Whole Foods Market, Inc.


Whole Foods Market, Inc. (Whole Foods) has completed its investigation into CEO John Mackey’s online financial message board postings related to Whole Foods and Wild Oats Market (Wild Oats). The fiasco began months ago after it was revealed that Mackey posted disparaging remarks about Wild Oats on Yahoo financial boards using the anonymous name “Rahodeb.” He did this for years, stopping several months prior to the Whole Foods acquisition of Wild Oats.

The result was one of the biggest games of “you say tomato, I say tomoto” in recent history, with some people insisting it was all good fun (including Mackey before he admitted a lack of judgment) and some people claiming it is an ethical breach of his fiduciary duty with the insistence that he be immediately removed as CEO.

The Whole Foods Board, led by Rahodeb and including "Divad," "Nhoj," "Elleirbag," "Ssah," "Sirrom," and "Hplar," has reaffirmed its support of Mackey. (By the way, Divad, Nhoj, and Hplar led the "independent" investigation.)

So why did they say tomato? They won't say. It’s a secret.

“The Company and the Board intend to cooperate fully with the SEC in completing its related inquiry. Due to the ongoing SEC inquiry, the Company and the Board have no further comment at this time.”

Instead, they have turned over their investigation to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which is charged with determining if Mackey violated the law. I do not envy the task; exonerating Mackey will smack as permission for more colorful CEOs to do the same. Not to mention, the media, which was once sympathetic to Mackey, is starting to lose their patience with the whole sordid story.

They have several reasons. Mackey’s activities were carried out despite knowledge of them by senior executives and several knew of the postings as of 2001, according to three people familiar with the matter, reports The Wall Street Journal. The independent investigation no longer looks so independent. The company will not comment further. And, the longer it takes to resolve a crisis communication situation, the less likely the media will be on your side.

So why did they say tomato? That’s no secret. It’s simple.

The Whole Foods Board has nothing to lose by doing so. If the SEC does decide to call Mackey’s antics less than vine ripe, then it simply has to announce something like this … “In light of the SEC investigation, which uncovered additional information, we have decided to say tomoto instead of tomato.” And then call the whole thing off.

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