Friday, November 16

Revisiting Metrics: Social Media Equation


“… most bloggers who have not yet established a large readership and built a solid base of well-tagged content for search engines get very distracted by all of these measurements and allow themselves to become [too] focused on these metrics …” — Alan Jobe, noting that, even so, it is still important to be aware of them.

Jobe’s comment came shortly after I asked BlogCatalog members what they thought of prevailing social media metric measures, which I asked along with presenting my I/O=ROI concept yesterday. Only a few answered, but they were the right ones.

I trust Jobe’s observaton as a seasoned blogger with two blogs, including one of my favorites, The Thin Red Line, where he reviews books. I also tend to agree with his point as well, which leads me to clarify my theory.

My dismissal of Google PageRank, Technorati authority, Alexa traffic, etc. as measures does not suggest that metrics are not part of the social media equation. They just don’t belong in the measurement column and an SEO blogger told me why.

Chris, who writes Matts Nutts, a blog dedicated to SEO and blogging (among others), understands the the various technologies better than most. And he pointed out that the aforementioned metrics can all be manipulated to get what you want. As such, they are not measures. (Chris does look at return visits, page rank, and [meaningful] links.)

I have a good example. One week ago my Technorati authority was 201; today it is 176. If this a true measure, someone might conclude our blog is in trouble (some bloggers might even panic). But the truth is that my authority was unintentionally inflated as part of David Meerman Scott’s 150 bloggers “I’m in the book!” link list. One hundred and eighty days later, those links fall off, except for the handful of participants we have since engaged on other topics.

This is the one flaw with the short-term transaction like “link love” and tagging long lists of people for no reason other than implied payback link. It serves as a short-term metric inflator, which makes Technorati a less than ideal ROI measure.

Coincidentally, my friend Geoff Livingston did something similar with his and Brian Solis’ book, Now Is Gone, but it never took off as a “I’m in the book” link list. (I’ll be reviewing their book soon; check it out on our Amazon widget.)

Of course, I am not saying that Technorati rank can be ignored as a comparative tool. All I’m saying is that this metric, like most, is better suited somewhere else in the equation. As Kevin Palmer, BuzzNetworker and Pointless Banter, offered …

“I totally agree the content has to be solid. But I see when I put an extra effort into improving one of these numbers how much it impacts traffic and thus the amount of readership I get. I question if I write too much and don't promote enough.”

This makes a lot of sense to me because it fits with strategic communication and drives home the point that some metrics, currently counted as measures, aren’t really measures at all.

They do, however, indicate reach. I think it's an important distinction for bloggers and social media professionals to make when speaking to new entrants: most metrics, on their own, are not indicative of any true value just as the number of billboards doesn't mean you have a good product and the number of political signs doesn't mean you have a good candidate. So I/O = ROI works.

Still, nothing is that easy. Mark Stoneman, a historian who authors several blogs, including Clio And Me, asked what about other variables like resources. He's right, we need something else to help I/O = ROI make sense. Perhaps this...

Social Media Equations For Business/Professional Blogs

Intent times (value proposition plus effective communication times reach) equals Outcomes.

Outcomes divided by Investment (budget plus time plus experience) equals Return (cost per outcome).

Ergo, social media metrics are part of reach and not the outcomes.

The reason is pretty simple. You can gain just as many links and traffic with a social media crisis or plea to readers as you can with something that reinforces your brand. Given that, metrics cannot be an accurate measure for business. For individual bloggers hoping for more readers, the equation may need a term adjustment.

Social Media Equations For Individual Blogs

Passion times (niche expertise plus good content times promotion) equals Readership.

Readership divided by resources (budget plus time plus knowledge) equals Influence.

In other words, pursuing social media metrics (reach/promotion) before you demonstrate expertise and solid content, as some bloggers do, only damages influence over the long term. As the old adage goes: good advertising is the fastest way to kill a bad product.

Oh, if you are wondering why I qualified individual bloggers as those who want readership vs. any blogger, it's because not all bloggers want readers. For example, I have a private and secure blog that no one outside of our extended family will ever see. The point being is that its success cannot be measured by social media metrics.

Likewise, for many bloggers, having fun is enough and sometimes that is the best measure of all. And that's why I/O = ROI works for them too.

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Thursday, November 15

Evolving A Blog: Social Media ROI


The debate seems endless. The argument circular. And the affirmation echoes apparently tied to technologies like Google PageRank, Technorati authority, Alexa traffic, Feedburner subscriptions, Facebook friends, Twitter followers, return visitors, comment counts, and any combination of the aforementioned.

We may as well be counting column inches and trying to convince clients that public relations can somehow be equated to paid advertising space of roughly the same size; count total mentions in tier one publications (whatever those are); or assign erroneous values to stories that are positive, neutral, or negative despite knowing that negative stories carry eight times the weight.

While these measures might be valid in some cases, they are not valid in every case. Neither is the abundance of technology-based measures being pushed in social media. They are the measurements of activity and/or popularity, which is often contrary to the proven concept that the true purpose of any communication is to change opinion or behavior. So the question remains...

How do you measure the return on investment of social media?

Simply put, social media measurement depends on the ability of the communication to meet defined objectives. In other words, much like public relations, the intent vs. the outcome is the ROI.

Even the evolution of this blog works well as an example because its purpose has shifted three times since its launch in 2005 (we had run several experimental “ghost” blogs prior to launch). Each time, regardless of rank, authority, etc., it met its objectives.

I’ve broken the transition into three shifts for simplicity, even though these transitions were not hard changes. A parsed overview follows...

Copywrite, Ink. Blog 2005 – Augment Instruction

The initial purpose was simple — augment my classroom instruction with observations, including comment on communication examples in real time; develop handouts for classroom discussion; and evaluate the potential business applications of blogs for select clientele.

While the objectives were not earth shattering, they were met. In addition, as I was the only communication person in market experimenting with blogs, it led to a speaking engagement for the local chapter of IABC. (Today, that first PowerPoint presentation is a snapshot of social media history, back when 90 percent of bloggers were ages 13-29.)

Copywrite, Ink. Blog 2006 – Education And Promotional

While the original purpose did not change, this blog began to evolve from its early academic function to a dual-purpose communication vehicle. On several occasions, prospective clients had visited this blog from a Web site link and selected us based in part on what they read. We knew because they mentioned specific posts.

• Augment educational instruction for public relations certificate students at UNLV.
• Evaluate and experiment with new technologies so we weren’t asking our clients to test them.
• Promote select experience, especially because it changes too frequently for other communication vehicles.
• Reinforce our mission to produce the most effective communication possible by composing powerful messages across all media.

Meeting these objectives expanded our knowledge base about blogs and others trends in social media, including spotting convergence earlier than most after of a chance discussion with AT&T. In addition to the above, it provided a communication vehicle for non-news direct to the public. (Unlike some in public relations, we don’t spam the media with non-news).

We also secured several accounts that we may not have secured without the benefit of the blog because our strategic communication skill sets became more visible. It also helped expand our out-of-market clientele base.

Copywrite, Ink. Blog 2007 – Education, Experimentation, Engagement

As a sub consultant for advertising agencies, public relations firms, etc., we really cannot afford to share as much as I would like because, frankly, many accounts we work on are not our clients, but accounts served by our clients. Sharing insider information is unethical.

However, by the end of 2006, we noticed that there were ample case studies materializing on the Web where CEOs and communication professionals seemed baffled by the outcomes, despite the fact they seemed obvious to our team. So we shifted our objectives once again by taking strategic communication principles well beyond the classroom and into the real world with a bigger audience.

• Augment educational instruction to prepare students for a communication landscape that has changed.
• Experiment with new technologies, gaining insight and understanding in how they may impact communication.
• Engage in the conversations presented by colleagues to assist in deepening the fundamentals of social media without losing the proven principles of strategic communication.
• Demonstrate experience and a value proposition by presenting insight into living case studies that represent best and worst practices rather than talking about “us” all the time.

In evaluating the parsed objectives above, you might notice that they cannot be measured by Google PageRank, Technorati authority, Alexa traffic, Feedburner subscriptions, Facebook friends, Twitter followers, return visitors, comment counts, and any combination of the aforementioned.

On the contrary, the measures are based on how well students are prepared for social media; how much we understand new media trends as they relate to communication; whether we deepen conversations on select topics; and if, as a byproduct, we are able to develop and nurture long-term relationships with clients and colleagues by sharing knowledge.

It’s about that simple, or perhaps, that complex.

One blog. Three different communication purposes. All successful based upon the stated objectives. And not even one purpose is tied to “activity” measurements. In fact, if we begin to measure success based on activity and not intent vs. outcome, we risk allowing the message to manage us rather than us managing the message.

More tomorrow, despite breaking the short post rule once again. Ho hum. Now I have to go wait in line at the DMV. Measuring "activity" there is futile too.

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Wednesday, November 14

Smoking Strategies: David Maister


Beginning straightaway with the title of David Maister’s new book, Strategy And The Fat Smoker, he shares the pointed observation that most professionals, especially managers, already know what to do for long-term success (and why to do it), but are too easily swayed by bad habits, short-term temptations, and misaligned measurements.

It’s a classic definition of the difference between intelligence and wisdom: smart enough to know, but not wise enough to do.

We already know that our business goals are best served by developing long-term relations with our clients and customers, but we’re too easily distracted by chasing any and all new business because the short-term transaction is so very, very tempting. In advertising, it translates into runaway creative without the benefit of communication purpose. For social media, it might mean link love and buzz vs. the pursuit of tangible business outcomes. In our personal lives, it might be super sized fries for lunch, every day, because packing a sack is too darn inconvenient.

We already know what we could be doing but until a crisis occurs, we’re forever stuck on the short-term treadmills that take us nowhere. Well, most of us.

You really don’t have to endure a crisis to actualize a better business strategy. As Maister, a recognized authority on the management of professional service firms and former faculty member of Harvard Business School, notes: all businesses talk about outstanding client service, teamwork, healthy work environments, and investing in the future. But so few really do, largely because their statement of objectives does not match the outcome they want to measure — increased revenue and profit margins.

We know it’s true, despite the fact that very few companies tell the truth, plainly stating that they are most interested in chasing cash and, nowadays, Web traffic. And, most that don’t talk about it are usually delusional or just plain liars. No wonder there is a disconnect between businesses and their customers.

Where Maister will likely strike a chord with some is in pointing out that applied wisdom leads to sustainable success. He presents a case for how individuals, managers, and organizations can put what they know how to do into action. However, we can only hope that someone inside every fat company can use the various tools, techniques, and thought processes to convince the executive team that a diet is warranted.

While some will find the shifts between individual and organizational strategy, as well as some personal experience tossed in, a bit jarring at times (along with frequent references to his other books), it’s not enough to detract from the value that can be gained. Maister expertly paints an accurate, if not frightening, picture of business as usual today.

“It is not uncommon for me to be told even by the most senor people that their firm’s impressive financial results have been accomplished by a management team which has consistently created an environment of fear and insecurity,” writes Maister. “The simplest explanation for the prevalence of this ‘abusive behavior’ is the simple fact that, in the right situation, it works!”

However, he distinguishes that such short-term work-under-fire tactics are exactly that — tactics that will eventually lose their effectiveness and eventually elicit resentment. In contrast, proactive, passionate, and positive management teams energize and excite people about what they do, which in turn becomes tangible in the way the workforce interacts with clients. Long term, applied wisdom will lead to better financial results.

He’s right. As I’ve often advised agency owners, especially those who have an account executive background, negative reinforcement can teach mice to press a bar for cheese, but it never did anything for creativity. And even with mice, too much negative reinforcement will eventually immobilize them.

My net assessment of Strategy And The Fat Smoker is that it provides some much needed advice for the increasingly fast-paced world of random transactions, especially those that occur online. Business, especially communication, is poised for a shift toward relationships that mean something, whether that means people to people or product to consumer.

Strategy And The Fat Smoker is an important first step for managers and leaders to look in the mirror and take action before the crisis. And based on the Watson Wyatt study highlighted in October, I suspect Maister’s book will be on the shelf none too soon.

In the interim, I highly recommend his blog, one of the few I frequently read without ever becoming irritated by the content. But then again, as a strategist in principle if not always practice, I prefer it over the noise that sometimes overshadows good work elsewhere.

It’s good enough that I’ll refer to and reference his book often. It's just another observation: with social media, almost no review is limited to a single post, but instead becomes infused in the principles of the writer. With Maister's principles so close to my own, it's easy.

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Tuesday, November 13

Deepening Conversations: New Media


Social media sometimes appears to be an inch deep and a mile wide. At least that is the way it looks to some because social media, or new media, is still in its infancy. As a result, it’s often easier to build an extension to the wafer thin model than dig deeper, proving or disproving what is being considered today.

Regardless of the sessions attended or exhibitors met at BlogWorld & New Media Expo, this point became especially apparent when Chris Brogan and Jeremiah Owyang asked their session participants if they felt they could have been a speaker — the vast majority of attendees, predominately bloggers, raised their hands without hesitation.

This isn’t a reflection on BlogWorld as much as it is an observation that many new media speakers need to deepen their topics. It’s part of the art of listening before engaging in conversation. With that in mind, I’ll highlight three sessions and save exhibitors for a deeper review another time.

Participatory Journalism

Paul Gillin, author of The New Influencers, invested ample time speaking about social media influencers (and the influencers of the influencers) and participatory journalism — which he considers the future of journalism — everyday people contributing their unique and sometimes conflicting perspectives on any given event. This media model is not all that dissimilar to the example he provided about Northwest Voice or perhaps indicative of two videos recently highlighted by Amitai Givertz, Prometeus – The Media Revolution and Epic 2015.

While Gillin is right in that traditional media is struggling to stay relevant (and funded), someone might ask if this is what we really want — a world dominated by collective opinions that make up our self-selected existence, with no one, and I mean no one, working to find the truth beyond their own biased sense of reality. It seems to me this story was already written by a gentleman named Yevgeny Zamyatin. His book, which influenced both a Brave New World and 1984, presents a dystopian society where numbers, not unlike Web addresses, replace names. The concept of transparency takes on physical form in an urban nation constructed almost entirely of glass.

Peeping Cults

And what of that world? It’s not so impossible, given the same conversation thread slipped into a Leo Laporte-led discussion on “the cult of blogging,” which featured hasty guest replacement Justine Ezarik. (Scheduled speakers were not there. Om Malik hurt his back and Mike Arrington “forgot he was speaking.”)

This is not a criticism about Ezarik. She is one of many bloggers turning to multimedia to expand their presence in a new media world. Originally a photo blogger, Ezarik presents her life as an open book and has captured an audience as a result. She’s not alone. Plenty of people are willing to live in glass houses. If that isn’t enough, check out Mogulus, which is currently in beta.

Still, most of the discussion during that session descended into developing fan bases by adding multimedia to blogs. It also touched on privacy issues, detractors, and Laporte’s justifications for not allowing comments on Twitter while not recommended other people follow suit. Interesting, but not too deep given that most of the audience was beyond focusing on passion. Not deep, because at one point, Laporte was surprised he still had a half hour to fill.

Touching Ground

That said, if there was one session that deserves props (noting that I did not attend several sessions presented by many people I read online), then it was Chris Brogan and Jeremiah Owyang who did not disappoint.

I won’t recap the presentation; Jason Falls, who I was privileged to meet and sat next to, did a fine job (skip that goofy measurement stuff though) as did Lisa Barone at Bruce Clay, Inc.. So instead, I’ll expand with a few thoughts:

1. In the rush to tell businesses that they might listen to and engage their customers, social media experts sometimes forget to listen to and engage their customers, which are those businesses.

2. Measurement begins before any social media effort is launched as that is the best place to begin benchmarking. Measurements are not necessarily tied to Alexa traffic, Technorati authority, Google page rank, etc.

3. Entering social media is more likely to succeed for businesses that employ it as an extension of their business strategy much like Owyang did for Hitachi.

4. Using a marketing megaphone makes about as much sense as standing on a street corner and waving your arms. Try adding value to the customer’s conversation.

5. Successful social media remains grounded in strategic communication. The language may have changed, but the concepts and theories are largely the same.

6. Social media tools and technologies will continue to change for a very, very long time. And that means the best reason to employ technologies like Linkedin or Facebook or mySpace is because specific customers, your customers, are there.

7. As always, it is always better to find the right people than worry about finding lots of people. This concept is already being infused into traditional marketing. Ratings and circulation are becoming less important than engaged consumers.

All in all, Brogan and Owyang succeeded in bringing the value that I was hoping to find at BlogWorld. Instead of the selling the idealistic notions about social media that will one day lead to the One State collective, they remain grounded on what needs to be done more often — offering a depth of conversation — well beyond those tempting snacks.

Social media is not always about what can be done. Sometimes it’s about why something needs to be done for each specific company. Few things just happen by following a formula. Great works need a plan.

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Monday, November 12

Honoring Veterans: Veterans Day


"On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain." — Dwight D. Eisenhower, President

Before my grandfather (16th Infantry, 3rd Bn, 1st Inf Div - Berlin) died a few years ago, he left behind a legacy for others to carry forward with the Berlin Veterans Association. Originally, he served in the Army Air Corps until it became part of the Army Air Forces, which were later disestablished by Congress (thus creating the U.S. Air Force). Among other assignments, he was stationed in Germany during the Berlin Blockade (Also know as the Berlin Airlifts), one of first major crises of the Cold War.

While our family has several veterans and we honor of all them today, I would like to bring attention to the Berlin U.S. Military Veterans Association, the organization that consists of men and women who served with Les and/or were connected to him by serving in Berlin. Their service, like the service of all our veterans, need not be forgotten.

Another organization worth mentioning today is U.S. Vets. U.S. Vets is the largest non-profit organization in the country dedicated to helping homeless and at-risk veterans, and a nationally recognized leader in the field of service delivery to veterans. I have been close to this program on a number of occasions as a state commissioner with the Nevada Commission for National and Community Service (NCNCS), which administers AmeriCorps programs in Nevada.

Every year, U.S. Vets helps more than 1,100 homeless veterans return to full time employment. It has one of the most successful homeless rehabilitation models in the country and I’ve been personally touched by their work on more than one occasion — including when a plumber, working on the kitchen sink in my home, shared his homeless story with me. As it turned out, he was graduating from the U.S. Vets program a few weeks later.

And finally, we also extend our heartfelt appreciation to Soldiers’ Angels, which is launching a new holiday program for troops who are currently deployed around the world. (They also have several programs to assist veterans.)

I learned about Solders’ Angels after speaking with Rick Calvert, creator of BlogWorld. We wrote a short piece on how BlogWorld had donated a booth to Soldiers’ Angels on our community blog last week.

Last week, I had planned to share some insights into BlogWorld today, but that can wait until tomorrow. Today is better served by observing and honoring all those who have served so their efforts and sacrifices to this country and other countries are remembered always. Thank you, and bless you, one and all. Our veterans.

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Sunday, November 11

Blogging For Hope: Jane Sweat, JerichoMonster

Stop Verbal Abuse


Barbara Sweat (aka Jericho Saved/Jane), who publishes the JerichoMonster blog, never intended to become a popular television blogger (“Best TV Blogger,” in fact, after winning a recent contest held at Hey! Nielsen, where she took first place).

Originally, she was inspired to blog because of her love for the CBS series Jericho, which became the fastest television show cancellation reversal in history after fans sent more than 40,000 pounds of nuts to CBS (among other things). Her blog was one of many that increased awareness about the cancellation protest. A short second season is expected in January.

Sweat is still a dedicated fan, but her blog has since evolved from covering one show to covering many shows and topics. Now, she frequently interviews fans, bloggers, journalists, critics, production crew members, and celebrities.

Recently, she also participated as one of the 10,000 bloggers who contributed to the Bloggers Unite social awareness campaign organized by BlogCatalog. The challenge called for an end to abuse. (The blogger was allowed to choose the type of abuse.)

“I felt and feel that verbal abuse is a very important topic to discuss even though it may be uncomfortable,” says Sweat. “Exposing all types of abuse allows bloggers to reach people who may feel helpless and hopeless. Using JerichoMonster, I felt, was a way to reach people who may visit my blog, never expecting to find a topic about abuse, and who might not otherwise search for this type of information.”

Sweat says the topic is especially relevant because she had endured verbal abuse from her mother all her life. As the words and labels embedded themselves, she recognizes that they began to shape her feelings about the world and, more importantly, herself. They no longer speak.

Sweat’s Bloggers Unite post chronicles 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. It also alternates between facts about verbal abuse and two fictional characters developed by her and her friend Beth.

The characters, Edna and Margie (who are two “elderly sisters” purported to live in Jericho), were created for Amy Vernon’s “Jericho Guest Blogger” experiment at the Remote Access TV blog. Although the characters are most often used to make observations about the fictional town as if they were part of it, Sweat thought that Edna and Margie’s conversation could drive the point home about abuse. The “voices” are their voices and the stories are very real.

“I can recall my mother, for example, telling me that I was worthless,” said Sweat. “It hurt … but if you look at the person who is verbally abusing you, you may find they are the ones who feel even more inferior.”

Sweat’s post earned second place in the Blog For Hope Post Competition, sponsored by Copywrite, Ink. in cooperation with BlogCatalog. Among the prizes, Copywrite, Ink. will be donating any proceeds from Bloggers Unite “Verbal Abuse” T-shirts to the Family Violence Protection Fund. The post helped inspire a simple design that aims to dispel the myth that names don’t hurt people.

As her writing partner Beth added: verbal abuse is one of the most overlooked forms of abuse. While there are no physical signs and it leaves no bruises that can be seen, it can damage self-esteem, especially in children when their parents and siblings represent their most trusted sources of information. Parents and siblings tend to be believed.

“It was an honor to help blog about such an important issue,” said Beth. “And I was very glad that I asked to participate in the Blogging Against Abuse contest."

Sweat says they were encouraged to blog about abuse after learning about Bloggers Unite at BlogCatalog, where she has been a member for six months. She also said that she originally joined BlogCatalog to learn about social media and how to drive more traffic to her blog.

Since, she has discovered a community of bloggers who share advice about a number of blogging issues. Participating in Bloggers Unite campaigns is especially rewarding to her. And, from what she says, she is not the only one.

“It has definitely made a difference to people who read my blog, and it has made a big difference to me,” Sweat said. “Being allowed to share my experiences has been very cathartic. I really hope those who abuse others will find the post and break the cycle.”

Sweat and her writing partner included a number of sources where victims and perpetrators can find help, counseling, and support. The judges commented that their post has the potential to touch everyone because everyone, at one time or another, is the victim of verbal abuse. In addition, we sincerely hope Sweat learns that the next step in healing is forgiving the perpetrators, which removes the power and influence of the abuser.

It also greatly aids victims in their ability to heal. And, as I sometimes remind people, we are neither the labels that others assign nor the behaviors we sometimes exhibit. The power of choice resides within us all. Excellent post. Congratulations again, Barbara.

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Saturday, November 10

Paying Peanuts: The Networks


When the Los Angeles Times asked Michael Colton and John Aboud, the writing team behind the Best Week Ever, how to shut down a television shoot, rallying Jericho fans took the number one spot, just ahead of telling a “Teamster that Jeff Zucker made fun of his mom.” Why Jericho fans?

“They brought a show back, they can take one out.”

While the top seven ways to stop a shoot was comedic (allowing Hugh Jackman to sing made the list), it might make some sense. The writers strike could be the perfect opportunity for Jericho fans to stop taking each other out on the CBS Jericho message boards, and begin to building a fan effort in support of the writers.

Such a move would only increase the exposure of the show before it returns in January by engaging all television fans about something they are passionate about. Fan crossover is somewhat proven to work. For the most part, there has been continuing cross over between the fans of Veronica Mars, Supernatural, and Jericho.

Each engagement between Jericho fans and other fans of any other show that is suddenly in the same boat might give Jericho a real shot at capturing January ratings. Yes, I said January. So far, CBS has no plans to bring Jericho back any earlier, which is good news for the fans. When I ran into BlogTalkRadio host Shaun Daily at BlogWorldExpo yesterday, he even said Jericho producer Carol Barbee was of the same thinking.

An early return of Jericho, especially in light of the writers strike, would mean immediate reinstatement on an arbitrary night and virtually no promotion. If fans focus on a January return, and perhaps help striking writers, they have two months to ramp up their show and build awareness with, well, anyone who also has a fan stake in the strike, regardless of what CBS does or doesn’t do.

Why would fans want to support the writers? The way I see it, fans can listen to the case as it was made by United Hollywood on YouTube or simply consider the reality of this strike. If the strike runs too long, many shows will not be coming back or, at best, may come back on a bubble.

According to the Dallas Morning News, the biggest loser of the 22-week strike in 1988 was broadcast television. It lost an estimated 10 percent of its network viewers.

Not only were those viewers lost forever, some shows did not survive. Nowadays, 10 percent can make the difference between a hit and a miss. In fact, an 18 percent drop after a much shorter break was enough for CBS to cancel Jericho in the first place.

Besides, Jericho fans may even have the best message if they were so inclined. What’s that?

Stop paying writers peanuts.

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Friday, November 9

Closing Hollywood: Writers Strike


The NBC hit The Office is one of several shows that are closing down production because some cast members and show runners are either sympathetic to or members of the WGA. In this case, Steve Carell will not cross a WGA picket line, which has effectively shut down the show despite having more scripts ready for production.

“They cleaned out my trailer and just delivered me 3 boxes of my stuff. It is pretty surreal,” writes Jenna Fischer, who plays Pam Beesly on NBC hit The Office.

“We cannot produce new episodes of The Office until the Writer's Guild strike is over.”


Fischer is one of several actors and actresses who are using their mySpace pages and blogs to focus in on one of the primary issues related to the writers strike: the Internet.

Writers are not compensated for rebroadcasts online despite the fact that the networks earn income from advertisements that accompany the content. They also do not receive compensation for downloads on iTunes or Amazon.

It’s a significant part of failed negotiations because the Writers Guild of America (WGA) already knows that the shift to all digital entertainment is the future of television. It’s also important because networks could theoretically hold off on the syndication or rebroadcast (reruns) of television shows, making them available on platforms that can generate more revenue without compensating the creators.

This issue isn’t just important to striking WGA writers. It’s important to everyone who writes on the Internet. It's important to you and me.

All too often, content distributors are screwing content creators by claiming they own all rights as part of their terms of service. I adamantly disagree with this practice.

In fact, this is one of the primary reasons I’m careful about what content I place on platforms such as Facebook, which does claim all content rights — your content, which makes them attractive to advertisers. They don't need all rights to the work of their members. They only need first electronic rights.

Even on this blog, when I hosted the Jericho Fan Fiction contest, I made it explicitly clear that any writers who submitted work only needed to grant us first electronic rights (the right to publish their stories online first). Put simply, Ray Hayton, Myles McNutt, and Nick Lynse retain all other rights. I cannot, for instance, publish a book using their work in entirety without their consent. Many social networks, online content providers, and even blogs claim that they could.

For me, this is one of the best reasons for the general public to consider supporting the WGA strike. The terms that come out of the strike could be used to prompt online content distributors to revisit their terms of service.

According to the WGA, they are still working out how the public might show support of the strike. Right now, they are inviting the public to send e-mails to show support. Some of them will be published online. You can also download the strike graphic that accompanies this post and add it to your blog or Web site.

They have also told me to "stay tuned." There is more to come.

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Thursday, November 8

Joining Voices: Bloggers Unite

BlogCatalog is at it again. The fastest-growing social network for bloggers is working on its fourth social awareness campaign on Dec. 17. This time, the "Bloggers Unite" campaign challenges its more than 80,000 members and other bloggers to do something good offline — an act of kindness — and then post about it, using words, pictures, and/or videos to tell the story.

So we're lending a quick video to promote the Bloggers Unite campaign, featuring three people who used their voices to change their country and the world. Sometimes that is all it takes. One voice, joined by many ...



"Many of our members are telling us that they want to do more than post about it," says Antony Berkman, president of BlogCatalog. "They want to experience the gift of giving and make it a personal part of their experience."

Berkman added that he hopes that the "acts of kindness" theme puts a human face on the bloggers responsible for doing so much good in the world. This campaign aims at exposing their kindness and generosity as well as serving as an example to non-bloggers that volunteering for a charity, donating to a cause, or even simply doing something kind for another person has a ripple effect around the world.

As with the last social awareness challenge, Bloggers Unite is not specifying a singular non-profit organization. Instead, BlogCatalog is soliciting and coordinating companies that would like to pledge a donation to the blogger and/or to the charity of the blogger's choice. Prizes will be awarded to bloggers based on their posts, pictures, or videos.

We hosted BlogCatalog team members for work and dinner last night. Tony tells me that a Bloggers Unite registration page will be forthcoming at BlogCatalog.com. More importantly, it gave me a chance to discover what a great group of people they are in person. Enough so that we will be working with them to coordinate the next competition and find more ways to give additional exposure to bloggers who choose to do good.

On Sunday, we will be featuring one of them who participated in the last campaign. But if you would like to jump in and help on the newest campaign, check out BlogCatalog's news release on PRWeb with additional details. The video above is also available at YouTube.


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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!

Digg!

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!
 

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