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.

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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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Thursday, October 18

Understanding Semantics: PR Students


“If A equals success, then the formula is A equals X plus Y and Z, with X being work, Y play, and Z keeping your mouth shut.” — A. Einstien

There are two things I always take away from teaching. First, semantics can sometimes mean the difference between discussion and dispute. Second, teaching, in and of itself, is learning (as long as the instructor listens now and again).

I have yet to teach a class where I do not walk away learning something new. Last night, I learned as much if not more from guest teaching social media for a Fundamentals in Public Relations class, normally taught by Keith Sheldon, ABC, APR, than the students. Then again, they were not only students. Most are also working professionals in media, public relations, and advertising. So it was in discussing social media with them that I learned about several social media roadblocks from the perspective of their respective employers. Here are four:

Social media practitioners claim comments are required.

If there is one stumbling block for companies and organizations it is the erroneous belief that blogs require comments. Concern over comment moderation is one of the largest roadblocks for having blogs deployed.

Reality check: the purpose of the communication dictates whether or not a blog is served by comments, not the medium in which the message is communicated. The conversation does not need to take place on one blog, but can take place across many blogs. (Living in reality: BlogStraightTalk members.) The root of the semantic confusion: practice vs. purpose.

Social media practitioners advocate complete transparency.

The erroneous idea in social media that all employees simply share their thoughts at random and ad nauseam, even if it means disagreeing or damaging the principles or principals of their company. Message control should be abolished, they say.

Reality check: Smart public relations firms never advocated message control; they advocated message management. Given the best communication occurs from the inside out, one wonders what consumers might think when different employees deliver conflicting messages. While some say this all equals transparency, multiple messages can shred authenticity. (Living in reality: Brian Clark).
The root of the semantic confusion: control vs. manage.

Social media practitioners support social media measures.

Across social media, including communication-related blogs, several practioners are pushing measures like Google page rank, Technorati links, friend/follower counts, and Alexa traffic (usually when it suits them). Currently, Alexa traffic is sitting at the top of the heap.

Reality check: The accurate measure of any communication is its ability to engage consumers, change behavior, and/or produce outcomes. While some people mistake the term “outcomes” to mean sales, it is simply means meeting the objective of the communication. In terms of traffic, blog dramas can create some interesting spikes, but if traffic really counts, we might all be better off blogging about Britney Spears. (Living in reality: Robert Scoble). The root of the semantic confusion: buzz vs. outcome.

Social media practitioners always talk about conversation.

Social media practitioners claim that it is all about the conversation and companies should be compelled to have a dialogue with them.

Reality check: If social media is all about the conversation, then why are so many practitioners talking and so few listening? Ergo, what seems to be is that some practitioners are more interested in driving their own one-way communication than they are willing to have a real dialogue with those they demand it from. Some practitioners create blog dramas or storm away in the face of fair criticism, the exact opposite of open two-way communication. (Living in reality: David Maister). The root of the semantic confusion: dialogue (communication) vs. dispute (non-communication).

"If you don't manage your message, then your message will manage you."

While the class revealed additional social media roadblocks, many of them can be traced back to a root cause related to semantics, including the difference between criticism and cynicism. However, I also noted a tremendous difference between these public relations students and communication practitioners and the class I taught just six months ago.

When I told these students that the communication landscape had changed, none of them looked slack-jawed, appalled, or bemused. While only three of them raised their hands when I asked if anyone was engaged in social media (not one blogger), the definition was already familiar to them. What is significant to consider is that participation in social media does not always mean practicing in social media, which again dispels the myth of counting blogs as a measure of acceptance.

More to the point, they made me wonder. Maybe the biggest roadblock that prevents social media from becoming mainstream is not the public as much as the practitioners. In other words, maybe social media is having trouble managing its own message. How ironic.

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Wednesday, October 17

Drumming Up Interest: Anthony Miranda


When Anthony Miranda was playing drums for Johnny Mathis, he needed to add metal sounds to a hand drum set. But what he didn’t know ten years ago was that a single YouTube video would garner more attention for his solution than he ever received touring with the Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter or attending trade shows and conventions for five years.

Now, Miranda will be considered as an act featured on Late Night With David Letterman. Representatives from the show caught Miranda's demonstration of his invention, Fingerstix, on what appeared to be a spontaneous YouTube performance in a restaurant.

“My marketing director brought up filming a YouTube video,” says Miranda. “So I concepted the idea of doing it in a restaurant with plates and glasses.”

In many ways, dinner plate performances had previously been proven. Always the entertainer, Miranda had played in restaurants for his friends for years. His talent is amazing; the video a must see. Almost immediately following the launch of the video, Miranda noted increased exposure and sales on his Web site, where you can catch several more dazzling clips.

“Any great idea has to find the right path to market,” Miranda told me. “I’m an inventor and creative person by nature, but even I knew finding the right people to help me take my product from an idea and onto people’s hands was key.”

Five years ago, when Miranda first decided to take his invention public, he went the traditional route. He took it out to trade shows like NAMN and had some success with resellers. It made sense. After all, Fingerstix were responsible for the unique percussion sounds on several albums and movie soundtracks

“I also used them in concerts and clinics and sold numerous sets to the attendees,” he said. “But all of these traditional methods targeted a very focused segment of the market.”

Given Miranda has performed with Mathis, Madonna, Natalie Cole, Gladys Knight, and Tom Jones, one would assume the traditional route would have been enough. However, Miranda gives ample credit to the power of social media.

“It [the video] opened up Fingerstix to a much broader audience,” says Miranda. “The YouTube video was shot in one take and the Fingerstix team posted it a couple days later. I couldn’t believe that hundreds of people watched it shortly after and they still do.”

Miranda says that the Fingerstix team has always used some guerilla marketing techniques to improve sales, but nothing like the YouTube video. Currently, they are working on his next YouTube video. And while Miranda wouldn't give up the concept, he did tell me that it is sure to be sensational.

I have little doubt about that. Who knows? Maybe the next YouTube video will include Hilary Duff. It could happen. Miranda recently added movie producer to his long list of credits and credentials.

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Tuesday, October 16

Drinking Games: Bud TV


Two years ago, Bob Lachky had enough creative vision to become executive vice president of global industry development for Anheuser-Bush, Inc., which made him responsible for representing the company to alcohol beverage industry groups nationally and abroad, and to enhance the overall image of the beer industry with both the public and within the industry. Fresh off seven consecutive wins in the Super Bowl’s USA Today Ad Meter Poll, he seemed like the perfect match.

“I am excited and inspired by the challenge that has been put before me. And, after leading our creative team to seven consecutive wins in the Super Bowl’s USA Today Ad Meter Poll, I am grateful to be leaving my job as head of brand creative on a high,” Lachky said then.

More recently however, he showed that oh-too-transparent side as he delivered an acid-tongued review of Bud TV with a quotable or two that rivals Lauren Caitlin Upton, Miss South Carolina.

“…as you can tell, I was doing something else at the time, I think had a little stronger sell on this,” said Lachky during Masters of Marketing. “… kind of a flawed idea but a brilliant concept.”

Okay. Sure, Lachky is technically accurate, in that a concept is an abstract and an idea is a visible representation of a concept, but the rest of the summed review of his company’s own communication effort reveals Bud TV wasn’t such a brilliant concept at all. And based on the previews alone, it’s easy to see Bud TV is exactly how Lachky described it: a purposeless waste that featured ‘bizarre’ content and no branding. (A classic example of more buzz, less outcome.)

None of the content is ‘bizarre’ enough to be that funny except one gem on YouTube. The rest is simply a good indication of why Bud TV captures about 50,000 unique visitors per month (that’s on par with some mid-level blogs). Still, the company says it has faith, enough to let all it all run through 2008.

Not to be deterred, Tony Ponturo, vice president of global media and sports/entertainment marketing at Anheuser-Bush, recently tried to put the decision in perspective as the company intends to invest more in entertainment and the digital space.

"We wanted to get through the step of, 'OK, should we continue into '08 as we build our marketing plans?' and that was the decision," he said during a keynote speech at Online Media, Marketing & Advertising Conference & Expo. "I think it (Bud.TV) is something that could have an ending someday, but I think if we keep learning from it and if we keep seeing assets from it ... then it makes sense to continue the site.”

You can catch more of Bud TV talk over at iMedia. But right out of the gate, Ponturo tells us why Bud TV doesn’t work.

“We wanted to go into this sort of new world because of what we are seeing, and what our research suggests, that adults 21 to 27 are using the Internet minimally six hours a week, and obviously that's growing.”

No, no, no. If you want it to work, stop talking about why you did it and start talking about what it promises to deliver (just make sure it delivers something, which it doesn’t at the moment). And, you might ask Lachky to stop poking at the ashes with critiques that reinforce the idea that Bud TV is dead anyway. (I'm still wondering what he was doing while millions were poured away.)

So here are are quick fixes. If you want to save Bud TV, dump the ego-creative concepts and provide content people who drink beer want to see. Like, um, how to brew beer at home. Or maybe, follow a NASCAR driving team around the circuit (oh right, you more or less gave that content model over to Coors). Or maybe, you could cover the Beer Pong championship. Or maybe, you could put in some product placement, since, well, they are your shows. Or maybe, ask people who watch Bud TV to provide some content from time to time.

I dunno. Whatever Bud does next, let’s just hope they don’t launch a completely different channel and spread out their already thin fan base. Oh right, they already did that too, several times over.

Not to worrry, there is always a bright side: after spending $30 million for a site that is less than fluid, some people on the team will likely need a beer in 2008. It brings new meaning to the term case study.

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Monday, October 15

Winning & Losing: Al Gore


As part of Blog Action Day, I’m adding a communication bent to environmental awareness as some inconvenient truths are being reported about An Inconvenient Truth. (Hat tip: State Sen. Bob Beers).

The Credibility Question

The timing of Justice Burton’s ruling — that British teachers showing the film must tell their pupils that Gore makes several false or unsupported claims (although the work is broadly correct) — could not come at a worse time. After all, Gore and the United Nations Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) just received a joint winner of the Nobel peace prize for educating the world about climate change.

After possibly overreaching on some points, Gore has succeeded in fueling additional conflict over his message of environmental crisis. According to Times Online, the court ruling is the first of many battles ahead. The campaigners who supported the court case will now send copies of The Great Global Warming Swindle, a counter claim funded by Viscount Monckton, to these schools.

The Communication Considerations

What is most interesting to me is how Gore will handle what is his greatest triumph and looming crisis over the same work at the same time; whether the topic of global warming will become even more polarizing for British students than it already is for world leaders; and will this impact the public’s belief in global warming? As the story unfolds, we will begin covering these questions as part of a living case study.

The Environmental Considerations

Recently, I participated in a discussion that accepted the premise that global warming was beyond our control. My point in this discussion was simple enough. Regardless of global warming, we still need to consider alternative fuel sources.

Unless we change current fuel usage in the United States between now and 2030, one-third of the world’s population will be using unhealthy and environmentally damaging fuels to meet their daily energy needs. As it stands now, 1.6 billion people do not have access to electricity, 2.4 billion people rely on traditional biomass such as wood and dung, and 99 percent of these people live in developing countries that will need energy.

As these countries develop, demand will increase at exponential rates, making our traditional model too expensive to maintain anyway. Not to mention, China’s continued development is having an increased demand on the world market (faster than the U.S.) and oil remains one of the most unstable fuel sources for our country with 37 percent of all imports currently being supplied by OPEC.

As I mentioned in January, the debate about global warming, and add to that the need for alternative fuels, is over. Everybody lost. And now that it has been over for some time now, it still seems to me that people need more saving than the planet. Here is one way to help both.

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Saturday, October 13

Recognizing Leadership: Social Media


The quality of leadership, more than any other single factor, determines the success or failure of an organization. — Fred Fiedler and Martin Chemers

All across the net — in forums, social networks, fan bases, and even well-read blogs — some people are elevated up by any number of measures and any number of reasons to become perceived leaders in their respective communities or industries.

And yet, unfortunately, when the concept of being a leader arises, whether sought after or rejected on its face, few realize it is not leaders that these varied communities and industries crave. It is leadership.

In June, a few fans, in consideration of my suggestions to promote fandom asked me how to organize a fan club. I obliged them, but was surprised by the response of some, who rejected the idea on its face because Jericho fans did not want any leaders. Off with any leaders’ heads, some said, we are all equal here.

What was missed is that I was not advocating for leaders as they defined the term as much as I was advocating leadership. The two are vastly different.

Leadership is not defined by power, privilege, rank, title, position, or authority. Leadership is a quality of action, one that rarely requires force of law, threat, manipulation, control, or the attempted shutdown of dissent. On the contrary, leaders welcome all parties, all views, and then effectively match those to organizational goals and not necessarily their opinions or preferences.

A successful leader transcends their personality in order to ensure any following is aligned to the organizational goals and not themselves as individuals. The very best of them continually challenge any followers to reach higher obtainable goals, encouraging them to apply leadership as well.

In social media, some bloggers, social network participants, forum administrators, group hosts, and even online talk show hosts become leaders either by pursuit of action, grant of title, or by default simply because others recognize them for their insights and expertise. Yet, relatively few recognize the role they have assumed or accept the responsibility of it. Fewer still have ever been exposed to the difference between leaders and those who think they are leaders.

You can tell which are which. Effective leadership looks for objectivity and truth, taking responsibility for their actions and win the hearts of any following. Whereas those who think they are leaders are subjective, obscure facts, and promote their own partisan interests and make demands while denying the role for fear of being held responsible or accountable. Sometimes, they attempt to force others to succumb to their will because of any number of erroneous qualifications: experience, seniority, title, rank, traffic, followers, friends, links, etc.

Leadership requires none of these things. Rather, it revolves around vision, motivation, inspiration, empowerment, and authenticity. And very likely, but not certainly, it seems to me that Jericho fans are well overdue to find those few who are capable.

If not, the craving for leadership will continually lead toward elevating those who are popular and not necessarily those who have the skill sets necessary. The results can be disastrous, as they have been for the last two weeks.

You see, there is a vast difference between those who start something, provide a forum to talk about something, and those who lead something. Last week, someone responded to me and said he did not want to be a leader. It reminded me of an episode in Jericho, when Gray Anderson was ready, once again, to relinquish authority to Johnston Green. Green basically told him to accept the responsibility or stand aside.

The lesson was as clear in the show as it is for fans today. As I opened, the quality of leadership, more than any other single factor, will determine the success or failure of a third season. Good night and good luck.

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Friday, October 12

Stuggling To Be Relevant: Old Media


Last year, most people said it wouldn’t happen. Now it is happening out of desperation. The people who social media participants and bloggers call “old media” are working as quickly as possible to change everything and become the, um, new new media.

Old media is not struggling; they are fighting for survival.

According to Bloomberg, BusinessWeek is doing everything possible to keep up. The magazine is undergoing a facelift and adding stories on new products and personal finance. It is updating its logo and typefaces.

Advertising pages dropped 20 percent and advertising sales dropped 15 percent. Hard copy circulation is down 1.2 percent. Online, the story is different. Its Internet readership is up to 6.5 million unique visitors a month from 1.7 million a month in 2004. But ad sales online only account for 18 percent of its revenue.

“All traditional business publishers are struggling to find the right formula,” said Peter Kriesky, Kreisky Media Consultancy in New York. “None of them have reached the promised land.''

What if there is no formula?

ABC seems to be asking the same. So while it tends to be the quietest of all networks about its plans for network-Internet convergence, The New York Times says it is the only major network that is using the staff of its evening newscast to produce a separate and distinct daily program for a Web audience as opposed to repackaging (that’s largely true).

The 15-minute Webcasts often feature Charles Gibson in the anchor chair and ABC News correspondent. Bill Blakemore recently finished a special on global warming. I watched their Web segment on the Pennsylvania shooting plot this morning. It’s not perfect (ABC needs a full screen option, among other things), but it is a step in the right direction and more promising than repackage plus option being made by other networks.

Innovation will lead the way.

This is not to say traditional media is not content relevant (they are). They simply lack in platform building, appropriate technology, and understanding active consumers (as opposed to passive readers and viewers). Too many are following old models and formulas.

Time Magazine’s Bill Tancer found one piece of the puzzle: according to the Solutions Research Group, roughly 37 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 12 use their computers while watching television at home.

What's the answer? It seems to me that consumers want integrated print, broadcast, and Internet. And while mobile devices seem to be chugging along, we’re still past prime time for a dual-device entertainment interface that allows people to watch programming on a big screen while participating online with their smaller screened laptops that function like a universal remote. Of course, all this assumes cable companies stop double dipping by charging people twice for essentially the same service.

Sounds like an Apple of an opportunity to me.

As for where print and broadcast seem to be missing the mark online right now, maybe that’s better served up in the weeks ahead. At the moment, I have some old media ads to write. As much as times are changing, some things have not changed.

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Thursday, October 11

Punching Monkeys: Nielsen Survey


Last week, a Nielsen study proclaimed that traditional advertising is still more credible than ads on search engines, Web site banners, and mobile phones.

Have you looked at most banner ads? Most aren’t trying for trust.

Since when has punching a monkey established credibility?

On the contrary, most online ads — whether simple and straightforward or monkey punching — aren’t trying to sell you anything. All they want you to do is click on the link and visit the Web site. And that is where the sale might take place because, according to the same study, brand Web sites are the fourth most trusted sources of information. So what are we missing?

The Web site is the advertisement and the banner ad is the ad for the Web site.

Not surprisingly, word-of-mouth advertising scored high. Seventy-eight percent of those surveyed said recommendations from other consumers was the most credible form of advertising. It has always been this way, which also hints at the power of communication.

Social media is front line communication. The resulting conversations are word-of-mouth advertising.

But not all word-of-mouth marketing sparked by bloggers or advertising gurus or public relations professionals is credible. As Sterling Hagar recently noted at AgencyNext: “When PR people resort to dress-up, play-acting, waitressing and such it suggests one of two possibilities to me: the client doesn't have a strong message or the PR people are having a hard time articulating it.”

Right on. Even people can look like monkeys.

Speaking of monkeys, the survey’s methodology included about 26,000 people on the Internet in 47 markets around the world, which means about 550 people per market. We're not even sure if they were shown ads to establish a context or what ads those might have been. Mediums don't create credibility; messages do.

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Wednesday, October 10

Advertising Online: Intel & Everybody


Advertising online is the only medium that has seen substantial gains in spending. According to the Internet Advertising Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers, Internet ad revenue totaled almost $10 billion, which represents an increase of nearly 27 percent from the same period a year ago.

This is one of the reasons that Intel is bringing a larger portion of its extremely successful co-op advertising budget to the Internet with 10 to 20 percent of its own budget being spent online. And where the “Intel Inside” campaign goes, so goes Intel marketing partners — at least 35 percent of the ad dollars Intel provides must be devoted to online marketing.

“It was a big change for us,” said Kevin Burkum, vice president for marketing at the egg board in Park Ridge, Ill. told The New York Times. “TV is still very important to us, but it’s not the be-all and end-all as it used to be.”

Maybe that’s because Internet users are conducting about 1.4 million searches every minute — with about 60 percent of those searches occurring on Google. At least that is the word on MSNBC. Citing a study by comScore's qSearch 2.0 service, more than 37 billion searches worldwide went through Google in August. (Side note: they just bought Jaiku.)

Yahoo Inc. was second worldwide with 8.5 billion, followed by Baidu at 3.3 billion, Microsoft Corp. at 2.2 billion, and NHN at 2 billion.

With so many searches, online media buyers might be wondering if buying up keywords and Google click-throughs is the way to go. Sure, but it is not the only way and maybe not even the best way.

One of the more compelling studies that I’ve come across is from the Atlas Institute, which points out what I hope other advertisers and marketers know — 67 percent of all consumers are influenced by more than one ad before they purchase. In other words, they might see an ad here and go somewhere else, forget about it, see it again, conduct a search, and then click on it again.

It’s something to think about if you are a content provider. Your click-through ads have a greater chance of supporting someone else’s shared revenue. But more importantly, marketers might be a bit more careful about where they think click-through purchases are coming from … the prospect likely came from somewhere else.

All of it provides great food for thought and suddenly makes concepts like social media relevant. Thinking about this sure beats writing about the bubble. Besides, Eric Eggertson already did an outstanding cover of the bubble buzz around the second departure of the not-so-anonymous Amanda Chapel. I pretty much closed my case study on them in July after discovering they were causing their own brand damage.

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Tuesday, October 9

Chatting Jericho: Richard Becker


When I first began covering what began as a crisis communication case study of CBS over the cancellation of a television show, Jericho, and the fan outcry that followed, I could have never imaged meeting such a great group of passionate people.

They are not what I expected; certainly not what CBS expected. You can learn more about them in the comment thread of this post, aptly titled “Understanding Viewers.” There, they left more than 194 comments, about themselves and why they cared so much.

Since CBS reversed its cancellation decision, I’ve usually confined the second case study to tracking consumer marketing behaviors as the fans have worked hard to secure a third season after what will be a short second season, which will probably be introduced during a mid-season break.

In doing so, I am sometimes reminded how easy it is for fans to lose sight of their original reasons to pull together, but I know what they sometimes do not: they are still those same people, perhaps just a bit frustrated in attempting to find their own way. I met many of them at a forum called Jericho Rally Point.

So when one of them sent me message last week or so, it was easy to accept Morgan’s invitation to join them for a chat session at 5 p.m. (PST) on Wednesday, Oct. 10. I have to be honest: I haven’t entered a chat room in years. I expect it will be fun, hopefully engaging, and certainly interesting.

Thanks for the splendid introduction in the forums, Morgan. I'll do all my best.

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Listening To Tony: BlogCatalog.com


When Tony Berkman, president of BlogCatalog, said he was going to have fun at BlogWorld & New Media Expo in Las Vegas, I told him to think again.

“What do you mean?” asked Berkman. “I thought you would take me to get a Nathan’s hotdog.”

“… a what?”

“They have Nathan’s hotdogs in Las Vegas, I remember …”

“Um, no.”

“So then what are we going to do?”

“Talk.”

“What are we going to talk about?”

“You tell me.”

“You aren’t interested in talking?”

“I’m interested in listening.”

“Are you going to give us a ride from the airport? …”

I started working with BlogCatalog by accident a few months ago. It’s not always formal, but we do have a lot of fun. Sure, sometimes it’s work; other times it’s a partnership. We started a few months ago.

Berkman had come up with an interesting idea to ask BlogCatalog members to use their blogs for good and raise awareness and funds for education through an Omidyar Network sponsored non-profit called DonorsChoose.org. It seemed like a great topic for our National Business Community Blog; I e-mailed him and asked for a news release.

It was their first Bloggers Unite campaign, but it wasn’t called that yet. Since they didn’t have a release, I told him I’d be happy to write one up for the blog and he could use it.

The campaign was an interesting idea. With so many bloggers writing from a contrarian’s point of view, this campaign seemed to provide something that social media sometimes lacks. The outcome was inspiring: 1,000 children directly benefited though DonorsChoose.org; and the non-profit organization received a tremendous amount of attention.

The second campaign was bigger. The third was even bigger. We haven’t calculated the outcomes yet. We’ll have a better picture starting tomorrow, after our post for hope competition closes. Even without the measures though, I already know the outcomes will be something worthwhile. BlogCatalog members are all that.

Beyond Bloggers Unite campaigns, we have been brainstorming with Berkman and the team about a couple of ideas related to BlogCatalog.com. They are some pretty big ideas; so I cannot post about them. But when Berkman told me he was coming to Las Vegas, I knew it would be the perfect opportunity to kidnap the team for a night and set some of these ideas in motion.

Most communication people like to talk. Unless I’m teaching or giving a presentation, mostly I don’t. I like to listen. Listening is the first step in a process we employ called a core message. I’m not going to write about the core message today (click the label if you want), but I will share one fundamental step: listening.

It makes me wonder. Maybe dialogue isn’t what people crave online. Maybe they want someone to listen.

“ … Did you hang up on me again?” Berkman asked jokingly.

Maybe that’s why BlogCatalog works. The BlogCatalog team over there listens to its members. Jeez, I hope it’s not a quiet evening.

If you haven’t heard about BlogWorld in Las Vegas this Nov. 8-9, Shel Isreal, Mike Arrington, Brian Clark, Arianna Huffington, and David Perlmutter are speaking. And more names that won’t fit in this post. It’s that big.

BlogCatalog will be at BlogWorld; I’ll be lending an assist. You’ll be able to find them at booth # 116 (members might want to watch for the announcement because it comes with good news). After hours, at least one night, the people behind the fastest-growing social network for bloggers will be with me. I'm putting them to work.

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Monday, October 8

Changing Public Relations: UNLV


Sometimes it’s hard to believe, but I’ve taught a core requirement class, “Writing for Public Relations,” for the certificate in public relations program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) for seven years. I will be teaching it again next spring but it will not be the same class.

It has to change; not entirely, but significantly. The reason can be found in how I opened my class this past year.

“Other than proven communication strategy and basic writing skills, everything I will be teaching you about public relations this year will be obsolete in three years,” I opened. “Social media has changed the communication landscape that much. Your positions, roles, and responsibilities are likely to be changed forever in the very near future.”

To be honest, I had no idea the change would be taking place even faster. In addition to adding new information to this core class, publicist/editor coordinator for the UNLV Educational Outreach division Dick Benoit, APR, sent me an e-mail last Friday. He said he needed a course description for my social media class next spring by no later than today.

What social media class?

The one you might be teaching in late May. How does your schedule look? Can we offer it in the morning?

The concept of teaching public relations professionals, communicators, and business people about social media is something I enjoy. I don’t teach it like many of my social media colleagues, but I appreciate that we are all on the same page in that social media has changed the communication landscape.

Where we sometimes differ is that I believe the medium should never dictate the message. Rather, I maintain social media is a powerful communication tactic that augments (but does not replace) proven strategic communication, with the measures being tangible outcomes as opposed to mysterious online measures that we see online every day.

Benoit’s interest in social media began some time ago, but its significance may have been driven home when I joined other instructors at an introduction to the certificate in public relations program a few weeks ago. Although I am only teaching “Editing and Proofreading Your Work” this fall (Nov. 3), I spent ample time talking about the presentation I was preparing as a guest instructor for another core class led by Keith Sheldon, ABC, APR. That class, next week (Oct. 17), will be about social media.

Sheldon, a longtime friend and mentor who taught for several years at UNLV as well as the University of California, Chico, understood the impact immediately after seeing a private presentation over lasagna at my home. (He had missed the IABC luncheon where I presented this information; he was out of the country). By the end of the evening, he had asked me to be a guest instructor for his class this fall. He said anyone completing the certificate program needs to be better aware of social media.

The presentation Sheldon saw takes about an hour. The thumbnail sketch Benoit saw was less than 15 minutes. He had introduced it like this…

“Public relations is a science in that we as working professionals spend considerable time planning and evaluating,” Benoit said, introducing me a few weeks ago. “But every time we as public relations professionals think we have it figured out and begin to get comfortable, someone comes along with a new Hula Hoop… the newest Hula Hoop is social media.”

Fifteen minutes later, Benoit was already considering how to ensure public relations professionals know more about social media. Their survival depends on it. Whether we add a class in late May or not, social media has changed the dynamic of my core class forever. That’s some Hula Hoop.

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Saturday, October 6

Promoting Jericho: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly


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

The Good.

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

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

The Bad.

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

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

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

The Ugly.

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

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

“Angels have wings because they take themselves lightly.”

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Friday, October 5

Creating Conversations: Safety Glass


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, October 4

Blogging Buzz: Gilbert Arenas


What is it about blogs that makes everyone go batty?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, October 3

Playing It Again: From Freelance To Journalist


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure,” I said. “Why not?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, October 2

Paying For Politics: You And Me


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

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

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

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

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

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

Indecent. Immoral. Impudent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, October 1

Covering Hot Topics: Third Quarter 2007


Every quarter, we publish a recap of our five most popular communication-related posts, based on the frequency and the immediacy of hits after they were posted. While we base this on individual posts, some are related to larger case studies.

Nina Tassler Talks; Jericho Fans Listen

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

Links: Jericho, Nina Tassler

Bloggers Blog Against Abuse

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

Links: Bloggers Unite, BlogCatalog

Borg Think Infiltrates Social Media

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

Links: Borg, Pirates

John Mackey Tells Whole Truths

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

Links: John Mackey , Whole Foods Market

Veronica Mars Fans Organize

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

Link: Veronica Mars

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

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

So there it is once again; the top posts as tracked by reader interest. Thank you all for dropping by, adding comments, promoting stories, and continuing to bring communication issues to our attention so we may offer up our sometimes serious (sometimes silly) take on them. Whether you agree or not, we appreciate that in our pursuit to tackle such issues, our readers have remain steadfast in never mistaking communication discussion for anything but objective discussion of issues, actions, and behaviors as they relate to communication.

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Sunday, September 30

Talking Free Speech: The Gylon Jackson Show


"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." — First Amendment, the Bill of Rights

On September 25, 1789, the First Congress of the United States ratified 10 amendments of the Constitution.

Tonight at 7 p.m. (CST), I have been invited to make my second guest appearance on The Gylon Jackson Show, this time to discuss the First Amendment and how it might pertain to bloggers. If you have not heard of Jackson before, visit his blog Don’t Bark Bite. Jackson covers a diverse array of topics and you’ll always be surprised by what you find there.

The first time I was a guest on his show was late last Thursday as part of the Bloggers Unite campaign. We discussed the campaign and various forms of abuse, ranging from domestic abuse to the abuse of free speech (if there is such a thing).

If you missed the show on Thursday, you can still catch it by visiting The Gylon Jackson Show archive. Tonight’s show, in fact, developed out of the show that discussed abuse.

So why give up part of a Sunday night to listen to an online radio show? I dunno. That is up to you. But what I can do is give you three reasons I’m giving up some of my Sunday for the First Amendment.

• As someone who has and occasionally still works as a journalist, the First Amendment is near and dear to my heart. While my confidence in it is often tested, it is one of the more profound, important, and neglected additions to the Constitution of the United States.
• Jackson is an amazing host, courageous individual, and it’s hard to believe that last Thursday was his first foray into online radio.
• “Libdrone,” who writes The Thin Red Line recently reminded me that Sept. 29 to Oct. 6 is Banned Book Week. You can learn more about it at the American Library Association.

If you cannot make the show, please come back on Tuesday for a recap, archive link, and some more information about banned book week (tomorrow I will be recapping our top posts of the third quarter). You never know. These discussions, on this blog or on the show, might open your eyes as to why civility on the Web is appreciated, but should never supercede our most basic and fundamental rights. Good night and good luck.

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