Wednesday, February 13

Opening Hollywood: Writers Strike Ends


The writers strike is over, but the impact is permanent well beyond payment for digital distribution. People want change, and not just the actors who will likely ask for digital distribution compensation as well.

Advertisers are hoping networks adopt a year-round television schedule as opposed to the nine-month schedule currently employed by major networks. Year-round scheduling, which has been tried and tested positive by many cable networks (which purposely avoid sweeps to launch new programming), would allow viewers to consider more new programs.

“There’s a lot of hype in September,” Charlie Rutman, chief executive for the North American operations of MPG, a media agency owned by Havas, told The New York Times. “And by November, half the shows aren’t on anymore.”

Year-Round Means Better Metrics

Such a move would require a greater overhaul of the Nielsen rating system, which relies primarily on sweep weeks for its largest gathering of ratings. Currently, only a fraction of a few million Nielsen families are counted year round.

The rating system has been a hotly debated topic by consumers since last May, when fans of the Jericho television show (which aired its first episode of the second season last night) criticized questioned its accuracy and dismissal of online DVR viewership, which some estimates put at 58 to 70 percent of all cable households. Eventually, Jericho voices were joined by the fans of virtually every cancelled show.

While Nielsen has made changes since last May, including some semblance of DVR counts and video-on-demand (VOD) analytics, it continues to draw fire from, well, everyone. Enough so that Nielsen apologized for the “systemic problems in the delivery of its national ratings data” since the beginning of the 2007-08 TV season. Enough so that CBS and TiVo have an arrangement. Enough so that everyone is looking for alternative metrics while reporters mention that the rating system is less than perfect.

A year-round season is something that some networks, like NBC, are already working toward. NBC recognizes that it would save money because fewer pilots would need to be produced in the spring for the fall. It might also mean that networks wouldn’t feel pressured to put as many shows on the bubble, simply to take a chance and make a splash with a new show line up every year.

More importantly, it works for consumers because head-to-head show competition is becoming a phenomenon of the past. Consumers simply want great content rather than relying on the old model, which was based on the idea that they would “settle for the best thing on” or spend an hour surfing.

New Media Is All Media

As mentioned in January, old media is dead because the distinction between old and new is fast becoming nonexistent. The graphite is scrawled across the wall …

• Everyone wants a rating system that counts everybody, and breaks out information across various multimedia platforms.
• Everyone wants a fair compensation for actors, creators, and distributors, regardless of how revenue is generated.
• Everyone wants better quality programming that can survive longer than three episodes before being pulled.
• Everyone wants more interaction between fans, cast, and crew because viewers are paying much more attention to their favorite shows.
• Everyone wants engagement beyond passive viewership because, well, because it’s possible.
• Nobody really minds some advertising if the content is free; and advertisers don’t mind paying for programs that people watch.

This is different, but doable. It’s less about reinvention and more about innovation to diminish the difference between what exists and what’s possible.

Even the primary reason for the conclusion of the writers strike is indicative of change. Many people are crediting Peter Chernin, president of the News Corporation, and Robert Iger, chief executive of Walt Disney, for opening sideline talks with Patric Verrone, David Young, and John Bowman. Individual conversations succeeded where group negotiations failed. Sounds almost like a social media solution.

Looking for two more positive outcomes to the writers strike? The United Hollywood blog intends to stick around. It might be a very long time before a network executive ever needs to ask for a pencil. Case closed, well, sort of.

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Tuesday, February 12

Rowing Nowhere: Celebrity Endorsements


Advertising for the Pfizer cholesterol drug Lipitor continues to draw scrutiny from everyone, especially one of its more recent advertisements. The ad features Dr. Robert Jarvick, inventor of the artificial heart, rowing his way to better health with Lipitor. Except, he doesn’t really row.

"He's about as much an outdoorsman as Woody Allen," longtime collaborator Dr. O. H. Frazier of the Texas Heart Institute told The New York Times. "He can't row."

The Pfizer advertising campaign came under question about a month ago after the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce sent a letter of inquiry about the endorsement. The letter didn’t target Jarvick’s rowing as much as it did his qualifications.

The bigger picture is Congress taking an active interest in pharmaceutical advertising since 2004. Advertising drove record sales of Vioxx, just before it was later pulled by Merck after a clinical trial showed that it sharply increased the risk of heart attacks and stroke. In other words, for better or worse, pharmaceutical advertising works. Congress is trying to figure out how much is for worse.

The criticism of the Jarvik campaign raises several interesting questions related to celebrity and creative ethics in a world where Andy Warhol’s quote "In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes” has morphed into “in the future everybody will be famous to fifteen people at a time,” even journalists.

Although Jarvick insists he is not a celebrity in a statement issued to fend off reporter inquiries about the campaign, he really is, even if it is only of a quasi-celebrity nature.

Endorsing products, paid or unpaid, even if it is under the auspices of having “the training, experience, and medical knowledge to understand the conclusions of the extensive clinical trials that have been conducted to study the safety and effectiveness of Lipitor,” does thrust one into spokesperson-celebrity arena.

If he didn’t have celebrity status to some degree, it seems unlikely Pfizer would have approached him. After all, Jarvick might hold a medical degree, but not as a cardiologist. He also does not hold a license to practice any type of medicine.

From celebrity endorsers, the public generally wants some authenticity if not transparency. Sure, while we’re all used to seeing celebrities promote one product while using another on the side, most cameos are grounded in some semblance of reality. So when celebrities push the envelope on creative license, expressing their passion for a sport they do not engage in (let’s say), there is bound to be backlash that exceeds the obvious body double work.

Endorsement advertising, even by consumers, is all the rage these days. But that doesn’t mean I always get it. Sure, it’s fun to watch Chuck Norris endorse Mike Huckabee on YouTube or any number of social media experts tout “on again, off again” social network promotions, but one wonders if we aren’t stretching the “pile in the party bus with >insert quasi-celebrity<” too often.

Is a Norris endorsement all that’s needed to pick the President of the United States? Does Jarvick trump any advice that your cardiologist might provide? Does a social network that an A-list blogger employs mean it will work for you?

The truth is they seem to matter in perception if not reality. But perception is the operative word. Sooner or later, people wonder what is real. Is the footage real? How about Pfizer’s statement to The Wall Street Journal?

“Dr. Jarvik is a respected health care professional and heart expert. Dr. Jarvik, inventor of the Jarvik artificial heart, knows how imperative it is for patients to do everything they can to keep their heart working well.”

No doubt. Except, I don’t think the ad was a public service announcement.

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Monday, February 11

Going, Going: Now Is Gone


It has been four long months since Now Is Gone by Geoff Livingston with Brian Solis first landed on Amazon and bookstore shelves. That’s a long time in the world of new media, making me wonder whether another review serves any real purpose, especially from someone who was included.

Yeah, about that. When Livingston visited us in Vegas, I told him I would have to ding my informal poll’s inclusion in the book, given how it is presented. I might as well start there. Sure, poll respondents called the Wal-Mart flog the biggest social media transgression to date (36 percent), but only 23 people voted.

Nine opinions is hardly as valid as it seems in print. What’s also missing is that I followed up on the subject, stating that the poll participants were a bit off: John Mackey and Julie Roehm had much larger lapses in ethical judgments. The Wal-Mart flog merely stands out because it was perpetrated by a number of people who knew better, and could have been avoided by the tiniest of disclosures.

This doesn’t really detract from the book; it’s just something to keep in mind. Like all books on new media (and everything else for that matter), sourcing the original content is important because, in understanding the greater context of the conversation, readers may come up with different conclusions than those laid out before them.

Livingston does one of the best jobs in helping people find such content, citing direct links that can be easily tracked back to the source. It makes sense.

Why Now Is Gone Works

Now Is Gone is a book that attempts a daunting task and mostly succeeds. It captures new media conversations by communication leaders as it occurred. It’s something David Meerman Scott did with The New Rules of Marketing and PR. For this reason alone, Now Is Gone is exactly what it says it is: a primer on new media for executives and entrepreneurs, people who are starting to realize they need to catch up on several months or years worth of conversation.

Livingston and the forward by Solis do a good job in presenting this, providing dozens of lessons learned, best practices, and case studies. It is often encapsulated into sound advice bites — “one new thing new media creators can learn from traditional media outlets is the creation of phenomenal content can be targeted toward a particular community” — which rightfully points to an idea that new media doesn’t require trickery as much as honest, targeted content.

Another common theme is how new media often requires active participation. Case in point: Livingston was one of several people who encouraged me to participate across more social networks than I ever intended. He’s very, very good at it (I'm just okay). He may even be one of the best at it, because he practices what he preaches…

“Social Networks that feature opt-in friends or followers can be great ways to engage sub-communities outside of a corporate social media initiative. By building value for these contacts in a participation-oriented, value-building manner, organizations can intelligently build an extended community of brand loyalists.” — Now Is Gone.

While it’s true this is sometimes time-consuming, time management and targeted participation makes the return well worth the effort. Coming away from reading Now Is Gone for the second time, it also reinforces how social networking may even be more important than a blog in that it exposes the participant to a bigger world view. It’s not all that different from participating in a professional organization on a local level. Sure, the lines are blurred and the network is bigger, but the sociology is the same.

Now Is Gone doesn't stop there. It also works hard to prove that social networks and social media cannot be ignored, no matter how much people think they can be. It is in this topic that Livingston and Solis both make their best cases for the idea that new media is changing marketing, advertising, and public relations in ways that no one expected.

They are right, even if some of the changes seem to be taking us back to the golden era of advertising when people like Ogilvy, Polykoff, Manley, and a slew of others knew that effective copywriting was all about engaging consumers in conversation. It’s the conversation, not the art or price point alone, that changes behavior.

A Cautionary Note About New Media Books

In addition to the rush to market, which sometimes leaves communication colleagues miffed by rough writing, there is something to keep in mind when reading any book about new media. And that is... it's new media.

It’s so new that some social media proponents struggle with one critical piece of wisdom: the work they are doing today is important, but it may not be strong enough to make them immortal or any more correct in being among the first. The scientific field is much more versed in working in such an environment. More than one scientist has experienced a moment when their biggest contribution is proven to be slightly flawed on the front end, making an entire volume of work invalid.

The Permian-Triassic extinction event about 250 million years ago comes to mind. There were dozens of theories floating around about the extinction for decades, ranging from large and multiple impacts and increased volcanism to methane releases from the sea floor.

However, with a single new discovery, some of these theories (and theories built on top of these theories) were suddenly left behind as entire volumes of research needed to be rewritten. The only difference, it seems to me, is that scientists are a bit more prepared for this to happen. Social media proponents? I'm not always sure they are.

Given how often I see some write that we “don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” I’m unconvinced that they are ready for for sweeping changes that occur when the wheel is reinvented. If there wasn't a need to reinvent wheels, we'd still have giant log rollers under our cars and trucks, Flinstone style. And we certainly wouldn't need new media.

Of course, this isn’t a criticism of the book. This is an area where Livingston always stands out. He allows the conversation to speak for itself, perfectly content to see it disproved, overturned by new ideas, or evolve in ways that early pioneers never intended.

You can see some of this happen in real time on the Now Is Gone blog. It’s a great read, with multiple authors picking up where the book leaves off.

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Saturday, February 9

Counting Down Jericho: Tick, Tick, Boom


There are only three full days left before many of the questions surrounding Jericho, the television series given a reprieve last year, begin to shift from speculations and to undeniable facts. Starting Feb. 12 and for the weeks that follow, CBS executives will be considering which of two second season episodes shot will air on week seven.

Will that episode wrap the fan-inspired story forever or usher in a complete unabridged third season?

It’s not the only question, but it is the one that is weighing heavily on the minds of several thousand fans who spent the last nine months talking up the show that they helped save with about 125,000 signatures, 40,000 pounds of nuts, and countless e-mails, postcards, letters, phone calls, blog posts, articles, interviews, forum discussions, YouTube videos, etc. No one really knows the answer, but there are plenty of people hoping for much more than seven installments.

“I was just thinking about those shiny new episodes that everyone has worked SO hard for. There seems to be a buzz about them, but my greatest fear is that this is the beginning of the end. We got CBS to reconsider their decision, but will the public follow?” — Jessielynne73 (fan screen name)

“The one thing that stands out the most to me is how Schumi made sure to stress that everyone’s efforts counted, and how much her daily ‘command orders’ inspired us all." — Maybei (fan screen name)

“What stood out to me were the awesome videos made by the fans to encourage and inspire us in the fight to get Jericho back. I am so glad that CBS is acknowledging them on the Jericho homepage with the fan video of the day." — DBalcer1 (fan screen name)

“I’m in Romania so the show aired here [much later]. I’ve gotten hooked on the show since … and I’ll be hooked for the rest of my life.” — Twister22 (fan screen name)

"What stood out in my mind was the commitment everyone made to make sure Jericho was not forgotten. I love that the actors have said how much they appreciate and love the show (and their fans). That's rare in TV series."— Idyoutlw (fan screen name)

“What stands out to me is what hard work it's been, but it has ultimately been worth it. I've talked to people I would probably never gotten to know otherwise, learned a lot, and made some good friends. Even if (heaven forbid) we don't get any more than these seven episodes, it was all worth it, and I'd do it again." — LisiBee (fan screen name)

For the fans, it must seem like another lifetime when the only question people asked was what would CBS executives do with 22,000 pounds of nuts?, an early estimate that was quickly eclipsed with 18,000 more.

That question was answered: the peanuts were sent to the zoo; the “Jericho nuts” were sent the promise of seven shows.

Jericho "nuts" doesn’t have as much charm as “Jericho Rangers,” as I know them, but Ken Tucker with Entertainment Weekly seems to have some doubts whether season two will have mass appeal. Although temperate in his review, he did see some promise in two performers, who he says bring “some cracked intensity into this grim fantasy.”

We shall see. Much like we’ll see the answers to many other questions even though I suspect some will never really be answered.

“Will CBS, which cancelled 20 projects during the writer’s strike, reconsider how it counts Nielsen ratings?”

“Did the three episode leak help, hurt, or have no bearing on the premiere of the second season?”

“Did the writer’s strike (which just reached a tentative agreement) help attract viewers who are starved for new non-reality show content on television?”

“Would fans have fared even better without the just-below-the-surface in-fighting among the most visible?”

“Did the fans meet those conditions uttered by CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler that they had to 'recruit more fans?'”

“Will CBS ever learn how lightly guided consumer marketing and social media really works?”

“Does Jake fit better with Heather or Emily?”

Doubtful. Almost. Not like it could have. Probably. Maybe. Its online viewing platform certainly looks better. And last but not least, there are some fan debates you learn to stay far away from.

Personally, I just hope the fans are able to punctuate the impossible show cancellation reversal and capture enough ratings to see their efforts stick. Objectively, the ratings of season two episode one will matter less than season two episode three or four.

I also won’t be surprised if NBC or FOX pays some attention to the outcome. With more then 2,600 boxes of Rice-A-Roni (not counting individual shipments) being mailed to Jeff Zucker, NBC might find going back in time and undoing a decision is sometimes better than starting from scratch.

Wouldn’t that be something? I know a girl detective who would think so too. But for now, it’s all about the little town in Kansas that thought it could. Given that I believe consumers matter, I hope it can.

For a behind-the-scenes look at season two and some surprisingly crisp full episodes of season one, visit CBS here.

Special thanks to Jane Sweat who contributed fan comments to this piece.

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Friday, February 8

Blogging For Kindness: Ark Of Hope For Children


Last November, I had the pleasure of getting to know the Corbett family through Bloggers Unite, a social awareness campaign spearheaded by BlogCatalog.

The Corbetts are raising 10 children, five of which were adopted from the foster care system (there are 13 family members in all). They are planning to adopt more children as their vision, Ark Of Hope For Children, becomes a reality.

The Ark Of Hope For Children is a planned mini-community that will include 3-6 single family homes on 80 acres of land to provide a nurturing environment for up to 32 children currently sheltered by the Florida foster care system. Even so, the Corbetts are not inwardly focused. They invest time helping others as well.

In fact, their contribution to their community was a perfect match for the last Bloggers Unite campaign, focused on Acts of Kindness, which asked bloggers from around the world to perform an act of kindness and share a post, picture, or video about it. The Corbetts submitted a post about a large-scale event they hosted to help those in need around the holidays.

”My family has always volunteered at Gainesville, Florida’s Bread of The Mighty Food Bank,” said Blair Corbett, who wrote the post. “As the holiday season was approaching several years ago, we were informed of a six story building of welfare recipients that was often overlooked because they weren’t quite homeless.”

Rather than sit on the sidelines, the Corbetts adopted the building six years ago. This year, the family and eight volunteers organized a holiday meal for more than 80 people. The meal, consisting of purchased food from local food banks and supermarkets, included everything you might imagine: six turkeys, 10 pounds of ham, lasagnas, 30 pounds of mashed potatoes (real), ten pounds of stuffing, corn, beans, angel food cakes, Jello, and sweet tea.

“We pre-organized as many volunteers as possible to help cook the food, but our guest kitchen chefs became ill, which left all of the cooking to Verna [his wife] and my family,” says Corbett. “Fortunately, the manager and two employees of a local fast food restaurant pre-cooked some food at their location, which was a blessing.”

The sudden outbreak of bronchitis in their community wasn’t the only challenge, but the Corbetts continued to rely on faith. When the shortage of help became overbearing, they paused to pray. When the front door latch of their fully-loaded van broke at the last minute, they rigged up a rope to keep the door shut. When the electricity suddenly went out in the 6-story building, they spent hours trying to find the right breakers.

Yet, for every problem, Corbett says their “mess became their message.” No matter what, you have to be grateful for what you have. And on Dec. 23, they had each other.

“I learned to appreciate life early, after losing my father when I was 12, and my stepfather when I was 18,” says Corbett. “I began following Christ in my mid 30s. Sure, many of our kids are physically or mentally challenged, it has been an uphill climb for our family as we continue to work toward building the first of six foster homes, and it was a tough decision to leave the normal workplace in 2000 to work full time for Ark of Hope. But if you live humbly and unselfishly, I believe you will live in lavish riches that will last for eternity.”

Sometimes those riches are like those experienced by the residents that night. They knew someone cared enough to serve them and listen, even if it was for a short time. The gift was beneficial to the family too, he said. His children, ranging in ages 3 to 24, learned valuable lessons about the joy of service and from prayer requests.

Some residents asked for prayers to have health problems alleviated. Some asked to be reunited with family, whom they had not seen in some time. Most were simply thankful for the food and people to share it with. The Corbett's granddaughter, Krystal, was grateful for the stuffed animals some residents slipped beside her during her nap. And the Corbetts were thankful they could share their story.

“Both my wife and I love taking part in Bloggers Unite because it's an opportunity to write about something we do that has the potential to multiply our efforts,” says Corbett. “Every day, there is something you can do. No matter how small, you can make a difference. We envision the power of Bloggers Unite to be something that will get a lot more people caring about and for others.”

In addition to organizing, cooking, and serving the meal, the Corbett family distributed more than 2,000 pounds of dry goods to the residents afterward.

Update: Recently, Miss Marion County USA joined with the Corbetts to help raise funds. For more information about their efforts, visit Ark Of Hope For Children.

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Thursday, February 7

Speaking Chinese: Salesgenie.com Pandas

Salesgenie.com was not the only SuperBowl advertisement to attempt “ethnic humor,” but it is among the first ads to be pulled amid growing customer complaints.

The New York Times reported yesterday that the spot will be pulled from the airways, though it hasn’t been pulled from the Salesgenie.com Web site as of this morning.

When I first read the article, I thought to give Vinod Gupta, chairman and chief executive of InfoUSA (parent company of Salesgenie.com), some props in handling the public relations fallout over the ad. It makes good sense to apologize and pull the advertisement. That’s responsive.

But in looking at his explanation, I became more skeptical. Gupta, who wrote the advertisements himself, told The New York Times that “We never thought anyone would be offended. The pandas are Chinese. They don’t speak German.”

Well, pandas don’t really speak so who really knows.

In looking at the ad again, perhaps I can offer some explanation for Gupta why the pandas drew more criticism than Salesgenie.com’s Ramesh spot, which also employed accents. Unlike the Ramesh spot, which also wasn’t very good, the pandas cross the fine line between laughing with people and laughing at people.

If Gupta believed his own explanation, then Salesgenie.com’s “psychic” panda would have a Chinese accent too. She does not. She also adds separation between Salesgenie.com’s apparently ignorant target audience and the wisdom of the company. The spot just isn’t good enough to carry any comedy.

The Ramesh spot, on the other hand, doesn’t drive home such separation, with exception to the quip about “having seven children,” which is why it didn’t draw criticism. However, there’s another reason too. The spot isn’t good enough to generate any emotion. It just lands flat.

I faced a similar call last year when a client asked me to add in ethnic accents on the tail end of a radio spot. Instead, I wrote the scripts two ways, and the one without accents survived. Why? Because accents aren’t funny. Specific people are funny, whether or not they have an accent makes no difference at all.

Case in point, it’s not funny to learn that people have been making fun of Gupta’s accent for years. What might be funny is a CEO laughing at his own wit and having “yes men” follow him around agreeing with whatever comes out of his mouth. You know, as if he just came up with the best SuperBowl commercials of the year. It might not even be that far from the truth, because this is the second year Gupta-written Salesgenie.com commercials were disliked.

The New York Times attributed the backlash to being indicative of increasing consumer sensitivity to marketing messages, particularly when ethnic images are involved. Hmmm … I think it is indicative of increasing consumer sensitivity to dumbed down marketing messages, particularly when the only people who like them are the creators. Right on. When you can’t be funny, shoot for publicity. Yuk, yuk, yuk. Yawn.

For another funny, check out MultiCultClassics, where I read Gupta is ready to pick up his pen next year too. I can hear his staff in back ground right now, “Brilliant idea! You're one funny guy.”

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Wednesday, February 6

Adding Facebook Value: Loomia


It’s true. I’ve never been a Facebook fan. I maintain an account because some people I know like it, but I have never felt “fully migrated” along with the rest of my fellow social network nomads.

Dark cloud coverage every few weeks seems to reaffirm my one toe in approach: the Beacon fiasco, the business bans, the negative cash flow , and on, and on.

However, every now and again, there seems to be a silver lining that comes in the form of a third-party widget. The addition of a Twitter feed was one. And now, SeenThis? by Loomia is another.

SeenThis? by Loomia

The value seems to be much deeper than the launch partners who dominated the early buzz last week. Having The Wall Street Journal Online (WSJ), NBC Universal, and CNET Networks as partners is certainly news, but SeenThis?, which allows social network members to share what they read via Facebook, is a well thought out application that adds real value to the online experience.

The original concept was simple enough. David Marks, co-founder and CTO, along with the rest of the Loomia team, wanted to create a social network tool that mimicked personal social patterns in real life and used recommendation applications they have already provide to many sites.

“When people see a movie or read a good article, they share it with friends and co-workers,” said Marks. “We wanted to bring this online, helping them ‘stay in the know’ with friends, groups and networks.”

Simply stated, the new Facebook application tracks articles that you and your friends, group members, and network members read, allowing you to see what articles might be popular. For example, three of my Facebook groups found some interest in the WSJ article “Google Aims to Crack China With Music Push” so I decided to take a look.

Once there, I skimmed the article and also noticed that WSJ’s publisher version of the application lists other related stories, new stories, popular stories, and — which is very cool — other WSJ stories that my friends, groups, or networks found interesting, like the “Mac Ad You Will Never See."

Even better, to make SeenThis? work as combination convergence and recommendation tool, all of the data was collected anonymously. It will remain anonymous unless you specifically choose to share a particular article link with selected Facebook friends (whether they have added the SeenThis? widget or not).

In some ways, it's like having your own mini-Digg site, except it's confined to your networks and much more passive in gaging interest among selected publishers. You and your friends interest in a subject is dependent on what you read, not what you group vote up or down.

SeenThis? Will Move Beyond Facebook

In the near future, SeenThis? will not be confined to a Facebook application. It will be deployable on other social networks. Marks tells me that MySpace (which recently opened its platform to developers) and OpenSocial are likely to be the next.

Facebook was first, primarily because of its very friendly API development platform, he said. But the vision driving SeenThis? goes well beyond a single social network. And that is part of its charm.

As new social networks are added, SeenThis? will compile the data across all of these networks, allowing subscribers to track popular content across as many or as few as they want. Likewise, people using SeenThis? can pick and choose from 18 content providers (and growing), including: partners like CNET, NBC, and WSJ and publishers like TechCrunch, Slate, and The Economist. One of the newest content additions is College Humor, which was added after people already using the widget asked Loomia to do so.

In addition to compiling data as a convergence tool, SeenThis? makes it easy to scan headlines from multiple publications. This seems especially useful for bloggers who want to tailor their posts to media stories that their social networks and friends already find interesting. Bloggers can add a Loomia widget to their blogs as well. While I don't believe it will be included in the SeenThis? feeds (publisher feeds can be), the widget will add recommended articles based on blog content.

The application is free, provided you choose the ad-supported version by Loomia. There are other versions with a tiered pricing structure as well.

SeenThis? And Privacy

Data collection always raises privacy flags, especially when it is related to Facebook. However, SeenThis? has taken several steps to keep any data collected completely anonymous, including expirations on how long this data is stored.

“SeenThis? users have complete control over how they share information,” Marks said. “They remain completely anonymous unless they share a story (send a link) to their friends.”

Marks said that most research, including Loomia’s own, shows that people want to know what their friends, groups, and networks are reading, but no one really wants to share everything they read. By collecting and pooling data among anonymous users who have opted in, SeenThis? networkers will enjoy the best of both worlds.

SeenThis? May Set The Next Wave

According to Marks, SeenThis? will be added to an increasing number of social networks soon, and users will be able to employ it in some interesting ways: discussions can be created around popular content and articles; users will be able to opt in to receive select notifications; and you can always control which publishers appear on your site or social network page.

To me, it really demonstrates that there are widgets, and then there are widgets. Loomia seems to have created the latter, tapping into the growing online social awareness . It’s relevant and useful, perhaps one of the most responsive applications built around the people who will use it.

It is also intuitive in that there is a new social layer being developed as social networks open up their platforms. Developers like Loomia are looking for new ways to manage portable groups and content. Marks says we can expect to see more applications like this in the near future. I think he’s right.

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Tuesday, February 5

Finding Ideas: Live Outside Your Ecosystem


Among the tips I like to provide students taking my “Writing For Public Relations” class is to expand their knowledge and networks well beyond any confined industry ecosystem. Spend too much time within any ecosystem and specialists risk becoming endangered species. Online or off, there is no difference.

This is one of the reasons while I place value on creating relationships with public relations practitioners, advertising gurus, communication specialists, etc., I also work build connections and participate outside of my area of focus.

Mark Stoneman, historian, recently brought this up as a discussion topic in our BlogStraightTalk group. He was prompted by Janet Rae-Dupree’s article in The New York Times. My speaking schedule might provide an example as I'll have to adapt to meet the needs of each group.

Las Vegas Recruiting Roadshow — 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Feb. 27

Ever since John Sumser organized what he calls an experiment to bring local recruiters into the industry’s larger network infrastructure, the road show has made some impressive gains in helping the industry build bridges and network. Since the show is coming to Las Vegas, Sumser asked if I’d discuss the merits of social networking for about 30-45 minutes. In Vegas? You bet.

So on Feb. 27, I’ll be among the five speakers discussing various topics at the Green Valley Resort • Spa • Casino. It’s free with registration.

What do I get out of discussing topics with recruiters? You might be surprised. They provide an interesting link to personal branding, human resources, labor relations, and executive management to name a few; topics that my industry doesn’t always consider. Tip for communicators: learn more about business.

Editing and Proofreading Your Work — 9 a.m. to noon, March 1

This class is a half-day day session that focuses on improving clarity, consistency, and correct usage in personal and business communication through the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. While the class provides some overlap instruction for the Writing For Public Relations course, it also attracts a diverse group of people ranging from future authors and freelancers to business managers and yes, people within the communication profession.

So on March 1, I’ll be finding new ways to make the nuts and bolts of writing effectively as an editor interesting for a diverse group of people on the campus. The class is $85 and includes handouts.

The diversity of the students always leads to some interesting questions during class. It helps me stay fresh, considering any number of writing questions I never consider on a daily basis, including when to use “whilst.” Tip for writers: different forms and styles open ideas that can be applied to other forms and styles.

IABC/Las Vegas Speed Workshop— 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., March 4

The International Association of Business Communicators Las Vegas (IABC/Las Vegas) is adding speed to speaking as six speakers will play musical tables every ten minutes. I’ll be among them, discussing social media.

Anyone in social media might find the time frame amusing. Just how much information can be gleaned about social media, skewed slightly for non-profits (I’m told), inside of ten minutes? If I’m being honest, I’m just not sure yet, other than needing to write tight, talk fast, and bring handouts.

The program registration has not been added online yet, but I do know it will be held at Maggiano's, which is located at the Fashion Show Mall. The program is $30 for IABC members and students; $35 for guests. It includes lunch. Tip for executives: all the dismissal of social media in the world won’t change the fact that people are talking about your company online.

IABC/Las Vegas generally attracts communicators from a wide variety of industries, including the non-profit sector. Working on various boards and for several organizations, I’ve developed some great relationships, including with members of the media who support some of the same causes.

You never know where good ideas might come from. So if I’m working for a manufacturer, I want to know more about being a machinist. In banking, I want to know how the market affects various business sectors or when to get a loan. In politics, I want to know how to capture, motivate, and retain volunteers for a grass roots campaign. In social media, understanding some technology is as important as knowing something about venture capitalists. And so on, and so forth.

The point: while you might be able to survive in a confined industry ecosystem for awhile, you have to step outside of it sooner or later. Too much specialization, while it might seem to be asset, will eventually limit your ability to survive. Besides all that, the best ideas often come from where you least expect it — people who know little about what you do but are impacted by it often.

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Monday, February 4

Missing Targets: Target PR


Last week, the public relations department at Target learned something about new media: it’s interconnected with old media (if there is such a thing anymore) and the links and lines between the two are not always clear.

The New York Times followed up on a post by ShapingYouth, a blog about the impact of marketing on children. The apparent conflict arose over an advertising campaign that has been criticized, as The New York Times describes it, because it “depicted a woman splayed across a big target pattern — the retailer’s emblem — with the bull’s-eye at her crotch.”

Personally, I never made the connection. But there are plenty of advertising folks and consumers who did.

But this post really isn’t about that, despite having years of research that relates to sexually suggestive advertising as well as cognitive thinking by consumers. Nor is it really about ShapingYouth author Amy Jussel’s approach to contacting Target or Target’s ill-advised response, given that it wasn’t even true.

“Unfortunately we are unable to respond to your inquiry because Target does not participate with nontraditional media outlets … This practice is in place to allow us to focus on publications that reach our core guest.”

There are a number of public relations and social media-related blogs that have already weighed in on the subject, most of them recognizing that Target may not have needed to respond to Jussel’s aggressively assumptive inquiry, but delivered an inappropriate response. Here’s a sampling:

“So, let the lesson be loud and clear: Bloggers are media too!” — Speak Media

“…despite the ridiculous sentiments of Jussel, Target’s response was even more out-of-line.” — The PR News Blog

“In an ideal world, PR pros should always strive to enter into a conversation with any journalist that submits a reasonably legitimate media query. In reality, however, it's not scalable to offer the same level of responsiveness across the board.” — The Flack

Answering Social Media Inquiries Is A Function Of Public Relations

While scalability to address social media seems to be an issue for many public relations departments (even at larger companies like Target, apparently), it doesn’t make sense to me that any company would dismiss a blogger’s inquiry given that they wouldn’t dismiss the same inquiry by an average customer. And therein lies the real rub.

Companies are becoming too hung up on a definition of “blogger” as a noun and not considering that “blogging” is best described as a verb. Unfortunately, when it is applied as a noun, everyone gets a bit wacky and dismisses all the other nouns that might apply.

Case in point: Jussel is not only a blogger, she is also a consumer advocate and Target customer. I doubt Target would have dismissed either of these definitions as readily as they dismissed Jussel as a blogger, regardless of her approach.

Jussel is not alone. Most “bloggers” have multiple labels that emblazon their name badges. (I have several dozen; take your pick.) Let’s consider that.

Some bloggers are journalists; some are not. Some demonstrate at least some semblance of being one, even if it is more op-ed commentary as opposed to objective reporting; some do not. Some want to be engaged by companies; some do not. Some … well, you get the point. But among all these titles and monikers and definitions and styles, there is one thing every company must consider.

All bloggers are consumers and possibly customers. Period.

Given that most companies would not brush off consumers the same way — “We are unable to respond to your inquiry because we do not address the concerns of customers because it’s not scalable to offer the same level of responsiveness across the board.” EGAD! — it doesn’t make sense that a public relations department would brush off bloggers, consumers who may publicly write about it.

So what’s the solution? Pretty simple, really. At minimum, even if the company has some erroneous anti-blogger policy, public relations departments need to be able to identify who is making the inquiry and then route the call to the appropriate department if the appropriate department is not public relations.

That’s not a social media policy. It’s common sense.

And if Target had applied even some semblance of it, they may looked like heroes instead of something else. It takes far fewer words and follow up to simply send out something along the lines of … “Thank you for your inquiry. The advertisement is not meant to be sexually suggestive. However, we have forwarded your concern to our [insert department].”

Sure, as a 3-second solution, it’s not perfect. But then again, I wasn’t shooting to be interviewed by The New York Times or irritating several thousand customers. I was simply considering what the lowest level of response might be, assuming the company wants to pretend that social media doesn’t exist.

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Friday, February 1

Defining Convergence: Advertising - Entertainment Crossover


"The reality of it is that the future does not fit into the containers of the past.” — Rishad Tobaccowala, CEO of Denuo Group, a Publicis Groupe

According to Ad Age, Tobaccowala said it’s time for marketers to drop the idea that they can authoritatively distribute promotional messages by traditional means and get their heads around the notion that they must create content where audiences can migrate. As an example, he points to Nestle’s Purina, which has moved well beyond the static content that was once associated with a Web site. It includes user-generated content too.

Although I wouldn’t go so far as to say that traditional advertising is dead, social media, interactivity, and consumer participation is becoming part of what will become a very changed communication landscape. And it’s not just about what marketers can do, it’s also about how the entire media landscape is changing.

Broadcast industry growth is mostly flat, enough so that local stations are looking elsewhere for content distribution. (I’ve mentioned several times: local station viewership of truncated segments online is outpacing the broadcast news product.) The New York Times noted today that some stations are not only creating original programming, but also purchasing the online rights to syndicated shows.

“I have seen local broadcasters move from looking at their Web sites as cost centers to looking at them as profit centers,” said Adam Gordon, the chief revenue officer of WorldNow. “It has taken time to get ad agencies to shift their attitudes and habits.”

The article speculates that if it works, local affiliates may play the same role online that they do on television, in which they buy the rights to programming from producers. But what the article does not say is what seems to be — both sides are playing to the middle. Convergence.

Convergence means producers having an equal opportunity to have their shows picked up by a company or distribution channel that may or may not be advertising supported. In some cases, companies might even produce some original content, with the option to syndicate it and/or sell downloads.

Sure, we all know that was along the lines of the lackluster debut of Bud.tv. It was too much too soon and without a clear focus or real understanding of their consumers (um, shows about beer might have worked) with additional damage caused by placing the entire concept in a lock box.

On the contrary, while Bud.tv traffic continues to drop, one of its debut shows, the sci-fi computer generated “Afterworld,” continues to gain a larger audience on its own. Whether you like it or not, a show like this is an asset with the potential to move beyond Google ads — sponsorship, syndication, product placement, pay-per-download, etc.

With such a variety of options available, shows like Journeyman and Jericho will be less likely to face cancellation as much as distribution shifts, provided they have a viable audience. Based on the Jericho’s Feb. 12 download buzz alone, there is obviously an audience. Anywhere there is an audience, there are advertisers.

The only thing missing from the mix is the realization that the past containers don’t work anymore for marketers, for advertisers, for producers, or networks.

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Thursday, January 31

E-Mailing Everybody: Marketers Say Spam Works


Forget Facebook and other online advertising models for a minute. Datran Media released a study that says direct-to-consumer e-mail spam works.

More than 82 percent of the marketers surveyed indicated that they plan to increase e-mail marketing this year. That’s a whole lot of e-mails.

Why? As much as everybody complains about e-mail advertising, it seems to work. The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) even released a report that says e-mail ROI can hit as much as $45.65 on every dollar spent, which is twice as much ROI earned from other mediums.

This study mirrors other industry specific releases sent out by the DMA, including one that predicted e-mail from the insurance industry will increase as much as 23.4 percent in the next few years. The insurance industry is not alone. E-mail advertising has become a red-hot choice among marketers nationwide.

Except. There are some things working against e-mail ROI. There is the increasing pressure on state legislatures by the public. There are the issues that cross over into the Federal Trade Commission’s consideration of online advertising. And, of course, there is the growing problem of over saturation.

Simply put, the more e-mail advertisements that consumers receive, the less effective the medium will become and the more likely it will be prone to stricter regulation. There are other considerations too, including that the DMA study on ROI in terms of dollars does not adequately consider long-term brand consequences or negative impressions. It also doesn’t consider the risks that more consumers associate with it.

Like most advertising and communication, direct e-mail advertising is a tool. It does not work for all companies or products, and can even be detrimental for some. Inc. recently published a great column that helps temper the hype and brings it back into focus.

Personally, before considering an e-mail campaign, I think many companies are better off thinking about a well-executed social media plan. Social media can be equally, if not more, effective because it allows the consumer to receive information when they want it and how they want it: RSS feed, e-mail subscription, social network announcement, Google search, etc.

Sure, social media, such as a blog, is considered passive by comparison. But then again, the communication doesn’t rely exclusively on an e-mail list either. In other words, while more than 70 percent of marketers said they intend to use e-mail to enhance consumer relationships, one wonders if consumers share their point of view.

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Wednesday, January 30

Yodeling Less: Yahoo! Cut Backs


Yesterday, Yahoo! announced that what was expected to be hundreds of layoffs will be rounded up to more than 1,000 jobs cut. Unfortunately, the writing has been on the wall for some time as several Yahoo! assets were underperforming.

Yahoo Video fell 80 percent while traffic to rival YouTube grew by nine percent. Metacafe grew by 27 percent. Traffic on Yahoo! asset MyBlogLog, a social network for bloggers, has been declining since a poorly communicated move to Yahoo! IDs. Gmail seems to have an edge over Yahoo!
Mail, which is a bit more clunky than it used to be and is largely unusable by Safari (a small, but still viable percentage of accounts).

Not all the news is sour mind you. Yahoo! and AT&T are expanding their alliance. Yahoo! has cornered a big share of the $548 million market for online ad revenues for sports sites, says Forbes. And most people seem to like Flickr. Even their front page news is pretty good, even if you don’t use the search tool. These are just a few of the reasons I suspect people like the Silicon Valley Insider is calling for any ideas that might “help save” Yahoo!

Part of the challenge isn’t technology as much as it is communication, inside and out. Outside, members of various assets call Yahoo! unresponsive. Inside, layoff rumors have been whispered about for some time. Even The New York Times called said the Tuesday conference call droning and jargon filled.

Since the best communication happens from the inside out, it seems to me that how Yahoo! handles its layoffs will largely dictate how long the road of recovery will be. Large-scale layoffs, especially when no one knows which business areas will be hardest hit, can demoralize employees to the point of paralysis.

It’s especially important for Yahoo! to avoid the concept that there is some magical "clean slate" once layoffs are over. Why? As Umesh Ramakrishnan, vice chairman, Corporate Technology Partners, said: "The biggest challenge Yahoo! has is cultural. It's gotten away from the creative company it used to be—that's the difference between it and Google. Yang needs to bring that culture back and bring innovation to the forefront."

I could not agree more. Yahoo! needs to get away from being too myopic and retain some of the color and creativity that seems to escape every time it purchases a company. Instead of telling employees what to do and online members what will be done, invest more time into discovering why the acquisitions were performing so well to begin with, sans the Yahoo! brand.

By almost every account, Yahoo! is not a sinking ship. But it could be, unless someone inside makes a serious push to bring the passion back from the inside out. And that is always much more difficult to do, when almost one in 10 employees won't be there to help.

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Tuesday, January 29

Mixing Media: The Recruiting Animal


Last March, the unabashed shock jock of recruiting, best known to the industry as the “Recruiting Animal,” launched an online radio talk show. Since, the show continues to capture growing interest, maybe even contributing to his recent win as the “Best Recruiting Blogosphere Personality” gratis RecruitingBlogs.com Best Recruiting Blogs Of 2007.

You think? No way, says Animal.

“I feel guilty about the prize because David ‘Bull Doza’ Mendoza of Six Degrees From Dave put me on his slate of candidates and sent a request to his super huge network* to vote as he advised,” explains Animal. “I have to assume that most of the voters didn't know anything about me.”

Whether they did or not, I doubt he feels guilty. At least not since the contest organizer stripped him of one coveted treat. There was no Starbucks coffee in the prize package.

“Have you ever heard the word schnorrer?” asks Animal. “Jay Dee (Jason Davis of RecruitingBlogs.com) is my friend, so he thinks that what's mine is his.”

Adding Practicality To Punch Lines

The Recruiting Animal is not the only one to add podcasting to his repertoire. Since August 2006, BlogTalkRadio has added thousands of shows, including several authors and celebrities in addition to bloggers. It makes some wonder. Is it worth it?

“I think it is easier to get other people to contribute their expertise because they don’t have to write anything,” says Animal. “But it does take preparation to do it well. Writing a good intro for the show is as time consuming as writing a long blog post, but you don't do it every day.”

In addition to the introduction, good online radio hosts have to spend considerable time researching topics and giving the information advanced thought. And, a blog or Web site is important for show promotion.

There is also considerable effort in developing a workable approach. While Animal says he is still in the process of formalizing his interview approach, there are a few things he has learned along the way.

• Always research the featured topic and examples
• Always plan questions thoroughly, including follow ups
• Sometimes pre-interviews can make a huge difference

“I did a pre-interview this past week and it made a big difference,” says Animal. “If I know something about the answers in advance, then I don’t have to struggle to get a clear statement from my guest.”

The pre-interview technique also put him in a position to clarify answers without losing the spontaneity that keeps the show fresh. And, he says, they are more appropriate than supplying advance material or scripts.

While advance material has been helpful for what he affectionately calls “The Animal Panel,” guests tend to know their subject and need more flexibility. On one occasion, he did plan a show with a guest and it backfired, with the guest refusing to stick to the script. Animal filled in some blanks, but the interview seemed like guest baiting to industry insiders as opposed to a fun show.

Balancing Acts For Guests And Listeners

Even with some tried and true tips, there are no hard and fast rules. One of the challenges Animal faces on a weekly basis is finding the right mix for guests and listeners. People don’t necessarily want a plodding question-interview session, but rather a fast-moving, entertaining, and informative show.

If he is too polite to guests, he says it makes for a less interesting show. Most people want what they are used to: blunt remarks, raised voices, and interruptions that sometimes have nothing to do with the subject. So Animal is always looking for balance between his colorful— sometimes snarky — blog persona and a radio show host who doesn’t frighten guests away.

“Since I know that I can find people to interview, I'm probably
better off telling guests that it's going to be a rough ride,” says Animal. “But if I don't sober up, I wonder if it might be hard to get certain interesting, but straight-laced types, on my show.”


Somewhere in between entertaining and outlandish seems to be the answer for him, even if it means losing certain guests to someone else. If he plays it too straight, his listeners let him know. Great introduction, they might say, but what a dull interview.

Live Listeners Are A Fraction Of Audience

Many online radio talk show hosts avoid answering questions related to live listeners, but Animal helped put this into perspective. He says live listeners aren’t as important as some people might think. While he would like more callers because they add value to the show, the bulk of his audience comes from people who download podcasts.

“I derive a lot of benefit from my regular callers. You meet a lot of intelligent, talkative people in blogging. When people like Maureen Sharib, Harry Joiner, Dave Manaster, or Jason Davis call in, they ask good questions that I wouldn't think of,” says Animal. “They also make good remarks and add a lot of variety.”

The show itself, much like The Recruiting Animal’s blog, is geared more for recruiters in the business than it is for recruiting clients and candidates. As a result, readership and listenership tend to be more narrowly focused. However, Animal is still surprised by how many people listen or write reviews of past shows, making podcasts a better measure of his reach.

“I do get the odd review in which someone I don’t know says they find it entertaining,” says Animal. “That’s a real treat.”

Currently, Animal is working to build a subscription network and that might give him a better idea of who and how people listen to the show. This may eventually help produce a show with online sponsors that will keep his Starbucks cup full.

So is it worth it? It seems to be for Animal. But like all online tools, it’s best to match what you do best with the available applications. If you have a good speaking voice and can dedicate time to online radio, it provides a richer experience and relationship than other formats. Animal is a natural for radio, and he didn’t pay me to say it. Listen for yourself.

You can also catch an essay discussion opener on BlogStraigthTalk on adding podcasts.

*note comments: Animal was dreaming.
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Monday, January 28

Corresponding Attorneys: Andrew Dwyer


Corresponding by e-mail with Andrew Dwyer, the employment litigation specialist who owns The Dwyer Law Firm, L.C.C. and is representing Steve Biegel in the Biegel vs. Dentsu case, reminded me why some reporters become cynical over time.

Many journalists are privately bombarded with persuasive babble, coercion, and spin, based on little more than the erroneous notion: if the reporter writes what we want, they are intelligent; if they do not, they are “morons.”

Journalists are not really paid enough to put up with it, but they do.

For those who have been following the suit, a District Court judge recently rejected Dentsu's motion for a summary judgment in the case of Steve Biegel v. Dentsu Holdings. It really wasn’t enough for me to post about, but I added it as an update to previous posts, preferring to wait to see how things plod along before considering it a topic again.

The reason Dwyer contacted me yesterday was to retract a comment that I left on a MultiCultClassics post, which had less to do about Biegel and more to do with some anti-Japanese sentiments that were anonymously left on my blog and elsewhere. Specifically, Dwyer claimed that I had “endorsed” the author, HighJive, whom he has a very low opinion of; that I called his client, Biegel, intolerant against Japanese and a “racist;” and that I might even qualify where I was in agreement with the other author and where I was not.

All of this comes from an attorney who previously told me “none of the posts on any of the blogs will ever have any relevance, except perhaps to support our claims of retaliation by Dentsu.” For someone who had expressly stated his low opinion of blogs in general and dismissed them, there seems to be ample attention paid to them outside the public eye as well as any comments that might accompany them.

No matter. Some might also consider it admirable that Dwyer is obviously looking out for his client. And given that, I did add clarification to the comment.

Unfortunately, the clarification was not good enough. Dwyer wanted a complete retraction and/or removal of the aforementioned comment, which I am not inclined to do because I did not call Biegel intolerant of Japanese.

In lieu of this, I suggested highlighting some of the more interesting points, especially since Dwyer said he would “love” to post his e-mail to me on the MultiCultClassic blog, but the author allegedly only allows comments that fit his agenda. Dwyer rescinded the idea, objecting to anything except the publication of his entire e-mail, going so far to suggest that if I only published portions of it, he would never correspond with me again. In other words, Dwyer is only inclined to allow public discourse to take place when it fits his agenda.

Around and around we go.

Without some compelling reason, I have no intention of publishing his e-mails as this blog tends toward being an op-ed on communication and not Dwyer’s forum for retaliation against the opinions of others. Besides, it would likely be embarrassing for him if I did. Ironically, this is why many journalists probably would publish them, or portions of them, as they feel fit.

So what is the takeaway? If you don’t like "the circus" atmosphere surrounding a subject, then don't create that atmosphere by lending heavy-handed e-mails to it. In this case, Dwyer continually risks more than he hopes to gain by writing e-mails that aim at little more than persuading people to do his bidding behind the scenes.

While it has no bearing on what my opinion might be in terms of the ongoing Biegel vs. Dentsu case, it certainly has a bearing on my opinion of the value of Dwyer’s correspondence. While he closed his last e-mail saying he wouldn’t waste his time thinking I am any different than the HighJives of the world, I couldn’t help but think he wasted mine given he opened with a similar statement.

Don’t they know anything? I might care what Dwyer thinks, but I really don’t care what he thinks about me. Most journalists are the same way. Some bloggers are too. And if he thought more about his communication, he might have better served himself and, who knows, perhaps his client too.

Instead, he did neither. There is no retraction. His points are not heard. And, on the contrary, the comment in question is more prominent than ever. With results like these, one can only hope his effort doesn’t end up in the billable column.

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Friday, January 25

Counting Words: 16 Makes A Sentence


Almost every year, I set up the students in my Writing For Public Relations class by asking them “how many words does it take to write the optimum sentence?”

Inevitably, several will enthusiastically answer. Sixteen words!

“Ah ha!” I smile, walking a bit closer to anyone whose eyes might have drifted downward for lack of answer. “It’s always good to know who is reading the assigned chapters … and who might not be. I’m even more impressed that some of you have already committed that gem to memory.”

“Too bad though. That answer is absolutely WRONG.”

Seriously, if it wasn’t for the fun discussion that Doug Newsom’s text has provided me for the last several years, I would instruct the students to immediately leaf over to page 96 (depending on what version), tear the page out, and destroy it before the nasty notion that sixteen words makes a magic sentence sinks in.

Newsom got the idea from Robert Gunning, author of The Technique of Clear Writing, who noted that most modern prose read by the public has an average sentence length of 16 words. Thus, he concludes, if your sentences are much longer than that, you are likely to be diminishing readability.

“How many words does it take to write the optimum sentence?”

As many as it takes to clearly communicate your point. Period. If it takes one word, do that. If it takes 13,955 words, er, it’s likely to be too long, but you never know. It worked for Jonathan Coe. (Previous contenders for the world’s longest sentence include William Faulkner and James Joyce.)

Of course, I forgive Newsom for several paragraphs of misrepresenting sentence lengths, but only because he pays tribute to Albert Einstein who wrote one of the shortest sentences in a scientific paper.

“If, for instance, I say, ‘That train arrives here at 7 o’clock,’ I mean something like ‘The pointing of the small hand of my watch to seven and the arrival of the train are simultaneous events.”

You cannot be much more clear than that, although others in the scientific community may have needed several pages or even books to explain the same. Interesting stuff, this language.

All of this touches on some blog banter, back and forth, with Valeria Maltoni on the economy of language. Most recently, she cited her appreciation for Reader’s Digest, noting that David Ogilvy did too. Ogilvy, for those who don’t know, is one of my favorite greats among advertising copywriters.

Memorable writing does tend to be simple, and not just for copywriters. As I said there: very often, the only reason writers are not able to discuss complex subjects in simple terms is because they either do not understand it themselves, live within a confined industry ecosystem, or try too hard to be clearly brilliant when all they really need to do is be brilliantly clear.

Of course, none of this really means that we must all become Hemingway. Economy of language means thinking about what you write. No matter what the purpose, the burden of communication best remains with the writer and not the reader.

This seems to be the very reason that James Michener struggles over his words, stopping to retype everything four, five, and six times. And, from the opposite end of the spectrum, it seems to be why William Saroyan used to throw things out because they weren’t great. That is, until one day, he realized it didn’t need to be great.

It needed to be clear.

Clarity and word counts are not the same thing. Although G. Donald Gale, with whom I once sat on a panel discussion about writing, was fond of saying even Winston Churchill said short words are the best words

There might be something to that, though I am probably more apt to say the best words are the right words, every time. Because, after all, there are no rules. Not really.

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Thursday, January 24

Checking Reality: Writers Strike


Yesterday, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) began informal discussions to determine if there is a basis for both parties to return to formal negotiations. Restarting negotiations has not come soon enough.

For weeks now, the writers strike forced networks to scramble and offer an increasingly odd array of reality shows to the public. As long as people tune in, some of these quick creations might even replace a few favorites. For example, “American Gladiators” is surpassing the scripted show it replaced.

Advertisers are also discovering something about reality shows. Product placement is easier, at least according to yesterday’s story by The New York Times. And, reality shows seem well suited for “branded entertainment.”

“People are watching television; they're just not watching commercials,” said Lynda Resnick, chairwoman of Teleflora, the company that signed onto the NBC special “Teleflora Presents America’s Favorite Mom,” which is using the Internet to increase its presence. “That is the distinction.”

The concept of branded entertainment is not entirely new. Just one example that comes to mind is Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. It is still going strong, though certainly not as top-of-mind as it was when I was growing up in a world where you had four choices as opposed to four million.

Revising branded entertainment and product placement options is one of several reasons the concept of old media seems dead to us. Not because we anticipate networks to die, but because they are acting more and more like new media.

As touched on in comments last week, some networks are intentionally pre-releasing episodes of some shows to help drive buzz with the hope that viral marketing occurs. Yet, buzz is not a measure nor do these prerelease promotions always consider writers and producers.

“Personally, I don't think running an entire episode as a "promotional" tool is smart business for the writers or the studios. Movie studios don't run their films free of charge for two and a half weeks, in the hopes that it will translate into paying customers later,” longtime Simpsons writer Mike Scully wrote on United Hollywood. “In my opinion, promotional use should have a limit of 3-5 minutes of program content, just enough to get the viewer to sample the show. However, if an entire episode is going to be made available, it should not contain any ads and should be limited to a window of no more than 48 hours. If they are being paid for promotional use, so should we.”

I tend to agree, and encourage people to read the full post. With the exception of a season one pilot, perhaps, I still don’t see how giving away a product, week after week, makes much sense, especially as people are become increasingly Internet savvy. At the very least, they are savvy enough to find downloadable content. BitTorrent, for example, continues to double its visitor volume every six months.

Then again, maybe all of this is a short-term problem as we seem to be trending to “On Demand” everything. Watch what you want, when you want it, and where you want it.

Long term, I can only imagine that this will result in some sort of tiered pricing structure that blends commercial free programming (rent or own) at a set price and commercial-laced programming for free (prerolls, pop ups, and bars) with product placement becoming as apparent as the parody we once laughed at while watching the movie Wayne’s World.

It won’t just change media, but the advertising industry as well. Maybe our culture too.

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Wednesday, January 23

Improving Advertising: Nine Rules, Part 2


“Copy is a direct conversation with the consumer." — Shirley Polykoff

For all its benefits, social media communication sometimes misses. One of my favorite misses is the constant buzz of conversation and how it differs from traditional communication. It’s even one of the premises in Join The Conversation, recently reviewed by Valeria Maltoni.

Yet, despite never being engaged in social media, Shirley Polykoff felt the same way. She was a copywriter — the first woman copywriter for Foote Cone & Belding, and best known for her work on the Clairol account. Her work increased hair-coloring sales by 413 percent in six years and expanded the market from 7 percent to 50 percent of all women.

Most of Polykoff’s work was grounded in conversation, not all that dissimilar from the famous Volkswagen ad I reference last week after revisiting Fred Manley’s satirical “Nine Ways To Improve An Ad.” Once upon a time, almost all ad copy was a conversation or, at the very least, an invitation to have one.

Many advertising agencies have lost sight of this in the last decade, leaving some to become mired down in rules, committees, or exercises in attempting to “out clever” the other guy. Sure, that’s all fun and good, but communicators today might take more time to understand that social media, blog posts in particular, are sometimes similar to classic advertising, which was conversational.

If you don’t believe it, ask the man in the Hathaway shirt. Or consider the writer.

“If you're trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, and the language in which they think. We try to write in the vernacular." — David Ogilvy

Only a fraction of ads today seem to grasp what Polykoff, Ogilvy, and other greats really meant. So what happened? Well, I have some unsubstantiated theories, but those can wait for another day. Today, I’m sharing some real advertising rules, the companion piece to last week's post.

The Real Nine Rules Of Advertising

Rule 1: There are no rules. Most memorable ads in the last century broke some, if not all, conventional rules. Like Manley, Ed McCabe often said he had no use for them.

Rule 2: Most products are not unique. Finding the right value proposition or product/service contrast is more important than a clever ad touting the same selling point. Copying the other guy just doesn’t work.

Rule 3: Brands are important. Despite this new Advertising Age article, brands are important (image campaigns, maybe less so). Brands represent the relationship between the consumer and the product, person, or company.

Rule 4: Advertising messages are unimportant. Given that people are bombarded with thousands of messages every day, advertising tends to be unimportant, which is why every ad needs to be communicated effectively.

Rule 5: Clients are already convinced. Clients and their spouses almost always think they have a better product or service; whereas advertising is an exercise in convincing others. In other words, it’s not about you.

Rule 6: Many people lie. Sometimes they lie in surveys, polls, focus groups, and rating systems. There are many reasons, and sometimes, there is no reason. My favorites were early studies that suggested Perrier would never work. Pay more for water? Bah! See rule 7.

Rule 7: People are irrational. Sometimes we buy things for no reason at all. It is why checkout stands at the supermarket offer great product placement and probably why I’m convinced Comet is better than Ajax.

Rule 8: Clichés are boring. With very rare exceptions, people tend to tune out clichés. The only exception, and even then they might not work, is when drawing attention to the cliché or challenging it, without being “cute.”

Rule 9: There is always a better way. There are a few great ads, some good ads, and a boatload of bad ads being produced every day. But even the best ads can always be made better.

There are a few others, but these are nine favorites. Not one tells you what to put or not to put in a headline, despite how many people have told me to, um, never ask a question in a headline. Good thing they didn't tell Polykoff.

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Tuesday, January 22

Blogging For Kindness: Mental Stimulation


“The world, Rich, needs more togetherness,” she said. “More healing. And I feel Bloggers Unite brings people closer together.”

Simply stated, but inspired.

Dee Graham (a.k.a Iriegal) is one of those bloggers, like many I have met through BlogCatalog’s Bloggers Unite social awareness campaigns, who turns blogging stereotypes inside out and upside down. And maybe that’s because there is no “them.”

You see, Graham was diagnosed with cancer in 2003. But she seldom has time to allow this fact to shed a dour shadow on her life. Instead, she says, she chooses to live life rather than allowing her life to live her. It’s just one of many reasons that she opened a computer repair business last year.

“It was a big step, but I love what I do. I love the freedom of being in charge of my own destiny,” she says, and that includes blogging. “I can’t see myself not blogging. I love to write and I love the connection with people.”

In fact, blending these two passions is what has since led her to create not one, but five different blogs. A Fe Mi Page Dis Iyah to share her love of Jamaica. Time to Eat Mon to share a surprising variety of Jamaican drinks, dishes, and recipes. Postal Jokes to cover an endless assortment of postal humor that touches every corner of the globe. Dark Child where she explores news, politics, celebrities, and everyday life within the African American community. And Mental Stimulation, which she considers her personal blog and where her second place blog post appeared.

As part of the Bloggers Unite campaign, which this time asked bloggers from around the world to perform an act of kindness and share a post, picture, or video about it, Graham added on to her 10-year volunteer commitment at a local youth center and decided to visit the senior center.

“I know how lonely it can be during the holidays, especially for the seniors with no family in our community,” Graham said. “I started working with Gladys and she appreciated our time together so much that I decided to stay the week.”

For an entire week, Graham served meals and spent time with Gladys, a 72-year-old woman who sometimes lives at the neighboring senior living center and gets lonely now that her children are older and busy with their own lives. Most of the time, they played hearts or spades, but Graham made a small grocery shopping trip for her as well.

“She was really proud of her children. Her daughter is a nurse and her son is in the military,” Graham said. “Oh, she beat me, by the way.”

For her inspiring account of her service, which was accompanied by a photo taken by the receptionist at the senior center, Graham will receive a 1/2-page advertisement in Blogger & Podcaster magazine. However, Graham never intended to win.

“I’ve been a member of BlogCatalog since August and they’ve become a new family,” she says. “That is what I can truly say about BlogCatalog for me. Family. It is a part of my daily life. Much like doing things for people.”

You don’t have to do big things, she adds. Just small acts of kindness that help your community. But this is no surprise coming from a woman as persevering as Graham.

Her passion for writing grew out of using it to heal after a painful divorce almost five years ago. Her passion for people was made evident in October, when she wrote about her daughter for the first time. Her daughter has autism, which keeps them apart much longer than they would like.

“She is my heart,” say Graham. “It was the happiest time for me in a long time.”

Simply stated, but inspired. Or perhaps better stated, if I am using it correctly, “One Love” as they say in Jamaica.

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Monday, January 21

Remembering Greatness: Martin Luther King, Jr.



Every year, Americans observe Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday (Jan. 15, 1929) on the third Monday in January, sometimes leaving others from around the world to wonder why. The reason is simple enough.

“The Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday celebrates the life and legacy of a man who brought hope and healing to America. We commemorate as well the timeless values he taught us through his example — the values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service that so radiantly defined Dr. King’s character and empowered his leadership. On this holiday, we commemorate the universal, unconditional love, forgiveness and nonviolence that empowered his revolutionary spirit.

We commemorate Dr. King’s inspiring words, because his voice and his vision filled a great void in our nation, and answered our collective longing to become a country that truly lived by its noblest principles. Yet, Dr. King knew that it wasn’t enough just to talk the talk … that he had to walk the walk for his words to be credible. And so we commemorate on this holiday the man of action, who put his life on the line for freedom and justice every day, the man who braved threats and jail and beatings and who ultimately paid the highest price to make democracy a reality for all Americans.

The King Holiday honors the life and contributions of America’s greatest champion of racial justice and equality, the leader who not only dreamed of a color-blind society, but who also lead a movement that achieved historic reforms to help make it a reality.

On this day we commemorate Dr. King’s great dream of a vibrant, multiracial nation united in justice, peace and reconciliation; a nation that has a place at the table for children of every race and room at the inn for every needy child. We are called on this holiday, not merely to honor, but to celebrate the values of equality, tolerance and interracial sister and brotherhood he so compellingly expressed in his great dream for America.” — Coretta Scott King


Martin Luther King, Jr. represents someone who believed that all people could be great because all people can have a voice, can be heard, and can serve each other on the path of greatness. This idea, that we are all created equal with an equal opportunity for greatness, was part of his dream.

In addition to promoting his call to service in cooperation with the Volunteer Center of Southern Nevada, we will be placing a remembrance video on Revver and a copy on YouTube with the hope that some people will gain a deeper appreciation for his work.

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