Tuesday, March 18

Playing In The Road: State Needs PR Help


Sometimes elected officials are only as good as their advisors. One wonders what Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons’ advisors were thinking recently, allowing the governor to address the crisis surrounding the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, almost a full month late, without the most basic facts, and without any sense of empathy for those affected.

Instead, he came out against the media, criticizing them for their “buffoonery” in covering the health crisis caused by the Endoscopy Center and downplaying the roll of majority owner Dr. Dipak Desai, despite mounting public testimony that Desai and other doctors directed nurses to employ unsafe practices.

John L. Smith, columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, lists dozens of mistakes made by the governor today. Smith likens him to a clown, with a rubber nose and oversized bow tie. David McGrath Schwartz of the Las Vegas Sun called it a crisis response dance.

Papers across the state have published similar reviews, likening the stunt to playing in traffic. It hardly matters that the governor regretted his words the next day.

“My intention was to be sure that people were not fearful of seeking medical care because of the intense media coverage, it was a poor choice of words and I regret it,' Gibbons had said, referring to “buffoonery.”

He might regret them even more. After several members of the Nevada State Board of Medical Examiners revealed ties to the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada and recused themselves from any investigation, Gibbons called for their resignations as well as that of the board’s executive director. Some publicly stated today that they have no intention of stepping down. Maybe they sense the obvious.

But this post isn’t about the governor. It’s about communication.

If the intent of the communication was to instill confidence in a health care system under fire, the better message needed to be about 180 degrees different. What could it have been? Here is a five-minute solution, painfully better than the one delivered over the weekend.

• There is a health care crisis; empathy for those affected
• That any Nevadans (regardless how few) are affected is not acceptable or tolerable
• There are many excellent doctors doing their best to help statewide
• There is a cross-agency investigation being undertaken by the state
• A task force is making recommendations to ensure it does not happen again
• Board members with conflicts of interest might ask themselves if they can meet their obligations to the state
• But above all, if you or a loved one is affected, it is important for you and your family to be tested. It’s the right and responsible thing to do.

In addition, the state could have recognized several medical facilities that are offering educational seminars to help people who need to be tested. And, it could have urged Nevadans to give blood. Donations at United Blood Services’ five fixed sites have dropped 25 percent since the crisis began in early March.

That is the message the state needed. Instead, the wrong message had the opposite impact. It has further shaken the citizens’ confidence in the center, in the health care system, and in the state.

It didn’t have to be that way. Crisis communication 101 suggests that you never adopt someone else’s crisis as your own. Or, in other words, no brand is so invincible that it belongs playing in the road against oncoming traffic while cursing at delivery boys when they drive by. You know, they don't ride bicycles anymore. Someone might get hurt.
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Monday, March 17

Proving A Recession: Bear Stearns?


There are two kinds of people who have a higher propensity to get into car accidents. Those who never think they will and those who always think they will.

Bear Stearns was driving too fast for its own good, lending over 30 times the value of its $11 billion in equity. There was bound to be an accident. The question being asked now is how many other firms were driving just as fast as this global investment banking, securities trading, and brokerage firm, founded in 1923.

For those financial experts and media outlets that have been predicting a recession for more than two years, they say everybody. Maybe they are right. Some say it’s the accident that singles the market has already bottomed out.

Regardless, the severity of the Bear Stearns sell off cannot be underestimated. Had it not been for JPMorgan Chase and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York stepping in late Friday with a financial rescue package followed by an announcement that JP Morgan would acquire Bear Stearns, some say it would have shaken the foundation of global financial markets.

It also provides a hint at just how much of the economy is based on perception.
JPMorgan is paying about $2 a share for a company with a book value of $84 a share, despite trading for as little as $30 per share at the close on March 14. Bear Stearns shares fell $26.32, or 87.7 percent, to $3.68 today.

Last month, after a Reuters reporter asked Bernard Connolly, global strategist at Banque AIG in London, to hypothesize what the U.S. could do to stave off a “depression” as great as 1930s. Some people speculated that he was predicting another Great Depression because that’s how the story read. I didn’t see it that way.

However, I did start to wonder. How much influence does media and social media have in creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, eg. if you yell fire in a room, people tend to react as if there is a fire, even when there is not a fire.

So I asked the question online and off: To what degree is media/new media/communication influencing consumer confidence and possibly contributing to a recession?

Most answers point in same direction. While the importance of consumer confidence varies from modest to extreme, it seems mainstream media may have less, not more, influence on the public. Perhaps that’s why two opposite answers both ring true at first blush.

“The influence of the self-fulfilling prophecy is all-powerful, and is one of the most insidious dangers that we face as a media-driven society,” offered Richard Telofski, president of The Kahuna Content Company, Inc., who recently wrote about the importance of consumer trust during a recession.

“A recession is a fundamentally economic event, fueled by a number of factors each with a different weight,” offered Nevada State Senator Bob Beers. “Communications rapidity is one, but not a major one. Or, in other words, a recession happens regardless of the amount of attention it gets.”

In truth, most discrepancies between media perception and economic reality are tied to definitions. Newspapers tend to define a recession as a decline in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for two or more consecutive quarters; whereas the National Bureau of Economic Research tends to define it as the time when business activity has peaked and begins to fall until it bottoms out.

The difference is enormous, which is why it always appears as if the media calls for a recession long before most economists, and most economists seem to call it after the fact. But does it even matter?

Yes and no. This time around, it seems obvious that the housing/mortgage market was a major catalyst for an economic slowdown, especially in cities where the new housing market plays a significant economic role. However, media coverage in some markets may have deepened the troubled.

For example, as a resident of one of the worst housing markets in the country, with prices falling about 15 percent over the last 13 months, it’s easy enough to see some correlation. The reporting may have contributed to the speed that investment homes were quickly put up for sale, adding even more inventory to already overly-saturated market with a high disposition for non-performing subprime mortgages and overbuilt new home market. It was clearly not the cause, but added fuel to the fire, much like the sell off of Bear Stearns stock.

Equally interesting from the answers I received was the suggestion that media has a predisposition for negative news whereas social media would be more inclined to report a truthful personal impact. Even if that were true, one wonders how much opinion can be trusted and by whom. Ask different people and you’ll always get different answers.

According to the results of a Harris Interactive poll, consumer confidence seemed resistant to media predictions despite the crisis, depending on age, region, and household income.

• People in the South are more optimistic (35%) while those in the East are least optimistic (24%).
• People with a household income of more than $75k are more optimistic (46%) than those earning than $35k (34%).
• People ages 18-43 (46-50%) are more optimistic than those 44+ (38%).

These numbers do not overwhelming point to optimism on any level, but it’s interesting how different demographics respond to the same question. In addition, it seems more likely people will be able to find what they are looking for: there are ample experts who advise on opposite ends of the spectrum.

For most companies, however, it makes little sense to launch preemptive scaling, wait it out, or hedge guesses against the growth. Those actions can create self-fulfilling prophecies when the fundamentally economic events occur, not unlike an accident.

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Friday, March 14

Proving Practically: 20 PR Students See The Light


Sometimes practical experience is the best teacher. So for 15 minutes last night, practical experience served as the guide in my last class this session.

Students in my Writing for Public Relations class were asked to walk 15 minutes in the shoes of a starting journalist. It only took two before their feet were sore and some eyes glazed over.

They were given seven real news releases and asked to convert them into three 1-paragraph news briefs. (Ideally, I like to provide 10 releases and ask them to write four briefs in 20 minutes, but I wanted to shave some time.)

Within a few seconds, the room filled with the sounds of a newsroom, fingers pounding keyboards. And then ten minutes in I tossed in an interruption.

”Ring, ring. Hi, I’m a PR guy. Do you want to hear about my news?”

No answer.

“Nobody wants to talk to me? How rude. I have some real good news.”

“I will if your news is better than some of these releases,” one student laughed.

“Oh, okay,” I said. “I’m having a press conference tomorrow.”

“What’s it about?”

“We’re going to pop a balloon,” I said, a reference to Bruce Spotleson, group publisher for Greespun Media, who used balloon popping as an example of what press conferences are starting to become — sales events about nothing.

“I’d hang up,” someone else offered.

“Why? Do you have something against balloons? I thought journalists loved pitches. What am I going to tell my client?”

“We’re on a deadline,” another offered.

“Wow, you sound just like those grumpy journalists,” I mused. “Okay, you have three minutes to wrap up.”

No one could believe how quickly the time whizzed by. And no one was really finished or satisfied with the releases. Their assessment of news releases suddenly wasn’t far off from my own: it would be nice if the releases contained news, had hard facts in the first paragraph, adhered to Associated Press Style rules, minimized typos (including company names), didn’t make them feel like they had to call to fact check everything, and didn’t come over in 6-point type (as one did) in order to conform to some silly “one page” rule.

None of them wanted to do to someone else what I did to them — make their job harder under the pressure of a deadline. Sure, it’s not exactly like real life, but it is close enough to make a memorable point. Newspaper staff is shrinking and well-written releases with news sometimes help fill the gaps. Well, hopefully not that much.

”Hmmm… I wonder if social media releases will make it easier?"

While some have high hopes that IABC can create real “standards," I had mixed feelings when I read the announcement from IABC that said they will take the lead (even though I am an active member).

On one hand, it may help speed along the adoption rate — now, two years and counting — of a worthwhile communication tool. On the other, one wonders if it is really appropriate to step in after two years and proclaim a leadership role. I also hope, no matter what they do, they’ll put it to the end-user test like I did with news releases in class — ensuring journalists and others have the option to follow up, but don’t always have to follow up.

Even more importantly, I wonder if most SMRs will really help journalists, bloggers, and stakeholders? Or will they become cool looking marketing sales sheets, written by the same folks who still haven't mastered the news release?

I also wonder what needs to be done. Did they see this, which Geoff Livingston pointed to last year (it's good, despite some marketing heavy copy)? Or this, which I pointed to a few months before that? I hope so. It might dramatically shorten the development cycle.

Rest assured though, one day I’ll probably pass out 10 social media releases to a class and ask them to walk in the shoes of someone else. Something tells me they will still get sore feet, regardless.

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Thursday, March 13

Making Everyone Famous: YouTube On TiVo

Innovation doesn’t wait. It happens.

As major networks consider how they are going to bridge the content gap between broadcast and the Internet, the Internet is coming to some televisions.

TiVo Inc., largely responsible for the creation and popularization of digital video recorders (DVRs), will be adding direct access to YouTube videos via TiVo later this year. TiVo users will be able to search, browse, and watch videos on their television sets through their broadband connected TiVo DVRs.

“TiVo’s strategy is to bridge the gap between Web video and television and make as much content available as possible for our subscribers,” Tara Maitra, vice president and general manager for content services for TiVo, told The New York Times.

While this only represents single step toward convergence, there are some significant long-term outcomes.

• Marketers who are already establishing a YouTube presence can direct prospects to clips on TiVo television, increasing the pressure on networks to retain engaged fans.
• Amateur content creators will be able to expand their reach into a distribution platform that was once reserved for cable and broadcast channels. Well-produced content could find product placement and sponsors.
• A major overhaul of the rating system needs to keep up with changes as YouTube content creators could feasibly demonstrate better analytics against Nielsen reliance.
• Producers of network-cancelled shows may have an opportunity to consider going it alone if they believe strongly enough in their fan bases.

The move completely bypasses the concept of embedded advertising needed by networks. The move is bold, but there will be a need to step up consumer accessibility. There are 4 million TiVo owners nationwide; only 800,000 have the necessary broadband connection.

From TiVo’s perspective, it’s a smart move to stay viable as more cable distributors are offering DVR boxes as part of their services. TiVo’s other competitor in this space is Apple TV. However, there is more than one way to access television shows and movies from Apple iTunes and place it on the big screen. This cable will do it too.

There isn’t much room to argue the direction of television. If YouTube can find its way onto television screens, then why not Hulu.com? Why not? That small step — and the ability to download Hulu content to other devices along with a better full screen picture quality — is all that is missing. Hmmm. Looks like convergence isn’t happening. It’s happened. All that’s left are the details.

It will happen. That’s how innovation works.

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Wednesday, March 12

Exploring Rank: EntreCard’s Impact On Alexa


My wife owns a fake Rolex. She bought it for $20 in Mexico. It’s good enough that it even has a screw-backed case and automatic second hand. Yep, just like the real thing.

Some people are impressed that she owns a Rolex, never knowing it isn’t real until she laughs and tells them. Last time it needed a battery, the jeweler even had to take a second look. He said most people would never know; it was the best “Folex” he had seen.

Alexa ranking is a little like that. People use it for all sorts of algorithms and bragging rights. But the thing is, Alexa rank, which they say measures popularity and traffic on the Internet, is becoming much more like a “Folex” than the real thing. For me, it took an EntreCard experiment to see what others have said for years.

EntreCard Reveals Some Alexa Weaknesses

A few weeks ago, I placed an EntreCard ad banner, which is basically a blogger ad sharing network, on our Back Lot blog. The Back Lot blog is an experimental storefront blog that mostly helps non-profit organizations.

The reason was simple enough. From time to time, I add widgets and other online tools to the Back Lot blog in order to gain a better understanding about how they work, especially to see if they might work for some some social media clients. Sometimes I add these widgets here too. Sometimes I do not.

What struck me after a few weeks was not only the impact of EntreCard on the blog, but impact of EntreCard on Alexa. With EntreCard, the Back Lot blog eclipsed Copywrite, Ink. blog in terms of Alexa ranking. Specifically, it looks like the Back Lot blog receives almost three times the amount of traffic.

However, I also know from multiple analytic programs that this is not the case. This blog averages about 300-500 visitors every day as opposed to Back Lot, which averages about 30-40 visitors every day. So what’s the difference?

• There is high percentage of Alexa tool bar users on EntreCard.
• Many Alexa tool bar users who read this blog subscribe to the feed.

The net result is that this blog looks like it is losing traffic despite gaining traffic whereas the other blog is maintaining but looks like it is increasing. So yesterday, I thought I would add EntreCard to this blog and see what happens. I'll report on it in a few weeks.

Of course, all this is not to say Alexa is bad; it has its place in the world and some people are really good about putting it to work for them. There plenty of people who have even written up twenty or so tips.

Some of those tips work. Some of them aren’t really related to Alexa at all, but they might help gin up traffic anyway — that is, if you are looking for traffic. Not everyone places traffic high on the priority list. Some folks, like me, measure other outcomes.

Sometimes Alexa Comparisons Work, Sometimes They Don’t

What really strikes me about all this is that I could make a lightly visited blog appear to have more traffic than a respectfully visited blog with 10-20 times more readers. Even more amazing to me is that some people know this, but still count Alexa as a measure of their success in between transparency posts, including comparisons to show how their blogs are gaining ground on other people.

Please don’t get me wrong. Alexa can be useful for some measures, just not in the way some people use it, including multi-rank measures. Likewise, I’m not saying anyone who boasts about their Alexa rank is questionable. Rather, I liken it to wearing a fake Rolex. But unlike my wife, they never tell anyone.

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Tuesday, March 11

Coming Soon: Broadcast-Broadband Convergence


While some people still look to the rating system, others already see the future: one in four Internet users have watched a full-length show online in the last three months. These aren’t just young people: 39 percent were ages 18-34 and 25 percent were 35-54.

Some people are surprised by these numbers, which are growing exponentially. All I can wonder is where have these ‘surprised’ folks been? There are reams of data that demonstrate everybody is online, with only those in the 65+ age group dropping off. Even then, half of those ages 65+ are online too.

What that means is a show like The Office on NBC last September drew a broadcast audience of 9.7 million, but also streamed 2.7 million views on the Web. Twelve million viewers is enough to break into the top 20 shows.

What that might mean for Jericho on CBS is third season survival.

Jericho fans are not taking any chances. They’ve already launched a preemptive campaign to save Jericho again. This campaign started shortly after CBS released numbers that confirm the show plays impressively online: adding 1.5 million views on some episodes, according to CBS Interactive Research. This does not count all other data like DirectTV, iTunes, etc. And, those numbers are still growing.

In fact, it is these kinds of numbers that are prompting networks to turn toward new media rather than away from it. Television and the Internet are closer than ever to total convergence.

“Oh come on, Rich, you don’t really believe that, do you?”

Yes, I do. You see, NBC Universal and Fox would not be testing their joint venture, Hulu.com, if it wasn’t true. Hulu opens to the public tomorrow with many live shows and limited commercial interruptions.

CBS did the same thing with vintage programming like Star Trek online. Except in this case, the network has been doing an especially good job with its presentation while retaining its brand advantage by not spinning off its programming to another site. That’s smart. Very smart.

Even better, convergence seems to have created solutions for its own monetization challenges. Smarter networks are seeing the natural development of a tiered system: You can pay for commercial-free programs via iTunes or watch the ad-embedded programs on a browser. It’s a win-win-win for everyone.

Equally important, there seems to be no shortage of advertisers willing to buy time on live streaming video — an idea that naysayers said would never happen six months ago. Yet, there it is in living color: a show developed in 1966 has suddenly discovered renewed advertising revenue.

“We would love to have more inventory,” Patrick Keane, chief marketing officer at CBS Interactive, told reporters last week. “The advertisers are raring to go.”

Perhaps there is some irony that the success of the original Star Trek is largely based on the same reason Jericho scored its truncated second season: fans that were not on the Nielsen radar. So it seems, once again, that we might be asking the same question.

Is the future of the television based solely on less than 2 percent of the viewing public? Or is there a better way?

“Forty years ago, new technology changed what people watched on TV as it migrated to color,” Seth MacFarlane, creator of another fan-saved show, Family Guy, told The New York Times. “Now new technology is changing where people watch TV, literally omitting the actual television set.”

With a better budget that takes the cast and new characters of Jericho: Season 3 to different locations across their alternate universe, the show could potentially grow into another dedicated fan franchise success story. But that all depends on CBS. It can play the numbers two ways and come up with different answers.

While I cannot speak for CBS, I know what my answer would be. Do what Star Trek did. Go boldly.

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Monday, March 10

Pitching Fits: Why News Releases Might Die

If the news release is dying, it’s because public relations is killing it.

The vast majority of news releases being sent out today are nothing more than mass blast marketing-laced one sheets that attempt to decorate non-news as news, much in the same way someone might put silly hats and rubber noses on grumpy salespeople and call them the life of the party. It doesn’t really work. If anything, silly hats and rubber noses might just make them grumpier.

At least that seems to be the underlying consensus of reporters, journalists, editors, and even public relations professionals who are discouraged by the growing spam factor associated with public relations today. After speaking with dozens of professionals online and off, it all points to one thing — it doesn’t matter what they are — releases, pitch calls, e-mail teasers, blast faxes, etc. — there is no silver bullet, except one.

News that can be easily identified in the first sentence.

If you have real news, it hardly matters how you send it — by fax, e-mail, carrier pigeon, or on a roll of toilet paper. Why? Because, um, it’s news. Unfortunately, most companies do not release news at all. They tell their public relations firm to send out sales information, and the public relations firm sends it out. Once upon a time, a lead sentence sold the story. Now, the lead sentence sells nothing.

Here’s a sampling of lead lines bouncing around out there today:

Lead: “Ask police officers why they chose law enforcement as a profession, and very few would likely say they got into it for all the paperwork.”

Translated: “We have a new product and we hope all law enforcement will buy it.”

Lead: “Cruise West, a leading innovator of small-ship itineraries, has unveiled a new California Wine Country Spa Package to be paired with its California cruises for 2008.”

Translated: “We want to leverage journalists for advertorial space.”

Lead: “K-Swiss has announced the opening of its first US retail endeavor, which will take form as a branded "Pop-Up" store.”

Translated: “If you’ve never heard of a “Pop-Up” store, it must be news, maybe.” (I'm still stuck on opening an endeavor.)

Maybe it's not “news releases.” Maybe it's the people writing them.

It just might be. And that's not the worst of it. Ever since I asked how public relations gets the word out, I've been hearing some pretty tall tales.

I’ve been told public relations is anything and everything from leveraging relationships with reporters to having a super huge data base (and that it is a function of marketing). I’ve been told to never send releases and always send releases. I’ve been told that pitches work best by phone, by e-mail, and, my personal favorite, by casually dropping by the reporter’s desk after purchasing an advertisement.

Egad! Has the profession gone batty? What do these people do?

The seven deadly sins of the modern public relations professional as told to me by public relations professionals.

Lust — Relationship Pandering If you’re leveraging relationships with journalists to pick up more accounts or trying to convince reporters to run non-news like it is news, then it's not a relationship. It’s manipulation.

Greed — Client leveraging. If you’re leveraging one big client brand in order to secure smaller clients and then dovetail small client non-news onto big client real news, that’s not public relations. It’s greed, paid for by your big client.

Gluttony — Pitching Stories. Spam is not the answer. Journalists are directing people to pitch stories to whatever communication stream seems less inundated. But mostly, journalists just want news that focuses on what they write about. If you don’t know what they write about, then don’t spam them.

Sloth — Traditional Releases. Journalists are starting to prefer pitches over releases, but only because it’s easier to read two butchered sentences than several butchered paragraphs. Skip the fluff, stick to the facts, and if you're not willing to find news about your client or write something worth reading, then don’t write anything.

Wrath — Social Media Releases. They have their place, but they are not the end all to “modern” public relations. Using them as some sort of revenge mechanism against mainstream media for not running all the non-news stories is inappropriate. The simple truth is that most social media releases are truncated traditional releases with links and even more marketing puff.

Pride — Renaming Games. Everyone is renaming everything for the sake of sounding intelligent and it needs to stop. Seriously, just stop it. Renaming social media is out of control — social computing, new media, digital media, social networking, life streaming, buzz marketing, viral marketing, virtual branding, alternative media, Internet marketing, etc. — especially if the reason is to one up everyone with a new definition. Nobody cares who coined the term.

Envy — Insatiable Illusions. If you are promising clients that a certain amount of releases will run every month, that column inches or hits mean anything, that news embargoes work long term, that mix and matching headlines can turn entertainment news into business news and vice versa, or that your client putting his pants on one leg at a time deserves a press conference because their competitor got lucky last week, you are no longer in public relations. You’re a trickster selling envy.

What happened to performing work instead of working the performance?

First and foremost, none of this seems related to public relations as much as media relations. Second, media relations, much like public relations, does not fit in tidy little boxes with check lists, no matter what accidental successes imply. Third, like most communication, simple is better than complex.

Find some real news within a company (it’s not always obvious) and communicate that news to journalists who would have a real interest. Let them know by whatever means they prefer: phone, e-mail, release, toilet paper, whatever. You may want to write a factual well-written release in case they need a backgrounder (which you can also distribute via the wire or on a Web site). If you want to claim it’s a social media release with links, etc., oh boy, knock yourself out.

Do this a few times without wasting anyone’s time and you will likely develop some great relationships with the media built around trust and mutual respect. All that, without name-dropping who you had lunch with.

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Friday, March 7

Playing The Numbers: Endoscopy Center Forgets People


Since the beginning, the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, which is responsible for the largest hepatitis C scare in the history of the country, has communicated a message much like it ran its practice — by the numbers.

Its message is clear. The risk is minimal to 40,000 patients who must be tested for hepatitis C as well as hepatitis B and HIV. Only six patients have been proven to be diagnosed with acute hepatitis C. Except… Except…

We’re not really talking about numbers. We’re talking about people.

Numbers don’t tell stories; people do.

My longtime friend and colleague Keith Sheldon, for example, is not a number. He’s a person. He’s also one of the many who never learned he needed to be tested because of a letter. He learned, like thousands of other patients, through the media.

“I was sitting in bed with my wife reading the Saturday paper,” Sheldon said. “At first, I didn’t think the crisis applied to me.”

It wasn’t until his wife started crying that his initial reaction, things like this happen to other people, didn’t apply. Sheldon was not only at risk, but had unknowingly put his wife at risk. And learning the center was notifying patients by letter and setting up a foundation was little consolation.

“As soon as I learned my health was at risk, I immediately made an appointment with my doctor,” he said. “He saw me the same morning … when it comes to your health, you don’t wait for red tape.”

It didn’t matter to Sheldon that he had to pay out of pocket for the test, despite promises that the center had already made arrangements with various health insurance providers. He needed answers … answers that still haven’t arrived. Because of the number of people being tested, most results will not be made readily available for seven to 10 days, which is next Monday or Tuesday at best.

“I hold the clinic’s management responsible for this disaster,” Sheldon said. “Specifically those individuals who had the day-to-day responsibility and oversight for how business was conducted.”

Recently, one doctor, who was employed at the center and asked the Las Vegas Review-Journal for anonymity because he fears "retaliation" from Dr. Desai (majority owner of the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada), said he left the clinic in 2000 — which places the start of the unsafe practices back to more than a decade — because he "was so depressed." He was reprimanded several times, the article says, because he was allegedly pressured to perform unnecessary biopsies, coupled with fabricated lengthy patient examinations, that could add more than $300 to a bill.

"It was so unethical," he said. "I couldn't live with myself."

As more stories surface, it seems to be that the entire practice was built on the concept of placing profits before people. By the account, it was always about playing the numbers: Reusing a single dose vial or the same syringe here and an extra biopsy there, well, it could help the clinic pay the bills.

Sheldon, who also teaches public relations and assists companies in crisis communication situations, is also mortified by the lack of empathy or apology by the center. From a business, ethical, and public relations perspective, the clinic is doing a dismal job of handling this crisis, he said.

“Rather than waste thousands of dollars on a poorly written, ill-conceived and
disingenuous full-page ad in the Review-Journal, the Endoscopy Center should have offered to pay for people to have their blood tested immediately,” he said. “ You just cannot put profit over people.”

When asked how the clinic might have responded, Sheldon offered…

“We demonstrated dismal judgment. We lost track of our mission of taking care of our patients to the best of our ability. We put profits over patients. For these transgressions, we are sorry. We pledge to make full restitution to the degree determined by the courts.”

I wholeheartedly agree. Anytime a company has surrendered all measure of professional efforts, there is nothing left to be done other than offer full disclosure, pledge full restitution, and permanently resign from the medical profession. These are not numbers; they are people — 40,000 people who are slowly learning through the media that they and their families — wives, husbands, sons, daughters — are at risk, one person at a time.

And, worse, it seems more and more clear every day that the numbers like six people infected and 40,000 at minimal risk, are designed to diminish the impact of real people, are growing every day. Dr. Desai ran six number-crunching clinics in southern Nevada. And, it has already become clear that the first clinic only offered a truncated list with 40,000 patients. Many more patients need testing.

For all of them, restitution seems obvious.

• Direct and full compensation for all testing without any fees being passed on to insurance companies.
• Free counseling for patients who are having challenges coping with the situation.
• Compensation for the pain, suffering, and anguish caused to the thousands of people put in harm’s way.
• The maximum amount paid out in medical malpractice to anyone who has to endure a shortened lifespan and risk of infecting loved ones as well as compensation to their families.
• The pledge that none of the management team will ever work in the medical profession again.

These are the only numbers we’re interested in reading about. As for the rest, it’s all about people. People you know and people who may never know if they are infected.

When handling a crisis, always put people first.

Sheldon offers up some hard but true advice for companies that abuse public or employee trust: “Would you have treated members of your family like this?”

The answer, more than likely, would be no. But we can only assume that. Other than the one-page advertisement that claimed patients should still have trust in the clinic, Dr. Desai isn’t talking.

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Thursday, March 6

Dangling Cookies: Alaska Airlines & Everybody


According to The New York Times, Alaska Airlines is introducing a system on the Internet to create unique advertisements for people as they surf the Web. Called retargeting by the industry, the ads will consider combined data (demographics and psychographics) from several sources to adjust the ads and ticket offers. The trade off, as always, is online privacy.

“I come from the direct marketing world,” Judy Gern, the chief executive of DesignBlox told the New York Times, referring to ads that are mailed to consumers’ homes. “And consumers should really worry about what direct marketers know, not what online marketers know.”

What Direct Mail Has Always Known.

Gern has a point. When as much as half of my time was dedicated to writing direct mail years ago, some companies would provide pretty pointed data about the people we were writing to — from the cars they drove to the magazines they read to where they preferred to take their summer vacations. With direct mail, it was not all that uncommon to present a second and third offer, increasing the opportunities for those who did not respond to the first, much like retargeting ads hope to do.

Generally, all the information was complied by magazine publishers, past direct marketing campaigns, and other survey mechanisms, with participants agreeing to answer questions upon request or for an incentive. What tends to spook people about Internet data collection is that it is comprehensive, constant, and not always clear who sees the information (or what threat that information might pose).

Privacy For Perks Is Today’s Bargaining Chip.

But marketers and network developers have noticed something else. As Marston Gould, director of customer relationship management and online marketing for Alaska Airlines, alluded to in the article: When people know that they might see an advertisement promising a $200 ticket to Hawaii, the priority for privacy quickly drops. And it takes much less than an offer that good.

In fact, for every story about consumer groups considering online privacy, there are an equal number of stories about consumers who are ready to make the trade.

What seems to be is that as long as a marketer provides a clearly defined opt-in and opt-out feature (which is where Facebook faltered on the front end), people are ready to share anything and everything about themselves. Many of them already do. The basic concept behind many personal blogs, vlogs, and even network programming like Big Brother is sharing everything with everybody.

In fact, tomorrow's consumers who are teens today, do not hesitate to share information about themselves. According to PEW/Internet study last year, they are surprisingly open.

• 82 percent of teens already use their real first names online
• 79 percent include a real photo of themselves online
• 55 percent of teens already have profiles online
• 66 percent of these profiles are limited to “online” friends
• 49 percent of them use online networks to make new friends
• 46 percent say some of their profile information is false

Teens are not alone. Their parents are happy to share information too. Most need a tiny incentive. I learned this last year after questioning tying GPS tracking to advertisements. Several people said GPS advertising went to far, until they learned it could help them find a little black dress, on sale, in their size.

Data Accuracy Remains A Question Mark.

While sometimes I consider some of the advances in consumer profiling a bit spooky, it does seem to me we are trending toward total transparency, with relatively few question marks as a marketer ...

• The randomness of “discovery” Web surfing, popularized by networks like StumbleUpon and Digg.
• The potential for savvy Web techs to game any retargeting ad structure, driving offers down so they might land the $200 Hawaii price.
• The fact that people sometimes lie on surveys and contest entry forms.

”I usually check the first box on every question because it saves me time,” one contest entrant told me. “Otherwise, entering them would take forever.”

In fact, even when consumers tell the truth, it doesn’t always mean much. One visit to a “recommended for you” list on Amazon or iTunes might demonstrate how close or, er, far away online profiling really is. And, since that is the case, one might wonder the trading privacy for perks is really as effective as we pretend it might be.

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Wednesday, March 5

Adding Data Portability: BlogCatalog


Just days after beating MyBlogLog out of the gate with its Social Dashboard feature, BlogCatalog has moved forward to launch SocialStream, an RSS feed enabled widget that makes “lifestreaming” data portable. The widget makes it possible for BlogCatalog members to share their activity on BlogCatalog and 12 other social networks anywhere they want.

“Any network we add to our Dashboard feature can be added to the SocialStream widget,” says Antony Berkman, president of BlogCatalog.com. “It’s the next step toward putting people in more control of their data.”

Data portability is considered by many to be the next step in the evolution of social networks. While social networks have largely succeeded in helping bring people together based upon shared interests, each requires additional time to manage and update. Jimmy Guterman, editorial director of O’Reilly’s Radar Group, recently made note of this in his Social Graph Foo Report.

“So much about social networks and the next generation has been enveloped in hype … that overpromising in the short term on the data portability front could have severe public relations ramifications,” he wrote. “Data portability has to be real, not merely allowing someone to access information from social network B while inside social network A.”

The BlogCatalog widget is a step in true data portability because it takes a concept some people, like me, have been experimenting with on platforms like Tumblr and allowing bloggers to customize the content of the widget and place it virtually anywhere they want —on a Web site, blog, or even another social network that allows the addition of widgets.

Practicalities In Portable Data.

One of the tangible benefits of a social network RSS feed is that activities across social networks can now add content value to the blog. With the widget, bloggers can share discussions on other social networks; their readers can also subscribe to the widget.

At the same time, it answers some of the questions being asked by people like Lewis Green, who recently noted how much time he invests in social networks rather then his or other blogs, and David Recordon, who recently wrote about the growing challenge of social network fatigue.

By installing the widget, assuming you want to share some or all of your social network activities, people who read your blog receive updates from Amazon Wishlists, BlogCatalog, Delicious, Digg, Facebook, Flickr, Last.fm, Multiply, MySpace, Sphinn, StumbleUpon, Twitter, and YouTube.

Berkman says they will continue to add more social networks. Originally, the BlogCatalog Dashboard started with connections to nine social networks. It now includes 12. Berkman said what is most exciting for him and his development team is to assist bloggers in helping their material become viral.

“It will help friends and blog readers find out if you Digg an article so they can Digg it too,” says Berkman. “This makes it easier to navigate the Web and increases the likelihood that something will go viral because it appears wherever people share their widget.”

The widget also solves a challenge for bloggers with multiple blogs. Many of them would invest hours of time writing about their social activities on several blogs. The widget can be installed on all of their blogs, which would allow them to write a post on one blog, include the link on a social network like Twitter, and then seed their post across all of their blogs via the widget.

What’s next? It’s hard to say. Speed to market has never been an issue for a fast-moving social network like BlogCatalog. To give just one small example: Despite working with BlogCatalog as a communication consultant, I found out the BlogCatalog team was launching the SocialStream widget just a few hours prior to the announcement.

It didn’t even have a name when I received the call. That is an amazing contrast to something that many companies would have discussed for months. Fortunately, several years of political experience has made rapid response a second nature skill set. Only political campaign teams move as fast.

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Tuesday, March 4

Repeating Milgram: Endoscopy Staff Behavior


In 1963, Stanley Milgram gave the world a glimpse into obedience by publishing the results of his experiment in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. I learned about the study in college.

The experiment, conducted at Yale University, tested how much pain one participant would inflict on another, provided the participant inflicting the pain would relinquish responsibility to the person they perceived as an authority.

Although the experiment was staged (the person enduring the pain was a actor) and no one was injured, Milgram found that 65 percent of participants would administer an electric shock of what they believed to be 450 volts. Even more surprising, not one participant refused to administer shocks before the 300-volt level, despite several switches clearly marked “danger: severe shock” and the actor complaining of chest pain, banging on the wall, or dropping silent.

With light to moderate prodding, an authority figure in the experiment was able to convince the participant to deliver electric shocks. Some would protest, but continue to “shock” the actor nevertheless.

Understanding Obedient Staff Behavior.

Understanding Milgram’s experiment was followed by strip search prank call several years ago. It was not an experiment. It involved a caller claiming to be the police and instructing fast food managers to strip search employees. In more than 70 reported cases, managers surrendered personal responsibility to an authority figure, becoming like a puppet, and demanded employees remove their clothes.

By comparison, the notion that staff at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada would blindly follow the instruction of administrators to reuse vials of single-dose medicine would likely take less surrendering of responsibility to a higher authority, especially one who had served on the board of the Nevada Board of Medical Examiners.

Why? Proximity to the authority figure. Perceived level of authority. Assurances of a minimal risk. Other nurses already practicing the procedure. And on. And on.

It the only answer for people still wonder why they didn’t stop the practice at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada. Objectivity was sacrificed in favor of perceived acceptance. As one CDC officer reported it: the center’s practices to be so obviously dangerous that it was like “driving the wrong way down the freeway.”

I feel the same way about the center's crisis communication plan. It's like watching a horror show of a horror show, where you watch the next victim stumble up stairs with a flashlight.

The latest update: The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and county prosecutors opened a preliminary criminal investigation. These investigations join inquiries by the FBI and the Nevada attorney general’s office.

Add to all this news an endless stream of sources being tapped by the media, including a very telling and almost incoherent interview with the center’s recently hired third-party crisis expert. Somebody forgot to tell her she wasn't a spokesperson.

Employees Need To Learn To Say No.

Comedian George Carlin includes it in his bit. He says people are too fat and happy to question authority. He's right. It happens all the time.

Even on social networks, it's obvious people blindly follow perceived authority figures, sometimes even participating in a “pile ons” just to be accepted. There is no concern for facts. Most online diatribe can be traced back to obedience and acceptance. It happens everywhere in places all over the world, places just like the Endoscopy Center.

There is only one lesson, and more employees could learn it:

• Th nurses could have complained to the administration that the practices were unsafe, refused to perform them, and demanded correction.
• Upon administrative insistence, the nurses could have told the center to correct its practices or report the incident to county health officials.
• Upon insistence or further inaction, the nurses could have resigned and immediately reported the infractions to county health officials.

Three simple steps could have protected thousands of people from being at risk of hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV. Unfortunately, no one was up to the task. In all the world, only a mere 10-25 percent of people would have been willing to step up to the plate, depending on the country where they were raised.

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Monday, March 3

Skirting Apologies: Endoscopy Center Not So Sorry

On Friday, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the city of Las Vegas shut down the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada. After waiting until six patients had completed treatment, all employees were asked to leave the building and the doors were locked.

As mentioned last week, the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada was using single dose vials of medication, some of which had become infected with hepatitis C, a potentially fatal blood-borne virus, more than once. Hepatitis C is not the only potential infection that could have been spread; some fear hepatitis B and HIV could have also infected patients, some as far back as 2004 or earlier.

In what appears to be an effort to "control communication," the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, which has declined to comment to any media outlet, did not seem short on words this Sunday. They ran a full-page advertisement in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The advertisement, designed to mimic an "open letter to the public" with the headline “Open Letter to Our Patients and the People of Southern Nevada,” smacks as a near-exact carbon copy of an ill-advised communication disaster attempted by Jack in the Box several years ago. Somebody must have missed that case study. It did not work then. It will not work today.

Dr. Dipak Desai offers sympathy but no apology.

“Recent events at the Endoscopy Center of Nevada of Southern Nevada are causing great concern to our patients and the community at large.”

This opening line says it all. It is so obviously written to mask where the responsibility might reside. This was not an accident. The responsibility lands squarely on the medical director and presumed "letter writer" of the advertisement.

In fact, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal story referenced above, clinic staff has already told health investigators that they knew this technique fell well below accepted medical practices and was dangerous. However, they say they were ordered by administrators to engage in the practice anyway. So they did. The ad continues…

”First, I want to express my deepest sympathy to all our patients and their families for the fear and uncertainly that naturally arises from this situation. The trust we have spent for years building in this community has been challenged by the discovery that some of our patients may have been exposed to blood-borne diseases at our facility. In cooperation with the Southern Nevada Health District and other health agencies and officials, we have carefully reviewed our procedures and implemented the changes they recommended.”

Despite the near admission in the third sentence, there is no direct admission (despite mounting testimony) or any apology whatsoever. Clearly, the aim is an ill-advised attempt to position the crisis as an accident while once again attempting to leverage "trust" that patients placed in the clinic while they were "unknowingly" placed at risk by what seems to be a very "knowing" staff. The ad continues…

“We are also working with third party payers to be sure all our patients who need to be tested are, and that the costs are completely covered.

For those who are uninsured, a foundation is being set up to cover the cost associated with their tests. You will learn more about this in the days to come.”


It amazes me that any company or organization would attempt to promote the argument of denial, despite the fact that the clinic is already proven responsible for the infection of several patients. In addition, the attempt to portray itself as a good public citizen by setting up a foundation reminds me of post-crisis measures employed by Jack In The Box, which they only implemented after sustaining a loss of $20 to $30 million.

The ad continues with another paragraph, first thanking the health district for bringing the problem to the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada’s attention and continued clarification that the clinic did not spread the disease to patients one way as has been reported, but another erroneous way all together. As if that matters. The ad closes…

"At the same time and without making excuses, I think it’s important for the public to know that the chances of contracting an infection at our center from 2004 though June 2007 were extremely low. Of the six cases reported, it appears one exposure took place in July 2007 and five on Sept. 21, 2007. Regardless, if you were a patient at our facility, I encourage you to get tested.

Thank you for allowing me to share these thoughts with you.”


The six cases mentioned were those that prompted health officials to conduct an investigation, and not the results of 40,000 tested. Worse, this closure attempts to use the number of confirmed infections as a tool toward exoneration, as if six patients who have been confirmed infected are less significant when compared to the 40,000 that have yet to be tested.

What it also neglects to mention is that health officials are also concerned, however, that even more patients could have been infected prior to 2004 when the clinic operated under a different name. Not everyone is taken by these controlled statements. As expected, one local law firm, Craig P. Kenny & Associates, ran a full-page advertisement in the same section. Its advertisement encourages patients to contact the firm to discuss legal action.

While heroes are seldom found during a crisis, there is one clear hero in Las Vegas. Quest Diagnostics, which is completely unaffiliated with the Endoscopy Center, is the first business to offer to test patients for free. The offer from Quest Diagnostics to provide this community service came after the Endoscopy Center was slow to offer the same and after another health care provider, one that sent overflow patients to the Endoscopy Center, shrugged off any responsibility.

As shocking as it seems, the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada has not made any mention of how it intends to compensate those patients who have been infected nor has there been any comment that seems to demonstrate remorse or empathy. So far, it seems they are content to play the numbers and control an uncontrollable message.

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Friday, February 29

Causing Crisis: Health Clinic Spreads Virus


Sometimes a crisis communication checklist is not enough. The Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada is attempting to apply some practices, but the message is failing to resonate. I’m not surprised.

This is the largest hepatitis C scare in the history of the country.

The Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada was reportedly using single dose vials of medication, which had become infected with hepatitis C, a potentially fatal blood-borne virus, through their initial use and were used again. Hepatitis C is not the only potential infection that could have been spread.

The Southern Nevada Health District is asking some 40,000 patients who had procedures requiring injected anesthesia at the clinic between March 2004 and January 11, 2008, to contact their primary care physicians or health care providers to get tested for hepatitis C as well as hepatitis B and HIV. Given the transient nature of Las Vegas, it is nearly impossible to tell how many of these patients have moved out of the area or have been living with an infection for years.

The reality and gravity of the situation is severe enough that the statement released to the media by the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada fails to exhibit even a basic understanding of crisis communication, considering the severity of the issue.

“On behalf of the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, we want to express our deep concern about this incident to the many patients who have put their trust in us over the years. As always, our patients remain our primary responsibility and we have already corrected the situation.”

Obviously not. If patients were the primary responsibility, this would have never happened. How could anyone even think such a statement was appropriate to include as a patient care message during a press conference that addressed wrongdoing of the worst kind — reusing single dose vials is widely known to pass infection.

The statement goes on to say things like “In addition to our corrective actions, we are on a mission to maintain the trust our patients have had in us during our years of service to southern Nevada.” They must be joking. And, unbelievably, they attempted to play the legal counsel card — pending class action suits already being organized and a criminal investigation — to limit their comments and refuse to take reporters’ questions. Unbelievable.

If you break off communication with the media during a severe crisis, they will have no alternative but to seek other sources. Every media outlet covering the story is doing exactly that.

According to the Las Vegas Sun today, several doctors unaffiliated with the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada have surmised that the clinic appeared to put profits ahead of patient care, directing staff to cut corners in order to accommodate the high volume of patients. The procedures were performed by certified nurse-anesthetists, with apparently no one at the practice willing to step up and say what they were doing was wrong.

These practices continued until the Southern Nevada Health District identified six cases of hepatitis C, five of which stemmed from the Endoscopy Center of Nevada. While the center continues to stress that the actual risk of anyone being affected by this is extremely low, it seems to be little consolation for the individuals. Elected officials are already calling for the removal of the clinic’s license.

This crisis has already been mishandled to the point of no return.

In such extreme cases, one might ask if the clinic is worth saving. While this could be debated endlessly, I’d rather focus on what they did wrong from a communication standpoint, which made this unrecoverable.

They are attempting to apply a truncated crisis communication formula frequently employed by public relations professionals who have little real world experience. Worse, they are being selective in which ones they are using — the statement doesn’t even include an apology, possibly for fear of admitting criminal negligence.

Look, crisis communication is a process and not a formula. You can come forward, apologize, explain the incident, address corrective measures, seek outside consult, promise it will never happen again, and perhaps demonstrate some measure of empathy (I was told the owner appeared empathetic at the press conference) all you want. But it won’t change gross negligence.

What the crisis communication team needed to consider.

• The clinic needed to come forward sooner and explain precisely what occurred and why it occurred, regardless of potential civil and criminal cases. If the crisis was caused by placing profits before patients as some speculate, an admission is appropriate.

• The clinic needed to apologize, at minimum, to the five people likely infected with hepatitis C by its procedures and offer immediate restitution. It further needed to voluntarily pay for a proactive location and testing of all 40,000 patients as well as family members that may have been affected as a result.

• The clinic needed to maintain an open door policy to address all concerns and questions from the media and other stakeholders, regardless of personal jeopardy, as personal and public safety remain at risk.

• The clinic needs to verbalize empathy, sympathy, and embarrassment over its procedural practices without any trite statements revolving around preserving patient trust and promises that it will never happen again. It would seem more logical for the clinic to voluntarily dedicate 100 percent of its resources to the crisis.

• Dipak Desai, medical director and majority shareholder in the practice, needs to step forward as his own spokesperson and promise to step down immediately after overseeing restitution to the victims. Desai also needs to fully cooperate with all investigations and help determine which doctors and nurses were engaged in these procedures or knew about the procedures but neglected to speak up.

All this should have already happened. However, it did not. Given the severity of the crisis and the initial handing, it’s likely this will be unrecoverable. And frankly, despite placing it in the living case study slot, maybe that is for the best if it does not recover.

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Thursday, February 28

Bridging Online And Physical Space: The Recruiting Roadshow


As is often the case, I came away from speaking at John Sumser’s Recruiting Roadshow with more knowledge than I could ever hope to present yesterday.

For starters, it truly gave me an understanding just how far behind communication-related fields — advertising, marketing, public relations, communication, etc. — are from other industries. Yes, I pay attention when various colleagues on the marketing speaking circuits consistently report how few communication professionals are active — only 10-20 percent of their audience is engaged in social media, they often report.

Engaged communicators are ahead, but the industry is behind.

My experience was amazingly different. When I asked an audience of hundreds, primarily consisting of recruiters and human resource directors, how many were engaged in social media, the answer was amazingly different.

• 90 percent of the audience participate online
• 75 percent are members of at least one social network
• 50 percent are active members of one or more social networks
• 15 percent of the audience lead a social network or maintain a blog

Interesting. There doesn’t seem to be an online social media bubble for others, as communicators insist while they continue to argue about the validity of social media. As I’ve said before, social media exists. And therefore, it cannot be ignored, especially by communication-related fields.

Is it any wonder why more companies implemented internal communication programs in 2007, programs managed by human resources departments as opposed to corporate communication? According to Watson Wyatt’s 2007-2008 Communication ROI study, 53 percent of employers used communication to increase enrollment in benefits programs, up from 25 percent in 2003. As other departments continue to expand their roles and actively participate in social media, communicators may find themselves asking the same questions over and over again — how do we get a seat at the table?

Ridiculous. This reoccurring question is only asked by people who missed their opportunity to set the table in the first place.

We must erase the notion that online - offline networks are different.

After taking the spontaneous room survey, I pointed out that 100 percent of the people in attendance were members of a social network — the room, for a few hours — was a social network, indistinguishable from any online community.

Several hundred people registered to attend, filled a space, and then randomly met each other based on nothing more than a nametag and proximity of their seat. Funny. For all the discussions about whether to “friend” strangers online, not one person in attendance refused to shake hands with a stranger when a hand was extended. Online, people present much more than a nametag. Many of us present complete resumes, profiles, and years of thought on blogs.

We might as well be walking around with sandwich boards outlining who we are and what we do. So why do communicators remain skeptical?

Sometimes network exercises reveal more than intended.

One of the first exercises presented by Sumser and his team was an ingenious one designed to simulate an organic search. They had passed out little pieces of paper, each with one word written on them.

Then, he instructed the room to find five other people with the same word and introduce themselves to simulate an organic search. As chaos broke out in the room with people converging toward the middle, one person created a sign with his word and held it above his head. Others quickly followed suit, each holding signs above their heads.

“Did you notice how quickly others adopt innovation?” Sumser asked. “This is exactly the way innovation is adopted online.”

But there was something else, I noticed. The people who held signs above their heads may have expedited the exercise, but in doing so, met fewer people. And once people had found the word they were looking for, they felt gratified, forgetting to fully engage themselves in the sub-group they had created.

It reminded me of many online social networks. Sometimes the speed in which tasks are performed — such as attempting to increase the quantity of connections or increase traffic — undermines our own ability to truly engage people in any meaningful relationship. It’s quality of engagement, not quantity of engagement, that counts, online or off.

I worked some observations of the exercise into my presentation, remembering some great advice I had gleaned from Chris Brogan and Jeremiah Owyang. When you’re engaging in social networking activities, you don’t want to be the person with a sign on their head and megaphone as much as you want to be the person who joins the party and engages people on their terms.

This also presents a challenge in teaching people how to engage in social networks. I know many people who keep putting together bullet points for advice, but relatively few who remind people to ask the right question on the front end. What do you hope to accomplish?

For recruiters, I suggested they abandon the notion that social networks are technologies. It makes more sense to think about social networks as physical spaces much like the room where we had all assembled, with an emphasis on meeting people that may deliver mutually beneficial relationships.

• If you want to know more about the recruiting industry, join a recruiting network like RecruitingBlogs.com.
• If you want to engage prospective clients, invest more time in social networks around niche industries you specialize in, whether it’s health care, education, or whatever.
• If you want to engage job candidates, find social networks that consist of people within those specific industries or develop your own network within a larger network, much like people do every day on Twitter.

Above all, never discount online relationships as less than those you make physically. It’s the number of engagements with people, sometimes across many social networks, that deepens a relationship, much like life. Except online, you often have a greater chance to know about someone well beyond the nametags that decorated everyone’s apparel around the room.

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Tuesday, February 26

Canceling Campaigns: Pfizer Says It’s Your Fault


After more than $258 million spent in advertising, the long-running advertising campaign that primarily employed Dr. Robert Jarvik as spokesperson for Lipitor, according to The New York Times today.

Pfizer announced yesterday that it would cancel the advertisements featuring Dr. Jarvick. Pfizer offered up a release that primarily focuses on a 3-paragraph statement from Ian Read, president of worldwide pharmaceutical operations. Here are two...

“Nevertheless, the way in which we presented Dr. Jarvik in these ads has, unfortunately, led to misimpressions and distractions from our primary goal of encouraging patient and physician dialogue on the leading cause of death in the world — cardiovascular disease. We regret this. Going forward, we commit to ensuring there is greater clarity in our advertising regarding the presentation of spokespeople.

“Raising awareness of the dangers of cardiovascular disease in the U.S. remains an urgent public health priority. Only half of all Americans who have high LDL cholesterol are even diagnosed, and just half of those are being treated. Future Lipitor campaigns, to be launched in several weeks, will continue to stress the critical importance of patients talking to their doctors so they can make informed choices about their treatment options.”


In other words, Pfizer regrets that the “misimpressions and distractions” led to the cancellation of the advertisement as opposed the misrepresentation of the spokesperson as an avid rower. Dr. Jarvick does not row and a body double appeared in advertisements.

The release goes on to reinforce the benefits of statins such as Lipitor in treating heart disease are validated in clinical guidelines. Lipitor represents $12.7 billion in sales for Pfizer.

According to The New York Times, the decision to withdraw the advertisements will have no bearing on the investigation led by U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce. The committee is still collecting documents from several sources and plans to meet with Dr. Jarvik.

One of the other complaints about the advertisement came from three former colleagues of Dr. Jarvik. They said the ads erroneously identified Dr. Jarvik as “inventor of the artificial heart” as opposed to the inventor of the “Jarvik artificial heart.” Other medical professionals also complained that Dr. Jarvik does not hold a license to practice any type of medicine.

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Monday, February 25

Communicating To Employees: Obvious But Overlooked


Last Thursday, Joanna Blockey, ABC, communication analyst for Southwest Gas Corporation, help put the crossover impact of external and internal communication into perspective as a guest speaker in my Writing For Public Relations class at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

While Southwest Gas Corporation has a well-defined program, she pointed out that many companies do not. Some employers still believe that "providing a paycheck" is the company’s only obligation to employees.

“We communicate to approximately 3,200 employees and retirees at Southwest Gas Corporation,” said Blockey. “It would be a mistake to discount them because they are one of our most important publics. Every day, employees go home with a message about the company.”

And then what happens? They talk to friends and family.

Considering some studies place the average person’s number of friends somewhere between 25 and 35, one internal impression about a company can travel considerable distance. At Southwest Gas Corporation for instance, 3,200 employees and retirees could deliver 96,000 impressions about the company. If these friends pass that impression on to even half of their friends, the impression count suddenly reaches 1.5 million people. It doesn’t end there nor does it consider the number of employees who communicate online.

It didn’t seem like it in January, but Yahoo has learned this lesson the hard way. More than one employee has made their layoff public. This communication, which started with 87 connections on Twitter, has since circled the globe and been picked up by the media. That's just one person.

It's something we alluded to back in Jaunary. Employees don’t like the uncertainty created at Yahoo, a message reinforced by Jerry Yang, chief executive, when he botched the balance between being empathetic for the 1,000 employees to be laid off, which started last week, and being bullish on streamlining the company for non-internal shareholders.

Add up employee impressions alone and you'll discover Yahoo is struggling against the weight of more than 3 million low morale impressions per day, which doesn’t even count that some employees have hundreds or thousands of connections online. Suddenly, this seems to make the recently added "padded" severance packages, for employees and top executives in the event of an acquisition, not all that comforting. In fact, the idea of a Yahoo buyout doesn’t even seem very comforting to Microsoft employees either.

All communication overlaps, inside and out.

Seattle Times reporter Benjamin Romano recently published part of one Microsoft internal communication sent by Kevin Johnson, president of the platform and services division at Microsoft.

"While some overlap is expected in any combination of this size," it said, "we should remember that Microsoft is a growth company that has hired over 20,000 people since 2005, and we would look to place talented employees throughout the company as a whole."

It then when on to shed light on just how important advertising has become to Microsoft executives: "Respect for both the creative and analytical aspects of advertising is core to both companies, along with recognition that advertising is an industry that represents opportunity and growth."

The full communication seemed to have several purposes. In addition to fending off growing concerns that a Yahoo acquisition could lead to Microsoft layoffs, it’s a message to internal Microsoft shareholders (meaning employees). It’s also a message to Yahoo employees (who are also Yahoo shareholders). And, it's carefully written in case it might land someplace else like, um, the Seattle Times.

Communication doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

Watson Wyatt, a global consulting firm, released some key findings to consider about employee communication in its 2007/2008 report: Communication ROI Study
Secrets of Top Performers: How Companies With Highly Effective Employee Communication Differentiate Themselves.

• Effective employee communication is a leading indicator of financial performance.
• Effective employee communication translates into a 15.7 percent increase in the market value of a company.
• Effective employee communication increases employee engagement, which translates into better relationships.

The reasons are simple. There has never been a barrier between internal communication and external communication, except for the delusional beliefs of some executives. Simply put, if you cannot get the employees to buy into the company, then how you can expect customers to buy into its products and services?

People, like some companies, make the same mistakes.

The mistake in attempting to apply spatial barriers onto non-spatial ideas, as if things don't overlap, is not limited to business communication. It's an idea that keeps being transposed onto social media and social networks over and over again.

People attempt to define themselves like companies define themselves. They talk in terms that make the company-individual seem like it is the center of the universe with various social networks hovering around them like little planets, not at all different from the geocentric system debunked by Galileo.

Ergo, social networking is better represented by people orbiting an unknown center. On the Internet, they don't orbit a network but rather pass through networks much like they pass through networks in life. Their orbit takes them through this industry, that industry, work, home, friends, etc. Along the way, they leave little bits of communication.

Sure, I know this may seem terribly philosophical to some, but it’s the truth. Human nature is not all that different than nature, which is why employers need to ask themselves what they are communicating and where that communication will be left as their employees go about their daily lives. And then, where will that communication go from there?

Had Yahoo asked these questions months ago, I bet they would have considered a different communication strategy all together. You think?

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Sunday, February 24

Counting Beans: Journeyman vs. Friday Night Lights


With E! Online giving hope to Friday Night Lights, a show given every advantage to build an audience over two seasons, and Michael Hinman reinforcing the decision to axe Journeyman, a show given a half season in what has become NBC’s dead zone timeslot (as fans of The Black Donnellys know), some people are wondering if Nielsen ratings really mean anything.

After all, these two shows, on the same network, rack up about the same ratings. Unless, of course, you only count select beans.

The decision to cancel Journeyman had less to do with ratings and whether or not people watched the show and more to do with the financials of a hurting network, according to an unexpected source close to the show.

Unfortunately for the fans, this means all the Rice-A-Roni on the planet is unlikely to change any minds at the network. In fact, the only reason ratings have been factored into the conversation is because that is how critics guess at network decisions. And sometimes, networks use these numbers to justify their decisions.

Why are Nielsen numbers only sometimes important? According to Nielsen: There are 5,000 households in the national People Meter sample, approximately 20,000 households in the local metered market samples, approximately 1,000 metered homes for our national and local Hispanic measurement, and nearly 1.6 million diaries are edited each year.

In other words, on Nielsen’s best day, we can expect less than 2 percent of all television households to be sampled, which doesn’t even consider how many people lie (if you were a Jericho fan, chances are you would say you watched it, even if you did not). Or, in yet other words, Nielsen only sounds good when someone like Hinman writes it up like this. Ho hum.

Don’t get me wrong, Hinman is a great guy and he presents a sound argument for the validity of Nielsen as critics want you to believe because they use these numbers to predict the fate of television. However, as someone with a foot in advertising, I do make media buy recommendations from time to time. There are a number of factors well beyond audience reach to consider.

Sometimes these other factors are simple. It makes sense to buy news for political candidates because people who watch the news tend to vote. Sometimes these other factors are about who else buys it. That’s why I recommended a water purifier company NOT buy 20 some radio spots on a station dominated by his competitor, complete with host endorsements. And sometimes these other factors might be about product placement, which is why Ford bought Knight Rider sight unseen.

And sometimes, it has to do with experience. Experience is why, years ago, I heavily recommended a local Ham Supreme retailer to place a good portion of its media buy on an unproven pilot program. The agency I was working for balked at the idea, insisting we buy a high frequency cable rotate instead. The result: Ham Supreme ran heavily at 3 a.m. in the morning instead of on a show that eventually climbed to number one. Why did I want the pilot? Psychographics suggested Home Improvement viewers might like big ham sandwiches.

My point is that the rating system has become little more than a tool to push perception instead of reality. How far from reality? Far enough from reality that when a show like Jericho, for example, is placed in a setting where every viewer is tracked, like TiVo viewers or iTunes downloads, it comes close to the top and looks more viable.

I could have made the same iTunes comparison for Journeyman or Friday Night Lights, but for all of NBC’s smart moves toward digital media, it nixed selling shows on iTunes last Sept. in favor of a platform that doesn’t work on the market's dominant smart phone. When Journeyman was there; it did okay.

No matter, the networks and studios know all this, which is why Warner Bros. is testing emerging technology; advertisers are looking to the net; and networks have any number of initiatives that are not connected to the rating system. (Hat tip: Jane Sweat.) Add all this up and ...

Nielsen isn’t nearly as relevant today as it once was and everybody knows it, but few will admit it. While that doesn’t mean it won’t be relevant in the future, it certainly means its primary relevance is a matter of convenience. It’s easy to blame the ratings or bypass them on any given Sunday, like today.

So why was Journeyman cancelled? Look at the ratings and it seems to make sense, but the truth seems to be about budget. Why might Friday Night Lights be saved? The lower-budget show has critics who love to write about it and advertisers who like the psychographics.

Ho hum. Ratings smateings. Let's shoot for the truth.

As more entertainment becomes available on the net, more people will be turning to the net more often. Advertisers tend to want to be where people might learn about and buy their products. And networks tend to want to be where the advertisers want to be. Businesses that already have a Web presence in, um, social media, will be able to engage more people as opposed to simply slicing up their budgets across multiple media streams.

Networks and publishers will eventually win in this world too. For example, more people read The New York Times today than ever before. They made their decision after counting all the beans, not just the red ones. Advertising hasn't caught up, but it will. Bank on it.

So maybe what needs to be asked is this: in a world where analytics are pure, where's the need for Nielsen? Hinman says they'll measure everything in about five years. Five years? That's too late, considering I know how many people visit this blog without them.

Yeah, I know, media convergence seems so silly to so many people. But then again, these folks used the same arguments before: companies do not need Web sites; people will never use electronic mail; and Apple will never break into the phone market, let alone allow someone like me to connect my phone to my television and watch Supernatural. Right, none of those things will happen either.

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