Tuesday, June 10

Stopping The PR Spam: Jason Falls

”In my opinion, the way the public relations industry responds to the problem of PR spam over the course of the next six to 12 months could make or break our profession for the next decade. Why are our professional organizations not prioritizing this?” — Jason Falls

I love this punchy prediction tucked inside the post on Social Media Explorer because it challenges an industry that never considers their own work spam. It’s always those other guys and gals who are bringing the industry down.

Sure, not everyone in public relations is a spammer, but it often seems that more of them play the numbers game than anyone will ever admit. At minimum, more play the number than those who will spend several hours searching for news inside their clients’ companies.

Falls says Jeremy Pepper is right. The industry needs education, but it’s not just up to professors to teach it. (Considering how many public relations professionals studied this profession in school, I tend to agree. Not to mention, for every instructor who advises against spamming, there is one or more who liken pitch calls and press releases to the return on a slot machine.)

Falls says a lot of it has to do with developing relationships over lists. In truth, he is part right. But what the novice public relations professional never seems to be taught is how to develop those relationships in the first place. So rather than recap his well-thought post in entirety, I’ll cut to the chase.

It’s easy to develop relationships. While I am oversimplifying, there are three ways to establish connections with bloggers and journalists.

1. Go to work for a company, agency, or organization that the bloggers and journalists are already interested in. It seems tongue in cheek, but it’s true. If you work for Apple or Microsoft or the district attorney’s office, they’ll contact you fifteen minutes after you introduce yourself as the new go-to person.

2. Become engaged in events, activities, networks, and organizations that bloggers and journalists care about, er, assuming you have a common interest. Much like business, many relationships develop outside the bubble.

3. Skip the blast emailing people about the company’s next balloon popping and find some real news. Once you find it, invest some time into writing a great release and sending it to only those bloggers and journalists who might be interested. When the blogger or journalist follows up, you then have an opportunity to deepen the relationship based on your ability to help them.

The third point is where people get mixed up because many of them struggle with determining what is news and what is not. Personally, I think it takes some time to develop an appreciation for what might make the news. I tossed up ten items that help determine news last year.

But sometimes the answer is even simpler. Start by asking yourself if you would want to write about the topic you are sending to the blogger or journalist. Based on the effort put into some releases, I would guess that many public relations professionals would say no. So if that is your answer, there you go!


Monday, June 9

Advertising Trends: Devaluing Taglines

The average lifespan of a tagline is about five years. And while there are some short and long exceptions, five years seems to be about how long it takes for marketers and advertisers to call for change, even when they don’t need to.


That’s the question Citibank seems to be asking as it has decided to revive its "Citi never sleeps" tagline. According to AdWeek, Lisa Caputo, CMO for Citi, said that testing with consumers "confirmed its strong recall and favorability. And one of the great benefits is we already own it; it's trademarked." (Personally, I like the Live Richly series better.)

The article also speculates that the trend to return to old taglines could be tied to any number of reasons: harkening back to better days, capitalizing on boomer nostalgia, or admitting that creativity is diminishing.

While there is some truth to all three points presented by AdWeek’s Gregory Solman, it seems to me that many companies are simply realizing that they had a great tagline and were too quick to give it up with the next big advertising campaign.

Sure, change can be good, but it really depends on how the tagline is employed and whether or not it ever made a powerful connection to the brand like “Diamonds are forever” “Just do it” and “Good to the last drop” have done.

There are others. “Where’s the beef?” and “Look Mom! No cavities!” also come to mind. But unlike those earlier mentioned, these taglines did need change because they were much more campaign-centric despite the fact that neither Wendy’s nor Crest has ever succeeded in introducing something stronger.

It’s not for lack of trying. In 2004, Procter & Gamble Co. invested $100 million to rebrand Crest, which included a “healthy, beautiful smiles for life” positioning statement. But frankly, the tagline was just too generic to connect.

So when does a tagline need to change?

It depends on the tagline.

At the end of a campaign. Sometimes it might be painful, but Wendy’s and Crest both had campaign-reliant taglines that had to end with the campaigns.

At the end of an era. "Does she ... or doesn't she?” is anther classic tagline, but it’s not timeless. It wouldn’t really resonate today unless it was a nostalgic campaign but only because it was brilliantly attached to the era.

A shift in direction. This was the case for Wal-Mart when it shifted from “Always low prices. Always.” to “Save money. Live better.” While the reasoning was sound because it represented a shift in the company, the new tagline still doesn’t stick. Miller Lite is attempting to do the shift as well.

Because it sucks. Mobile once sported the tagline “We want you to live." Ho hum. Enough said.

Never. When it works, assuming it is not tied to a campaign or era, then it doesn’t need to change for the sake of change. For example, American Express still scores higher with “Don’t Leave Home Without It” than the more generic “Do more.” or “My life. My card.” or “Are You A Cardmember?”


Friday, June 6

Working For Funny: Derrie-Air Airlines

Philadelphia Media Holdings, which owns The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, and its advertising agency, Gyro, had a clever idea. They decided to create a campaign for the fictional Derrie-Air airlines with the idea being to test the results of advertising in their print and online products, and “to stimulate discussion on a timely environmental topic of interest to all citizens.”

Philadelphia Media Holdings spokesman Jay Devine added that the goal was to "demonstrate the power of our brands in generating awareness and generating traffic for our advertisers, and put a smile on people's faces."

The campaign, which touts that air travelers will pay by the pound on the new luxury airline, is cute enough to make someone smile. But does it really accomplish any other goal?

Smiles aside, the campaign employs a value proposition that most companies cannot match (for thin people with light carry-ons anyway). And in reality, most offers are not that interesting. Of course it’s easier to gin up interest on fictional claims. Just ask Steorn. So in terms of generating awareness, any numbers will be nothing more than smoke, fire, and flash.

The same might be said about stimulating discussion on a timely environmental topic. Not many, if anyone, is talking or blogging about the environment because of this campaign. They’re simply talking about the campaign, and not even the cost of the paper needed to print it.

So as much as I enjoy something funny now and again, this campaign needs some sales before it can be called a success. For now, it's only real claim to fame seems to be that is made potential customers work harder for a laugh that any real ad could have delivered for better results. Hmmm ... now that's not so funny.


Thursday, June 5

Confusing Communication: 2.0 Blues

I’ve never been a big fan of attaching 2.0 to everything. Anymore, it seems cliché and tends to cause more confusion than it’s worth. But it is what it is.

Among the latest to get attention in 2.0 game is the Enterprise 2.0, which the Enterprise 2.0 Conference defines as “the technologies and business practices that liberate the workforce from the constraints of legacy communication and productivity tools like email. It provides business managers with access to the right information at the right time through a web of inter-connected applications, services and devices … and makes accessible the collective intelligence of many, translating to a huge competitive advantage in the form of increased innovation, productivity and agility.”

It seemed worthwhile to mention today in light of a study released by AIIM (hat tip: Chapel), which is a non-profit organization focused on helping users to understand the challenges associated with managing documents, content, records, and business processes. AIIM surveyed 441 end users and found that most recognize Enterprise 2.0 as critical to the success of their business goals and objectives, but few had a clear understanding of what Enterprise 2.0 means.

Specifically, 44 percent said Enterprise 2.0 is imperative or significant to corporate goals and objectives, but 74 percent said they only have a vague familiarity or no clear understanding of it. It's interesting to me because it’s almost the same answer from the polar opposite end of the spectrum of the Welch’s ad opinions.

Maybe we really need simpler definitions so people making decisions can understand what they think is critical to the success of their business. Really, all Enterprise 2.0 seems to be is utilizing social media tools for better cross-departmental internal communication. Now that seems pretty smart once you get past the gibberish that does the opposite of what Enterprise 2.0 is supposed to do.


Wednesday, June 4

Advertising Surprise: Welch's Grape Juice

In Feb., the Welch's Grape Juice ad campaign featuring a Peel 'n Taste sample inside PEOPLE magazine prompted Folio to wonder about sensory overload, gave one chemist pause, and sparked several to call the concept a “poorly executed idea.” In other words, most thought the First Flavor strip was worth a chuckle and nothing more.

A new study conducted by independent researcher GfK Starch Communications now suggests that if anyone should be laughing, it might be Welch's and First Flavor.

• The ad received as much recognition as an 8-page insert.
• The ad received the top branding score in that edition.
• The ad was the second most noticed, behind the inside front cover and gatefold.
• 59 percent of those who tried the flavor strip were more likely to buy the product, compared to 25 percent who did not try the sample.
• 88 percent of those who tried the strip, which was protected by foil, liked the taste.

"Readers saw our ad, some even tasted the flavor strip of our Welch's 100% grape juice and, most importantly, were more likely to purchase our delicious product as a result," said Christopher Heye, vice president of marketing at Welch's.

This just goes to show that my longtime friend and agency client, Jeff Rogers, vice president of Evolution, was spot on during a recent strategy session. After the new account asked why so many companies reject marketing recommendations, he had one simple answer.

“Too many marketing decisions are based on reasons that begin, ‘I like...'” he said.

It’s also the reason I resigned an account this week for the first time in two years. After noting that every marketing decision was ultimately based upon what the client “liked” or, worse, what was liked by a random passersby, it was time to wish him the best.

Much like those who first commented on the Welch’s ad, it’s always easy to provide a guess. But for the rest of us, the better decision-making process relies on test and measure. After all, who cares if you like it if the results demonstrate success?

In fact, I suspect that until more companies focus on outcomes as opposed to what they like, their advertising and marketing will continue to be one big guessing game with random hits and misses that reinforce invalid conclusions.


Tuesday, June 3

Talking Turkey: Andrew Cohen VS. Public Relations

The Buzz Bin is abuzz, providing a snapshot of the "kertuffle" over the CBS analyst Andrew Cohen’s remarks about the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), which was prompted by former presidential press secretary Scott McClellan's new book.

Excerpt from McClellan’s book:

So I stood at the White House briefing room podium in front of the glare of the klieg lights for the better part of two weeks and publicly exonerated two of the senior-most aides in the White House: Karl Rove and Scooter Libby.

There was one problem. It was not true.

Except from PRSA about the book:

In the wake of the recently published book by former presidential press secretary Scott McClellan, PRSA is calling for government reform and challenging the 2008 presidential candidates to adopt a communications policy engaging principles like those in the PRSA Member Code of Ethics.

Excerpt from Cohen about public relations:

Show me a PR person who is "accurate" and "truthful," and I'll show you a PR person who is unemployed.

The reason companies or governments hire oodles of PR people is because PR people are trained to be slickly untruthful or half-truthful. Misinformation and disinformation are the coin of the realm, and it has nothing to do with being a Democrat or a Republican.

Excerpt from Robert French, which mirrors much of the industry reaction:

You know, I see this latest example of PR bashing (from a news network that feeds off of media relations) to be just another in a long line of foolish, ignorant (and a bit arrogant) people. Even funnier, regarding this happening on CBS - of all places, it was their network that recently wanted to farm out some of their coverage to CNN and not do it themselves.

Except from PRSA’s rebuttal:

Regarding your commentary on today’s CBS Sunday Morning, the Board of Directors of the Public Relations Society finds it imperative to affirm the professionalism of public relations practitioners and to take exception with what we regard as a misguided opinion.

Except from Cohen’s rebuttal after the flack:

I am now the target of a public-relations effort to ridicule my effort, my points, my character and integrity. I expected nothing less. I mean, when you make fun of people whose job it is to burnish public images you’ve got to expect they are going to, well, burnish their own public images at the expense of your own. I am not taking it personally.

My take, part one:

Every year, I share two points to public relations professionals that might apply.

1. As a public relations professional, your reputation stays with you, not the company, organization, or government entity that asks you to lie. So, basically, don’t do it.

2. As a public relations professional, you cannot control what other people say; only how you react to what they say.

My take, part two:

I think we just witnessed a mainstream media version of a blog drama among eagles. How very quaint.


Monday, June 2

Making Entertainment: Macy’s, Inc.

Macy’s continues to garner attention for the future launch of a 10-episode documentary style series that will follow the lives of five young people who want to break into the music business. The series will premiere this fall and promotes the American Rag brand.

The Web series is part of a growing trend of marketing initiatives that blur the lines between advertising and entertainment.

It is being developed by MEC Entertainment, which is owned by WWP Group. The show is being cast with amateurs, contestants selected from 12 college campuses around the country.

The general concept is to dress the cast in American Rag clothing and feature some segments with the cast shopping for the clothing across the country. YouTube viewers will be able to purchase the clothing from the Macy’s site.

While Macy’s is interested in the viral potential of the series, RepNation, which provides a consumer powered media network, says it’s an acknowledgement that it’s more difficult to reach college students through traditional channels. What makes this an important footnote is that marketers and advertisers coming to the conclusion that what once was an online opportunity is fast becoming necessity.


Thursday, May 29

Adding Value: Print Shifts To Lead Generation

Magazine Publishers of America (MPA) is set to release a new study about the effectiveness of URLs being included in print magazines. The study confirms what many advertisers already know, magazine advertisements with URLs are more likely to drive readers to advertiser sites.

Specifically, MediaDailyNews said that home ads were 103 percent more likely, women’s services were 98 percent more likely, and travel categories were 186 percent more likely to drive consumers to Web sites. URLs on fashion ads also provided a 58 percent bump.

The study provides a solid case for integrated communication, with print advertisements serving as a lead generator for Web sites. Consumers are generally taken in by the singular message of the print advertisement and then explore Web sites for more options.

Consumer magazine Web sites are also showing strong traffic gains, up 11 percent over the first quarter of last year. With those Web sites averaging 70.7 million unique monthly visitors, well-planned media efforts can expand an advertiser’s total impression and total reach by reinforcing the print advertisements on magazine Web sites.

Both findings represent that the boundaries between traditional marketing and social media are not so opaque. What has changed seems to be that traditional advertising is shifting toward Internet lead generation as opposed to image advertising or direct sales.


Monday, May 26

Sharing Silence: Memorial Day

A bugler blows taps. Memorial Day. Margraten Cemetery, Holland. 1945.

Friday, May 23

Advertising Connections: Branded Content

A little more than a year ago, I was the guest on the Recruiting Animal Show to talk about a subject that few people believed would ever happen. Branded content, a variation of income marketing as I sometimes call it, was already taking shape.

A few months later, Procter & Gamble made it sound more serious. And most recently, Digitas, which is part of the Publicis Groupe, formally became of one the newest entrants into the branded content game.

"It's more and more difficult for brands to get their messages in front of consumers," Mark Beeching, global chief creative officer at Digitas told AdAge. "But at the same time there are more opportunities for brands to create content."

Digitas punctuates a social media concept on its Web site. Beeching's quote even sounds like the message we share and shape every day.

"Instead of marketing at customers, our job in the digital age is to get customers working with us and for us,” he says. “And you do that by working with them and for them. This is where the new marketing energy and breakthrough results are to be found."

It’s refreshing to hear it in advertising, and underscores that agencies are more than ready to move forward into the social media space. Their approach? Here are the first three:

• new ways of listening harder to customers for actionable insights
• ideas that earn customer engagement through valuable and motivating experiences
• new ways of being responsive to customers across channels and over time

And to think all this time that some people thought advertising was a dying one-way communication art form. No. Like all art and media faced with new possibilities, opportunities, and technologies, it survives, adapts, and improves.

We look forward to seeing what they cook up next at Digitas. It's about time.


Thursday, May 22

Tightening Reigns: Drug Advertising Gets Tougher

On the same day that Merck & Co. agreed to pay a $58 million settlement over the marketing of the painkiller Vioxx, Reps. John Dingell and Bart Stupak called on several drug companies to voluntarily curb advertisements targeting consumers.

"To date, we have not received adequate assurances that the leading pharmaceutical companies share our commitment to providing consumers with accurate information about drug therapies," Dingell, head of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement on Tuesday.

The letter, sent to chief executives at Merck & Co. Inc., Pfizer Inc., Johnson & Johnson, and Schering-Plough Corp, asks them to refrain from marketing products to consumers until certain studies are completed. It also calls for a moratorium on new drug advertising.
The letter must have dampened the message from Merck & Co., which maintains that the company “intended to fully comply with relevant regulations.”

"Merck remains committed to communications that help patients and their physicians choose medicines based on accurate, fair and balanced information," said Bruce Kuhlik, executive vice president and general counsel of Merck. "Today's agreement enables Merck to put this matter behind us and focus on what Merck does best, developing new medicines."

As part of Merck & Co.’s settlement, the company is already banned from ghostwriting articles or studies, deceptively using scientific data when marketing to doctors, and failing to disclose conflicts of interest involving its speakers. All new consumer-targeted television commercials must be submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for approval, which all drug companies are required to do anyway, as of last month.

Meanwhile, Pfizer is still smarting after pulling its long-running advertising campaign that primarily employed Dr. Robert Jarvik as spokesperson for Lipitor. The advertisement was found to be misleading, according to the FDA.

Drug makers spend $30 billion a year marketing products in the United States, up from $10 billion in 1998. The FDA believes that most advertisements are going beyond persuading consumers by misleading them into believing that drugs are safer or more effective than proven.

With the continued poor choice of statements that some companies use in their news releases, it’s a wonder consumers trust them at all. To date, only a lone Johnson & Johnson spokesperson seemed to have it right. She said that they would cooperate with the committee. Perfect.


Tuesday, May 20

Taking Aim: Nuts To Nielsen

It’s not a great year to be Nielsen. Every time the company attempts to move forward with Anytime Anywhere Media Measurement — A2/M2 — someone is ready to stop them: clients, competition, consumers.

For Project Apollo, a three-year joint project with Arbitron to monitor buying and radio-television habits of 5,000 households, it was clients. They did not want to pay for the results. Consumers weren’t thrilled with the number of tasks they were asked to perform either. It’s not as cool to be a Nielsen family anymore.

It might not be that cool to work at the company either. Jericho fans dumped 4,000 pounds of peanuts on the company’s property last week. It’s a statement to Nielsen that its small sampling sizes are costing consumers their favorite shows, even when they have enough fans to support a convention.

"It's an antiquated rating system that does not count 99.999 percent of actual TV viewers," Jonathan Whitesell, a Jericho fan and organizer of "Nuts To Nielsen!", told Tampa Tribune on May 10.

"We respect the passion of the 'Jericho' fans, but the decision to cancel the show was made by the network, not by Nielsen," spokesperson Gary Holmes said in a statement after receiving the nuts. "We measure programming that is viewed live, on a video recorder and on a PC, and we are confident that our ratings provide a fair measure of what people are viewing."

But fewer and fewer agree. Diane Mermigas, editor-at-large at MediaPost, recently called Nielsen the “about as inane an advertising value as can ever be justified” in her article about other initiatives to find effective measures. She’s not alone.

The differences between Nielsen ratings and other measures continue to grow, more and more shows are seeing 20 percent to 25 percent ratings gains when DVR viewing is calculated and some other are shows doubling their viewership online. It’s easier to get the numbers from TiVo or local cable companies that can count everyone.

A recent Universal McCann study supports how much the Internet has changed. More than 80 percent of the online population watches video clips online and their choice of viewing options goes well beyond YouTube. If you forget to set the DVR, there is always Hulu, CBS, or Apple iTunes.

It’s also one of the reasons CNN’s Veronica Del La Cruz asked how many people watch live news last Friday night. “Fifty percent? Maybe?”

We’re paying attention, she said, before outlining CNN’s iReport, which allows anyone to submit live reports and videos online. More than 900 of these videos have also been featured on CNN. The idea, which originally grew out of citizen submitted coverage of Hurricane Katrina, represents an opportunity for anyone to decide what might be newsworthy.

“Use the tools you find here to share and talk about the news of your world, whether that's video and photos of the events of your life, or your own take on what's making international headlines. Or, even better, a little bit of both.” — iReport.

What makes this significant for Nielsen is that if the company hopes to survive the long-term, it might consider that it has customers on two sides of the aisle. As consumers continue to lose faith in Nielsen, the more likely consumers will pass on being a Nielsen family. Not to mention, no one wants one company to collect all the data.

In fact, from what Whitesell and Jericho fans tell me, Nielsen is not to be trusted. And these fans are not alone.

Anyone who has a show facing cancellation (most recently, the show Moonlight) is continuing to send Nielsen a message — Nielsen might be confident in the rating system, but they are not. It’s a mounting public relations problem that Nielsen has yet to successfully address. For many consumers, Nielsen’s truncated research, not actual viewers, is the only reason their show was cancelled.


Monday, May 19

Taking The Next Step: Michael Port

If you’re not familiar with Michael Port, he is a high profile business coach who has provided consulting to more than 20,000 business owners in the last two years. The Wall Street Journal calls him a “marketing guru” and his first book, Book Yourself Solid, was a national bestseller.

His newest book, Beyond Booked Solid, was released in April. I’ve had the galley on my desk for several few weeks now, meaning to review it. But as a member of the audience the book is intended for — someone who has a decent stable of loved clients but is sometimes short on time — I had to place the review on hold.

Ah yes, irony. Or maybe not. We’ll see.

“With every new success comes new challenges and this repeated cycle is a constant state of being for the entrepreneur. Each time we solve a problem, we begin a new game at a higher level, in which are facing new problems,” reads one of the opening paragraphs.

He’s right. People, especially entrepreneurs, who are not continually facing new challenges, are not moving forward. They might not even be entrepreneurs unless they are moving forward. It’s about that simple. And simple is one of the reasons I’ve always liked Port.

You only have to watch his dismantling the concept of the elevator speech on YouTube to immediately appreciate him. Elevator speeches sometimes circumvent one’s ability to learn something about a prospect. A better solution is to apply a thinking process over the quick fix. Sure, sometimes quick fixes and systems work. It depends on who you are and what you do. And this is where it gets tricky.

On one hand, Beyond Booked Solid is the book I needed ten years ago. That’s when I faced some of the challenges it addresses the most: a small business owner who wakes up to find that they put themselves on an imbalanced life treadmill, never thinking for a moment that there were other options (even though I had already been there before).

For the most part, it’s the by-product of someone who sells service. Sooner or later, there are not enough hours to sell, even with new staff and outsourcing.

This is where Port’s book works best. His book helps service professionals come to the conclusion that at the end of the day —whether they are a doctor, attorney, instructor, or other service provider — there are more options than simply filling every hour of every day, especially if it throws your life-work balance out of whack. What always seems to work better is saving some time to invest in building a better business model, the one that allows you more resources not less resources at the end of the day.

Port even tackles the excuses that might be standing in your way.
• My system is too complicated for me to explain to other people or write it down.
• I couldn’t trust anyone else to do it better than I do.
• I’ve had systems, and they’ve been a waste of time and I don’t want to spend time fixing them or developing new systems.

Personally, I’ve always been amazed by the number of people willing to put cannot in front of something that can be done. Even last week, I felt my skin crawl when a subcontractor said “I just can’t see it” to a viable communication tool. Right on. I get it.

I don’t see how someone could land on the moon with a computer less advanced than a pocket calculator, but they did it. Part of the success was developing a system (multiple systems), possibly more complicated than many business systems, and it got the job done. Then again, there is that tricky part.

As some people know, I’m not a big fan of systems. However, every now and again, I ask myself if whether I am against systems or the abuse of systems. For example, having an elevator speech was never meant to be a scripted memorization as much as an ability to define what you do. It also only works if you can make it work for you. Port did that. And that’s what makes systems work, provided there is a thinking process behind them.

There are several standout areas in the book, but I’ll stick to highlighting two. Port walks the reader through how to document processes and then provides several personal examples of how he applies it. Second, to illustrate possibilities, he provides some solid case studies as a guide, providing business owners some flexibility. The case studies are not as engaging as those in Accidental Branding by David Vinjamuri, but they serve their purpose.

Do you want to be a franchise? Create a product line? Purchase and rebrand businesses? Diversify your market presence? Etc. And because he asks the right questions, many people will find the right answers for themselves.

Of course, many will not want to do any of these things because not everyone is comfortable with the idea of transforming their service into a business model, which is why not everyone is an entrepreneur. As this is the case, I’m not sure Beyond Booked Solid will appeal to as large of an audience as Book Yourself Solid did. However, it’s nice to know that someone wrote a book that reminds professionals that there are many other options.


Thursday, May 15

Working With Bloggers: On Being The Dog

Every time I teach social media, I always reference a cartoon once used in a PowerPoint presentation by Gary Gerdemann, director of account services for Peritus Public Relations. The cartoon features two dogs on the Internet with a hilarious caption.

“On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

I felt a little like that yesterday, shortly after Veronica De La Cruz, Internet correspondent for CNN's flagship morning news program, American Morning, emailed me, asking which was the best number to reach me. As fate would have it, I was scheduled for a teleconference/online presentation with a major bankcard merchant services client and had to ask for an hour.

De La Cruz didn’t have an hour, but was still very interested in doing a segment on Bloggers Unite For Human Rights. So we did the next best thing. We emailed each other while I was on the teleconference.

I answered all of her questions and provided the most relevant links, like the Bloggers Unite page and Facebook event, where many bloggers are listing their entries for the campaign. And then she asked for a few bloggers who I knew were participating.

Well, you know how it goes. I’ve been tracking all the bloggers who said they would post today, but you never really know until they do. I needed something concrete, like a commitment. So I quickly posted a request on Twitter and BlogCatalog.

“On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

Since most who follow me on Twitter do know me, none thought twice. On BlogCatalog, which has approximately 150,000 members, that is not always the case. So while those who know me knew I wasn’t joking, a few members took me to task, saying my request was a “self-gratuitous” hoax. Eesh!

And that is the way it was for about an hour. De La Cruz on email, a major client on a telephone conference call, the online presentation on one browser, and a social network drama on the other browser, where I was being called a liar.

Thanks goodness I know enough bloggers! I sorted a list of twenty bloggers who were committed to posting or had already posted on the subject. I was able to source six mini-biographies and put them at the top. It wasn’t the best-written link list I’ve ever put together, but the job got done.

I started early this morning to finish my own post and then checked the discussion thread…

“It is now 9:56 am est. Did anybody see any of their blogs on CNN …” asked one doubting blogger.

As most journalists and public relations professionals know, there are no guarantees with the news. It’s easy to be bumped by anything "breaking" and several stories were bumped today. For awhile, I thought the Bloggers Unite segment might be bumped too as we were scanned the DVR for the segment.

Thank goodness for an email “ding.” I had missed another e-mail from De La Cruz. While it rarely happens, she had sent me a heads up on the airtime. That was enough for some bloggers, like Kevin, who pens Pointless Banter to find the clip.

His post, Never Again, was one of two blogs featured as an example. He wrote about the atrocities in Durfar. The other, was William McCamment’s Dead Rooster, which touched on the human rights issues in Myanmar. Both have subsequently posted the clip.

“On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

Huh. While the cartoon is still funny, there is another lesson to be learned about social media. Sometimes, on the Internet, nobody knows you’re NOT a dog, which is why I always teach that the source, not the medium, is what has credibility.

Special thanks to Veronica De La Cruz, CNN, BlogCatalog, Amnesty International USA, and all those bloggers who worked so hard to put their posts up early this morning. I really appreciate it.

So what’s next for Bloggers Unite? In the next few weeks, BlogCatalog and Copywrite, Ink., in cooperation with Amnesty International USA, will be selecting some posts for recognition. After these posts are announced, I will be profiling three of them right here on Copywrite, Ink.

It’s become an important part of Bloggers Unite not just because one good deed deserves another, but because it places weight behind the effort, ensuring that Bloggers Unite For Human Rights is not just a flash in the pan. It's something we could all think about more often.


Blogging For Human Rights: Bloggers Unite

“The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.” — Thomas Jefferson

Many people tend to take such words for granted, but no one does in Darfur. The concept of human rights is it as unfamiliar in western Sudan as is to those who are often the most shielded. There, human rights can easily be called non-existent.

For the last five years, millions of people have lost their lives, have been displaced from their communities, and have been stripped of their families, friends, and livelihoods. It happens daily as government forces and proxy militias practice genocide against these African communities.

The latest international relief effort seems minor when compared to the amount of aid needed. Approximately 3,700 troops from 22 EU member states were recently sent to protect refugees, civilians, and aid workers in the east of Chad. And while the United States is contributing millions of dollars for peacekeeping operations, the atrocities in Darfur have continued — enough so to permanently change the way its youngest citizens will ever see the world.

What you can do about it? In the United States, become aware about the problem and take action by contacting your congressmen. Ask them to take action. Others can ask their country to do the same.

“While the words might change from country to country and are sometimes taken for granted, human rights represent one of the universally agreed upon ideas — that all people are born with basic rights and freedoms that include life, liberty, and justice.“ — Bloggers Unite For Human Rights

The Internet can be used as a powerful communication and social awareness tool. And while there are a few people who suggest that writing about human rights or shining a light on places where the abuses against human rights is not enough (as thousands of bloggers are doing today), a few simple words can lead to action.

In fact, it is often this very reason that citizens who write on the Internet and journalists are frequently among the first to be silenced. It is also the reason that the right to freedom of speech and expression are guaranteed under international law, notably under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This year also marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. People can now read the document in any language, but only as long as those people are free to share ideas as once put forth by U Thant, Third United Nations Secretary-General.

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights - This great and inspiring instrument was born of an increased sense of responsibility by the international community for the promotion and protection of man’s basic rights and freedoms. The world has come to a clear realization of the fact that freedom, justice and world peace can only be assured through the international promotion and protection of these rights and freedoms.” — U Thant

Does it really make a difference? We have to start somewhere.


Thursday, May 8

Branding Dilemmas: Personal Vs. Public Brands

As social media adoption takes hold, some companies are starting to wonder: if employees need to step out of the shadows, to serve as transparent client advocates in a community relations role, where will it leave the company brand? Held hostage by individual employees with no loyalty to the company beyond an individual connection?

A few examples came to mind. And no, not just Robert Scoble.

When I bought my Infiniti a few years ago, I got a great deal. Of course, I didn’t want to purchase an Infiniti; I wanted a Volkswagen, but the only local dealer in town at the time wouldn’t order what I wanted. So I decided to shop around. The Infiniti seemed like a great car, but the sales associate clinched it.

He believed in the product. So much so that he said he wouldn’t work anywhere else. That is, until he moved to a Ford dealership a few months later. He sent me a card in the mail, asking me to file away his new card when I was ready to trade my car in.

Before anyone asks why I was surprised, I wasn’t. He was a car salesman after all (no offense intended to anyone working at a dealership). But even back then, I considered how interdependent brands can be: the manufacturer, the dealership, the sales manager, the sales associate, the guy who comes out at the end of the deal to recommend meteor insurance.

If these various brands don’t work together, there is a problem. Or, more specifically, if my loyalty is only with the salesman then the dealer that created the right environment might one day be cut out of the picture. I see it happen to agencies all the time — never mind the strategic and creative, accounts tend to stick to account executives (because that is where the relationship is established).

In a world of free agents, where does customer loyalty fall?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor, the average person held 10.5 jobs between ages 18 to age 40 — 36 percent of these jobs were held for less than one year. Some recruiters tell me that they prefer candidates who have less than five years at a company. In the local Las Vegas market, the majority of people change jobs every two years.

With increased visibility and personal branding though, one might wonder what it means for companies. Are employers really expected to place an emphasis on individual brands that might not be there in two years?

And what if individual transparency amounts to a company negative? More often than not, the brand damage will stick to the company and not the individual (with some exceptions in public relations). This is exactly why some companies are finding it challenging to give employees too prominent of a voice in social media. In essence, some liken it to paying employees to elevate personal brands for the purpose of a better job offer.

I’m not one to subscribe to fear factor business decisions. It’s not in my nature. But some executives may raise a good question. And I don't think the answer has much to do about employee control as much as it does effective leadership.

In a world of interconnected brands, communication is key.

• Stronger internal branding programs to develop the right corporate culture
• Successfully establishing a core message to guide employees in one direction
• Succession planning, especially among employees engaged in social media or direct client relations

Social media doesn’t have to be a free-for-all. In many ways it very much the same as front-line communication and many companies seem to do pretty good with nurturing (not controlling) appropriate customer connections while protecting their brand.

If you ever stayed at a Four Seasons Hotel, you know what I mean. Apple retail stores have come a long way too. I’m a big fan of the Apple Store Genius Bar. Even one of our grocery stores seems to hit the mark.

In every case, these companies train employees to adopt certain company values. Consistent internal communication ensures they all understand the company's mission and message. And, they tend to establish more than one employee connection with the customer.


Wednesday, May 7

Reaching Trends: Social Media Adoption

Accenture, a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company, released some compelling survey results. Its poll suggests: while not all companies are engaged in social media, media executives are focused on it.

Almost two-thirds of media executives (66 percent) surveyed see multiple-screen short-form content as the largest growth area over the next five years. Even better news for ad-supported online networks, almost the same amount said such content will continue to be the prevailing business model. (Partial Source: Broadcasting & Cable).

Fifty-two percent said digital will drive all media and may even replace traditional advertising in five years. Even more amazing, 68 percent said social media will continue to be the leading growth area.

“It is great news that media organizations are developing a consistent strategic view of the key growth areas, but execution is slow,” said Gavin Mann, digital media lead for Accenture’s Media & Entertainment practice. “There clearly remains a huge effort to put in place the necessary capabilities, and it is apparent that the size of the task is still not fully understood.”

The discrepancy between perception (that social media has yet to hit full adoption) and realty (adoption is hitting exponential growth of the adoption curve) is apparent. If large companies are not talking about adopting social media today, chances are that they are planning to launch a social media presence in the near future. So what’s the hold up?

Simple. While many executives are already participating in social media on various levels, many are unsure whether consumers are ready. However, as we recently saw in the Universal McCann report, consumers are more than ready — with over 80 percent of the U.S. population already participating in social media on some level.

In addition, most companies are moving into social media at a much faster pace than they have in other adoption cycles like cell phones and desktop computers. But social media, in particular, has set itself apart from other technology-driven innovations in that it has a concept-to-implementation rate of 90 days or less. That is must faster than most companies can operate.

“This is just the beginning for a rapidly changing landscape where the media content environment grows more fractious and the user gains more control and power,” said Mann. “Traditional, established content providers will have to adapt and develop new business and monetization models in order to keep revenue streams flowing.”

More than half (57 percent) of the respondents identified the rapid growth of user-generated content—which includes amateur digital videos, podcasts, mobile-phone photography, wikis and social-media blogs—as one of the top three challenges they face today. In other words, media is embracing social media because they want to be part of it before it bypasses them all together.

Some of our own independent research supports the Accenture poll with one key exception. User-generated content will continue to expand, but consumers are likely to want more guidance and content support from the platforms company’s create. Only about one in four participants in the U.S. wants to be a content creator.


Monday, May 5

Challenging Good Deeds: Fragile Brand Theory

Unilever, maker of several leading consumer products including Dove soap, recently learned that no good deed goes unpunished. They now know better than most: attempting to maintain a brand as a good corporate citizen and environmentally friendly company is a tricky business these days.

Despite scoring at the top of global ethical and sustainability indexes during the last year, and being considered a company that takes environmental issues seriously, Unilever continues to be the target of Greenpeace because it buys palm oil from other companies that are destroying the rainforest, which is also endangering Indonesian orangutans.

Unilever is not alone. According to Greenpeace, the world's largest food, cosmetic, and biofuel companies are driving the wholesale destruction of Indonesia's rainforests and peatlands through growing palm oil consumption. In a report, Greenpeace predicts the demand for palm oil will double by 2030.

For an Advertising Age article, Greenpeace said it did not single out Unilever because of its high-profile environmental and social stances, but added that there “was an element of greenwash there.” In fact, he said, Proctor & Gamble and Nestle may be the next targets.

”Most activists of whatever persuasion on whatever issue tend to believe that they get most traction (and news coverage) by aiming at the biggest name rather than the biggest challenge," a Unilever spokeswoman e-mailed Advertising Age. "In most instances, it seems that the biggest 'name' tends to be the one that has done the most to attack the ... problem."

From a communication perspective, the spokesperson’s e-mail interested us the most because it supports our fragile brand theory, which suggests: the further perception travels from reality or the more unsustainable it might be, the greater the potential for brand damage. Overreach too much and, eventually, the brand might face total collapse.

It doesn't always matter that there are companies with much more environmentally or socially deplorable practices than Unilever. However, those companies do not receive a brand boost from the perception that they might be green.

So maybe it’s not always that activists are after the biggest names. They are after the biggest contrasts between perception and reality.

Our environmental policy sets out our commitment to meet the needs of consumers and customers in an environmentally sound and sustainable manner, through continuous improvements in environmental performance. — Unilever

In reading through the company’s environmental policy, it does seem to achieve some goals (packaging reduction, for example) better than others. Specifically, the policy states that the company aims to “ensure the safety of its products and operations for the environment” and will be “exercising the same concern for the environment wherever we operate.” If they are enabling foreign suppliers to do the opposite, then Unilever is not meeting those standards. That’s a problem, but not only in action.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not making a case against Unilever as much as I am making a case for communicators to resist messages that overreach. The truth is that relatively few companies (and even fewer people) can produce a perfect environmental scorecard.

All I'm suggesting is that we don't claim to be avid recyclers if we’re sharp on putting newspapers in the bin but shoddy on plastic bottles (because they have to be rinsed out). Authenticity simply suggests that we stop at touting our efforts at paper products if that is the case.


Wednesday, April 30

Rolling Dice: Crisis Communication Meltdown

Following the crisis that surrounds the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada over the last several months has been an exercise in evaluating futility. It can best be likened to crisis communication and common sense gone horribly wrong, with dozens involved in making decisions that resemble games of chance.

For example, the majority of physicians who helped Dr. Dipak Desai create a multi-million dollar gastroenterology business, which was closed after causing the largest hepatitis C scare in the country, are reportedly working together to reestablish practices in southern Nevada. Their decision has left the community perplexed.

The few who would comment might have refused to speak about the past and ongoing investigation, but were happy to offer that they wanted to “
get back to the community and give good quality medical care. Our patients deserve the best.” According to the story, at least three clinics may be opened by former Desai physicians.

For example, while no one had reported questionable procedures at the clinics, the investigation has revealed several nurses had complained and at least one quit on the same day she started. In addition to original reports of unsafe injection practices, the investigation has revealed that devices put in patients’ mouths for some procedures as well as single-use biopsy forceps that snip tissue were being reused.

These findings came after a poorly thought out full-page advertisement taken out in the Las Vegas Review-Journal last March. Since, most decisions seem to have followed public outcry.

For example, legislators seem to have prompted the state Board of Medical Examiners to take action after almost two months. The state’s attorney general just recently filed complaints against Desai and Dr. Eladio Carrera, another of the one of four co-owners, on behalf of the board. Both doctors were directly linked to patients who were infected. Desai had voluntarily stopped practicing medicine during the investigation weeks ago.

However, the once prominent physician continues to make decisions that further erode his credibility. The latest speculation, according to the Las Vegas Sun is that Desai may attempt to flee the country while multiple agencies continue their investigation.

The speculation arose after sources said Desai took ownership of two leased Mercedes-Benzes so they may shipped to the country of Dubai. While authorities have not charged Desai with any crime, authorities have flagged his passport, asking that they be notified if he tries to leave the country.

Sometimes public relations practitioners liken crisis communication to proper spin and damage control, rolling the dice on the location of press conferences or playing the “advice of legal counsel” card too frequently, when questionable actions — like shipping your cars off to another country — are patently more damaging than full disclosure.

Besides, sooner or later, public relations practitioners need to remember that reporters learn quick fix tactics as fast as professional dream them up. If you think they don’t know that press conferences are sometimes held across town to avoid on-site coverage, the only person you are really fooling is yourself.


Tuesday, April 29

Stirring Media Revolutions: Citizen Journalism

Citizen Journalism
"You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war." — William Randolph Hearst

With the financial support of his mother, William Randolph Hearst bought the failing New York Journal in 1885. And, within a few short years, his name, along with that of Joseph Pulitzer, who purchased his way into the publishing business (he originally bought the Post for $3,000 and other papers before the New York World), became forever associated with yellow journalism.

Hearst, in particular, was ridiculed and criticized by Upton Sinclair for having newspaper employees who were "willing by deliberate and shameful lies, made out of whole cloth, to stir nations to enmity and drive them to murderous war."

The assertion is linked to the idea that if it had not been for the publishings of Hearst and Pulitzer, there may have never been popular support for U.S. military adventurism in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines in 1898. But neither Hearst nor Pulitzer were alone in their endeavors to shape the news.

Earlier in American history, it was Alexander Hamilton (1801) who pooled together $10,000 from investors to start the New York Evening Post, specifically to take aim at Thomas Jefferson and the rise in popularity of the Democratic-Republican Party. And, before that, it was newspapers that helped spur on the American Revolution by taking creative license when publishing images such as the famed Boston Massacre. The image, of course, did not represent the facts. The British soldiers were later acquitted for acting in self-defense.

The formalization of objective journalism is a relatively new idea.

These are just some of the historic footnotes I consider every time I hear the term “citizen journalists,” which is generally defined as citizens playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information. Most notably, the moniker seems to be assigned to bloggers to suggest that they are somehow they are less than journalists (assuming they even want to be journalists).

Yet, with relative ease it seems, all of those mentioned above — Pulitzer and Hearst and Hamilton and Jefferson — and many others not named — Sam Adams and Benjamin Franklin among them — certainly fit the definition as very actively engaged citizens, without rules, who pursued printing the news as they felt fit.

In fact, Reese Cleghorn, former president of AJR and former dean of the College of Journalism of the University of Maryland, helped put some of this in perspective in 1995. In his article, he leads with how Walter Lippmann commented on "the new objective journalism" and what it might mean for journalism schools in 1931. An excerpt:

"I do not know much about the schools of journalism," Lippman said, "and I cannot say, therefore, whether they are vocational courses designed to teach the unteachable art of the old romantic journalism or professional schools aiming somehow to prepare men for the new objective journalism.

"I suspect, therefore, that schools of journalism in the professional sense will not exist generally until journalism has been practiced for some time as a profession. It has never yet been a profession. It has been at times a dignified calling, at others a romantic adventure, and then again a servile trade.

"But a profession it could not begin to be until modern objective journalism was successfully created, and with it the need of men who consider themselves devoted, as all the professions ideally are, to the service of truth alone."

Think of it for a moment. According to Cleghorn, professional, objective journalism was a mere 64 years old when he wrote his article. And, even then, he was not sure journalism was a profession.

Journalism has always been the art of participating citizens to report.

So it is often with this understanding, I am amused by debates between Michael Tomansky, Guardian America, who suggests that “Journalists relinquish rights frequently in the course of doing their work responsibly, as you well know.” and Jeff Jarvis, BuzzMachine, who counters that “We journalists have long traded in the currencies of access and exclusivity with the powerful. But the price we pay is complicity in a system of secrecy.”

Gentleman, please pause a moment to consider that you are debating a concept that has yet to survive a complete century against another that is less than five years old. So-called professional journalists, those who evolved out of objective journalism, were never meant to be bound by rules, except one, also penned by Lippman.

“There is no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and shame the devil.”

As one of my journalism professors, Jake Highton, reiterated again in 1978: “Although it has codes of ethics and credos, journalism really has no laws. Yet what Lippman said in the 1920s remains true today: Telling the truth is the highest law of journalism.”

So as unfortunate as it sounds, Jarvis stands correct on those grounds. For a journalist to adhere to a promise of omission for the privilege of inclusion ... well, that strikes me as a promise to not tell the truth.

The division of citizen from journalist ought to be struck from our tongues.

Throughout history, journalists were simply citizens who hoped to make change, with the concept of reporting the truth a secondary consideration in the early 1900s. The only criteria for admission into the field was the cost of a printing press or the ability to knit prose with enough efficiency to be paid by someone who could afford it.

Certainly, social media has lowered the entrance fee considerably, but I propose it has not lowered the bar by any other measure. You see, there have always been journalists who have adhered to and/or relinquished their sense of ethics. But never has there been a code that has withstood the test of time or shackled the profession beyond individual reputation.

Let's face it. Even today, the largest publishers in the world remain tabloids that are willing to publish unsubstantiated fact and fiction at their leisure, sometimes with startling accuracy and other times without a sliver of truth. Should we impose more rules on bloggers than we would the largest publishers in the world? I think not.

And to that end I guess, as important as the conversation might be, what right would any group have to propose such unspoken governance over anyone? Truly, if there are any laws that bloggers might consider, I believe those laws might already be on the books with no other rules necessary.

As professionals continue to discuss the merits of somehow distinguishing the citizen journalist from the professional journalist, I suggest we not tread so heavily to put self-imposed etiquette over free expression. As wiser folks remind us…

“Better a thousandfold abuse of free speech than denial of free speech. The abuse dies in a day, but the denial slays the life of the people, and entombs the hope of the race." — Charles Bradlaugh

Monday, April 28

Promoting Citizen Journalists: CNN

Valeria Maltoni, Conversation Agent, did her usual excellent job covering the debate between Jeff Jarvis and Michael Tomansky about citizen journalists. It's a conversation I'll be picking up tomorrow (today got away from me).

It's truly is a worthwhile discussion. I only wish those discussing it would give a nod to history, making the point that this is not a new debate and appreciating that the so-called formalization of journalism is a relatively new concept, spurred on largely by the Internet. But I'll save that for tomorrow.

Today, it seems fitting to mention something else about citizen journalism. Both CNN and The New York Times are considering methods that may lift up citizen journalists once and for all. Both are discussing the feasibility of allowing citizens to submit stories online, some of which will then be sourced for the news. Along with them, other media outlets see the potential of citizen journalism as especially useful to shine light on non-profit organizations.

Currently, it's also slated to be part of "The Impact Of The Internet On Media And Community Outreach," a presentation being delivered by Veronica De La Cruz, news anchor and Internet correspondent for CNN’s flagship morning news program “American Morning.” Her speech will be given at The Lions HealthFirst Foundation Inaugural Dinner in Las Vegas on May 16.

I don't expect most people outside Las Vegas will hear too much about the event. Seating is limited to 50 people. I'll do my best to cover portions of it. Veronica De La Cruz is always very accommodating.

The dinner also comes at great time for the Lions HealthFirst Foundation, a public charity that maintains a community health education and preventive screening program for the purpose of reducing the rate of stroke, heart attacks, and cancer.

Sadly, the continuing health scare in southern Nevada has caused a 40 percent drop in participation of this low cost and free health screening program. It’s a travesty because the foundation had nothing to do with the crisis and their screenings are completely non-invasive.

Copywrite, Ink. is among the sponsors, along with Aaron Lelah Jewelers; CNN; Las Vegas International Lions Club; McCormick & Schmick’s; and Herb Perry, public affairs director for CBS Radio Group. All proceeds from the event will benefit Lions HealthFirst Foundation.


Friday, April 25

Wagging The Dog: Social Media Lessons

Next Friday, May 2, I will be teaching Social Media For Communication Strategy class for the Division of Educational Outreach at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) public relations certificate program.

In addition to providing an overview of various technologies — blogs, news aggregators, social networks, digital media, presence applications — I’ll spend some considerable time emphasizing real-life case studies, how to manage messages in the new media environment, and how to custom develop a blog and social media presence from the ground up. More importantly, I’m hoping those who attend take away one important fact about social media.

The long tail of social media need not wag the company dog.

You might know what I mean. Almost daily, someone immersed in social media writes about how companies just need to unfasten their safety belts and ride the social media wave in some sort of customer-driven free for all.

Yet, if companies simply succumb to the wisdom of the masses, adjusting entire communication plans based upon feedback from select customers and others within the same sphere, then their message is likely to spin further away from its center and not toward it.

Delivering only what people want is best left to politics, where these notions appear with reckless abandon, and voters are sometimes left to scratch their heads in wonderment when their elected officials seem to bear no resemblance to the candidates. In fact, it’s this very kind of thinking that served as a precursor to the struggles that this country faced in the wake of winning independence, with John Adams yielding principle by signing the Alien and Sedition Acts.

Even in social media, such thinking leads to erroneous ideas like “no criticism” controls. Those eventually erode.

Lead with core values and the tail will follow.

While such ideas come with the best intentions, they are almost as cliché as drinking the Kool-Aid. Of course, far be it from me to suggest we all need to put our anti-masses Charles Bukowski hats on either (though the man had a point about catering to the crowds). That’s just another extreme of the opposite color.

The only truth I have been able to discern is that most companies will never face blog dramas or social media stompfests that leave people bruised or banned. Those are best left to professionals who are trying to carve out a niche in the social media leadership scene and/or educators who are less sensitive to intellectual criticism because they know that open debate is simply a method to find the truth.

On the contrary, most companies will not likely become embroiled in the same colorful conversations that seem to spring up from time to time in social media. Sure, a few might aspire to, but only a relatively small fraction. All that means is that proven communication methods are largely the same.

So, as for those battle cries that online worlds need to be populated by customer input … well, I suppose that might work for some. Yet, more and more, it seems to me that if social media is all customer-driven content all the time, then we are merely supplanting one-way communication — corporate speak — with another one-way communication — customer speak. That’s not engagement.

Ergo, corporate speak and customer speak are the extreme ends of a much more robust bell curve, leaving companies with many more options then they have been led to believe. Of course, presenting this might make me seem a little less skilled at “telling” people how to do social media. But I have found it works very well in teaching people how to determine what might work best for them, their companies, and their clients.


Thursday, April 24

Eye-popping Predictions: The Genius Of Perception

The newest trend in communication seems to be the art of prediction.

A quick search on Google reveals some 15.4 million results that contain the word “predicts,” with more than 15,800 appearing in media stories — 400 in the last 24 hours alone. Prediction racks up another 11,000 hits, many trumped up with words like eye-popping, chilling, and current (which gives a nod to the idea that predications change, frequently).

Yep. The hypothetical hyperbole, which we often advise clients to avoid, is king of the hill. It’s become easier than ever to find someone with a crystal ball.

• The Alliance Trust predicts that household expenditures in Britain over the next 12 months will continue to decline as the credit crunch continues to squeeze on people’s finances.

• The Rage predicts that Carrie, in the movie “Sex and the City,” will either fall down a manhole as she rushes to meet the girls for brunch or asphyxiate herself with a Fendi boa.

• Researchers can now predict which button a subject will press 60 percent of the time, slightly better than a random guess.

• The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) predicts a “silent tsunami” in which high food prices across the globe could force as many as 100 million people into hunger.

The latter is significant at the moment because it’s partly true. Increasing demand from developing countries and poor crop yields are to blame for rising rice prices, up 70 percent this year.

However, the reporting of rice shortage predications is causing restaurants to stock up on and hoard rice and major supermarkets to place limits on the product, which has caused even more demand, making the world rice shortage an almost certain self-fulfilling prophecy.

You can make predications too. It’s easy.

There are several great ways to bend perception into reality, but two have become all my all-time favorites.

The non-committal prediction.

The weather will continue to change for a very long time.

The genius of this prediction is that it is no prediction at all, but rather simply a statement of fact, much like predicting a recession. Sooner or later, it happens. You know, like the CIBC predicting gas to hit $7 per gallon by 2012. Heck, I can do better than that. I’ll guess $10 a gallon, unless we do something about it.

The extended timeline prediction.

Within the next 50 or 100 years, something will happen, anything really.

The genius of this is that you can float a long-term prediction, based upon any number of qualifiers, and have a slightly better chance than a random guess. If it happens, you claim credit as a genius. If it does not happen, no one will remember anyway.

Personally, I think it would be just dandy if journalists started rating predictions on their apparent validity and then giving them a less serious, but more accurate terminology — wild guesses. There are only a paltry 58 of those.


Wednesday, April 23

Tagging Games: Seven Useless Facts And 12 Great Blogs

A few days ago, Michelle from Monarch Health Promotions, tagged me with a meme that asks I share seven useless facts about me and then tag 12 more blogs, asking the authors to do the same. Her blog as the complete details.

Seven Useless Facts About Rich

1. I worked as stage foreman for a few years in college. The most memorable concert was Pink Floyd, an outdoor show in Sacramento. The 8-story stage took all night to strike in the rain.
2. I also worked as an assistant manager at a 7-Eleven. I was almost robbed at gunpoint by four teenagers. The police officers stopped them at the door, after one of officers reportedly decided against risking a hostage situation.
3. The first time I met Rich Little was at his home in Las Vegas. He’s the same offstage as on.
4 I’m about to serve by third three-year term as a governor-appointed state commissioner for Nevada Volunteers, which administers Americorps programs in our state.
5. I’ve worked on four major hotel casino openings while living in Las Vegas, including New York, New York Hotel & Casino. I wrote their trademarked slogan “The Greatest City In Las Vegas” as part of their pre-opening video.
6. I used to be an avid gamer, a side effect of working with Westwood Studios, the company that developed Command & Conquer and several other popular titles, before they were bought by EA Games.
7. I’ve won more than 100 paper weights in advertising, public relations, and communication. They are no fun to dust.

You know, I’ve always had mixed feelings about memes (pronounced “mi:ms” and I sometimes joke the better pronunciation is “me-me” because that is what most are all about) and professionals generally avoid them (unless they are thinly disguised as cross-blog communication conversations). I do too, but every now and again, I’m reminded that professional and corporate blogs are only a small sliver of the social media scene.

The McCann Universal study, mentioned on Monday, reminded me that 63.5 percent of all blogs are personal, with the majority of the balance evolving as citizen journalism.

So here are the twelve blogs that I am tagging (with no obligation on their part) because they frequently come up on our radar and any blogger — communicators or otherwise — might learn something from them. (No order.)

Twelve Great Blogs On Our Radar

1. Lucky Girl Trading Co. has employed social media to expand her gemstone and jewelry hobby into a growing studio business.

2. Romance Books provides mini reviews and author insights, with a focus on books by Avon Romance, which is a division of HarperCollins Publishers. I don't read romance books, but I get what they're doing.

3. Margie and Edna’s Basement began as satire revolving around the show Jericho from two “elderly” ladies. It has evolved into a bit about everything they like (or not).

4. Vubx highlights any number of interesting, odd, and creative gadgets from wooden phones to flying robot cameras.

5. Thomas Laupstad is a photographer from Northern Norway. I’ve become a fan over the past year.

6. About Offshoring by Remi Vespa features and opinions about IT outsourcing for small and medium-sized businesses. Very smart stuff.

7. Truebluetrain by Rob Schultz has been documenting his trials and tribulations on what he calls an entrepreneurial journey.

8. An Unsuspecting Notebook, penned by Chungyen Chang, shares something about life, writing, and her personal journey to find something greater.

9. RMO focuses on what it takes to be a successful Internet entrepreneur and what seems to work online.

10. Lisa’s World is a little bit everything weird, interesting, or funny. (Warning: this one is very addictive reading.)

11. Geek Mom Mashup has built her blog around intelligent conversation, moderately geeky tech talk, and very funny mom stories.

12. Designer's Depot provides a fun mix of photography tips, design hints, and artist reviews.


Tuesday, April 22

Checking Reality: Green For A Day?

For all the success of Earthday, there seems to be some cause for concern too . I’m not sure how to describe it. It’s like over commercialization and meaningless messages at the same time.

"Every company is out there touting 'we're green' -- it's the new requirement for being a good corporate citizen," Allen Adamson, managing director of WPP Group's branding consultancy Landor Associates, told The Wall Street Journal. "The noise level is so high now. The first few people into it had some benefit. Now it's a cost of entry.”

The Wall Street Journal article was something I thought about today while meeting with one of our clients — an engineering firm that retrofits boilers, making them more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. Enough so that one retrofit is equivalent to planting 700,000 trees. It’s important because of what they do, but it’s not their only message. Their work also achieves payback in less than one year.

And then I thought of some other messages I had seen today: Subaru of America is donating 160 cherry trees across the country; Nokia launched a program to make recycling mobile phones easier. SmarterTravel highlighted “green” travel designations on their Web site.

While there is nothing really wrong with any of it, it does makes me wonder.

Do these more frivolous pursuits for media attention do any good? Or do they merely distract from people and companies who do things daily? Does seeing a commercial with two Anheuser-Busch employees talking about the environment make you want to buy the beer? Was Wal-Mart really smart to declare April "Earth Month?" Should we all send Earthday cards around the planet from now on?

I don’t know. Maybe that’s the difference between participation and engagement. You can celebrate Earthday today and/or you can do something about the environment daily.

We’re dropping some artificial turf in the backyard tomorrow, which makes sense when you live in a desert. (Water conservation is a big deal here.) I suppose I could have issued a news release and called it an Earthday solution.

But given we can only communicate so many messages about ourselves and hope to have any one of them be remembered, there wasn’t much point in pretending. Huh. Maybe we could call that message conservation.

Right on. Let's make Earthday daily, but not a marketing gimmick or public relations stunt. We have enough of those already.


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