Thursday, March 5

Owning Communication: Be Your Own Voice


While an increasing number of people are wondering if we are headed toward a depression, fear-mongering seemingly in fashion (the only good reporting comes on the front end with Sweden telling GM that their taxpayers will not fund them), and the deficit for this year expected to reach $1.7 trillion, it now seems everyone could use a little good news. You can find a little (but not all) good news in a recent report from global consulting firm Watson Wyatt.

According to the survey of 245 large U.S. employers conducted last week, 52 percent have made layoffs, up from 39 percent two months ago. However, the number of companies planning layoffs has fallen 10 percentage points from 23 percent to 13 percent. Fifty-six percent do, however, have a hiring freeze in effect, an increase from 47 percent in December’s survey.

“Companies have come to terms with the fact that this recession is going to last and that they can’t slash their way out of it,” said Laura Sejen, global director of strategic rewards consulting at Watson Wyatt. “Many companies are putting the drastic cuts behind them and are now focusing on smaller, more sustainable cost-cutting actions.”

So, the little bit of good news seems to be that fewer companies are willing to apply leeches to cure their ailments. Now, if only these same leaders could clear their heads long enough to believe they can manage the destiny of their companies. Considering just less than 10 percent of those surveyed believe that we have already hit bottom, not enough do.

In fact, according to the same report, 38 percent believe the economy won't hit bottom until late 2009, and 28 percent believe that the recession will likely last through 2010 ... and beyond. If these company leaders are not careful, they will talk themselves right into the worst case scenarios when what they really need to do is hit the lead key.

If they don't hit the lead key, then they perpetuate the problem. As it stands right now, some polls show that 37 percent of all Americans, nearly 50 percent of Democrats, believe the nation is already in a depression. If that number hits 50 percent of the total population, then the public will unknowingly create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Some Fresh Facts In The Dour Economy.

• The University of Virginia showed the trouble is mostly focused on four states — California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada — where home prices were the most overheated in the US housing boom. That implies that the housing crisis is overstated. Locally, in Nevada, the market is already showing movement and stabilizing despite what economists are saying about data that is more than two months old.

• After the fiasco faced by Northern Trust, expect more banks to come forward to proclaim they did not need the TARP money. The government ASKED healthy banks to accept the money because they wanted to shield true bailout banks from being singled out, because many banks are paying as much as 5 percent interest on that money, and because good banks accepting TARP helped protect the taxpayer-subsidized funds (hedging against the government funding only losers). The banking crisis may be overstated.

• The crisis on Wall Street seems to be lock step with every time the federal government proposes a new plan. Even when President Obama, who usually carries a message of darker days ahead, encouraged investing, the stock market sank further. It will likely continue as long as regulation and "strings" are part of the package. Several states are even expected to reject stimulus money outright, citing that the money either creates future fiscal problems or that some funding encourages money where it is not needed or critical.

Tactics To Employ As Individuals.

While there are some economic constraints, the real rub is twofold: a lack of leadership, especially from companies that only perform well in ideal conditions; and consumer confidence, which is unfortunately hinged on public and private leadership. It seems to be becoming increasingly obvious that individuals might look to themselves, rather than people outside their homes, for leadership.

• Capitalize on “individual action.” Focus on what you can manage at home, rather than the state of the global economy. The state of the economy is less important to an individual than their place in that economy.

• Establish a clear direction. Know as much as you can about your household's situation, specifically how a two income household might consider what would it take to operate as a one income household. Some people are surprised to learn that in a worst case scenario, they can still pay all their expenses. Knowing this will likely give you peace of mind.

• Cut expenses that appear to be fixed. Expenses such as electric, gas, cable, etc. that appear to be fixed, are not. You can manage all of these expenses, reallocating these funds for social activities, which you need to remain positive.

• Engage your community. Choosing to be active in your community will empower you. It gets you out of the house, provides social engagement, and reinforces how much of a difference you really can make.

• Be honest with yourself and family. The number one communication breakdown in families, much like companies, is a lack of communication about unknowns. Be authentic, even if it means talking about things just to put worries aside.

• Put passion into your job. Focus on satisfying customers over internal challenges or lackluster leadership. The worst case scenario is that you will position yourself for advancement when the economy turns around. Of course, if your company is too dour, look for a new company where your employer will be in the 10 percent minority that knows how to navigate any financial waters. There are some companies out there that are growing more than bemoaning the economy. I know because our client roster includes several.

• Plan your next adventure. Who cares if you don't want to take a trip now. Start planning a trip or some other distraction, even if you do not have a date to make it real. People always perform better when they have something to look forward to.

Much like companies, individuals are better off when they focus on "what is" and "what's possible" as opposed to "what if worries." So, what I'm really suggesting here is that if your employer cannot communicate the level of leadership you need, then consider looking to yourself to provide it.

Wednesday, March 4

Changing The World: BloggersUnite.org


"How can we bring bloggers together to do good?" — Antony Berkman, BlogCatalog.com

In early 2007, it seemed like a simple enough question posed to his business partner Angelica Alaniz, designer Oscar Tijerina, and programmer Daniel Tijerina. So, within a week, the BlogCatalog team created a landing page, encouraging bloggers to support classroom supplies for students though the Omidyar Network-supported DonorsChoose.org.

"We asked BlogCatalog members to take a day off from writing about Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, and focus their posts on doing good to support education," says Berkman. "The initial challenge didn't attract much attention at first. A few people were interested, and I was almost ready to give up until this one guy in Las Vegas asked me for a news release to include on his business giving blog."

There was only on problem with the request. Berkman didn't have a news release. So that one guy from Las Vegas volunteered to write it, rewrite it for the blog, and distribute it to several key publications and blogs with the hope it might gain some traction.

The coverage quickly helped propel what would become the first social network-driven social awareness campaign on the Internet. DonorsChoose.org benefited from ten times the awareness online and more than 1,000 students directly benefited from the donations received.

"Coming together is a beginning." — Henry Ford

"It was really very overwhelming to see hundreds of bloggers come together and all write about how we could improve education and why people might support DonorsChoose.org," says Berkman. "We also learned a lot from the first initiative, especially that BlogCatalog had become an international social network for bloggers so we had to think globally."

One year later, after Bloggers Unite continued to grow with each increasingly successful campaign, Bloggers Unite for Human Rights became the new benchmark for success. The campaign generated 1.2 million posts that raised awareness, provided varied calls to action, increased attention on Amnesty International, and caught the attention of Veronica De La Cruz, Internet correspondent for CNN's flagship morning news program.

"Keeping together is progress." — Henry Ford

"While every campaign had been increasingly successful, the two and half minute segment on CNN was defining moment," said Berkman. "When you asked members who would have posts ready in the morning for consideration on CNN, it was nothing less than extraordinary watching bloggers move from doubt to disbelief to exuberance."

The successes were not without some sour notes. Because Bloggers Unite was designed to raise awareness for underserved causes, some critics thought Bloggers Unite didn't do enough. They felt Bloggers Unite didn't go far enough in creating sustainable engagement with specific causes, never considering that many participants stayed on with the benefiting nonprofit organization.

"Sometimes it's challenging in that our goal has always been to make it about the bloggers and the organizations we benefit," said Berkman. "So if that means talking more about the cause than ourselves or the results we achieve, so be it."

"Working together is success." — Henry Ford

What the critics didn't know was that BlogCatalog was already working on the evolution of Bloggers Unite, taking the initiative and transforming it into a social network that all online and offline charitable events could benefit from. Since the network allows any member to submit local, national, and international events, Berkman says he never has to say "no" to organizations again.

“The new network changed the dynamic of Bloggers Unite,” said Berkman. ”While we’ll still coordinate three major underserved social awareness campaigns through BlogCatalog every year, BloggersUnite members can now submit and support their causes as well.”

The new network solves another challenges too. BlogCatalog members had been previously split on how many campaigns might be too few or too many. The new network allows bloggers and other social networks to promote as many events as they want while BlogCatalog, combined with Bloggers Unite will still be home base for three initiatives every year.

Can we change the world in 90 days?

As 90 days is the ideal amount of time to launch a fully integrated social awareness campaign, it became a question that I used to ask frequently up until last year. After what started as writing a simple release became developing communication plans that provided enough guidance and freedom for Bloggers Unite, the answer has become all too apparent. Yes, we can.

For me, one of the unique aspects of the new Bloggers Unite network is the ability for bloggers and non-bloggers to raise awareness globally online while taking action locally. It's also one of the reasons Copywrite, Ink. asked BlogCatalog members and a few friends on Twitter to offer six to 12 local events to serve as our initial examples. Here are ten events recently added to the 37 different events currently available (in chronological order) to serve as inspiration for other nonprofit organizations.

Ten Local Events Highlighted At BloggersUnite.org

March 14. San Antonio, Texas | Be A Shavee
The world's largest volunteer-driven fundraising event for childhood cancer research invites thousands of volunteers to shave their heads in solidarity of children with cancer, while requesting donations of support from friends and family.

April 6. Puerta de Tierra, San Juan, Puerto Rico | Marcha Por Los Bebes
The Puerto Rico March of Dimes chapter will march for babies, an event that raises money to support programs in the community that will help moms have healthy full-term pregnancies.

April 11. Frederick, Maryland | Run For Congo Women
Run For Congo Women, hosted by Women For Women International, will provide direct assistance through sponsorships that will help women and children pay for food, medicine, and other lifesaving needs.

April 19. Las Vegas, Nevada | 2009 AIDS Walk Las Vegas
Aid for AIDS of Nevada will lead the AIDS Walk, which consists of individual walkers and walk teams to raise funds for critical services and elevate public awareness. The AIDS walk is supported by many organizations and celebrities, including Penn & Teller.

April 29. Portland, Oregon | The Pet Effect Fundraising Luncheon
The Delta Society will host a free fundraising luncheon (no minimum or maximum donation) to raise funds for therapy animal programs and their handlers, which makes a difference by providing a human-animal bond.

May 2. Twin Cities, Minnesota | Twin Cities Walk for Parkinson's Disease
The Parkinson Association of Minnesota (PAM) will walk to improve the lives of those affected by Parkinson's disease, through fundraising, community building, advocacy, and increasing public awareness.

May 2. Atlanta, Georgia | The Arthritis Walk Atlanta
The Atlanta chapter of the Arthritis Foundation will participate in the annual nationwide event to help improve the lives of the 46 million men, women and children doctor-diagnosed with arthritis.

May 3. Boston, Massachusetts | 2009 Walk For Hunger
More than 40,000 supporters will take part in Project Bread’s Walk for Hunger, where walkers of all ages participate in an event dedicated to feeding hungry people. Project Bread served 43.4 million meals last year.

June 19-21. Vancouver, Canada | The Ride To Conquer Cancer
Cyclists will bike for two days from Vancouver to Seattle. Funds will benefit BC Cancer Foundation to support breakthrough research and enhancements to care at BC Cancer Agency, throughout British Columbia.

June 24. Edinburgh, Scotland, UK | The Moon Walk Edinburgh
More than 12,000 women and men will walk the streets of Edinburgh in their decorated bras to raise money and awareness for the fight against breast cancer.

We'll be adding art, badges, and topic guides as each local event date nears as well as participating in several international event days throughout the year.

What can you do? Join BloggersUnite.org and then choose as many or as few campaigns as you want to help. Once you're a member, you can also add and manage local events in your community, national events close to your heart, or designated international event days that touch lives all over the world. The network makes it easy to upload materials to help and a link to the specific event page. And naturally, we're always happy to answer questions.

All that remains to be asked is whether you really want to change the world? I know I have, and still do.

Tuesday, March 3

Buzzing Boondoggle: Skittles


How does Skittles measure success?

The 250,000 blog posts about the new site that broadcasts consumer comments back at them (and counting)? The 240 mainstream articles, including the Wall Street Journal blog (and counting)? How long #Skittles stays in the top ten most talked about subjects on Twitter?

Congratulations. You're being talked about. Now what?

For all the buzz about the new Skittles site, one wonders if the candy company might just jump the shark. Skittles, which has temporarily (underscore temporarily since it will be putting back its home page soon enough) has turned to social media as its primary marketing push online.

While there are scores of complimentary and contrary opinions to choose from, its still too early to determine whether their social media stunt might produce tangible outcomes. The smarter choice, for now, is to consider it as a living case study, with four basic observations up front.

• The reach might be too far. There seems to be no escape from the buzz on social networks like Twitter, which is irritating some participants. The primary reason for all the buzz up on Twitter is vanity over candy. Any time someone says anything about Skittles, they pop up on the current Skittles homepage (which will be regulated to chatter soon enough). Simply put, Skittles may be alienating its audience by focusing too much on atmosphere, which is something I wrote about just yesterday.

• The impressions aren't all positive. Almost 75 percent of the impressions being left and lofted at the Skittles site via Twitter and across various blogs are off topic or negative. It's one thing to praise buzz, but something else all together to consider a campaign a success when the negative impressions start to outpace positive impressions.

• Sustainability is a watch point. Talking about Skittles just isn't all that sustainable. The company runs a real risk of encouraging people to talk about the site so much, they will get sick of the shallow chat and stop talking about it all together. Right, there is a valid reason that most movie franchises are generally confined to a limited number of installments. Communication overload can kill interest.

• Skittles and its return on communication. There are only two real outcomes that may determine if the Skittles social media campaign is a success. First, what is the net sum of all positive and negative impressions? Currently, it seems they are losing ground. However, I have to concede that this may change once the initial buzz up wears off (unless some consumers go out of their way to attack it). The second measure is sales. In all fairness, we have to wait and see.

Even more interesting to me is why this marketing program seems to be getting so much attention for a program that is not new. The concept has been around for some time; we even wrote about it in February. In fact, using Tweetfeed.com, Skittles could have done the exact same thing, but benefited from better background.

Of course, there is that other thing too. One wonders what the response will be like when Skittles puts its homepage back up, regulating the Twitter stream to the chatter button. It makes me hope that someone has a contingency plan for what could be billed as a short-term publicity stunt that fails at authenticity. My guess is there isn't one.

Why? They were in such a rush for buzz up that they neglected to consider how annoying it is to type in your birthdate on every single visit. Not only is it annoying, but any data capturing at this point is futile because the bulk of their visitors are visiting out of curiosity and not because they are interested in consuming candy.

Monday, March 2

Measuring Communication, Realization Part 3


Since 1999, radio has experienced a steady decline in listenership, and has become mostly confined to specific personalities and drive times. In fact, according to the BIA Financial Network, Inc. (BIAfn), the radio industry has suffered its second year of negative growth in 2008, tripling station revenue losses to -7 percent and will experience another 10 percent decline in revenue this year.

It's worth mentioning because radio provides an excellent example of the overvaluation of reach as it pertains to live radio remotes. As a promotional tool, Warner & Buchman once described radio remotes as an excellent promotional tool "to create excitement and increased awareness for a product or service and to get consumers involved with a product." Simply put, they were traffic generators.

But what traffic? When poorly planned, many stations, especially those with strong station personalities, would sometimes attract crowds that were more interested in the station than the marketer's location. And some, weren't even interested in either as much as the free food, drinks, contests, and drawings.

That is not to say radio remotes are bad. They work great for some businesses and can create an atmosphere. But in terms of real reach — real potential future buyers, some remotes are over valued. I once attended an agency organized event that delivered not a single buyer because they chose a popular remote station over a station with the right demographic, and still insisted the event was a success based on the number of bodies. Hmmm ...

Redefining Reach To Avoid Over Valuation

In most communication fields, reach is often defined as the total number of impressions or how many people are exposed to a message. However, in considering the effectiveness of communication, marketers can capture a clearer picture if they narrow the definition of reach to only include the intended public.

Mack Collier, a social media consultant, alluded to this thinking in January after he became one of 25 hand-picked communication-related bloggers to see a sneak preview of Pepsi cans sporting the new logo. While each blogger framed up their posts for their audience, most were not Pepsi fan boys.

Was it an effective application of reach? Or would Pepsi have benefited by targeting bloggers who are actually fans of the product or related products, like Justin or the Pepsi Blue Blog? And even if Pepsi did target communication bloggers, wouldn't it have been more worthwhile to send out what Fast Company has called the most ridiculous thing ever perpetrated by somebody calling himself a designer? After all, the brief has generated more buzz than the bloggers ever did, even if most of it was bad.

Some Public Relations Firms Are The Worst Offenders

Kathy Keenan, principal at Keenan Strategic Communications, called it right when she said column inches is more "ridiculous" than most public relations measures. The practice, counting column inches and then attempting to equate the value of those inches to the ad rate equivalent, is just plain fraud. I also agree that clip counting or basing the measure on circulation is equally flawed.

Don't get me wrong. Hits are great, but only if they reach the intended public. And even then, only if they move that public in a specific direction or, perhaps, raise the brand equity of the company. Personally, I suspect if more public relations firms measured properly, journalists would celebrate because it would mean a whole lot less spam.

One example I use in my Writing For Public Relations class at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is how a predominately local attraction that relies on visitation from a proximity-based public would not benefit from every impression earned from mention in an out-of-market publication. Sure, it might be cool to see a West Coast local attraction written up in the Wall Street Journal, but only if business people might might buy plane tickets.

Otherwise, it's all perception that has nothing to do with much of anything. However, that perception of faux reach is so strong, even some publications are starting to cross ethical lines to have it online.

Does a local hamburger stand benefit from exposure in Singapore? Probably not, but they are paying for it.

Gaming Traffic Online Runs The Risk Of Ruining Companies

On Twitter this weekend, Joe Hunkins asked if Twitter participants would follow a company for $.01 a day. He said that half would, and half would not. But what does that do? Simple, but silly.

All it really does is bring a sketch from the once popular television show Ally McBeal to real life. In an episode called Out in the Cold, the character named Billy decides to hire six girls as his new entourage, hoping to impress a powerful potential client. However, online perception is not television programming, and paid followers will never help you determine if you have an effective message for real prospects.

Astroturf aside, the bottom line is that while exposing as many people as possible to a specific message may yield results, the over valuation of reach can distract companies from their primary objectives or even drive existing customers and prospects away. I've watched dozens of blogs over the last five years turn off their core audience by chasing numbers instead of customers.

When To Consider Reach Part Of The Equation

In sum, to determine the effectiveness of communication, the measure of reach is more useful when it is limited to intended publics as opposed to the general public. In other words, if you have a product or service intended to be purchased by your demographic, then the only number that counts are those in that demographic and the frequency that the demographic is exposed to that message.

Download The Abstract: Measure: I | O = ROC

The ROC is an abstract method of measuring the value of business communication by recognizing that the return on communication — advertising, marketing, public relations, internal communication, and social media — is related to the intent of the communication and the outcome it produces. Every Monday, the ROC series explores portions of the abstract.

Friday, February 27

Asking Social Questions: Pete Cashmore


Pete Cashmore, founder of Mashable, which is a news blog dedicated to Web 2.0 and social networking news, asked an interesting question last week about human behavior. Does social media — specifically the immediacy and accessibility of information — change the way people act in an increasingly public world, and thereby make people nicer?

Diverse Reactions Suggest A Common Answer

"I think it may improve behaviour in 'public spaces' (that term deserves its own entry), and it may extend that improved behaviour to family and friends that could turn on us - I’m thinking of The Hoff’s daughter and Alec Baldwin’s daughter (yep audio alone can be embarrassing too.) - but this is a superficial change. Behaviour is about appearances. And changing behaviour does not mean changing intent (hearts and minds)." — Richard Weiser

"How you handle a differing opinion will speak volumes about you and can either enhance (or undermine) your personal credibility." — Sharlyn Lauby with online conflict tips

"It certainly can, if we use it properly - and, as the blog post suggests, the instant exposure of social media can help throttle down bad behavior. But people are people, and I think we’ll always see a mix of goodness and folly in any method of communicating." — Steve Woodruff

"The comments at the end of the article are mixed. I for one, do not think that social media makes me a better person. Maybe a person with more access to contributing my thoughts and opinions or a person with more public visibility or a person who is more careful of what I choose to throw around online, but not a better person." — Practicum Pioneers

"Social media doesn’t make us better people, but it does make us more conscious people." — Melissa at ZooLoo

"You hear too often about people getting caught in the act of committing unacceptable societal acts (i.e. most recently Michael Phelps). With people becoming more socially active on the Web, not only do you have big brother government watching, you also have millions of other people that are watching if they really wanted to. More than ever, you need to protect your reputation, because it can be tarnished in an flash." — Ismael Seguban

Common Answers Clarify Complex Questions

Two years from now (barring government restrictions), it's very unlikely we will distinguish Internet communication or social media from other forms of communication. It will become part of the whole, much like all other mediums eventually became indistinguishable as they were adopted. And, therein lies the answer to Cashmore's question.

Direct intervention, such as changing the environment as any new medium or technology does, influences behavior. However, direct intervention generally does not change a person's character. Only indirect intervention, such as nurturing specific ideas or encouraging specific choices so that people might choose to change themselves, instills a legacy of positive behavior.

In other words, while the immediacy, accessibility, and diminished privacy may influence the way we interact — knowing that any of our actions, conversations, and correspondence could be published for public consumption — it does not change human behavior or character. It only makes us temporarily more guarded.

Thursday, February 26

Rebranding Blunder: Tropicana Orange Juice


Watching Peter Arnell, founder and chief creative officer of Arnell Group, explain the rationale behind the branding change of Pepscio's Tropicana package redesign is almost painful to watch. The clip from a press conference held five weeks ago is now archived at AdvertisingAge.

"Emotionally, it was very, very difficult, and it still remains difficult, for everyone to grasp the importance of that change because it so dramatic," said Arnell. "Of course, historically, we always showed the outside of the orange. Um, what was fascinating was that we had never shown the product called the juice."

Does he mean like EVERYBODY else?

Arnell, who suffers his own brand paradox, seems to have made a fatal mistake. Perhaps swept up by the bizarre sea of change occurring at PepsiCo, the redesign scheme for Tropicana Orange Juice was doomed from the start. Why? Because the concept was driven by an introspective redesign.

As consumers pointed out to The New York Times, the new packaging was “ugly” or “stupid,” resembling “a generic bargain brand” or a “store brand.” In fact, even after hearing Arnell's explanation, it's difficult to understand the logic behind a redesign that makes the product look like everybody else because the company had never tried that before.

Change For The Sake Of Change Is Naughty.

This isn't the first time marketers and consumers have questioned agency recommendations to embrace identity redesigns that don't hinge on the five best reasons to consider change. It won't be the last either. You see, the reality is that rebranding, especially when it's built on some guy's imagination without significant consideration of the external market, is an easy way to own an organization while the rebranding occurs and squeeze out some extra billing too.

During those relatively rare occurrences when rebranding makes sense, it's important to factor in what changes have occurred in the marketplace over what the company has done before. In other words, redesigning away from existing identity doesn't make any sense whatsoever if the creative only delivers a contrast to past creative instead of a contrast to competing products.

In the case of Tropicana, PepsiCo is now bowing to public demand and scrapping the changes and sticking the straw back in the orange, an image that was smart because it stuck with the consumer. While some might argue that the publicity might pad the price tag of the redesign, I disagree. The last impression you want attached to your brand is "stupid." Ironically, Tropicana orange juice will retain the "squeeze cap" concept, which makes you work a little bit harder to enjoy the product and makes me happy that my daughter prefers apple juice.

The bottom line: when agencies "sell" rebranding concepts, make sure the rebranding is market driven and not agency "sales" driven. Otherwise, the only thing your company will be stuck with is the bill.
 

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