Thursday, December 31

Recognizing Reader Picks: Top Posts Of 2009

With the new year upon us tomorrow, we would like to say goodbye to 2009 with a recap of this blog's five most popular communication-related posts, based on the frequency and the immediacy of reader views after posting.

"What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?"

It is probably no surprise that our call for business leaders and government officials to change their communication struck a chord with consumers and communicators. After all, if we were to pick one word to summarize a common theme in 2009, it would be fear.

The message behind the post, which was part of a three-post series, was simple: if you want real change, you need hope over helplessness. And since most "leaders" seemed to struggle with the concept, we advised our friends and readers to ignore them and set out to find their own cheese. We're glad some people did because our government continues to push fear.

Related Labels: Psychology, Economy, Leadership

The Candy Gamble That Didn't Pay Off

For all the buzz-up Skittles earned in early March, nobody is really talking about the rainbow colored candies anymore. After the initial drunken rush of excitement generated by a Skittles experiment that turned its Web site into a collection of social media streams written by consumers, most people woke up with a hangover.

Within 48 hours, 44 percent of the public was left with a negative impression of the candy for trying too hard to be "cool" and eventually demonstrating it and the agency behind it were really clueless about social media. Effective branding, marketing, and social media require much more work than simply "turning over" a brand to consumers.

Related Labels: Skittles, Social Media

Communication Measurement For A Return On Investment

With so many conversations revolving around about how to measure a return on investment for social media and communication in general, we decided to share a formula that we've put into practice in order to measure a return on communication.

[(B • I) (m+s • r)/d] / [O/(b + t + e)] = ROC

Since January, more than 10,000 people downloaded the abstract from our Web site. And, after the initial post, the ROC series that followed remains one of the most popular published here.

Related Labels: ROC, Strategic Communication

Peanut Corporation of America Poisons Public Relations

The Peanut Corporation of America's handling of public relations after causing a salmonella outbreak will forever be remembered as one of the worst crisis communication scenarios in history. For almost three months, the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) tried to spin its way out of any responsibility for contaminating as many as 2,100 peanut butter products.

The crisis eventually ended with the company filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, after the FDA and several investigations finally concluded that the PCA acted with gross negligence and was responsible for sickening over 600 people in 44 states and Canada. The contaminants were also linked to nine deaths.

Related Labels: PCA, Crisis Communication

How Publicity, Public Relations, Social Media, Marketing, And Advertising View Publics

Published in two parts, we presented a model of how publicity, public relations, and social media and then marketing and advertising tend to view their publics. Both posts seemed to hit a home run in pinpointing why there are varied views on how to approach social media.

We remain vigilant in our belief that social media is best viewed as a new environment that deserves an integrated methodology incorporating all means of communication. From our viewpoint, integrated communication seems to be the best source to develop effective methodologies.

Related Labels: Social Media, Public Relations, Advertising

Five additional topics that came close in 2009

Where Edleman PR sometimes misses on the finer points.
• How spontaneous online debates can sometimes trip up experts.
• A satirical view covering everything silly in social media.
The ugly truth about some online consumer reviews.
How to demonstrate authenticity without actually saying it.

When I first started this blog in 2005, I used to lament that the biggest mistakes always seemed to overshadow the best practices. That seemed to change in 2008 as we accomplished a healthy mix of both. This year, communication models and theories have helped provide a better blend of communication-related topics. It makes 2010 seem even more promising.

In closing out 2009, I would like to extend a very special thanks to everyone who joined the conversation on this blog or across any number of social networks where the discussion tends to take place more frequently than in the comment section.

If you are one of the 3,500 subscribers or someone who visits on an occasional basis, I cannot thank you enough for making 2009 one of the best yet. It makes a difference to me, it's appreciated, and I'm grateful for having crossed paths with so many people online and in person.

Wednesday, December 30

Walling Up Content: Good, Bad, And Ugly

"We fundamentally believe that the readers should pay one price and get all or any of our content. If you don't pay, you don't get anything." — Neil Stiles, president of Variety Group.

And so it begins. Newspapers, magazines, and broadcasters have more or less collectively decided that the time for consumers to pay for news and entertainment is 2010.

The Good. When we covered the outcry for popular television shows like Veronica Mars and Jericho, fans of these shows overwhelmingly supported funding their favorite programs over leaving them to the fate of ratings or advertisers.

Would it have been possible? Maybe, except broadcasters are likely to want consumers to purchase all the duds along with a few gems and watch advertisements too. Unless the price point is right, consumers won't do it.

The Bad. That brings us to the bad. The average cable bill is about $85 per month, up 21 percent from two years ago, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Some people pay as much as $180 per month for the privilege of having access to more content than they can or want to consume.

With Fox and others asking for more fees, those rates will likely climb higher whether consumers watch those channels or not. As prices rise, more consumers may opt out entirely, increasing the burden on subscribers who remain while reducing the size of a marketable audience.

It seems likely that cable providers will eventually have to move to a pay-per-channel model rather than sacrifice their business. The same is happening with what used to be print. Consumers on tight budgets will narrow the number of content providers they are willing to pay for and that means plenty of content providers will disappear in 2010.

The Ugly. And that brings us to the ugly. Not all content providers produce content worth reading or watching and, given a choice, consumers will skip them all together.

Newsday, which was one of the first to move back to a paid subscription model, is steadily losing readers. At $5 per week, it's too much when other news sources are available.

When cable operators are eventually forced to move to a pay-per-channel model, imagine what would happen when a content provider like CNN loses more than 30 percent of its audience like it did this year. A reduction in subscribers will mean a reduction in revenue. A 30 percent cut in one year may not be survivable.

The Reality. I believe that content creators need to be compensated. They deserve to be.

However, the reality is that most of them were too slow to develop a working advertiser-supported online model five years ago only because they wanted the best of both worlds — two distinct revenue streams, online and offline. And now, because that did not work out, they want consumers (and advertisers) to pay for the mistake.

Meanwhile, there are an increasing number of free content providers — news, entertainment, analysis, advice, etc. — providing increasingly competitive content. And while they might not be multi-million dollar conglomerates, some will eventually give mainstream a run for their money, with a better value for advertisers as they reach more people with searchable content.

"Good programing is expensive. It can no longer be supported solely by advertising revenues." — Rupert Murdoch, News Corp.

Right on. Except nowadays, good programming is not enough. It has to be "better than" programming. Assuming consumers have a discretionary income of $100 per month for news and entertainment, that means they can afford approximately 10 to 20 channels/publishers at an average of $5 to $10 per piece in a tremendously competitive industry where local publishers/news outlets are competing with national publishers/news outlets as well as an abundance of free consumer-generated content, expert-generated content, and marketer-produced content. Hmmm ... good luck with that.

Tuesday, December 29

Having Conversations: Online/Offline Works Together

When John Moore, chief evangelist for The Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA), shared a slide from his presentation deck that places online conversations at 10 percent and offline conversations at 90 percent of all word of mouth conversations, some people mistook the statement as somehow diminishing online conversations. It doesn't.

Even Ed Keller has tempered his firm's research. The only reason word of mouth online is so small with 43 million brand impressions created through word of mouth conversation on blogs, in chat rooms, and on social networks is because the offline measure is so big, with more than three billion word of mouth conversations taking place offline.

However, even this temperance creates misunderstanding, especially when coupled with the Harris Poll (June 2009) cited by Keller. It's problematic because conversations that occur in social media do not happen in a vacuum.

Online And Offline Conversations Are Interdependent

Misinterpreting data has become all too commonplace in regard to social media. And the most common misunderstandings always seem to hinge on someone isolating data in support of or in order to distract from social media. It makes no sense, but it happens nonetheless.

What marketers need to know is that online conversations spill into offline word of mouth conversations and offline conversations have a tendency to become word of mouth conversations online. In some cases, online conversations provide marketers with a reflection of what is being said about their brand offline, e.g., if nobody mentions your product or service online, chances are nobody is talking about your product or service offline.

For some companies, that might be fine, I suppose. There are plenty of businesses that succeed on a small stable of customers or can confine their marketing to a specific proximity around a brick and mortar shop. (My company did for years and years.)

But for most companies, word of mouth means something. And while the reflective nature of social media is sometimes distorted, making something appear more important online than it is offline (or less important for that matter), it's interdependent nonetheless.

Even social media consultants know this to be true. There are several paths to boost awareness online and offline, and not all of them are exclusively online.

• Attending conferences attracts blog readers and social network connections.
• Being involved in associations and organizations attracts blog readers and social network connections.
• Speaking engagements attract blog readers and social network connections.
• Appearing on news programs, being interviewed by the media, and writing guest columns increases awareness.
• Publishing a book, even those that are nothing more than big business cards, drive online readership.
• And so on and so forth.

Conversely, the opposite is true too. A well-read blog or reasonably well-connected social network can elevate the awareness of someone (or a company) so they are more likely to be invited to speak, be quoted, etc.

I've talked with enough very visible social media consultants to know. While many of them credit social media as driving their success, social media represents a surprisingly low percentage of their daily activities (maybe even as low as 10 percent).

Ironically, this conversation isn't new. It has been going on for years and years with different players — direct mail vs. television, public relations vs. advertising, and so on and so forth. None of it is really accurate. Marketing and public relations work best when integrated, reaching people across multiple communication channels online, offline, et al.

Monday, December 28

Seeing The Future: Ten Trends In Advertising

In predicting ad industry trends for 2010, The Wall Street Journal turned to some of the largest advertising agencies in the world. So we thought it might be fun to recap the ten biggest predictions with a realistic persepctive of which ones might be right and which ones aren't really predictions at all.

The Top Ten Ad Trends, According To Global Ad Agencies.

1. Social networking personalities will be chosen as mass media spokespeople, sharing the spotlight with celebrities. — Christian Haas, Goodby Silverstein & Partners

While some social media personalities have been tapped to pitch products online, the move will be much less effective for mass media. While we might see experimentation in 2010, it seems less likely that social network celebrities can reach offline audiences or, more correctly, outside specific niches unless they have an offline presence (such as an author). More likely for 2010 will be advertisers borrowing the online verbiage of everyday consumers because we're still five years out on Haas' prediction.

2. In an effort to prevent television commercial zapping, commercials will share the screen with behind-the-scene glimpses of the show. — Richard Gagnon, DraftFCB

The experiment will take place, but consumers will find split screen commercials even more annoying than full screen advertisements. More likely, networks will continue to block fast forward functions during commercials (as they already do online and some cable stations have been experimenting with for the better part of two years).

3. Mobile advertising will see its first test with longer-form entertainment. — David Lubars, BBDO

Mobile advertising is still three years out from becoming a preferred means of long-format entertainment viewing. For this trend to take hold, it will require the tech sector to integrate mobile docking stations into everyday electronics. It's much more likely mobile advertising will invest in interactive functionality, e.g., Foursquare.

4. Mobile marketing will help consumers find what they are looking for at local stores in the forms of apps and widgets. — Daryl Lee, Universal McCann

Considering apps and gadgets that direct consumers to locations have been on the drawing board for the better part of five years, the idea is spot on but hardly predictive.

5. Marketers will shy away from individual celebrities and athletes in favor of sponsoring teams, leagues, and events. — Tony Ponturo, formerly with Anheuser-Busch

Ponturo bases part of this theory of on the Tiger Woods affair. It's not the first time (nor will it be the last time) that a spokesperson has fallen from grace. Marketers might pull back from high profile celebrities in 2010, but only to save money, before finding new celebrities with a mass market appeal.

6. Consumers will give their personal information in return for getting the ads they want to see. — Tracy Scheppach, Starcom MediaVest Group.

Consumers have already proven that they "want" privacy, but are increasingly likely to give it all up for the smallest incentives. This trend isn't a prediction as much as it has been in progress for a decade. There is less push back with each step Facebook and Google make to improving their analytics for advertisers.

7. Employees will become the new pitchmen for their companies, with their employers allowing them to talk enthusiastically for their companies online and in mass media advertising. — Marian Salzman, RSCG Worldwide

Seeing employees represent their companies online and across mass media channels is common, and can be better described as a throwback concept. The idea of employee talent has been around forever, with the use of employees gaining and losing ground over the course of several decades.

8. The luxury industry will embrace social media and leapfrog other categories in digital marketing. — Daryl Lee, Universal McCann

While the idea might seem to be in contrast with the concept of a more conscientious consumer, luxury-oriented industries will be making the move to increase their presence online and they will do it better than other segments. The real challenge will not be leapfrogging over other offerings as much as it will be to identify buyers as opposed to window shoppers.

9. In an effort to reduce costs, marketers will enlist more animation and virtual talent in ads. — Richard Gagnon, DraftFCB

It seems likely that marketers will attempt to employ more characters in 2010, but any results are likely to be spotty. Consumers have been leaning toward interactions with real people.

10. Companies that used to fund content will look for more tangible benefits such as offering free WiFi at the airport. — Christian Haas, Goodby Silverstein & Partners.

The idea is right, but it's hardly predictive. Companies have been rolling out free WiFi for more than a year. This trend will continue far into the future as telecommunication and cable companies eventually become future content distributors, regulating networks to be content creators.

Bonus. Ads will be made on the cheap as advertisers cut costs with the emphasis of their budgets being redirected to connect with digitally savvy consumers on iPhones. — Rob Schwartz, TBWA/Chiat/Day

This is probably the least predictive idea of bunch, but social media experts like to read it. Most advertising agencies don't see this as a trend as much as their challenge. Big budget productions and massive ad buys were how most agencies become big players. Now, with social media taking hold, they have to work harder than ever.

While it might not happen next year, the general direction of convergence is certain. Mobile devices will eventually be all things to all people with larger devices (televisions, projectors, sound systems, and desktops) becoming little more than docking stations with more power and bigger screens so we can retain the more social aspects of entertainment.

As this shift occurs, it will change entertainment and advertising in ways we never thought possible, with optional, consumer-selected marketing never being any further than our fingers. In other words, expect the public to be able to bookmark advertisers' incentives during their favorite programs and then follow up once the show is over. It's obvious, really.

Thursday, December 24

Wishing Everyone: Happy Holidays

Even the tiniest intentions can change familiar pattens into unexpected possibilities.

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas.

Copywrite, Ink.

There has been a lot talk this year about people trying to reinvent their industries, change themselves, or become something else entirely. It isn't difficult.

With even a tiny bit of imagination, a circle can become so many different things: an ornament, reindeer, snowman, holly leaf, lollipop, or any number of others. How splendid.

So this year I wanted to share a dual message with my friends, family, a few colleagues, and now you. Exploring possibilities is easy. It only takes intention. Remembering you are a circle, on the other hand, requires some effort.

No matter your intentions in the months ahead, I hope you imagine them fully while never losing sight of being yourself. It's what I like about people most. Happy holidays and merry Christmas. Until next week ... good night, good luck, and good fortunes.

Wednesday, December 23

Fragmenting News: "Driven Media"

Any good blogger, competing journalist or alert press critic can spot and publicize false balance and the lame acceptance of fact-free spin. Do users really want to be left helpless in sorting out who's faking it more? — Jay Rosen

Jay Rosen, journalism professor at New York University and author of What Are Journalists For? might have posed his question last April, but its poignancy will become front and center in 2010. Although people like to poke fun at "old media," there is no such thing.

Old media has gone the way of the dinosaur. And if you missed it during the last decade, it's because things rarely happen all at once. They happen slowly. Old media went out with a whimper, not a bang. And I suspect most people don't even know what we've lost.

I think about it all the time, given I'll be teaching Writing for Public Relations this spring. It will be my tenth year teaching this core requirement for a public relations certificate program, but it might as well be my first.

With exception to the AP Style Guide, the text I once required (Writing in Public Relations Practice: Form & Style by Doug Newsom) has become largely obsolete. I've decided to make it elective, but only because there has yet to be a textbook published that I can justify requiring students to purchase.

The change hinges on what has become the fragmentation of media. There are some remnants of traditional media, but the entire field has been fragmented and the lines between the various practices are blurred. Tomorrow's public relations professionals have to know it all, but even their days are numbered as 80 percent of them think social media is the answer to everything when it's only the answer for some things.

What has been propped up in the place of traditional media are six divisions of journalism-like content. (I'm only offering up six divisions to help people get their heads around it. Most are blurred, blended, or feature multiple content divisions.)

Six Divisions Of Modern Media Content

Editor-Driven Media. This is the last stand of anything resembling traditional or old media, which is still one step removed from objective journalism. The concept is simple enough. "Experts" choose the news, with the best of them following in the footsteps of their professional predecessors and the worst of them attempting to set an agenda or practice "he said, she said" journalism, which is something people like Rosen and myself have railed against time and time again.

Blogger-Driven Media. While the vast majority of bloggers have no intention of becoming citizen journalists, public relations professionals have given some of them the first call leverage they need to be popular (sometimes in exchange for positively slanted reviews). But even without direct intervention by companies, bloggers have filled various special interest niches with the only real requirement being the time it takes to develop, market, and nurture a blog. Like it or not, bloggers can set the agenda for what receives attention and what doesn't based on variables as varied as the topics they write about.

Citizen-Driven Media. While most bloggers never aspire to be citizen journalists, there are a handful who do. Some of them used blogs to share content that resembles, aspires, or even competes with journalism on networks like the fledgling BrooWaHa, The Blog Paper, or any number ofdozens of others. Crowd-sourced content, like the Wikimedia model, fits well enough within this division too.

Consumer-Driven Media. While it might resemble editor-driven media on occasion, the presentation of facts are biased to provide consumers with the "news" they're looking for and/or an affirmation of their opinions. While the editorial team still calls the shots, they skew to trump up their circulation online or off using any number of tactics. Two of the most common: news dictated by what's hot on the search engines today or simply building niche content for special interests, left or right, so people with specific opinions can tune in to find preset facts. (e.g., if you think the country is on the right or wrong track, there is a news program for you.)

Propaganda-Driven Media. Special interests have done an excellent job at shifting traditional news desks toward special interest agendas or creating entirely new media outlets predisposed to researching, sourcing, filtering, and presenting information that is designed to support nothing other than a point of view. Years ago, it was called yellow journalism. Today, it's called progress. It's also disingenuous to the public because important topics like health care reform no longer have objective forums to vet out the worst of it.

Advertising-Driven Media. I recently read a post (but forgot to bookmark the link and backtype didn't pick it up) where a public relations professional said that the separation of news and the advertising desk was no longer needed. He went as far to say that it is part of the evolution of journalism. Within his context, it's not an evolution but a regression. Sure, I support companies establishing their own content online (heck, that's what we do), but the other form is much less authentic. Specifically, advertisers are setting the news agenda at media outlets.

The net outcome, at least in the short term, will be exactly what Rosen framed up, except with many more divisions than "he said, she said" media alone. People will be asked to sort out who's faking it more, despite their current predisposition to choose based on nothing more than popularity, affiliation, and social media metrics.

Get ready for a bumpy ride in 2010. It seems increasingly likely that it will be the year when the public makes its choice: do we want to support what we and/or our associates believe (true or not) or do we want to support those who are attempting to objectively pursue the truth (even when we don't want to read it)? I'm hoping for the latter, but am tasked with helping public relations students understand how to work in a world based on nothing more than the former.

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