Thursday, January 28

Setting Agendas: Apple iPad Trumps Presidential Address

A few days ago, Slate published what might have happened yesterday on if Steve Jobs would have delivered the State of the Union address as opposed to President Obama. Dubbed "The iState of the Union Speech" and penned by Christopher Beam and Josh Levin, the transcript provides a fun read.

Hmmm. Maybe it's more than a fun read. Internet trending last night suggests people seemed more attuned to Jobs's launch of the wildly anticipated iPad, despite criticisms, than President Obama delivering the State of the Union address. My friend Geoff Livingston had this on his mind last night.

"Only in America can the iPad and Lost trump the State of the Union. Think about that," he wrote on Facebook. Okay...

It's not America. It's communication.

Jobs opened with an emphasis on words like "better," "going," and "enjoying" as he delivered what could be summed up as a window into the future. And, if the iPad does everything Apple says it can do, the future looks to be a mere one step away from what we suggested it might be last week. Except, maybe it won't be docks that connect everything as much as WiFi.

“iPad is our most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price,” said Jobs. “iPad creates and defines an entirely new category of devices that will connect users with their apps and content in a much more intimate, intuitive and fun way than ever before.”

President Obama opened with an emphasis on words like "disagreements," "recession," and "fears" as he delivered what could be summed up as a glimpse of what he would like to do, which is what most Americans thought he ought to have been doing all along. Those were the same kind of words that he associated with the previous administration, which allowed him to call for change. But nowadays, those words only reinforce the feeling associated with his administration.

"Next, we can put Americans to work today building the infrastructure of tomorrow," said President Obama. "From the first railroads to the Interstate Highway System, our nation has always been built to compete. There's no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains, or the new factories that manufacture clean energy products."

The choice seemed clear enough. One speech focuses on the next step. The other focuses on what might be three steps ahead. One speech focuses on what Apple is doing. The other focuses on what America should be doing. One accepts responsibility for moving forward. The other asks for other people to move forward.

Sure, equating a hardware launch to the State of the Union is comparing apples to oranges. And yet, when both compete for the attention of Americans, people didn't tune in to one and tune out another because one is fun and seems serious. They tuned in to talk about one because it represents everything the other didn't deliver — innovation as opposed to limitation.

It might be worthwhile to make other comparisons. Jeffrey Hill created word clouds between last night's State Of The Union and previous presidencies. At a glance, one notable difference between last night's speech and other presidents: President Obama seems to place the emphasis on the American people to do something to move forward whereas others placed an emphasis on what they were going to do to help the American people move forward.

Maybe Christopher Beam and Josh Levin's piece in Slate wasn't such a bad idea after all. Jobs might have made us feel better about the direction of things because Jobs would have been the priority 12 months ago.

Wednesday, January 27

Changing Paradigms: At What Point Does PR Become Marketing?

Do modern public relations professionals need to become quasi-celebrity spokespeople?

Karthik S, head of digital strategy, Edelman India, seems to think so. Last year, he wrote a post to convey the point, suggesting that public relations professionals that manage social media outlets on behalf of clients have an opportunity to "be the client."

The discussion evolved from a post that shared one possible model to integrate social media and public relations into a PR-driven communication plan.

I understand Karthik's point. Eighty percent of public relations professionals see social media as a key focus in 2010. And the concept, for public relations to move beyond providing mutually beneficial communication between the organization and various publics and toward providing mutually beneficial communication for themselves and the organizations they serve, has ample popularity and several living examples to propel it forward.

Right or wrong, a significant percentage of public relations professionals believe the field is moving in a direction where public relations professionals take center stage to communicate direct to hundreds or thousands of "fans" on behalf of select clients (preferably those who attract more fans), and that sheer temporary loyalty and enthusiasm from those fans will influence the mainstream media. Is that modern public relations or old school propaganda?

How media relations is sometimes misunderstood and undervalued.

I was reminded this morning of how media relations once worked, and still does in some cases. An objective reporter called a public relations professional after receiving an invitation to a groundbreaking of a public facility. The reporter had a preconceived hypothesis, wondering whether it was prudent for government to open a facility given the economy.

Many people can surmise where such a story was headed. It was meant to be a government waste piece.

But rather than develop a list of counterpoints and credible allies within the community, the public relations professional simply invited the reporter out to the facility. There, he spoke to patrons, employees, and later called various government officials. He asked tough questions.

The public relations professional laid out the facts bare, allowing the reporter to draw his own conclusions. And when the story ran, the reporter had shifted the direction of the story, more or less using the facility as an example of prudent government action that fulfilled the needs of the community as opposed to another example of misappropriation.

The public relations professional didn't need to spin the story, angle for more fans, or pitch another piece (for another client). She merely had to be authentic, engaging, and make it easier for the reporter to assess the facts. Likewise, the reporter, a seasoned professional, didn't need to validate the original hypothesis for himself, his readers, or any other party. Instead, he reported the truth.

For the public reading the piece, there is no other story. They won't suddenly feel compelled rush to the computer to friend or follow her, even if she was quoted. Her focus had clarity: serve both the reporter and the organization, no fanfare needed.

And at the same time, the community was treated to one of those rare examples when government was caught doing the right thing instead of trying to spin the story to appear right. (If only the federal government could learn such a lesson.)

Modern public relations infused with marketing changes the paradigm.

Imagine what might have happened with unnecessary layers of agenda.

The public relations professional would be charged with making themselves and the company look good, with the measure being how many more followers they might add at the end of the day. The journalist would be charged with making themselves and the publisher look good, validating whatever hypothesis their subscribers expect.

While that premise does not preclude the truth from being part of the equation, it certainly changes the objectives of those involved. It suggests that we never mind the facts, but focus on public opinion and build influence by pretending to follow the crowd. And, nothing builds the modern measure of "influence" faster than validating the opinions of others.

Even today, while listening to a webinar by Gaetan Giannini, assistant professor at Cedar Crest College, I noted that a shift in public relations at the university level seems to be driving public relations professionals to become marketers via social media. Giannini even suggested it be called Marketing Public Relations (MPR).

While MPR is still reliant on "connectors" (which adds bloggers to mainstream media), it also overemphasizes pushing specific messages to increase visibility and build the identity of the organization or product. And this begs a question. At what point is public relations no longer public relations, but rather spokesperson marketing?

And if spokesperson marketing becomes the definition of modern public relations, then the next question to ask is what happens to the truth?

In the more traditional media relations/objective reporter scenario, the truth seemed to be the priority for everyone. But in this new MPR model (especially if professionals act as quasi celebrity connectors/influencers), the truth seems secondary to the popularity and perceived credibility of the public relations professional. In fact, it might not even matter.

Tuesday, January 26

Being McNaughty: McDonalds v. McFest

Lauren McClusky, 19, raised more than $30,000 for the Chicago chapter of the Special Olympics by hosting a series of McFest concerts in 2007 and 2008. In 2009, she had to use those funds for attorney fees after McDonald's Corp. laid claim to all things "Mc."

It doesn't matter that McClusky's mark, which was filed in June 2008, and published for opposition in February 2009, bears no resemblance to the golden arches. McDonald's has taken the position that "McFest" is similar enough to the brand name McDonald's and its family of 'Mc' trademarks that it is likely to cause confusion under trademark standards and/or dilute its valuable trademark rights.

Based on the illustrations above, it seems to be a slow day for McDonald's attorneys. Primarily in the last ten years, McDonald's has indeed filed dozens of trademark applications for "Mc" names and various combinations with the letter "M." Many of those names (such as McPick, McMax, MCDTV, McMiracle Field) are all dead; cancelled or abandoned. So what makes this one different?

"We have made several attempts to resolve this matter amicably, because we recognize this event is for charity fund-raising," said Ashlee Yingling, spokesperson for McDonalds, in a statement to NBC Chicago. "We have offered to help the event organizers cover costs in selecting a new name for their event; we have suggested other variations of this word that they could use."

Unrelated names don't dilute brands, but poorly thought out legal action might.

The majority of stories and posts centered on this trademark scuffle are largely negative, especially in Chicago. The Consumerist asks Are all things "Mc," automatically McDonald's? The Chicago Sun-Times points out that McDonald's has deep pockets for a legal fight. And Market Watch might have investors wondering why MCD would waste potential McDividends.

That is not to say all the stories are negative. The Legal Satyricion sides with the corporate claim, arguing that McDonald's has not filed to prevent the name from being used. It merely filed an opposition to McClusky’s attempt to secure a trademark registration for “McFest.” Boo hoo McClusky, they said.

While it is a good point (and I'm not an attorney), the opposition could become boo hoo for McDonald's. A ruling against the opposition, which could happen given McClusky's name also has an "Mc" and she is not entering a competing service (like a restaurant chain), potentially opens the doors for more "Mc" usage, not less.

At minimum, there is that public relations cost to consider. While companies have every right to protect their brands, it seems to me that the only one making the connection that McFest would have anything to do with McDonald's is McDonald's. And now, because of the publicity around the opposition, the company has created the implication that the two are somehow connected. They weren't.

So, legal questions aside, one has to wonder whether McDonald's is diluting its own brand at a time when it is much more prudent to keep focusing on those fourth quarter profits (up 23 percent). It could have been just as easy to allow "MC FEST," which was limited to a company organizing, arranging, conducting, and producing concerts and live events, to peacefully coexist. And, given the charity, McDonald's may have elevated the brand by eventually supporting the teen.

Monday, January 25

Shopping For Moms: Retail Turns To The Net

A recent analysis of moms in the marketplace, All About Moms: A RAMA/BIGresearch Initiative, solidifies the growing importance of social media among B2C businesses. In some ways, social networks and social media sites are evolving to become the content-connection-catalog-coupon books.

"Retailers who aren’t engaging customers through social media could be missing the boat,” said Mike Gatti, executive director for RAMA. “Twitter, Facebook and blogs are becoming increasingly popular with moms as they search for coupons or deals and keep in touch with loved ones. The web provides efficient, convenient ways for brands to stay in front of their most loyal shoppers and attract new ones.”

According to the survey, surfing the Internet and checking e-mail was was on par with watching television while other media consumption such as listening to the radio, reading a magazine, reading the newspaper ranked considerably lower among weekly media usage. In fact, moms tend to be more engaged online than 18+ adults, outpacing the general population on regularly and occasionally participating on social networks and blogs.

Moms Social Network Preference

• 60 percent of moms use Facebook; 50 percent 18+ adults
• 42 percent use MySpace; 35 percent 18+ adults
• 16.5 percent use Twitter; 15 percent 18+ adults

Moms Read, Post, And Maintain Blogs

• 51 percent read blogs; 46 percent 18+ adults
• 28 percent comment on blogs; 23 percent 18+ adults
• 15 percent maintain their own blogs; 13 percent 18+ adults

More significant than the raw numbers themselves, 97.2 percent of moms said they give advice to others about products or services and are very likely to seek it, with 93.6 percent saying they ask advice before making their final decision. Sharing advice tends to take place on social networks.

While moms tend to be more tech engaged than the general public, it does not mean they welcome intrusive marketing. A large majority (66.5%) consider text message marketing and voicemail marketing an invasion of privacy. They prefer product samples to be mailed, but in-store samples tend to have more influence.

The survey also ranked popular cable networks, magazines, and newspapers. The study was released by The Retail Advertising and Marketing Association, which is a trade association representing over 1,500 retail companies and their advertising and marketing executives. The full study is available from the National Retail Foundation.

Three Related Conversations About Moms And Marketing

Marketing to Moms on Facebook Report by Holly Buchanan

Is Your Marketing On Target For Young Moms by Karen Corrigan

Marketing To Moms, Marketing With Moms by Kim Moldofsky

Friday, January 22

Improving Performance: The Weekend Effect At Work?

A new study, published in the January 2010 issue of the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, noted that people experience better moods, greater vitality, and fewer aches and pains from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon. Called the "weekend effect" by Richard Ryan, author and professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, the study found that even people with interesting, high status jobs tend to feel happier on the weekend.

"Our findings highlight just how important free time is to an individual's well-being." Ryan said. "Far from frivolous, the relatively unfettered time on weekends provides critical opportunities for bonding with others, exploring interests and relaxing -- basic psychological needs that people should be careful not to crowd out with overwork."

Among the most interesting findings from the study that tracked the moods of 74 adults (ages 18 to 62), was the distinction of whether people felt controlled or autonomous in the tasks they were asked to perform at work or on the weekend. Participants also indicated how close they felt to others present and how competent they perceived themselves to be at their activity.

The results supported a self-determination theory, which suggests that a person's well-being depends largely on autonomy, a sense of competence, and relatedness to others. The takeaway from the weekend effect for business leaders is simple. Affording employees more autonomy and nurturing emotional connections between co-workers could contribute to a greater well-being, competence in performance, and increased productivity.

The study also seems to provide real insight into why the right corporate culture can propel companies forward or how organizational leaders, internal communicators, and individuals can make a difference in the workplace.

Defining The Organizational Culture

• Organizational Clarity. Almost every successful model works toward establishing a vision, mission, and values to produce such clarity. However, where companies sometimes undervalue the mechanisms that contribute to the brand or corporate culture is that they forget to make every member of the team part of the planning process.

• Decision Making. As the study suggests, increasing autonomy across all positions can contribute to a better sense of well-being within a company. Generally, the biggest barrier for companies to overcome is eliminating the fear of failure, especially when employees are concerned about their jobs. In developing organizational charts, leaders might want to clearly define areas where employees can empower themselves within the workplace by allowing them to make decisions after any mandatories are complete.

• Organizational Communication. Earlier this week, there was an article that revealed almost 90 percent of UK councils block employee social media access (hat tip: Shel Holtz). The blocking often stems from fear that social media could reduce employee productivity. However, social media and social networks can be employed differently. With guidance, they can be used to bust silos (isolated departments) and help reestablish the free flow of information between employees.

• Management Style. We've been integrating leadership communication into the mix for the better part of two years. In doing so, many posts reinforce a concept that some companies seem to have forgotten: leadership moves people forward; management tends to regulate. In other words, authoritarian styles tend to be counterproductive, especially among younger generations that grew up with a greater sense of autonomy.

• Human Resource Development. If there are any trends that we would like to see developing out of the recession, it would be an increased effort to break down any barriers between human resources and corporate or internal communication. Whereas human resources can host development workshops, corporate and internal communication departments could develop joint communication projects that benefit workers between such sessions. The goal here, once again, would be to create a corporate culture that encourages autonomy, a sense of competence, and relatedness to others.

Of course, I don't subscribe to the concept that individuals should wait for employers to lead. So in looking over this five-point list, it seems some individuals might find ways to adopt these principles on their own.

In other words, individuals can improve their own sense of performance and well-being at work by defining their role within the company; making decisions based on how they react and respond to their environment; reaching out to colleagues in other departments when the need arrises; adjusting their own outlook to take on leadership qualities in dealing with others; and pursuing their own professional development sessions outside of work.

In that case, even if the work environment doesn't feel changed, individuals can improve their outlook or perhaps prepare themselves for a more rewarding experience at a company where such traits are admired. The choice is yours.

Thursday, January 21

Considering Multimedia: What Is Possible?

After having a great conversation regarding broadcast-television convergence with David Schepp, business news reporter (DailyFinance, Dow Jones, BBC News and Gannett), the subject has been on my mind again for the better part of the week.

Then today, my longtime friend Amy Vernon sent me an update on Boxee, which announced it will be launching a payment platform this summer. If you are unfamiliar with Boxee, it defines itself as a social media center that allows you to play videos, music, and pictures from your computer, local network, and the Internet on your television. The significance of such cannot be understated.

There will be no distinction between media and online media, right around the corner.

While some people consider Internet television the fourth method of distribution (alongside cable, satellite, IPTV) for broadcast and premium content, it really represents the singular distribution model of the future. For some smart phone purchasers, it's already difficult to distinguish the Internet from mobile.

The transition, which will continue to accelerate, will cause disruption because it places every distributor and service provider — AT&T, Boxee, Comcast, Charter, Cox, DirectTV, Sprint, Time Warner, Verizon, (to name a few) — in the same industry, with the only distinction being content creator or distributor/service provider (and even then those distinctions might overlap). It may also mean a contraction in related industries as it becomes more difficult for companies to ask consumers to pay for four services — phone, mobile, television, and Internet — that are being carried on what is essentially the same network.

What will the future look like? It seems crystal clear.

As a I told Schepp, the future will likely allow for our mobile devices to carry our preferences (and some content, as they do now) and then, once plugged in to another docking station, automatically pull up a customized desktop screen tailored to that device.

Specifically, I dock my iPhone (or whatever) to the television and all my preferred settings will be ported to the device. When I dock it to my desktop or laptop computer at work, ditto. When I dock it to my car stereo, I choose from my playlist or satellite radio. Calls and text messages can come through all devices, depending on my settings (which is important to anyone who has had a movie interrupted by a telephone call). It's simple, effective, and changes our thinking.

Online ... offline ... it all means communication and/or entertainment and/or mobile.

What does that mean for communication professionals?

While we're working on models that help companies better integrate social media into comprehensive communication, most of them are temporary five- to ten-year fixes. Just as the broadcast-mobile-Internet-cable mash up promises to erase our understanding of those industries, I anticipate there won't be any distinction between public relations, advertising, etc. It will all be communication, distinguished (perhaps) by previous world views.

Organizational communication will have to change, especially if consumers adopt a pay-for consumption only model, which could preclude advertising from the mix beyond product placement and peripheral marketing. (For example, maybe a customer becomes interested in the car their favorite character drives. One click and their programming could pause or be bookmarked for a future visit to the manufacturer's Web site. Another click inside the car, and GPS technology maps out the closest dealer or, perhaps, the one with the best deal).

Or, maybe, some companies will become content creators (with programs related to their products), competing with amateurs and production/broadcast companies or simply running alongside them as another option. Some of the better YouTube productions have already demonstrated the potential for advertainment, assuming we get more than an infomercial.

The applications are as endless as the imagination.

For me, the only thing more exciting than entertainment and communication changes ahead are the real life applications in areas such as education. When every classroom becomes a potential studio audience as it is streamed live across the Web (and any handouts are released to portable devices such as smart phones or tablets), it could potentially erase the barriers for higher education, with the most common barriers being proximity (physical location) and price points (mass audiences could reduce the current per credit rates).

What else? Anything is probable, but we can expect the road to be as bumpy as the transition from horses to horseless carriages or couriers to telephones. And speaking of phones ... have you thought about mobile lately?

Blog Archive

by Richard R Becker Copyright and Trademark, Copywrite, Ink. © 2021; Theme designed by Bie Blogger Template