Sunday, March 14

Telling Truths: Fresh Content

Sometimes finding the truth is uncomfortable, but that doesn't make it any less important. While it often gets passed over for more popular discussions offered up by communicators sharing their thoughts through social media, the truth tends to have a longer shelf life.

Opening March, we found contrarians, consideration, conversation, consultation, and a case study to start the month. And if these past fresh content picks have anything in common (besides the trivial occurrence of the letter "c"), we might put the truth at the top of the list.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of March 1

Panels: Where’s The Contrarian? You’re Boring The Audience.
When it comes to communication professionals, there has always been some pressure for everyone to play nice, nice. There is nothing wrong with that, unless you consider that not every idea, thought, or general concept is right. It also makes for some boring panels at conferences, which is why it was refreshing for Lauren Fernandez to point out the obvious.

Content Strategy: Secret To Writing For Buyers Consideration Phase.
Few people work as hard as Valeria Maltoni to bring more insight into the bridge between social media and strategic communication. In this post, she breaks down three important components to developing a viable online presence: editorial impact, community building, and calls to action.

Understanding Conversion In Online Marketing.
Maria Reyes-McDavis presents her IMPACT Marketing Formula designed to help marketers consider every step in the online sales funnel: target, engage, impact, convert, and then monitor and adjust for feedback. While the process comes from traditional marketing, the emphasis on conversation (which is sometimes missing online) makes the post more than worthwhile.

• The Most Expensive Question.
Few people want to write about it because it's so very easy for some clients to take it the wrong way. Tapping agencies for recommendations tends to be an expensive proposition, unless there is a commitment for the client to proceed. Aaron Brazell keeps it light, recognizes it's part of business, but also helps warn off companies from accepting too much quick, dirty, and "free intelligence."

• Putting People Before Profits: Classic PR Case Study, But Without The Fairytale Ending.
Bill Sledzik's post, which covers the case study of Malden Mills, was strong enough that I used the case study in class to demonstrate why business owners have to find the balance between people and profits given that the two terms are often interlinked. You cannot have one without the other. And even those with big hearts and the best intention over the short term sometimes find that they have undermined their own ability to keep either over the long term.

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Saturday, March 13

Writing For Public Relations: Why SWOT Is Not Enough

You've heard the old saying and so have I. You can't compare apples and oranges. Yeah, sure. All that is fine and good, unless you happen to be in business.

In business, being an apple among apples leaves sales to nothing more than random chance. So, to help distinguish people and products, many agencies invest a good deal of time and client money in developing unique selling points. Sometimes they use SWOT.

As a strategic planning method, SWOT can be very useful. Except, it tends to be too introspective. And therefore, it's not enough.

The above deck is a supplement deck for Writing For Public Relations at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

The intent of this deck is to provide students with an understanding of SWOT, but then demonstrate how CORE message systems further help identify people, products, services, and companies in the marketplace. You can find a written comparison between the two here. Enjoy.

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Friday, March 12

Finding Intention: Because Passion Is Everywhere

I haven't thought about it in some time. But one of my favorite under-the-radar movies of all time is a 1984 film, The Razor's Edge, based on the book by W. Somerset Maughan. It was Bill Murray's first starring role in a dramatic film.

Murray had an incredible passion for the project: writing the screenplay with director John Byrum, including his farewell speech to friend John Belushi in the script; and taking a hiatus from acting after the film's disappointing reception and financial disaster.

There are several moments in the film that stuck with me, but the scene I've been thinking about since reading Bill Sledzik's post on passion is one where Murray's character Larry Darrel first meets Raaz, played by Saeed Jaffrey.

While Raaz is washing dishes, he mentions to Darrel that it might be enjoyable to be rich. Darrel confesses that he is not rich, offering that he worked in a coal mine to earn enough money for his journey. Raaz considers the answer, and then asks Darrel what was the intention of working in a coal mine. Darrel doesn't know what he means, because he worked in the coal mine to earn money to travel. No, Razz says, that was the reason, not the intention.

If work has no intention, it is not work at all. It's an empty motion.

While it might have come from a film adaptation, I've carried the lesson with me since I first saw the film. Whereas most people advise that people find their passion and pursue it, I casually disagree. It's the other way around.

Be passionate in everything you do. Otherwise, you'll find yourself drifting along in a series of empty motions, fooling yourself into thinking those motions are somehow a temporary situation before you finally have time to pursue your real passion. It's also why so many people, especially in the United States, felt unsuccessful as they jumped jobs every two years in the 1990s or early 2000s. Most had reasons, but few had intention.

I more or less told the students in my class the same last night, without mentioning the film or the greater context of my meaning. (It's not a philosophy class, after all). It was my takeaway after reading their news releases, written around a fictitious CPR class offered by a recreation center in cooperation with the American Heart Association.

I give the assignment, year after year, for one simple reason. Event releases are very common. They are so common that most students, especially those who are working professionals, tend to look upon them as among the most boring. The scores, a range of 50-78, reflect the problem. Almost none of the releases demonstrated that the students had found passion.

Except, there was plenty of passion to be found. The outcome of such a release is to encourage people to learn CPR, which could eventually save lives. And if you cannot find intention in such a purpose, the real challenge isn't learning about passion as much as it might be to find some semblance of empathy. Not to mention, if you cannot find passion in the context of any communication, chances are that the journalists, bloggers, or consumers won't either.

This doesn't only apply to writing. It applies to life in general. There is a reason I choose to clean my home every week rather than hire a maid or surrender most of it to my wife. I found intention in the action. Much like Raaz, despite owning several boats, found intention in the simple act of washing dishes. And Murray, unfortunately, forgot his intention when moviegoers passed on his portrayal Larry Darrel. Fortunately, he seemed to rediscover it in later films like Lost In Translation, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and Broken Flowers.

Success doesn't come from fame, fortune, or untold wealth as there are plenty of people who have all those things and never feel successful. Real success comes from living life without empty motions.

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Thursday, March 11

Choosing The Truth: Take Your Pick

"All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.” — Galileo Galilei

Except, fewer and fewer people seem the least bit interested. Take the recent settlement between the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), 35 state attorneys general, and a company accused of deceptive business practices for making false claims. The outcome is cast in a rainbow of colors. If you happened to catch them all, you can pick and chose a truth for you.

There is the FTC truth. The LifeLock truth. The other LifeLock truth. The David Cowen truth. Confused? Here's a summary of the links sourced above.

The FTC Truth.

LifeLock, Inc. has agreed to pay $11 million to the Federal Trade Commission and $1 million to a group of 35 state attorneys general to settle charges that the company used false claims to promote its identity theft protection services, which it widely advertised by displaying its CEO’s Social Security number on the side of a truck.

In one of the largest FTC-state coordinated settlements on record, LifeLock and its principals will be barred from making deceptive claims and required to take more stringent measures to safeguard the personal information they collect from customers.

“While LifeLock promised consumers complete protection against all types of identity theft, in truth, the protection it actually provided left enough holes that you could drive a truck through it,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.

“This agreement effectively prevents LifeLock from misrepresenting that its services offer absolute prevention against identity theft because there is unfortunately no foolproof way to avoid ID theft,” Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said. “Consumers can take definitive steps to minimize the chances of having their personal information stolen, and this settlement will help them make more informed decisions about whether to enroll in ID theft protection services.”

The LifeLock Truth.

LifeLock, Inc., the industry leader in identity theft protection, today announced that it has signed an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and several State attorneys general which closes a compliance inquiry by setting advertising standards for the company and establishing regulatory guidance for the identity theft protection industry.

"LifeLock is pleased with this agreement, which, for the very first time, works to set advertising guidelines for the entire industry. We welcome federal and state efforts to regulate our industry, because doing so helps to protect consumers from the risks of identity theft," said LifeLock Chairman and CEO Todd Davis.

"Because of LifeLock's marketing efforts over the years, many more Americans now know of the risks of identity theft," said Davis. "More than one and a half million consumers rely on us 24 hours a day to help protect their identities."

The Other LifeLock Truth.

LifeLock cofounder Davis said yesterday that the company had already abandoned most of the practices outlined in the FTC's complaint and settlement agreement.

"Today's agreement makes absolutely no impact on our business as it runs today, in our service or our advertising," Davis said in a phone interview.

Davis said LifeLock's revamped service, in place since the fall, didn't rely on fraud alerts. Instead, he said the company had partnered with other technology companies to develop "our own unique LifeLock identity alerts" designed to give customers early warning of identity theft and related frauds.

The David Cowen Truth.

The truth is that the FTC doesn't care whether consumers need protection from LifeLock's ads. The FTC has clear direction from President Obama to demonstrate its dominion over financial services as he campaigns to establish a consumer protection agency, and so the FTC is prepared to enforce and potentially litigate even in cases it knows it can't win. LifeLock understood this, and so even though $12 million is a LOT of money, it's nothing compared to what the lawyers will charge over the next five years to successfully defend against an FTC crusade.

A Recap Of Choices

So which is it?

Was LifeLock barred from making deceptive claims and required to better safeguard the personal information it collects?

Or, did LifeLock work hand in hand with the FTC to set new regulatory guidance for the identity theft protection industry?

Or, did LifeLock agree to a $12 million settlement to atone for past mistakes that it had already self-corrected last year?

Or, was LifeLock singled out because the FTC is following a mandate by President Obama to demonstrate dominion?

There are plenty more truths if you turn to the press. However, the vast majority of stories seem to be simply rehashing what everyone else said. How does this serve the public? We have no idea.

Based on these stories, please help us find the answer by choosing what you think is the truth below. The poll will close next Wednesday, and then we will publish the results along with our best assessment on what the truth might be. Vote for one.

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Wednesday, March 10

Defining Social Media: It's Different For Everyone

The recent Unity Marketing survey — that suggests few affluent consumers connect to brands on social networks, research purchases, or look for coupons — goes well beyond the single demographic. It underpins the problems with most platform strategies, program measurement, and the trappings of crowd-sourced connections.

Highlights From Unity Marking Surveys

• Only 26 percent feel the country is better now than three months ago.
• Affluent consumers spent 50 percent more on luxury items than one year ago.
• As many as 78 percent of affluent consumers have at least one network profile.
• As many as 70 percent of affluent consumer over 40 have at least one network profile.
• Approximately half of affluent consumers view brand pages at times, but do not "friend" them.
• 30 percent of young affluent consumers (under 45) have visited a shopping site in the past three months.
• Only 7 percent sign on to sites to look for special offers; only 6 percent share purchases with friends.

Even among the affluent consumers, Unity Marketing breaks out survey information in subsets, which demonstrate differences by wealth, age, and other social factors. A January 2010 Edelman report produced similar conclusions. Fewer than 25 percent of affluent consumers trust their friends' opinions on purchases. Smart marketers will segment their social marketing efforts, customizing their communications and offers based on the audience.

People are different. They interact differently. They use the Internet differently.

In 2007, we were fortunate in covering a fan-organized outcry over the cancellations of Jericho, Veronica Mars, and The Black Donnellys. It gave our firm evidence that different groups and demographics interact, organize, and share information differently across the Web.

These fan groups weren't the last. Every social media program we've worked on since, including a club for affluent consumers, uses various online technologies and outreach tactics differently. They focus on finite specifics, and not mass generalizations.

For example, volume traffic doesn't apply when a purchase includes a $2,500 to $5,000 membership. Ten thousand fans who cannot afford a membership can be beneficial but never produce outcomes. Even crowd-sourcing window shoppers could be dangerous as their input might not represent the customer, a detail some social media experts seem to forget.

"Social media seem to be experts at attracting each other," noted one of our agency clients. "We're more interested in attracting our customers."

The overanalyzed Motrin case study comes to mind. The majority of the public wasn't offended by the snarky online ad. However, that was a small consolation given that the majority of customers the ad targeted were offended.

The Reality Of Social Media Definitions.

When I present information about social media to classes at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, or any number of associations where I have spoken, I offer a working definition of social media. Mostly, I do it because the definition provides a context.

Social media describes online technologies that people use to share content, opinions, insights, experiences, perspectives, and media.

However, I also invest some time in breaking the definition down (it is people and technologies) and then breaking it into pieces. You see, nowadays, if you ask people to define social media, 80 million of them are just as likely to say social media is Farmville as they are to describe it as a "business" or some sort of "collective stream of consciousness." In short, even social media experts have about as much chance of defining what people do on the Internet as they do planet Earth. It's not scalable.

Fortunately, businesses do not have to understand what all people do within any given environment. They only need to know what their customers want (or don't know what they want). And then, they have to deliver it, online or offline.

After all, if every successful communication program could be defined by a list of bullet points, then traditional communication would have deciphered the right mix of bullet points a long time ago. Considering no one did, it might stand to reason that while we'll see an increasing number of cookie-cutter social media programs, we'll only find a few that are relatively tasty.

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Tuesday, March 9

Looking Glass: Los Angeles Times Dives In

It seems the Los Angeles Times (L.A. Times) has chosen short-term publicity over long-term branding in a one shot advertisement that not everyone appreciates. As described by the New York Times, the newspaper allowed a garishly multicolored image of Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, in the film “Alice in Wonderland,” to occupy the paper’s cover page, complete with the L.A. Times masthead and a rerun of recent articles.

According to the story, Russ Stanton and several deputies vigorously opposed the ad but they were overruled by the paper’s business executives. John Conroy, spokesman for the L.A. Times, likened the ad to the common practice of having an ad cover part or all of a Web site’s home page for a few seconds.

Why Russ Stanton Might Be Right.

Everyone knows that the print editions of daily newspapers are struggling as their online versions have yet to retain a suitable level of replacement revenue. So some might say $700,000, the amount paid for the ad, is simply a badly needed boost.

But what the business executives at the L.A. Times might not be considering is long-term erosion of the brand. As the old saying goes: if everything is for sale, then everything is for sale. And given this isn't the first time that the daily has surrendered editorial space, that might be the case. Eventually, the willingness to supplant the brand for promotional revenue will define the publication.

It may have already. The L.A. Times promoted the sale, calling it a groundbreaking move. Certainly, the move might be groundbreaking, but not for the L.A. Times. While the newspaper is attempting to minimize the move by calling it a wrap, giving up the masthead (along with stories penned by serious journalists) means something else entirely. They may as well put a wrap around their building.

What is groundbreaking is Disney winning the bid to do it. Putting the Mad Hatter everywhere has resulted in a real coup for the movie that is outpacing Avatar with a $116.1 million opening weekend. For the L.A. Times, the publicity is a net loss.

Anytime you elevate awareness, you have to consider the sentiment that comes with it. And the question that might be asked over the long term is that if the L.A. Times doesn't take itself seriously, then why would anyone else? Usually newspapers want to be known for Pulitzers over the same sort of publicity stunts they often criticize.

The timing couldn't be worse, either. Forbes reported on a study that that while Web ads will grow another 10 percent this year, magazines are expected to see a small 1.9 percent increase in spending to. What does that mean for dailies?

Strongly branded dailies will survive in better times, especially with fewer of them. And that means the L.A. Times ought to keep taking its temperature while it experiments with being a tabloid. Tabloid competition is even tougher, I hear.

A Round-Up Of Opinions On Selling The L.A. Times

Times Sells Disney Its Front Page for $700K by Sharon Waxman

The Los Angeles Times Sells Out The Front Page by Donald Douglas

L.A. Times Splashes Mad Hatter Across Fake Front Page: No Harm, No Foul by Si Cantwell

L.A. Times sells Disney Front Page For Movie Ad by Steve Gorman

L.A. Times Runs Cover Wrap for ‘Alice in Wonderland’ by MediaBuyer Planner

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