Monday, March 14

Finding A Niche: Why Sell Lemonade?

lemonadeAs the weather slowly starts to warm across the country, a few industrious children might put aside their game consoles and opt for something a bit more enterprising like opening a lemonade stand (assuming regulators allow them).

Nowadays, there are only a few, maybe one per city. But let's assume for a minute that more children were ambitious. Let's say all of them.

Can you imagine? In every neighborhood, down every block, and in every driveway, folding tables and handmade signs would color the entire city yellow with packets of Kool-Aid piling up in trash cans. Except, Kool-Aid packets wouldn't pile up. With so many of the same choices, there would be nothing to help the would-be consumer to distinguish which stand to visit.

Marketing Is Much More Than Numbers.

The only possible way for any of these kids to manage a successful lemonade stand would be to develop specializations. There are dozens of ways to do it. They could specialize with a focus on the market, customer, product, or marketing mix.

Demographic specialist. Perhaps one child would specialize in an older demographic, turning on a portable stereo and playing old hits from the 1980s.

Product specialist. Maybe another child skips the Kool-Aid mix and decides to only use real lemons handpicked at the local farmer's market.

• Packaging specialist. Perhaps another child decides to skip Dixie cups and only serve the lemonade in frosted glasses that can be kept as long as the customer is willing to pay a premium.

sugae cookies and lemonadeService specialist. Maybe another child decides that they can afford to invest in baking sugar cookies, which are offered alongside the lemonade, distinguishing them from the various vendors competing for attention.

Channel specialist. Perhaps yet another child makes it easier for customers to order their lemonade and introduces a free delivery service that brings the lemonade right to their doorsteps.

Discount specialist. Maybe one of the children, especially facing pressure to meet all these growing specializations, decides to mark down their product five cents.

Geographic specialist. Perhaps one of the children emphasizes the location of their lemonade stand, offering up that a percentage of their sales will be donated to a local cause such as cleaning up the neighborhood park.

Disruption specialist. And yet another child decides that the competition is much less fierce if they decide to offer cranberry juice instead.

Product-line specialist. Perhaps another child recognizes that the organic lemonade shop is struggling to keep up with business so rather than selling lemonade to consumers, they focus on squeezing organic lemons to help them keep up.

Broadcast specialist. Maybe another child decides that they can leverage the power of their brand by franchising their lemonade stand to nearby neighborhoods and thus creating a consistent brand message.

And the list goes on, with the underlying premise being that all companies are dependent on whether they are a market leader, challenger, follower, or uniquely specialized as these various lemonade stands became.

Sure, not all of them will be successful but more of them will be successful than if they all tried to produce the same product. And most costumers will be happy because they will be given an increasing number of choices that all the customers will enjoy.

A Quick Look At Black Hat Marketing Tactics.

Of course, there will be a few children who might not appreciate any competition. And they might engage in any number of tactics that aren't designed to benefit the customer but instead diminish the the competition's ability to sell products.

Legislative disruption. One child might, for example, lobby legislators to pass a law requiring special insurance that makes it more expensive for the channel specialist to employ drivers.

lemonade bustFire sale disruption. Perhaps another child doesn't cut his price by a nickel but decides to sell it for a nickel for an extended period of time, taking on substantial debt until successfully forcing competitors out of business.

• Purchase disruption. Maybe another child has more money saved up and buys up all the other lemonade stands on the block for no other reason than to curb competition.

Recommendation exchange. Maybe two or three children team up and praise each other's lemonade while discounting all the other stands in the neighborhood.

All four of these tactics are viable approaches to businesses and are practiced daily. They are not necessarily ethically challenged in every case, but it's easy to see how they might disrupt the marketplace and work against consumer interest. In some cases, such actions create a marketplace very much like concept we started with when every child was selling virtually the same product.

Where Marketing Naturally Meets Social Media.

When most people think of marketing, they immediately think sales. But marketing isn't about sales at all. It's about product differentiation, especially among niche companies.

When you look back at some of the most successful marketing stories in history, almost none of them have anything to do with sales. In fact, those that abandoned product differentiation for sales have since lost some of their initial luster.

Sure, the ideal niche mix is to find an area of specialization that has a strong enough interest and reasonable growth potential, which will result in sales, but sales don't have to be the primary objective. Finding the right consumers make a bigger impact.

This plays out in social media too. Right now, most people are focusing on new numbers instead of sales — connections, shares, comments, etc. that somehow indicate visionary influence — but none of those things will really bear out over the long term as much as building the right relationships.

lemoade standIn other words, the organic lemonade specialists might not be able to capture all lemonade lovers but they might be able to capture a significant portion of organic lemonade lovers. It might even be to their determent to target all lemonade lovers, people who will complain about the higher price point, bemoan the lack of delivery, or want cranberry juice served too.

Social media has grown up. In the years ahead, expect to see more attention being paid to the marketing side of social media. Companies won't celebrate crossing the one million fan mark as much as they will celebrate crossing the 80-20 percent split between loyal customers and potential buyers.

The same can be said about bloggers too. Content is a product of sorts and the last thing consumers want or need is the same content on every single site. You can differentiate a blog much like companies differentiate their products.

Companies might have to approach any social media campaigns the same way too. Twenty juice companies writing about the industry is boring. Twenty juicers writing about different but related topics that appeal to their demographic might be noticed.

Friday, March 11

Commenting On Chrysler: Farcical From The Start

ChryslerIt's almost impossible to classify the recent communication focus surrounding Chrysler. Crisis Communication? Overreaction? PR lesson? Damage control? Best practice? PR disaster? Obscene tweet? Social media failure?

Are you kidding me? It's farcical.

All of it. It's especially farcical that less than 140 characters can create a global reaction. But to really appreciate how farcical it is, you need a broader context. The post (that some people have called a best practice) from Chrysler CEO Ed Garsten nails it. (His words in italics).

The hurtful tweet that sparked a firestorm. Oh my.

When a reporter called yesterday snarkily asking, “seen any good tweets lately,” I knew exactly what was coming next -- a firestorm across the web regarding an errant tweet by a now-former employee of Chrysler’s social media agency.

The tweet denigrated drivers in Detroit and used the fully spelled-out F-word. It was obviously meant to be posted on the person’s personal twitter account, and not the Chrysler Brand account where it appeared.

The tweet, reportedly written by Scott Bartosiewicz, account supervisor at New Media Strategies, on Chryslar's Twitter stream, read "I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to fucking drive."

tweetHe worked for the agency for eight months. He's a long-time Michigan resident, maybe a native. He made a mistake. It wasn't even a big mistake.

A big mistake might be having to recall 248,000 crossover wagons and minivans or 20,459 Jeep Wranglers. A tiny mistake is saying the wrong thing to 7,000 people who happened to follow Chrysler at the time ... minus spam accounts, minus people who weren't on Twitter, minus people who don't pay attention but follow the brand anyway.

Right. About seven people saw the tweet, including a "snarky reporter" as characterized by Garsten. Hopefully, the reporter is less sensitive than Detroit drivers are toward being "unfairly criticized."

The mean agency fired the guy before they were fired. Oh my.

First, Chrysler did not fire this person since this wasn’t one of our employees. The agency did. It was their decision. We didn’t demand it.

No, Chrysler did not fire the employee. They fired the entire agency. However, some have suggested the change was already top of mind. The errant tweet was just the final straw.

Let's be honest. Had the employee not been fired, he would have been after Chrysler pulled the account.

The sheer horror and anguish of being powerless to stop it. Oh my.

Second, as the day and night wore on, comments on various social media sites increasingly expressed either dismay that someone would lose their job over an online oops and that Chrysler was acting, as one poster put it, “in a stiff, corporate way.” Some posters even asked why we didn’t make light of an accidental “f-bomb."

Exactly right. The mistake didn't cause any sensationalism. It was the initial lie — our account was compromised — that sparked conversation.

You can even see it in the screen shots. The initial tweet wasn't retweeted even after being up for more than three hours. The correction, however, drew immediate attention.

And then, after the firing, the audience for the "incident" swelled from seven people to seven million. And on. And on.

The insensitivity of people for not recognizing all the hard work. Oh my.

So why were we so sensitive? That commercial featuring the Chrysler 200, Eminem and the City of Detroit wasn’t just an act of salesmanship. This company is committed to promoting Detroit and its hard-working people. The reaction to that commercial, the catchphrase “imported from Detroit,” and the overall positive messages it sent has been volcanic.”

chryslerVolcanic? Chrysler is doing better, but it still has a long, long way to go. U.S. sales might have risen 13 percent, but Chrysler Group sales were already up 17 percent in 2010 compared with 2009.

But even those numbers don't tell the whole story. You have to appreciate how far sales had to drop before the company could have a gain.

The entire future of the town rests right here. Oh my.

Indeed, as an automaker that went through the roughest of times just two years ago, we appreciate the challenges Detroit faces in reclaiming its place as a vibrant, world-class city. Inside Detroit, citizens are becoming even more proud of their town, and outside the region, perception of Detroit is rapidly improving.

With so much goodwill built up over a very short time, we can’t afford to backslide now and jeopardize this progress.

We need to keep the momentum going -- rebuilding a region and an industry, and not let anything slow us down. It’s what we do.

Is he really saying that 140 characters could somehow undermine the entire economic future of the region and erode all the pride that Detroit citizens have in their town? That's crazy talk. If Detroit is a tough town, one accidental tweet would not undermine their spirit. Heck, even if they did care, hurling a few F-words back at Bartosiewicz would have sufficed.

Suck it up. Unless a crisis is catastrophic (e.g., oil spills and product recalls), the organization establishes the severity of the so-called crisis. This wasn't a crisis. It has, however, become a publicity circus. And honestly, it's not even a very good circus.

The farcical commentaries that suggest tweet "recovery" strategies.

SquirrelWhen you consider what constitutes news, the entire incident can be likened to the :15 second clip of a squirrel on water skiis. It's an oddity that we all might chuckle about it instead of trying to frame it within the context of tragedy.

And yet, hundreds of communicators have treated the entire affair like a serious crisis communication case study. The worst of it includes offering up of social media safeguards and running down communication response punch lists. They might as well write a contingency plan for an employee with a hangover. The seriousness of it all just can't be taken seriously.

No one needs a communication strategy for one errant tweet. All anyone needs is common sense. Use common sense and lighten up.

Wednesday, March 9

Buying The Field: Marketers Staff PR And SM

Marketers Look To Social
According to The Creative Group Hiring Index for marketing and advertising professionals, 12 percent of the executives said they plan to add full-time staff in the next three months and only three percent said they plan to reduce staff. But the more interesting aspect of the survey points to integration.

For the first time, social media topped the index as the area where marketing and advertising executives were planning to increase employment. Almost 20 percent said they planned full-time staff additions within the area of social media. Combined with Web design (13 percent) and interactive media (12 percent), the direction of advertising and marketing is clearly digital.

"Many firms have increased their digital marketing budgets in response to growing consumer demand for content and in an effort to build customer relationships," said Donna Farrugia, executive director of The Creative Group. "Employers seek experienced professionals to develop engaging social media campaigns, as well as online video and advertising."

The other interesting aspect of the study suggests marketing and advertising professionals might be losing their interest in hiring out-of-shop public relations firms. Twelve percent of advertising and marketing professionals plan to hire public relations professionals. The change makes sense as more marketing shops bring online public engagement into their marketing plans.

Anticipated Hiring Focus For Second Quarter 2011

Social media 19%
Media services 16%
Account services 14%
Brand/product management 14%
Web design/production 13%
Interactive media 12%
Public relations 12%
Marketing research 11%
Print design/production 10%
Creative/art direction 10%
Copywriting 8%

Working in an integrated communication field.

The study matches some independent research we've conducted in the last three months and even the makeup of my Writing For Public Relations class at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. For the first time since I started teaching in 2000, marketing professionals make up about 65 percent of the class.

"Our organization has grown weary of paying a $4,500 monthly retainer that almost always includes overages and additional charges," said one student. "While we might contract public relations on occasion, marketing will be taking over the bulk of the work."

Her observation seems to play out after looking at The Creative Group Hiring Index in the fourth quarter. Social media placed third, but public relations had topped the most likely additions for advertising and marketing. One possible explanation is that once public relations professionals were added, marketing executives reconsidered social media skill sets — seeing that much of the function better aligned with their growing digital marketing teams.

It begs the question. Did public relations miss its window to own social* once marketers discovered public relations professionals didn't have all the skills needed, or has marketing just decided to own everybody?

*Nobody owns social, not really.

Monday, March 7

Closing The Count: Popularity Vs. Quality

Fresh ContentThis is an imperfect accounting of the Fresh Content Project, but the case is made. There is no correlation between popularity and content quality. None at all. Not a stitch.

When comparing fresh pick authors against Alexa traffic measures*, the scale is neither right side up nor upside down. The better call is semi-random. It seems to be semi-random because marketing makes up the difference. The more people market their content, the more popular their blogs. Nothing more or less.

Ergo, the people in the top spots make it their business to be there. The people who do not have a different business.

The following is a list of 84 of 250 Fresh Content providers. There might have beeen an oversight. If there is, it isn't intentional. Visit the link for each quarterly list.

Likewise, some positions may change in the final report or ebook. And, there are many ways to consider the count. For example, combining multi-author blog picks would elevate several. For the purposes of this round up, we concentrated on authors.

There is also no distinction drawn for frequency. Looking at the percentage of posts published vs. the percentage of those picked could suggest some very different conclusions. So can looking at this list in such a raw form. Because it is not a rank.

beansThis list is nothing more than a count — determined by picking a single post per weekday. We then compared this count to Alexa global traffic (*hardly a perfect measure) but against those that are listed. In some cases, we identified non-principal authors as contributors, showing the rank of the blog they contributed to as opposed to their personal blogs.

Please keep in mind that the list is not an endorsement per se and we may have a different outlook on some blogs today. But specific to the experiment, there were many days when five fresh pick posts might be published (and we only picked one) as well as days when a post that would have never been picked suddenly soared to the top.

But all that aside, taking a look at the list shows how 'semi-random' popularity can be. The complete list of fresh pick authors is below.

84 Fresh Content Authors From A Field Of 250.

1. Valeria Maltoni. Communication, Traffic Rank 23.

2. Geoff Livingston. Communication, Traffic Rank 35.

3. Ike Piggot. Communication, Traffic Rank 55.

4. Ian Lurie. Internet Marketing, Traffic Rank 12.

5. Jason Falls. Social Media, Traffic Rank 13.

6. Roger Dooley. Neuromarketing, Traffic Rank 24.

7. Adam Singer. Digital Marketing, Traffic Rank 18.

8. Brian Solis. Social Media, Traffic Rank 8.

9. Bob Conrad. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 66.

10. Louis Gray. Technology, Traffic Rank 31.

11. Bill Sledzik. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 69.

12. Jay Ehret. Marketing, Traffic Rank 33.

13. Chris Brogan. Social Media, Traffic Rank 3.

14. Danny Brown. Social Media, Traffic Rank 14.

15. Lee Odden. SEO, Traffic Rank 5.

16. Beth Harte. Marketing, Traffic Rank 45.

17. John Bell. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 41.

18. Dave Fleet. Digital Media, Traffic Rank 34.

19. Shel Holtz. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 42.

20. Mitch Joel. Digital Marketing, Traffic Rank 20.

21. Andrew Weaver. Traffic Rank 70.*

22. Jay Baer. Social Media, Traffic Rank 15.

23. Jeff Bullas. Social Media, Traffic Rank 16.

24. Jeremiah Owyang. Web Strategy, Trafic Rank 11.

25. Arik Hason. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 39.

26. Jed Hallam. Social Media, Traffic Rank 61.

27. Kami Watson Huyse. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 49.

28. Jennifer Riggle. Marketing, Traffic Rank 36.

29. Maria Reyes-McDavis. SEO, Traffic Rank 33.

30. Dan Zarrella. Social Media, Traffic Rank 21.

31. Gini Dietrich. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 22.

32. Heather Rast. Branding, Contributor Rank 13.

33. Jeremy Myers. Internet Marketing, Traffic Rank 59.

34. Ben Decker. Communication, Traffic Rank 48.

35. Jon Jantsch. Marketing, Traffic Rank 6.

36. Mike Schaffer. Social Media, Traffic Rank 62.

37. David Armano. Digital Marketing, Traffic Rank 26.

38. Marketing Profs. Marketing, Traffic Rank 4.

39. Amber Nusland Social Media, Traffic Rank 27.

40. Olivier Blanchard. Social Media, Traffic Rank 28.

41. Priya Ramesh. Marketing, Traffic Rank 36.

42. Doug Davidoff. Public Relations, Contributor Rank 22.

43. Didi Lutz Public Relations, Contributor Rank 22.

44. Len Kendell. Marketing, Contributor Rank 22.

45. Patrick Collins. Branding, Traffic Rank 55.

46. Francois Gossieaux. Marketing, Traffic Rank 52

47. Shane Kinkennon. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 63.

48. Anna Barcelos. Marketing, Contributor Rank 22.

49. Pamela Wilson Writing, Contributor Rank 2.

50. Adam Vincenzini Social Media, Traffic Rank 44.

51. Carl Haggerty. Communication, Traffic Rank 66.

52. Kyle Flaherty. Communication, Traffic Rank 68.

53. Mike Cassidy Social Media, Contributor Rank 15.

54. Rachel Kay. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 64.

55. Sean Williams. Social Media, Traffic Rank 67.

56. Sree Sreenivasan. Journalism, Contributor Rank 1.

57. Lauren Fernandez. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 54.

58. Lisa Barone. Branding, Traffic Rank: 7.

59. Sean D'Souza. Writing, Contributor Rank 2.

60. Jordan Cooper. Branding, Contributor Rank 13.

61. Taylor Lindstrom. Writing, Contributor Rank 2.

62. Rob Reed. Mobile, Traffic Rank 46.

63. Peter Himler Public Relations, Traffic Rank 57.

64. Christina Kerley. B2B Marketing, Traffic Rank 47.

65. Michelle Bowles. SEO, Contributor Rank 5.

66. Audrey Watters. SEO, Contributor Rank 5.

67. Larry Kim. Social Media, Contributor Rank 2.

68. Jonathan Fields. Social Media, Traffic Rank 17.

69. Kristi Hines. Blog Marketing, Traffic Rank 10

70. Barbara Nixon. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 56.

71. Aaron Brazell. Social Media, Traffic Rank 31.

72. Mark Smiciklas. Social Media, Contributor Rank: 13.

73. Joel Postman. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 51.

74. Callan Paola. Advertising, Contributor Rank 40

75. Jason Keith. Social Media, Traffic Rank: Social Media, Traffic Rank 38

76. Erin Greenfield. Public Relations, Contributor Rank 43.

77. David Meerman Scott. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 25.

78. Ted Page. Advertising, Traffic Rank 58.

79. Christian Arno Social Media, Contributor Rank 16.

80. Julien Smith. Internet Marketing, Traffic Rank 19.

81. Kelly Day. Advertising, Traffic Rank 40

82. Chris Koch. Marketing, Traffic Rank 50.

83. Ari Herzog. Social Media, Traffic Rank 29.

84. Marta Majewska. Social Media, Traffic Rank 60.

85-250. It Doesn't Matter. Traffic Rank: 1-250.

There is nothing to be gained from listing the 160+ blogs that never saw a post picked. While it is true that several land at the top of some lists, this experiment always aimed to celebrate authors rather than disparage them. Being picked even once ought to be an achievement given the caliber of the people writing content on a daily basis.

If quality doesn't equal popular than why do some blogs become popular?

Fresh ContentIf popularity is your objective, it all comes down to common sense. Market your product heavily. Investing time in social networks and money (design, search engine optimization, and traditional marketing) will accelerate readership until hitting a proverbial tipping point where popularity can propel the project forward alongside marketing.

It's much more difficult to publish quality. In fact, quality seems to make little difference at all, with grocery vanilla, not flavored content drawing more interest. No, processed content is not better for your readers. It's only better for you.

You can see it traffic numbers across the board — 2007 was a defining year for communication bloggers. Social networks provided an opportunity for blast marketing. Never mind what some people advise. Those who poured on between 50,000 to 100,000 tweets saw traffic spikes (50-60 per day).

And that was only Twitter. There were dozens of others too (some now long forgotten). And, there was a surge in opportunities for grassroots marketing, everything from business card books to speaker droughts. Some even called for businesses to be more human while stripping away any human element from their home pages and replacing it with hard cold sales messages.

There is nothing wrong with any of it. But there most certainly is a difference. Anyone who worked hard to position themselves at the top deserves some admiration in that anyone could have but did not. However, don't think for a minute that heavy marketing (time or money) is any indication of someone being better than someone else. On any given day, number 32, 84, 156, or 245 could have been number one.

"Is a single leaf any more or any less part of a tree because of the length of the branch it grows or the proximity of other leaves around it or its current condition without regard to the potential it will achieve? Well then, there is your answer." — Rich Becker

Friday, March 4

Questioning PR: Bruce Buschel At Southfork Kitchen

Bruce Buschel on PR
While traveling through Europe, Bruce Buschel, who now owns the Southfork Kitchen (Southfork), was struck by the abundance of restaurants that served food with locally grown or raised ingredients. He believed opening a New York restaurant based on that idea would be a winner in the Hamptons.

The idea isn't as novel as it sounds. Celebrated Houston Chef Clive Berkman always tells me the same thing. If he cooks while traveling, he always leans toward making a menu based on local ingredients. But that's neither here nor there. This is a lesson for PR, especially my students.

A Rehash Of The 'Public Relations' Problem.

What makes Buschel interesting is his New York Times column about opening and managing a restaurant. The last two columns were especially interesting to anyone in communication: The Problem With Public Relations and Do P.R. People Have To Like The Food. They offer an unabashed glimpse inside how the restauranteur views public relations.

Buschel was originally dazzled by a local public relations firm's pitch and just as easily disappointed when they didn't produce a single story before the opening. When he called them on it, they pushed the err on him. His restaurant was "too hip to be square and too fishy to be hip," they said. And specifically, as Buschel lists in his column, these were the firm's primary issues:

• The New York Times blog was a problem, scooping PR or getting in the way.
• Area restaurants were equally sustainable and/or organic (no contrast).
• We have to taste your food in order to get excited about doing our jobs.

SouthforkBuschel really took exception to the third point. He thought it was ridiculous that paid help would have to like the food. So he sacked the first firm and tried a second firm whose principal blogged for the the Huffington Post and appeared as a judge on Iron Chef. Except, go figure, the second PR firm eventually left a bad taste in Buschel's mouth too. He was especially unhappy after receiving a list of everything his restaurant did wrong after the guru/principal dined there with a fellow critic. The guru didn't even like the name anymore. The name?

So Buschel wrote a post about it and criticized PR. Of course, as you might imagine, the mostly neutral story drew the ire of public relations professionals on both sides of the line — those who sided with Buschel and those defending their industry. (It almost always happens that way.) Then, Buschel cherry picked one response for a follow up — a parsed point-by-point rebuttal.

The Real Problem With Public Relations.

The real problem with public relations in this case is that Buschel didn't want public relations and the first PR firm didn't promise public relations. He wanted publicity — high-priced cheerleaders without sexy legs. They promised publicity too, but then couldn't deliver it. So they invented excuses like all faux public relations firms do.

The tell is in the third excuse. The firm promised pre-opening buzz and accepted a check without tasting the food. But then when they failed to deliver results, they wanted samples. Dopes.

The second PR firm wasn't much better. Buschel still wanted publicity and the second PR firm promised publicity. But after what seemed to be a promising start, that PR firm stopped offering publicity and started offering consult beyond public relations.

The tell is in claiming the eatery has the wrong name. It seems likely the name game was stolen from the food critic's notes because if the name was so bad to begin with then why wouldn't the firm had mentioned it before? Baloney.

All this leads me to believe that the real problem is in the definition. It's a common problem too. People say public relations but they really mean publicity. Here are some thumbnail versions of longer definitions to provide the basic context.

Public Relations. The job is to provide counsel on the exchange of mutually beneficial communication between the organization and various publics.

Media Relations. The job is to maximize positive coverage in the mass media without paying for it directly through advertising.

Publicity. The job is the deliberate attempt to manage the public's perception of a subject, which often includes an emphasis on media but is not limited to it.

pr cheerleaderAt a glance, it might seem that the second PR firm was attempting to offer some semblance of public relations. However, the approach in how they passed along conversational notes after dinner with a critic was more confrontational than mutually beneficial. The story sounds more in line with what we might expect a celebrity social media ego to do — act as paid adversaries to their own clients, beating them with customer comments.

All in all, despite the propensity for public relations professionals to jump into one camp or the other, there are no camps. Everyone looks equally foolish, but not everyone looks fraudulent. Buschel might be like hundreds of other clients in that he was hoodwinked by non-performing publicists into accepting an erroneous definition of the trade, but his intent seems pure.

Bolstering Southfork Kitchen Would Benefit From Integration.

It seems to me that there are a variety of real and perceived challenges that the restaurant might want to overcome. First and foremost, forget the babble about the name. You can call a company anything and it will stand the test of time once it earns a reputation. One of the most talked about computer companies in the world is named after a rather generic fruit, after all.

Some of the other conversation threads are clutter too. PR firms can do ground work before tasting any food; most of them assume they will for awhile, especially during a pre-opening period. The New York Times column was not and is not a liability; it is an asset. (Even if there were some cannibalized stories, plenty of other stories remained.) Even most of the opinions pushed back on Buschel could be chalked up to bringing in the wrong audience.

With all of these tidbits out of the way, there is only one potential problem left on the table: the unique selling point. If this argument is valid, then the solution needs to come from marketing more than public relations. Specifically, Buschel might consider re-prioritizing his contrast points. I wouldn't abandon organic, but maybe it's not the number one focus or perhaps some added clarity would help make it distinct.

Other than that, the problem may have nothing to do with the restaurant. The real problem may have to do with the liberal use of terms. Mixing up public relations and publicity always creates a breakdown in client-vendor communication. It's an industry problem.

farmerIf either PR firm really did public relations, the local farmers would be promoting the restaurant, area associations would be booking luncheons, and the sudden interest would have attracted the interest of foodies and faux foodies because those folks hate to be left out.

As for additional media exposure, there are enough stories to sell assuming the firm would work beyond their normal lists. They may need a new one for this unique venue. And, if select critics didn't like the food or service, the firm would be charged with finding common ground and providing feedback. They would not simply bleed the client as if they were the owner.

Then again, I'm not convinced Buschel wanted public relations help. It seems to me that he wants publicity help even though he is doing a fine job on his own. The truth is that he already nailed one surefire way to get publicity — if you want people to write about you in a social media world, write some smack about public relations.

Any time anyone writes smack about public relations, the entire bubble blows up in a public debate between those who claim to know and do not versus those who might know but never do more than communicate tales of industry woe. Buschel said he finds this ironic, but ironic isn't the right word. The right word is pathetic.

Wednesday, March 2

Forgetting A Public: Employees, Again

Employee Relations
Employers who assume that the sluggish economy will keep their employees in check might be surprised in the months ahead. Almost 50 percent of employees have considered leaving their jobs. More than 21 percent have already applied elsewhere in the last six months.

The study, conducted by MarketTools, Inc., a feedback software management firm, mirrors another released by the Conference Board in January. It found that 55 percent of employees were dissatisfied with their jobs, which represents the lowest morale point in the last two decades. Other studies conducted last year revealed largely the same findings.

The Cause Of Employee Dissatisfaction.

According to the study, the most common complaints from employees suggested 47 percent were dissatisfied with their salary, 24 percent were dissatisfied with their workload, 21 percent were dissatisfied with their opportunities for advancement, and 21 percent were dissatisfied with their immediate manager or supervisor. However, before jumping on any knee-jerk solutions — raises, staff support, and management shifts — there is something else to consider.

When people answer job satisfaction surveys, they tend to provide misinformation. Sometimes you have to look at unrelated surveys to gain a greater appreciation for what employees are thinking.

overworkedFor example, a USA Today poll taken earlier in the year asked a different question. Instead of asking "What are you most dissatisfied with at your job?" they asked "Which of the following is most important about your job?" The answer they received paints a much different picture. About 21 percent cited job security, 20 percent said health benefits, 14 percent said work-life balance, 14 percent said salary, and 11 percent said retirement benefits.

But no matter what they say, there is something else. Most employees will accept less of everything if they are satisfied with their jobs. They do it all the time. (Even in education, private school teachers make less but outperform their higher paid counterparts.)

The Culprit Of Communication.

In many cases, the foundation of employee dissatisfaction is communication. In general, employers either communicate too much about challenges beyond their control, ask employees to look for problems, or do not communicate enough about the greater scope of external conversations outside the workplace. All three reinforce employee dissatisfaction.

Communicating Challenges. Even companies that are outperforming cannot resist the urge to mention the weak economy. Both companies that have had to resort to layoffs and cutbacks and those that grew mention it all the time.

We've read it in several company reports. Almost every one of them has a sentence that starts "Because of a weak economy" or "Despite a weak economy" within the first three paragraphs of their openers. Every time they say "weak economy," the mind immediately jumps to questions about job security.

Focusing On Problems. The same can be said about customer surveys, but employee surveys are even worse. Inexperienced communicators send out surveys that few employees want to take, most employees don't trust, and almost all of them set unintended agendas.

When you ask people to point out problems, they will instinctively find them. Ergo, the aforementioned surveys underscore the point. Ask employees what they are dissatisfied about with their jobs elicits a much different answer than what they value about their job the most.

Ignoring News Babble. Of course, employers don't always think about it, but sometimes their worst enemies are people who have very little to do with their companies. Politicians and newscasters continually pelt them with problems that demand more focus.

It's not a coincidence that health benefits struck a chord in the USA Today survey. Every time the health care debate comes up, people start to wonder how their health benefits stack up in comparison to everyone else, if they have enough, and what would happen if they had a major problem. Just wait ... in a few months when Social Security becomes a hot issue, employees will start listing retirement as a top two concern.

In all three cases, employees are being pelted with negativity. And the question employers ought to be asking themselves is whether they are contributing to the negative speak or doing enough to address the negative speak bombarding employees everywhere else. If you do not, then expect things to get worse — bad news and doubt spread faster than good news and promise inside any workplace, community, and social network.

The Cost Of Employee Dissatisfaction.

There are some employers who dismiss employee satisfaction outright. Some even stand by an adage that if an employee doesn't like working somewhere then they can show themselves the door. I agree that there is a certain percentage of employees who will never be happy no matter where they work. However, with employee dissatisfaction crossing 50 percent, it's safe to assume that a few bad apples aren't spoiling the bushel ... the bushel is spoiling the few good apples.

Nice store. Rude staff.There are tangible costs associated with dissatisfaction in the workplace. You can do the math several different ways. How many customers does a dissatisfied employee come in contact with on a daily basis? How many people (family, friends, associates) do they mention their dissatisfaction to? What is it like to work in an environment where one of every two employees points out unaddressed problems within the company or reinforces their disdain for the supervisor?

It's one of the lessons I share with communication students. In addition to conducting customer research, I tell them to consider the client workplace. If the employees seem unhappy, stressed, or demoralized, it is likely even the best marketing plan will fail because the conversion rate will be ridiculously low. In some cases, they might even be destined to fail.

How To Begin The Reversal Process.

As anyone who works in social media knows, no one can control a conversation. You can, however, manage it. While this only scratches the surface, communication can help reset the mood.

Avoid negative speak (if a weak economy isn't an impact, don't bring it up unless it's brought up). Skip the surveys and encourage productive team meetings (dialogue is more meaningful than multiple choice). Take public conversations and turn them into conversational opportunities — if health care is the political hot topic today, then use it as an opportunity to remind employees what and why you offer what you do. In some cases, it might even be worthwhile to improve it, even a little bit.

Consider the impact of the latter. While the nation debates health care, your employees might offer up how their company is covered rather than assuming they aren't. Just remember to avoid negative speak packaging. You don't have to reinforce what others don't have or include something like "despite the lack of health care at most companies" or "because of the out-of-control costs" to convey the point. They'll get it.

Of course, all of these solutions are proactive. From the original study mentioned, most companies aren't even reactive. Three-quarters of all employees say their companies do not solicit employee feedback. And of those who do, most only solicit it quarterly or less.

The irony is that while employees continue to be ignored, customer feedback models are leaning toward real time. That doesn't make too much sense when you think about it. If you think knowing more about your customers will improve sales performance, doesn't it stand to reason you might want to know something about the employee they have contact with? Maybe.

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