Friday, July 1

Treading Water: There Is No Fail

There is no failSocial media adopted the vernacular — FAIL or #FAIL or FAIL! — as a one word sum up on the most heinous communication and customer service gaffes worth sharing. Everyone knows what it means. And everyone wants to avoid it.

In fact, many people want to avoid it so much that they are sometimes paralyzed from pursuing their own dreams, ambitions, and opportunities. What if I fail?

Those are the words that might sputter from between their lips behind the scenes or among casual confidences. And for all those folks who are holding off on trying anything for the fear of failure, I have very good news. You've already FAILED.

Every day you don't do something because you might fail is the only day you do FAIL.

A social media program that does not exist is a failed social media program. A great book that will never be written is a failed book. And a company that never even sees the outline of a business plan is a failed business.

Ergo, just because it never happened doesn't exempt you from the reality of the FAIL. The only saving grace, I suppose, is the number of people who know it.

If you want another term for the phenomenon, call it reckless obscurity. Nobody will ever know you failed, but nobody will ever know you either.

Two years ago, Adam McCaffrey conducted a study on the fear of failure and procrastination. And what he found was people who exhibited traits of autonomy, competence, relatedness, and vitality tended to be less prone to fear of failure and procrastination.

Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., who wrote the aforementioned sum up of the study, suggested one important question might be "how do we foster that sense of competence in our lives that is so essential to our well-being?" And the answer might be easier than you think.

Give yourself permission to fail at smaller tasks so you can learn failure doesn't matter.

A small company starting a blog will eventually learn one failed post isn't the end of the world. One short story that doesn't resonate with friends might provide the backdrop for a better story. One "side project" or solo activity might not lead to a successful business, but it could give you the experience you need for the next project that will.

All the while, keep the original lesson in mind. Do you have a social media program, book, or business before you start? No. That means starting anything, more or less, is assured to be an outcome that is break even or win. There is no fail.

Wednesday, June 29

Funding Education: Price Tags Mean Nothing

leavesAccording to government spending on public education, New York spends more per pupil than any other state ($18,126 per student). Utah spends the least ($6,356 per student).

Among fourth grade students, Utah scores 240 in math, 221 in reading, and 155 in science. Among fourth grade students, New York scores 241 in math, 224 in reading, and doesn't test for science.

Those test scores are provided by the National Center of Education Statistics. I'll include some numbers for Nevada in a minute.

Money Doesn't Buy Results, Effectiveness, Or Creativity.

It's one of the most difficult notions to grasp, even in communication. When I used to enter, support, or judge creative award competitions, the conversations were always the same. Some people in the field would take a sweeping glance at the winning entries and declare: Of course so-and-so won, they had a bigger budget. They had a better client. They this or that.

You can debate the point with someone who has that mindset all you want. They will never change their minds despite the truth. Campaign budgets have very little to do with successful communication. Sometimes I think big budgets might even hinder them, spurring on the first knee jerk idea that a limited budget could never fund.

In fact, when you have a budget big enough to do anything, sometimes that's the last thing you ought to do. Here's one example that proves the point.

States do the same thing with education. Those without funding claim that funding is the issue. This is the case made ad nauseum in Nevada.

Yet, the Nevada Policy Research Institute says Nevada spends as much as $13,000 per student. Any discrepancy in reporting, it seems, comes from the state only counting its funding without consideration of the funding paid by local taxes and other funding sources. So technically, Nevada is somewhere is the high middle on education spending or more.

But even if per student spending was comparable to Utah, it still doesn't explain test scores. Nevada scores 235 in math, 211 in reading, and 140 in science. Every score is lower than Utah. That's a rotten investment at almost twice the expense.

A Pencil, Paper, And Four Leaves.

I've set some education time aside for my children, ages 12 and 5, this summer. The other day, they went out into the yard and picked up four or five leaves. When they came back in, I showed them how to freehand draw the leaves in a pattern, with the older child also instructed to tutor the younger one (in addition to doing his own).

It's a rudimentary exercise, but lays the foundation for a program. From this exercise, they will learn some basic drawing skills. The next exercise will add in shading for the purposes of tone and texture. The one after that will include two colored pencils (light and dark) to allow for light. The entire program is a variant of a free downloadable drawing class found on iTunes from Harvard (but they aren't watching the videos). There are nine lessons in all.

For my purposes, art won't be the only instruction. As they continue to work with the leaves, I'll be adding in some other subjects. One will include biology. Another history. Another art history. Another math. And certainly, the younger one will learn how to spell leaf. (If I wanted to, I could add a section on business management as well. Not that I want to.)

The entire program is going to cost me about one dollar for paper; maybe a few cents more for pencil lead.

Education doesn't have to be expensive. And neither do campaigns. The bulk of the investment ought to be the time of talent, creating something impactful and memorable. Because frankly, it doesn't matter what you teach as much as it matters what the students learn. And likewise, it doesn't matter how much you spend on a commercial as much as what people might remember about it.

Monday, June 27

Buying Skype Headaches: Microsoft

SkypeMicrosoft is buying more than Skype for $9 billion. It's also buying a headache of sorts, one that it didn't make but will eventually have to face as a public relations road bump or two or worse.

The initial rub up with a story penned by former employee Yee Lee, who describes Silver Lake as a bunch of rat bastards, is only one piece of the problem.

In case you missed it, Lee says he's been cheated because his contract gave Silver Lake the right to “repurchase” any vested shares for anyone who leaves the company voluntarily or is terminated with cause. It renders the options relatively worthless. Business Insider Henry Blodget provides a different take on the case.

On its own, this would be a little bit of trouble, but not much. Many people would say Lee was certainly silly to "assume" his contract was of the boiler plate variety. Other people would say it seems odd that "vested" options aren't really vested at all. And everyone would forget about it in about seven weeks.

But the Lee story is only one among several that smack of stock and contract monkey business with Silver Lake. There was also the decision to let some senior executives go, meaning that they aren't likely to get as much as those who stay on through the transition. And just today, Reuters revealed there may be two more oddities ahead.

Microsoft may not look good in the months to come.

While Andrea Petrou speculates that the executives were sacked at Skype early to make Microsoft look good, it really won't work that way given those other stories are coming to light. "Skype employees get screwed" is a sticky message.

The reason it will become Microsoft's trouble is because buyers almost always host their own round of housecleaning after an acquisition. It only makes sense. Not every good fit for Skype will be a good fit for Microsoft.

headacheBut with the complex web of credibility gaps created by Silver Lake, Microsoft will look bad no matter what it does. Even if you dismiss the early firings, the claw back on people like Lee, the other employees who were let go for cause (whatever that cause may be), and what Reuters called a special Cayman partnership created "to avoid the possible application of employee-favorable laws in California and Luxembourg," the collective bad message — employees get screwed — sticks better than any number of complex defenses being forwarded by Silver Lake.

So, when Microsoft inherits Skype and starts calling the shots, any missteps will read as Skype employees get screwed again. And again. And again. (As applicable.) Given Microsoft already has a poor track record on mergers and acquisitions, it's likely there will be problems. And sentiment suggests most Skype users are less than excited.

Many of them expect Microsoft to destroy what is working. And Skype employees are likely feeling uncertain about the future.

The only silver lining is that Microsoft intends to keep Skype as its own operational division. But anyone following these events have to wonder how long that will that last. They also have to wonder how long it will take to forget that Silver Lake set these problems in motion and placed all the blame on Microsoft, for better or worse, deserved or undeserved. Case study ahead.

Friday, June 24

Integrating Communication: Pottermore

J.K. RowlingIf you want to see integrated marketing at its best, consider the Pottermore campaign. With anticipation already building for the final movie installment and fans expressing bittersweet feelings at the thought that their favorite series was coming to a close, J.K. Rowling has given them something new to savor.

"I wanted to give something back to the fans that have followed Harry so devotedly over the years, and to bring the stories to a new digital generation," she said. "I hope fans and those new to Harry will have as much fun helping to shape Pottermore as I have."

And there's the linchpin to the buzzup, enough so that even entering an email address for upcoming registration announcements can take some time. (Some fans report that they attempted to register for 5 and half hours before their email was accepted.) The new site will allow fans to help expand the world of Harry Potter along with Rowling in October.

The site, which is being developed by Sony in cooperation with Rowling, is packed with ideas — some shopping oriented (an exclusive place to purchase e-books) and some interactive. The interactive portion includes registered members being asked questions by the Sorting Hat (placing newcomers in Hogwarts houses) and a Wand Chooser (which selects one of 33,000 possibilities).

That's for starters. Rowling will apparently add to the Harry Potter legend and, in contrast to some previous brush ups, encourage fan-generated art, stories, etc. (At the same time, it may also help the copyright holders to corral infringements.)


An Integrated Approach To Maketing: Pottermore.

• Press conference at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. (Traditional Publicity)

• Detailed electric press kit with preview pictures and pictures of the author. (Traditional PR)

• Shareable direct video message (although stiff) from the author on YouTube. (Digital Media)

• Early email page registration page for Pottermore, which also includes the video. (Direct Response)

• Upcoming contest where registrants will compete for one of 1 million spots to beta test the site. (Promotions)

• Cohesive position statement, carried forward across all promotion efforts. (Advertising)

• Dedicated timeline of events, stretching the campaign from the movie release through October. (Marketing)

• Full social media program including Twitter and Facebook. (Social Media)

• Full existing asset support from various fan forums and other online assets. (Co-Op Marketing)

• Dovetail marketing awareness generated by traditional movie marketing efforts, including television. (Traditional Advertising)

Integrated Marketing Makes The Allure Of Interactive Seem Fresh.

The concept of interactive stories (and online gaming) isn't new. Neal Stephenson, author of the Diamond Age was working with fellow author Greg Bear to cowrite a subscription-based historical novel about Genghis Khan conquests. The online story also includes interactive and participatory storytelling.

But what sets the Pottermore campaign apart is in the simplicity of the message (it's not littered with creativity) and integration of the marketing. Everything lines up and it works together. There is no need to think of every tiny piece as something that makes a marketing to-do list as Eric Brown recently proposed. No, there is no addition or subtraction of elements.

Everything that works is included. And if something doesn't work as well, there are some contingencies in the wings. For example, the Facebook presence seems largely overdone, with no clear path for fans to know which one to choose (other than by language, I mean). But consolidating those pages will be easy enough, especially after Pottermore fully launches in October.

By the way, I didn't include every marketing element in the hot list above. Sony has several more in play. The ones on the bullet list were chosen primarily to illustrate how elements of the campaign touch different communication principles.

Who's in charge? Having worked with Sony on a campaign before, my guess is that no one team member has any more authority than another (although directors do have oversight). Instead, everybody brings ideas to the table. And that's smart.

Wednesday, June 22

Considering Civility: Does It Matter?

customersWeber Shandwick and Powell Tate, in partnership with KRC Research, recently released the results of their second annual "Civility in America" poll, which asked 1,000 American adults to assess attitudes towards civility online, in the workforce, in the classroom, and in politics.

According to the survey, Americans are trending away from uncivil behavior and rude treatment, especially among companies and politicians. Even more compelling, consumers are increasingly likely to share uncivil behavior with an expressed intent to sway others away from the offender.

How Civility Affects Buying, Behavior, And Other Choices.

• 69 percent decided not to purchase from a company after an uncivil experience (up from 56 percent).

• 69 percent re-evaluated their opinion of a company because the tone was uncivil (up from 55 percent).

• 67 percent said that they would not vote for a candidate who they believe is uncivil (new question).

• 58 percent advised friends, etc. not to buy products after a rep was rude or uncivil (up from 49 percent).

• 49 percent have defriended someone on Facebook because their behavior was uncivil (up from 45 percent).

• 38 percent have stopped going to a site after they concluded that the tone was uncivil (no change).

• 27 percent have dropped a community or forum after the tone became less civil (up from 25 percent).

• 20 percent have quit a job because the workplace was uncivil (new question).

• 11 percent have transferred their children to a new school because of uncivility (new question).

The survey also found that more than one-half of Americans believe that civility in America is getting worse (up from 39 percent last year). Workplace leadership is blamed for a decline in civility (65 percent) in the workplace, with most respondents believing their bosses set the wrong tone during the recession. Fellow coworkers aren't far behind, with 59 percent of respondents blaming coworkers for the increase in bad behavior.

Workplace competitiveness and the economy were significantly lower, perhaps signaling that people recognize that uncivil behavior is a personal choice. As a consequence, respondents said that there is a greater need for civility training in the workplace.

civilty"Asked about the civility of social networks, nearly one in two (49 percent) say that they are uncivil, an increase from 2010 (43 percent)," the report states. "However, Americans are much more inclined to name other sources besides social media and the Internet as uncivil — political campaigns, pop culture, media, government, the music industry, and the American public [for example]."

Chris Perry, president of Weber Shandwick Digital Communications, suggested that digital conversations are meant to engage and foster multi-dimensional dialogue rather than demean others or be hurtful. However, the survey indicated that nearly 7 in 10 Americans believe that cyber bullying is getting worse, especially among teens.

Along with growing uncivility in schools, online, and workplaces, a previous study conducted by the firm indicates that politics has become significantly less civil, increasing from 59 percent to 74 percent since 2008.

Discourse over diatribe.

I've always maintained that there is a healthy difference between criticism and cynicism, discourse and diatribe. With either word combination, the difference is that one tends to try to make things better while sticking to the topic; the other tries to tear things down, including the topic, subject, and anything nearby.

Over the last few years, the public (at least in this survey) seems to be recognizing that the difference between the two has all but evaporated. Nowadays, it's not only about winning but also making the other side lose and lose badly. Where some people might improve is taking a more objective view in that both sides (not just the other side) are driving the uncivil attacks.

Personally, I sometimes theorize that politics tends to set the tone of the country. Beyond politics, these same people also set the tone for government, which spills into business leadership and the greater workforce with un-customer-centic leaders creating hostility between employees and the consumers they need to keep the doors open.

But that's only a theory. It's equally true that each of us has a choice of what we engage in, criticism or cynicism, regardless of tone. Communicators are best advised to find the middle ground, listening carefully and thoughtfully to criticism (as opposed to ignoring disagreement as some social media experts have recently adopted) while not falling prey to cynics that will never be satisfied.

Sometimes it's best to let those people vent publicly, because they say more about themselves than your company as long as you remain civil. Because more than any other issue, civility obviously matters.

Monday, June 20

Playing Well: General Mills Pulls Yoplait Ad

YoplaitIf anyone is wondering (and some people are) why there won't be the same level of ridicule lobbed at General Mills over a Yoplait yogurt commercial as there was lobbed at Motrin over a back pain medicine commercial three years ago, it is because of precisely why the Motrin ad failed.

The Motrin ad made poked snarky fun at "baby-wearing" customers. General Mills simply understood dieters, maybe too well.

General Mills promptly pulled the commercial after some women and the National Eating Disorders Association said the spot promotes disordered thinking about food. So General Mills, with no defense (other than mentioning most people didn't see it that way) thought it best to take it down. The event was handled near perfectly, making it a non-event.

The commercial, which featured a woman attempting to justify her decision to have a piece of cheesecake, does almost flawlessly capture how some dieters consider food decisions (with one or two lines becoming a bit more playful). And then offers a solution — cheesecake flavored yogurt.

Overall, the advertisement is pretty harmless. And some people have questioned whether General Mills needed to pull the ad.

Technically, General Mills probably didn't need to pull it (unless we now fault commercials for capturing truisms), but it was smart that they did. The complaints were originally raised by people within a target audience. And that's the point, even if the complaint seems somewhat contrived.

What General Mills did right.

• It thoughtfully listened to the complaints, in particular the National Eating Disorders Association.

• It didn't elevate the issue by arguing the point, becoming overtly apologetic, or downplaying any concerns.

• It removed the commercial, being careful to note that it may take longer to pull the ad in some markets.

Unlike the Motrin ad three years ago, it seems much more plausible that General Mills would have never seen this one coming. It is patently clear they are not attempting to make fun of the woman who ultimately chooses yogurt as a solution. They also handled the potential crisis with a clear head, and the National Eating Disorders Association is now asking its members to write letters of appreciation. (They even have a sample letter.)

Since the ad was pulled, there has been some sliver of push back because some consumers feel it is ludicrous for companies to pull ads targeted by special interest groups. Specifically, some have said people need to take responsibility for their weight issues. While it's good these people appreciate that marketing is not to blame for eating problems, it's equally good that General Mills appreciates its customers. And that's what it is all about.

Nobody really wants to run a commercial that makes some of its customers uncomfortable, especially with a longstanding customer-conscious reputation like the one established by General Mills. It's an especially smart move by the company, given it just recently acquired a 51 percent controlling interest in Yoplait S.A.S. Original Yoplait, by the way, has two times the calcium of the leading yogurt and 50 percent of the daily value in every cup. Its cheesecake flavor has 170 calories, with 15 from fat.

Related reactions from around the Web.

Does this commercial encourage eating disorders? by Lylah M. Alphonse.
Concerns over ED triggers cause Yoplait to pull their latest ad by Bree.
•  Yoplait Pulls Ad Accused Of Promoting Eating Disorders by Margaret Hartmann.

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