Monday, August 20

Emerging Markets: Will Shift Social Scores

A recent study by eMarketer pinpoints something marketers may need to consider in the near future. Emerging markets lead the world in social networking growth. And these markets are very likely to eclipse North America (China already did).

This simple but important truth could change the way people look at online measurement. With the fastest growth rates in the Middle East, Africa and Asia-Pacific, places like North America will represent a smaller and smaller portion of the global audience.

Specifically, some estimates suggest 78 percent of the U.S. population is connected to the Internet, but it only represents between 10 and 11 percent of the global online population. Conversely, 38 percent of China's population already represents 22 percent of the global online population. India already represents 5 percent of the global online population, with only 10 percent of its population.

It also means marketers have to erase some of their previous preconceptions in terms of influence or importance. Looking at Alexa rankings or influence measurements might not mean what social media experts told them they meant. Some search engines will likely be impacted too.

There are several ways to think about the global population shift.

One old rule of thumb (although it was as erroneous then as is it today) was to ignore anyone who didn't meet a specific global threshold. Nowadays, it's even less true. Unless a site or social network account is attempting to cater to a global audience, it's not likely to have a global rank as high as its country, regional, or local rank.

Ranking or popularity doesn't have anything to do with content quality. It has everything to do with potential reach. If the potential readership has a smaller audience, then it likely won't perform at higher levels. It's a lesson I wish some communicators would have considered before dropping their communication blogs.

Some thought they were losing their audience, but the reality was that they were catering to an ever shrinking reach against the total population. Ergo, as online demographics diversified, a smaller percentage of people were interested in communication-related topics. Likewise, as time goes on, fewer people may be interested sites with English content or Western-style visuals or even hot topics.

Mashable scratched the surface of how global participation can shape a network. It compared participants in the U.S. and participants in the U.K. on Pinterest and discovered some very different statistics. In fact, the interests of U.K. participants looked vaguely familiar to me. They were similar to the online interests of U.S. participants five years ago (but on different networks).

What seems to be happening on the small scale is similar to what happens on a global scale. In this case, U.K. small businesses and consultancies are moving into Pinterest ahead of consumers. In the U.S., the migration patterns were flipped. Small businesses mostly stayed away until public relations and social media specialists began taking an interest, based on independent blogger traffic spikes.

It's a small example, but one worth considering. If your content or connection isn't geared for a global audience, you'll either have to accept your company's smaller global reach or begin altering the content in consideration of other cultural expectations and influences. The latter isn't necessarily the best idea. It all depends on what your companies does, who it serves, and where those people might live.

Friday, August 17

Marketing Research: Listening For You Or To Them?

Last year, American Express must have been pretty happy. It had the most dramatic increase of voice and positive sentiment across social networks among banks. This implies it was doing something right. But was it really? Maybe all the other banks were doing something wrong.

The real evidence of an outcome came later. In April 2011, the company reported a first quarter net income of $1.2 million, up 33 percent from $885 million the year prior. The baseline analysis alludes to the idea that sentiment may be predictive. In this case, maybe. American Express had just moved aggressively into online commerce.

But there were several other factors in play for the company. It had settled litigation with MasterCard and Visa. It had launched several premium products. Cardmember spending was up 17 percent.

One year later, the story was much the same but not nearly as strong. Cardmember spending was only up 12 percent and net income only grew 10 percent (without the benefit of settlement payments). And according to Digital: MR, it was still the most talked about bank on social networks.

It also carries a great introductory APR, but its regular APR is not nearly as competitive. And its stock performance, which is among the top ten, does not reflect the same exuberance as its conversation points.

Sentiment analysis can be useful, provided it is not a distraction.

Personally, I'm a big fan of sentiment analysis. It can be used as a benchmark for communication efforts. But marketers ought not mistake sentiment as the end all in marketing measurement, making decisions that upturns mean "do more of the same" or downturns mean "do less."

In fact, in digging deeper into the American Express sentiment, we found that much of the buzz comes from a smaller group of passionate advocates than, let's say, Citibank, which has considerably more reach from a broader base of people. My only point is that not everything is as it appears to be.

My second point is that if your marketing team is only using sentiment analysis as a means to track positive impressions and share of voice, then the research time is probably being wasted. There is a big difference between listening "for you" or listening "for an industry" and really hearing consumers.

In reality, only about 20 percent of research investment ought to be tracking impressions or attempting to snuff out complaints or improving positive:negative sentiment ratios. There is something much more important to consider: who are these people anyway?

The more you hear from consumers about everything else, the better your communication.

Instead of dropping every dollar on sentiment analysis, there are much more interesting things to learn about any particular segment of the population you might identify as customers or prospects. And none of it really has to do with your company.

What kind of music do they like? What were the last three movies they saw in theaters (and liked)? What were the underlying messages, if any? What kinds of books are they reading? Are they rigid in these tastes or more eclectic? Would they rather go to a fancy restaurant or buy new clothes? Is there a difference between what they buy and what they like? What kind of political leanings do they have? Are they aggressive about it or not? Do they cook? Are they struggling or secure? So on and so forth.

While you always have to keep in mind people feel this level of marketing research seems creepy, the takeaway is that marketers have a better chance of building a relationship if they hear what people are saying instead of listening for the latest mention. Or, in other words, marketing insight might be more powerful than marketing research.

It's a valuable lesson from old school copywriting — you communicate to a person, not an audience.

Wednesday, August 15

Alienating Publics: Every Message Is Public

You would think communicators would get it by now. While it always pays to tailor your message to an intended audience, there are no intended audiences anymore. Everything is subject to global opinion.

In 2008, Yahoo! became a public relations class example when it failed to consider that announcing cutbacks might have unintended consequences. The layoffs were announced to shareholders first, with smiles to suggest that the company was turning a corner. The lack of empathy impacted employees.

Flash forward four years and communicators have come full circle. President Obama is still trying to correct the misstep with his infamous "you didn't build that" speech. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney had a similar experience during the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. And CEO Dan Cathy did it when he was explaining his stance on same-sex marriage while speaking to Baptist Press.

Communication is never isolated to a single audience.

It is the easiest lesson to take away from the Chick-fil-A controversy. In considering his audience, sharing what he believed to be similar values with those who would read the Baptist Press made sense. Chick-fil-A wants to convey itself as a family-friendly restaurant chain.

Where it doesn't make sense is within the purview of a global audience. Words, even if there is no evidence of action, have consequences. But this isn't a just lesson for Cathy. It is a lesson for Chicago Alderman Joe Moreno too.

Moreno has been attempting to brush off his announcement that he will block Chick-fil-A's effort to build a second Chicago store. He has since backed down, simply saying he wanted to review their anti-discrimanation policy. At least his message is better than Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has resorted to saying that he doesn't want to say any more and inflame the situation he already inflamed.

The aforementioned stories also have the best possible quote from Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. She said to Emanuel: "You're alienating conservatives in your city. It's difficult to alienate that many people in one lump. To do it concisely and memorably is a major accomplishment."

To alienate people concisely and memorably is a major accomplishment. 

No matter who you feel it fits best, it's the most concise and memorable lesson anywhere. The art of communication is hard not because people are afraid to be straight, but because they have to communicate their mission, vision, and values in such a way that it is honest without being hurtful.

Pretense: "Honey, do I look good in this dress?"

Pick one: 1) "The other one has always been my favorite." 2) "It makes you look fatter."

While some people are remiss that I haven't come out swinging with a stance on this issue, we can learn more by appreciating the finer art of communication. Think before you speak. And if you don't, take a moment to think about who you might have hurt with that last comment. You don't need fists to be a bully.

It's a lesson that Chick-fil-A has taken to heart. Consider the statement about the "Kiss" Day protest.

"At Chick-fil-A, we appreciate all of our customers and are glad to serve them at any time. Our goal is simple: to provide great food, genuine hospitality and to have a positive influence on all who come into contact with Chick-fil-A. — Steve Robinson, executive vice president, marketing, Chick-fil-A, Inc. in response to "Kiss" Day.

Monday, August 13

Liking It Now: The Attention Generation

A recent study by Performics, a marketing firm owned by Publicis Groupe, finds that 49 percent of respondents prefer text messages over phone calls and 40 percent are more comfortable connecting with people online than in person. In other words, more people are connecting to social networks but disconnecting offline.

It seems participation also comes with expectation, with 49 percent of social network members annoyed, sad, hurt, or even angry when people do not like their status updates. In fact, 75 percent expect a response and 41 percent expect a response within the hour. Others, 21 percent, expect responses in 1-6 hours.

Social life is changing behavioral etiquette.

While it is no surprise that online on demand has become increasingly dominant, some people might be surprised just how much time is being invested in maintaining online connections. In an average week, for example, women spend 9.4 hours on their mobile phones (outside of texts, phone calls, and other connections) and men 5.8 hours. That doesn't even count other devices like tablets and desktops.

Even when people are engaged in other activities, they are likely to remain connected. Approximately 55 percent say they watch TV, movies or video on their computer at least once a week while 29 percent watch on game consoles and 28 percent watch on mobile devices. Multi-tasking has become the norm.






Naturally, the study was undertaken to assist marketers in understanding the behavioral changes in consumers. One notable finding was that individuals frequently place brands and people on equal status.
 
"These new participants are comfortable increasingly replacing real-time communications with social media interactions," said Daina Middleton, global CEO of Performics. "In this new social normal — one where people prefer online communication and maintain high expectations about two-way relationships — brands must utilize social channels to build exceptional, interactive digital experiences."

Basically, people want brands and brand representatives to interact with them like people, including reciprocal acknowledgment. However, brand managers ought to be cautious in overreaching. While online participants expect responses, other studies show interruptive marketing has negative outcomes.

Consumers, after all, are in transition. While social networking has become the new normal, it also comes with unintended consequences. As more think that social media runs the risk of making us less social, marketers have to avoid becoming part of the problem by inflating urgency for no reason.

Friday, August 10

Missing The Message: Apple Not-So-Genius Ads

When I first saw the advertising campaign rolled out by Apple for the Olympics, my stomach dropped. It was one of the biggest advertising missteps since the Tropicana Orange Juice rebranding blunder.

There were two schools of thought behind the advertisements and no champions. Either the campaign intent seemed to be an attempt to reach a broader group of consumers who are older and less tech savvy or the agency that created the ads was also thinking of the past.

They wanted to harken back to the "Get a Mac" campaign created by ad agency TBWA Media Arts Lab. On that measure, they failed too. The old "Get A Mac" campaign ads were from a different era when Apple was the underdog.

The "Get A Mac" ads also represent some of the best comparison spots in history, hard hitting but not so hard that anyone thought they were mean. The characters cast immediately disarmed any negative impressions. Other than using a person, the new campaign bears no resemblance to it.

The Apple Genius ads represent everything the company never intended.

In total, the new ad campaign consisted of a series of three spots, each focusing on the Apple Genius as a character. If you haven't seen them, I'm including one. I couldn't bring myself to share all three.



There are several reasons the ads don't work, but let's highlight the five most obvious.

1. Apple has had a tradition of showing people what's possible without any help. These advertisements turn the tables 360 degrees and tell everyone that you can't do anything on your own.

2. Apple has had a tradition of making its commercials about the customer. These advertisements are clearly about how smart Apple can be.

3. Apple has had a tradition of celebrating the product without being presumptuous; its genius is matter of fact. These advertisements sell something that doesn't really come in the box.

4. Apple always had a knack for creating a clean but edgy brand atmosphere right down to the people in its brick and mortar stores. The person cast doesn't look like any Apple Genius who helped me.

5. Apple has had a tradition of simplifying the message so it conveys one single point. This one rattles off various software and features that the only message is how much you have to buy. Nothing sticks.

It makes me wonder. Did the fine folks who worked at the agency responsible ever see this video?


If they never did, I hope Apple takes heart and makes it mandatory for anyone who wins a creative bid again. At a time when consumers are still saddened by the loss of Steve Jobs and feel uncertain about the company's direction, developing an advertising campaign that marks an end of era just reminds us.

Yes, these advertisements were something different, but not in the way Apple defined it. Broadening the base with low brow advertising isn't the answer. It's about putting possibility in the hands of everybody. You know, like ping playlists, which were still broken when I wrote this piece.

Wednesday, August 8

Being Empathetic: Objectivity In Communication

One of the most difficult lessons in public relations and communication is one that journalists used to take pride in having mastered. The lesson revolves around objectivity. It's not even what you think.

To me, the formalization of objective journalism was the cornerstone of establishing journalism as a legitimate profession. Prior to the hard work of Walter Lippmann to emphasize a journalist's role as an objective mediator or translator, journalism often had more similarity to propaganda than news.

Since then, objective journalism has taken its fair share of hits. Some people doubt the ability of human beings to be objective when faced with issues that run contrary to their personal views. Others view being objective as somehow less than human, merely applying intellect over emotion.

In some cases, journalists have at times proven this to be true, positioning themselves as the ultimate observers, unwilling to interfere with the world around them, even in the face of atrocity. In other cases, journalists have proven themselves to have hidden agendas despite an air of being objective. But \elevating such examples of human frailty does not constitute evidence that people cannot continue to strive for something better. And I believe we can do better. As communicators, we have to.

In fact, even as journalists have become more lax in being objective, public relations professionals and communicators are regularly called upon to apply it, given that their role requires they represent both organizational and public interest. And because this is the role, it makes the Chick-fil-A controversy one of the most important of our times as it underscores that there is not always one public to serve.

The issue we face is bigger than Chick-fil-A and it's not one issue. 

As a living case study, which means I intend to explore several topics directly related to and indirectly related to Chick-fil-A, I was largely undecided on which topic I wanted to tackle next. In fact, it wasn't until Saturday, after reading the comment left by a former student, that I made the decision. In order to consider the nuances of this case study, I have to write about the elephant in the room first.

The elephant isn't same-sex marriage. The elephant is our eroding ability to tackle tough issues as a nation with objectivity, empathy, and compassion. The fact that there is controversy over same-sex marriage is merely a symptom. There are dozens of issues that mirror this one, with the public being tricked into picking sides under the pretense that "unless you are with us, you are against us."

Applying objectivity and empathy to an emotionally charged topic. 

An objective view might be that the definition of marriage is not a political or state issue. It is a religious issue, with different religions observing different definitions. In other words, it may not be up to the state to define marriage or force its definition into practice as much as it is to recognize the varied definitions of a secular union (or civil union when no other secular observances apply).

However, considering history as a guide in the United States, the objective view might be wrong. Reynolds v. United States is the closest we came to defining marriage with a unanimous 1878 Supreme Court decision based on the long-standing principle that "laws are made for the government of action, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious believe and opinions, they may with practices."

Or, maybe this Supreme Court decision was wrong too. I don't know. But therein lies the conundrum of any state being given jurisdiction over personal liberties. That said, same-sex marriage does not have an easy answer. It is a question that is bigger than itself.

Some of the smaller issues are pretty obvious.

• While it is apparently clear that it would have been prudent for CEO Dan Cathy to avoid the debate, he is free to hold the belief that marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman, provided he does not discriminate against those who do not share this view, given the 6-3 Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, which reversed the 1986 Supreme Court decision in Bowers v. Hardwick.

• LGBT supporters are within their right to lobby for same-sex marriage, but it would probably serve some organizers to demonstrate empathy and realize that the motivation to define same-sex marriage is not always born out of fear or intolerance.

• Any elected officials who threatened or acted to bar Chick-fil-A based on Cathy's beliefs are wrong and only demonstrate an ineptitude for leadership and equally ignorant understanding of the U.S. Constitution. Their actions demonstrate a willfulness to exploit, incite, and limit free expression.

• Anyone who used Cathy's views to attack Christianity only showed their proclivity for ignorance and intolerance. Incidentally, Saint Augustine also saw a conflict with the definition of marriage in the Old Testament, but suggested the better example of a divine plan was plainly shown with the first union.

People sometimes make the mistake of believing that an unwillingness to promote an idea is the same thing as intolerance. Empathy doesn't require agreement or enthusiasm as much as understanding and acceptance. For public relations professionals and communicators, it starts with adhering to a code of ethics, which allows for the principles of free speech and calls for a sensitivity to cultural values.

Ergo, in this case, different people have different ideas, but the role of the communicator is best served by engaging in fair and balanced communication activities that foster and encourage mutual understanding. I'm not sure about you, but I have seen very little effort in this regard. And that's what I want to tackle.

Likewise, I called it a public relations nightmare (and not a publicity coup) because a short-term revenue spike is not the only measure of a successful communication plan. I think that will become more apparent as we work through Chick-fil-A as a living case study. As for me personally? Like the artwork (above) of my friend Ike Pigott communicates, I'd rather we all just get along.

Monday, August 6

Writing Tip: The 85 Percent For Comma Usage

Any time I teach a half-day session on Editing and Proofreading Your Work at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, I have to balance importance against retention. In other words, I have to decide what students need to know and what they are likely to remember. English is hard for people to learn.

Well, that isn't exactly true. English is relatively easy to learn when compared to some other languages, depending on your native tongue. But English is also very hard to master because there are exceptions to everything. So, teachers learn to pick and choose.

Learn three rules to cover 85 percent of comma usage.

1. Commas link two independent clauses.

2. Commas denote introductory words or phrases and prepositional phrases.

3. Commas separate interruptions.

If you can master these three rules, then comma usage is manageable. It's just enough to move beyond simple sentences without drifting too far into more complex arrangements and all those exceptions.

Link independent clauses. Basically, independent clauses are the part of any sentence that can stand by itself. They contain a subject and predicate. There are many times in the English language when there is a good reason to link two independent clauses because it strengthens the relationship of what is being said and adds more insight and clarity. Given that examples sometimes make the best teachers:

• We washed the child, and then we cleaned up the mess she had made.

• We washed the child and then cleaned up the mess.

The first sentence has two independent clauses. The second does not. But you might notice that the first sentence reveals much more than the second. Specifically, we know that the child made a mess and made a mess of herself in the process. The second sentence leaves all of this up to interpretation.

Add clarity, emphasis, or meaning. While it's an oversimplification to call introductory words and phrases, prepositions, and clauses interruptions, it does help most writers with retention. Basically, anything additional to the sentence qualifies.

• Clearly, the English language has many exceptions.

• For more information, call our customer hotline.

While we could debate the need for "clearly" to be included in the first sentence, doing so can add an emphasis to the idea that the rest of the sentence is understood. (It can also be used to qualify a sentence as I did with the introductory word "basically.")

In sentence 2, I always use this example because so many public relations professionals forget to include a comma after the prepositional phrase "for more information." Prepositional phrases are generally used to complement a noun (or subject) and provide more information. In English, anything that comes after a preposition is part of the preposition. So when we need to identify that the preposition has ended, the best way to do it is with a comma. The exception is that you do not need a comma to separate a string of prepositional phrases because they may be included within the first one.

Separate interruptions. There are many reasons to add interruptions into text. Most of the time they either add clarity or sometimes provide some breathing room for author interjection. To do it effectively,  commas help denote the original meaning of the sentence whereas the interruption introduces something new to the sentence.

• We stayed in Vancouver, not Seattle, for our vacation.

This sentence includes an interruption to add clarity. Why would they need to? Imagine someone visited both Vancouver and Seattle on a trip. If the person is a U.S. citizen, there might be an assumption that they stayed in Seattle. The interruption negates the assumption with minimal means.

In class, I provide several more examples to help it stick. But for the purposes of this educational interruption, these examples suffice. It also provides a sampling of just how much can be packed into a 3-hour class. Commas take up 11 slides from an 82-slide deck just to cover 85 percent of the usage. My next editing and proofreading class at UNLV is slated for September.

Friday, August 3

Marketing In The Round: Gini Dietrich And Geoff Livingston

The best thing about Marketing In The Round by Gini Dietrich and Geoff Livingston is it offers up a litany of questions, ideas, and thumbnail case studies. The worst thing about it is that it doesn't always know what kind of book it wants to be or for whom it is intended.

So perhaps that's the best place to begin. Who could benefit from Marketing In The Round?

Small business owners. People who need a crash course in marketing, one with an emphasis on the changes taking place in the market today. While many small business owners will find the details to be overwhelming, the book provides enough insights and ideas to help them ask the right questions.

Middle management marketers. This isn't necessarily the stuff of senior management, but it does provide enough material for middle management to check their work. It could be useful in comparing some of the concepts and constructs that Dietrich and Livingston lay out and making adjustments.

Multi-discipline communicators. Given that the central theme is really about convergence, Marketing In The Round provides a Rosetta stone approach for future advertising, marketing, public relations, and social media professionals. Along with them, it can serve specialists who are finding more and more of their work is falling outside their specialty, whether they working in any of those fields I mentioned.

Those are the people who could most benefit, along with those who find themselves communication curious and don't mind a book that attempts to bridge the gap between anecdotal and textbook. It doesn't quite do the job at finding that elusive middle, but it's a good effort to move conversations about marketing, public relations, and social media into a more mature, professional, and educational discussion.

The three strongest aspects of the book revolve around big concepts. 

As the title suggests, this book is about forming a more integrated approach to marketing. The solution is feasible in that the authors suggest finding someone to champion the construct by drawing in one person from various communication departments to make it work.

Anyone who has worked on campaigns involving a partnership among several specialized firms knows how it will work (even if it sometimes produces mixed results depending the players). It's the right way, even if there isn't enough space dedicated to the plan pitch for bigger organizations.

The other construct introduced in the book is a marketing model based partly on The Book Of The Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi. In this case, the analogy applies the five primary approaches of strategic engagement to marketing, allowing for top-down, direct, groundswell, and two flanks.

While it would be easy to quibble with the idea that advertising is a flank, the analogy isn't far off in providing a means to help various specialists to stop thinking about communication from their specialized perspectives. The goal here is to get everyone to the same table.

There is considerable strength in that Dietrich brings public relations experience to the table while Livingston has a background in marketing. There is some give and take here, rather than an attempt to pit one expertise over another. Also, they both have ample social media experience.

Because of this, they also decided to include some tactile tools into the mix: checklists, questionnaires, forms, and exercises to help move the book from a concept into something concrete. It will be appreciated, especially because the publisher has made them downloadable (negating the need to recreate the lists or scan the pages).

The weakest aspects of the book revolve around the superficial. 

The book is well-written from a technical aspect, but it's not reader friendly. The content pummels, making it impossible to read as a single serving. It's best read no more than one chapter at a sitting with time built in to reflect on how it applies.
Likewise, if you are hoping to bring the ideas into an organization or a classroom, you have to read it with a notebook nearby. While there is a reason why Marketing In The Round is organized like it is, you are precluded from starting any exercises early. For example, if you start writing out "smarter goals" at the end of chapter one, you will certainly rip them up by the time you reach chapter four.

This isn't the only way Marketing In The Round will make you work for it. The book does a great job introducing various thumbnail case studies that are always useful. However, it will require savvy communicators to search for additional resources for anyone not familiar with specific cases.

It's important, because you might draw different conclusions than the ones the authors have laid out. Sometimes they are needed and absent; other times they just feel forced. The Netflix case study is one example of the latter. It felt like affirmation mining — where the author wants to quickly prove a point and plugs in a case study as it fit, but neglecting all the blemishes and bruises that some with it.

All in all, those are relatively minor distractions. The only areas where I thought Dietrich and Livingston fell slightly short was in competitive analysis and measurement. While they succeed in delivering a solution, there just isn't enough content on these subjects. Specifically, there is a difference between knowing your competitors and providing a viable contrast, and benchmarking is always a good idea but it's only the tip of the measurement iceberg.

The net sum of all things related to Marketing In The Round. 

The kinds of people who I think would most benefit aside, Marketing In The Round is an excellent mining book, meaning that there is more here to mine than can be included within the confines of a single review. There is considerable content that can be extracted, adapted, and deployed for the classroom or an organization.

All in all, it makes you appreciate that Dietrich and Livingston wrote a textbook that could have benefited from the space that writing a Marcom textbook would have provided. This in itself is a refreshing change from the anecdotal waste that pretends to be work in the field — books that are best described as a big "business card" or professional "memoir." Instead, the authors of Marketing In The Round actually want to teach you something. You're likely to learn something too.

I received a copy of the book Marketing In The Round for the purposes of review. If you cannot tell, neither receiving a copy nor having prior contact with the authors had any influence. In fact, I am predisposed to review marketing and public relations books exceptionally hard, which is why most people are too afraid to send me marketing or business books for review. You might also like to know that prior to receiving a copy, I had already planned to write an unsolicited review of this book.

Wednesday, August 1

Becoming Political Punch: Chick-Fil-A

Several years ago, I was working as a strategic communication consultant for a pool builder and part of my job was to mediate mock media sessions. We had just finished a core message system and part of the consultation included helping them employ it.

Mock media sessions are sometimes purposefully designed to make people feel uncomfortable and elicit accidental or intentional reactions. The regional vice president being interviewed was doing surprisingly well, until I asked him a series of loaded questions, consisting of the softball set-up and rapid-fire take downs.

"What percentage of your employees are minorities?"

"The majority," he said.

"Yes, and what percentage are in upper management positions?"

The color quickly washed out of his face. He knew as well as I did that there was no easy answer. He could tell the truth, opening up a discussion about discrimination. He could lie and say he didn't know, painting himself as incompetent.

"Now, let's talk about how many of those minorities are African-Americans, specifically," I added, already knowing the answer. If I were a real reporter at the time, I could have done anything.

Dan Cathy was trapped into a public relations maelstrom of his own making.

When Dan Cathy, president and chief operating officer of Chick-fil-A, gave a speech at the University of Mobile, he set himself up to be duped after the event. Cathy, who was likely talking about dress codes and personal appearance at Chick-fil-A when he said "If a man's got an earring in his ear and applies to work at one of my restaurants, we won't even talk to him."

He might have used mohawks or face tattoos or devil horn implants or any number of lifestyle choices that don't always mesh with other lifestyle choices as an example, but he didn't. He asked the softball set-up question I might have asked in a mock media session, giving someone else the opportunity to hammer with a hardball follow up.

Would you hire gay people at your restaurant?

"It depends on the circumstances," he said. But he didn't convincingly explain that he meant circumstances based on appearance, history, and reputation (as the chain uses to hire heterosexual applicants).

Only July 16, he went further by continuing this conversation direction with the Baptist Press, saying his goal was to operate the chain "on Biblical principles." On its own, it would have been fine, but the foundation of a different context was already established. 

In fact, just to make sure it was understood what he meant, Cathy said that the company had taken a position against same-sex marriage. And that's how it goes. Executives without enough media training will dig their own holes if you let them.

I understand how and why it happens, but let's point out the obvious. Companies don't need to take a position on gay marriage. Even companies that have a Christian heritage don't need to pick a side. Companies are expected to be true to their mission statements.

"Be America's Best Quick-Service Restaurant." — Chick-fil-A mission statement

Color me crazy, but I don't see how taking a position against same-sex marriage makes chicken better. Naturally, the only answer is one the company is attempting to elevate now: "The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation, or gender.

Unfortunately, it's too little too late. The debate has shifted. And while there are many ways to dissect the Chick-fil-A public relations nightmare, the most important observations have little to do with public relations and everything to do with a nation struggling to find its direction on a wildly politicized issue.

It's loaded with fear. It's loaded with emotion. It's best to stay far, far away from picking sides. Not many people can do it as successfully as Bill Marriott, especially because it's much harder today.

The tenets of separating personal/professional views are crumbling. 

From a strategic communication viewpoint, the communication mistake became a crisis as soon as some people decided there was something to win. You can say the same about any crisis today. When education surrenders to exploitation, the argument descends into diatribe. Everybody will lose.

The challenge for public relations professionals temporarily, if not permanently, is to manage the mixed messages they receive as it relates to the personal/professional rub up. While modern tenets are preaching there is plenty to gain by infusing your personal views into your professional life, few pros have the training or tools to do it right. Even if they do, someone might exploit their position. 


Chick-fil-A is a complex issue that warrants exploration as a living case study, with a little less politics and a lot more patience. At the moment, the public relations maelstrom is best described as out of control and the company is probably making a mistake to think it will go away. It might, but maybe not.

The real tragedy here is that it might have gone away, but some people on both sides of the argument want to to exploit this as a communication mistake and make it a symbol. Their actions (both sides) have consequences, even if neither side will have to suffer for it. Instead, those who suffer will be franchise owners and employees who want make a living and the customers who go there to eat chicken.

Much like I later advised the pool builder, companies have to avoid loaded questions and stick to the facts. The pool builder always promoted people based on experience and performance, without consideration of anything else. They hired the people the same way.

Monday, July 30

Making Media Relations Better: A Rock Star Primer

Public relations has plenty of problems. They're always easy to find. They tend to get plenty of publicity.

The reason they do is relatively easy to understand. Nightmares make for better news than best practices. Almost all negative events meet the criteria for news because they have an impact or conflict, doubly so when someone of prominence is involved. But that's not to say best practices don't exist.

The best practices of public relations plod along unseen. 

Having worked as a journalist, editor, and publisher, I've seen best practices on a regular basis. And one of the reasons they are best practices is that they are uneventful. It makes everything super smooth and much more manageable.

As some people know, I also have a side project called Liquid [Hip], which puts me in touch with designers, musicians, authors, publishers, and other talented individuals on a regular basis. Enough so that some days it's hard to keep up with the emails. I might even neglect the inbox for days or a week.

When I do have time to dig into it, I'm exposed to people at every level and every role. Sometimes the contact comes from an artist. Sometimes it comes from the agent, publisher, or label. And sometimes it comes from a public relations firm. And, for the most part, public relations firms do a great job. 

What does the best public relations firm do that few others do? 

It's simple. They know who we are. They know what we want. And when they think they have a match, they send it along as an introduction. We probably receive around 100 inquiries every week.

1. Recognition. The best practice starts with first contact. The email and salutation is always addressed to me or a specific reviewer. For those who have worked with us before, it alludes to some connection we share or builds on a growing relationship.

2. Immediacy. Immediately following the salutation, the pitch is condensed into a couple of paragraphs or embedded in a well-written release. It introduces the artist, genre, and why the firm thought it was a good fit. Sometimes they admit it's a guess. Sometimes they ask what we think.

3. Efficiency. Given it's a review site, they always include an embed a clip or link to the work. We have to see it or hear it to consider it for review, especially because we only review things that have some shade of cool (which is a higher standard than what we like).

4. Content. If the sample passes our standards, we review everything before making a commitment. The best practices always include a link to a dedicated one-page EPK with backgrounder, album tracks, social links, videos, and photos. Everything we might need is right there, except lyric sheets.

5. Preparation. Almost any time we decide to review something outside of self-discovery, we prefer to include an interview, email or otherwise. There is a wait. They know the artist's availability, tell us up front, and manage the questions (which take more time to write than the review).

6. Patience. Once the questions are answered to our specifications (e.g., we don't accept "band" answers), there's no need for the firm to follow up. Most know that we'll either tell them when the story is slated as soon as we know or, in a worst case, send them a link once it is published.

7. Promotion. Most firms know we promote our own reviews across social networks where we've established a presence. But beyond that, reviews provide them an opportunity to promote the artist and gives the artist an opportunity to promote themselves. It keeps their social streams fresh, opens up conversation, and gives them an opportunity to engage us too. 

8. Detailed. The best practices also consider small details. For example, the best photo selections almost always include vertical and horizontal shots (staged, casual, and live). It's not only important for our purposes, but sometimes one interview set might be used to write for another publication with different specifications.

When the process is this smooth, it might not be news but it does make us more likely to consider the next submission. And for those who don't — including us on a blind pitch lists, sending everything but the kitchen sink, or having us send interview questions that are ignored — they slip by unnoticed next time. There is too much good material to cover than waste time. And, if we're on the fence, any past experience could tip the scale one way or the other.

I don't mean that in any spiteful way. It's as straightforward as math. We receive 300-400 inquiries a month. We have space for 20-plus reviews. Of those, 2-6 are picked from a pitch. Do it right.

Friday, July 27

Telling Lies: Ryan Holiday, PR, And Media Today

This isn't a book review, and I don't intend to write one. I have another book I'd rather review next week.

Even so, the topic surrounding Ryan Holiday as he promotes his new book is sending shivers across the public relations industry. Why? Because Holiday embraced what are known as the dark arts of publicity and is now being mislabeled as a public relations celebrity. He's a media manipulator.

In sum, he accomplished his objectives with lies. And now he intends to wear it all like a badge of honor, kind of like someone might take pride in a shiner after a bar fight they started. I beat you, he might smile. Other people might go to jail.

Anyway, some respected public relations professionals are rightly concerned. But they ought not be concerned with how this paints the industry. They ought to be concerned about what it could do to public relations.

The worst thing about Holiday's book is some people will treat it like permission. 

There are many companies who would like nothing better than having a propaganda agent on board. Who cares, they say, as long as it spreads. When the game is attention, they think it means gain. But really, it doesn't.

Part of Holiday's credentials include working on the first film with Tucker Max. The movie made $1.4 million and Tucker blamed the failure on the movie's marketing, despite all the pre-buzz controversy. How bad did it fail? It cost $7 million to make.

Another brand Holiday leverages is American Apparel, which also has a pretense for controversy. It is struggling to keep the doors open. The company lost $39.3 million last year; it lost $86.3 million in 2010.

It might not even matter that Holiday claims that being a media manipulator left him morally bankrupt. Some will skip over the lesson and get to work. And there may be reason to doubt that Holiday is done with the so-called skill set. His book could be easily construed as his latest game. The PR/blogging community is primed to stoke the flames and feed the beast.

Holiday's book as continuation after the confession and the joke's on you. 

As people in public relations and media continue to react, Holiday could be sitting back with a smile as he beats the same dead horse he wrote about. He laid out the foundation for controversy and everyone is lining up to ratchet it up and do all the leg work. They write about it. People buy it.

Isn't that ultimately what the book is about? The general idea is that more spin equals more attention and more attention means more money. This hypothesis has been around since the circus, even if the old adage that all publicity is good publicity is merely a hat trick. All publicity is good publicity, but only if you happen to be in a circus and nobody gets physically hurt (most of the time).

That said, Holiday isn't the first to sound the alarm on media manipulation and he won't be the last. He is the latest to be a bit cavalier about it, but that is a sign of the times. The real lesson here is that objective journalism is mostly dead and probably will be until we suffer a disaster for our lack of it.

That was pretty much the conclusion I had after reviewing Bob Conrad's book on the same topic. What a shame more PR pros didn't cover that one. Conrad's case studies hit harder and he didn't need to lie.

Suffice to say that sooner or later, people will have to realize on their own that the art of online influence is idiocy and the news you read isn't worth beans if it is driven by popular opinion.

As for Holiday, it is not my place to judge him. The only apparent tell in his actions is that he has done a fine job employing the apology clause tucked inside most pat crisis communication plans. But ultimately, he still proves himself a bit of a novice because he omits the critical component of restitution.

If he was sincere, he would donate all his book proceeds to fix it. I don't think that is going to happen.

Wednesday, July 25

Embracing Agism: The Next Gen Journal

If the only measurement in social media is buzz, then Cathryn Sloane got it right. Her post, entitled Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25, has been shared several thousand times over. The word count across the 490 comments outweighs her 550-word opinion two hundred fold.

Unfortunately, almost all of the reaction has been negative. Enough so that The Next Gen Journal, which published it, defended her while claiming she didn't represent its views. Conner Toohill went so far as to ferret out one person who said it was starting to look like adults cyber-bullying a kid.

You can't crush other people's cookies and expect to eat yours unbroken. 

While Toohill claimed many young people share Sloane's opinion, she didn't do the people she was supposedly speaking for any favors. Her article, not her age, was demonstrative of why some young adults aren't ready to lead in thought or action. And to be fair, many of the comments left by "older people" demonstrated they aren't ready either, despite some sporting titles that suggest they do.

I'm embarrassed for some of the commenters, especially those I know. Any reactionary comments that attempted to put her in her place because "in time, she'll know better" are as ridiculous as her article.

All it did was reinforce what those who identify with her expect: People who are supposed to be mentors aren't ready to listen. Someone needs to tell Sloane that age has nothing to do with it.

Maturity isn't defined by age and age doesn't dictate performance. 

Sloane wrote an immature piece, but not because of her age. It's immature because it emboldens the discrimination that she professes to fight, just in the opposite direction. It's immature because it conveys that she has confused her identity with that of her generation, something no social media manager can afford to do. And it's immature because it exemplifies what happens when someone picks up such an argument in such a way that even those who might somewhat agree cannot possibly defend it.

Where I might have defended the concept, for example, is that ageism is one of the last antiquated and discriminatory characterizations that people are still quick to embrace without consequence. But I cannot defend her because she never conveys empathy but expects it. Ageism is wrong in both directions.

I've been fortunate both in the field and in the classroom to know better. I've been influenced and inspired by people who are both younger and older than me at work. And I have found that the most talented writers to pass through my classes are neither hindered nor elevated by age or experience. They are only hindered by themselves and the labels they choose to embrace. Sloane is so hindered here.

Me? I ignore all labels. The best performances win. It's like the Olympics. Go for gold or go home.

The real crumbling point of the Sloane argument has nothing to do with age. 

If we can get past the age thing for a moment, Sloane alluded to the idea that people who have been immersed in social media at a younger age are somehow superior to those who embraced social media at an older age, despite having relatively the same amount of time on the platforms. It's not true.

It's not true for several reasons. It's not true because participating on a social network is different than working on or managing social networks. It's not true because the qualifications have less to do with the malleable platforms and more to do with understanding the social and psychological behavior of online groups. And it's not true because, as her article demonstrates, the people who populate networks are multigenerational with a propensity to take exception to those who are exclusive instead of inclusive.

Otherwise, there is one overlooked gem of an argument tucked inside her article. She more or less says that it doesn't feel fair when employers dismiss candidates based on education and experience alone. I understand the feeling because I didn't understand it when I graduated into the 1991 recession.

The no-holds-barred truth of it? They don't owe you anything. You have to earn it. 

There are four ways to earn it. You can develop a professional network while you are still attending college, planning ahead for the day you aren't earning grades but paychecks. You can get lucky and stumble into one of the very few employers who have an affinity for students and feel compelled to give them a break without abusing them. You can buck up and accept a position that is the lower rung on the ladder, whether it's an internship or entry level position, and make yourself indispensible. Or you can put up your own money by starting a company to prove your professional prowess.

I mostly belong to the latter group, which is the smallest. I'm not too proud to say that it wasn't by choice as much as necessity. It took me two years, but I leveled the playing field, erasing the perceived advantage any "older" professionals had over me. And 20 years later? You still have to earn it.

Other reactions and rebuttals (without any implied endorsement). 

Dear NextGen: A Rebuttal From The Social Media Old Folks by Mark Story

Over 25? You're Not Qualified For Social Media by Jim Kukral

In Response: Cathryn Sloane's Social Media Article by Chris Dessel

Monday, July 23

Writing Is A Process: Don't Treat It Like A Single Skill

With my half-day session, Editing and Proofreading Your Work, slated for this Saturday, July 28 at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, I've been giving considerable thought to the class and writing classes in general. We don't do enough.

I'm not the only one who thinks so. It was the topic of Jay Mathews' article in the The Washington Post.

Reading the comments didn't give me much faith. There were plenty of well-intended solutions, but most of them make an assumption. The assumption is that these students have the skill sets they need by the time they reach a particular instructor. Most students don't.

And I don't believe it's the students fault in every case, even if there are five things writing instructors cannot teach. So even for my part, I can raise most students two letter grades per assignment over ten weeks (especially if they take Editing and Proofreading Your Work first). It's not enough.

We treat writing like a discipline, but it requires multiple disciplines. 

The problem is that we treat writing like a single discipline. It isn't. It's more like six distinct and overlapping disciplines. But rather than build curriculum around those subjects, most writing instruction today is designed to circumvent some disciplines with replacements for rote memorization.

Research. As much as 40 percent of the time on any project needs to be dedicated to research, but few people are willing to put in the work (and many employers aren't willing to pay for it). According to the National Center for Education Statistics, most students spend three minutes on research.

But even if they took more time, I'm not sure they know how to do it. The illusion of information immediacy has made for lazy research. People invest more time in proving themselves right than they do looking for the truth. And this doesn't even consider how little some writers know about their readers.

Creativity. Even instructors who value research tend to overlook creativity as a separate discipline, assuming they define it correctly. It has nothing to do with the chosen words as much as it has to do with being able to foreshadow the final product.

Not only does it encompass organizational structure, but also how the material is best presented. It includes problem solving to bring in new ideas as well as how to present those that are sourced or attributed. Although it varies, about 50 percent of the students I've taught start with no sense of structure.

Writing. This is the real physical work of sitting down in front of the keys. Most instruction today places all of the emphasis on free writing, often following the cookie cutter semblance of an outline or rubric to get the job done. They are wrong.

The art of writing is all about inquiry and improvement. It's an opportunity to develop better ideas than the research collected, improve the impact of the prose, and discover area where stronger support and evidence is needed. It's also the place where the hook, whatever is being used to draw the reader into the piece, becomes developed and the flow of the piece is fleshed out in a draft.

Editing. Simply put, editing is what you do to the draft. You work through the entire document to make sure the communication is well organized, that the transitions between paragraphs are smooth, and that the evidence clearly backs the position.

It's also an opportunity to double-check the organization of the entire piece and decide whether or not the order, flow and feel of the work are right for the people who will read it, hear it, or see it. As I often tell students, the best writers are often the best rewriters. People who know it can always be better.

Proofreading. This is the final stage of the process and requires plenty of tricks, tips and tactics that each and every writer will eventually customize to suit their skills. It is the process of looking for surface errors, misspellings, bad grammar, and punctuation problems.

This used to be where education invested all of its time because it is the easiest to teach (although it takes time to cover all the rules and exceptions) and easiest to test against. But memorization has its shortcomings (especially if people remember incorrectly) so I tend to teach people how to look for what they don't know rather than recite the rules.

Publishing. The standard typewritten page and all its rules (margins, paragraph breaks, etc.) that once gave writers the freedom to press print and send is dead. How things look on the page or published screen can be just as important as the content.

Until you see it as close to the finished form, you really don't know how the prose will feel as a physical entity. As communication moves toward more visual and interactive environments, writers have to make provisions for the final product.

The tragedy of written communication today in all of its forms.

More than anything, people have to accept that writing is a lot like playing the Theremin, a musical instrument that is easy to play but difficult to master. There is an abundance of players, doubly so since social media is such a content hungry beast. There are few masters because the rewards are weak.

Still, that is hardly an excuse to cheapen the craft. Where writing differs from the Theremin is that it lands everywhere. Even when the presentation eventually lands on a screen or is spoken from a podium, someone has to write it down or rough it up somewhere. And that requires better curriculum.

Friday, July 20

Marketing Choices: Does The Customer Come First?

You can read any number of articles about it. Fast Company has three ways to put your customers first. KONE in the United Kingdom made it part of its mission. Goldman Sachs frequently said it too. Customers come first.

But do customers really come first? If you ask most companies, they are all on board. Nobody ever says they put their customers last. No one readily admits that customers are a necessary evil. Few people ever come straight and say that almost every business decision they make is all about sales and never about customers. Or maybe they do.

Ten Ways Companies Say Customers Come Last.

1. Rewriting return policies for products to include a restock fee.

2. Selling sales data to third-party marketers without oversight.

3. Employing aggressive telemarketing firms to sell.

4. Rewriting the terms of service to fit the needs of the company.

5. Delaying customers just to sell plus service with no benefit.

6. Creating hidden fees in order to advertise at a lower price.

7. Loading up websites with pop-ups and email capture forms.

8. Engaging in black hat SEO tactics to boost search engine relevancy.

9. Making promises on the front end and renegotiating on the back end.

10. Cutting staff or corners that directly improves profits while diminishing customer service.

Companies make decisions that put their customers last every day. So why do they insist on saying they put customers first? It's bad enough most companies don't care. It's worse when they lie about it daily.

If you really want to put your customers first, make sure every decision you make starts with putting the customer first. Otherwise, all you are really doing is lying to your customers on top of putting them last. And while that might work with a wink and a nod for awhile, one day they won't be your customers anymore.

Wednesday, July 18

Finding Creativity: The Path Of One, Some, And Many

Author Geoff Livingston published an interesting conversation starter yesterday. It weighs individual creativity against groupthink merit. He cites collaborative cultures repeal creativity as part of it.

His post struck a chord with me for two reasons. The most obvious reason: because I've invested the last 26 years of my career playing in the "one, some, many" field of communication despite being one of those quiet, introverted people he talks about. The least obvious reason: I'm struggling with the creative-collaborative dilemma on one of many projects I'm involved in right now. And it's a killer.

Before I share the dilemma, let's define the terms. What is "one, some, many" creativity anyway?

The Creativity Of One. 

This is the genesis that Livingston is talking about in his post. It's an individual who, regardless of what other people are doing, quietly and deliberately dreams something up. You know ones/individuals who do it too.

They are every creative person for whom history has preserved a place. Authors like Zora Neale Hurston, Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac. Photographers like W. Eugene Smith, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Diane Arbus. Artists like Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Jean-Michel Basquiat. Musicians like John Lennon, Gustav Mahler, Poly Styrene. Business people like Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson.

Sure, some could argue that they weren't alone. Several of these creatives were inspired, influenced, or received input from other people too. So what? Individual creativity doesn't necessitate isolation from the world. It means you capture a unique perspective and are the master of how you present back.

Individual creativity is where I feel most at home, even if I rarely have time to explore it. It was how I wrote The Everyday Hound, produced Ten Rules Every Writer Needs To Know, and created The Last To Know (scroll down for the mention), an interactive literary piece for an art exhibition in 2000.

It's a very scary place to be until you learn to be fearless. Once you're done, people accept it or reject it. But even if they reject it, you have to remember that you are the only person who can validate it. Art doesn't need popularity to be art. It doesn't even need popularity to be "good" art. Art is art.

The Creativity Of Some. 

This is where I spend most of my time and it's a mixed bag. Mostly, creative people spend time when they cannot do (or don't have time to do) everything that needs to be done alone.

When we interview bands at Liquid [Hip], we often ask how they compose and collaborate. And while their answers are as varied as the music, most of them work just like people do in the commercial field. Somebody on the team comes in with a concept. Everyone else builds onto it, but anything that strays too far from the vision is abandoned.

When the work comes together brilliantly, it is one of the most rewarding experiences in the field. It's sometimes more rewarding than going solo because the enthusiasm for the outcome is shared. Teamwork rocks when you have the right marriage.

But that is the rub. The marriage isn't always one of your choosing. It's arranged. And as an arranged marriage, you don't always know who you will marry or how long it will last. The relationship could last a lifetime or it could be over in a few short and painful hours. It depends on the people and sometimes quantum physics. People carry a lot of baggage around, from apathy to egotism in any creative field.

All the while, someone else — whether it's a publisher or client or label — is busy taking notes and is ready to move in ideas. And that's when things become even more dicey; novices with big concepts.

The Creativity Of Many.

If you ever want to expedite the path toward groupthink, be successful without balls or be talentless with the need for a built-in excuse. While some of the most visible global social campaigns I've worked on were orchestrated on the creativity of many scale, the trumpet of togetherness hits many bad notes.

While Livingston is right, creativity needs circulation or else the artist will be missed, it doesn't mean the master is the masses. Classic works are often unpopular before they become timeless. And popular works are frequently elevated to their own eradication. Crowds are fickle beasts until they know better.

As much as many social networks and program developers have been waving around the "creativity of many" mantra as the new Kool-aid, I can't help but notice that the most successful social platforms listen the least. They have become so standard that people use them even when the networks abuse them.

Meanwhile, the graveyards of dead, buried, and long-forgotten networks that used to populate the net are attracting a steady stream of ghouls on their last breaths. The most common cause of these catastrophic illnesses is adding an abundance of crowd-sourced features someone could not live without.

It's not always the masses who do the deed either. By committee creativity is often an oxymoron when the marriage is made up of more than one partner or no definitive head of household. In a strategic setting, we might illustrate a big arrow pointing one direction with thousands of little arrows pulling in whatever direction suits them.

Trust me here. Great platforms are not crowd-sourced. They are either the work of one or the healthy marriage of a team much like a band. The audience might be invited to make requests, but the real talents know which songs not to cover. That kind of crowd participation only works in karaoke bars.

All Three Are Manageable, But Not Simultaneously.

It might seem like I'm down on the whole crowd-sourced creation thing, but that's not true. The secret is that whatever creativity path you've set out on has to have a purpose, with everyone in agreeance.

Then people have to be honest and to stick to it. You can tell who doesn't. Bands break up all the time, which has no reflection on their individual talents. Many go off to launch better solo careers or develop new relationships that elevate them to the next level. The same holds true in the commercial field.

My project dilemma is exactly that, it changes creative paths like Bartholomew Cubbins changed hats. The first three marriages were golden, but the fourth was rather rocky because the programmer was a solo artist despite saying the opposite. It tipped the entire job in an odd direction of crowd-sourcing.

And that's fine, I suppose, if you like pop karaoke with hard rock drums, and the manager taking country song requests from whatever audience happens to be in the room. It does make me wonder though. Where are the programmers who enjoy playing in a band (besides their own) without the new accountability crutch of crowd-sourcing? We need more Warhol and Basquiat collaborations.

Monday, July 16

Going Social: 2012 FedEx Ketchum Social Business Study

While some companies are still arguing about what constitutes a return on investment for social media, others are forging ahead with social business models. Never mind that there isn't a definitive definition.

What has been worked out, according to the 2012 FedEx Ketchum Social Business Study, are the elements that it will include. Everything else that a social business might be is a work in progress.

Key elements of a social business model from the study. 

• A non-linear flow of information between the organization and internal/external stakeholders.
• Input that drives the decision making, business processes, organizational structure, and innovation.
• The flexibility to listen and adapt to shifting marketplace opportunities in real time.
• Distribution of the ownership of social media tools across a broader set of internal stakeholders.

Simply put, a social business model aims to employ social media as it has been by a few companies even before social networks became prominent. The general idea is to move away from the notion that social media is merely marketing but rather an engaged dialogue that leads to transformative change in every area of operation. It presents one of the greatest opportunities and threats to business long term.

In essence, what people are calling the next wave of adoption is really what many people realized social media was meant to be. It's not merely about the amplification of what the company wants to tell people, but rather a vested interest in increasing the company's intelligence by removing silos and including the customer as an active participant as opposed to connecting with them exclusively at the point of purchase and when there are problems.

In theory, it sounds close to perfection. But there are some concerns. According to the study, companies are still concerned about employee privacy, content ownership, legal/compliance issues, and the inability to correct misinformation that appears on the web. Some of issues are more valid than others.

What are valid concerns? What are not? What's being missed?

• Employee Privacy. Social media has a tendency to both expose individuals (strangers want to "be friends" with the business contact) and tend to associate people with the company brand (even during off hours and even when they leave a company). It's a semi-valid concern because employees haven't adapted to the new environment. Mostly, people want to selectively be associated with their companies.

• Content Ownership. The general concern is that when employees generate a high level of interest and develop their own online networks, they tend to take those networks with them even though their association with the company had a hand in developing those connections. Although it's a risk, it's largely invalid because it's a risk that companies have faced long before social media. When people move, so does some intellectual property and so do some customers.

• Legal/Compliance. The legal/compliance issues are largely invalid, trumped up by some executives who never wanted to have the social media conversation. The reality is that as environments change so does the governance of legal/compliance issues. Many government agencies are even encouraging companies to communicate more, not less.

• Misinformation. While the Internet has some growing up to do in terms of understanding credibility, concerns over misinformation are largely invalid because it's not a new threat. If anything, more sources of information on places such as the net can better protect a company than the fewer sources that used to exist. More and more, people check four or more sources of information before making decisions. Ergo, they know misinformation might exist.

• Improper Vetting. This is the concern that ought to be on the radar, but generally isn't. Just because you increase the size of your input pool doesn't always mean you increase the size of its intelligence. Or, in other words, customers aren't always right and crowd-sourcing runs an equal chance of becoming done by committee. In fact, crowd-sourcing may have killed touch screens on the front end. Thank goodness companies didn't listen until people had the opportunity to change their minds.

• Shutter Clearance. Sometimes companies really don't want everything on the table. It's not for any malicious reason as some people like to argue. Judgements made on half-baked ideas don't necessarily make for better products. For example, I can't imagine what someone might have thought watching me write a first draft. Sometimes we all need some breathing room to think and fully realize something. At the organizational level, this might translate into fewer not more people having a big picture view.

The 2012 FedEx Ketchum Social Business Study is worth a look. 

All in all, the 2012 FedEx Ketchum Social Business Study makes for an excellent primer. The highlights I mentioned above only scratch of the surface of the content that can be mined there.

Sure, I think the buzz term "social business" is trumped up as if these things never existed (being a "social business" is what convinced Corning to make specialty glass for iPhones), but what might be different is that some of it is more likely to play out in public. That said, no matter what you think you know or feel about social business models, it's in your best interest to pay attention to what is being produced, created, and innovated as a result. This study, specifically, makes an excellent primer.

Friday, July 13

Keeping Secrets: Penn State Officials Feared Publicity

As the story was breaking last year, I joined a handful of public relations professionals who pointed out that the Penn State scandal was not a public relations case study. The remedy was early ethics.

What has become more clear, however, is that public relations is easily brought into the discussion because of its influence over behavior. A fear of bad publicity prompted the Penn State coverup.

In doing so, Joe Paterno and top Penn State officials hushed up child sex abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky, allowing the former assistant football coach to prey on other youngsters for another decade, according to a scathing report issued Thursday on the scandal. They wanted to protect Penn State.

Public relations is not the art of spin, secrets, or cover-ups. 

While some practitioners think public relations can do those things (those who mistake public relations for propaganda), the ethical practice is obliged to do the opposite. It seeks the truth and then communicates any findings in a responsible, forthright, and empathetic way fosters understanding (why it happened) and addresses mitigation (what will happen now). That is all that can be done.

Some people call it common sense. But sometimes professionals, executives, and officials seem to be in short supply of common sense. If it was in abundance, they would appreciate that proper public relations seeks a mutually beneficial relationship between organizations and their publics, even when the organization or individuals in the organization have violated trust.

Ergo, truth rectifies or otherwise minimizes maleficence. More malfeasance only exacerbates it, even if it postpones the inevitable. All the while, victims and future victims suffer for it in silence. And all the while, more and more people are directly and indirectly harmed as the lie spreads like a virus.

Proper public relations is different. Rather than sweep organizational shame under the rug, it brings the truth to light. Sure, there will be consequences. Over the long term, any organization that is able to uncover a problem, isolate its cause, and establish preventative measures to ensure it will not happen again, will minimize the damage and (sometimes) earn the trust and respect of those involved.

The analogy might be trivial, but the error in judgement is not.

You know you are an idiot public relations practitioner (in title or practice) when you could have learned this lesson watching a single episode of The Brady Bunch. And one of them fits here.

In the episode called "Goodbye, Alice, Hello," Peter and Greg were playing Frisbee in the house. Like many children have learned over the years, something always gets broken eventually. In this case, an antique lamp. Greg and Peter vow to fix the lamp and ask Alice to keep their secret.

Alice eventually has to break her vow because she refuses to lie to her boss, Carol, and the kids learn that cover-ups carry additional costs. Although they later chastise Alice for being "a snitch" and she quits, even that turns out to be problematic. People who become part of an extended family are not so easily replaced and Alice becomes the hero of the episode.

The officials who covered up the Penn State scandal could have been heroes too. But they must have missed this particular episode. And everything they thought they gained during the cover-up is now diminished or lost outright. You can read the Penn State response here. But more importantly, try to remember that public relations, much like human decency, begins and ends with truth and trust, not cover-ups.

Wednesday, July 11

Teaching Applied: What We Knew In 1895

A friend of mine recently shared some exam questions, reportedly used as a final exam in Salina, Kansas, circa 1895. The purpose of sharing the exam is meant to surprise people at how much more difficult an eighth grade education was in 1895 compared to, perhaps, a high school education today.

Two things struck me in reading over the exam. The first was that I wasn't taught all of it in school. The second was that the teachers in 1895 were doing something that not all schools do today.

While there is a certain amount of rote memorization, many of the questions suggest the instruction was tied to the real world. Right. The students weren't only being taught material in preparation for the next class but also how they might use the instruction in their lives if there wasn't going to be a next class.

The Questions From An Eighth Grade Final Exam: Salina, Kansas (1895)

Grammar (Time, one hour) 
1. Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.
2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.
3. Define verse, stanza and paragraph.
4. What are the principal parts of a verb? Give principal parts of 'lie,''play,' and 'run.'
5. Define case; illustrate each case.
6 What is punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.
7 - 10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Arithmetic (Time,1 hour 15 minutes) 
1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3,942 lbs., what is it worth at 50cts/bushel, deducting 1,050 lbs. for tare?
4. District No 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find the cost of 6,720 lbs. coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft. long at $20 per metro?
8. Find the bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance of which is 640 rods?
10. Write a bank check, a promissory note, and a receipt.

U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes) 
1. Give the epochs into which U.S. history is divided.
2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus.
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States.
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas.
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton , Bell , Lincoln , Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, 1865.

Orthography (Time, one hour) 
1. What is meant by the following: alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, syllabication?
2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
3. What are the following, and give examples of each: trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals.
4. Give four substitutes for รป.
5. Give two rules for spelling words with final 'e.' Name two exceptions under each rule.
6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: bi, dis-mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, sup.
8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.
9. Use the following correctly in sentences: cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane , vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.

Geography (Time, one hour) 
1. What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?
2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas ?
3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?
4. Describe the mountains of North America.
5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia, Odessa, Denver, Manitoba, Hecla, Yukon, St. Helena, Juan Fernandez, Aspinwall and Orinoco.
6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S.
7. Name all the republics of Europe and give the capital of each.
8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?
9. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers.
10. Describe the movements of the earth. Give the inclination of the earth.

The Difference Between Educational Success Is Set By Expectation.  

There was something else that struck me about these questions. My son just graduated from the seventh grade but he wasn't expected to know most of it or any modern equivalent. There were only two possibilities why he wasn't expected to learn it, we surmised.

The first assumption was that it's just not considered important anymore because new material has supplanted the need. The second was that this instruction would come later in his education, which made wonder. There are dozens of people who want to delay education for one reason or another.

While I understand the reasoning, delayed education is one of the key ingredients that has caused many educational structures to underperform in the United States. Instead of fearing a child might be "left behind," we might be better off instilling a cultural model where no child is "held back."

And no, I don't mean pass students who are not ready. What I mean is that we ought to expect all children can excel by setting a higher standard and never holding back any child who is ready to excel. Ergo, if we want to create an environment where children can learn at their own pace, then there is no reason to hold back those who are ready to excel. And those who need extra help can always find it.

As the 1895 test might illustrate, it's not about the grade level. It's about what you learn and apply.
 

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