Wednesday, March 25

Customer Loyalty Is Hardwired Into Customer Experience

Enrollment levels in customer loyalty programs may have reached an all-time high, but that doesn't mean all loyalty programs are created equal or that all customers are equally loyal. According a study recently released by Bond Brand Loyalty, as many as one-third of all loyalty program participants wouldn't remain loyal to the brand if it weren't for the program.

Some executives might not care beyond the surface sales data, but expect that sentiment to change in the near future. Customers are becoming more selective about loyalty programs despite having increased their enrollment from 10 in 2014 to 13 in 2015. Mostly, they want to avoid spam-centric programs that push out content and opt in to those that truly listen and understand their customers.

Shelly DeMotte Kramer, CEO of V3 Integrated Marketing, was right to note that there is often a perception gap between customers and the companies that are trying to win them over, citing a recent report by DotMailer. Whereas most customers said they join loyalty programs to receive discounts as an incentive to make a purchase or when they are ready to make a purchase, most businesses said their program participants want to learn about new products and receive product information.

Wait, what? Customers want to buy stuff but companies want to talk?

Of course, this one finding doesn't mean customers are in it for the discount alone. As marketer Danny Brown so eloquently wrote last year — it ain't what you do, it's how you do it. All the discounted carrots and rewards in the world won't create customer loyalty unless you're prepared to better serve your customer or make their experience even better. That's what they really want.

Consider the common denominator among three of the better run loyalty programs in the country. Starbucks fans receive drinks, food, and refills when they earn stars. Hertz Gold Plus members receive the fastest pick-up and drop-off experience in the car rental business. Barnes & Noble book fans receive book coupons, in-store discounts, and free shipping for online orders.

All of them focus not only on delivering a discount or reward, but do so by also removing perceived industry barriers. Do you want a second cup of your favorite coffee for free? Do you want to skip the line and head right to your car rental? Do you want to skip the cost of shipping (with no regard to how much is being spent)? It doesn't matter if you do. These companies know their customers do.

Do you know what is important? According to the study mentioned earlier, 70 percent of 10,000 consumers surveyed did not strongly agree that loyalty program experiences are consistent with their brand or company experiences. But nearly 20 percent of them strongly agreed that they could replace their current loyalty program if the competition was willing to offer them something better.

If that's true, then the loyalty program might only be a business Band-Aid with just enough stick to keep unloyal customers around until the next shower. And what's worse? If it is washed off or the card is tossed or the app deleted, it will be considerably tougher to recapture that customer again.

The research-backed takeaway here ought to be obvious enough. If the point of a customer loyalty program is to increase customer-business interactions (purchases and referrals), then it is even more important to make those interactions count — online, offline, with an app, or as part of an extended CX ecosystem. After all, discounts aren't always remembered but experiences are hard to forget.

Wednesday, March 18

There Is Little Room For Truth With The Future Of Media.

When you reconcile the state of communication today, its condition is critical. Journalism is giving up ground to public relations, which continues to be swept aside by content marketing. It will continue to do so at least until technology rewrites the definition of social media as we know it, with a rapidly evolving future as documented in a conversation that continues with Danny Brown today.

Follow that path to its logical conclusion and you'll discover that we really are witnessing the steady decline journalism in favor of special interest advocacy that masquerades as valuable content while being fueled by any number of organizational agendas. We now live in a world where even science becomes a public relations battleground to win over public opinion — a throwback to the era of a yellow press when news was less important than eye-catching headlines much like today.

New media has been reformatted for a new master. So now what?

Unless you live in a vacuum, you already know that the changeover from old media to new media is a pejorative concept. The media had been consolidated for some time, mostly among six media giants that once controlled about 90 percent of the media. Want to know who owned what? Look here.

This suggests that the transition from corporate-owned media to corporate (or special interest) generated media is largely lateral. Except, it's not. Even when corporations owned the media, they mostly left management alone, which left the reporters alone in turn. That isn't the case now.

When corporations and special interests decided to stop funding somewhat objective news outlets in favor of more advocacy eyeballs and carefully controlled content marketing, they created a fiscal rift that made owning a news organization an investment liability (unless that outlet earned eyeballs too).

That in and of itself accelerated a growing problem. For about 100 years, reporters only had to tell the truth or shame the devil to be successful. But with the advent of click counts and page views, the journalist started facing a very different job description. Each story has to stand on its own eyeball count and each journalist became responsible for developing his or her own niche following, which (sadly) continues to be defined by eyeball counts over professional prowess.

Under these conditions, telling the truth (or shaming the devil) really isn't enough. You have to tell the truth people want to hear and shame the devils that the public doesn't like. And you have to do it for a fraction of the cost because journalism hasn't kept up with scalable salaries.

Nowadays, only news commentary consultants and talk show hosts command real income-earning potential as they deliver the goods that people either love or hate. Call it biased infotainment — news adorned in a "what to think" packaging — sound bites that sum up most of it.

On the other side of the fence, brand journalists are attempting to do the same. The modern special interest gatekeepers — professionals who once catered to the journalists — are increasingly interested in spinning their own never vetted musings of content marketing as news, which maintains an objective that is the polar opposite of journalism. The new job is to add perspective and praise the internal angels, with budgets that eclipse what journalism once spent tenfold.

The budgets don't only make the output potentially more infectious but also make these new brand journalist/content marketing positions slightly more fun, significantly more visible, and reward with substantially better salary caps — at least enough to lure away the very people who used to be considered the fourth estate. All that is required in return is that the one-time-journalist see the world thorough the lens of the organizational perspective first. That isn't so bad. Or is it?

Earned media has become an archaic term. It's all pay, up front and often. 

There is no question some of it will be useful, even if the next generation will likely be lost in a world with no truth tellers. They'll be left in a place where everything is an opinion. Moral facts will all be optional — except when they are decided en masse by a simple majority that changes with the tides.

On the surface, content marketers seem relatively happy with a growing share of the communication landscape (over public relations, which is over journalism). But over the long term, no one should be too happy about it. Whereas journalists had a loyalty to citizens and public relations practitioners had a loyalty to both the organization and the public, content marketers serve organizational interests.

And when only the readily available content comes from an organizational perspective, then we've lost something as a thinking society. The content we will believe will largely be owned by whichever organization has the dollars to convince us as all of the others are drowned out by multi-channel repetition, with the only real irony being that most people will prefer it over time.

What do you think? Will there ever be a miracle resurgence in people being willing to pay for valuable, truthful, and objective news? Or will organizations simply fill the void with advocacy news, well-funded stories and slants that serve up "value" as long as it produces other outcomes too?

Wednesday, March 11

Has The Age Of Facebook Debates Come To A Close?


Facebook Wall
Trish Forant at Dayngr Zone Media recently posed an interesting and increasingly common question on Facebook, asking friends if they've pulled back from sharing opinions or engaging in debates on the popular social network. She is not alone. A few weeks earlier, Blog Bloke had asked a similar question, wondering what his friends posted besides kid pics, food porn, and celebrity sightings.

He had more or less asked where has the social imperative for social media gone.

It hasn't necessarily gone anywhere. But more and more people, it seems, feel that social networks are already too negative in between their servings of silly cat videos. After all, one person's social justice is another person's social poison. And unless you're up for some diatribe, it is best to be a sycophant or perhaps stay silent. Even constructive criticism is a skill set as plenty of people are easily offended.

Recently, one of my friends told me to "read the article" after I left a comment on an article she had shared. The article asked people to pick between two vices. I had said neither, which was later attributed to me thinking like a parent. I could have said I was thinking like a person and outlined my case, but why bother? It was already apparent after two invalidations that discussion wasn't welcome.

And therein lies the crux of the problem. Not all social networks really afford as much two-way communication as one might think. Facebook is especially weak in the dialogue department.

BustersFacebook is a lousy platform for meaningful dialogue and intelligent debate. 

This isn't a network criticism. It's a recognition that the platform was designed to help people manage social connections and connect with those who have similar interests and not communication or social discourse. And while sometimes a discussion might lead someone to a revelation, such occurrences are rare. Most debates only make people feel bad at worst, awkward at best. Why?

• Facebook celebrates sycophants.  It isn't by accident that Facebook has a 'like' button. The system is meant to deliver positive reinforcement from friends. "Me too" and "good job" add happiness.

• Facebook invites dogma. The wall and comment section of Facebook is much less suited to dialogue than statement making. Most discussions consist of affirmative or negative sentiment.

• Facebook skews for affirmation. Much like more and more people watch news programs that reference their beliefs, they nurture friends in the same way and unfriend those who don't fit.

• Facebook favors majority. As people mass a majority of like-minded friends, they build an army of agreement to support whatever they happen to share and sometimes to shake down dissenters.   

• Facebook creates imbalance. Whereas blogs provide an open-ended forum with the potential for thoughtful discussion and Twitter forces dialogue with a 140-character limit, Facebook creates the impression that short comments feel like quips and long comments are akin to hijacking the post.

All in all, the social network is mostly designed to deliver healthy does of "good vibes" so you keep coming back for more. It mostly works that way too. Few people actually sign on to thrive as the one contrarian among friends, on their wall or someone else's spaces. Life is too short to be grumpy.

So most people sign on to share bits and pieces of their lives, with the unstated understanding that their friends will give them support or props as needed, and the unstated assumption that they do the same for their friends. And when you know that is the system by design, it doesn't make much sense to muck it up by floating out too many ideologies, issues, or opinions that people disagree with.

Sure, there are those like Trish Forant (and myself) who are generally more than happy to celebrate our diversity of friendships and willingness to agree to disagree. But nowadays, fewer people seem accustomed to the notion that most topics cannot be boiled down into black and white, red or blue.

Why would they be accustomed to anything else? Facebook is purposefully designed for someone to either "like" something or remain silent. Anything else carries the risk of negative reinforcement. Real discussion, on the other hand, requires a better format and, occasionally, a decent moderator.

Wednesday, March 4

Does PR Transparency End Where Individual Privacy Begins?

A new lawsuit filed by Nina Pham, the 26-year-old nurse who contracted Ebola from her patient at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, ought to give public relations professionals pause. The allegations raised in the lawsuit raise some valid questions about the industry's pat answer that transparency is always an effective remedy for crisis communication.

While negligence is at the core of the lawsuit, Pham says that the hospital's public relations efforts violated her right to privacy. Specifically, as reported by ABC News, the lawsuit alleges that the hospital released false information about her condition, shot and released a video of her while she was in care without her knowledge or consent, and breached her privacy by releasing her name in an attempt to be transparent with the media.

According to Pham, the public relations department was also inappropriately aggressive, asking to talk to her for a news release "about how much she loves Presbyterian" shortly after doctors were simultaneously talking to her about end-of-life decisions. The release was part of a public relations campaign aimed at restoring faith in the hospital. The slogan was "Presby Proud."

The hospital maintains that not only was it sensitive to her privacy, but it also adhered to HIPAA rules in determining what information was shared publicly with her consent. It has since released a media statement that they will continue to support her and wish the best for her while remaining optimistic that constructive dialogue can resolve this matter.

Employees are both — part of the organization and the most important public.

One of the most challenging aspects of crisis communication is for public relations professionals to remember that employees are an independent public as much as they part of the organization. And that means that employees, those affected by a crisis in particular, are not necessarily part of the "organization" that the public relations team is trying to protect but rather its most important public.

It's all too easy to forget. During a maelstrom of media attention, especially national coverage that threatens the reputation of the organization, good public relations professionals are trained to efficiently meet the needs of the media and the public outside of the organization. But all too often, they are not trained to think of the afflicted employee as having very different priorities.

If public relations professionals did remember that afflicted employees are an independent public, then they would be more likely to remember that one of the core functions of the profession is to build mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics. And in framing the profession and relationships this way, come to very different conclusions about coercion, persuasion, and possibly exploitation in releasing videos, drafting quotes, or asking for a campaign endorsement.

On the contrary, while those relationships may naturally develop as a result of mutual trust, the public relations team ought to be working for the individual as much as the organization. In other words, they have to ask not only what is in the best interest of organization but also the employee.

Was persuading her to give up some privacy in her best interest? Was releasing the video that she allegedly had no knowledge was being shot? Was soliciting her endorsement for a PR campaign?

The answers are fundamentally different if we perceive the role of public relations as a function of protecting the organization or working in the best interest of all involved. The latter view, which is the more evolved perspective, recognizes that working in the best interest of everyone is often the most effective means to protect not only its reputation, but also its ability to mitigate a crisis and recover, ushering in a new standard for preparedness.

Wednesday, February 25

Why Some So-Called Losses Are Really Wins In Disguise

My son had been staying after school for months, hoping to land one of 14 spots on the junior varsity volleyball team. It seemed like the ideal spring sport for him to balance out football in the fall.

He worked hard at it whenever possible, missing only one practice since the intramural pre-tryout program had begun. He was a dedicated player and progressed at a faster pace than most of his peers. When you asked any of them, they expected to be cut well before him. Except, they weren't cut.

In what seemed to be a split decision among the coaches, he finished one or two spots short out of the 30 some kids who were vying for a position. Even after one of the coaches told him coldly that he was "athletic, but not for volleyball," another coach openly disagreed and told him to come out next year.

Maybe he will. Maybe he won't. His more immediate challenge was that he had missed all the mandatory meetings for any other spring sports. It's a tough spot to be in, something long-time marketer and author Geoff Livingston described as being the "first loser." It sucks to be thisclose to a win.

Our compulsion to tally up wins and losses feeds an unproductive fantasy.

For some people, wins and losses can be very real. You either pass an exam or you don't. You win the state championship or you don't. You are hired for the position or you aren't. So on and so forth.

But mostly, our incessant need to make tally marks in the win/loss column is all a bunch of rubbish. One exam isn't a measure of subject mastery. The final score isn't an adequate measure of true performance. The position you're passed over for might be turn out to be your biggest win ever. 

The point here is pretty simple. Not only does our overemphasis on any given win or loss become a distraction from some yet-to-be-seen success, we tend to frame them all up with too much idealism. You see, winning doesn't mean everything will end well any more than losing means that you have something more to learn. Either outcome can produce the opposite of whatever it is you are looking for in the long term and you may never really know what that other outcome might have been.

As the old saying ought to go, the only thing worse than losing an account is winning a bad one. Bad accounts can burn up time with unrealistic service demands or relentless change orders, cost a company its solvency with late payments or by defaulting on any credit, and damage reputations by underplaying contributions or making vendors scapegoats for their bad decisions. They can make you crazy trying to keep them, sometimes at the expense of any underperforming but stable clients. So who knows? Maybe the universe did you a favor by spinning the wheel of fortune one spoke short.

As long as you keep doing, you will eventually have your fair share of wins and losses. And with any luck, the balance among all of them — and the real outcomes to follow — will one day amount to a legacy that you can pay forward. Because that, not any tiny win or loss, is what life is really about.

The best thing that never happened to my son was making that team. 

In less than 24 hours after being turned away from the volleyball team, my son received an unexpected text from one of his friends. While all the mandatory meetings for track had passed, the team was still looking for a few athletes to try pole vaulting. He was unsure, but undeterred.

When my son turned out on a day that the pole vaulting coach didn't make it, he asked to the practice with the shot put throwers instead. Three throws later, the shot put coach signed him to the team. Despite never having tried it before, the coach noted his perfect form and throwing potential. Now he's weighing whether he should focus exclusively on shot put or try pole vaulting too. 

Either way is a win-win decision for him. The fact that he has this decision to make tells a story that is very different from the one that opened this post. When he didn't land a spot on the junior varsity volleyball team, it opened up the opportunity for him to land a variety spots on the track team.

So was the set up really a loss? Or was it a win? Or does it merely prove one of my friend's favorite quotes that attitude is superior to circumstance? I don't know, but I'm leaning toward the latter. Losing assumes one has something to lose and most people don't. We either set out to win or merely break even. So just keep doing as long as you are happy in the pursuit of it. Being able to pursue it is the win.

Wednesday, February 18

Your Primary Objective As A PR Writer Is To Be Understood

clarity in writing
All writers share a common objective, regardless of their mission, medium, or industry. They all strive to convey a message that makes sense. And yet, very few of them really do.

Sure, some might nowadays argue that mission critical is to get clicks/eyeballs, generate leads, or miraculously prove their worth with direct sales. But while all of that sounds fine and good, such convoluted communication missions often get in the way of good business by scarifying clarity.

The truth is that it’s often those goals that get content into trouble. In an effort to attract more attention, sound like a subject matter expert, and push more sales, they say the wrong things, complicate their meaning, and destroy trust by selling too hard. In most cases, all these writers needed to do was one thing: to be better understood.

It works. You win anytime you can deliver the right message to the right audience in such a way that they readily understand it, remember it, and respond to it. Clarity comes first.

Five benchmarks for better clarity in writing.

Be Readable.
While anyone with an intense interest in a subject will read the worst writing (when there are limited sources), people generally ignore content that demands too much effort.

Be Conversational. While style ought to suit the medium and the organization, the most widely read content on the Internet tends to be human, fun, and informative. It reads like we talk.

Be Spontaneous. Much like music, movie, and media industries have discovered, formulas have a short shelf life before readers find them to be stale, uninteresting, and something to avoid.

Be Descriptive. Definitions can be useful, but descriptions are easier to understand and remember. They tend to touch our emotions in ways that definitions seldom do.

Be Focused. One point is always more powerful than 50. When you consider people are bombarded with more than 100,000 messages every day, having them remember even one is quite an accomplishment. Choose that point wisely.

Some of this might read like common sense, but most experienced writers will tell you that believing in these five benchmarks is far easier than executing them. All of us are guilty of cluttering our best content with clever writing, filler to flesh out the word count, or some lofty objectives that make clients happier than their customers at one time or another.

We might even pat ourselves on the back for a job that feels well done when we turn in or click publish. It might not even be until weeks or months later that we’ll stumble across the old content and mutter that for all the accolades we missed the mark. All people really want is a few paragraphs of honest prose that they can understand and appreciate for its value, significance, and directness as something they can apply to their everyday life or, at least, help them in making better decisions.

Even in this case, it all comes back to one thing. Clarity is the content that people remember.

Wednesday, February 11

The Psychology Of Facebook Can Get A Little Bit Crazy

As much as marketers hold on to hope for the promised land of big data — one algorithm to rule them all and in the darkness bind them — the information they covet remains convoluted. Big data can't crack what consumers don't share because algorithms play by the program rules and people never do.

One such study making the rounds even proves the point in its attempt to demonstrate the opposite. Despite some headline capturing claims that Facebook "likes" can assess your personality just as accurately as your spouse (and better than your friends), most people were miffed when they accepted an open invitation to take the algorithm for a test run. It seems that results vary.

The algorithm developed by Michal Kosinski at the Stanford University Computer Science Department, for example, pinned me down as a 25-year-old single female who is unsatisfied with life (among other things). It wasn't the only data fail among other friends who tried it. The model missed and missed and missed. There are reasons why, with mine being the easiest to decipher.

My personal usage of Facebook is best described as treating a few minutes out of every day as casual Friday. My connections are mostly limited to friends, family, and long-time online acquaintances. My principal activities include catching up with what they are doing, sharing stories about my children, and posting the occasional baked goods pictures. Why? Because I don't really do that anywhere else.

I also make a conscious effort to avoid controversy, not because I'm "agreeable" but because that social network isn't a place I want to invite deep discussion, debate, or any drama. And what that means is, in sum, that only a sliver of my personality comes across on Facebook. For others, I'm told, the assessments are wrong for a different reason. Not everyone is completely honest on Facebook, not all profiles are complete, and people "like" different pages and things for reasons you never expect.

Why big data models miss the mark with psychological stereotypes. 

Beyond the most obvious — that any algorithm is only as good as the input it is allowed to compile — there is always unexpected trouble when stereotypes are introduced into a psychological test. According to the aforementioned model, the algorithm assumes people who like "Snooki" or "Beer Pong" are outgoing and people who like "Doctor Who" and "Wikipedia" are not. Men who like "Wicked, The Musical" were defined as more likely to be homosexual and those liking "WWE" or "Bruce Lee" were not. Those who like "the Bible" are said to be more cooperative while those who like "Atheism" are competitive. And so on, and so forth.

Says who? Says some of the data that came from the myPersonality project designed by David Stillwell, deputy director of the Psychometrics Centre at the University of Cambridge. Between 2008 and 2012, myPersonality users agreed to take a survey, which asked participants about their personal details and personality traits. Their answers were then assigned to buckets such as openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and emotional stability. (The new test delivers those results too.)

But no matter how those results are derived, the best an algorithm can do is capture a data point and put it in a bucket. It has a much harder time recognizing intent, realizing something a human might notice like, let's say, that Joey isn't pregnant but his cousin June might be. The baby shower is coming up and he has been searching for and liking pages that might give him an idea of what to buy.

Stripped of any overreach that would paint Joey as an expectant mother, there is one area where analytics sometimes succeed. It might recognize that Joey is in the market for some baby gifts (assuming this deduction is made before and not after he finds a gift). Or perhaps, if Joey has also liked certain television shows, then one might deduce that he would be interested in similar shows. Or perhaps, some data might be employed to fine tune the tone of a message much like direct mail writers once did using PRISM research data.

But even then, minor research advantages were tempered by Rule No. 7 in Advertising in the past. It's the rule that reminded commercial writers that people tend to lie. They are predisposed to "like" things (or even "list" things in a Neilsen ratings book) that make themselves look a little brighter, better, smarter, or savvy regardless of what they really watch, like, or do. They also tend to share more positive life events than they do negative ones, connect and disconnect with people more easily, and like pages that friends recommend because they think they are doing their friends a favor. Maybe.

The irony in that? Some studies suggest that social networks can unintentionally contribute to depression, indicate anxiety related to relationship insecurity, and become as addictive as cocaine.

And while all three studies might provide an interesting read, marketers could probably learn more about their markets from the SizeUp tool provided by the Small Business Administration; any number of other affordable data providers like SEC filings, BizStats, or even the United States Census, or proven research methods such as consumer interviews, focus groups, and tests with a control group.

Does that sound too time consuming, cumbersome, or expensive? Then just wait until you see how expensive a product or service launch can be based on social network data alone. It's a little bit crazy.

Wednesday, February 4

Anyone Can Hate A Press Release. You Need Courage To Love It.

News Release Struggles
If there is a single piece of public relations communication that everyone seems to loathe, then let it be the press release. Journalists hate them because they are often poorly written irrelevant non-news bites. Public relations practitioners hate them because they're boring to write, seldom read, and rarely get the job done. Business people hate them because they are at the heart of many PR nightmares.

It's true. One would be hard pressed to find a piece of short-form communication that has been blamed for more heartburn, headache, and hemorrhages than a press release. Averaging a mere 450 words, there seems to be nothing more vile. They are received with the same appreciation as an STD.

"Did you get what I sent you?" asks the practitioner forced to make the call.

"Yeah, I did. I'm seeing my doctor today," mumbles the journalist before hanging up.

This type of exchange is a far cry from where the press release started. The first modern press release is most often attributed to Ivy Lee, whose agency released information regarding the 1906 Atlantic City train wreck. The idea was to provide a statement to journalists ahead of rumors and conjecture.

From this, the release began its steady evolution at the hands of practitioners who used it brilliantly, not so brilliantly, and sometimes with unscrupulous intent. The most common problems include bad writing, inaccurate information, irrelevant content, and one of the most liberal definitions of what constitutes news in existence today with the some companies believing that a ribbon cutting for a new office water cooler might find some vacant space in a daily. Maybe it will. Don't count on it.

A few years ago, I rounded up the ratio between press releases and news stories on any given day. On any given day, there were 4.3 million press releases distributed to fill 1.4 million news stories, most of which never originated from a press release. The odds weren't great for a press release.

Nowadays, it can be even more challenging. Even when news stories do originate from a press release, the impact is considerably less than it was ten years ago. Most media outlets only have a diluted share of a shrinking readership/viewership, one that is plagued by content overload.

The media have a hard enough time soliciting interest in viable breaking news stories let alone trying to pitch something less ubiquitous like a ribbon cutting for an office water cooler. So why bother?

Why the press release is an underrated workhorse. 

From the perspective of the instructor, there isn't a better medium from which to teach students about public relations writing than a press release, even if I rarely call them that. I've always preferred the term 'news release' because it helps shape the content. News releases aren't about press plugs alone.

Determining News. Some practitioners think that pitches are enough. Sometimes they are. Sometimes they aren't. The difference is in the details. New releases challenge practitioners to determine the most viable news topics, find relevant data, and build a framework for something that can stand alone, be rewritten by the media, or spark a different approach to the story. Many pitches aren't news stories as much as they have the potential to be news stories. The legwork might not be complete.

Writing Stories. News releases don't necessarily feel like the most exciting assignments even if they require more strategic savvy and creative thinking to cut though the clutter. The structure, style, and format tend to be rigid without letting the writer off the hook of making the topic interesting. When you're only allotted about ten 2-3 sentence paragraphs, two of which are likely quotes, it requires considerable research, organization, accuracy, and clarity to get it right. Errors stand out easily.

Understanding Audiences. Public relations practitioners are mostly taught to think in terms of publics — various groups and stakeholders. But in order to write an effective news release they must not only consider whatever publics appear in their communication plan but also the audiences that subscribe to targeted magazines or media outlets and the journalists and editors (sometimes on a scale of one to one) who will ultimately decide whether a story that includes their organization will run.

Developing Relationships. News releases make for great introductions inside the organization while the practitioner researches subject matter experts and outside the organization while working with the media. Never mind the myth about public relations professionals who claim to have connections — any practitioner who takes press releases seriously can develop equally respectful media relationships overnight simply by providing what editors and journalists care about first — news.

The benefits, of course, don't begin and end with the practitioner. The organization benefits too.

Organizational Branding. Some marketing-minded practitioners might attempt to measure the outcome of every single release like an email blast, but the real value comes from the long-term game. The measure of your next ten or twenty or fifty news stories will tell the public (and your publics) about your organization than any single piece of content you produce. Ergo, what people hear about your company over the long haul will often determine what they say about you when it counts.

Content Testing. As mentioned earlier, news releases are an excellent medium to vet potential content. If it comes together in a release, internal content marketers and copywriters can extrapolate information to create content — blog posts that ring with a friendlier conversational tone or a visual exploration of the topic to share someplace like Instagram.

Professional Credibility. Even novice practitioners know that a third-party source, such as a member of the media, can elevate an organization's credibility. This is somewhat true today. But more than that, the press release itself (unless its news tone is abandoned for marketing fluff) has a broader reach than media. Whether published on a website or via wire services, analysts and other professionals pay attention to them too — especially in science, technology, and business.

The point is pretty simple — stop underestimating the news release and treating it like a throwaway plug that deserves about 15 minutes of an intern's time to toss together before firing out to a database of reporters who aren't the lease bit interested. Think of it instead like a content package written to get conversations started — inside and outside the organization. It's a framework for almost everything.

As such, if the news release can do it all when you do it right — achieve a short-term outcome, add to a long-term objective, brand and position, introduce and win over, spark conversation or create controversy, establish relationships inside and outside the company, raise questions and provide answers, establish credibility and record historical relevance, provide context and inspire content, feel official without being the final piece, and demonstrate a propensity (if not a passion) for solid communication — then why not love it? All it takes is a little bit of courage to expect better

Wednesday, January 28

What's All The Beef About The Naked Burger Ad?

With GoDaddy pulling its "Puppy Mill" ad, all eyes are now on Charlotte McKinney for Carl's Jr. to steal the top spot for most controversial Super Bowl advertisement this year. The advertisement, which will only run on the West Coast, features the top model bounding  through a farmer's market.

What makes the advertisement "controversial" is that McKinney appears to be naked in the majority of the spot, thanks to camera framing and prop placement. Feeding the fantasy is a series of gawking men who alternate between being distracted by the blonde beauty and fondling produce in front of her.

The commercial is supposed to sell a new hamburger for the quick service franchise, but mostly it sells McKinney. She usurps Paris Hilton and other socialites that Carl's Jr. has employed to sell food with sex. This time the caustic relationship is being all natural, alluding to nakedness and not altered.

Overall, the commercial does a great job at selling McKinney, but not such a great job at selling product. Most people struggle to remember the name of the new burger, a problem that isn't new for the fast food chain on the bottom of the big five burger businesses.


The problem isn't new. Most people don't remember what kind of burger Hilton or Heidi Klum ate either (and some can't remember the chain that supplied the sloppy eats). And even after doubling down on their decision to make premier hamburgers part of the product offering for Carl's Jr. and Hardees, the CKE business model has yet to eek out one percent of the quick burger market share.

To put that into perspective, its primary competition — Burger King, Wendy's, and Jack In The Box — have all captured 2 percent of the market. Meanwhile, McDonald's isn't even in the same category, owning 19 percent of the market share. The only reason it feels like the two compete for customers is that Carl's Jr. requires stores to spend about 5.8 percent of their sales on advertising to supplement regional advertising buys. In other words, the CKE sister chains tend to be more talk and less eat.

The Charlotte McKinney ad is less controversial and more boring. 

Let's be clear. McKinney is not boring. She does a fabulous job with a bad script and mediocre concept. Her presence in the spot is largely the freshest thing about it. The chain traded up in terms of spokespeople. It's a shame they didn't trade up their creative too.

The advertisement is a rehash of Benny Hill comedy with an Austin Powers twist. It pretends to be controversial, mostly because Carl's Jr. claims it is too hot for television, a boast that perpetuates some outdated masculine myth that women used to be sexually stymied but are now liberated, which is good news for men who love to objectify them.

Aside from that, it also perpetuates the myths that sex sells and attention is the end all of advertising. On the contrary, sex doesn't sell and publicity is cheap. Naked women aren't clever. They are a punt when every other play had failed and nobody in the room can come up with anything remotely clever.

This lack of creativity might even be contagious. Sex in advertising has been on a steady rise since the 1980s despite studies that show as many as 60 percent of consumers have a negative reaction to such advertising and women, specifically, are bored and disinterested in sex-infused advertising.

So where is the disconnect? Most people attribute it to the outmoded thinking of male executives who make the decisions and sophomoric creative types who lament that their best years were in college. I see it a bit differently, but only because I know hack creatives take most of their cues from television.

As television has become more titillating, they think advertising should follow suit. The only problem is that they never consider the context. Just because people tune into a sexually explicit show doesn't mean they want their advertisements to feature leering men and objectified women. The setup is done to death.

The push back that anyone who doesn't like it is a prude is banal.

All this isn't to say that sex ought to be excluded from advertising. There are plenty of treatments where it can work provided the creative doesn't eclipse the product. Consumers have a much more positive reason to like sex in advertisements when it's wholesome, sexily sensual, or smartly funny.

Those types of treatments tend to skip the stereotypes as they were defined in the 1980s. Nowadays, sexual liberation isn't defined by someone's tolerance for soft porn, but rather their maturity to see it as clean, consensual, and occasionally clever in its use of innuendo and humor. And unlike movies and television, copywriters and creative directors ought to remember that they have two jobs that fiction writers do not.

Modern advertising not only sells the product, but often holds up a mirror to its audience. So if the audience can't relate to the spot, don't expect them to respond to the product. They're much more likely to critique your ad instead, which is exactly what most people who have seen this ad have done. Hat tip to Geoff Livingston for the topic.

Wednesday, January 21

What To Do When Your Captive Audience Craves Escape

While prevailing marketing and public relations theories believe frequency and duration are among some of the best objectives in communication, car dealerships are learning the limits of a captive audience. According to AutoTrader Dealer Sourcing Studies, customer satisfaction is at its highest within the first 90 minutes on the day of a purchase and then steadily declines. 

Car dealerships that take longer than 2.5 hours to complete the transaction lose out on customer satisfaction. Dealerships saw customer satisfaction dip below average at the 2.5-hour mark. 

In fact, according to a Cox Automotive study, the amount of time it took to complete a purchase has taken the top spot in car buyer frustrations. It beat out negotiations, fair trades, salespeople, and even financing options. People, more than ever before, are equating customer satisfaction to time.

Time has become a priority in reducing customer friction. 

The sentiment isn't confined to car buying. It creeps into every consumer touch point. While email, for example, is still one of the most effective means of delivering content to people, nearly 60 percent of consumers won't read or open an email unless they are certain it contains relevant content.

Facebook has always been sensitive to this issue too. It developed its EdgeRank algorithm with relevancy in mind. How people react to the content you post determines how often and likely they will appear in your news feed. If people ignore or complain about the content, page managers begin to see a diminishing rate of return unless they pay to push their exposure.

That in itself makes for a standalone discussion, but the point for this post is clear: Customers don't want to waste their time. They want relevant on-demand and/or intuitive content, compressed purchasing cycles on everything they buy, and post-purchase communication with an emphasis on multichannel personalization over calendar sales and email spam.

Car buying provides an extreme example for marketers in every industry. 

As part of the cited white paper, Cox Automotive also conducted an in-depth analysis of four distinct dealerships to track actual cycle times across key processes and better understand the disconnect between customer expectations and the dealership experience. What they found is not only enlightening for car dealerships, but also every industry that cares about customer satisfaction.

• Sales Process. The average time it took to complete the vehicle sales process was nearly 53 minutes – more than half the desired ideal total customer cycle time of 90 minutes.

• Purchase Negotiation. It took an average of 21 minutes and a maximum of 41 minutes, making it potentially the most time-consuming variable in the vehicle sales process.

• Vehicle Appraisal Process. The average time it took to complete the appraisal process was 43 minutes, nearly half of the total desired customer cycle time of 90 minutes.

• Appraisal Negotiation. It took an average of 16 minutes and a maximum of 39 minutes, making it a significant time-consuming variable in the appraisal process.

• F&I Process. The average time it took to complete the F&I process was nearly 61 minutes – two-thirds of the desired length of the ideal total customer cycle time of 90 minutes.

• The F&I Paperwork. The process is often lengthened by requiring signatures on multiple paper forms, and filling out these forms took an average of 21 minutes and a maximum of 44 minutes, making it a significant time-consuming variable in the F&I process.

When you add up the amount of time that each process requires (including negotiations), it becomes clear that most car dealerships are unintentionally designed to deliver unsatisfactory experiences that don't meet customer expectations. But before you simply nod in agreement based on your own personal experience, ask yourself if your company is any better.

What steps have you made to ensure promotions are not only relevant, but also efficient in leading customers to a specific point of purchase? How easy is it to find a product, make comparisons, and complete a purchase? How easy is it to place an order on your website (or shopping app)? Has your company minimized any additional steps that elongate the purchasing process? How likely will customers have to re-enter, change, or update stored data for future purchases? Does your company have any appropriate/personalized post-purchase communication planned (without being intrusive)?

Ultimately, the car dealership study provides excellent insight into how time can influence customer satisfaction throughout the car buying process. And, along with that, it creates a framework to help other companies start asking questions about their marketing plans and purchasing cycles too.

The simple truth of it is that customers know their time is too valuable. And since they don't want to be held captive anymore, maybe it's time to invite them in and then let them go. They'll appreciate it.

Wednesday, January 14

Five Qualities That Set Successful Commercial Writers Apart

Not everything poured into the content marketing boom has been beneficial for professional writers. While the boom created increased demand, it was also responsible for the influx of amateur writers and marginally proficient executives (assigned writing duties) who inadvertently cheapened the craft while simultaneously flooding the market with barely legible content.

This isn't a criticism or complaint. It's a fact. There are more people who call themselves writers than ever before and those people are competing for an average rate that is about half of what it was ten years ago. It's more than the market can bear, but that might finally be good news.

As organizations learn that all content is not created equal, more of them will be looking beyond the price point for qualities that set successful writers apart. Here are five. Do you have them?

Five qualities for top writers.

• Invest In First Impressions. David Ogilvy once said that if a print advertisement cost one dollar to produce, then you better spend 80 cents on the headline. This thinking extends to the first sentence too, especially long-form content like articles, brochures, and white papers.

The premise is sound. If you don't capture them with the headline, they won't read it. If you lose people with the first sentence then you've already lost. There isn't any better place to make a great first impression than first line of written content.

• Think Visually. Great writers aren't content with copy alone. It's often their ability to pair strong visual content — which attracts attention across all demographics — with strong words — messages that can be understood by everyone and have an emotional appeal to a specific few — that determines the success of their content.

Even when the message has no visual components, think visually anyway. The reasons bullets, breakout paragraphs, and pullout quotes work is that they lend a visual structure to the prose. Consider it.

• Understand People. Experienced commercial writers know there are three kinds of research. There is market research, big data research and people research. The latter is the most important even if most organizations give it the least amount of attention.

Spend time listening to people. It might be online chats or focus groups or lifestyle interviews or even by visiting a location to observe people at the point of contact, but the end game is always the same. Before writing for an audience, find out their perceptions, motivations, and attitudes.

• Plan Strategically. Creativity has always been an admired trait among copywriters, but being clever alone won't pay the bills. The best writers think strategically, always checking their work to ensure they haven't lost sight of the principal benefit, key public or primary objective.

Generating awareness is a given. You need to focus on the fine points such as generating a favorable emotional disposition, implanting information about key features and benefits, and building brand familiarity, recognition, and recall (among other things) in conjunction with awareness.

• Love The Craft. Great commercial writers have to love the craft so much that they have to possess a passion for writing while voluntarily compromising their sense of self-expression. It's not easy. Not everyone can do it.

You have to write creatively within confined parameters, accounting for everything from the organizational voice to the arbitrary opinions of every stakeholder in the process — clients and creative directors to editors and other random and sometimes unqualified critics who are provided a sneak peak at your work. Suffice to say that some of your best work will never be published.

Do you want to develop these qualities?

If you have an interest in being a better writer or if you would like to brush up on your skills, I teach a half-day Editing & Proofreading Your Work session at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) a few times a year. The next session will be held from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, January 31. It would be great to see you there.

For something even more challenging, I will also teach Writing For Public Relations this spring. The 10-week course has an emphasis on public relations, but anyone who has ever taken it has come out a better writer on the other side of it. All classes run from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. with first class held Thursday, February 12. Assignments range from articles and press releases to advertisements and online content.

For more topics on writing here, visit the labels "writing" and "words." Many other topics touch on writing too. If you want to catch everything, about once a week, subscribe with a couple of clicks.

Wednesday, January 7

Research Says Social Media Is Slipping Toward The Sidelines

Social media and social networks aren't likely to die to this year or ever.  But there is much more than headline grabs associated with the growing number of articles that claim this or that is losing its luster or that what seems to be a decade old career is already on the chopping block. This story has history.

Radio, television, and web marketing all enjoyed honeymoon periods too as early adopters rode the wave of specialty into the mainstream. All three witnessed a short-term, one generation boom in agencies that specialized in radio advertising, television campaigns, and websites. And all three eventually saw a crash in specialization as marketing and advertising firms absorbed them.

Social media is being absorbed by marketers, communicators, and public relations professionals as a skill set rather than a career. And while it's likely some specialization will survive with increasingly generic titles for categorization purposes at bigger shops and departments (e.g., digital content), smaller shops will merely delegate the duties out to whomever seems suited to do it — to the delight of public relations professionals (perhaps) and chagrin of copywriters (perhaps). Of course, the medium will mostly survive even if the marketing designations do not. Social is not shiny anymore.

Does social media just barely deliver more benefits than consequences?

But then again, it doesn't make any sense to bemoan how marketers see social media. It's the public that counts in this space, not always the ones who are paid to provide content. So what do they think?

According to the newest poll by Harris, participants are seeing more tangible benefits from social media than they had five years ago. In fact, the finding almost comes across as celebratory overall.

• 50 percent of U.S. adults have received a good suggestion to try something (up from 40%).
• 21 percent of Americans cited receiving a job opportunity though social media (up from 15%).
• 11 percent of those surveyed found a new apartment or house using social media (up from 9%).

Not surprisingly, Harris reports that Millennials are more likely than other generations to benefit. The comparative numbers are compelling. There seems to be an advantage for so-called digital natives.

• 66 percent of Millennials received a good suggestion  (vs. 56% Xers, 37% Boomers, 33% Matures).
• 37 percent made a job opportunity connection (vs. 24% Xers, 10% Boomers, 6% Matures).
• 19 percent found a new apartment or home (vs. 11% Xers, 5% Boomers, 2% Matures).

At a glance, it almost sounds like a triumph until you dig deeper into the numbers. While the benefits of social media are improving, the negative experiences are growing right along with them. Look out.

• 51 percent of social media participants have been offended by content (up from 43%).
• 8 percent also say they have gotten into trouble with school or work because of online content.
• 7 percent have lost a potential job opportunity because of pictures or posts they've made online.

And much like Millennials and Generation Xers are more likely to receive benefits, they are more likely to feel some heartache too. Millennials are almost twice as likely to see offensive content than Matures. It's not necessarily just because they have thin skins. The potential correlated to usage.

Along with being offended, bullied, or generally made unhappy by the experience (regardless of platform), privacy confidence is slipping. Fewer people believe that privacy settings will protect them from potentially bad experiences. Some professionals will be surprised (maybe) that 71 percent still cling to this notion, which is down 8 percent.

When you summarize the positive and negative experiences among most participants, the general consensus seems to be that people have a 50-50 benefit-consequence ratio, which is probably one of the lowest benefit-consequence ratios among experiences that people seek out. Generally, consumers would avoid benefit-consequence this low unless the experience is considered mandatory.

Interestingly enough, most strategic communicators have their focus on enhancing customer experience touch points. And in some cases, a few of these senior professionals are looking for touch points by bypassing volatile platforms where consumers are already being influenced by negativity.

That doesn't necessarily mean they intend to abandon social media, but it does provide some insight into why some marketers are looking forward to enchanted objects where they can manage more of the customer experience and provide them outposts away from more lower benefit-consequence experiences. It makes some sense, with the takeaway being that social media is likely due for an overhaul in how it works for organization-customer experiences. What do you think?

Wednesday, December 31

The Top Five Posts Of 2014 Mostly Focused On Writing

If there was any central topic that seemed to attract more people to Words, Concepts, and Strategies that any other this year, it would be writing. Much like many professionals see social media as being flattened — moving away from being seen as a profession and more toward being seen as a skill set employed equally by marketers, public relations professionals, and communicators — more and more of them want writing to be something that everyone can express as a proficiency.

It's possible, perhaps, as long as organizations don't under value those who have dedicated their careers to the craft. You see, it's one thing to write as proficiently as 25 percent of the population but it's another to write as impassioned as only 3 percent of the population. Still, there is something that everyone can do to improve their writing. Dozens of tips are in the top posts of 2014.

The top five posts of 2014, based on readership.

Writing Is A Process
5. Writing Is A Process That Starts Long Before The First Word. Despite recent trends in an attempt to commoditize it, writing requires hard work. In addition to knowing how to string words together so they have a maximum impact with minimal means, writers must master research techniques, organize for structure, edit for clarity, proofread for accuracy, and package the content for better retention.

In addition to highlighting a few of the challenges young writers face today, the piece includes a presentation deck that was created for a private education session about the subject. Everyone wants to become a better writer, but most aren't prepared to put in the work to make it happen.

Ten Questions For Better Writing4. Your Writing Is Almost Never As Good As You Think. Several studies have shown that there is a disparity between how well people think they can write and how well they can write. Despite what students think, only about one in four are proficient writers and less than three precent are great writers.

This article was accompanied by the top ten questions people can ask to assess their own writing abilities. Highlights include some of the most common problems encountered in various professions, especially communication and marketing, on a daily basis. The piece is interlinked with several other articles that provide additional insight and examples.

Social Media Marketing Is Wrong
3. Why Is Marketing Still Wrong About Social Sharing? On the surface, this story is about marketing and social media, but it bridges into other subjects like psychology and written communication. The short version is that the article explains why the over emphasis on measurement, search, and social platforms isn't necessarily a good investment if it is made at the expense of worthwhile content.

The article goes on to highlight five popular drivers behind the psychology of sharing, which seems to have very little to with how most marketers spend their budgets. The piece cuts both ways in showing how value is better than viral and how much content can become a slave to other factors.

Banned Books And What It Means
2. The Elephant In The Room Of Banned Books Is Gray. Rather than submitting a top ten books list for banned books week, the post highlights eight articles that tell stories about why books are being challenged in America today. The real purpose of the piece was to help people see that not all books are being challenged for the reasons one might think or that it is exclusive to one group.

Nowadays, books are challenged and "banned" for all sorts of reasons, many of which read like a snapshot of social issues Americans struggled with that this year. For my part, I don't share my own take on the topic but rather present a few questions that may help people see beyond the obvious.

What Not To Do As A Writer
1. Five Popular Content Writing Tips That Are Dead Wrong. The most popular post of the year pinpoints and dismantles five writing tips that are still being promoted around the web. They include the call for short content, spicing up word choices, rushing the deadline, fluffing facts, and transitioning to more pictures and less written content for the next trend in online marketing.

All of those tips are dead wrong. In fact, most of them can be tied to some of the reasons not everyone is excited to take a chance on content. Nobody really wants to click on an eye-catching visual that tricks them into reading a quickly written paragraph that boasts about some unsubstantiated claim being made by a product or service they don't need or want. Do they?

Happy new year and thanks for helping this space be the exception.

It seems to me that they do not. As part of a two-year experiment (and personal reasons), I opted to write significantly fewer posts (about one a week) that frequently sported higher word counts. The result is that while daily traffic dropped, the average number of readers per article is up (as well as overall readership) compared to the days when this space was a short-format daily.

While there are some other trade-offs (such as weaker reader loyalty on throwaway posts), I've found it to be more fulfilling to pick timeless topics as opposed to a couple of graphs on the topic du jour. And I'm happy to know that some folks have found some value in the topics I've taken up this year.

Thanks for reading and happy new year. And if you want to keep up weekly, subscribe here.

Wednesday, December 24

Yes, You Are Loved. Happy Holidays.

My favorite holiday story has always been the Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen. It's the story about a young, impoverished girl attempting to sell matches in the street. She is cold and alone, fearful of going home without a single sale as her father would likely beat her.

She eventually shelters herself in a small alley and lights a match to warm herself. In the glow of it and each match struck after, she sees visions of a feast, a Christmas tree, and eventually her grandmother. And it's with this last vision that the girl begins to light match after match — until all the boxes are ablaze — in a desperate attempt to keep her grandmother with her.

As the blaze dies, so does the girl. And her grandmother, no longer a vision, carries her to heaven. 

The story touched me then, as it does today, not in the beauty of a dying child clinging to hopes and dreams or only in the promise of a life ever after. Much of it had to do with living in a household with a grandmother who was dying of cancer. The story became her promise to me that she would always be there and that one day we would be reunited no matter what might happen in this life. 

A Little Match Girl, Revisited

Barefoot in the snow with blue and frozen toes, 
A match girl strikes a fire to ward away the cold. 
And in the sputter of the flame she seems to see
A stove to warm her hands; the comfort of a tree; 
A roast to heal her hunger; and arms of empathy. 

I wrote the untitled poem a few years ago for a Christmas card. And this year, I revisited my copy of the story to illustrate a scene from it. And on the back of the card, a few might notice the 13:7 verse reference. 

Any book will fit the meaning, but especially Corinthians with its gentle reminder that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things ... love really is all there is and will be.

That is why my grandmother had always impressed this story upon me. She wanted me to know that even after she was gone, her love would carry on with me until the end. There is no greater gift than that.

And yes, you are loved. Happy holidays. Good night and good luck. 

Wednesday, December 17

A Little Diversification Doesn't Make Anyone A Dullard

Prevailing wisdom dictates that that professionals are best served by being topic centric. There is some truth to the concept for those who are building a career within a specific industry or central idea. It can be considerably more difficult for writers, especially those who find anything and everything of interest — because we understand there are no boring topics (just boring writers).

So while I have experience teaching people how to develop a professional image, I also stopped worrying about being Batman. Sure, I don't always talk about my other interests in this space, but I do have them. They are eclectic as my library and play lists. And sometimes they pop up as guest posts.

In recent months, I'm very grateful for a handful of sites that have asked me to submit guest content and I think the best way to thank the publishers are to list a few of them here. Give them a gander.

Five picks from a short list of stories that weren't published here.

The Future Of Content, Part 3 with Danny Brown. When marketing professionals think about content, they think in terms that have grown all too familiar. Most of them know its easier to follow in the footsteps of best practices rather than look forward, lead ahead, and innovate the industry.

So when Danny Brown asked me to contribute to his mini-series on content marketing, I wanted to move away from practices and focus in on possibilities. The Future Of Content, Part 3 was a sneak peek into a future that is much more reliant on multimedia content, non-linear data, individualized communication, and interactive technology that some people have taken to calling enchanted objects.

Other people know it better as augmented reality. Marketers ought to think about it now or they'll have to play catch up like they did with every communication innovation since the dawn of time.

Guyside: How To Diet And Exercise Like Your Life Depends On It via Flashfree. Every now and again, it's not uncommon for people to ask me "how are you doing?" It used to be they asked because they wanted to know what's new. Nowadays, their interest is linked to being a cancer survivor.

There is nothing wrong with that. Life deals up all sorts of experiences and you can use them as an opportunity to make yourself stronger if you survive them. This was also one the reasons my friend Liz Scherer invited me to write a set of guest posts for her long-standing blog. Fitness seemed like a logical place to start, given my rapid recovery and work to become a certified personal trainer.

Beyond the obvious tips about fitness, the article is mostly a lesson in doing. It applies to almost anything. Success is a by-product of doing the things you are inspired by or have a passion to do as often as possible until you can eventually do them well.

The Art Of Being Gender Ambidextrous via Tue/Night. The concept of being gender ambidextrous hit me shortly after my friend Amy Vernon told me that the publishers of Tue/Night were looking for a few stories about father-daughter relationships. But it wasn't my idea exclusively.

My daughter was the inspiration. She and sometimes her brother are often the inspiration when I write anything about one-off marketing and communication topics like leadership, psychology, or perception. It's easy to find inspiration in their daily activities because I've always taught them both that the only hurdles in life are what they think. And yes, I include gender on the long list of what doesn't matter.

The crux of it is simple enough. As parents, the biggest responsibility we have to our children is to keep their focus on what they can do instead of what anyone says they cannot do. No hurdles needed.

Guyside: Girls Deserve More Than One Way To Wear A Bow via Flashfree. Shortly after the Gender Ambidextrous piece broke, several people suggested I follow up the story with a second piece. The timing was perfect. I had already filed away an experience that seemed to fit the series.

My daughter didn't think twice when she dressed up as Robin Hood for Halloween, which seemed to mildly put some people off because she hadn't elected to pick any number of bow-wielding heroines. On the flip side, she didn't think twice about being Belle the year prior either. I can only hope she remains so free spirited all of her life — embracing her gender (or not) without ever being made a slave to it.

Freedom doesn't come from choosing between "this and that" or "red and blue." True freedom comes from choices that are only limited by your imagination and colors from every spectrum of the wheel.

Spotlight On Stefan Bucher via AIGA Las Vegas. Although the intent of the piece was to promote the AIGA Centennial Celebration in Las Vegas, there is significantly more value to the story than simply introducing speaker Stefan G. Bucher. Think of it as more of a gateway article to the land of inspiration.

Bucher, if you are unfamiliar with name, filmed himself putting a few drops of ink on a piece of paper and then transforming the random blot into a fully realized illustrated monster. He didn't do it once. He did it for 100 days. So if you need any additional validation for the lesson of doing I mentioned earlier, I submit that you'll likely find it on The Daily Monster.

Bucher is an extremely talented graphic designer and illustrator who has created a career out of remaining true to the principles of design and being a little less willing to compromise. Who knows? With a little luck, maybe you too will find some inspiration from a drop of ink.

What's coming in the months and years ahead for this site and elsewhere?

This space — Words. Concepts. Strategies. — turns 10 years old. And while I don't want to say too much at the moment, anticipate a little more diversification. Sure, communication is an excellent framework for anyone who craves diversity, but communication can feel constrictive at times.

I know I might lose a few people in the process of this gradual change and that's all right. If you fit in that category, look for the headlines that pique your interest. For everyone else, you can always subscribe or come by from time to time at your leisure. I do appreciate it, especially when someone tosses out a topic that they want to see covered. Anything goes. Good night and good luck.

Wednesday, December 10

Why Picking A Fork In The Road Will Doom PR

Public Relations
Twenty years ago, most professionals agreed that public relations could be segmented into three basic disciplines — public relations, media relations, and publicity. All three saw some overlap, with only practitioners and amateurs confusing the terms outright.

Nowadays, it's shaping up to be considerably different. When public relations decided it wanted to "own" social media, it created yet another schism within the industry, with some hoping to define its practices as traditional public relations, advocacy public relations, and social media PR. And it's this split that could eventually doom public relations because none of them resemble public relations.

According to one Forbes column, traditional public relations can be defined as media relations, with the principal endeavor being the pursuit of media mentions in a world with an ever-shrinking pool of news outlets. Advocacy public relations can be defined as the heavy guns, where strategists fund research to support whatever message points were voted on by special interests a week prior. Social PR covers everything from the 19-year-old intern managing Twitter to more lucrative content creation and social network distribution models. And that's it?

All three forks lead to oblivion. Don't pick any of them.

As author Robert Wynne points out, traditional public relations (as defined by the article) has faced a market contraction. Traditional firms that focused primarily on media relations are seeing their monthly retainers shrink as fast the news outlets they once catered to. Some have even made the mistake of accepting "per placement" rates, which only reinforces the pursuit of publicity at all cost.

While it used to be considered a nobler pursuit than writing pitches and press releases exclusively, many advocacy public relations firms have been sucked down the black hole of propaganda. Wynne cites several political spin campaigns, ranging from health care to global warming, whereby organizations invest millions of dollars to prove their points of view rather than find the truth.

The third fork, social media PR, runs accompanied by the myth that anybody can do content marketing and then attempt to sway the masses direct by creating some sort of viral phenomenon online. It was also the cause of many public relations budget cuts. In their desire to "own" social, many firms missed the memo that it meant more work for less money.

If these are the three forks from which public relations professionals can choose, the field might as well fold today. The first is too narrow, relying too heavily on a single public to be effective. The second isn't public relations as much as it is propaganda. And the third has already been played out, with the next step in online communication being very different than what we know today.

Public relations desperately needs to get back to the business of outcomes.

The real problem with thinking of public relations as being split into three forks is that it misses the point. Public relations is not a process as much as it is a concept. It's fundamental purpose is to transform "us" and "them" into "we" by evaluating trends, making recommendations, forging relationships, and providing for communication that produces mutually beneficial outcomes. 

It doesn't matter how that communication is exchanged — through a news outlet or direct to public. But what does matter is that any content shared is authentic, accurate, and truthful in order to ensure mutually beneficial outcomes. Anything less isn't public relations as much as it is propaganda. And anything more tends to compound the challenges that the field has yet to adequately address.

Maybe it's time to reconsider the original three disciplines again.

Public Relations. The job is to provide counsel on the exchange of mutually beneficial communication.

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

Publicity. The job is the deliberate attempt to proliferate the public's perception of a subject.

With the original model, all anyone had to remember was that the world view of public relations and publicity was fundamentally different. It otherwise worked fine, even after social media arrived. It also produced more outcomes.
 

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