Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year!

Taking some time off to hang with the family... More posts scheduled for early/mid-January. Meanwhile, HAPPY NEW YEAR!! Very excited about 2006!

Monday, December 19, 2005

The "2.0" Hype Cycle

GartnerGroup has an oft-cited Hype Cycle diagram that shrewdly plots the course of a new technology’s emergence, rise, fall-from-grace and inevitable re-emergence as a legitimate offering. It’s not as widely hailed (or feared) as the Magic Quadrant reports, but frankly I find it more valuable as a PR-Guy. Let’s face it, the tech PR trade itself, working hand-in-glove with our media cohorts, create our own kind of hype cycles.

Right now, for example, we’re being hit upside the head with the “2.0” angle. Frankly, this one has me a little befuddled: I can’t yet tell whether the 2.0 craze is so-hot-it’s-destined-to-overheat or, whether it’s now a legitimate concept. Or both!

On the one hand, it’s important to note that the concept of “2.0” ain’t that fresh an idea…which speaks well for its potential for viability. It really emerged for the first time with the publication of the (still-standing) BUSINESS 2.0 magazine in the Bubble Days. And arguably the 2.0 theme was also begging for birth thanks to the popularity of Esther Dyson’s popular RELEASE 1.0 publication. So if the “2.0” theme is 5-odd years old, and arguably fell into disfavor during the Tech Wreck, maybe that means it’s now legit?

Certainly the 2.0 fever is founded on legitimate ideas. Nowadays, to be specific, everyone’s agog over the concept of “Web 2.0” companies. There’s a great explanation of the concept at Tim O’Reilly’s place; he was one of the originators of the Web 2.0 concept. My simplistic PR-Guy takeaway from Tim’s piece is that “Web 2.0” companies represent the new breed of better-faster-cheaper Web-centric companies that figured out how to a.) make a buck, and, b.) add real value by catering to the interactivity craving of end-users. Web 2.0 companies evolved the model from “publishing” to “sharing” (think Ofoto as version 1.0 and Flikr as version 2.0, as Tim suggests) … and lo, the crowds did flock!

There’s real power behind this theme, and if you read Quentin hardy's November 28 article about Yahoo! in FORBES ("Intertaining Yourself"), you’ll get a sense for where this might take us next.

I get nervous about the Hype Cycle nearing a new crest, though, when I start seeing articles (and let’s face it, PR pitches) that tag "2.0" as a suffix to other stuff.

...BusinessWeek published a recent article about “Hardware 2.0” upstarts (in which our own client, Netezza, was named among the privileged few).

...I was in a meeting with a prospect who claimed that their technology represented an “Enterprise 2.0” opportunity.

...Another prospect was told that they had a “Wireless 2.0” story on their hands.

Well, heck – maybe it’s true. Certainly Netezza is selling lots of systems and has turned the data warehouse model on its head with a better-cheaper-faster appliance approach that’s smacked IBM, et al., upside the head. And surely they are not a Web-based company… so how better to describe them than “Hardware 2.0”?

And that guy pitching his “Enterprise 2.0” story? – well, actually, it was pretty cool stuff; if they execute well (and hire the right PR firm, ‘natch!), they could cannibalize some status quo technologies in the data center and impress the hell out of a lot of people.

My guess is that the 2.0 angle will reach a crescendo in 2006. There will be some snazzy set pieces in the business press, and new winners will be anointed (led by King Google). Then, and I am still prognosticating here, PR types will overheat the concept: every damn thing we pitch will have the 2.0 moniker. (Remember when ABC put Regis Philbin’s “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” on TV for 5 days a week and immediately "jumped the shark?" It’ll be like that.)

Worse, we’ll be pushed by clients to make sure that their companies be named as part of these new 2.0 categories. I feel lucky that SHIFT was able to help get Netezza recognized as a “Hardware 2.0” company, but I will cringe when I first hear a client proclaim, “We need to be viewed as a (fill-in-the-blank) 2.0 company!!!” I’ll hear it in 2006, I know it.

For all that, though, I like the 2.0 idea. It appeals to the exuberance, can-do spirit and entrepreneurialism that make America great. As noted in a previous post, we love a comeback story.

And that’s what the 2.0 trend is REALLY about: the tech industry got too big for its britches; we can admit it now with a rueful smile – we fucked the whole thing up. But just as importantly, we went back to the drawing board, licked our wounds – and came roaring back, smarter and stronger than ever.

2.0, baby! Hell, yea!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

"The Pink Ghetto"

Old timers in the PR game may recall an unfortunate (but thankfully, rarely used) description of our industry as "The Pink Ghetto." This moniker was meant to imply that PR was a tradecraft made up mostly of women, who had little prospect of making the big dough.

Take a look around most PR firms' cubelands. It's true - there are a lot of women in the ranks. Now look at the top ranks. Mostly men (with notable exceptions at Horn Group, etc.). Why?

I have been thinking a lot lately about the role of women in PR, specifically mothers. One of our top staffers recently had a baby, and now she is debating whether to come back. I think she probably will, but, she would certainly not be the first highly talented and motivated woman to decide to stay home. On the one hand it is a loss - for us, for her clients and for her bright career prospects - but as a father of course I understand and admire this down-shifting.

PR seems to be a very rough career for someone who wants to spend time at home with the kids and have a fulfilling job. One of our part-timers is a dedicated PR pro and a dedicated mom. She works "part time" but it is no secret that she is checking email and responding to client questions long after she has officially clocked out. We frown on this but it's hard to de-motivate the highly motivated professional. And frankly, her clients appreciate it.

So my question is: is PR a job that can be done part time? Does the need to constantly stay ahead of your clients (and team members) necessitate full time work? What does that mean for women in today's Y Generation, who don’t necessarily want a full time career when they have children - but also don’t want to be a stay-at-home mom?

There have been several articles in the NYT lately about the slowing growth of women in the workforce. Will this have a drastic effect on PR down the line? Sure, there will always be a fresh crop of ACs that graduate into the workforce every year. But where will the senior level women be?

Is this why, for the most part, even in today's enlightened society, PR agencies are run by men?

I recently queried the staff for ideas for the blog; this one about women/career growth came from one of our best-and-brightest. She noted in her email that she'd be very curious to read my "answers" to her tough questions. Unfortunately - I don't have the answers. I've seen part-timers that thrive, and fail; and I've met women who "gave up" on motherhood (or so it felt to them), only to regret it later. Or not.

I do know that PR is a rigorous, intellectual, exasperating and exciting craft...which is probably why so many women do so well here in the first place. Whether an expectant mom feels she can keep up with the unceasing flow of work (on both ends of her lifestyle, personal & professional) is something that, to me, feels like an individual answer.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

If Only Pro-Bono Work Paid The Bills

In a recent post I talked about some of the cool stuff going on around us, like the MillionDollarHomepage, etc. Quirky and interesting and proof that innovation comes in all forms.

Here's another example, and frankly, it's so much more inspiring. There's a charter school in Texas that's devoted to helping immigrants get their high school education - and works around the newcomers' hectic schedules. A lot of the immigrant students came to America to WORK, after all. They need to pay the rent, and to send money to their families in Latin America, etc. Those who recognize the value of education have, to-date, been inadvertantly shut out of the system because most schools run on the ubiquitous 8am - 3pm schedule. THIS school starts its day after 5pm. And the school's administrators will do whatever they can to help students get to class, including making personal calls to obtuse employers who could care less about their immigrant employees' larger ambitions.

In the interview, the administrator noted (wisely) that "Education" will be the key to America's long-term competitiveness. We are in a dire situation now, frankly, when you consider that just 70,000 engineering students graduated in the U.S. last year, compared to 350,000 in China. (And by the way, a fair number of those U.S. engineering graduates are themselves foreigners, with every intent of going home to China, India, etc. when they graduate!)

Immigrants in America have historically been the source of our country's strength, innovation, and entrepreneurial drive. If you live in Boston or the Bay Area and you're reading this blog, you probably have a Latin American crew helping you with your gardening, snow removal, etc. Ya think that those guys looooove their jobs? Ya think that they don't have bigger ambitions for themselves, or their children? Of course they do!

These are people who WANT to be in America and part of its future. It is in our best interests to think in new ways (like the good-hearted brainiacs who run that Texas charter school) about how to give them the education they need to help us compete globally in the increasingly competitive era that lies ahead.

Unfortunately, the rigors of client service at an agency our size prevent us from handling more than a couple of pro-bono accounts. But dang, at least once a day I learn of a great charity or other worthy cause and think, "Gosh, I'd love to help those people out with some free PR." (In fact the next day on All Things Considered, an organization called Living Water was poignantly profiled.)

If you are a PR pro and have the time and inclination, I urge you to apply your talents in these directions. From the good work we have done in these areas, I can definitely say the experience was was worth a thousandfold of every dime we didn't see!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Will Google Tear Down The Wall Between Advertising & Editorial...By Accident?

I've been intrigued by some of the stuff I hear clients and marketing/publishing media musing about lately. Mostly everyone's tensed-up to hear about whatever Google has up its sleeve this week/month/epoch, but, the more cerebral types are talking about a future that could have verrrry interesting ramifications.

Specifically, the day is nigh when publishers of online content such as the NY Times could post an article online and send it out via RSS ... and also simultaneously, AUTOMATICALLY, generate a Search Engine Marketing campaign (SEM) that maximizes the potential monetization of the content, within hours.

Today, marketers spend a long time plotting out SEM strategies. What keywords will net the greatest ROI?

Tomorrow, with new technologies on the horizon, the content of a publisher's articles will be automatically spidered for keywords by their SEM vendors' solutions, which will in turn magically generate campaigns that enjoy accelerated acceptance tracks within the AdSense systems of Google (and Google's peers, to be fair). So, maybe an hour after the story runs, the publisher starts making money based on the content of that distinct article.

Example: A year from now, let's say that the NY Times posts an article about the quest to create a delicious new flavor of fat-free ice cream from Haagen-Dazs. The latest SEM technology scours the RSS feed within seconds after it's sent out, and immediately Google knows that any searches for "Haagen-Dazs", "ice cream", "fat-free", etc., ought to populate AdWord campaigns for the NY Times. But rather than the generic AdSense listing for the NYT, the advertisement that pops up via a user's search for "ice cream" might now read, "Read all about Haagen-Dazs's quest to create a new fat-free ice cream at the New York Times." All automated, all nearly instantaneous, via RSS.

Keep in mind, though, that the NY Times publishes hundreds of articles a day, so, this (context-specific & incredibly timely) SEM campaign could get expensive, and fast. My guess is that a publisher could temper its "Automated AdSense" expenses by, say, putting a time-limit on the SEM campaign of hours (instead of weeks), or, only running SEM campaigns based on what they're sending out via RSS, which is probably a far smaller universe of keywords.

Why wouldn't a publisher want to do this? Why wouldn't Google want to offer this kind of lickety-split functionality? They would, and, they would!

But what does this mean, if anything, to "The Wall" between publishing and advertising...?
  • Will publishers be lured by the ever-quicker route to $$$ to only publish articles that contain keywords that they know to be popular?
  • Will journalists resent writing articles that have been assigned by their publishers based almost exclusively on their AdSense monetization potential?
  • With a newfound ability to track revenue back to individual stories, might some reporters be keen to see how "valued" their original content is to their publisher, and then even demand salary raises based on this data?
  • What does this imply for PR firms? Will we ever turn away clients because their "Keyword Factor" won't be impressive enough to excite editors into writing stories?
  • Will we build new practices designed to "keywordize" our lackluster clients?
  • Will clients empower PR to run select AdWord campaigns meant to drive industry dialogues?
Granted, this tug-of-war has been going on since the dawning of the publishing/advertising model, but, I guess my question is whether the speed & specificity with which publishers and journalists can gauge the results of these efforts will lead them down darker paths (and ever quicker)?

This is something to keep an eye on... and to plan for, eh?

Friday, December 02, 2005

Optimism

It is good to be alive.

Innovation is happening again. Laughter is heard in the halls.

Clients are being nice to us; they appreciate our hard work (one client just told us that he's experienced a 1,500% increase in his inbound leads, thanks to SHIFT)!

Budgets are not what they were in the Bubble Days, of course, and there are always the 4Q Blues to deal with, but overall, damn, Life is Good.

I am even more encouraged when I take a minute to sniff out what's going on in the wider world. Check out this write-up about the "Million Dollar Homepage," by the Cool-News-Of-The-Day guru, Tim Manners. Then check out the site itself. Some kid in the U.K. is going to make a MILLION DOLLARS with this just-plain-silly idea. What fun!

Tim also piqued my interest with his write-up on Nike's drive towards "sustainable innovation." Apparently the design guru at Nike is urging his team to think waaaay outside the box in terms of the future of footwear.

Not only will they use less glues, resins and other toxic materials, but more interestingly, the design team is urged to get their inspirations by going to the zoo, to car shows, etc., for the plain and simple purpose of looking at lines, at sex appeal, at movement-in-nature. Someday soon, if all goes as planned, Nike sneakers will be more comfortable, and sleeker, and more eco-friendly.

Think about this for a second: it is the stated goal of a billion-dollar corporation to use better design and better thinking to positively impact the future, without sacrificing the "cool factor." And how cool is that???

We've got close to $2M bubbling in our pipeline as I write this, so I oughta be really h-a-p-p-y! - but, frankly, the only feeling that this causes right now is angst, because the burden is on us to impress a whole lotta people with our smarts, creativity, energy, contacts, etc., in the weeks ahead. Honestly, it's li'l things like the Million Dollar Homepage and Nike Considered that make me feel really good. These silly and sensible goings-on in the world around me are a true inspiration.