Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Internet's Future: Read It Here First!

According to this survey, the "Content is King" days are re-emerging. (That's the thing ya gotta love about pendulums: they always swing back.)

As the development and consumption of Internet content grows, I will be keen to see how it all plays out with the Web 2.0 & Long Tail trends. There are a lot of hotshit companies out there who are figuring out how-to better index, tag, serve, track and share Internet multimedia of all sorts, and how-to make it all work in a multi-platform (firmware - PC, iPod, cellphone, etc.), multi-service (VOIP, SMS, IM, Presence, etc.) environment.

I see a confluence-in-the-making, leading us toward a Web of unheralded importance & fun:

The Internet (specifically broadband) is growing in terms of audience and influence;

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Internet content development & consumption are projected to rise dramatically;

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Mashups are empowering changes to consumers' surfing habits: the channel-surfing of TV Days (pull) will be supplanted by an integrated browsing experience (push/on-demand), in which content is sucked up, re-mixed & re-presented based on users' proven/projected habits and/or the proven/projected desires of their social network;

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Long Tail theologians make sure that there's nothing too obscure or perverse to create.

It's worth extrapolating: Imagine a day in which a Firefox extension enables your browser to fire up a Web experience based on your typical surfing patterns, but also mashes this experience together, based on: where you are geographically located at the time of the session... auto-detected download speeds... browser versions... plug-ins... even the time of day.

That's the easy part, though. We need to further imagine that this Firefox extension also enabled you to reconfigure your browsing experience based on the tagged-on-the-fly, in-the-making, up-to-the-minute surfing sessions of your friends and/or social group.

And what if that social-surfing group was also configurable on-the-fly? ... "Let me see a mashed-up view of the Web, based on what my LinkedIn network has been looking at (safe-for-work surfing)... Let's see what all my college buddies are looking at (not-safe-for-work surfing)... Let's see what all my IM friends are doing..." (all of this would be anonymized at some level, of course)!

What does this mean for PR? It's all GOOD. As noted recently, more content implies more influencers to develop the content, which creates more opportunity to influence these influencers - who will, no doubt, be voraciously hungry for good content, which PR can help to provide. A virtuous cycle.

What am I talking about, here? "Web 2.0" is already taken, as a moniker. Maybe "Surfing 2.0"? "Content 2.0"?

How about "Fun 2.0"?

Monday, January 30, 2006

Why Moore's Law Is Sexy

A friend of my son’s lugged his Xbox over to our place this past weekend.

Heaven forbid they should play outside, enjoying the 50-degree weather that’s soooo rare during a January in Boston!

As I watched the boys wrestle with the Xbox controllers – elbows jutting, faces grim, eyes transfixed – I couldn’t help feeling a twinge of jealousy and awe.

The jealousy came from remembering the fact that when I was their age, the video games of the era looked like this:



And nowadays – 20 years later – my kid is hackin’ away at something that looks like this:


What a spectacular difference. Awesome. Thank you, Moore’s Law.

I wonder what my grandson will be playing, 20 years from now.

And I wonder if ol’ Grandpa will have enough clout (and/or physical strength) to send him packing into the sunshine, as I did to my son and his friend.

After all, big boys like to play, too, and those dudes were bogarting the Xbox controllers.

Mind Your P's & Q's

And while you're at it, dot your i's and cross your t's. And make sure you craft a snappy, compelling pitch, too, or else you could wind up here...

As I've noted before, it's all about training. But having said that, we also have to acknowledge that some cruddy pitches will occassionally slip through, even from the best firms. Especially now that we're all getting busier & busier, hiring newbies and moving faster all around.

Still, it's good practice to shame the offenders. Public humiliation will jar both agencies and individuals towards improvement.

Read more at badpitch.blogspot.com.


Saturday, January 28, 2006

Tackling Silicon Valley Watcher's Dire Predictions

Earlier this month, Tom Foremski of the influential Silicon Valley Watcher predicted that the PR profession was headed for a fall.

As most of my PR industry peers will attest, "it sure doesn't feel that way." Revenues are up, the pipelines are full, we are once again facing a talent crunch - it's 1999 (well, maybe 1998) all over again.

Tom understands and applauds the micro trends that have motivated this growth spurt: the start-ups are starting up again, smarter & faster than ever, and are looking for sustained & impactful (and IMHO, cost-effective) credibility via PR.

But Tom also calls out darker macro trends that lurk behind the scenes. As he puts it, and I am paraphrasing here, the traditional media that have been PR's targets have fragmented - there are fewer credible mainstream targets, and meanwhile the rise of the blogosphere has ushered in a thousand new influencers, who dont play by the old rules. Meanwhile, Tom applauds the power of SEM and other Googlicious strategies for message dissemination which are not only cheaper but, importantly, can more easily PROVE their revenue impacts.

I'll quote Tom directly now, and will add my two cents along the way:

"The realities are these:

-Companies can sell their products and services with a far lower cost of sales these days, because it is easier than ever to reach their customers directly through search engine marketing and blogs.

Agreed! But, why isn't this an OPPORTUNITY for PR firms? As I've noted in this blog, there's no reason PR firms can't participate in SEM and "blogger relations."

-This means there that there is far less value offered by mainstream media and mainstream public relations in the product and services sales process.

I do agree that the overall power of the mainstream media has been diminished by the influx of new media - Ye Olde Style Publishers are in their descendency; however, the blogosphere is still in an emergent (vs. dominant) stage... Mainstream media will still play the role of unbiased observer, with the best interests of a mass readership at heart.

You can't say that about most blogs: popular bloggers have opinions that matter to select, like-minded readers, whereas journalists cater - professionally, with editorial checks-and-balances - to the masses. There's still value in that role.

(I can't envision a CIO defending a proposed technology purchase to her CEO based solely on a blogger's recommendation. But if Walt Mossberg or Steve Wildstrom or InfoWord liked it? OK, then.)

-Companies know search engine marketing works better than advertising in mainstream media.

Agreed.

-Yet companies still think that being mentioned in the mainstream media is going to help them sell more products and services. There is a serious disconnect here."

Ultimately PR is about influencing credible outlets of information. ANY credible outlet. In the Olden Days, traditional media was the only trustworthy editorial. Nowadays, your favorite blogger’s opinions about the new Treo may hold more water than Walt Mossberg’s if you are considering a personal purchase, but as noted above, I think corporate buyers will continue to rely on traditional media.

In any case: is Tom making the mistake of comparing apples to oranges? PR is NOT Advertising. Advertising + CONTEXT = powerful SEM campaigns. Advertising in traditional media has NEVER enjoyed the benefit of CONTEXT. PR has ALWAYS been about CONTEXT. That's why, if ya ask me (and P&G), PR has ALWAYS been more effective than Advertising at influencing SALES.

Ultimately I take issue with Tom's premise that PR is only about influencing traditional media. Nowadays the good agencies are influencing the traditional media as well as the blogosphere.

It’s all about “influencing the influencers” regardless of venue or even audience size, and being able to subsequently measure the bottom-line impacts.

PR agencies have a very bright future in this wild and whacky new media age: I daresay the smart firms will use this unique opportunity to overtake Advertising in the strategic marketing mix!

Friday, January 27, 2006

What PR Is Really All About

Ask most PR folk what PR is all about, and they'll come up with puffenstuff like "reputation management" and "gettin' ink."

But just as the railroad barons of yore failed to understand that "the railroad business" wasn't about trains but about "transportation," I think that too many PR managers fail to grasp that PR is NOT about "getting ink" ... The business of PR is Talent Management.

As PR executives, our chief job is to attract, train, retain, motivate & cultivate Talented People. "Ink" is merely the product (I daresay "byproduct") of these talented people's efforts.

If you can attract, train, retain, motivate & cultivate Talented People, it doesn't matter what industry you are in: you will be successful.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

My Favorite "Management" Question

Want to know what's really on an employee's mind? Ask them this: "What do you think about during your commute home each night?"

It is during this "decompression" time that most people think about their day, their life, their role. Are they making enough money? Working too hard? Appreciated enuff?

If they think about, "All the stuff I didn't get around to doing that day," that may be a sign of too-much work, or a need to evaluate their time management & prioritization skills. You may also want to check to see if they are making the appropriate amount of $$$, if you consider them a "keeper."

If they think about, "What's for dinner?" or, "Getting to the gym for my workout" then you've probably got a pretty happy employee.

If they think about, "Ideas to get more coverage for clients," then you've got yourself a winner.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Will PR Ever Get Better?

The longer you've been doing PR, the more depressed you'll get when you read this: it's a quick primer on how crappy PR people can be; how clueless and junior and feckless.

But what is most depressing is not the content, but the fact that this is merely yet-another-example. Diatribes like this one from SWMS have been published for and about the PR industry for as long as I can remember.

Whatever happened to the themes of continuous improvement? Why are PR agencies not investing more time and attention to best practices? Why do we continue to let barely-trained greenhorns trammel our industry's reputation by setting them loose on a cynical press corps?

Train for excellence. Measure for results.

This must become our mantra.

Mandatory Reading

Guy Kawasaki's new blog. It's so cool when one of our industry's paragons grant insider-access to their brainpans. Subscribe now. It's good stuff.

Ask & Ye Shall Receive (Maybe)

Not a week goes by after I call-out some emerging PR techniques that I get some validation!

I was in a pitch just yesterday, trying to convince the VP of Marketing at a fast-moving, innovative company that SHIFT Communications was one of the few firms that could keep pace with his company's bold vision and damn-the-torpedoes momentum. In the course of our conversation, we got to talking about ideas that might fall outside the traditional PR "box."

I brought up the idea of Rapid-Reaction SEM campaigns, and how a PR firm - properly empowered with budget, and fully entrusted with communications strategy - could help control the online dialogue when outside events occurred in the industry and/or on the competitive front. He "got it" immediately. If we win his business, I am going to make sure that this concept is on the table early-on: hopefully I'll be able to report back on the win, and the ensuing results...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

"Offshoring 2.0" - The White-Collar Wave That Could Wallop PR

Could clients get their U.S. PR services from an Indian firm?

Why not?
  • It's a highly educated, English-speaking workforce, and India spawns hundreds of thousands more tech engineers than America; this is a tech-savvy country.
  • Time zones are not a deal-killer, either: the call center outsourcing that occured during the "1.0" years of offshoring acclimated India's white collar workforce to time zone differentials (and many of the skills developed by call center personnel are transferable to low-level PR tasks).
  • Meanwhile, VOIP solutions can make it less obvious where people are calling from (if that even matters).
  • Last but not least, as articles like this one point out: salaries for PR are approaching those insane levels again. Some selective outsourcing could help agencies keep employment costs down.

How much of our own work is "remote"? Sure, we meet with clients for kick-offs and try to hang out at least on a quarterly basis... but that's not that much face-time in the grand scheme of things. Plus, more often than not, the junior folks who make the calls don't attend every in-person meeting... so why would the client care if their pitch squad is based in Bangalore?

From building tstochkes to building code, from data entry to remote healthcare diagnoses, India has proven that it is up to snuff. Yes, problems have cropped up for many companies who over-committed, too early, to offshoring, but in keeping with the "2.0" trend, I wouldn't be shocked if "Offshoring 2.0" - when it comes, and it will - knocked us on our butts (again), and gnashes it fangs at the PR/whitecollar industry.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Emerging 2006 PR Tactics?

I am not in the business of predicting the future, but I've been thinking about some of the most-likely-to-succeed PR tactics for 2006. Here are 3:

Use of IM for media outreach. I've always frowned on this, but more and more of our up-n-comers use it, effectively, with journos of all stripes. It happens best and most often when there is a trusted relationship... after all, could there be anything more intrusive than IM spam? Media Guerilla talked about this recently, too, and did a thorough job of it. Worth a read.

Purpose-built blogs. Imagine blogs that come-and-go, as needed. When blogging first hit it big, all the "how-to-blog" articles talked about the need for successful bloggers to commit themselves to ongoing consistency, lots of posts, etc. Maybe that won't be as necessary in the future? Imagine your client is in the midst of a crisis: a "purpose-built blog" can be dedicated to this single topic; it can address the issues in a more humanistic fashion; it can create a forum where employees and/or outside stakeholders can get "real" information, post comments, etc., assuming you can keep the lawyers at bay ... and, importantly, this blog can fade away when the crisis passes (but always exist in cyberspace for the curious, and for archiving/SOX).

For example, one of our clients recently got sucked into a rat-hole related to online privacy issues. The client's role was not essential or blameworthy, but, they were asked for comment, and the execs there got understandably twitchy. It would have been cool to have been able to create a blog that discussed the specific issues: as PR counsel we could not only have developed some of the initial messaging but also invited key privacy advocates to weigh in as guest-writers, and invited media to check it out as well, as the blog began to develop some worthwhile content.

This idea would have had the added benefit of keeping the issues in a bit of a "silo" - allowing the client's website to remain dedicated to product promotion while the mungy bits got hashed out in a separate forum...

Look for this strategy to get its legs under it in 2006.

Rapid Reaction SEM Campaigns. I talked about this recently, and still like the idea. If agencies gain client permission and budget to do this, it suggests more "ownership" of an issue. Essentially, PR counselors could be empowered to buy up Google AdWords that relate to our clients and, specifically, to industry issues that arise. So, you do PR for an automaker and there's an airbag malfunction that harms an elderly widow? Within hours, the automaker's PR firm can buy-up all the relevant AdWords ("airbag" and "car safety" and "elderly drivers" and "adaptive safety restraints" and any other relevant tags), letting you better control the industry dialogue as it grows on the Web. Even the bloggers who take a negative spin on the story will likely have AdWords running in the sidebars of their stories, so your client's point of view has a better chance of getting some audience.

Want a more relevant, real-world example? I noted that "miners" was one of the top search terms last week. What if the mining company's PR firm bought up all the keywords it could, to ensure that those Google searches led an abundance of information-seekers to its own version of events; to latest updates on the rescue effort; to information about the mis-communication to families; to notes regarding the already-planned financial payments to the survivors?

This might sound ghoulish at first, but please consider that this strategy need not be crisis related ... The same thing could happen when a competitor announces a new, "groundbreaking" product: our clients can buy or bid-up keywords that enhance the odds that their product news does not get lost in the hubbubas folks look-up the competitor's big news.

I am not sure how many of these ideas will gain traction in 2006, but each has real potential.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

CMO Magazine Ceases Dead-Tree Publication

Bummer. And it looks like the Web-only stuff will soon sputter out, too, at least until the CMO Magazine folks figure out an alternate strategy. I wish their excellent writers and other staff the best of luck.

With so many wild & weird issues facing today's marketers, it's surprising that this great pub could not get its footing. As Constantin Von Hoffman sagely noted in his official CMO blog, "IDG may have just spent a lot of money doing someone else’s proof-of-concept work."

"Discretionary" = "Death"

For years I have counseled our senior managers that they should view their contributions to clients' programs much as a lawyer would:

"You are offering premium value; clients pay us for your counsel; your advice and work make a real impact; you are a professional in your demeanor and a pro at what you do... You should act accordingly; you should be treated accordingly."

Meanwhile, though, the PR industry is under seige regarding billing practices: procurement officers are getting more and more involved in contract negotiations, often because PR is so hard to quantifiably measure (another of my pet passions)!

Compare this to OTHER service industries, such as Accounting or Legal services. That's what the Mercer Island Group did, last summer. A telling quote: "Business service firms such as law and accounting firms are good at identifying and securing the value for their work. Clients view services such as legal representation and accounting as more of a fixed cost of doing business (empasis added), rather than the more discretionary nature of marketing services."

It is only because we PR practioners cannot MEASURE our results that we are considered DISCRETIONARY.

When one of our clients engaged SHIFT's LeadSensor process and found that about 25% of their closed deals had originally come to the table via the PR "channel," trust me, PR got moved off the list of "discretionary" budget items.

And if that sounds like biased self-promotion, then please, please, tell me about your firm's work in quantifying bottom-line impacts! I will happily post all about it.

It's no good to me to be a lone wolf on this: the entire industry needs to wrap its arms around the Measurement Question.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Timesucks

I woke up at 2:30 a.m., full of vim&vigor; a full head of steam; fire shooting from my eyes and ass; etc. Don't know why I was charged up, but I had a thousand ideas and to-do's in mind and couldn't sleep anymore, so I kissed my bride and flew like Superman to the home office.

For someone who studiously avoids New Year's Resolutions, I felt as if I were pulsing with that New Year, can-do spirit.

It's 4 a.m. now. I did a lot, or at least set myself up to accomplish a lot for the coming week, yet I also find myself daunted... not so much by my actual work, but by all the OTHER STUFF that I came across in my wee-morning travels.

I should know more about del.icio.us. I would like to understand what's up with Squidoo. I should give some attention to my burgeoning LinkedIn network. I could use a few hours to scour the latest content at MarketingVOX. I need to spend an hour figuring out how to be a more effective domainer. I would like to talk to some smart people about how to take better advantage of AdWords, as noted in my last post. And frankly, while I feel pretty competent with the blogging "stuff," I know that there is more to learn (I am still fuzzy on track-backs and permalinks and other assorted magicks), and I also need to get smarter on wikis, vlogs, et al. I need to better understand why Flikr is/was such a big deal. Maybe I should start my journey with Wikipedia!?

The thing is: it takes TIME to stay current, and in our "Web 2.0" age (with innovation roaring back to life!), it gets ever-harder to pay attention to so much cool stuff, without sometimes wondering:

Which stuff is important to pay attention to? What's "just a fad, a timesuck?"

What if none of it is a fad? - what if you'd damn well better know about all of it?

And it gets worse if you not only want to KNOW about these things but also want to PARTICIPATE in all the cool stuff.

For example, I may be a bit addled at ... 4:12 a.m. ... but I think I count 9 hyperlinks in this post so far. I daresay it took me almost as long to dig up those links as it did to draft this mewling, whiny li'l rant. So in 12 minutes, I spent 6 minutes writing and about as much time searching for hyperlinks.

Call me a Luddite, but I want those 6 minutes back.

So I can go check out Squidoo.

Or maybe go back to bed.

Another Google Riff

An interesting spin on the idea of how Google AdWords are becoming increasingly contextual, and at ever-higher speeds, is provided by Seth Godin.

Granted, the link is dated but hey, I've been on vacation.

I recently remarked on how Google could eventually chip away at the "chinese wall" between editorial and advertising. Seth's more interested in how AdWords are also becoming a barometer of the social order, e.g., when the NY transit strike was in the news, some clever advertisers figured out how to take advantage: their quick-thinking likely led to some profitable SEM campaigns.

I wonder if some quick-thinking PR firms are offering this type of service to their clients? Doesn't seem to me to be as clear-cut a function of Advertising as one might think, at least for budget-conscious, speed-freak clients...