Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Problem with Talking Dogs

Charlie (pictured) is getting bigger and bigger. He must be tipping the scales at 120lbs. by now, with no end in sight. That's great: we love big dogs; the bigger the better.

Problem is, Charlie likes to talk. And Charlie's brain seems to run counter-clockwise.

When he is HAPPY to see you, Charlie GROWLS. When he yawns, Charlie likes to close the drooly chasm of his mouth with a fierce rumble. When he wants you to do something for him, like fill-up the water bowl, he barks menacingly.

His tail is always wagging and he appears to be "smiling" the whole time. You could walk right up to him while he is "growling" and he'll happily lean in for an ear-scratch while the motor's still running in his mouth. He's a perfectly sweet, harmless dude.

But as he nears his expected weight of 200lbs., we're a li'l worried that those "friendly growls" will scare the bejeezus out of ordinary folks.

"What a great, big dog! Can I pet him? ..... Whoa! (snatching hand back) Ummmm, never mind!"

That would be a bummer.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Friday Zombie Fun

Don't watch this "sexy zombie chicks at the carwash" video if MTV fare is too risque for ya.

We're doing some work for GoFish and as part of my due diligence I was checking out their site and ran into this vid.

If this is the future of Consumer Generated Content, and I daresay it is, we may as well throw out da bums at the network stations.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

PR: Out of Control

Neville Hobson has a great post on the BBC's world-changing plans to embrace new media.

Maybe because I got dizzy about all the newfangled evolutionary angles, I found myself grounded by the to-and-from between Neville and Richard Bailey in the ensuing comments. The communications pros debated the semantics used to describe these "seismic shifts" in the mediasphere.
Richard asked, "Is it an obituary for mass media? Or is this the advent of 'masses of media'?"

Neville suggested, "I don’t think it’s the advent of 'masses of media,' just 'participatory media'"
Regardless of what we call it, this trend suggests massive fragmentation that will challenge the scale and processes of today's PR community. This is already happening. The BBC announcements are proof of an acceleration of the trend.

From a scale perspective, PR pros will need to exponentially increase their ability to target and reach out to emerging media channels. This suggests an investment in human capital and technology tools that could become onerous to mid-sized and boutique agencies.

From a process perspective, the "amateur" content creators will expect unprecedented levels of access and transparency. Every pitch is fodder for use, ridicule, etc. Every interview will become a platform for multimedia re-packaging within podcasts, blogs, videos, etc. Public companies who embrace citizen journalism (good!) will likely run afoul of the SEC (bad!) if they don't remember that these "amateurs" are not experts on NDAs, Sarbanes-Oxley, etc.

All those "etc." from the previous paragraph mean only one thing: Control is gone.

The mediasphere is adapting: the folks at the BBC are essentially creating a hosted platform for media fragmentation, to ensure their survival. Will PR also be able to adapt to the loss of control implied by "consumer-generated content?"


I don't think we mind losing control of the message, all that much. We can talk a client through that. "If you love something, set it free," and all that. The scary part is adapting to the scale requirements, training, and newfound fuzziness when it comes to the basic how-to's of Public Relations.

The BBC is blazing a trail; other media outlets will follow; the mediasphere is submitting to the will of the masses. What we must fear most is a languid response on the part of the PR community.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Already Making a Difference?

I received a note from the "rising star" staffer who's in the graduate PR program at Boston University, in response to the latest series of posts.

She wanted me to know that our "Press Release of the Future" (and Tom Foremski's inspirational rant) had been passed around and discussed in class, and that the professor recently informed his students that their Final Exam would include questions on this "PR 2.0" topic.

That's good news. Maybe the next crop of fresh-faced candidates will wow us all.

Fixing PR Undergrad Programs

Some ideas to fix PR undergrad programs? Sure, I got a few.

#1 - Wouldn't it be great if PR newbies were versed in the basic PR tools used in real-world work environments, before they graduated from college?

How about if PR industry vendors such as MediaMap, Bacons, et al., provided free site licenses to the top 20 communications schools?


---Ever hear of the "seed & weed" concept? ---By providing their services for free to future PR pros ("seeding the ground"), these vendors can build a fanbase among tomorrow's PR decision-makers (and their resulting business would "grow like a weed").

Failing that idea, how about if a coalition of PR agencies and/or corporate sponsors pooled funds to provide these site licenses to the school(s) of their choice?

---Doing so would provide high visibility of these firms' brands to tomorrow's employees.

#2 - Wouldn't it be great if new PR graduates were on the cutting edge of technology innovations impacting the mediasphere?

---Colleges are supposed to be the training ground for our future leaders in all fields; the place where the cutting-edge is honed... so why do most college comms programs focus on press releases (dying!?) and PR plans? When was the last time anyone asked a new college grad to draft a strategic PR plan, anyway? I'd rather that THEY are to equipped to teach ME about cool new ideas like, how Search Engine Optimization, wikis and RSS might impact the PR realm.

#3 - Wouldn't it be great if new PR graduates had been taught "Business Etiquette 101" before graduation?

---Yes, Mom & Dad should have done this, but shouldn't the university take some responsibility for ensuring that its graduates are prepared to manuever the world of work? Why am I the one telling the greenhorns that they can't wear ripped jeans to client meetings?

#4 - PR people interact with journalists every day. Wouldn't it be great if the college's PR majors were tasked with pitching the college's journalism majors? And, why wouldn't Corporate America be willing to pay them to do so?


---Future PR pros could be pitching ideas based on the products and services of corporate sponsors, who would pay the college's PR dept. as they would pay an agency (at a discounted rate) for the chance of getting some ink in student-run newspapers/websites. After all, this is a primo audience for most consumer brands.

The PR students would not only be developing plans and pitches that would be vetted by paying clients; they would subsequently be tasked as well with reporting back on their program results to both professors and clients --- just as they would in the "real-world."

Education purists might fret about injecting corporate moneys into the curriculum, but the PR curriculum is commercial by nature --- it is tradecraft, not Liberal Arts. The agencies and companies that want to hire these grads would love to know that their prospective hires had some quasi-"real world" experiences.

#5 - Wouldn't it be great if PR grads had some training in the Business of PR?

---Today they often know nothing about retainers vs. time&materials models; congomerate vs. independent workstyles; the business cycle; international coordination issues; P&L statements; etc. As an agency principal, I'd like to rely on the university system to teach some of these basic agency fundamentals. Don't just teach the kids how to "do PR" but also how the PR business works. (Remember, kids, learning "math" never killed anyone.)

Why should we care about the state of America's PR undergraduate programs?

Back in the Boom Times, the industry paid top-dollar to a lot of overweening kids who expected world-beater career paths. Now that flush times seem to be dawning, the PR pros of the future are again graduating into in an ever-more competitive talent crunch. As an industry, PR should ensure that this time around, we get our money's worth!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Trouble with PR Undergraduate Programs

I used to loathe hiring newly-minted PR undergraduates. They had been under-served by their expensive educations, focused on old-fashioned PR concepts and tactics. Most simply had to be re-trained to fit the agency workstyle: it could take more effort to re-educate PR grads than to hire raw recruits off the street!

I've gotten over my trepidation about hiring PR degree-holders, but not my concerns about the state of PR undergraduate programs.

I recently asked SHIFT staffers: If you got a degree in PR, what do you wish they had taught you that was not taught at school? If you had to hire someone with a PR degree, what do you wish they knew before their start-date?

Keep in mind that most of our staff is culled from the finest communications schools in Boston and the Bay Area. The answers were revealing.

  • "I wish someone had taught us how to use basic PR database tools like Bacons, MediaMap, Lexis-Nexis, etc."
  • "I wish I'd been taught how to deal with clients. No one talked to me about how professional I would need to be, on the phone, in email, in meetings, etc. I wish someone had even told me how to dress for a client meeting!"
  • "I wish that we had had a chance to interact with a handful of real-world journalists to get a sense of how they like to be pitched."
  • "No one at school ever talked about the rise of PR 2.0 stuff like blogs, wikis, RSS & podcasts."
  • "I wish someone had taught us that there is more to 'PR writing' than press releases and PR plans that never went beyond the professor's in-box; I wish I had been required to write award submissions and speaker abstracts and pitches and even blog posts!"

Perhaps the best response came from a rising star at SHIFT who's in a graduate program at Boston University:

"I teach a class of undergrads. Most of them have no idea how to craft a pitch or write a press release though they can recite every work of Bernays’ biography. Interestingly, PR majors at BU are required to take media relations and learn how to best work with journalists (which, of course, I agree with). However, journalism majors are not required to take any PR-related courses to learn the flip side of the industry. This sends the message from the get-go that PR folks are a nuisance and there is no need to learn what value PR can provide. BU has the oldest PR program in the nation and if this institution can’t change things, then how will PR and journalism ever be seen as a happy marriage rather than a stalker-boyfriend relationship?"

Next post: ideas on how-to fix some of the problems in the PR undergraduate curriculum.

Monday, April 24, 2006

More Thoughts on PR's Future

Some things struck me about Richard Edelman's April 14 blog post about the evolution of Mainstream Media (paraphrased throughout):
"Mainstream Media (MSM) on-line believes in the concept of 'entwined media,' where the same story content is used across platforms (video, audio, databases, analysis, print, on-line) ... consumer control (will come) not in terms of time shifting (the DVR concept) but in terms of media selection appropriate to need."
According to Edelman, some of "the implications for PR folks" include:
Reporters expect PR folks to send ready to use digitized content... Pictures matter more than ever.

MSM reporters are ambivalent about bloggers as a news source. Don't count on the bloggers being the on-ramp to stories in MSM. Most of the MSM reporters are not bloggers and are operating in walled gardens.

Don't be disappointed with a placement in the MSM on line version and persuade your client that in fact you may get more traction with this approach as first choice.
These thoughts intrigued me.

Re: "ready to use, digitized content" ... It seems Edelman is suggesting that PR folk become more like "story producers," who need to provide a multi-media package to reporters. This is akin to what Tom Foremski suggested with the "press release of the future" concept, e.g., "make it easy for the reporter to cut-and-paste their way to a pre-packaged story." If you follow the "producer" analogy, then reporters become the on-air anchorpeople for stories fully manufactured by PR producers.

That's all well and good (I think), but we need to send out 100's of pitches a day to get a handful of great stories published... PR folks can't prep too many multimedia-laden stories without some fairly immediate payback on their time investments (i.e., the reporter accepts the story for publication). Meanwhile, I can already hear reporters' complaints about how "PR people ssend me too much stuff, too many links, too much video - I don't have time for that!"

Ultimately, we'll adopt a hybrid approach: a quickie pitch gets a nibble and then the PR pro puts together a multimedia package that facilitates a professional edit-cycle by the reporter. To get there, though, the quality:cost ratio of professional-grade video production will need to improve, and, "Search" (with a capital S) will also need to become more refined, to ease the time crunch PR pros will face when putting together stories for their journalist peers.

Re: "blogger ambivalence" ... this does not surprise me; it heartens me that the MSM reporters are playing their traditional role of "editorial filter." Blog relations are aligned with "grassroots" campaigns. Not every grassroots campaign catches the media's attention, but at the end of the day, the news media reports on news: the blogosphere itself is news; thus, what catches fire in the blogosphere will become newsworthy.

Re: "online vs. print hits"... Good lord, is this still an issue? Online = forever. Print = birdcage liner. 'Nuff said.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Never Be Bored Again

Even though I loaded it up in January, it's only since I've been traveling this week, with a little down-time between meetings, to check out StumbleUpon. Dang, it is fun. Really.

Let's face it - the Web is so freakin' enormous that it can be daunting to "just surf" like we did back in the Netscape era. Like most people, eventually I settled into a Web browsing pattern that began to grow stale.

If you, too, ever find yourself checking out the same-ol' websites day after day, you owe it to yourself to download this Firefox extension. It's kinda like del.icio.us, social-surfing-wise, but more automated. And weird.

You'll never be bored with the Web again.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

I'm Not Mean

A handful of friends & colleagues have noted that the "About Me" pic used for this blog makes me out to "look like a hitman." (One fella went so far as to say that he'd never ride in a Cadillac with me unless we'd gone through a metal detector first.)

Can I help it if the camera man suggested a pouty look?

Anyway, this pic of me & my family (and our old puppy) should prove that I am just a reg'lar PR Guy.

...Although, come to think of it, even in this photo I am wearing a black shirt. Maybe I am bad to the bone, after all.

p.s. - I am traveling this week, so posting will be light.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Women In PR: "Anything" vs. "Everything"

There has been a lot going on in the PR blogosphere about women. (Kami Huyse, Susan Getgood, John Wagner, etc.)

The notion of "career" vs. "family" is an especially important topic for the PR industry to wrestle with, since so many women are in the profession.

As an agency we have been committed to handling this dilemma as flexibly as possible. We hate to see a bright woman invest 5+ years in the agency only to give up the progress she's made.

The problem with the "career vs. family" debate is the "vs." in the middle. It seems to too often become an "either/or" proposition.

We've set up arrangements including Flex Time and Telecommuting, and, we have even expressed a willingness to investigate Job Sharing and Daycare Assistance. For a handful of women, a situation where they work 3 days in SHIFT's offices and 2 from home has worked well. But, despite this flexibility, some women have decided to walk away from their careers and give motherhood a 100% effort.

As a father I can't fault these women. Who would dare suggest that parenting requires less than a 100% effort? My own wife - who is both beautiful & brilliant - decided to stay home with our kids.

But as an employer who has committed to flexibility, I still can't fathom why so many women - whose careers were meticulously and lovingly nurtured - decide to chuck it all.

I don't have an answer. This issue is too complex to solve in a blog posting. Ultimately we can only continue to strive to be as flexible and supportive as possible, while running a profitable business that is fair to everyone.

And by fair I mean this: to advance in this career, as a man or woman, you should expect to put in approx. 40 hours a week, and, a minimum of about 16 of those hours should be spent with your team.

The litmus test for a successful work/life balance that is fair to the Employee and Employer is whether or not TEAM, CLIENTS, and MANAGEMENT are happy with performance.
  • A TEAM whose leader is only available for 20 hours (max) becomes a team adrift.
  • A CLIENT whose leader is working part-time becomes an unhappy client.
  • A MANAGEMENT team whose stars are not available when needed becomes resentful.
Of course, "work/family balance" is an issue in most industries. It just seems more pressing in PR because a) the majority of the staff are women and, b) so many agencies bend over backwards and make significant investments of time and creativity to support women's dual roles. And yet, despite these PR organizations' substantial commitments to being supportive, they must still address legitimate concerns about female executives' long-term "staying power."

Is it true that "You can have ANYTHING you want, but not EVERYTHING you want"?

Should it be?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Art of the (Lost) Deal

My car lease is up. We go car shopping. Being a wee bit Web savvy, we check out Edmunds and AutoSite (which I had the pleasure of launching, umpteen years ago), to get a sense of sticker prices, options, etc.

I enjoyed my 3 years with the 2003 Passat, and my wife learns that VW can be pretty generous with current owners, to keep 'em in the family, so I decide to just get a new model. We comparison shop, with 2 local dealers.

When it comes to the "real life" stuff, my bride is the tough negotiator in the family. You'd never expect it; she's a tiny blonde whom most contractors, car salesmen, etc., assume they can hoodwink. But in 18 years I've been shocked and delighted by the number of shuysters she's left enfeebled and shivering in her wake.

First dealership takes 3 "trips to the pencil sharpener" to come up with a contract that is satisfactory to the wife. It's not that we begrudge the dealer his profit, but, c'mon: we knew the dealer invoice price on every widget in the car before we walked in. Why is this so hard?

It takes 2 visits to the dealership, numerous phone calls and emails to get the "BEST" offer. Ultimately we say "we'll think about it" and walk out...

The second dealer is willing to chat with my wife on the phone, and without prompting or "pencil sharpening" he comes up with a deal that is a little bit better than the "BEST" deal from the first dealership.

She calls the first dealership to tell them about this better deal. They offer to match it. But didn't we already get their BEST offer? Apparently not.

Guess who got our business?

Lessons: All vendors of consumer goods must bow down before the pricing transparency that the 'Net empowers. You can't treat customers like suckers anymore; that day is past.

Also - don't mess with little blondes.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Growing Up Blogger

Like many bloggers, this site started out as a lark. In the Summer of 2004, a colleague said something to me along the lines of, "Hey, smartypants, why don't you start a blog?" And after fretting about "not having much to say" at the time, alluvasudden it's 2 years later.

Blogging is fun. I like it. I like knowing that, 2 years later, I still have enough goin' on in my skull to ward off a premature senility. After assiduously avoiding "professional organizations" like the PRSA, I like the feeling of being part of a larger community of PR pros. And because (like most bloggers?) I have a large-but-tender ego, I like it that over 1,000 people come here every month. It ain't Scobel traffic or anything, but that's at least 999 visitors a month, even after you count my mom. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Because I'm 2 years into it and not likely to "retire" from blogging anytime soon, it is time to upgrade. Using a free service like Blogger, I am starting to feel like that guy in the new Acura commercials who clacks away on a typewriter - amidst looks of disbelief from his fellow patrons in an Internet cafe.

So, per the advice of several fellow bloggers, sometime in the next couple of weeks, this blog will be moving to a new site - www.pr-squared.com (beta is up now, but don't bother visiting yet!) - and a new blogging platform (Movable Type).

My tech guy assures me that a visit to this current "blogspot" site will automatically re-direct browsers to the new site but, frankly, I am not sure how many problems this transition might cause, nor how many readers I might lose in the move... All I know is that I am tired of hearing my tech guy sigh,"Yeah, ummm, Blogger doesn't let us do that," whenever I've suggested a cool tweak or widget for the blog.

If anyone has any advice, suggestions, words-of-caution, etc., I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Values vs. Billings

From an article yesterday at the website of KTLA (Los Angeles' WB station):
"A former Fleishman-Hillard vice president testified...that she padded the public relations firm's bills to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power by as much as $50,000 a month...(When asked) why? (the PR exec replied) 'We hadn't met our projections...We needed to bump up our hours.'"
F-H management has been trying to distance themselves from these so-called "rogue agents."

I know some F-H folks, and they are great people. But, I also doubt that the F-H execs now on the stand were "rogues." The F-H pros I've talked to complained that achieving their quotas was paramount. I am paraphrasing here, but the sentiment was, "You don't submit your time unless it matches what the beancounters were projecting."

On F-H's list of Agency Principles, #10 out of 10 is, "We are committed to the highest ethical standards." Given this billing debacle in L.A., they might want to bump that trait up a few notches ... and maybe allow the re-jiggering of their value system to spawn an internal debate about their billing system.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Can Blogs Help Ward-Off Youthful Transgressions?

Look around any PR agency and you'll soon realize that this is a young person's game. Most staffers are under age 30. Sure, there are some "gray-hairs" in the management ranks, but it's rare to see an agency PR pro in their late 50's. It seems that many PR professionals start out in the agency world but wind up in a corporate marketing department...

I love hangin' with the young whippersnappers; I applaud their energy & fresh thinking, but, I sometimes find it frustrating to see age-old mistakes being made because so few agencies have made training and best-practices a priority. This is an easy trap to fall into - lord knows it is a never-ending battle for us - because as an industry, PR is so laser-focused on the daily Client Service demands that we're usually happy to just have enough "arms-and-legs" to get the basic work done.

I wonder if "new media" resources like the BadPitch Blog, Forward, the Marcomblog and the Publicity Hound, et al., can ultimately help PR agency newbies to avoid youthful transgressions? Might we make these educational PR blogs mandatory reading? Maybe each agency-owned computer should come pre-configured with these RSS feeds already set-up for new hires?

Wouldn't it be great if esteem for the PR industry could make incremental gains, year over year, instead of playing defense so often, for the same rookie mistakes?

Bi-coastal Blissburger

Last week we learned that SHIFT Communications was named one of the Best Places To Work in the Bay Area for 2006.

This joins our award for Best Place To Work in Boston, for 2005.

That's coast-to-coast bliss, baby.

Yes, I am tootin' our own horn. Our Agency is not even 3 years old yet; to have won back-to-back "Best Places To Work" awards in two highly-competitive metros feels like a meaningful victory.

How did we create a Bi-Coastal Blissburger like this one? By trying to never forget that everyone in the agency (and everyone in the world, for that matter), wears an invisible sign around their neck that reads, "Make me feel special." We try to ward off over-work; to defend good people from bad clients; to keep our doors open; to greet each person with a smile in the morning; and to be as transparent as possible about the business.

The new Flavia "mocapuccinomacallit" machine probably doesn't hurt, either.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Measurement, Schmeasurement

Speaking of Measurement, from the Intelligent Measurement blog, here are the "top 10 excuses for not evaluating (PR results)" ...

Be sure to visit the original post for the good-kind-of-snarky sidebar commentary.
  1. "It's too expensive."
  2. "I don't know how."
  3. "I'm too busy 'doing' to be bothered with measuring."
  4. "What I'm doing couldn't possibly be measured."
  5. "I don't see the value of it."
  6. "I'm scared of what I will find out."
  7. "People are fed up with giving their opinion."
  8. "My gut feeling tells me I'm doing a good job."
  9. "All my work is vetoed by the CEO, if s/he's happy so am I."
  10. "You can't prove anything anyway."

Cost to implement a genuinely valuable PR Measurement process? Under $10K.

The cluelessness, fear & ignorance that prevents measurement? Priceless.

Give Away The Ruler So They'll Keep Buying "Column Inches?"

Seth Godin preached for "measurement" last week, and hallelujah! for that. As Steve Gershik notes, "If (Seth's) talking about a topic, you know it's going to become a BusinessWeek article within the next few months."

Godin's post gave me some food for thought about our agency's own Measurement product - which enables companies to capture & analyze source data on all inbound leads, across all marketing channels... Thus far we've been charging a reasonable premium for the service. Everyone loves the idea but only a handful have been willing to pony up the fee.

Godin's post suggests that we ought to give the measurement program away for free:
"Once the number is on the wall, in marker, or in phone calls or dollar bills, the investment will follow."
In other words - once the client gets religion; once they get hooked on monitoring their progress (just as we bloggers obsessively monitor our memes & trackbacks), they'll be eager to get more actively engaged in the PR program.

Once they see it working, they'll be keen to see how they can make it work better.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Valleywag Attacks PR Industry

In a post today titled "PR Eats Itself", Valleywag calls out Thomas PR of Melville, NY for sending out a generic press release about a new agency win.
Thomas PR is so proud of its new contract, it did what it does best: the agency sent out a press release about itself. Yes, a press release about a PR agency signing a deal. Says a reader, "I thought the point of hiring a PR agency was to get press for your company, not press for the agency."
Of all the things for the Snark Machine at Valleywag to munch on when it comes to the PR industry, this seems like a pretty lame example. These types of releases go out all the time. Standard practice. Sheesh.

Yay! I'm a Nobody!

Some silly person at Ragan Media's Journal of Employee Communication Management had the temerity to call the inimitable Allan Jenkins a "nobody."

The funny part is not what the original debate was about - some to-do about whether "social media is the next big thing" - no, what's funny is that Allan (tongue planted in cheek) was able to demonstrate the unique, high-speed power of social media by creating a club for nobodies - which everyone wanted to join!

Not being one to miss out on a meme, and with my 30-day PubSub rankings plummeting from a high of #9 last month to somethin' like #38 nowadays, clearly, I am a nobody. But now, I don't need to care: there's even a home for a PR wastrel like me.

A "Third Way" for International PR

As noted earlier, the majority of clients who engage in International PR programs think that their programs are ineffective. Communications between regions is sporadic, riven by inter- and intra-agency politics, etc.

As noted in that earlier post, there are currently 2 ways to skin the cat when it comes to global PR programming:

"Seamless integrated network" - the approach favored by conglomerate agencies conveniently forgets the fact that regional offices acquired via acquisitions and managed via competitive P&L will rarely cooperate seamlessly.

"Independent network" - this best-of-breed model still implies vendor lock-in on a regional basis, and does not always offer simplified administration (e.g., a single invoice).

As a mid-sized firm that typically handled start-up companies, we did not often have to worry about these broken models. But, as our business grew we took on ever-larger clients, and meanwhile the Internet facilitated global selling for clients of all sizes. The "Global Question" loomed large. The more we explored, the more troubled we became; we grew determined to find a "third way."

We came up with this:

"Centralized Coordination of a Freeform Network" - this approach required us to hire a senior-level PR pro whose only job is to help clients manage a best-of-breed network of worldwide agencies. Credo: "Performance Through Simplification"

First, we vetted out and created our own independent network, making sure to have several agency options in each major geography to better ensure a good client/agency fit. We offer these agencies' services to clients (simplified agency reviews), and take on the responsibility of managing each agency relationship (simplified communications, simplified & centralized billing).

While we view our partners as "preferred," there is no exclusivity mandate. If one of our partners doesn't work out (or if the client already has preferred vendors overseas), we simply assimilate a new regional partner into the fold. Our dedicated Global Coordinator manages it all - including working bizzaro hours, so that the client need not set up 5am conference calls to get on the same page with PR firms in Tokyo, London, Beijing, etc. (simplified life)!

In essence this model offers the centralized coordination and administration of a global conglomerate, while gaining access to any-and-all varieties of best-of-breed regional partners.

The PR Goliaths can point to a map, flip a switch, and all the push-pins representing all their many offices will light up in the same color. I'd rather point to a map that lights up with all the colors of the United Nations ... As long as you can get a handle on the tough aspects of inter-agency coordination, diversity is a strength when it comes to global PR.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Fortune 500 Blogs

Maybe I am late to this particular party, since the experiment has been going on since the end of last year, but I find it pretty fascinating. Ultimately this site will serve as a place to keep tabs on FORTUNE 500 companies that maintain "active public blogs by company employees about the company and/or its products."

From the wiki:

"According to our research, 27 (5.4%) of the Fortune 500 are blogging as of 4/4/06

Once we've got this list in pretty good shape, we plan to add share price data to create a Business Blogging Index, comparing the stock performance of companies that blog with those that don't."
Most bloggers, myself included would think (or at least hope) that blog-friendly companies do better in the stock market. "Transparency adds value," and all that jazz, right?

Turns out that the blog-friendly companies lag pretty badly. The resulting theory suggests that companies in trouble (GM) are more "bloggy" than those that are on a tear (Apple), because more communication & spectrum-wide conversations are more likely to spur some good storylines... whereas companies that already enjoy a good marketplace storyline don't want to muck it up by introducing new (potentially problematic) perspectives.

This post from Doc Searles' blog explains it all in a far more interesting way via far more intelligent people.

Afraid of 2008

Wonkette called this NY Times piece (Politics Faces Sweeping Changes via the Web), "painfully obvious," and yep, surely it is to the bloggerati... but, it was a reminder to me that the 2008 presidential elections are coming up in the not-so-distant-future. If 2004 was any indication, it'll be yet another polarizing brouhaha.

In 2004, blogs were really just emerging on the scene, via spots like Instapundit, DailyKOS, Talking Points Memo, etc. This time around, though, the blogosphere will be the domain of a far-ranging field of bloggers of various stripes, and the blogosphere at-large will play a more crucial role.

And by "crucial" I mean:

crude
vicious
impactful
mishmashy
enlightening
whodoyatrust

Thinking about the raft of blogs that will spring up between now and November 2008 (watch for a slew of 'em to appear as soon as the first Democrat announces his - or her - intentions) is already making my stomach churn.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Snakebit

Every now and then, an account gets "snakebit." You have all the best intentions; you've got a good team in place; you have good chemistry with the client; the story is pretty good.

But everything goes wrong, anyway.

There are lots of "moving parts" on a client account, and any one of them can get snakebit.

With one client, the PR results and relationship are terrific - but whenever this particular client needs me at a meeting, something unavoidable comes up at the last minute: my dog died; I got a paralyzing migraine; etc. All the best intentions, yet everything turns to sh** when it comes time for the Big Cheese to show up. I've vowed to never miss a meeting with these folks again!

Another client had all the right results - but in the wrong order, and always a step slower than the client wanted. We won a huge award; a game-changer - but it took months to happen. The analysts were less responsive than usual to our meeting requests. We got a ton of media meetings, but the articles that came out - while fantastic - always seemed to dribble in like molasses.

This last one was particularly hard on us. As I suggested, we liked the client, the tech, the story, everything. But it was all going too slow, despite our best efforts. So, the VP says: "Look, you guys are great, but you've got 1 month to get this thing rolling on rails, or else we're going to have a tough conversation."

One month later, we had set-up 32 appointments. The ink that resulted was dead-on. The CEO congratulated us on a bang-up job. Yet the VP still handed us our walking papers. Ironically, the last thing they said to me was, "You've got a great team, make sure they don't burn out." (That's a little disingenuous, eh? "You've got a month to pull out all the stops, or we walk - but, don't burn out your team.")

That's the thing about snake bites. Sometimes you suck out the venom, spit it out and vow to forge ahead, stronger and more positive than ever. But sometimes, you just wanna spit.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

How-To Save The Mainstream Media

Tom Foremski asks, "What is a viable business model for the mediasphere?" (mainstream media & blogs).
"Current media business models cannot carry the information load because they are being decimated faster than the ice caps are melting. What happens if the old media dies before the new media learns to walk..."?
Tom promises ever-lasting fame to whomever figures this out. I love a challenge. Here goes:

The mainstream media (MSM) needs to start charging for premium content. Period. Clearly, giving away content in hopes of generating revenues from online ads is not working. Ideally the MSM would gang together and make this happen universally and all-at-once. Horrors, right? But, this would immediately put the brakes on "parasitic" consumer-generated media (CGM), which would start to choke on its own exhaust within 30 days of such a media temblor.

The resulting surfeit of free CGM content would ultimately make consumers weary and leery of all the teeth-gnashing & opinion-mongering... They would gravitate back towards the MSM (as discussed earlier), predisposed to pay a premium for high quality content.

The trick is to make consumers pay DIFFERENTLY for premium content: forget about annual subscriptions or over-priced per-article charges. The answer lies in viable MICROPAYMENT and LICENSING approaches.

I wouldn't mind spending $0.05 for 1-time access to an article, and, say, $2.50 to make a link to premium content on my blog available to my readers (or, to raise the bar, to readers subscribed to my RSS feed) for a 3-month period.

Such "little nibbles" would not hurt too badly. And according to Technorati (via Kami Huyse), only 9 percent of bloggers post with regularity; these so-called "elite" would surely have the wherewithal to pay for a fair number of links to premium MSM content ... and as it got cost-prohibitive, they might be forced to add more of their own value, and to only the most compelling MSM content (vs. simplistic blog posts like, "check this NY Times link").

Right now, about 25 MSM sites are represented on this top 100 "blogged-about" list at URLfan. The Washington Post is at #4, with 4,693 blog links. If you multiply 4,693 by $2.50 (for the proposed 3-month license described above), that could have netted WaPo over $11K in 3 months. "Chump change," yes, but it begins to add up to a tidy supplemental revenue stream - and, it's $11K that the paper would not have seen otherwise. Also, it's incremental and continuous: every article link would be monetized in perpetuity... That original $2.50 payment by the blogger would lead to follow-on income of $0.05 with every click that occured among the blog's readers, after the initial 3-month period wore out. Ultimately it's a similar model used in radio, e.g., the artist gets a few pennies for every time their song is played.

The keys to a successful "MSM Micropayments" approach?
  • Rational "fair use" policies - including options for "pay-per-view," "unlimited views (per IP address or subscriber log-in)" and, most importantly to the blogosphere - simple-to-administer "time-limit licenses" ("this content available to your blog readers for 1-month; after that they pay $0.05 to view the link")
  • Reasonable pricing - $0.05 is better than $0.25 for a one-time view of the content
  • One-click ordering (Google toolbar/wallet) - ideally, content-based payments would show up in an aggregated way on our credit card statements
  • Revamped micropayment policies/standards/fees from credit card companies & PayPal
  • Technology and/or agreements that block search engines from accessing/archiving premium content without compensating content creators
  • Universal Digital Rights Management adoption (Adobe/PDF) to hinder content piracy
None of which would be EASY to figure out. But it beats going outta business!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Top 3 Reasons To Love Constantin Basturea

Everybody loves Constantin. The PR blogosphere's pioneer and chief advocate got himself a big-time gig at Converseon, and who doesn't love it when good things happen to good people?

In Constantin's honor, here's a makeshift list of my Top 3 Reasons To Love Constantin Basturea:

1. His name.
I have yet to type it out without having to triple-check the spelling. How 'bout you?

2. His unbridled enthusiasm. This quote from his Converseon press release tells you everything you need to know: "there's no magic twelve-step cluetraining program that will allow businesses to be successful on the internet."

3. His honest-to-goodness goodness.
Always helpful, always nice, a consummate professional.

Maybe this'll start a meme! What are your top 3 reasons to love 'Da Man?

Congrats, Constantin!!

Pendulums Always Swing

This article in the NY Times: "Chevy Tries a Write-Your-Own-Ad Approach, and the Potshots Fly" is a terrific example of how consumer-generated media (CGM) represents an exciting but scary opportunity for marketers.

Chevy was trying to be groovy and let users put their own captions, etc., on some professionally-produced tv commercials for the Chevy Tahoe. Some (many?) of the resulting ads took the automaker to task for its gas-guzzler. Some of the captions are clever, some are hysterical; many are sobering.

Chevrolet - to its everlasting credit if it sticks with the campaign - has made no moves whatsoever to counteract this trend. And THAT'S what makes it groovy.

Having said that, this reminds me of why PROFESSIONAL EDITORIAL FILTERS came about in the first place. Back in the day (Benjamin Franklin days, to be precise), pamphleteers were the bloggerati: they produced content that paid no heed to legitimacy, fairness, accuracy, etc. Before long, the consumer did not know whom to believe, and the newspapermen ostensibly played the "middleman" role (yellow journalism era aside). The journalists cut through the hype and told the "balanced" version of events and issues.

In the dawning age of CGM - in editorial & advertising - we may come to miss these ombudsmen.

Perhaps the pendulum has swung in favor of CGM because newspapers became overly-produced house organs for Corporate America and political machines?

Perhaps a flood of crazy content from CGM will someday make us long for the days when we could "trust" the mainstream media for their accuracy, balance, and quality controls?

A "Can't Wait Til Friday" Fun Fact

On Wednesday, April 5, 2006, at two minutes and three seconds after 1:00 AM in the morning, the time and date will be:

01:02:03 04/05/06

This will never happen again.

PR WEEK's Andrew Gordon Joins Agency

I got a (mass) email from PR WEEK's west coast bureau chief, Andrew Gordon, as he announced his departure from the magazine to join Access Communications.

Although I often did not see eye to eye with Andrew, he's a really nice guy and I wish him well.

Let's just hope that this is the LAST mass e-mail he ever sends. Journalists frown upon that, I'm told. ;)

Monday, April 03, 2006

Cliens Terribilis

Morgan McLintic has a great post on "How To Be A Terrible Client." I was not sure whether to laugh or cry. Here's Morgan's Top 10 List (be sure to visit his site for the wry commentary that accompanies each "suggestion"):



1. Never praise the agency
.
2. Don’t set targets
.
3. Demand constant attention.
4. Never make up your mind
.
5. Brief light, brief late
.
6. Delegate the bottom of your to do list.
7. Maintain radio silence
.
8. Pass the blame
.
9. Make sure you are the single point of contact
.
10. Pay late


To this list - which is close to a perfect list of reasons to fire a client - I'd add:

11. Make false promises. Wanna have a laugh at the agency's expense? Set a "performance metric" with vague promises of "reward-based incentives." Then, when the agency hits the target, find something else to complain about, so that the agency execs stop exulting and instead slink towards the underbelly of the nearest rock.

Finally! A Huge Dog Post

It's been a long time since I paid off the blog description (above) that promises "random stories about huge dogs." That's because for a while there, we'd gone without a huge dog in our lives. To this day we still mourn good ol' Owen.

But, life goes on and after several months of drool-free living, we decided to get another English Mastiff.

His name is Charlie. We've had him for a few months. He's not as solemn nor as drooly nor as mild-mannered as Owen, but then again, at 7 months' old he's still just a puppy (a 100+ lb. puppy!) and if Owen was any indication, Charlie will continue to get lazier by the pound. Ultimately, he'll be little more than a 4-legged couch (200+ lbs.).

Some people think we're crazy to have chosen the English Mastiff as "our breed." Some folks even steer clear of a pony-sized dog on the sidewalks. But we've never met a species of dog more lovable, lazy, loyal and dopey.

This weekend I walked along a wooded trail with Charlie, for a mile or two. He was off-leash and never strayed more than 5 paces from my side. How many 7-month old Labs or Golden Retrievers could ya say that about?

Saturday, April 01, 2006

"Stop Synching & Pay Attention"

You have a sickness. You know it, I know it, and your significant others know it.

You suffer from "Continuous Partial Attention."

It means exactly what you suspect it means. It means that while you're strolling down the avenue with your spouse, you're surreptitiously checking your Treo for new messages. You check voicemail while she's in the ladies' room. Admit it: you even do a li'l SMS while in traffic. (And sometimes, when you're crusing down the highway. You may as well be driving drunk, you know.)

Linda Stone, a former Microsoft & Apple exec, coined the term at a tradeshow attended by Newsweek's Steven Levy, who subsequently wrote this article (which I found via Brendan Hodgson at H&K). In Levy's article, Ms. Stone described Continuous Partial Attention as "stemming from our desire...to be a live node on the network."

Who knew? The Borg 'R' Us.

A Friend In Need

I wish this were an April Fool's Joke.

When BL Ochman posted her appeal to help saxophonist Michael Brecker find a bone marrow or stem cell transplant, I realized that blogging might be a great way to help a friend in need. One of SHIFT’s pro-bono projects involves spreading the word about Diane Glass, a mother and two-time grandmother, to find a kidney donor.

Unfortunately, Diane’s time is running out. She suffers from Hereditary Nephritis, a very rare kidney disease that already killed her brother. Her own family and friends have been tested but none of them are a match, as Diane needs an O+ or O- blood type donor.

Her doctor recently told her that she must have a kidney transplant by April 12.

My colleagues tell me she’s a remarkable woman and – despite her rollercoaster ride of good and bad days – an inspiration to the team. Check out her site to find out how you can help. And if you live in or near Boston, join us for the National Kidney Foundation’s Kidney Walk on May 21 at the Franklin Park Zoo.

Thanks.