Sunday, November 30, 2003

POP is Goin' Off

First, a change in how the POP! Public Relations Blog is going to work. From now on, I'm going to try to make each posting title refer to an old skool rap song. Today's posting is in honor of Biz Markie and Biz Is Goin' Off.

On to the topic at hand - the sad demise of the ethnic magazines, in this instance it is the publisher of Honey, Savoy and Heart & Soul closing its doors.

Why should this be of more concern to public relations professionals? Please, do not call me a publicist, but that's another long posting for another time.

Take a look around you - forget the PR blogs and its one woman - but most of public relations is white. Really white. Blindingly white. Wonder bread white.

And, so, that's what most PR people pitch to - the very mainstream publications that we might read. I am a media junkie - read the post below - so I tend to read a wide reaching array of publications, including very mainstream and non-mainstream publications. But the average PR person (if the past offices are any indication) tend to read US Weekly, People, etc for mainstream consumer, as well as maybe a USA Today or another local paper.

I spoke with PR Fuel about pitching minority press in the past, and spoke about it further when giving my spiel to the PRSSA at Miami University and I think it's a shame.

If that's what's read, no wonder the ethnic press is ignored. And, it's a shame because they are great publications to pitch to, as well as great publications to read. It's a shame that this group of magazines is going under - particularly for its readers and an underserved demographic.

My monthly reading can range from publications such as Murder Dog Magazine, Lucky Magazine (big fan and I'm straight), Razor Magazine (okay, they're a neighbor in my building so I get a gratis copy), The New Yorker (for my inner-snob) plus a wide array of whatever tickles my fancy at the news stand. I probably spend about $50 / month on periodicals, but it's all under research for clients.

And, that's something that we, as PR professionals, need to remember. It's not just about our demographic, but for the consumer that is going to want our clients' products - reach out to everyone and anyone that will be buying these products, not just the white press.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Does the quality of the Business Section reflect the quality of Local Business?

During my dry-eye many plane trips a few weeks ago, I picked up a bunch of newspapers to read while waiting in airports.

I admit it - I'm a media junkie. I've always loved the newspaper, I learned how to read from the Detroit Free Press, and my favorite class in middle school was physical education, because the 'teacher' sent me to the library for study hall because at the age of 13 it gave me a chance to read Time, Newsweek, US News & World Report, Consumer's Report (where I got the best chocolate chip cookie recipe EVER), and the Detroit News.

It was nice growing up in a city that had 2 of the top 10 papers in circulation, and they were damn fine newspapers.

And, then I moved to Arizona and had the Arizona Republic. A paper owned by Dan Quayle's family, a paper then sold to Gannett. A paper whose business section can't seem to break the 4 page barrier (that's discounting the stock quotes).

Now, it's not that Arizona does not have businesses located here, it's just that the business section is a bad joke. The technology reporter does not understand technology - little hint, but Motorola has its offices here, not its HQ - and the rest of the section just is lacking. And, this is what POP! Public Relations gets to pitch for local clients - which makes me happy that I have more out-of-town clients than local.

While in California, I read the Orange County Register and Los Angeles Times. Granted, neither are my favorites, but at least their business sections had meat. A lot of meat. Twelve to 14 pages of meat, enough to give me a feeling of the issues for local businesses, and how I would go about pitching the sections for any local client.

While in Ohio for the PRSSA presentation, I picked up the Cincinatti Enquirer and the Dayton Daily News. Okay, Dayton and Cincy are not THAT big of cities, and I believe that Phoenix outranks them in size with the census. But, once again, both papers had a business section that had at least 8 pages - twice the norm for the Republic. And, the Enquirer is owned by Gannett as well!

While flying through Chicago's Midway (cute airport), I picked up the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun Times. The Trib is a typical layout, and had a 16-page business section, while the Sun Times is a tabloid, so it was harder to read with my little hands, but its business section topped out at 14 pages.

Realize, that I read all these papers twice - both coming and going from these cities. And, the whole time, I was amazed. Here I have been living in all these cities - I didn't even talk about the Bay area papers, or the New York papers - and the worst business section has been my 'hometown' where I have been trying to open my firm to bring better PR to local companies.

So, I came up with a little theory - the quality of the business section reflects the quality of local business.

Am I saying that Arizona business is lacking? Not in the least - I am saying that the Phoenix area businesses might not get as much respect nationally - or nationally, consumers don't realize they are Phoenix-based - because the local paper does such a bad job covering the businesses. And, this seems to extend to public relations and the quality of PR in a city. The better the business section, the better the local PR?

When local CEOs tell me that they don't bother reading the Arizona Republic, but read the Phoenix Business Journal for news, that says alot. That says to me that the local business section is so lacking, that businesspeople would rather wait for a weekly newspaper to get their business news.

Or, on the flip side, there are the CEOs that go around talking about how they "own" certain journalists, and not to worry about working with the paper since "so and so will write whatever I tell her to write," and then lo-and-behold, she will write an article that has no business appearing in the paper, no less on the front page of the business section. Phoenix has a bad enough reputation as being an old boy's network, and the paper does not need to help perpetuate that image.

Of course, one thing I learned from a mentor is that it's easy to come up with the questions on an FAQ, but the hard part is coming up with the answers. I do have a couple of solutions. For the Republic: get rid of the dead-weight in the business section, hold roundtables with local business owners, expand the section from four pages, and stop thinking of Phoenix as a small town.

Or, Freedom Communications, the owner of the Orange County Register also owns a local paper in Phoenix, but only covers the East Valley and Scottsdale with it's East Valley Tribune. While this paper also has a small business section - which is quite good - it's section is dictated to only cover the East Valley, ignoring the city of Phoenix and the whole West Valley. If this paper expanded its coverage area, it might be able to offer an alternative with a better business section.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Google - the Netscape of 2003?

I love Google. I love Google so much that I have the IE toolbar, and the toolbar for the start bar (I guess Google is calling it the Deskbar).

I use Google News as a poor man's Factiva and Nexis, and I use Google as a poor man's Lexis.

On that note, I wonder what the Google strategy is right now. Yesterday, in Dan Gillmor's blog, Dan posted Bill Gates unequiovacle denial of any Microsoft acquisition offer to Google, which is, oh, about a 180 degree difference from the New York Times story that has some sources talk about how Google was approached by MSFT about an acquisition. Gillmor's blog column also ran in the paper, but without the thought provoking comments.

When the NYT story came out, I called up a few of my friends / PR colleagues and got their opinion of the article - was this a Google PR move to bolster the IPO and the $15B valuation? Was this a VC PR move, to get their money out of the company? We came down that it was a PR stunt, that MSFT would rather kill than buy (remember Netscape, kiddies?) and my position was that the hype was back, that the overvaluation of Google might be part II of the VC community trying to restart the bubble, and once again, the investors are going to lose. Either way, though, Google is going to either go public, and make the VCs their money to cash out - plus more - or it's going to stay private and your are going to see a bunch of miffed VCs.

If the public does get fleeced by the Google IPO, I believe that it will set back the tech and Valley recovery by 6 months. That, combined with the hyping of social networking, smells too much like a pipe dream that the Valley is back. I think social networking is a great idea, but is there that massive amount of return that validates the amount of funding being poured into LinkedIn, Friendster, et al? There are some great social networking concepts out there - ones that take it a step beyond - but the market will bear out which sites and services win.

This is BAD for public relations. During the first dot-com boom, the PR people made the Kool Aid and prepped the Dog Food, ate and drank all of it, and got many reporters and investors to buy off on a scam dream. Were some PR people culpable for the dot-com scam? Definitely and I worked with some of them. If PR people continue to hype their clients with complete disregard, then these same PR people should take note of why reporters dislike PR practioners. In public relations, we should not be blind cheerleaders, but the voice of reason, the voice of strategy, the role of devil's advocate that is supposed to keep it real. Or, at least that's how I view PR, and sometimes for better or worse, how I try to work with clients with for POP!

The fact is that Microsoft has its sights set on Google. With the supposed 300 engineers hired for MSN Bot, the announcement of testing the News bot in Europe (hey, that's just like Google News!), Google may be the next Netscape. Yes, Google is a smarter company, and has more of a business model, but if you look at the history of MSFT and Netscape, MSFT did not make an acquisition offer or comment on Netscape.

If a company acts like a dot-com, they'll die like a dot-com.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

A new PR blog

Well, views and comments on public relations and other communications, including the public affairs arena.

Greg Brooks has launched Engage - love the name.

So, go take a look and enjoy the read.

And, while you're at it, check out the other PR related blogs in the links ...

Bad Timing, Odd Quote

Just as Epic Records is getting ready to release Number Ones, Michael's latest greatest hits collection for a November 20th release, this fun bombshell drops about Michael Jackson's home being searched by police.

Okay, not a great timing issue for Epic Records, and I'm sure that internal teams are going through crisis communications mode, and I would not be too suprised if the CD were shelved for a few months, or indefinitely. Some of the comments on Amazon are classic, though.

What does not make sense is the quote from the Jackson Family attorney, Brian Oxman. While the Santa Barbara police and attorney general were quiet about why they were searching Michael Jackson's Neverland (as in Never Gonna Get Caught), his attorney decided the best strategy would be to tell all?

"The investigation is about a 12-year-old boy. This involves a molestation allegation," Oxman said in a statement. "Sheriff's deputies have been investigating this case for months. There's been an ambulance that has already come and gone. And there is a forensics van, on the scene. Here we go again. This is insane."

Not sure what the strategy was behind releasing the statement - was it to quiet any more rumors that could have come out? If that is the reason, why mention that it was a 12-year-old boy? And why end the statement in "here we go again, this is insane" refrain, instead of just giving a terse comment that "Yes, the police have been here, and it has been an ongoing investigation. The forensics team and an ambulance have already come and gone, and at this time there will be no further comments."

Should be interesting to watch this one play out, and would be a nice case study for crisis communications.

Addendum at 5.11 PM MST - the attorney quoted supposedly was not authorized to make any comments, and it is being printed that he was no longer the Jackson family attorney at the time of the quote. Anyway, it's still an even more interesting case now!

PR and China

A good friend, my mentor during my internship, and now an advisor to POP! Public Relations, has been practicing public relations for the past two years in China - Beijing and Hong Kong - and in other parts of Asia.

He blogs on his life over at Peking Duck, and wrote a great and interesting piece on practicing PR over there, and the realities of doing business in China.

A very interesting read, and a wake up call for American companies to reconsider their Chinese strategies, chasing the 1.2 Billion persons dream. Beyond his posting on his blog, read the full article and comments. No offence to Richard, but the comments are even more enlightening than his original posting.

Only one thing bothers me - for the past year, I've been bugging Richard to send me gifts, and now I read that he hands out killer gift bags all the time. Geez, one couldn't make its way to the US?!

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

POP! on the Road

Last week was quite the hectic week for POP! Public Relations, being on the road for a presentation to the PRSSA Chapter at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio on "Making Opportunities" in a tough economy, then on to Los Angeles for a new business presentation.

So, the week before was fun with Powerpoint, then last week was fun in airports.

First, I'm going to rate the airports of the nation that I was in last week - two in the Ohio trips in two days, one in two days on the Cali leg - then going to talk about the speech I gave to the PRSSA chapter.

Phoenix Sky Harbor - nice airport, lots of amenities, not bad pricing.
Chicago Midway - nicely redone and renovated, lots of amenities, fair pricing.
Dayton Ohio - small, but really nice. Just ran through, so didn't buy anything.
Ontario, CA Airport - just okay, and felt like I had been beaten up and had my money stolen.

Okay, now on to Miami University and the speech to PRSSA. Beautiful campus, very bucolic and nice scenery. It was nice weather, and it was like going home to Michigan from when I was a little child - plus, I got to see a Fritz's Big Boy! I love Big Boy!

I know in many of the PR blogs, the collective PR bloggers write about the dearth of talent in the junior staff, the tendency to get rid of senior talent for less expensive junior talent. But, I have to say, the students I spoke with at Miami University were very impressive. Okay, I did like them because they seemed to be paying attention to me when I gave my speech - hey, they were taking notes! - but when I spoke to a few after the presentation, they asked thoughtful questions, and they seemed to care about the future of public relations. I wish I had the bandwidth and a bigger account load to bring on a few as interns for POP!, but let's just take one day at a time right now.

The nice thing about the presentation is the timing. As noted in PR Machine, the Seattle Times has an article that shows an uptick in public relations with 40 percent growth by 2010 (okay, that's less scary than it sounds). And, while speaking to a former coworker who now runs his own company in the Bay, he noted that the job market is getting better in Silicon Valley / San Francisco Bay area. The segment getting better is business development and engineers, and he theorizes that six months down the road, these firms will be looking for in-house public relations professionals or PR firms - let's hope he's right.

Then, Tom Murphy at PR Opinions weighed in on jobs in public relations, as well as Elizabeth Albrycht at Corporate PR and Stuart Bruce, the UK PR Guru. And, Professor Bailey over at Leed's University's PR Studies used the links above for his lecture.

While I agree with many of the comments and suggestions posted by Elizabeth and Stuart, and while the speech I gave at Miami U was to PR students, I have to partially disagree on one point - the PR degree. I think it's just as important to have had the internships to get real world experience - theory, as well as practice. But Stuart makes a good point - as a small agency owner myself, I don't have the time to train a person in public relations that does not have the background already. While my degree was in philosophy - lots o' writing, critical thinking, logic, strategy, business ethics and game theory - I also did the stint at the school newspaper getting some journalist chops, and then I interned at one of the largest PR firms in the world.

That out of the way, I think a PR degree is a good thing for people to have, but sometimes classwork is just theory, and you need the real world experience to get the practice that goes with the theory.

On the point, here's the presentation I gave to the PRSSA members, if you are interested in reading it ...

Monday, November 10, 2003

It's About the Message, Stoopid!

I wanted to make a Clinton-esque reference, and I finally was able to make one.

A few weeks back, I was interviewed by Ben Silverstein for a PR Fuel column on messaging. Naturally, like most the interviews with Ben, it was a late night event and while I did make a few of my points about messaging, I did not get all of them across.

Recently, I was out on the road for business, and I had to do a Powerpoint presentation (fear the deck, respect the deck, worship the deck) on POP! Public Relations' capabilities, plan for the client, and measuring success. The potential client kept asking what I would deliver for the $x/month - would it be four clips a month, five clips a month, etc. I did the smiling explanation - POP! Public Relations would work as hard as possible to provide as many clips to the client and meet expections - but also went on to explain that public relations is better measured by key messaging points, not a yardstick.

It was ironic, because I had been discussing messaging points versus yardstick measurement with a few people. One former client only measured in yardsticks, and if the agency did not meet expectations, everyone suffered. Another client measured in key messages - for every project, we would have a list of three to six messages that we wanted the media to walk away with, and report on. If the majority of the articles covered 75 percent or more of the messaging points, we ran a successful campaign.

For another recent new business pitch - well, an email pitch to begin discussions - I had noted that the potential client's two closest competitors had more than twice the coverage, with one having close to three times the press. We both knew that the point of the email was to talk about coverage and expanding the company's press coverage, but we both also knew that the leading company for press coverage was not the leading company in the space. The company was a strong believer in "any press is good press," so the majority of the articles were about the ad campaign being quirky and star filled. Did those help the company win customers - not at all. Did that generate press? Naturally.

Another good example of it being all about being on message is the recent SunnComm Technologies debacle. I think SunnComm Technologies has a great story - that they are working on a safety to keep CDs from being copied, but when the Princeton student figured a way to crack the code, SunnComm and its media relations were mishandled from day one. It was like there were no messaging points developed, no contingency plans in place, and when you have USA Today's Kevin Maney calling out your PR efforts as non-existent, you know you are in trouble.

One thing about public relations that a lot of people seem to forget is that PR is a support mechanism for sales. If PR isn't on message, if the message is not reaching the core audience - the customer - then PR is not really doing it's job. The yardstick measurement of PR might be good for the internal team of a large multi-national conglomerate, but the smart multi-national conglomerate knows that it's about the message that will drive sales.

CBS and the Deification of Reagan aka Freedom of Speech, Just Watch What You Say

I'm not sure whether to be ashamed, angry or perturbed. I never was big on censorship, although I am big fan of what Ice-T has to say on the issue.

It always boggled my mind, though, that each side of politics could condone censorship when it fit into their agenda. When I lived in Berkeley (pronounced Barkley, after the philosopher, thank you very much), it amazed me that the "liberals" on campus shut down a speech by Shimon Peres of Israel because they opposed the treatment of Palestinian terrorists in Israel. Forget that presenting both sides of an argument is what liberty and freedom is supposed to be about.

But, it's not the liberals that have a stronghold on fascism and squashing freedom of speech. Recently, CBS has come under a boycott to not air its movie on the Reagans. I will be the first to admit that I am not a Ronnie fan - he ignored the AIDS crisis, he vetoed fetal tissue research for Parkinson's and Alzheimers (irony, huh?), he called his wife Mommy (that's just mind-boggingly weird to me). But, I can see why conservatives do love him - he did lead the country in a time of great growth (second to Bill's era), he did defeat the Soviet Union by spending on defense, he did create a strong upper middle class.

So, this man in DC lead the boycott against CBS to drop the series. Of course, naturally, he's an Arizonan who worked for Jon Kyle (nice man, spoke at my high school) and Matt Salmon (never met him, so no comments).

Naturally, I'm sick to my stomach that CBS caved. Since I get Showtime, I'll be able to watch the movie, but probably will forget to since I rarely watch Showtime. Hey, HBO has the better shows.

I'm sick that Leslie Moonves caved like a house of cards to the conservative factions that support censorship when it benefits them.

But, from one comment in a Variety interview, Leslie Moonves has my utmost respect: the buck stops with me.

It's nice to see that while it might have been a total internal disaster, when it comes to the public, Mr. Leslie Moonves steps up to the plate and takes responsibility. He's the president of CBS, and the buck stops with him. I'll admit that when I started reading the interview, I wanted to never tune into CBS again - but his ownership for anything that happens at that station has earned Moonves a spot at the table for being an honourable man.