Thursday, April 27, 2006

Pundits Talk, People Listen

When the hockey season began this year - after the lockout - the new salary cap shook up a lot of teams. Most of the NHL pundits talked about how the Detroit Red Wings - who had to cut a lot of their stars, and get under the salary cap - were going to be cellar dwellers, and not do well. Heck, they might even struggle to make the playoffs. Even a Detroit pundit worried (just a little bit) about the team in the new season.

Well, the pundits - and, just exactly who are they anyway - were wrong. The Wings won the President's Trophy this year, and are now fifth on the list for most points in a season. They are in the playoffs, and hopefully can bring home another Stanley Cup to Hockeytown.

It always comes down to pundits. Who are these pundits, how do you become a pundit. It's the proverbial they that always is amusing, like "they say." Great, but who are they? Last year, Slate had a half tongue-in-cheek exposé on how to become a pundit, but while it was all in jest, it was also true. I know people that have used such tactics to get on television news ... and it works.

The pundit world is part of the industry analyst world. We have all seen how analysts are being attacked as paid shills, and the past few weeks analyst Rob Enderle has been under fire. The San Francisco Chronicle's blog had a piece on Enderle, which started with a Register article and Sun questioning his impartiality. And, well, those that follow Apple know the animosity against Enderle - heck, just look up Enderle's name on Google and the first couple links are critical pieces on Rob.

Sam Whitmore did interview Enderle, who was able to give his side of the story - and let's not forget that while Sun is not happy with Enderle, he was called often for his viewpoint on the recent management change at Sun.

How do these pundits become pundits, and is the analyst/pundit game changing because of blogging and consumer generated media. Some would say yes - go read the post, as it says alot about changing roles of analysts and influencers - and that it is not a bad thing. That while analysts are going to have influence, bloggers are also becoming influential, particularly those that are writing on specific issues.

And, well, I would say yes also. But, influencers have always been a valuable part of a PR campaign, whether they were enthusiasts, influential reporters or industry analysts.

Well, am I a pundit? I have no real idea how I am presented to new or prospective clients, or if I am positioned as a pundit (please, no) or an expert (please, no, but that's at least more palatable). I have been blogging for close to three years now, and I don't celebrate my blog birthday because my blog is not who I am. It's just one part of my skills - I am a PR person that specializes in blogging (but can still pick up the phone and pitch with the best of them).

But, it amazes me that there are blog pundits, people that have been blogging for, oh, two years and then pass themselves off as CGM pundits. Why? How? Give me a break - it's all way too new for any of us to pass ourselves off as pundits, or even experts. We are all learning, and it's such a small part of public relations, it should just be part of public relations, not a whole new practice area.

One small anecdote. I was lunching at Coco500 (highly suggested), and since it is SoMa, I ran into Mena Trott. We quickly discussed the Economist survey on New Media ... and while it said nothing new, it's the pure gravitas of being in the Economist that says that new media is here, and that it is influencing how people are interacting with the media and each other.

That's what is important - how PR can work in a changing media landscape, not how we can pontificate about the changing landscape. If we fall into that pundit role, it's just like Pogo: We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us. We should present case studies, present examples of good and bad practices, and help companies because we understand blogs ... as much as you can. That's why you hire PR firms: to be experts in key areas.

The Voice of College Football Retires

If you ever watched Big 10 or Pac 10 football on ABC, then you know Keith Jackson. The voice of college football has been on the job forever, and was a part of my Saturday morning routine. First, Froot Loops or Cap'n Crunch, then cartoons, and then Jackson and Michigan football.

Well, he announced today that he is retiring.

What's this mean for ABC? Likely a large branding effort for college football that has been deeply tied to Jackson. What's this say about televised sports - that if you have a personality, you can build an audience and a loyal audience at that.

While we are moving in the whole era of consumer generated media, YouTube rocks, blah blah blah ... it is still the televised sports arena that builds celebrity and experts that has yet to be replicated online.

Monday, April 24, 2006

"Sometimes vulgarity is not just acceptable but necessary"

A little bit ago, "Friends" was in the center of a sexual harassment lawsuit, that centered on the terms and descriptions used during creative brainstorm sessions.

The court ruled that "trash talk was part of the creative process."

All in all, that's an interesting ruling. As the title of the post here says - and from the article - sometimes vulgarity is necessary in the job.

Now, let's think about public relations.

PR is stressful. It's supposedly a top-ten stress profession (an old WSJ story). It's always been a stressful profession, where the stress comes from three places at once: media, client and agency. Or, if you are in-house, it comes from the media, the internal people and the agency (the stress comes from running the agency).

So, what's a great way to relieve stress - yelling and swearing. Not at people, but behind closed doors, or when you hang up the phone.

Try it. If you have an office, next time you have a bad media experience, hang up the phone and say "go fuck yourself" - you will feel better. It's a little bit of stress relief.

Seriously, so does PR also fall under that "sometimes vulgarity is not just acceptable but necessary" - is it necessary for stress relief?

I know that the good swear sometimes relieves my stress. Yes, there are other ways to relieve stress (sex), but that doesn't work at the office.

And, let's be honest. A good PR person can weave profanity like poetry, where it goes beyond swearing to a new level of language. Because, that's our job: to weave language and tell a story. Sometimes, in profanity.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Third Thursday ... with Michael Arrington of TechCrunch

The first PR MeetUp / Third Thursday went off with a bang. It was Michael Arrington ofTechCrunch, who pontificated on a variety of subjects from how to work with bloggers, what he likes and other fun stuff.

Apology for the quality - but, well, here's a moblog via my Nokia N90 in a little bit of a windy area. But, yay Audioblog!

But, hey, there were calls for the podcast, and I did my best. :)

Monday, April 17, 2006

The blogosphere is growing, but is it just yardstick measurement?

Today the Technorati "state of the blogosphere" was released with great fanfare on the blogosphere. For most of the day, it sat on top of Memeorandum - and rightfully so, as it is a big story for bloggers.

From the post ....

In summary:

  • Technorati now tracks over 35.3 Million blogs
  • The blogosphere is doubling in size every 6 months
  • It is now over 60 times bigger than it was 3 years ago
  • On average, a new weblog is created every second of every day
  • 19.4 million bloggers (55%) are still posting 3 months after their blogs are created
  • Technorati tracks about 1.2 Million new blog posts each day, about 50,000 per hour
And, that is great news for those of us in PR that are touting blogs as a great tool to clients. And, I love data points. Always have, which is why I always had a good relationship with my analyst at IDC.

But, for corporations that are looking to launch blogs, what do these stats really tell us? Okay, a lot of blogs are being launched, and Technorati is tracking alot ... but that just really means more "consumer generated media" that we can track, talk to - we don't pitch, we participate in the conversation - and, well, just read.

But, what about the hard stats? Where's the measurement for businesses, on how influential blogs are for sales and influence ... among business people. That is the data that business people need.

I was discussing this over IM this afternoon with another PR blogger - in PR, it is about the upsell to the executives, and executives like data points. But, they don't want just traffic data points, or how blogging is growing exponentially. They want hard data that shows how blogging is affecting sales or exposure.

And, the fact is that no one has those figures, only "anecdotal" information that is just quantitative. We have all read the stories about how blogs are working with consumers, helping companies become part of the conversation ... but is that enough to get large corporations to jump in to the fray.

This all goes goes back to the old PR argument of quality versus quantity. Which is better - PR by yardstick or PR by message points? So, now we just have data for blogging by yardstick, but we are looking for blogging by message points ... or something else that we can point to that says "yes, this is what blogging does."

The blogging colleague had a good point - if he can't get quantity from any other source, at least right now, he'll take the Technorati data because it gives him *something* to go to executives with, to show how blogging is growing.

For now, that is as good as it gets ... but we need another yard stick to get more corporations involved.

Monday, April 10, 2006

ABC Goes to Time-Shifting

The big announcement today was ... ABC is unveiling the new to showcase the new theatre that will allow viewers to see certain ABC shows immediately the next day. That, in a way, is cool.

But, there are problems and issues (plus, ones I see for PR). First, the whole thing about time-shifting media is the ability to fast-forward through the commercials. While I love commercials - heck, sometimes they are the most creative parts of some shows - while watching time-shifting shows (or Tivo'ed shows, but Tivo is a trademark, so I didn't really write Tivo).

There are discussions to charge for downloads - another good idea, so you get the place-shifting that is loved by Sling Media groupies, and people like me that have downloaded TV shows on iTunes, and should be able to watch on my cell phone with certain technologies becoming more prevalent.

If more and more stations, networks and studios go this route - which is most likely, as appointment television is mainly being consigned to live sporting events - then this makes it harder for television news to be relevant. Well, that and most people no longer really watch television news but rather get their news from online.

For PR, the lower viewership for TV news means that news are going to go a new route: pay for play. No, not the usual VNR route, which again is under fire - but paid sponsorships of local television newscasts. There was already a station in Phoenix that was doing this for it's midday show - so, the brouhaha in San Francisco was amusing to me since it's nothing that new.

But, with less news comes more ... product placement. And, that's where PR is going to come under fire, because the production companies are going to go to the writers ... who are then going to likely rebel and get miffed that their creative artistry and views are being messed with.

How is PR going to work in the time-shifting and place-shifting of television media? One route is the podcasts/YouTube route, but we saw what can happen when companies try to work with consumer generated media ... the consumer can bite back. The other route is just smart PR and working with the new media.

Which one wins is just as big a question as how will the networks adapt to time-shifting and place-shifting.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Facebook + (No PR) = Car Crash

Facebook is an interesting phenomenon. It's a college-only social network -- oh, wait, college (but no junior colleges, and still some ignored colleges) and select high schools and some 8th grades -- that is supposed to connect college students that are on the same campus, and then extend that to other friends on other campuses, so you get the Breck shampoo effect (tell two friends, they tell two friends ...).

Now, I am not a big fan of Facebook. I have played around with it, and just do not get it. The GUI is nothing to write home about, there is very little customization or personalization beyond photos, the color itself does nothing for me. I always get the "but MySpace is ugly" response - to which I say "but at least MySpace pages are created by the users - so, yes, the amateur look might be ugly, but it's my own attempt at design and so, well, the kids aren't designers but it is their look." Yes, a long answer - but, one of the secrets of MySpace's success - your page truly becomes your page, with your own ugly (or pretty) design.

But, Facbook is an interesting phenomenon because it appears to be run by, well, college kids. Not that there is anything wrong with college kids, but watching how they deal with the media screams "amateur hour" and that it is time to bring in some adult supervision, particularly when it comes to PR and media relations.

Here's a little jaunt down bad PR lane, and how Facebook is just not getting it.

Example one: a series of USA Today articles, two on one day throughout the paper. Now, while any company would kill to have two articles in different sections (Front Page and Sports), you want those articles to be positive articles. These were not.

The front page article was about how what you put on your Facebook profile can come back and haunt you, as both employers and Universities begin to monitor. Well, that is just common sense, and something that most people should be aware about - including the "don't use work email for personal stuff" rule of thumb. While other journal sites were mentioned, the basic premise was that Facebook can be bad for your academic career.

The Facebook response: "People are learning how to use the site and what's OK to share," says Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. "As time goes on, people will learn what's appropriate, what's safe for them — and learn to share accordingly." In other words - we give no real guidance, but you'll learn through your mistakes. Thanks Mark!

The sports section article was about how athletes are being told not to use Facebook as it opens them up to too much. Some campus athletic departments have gone as far as banning it for athletes, and some athletes have been kicked off their teams - losing their scholarships - for posting nasty comments about coaches.

The Facebook response: "That would be like banning rock 'n' roll in the '50s," Facebook director of marketing Melanie Deitch says with a laugh. Yep, laugh at student athletes losing their scholarships, and them being banned from Facebook. Always the best strategy.

Example two: the $2B debacle. Company run by kids gets a $750M offer - supposedly more than once. Turns down offer because they think they are worth $2B. Site gets exposed as a straw man by well-known reporter/blogger smart guy, Om Malik ... twice. Lots of blog posts and stories about this, and I can only think of a couple jokes. First, you can tell a Harvard man, you just can't tell him much. And, second, these guys were probably in middle school during the dotcom boom/bust, so they missed out on a special word: schadenfreude.

The Facebook response: Not sure. Maybe it was having college kids post comments that Facebook is the bestest thing ever. Let me introduce you to a good 70's singer - Steve Miller - for some advice.

Example three: everyone writes about the safety issues with MySpace - the third article in the social triumverate in USA Today was about MySpace and children safety - but thus far, Facebook has dodged that bullet.

But, for how long?

Facebook is less safe than MySpace because of the false sense of security with a locked-down system. Because Facebook takes so much pride in its "private" network, members think they are safe and secure. And, then, share too much information on the network. With MySpace, at least, the members realize that it IS an open system, and anyone can see their profiles. That's why there are profile lockdowns, and some parental controls (like, well, parents should have a clue what their children are doing online). In college, you are away from such parental controls.

Plus, in essence, Facebook is a hooking up network. You find other collegiates to hook up with - socially or "socially." By opening the system to high school and 8th graders, in a way you are saying "okay, the guys that can't hook up with college girls, go for the high schoolers or 8th graders." We all remember those guys in high school - the losers in college that came back to hook up with high school sophomores? Well, now they have a better tool with Facebook.

I have heard of stalking cases via Facebook already. Guy shows up where girl is, because girl posts whole day schedule on Facebook. How soon before that goes beyond stalking to something worse? Facebook wraps itself in the .edu email system, but how hard is it as a 40 year old, or older, to go audit a course at a University and still get a .edu email address? So much for college-age kids only (which, of course, ignores the whole non-traditional student group on campus).

The Facebook response: I somewhat doubt that they know Crisis Communications 101, and I really hope that they do not need it.

This is not a Facebook only issue, but Facebook is the easiest example: too many companies in the Web 2.0 era think they can do PR themselves. Well, PR is not something that easy. It takes skill, it takes strategy, it takes a tactical mind - and it takes the ability to know when to plan for events, when to have messaging, and when to use them.

Is it too late for some, though? But, it's like a car crash - you just can't turn away from the carnage, but you slow down to take a look....

Sunday, April 02, 2006

FORWARD: Lessons from Silicon Valley Journalists

A couple weeks ago, I went to the Silicon Valley PRSA blockbuster lunch and took notes. From these notes, I wrote a post for the FORWARD blog, the student-run Website and blog, for students.

Some highlights from that post:

Who do you read online?

Markoff: I read ValleyWag, Digg has replaced Slashdot for me, The Register … there are too many blogs in my blogreader, too many unread stories, which says that the model is broken on too much data.

Clark: C/Net for tech news, the Register, the Inquirer – as for online, and I like that I can up the size of the font.

What are the most compelling pitches, the way you like to get pitches?

Clark: We are the last person to write on a company launch. I like cool companies with cool ideas – I feel retro that I still do stories on launches.

But, most small companies have to wrap themselves up in a larger trend. What’s absolutely unique about the company? You want to be part of a larger trend, be part of a movement, so we can write about the company. You can segment the answers, see in the larger context and broadest way possible.

We wrote first about Napster and its legal issues – but we missed the sociological story. It’s about the big picture, what is important as a reader, and to the reader.

Goldberg: it is pretty hard for a small company to get its voice heard, but there are a lot of ways into the paper. It is the creative pitch – it is community, personality, what the company is doing exemplifying a larger trend. Show the trend. There are ways to pitch the story. Send emails - don’t fax!

Kehoe: Context, context, context. Put in a human element, add some tension. There does not need to be great conflict, but it can be a David v Goliath type-story.

Markoff: 1989 was the last time I was asked the question. Then, there was a wewsletter that came out that said I could not think of a way for small companies to get press.

I look at everything for better or ill, and email is my way to look and read everything. I respond to the things I can do something with, that are a potential story. I am not changing that, but I am looking and I do what I can do - with 100-150 emails from PR people a day, if I gave them all a fair hearing, that is all I would do during the day.

I practice triage, but I do not want you to go away.

Go read the rest of the post - some great advice for students, and a refresher course for those that have been in PR.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Coming Soon

Details were leaked. Happens in the best plans of mice and men. Hyku has more details here, and more background with David Parmet. Despite our disagreements on blogging and blogs, Steve and I believe in the future of PR.

The launch party will be the next TechCrunch event, with plenty of Stormhoek for everyone.

I knew I wasn't vague enough at NewComm Forum, especially when I asked Hallett for a blog redesign ....