Monday, June 26, 2006

Lessons from American Apparel

American Apparel gets it.

Heh. Bet you didn't think you would read that on my blog. But, they get it beyond their very cool store in Second Life, but they get blogs and the new PR in the blogosphere.

Yes, I linked to the Weronikia Cwir's comment on my post on their store in SL.

Which, btw, is the first Google link to her full name (pretty neat).

Why do they get it? Well, just like the first post, I was contacted by Cwir - but this time she emailed me directly to address the issues I brought up in my post about what's wrong with American Apparel.

I wish she had posted her comments on the post, but I understand why she did not. But, here's a lesson for any corporation in working with blogs.
  1. Monitor the blogosphere. Cwir had noted I had written once about American Apparel, and within a couple hours, had come back to check the blog.

  2. Respond in kind. Whether it is a comment on the blog, or an email to the blogger, be proactive. It's like a Blog SWAT team - find and respond immediately, and you can stem any blood loss.

  3. Repair the relationship. If it is possible, fix the relationship. Just by her showing up to email me, she has kept a customer. Think about that on various levels - you work with the public, and you can save that relationship. That's immense, and why some corporate blogs - like GM's Fastlane (full disclosure: GM's a client) - work well. It is a true conversation with the customers, in an honest voice.

  4. You don't need a blog to respond to blogs. That's just as important as others. Even if a company does not have a blog, that does not preclude them from the blogosphere. This is a huge lesson that PR firms need to embrace. It's not all about the blog, it's about the conversation.
So, huge kudos to American Apparel for being smart in blogs. They are - sadly - a rarity right now, but will be the norm in a few years. Photo by gingerbreadandlatte, all rights reserved.

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Lessons from Customer Experiences

The lessons we can learn in the real world are pretty applicable to the PR world. Quickly, think of how you are treated at any place you might go into - a store, a restaurant, a doctor's office. If you are treated well, you think better of the place and tell others. If you are treated poorly, you are unhappy with the experience, you walk away slightly miffed and that's it. Oh,and you tell people.

Well, that's pretty much how PR should be thinking of what it is doing. It does not matter the content delivery system - blogs, podcasts, television, mainstream media - but we are trying to tell a story and present a positive side of the story. So, couple weeks ago I was heading out to a friend's niece's birthday party out in Berkeley.

And, here's a great example of two incidences on why the customer experience influences decisions, and cements views and opinions.

The first is buying a birthday gift for her at American Apparel, and the next is me going to Everett & Jones (best damn BBQ, bar none - just look at that photo).

Okay, I live near one of the American Apparel stores. I like the shirts, they fit me well. I don't really care about their political bent, but more power to them.

The fact is that they pound their chest on their factories in East Los Angeles, but my shirts from Lacoste are made in Macao, and last quite a bit longer. I love buying a T-shirt from American Apparel and having it unravel ... after the first wash, line dried, naturally.

But, that's neither here nor there. It's the customer experience that is the best part of American Apparel (which I touched upon here). Or the worst, if you have to go through it. I just have three great stories that say "um, customers - who are they?" to me in regards to the store.

First, I like wearing long sleeve shirts underneath my short sleeve Lacostes. I like the look, and, well, it's freezing here. So, I want lilac. I like lilac. I look good in lilac. So, they transfer a shirt from another store ... and then take 20 minutes to look for where they put the shirt. The kids - and that might be the problem with the staff, it's all kids with no adult supervision and too cool to help people - ran downstairs, ran upstairs, ran everywhere.

But, um, did not look next to the register where they apparenlty keep the transfers. I walk up and grab the shirt and pay. They all look confused ... because the name "Pepper" is confusing?

Second, one of my best friends - and the impetus for this blog, so blame Kyle - lives in London. I was trying to figure out a birthday gift for him, and decided to order some shirts from American Apparel ... but had to do it online, because he lives in London. So, I order from the UK site ... and hear nothing. I send an email, and get a bounce back because the mail box is full. I call using Skype - I'm not going to spend real money on a call - and talk to customer service.

Now, this is almost two months since I ordered ... and no correspondence. The person I yelled at in the UK - let's be honest, I yelled at him - took the initiative and started corresponding, to let me know the issues (one shirt never came back to the UK) and that he would keep on top of it. He did, and he did a great job.

So, I emailed his boss ... and heard nothing. Classic example of no sense in customer service.

The last example was the niece birthday gift. And, pretty much a last straw. I go in, and ask for some help on buying a gift for a three-year old. Now, as far as I know, clothing is pretty standard for children. I ask for help, and I get the "I don't know, don't bother me" look. So, I ask again, and pretty much note that how the hell do you work at a clothing store and know nothing about size.

An overall wonderful experience just trying to buy a T-shirt ... but no one is trained to actually know anything about clothes at the store.

It's the too cool to help you mentality. We're soooo hip, we don't need you is the vibe.

Now, a real cool store is Everett & Jones.

Here's an example of customer service that explains why the restaurant has been around for more than 30 years. When I lived in the East Bay, I used to go to E&J for brisket a few times a month. The place rocks. And, when I do go to the East Bay now, I try to hit one of the places, but usually go to the one on San Pablo.

What makes them so good at customer service? Well, they say hello, remember faces of people that eat there, and treat everyone pretty much the same.

The service is not special for some people, but an egalitarian place. It's clean (well, for an old building), it's fast and it's customer oriented.

Is that really so hard? In all the times I have been there, the staff has been friendly and chatted up a little bit, noted that I always get the same thing - they make me feel like they really care if I come back.

It's pure PR - working with the public that comes to your place.

So, what's the point? In this "social media" world - blogs, podcasts, vidcasts, Yelp - it is too easy to air your issues with a company.

If the company is smart - and I give American Apparel credit for finding my first post, and commenting - then they are going to work on the issues presented. If not, then the company - and this will affect the local, smallest place to the largest multinational - will suffer and not realize why.

So, it comes down to good PR at the front-end, and good monitoring and PR at the back-end.

Photo from
Trac_1980, all rights reserved.

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Thanks for all the fish :)

Okay, so this happened on Monday, but I was in WOMMA mode and am just posting about this.

Whomever nominated me for the Best PR blog in Marketing Sherpa: Thanks!!

Now to my readers, go vote if you want to help me out. Voting ends Monday.

If not, keep reading away, and have a great weekend!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Where were the PR people at Vloggercon?

The past weekend - not the last one, but the weekend before - I went to Vloggercon.

After that week, I had continued talks with Dina and Michael from Blip.tv about what they are doing, been talking to the Podtech.net (there's me and John Furrier at Vloggercon) people for ideas and further discussions on what they are doing, and then went to the Blip.tv/Dabble party and spoke with GeekTV's Eddie Codel - all about video blogs and what is going on with them.

But, one thing that I noted to Rohit Bhargava - who was at Vloggercon for a client - was the missing PR people. Yes, there were PR people at the show ... but mostly for clients. And, full disclosure - I wasn't there for a client, but to learn.

Where we the PR people that were there to learn more? Why weren't there more PR people there learning about video blogs, and what is being said, how the technology is changing, and what we can do with video blogs.

Rohit has a great post on his observations from Vloggercon, and ValleyWag has a great post on the flipside of the insular nature of vlogs. But, for PR people, both of these are important issues.

Video blogs or vlogs or video podcasts - while still a nascent field in consumer generated media - are a growing space, and has potential to really explode. If you look at YouTube - ignore all the copyright material, and look for the original content - you find a massive audience that is watching. When you go to Blip.tv, you see various channels that include cooking, personal, travelogues and other fun videos.

Okay, so PR people should be paying attention to video blogs, because there are opportunities: outreach and conversations. Yes, vlogs are also a place you can reach out to, and get information to and help tell the story. Or, well, you know it could be easy to transfer the whole video library for media - the atypical b-roll - to a media center video blog. Instead of doing the full link-up and crew, you can shoot for a vlog and have those clips available for the media.

That's the difference from the past to now: you can provide the videos to the media and the public, and give them the tools to create their own media. Help them own the brand as well.

But, well, there were not enough PR people there to learn these things.

Photos by Chris Heuer. All rights reserved (but he's a friend, so hope he's cutting me some slack).

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Trademark Issues in Second Life

A couple week's ago, Scoble came to the office and we were talking post-speech about some issues, the Bay Area and the fun of all that could be.

Yes, this was prior to the big Vloggercon news.

We also talked about Second Life (SL), and I brought up that I had just bought an Adidas shirt for my character. Yes, that's me as Ezekial Goodllife looking at an SUV, in my Adidas shirt.

What are the implications in a virtual world in regards to trademarks and copyrights? I bought this shirt in SL, but I really, really doubt that Adidas put it out, that Adidas is getting money for it, and that Adidas was contacted about the shirt.

We all see how YouTube has both handled and mishandled copyright rights, but how is it going to work in a virtual world, where people make clothes and other items to sell to others.

For example, that shirt only cost me $50 Linden Lab dollars.

Since I knew Linden Labs was going to be speaking at the next Third Thursday, I waited to blog about the trademark issue until I could speak with them. I know, I know - that's very anti-spirit of blogging, and the whole damn the torpedoes mentality that bloggers are supposed to have. Maybe it is the PR person in me that just refuses to go off half-cocked. Okay, joke there, but leaving it alone.

So, met the people from Linden Labs at Third Thursday - live the excitement from Mike Manuel's pix - and did get to ask them about trademarks, but did not have my little reporter handbook to write down the answer and was too tired to remember verbatim, so I emailed them on Friday.

While we were talking, though, we discussed different PR and marketing in Second Life, and she told me about American Apparel launching a store in Second Life. If only I was amoral, I coulda had a scoop!

The sad thing is I bet the virtual American Apparel employees will be better trained than the real-world ones. Talk about a store that lacks customer service ... ugh. But, why is it so important that I had to wait to write about SL trademarks and American Apparel? Because they all tie in together. If corporations are going to begin launching officially branded SL products in the game, if there are already trademark infringements, that is going to impede companies from going in to the SL universe.

The demographics for SL are quite interesting - the right age, the right breakdown of males/females, a good number of real-world transactions - that many companies are going to look at SL as a new place to market. If you are in SL, you see it is an adult-oriented community. While flying down the road, I can see motorcycles, cars, adult-oriented theaters (which cracks me up), and then you have such things as conference centers holding online events while the first world has the same event (one such example is Vloggercon streaming in Second Life).

So, I knew I needed Linden Lab's official stance on copyrights and trademarks, so I got this response:
Trademarks in-world are handled a bit differently than copyright, largely due to trademarks not falling under the provisions of the DMCA. In regards to copyright, Linden Lab follows a standard DMCA procedure by which we'll disable any content identified by the copyright holder or their agent as infringing. The Second Life Resident responsible for that content can file a counterclaim, but any final resolution is handled by the parties themselves, outside of Second Life.

Trademark is not included in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and thus we're obliged to removed unauthorized trademarks from Second Life whenever they are found. In practice, this is exactly what we do. However, as Second Life is a user-created and driven space, we approach this task from the same 'bottom-up' perspective that drives much of our in-world governance. The in-world Linden Lab are skilled facilitators and problem solvers; they aren't trademark experts. Indeed, given the global nature of Second Life, it's invertible that their ability to identify trademarks will be imperfect. While their work includes removing identified trademarks, they are not tasked with seeking out offending material and generally refrain from acting presumptively. Instead, we rely on the community itself, with its much broader knowledge and reach, to inform us of content that violates our policy.
It's a police state, police yourself end-run, which might ask a little bit too much from the users.

Is someone in SL going to complain that their Adidas shirt is less than stellar quality? Or, that their car does not run well? Well, no. But, I think that Linden is at least cognizant of the potential issue, and is looking to the community to help them help keep SL alive and well. I wonder if another brand was the first store in Second Life, if it would have been more inflammatory.

Imagine the world's first SL Starbucks. And, then have nightmares ....

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

What blogs do YOU read

From the weekly Sam Whitmore's Media Survey teleconference ...

Forbes Magazine (famously known for its bloggers attack!! story) managing editor Dennis Kneale:

There are none I religiously read, but I do read Gawker and Romenesko for media coverage. The WSJ daily coverage is more informative for what is going on than any blog.

ValleyWag from that 20-year old kid – why should I turn to that for insight or information?

So, yes, I am on these teleconferences and I figured this would be a fun question to ask different reporters (what blogs do you read?), as it was asked prior at a PRSA event, and the answers were interesting. Sam Whitmore also has a great Podcast for PR people here.

You Know ...

You get IM'ed a hot story/breaking news from a source.

You sit on the IM, but shoot it out to a couple people.

You get home from dinner, and the hot story's subject posts.

That's how it always is. Congratulations Om, and best of luck. And, well, this post of yours made my day today.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Why has Web 2.0 Been (Relatively) Quiet on Net Neutrality??

Sitting at the Vloggercon show again, and I came to hear on the panel on Net Neutrality - an area that really does interest me, mainly because of the deafening silence in the Web 2.0 community. Huge silence.

Why? Fear. Narcissism. Ignorance. Politics. Apathy. I am not sure which one, although I do think it is each one.

I think that Web 2.0 is afraid to take a stand on Net Neutrality - or join the voice in SaveTheInternet or Pulver's Save the Net - because it might offend a potential purchaser/corporate overlord. I think they are narcissistic because they just do not care because they think it does not affect them. I call ignorance (or, stupidity) because they do not understand the issue. I call it politics, because they are playing politics in the flip game. I call it apathy, because I just do not think they care about the issue.

The point is that I searched through Technorati, and could not find the usual Web 2.0 suspects writing, but just pointing people to fun videos that are cutesy; they are not really taking the banner of Net Neutrality.

I have discussed this with a couple of other bloggers - and wonder if Web 2.0 has not rushed to this because they are so caught up with themselves. Do they think that the banners of open source, community Web, and whatever the buzz words du jour are going to save their companies? If you look at the Web 2.0 sites -Facebook, Riya, YouTube, Second Life, Songbird, BitTorrent and others - they are total bandwidth hogs.

Look at how much Second Life is growing, to the point that it is holding virtual conferences, virtual concerts. But at least is it suited to find ways around the potential costs of the loss of Net Neutrality, as it already charges for membership.

And, well, since Friday it is even a bigger issue since the House rejected Net Neutrality. Now, while the big Net companies - MSFT, Google, Yahoo - have been to the hill to fight for Net Neutrality, the other side of the debate has just been as active.

But is smarter and better at lobbying.

Just imagine if the Web 2.0 companies rallied their users to send a letter or email to their Senators and Congressman. Would not those voices be heard, or am I a little too Mr. Smith Goes To Washington?

While I am neither for nor against Net Neutrality - I think it is inevitable - look at cable and pay TV and how that evolved from regular TV. Think about the history of television. It hit good mass adoption in the 50's, and then had a nice run through the 70's and 80's, when cable came out and offered more premium channels at a price, and then a premiere price of more channels, like HBO and Showtime. People accepted the new tiered television, and have embraced it with a little bit of complaints once in a while.

But, with the Internet, we have not yet hit mass adoption of broadband access. While people are still using dial-up of NetZero and AOL for $10-24/month, are they ready to jump to $40+ a month for DSL or Cable, and then find out that that is just the first level, not the premium Internet that will get them the cool bells and whistles?

It is too early, but it is inevitable. The fact is we all want our high, high-broadband access and we will likely pay for it.

As an aside, read these posts from GigaOm/Om Malik, which helped me understand the issue better.

But, the Web 2.0 (relative) silence is both deafening and sad. It's a see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil issue right now.

Follow-up: I just spoke with Mike Hudack, CEO of
Blip.tv, who has been speaking on the issue of Net Neutrality - as part of the panel, and as part of the changes in media, and how without Net Neutrality, his company would not have been able to launch. There are some Web 2.0 companies that are speaking out there - watch the PBS Now episode - but overall, there is too much silence. Mary Hodder also speaks a lot on the issue as well.

Photo by J-Hob, some rights reserved. Disclosure - a current client I work with is involved in the Net Neutrality issue, but I do not consult or work with them on the issue.

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Rumors of Leaving

Silicon Valley Watcher: Microsoft's top blogger Robert Scoble is leaving....

I can neither confirm nor deny this story, but I can say that I spent some time with Robert both today at Vloggercon (to the left, with Eric Rice) and in Seattle for work, and we discussed life and work, and revolutions in the life cycle. I would not betray a conversation had in private, though, with someone I consider a friend.

As for leaks, I think that as PR people, we protect information that we are given, whether it is related to work or is private. If this was from a private conversation, or overheard, for shame on those that ran with the story or helped spread it immediately. If there's a choice between friendship and an exclusive, I will take friendship any day.

Scoble is a great guy, and where ever he is will benefit from him, his honesty, his personality.

There's alot being written right now, but I think Robert himself has the best post on the subject.

Update: Well, I talked to two of the people involved, and it was not really a leak, but more of a vlog being told, and then uploaded, and then the best laid plans of mice and men... .

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Vloggercon » The Art of Storytelling

Okay, yes, I am trying to live blog at Vloggercon, and the first session that I care to liveblog is on The Art of Storytelling. Stephanie Bryant (the leader of the session) is currently writing the "dummies" book on video blogging, and she previewed chapter 8 during the presentation.

She talks about a type of narrative - the quest story, the Star Wars/LOTD type story. It is about bringing thought to the video blog, bring a story that is more than just video clips (see YouTube if you want that).

Bring the plot. Bring the noise. Bring the pain. Okay, really was just bring the plot, but I like better terms and lyrics, but there is a lot of both pain and noise to plot.

This is pretty basic PR information - it is about telling a story - but think about that. Most people do not know how to resonate, how to tell a story. As PR people, that is our gig - or it is supposed to be - and we should be able to package a story via press release, VNR, video, radio.

But, it is a good reminder that when we tell a story - no matter the medium - that we need to remember that we need to tell a complete story. Think of when you write a press release, and the 5W1H rule. We are telling a story with the headline, the subhed, the first graf. Why should a video blog be any different? Tell a story to make it better, more interesting for the reader/viewer/audience.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Stop the Presses ... Press Releases Are NOT Dead

While we go through the many iterations of "the press release is dead" or "the press release must change" some funny news comes from InformationWeek today.

Press releases have overtaken trade press as sources of news for knowledge workers.

Think about that for a second - releases, which are supposed to be the bane of all PR existence because of spin and marketing, are looked to for information.

From the article comes this little bit:
Strouse posits several possible explanations for the rising popularity of press releases. "It may be that press releases are easier for people to get their hands on," he says. "It may be that press releases are shorter and pithier. It may be that they're oftentimes free and come right into an RSS reader."
I take it a step further - think of how many people get their information from Yahoo! Finance or other online finance pages. Think of the news section on those pages ... it's a wire service feed, depending on which one the company uses.

So, an interesting twist: we can all agree that the press release needs to change (mostly, be newsworthy or better written), but we can see that there is still value with sending out a release.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Nikolai Volkoff for State Delegate - And Why MSM Matters More

I am a big supporter for maintream media. Yep, I love MSM. It serves a purpose, and stories that appear in local newspapers, on media Websites, on local TV news ... are not going to be out there on blogs, because bloggers do not necessarily care about certain issues.

One example I can think of is the recent rate hikes by PG&E. I read the SF Examiner, SF Chronicle, and SJ Mercury News every day ... because I am in PR and I work in the Valley. It only makes sense if you are in media to actually read media. They all had stories about the rate hikes - actually, each had more than just one story on the subject - so it should have been no surprise to anyone that lives in the City that the new bills were going to be a little bit of a shock. It's reasons like this that while the mainstream media is going to be hurt, nothing can take away from the act of turning those pages, and seeing those stories that you might not catch online - and definitely not on a blog - and might miss important news.

Well, so I caught another piece of fun news - the launch of Nikolai Volkoff into politics. Now, if you do not know who Volkoff is, think WWE wrestling and 1980's villain.

So, he has launched his career, and if I had not caught the story on Fox News, I would not likely have heard about it.

And the interesting part?

He said he will campaign "mostly" on the Internet, but left open the possibility of wrestling at campaign events. Such a tactic was not met with enthusiasm from his opponents.

Now, that's just fun and he already has a MySpace page set-up for his campaign. Is he qualified for office? I do not know, but at least he has been working for the city of Balitmore as a code enforcer, so is familiar with some of the rules and laws of the city. And, is not running for office and helping make the USA a better place the dream of every immigrant? (Well, that's how it was always spun to us as kids).

But, the point is that Volkoff would not be getting as much recognition if it were not for mainstream news. The MSM has a valid part to play in our world, and the PR people, PR bloggers, Web 2.0 executives and bloggers who try to discount the MSM as unneeded are under the impression of what I like to call "Bay Area blinders" - they have bought the myth that only blogs matter, and that they can ignore mainstream media.

They can - but only to their own peril.