Sep 22

Measuring Up

Note to my loyal Repman readers: My partner and "business wife," Edward Aloysius Moed, has launched his own blog called "Measuring Up." Since Ed and I usually disagree on almost everything (except how we run our firm), I’m looking forward to becoming the "medical supply executive" of Measuring Up. But, I don’t want to be a lone voice of reason. Visit Ed’s blog and see if you don’t agree with me that he’s usually wrong 90 percent of the time 🙂

Measuring_up_1 

Sep 19

Transparency is a competitive advantage

Although I’ve made mention of the sole Fortune 500 chief executive officer to post his own blogs, I’d not visited Jonathan Schwartz’s site until recently.

What I saw really impressed me, especially in light of today’s closely controlled corporate messagingJschwartz  environment (i.e. the tightly choreographed debut of a certain brand new news anchor on a major broadcast network comes to mind).

In one blog, the Sun Microsystems CEO talks all about his recent customer, analyst and media meetings in New York City. He openly discusses the types of products about which he briefed the various audiences. He also admits that a last-minute cancellation by rival Dell Computers made his schedule much more robust. In another blog, Schwartz walks the reader through a particularly difficult and slightly embarrassing prospective customer presentation to a major government agency.

How cool is this? How many CEOs do any of us know or work with who would be willing to open up and share this sort of insider talk with the world? Schwartz does it because he believes it’s the fastest and most effective way to communicate with every one of Sun’s constituent audiences: the Street, employees, customers, supply chain partners, etc. And, although he says he does so within S.E.C. guidelines, I have to believe Schwartz absolutely drives Sun’s legal team nuts. Which warms my heart to no end.

In my opinion, Schwartz is the digital version of Daniel Boone, blazing a trail that, I guarantee, other CEOs will soon follow, especially as younger and more tech-savvy Fortune 500 chief executives take the reins.

Despite what some critics may say, the Web 2.0 phenomenon will only continue to grow. In fact, according to Technorati Founder David Sifry, there’s a new blog being launched somewhere in the world every second and there are nearly 50 million blogs overall (up from only 1.6 million only two-and-half years ago).

CEOs will catch on. It’s only a matter of time. And the smart ones will do so for exactly the same reason Schwartz says he did: his blog provides transparency and nowadays, transparency is a competitive advantage. Sure, open communication is no guarantee of fiscal success — Schwartz has a long road ahead — but it has to help.

Sep 13

He who hesitates is lost

BtoB magazine has several articles in the most recent issue that underscore the growing importance of blogs for business-to-business marketers.

According to one survey by KnowledgeStorm and Universal McCann, more than 80 percent of the 4,500 people surveyed read blogs, with 18 percent reading them daily and 33 percent weekly.

A column in the same issue by Paul Gillan, a web consultant, chastises those B-to-B marketers who remain on the sidelines waiting for the "Web 2.0 bubble" to crash. Gillen says social media is here to stay and, since there is very little venture capital money tied up in supporting bloggers and community sites, that there won’t be any crash, just continued growth.

I’ve always felt this way. Once the average person feels empowered to write whatever he or she feels about a company, a politician or a sports team, there’s no turning back. The proverbial genie is out of the bottle. Marketers who avoid the web or, worse, don’t monitor message boards to see what people are saying about them, run the risk of alienating existing customers and scaring off prospective ones.

Few marketers will disagree that blogging is an important business-to-consumer strategy. Yet, now we have evidence of its growing popularity in the B-to-B space.

Smart B-to-C companies have already capitalized on Web 2.0 to create all sorts of new and exciting relationships with consumers. General Motors is a great example. There’s no doubt that savvy B-to-B companies will follow suit. Some already have. IBM, for example, has had a blogger-in-chief for some time.

Blogging isn’t just a nice thing to do. It’s become a prerequisite to a total marketing effort. We’re seeing more and more existing and prospective clients asking for credentials and ideas in the digital realm. Many are in the B-to-B space.

Blogs are today’s "Web site." In the past, some companies didn’t think it was important to have a Web site. Now, businesses and consumers expect every company to have a Web site, whether that company is in the B2B or B2C space. Not having a Web site is as absurd as not having a business card. It won’t be long before blogs are as standard as Web sites.

Pundits and marketers who sit on the sidelines and keep waiting for the social phenomenon that is blogging to pass, do so at their own peril. The time to act is now. He (or she) who hesitates may not only be lost. They may be left behind as well.

Jul 31

I guess .04 percent is better than nothing

A Randall Stross column (subscription required) in yesterday’s New York Times revealed that only two, count ’em two, of the Fortune 500 chief executive officers maintain a blog. Of the two, Jonathan Schwartz of Sun Microsystems and John Mackey of Whole Foods, only Schwartz blogs with any regularity.

Even though he is alone in his convictions, Schwartz could not be more adamant about the Schwartz_2 importance of blogging in a CEOs life. "My number 1 job is to be a communicator," said Schwartz. "I don’t understand how a CEO would not blog if committed to open communication." In fell swoop, says Schwartz, he simultaneously reaches shareholders, software developers, and current and prospective customers. He says a single blog saves him countless hours of time that would have been spent composing individual e-mails to these very same groups.

So, why don’t more CEOs blog? It’s not because, as some suggest, blogging is a passing fad. It’s because CEOs fear the loss of control that comes with blogging. Unlike a letter in an annual report, a prepared speech to an industry trade group or a print advertisement, blogging demands open, two-way communication. And, for an authoritarian, top-down manager surrounded by sycophants, that concept is way too scary.

But, as Schwartz pointed out in a Harvard Business Review article, one day all CEOs will blog. They’ll wake up to its efficiencies and its ability to create new and different relationships with core constituents. It may take a few years, but I totally agree with Schwartz. Why? Because market competition and good ol’ peer pressure will force the CEO to adapt or die. Once Schwartz’s competitors realize how his blog pre-empts the types of traditional relationships they’ve been trying to nurture with the same prospective customer base, you’ll see them pick up the keypad and start banging away.

There was one other key point in the Stross article that I wanted to share. Schwartz says he’s dead set against ghostwritten CEO blogs. I totally agree. My good friend and competitor, Ken Makovsky, has gone on record as disagreeing, saying a ghostwritten blog is no different than a ghostwritten speech. Conceptually, he may be right. But, the blogosphere has its own rules and regulations. Bloggers want to have direct, one-on-one conversations with one another, and not have to deal with a designated member of the corporation’s palace guard. As a result, ghostwritten blogs get deleted faster than those unsolicited requests from Ethiopian widows looking to deposit $15mm in your bank account.

So, here’s a virtual tip of the hat to Mr. Schwartz for having the brains and the guts to go where no other CEO has gone. Let’s hope future text books and manuals on business acknowledge his visionary act.

Jul 07

New poll shows corporate communicators are out to lunch when it comes to blogging

How scary are the results of the new IABC survey on blogging? When asked how best to deal with hostile bloggers, some 300 corporate communicators were split right down the middle as to whether it should be their responsibility or pushed to customer service. Customer service? Talk about one of the great oxymorons in business.

Another significant number of respondents said they just ignore hostile bloggers. Oh brother. Both findings are a recipe for disaster.

As discussed in previous posts, blogging should be the responsibility of corporate communications, since it involves a dialogue with constituents and impacts an organization’s image and reputation (plus, I’d like to think that we are best equipped at establishing a "conversation" between an organization and its constituents).

Passing the buck to a customer service representative is tantamount to dereliction of duty in my book. And, those corporate communicators who choose not to respond at all to hostile bloggers should be locked up in the blogosphere’s version of Gitmo.

When will the PR profession wake up and begin taking digital communications seriously? Too few agencies have blogs and too many corporate communications professionals allow their brethren in marketing or, gulp, customer service, to "own" blogging.

The sooner our ilk "get" that digital communications is here to stay and that engaging in dialogues and establishing relationships with friendly, indifferent or even hostile bloggers is critical to the overall corporate communications program, the sooner we’ll see America’s corporations begin building new and different relationships with current and future customers.

Someone needs to send a big, digital wake-up call to the "pros" who responded to the IABC survey. The job they save may be their own.

Jun 21

It’s time for the NBCs, CBSs and ABCs to follow the BBCs lead

A member of the crack and far-flung Repman reporting staff identified a fascinating new development in London.  The BBC has provided a "desk" to a citizen journalist (nee Blogger) from which he can cover whatever happens to strike his fancy. How about our broadcast networks following suit?  Anyway, herewith (as we Anglophiles like to say) is the report from our London office…

A major British online news outlet has offered a desk to a ‘citizen journalist’ for a week as an experiment. Strange you might think, but in the summer Europe effectively shuts down. Journalists affectionately refer to this time of the year as the silly season for news.

Lets face it, on this side of the pond we have already been subjected to a blow by blow account of the England players boarding the plane to Germany; the England players’ plane taxiing to the runway; the England players’ plane taking off and finally the England players plane being airborne…you get my point.  Let’s see what kinds of story angles get selected as newsworthy in the coming week. Citizen journalists may just be what we need.

UPDATE:

In his second day as "citizen journalist," Frankie Roberto has already succumbed to football mania Froberto with reports titled: "Owen heading back to England" followed shortly by "The England match" … and it all started so positively. But this raises an interesting question. What is news?  Well, for me it’s not football, but for millions of people across the world, it is. So, should the news we receive be dictated by us, the audience, or by journalists who are paid to be objective and select the news that they feel we should know about?