Aug 11

Mommy Bloggers – To Blackout or Not to Blackout?

Guest post from Maggie O-Neill

According to MomDot, mommy bloggers were encouraged last week to take a much needed girls’ week off (August 6-10) to recover from “blogger burnout” via a PR Blackout Challenge. 

August 11
First off, I want to start this post with “good for you.”  At least from the perspective of someone who would like a week off to focus on myself and getting back to basics. And I get some of the burnout issues mommy bloggers must be facing – their quick rise to fame in the last few years has propelled them to one of the most powerful consumer voices across most industries. For this reason, I applaud them, engage with them and rely on them for insight from a personal and professional level.

But a publicized PR Blackout? Was it really necessary? Did it make a difference? The call-to-action stated that these moms have put aside what is important and become PR for their audience, and therefore have to get back-to-basics. It goes on to compare their deadline stress to what GM’s CEO must feel driving to work every day. Somehow I doubt that (no disrespect). Last time I checked, there was no U.S. implosion of the mommy blogger industry, and Detroit is not full of unemployed bloggers.

So, in a typical, “we don’t need them, they need us” strategy, mommy bloggers turned their cheek last week at some of the folks who helped propel their blogs into the spotlight. Media and PR professionals have done this dance for years; and we know at the end of the day, we really both need each other in order to stay afloat and relevant. 

Sure moms could go back to talking about just their kids and family, but I’m not sure they really want to; and from my experience, most of the blogs are meant to help this group, not harm. In fact, the mom bloggers I talked to this weekend love the job they have created. It allows them to not only be moms, but be moms with a voice that is heard outside of their four walls.

Not sure how the blackout played out, if anyone noticed, or if it helped moms get back-to-basics.  But, for an industry that changes on a daily basis, stepping out last week may be a vacation that is tough to come back from.

Jun 30

The rules don’t apply to me

June 30 - ceo Power brokers think the rules don’t apply to them. That’s certainly true of sports stars, rock impresarios and politicians. It’s also true of executives. Take the latest findings released by UberCEO.com that reveal a near total use of social media tools by Fortune 100 chief executive officers.

UberCEO thinks CEOs are either distracted or too timid to engage in the blogosphere. Timidity (or fear) is a likely culprit. But, so too, is hubris. CEOs move in rarified worlds and breathe rarified air. As a result, most think the rules governing mortal men simply don’t apply to them. One needs only to think of, say, Bernie Ebbers, Bernie Madoff, Dennis Kozlowski or Jeff Skilling to prove the point.

I think CEOs think social media is for the hoi polloi. They don’t need, or want, to dirty their hands by interacting with the masses. They already have their hands full with such irritants as analyst calls, CNBC interviews or annual meetings. Who has the time or patience to write a blog, Tweet or maintain a home page on Facebook?

Sure, one needs to factor in Sarbanes-Oxley when conjecturing why CEOs avoid social media like the plague. And, yes, there remains a solid business case why the big kahuna needs to do this citizen journalist ‘nonsense.’ But, I think the average chief executive officer thinks just like the J. Walter Thompson CEO I once worked for. He felt himself above the fray and looked down his nose at lesser mortals. Let them eat cake (or hit ‘send’).

Until, and unless, we have some truly enlightened CEOs sitting in Fortune 100 corner offices, I don’t think we’ll see any blogging or podcasting. CEOs think that’s something for the ‘marketing guys’ to deal with. In the meantime, they have bigger fish to fry: Wall Street is unhappy with the stock performance, the board is questioning the latest downsizing and the charities are demanding some sort of sustainability program. Blogging? Bah humbug!

*Thanks to Greg Schmalz for the idea for this post.

Mar 11

PR Pros Deserve an “F” in “F-to-F”

I'm composing this blog en route to Washington, DC and a PR News speaking gig. My subject, like most of those on Tuesday's docket, concerns social media.

But I, unlike my fellow presenters, plan on saying something quite different. Rather than droning on about the latest new bell or whistle, or extolling Web 2.0's many virtues, I'll instead be warning about the threats inherent in social media. And, the threats I'll be discussing have nothing to do with crisis communications.

Social media is rapidly becoming a crutch for agency and client executives alike. We recently queried 12 top chief marketing officers and heads of corporate communications to ask two questions: a) how were they demonstrating leadership within the organization? and b) how were they helping to uncover new markets and revenue streams? Eleven out of 12 highlighted social media as the answer to both questions.

Internally, intranets and group e-mails are being used to keep employees informed and aware. Externally, PR pros are engaging in dialogue with all sorts of target groups on Facebook, blogs, etc.

But, only one executive indicated that he took the time for face-to-face meetings (or, F-to-F, as erstwhile Ketchum Chairman Dave Drobis calls it) with employees, customers and prospects.

By meeting face-to-face with employees, this respondent says he was able to connect the dots between what senior management was doing externally (launching new products, etc.) and what they were saying and doing internally (across-the-board freeze on wage and salary increases).

By meeting face-to-face with customers and prospects, this enlightened corporate executive could personally research "the new normal" and update his organization's sales and marketing strategies accordingly.

PR pros are flunking F-to-F communications because we've become over dependent on social media. It's a big, big problem that simply isn't being discussed. And, I guarantee 99 percent of the PR News audience won't do one thing differently after they listen to my remarks. Why? Because F-to-F is a whole lot harder than banging away on a keypad and hitting the send button.

Feb 02

So Much for Forecasting

"Candidates Out of Tune in Social Media Use," shouted the May 27, 2007, headline of a PRWeek article I'd happened to come across. Intrigued, I read on.

Brian Reich, director of new media at Cone and the former briefing director for Al Gore, was analyzing the use of the Internet by the lead presidential candidates of the day. "The Internet staffs of these campaigns haven't proven anything yet," opined Reich, who went on to predict that "…it will be a couple more election cycles before politicians get the hang of it (the Blogosphere)."

Ouch. Talk about being dead wrong.

Of course, at the time, the leading candidates were Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and John McCain. A certain Illinois senator wasn't even mentioned in the PRWeek text. Barackobamatwitterprofile

It's easy for me to do a Monday morning quarterback assessment of Mr. Reich's prediction but, man, oh man, did Barack Obama prove him wrong, or what? Obama's absolute digital mastery was a key ingredient in his successful campaign and continues to be a hallmark of his administration (can you believe we have a president who is not only addicted to his Blackberry, but also Twitters at will?).

I'm sure someone can dig up some predictions of mine that stood the test of time about as well as Reich's, but this one has to be right up there with the movie and radio moguls of the 1930s who predicted that television was nothing more than a passing fancy.

Sep 16

Closing the Digital Gap

Sam Ford’s most excellent PRWeek webinar last week was intended to share the best practices of three Fortune 500 corporations that are doing digital right. They are: Sun Microsystems, Southwest Airlines and H&R Block.

While each operates in entirely different business universes, each had to find ways to overcome internal obstacles, close the internal "digital gap" and convince senior executives to embrace Web 2.0.

Paula Berg of Southwest Airlines, for example, said the most important first step to entering the digital world is understanding the organization’s "voice." How do you want to contribute to the conversation and what do you want to say? What tone will you employ and how responsive do you intend to be? Paula also advised organizations to identify and test a small, controlled digital initiative before turning on the master switch. That serves the dual purpose of fine tuning one’s voice as well as calming the fears of internal naysayers.

Paula Drum of H&R Block positioned digital as critical to understanding what was being said about her company’s brand and reputation. While management worried about the inherent loss of control, they were more concerned about not engaging in conversations, demonstrating the organization’s ability to provide value-add counseling and re-positioning the firm as more than just a tax adviser.

Russ Castronovo of Sun Microsystems had different advice since his organization lives, eats and breathes all things digital. That said, Russ overcomes naysayers or perceived internal roadblocks (think: legal) by evaluating an initiative’s cost/benefit ratio prior to engaging. So, rather than pulling the trigger on a Twitter program or a podcast series, he’ll first assess the internal investment versus the anticipated outcome. Castronovo agreed with his fellow panelists that "seeing" what’s being said about the company’s brand is usually enough to engage senior management and gain their approval to move forward.

Berg, Drum and Castronovo are fortunate to work within enlightened corporate cultures. Based upon the research we and others have conducted though, they are the exception, not the norm. Far too many corporate communicators have expressed frustration that their managers believe engaging in digital means losing control, angering potential constituent audiences or placing the organization in some sort of legal or financial jeopardy.

I don’t mean to minimize the risks, but organizations need to begin engaging in the digital discourse soon, or risk the competitive consequences later (Btw, several panelists reiterated that,  just because your firm has a Web site, doesn’t mean it’s actively engaging in marketplace dialogue).

Understanding how pioneers at Southwest, Sun and H&R Block closed the digital gap is a great starting point for making the case for digital communications at your organization.

So, good luck and good hunting. Closing the digital gap at your organization isn’t only good for your company, it’s a smart career move for you as a communications executive.

May 01

Cable executives struggle with same C-suite fears of digital

I was fortunate to be among the panelists in a recent CableFAX webinar. The subject was digitalCf
communications and, as was the case with my recent PR News webinar, the topics ranged from best practices and budget spends to lessons learned and ‘digital ownership’ within the organization.

CableFAX leveraged the webinar to release the findings of an industry survey on the subject. Interestingly enough, the results were almost identical to the one we’d conducted six weeks earlier with PR News (note: our sampling of 500 marketing communications respondents represented all sorts of corporations, agencies and non-profits. CableFAX’s reflected opinions from within the cable industry).

CableFAX respondents said digital was still a relatively small part of their overall PR budget (56 percent said it accounted for between 11 and 25 percent of the total). Less than one-quarter expected the budget to increase slightly in the next year. The remainder saw little or no budget increase whatsoever for digital.

That said, forty-four percent of respondents believe their digital efforts to date have been somewhat or moderately successful. And, a whopping 58 percent identified a ‘lack of funds’ as the number one hurdle to advancing digital’s use within their organization.

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Apr 30

Spotted: Peppercom AE devouring the latest episode of Gossip Girl on Metro North…

Guest Post by Laura Mills.Gossipgirlimage

Yes, at 25 (old enough to have an SAT score graded on the 1600 scale) I watch the CW’s Gossip Girl.
Fortunately, I’m not alone.  Millions share an obsession with the high school teens of Manhattan’s elite, anticipating each scandalous episode, narrated by an enigmatic blogger against the backdrop of New York’s trendiest hot spots.  On paper the concept sounds ridiculous.  Yet, while pausing an episode on my iPod to arrive at a Connecticut train station, it occurs to me how progressive Gossip Girl really is.

A recent New York magazine article reports that new episodes of Gossip Girl pulled in an average of 2.5 million viewers before the writers strike, an atrocious number, considering the 23.6 million tuned into last week’s American Idol.  Traditionally, this measurement should lead to quick cancellation.  Yet, the new show thrived.  As New York points out, new episodes regularly rotate at the top of iTunes’ most downloaded list, while hundreds of thousands watch free episodes from the network’s Web site.  Personally, I think a television show revolving around a blog should have its own life online, but while Web components and a Second Life presence don’t independently make Gossip Girl a digital standout, the fact that it is the first television show to find primary traction online is a significant development in the media landscape.

Gossip Girl viewers adapt to new technology faster and use it in more ways than ever.  They have at least one iPod and communicate via text message, IM and Facebook 24 hours a day.  Diaries are no longer hidden under mattresses, but documented with password access through LiveJournal.  They can’t comprehend a time when a handwritten middle school assignment was acceptable, and therefore naturally identify with the integration of new media social issues with classic teenage archetypes.  This generation is our future. 

As marketers, we will be targeting these plugged in, socially networked, skeptically over-stimulated viewers.  In fact, companies are already cashing in on the show’s success through product placement and integrated Web promotions, including Verizon and Victoria’s Secret, as well as a plethora of fashion designers and retailers.  So, while it’s just a mere teenage drama, Gossip Girl shatters the glass ceiling to reach viewers via multiple platforms and keeps them coming back for more.  Perhaps the high school characters aren’t the only ones who should be taking notes?

Apr 23

Don’t look back. Someone may be gaining

A recent PR News-Peppercom survey of 500 communicators showed that two-thirds were concerned theyLooking
were parallel to, or behind, their competitors when it came to digital communications.

The finding is scary in a number of ways. It tells me that communicators are either unable to convince their management to make a strategic digital spend or they simply don’t care. While the latter statement may sound glib and superficial, it may also be true. I suspect there’s more than one Fortune 500 marketing executive who simply doesn’t want to worry about digital communications. He or she isn’t comfortable with the new, Web 2.0 world, finds it impossible to control and nearly impossible to explain to the C-suite. So, why not let the next shift worry about it?

If, however, the survey finding indicates an inability on the part of marketers to ‘sell’ digital to the c-suite, then I suggest a competitive audit is exactly the way to do so. Most CEOs move like greased lightning when shown clear evidence of a competitor’s strategic maneuvering. And, what better way to get Avis to move, for example, than by showing the CEO what Hertz is doing in Web 2.0?

Digital is not only a game changer that’s here to stay, it’s a game changer that can help you stay ahead of your competition.

Mar 04

A chip off the old block

I’m pleased to report that Chris ‘Repman, Jr.’ Cody made his stand-up comedy debut this past SaturdayKilimanjaro_004
night.

Chris was one of 13 comedians who, like me, had trained at the most excellent American Comedy Institute.

The comedy course is very cool and attracts people from all walks of life. In addition to Chris, there was a Boston cop, a Swedish newscaster (very hot) and a ‘fat, white 50-year-old divorced guy from Connecticut,’ who was very funny.

The course spans four sessions, and teaches the basics of timing, content and delivery. A professional comedian works with each student to create a five minute routine, which is then performed in front of a live audience.

Chris was the 11th of 13 comics to perform, and I could tell the nervous anticipation was eating him up. But, when he finally did stride up to the microphone, he rocked.

Performing stand-up is an amazing experience. And, it has immediate and obvious implications for the business world (I.e. After performing your own comedy routine in front of strangers, a new business pitch is like a walk in the park).

One other thing: having the guts to do stand-up at the age of 22 amazes me. I know I couldn’t have done it then. But, then I’m not Repman, Jr., either. Well done, Chris.

Dec 20

Sheep weep at steep leap

The Electric Sheep Company, one of Web 2.0’s real superstar design shops, is firing one-third of itsElectric_2
employees in light of declining business.

Considered white hot just a year or so ago, Electric Sheep made its mark by designing ‘builds’ for brands on Second Life. Now, though, with many companies re-thinking the viability of a Second Life presence, Electric Sheep has had the plug pulled (or its billings sheared, depending upon one’s metaphor of choice).

Electric Sheep’s management made the same mistake many of us made during those lazy, hazy, crazy days of dotcom mania. Peppercom did it. And when the dotcom express derailed, we had to manage our way through two separate messy and depressing downsizings. I’ll never forget one bleak February day when, in the midst of the downsizings, our phone system shut down. Rumors began circulating in the industry that we’d closed. Ouch.

But, that was then and this is now. We’ve not only diversified our client portfolio, we’ve also become much more disciplined in hiring. We’ll never again hire willy-nilly in expectations of a continued boom. Instead, we analyze, as best we can, what the coming 90 days look like and make ‘go/no go’ staffing decisions accordingly.

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