Monday, June 30, 2008

Digital Media... And All That Jazz

I think I am getting a bad rep; or maybe it's a bad rap.  Either way, I feel the need to clarify my position on the subject of (take your pick of idioms) digital media/social media/social networking/internet marketing/online PR.

John Booth authored a story that appeared in Crain's Cleveland Business this morning about online public relations practices and social networking media. I am pretty sure I talked to John for the better part of an hour, but the essence that got through – which is accurate – would seem to imply that I am not entirely sold on social media.

To be perfectly honest, when it comes to marketing and public relations, we are (I am) never pre-sold on anything.  We do our research first, then we strategize, then we implement.

If a client says "we want a blog," we ask "why?" before we say "okay."  But the same is true of every tactic.  If a client tells us "we want to launch a direct mail campaign," we ask "why?" before we say "okay."  In other words, if we are going to do something, we are going to do it for the right reasons.

[A moment of honest reflection:  clients sometimes come to us with problems/challenges and objectives... and sometimes they jump right to the tactic.]

We never want to assume that any tactic in play is necessarily the best tactic (or the worst) until we know a few things, like what are our objectives and who are our target audiences and how much time do we have and how much budget is available.  You know, the kinds of things that will tell us which tactics are likely to be most successful.

Anyway, all of this is to say that we (I) approach every client situation with an open and fresh mind.  We (I) never assume anything and we (I) never exclude anything.  Essentially, every option is on the table – or at least under consideration to be placed on the table. And that includes online public relations practices and social networking media.  

If you don't believe me, please feel free to IM, e-mail or twitter me.  You can also leave a comment on my blog, call me (by landline or cell) or mail me a letter. You are even welcome to drop by our offices. It's all good.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Problem with Buttons is They Always Fall Off

Bachelors lose buttons. Kids especially lose buttons. Mothers and grandmothers still sew on buttons the old fashion way. This Christmas get the new automatic Buttoneer 2; it attaches any kind of button instantly.

[musical interlude: Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down. Letting the days go by, water flowing underground. Into the blue again, after the money's gone. Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground.]

Over the course of my lifetime (I grew up in the portable radio and color TV explosion eras), I have seen more changes than I can remember. Some stuck and some didn't. Some you knew would stick around and some you knew would never last. But once in a while we all got fooled. Sometimes the least likely changes stuck around and sometimes the most likely changes disappeared.

Things like civil disobedience (college students and civil rights activists marching in the street) and Frisbees. I got my first skate board (it was a chunk of wood shaped like a mini-surfboard with metal skate wheels attached) in 1968 and abused it until it fell apart. That same year I let my dad throw away an entire shoebox full of baseball cards (actually, I kept some to clip to my bike forks so they would smack against the wheel spokes while I was riding).

[And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack. And you may find yourself in another part of the world. And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile. And you may find yourself in a beautiful home with a beautiful wife. And you may ask yourself: Well, how did I get here?]

During the mid-1960s some of the kids in the neighborhood got portable radios (small enough to squeeze into your pants pockets) with earphones! They were called transistor radios. What a cool name. What cool kids. And then they just got smaller and smaller and we all began to lose our minds over the possibilities. Then something happened: our black and white TVs turned color. Pretty soon the transistor radio fever died and the color TV fever started. You can watch the World Series in color? Shut up!

In time, our attention shifted to VHS and Beta video record and play equipment; making our own movies and watching Hollywood movies at home! But movies would soon be bumped by this company called Atari and a game called Pong. Game consoles? I swear to God I played Pong until my eyes bled.

[Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down. Letting the days go by, water flowing underground. Into the blue again, after the money's gone. Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground.]

Today we have the World Wide Web, iPods and Blackberrys. We have Segways, Viagra and Roombas. We have blogs, YouTube and Twitter. We have $4/gallon gas, organic food and a serious environmental movement. We've got war and natural disasters and global warming (sorry, climate change).

Some of it will last. Some of it will not. Some of what you think will stick, will go away and some of what you expect to go away will stick. And time alone will tell.

[Same as it ever was... Same as it ever was... Same as it ever was... Same as it ever was... Same as it ever was... Same as it ever was... Same as it ever was... Same as it ever was...]

Friday, June 20, 2008

No Excuse for Bad Service

We (Sweeney) have been a customer of Burrelle's Luce for some time now. Before that, we were with Cision, which used to be Bacon's.  And along the way we tried other providers (local and national).  The services generally involve media databases and media clipping.

I can honestly say that over the past 22 years, none of these providers has ever delivered a consistently good product.  

Once upon a time, Bacon's offered phone book size directories that were updated weekly with sheets of paper you would cut up and tape into your directory.  Eventually, this process became too expensive and the updates came less and less frequently. And so, while the directories provided a fairly accurate database of media outlets (magazines, newspapers, radio and TV) and contact information (addresses and telephone numbers), they were rarely if ever accurate in terms of who the contacts were.

Likewise, clipping services provided a somewhat questionable service that caught as much coverage as it could, but often missed placements while also sending numerous placements that were not yours.  Then, of course was the billing for endless pages of articles that had nothing to do with your client, but you were nonetheless billed for, simply because your client was mentioned in an industry round up article.

Today, the industry is all "wired" and fully capable of sucking at a much higher level.

For example, our firm has been operating on Macs for 22 years and as of 2008, Cision finally claims to have a new service that is actually compatible with Macs.  Of course they've said this before and were wrong.  Burrelle's on the other hand is compatible with Macs.  Unfortunately, they are so incredibly incompetent in terms of keeping up with changes in the media, that we might as well be chiseling into stone blocks.

Granted, publicity and media relations are only a small part of our business and generally represent only one element of our clients' marketing programs, so maybe I shouldn't get so disgruntled about this.  But I am furious.  When did it become acceptable to charge agencies and organizations for crap services?  I am not okay with it.  We record hundreds of hours each year dealing with the incompetence of these services.  Services which, oh by the way, continue to increase in cost each year like they were fueled by crude oil.

One final note: I should mention that the customer service at both organizations is exceptional. Customer and account service personnel readily acknowledge the limitations and frustrations of their services and bend over backwards apologizing.  Unfortunately, there is no excuse for bad service, even when it is accompanied by good customer service (kind of like a good waiter serving a bad meal).

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Analyze This

A pop quiz (no cheating, please); you have five seconds to answer each question:

1.  How many unique visitors does your Web site receive each day?

2.  How many unique visitors did your Web site receive in the last 30 days?

3.  What is the average time spent on your site?

4.  On average, how many pages are viewed per visit?

5.  Where is most of your traffic coming from?

6.  What keywords and phrases are driving traffic to your site?

7.  What percentage of your traffic consists of loyal (returning) visitors?

8.  Which browsers are your visitors using?

9.  What connection speeds are your visitors using?

10.  What is the capitol of South Dakota? [This is a bonus question].

The answer to #10 is Pierre.  There are no bonus points; you should have learned this in grade school.

As for the other nine questions, I will freely admit that I could not accurately answer these questions without visiting my Google analytics account or referring to a recently produced report.  Of course, the real problem is not the lack of visitation.  Web site analytics are not like a security deposit box that one visits on occasion just to make sure his or her 1985 Roger Clemens rookie card is still there (and btw, it's still only worth $20).

The real problem is the assessment of the data and the action (or lack thereof) in response to certain findings.

In short, if you can't answer these questions, there's a pretty good chance that you are not doing anything to ensure your Web site is producing desirable results (assuming that you have goals for your Web site).  And while knowing the stats/data is just a start, it is a good start.

So I am officially declaring today (June 17) as the inaugural Analyze Your Analytics Day. If you have access to your Web site stats, please visit them now. If you do not have access to your stats - or worse - kick yourself in the ass and get started.

Happy AYA Day!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Wild Horses and Loose Ends Are Hard to Corral

A couple of topics that are on my mind, but I have not had the chance to develop:

1.  Barack Obama Smokes.  And he is not alone.  In fact, some of the professional golfers on the PGA Tour smoke, though they will not be allowed to smoke at this year's US Open, as it has been officially banned indoors and out. I hope that Barack is able to kick the habit, and I applaud him for dealing with it openly, as opposed to that other guy ("I never inhaled").

2.  Tax Rebate Checks Stimulate Spending.  Really?  Okay, I've read and heard this story 10 times today: US Retail Sales Surge... Stimulus Checks Bolster Retail Sales... We're talking New York Times and Wall Street Journal here.  But hold your horses.  Spending jumped a whole 1 percent and there is no factual, scientific evidence linking stimulus checks to the spending.  And oh by the way, the price of gas and food and clothing are all up beyond that magical 1 percent. Is anyone doing the math on this stuff?

3.  Sorry, We're Closed. The International Council of Shopping Centers predicts that 5,770 stores nationwide will likely close by the end of the year (the highest number since 2004).  Someone should tell the guys who are writing about the healing power of the stimulus checks. Did you know that Walmart has more than 150,000 employees across Mexico?  Maybe there are just too many retail stores in the world.

4.  It Still Ain't Easy Being Green. New research shows that the environment is taking a back seat to the economy. The Imagepower Green Brands Survey results have some social researchers questioning the motivations of businesses and consumers going green.  Sounds like we might not be hearing from Ed Begley for another 10 years.

5.  NBA Refs Fixing Games... Say It Ain't So, Joe.  What a funny world we live in.  Cheating (suspected or real) has been a part of professional sports from the beginning; so why is anyone surprised? And whether it is organized or random or an entire team or an individual, it is never right and never acceptable.  But it is also not a surprise.

6.  We're Gonna Need A Bigger TV.  Companies are rushing (behind the scenes) to convert your TV set into a Social Media Center (SMTV... I said it first).  I must admit that the idea of watching LOST or House or Top Chef while chatting with my nerd and geek friends about what's happening or what's about to happen in real time is almost too much to ask for.  But it is going to happen (it better happen). There's just one problem, we're all going to need bigger TVs.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

So Much Time, And So Little To Do!

Willy Wonka, what a character.

I remember when my oldest son went off to college.  He was like a kid in a candy shop (or a chocolate factory if you prefer).  So much to see, so much to do, so many new experiences to be experienced. And he was one of those kids who was bound and determined to do them all. Join a club, play a sport, go to a keg party, watch a football game, date a college girl, smoke a cigar (well, whatever)...

After all, you have to strike while the iron is hot.  There is no way to know what is important and what is not. No way to separate the valuable from the frivolous. No shortage of opportunities.  So you forget about everything you learned during the previous 18 years, throw caution to the wind and attempt to do everything. Most if not all of us have been there - if not as parents, as students.  You should never doubt what no one is sure about.

I bring up this story as a way to point out the impact that the Internet and interactive marketing and social media are having on businesses today.  It's all new and novel.  The possibilities and opportunities are seemingly endless.  You can do this and you can do that and it costs less and it works better and it makes your feet smell like a fresh strawberry bubblegum.

And so, many companies are diving head first into the deep end of the chocolate river.  They want it all and they want it now. Blogs and widgets and viral videos and facebook accounts and email campaigns and optimized web sites and widgets and twitters and everlasting gobstoppers.

After all, if you are not the first to the front of the line, you run the risk of being second or worse (wait for it) last.  It doesn't matter if you are not sure what you are doing, let alone understand it. What matters is that someone else is doing it and you can not afford to not do what ought to be done.  A little nonsense, now and then, is relished by the wisest men.

Like college, the Internet is real.  And it offers tremendous opportunities to those who embrace it and use it wisely.  My son was very lucky.  At some point during his sophomore year he got tired.  Tired of being up all night.  Tired of being broke.  Tired of having to clean up after his buddies.  So he retraced his steps and reacquainted himself with some of his old habits.  Then he integrated them with some of his new knowledge.  And he moved on.

His college career was a great success and his professional career has been even better.

As for companies indulging themselves on all the goodies, temptations and treats that the Internet has to offer, I offer a bit of advice that my father (not Willy Wonka) gave me often: "All things in moderation."  Go slowly, test the waters, take some risks, measure the results, learn as you go and maintain a balance.

We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

PR 2.0: Twice The Ego, Double the Insanity

I've said this before and I will say it again.  I really do like Brian Solis. But OMG!

If you are going to write a blog, then write a blog.  If you are going to write a book, then write a book.

Your May 26 entry on PR Tips for Startups (The Director's Cut) is 103 paragraphs long. A total of more than 4,000 words.  As you point out, this is all stuff that you have covered before, so why must it go on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on?

But really, the length is not what is bothering me.  Rather it is the continuation of the condescending attitude that was the focus of the media earlier this week, thanks to McClellan's new book and Andrew Cohen's thoughtless remarks and the PRSA's knee-jerk reaction to the whole episode.

Why must you feed into the stereotypes?  Despite what you think, PR - at least the PR I have practiced for 28 years - has never been just about "writing and sending press releases to contacts generated by media databases."  Who even calls them press releases since the 1970s? And by the way, no one but the most unsophisticated thinks that "publicity" is "public relations."

Public relations has continued to expand every day for more than just a few hundred years. And it is no surprise that communications technology has continued to influence these evolutionary changes.  Little things like radio and film and TV evolved the industry during the 20th century, just as the Internet is evolving  changes in this century.  WE GET IT.

And yeah, your definition of PR 2.0 is a little bit accurate, but not completely. The assumption that the Web has presented the opportunity for "us" to reach our audiences directly and genuinely without gatekeepers is conceptually true. And sometimes it even happens that the "leader" of a company can use the Internet to talk to and listen to his or her customers.  The potential for two-way communication does exist thanks to the Web.

But that is one big fat POTENTIAL.  And I am getting ahead of myself.

You say: "Now it is about listening and engaging influencers and stakeholders on their levels." Is that what you said?  Just curious what grassroots marketing and special events and open houses and employee picnics and trade shows and consumer shows and stuff like that were all about.  I don't know, maybe connecting with your internal and external audiences?  Maybe talking directly to customers?

You do know that 25 years ago there was a guy named Tom Peters who advocated a thing called MBWA (management by wandering around); some called it "conversational PR" because it connected organizational management with employees and customers and vendors.

You want a world with more informed, effective and meaningful public relations? Then please stop characterizing the whole industry as if we were all idiot cavemen with a single tool (our publicity club).

And are you actually categorizing bloggers as if they were reporters or journalists?  They are communicators and town criers unless they have credentials that state otherwise.  I own an oven and a stove and I am not afraid to use them; but that doesn't make me a chef.

And by the way, why are bloggers the busiest people you can meet?  Maybe because their blogs are too long (which this one has become)?  There might be a few physicians and teachers and bricklayers and cops who would argue with you on this point.

Anyway, I am done.  I have already talked too much and this blog post is becoming too bogged down in complaining, which was not my intent. I simply think you/we need a broader view of what public relations is all about and always has been about.  And we need to stop the stereotypes. It's not publicity and we are not cavemen.  And the Web is our friend, but only if we use it wisely.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Truth about PR Lies, Presidential Lies, Legal Analyst Lies and Media Lies

Let's begin with the truth.  Not all public relations people lie, but some do.  Not all presidents lie, but some do.  Not all legal analysts lie, but some do.  Not all media representatives lie, but some do.

Shocking revelation.

But the two things that bother me most about this recent brouhaha between the PRSA and Andrew Cohen and the media and Scott McClellan are the hypocrisy involved and the fact that this is even a story.

So Scott McClellan writes a book that is deemed controversial because he admits to intentional deception on the part of the Bush administration.  Please, find me at least two people over the age of 18 who are surprised.  So why is this a controversy?  It is wrong (as least according to my personal ethics), but controversial?  Please.

Then there is the non story involving certain members of the public relations industry who are apparently upset that Scott McClellan may have violated PRSA ethical standards. First of all, who are these PR people, how many of them are there, and what "exactly" are they saying?  I was not aware that the industry was being undone by Scotty Mack.  

However, according to Andrew Cohen, the industry is up in arms and that was reason enough to put the entire industry into a single cooking pot and light a fire.  Given this total lack of sensitivity and blatant ignorance, why would anyone even care what he says?  I don't.  Let him chirp away. Please... who is listening?

But hold on a minute here; should I not be defending my own profession? Don't I have some obligation to take up weapon and shield on behalf of the PR industry and support its apparent indignation? Please.

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

Truth be told, there are a lot of really slimy people in this world.  And they can be found in every profession - PR, politics, law and the media.  There are also a lot of really great people in this world.  And they too can be found in every profession.

To be perfectly honest, as it relates to this "issue" du  jour, I could not care less about McClellan or Cohen or the PRSA.  

As my dad used to tell us:  "Call me when you have something good to say."