Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it.

One of my colleagues was kind enough to direct me to the Faster Future blog site today, where I read for the 5,000th time about how smart and savvy "online PR" people are and how dumb and naive "traditional PR" people are.

Thank you for all that.  I must admit that there are  just not enough articles and posts out there yet extolling the total virtues of online PR and interactive marketing and social media and digital marketing and whatever other label you want to pin on its lapel, while also deriding the absolutely loathsome and unethical ways of old school PR.

In case you've missed it, the story goes like this:  

Once upon a time there was traditional public relations. Press agents, publicists, flack and spindoctors would use their cunning and whiley ways to bribe or otherwise fool media into covering their stories.  The goal, of course, was to get to the masses with one-sided messages. Unfortunately, these traditional PR people had to trick or kiss up to the media in order to get their stories out there. Apparently the media were very naive or easily fooled, but they do not exist anymore, so there is no way to know for certain.

Sometimes these traditional marketing people would use ads and sometimes they would use direct mail.  Sometimes they would even have events or use some form of guerilla marketing that allowed them to come face to face with consumers.  Fortunately, like the media, people were easily fooled when under the spell of traditional PR people.

It was a dark and dreadful time.

But now we have evolved beyond the real world and into the virtual world, where evil companies fronted with evil traditional PR people can no longer control the message.  Finally, consumers are in charge.  Individually they decide what they want to read and watch and listen to.  Then they decide what to do with the information.  And they share their opinions openly!

And the stupid traditional PR people whose lips hurt from sucking up to the media for so many years try to compete by sucking up to bloggers and message board participants.  They try to create Web sites and MySpace and Facebook pages that force messages down consumers' unsuspecting throats.

But alas, only the "Online PR" people have the magic ability to understand the subtle nuances of conversation.

And that's pretty much the whole story.  It seems that no one watches TV any more (or if they do it is only online).  And no one listens to the radio. No one goes to the movies. No one reads newspapers or magazines. No one reads books.  No one goes to public events.  No one ever socializes or networks (unless it is on some Internet social media platform).  No one talks to their neighbors or fellow employees or friends (unless they are texting).  No one writes letters or sends post cards. No one plays sports, especially not on teams.

So the only way to reach people now is through the Internet.  And only online PR people have the backstage passes to get in there.

Unless there is some other alternative... Nah, don't let's be silly now.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

An Open Letter to the Cleveland Indians

Okay, so the season is more than half over and the Tribe has only managed 45 wins. And C. C. Sabathia is gone and Casey Blake is gone. And Victor Martinez is out and Pronk is out and Jake Westbrook is out and Josh Barfield is out. And we are struggling to stay out of last place behind the lowly Kansas City Royals. So, yeah, it looks bleak.

But please, please, please, do not give up.

In this proud land we grew up strong
We were wanted all along
I was taught to fight, taught to win
I never thought I could fail

While I was not among the 35,000 or so fans who trekked to Progressive Field tonight to watch Fausto retake the mound, I was one of the tens of thousands at home listening to the radio. And I heard Tom Hamilton tell all who were listening: "Basically it's all practice for next year from here on out."

Really? It's all over? You've thrown in the towel with 61 games yet to be played? Where's the hope? Where's the faith? Where's the love?

No fight left or so it seems
I am a man whose dreams have all deserted
I've changed my face, I've changed my name
But no one wants you when you lose

I'm not blaming Hammy either. He's a great announcer and a great fan and apparently a realist. But as a fan, I have to believe that anything is possible. And I have to cling to the hope that the team feels the same way.

Look, no one gave the Giants a chance at the Super Bowl this year, and no one figured Appalachian State to hold on to beat Michigan. And who knew that Fresno State's baseball team could take down Georgia in the College World Series? You know who knew? Homers like me.

Listen, last year my brother Denny (who knows a ton more about sports than I do) bet me that Brady Quinn would be playing in the pros long before Troy Smith ever got his first shot. I argued that Troy had the same chance as Brady. I told him anything was possible. And I won the bet.

Dont give up
Cause you have friends
Dont give up
You're not beaten yet
Dont give up
I know you can make it good

Please, clap your hands. Clap your hands and say, "I do believe in miracles."

This season is not over yet, not by a long shot. Or as Yogi Berra so eloquently put it: "It ain't over till it's over."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

According to PR Week...

Burson-Marsteller (my alma mater) conducted a survey in February and March, and found that 74 Fortune 500 companies maintain blogs. Statistically, that would equate to 14.8 percent. Not surprisingly, they were mostly tech companies like IBM, Dell, Motorola, Intel, Amazon and Google. 

Erin Byrne, Burson chief digital strategist concludes: "What the results across the board show is that blogging has become a core part of any communications program."

Huh? I read that three times to make sure I didn't miss something.

There is no doubt that most organizations are relatively slow to adopt and adapt to new technologies.  It may be hard to believe, but in 1986, when I left Burson-Marsteller (the world's largest public relations firm) to start Sweeney (the world's newest public relations firm), B-M offices did not have desktop computers.  We had word processors (DecMates, I believe) and electronic typewriters, but not computers.  Eventually the company adopted and adapted.

And my guess is that same holds true for blogging.  Eventually most companies will adopt and adapt. 

And so it is not a huge surprise that 85.2 percent of Fortune 500 companies DO NOT maintain blogs.  However, Byrne has an alternate view: “When I thought about it, I thought that the number [74] would have been higher, and I think the reason…why it still isn't higher is that companies are still grappling with how they participate in the conversation when they don't have control over the message.”

Double Huh?

What are we talking about?  First of all, in any conversation, you only control your end of the conversation... you only control your messages.  Doesn't matter if you are in person, on the phone, writing letters, sending email or blogging, talking on-to-one or talking within a group. You can only control yourself and the message you send.  And second, a conversation is by definition an exchange of ideas and opinions, which generally speaking may or may not be in agreement.

So in a conversation, you just tell the truth (your message) and let the other person or people tell their truth (their message) and you go from there (carry on the conversation).  It's just blogging; there's really nothing to grapple with.

Anyway, control is an illusion.  Or as Mario Andretti put it: “If everything seems under control, you're just not going fast enough.”

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

If It's Not One Thing, It's Another Thing.

It's always something.

What is it with people?  Sometimes it seems that no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, no matter what you achieve, you are only as good as your last [fill in the blank].

Take Apple for example.  The company stock has skyrocketed from less than $10/share in late 2003 (I am painfully aware of this as my younger brother and I debated whether to buy shares of Apple or shares of Ford at the time... guess which we invested in?) to more than $200/share this year.  But suddenly and inexplicitly it is nosediving. 

"The stock is plagued by high expectations," said Shaw Wu, an analyst for American Technology Research, in an interview. "Looking at the numbers by themselves, they are actually quite strong."

So, what's up with that?

[Kirk: Is he dead, Bones?
For God sakes, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a—oh, right.]

Maybe it's just human nature.  Or maybe some people are just jerks.

As an agency that gets paid to represent clients, we are constantly aware of our responsibilities to deliver powerful results.  Long before a client ever has the opportunity to point out the occasional shortcoming or failure, we are typically beating ourselves up and attempting to change the situation.

Still, things happen and clients drop the hammer.  And so it goes.

I was watching the ABC Nightline report on Barack Obama last night. Throughout the broadcast, they did their best to ask the tough questions and cast seeds of doubt concerning his abilities as a future commander-in-chief. But really, he held his own throughout the entire interview. At one point he told our soldiers on the ground in Iraq that "while we (the citizens of the United States) may be divided on the issues and may disagree about what to do and how to do it (referring to the war), we are nonetheless united in our support of their efforts."

But before the show could air its last commercial, John McCain had a response for Obama: "Hey, what have you done for us lately?"

[Now, let's get started by letting me give you a little bit of a scenario of what my life is all about. First off, I am 35 years old, I am divorced, and I live in a van down by the river. Now, you kids are probably saying to yourselves, "Hey, I'm going to go out and get the world by the tail and wrap it around and pull it down and put it in my pocket!" Well, I'm here to tell you that you're probably going to find out, as you go out there, that you're not going to amount to JACK SQUAT!]

You see what I mean? There's just something uniquely American about helping people get to the top just so you can knock them off their pedestal once they get there. It's like the bumper sticker says:  Keep honking, I'm reloading.

But I am not buying whatever it is that this segment of society is selling.  I have a new world order in mind: the truth.  Yeah, really.  If I do a bad job, tell me I did a bad job.  If I do a good job, tell me I did a good job.  Just don't prop me and drop me for no good reason.  I am human.  I do good work and usually get good results.  And on occasion I screw up... but not often.

So please be considerate.

[If a kid asks where rain comes from, I think a cute thing to tell him is “God is crying.” And if he asks why God is crying, another cute thing to tell him is “Probably because of something you did.” Jack Handey]

Monday, July 14, 2008

Less is More... More or less.

Coming soon to a retail store near you:  Less.

Confused?  Just wait.  A recent story in the Globe and Mail (the great white north news) reveals how Unilever Canada Ltd. dealt with the skyrocketing price of soybean oil:  reduced package size!

Last Halloween, I saw a bag of Whoppers (or maybe it was a box of Junior Mints...I can't remember) boldly proclaiming 30% fewer calories!  At the time it occurred to me that the bag (or box) was smaller than I remembered it, which would account for the reduced calories.  But then I thought:  Who wants less candy?

["Who's gonna turn down a Junior Mint? It's chocolate, it's peppermint -- it's delicious!"]

According to the G&M, the dilemma of whether to raise price or reduce package is becoming more common as commodity prices soar and inflation accelerates.  And the question is, of course, how to best pass along rising costs to the consumer.

Unilever chose to reduce the size of its mayo jars by 60 ml.  Naturally, this meant they had to create new containers, so they went from glass to plastic, which apparently cut manufacturing costs.  Nonetheless, the price has gone up as the size has gone down.  Less is more.

But don't get too mad too fast at Unilever. The Bank of Canada says that a record 42 percent of companies plan to pass along rising costs to customers. More of less being more.  But instead of raising prices, many companies are reducing sizes.  

As my dad used to say, there's not such thing as a free lunch.  You either pay up or you go home empty-handed.

["Um, excuse me, I - I think you forgot my bread."  "Bread, two dollars extra."  "Two dollars? But everyone in front of me got free bread."  "You want bread?"  "Yes, please."  "Three dollars!"  "What?"  "No soup for you!"]

Anyway, it apparently works.  Shortly after the mayonnaise incident, Unilever pulled the same routine with its Breyer's ice cream.  Now General Mills (the cereal king, not the military guy) is selling smaller boxes of Cheerios and Wheaties.  And Kellogg is doing it too.  Wrigley's even had the audacity to cut the number of pieces of gum in its packs of Juicy Fruit.  More and more of less and less being more and more.

John Gourville [silly name nonsequitor:  the Tampa Bay Rays have a pitcher by the name of Balfour; they may want to trade him for a guy names Strikethree], a marketing professor at Harvard Business School says consumers are more sensitive to changes in price than to changes in quantity.  

"People don't notice the change in package size  very often," he said before offering this caveat: “If people notice the change they're going to feel like the company is being deceptive. That risk is higher now because people are extremely sensitive to price increases given the tough economic times.”

And while it would be nice to point a finger at the kids above the border, consider that those Frito-Lay chips you've been munching on are smaller than they used to be - from one-fourth of an ounce on small bags to two ounces on a family-sized bag.  Then there is the smaller bar of Dial Soap, the smaller tub of Shedd's Spread Country Crock, the smaller jug of Tropicana orange juice and on and on.  But don't be surprised or upset you didn't know it... that was kind of the whole idea.

["Jerry, just remember, it's not a lie if you believe it."]

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Show Me The Money

One of the things I love most about our industry (marketing and public relations) is the total lack of standardization.  I am warning you right now to save your emails about PRSA standards.

As I indicated in my last entry, our industry is WAY over the top with talk about ROI (return on investment).  And much of that talk is being driven by social media/marketing, where it is popular to contend that measurement is much easier and more reliable.

Let's begin with a definition of ROI.  There are so many to choose from, but they all basically say the same thing: "The profit or loss resulting from an investment transaction, usually expressed as an annual percentage return." This particular definition is brought to you by Cisco (why not?).

[It's something very personal, a very important thing. Hell! It's a family motto. Are you ready Jerry? I wanna make sure you're ready, brother. Here it is: Show me the money. SHOW! ME! THE! MONEY! Jerry, it is such a pleasure to say that! Say it with me one time, Jerry.]

ROI is not about touchy-feely stuff.  It's not about creating traffic or increasing awareness levels.  It's not about engaging customers in conversations that lead to trial.  

ROI is about money.  You spend X amount and get Y return (minus the X investment) and that (in broad-sweeping, unacceptable accounting terms) tells you your gain or loss.

At the moment, to my knowledge - and I am fully prepared to stand corrected - NO ONE can tell you the ROI of social media/marketing.  Yet everyone insists on talking about ROI.  For example, the  Bulldog Reporter is actively promoting its July 16 Webcast Tutorial: Social Media Measurement for PR: How to Measure the ROI of Blogs and All Things Web 2.0.


I absolutely guarantee you that you will not learn how to determine the monetary return on your blog investment.  Not gonna happen.  Still, I would not discourage you from attending as you may learn lots of valuable information about social media and "measurement."

[You are hanging on by a very thin thread and I dig that about you! ]

The motivation is sound.  The intention is good.  But I think we are doing our industry a major disservice by purporting to provide clients with an ROI when what we are really doing is documenting deliverables, monitoring/tracking activities, reporting results and evaluating the meaning.

Tell me I am wrong; I am listening.  But I have yet to read a single case study that accounts for tangible dollars.  That's all I am saying.  

If we are not showing actual ROI, then let's not call it ROI.  Let's be honest.

[I am out here for you. You don't know what it's like to be ME out here for YOU. It is an up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege that I will never fully tell you about, ok? ]

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

ROI: Reality Or Insanity?

I wrote my first article on ROI about 28 years ago.  As I recall it had to do with the return on investment to cable system operators of an Oak Communications cable system... or maybe it had to do with the return on investment to Midwest farmers of NaChurs liquid fertilizer.

What's old is new again.  The only constant in life is change.  ROI is everything.

Denny Hatch wrote/ran a very interesting story yesterday about SEO/SEM. Referencing an SEM seminar he attended in Philadelphia a few weeks ago, he said this: "Harry Brooks and the new generation of Internet marketers are brilliant and absolutely fixated on ROI. He probably used the term ROI 50 times in the course of the three hour presentation."

In point of fact, the entire marketing industry is obsessed with ROI.  Story after story in blogs and magazines and newsletters.  Apparently it is all about the analytics and metrics (by the way, it is my personal theory that any time an industry or organization starts creating idioms as an alternative to using plain English, they are absolutely hiding something) and the desire or need to justify expenditures.

Doesn't matter what you are doing – advertising, direct mail, publicity, Web site, newsletter, e-mail, blogging, special events, sponsorship, video, customer service training, research – it always comes back to ROI.

Really?  Or does it all come down to cost and commitment.

Here's a thought:  medicine is a science. Still, it is almost always a crapshoot. Dr. Goodfellow gives a diagnosis based on what she sees and what the tests reveal. But she can be wrong. She may even suggest radical surgery to correct the problem.  But she can be wrong.  And the patient can die.  Where's the ROI in that?

Marketing – in all its forms and flavors – is also a science (when performed properly; there are quacks in every profession).  We conduct research, we analyze situations, we strategize actions based on desired outcomes, then we operate.  Hopefully we get it right... just like Dr. Goodfellow.

The truth is sometimes difficult to accept.  But to do otherwise – to close your eyes to it – is insanity.  There are no guarantees, not in any venture.  Rocket science is a rocket science, but rockets still fail; just ask the poor scientists who were responsible for Columbia's re-entry from a mission in 2003.  And who knows more about money and investments than Bear Stearns? Oops.

As a matter of standard practice, every marketer should document deliverables, measure and analyze results, then attempt to determine the tangible return on the overall investment made. But be real.

[closing music: From my heart and from my hand, Why dont people understand, My intentions . . . . oooh, weird . . . .Weird science!!]

Monday, July 7, 2008

As Easy As Falling Off A Blog

I received an email last week from an old friend and associate in response to the last issue of InSites (our weekly e-newsletter).  He indicated that they had just started a blog for one of the company's many brands and worried that it might be in the mold of the many B2B blogs that fail to meet expectations.

[Background: I hired Neil into the industry twentysomething years ago, and he is now the head of marketing/public relations for North America's largest manufacturer of lighting equipment. He is by far one of the coolest, smartest and nicest people I've known in this industry.]

Anyway, I figured he was just being humble. But on the heels of this email, I came across a report by Forrester Research that stated: "Business-to-business blogging took a nosedive this year, mainly because returns on corporate blogs haven’t matched investment."

So what is up with that?  Are companies spending too much or just doing a poor job?  Maybe they don't know how to measure results.  I mean really, how hard can it be to create and maintain a blog.

[Blog theme song: I'm more than a bird, I'm more than a plane, More than some pretty face beside a train, It's not easy to be me.]

I remember this conversation I overheard many years ago.  This woman was boasting to her friends that she was a good writer.  After a while she excused herself from the table; in her absence one of the women spoke up: "Good  writer my ass, you can hardly read her handwriting."  And so it goes.

A blog is not a blog is not a blog.  Take this one (mine) for example.  It has a special purpose (kind of like Navin Johnson).  Meanwhile, by buddy Brian Solis at PR 2.0 has  his own objectives.  So the blog strategies we involve are different.  Still, there are general rules that apply across the board.

As Forrester's report points out, “Many b-to-b marketers fail to realize that good blogging style should resemble a coffee shop conversation, not a white paper."  They also recommend combining entertainment with information, and suggest that bloggers hone their online voices by leaving comments on other blogs.  The report also tells corporate bloggers what not to do: "...most of them [b-to-b blogs] are so bad. They read like “tired, warmed-over press releases,” and visitors’ experiences with them are “simply awful.”

So, according to a Forrester survey of 189 companies, 38% rated blogging as “marginal” to their marketing strategies and 15% rated them “irrelevant.”

That's harsh.

[I may be disturbed, but won't you concede, Even Heroes have the right to dream, It's not easy to be me.]

But today brought with it good news.  Proctor & Gamble, you know that little company in the southwest corner of my buckeye state, announced that it is flying 15 (wait for it) mommy bloggers to its world headquarters.

Why, you may ask.  Well for one thing, mommy bloggers do it better online than most businesses. But more important, P&G understands the value of respecting the new gatekeepers. Free flights, tours, dinners, presentations, group discussions, product samples... do the math.

The purpose of the event is for Pampers to have the opportunity to meet and interact with top mommy bloggers face-to-face to enrich their knowledge about Pampers’ dedication to moms and babies around the world.  Kind of makes you feel warm in the diaper, doesn't it?

Freaking geniuses! (BTW, in case you think I am not serious, due to my heavy sarcasm, I am serious; this is an awesome idea.)

So, is the blog on its last leg?  Is P&G's marketing department too well-funded for its own good?  Are B2B bloggers just not making the commitment the way mommy bloggers do?

[I'm only a man in a silly red sheet, Digging for kryptonite on this one way street, Only a man in a funny red sheet, Looking for special things inside of me, It's not easy to be me.]

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

I scream, U scream, We All Scream for iPhone

Top 10 Reasons Why I Deserve to Get the New iPhone 3G Before Abe Froman:

10.  Although I once lived in Chicago, I do not know the location of Chez Quis restaurant and could use my new iPhone for reservations and directions.

9.  I could use my iPhone to get the scores to Da Bears, Da Bulls and Da Cubs games... Abe Froman already has luxury boxes at all three venues. 

8.  I could call my ex-mother-in-law (who still loves me) to get sausage recipes.  Abe Froman does not need sausage recipes.

7.  I could send an email to ask Ben Stein for some of his money.  Abe Froman does not need Ben Stein's money.

6.  I could listen to Yello, The Dream Academy and The Flowerpot Men on my iTunes.  Abe Froman only likes Wayne Newton, Danke Shoen very much.

5.  I could use my iPhone calendar function to alert me of the Von Steuben Day parade.  Abe Froman loves a parade, but he already has his own float.

4.  I could post a blog about my new red Ferrari with a link to my Flickr account so everyone could admire my photos.  Abe Froman doesn't drive and hates to have his photo taken.

3.  I could download instructions to the zombie dance from "Thriller" AND the lyrics to "Twist and Shout."  Abe Froman is a zombie.

2.  I could watch Ferris Buelller's Day Off in wide screen format.  Abe Froman has no idea who Ferris Bueller is.

1.  I could use the iPhone 3G to help me in my struggle to take it easy.  Abe Froman already has it easy.