Friday, September 30, 2005

Target Acquired: Focusing on Ads

So there I was, standing in a mockup of a newspaper printing plant in Durham, NH, looking at some cutting edge technology: an inserter. An inserter is a machine that literally inserts sections into an overall newspaper. With enough pockets (spots that hold sections) and the control to start and stop these on the fly, you can create a newspaper package that is different for certain geographic regions. The goal was to get to the "carrier-level" in which each carrier had a different package. This enables a publication to deliver targeted content to a specific neighborhood, thereby opening up some levels of advertising to new markets.

That was back in 1999.

A couple of years later, in the trough of the tech recession, I attended a discussion about online advertising. A woman stood up and asked a speaker, who worked for a major advertising firm that bought millions of dollars in banners and other interactive ads, whether he would pay a premium for a targeted, captive audience. He laughed and said he wondered why he would when he could get millions of impressions from a place like Yahoo for almost no money. His assumption was that whatever audience he wanted would be included in that larger group.

At the time he was right.

So now look at this quote from an InformationWeek story about Google's patents:

In a broader sense, Arnold [Stephen E. Arnold, who has written a book on his one-year odyssey studying the search firm] believes Google is building a “patent fence around search” technology as the firm moves to codify its unique competitive advantage. An ultimate goal of the firm is to deliver completely individualized ads to users.
The problem with this model before was that the value proposition just wasn't there. Yes, you could target individuals, and maybe that had value, but how much? And how expensive would it be to offer that kind of functionality? Would advertisers be willing to pay the extra money for it? Would the targeting result in more effective ads?

Would it be enough to justify investing a few million dollars in an inserter?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Yahoo Sets its Sites on Conflict

You've probably seen the coverage Yahoo! is getting about its foray into original journalistic content thanks to Kevin Sites. Since Yahoo has, until now, been little more than an aggregator, the traditional media companies, many of whom have content distribution deals with the Internet giant, are rightfully nervous.

But this misses some of the point. Sites is a respected, long-time journalist. It seems what Yahoo actually did here was to enable sites to expand on something he had been doing: a blog.

What's even more interesting is the way, in which, Yahoo is approaching journalism. Rather than going after the "big stories" by sending in a big-name journalist to cover the big news story of the day/week/month (hurricanes come to mind), Sites and his team (yes, there is more than one person here) have a schedule of conflict hot spots that includes such places as Somalia, Chechnya, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone.

This is what every true journalist wants to be doing, telling the stories that don't get told. Going to the places that US political interests tend to ignore, then helping people places like London, New York, Boston, Boise and Los Angeles better understand what is going on. This comes from the Hotzone:

We will be aggressive in pursuing the stories that are not getting mainstream coverage and putting a human face on them. We will not chase headlines nor adhere to pack journalism but vigorously pursue the stories in front of and behind the conflict to give readers a more complete picture.
If this holds true, then what we're seeing is a niche that is going to be wonderful to watch: true journalism.

In yesterday's Wall Street Journal, the Middle Seat column focused on the recent JetBlue flight that landed with its landing gear twisted. Part of the decision that had to be made on the flight was whether to let the passengers watch their own drama unfold on TV. Frankly, from an aviation standpoint, the malfunction was a semi-routine issue. A plane is designed to land like this, if necessary, and the personnel on the ground had plenty of time to react.

Yet, there was Paula Zahn on CNN going on and on about all the horrible things that might happen. While the Journal story talked about the affect this may have on passengers in flight, it was accepted that CNN's rampant, depressing and alarmist speculation was just part of the process.

Frankly, it shouldn't be. The only reason the story had any play was because it happened during the right time (east coast prime time) and they had live video. If it happened at midnight pacific time, it would have been a small piece in the paper and a short voice over during the morning shows.

I hope the Hotzone succeeds, and I hope more properties follow Yahoo's lead in promoting true journalism.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Journalistic Infrastructure

In any disaster recovery scenario, it's best to have a distributed infrastructure. I thought about this recently during the New Orleans flooding, where families who live in tight-knit groups found themselves with nowhere to go. I compared this to my own family, which is scattered along the eastern seaboard and realized that in case of an emergency in one of these cities any member of my family has another place to go. Not just to stay, for support through whatever it is that had happened.

The same concept holds true for the Internet. It's very nature of being distributed keeps it afloat, even when part gets shut down.

This concept is starting to take hold in journalism, as citizen journalists, stationed all over the world, are now able to reach the rest of the world. So in the case of the tsunami of December last year, we could see video and hear reports within minutes of the event.

Television needs to learn from this model, since it has the pieces in place. Since its inception TV has relied on local affiliates for everyday news gathering, but when it comes to the "big story," anchors and reporters parachute in from Washington, New York and Atlanta. This is a great strategy for something like the war in Iraq, in which it would be impossible to ensure that reliable sources could be had on either side of the combat lines.

But in most situations, like Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, this is exactly the wrong thing to do.

A local reporter who knows the area is in a much better position to understand the nuances of a situation and provide better information. The problem is, national news people think they know best, so they'll send in Matt Lauer and Anderson Cooper and any of a number of named-brands to "report" from a beach in Galveston, Texas. What can Matt Lauer add to this situation? And the networks aren't the only culprit's. More and more local affiliates from around the country will send reporters, like 7 News in Boston (full disclosure: I worked there as a producer in the mid-90s), which sent Christopher May to Galveston for Rita.

What will it take to end this practice? Unfortunately, the inevitable high-profile death. Some day soon a major anchor or reporter is going to get killed while standing in the wind. Maybe their edit truck will get blown over, or their building will collapse. I'm not sure what it is, but it'll happen.

And only then will the bigwigs in New York and Washington start to look for a different answer.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Media Relations: Reaching Out to Bloggers

When I first started talking about blogging to my colleagues in back in 2003, few wanted to hear it. Most felt the blogosphere was about a bunch of geeks talking to themselves. My sessions on the topic were sparsely attended.

I kept thinking about Back in 1994 when I was just out of grad school, a friend told me about another friend of his who was starting this small site. I looked at it and found only tech jobs, then ignored it. I also didn’t bother to try and find a job there either, which I think was my friend's intent.

Just one bonehead move of many during the early tech days.

Flash forward to the early days of blogs. Yes, at the time it was just a bunch of techies, but it felt like all over again.

So here I was talking up the idea of having our clients start to blog. Those of my colleagues who didn't run for cover when I started talking, dismissed the idea of starting one and only wanted to know “how do you pitch a blogger?” Media relations people are, in fact, media relations people. They pitch.

In the blogosphere that’s the wrong thing to do. We tried traditional methods and unless you want to cultivate a long-term relationship with each individual blogger, it just doesn’t work. For some, like Robert Scoble, this isn’t a bad thing. But for others, it becomes a cost-benefit analysis and in most cases, the long-term relationship gets tossed.

So, how do you get taken seriously by bloggers? The easiest answer is to jump into the pool and become a blogger yourself, but use your blog strategically and join in with other existing conversations.

For a good example of what works, let me introduce you to Buzz Bruggeman. If you’re a power blogger you know him already. Buzz is a former lawyer who runs a company named ActiveWords--I heard him speak about how his blog strategy is driving business at the Blog Business Summit in San Francisco last month. The heart of what he talked about is basic customer relations using the blog as a tool. On his own blog, he responds to all his comments, responds promptly to customer queries, but also also comments on other people's blogs.

He had two very interesting stories. In the first, he identified reporters he wanted to be in front of, then did the research to determine what blogs the reporters were reading. That enabled ActiveWords to get good reviews in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal without doing major media relations outreach. His tools in this weren’t the phone and email, but comments and links. Once he identified the key bloggers, he carefully commented on their sites and created trackbacks to his own. This wasn’t spam, but relevant additions to the conversation at hand.

He also wrote about topics on his blog that would be relevant to the blogger he was targeting to attract their eye.

This is a careful and long-term strategy, it’s not for everyone, but effective.

The "comments" and "trackbacks" help build both credibility and influence. Most of the bloggers I’ve spoken with agree that a comment on a site is personal validation. One presenter equated it to having a stall in a marketplace in which a person walks up and says hello, it's a very personal relationship. So if a client wants to get in front of a blogger, a basic suggestion is to encourage them to add relevant comments to the site. In other words: get into the conversation.

In another story Buzz relayed how he regularly received emails from a customer with technical questions that he answered and/or forwarded to his technical people, always resulting in a prompt response. One day he started to see links in from this guy's blog that resulted in several downloads. It turns out that the customer was a blogger and he spent a bunch of time writing a five-part review of the product.

Amazing “coverage” by someone with a following, and it took nothing more than than good customer to cultivate that kind of evangelism.

Another interesting offshoot of this strategy is a piece written by InfoWorld editor Jon Udell back in 2002. Jon is a good reporter and tends to write about topics and ideas he finds of interest (including my client). But if you read his story you find that he quoted other bloggers about ActiveWords. So endorsement begat endorsement. Powerful stuff.

What's Honest?

I live in Massachusetts, where every governor seems to have aspirations beyond his current job. This past week, Governor Mitt Romney went on national TV to talk about disaster planning in Massachusetts.

Let's ignore the substance of his talk for a moment. Romney is considered likely to run for president, even as he's dismissed this sort of talk. But what I noticed about it was his choice of venue: CNN.

Boston has many fine media outlets including the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, WCVB, WHDH, WBZ, WLVI and WGBH. All have news divisions and all are pretty major. So why go on national TV to talk about regional policy?

The answer to that should be pretty obvious: he wants national exposure. His words and his actions just don't match up.

So why bring it up here?

Because in the blogging world readers demand honesty. A blog just doesn't add much to the conversation if the author is trying to hide something. This is, in part, why Dave Taylor suggests that CEOs don't blog. He touches on what I consider to be the real reason when he writes:

ThereÂ’s one more factor to consider when inviting executives, particularly a corporate CEO, to get involved with a company blog: the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Trade Commission, among others, keep a very close eye on what executives at companies share with their investors and customers. Forward looking comments can lead to trouble, but disparaging a competitor in a parenthetical remark can burst into a major corporate wildfire without warning too, not because the remark might be extraordinary, but because itÂ’s the CEO who is saying it.
The fact is, CEOs--especially those of public companies--are legally beholden to their shareholders and investors, and few others. They also know too much, including information that could, if released prematurely, have a severe impact on the company. So they can't be completely open and honest in all their posts, because it could violate the law.

Still, there are those CEOs who should, in fact, start blogging. This is a strategic decision that must be made by the company in conjunction with the marketing and PR people. But I look at it this way: if you're a spokesperson for the company and thought leadership is part of your message, then you NEED a blog, because your voice counts.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Global PR Week

It's time again for Global PR Week. I had a lot of fun reading the articles and discussion during the last one and this version looks much better. Now that blogging has truly caught on, many more people are already scheduled to submit articles and I'm sure more people in the PR community will be checking in.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Moving RSS Off the Desktop

RSS is a great technology. If you're a regular reader, you know about my love for the Google Toolbar. And Charlene Li agrees with me.

RSS is a great technology, but everything I'm seeing keeps it connected to a computer desktop. Charlie Wood is working on some interesting tools that take enterprise information and make it portable. I corresponded with him a bit via email and there seems to be plenty more coming down the pike in this direction. Great stuff, but these still use traditional "geek" tools, like computers and handheld devices like Blackberries.

Why do these things need to be tied to the desktop? At the Blog Business Summit I heard someone talk about a watch that would receive information to tell you if your meeting location had been moved. That's great!

I would love to see people developing things that take advantage of advancements like home wireless networks along with RSS. I envision devices like a digital picture frame that pulls information from a pictures folder, so I can update the picture frame in my parent's house by just adding or removing photos from something like Shutterfly. Or, imagine a wallet-sized frame that updates whenever it detects a network, so I can have pictures of my kids with me no matter where I am, and they're always updated. If I'm on a trip and they do something cute that my wife catches with our ubiquitious digital camera, I will see that the next time I take out my little "frame."

Another tool I'd love to see is a dial on my office wall that can easily be configured to show me how slow traffic is moving along my home commute.

The trick is to make such tools work with minimal configuration.

Hey, while we're at it, why not a clock that shows me where all my children are! Fit them with a GPS system (or a GPS cell phone), feed it through to my clock and whamo! It's one of those clocks that Ron's mom has in Harry Potter.

Though, I could do without the setting that says "mortal danger."

Thursday, September 15, 2005

More on Google Blog Search

If you're around the blogosphere you probably heard something about this already, but I noticed today that when people enter my blog from Google's blog search engine, it doesn't show me the search terms they used.

That struck me as very interesting, since one way people track the effectiveness of their search engine optimization is by how people reach their site. If the blog search doesn't tell you, then tracking becomes that much more difficult.

It's reasonable to assume that Google will emerge as a primary source for most people, so I just won't know what works and what doesn't. I also wonder if this is a functionality that Google will apply to its primary search portal, which could have a massive impact on the entire SEO industry.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Google's New Search

If you haven't checked it out yet, you need to try Google's blog search. It is, in my opinion, far above the others.

While most people in today's blogosphere value timeliness above all else, as the medium evolves it's going to become more important to find information buried within these growing logs. Google understands this, giving you a default search by relevance rather than date. Of course, you can always go back to the date search.

Good stuff, worth checking out. Plug in a few of your business messaging statements and see what comes up. It's a chance to get into the conversation, if you're not already.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Changing Landscape

An interesting study today from a firm called Outsell points out that advertising budgets are down in B2B publications in favor of putting ads online.

This makes total sense. For a long time, the only way to reach smaller audiences was through these targeted publications. But as blogging and search continue to gain ground, those same audiences can be reached through other venues.

But what does this mean for PR? When people ask about my clients, I often joke that they haven't heard about them because they're not supposed to hear about them. Why would you want to know about a supply chain software company if you don't have anything to do with the supply chain?

One of the more gratifying moments was when the CTO of a company in a related field was at my house and had heard of just about all of my clients. A director at Novell had the same reaction. We'd reached our audience.

Our primary way of doing this is to keep our clients' names in the tech and trade publications. Big business-press hits like BusinessWeek and Fortune are great, but they don't tend to drive sales. So if the publictions that make up our bread and butter work are going to be hurt, thereby further diminishing editorial pages, our ability to serve our clients in these areas will diminish too.

On the entreprenurial end, we already run into trouble since most publications see Microsoft, IBM and Oracle as being more important and worthy of their attention, so if more of us are fighting for fewer pages, we're in for a tough haul.

The answer is to change what we offer our clients and how we approach "public relations." It's no longer just about the media and getting "hits", but about all the tools we can use to reach the right audience.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Demanding Radio, Not Podcasts

What if you just wanted to hear Howard Stern's fart jokes?

I know several people who would laugh themselves silly all the way to work, just listening to fart jokes.

This is possible, though most people would say it's unbelievable (some would even say "undesirable").

If you went up to a person and asked "do you know what a podcast is?" chances are they'd answer "no." Most of my friends can't figure out why I'd bother downloading people talking into my iPod and listen to it later.

But what if you asked "would you like to just listen to Howard Stern's fart jokes?" or "Would you like to have NPR's Marketplace avaialble to you whenever you want?" chances are you'd get a resounding "Yes!" (Stern fans may give a more colorful answer)

Forrester’s Ted Schadler believes that podcasting is, in part, a fad. To a degree he's right. But I also don't think we will always call this "podcasting." I made a few comments to this end on his post.

This gets interesting when we start combining technologies. Let's combine a mobile hard drive with WiMAX and RSS. Now you have a system that automatically downloads new content whenever it senses an Internet connection. Build this into a car and let you subscribe from a Web interface, or better, let you take your subscriptions with you wherever you are, and suddenly you have radio when you want, where you want. Add in a bit of tagging on the content production side, and suddenly you can have your very own "Howard Stern Fart Joke Feed."

These things aren't so far away. The city of Philadelphia is already working on pervasive wireless, and I met a very smart guy at the Blog Business Conference who dropped a large hard drive into his car as part of his voice modifications.

While it's all possible, the technology should never be visible to the end user. As an example, consider that early photographers had to use complex cameras and glass plates (developed themselves), which evolved into film, which evolved into "point and shoots" which evolved into digital cameras. We no longer worry about lighting, exposures and developing, but just point, click and look. Each step brought photography one step closer to the masses.

When it's done what you have is essentially "radio on demand." While this will further erode radio’s audience it won’t kill it entirely, since time remains a factor. Because you're essentially storing data to listen later, if you want "timely" information you'll still have to tune into news radio.

An Educated Consumer

We think that with all this information, we're so smart. We can know about anything just by typing some search terms into Google.

Newsflash: we're not.

A few days after the initial reports of looting in New Orleans I flipped on CNN and noticed something funny: the looting footage hadn't changed. Here they were talking about the rampant looting, but they had no new pictures. I had to wonder, if they have no new pictures, is the looting continuing in that way? Was that an isolated moment? How widespread is it really? Was it just in part of the city?

Over time I think I have answers to some of these questions. It appears that the looting wasn't as widespread and rampant as first thought, though still terrible. It also seems to be a much smaller group of people than first expected.

People who really DO know about this stuff wrote about the issue in the Boston Globe this past Sunday. Basically, the experts interviewed noted that while some violence and looting took place, it was blown out of proportion by the media. One section in particular caught my eye:

Clark McPhail, author of ''The Myth of the Madding Crowd" (1991) and an emeritus sociologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says that people interpreting the footage of looters last week often fell prey to common misconceptions about collective behavior. Two of them: that everyone in a crowd shares the same goal, and that a collective frenzy overwhelms rational thought. For example, he says, that crowd you thought was ransacking Wal-Mart for consumer goods no doubt included people who indeed were ransacking Wal-Mart for consumer goods. But there were also mothers getting diapers, thrill seekers checking out the action, people trying to persuade their friends not to loot, and others just milling about.

''I have looked at probably more film footage of protest events than anyone else," says McPhail. And in contrast to what many people think they see in such situations, almost invariably ''it's just amazing how little violence proportionally took place."

What we see on TV are pictures. The people telling us about them are reporters in that they are simply there, but they're not experts in psychology or in crowd control or in security. They are just people, like you and me, looking at a piece of a puzzle and trying to figure it all out.

Back when I was in TV I hated writing health news. I hated it because in the little time given to the story I could never fit in all the qualifiers for a given issue. I remember getting calls from little old ladies who would ask questions like "I saw on your news that my drug may be bad for me, should I stop taking it?" My answer was always the same "talk to your doctor, 'mam."

But what worried me more was the people who didn't call and who based their information solely on what they saw on TV. Information written by a guy who didn't even take biology in college.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Bridging the Divide

There is no doubting the digital divide and what it meant in a disaster such as happened in New Orleans. But despite their lack of digital communication, I believe that even the poorest members of New Orleans society had/have TVs and radios.

But look at this story about a radio station called KAMP that some organizers are trying to set up in the Astrodome. It's continually blocked. I'm sure the bureaucrats blocking think they have some "good" and "rational" reasons for doing so, but the net result is a lack of information.

Yes, I know that the Astrodome has loud speakers, and any truly necessary information can reach the people, but when you have a population it's important that they also have a regular and reliable source of information. This was one, easy way to do so, by using a technology everyone in the Dome understands and is familiar with using. If you handed everyone laptop computers and told them they can get information on a Web site, would the entire audience know what to do with it? Probably not.

But a radio, that's something they can all relate to. Give out the radios, give out headphones, let the station broadcast. People need to know.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

A Bright Light, but Who's Watching?

Over the last week I've heard many anchors quoting the 2002 Times-Picayune series (written by Mark Schleifstein and John McQuaid) warning of the dangers facing New Orleans should a large hurricane hit the city. I've also heard about a Mr. Bill ad warning of the dangers of an eroding coastline. These are great examples of the "bright light" journalists talk about. Here they were, doing great work, shining the light on the true dangers lurking in the darkness.

Why didn't anyone listen?

I can't help but think about all the "woolf crying" that I hear on local TV. I'm bombarded with promos telling me how there can be hidden dangers in my back yard, and how cell phone batteries may burst into flames and burn my ear. I've heard stories about supposed radiation poisoning I could get from making calls with certain phones and why floride in the water is just a bad thing. I've heard about the dangers New York City could face in case of a major earthquake, and how a similar earthquake could liquify the landfill in Boston's Back Bay.

Are all these credible? Maybe. But how do you absorb and process all these facts? Can a news consumer truly be expected to worry about all those things at once without going nuts?

During the leadup to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the US military intercepted plenty of messages that, if read correctly, could have predicted the attack. That's great in hindsight, when we know the result. But at that point in history there was so much noise that codebreakers had no way of knowing what was real and what was noise. How can they determine a true message from one that was there just to throw them off?

I feel the same way when watching TV and reading the paper. What is relevant and what should I toss aside? With the constant flow of information now in front of me, I no longer know what I need to know and what is just nice to know.

From PR perspective, breaking through the clutter is becoming even more difficult and our impact lessened. Even if I have a device that can save lives, it's a struggle to get people to hear my message.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Crossing the Digital Divide

On Thursday, September 1, FEMA Director Michael Brown told CNN that he just learned about the people in the Convention Center that day. The media had heard the stories, but I can’t help but wondering how those voices, which rang loud and clear on CNN, ABC, NBC and CBS, didn’t break through the apparently soundproofed walls of the FEMA office.

Rich Edelman has a great post about the role the digital divide played in the government’s slow reaction to the tragedy that is New Orleans. His point is that if a major blogger was stuck in the Superdome or in the Convention Center, there is no way the government could have ignored the building crisis there. If the poorest of New Orleans had a voice before the waters came, their pleas would have been heard loud and clear, even in the FEMA office.

What I can’t figure out is, how do we get the people online in a major way? My wife points out that every major library has Internet access, but I say that’s not enough. In this society we wouldn’t ask people to go to a post office to make a phone call, we wouldn’t ask people to gather at the local pub just to watch the news on TV. In fact, I’m sure most of the poorest members of New Orleans society have TVs, phones and microwaves. But do they have even an outdated computer and Internet access?

Here in Boston there was a period of time in which Verizon provided DSL service to places like Newton, but not to neighborhoods like Allston, which is home to a much more modest level of income. I’m sure a similar divide exists in most cities.

Is this just a business issue? Are companies only giving powerful access to people who are willing to pay for it? What factors have to be in place to move Internet access from a luxury to a necessity? Do hardware prices have to be cheaper? Does access have to be cheaper? Is it not an economic factor at all, but a content factor?

You often hear people talking about the “Golden Age of Television,” that time in the 1950s when the airwaves were dominated by smart writing and highbrow comedy. Programs like “Your Show of Shows” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show” dominated TV then. Of course, what you don’t hear is how the cost of owning a TV then made it a luxury only available to those with quite a bit of disposable income, meaning upper middle class white people. That’s not the case today, with TV in most households. How did TV cross that divide? What factors made that a reality? Was it a need for information? Was it the need to know about Vietnam? Was it just the availability of cheap hardware?

Blogs can give voice to the voiceless. A blog can reach a global audience, or it can just reach your friends. The reach is limitless and so long as you tell a good story, the audience will come. It’s time we started hearing some better stories.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Teaching Children to Handle News

As parents, my wife and I have struggled over the years about how to deal with the news. Our oldest was 2 and a half during 9/11, too young to process what was going on, so we did our best to keep most of the images from him. We'd been to the World Trade Center just a few months before, so we worried that he would remember them and feel a sense of connection.

Overall we find it difficult to have the news on with our children around, simply because it's so unpredictable. There may be a political story we want to hear, then, immediately after, will be a story about a deadly shooting in Dorchester or something from Iraq. Also, as most parents know, kids understand more than they let on. I remember listening to news radio with my oldest in the car, I think he was still under 3, and he asked me what a governor was. Turns out, he was understanding some of the stories about then-Governor Swift. I liked that he was learning politics, but worried about what else he understood. I tried to stop listening to news radio with him in the car at that point.

After the tsunami in December we struggled over how much to tell them and erred on the side of caution. But when our then 5-year-old went to school a few weeks later he came home and told us about it as if we hadn't heard. At that point we decided there were certain things that we had to tell him and show him. He needed to hear these things from us and know that we are here and can answer questions.

If nothing else, he needs training on how to handle the news. Over time I've tried to explain that things are on the news simply because they are unusual. They don't happen all the time. If they did, they wouldn't be news. As adults we can process this type of information, but children don't yet have that capacity.

At first we showed them some of the images from Hurricane Katrina. In a sense, we knew what to expect from watching coverage in the past. There would be pictures of strong winds, powerful rains, flooding, broken homes, people crying, water being handed out, etc.

But obviously the story took a turn. The TV has gone off, they know what they need to know at this point: that there was a hurricane, that people are suffering, that they need help, that we need to send it.

I don't want them to know how a government can abandon its own people, that people can take such advantage of a bad situation, that a horrifying scene can continue to get worse. There is no way for a child to put that in context.

Honestly, there is no way an adult can do it either.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Blogging in the Fast Lane

John Cass has a great interview with a GM customer about the mega-automaker's blog. She has a couple of interesting things to say, especially about how angry she is with the company. She's not just angry because she hasn't received her Pontiac Solstice, but because she hadn't heard from GM even after going through traditional channels, then posting a comment on the blog. The point is, the issue the blog was created, in part, to address (customer service) is falling victim to GM's other problems.

Frankly, GM should be commended for taking the risk and blogging. Its executives opened themselves up to a lot of customers by doing that. Bravo!

But I just don't buy the blog. I'm not opposed to the slick editing and rewriting the posts obviously to through, I just would rather hear more heart-felt posts from Bob Lutz that talk about his love for the automobile. Here is a man with an amazing collection and a deep love for all things auto, a love that goes back through most of his life. That should come across online, but it doesn't. Instead we hear how great the Solstice is, or how a particular month was excellent for the auto behemoth.

How much of a problem is this? Well, GM announced a recall of 804,000 SUVs because of breaking problems. That's no small amount of customers. But nothing showed up on the blog about it. In fact, the last post was roughly a week ago and addressed some of the customer service issues surrounding the Solstice.

But there's one thing lacking from this blog: passion.

Lisa Foltz: I think there are positives about the BLOG. Most impressive on the Solstice Blog was the passion people have for this new product. You can feel the excitement in most of the people. Gives me some reinforcement that the product is a good one.
That's a great point. One of my clients points out that as an entrepreneur, one of her greatest assets is her passion and it's something she holds onto above all else. The three companies she's started over her career have always centered on her one passion.

This is something that can easily come across in a blog as the "voice." On the GM side, the automaker has an opportunity to grab people with that passion, not just for vehicles like the hot Solstice, but for other cars as well. I would love to see them reach out to other people who may love their cars, like the "Tuners," those people who spend 10s of thousands of dollars putting modifications onto their vehicles.

For a long time the cars of choice were Civics, Toyotas, Subaurs and Mitsubishis, since they are small, cheap and easy to modify. This is a big business, so much so that some automakers have started to develop vehicles that could be modified from the showroom, or that specifically cater to this demographic.

But never mind the market itself, these people are wonderful brand ambassadors who sing the praises of their vehicle. I'm sure there is some kid out there somewhere with a modified Grand Am, why isn't GM reaching out to him? Helping him become a star? Why isn't Lutz or one of his other executives going to a Tuner show, finding a tricked out GM vehicle and reporting back on what they found? The Escalade alone has a rabid following, tap into it!

Remember the old Pontiac tag line? "We Build Excitement." They need to remember that.

I love that GM is out there, but I'd like to see them do it right and deliver some good stories. Let us get to know Bob Lutz the car lover, not just Bob Lutz, GM figure head.