Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Value of Comments

Many blogs, such as this one, are driven not by the readers but by a single person pushing their thoughts out on people. Comments are there for people to discuss what the leader has already said. It's not so much a discussion as it is a speech with a Q&A session afterward.

Blog experts hold that the discussion can also be much broader. That is, several bloggers talking to each other through different blogs using trackbacks and links to bind it all together. While that's true, it also creates for a complex communications world that requires a bit of technical sophistication to follow.

A few months ago Kristine Munroe and I started an experiment. We wanted to create a blog for the city of Newton, Mass. that wasn't about an individual, but is fed by the people. Our original thought was for people to log in and then use the "blogging" feature to add their voices and thoughts.

A week or so ago we had a pretty big scare: all of our comments disappeared. A glitch in Drupal eliminated everything but the posts and we had to have the help desk rebuild from the backup. But it also caused an epiphany: our value isn't in th blog, it's in the comments.

People comment "anonymously" but still sign their name. It's just easier for them so that's what they do. The restaurant reviews are mostly written by the community and the discussions that go on over such local issues as the proposed new high school are intelligent and thought-provoking. I see my role not as a blogger, but as a discussion facilitator.

Granted, some of the same voices continue to rise to the top, but I'm seeing more people commenting. The only thing I wonder is whether some of the "anonymous" people are, in fact, the same person posting multiple times. But the voices are becoming so numerous that it no longer really matters.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

An Angry Farewell

Way back when, during my career as a TV producer, I did some freelance work over at The Ten O'Clock News on Channel 56, WLVI-TV. At the time the local Fox affiliate had just started its competing newscast, but it had yet to gain a footing. Channel 56 was putting on a very good newscast, even if it had a slower pace and felt a bit dated.

I produced a couple of shows in my stint there but eventually decided not to stick around. I wanted out of TV by that point and while doing a bit of freelance work was just fine, a full-time job just wasn't on my to-do list.

Well, last night I watched as WLVI shut down its newscast. Venerable newsman Jack Hynes delivered an angry farewell, pulling no punches to come right at Sunbeam, the company that purchased and effectively shut down the station. It's interesting to note that I came to 56 from Channel 7, where I'd just wrapped up a couple of years working the overnights.

Hynes pointed out that in his career he'd never witnessed the shutting down of a station. Former 56 anchor Karen Marinella was right when she pointed out that with the closing of 56 Boston loses a voice. However, in today's news world this isn't the last shutdown we'll see. Especially when you consider the massive options for information and entertainment available at nearly any time of day.

So, what does my future of TV look like? How about personalized newscasts. That is, a group like 7 News produces stories, maybe they even produce a full newscast. But each of those stories are saved as pieces, tagged, and then distributed via any possible method, such as the Internet, broadcast, cable, cellular, etc.

A device, be it the computer, TiVo, or your cell phone receives those pieces and then puts together a personal newscast based on information you have provided. Maybe it just reads your preferences and feeds you the newscast you want. Perhaps it's even geographic, giving you only the information you need for your area. That way I don't hear about a fire in Chelsea and the folks in Chelsea don't get the information about the Newton school system. Maybe you tell the DVR what stories you prefer.

All this is possible with today's technology. People just need to learn how to use it.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Making Music

I've known Peter Kohan since both of us were struggling through puberty. Not a pretty site.

But by now we're both grown and mostly through the awkward stage. Peter is in the music industry and just launched the blog Appetite for Disruption, yes, a takeoff on the Guns-n-Roses debut album.

From his introductory post:

From a very young age I was obsessed with listening to music; my father had a turntable and I played his copy of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band until it wore out. This is nothing new here. We are all exposed to music in its many forms throughout our lives and feel certain types of music deeply, while other genres or artists we can take or leave or downright dislike. I was never able to master a musical instrument, so I couldn't translate my particular passion into a creative outpouring. I have, despite that handicap, been able to develop for myself a nine-year career (thus far) in the music business.
To be fair, Peter did try singing in a cover band we once put together, complete with a horn section (I played the trombone). Ambitious, but it only lasted two or three days.

That said, considering the metamorphosis the music industry is experiencing, his thoughts are definitely worth a read.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Gartner says blogging to peak... I say it makes sense

Gartner today predicted that blogging will peak next year and then level off, with people basically coming and going from it.

That makes complete sense. That doesn't mean blogging is ineffective, but blogging is just one part of the broader concept of "Open Communications." It's just one part of a broader communications flow that involves consumers generating their own information. Blogging may peak, but podcasting, video blogging and even concepts like Second Life will continue to grow.

Also, you're going to see blogging concepts, like commenting, continue to cement themselves in traditional media. Just ask Conan O'Brien how effective these concepts can be. If a comedy show is taking ideas from viewers, then it's not about "blogging," but about an open dialog.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Stop the presses! NBC discovers social media!

Apparently at the end of a skit on Late Night, Conan O'Brien threw out a fake Web site. Well, that meant NBC had to buy and put something up there, which the folks at Late Night did, in their very humorous way.

What happened next shouldn't surprise anyone who has been following social media: people started contributing. In fact, they contributed some pretty good stuff that ended up being used on Late Night.

So, why do I find this amusing? Because the New York Times found it interesting enough for an article and Conan's quote seems to fit well with how big-media companies are slowly discovering this new world:

Reached by telephone at NBC yesterday, Mr. O’Brien said he was stunned and overwhelmed by the viewers’ response to what had initially been a throwaway line, and by what that response, collectively, suggested about how the digital world was affecting traditional media like television.

“We couldn’t have done this two years ago, three years ago,” Mr. O’Brien said. “It’s sort of this weird comedy dialogue with the audience.”

It's not so weird... it's the way things are. Then again, O'Brien later joked that he still owns an abacus.

Big names but no meat

I represent mostly small companies, those with a lot of great ideas but no true track record. Often their technology is as good, if not better than that created by the likes of Microsoft, Oracle, IBM or [enter big software company here].

Still, it amazes me how easy it is for these big companies to keep the spotlight. I may call a reporter and hear him/her say "oh, just another [enter name of topic area here]" and then go on to ignore everything I say. Then, of course, they'll do a big story on the Microsoft Zune, which, to be honest, is "just another [mp3 player]."

But it's from Microsoft.

Which is why the story about the media companies working on a competitor to YouTube made me chuckle. The companies have been meeting but have no real technology and no site. Just content.

But, they're household names... of course it's a story!

What they're forgetting about YouTube is that many companies tried and failed to create content destinations. YouTube isn't about the content, it's about the people who create and view the content. The media companies are starting with the content and expect to build something from that.

I'd be amazed if the "major" players can get it right.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Plenty to talk about, but not now

I know, I've been quiet. I have plenty to say but so many other projects going on that something had to give. And this blog has had to suffer just a bit because of it.

That said, I've been exploring Second Life and find it to be a fascinating place, but not for what it is today. It's tomorrow that interests me.

Sure, today you can walk around and spend money in what amounts to an interesting chat room. And it is a wonderful platform and technology. I'm waiting for the day that it merges with one of the gaming platforms, so you go from playing Madden 2010 to walking down the virtual corridors of Amazon in order to pick up a new Chad Pennington Jersey, the one he autographed after his Super Bowl win (hey, it's my fantasy!). You get to try it on your virtual body so you know if you should get the large or the extra large, then have it delivered to your door, paying with REAL currency. Then maybe they'll show you a few other items you may like, such as the New York Jets pro grip hammer.

The gaming platform makes this interesting since it brings in a sense of physics. You'll be able to see how the hammer reacts in the real world, whether those stitches actually keep it from slipping or whether they're just for show. The gaming platform has the added advantage of getting your avatar off the computer and into the living room.

All this is coming. But for today this is a platform worth learning to use. That doesn't mean everyone should rush in. My colleague John Moran is correct when he points out that you need to be sure this fits into your overall marketing strategy before charging in.

For now, if you're walking through SL and run across Chas Trotter, go ahead and say "hello."

Monday, November 27, 2006

Using Existing Content in Different Ways

One thing I'm always preaching around the office is that we need to find new ways to use existing content. Yes, this used to be called "re-purposing" but now people don't notice it as much as they once did.

I don't mean just copying a piece of text and placing it elsewhere, but I'm talking about doing things like recording an interview with a customer, then creating both a podcast and a written case study from the same material.

I live up the street from a small, but well-known bookshop called Newtonville Books. Owner Tim Huggins has been amazing at using different media to get his voice heard. He was one of the first small, local shops to embrace email as a communications tool. Keep in mind, he launched his shop in 1999 or 2000, right around the time that the massive Barnes and Noble stores as well as were said to be taking over the book business. Conventional wisdom said that starting a small, independent bookstore was suicide. Well, not only is Newtonville Books still here, it's thriving.

Apparently Tim has launched a podcast series with the Boston Globe stemming from the writers that regularly come through his shop. Newtonville Books is a major place to go for readings from new and established authors, its "Books and Brews" series is awesome. It's not just a way to get a reading from an author, but you get to sit down with that author over a beer. How great is that?

Well, it seems like Tim just brought in a microphone, started recording the authors (I'm sure he has their permission), edited it down and put it online. PERFECT!

I just heard about it and haven't yet listened, but as soon as I get a moment it's going to be part of my playlist. The fact is, even though the store is up the street I still don't get time to go as often as I like. Now I can still interact with the brand when I don't have the time to go up the street.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Does Violence Have to be a Selling Point?

When it comes to watching NFL football, CBS owns the rights to the AFC games. Since we're fans of the New York Jets (the reason I have DirecTV and the NFL package) that means in our house, CBS is our primary choice on Sundays.

But the commercials often have my 7-year-old son covering his eyes and ears. For some reason the promo people believe that blood and violence sells TV shows, so a gun shows up on just about every commercial break. It's not just CSI Miami, but also Without a Trace and the entire Sunday night lineup. It's a bit frustrating to try and watch a game with your children when there is so much violence. The worst part is, I can't avoid it. Sure, I don't have to watch those shows (I don't) but I can't really help but watch the commercials, since you're never quite sure when the game will start again. The only true solution is to get TiVo and skip the ads, but isn't that the problem TV faces in the first place?

This past weekend the Jets played the Chicago Bears on Fox, so I had a chance to watch those commercials instead. Fox manages to show action-packed shows like Prison Break without all the violence, focusing instead on quick cuts, pounding music and intense quotes. That said, the promos for Family Guy had a little too much sexual content for my taste.

Keep in mind, I'm no prude and I don't believe in sheltering my children, but there are limits to even my tolerance.

That's why I'm happy that no bigger a name than Steven Spielberg agrees that the promos are way over the top.

But I would say that the responsibility goes beyond just the TV networks and extends to such properties as the NFL. If the NFL wants to continue to attract a young audience, it must put pressure on CBS (and Fox) to ensure that its programming between the programming be family-friendly. This doesn't mean halting promos but just changing the tone.

Monday, November 20, 2006

I've never been one for celebrity news...

Frankly, I don't understand why people wait hours to catch a fleeting glimpse of someone famous. They're just people who do a job.

Regardless, this weekend my wife left the TV on in the bedroom and while I was getting dressed some reporter I've never seen started talking about the Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes wedding. So here is this lavish affair with celebrities coming from all over the world, and what does Brooke Shields bring?

A blender.

That left me laughing all weekend.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Launching TanoPhoto

This is a cross post from the TanoBlog.

I'd like to let everyone know that I've launched TanoPhoto, which is a blog that will showcase my photography. I've been playing with a number of different services, including Tabblo, PicasaWeb, Flickr and a few others, but I felt I needed a site of my own to make this work.

Part of the reason for this is that I'm hoping to start doing child portraits, and I needed a place online where people could go to see my work. This blog doesn't meet that purpose.

So check it out. You can also subscribe to the RSS feed. Over time I'll add a few more features. It's not going to be a place for my family photos, for that I'll still use the TanoBlog and Tabblo, but for the pieces of my work that classify more as "art photography," those will be there.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The lines are blurred... now what?

When I talk with people who don't understand the changes going on in media (and there are many) I often point to the TiVo box. I note how life will get interesting when you return home from work, turn on the TV and see consumer-generated videos co-mingled with high-cost products produced by the major networks.

The way I see it, when the DVRs take content from the Internet just as they do from cable or satellite providers, and that content is delivered automatically based on your viewing habits, the distribution wall comes down. Throw in some smart search and you don't even need to put things on YouTube, you just put them on your blog or on your personal site, give it the right tags and viewers' boxes find the content.

Think about a person who loves historical documentaries. Imagine if they return home and find a documentary about small town in Wisconsin right next to a documentary about Jessie James from the American Experience.

I saw such a video during a recent trip to Milwaukee that traced the history of a piece of property. The man who owned the property commissioned it from the local historian just so he could show his friends what he owned. What if he put that on the Internet so it could find an audience? That audience may be just 10 people, but so what? It's already produced, the cost of distribution is almost nothing, why not put it up, tag it and let the audience find it?

Today TiVo took a step in this direction by announcing that it will expand its Internet-based content. That's not the only step toward this world. This weekend a John Markoff article in the New York Times indicated that Web 3.0 is about smart search. Maybe it's more hype than truth, but the search world is moving slowly in this direction.

So, what does this do to the traditional advertising and media relations model? Both are built on the one-to-many concept. That is, put out a few well-placed ads and you can reach a large audience. Buy an ad in the Sunday New York Times or on Lost, and people will see it.
Place an article in USA Today and the audience comes flowing in.

And that still works. But for how long? Advertisers are already starting to look at their spots more as mini movies and entertainment than just product ads. The idea is to make the ads as compelling and enticing as the rest of the content. Media relations companies are also branching into blogger relations and other open communications concepts. These are all great steps.

The thing is, the answer may not lie in marketing, it may lie in product development. If the market becomes fractured, then it's hard to reach a massive audience with a single product. You can, however, deal with the customized world by creating customized and personalized products.

For an example just look to the open source world. Need certain functionality but not others? Then go in and tweak the code. Or maybe someone has created the code you need.

Look at the tuner generation in the auto world. A used Civic may cost just a few thousand dollars, but the car they create has tens of thousands of dollars on top of it. The car is a platform.

Even with all this, I still think we're a long way from a completely diversified media market. There will still be blockbuster shows and big hits, but now is the time to learn how to make all this work.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Color the Future

A number of PR, marketing and advertising firms are trying to figure out this new, social media -driven world. In fact, a number of us working in those firms are trying to find ways to help our clients get there. It's a long haul, as many cultures and business models have grown up doing one way and are now trying to change. When a bulk of your revenue comes from marking up printing and reselling advertising space, how do you adjust? If you're used to working with traditional media and heap praise on people for getting major hits in top publications, how do you change to the high-touch and conversational environment of the blogging/podcasting/MySpace/Second Life world?

At least one group of very smart people are trying to do something about it by starting fresh. Shel Holtz, Neville Hobson, CC Chapman and Joseph Jaffee have launched crayon. This is a company devoted to social media from the get-go, so it's not like clients will come to them and say "so, we really want to be in the New York Times... oh, and what about this blogging thing?" Considering that they held a launch in Second Life, they've already got the right idea.

These are people whose advice I heed, so I'm eager to see where they go with this.

And in this world that is constantly in metamorphosis, there is plenty of passion.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Coffee Filter

I've talked a lot on this blog about the concept of a "filter." That is, as we continue to be bombarded by information filters will arise to help others separate the wheat from the chaff. The filters will take different forms for different people, or even different types of information. Maybe it's Amazon for filtering through products, or an individual whose taste you admire. Maybe it's TiVo and its recommendations, or Google and its algorithms for choosing what appears on Google News.

Or maybe it's Starbucks.


A few years ago I looked at the shelves at my local Starbucks and wondered why it suddenly looked a lot like Pottery Barn. My initial instinct was that the coffee company was veering far from its roots in an attempt to leverage its demographic. I figured that kind of venture would fail. I was only half right.

The company failed at selling dishes, but it succeeded at selling entertainment. An article in Sunday's New York Times lays this out nicely (reg. req.). Keep in mind, Starbucks' original concept was to become the "third place." Work, home and another place to be. Of course, when you have a number of people gathering, you have a community. In this case it's a community with an average age of 42 and income in the range of $90,000.

Perhaps my favorite quote in the piece comes at the end:

Thomas Hay, a 48-year-old contractor from Hartsdale, N.Y., said Starbucks helped him by editing down his cultural choices. Looking over the selections the company makes, he said, he has the impression that “some people of caring hearts and minds have looked at this and felt it was worthwhile and beneficial and would create a good vibe in the world.”
It's not just that this guy trusts the brand, it's that he's overwhelmed by what's in the market and needs some way to find the "good stuff."

So, in the future, PR people are going to have to figure out what filters they need to target and how to best reach the decision makers. It's not going to be easy.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Where the People Are

Battlestar Galactica tried something new leading up to its new season: Webisodes. You can argue whether these were just television on the Web or something more, but they added a little more excitement to the whole premier.

But it appears that the Webisodes will be no more, at least according to TV Squad (also seen in Newsweek).

The main reason the Webisodes are done has to do with contracts and how they're written. NBC calls the Webisodes "promotional material" and therefore won't give the writers true credit. But anyone watching them knows they were much more, as they helped advance the plot.

Why am I reporting this? Because in that same piece, TV Squad points out that the Webisodes attracted much more interest than the broadcast version of the show itself.

"Last month, nearly six million people streamed BSG episodes within two days of the premiere. Compare that to the 2.2 million people who watched the third-season premiere of the show."

These aren't NBC's only problems, as the broadcast giant is laying off workers and rethinking "prime time."

Also this week, The Financial Times reported that BusinessWeek reporters are being asked to do more reporting straight to the Web. According to the piece, online advertising grew 61 percent last year while the print side hardly moved. The online side now represents 13 percent of all ad revenues, so it's obviously more attractive.

People are moving to the Web, not in small numbers, but in droves. Those industries that adjust have a chance to survive, those that don't will perish.

A few years ago freelance writers fought a similar battle. If you sell an article to the New York Times to run in the print publication, then the Times earns money on that content by selling it online, should you get part of that revenue?

Eventually that argument was settled and now freelancers find a clause in their contract expanding the use of their material.

TV and the Writers Guild of American need to get out of their own way. They tie writing and credit to TV and broadcast, they need to redefine their product.

Serving PR like Takeout?

A PR Store just opened up the street from me. I haven't been in there, though I do remember hearing about the concept a few years ago.

While it's interesting, the person quoted at the end of this article is correct. Cookie cutter PR just doen't work. Especially now that the media world is fragmented. I know that I've received a large number of pitches, but few (if any) actually speak to my particular focus. Though, recently I have had some success in pitching bloggers, those tend to be the kind that use a blog model but act more like a traditional news operation.

Then again, it doesn't seem like the PR Store is actually about pure PR. It's more like a gimicky advertising shop, or even what used to be the corner print shop... with a twist.

I think what bugs me about it is that it's not actually selling PR. It's selling marketing, printing and design. It just confuses the issue.

Christopher Glenn

CBS News Reporter Christopher Glenn died on Tuesday. I bring this up only because I loved his Saturday morning segments when I was a kid. I can remember shushing my brother when they came on, and they made more of an impact on me than the hours of cartoons I watched.

It's part of what seeded my interest in the news business. And I know I'm not alone on that one.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Anonymity in the New Media World

Early in my career I made a conscious decision to remain behind the TV camera as a producer. There were many reasons for this, but among them was a desire to maintain relative anonymity. When you're a TV reporter or anchor, everyone knows who you are and you never have any downtime. I remember Chet Curtis once commenting that as he sat in the stands at a Pats game, people kept calling to him , to which he had to constantly wave and respond. He couldn't just be the guy in the stands, he was always a guy everyone knows. He didn't just represent himself, but the entire TV station.

It can get exhausting. It's also why most TV anchors and reporters do what they can to keep their home hone numbers and addresses unlisted. It works to a degree, keeping the quick snoopers out, but if people want to find you they will.

Still, when it came to blogging I never thought about doing this anonymously, though I find there are plenty of people who do. What I can't figure out is, if you want your thoughts broadcast to the world, why wouldn't you put your name on them? Yes, there may be occasions when a blogger should remain anonymous, such as if they're using their blog to report, first hand, about government corruption, or if they're inside a war zone. But for the most part, how can you trust information if the person writing it won't put their name on the page?

In fact, most newspapers have taken strides to remove the veil between readers and reporters, offering up phone and email in the stories themselves. There are times when a source may remain anonymous (though I think this is often a crutch) but the reporter never does.

So why do bloggers remain anonymous? I'm not sure. I know that if a legal issue came up they could probably be uncovered, but that's just not enough. If you're going to write your thoughts and criticize people (which often happens) then put your name out there too. It's only fair.

There is one blogger local to me who maintains his anonymity, even as he can often be highly critical of individuals or even the local government. I'm not going to link to him just on principle.

I continue to read his blog, but with each post I wonder who this is, what axe he has to grind and whether he has any credibility at all. It was one thing when he only wrote about a few local restaurants, but it's quite another when he tries to go after politicians and take on other, more weighty issues.

The frustrating thing is, he does great work. Why not tell the world?

Friday, October 06, 2006

TV Recommendation

There is a show on TV with some of the best writing I've heard in years. I'd put it up there with the Aaron Sorkin-era of West Wing, perhaps even better. It tackles though issues, is an emotional force and makes you realize what TV can do. This isn't Lost, though that is a fine show. It's certainly better than Grey's Anatomy or even Law and Order.

The problem is that most people dump this show into the science fiction genre, then refuse to watch it under the idea that "well, I just don't like sci-fi."

I'm talking about Battlestar Galactica, which begins it's third season tonight at 9pm ET. If you haven't yet seen this show, please give it a chance. It's amazing. It'll rattle you a bit, it'll make you think, it'll get deep into your brain.

It can be violent and raw, so this isn't a kid's show. Also, the name is pretty much the only thing in common with the campy 70s show, so just forget about that one. This is an entirely new idea.

Don't turn up your nose, just turn on the TV.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Bad TV Remade

So TimeWarner has dug deep into its own archives to find content to sell to the Russian market. The mega company is taking old shows and remaking them in Russian language with a few local tweaks, like changing a Chicago apartment to a Moscow apartment.

I like the concept, but they couldn't find better shows? According to the CNN story, they're remaking Full House, Step by Step, Suddenly Susan and Perfect Strangers.

I mean, really. All the properties that TimeWarner owns, and Perfect Strangers is the best they could export?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Scoble's Finally Caught Up

A little more than a year ago (maybe it was 2, I can't remember) I stood in front of my PR firm telling them of all the sites and information sources they now had to track. I also gave them a peak at what I'd been thinking most about: filters.

Most of the people walked away from that session shaking their heads and saying "it's just too much information." Now they all have Bloglines accounts, run regular searches and are constantly looking for more, just to keep up.

In my view sites like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal won't go away. Not because people will use them for straight information, but because people will always need trusted information sources to help them determine what is important.

In the past I called these "filters." But I also suggested that people within the community will emerge as additional filters.

Now Scoble does as well. Though, he says he hates them.

I don't hate them, they're necessary. It's impossible for humans to keep up with the information now coming their way. Of course, this isn't limited to information. Yesterday I was talking to a top executive at Intel whose job is to help executives find ways to make better decisions. He uses operations research for it, but he noted that people have too much data to absorb and need tools to help them understand what the data is saying. It's sophisticated, but it's a filter.

Don't hate the filters, learn how to use them. They're our future.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Boardroom Ethics... yet again

By now you've seen the news about HP and its spying tactics, you've heard how disappointed the tech industry is that the "HP Way" has been thrown aside in favor of actions more fitting a spy movie.

Here is a company that had ethics built into its very core, and still managed to throw all that aside in favor of spying on journalists. And as always happens with these kinds of stories, the cover-up is worse than the original story. In fact, even HP admits that the leaks weren't damaging, but they just wanted them to stop. Now people have a whole new perception of the company.

I have, on many occasions, called for some kind of ethical advisor in the boardroom. Shel Holtz maintains that a communicator in the boardroom would have the same result. In this case he's right, every PR person know that you don't try to be underhanded with folks in the media, that's just asking for trouble.

But another issue is the basic concept of transparency. What if the board members were blogging instead of talking to reporters? Would that have changed attitudes and information flow?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Art of the Edit

In high school and college we were all assigned reports and given a minimum page count. "Turn in a paper of between 10 and 15 pages by the end of the semester" we were told.

The problem is that people still think longer is better and technology has only made this worse.

Last night at a local camera club meeting I watched a 14 minute electronic slide show of a trip to Sicily. Picture after picture flashed on the screen, many of them quite beautiful, but many more just repetitions of the previous shot. In all more than 300 images flashed on the screen, all to a musical soundtrack that just didn't make sense. Basically this person had just started using some great new technology but had no real storytelling skills.

Instead of asking "what story do I want to tell, what pictures will help tell that story and what kind of music can help me set the mood to tell it," she instead saw some neat technology and a way to slap a bunch of things together.

The problem isn't hers alone. I tons of emails from friends and family showing pictures of their kids in a linear format. There are many solutions to this problem, including Tabblo, which lets you create photo essays. But then you have to learn how to actually use the tool. Just slamming a bunch of pictures online won't do it.

But back to writing. So many young writers err by putting everything they know on the page. This regurgitation not only creates lousy writing, but it prevents key messages from coming across, they just get buried.

The main issue is time. The more time you have, the more you can edit. Look at each paragraph, does it move the story forward? Then do the same for each word, do you need them all? Can you say the same thing in fewer words?

And when you're done, maybe that 14 minute eternal slide show can become a robust 3 minutes that leave viewers longing for more.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Paradox of PR Success

One of my colleagues likes to point out that the PR profession is all about hearing the word "no" and that if you can't get used to being rejected 80 percent of the time, it's not for you. I think he's an optimist.

A client of mine recently wrote about the Stockdale Paradox, something I haven't thought about in a while. In a nutshell, RAdm Jim Stockdale got through POW camp by holding two paradoxical thoughts in his head: that he would eventually get through the camp and come out stronger, but had to face the harsh realities in front of him. He later noted that it was the optimists who died first, they believed they'd get out soon, but when soon didn't happen, he said, they lost hope and died.

Now, I'm not comparing PR to anything a POW went through, that's impossible. But the basic philosophy applies very well to PR. It's not that we hear "no" all the time, or that we have an 80 percent failure rate, we just need to deal with the "no" and change our notion of success.

Let's say my smal, entreprenurial client wants to be in the New York Times and they have a strong story. I may call every relevant reporter and be rejected a dozen times. They may not like the story or the timing may be bad, or their editor may have them off on some other project. That's fine, we will eventually get into the Times, and may do so again and again. And when we do we'll have a better story since we'll take the time to keep the reporter informed.

In the media relations world we build programs to focus not only on the business press, but also on vertical and trade press. For smaller companies that are trying to make names for themselves, major mentions in BusinessWeek, Forbes, Fortune and other such publicaitons are a long time in coming. It's often the technology publications that offer the best short-term media opportunities.

I've had situations with major business publciations in which it's taken more than a year of interviews and relationship building to get mentions. Eventually the payoff is excellent, but you have to be willing to spend the time and have faith that the story will eventually appear. Maybe not in the next issue, but some time in the future.

In the meantime, look at the whole PR program, not just the business-level publications. There may be some great successes in the overall program, but if you focus on one particular publication and believe they'll write about you soon, you may be an optimist.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Getting WILD

This week Boston lost one of the few stations that catered to the African American/Black/Urban audiences in this city. WILD-FM sold to Entercom communications, and quickly changed its format from R&B/Soul to hard rock.

The Boston Globe article and a Boston Herald column on the subject talked a lot about the loss for the community and how the black community (6 percent of the city's population) no longer has a voice on the airwaves.

They're right. We know the digital divide still exists, based on both economic and racial lines, but the radio waves are open to everyone. Radios are very inexpensive, sometimes even given away. So anyone can pick up the signal. Technically, the airwaves belong to the public, which is why the FCC probably should have charged the major media companies more for the digital spectrum that they practically gave away.

But alas, they didn't.

Yes, there are options, from the Internet to satellite radio. But those options are only available for a price.

This is a loss, so don't just shrug and move along. Just because you can go online and read this blog and other stories from around the world from the comfort of your home, doesn't mean everyone can.

I used to work for a wonderful little station in Rockland County called WRKL-AM. 910 on the AM dial was the place to go when you wanted to know the local news, the school lunch menus and if there were any closings. No, it wasn't as popular as WNEW out of New York City, or WLIR-FM from Long Island (they had some great progessive rock during the 80s), but it served a purpose and an audience.

Today it simulcasts polka music from Chicago.

The radio spectrum belongs to the people, it should serve the people as well. Just because it's cheap to sit a radio engineer next to a receiver, doesn't mean that simulcasting polka (or WAAF out of Worcester) serves the community.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Today I Woke up 10 Years Younger

In his book Little Children, author Tom Perrotta regularly makes reference to the Gary Condit case. That news story, in the summer of 2001, elicited a media frenzy and marked what seems to be the end of this over-intense focus on mundane matters of celebrity, sex and suspicion. Yes, there are still plenty of stories about Britney and the like, but they don't dominate the top of every newscast the way that Condit did. Perrotta put that tidbit there to place the story firmly in the pre 9/11 world, one in which we cared more about the sex lives of an elected official and an intern than much else. In a way he was declaring that summer the end of our innocence.

Today we're more concerned with the safety of air travel.

That's why I'm actually surprised at the media frenzy over the Jon Benet Ramsey suspect. Yes, I expected it to be big news. This is a story that fascinated the American public throughout 1997 mostly for its titillation factor. Dan Rather compared the story to "kiddie porn."

I turned on CNN last night to see them focusing intently on that story, and it led most of the evening newscasts in Boston. This on a night that a flight enroute from London was diverted to Boston for security reasons.

I'm not sure what to make of all this, but I find it rather fascinating. And, suddenly, I feel 10 years younger.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Promoting Elitism

I could never figure out why it was that people thought journalists lived such nice lives. I mean, we were paid nothing, worked long hours and got yelled at a lot.

But then I read the New York Times, the country's "paper of record," and I begin to understand why. As you move beyond the news pages you find yourself in sections like Styles , which promotes expensive meals, fashion that no one can afford and weddings only from those who "mean something" to society.

Take this article from the real estate section. It talks about the problems of smelling ones neighbors, something anyone who lives in an apartment can understand. But do they talk to folks in poor neighborhoods living on top of one another? Of course not:

“I feel like it’s hopeless,” said Susan Stewart, a book promoter for Monteiro & Company in Manhattan and an actress in her 20’s “exasperated” by the cigarette smoke from two downstairs apartments. The smell pollutes the den and master bedroom of the three-bedroom co-op she shares with her boyfriend, Seth Berkowitz, a 29-year-old film restorer and musician, in Jackson Heights, Queens.

“Usually on weekends when I’m sleeping in, I have the window open and get to wake up to the fresh smell of cigarettes,” said Ms. Stewart, a former smoker herself.

That cracks me up! A three-bedroom co-op? Yes, I know it's not in Manhattan, but still. And her complaint is about when she's trying to sleep in on weekends? Is that when she's not shopping for a pair of $200 jeans she read about in the Styles section? It leaves a reader with the impression that this is the crowd the reporter runs with.

If you haven't read it already, Tom Stites tackles this issue in regards to the Boston Globe in a speech he made while in Amherst.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Value of PR

PR Newswire recently put a release up for bid on eBay, a move that Karen Sams says is an interesting publicity move.

It is, but it worries me a bit. In the late 1990s when I was doing a bit of branding or a small jams and jellies company, well before eBay was known for as much as it is, my brother suggested we put the products on eBay. I scoffed, but his reasoning was simple: there's an audience with money ready to buy it, and you can easily set pricing based on what people bid.

He's right, of course. I often use eBay to determine market value for used goods, such as a camera I recently bought. I knew I was getting a good deal when similar items sold for much more than the price I'd negotiated (for eBay I'd have to add shipping , which I didn't have to pay). It's also led me to the conclusion that there are few real bargains on eBay.

So when Lee Odden pays well below PR Newswire's rates for a 400 word release, I see a small red flag. I'm not going to raise the alarm just yet, it's only one auction. But it's certainly not positive.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Trusting the Source

A constant theme of this blog has been the "trust" issue. How do you know who and what to trust when you get your information from people online? YouTube is no exception and an article in today's Wall Street Journal points out why.

A video that has appeared on YouTube showing Al Gore brainwashing penguins appears to be just another amusing video, but it may be propaganda from a DC-area PR firm working for big oil. To be fair, it could also be the work of one rogue person who works for the firm and sent an email from his work computer.

Of course, this goes to the issue of transparency. We all want full disclosure of information because, as Adam Curry says: there are no secrets, only information we don't yet know.

The fact is, being outed in the Journal is pretty bad.

I think it's great for companies to use YouTube if they're creating legitimately good content. Walk through any museum and you'll notice how many paintings are of the wealthy or of religious icons. Why? Because those with money have always sponsored the arts. They had paintings commissioned of themselves or of issues they cared about. With a little time and perspective we're able to see what makes them works of art.

In today's America corporations have they money and video is an art. So yes, corporate America SHOULD be sponsoring good art, and they want to get something for their money: a little publicity.

But be above board about it, getting found out through email trails can't be good for business.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

YouTube Comes of Age

I know it seems like I've abandoned the blog, I haven't. I put it on hiatus for a while as I worked on The Garden City, the citizen-journalism venture I'm working on with Kristine Munroe. If you haven't seen it please take a look.

In any case, I've been watching YouTube come of age over the past couple of weeks. When I left for vacation on July 21, the video site was a place to go and see kids jumping their dirt bikes over homemade ramps. But now it's a place people turn to in order to find home video from the urban battles in the Middle East. Frankly, the phenomenon of Internet video telling the story of a crisis is nothing new; during the tsunami most of the video came from places like BitTorrent, but now people can add comments, tag it and make it easier to find and discuss.

Not long ago I watched a great documentary on YouTube about the idea of "Gold Farming" in China. That is, places where people play video games all day so they can sell the stuff they win online to Americans. It's called a "preview" in the title, so my guess is that a longer documentary is coming. But as I was watching it a question popped into my mind: can I trust what I'm seeing?

If I were watching NBC News, I know there is an organization behind the video that has a certain element of trust built up, one that has earned that trust with its audience. But how do I trust that this is real?

There are those who would argue that the blogosphere is self-correcting, and if this wasn't true, the comments and other bloggers would point that out. Perhaps, but it's going to take us some time to get there. And when you're watching a video in Newton, Mass. said to have been shot in China, who can help correct the record?

Regardless, there is now talk that YouTube could be purchased by a major news outlet like TimeWarner or even News Corp. Whoever ends up as the owner, and however this site makes money, I'll be watching for video from the next major crisis.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Who is a Journalist? Ask Apple

Thanks to the holiday weekend I'm a little behind in my reading. I tried to take in a bit more "real life" this weekend and a bit less of the online world.

In any case, a colleague sent me Charlie Cooper's piece from Friday about the most recent ruling in the Apple case. Basically, a blogger put out what Apple said were trade secrets, so Apple sued. At the heart was whether the blogger was a journalist and protected under California's shield.

The court held that yes, a blogger is, in fact, a journalist.

Last week Charlie Kravetz of NECN stopped by our offices and I had a chance to talk with him about the shield law he and others proposed for Massachusetts (I've written previously on the topic). They wrote the definition deliberately to include bloggers, but I still hold that it protects anyone who puts out information, such as PR people. Kravetz, of course, disagrees, saying that a court probably wouldn't hold that a PR firm could be considered a journalist.

But I guess that all depends on the judge and the lawyers involved.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Putting Up, not Shutting Up

If I'm not blogging as often recently, it's because other activities have gotten in the way. Most notably is a foray into citizen journalism along with Kristine of Krissy in Boston. Taking a page from H2oTown's book, we've launched

Our goal is to have a community resource for news and information in our little slice of the Boston area. Newton has a population just on the shy side of 85,000 and only one weekly paper covering it. It's a great city with a lot going on, even if you just look on the north side, which is where we're focused. We'd like to get community involvement rather than becoming the only reporters ourselves. Still, I'd love to get deeper into reporting again, doing stories on the need for a new local high school, property issues and local events.

But that's all a matter of spending time. The more people who can be involved, the better off we'll be.

I figure it's time for me to stop just TALKING about the changes in journalism and become part of the movement.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Where is the Audience Now?

One of the interesting after-effects of Howard Stern's move off of commercial radio is the boost it's given NPR. In a nutshell it goes like this: listeners who have spent years driving in to work listening to fart jokes and didn't want to pony up the cash for Sirius radio, have instead locked the serious-toned "Morning Edition" into their radio dial.

NPR knows this pretty well, as I heard a promo during a recent fund-drive that used clips from Howard Stern. Although, I doubt that means Steve Inskeep is going to be interviewing strippers.

Mark Jurkowitz isn't sure of the connection between the two shows, but I think that's the point. Retailers have already figured out that just because someone shops at Wal-Mart, that doesn't mean they avoid high-end retailers. In fact, many Wal-Mart shoppers can probably be found on Newbury Street as well. Just because they want a bargain, doesn't mean they don't have money.

In the marketing world we often try to pigeon-hole people, but it doesn't always work that way. People who like fart jokes also want to hear about Mike Wallace's career.

Is there a connection? No... and that's what makes this new media world all the more interesting.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Deluge and Desert

It's been raining.

That phrase doesn't do justice to what we've been experiencing here. When the weather forecasters start talking about rain as they normally would snow (4 inches, 5 inches, 6 inches, etc.) you know you're in trouble.

I live less than a half a mile from the Charles River, far enough to be outside of the flood plain, but close enough to be concerned about all the water. On the TV news the cameras were up where the major flooding was, as is expected. But every once in a while they'd flash up a graphic showing the list of rivers of concern and that list included the Charles. BUT, the Charles is a long and winding river. Where is the concern? Is it in my backyard? Up in Waltham? Needham? Cambridge?

The news gave me no answers. So I turned to the online presence of the local Newton paper. There I found only one thing: a blog entry asking for people with information to post. The phrase "flood us with comments" has yielded none.

I'm sorry, but this is inadequate. I think the pictures of people getting flooded out of their homes in the Merrimack Valley are horrible, and I feel for them, I really do. But what about my neighbors? Will they need to pack up? What about the people living along Cheesecake Brook (which feeds into the Charles and runs past a school)? Not information of importance to a lot of people, but certainly something of importance to me and a few hundred others around here.

Not many people know about the Newton blog, and they're not trained to become reporters themselves. It's great in theory, but getting the public involved is about more than just putting up a post and asking questions, it's about creating a resource they can use and build themselves.

More importantly, the Newton paper should be sending out reporters with cameras and feeding information online. Yes, I know it's a weekly paper, but it's time that it realized how to become a news source, not just a magazine.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

For What It's Worth....

While I'm on the subject of local news, I've noticed a change in tone, recently, of the Newton Tab, it seems more relaxed and chatty. I'm not sure if this change comes from the editors, from the fact that it sold (and was previously on the block) or a conscious effort by the overall CNC group, but it's worth noting.

Also worth noting is the paper's new blog. The editors are practically begging for comments by ending just about every post with a question, which can be a bit annoying, but it's certainly a good start. I'd like to see how this develops over time.

One shortcoming the paper has long had is it's weekly publishing schedule. This means that the Newton paper regularly gets scooped in its own backyard by the twice-weekly Boston Globe West section, as well as the Metro section for larger stories. It would be nice to see the blog become a true daily news source in addition to a place for amusing commentary.

The Local News Leader?

In the middle of a story about declining circulation there is a link for a quick survey asking "where do you get your local news?"

Now, keep in mind that the survey is online so it pretty much chooses its own audience. My guess is that a phone survey of people chosen at random would yeild different results. But when I clicked on my answer, of the 508 respondents a whopping 70.9 percent answerd "online news sources." The next in line was newspapers with 16.9 percent followed by TV at 7.1 and radio at 3.5.

I'm not surprised at the low radio number, but I am a bit shocked that even in this sample, TV came up so low.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Saving Local News

One of the things that doomed me in journalism was my misguided belief in local TV. I'd cut my teeth at a local radio station covering zoning board meetings, town board meetings and local events. I saw the effects announcements about jobs could have on the long-time residents in Binghamton, and truly believed that local TV could, if it wanted, make a difference.

The reality is, I care about a fire on my street but don't really care about the one two towns over. It may look great on TV and provide scintilating video, but it certainly doesn't offer me anything that has to do with my life. The sad fact is, I don't really watch local TV news much any longer.

But I still care about local journalism. I read the Newton, Mass. paper on a regular basis and lamented the day that two became one. Now it appears that the Herald has sold CNC (the group that runs my local paper as well as a number of others in the Boston metro area) to a midwestern group. There's some speculation on what it will mean, but I'm pretty sure that journalism will probably change, I'm sure some papers will be consolidated and others will lose staff. If you haven't noticed the speed with which newspapers are shrinking, then you haven't been watching.

But I hold out hope that this could mean great things for local journalism. Why? Because people DO want to know what happened next door, and people like Lisa Williams of H2oTown will keep them updated. Maybe more people will find these sites. Or better, maybe the sites will start doing more promotions.

Also, it's possible that the new owners will look to online as a way to distribute content that may not otherwise pay to print. So they may be willing to pay freelancers for coverage of smaller villages that otherwise would go without news coverage.

There's a problem when it comes to "local news," however. How do you define "local?" In an article this month in Commwealth Magazine, WBUR General Manager Paul La Camera tells Dan Kennedy "I just believe that if we’re going to make as full a contribution as we ought to make to an informed citizenry, part of that has to be local reporting."

But that means Massachusetts. Sure, I care about the race for Governor, and perhaps I care about some of the major power brokers in the state, but do I really care who wins in Holyoke? Not really. Even for public radio, however, audience size means something, so you need critical mass in order to make it all work.

But what does this mean on the PR side of things? Any time there are fewer outlets, it's a challenge, especially for those campaigns such as medical devices and drugs that focus on local programs.

But if people turn to the online world for these stories, then it's just another outlet.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Victim or Perpetrator?

I continue to be fascinated by the Kaavya Viswanathan story. I want to feel bad for her. I want to believe that she didn't fully understand what she was doing and wasn't trying to do something wrong. But then there is this quote at the end of a Harvard Crimson story from Salman Rushdie, from whom Viswanathan is also accused of stealing:

"I do not accept the idea that this could have been accidentally or innocently done," Rushdie told CNN-IBN, an Indian-based network. "“The passages are too many and the similarities are too extensive."”
But what I still don't understand is how she got the contract to start it all. I recently wrote a children's story and called a friend, who is a published children's author (her book spent time on various best seller lists). When I asked her about being published she told me that she, a published author, was having trouble getting her calls returned. In fact, most publishers didn't want to look at any new material from unpublished authors, choosing instead to work with known quantities, such as celebrities. There are thousands of talented writers out there all vying for some recognition, but can never get it.

So, what does that mean for Viswanathan? I think she was a marketing ploy. Her packager/ publisher saw some raw talent, figured it could make some hay with a young, attractive, talented writer who received a book contract along with her acceptance letter to Harvard. It all worked perfectly, right up until the point she was found out.

But what I can't decide is if she was a victim, or just a teenaged girl in over her head who just made a few mistakes.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Feeding Readers Ads Without Getting Burned

While listening to For Immediate Release this morning I heard the team discussing ads on RSS feeds. Specifically they talked about how Castrol was buying ads to promote its new podcast.

I was struck by the somewhat lukewarm reaction to the idea, since I've been seeing these ads for a while and, in the case of Inhabitat, bloggers Jill Fehrenbacher and Sarah Rich asked readers to change to a Feedburner feed (as opposed to the RSS feed created by the blog itself) specifically so they could sell ads.

I had no problem doing it at the time. I felt that Jill and Sarah were creating great content, I wanted to read it, having an ad was a small price. Another 300 or so people who use bloglines apparently agreed with me.

I know with me it helped that at the time they requested the Feeburner change the editors noted that they wanted to hire more writers to provide better content. It all seemed like a fair tradeoff, and one that pays dividends to readers.

But they did get a bit of negative feedback from readers, most of which blew over pretty quickly. During an IM conversation today, Jill said the bigger problem came when she tried to use partial rather than full feeds to encourage people to link directly onto the site.

"Content takes time to produce and when people read your RSS instead of coming to the site, you are basically giving away free content with very little benefit to you or your blog," she said. "When I tried [to switch to a partial feed] all hell broke loose with my readers, so I switched it back... Personally, I'd rather [readers] come to my site, so i can keep track of my traffic and use that to get more advertising, but people like the convenience of RSS."

That struck me as interesting. People were fine with getting the ads, but they revolted when their full feeds were taken away. I believe the feed change came before the Feedburner move, since it was an attempt to drive traffic back to the site.

Keep in mind that Jill is a grad student and still devotes about 20 hours a week to her blog. Obviously she's doing something right. The site measures upwards of 350,000 hits a month and, according to Feedburner, has about 1200 subscribers. Still, Jill says "But who knows, really? hard to measure these things."

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Watch for Webbed Feet

My wife and I will often see friends purchase big houses, nice cars and put their kids into fancy schools. These are people with similar jobs and similar life circumstances, and we're sometimes stumped as to how they can seem to do it when we can't.

I believe that we just don't see everything. We have no idea how much debt someone may have piled up, we have no idea whether they have a trust fund, we have no idea of they have anything saved for retirement or if they're saving at all. We only see what they let us see, so it's impossible to do a true analysis.

When the Boston Globe first wrote a glowing feature about a 17-year-old Harvard student with a large book contract, something smelled fishy to me. As fishy as when I was a young, struggling reporter and Stephen Glass was the darling of the journalism establishment. He seemed to defy gravity. He did... he lied.

Now it turns out that the truth behind Kaavya Viswanathan is much more murky than the perception. It turns out her novel was "conceptualized" by a book packager and she's accused of lifting parts completely from another writer. All very strange.

This is why people hate public relations. Because articles are just a few hundred words, readers only see what PR people and reporters have let them see. Like a duck moving quietly and smoothly above the water, readers never see the webbed feet moving frantically underneath.

What's great about social media is that everyone can see the webbed feet. It fundamentally changes how PR is handled, because everything is going to be out there at some point. If you're consciously selling vaporware people are going to figure it out and it's just going to hurt more later.

If you don't believe me, ask Viswanathan.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A Picture is Worth....

A while back I talked about how the Pulitzers would recognize some online content as a tip of the hat to the New Orleans area papers that lost everything, but still reported. The blogging world was buzzing with how it's unfair that Pulitzers are only offered to print publications and not those that exist entirely online.

In any case, the list came out and, as expected, Hurricane Katrina coverage dominated the prizes. But the prize that has always fascinated me is photojournalism. I've done quite a bit of photography in my life, and a photo that can tell a story is something special. It's a method of storytelling that goes mostly unappreciated, as many people feel that a picture is a picture, they can take them on their cell phones. But a high-quality, well-done photograph can leave you awed.

Look through anyone's framed pictures and you'll see lots of smiling faces, some from different stages in life, but most are posed and taken to record a moment in time. I try to tell a story in my pictures, even if it's about my children playing, dancing or a moment of joy.

Yes, I have my fair share of stagnant, smiling photos, but I strive for that storytelling idea. It's incredibly difficult, and I have a lot of failed shots to prove it.

But when photographers get it right, the results are amazing.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Online into Real Life

A while ago I heard Shel Holtz talk about the way he used to know the doings in a former employer. He was a smoker and regularly clustered outside with other smokers where random people from all over the company came together to talk.

When he stopped smoking he lost one of his key lines of communication.

Today that same casual environment can, in part, be replaced by a Wiki, but should it? There is nothing like a face-to-face meeting. Sure, you can talk with someone on IM, phone, email and even video conferece. You can read their blog, post comments and discuss things on a wiki, but those activities are all done between face-to-face meetings.

As I move through offices of clients, friends and even publications, I'm struck by how the environments never seem to take meeting places into account. People meet for different reasons, so private offices, conference rooms, lounges and even informal standing areas are all necessary.

But too often offices go one way or the other. I've seen massive rooms of flat desks with people quietly typing, every conversation is heard by everyone. I've seen row after row of private offices, each with a closed door. I've seen row after row of cube, making it impossible to decipher one from the other.

Companies spend plenty of money fretting about their online presence and determining what it says about the company, but how much do they spend thinking about the work area itself?

I'm curious to hear from people about what their offices are like, what works and what doesn't, and how their work concepts move from real life to online and back again.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Strange Doings

The other day, when I looked on bloglines, I had 14 or so subscribers. I looked today and there were none. I'm sure they didn't all go away, but I can't figure out why they're not showing up.

Is it a problem with Bloglines, Blogger or me?

Is Podcasting a Bust?

The social media world is buzzing about Charlene Li's Forrester report in which it's discovered that only about 1 percent of people are actually listening to podcasts, and many turn to traditional radio as a prime source of content.

So, should we just dismiss podcasting as a stepping stone and move on? Even Charlene says, "no."

What we're seeing now is a situation in which people have options as to how they want to receive information. A colleague of mine suggests, for example, that we put out podcast versions of press releases. Of course, these would be modified a bit, but it offers an inexpensive way to present information in a different format. Will it work? Maybe. For the cost involved in both time and effort, does it matter? Probably not.

Most of the work in a press release is already done. You just need to modify it slightly and read it, the messaging, quotes and content are long-since worked out. Conducting a quick, news-based Q&A with a VP of Marketing, CEO or whoever else is quoted not only acts as a podcast, but also a bit of media training for interviews. Not a bad use of time. And if one or two journalists quote from the podcast rather than asking for an interview (or if it gains a bit more coverage thanks to the information) than it's an even better use of time.

Keep in mind that television was first shown at the World's Fair in 1939. By 1950, 11 years and a World War later, it had entered just 9 percent of US households [reference]. Fifteen years later it reached close to critical mass at 92 percent, growing just 6 more percentage points through today.

Yet, you still hear people call the 1950s the "Golden Age of Television." Why? Because that initial 9 percent represented people with lots of disposable income, those who were influential as well.

Are podcasts reaching these people? I don't know, but I know that my uncle listens to a few, he owns a small business in New Jersey. My mother and father listen to a few as well, as do many people I know who own MP3 devices. Oh... and who has the disposable income to purchase MP3 players (such as iPods) that have good sized hard drives on which to store podcasts?

Take a wild guess.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Why I Blog

Long before I ever started blogging I started writing. I'm not going to run through my resume here, but I started in radio journalism at 17 and ever since have been getting paid, in some way, to watch my fingers move across a keyboard.

That said, I still have trouble selling freelance work. I spent some time making a living as a freelancer in the late 90s and found it to be a frustrating profession. I'd spend hours working on an article only to receive barely enough to cover a quarter of the work. So I landed a full-time job in PR and have not looked back.

But every once in a while a story pops out and lands in my Word file. I this past winter I took a blog post from my personal blog, expanded it and submitted it to the Boston Globe West section. They have a column called Suburban Diary in which anyone can submit a story. I received some good feedback from the editor, did some edits to get it down to the word limit, submitted again and waited.

I saw many good pieces get published, and a few not so good. But mine never came up. This week I finally received a note saying that it was officially rejected.

Frankly, I can't figure out why, but that's the Globe's decision.

So why do I blog? Because I want my writing to have an audience.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Blogger Gripe

I have a gmail account and one thing it manages to do very well is autosave. If I'm working on an email and walk away, it's still there when I get back. In fact, I can even shut the browser down, come back later and there is my email waiting to be sent or edited.

So why is it that Google can't apply the same technology to Blogger? I had a post in the works last night, just about complete. I was simply adding a few new links and BAM... my browser locked up.

Well, that was the end of the post. Unfortunately it was a long one and I haven't had time to rewrite, just know that I wanted to put something up but couldn't.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Looking Back

Again, because Blogger doesn't seem to do this on its own, I just wanted to direct everyone to a much older post that continues to see some great commentary.

This time Brian Stuy commented himself on The Future of Journalism. Considering there was a long back and forth with an anonymous reader on that, it's great to get his comments too.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

...and a Star to Steer Her By

A close friend of mine is in the music industry doing mostly custom work. His market is actually marketers looking for custom CDs as promotional items, either sales or giveaways. So he spends quite a bit of time reading about marketing.

Today he sent me a story from Fast Casual Magazine called "Blogs surface in fast casual."

It's not a remarkable piece and basically boils down to concepts that many of us know already: read the blogs, respond, pay attention, etc.

During an IM conversation a few minutes later, as I pushed him on the idea that he and his rather large company should be out there, he protested telling me a) he's in B2B so it doesn't apply and b) he doesn't have time to blog.

I chose to ignore the time issue since I'm finding that it's a difficult issue to win. My feeling at this point is that if people see the benefit, they'll find the time. It's not that people lack the time, it's that they don't consider blogging (and the transparency that goes with it) to be important.

My clients are all in the B2B world. That is, few, if any, sell to consumers. Yet, blogging has benefits. But most importantly, you don't need a blog to be out there.

Case in point: I actively monitor blogs for a client of mine that is in the software industry. At one point I found a blogger writing about how he's considering a few pieces of software with my client among them. A few days later he posts in a rather annoyed tone how he had a negative experience with a sales person. He'd already moved on from my client's software, thinking it wasn't right for his needs, and it turns out that the negative experience was mostly a misunderstanding over email, but at the time we only knew that he wasn't happy and was looking elsewhere.

We chose to have the CTO drop the customer an email. What he wrote was a great piece of customer service that not only apologized for the sales issue but also answered many of the technical questions that had come up.

The result: the prospect changed his tone on his blog, said how impressed he was with the company. Later, when he found that the other software didn't meet his needs either, he gave my clients' another look (using the CTO's answers to help him) and was very impressed. All of this was done publicly, so anyone can go and read his experiences.

This isn't something strange and new, it's basic customer service. Find a problem, fix a problem. But with a megaphone.

In another case, a person posted on his blog how he's looking for other companies to contact him and tell how they solved a given problem. That's an open opportunity for one of my clients to have a happy customer contact him and help out. Again, nothing new and crazy, just using the available information in a smart way.

Many see blogging and bloggers as this mass of undgulating sea and themselves as being tossed along it. Not so. In fact, bloggers can be your star, just learn to use a few tools and you can steer yourself toward a few more sales.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Finding the Right Pitch

A big part of being in media relations is hitting on the right pitch. Sometimes that means resisting the temptation to follow what looks like a simple bit of reasoning, but turns out to be completely tasteless.

Sometimes it's timing. Pitching a disaster recovery story on September 12, 2001 was just wrong. Pitching that same story in the months that followed, as people started thinking about those issues, started to make more sense. Still, there has to be a balance. You don't want to profit off of a tragedy, but you want to make sure you get into stories that reporters are writing based on recent events.

But the tasteless pitch isn't always the PR person's fault. Sometimes you'll get a call from a VC or CEO who says "this is a great story, why aren't people writing about it?!?" and your job becomes counseling the client on the many reasons why that story is either ill-timed or simply won't work.

Of course, if the client is married to it, you end up pitching something you know shouldn't go out there.

I want to think that's what happened in this story from the Washington Post. I know, two WP stories on this blog in a week, it's a bit much. More coincidence than anything.

This poor PR person has a tough client, no doubt. And her job is to find ways to get the message out about the National Funeral Directors Association. I'm sure there are stories that are buried (yes, a pun) in among the membership, but the one described in this piece really shouldn't be among them.

Still, the Post story is an amusing read.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Future Redux

There is an interesting discussion going that relates to the Brian Stuy issue, but it's on an older post called The Future of Journalism. I post it here so other readers can see it, as Blogger doesn't make it easy to see these things.

Though, I wish the anonymous poster with the great ideas would post his/her name or some identifier.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Subject Strikes Back

I'm watching a fascinating case study unfold that falls into many of the trends we've heard discussed. This one involves children, mostly girls, adopted from China. The topic is one very near to me, as my family welcomed a daughter home nearly a year ago. Shoshi has grown considerably since then in every way possible, as have we.

Over the last few months a story has unfolded in China about the possibility that many girls were abducted. This flies in the face of the notion many of us cling to: that our daughters were abandoned by parents as unwanted and would have lived very different, possibly much worse, lives if not adopted. During my trip to Fuzhou, where my daughter spent the first year of her life, I saw certain patterns emerge as to where kids were left. It gave many of us pause and caused us to wonder how much more of a story there was. In fact, standing in front of the orphanage gate, which is listed as my daughter's finding place, I couldn't help but think that I was a bit out in the open, something I wouldn't want to be if I were doing something as illegal as abandoning my child.

In any case, as with any story, the one of baby trafficking is far more nuanced and detailed than any one AP report. But this weekend the Washington Post ran a piece called "Stealing Babies for Adoption" (free reg. req.) in which writer Peter Goodman quoted Brian Stuy, a man well known in Chinese adoption circles for his research. I've written about him before.

The story talks about the illegal baby trafficking in China, and how some girls are stolen, then intercuts stories of parents in China pining for their lost daughters with stories of adopted parents in the US. The implication of the story is clear: we may be treating stolen children as our own.

For me, this obviously hits a nerve.

Stuy was quoted in this story as saying "It's a corrupt system... It's just so driven by money, and there's no check and balance to the greed."

But that's not the end of it. On his blog he notes that his quote was taken out of context, and refutes the notion that any of the stolen children reached the international adoption system. Then there is the ensuing commentary from parents on the topic and a post from Stuy in reaction to that. He also wrote a Letter to the Editor and put that up as well, since the volume of letters the Post receives exceeds what they can print.

There is no black and white here, only shades of grey. The problem with traditional media is that conflict and tension make great stories, so reporters are trained to look for that, it's how they see things. The best part of blogs is that people can fill in the lines and bring more depth to a story, giving it nuance, feeling and emotion.

Added Later:
One failing of Stuy's was not linking back to the article. I'd forgotten that the Post does this, but thanks to Technorati, the posts links to blogs writing about articles, so people reading the article online can find out what's being said elsewhere. It's an interesting move on the paper's part, and something Stuy could have used to his advantage.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Blogger Relations, Full Disclosure and All That Jazz

I've held off writing about the Wal-Mart/Edelman blogger relations effort, since so much is already being written. Mike Sansone has a fine writeup that links to a number of different opinions.

After chewing on this a bit my opinions are somewhat middle of the road. Yes, I think using this kind of tactic (reaching out to bloggers through someone who is a blogger) is sound. In fact, on a strategic I think this is a great example of how companies can do it, that you don't need to have a blog to get your voice heard is one of the best parts of the blogosphere.

Todd Zeigler makes a great point when he notes that the outreach sounds more like a public affairs program than PR. That's because Edelman chose bloggers already sympathetic to Wal-Mart and then fed them facts and figures to bolster their arguments. It's a sound approach. Why get into a flame war with a Wal-Mart basher when you can get the facts to the public?

But I think Neville Hobson hit the nail on the head when he questions the disclosure. Did those doing the outreach purposefully or accidentally confuse the issue by identifying themselves as working for Wal-Mart? In a word: yes.

This problem isn't limited to the blogosphere. I often hear people pitching reporters, or even talking to customers of clients, and identifying themselves as calling from such-and-such a company. I prefer not to do that. I tell people I work for the PR firm, then tell them what company I'm calling about. I find if I don't do that up front things can get confusing. It could be as simple as a reporter starting to interview me rather than my client or a customer treating me as a sounding board for technical glitches with a product.

Of course, like everything, the blogosphere shines a brighter light on even small issues. I talked with a colleague of mine about this today, and we feel it's best if PR firm can brand itself a resource for information, either for reporters or the greater public. The more trust people working for the trust can earn, the greater success we can have in our outreach.

But earning that trust begins with proper identification.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Podcast and Music: What's up with that?

While the record companies seemed to easily embrace radio as a way to allow their audience to sample music before buying, they can't seem to get their heads around doing the same thing with podcasts.

That's preventing a lot of great podcasts from taking off. I'm not a legal expert on this, but I do understand that there is music that is "podsafe" and music that isn't. From what I understand, it comes down to rights and licensing. While radio stations have signed licenses to broadcast music over the airwaves, those licenses don't translate to digital properties.

So a guy like Pete Fornatale can't put his great "Mixed Bag" show out as a podcast. It's a shame, the guy is a legend and deserves to be heard outside of the New York metro area. Also, a friend who works for a major music label and loves jazz laments how the music is essentially dying because it can't find a mass audience. Too bad, because I'm sure it could find its audience using podcasting.

I happen to like the Americana Roots Podcast, which features some great "podsafe" folk, country and other "twangy" music. But I wonder what the show could be if the music industry would get behind this medium. It also comes with Randall's Random Reviews, which is similar, though with clips of songs rather than whole tracks. The show is certainly worth a listen.

Boston doesn't have a great country scene, so I'm somewhat limited in what I hear. Yes, we have a few great folk stations, and if you look hard enough you can find some decent country music on the college stations*, but then you have to know they're there (marketing is not their strong suit) and be listening at the right time. The podcast lets the music come to me and fit into my schedule.

The best part of music on a podcast? For much of it, if I like it, I just buy my own version on iTunes.

*Southern Rail, which is heard Saturday afternoon on WBRS-FM, is a descendant of the Across America show I put in place back in 1991, much to the dismay of those around me. It's never been cool here in the northeast to like country, folk, bluegrass and other things that go "twang."
There are some exciting things coming out of the country scene that are very different from the overly commercial stuff you hear on many stations.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

What Makes Podcasts Work: Does Size Matter?

Over time, certain timing conventions developed in traditional broadcast media. In TV its The 30 minute sitcom, the 60 minute drama, the 120 minute movie of the week. Even on HBO, where there are no advertisers, the 60 minute show is still pretty standard.

You can argue as to whether these are effective or whether we're just trained to watch TV in these kind of clumps, but by watching the ratings programming executives can see when viewers drop off and how long they're willing to stay around.

The same goes for commercial news radio, where the 22 minute wheel has become common. I recently heard WBZ radio adopt WINS' long-time slogan "Give us 22 minutes, we'll give you the world." Even NPR operates on a sort of wheel, where the same information gets repeated again and again. Yet, then there is Howard Stern, whose show seems to last forever.

So I'm wondering what length conventions may arise in podcasting. This will depend in large part on the feedback people get.

I happen to like the podcast For Immediate Release, hosted by Neville Hobson and Shel Holtz. They do a great job of giving me plenty to think about in the area of PR and communications, especially on many of the topics I write about here.

But strangely my one complaint is in the amount of content they put out. In fact, Shel recently addressed this on one of the podcasts, commenting that he and Neville worried about the length--which regularly exceeds an hour--quite publicly. The feedback he received was to stop talking about it and just do the show.

The listeners were right. I hate hearing podcasters talk excessively about how they do their podcast. Frankly, I don't care, just give me the podcast.

In any case, maybe it's me, but I find it nearly impossible to keep up with the mountain of content they put out. Yes, I can skim through some of it, but while a nice dog walk can get me through most, if not all, of a Cinecast, I need an hour-plus of dog walking to get through For Immediate Release. What's more, they put it out twice a week.

Many weeks I just skip it altogether, and it kills me because I know there's good stuff I'm missing.

So, what's my advice? Let me soften it a bit.

Back in grad school I attended the Columbia DuPont awards. The show was pretty tight, with each recipient having a small window for thank yous, and it worked. That is, right up until the end. The second to last recipient made a political speech about East Timor, going a minute over his allotted time. So when Fred Friendly was presented his lifetime achievement award by Mike Wallace, he had no time for a thank you.

After the show a professor of mine asked Fred what he thought. Fred replied that the guy did the right thing, and Fred would have done it himself.

But, he said, the guy needed a better editor.