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.

Monday, March 06, 2006

What Makes Podcasts Work Part 2

I don't have TiVo, which means I need to watch TV when it's actually on. That's not such a bad thing since, frankly, I don't watch nearly as much TV as I did before kids.

But I do make time for Battlestar Galactica. Before you start screaming "GEEK!" watch the show. It is one of the best shows on TV.

So, why talk about it in a discussion about podcasts? Because it also happens to employ a great use of podcasting. Executive Producer Ron D. Moore does a podcast that accompanies every show, something that is basically a DVD commentary released right along with the first broadcast. The best part of it, for me, is its low production value.

While the show is slick and well done, just as a TV show should be, the podcast is done in Moore's home office on an echoey microphone. You can hear the gardeners running leaf blowers, his kids running around downstairs, the dogs barking, the cars driving by and the phone ringing. You can even hear when he lights a cigarette or clinks ice in his drink glass.

This apparently annoys some of the folks who write in the Battlestar Galactica forums, which Moore apparently reads. During a recent podcast Moore told his audience to "stop whining" and even had his wife walk in at one point and joke about tying muzzling the dogs and tying up the kids.

In fact, this past week his wife played a more central role, spending the entire podcast in the room with him adding her own commentary. She also gave a physical description of his home office.

Why does it work? Because it's like I'm sitting with the guy who's in charge in a very relaxed, personal setting. If this were a slick podcast with a musical opening and high production it would lose something. It's the lack of anything that makes it what it is. Through it I feel a personal connection to someone I'd probably never meet in real life.

Compare this to one done by Lisa Loeb to accompany her show #1 Single. It's interesting and all, but it's way too slick. Instead of feeling like I'm getting to know her a little better, I feel like she's just promoting her show, which is, ironically enough, a reality show.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Chet Curtis: Crooner

Back in my TV days I worked at Boston TV powerhouse WCVB-TV, also known in this market as "Newscenter 5." I worked there during interesting times, as the Louise Woodward trial came to a head, long-time on-air reporter Kirby Perkins died suddenly, and the venerable team of Chet Curtis and Natalie Jacobson was broken up, first by marriage, then professionally.

Chet has always been a class act. Here's a guy who knew how to enjoy life, gave a sense that he knew how lucky he was to be working in a career he loved, and would spend nights in the newsroom with those writing his copy, not holed up in an office somewhere out of sight.

He also would regularly ask to see pictures of my son and talk politics, sports or anything else. I just can't say enough about Chet the Person.

So you should check out Mark Jurkowitz's feature in the most recent issue of the Boston Phoenix. It's nice to see that he is still the same Chet, just in a different chair.