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.