What Old Mainstream Media Taught Me about New Media

10 12 2008

mb-headshot32Reading the Sunday New York Times each week is something that I hold sacred. Even though I am completely hooked into all digital media formats, nothing quite replaces the physical newsprint with its smudging ink and messy sections that lay around the house for days. I’m not likely to listen to a podcast while wearing slippers and munching on a bagel with cream cheese, but that is precisely what I want to do while reading my weekend morning paper.

So it’s something of a wakeup call, and a bit stronger than my cup of morning Joe, to read the Times these days. They are writing a lot about the changing landscape of media, as blogs, videos and other digital forms continue to body slam analog forms of communication. Chief among these writers is Virginia Heffernan, whose The Medium column (and blog) is really tapping into the general zeitgeist right now. Consider this from her most recent article:

People who work in traditional media and entertainment ought either to concentrate on the antiquarian quality of their work, cultivating the exclusive audience of TV viewers or magazine readers that might pay for craftsmanship. Or they should imagine that they are 19 again: spending a day on Twitter or following a recipe from a Mark Bittman video played on a refrigerator that automatically senses what ingredients are missing and texts an order to the grocery store (it will soon exist!). Then they should think about what content suits these new modes of distribution and could evolve in tandem with them. For old-media types, mental flexibility could be the No. 1 happiness secret we have been missing.

As someone who has worked with old media for years, I couldn’t put it any better myself. We do need to stretch our minds to wrap our heads around all the changes taking place. The week before she wrote this, the Times had an entire magazine devoted to the proliferation of screens everywhere and how this is upending our traditional textual modes of communication. Kevin Kelly wrote in the Idea Lab about Becoming Screen Literate.

As I’ve written before in this blog, the advent of digital video is forever altering how we communicate. Kelly’s article really lays out a vision for the visual future that’s actually becoming reality right now.

A couple months ago I opened the magazine and read “Facebook in a Crowd by Hal Niedzviecki. That article really floored me because it articulated what turns off some marketers to social networking – the illusion that what happens online automatically translates into something real offline. His article demonstrates that those you’re calling “friends” in Facebook don’t really hold the same weight as your friends in the real world, and that this brave new world has a whole new set of rules. (It’s a hilarious article and well worth reading.)

If you’re already incredibly immersed in all things social, then this is old news to you. But with constantly evolving means of communication, the idea that any one person can know everything about our changing online world is simply laughable. But, I just hope that while I cling to my Sunday morning old media tradition, my mind remains flexible and open to the ever-expanding online media universe. That, and a good bagel and coffee, are my number 1 happiness secret.


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The Tribe Has Spoken

4 12 2008

mb-headshot3I spent some time last month listening to a free audio book called Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization. I knew that the book was available as a free download because I follow the Twitter tweets of Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos.com. If Tony, an innovator and business leader, recommended it to his followers, I knew that it would be well worth reading. He actually contributed to the audio book’s forward, and having listened to the book, I can see why the authors chose him.


The book revolves around the central concept of companies existing as bands of tribes (from as many as 20 people to 150 people per tribe). In effect, an organization is like a state with multiple small towns within it. These are not necessarily your department, but loose associations of thought leaders and colleagues. Tribal groups are formed by the replication of what the authors call “triads.” Triads are strong three-party relationships. This is important factor for organizations with a tribal culture, because the authors know that only a three-legged stool can stand, and that by sharing work among colleagues, there is a mutually-supportive structure, rather than a top-down, one-on-one, senior-to-junior dynamic at work.


If you look for it, you will see these triad relationships everywhere in successful companies. Think about LinkedIn, which relies on you working through your existing contacts to reach another contact in the system (a triad). The book also focuses on the fact that successful tribal company cultures are not about “me”, they are about “we.” While company cultures can focus on the superstars, they do so at their own peril. Real superstars are always forming triads and bringing out the best in their colleagues. They are using what helped the Celts win the championships – Ubuntu – and the knowledge that no one can make it alone.


The book provides case studies of the companies that are getting Tribal Leadership right, like Amgen. Companies, as well as individuals, can be found on a continuum from stage 1 (totally failing) to stage 5 (incredibly successful). About half of all companies in America are in stage 3 where self-accomplishment is the core value celebrated (it’s about my success). Companies at stage 5 are in a league of their own (they don’t see themselves as having competitors, just major problems to solve – cancer, bad customer service). Companies at stage 5 are also incredibly open and share information fluidly among the tribal members (and social networking is increasingly helping them create this openness and transparency).


There’s something extremely attractive about a stage 5 tribal culture, and a lot to admire in Tribal Leaders. While these leaders can exist at companies that have yet to make it to tribal excellence, the book suggests that through practicing the creation of triads, being group-oriented and checking their egos at the door, leaders can help to elevate their companies. Next time you’re in a meeting, count the number of times someone says “me” when they could be saying “we.” Now listen to yourself. And, definitely listen to this important book, for free.      img_book

Bloggers and Embargos — Like Oil and Water

18 11 2008

mb-headshot3Perhaps this has happened to you. A client has had perhaps a hundred journalists (in the US and abroad) sign a non-disclosure agreement to prevent the media from reporting a story in advance of the official launch date. In exchange for signing the NDA, the reporters got more access to privileged information in advance about the upcoming news (images, interviews with key company parties, press releases, PowerPoint, etc.).


Then, your worst nightmare becomes reality. One of those reporters, misreading the embargo date, publishes the story online in advance of the embargo date. Your client calls you as soon as the Google Alert hits his BlackBerry and being a PR professional you follow up with the unfortunate reporter and ask her to take the news off the site. The reporter explains that she feels horrible about the mistake – it was the web team who mistakenly posted the news – and she takes immediate action to take it down. “Phew!” you say to yourself. “I was able to save the day. Now hopefully no one saw the leaked news.”


Yeah, right. In our online world, the spread of news moves faster than a California wildfire. In that brief hosting of leaked news online, other news sites that monitor for your client were also alerted, and then moved swiftly to grab that content and post it on their own sites. After all, they weren’t briefed under NDA, so for all they know they’re just circulating news they didn’t get via your press release. By this point, all of the reporters that signed NDAs are asking themselves if they should post the news or wait until the date and time on the legal form they signed comes to pass.


Then your client calls requesting that you approach all of the sites that have posted the news in advance. If you have relationships with the sites, they’ll understand and probably take the news down. But what happens if they’re a blog? If they’re a blog they may reply: “As we were not briefed on the topic and didn’t sign an NDA we can’t in good faith remove a story that’s now or was public. I think it’s best for all parties involved to learn from this mistake and to move on.”


Universally, I have found bloggers to hold NDAs and embargos in disdain. These official marketing tools don’t jibe with their generally snarky attitude. One part of me understands this. After all, we read blogs precisely because they are snarky, opinionated and anti-authority. And they want to get a scoop just like any journalist. On the other hand, PR practitioners provide special access to their clients for a reason: to ensure that the story is told correctly. Without that access, the bloggers can only speculate on what others have reported, rather than report facts.


What’s a PR flak to do? It’s impossible to brief everyone in advance so they’re ready to go live with news at the right time. Some sites won’t even sign an NDA if you want them to. And rarely does a company take any sort of legal action against a reporter who breaks an embargo – they don’t want to sour the relationship and they understand that mistakes can (and will) happen.


I’m not writing that we should abandon the process of getting reporters to sign NDA forms just because they’re not usually enforced and we can’t get the world to sign an NDA. If only one or two sites leak news, then they’re not really diminishing the big bang on launch day. And once a reporter has signed an NDA, they traditionally respect them. But never expect a blogger to hold to an embargo date (unless you have a great relationship and they’ve signed an NDA) or to remove leaked news. What you can expect is that the second something is on the Internet, it’s there to stay. As long as bloggers treat the marketing process with disdain, they will continue to miss out on full pre-announcement briefings. And, the likely outcome of being shunned by the very companies they should be courting.  

How to spark creativity (literally)

21 10 2008

I think today’s post was meant to be. I was looking at some of my favorite Web sites for inspiration and came across this post on CoolBusinessIdeas.com about a product that can increase creativity. An Australian scientist has developed a thinking cap that zaps the left side of the brain with magnetic pulses. In the trials, some participants showed increased levels of awareness and creativity.

*Image courtesy of CoolBusinessIdeas.com

So the next time you’re struggling in a brainstorm, or are working to develop an attention-getting, non-traditional PR campaign, maybe you should slip on your thinking cap for a quick zap of insta-creativity. Because who wouldn’t want to look like this at the office:

*Image courtesy of Engadget.com

RSS: Really Simple Stupid

15 10 2008

mb-headshot3a>You are not stupid. You are smart. I am stupid.

I say this because for a long time I was using Really Simple Syndication (RSS) and I didn’t know it. I have a Google gmail account because I grew tired of my Hotmail address at about the same time they started asking for money for more storage. Also, I thought that “@hotmail” was kind of amateurish, along with my “@yahoo” address. I am neither a Bill Gates fan nor a Yahoo, and I wanted to be elitist, eat arugula, and show my love of Google.

Gmail got me to start using iGoogle, a service for those with gmail accounts to have a customizable landing page. My iGoogle site gives me what regular Google.com gives me, but it also enables me to display widgets (the weather, a world clock, my horoscope) and news items of my choosing (Slate, The Onion, Politico, New York Times, Newsweek). Grabbing the top stories from the publications that I read is very easy with iGoogle, and because my iGoogle page is my homepage in my browser, I am up to speed on all major global news that I care about.

Then, after years of envying my friends and colleagues, I bought an iPod. Not a touch — I’m not that tricked out yet. And I started using iTunes to download podcasts for free (National Public Radio’s “This American Life” is one of my favorites). The iTunes interface easily helped me find free podcasts and subscribe to them so I can listen to podcasts and view videos whenever I like.

OK, so as I was using iGoogle and iTunes, I didn’t realize that subscribing to news, podcasts and videos was only possible because of RSS. (Like I said, I was stupid.) But I want you all to know that I am getting smarter. I’ve even started to use RSS to get news updates in my Outlook email folders.

If you practice PR and you haven’t gotten into RSS yet then now is the time. If you’re relying on Google alerts to get news about your clients and their competitors, that’s great. But what if you want to read the latest articles as they come online from your target publications? In that case, you can either set up an iGoogle account, or you can do what I have done with Outlook.

First, do some web searches and find the publications, sections of publications, blogs, or whatever you want to read on a regular basis. Then, in Internet Explorer click on this symbol:

When you click on that symbol (sometimes called the RSS Chicklet) you will see an address pop up for a new URL in your web browser window. Copy that URL (control C).

Now, start your Outlook email program and do the following:

1. On the Tools menu, click Account Settings.
2. On the RSS Feeds tab, click New.
3. In the New RSS Feed dialog box, type or press CTRL+V to paste the URL of the RSS Feed. For example, http://www.example.com/feed/main.xml.
4. Click Add.
5. Click OK.
Now, you will begin to see in your Outlook Mail Folders articles popping up under the RSS Chicklet folder. Those new RSS feeds you’ve subscribed to will be filled up with news that you care about the minute the news is posted to the Internet.

If you care about getting news from the outlets, reporters or bloggers you track, then you have to try setting up RSS feeds in Outlook.

Now, you probably feel a whole lot smarter…I would love to hear how it’s working for you.

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Tattoos & Brand Devotion

10 10 2008

Recently, in an e-mail from HARO, I saw an inquiry about people who have tattoos of their favorite brands. The inquiry made me smile because months ago one of my colleagues brought up this idea, saying she believed it would become the next trend in demonstrating brand loyalty.

In a recent article in Fortune magazine, J. Crew’s CEO stated he believes there will be a departure from the branding trend and a return to simplicity. Perhaps this is true with clothing: people currently display brands on their clothing, cars and accessories, and are running out of empty space – a natural next step is to get a brand’s logo tattooed on your body, right?!

Getting a tattoo of a brand’s logo is the ultimate demonstration of brand devotion. Yet this is not a new idea: Harley Davidson loyalists have been getting the brand’s tattoos for years and the rest of the world is finally catching up. This taps into a sociological phenomenon called social cohesion. Social cohesion refers to developing communities of people who share similar ideas, values, beliefs and norms. Today, brand tattoos are a permanent and physical way to show one’s allegiance to a particular group.

43% of women say they have fallen in love with a brand. It’d be interesting to see what percent of these women have displayed their love via permanent ink.

How far will you go to demonstrate your brand loyalty? What can your brand do to create such deep and lasting relationships with its consumers that they are inspired to tattoo your logo on their bodies?

Image shared by LJ Fox III

Image shared by BellaSugar

A New BeginNING

8 10 2008

The very first post I made to this blog was about my old friend Tom Anderson, co-founder of MySpace. We were in a band together in college and I really admire all that he’s been able to accomplish with his social network. He’s taking it into new territory and putting music at the forefront, which is his true passion as a veritable walking encyclopedia of arcane musical trivia (Ringo – throw me a banana!). Don’t ask.


So that’s why I’m concerned about MySpace and Facebook. Are they losing their cache? In a recent PC World article on the “10 Most Overrated Products” Facebook loses to Multiply.com and reporter Darren Gladstone quips that Facebook has “free applications of dubious value, plus scores of plug-ins and games that draw you deeper into the Facebook rabbit hole until you’re spending hours a day befriending complete strangers with whom you have nothing in common beyond a shared love of Raisin Bran.”


And Mediaweek recently rated the Digital Hot List 2008, and MySpace wasn’t even listed. What’s going on? Is social media tanking? I don’t think so. What I think is happening is that more people are trying sites like Ning.com to build their own social media sites where they can grow their own communities on the Internet.


Haven’t heard of Ning? I read a brilliant article on Ning in Fast Company earlier this year and I began using the site. Basically, it enables anyone with minimal knowledge of website design to create an online social network. That network can be open to everyone or closed and open to members by invitation only. The level of customization is awesome. Post videos and still images, blog, chat in real time, or create forums – most of what you can do with Facebook or MySpace is available, but you are essentially creating your own Facebook or MySpace with Ning serving as the backbone.


Marketers who have tried and failed to leverage social networking sites should pay attention to Ning because it provides the tools (at free or very low cost) to create a community with shared interests online. And it’s very cool. If Tom can create an empire like MySpace, you can create YourSpace with Ning. Let me know if you’ve played around with Ning and how it’s working for you.