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Associated Press Win over Meltwater is the Internet’s Loss

March 26, 2013 Leave a comment

Whenever a business gets too large, it ceases innovating and begins looking for ways to put a boot in the face of anyone who wishes to climb past them up the mountain.

Unfortunately the Associated Press enlisted the help of [tech-illiterate] US District Court Judge Denise Cote and put a boot in the face of content aggregators and successfully sued Meltwater (a San Francisco-based digital clipping service that notifies clients when news references keywords relevant to them).

Here’s just an example of the ripple effect of problems this ruling creates just in Judge Cote’s world:

  • The US District Court for the Southern District of New York publishes a “News and Events” section on its website (with an RSS feed).  Some of the content in that feed violates this ruling.
  • The New York Bar Association (of which, presumably, Judge Cote is a member) also publishes news on a variety of its blogs and other presences which could be in violation of the precedent set by this ruling as they contain “relevant” excerpts of stories by publishers with links.
  • Judge Cote’s alma mater, Columbia University, routinely violates the standard set in the ruling.

…and on and on.

Hilariously, one of the sticking points in the lawsuit is that Meltwater caches news content going back to 2007 that is no longer available online and offers it to customers.  The AP literally doesn’t offer a competing product and wants to someone else for making the information available when they won’t.  It’s the equivalent of a record company suing me for giving a friend a pirated copy of an album that is no longer in print.

It’s the same thing the music industry did over a decade ago when it sued into bankruptcy the file-sharing platforms (and even attempted to sue the manufacturers of MP3 players) that allowed music enthusiasts to trade MP3s – which the industry was not willing to offer despite the overwhelming demand.

This should be instructive for the AP.  After its decade-plus crusade – the music industry won itself widespread hatred, lost its oligopoly, and was entirely unsuccessful at stopping file-sharing.  Even now they’re still in the trenches trying to hold back innovation by attacking their customers and technology companies (see: “six strikes”) and losing billions of revenue in the process.

The Associated Press already sued “Moreover,” “All Headline News,” and even Google before taking on Meltwater.  So far they’ve been satisfied with licensing fees (likely much-needed income as the quality and breadth of their output declines along with the rest of the dinosaurs of traditional media), but what will be next?

For more – I recommend reading the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s response to the ruling:

AP v. Meltwater: Disappointing Ruling for News Search
MARCH 21, 2013 | BY CORYNNE MCSHERRY AND KURT OPSAHL | Electronic Frontier Foundation

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Will Social Media Marketers Become Obsolete Middle Men?

August 16, 2012 Leave a comment

The Point Where "Middle" Parties Become Irrelevant is where Easier Use / More Powerful Tools intersects With Increased  User Expertise

Demand for Social Media Marketing has exploded in the past decade as brands struggle to reach audiences beyond the increasingly-fractured traditional media consuming public.  Right now Social Media Marketers are able to take advantage of the public’s overwhelming ignorance about communicating via social media and get paid to navigate those spheres for their clients.

It won’t last forever.  It may not even last another decade.

Think of the travel industry.  Before ‘teh interwebz’ information used to be scarce, so it made sense to pay someone else with expertise to navigate the complicated pricing schemes and array of accommodations providers to do it for you.  Flash-forward to the year 2000 when the web came into its own in terms of providing easier ways to book airline tickets, hotel rooms and car rentals (as well as recommendation sites chock full of free expertise and reviews).  This great graphic from the Cleveland Plain Dealer says it all: Read more…

Slow Clap for the Harvard Business Review; Finally Catches up to Social Media Marketing Circa 2004

August 15, 2012 Leave a comment

I’m not one enamored of the Harvard Business Review.  The ivory tower often isn’t the best vantage point.

That’s why I’m unimpressed with the recent piece by Bill Lee, “Marketing is Dead,” published in the HBR.   The article does little to live up to the provocative title, rehashing conclusions most savvy marketers and advertisers came to nearly a decade ago (even the slowest among us arrived at them at least five years ago).

Why is marketing dead?  CEOs are frustrated and customers are ignoring traditional media – just look!:

“In a devastating 2011 study of 600 CEOs and decision makers by the London-based Fournaise Marketing Group, 73% of them said that CMOs lack business credibility and the ability to generate sufficient business growth, 72% are tired of being asked for money without explaining how it will generate increased business, and 77% have had it with all the talk about brand equity that can’t be linked to actual firm equity or any other recognized financial metric.”

So what?  The percentage of Americans that say CEOs lack credibility is at 79 percent.  Moreover, the turnover rate for CEOs is at a six-year high.  Audiences have been tuning out from the traditional mass media for over a decade. Read more…

Thanks but no Thanks – Five Rebuttals for “Backseat Marketers”

July 29, 2012 2 comments
Avoid the Herd Mentality in Marketing

Avoid the Herd Mentality in Marketing (w/ love to Seth Godin)

For some reason, people seem very comfortable assuming they know as much as anyone trained in marketing, advertising or public relations.  Whereas few people would feel comfortable second-guessing  a  physician’s assistant physician assistant,  or telling an engineer how to do their job – they are more than willing to micro-manage communications professionals.

To them, I say “thanks but no thanks.”  If you’ve not in the field, and you’ve ever offered up any of the following advice to a colleague in the field, please check yourself.

1. You think we should advertise somewhere because you consume that media.

In all liklihood *you* are not the demographic being targeted.  *I* am not the demographic being targeted either.

This happens all the time – I guess it has to do with some desire we have to feel as though we understand the average person’s mindset and that we represent the common opinion on the street.  The problem is – it’s increasingly hard to identify “the average person” anymore.

Not only that, but whomever he/she is, none of us is likely representative of them (particularly where I work where most of the employees have advanced degrees – relegating them to a tiny ten percent of the US population, not at all representative of the median).

Instead of going with your gut – trust the data instead.  Save your gut for the creative portions of the campaign where it will be needed.

2. You think we should advertise somewhere because it’s a “special” promotion targeted right at our industry.

I hate to break it to you, but every two-bit media entity worth its salt has created bogus “special interest” offerings as a marketing ploy to appeal to advertisers.  There are “special editions” for everything now – and they even come out more than once a year.

To make matters worse, there are even entire organizations created solely for the purpose of selling worthless advertising to rubes who think they’re reaching someone.

A great example of this is the “Who’s Who” listings or “Internet Directories” for special topics.  When was the last time you looked anyone up in a “Who’s Who” book?  Carter was probably president.  The same goes for special “directories” online; as the power and accuracy of search has improved, it has rendered the need for curated directories obsolete.  You’re far better off taking all of that time and money and putting it into writing a blog to push up your rank in Google.

On Payola: By the way – if the “special promotion” includes freebies to the people buying the advertising (say, event tickets) – if you take those, it’s unethical and potentially grounds for firing at many institutions.  It constitutes a conflict of interest for you to spend money that isn’t yours in order to get something free.  You may even want to check with your Purchasing department because you may be legally-obligated to notify them or turn over that item.

3. You think we should advertise somewhere because they have special pricing available only for a limited time.

The amount of exclamation points that usually accompany the emails for these sorts of requests could fuel a mid-sized city.  Understand that these offers are invariably overvalued.  The reason they’re discounting the air time/ad space is because NO ONE ELSE WANTS IT (and there’s a reason no one else wants it).

The reason these “opportunities” are “special” is because no one else will advertise on them because they don’t reach enough people (or they’re not effective at converting eyeballs into sales).  They’re the advertising equivalent of the bargain DVD bin at Wal-mart – no one wants to own Battlefield Earth which is why it languishes even with a $2.99 price tag.  You’re literally throwing your money away – money that could be better spent with 30 seconds and a credit card on Facebook.

4. You think we should advertise somewhere because our competitors are doing it.

To be sure, there is absolutely value in benchmarking what one’s competitors are doing.  However, following the herd can be problematic for a variety of reasons.

  • First, if the herd is already there – it’s a diluted marketplace for ideas.  You’ll be trying to make noise while everyone else is trying to make noise – no one is going to hear it.  The Law of Diminishing Returns absolutely applies to advertising.
  • Second, the herd doesn’t know anything you don’t already know.  They’re not privy to some mystical insight – particularly the more members of the herd are engaging in this communal behavior the more likely it is to be outmoded because the soft middle has arrived.
  • Third,

5.  You think we should advertise somewhere whether or not we can track the response.

Media Consumption Trends 2001-2010Measurement is just as critical as Communication in a marketing/pr plan.  If you’re not worried about how we’re going to gauge the response to our efforts – I’M worried about your fitness for your job.

If you can’t find a way to verify whether or not something worked – why would you do it?  Would you have a surgery if you had no way of telling whether or not it was successful?  Would you enter a competition that didn’t track how you placed?

It’s not fun and it’s not sexy, but it is an imperative that we develop some way of measuring how many people are converted by our efforts.  Given how wildly media consumption habits are shifting right now – it’s even MORE important than any time in the past half-decade.

Moreover, ENTIRELY NEW forms of advertising are emerging all the time.  What worked this year may not work at all next year – and it’s important to track that progress.

In Summary

So “Backseat Marketers,” please – we need your input but keep it constructive and focused on the content that you are experts on.  Recycle the faxes you get with radio discounts on them instead of forwarding them to us.  Defer questions from ad sales reps to us and let us handle them (instead of allowing them to create confusion, conflict and division within our organization just because they work on commission).

How to Create the Perfect Higher Education Billboard

July 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Template for the Perfect Higher Education Billboard

Given the field I work in, I pay a lot of attention to billboard campaigns.  I suspect this makes me different from many of the publics we target.

One thing I’ve noticed in my years of careful Billboardspotting is how remarkably similar all outdoor advertising is for colleges and universities.  It’s eerie.  It’s almost as though everyone is watching what everyone else is doing and copying it in some sort of marketing feedback loop.

This is likely what is actually happening, which explains the creative entropy. Read more…

Journalists: Check Thyselves – Bad Pitches are a Two-Way Street

June 14, 2012 1 comment

Shotgun Spam PR Pitches

Why is a bad pitch worse when it comes from a Public Relations Pro than when it comes from an Ad Sales Representative?

I ask that question after reading another article (Social Media Makes Bad Pitches Go Viral–And Can Save PR From Itself | by Amber Mac | FastCompany) blasting the entirety of the public relations world for irrelevant and careless pitches they’ve received via email.  The strident calls for PR to reform itself are ever-present; Gawker even has a separate category for showcasing shoddy PR (PR Dummies).

I wonder how many journalists are aware of the fact that at the same time they’re bemoaning poorly-targeted spam PR pitches, many PR Pros are bemoaning poorly-targeted spam Ad Sales/Sponsorship spam pitches from ad sales reps who work for the organizations that underwrite those journalists’ activities. Read more…

Reversing the Polarity of Your Social Media Strategy

May 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Reversing the Polarity of Marketing

In the kampy 70s-era Batman TV series (and movie), Adam West’s titular character was always trying to extricate himself from a supervillain’s trap by “reversing the polarity.”  It’s one of those pseudo-sciencey terms that pre-teen kids find believable (even nerdy kids who like Dr. Who).

Colleagues and I have joked before that the marketing budgets of some projects would be better spent bribing the very small target population than trying to break through the deluge of noise consumers encounter each day by paying for mass media channels (the very entities creating the noise).

Twitter.  Facebook.  Pinterest.  Linkedin.  Blogs.  RSS.  SMS.  Foursquare.  Google Places.

Thanks to social media there are enumerable ways for any organization to broadcast messages to its publics.  There are so many channels with such low cost barriers that the decisions marketers and PR pros need to make are all about how many to spend time on.

However, the focus on broadcasting often overshadows an important and underutilized feature of the Internet-connected world: the ability to reverse the flow of information to focus laser-like on a very tiny population.  I’m not talking about Narrowcasting.  The “casting” part still implies a lack of a quality relationship with each of the unique people you’re trying to enlist.

It is increasingly easier to be successful by focusing solely on good customer service or by serving a very specific clientele.  That’s the Long Tail at work.  Creating relationships.

Rather than spending resources buying access to a megaphone could you reallocate those resources to, one at a time, find the 25, 50, 100, 1000 people you actually need to make your campaign a success?  I bet you could … if you can just “reverse the polarity.”

I Demand Better Graffiti

April 25, 2012 1 comment

Gerald R Ford Graffiti at the Ottawa Ave Exit

Recently someone in Grand Rapids, Michigan started adding Banksy-esque stenciled images of former president Gerald Ford on walls downtown.  The first image that appeared depicted a standing figure of Ford, which later had a word bubble added with the words “Motu Viget” (the city’s motto which is Latin for “Strength in Activity”).

Another figure appeared more recently of Ford with his arm raised and the infamous quote from Ford’s Oath of Office speech in 1974: “our long national nightmare is over.”

There are also other works I haven’t had the chance to see yet depicting Ford and his quote “I am indebted to no man,” and even other local celebrities like Floyd Mayweather, Jr with the quote “all work is easy work.”

I’ve been amused by these works and am now keeping one eye peeled near the I-196/US-131 interchange for more of these illustrations, wondering about the motivations of the individual(s) behind them, what they’re building toward and hoping that the Michigan Department of Transportation is slow to act on its threat to remove the graffiti.

This morning, however, I noticed that someone had scrawled the words “War Criminal” in red spray paint with poor handwriting next to the first Ford illustration.  It upset me.

I wasn’t upset with the characterization of Ford as a war criminal, there’s certainly a case to be made for that.  Rather I’m pissed at how utterly lazy and unimaginative the response is.  I’ve decided that I don’t hate graffiti – I hate CRAP graffiti.

  • Crap graffiti is some jerkweed tagger plastering the exact same sloppy, rounded uninventive image of their inane alias over every available surface out of view of a security camera.
  • Crap graffiti is some lazy, ignorant suburbanite teen adding a wobbly swastica to a school wall for shock value – completely unaware of the origin of the icon or the weight the symbol carries.
  • Crap graffiti is what adorns so many railroad cars – though there’s slightly more time invested, it still is the same unoriginal design: a crunched, barely-legible thickened font filled in with swirls of color.

T Rex "King" Graffiti on Division Ave in Grand Rapids

If you’re going to post something for hundreds of people to see each day as they walk past a transformer box, don’t you take enough pride in what you do to make a good show of it?  Ostensibly you’ve got the need to communicate (which you’ve demonstrated by risking misdemeanor charges) – if you’re going to go to all that trouble don’t you want to be effective and original when you do so?

So you want to critique President Ford – fine; add to the stencil illustration and give him an arm offering a thumbs-up to Suharto to massacre East Timorese civilians, or add a stencil of Henry Kissinger doing the same.

That goes for anyone that puts up a billboard (which I usually consider to be visual affronts more offensive than graffiti, distinguished only by the fact that they’re more expensive to produce and are officially-sanctioned).

Can’t we do better?  If you’re going to confront me with your message – at least provide me some value; a bit of humor, a spark of originality, an artistic flourish, a new font … ANYTHING.  Maybe social media has ruined me – but I now expect to extract something of value from attempts to get my attention and I refuse to believe I’m the only one.

So taggers and advertisers – give me better graffiti.  Make it art.

Chart – Social Media Platforms by Number of Users

March 8, 2012 12 comments

I threw this chart together for a presentation I’m doing; it includes current numbers for some of the more prominent social networking platforms (including Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, Pinterest, Spotify, Wikipedia, Foursquare, Pandora, Digg, etc.).  Hopefully I’ll be able to kick out updated versions every few months. [Updated to include MySpace - originally I had left them off because they're the only major social networking platform that has actually lost users.]

Visualizing Social Media Platforms by Number of Users

Profile in Brand Journalism: Jon Leiberman of Howard 100 News

February 1, 2012 Leave a comment
Jon Leiberman

Jon Leiberman of Howard 100 News

As a follow up to my contributing post to the Public Relations Society of America’s PRSay blog for their #PRin2012 series (“Brand Journalism Brings New Ethical Perils”), I had the opportunity to interview Jon Leiberman of Howard 100 News (which I mentioned as one of the examples of Brand Journalism success).

I’m a big Howard Stern fan (hey now!).  Allow me for a moment to justify the intellectual merit of my fanboy-ism by noting that well-heeled and respected intellectuals like NPR’s Terry Gross and Author Jeff Jarvis are also fans of the Stern Show.

Even if you detest him, you can’t deny that he has been a trailblazing pioneer throughout his career.  He’s conquered virtually every form of mass media (save, I would argue, the Internet – though he does well for himself on Twitter when he can manage to tune out the haters).  He virtually single-handedly legitimized satellite radio.

When Stern moved to Sirius, one of the best moves he made was to create his own Brand Journalism arm in the form of Howard 100 News.  The outfit has been staffed with award-winning reporters since Stern moved to Sirius back in 2005 and has produced a wide-ranging array of stories – many of which have been picked up by the national news media as well as various trade news media.

About Jon Leiberman

In this tradition of excellence most wouldn’t expect from a figure like Stern, Leiberman has an impressive pedigree in investigative journalism.  He’s been a reporter for WBFF and WIYY in Baltimore, KOAT in Albuquerque, contributed to the Pew Center on the States, and held news posts across the US including Washington DC (as the Sinclair Broadcast Group Bureau Chief).

Had Sinclair Broadcasting heeded Leiberman’s advice, their stock might not have lost half its value (and incurred threats of lawsuits from investors) when they made the ill-fated decision to run the documentary “swiftboating” John Kerry during the 2004 presidential election.

As if that weren’t enough, he’s also been a regular guest on CNN HLN, Fox News, MSNBC, the Today Show, Nancy Grace, The Maury Povich Show and Shepard Smith’s Fox Report.  He is perhaps best known as producer and investigative reporter for the long-running “America’s Most Wanted.”
Near and dear to my heart as an educator is his extensive curriculum vitae: he’s taught at the Iowa School of Journalism, the University of Maryland, and McDaniel College.  He also teaches courses at MediaBistro.

Making the Transition From Traditional Journalist to Brand Journalist

All of Leiberman’s previous roles have been essential to his success with Howard 100 News.  He cites his broad experience in a variety of roles, markets and formats as one of the major things that helped him move into his job on SiriusXM radio.  In his own words:

“there’s no more ‘old school journalist than me – I went to Northwestern,  got a traditional journalism education.  I have a background in traditional investigative news, went to America’s Most Wanted and got into more advocacy/entertainment journalism as a correspondent.  I wasn’t necessarily an objective news reporter (we were focused on tracking down fugitives), and I started the transition then.”

In the online classes Leiberman teaches for Media Bistro, he counsels his students that they have to diversify.  It’s critical to get the basics of reporting down, but you need to seek a broad range of experience so you don’t end up pigeonholing yourself.

One of the other challenges Leiberman has overcome is negotiating the line between personal and professional relationships in the studio.

“The difficulty is that as a journalist you’re now covering people that you see everyday, versus covering issues and people who are a few steps removed from you.  The biggest hurdle is becoming comfortable with asking tough questions that you have to see everyday and who are your colleagues.”

Creating a Brand Journalism News Bureau

It can be a complicated affair to create a news bureau to cover one’s organization.  Balancing the privacy of employees, timing the release of information (particularly for publicly-traded companies), and responding to crises are important challenges to prepare for.  Journalists seeking to make the transition to working for an organization will need to consider the social ramifications of such a role, as Leiberman did when he joined the Stern Show.

Describing the environment, he noted this specifically as one of the hurdles he faced:

“As a journalist is that now you’re covering people that you see everyday, versus covering issues and people who are a few steps removed from you.  The biggest hurdle is becoming comfortable with asking tough questions that you have to see everyday and who are your colleagues.

They do have a newsroom at Howard 100 News, but police scanners aren’t blaring,  and the AP wire isn’t dinging every second with breaking news.  Another difference is that it’s more of a controlled environment (not editorially, but controlled in terms of set number of news casts).  On a weekend.”

Leiberman notes that his transition was made easier by the fact that Howard 100 News had been up and running for a few years, so standards for conduct between reporters and staff were better-established.

Previous reporters have been occasionally challenged by the reality that they occasionally become part of the story thanks to the …let’s say ‘eccentric’ nature of the staff and personas that surround the show.  (Traditional journalists usually aren’t subjected to dozens of musical prank calls, nor do they frequently have their anatomy featured in the jingle that precedes their updates – both of which happened to Steve Langford, Leiberman’s predecessor.)

As an example of the journalistic standards the team adheres to, recently News Director Brad Driver recently  made the call to remove one of its reporters from a story because comments made on the air reached one of the subjects of the story which created a conflict, so Leiberman was reassigned to cover that topic.

By no means, however, does that mean that Leiberman isn’t expected to apply all of his investigative skills to his daily work.

Reporting Restrictions?

For reporters at Howard 100 News, there are very few restrictions (and they’re frequently handled on a case-by-case basis in consultation with Stern).  Right now, for example, show writer and personality Benjy Bronk is in a relationship with musician Elisa Jordana.  That sort of development is grounds for coverage by Howard 100 News (and by extension, other news outlets), but Leiberman has been treading carefully to ensure Bronk retains a semblance of a personal life.

As Leiberman puts it: “We’re not out to ruin lives.  At the end of the day the Howard Stern show is an entertainment show – so to the extent that the stories that can entertain people, those are the stories that will be told most often.”

Fortunately Leiberman says the ethical dilemmas are few and far between.

A Journalist’s Existential Crisis

Joining Howard 100 News was not a decision that Leiberman took lightly given the credibility he worked hard to earn throughout his years as a traditional journalist.

“‘Can I stay true to who I am as a journalist’ – that was a big concern.  Once I got there and saw how everything worked – I found that that I’d be using every journalistic principle I learned – but on a different subject matter.  I’m still an investigative reporter doing sometimes funny news and sometimes serious news – but always as myself.”

Leiberman analogized his multifaceted role to Stern’s recent move to become one of the judges on “America’s Got Talent,” replacing Piers Morgan.  As Leiberman puts it: “Howard Stern can do AMT and do one side of himself (with no profanity) – and can be on his radio show and be another side of himself.”

A thorough understanding of the mission of an organization is also key to success in Brand Journalism.  Leiberman explained his interpretation of his role saying “at the end of the day the Howard Stern Show is an entertainment show – so to the extent that the stories that can entertain people, those are the stories that will be told most often.”

Perhaps the best advantage Brand Journalism offers an organization like the Howard Stern Show is that it creates the possibility of breaking “real” or “hard” journalism.  Howard 100 News has broken a number of news stories that have been picked up by the traditional news media, including the case of a hit-and-run driver who struck the vehicle of Stern’s partner on the show, Robin Quivers.  They also reported on the drunk driving arrest of a former staffer and broke the news of adult film star Raven Alexis had stage four metastatic cancer that had spread to her brain, which was carried by the trade news of the adult entertainment industry.

One of the things that has helped assure Leiberman that he’s still got his journalistic street cred is a call he received from a former colleague from his days with America’s Most Wanted who remarked that his reporting style had remained completely intact from his AMW days.

The Benefits of Brand Journalism

The Howard Stern Show has found numerous benefits from its journalistic wing, the most important of which Leiberman sees as keeping everything current and relevant:

“Howard is on the air a certain number of hours a week – all of those other hours, [Howard 100 News] is a vehicle to keep everything fresh – we have dozens of stories airing every day when the show isn’t live.  The fans are now engaged, they know what is going on – it’s a ‘Headline News’ for the Stern Show when the show isn’t on.  It does nothing but enhance the brand because it keeps people tuned in during hours when they might otherwise go to somewhere else.”

Leiberman sees Brand Journalism as a tonic for the over-saturation of information people are presented with every day: “in this day and age when people are so inundated with information and press releases – I can’t think of a better way to enhance one’s brand.”  He added “any press is good press; even the negative stories because we’re still covering the brand, and they’re contributing to the conversation.”

For Leiberman, a personal benefit of his role is the exposure he’s gained from being on the Howard Stern show:

“It’s unique to Howard; he has such passionate fans – you would be amazed at the number.  We treat the fans as sources and take them seriously and respectfully.  Certainly some of them are crazy, but some of those types of fans provide the best tips.  Being at Howard 100 News for five months I’ve had more exposure than at 15 years in all other places.”

In Summary

Hopefully more organizations begin to experiment with brand journalism.  Even though it comes with its own set of barriers and risks, no medium of communication can boast of being free of those downsides.  The reality is that the influence and paradigms of the traditional news media are changing as a result of social media and the democratization of information.  This gives organizations vastly more opportunity to have unfiltered access to their publics – without the worry over loss of message control/clarity that dogs traditional public relations efforts.

Baba Booey to you all!

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