Posts Tagged ‘Mass Media’

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).

Evolution of a Viral Video in 14 Stages (Cartoon)

August 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Here’s the evolution of the average viral video in 14 stages…

Cartoon: The Evolution of a Viral Video in 14 Stages by @DerekDeVries


No Truce, Newsweek – The Six One Six is Coming at You

May 27, 2011 2 comments

Newsweek Says Grand Rapids is Dying (While Circulation Plummets)

After declaring Grand Rapids, Michigan a “dying city,” Newsweek is now backing off the characterization after GR’s flashmob empresario Rob Bliss organized the world’s largest lipdub video in response to the charge.

Perhaps written up best by Gawker (“Dying Michigan City to Newsweek: Drop Dead”), the response boggled my mind:

“To the Grand Rapids crowd:

First off, we LOVE your YouTube LipDub. We’re big fans, and are inspired by your love of the city you call home.

But so you know what was up with the list you’re responding to, we want you to know it was done by a website called—not by Newsweek (it was unfortunately picked up on the Newsweek web site as part of a content sharing deal)—and it uses a methodology that our current editorial team doesn’t endorse and wouldn’t have employed. It certainly doesn’t reflect our view of Grand Rapids.”

A couple of immediate concerns spring to mind:

  • Newsweek recycles content under its masthead?
  • Newsweek publishes analysis it doesn’t even stand behind?
Talk about the Lamestream Media.

Here’s my problem:  A Facebook status update is hardly as prominent as an article on Newsweek’s website.  Fairness demands that Newsweek publish a retraction of equal prominence.

As Grand Rapids (along with the entire state of Michigan) attempt to attract emerging industries to the state to diversify our economy (which suffered so greatly recently because decades of incompetent leadership allowed us to grow far too dependent on manufacturing) – publishing a characterization like this isn’t just an interesting diversion; it has real economic ramifications.

As I teach my Communication students: perception is extraordinarily powerful.

So my challenge to Newsweek still stands: let’s wait five years and see which institution better fits the adjective “dying.”  

It’s on.  Time to take yer beatin’ like a grown-up.

#PressDebate Catalyst for Great Discussion on Journalism, Social Media and Ethics

February 21, 2011 7 comments

Recently Twitter facilitated a fascinating discussion of journalism, media, ethics, and social media in Grand Rapids after an article was published by Grand Rapids Press Reporter Rachael Recker about Grand Rapids’ flashmob empresario Rob Bliss‘ latest project that included a selection of tweets from local residents. I tried to aggregate the entirety of the original discussion that led to the tweets being included in the story here.

What seems to have happened is that dissatisfaction with how the tweets were presented morphed into a larger debate that centered on this question: What obligations (if any) do the news media have for using content from social media in their reporting? Secondarily, what balance do reporters strike between personal contact and professional contact (given that in most cases their social media presences used for work are also the same ones they use for their private lives)?

Paraphrasing the sides for this particular debate:

  • The Quotee: The tweets occurred in a context that wasn’t represented in the story that was published and our views were misrepresented as a result.
  • The Quoter: Content published via social media is fair game for reporting, and the tweeters were notified that the discussion would be part of an upcoming blog post.  The context of the entire debate wasn’t necessary for the story.

I like everyone in this particular debate and I don’t think there was any malice or wrongdoing.  On an academic level, however,  I tend to agree with the Quotee side for a couple of reasons.

First, the tweets were part of a rather lengthy (for Twitter anyway) discussion and were selected in a fashion that cast the tweeters as being opposed to something (in this case, the next Rob Bliss flash mob event), when in fact there were ultimately a lot of positive comments for the event and Rob Bliss.  There are a couple of bits of nuance that further complicate this story:

  1. The negative discussion (and certainly of some of the comments quoted – particularly those drawing a comparison between Bliss and Lady Gaga) was focused on the methods employed to promote the events (and their value to Grand Rapids, which is debatable).  I feel that the full discussion should have been included, given that it was available and that digital publishing frees reporters from the concision necessary for print newspaper.
  2. There’s a a very vocal contingent of Rob Bliss Haters who have dogged him since he started organizing events in Grand Rapids.  Unfortunately people who are not part of that contingent were forced into appearing to be part of that contingent by virtue of the comments that were selected for inclusion in the story.

Second, using the tweets involves a very murky area of the journalist/source relationship.  The tweets were posted by the participants voluntarily, and the participation in a discussion with the reporter was voluntary.  Being a public relations flack, I will always tell any client that no conversation with a reporter is “off the record.”  As a professor and professional advisor for the Grand Valley State University Public Relations Student Society of America Chapter, I always tell job-seeking students that they need to be wary of anything they publish online  because ultimately it can be public and can be viewed by people they will come into contact with throughout their lives.  Caveat emptor, as they say.

To be fair to Rachael Recker – she did indeed post a tweet that noted she would be “addressing” the comments of the tweeters – however I don’t think that constitutes notification because there’s no implication that quotes would be used (more that she would have her own information or perspective to reply to the discussion).

What makes these areas murky is that Twitter conversations with reporters (at least for myself and the participants in this case) are both personal and professional.  Discussions frequently take place that remain confined to Twitter or Facebook.  Not everyone shares that view of the dual role, however.  GR Press reporter Meegan Holland participated in the #pressdebate discussion as well, describing her standards for using content from sources which I thought were interesting:

“I always ask permission before using reader comments made in an email. But not for tweets, FB posts, story comments. #pressdebate [… when I inquired about the difference she responded …] Because emails are one-on-one. Tweets, FB posts are public.”

She later noted:

“My Twitter relationships aren’t personal. They’re business! :)”

I noted that I thought this might surprise some of her Tweeps.  I tend to believe that the spirit of the friend/follower is one that is similar to an email.  Whether it’s right or wrong, people tend to assume that the discussions they have via social media are ‘private’ in the sense that they’re only of interest to the immediate participants and that they won’t go further than that.

Like I am inclined to do, I defer to scholars on the subject of journalistic ethics.  The most comparable historical analog for public conversations in social media is overheard conversations in (a consideration raised by @jon_dunn and @jeffhillgr).  In doing some information-gathering for this post, I ran across this excerpt from the book Online Journalism Ethics: Traditions and Transitions which draws this same comparison:

“The real issue here involves what the journalist does with the overheard (or, in this case, overseen) conversations.  Using them as leads, whether to a story idea or a source, is one thing.  But if those conversations find their way into a reporter’s story without their author’s knowledge or consent, the ethical problems have multiplied.  Both lurking and engaging other users in online conversation without letting others know that the journalist is there as a reporter – that is, intends ot use people’s comments in a story – are comparable to undercover reporting.  The lack of disclosure means the journalist is using deceptive information-gathering practices; the deception involves hiding the journalist’s presence, intent, or both.

Such deception may sometimes be justified, just as it is offline. […] The decision to lie demands a rational choice that weighs, among other things, potential good and potential harm, as well as a willingness to be publicly accountable for both the deception and the rationale for deceiving.  Building on this framework, media ethicist Edmund Lambeth says deception in pursuit of a story may be permissive as a last resort, when the problem in question is significant, pervasive, and systemic, and when it demands an urgent solution that can be achieved only through media atention.  That is a difficult bar to meet; in effect, it discourages the practice of deception unless there is a compelling public service need – and no other viable way to serve it.  The vast majority of conversations among ordinary online users will fail to meet such a test.”
(Friend, C. and Singer, J. B. (2007). “Online Journalism Ethics: Traditions and Transitions,” M.E. Sharpe., p. 87-89 [on-line] Accessed via Google Books 21, February, 2011)

Ultimately what would have been ideal is if the tweets were used to solicit comments for the story; that way everyone knows they’re going to be quoted and gives them the opportunity to frame their opinion as they see fit.

These are all fascinating issues – I hope we continue to debate them (particularly in the @journchat Twitter Chat).

Tangentially-Related Sidebar:

People laud Bliss as a social media pro, but I don’t necessarily agree.  To truly be effective with social media – it requires participation and engagement.  Bliss primarily uses his social media presences in a one-way fashion to syndicate messages promoting and organizing his events.  He didn’t, for example, weigh in on the discussion (which would be appropriate given his status as an advocate for flash mobs and his personal connection to the discussion).

Dying Magazine Names Grand Rapids Dying City: Why Newsweek can Tongue-Bathe my Crotchular Region

January 25, 2011 2 comments

Newsweek Says Grand Rapids is Dying (While Circulation Plummets)

Newsweek just caused a flap by declaring Grand Rapids (viewed by many as a shining beacon of economic recovery in a depressed state) to be one of America’s top ten “dying cities” (“Americas Dying Cities: Cities With Bleak Futures Ahead”).  The basis for this assessment of the top ten dying cities is based on a scant two pieces of data:

  1. a population decline from 2000-2009
  2. a population decline for people under the age of 18

There are a lot of ways to rebut Newsweek’s deliberately inflammatory article, but here are just a few:

Limited Data: Basing a declaration of  a “dying” city based purely on population statistics is … stupid.  It ignores the variety of other measures that can be used to assess vitality.  How about median income, for starters?  Economic development?  Access to higher education?  Unemployment rate?  Using Newsweek’s very short-sighted measures, many flourishing European cities would be considered to be “dying” simply because people aren’t procreating enough.  Just look at the fastest-growing metro areas in the US.  More people doesn’t always = better.  More people create more congestion, they tend to lower the median income, contribute to traffic, and in many cases in the Southwest – they’re going to cause catastrophic shortages of fresh water.

Population Trends: Grand Rapids is in the latter stages of weathering a once-in-a-generation structural economic shift.  After the state of Michigan ignored the signs that banking heavily on an auto manufacturing economy was untenable, the dam finally burst and the state has been scrambling to diversify its economy (something it should have been doing since the 1970s).  The good news is that West Michigan has turned things around. The population losses happened in the early 2000s, and the city’s population is up from 1990.

Comparison:  Just as Newsweek would like its declining circulation to be considered in the context of a radically changing mass media environment that has seen content and readers move online faster than most print news enterprises can adjust business models to respond, Grand Rapids decline has been tiny compared to the declines in the rest of the state.  By comparison to the rest of the state, Grand Rapids is doing fantastically.

West Michigan has been tremendously successful at attracting investment from the healthcare, biological sciences, and alternative energy industries.  Cranes have dotted the skyline of the city for the past few years as gleaming new buildings have gone up.  Higher Education institutions have clamored to open up campuses downtown.  Internationally-ranked breweries are scrambling to expand to meet demand.

Let’s put the shoe on the other foot: how would Newsweek feel if I called it a “dying magazine?”  After all – its circulation numbers have been falling far more precipitously than the City of Grand Rapids’ population.

Unlike Newsweek, nobody’s putting Grand Rapids up for sale.

I’ve got a wager for Newsweek: let’s wait five years and see which institution better fits the adjective “dying.”

Bias on NPR – but not the Kind You’d Expect

December 12, 2010 1 comment

The Way the Telecom "Monster Truck" Metaphor Actually Looks

On the way into work a week or two ago, I heard a report on the current state of the Net Neutrality debate in Washington in an NPR store done by Joel Rose (“Midterm Elections May Hinder Net Neutrality”).

The Net Neutrality Debate

The Net Neutrality issue is one I’m passionate about, and as a public relations pro – I’m acutely aware of how the telecommunications corporations are spinning the issue.  “Spin” is the appropriate term because they’re using Luntz-esque semantics to diminish the public’s understanding of what is being proposed.  In this particular case, rather than address net neutrality on its merits, they’re seeking to gain traction for their position by focusing on a minute detail of the events unfolding in Washington at the FCC.

Here’s the train of logic:

  1. Net Neutrality is Popular: They know that the public is overwhelmingly satisfied with how Net Neutrality is working; it is a democratizing force that grants power to consumers/citizens at the same time it limits the power of governments/corporations.
  2. More Regulation is Not: The public has an overwhelmingly negative perception of the legislature and the government in general, and also of the idea of more laws/regulation.  (This is the angle they’re appealing to the Tea Party movement with).
  3. Formally Enshrining Net Neutrality = “More Regulation”: Rather than present the case for allowing telecommunications companies to nullify Net Neutrality, they’re presenting their case as “don’t regulate” or “we don’t need more government interference.”

This meme is at work and can be observed in a recent poll commissioned by “Broadband for America” – an industry front group funded by (among others) AT&T, Verizon and Comcast.  It falsely presented the question of Net Neutrality as ‘new government regulation’.  You can read their press release here (where they, of course, don’t include the actual survey instrument).

Back to the NPR Piece

The main complaint of media critics is that news organizations have an obligation to play “referee” as opposed to presenting “both sides” of an argument walking away.  NPR and Rose provide an excellent example in this case as the Net Neutrality is (falsely) framed:

[…] The recent midterm elections could affect the future of the Internet. Democrats in Congress, along with the Federal Communications Commission, had been crafting rules to protect what they call a free and open Internet. But Republicans say the Internet isn’t broken, doesn’t need fixing. Now with Republicans about to gain control of the House, advocates of new rules for an open Internet are pinning their fading hopes on the FCC. […]


[…] Mr. BRUCE MEHLMAN (Lobbyist): Does the FCC say were going to figure out a way to hammer out a compromise? Or do they say were putting the monster truck in drive?

(Soundbite of engine revving)

ROSE: That was Bruce Mehlman, a lobbyist for the telecommunications industry, and possibly the first person to ever compare the Federal Communications Commission to a monster truck.

(Soundbite of cheering)

(Soundbite of engine revving) […]

It’s subtle, but there’s a variety of elements of this story that are biased, but these are the main two:

  • Framing: NPR/Rose allow the telecoms to begin the narrative where they want, which is with the introduction of the bill to formally enshrine Net Neutrality under the law.  The very critical history of Net Neutrality is excluded from this discussion; chiefly, that the bill to formally protect Net Neutrality arose only because the telecommunications industry attempted to eliminate it in 2006. (Fortunately for Net Neutrality advocates, they entrusted the tech-illiterate late Sen. Ted Stevens to carry their water for them and he embarrassed himself so badly that it did irreparable damage to their case).
  • Treatment: Rose opted to include a sound byte of a monster truck to support the metaphor presented by Bruce Mehlman (shill for the telecoms).  He afforded no such courtesy for Gigi Sohn, President of Public Knowledge (the “other side” in this piece).

Perhaps it’s because Sohn didn’t have a colorful metaphor to present with her case, perhaps Rose thought it would sex up the story to feature the monster truck metaphor (he did, after all, describe the debate as “dry”).  Regardless, the end result is to play into the hands of the telecoms and allow them to set frame the debate.

Telecoms + Wikileaks = Trouble for Net Neutrality

I anticipate (if it hasn’t started already) that the interests trying to kill Net Neutrality will almost certainly use the recent Wikileaks release of 250,000 cables* as a wedge to advance their agenda.  The angle they’ll take is that for “security” reasons, we need to allow corporate control to be able to shut down “terrorist” organizations like Wikileaks.

[*Correction: Nick Manes correctly pointed out that thus far, only about one percent of the 250,000+ cables have been released]

“Wikileaks is …”: Public Opinion in the US on the Wikileaks Release

December 9, 2010 2 comments
Google "Wikileaks is..." Sentiment

Google "Wikileaks is..." Sentiment

Related to my previous post, one of the other fascinating things to observe about the Wikileaks release of cables from the US to other foreign governments is how the event seems to serve as a blank canvas upon which people can paint their own perspective.

I don’t watch much of the traditional newsmedia, but it seems as though the US public isn’t really of a single, cohesive mind on the case.  This would make sense given that audiences continue to fragment, and the news sources selected by most in the US cater to their particular flavor of opinion.

Check out what Google’s analytical tools show people searching for when referencing Wikileaks:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It would be interesting to see what context/terms the people of OTHER nations are using to search for Wikileaks information – I’d enjoy seeing screen caps or other analytics data if anyone has it.

Howard Stern has a Moral Obligation to Leave Sirius Radio

December 3, 2010 Leave a comment
Howard Stern's Potential to Burst the Traditional Media Dam by Taking his Show Online

Howard Stern's Potential to Burst the Traditional Media Dam by Taking his Show Online

Like NPR’s Terri Gross, and CUNY Professor Jeff Jarvis, I’m a huge Howard Stern fan.  I listen to nearly all four hours of virtually every show, and the Stern Show is the sole reason I subscribe to Sirius radio.  I cite Gross and Jarvis specifically because they’re highly-intellectual people who illustrate the broad appeal of the show (something that is completely unique in an era of highly-fragmented audiences).

As I see it, Howard Stern has a moral obligation to leave Sirius Radio and take his show completely out of the traditional mass media and stream everything online.

Here’s why:

  1. It goes without saying that Stern commands a huge following.  His decision to go with Sirius is pretty much single-handedly responsible for Sirius’ dominance of the satellite radio market over XM (though it was a Pyrrhic Victory that bankrupted both companies in the process and ended up causing them to consolidate and raise rates).
  2. Internet delivery is really coming into its own as a mass medium, leveling the oligopolies of the traditional media.  This is good for the free market and for consumers as it stands to provide them with greater variety at lower costs.  The lingering problem is that it’s been difficult to monetize Internet media and as a result many institutions are hesitant to make the leap to investing in it.
  3. Given his unique position, were Stern to take his show online he could cause a tipping point that fundamentally changes the economics of Internet media – making it a financially-viable proposition for everyone (in a more powerful way than iTunes legitimized paying for digital downloads of music).

I tend to think that the “Freemium” pricing model would work well for the Stern Show; they could air the audio of the show for free once a day and then charge different levels to get access to podcasts and vodcasts of the show.  They would undoubtedly also command premium advertising rates for anything they do – and unlike “Terrestrial Radio” (a term coined specifically to contrast satellite radio to traditional broadcast radio once Stern drove millions to subscribe to Sirius radio) they could offer advertisers a rich stream of analytics data to help their marketing efforts.  They could also offer a textured and engaging presence in social media (and allow the show to spread farther and faster than satellites or broadcast towers ever could).

Unfortunately I don’t think that Stern will leave; he tends to like working FOR someone as opposed to by himself and he’s somewhat tech-phobic and wary of the new media.  For years he would often wonder aloud what good having a website would do (while simultaneously complaining about how miserable he was being censored by the FCC and gutless station owners).  Here’s a hilarious clip of Jeff Jarvis, Leo Laporte and Gina Trapani laughing at Stern’s reliance on Lotus Notes during an episode of “This Week in Google“:

Here’s to hoping…

Did WOOD TV Kill the Golden [Zombie] Goose?

December 3, 2009 7 comments

[Disclosure: I’m not really sure that it’s necessary, but to satisfy my nagging notions of intellectual honesty, I’m compelled to note that I work at GRCC and Rob Bliss is a GRCC student.]

Grand Rapids NBC affiliate WOOD TV 8 just announced that it hired social networker Rob Bliss as a “multi-platform account executive” (which sounds like a euphemism for “social networker for hire”).  Their hope is that Bliss will help the station “reach a new generation of media consumers.”

I must confess disappointment.  I’m of the opinion that Bliss’ appeal comes from the fact that his social experiments were organized for the fun of it.  By trying to monetize the experience (or use it to attract eyeballs for advertisers) he stands to lose a measure of his authenticity (and thusly his ability to attract followers).

Granted his events already were being monetized around the fringes; sponsors underwrote the costlier events, local watering holes were hosting after-parties and there were some limited sales of event-specific items.  The primary motivation for the events, however, remained “pure” in that it was purely social experimentation (how many people can he get to unite in a common activity).  With commercialism being the primary factor now driving the events, I worry WOOD’s move has robbed Grand Rapids of one of its “unique value propositions” (as one might say in businessspeak).

By way of example, my recollection is that donations/sales of T-shirts at the last Zombie Walk did not go well and they ended up with something in the neighborhood of a $6,000 deficit.

What follows will be interesting to watch because I tend to think it has implications for the use of social media (and how much commercial interference audiences will tolerate to participate in an enjoyable experience).  Unfortunately I think that introducing the profit motive will turn off a large portion of Bliss’ audience (who, as members of Gen Y, are deeply mistrustful of the traditional media and corporate America). Having a pillow fight for the fun of it is one thing.  Having a pillow fight to sell cars for a local car dealership is entirely another.

I hope I’m wrong.