Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How Do You Know if Someone Really Doesn't Understand Marketing?

Those of us who have been around for a long time – and yes I am one of you - think we have seen and heard it all when it comes to marketing. So I began following this discussion on LinkedIn answering the question – How do you know when someone really doesn’t understand marketing?

The discussion is on Marketing Executive Networking Group, MENG, which you can join on LinkedIn.

The person who started it and those who chimed in at least early on, are the marketing veterans. These are the- marketers who’ve been doing it since the 60s and 70s – mostly men – and those who’ve experienced and survived through a huge transformation on the Internet and in the social media era. They’ve also watched the painful death of advertising as we once knew it.

When I first started out in journalism covering marketing and advertising for everyone ranging from Adweek to the New York Times, most media people understood advertising on a basic level but marketing was just being recognized as an important topic to cover.

In the mid-80s The Wall Street Journal started a marketing column, followed by Business Week, Forbes and many others. But I know for me I didn’t really understand marketing until I started doing it. And there’s still a lot I don’t know.

So here’s the discussion: How do you know if someone really understands marketing? Most of the answers are what do they not understand. So here you go:

They are Obsessed with Data:

They think marketing has a lot to do with math and not just creative.
They forget that marketing is about listening to the consumer via interviews, statistical analysis, and other metrics.
They can't connect their activities to business results.

They Are Way too Full of Themselves

They use a lot of buzz words and are not able to articulate the details of your work.
Their eyes narrow and they get suspicious when one begins to talk about integrated programs.
They have not changed with the times.
They suffer from Entrepreneur's Syndrome, the belief that because they founded the enterprise, no matter how large it has grown, they must continue to be personally involved in every aspect of its operation. Some can be educated enough to work with you. Others you have to walk away from.

Women have started chiming in now. Here are some of their stories. They don't know marketing when:

They Think They Can Change Elements without Considering the Mix

One woman tells us, "I had a new director walk into a first round logo meeting with our chosen agency. He brought his own logos in color. Yikes! He walked to the front of the room pulled out his soap box and began telling the group what the logo should be and why. Did I mention we had the agency run a branding session? We had developed a positioning statement and the group was in consensus and ready to work on logo development?"

They Don’t Understand Their Target Audiences

They begin using words interchangeably such as marketing, sales, promotion, PR, publicity, etc ... without regard to context.
They dislike visiting plants, stores or talking to customers.
They don’t believe in integrated marketing – which has some new equally innocuous names - connected marketing and compound marketing were mentioned.
They take the attitude if it breathes, it's a customer.

They Don’t Have a Marketing Strategy

They want to do marketing but are not willing to work on strategy first.
They talk about the Industrial Era "4 Ps" of marketing which according to the marketers should now be seven, or still four. Consensus was the 4Ps are only valid if you re-interpret them in terms of how they should be applied in the Internet-based marketplace.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

As Social Media Ages How Will it Live Within Organizations?

While interviewing a social media strategist, the phone conversation was stopped abruptly as the strategist confessed, “I’ve gotta go. There are two people standing in front of my office demanding Facebook Pages.” If they didn’t get the Pages, they were going to build them on their own.

And there-in lies social media's next challenge. The next generation can do all of it themselves. And while they're doing that - the social media strategist within an organization may be deleted and new positions and approaches will be needed.

Research by Altimeter with 140 social media "enterprise" strategists yielded some intriguing guidance into the future of the medium and how we can keep it moving forward. I'm paraphrasing and interpreting because some of the recommendations didn't make sense to me.

Take off the evangelist hat. The time is past for people who talk up social media to everyone in their organization or people that they meet. "The strategist will be responsible for resources, timelines, Gantt charts, ROI models, analytics, data modeling, resource management, project management. It’s a very different skill set than the evangelist role that we’ve seen before." I guess that means they need to be marketing and creating a lot of charts and data.

Create programs that can be scaled up - Community engagement and advocacy are great ways for organizations to create and develop new social media spaces. Also the chances of growing sites that address personal and professional concerns are much higher.

Choose your model - There is a list of five models in the study all of which gave me a headache. It seems like the most effective one utilizes cross-functional teams to develop social media strategy and build engagement with that space. It also acknowledges that social media strategy may go brand by brand, division by division, or work group by work group. So the central strategist role may be phased out in favor of targeted decision-makers.

Customer communications and service channel - One of the recommendations is to make social media not just about marketing to add communications and customer service as ways in which you can use the media. But isn't that what marketing is too? Not really sure I got this one but I think the point is if you sell, sell, sell in your social space - and there are many who push products, themselves, etc. endlessly - and don't add to the conversation - people will leave, leave, leave.

Use it as a career advancement tool - This one is mine. I have to admit the best use of social media that I've seen is as a way for young professionals to communicate about their career challenges and jobs that are out there. This type of approach keeps them coming back and talking.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Health 2.0: What Will the Future Look Like?

I went to a conference this morning at the Hope Street Group, a DC-based think tank. They had a panel of doctors, PhDs, a lawyer, consultants, an agency head and an economist discussing Using Open Innovation to Reinvent Primary Care.

Panel moderator was former Washington Post healthcare policy reporter Ceci Conelley who jumped ship to McKinsey probably for gobs more money.

While no one mentioned the P-word (price) a great deal of the discussion centered around reducing costs.

Some points were really interesting. Among them:

One of the panel's recommendations is Use new people, places and tools to achieve greater capacity at lower cost. Great idea and that's why so many primary care practices are relying more heavily on Physician's Assistants and Nurse Practitioners.

They wanted to take it much further and have a third tier of community healthcare worker who could perform basic services such as giving injections and many of the other functions at primary care facilities.

The problem with this, as someone pointed out, is you have to redraw the boundaries of what different medical practitioners are allowed to do. Patients are taught to give themselves shots, but in a licensed medical practice no one below a nurse can do that.

This kind of circle the wagons thinking reminded me of a nurse practitioner friend who wanted to teach and was doing so at the University of San Francisco where she got her masters. She taught one semester and was booted out even though she was very popular with the students.

Why you ask? Because she was teaching at the nursing school and the Board didn't want a nurse practitioner teaching those studying to be RNs. That our role is sacred philosophy in healthcare is part of why reform is so hard. And it's not going to change easily or quickly.

There's a program called Texting for Healthy Moms and Babies that sends weekly text messages to pregnant women timed to their babies due date. So far 18,000 women have signed up and it's just rolling out. But it could create new models for how to deliver information about routine healthcare issues.

Empower consumers to take personal responsibility for improving their health through education, interactive tools and incentives. Bush One started this and we haven't come very far with it in how many years has it been - 20? There are new tools though that can be used in new ways.

Someone mentioned the development of a Facebook for healthcare - Healthbook as they called it. Not really sure how it would work but I think it's a good idea to have a place where the general public can get together and network about about healthcare challenges, providers, etc.

Electronic medical records that are portable and accessible (within privacy guidelines) can help spur this process along.

Leverage technology, patient engagement, population management and payment reform to accelerate smart processes. The Veteran's Affairs (VA) healthcare information and services provides a model for how to do this. When logged into HealtheVet consumers can refill prescriptions online, get wellness reminders and participate in secure messaging from their healthcare team.

Another technology is Virtual Doctors and Healthcare Providers who talk to their patients via computer and even conduct routine exams that way. I can't really imagine how it would work but it's being tried in a number of hospitals and provider settings.

If you are interested in learning more go to

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Dear President Obama - It's Almost Christmas and Where's Your Mojo?

Although I am a Democrat and still trying to be a supporter of our President, leaving the tax cuts for the most wealthy Americans for the next two years could cost him the votes of people like me.

Oh I get that you negotiated for another 13 months of unemployment benefits (but as the guy I'm dating pointed out - only one year versus two and that's how most people think), and a couple of other really important tax breaks for the middle class.

But Mr. President it doesn't matter. All that will be reported and all that middle class people will remember is that you let the rich keep the tax breaks that cost the country way, way more than it could afford. You're supposed to be the defender of the rest of us, the anti-Conservative, anti-rich, anti-Fox News etc. leader. You're supposed to help us.

I know you think you're doing what's right for the country But Mr. President don't you realize that by allowing the Bush tax cuts to stand you've completely caved on a very symbolic and vital issue for mainstream America right before Christmas? John Boehner may be the Grinch but well I don't even know who you are in that story. Maybe the little girl Cindy who goes up to the Grinch and asks him so innocently why he's so mean.

PR is a tricky business and goodness knows I've made mistakes as a PR person. But perception does outweigh reality when it comes to mass media. The no spin media is the super spin media. The unbiased media reports what it thinks will get the highest ratings. And the newspapers and blogs which seem to have the only good writers left in America aren't read in full and certainly not often by the people you've just really pissed off.

Yes we elected a thoughtful, educated man to bring this country together. But those characteristics don't work well in the post-Bush era. The right is too good at tapping into national disappointment and building rage. Right now what we need is a super hero. And Mr. President you're no a super hero. You're just a man who is making decisions that alienate your base.

Think I'm over dramatizing? Have you seen what the pundits are saying? The conservatives are now saying your approval ratings are lower than George Bush's. Of course they are skewing the data but most people don't know that.

The liberals are just plain disappointed. They don't get it and they think you've sold them out. I can't help it but I kind of agree with them.

And then of course there's Jon Stewart who I think is smarter than the majority of media and all he can manage to do is come up with golden showers raining down from the rich to the rest of us. That's a parody of trickle down economics which you said you would eliminate.

No wonder none of us have any Christmas spirit. It's beginning to look a lot like you're going to be a one-term President, and that is a very scary premise.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Now that the Social Media Hype is Fading - What Comes Next?

I got an email recently from someone I have worked with talking about a new account that they got on Facebook. Every once in awhile I get these and I read them because don't we all want to make new contacts and ultimately get new accounts from the time we spend in these spaces?

The truth is although I'm in all of the major ones, and I've found partners on LinkedIn for projects, I've never gotten real business from social media. I've gotten in hot water over a handful of blog posts which isn't fun. The problem is we want to be provocative to drive traffic to our social media spaces but then when we are someone gets upset. I suppose that would happen face to face as well - although the audience is certainly much smaller.

As a journalist, you have more leeway. You can take an issue and examine it from all different sides - unless you work for Fox News. But as a marketing/PR person truth is it's better to just repeat the pablum that passes for information which most businesses put up.

The whole point of social media though is to start a conversation that others join in. To me that's the benefit more than anything. People are continually trying to come up with questions that will spark responses on Linked In, Facebook, Twitter, etc. But there doesn't seem to any rhyme or reason to what gets people to respond.

Some of the conversations I've seen that have drawn a huge following include -

Why is business writing so bad?
Who still uses PowerPoint and what's the alternative?
What is the best communications book ever?

Here are a few other ways that organizations are using social media right now:

Social media as a billboard ad - Many organizations use social as a one way billboard to push information out into cyberspace. It appears to be a control thing - if you close down your comment sections or police them people have a tendency not to respond. But you can still look at traffic and where it comes from which has some value.

Social media as a network building tool - I go in and out of this one with Linked In being the one I use most often. Every couple of months I start to contact people I've met and ask them to join my collection of business contacts. Does it do much? I don't know - it's better than nothing. For awhile Linked In was a hot bed of activity - now it seems to be lukewarm.

Social media as a way of showing personality - That's what blogging is supposed to be about but it's pretty risky unless you're already well known in a certain field and watch what you say. I prefer Facebook because I have clients and friends on it - my network is closed and I can say and do more of what I really want too. I wish my Facebook page could be more open - but sometimes we have conversations that shouldn't be open to the world. And that's better I think.

Social media as a way of establishing and maintaining your niche - This is a Twitter issue mostly. I work with a lot of different clients on different projects. While we focus on science and health there are so many other things I find interesting and want to share and do on Twitter. But my messaging is all over the place. Besides Twitter has become total blather although I do try to tweet a few times a week. But who has time to read all of that stuff?

Social media to push a political agenda - People may not agree with me but I think that social has created a new venue for what Hillary Clinton once called a "right wing conspiracy." In health care particularly, any time someone comments on reform there are dozens of responses by people who blame the president and the Democrats for taking away their right to choose. The messaging is just too consistent and I do believe on many of these issues there is an army of people who are paid to respond to hot button issues. Kind of like the tea partiers misspellings and all.

Social media as a way of starting a dialogue - The most innovative spaces - take a look at ScientificBlogging which is a very good example of how to do it right - offer an open forum to everyone and get conversations going. I do blog on this site when I have time and I find people read what's written and do comment frequently. The site is far more provocative than most and is kind of like a think tank for scientists.

So where is this post heading? People are still preaching the importance of social media particularly to non-profits and associations who want to keep members engaged. Corporations seem to use social as another distribution system for the stuff they put out anyway. Lawyers and management consultants can't really be convinced to go on these spaces because they're so public - same with therapists. Probably better they remain discreet.

Independents - I think we're still figuring it out. If anyone has something to add please do.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Workplace Bullies - They're Rampant and We Let Them Get Away With It

This blog is about marketing and I'm digressing from that topic to discuss something that affects all of us, particularly women who work.

Bullying among school kids is really hot right now - schools are scrambling to come up with rules and states and counties with laws that protect vulnerable students from bullies. The schools at this point really have no choice - some of these kids are committing suicide and having all sorts of other mental and developmental problems.

Yet, there is not a single law in this country that protects workers from bullying. If you can prove it's discrimination you may have a harassment case. Otherwise you're on your own.

What is bullying exactly? The data comes from an article in Forbes. In the U.S., where the practice is being studied, an estimated 37% of workers, or about 54 million people, have been bullied at the office, or repeatedly mistreated in a health-harming way, according to a 2007 Zogby International survey.

The percentage of bullying balloons to 49% of workers, 71.5 million people, when witnesses are included. What do bullies do? The whole point of workplace bullying is to make the employee feel powerless and bad about themselves. It's about power - and wanting more control.

Years ago when I was working at a leading business school there was a management professor who had been practically knighted as a guru on how to lead companies and manage employees. I knew her research assistant and although the professor was brilliant and getting quite famous, she was abusive to those who worked for her.

What does that mean exactly? Her research assistant was 22, smart, a really nice person and very competent. Yet everything she did was wrong, and the professor continually picked at her until her assistant confided in me. My advice to her was pretty simple - if you go to the administration they will listen and then ignore it. The only thing you can really do is get another job.

A couple of years later the New York Times ran a story about that professor. The story line? Management guru is awful manager. I was writing for the NYT then and I remember thinking I really wish I had written that story.

How do you know you're being bullied? The data shows its mostly men who bully women. Their affect on you is insidious. Bullies usually single out one person who they know is vulnerable. They are often well liked by others. But the person they've chosen to go after doesn't see that side of them. They see someone who makes them feel worthless, and even more, powerless to change their behavior.

What are signs of bullying:

Unwarranted or invalid criticism. You know that you are a competent, hardworking professional. The bully knows it too. But if they can take you down it builds them up. Watch out for this.

Blame without factual justification. "But I didn't do anything," is the rallying cry often of those who are bullied. It doesn't matter. The bully needs someone to blame and he or she has chosen you. Likely the bully did something that screwed up a job but it doesn't matter because bullies can never be wrong. It's your fault, never theirs.

Being treated differently than the rest of your work group. - You hear that others were invited to a cocktail party or a get together that you weren't invited too. Or people line-up outside your door to go to lunch and you can see them but are not invited. That's bullying and it makes you feel horrible.

Being sworn at. Someone who never curses in the workplace is suddenly cursing at you. Or who never loses her temper, lets loose on you. You go to a meeting with her and she's great with the clients - charming, smiling, thoughtful. Then you get out of the meeting and she starts cursing at you - out of earshot of course.

Being shouted at or being humiliated. - Bullies are yellers. The veins stick out in their neck. They attack you personally. They try to scream you down. Know that no matter how much you fight back you cannot win because the bully is wrong and they'll never acknowledge it.

Excessive monitoring. - Your boss asks you to do something. You've done it. Then he asks you 15 minutes later if you've done it. You don't answer right away. He does it himself making you look stupid in the process. You hand in something that you know is really good but she tells you it's garbage. I once had an editor who did that with a story I'd spent weeks writing - she said it was unpublishable. A co-worker read it and said it should have been a cover story.

What kinds of problems can bullying cause? Bullying can mess with your health both mentally and physically. If you were bullied as a child or by a spouse or school mate it can bring up all sorts of repressed issues that bring you back to that time. Here are some examples of what bullying can cause:

High stress; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Financial problems due to absence

Reduced self-esteem

Musculoskeletal problems


Sleep disturbances.

Increased depression/self-blame.

Digestive problems.

So if you are bullied, and need the job, what can you do? You can confront the bully but make sure you do it in front of a witness. You can get a new job. You can go get some counseling. You can report it to a superior if there is one.

But know this as you try to deal with the bully. They've done it before and they'll do it again. The school yard bully 20 or 30 years ago is that man or woman who is screaming at you today. A bully will never change. You're what matters. And as a co-worker once said to me, even if you and your family have to live on macaroni and cheese for the next year you're better off walking away than letting the bullying continue.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Whatever Happened to Truth in Journalism?

I was watching Bill Maher last night and he was interviewing Bill O'Reilly. Interesting combination of personalities.

At one point Bill Maher asked O'Reilly about the $200 million that Fox News was reporting President Obama is spending everyday of his trip to India and whether he knew that was true and if knew it wasn't true then why were they reporting it?

Bill O'Reilly - We're not reporting that.

Bill Maher - Sean Hannity did.

Bill O'Reilly - Well he's not news, he's entertainment.

Bill Maher - Well it's still a lie (Ok this is not exactly how he said it but you get my point)

So I Googled that statement. It has 3,130,000 listings on Google. Many of them were this is untrue and ridiculous and way exaggerated. Many others treated it as fact.

What has happened to journalism? I know that Fox News has created a new manipulation standard and a nation of believers of these television talk show personalities who just spout anger and fear. But why are we putting up with it?

Is it as Maher inferred that the Democrats just don't know how to sink that low, lie that well and fight that dirty? Certainly the mid-terms showed that both sides are capable of it.

How have we let "liberal media" become the equivalent of a racial slur? Why are we all so afraid to stick up for what's right - Is it the economy? Is it the job market? Is it the fear of a backlash?

I was a journalist for a long time and I got raked over the coals if I made even a small mistake in a story. We apologized. We corrected it. I got a lecture.

Once in an article for the New York Times about Russian business students at Harvard, I mentioned a company and mis-identified what it did. I wasn't far off but it was enough that it was wrong. It was the one fact in the story that I thought I knew and didn't bother to check. And I had to write a retraction and an explanation with my name on it that was published a week later in the business section. That would never happen today.

Now major news organizations make stuff up and repeat it over and over again until people believe it's true. And tons of media outlets go right along with them.

My son who is 15 and of course knows everything, says that liberal media does the same thing. And there is truth in that - but it's not the same. They don't outright lie and treat it as fact. Bias is one thing. Lies are another and spreading them is worse.

So here's one voice that is speaking up. Let's bring truth in journalism back - or we're going to create a generation of kids who don't even know what it is.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Can You Believe this Campaign Didn't Win An Award?

I hated high school. I have judged some of these awards programs and although there is a formula for how to pick winners sometimes it still seems like all that matters is size, trying to impress people who can help you and brand names. Just like high school. This is one of the most successful PR campaigns I've ever done. Enough said. Launch Campaign - 2009

The Market was a Mess

As healthcare costs climb 9-10% a year, and national unemployment edges close to 10%, companies are increasingly shifting their employees into consumer directed health plans which with health savings accounts, according to Mercer, mean more out-of-pocket costs to everyone.

For a generation trained by managed care organizations to pay flat fees for most healthcare services and prescriptions, learning what they have to pay for health insurance and care can be staggering. Most consumers didn’t even realize that physician’s and hospital fees can be obtained in advance, vary dramatically even within the same market for the same service, and are negotiable particularly if they pay cash.

Dr. Jeffrey Rice, an E-health veteran and healthcare data expert, created the web-based product, to help educate consumers about fair prices for surgeries, treatments and provider office visits.

I worked with Dr. Rice 10 years ago at the beginning of the E-health boom when he raised awareness about the inaccuracies of healthcare information on the Web and advocated the beginning of research-based sites. He asked me
if Stern Communications would help him market and publicize his new venture.

Since all healthcare contracts are negotiated by insurance companies with individual providers, prices for the same service in the same market can vary by more than 500 percent. The Blue Book provides the average price that PPOs pay their providers by zip code for each service. It includes not just the doctor’s costs, but facilities and most other fees associated with a procedure, helping people avoid sticker shock. So consumers can go to their provider with fair pricing information in hand before they agree to a healthcare service and where it will be performed.

Figuring out a Media Strategy with a Product No One Understood

Jeff had a Beta prototype up of on the Web. While competitors required digging for pricing information and a lot of generalized data, the Blue Book was really easy to use. The challenge was that although consumers were savvy about shopping for cars and houses – they knew very little about shopping for healthcare.

A media assessment conducted by calling a dozen major healthcare bloggers at outlets like the Wall Street Journal, US News & World Report, the New York Times, and Health Day showed that the challenge was even greater. Veteran healthcare reporters were skeptical that any new product – was funded by insurance companies as a way to make more money. And they were not reluctant to tell us that.

Making a Splash with a New Launch

The PR campaign goals were to: Transform the Healthcare Blue Book into the leading brand in the fledgling healthcare pricing market by educating media and consumers and creating a network of advocates through industry partners and PR, and to make Dr. Rice a major resource to the media on healthcare pricing.

We wrote a Communications Plan with messages, target audiences, etc. but it was very flexible and changed a lot as we moved forward.

The web site was designed for maximum search potential. Key words were identified and used throughout the site, page coding was aligned to SEO terms and volume and all traffic was tracked and sourced.

More specialty categories are developed as search terms for commonly searched ailments and tests, a higher volume of traffic was driven to the site. Every media hit was analyzed for how much traffic it drove to the Blue Book – and we made a point of going back to places that drew large audiences.

The launch focused on Web versions of traditional name brand media as our top twenty targets and then PR Newswire as a primary distribution source. Our plan was to use monthly news releases to get the Blue Book’s name out there explaining that price is negotiable and build a solid search engine presence.

We did put up a Facebook page, a Wiki, and I tweet campaign milestones, but as the healthcare industry is closely regulated it was not a priority. We also added a modest media home to the web site but focused more on resources for patients, teaching them how to use the Blue Book and shop for fairly priced care.

Initial coverage of the Blue Book was extensive but pretty negative by seasoned healthcare reporters – most media came right out and said it wouldn’t work. Many of the bigger outlets we wanted to write about the new company passed. Although this was somewhat expected, it was a real stumbling block. The bright spot was radio coverage which was primarily based on how to save money.

We sat in on the early calls with Dr. Rice and gave advice on how to tell his story better. He has done quite a bit of media before and is very good at it – our focus was mostly to point out areas where he wasn’t as succinct as possible and could strengthen his messages.

So we switched to a regional strategy and collected data on healthcare prices on specific services or tests like MRIs on a market by market basis. So for instance, we researched MRIs in Chicago, pediatrician office visits in Manhattan and physical therapy fees in Boise. With data showing that what people were charged varied by hundreds or thousands of dollars, we were able to go back to reporters and get them to write about us.

Some took our data as it was – others did their own research. The campaign started to build momentum and we started to get coverage in markets like Chicago, Miami, Houston, etc. We also got coverage from some local television stations – but it was harder because they wanted real people to talk about their experiences. That became a year two goal.

Using Google and Lots of Free Tools to Track Everything

As a supplement, we monitored through Google Alerts coverage of CDHPs, healthcare pricing, and a dozen other search terms related to the business the Blue Book is in. Every time a story appeared on one of these topics we left a comment relating to the story but talking about the Blue Book and the benefits it offered. Slowly but surely we began to get the attention of leading bloggers and writers in the healthcare and consumer finance industry.

Then the health reform debate started and we shifted strategies again. To take advantage of the coverage, we started pushing stories on how to negotiate prices with doctors and hospitals offering advice for how to do it to personal finance reporters who began writing about how to save money on health costs.

We received feature coverage in the online editions and some print editions of the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, New York Times, CNN Money, SmartMoney, Forbes, NPR, Mother Jones and many other outlets.

Analytics were closely tracked and we were able to evaluate which media hits sent the most traffic to the Blue Book site and develop an understanding of media reach in this changing time. There were over 1,000 articles mentioning the Blue Book and about two dozen features in major online media.

How to and pricing data-based news releases were written for SEO and garnered hundreds of thousands of web placements. Blue Book web traffic climbed from a handful of users to upwards of 30,000 per month and grew dramatically in year two. It consistently places at the top of major search engine rankings.

Consumer education is still in its early phases but the Blue Book is clearly the most respected and best known healthcare consumer pricing guide on the market today. Dr. Rice gets an average of 3-5 media calls a month, generated by the 2009 campaign, and the Blue Book was recently featured on CBS’ Morning Show, the Today Show and ABC News online.

I spent three days and a couple hundred dollars creating a notebook that was really thick, a cover, etc - killing trees - because there wasn't even an electronic submission process.

I guess that's what blogs are for.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The RFP Process is Not a Test Kitchen

This is a rant so if you don’t want to read it then leave this blog. This is a post for every organization out there that outsources public relations or other services and conducts an RFP process. When you ask an individual consultant with a small or virtual firm to submit a proposal for your company, and put them through a proposal process, it’s not some mid-level executive’s expense account that you are using.

It is funds that go into feeding their children and paying their mortgages. If you give them the idea that they really have a chance at your business, then they will drop everything and go after it. That’s not a small thing for a small firm. At a larger firm, they take a proposal template, throw a 23 year-old on Google and say enough that they sound smart about your industry.

Or maybe they know your industry. That doesn’t mean you are going to get the best thinking they have. The creative people who would do the work were promoted to a level where they started spending all their time pitching new business, years ago.

So my message to all of you is don’t use my company as a sounding board so you can go out and hire within your comfort zone. If your CEO wants a brand name agency, then ask brand name agencies to pitch. If you want a firm that knows your market and works in it right now, then ask those firms to pitch. If your marketing director isn’t a risk taker, or wants someone with the exact experience you need, because they have worked for one of your competitors, then ask those firms to pitch.

Don’t ask me to be part of the RFP process if you don't know what you want. I'm not a test kitchen. My time is money and it also belongs to my family.

I’ve heard a lot of independents complain lately about how they’ve put enormous time and effort into proposals because they were given the impression they are a serious contender for the business. And then the organization that issues the RFP hires someone the chairman’s wife recommended or they just take your ideas and give them to someone they hire to do the work. That’s just plain wrong.

Again, if you’re an agency with overhead and staff, you can write that time and funding off. Independents can’t. We pay our bills – no one else does.

Independents also don’t use formulas. We figure out what you need to do and offer you salient advice on it. There are some that won’t do anything without a legal document, but the rest of us don’t have that luxury. We treat your RFP like it’s the first week we’re working for you. That’s how we get business. And it’s also how we get screwed.

Every minute that I spend writing a proposal and researching your organization takes time that I could spend raising my children and finding funds to pay for them. It’s hard enough to find time to spend with my kids and run a business. I’m a single parent. My life is packed with other peoples’ needs.

My children’s father writes an embarassingly small check every month and takes them on vacation for a week or two in the summer. The rest of the time, I raise them. If you ask me to write a proposal and I have to miss the class play to do it, and I really need the money, I will probably miss the class play. Don’t put me in that position.

I don’t know, maybe I’m different than most consultants. I saw a proposal recently from a firm we compete with often in one business segment, and their winning proposal was a formula that they had taken off someone else’s web site and didn’t even bother to change the name of. I Googled their “proprietary model” and found it in less than five seconds with someone else’s name on it. Yet, they beat us. Why?

Well it wasn’t on merit. Our proposal was far stronger, contained original thought, and didn’t promise things we could not deliver. I assume because the other firm had close ties to the organization that put out the RFP, they were a shoe-in to begin with.

Then just give your buddies the business or don’t ask me to pitch it in the first place. If you need to stay within your comfort zone figure that out before, not after or during the RFP process.

I'm not talking about the people who really genuinely consider you and decide to choose someone else. That's the way business works and it happens all the time. Chemistry matters. Budget matters. What your CEO wants matters. And you have to do what's best for you too.

I understand that in recessionary times, if you hire a brand name agency and they do a lousy job, you can always say but we hired So and So, the brand name agency. And it won’t cost you your job. We know that you have a family to feed too.

I take comfort in one thing I really do believe in. Good people raise good kids. Bad people raise bad kids. I see this all the time - the neurotic parent ends ups with neurotic children. The parent who is not paying attention ends up with kids who do things their parents don't want them to do just to get their attention. The parents who do their kids' homework for them end up with kids who don't learn anything. It all comes back to haunt you eventually.

I am a good parent and a good person. At the very least my kids, even if I blow half of our vacation on a proposal for a project I never stood a chance at, will not grow up to be awful. That makes me feel better. But not right after I find out that you just wasted a week of my time.

So just to make sure I’m completely clear here. Marketing people – if you’re not going to seriously consider my firm for a job, don’t ask us to compete for it. Ask the people you really will end up hiring. You may not sleep better at night. But I know I will.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Death of Traditional Journalism - Not Yet

There's a new resource on what journalists think of the media's future a ""Digital Journalism Study 2010" from the Oriella PR Network. Some really good information is available in the study which is free and can be downloaded at

About 350 journalists across Europe and another 300 plus in the US and Brazil participated. The study is annual so what I'm highlighting shows changes from 2009 to 2010.

Print media will continue to shrink - 44% agreed in 2009, 59% agreed in 2010

Editorial quality will continue to erode because of lack of resources - 43% agreed in 2009, 54% agreed in 2010

Dependence on PR for news will continue due to cuts in staff, etc - 34% in 2009 agreed, 41% agreed in 2010

Blogs will continue to lead the new media landscape - 40% agreed in 2009 and 46% agreed in 2010

Percentage of companies using Twitter feeds - 35% in 2009, 43% in 2010

People will return to reliable media brands because of "opinion-driven" journalism (they basically mean media for sale and/or Fox News) - 29% agreed in 2009, 42% agreed in 2010.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

New Twitter Features that Can Stem Overload

Marketing Profs which always has interesting info came up with something today that I thought would be useful to all. It explains how to spend less time on Twitter and get more value from it.

Tweet Adder. This desktop application, used with care, can be great for marketers who need to grow followers fast, and who repeatedly promote deals or services:

Here's stuff you can do under this application -

Auto-load tweets promoting deals/services/blog posts, and set your publication times. Example: Schedule tweets for publication every 90-120 minutes. Limit the amount of auto-tweets sent in a day.

Run searches for keywords of interest, say "basketball" or "birthday gifts." Tweet Adder provides a list of matching profiles you can follow or save for review. You can find, then research, potential clients/heavy tweeters who could become evangelists for you.

Use conversion (follower:followee) tracking. People look at your follower:followee ratio. Don't get obsessed, but avoid following hundreds more users than those following you. Better to let your followers develop organically - at least I think so. If what you say is useful they will find you.

Access and save current/historical trends. Track what's hot on Twitter and compare it with times past to find patterns in user sentiment.

For more:

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Lesson from the Marketing Scams

I really can't help it - I am absolutely fascinated by these letters I get from third world countries and people in dire need of getting my banking information in order to give me millions of dollars.

What I don't get is how on earth people fall for them? But they must because otherwise why bother doing it.

So I had to share this one because it's better and the reason why is immediacy. Not only does this person have all of this money that they want to transfer to my bank account but the person writing to me from Spain is dying so he must give me the money NOW.

One of the biggest mistakes people who don't really understand marketing make is they don't come up with a reason why you have to immediately respond to their offer. A good marketer comes up with reasons not just why you need what they are selling but why you need it immediately.

Good PR people do the same thing. I can tell a journalist or producer about a product I'm pitching but if it doesn't have a news peg or some immediacy you go into a file and never come out - if you get that far. The "WHY NOW" is the second half of your sales pitch.

This happened with an event ad I saw recently - the ad was focused on the event but not on why you should go to it. This happens sometimes when we're so involved with our brand we think everyone feels the same way about it we do. But of course they don't, it's your job to make them.

The writer of this scam email which is below has done a few things others don't do - he's linked the money to a real plane crash which I looked up and he even got the date right. What he got wrong is that David Learmount was a writer who covered the crash, not on the plane and so leaving me his fortune. Yes I can Google too.

So for what it's worth here's the latest of these emails I've gotten.

Dear X -

I am writing to introduce you to a prospective mutual venture regarding an unclaimed deceased client`s portfolio that i have been in charge of for over 18years. My client; Late Mr. David Learmount died on 14th of August 2005 on the ill-fated Cypriot Helios Airways Flight 522, that crashed over Greece. I have since searched for any of his known relatives to fill-in as his next of kin to claim inheritance, but all to no avail to this date as he did not name any in his file until his sudden death.

The said portfolio will be liquidated and returned as unclaimed if I don't name someone to inherit it before the end of this month(August 2010), hence why I have contacted you. I got to you through my massive web search for his relatives, now i need you to stand as someone who shall work with me to be named as the next of kin. I had earlier contracted this search/case to a junior colleague in the UK since i was diagnosed of esophageal cancer early this year.
My condition is no longer stable at my present age of 70years, to the point that i can hardly speak well now and i want this matter wrapped up before the deadline at the end of next month or anything happens to me.

Please send your response urgently with your Names Address, Telephone etc) for more information on the value of the said portfolio, procedure, etc via this email:[ ]

Note that time is of the essence and i implore your strong assurance and strict confidentiality on these matters.

Remain yours

De Faustino Ramon Elias (Esq.)
Madrid, Spain.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Why is Business Writing so Awful?

This was a question posed on the International Association of Business Communicators web site recently and about three dozen people responded.

Here is some of the rationale people gave:

They don't teach people how to write in college - and then they get out into the business world and there's no one to train them.

Executives are uncomfortable letting others write for them and so take all the punch out of what they say.

Writing for SEO means you don't write at the highest level you can - instead it's to fuel the search engines.

Layers of review water down text - and if lawyers are involved it only gets worse.

" I've come across many people who can write well technically and stun with their dextrous manipulation of multiple clause sentences.. . but they are not compelling."

"The biggest problem is that most people think of this as business writing instead of communicating. . . The goal needs to be: communicate in ways that drive the results you wish to achieve.

So what does the expert marketer think? The bar is just way, way too low. I hired a writer once who had a masters degree from a very prestigious "business writing" program and she had no idea how to organize information or determine what was important and what was fluff. She was a good technical editor - but she wasn't a good writer.

I was talking to a former colleague once about the writing that came out of our company and how bad some of it was.

And he said "I now understand that the bar is so low the stuff we produce - even when it's not really good - is better most of the other stuff out of there."

His point was if our clients didn't know what good writing was and didn't respect and admire it - then when they got something that was just OK, but comprehensible and said what they wanted - they were happy. I agree with that.

I also think that most kids are not taught to write in school unless they are in a communications or arts magnet program in middle and high school. I remember the stuff my ex-husband used to get when he was a teaching assistant at MIT.

Some of the papers didn't even make sense. He failed one girl on a paper and she came to him absolutely hysterical. She'd never gotten anything less than an A or B before on an assignment. She was a science and engineering whiz but no paid attention to her writing. When he did - and she calmed down - he was able to help her get better.

So if we as business professionals do not take the time to teach those who work for us - and over the years I have spent a lot of time trying and gotten very little management support for it in the PR world - we bear a lot of the responsibility too.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Redoing Stern Communications Web Site - Design and Definition

If your web site doesn't reflect social media, video, the endless power of the Google search engine, new coding formats, I will not hire you as a partner.

I'm looking for a partner in government relations for what could be a very large project and people are sending me recommendations so I go to their sites - they are just like mine but even flatter. I will not work with them.

I've been wanting to my redo my site for awhile and now we're starting. Awhile ago, I realized that all of the things I was telling clients to do - start blogs, use social media, RSS feeds, and especially coding with key words - were not done on my site.

A colleague put up a band-aid on the gaping out-of-dateness of it, with an RSS feed from one of my blogs and some buttons to social media sites. He had absolutely no sense of design and it looked unbalanced and weird. But he didn't charge me and I can't complain.

My web site is three years-old. It was created before I understood social media and what it can do for you, when you couldn't upload your web site into really flexible formats (or at least no one told me that) and by a woman who though very nice, was pretty limited in her web skills.

Bottom line PR people - while it still may be possible to live within the worlds of the future and the past - your time is ending. Get with the program.

This time around I'm doing better with the web development process. I found a designer through one of the only designers I know in this town who is really good, and the woman she sent me is better. The exact endorsement was "I found this fabulous new designer. . ." and she is absolutely that. I'm not going to give you her contact information until she finishes my site though. The other advantage is Alissa is very client savvy and easy to work with.

Not only did the new designer come with talent - she came with a web developer who is affordable, will answer any questions on just about anything and is as smart and as affable as you get. I feel like I've died and gone to web heaven.

Oh and I forgot the best part. I got a bid to develop a web site from a company recently and it was $15-20,000. This is a designer and web developer who has already done the look and feel and put it into a book and e-book. Plus all their web sites look exactly the same. I'm not saying that overall they didn't do an excellent job - they did. But design wise my redo is creative, smart and going to be 15-20% of that.

To be fair I'm keeping my logo, but it looks so updated in the new format it's unbelievable. So it's really new copy, new categories, new architecture, it's a whole new web site.

So here's what I've learned so far, other than prices for these kind of services, and quality, are all over the place.

Know your business model. When I started this company it was after eight years of fuzzy thinking about how to brand an organization. A group of us tried to define and brand and specialize the DC PR company I was with for several years but all we got was rolled eyes from one founder, and a full listen too by the other who then didn't do anything. Their web site makes mine look like it was developed yesterday morning.

So I started my business and based it fuzzily on the practice I'd developed at the previous client. Like my old company, I was reluctant to specialize because I felt it would cost me business. But of course if you don't specialize, and you can't quickly define what you do best, no one else figures it out either. So now I know - Sharing science, health, engineering and education with everyone. We take our clients' complex stories and transform them into compelling easily understood ones for the media and general public. It's that simple.

Give yourself a break. I could think of a million reasons why I shouldn't pay out a couple grand to redo my site right now, but I can only think of one why I should. If I went to my site and looked at it, I wouldn't hire me. That's about as strong a reason as it gets.

Sound bites are the future You have to tell your company's story right away - and you have to get my attention or I'm off your site. Compelling isn't saying you are great at what you do - although I am. It's conveying experience and confidence then demonstrating through examples how you've helped others. Pretty simple.

More next time on architecture. Oh and as I was writing this I figured out how to connect my intro page with all of the others. So it's not just a rant - it's a productive one. Yeah.

Monday, July 12, 2010

TV Media Training 101 - What Really Makes You Better

I don't do television very often, but I was on NBC Richmond recently for, and it was a cake walk. The producer came to my house, did the interview, filmed it, edited it and handed it over to someone else to integrate into her broadcast.

If this is a model for the future - editorial house calls are more than welcome.

As a matter of fact, all of those high-priced media trainers out there should do a live interview on television and use that as part of their presentation to new clients. That would be a great way to find those who really know what they are doing.

Anyway the person I worked with said I was very good on television. Since I've trained people how to do television, I do know what I'm doing. But I've read so many banal tips about preparing for a broadcast interview, I thought it might be useful to add a few tips of my own.

Don't Be Nervous - If you can talk to your boss, or someone several levels above you with an attitude, television is much easier. First of all most interviews these days are friendly and informative, not hostile and inflammatory unless you work for a company like BP. Most of today's news is about getting information out there that can help people do what products used to do - get things done faster, smarter, more effectively, and save money in the process. Take a deep breath, do some sort of relaxation exercise - you pick - and just have a conversation.

Not being nervous, will also get rid of the Ummmms - remember Caroline Kennedy they counted hers. I can't remember how many there were but it made her look completely unready for the role in which they'd placed her. This may have been totally false, but if it's on TV or the Internet people believe it.

Know Your Talking Points But Don't Spout Them - Talking points are just that - they are ideas to talk about not a line you recite every time you get on television or a list of stuff you must get in no matter what the questions are. Listen first. Figure out the context in which the question was asked and what your interviewer wants to hear. Breathe. Anecdotes are always better than one liners. If you want to hear over talking pointed people, watch Jon Stewart. Most executives that go on that show have a list they've memorized, and aside from an occasional burst of laughter when Stewart says something outrageous, they often come across as scripted. The same is true for Steven Colbert and the morning shows.

Watch the Show - You don't always have to but you should. See how the interviewer interacts with people, and the kinds of information that makes it to into the actual program whether its live or pre-recorded. What do they really want to get across? Then make sure you do it in an engaging way.

Connect, connect, connect - If you don't like the interviewer, the camera will slap you down. Television shows leering, snottiness, anger, drug use (no names but you know you've seen it) you name it - your facial expressions tell a story too. I'm not telling you to be super bland but be conscious of what your face, hands, and mouth are doing. This isn't just talking it's also major body language.

Look where they tell you to look - Whoever is interviewing you does this all the time and knows what to do to make you look your best. Follow the instructions. Look at the camera exactly where they tell you too - or the wall or whatever else the instructions are. Whether you are pre-recorded or live, you'll appear confident and focused. When you have a central focal point, you fidget less. That's a good thing.

Say Thank You - It may not make it on the air, but it always pays to say thank you to the interviewer while film is still rolling. Depending on what kind of show it is - the morning shows in particular - it's a requirement. When people don't say thank you or they delay the thank you they look foolish and kind of rude. It's part of that connection thing.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

So You Think Scientists and Engineers Can't Dance?

Marketing complex products and services to the general public is a huge challenge. Our firm specializes in it, and we struggle with trying to figure out how to connect science, health, education and engineering research and findings with the general public.

In many of these disciplines PR people take what they are given – edit it - and put it back out there in the same language it was handed to them in. That doesn’t help anyone else understand it.

So I thought this marketing story would be useful to everyone. It’s about a contest started by John Bohannon, the Gonzo Scientist working with AAAS. The point is to challenge graduate students and their professors to dance their PhDs.

PhDs can be endless documents that take exhaustive research, hours to explain and drive both the writer and his or her spouse (I lived through one fortunately, not mine) crazy. Marriages are destroyed over PhDs, friendships ruined, relationships with advisors can be either helpful or hostile. Earning a PhD is a long and painful process that few come out of unscathed.

PhDs start with a germ of an idea – in my ex-husband’s case the role of NGOs in international political negotiations – and watch it blossom around them. He wrote his thesis (Yes there are other kinds of sciences at MIT) at the beginning of the Internet, when the NGOs like Greenpeace, Save the Whales, and the World Wildlife Fund – were just figuring out how to use this new form of mass communication.

It took 900 pages and ten years to complete (including time out for getting a career and family started). The degree was worth it and the dissertation was thrown into a box in the attic where it remains today. A classmate destroyed his at a Burn Your PhD party. At 900 pages we weren’t burning anything.

I’m describing this process so you can understand just how hard it is for graduate students to transform their research into something that everyone can understand. In its third year, the Dance Your PhD contest lets graduate students and their professors create short videos that are representative of their PhD theses, acting and dancing them out for all to see. The winners get put up on YouTube, feted at the AAAS annual meeting and see their dance performed by a professional company.

As a marketer I love this idea – and so did the media. The first year, Dance Your PhD was on the network news, featured in the New York Times, on NPR and although it hasn’t happened yet – with a bit more pushing will probably end up viral. Call it what you want – Revenge of the Geeks, Geeks Gone Wild – it’s just plain smart marketing.

This type of effort to connect science with the rest of us in an art form we all can all appreciate is what informal science education is all about. From the thesis titles alone you could fall asleep – but the performances are inspirational. Here are few that really capture the spirit of the competition. You can find them on YouTube but the linking mess that is Blogger has stymied me once again. Just type in Dance Your PhD and the name of the submitter.

"Refitting repasts: a spatial exploration of food processing, cooking, sharing and disposal at the Dunefield Midden campsite, South Africa" (University of Oxford). A caveman like figure chases a deer across the stage in an interpretation of hunting and gathering. It’s set to the music of Herbie Hancock and created by Brian Stewart.

The role of Vitamin D in beta-cell function from graduate student, Sue Lynn Lau. An interpretive dance that takes you from Vitamin D production by the sun all the way through how it helps our bodies.

"The role of folate in epigenetic regulation of colon carcinogenesis.” PhD thesis of Lara Park at Tufts University, this one is performed by the Sarabande Repertory Dance Ensemble dance troupe and reminiscent of modern dance gone a bit wild.

All of the blogger links aren't working so if you want to enter go to Facebook - you can do it all through its Dance Your PhD page.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Not in My Backyard Will Become Not in My Ocean

Will the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and images of oil slicked pelicans and blackened sea life, that our children are sharing on YouTube and Facebook, create a new generation of fanatically environmentalist kids? That’s what I’m betting on.

I’m dating myself, but I still remember the black and white concentration camp films we watched in New York City public elementary schools  in the 1960s. We were very young, but the message was clear. They imprinted the raw footage taken by soldiers of gaunt, hollow-eyed concentration camp survivors on an entire generation of American children, so they would never let it happen again.  

Many parents in my generation are very conservative - about what they allow their kids to watch and the trust they place in them. Some won’t let them watch PG-13 movies, set rigid controls on their computers restricting them to pre-approved Web sites, lock up the liquor and drug cabinets, and review what’s permitted  and what’s not before every play date. 

I don’t agree.  Maintaining the innocence of childhood is wonderful, but turning off major events as they unfold in the world around us - childproofing our children rather than teaching - is doing our kids a disservice. They need to know and understand this environmental disaster, and make their own choices because if they don’t, their friends  will do it for them.

Not only is my 10 year-old daughter furious at BP and the images they are glued to on the endless stream of YouTube, she’s questioning how something like this could happen. The only good that can come of it – and I keep telling her this over and over – is that it will never be allowed happen again and she will be a part of that. Do I believe what I’m telling her? Not really, but what else can you say.

A quick Google search found little written about the lasting effect of disasters on children although I know there's a lot out there. As a marketer and a mother I know the power of even the most positive of images and the messages that accompany them.

When my kids were smaller, they would watch ads on the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon and a persistent drumbeat would start of asking for whatever had caught their attention. Children are relentless when they want something. And that was just toys.

Fast forward and picture today’s elementary school children a decade from now, standing on the west coast of Florida and asking "Mommy where are all the seagulls?" We could lose the gulf of Mexico just as the Europeans lost parts of the Rhine 30 years ago because of chemical dumping. They cleaned up most of it but it took a very long time. Children are very intuitive and even now they are starting to understand how bad a mess their parents have made, and left for them to clean-up.  

I believe the backlash against Big Oil will rival the “Not in My Backyard” movement against nuclear power plants that started after Three Mile Island and was cemented into our global consciousness with Chernobyl.  No nuclear plant has been built on American soil in more than 30 years, and despite the best efforts of the industry, lukewarm presidential support and the industry's PR people, it’s still a giant maybe.

If 1970s apathetic teens could fight the battle against nuclear – our kids should be able to shut down deep sea drilling.

Optimism is a rare commodity these days , but a new generation of environmentalists might just be our best hope yet.  

Saturday, June 5, 2010

What Were BP's PR Executives Thinking?

 I was out having a couple of drinks with a friend last night who runs marketing for a consulting firm. He's a bright guy and of course we started talking about BP and the Gulf and what the company and CEO Tony Hayward should and shouldn't be doing from a PR standpoint. A few of the steps it's taken:

  • Several weeks of silence during which you could hear the lawyers time clocks going Cha -Ching while they desperately tried to figure out what to do and what  to say.
  • Hired a Bush loyalist who worked at DOE as the energy corporations were creating their own regulations or lack thereof. THer next boss was Dick Cheney which I won't even bother to comment on. Suffice it to say that the environment has never been a priority.
  • A $50 million ad campaign that has BP's chairman doing too little to late. As the company has finally said it's no longer trying to plug the leak, he's out saying they're sorry and they're working on it.
Every PR expert who doesn't have BP or energy work is going to weigh in on this with some version of a crisis communications plan that fell short of what it should. That's pretty obvious.

What's not obvious and I think unexpected is the rage that ordinary Americans feel against this company and the energy industry. And the incredible similarities that President Obama has finally taken notice of between what happened in the Gulf of Mexico and what happened in the nuclear industry after Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

Drill baby drill has become Kill baby kill. Not in my backyard is going to become not in my ocean - no way.

It's not just the images of the oil slicked beaches and dying wildlife and people of  New Orleans and other places, lamenting the loss of their way of life. It's the mood of country. Notice how the tea baggers have been very silent since this happened. Keeping their mouths shut is all they've got. Or they'll get dragged into the oil slicked mud right behind BP.

So what should BP have done?

Don't Lie. Lying about the extent of the spill was just plain stupid. It would have been much smarter to say we don't know how bad it is, we're still trying to figure it out. Far better than saying the spill was smaller than BP knew it was. That means rich corporation caught lying to American people - not unusual perhaps, but in this situation a way to build really bad will.

Don't Spend Money that Should Be Used to Help People on Advertising.  This is just idiocy. The CEO of BP blew it already, to put him on paid advertisements just makes it worse. Better he should get himself down to the affected areas - with body guards if he needs them - and talk to the people who live there.

Let the news cover it. Donate money to the fisherman whose world has just been destroyed - create a Foundation to help their families during this time. Demonstrate you care by doing something that matters not making yourself less of a villian. Don't underestimate the intelligence of the American people - even though that's a very popular thing to do these days. Eventually they will get it.

Educate the Public About What Really Happened. BP is going to get stuck paying for the vast majority of this mess anyway. So go out and explain to the best of your knowledge what really happened otherwise it's just rumor which makes it look worse. Many companies were involved - the system failed in multiple points. Mea culpa. We didn't have a contingency plan. This may be the biggest oil spill in the history of this country and it's going to take a long time to fix it. But in the meantime, we have thousands of scientists studying what happened and making sure it will never, ever happen again. Here's what we're learning as we go.

Get Environmentalists To Help You Figure it Out - Why is BP going out and hiring all of the people who worked for the Bush administration and are in part responsible for creating a world where energy companies could operate without any rules? Bring the environmentalists to the table. Get Al Gore to the table. Get the World Wildlife Federation to the table. Just the very act of asking for help of the people who have been predicting this makes it look like BP is doing something.

Most important, BP's  advisors should be people who have demonstrated that they care about the environment we live in. Not those who sold it to the oil companies.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hey Lady Your Web Site's a Dinosaur

(In case you are wondering - I'm the dinosaur playing dead).

I am in love with a man named Jason Rosenberg. Not the kind of love that they write novels about but the love you feel when someone who is really smart and good at what he does helps you figure out what you need to do in business.

In this case, it's how to make my web site look like it's a 2010 instead of a 2008 creation. The online world has gone from the equivalent of the stone age to the iron age in 2.5 years. And my web site, which was designed then, is a pathetic example of what others should be doing.

Translation: If you do what I do and tell others how to market and communicate and your web site doesn't reflect all of your knowledge - why should they hire you?

To be clear, I know my site is way behind the times. A colleague put up an RSS feed to one of my blogs and links to Twitter and LinkedIn for me. He's not a designer and it doesn't look very good. But at least now it says I'm active in the social media world. SEO - Well that's another story.

Jason, who has a company called Neurofury, and helps people figure out what they need to do, offered me an hour's worth of advice from the goodness of his heart. That's why it is love. Between Jason and the designer who works with him, I am spending 1/6 of what a web site developer I work with told me she would charge to design and put up a site. And it's definitely not a case of you get what you pay for. The sites the developer designs may be SEO friendly, but they all look exactly the same.

Here's some of what Jason told me to do:

Use Word Press - It's a free web-based software that will support my site, blogs, Twitter Feed, etc. Even the Web Site for Dummies people can figure out how to use it. Which is the speed at which my brain works when it comes to technology.

SEO - I cannot compete with the big guys. Had already figured out that Google Ad Words is meaningless with the site I have now - my traffic doubled but off of a very small base. He is going to help with organic searching, which means that people who search and are looking for firms like mine, will have better chance of finding us. That's fine for now.

Copyright Old - When you go to my site it says Copyright 2008. Why don't I just up a banner headline that says she has not fixed this site in a long time? Instead, we'll just take it down for now.

Dynamic Site Map - Every site that wants to be found should have a map. Not that hard to do either.

Put up Your Press Releases - Many of them have big company names in them that will search well. It's great to have new content frequently. And I can use their brands to get more traffic to my site.

One Way Links are Fine - Everyone tells you the best links are when other sites link to yours. But you linking to other sites is good too. And that I can do easily.

Thank you Jason. There's more and we're getting started next month. Stay tuned for the new site announcement and what I learned redoing it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Guess What Tiger Woods - Poll Says Scandal Won't Hurt Your Brand

That old saying - no news is good news - well evidently scandal is not bad news these days. Even if your damage control is lousy.

Conventional wisdom in the PR business is that scandal must be managed - messages must be created - issues must be mitigated - trouble must be buried.

But an Adweek Media/Harris Poll found out differently. Even though Tiger Woods was a very bad husband - turns out a majority of people could care less.

Perhaps we're just so saturated with celebrity scandals - unless it's something as bad as the head of the Family Research Council taking a Rent-a-Boy to Europe to carry his luggage - oh the late night comedians love this - that most of the time it doesn't affect our impressions of a celebrity.

Here's some interesting tidbits from the survey:

75% of Americans say when a celebrity endorser gets involved in a scandal, how they feel about the brands that the celebrity endorses is not affected.

20% of Americans say they feel worse about the endorsed brands.

5% say they feel better about them.

Who are these people who don't live off of TMZ and Entertainment Tonight?

81% of Americans age 55+ say a scandal has no impact on how they feel about the brand

77% of those age 35-44 said scandals don't change their opinion.

28% of those age 45-54 say they feel worse about the brand.

11% of consumers age 18-34 say they feel better about the brand after a celebrity gets involved in a scandal. (This I just don't get but maybe it's the reality TV phenomenon).

Consumers in the Midwest are most likely to have a negative attitude toward brands after a celebrity scandal.

26% of Midwesterners say they would feel worse about a brand after a scandal.

19% of Easterners say they'd feel worse.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Aimee's First Visit to the White House - Obama Wants Local Companies and Schools to Learn from Each Other

“Fighting a forest fire with 1000 eye droppers.” That’s how David Washington, acting CEO of Change the Equation, a non-profit, described the current effort to improve STEM (science, technology, education and mathematics) education in the United States.

There are hundreds of local and grassroots programs around the country addressing the nation’s need for improving STEM education, by companies and universities and non-profits through federal grants.

But no one knows who they are, or much about each other and as a result, there are no role models. No one wants to reinvent the wheel and without the wheel there are a lot of companies with money to spend and no one to help them. That’s a quandary my company would like to have.

This discussion was part of a larger meeting at the White House yesterday about President Obama’s science education initiative called Educate to Innovate. The Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) talked briefly about the work the president is doing which includes:

Creating a National Discussion about the need for improvement in STEM education by referencing it in his speeches and conversations with industry and other stakeholders.

Making the White House a Science Education Role Model – President Obama held an astronomy night at the White House recently, Michelle Obama attended the finals of DOE’s National Science Bowl this month, science is now part of the annual Easter Egg hunt, and the White House is planning its first ever Science Fair.

Convincing Business and Industry to Get More Involved in educating the next generation of scientists and engineers, both at the grassroots and the state levels.

Providing Support to States so they can Improve Science and Engineering Education through an array of grants and special programs.

Identifying Corporate STEM Education Role Models and sharing what they do right with other organizations who want to help.

A couple of hundred businesses, non-profits, teachers and other STEM stakeholders were invited, including myself as a representative of the USA Science & Engineering Festival.

So all the pieces are in place. Science is Cool again. Our president says so. But how do we translate that into business/education partnerships that change kids’ lives. That raise the next generation of scientists and engineers? As a marketer I can tell you – start here:

Science has a Marketing Problem.

Approximately 30 million children a month watch PBS and other media and they need to be exposed to more science. Many of them don’t think “Science is Cool” and we need to find ways to convince them that it is. We need more science programming. We also need people who kids turn to as role models to tell them that science is cool.

Science needs a Campaign Selling Science

Some companies have already begun to push science with their employees. For instance, Bentley Systems, an international software development company launched a program 18 months ago where it gave every employee $250.00 a year to spend on science education with their local schools. So far about $60,000 has been spent by employees around the world.

Time Warner Cable has pledged to spend $100 million to get more students involved in science and a national Public Service Announcement Campaign is planned to make science cool again. Ford Motor Company is very active in K-12 education and becoming more involved in STEM.

But it’s not enough, and I guarantee you that we’ll never hear about any of them.

Marketing 100 and Then Some

Fellow marketers I can hear you shaking your heads a long with me – Guess what guys you need marketing. You need communications. You need to create a strategic research and communications plan and get out there find out what corporations are doing – what works and what doesn’t – what is paid for by federal government grants and what are companies ponying up.

Say nothing of the fact that someone should have tracked this all along. We’ve got a president who wants to improve science education. There’s a White House mandate.

Grassroots is fabulous but grassroots never gets coverage. I worked all of last year with a wonderful group of people all lovers of science called the Coalition for Public Understanding of Science – hundreds of science projects across the nation.

But when it came to communications the projects were supposed to do it themselves locally and then nationally. And the fact is they didn’t. It was a volunteer army. And volunteers get the job done – they don’t tell the world about it.

Science needs national events. Larry Bock, who is pulling together the first USA Science & Engineering Festival is a visionary. Science needs others like him. And all these businesses who want to do something need to support this work.

One woman put it quite succinctly when she asked: What’s my to-do list after this meeting?

Science needs a plan to make it cool again and an army of advocates out there talking it up. Without that, we’ll just have a lot of dedicated people who want to help and do - but sans the attention it deserves.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Death of PowerPoint is Greatly Exaggerated - Some Alternatives

Posted a question with several LinkedIn groups about how many communicators are still using PowerPoint. Receive about 70 responses across different groups – by far the most came from the International Association of Business Communicators.

I stopped using PowerPoint awhile ago in favor of a one page hand-out and discussion. Am trying to make the conversion to using video but finding it’s harder than I thought it would be even with a simple camera.

A couple of people remarked about how young professionals don’t use PowerPoint and I had to laugh – my fifth grader is a whiz at it and I’ve seen kids as young as second grade using it to make classroom presentations.

Almost all of the respondents still use PowerPoint. Many defended it with a variety of reasons.

Here are a few of the Pros

It’s easy to convert from one operating system to another – eliminating many of the problems especially when presenting at meetings, etc.

When you present or go to a meeting people expect a PowerPoint. If you don’t have a PowerPoint you look unprepared.

PowerPoint is a widely accepted form of presenting.

It offers a lot of flexibility in charts.

It’s inexpensive and comes with Microsoft Office.

When you add in video clips it updates the format and makes it look fresher.

Some of the Cons

Too many bullets – slides too full of gunk.

You’re not using your words – parents of young children will appreciate this.

PowerPoint influences over simplification of complex ideas.

Dated program – architecture is a decade old and hasn’t been updated much.

PowerPoint can take over a speaker’s presentation.

What are communicators using instead of PowerPoint?

Adobe Acrobat



Apple’s Keynote

Mindjet Mindmanager



Links to good PowerPoints and a professor who offers ideas on how to use it best –

Sorry all - You will have to cut and paste - once again bloggers linkages are messed up.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Press Releases 2.0

I've finally learned how to do it - get press releases picked up regularly in our rapidly changing media world. My coach at Business Wire has been a huge help. Had a release go out recently on A Rubik's Cube Contest and it did really well.

Why? A few key tips.

Use bullets. About paragraph 3 of the release - no more than 3 or 4 to quickly summarize what's been written.

Use your brand names as much as you can. We are all told to identify key words and pepper them throughout the release. That's good advice but don't forget name brands that are searched all time. Use all the brand names you can. If you can link your release to a well searched brand name - do it. Is your client partnering with name brand companies? Throw them in a couple of times and highlight them.

Connect those you are quoting to their bios - Our first thought is to send media to the web site but send them to the bio. That way readers can quickly find out who your client is, what her credentials are, and why they should care.

Use the news in your industry to your advantage. If it's spring and your product has a connection to spring break use it. If there's a government program ending or announced in your industry figure out a way to link to it. This is PR common sense but often we forget to think news - news - news. Without that hook, you're just another Brick in the Wall.

Use a lot of links. - 2-3 per paragraph if you can. Your goal is to get release readers to your web site and a landing page that makes them want more. Entice them all the way through the release with different links to different sections. You can't see into a reporter's mind - but you can give them a great many options to choose from.

Keep it short. We all have lost our attention spans. Tell me what I need to know - why it matters and then you're done. The days of long quotes to please the client are over. Tell them it will hurt pick-up. That's what they are paying you for.

Write something that can be easily converted to an article. Your release will often be read by a computer or a kid who decides whether or not it's worth listing as an article. You want that designation in the URL so write for it. If your release has a lot of gunk in it - and many of them do - and really needs to be edited, it won't happen.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Unsexy SEO Tool - Bounce Rate

I don’t know about you, but I do a lot of online research and media monitoring on company web sites, blogs, online newspapers, product sites, etc. I Google everything - it's become my bible of search.

Many of these sites have spent a fortune so they are on those first 2-3 pages when you type in a search term that is part of their business. But what most SEO firms don’t like to talk about is what happens when the potential customer gets there and can’t find what they are looking for? Simple: You’ve blown that referral.

What does Bounce rate mean? It measures the number of people who came to your site and never made it past the home page. Or as Google puts it “I came; I puked; I left." Bounce rate tells you how many of the people who came to your site weren’t impressed with what they found. No second click.

And yes, I'm reworking my site right now to fix that. It's only been up for two years and is already totally outdated when it comes to bounce rate. And it doesn't search well either although my name does.

Bounce rate is hard to misunderstand because the higher it is, the less effective your web site, blog, etc. is. Of course there will always be a small bounce rate but the bigger it is the less successful you are in exciting and engaging people in your site. That’s pretty straight forward.

Gord Hotchkiss of Enquiro, a search engine marketing firm, said in an article that he likes to look at the differences in how people of different ages, gender, etc. react when they get to a page.

He pointed out two distinctive difference, and said there are many others.

1. How males scan a page versus females
2. How those who grew up online and those who didn’t search web sites.

For more from this very bright guy who knows a lot more about search than I do go too

How can you learn more about the way potential customers and other visitors use your site? Start looking at the details of where your visitors are coming from. In Google Analytics, check out your referring sites. Then visit them and find the source of how they are presenting your web site and the information it delivers.

One client of mine tracks referring sites like he is mining gold, and in a way he is. Remember when PR wasn’t measurable? Aren't we old timers? He can now look at the stories, mentions, etc. run about his company and see how much traffic it drove to his web site and how long it stayed. And we can make decisions on where we want to place stories based on the referral sites.

Looking at sources can tell you a lot about how major traditional and newer media pull traffic to your web site and blog. For instance media outreach for one client has found that:

A New York Times article is still pulling in traffic months later

Consumer finance web sites like The Consumerist and WalletPop drive huge traffic but only for a short time.

Reddit is a great traffic builder and it has staying power.

CNN Money is site people go back to time and time again for advice.

A Health Day article that got picked up by thousands of web sites didn’t drive that much traffic to the site and we're still not sure why.

I close with Bounce Rate Matters - Make it a Mantra.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

No One Reads Email Anymore - Deal With It

Two years ago you could send an email to a journalist or a business prospect and expect that they would read it and you might even get a response. Today I would forget about that.

I used to have a lot of luck with email media pitching. I would spend time creating these perfect pitches - I came from the freelance writing world and editors actually read them then. Today I have to assume that no one reads anything - because I really don't. And if they do it's on a mobile and more than a sentence or two gets deleted.

I worked for awhile with a woman who would send out email queries to get people to participate in projects. They were people who had signed up and at some point were engaged. If she didn't hear back she wouldn't even email again. Yes she was in her 20s and email was the only way she'd ever really communicated. She never even thought about doing it another way.

Another former client of mine sent out mass emails expecting responses. She had long lists and would send them from an email address that wasn't even a business. Then she would get frustrated when I would pick up the phone, call the person and get in touch with someone she'd been trying to reach for weeks.

The bottom line is - the telephone is really the only way to know that you've connected with the other person. If you leave a voice mail you know they got it. If they blow you off - at least you know they got it.

But we have to send email too because that's how our world communicates. So here are some simple tips:

Your subject line is your marketing tool - It's your headline, it's your sales message, it's the only thing they are going to read. Make it connect directly with the person that you're trying to reach and address a clear cut need that you can help with. For a product it's basic marketing - think what will make them take action. For a reporter it's why should I write about this - how will it help me impress editor, keep my job, get my next one?

Your email address is everything - If it comes form Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail, or one of the other services that people use for personal email not only will the spam filters knock it out, the individual who sees the address will rarely open it.

So find yourself a business email address - even if the only person in the company is you. Set it up so it's linked to a web site that exists and is current.

Set up a Gmail account - It's always good to have a fallback position. I love Gmail because the Google folks know how to get around the spam filters and Gmail accounts don't get a lot of spam. So I use it as a back-up for everything I do. The email may not get opened but I know it got there.

Don't send attachments unless you know the person and even then do it sparingly. Many spam filters are set up to knock out attachments - particularly if it's from an unfamiliar account. This is a particularly big deal in PR - if you cannot include your information in the body of an email you are wasting your and their time. It's an extra click and if there's interest a link is better and it also gives them a reason to get in touch with you.

Keep it short I cannot repeat this enough times or put enough emphasis on it. People today don't read. If you can't distill your information into a couple of sentences you shouldn't be sending it. So many business people rewrite, add, edit, change - lengthen - it's crazy. Your email is your elevator speech cut by half.