Sunday, February 21, 2010

Science is Back: A Report from the AAAS 2010 Meeting

OK so one of the reasons I went was because it was in San Diego - but who from the east coast is not sick of winter this year? Anyway the meeting is winding down and it's clear that science is making a comeback. And you could tell that many scientists are profiting from the Communicating Science workshops that NSF and AAAS are doing. Talk titles are improving and getting more provocative.

Last year the scientists turned up the volume on global warning with dire warnings - this year it continues unabated. Although I didn't understand all of the talks here are some of the titles which gives you a pretty good indication that we've got to do something now:

Will Coral Reefs Disappear? Separating Fact from Conjecture

Adam Smith Meets Jacques Cousteau: Using Economics to Protect Marine Resources

Denial, Detente and Decisions: Fisheries Science at a Crossroads

Can Geoengineering Save us From Global Warming?

And the list goes on.

So there were 1,000 newsroom registrants at the meeting - many like me more public information officers than real life reporters. But a lot of reporters/writers/editors did come. Among the people I chatted with Alan Boyle, science blogger extraordinaire of MSNBC who just wrote a book on Pluto, The Chronicle of Higher Education which was looking for stories on data organization and management, producers from the BBC and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation who wouldn't reveal what they were writing, ScientificBlogging and it's hottie founder, and many more.

The AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards 2009 program and cocktail party was a massive discussion on the current state of science journalism. So many science writing veterans are now freelancers it's hard to keep track of who's where. But it seems like the wounds are closing and those who remain are getting back to work. Also there were many 20-something science journalists - a good sign for the future.

The science writing award winners were like little kids at their own birthday party - my personal favorite Amie Thompson from the Great Falls Tribune in Wyoming who won for a series on a rare genetic disease and its impact on a family and its descendants. Her husband was talking her up in the hallway before the awards presentation. The series, which ran in June 2009, is called "Lethal Legacy."

Thank you AAAS for continuing to honor great science writing - it seems like no one else is. Oh except the Kavli Foundation which has committed to funding this program for many years - I forget how they put it but it seemed like it would outlive me.

The USA Science Engineering Festival - Larry Bock's baby - got a lot of interest and managed to get a card in every one of the 8,000 conference bags. Bock had an assembly line of bag stuffers - you should have seen the empty boxes.

I met Francis Collins - human genome guru and now head of NIH - over pancakes as he met Bock, and talked about the Festival. A very nice man - he even responded to my thank you note.

My book with AAAS had a lot of lookers - that's Delaying that First Drink: A Parents' Guide - due out this spring and to be tied in with a spring break PR effort.

The SB&F Subaru Children's Book Awards had a packed room and the books are great - check them out on the AAAS web site

Yes we are still in a recession. It was really clear in the exhibit hall - the number of booths had dropped quite a bit. Why do people cut marketing when the economy tanks? It doesn't make any sense to me.

And I am in route later today to San Francisco for a 24 hour hang out with best friends break. So I'd better pack. Finally figured out how to use the parking garage in this building and I'm leaving. Oh well.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Year in the Life of the Washington Post

Went to a talk by Frances Stead Sellers recently at an IPRA lunch - a strange group - I felt young which is rare these days. Not very friendly either - mostly 50 and 60 somethings starting their own companies. One woman who asked for advice on personal finance PR was downright dismissive. Her comment when I tried to explain what we've been doing with the Healthcare Blue Book to her? "Oh so it's just like every other PR effort."

No it's not - but you go ahead and think that. Won't write down the word that came to mind but you know what it is. Anyway nice to be a few years ahead of them. And the feeling young was lovely.

Stead Seller's talk gave a pretty good update on the state of the newspaper business these days. This past year was a train wreck but she thinks the reorganization is done. Here's what we heard:

Slashed newsroom staff - Over the past year the Post has gone from 600 to 300 journalists - the survivors are working their butts off.

Combined sections - In my areas - science, health and technology - they used to have individual editors for each section - now Frances oversees all of them and they're considered a group. She does a macro edit then passes stories along to content editors who do the rest.

Who to pitch - the reporter, reporter, reporter. They are the ones who are making decisions these days about the stories that they write - the section editors are totally overburdened.

What are they reading - Industry blogs, some social media, using Google Alerts like the rest of us to follow beats. So it's particularly important to get your keywords right.

Science has taken a huge hit - with all the emphasis that used to be on science, now it's science and health - kind of a weird split. As they continue to debate the bills guess which subject area is winning?

How do they decide which emails to read?- It's all in the subject line - that's also what they send around the newsroom.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Six Great Ideas from the ASAE Super Swap – January 2010

This new ASAE format had six Idea Swaps in four hours and I attended one on membership marketing and another on social media. The most useful advice was about boosting member attendance at meetings – a big issue these days.

Association professionals estimated their annual conference attendance is down 20-30%. So what are they doing to get more people to come? Here’s what I heard:

Try Going Regional - One association professional said she went from holding one annual conference attended by about 10,000 people, to four regional ones and each regional had 3500 people. Obviously, the regional conferences are cheaper to put on.

Rethink Marketing of Regional Conferences – Focus marketing to areas that are within easy driving distance to the conference – but further than you might have done in the past. Send driving directions from your office to the conference center with email marketing and point out driving highlights along the way to make it interesting and fun. One association told members about the World’s Largest Ketchup Bottle and a lot of people went to see it and talked about it when they got to the conference.

Using Facebook to Help Attendees Cut Conference Costs – With costs for travel and rooms at a premium, one association created a special Facebook page for ride sharing and room shares – kind of a buddy up site for the conference. Not only did members use it – they networked on it – and it drove attendance to the conference web site and increased the number of people who came.

Using Twitter to Share Conference News – A number of associations are tweeting to industry bloggers during their conferences. Many bloggers can’t attend but will re- tweet highlights from sessions. Some have created special hash tags on Twitter for their associations’ meetings and are telling members about them in other promotional materials and newsletters. This has boosted followers.

Finding the Optimal Marketing Mix for Conferences – One person said she cut out all direct mail and increased attendance by 7% through other means. Consensus was you need a mix depending on what your members respond too. Some tactics: Revisit your email opt-out list and open rate before you make your marketing choices. Older memberships still respond to faxes – one association is sending a fax one week before to boost attendance and its working. This was a medical society with a specialized physician membership.

To Theme or Not to Theme – Consensus was that no one chooses a meeting because of a theme and it's more of an industry/management choice. Many associations have moved away from the big picture themes and use a theme for the annual conference that stays consistent year to year. These are benefits driven.