Archive for January, 2008

Expert media source: how to become one

Jeff Borden

It’s no secret the news media are in turmoil. Newspapers and magazines, large and small, are looking for ways to cut costs, which frequently translates into staff reductions. It’s not much better on the broadcasting side. Budgets are tight there too, and everyone is trying to do more with less. These conditions will only worsen in the near term with a shaky economy bordering on recession.

This creates opportunities for marketing executives shrewd enough to seize them. The reduction in newsroom resources has everyone scrambling even more for good, quotable sources who can bring a level of expertise to their stories. That’s where you come in.

With a number of former journalists working here, we know firsthand that reporters, editors and producers are like anyone else in a hurry. They gravitate to those who can help solve a problem. If you can offer yourself as an expert on a story, whether a large national event or a local issue, you position yourself as a thought leader and, quite possibly, gain a coveted spot in a news person’s Rolodex.

You can do this yourself, of course, but we’ve found that most executives don’t have the time to do this “reporter relationship building” very effectively. We help our clients establish and cultivate these relationships by monitoring the publications in which they would like to appear and advising them on how to connect appropriately.

Once a connection is made, it can be very rewarding, especially if you get a reputation for saying things that are smart and pithy. Ever notice how certain experts are quoted frequently in news reports? News people aren’t dumb. They go back to the sources who have helped them in the past. Connect with a news organization in a positive way and you can join their ranks – and boost your company’s profile along the way.

January 29, 2008 at 4:06 pm 2 comments

Non-traditional media not in Target’s sights

Sally Saville Hodge

Should bloggers be treated like “real” journalists?

For Target, the answer is an emphatic “no” – at least, for now. And we suspect this stance is not unusual.

Target’s PR folks stated their position loud, clear, and not terribly gracefully when blogger Amy Jussel recently asked them for an explanation of what some believe was an inappropriate billboard. Their response?

Amy,
Thank you for contacting Target; unfortunately we are unable to respond to your inquiry because Target does not participate with non-traditional media outlets. This practice is in place to allow us to focus on publications that reach our core guest.

Once again thank you for your interest, and have a nice day.

Marketing Edge discusses very effectively the many ways this response was bad PR; there’s no need for me to try to further polish this particular apple.

But it begs a revisitation of an increasingly asked question: Should bloggers be treated like “real” journalists?

It’s a troubling question to this former business journalist. I was trained to meet high standards and earned no small degree of credibility and influence as a result – supported by the news organizations behind me. Those standards?

  • The facts had to be accurate, verified as so to the best of my abilities, and cited.
  • Exclusives needed to be based on confirmation by at least two, and preferably three knowledgeable and trusted sources, and backed by the kind of detail that spoke to the story’s accuracy.
  • Unnamed sources were to be used sparingly; one-source stories were inadequate.
  • The subject of the article was given every opportunity to comment.
  • Writing about businesses in which I had a vested interest was not allowed.
  • Objectivity was key.
  • And, by the way, good writing was not optional.

There are exceptions (slate.com and smokinggun.com, for example), but far too many blogs adhere to no journalistic standards. Perez Hilton can hide behind the First Amendment all he wants, but the fact that he’s found a social media soapbox and an audience doesn’t make him a member of the Fourth Estate.

I’ll be the first to admit that adherence to those standards by traditional journalists often appears to be slipping. Sloppy reporting is obvious, and objectivity is increasingly hard to find. And we all know how “facts” can be twisted to the writer’s purpose.

It all makes for a sticky wicket to be sure, further complicated by the fact many traditional journalists use blogs and bloggers to help them shape their coverage – whether for story ideas or to validate news sources. The boundaries are blurring.

It’s hard not to sympathize, to some extent, with Target’s position, gracelessly stated as it was. Perhaps the solution for corporate practitioners lies in using the same kind of discretion they use in responding to traditional media calls: Evaluate the outlet’s reach, credibility and influence vis a vis their business’ mission and audiences, and proceed accordingly.

And do a better job of monitoring the conversations from every channel so they’re poised to respond effectively.

Update: New York Times “Target Tells a Blogger to Go Away

January 25, 2008 at 3:41 pm 3 comments

Jargon-Nots

David Donze

Do you ever wonder where “outside the box” is? Do you recoil from requests to dump your brain? Are you out of bandwidth because you’re overloaded with administrivia?

Plenty of books and Web sites are dedicated to cataloging (and ridiculing) the business jargon we hear and use daily. But jargon has its place. Nearly every industry has developed its own specialized shorthand that hastens day-to-day communication between its participants.

The trouble starts when business people use shorthand to show how smart and savvy they are. Consultants and managers lace directives with obscure language to create an air of expertise. Speakers and writers use buzzwords to gloss over content and presentation shortcomings. For some odd reason, many professionals still think slinging business jargon makes them seem smarter.

Once and for all: It doesn’t.

The Wall Street Journal agrees with us. (Be sure to check out the comments). The Financial Times agrees with us – at least FT columnist Lucy Kellaway does. And if that’s not enough, the National Council of Teachers of English does too. (JSTOR login required).

Convinced? Join the crusade. Because helping others to “shift their paradigm” is a totally “actionable step” you can take to help advance their “core competencies.”

January 21, 2008 at 5:08 pm 1 comment

Another social media snafu

Helena Bouchez

Oops, they did it again. This time it was a non-profit executive for research organization GiveWell. Executive director and GiveWell co-founder Holden Karnofsky masked his identity on an industry Web site while soliciting suggestions from visitors on the best source for comparing charities. Then, he answered his own question – recommending GiveWell, of course. Then he was found out. To GiveWell’s credit, its board of directors took swift and appropriate action. But the damage has been done.

What rock was the guy living under? Plenty has been written about the frequency and speed with which those trying to fake out the system have been caught. Whole Foods’ blogging CEO praising himself using a fake online identity. The Walmart RV Traveler’s flog. Sony’s YouTube-based viral marketing scheme for the Sony PSP.

Social media (forums, online communities, blogs, etc.) are powerful tools that, used properly, can rapidly raise an organization’s profile with its target audience and advance its business objectives. But as some organizations have learned (the hard way), it’s a double-edged sword that participants use swiftly and mercilessly when it comes to anything – or anyone – they perceive to be inauthentic or deceitful.

In fact, the success of any social media program hinges on complete transparency. The more authentic and truthful businesses appear in these venues, the more trust and goodwill they will engender. In today’s competitive environment, where a dozen companies are making essentially the same widget, the way people feel about the widget – and the widget maker – is an increasingly important key differentiator.

Companies that welcome the scrutiny of customers can profit handsomely from the exposure and viral nature of social media. Those who think fakery is a sound marketing tactic may be better suited to a different line of work. I suggest fiction writer.

January 14, 2008 at 9:09 pm Leave a comment

When being trendy is not your style

Chris Scott

To get – and stay – ahead of the curve, 63 percent of businesses are bumping up marketing spend in 2008, according to a recent article in B2B Magazine.

What will they spend it on? Well, trends indicate that online everything is going to be big this year, along with neurological market research and continued outreach to younger targets. And because it’s a trend it must be true, right? Not necessarily. Businesses would do well to consider carefully whether (or not) the trendy action they want to take would really advance their business objectives.

A few “trends” I’ve run across lately that have thrown up a red flag:

  • Social Marketing – Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and other buzzworthy concepts are spreading in popularity among marketers faster than the Bird Flu. Social marketing can be very effective when used appropriately. But some businesses lend themselves to this approach – and some don’t. Before implementing any tactic, it’s critical to know your audience and how best to reach them.
  • “Recession-proofing” – When dark economic winds begin to blow, conventional wisdom says that marketing and promotion budgets should be the first thing to go. Actually, economic uncertainty should be a cue to spend more to promote your business. While your competitors are reeling it in, you have a golden opportunity to reach out to prospects and demonstrate that you innovate even during tough times.
  • All Digital, All the Time – Cyberspace has changed the way many of us live, shop and communicate, but it also means we’re constantly inundated with electronic messages of all kinds. Don’t forget the power of the human touch; sometimes organizing an event that puts your business face-to-face with potential clients can be even more effective.

The moral of the story? All trends have one thing in common: None are very satisfying unless they really fit.

January 10, 2008 at 6:26 pm 1 comment

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