July 22, 2006 by Colin
You may have heard about blogspot and other services being blocked by ISPs in India – purportedly at the behest of the Indian government in reaction to the bombing campaign in Mumbai earlier this month, or maybe in an effort to minimize online commentary that critcises some of the major religious groups in India.
The officials at the central Ministry of Communications don’t seem to be handling the situation very well. An excerpt from the NY Times:
“… Officials at the Ministry of Communications here did not return repeated calls. An official at the ministry’s department of information and technology, Gulshan Rai, said he was aware of “two pages” that had been blocked for spreading what he called “antinational sentiments,” but was unable to provide details.
The secretary for telecommunications, D. S. Mathur, that bureau’s highest-ranking civil servant, hung up the phone when reached at home. The minister of communications, Dayanidhi Maran, was traveling in San Francisco and unavailable for comment.
Perhaps even more seriously, the order to block some blog sites (.pdf) meant that Mumbaihelp, a blog set up for the citizens of Mumbai, was also blocked. It seems like this site wasn’t particularly targeted by the government, but was simply taken down with most blogspot sites as ISPs tried to follow the government’s directive.
In reaction, some Indian bloggers have begun discussing a possible code of ethics that could be incorporated into the country’s IT Act to help limit government crackdowns like this. One version has been proposed by Forrester Research’s Country Head, Sudin Apte.
I’m afraid I couldn’t find much more detail about this proposal. The idea that a specific blogger code of ethics be incorporated into federal legislation is novel, and also startling.
July 10, 2006 by Colin
Voice. It’s a concept we normally associate with identity, opinion, the differentiation of personalities. Charlton Heston is the voice of authority. Dr. Ruth represents compassion. Will Rogers was your wise old uncle. Morton Downey Jr. was your crazy old uncle. David Leisure is your insincere cousin, ready to sell you a lemon and an extended warranty.
Today, it may be voice that keeps podcasting from being overtaken by the corporate training and outreach department. Is podcasting an opportunity to distribute repurposed content? Is it another vehicle for one-way communication? Is the podcast destined to become the medium of choice for, in effect, bootlegged academic presentations and the mutterings of beat columnists? There’s a battle developing between ideas and flair, between content and presentation, between spit and polish.
Obviously, voice is an essential part of podcasting. Rough, hesitant, noisy, easily distracted voice – as listeners we will tolerate ambiguity, trains of thought that miss the station and poor audio quality in the pursuit of original and incisive analysis. In some ways, we imply authenticity and authority from the unprofessional tics found in podcasts today.
Podcasters who came from the world of blogging understand this. They’re struggling with format issues: do they need intros and outros? Are professionally voiced interstitials necessary to keep the listener engaged? How do they handle audio comments to the podcast? What is the relationship between their podcast, their blog, and do the two actually align? Why must I sell my soul to the machine that is iTunes?
A column from Poynter made me pause, however. Chip Scanlon interviewed Tom Opdyke, the morning metro editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the narrator of the paper’s “Through Hell and High Water” series on the aftermath of Katrina.
Opdyke is both a journalist, a professional narrator/voiceover specialist and a dramatist. He discussed how he prepared for a dramatic spoken presentation of the AJC’s original printed word – not what I would consider an original podcast.
Scanlon characterized podcasts more bluntly, and more commercially. In the end, he also seems to have overlooked the value that podcasts can bring to a developing story: first, the capacity to deliver real voices from the scene, to share true emotion from an event’s actual participants. Second, the ability to reflect reader’s reaction. Third, and most importantly, an opportunity for a print medium to break out of its constrained frame of reference.
“For news consumers who like nothing better than a good listen, and for newspapers who desperately want to hold onto their business, podcasts offer a note of hope. Combining the power of audio with the freedom to choose when to tune in, podcasting — think of it as TiVo for the ears — they offer an alternative way for consumers to get their news and information on a schedule, through a medium of their choice.
In print newsrooms, where audio is limited to the quiet mumbles of reporters reading their stories, a new skill set is becoming increasingly necessary: The ability to voice a story with the same competence of a skilled broadcast journalist. ” (Poynter)
A skilled broadcast journalist, as well all know, does not hold much currency with the digerati anymore. Scripted news is as scripted news does.
I’d like to see news outlets make a dedicated effort to developing a real dialogue with the readers – and not just the eight guys who write to the op/ed section three times a week. A “community advisory board” doesn’t cut it either.
But where’s the connection for other readers? How can we tell that a story has resonated with others? In some ways, I feel like this sort of podcast should be delivered in RealPlayer: they represent the same sort of thinking about control, presentation and risk avoidance that we first saw in 1997 and 1998.
June 20, 2006 by Colin
Last week, I compared the unnumberable threads of social media theory and criticism to the sects found in the movie Life of Brian. This week, word from the NYT that pro-pigeon activist groups in London are fragmenting among similar lines:
“”The real fight is among themselves,” the [London] official continued, comparing the apparent discord within the pigeon group to the picayune disagreements between the Judean People’s Front, the People’s Front of Judea, and the Judean Popular People’s Front in the film “Monty Python’s Life of Brian.”
Members of the pigeon group, Save the Trafalgar Square Pigeons, disagree. For starters, they say, the rogue feeders, who sometimes call themselves the Pigeon Action Group, are not part of their operation, but independent operators recklessly taking matters into their own hands.” (New York Times)
The cause of the pigeon brouhaha? “Red Ken” Livingstone, the Mayor of London, is determined to drastically cut the number of pigeons living in Trafalgar Square.
May 23, 2006 by Colin
Is a public relations counsellor’s primary motivation to “make their client look good?” That was the point offered during a favoured podcast this week, and I found myself disagreeing quite animatedly with my car dashboard.
On a superficial level, PR counsellors are responsible for making sure their clients look good. A sustained and positive corporate, brand or personal image is always the desired result.
Nonetheless, an effective agency or in-house communicator should prepare their clients for any circumstance. That can include glowing puff pieces in the trades, a smooth quarterly call, and a glamorous product launch. It can also cover vital logistics delays, product recalls and labour unrest – not to mention marital discord.
The real test of the relationship formed between client and counsellor comes in those moments of pressure. Will a kowtowing desire for approbation (or a simplistic sense of politesse) prompt a communicator to minimize the challenges that will have to be faced before digging out of a negative public image? Or has the client been prepared, conditioned, warned that effective public relations sometimes means taking a couple of punches and living to see another day?
April 27, 2006 by Colin
Regret the Error may take the New York Times to task for its corrections, but internally the paper depends upon greenies. So says Jonathan Landman, the deputy managing editor for digital journalism at the Times:
” … Greenies? They are daily critiques of the newspaper, prepared by editors with contributions from staffers and circulated throughout the newsroom. The odd name comes from the habit of Allan M. Siegal, the assistant managing editor for standards who has been preparing critiques of this kind for decades, of using a green marking pen.) (Ask the Editors, NY Times)”
Landman doesn’t think, however, that readers should be given a public forum to highlight these errors.
” … We do, of course, publish corrections and editors notes to correct the public record. But it seems to me that fingering individuals in public for writing less-than-ideal headlines or overusing buzzwords or splitting infinitives would do much more harm than good, making people fearful and overcautious rather than diligent and responsive.”
One blogger seems to have noticed – quite a while ago – that the Times corrects these minor grammatical errors even after they’ve gone online and have been pumped out through the RSS feed. If you have an eye for detail, you can spot the greenies and then track their deletion through your feed reader.
April 24, 2006 by Colin
The latest buzz accelerator is sheep. To be specific, sheep decorated with advertising for a Dutch hotel company. The gimmick has drawn the ire of an asthetically-minded local mayor, who has threatened fines if the sheep are not removed in short notice. The result? 60 hits on Google news and counting.
“…Hotels.nl Chief Executive Miechel Nagel said the company would respond by increasing the number of sheep it uses in Skarsterlan to 60 and changing the statement on their blankets to ”Thank You, Mr. Mayor.”
”Now it’s a freedom of speech issue,” said Nagel. He added the local economy also was getting a boost as farmers were being paid 15 euros to 20 euros ($18-$25) per sheep per month to wear the advertisements.
”Their value as lamb-kebabs is around 60 euros ($75),” Nagel said.” (AP/NYT)
April 17, 2006 by Colin
Before Google News, before Yahoo, before (gasp) Pointcast … people had to buy magazines to keep up with current events. They were sold at places called news stands. They’re still around, I know. But for most people under a certain age (quick – fifty words on the influence of Dennis Haskins on your teenage years) a news stand is where you find your girlfriend’s Italian Vogue (or your British FHM). In 1987, I found two of the most interesting – and perverse – magazines. They were to grace the magazine rack beside my john for years to come.
The first was Spy, which we’ve all heard of at one point or another. There was the piece on American Kabuki (mascot costumes) and there was Bunny Burgers, testing whether public relations firms would recoil at representing a fast food rabbit meat chain.
” … We needed to come up with a venture that would have the look and feel of a big, well-financed, image-driven, Madison Avenue – created powerhouse yet somehow lack fundamental common sense. The bad idea we settled upon was simple and all-American: a fast food chain called Bunny Burgers Inc., which would be selling ground rabbit, as well as salads and french fried carrots, at dozens of outlets in the eastern United States and Canada.
The company could follow the Red Lobster model — diners would have the opportunity to pick their own bunnies (Tuesday is P.Y.O.B. Night!) for broiling. The whole idea appealed to us because it simultaneously evoked sweetness and made the skin crawl.
We invited nine PR firms to bid on the account and assist us in determining whether the concept was feasible, public-relations- wise, and if so, what measures could be take to mitigate public hostility toward the consumption of bunny meat at a time of burgeoning sensitivity toward the animals with whom we share this fragile planet. At the outset, we feared that PR firms would hang up on us when we phoned to describe our fictitious enterprise and ask for help.
None of the firms hung up on us.” (Full Text)
A recent piece in Metropolis magazine lookeds at the magazine’s enduring cultural and design influence:
“… “It was an exercise in shoehorning material,” [former art director Alexander Isley] says–and partly a product of a Mad magazine-inspired use of buried text: the best stuff was often in the tiniest type, in the marginalia or the captions. Deadpan delivery remains a key part of Isley’s design approach, despite the very American insistence that funnies be accentuated by the visual equivalent of a laugh track. “The key was not telegraphing the joke,” he says. …” (Metropolis, and more on Isley)
The other magazine – more of a ‘zine actually – was Monk. Two gay men, travelling across the United States with their two cats, building an audience with their Mac. Aside from the more flamboyant tales, I was interested in how Michael Lane and Jim Crotty discussed the characters and communities they encountered. Just as appealing was their threadbare appeals for money – $100 got you a lifetime after lifetime subscription. I remember signing up for two years after reading only one issue.
Interestingly, the two found that advertisers were loath to commit to such a small publication: “… “People told us we needed to print at least 20,000, so that’s what we did,” Mr. Lane said. Promising to distribute every copy, they sold $12,000 in ads, more than covering the $6,000 in printing costs.” (NYT)
Oh, what they could have done with AdSense or BlogAds!
April 16, 2006 by Colin
“Ross characterizes part of his job as finding the sweet spot where faith and the culture intersect, because religion on its own often isn’t enough, as he sees it, to generate mainstream press. He offers his handling of T.D. Jakes as a typical example. Today Jakes is the pastor of the Potter’s House in South Dallas, one of the fastest-growing churches in the country, with 30,000 members; he is also behind the “Woman, Thou Art Loosed” novel, film and gatherings, and he created the Metroplex Economic Development Corporation, which sponsors homeownership conferences and organizes training sessions for would-be entrepreneurs.
After listening to hours and hours of the pastor’s sermons, Ross realized that what might appeal to a broader audience were Jakes’s efforts to economically empower African-American youth — Jakes was a business story, in other words. Not long after that, Jakes landed a Page 1 profile in The Wall Street Journal. It was the preacher’s first major national exposure.” (NYT)
April 11, 2006 by Colin
Apologies for the affront to the collective genius of Frankie Goes To Hollywood/Edwin Starr. What is the true, quantifiable, worth of corporate social responsibility? Aside from polishing up Nike’s annual report? Or pulling a veil over the dirty workings of international oil conglomerates? Wal-mart must be wondering that as it tries to marshall positive voices in favour of its banking application, currently being heard by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Voices like Andrew Young and the Salvation Army.
Arrayed against the corporation, it seems, is every community bank in the country, local activists, and a sizable number of members of Congress. And the Wal-mart haters. Wal-mart flavoured haterade must be on sale, because there are some people with some real issues speaking out on this banking application:
“walmart has decided to try to rule the world. The stores and their domination are bad enough. If they have control of a financial institution it could be a disaster. All their friendly, good old boy, we’re with you America ads are just a sham. They are out for one thing, the all mighty dollar, and it has to go into their pocket. I’m not fooled by their folksy attitude one bit. If they control a bank in any area they control the area, if you’re not with them, you’re against them and you get no loan for your new business.” (FDIC submission, .pdf)
Hearings are on now at the FDIC offices in Virginia, and:
“At times, the hearing felt more like a referendum on Wal-Mart’s integrity than the wisdom of allowing it to open a bank, with friends and foes of the retailer marshaling character witnesses. Testimony touched on Wal-Mart’s role in port security, its efforts to recover missing children, the generosity of its health insurance plan and the cost of a shovel at its stores.”
The corporation’s certainly facing an uphill battle. The lobbying battle against the application seems to be led, in part, by the Independent Community Bankers of America. Common themes, and phrases, run through many of the letters filed with the FDIC. Quite a few seem awfully similar, like the 49 or more nearly identical letters from the Citizen’s Tri-County Bank.
I understand the value, from the pespective of sheer quantity and physical impact, of organizing a petition or letter campaign. But what is the real effect of all that work (or, in the case of an online email campaign, not that much work)?
Research with members of Congress has shown that form letters, or letters that are evidently the product of an organized lobbying or petitioning campaign, are discounted by politicians. Communicating with Congress: How Capitol Hill is Coping with the Surge in Citizen Advocacy, prepared by the Congressional Management Foundation, provided quantitative and qualitative backing for this finding:
“I wish that outside groups would understand that overwhelming our office with form letters does
more harm than good for their causes.”
—House Correspondence Staffer
“One hundred form letters have less direct value than a single thoughtful letter generated by a constituent
of the Member’s district.”
—House Correspondence Staffer
“In cases where the Member/Senator has not reached a firm decision on an issue, 44% of staff surveyed said that individualized postal communications have “a lot” of influence, compared to 3% for identical form communications. As one House staff member noted, personal communications are more effective than form messages “because the recipient knows that the author was truly motivated by the issue.”
April 11, 2006 by Colin
Your next drive-thru order at MacDonald’s may not be taken by a sweaty, slightly overweight and harried assistant manager with an ill fitting corporate dress shirt. If you’re in Hawaii, the person asking you about supersizing may in fact be over a thousand miles away – in Santa Maria, California.
Thanks to low-cost VOIP, centralized call centres and a standardized menu, remote order-taking has arrived.
MacDonald’s executives first floated the idea at a retail conference a year ago.
“”You have a professional order taker with strong communications skills whose job is to do nothing but take down orders,” said Matthew Paull, McDonald’s chief financial officer.
Paull said a “heavy percentage” of complaints the company receives are from drive-thru customers who got the wrong order. “Even if 95% of the time it is right, those 5% are very upset with us,” he said. (USA Today)
Today, the NYT details how one call centre 150 miles from L.A. is serving drive-thrus in Mississippi, Wyoming and Hawaii – among 40 locations.
“When the customer pulls away from the menu to pay for the food and pick it up, it takes around 10 seconds for another car to pull forward. During that time, [Doug King, CEO of the outsourcing firm Bronco] said, his order-takers can be answering a call from a different McDonald’s where someone has already pulled up.
The remote order-takers at Bronco earn the minimum wage ($6.75 an hour in California), do not get health benefits and do not wear uniforms. Ms. Vargas, who recently finished high school, wore jeans and a baggy white sweatshirt as she took orders last week. (New York Times)
I can see one benefit to the consumer: an outsourced call centre may be able to provide better service in spanish – if the right order-taker picks up. I don’t know whether these order-takers will be immediately familiar with local condiment or combo preferences.
Really, are we going to revert back to the old Automat restaurants, with giant displays of prepared food ready for sale at the drop of a quarter? It’s bad enough I can see the teenage “cook” take the sausage patty for my Egg Mcmuffin out of a plastic warming tray – like an Easy Bake oven – without dropped data packets ruining the call and completely depersonalizing the experience.
Remember, at lunchtime, Skype “Ronald’s McNuggets”
For further commentary, American Public Radio reported on the use of call centres in fast food in January 2005.
March 7, 2006 by Colin
The NYTimes look at Wal-mart’s blogger outreach program is now online: Wal-Mart Enlists Bloggers in Its Public Relations Campaign. As Paul Holmes has noted, “sadly, I just don’t see what the story is.”
Given the breadth of comment and criticism posted over the last five days by bloggers who were contacted by Barbaro, the NYT reporter, during his research for the article, we can identify some basic working tips for our emerging online outreach practices.
The nut graf for public relations staffers:
“… Copies of e-mail messages that a Wal-Mart representative sent to bloggers were made available to The New York Times by Bob Beller, who runs a blog called Crazy Politico’s Rantings. Mr. Beller, a regular Wal-Mart shopper who frequently defends the retailer on his blog, said the company never asked that the messages be kept private …”
Always remember to be open and transparent in your public outreach activities. That way, articles like on your ourtreach program woon’t blow back on your firm, your client or your strategies.
(I’ve already made my point about staff choice implying bias in your activities)
Just as importantly, be selective about the channels and blogs you pick for your outreach activities. It’s too simplistic to base a strategy on the principle that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The online discussion around the NYT article would be much more informative if it wasn’t coloured by interjections and polemics about the battle between conservative bloggers and the estalishment media.
I have to think this ideological mano a mano has tainted the Wal-mart blogger outreach program to some degree. A perfectly acceptable public relations tactic (and a commendable effort by a historically reticent corporation) has now been associated with negative opinion and emotion – both online and in print.
March 5, 2006 by Colin
According to one blogger who emailed me, the NYTimes is getting ready to run a story on the blogger outreach program managed by Edelman on behalf of Wal-mart.
John McAdams provides quite a bit of detail on his correspondence with Marshall Manson, a senior account supervisor with Edelman. Manson’s blogger relations work on Wal-Mart’s behalf has popped up across the web. Interestingly, it seems to hit mostly on conservative blogs. (Examples can be found here, here and here.)
Or maybe that portion of Edelman’s outreach program targeted towards conservative bloggers just produces greater reverb. Do the macro-economic arguments in favour of Wal-mart work better for conservatives, or do they just provide another detail for reference in their vilification of mainstream and liberal media?
It seems that targeting conservative bloggers is a conscious decision on Edelman’s part. Businessweek highlighted this point last fall. The fact that Mike Krempasky was put on the Wal-Mart file shortly after being hired by Edelman seems to underline the strategy.
It makes perfect sense to staff up an emerging agency practice with experienced bloggers, and I also recognize that the public affairs environment in the United States is far more polarized than up here in Canada. Still, don’t your consumer clients twitch – just a little – when your outreach effort is staffed by PR staffers with a clear history and a sizeable axe to grind against some of the establishment media?
“… As it so often does, the [New York] Times’ agenda is apparent: paint the appearance of division amongst conservatives and provide fodder for the argument that right-leaning organizations, from the White House on down, don’t tolereate descension.
Whether the story is on target or not, no newspaper should be letting an agenda drive its news coverage. (Or, non-news coverage, as the case might be.) Of course, that never stopped the Times before.”
Of course, this blog work is only one small part of Edelman’s campaign on Wal-mart’s behalf. Kevin Dugan wrote up an overview of their efforts back in September.
February 22, 2006 by Colin
So. NBC asks YouTube to yank the Narnia Rap from their servers. Was this the product of a conscious campaign on NBC’s part to prompt a buzz spike online, as DataMining suggests? Let the video bounce around the ‘sphere for a couple of months, throw that word-of-mouth buzz into hyperdrive, then draw it back into the P&L bosom of the corporate mother ship to generate nice clean iTunes fees?
Or was Narnia simply the victim of a wide-ranging reaction from NBC’s legal team? The NYT coverage notes that NBC’s DMCA notice to YouTube covered 500 or so NBC clips. “Julie Summersgill, a spokeswoman for NBC Universal, said the company meant no ill will toward fan sites but wanted to protect its copyrights. “We’re taking a long and careful look at how to protect our content,” she said. (NYT)”
Pete Blackshaw extends the possibility that viral media could be further sandbagged by legal concerns, slowing or halting the flow of other consumer generated media like remixed or repurposed brand imagery or television commercials.
“Will lawyers apply to same content restrictions to television commercials that are shared and spread online? If networks push too aggressively on such restrictions, will brands perceive less “ROI” in their advertising potential? Under what circumstances could “repurposed” ad copy be shared? Are consumers to blame if marketers put “send this to a friend” links all over their web sites?”
February 13, 2006 by Colin
The Professional Bull Riders circuit is busy expanding into the NorthEast and Mexico, looking at potential events in Australia, and keeping its eyes on the big prize: a breakthrough in public consciousness – and subsequent sponsorship and prize money – like that won by NASCAR.
“”… But it’s still Middle America, without question. You know Flint Rasmussen?” Rasmussen is the in-ring clown; unlike traditional rodeo clowns whose job it is to protect the riders, he stays far away from the bulls. “Flint said to me recently: ‘Let me try a joke on you: If you ask a rodeo clown to autograph your cooler, you may be a redneck. Does that work?’ And I said, Yeah, it was funny. And he said, ‘Well, I just had about 100 people ask me to autograph their coolers in the lobby of the Marriott.”‘ (NYT Magazine)
January 25, 2006 by Colin
Do you even stop to think of the literacy skills among your target audience? What about the application of effective design to speed understanding? Maybe can apply some of the important work being conducted in the pediatric community to simplify consent forms.
Frankly, parents have a heard time interpreting relative levels of risk. And the poor communications skills exhibited by most doctors doesn’t help.
“At the University of Michigan, Dr. Alan Tait has been working with colleagues in the department of anesthesiology to develop an improved consent form aimed at parents with low literacy skills whose children are facing surgery.
“Using simpler, friendlier language is just the first step,” Dr. Tait said. The form in one experimental survey of 305 parents was vastly preferred by those who read well in addition to those with low literacy skills. It also used a larger typeface, shorter paragraphs, illustrations and bulleted points to help clarify the message.
Elsewhere, health literacy specialists are working on audio or video consent forms – interactive audiotapes or DVD’s that can be navigated at a patient’s own pace via a telephone keypad, a touch-screen kiosk or an inexpensive DVD player.
Most rely on live-action vignettes and colorful images instead of dense blocks of text to explain complicated concepts like the risks and benefits of different types of blood pressure medicines or asthma inhalers or the ins and outs of glucose monitors used for diabetes.” (NYTimes)