PR Colleagues: Google Reader is Not a Substitute for Reading

January 13, 2011 Leave a comment

In my 20 years in the PR business, I’ve developed a few pet peeves, but none gets me as riled up as working with PR people who don’t take the time to read.   Reading is one key difference between a truly superior agency/team/practitioner and one that’s mediocre.  And it shows in the work generated for clients.

PR has a unique ability to influence, and be influenced by, content in the media.  If you don’t understand the content, or the broader context of the content, how do you hope to be effective stewards of your clients’ business and messaging?  Limiting your knowledge base to story headlines or snippets that appear in your Google Reader page, triggered by a narrow set of keywords and inputs, isn’t the way to get a feel for the broader business landscape of your clients.  Google is one tactic to follow the news, but it’s not the only tactic.  Twitter, Facebook, and the next hot social media tool are also tactics.  Reading, seeking out, and digesting relevant information is a different exercise than tweeting, or just following tweets and hashtags.

For example: you have a client that makes laptop computers.  Your objective is to keep their products top-of-mind in the media.  So you set your Google Reader to include gadget sites, mobile computing sites, maybe a tech site or two.  Are you following any business press, and did you catch this morning’s story about falling DRAM prices that could affect your client’s products?  Are you following stories about executives that are looking for the best laptop for travel?  What are you doing to look beyond your narrow window for story and trend ideas?

There’s a German term for getting a deep sense for what the market is doing – it’s called the Zeitgeist.  The concept is derived from the words Zeit (spirit) and Geist (time) – literally, the “spirit of the time.”  It reflects a mood, an attitude, a general understanding of what people in the market are thinking (in a macro or micro sense) around you.  When one actively reads or seeks out information, that person can start to synthesize the “spirit of the time.”  And if nothing else, it’s grounds for having an intelligent conversation on the subject matter with the client or (heaven forbid!) with reporters.  This concept applies to everything from computers to kiwis.

So what to read?  Read anything, and everything.  Books, business magazines (online and offline), The Wall Street Journal, vertical publications that are specific to your clients’ industry, happenings in the Facebook and LinkedIn groups that are related to your clients, political discourse that you both agree and don’t agree with, etc.  It’s much better to go deep on a topic than just pick a couple of sources.  Clients look to the PR team to help them understand the dynamics in the media.  Without reading, there’s no understanding of these dynamics, and no usable context to deliver the most impactful recommendation to a client.

In my next post I’ll talk about the art of “thinking like the client.”

Categories: Effective PR, Messaging, PR

Quick Note: Gartner Data Center 2008

December 5, 2008 Leave a comment

Just got back from the Gartner data center 2008 show.  Attendance was slightly down this year, but only by about 10 percent or so.  Not bad for the economy we’re in.  I’m going to be posting a lot more thoughts about the show over the next week, but one thing that really stood out was the hardcore interest in attendees for energy efficiency, much moreso than ever before.

Why?  The economy.  Suddenly the money isn’t there for customers to spend tens of millions of dollars on new data centers.  They are being forced to be more efficient than ever before.  For all the talk about Green IT, as Gartner analyst Lydia Leong put it yesterday, “Green is the color of money.”

Carl Claunch gave a speech on 10 disruptive technologies on the horizon.  This was intersting, but I think what was more interesting was the elephant in the room: the economy is the one big disruptive event that is forcing the issue, causing a hunger for practical, tactical ways to improve efficiency.

Dave Cappuccio’s session on energy efficiency was so packed that they had to adjust the agenda on the fly and schedule a second session, which is unheard of at these shows.  The Green Grid* session was similarly full, as even analysts were in there taking notes.

This efficiency thing is for real…it’s going to get more intense over the next couple of years.  More to follow.

*Disclosure: The Green Grid is a WhiteLeaf client.

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Newspapers: The End of Dailies

August 26, 2008 Leave a comment

We’re seeing obits for the lowly newspaper now, most notably at ValleyWag and other places, especially since the recently-announced sale of all but three of its newspaper holdings.

The Austin American-Statesman, to which I am a daily subscriber, is among the papers included in the sale.  It has 925 employees and a circulation of 150,000.  I didn’t realize until reading the articles for this blog post how low those numbers are.  For the 16th largest city in America, having only 150,000 copies of the local newspaper in readers’ hands is shockingly low.  Even one of my favorite political Web sites, Wonkette, gets 88,000 unique visitors every day.  My daily routine of walking to the curb to pick up the newspaper to see the “news of the day” is quickly becoming an anachronism in the 21st century.

But rather than pile on, I’d like to propose a scenario for what local news can become, using my local market as an example.

Right now, The Dallas Morning News (owned by Belo) and Houston Chronicle (owned by Hearst) still have Austin bureaus.  The old-school logic they use is that to be a “real” newspaper, you need to have people on your payroll stationed in various markets.  But given the state of the newspaper industry today, that thinking doesn’t make a lot of sense any more; the margins aren’t there, and certainly print circulation isn’t going to increase because of the remote reporter.

So here’s a proposal: break the corporate barriers and antiquated thinking and pool the resources to create a center of news competence for all things Austin, creating news that is syndicated out to other newspapers.  This regional knowledge base could house the expertise for the Longhorns, the Capitol, regional businesses, etc.  This model has to be less expensive than the office space, personnel, etc. required to run discrete news bureaus.

Those reporters could be partially funded by these other newspapers and partially by advertising on a revamped news site for Austin.  Reporters would need to cover the local angle for the outlets they represent (in other words, if the Dallas paper is partially supporting the news center, they are going to want to have a Dallas angle/mention in the story, if it exists).  Covering the Capitol in particular is tricky because of the number of state legislators, but ultimately with some seasoned and savvy reporters, not impossible.  An aggressive, rock-solid group of journalists who write for online media, other local media, sports sites, etc.  could be dedicated to cover Austin in depth.  The focused Austin-only news site could be very powerful, much more so than the sites that are available today for local news.

And that’s just my local market.  Seems reasonable that this thinking could apply to other major markets as well.  Instead of doom/gloom/fear/uncertainly/doubt, the future of local news could be a very exciting place if the right energy is applied to it.

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The Power of Facebook

August 14, 2008 1 comment

I joined Facebook in late June, 2008.  Two months and 184 friends later, I am shocked and amazed at the power of this site.  It presents a profoundly different way to interact with people, and in many ways delivers on early predictions for what the Internet would become.

I worked in the Bay Area during the mid-1990s, which was a magical time, kind of like the Golden Age of the Internet.  It was an anything-goes period, limited only by bandwidth and graphics technology.  Example: I remember talking to a reporter from the then-titled “PC Week,” now “eWeek,” and asking her if, instead of gathering reporters for a press conference, she thought it would be viable to instead participate in a hairbrained idea we had called a “Web-cast” which would transmit the information by video over the Internet.  She said the idea was interesting, but her office didn’t have the bandwidth to support it, so it would be impossible to participate and therefore a flop.  We scrapped the idea.

Back then, we’d write about what the Internet would become, with “every home having a home page” and the power of Internet commerce, and networks being the computer.  However, the networks we were talking about were centered on ethernet, not social networks.  Through social networking, Facebook has allowed the “every home a home page” vision to become a reality – but it essentially skipped over the “home” part and went straight for everyone in the home.

As someone who entered the work force before the Internet, this has resulted in a very weird feeling for me, sort of “Facebook Vertigo.”  That’s the feeling of long-forgotten memories flooding back into your brain after being approached by old friends who want to get back in touch.  It’s disorienting, and has happened to me quite frequently over the past couple of months.  But I love the ability to stay in touch so easily, so the feeling of momentary disorientation is definitely worth it.

But the most amazing thing to me is that high schoolers right now, and even my preschool-age kids, may never experience the concept of “getting back in touch” with people.  From the time they assign someone “Friend” status, they will forever be in touch, because they’ve built a network that allows for communication at a glance, in a way that’s more passive, more informative and much more content-rich than email.

From a financial perspective, Facebook is still “wait-and-see” as to whether it will be a profitable venture.  The new interface they’ve launched is more cumbersome than the previous version, and it’s possible that users will tire of it, fracture and choose something new, causing the base to erode.  But as of right now, what this thing could become is staggering.

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On “Mad Men” and Agency Change

July 29, 2008 Leave a comment

The first episode of Mad Men‘s season two aired last night on AMC.  I love this show.  It’s witty, smart, clever and has the right balance of drama and style that really can suck a person in to the point where they truly care about the characters involved. Everything about the show is superbly handled…particularly when it comes to characters grappling with the changes taking place across their lives and their professions.

The main character, Don Draper, is feeling these changes rather intensely.  He is told to find new talent, and to embrace the emerging youth culture, because the world around him is doing the same.  The culture moved from President Eisenhower to President Kennedy during the gap between seasons.  This created a brand-new youth-oriented cultural movement that Draper can either embrace, or dismiss.  He seems to be choosing a spot somewhere in the middle, by reading new books by poets of the time or bringing 23-year-old self-proclaimed “whiz kids” because “clients are demanding youth”…but he’s not buying into this movement just yet.

I personally experienced a situation like this years ago. I worked in a PR agency in Washington, DC in 1994, well into the age of the personal computer but before the age of the Internet.  My manager, a real hardass with no sense of humor (had to smile when Draper told a colleague that there needed to be “advertising for people with no sense of humor”), told me to write up a proposal for a client who needed some professional services help.  One of the line items that we were going to charge the customer for was typesetting press release copy. Even in 1994 everything was printed on laser printers, so I had to ask, “Alan, are you kidding me?  Typesetting?  Nobody typesets any more.”  Which brought a blank stare, like I was the biggest idiot on the planet, and he dismissed me with a “fine, take it off.”

Alan didn’t last at that agency much longer.

There’s no way that Alan, living with the way he had done PR for so long, would have adapted to the Internet age with that old-school way of thinking.  Don Draper is in for the same ride.  And so are all the marketers and “PR experts” who are not embracing Web 2.0 technologies, but instead are relying on the same old tricks to get their messages out.  They are going to be left behind, stuck in the glory of yesterday.

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Off Topic: Batman The Dark Knight

July 24, 2008 1 comment

I saw the new Batman film last night and frankly am still recovering from it.  This is an incredibly powerful and intense film – it grabs you in the first 10 minutes and will not let you catch your breath for two hours, and there’s still 30 minutes more to go.  It starts out meeting expectations – Batman stopping Gotham criminals, same as always – but when the Joker appears, everything is thrown askew.  Unlike the other summer hit Iron Man, which was a lot of fun, there’s no predictability in this movie.  And this makes it mesmerizing.  It would be like a Mission:Impossible film where the Tom Cruise character dies, and stays dead…and although you expect the evil scientist’s assistant to tear off his plastic face to reveal Cruise behind it at the end, it doesn’t happen.

And the acting: I’m not sure I could say anything more about Heath Ledger than hasn’t already been written about everywhere.  His Joker steals the show.  It’s more of a Joker movie with Batman as the foil rather than the other way around.  Christian Bale was fine if a little dispassionate, Maggie Gyllenhaal was fine and played the part much better than Katie Holmes, and Gary Oldman and Aaron Eckhart were outstanding.

This is a wild ride, one that I recommend seeing.  Just be sure you know what it is that you’re going to see: this is ain’t Christopher Reeve sparring with Gene Hackman.  It’s part action/adventure, part horror, part Kubrick, part Hill Street Blues, part classic Pacino.  Whew!

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A Laptop Look Back

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Here’s a fun look back at a laptop of yesteryear… long before we worried about Green IT or Sustainability!

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June 27, 2008 Leave a comment

According to the Independent (UK newspaper) today, we could have no ice at the North Pole, as soon as this year.  Traveling across the pole in a boat in the open water?  What a scary thought.

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HP + Oracle = Great Green Partner Marketing

June 24, 2008 Leave a comment

Today’s press release: “HP Introduces World’s Fastest, Most Energy-efficient, 1-to-4-terabyte Offering for Oracle Optimized Warehouse.” Per my previoius post, this is exactly the kind of partner marketing that customers need to see to deliver tangible business results and be “green.”  It speaks to how customers think and shows how two companies together can solve their challenges – in this case, efficient computing for the Oracle Warehouse Intiative.  Great job HP and Oracle.  But why is the 65% energy savings not in the headline?

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Developing An Eco-System For Green Tech

June 19, 2008 Leave a comment

I haven’t seen this evangelized much, but there’s at least one dirty little secret in Green Marketing, particularly in Green Tech: your one widget, by itself, is not going to improve climate change in any appreciable fashion, nor are business customers likely to flock to your product because you tout its green benefits.  This is especially important as more money is being thrown at green product development: According to a January 2008 report from The Cleantech Group, investment in Green Tech increased from $3.6 billion in 2006 to $5.18 billion in 2007.  As a strong downstream market is created for Green technologies, companies will obviously want to have marketing programs that resonate with their customers.

If you market well, you’ll be able to sell more widgets.  But it’s critical to understand the system – in this case, a true “eco-system” –  around those widgets to truly make an impact to the world and to your business customers.

Why is this the case?  Can’t I get more people to buy more of my, say, servers if I can show that they are more green?  From the end-user’s perspective, it’s not that simple.  Being more green can help drive improved brand perceptions, but, unless you are Toyota, this is not necessarily tied directly to green product sales.  I’ve spoken with hundreds of customers in the IT space, and the following trends are apparent:

–  Customers, as people, care about Green technologies, but they are still business people that have business budgets, SLAs, and requirements,

– They care about price and performance, and are willing to pay slightly more for a green technology if it falls within a 10% performance difference,   and

– The amount IT managers care about Green is directly proportional to the corporate pressures they are receiving to be more Green.  This is becoming increasingly apparent as very large companies start to apply pressure to Green (now a verb) their global supply-chains.

This last point speaks to the marketing opportunity around the ecosystem: if I’m a customer, and my corporate mandate is to be more green throughout my operations, your energy-friendly device is only going to do so much for me.  There are so many other things in my IT world that I need to worry about, including: security, systems management, data integrity, uptime, data center rack infrastructure, data center cooling infrastructure, OS updates, etc.  Every piece that I change impacts I do my job, and every piece matters as it relates to lowering my overall energy footprint.

When I was at Dell last year, we did some innovative work in this space, through building a partnership with Emerson-Liebert.  Dell makes a line of servers that they claimed were “Energy Smart,” meaning the systems consumed much less power than their “standard” siblings.  Emerson-Liebert makes overhead cooling systems that efficiently manage the airflow and cooling of servers in a rack, which they claimed would reduce overall data center power consumption.  Both companies put their engineers together to test what would happen if a data center moved to this combined infrastructure.  One of the results from the testing delivered as much as a 65% reduction in facility power while maintaining the same level of performance.  This is demonstrable value in moving to a greener solution – a value that’s bigger than the individual pieces – and this is the kind of ecosystem that customers need to see to really extract the “green” value from a particular device.

Marketers would be wise to show how their devices work together with other vendors’ devices to truly deliver lower power consumption.  The combined green value as an ecosystem can make a big difference for the end-user, and the value that IT can add to their corporate green initiatives can help them be perceived as leaders in their markets.

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