Murphy's Law

Tom Murphy

Archive for May 2004

State of the nation… US journalism survey

Journalism.org has published the first in what it promises will be an annual study on the state of the news media in the United States.

The study identifies eight trends:

  1. A growing number of news outlets are chasing relatively static or even shrinking audiences for news.
  2. Much of the new investment in journalism today – much of the information revolution generally – is in disseminating the news, not in collecting it.
  3. In many parts of the news media, we are increasingly getting the raw elements of news as the end product.
  4. Journalistic standards now vary even inside a single news organization.
  5. Without investing in building new audiences, the long-term outlook for many traditional news outlets seems problematic.
  6. Convergence seems more inevitable and potentially less threatening to journalists than it may have seemed a few years ago.
  7. The biggest question may not be technological but economic.
  8. Those who would manipulate the press and public appear to be gaining leverage over the journalists who cover them.

“Journalism faces more difficult economic circumstances than it once did. Yet the way the news industry responded has helped erode public trust. How long can the profession of journalism endure if people increasingly don’t believe it? To reverse the slide in audience and trust will probably take a major change in press behavior, one that will make the news more relevant and customizable and at the same time suggest to the public, as it did briefly after September 11, that the news industry is more concerned with the public good than Americans suspect.”

Footnote:

Link courtesy of Hans Kullin, who has some interesting analysis from a PR perspective.

Written by Tom Murphy

May 24, 2004 at 12:02 pm

Posted in General

PR blog round-up…

 Robb Hecht points to a story in the Business Review which looks at PR’s growing role in the marketing mix. It leans heavily on the infamous Al Ries book

This rise of public relations, which has been acknowledged by formerly advertising-driven corporations such as Unilever and Gillette, is creating consternation among those who have enjoyed multimillion-dollar budgets to create award-winning advertising that have little impact on market share.”

 Robb also links to a profile (free registration required) in the Washington Post on UK PR sleaze king Max Clifford.

Clifford cheerfully concedes he makes a good living in part by helping trash the reputations of the rich and famous. “Over here we probably have the most savage media in the world,” he says of the tabloids he works with. “They are destroying far more than they are aiding, helping, supporting.” Still, he insists, he himself is not to blame: “It’s what people want. It’s the British public. It’s what people want to read about.”

 Kevin Dugan has more on his interview with Al Ries this time looking at Procter & Gamble.

“That’s why many successful new brands start slowly using primarily PR techniques. Starbucks, Gatorade, Google, Red Bull, to name a few. Entrepreneurs who have the patience to hang in there while the market develops introduced these brands and many others…. Red Bull, for example, took four years to reach $10 million in annual sales and another five years to reach $100 million. Any big company that took a look at Red Bull in its early days would have said, “There’s no market there. We can’t afford a big ad budget to launch an energy drink brand.”

 Dana VanDen Heuvel points to a story on ePrarie that looks at media management.

Media relationships are founded on a news reporter�s ethical requirement to report factual and unbiased stories. There are also columnists � who are generally very experienced and/or opinionated � as well as feature writers. Expect different approaches from the three, but at the core, expect professionals who fundamentally report the truth they learned when they investigated it.”

 Jim Horton is enjoying his life as a second class citizen (me too!).

“Frankly, I have enjoyed my career as a second-class citizen. It provides me an opportunity to tweak those who are too serious about their jobs. What I do as a PR person is often important. I know that, and those of us who work in PR know that. That’s good enough.”

 Colin McKay links to PR Week’s interview with Gawker’s Nick Denton.

“Blogs provide a filter between PR professionals and journalists. Reporters have been increasingly overwhelmed by pitches. They don’t open their emails or answer the phone a lot of the time. Some of the more savvy journalists are looking at the web as a filter. Smart PR professionals need to start looking at indirect ways to reach reporters and subtle pitches to weblogs or the creation of weblogs for a specific campaign. That’s a good way for PR professionals to get an idea out there in the hopes that it will get to influential reporters.”

 MarketingVox are doing the needful and providing a full service blog on the AD:Tech conference in San Francisco.

 Daniel Keeney of Keeney PR has written a piece on the dangers of NGO’s and others using of “templated” opinion pieces.

Written by Tom Murphy

May 24, 2004 at 11:41 am

Posted in General

Internal weblog case study..

Further to Billg’s wisdom on internal blogs, Infoworld’s Chad Dickerson gives an interesting insight into how the magazine’s staffers use weblogs to collaborate.

“Our internal use of Weblogs has greatly accelerated, and we�re beginning to see more tangible benefits as we�ve begun to reach a critical mass of internal contributors. At the end of March, my team held an off-site retreat and created a rolling six-month plan for IT initiatives at InfoWorld, which we posted to a Weblog available to all employees. For each month in the plan, we created a checklist of projects we would be working on and noted which ones would be completed in that month.”

Meanwhile Wired has a story on how Macromedia (who were definetely a pioneer of corporate blogging) use blogs internally.

“The blogs would provide a forum for the managers to discuss the new products, show developers how to use some of the new features and answer questions. Most importantly, the community managers would write like bloggers, with that casual, this-great-idea-just-occurred-to-me tone which sometimes makes weblogs so addictive.”

Footnote:

Thanks for Phil Gomes and Mike Manuel for the Infoworld link.

Thanks to John Cass for the Wired link.

 

Written by Tom Murphy

May 24, 2004 at 10:14 am

Posted in General

His master's voice… blogging is OK

Bill Gates is nothing short of a phenomenon.  He has built a company from scratch that has redefined computing through brains, fast thinking, luck and good business practice.  Along the way he has become an Oracle (groan) on what new trends are hot in computing and when he speaks everyone listens.

His comments on weblogs last week at the Microsoft CEO summit, have not surprisingly, garnered a lot of coverage in the blogging community.  In particular Bill focused on the application of blogging in a business environment and centered on the importance of RSS as a sydication technology…

“This (blogging) is a very interesting thing, because whenever you want to send e-mail you always have to sit there and think who do I copy on this. There might be people who might be interested in it or might feel like if it gets forwarded to them they’ll wonder why I didn’t put their name on it. But, then again, I don’t want to interrupt them or make them think this is some deeply profound thing that I’m saying, but they might want to know. And so, you have a tough time deciding how broadly to send it out.

Then again, if you just put information on a Web site, then people don’t know to come visit that Web site, and it’s very painful to keep visiting somebody’s Web site and it never changes. It’s very typical that a lot of the Web sites you go to that are personal in nature just eventually go completely stale and you waste time looking at it.

And so, what blogging and these notifications are about is that you make it very easy to write something that you can think of, like an e-mail, but it goes up onto a Web site. And then people who care about that get a little notification. And so, for example, if you care about dozens of people whenever they write about a certain topic, you can have that notification come into your Inbox and it will be in a different folder and so only when you’re interested in browsing about that topic do you go in and follow those, and it doesn’t interfere with your normal Inbox.”

It’s a nice summary of how blogs can be used as a communication device.  But there’s nothing new here, I think you’ll agree. What is new is that Gates is promoting this concept to some very senior leaders of corporate America.

Is Microsoft about to embark on a “Netscape style” assault on the blogland? I don’t think so. Microsoft’s interest in blogging (IMHO) is more in the business environment where blogs can be used as a business tool in terms of collaboration, information sharing etc.  This is the area where NONE of the leading incumbent providers of blog software have tried to compete. (I know there are some niche providers!).

I think Microsoft will ship some interesting options (built around SharePoint) for corporations interested in using blogs and some staff in those organizations may even use that software for external corporate blogs. But that’s about it.

Other than endorsing weblogs and blogs to a wider audience, I’m not sure Billg’s speech has any other major aftershock. It’s not an announcement of impending war against the existing blog software providers and it’ll be hard for Microsoft to beat Blogger on price and of course weblogging isn’t necessarily tied to a specific operating system.

But then again, I could be wrong…..

Footnote:

Bill’s speech focused on RSS as the syndication technology of choice rathen than confusing matters with Atom.  This is a good thing, the sooner everyone agrees on one standard the better.

Written by Tom Murphy

May 24, 2004 at 9:46 am

Posted in General

Pitching marketing blogs…

MarketingSherpa has an article (link valid until May 28, 2004) on how to pitch a number of marketing blogs.  They have interviews with:

 The bottom line, most will accept pitches if they’re relevant and not spam. Just like PR Opinions…. in the unlikely case you wanted to know..

Written by Tom Murphy

May 21, 2004 at 4:13 pm

Posted in General

Loose lips, sink ships… and cost hundreds of millions of dollars

If you’ve ever been through an Initial Public Offering (IPO) with your client or employer, you’ll be very aware that the run-up to the offering is subject to strict regulations. 

These regulations are aimed at preventing any company from hyping their stock prior to the flotation. It is called the “Quiet Period” and most public companies have a similar quiet period between the end of their financial quarter and the announcement of their quarterly earnings.

This is public company PR 101. It’s not a big secret.

The rule for PR people in this period is that the company shouldn’t release any “material” information or indulge in marketing activities that could be miscontrued as hyping the company. In effect, normal business practice is fine, but no big splashes.

These requirements (along with other legal regulations) sometimes can feel highly restrictive, but they are well established and they are there for a reason.

So to make sure you’ve all been paying attention here’s a little test.

Question:

In your professional opinion, when a company is in its “quiet period” prior to its IPO, would a prominent, favorable profile in the New York Times (free subscription required) constitute:

  1. A fantastic piece of PR?
  2. An ill-judged activity that breaks the quiet period?

If you chose answer “1” go to the back of the class and start reading this post over again. If you answered “2” come to the top of the class.

Salesforce.com is a phenomenal success story. 

In a difficult economic environment they have created a profitable business, a large number of customers (including Cape Clear Software), successfully pioneered a new way of providing applications as an online service and created a prominent corporate profile.

Before the company announced their IPO they did a fantastic job of extending their company into the business pages and with the exception of Google became the darling of the technology upstarts.

A lot of their success is built around CEO Marc Benioff, who is likeable, quotable and irreverant. The media love him.

But what were they thinking lining up a New York Times piece in the quiet period? How could a company so au fait with effective PR make such a faux pas?

I don’t know.

The episode has forced the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to request that Salesforce postpone their IPO (that would have valued the company in excess of  $868 million ) for contravention of the quiet period.

Reading the New York Times profile you get the feeling that Benioff is difficult to manage from a PR perspective, but that isn’t an excuse.  The SEC don’t provide these guidelines for the fun of it and they aren’t some well kept secret.

I’m sure Salesforce will have a successful future IPO, but this is one of the PR stunts they may wish to forget.

“Most companies are extra cautious during the quiet period,” said David Menlow, the president of the IPO Financial Network.

Mr. Benioff, by contrast, recently permitted a reporter to spend a day following him around, a visit that included hours of one-on-one time, much to the chagrin of the high-priced lawyers the company has hired to help him negotiate the tricky byways of going public.

“There’s quiet, and then there’s Marc’s version of quiet,” said John Dillon, Salesforce’s chief executive from mid-1999 through late 2001. “He loves the media attention and courts it like no one else in Silicon Valley.”

In part, Mr. Benioff said, he has no choice. He sells the kind of product that only a sales executive could love: a simple, efficient way of tracking a company’s customers and prospective clients.

Footnote:

Jeremy Pepper also covers the Salesforce.com saga

More from Silicon Valley News, San Francisco Chronicle, Information Week and DestinationCRM.

 

Written by Tom Murphy

May 21, 2004 at 9:07 am

Posted in General

Ries on the Origin of Brands

Serial author Al Ries has a new book out “The Origin of Brands” which is the follow up to “The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR”.

Kevin Dugan has an interesting interview with Ries about his new book and of course PR’s role in the building of a brand.

“PR people have to learn to do two things: (1) Think more strategically and (2) Vigorously stress the need for the PR function to run the launch of all new brands… Sometimes, PR people do not try to take charge of the launch of new brands because they don’t want to take the responsibility if the brand happens to fail.”

Footnote

More PR Opinions posts on “The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR”:

It’s Fall, let’s examine an old chestnut (October 21, 2003)

Original post on the book (October, 30 2002)

Written by Tom Murphy

May 21, 2004 at 8:09 am

Posted in General

The changing work environment….

You�re probably reading this post sitting at your desk.  You probably spend an disproportionate amount of your waking hours sitting right there. 

 

I�m always interested in how other people work.  I’m always trying to find techniques and procedures that will increase my efficiency and of course trawling the web in the vain hope of finding software that might give me a couple of extra minutes each day.

 

I�m also very interested in new models for structuring an organization. After all, most of us work in a traditional structure that hasn�t changed in fifty years.

 

This week I came across two interesting examples of different work environments.  Both of them question how we think about the structure of organizations and as a result the treatment of employees.

 

First up, CIO Insight magazine has an interview with Ricardo Semler, CEO of Semco, whose unique approach to organizational management is well publicized and covered in his books.  Ricardo believes in a radically different work environment where amongst other things employees decide their own hours, suggest their own salaries and the organization seems to be held together through a combination of professional pride, peer pressure and innovative hiring policies.

 

“Nor did he stop with flextime. He did away with dedicated receptionists, org charts, even the central office�it now resembles an airlines’ VIP lounge, with people working in different areas each day. He encouraged employees to suggest what they should be paid, to evaluate their bosses, to learn each other’s jobs, and to tolerate dissent�even when divisive. He set up a profit-sharing system and insisted that the company’s financials be published internally, so that everyone could see how the company was doing.”

 

I found the second example in the recently published book: Bang!: Getting your message heard in a noisy world.  It’s written by Advertising Agency executives Linda Kaplan Thaler, Robin Koval and Delia Marshall.  While it does primarily center around advertising, there are some interesting angles for any marketer.

 

In the book, they cover the issue of how you can build a workplace that promotes creative thinking.  One of their suggestions particularly resonated with me.  The issue of how you manage career advancement in a marketing agency.

 

I’ve covered this issue before in relation to the fact that the traditional PR agency promotion model doesn’t help staff to specialize in the areas where they can add the most value. 

 

Instead everyone looks to get away from office administration, then they try and get away from media relations and then they hope to start managing staff, budgets and clients.  The result is that the media relations is often left to the newbies which annoys journalists and doesn’t guarantee the best results for the client.

 

The authors’ answer to this problem is to can promotions.  Instead of creating a deep, traditional structure (think Account Administrator, Account Executive, Account Manager, Account Director etc.) they have nominal practice areas (in PR terms think “Media Relations”, “Client Management” etc.) and they incentivize the people to focus on the areas they are best suited to.  So people good with the media become well paid media specialists while people with skills in client management focus on that area.  In one step you can remove the issue of good media relations staff wasting time managing people and budgets when it’s not their strength.  Instead leave that task to people who are good at it.

 

The result is a flatter organization with skilled operatives doing what they’re best at.

 

That’s an interesting alternative to traditional thinking of PR agency structure…

 

Written by Tom Murphy

May 20, 2004 at 4:30 pm

Posted in General

Corporate Blogging Guidelines…

Blog Relations concerns using blogs to communicate with an audience.  There’s two elements to that lofty objective.  Firstly how you can reach out to bloggers who are of interest to your audience and secondly how your organization can communicate using your own blogs.

Corporate blogging, has to date, been primarily taking place in the technology industry, however the growing number of weblogs means that other industries will undoubtedly follow suit.  It’s common sense for the employer and the employee to have some agreed guidelines to ensure that everyone is clear on what’s acceptable, in the same way that companies have formal e-mail and web usage policies.

(Aside: I am always surprised at the number of organizations who don’t have formal e-mail and web usage policies, if you don’t already have one you should consider it.)

The objective of these blog guidelines isn’t to stifle creativity or create a Big Brother environment, but rather to help staff and employers make use of blogging without any negative repercussions.

With Microsoft now boasting over 400 staff bloggers, it’s no surprise to hear that Sun Microsystems is planning to enter the world of corporate blogging. Tim Bray at Sun has published some common sense guidelines for Sun employees interested in kicking off a blog.

There are also a host of other guidelines and essays on the Web regarding Corporate blogging and if your colleagues are beginning to blog, it’s useful to try and agree some groundrules.

Here are some examples:

Here’s some additional reading:

Footnote:

Thanks to Constantin Basturea for the link to Tim Bray’s guidelines.

Written by Tom Murphy

May 18, 2004 at 8:47 am

Posted in General

PR blog round-up

 Richard Bailey points to a recent article in PR Week (UK) on the state of PR Education and it’s relevance to the profession.

“There may be plenty of PR stalwarts who privately snigger at the idea of their craft being an academic pursuit, but consultancies and in-house PR teams are increasingly becoming dominated by graduates – of both PR and other courses.”

 Colin McKay (who clearly has too much time on his hands 🙂 has conducted a very funny interview with Dan Aykroyd on the growth of blogging!

Q: Corporate communicators are increasingly interested in how blogging can help them reach out to their stakeholder groups. Still, they have problems securing buy-in from senior management, and hold nagging concerns about shifting from a comfortable communication system based in hierarchy and control to an evolving system that depends upon transparency and responsiveness by all participants. Do you think these �growing pains� will continue?

A: You know, it just occurred to me, we haven’t had a completely successful test of this equipment. No sense worrying about it now.

 Jim Horton points out the continuing mis-match between PR professionals in different areas of practice.

“PR has gone back to the future. It started with payola at the beginning of the 20th century when publicity agencies paid newspapers to run columns on the wonders of the telephone. Payola was a part of the media through the scandals of the Nixon era when newspapers and other media started an overdue cleanup.”

 Steve Rubel has an interview with Esther Schindler, author of the fantastic “Care and Feeding of the Press“.

“The consensus is that blogging is not journalism; it’s something different. Lots of bloggers write about the world as they see it — which can sometimes be more accurate than a jaded journalist, but just as easily can be a naive view from a “reporter” who has his own agenda, a lack of context, or incorrect assumptions. Not to mention fact checking and bad grammar.”

 Mark Borkowski has posted a story  regarding the “new world of journalism”.

“I hope the companies which want to buy pure PR will see through the charlatans and global corporate suits for what they are: lackeys of the likes of WPP and Omnicom, networked and trussed to generate profits for their master. “

 

Written by Tom Murphy

May 17, 2004 at 1:48 pm

Posted in General