. The Transom .

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Living in a future focused economy

It used to be that you would wake up, stumble out the front door to get the paper and read about what happened yesterday. You would go to work and talk about yesterday's events around the water cooler. If a story broke after deadline, it wouldn't make it out until the following day.

Today you wake up, stumble out the front door to get the paper and read about what's going to happen today. You go to work and talk about tomorrow's events. If a story breaks late in the day, you're notified on your RSS feed immediately.

We live in a future focused economy.

Because print media can no longer compete with broadcast and online coverage of current events, they must resort to predicting the future. (sidebar: interestingly, the term 'current events' has changed dramatically over the last ten years. In 1995, it could have meant within a week. Today, it means in the last eight hours.) Newspapers use headlines like, "Fed Expected to Raise Rates" or "Bush to Announce Reduction of Energy Plan in State of the Union Address." They aren't reporting what happened. They're reporting what will happen. If only I could take them to the track...

The tradeoff is what it has always been: quality and depth. The quality and depth of the written word is superior to auditory communications. They may not tell you about what happened yesterday, since you already know, but papers can tell you in great detail about why something is supposed to happen.

The reason for all of this (other than the speed of the Internet) is the proliferation of 'news.' As the news business got more and more competitive, news media had to find a new way to differentiate themselves from the competition. And thus, future focused economies were born. The 27/7 cable outlets are content to let the print media own the future driven position since they have to constantly stay on top of breaking stories, often changing the story as the facts unfold.

To be sure, there is room for both old and new methods. However, I'm waiting for the day I see the headline, "Cardinals to Win World Series Next Week: Yankees Stunned."

Find the commonalities in your brand relationships

Look around your house or your office and make a list of the brand names you find. Some of mine would be: Nissan, Hewlett-Packard, Polo, Nike, Kraft, Crest, Excedrin, Titleist, Ketel One, GE, Sony, etc.

What do these brands say about me? What can you tell me about me, based on these brands? To answer that question, you have to ask 'what are the commonalities in your brand relationships?' Do you look around and see Mercedes, Brooks Brothers and Rolex? Maybe you see Casio, Old Navy and Kia. However, the same person who has BMW might also have Colgate, Fruit of the Loom, and Wal-Mart.

In finding the commonalities, you often have to look beyond the brand and go to what the brand represents. For example, if I have Nike and Snickers, it could mean I want to appear active and fit, but really love comfort and taste. Another commonality is the absence of brands, or generic brands. Do you have brand names on externally focused items like clothing or cars and generic brands for internally focused items like printer paper or a toothbrush?

Looking at your personal brand relationships is similar to looking at your professional relationships. Do you tend to do business with 'brand name' partners and vendors or do you seek out other companies that perform similarly without the cache of a well-known name?

Most people will immediately see the commonalities in their brand relationships. I personally prefer name brands that I perceive as performing well, and prefer generic brands for products or services that are short term or easily replaceable. I know that most brands exist only on a six inch length of space - the one between my ears. But more interesting is how we associate ourselves with those perceptions as well as associate others based on their perceptions.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Another reason why online makes sense

AT&T just got called out by a former technician who published confidential papers on an online news site, Wired News. Not to go into great lengths about the story, but he basically has documented proof that AT&T was cooperating with the NSA in order to provide private information through 'secret rooms' where all kinds of information about your email messages was being analyzed.

This post isn't about the merits of what AT&T did or even about whether Wired News should have published the sealed documents. This post is about one thought: you better be listening to what people are saying about you online, because your company depends on it.

And not just listening, but being in a position to listen, interpret and respond. Size doesn't matter in this game. Big companies and small companies are equally at risk. A quick example. I heard today at Counselors Academy about a new software product that was reviewed by a USA Today tech editor. The developer of this software was told to prepare his servers for a massive influx of download requests because USA Today goes out to some 2 million readers and the review was five out of five stars. After 24 hours of the paper being published the developer had sold 38 copies. Not exactly the stellar launch he had hoped for.

He decided to try a different approach. He sent the software to two tech bloggers. Just two. After 24 hours of their reviews posting online, he had sold over 3800 copies.

Does this mean that USA Today is meaningless? Absolutely not. Does this mean bloggers are the only way to move product? Absolutely not. It just means, the online world is a powerful force that is at your fingertips and to not be taking advantage of it is like flushing money down the drain.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Lease vs. Buy -- Agency vs. Internal

We work with a client who is in the business of leasing IT equipment. They are, and I'm not playing favorites, easily the best in the industry. I was recently studying their position on lease vs. buy and it occurred to me that the same concept applies to communications and human capital.

A company has the option to either handle their communications with internal staff or hire an external agency (for reasons of simplicity we won't go into the companies that do both). Excluding a few exceptions, I'm in the lease camp on this one. Think about it.

Hiring (leasing) an agency's human capital (strategy and creativity) keeps things fresh. It offers an outsider's perspective with strategic and tactical expertise. You can update your equipment (change team members, scope of work) as you wish or as needed. You gain the power of flexibility (drawing on the resources of the entire agency).

By keeping your communications internal, you run the risk of thought becoming stale, creativity being squashed because of responses like "we've never done that before," and if your people don't work out, it's expensive and time consuming to replace them. In addition, your team is all you have. You can't draw on an entire group of expertise for assistance.

As businesses ebb and flow between being all things to all people and focusing on core competencies one thing remains the same: their need to communicate with their stakeholders. Agencies have been through it and seen it all and are in the best position to successfully accomplish your communications objectives.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Are you as dumb as your kid?

Bolt Media recently released a study citing that 75% of 12- to 34-year-olds couldn't name the four major TV networks: NBC, ABC, CBS and FOX. Before you throw your arms up and say the country will soon be run by moronic, uneducated slackers, I have just one thought - so what?

Step back and look at who was studied - 12- to 34-year-olds. Does anyone actually think they spend their time watching mainstream television? No, they're online on myspace.com or searching the Net for clues on Lost. They don't care what network it's on. And why should they?

Fifty years ago... hell, twenty years ago, 85% of TV viewing people watched the networks because there weren't real alternatives. You got your news from Dan Rather or Peter Jennings and you watched M*A*S*H* or Cheers and that was about it. Today kids have (and by kids I mean anyone under 35) the Web, a zillion highly targeted cable channels, iPods, blogs, etc. I would like to see a similar study of 35- to 55-year-olds to see how many could name four bloggers or even define what a blog is. Maybe we could ask them if they've heard of myspace.com or facebook.com.

My point is simply to take these kinds of studies with a grain of salt. Kids today aren't stupid just because they can't name the networks. They don't watch one or two stations like most 50+ 'ers do. They hit 40 different cable channels, 100 Web sites and post on countless blogs. Let's cut them some slack.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Web and TV viewers. I'm not sold yet...

There was a great story in today's WSJ Technology section titled, "TV + the Web = ?" that went into detail about the future viewing habits of many Americans. Some predict that the Web will take over television completely, while others still believe the couch potato isn't extinct just yet. Although I do see an Internet/TV revolution coming, I'm pretty sure TV is safe for a while longer.

Can you imagine sitting down to your laptop to watch the Super Bowl? Maybe you didn't have time to watch it on Super Bowl Sunday so you downloaded it from iTunes and watched it 48 hours later on your iPod. Sounds pretty crazy doesn't it?

Whenever the discussion about TV and the Web arises, it quickly turns to two topics - advertisers and time shifting (being able to watch the shows not only when you want, but where you want). The advertising subject is easy - they are constantly trying to find ways to take your money to let you watch the shows you want to see. TiVO worked for awhile in getting rid of ads, but even they are buckling under the pressure.

With time shifting it's a different discussion. There is no doubt that I am now able to download my favorite TV show onto my laptop or iPod and watch it whenever I choose. When I'm traveling, the video iPod is definitely a plus. However, how real is the need to be able to watch all TV whenever and wherever you want? Are we as a culture so out of time that we need to actually be able to watch our favorite shows in the bathroom or on a train or at work?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but outside of news shows, isn't TV entertainment? Are we so busy that we have to find ways to squeeze in our entertainment? I think if we are that busy we need to work on our productivity. Call me old-fashioned, but I rather enjoy plunking down on the couch and zoning out every now and then to whatever mindless show is on. I don't necessarily want to schedule my 'downtime.'

I think at the end of the day, it all comes down to one thing: choice. We can choose to be as busy or as free as we want. While I love the idea of TV on the Web and more choices are indeed a great thing, I have to caution against this getting out of control. I'll be interested to look back one year from now and see what new choices are available and what people are realistically able to handle. If you need me, I'll be the one looking for conversation with a human instead of searching iTunes for the last two episodes of Lost.

Are you not entertained??

Thursday, May 11, 2006

An advertising company that got it right

The British pharmacy chain, Boots, found out they had a big problem. Their service was so bad that even their employees wouldn't fill prescriptions with the company. (sidebar - you know your company is in trouble when that happens. Remember how much chatter there was when it was discovered that Britney Spears, on Pepsi's payroll, was demanding a case of Coke in her dressing room before all performances? Ouch.)

Boots was armed with $120 million in marketing spend and approached Naked Communications, an upstart, but strong advertising agency, to create an ad campaign that would convince customers to use Boots' services. And here is the amazing part. Naked said no.

Boots' management suffered from what afflicts 90% of all other large companies: advertising delusion. I define advertising delusion when a company recognizes they have a major operational problem and their decision is to throw millions of advertising dollars at it. Luckily for Boots' sake, Naked was a knowledgeable agency and had the guts to stand their ground.

After some initial research, Naked realized that the problem isn't with the quality of the past ads or with the frequency, reach, etc. The problem was with Boots. Their service stunk. Naked knew that no amount of advertising could make the problem go away. If you put perfume on cow manure, you still have manure.

Naked started with educating Boots' employees about customer service and implemented programs that would encourage them to succeed. They put up in store ads, games for customers and put employees in special t-shirts to help brand recognition. The result: it worked. Prescriptions filled during the next quarter rose 7%, a substantial rise in their business.

Tip of the hat to Naked for being strong enough to do the right thing.

Technorati Tag:

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

What do they know in Germany that we don't?

While driving along the Autobahn last week between Frankfurt and Berlin, I noticed something strange. Or should I say, I didn't notice something along the fast-moving highway. I was commenting to my wife about how scenic the countryside was and feigning knowledge of German architecture when it dawned on me. There were no billboards.

How could this be? How would German's possibly know where to go for the next Big Mac or be reminded to watch the next episode of 24? Who was going to let them know that the next Conoco station was just 24 km down the highway? I was perplexed.

I realized that a higher power had to be at work. I asked our German partner about this phenomenon and he told me the German government knew three things. First, it's dangerous to zip along at 225 km/h and focus on anything other than the road. Billboards would simply cause distractions that would cause accidents. Second, they want to keep their country beautiful. No explanation needed. Finally, German's don't buy into them as valuable marketing tools. They are viewed as an annoyance and 'beneath them.' Consequently, there are numerous jokes at our expense for the abundance of such boards in the United States.

Do Americans really buy into what billboards are selling? Is it a worthy marketing expense? I personally think the first two points justify getting rid of them, but I guess I'm just a softy when it comes to reducing fatalities and improving the beauty of our land.

As a communicator, I'm not ready to completely throw in the towel on billboards, however, one simply cannot argue with the Germans' first two points. They do cause distractions and would you rather read a billboard or look at amber waves of grain?

Monday, May 08, 2006

An update on networks

I just returned from Berlin were I was meeting with our international partners of Public Relations Organisation International (PROI). After this meeting, I have to say that I believe in our network more than ever.

We meet with our entire partner network once a year and with our region twice. We hosted the international meeting in Chicago last year and our German partner, fischer-appelt communications, put us up last week. It is such an honor to work with these firms around the world. To explain the monumental experience and work each is doing would take more than this post.

Here's a big 'thank you' to fischer-appelt and the rest of PROI.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Time to pull back the curtain on partnerships

Let me ask you a question, Mr. or Mrs. Large Multinational. If you were going to do business in China, or Germany or India, would you rather work with the small regional office of a large US-based PR firm, like Fleishman-Hillard, or with the largest, most respected local agency in that country? Believe it or not, regardless of your answer, most of you continue to use the smaller, regional offices of US-based companies.

There are a number of reasons for this. You want to only manage one agency. You trust the quality of the US agency. You don't know enough about the local in-country agencies. Sound familiar? Now please allow me to pull back the curtain and let you in on a little secret of the agency world.

You're not getting the best, but you're paying for it.

Agencies like FH, Golin-Harris and the other big guys bill themselves as 'global' agencies. They have offices everywhere from Paris to Tokyo to Timbuktu. But how good are those offices. How good is FH's office in Berlin? I believe it's about 5 people. Not exactly the powerhouse of communications you had expected for a major effort in Germany.

Now take professional networks like PROI, of which I'm a member, Worldcom and Pinnacle. These are made up of mid-sized agencies around the US and sometimes, as in the case with PROI, around the world. Our partner in Germany, Fischer-Appelt, is the largest agency in Germany, with offices in Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, Hamburg and Dusseldorf. They employ over 140 people. Now that's a powerhouse. Which agency would you rather have working for you?

PROI has only 50 members. We keep it small because we want to know each other and ensure that our quality is the same across the board. I know if I call Adreas at Fischer-Appelt, he will deliver results at the same high level of quality that our clients demand. If I call Yukiko at Asahi Agency in Tokyo I'll get the same thing.

And the best part, my clients still only have to manage one agency - mine. We integrate the process so it's as seamless as working with one large agency. Central point of communication and management, local professionals on the ground delivering results.

In two days I'll be in Berlin for our annual PROI partners meeting. While there, I'll be discussing two new projects with our partner from London and Munich. This approach works if you can answer one question: Do I want to go with a 'name' agency in the US to do my work abroad, or do I want my US agency to manage the process with their local best-in-class partner?

Globalization and flattening the world (yes, a reference to "The World is Flat" by Thomas Friedman) starts with actually being global, not pushing US thoughts on how to do business to your foreign stakeholders. Go local. Manage centrally. Achieve more.

Newspaper Association of America gets it all wrong

In the last month or so, the Newspaper Association of America has been running an ad campaign in an attempt to convince advertisers that newspaper advertising is still the way to go. While I believe that newspapers are not dead and advertising in them still makes sense for certain companies and brands, there is one fatal flaw in the NAA's ad campaign - the tagline.

A tagline is supposed to give your potential buyers a lasting memory of your message; the simplest, last thought to get them to buy into what you're selling. Some examples:

"BMW: The Ultimate Driving Machine"
"Nike. Just Do It"
"Beef. It's What's for Dinner"
"Pork. The Other White Meat"
"Wal-Mart. Always Low Prices. Always."

You get the idea. So what does the NAA use for their lasting tagline?

"Newspaper Advertising. A Destination. Not a Distraction."

Wow. I hadn't consciously thought of advertising as a distraction lately, but thanks for pointing that out. Do my buyers look at my advertising and think it's distracting? Is advertising in the paper the right way to go?
These are not the thoughts you want running through the head of someone trying to decide how to spend their marketing budget. In my opinion, the NAA dropped the ball on this one.

This, of course, leads into the discussion of whether leading with advertising is the right strategy for your business or brand. But that's a deeper topic we'll leave for another day...