Archive | October, 2008

Rally Time!

31 Oct

Last night, my wife and I went to a rally for Al Franken’s senate campaign…the draw: Bill Clinton was coming to town.  It was my second rally of the year; the first was last week I took my son to see Hillary Rodham Clinton when she came to town to goose the Franken campaign.  

I come to these things as a sort of tourist. I just can’t bring myself to get truly revved-up-fist-pumping-slogan-shouting over — as  President Clinton artfully called it — “some whoop-de-do political speech.”  Anyway, I know who I’m going to vote for, but heck — last week it was Hillary and this week it was Bill and my wife wanted to see what the fuss was about.  

So we got there at a decent time and carved out a spot in the crowd with a pretty good sightline.  And after two rallies this year, some observations: 


  1. If you go to one of these things, expect to stand.  A lot. Since it was the former president and we were lined up in front of the auditorium at the Minneapolis Convention Center, a few of us had the thought that we might get to sit in the auditorium. But you don’t want 5000 volunteers, partisans, celebrity hounds and curious folks who just want their kid to get a glimpse of the former president to be photographed lolling about in auditorium seats.  You want them standing, shouting, cheering and waving signs proclaiming that Obama+Franken=Change to stamp out that ticket-splitting idea promulgated by that silly old StarTribune! 

    So we stood. 

  2. These events aren’t exactly run like well-oiled machines.  They start early and end late — timed to finish in time for the 10 pm news (they failed on this one by the way.  WCCO had its reporter talking over Clinton live).  You get your warm-up acts — mayors, representatives, state officers.  Then you get a break. Then you get Walter Mondale, a nice surprise.  Then you get Sen. Klobuchar, and then a recorded Al Gore speech.  Eventually, Franken and Clinton arrive.  We’d been standing for 3 hours at this point.
  3. You can really tell who in the party’s ‘big leagues’ at these rallies. They speak in ways that are not just smooth and practiced, but passionate and controlled.  They’re confident, comfortable in their own skin. They tell stories that flow effortlessly from funny to personal to issues to the big picture.

    My take from afar? Though she’s not running this year, Minnesotans will have the chance to vote for Sen. Amy Klobuchar for a long time.  And Minneapolis’ R.T. Rybak seems to have matured over his years in the mayor’s office … strong speaker, and comfortable working the lines outside, too.

  4. There are a few Democrats who haven’t gotten the message about rising above identity politics.  Rep. Keith Ellison, for example, felt the need to give a shout out to the usual laundry list of Democratic ‘communities.’ Sounds 1980s to me. The Democratic message resonates strongest when it speaks to us as individuals with common issues and aspirations, rather than communities with interests.
  5. Al Franken comes across far better in speeches than he does in debates or ads.  Granted, it’s a good crowd  for him.  But the guy is engaging. He’s clearly smart. And he’s funny, but in ways that get you thinking.  Moreover, he never talks about himself – never says his own name. Never even says “vote for me.”  He talks about his audience, and he talks about issues. 

  6. Watching Clinton, I can’t help but compare him to the Republican vice presidential nominee. Clinton isn’t shy with the y’all’s.  He apologizes for not giving a “whoop-de-do political speech”.  He’s not being folksy.  He is folksy – and frighteningly conversant on issues from the financial crisis to national security. 

At times, Clinton dances on the edge of being condescending or didactic, but largely, it works … you’ve got to respect what he he has to say (and besides, as my mother-in-law says, “he’s a very handsome man). 

    At 700 words, I’ll stop here… a few more thoughts tomorrow on politicians as public speakers. Thanks for reading! 

    ‘Good a time as any’ for startups

    24 Oct

    James Fallows is offering ongoing takes on how venture capital firms are reacting to the financial crisis — a writer always worth following.  He’s previously posted a much-talked-about slide show by Sequoia Capital, essentially advising a batten down the hatches approach to running a startup.  This generated a response from by one of his readers, Alan Patricof, the managing director of the New York VC firm Greycroft Partners, quoted in full at Fallows’ blog, and excerpted below:

    This is surely a time for companies to pay meticulous attention to detail, particularly their cost structure. It is a time to be realistic in their near term assumptions for revenue growth and take nothing for granted.

    Raising additional capital to support operations is of course critical, as it is at any time, but this is particularly a time for young companies to be extra cautious in developing pragmatic assumptions of their needs and in focusing on the amount and not necessarily the cost of that capital.

    This is not a time to panic, cut off all investment in the future, and burrow into a dark hole. Take a page from the packaged goods industry that the time to gain market share is during tough times when your competitors are weaker in responding. And while this may feel more directly related to portfolio companies, we as a venture industry should not retreat either. It is our strong belief that we can and will continue to make sound investments in excellent opportunities. It is as good a time as ever to start a company with sound fundamentals.

    An approach that makes sense. As a communications and marketing consultant, I’ve long enjoyed working with enthusiastic, optimistic entrepreneurs with loads of big-picture ideas who nonetheless took a measured approach.  They invest in defining and positioning their brand, have clear objectives, and focus their communications on advancing strategies toward those objectives.

    More, I think there’s something to this idea of money moving from exotic financial instruments toward ideas that make things — good ol’ fashioned ‘progress’.

    As a leader, where are you going? Who are you taking there?

    20 Oct

    Update:  I thought I’d dust off, update and share a previously unpublished article I wrote on Leadership Positioning … you can download it as a convenient PDF file here. Let me know what you think. Thanks!



    Invest In the Upswing #4

    People buy from leaders. It’s natural. Whether you’re buying for yourself, or for your business, you want to some kind of validation that you’re choice is one that others will approve of, or the trendsetter that puts you out in front.

    It’s pretty common for executives to look around at aggressive goals or sluggish sales (or >gulp< both) and determine that the company needs to be seen as a leader. And then they look at marketing.

    Now, it’s easy to challenge the desire to be seen as a leader with a challenge: What are you doing to act like a leader? It’s often a legitimate challenge: For many companies, having a better product may just be enough; others want to be seen as leaders, but do little actual leading.

    But a more important, and useful, question is this:

    Who do you want to lead? And where do you want to lead them?

    The answer take can take you directly to strategies that position you as the leader you want to be.
    For example, if you’re in technology, do you want to lead your industry toward open standards, or toward greater interoperability?

    Or do you want to lead your customers toward greater success, serving as a ‘community organizer’ among like-minded users, and an advocate for their cause?

    Or do you want to lead your target customer toward more fun, more hipness, more coolness … toward a greater sense of individuality, or belonging?

    And consider … if your customer finds an advocate, innovator and a leader during a down market, where will they turn when they’re ready to invest in the upswing?

    “Recession Proof” SEO Tips

    15 Oct

    Invest in the Upswing #3

    A post at the Top Rank Marketing blog that’s worth a read.  The emphasis here is on tactics for promoting the content you publish online.  Use blogs, media relations, social media participation with search engine optimization to bring your content to people, and people to your content.


    Marketing as Journalism

    15 Oct

    Invest in the Upswing #2

    When I talk to clients about managing communications and marketing planning, I like to have them imagine those old movies about TV networks, where executives sit in their fancy offices adding and erasing programs from the big schedule board. The point:  every day, every week, every month, you need to decide how marketing will facilitate interaction with the market — online, offline, in social media, with bloggers, with professional reporters, at trade shows, on the website. As many have remarked, the newsroom model is a good place to start.  Every day, the news organization must determine its top stories, and how it’s going to tell those stories.

    Albert Maruggi does a nice nine-minute podcast this morning with new media PR guru David Meerman Scott about viewing your marketing department as a newsroom.  It’s worth a listen.  Maruggi says that (transcribed as accurately as I could), “marketing as a mouthpiece for all that is good within a company is being viewed cynically.” Instead, he says, “look at trends in an industry and where your company fits in that trend line …news within a company and how it impacts trends and social communities.”

    Meerman Scott cites the idea some have called “brand journalism,” noting that where the traditional advertising and direct marketing model interrupts its audience, the future is in publishing “information, multimedia…that your audience wants to consume.”

    Organizations looking to invest in the upswing can look to this model as a place to start.  Rather than creating new advertising to build mass awareness, consider find out where the conversations are happening today – Facebook, MySpace, online forums, media websites, blogs – see if there’s a contribution you can make.  Invest in content — video, audio, photos, articles, speeches, news — that engages your market online.

    Marketing in a Downturn: Invest in the Upswing

    14 Oct

    My son just finished ‘book the 13th’ of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events. Figuring I’ll never have time to continue past the few chapters I’ve skimmed, I asked him how it ended … did our fair Baudelaire children get a “happily ever after” ending after all?

    He wouldn’t tell me directly, but he did describe a Lemony Snicket-ish metaphor from the books. He said that the story is like peeling back the layers of an onion. The more you peel, the more you cry.

    Which brings us to the financial crisis.

    Maybe you’ve read about this, but it bears repeating…here’s how I understand what’s happening:

    • Mortgages are defaulting, causing anything mortgage backed to default as well.
    • Banks now doubt each others’ credit, and won’t lend to each other.
    • Banks, in turn, are less likely to lend to businesses – and when they do, it will be at a higher cost.
    • Many businesses will postpone or cancel technology upgrades, equipment purchases, and expansion, freeze hiring and salaries, and reduce headcount.
    • Consumers will face job loss and lower wages.

    Business-to-business concerns will find their customers cutting back orders. Marketers of high value, complex purchases like technology will be faced with longer sales cycles.

    A slideshow by blue-chip venture capital firm Sequoia Capital is getting a lot of attention right now. Their advice tech startup executives: batten down the edges. Cut to the bone. Focus on revenue. Pay reps on their sales. Measure your marketing and only do what works.

    During the tech bust starting in 2001, you saw a lot of this. From my standpoint, marketing and PR agency budgets were slashed or dropped altogether – even by large companies with stable revenue.

    Decent advice. But as you do this, I’d like to suggest alternate point of view: Invest in the upswing.

    What if, instead of across-the-board cuts, you took the downturn as an opportunity to reshape, refine and streamline your communications and marketing for the turnaround? There is no magic message or marketing trick to loosen corporate purse strings. Instead, position yourself to be the one they turn to when they’re ready. You could:

    1) Revisit the message – Is the story you tell today getting you closer to the sale? Is it getting you there fast enough?

    2) Reshape the strategy – Is your marketing built around what influences your prospects? Cut the marketing communications vehicles that are running fumes. Fix those that aren’t working like they should – is it time to incorporate social media into your website so your fans can share what you have to sell? Focus on reaching prospects where they are – through the web, via the media and in their communities both online and off.

    3) Invest in relationships that matter – Every market is a community. Are you engaged? If you “go dark” in PR and marketing, will key consultants, editors, analysts, gurus reporters and influencers remember you when you return? Participate in communities, network with influencers, contribute to discussions through speeches, blogs and articles.

    I’d like to start a conversation here if I can. I’m going to spend the next few weeks writing about marketing during the downturn – what’s going to work, what’s not going to work, what companies are doing well and not so well today. And I’d love to share your stories – post them here or email me at

    Not a Political Blog…but…

    10 Oct

    Any good guide to writing — thus to blogging — will tell you, “write what you know.”  The trouble is that I’ve got presidential politics on the mind…a notion which is in direct conflict with my own unwritten rule that this is to be a PR/communications/marketing/branding/media blog, and not at all a political blog.

    But I have found that an itch to not just write but communicate about a topic results in the inability to write about anything at all.  So…where there’s a will, there will have to be a way.  I’m still not going to take anyone’s side here on the blog, but if you’ll indulge me for a few hundred words, let me state the following:

    • Partisan blogs are frightening. The absolute assurance that some people have of the evil that is one candidate despite any contrary evidence, versus the reasonableness of the other side, despite equally contrary evidence, is to me astounding.  Are people really that sure that they’re right, or is it all for show?
    • Pundits should respect to their viewers. TV news commentators are far too enchanted with the thrill of the campaign to be of any use to those of us following politics in our spare time.  They think we care whether they are bored with the candidates stating the same old positions — as if any more than 10 percent of us has ever seen, heard or read a candidate’s stump speech in its entirety.  They complain that the debates gave us nothing new, as if we the electorate already had a deep understanding of the old stuff.  They judge the candidate’s debate performances on how others will react to it, as if…well…as if they know…

      Show us some respect: Recap the issues.  Judge the actual debate. And as for the performance, just tell us what you think and let the polls handle the rest.

    • Obama versus McCain is a new media versus traditional media battle. It’s fascinating to watch the communications battle play out.  McCain seems to be focused, day to day, on making news.  He delivers stories.  He tried to “break news” in each debate — first with a government spending freeze, then with the home mortgage bailout proposal. Obama is doing the integrated marketing thing.  His campaign’s use of the internet, social media and mobile marketing has been well documented.  But I get the feeling that Obama’s campaign has been frustrating for news junkies looking for that daily jolt of newsie goodness.
    • If you want the truth, find good blogs and read them. The problem for mainstream media covering politics is that, by tradition and a code of ethics, they can’t call a lie a lie.  Bloggers can.  Traditional news organization report facts.  They do so within the construct of easily understood stories that play out in the campaigns’ daily drama.  Bloggers — and op-ed writers to an extent — can pass judgement.  They build around the work of professional journalists.  They check facts. They call out the candidates on oft-repeated statements that mislead, obfuscate and cover up the truth.  They call a liar a liar.

      The challenge, of course, is to find the “good ones”.  To me, the best of them offer an opinion and a link — and let you judge for yourself.  If you find that the articles and videos don’t back up their opinions, drop them.  If you find that they only link to like-minded opinionators, drop them.  If you find that they offer you links to the news along with their own unique perspective, keep reading…you’ll learn something.

    Finally, here are a few of my favorite RSS feeds of late…Anything you think I should add?

    Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish — more links and opining than can be consumed in a day…conservative, not Republican.
    James Fallows — smart, reasoned guy on a wide range of subjects.
    Clive Crook — another guy from The Atlantic.  So sue me…  Seems reasoned and conservative.
    Real Clear Politics (via TIME) — polls, polls … and surveys.
    Eric Black Ink (at MinnPost) — Minnesota reporter, blogger and journalist.
    The Same Rowdy Crowd — Communications professionals arguing about the practice of communications in politics.
    Slate — direct link to their political coverage…their writers strive for the angle not yet taken.
    Salon — Just started getting back into this magazine again … decidedly to the left, last I checked.

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