Archive | January, 2009

The Magic of Media, Message and Moment

30 Jan

As much as we try to increase the precision by which we predict and measure it, there’s an art to marketing.  Strategic planning is like a sculptor examining a block of stone.  You decide what lies within, and the tools you’ll need to reveal it to the world. 

I was thinking about this with a story I’ve been writing for a couple years…the premise begins like this:  It’s your first day of school.  New town.  No friends. And secrets that you left back home…like the power inside you that killed two classmates and left your best friend paralyzed for life.  Your dad got you out of that one, you don’t know how, and then cut all ties with moved you away clinical efficiency.  So here you are, first day of school, afraid, but full of hope, too, that here in this new place, maybe you can be somebody new. And then you feel this guy behind you, his cold hand on your neck, his hot breath on your ear. And he whispers, “I know who you are.” He’s gone, and you still have to walk through that door.

I started this story as a novel, and then turned it into a comic book. Now I’m thinking about it as a novel again. Why? Because there’s nothing that an artist can draw that can recreate this sense of dread and anticipation like your imagination.  I heard Neil Gaiman talking about this on the radio the other day. He said that for him, the story comes first, then he decides whether that story is a novel, graphic novel or movie script.  

The communications and marketing story?  Marketing — sales, leads, traffic, awareness, advocacy, membership — comes from that magical combination of message, media and moment. 

Message-focused strategic planning starts by asking, “What’s your story?” and then “Who should know it?,” “Where are they,” and “What should they do?” 

The answers drive your media choices. Should they react instantly? Is it something they’ll want to share?  The message may well be blog and Twitter-ready. Or, is it a “junkie” audience that loves insanely in-depth takes on a narrow topics?  Think about blogs and websites, or gathering a like-minded community. Is it instructive? Are they eager to learn?  Try graphics and video or more immersive online environments. Does the audience see the Internet as “technology”?  Try traditional media, and make sure the message gets online anyway.  

There’s no replacement for having a sense of the moment … knowing — or intuiting — the mood of your market and how they’ll react to your story.  I was listening to a discussion with Gwen Ifill on NPR today, talking about Obama as the perfect example of this.  He’s a remarkable person in his own right, but he’s president today because his story spoke to this social and historical moment, and his media strategy supported that.  

You can – and should – research and survey and analyze and debate and collaborate to create the perfect message and the perfect strategy.  And then turn what you learn into your own work of art — where is my story?  How will a carve away the clutter and reveal it to the world,  so that it can move people?

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B2B and Social Media: It’s a Matter of Time

23 Jan

Social Media marketer (and Twitter rockstar) Chris Brogan posted a query on Twitter and an opinion on his own website on the differences between how social media is used in B2B and B2C marketing.  It’s a question I’ve thought about a great deal, after many client conversations with smart B2B marketers who are very interested in social media, but simply don’t see it as a priority. And they’re not totally wrong — in the short term, for many of them, their cusotmers just aren’t there yet.  But in the long term, they will be.  

Brogan writes:

“Think of this principle: “Be there before the sale.” Sales cycles for B2B products are often very long. When I spoke at IBM Research’s headquarters in NY, I heard about a supercomputer of theirs that has a 3 year sales lead cycle. How much marketing can one do in 3 years to move that box? Instead, how HUMAN can you be for 3 years, while going through the process. I think that’s where B2B gets a big boost from exploring these social tools.” 

And I agree.  As I noted in a comment on Brogan’s post, the B2B company’s role is not to control the conversation ‘out there’ but listen, participate in human ways, as you put it, and, at the right times, engage in ways that invite participation in efforts to help the industry that happens to be your market.

But I note that it’s important to respect the B2B marketer’s point of view.  And from their point of view, this can be a soft argument.   Again, as posted on Chris’ blog:  

When the typical channel-focused B2B marketer looks at his marketing investment, he looks first to direct-to-channel communications via literature and other sales tools, and next to PR — which, at least, gets you on the web — and advertising — of far more limited value, and their own website. Being seen online as human would be something to get to when there is time… and there isn’t time.

The challenge for organizations is that the marketing communications teams feel like they have no time to get what they see as “the basics” done, let alone do “technology stuff” in social media. What they need to do is step back and reassess how their organizations view the basics of communications. That reassessment has to happen across marketing, sales, product management and at the executive level.

The question they need to ask themselves is whether they want to be there as social media begins to grow in importance as part of the B2B sales process, or spend massive amounts of human capital catching up once it gets there.

Next Generation Media Training

21 Jan

There is something that sounds inherently ‘old media’ about the idea of media training.  My impression from clients is that media training initially conjures up images of how to look good on TV and avoid withering under Mike Wallace’s steely glare (hint:  Wallace has mostly retired.  The bigger danger is being seduced by Anderson Cooper’s baby blues).

I recently had the opportunity to update my media training session.  Some observations on translating this ‘traditional media’ exercise into today’s media environment:

  • All media are “online media”.   This is especially true of daily newspapers, which, for the most part, are already online media.  What this means is that you can expect the story to appear much faster, and that story may be accompanied — and enhanced — through rich multimedia.  The same is true for local TV news.
     
  • The core distinction among media is “professional journalists” and the individuality of everyone else.  The distinction most relevant to a spokesperson is whether they’re being interviewed by a professional news person — be they reporter, editor, blogger, video host or all of the above — or a dedicated amateur with utterly unique interests, audiences, standards and styles. 
     
  • Spokespeople should expect more use of ‘raw’ interviews.  Where before, media training emphasized “headlining” and “flagging” key messages to encourage use of their soundbites, spokespeople must now consider that a more raw, unedited version of their interview will likely find its way online, where they will benefit from a more conversational, “human” style.
     
  • More than ever, media training is message training.  You can only do so many mock interviews to prepare for so many kinds of interviews, and most spokespeople aren’t so sophisticated actors to control their facial expressions optimally for online video interviews. The best media training has always been built around helping a spokesperson master their messages.  From message mastery, they learn techniques to avoid traps and ensure that those messages are heard.
     
  • The best spokespeople in new media will translate their message into conversations.  In other words, spokespeople must go beyond Kissinger’s arrogant “who has questions for my answers” and be ready to engage an audience whose questions will run the gamut from ignorant to insightful to insulting.  They need to be ready to fire off answers in online chats, write for forums and Facebook, answer questions by video, and be ready to have audio from phone interviews uploaded to blogs.  

That said, the need to be able to stare down a press conference or TVV news magazine star isn’t going away anytime soon. More than this, organizations need to identify spokespeople who can handle the need to be engaging, open, conversational and involved — and prepare them.

Readings About Newspapers

16 Jan

Some interesting things I read about  newspaper business lately. 

James Surowiecki writes in the New Yorker  that

The peculiar fact about the current crisis is that even as big papers have become less profitable they’ve arguably become more popular. The blogosphere, much of which piggybacks on traditional journalism’s content, has magnified the reach of newspapers, and although papers now face far more scrutiny, this is a kind of backhanded compliment to their continued relevance. 

Usually, he says, when an industry runs into trouble, “it’s because people are abandoning its products.” 

But people don’t use the Times less than they did a decade ago. They use it more. The difference is that today they don’t have to pay for it. The real problem for newspapers, in other words, isn’t the Internet; it’s us. We want access to everything, we want it now, and we want it for free. That’s a consumer’s dream, but eventually it’s going to collide with reality: if newspapers’ profits vanish, so will their product.

David Brauer of MinnPost covers the media and has been must-read for tracking local media layoffs.  Recently, he reported about the concessions being asked by the StarTribune’s owners of its blue collar union.

I’ve written a bunch about the newsroom cuts, but it seems pretty clear the Strib sees bigger savings whacking anyone whose job is tied solely to the physical paper. The Teamsters are being asked to take more sizable reductions, and have resisted more fiercely; for example, they rejected summertime concessions the newsroom accepted.

Here’s a valuable Q&A on the StarTribune’s bankruptcy filling.

Finally (for now), The Atlantic’s Michael Hirschorn weighs in on a potential bankruptcy filing for the New York Times, possibly this spring.  He cites the move toward lifestyle fluff that started in the 1970s as a prime contributor to the erosion of a great journalism brand.

Under the guise of “service,” The Times has been on a steady march toward temporarily profitable lifestyle fluff. Escapes! Styles! T magazine(s)! For a time, this fluff helped underwrite the foreign bureaus, enterprise reporting, and endless five-part Pulitzer Prize aspirants. But it has gradually hollowed out journalism’s brand, by making the newspaper feel disposable. The fluff is more fun to read than the loss-leading reports about starvation in Sudan, but it isn’t the sort of thing you miss when it’s gone. Not many people would get misty-eyed over the closure of, say, “Thursday Styles,” fascinating as its weekly shopping deconstructions often are.

And in case you have any loose change around, Hirschorn predicts that the New York Times might, theoretically, be available for as little as $1 billion.

Re-thinking the News, Part 3

7 Jan

Adam Singer left an excellent response on my previous post.  He wrote, in part:

“I wouldn’t necessarily call it random. Take FriendFeed, for instance. If you follow smart people, you’ll get smart links. Follow people who are into LOLcats and you’ll get a bunch of randomness that may or may not add value.

“Not saying there is anything wrong with LOLcats, but you see what I’m saying. You can piece together your own editorial team made up of everyone from scientists to marketing people to botanists. In essence, as professionals we are defining the information we find valuable. That’s the future.”

Which all sounds very cool. But (if I’m warping the Meatball Sundae metaphor correctly) isn’t this “editorial team”, however carefully chosen, serving up the whip topping on the much more expensive and time-consuming work of professional reporters writing stories, and the editors and organizations who confer credibility on what these reporters report?

Here’s the thing:  We need high-quality professional news organizations. We need journalists. We need the news organizations that, till recently, resided most resolutely at daily newspapers.  

The problem is that they believe we need them.

The daily newspaper is a public service masquerading as a business masquerading as a public service. As a service, daily news reporters take it as their duty to define and report and agenda set and comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable and maybe educate, inform and entertain while they’re doing so. As a business, the news is an enticement that fills the spaces between the ads.  As a service, daily newspapers provide a vital service to democracy, challenging government excess and empowering the public with knowledge.  As a business, the newspaper delivers potential customers with folks who have something to sell. 

Back in journalism school, we talked about the business and journalism sides of a news organization as like church and state — separated by something as powerful as the Constitution, no less. But when the proliferation of media challenges whether the daily newspaper is necessary in its current form, it brings the business side back into the news room. 

And when business looks closely today, you see that the service of journalism in a daily newspaper is completely separate from what it sells. For newspapers, this is no longer a viable business model.  For anyone else, it’s questionable.  

I’m far more interested in saving news organizations and jouralism than I am newspapers. The question is, how can you maintain — fund — vital, vibrant local news organizations?  I don’t know the answer — plenty of smart folks have spent far more time on this issue … But, if I were trying to market a newspaper today, I’d start rethinking the newspaper like this: 

First, I’d embrace the idea of “The News Paper.” Call it “rebranding” if you must.  Pitch the paper as representing the unique point of view of a smart, dedicated, team of professional journalists focused on delivering “The News” in our community.  It’s not about expressing opinions — it’s about expressing a point of view.  The News Paper offers a unique perspective on what’s important today for our community — whether that’s local or around the world — and the people, trends and institutions who shape that community — for good or ill.  Stop pretending to be objective, stop acting like reading the newspaper is the right thing for responsible citizens to do, and stop apologizing for printing it on paper by chasing every new technology for reading the news.  Embrace the idea that you, as a team of journalists, are in the business of creating a news product that people want.

Then, raise prices. If it’s worth producing, people can pay for it. Think about increasing prices for corporate subscriptions as well, or making deals for businesses in to pay increased but reasonable prices to share the newspaper in public places. Yeah, you’d lose some readers, but you’re running a business here. If businesses don’t see you as a customer deliver vehicle, they are not advertising. If they aren’t advertising and they’re not buying the product you’re producing, where does that leave you? Exactly where you are today…

Open up the news process in a big way.  Online, share transcripts and post audio of interviews. Let readers in on the decision-making process of what becomes the news — not just by writing articles about it, but by, say, streaming the editorial meeting in video, or running a daily morning chat with interested readers.  

Bring in more voices.  Take advantage of infinite space online to offer a forum to a wide range of community voices — not just the unmoderated rabble of news article forums but articles and blogs and vlogs chosen by the smart folks who run the paper. 

Rethink format and frequency. What would readers choose if the the newspaper embraced high-speed on-demand digital printing? Could we print the paper we want at a local kiosk?  Would some StarTribune readers, for example, cut out Variety and International news, because they get their entertainment and international news elsewhere? Or would they appreciate the local editors’ choices as part of their chosen editorial team?  

I wouldn’t offer “just the news we want” … I’d offer the the chance to read our great product on a variety of topics.

And, maybe just start over.  What if, as a local newspaper business executive, you seeded a brand new news organization.  One that could restart the business of covering the community from the ground up. Give them a year to create their own business model, one that embraced the web and its economies as well as journalism and its professional traditions. What would they create? Could they sell it?

The result, I think, would be more investigative journalism, an organization more engaged with its community … and, as a result, one that is more valuable to its community.

Your turn!

Next up:  A few links to what I’ve been reading on the subject of late…

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