The Flack Has Moved

Maybe it was the recent quip from my pal Todd Defren who called me "the last man standing on Blogspot." (Todd, I was also one of the first.)  Still, he got me thinking.  It's time to move on.  

I considered Tumblr, but decided, after nearly nine years on the Blogger platform, to have The Flack reside within the newly re-vamped Flatiron Communications LLC website on WordPress.

The link is here:  

In a week or so, all visitors to this site will be redirected.

Thanks for the support. Hopefully, we'll see you over at Flatiron.


The Flack Has Moved

Maybe it was the recent quip from my pal Todd Defren who called me "the last man standing on Blogspot." (Todd, I was also one of the first.)  Still, he got me thinking.  It's time to move on.  

I considered Tumblr, but decided, after nearly nine years on the Blogger platform, to have The Flack reside within the newly re-vamped Flatiron Communications LLC website on WordPress.

The link is here:  

In a week or so, all visitors to this site will be redirected.

Thanks for the support. Hopefully, we'll see you over at Flatiron.


The PR Quiz 4.0

Last week I had the good fortune to attend a lunch at the buzzworthy ABC Kitchen down the street from my old employer Burson-Marsteller. Our host, AirPR's Rebekah Iliff, raised the issue of the lack of technology literacy in the communications industries before this eclectic gathering of PR execs, the founder of a fashion/tech startup and an editor from Entrepreneur magazine.

I suggested that she consider developing a survey to back up the assertion that a vast majority of communications pros simply lack the tech skills to flourish in the new world order.  I then mentioned the questionnaire I developed and administered to prospective agency hires as one way to assess their fluency in the daily doings of our industry.

It's been several years since the last quiz, i.e., light years in terms of the communications biz, so I thought it was time for a refresh. The answers are now posted here.

The PR Quiz v 4.0

Q1) Rank the following in order of their number of unique visitors per month:

 ___ Buzzfeed
 ___ Huffington Post
 ___ Yahoo! News 

Q2) Which company did Facebook NOT purchase in the last year?________________________ 
  • What's App 
  • Branch 
  • Titan Aerospace 
  • Sportstream 
  • AOL Patch
Q3) Match the following journalists with their PREVIOUS and CURRENT places of work (from the list below):

___previous____Brian Stelter_______current______

______________Tina Brown___________________

______________Vivian Schiller__________________

______________Peter Kafka____________________

______________Peter Lauria___________________

______________Jessica Lessin__________________

______________Bill Keller_____________________

______________Howard Kurtz__________________

______________Ben Smith_____________________

______________Kara Swisher___________________

  • The Wall Street Journal
  • NBC News
  • The New York Times
  • The Daily Beast
  • Marshall Project
  • The Information
  • Reuters
  • CNN
  • Re/code
  • Politico
  • Buzzfeed
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Fox News Channel
  • TBD
Q4) Fill-in the cities where the following media outlets are based:

KGO-TV ______________________


The Guardian _________________


KCBS Radio _________________


_______________Globe & Mail

NY1News _________________

The Wrap _________________

Politico _________________

Mediaite _________________

The Daily Show _______________

Q5) Which countries do the following TV networks call home?

NHK ________________

BBC ________________ 

TF1 _________________

CCTV _______________

RAI __________________

RT __________________

CBC _________________

HBO _________________

Globo ________________

Q6) Rank the following by number of users:








Q7) In which social media channels do "selfies" typically reside (and propagate)? 




Q8) Name three companies that epitomize the "collaborative economy:"




Q9) Name the owner of these Twitter handles:

@sarahcuda ________________

@jack ______________________

@carr2n ___________________





@pmarca ______________________


@peretti _____________________

Q10) Which of the following news organizations (from the list below) are NOT using "native advertising" or "sponsored content?"

_____________________      _____________________        __________________________
  • Atlantic Monthly
  • Mashable
  • Buzzfeed
  • The New York Times
  • Associated Press
  • Forbes
  • NPR
  • Washington Post
  • The Economist
  • TIME Inc.  
Q11) What does this do? <a href= "   " </a>


Q12) What do you know about the following news sites/orgs/apps?

Re/code _______________________________________________________________________

The Information _________________________________________________________________

NowThisNews __________________________________________________________________

Quartz _________________________________________________________________________

First Look Media _________________________________________________________________

Circa ___________________________________________________________________________

Skift ____________________________________________________________________________

PandoDaily ______________________________________________________________________

The Awl _________________________________________________________________________

Facebook Paper ____________________________________________________________________

Medium __________________________________________________________________________

Q13) Is this statement true or false and why?

"News organizations are on a hiring binge of late for reporters/producers."



Q14) Rank the following in terms of viewership:

___ ABC "Good Morning America"

___ NBC "Nightly News"

___ NBC "Today"

___ CBS "This Morning"

___ CNN "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer"

Q15) What are:
  • Appointment TV ____________________________________________________________
  • Time-Shifting _______________________________________________________________
  • Binge Viewing _____________________________________________________
  • The Second Screen _______________________________________________________
  • Chromecast ____________________________________________________________ 
Q16) Rank these social nets in terms of their ability to drive traffic (eyeballs) to online publishers:

  • ___Pinterest
  • ___Reddit
  • ___Facebook
  • ___Twitter
  • ___Google+
  • ___LinkedIn

Q17) True or False? 

"House of Cards" just finished its fifth season and has been renewed for a sixth. _______________

Q18) What do Aereo, HBO Go and Netflix have to do with the future of television? 




The answers are now posted here.

All Press Required To Stay Strictly On Message

Ronan FarrowRonan Farrow, no stranger to controversy, is slated to receive a journalism award named for one of the icons of the profession: "The Cronkite Award for Excellence in Exploration and Journalism." The fact that this 26-year-old already has garnered an award for a relatively slim body of work is questionable enough, but there's one even bigger catch.

The host organization's PR consiglieres have demanded that those seeking press credentials to cover the event physically must sign a document in which they agree to refrain from asking any "off-topic" questions.
 "The theme of the evening is global education and service,” it says. “All press are required to stay strictly on message. Any press who ask guests or Mr. Farrow about off-message topics will be immediately escorted out of the event."
In today's New York Post "Page Six" story, a rep from event's host organization further explained
Walter Cronkite (1985)"We would like you to sign the form or indicate by return e-mail that you understand our goals to stay completely on message given the surrounding circumstances. We will not tolerate press questions about personal or family affairs related to Mr. Farrow in any circumstance at this event. Farrow is not doing interviews and the rules come from his team direct to you."
In the world of celebrity, from which Mr. Farrow was spawned, it is not uncommon for publicists to place interview restrictions on reporters or talk show hosts in exchange for access to their in-demand clients. The heavy-handed approach also extends to politics, as recently noted in reports that Vanity Fair contributor Michael Lewis allegedly allowed the White House to approve its quotes for a piece he penned for the Condé Nast glossy.

I mean this is how PR pros earn their keep, right? I guess. But it always strikes me as short-sighted, if not plain dumb, to place blanket limits on a profession that bristles at the very notion of being manipulated. (Rather, Mr. Farrow might be better advised to personally deflect any uncomfortable questions.) No one knew this more than Mr. Cronkite who'd clearly resent any PR plan to stifle the very profession for which he set a very high standard of practice.

UPDATE: Farrow and event organizers disavow their role in placing restrictions on the press:
"Well, not so fast. A spokesperson for Farrow is denying all of this. In a statement given to Gawker's J.K. Trotter, a rep for Farrow said, "Ronan and his team did not request any restrictions on reporters’ questions.” Trotter further reports that a "source at MSNBC added that the 'tip sheet' was created and distributed, without Farrow’s knowledge, by a 3rd-party public relations firm hired by the ceremony’s organizers." Furthermore, Heather Halstead, executive director of Reach the World, confirmed that statement, telling HuffPost’s Michael Calderone that the nonprofit -- and not Farrow or his staff -- came up with the stipulations for press coverage."

Under Armour’s Fashion Faux Pas

Polo Ralph Lauren for Team USA (Photo: Getty) 
Love it or hate it, Polo Ralph Lauren's Team USA Olympics apparel didn't have to do much to gain fans. Its "Made in America" label alone thrust the company over the finish line for the gold, especially in comparison to the scandal-plagued Made in China suits Team USA wore last Olympics go-round. As Huffington Post reports in its piece "Olympic Team U.S.A's 'Ugly Christmas Sweaters' Sell Out Immediately Online:"
"Despite the mixed reviews, the $595 sweaters and matching $195 pants have already sold out on Ralph Lauren’s website. For those yearning to wrap their bodies in the chunky knit, however, a select few are selling on Ebay for prices as steep as $3,000."
Still, the USOC didn't learn from past mistakes. Its fundraising mittens are still made in China.

Dream Teamer Charles Barkley
Few can argue with the reputational value this (increasing rare) kind of global exposure can offer a fashion designer. I won't forget working with Reebok on its Olympics apparel sponsorship. (Remember Dan n Dave?) I suppose it was Olympics Dream Teamer Charles Barkley who eloquently summed up his refusal to wear the Reebok-made warm-up suits at the time. I paraphrase: "I've got two million reasons not to wear Reebok" (referring, of course, to the lucrative deal he has with his primary sponsor).

The sports apparel companies are eager to prove their medal. This year, Under Armour apeared to have the gold all sewn up through some of the best PR money could buy. It was outfitting the men and women speedskaters in specially-designed suits that had dimples for better aerodynamics. On Christmas eve, the Washington Post quoted one athlete:
"'This is the fastest speedskating suit ever made, and it will be the fastest speedskating suit, period,'” said U.S. Olympic hopeful Patrick Meek of a suit being designed by Baltimore company Under Armour and Lockheed Martin."
U.S. Olympic Speedskater Shani Davis In Under Armour Suit (Photo: Reuters) 
Without warning, the company now finds itself in a most uncomfortable position. The Wall Street Journal and others are reporting that the U.S. athletes' unexpected poor showing (7th place as best U.S. finish) could be due to a design flaw in the new suit. In its piece "Sochi Olympics: Under Armour Suits May Be a Factor in U.S. Speedskating's Struggles," The Journal writes:
"According to three people familiar with the U.S. team, these suits—which were designed by apparel sponsor Under Armour and billed before the Games as a major advantage—have a design flaw that may be slowing the skaters down. These people said that vents on back of the suit, designed to allow heat to escape, are allowing air to enter the suit and create drag that keeps the skaters from staying in the "low" position they need to achieve maximum speed. One skater said team members felt they were fighting the suit to maintain correct form."
Yikes. To its credit, Under Armour quickly made a fix to the alleged flaw, but the damage may already have been done. Frankly, I'm not sure this will have a lasting negative affect on Under Armour's excellent reputation. Like "Dan n Dave" for which Reebok invested heavily in a marketing campaign to trumpet the pair of Olympic decathletes -- until Dan didn't make the team -- this may just end up being one big (and very costly) missed PR opportunity.

From Climate to Climax at The NY Tech Meetup

Will the New York Tech Meetup ever not sell-out its monthly showcase of tech startups? Judging from the full house that braved the frigid February New York weather, the answer is a resounding no. The NYC tech scene is simply too robust to forego the premier startup showcase event here. Also, it doesn't hurt that the New York Tech Meetup, with its 36,500 members, is the largest of the 142,000+ groups in's vast universe.

If there was a single theme that emerged from the event last week, it likely had to do with Olivia Newton John's signature song. App and software-related innovation gave way to the Internet of things -- with an emphasis on things.

Among the hardware on display were Birdi, a crowd-funded "smart air" monitoring device that somehow escaped any questions about how it hopes to compete with Google's latest and much-hyped acquisition Nest. I suppose there's room enough for more than one player in the wired home arena (though perhaps not in the branded aviary space). Still, Birdi did appear to offer a bit more functionality than Nest.

We were then treated to another tech-driven physical product that took the form of a soccer ball, but not just any soccer ball. Uncharted Play, a "for-profit enterprise," impressed the audience with the simplicity of its invention Soccket that doubled as an energy source.

Uncharted Play's Soccket
The more you kick the ball around, the more energy it gathered. Plug a custom lamp into the soccer ball's built-in USB port, and voila, the gift of light is bestowed upon remote communities that need it. Here's a video clip that explains.

Radiator Labs
Next up was a company whose primary audience lacked neither light nor heat. Crowd-funded Radiator Labs' co-founder Marshall Cox opened by asking the audience of predominantly NYC apartment dwellers how many have awoken in the middle of the night in a deep sweat as a result of an over-active l̶i̶b̶i̶d̶o̶ ̶ radiator? Some 750 of the 800 people seated in NYU's Skirball Auditorium must have raised their hands.

Smartly, Marshall and his colleagues identified a problem and the exact audience for which its solution would strike a resonant chord. They constructed a custom, pliable radiator cover with built-in fans that regulates the spiky blasts of heat that cause so much misery. Birdi and Radiator Labs have taken decidedly different paths in addressing home climate control.

Outside of the physical realm, I was captivated by Capti Narrator, which converts to audio any digital text you might stumble upon traversing the media ecosystem. While Capti's didn't custom-build its text-to-audio conversion technology, the software worked across an impressive range of file types.

Also, for varying fees, it allows you to choose the specific voice that would read your selected passage. Following the meetup, I told New York Angel founder David Rose that this was one of the demos I enjoyed. He observed that the underlying technology was not all that pathbreaking. Even so, Capti Narrator offers me an attractive solution to the challenge of reading my iPhone while on the elliptical every morning. It's clearly better that that annoying Flo from Progressive who never ceases to pollute my music play lists.

Snapchat ushered in an era where short-lived communiques captured the imagination of tens of millions of users (Mr. Zuckerberg among them). Now, Confide wants to do for email what Snapchat did for messaging and images - make them quickly disappear after they're read. Just think: SAC Capital's Mathew Martoma might be a free man today if he used Confide to share his insider trading tips. Just kidding, of course.  I'm sure there are many other legal business use-cases that would benefit by having their emails disappear "off-the-record."

ThinkUp's Gina Trapani & Anil Dash
I had seen Anil Dash and Gina Trapani milling about the auditorium before the show got underway. These two pioneering bloggers and technologists took the stage to debut ThinkUp, a social media aggregation and analysis tool that lets Twitter and Facebook users make better sense of their own activity and that of their friends/followers. Incubated at Expert Labs over four years, the premium tool delves deeper into the data to give users a raison d'etre in social networking.

As part of NYTM's "alumni demo," we heard from Lenddo, which helps the middle class denizens in emerging markets (the "underbanked") use their social connections to borrow money.  Since its inception in 2011, the platform has doubled its user base "every 60-90 days" and now has members in 35 countries. Loans are currently being made in Colombia, Mexico and the Philippines, with more on the horizon.

Cindy Gallop
Finally in light of Valentine's Day, and the confluence of technology innovation and the sex industry, the New York Tech Meetup went R-rated by inviting the effusive MakeLoveNotPorn founder Cindy Gallop to curate the last two presentations. In introducing Ms. Gallop, NYTM executive director Jessica Lawrence warned the live and live-streamed audience of the graphical nature of the coming demos. The sextro-verted Ms. Gallop, a Brit, kept the audience enthralled with her mission to normalize how sex is viewed around the world, and its ripeness for technology disruption.

She soon introduced Colin Hodge, founder of DOWN, a hook-up app formerly known as BangWithFriends. It describes itself as the "anonymous, simple, fun way to find friends who are down for the night." Someone in the audience asked whether unsolicited texts from once-removed strangers might be seen as a little creepy. Mr. Hodge answered that courters don't have unrestricted access to the objects of their affections. He also admitted, in response to my question,  that the company had to jump through hoops last spring to gain acceptance in the (more restrictive) App Store.

To conclude the evening, Ms. Gallop brought out Dema Tio who described the genesis of his product Vibease, "the first wearable vibrator." He explained how his girlfriend was working in Singapore and he was based here in the US.

Vibease's Dema Tio
Obviously, this posed some challenges in one specific area. Mr. Tio then demo'd his solution, which clearly wooed the audience. The young woman seated next to me raised her hand to urgently ask where she could purchase his invention.  What better testament could there be?

A Paper-less Facebook?

Everyone's favorite multi-purpose social network last week released a "reader" for iOS devices that many are saying will eventually replace the company's seminal newsfeed. It is simply called Paper, and allows the user to meld a handful of topics he or she wishes to follow, i.e., technology, enterprise, pop culture, into one's newsfeed. ReadWrite's headline touted the new app:
"Facebook 'Paper' App Attempts To Reimagine How You Read The News: Facebook wants to recreate your news feed with a beautiful news app."
The app uses both vertical and horizontal finger swipes to navigate within a story and from story to story, topic to topic. I'm still trying to figure out where the sharing functions reside, but suffice to say, I like the interface better than Facebook's cluttered and confusing mobile app (or browser-based version, for that matter). GigaOm writes that
"Facebook’s Paper is Facebook for people who hate Facebook"
Facebook's new reader "Paper"
(Like me.) When Paper first emerged in my Twitterstream, I wondered how Facebook was able to own such a common (albeit anachronistic) name for its first reader. As it turns out, the world's largest social network doesn't exactly have the rights to the brand name Paper. Moreover, the company that does is not too pleased by the surprise embrace of the name. The Verge reports:
"Facebook announced its new, gorgeous mobile app Paper last week, paving the way to today's launch on iOS. It's already an impressive new way of navigating Facebook. However, the company is now in hot water over the name, since Paper by FiftyThree, a well-regarded app in the App Store, has been around since 2012. FiftyThree CEO Georg Petschnigg took to the company blog this morning to politely ask that Facebook "stop using our brand name."
I'm not certain where this will all end up. Facebook could easily make Mr. Petschnigg a very rich man in exchange for the rights to use the brand name. Or, as Mr. Petschnigg suggests:
"There’s a simple fix here. We think Facebook can apply the same degree of thought they put into the app into building a brand name of their own. An app about stories shouldn’t start with someone else’s story."
The New York Observer postulates that Facebook could care less (thus far) about Mr. Petschnigg's grievance:
"According to Mr. Petschnigg’s post, Facebook has apologized for “the confusion their app was creating,” and for “not contacting [Paper] sooner,” but it hasn’t actually offered up any kind of solution to the problem."
Be that as it may, suddenly Paper by FiftyThree is in the news in a positive light.


I wonder how all this controversy affected its download rate? As for Facebook, I imagine it will have to blink -- something about David & Goliath.

Those Super Bowl Ads

Having worked on a good share of Super Bowl ad campaigns over the years — from HotJobs to Pepsi — I try to keep tabs on the tools and strategies PR agencies deploy on behalf of their clients to emerge as “winners.” For the longest time, many debated the wisdom of releasing a spot in advance of the game, versus achieving some element of surprise during the game itself.

Success invariably was measured by the amount of positive pre- and post-game media coverage that a spot generated. Nowadays, that success will likely be determined by the number of YouTube visits or the volume of Facebook posts and Twitter tweets.

Stuart Elliott
The New York Times‘s veteran ad columnist Stuart Elliott has been in the game, so to speak, for some 26 years, starting with his days at USA Today. Here’s his latest take. Few beat reporters bring the perspective that Stuart does to this, the advertising industry’s most prominent and hyperbolic showcase event.

As we head into Super Bowl weekend, I thought it would be instructive to get Stuart’s POV on the strategies and history of the Super Bowl ad game.

How many Super Bowl advertising campaigns have you covered?

my first was in 1989, for usa today, i was part of the team for the first ad meter, so this is my 26th ad bowl inside the super bowl (3 at usa today, rest at the times)

What has changed the most since your first campaign story?

the change in strategy, from hiding all the content till the spots ran in the game to the social media influenced tactic of teasers, previews, releasing spots before game, releasing versions of spots, etc, and priming pump through social

What hasn’t changed? it’s still the biggest day of the year for advertising as well as for football When I worked on the HotJobs campaign back in the dot-com era, we were the first agency to make our spot accessible to ad reporters online in advance of the game. (Before that, I’ll never forget your requirement to hand-deliver the spots on a 3/4-inch Sony -Umatic tape.) What is the preferred delivery method today?

youtube links

You cite YouTube visits as one measure of success. Has the social media dimension killed the debate over whether to release a spot in advance of the game? Do any advertisers still count on the element of surprise?

yes, several still want to surprise, like chrysler. some, if they buy 2 ads, will release one ahead of time and sit on the other

Do you have any favorite spots in your years covering the Super Bowl? 

favorite: hard to say, maybe fedex 2005 i think, the 10 ingredients for a successful super bowl spot 

What have been your least favorite?

least favorite: just for feet, insensitive bordering on racism

Both HotJobs and GoDaddy achieved quite a bit if recognition for having their spots rejected from airing during the game. Would you put the Scarlett Johansson spot for SodaStream in the same category? 

no b/c people understand the gaming of the system that the “banned from the super bowl!” marketers are trying to do. even a DJ on wcbs-fm this morning, talking about it, called it a manufactured controversy

Obviously, Twitter will serve as a barometer for the popularity (or lack thereof) of this year’s Super Bowl spots. Do you intend to reflect that in your post-mortem story on the game’s advertising? 

yes of course

In your piece today, you use the term “high stakes” to describe the rolling of the dice for a $4 million 30-second Super Bowl spot. I also noticed that the fates of some lesser-known agencies rest on the “performance” of their client’s spots. Are we seeing a move from the big holding company agencies to more nimble and social-savvy digital shops when it comes Super Bowl advertising? 

ads come from a mix of agencies, can’t generalize though usually it’s AOR that makes the ad, with help from other agencies with, say, the social elements before/during/after game

1 In 128 Billion: A Slam Dunk

Warren Buffett (via Forbes)
These are the odds of winning the $1 billion that Warren Buffet and Quicken Loans ponied up for the NCAA hoops genius who correctly picks the "perfect March Madness" bracket.  Not only will Mr. Buffet and Quicken Loans not have to make a payout anytime soon, but the publicity this little PR promotion has and will generate will more than compensate for the time and effort spent to develop and announce the "contest."

The Atlantic's Derek Thompson queried Quicken for an explanation:
"Why offer $1 billion for sheer dumb luck? I've called and emailed Quicken Loans for a response. When I get it, I will tell you. But I have a pretty good guess: They are offering to pay $1 billion, because they know they will never have to pay $1 billion."
Here's how the paid press release read:
DETROIT, Jan. 21, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Detroit-based Quicken Loans, the nation's fourth largest mortgage lender, has joined forces with Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway to offer a chance at a $1 billion prize for completing the perfect bracket in this March's men's college basketball championship tournament.
Any qualified entrant who correctly enters the contest and predicts the winners of every game in the tournament will share the total $1 billion prize paid in 40 annual installments of $25 million. Alternatively, the winner(s) may elect to receive an immediate $500 million lump sum payment or share in that lump sum payment if there is more than one perfect bracket submitted.
Unlike the mega-millions lottery in which someone inevitable guesses the right numbers, this contest is doomed from the outset. Thompson continued:
"Those odds are 1 in 128 billion, according to DePaul math professor Jay Bergen. (Some outlets are quoting 1 in 9.2 quintillion, but that assumes that all 63 games are 50-50 toss-ups, which they're not. For example, Number 1 seeds just about always advance to the second round.) If everyone in the United States filled out a bracket, Chris Chase calculated, we'd get a $1 billion winner every 400 years."
So let's forget about the benevolence (and sense of fairness) perpetrated by Quicken Loans and Mr. Buffet who, frankly I'm surprised would allow his name to be leveraged in this fashion. Actually, Derek, the impetus has more to do with the free ink and airtime spawned by this ruse than the prospect of crowning a winner. Here's a sampling of the coverage to date:

Just think of all the new names and email addresses Quicken Loans will capture as a result, and their name associated with one of the world's most recognized and astute investors.  Net Net from a PR perspective: it's a slam dunk. 

Media Relations Is Dead. Long Live Media Relations.

A few weeks ago, a senior media executive at one of the largest, most digitally savvy PR agencies shared with me a call he had with his top management in which they lamented the lack of media relations savvy from the firm’s younger professionals. “Shouldn’t there be more formal training,” they pressed, to which he replied that he’s already established a regular agency-wide communiqué with publicity-generating tips and contacts. The executive also suggested to his managers that perhaps the firm should lighten up on the external promotion of non-traditional means for building branded digital media footprints.

As we enter 2014, it’s easy to point to content marketing – earned, owned, paid and otherwise — as the direction in which the industry is headed. In fact, I personally called for agencies to embrace hybrid paid/owned and earned/owned content schemes in last year’s year-end post. More recently I wrote that the time was ripe for PR firms to further ratchet up their content marketing game by embracing some of the sophisticated new algorithms and A/B testing schemes that enhance the likelihood of a viewer clicking on and/or sharing a piece of client content. The industry also has access to data-driven mechanisms that tell whether exposure to a marketing-driven message eventually led to a sales transaction.

In last year’s post, I worried that firms and practitioners who rely solely on the benevolence of journalists to advance theirs clients’ communications interests may eventually be left behind. There are just too many avenues from which consumers today take their news and information, starting with Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Even so, a great “placement” (I hate that term) in an influential media outlet like Bloomberg, The Journal, Mashable, and CNNMoney or on The AP wire retains an uncanny capacity to set Twitter tongues-a-wagging.

It is for this reason that earned media, i.e., the successful engagement of a journalist that results in editorial coverage, will remain very much a core industry offering in 2014. As much as has changed, my clients continue to want to see their product, service or point-of-view reported in the “media.”

This reality is not lost on the vast majority of agencies. I can’t tell you how many requests I receive from some of the most forward-thinking (and sounding) shops for help finding them solid media relations pros. One look at any PR job board will reveal that media relations remains the single-most sought-after competency by agencies of all stripes and most in-house communications departments.

There’s nothing like a seasoned PR pro who understands how to navigate (and have empathy for) the most sought-after reporters, bloggers and TV producers. Yet, the competition for these journalists’ limited bandwidth is as fierce as it’s been in my three decades plying the PR trade. In fact, I would guess that fewer than one in a hundred PR pitches actually succeed in producing coverage. (Not for my clients, of course.)

It seems that consumers are not alone in taking their news and info from non-traditional sources. Journalists too have self-selected the sources on whom they rely for real-time story ideas. As a result, they have grown less beholden to PR professionals. (This of course varies from industry to industry and from agency to in-house.)

Nonetheless, in 2014, for better or worse, media coverage (that makes a difference) will continue to be the primary measure by which the vast majority of agencies are largely compensated and for which industry awards are handed out. Once we accept this reality, we simply must do a better job to inculcate those new to the profession in the workings of the modern media organization and those within it responsible for producing editorial content. There is no reason for our industry to constantly take it on the chin en masse, as was the case recently when The New York Times’s resident Haggler David Segal groused about the propagation of PR spam.

In “Swatting at a Swarm of Public Relations Spam,” Segal in effect sums up the sorry state of the once symbiotic journalist-PR relationship:
“This is an unsolicited public relations pitch — P.R. spam, more succinctly — one of hundreds of thousands that belly-flop into the email systems of journalists every day…suddenly the Haggler noticed that P.R. spam started showing up the way flying monkeys appear in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ Swarms landed each day, imploring the Haggler to write about Christmas Cookie Treat Boxes, or a document previewer called Igloo, or a liquor called Pura Vida Tequila, which ‘will be in the house this season at Qualcomm Stadium.’ Woo-hoo.”
The reasons for the explosion in PR spam in journalists’ inboxes – and the resulting disdain journalists have for PR people — has much to do with the blind trust many PR practitioners put in the media database and distribution companies. These companies have “empowered” PR people to build and contact scores of journalists instantly with just a few keystrokes. Sadly, many PR pros neglect to fully vet these so-called “target” media lists. The result: misguided PR spam, and PO’d reporters on the receiving end.

It’s one thing to send the wrong reporter a misguided story idea, and something entirely different in sending the right reporter a story idea that simply isn’t one. Many PR pros neglect to probe their clients for the superlatives needed to constitute a viable story, i.e., the first, largest, only. Where’s the news hook or trend? If no natural hook exists, then use your creative juices to develop one. Too many marginal pitches land in reporters’ inboxes only to be ignored, or worse, prompting the hated “follow-up call.”

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we’re seeing a remarkable lack of quality writing from the PR profession. Back in the day, it was almost a pre-requisite for a PR professional to have some grounding in journalism. Today, not so much, except for those who’ve come over to “the dark side” in a “content marketing” capacity, e.g., Director of Content. Few of these former journalists are crafting “pitch” letters aimed at convincing reporters of the editorial merits of their client’s product or service. That work is traditionally pushed down to junior agency staffers (yes, even today), often with little oversight. Many of these pitches contain overused phrases and bloated prose that sounds hollow.

 To give you a sense, here’s a link to Digiday editor Brian Morrissey’s “25 PR Habits That Drive Reporters Nuts.”  If we could fix these shortcomings in 2014, it would go a long way toward revitalizing the practice of media relations, and in so doing, the value PR professionals offer to journalists.

With that said, we must also be mindful that a great “placement” in and of itself no longer has the capacity to drive a contemporary communications campaign. Stand-alone news stories are simply too ephemeral or lost altogether in the vast ocean of dynamic content. For a story meme to take hold today, it must reside and be amplified across multiple news and social channels even if that means using alternative (e.g., sponsored) means for achieving it.

This piece was first posted on PRSA's PRSay blog

Social Clout At Re/Code

Very few business news organizations enjoy the brand esteem and influence of Dow Jones's Wall Street Journal. A prominent story within WSJ's print or digital editions has the capacity to drive conversations, alter corporate fortunes (and stock price), and even affect government policy.

On top of that, few professions, outside of technology or entertainment, have embraced and benefitted from social media to the degree that journalism has. We live in an age when the "followers" of a media or reporter's brand can catalyze a national narrative or story meme.  Hence, many of today's forward-thinking writers, editors and producers have built enviable followings (and personal influence) through solid reporting, but also by leveraging for their own aggrandizement the brand equity of their venerable employers.

A growing number of these social-minded journalists, emboldened by their many followers, have broken away from their stalwart media brands to form new media entities that may one day rival the influence their former employers have historically enjoyed. Astute media observer Mathew Ingram of GigaOm wrote at the time Nate Silver and his Five Thirty-Eight blog bolted The New York Times for ESPN: "Nate Silver and the NYT: Media platforms still have power — just not as much as they used to"

Others that come to mind include Digiday's Brian Morrissey (formerly AdWeek), TheWrap's Sharon Waxman (WashPost and The New York Times), PandoDaily's Sarah Lacy (TechCrunch), The Daily Dish's Andrew Sullivan (Daily Beast, The New Republic), and The Information's Jessica Lessin (Wall Street Journal).  Separately, former New York Times TV/media reporter Brian Stelter (232K Twitter followers), his former colleague Nate Silver (645K followers), and former Politico reporter Ben Smith (169K followers) have bestowed their social followings upon CNN, ESPN and Buzzfeed, respectively.

The rise of the personal media brand is nothing new. Its roots took hold more than a decade ago when new technology tools/platforms suddenly empowered anyone to create and syndicate content. (Read Dan Gillmor's We the Media and Robert Scoble & Shel Israel's Naked Conversations to get a sense of the early days.)

After months of speculation, the latest and most audacious of the new media brands made its public debut this week, fueled by the social clout of its tech-famous founders. AllThingsD's venerable editors Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg extricated themselves and the entire ATD staff from the cocoon of The Wall Street Journal to form Re/Code, a tech news/feature site and conference company that has backing from NBC and others.

As a likely part of the separation terms, the Dow Jones pre-announced the name of ATD's successor -- WSJ.D -- and along with it the hiring of a handful of qualified, but admittedly less socially wired reporters and editors.

This media re-alignment, and that of Pierre Omidyar's new venture First Look Media, also buoyed by the socially connected Dan Froomkin (Wash Post, HuffPost), Glenn Greenwald (The Guardian) and Jay Rosen (NYU), raises several important questions:
  • Can high quality journalism alone sustain a news brand's vitality in today's socially fueled media techonomy?
  • Or rather, can a media brand succeed without an editorial staff that's actively engaged on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram and/or Google+?   
  • Finally, as media consumption has splintered, is it enough for the parent brand alone to have a large social following?  
A few months ago, I was invited to preside over a webinar that looked at the latest public relations tools and techniques.  One of the presenters was the senior digital comms person for PBS who told the group that when the network wanted to announce news, it simply posted the story to its popular Twitter (1.83M followers), Facebook (1.59M likes), LinkedIn (11.5K followers) and Pinterest (2300 pins) channels. It no longer relies on paid wire services or emailing industry reporters to garner awareness.

More recently, when Beyoncé, with her 13.1 million (!) followers on Twitter, wanted to break her latest release, she simply took to her Twitter feed, which resulted in this Daily Mail headline:
"'That's why she's called the Queen!': Beyoncé sends Twitter into a frenzy and iTunes into meltdown as she releases surprise fifth album"
Still there are perils for journalists left unfettered in the social spheres.  A couple of years ago, The New York Times's #5 most-followed journalist on Twitter David Carr (439K followers) wrote in response to an ill-conceived tweet by a CNN reporter:
"The great thing about Twitter is it offers a friction-free route to an audience — if it can be thought, it can be posted. That’s also the bad thing about Twitter. For employees of almost any company, but especially media companies, it creates an ongoing tension: Yes, build your personal brand and, by proxy, bring social media luster to your employer, but do it in ways that are consumer-friendly and taste-appropriate."
Others have asked whether journalist-as-brand is good or bad.  In one piece on the Online News Association student site, the reporter wrote:
"Mike Allen. Nate Silver. Brian Stelter. David Carr. Anderson Cooper. They’re all big names in the media industry, partially thanks to their personal brands. Journalistic value and credibility were once the responsibility of overarching news outlets, but in the digital age, more attention is being paid to the “who” rather than the “where” – as in “Where do you work?”
'As people consume media, that’s much less important,' said Politico Managing Editor Bill Nichols, who noted readers pay less attention to where news comes from than to whom it’s from."
I think we're beyond the question of good or bad.  We must accept that we live in a world where commentary posing as journalism can command large social followings. We also have seen the rise of "news" sites that use algorithmically-driven headlines and story angles to draw viewer eyeballs (and the advertising dollars that come with them.)

But in assessing the prospects for a journalistically grounded site like Re/Code, we'd be foolish to discount the social clout of its editorial staff.  Here's a topline Twitter follower count for a handful of Re/Coders:
  • Kara Swisher - 926,000  
  • Walt Mossberg - 546,000
  • Ina Fried - 53,248 
  • Liz Gannes - 51,832 
  • Peter Kafka - 51,534
  • Katie Boehret - 36,970
  • Re/Code - 28,777
  • John Paczkowski - 28,195
  • Lauren Goode - 22,129
  • Mike Isaac - 19,805
  • Arik Hasseldahl - 18,558
  • Bonnie Cha - 13,208
  • Jason Del Rey - 8,223
  • Kenneth Li - 8,200  
Not too shabby, I'd say. And that's taking into account but a single social network, which, according to new social sharing data from Gigya, represents only 30% of the traffic-driving equation for media/publishing sites:

Gigya's Social Log-In Data

    In Search Of Justine

    Of all the pontificators on Twitter who weighed in on the unfortunate Friday night fiasco featuring one Justine Sacco (in absentia), several struck a chord with me. I personally weighed in to suggest that the easy-to-pounce Twittersphere give Ms. Sacco a break until she resurfaces to explain herself:
    In my mind, the tweet was so offensive, especially coming from a person with reputational oversight of a $5 billion publicly traded company, that I struggled to accept that it willfully emanated from her Twitter account. I was hesitant to condemn her even after receiving an IM from a media reporter friend of mine who knew and liked Ms. Sacco, but who nonetheless was convinced she sent the offending tweet.

    Separately, Brew PR's inimitable Brooke Hammerling also was quick to condemn after uncovering Ms. Sacco's history of off-color Twitter commentary including this little doozy:
    I suppose it was the following tweet from Anil Dash that got me thinking:
    It also begs the question: how could someone who just eight years ago began her career as a junior account executive in Dan Klores' shop, and only two years ago served as a publicist for World Wrestling Entertainment, now be running corporate communications for Barry Diller's IAC?   Here's her work history:

    To be fair, I have not met Ms. Sacco, nor am I familiar with her performance at any of her previous jobs.  My pal, that senior media industry reporter who IM'd me, did say that he liked her and she always delivered for him. But are likability and hustle the key attributes for successfully flourishing in such a high profile communication role? Aren't solid instincts and a command of the English (or whatever) language more vital?

    This morning we awoke to Ms. Sacco's (grammatically challenged) written apology. You decide.
    "Words cannot express how sorry I am, and how necessary it is for me to apologize to the people of South Africa, who I have offended due to a needless and careless tweet," Sacco said in the statement. "There is an AIDS crisis taking place in this country, that we read about in America, but do not live with or face on a continuous basis. Unfortunately, it is terribly easy to be cavalier about an epidemic that one has never witnessed firsthand.
    For being insensitive to this crisis -- which does not discriminate by race, gender or sexual orientation, but which terrifies us all uniformly -- and to the millions of people living with the virus, I am ashamed.

    This is my father's country, and I was born here. I cherish my ties to South Africa and my frequent visits, but I am in anguish knowing that my remarks have caused pain to so many people here; my family, friends and fellow South Africans. I am very sorry for the pain I caused."
    One final observation: the rapid spread of this heinous tweet may very well have been fueled by the many PR-haters out there, especially in the media.  Would this meme have grown as fast and as wide if Ms. Sacco were a politician or red-necked reality TV star?  I wonder.

    Media’s Fate: Platform or Publication?

    PandoDaily's intrepid New York reporter Erin Griffith set Twitter tongues-a-waggin with her piece drawing a journalistic distinction between news "publications" and content "platforms." She questioned the editorial integrity of news sites that accept or are fueled by content from outside "contributors" (with supposed hidden agendas):
    "A platform which allows anything to be published with no oversight, such as Buzzfeed, Medium, and yes, Forbes, can push responsibility to the poster when there is an issue. Not our problem. We’re a platform! The platform-publisher problem is a sticky one which content companies will continue to grapple with, particularly as more publications turn to native advertising and sponsored content to replace dwindling revenue."
    Pando's Erin Griffith
    As a regular contributor to one of those sites (one of 1200), I understand where Ms. Griffith is coming from, but have to disagree that contributions are without editorial oversight. In fact, my editor has contacted me on many occasions to modify how I have characterized something or someone, and in one case, spiked a piece altogether calling it "strident." (That post looked at the PR considerations in how SCOTUS announced two recent controversial rulings.)

    Secondly, I personally have never used the platform to advance a client's agenda. It would be an ethical breach. My main motivation is to share my observations on business, politics and culture through the lens of a seasoned PR professional, and by doing so, open the curtain on an industry that remains an enigma for most. With that said, there is a growing movement in the profession wherein "expert" by-liners or outside produced pieces are submitted for free (or paid) to a growing number of established news sites.

    Raju Narisetti
    The issue of which models can best sustain quality journalism in an era of decimated ad CPMs and fragmented readership continues to consume the most esteemed media brands. I touched on this with Forbes' Lewis D'Vorkin recently.

    Also, this week News Corp's Raju Narisetti weighed in at Nieman Journalism Lab with a piece that challenged the holier-than-though news side of the legacy church-state model to take more responsibility for the business success of the organization. In his piece "Loosen the newsroom’s chokehold on the brand," he writes:
    "If publishers are to build sustainable business models through a combination of advertising dollars, reader revenue, and smart adjacent businesses, then one of the biggest stumbling blocks will be this prevailing, meek public acceptance of the newsroom’s primary ownership of the brand by those in product, advertising, circulation, marketing, public relations, and indeed by many publishers.
    MIT Tech Review's Jason Pontin
    Just because a news “brand” was almost never leveraged for anything other than journalism for decades doesn’t entitle a newsroom to its veto-proof card, especially when such power currently comes without real accountability to help sustain the brand, not just the brand’s perceived reputation but also its financial health."
    Digiday's Brian Morrissey
    GigaOm's Mathew Ingram
    I'll end with a few of the notable Pando-catalyzed tweets from GigaOm's Mathew Ingram, MIT TechReview's Jason Pontin and Digiday's Brian Morrissey on the subject of journalism, content marketing and media sustainability - all of which are works in progress:

    Beyoncé & Barack: A PR Contrast

    Nick Farrell Photography/Courtesy of Columbia Records
    This week, we watched as the White House press corps angrily revolted against the office of the President of the United States, accusing Mr. Obama and his PR consiglieres of media manipulation and propaganda. Apparently, pre-selected handout press photos no longer pass editorial muster. From Mediaite:
    "The members of the White House press corps exploded at White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Thursday over the charge that President Barack Obama’s administration is too restrictive in the access it gives photographers, and replaces that access with official White House photographers."
    Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
    The New York Times headline blared: "Obama’s Orwellian Image Control"

    Separately, another world famous celebrity whose first (and only) name also begins with the letter B manipulated the media by releasing a new studio album with absolutely no, I mean zero advance PR or promotion. From The New York Times chief music critic's Jon Pareles review "A December Surprise, Without Whispers (or Leaks):'
    "Beyoncé is flawless so no one else has to be. That’s the theme of her superb fifth studio album, “Beyoncé” (Parkwood Entertainment/Columbia), which arrives as a feat of both music and promotion...'Beyoncé' suddenly appeared in the iTunes music store with no prior hype — though plenty thereafter — at midnight Eastern time on Thursday."
    The arbiter of cool PSFK also weighed in with a piece titled: "Beyoncé Launches Surprise Album With No PR Hype" in which the lede read:
    "Beyoncé has managed to achieve something that few artists can pull off in this day and age: she released a surprise album. BEYONCÉ, which can be yours for just $15.99, is a sprawling collection of 14 new songs and 17 music videos, some of which were directed by Beyoncé herself. The reaction was huge on social media, and many people paid the full price right off the bat."
    There's much to be learned in contrasting the PR tactics of the two B's. Make no mistake. Both were consciously contrived to garner a positive outcome in the court of public opinion. One backfired big time. The other succeeded beyond anyone's expectations. From the Daily News:
    "Beyonce's album release surpasses 'Sharknado' in social media buzz. Beyonce fans generated more than 1.2 million Tweets in just 12 hours after pop star drops surprise self-titled visual album that shot to the top of iTunes."
    If I've learned one thing in my long PR career, it's this: nearly every self-respecting journalist I know bristles if they believe they're being spun or PR-managed. Sure, good PR pros can make story suggestions and orchestrate access to their newsmaking or expert clients to advance the story's premise. But invariably, it's in everyone's interest to take a back seat to allow the journalist to his or her job. Overstepping these bounds by, let's say, curtailing news photo access, or treating photographers as cogs

    By posting her latest album to iTunes, and perhaps selectively whispering its public availability to a few influential media types, the groundwork was laid for the media to jump on the story seemingly on their terms, when in fact they were unwitting cogs in the album's surprise marketing/PR strategy.

    And one last "B" word: Brilliant!

    A Reporter & A PR Guy Were In A Bar

    About this time last year, I took the PR agency biz to task for what I felt was its fatalistic reliance on the benevolence of journalists to advance their clients' communications interests. Sure, a great "placement" (I hate that term) in an influential news outlet like Bloomberg, The Journal, Mashable or Buzzfeed still has a decent capacity to set tongues-a-waggin.

    Yet, PR firms and practitioners whose primary and perhaps only client offering is the presumed ability to "place" stories will soon find themselves disadvantaged, if not dis-intermediated in today's increasingly complex communications ecosystem.

    This becomes all to evident when one considers the percentage of PR-to-journalist pitches (aka "engagements") that actually result in coverage. My guess it's less than one in a hundred. (Not for my clients, of course.) Today, a journalist's social and digital newsfeeds have usurped PR as a primary source for story ideas on many media beats
    Continue reading "A Reporter & A PR Guy Were In A Bar"

    A Reporter & A PR Guy Were In A Bar

    About this time last year, I took the PR agency biz to task for what I felt was its fatalistic reliance on the benevolence of journalists to advance their clients' communications interests. Sure, a great "placement" (I hate that term) in an influential news outlet like Bloomberg, The Journal, Mashable or Buzzfeed still has a decent capacity to set tongues-a-waggin.

    Yet, PR firms and practitioners whose primary and perhaps only client offering is the presumed ability to "place" stories will soon find themselves disadvantaged, if not dis-intermediated in today's increasingly complex communications ecosystem.

    This becomes all to evident when one considers the percentage of PR-to-journalist pitches (aka "engagements") that actually result in coverage. My guess it's less than one in a hundred. (Not for my clients, of course.) Today, a journalist's social and digital newsfeeds have usurped PR as a primary source for story ideas on many media beats (celebrity not among them).

    To make matters worse, a recent New York Times piece on the propagation of PR spam sums up where the once symbiotic journalist-PR relationship now stands. In "Swatting at a Swarm of Public Relations Spam," The Times's resident Haggler David Segal describes the dynamic:
    "This is an unsolicited public relations pitch — P.R. spam, more succinctly — one of hundreds of thousands that belly-flop into the email systems of journalists every day...suddenly the Haggler noticed that P.R. spam started showing up the way flying monkeys appear in 'The Wizard of Oz.' Swarms landed each day, imploring the Haggler to write about Christmas Cookie Treat Boxes, or a document previewer called Igloo, or a liquor called Pura Vida Tequila, which 'will be in the house this season at Qualcomm Stadium.' Woo-hoo."
    Finally, the explosion in the number of media outlets, coupled with the myriad channels from which people now acquire news, info and entertainment have effectively diluted the impact of that once-coveted PR "hit,"and in so doing, its ability to drive measurable results, e.g., increase in sales, stock price, reputation... A much larger and more meaningful digital and social media footprint is required nowadays to accomplish that.

    The point of my year-end post was to recognize this sobering reality, and encourage the profession to consider other avenues for achieving a positive branded presence in the media (i.e., sponsored, native and contributed content.)

    Richard Edelman
    In spite of my plea and "a change of heart" by Richard Edelman, one look at any PR job board will reveal that media relations remains the single-most sought-after competency by every kind of agency and in-house communications department. Sadly in 2014, just like the 70's, 80's and 90's, editorial publicity (i.e., "earned media") still pretty much defines the profession for most practitioners and organizations. Media placements continue to be the measure by which the vast majority of agencies are still largely compensated.

    Are there skills one can learn to enhance the likelihood that a PR pitch will not fall on deaf ears? You bet. But more significantly, there are new tools and a growing data-driven cottage industry that can pave the way for a client's message to significantly transcend the short-lived media hit.

    My Forbes colleague Jeff Bercovici (He's a staffer. I'm a contributor.) called the phenomenon "virality mills" wherein stories (and headlines) are created algorithmically and A/B-tested for their clickability and shareability (especially on Facebook). There's a science behind eyeball generation as the folks at the much buzzed-about "news" site Upworthy . Click on the link below for more on that.

    Click here to view slide show
    Jeff writes:
    "Sites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy — and a growing number of imitators — have all but perfected the science of producing stories that Facebook users can’t resist sharing with their friends and “liking.” With 1.2 billion users, Facebook offers a platform big enough to build an entire business on: Upworthy, which said it had 87 million unique visitors in November, gets more than half its traffic from the social network, while Buzzfeed, with 133 million uniques, counts on it for about one-third of referrals."

    Jeff's piece looked at Facebook's stated intention to make its newsfeed more "relevant," and what impact that change might have on sites like Upworthy and Buzzfeed, which derive the biggest chunk of their traffic from those shared Facebook "likes" (however artificially amped they may be).

    For the PR profession and the growing numbers of "content marketers" within its midst, data-driven algorithms and A/B message testing to determine whether a story will go viral should not be overlooked.  From a piece on Upworthy in PandoDaily:
    "Upworthy writes and tests 25 different headlines for each post – it does not produce its own content but rather repackages videos and graphics from elsewhere on the Web – the company insists the top line is only part of the story."
    Here are five burgeoning companies that could be poised to PR agencies' lunch in the increasingly crucial content marketing space.
    • Outbrain recommends your article, mobile and video content on your site and on premium publisher sites to expose it to highly engaged audiences. Increase engagement for all of your content while earning revenue with links to high-quality 3rd-party content. Drive traffic to your content by recommending it alongside the editorial on top publisher sites. ("Discovered: holiday gift ideas for everyone on your list" - The Guardian)
    • Percolate: Create better content. Better workflows. Better control. Better results. Our mission is to help brands create content at social scale.
    And here are some resources that also portend a much bigger trend occurring in the marketing communications realm:

    Holiday Reading For The Geek In You

    A few years back, my most erudite #2 son admonished me for spending too much time with short form real-time media. He explained that books -- digital and otherwise -- offer context that one simply can't extract from the ephemeral world of streaming media.

    I thus decided to periodically post links to those books that generated particular resonance in my daily diet of shorter form media. Before I share the latest buzzworthy tomes (many of which I hope to read over the holidays), I should mention that the trend toward LongReads appears to be accelerating.

    Here are some of the indicative headlines:

    Of course outlets like Salon, WIRED, Quartz, Slate, Mother Jones, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times and many others have already made their marks plying the art of long form storytelling, through snowfalls and all.

    If your interests straddle the worlds of media, marketing and technology, as do mine, here are eight new books worth considering. Interestingly, most were penned by journalists (vs. book authors) charged with reporting on the trends and companies driving the new digital world order.  Happy reading.

    Smarter Than You Think"A new book by WIRED columnist Clive Thompson about how modern technology is making us smarter, better connected, and often deeper—both as individuals and as a society."

    In the Plex by Steven Levy "Dense, driven examination of the pioneering search engine that changed the face of the Internet...The author was afforded an opportunity to observe the company’s operations, development, culture and advertising model from within the infrastructure for two years with full managerial cooperation."

    Hatching Twitter by Nick Bilton "During the reporting of Hatching Twitter I came across a number of emails that showed the early logo explorations of the company that would eventually become Twitter. Some were clean and crisp designs, others looked like an Atari video game, and then there was the one that won out — at least for a short time."

    The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone " started off delivering books through the mail. But its visionary founder, Jeff Bezos, wasn’t content with being a bookseller. He wanted Amazon to become the everything store—a store that offered limitless selection and seductive convenience at disruptively low prices. To do so, he developed a corporate culture of relentless ambition that transformed retail in the same way Henry Ford revolutionized manufacturing."

    Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution by Fred Vogelstein "This is the story of how Apple and Google have reshaped our world and redefined the meaning of content and how it is distributed. It begins with the iPhone, which has transformed the concept of what a smart phone can be. Now everyone wants one, or else a smart phone like it. Apple and Google are fighting to find a way to control the software that runs these phones so they can manage the content that runs on top of it. The battle has become vicious, although Google makes more than half the apps that run on Apple devices."

    Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products by Leander Kahney "Jony Ive's designs have not only made Apple the most valuable company in the world, they've overturned entire industries, from music and mobile phones to PCs and tablets. His impact is so great that he is increasingly cited as an influence in industries Apple doesn't compete in."

    Murdoch's World: The Last of the Old Media Empires by David Folkenflik "Rupert Murdoch is the most significant media tycoon the English-speaking world has ever known. No one before him has trafficked in media influence across those nations so effectively, nor has anyone else so singularly redefined the culture of news and the rules of journalism. In a stretch spanning six decades, he built News Corp from a small paper in Adelaide, Australia into a multimedia empire capable of challenging national broadcasters, rolling governments, and swatting aside commercial rivals. Then, over two years, a series of scandals threatened to unravel his entire creation."

    Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World by Gary Vaynerchuk "New York Times bestselling author and social media expert Gary Vaynerchuk shares hard-won advice on how to connect with customers and beat the competition. A mash-up of the best elements of Crush It! and The Thank You Economy with a fresh spin, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook is a blueprint to social media marketing strategies that really works."

    Media Luminaries Bezos & Kamen

    Photo: Courtesy of Amazon
    In spite of its recent misstep regarding its flawed reporting on Benghazi, CBS News's venerable "60 Minutes" continues to have the capacity to drive the national conversation. And, sure enough, last night my tech-centric Twitterstream suddenly was consumed by drones -- and not the killing kind - following the prolific Charlie Rose's Cyber Monday-pegged segment featuring Amazon's Jeff Bezos.

    Mr. Bezos, who's giving Marissa Mayer's PR department a run for its money, decided to offer "60 Minutes" the "exclusive, first look" at what's on the horizon at the Seattle-based uber-retailer. "60 Minutes," in return, obliged Amazon's PR department by teasing the "big surprise" in the days leading up to Sunday night's airing.

    The Big Unveil: Jeff Bezos with Charlie Rose
    The public reaction, and subsequent coverage was fast and furious.

    As for this PR executive, I wondered whether it was premature for Mr. Bezos to unveil on such a public stage his company's plans to use drones as product delivery vehicles? (I also wondered whether it was premature to unload my holdings in FedEx.)

    The segment conjured memories of another visionary whose vehicular invention also had the potential to change the world. (No. Not Elon Musk.) It was late 2001, and the tech world was all abuzz over a book proposal that referenced renowned engineer Dean Kamen's latest invention, code named "Ginger." Only a handful of the tech industry's movers & shakers, including Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos, were treated to a sneak peek of Mr. Kamen's vision, and all were sworn to secrecy.

    The noise surrounding Mr. Kamen's mystery invention was deafening...and this before Twitter twinkled in the eyes of Ev, Biz and Jack. I remember mentioning the Ginger fury in my weekly staff meeting and specifically saying what a cool client Mr. Kamen, and his much talked about mystery invention would make.

    Later that day, Harold Burson summoned me to his office to ask if I can help advise an old friend of his on an issue involving a recently taped profile of his friend on "60 Minutes." Mr. Burson's friend was Dean Kamen. It seems that "60 Minutes" had just finished shooting its piece, pegged to another invention of Mr. Kamen's -- a wheelchair that could climb stairs -- and the engineer's work encouraging young inventors.

    Given the noise surrounding "Ginger," the program came back to Mr. Kamen with a request to update the segment to include details about Ginger (whose launch was still in the planning stages). I advised against sitting back down with "60 Minutes," given the preliminary nature of the invention's launch. Nonetheless, the inventor went ahead with the interview, though the exact nature of his invention remained a secret...if my memory serves me well.

    Shortly thereafter, a few of us were en route from LGA to DEKA in Manchester, NH to meet Ginger first-hand. We didn't have a clue of what to expect, but soon found ourselves standing on a prototype Segway, which was then called a "Flywheel," on a small test track. The technology was not only way cool, i.e., just lean forward to advance the human transporter, but the potential impact this machine could make -- especially on the environment -- was revolutionary.

    Launch Day: Dean Kamen on a Segway
    Price per unit aside, we soon were briefed on the many local and state-level regulatory hurdles that needed to be cleared in order for the Segway to achieve mass public adoption. Apparently, one couldn't just ride a Segway on the sidewalks of most municipalities. There was much advance work that needed to be done.

    At this point, I got pulled onto other clients, but was asked to draft a comprehensive launch proposal. In it, I strongly recommended to the account team that Mr. Kamen first build a groundswell of support for the Segway from the international scientific and environmental media communities before taking it to the public. That didn't happen.

    The Segway soon made its public debut with Mr. Kamen himself riding the machine onto the set of ABC-TV's "Good Morning America."  It was a fabulous segment that made a big splash at the time, but frankly didn't have the capacity to sustain this wonderful invention for the ages.

    In watching Jeff Bezos both proudly unveil his vision for a drone-based product delivery system, and also touch upon the regulatory hurdles such a system would face before being allowed to deploy, I thought about the GMA segment with Dean Kamen.

    Will the "60 Minutes" exposure and subsequent scuttlebutt backfire in Amazon's efforts to secure the requisite regulatory (FAA) clearances it will need to publicly deploy? Has Amazon put the cart before the horse? Only time will tell.

    Walmart and JPMorgan: Tales From The Trenches

    The most seasoned and successful practitioners in the public relations business have a finely honed instinct for how something will play out in the court of public opinion. Recently, however, two very big corporate gaffes made me wonder whether their communications consiglieres turned a tin, if not deaf ear to activities that would prove deleterious to their organizations.

    The first entailed Jimmy Lee's ill-fated, and ultimately cancelled Twitter chat in which the legendary JP Morgan investment banker and vice chairman would subject himself to any question from anyone with a Twitter handle, fresh off his bank's co-underwriting of Twitter's flawless IPO. (Was this some sort of a give-back to $TWTR?)

    Buoyed by that successful public offering, some social media manager, in his or her infinite (lack of) wisdom, thought Mr. Lee would give a command, and JPM reputation-building performance with an AMA-style session on its happy client's social platform.
    Continue reading "Walmart and JPMorgan: Tales From The Trenches"

    Walmart and JPMorgan: Tales From The Trenches

    The most seasoned and successful practitioners in the public relations business have a finely honed instinct for how something will play out in the court of public opinion. Recently, however, two very big corporate gaffes made me wonder whether their communications consiglieres turned a tin, if not deaf ear to activities that would prove deleterious to their organizations.

    The first entailed Jimmy Lee's ill-fated, and ultimately cancelled Twitter chat in which the legendary JP Morgan investment banker and vice chairman would subject himself to any question from anyone with a Twitter handle, fresh off his bank's co-underwriting of Twitter's flawless IPO. (Was this some sort of a give-back to $TWTR?)

    Buoyed by that successful public offering, some social media manager, in his or her infinite (lack of) wisdom, thought Mr. Lee would give a command, and JPM reputation-building performance with an AMA-style session on its happy client's social platform. Inexplicably forgotten were a few small historical facts including the billions in record-setting penalties the bank just paid for its fiduciary transgressions, and the fact that Mr. Lee was not even a Twitter user.

    Still, the bank set the hashtag (#AskJPM), and the fun began. Here are a few of the notorious tweets:

    And the one tweet that mattered when someone regained their senses:

    This gaffe, btw, was not unlike a Chevy promotion in the early days of CGM when the automaker invited the public to create commercials for its 2007 Tahoe SUV. Here's one that contributed to the promotion's cancellation:

    I do give JP Morgan and Chevy some points for willingness to explore new digital channels, and I feel for Jimmy Lee for being asked to to do this.  Nonetheless, they both earn more PR demerits for not having the foresight to anticipate the harsh public fallout.

    The second Tin Ear goes to Walmart, which today finds itself embroiled in a controversy that re-surfaces a contentious issue that somehow had fallen off the media's radar. I'm talking about the below-living wages that many of Walmart's 2 million+ employees earn. Yes, we've all seen the company's buoyant TV campaign, which extolls the many "benefits" Walmart workers enjoy. If you haven't seen, here's one iteration:

    In the same vein, a Walmart in Canton, Ohio believed it would be a collegial and festive idea to hold a food drive to help the store's low wage-earning colleagues get by during the upcoming holiday season. Huh? This "good will" effort prompted one Walmart shopper to tell the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
    "That Walmart would have the audacity to ask low-wage workers to donate food to other low-wage workers — to me, it is a moral outrage."
    The story quickly went national. TIME Magazine's headline read "Walmart: Food Drive for Employees Raises Questions Over Wages." That headline, btw, was subsequently changed to read: "Walmart Seeks Food Donations to Help Needy Employees."

    Other media naturally chimed in, including this zinger from Salon in which we learn that Walmart's heirs have more wealth than the poorest 40% of the entire U.S. population.  The food drive seems quite incongruous, if not morally abhorrent when you view it in those terms.

    I suppose it was Costco's Jim Sinegal who proved big box retailers could do good (by their workers) and do well at the same time. Still, I don't expect this unwanted attention to move the Waltons to demand a change to Walmart's pay structure. After all, the worker benefit ad campaign is pretty effective in glossing over the reality.