Sunday, February 20, 2005

Buzz, Blogging, Ethics and Schwag

What would we do without Steve Rubel's daily Bloglet email keeping us up-to-the minute on the latest issues? His blog alerted us to this great article on ethics and blogging, from the Online Journalism Review out of the Annenberg School at USC. Excerpt:

Cyberspace and the blogosphere add new wrinkles to the debate. Just how far can marketers go in soliciting blog coverage of their products or services? Does the practice of paying bloggers to blog about a product amount to an advertorial, embedded infomercial or product placement – and does such an arrangement violate the compact of trust between reader and writer? Or is it simply the next logical step in the blogosphere’s evolution from hobby to business opportunity? Do different rules apply to journalists who blog?

If Silence is Golden, Better Buy Stock in Silver

From my traveling colleague Randy Wambold...

I'm not as frequent a business traveler as some I know (no complaints here mind you), but I do have occasion to travel on business fairly regularly. Since my client is based in the Valley in California, many of my trips are long, cross-country flights.

Flying offers many challenges. Some are general to all travelers (delays, red eye flights and bad airplane food). Some, however, are more particular to some of us than others. For example, as a 6'2" person I detest being folded into a space that makes the front seat of my car look cavernous. Thus I really dislike it when the people in front of me recline their seats, further encroaching on what precious little space I have. For those of you seat recliners reading (you know who you are), I beg of you to consider sleeping in a more upright position. If consideration of others' personal space doesn't sway you, consider the practical benefits: if you learn to sleep upright in a plane, you'll be able to do it in meetings, in cars (as a passenger of course), in movie theaters.. the possibilities are endless! Scant portions of food are another particular challenge to those of us with healthy appetites. In my carry-on bag for every flight is a laptop, a water, a book -- and about a dozen Power Bars.

For all its challenges, I do feel that flying offers at least one advantage in the form of a little uninterrupted peace and quiet. In the world we live in, with cell phones ringing, email pouring in and PDAs enabling anytime, anywhere access, I for one admit that there is something refreshing about all of the aforesaid being inoperable on planes. Thus for all of its challenges, flying offers a brief hiatus from the persistent din that surrounds us all. This is particularly true for those of us who are parents, for whom the opportunity to sit in relative quiet and work, or read a book, or flip through a magazine, or sleep, or even just think, is particularly enjoyable.

This bubble is about to be popped in a dramatic way, however. Today I read that Airbus SAS, the European plane manufacturer, plans to give customers of its new planes cell phone access. I suppose I always knew it was coming. But with this announcement, I see my occasional respite on a plane turning into a nightmare.

Based on the general demeanor of people you've been exposed to using cell phones in public places -- if your experience is anything like mine, this consists largely of people speaking in shockingly loud voices on irritatingly mundane topics -- how do you feel about the prospect of being strapped to a seat with nowhere to go whilst 20 people within 15 feet of you carry on simultaneous phone conversations? Let's say you get one of the hated middle of the row seats -- how do you feel about people to your left and right talking on their cell phones, each literally 12 inches from both of your ears? What if you board the dreaded red eye (as I often do), hoping to grab five or six hours of fitful, uncomfortable sleep, only to discover that your seat mate is a loud-talking night owl who decides to make two hours of calls from 1:00 a.m. until 3:00 a.m.?

I know that I'm fighting the inevitable. For one, cell phone access gives the beleaguered airline industry a much needed additional revenue stream. For another, I know I'm badly outnumbered in my plea for a little quiet and privacy by those who see in-the-air cell phone access as a great idea.

But even if I'm in a minority, I hereby make my plea for keeping planes a last bastion of respite from cell phone madness.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Tech Chat at the Summer Shack

Last night I braved a rainy 30-minute drive into Boston to attend a LinuxWorld party with fellow CHENer Randy Wambold...

Ah, CDDL vs. the GPL, JavaServer Faces vs. Struts. Which word is more overused: enterprise? extensible? solution?

We must be at a tech soiree.

The nice folks at O'Reilly were kind enough to invite us to their party last night at the always happening Summer Shack. We chatted with an interesting mix of folks from O'Reilly, Novell, LinuxWorld Magazine and the Gnome Foundation. As one might expect, veterans of the show remarked (somewhat wistfully) on the increasing presence of big name vendors and suits. It's an indication to us that open source software is squarely in the midst of a transformation from the domain of a niche of software programmers and IP legal experts, to a large-scale, market-wide application.

When asked for their take on the show's big announcements, fellow partiers cited Sun's StarOffice 8 preview, Red Hat's Enterprise Linux news and Novell's open-source collaboration server project, called Hula. (Why do open source projects get all the cute names?)

Being in technology publishing, our fellow cocktail conversers from O'Reilly are at a very interesting cross section. We enjoyed talking about the way O'Reilly readers use their publications, and the implications this might have for the future. Will O'Reilly increasingly publish exclusively on-line, eschewing print books? There is a quality about tangible, paper-based books that seems to make readers loathe to give them up, despite what would seem to be all of the obvious economic, environmental and convenience reasons to do so.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

From the Horse's Mouth - Tips from Top Business Press Reporters

From my colleague Alyson Goodrow...

According to an array of leading journalists, top business press themes in 2005 include consolidation - be it telecom (MCI and Quest) or software (Oracle and PeopleSoft) - and the digital home.

Bulldog Reporter recently hosted a "PR University" session with five leading technology journalists: Rebecca Blumenstein of the Wall Street Journal, Steven Levy of Newsweek, Eric Savitz of Barron's, John Shinal of MarketWatch, and Olaf Domis of The Daily Deal. They discussed the top technology trends in 2005 and tips for increasing coverage.

What do they hate most? Product pitches. As Rebecca Blumenstein puts it: "Why should we cover a company that's doing what it's supposed to be doing -- making innovative products?" Following up by phone on an email pitch can get you blacklisted. And of course, the ultimate no-no: a deadline day pitch.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. They shared some good tips for registering on the biz press radar:
  • Leave the product out of your pitch and focus on the angle. Think about how your client's/company's story fits into today's bigger industry trend.
  • Find a more accessible way to tell your story; focus on an interesting entry point, such as a human interest angle.
  • It's all about email.
These folks look to break big news, which can give them a hook for a larger story on your company. Your best weapon in this coverage-seeking quest is keeping your finger on the pulse of the day's news. Once you've identified the hot topic of the day, think of an angle for your client that helps readers see the news in a new light.

Online Advertising: A Cautionary Tale

A report from my colleague Kevin Kosh...

Advertising is accused of many things, but rarely of being subtle - subliminal maybe - but never subtle. Yet in distilling a recent MITX session on the current state of online advertising/marketing, the subtle message was: Be opportunistic, but be careful.

The net/net of the main presentation:
  • Online ad spending/marketing is experiencing significant growth and innovation. Broadband trends are providing a wealth of rich media options.
  • The buying public still distrusts (and somewhat ignores) advertising of almost any stripe, especially Internet and cell phone ads - to the tune of 80% plus.
  • 12% even distrust "word of mouth."
So what does this all mean? Four out of five panelists agreed that online advertising/marketing is approaching or is at its "tipping point," and is poised to become the dominant form of advertising. However, it was the fifth panelist who got my mind churning. With online advertising/marketing grabbing as much as 10-12% of a CMO's budget, he said that a true tipping point would occur if online advertising reached 30-40% of the budget.

He contended that with the health of the market improving, we shouldn't just charge willy-nilly into the next big thing. We need to quickly adapt to leverage new opportunities, while keeping focus on the goal of most effectively reaching the communications target, regardless of the vehicle.

At the end of the day, it's about whom customers trust in their decision-making process. As comedian Steven Wright aptly stated, "Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time." For business communications, everything is in essence "word of mouth" (whether it comes from a well-read colleague or a newspaper). The catch is that, business waits for no one. We need to determine the most expedient way to get our messages to the right mouths.

One panelist applied the theme "change or die." While that makes for dramatic motivational speeches, truth is, it ain't that simple. Change in the communications profession is always gradual, rarely a complete departure from what came before, and always destined to fall victim to its own success. Granted, with the advent of the Internet, we've changed our methods, but the madness remains.

Case in point: Some of the new, "renegade" media outlets, as they try to find the most effective focus and identity, have begun to show signs of saturation. The reality is that the mainstream "noise" that has clogged the machinery of traditional media is once again in play. Consider that a few bloggers, once heralded as offering the unfiltered truth to the public, have been exposed recently as "columnists for hire" for a variety of special interest groups.

Another point of interest: One of the most prominent and well architected business blogs, AlwaysOn, is in the process of launching a print publication. They (and I agree) continue to believe that "PR professionals and corporate marketing executives must now acknowledge this growing alternative media force [blogging], and have a strategy to deal with it," but they also say that, "…a quarterly print magazine that offers a reflective look on the most important trends in innovation and the most popular outtakes from our site is a good complement to our daily online posts."

So what's my point? The best communications programs are not built on the latest trend; they are built on a mix of media based on a strong knowledge of:
  • The client organization - Its weaknesses/strengths, competitors and the larger business trends of which it is a part.
  • The target prospect - What is the pain point and where does one look for help?
  • The tools at your disposal - Weigh the relative strengths/weaknesses of everything from print pubs, to RSS feeds, to public executive letters to blogs. And know how, when and why to use them - or not use them - to reach the prospect. Also, be creative. A blog may not be the best way to reach your prospect, but it may be a way to get an interesting perspective in front of others (such as press/analysts) that the ol' email pitch just won't do.
There is no one-size-fits-all. Our communications mantra should be: The right message at the right time via the right vehicle.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Buzz Marketing: All the World's a Stage

Is that guy chatting you up in the bar a natural charmer or an actor being paid to hawk a Hennessey?

Check out today's Journal (Page B9 - You'll have to grab the paper, as it's a paid subscription site) for an interesting snapshot of the latest in buzz marketing. The article covers the rather disturbing practice of hiring actors to pose as average citizens while they're promoting a product.

Fortunately, the Journal reports that the WOMMA trade group is stepping in: The Word of Mouth Marketing Association, a year-old Chicago trade group, is expected to announce today a new set of rules and guidelines for word-of-mouth advertising, one of the fastest-growing advertising practices.

The practice of hiring paid shills isn't new. The Journal article quotes Margaret Kessler of TMR Multimedia, who "routinely hires 'ad spies' to talk up local products."

So the next time a stranger in line at Whole Foods starts raving about a new product, beware. Unless it's the Gaga sherbet. That's worth raving about.

Friday, February 04, 2005

You Look Like a Winner to Me

From my partner Brenda Nashawaty...

As many Clark Lane readers know, AlwaysOn 2005: The Innovation Summit (AO2005) is the latest venture of Tony Perkins, the founding editor of Upside and Red Herring, and the new AlwaysOn Magazine, which will premiere in March. AO2005 will take place at Stanford University in California, July 19-21, 2005.

CHEN PR is working with AO producers and others involved in the event to identify and nominate CEOs of East Coast companies to present at AO2005’s “CEO Pitch Tent,” where standing-room only crowds of executives, investors, media and analysts gather to learn about the hottest new companies and technologies.

This year only 50 CEOs from among hundreds of nominees will be chosen to pitch their value propositions in the CEO Pitch Tent.

Candidate companies must be private and funded. There is no criteria on "age" of company. A minimum of first round funding is acceptable, though second round is preferred.

At the end of AO2005, CEO Pitch Tent winners present on the main stage to the entire AO2005 assemblage. Last year’s media coverage included The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, San Jose Mercury News, The Economist, CNBC, and dozens of trade publications and blogs.

If you are a venture investor and/or know of companies you’d like to nominate, email or call me at, 781-466-8282 x13 to learn more. Thank you -- Brenda Nashawaty

To get you motivated, last year's speakers included:

Sergy Brin and Larry Page, Google Cofounders
Gerry Campbell, VP and GM, Search & Navigation at AOL
George Colony, Chairman and CEO of Forrester Research
Paul Jacobs, EVP & President, Wireless & Internet Group at Qualcomm
Steve Jurvetson, Managing Partner at Draper Fisher Jurvetson
Larry Lessig, Stanford Law School Professor
Steven Mills, SVP and Group Executive, Software Group and Rod Smith, VP of Emerging Technologies at IBM
Michael Powell, Chairman of the FCC
Scott Richardson, General Manager, Broadband Wireless Division at Intel
Jonathan Schwartz, President and COO of Sun Microsystems
Stratton Sclavos, CEO of VeriSign
Jeff Weiner, SVP Search & Marketplace at Yahoo!

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Open Source: the Sequel

“Over 80% of commercial software and hardware vendors will touch open source in some form by 2007.” That was a prediction from Bob Zurek, who chaired the Mass. Software panel I finally got around to recapping a few days ago.

Bob was a Powersoft fellow years ago when I did PR for the company, and he’s just as sharp and insightful as he was then. Bob, now VP, Advanced Technologies and Product Management at Ascential, taps out his own blog, which will be of particular interest if you’re following integration-related topics like orchestration, workflow, SOA and Web services.

The surprisingly funny, dazzling and irreverent closing speaker was Peter Quinn, CIO of the Commonwealth of Mass. The State spends around $500 million per year on IT. He noted that in government, you build it and then you just forget about it, resulting in “the most heterogeneous and bizarre environment you’ve ever seen.”

The State IT group got itself in some serious hot water with the software industry a couple of years ago when it issued a memo discussing a new “Open Policy,” which was to include an in-depth evaluation of open source alternatives. (Predictably, the memo leaked within a couple of hours and Quinn was besieged by phone calls.) CEOs of major Mass. software companies, whose bread and butter is commercial software, were not amused. This led to a public review process organized by the Mass. Software Council. As a result, the State plans were vetted by some 30 area software CEOs and found to be forward thinking and sound. When you read the proposal’s fine print, the team was really proposing a blend of open source and proprietary software.

Quinn continues to push his agenda, noting that the State’s approach has helped force large systems integrators to consider open source alternatives. He is also in discussion with other state CIOs to pioneer alternatives so if an S.I. builds a system for one agency in say, Kansas, another state could license it at some greatly reduced fee. There’s been a remarkable lack of sharing state to state up until now.

In closing Quinn noted that TCO with open source software is a real issue for his team. “Just because you get it for nothing doesn’t mean it’s gonna run for nothing.”

Wise words from a very impressive guy.