Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Internet Milestones

  • Internet advertising revenues reached a new record of $3.9 billion for the first quarter of 2006, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers. The 2006 first quarter revenues represent a 38% increase over Q1 2005 at $2.8 billion and a 6% increase over Q4 2005 total at $3.6 billion.
  • In the past year, the number of online users has reached an estimated 172 million, a 5% increase, according to Harris Interactive. In research among 2,032 U.S. adults surveyed by telephone in February and April 2006, Harris found that 77% of adults are now online, up from 74% in February/April 2005 and 66% in the spring of 2002. When Harris first began to track Internet use in 1995, only 9% of adults reported then went online. The proportion of adults who are now online at home has risen to 70%, up from 66% in 2005 and 55% in the spring of 2002.
  • The Boston Globe announced yesterday that it will stop publishing daily stock and mutual fund listings starting on June 20. The paper "will offer enhanced online investment tools and market news as well as a new Money & Markets page in the paper."
We knew that one was coming -- other papers have already made the move -- but it still makes me a little sad to think of some veteran stock watcher, who doesn't happen to have Internet access, without the daily charts.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Our First Podcast Debuts

Last week, analyst and blogger Dana Gardner invited us to join him for a BriefingsDirect podcast on ... podcasting! His other guest was MediaSurvey's Sam Whitmore, veteran media watcher and journalist. Dana and Sam have teamed up in the past to chat about Marketing 2.0, a podcast that discussed the changes in marketing to IT that have been wrought by blogs, RSS, podcasting and viral marketing.

You can hear our resulting conversation here. A couple of points in particular that stuck with me:
  • Sam noted that clients sometimes early on raised the issue that blogs were more easily searched than podcasts. But with search services like Podscope and PodZinger, that issue has quieted down.
  • Dana shared an anecdote about posting a podcast for a client in one location on the client website without a transcript and with a transcript in another spot. The podcast with the transcript generated nearly twice as many downloads. His theory? The transcript enabled visitors to give it a quick scan to conclude: "This looks interesting. I think I'll download it."
Lessons/confessions from my maiden podcasting voyage...

The joke around the office was my request for a briefing document to prep for the session. My personal team of media handlers gave this one a big raspberry, I was left to prep on my own by doing the following:
  • PR 100 -- Read (or in this case listen to) content from previous works by the participants -- Check.
  • Think of a few key points you'd like to make -- Check.
  • Read up on the subject matter - ongoing, so check. As luck would have it, this article on the changing role of analysts had made its way around the office and Dana brought it up, so I was prepared.
Here's one thing that I didn't do that I'd recommend. Have someone stage a mock interview with you (on even a non-work topic, e.g. American Idol results) and tape it. This is similar to the exercise of conducting a mock presentation while videotaping when undergoing speaker training. If you're like me, you'll be appalled just how many "ummms" and "ya knows" find their way into your answers. I have a renewed appreciation for Dana's and Sam's more crisp speaking style.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

An iPod in Every Shoe...

Reuters reports today that Nike "is making running shoes that will tell the wearer how far and how fast he or she has run and how many calories they have burned." The data will be collected thanks to a Nike+iPod Sport Kit embedded in the shoe. The kit is a wireless system that allows Nike footwear to communicate with an iPod® nano, which will display the data on its tiny screen. You can also get the data via an audio feed to your headphones. Amazingly, the Sport Kit is expect to sell for just $29, according to Reuters.

The announcement was made yesterday in NY by Nike CEO Mark Parker and Apple CEO Jobs, with Lance Armstrong and marathon world record-holder Paula Radcliffe on hand as running bling.

Reuters reports that 75 percent of runners listen to music while they exercise, so it's little wonder that Nike stock shot up 2 percent.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Nantucket: President of MIT Puts Ergs on Energy

Having Dr. Bob Metcalfe host a fireside chat with Dr. Susan Hockfield, the president of MIT, puts almost more intellectual wattage in one spot than the average person can bear. Metcalfe kicked off the session at the ever chic Nantucket Conference by noting (tongue in cheek) that Hockfield is an MIT first -- the first life scientist to hold the position. (Read her bio here, unless you'd prefer to feel like a moderately useful human being.) She is a noted neuroscientist, specializing in brain development. She's also warm, witty and thoroughly impressive.

When Hockfield landed at MIT in late 2004, she did what good new managers do -- polled her constituents (faculty and staff) to learn what was on their IQ-popping minds. The result was a bit of a surprise -- energy was the topic generating the most heated conversations.

Since MIT is a "can-do rather than a can-talk kind of place," according to Hockfield, there were already a number of energy projects in the works in different departments. "Lots of flowers, no garden," she quipped, noting that's her idea of a sports analogy. This led to the Energy Research Council, which had just issued its first report last week. It states:

"The need for new global supplies of affordable, sustainable energy is perhaps the single greatest challenge of the 21st century. Increasing tension between supply and demand is exacerbated by rapidly escalating energy use in developing countries, security issues facing current energy systems and global climate change. These converging factors create an unprecedented scenario requiring a multifaceted approach to increasingly urgent energy issues."

Hockfield noted that the biggest impediment to advances in energy has been the ability to store it once you've created it, so there is lots of critical work being done in battery technology. Four important new battery technologies have come out of MIT in recent years.

Metcalfe suggested that we need a catchy moniker for this field, so he's dubbed it "enertech." (I see there is already an environmental firm out there that has nabbed the name.) He made an appeal that the VCs and other attendees at the conference do for "enertech" what we've done for biotech (i.e., make it a hot growth sector for New England).

An aside: Another noteworthy MIT energy initiative is the Ignite Clean Energy Competition, which is sponsored by the Energy special interest group at the MIT Enterprise Forum. The competition recently named its winner, Stellaris Corporation, which is developing a solar technology that can reportedly reduce traditional solar module manufacturing cost at least 40 percent.

Friday, May 19, 2006

CHENcast Debuts - New Podcasting Service

This week, we announced a podcasting service to give clients another vehicle for delivering news and fostering thought leadership.

A few weeks ago, we blogged on an InfoWorld survey of 1253 IT professionals. Over a third had downloaded a podcast in the last month. The group rated podcasts as their second favorite IT information resource, with a rating of 4.96 (on a scale of 7). Podcasts were bested by IT publications, which rated 5.37, but beat out email newsletters and blogs.

To deliver our podcasting service, we teamed up with trusted colleague Dana Gardner. We sought Dana's counsel for years during his stint as a Yankee analyst, and more recently, we've worked with him under the auspices of his own firm, Interarbor Solutions. Dana -- well known for his ZDNet BriefingsDirect blog and as a member of the star-studded Gillmor Gang -- has been at the vanguard of using RSS-driven communications to reach out to his clients' constituents.

To crib from our own press release, Dana says it best:

"Interarbor Solutions has developed a fast and simple way for companies to use analyst-moderated podcasting as a viral element of their sales and marketing strategies. Podcasting and associated RSS campaigns allow organizations to attract and communicate directly with their core target audiences, on the listeners' terms and at their mobile convenience. Company-sponsored podcasts are an ideal, cost-effective method of getting a sophisticated message out to prospects, customers, the media and the market at large with depth and credibility. Podcasts augment a company's blogs, and aid in creating more taggable content for search engines to find and deliver to inquiring buyers."

Stay tuned for more developments from us in this space.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Paul Gillin: What's Now, What's Next

From my co-founder Brenda Nashawaty...

Last week technology industry executive Paul Gillin visited CHEN PR.

Paul’s been a force in technology media for more than 20 years, including top editor positions at Computerworld, PC Week and Digital Review. He was instrumental in building TechTarget, a network of Web portals for IT professionals, into a leading news and technical advice resource. His new venture, Paul Gillin Communications, offers marketers strategic services including market research, business blogs, podcasting and Internet audio.

Among the points Paul raised:

New technology disrupts from the bottom up.

At higher levels of society or an organization, change is resisted. He cited a survey of 100 CEOs who said that they did not like blogs and found them unproductive and even dangerous. Top people often say no to a new platform.

But the blogging platform is becoming a powerful personal publishing and social networking medium because people at lower levels in organizations saw its potential for communicating ideas, insights and news. After seeing the power of blogs to influence public opinion and purchasing, CEOs of several major organizations including Boeing, SAP, GM, Ford, HP and Sun Microsystems blog. Which supports another of Paul’s points:

Platform change is more disruptive than application change.

In addition to being a powerful communications medium, the blogging platform is becoming a powerful economic channel, thanks to inexpensive memory, free open source software and good old American capitalism. Virtually anyone with an interest in making money online can blog for fun and profit. A growing number of entrepreneurs use blogs in the “long tail” marketing model of selling products or services to many small markets. eBay started on the long tail for people who wanted to buy and sell Pez dispensers. Today it's a very long tail for millions of products and services.

Bob Parsons, founder of domain registration site GoDaddy and of his own site,, is another example of the power of blogging and the community it's creating to proliferate economic change and opportunity. says that it “explores the often-dicey issues that affect Internet users and businesses. It takes a critical look at subjects like identity theft, scams like phishing and pharming; threats like viruses, spyware, malware and others – and how to avoid them. You'll also learn what we're doing at to prevent you or your business from being victimized by such threats.” The site also is an online marketing academy that offers tips and advice to people who want to start their own online businesses. There isn’t a hint of competitive attitude. Want to learn how to make money online selling sports cards, your old Ginny dolls, online landscaping plans, those Beanie Babies you couldn't live without? Visit the site.

Take it a step further - smart marketers will increasingly use blogs to promote their own products and services for a fraction of the cost of traditional print and broadcast advertising. Two blogs that are personal favorites of mine were started by people who wanted to know what others thought of the thousands of products in the cosmetics market. Lately these blogs are carrying advertising from top cosmetic companies. I'd wager that advertising on these sites is considerably less expensive than advertising in Vogue magazine, and they're reaching an interested audience of thousands every week.

Which leads to another point Paul made:

Small changes lead to big shifts.

The transistor radio was the first device that made music portable. Teenagers used these small battery operated radios because they didn’t want to listen to their parents’ music, and they didn’t want to sit at home to hear their music. The transistor radio gave teens the freedom to take music to the beach or the park. This concept was the forerunner of the iPod, which not only makes music portable, but also makes it user-definable. Paul remarked that the iPod is turning the entertainment industry on its head because it’s changing the way we consume not just music, but all media – TV, movies, etc.

Paul commented that use of blogging, podcasts and other media is in a Geoffrey Moore-like tornado period – the time in which a new generation of influencers and early adopters figure out how to exploit new technology. Eventually blogs, podcasts, RSS feeds, etc. will be as common as it was to see teenagers on the beach listening to The Beatles on their 1960s versions of the iPod.

What’s next?

Nantucket: Tapping Customers to Co-Design Your Company

Every so often, a concept lodges in your psyche and then suddenly, you notice it everywhere.

At the recent Nantucket Conference, I had the pleasure of listening to Patty Seybold's session entitled, "Why Let Customers 'Co-Design' Your Company."

Seybold has always been several steps ahead of the curve and her research firm has always been peopled by thoughtful analysts with real integrity. In recent years, during a period when several traditional research firms have fallen by the wayside, Seybold has reinvented her research firm to give it a very distinctive focus on the Customer Experience. She's also written two bestsellers: and The Customer Revolution.

Seybold's Nantucket session highlighted examples where forward-thinking companies have incorporated customer feedback in innovative ways. As the parent of a reformed Lego addict, I could relate to her LEGO® Mindstorm® example. Mindstorms are "build and program robotics toolsets." They also happen to be the best-selling product in the LEGO Group’s history, no doubt as a result of the way in which LEGO has built and fostered a devout community around this product.

According to Seybold's blog post on the topic, two weeks after the product was introduced in 1998, hackers reverse-engineered the firmware and developed a number of additional software programs that could be used to program the gizmos. Rather than respond with a lawsuit in response to this assault on its IP, Lego embraced these innovators, grasping that they could help the company improve the product.

©2004 The LEGO Group. One day I'll figure out how to get images to wrap in Blogger.MINDSTORMS AlphaRex
Fast forward a few years, and check out this May 1 press release lead: "The LEGO Group today announced that for the first time it will release as open source the firmware of the LEGO® MINDSTORMS® microprocessor – the new NXT brick – the core component of its next generation robotics toolset."

Here's the exec quote in the release, from which we can all learn a thing or two:

“Most often, innovation comes from the core community of users. Our ongoing commitment to enabling our fan base to personalize and enhance their MINDSTORMS experience has reached a new level with our decision to release the firmware for the NXT brick as open source,” said Søren Lund, director of LEGO MINDSTORMS. “When we launched the legacy MINDSTORMS platform in 1998, the community found ways to do these things on their own, and we were faced with the question of whether to allow it, which we decided to embrace and encourage. Now, given the strong user base and versatility and power of the NXT platform, the right to hack is a ‘no brainer.’ We’re excited to see how our open approach will push new boundaries of robotic development and are eager for all enthusiasts to share their creations with the community.”

I'm just so impressed with these guys and grateful to Seybold for educating me on the topics of customer-led innovation and lead customers. (These are the 10 percent or so of your customers whose self image is deeply connected to the subject.) For an education on lead users, see Seybold's blog on this topic.

Seybold's next book in the works, to be titled "Outside Innovation," focuses on customer-led innovation. A May 14th Sunday Globe article, titled "Firms Turn R&D on its Head, Looking Outside for Ideas," zeroes in on this very topic. (Sorry the article link is MIA.) The article quotes Seybold:

Seybold, drawing on studies by Eric von Hippel, professor at MIT's Sloan School of Management, said forward-thinking businesses are setting up online forums to identify ''lead customers," those who are early adopters and passionate users of their products, and work with them to drive innovation. ''Lead customers are good prognosticators of what your customer base is going to need six months out," she said.

As all of this is simmering, I noticed a card at the Starbucks check out that looked like a simple opportunity to fill out an on-line survey in exchange for a $5 coffee card. You need to understand that my son once started a sentence by saying, "When you go to that big Starbucks in the sky..." to refer to my eventual demise. So I'm a fan. A big fan. I might even be a lead customer. When I hit the link on the card, I found I was being bribed to join the Starbucks Customer Connections program. As a member, they're going to keep me "up to date on news, information and special offers."

Who knows? Maybe I'll get to co-design the next Frappuccino®.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Social Networking Soars

Traffic to the top 10 social networking sites in April collectively grew 47% from the same time in 2005, reaching a total of 68.8 million unique visitors, or 45% of active web users in the U.S., according to Nielsen//NetRatings. (Why two slashes? I don't get it.)

The Oscar winners of social networking:

MySpace - 38.4 million visitors, up a whopping 367% year over year
Blogger - 18.5, up 80% (The tool used to create this blog - so we're in good company)
Classmates Online - 12.8, up 10% (Babyboomers go nostalgic)
YoTube - 12.5, N/A
MSN Groups - 10.6, down 14%
AOL Hometown - 9.6, down 15% (ouch)
Yahoo! Groups - 9.1, up 11%
MSN Spaces - 7.1, up 286% (Don't ask me how this is different from MSN Groups)
Six Apart TypePad - 6.7, up 32% - 6.6, up 27%

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Nantucket: Staples Founder Shares Success Secrets

This marks my second year at the Nantucket Conference, where we're a sponsor this year. On the ferry ride over on Thursday, one of the attendees recounted the true story of walking up to the check-in desk at the elegant White Elephant hotel a couple of years ago to ask for information about high-speed access. The desk clerk replied, "On yes, the high-speed ferry leaves just a couple of blocks from here."

I don't think that would happen today.

Friday kicked off with the very down-to-earth Tom Stemberg, founder of Staples and Zoots and now a partner at Highland. There's no doubt that Staples was a success in part because it was a great concept at the right time. But Tom was devoted to customer service, which ultimately set Staples apart. (Chasing Staples' success, 27 office superstores have been funded over the years.) Tom noted that as Staples headed to $1 billion in revenue, there were more and more layers of people to insulate him from what was really going on in his stores. So he started spending two days a week in the stores, criss-crossing the country from Boise to Boston.

He'd walk into a store and ask for an item. He had some great experiences, like the time he posed as a customer who'd lost his phone charger. The sales associate explained that the store didn't have the Nokia version, but the generic version worked fine because he had tested it himself, but he also offered to order the Nokia version and express ship it to his office the next day. And by the way, did Tom need the Nokia headset?

This was a great example of "Staples Makes it Easy" in action.

But then there were visits like one to Rhode Island, where he walked in to find a line of seven customers at the register, while the store managers were drinking coffee in the back room. Tom sent the bagger to open another register and started bagging himself. While the guy at the register hadn't recognized Tom, when the manager arrived on the scene, he most definitely did.

"I'm guessing he didn't take a long coffee break for awhile after that," Tom explained.

He also noted that these stories of his guest appearances made the rounds. He learned that travelling with a supervisor was a bad idea, because they'd start tracking him by state. It was much more effective to play "mystery shopper" on his own.

Tom shared a few quotes from Blueprint to a Billion, which he highly recommends. Based on his track record, I'm sure it's worth a read.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Corporate America: Doing Well by Doing Good

From CHEN'er Kate Hoagland...

This past week, my colleague Meghan Rozanski and I enjoyed PR industry luminary Tom Hoog’s rousing call to arms at the Boston Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America’s 55th Anniversary luncheon. As a brilliant storyteller (in part due to his charming Southern accent), Mr. Hoog inspired us with his belief that both PR and corporate executives share a civic responsibility of increasing importance. As a native Virginian, it was easy to be captivated by his stories of duty peppered with examples of the Charlottesville countryside (I wanted to blurt out, “I’ve been there!” but instead kept tugging Meghan’s sleeve).

Not a stranger to civic duty himself, Mr. Hoog boasts an impressive resume of public service positions under leaders including President Clinton and Senators Gary Hart, Robert Kennedy and George McGovern. Formerly the chairman of Hill & Knowlton, Mr. Hoog now serves on the advisory board of the Smithsonian Institute's National Air and Space Museum as well as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial advisory board. He also chairs the board of directors of The Wolf Trap Foundation.

Mr. Hoog argued that in the midst of a cacophony of Middle Eastern uncertainty, rising deficits and a failing education system, the voices of our corporate leaders are noticeably silent. He cited a recent Wall Street Journal article, “Washington’s Allergy to Action is Headache for Business Leaders,” by Alan Murray to reiterate his point. Mr. Hoog agrees with Mr. Murray’s assertion that few corporate leaders are taking advantage of their unique power position to foster change.

Mr. Hoog concluded with a call to action for PR professionals as “keepers of corporate reputation and integrity,” and as such, responsible for encouraging our corporate clients to join the American dialogue and foster change.

While I wanted to agree with Mr. Hoog on every point (loyalty to Virginia is all encompassing), I had a hard time agreeing that the voice of corporate America is silent.

Working at CHEN PR, I have the privilege to work with many corporate executives who exude business integrity every day both for what they achieve at their companies and for their community involvement.

For example, some of our clients volunteer at local schools as mentors, tutors and motivators. U.S. math and science students face increased competition from students in Europe and Asia. These clients roll up their sleeves to shape curricula to keep the U.S. competitive by fostering the next generation of talented engineers and scientists.

Green may be the new black, but many of our clients having been practicing environmental consciousness for years. Manufacturing lead-free parts and monitoring emissions are just two of the activities that are the norm in their business practices.

Promoting good corporate citizenship and reporting on the results is important. While we talk about our clients’ engagement in the ongoing American dialogue as part of their corporate responsibility, we can light a spark for other executives at companies large and small to join the discussion.