Archive for June, 2009

You Scare Me

IStock_000006730408XSmallUnfortunately I can’t get into specifics, but recently SHIFT has been very lucky on the newbiz front.  We’ve been invited to respond to RFPs that we’d only dreamt about a year ago. And we’ve won a few, against giant & savvy competitors.  All of which still feels unimaginable.

Don’t get me wrong — we’ve been whacked by the recession.  And, more importantly, I am not sharing this cryptic bit of good news in order to brag.  Just the opposite.  I am trying to inspire you.

These victories have made us more bold.  We no longer feel the sense of inferiority that dogged us as a start-up agency.  We now know we’re as good as anyone.  Not necessarily better — but definitely just as good.  We deserve to be in the scrum.

But, so do you.  You see, we are no smarter than thee.  On any given day, we are not more creative, thoughtful, hard-working or more savvy than any other agency.  At meetups, tweetups and on Twitter; in the Comments section of my blog; and of course on other great blogs written by others, I meet folks every day who are brilliant, rigorous thinkers and doers.

They (you!) scare me.  They (you!) can beat me.  If I can win what I’m winning, they (you!) can win what I’m winning.

This applies even if you don’t work in the marcomm industry.  If there’s a competitor out there in your niche who’s having a good run of luck, don’t ascribe it to their size, their people, their practices, etc.  You can win what they win.  Try to scrap in the biggest sandbox you can find.

This is what I’ve learned as an entrepreneur.  Nobody’s better than you.  And you’re no better than anyone.  Just try harder, be nicer, and work your tail off trying to exceed the expectations of prospects and customers.

Go to bed exhausted.  Wake up exhilirated.

See you on the field.

Evangelism is a Slog

IStock_000002056841XSmallI am lucky that my circle of friends includes many of the Social Media industry’s most enduring innovators.  We meet for coffees, dinners, brainstorms, dealmaking, etc. 

Inevitably the talk turns to the state of Social Media in general, and its adoption (or lack thereof) within large corporations.

At this point in the conversations, opinions start to diverge.

Some thought leaders are encouraged to see that Corporate America is no longer ignoring Social Media, and look forward to seeing seismic changes happen – even if they occur incrementally.

Other brainiacs are discouraged because Social Media COULD (and maybe SHOULD) bring earth-shattering changes to the hidebound hierarchical thinking of corporations … but instead, they see Social Media being relegated to silo status: it’s being viewed as “a marketing thing,” akin to a media buy.

Meanwhile, some folks are simply ready to move on all together.  My pal Geoff Livingston exemplifies this thought process.  For Geoff, the shine is off the apple. As a dyed-in-the-wool early adopter, he’s looking for the Next Big Thing and is also a bit discouraged to see some of the hail-fellow-well-met camaraderie of yore give way to competitive professionalization in the space.  

Of course, on any given day, moods change.  On some days, these evangelists are all charged up to give that “Social Media 101” presentation for the umpteenth time … Other days? Not so much.  Let’s face it: evangelism is a slog.  Given the massive changes represented by the new modes of marketing, these early evangelists will probably need to present on “Social Media 101” topics for the next DECADE.  It’s an uphill climb. 

IStock_000001724270XSmallAs for me?  I fall in the middle camp, but do skew towards optimism. 

I am not happy to see Social Media viewed as “a marketing thing,” but let’s face it, it ain’t a bad place to start — Social Media is primarily about having genuine & relevant dialogue with all stakeholders, and that’s historically been where PR/Marketing rule the roost.  (And, yea, that’s also the arena where I make my living.)

And, I think that if marketers do a good job of demonstrating how/why Social Media is positively impacting the corporation, overall acceptance of its tenets will allow the Social Media seed to grow into an unstoppable weed — one that finds its way into every crack in the hierarchy. 

That would be a good thing.  But it takes a while.

Do You Believe in Second Chances?

428898_real_logoThinking back to, oh, let’s say 1998 … you probably had experience using RealPlayer, the media player from RealNetworks.  Maybe it came bundled with your PC.  Maybe you were needed to download it in order to watch a BBC clip online.  Unfortunately, though it has many happy users, the RealPlayer of yesteryear gained a reputation for bloat that aggravated most users.

What if I told you that our clients at RealNetworks had all the necessary Social Media and User Interface epiphanies a couple of years ago, and worked diligently to make RealPlayer rock?

What if I told you that the new version (now in beta), launched this week, allows you to do some very cool stuff, like:

  • download most any web video into a personal media library;
  • share the video via social networks like Twitter and Facebook;
  • convert the videos for on-the-go viewing on your iPhone, iPod, BlackBerry, etc.

Oh, and what if the “mainstream media” also lauded the new product?

Would you be willing to try it? Or would you tell me that Real’s reputation from YEARS ago is enough to forswear their products, even when the products are quite good?

Take a deep breath before you answer.  This goes beyond RealNetworks.

This goes to the heart of how one handles PR for a brand.  Brand = reputation.  PR strives to improve reputations.  When we crank at the flywheel of reputation, we need to account for what hath gone before.  Even in a world in which consumers are game for “second chances,” that acceptance comes warily.  There are no big, creative campaigns that cause global amnesia.

PR is about cultivation. Slow, steady, and hugely unsatisfying in the short-term, especially for troubled brands … but, it’s also incalculably important and effective in the long run.  Especially if you believe in second chances.

(Of course, I do wish you’d try the new RealPlayer and let me know if you like it or not. I have been using it for two years quite happily. Surely, as a marketing pro, you believe in second chances?)

Let Me Use It

N63389449732_6327This week, our cool clients at had their big launch.  Alice is probably best described as a cross between Netflix and Target: it’s a subscription shopping service offering great prices and free delivery on non-perishable items like toilet paper, shampoo, etc.

Yesterday I spent a fair bit of time flogging for Alice on Twitter.  We have over 70 clients, and yet you have rarely seen me throw out more than a single tweet or two about them. 

What made different?  They let me use it. 

Alice execs insisted that I sign up for the service as a beta user; asked me to enjoin my bride to take part in building the shopping list; followed-up to see how the sign-up process worked out for us — and then sent along the neatly-packed goodies.  Yea, it was just shampoo and such, but what I saw in my mind?  A professional and friendly service that promised fewer trips to the local Target store.

In my 17+ years in PR, I can count on one hand how many times a client made sure that the agency PR team personally used and enjoyed their product.  Granted, we do plenty of PR for enterprise software companies and other less-appropriate products, but the overall concept holds true:

When you are asking your PR agency to wow the mediasphere about your offering, wouldn’t it be better if that advocacy came from a genuine feeling of delight?

Social Media: the End of Mediation

IStock_000004284243XSmallI can’t write about Social Media Marketing today.  The inspiring, unstoppable stream of citizen media coming out of Iran is too inspiring and awful.

If you have the heart and stomach to watch it, this video of the death of a girl now popularly known as “Neda” — Farsi for the call — will not only haunt you forever, but will also tell you all you need to know about how the world is changing.

The filters are off. The collective is self-aware. The masses are the media. 

The “cluetrain” was too short-sighted a vision. It was too focused on corporate marketers.  That’s such an infinitesimal part of the real story.  The real cluetrain has wings; it’s flying right off the rails.

We’ve been programmed to accept the reality of mainstream editorial decisions.  As a society we have made decisions on matters of culture and war and breakfast cereal based on what “The Editors” have elected to show us. You won’t see Neda die — looking straight at you — on CNN.

While we have to thank the Powers That Be at YouTube for deciding to let Iran’s citizen footage stay online for their “documentary value,” I’d suggest that this unexpurgated content would still have found its way to us. I also think that the technical tricks that the rebellious Iranians are now popularizing could further erode censorship and “editorial policies” across all societies. 

In order to quell one riot, the police may use water cannons, shotguns, batons.  But how do you stop a countrywide riot?  When everyone in Iran sees a gang of police back down and run from a mob of protestors, why would anyone in Iran ever run way again? 

In a world in which Social Media exists, autocrats will need to resort to increasingly savage tactics to maintain order — knowing full well that these moves will be documented and surreptitiously broadcast after-the-fact: which in turn will threaten their legitimacy in the eyes of both their own citizens and the global community.  Social Media creates a (virtuous? viscious?) cycle: unstoppable transparency in an authoritarian society must lead to unconscionable cruelty, which must lead to revolution, which will lead to renewal.

The people are being reintroduced to each other, across oceans and cultures.  The cracks are showing.  We are recognizing our universality.  We are no longer so willing to be duped by those in power. 

It’s true in Social Media Marketing.  It’s true in Iran.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to suggest that “Social Media is just one of many tools in the toolbox” again.  While that’s a defensible statement to a marketer maybe, ultimately Social Media as a cultural force is, truly, bigger than all that.

Show some social media love would ya?

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