Monday, February 28, 2005

Christian WOM

Monday, February 21, 2005

Rules for the PR Reformation

Several days ago, I compared the work that many PR bloggers are doing for their profession with an important-yet-underappreciated trade in architecture: demolition. As I said, recent PR scandals guarantee that there will be lots of demolition work for some time to come, and many of us are looking forward to it. But I think there will be building, too. Already we are seeing how new media may be laying the new foundation; if blogs are knocking down the old church of PR, collaborative tools like wikis may very well rebuild it.

Look around and you'll see plenty of evidence of a PR reformation. But it won't be easy -- the tools we are using are very crude, and we're often blind to the wicked harm they can bring when put in the hands of "infoenthusiasts." But if you are down for the cause, yet unsure what your role might be, here are a few easy, but by no means irrefutable, rules of engagement. You won't find these nailed to any church door.

1. You always have a choice, no matter who you are

Whatever role you assume -- whether you are a pod, a peer, or a pontiff -- you are capable of doing good and evil. No innocents to the east of Eden -- we've all tasted from the tree of knowledge, and we know better.

2. All of us are pods

In the blogosphere, as in any place, we're defined by the company we keep -- by the content we link, by the messages we repeat.

3. Many of us are peers

Because for many of us it's not enough to fill the pod, so we go out and meet others. But by what code do we meet and greet the stranger? Again, we can do good, or do evil.

4. A few of us are pontiffs

Because some of us -- you've met a few -- also need to take a position, and persuade others to share that position. But for what purpose and goal do we exercise this power?

5. The "best of us" are all three

Because by pontiffs we're not referring to the famous man in robes. We're using the word in its original sense -- the people who serve as "bridge builders" among the various communities whose diversity we often fail to grasp. The triple-p ... a cool role to aspire to.

6. Be real, and be thoughtful

Unless you are looking for laughs -- which we do encourage (see rule 10) -- do not play the provocateur simply because it pleases you. To paraphrase John Seely Brown, bloggers are prone to tunneling; they sometimes have trouble seeing the collateral damage they might cause when stirring up trouble, or having fun.

7. Be transparent

In everything.

8. If you have something really good to say, don't just blog it.

Wik it -- and wik it good. Your brilliant thoughts could use some company. Guaranteed they will improve.

9. Toughen up

10. Because, alas, the reformation will not be nice to everyone (see note above about collateral damage), and even the best of the triple-p's may not be spared.

10. Lighten up

Because with all this reconstruction, we're gonna need a break. Crack a smile. Tell a joke. And remember, please, to wik it (if it's any good).

Death of the Obituary

See Terry Teachout's surprisingly nasty eulogy for Arthur Miller in the Wall Street Journal. Teachout may be onto something -- a new kind of obituary for this very mean era. The man could be a blogger. Oh ... I see he is.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Olympian Feat

Terrific post by the New York Time's David Pogue. He praises a PR consultant for Olympus for sticking to the truth. Let's watch this closely: will the PR agency get a raise, or will they lose the gig? Let's hope Olympus follows David's advice.

The Crumbling Church of Old PR

Many years ago, I asked a friend, a morose but gifted architecture student, what kind of architecture he wanted to practice when he finally left school. "Demolition," he said. I remembered that conversation recently when contemplating the possibilities for my own future, now that the church of old PR is crumbling. Lots of demolition work out there, to be sure. But I think there will be building, too.

But what will we be building? I'm not worried -- there's too much fun to be had in the coming months, and if history is any lesson, the demolition work will unleash the creative energy that's needed for the rebuilding of this profession. And already we are seeing how new media may be laying the new foundation. More on that subject in a weekend post.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Back tomorrow

Loads of stuff, plus a sneak peek at a weekend feature on Always On on the crumbling church of old PR.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Wish I Were at Demo

Next year.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

BlogThink/GroupThink (or the Ignorance of Crowds) -- Part II

[Note: we've posted a shorter version of this article on AlwaysOn].

Several days ago, we posted a short item comparing and contrasting two recent books by staff writers at The New Yorker. We wondered what we can learn from these two very different looks at human intelligence and behavior. Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink" presents evidence that individuals, under the right circumstances, can rapidly and correctly outhink the group. James Surowiecki's "The Wisdom of Crowds" gives countless examples of people working collaboratively, and consistently besting the most gifted individuals. The New Yorker appears to have cornered the market for what must be a very healthy demand for popular studies on the counterintuitive -- the literary antidote to middle-class complacency. But what's more remarkable: two ideas that are counterintuitive -- and each arguably correct -- are also contradictory. Together, the two books appear to trump both sides of the individual-versus-group intelligence debate.

But alas, the two ideas can be reconciled (as the two authors attempted to do in a series of emails featured on Slate). Without too much effort, one can see how, in the right circumstances, accurate and rapid individual cognition -- the phenomenon recorded in Gladwell's book -- can make good sense in Surowiecki's world where the group is almost always greater than the sum of its parts. But that would in fact be an ideal world, for it would involve a well-coordinated, high-performing group that could also pay ultimate tribute to the sanctity of individual contribution.

I can think of no better example of such a group than our ideal conception of the blogger network -- an ideal that recent experience shows is far easier to imagine than it is to achieve.

Take for example a recent and fairly well-publicized event in my world -- public relations -- that currently is testing the proper relationship between individual and group blogger behavior.
The cover story in today's New York Times business section chronicles most of the saga: a recent investigation uncovered that the U.S. Department of Education -- with the help of the Ketchum public relations agency -- paid a prominent and outspoken conservative PR man/broadcast commentator to espouse the DOE's position on "No Child Left Behind."

But that's not all. PR bloggers were ensnared in a subsequent, less well-publicized "scandal," an affair that quickly was dubbed with the unfortunate name flakgate. Jay Rosen, an NYU professor and prominent blogger, castigated the community of PR bloggers for failing to take up arms against Ketchum and make this their own "Dan Rather." It all sounded right and good, and the ploy was somewhat successful -- scores of PR bloggers (I was one of them) were herded to Rosen's blog to weigh in on the Ketchum story or to explain why they hadn't commented before. But there were two problems. First, it turns out that a fair number of PR bloggers -- some of them very well known in the PR blogging world -- had in fact written about the scandal (Rosen's online search for blogger posts was faulty). Second, Rosen's attack assumed uniformity in mission and purpose for the PR blogger community. Some, in fact, were rightly caught by surprise -- or insulted. In his initial comments to Rosen, PR blogger Mike Manuel asked, "[w]hen did I sign up to become a PR industry watchdog? I didn’t get that memo." Tom Murphy, a blogger who had in fact posted early on the Ketchum story, quipped: "PR Bloggers Stand in a Corner."

Several weeks have passed and Rosen's attack has abated. But the PR blogger community is still feeling the effects. Several bloggers have organized online forums to discuss the beleaguered reputation of the PR industry (the latest of those forums begins today). And many have written tough and probing analyses on what went wrong in the first and second episodes. From this blogger's perspective, it's as though Rosen's attack had the accidental and salutary effect of bringing the PR blogger community together for the first time, and instigating something far more valuable than another "Dan Rather." PR bloggers today appear to be collaborating in a more thoughtful investigation into their profession. Give them time, and they may come up with something.

And credit Rosen's attack on blogger-class complacency if they do. It was a presumptuous attack -- true -- on an imaginary group. But now there appears to be a real and increasingly vocal group, and it's a group of individuals working out their own contributions to reform on the edges of the network (recall "World of Ends," the Doc Searls/David Weinberger mini-manifesto on how intelligence is gained on a "dumb" Internet). And, of course, every PR professional has the duty to contribute only as he sees fit. As Mike Manuel recently explained his own position on the matter, the "standards and values that guide the way I work with my clients, my co-workers and the media can kick this issue straight in the ass – far better than any blog post I might write." If each and every PR pro were to work as authentically and independently, and we were to continue the discussion, we would have a very smart group indeed.

This "Tagging" Thing

Sorry we missed this earlier in the week -- Olga Kharif has posted a simple intro to tagging, a technology that may be to the blogosphere what search-and-categorization technology is to enterprise data -- a more effective way to aggregate, distribute, and find topical information.

PR's PR Problem -- What PR People Say

This is a great virtual roundtable, courtesy of Jeremy Pepper.

NY Times: PR Industry Woes

Interesting article today about the PR industry's PR problem, and the Armstrong Williams/Ketchum case. This all comes at a time when "other changes are roiling the information business," creating numerous challenges to an industry that has never enjoyed the public trust.

Public relations specialists are scrambling to adjust to a time in which the Internet revolution and a boom in alternative media sources are rewriting the parameters of the communications industry and challenging traditional sources of authority. So, despite an avalanche of freely available information, the truth is becoming harder to discern.

"P.R. has a P.R. problem," said Brenda J. Wrigley, an associate professor of public relations at Syracuse University. "We have to get our own house in order before we go around advising corporations what to do. We are advocates and there's no shame in that as long as it's grounded in ethics and values."

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Weekend Digest -- "World of Ends"

Catching up on our reading, but here's our blink on the past week:

*The NYTimes dubs WikiNews the "Unassociated Press." Cool name -- anyone there thinking of rebranding?

*Trevor Cook continues his patrol on the transparent PR beat, this week with a tough note on Ogilvy's recent campaign on behalf of American Express.

*Trouble linking to those NYTimes articles? Try the NYTimes link generator (thanks to Media Culpa).

*Steve Rubel reports that GM is podcasting. This is getting serious. For a quick video primer on the subject, go here.

*Why is the Washington Post better online than in print? Poynter pontificates here.

*Ross Mayfield reminds us of "The World of Ends", a short manifesto on what works and doesn't work on the Internet.

*Scoble talks about the do's and don'ts of corporate blogging; a nice follow-up to this week's article in The Economist.

The Humanization of Microsoft -- a Corporate Blogging Success Story

We saw this coming early last year, and we predicted the blogging world would play a part. But little did we know that a corporate blogger -- instead of, say, Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer -- would earn most of the credit. See the profile of Robert Scoble in the latest issue of The Economist, only the latest tribute to the uber-blogger.

The article also touches on an emerging debate: whether the success of corporate blogging will kill PR, as we know it. Says celebrity blogger Jonathan Schwartz, COO of Sun: “It's not the end of PR but the end of the old PR department.”

How Green is Our Valley?

[This opinion orginally ran in July 2004, in the now deceased Silicon Valley Business Ink. We are posting it here for the archives].

At this awkward moment in the history of globalization, the Valley would do well by looking at a book called "Trust."

In his 1995 ode to capitalism, the conservative social theorist Francis Fukuyama introduced a simple but useful measure for understanding why certain cultures have struggled in building large business infrastructures, and why others have succeeded. Historically, cultures that have been dominated by strong “familistic” rules and traditions – for example, China, Taiwan, southern Italy – have pulled hard on their progeny to stay closer to the home. And when businesses sprouted in those countries, the tendency was toward corporate structures dominated by the founding families. On the other hand, countries with a weaker gravitational pull from the family -- Japan, Germany, and the United States – have grown faster, larger. The weaker-family countries today host the world’s largest corporations, and perform on a global stage. The common thread in each of these cultures – cutting through wide gulfs of values – is the tendency for people to “spontaneously socialize.” That is, the ability for people to regroup into new families, based on shared interests and common purposes.

You don’t have to be a liberal to find fault in Fukuyama’s thesis (indeed, many of his conservative brethren took shots). Recent developments in the global economy would appear to refute the argument that only the strong-family countries are on the wrong side of history. Witness the economic miracle of China. And it’s difficult to ignore other cultures where the state, successfully, has stepped to spur business activity. Fukuyama’s book arrived too early to deal with what is happening in China. But he did have the opportunity to study the state’s role in building Taiwan. So, the great champion of free markets conceded that the state can play a key role in shaping the destiny of its people. In other words – sometimes, you cannot rely on spontaneity. You have to make a collective effort.

It’s a sobering, non-ideological thought for anyone interested in the health of their economy – whether that economy is global, national, or local. Take our local economy:

We often think of the Valley as one of the finest and efficient free-market experiments. In fact, Fukuyama saw the Valley as one of the most compelling exemplars of spontaneous socialization at work. You can see how this is true. The Valley has been prodigiously successful in attracting a special kind of people – people who are willing and able to spontaneously group, regroup and create new market opportunities and ecosystems of support wherever they go. The career of the typical Valley R&D engineer spans the lives of several innovative companies, and the resume of that engineer might easily tell the story of the Valley’s many permutations. At each turn, the local economy swelled or contracted, forcing many commentators to ask “how green is our Valley?” But what has seemed constant through all these ups and downs was our faith in our human capital – that they would always be there. That the oldtimers would never leave, and that the newcomers would keep on coming.

The past few years have tested that assumption. It was not so long ago that the Valley experienced its first serious xenophobic epidemic, with the arrival of many Asian nationals on H1 visas to fill the big labor gaps in technical markets. Now many of the same people are worried that jobs are going overseas, to the same talented engineers but in their countries of origin. And perhaps for the first time, the libertarian soul of many Valley citizens may be straying from the faith: many are asking whether we need a “policy” to deal with health of the U.S. economy.

But the question, of course, is what’s the right policy for replenishing our Valley? I’d wager that the Valley will always to too libertarian to lean toward a government solution. But for the first time, the Valley may be forced to seek a communitarian solution for attracting the people that matter most to the local economy – the talented, restless, spontaneously socializing people who invent and reinvent out economy.

Were we a different people, of a different nature, perhaps we’d seize this awkward moment in global history by constructing a monument – one that attracts the people we most value. Unlike the French lady in the New York Harbor, the perennially bronze statue will be of uncertain origin, near-certain gender, but of definite sartorial style (t-short, blue jeans, Frisbee, iPod). He/she will appeal to the numerous geeks who dream about starting the next Google. And he/she will appeal to the rest of us who secretly harbor a geek within, and love the culture of the Valley. Whether this project ever gets funded (I’ll try), the Valley’s collective will can position him/her virtually on Sand Hill Road, the New York Harbor of our current fantasies. Next time you drive past that road on I-280, peer West and just try to imagine it.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Simply "Not" Green?

Another nod to transparency, this time against the greenwashers. The Boston Globe takes on Simply Green, along with lax U.S. standards:

Deep green in color and with an aroma of fresh sassafras, Simple Green is a popular household cleaner marketed to environmentally concerned consumers. It bills itself as nontoxic, the ''safer alternative" to other cleaners.

But one of Simple Green's key ingredients is the same toxic solvent that can be found in traditional all-purpose cleaners such as Formula 409 and Windex, a fact that consumers cannot discern from the products' labels.

Demand for environmentally friendly products is increasing, but consumers cannot be sure that what's inside the bottle matches the promises on the label. While Canada and the European Union have government-sponsored criteria for so-called green products, the United States lags far behind, especially for products used in homes every day. Product labels promise cleaners that are natural, nontoxic, environmentally preferred, or hypoallergenic, but in the United States there is no government or industrywide agreement on what the terms mean.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

BzzAgent Gets Transparent -- Damn

Our nemesis supports a worthy cause. If they are sincere, will there be anyone else to pick on? It's a wiki, wiki world, as Bernard Moon has said, so no worries. We'll have lots to write about.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Epiphany in the Commons

Gotta love Mike Manuel's post yesterday about the PR industry's PR crisis. He sums it up well, with a modest plea for personal accountability:

... I think the PR industry is practically the poster child for tragedy of the commons and I don’t personally believe blog posts are going to change perceptions or fix the problems, but I do believe, however, that my actions can make a difference. The standards and values that guide the way I work with my clients, my co-workers and the media can kick this issue straight in the ass – far better than any blog post I might write. So while I don’t expect things to change over night, I’ll take comfort in knowing I’m doing something to address this problem on a daily basis.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

GroupBlink (or the Ignorance of Crowds): Part I

More to come later in the week, but today we'd like to present our individual blink on this subject: that blogger communities are increasingly vulnerable to unfortunate acts of groupthink -- or "herding" -- despite the availability of processes and tools for thoughtful, constructive, distributed dialog. As a tribute to Malcolm Gladwell's new book, let's call this phenomenon "GroupBlink," for what's at stake here is the potential for an extremely useful skill -- the ability many of us we have for rapid, accurate cognition -- to corrupt absolutely in circumstances where the demands of the group can overwhelm reason. Gladwell's book closes with the chilling example of the Amadou Diallo case, where a group of policemen in New York City repeatedly shot an innocent man because a number of false cues were misinterpreted by the group. Had a lone policeman been on the scene, Diallo may not have been shot, argues Gladwell.

While the comparison to the Diallo case may be extreme, we've recently witnessed a number of group-blogger transgressions where individual restraint also could have prevented the commission of the "crime." We're not the first to say this, but it's time for the blogger community to carefully examine its potential for group misbehavior. Or a more positive approach might be to ask, what are the conditions that need to exist for better behavior? Gladwell's book touches on this subject. But for a more thorough look check out "The Wisdom of Crowds," by James Surowiecki, Gladwell's friend and colleague at The New Yorker. Surowiecki dissects a number of studies which all seem to show that groups -- when organized and led correctly -- almost always outhink the best individual performers. But not all distributed groups are alike, and the benefits of collective wisdom come to play only when the following conditions exist:

--independence (each group member has to believe he or she can contribute)
--diversity (different types of group members -- different types of intelligence, personality, style, etc.)
--decentralization (less emphasis on central authority, more emphasis on individual accountability)
--aggregation (a system for processing, synthesizing all the contrbutions).

How does this apply to the blogger community? A recent flap in my world (a minor scandal that has been dubbed with the unfortunate name of "flakgate") offers some clues. More on that, later, after we've taken the time to synthesize all the blinks.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Faux Memo

[satire -- case you're wonderin']

FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF CORPORATE TRANSPARENCY
The WELLCO Groupe, Coventry, U.K.

Trusted Employee:

Without violating any privacy laws or “civil rights,” it has come to our attention that you recently used the WELLCO network to access the U.S.-based Blogger.com, and that you have begun designing a “blog” under the Internet address of http://ihatemeboss.blogspot.com. Let us be clear right from the outset: we couldn’t be more excited about this endeavor! WELLCO applauds your exercise in the “right to free speech,” which someday may be protected under the constitution of the European Union, which WELLCO may or may not be subject to in the very distant future. And we admire the “template” you have selected, given the large assortment of free-but-extraordinary artwork on Blogger.com. And we have no problem at all that you are using the corporate network for your private, literary projects. None at all! We are profoundly impressed by this "blog" idea of yours -- how did you think of it? Well, here are five easy tips for ensuring your blog is as successful as your idea is original.

CONTENT IS KING. Our resident media-relations specialist, Colin Brimley (eMBA, University of Warwick), has made a thorough study of the Google.com ranking rules and has determined that ... content is king! That is, if you desire to raise the ranking of your “URL” on Google, make sure you frequently use the same terms in your daily “postings.” Hint: avoid using tired cliches like “I hate me boss,” or “WELLCO is @#!&,” for few of your readers will ever search under those phrases. Instead, use cheerful, highly “optimised” phrases such as “Coventry-based company posts record earnings,” “WELLCO loves bloggers,” or “Ronald McDonald House rocks!”

GOOD LINKS. If content is king, “links are the Queen,” quips the erudite, fairly compensated Brimley, who, incidentally, has started his own personal blog at http://wellcoisaverygenerousemployer.blogspot.com. Brimley is right! Without a carefully selected list of popular sites on your “blogroll,” you might as well “throw in the towel” as our American friends at Blogger.com might say. But avoid the tired, ordinary sites favored by nuisance-making bloggers. Give your blog some zing by linking to wildly popular destinations such as http://www.eurodisney.com, http://www.ronaldmcdonaldhouse.uk, and http://www.wellcoworld.com.

NO-DRESS CODE. You've heard the rumor that WELLCO terminated an employee for posting inappropriate photos of herself in half-dress, half-uniform? Not true! WELLCO encourages all its employees to “express themselves,” as our esteemed, well-attired American friends are prone to say. Feel free to link to http://www.wellcostore.com, where you and your readers can purchase discounted t-shirts, baseball caps, and American-style beer bottle holders with beautifully rendered illustrations of the Coventry Ladies Madrigal Society tastefully modelling the tri-colored WELLCO logo.

FINANCIAL TRANSPARENCY -- A MUST! You've heard the rumor that WELLCO terminated an employee for posting sensitive data on executive compensation? Not true! But why bore your readers with numbers they can't understand when you can “point” to the lively, colorful "Phun Numbs!" page at http://www.wellcophunnumbs.com, listing our charitable contributions to organisations such as the WELLCO PHUN FUND, the WELLCO TRUST PHUN, and the Ronald McDonald House? Be an “upper not a downer,” as our esteemed, admired, drug-addled American friends are wont to say.

KIDDIE BLOGS ARE ALSO PHUN! Without overtly violating any privacy laws or “civil rights,” we have also learned that your six-year old daughter, Helen, has begun designing a blog under the Internet address of http://daddysbossisafatstupidhead.blogspot.com. Go to http://www.wellcokids.com: we’ve posted some very cool, highly optimised links that Helen can “tag,” including a brilliant site featuring free and righteous ringtones from http://www.eurodisney.com, http://www.westlife.com, and http://www.ronaldmcdonaldhouserocks.uk. Don't be a sad dad -- let Helen be “rad,” as our esteemed, retired, obscenely wealthy American friends can't help but say.

Happy bloggin!

PR PR

See Neville Hobson's essay today on the sorry state of our (the PR industry's) reputation. It's the small things that count, sez Nev.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Stung by the Bee

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Apologies But No Confession

So now the new Secretary of Education is speaking up on the Ketchum/Armstrong Williams scandal, and she's promising a lot more transparency in the communications process. But don't expect her department to own any of the blame.

``There's nobody who's more concerned about the credibility of this department and the credibility of No Child Left Behind - and how those two go together - than I am,'' Spellings said. ``And I have a high interest in making sure that we address this and move on.''

Spellings said she and her chief of staff, David Dunn, who spent time at the department last year, did not know the agency had hired Williams until some point after the contract was signed. The department's inspector general is investigating the Williams deal.

``Is it right and appropriate to educate communities about this law? Yes,'' she said. ``Is it right to pay columnists who represent themselves as legitimate news people? No.''