Archive for March, 2007

A peek behind the PR curtain

Oh the irony. During the course of researching an article about Microsoft’s new-found transparency, Wired contributing editor Fred Vogelstein accidentally receives the confidential briefing document destined for the Microsoft executives he was about to interview. The 13-page document outlines the company’s meticulous plan to shape the article, and includes advice on how to handle Vogelstein, as well as detailed messages for each executive.

You can read Fred Vogelstein’s views on the “secret dossier” here. Frank Shaw, worldwide president of Microsoft’s PR agency Waggener Edstrom, makes a valiant attempt to explain away the document and defuse the situation here.

So is this a real peek behind the PR curtain? Is this typical of the way PR works? Yes and no.

Yes, PR will always put together an executive briefing document for every media interview. Everyone likes to prep before a meeting. Mostly we do this in the hopes that the executive will come to the interview with something interesting to say. No, briefing documents do not normally run to 13 pages. More like one or two. Yes, we include some background on the journalist in the briefing document – usually a quick bio and whether or not they’ve met that executive/company before. No, we don’t keep dossiers on journalists. Yes, all PR people try to influence articles. That’s the job, and we do it by talking to journalists, providing them with information and putting them in touch with executives. No, we don’t normally plan it like a military manoeuvre.

I’ve been thinking about starting a series of PR tips on this blog. So here is number one: always always re-read an email and check the recipient before you send it.

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March 28, 2007 at 4:04 pm Leave a comment

InfoWorld: the beginning of the end?

Wow. I have to say that I was a little shocked when I heard the news that venerable, 29-year old trade publication InfoWorld is closing its print edition. To be clear: “InfoWorld is not dead. We’re not going anywhere. We are merely embracing a more efficient delivery mechanism –the Web — at InfoWorld.com.”

Why? Because advertisers prefer the more immediate results, deeper targeting and better tracking of the online publication. It seems that many print editions these days are just storefronts for their online counterparts – or as Owen Thomas puts it, “on life support, on the theory that the print edition adds brand awareness and gravitas to the websites.” Owen also has a theory about why, out of the IDG stable, InfoWorld’s print title was chosen for the chop: “Computerworld, InfoWorld’s longtime internal rival, is IDG founder and chairman Pat McGovern’s baby, the original title on which he built his tech-publishing empire.”

Perhaps this is a sad but inevitable day. Especially in the tech world, many readers prefer to consume news online, and many of them probably streamline their reading by using Google alerts or keyword searches to find the stuff they’re interested in. All very efficient, but, as Seth Grimes puts it, it eliminates “the opportunity for accidental discovery” that flicking through a physical publication provides. And I’ve got to agree with InfoWorld editor-in-chief Steve Fox that “it’s hard to beat a magazine for its tactility and visceral thrill.” That said, I do a lot of reading in my job, and the only magazine I subscribe to is Vanity Fair. I can’t imagine ever reading those 5000-word articles online, but maybe I’m wrong…

Rumor of Infoworld’s folding caused a flurry of debate over the future of the mainstream media this weekend. For a summary, check out Andy Beal’s Marketing Pilgrim.

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March 26, 2007 at 1:03 pm Leave a comment

Step away from the keyboard

If you can, that is. March 24 has been designated World Shutdown Day. The idea, it seems, is to see if we can all manage without our computers for just one day. And just to make it easier, it’s a Saturday.

If you think you’ve got what it takes, go to the official site and click on “I can.” As I write this, 52,366 brave souls have vowed to stay away from their computers for 24 hours. But for 8,212 people, there’s just no cure for the addiction…

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March 22, 2007 at 5:01 pm Leave a comment

Hillary 1984: Where did our message go?

Is Web 2.0 finally democratizing democracy? The Hillary 1984 (or “Vote Different”) video – now viewed over a million times on YouTube – clearly shows that the political campaigns are no longer in control of the message. In one fell swoop, it has de-positioned Hillary as the old guard and made Barack Obama the coolest kid on the block – and no one knows who is responsible. Perhaps we will never know. According to Simon Rosenberg, president of the Washington-based New Democrat Network, quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle: “It will no longer be a top-down candidate message; that’s a 20th century broadcast model.”

UPDATE The Huffington Post revealed the video’s creator today: a guy called Phil de Vellis who put it together at home on his Mac. Here’s what he has to say.

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March 20, 2007 at 3:07 pm 2 comments

Cuban called it, and other stories – March 14, 2007

Cuban called it. And so it came to pass that Mark Cuban’s dire warnings about the fate of YouTube seem to be coming true. Cuban has long said that it’s only a matter of time before YouTube gets clobbered by copyright owners, and now of course it’s being sued by Viacom. In his latest post on the topic, Cuban asserts that “Google may not know it, but they have already lost” because “the entertainment industry may not be great at many things, but getting copyright law changed to meet their expecations is one thing they are better than anyone at.”

Slacker promises much, but can it deliver? That seems to be the consensus from the huge amount of coverage of the launch of Slacker today. Right now, it’s a “personalized Internet radio station” similar to Pandora, but it has ambitions to be a whole lot more: a music download service and an iPod killer. It currently has $13.5 m in funding, but as TechCrunch says, “they will probably need a whole lot more to pull this off.” And speaking of Pandora, Sun Microsystems – would you believe – has a great music search and recommendation technology incubating in its labs. Called Search inside the Music, it works by comparing the acoustic qualities of music to group tracks into genres. I’ve seen a demo and it’s pretty cool, but as yet there is no indication of how Sun plans to commercialize it.

Still twittering. Amusing post from twitter-naysayer Kevin Dugan.

Google moving away from net neutrality stance? So says Drew Clark of GigaOm.

Behind the VC curtain. Matt Marshall reports on a new site that invites entrepreneurs to rate VCs. Uh oh.

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March 14, 2007 at 12:00 pm 1 comment

What’s all the twittering about?

With South by Southwest starting this past weekend, twittermania seems to have reached new heights. Ross Mayfield thinks it’s reaching a tipping point among the people he knows, and even John Edwards is twittering. So what is twitter? The official description is “a global community of friends and strangers answering one simple question: What are you doing?” Some of the unofficial descriptions are perhaps more helpful – a micro blog, instant messaging on steroids, everywhere messaging, everywhere publishing.

I have to admit that I am not a twitterer, but it does seem to be addictive for the people who use it. Steve Rubel thinks that it may well become more popular than blogging. For some interesting discussion on its upsides and downsides, check out Chris Heuer’s post (and the comments). And if you’re thinking of taking it up, here are some tips.

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March 12, 2007 at 7:02 pm Leave a comment

What’s the verdict on USA Today’s revamp?

It’s been a few days now since USA Today introduced its pretty radical site redesign that includes social networking features such as reader comments on all articles, digg-like reader recommendations and the opportunity for readers to write their own reviews.

Judging by the comments on the editors’ note (319 of them at the time of writing), it’s one big flop – the ones I read were universally negative and most people claimed to be moving their home pages to CNN. Nevertheless, these people had bothered to create a profile on the site and leave a comment, which is the whole point after all. I suspect many of them were just miffed at losing their familiar home page.

BusinessWeek immediately pointed out the dangers of unmoderated comments. Steve Rubel felt it didn’t go far enough in its use of social networking technologies. TechCruch said bravo! and there’s lots of interesting discussion in the comments. For a more in-depth analysis of the site’s features, take a look at Steve O’Hear’s blog.

I have to say that I like it – albeit that I am not overly familiar with its previous look. I applaud the paper for taking such a bold move. It has done what I’m sure a bunch of other mainstream media are considering. No doubt it hasn’t got everything right, but I hope it doesn’t end up as the pioneer with arrows in its back…

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March 6, 2007 at 8:34 pm Leave a comment

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