Thursday, July 31, 2008

SEC Blesses Blogs for Reg FD

My colleague Shany Seawright turned me on to this significant (yet somewhat overlooked) announcement from the Securities and Exchange Commission:

SEC Provides Guidance to Open Up Use of Corporate Web Sites for Disclosures to Investors

Jennifer Leggio of ZDNet provides an excellent review and analysis of what this announcement means for public companies that use blogs and other forms of electronic media to communicate with key stakeholders.

SEC unanimously approves use of corporate blogs to meet Reg FD requirements

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

CMO to CEO: Is this a Trend?

In a recent op-ed piece in Advertising Age, branding expert James Gregory of consultancy CoreBrand contends that Chief Marketing Officers are more qualified to rise to the CEO position than any other executive in the corporate C-suite.

Do I agree with his assertion? Absolutely. Do I think there will be a movement of CMOs to the top job? Not a chance.

Here are a couple of highlights from Gregory’s article:

-A CMO has a panoramic point of view and, thus, has a more important and valuable leadership-training position than someone who has gained status and power through finance or through other vertical silos within a company.

-The first generation of CMOs, whose tenure was brief, didn't understand their purpose in value creation and reporting. They were forced into a vaguely defined role that was created more out of a sense of fashion than practicality.

-While the present second generation of CMOs still doesn't fully understand how to account for brands' value, they are slowly learning. They are much savvier about C-suite culture and have a better perspective on what is required of their position.

-The present Achilles' heel of CMOs is the lack of experience in finance, and, without a doubt, the lack of this vital skill is the biggest obstacle to their ascension to higher levels of leadership.

Where I disagree with Gregory is in his assertion that “branding is now accountable because it no doubt contributes significantly to company value. CEOs and chief financial officers are now recognizing brand value as an asset that can be managed for growth.”

This is simply not true. There is doubt among board directors, corporate executives and investors about how a strong brand contributes to the overall revenue growth and valuation of a company. Moreover, the process of brand measurement is murky and often relies on anecdotal evidence.

I’m sorry, James. I stand with you on the growing strategic value and impact of the corporate CMO. Yet, when it comes to the top post Boards will continue to go with the candidate whose performance and contribution they can measure in a more defined way. And that’s finance and sales.

CEOs' Heirs Apparent? Clearly, CMOs

Monday, July 28, 2008

Corporate Trends in Social Media Adoption

Aaron Uhrmacher at social networking news site Mashable has compiled an excellent list of 35 big-name brand companies now utilizing social media as part of their marketing and promotional mix of activities.

35 Examples of Corporate Social Media in Action

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we are seeing a continued acceleration of adoption of social media across our client roster. Emerging growth companies tend to be more open to employing a broad set of tactics, while making a concerted effort to align activities with their search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click advertising programs.

Our work for security software vendor Epok is a recent example:

Strategic Selected by Epok to Launch Social Media Campaign

In comparison, we have found that larger organizations typically follow a more tactical, pilot program approach by attaching social media activities to a specific corporate initiative (i.e. new partnership, product launch, recruitment campaign, etc.).

Sunday, July 27, 2008

PhishMe's Cruel Intentions

The Internet is a den for hackers, crackers, thieves, thugs, tricksters, slicksters and con-artists. Corporate network, IT and security managers face an ongoing and all out assault on their systems, with the low-brows of the Net intent on stealing money, intellectual property and employee identities.

The sad reality is that no organization is truly secure. The goal is to throw up enough road blocks so the criminals move on to other targets.

Last year, endpoint security vendor Senforce Technologies asked Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) to handle the public relations launch for a new version of its security suite. Our challenge was one of time – there was a four month gap between the start of our campaign and the formal introduction of the product.

To create interest among journalists and analysts about endpoint security requirements, Strategic initially focused on educating the market about a new threat called thumb sucking ( This involves the use of a flash drive to steal documents from someone working in a public setting on a laptop computer.

To spread the word we sent security writers by overnight a package that included a thumb drive with malicious code to demonstrate how easy it was to execute a thumb sucking attack. Before handing the packages over to UPS, we gave a lot of thought about the ethics of our actions. Even with our best intentions and a clear explanation in the package of how to use the thumb drives, the very act of sending such corrupt code was questionable.

A respected security journalist agreed:

That’s one way to create demand for a solution
Government Computer News

Fast forward a year and I come across an interesting article in Informationweek about a new offering called PhishMe from NY-based security firm Intrepidus Group.

This service allows IT and security executives to simulate a real phishing attack against their own employees to identify those who are most easily duped. The company can then take the necessary steps to educate the employee about how to best recognize and discard a malicious message.

Like Strategic’s thumb drives, I recognize Intrepidus’ best intentions with PhishMe. Phishing, spear phishing and whaling attacks have run rampant, claiming more than 15,000 corporate victims in the past 15 months alone (iDefense Labs).

Yet, a company conducting mock phishing attacks on its staff just doesn’t feel right. My take is that it steps across the acceptable boundary of employer/employee trust. And is it not feasible for a company to achieve a comparable result through proactive training?

Phish Me

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Hoop Lessons

I am a basketball junkie! Professional…collegiate…Olympic…international…even high school. I watch and enjoy it all.

That’s because the game recognizes individual performance within the context of team accomplishment. (An environment we try to emulate at Strategic Communications Group (Strategic)).

Plus, the athleticism of the sport’s top players is truly remarkable. Take a whirl over to YouTube and search for “greatest NBA dunks.”

Professional hoops in the US -- primarily the National Basketball Association (NBA) -- are subject to the same pressures that influence most businesses. Issues such as globalization, employee relations, bureaucracy, promotion and publicity, stakeholder communications, etc. impact the product on the court.

This week’s announcement that Atlanta Hawks free agent Josh Childress has elected to sign a contract with Greek professional team Olympiacos has caused quite a stir in the NBA establishment. Childress is the first American player in line to make big money in the US who has decided to ditch the NBA for an international opportunity.

Is this a good or bad for the NBA, its players and its fans?

Henry Abbott who writes a blog called TrueHoop for ESPN is spot on in his assessment. He makes two points I believe are relevant to this situation, as well as to businesses in general.

1. Market leading organizations need viable competition to remain innovative in their delivery of products and services. Abbott writes:

In most businesses, if you do things in an inefficient manner, eventually your competition will come along and do it better, cheaper, faster, etc., and they will hurt your bottom line or put you out of business entirely. That's how the free market forces efficiency on us all. It's painful at times, but it sure teaches some strong lessons about figuring out what's most important and constantly evolving.

2. Too much regulation and bureaucracy ultimately limits creativity and innovation. In the case of the NBA, Abbott points out:

The NBA's collective bargaining agreement includes a ton of complicated clauses. Each serves a purpose, and you can make a case that, all told, it's a good and fairly fair system. But regulation is always burdensome, and this league, famously run by lawyers, is knee-deep in legalese.

I plan to take Abbot’s points to heart as I think about Strategic as a business, as well as the counsel we provide to clients.

Say Goodbye to Josh Childress, Say Hello to Some NBA Soul-Searching

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Employees Betrayed?

As the president/CEO of a professional services firm, an issue that is consistently top-of-mind is how to most effectively communicate with Strategic Communications Group’s (Strategic) senior team, employees and network of high-caliber consultants. It is their expertise, market knowledge, skill set, capabilities and passion that helps us deliver on our philosophy – great work for great clients.

I came to learn very early on in my experience running Strategic that my priorities related to personnel management are fairly straightforward:

--Put people in a position in which they are set up for success
--Provide an environment which is engaging
--Recognize and reward those who take ownership of their careers and consistently perform at a high level
--Be consistent in messaging

To deliver on this promise to colleagues I’ve tried to implement an open, honest and straightforward communications style. This is especially important when addressing issues or topics related to corporate developments or individual performance. A person may not like what I have to say, yet it’s better to know where things stand.

I suspect entrepreneur Cheryl Amyx shared this philosophy about internal communications and employee relations. In less than a decade, her government services firm established a high growth and profitable niche in the defense market, ultimately being recognized by Washington Technology magazine as one of the fastest growing firms in the region.

Yet, when Cheryl went through the process of positioning and then selling her company she chose to keep the matter private, fearful of employee defections due to the uncertainty that comes with new owners. She even elected not to inform her senior team.

This morning at an ACG National Capital ( event which featured an inside look at the sale of Cheryl’s company, I asked her if employees felt betrayed once they learned of the sale. She acknowledged that some did and a few elected to leave the company. Yet, the new ownership moved quickly with a transition strategy that involved in-person meetings to reassure employees and customers.

While I respect Cheryl’s decision about how she managed employee relations during the M&A process, I would have counseled her to be upfront and honest once it became apparent that a sale of the company could possibly go through.

Most employees invest their time, energy and effort to build a company of value. They’ve earned the right to know about major corporate initiatives, even if it makes them nervous.

The Amey Group, Inc. Acquires Amyx, Inc. (1.18.08)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Big Mac Bandit

Tamien Bain has an interesting relationship with the “Golden Arches.”

Fifteen years ago he walked into a McDonald’s with gun in hand and robbed the place. That indiscretion landed him in prison for a dozen years.

Now Bain is back as one of the five finalists in a contest the restaurant chain is running in partnership with MySpace to create a new jingle for the 40th anniversary of the Big Mac. This is a wonderful story and a win for everyone involved.

For Bain, it’s a chance to showcase his musical talent to a large audience with the hope of jumpstarting a career. In fact, he has reportedly already hired a public relations adviser.
And for McDonald’s, this innovative and creative use of social media will now most likely produce an avalanche of additional media coverage.

Sure, there will be those that take shots at McDonald’s for allowing Bain’s participation in the contest. They’re off base. Bain served his time and now he has taken steps to be a productive member of society. I am rooting for him…and may even buy a Big Mac!

Finalist in McDonald’s/MySpace Jingle Contest is Former McDonald’s Armed Robber

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Calling Out My PR Colleagues

After reviewing this blog, an editor from public relations trade publisher Ragan Communications asked me to pen an op-ed about the changing role of PR during an economic slowdown.

Rather than the typical gripes about how companies just don't "get" the value of public relations, I put the responsibility squarely on communications professionals to be more proactive in enhancing our role in corporate success. Is my tone too controversial? Are my suggestions on target?

A New PR Paradigm for Recessionary Times
July 2008

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Readership Dilemma

Jerry Springer and Rush Limbaugh get it. So do Jim Cramer and Dick Vitale.

To attract a significant following in today’s noisy, media and blog-saturated world one has to express controversial views, delivered in a loud and boisterous style.

Perhaps that’s what the editorial staff at New Yorker magazine had in mind when they signed-off on a cover illustration that depicts Barack Obama in a turban, fist-bumping his gun-slinging wife. Whether you believe it's “tasteless and offensive” like Obama’s campaign or merely misinterpreted satirical humor like New Yorker editor David Remnick, the resulting uproar has delivered a level of attention and significance the magazine has not had in years.

New Yorker Obama Cover Sparks Uproar

Most bloggers understand the readership dilemma all too well. The competition for attention is fierce with Technorati now tracking more than 110 million blogs. As a result, the blogosphere often digresses into a shouting match of hysterical voices promoting their respective views and agenda.

Into this mess walks the corporate executive blogger. How can a company garner readership and visibility for its thought leadership using an approach that is consistent with its brand image?

Our counsel to clients is to side-step controversy, and focus efforts on developing relevant, engaging and entertaining content tailored to the needs of specific target audiences. Expressing opinions in a clear and well-articulated fashion is a must, as is promoting blog content through a mix of social media and traditional PR channels. Yet, the benchmark for success should be quality of readers, rather than quantity.

Recently, I had two prospects comment on my blog posts during pitch meetings. One agreed with my thinking, while another felt I was off-base in my assessment of the value of micro-blogging platforms. Both are now current agency clients.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Media's Mel Brooks-like Reporting

In his movie History of the World, Part I producer, director and actor Mel Brooks repeatedly proclaims that “it’s good to be the king.” Although he was playing the role of French king Louis XVI, Brooks’ catchphrase most likely captures the sentiments of Google’s leadership posse – Schmidt, Brin and Page.

That’s because even their me-too product announcements generate a whirlwind of press attention, and send competitors scurrying into the shadows. Consider Google’s entry into the Web analytics space last week with its Ad Planner service. Market leader ComScore’s stock tumbled 23 percent in a day.

The Washington Post’s Kim Hart led her story with this insightful observation, “Suddenly having Google as a competitor could quickly spell death for a smaller firm.” Buried in the article was the point that advertisers may be reluctant to let Google measure the effectiveness of ads placed in its other services.

Google Enters ComScore’s Turf
Washington Post

This week Google trumpeted a new virtual world and chat service called Lively. While the New York Times fawned over Google and its innovation, it took blog GigaOM to provide a much-needed dose of perspective:

On first glance, Lively seems too similar to several existing MMOs, making it an also-ran without a key market distinguisher to be truly compelling (besides being from Google). You can stream YouTube videos in these rooms and embed rooms on websites, and it’s got appealing cartoon visuals and a fairly intuitive interface, but that’s true of numerous online worlds already out there.

I have repeatedly applauded Google for its efforts to develop new services as a means of diversifying its revenue. The company could easily rest on the success (and profits) of its search business. Yet, it recognizes the need to innovate to remain in a position of leadership and strength.

The concern I have is with the lack of insight and analysis provided by journalists when it comes to reporting on market leading companies. Their responsibility is to inform and educate, and that demands asking tough questions.

If business and trade media continue to go through the motions, the reader exodus to online news sources and blogs will accelerate.

Google Introduces a Cartoonlike Method for Talking in Chat Rooms
New York Times

How Lively? Google’s Me-Too Virtual World

Monday, July 7, 2008

VC Crisis Could Slow Innovation

The Dow Jones’ Scott Austin provides an interesting perspective on the recent press release from the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) that calls the inaccessibility of the public markets a crisis for the VC industry.

Venture Capital Industry Under the Gun

Austin also cites a study from VentureSource that reports more than 1,400 companies funded during the dot com boom of the late 1990s still exist in venture firm's portfolios.

“A majority of these companies -- which received a total of about $50 billion in venture capital and employ more than 150,000 thousand people -- will have to shut down or sell on the cheap. Venture capitalists can't hold onto them forever.”

While I have seen too many instances in which venture capitalists have made decisions to the detriment of a company’s management, employees and customers, I recognize a healthy and thriving technology community is dependent upon their contributions.

And it’s more than the money they manage. VCs are prudent risk-takers and provide the funding, counsel and insight that makes innovation possible.

The VC industry needs to get well….quickly.

Waiting on Widgets

Should we be wild about widgets?

There is quite an upside to these bite-sized software applications that allow users to share third-party content. Widgets play right into the strength of social networks, which are merely Web-based communities created around a common set of interests.

As such, their viral potential is stunning. Consider the widget called Top Friends from a San Francisco-based software developer called Slide. It has been downloaded and shared by more than six million users.

In the Washington, DC market, there is a healthy amount of buzz around several emerging growth technology companies working with widgets. These include ClearSpring ( and FreeWebs (

To date, widget use has been primarily the domain of consumer advertisers with adoption gradually increasing. Market research shop eMarketer reports spending on widgets will reach $40 million this year, up from $15 million in 2007.

Are there any viable uses for widgets by public relations professionals? I see possibilities:

--Public companies could utilize widgets to make it easy for retail investors to share with friends and family information about their investments.

--Internal communications/HR executives could build a stronger sense of community among geographically dispersed employees.

--Relevant news, analyst coverage and thought leadership content could be shared with journalists who track a specific company or issue.

It’s just potential though and until there are examples of widgets in action to further the public relations mission I hesitate to make a formal recommendation to a client.

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we don’t consider ourselves to be early adopters of social media technologies. We follow a more disciplined approach and embrace a tactic once we are confident in its ROI.

Plus, widget makers are still working through the financial model of how they should be paid for their work. All of this adds up to a lot of uncertainty.

Tiny Widget Apps Can Lead to Some Big Bills
Brandweek (7.1.08)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Spam Seeps into Social Networks

Like an invasive species, spam continues to creep into social communities with the goal of destroying the trusted bond that exists between members.

I participate in a number of vertical social networks that cater to public relations, social media and marketing professionals, including Gooruze, Sphinn, MyRagan and Brandweek’s At the Roundtable. I get value from the high-quality user-generated content produced by these communities, as well as establish professional connections that support Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) success.

There is an assumed level of trust in messages exchanged between members in these communities, even when a personal connection has yet to be established. I’m afraid that’s now eroding.

Several weeks ago the comments function on my blog on began to be peppered with spam for offshore gambling operations. And just this morning I received this message in my Gooruze Email inbox:

rejoice_dokie@yahoo.comMy name is rejoice i saw your profile today at ( and i love it,i think we can make it together, therefore i would like you to contact me back throug my email address thus:( i will tell you more about myself and i will also send you my photo as soon as you contact me back.Hopping to hear from you soonest, UNDERSTAND THAT LOVE IS ONE, Bless WITH LOVE AND TRUST Thanks and God bless you,Hope to hear from you soonest.rejoice Reply me back so that i can send you my picture for your to know me thanks. (

Are the creators and/or administrators of the social community responsible for weeding this out? Or do we as members of the community have to take ownership?

This is a tough issue, yet one that needs to be addressed. Ultimately, the trust, credibility and viability of social networks depend on it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Starbucks, Corporate Growth Gone Bad

I had a good conversation this morning with a CEO of an emerging software company about managed growth. We agreed that while growth is critical for the health of any company, many executives become too enamored with it.

Starbucks is a good example of growth gone badly. They announced yesterday plans to close 600 underperforming stores across the US at a cost of nearly $350M. More surprising is the fact that nearly 70 percent of these stores have been open for less than two years.

According to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz this decision will allow the company to focus on “enhancing operational efficiency” and “improving customer satisfaction.” OK…does that mean they are an inefficient company that has lost sight of its most important audience – customers?

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), our corporate philosophy is “great work for great clients.” We keep our focus on this principle with the belief that our own growth as a business will result from the ability to deliver on that promise.

At times, we have made decisions that tempered our ability to grow. We’re willing to accept that fate as we strive to always keep the interests of our clients and employees top of mind.

Starbucks to Shutter 600 Stores