Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Be Strategic When It Comes to Social Media Tactics

I was recently referred to a corporate communications executive who was interested in how to best integrate social media into his company’s mix of marketing and public relations activities.

It took me about 20 minutes to overview our sales-focused and lead generation oriented approach. I hit all of the hot issues: how we integrate our social media marketing programs with a client’s sales organization; ways to leverage existing thought leadership content; and the importance of aligning tactical activities with a search engine optimization (SEO) effort.

There was a moment of silence on the phone and then he said, “You know, we have just talked about setting up a Facebook fan page.”

OK…fair enough. A company has to start somewhere when it comes to the adoption of social media. In fact, we typically employ a pilot program methodology when engaging with a new client because it allows a company to ease into social media in a more measured and defined way.

However, even if easing into social media means a straight tactical approach (i.e. Facebook fan page, corporate Twitter account, etc.), it is imperative that a strategy and measurable benchmarks be put in place.

Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) recently revamped its Facebook fan page as part of a Web site refresh. We’ve defined two primary objectives for our presence on Facebook:

1. Use it as a platform for the ongoing promotion of our social media marketing successes on behalf of clients like Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, British Telecom (BT), Monster, TANDBERG, BroadSoft, GovDelivery, among others. We’re laser-focused on existing clients and prospects with this objective.

2. Provide a more personal glimpse into Strategic’s culture and the professionals who work for the firm. This content is geared more towards prospective employees and 1099 partners.

Take a look at our Facebook presence and, if interested, sign on as a fan. You’ll receive updates on our client-related social media work.

And never shy from engaging in social media. Even if it is a tactical approach to start, just make sure you have outlined some type of strategy.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Five Most Popular Posts in 2009

Exceptional professionals recognize that career development demands an intense commitment of time, creativity, energy and perseverance. The payoff must be visible -- in compensation, recognition and other reward.

This sure has defined my experience as an executive blogger for Strategic Communications Group (Strategic). In 2009, I penned nearly 100 posts that attracted more than 15,000 readers who together accounted for almost 20,000 page views.

Great visibility and thought leadership promotion for the agency!

More important though is that my personal social media experience shapes the counsel and tactical execution services we provide to clients. You learn by doing…by experimenting…and through success and failure.

With this in mind, I conducted a comprehensive review of a 12-month Google Analytics report on this blog. What posts garnered the most interest? How should this shape my editorial in 2010? Should I adjust my keyword and tagging strategies?

All good questions I will be thinking about through the New Year.

Here’s my top five in 2009. Each of these posts scored high in readership, number of comments and tweets:

1. Three Phases of Social Media Maturation

2. Great SaaS Debate

(Written in January 2008, this post continues to pull in readers via Web search and from my colleague Chris Parente’s Work, Work and Wheels blog.

3. 3 Social Media Portals Revealed

4. Social Media and Enterprise Sales Acceleration

5. Are Hotties Destined to be High Performers?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Social Media Mission Gulf

Even in the same industry professional missions can be remarkably different.

Consider my 20 years as a public relations practitioner. I have penned my share of strategy documents. I have written press releases and pitched journalists. I’ve organized events and worked industry conferences.

However, my role representing technology and healthcare clients is completely foreign to someone in entertainment PR or crisis communications – and vice versa. We have comparable skill sets, and utilize the same tools and tactics. Yet, our jobs and experience in PR exist on unique plains.

This same mission gulf also exists in social media marketing. At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we are typically retained by growth-oriented clients that have an interest in identifying leads, cultivating sales prospects, enhancing SEO and driving audience engagement.

For us, social media marketing is about helping companies find and grow new sources of revenue.

Rich Pesce’s social media mission is also tied to corporate revenue. However, his job at Sprint is to enhance the customer experience for the company’s wireless users, thereby increasing their loyalty to the company (and the resulting revenue).

“The customer experience with a wireless service is very personal,” Rich told me during a phone call last week. “Online conversations about Sprint are already happening. We use social media to join these conversations and demonstrate responsiveness to the customer.”

Pesce employs a mix of social media tactics to fulfill this loyalty mission. He participates in online communities, searches and engages on Twitter, and is proactive in connecting with bloggers.

“Every time I see someone discussing Sprint I look for ways to make a difference,” he explains. “At the very least I listen and respond. Yet, I also serve as a conduit to our customer care organization.”

While Rich and I both reside in this Web 2.0-powered world, our expectations of social media and benchmarks for success are radically different. Quite a mission gulf, eh?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Give Me 5 When Evaluating Social Media Consultants

Years ago when Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) had just found its footing I decided to invest in a new, start-of-the-art telephony system for the office. It was time to graduate from the two-line cordless purchased at Walmart to call forwarding, remote access voice mail and multi-person conference calls.

This was during the hustle of the late 1990s so we needed to move quickly. A vendor was selected from…well…I don’t recall how. A contract was signed with no reference check. I handed over a deposit of $2,500 to initiate work. And then…nothing. In fact, I never heard from the vendor again as their phone line was (ironically) soon disconnected.

Yes, I was swindled out of some money by a con and I was certainly upset. Yet, I came to realize in time that I was to blame for shirking the basic responsibilities of being a customer – do your due diligence.

The due diligence issue became top of mind this year as I read the steady stream of blog posts about what a company should look for when evaluating a prospective social media consultant. Here are links to a few:

Top 25 Ways to Tell if Your Social Media Expert is a Carpetbagger

Social Media Consultant or Snake Oil Salesman?

What to Look For in a Social Media Consultant

All of this ranting about philosophies, expertise and tactics makes the vendor selection process for social media a whole lot more complex than it needs to be. You can always count on consultants to muck things up in an attempt to justify their importance.

Here are eight simple words to say to anyone who comes a calling with the promise of social media: “Please show me your five most recent campaigns.”

See…it’s not rocket science. In fact, in his meandering article about the pros and cons of social media, BusinessWeek’s Stephen Baker lands at the same conclusion -- only hire consultants who have actually done work in the area they are consulting in.

Oh yeah, here are Strategic Communications Group’s (Strategic) five most recent campaigns. They happen to be for Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, British Telecom (BT), BearingPoint and Monster.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Journalism Slides Closer to Its New Reality

The pounding, headache inducing drumbeat of Tiger’s tales of infidelity pushed a number of potentially market changing stories to the back page.

Here is one headline from the December 3rd issue of the New York Times that escaped my attention: Some Dallas Editors will Report to Ad Sales.

Whoa…I suspect a fair number of journalists view the idea of taking direction from and being accountable to sales reps as a harbinger of the apocalypse.

It’s understandable. Many newsrooms have historically been shielded from the economic realities of publishing, with the editor and writer occupants rallied around a shared commitment to a higher calling.

The downsizing of journalism during the past two years has landed like a sledgehammer -- producing anger, denials and despair. It’s something I wrote about in November in my well read and critically received “Open Letter to the Unemployed Journalist."

So, I have to ask: Is a closer integration between the newsroom and the advertising sales department a good thing?

At the Dallas Morning News, it is only the sports and entertainment writers who will be affected by this new structure. Plus, editor Bob Mong told the New York Times that they have been instructed to “fight back” if they are told to do anything unethical.

My take is that this is the reality of future news gathering and reporting. Let’s get over the anger and accept that the publishing business model will continue to evolve for newspapers, magazines, broadcasters and online news operations to survive.

The question I pose above is irrelevant. There is simply no room left for a pristine and uncomplicated separation of editorial and advertising operations.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Bitten by Boorish Behavior

Our reality entertainment fueled and social media infused culture had made competition for the spotlight considerably more intense. Pop artist Andy Warhol most likely never imagined the depth of desperation some would regress to achieve their fleeting 15 minutes of fame.

Consider parents Richard and Mayumi Heene who tricked the nation into believing their six-year-old son was in harm’s way trapped inside a renegade balloon.

And then there is the tale of social and political impostors Tareq and Michaele Salahi who crashed a White House state dinner as part of a play for a reality television program.

Although a disturbing trend, I assumed this boorish behavior was the domain of rogue individuals seeking unearned attention. That was until I stumbled across this story of a semi-professional basketball team tricking its community into buying game tickets.

Utah Flash owner Brandt Andersen acknowledged in his blog that their promotion of an appearance by Hall of Fame player Michael Jordan “didn’t go like any of us had hoped.”

Perhaps that would be because Michael Jordan never confirmed his attendance at the event. He never even acknowledged the invitation.

The lesson here for organizations employing social media marketing is that the tenets of acceptable corporate citizenship always apply. Be honest and transparent. Respect your customers, employees, investors and vendors. And never sacrifice your reputation for a little bit of interest and fame.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Web 2.0 Tools to Manage the Info Froth

Regardless of the meetings, conference calls and industry events on my schedule for the day, I block out 30 minutes in the morning and then late afternoon for my daily information in-take.

I troll a myriad of social networks and online communities for updates from my connections. I dial-up my RSS reader to see what’s new with the 40+ blogs I monitor. And I scan the nearly 100 e-newsletters I receive to tune in to the reporting from trade journals, business press and niche vertical media.

With a dozen clients occupying nearly ever sector of the technology and telecommunications market, it’s imperative that I track what’s timely and relevant to ensure Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) is proactive in its representation. Admittedly, the accelerating froth of news, trends and opinion can be all consuming.

This is why I get jazzed when I come across a Web 2.0 tool that has the potential to help me more quickly and efficiently digest, organize and share this ongoing flow of information.

Here are four relatively new services with potential. An introductory scan of their Web site got me intrigued enough to test each out.

1. Spokeo: a Web-based service that scours nearly 50 social networks to find information about your online contacts and connections. It’s a good resource for due diligence on customers and prospects, as well as gathering competitive intelligence.

2. Gist: free while still in its beta phase, this service allows a user to create a custom intelligence report on a business contact, prospect, customer or partner. Gist sorts through information about a contact from multiple sources – such as Outlook Email, Twitter, Facebook, etc. – and then organizes everything into a single, Web-based document.

3. Favit: a Web-based service that allows a user to create streams of information from multiple social networks and online communities. It’s a good way to save time when it comes to sorting and reviewing updates from contacts in social networks.

4. Toobla: an easy way to organize content from across the Web (i.e. videos, sites, presentations, etc.) in a series of visual folders that can then be shared with online contacts.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tech Start-Up Envy: Why Does the Capital Region Come Up Short?

Driptech, Scribd, SolarCity, Zynga, Fitbit…they are all interesting technology start-ups recently included on BusinessWeek’s list of the “Most Intriguing New Businesses.”

There’s a problem with the list though: not a single company based in the Washington, DC region made the cut.

How can that be? Where I call home has all of the ingredients to nurture a world class community of entrepreneurial technology companies.

For starters, the largest buyer of information technology products and services has centered most of its decision-making here. That’s right, the US federal government spends billions of dollars each year on a broad set of products, services and capabilities.

In fact, the federal Chief Technology Officer (CTO) recently unveiled a Web-based IT dashboard that tracks a fair amount of this annual spend.

This strong government footprint has attracted a myriad of systems integrators that cater to the technical and innovation requirements of government agencies worldwide. Lockheed Martin is based in Bethesda, Maryland. SAIC recently relocated to McLean, Virginia. CSC moved last year to Falls Church, Virginia.

These government contractors – often referred to as “Beltway Bandits” – serve as a training ground for technical and management talent.

Moreover, they often develop interesting products and applications with potential to be spun out as distinct companies. Systems integrator Mantech did just that two years ago with the successful creation of information security vendor Netwitness.

The potential for robust technology transfer also resides in the Washington, DC region’s research institutions, including George Mason University, George Washington University and the University of Maryland, College Park. All have outstanding engineering and business programs.

And finally, there is a mile-high stack of smart, experienced money in this town. Venture capital firms like NEA, Novak Biddle and Valhalla Partners, as well as private equity shops like Carlyle Partners are all well versed in helping start-ups successfully grow and mature.

So, again…I ask…why is the Washington, DC region a tier two player when it comes to technology start-ups?

You can’t put us in the same sentence as Silicon Valley without snickering. And we fail to measure up to technology hot spots in Boston, Austin and New York City.

Perhaps it’s about ego and attitude.

Are we in the DC business community content with modest success rather than aspiring to create the next Apple or Google? Are we too comfortable and conservative because of the government presence?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Many Lenses of Social Media

Thanksgiving is one of my favorites. It’s all things I love -- family, friends, food, football and…yes…social media.

That’s right – you know a topic has gotten big when it successfully competes with Brangelina and the woes of the Washington Redskins for discussion time at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

How many friends do you have on Facebook? Who are they – co-workers, high school classmates, neighbors? What is the fascination with this Twitter thing?

After taking this Web 2.0 banter in for about 15 minutes, it dawned on me how different each person’s experience is with social media.

For the over 50 set, participation in social networks is an unobtrusive daily connection to loved ones. I guess checking out photos of a recent vacation on Facebook or Flickr is a better than phoning your daughter one too many times.

Then there is the still single crowd who taps into online communities as a source of relationship intelligence.

“There is no such thing as a blind date,” one cousin explained.

Of course, there are also a host of unwritten rules that guide interaction on Facebook among prospective romantic interests.

“Friending someone you have just started dating is a major decision,” my cousin said. “You are sending a signal to her. It’s OK for you to be part of my online life and to know my friends.”

And to think my world of social media is primarily viewed through a business lens with a focus on lead generation, sales cultivation, search engine optimization and awareness building.

This year Thanksgiving served is a reminder that social media – like most things in life – is all about objectives and expectations.

Monday, November 23, 2009

One Blogger’s Take on Holiday Fare

Come Thanksgiving the frantic pace of the news room becomes more leisurely. The stream of press releases slows, and significant corporate announcements and product launches are shelved into the New Year.

For journalists, it is a welcome opportunity to pen more human interest evergreen stories along with those predictable trends to watch or year in review fluff pieces. It’s less compelling content, yet diminished readership and adjusted advertiser expectations tolerate such transgressions.

What does the holidays-induced news coma mean for bloggers? Should I delay opinionated thought leadership posts until business re-starts in January? Or is this an opportunity to grab attention now that the boisterous blogosphere has quieted?

I don’t think anyone can say for sure. There simply haven’t been enough holiday cycles to understand the influence blog readership and influence.

Personally, I plan to follow the lead of publishers, editors and journalists who have spent decades slugging it out for readership and the resulting influence.

I’m going to keep on writing – at least two posts a week. Yet, my more controversial posts will hold until 2010.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Dot Com Darling Returns

At the height of the dot com frenzy when entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, lawyers, accountants and PR flacks jockeyed for prestige and attention, Mark Walsh stood tall as the go-to CEO.

Walsh had it all. Good looks. Wicked smart. Articulate and engaging. An eclectic set of followers and wanna-bees. Plus, his supply chain software and services company VerticalNet sported a $12 billion valuation.

Ah, how a cruel market correction and the slow downward drift of the past decade changes things. Walsh bailed from VerticalNet just when things turned south and a few years back the company was eventually sold to a cement manufacturer for $15M.

Walsh has remained an entrepreneur and is now back with an interesting crowdsourcing advertising company called GeniusRocket.

This past Tuesday I headed over to the Ritz Carlton in Tysons Corner, Virginia for an event organized by Potomac Techwire about the future of interactive advertising.

There was Walsh…a bit older…hair now mostly gray…no longer the focus. Yet, he was still in the spotlight as one of the panelists and, more important, the most engaging and articulate speaker at the event.

Here are a few select comments from him on how to succeed with online marketing:

-Ads that don’t look like ads are more effective. The key is to develop content that engages and entertains. (Wow…Walsh is spot on about that. Here’s a post I wrote on that very topic from April 2008.

-Environment really matters. Would LinkedIn have as much traction if each page was loaded up with ads? Intrusive advertising on the Web has long-term negative implications for the brand.

-Great creative always drives the engine. Geico is a great example. Their advertising makes a non-interesting product exciting.

-Most brand managers are on an “accountability jihad.” They force media to develop new metrics and measurement approaches that often have limited relevance or value.

-Brand managers often fall in love with the tool and the tactic.

-There is no such thing as a public relations nightmare. They can be turned into brand building events in an online environment. Consider United Airlines the lost guitar situation. That brand manager should be fired for failing to capitalize on an opportunity to create goodwill around all of the hype.

-Honesty matters…you have to say what’s true about your product and then deliver on it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Horror of AmEx’s OPEN Forum

The integration of social media marketing as a core component of an organization’s promotional program is still very much in the early adopter phase.

In my new business travels, I typically come across three scenarios at a prospective client:

1. A handful of innovators have engaged via blogs, Twitter and social networks, creating a disjointed, tools-oriented effort.

2. A disciplined, strategic initiative has been defined and put in place, yet its scope, duration and funding are limited.

3. There is no measurable involvement with the marketing folks often citing legal and/or financial considerations for the failure to participate in social media.

This is why my enthusiasm leaps when I come across a carefully crafted program run by a well respected, global brand. Market leaders tend to instill confidence among the masses in an emerging medium like social media.

Consider American Express’ OPEN Forum which publishes a wonderful portfolio of best practices, resources and thought leadership for small business owners. The site even sports a measurable sales component with an appropriately positioned option for a reader to apply for an American Express card.

My enthusiasm for everything OPEN Forum quickly turned to horror when I came across this Q&A with Jason Rudman, the program’s director of strategy and marketing.

Specifically, it was this comment from Rudman when queried about the goals of this comprehensive social media initiative:

Engage business owners in a new set of experiences that increase loyalty, value perception, and relevance of our brand and continue to lead in the online engagement space to attract partners, so as to ultimately create additional compelling benefits for Cardmembers and convert prospects.


Yes…I recognize those words to be part of the English language. However, they’ve been organized in a way that most likely makes little sense to a typical C-level executive who is responsible for the evaluation and funding of social media programs.

While American Express may be concerned about “value perception” and leadership in the “online engagement space,” most organizations are bit more real-world in their focus.

How can social media be leveraged to support lead generation and sales? Improve search engine optimization? Gather competitive intelligence?

For social media marketing to make the jump from experimental to the list of must-do communications programs, respected companies like American Express need to attach more measurable benchmarks to their efforts.

Hey Jason, drop the brand-only mumbo jumbo. Tell us how OPEN has helped American Express identify new customers.

Friday, November 13, 2009

There’s Potential with Hotwall

As Strategic Communications Group’s (Strategic) has increased its profile and standing in social media circles, we are approached from time-to-time by Web 2.0 start-ups looking for feedback on the beta version of an offering.

We view our role in this evaluation process as time well invested because, when appropriate, we are able to incorporate a new tool to enhance the success of a client program.

Earlier this week, my colleague Shany Seawright arranged for an introductory briefing with the senior team at Hotwall. The company’s new custom-URL creator is kind of like on steroids, offering users value in several areas:

--Build greater awareness through the creation of a brand-specific URL, rather than the random and non-descript links provided by other shorteners.

--Allow readers to provide real-time feedback through comment functionality attached to the linked URL.

--More defined lead generation capability through the incorporation of a promotional link in the browser tool bar.

--Evaluation of reader clicks and engagement through analytics functionality.

While off to a good start, Hotwall remains a work in progress. Much of the functionality mirrors what is already available in market adopted Web 2.0 tools.

More problematic for Hotwall is the company’s financial model. There is a free version of the tool, yet the more feature rich application sports a price tag of $50 a year per user.

This positions Hotwall against free Web 2.0 offerings where it loses on price every time. Why would I pay $50 for something that is just marginally better than a free tool?

Hotwall also comes up short as an enterprise offering. It needs a broader feature set, as well as more comprehensive analytics to garner interest from corporate marketers.

We may move forward with Hotwall by testing their tool in a couple of our client social media marketing programs. This should give us the ability to provide real-world feedback to their management. I suspect this insight will get them thinking more about features, functionality and positioning.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Blogger's Dilemma: Language Clarity or Confusion

The English language is quirky. The same words often carry different meanings dependent upon the cultural background and geography of the reader.

Plus, colloquialisms and other homespun variations can recast what a blogger considers to be a well-articulated post into a confusing and misinterpreted mess.

I was reminded of this last week at a global communications summit organized by one of Strategic Communications Group’s (Strategic) clients. Joined by my colleague Chris Parente, we had the pleasure of brainstorming with public relations consultants located in California and the UK.

It was during a conversation with one of the UK-based PR representatives that Chris warned about incorporating industry jargon in our messaging. He referred to this as the “inside baseball” syndrome.

Chris’ comment was met by a moment of silence, a shrug and a comment from the UK rep that she had no idea what Chris meant. Ah…the business implications of baseball terminology have yet to cross the pond.

This experience inspired me to review the past few months of traffic on this blog. The numbers are encouraging with more than 10,000 unique visitors. However, as I suspected, nearly 43 percent of my readers hail from outside the United States.

Like many bloggers, I employ an informal writing style to convey personality. I will pepper paragraphs with conversational language and, in some instances, even clichés with the goal of constructing a more entertaining post.

Yet, I now wonder if my efforts to create a more engaged reader are potentially confusing nearly half of them. Ironic, right?

The more pressing questions, of course, is whether I should subscribe to a more journalistically prudent approach. And what counsel should we provide to clients?

My initial take is these questions are best answered by assessing and prioritizing the bloggers' target audience. For me, I’m domestically focused so this more casual writing style is spot on.

For the US-based blogger with global aspirations the smart play is to remain conservative and proper, and, by all means, drop the inside baseball references.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Speed to Outcome

I dig bloggers like B.L. Ochman who never shy from shaking things up.

This week Ochman penned an article for Advertising Age magazine entitled “Ten Things Social Media Can’t Do.” She takes aim at the social media consultants who knowingly set unrealistic expectations with clients that are still groping their way through this new Web 2.0 terrain.

Ochman writes, “Amid the endless pronouncements about social media…is the reality that it is not a solution, or a sure bet.”

Few corporate initiatives are a sure bet. Consider that nearly 70 percent of all technology projects are ultimately deemed to be failures. The star culprit? It is the organization’s own poor planning and requirements analysis, meaning projects are doomed right from the start.

The same potentially holds true for social media programs. As such, it’s paramount that consultants work in lock step with a client prior to the engagement to define achievable benchmarks and the necessary roles each party must play.

Ochman identifies a number of absolute criteria for social media success:

-Top management buy-in
-A well articulated marketing strategy
-A realistic budget
-Integration with public relations and other marketing programs

While Ochman is spot on about these requirements, our thinking does diverge regarding the time necessary to measure results.

She contends: “[Social media] is a long-term commitment to openness, experimentation and change that requires time to bear fruit.”

Fair enough, yet that flowery thinking will not convince a corporate executive to OK funding.

What they most likely hear from the consultant is: “I want you to give me resources for a new and somewhat unproven means of communication in which the results will most likely not be apparent until some undetermined time in the future.”

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we have proven that social media marketing can achieve measurable return in as little as 90 days. It’s why we often use a pilot program methodology to engage with a new client.

Yes…I want each of our clients to make a long-term commitment to social media. However, I’m also clear on the realities of corporate funding and the need to produce results fast.

My takeaway from Ochman’s article? Be real with a prospective client when formulating requirements and needs for a social media program. Yet also recognize that a positive outcome must come quickly.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

An Open Letter to the Unemployed Journalist

It's time to think differently about your career. The pressure created by the economic recession, as well as the shift in influence to social networks and online communities has unfairly impacted you.

You’re certainly not alone. Publishers of all types and sizes have stumbled and struggled their way through the past 18 months. For instance, the American Society of News Editors reported that US-based newspapers slashed nearly 6,000 editorial jobs last year.

It does not matter why you chose journalism as your career. Perhaps it was some sort of Woodward and Bernstein inspired calling? Or maybe you were merely a recent graduate with an English degree in search of a stable profession?

What is important now is that you recognize the elimination of your job is most likely permanent. It’s comparable to those industrial laborers whose positions were swept away by globalization and automation.

Do not fret though. Unlike the gangs of unemployed in distressed geographies like Michigan and Indiana, you have career options.

That’s because the demand for content that engages, educates and entertains will continue to grow. Its source (or publisher) is now a corporate entity seeking to cultivate relationships with key constituents through social media channels.

This is a role you are uniquely qualified to fill. Yet, it’s going to take evolved thinking for you to successfully step into this next phase of your career.

Here are a few things to consider:

1. Keep your skills sharp. That’s right…the attributes that defined you as a journalist reside at the core of a social media marketing professional. Be inquisitive. Wade through reams of data to identify an interesting story angle. Write with logic and precision, crafting a defensible position.

2. Understand that you are a contributor to commerce. The lofty principles inherent in a well functioning newsroom do not reflect the realities of revenue and profit. As a corporate social media marketing professional, you must tie your work to measurable benchmarks related to sales and search engine optimization (SEO).

3. Drop the ego and the attitude. All of those PR weenies and corporate talking heads you so despised are now your colleagues…or even your boss. Be yourself, yet understand that you work as part of a team with a requirement for mutual respect and consideration.

Welcome to the world of social media marketing and online promotion, my friend. I hope you’re able to make this career transformation and set out on a path that leads to exciting professional opportunities and rewards.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Doubling Down on Social Media

The cuts at media publishing houses are now slicing into muscle.

Consider reports this week out of Forbes where 50 editorial positions have been slashed, including the elimination of news bureaus in Los Angeles and London.

This isn’t Toledo and Tacoma being whacked. It is simply stunning that Forbes has pulled out ground resources in two of the largest, most relevant cities in the world.

Wire service Associated Press is feeling the same economic burn. Apparently, management has told employees to prepare for a 10 percent staff reduction in 2010. That translates to more than 400 news reporting jobs set to be scraped.

The free fall of news publishing is not solely a result of the prolonged global financial downturn. There is a bigger and more game-changing factor at play here.

Simply put, the reliance by business customers and consumers on social networks and online communities as sources of high value and trusted content has marginalized the influence of traditional providers of credibility.

You have to fish where the fish are, right? And companies now recognize that their key audiences have shifted to online environments. The advertising-based business model of publishers and broadcasters is no longer viable.

What does this mean for the corporate marketing professional?

There is a more compelling business case for the integration of social media marketing activities into a company’s mix of promotional programs.

We’re still very much in the early adopter phase of social media marketing as a measurable driver of business ROI. Yet, at Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) we’ve spent the better part of two years running campaigns for clients like Microsoft, Monster, British Telecom (BT), BearingPoint, Sun Microsystems, Inmarsat, Spirent, GovDelivery and BroadSoft.

This experience has given us insight into lots of best practices.

Ultimately, there will be winners and losers when it comes to where people spend a majority of their time. My bet is on social media.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Hold the Line on PR Compensation

I spent nearly four months carefully cultivating a new client opportunity.

All signs pointed positive. The lead came from a trusted relationship. The prospect competes in a fast growth segment of the market. The CEO invested time with us throughout the process. I qualified the opportunity on budget – twice.

The CEO personally called with the good news. “You are the agency for us,” he explained. “There’s just one thing I need your help on. One of your competitors offered to reduce their fees by half to represent us. We’d like you to do the same as an investment in the relationship.”

Ouch! That opportunity blew up.

Admittedly, we did consider the rate cut to secure this promising piece of business. It is a sluggish market and clients know it.

Ultimately, we held our ground on our requested compensation and, as a result, the prospect elected to retain a different firm.

This recent experience reflects what continues to transpire across the spectrum of marketing, communications, advertising and public relations firms. Clients are squeezing margins while demanding a comprehensive set of services.

It’s gotten so dire that industry rag Advertising Age recently implored firms not to “cave” when it comes to negotiating the financial terms of a relationship.

This is no criticism of clients and their desire to achieve the most favorable conditions in a vendor relationship. Their responsibility is to their own profitability and financial well being.

It’s up to us as service providers to hold the line on fair compensation. We collectively complain about feeling undervalued, yet then roll back the prices like a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Ad firms and PR shops need to demonstrate flexibility during a difficult economy. However, it’s equally important to recognize the terms that create an unprofitable piece of business and then have the will to walk away.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Time to Lawyer It Up

Although I hail from a family of attorneys, I am no fan of the legal system and how it retards corporate innovation and ingenuity. The litigious inclination of today’s corporate executive is a true blight, limiting the global competitiveness of US-based companies.

Consider the vicious circle that engulfs many firms. They devise an offensive legal strategy to strangle and distract competitors.

Concurrently, they employ a defensive legal front to fend off investors, customers, partners, and…yes…even their own employees who claim they’ve been somehow wronged.

I could easily play the legal card. Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) owns the trademark for the phrase “Network of Relationships.” Undoubtedly, each quarter I receive an inquiry or two from a law firm with an offer to seek out and take action against violators.

“We will happily do all of the research and handle the legal filings for a modest 60 percent of all fees collected,” one firm recently wrote in an Email.

My answer is always the same: “Thank you, but no.”

While it is an important part of Strategic’s value proposition, this trademark (and the business concept it represents) is not core to our success. As such, I’d rather focus my time on more meaningful activities that create value for the organization.

With such fervent views on this issue, you’d think I would be mortified by Starbucks recent legal suit to block the hiring of a former marketing executive by rival Dunkin’ Donuts.

Well…not quite. In fact, I stand 100 percent behind Starbucks’ right to enforce an employee agreement that included an 18-month non-compete provision.

I do respect the right of every individual to seek employment at their company of choice. Plus, it’s absolutely appropriate for an executive to carry their experience to a new position, especially when it provides a competitive advantage to their employer.

Yet, in this specific case Paul Twohig freely elected to sign an agreement at Starbucks that barred him from working for a competitor for a specific period of time. And now he has to live up to and meet those conditions.

Strategic’s own employee agreement includes a section that prevents the solicitation of clients should the staffer resign from the firm.

The employee must also agree not to take steps to influence a colleague’s standing with our company. Simply put, they can’t recruit away other agency staffers to their new place of employment.

Only once in 15 years have I had to ask our corporate counsel to remind a former worker of these obligations. He chose to ignore his commitment. That wasn’t OK.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ted’s Business of Happiness

The Association for Corporate Growth’s (ACG) networking breakfasts always wrap up at 9 AM sharp.

The attendees are the Washington, DC region’s dealmakers. They are the investment bankers and M&A advisors who bring buyers and sellers together. They’re the private equity types and commercial bankers who are sources of capital. And they are the corporate leaders who are always cashing in or cashing out.

There are deals to be made and business to get done. No one dares linger.

This past Friday was an exception. In fact, it was nearly 9:30 AM when ACG president Braun Jones stepped to the podium to thank the speaker and wish the membership a productive day.

What (or more appropriately who) kept this ADD-set clued to their chairs?

It was a presentation from Internet entrepreneur, former AOL executive, professional sports team owner and film maker Ted Leonsis. His topic: an upcoming book Ted has authored entitled “The Business of Happiness.”

Due for release in early 2010, the book is based on a fairly straightforward principle Ted uses as a guide for his life -- happiness brings money and success (not the other way around).

Ted outlined his five core tenets of happiness:

1. Be an active participant in multiple communities of interest. Ted cited the success of social networking sights such as Facebook and Twitter as validation of the importance of engaging with others who hold a similar belief system.

2. Display a high level of personal empathy. These people tend to be our leaders. For instance, Ted pointed out that Barack Obama claimed the presidency because he ran a highly empathetic campaign.

3. Identify many outlets for personal expression. Ted sure has this down. His blog ( is an outlet, as are the multiple social networks and communities where he contributes.

4. Get out of the “I” and be deep in the “we.” OK…it’s a cliché. Yet, Ted talked in detail about how his charitable activities have helped define him as a person.

5. Find a higher calling. This isn’t a religious reference. Rather, it is an evaluation criteria Ted employs to shape the direction of the commercial ventures he is involved in. Whether it is the Washington Capitals hockey franchise or his “film-anthropy” production studio Snag Films, Ted’s mission is to do well while doing good.

Personally, I find Ted’s business of happiness to be a bit too much on the warm and fuzzies for my taste. Plus, it’s relatively risk-less for him to tout such a philanthropic view of the world with millions of dollars safely resting in his bank account.

He’s not working to pay a mortgage, nor does he worry about how to fund his children’s college education.

Yet, this book and his beliefs are no image building play from Ted. He lives it everyday. And because of it he has truly found happiness and (selfishly) the DC community where I live is fortunate to have him.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Like Business, Social Media's Foundation is Trust

For more than 15 years I have played the role of chief rainmaker at Strategic Communications Group (Strategic). In that time, I have helped bring in over $10M in business from more than 100 clients.

Yet, I have never once sold anyone public relations or social media marketing. Yes…those are the services Strategic provides. However, in a business-to-business sales environment what I am ultimately selling is trust.

If I fail to connect with a potential client, it simply does not matter how wonderfully qualified Strategic may be to represent their interests. For a relationship to commence, a client must believe in our ability, and have faith and confidence in our commitment to their success.

This same “trust” must be present for a connection initiated in a social network to naturally migrate into a relationship with measurable business value.

Personally, I like to take ownership of the trust building process by making an investment of time and effort. I constantly identify opportunities to enhance the professional development and accomplishment of my portfolio of social media connections.

In turn, I am candid about my expectation that they do the same for me. Do they have ideas about how Strategic can run more efficiently? Can they refer me to potential clients? How about suggesting a possible new hire?

I’m always amused by those who claim their networking motives are merely altruistic. Charity is certainly admirable, yet in a business setting it comes off as disingenuous, thereby damaging credibility and trust.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Racism and Social Media: It’s Worth Asking

Are social networks inherently racist? How about sexist? Anti-Semitic?

Before you discard these questions as merely inflammatory, take a few moments to study your own collection of friends and contacts on Facebook, LinkedIn and the other online communities you participate in.

I’m going to bet a fair number of the faces gazing back at you from the screen mirror your own. The same can most likely be said about their backgrounds, interests, and professional and personal affiliations.

It is understandable. Social media is merely the online extension of the age-old human attribute to align oneself with others who share a similar background and belief system. The problem that arises in a homogeneous community is those who fall outside the accepted norm tend to be shunned and, in extreme cases, even ridiculed.

Let’s not pretend this doesn’t happen – regardless of who resides in the White House.

I consider my views on race, religion and gender relations to be rather contemporary. Yet, I have also found myself at times in somewhat questionable situations.

For instance, in college I was a member of a predominantly Jewish fraternity. It was not uncommon to hear a derogatory put-down about those who chose a different religious path.

More recently, I stood with a group of male executives at an industry event who found amusement in inappropriate comments about a female attendee.

I’ve been thinking about the issue of bias in social networks since coming across an article about a new online community created by American Airlines for African-Americans. Branded “Black Atlas,” the content of this social network caters to the supposedly unique interests these travelers have in destinations and accommodations.

While in no way do I mean to imply that American Airlines is a racist organization. However, I do question the viability of a marketing initiative that is so ethnically centered.

Ultimately, I do not believe racism, sexism or religious intolerance permeates most social networks. Online communities reflect the natural bias and preferences that come with a gathering of individuals who share so much in common.

Social media is about people and, after all, we are only human.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Healthy Balance Delivers Impact

During a sit down with government 2.0 wunderkind Steve Ressler a few weeks back I asked him when he knew the GovLoop community he created had the potential to be something very special.

Ressler thought for a moment and then said, “When reporters began to call me about it.”

Readers of this blog know of my conviction to the belief that there has been a shift in influence in the market from traditional sources of credibility -- such as journalists, analysts and industry conferences -- to social networks and online communities. This transition of power will accelerate, further eroding the value and ROI of traditional advertising and public relations programs.

Yet, the media’s sway remains, and respected editors, writers and pundits continue to serve as a critical audience for any company with growth aspirations.

I was reminded of this when Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) was tasked by long-standing client GovDelivery to announce their acquisition of GovLoop.

We tapped into social networks and connected with a myriad of Web 2.0 influencers to share this exciting news. However, it was the good, old fashioned press coverage we generated from business, financial and trade media that truly made this a portfolio-worthy effort.

Social Networking Entrepreneur Taking It to the Next Level

Facebook for Government Enters New Phase

Social Network GovLoop Sold to GovDelivery

Facebook for Feds Social Networking Site Acquired

The take-away here is when it comes to marketing promotion, PR professionals should strive for a healthy balance. It’s critical to connect with key audiences through a mix of both traditional and emerging channels of communications.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Add Another Industry to Facebook’s Hit List

My 20-year high school reunion was a real dud and I blame Facebook.

It certainly wasn’t the fault of the organizing committee. They hired an experienced management company, meticulously compiled a list of the 400 or so graduates and promoted the event religiously.

So why was the turn out a mere 10 percent of the class of 1989?

It’s because thanks to that 300 million member social community there is little value in attending a reunion. I am already clued in to what most fellow classmates are up to. I’ve read their updates. I have seen their photos. Heck…I probably know more about them now then when we sat in the same junior English class.

Admittedly, I did hesitate a bit before scratching out a $150 check for my wife and me to attend this past Saturday’s event. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one with reservations. Most of my former classmates elected to save their money and simply spy the post-event photos on Facebook.

Will there even be reunions by the time my 30-year rolls around? It’s a legitimate question.

This Web 2.0 era of the past 36 months has forever disrupted a myriad of tried and true business models. Just ask any publisher.

In fact, the Washington Post published a fascinating article a few weeks back which predicts the demise of the traditional higher education campus setting. Before you discount this, consider that by the time my six-year-old is college aged a year’s tuition at a state school in Maryland will run about $80,000. Something has got to change.

Business evolution is unrelenting and casts aside industries that lack adaptability.

For me, I was sadly reflective as my wife and I walked to the car after the reunion. Perhaps I’ll share this with a few of my close friends from high school. I’ll send them a message on Facebook.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Smart Business of Message Control

It is ironic that a profession perceived to be about message control really has little, if any at all.

Yes…I am referring to the craft of public relations. Prior to a press interview, we load up our executive with speaking points and background information, and then cross our fingers that he or she will be on message.

Yet, we are ultimately at the whim of the journalist and how that message is translated and edited into an article or broadcast that is then offered up as finished content. Consider how often you hear that a spokesperson has been misquoted or their comments taken out of context.

To splash fuel on this fire of PR frustration, we are also completely at the mercy of how consumers digest media content. Accurate messaging that plays well in an internal planning session, can easily be misinterpreted by external audiences. And these misunderstandings can have a meaningful (and negative) impact on the business.

There is simply too much hope in public relations.

Enter social media. While I have heard clients and prospects cite the lack of brand image and message control for failing to engage in social networks, I contend that there’s actually a much greater opportunity to effectively manage communications.

That’s because unlike traditional PR channels a corporate social media program typically involves a fair amount of content creation – blogs, Twitter, Web-based video, discussion creation in online communities, etc. This is a more direct channel as there’s no dependency on a journalist ability to translate a message.

Of course, the foundation of any social media initiative is content that engages, educates and entertains. You simply can’t publish fluff or marketing hype and expect to garner much in the way of readership.

And yes…it is not appropriate (or possible) to control how an audience perceives and reacts to your corporate view delivered via social media channels. Unlike traditional PR, there is a mechanism for response though.

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we counsel our clients that the most effective course is to assess reaction, correct inaccuracies, and engage only with those who are open to a fair and cordial dialogue.

There are some who argue that any attempt to shape messaging in social media is fool hardy and simply about a perverse desire for power. Not so. When managed professionally, a well articulated message delivered via social networks is smart business.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Forgiving World of Social Media Lead Generation

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we have been working on a social media marketing campaign that has surpassed all client expectations when it comes to audience engagement.

Our editorial strategy proved to be spot on. Readership has grown month over month with a healthy mix of new and returning visitors.

You’d think we would be hitting high fives and chest bumps. There is a problem though. While important, awareness and positioning are not our benchmarks. It’s lead generation and in this area we have fallen painfully short.

It is certainly not for a lack of trying. We started with a free offer to motivate readers to identify and share information about their needs. No go. We then moved to a multi-tiered premium content strategy with required registration. Little response.

So now we have scheduled a Webinar exclusively for readers of our social media site. Our hopes are high…we’ll see.

I should be more frantic about our lack of prospect identification, right?

Make no mistake, I am concerned. Yet, I also recognize that with social media we can test multiple tactics within the timeline of a program’s duration and without dramatic impact on budget.

This is not the case with traditional advertising and direct marketing programs due to the steep budget requirements associated with media, production, printing, postage, etc. These tactics are unforgiving as a company is basically afforded one shot to get it right and produce a measurable impact.

A multi-million dollar ad campaign that is met with a lukewarm reception results in the advertiser searching for a new agency and, in some instances, a chief marketing officer out of a job.

Unlike many consultants who argue that social media is merely for community and conversation, I’m wedded to the belief that companies should demand an ROI aligned with lead generation, sales cycle support and search engine optimization.

Yes…it makes the design and execution of social media marketing campaigns more challenging. But, there is time to test approaches and the lower funding requirements produce a client that is more patient and understanding.

Now I just need this Webinar to work.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dear Prudence: Managing Social Media Engagement

After a sloppy and lackluster performance against a marginal competitor the Washington Redskins trudged off the field to a cascade of boos from disgruntled fans. I can only imagine what rookie defensive player Robert Henson thought of this serenade of disapproval.

Actually, I don’t need to speculate at all. Henson tweeted his views more than 50 times after the game to his 1,200 followers.

“All of you fake half hearted Skins fans can…I won’t go there,” he wrote. “But I dislike you very strongly, don’t come to Fed Ex (field) to boo dim wits.”

That gem was followed with this rant, “The question is who are you to say you know what’s best for the team and you work 9 to 5 at McDonalds.”

The next day the Redskins PR staff trotted a sheepish Henson out in front of the local media to apologize. The damage had been done though as the candor of Henson’s tweets made it quite clear where he stands on fan relations. (Photo: The Redskins' Robert Henson gets tied up by teammates, as well as by his own tweets.)

While this incident can be chalked up to the immaturity of a rookie athlete, it illustrates the challenge corporate communications executives face managing and tracking the flow of information by employees via social networks.

There is just so much on the line when it comes to inappropriate disclosure. Consider the public company that violates SEC rules through an inadvertent tweet about a major contract win. Or the private firm that undermines its relationship with a key partner because of a critical blog comment from a mid-level employee.

An adverse consequence of social media activity can also be more subtle. Recently, I identified a new business opportunity after noting a competitor had connected with the newly hired VP of Marketing of a local technology company on LinkedIn.

My alleged touch base call to the marketing lead was met with a “perfect timing…we have just started evaluating public relations firms” response.

In no way am I advocating that companies slam the lid on the social media activities of its employees. When executed in a well defined and measured approach, the measurable ROI of social media is too significant.

Yet, like most aspects of business in today’s ultra-competitive and litigious environment, prudence must be practiced. Here is the counsel we offer to clients:

1. Set a firm organization-wide policy for social media activity, including what can be shared via an employee’s personal interaction. Incorporate these expectations in all human resource materials and consistently remind staff of their responsibilities.

2. Monitor employee activity on a daily basis, along with references to the company. I realize this comes off as a tad big brother-ish, yet (again) the liability of inappropriate disclosure (even when accidental) can be crushing.

Ronald Reagan said it best when referring to Soviet relations in the 1980s, “Trust, but verify.”

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Jump from Online Connection to Meaningful Relationship

During one pre-teen summer my parents insisted I maintain a group of pen pals. While it was a good exercise to develop writing skills, my interest in these far-off connections fizzled quickly. There just wasn’t any personal bond.

Even when there is emotion involved, relationships defined by a geographic separation typically meet the same fate. Consider all of those long-distance romances that eventually run tepid.

Does this need for in-person interaction also apply to contacts established in social networks?

You betcha! In fact, it is an absolute must if your goal is to derive professional value from the relationships initiated in online communities. There is only so much trust and transparency that can be forged through tweets, Facebook updates or LinkedIn messages.

This past April I wrote a blog post entitled “Three Phases of Social Media Maturation” based on Strategic Communications Group’s (Strategic) experiences implementing social media marketing programs for clients like Microsoft, BearingPoint, Monster, British Telecom (BT), TANDBERG, GovDelivery, among others. It’s during phase three – what I referred to as “The Last Mile” – which more intimate interaction with social media needs to occur.

Here are a few tactics we are employing to make that happen:

1. Corporate sponsored meet-ups: they are an effective way to bring together a myriad of contacts who share similar professional backgrounds and experiences to talk business. We organize and host, thereby positioning Strategic’s client as the community bind.

Better yet, time a meet-up in conjunction with an industry conference or event.

2. Thought leadership Webinars or teleconferences: organized to discuss a particular topic and often featuring one or more speakers, this is an effective way to establish credentials while creating a more meaningful bond.

For instance, a recent Webinar produced by Strategic in partnership with the Software Information and Industry Association (SIIA) has led to a number of exciting business discussions.

3. Good, old-fashioned sales calls: that’s right…there is nothing more powerful than the human voice and its ability to convey meaning and insight. Pick up the phone and call those social network connections. The result will be an important step towards fostering an actual relationship.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Jerks Abound at Facebook PR

What would you call someone who has a laugh after causing the embarrassment and humiliation of another?

An insensitive jerk? How about mean spirited snake? Or, you could just compare them to the public relations department at Facebook.

Let me explain. Apparently, the spinsters at America’s favorite social network got tired of TechCrunch taking shots at them, not to mention their failure to follow the accepted editorial best practices of peer review and fact checking.

To teach Michael Arrington and his band of blogging cronies a lesson, they duped them into writing a story about a new fictitious feature on the site that was blatantly ridiculous.

When TechCrunch writer Jason Kincaid finally got in touch with someone from Facebook the PR representative “couldn’t stop laughing for five minutes.”

Oh wow…that’s real funny.

While Michael Arrington certainly doesn’t have the most pristine reputation, it’s not a productive use of time to make him look foolish.

Don’t the folks in Facebook’s PR department have other things to work on? How about helping the company get to profitability?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

3 Social Media Portals Revealed

In early May I introduced the business case for an organization to create a social media portal in a blog post I thought would generate a significant amount of interest. Readership was modest and there were a couple of retweets, yet the feedback I received was tepid at best.

Thankfully, we were a bit more persuasive with a set of Strategic Communications Group’s (Strategic) clients who recognized an opportunity to elevate the success of their digital programs through a portal approach.

Let’s take a moment to revisit the original post, entitled “The Goodness of Social Media Portals.” My premise is that organization-wide adoption of social media – although a positive development – creates a number of significant headaches for corporate communications and marketing professionals.

For starters, there is the issue of consistency in strategy and messaging. The potential for a cacophony of competing voices is one of the reasons why the Pentagon is considering a limit on the social media engagement of military personnel.

Then there is the requirement to monitor the distribution of information to the market to ensure financial, legal and other contractual agreements are adhered to. I realize there are some in social media circles who argue for a free flow of information across social networks.

However, these purists lose sight of the fact that the real world is comprised of lawyers, shareholders and governing bodies. The value of an open exchange with little in the way of guidelines does not outweigh the pain of an SEC investigation.

Fast forward several months and Strategic has three clients that have now gone live with a portal as a core component of their social media program.

British Telecom’s (BT) “Secure Thinking”

Microsoft’s “Bright Side of Government"

Monster Government Solutions’ “Unleash the Monster”

While it’s inappropriate for me to divulge the strategy or specific success criteria for these innovative social media programs, I can share a couple of important factors that shaped the thinking at BT, Microsoft and Monster.

1. Develop a strong, clear and consistent voice to the market, leveraging social networks to connect with and engage a myriad of key stakeholders.

2. Publish compelling thought leadership content from multiple sources within the organization, structured in a manner that easy to access and digest.

3. Share community across multiple social media platforms to extend reach and influence.

My colleague Chris Parente also has an interesting take on social media portals and how they help a company effectively organize and present its content.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Great Recession Marches On

After surviving the dot com meltdown eight years ago I felt confident heading into this recession that the lessons learned from the turn of the century would serve me well. My expectation was we’d feel some pain, yet Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) would emerge well positioned for growth.

So far…so good. We have made difficult decisions related to staffing and areas of spend, however the company has maintained its stability and focus with a clearly defined plan moving forward. Plus, I have managed through new experiences, such as a client bankruptcy.

I can now unequivocally proclaim that I am so ready for market conditions to improve. The Great Recession stinks. It’s simply not as much fun to steer a company in a down economic environment.

With this in mind I arrived at the Tower Club in Tysons Corner, Virginia seeking insight from Dr. Malcolm Knight, Vice Chair of Deutsche Bank. Dr. Knight holds a PhD from the London School of Economics and Political Science and has worked in a myriad of European markets helping shape economic policy.

Here are a few highlights from Dr. Knight’s address to a group of regional business executives: (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

--The economy is fundamentally unpredictable.
--For the first time in nearly four decades, the global GDP will decline.
--Improved corporate earnings are the result of extensive cost cutting. While this is good for efficiency, it is not sustainable in the long-term.
--Stress tests on financial institutions have increased transparency about their health, resulting in more confidence and appetite for risk.
--Signs to watch to determine what will happen next:

1. Consumer spending and household savings
2. Changes in the volume of world trade
3. Output and export growth in China, India and Brazil
4. The US commercial real estate market

--What needs to happen to ensure we make our way out of this recession:

1. Maintain open markets (fight the call for protectionism)
2. Continue the government stimulus until there are signs of durable growth
3. Articulate a clear exit strategy from the rising level of government debt
4. Redesign the global regulatory system so it is consistent across all markets

While informative, this wasn’t the message I had hoped to hear from Dr. Knight. My take away: things have stabilized, yet in no way should we anticipate a period of robust growth.

Like all economists, Dr. Knight is an observer who then applies knowledge, theory and history to evaluate and (to the best of his ability) anticipate. There are no guarantees. And, for this entrepreneur, there is the realization that there remains a lot of recession managing to do.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Unmovable Line in Brand Promotion

I have two wonderfully spirited sons who laugh, smile, play hard and always (and I mean always) test to see where the boundaries lie. My wife and I quickly learned that good parenting is all about consistency in rules and reaction.

Does the same apply to brand management?

I’ve been thinking about this issue ever since Advertising Age writer Rita Chang phoned me to discuss Verizon Wireless’ sponsorship of a “Friends of America” rally in West Virginia. It appears Verizon unintentionally tossed its much respected corporate brand into the debate around the powder keg issues of employment and the environment.

Ouch…for a taste of the divergent emotions swirling around Verizon on what the company thought was its harmless participation in a local event check out the comments to Chang’s article.

Ironically, in my subsequent readings these past few days I have stumbled across several egregious examples of inept brand management. Let’s start with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) that gave the thumbs up to a print advertisement which compared the wrath of nature to the death and destruction of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The market reaction was swift and all condemning, resulting in a hasty apology from the WWF and its advertising agency acknowledging the ad “never should have been created, approved or run.”

Then there is the little tidbit about the dictator and mass murderer Adolf Hitler who has now become the corporate and product spokesperson of choice for a number of internationally-based companies.

That’s right…he is back…the Nazi fuhrer -- whose resume includes architect of World War II and perpetrator of genocide -- is hawking products as diverse as computer thumb drives, condoms, coffee and chopsticks.

So…yes…companies are clearly testing the boundaries when it comes to brand promotion in an attempt of find the appropriate balance between Jerry Springer shocking and downright offensive. It’s all in an attempt to cut through what continues to be a noisy, message cluttered market.

My advice when it comes to brand management is right in step with what I tell my children: never stray from what is morally acceptable and don’t do anything stupid.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Timely News Reporting Alive and Well

There are certain journalists you just seem to connect with. You like their interview and writing style. Their beat is interesting. And they get their stories right.

For me, Rita Chang, the digital media and telecom reporter at trade publication Advertising Age, has long been a must read. So, I have made it a priority to build good rapport with her by being responsive and helpful when she is researching an article.

It has been a mutually beneficial relationship. For instance, she contacted me this afternoon at 2 PM regarding a breaking story about a well known and respected global company that is sponsoring a controversial event.

Two brief phone interviews…a few Email exchanges…and four hours later the article is published with my comments included.

Verizon Catches Flak for Backing Rally Put on by Coal Producer

In today’s social media charged environment, there are a myriad of sources of influence. Yet, journalists continue to rate high and there are often situations where you can quickly realize the benefit of a well cultivated relationship.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Great Content Angst

It arrives in the early morning well before I am scheduled to rise. It begins with the sweats and quickly moves to feelings of dread.

What is this ailment? It’s a relatively new phenomenon of the social media era: the content terrors.

During a new business presentation an often asked question centers around the demand for content to drive the success of a social media initiative. It’s true. Content that engages, educates and entertains is the foundation of any digital campaign.

Yet, we’ve found the obstacles to be few when it is time to launch a program. The editorial strategy typically flows from the agreed-upon goals and we are often able to repurpose existing content from multiple sources within an organization.

The content angst surfaces a ways down the road once a community of followers is in place. That’s because readers are fickle with their time and their investment with you can be fleeting.

Exceptional content pulls them in, yet also sets an expectation that future posts will be equally (if not more) insightful and inspiring. Fail to deliver and readers will drop you from their RSS reader faster than you can say “Friendster.”

Consider my Strategic Guy blog. Earlier this year I was on a readership roll with interest peaking in late spring at more than 2,000 unique visitors a week after a series of best practices posts. It has been slow drift downward ever since.

Each weekly check of Google Analytics creates a self-induced pressure vice that has lead to my terror-filled nights.

Others are feeling it too. For instance, accomplished blogger and marketer Beth Harte just announced that she is taking a hiatus because of the time and intensity involved in content creation.

So, what is the answer to this content conundrum? Here are a few ideas I am considering:

1. Tap into my relationship eco-system. Microsoft, Monster, British Telecom (BT), BearingPoint, Inmarsat, BroadSoft, GovDelivery…we are fortunate to represent a set of premium brands. Can I partner with their marketing leaders on content? Perhaps a guest post or executive Q&A?

2. Go back…for the future. As new readers sign on, I suspect many will find well-read blog posts from prior months to be of interest. Should I repurpose this content into a “best of” series?

3. Aggregate from credible sources across the Web. For our Open Road to Savings campaign, we have compiled content that provides insight into how companies are saving money in a challenging economic environment. The response from readers has been enthusiastic.

I read through nearly 150 content sources a week, such as business press, trade magazines, blogs and discussion forums. Could a collection of interesting articles help me keep up with the reader demanded pace of content creation?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fallacy of the Cobbler’s Shoe-less Kids

A quick look had me suspicious of the newly hired doctor my primary practitioner wanted to pawn me of on. He was a bit slovenly, scented by a touch of stale cigarettes and weighed in at about 100 bills too much.

There was no way I was listening to medical advice from someone who failed to take care of their own health.

This painful experience came to mind last week after reading blog posts from two PR shops apologizing for their failure to maintain a consistent time investment in their social media marketing programs. First up was inmedia Public Relations who explained away a two month blog hiatus on an economy-induced focus on business development activities.

After rambling through a spat of client wins and articulation of their competitive strengths, they encouraged readers to “stay tuned for more on this as we renew our commitment to this blog.”

Next came San Francisco-based Cutline Communications with a blog post entitled, “Wondering Were We Have Been? Wonder No More.” They attributed their failure to post on a myriad of client assignments and other “exciting things” that readers can anxiously look forward to learning about in the coming weeks.

Now I have nothing personally against inmedia and Cutline. I’m sure they are fine PR agencies populated with talented professionals.

My problem rests with the often-cited rationale by marketing, advertising and public relations firms that they are too busy to invest time and resources in their own promotion. Some even pretend this faulty justification is some type of validation of their expertise, capabilities and track record.

Guess what? The cobbler’s kids owned shoes – and probably damn nice ones.

Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) markets itself aggressively, regardless of how much work we have in-house. We have an ongoing investment in our Web presence. We issue press releases. We pitch the trade media. We publish multiple blogs and Twitter feeds. And our senior team is actively engaged in social networks.

In-strategy, targeted and aggressive promotion is a priority for us because this is exactly the counsel we provide to our clients. Plus, we are unconditionally committed to the notion that external communications enhances the success of any business.

Oh yeah, one more thing. Apologizing for dropping off the social media map merely calls more attention to this failure to engage.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Work Whine of the Entitled

It has been nearly 20 years since I last interviewed for a job, yet I am constantly looking for work.

Let me explain. In my role at Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) I invest more than half of my time on business development.

I call on prospects. I schedule capabilities presentations. I develop pitches and proposals. And I build relationships over time with executive-level marketing and public relations decision-makers -- all with the goal of securing business for Strategic.

While I sympathize with the millions of professionals who have lost their jobs during this recession, I have little patience for the unemployed who spend their time whining about their lot in life.

The reality of our capitalistic society in which we all compete in a global economy is that no one owes us anything. We are not entitled to a job we find fulfilling, with fair compensation and excellent benefits. Finding and keeping work takes just that…work.

That’s because once we have secured a job (or in Strategic’s case, a client) it’s a must to deliver with creativity, enthusiasm, passion and commitment. If we fail to meet expectations, then being let go or laid off should come as no surprise.

Again, I do feel for those displaced in the past 18 months. The bright and talented will find employment, and I suspect will emerge from this experience as more productive and determined professionals.

I have to run now. It’s time to call on a few prospects.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Legit Concerns about Federal CIO

A quick post today to share a must-read story that raises some legitimate concerns about the professional and educational background of Vivek Kundra, the new Chief Information Officer of the US Federal Government.

The article is written by John Dvorak, a contributor to Dow Jones and PC Magazine. If these allegations prove to be true, I think the Obama Administration will have no choice but to demand Kundra's resignation.

Special Report: Is US Chief Information Officer (CIO) Vivek Kundra a Phony?

Update: Gautham Nagesh of NextGov verifies that Kundra did receive a master's degree from the University of Maryland, as stated in his bio.

The Facts on Kundra's College Records

Update #2: Vivek Kundra responds to allegations in an interview with Om Malik of GigaOm.

Dvorak Raises Doubts About U.S. CIO Kundra. White House Calls the Report “Highly Inaccurate” & “a Lie.” Kundra Speaks up

Monday, August 10, 2009

Social Media's Criminal Element

There is a somewhat unexpected (yet frequently) voiced concern from the executive suite when it comes to the evaluation of incorporating social media as part of the marketing mix. It is not related to messaging. It has little to do with budget. And it isn’t a determination of performance benchmarks.

Rather, many in senior management express a more personal fear: “If I put myself out there in social networks will the increased visibility result in more targeting by spammers, con-artists and identity thieves?”

This is certainly a valid concern. The fringes of the Internet are populated with these nefarious characters who are quite adept at trolling social networks for prey.

Plus, popular online communities like Facebook and Twitter are now constantly on the defensive against newly emerged phishing scams and viruses. (Image courtesy of

Our counsel to clients is the business ROI of social media participation and digital communications outweighs the personal risk. However, like most things in life, it is wise to exercise an appropriate level of caution.

Here are a couple of suggestions:

1. Do not post anything you wouldn’t want published on page one of the USA Today. That means no personal information, including social security number, home address, birthdays, etc. It even took me a long time before I became comfortable referencing the name of my kids.

2. Be careful about who you connect with or friend in an online environment. If you’re not sure who the person is or how they know you, then simply pass on accepting a friend request.

3. Google yourself…weekly. In fact, use all of the major search engines (i.e. Bing, Yahoo, etc.) to monitor your digital footprint.

4. Have a plan if you become the target (or worse, victim) of a cyber crime. Talk to your company’s legal counsel before engaging in social media as part of a corporate initiative. Don’t be shy to protect your interests and rights.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Zero Sum and a Competitor Conundrum

Can you be friends with a competitor?

Like most executives, I invest time thinking about the firms we square off against for client assignments. I visit their corporate Web sites, evaluate their social media activities, take note of their press announcements and review new marketing initiatives.

It’s all part of my responsibility to maintain a strong competitive position for Strategic Communications Group (Strategic).

While I have a healthy level of respect for nearly all of our competitors, there are several firms where I have a more cordial relationship with one or more of their principals. I make it a point to spend time with them at industry conferences and events and, whenever possible, refer business opportunities.

However, an Email landed in my Outlook inbox this week that has me re-thinking this dynamic:

Hi Marc

I hear you are meeting with my client, NAME WITHHELD.

Does this mean I can now aggressively go after your clients? I have been holding off going after my friends' clients up till now.

Business is typically a zero sum situation. If my business is to advance, it’s typically at the expense of a competitor.

It’s no secret that Strategic calls on companies represented by other firms. We don’t knock anyone, yet certainly have an agenda to win away business. I expect my competitors to be doing the same with our clients.

After giving this Email some thought, my view remains constant. It is professional (and respectful) to be friendly with a competitor. Friends though? I think not.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Virtual Worlds Get Down to Business

About two years ago I took a maiden stroll in Second Life.

I signed on, created an avatar and spent several unfulfilling afternoons visiting a mix of islands. Most lacked much in the way of traffic and there was limited interaction among the residents I did happen upon. I haven’t logged on since.

While I understand the appeal of virtual worlds to gamers who test their mettle against distant competitors, these environments have fallen way short when it comes to business relevance.

Granted, some progressive companies like IBM have used virtual worlds for work teams to collaborate. However, my impression is most virtual residents are a curious mix of techie geeks, experimenters and, even, the lonely and desperate. They are not the sort who offers much in the way of value to Strategic Communications Group’s (Strategic) clients.

It may be time though to take a fresh look at the potential business ROI of virtual worlds. For starters, if you believe the numbers, the virtual population continues to swell. (Image source: Open Knowledge and the Public Interest)

Consultancy K Zero recently reported that membership in virtual worlds jumped by 39 percent during Q2 2009 to nearly 580 million. Second Life now boasts 750,000 unique monthly visitors while World of Wars’ subscriber base tops 12 million.

Even the kid-set has jumped into the virtual fray. Habbo sports 135 million registered users, Neopets has 54 million and Club Penguin weighs in at 28 million – most under the age of 15. Consider these online teens (and pre-teens) will be entering the work force in as little as five years.

In addition, industry groups have now formed to help translate the residential traffic in virtual worlds into measurable ROI.

The National Defense University’s Information Resources Management College has played a lead role organizing the Federal Consortium for Virtual Worlds. With a mission to share best practices, this group includes members from all levels of government, academia and corporate enterprise. It’s most recent virtual event attracted more than 500 participants.

And finally, tools have been introduced to help organizations tap into virtual worlds in a customizable fashion, comparably to how Ning enables social network creation.

OpenSimulator is one such offering. This software application allows a user to build a virtual world on the hard drive of a computer and then connect it to compatible virtual environments, such as Second Life.

Last week I sat with a client who explained she has allocated budget in their new fiscal year for a series of events in virtual worlds to communicate with customers and prospects. OK...looks like I need to dust off my avatar and give Second Life another whirl.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Influence Shift Marches On

I suspect more than a handful of marketing and public relations professionals wistfully yearn for the days when market influencers fit neatly into well defined categories.

You had journalists, both business and trades. Then there were a select set of industry and financial analysts. Sprinkle in a few thought leaders from academia and not-for-profits and…poof…you had a target list for your next PR campaign.

This methodology of influencer identification with the goal of shaping market opinion sure got outdated…and fast. The reliance by customers on social networks and online communities has resulted in a dramatic shift in influence, tilting power from traditional sources such as the news media to emerging channels.

Today’s super charged influencer could very well be a blogger, Twitter junkie or Facebook fanatic. Just ask the folks at Za’s Brick Oven Pizza in Columbia, South Carolina. An unflattering tweet by a prominent college basketball coach with more than 1,500 followers sent the restaurant’s business into a tailspin.

Unlike some respected pundits, I certainly believe in the continued importance and impact of the media and analyst communities. Most adhere to a peer review process that produces a higher quality and more credible content.

It’s just time for all public relations practitioners and corporate marketers to shed antiquated notions about where to find centers of influence. Strike a balance in your next promotional campaign, based on who your key audiences rely on.