Monday, March 30, 2009

The Best and Worst of Satellite 2009

GRID Media partner and long-time industry publisher Scott Chase was a blur last week at the Satellite 2009 conference in Washington, DC.

As chairman of the premier industry trade show in the satellite industry, Chase played host to more than 6,000 attendees, several hundred exhibitors and an affiliated organization that co-located its annual meeting. All the while, Chase set aside time to chat up the journalists, analysts and bloggers milling about the press room, as well as the other contacts he bumped into while hustling from one event to another.

And hustling sure is the right word. Unlike other trade shows which have seen an economy-induced pull back in attendee and exhibitor participation, Satellite 2009 continues to roll forward. My colleague Jeff Majka addressed the reasons for stability in the satellite market in this interesting post.

For me, Satellite 2009 was defined by two panel discussions – one which was truly exceptional and a second which fell horribly flat.

Let’s start with the good. Mobile Satellite Users Association (MSUA) president Tim Farrar welcomed the CEOs from the seven largest providers of mobile satellite services to the stage for a discussion of what’s next for the industry. These CEO pow-wows are typically rather light fare, with generic and bland comments about growth strategies and a healthy respect for the competition.

Not in this case. While the participants were all professional, it was evident that there wasn’t much in the way of affection among these mobile satellite industry hot shots. A couple of participants took a swipe at Globalstar’s Jay Monroe referring to his company’s recently closed financing deal as a government bailout.

There was also a rather heated discussion about the viability of targeting the consumer market with a satellite phone service. Monroe chided Iridium’s Matt Desch for questioning their strategy, explaining he simply does not understand Globalstar’s business model.

It was also clear that Inmarsat’s Andy Sukawaty (a Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) client) sits in the enviable position of having already funded and built out a next generation satellite network. Sukawaty reminded his competitors of this fact several times during the discussion, and emphasized his company’s focus on developing and marketing customer applications.

In comparison, the panel discussion about communications on the move painfully subjected the audience to an hour’s worth of vendor PowerPoint presentations.

While MSUA’s Farrar was skilled in moderation of his panel, Jay Gullish from Futron Corporation merely stumbled through an introduction of each speaker and then let them prattle away about their solutions. No moderator preparation. No interactive discussion. And not much in the way of audience Q&A.

This was quite a disappointment as the quality of the companies represented on the panel was outstanding.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hope and the PR Hop

With nearly two decades as a public relations professional and 15 years of pitching the service to corporate executives, I have long been tormented by the hard to measure ROI of my craft.

The value proposition of a PR investment is fairly straightforward: the increased awareness and credibility from media coverage and analyst commentary creates an environment in which a company can more successfully execute its growth strategy. People do business with companies they know and trust, and that's what public relations delivers.

Yet, this value proposition rests on the shaky foundation of hope. Consider the media relations process. Here's how it goes...I hope I can get a journalist interested in writing a story. I hope my spokesperson is on message. I hope the reporter gets the story right. I hope someone who is important comes across the article. And I hope it inspires them to take action.

Simply put, this is too much hope for a result with a value that is fuzzy at best.

Social media changes this paradigm. No longer are public relations professionals slaves to the traditional channels of influence. We don't need to hope for the hop from journalist to reader.

That's because in social networks and online communities participants self-identify by who they are, where they work, their responsibilities on the job, and professional and personal interests. We can now connect with target audiences directly with content that engages, educates and entertains.

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we've found that by distributing and promoting content based on thought leadership, industry insight and best practices, key audiences will demonstrate interest by how they invest their time. They may choose to follow on Twitter. Request to connect in LinkedIn. Or comment on a blog.

They're raising a hand and, in many instances, communicating they are open to a more meaningful conversation. These contacts via social networks should be viewed as sales leads, potential partners or new hires.

For the public relations professional our work becomes measurable and closely aligned with the success of the business...and there is no hope about it.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

First Foray Into Video Blogging

When it comes to social media the most important lesson learned is that success starts with simply using the Web 2.0 tools available to marketers. At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we make it a point to try it all and then assess how a specific tool or tactic fits into one of our client programs.

I've done some things fairly well, such as proactive promotion of the Strategic Guy blog. However, there are other activities that remain a work in progress.

Video blogging is one of them. Here's my initial stab from the FOSE conference earlier this month. What worked well? The quality of the executives I interviewed, as well as the editing done by the Strategic team.

What fell short? My interview style and capability. In fact, of the three interviews I conducted only one -- a chat with Endace Marketing VP Steve Gleave -- was usable.

I'll be back at this coming week at the Satellite 2009 conference.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Dyncorp's Smart Power

There is a side of the government services industry that is glamour-less. It involves cleaning up the mess hall, fixing helicopter engines, training international security personnel and delivering the mail. In fact, industry insiders often refer to this business as “ash and trash.”

Yet, Dyncorp’s Bill Ballhaus had an uncanny way of making mundane logistics and administrative work for US federal agencies drip with appeal. Perhaps it was his exuberance for the business and its prospects for growth. Or maybe it was his youthful good looks that led the person sitting next to me to quietly whisper, “Jeez, how old do you think he is?”

Regardless, Ballhaus had an interesting story to tell to the 150 or so executives gathered last Friday at the Association for Corporate Growth’s National Capital Chapter executive breakfast. (Photo courtesy of ExecutiveBiz.)

Here are a few highlights:

--Dyncorp delivers what Ballhaus referred to as “elements of smart power and soft power.” The company’s service capabilities include security training and enforcement, infrastructure development, community building, and logistics.

--The company has experienced double digital organic growth the last few years. Revenue has now hit $3B generated from 50 contracts and 100 task orders. Nearly all of its business is with the US federal government and Dyncorp’s average contract duration is a stunning 14 years.

--The value proposition to federal customers is clear and straightforward: Dyncorp is one of the few companies that can stand up and staff a program rapidly, nearly anywhere in the world.

--The company has also improved profitability and its cash position by eliminating nearly 300 infrastructure positions. Ballhaus explained that one of his priorities is to continue to drive inefficiencies out of every segment of the business.

--Ballhaus is betting that Dyncorp’s organic growth will continue because of the government’s increasing need to maintain and manage existing military and infrastructure programs in hot spots like Africa, South and Central America, and (of course) the Middle East. Even when the US military begins to pull back, there will be ongoing support, training and monitoring requirements to maintain stability, he explained.

My take-away from Ballhaus’ presentation is that success in business – regardless of the industry or product/service offering – comes down to a relatively simple concept: stay close to the customer to understand their evolving needs and establish a differentiated positioning. Now that's smart power.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Tale of Two Entrepreneurs

Walking the floor of a trade show exhibit hall is a marketer’s dream.

For starters, there is the assessment of each company’s brand and positioning, based on their booth, signage and staff presentation. Then, you get to dive into specific corporate and product messaging through dialogue with the sales representatives and engineers working the booth. Is what they say consistent with the brand strategy?

The government information technology conference FOSE held this past week in Washington, DC is one of my favorites. Its broad scope opens the door to all types of exhibitors, from open source software firms and security providers to hawkers of developer tools and network infrastructure products.

I set aside about four hours to scan the more than 200 vendors exhibiting at FOSE this year. My expectation was I’d come away with content for a blog post about the innovative technologies being shopped by government buyers. Yet, what stuck with me this year was two dramatically different entrepreneurial stories which I suspect will one day share a common positive outcome.

Concept Solutions’ Phong Mai has the Silicon Valley techie vibe down pat. He is energetic and intense, and committed to the belief that his views represent where the market is headed.

Unlike most west coast-based entrepreneurs, Mai didn’t take a dime of venture capital to bring Turbo Enterprise to market. Rather, he bank rolled development from the consulting fees his firm rang up building Web 2.0 applications for government agencies.

Mai is now shifting much of his time to a product focus with a solution that helps developers create Internet applications using AJAX. His company has already stood up CRM and task management applications using Turbo Enterprise and from speaking with Mai you get the sense this is just the beginning to an exciting story.

If you Mai as being in the third inning of his entrepreneurial venture, then Alan Dabbiere should be in the club house doused in champagne celebrating a championship. The founder of supply chain powerhouse Manhattan Associates, Dabbiere owned a majority of the company when he took it public more than 10 years ago.

However, rather than investing his time on corporate boards and perfecting his short game, Dabbiere was there in the Airwatch booth shaking hands with prospects and espousing the value of the company’s software.

Airwatch certainly plays in a hot market. The company has developed an enterprise application that monitors, manages and maintains wireless networks and devices, while supporting the activities of mobile workers – all from a single console. They’ve gained sales traction in a number of vertical markets and are now turning their attention to the government space.

“You really must think this company has something special,” I asked. This is going to be huge, Dabbiere responded with the same confidence projected by Concept Solutions’ Mai.

Two entrepreneurs at FOSE who are at different points in their careers. Yet, their stories are the same.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

When It Comes to Web 2.0, Government is Where It’s At

Agile, innovative and cutting edge - words not historically associated with the US federal government.

Yet, when it comes to social media and Web 2.0 technologies this is exactly how to describe adoption across defense/intelligence, federal civilian and homeland security agencies. It’s quite exciting and, as a taxpayer, I am enthusiastic about what I learned today.

My morning started at an InformationWeek seminar entitled “Best Practices for Making Government 2.0 Work Now.” Sponsored by management consultancy BearingPoint (a Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) client), I had the good fortune to sit next to John Shea, a public information officer with FEMA.

Shea spearheads the agencies social media initiatives and defined its mission in straightforward terms: making content accessible to key constituents. FEMA has put to use RSS feeds and microblogging to create an interactive news environment.

In addition to proactive outreach and information exchange, Shea also measures success by how FEMA empowers its local offices to engage with citizens affected by a specific event or catastrophe.

I then hoofed it over to the Washington, DC Convention Center for FOSE, the largest government IT conference. I attended the Association for Federal Resources Information Management (AFFIRM) luncheon about the use of social media in the defense and intelligence community.

While nothing classified was shared, Michael Kennedy, the Director, Enterprise Solutions of the Intelligence Community Enterprise Solutions (ICES) group, provided a candid overview of how they are repurposing Web 2.0 offerings for use by field analysts, program managers and policy makers across multiple agencies.

Web-based video and image sharing…got it! ICES has a service called iVideo and Gallery. Instant messaging functionality? Yup…there’s a service for that as well used by more than 18,000 government employees to send more than 5M messages a week. How about enterprise search? They have that as well. In fact, the ICES search offering is used to conduct more than 2M queries a month.

My final stop of the day was at a seminar entitled “Using Virtual Worlds to Conduct Business.” I’ve never been a proponent of Second Life, yet NASA’s incorporation of activities in this virtual reality as part of the agency’s “participatory exploration” initiative is impressive.

Most recently, NASA recreated in Second Life a virtual replication of the Victoria Crater on Mars with the goal of making the Rover mission more relevant and accessible.

While the government workers and public information officers I spoke with all acknowledged they are just beginning to define the most appropriate social media applications for their agencies, what was clear is that there are bright, shining examples of government effectively putting Web 2.0 to work. And we’re all the better for it.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Survey Says Trades Take a Fall

Public relations professionals are challenged with information overload. To provide proper context and counsel, we must understand the macro trends shaping a myriad of industry segments, the strategies of market leaders and emerging vendors, and how our company fits into the mix.

The social media era has made the content tsunami worse. Personally, I’ve added a host of blogs, Twitter feeds and LinkedIn group discussions to the periodicals and journals I read on a weekly basis.

Yet, regardless of how many blogs I add to my Google Reader I still consider trade publications like Computerworld, InfoWorld, CIO, Network World and Informationweek a must read. Their writers know the markets they cover better than general business journalists, and they tend to provide reliable and well researched insight and analysis.

In fact, I have had editors at mainstream outlets like BusinessWeek, the Wall Street Journal and Forbes ask me to send a client’s trade clips before they would seriously entertain developing a story about the company. You had to prove the client was the talk of its industry because the trade media typically sniffed out companies that lacked substance.

Based on a new survey I just reviewed, I may need to rethink my reading priorities. George Washington University professor Don Bates got together with Cision to query 12,000 reporters and editors about the outside sources they rely on for story ideas and research.

The results of the survey are comprehensive and cover a number of important topics. I’ll focus on the unexpected knocks on trade publications, which included:

--Blogs are used almost as often as trades as part of the reporting and editing process.

--For monitoring responses to stories, only Web sites and blogs are considered important. Conferences, trade journals, social networking sites and podcasts are lumped in the unimportant category.

Okay…what’s going on here? I know the trades have suffered due to a decrease in advertising and the lack of a viable Web business model. The resulting cut-backs have taken out many experienced writers who toiled for years to develop the expertise and contacts to effectively report on the most technical industries.

For the trade media to have fallen on par (and even lower) with the mass of peer review-less hacks who together comprise a significant portion of the blogosphere represents a shocking decline in their influence.

If journalists no longer turn to the trades for what is relevant in a specific market should I spend my time with them every week? And, of course, the bigger question is: Will the trades even be viable in the next 18 to 24 months?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Internet-Fueled Self Diagnosis

I was the epitome of good health in my 20s and early 30s. Sure, I’d come down with the occasional sniffles, yet I was fortunate to steer clear of any significant sports injury, accident, bacterial infection or viral affliction.

That changed with parenthood and my current flirtation with 40. I can now count on a run-of-the-mill, yet irritating cold every few months and I spent the better part of a year dealing with an unpleasant case of viral pink eye. (Word to the wise, do not splash around in the baby pool with your children.)

To make matters worse, I recently injured my knee playing basketball at the local sports club and now have to ice down every time I take the court. My doctor gave me wonderful advice: “Stop playing basketball with people 10 years younger than you.”

Of course, when I finally get around to visiting a doctor I come armed with the medical knowledge obtained from hours of Internet research. I scour sites like WebMD and Patientslikeme. I punch my best guesses into Google to see what it spits out. And I try to track down credible bloggers who (hopefully) carry actual medical credentials.

For my knee, the symptoms of pain, swelling and a general feeling of dread convinced me that I was faced with serious cartilage damage. It’s microfracture surgery for me, I told my orthopedist. Luckily, he chose to rely on the results of a MRI rather than my Internet-fueled self diagnosis.

This gets me to an interesting, Web-based survey Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) recently conducted. We asked ourselves a simple question: with so many people turning to the Web for answers to their ailments, are healthcare organizations doing an effective job of utilizing social media to engage and educate consumers?
Here is what we found:

1. 99 percent of the respondents frequently tapped social media, including blogs, social networks and online communities, to discuss and research a wide variety of healthcare topics.

2. 96 percent of respondents said the healthcare industry is not using social media enough to communicate, share information and engage with patients.

Admittedly, the methodology and modest sample size of our survey prevents me from drawing any sweeping conclusions. Yet, I think we can all agree that the Web is the starting point for most people when it comes to their health and, as such, it’s important for the healthcare industry to be fully engaged.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Channeling Your Angry Man

In today’s media and message saturated world it’s the angry man who commands attention.

Think Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh and Oprah Winfrey. The angry man isn’t about gender, ideology or broadcast medium. Rather, it is a person who is intelligent, articulate and, most important, bold enough to share their thoughts even when they cut against popular opinion.

Incorporating an angry man component into the editorial content strategy of your social media program is a must in a business-to-business environment. That’s because regardless of how proactive you are in promotion, readers who fail to find content that engages, educates and entertains won’t return. And nothing helps achieve these objectives more than some healthy controversy.

Yet, there is a fine line between an effective angry man who encourages readership and someone who has slipped into the world of offensive and obscene. The later ostracizes key audiences and can actually damage the prospects of the business. (Image courtesy of

Here are few of my suggestions on how to be a winning angry man:

1. Select topics with competing perspectives and make an argument. Recently, I suggested Web 2.0 companies like Facebook and Twitter charge users as a means of developing multiple revenue streams. I knew this view – regardless of how well presented – would find a hostile reception.

Sure enough, a majority of the nearly 20 comments to my blog post took exception. However, readership of the post was more than five times my typical daily average and the number of subscribers doubled in 24 hours.

2. Steer clear of the three “no-no’s.” That would be politics, religion and sex. When it comes to interaction in a business environment, the chance to offend on these firecracker topics is simply too great.

3. Every so often carefully pick a topic that puts your hand in the hornet’s nest. My experience last year speaking to a journalism class at the American University inspired a blog post titled “Colleges Fail on Social Media.” I shared this post with an online community of public relations students knowing there would be considerable blow back for my generalization.

It came alright and I was flogged in a number of posts that pointed to my blog. The risk of offending this non-influential group was well worth it though, as my readership and Technorati authority received a measurable bump.

4. Consider opposing views and respond intelligently. I make it a point to direct message every rationale commenter to my blog, Twitter feed and LinkedIn posts. I may not agree, but I listen and that’s the foundation of any dialogue.

5. Never stoop to attacks on person or company. There are some in the blogosphere who are quick to refer to others as uninformed, clueless and even stupid. It’s petty and unprofessional.

The closest I came was my blog post about a speaker’s lack of preparation at an event at a high-end business venue. Several weeks later I ran into the individual I criticized at a Social Media Club event. We shook hands and chatted about the industry. He knew my post wasn’t personal; it was just me being the angry man.