Thursday, February 26, 2009

Holes in the Cloud

At last year’s FOSE conference Google’s senior sales and marketing representative Dave Girouard stood in front of nearly 1,000 federal government IT and network management executives with a message about security and the cloud.

Girouard argued that government agencies that move their applications, information and content to Google’s data centers will actually be more secure because managing the cloud is the foundation of the company’s core competencies. If Google ever violated this trust because of a breach or lack of access, their business would suffer.

Like most of the attendees of that FOSE keynote, I didn’t believe it then and, in the wake of continued outages of Google’s Gmail, I’m certainly not buying it now.

I don’t appear to be the only one. A recent survey from Kelton Research and IT consultancy Avanade concluded that business and technology managers understand the value of cloud computing, yet fears about security and data control continue to depress adoption.

Software-as-a-Service vendors (SaaS) and providers of hosted solutions will continue to gain traction in areas like CRM, sales force automation and email/digital subscription management. The value proposition of the SaaS delivery model is too compelling (i.e. cost savings, ease of implementation, etc.).

Yet, good luck convincing customers (especially government agencies) to give up control of their mission critical data. There are just too many potential holes in the cloud.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Coming Video Storm

Years ago Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) developed an advertising campaign for now defunct infrastructure technology provider ViaCast Networks. The creative theme: The Future of the Internet is Written in Broadband.

There is a cliché in technology that you’re never wrong, just early. Unfortunately for ViaCast, it proved to be spot on in this particular case. Small business and consumer broadband connectivity continues to grow with its adoption most likely accelerating thanks to the recently passed economic stimulus bill.

With broadband comes user demand for rich media, such as gaming, virtual reality environments and (of course) video. What this means for corporate marketers, public relations professionals and social media consultants is the requirement to incorporate video into their programs. It’s all part of the challenge of developing and packaging content that engages, educates and entertains.

Strategic has been steeped in video development work these past few months with programs for clients like Microsoft, BearingPoint, GovDelivery and Associates in Radiation Oncology. I’ll also be video blogging in March from industry conferences FOSE/GOVSEC and Satellite 2009.

This is why I’ve been reading with great interest reports of a soon-to-launch video initiative from shoe maker Adidas. According to Brandweek magazine, is “designed as a global hub for video content produced by the athletic footwear giant and its partners...It also has an 'Originals' channel of shorts created by Adidas.”

Adidas appears to have done its homework having studied successful video business models like Hulu, as well as ill-fated approaches like

What’s been your experience with video in a digital marketing and social media environment? I am in the process of compiling best practices from my client and social media activities and welcome any insight.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Facebook, Twitter and the Legion of Freeloaders

Just for a moment, let’s put aside the management philosophies, growth strategies, corporate positioning, and equity and debt structures. When it comes down to it, success and longevity in business is kindergarten simple: your revenue must consistently exceed your expenses.

If it doesn’t, the day will eventually come when you run out of money. In corporate speak this is referred to as a liquidity crisis.

Auto makers like GM and Chrysler are current examples, as are retailers such as Circuit City and Linens n’ Things. However, at least these companies generate revenue. It may not be enough, but they have customers who write checks or slap down credit cards.

We can’t say the same thing for Web 2.0 darlings Facebook and Twitter. Each has become an integral part of my life and provide me (and millions others) with measurable professional and personal value.

Yet, every time either of these companies whisper about establishing a revenue-generating business model their respective users threaten revolt. (Notice that I referred to us as users, rather than customers.)

For instance, earlier this month Twitter co-founder Biz Stone hinted that the company is evaluating whether to charge corporate users of the service. Stone cited Dell as a prime candidate, referencing the $1M in sales the computer maker reportedly generated from Twitter during the holiday season.

The resulting cry of shock and outrage by inhabitants of Twitterville forced the company to quickly backpedal.

Big…big…mistake. I want to know when management at Facebook and Twitter are going to stand up to the legion of freeloaders that use their service. Advertising revenue alone is simply not going to be enough. These companies need to develop multiple sources of revenue and that means converting users into customers by making them pay.

If some don’t like it and turn their back on the company, then so be it. There will be enough of us who are willing to fork over some dollars because Facebook and Twitter make our lives better.

Right now, it’s the private equity investors who are covering the tab for all of us. One of these days the VC gravy train is going to end.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Exploding Satellites, Rapid Response

When an Iridium communications satellite slammed into a Russian one at 22,000 miles per hour it forced one company into crisis mode, while creating a unique public relations opportunity for another, unrelated firm.

The spectacular collision on Tuesday, February 10th nearly 500 miles above the Earth created a debris cloud that presents a remote threat to other satellites, as well as the international space station.
Although its satellite phone service will only be moderately affected for a brief period of time, Iridium’s communications team moved quickly, issuing a corporate statement and making top executives available for comment. (Image of Iridium satellite courtesy of

The communications leadership at Integral Systems moved just as rapidly. A provider of satellite command and control systems for commercial and government customers, Integral was in a unique position to provide journalists with an understanding of why the accident occurred and its potential implications.

The company’s public relations team reached out to a number of business journalists who had been assigned to cover the story. (Full disclosure, Integral has been a Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) client for nearly a decade.)

The resulting editorial in respected media outlets like the Washington Post and Associated Press further solidified Integral’s leadership in the market.

Integral’s rapid response media outreach proved successful because the company adhered to a number of important best practices, including:

1. Focus on how you can address the “why” when calling on journalists. The purpose of the outreach is to serve as a valuable resource for reporters, rather than hyping your company and its products.

2. Have a knowledgeable and engaging spokesperson available based on tight reporter deadlines. In Integral’s campaign, it was CEO John Higginbotham who made speaking with journalists a priority.

3. Understand your place in the article. It may just be a quote at the end of the story. That’s fine. This is high-value visibility, plus serving as a quality resource to a journalist on deadline cultivates a relationship.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Stimulus Package a "Buffet" for Business

Is the economic stimulus package a 9/11 event reborn?

That’s the question government contractors, construction firms, program management providers and technology vendors are most likely asking themselves these days.

After the September 11th attacks, there was a flood of homeland security and defense contracts pushed through the pipeline. In a flash, companies of all shapes and sizes repositioned themselves to pursue these opportunities. Lobbyists and lawyers were hired to lead a trek of corporate executives to Capitol Hill to make their plea for a taste of the homeland security spend.

Yet, a majority of the business ultimately went to the defense contractors, systems integrators and technology providers that have long been a fixture in the government market.

Why? Because they maintain long-standing relationships with decision-makers at federal agencies and on military bases. The President and Congress set policy. Spending decisions are typically made at the program level.

This week market research firm INPUT announced that federal contractors will be able to hunt more than $60B in projects under the economic stimulus bill passed by the Senate. At an event I attended yesterday sponsored by Arnold & Porter, former Congressman Tom Davis dropped this on the crowd:

“If you have a good federal or state/local practice, the stimulus package is a buffet dinner. Government won’t be able to manage and deliver all of these programs.”

The soon to pass economic stimulus will create a new stampede of companies into the public sector. Awareness and visibility on the Hill is important. Yet, to capture business there must also be an investment in awareness creation, relationship building and direct sales activities at the program, base and tactical levels.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Business-Style Humor

Humor is risky because it is so personal.

What I consider a laugh riot, you may perceive as a sign of stupidity or, even worse, a reason to litigate. For this reason, companies tend to shy away from incorporating humor into their social media, marketing and promotional content.

This is a shame though because when done well humor has the unique ability to accelerate the impact of a program. It pushes content viral, leading to a dramatic increase in audience awareness and engagement.

Consider EA Sports and their “Tiger Woods: Walk on Water” video on YouTube. The company’s willingness to playfully poke fun at a glitch in the programming of their own game produced a promotional spot that has been viewed by more than 2.7 million viewers.

I am a self-proclaimed funny guy and I’ve spent more than 15 years peppering business discussions with humor as a relationship-building strategy. I’ve only had a handful of attempts fall completely flat because I recognize that comedy in a business setting delivers best when:

-You poke fun at yourself for something that is minor and insignificant. For instance, my Propecia-armed battle to maintain my thinning head of hair is typically a crowd pleaser.

-The comedic content is relevant to the audience targeted. Recently, a group of my colleagues at Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) produced a wonderfully entertaining video to present a set of tactics for our own public relations program. The video hit the mark because it plays on a series internal conversations we’ve had at the company, as well as gently pokes fun at the personalities involved.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Corporate Rats Running Wild

Jack Nicholson, Leonard DiCaprio and Matt Damon delivered exceptional performances in the 2006 crime flick The Departed.

The basic premise: Nicholson (the mob boss) leans on his police informant to find an undercover officer who has infiltrated his organization. It turns out that Nicholson is also on the take, leaking information to federal authorities about the illegal activities of his partners in crime.

Basically, this is a story about what happens when rats run wild. In the end, everyone takes a bullet.

Life appears to be imitating cinema at Yahoo! these days. New CEO Carol Bartz is determined to stop the leaking of inside information to reporters like the Wall Street Journal’s Kara Swisher. One of Bartz’s ideas is to offer cash payments to employees who turn in their colleagues for such transgressions. Ironically, word of this policy leaked to Swisher.

OK…a couple of thoughts on this. For starters, it is incomprehensible for staffers to knowingly violate the terms of their employment agreements and disclose confidential information. There are more appropriate and ethical ways to express dissatisfaction with a company’s policies.

I also continue to be perplexed by the desperate measures employed by smart, experienced executives in an effort to squash leaks. For instance, members of HP’s Board hired private investigators who then used illegal tactics to identify an undisclosed media source.

And now we have Yahoo!’s Bartz who is creating an environment where rats will run wild. The company may in fact put an end to the leaks. Yet, they’ll be left with a culture defined by suspicion and mistrust.

I raised this issue with my colleague Chris Parente who faced a comparable situation at a former employer that battered by leaks to a local business reporter. Chris’ thoughts:

“(The payments) Never could work because it turns a bad situation even more poisonous. Employees spying on each other. That will further erode morale.

The approach that was effective for me was getting executives out of bunker mentality and actually talking with the media about what they could; making sure accurate information was included in the stories.”

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Vendor Relationships, Fair All Around

Do you care about the profitability of your vendors?

Before you quickly conclude, “no…that’s their concern,” think about how important the financial health of your vendors is to your own professional well being.

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we are fortunate to work with a top flight set of consultants who are critical to our success. Our corporate attorney has been with us from the beginning. And our CPA firm has taken us through more than four years of annual financial reviews. If they were in distress, I’d surely feel pain and our business could potentially suffer.

It is in every company’s best interests to understand and track the profitability of its key vendors, with an eye towards assuring the financial terms of the relationship are beneficial to all parties.

I face this issue when negotiating a contract with a client. Most are fair, yet some companies are intent on extracting the largest possible scope of work for the lowest price – regardless of the impact on our company or employees. This beat you down mentality is amplified during challenging economic times.

Our approach is to be open and honest about our profit margins. We don’t gouge our clients, yet we demand that an engagement be good business.

It cuts both ways though. While companies should expect to compensate their vendors fairly, they should also clamp down on working with firms that run up their own profits at their customer’s expense. For instance, there’s a PR shop I’m aware of that routinely brags to everyone (but its clients, of course) about the firm’s “industry leading margins.”

Here is another example that probably has hit you directly in the wallet. Most of us got jammed up this summer with exorbitant gasoline prices. They couldn’t be avoided, explained the big oil companies. Surprise, surprise…Exxon Mobil just reported a $45.2 billion profit for the year, the largest ever for an American corporation.

Guess who I will never fill up with again?