Archive for October, 2009

Old & New PR: Break the Cookie Cutter by Revealing Clients’ Human Qualities

Posted on October 26, 2009. Filed under: Jazz, Public Relations Marketing, Social Media, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

As I think about social media and inbound marketing, my mind sifts through what things we did in traditional PR that can stay — and what’s gotta go. In that mindset, how do we help our clients to stand out in the crowd? Let’s keep story telling. Let’s ditch ‘spin’.

What hasn’t changed from my old to my new PR thinking is that we differentiate our clients by humanizing them. Fortunately ‘being human’ is a social media watchword! But when you look at website after website or press release after press release in a given industry and encounter jargon and sameness from company to company, you see that this humanizing business can be a real challenge.

Then – and especially now — when companies take safe haven in communications conformity, they do so at their peril. From a PR practitioner’s standpoint there’s no reason for it — though convincing clients to humanize can be risky and require a fair amount of education, client service elbow grease and creativity.

The most seemingly ‘cookie cutter’ business probably has a personality and culture that makes it a oner. It always was — and still is — up to PR and marketing professionals to learn enough about what makes our clients tick to understand how this differentiates the way they do business from their competitors. Building a relationship where the client trusts that we will humanize them professionally and in their best interest, can serve as a model for the relationships we help them to build with their important audiences.

I remember 20+ years ago taking on a relatively new bagel baking company as a client. A skeptical colleague said, “What can you possibly do for such a commodity business? There’s a bagel shop on every block?”

Turns out that the business was run by two brothers who were willing to let me personalize them in their PR campaigns. One was the baker and, I learned, he had created an awesome, crusty Italian hearth bread, in addition to his staple bagel products. He was a really sweet guy who loved kids and coached softball. The other brother — a former Ford model who had made ‘the Italian Look’ famous on the international fashion scene – was handling business development. As we built a relationship, we discovered that he and I had worked on the same high profile men’s fashion awards show in New York for years but hadn’t met.

Italian Look, Italian bread. There was something interesting here! And the connection we established in the ‘getting to know you’ phase allowed the brothers to trust my instincts about how to connect them to their publics.

So, what did we do to differentiate them? The Ford model brother and I contacted the top designers we both knew and put on a dazzling charity fashion show that people remember to this day. With the baking brother we set up a hometown baker apprenticeship program for non-college-bound kids.

In promoting these efforts, their baked goods – as high quality and delicious as they were – were pretty much secondary. The human interest and the lack of commercialism attracted incredible media attention. People came, tasted and bought. By offering their unique talents, their caring qualities and their wares for the greater good of their community, they were embraced and became the most famous bagel shop in the state. The business is thriving still.

Solid PR practitioners have been creating these kinds of client representation strategies since the start of the profession. In recent years, many have been sidetracked, buying into the idea that we have to ‘spin’. But, if we creatively focus on how our clients’ human qualities drive the business, there’s no need to spin anything. The reality of who they are is quite good enough, thank you.

As we move marketing and PR into online communities the same principles hold true – in spades. On the social Web this approach is the expected one. By participating and making a contribution, our clients will attract the positive attention they deserve.

OK – to the music! One of the reasons I love jazz is that it offers endless variations on themes. In fact, jazz improvisation provides the perfect example of how to apply skill and creativity to break the cookie cutter. Today I was in the mood for piano music – solo piano to kind of ease into the week. I pulled out the piano genius Bill Evans’ Conversations With Myself, which in a way this blog is, although it is absolutely meant to be shared with you all.

In reality, the album isn’t a pure solo piano effort because Evans overdubbed a ‘third hand’ onto each tune – a bit of technological tinkering that was largely unpopular at the time — 1963. And maybe it still is. It makes for an unusual and unique sound, revealing Evans’ personal human qualities that can be mischievous and ironic. Regardless, it is considered a classic.

In reviewing the play list, I discovered that it included Evans’ rendition of Love Theme From Spartacus, the tune that accompanied my first blog post, played by Yusef Lateef. I didn’t even think that I had a recording of this tune by another artist – but there it was. So now you’ll hear it again through the filter of Bill Evans. Have fun listening to them back-to-back. Each jazz musician makes a tune his very own. That’s what we all do and must communicate about our businesses within our industries!

 Enjoy! Hope to see you soon.

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Philly vs New York! Future of Newspapers — Part 2

Posted on October 20, 2009. Filed under: Jazz, Newspapers, Public Relations Marketing, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

No, I’m not offering wishful thinking about the World Series pairing  – although I’m partial to a back-to-back Series win for my hometown team. What I’m amazed to tell you is that my native Philadelphia Inquirer is up there with my adopted New York Times in the race for major dailies to figure out how to leverage print content – and monetize it – online.

In fact, this is shaping up as a week of focus on forward-thinking print media strategies. Yesterday’s post was about the new weekly paper concept of the Westchester Eye. Today I get an email from the Inquirer, subject line: Think Green – Get the eInquirer Online.

Aside from my first sarcastic thought that online would be the obvious place to get an e-paper, I was immediately curious as to how the eInquirer might differ from the online content currently available on Philly.com, the existing Inquirer/Daily News website. So I clicked.

Well here it is folks. For those who can’t bear to give up the look of the print paper — including me to a degree, the eInquirer delivers an identical on-screen facsimile — complete with ads. As my impatient mind raced forward I asked myself, “Looks good, nice try. But people don’t access content online the same way they do in print.”

Nonetheless, I decided to click on the free two-week no obligation trial. A demo popped up and it didn’t take long til I began to think, “Maybe they’re onto something here!” What you can do is flip through the ‘paper’ as though you were perusing the print version. But as you cursor over stories additional info, including story rank, pops up. If you wish, you can click on a story to opt for a couple of different online-friendly reading formats.

You can also clip, organize and save articles. From the tool bar you can access drop-down menus, email and share stories via social media networks, subscribe to condensed RSS feeds, view all photos in the paper in a gallery, access breaking news, go back to prior issues and archives and take advantage of a variety of search and other nifty options – including downloads and a mobile version.

The price? $2.25 per week delivered to your inbox. I checked to see how this compares to the print subscription price and was offered eight weeks for $48.64 — creative pricing ;-) – or $6.08 per week. In my estimation, I think that a tad more than a third of the cost of print for an online version that gives convenience, flexibility and far more functionality is an attractive deal. Plus you get to save some trees. But I’m interested to know what you all think.

The question I have is, will people gravitate to the $2.25-per-week replica – even with bells and whistles — when they can still go to the robust Philly.com and get news, commentary, entertainment calendars and more for free. I’ll let you know how I like my trial e-subscription and will get more info about how or whether the Inquirer plans to migrate to an all-paid model and ditch its free content.

The New York Times also offers an electronic edition for $9.99 per month for Monday through Friday delivery ($87.95 for a one-year sign-up) and $14.99 per month for seven days ($174.95 for a one-year sign-up). As far as recall the Times has never marketed this option to me, though I’m a subscriber.

Recently I reduced my seven-day print subscription to the Times’ ‘Weekender’ delivery option — Friday through Sunday. It runs about $26 per month vs $48, and the rest of the time I get my news online. That might explain why the electronic version is buried in a link low on the left-hand sidebar of NYTimes.com.  But if, as its copy says, “The future of the digital newspaper has arrived!,” maybe the Times ought to give it a bigger shout out and see what happens. As I think of throwing out the weekend papers I didn’t read because I was away, from here I’m going to sign up for my NYTimes seven-day free trial of a full week of the electronic version. 

Anyhow – Go Philly! Go Phils!! My hometown – which, as I’ve noted elsewhere on this blog sometimes has a bit of an inferiority complex vs NYC –  can be proud of its championship baseball team and of its paper as it innovates to survive in a digital world.

In honor of Philadelphia, you’re listening to native son Joey DeFrancesco on Hammond B-3 organ (an instrument that drives me wild!) as well as trumpet. He’s playing Naima, a rare gentle tune by legendary jazz tenor sax player John Coltrane, another Philly native. It’s from Joey’s album Reboppin’.

 Enjoy! See you soon!

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You’re Launching What?!! The Future of Newspapers — Today!

Posted on October 18, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

We’re all well aware that print publishing is in serious trouble. The Seattle Post- Intelligencer and other fabled dailies are no more. Gourmet Magazine is defunct. BusinessWeek has been herded into the Bloomberg stable. And efforts to monetize print content online, has been largely unsuccessful. Consider The New York Times’ failed effort to take even part of its premium online content out of the ‘free’ column.

 Despite these gloomy facts, some print media veterans are exploring where print’s future may lie. Case in point is Westchester Eye, a weekly paper launched today (Monday, Oct 19) by newspaper veterans – and long-time Westchester County, New York residents — Kenneth A. Chandler, Publisher & Editorial Director and Peter Moses, Editor-in-Chief.

 I met the two on Friday when they presented to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Westchester-Fairfield Chapter. They see a niche for a new kind of regional weekly publication in their market that will benefit local advertisers, while meeting the desire of readers for stories no longer being covered by besieged dailies or not easily found online. They have the creds to take a decent stab at it, too.

Chandler is a former publisher of the New York Post and the Boston Herald. Moses was a long-time  reporter for the Post whose beat covered the Bronx and Westchester County and who served an almost decade-long stint as a broadcast producer, so he understands journalism from more than just the print platform. Both intimately know the turf on which their experiment is unfolding.

 What Chandler and Moses recognized is that, while dailies are struggling to survive in print, migrate to the web or come up with some hybrid formula (see annarbor.com), weekly community papers are thriving. In my area, for example, some years ago, the parent of the daily Connecticut Post bought Brooks Community Newspapers, weeklies serving a number of towns in Fairfield County.

 So what makes Westchester Eye new and different? You have to ask, in a region where every small town is served by a daily (here a localized version of Gannett’s Journal-News), a local weekly or shopper, maybe a county-wide weekly specialty publication (here the Westchester County Business Journal), and maybe a glossy monthly lifestyle magazine, what’s the need?

 In general, Westchester Eye eschews day-to-day breaking news coverage. Rather, the emphasis is on identifying and covering new or emerging trends. This puts them into more of a forecasting mode. It also allows for in-depth coverage of stories over time.

 “People have told us we’re either visionaries or crazies,” said Moses. “Of course, we think it’s the former. Our sense of the marketplace is pretty sanguine and straightforward. There is no local business news in the Journal News anymore. The Westchester Business Journal does a great job, but is mostly a business-to-business weekly. Our focus on business stories differs from that model.”

Moses added that lifestyle stories have suffered, too, in daily paper coverage, the result of wide reporter layoffs. They intend to package lifestyle coverage in, “a smart and entertaining way.” Politics will also figure large in the paper’s coverage, crossing borders to go from hyper-local perspectives to more regional implications and impact.

 For his part, Chandler described their venture as, “letting the dinosaurs out of Jurassic Park!” The paper has an ad-based business model. No classifieds. Online presence will be limited to teasing stories and giving advertisers an extension of reach – for now. Striving for editorial and journalistic excellence over time, good old-fashioned separation of church and state is the ruling policy. No pay for play. He sites some recent precedent for trend-focused reporting – NewsWeek and Sporting News.

 According to publisher Chandler, the bigger dailies are too expensive for local businesses to have any significant impact. And local weeklies have a limited reach. Although packages with group publishers of community papers may extend that reach, the cost can come close to or even exceed the cost of advertising in dailies. He believes that the closer you get to grass roots, the less the Web is a factor, and, in fact, has been very inefficient for local advertisers.

 “Print is still good for the local business,” he said. “It allows the plumber, for instance, to build a presence so he’s top of mind when a plumbing emergency arises. And our geographic reach will allow retailers and others to reach potential customers from a broader geography.”

 For now, Westchester Eye will be distributed to about 200 locations including major office parks, train stations, retail locations and others. On the editorial side, it is carefully vetting and hiring freelance talent.

 I agree with Chandler and Moses’ assessment that this region has long been a nightmare for advertisers. And one of the reasons that publicity has been so attractive a part of the marketing mix. So – go for it Ken and Peter! Hope Westchester Eye is a smashing success. Hope to see you in Fairfield County before too long!

Today, the story is inspiring the music choice. In honor of the Chandler-Moses collaboration, you’ve been enjoying one of the most delicious jazz collaborations ever – Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong from the album Ella and Louis Again. The tune is George and Ira Gershwin’s They All Laughed. Seems apropos for a venture that may well succeed despite conventional opinion to the contrary.

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Getting to know you — Social Media Style

Posted on October 14, 2009. Filed under: Jazz, Public Relations Marketing, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Today in my search for musical blogging inspiration, I decided just to close my eyes and thrust my hand into a CD shelf and pull one out at random. Spooky. I pulled out ‘Getting to Know You’ – an album by virtuoso jazz pianist Mulgrew Miller. Click to hear his interpretation of the title song which you may have first heard sung by children in The King and I.

Now anyone who read my last post knows that the featured artist was Mark Murphy. Today, by chance, we have another MM artist. You should all thank your lucky stars that I don’t have Marilyn Manson in my collection (except for Marilyn Manson fans, of course). And I don’t think that Mickey Mantle or Marilyn Monroe ever recorded anything of note – Happy Birthday Mr. President doesn’t count. Hopefully, we’ll break the MM streak next time. In fact, I give you my solemn promise.

What strikes me silly is the appropriateness of the ‘Getting to Know You’ theme. Ironically, that’s what we’re doing here. You’re getting to know me by my blogs and I’m getting to know you by your comments. The song title is a great metaphor for how we connect on the Web.

The other web and social media thing about this is that you’re getting to know the REAL me. As a PR person in the traditional practice of the profession, I was always behind the scenes. I’d cringe to find myself quoted in the media when it would have been more appropriate and informative in my view for my client to do the honors.

In terms of client representation, I think that still holds true. In terms of learning how to present and represent clients in a Web 2.0 world, there is something to be learned and altered.

Last week at Chris Brogan and Justin Levy’s Inbound Marketing Summit in Boston, I was speaking with Tim Marklein, Executive VP, Measurement & Strategy for Weber Shandwick. After a couple of presentations that pretty much declared PR dead and gone, Tim focused his presentation on advocacy, a PR approach that still has great merit. Not only that, but it translates perfectly into 2.0 PR representation.

As we conversed on what PR ideas are still applicable and which are gone, I offered that the content area is one where PR shines. We know how to ‘tell the story’. And we also make the case in a way that helps others feel comfortable endorsing our clients’ positions.

What else I shared with Tim – a concept he said he hadn’t heard in just that way before – is that as PR people we have been uber-protective of our clients. Probably, this gave birth to the notion of ‘spin’ – anathema to how I’ve always thought about client representation. As PR people we have an obligation to support – advocate – a client’s valuable point of view. It does not serve them well to adjust that view, fail to adjust it when necessary, or worse, fail to engage, in the face of external expectations, criticism or real life events. Over-protectiveness – smoothing it over – is particularly ill-suited to the Web 2.0 world where genuine human fallibility, mistakes, and vulnerability are valuable currency. In working with clients who want to engage on the Web, I encourage more real talk than corporate speak.

In other words, let’s really get to know each other. We’re basically good people. How bad can it be??

For those who are into today’s tune, personnel are, Mulgrew Miller, Steinway concert grand piano (should I put Steinway in the tags?), Richie Goods, bass, Karriem Riggins, drums, Big Black, congas, Steven Kroon, percussion.

Enjoy! See you soon!

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In a New York State of Web

Posted on October 13, 2009. Filed under: Public Relations Marketing, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Wow! Here’s the tune that started my life-long love affair with Mark Murphy – best male jazz singer alive today in my humble you know… Me in the kitchen of our 60’s split level in suburban Philly. The stereo hand-built by my father is in the rec room below –  visible over a wrought iron balcony.

All of a sudden, WDAS-FM Phila – the town that suffers from something of a NY City inferiority complex – plays a song that perks up my ears: Sunday in New York (the album, Bridging a Gap). Mark Murphy, a Rochester, New York native is on gravelly, hip vocals, Randy Brecker on trumpet, Mike Brecker on tenor sax, Pat Rebillot, piano & organ, Sam Brown, guitar, Ron Carter, bass, Jimmy Madison, drums & percussion.

 I’m obviously on a ‘firsts’ kick – being new to my blog. But as I listen now to the lyrics, there’s something there that speaks truth about the world of the Web…

 “You can spend time, without spendin’ a dime, watchin’ people watch people go past. (lada-lada-lada) Later you pause, and in one of the stores… there’s that face next to yours in the glass!”

So like the Web!!!! Remind you of Twitter? Lots for free. And lots of opportunities to connect with just what – or who — you need! That may not last forever as businesses try to monetize…

 But there’s another optimistic message in the song that we can all use these days:

“Take your troubles out for a walk, yeah! They’re gonna burst, they’re gonna burst like bubbles in the fun of a Sunday in New York.”

I know I’m feeling better now! I’m in the New York metro zone, having fun on the Web, and listening to Mark again. Oh, happy day!!

Relax – make like Sunday afternoon – and enjoy the rest of the tune! See you soon!

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Welcome to New PR Words – and Music!

Posted on October 12, 2009. Filed under: Public Relations Marketing, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , |

I’m a PR woman in transition. No. I’m not job hunting. I’m evolving from the rapidly dying — if not already-dead world of public relations that I’ve inhabited for decades. For the past year I’ve been increasingly immersing in the online universe that is at the heart of the changes that my profession absolutely must embrace.

My intention is for this blog to serve several purposes. First — and selfishly, it will help me to get my thoughts about the new PR into writing in an accountable and transparent way — two practices key to appropriately evolving into the online community.

Second, it’s my hope that my trials, errors (some made already getting this blog to the current point) and discoveries will be helpful to others and will get me into productive conversation with colleagues and the curious.

Third – as further motivation to both write, entertain and kill two birds with one stone, I’ll be blogging to music — which I intend to share with you. Over the years I — a passionate music lover, particularly of jazz — have amassed a 2000+ CD collection which I’ve been procrastinating about putting onto an ipod. I also haven’t taken enough time to go back and listen.

So…each time I blog, I’ll select a CD, listen to it, save it and share my favorite tune with you – as well as a little info about the musicians and how the album is a metaphor for some aspect of communications and life. Combining work and play/passion is a good thing, right? At minimum I’ll be giving a deserved and much-needed boost to America’s music and another reason you may want to visit often.

For this inaugural post I’ve chosen the cut, Love Theme from Spartacus from Yusef Lateef/Eastern Sounds. It’s fitting because, like I’ve awakened to the new PR world, this album was part of my awakening to jazz — introduced to it by my cousin Sydney when I was maybe 11. The tune is haunting with saxophonist/flutist Lateef on oboe of all things, Barry Harris on piano, Ernie Farrow on bass and rabat, and Lex Humphries on drums. Enjoy! See you soon!

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