November 30, 2007
DEATH to Embargoes?
Attention Bloggers & Journalists: How far will you go to get the scoop on a product announcement in advance? Under what circumstances would you break an embargo to one-up your competitor or gain more traffic?
PR and marketing folks have always argued that journalists don’t realize or appreciate the power they have to make or break a company or product. It remains true today, only added to the mix is a list of bloggers who are eager to break stories early.
In the world of social media, where many bloggers haven't come up through the ranks of journalism training (yeah, the old guard), what becomes of the traditional ethics and codes of conduct? And do any of these old codes, like embargoes, matter anymore?
The old guard knows what an embargo is – it’s clear and is taught early. Here’s a definition for those who need a reminder.
An embargo is a request by a source that the information or news provided by that source not be published until a certain date or certain conditions have been met. The media is given advance knowledge of details being held secret so reports can be prepared to coincide with the announcement date and yet still meet press time (the fact that deadlines are less of an issue with bloggers is irrelevant).
Embargoes are usually arranged in advance as "gentlemen's agreements." Breaking an embargo is typically considered a serious breach of trust and can result in the source barring the offending news outlet from receiving advance information for a long period of time, giving them a long-term disadvantage relative to more cooperative outlets.
Some of my social media friends will argue 'why have embargoes at all?' Just throw it out there and let the community decide whether it’s a great product or not. Leave everything open, control nothing and let the masses decide. Hmmmm.
It is certainly one option and your path to success is a lot easier if you have ins with all the right bloggers who will help spread the word virally about your product or service.
It also helps if you have ins with the VCs and PR folks who have the right relationships to move you from nothingness to brand recognition. And sometimes it succeeds just because it’s innovative and a viral addictive concept, i.e., YouTube, StumbleUpon.
There are risks if you do throw your product out there in early beta, which is a strategy I have taken with a number of clients with success. Imagine scenarios we have all experienced.
Take movie scene number one, where the techies and early adopters are forgiving to early bugs and design flaws, and perhaps even give the engineers praise for a cool new feature.
Movie scene number two shows the less forgiving guys – the real folks, like Joe Brown from Kansas who decides to slam a new site and a hundred of his friends follow because they don’t understand what a beta means, that it’s not final, that the company fully intends to add all 25 features that he and his friends want. And so on.
Enter the world of social media where comments flow in ways today that only came from expert to reader in the John Dvorak, David Coursey, Michael Miller and Bill Laberis columns of old. We love the input and we love the fact that users can participate in conversations like never before.
THIS my friends is a great thing. BUT that doesn't mean that companies shouldn't TIME flow and TIME their rollout.
Look at Apple, the Gods of Marketing, who creates buzz for months in advance, so that folks like Robert Scoble and other early adopters who are passionate about technology line up on the sidewalks with blankets and pillows hours before the stores open on launch day.
During the Spock launch, we met with three of the four reporters to whom Apple gave an early glimpse of the iPhone, the day they were filing their stories. They strategically timed four powerful business media outlets to release their hopefully ‘thumbs-up’ reviews on the exact same day.
In the past ten days, for two of our clients, there were a couple of blogs that broke embargoes we asked them to honor. One site was actually live, meaning it was a public beta link people could get to if they knew where to go. Let's call them Client A.
Client A selectively shared the link to solicit early feedback and then incorporated that feedback before they wanted the rest of the world to start using it. Fair enough! They wanted more content on the site before making a splash, which they were adding daily leading up to the announcement date.
So, while we were not thrilled with a blog announcing the site early and lost other well-deserved blog coverage as a result of it, it didn't ruin all of Client A’s efforts around the launch as a Company, just ours -- the PR team.
For Client B, the announcement was a dramatically overhauled site, one which had new navigation, flow, design, and message. Not only were the product design and logo changed, but we rewrote the website content as well.
Just like we did with Client A, we clearly conveyed the embargo date to everyone we spoke to in advance during a demo using a private not-for-release URL. The blog broke the embargo by three full days, meaning that people reading the article were clicking on an OLD site, a far cry from what the world would see three days later.
Soon thereafter, another blog we have a relationship with but had not yet briefed, linked to the first article and grabbed a screenshot for the blog from the old site, thinking that it was brand new. So, now two blogs are taking readers to an old site. Blog B was not at fault here – they were merely linking to something they thought was new.
Tell me – how does it serve readers if they’re being sent to an old site? It negatively misrepresents the company, all because the online journalist didn’t have the courtesy to respect an embargo. Are embargoes dead in the new world of social media? Should they be?
The amount of time and resources that go into a launch for a small company is significant. Start-ups, which I largely represent, and God knows Silicon Valley is full of them, have tight budgets, small engineering teams, watchful VCs if they have any at all, and a CEO who is wearing ten hats. Yet, these are the change-makers of our industry.
I was chatting with an industry colleague who is a senior marketing executive at Intel about embargoes and what it means to them. For a company of their size, when embargoes are broken, it’s never great, but there’s no mistaking an old product for a new one like there could be with a site no one has ever visited.
Secondly, it doesn’t impact their launch in the way it does a start-up. For Intel’s most recent launch, they expect over 1,000 media hits from their announcement, impossible for any start-up even with the best product and the sharpest team in place.
So yes folks, for start-ups, breaking an embargo can have a demonstrable negative impact. And a word to new companies: before you give embargoed access to a technology blog that you think despite its circulation, will make or break your product, don’t lose sight of your long term goals.
It’s about the ‘right buzz,’ not making an initial splash on a blog that may create immediate but short-lived hype for you in Silicon Valley or the greater technology community.
Only a handful of them really matter to your launch at the end of the day, not unlike the way a handful of traditional media outlets mattered ten years ago. I love the fact that we have more choice, that everyone now has a voice and several platforms from which to speak out.
With that choice comes the need to select our content more carefully, both to pitch our new products to and to read. When we make those choices, let’s choose the media outlets and blogs with integrity.
What goes around comes around. Show a little respect, think about what an embargo means, why its there and preserve that gentleman’s handshake. Integrity is vital to the ongoing success of our industry and our lives. I grew up with something called honor. Let’s make sure it doesn’t go away.
November 29, 2007
Praise for IMPRINT
A friend of mine won Best Actress at the American Indian Film Festival about a week ago for her work in IMPRINT, which also won best film. Tonantzin Carmelo is a California Mission Indian (Gabrielino and Mexica) who grew up performing in an American Indian dance troupe led by her mother, Virginia Carmelo.
What was most surprising to me about the film and the festival as a whole, was how little most of us know about present American Indian culture. It's as if its buried in our history, never to be discussed except for the snippets children learn in elementary school.
The amount I recall from those days is tragic and I grew up in an area that had a Mohawk River and in woods where we found an old arrow head that easily looked like it could have been 100+ years old.
A well educated Dutch woman who is passionate about American Indian culture, is now living in the Bay Area as an Au Pair. When she discusses this passion with friends and family, most are surprised any American Indians are still living. Her American friends have similar reactions or they think there are a few left, most of which are alcoholics living on reservations. Such a remarkably sad perception if that's all we know.
At the film festival, story after story was unraveled, some of them more traditional than others. IMPRINT managed to weave both traditional heritage with modern life and showed how hard it is for the next generation to 'honor' the last, many of the movie's lessons easily applied to all cultures.
It's interesting isn't it? Have you ever noticed how much of your heritage you incorporate the older you get, how much you look back and integrate everything you learned from your grandparents and those before them, turn to classic novels from another century; those authors who are long dead and gone. Ancient teachings always have a place in modern life. Always.
IMPRINT reminds us of the lucious loveliness of the 'ancient,' and that integrity always wins. It is also about loyalty, family, tradition, honor, and love. The main character Shayla Stonefeather (played by Tonantzin) is a prominent native American attorney who has turned away from her people and the dreams of her youth. When she returns to South Dakota, her ancestral home, to visit her dying father, ghostly apparitions begin to haunt her with frightening visions she has a hard time understanding or believing.
Directed by Michael Linn, its a movie worth seeing. Help me spread the word. Here's why. For anyone who has been to Sundance or other Indie festivals, you know that there are a number of gems that never reach a mainstream audience. Their budgets are small, Hollywood will rarely take them on unless they have known actors, and the more esoteric and deep it is, the less likely they 'think' it will be embraced by the masses.
They're likely right under the current guard, yet mass media, bloggers and endorsements from Oprah and others who have established trust with those masses, can help change the demand from mediocre same ole same ole romantic and dramatic flicks we see again and again to empowering films with heart and soul that will bring you back to important ancient messages we have long buried.
Moo & Flickr: Too Damn Hard to Navigate
Is it me or does it seem like technology is getting worse and we are experiencing more and more failures? And, what about poor website navigation, one of my favorite topics and well known pet peeve? How much time do you waste on the Internet trying to find what you need?
This is a frequently talked about issue, and a known problem, but either my patience is in decline or people are playing less attention to friendly user interfaces (UIs).
In my most recent experience, lack of success has applied to recent online purchases through less well known clothing catelogues and travel research, where after days of entering preference after preference, my shopping cart remains empty. The cherry on the cake came after spending time on two sites where I expected it to be easy.
I decided to order a few sets of Moo cards for friends. In the contact and about page, it doesn't tell me who they are or where they are, nor where to go for more information or for all their job listings, where those positions would physically be?
I would have loved one of their UI experts if they have one, to look over my shoulder as I was clicking away, hungry for one link, any link that would allow me to continue shopping after getting my first order in. Two hours later, I managed to accidentally get four things in my cart, which thankfully saved me from having to pay four individual shipping charges when all of these orders were going to the same address.
If you go to Products, the choices seem to be clear. It's even clear that you CAN upload your own images, however my only choices are a list of names I'm familiar with only because I'm in the tech industry and even then, only four of them jumped off the page: Vox, Facebook, Flickr and Live Journal.
SO, to play ball here, you are forced into joining one or more of these services to upload your photos. While I have both a Facebook and Flickr account, I don't keep the majority of my photos in either, so a simple order resulted in my having to upload all the images I wanted to use, for each of my four orders -- slowly, five at a time. Sure, there's the Flickr uploader, but that involves another download.
Call me stupid and my tech friends may, but Flickr's UI does NOT make it easy to manage your photos, one of the reasons, I merely have an account but don't use it regularly.
Why not make a nice easy button that says upload my photos, upload more photos, upload period on the main page. I have to discover (which took awhile) that its under the You tab.
Bottom line guys: run your UI in front of your grandmother or your Nebraskan cousin before you release this stuff. Time is valuable and it seems like I'm spending more time online rather than less trying to figure things out that should be 'in my face.' My hope is that solutions will make it easy to get where I need to go and buy what I want to buy without a helluva lot of thinking.
November 28, 2007
Consumer Confidence is Down, People Spending Less
USA Today mentions client Retrevo.com as one site of only three to check out in advance of holiday purchases this year. The message and lesson: do your research in advance. Don't necessarily trust that the sales person will have your best interest at heart OR be the most knowledgeable resource about what you need, particularly in the world of consumer electronics, where there are a plethora of choices.
Consumer confidence is way down, people are spending less and everyone is talking about recession. Says the New York Times only last week - Holiday Sales Climb but Consumers Spend Less. Bloomberg has related news.
And early stats from ShopperTrak RCT and National Retail Federation show that while revenues have increased, the average spend per consumer has decreased from $360 last year to $347, a 3.5% drop. Shopping online increased by 37% and discount stores were up 11% over last year, a clear indicator that consumers are looking for bargains and ways to get the best value.
Typepad Formatting Messes
What's up with Typepad formatting lately? In the last couple of months, I can't seem to get Word or Notepad or frankly, any other app to play nicely with it.
Never before was this a problem. Now, however, when I copy and paste a draft from Word (rich text or not), it seems to convert into several different formats, fonts and sizes.
Changing it from within the external app OR within Typepad doesn't seem to work and making any change at all from within my blog editor doesn't stick. Is this a known bug? Is anyone else experiencing this?
I have word into tech support and my Six Apart buddies but if anyone can share any insight, I'd be grateful. It's causing this blogger a lot of grief and wasted time. (and no, I haven't upgraded to Vista yet)Update: Six Apart's tech support ROCKS!!! It was a simple fix; change had to be made in the customization of the page first before text could be moved in. It was automatically set to plain text in the past, but magically, it switched over to rich text without my knowledge. I've been in this industry for far too long. :-)
Kenichi at the SF Hip Hop Festival
At TED last year, I had the pleasure of meeting, chatting and dancing with performance talent Kenichi Ebina. At this year's San Francisco Hip Hop Dance Festival, he and new partner Takahiro Ueno blew the audience away with a creative dance duo that mixed mime and hip hop with the playfulness of Gene Kelly on his best day.
Kenichi also has such a warm smile that he draws you in, in many of the same ways a leader does when he or she speaks and you long for more. His performances are like that.
Below me with Kenichi and also a shot of Founder and Artistic Director Micaya on stage with all the performers at the end of the festival. My favorites from the line up? Without a doubt, Nobulus out of Austria (mind boggling) and Kenichi & Takahiro's "Junction of Worlds - Mirror." Both were world class.
A member of the Nobulus dance troupe below.
Oregon Thanksgiving Snow
It's no surprise that pioneer William Blodgett left the East Coast, embarked on a wild west adventure across country and founded Blodgett Oregon in the 1800s. Much of Oregon's natural surroundings remind me of the Adirondacks. So beautiful, its no wonder he settled there.
In southern Oregon over Thanksgiving week, it snowed, the white powder leaving beautiful remnants of wet dust on the branches of all the trees around a log cabin I slept soundly in for days. Experience this if you haven't. And often.
November 25, 2007
Praise for Retrevo's New Site
Client Retrevo gets picked up on various sites online as they roll out a complete overhaul of their matchmaking service for consumers and electronics. Intruders TV interviews CEO Vipin Jain for nearly a twenty minute segment, as does Blog Talk Radio.
Nice clean new logo too. Some of the more mainstream media picked them up to, as well as a handful of key bloggers, including Mercury News' Larry Magid, PC World, Network World, and of course the Schwabachs, who have been writing the oldest computer column in the U.S., which is still syndicated to various regional newspapers around the country.
Ubergizmo writes about them, Gear Diary, Search Engine Land, VentureBeat, ZDNET, MediaPost, Mashable, PC Magazine's AppScout and CNET's blog Webware. And even lifestyle bloggers got how important this is for consumers, particularly as we're gearing up for the holidays. Check out Geek Sugar. (what a great name).
November 22, 2007
When's Last Call? asks these Bourbon Red Turkeys.
November 21, 2007
Soul of a Nice Guy
Check out the Soul of a Nice Guy, now on Amazon. A Snapshot of Aaron Swar's writing here:
The spring school term was mercifully ending, and as I rallied my students to push themselves toward Interior Design excellence, I wondered if I still looked lifelike. Aside from the natural decaying process of dead things, my official entry into the Middle Age contributed to my decomposition, which had begun to lack after Christmas.
Hindus believe that the seventh of the seven-year Chakra cycles brings our life’s issues full circle for resolution, to clear the way for a higher second-half existence.