It seems Amazon is launching the second version of the Kindle today at 10am. See here for information and watch this link for live blogging at Engadget. I find the Kindle fascinating from a consumer perspective (I’ve been a proud owner for about 2 months now).
It is also, however, a great case study for marketers. Think of how it was launched: rumors, secrecy and hints for months, and then a splashy launch with distinguished authors lining up to endorse. Amazon followed the initial introduction with only the most fleeting and oblique referrences to the product’s success, thereby encouraging speculation as to sales figures, devices shipped, etc.
I also find it interesting that in it’s top-line messaging Amazon refers to the Kindle as a ‘wireless reading device’, not an eBook reader. It sounds both more technically advanced and more user friendly at the same time. It seems this time around Amazon is taking a page from Apple and including an exclusive work from Steven King. It will be interesting to see what else they have in store for us . . .
Over at his Influential Marketing Blog Rohit has posts on what PR people should know about journalists, and vice versa. The information is good and worth reading, but most publicists won’t find any surprises.
But if most publicists know this information, why does it seem as though it’s rarely put into practice? There are, after all, countless posts from publicists offering similar advice, frequent cases of journalists complaining about publicists and even a blog dedicated to exposing the industry’s most thoughtless pitches.
Rohit’s readers offer some explanations, and I encourage everyone to read the comment threads. While I see many culprits (the economic model of PR firms, client pressure and so forth) the first cause is surely this: PR is an industry with absolutely no barrier to entry. Qualifications and training are not a prerequisite for any aspect of the work that we do, nor are they required by (most) clients.
So where do we go from here? PR is still a relatively young industry. It seems likely that, with experience, clients will become increasingly sophisticated in how they provision and evaluate firms. Evolution, however, takes time.
In the short term maybe PR people should get to know something else about journalists: they are exposed to constant feedback. This feedback exposes flaws, raises new ideas, angles and topics to be explored and – when necessary – punishes the most egregious cases of journalistic misconduct. Ultimately feedback refines journalism, making it more dynamic and vital.
Today, publicists are exposed to only a small amount of feedback from journalists. Perhaps it’s time we took a page out the old media playbook and invited more. A few years ago the New York Times created a ‘Public Editor’ or ombudsmen to investigate reader concerns and report their findings; perhaps it’s time PR firms did the same.
There’s never any shortage of articles on the troubles facing the newspaper industry, but the New Year has brought a handful of thought-provoking pieces that are well worth reading.
I can’t predict the future of media (and the PR industry) any better than anyone else, but I do think some answers can be found in these pieces. The articles also remind me of a recent conversation I had with a recently laid off tech journalist. He (I’ll leave him anonymous), believes PR firms will increasingly look like custom publishing houses. Given the trends and developments outlined in these (and other) articles, I tend to agree.
One final thought before the links: If Clay Shirky is right (see #3) and the last print pub left standing is Brides Magazine, what will we say to all those clients who insist on print coverage?
“End Times”, Michael Hirschorn, The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200901/new-york-times
“Why the New York Times Won’t Cease Printing”, Felix Salmon, Conde Nast Portfolio: http://www.portfolio.com/views/blogs/market-movers/2009/01/07/why-the-new-york-times-wont-cease-printing?tid=true
“The Shape of things to come”, Tom Teodorczuk/Clay Shirky, The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/jan/05/clay-shirky-future-newspapers-digital-media
“Let’s Invent an iTunes for News”, David Carr, New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/12/business/media/12carr.html?em
“The Future of News”, Joel Mathis, Philadelphia Weekly: http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/?inc=article&id=984&x=the-future-of-news&_c=news
“The New Journalism: Goosing the Grey Lady”, Emily Nussbaum, New York Magazine: http://nymag.com/news/features/all-new/53344/
I’ve been reading a lot about network effects lately. I attribute this to the large number of Bill Gates retrospectives that describe how Microsoft dominated the PC area. Also there’s Steve Lohr’s story in the New York Times this Monday which describes how the principle applies to Google.
The network effect seems to perfectly describe the value of social networks. However, I can’t help wondering: what happens as the Web becomes more open, more semantic? Doesn’t increased data portability, by definition, undermine the effect as it applies to social networking companies?
Social networking has helped individuals (and the groups they belong to) benefit from the network effect in new ways. That’s not going to go away. But is it possible that continued innovation will eradicate the ability of the host networks themselves to benefit?
What’s to stop social networks from ending up as widgets easily added or subtracted from a fully-customizable, personalized and interactive home page (iGoogle or myYahoo)? How can they stop it from happening?
I’m genuinely curious. Anyone have any ideas?
The question is a cliché but timely in light of this cover story in The Atlantic, recent books such as “The Age of American Unreason” by Susan Jacoby and “The Dumbest Generation” by Mark Bauerlein (a former professor of mine*), and even animated films (WALL•E).
I don’t have an answer, just a hunch, and it’s prompted by two quotes. First this statement from Sergey Brin in the Atlantic: “Certainly if you had all the world’s information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you’d be better off.” Then from this Los Angeles Times story: “Bauerlein also frets about the nature of the Internet itself, where people “seek out what they already hope to find, and they want it fast and free, with a minimum of effort.”
It seems to me this isn’t an issue of stupidity or intelligence, but of foolishness and wisdom. Technology is increasingly designed to provide people with what they already want, what they already ‘hope to find’. This is indisputable. The wisdom to make productive use out of having “all the world’s information directly attached to your brain” is what’s increasingly lacking.
Or maybe it’s just not well articulated. Ceaseless innovation creates a kind of permanent impermanence. Millennials haven’t grown up with the internet; they’ve grown up with several – each replacing the last over shorter and shorter intervals. Wisdom comes with experience but how can anyone develop experience if one tech fad quickly replaces another?
At some point all companies (even Twitter) will need to articulate how their innovations enrich people’s lives beyond providing a new experience. Of course I would argue that that’s the role tech PR people are uniquely suited to play – helping bridge the gap between the technically feasible and the personally (or professionally) meaningful.
Now who would have believed publicists could serve the public good?
* He wouldn’t remember me, and it’s a good thing too, my academic career is best left forgotten by all involved.
Graham’s post on the decline in B2B blogging reminded me of this from Shel Holtz arguing, persuasively, that social media is ideally suited for B2B environments. Interestingly Holtz cites last year’s bullish Forrester report while Graham cites this year’s more downcast findings.
I agree with much of what Graham writes and suspect the recent findings are illustrative of the fact that we’re still very much in an evolutionary phase. As people jump on the social media bandwagon there’s bound to be a great deal of disappointment. Furthermore, when professionals are asked to add content creation to their ever-expanding list of job responsibilities there’s bound to be some push back or, after a quick burst, an inevitable decline in the level of activity.
I wonder if part of the problem some companies experience with blogging is that they are asking, or expecting, to much. There’s tremendous pressure for every business (in virtually every industry) to establish itself as a thought leader. I suspect that most blogs are launched as thought leadership platforms, thereby resulting in pressure on the bloggers themselves to write something new and exciting with every keystroke.
I’ve believed for a long time that this is the reason some PR blogs are unreadable. Setting aside the inexcusably poor writing, many feel the need to establish thought leadership by writing – at great length and in a constant loop – about how social media is reinventing public relations. This leads to a constant recycling of ideas which is masked (poorly) by a mixture of breathless hyperbole, impenetrable linguistic complexity and the forceful declaration of the painfully obvious.
To me, and I think the examples Holtz provides dovetail with this, a B2B blog is an opportunity for a company to reveal itself to its potential customers, partners and employees. I’m reminded of David Ogilvy’s recommendation to clients in “Confessions of an Advertising Man.” When evaluating agencies: “find out if you like them; the relationship between client and agency has to be an intimate one, and it can be hell if personal chemistry is sour.”
A B2B blog, I feel, is ideal– especially in the service sector – for providing a window to customers (and others) that will help them determine whether or not the authors are people they want to do business with. A B2B blog can reveal how a company and its employees think, their personalities, their approach to considering issues, knowledge of certain spaces and so on. With this in mind it strikes me that it’s as legitimate (and as valuable) to write about experiences with the Nintendo Wii (as this EDS blogger does), as it is to come up with, and share, a new idea.
One final point, I’m not sure Forrester’s recent findings are really all that negative. After all, if 53% of respondents spurned blogging that suggests 47% embraced it. How many embraced blogging ten years ago? From that perspective 47% looks pretty good.
The media is using the departure of Bill Gates from Microsoft as an opportunity to reappraise his career and ask questions about the company’s future. As far as that goes I found this article in the Economist to be interesting.
The news, however, reminds me of this Wired article from last August, as well as the concept of Numeracy (and Innumeracy). The article argues that the ability of people like Bill Gates to conceptualize large numbers and mathematical concepts – their mathematical literacy – makes them – potentially at least – much more effective philanthropists than those of us intimidated by graphing calculators.
Over the past few years I’ve become convinced that the relative innumeracy (mathematical illiteracy) of most publicists seriously undermines our ability to do our jobs effectively. Mathematics provides us with a deeper understanding of the world and, therefore, a richer ability to identify and leverage trends. It also enables us to measure the value of our work and establish credibility with our clients. This is especially important, I think, in technology public relations.
Over the years I’ve made fitful attempts at becoming numerate. I recommend the work of John Allen Paulos and his books: “A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper” and “Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and its Consequences.” The truth is I still have a long way to go.
With all these thoughts swirling in my head I recently purchased a new book along the same lines: “How Math Explains the World,” by James Stein. I find myself troubled by the opening: “My first glimpse into mathematics, as opposed to arithmetic . . . “
So you’re saying there’s a difference?
I have a long way to go.
While I largely agree with the points Tom Foremski makes, I do have two quibbles.
First: the notion that “PR firms cannot claim to know anything about new/social media if they aren’t using it themselves.”
There’s no question in my mind that direct experience is tremendously valuable, however it seems to me that there is plenty of evidence to support the notion that, in any endeavor, outside perspectives can provide unique, valuable insight and trenchant analysis.
I think the tendency of some in the blogosphere to critique the MSM without having experience or training as reporters is a great example of this. Their critique is no less true and no less valid for their lack of experience in investigative reporting.
There’s also plenty of evidence, I think, to support the notion that an overly insider perspective can negatively distort and bias opinions. That’s how we get market bubbles. On balance direct experience is better than no experience, but I don’t think it’s an absolute.
Second: the notion that many PR firms only post “after meetings about what they will blog about.” This strikes me as somewhat apocryphal. It’s certainly not true in our case.
One final point, I do think most publicists struggle to blog - I know I do. I’m not entirely sure why but I think it may have something to do with the nature of our profession. We can’t blog about day-to-day work because it’s all supposed to be privileged - until its not - and then the focus should be on the client. It can be difficult to make the time, and the head space, to find other sources of material.
There’s a great package of articles covering the future of the Internet, start-ups to watch and the business of social networking in the latest Technology Review. While there’s too much to summarize I do want to draw attention to these predictions (and hopes and fears) for the next 5-10 years of the Internet by the likes of Vint Cerf and Sir Tim Berners-Lee.
My prediction (or hope) is that the Internet as a distinct entity becomes, more or less, extinct. To put it another way: in the next decade I hope to see an Internet so pervasive, so easily and seamlessly accessed from such a multitude of essentially invisible interfaces that it goes unnoticed by the average user. You can’t help but be conscious of your interactions and experiences with, or on, the Internet today. Ten years from now, who needs the hassle?
Any other predictions?
As technology enthusiasts it’s often easy to forget that technology is not, in and of itself, a solution to anything. This article in Slate on the potential negative impact of programs such as One Laptop per Child is illustrative. Here’s one key point:
“So what happens when good fortune delivers vouchers (and hence computers) into the homes of Romanian youths? . . . computer use also crowded out homework (2.3 hours less per week), reading, and sleep. Less schoolwork translated into lower grades at school—vouchered kids’ GPAs were 0.36 grade points lower than their nonvouchered counterparts—and also lower aspirations for higher education. Vouchered kids were 13 percentage points less likely to report an intention to attend college.”
The article also links to this CNET article from May reporting on a survey showing that one-fifth of all Americans have never sent an email or never used the Internet. That number is striking – but also easy to believe.
Why wouldn’t 60 million Americans reject the Internet? It is possible to live a pretty good life without unfettered, 24/7 access to everything from the most sublime to the most squalid output of human civilization.
That said, I think this all amounts to further evidence of the fracturing of the digital divide into digital subdivisions: increasing numbers of distinct groups defined by widely varying degrees of technological sophistication. (I’m further persuaded by the fact that it’s my idea).
As professional communicators, however, I think it behooves us to take note of this fracturing; the growing complexity that is coming to define how people experience and view technology. Today’s survey measures email use. Tomorrow’s, I have no doubt, will measure take-up, impact (and rejection) of social networking – won’t that be interesting.
David Carlson: Social Media and Traditional PR