Wednesday, October 31, 2007

PR Pros Versus PR Flacks

I speak with marketing executives all the time about their horrible experiences with lazy PR flacks who think that PR is merely the act of blast emailing a press release to a list of editors and journalists. These marketing leaders complain endlessly about how the agency they pay is a bunch of order takers with no creativity or understanding of the marketplace.

Why is this important? Well, for one thing, editors and journalists love to hear from PR pros with a well thought out, well researched pitch that will resonate with their specific beat and tie into the current trends in the market.

Don't believe me? Then read what Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired, has to say:

Sorry PR people: you're blocked

So fair warning: I only want two kinds of email: those from people I know, and those from people who have taken the time to find out what I'm interested in and composed a note meant to appeal to that (I love those emails; indeed, that's why my email address is public).
I'm lucky to work for an agency, Strategic Communications Group (mind the plug), that does things the right way. We don't have a bullpen of twenty-somethings banging away on their keyboards mindlessly, spamming the tech journalists of the world. Which is why our companies email address is not Chris's list of PR flacks...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Wanna Get Fired? Stage A Fake Press Conference!

You really have to hand it to the fine folks at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Two years after the massive destruction of Hurricane Katrina exposed the incompetence and disorganization at DHS in general and FEMA in particular, FEMA had been getting its act together and by all accounts acquitted itself alright in response to the southern California fires over the last few weeks. Now, we find out that these geniuses decided to organize a fake press conference.

oh. my. god.

From Time:

FEMA held a press conference on Oct. 23 to respond to fake questions about the real wildfires in California. Here's how it happened: Real reporters were only notified 15 minutes in advance, so all they could reasonably do was call in to a conference line. But the line was set to "listen-only" mode, so asking questions was out of the question. Only the people there — a group consisting almost entirely of FEMA public affairs employees — could grill FEMA representatives.

None of this was disclosed by Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson, the deputy administrator of FEMA, who dutifully responded to the softballs from his underlings (i.e. "Are you happy with FEMA's response so far?") as if they were real.

To his credit, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff lambasted FEMA after the story broke in the Washington Post several days later. "I think it was one of the dumbest and most inappropriate things I've seen since I've been in government," Chertoff said. "I have made unambiguously clear, in Anglo-Saxon prose, that it is not to ever happen again and there will be appropriate disciplinary action taken against those people who exhibited what I regard as extraordinarily poor judgment."

From MSNBC's First Read:
John P. "Pat" Philbin, the now former FEMA director of external affairs who participated in FEMA's fake press conference last week by posing as a reporter and asking a question, has reported to work today at the Director of National Intelligence headquarters in Washington, according to a DNI official.

Philbin was tapped to take over as the head of public affairs for Director of National Intelligence Admiral Mike McConnell before the controversy erupted. But now his new job could be in jeopardy. "He is in meetings" and those who hired Philbin "are looking into the situation," the DNI official said.

*** UPDATED *** Philbin will NOT be director of public affairs for Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell.

Philbin was hired to be Director of Public Affairs for the Director of National Intelligence before the fake FEMA news conference ever happened. His first day was always scheduled to be today.

But when he showed up to work today, instead of being sworn in, he went straight into meetings with DNI officials

Now, according to the DNI statement just released, Philbin will not be taking over the job. The statement does not say why, but privately DNI officials say the feeling at DNI headquarters was there was no way he could assume public affairs duties after what happened at FEMA.

Statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence:
"We do not normally comment on personnel matters. However, we can confirm that Mr. Philbin is not, nor is he scheduled to be, the Director of Public Affairs for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence."

This is a satellite shot of FEMA personnel's careers going up in smoke...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Walt Mossberg Raises the Red Flag of Revolution

A colleague of mine pointed out to me an interesting blog post by Walt Mossberg this morning:
A shortsighted and often just plain stupid federal government has allowed itself to be bullied and fooled by a handful of big wireless phone operators for decades now. And the result has been a mobile phone system that is the direct opposite of the PC model. It severely limits consumer choice, stifles innovation, crushes entrepreneurship, and has made the U.S. the laughingstock of the mobile-technology world, just as the cellphone is morphing into a powerful hand-held computer.

Up until the 1970s, when the federal government intervened, you weren’t allowed to buy your own landline phone, and companies weren’t able to innovate, on price or features, in making and selling phones to the public. All Americans were forced to rent clumsy phones made by a subsidiary of the monopoly phone company, AT&T, which claimed that, unless it controlled what was connected to its network, the network might suffer.

Well, the government pried that market open, and the wired phone network not only didn’t collapse, it became more useful and versatile, allowing, among other things, cheap connections to online data services.

I suspect that if the government, or some disruptive innovation, breaks the crippling power that the wireless carriers exert today, the free market will deliver a similar happy ending.
At the SIIA Changing Landscape seminar on mobility last month, D. P. Venkatesh pointed out that Apple is a odd choice to lead the anti-oligarchy charge. It's model is based on it owning the entire software stack to the exclusion of anyone else. Although, Apple just announced that they will eventually allow third party programs, this seems like too little to late. After all, my three year old PocketPC (on Verizon, widely acknowledged as the "worst" carrier in terms of openness) easily allows third party applications.

Now, switching it from one carrier to another might prove a challenge...

However, Walt's economic instincts are correct. More competition will bring more innovation, and greater value at lower prices. And you can bet that the carriers will fight tooth and nail to prevent that from happening...

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

More Proof for the Power of PR

As far as I'm concerned, the real utility of public relations is the simple act of getting a third party to vouch for your client and help validate his/her message to the audience. All the things that PR firms do boil down to this one simple act. Positioning, branding and purple cows, etc just increase the likelihood and/or persuasiveness of that validation.

There are any number of scientific studies showing how people tend to believe those perceived to be experts. Gartner, Forrester and any number of think tanks have whole businesses based on this insight.

Now it seems, people tend to be persuaded by mere gossip as well.

Study: Gossip Trumps Truth

People are influenced by gossip about others, even when it contradicts what they see with their own eyes, suggests a new study.

Past research has found that gossip—those juicy tidbits of supposed fact we share about a third party—serves many purposes, including strengthening social ties, spreading social norms and helping others avoid double-crossers and other risky partners.

Hearsay can be the most reliable source of information about situations with which you have no experience. But when you hear gossip that's incongruent with a person or incident you are familiar with, you'd be smart to throw that chitchat out the window in favor of your own direct knowledge, right?

The new study, published this week online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals individuals sometimes place so much stock in gossip that they accept it as true even if their own observations and experiences suggest otherwise.

I've read some interesting articles about how blogs are rated at the top of the trustworthy scale, along with analysts, scientists and reporters. This fact seemed a little out of whack to me, but after reading about the influence of gossip it seems to make more sense...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Apple PR Crisis?

Everyone knows that Apple has been on a tear since 2001 or so. First the iPods sell like gangbusters and now the iPhone is one of the most remarkable product launches in a long while. Apple seems to have dodged a number of bad PR bullets during this time, but due to the strength of their whole brand (products, design, customer interactions, stores, history), nothing has done much damage.

Now, not being green may hurt. Apple's brand has a strong dose of counter-culture, lefty, hipster to it. Getting attacked by Greenpeace cuts the core of how their customers feel about Apple and how they feel when buying Apple's message. It'll be interesting to see how Apple's PR team responds to this...

From StrategyEye:
Environmental campaign group Greenpeace is attacking the iPhone and claims by Apple CEO Steve Jobs that his company is committed to environmentally friendly business practices. Greenpeace has released a video clip showing the deconstruction and analysis of an iPhone, demonstrating that the device contains toxic brominated compounds, possibly including hazardous brominated flame retardant compounds, as well as environmentally harmful PVCs. In addition, Greenpeace says the pthalates found in iPhone headphone cables are banned from all toys in Europe and questioned the environmental commitment of the firm in the lead up to the iPhone's European launch. The report also notes that analysis of other handsets showed that no PVC chemicals were found in Nokia phones and that Sony and Motorola devices showed a commitment to removing brominated flame retardants.

Monday, October 15, 2007

New Event with the SIIA- Security

As I mentioned a while back, I've partnered with the Software and Information Industry Association ( to develop a series of events that will take a look at the transformational changes occurring right now in three critical areas. Each of these areas are wrestling with dramatic change that is raising technology, regulatory, and cultural issues while generating tremendous business opportunities and creating real value for customers. Each of these events will spotlight panelists with differing perspectives on all of these issues as well as give insight into what the future might look like given today’s trends.

Our next roundtable will shed light on issues and trends in the changing landscape of security. Enterprises are wrestling with a variety of ever growing challenges such as identity management, mobile security, managed security services, and regulations (Sarb-Ox, FISMA, HSPD-12). We'll take a practical look at how these challenges are being addressed by enterprises.

Panelists: Dipto Chakravarty, Vice President of Engineering for Identity and Security Management, Novell (Confirmed)

Lyall Venatta, VP Marketing, Sigaba (Confirmed)

Paul Innella, CEO, Tetrad Digital Integrity (Confirmed)

Moderator: Jeff Majka, Director of Marketing and Business Development, Strategic Communications Group

Date: October 24 2007
Time: 8am to 10am
Location: SIIA DC office, 1090 Vermont Avenue, 6th Floor, Washington DC
Attendees: 30-40 people
Registration Fee: SIIA members $20/non-members $40

Click here to register:

Respect My Authority!

Watch out people! My Technorati Authority number is now 6. Boo Yaah!

Since my credibility is now un-impeachable, earlier this morning I proclaimed the coming energy crisis to be over, even though crude oil prices are spiking up over $85 today.

I never thought I'd be proven correct so soon, but, woops, here is the proof:

Pentagon Promotes Space-Based Solar Power Effort
A new report from the Pentagon's National Security Space Office (NSSO) postulates that space-based solar-power platforms could begin fulfilling planetary demand for electricity by 2050. The report noted that while significant challenges remain, the technologies for making extraterrestrial relay stations a reality "are more executable than ever before and current technological vectors promise to further improve its viability."And then there's this jaw-dropper: "According to the NSSO's Space-Based Study Group, a single kilometer-wide band of geosynchronous earth orbit experiences enough solar flux in one year to nearly equal the amount of energy contained within all known recoverable conventional oil reserves on Earth today." (bold added)


This takes a bit of the sting out Da Bears horrific loss yesterday to the Minnesota Vikings. Da Bears gave up 311 yards rushing to the Vikes.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Busy Bee! And Alisher Usmanov...

I read a very interesting story on Slate this morning ("Civil Disobedience on the Web") and immediately thought I'd blog on the subject. I pulled up my blog in my trusty Firefox browser and realized I haven't posted since September 26. Gulp.

Definitely a violation of some sort of blogger apologies to all. I've been working on three, count 'em, three, events that'll I'll tell you all about in the coming week or two, as well as working on a number of interesting new deals. On top of all that, I'm working on website redesign and editing video footage of our last event with the SIIA. Busy bee!

So anyway...due to the rather vicious and broad nature of the libel law in the UK, it's very easy for the well connected and rich to sue, and win, libel cases against the press. This state of affairs has started to experience some changes as bloggers have started to challenge some of London's less than savory billionaire immigrants, including one Alisher Usmanov, a bad, bad man from Uzbekistan.

The next case is more telling for the breadth of its reach and the greater uproar it entrained. It involves Uzbek-Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov, No. 142 on Forbes' list of the world's richest people, who has acquired a stake in British soccer team Arsenal. Usmanov is one shady character: In the 1980s he was jailed for a variety of crimes, including fraud, but he was granted a full pardon—and reclassified as a Soviet political prisoner—upon Mikhail Gorbachev's assumption of the premiership.

Some bloggers wrote some not so nice things about Mr. Usmanov, who promtly sued...the ISP's that hosted the bloggers. Apparently, in the UK, hosting providers can be held liable for the speech of the people who use their service, as in the USA. These ISP's promptly caved and shut off the offending blogs. Uproar insued.

Read the whole article here: