Monday, December 14, 2009

10 Reasons 2010 Will Be Better: True or False?

10. The worst of the financial meltdown is over.
9. We are out of the war in Iraq.
8. The world has not ended.
7. Health care reform is about making healthcare more affordable and better.
6. Education reform is about giving every child the opportunity to improve their learning.
5. We can conquer the challenges of climate change before it's too late.
4. There is no climate change challenge.
3. Happiness is a state of mind.
2. We can improve our state of mind.
1. We should all resolve to be happy in 2010.

Reading a fascinating book by Robert Burton, On Being Certain or How We Know What We Know, which challenges us from a scientific point-of-view to check our assumptions at the door. Is my "pink" the same mixture of red-and-white that you see when you think of pink? Do I believe that science will one day reveal evidence for the rational view that all we see is random? Is "reason" the answer over "faith" because it is based on facts that can be proved?

Or do all these facts that we take for granted (I would say, "hold on faith", but that would be too ironic) only true until we find something "truer" that invalidates what we've deduced? And even if we can answer these questions, is there still a larger question about what set the random universe we inhabit (which is not even to tackle "knowing" multiple universes or multiverses and different understandings of time and space relative to other positions outside our tiny vantage point of knowledge) in motion?

Mind-boggling, no? What do you think?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

USA-ification of the News

While journalists minds are focused on the "Death of the News as We Know It", management is busy trying to catch up the print product to electronic news standards. USA Today recognized the salience of this approach to news reporting when it began in 1982 - the short stories (with only one jump from Page One of each section), "pertinent to readers' lives" headlines and colorful design mimicked then-emerging cable news channels' styles of reporting.

Today's challenge is even greater - what news is being consumed by the vast majority of younger readers if balkanized and customized to an unprecedented degree - delivered directly to your inbox by sources as varied as Yahoo! and Facebook. Digg and Reditt enable bloggers to show up the same way. Google Search and now Bing offer Web surfers to seek expertise to a very specific degree.

So what's a newspaper to do? The latest to strip off the trappings of traditional news reporting and jump into the ring of redesign is The Venerable Washington Post. Seems "venerable" is now a bad word - that long, in-depth reporting and deep investigation are Bad Words has become incontrovertible TRUTH. The new design features a framed format: stories are lined off from one-another to give them that trendy "school newspaper" look, as if readers might otherwise be unable to tell where one story ends and another begins. The center hole of the front page, beginning above the fold, boasts a large color photo designed to draw the reader's eye and evoke a particular emotion (a recent edition showed one candlelit mourner of the Fort Hood massacre with a tear tracing his cheeks) that could tell the entire story without words. Apparently, a reporter's crisis is good news for the photojournalist.

Experimental give-away versions to tease younger readers who, say, ride the Metro to work everyday seem to offer crumbs of news and more activity listings or lifestyle news, with still more color pix (often badly reproduced). The Express is The Post's giveaway paper: theoretically, a trifle to whet the appetite for the daily's filet mignon. How many consumers of cookie-cutter news convert to Chef Katharine Weymouth's five-course, white tablecloth banquet remains to be seen.

Further accentuating the trend of McNews: columns in The Post now sport thumbnail photo-sketches of their authors. This seems to be so that fans of, say, Mike Wilbon's sports commentary can recognize their fearless commentator on TV - where the Post can further profit from his appearances. Even such lesser mortals as E.J. Dionne or Richard Cohen, who have much to say on serious news can become Post "brands" when they appear in other media, both online and off-. Personality journalism does not reside solely within the cover of "E" or People anymore.

Not that The Post had an original thought in creating this visual fingerprint for its regulars - the Wall Street Journal originated the trend. WSJ seems intent to prove itself as the only member of the mainstream media that can monetize its own online product by leaving its content accessible only to subscribers. Whether the purveyors of this brand can indeed see their strategy become profitable remains to be seen, but it is also true that, if one searches for a specific online headline and byline hard enough it may often be picked up and repackaged by online aggregators for free access.

It's a crap-shoot that newspapers are betting will save the brand, offer more ad sales opportunities and keep the news viable. Whether newsprint will survive the onslaught from its many digital options is debatable.

Before the funeral begins, perhaps we should undergo an examination of all this "new" news and its many sources to determine whether the heralds of doom have the story right. From citizen journalists to bloggers drawn from the ranks of former mainstream reporters, there is evidence of new momentum to telling the story of our lives. It may look different in a news generation, and there's no question that delivery channels have grown. It might even be Good News, that reporting and reading are more democratized than at any time since Thomas Paine's Common Sense or Poor Richards Almanack in the early days of the Republic.

Any way you look at it, the trend towards many sources of news beats state-controlled media where free speech is stifled and the only sanctioned news is what "they" say it can be.

The News Is Dead, Long Live the News.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Top 10 Rules for the "New" Media Relations

With all the focus on journalists gazing at their navels while lamenting the decline-and-fall of print (and even broadcast) journalism as we know it, I have yet to see my colleagues on the other side of the pitch expound on how those of us trying to place news stories in the media are supposed to do our jobs.

As reporters get laid off, their beats are increasingly outsourced to freelancers or bloggers, mostly ex-reporters, but some upstarts who claim to know how to write. These people are not listed in any reputable media directory where one could check their bona fides (alas, no Vocus or Bacons identities available), although some have Web sites or clips that are posted from previous writing gigs. They are not identifiable in any systematic way. They represent only themselves, and often are impervious to the standard restraints or ethical concerns that journalists working for mainstream media have had as guideposts in the past. It is the Wild, Wild West.

Glamour, Ladies Home Journal, Washington Post Health...these are but a smattering of the many MSM whose writers no longer appear on the official masthead. More disturbing, television news, formerly the gold standard of story placement for flacks seeking credible...and creditable...placement for news, are increasingly hiring stringers or independent producers for research, story development and production when bureaus, both in the U.S. and overseas, fold.

It hits us in unexpected ways. Like the "investigative" story plumbing decades-old date about a government agency sourced for a local Examiner newspaper in a major metropolitan area that gets "broken" by the Examiner reporter during a news interview with an anchor on the CBS News affiliate - without bothering to ask the agency for comment. Or the documentary aired on a national cable network produced by a company in Australia using a producer in San Francisco...who doesn't have a travel budget to interview sources outside Northern California. Or the pitch to the newspaper editor for a lifestyles section that folds without notice while the entire editorial staff just disappears.

Today's Wild West scenario is not so different, perhaps, from the yellow journalism at the turn of the last century, with the exception that, today, any Tom, Dick or Harriet can open a Twitter account and post "news", so that the proliferation of people calling themselves reporters is exponential. And it's not always obvious who's good, who's not, and who's just looking for his/her 30 seconds of fame.

Why does it matter? "Free media", the art of placing stories in outlets to promote ideas, products, ideas or services, is still an important arrow in the arsenal of the public relations professional. In fact, seeing the company's name or product in print is often what clients, or companies, mean when they talk about PR.

So, it's not business as usual. What to do?

Today, with shrinking news staff in even the biggest media, the more you can do to help a reporter find you, get the story and pitch it to their editors, the better chance you have of getting your story picked up.

Here's a new Top 10 for enhancing media placement:

1. Build your reputation online and off. Become a trusted news source by being reliable, never feeding bogus stories, and meeting deadlines.
2. Register (and tweet) on HARO (Help a Reporter Out), Be A Source, TV Newser, etc.
3. Follow reporters on Twitter - they sometimes follow back or respond to replies to their tweets.
4. Blog about things that have things to do with your company or clients, and sometimes things that don't but about professional concerns or events to spread the good word.
5. Network like hell: events proliferate but there are also bars and restaurants where reporters like to hang. Organizations like MediaBistro have sprung up with the goal of training pink-slipped journalists to do something else in the writing field. Maybe even compete for your next job.
6. Email journalists & formers to see where they land and keep in touch.
7. Get LinkedIn, Facebook, and put your best opinions out there in the ether...
8. Worry about getting good content, repackaging for various media and keeping your contact info up-to-date.
9. Know who you're talking to - and who they're reporting for. They are not always writing only for their primary news outlet. Even the venerable NYTimes employs hacks scribbling for other media. Check out Times Public Editor's recent mea culpa at
10. Don't rely on news releases, or at least not traditional news releases to sell your story. Social releases embed links, videos, photos, bios and other resources.

In decades past, PR people were best who were invisible, persuading, cajoling and spinning behind the scenes, then pretending our clients magically appeared on the pages of the Wall Street Journal by their own merit.

Today, we are visible producers in our own right. In the new world, re-purposing content, packaging and placement our tools in trade. "Hits", Friends and Followers now become our measure of success.

No one quite knows how to master this new art form yet because the media are evolving, the old news placement ways aren't solving, the doors are revolving.

So by experimentation and practice, we can emerge from this electronic free-for-all as the new news and in it. In a good way, of course.

Talk to me on Twitter @dcoffbeatartist

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Packaging News

- What constitutes news these days?

- Are reporters the only gatekeepers through an ever-increasing number of outlets beyond the mainstream media (MSM)?

- Have the diminishing numbers of professional reporters in MSM newsrooms overburdened trying to cover today's news without even getting to think about long-term projects meant that important information is not getting out?

- How do reporters want their news packaged these days? With html releases that link to relevant info, expert sources, and statistics that make news-gathering easier, or does that diminish the source's credibilty?

- Do consolidations in the news industry mean that Reporter X, who is covering a story for News Organization Y, is increasingly being tapped through uneasy partnerships and alliances between news organizations, to repackage and post their stories in various formats for News Organizations A, B, and C, in addition?

- Should news flacks and other PR practitioners be spending more time blogging, tweeting, Facebooking and social networking to get their stories directly to the audiences whom they most want to reach instead of spending so much time on media relations that seems to be offering diminished returns?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Emerging from Change: The New Global Consciousness

So what's next in our post-consumer age? It seems the economy may be leveling off, if not on the rebound. Economists seem sanguine that we are poised to make a recovery by 2011. Two years is not a long wait for most people - although for people already in retirement, or slammed by medical bills, it may seem a lifetime.

Not yet time to start shopping at Neiman-Marcus again.

But has the wave of crisis that washed over us last fall really dissipated? Or is it, like the ocean tide, merely the first in a series of storm-surged sized crests that will, ultimately, knock down our system for good?

Maybe our tribute this year to Darwin's publishing of the theory of evolution should also take note of the fact that the speed of evolution is increasing exponentially. From prehistory to the Renaissance were many technological advances, but nothing can match the rate of invention from ENIAC to Mac. Likewise, the spread of communications. Perhaps the transition from etching on stone to Gutenberg's printing press advanced the spread of ideas over centuries. But today, the entire world is connected in a communications Web from Google to Facebook to Twitter.

What does this speed and ease of connecting to the farthest reaches of the world herald? And is this rise in connectivity coincidence, or synchronicity?

Will the next wave compel us to take use these powerful tools to retool not just our economy, but our environment, approach to relations with other nations, and most importantly, the way we take care of ourselves and our families in a more mindful manner?

Modern economists in our consumer economy speak of "creative destruction" to describe the rise of innovation and efficiency in capitalism, but I doubt they think of themselves as part of the fallout. Perhaps what we are now seeing is the first wave that will put them - and many others who cannot ride through the storms - the kind of environmental, social, political upheavals that will lead us from a destructive "modernism" that values individual power and wealth to a greater in-tune-ness with our world, that will eventually give rise, not to Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, but to the Health of Humankind.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Media Unbiased?

So here's the deal: today, when you deal with the media, you don't really know who you're talking to. Client A (who shall remain unmentioned due to confidentiality concerns) gets story request from pushy, big city tabloid daily to meet unreasonable deadline on big story with no benefit of context, (i.e., we've talked to a source who alleges your practices are unreasonably impacting the public), to respond to, "We want to talk to your principal for an overview of what you've been doing for the past 30 years." Respectfully decline the interview when reporter refuses to be more specific about the subject of the interview (suspecting political agenda, based on the paper), only to get slammed with a front page headline alleging abuses from an ex-administration bigwig who had auspices over this same jurisdiction up until a month-and-a-half ago, who suddenly finds the practices "unconscionable."

Meanwhile, local television news station, network affiliate and supposedly part of the MSM (mainstream media), interviews the reporter about the story as an exclusive, without even bothering to request an interview with my client, runs the story on the evening news in advance of the tabloid, and doesn't bother to ask for a response until the proverbial garbage has hit the fan and the client must now play defense.

As it turns out, network affiliate has a link to said tabloid on its news site and must frequently be in the habit of breaking stories or partnering with this not-too-credible paper.

Is it about news, or sensationalism? Have we returned to the days of yellow journalism? Is there even such a principle as "Truth in Disclosure" when talking to the media these days, to find out if by talking to Organ A, you are really talking to A plus B and any undisclosed alliances and partnerships that are in effect?

As newspapers close and TV news loses audience share to blogs and newly-emerging unrefereed online press, is corporate pressure to maximize revenues and recapture audience so overwhelming that the audience no longer even knows who is responsible for what? Doesn't the public, not to mention those of us who duke it out daily with reporters over fair and unbiased reporting on clients, have the right to know? What good is a free press if it is now an unfettered free-for-all. And where is the FTC and FCC today - is there a new need for regulatory oversight in this lax environment of media consolidation? And where does the almighty "buck" stop when reporting is corrupted by obfuscation and lack of transparency in the name of maximizing revenue?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Survival of the Fittest: Then and Now

200 years ago on February 12, two men were born on opposite sides of the Atlantic who would both change the face of the world. On the evidence, Charles Darwin would reach the conclusion that the existing species of the Earth evolved based on natural selection due to the biological principle of the survival of the fittest. His theory of evolution transformed our understanding of natural science and our appreciation of social order. All beings we know today survived some winnowing out process that selected for the strongest and fittest to survive.

Abraham Lincoln (I'm wondering if he had read Darwin's Origin of the Species?) would go on to become president of the US, which was already at war with itself, and forever more transform the way Americans looked at each other and how the world looked at America. The conflict between North and South was intractable, based on property rights and states rights vs. human rights. Slavery was seen as the powerful versus the captive. Lincoln looked at this and said in the Gettysburg Address, "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal," deciding that it was worth fighting to keep the Union. His thesis was not to protect the "fittest", as society perceived those who were strongest at the time, but survival of the country.

One message - it's inevitable that life is a struggle and only the strong survive. The other - life may be a struggle, but humans have a choice to make in who or what they defend (even the weakest). And Lincoln was being true to his principles in defending that notion.

Today's economic and international struggles mirror those of these two giants. Today's choices are being writ large by President Obama, but they occur on a more personal scale, too. Whoever among us has the capacity to serve the weakest has a choice to make: how can I help someone who has lost a job, is about to lose their home, is struggling financially to stay in college? Public stimulus is today's buzzword, but have we become too nervous about what is to come to help support our neighbors who may be less fortunate? Are the escape artists who led AIG and Merrill Lynch into companies now reliant on public charity for their sustenance - and who themselves pocketed millions of dollars as part of a planned and negotiated exit strategy - beyond seeing their own greed when millions are losing jobs based on their get richer quicker schemes for subprime mortgage investment?

Pondering big questions - who is the strongest in our world today? And will we support the weakest among us? How will history judge us?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Post-Consumer Economy

Does the slowing of the world economy necessarily mean innovation will be stifled. Investment in new technologies is costly, but investment in ideas is a matter of thought, effort, connecting. Is it possible for us, as a nation, not to BUY BUY BUY, but to collaborate, connect, and consume invention?

The question remains, how to prosper and succeed without the vast infusions of capital, and concomitant consumption that yields bottom-line returns, in these new times?

I believe brain power is the new capital in a post-consumer society. Although I believe the transformation will not be without some pain, how it will work is up to us.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Educating Kids for the International Millenium - no lol

(see post and comment at:

My daughter just left yesterday to spend a semester in Paris. She has been studying French since she was in 5th grade, and is excited to be immersed in the culture and to master the language. She even had a French friend on Facebook, the daughter of one of my friends from my own Junior year abroad.

While we were at JFK airport awaiting her plane at the international terminal, it seemed that every third traveler must be a college student - a heartening sign that our young people are learning that, to be part of a global future, they must gain first-hand experience in cultures and languages of the world.

She emailed me as soon as she got there to say that, of the 60 students in her program, most of those she had met so far had barely passable French. That many of them saw the year as an excuse to travel. That they were looking for a break from study at home.

While our country gives lip service to the idea that preparing our children to meet the demands of the world they will inherit includes mastery of languages, respect of international culture and diplomacy, and most colleges and universities have some kind of study abroad program, I wonder if this is only window dressing - that foreign language study is still optional, that learning across cultures is scant, and that the idea of fostering understanding and mutual dialogue is non-existent.

"But everyone speaks English!" So "nous autres Americains" expect. Is this what our higher education system is preparing our kids for in this "flat" world? With a worldwide Facebook, Twitter and the ubiquitous cell phone to encourage them, shouldn't American students be as fluent in French or Chinese, as starved to learn the culture, as Chinese and Russian and Brazilian students are to study ours? Can we expect our young people to assume the mantel of leadership, innovation, diplomacy, commerce and discovery if they cannot communicate across cultures?

We learn languages best when we are taught young. While our K-12 education system is still based on local and state standards, and languages are low on the list of subjects that must be mastered, the Federal government can provide the bullypulpit to promote languages, international exchange, and stronger standards for foreign language education for the youngest scholars. Where will our world be without young people fluent in English and Arabic, Farci and Spanish - or tomorrow's emerging economy.

And let's make sure that social networks are part of that connection - where technology helps remove barriers to learning, we can all be friends. And that's a reason to lol!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Parties with Purpose - TM

In this new era of downsizing and diminished returns, is there still space to use events to market? Not the familiar trade show or that newly emerging budget-saver, the Webinar, but live meet-ups where the purpose is delivering, or reinforcing a vital message or expanding the message to a wider audience.

This is the question we are mulling over - does the market space exist today for using a live event to communicate, illustrate, persuade or even start a conversation for organizations with a strong social message? Think about the model, where the Obama transition team invites citizens to hold local parties to debate policy issues and then share them with those in positions to effect real change - be it at the local, national or international level. Consensus cannot be formed solely in an electronic medium, though the debate can be waged, in part, online.

Is there a place for us humans, social beings, to gather, to celebrate, to debate, to learn and share - to create a meaningful DIALOGUE - in today's environment of reduced resources, modest means and lowered expectations?

More to come on this topic...

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Communicating results.

Where's the ROI?

As principal of WordsWork Communications, I am frequently asked by prospective clients to justify the expense for marketing. After all, can't everyone write a press release (no, but this is a subject for another time). It is right, though, that clients expect some return-on-investment for hiring our firm. With so many channels, both new and traditional, and so much clutter for people's attention in the marketplace, what value does WordsWork, or any firm for that matter, bring to the table?

I am grappling with the new rules of delivering on a promise to clients. The burden of proof falls on us practitioners now, more than ever, to substantiate the effectiveness of the marketing, communications and public relations we create for clients has been an integral component of what we deliver. Only natural, you might guess, if you were looking for a consulting firm to create your identity, to deliver sales, get you on The Today Show or to bring in donors, but after all, there are so many other factors involved in the dynamic of your success, particularly in the current economic cycle, that no one in this business can guarantee such outcomes.

In the emerging world of traditional and social marketing, how do we deliver? When you can't control all that is said - the good, the bad and the ugly - via blogging, online posts, company Intranets and all the derivatives is it still true that even bad press is a good thing?

What about the brand? Does style, consistency, medium and message still matter?

Talking about clients today in a way that yields the desired results is no longer about control of the message, or relationships with gatekeepers. WE are the gatekeepers, as is everyone else with a computer and an interest - or a vendetta.

How do other people in the marketing/promotion/advertising/brand-building business answer the question: in the current Web 2.0, how do we get our clients the results they are looking for?

Looking for how clients are choose the firms that deliver - and how fellow practitioners are proving to their clients that they do, in fact, deliver.