Thursday, June 25, 2009

Everybody had great praise for Michael Jackson... except his former publicist

You know that old saying your mother told you repeatedly about "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it?"

It seems all the notables who issued public statements about Michael Jackson got that memo and sent out a lot of love, sadness and praise. Even his ex-wife Lisa-Marie Presley movingly described her heartbreak.

However, one person that didn't hold back their axe to grind was Jackson's former publicist, Michael Levine, who worked with the singer when he was accused of molestation in 1993. Instead of doing the classy thing and taking the high road, he belly-flopped right into the mud.

According to the Associated Press, Levine said: "I must confess I am not surprised by today's tragic news. Michael has been on an impossibly difficult and often self-destructive journey for years. His talent was unquestionable but so too was his discomfort with the norms of the world. A human simply cannot withstand this level of prolonged stress."

Wow. Couldn't the guy just stick with nice things to say about his former client instead of playing backstabbing armchair shrink?

If you're a client of Michael Levine, don't get on his wrong side if you part ways. Guys like this give public relations a bad name, even after you've passed on.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Wall Street Journal to ad industry: you're not that important anymore

With newspapers and magazines losing ad pages in the current recession, The Wall Street Journal decided to fire back at the advertising industry and drop their advertising column from five times a week to two.

Well, that will show them a lesson!

Of course, revenge might not be the reason. But when one of the country's biggest newspapers, one with a rich history of analyzing what makes business and consumers tick, decides advertising and marketing don't merit articles more than twice a week, that's a real sad dagger to the heart. Even more egregious in light of the fact that they launched a thrice a week sports section not long ago.

Dow Jones' explanation statement sounded contrived and dubious: "Our hope is that by running the column less often, we can better single out the key trends and issues in the industry, while increasing our ability to leap opportunistically on the news." That's pretty noble.

With this dramatic reduction, the Journal seems to be shooting themselves in the foot, as endemic marketers who would normally advertise in the paper around that column, often the biggest television, interactive and publishing entities, will move their dollars elsewhere.

The Wall Street Journal is in effect saying, "We don't think the advertising industry is that important, and we can live with the loss of ad revenue that goes with it."

Scuttling advertising and marketing coverage may benefit rival ad sales departments of the New York Times, Advertising Age, Adweek, and USA Today. Not only have they continued full coverage, but post breaking stories daily on their web sites.

However, I've saved the biggest irony for last: a newspaper company so desperate for advertising itself has ended up devaluing what it needs the most.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Twitter Revolution may not be televised

When I attended Social Media Camp during Internet Week, social media marketing pro Chris Heuer presented a slide in the initial Social Media 101 session that read: "Spin doesn't work. People smell BS a mile away."

Ironic, I'd say.

Tell me if this doesn't remind you of late-90's nuttiness: social media gurus conducting Twitter seminars for anxiously paying attendees and clients... people are signing book deals based on tweet compilations. Just last week, Twitter is on the cover of Time magazine ("Twitter and the change it brings"). One Social Media Camp seminar was about "the science of retweeting." Ashton Kutcher battled it out with CNN for the most followers. Jason Calacanis offered $250,000 to Twitter to become a "suggested user" because he equated it with another "Super Bowl."

Maybe it's a good idea that Twitter executives Biz Stone and Evan Williams are playing it very close to the vest or not jumping into crazed expansion.

The anecdotal and empirical evidence about Twitter's shortcomings is snowballing as fast as the microblogging's growth is slowing. The media hype turning point may be just upon us.

I'm not talking about abject failure -- Twitter has proven to be a financial boon for Dell Computer, apparently help generate more than $3 million in sales since 2007 from its @DellOutlet account. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is milking his Twitter account for everything it's worth to show how cool both he and his company are selling shoes over the Internet. For breaking news and massive outspoken protests (such as the recent #cnnfail Twitter trend) and customer service outreach (notably with JetBlue), the service has absolute merit. I follow certain journalists to get a sense of what they are writing about and how they are viewing their beats.

But Twitter is turning out to be like a huge party that everybody RSVP'd for and very few people showed up. You know that feeling you may have had in the back of your mind wondering how interesting it would really be to let everybody know about what you were doing every hour? You may have been right -- it's not interesting at all.

To me, it started with the ingenious New York Times article at the end of May that revealed most celebrity Twitter feeds were concocted by ghostwriters. Suddenly, Twitter had a little hollow ring to it, that it was a bit of a smoke and mirrors act. And if Hollywood couldn't bother Twittering, then what about other CEO's and well-known names?

Then came this one-two punch this spring: Nielsen Online issued a report that "more than 60 percent of U.S. Twitter users fail to return the following month," followed by last week's Hubspot research that showed that more than half of Twitter's 4.5 million registered users have never posted a tweet. This is going to be a business?

I've heard all kinds of stories of mega-celebrities with tons of followers putting links in their Twitter feed, only to see the click-through traffic produce very disappointing numbers.

Just today, digital traffic measurement firm Compete said monthly unique visitors grew only 1.47% and TechCrunch called it "a breather."

When the cold light of day arrives, and Twitter's ROI is scrutinized by corporate America, PR firms, Hollywood, and everybody else who drank the Kool Aid, it may turn out that Twitter is only effective with a certain niche of early adapters, or highly mobile and connected individuals.
Twitter may be more comparable to the specialized smaller audience of Wired magazine versus the colossal mass outreach of Good Housekeeping.

Spin? Oh yes, it does work.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

IAC takes Professor Irwin Corey Award #2 for "rationalizing"

IAC takes our second Professor Irwin Corey Award for its explanation today about why they were shutting down black-targeted search engine RushmoreDrive.com.

Via PaidContent.org (italics are mine):

RushmoreDrive.com will be closing Friday, according to an IAC (NSDQ: IACI) spokeswoman who said the move is “part of our continued effort to rationalize the IAC emerging businesses.”

How does one "rationalize" a company in determining closing an entire division of 17 employees? Does this mean they are still trying to figure out the rationality of all 40 online brands that make up the company so RushmoreDrive.com had to go?

Actually, the word has a few definitions that apply: to "cut" or to "prune" or this impressive one -- "structure and run according to rational or scientific principles in order to achieve desired results."

Of course, they just could have said: "RushmoreDrive.com was no longer a viable business for the company."

The Professor Irwin Corey Award is given to institutions and people who make unusual choices of words -- sometimes the right ones, sometimes ones that don't make sense -- to communicate with the press.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The eMusic PR backlash

eMusic, one of the most popular and reasonably priced legit music download sites (and DRM-free) has found itself in a PR quagmire. I should know -- I am one of their customers.

The beauty of eMusic is that for a cheap subscription, you can download a healthy amount of songs strictly from indie labels, which made them hip to finding new music in all kinds of categories from electronica to rock. Plus you didn't have to worry about messing with computer permissions, etc. like iTunes, which music fans abhor.

In one fell swoop double announcement this week, eMusic has created a whirlwind of ill will. They boasted that they signed their first major label deal with Sony, providing them with over 200,000 tracks from artists, all of them at least two years old. At the same, they jacked up their prices dramatically when these songs are entering their database in early July.

In my case, I will be going from 90 downloads a month for $19.99 to 50 downloads a month for the same price. Personally, the thought of downloading old Journey and Celine Dion songs doesn't float my boat, so all I'm really left with are all the usual indie songs, but now each download costs far more. Not worth it, so I'm leaving the store just before the new prices hit.

Apparently, I'm far from alone.

Techdirt posted a brilliant observation called, rather straightforwardly, "Did No One At eMusic Think About PR Impact of Raising Prices At The Same Time Sony Signed?" Followed by, as of this moment, 42 comments. Apparently, many subscribers on eMusic's own message board are not holding back either.

This scenario is a textbook example of corporate executives living in a bubble. Of course, there is no way people would not have put two and two together (Sony additions + higher prices), and frankly, if there's nothing appealing about Sony's old catalog, then why the heck would you want to pay for it anyway? Are we supposed to get excited about downloading an old Meatloaf album?

I recommend you click through on the link to Techdirt's post because they pretty much nailed it on the head: "Here's a major record label, whose music many eMusic subscribers didn't want in the first place, now being seen as having made life worse (and more expensive) for everyone. By connecting the two issues, it seems like both eMusic and Sony Music are getting hit a lot harder than if the announcements had been separated."

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Print is the biggest straw that stirs the news drink

A couple of weeks ago on sports talk WFAN-AM, former Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason was aghast when his co-host Craig Carton described who was booked on the show that day -- a guy who "streaked" across Citi Field in the middle of the previous night's night's game.

In two half-pages articles in New York Post and the NY Daily News, the man claimed his boss offered him $1,000 if he would take his sudden naked sprint, which landed him in jail.

Esiason was puzzled as to why this streaker deserved air time and demanded the show's producer Al Dukes come out for an explanation.

"I'm booking to follow the news," he gulped.

In those six words, he's described the double-edged sword of media coverage that every good publicist should know. The key word there is follow because that is exactly what most radio and TV news have done for years -- follow the work of other media, especially print.

For all the pundit calls about print's death throes, print is still doing a heck of a job being the straw that turns the news drink.

I came to this conclusion in the late 80's, which goes to show you how some habits die very hard. While working at Radio City Music Hall Productions, I saw that every time we placed a story in a daily newspaper, TV and radio bookers and producers would call our office like clockwork to do the very same story, sometimes ones they turned down already!

Listen yourself when radio and TV anchors frequently beginning their stories with, "Today's New York Times reports..." or "The mayor says in today's Daily News...." Listen yourself because it's still done now all the time.

With the exception of sweeps programming and TV newsmagazines, radio and TV bookers, assignment editors and producers are often following the news reported by newspapers first, as opposed to breaking news themselves.

Why? There are probably a few reasons:

1) Newspapers, despite their growing and unfortunate endangered status, often have the resources to pursue and break news stories.

2) Newspapers, consciously or not, rank very high on the credibility and respect meter at least to other media.

3) If a story is in a newspaper, "it must be news," so bookers, producers and writers have their butts covered by assigning it.

For example, when the New York Times published a trend article on high school hugging last week, NBC-TV's Today show wasted no time in producing a short segment about it.


From a public relations pro's point of view, targeting a print placement can be the first flick of the finger that knocks down the row of media dominoes.

But let's go back to WFAN's show, in which a few outraged listeners e-mailed in that if streaker appeared on the program, they would turn it off the remainder of the show. Esiason was clearly not thrilled with his producer slavishly booking the streaker either. However, it was too late to stop the fellow from going on air.

Here's where the downside to this trend is: is TV and radio following much of what they read in newspapers a good thing? Does it magnify stories which don't deserve much attention, while ignoring ones that really merit coverage?

WCBS-AM Newsradio 88 news director Tim Scheld likened his station's all-news format to an online news aggregator like The Drudge Report that also credits its sources: "If you listen to us for a half hour, we will get you up on everything you need to know. We'll give you a full plate." Although he admits "Newspapers have bigger staffs."

He points to the local 10 pm and 11 pm TV newscasts: "What they do is similar to what we do during the day, putting their own spin on it."

Of course, radio does have its day in the sun, like when a plane landed in the Hudson River last fall: "All you need is a cell phone to cover that story. You can't beat the immediacy of that."

If newspapers and magazines sadly fold, what will radio and TV stations do with nobody to break a lot of their news for them?