Never-before-seen Footage from “The Graduate”: Mr. McGuire Talking to Dustin Hoffman About Content

The Graduate - business storytelling

Everyone has the content religion.

If you toil under the marketing umbrella, your updated job description likely includes the word “content.”

And publications ranging from BuzzFeed to Fortune to BusinessInsider have created business units to address — that’s right — developing content for companies.

Which explains why the mantra, “Content Is King,” has been chanted into the ground.

We tend to think of this infatuation with content as a recent phenomenon, that the rise of digital media prompted the invention of content (now there’s a patent with value).

But is this so?

I investigated the matter to determine if content existed before the World Wide Web.

It turns out that not only did content exist before the Web, its presence found its way into popular culture as far back as the 1960s. In the video clip below from the 1967 Academy Award-winning movie, “The Graduate,” watch Mr. McGuire offer career advice to Dustin Hoffman’s character, Benjamin.

I’m sorry that the age of the video has somewhat eroded the audio quality. If you have trouble, here’s a written version of the dialogue from the scene once Mr. McGuire and Dustin Hoffman move outside.

Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.

Benjamin: Yes sir.

Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?

Benjamin: Yes I am.

Mr. McGuire: Content …

Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?

Mr. McGuire: There’s a great future in content. Think about it. Will you think about it?

Dustin Hoffman: Yes I will.

Mr. McGuire: Shhhh. Enough said. That’s a deal.

We can safely conclude that yes, content existed before the World Wide Web.

P.S. Watching this scene unfold never gets old. Business communicators can hone their storytelling technique from other movies like the opening of “500 Days of Summer.”



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Analysis of Google’s Own Blogging Practices Settles the Question Once and for All: Is Guest Posting Kosher?

I’m a big believer in learning directly from the source.

Want to get in shape? Look at how professional trainers do it.

Trying to figure out the mechanics of parody? Study the lyrics from Weird Al Yankovic (“Tacky” sang to Pharrell’s “Happy” is a good start).

So when it comes to optimizing a website for search (SEO), it’s logical to turn to Google, not just scrutinizing what the company says, but also what it actually does.

Here’s what I mean.

Google’s swami of SEO Matt Cutts has been doing a slow burn on the topic of “guest posting for backlinks” for some time. In a video published back in October 2012 he said that “really high-quality guest posting is worthwhile” though he mutters the three-word caveat “in some cases” (appears in sec 20 in video below).



Cutts concludes by saying that guest posting is appropriate when “someone puts some work into it and has something original to say” as opposed to doing the bare minimum with the only objective being link building.

Apparently, the advice in 2012 didn’t squash the bad stuff because Cutts continued to revisit the topic, each time becoming more adamant on the perils of guest posting. His frustration boiled over in the post he penned earlier this year, “The Decay and Fall of Guest Blogging for SEO” which begins:

“Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop. Why? Because over time it’s become a more and more spammy practice, and if you’re doing a lot of guest blogging then you’re hanging out with really bad company.”

In the same post, Cutts dusts off a high-school metaphor to hammer home the point:

“So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy.”

And closes like a preacher trying to impart the gospel on his disciples:

“So there you have it: the decay of a once-authentic way to reach people. Given how spammy it’s become, I’d expect Google’s webspam team to take a pretty dim view of guest blogging going forward.”

Absorbing such direction from above, many from the ranks of the SEO-gentsia concluded that guest posting should cease. Yet, that’s not what he meant, and Google’s own approach to guest blogging bears this out.

I analyzed roughly six months of posts from Google’s enterprise blog (Feb. 1 thru July 26) looking for an answer to the questions: Does Google itself publish guest posts? And if yes, what are their best practices?

It turns out that they do. Here’s how the data breaks down:

Google-Guest Posts Pie chart- SEO

Given that over 40 percent of the content comes from guest posting, it seems reasonable to conclude that Google views guest posting as acceptable.

Just to be sure an anomaly didn’t skew the data, I also cut it by month which you can see in the following:

Google-Guest Posts Bar  graph-  SEO

With the exception of March, there’s almost a 50/50 split in every month between Google posts and guest posts.

Cutts continually refers to the phrase, “taking to an extreme,” to describe guest posting gone wild.  Google’s own behavior suggests that if your guest posts deliver less than 50 percent of your content, this stays out of the danger zone (not “extreme”).

Drilling down into the actual content of the Google-accepted guest posts, there are a couple ways to ensure “safe guest posting.”

First of all, be judicious with the backlinks. Most of the guest posts on the Google Enterprise blog included just a single backlink. A few had two. Only one guest post had more than two, the NYC contribution which spread three backlinks across

A second technique involves including internal links in the guest posts. Even though they’re third-party contributors, Google strives to add one or two links to information that hangs off of Again the NYC guest post provides an example of this technique.

Google CNY  Guest Post - SEO

I hadn’t considered this before, but it makes sense. Such internal links send a proxy of relevance to a search algorithm.

Circling back to the question at hand, is guest posting kosher?

The answer is a clear “Yes.”

Anyone with a fresh take that fits at the intersection of storytelling, PR and digital marketing?

Side note. Over the course of this exercise, I stumbled across Google using the exact same blog post twice. The post, “Chromebox, now for simpler and better meetings,” appeared in both the enterprise blog and the “official Google blog” on February 6, 2014. Assuming Google wouldn’t break its own rules on duplicate content, cross posting must be OK.


Defining Thought Leadership in a Business Blog

business blog organic search and SEO tips

As our communication campaigns increasingly address SEO and particularly organic search, thought leadership becomes even more important.

Here’s what I mean and why it’s important to put yourself out there.

When it comes to organic search, Google and other search engines place a premium on backlinks. They interpret backlinks as “votes” for the content.

Of course, to generate backlinks, you must create content that prompts other digital properties to share your content with their audiences. For the type of content that grades out as shareable, it’s typically not product information or a personnel announcement or an industry award — information we characterize as company-centric. Instead, it’s the type of business storytelling that’s useful or informative and ultimately helps people in their jobs.

In short, thought leadership plays at the industry level, not the company level, ideally offering takes that can’t be found elsewhere.

Such dot-connecting points to blogging as one of the best platforms for thought leadership.

At the risk of stating the obvious, defining the objectives for a company blog goes a long way toward determining whether a blog truly delivers on the promise of thought leadership. I was reminded of this point recently in pursuing an award competition for blogs. I established three primary objectives for Ishmael’s Corner back in 2008 that remain relevant today:

  • Cultivate an industry resource for communication professionals
  •  Bring meaning to the concept of storytelling in business communications, offering pragmatic advice/insights
  • Create a halo effect for The Hoffman Agency that ultimately differentiates the Agency in new business and the recruitment of talent

With the first objective setting the stage for thought leadership, I went through the exercise of analyzing 126 posts published within the competition’s timeframe. Would the data support my premise that the blog strives for thought leadership?

It turns out that fewer than 10 percent of posts fell into the Agency-centric bucket. Out of the 139 posts published between May 1, 2013 and June 30, 2014, 126 played at the industry level. It seems fair to say that I’ve managed to avoid the “me, me, me, and here’s a little more about me” trap (though this post does deliver an ironic twist to the previous premise).

Drilling down to the next level, I categorized the industry posts by topic which you can see in the pie chart below.

Ishmael's Corner blog posts and organic search and SEO

While posts on storytelling techniques + visual storytelling constitute the largest part of pie at 31 percent, there’s still a healthy spread over a number of macro topics. It might seem odd that I write as much on journalism as social media, but this comes from the belief that communicators should be students of journalism. The best business storytelling in today’s world comes from journalists.

Curious about the riffs on news events, I captured those as well:

  • Sense of Humor from U.S. Soccer
  • Adam Silver Press Conference
  • Omnicom and Publicis Breakup
  •  LinkedIn Enters in China
  • Warren Buffett Shareholder Letter
  • Lame Tweets at Super Bowl
  •  Brands in Sales Mode at Super Bowl
  • Eight Predictions for Super Bowl Tweets
  •  Omnicom and Publicis Proposed Merger

Given my love of sports, it’s no surprise that more than half of these posts relate a sporting news event to storytelling techniques.

OK. Now turning back to the question, are others sharing these thought leadership posts?

Again, the reality matches the theory. Open Site Explorer indicates over 40,000 external links to the blog, roughly doubling the number from two years ago.

Open Site Explorer blog authority external links

Taking our own advice seems to be working.

As for the awards competition, I’ll keep you posted (even though that would qualify as an Agency-centric post).



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The Tug of War Between Journalists and the Obama Administration in Defining Transparency

Obama Press Conference

Naturally, journalists want more from the Obama administration.

More openness.

More access.

More information.

Given that the journalist’s agenda will always differ from the government’s agenda, it’s inevitable that a contentious dynamic shadows the relationship. This seems healthy to me so I wasn’t surprised to stumble across a recent letter from the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) addressed to the President asking for greater transparency.

Ironically, I think the letter was more of a PR ploy and not exactly well done. Then again, it appears the organization’s version of a PR function is to hire an aspiring journalist who just graduated in May to fill the role of “communications coordinator.”

Here’s the content of the letter with my commentary:

President Barack Obama
The White House
Washington, D.C
July 8, 2014

Mr. President,

You recently expressed concern that frustration in the country is breeding cynicism about democratic government. You need look no further than your own administration for a major source of that frustration – politically driven suppression of news and information about federal agencies. We call on you to take a stand to stop the spin and let the sunshine in.

In a form of journalistic jujitsu, the SPJ nicely turns the President’s words against him. But that last line “… take a stand to stop the spin and let the sunshine in” brings together more clichés than a 7th grade English class.

Over the past two decades, public agencies have increasingly prohibited staff from communicating with journalists unless they go through public affairs offices or through political appointees. This trend has been especially pronounced in the federal government. We consider these restrictions a form of censorship – an attempt to control what the public is allowed to see and hear.

Call The New York Times or The Washington Post or any major publication to request a meeting with the editor-in-chief, and what happens? You are quickly shuttled to the PR department who then determines whether you are “worthy.” This is how all organizations bring method to the madness. Of course, the process can be abused, but censorship? Puhleeze!

The stifling of free expression is happening despite your pledge on your first day in office to bring “a new era of openness” to federal government – and the subsequent executive orders and directives which were supposed to bring such openness about.

I suppose it’s all in how you define “openness.” As I’ve written in previous posts, the Obama administration gets “owned media,” establishing a new benchmark for how a government entity essentially becomes a media property in its own right with multiple channels to reach the masses.

White house owned media

Recent research has indicated the problem is getting worse throughout the nation, particularly at the federal level. Journalists are reporting that most federal agencies prohibit their employees from communicating with the press unless the bosses have public relations staffers sitting in on the conversations. Contact is often blocked completely.

The data seems to indicate that when a journalist interviews someone from the federal government, he or she is increasingly accompanied by a PR person. Can you imagine?

When public affairs officers speak, even about routine public matters, they often do so confidentially in spite of having the title “spokesperson.” Reporters seeking interviews are expected to seek permission, often providing questions in advance. Delays can stretch for days, longer than most deadlines allow. Public affairs officers might send their own written responses of slick non-answers. Agencies hold on-background press conferences with unnamed officials, on a not-for-attribution basis.

Now we’re getting somewhere. I completely agree with the SPJ’s position that journalists should not have to submit questions in advance. As I’ve publicly stated, this undermines the credibility of the journalist, and that hurts everybody. In fact, I’m the one who wrote an open letter to the PR community advocating for the “Just Say No to No” campaign as a way to restore the credibility of our journalistic brothers.

As for the “on-background press conference with unnamed officials, on a not-for-attribution basis,” maybe you shouldn’t attend if they’re a waste of time.

In many cases, this is clearly being done to control what information journalists – and the audience they serve – have access to. A survey found 40 percent of public affairs officers admitted they blocked certain reporters because they did not like what they wrote.

I couldn’t help but notice that there’s no attribution for the survey, a journalistic no no. Which causes me to wonder if this is really an issue.

Some argue that controlling media access is needed to ensure information going out is correct. But when journalists cannot interview agency staff, or can only do so under surveillance, it undermines public understanding of, and trust in, government. This is not a “press vs. government” issue. This is about fostering a strong democracy where people have the information they need to self-govern and trust in its governmental institutions.

“Under surveillance?” I must have missed the memo stating that somehow the NSA is involved.

It has not always been this way. In prior years, reporters walked the halls of agencies and called staff people at will. Only in the past two administrations have media access controls been tightened at most agencies. Under this administration, even non-defense agencies have asserted in writing their power to prohibit contact with journalists without surveillance. Meanwhile, agency personnel are free speak to others – lobbyists, special-interest representatives, people with money – without these controls and without public oversight.

Right. I’m sure the Nixon administration made journalists feel right at home, offering them an iced tea as they roamed the White House. And again, what’s this “surveillance” issue that keeps surfacing? If it refers to a PR person accompanying the federal source, I’m deeply offended. Heck, I have a tough enough time keeping an eye on my grandkids much less have the expertise to hack the mobile phone logs of a journalist.

Here are some recent examples:

• The New York Times ran a story last December on the soon-to-be implemented ICD-10 medical coding system, a massive change for the health care system that will affect the whole public. But the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), one of the federal agencies in charge of ICD-10, wouldn’t allow staff to talk to the reporter.

• A reporter with Investigative Post, an online news organization in New York, asked three times without success over the span of six weeks to have someone at EPA answer questions about the agency’s actions regarding the city of Buffalo’s alleged mishandling of “universal waste” and hazardous waste.

• A journalist with Reuters spent more than a month trying to get EPA’s public affairs office to approve him talking with an agency scientist about the effects of climate change. The public affairs officer did not respond to him after his initial request, nor did her supervisor, until the frustrated journalist went over their heads and contacted EPA’s chief of staff.

Always a nice touch to bring in proof points.

The undersigned organizations ask that you seek an end to this restraint on communication in federal agencies. We ask that you issue a clear directive telling federal employees they’re not only free to answer questions from reporters and the public, but actually encouraged to do so. We believe that is one of the most important things you can do for the nation now, before the policies become even more entrenched.

We also ask you provide an avenue through which any incidents of this suppression of communication may be reported and corrected. Create an ombudsman to monitor and enforce your stated goal of restoring transparency to government and giving the public the unvarnished truth about its workings. That will go a long way toward dispelling Americans’ frustration and cynicism before it further poisons our democracy.

Further examples on the issue are provided as well as other resources.


One thing for sure, the SPJ has made a conscious effort to leverage emotionally charged words. Hello “suppression.” Still, I like the idea of an ombudsman. It could work just like the role in publications. Oh, that’s right. Most publications axed their ombudsmen during cost reductions.

While we have never supported a federal agency, our work for the City of Fremont gives us a window into how a constructive tango between the media and government should work.

Sure, the contentious dynamic I referenced earlier periodically surfaces, but again that’s the nature of colliding agendas.

Dear SPJ,

PR is not the enemy.

Perhaps, you should issue a clear directive to your membership that it’s not only OK to interact with PR, but they might actually find it useful and not in conflict with the journalistic integrity of their work.


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What’s the Story with Chinese Companies and Their Global Aspirations?

Yesterday in Beijing that question was at the heart of a roundtable we participated in involving Campaign Asia and the BBC.

The very insights that Campaign Asia’s Jason Wincuinas offered on the topic in last week’s Q&A framed a lively discussion.

As part of our preparation for the roundtable, we turned to the Forbes Global 2000, sifting through data on the ten largest Chinese state owned enterprises (SOEs), the ten largest non-SOEs, and the ten largest U.S. companies.

While these companies represent only one piece of a complex puzzle, researching them still proved a revealing exercise. Tallying up the sheer amount of revenue derived from overseas markets for each of the three categories, the U.S. dominates to such an extent that you can’t even call it a race.

But don’t underestimate the quest by China Inc. to build brands on a global stage. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and extracting the growth rates from each category over the past five years, a different story emerges.

Taking a page from our own counsel on visual storytelling, we put together the infographic below called “China vs the U.S., The Race for Global Revenue.”


 Hoffman Infographic - China vs the U.S., The Race for Global Revenue

Embed this Infographic on Your Site:

 <div align="center"><a href="”title=” What’s the Story with Chinese Companies and Their Global Aspirations?"><img src="" alt=" Hoffman Infographic - China vs the U.S., The Race for Global Revenue" style="border:none;" /></a><br /> <small>The Hoffman Agency is a public relations firm that emphasizes storytelling in <a href="">business communication</a></small>.</div>

If you’d like to use the infographic minus the supporting data, here’s a second version.


 Hoffman Infographic - China vs the U.S., The Race for Global Revenue

Embed this Infographic on Your Site:

 <div align="center"><a href="”title=” What’s the Story with Chinese Companies and Their Global Aspirations?"><img src="" alt=" Hoffman Infographic - China vs the U.S., The Race for Global Revenue" style="border:none;" /></a><br /> <small>The Hoffman Agency is a public relations firm that emphasizes storytelling in <a href="">business communication</a></small>.</div>

Finally, thank you Campaign Asia and the BBC for including us in the roundtable.

No doubt this race will take many twists and turns and perhaps “wipeouts” in the years to come.

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