Archive for August, 2008

You Say “Freakin,” I Say “Freaking”

I’ve been thinking about the headline of the Scoble post I addressed last week: “What do the freaking tech bloggers want?”

Specifically, does the periodic cuss word (or derivative) enhance storytelling or at the very least command attention?

I think the power of a cuss word can come from the element of surprise. If Martha Stewart drops an f-bomb while she’s baking brownies that’s going to grab your attention.

But the words “freakin” and “freaking” tend to be so overused today that they’ve lost their ability to jar. Rather than depend on gut feel, I turned to the wonders of the Factiva database to chart usage over the past five years.

You can see the two words have been gaining traction to the point that we’re projecting – I know the polls haven’t closed but go with me on this one – 7,122 articles will carry them in 2008. For context, Steve Jobs, who can hold his own with the likes of Britney Spears when it comes to media captivation, won’t show up in as many articles this year at the current pace.

Furthermore, I think it’s fair to say the words enjoy even greater use in the blogosphere. I couldn’t figure out how to search postings employing “freakin” or “freaking” by year, but a quick IceRocket search resulted in 122,923 hits.

Talk about overexposure.

Then again, with the right context the repetition of a cuss word can become a story in itself. For Exhibit A, look at Lee Elia’s meltdown back in 1983 when he was the manager of the Chicago Cubs. His profanity-laced tirade after the Cubs lost another game lives on in infamy thanks to the Internet.

Why?

It was so over the top for a public figure to spew expletive after expletive.

And yes, like all good stories it rang with authenticity.



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In Pursuit Of Bloggers: Disconnect Between Storytelling And PR

Robert Scoble, the poster child for escaping corporate cubedom for the virtual pulpit, penned a post titled “What do the freaking tech bloggers want?”

It’s a convincing view.

A bit longwinded perhaps, but if “Scobleizer” is etched in your masthead, you get a pass to periodically pontificate.

An earlier Scoble quasi-rant emphasized that through customers, not the PR function, is the best way to share the latest cool thing with the rest of the world. This predictably led to praise and lambasts across the blogosphere, which caused Scoble to revisit the topic. The following line captures the gist of his latest take:

“Bloggers are being commoditized.”

He goes on to say:

“If we just go to press conferences, or only deal with embargoed news, and report on the same news everyone else is reporting on, well, then, just what reason is there for our business to exist? How will we build an audience that’s any different, than, say, TechCrunch or Fortune’s or ZDNet’s efforts? How will we justify to our sponsors that they should sponsor us as we are doing the same thing as everyone else? Especially if we have a smaller audience? Yeah, advertisers really love getting THOSE kinds of sales pitches. Imagine walking into a big company and putting up a Powerpoint that says ‘we’re the same as Techcrunch, but smaller.’ What’s the chances you’ll walk out with a sponsorship?”

Hard to disagree.

In short, great blogging depends on information not in the public domain.

This is a tough one for smokestack PR which revolves around public-domain content, a one-to-many model also known by that scientific term “mass blast.” The news release is the best example of information earmarked for the public domain.

I’m not saying the news release doesn’t have a place in outbound communications. For a range of reasons, not the least being public disclosure, the news release can be the right tool for the job.

But public-domain information doesn’t work for bloggers.

Back to Scoble’s point about being commoditized, bloggers need fresh stories, unique access and turf to navigate on their own; otherwise, how do they differentiate their offerings?

Which poses a problem for smokestack PR.

Storytelling takes time. 

And it’s not a one-to-many approach in the blogosphere. Instead, it’s about pulling together the right content and sources for a single blogger.

The ROI can’t be predicated on quantity (multiple bloggers).

The ROI comes from forming a genuine relationship with the blogger and one-off stories with the potential of being flung to the far reaches of the Net via the viral effect.

Scoble wrapped up his dissertation on what bloggers want from PR with an anecdote about powwows put on by Microsoft and EA:

“… That was really great because there wasn’t any pressure to report on anything, just a chance to get to know you, your team, and see some of the things you are working on. Same thing at EA last week. By providing experiences where we can get our hands on your products, meet your team, etc, we’ll discover new story ideas together. I found a few at EA that I would never have known about if they didn’t have an event where we could hang out for a day.”

We’ll discover new story ideas together. What a concept. 

One last point -

Tom Foremski from Silicon Valley Watcher spoke to our company about his transition from Financial Times journalist to independent blogger during one of our lunch-bucket sessions. When he opened the floor to questions, I asked about the volume of traffic on his blog.

Wrong question.

He didn’t exactly call me stupid, but with overstated calm explained that a blog’s audience should be measured by the quality of its readers. If 15,000 people with juice read his blog, that reflects a certain value in the content and justifies companies such as Intel ponying up sponsorship fees.

The blogosphere is a different world from traditional media.

As long as smokestack PR exists, we’re going to see the periodic dustups from Scoble and his brethren. 



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Even A Niche Small-Biz Trade Can Go For A Chuckle

You don’t think B2B trade publications have a sense of humor?

Think again.

SmallBusinessComputing recently covered a new storage device from Fabrik with the following photo and caption: 

Pass the Wasabi: What looks like an elegant way to serve sushi is, in fact, Fabrik’s eco-friendly, bamboo-encased external drive.

The juxtaposition of the wasabi and a hard disk drive makes for a good caption.

I’ve always thought that if a line brings a smile to the reader’s face, you’re on the right track.

Reminds me of a caption that ran in Electronic News years ago on a new Hitachi optical disc: Holds ten gigabytes of storage or approximately nine jelly donuts. Sure enough, the photo depicted one of the Hitachi executives holding the disc as a serving platter showcasing the finest from the local Dunkin Donuts.



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China Olympics: Let The Storytelling Begin

Forget the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

The China Olympics will essentially offer up a Petri dish for stories that transcend sports.

I was in Hong Kong back in 2001 when China was officially awarded the Olympics. I managed to snag a copy of the Beijing Youth Daily newspaper commemorating the milestone, which was subsequently framed and hoisted next my desk.

The photo has served as a reminder every day I sat down to my computer screen and cup of java that we were one day closer to the big day.

Talk about good planning on the part of the Chinese Olympic Committee.

The opening ceremonies will kick off at the luckiest of times, 8/08/08 at 8:08 p.m. (if only there were 90 minutes in an hour). In fact, the fortune associated with the number eight in the Chinese culture has inspired over 16,000 couples to be married on this date.

But I digress.

The next 16 days will bring a cavalcade of stories from every nook and cranny of China. With 20,000 journalists (many not named Oscar Madison) descending on the country, the story themes will range from ”touch the heart” to “that’s gross” and everything in between.

In a sense, this isn’t a sports Olympics.

It’s a society Olympics.

The best stories will inspire, educate or provoke with entertainment as the common foundation.



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Deviating From The Status Quo (In The News Release)

The typical news release offers less drama than watching Aunt Bee on a rerun of The Andy Griffith Show.  For those under 50 not familiar with the sitcom just listening to the show’s theme song tells you all you need to know.

Of course, I recognize that companies need to announce products and other types of news in which the subject matter doesn’t lend itself to the next Pulitzer Prize.

With that said, story telling has a place in the humble news release.

I’m going to break my rule of discussing Agency work and discuss Agency work.

In support of one of Sony’s consumer electronic products called DVDirect we recently created a news release with the headline: “Dilemma: Home Videos Trapped in Closets, Shoeboxes and Drawers”

Not bad.

By looking at the product through the eyes of the consumer the team crafted a clever kick off with relevance to the target audience. In addition, a microsite was devoted to the story as a boost beyond the news release.

It all made for an effective package that generated pick up in a range of print publications and the blogosphere.



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