Man Bites Dog; Makes Plea for Your Input on the Name “Ishmael’s Corner”

man bites dog- renaming ishmael's corner blog

Would you have reached this point if the headline simply read, “A Plea for Your Input on the Name ‘Ishmaels’ Corner’?”

It doesn’t matter.

You’re here; clickbait be damned.

Here’ the situation.

The “look and feel” of my blog harkens back to a time when AOL dominated and MySpace was hot. I believe my first notion to redesign the blog occurred four years ago. Obviously, acknowledging a problem and doing something about it are not one and the same.

But the moment has arrived.

The redesign of the blog is officially underway.

This is where I need your helping hand. If you could take roughly 30 seconds out of your crazed schedule to share your opinion on this blog’s name “Ishmael’s Corner,”  I would greatly appreciate the input.

In short, should I keep the current name? Yes or no.

Of course, if your perspective goes deeper than this question, by all means continue on. I value any and all comments.

Every time I consider the pros and cons, I end up in a psychological maze with no way out.

A little bit of historical context —

Since storytelling underpins the blog, I wanted a name with such a connotation. This led to the novel “Moby Dick” and the quasi double entendre:  Not only does Ishmael narrate the story, but he also starts the saga with one of the most famous lines in American literature, “Call me Ishmael.”

That’s how I ended up with the name “Ishmael’s Corner” when I launched the blog in 2008.

It wasn’t until years later that I figured out that no one under 40 knows this Ishmael character with the exception of bible scholars who think of Ishmael as the first son of Abraham. Not exactly my target audience.

My good friend and colleague Steve Farnsworth (a.k.a. @Steveology) has chided me on numerous occasions over Hobee’s coffee cake to change the name.

I’ve resisted because I felt that even if people missed the literary connection, there’s a certain amount of equity in the name after 600 plus posts. And there’s no getting around the fact that one gets comfortable with a name after reading it again and again and again.

But with the decision to bulldoze the site a done deal, now would be the logical time to change the name if, in fact, I do so.

Hence, the question, should I keep the name?

You can send your answer via Twitter (@LouHoffman), a posted comment or email LHoffman@Hoffman.com.

Thanks.

Before signing off, three names that I find clever:

DavesKillerBread Take 2 03-15

  • Dave’s Killer Bread: While “killer” has been overused, sandwiched between the founder and bread creates a name that sticks in your brain.
  • Spin Sucks: The word “spin” symbolizes bad communications. It took guts to play off this heartburn in naming a blog that serves communication professionals.
  • The Rude Baguette: This is an English language blog that covers the startup scene in France. I’m not sure an adjective has ever been put to better use.

 

And no, I’m not going to change the name of my blog to “Lou’s Rude and Killer Spin.”

 

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A PR Perspective on the Demise of Gigaom and a Few Words on Tech Media

GIGAOM news

I’m sorry to see Gigaom go under.

The media property produced a quality product in the form of journalism with fresh takes. Anyone can provoke. Gigaom provoked with intelligence.

It was fitting that Gigaom communicated the news with raw honesty:

“Gigaom recently became unable to pay its creditors in full at this time. As a result, the company is working with its creditors that have rights to all of the company’s assets as their collateral. All operations have ceased.”

There’s also a selfish side to my disappointment. We have clients who fall under the category we affectionately call “deep tech.” The number of journalists who both understand “deep tech” and can write about it for people who don’t have Ph.D.’s in molecular physics has been declining for some time. Gigaom’s Stacey Higginbotham is part of this exclusive club.

StaceyHigginbothamTwitter on Gigaom news

In a time when the media gravitates toward shiny objectives that trigger clicks, Stacey wasn’t afraid to tackle the most complex of companies and technology with the gusto of a meter maid about to make quota. While being the furthest thing from a cheerleader, she was OK with letting some of that gusto seep into her stories.

You can see an example of this in how she covered one of our clients back in 2013:

“I’ve been amped up about SuVolta for a few years now, and am excited that its technology is gaining ground with big name companies such as ARM. We’re placing computing in more places, but without new breakthroughs in battery life, those computers will have to have wires or compromise compute for battery life.”

Gigaom wanted to “to humanize the impact of technology.” That’s exactly what Stacey did, often in places — like SuVolta’s construction of a CMOS transistor — that don’t exactly exude humanity.

Hopefully, Stacey lands with another publication with deep tech as part of her beat. In the meantime, she started blogging with her first post titled, “Wait. Was I Just Fired?

Many have been quick to analyze Gigaom’s death and call out the business model as flawed. I’m not ready to go down that road.

There are so many judgment calls made for any fledgling company on how to generate revenue and where to invest finite resources. It’s not only what the outside world sees like Gigaom’s use of sponsored content and striving to mainstream research. It’s also the decisions to NOT do certain things that chart the course for any company.

The reality is that we don’t know if Gigaom as a business was run well, run poorly or something in between. How did the publication balance principles with economic pragmatism? Again, we don’t know. Certainly, to be covering the Apple Watch and other news  like any other day and then hang the out-of-business sign in front of a shocked staff does not constitute a soft landing.

Here’s what we do know.

Just because every company is a media company doesn’t mean that every company will make a profit from media. Ever since Craigslist demolished the newspaper revenue from classified advertising, the publishing industry has been under siege.

When an industry is fighting for survival, change happens, sometimes of the radical variety. With nothing to lose, companies experiment. And venture capital is there for startups who can articulate a convincing argument for a better way (which Gigaom did nine years ago).

Amid chaos and shutdowns like Gigaom, I see an industry still in the throes of reinventing itself.

This is a good thing in the long run.

I’ll leave you with the words from Gigaom’s founder, Om Malik:

Every founder starts on a path — hopeful and optimistic, full of desire to build something that helps change the world for the better, reshape an industry and hopefully become independent, both metaphorically and financially. Business, much like life, is not a movie and not everyone gets to have a story book ending.

 

 

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Return of Ishmael’s Greatest Storytelling Hits

Ishmaels Greatest storytelling hits

Taking a page from the music industry, I introduced our “greatest storytelling hits” in 2013 pulling from posts published before 2011.

Now I’m going back to the well, showcasing some of my favorite posts published between 2011 and 2013. I hope you’ll find that they still have relevance and some spunk.

1. An Open Letter to the PR Community to Help Restore the Credibility of Journalists

The passing of David Carr, The New York Times voice on the media, was felt across all parts of the communications industry. I did not personally know David, but I sometimes sparred with him (if you can still call a one-way activity sparring). Such was the case when his column lamented PR types bullying journalists into providing executive quotes for approval before publishing. Showing my solidarity, I came up with the “Just Say No to No” initiative.

2. The Periodic PR Agency Plea, “Help Me Help You.”

Every person in a communications consultancy has experienced that “special” client who adds what I’ll call extra obstacles to achieving success. It takes strength of conviction to get to the finish line. For inspiration, we turn to the scene in the movie “Jerry Maguire” in which Jerry (Tom Cruise) immortalizes the line, “Help me help you.”

3. LinkedIn Encourages Bad Behavior

Think about the invites you receive to connect on LinkedIn. If you’re lucky, one out of 10 is personalized. This makes most invites more like robot media than social media. If LinkedIn simply eliminated the boilerplate that serves as the default invite, this issue would go away.

4. What Really Happened Before the NRA’s Press Conference

Just Shoot It NRA parody

The NRA’s press conference that followed the Sandy Hook Elementary School disaster came off as combative and even defiant.  I decided the situation called for parody, “recreating” the dialogue that led up to the press conference.

5. PR’s Answer to the Classic Story Arc

Most forms of business communications don’t allow for a full story with a start, an end and bad stuff in between. But PR can apply storytelling techniques which give lift to all forms of communications.

6. Dear First Time CEO of a Startup

Leading the startup charge is not for the squeamish. There’s something to be said for bringing a Type A personality to the table. Yet, as with any quality, too much of it becomes a destructive force. For those who view the Walter Isaacson book on Steve Jobs as a form of finishing schools for CEOs, I wrote this letter.

CEO Illustration - steve jobs

7. BuzzFeed Meets the White House

The White House has redefined owned media. I figure it’s only a matter of time before they cut a deal with BuzzFeed to license the platform and create GovvFeed.

8.  Why Journalists Get Cranky About PR

Peter Guber’s PR team for his book “Tell to Win” pitched me to review the book. There was only one not-so-small problem with the pitch. I had already published two reviews on the book, one for VentureBeat and one for my blog. Every time PR flings a mass blast to journalists without doing its homework, the entire profession takes a hit.

If I’m missing a deserving vintage post, by all means let me know.

At some point, I’ll go to work on “The Very Best of Ishmael’s Storytelling Hits.”

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How a Personal Touch in Communications Failed Big Time

Milkman - personal touch in PR/Communication- Storytelling

I have this theory that as our world increasingly tilts toward the digital side, the human touch, the personal touch, becomes more valuable.

It’s only a matter of time before a newly minted Stanford MBA makes the rounds on Sand Hill Road trying to raise venture capital for the radical idea of bringing back the “milkman” for home delivery of dairy products.

With this as the backdrop, I can understand the resurrection of the handwritten note as a means to communicate the personal touch. After all, how can a person who takes the time to write a note the old-fashioned way go wrong?

Actually, it can go very wrong if the context is wrong (I might have just invented a new version of the double negative).

For Exhibit A, I give you Alex Rodriguez, #PRfail.

A-Rod Letter personal touch in PR/Communication- Storytelling

The PR agency and attorneys engaged by Alex the past year have advocated relentless aggression. But it’s clear that Alex’s newly PR agency believes in the adage, “You can catch more fly balls with honey than with vinegar.” As part of the latest rehabilitation process, they counseled Master Rodriguez to apologize.

Makes sense.

History shows Americans are a forgiving lot.

Unfortunately, a basic fall-on-your-sword apology wasn’t good enough for this PR brain trust. I can envision the dialogue in the room going something like this:


PR Guy 1: I don’t think a standard apology will change public perception.

PR Guy 2: What do you mean?

PR Guy 1: No one is going to believe a news release in which Alex apologizes to the world — least of all the journalists who write the story.

PR Guy 2: What if we put him on ESPN?

PR Guy 1: We lose control of the narrative.

PR Guy 2: I’ve got it. We do the video interview ourselves and post it on YouTube.

PR Guy 1: Too staged. People will see through it.

PR Guy 2: This is tougher than the Leona Helmsley assignment.

PR Guy 1: We need the unexpected. Something that sends a clear message that Alex means it this time.

PR Guy 2: I’m blanking.

PR Guy 1: What’s the one thing Alex could do that screams sincerity?

PR Guy 2: Still blanking.

PR Guy 1: I’m talking old school.

PR Guy 2: Huh?

PR Guy 1: We have Alex handwrite the apology note.

PR Guy 2: Love it.

PR Guy 1: Puts us in total control of the narrative. Plus, we really do have Alex write it. I mean it. He writes the letter himself. No calligraphers. It brings an emotive dimension to the apology. Humanizes Alex.

PR Guy 2: Would Alex also come up with the actual words?

PR Guy 1: Are you crazy. That’s why we’ve got copywriters and that dude with a Ph.D. in neurological science.

PR Guy 2: I’m on it.


What was Team Rodriguez thinking? Just because the person handwrites the apology increases the believability quotient?

Needless to say, the national media crucified Alex.

This isn’t about digital or paper.

It’s not about being a hipster or an oldster.

It’s about the person uttering the words, “I’m sorry.”

Note: For more on the topic, check out “Will I’m Sorry Have a Role in the Lance Armstrong Narrative?

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Anecdote Takes Center Stage in a National News Story

That’s exactly what happened last week when CNN covered President Obama’s intention to veto the Keystone XL pipeline that would transport oil from Canada to Mexico.

Check out the headline.

Meet the pen Obama used to veto the Keystone XL pipeline.”

Obviously, the focus of the story lies on a Presidential decision.

Yet,  the pen makes headline.

But we don’t actually “meet the pen” until almost 500 words later at the very end of the story:

That pen is a left-handed Cross Townsend, assembled at the 169-year-old company’s plant in Lincoln, Rhode Island, from components made in China.

“The old saying goes the pen is mightier than the sword, and in these days we don’t use swords anymore, we use pens,” said Bryan Fournier, vice president of operations at Cross Pens.

What’s going on here?

This is a case where the needs of journalism and PR converge as one. I continue to believe that PR underutilizes the anecdote as a storytelling technique, and this is why the Cross Pen example stood out.

CNN is looking for a way to differentiate its news story on President Obama exercising his veto power.

PipelineMontage 02-15

As you can see from the smattering of headlines above, all of them essentially say the same thing.

On the PR side, Cross Pen is looking to “borrow” the news event as a way to shine the national spotlight on its product.

Reverse-engineering the story, all cues point to Cross pitching the anecdote as an exclusive. I say this because the anecdote doesn’t appear in any other coverage. It says something about the power of  anecdotes in today’s journalism that they can be pitched this way.

And the end of the story, specifically the clichéd comment from the Cross executive around the “pen is mightier than the sword, points to a pitch.

But the most revealing data point comes from the 81-second video that accompanies the news story in which the pen takes on the lead role. We even get a peek into the manufacturing process and learn that making pens for presidents is indeed cool (her words, not mine).

The video offers another proof point that “sausage making” content — the process and actions that take place behind the curtain — makes for an effective storytelling technique.

Note: Kudos  to one of our senior account professionals in our Pacific Northwest office, Kali Bean, who brought the CNN story to my attention. I’ll be making the trek to our Pacific Northwest office later this week to take the entire team through our storytelling workshop.

 

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