Monday, July 26, 2010

A Lesson for Media Pros

Here’s an important lesson for media professionals and those in the industries we serve. One of the professional associations I belong to has a listserv focused on telling the industry’s complex story through social media.

Many subscribers post often and they have strong views. Recently, they began reacting to a story in The New York Times based on work by a source with a strong negative point of view about this industry. The source’s work, which is slated to appear soon in a prestigious peer-reviewed journal, broke important news that wasn’t helpful to the industry.

Amazingly, several of the listserv members began attacking the journalist who reported the news. Some of the attacks were pretty scurrilous. Although a few of us defended this very good journalist, the attacks went on for nearly two weeks. What the members didn’t know was the journalist also subscribes to the listserv. (I didn’t know it either until he privately thanked me for defending his integrity.)

The journalist recently announced to the listserv members that he has been a subscriber since the listserv’s inception, that he reads all the posts and that he has taken no offense to the comments. But, oh my, how the tone has changed – and that’s a good thing.

The lesson: it is really easy to blow off steam on social media, but it’s also a looming opportunity to say things you ultimately regret. You don’t know who is reading your posts. So edit yourself before you post, and delete the words that could offend. After all, no matter how much we disagree on a topic, we ought to be able to discuss it with civility.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Social Media Team – Its More than Just PR & Marketing

This morning, the Social Media Club of Washington, D.C. (@smcdc) hosted a social media breakfast where participants tried to answer the question, “Who is responsible for social media?” The simple answer is all of us.

Today’s speakers included Mike Kohn (@mike_kohn) from the Human Resources Department of SmithGroup, Brian Reilly (@ReillyBri) from the Marketing Department of the Smith Group and Erin Orr (@ErinOrr) from the Marketing Department of Fox Architects. The overarching message from today’s session was clear; in order for any company to have a successful social media program, you must have buy-in, support and participation from a variety of departments. This includes marketing, public relations, government affairs, legal, human resources and, of course, the c-suite. All these parties need to come together with clear goals for social media. After the goals are determined, then you can figure out what resources, tools or personnel can make those goals a reality.

Getting representatives from all these areas into a room to achieve one goal can often lead to a difference of opinions. The panel agreed that everyone needs to check their egos and department-specific hats at the door and think about what is best for the company. With all these opinions and actions floating around a company, Erin Orr added that it is imperative that someone step up to be the “air traffic controller” of the social media campaign.

The biggest challenge for any social media campaign is demonstrating results. Today’s speakers seem to agree that there are many metrics a company can use to measure the success of a social media campaign, but translating those results into a direct business success remains a mystery. At PCG, we begin our social media campaigns with metric goals that may include X amount of fans on Facebook, a certain amount of ‘Retweets’ on Twitter or getting a specific number of comments on blog posts. As the campaigns continue, our definition of success will change along with our goals.

Thanks to the speakers and SMCDC for a lively discussion. To find out more about SMCDC or join the next discussion, visit

Friday, July 16, 2010

Boiling Frogs and the Washington Post

Here’s a fascinating backstage look at how a major newspaper has been battling to survive in the digital age – “Morning Miracle: Inside the Washington Post” by Dave Kindred. It documents several pivotal moments over the past 15 years, as a lumbering daily tried to understand and keep up with new media that moved at the speed of light.

An insightful memo written by managing editor Bob Kaiser in 1992 compared the Post to a frog in a pot of water that is slowly beginning to boil – the frog never jumps because it can’t detect slight changes in temperature. “The Post is not in a pot of water, and we’re smarter than the average frog. But we do find ourselves swimming in an electronic sea where we could eventually be devoured – or ignored as an unnecessary anachronism.”

Donald Graham, CEO of the company, began moving the paper into the digital age before most of his peers, launching an e-version of the paper in 1995 ($20 a month, with 29,000 subscribers). The next year the Post began investing in a Web version, at a total cost of more than $100 million before it became profitable. But Graham still agonized over the break-the-company decision about long-term strategy. In a fateful meeting with leaders of the paper, he shot down a task-force proposal that the Post use its geographical advantage to become the country’s major newspaper website. Graham brusquely said, in effect, that the Post isn’t national, it’s local; its survival will depend on how it covers firefighters and teachers and police in the DC area, not coverage of “elite” issues for a national audience: “elitism is death.”

That decision cost the Post some of its top talent and set it back years in digital competition. Circulation and advertising continued to decline; in 2007, for the first time in two generations, the Post lost money. Graham came to realize that survival depended less on Ben Brantley-type journalism than on “mastery of the Internet.” That’s when he named Katharine Weymouth – a family member, a lawyer, not a journalist, a fun-loving mother of three – to take the reins as publisher. She made some major changes at the top, as well as a few major mistakes, but is correcting Graham’s single-minded focus and moving the Post into a two-part strategy: Washington news for local readers, and national news – digitally – for everyone else.

To me, the book is a real cliff-hanger. Who knows how the Post will escape from the threat of the worldwide web? And to me, the book makes clear the fundamental irony of the Post’s continuing survival. In 1984 the Post paid a paltry sum for an educational testing service, called Kaplan. Katharine Graham was opposed to it, and no one can quite remember why it was purchased – it was not even mentioned in the annual report for that year. But in the past few years Kaplan has contributed over 50 percent of the company’s revenue, compared to 20 percent for the newspaper. Donald Graham even told Wall Street in 2008 that the Post is “an education and media company.” So the prominence of the Post today isn’t due to smart strategy and leadership; it’s mainly dumb luck. Pass some my way.

- Potomac Communications Group

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Our Newest Project Manager

We’re pleased to announce that PCG has promoted Jane Walker to Project Manager. During the relatively short time she’s been with us, Jane has proven to be a skilled communicator and strategist. She has provided excellent support to many of our clients, including the Solar Electric Power Association, Lafarge, and Idaho National Laboratory.

Jane has southern roots. She grew up in Florida, attended Southern Methodist University, and worked for Teach For America in Atlanta, before moving to Washington in 2009 to join PCG. It was a bit of a homecoming for her, as she also worked as a press intern for Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) during college.

As a project manager, Jane will continue to work for her current clients while taking on new responsibilities. If you’d like to say “congratulations,” she can be reached at

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Time marches on, toward end of 'free content' era

In case you missed it, this week we moved a step closer to the end of the era of “free content” on the Web and toward a future where we’ll have to pay for much of the information that now comes pouring out of search engines for no charge.

That direction has been becoming clearer for quite a while. As Walter Isaacson points out in the new Atlantic, the old mantra of “information wants to be free,” coined by Stewart Brand of the Whole Earth Catalog, is morphing into a new realization – timely information is valuable, and consumers of it should be happy to pay.

Rupert Murdoch, a major media trend-setter, has said he "will find ways to charge online for all of his papers, just as he already does for The Wall Street Journal,” Isaacson points out. Now, the iPad has speeded up this evolution. Apps for the Journal and the New York Times, among other publications, offer only a peak at their daily publications for free, but charge for the full issue. USA Today’s app is totally subscription-based. And many magazines, from Sports Illustrated to Popular Science, are charging on the iPad for content that is free – so far – to laptop users.

Now Time magazine has taken a huge next step. Brief summaries on its website carry this notice: “The following is an abridged version of an article that appears in the July 12, 2010 print and iPad editions of Time.”

This means, beginning this week, its articles will no longer be available on the Web at all. If you want more than some teaser excerpts from its articles, you’ll have to purchase the print edition – or download the iPad app, for $4.99.

The curtain is clearly coming down. Before long, it may cost us more to reel in all the information that we’re used to downloading for free, but maybe the fees will make sure that the folks who create valuable content will keep it coming.

- Potomac Communications Group