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Friday, December 17, 2010

"Trust" is the Key to Growing Your Follower Numbers - Tell it to the Beast

The Daily Beast must have an editorial calendar that builds in a university ranking of some sort every few months to boost readership and grow its follower numbers.

Earlier this week the news website released a new list, "50 Druggiest Colleges," sending the public relations and administration offices of 50 colleges and universities scrambling to either respond or to at least generate a message that could be sent to students, faculty, friends and the media.

Just about every time The Daily Beast releases a university ranking, it gets slammed for its use of unscientific data and analysis.  In the instance of the "50 Druggiest Colleges" list, it included inaccurate information about at least one university which greatly influenced the institution's ranking on the list.  Subsequently, The Daily Beast reported the correction and dropped this particular university's ranking by 21 spots.

But the damage had already been done to this university and to the 49 others who made the list.  Who reads corrections?  And besides, The Daily Beast had already received what it wanted: coast-to-coast news articles on the ""50 Druggiest Colleges" ranking since nearly every state in the U.S. was represented.

Last month, Newsweek, another struggling weekly news magazine, and The Daily Beast announced a merger  resulting in the creation of The Daily Beast Newsweek Publishing.

Time will tell if this convenient marriage has legs or if it's just a weekend affair.  If The Daily Beast is looking to earn credibility in the world of online news, though, its best bet is to learn to be more responsible.  It might start by reducing its over reliance on data for its university ranking features from the likes of College Prowler and employ a scientific method for collecting and reporting on useful data. 

Marketing Trumps Reality

Exactly one year, one month and one week after I received my Droid in the mail from Verizon Wireless -- on the day it first became available back in 2009 -- the battery died. After 57 weeks, more or less, of being always on, the wafer-thin power supply to my mobile life finally gave out. Not a bad run.
So, on a cold, rainy Sunday in December I made my way to my neighborhood Verizon store to get a new battery. As usual, the salespeople in Verizon were helpful, and even moved me to the front of the customer queue since all I needed was a new battery.
The kid who eventually helped me asked if I wanted the standard Droid battery, or for an additional $20 the extended life battery that could go up to two full days without needing a charge. I never turn off my Droid, so the thought of going an additional 24 hours without a charge appealed to me and I opted for the extended life battery.
As the saleskid was ringing up my purchase he asked me if I needed a wireless connection for my laptop since Verizon was now offering 4G LTE which provides "true 4G" for my computing needs. I had to stop him right there and explain that the device he was hawking might be good, and even faster than anything else on the market, but it was far from being "true 4G."
Oh no, my enthusiastic saleskid countered, what Verizon offers really is 4G, unlike competitors such as AT&T and Sprint.
It was then that I noticed the logo on his black shirt -- 4G LTE with the Verizon logo underneath. I then noticed the same graphic in hundreds of places around the store -- big posters, cutouts, window stencils, endcaps, brouchures, small placards on the counters, etc. The entire store was one giantic promotion for Verizon's 4G LTE.
Verizon's marketing department had certainly done its job making sure customers were bombarded with the 4G message. Likewise, Verizon's sales department had done its job making sure its salespeople in stores pushed the 4G messaging, no matter how "untrue" it might actually be.
You see, according to the International Telecommunications Union, which sets global standards for the telecommunications industry, "true 4G" provides a net bit rate capacity of up to 100Mbit/s in the downlink and up to 50 Mbit/s in the uplink.
I asked my saleskid what the downlink speeds were for Verizon's "true 4G" and he motioned toward a placard that in full color showed that Verizon's LTE offered download speeds up to 12Mbit/s! He was very proud.
I had to point out to him that was roughly 10x slower than what the ITU had defined for 4G speeds. He looked at me as if I had horns. I could see him processing my comment. He was struggling to remember his sales training and the marketing literature.
"What does ITU stand for again? I should know this one" "What's 12 Mbit/s times 10?" "Who is this guy and why doesn't he just take his battery and leave?"
My saleskid stood there for a moment staring at me before he finally said, "Verizon has true 4G, and we're the only company that does."
I had to hand it to the kid, he was staying on message.
I also had to hand it to Verizon. The company's marketing department has spent millions of dollars on TV, radio and online advertising to promote its 4G LTE technology. It's spent countless dollars and hours training its sales staff and providing them with in-store promotional items. And it was working.
I took my battery and left the store, without buying a 4G LTE wireless device. But I couldn't help but wonder how Verizon's marketing campaign might have swayed others into buying the 4G mythology.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

What Company Spokespeople Can Learn from the New England Patriots

Stacey James must be the most relaxed person in the room during recent New England Patriots press conferences.  Sure, James has had his share of challenges in recent years, such as the illegal taping scandal -- Spy Gate.  And we won't soon forget Randy Moss' meandering stream of consciousness press conference earlier this year which left everyone in the room, including James (I'm sure), scratching his head or worse.

But it when it comes to official team press conferences, either following a win or rare loss, Mr. James might as well be sitting in a Lazy Boy in the back of the room.

And why not?  He's vice president of media relations for the company with the best media-trained executives in their industry.  From the franchise owners (Robert and Jonathan Kraft), to the head coach (Bill Belichick), to the team captain and quarterback (Tom Brady) and on through every employee who is permitted to talk to the media -- the New England Patriots stay on message.

And what happens when an employee of the New England Patriots deviates from the company's key messages playbook or when an employee of most any company does so?

Well, it inhibits the company's ability to leverage the interview to achieve company goals.  Remember BP's Tony "I'd like my life back" Hayward's handling of last summer's Gulf Coast tragedy?  I think Hayward is now based somewhere on the Russian front.  Or you can ask wide receiver/diva Randy Moss how beneficial to the New England Patriots his self-serving rant was, that is, if you can remember what franchise is employing him these days.

Before going into a media interview, a spokesperson must have specific goals for that interview.  Once the interview goals have been defined, they can be converted to key messages.  Like many smart organizations, the New England Patriots have a playbook of perpetual key messages and also develop each week a list of time sensitive, relevant key messages.  By limiting the number of points its spokespeople are asked to get across, the Patriots have more control of what ultimately appears in print or what is heard on the radio and seen on TV.

An example of a "perpetual" Patriots key message came on Sunday evening following the Patriots win over the Chicago Bears.  While at the podium during the post-game press conference, Belichick was informed that Patriots arch rival New York Jets had just lost to the Miami Dolphins.  "Oh, we can't worry about that," Belichick said. "We can't be scoreboard watching and worrying about every team in the league.  We worry about ourselves and just try to play well.  Whatever else happens, happens."

The message: the Patriots organization is the master of its destiny.  The Pats alone can control what they do on the field and they do so by being hyper-prepared.

An example of a time-sensitive message came from quarterback/captain Tom Brady yesterday during his weekly locker room press conference, talking about this weekend's match up.  "Yeah, we're in a good position, but we can be in a bad position really quickly ... Green Bay is a hell of a challenge for us. ... (They have a) great quarterback, great offensive scheme, great receivers, and a hell of a defense."

The message:  Any team good enough to be playing in the NFL is comprised of quality athletes.  Despite their leadership position, the Patriots never take any team for granted and respect every competitor no matter what their record may be. The Patriots take the high road, no matter who is doing the talking.

Listen to this week's conference calls with other team executives, such as the Patriots' director of player personnel or the defensive backs coach.

Like their head coach and quarterback, they too are trained to be on message and on target.