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Sternberg Strategic Communications http://sternbergcommunications.com Tagline Here Wed, 07 Jul 2010 17:11:00 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.0.1 Lebron James’ ‘Exclusive’ Announcement: Wise PR Move or Bizarre Publicity Stunt? http://sternbergcommunications.com/lebron-james%e2%80%99-%e2%80%98exclusive%e2%80%99-announcement-wise-pr-move-or-bizarre-publicity-stunt/ http://sternbergcommunications.com/lebron-james%e2%80%99-%e2%80%98exclusive%e2%80%99-announcement-wise-pr-move-or-bizarre-publicity-stunt/#comments Wed, 07 Jul 2010 15:37:16 +0000 Josh Sternberg http://sternbergcommunications.com/?p=378 Earlier today,  I posed the following question on SSC’s Facebook fan page (you should “like” us, if you haven’t already . . . #justsaying): Is Lebron James taking the immense PR power of announcing his new NBA team a little too far with his hour-long exclusive announcement on ESPN Thursday night?

That question arose from the rather bizarre manner in which King James has decided to end his whirlwind courtship by the NBA’s biggest spenders after becoming a free agent just seven days ago (July 1). This announcement has 3 things that have piqued our interest, from a communications perspective, that is:

1. What effect does this made-for-TV publicity moment have on James’ image, and to a much larger extent, on the NBA’s much-maligned brand perception? Organizations, whether the NBA or NBC, have their spokespeople who are the face of the brand. The NBA wants to portray a clean image, something it hasn’t been able to do for quite some time. Maybe this is the point where the Association changes its image.

2. How much is too much when it comes to getting publicity and notoriety out of an event? It’s somewhat understandable Lebron would want to hold his next potential employer and his many fans basically hostage given the sometimes vapid media environment we live in now. ESPN, I’m sure, is more than happy to accommodate this “exclusive” event given the high price it will command for advertising during the announcement. I can’t help but wonder, though, if this is taking publicity stunts and grandstanding in sports a little too far.

3. Also important to watch is how athletes, celebrities and wanna-be celebrities use social networks to bypass traditional modes of announcements; yes, Bron-Bron is using ESPN to deliver “The Decision Heard Round The Hardwood” but in light of last week’s Joe Johnson’s HuffPo announcement, is it too far a stretch to believe that at 8:59 p.m. EDT, LeBron tweets out his new employer followed by his live event?

What are your thoughts? Do you find Lebron’s antics too much, or think he’s just continuing the long history of over-the-top publicity stunts by athletes and celebrities? Will social media play a larger role in how the famous broadcast their intentions (RT @tomcruise: Do you feel the need for speed—again ? Top Gun 2 comin’ at ya!)

If you want a great source for NBA news as a whole and Knicks news specifically, check out the guys at KnicksTweets, who have a great piece on LeBron.

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Who Controls The Message? http://sternbergcommunications.com/who-controls-the-message/ http://sternbergcommunications.com/who-controls-the-message/#comments Tue, 15 Jun 2010 22:22:55 +0000 Josh Sternberg http://sternbergcommunications.com/?p=355 The first several weeks after signing a new client are always my favorite. Why? Because this is where we lay the foundation of most, if not all, of our efforts moving forward. We come up with the processes as well as the goals to have a successful relationship. Most importantly, this is the time where we get to be creative in helping a company develop its main messages. We get to plan what we want to do with those messages and how they will work. We send test balloons to reporters; we research what are the most favorable key words for SEO; we lay down the groundwork for a communications platform.

During this time, however, as much as we play offense, we also play defense. While we’re drafting messages and responses to FAQs, we’re also discussing with our clients’ other communications vendors: advertisers, marketers, social media gurus. At best, there are some smart people trying to figure out the most effective way to move forward; at worst, there are some smart people who bicker about whose service is more valuable. This invariably leads to the question: who controls the message?

Maybe even more direct: does the client control the message or does the communications vendor control the message? 

Obviously, my answer is biased - so I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

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What’s In A Headline http://sternbergcommunications.com/whats-in-a-headline/ http://sternbergcommunications.com/whats-in-a-headline/#comments Tue, 15 Jun 2010 22:19:34 +0000 Josh Sternberg http://sternbergcommunications.com/?p=353 This morning’s news that the U.S economy added 431,000 jobs in May should be seen as a positive. Let’s face it, if the announcement was the opposite – U.S economy loses 431,000 jobs in one month – there would be those who blame President Obama and there would be those who blame President Bush. Such is life in America these days.

However, take a look at the headlines (from the Web – not sure if print has same headlines) and introductory paragraphs from two influential publications – the center-left New York Times and the center-right Wall Street Journal (some of you may be thinking that each publication has no centrist perspective and is, instead, a symbol of ideology. I suggest you flip through The Weekly Standard or The Nation to see ideological publications).

New York Times:

U.S. Added 431,000 Jobs in May, Mostly From Census

Employers added 431,000 nonfarm jobs nationwide in May, the biggest increase in a single month since the recession, the Labor Department said Friday. But the bulk of the growth was in government jobs, driven by hiring for the Census, and private-sector job growth was weak. The unemployment rate fell to 9.7 percent nationwide, from 9.9 percent in April, the department said.

The Gray Lady uses positive descriptors like “added” “biggest” “increase” but balances the optimism with explanation: most were government jobs (implication: government creates jobs, private sector doesn’t?) So it’s a pretty neutral/positive headline and intro paragraph mixed with caution. It takes 5 paragraphs before they mention:

Altogether, 411,000 of the jobs added were for Census workers whose positions will disappear after the summer. (emphasis mine)

The net gain in government jobs was 390,000, while the private sector added only 41,000.

Here’s the Wall Street Journal’s:

Jobs Growth Slows In Private Sector

The U.S. economy added jobs in May at the fastest pace in a decade but the gains were inflated by temporary government hiring for the 2010 Census and weren’t enough to bring unemployment down much. The U.S. Labor Department said nonfarm payrolls rose by 431,000 last month, the largest gain since March 2000. That followed an unrevised 290,000 increase in April.

At Murdoch’s beloved, the words bounce off each other: “growth” and “slows” in the headline; “added” “fastest pace” “inflated” “temporary government hiring” – this tone suggests a more neutral/negative perspective implying these numbers are nice, but not something we should be hanging our hats on, as they’ll most likely be gone when the Census is completed at the end of the summer. Notice how this is reflected in the first sentence of the first paragraph, as opposed to the NYT, where as mentioned above, took five paragraphs to get there.

The article continues to play both sides of the coin – economy is picking up month-to-month (jobs-wise), but looking at May, it’s all about temporary government work and not the private sector:

Taking into account revisions to prior months, the U.S. economy added an average of nearly 200,000 jobs a month in the January-May period, a positive sign for the job market as it recover from the worst recession since the 1930s.

However, the May figure was boosted by the hiring of 411,000 temporary workers for the decennial count of the U.S. population. Only 41,000 private-sector jobs were added.

Taken separately, each article gives the facts of the story – jobs created and why they were created. But each article has a nuanced way of telling the story. Taken in totality of each newspaper, as well as daily readings, we can look deeper at how the presentation of facts and of stories can determine how the public thinks and reacts.

It’s more important than ever before for us to be informed, but also to be media literate. With a troubled, fragmented media landscape it’s becoming increasingly easier to get lost in a sea of information. As the nonpartisan Center for Media Literacy explains:

We need to “help citizens, especially the young, develop critical thinking and media production skills needed to live fully in the 21st century media culture. The ultimate goal is to make wise choices possible.”

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Tech Startups Need PR Counsel Now More Than Ever http://sternbergcommunications.com/tech-startups-need-pr-counsel-now-more-than-ever/ http://sternbergcommunications.com/tech-startups-need-pr-counsel-now-more-than-ever/#comments Fri, 07 May 2010 14:17:16 +0000 Josh Sternberg http://sternbergcommunications.com/?p=284 Blippy’s recent #EpicFail involving the release of four users’ credit card numbers via a Google search caused quite a stir within not only the tech media, but also the mainstream press, as people started to question how supposedly secure social networking services, such as Blippy, Foursquare, Gowalla and the like, could allow sensitive information to leak online for the entire world to see. The bigger issue, however, is that the company wasn’t prepared with a communications strategy because of an epidemic pervading the tech startup culture: the belief that public relations isn’t necessary.


First, though, a bit about the Blippy Situation and why what happened is no good.

As disconcerting as the public release of Blippy users’ credit card numbers is, even more astonishing is how little time and consideration Blippy had apparently given to the possibility that larger, strategically-flawed situations like this might occur on its service.

Indeed, the company seems to be misguided in its handling of this situation. For example, The Wall Street Journal points out how Blippy appeared to have created its first corporate blog solely to try to deal with this situation.

Unfortunately, for Blippy, without a strategic communications plan in place the company was left quite vulnerable, and it showed (taken from the Blippy blog):

While we take this very seriously and it is a headache for those involved (to whom we apologize and are contacting), it’s important to remember that you’re never responsible if someone uses your credit card without your permission. That’s why it’s okay to hand your credit card over to waiters, store clerks, and hundreds of other people who all have access to your credit card numbers.

We’re making efforts to bolster our security to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again. That includes third-party security audits, and in general being a lot more careful before new features are released, even if it’s during a small, limited beta test period.

Contact us for any reason at hello@blippy.com

Simply put: Anyone reading Blippy’s response would have gotten the impression that the company’s general attitude toward this quite serious problem was something along the lines of: “What, we messed up? No way. Couldn’t have happened. And, oh yeah, if you want to get in touch with us, go ahead and send us a note to the generic e-mail address above. We’ll get back to you in about three weeks . . .”

And for a service that allows users to update friends anywhere with their most recent credit card purchases, this is really not the way for them to react.
As a user of Blippy, you want a response; one that assures you your information is safe. You want action, where you see the company’s executives explaining how this happened and why it will never happen again. You want accountability and to be told that you’re valued as not just a customer, but a human being who needs to earn back the company’s trust.

What you don’t want is a hastily created blog written after major news outlets break the story, or some random person to find a problem of this magnitude before your service becomes aware of the issue.

But, should we push all of the blame for how this situation was handled squarely on Blippy? Unfortunately, there are larger issues at play here, specifically within the technology startup culture and how these companies plan their businesses, particularly their communications strategies.

It’s no secret that tech fan-boy sites like TechCrunch have largely shunned the public relations industry to the point of telling their loyal readers that public relations is not necessary for companies to succeed. With the many—many—rants (some, albeit, are quite justified) by Tech Crunch against the PR industry, one can see how many startups are eschewing public relations. In the case of Blippy, not having a strategic communications plan is a detriment to their long-term viability and trust with users, advertisers, investors and their own industry colleagues.

With Tech Crunch being the go-to site for many tech startups to announce they’ve arrived on the scene, it has set up a false positive in terms of building their brand. While yes, getting placed in TechCrunch can be very beneficial; it’s not the end-all-be-all to building and sustaining a brand. There needs to be a broader communications plan than TechCrunch.

Just like in the traditional media world, one big media placement will not make a tech startup suddenly the next greatest thing since Google. No, it takes years of patience, terrific products and services. But it also needs the strategic brand-building and messaging only communications counsel can provide.

And TechCrunch won’t offer that to you. What will do that for you, today’s hot tech startup, is a strategic communications/public relations team sitting next to you at your strategy table, alongside your senior management team, investors and other primary decision-makers to ensure the values, goals and initiatives you are putting into place align with those that will build your business, help acquire brand affinity, and most importantly in today’s fractured consumer world, keep customers coming back for more.

Again, TechCrunch isn’t going to tell you that, and it’s definitely not going to help you make those often tough decisions. But strategic communications/PR counsel will, and that service shouldn’t be shunned by tech startups. In fact, communications counsel should be a part of any startup’s strategic growth plans from day one.

Because who knows: You could be the next Blippy and hit on a great, innovative idea securing you a lot of users (and advertisers/revenue) in just a couple of months of existence. But, do you want to end up like Blippy, facing a major crisis with no strategy in place to handle your response?
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Off record chat w/ Facebook employee. Me: How does Zuck feel about privacy? Response: [laughter] He doesn’t believe in it.

This tweet reminds me of a poster I once saw in college showing, from one perspective, a beauty queen and from another, an old-maid. Why? Well, this tweet shows how reporters can be cavalier with their sources (the “off the record” vs “on background” debate), and the content by the source that Facebook, by the Zuckerberg proxy, doesn’t believe in privacy.

But first, a few definitions of “off the record” and “on background”:

From Wikipedia:

Off-the-record”: the information is provided to inform a decision or provide a confidential explanation, not for publication.

“On background” (Canadian Association of Journalists). The thrust of the briefing may be reported (and the source characterized in general terms as above) but direct quotes may not be used.

From the NYU Journalism Handbook for Students

“On background” is a kind of limited license to print what the source gives you without using the source’s name. But most veteran reporters will not use “on background” information until they can verify it with other sources. People try to go “on background” when their information is very sensitive, which is to say, the information is likely to cause a stir. “On background” means the source’s name does not appear in the story. In effect it confers anonymity on your source, but allows you to work with the information the source has provided. Again, it’s best to consult your professor in these situations.

“Off the record” restricts the reporter from using the information the source is about to deliver. The information is offered to explain or further a reporter’s understanding of a particular issue or event. (Various presidents have invited reporters to have dinner with the understanding that no information from this meeting can ever be published.) But if the reporter can confirm the information with another source who doesn’t insist on speaking off the record (whether that means he agreed to talking on the record, on background, or not for attribution) he can publish it.

Most telling, however, is this paragraph from the NYU Handbook:

The problem with the phrase “off the record” is that many people, reporters and the general public alike, misunderstand its precise meaning. These days many interviewees think “off the record” is largely synonymous with “on background” or “not for attribution.” There is so much murkiness about what “off the record” means that it is essential that the reporter and source agree on a definition before beginning an “off the record” portion of an interview. In the Department of Journalism, “off the record” means the information should not be used in the story unless the reporter can confirm it through another source. In general, it is best to avoid off the record conversations; another option might be to converse off the record and then try to convince the source to agree to waive the agreement.

I tried to find the New York Times’ policy on differentiating between “on background” and “off the record,” but couldn’t find anything. Perhaps the best thing I found was from a 1994 article by the American Journalism Review quoting George Freeman, New York Times attorney:

“Yes, there are (differences between on background and off the record), but I’ve never quite figured them out. I tell reporters if they really want the source to understand, make it clear. But those words generally cause more confusion than anything else.” 

So, what’s the lesson learned in all this? Hire a communications firm. Sorry, couldn’t pass that one up. But the real lesson is, if you are speaking with a member of the media – or anyone these days, as we’re all journalists now with the Twitter and the Facebook and the Blogs – make sure your comments/messages are appropriate and not something that can start fires. 

And for the record, Bilton tweeted:

For the record: My source said it was OK to quote them, just not say who they are. (I ALWAYS discuss attribution in interviews.)

So the second issue with this seemingly innocuous tweet is the Facebook source discussing Zuckerberg’s views of privacy – or should I say, lack of privacy. As Facebook strides closer and closer to Internet domination, this off the record, on background comment is disturbing. Many in the tech world already believe the company is pure evil, and when a Facebook source says that the CEO doesn’t believe in it, flags should be raised.

The Internet, for so many years, has been referred to as the wild west and we’re now watching the colonization of it unfold right before our eyes. Rules, regulations, societies – hell, even farms – have been setup to safeguard online denizens from shady spam-toting characters. But when a site that has global domination in its sights with 500 million users connected through a series of tricky, if not sticky, web applications is determined to bypass this colonization process and start its own ecosystem, the rest of us need to be vigilant about our data.

And as Wendy Davis of MediaPost writes:

But whether Zuckerberg respects users’ privacy or not, he operates in a country where the law — at least to some extent — protects consumers’ data.

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Building Something Great http://sternbergcommunications.com/building-something-great/ http://sternbergcommunications.com/building-something-great/#comments Fri, 16 Apr 2010 19:00:10 +0000 Josh Sternberg http://sternbergcommunications.com/?p=203

I spent about two hours the other night trying to write incredibly eloquent prose for something I came to realize could be spelled out in six simple words:
I want to build something great.

For the past year, I have had many conversations with friends, relatives and professional colleagues trying to figure out why I kept having this nagging feeling entrepreneurism. I’ve accomplished a good deal thus far in my career, from being a founding blogger of the PR and marketing blog PRBreakfastClub; to working with some really intriguing companies and visionaries, such as Jim Gaines, the COOL-ER eReader and a whole slew of others; and running 10 marathons, including a 50-mile trail race and this weekend’s Boston Marathon. But, I still had this nagging feeling that the path I was taking in my career wasn’t for me. It didn’t fulfill my need for an environment that rewards an entrepreneurial spirit.

And finally, about two months ago, it dawned on me: I want to build something great.

And, to me, the only way to do that is by being on the ground floor of the growth of a business—the time when ideas, innovation and a chance to set the tone for building something great are at their highest. The time when greatness is the only concept any of us can conceive.

And with that in mind, I am thrilled to announce I have joined forces with Josh Sternberg, founder of Sternberg Strategic Communications, as Executive Vice President of his humble communications and PR agency. And I couldn’t be happier.

I’ll be overseeing the agency’s social media strategy and initiatives for clients, while also taking on leadership roles in general agency management and new business development. And hopefully, whether it’s a year from now, or five years, I’ll be one of many helping to build SSC into a truly great PR agency. I have a damn good feeling we’re going to get there, and I absolutely couldn’t be happier to be joining the ride.

From the first time I met Josh about a year ago, to the many discussions we have had over the last several months, I could see he was someone who had his act together when it came to running a PR agency, had a terrific vision for serving clients and more importantly, a plan to build something great for the clients SSC represents. And I have a ton of respect for that.

I’m not a BS type of guy. I don’t believe PR professionals should feel the need to sugarcoat the obvious to clients, nor do I believe we should feel the need to constantly feed clients with e-mails, adoration or paper pushing to make it look like we are doing our jobs.

What I do believe in as a professional is we need to actually DO and BUILD something great for our clients. And with SSC, I believe I have found that opportunity.
From the first conversation I ever had with Josh, I knew he was a no BS kind of guy. He gives it to you straight, and does the same with SSC’s clients. This, in turn, builds a tremendous amount of respect with clients, as they view Josh and SSC (and now, hopefully me) as much more of a strategic business partner, rather than just another provider in a long line of media relations shops pushing out press releases, media hits, clip books and other papers to keep a client happy.

We’re not here to kiss people’s asses. We’re here to help companies build their businesses into something great. And that’s music to my ears. Oh yeah, we also believe in true media counsel for our clients, integrated communications and helping clients discover and explore their many intriguing stories.

We’re ready to build something great.

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Are You A Social Media Expert? http://sternbergcommunications.com/are-you-a-social-media-expert/ http://sternbergcommunications.com/are-you-a-social-media-expert/#comments Sun, 21 Mar 2010 16:10:27 +0000 Josh Sternberg http://sternbergcommunications.com/?p=185

My wife makes fun of me for using Twitter. She’s a kindergarten teacher who has to make sure her kids’ mittens are on and doesn’t have time to enter the vast social media world. So when she sees me sitting on the couch, half paying attention to the TV, half paying attention to her, and mostly paying attention to Twitter, she gets a little perturbed. Since I use social media for my professional, as well as my personal life, I forget that I am an early adopter and that most of the people in this country don’t participate. But if my wife were to ask me if I was a social media expert, I would say no. The problem I have with this space is that there are people who say yes with their only qualification is that they “use” it (without really defining what it is).

When I was a professor of communication, one of the subjects I taught was interpersonal communications; how people interact with one another gives us great insight into the communicative process, obviously. Invariably, the topic of relationships would arise and we would have these great discussions about how people communicate in a relationship. I would ask what makes a relationship work and would get many responses, but the question that would ultimately be asked was, “how can you tell if someone is an expert in relationships?” A very simple, yet exceptionally difficult question to answer. Do we define an expert in relationships someone who has been married for 35 years and can tell you about the positive of relationships? What about someone who’s been divorced and can flip the veil to show you the underbelly of relationships? Finally, what about the person who spent 4 years in college, 6 years in graduate school to earn that Ph.D and helps couples learn how to communicate/live better? These are the same issues now with social media. Who do you trust as an expert?

The social sphere in regards to the Internet is still in its embryonic form, but is rapidly evolving. Much quicker, in fact, than anyone would have envisioned. Since the analogy of the wild west is often cited to describe the burgeoning arena of social media, let’s stick with that metaphor. The rules of the early American West were simple: make sure you don’t die. Other than that, it was a loose time and many people went out exploring with nothing to lose and all to gain. With social media experts, it’s kind of the same thing. We’re seeing an influx of social media experts who are claiming they are expert because they have nothing to lose and all to gain. They attract followers on Twitter because they brand themselves as experts. But trust me, they’re not. How can you be an expert in a field that is less than 5 years old?

The short of it is as follows: The Internet has fostered the abhorrent growth of the self-promoter. Prior to the Web, the self-promoter was limited to rantings on the street or paying for infomercials at 3am, hoping to lure either the unemployed, the late-night shifters, or the wasted college student. They had fun products and were able to eke out a living, some even become pop cultural references: Ron Popeil immediately comes to mind.

But as the Internet grew in importance, many people realized that their soapbox and the audience surrounding it have gotten larger. So they try to be witty or try to be futuristic or try to be an expert. It all comes down to personal branding and framing who you are, a classic advertising trait. Mad Men; Season 1, episode 1. Right from the very beginning we see what it means to brand. Everyone else’s tobacco is poisonous, but Sterling Cooper’s client, Lucky Strikes is “toasted.” So we have a plethora of social media experts who are toasted. Great. But how do you know how toasted they are?

A social media expert doesn’t exist yet. Don’t be fooled. However, there are many smart people who understand the POTENTIAL of social media. They can counsel a company or brand to use — or not use — social media. They can point to case studies of recent campaigns to show the importance of social media. But most importantly, they understand that even they may know how to use social media, they also know that it is in its earliest stages and replication is not constant for everyone.

You would think companies would know that in today’s speedy communications realm to be quick in the response to crisis. Yesterday’s plane landing in the Hudson showed that US Air is still living in an antiquated world. US Air has a Twitter account, with 42 followers and 0 updates. Umm…hi, your plane just skidded on water and you have nothing to put out to the public when thousands of people are getting information from Twitter before the mainstream media? It doesn’t take a social media expert to know this. Then again, maybe it does. My name is Josh Sternberg and I’m a social media expert because I say I am. Now back to the ridicule of my wife, whose job actually makes a difference.

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The Shift Has Been Televised http://sternbergcommunications.com/the-shift-has-been-televised/ http://sternbergcommunications.com/the-shift-has-been-televised/#comments Sun, 21 Mar 2010 16:08:39 +0000 Josh Sternberg http://sternbergcommunications.com/?p=183

Hulu’s TV ad during the sure-fire, can’t miss, absolutely number one show that everyone will be talking about (for if not 24 hours, a good couple of days…which in Internet-time is a freaking eternity), event of the year proved to be a strong topic of discussion. For those not in the know, Hulu helps “people find and enjoy the world’s premium video content when, where and how they want it.”

Billions upon billions upon millions of people tune in solely, and I mean solely, for the commercials. So without being too hyperbolic, the commercial planted its flag into the American, nay the World’s, consciousness and declared, “You will watch on me. You now see that I am the future. This is where you belong.” Reread that again, but this time in a James Earl Jones voice. It makes it much cooler.

This little commercial, this 60 second pause between 22 grown men trying to break each others bones, crystallizes the fundamental shift in our viewing habits. The commercial validates the online platform as no longer being the ugly kid stepsister.

We’ve watched with sorrow as the online world has reinvented print journalism. We weep because we have yet to figure out a successful monetization model and it hurts to see our news outlets suffer. We’re now going to see entertainment shift. Not as rapidly, of course, because we still center our living areas at home around the television, but technology will allow us to connect us from our hard drive to our TV’s. In fact, we already have it but it has yet to hit the critical masses.

I was having this debate last night in a room of people who not only don’t participate in social media, they barely even know it exists. I took the position that the fact NBC aired a Hulu commercial driving people to the site to watch programming online instead of TV was the result of this shift we’ve been seeing over the past couple years. They didn’t buy it, as their main point was, “Yes, there was a Hulu commercial. But there were also plenty of commercials for NBC’s shows.” I meagerly countered with, “It has to start somewhere, and this is was the clear start.”

So what does this mean? Will it be a mixture of “Minority Report” and “The Jetsons?” When a society has these gigantic shifts, it’s not just in one discipline. New media technologies, it can be argued, serve as a bastion for democracy, cultural pluralism and social change. An opposing argument would be that new technologies in general ultimately undermine existing social orders and is the calm before the storm; the unrest and social disorder that come from the introduction of “new” destroys the status quo.

But isn’t that happening? Isn’t Facebook and Twitter and blogs destroying the status quo? The key word in this nascent Obama aministration is transparency. Why? Because we live in a time where the structure of a top-down dictum has flipped on its secretive head. We participate in a two-way conversation; between brands and consumers, between politicians and constituents. News spreads at the speed of light and the audience is no longer a passive audience, sitting on our butts. (well, ok, some of us still are). The Internet has made mass communications, for the first time ever, and active medium.

This joint venture between Fox and NBC cashed in on its alloted advertising earmark, and we are witnessing the television continuum blend into the online world. And as the technologists and online denizens grow, we must remember that while technology by itself cannot initiate change, it can augment and amplify the actions of those people willing and wanting to promote change on a massive scale.

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The Push-Pull of Media http://sternbergcommunications.com/the-push-pull-of-media/ http://sternbergcommunications.com/the-push-pull-of-media/#comments Sun, 21 Mar 2010 16:05:41 +0000 Josh Sternberg http://sternbergcommunications.com/?p=181

Yesterday, while watching President Obama’s press conference, my mind started to wander right after the president’s curt response to Ed Henry. Maybe it was because the camera panned out over the White House Press Corp, those noblest of reporters, and I wondered what would happen if I was a journalist in that room and the president called on me.

I’m sitting in the second row, behind Chuck Todd and Helen Thomas. Knowing that we’re in uncertain times (then again, when are they ever not uncertain. Try living in the 19th century when you can get typhoid and scarlet fever because you happened to not have plumbing, and where it was a miracle to even be born) I would ask President Obama a really well thought out question, with multiple follow-ups and end with a quip. And then it happens.

The President calls on someone. Who it is doesn’t matter. What matters is what comes out of this person’s mouth. It was my question. Maybe not exactly phrased the way I would have phrased it, but the gist was the same. So now I’m scrambling to think of something, something as good. No, wait. Something better. And then it happens.

The President calls on me. There are 45 other journalists in the room and he chose me right after I had my question stolen from right underneath my eyes. So I stand up and say, “Thank you, Mr. President. So…um…what..um..uh..do you think you’re gonna name your dog?”

So after I played this out it my head, I decided to find out what would happen in that scenario. And like anytime I have a question, I go to Twitter.

I follow Olivier Knox (@oknox) a journalist for AFP, and knowing that he knows his stuff, I asked him. Conversation went like this:

Me: what happens if another WH press corp member asks a similar/same Q as you & ur called on? Do u have backups or r u screwed?

Olivier: Backups. Always. Or you ask a follow-up to previous Q/A.

Me: does it happen frequently? Or do you have a pretty good idea of who will ask what?

Olivier: depends. sometimes we coop. most times we have a few Qs each

Me: thanks! Appreciate you letting me pick your brain, as well as the work you do on the front
lines of this media landscape.

Olivier: i won’t say “to know us is to love us” but we need to be more transparent

Me: agreed. the press influences behavior, policy, etc. and has the opp to take the lead in creating an open society. just don’t eff up.

Olivier: “Don’t eff up” is not practical advice. Never has been. Better area of debate is “what to do WHEN we eff up.”

Me: correct. not practical b/c it’s not just on media, it’s on us, the reader, too. we have to be media literate and pull as you push.

(and that was the last I heard of him)

I started to think more about how the press influences behavior. I’ve already written about the agenda setting theory, but recently, I’ve noticed how important the media should be, but isn’t. And I think it’s because the chasm between what we’ve pejoratively labeled “traditional media” and “transparent media” is widening faster than our Institutions (government, education, etc) can handle.

The role of the media in the U.S has gone through several different phases over the past 230-plus years. The main reason that I’m focusing on the U.S. media is not because it’s where I live, but because freedom of the press is the key to the American philosophy; without it we would not be able to criticize and question those we’ve elected to serve us, to lead us.

There’s been a vitriolic partisan press, a docile/complacent press, and an investigation press (of course there’s informative and expository press, as well) but what we have now is something much more sinister. The people of the Republic now have a very minimal barrier to entry for espousing their ideas (and yes, I see the irony in this) and traditional modes of message dissemination are being turned upside down. Anyone with a camera phone is a photo-journalist, shaping the views of our society. Anyone in your office can be an Upton Sinclair or Carl Bernstein, shaping the way business is done. Traditional media doesn’t like this as it, from a certain point of view, mocks the very system they earn their livelihood from. But there is hope.

Journalists are smarter than some of us give them credit for. They observe the world around us from a very different vantage point, as they are both the arbiter and conduit of information. They understand that their jobs are no longer jobs, but ways of life – a philosophy, if you will.

Talk to reporters and I bet they have a Twitter profile, a Facebook page, an iPhone and/or Blackberry. I also bet that they are having tiny conversations with millions of people every day through these tools and are seeing the evolution of how we communicate, how we interact, how we behave. The flip side of this is that we, the everyday citizens, are participating in the discussion on a much different level than we have ever have in our civilization.

This is important. In order for us to become the transparent concept that we have attached to President Obama, the electorate has to participate more. There are no more excuses. We need to pull as the media pushes. Our Senators and Congressmen and Congresswomen cannot hide — and the best part is that they’re not. Both sides of the aisle have opened up. This is hopeful. This is good. But if we don’t understand how the media works, how to be media literate, then we are wasting a golden opportunity to put forth the machinations of becoming an open and transparent society. It won’t happen overnight, let alone over the next 4 or 8 years, but revolution is in the air and will be broadcast into our homes via mass communication: television, radio, print (yes, print), online, on your phone that’s in your pocket. And it all starts from the top…and the bottom.

Watching this administration’s press conferences, we get a little of the old (change doesn’t happen in 64 days) and a little of the new (daily Twitter updates from people like @oknox and @anamariecox).

Finally, this is good because the press has been asleep at the wheel for too long. They needed a jolt, a fresh start, and this administration’s different approach to policy, to the people and to the media is that mental snap. Imagine what will happen in 4 or 8 years if a new administration comes in and curtails the forward progress of transparency? You can’t. You got used to snapping a picture of a guy flashing his junk on the train and sending it to Twitter, where an editor at the city desk of the New York Times sees it and decides to put the picture in the article she is writing about mismanagement of funds for the MTA. And as Gutenberg showed us, once you take the cap off the proverbial printed toothpaste, you can’t put the content back in the tube.

What do you think?

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Communications Technologies: friend or foe? http://sternbergcommunications.com/communications-technologies-friend-or-foe/ http://sternbergcommunications.com/communications-technologies-friend-or-foe/#comments Sun, 21 Mar 2010 16:01:27 +0000 Josh Sternberg http://sternbergcommunications.com/?p=179

I love technology. I love air conditioning and microwaves, refrigerators and electric blankets. I love being able to write this sentence over 6 times without wasting paper or ink or ribbons. However, technology has numerous negative effects we fail to see because we’re so amazed by the shiny objects in front of our eyes. (And yes, I see the irony of posting this on a technological advancement).

We think in pictures due to the most pervasive technology of the 20th century: Television. Neil Postman once asked, what’s the first thing to come to mind when you think of Abraham Lincoln? Most likely, it was either his stove pipe hat or his beard. You most likely didn’t think of text, like the Emancipation Proclamation or his Gettysburg Address.

In a hundred years, we’ll all be thinking in 140-characters (hyperbole, people. Of course we won’t. Or will we?). But maybe just as importantly, technology kills motivation. It also erodes original thought and renders individualism useless. Crowd-sourcing, the technologist’s point-du-jour, has helped us to stop thinking for ourselves. If I want/need an answer to something, why would I spend time trying to achieve an “Eureka!” moment when I can just go to Twitter and ask my 1,000+ followers for their help.

But this environment has created a plethora of false prophets who are smart enough to recognize an advantageous situation and capitalize from it. These people exist solely to spout fortune-cookie philosophies in 140-characters, but when someone asks them for a follow-up or more insight, we either get no response or the complete opposite, juvenile name calling.

These are the people that give names like PR 2.0 or Social Media 2.0 because they believe that adding a sequential numeral makes the original concept newer, fresher, more up to speed. Truth of the matter, it doesn’t. As existential as it sounds, all that will happened has already happened.

PR 2.0 is the same as PR 1.0, only with new, shiny tools. What’s different now? So instead of drafting press releases, we draft “social media press releases?” It’s the same idea: get your client’s message out. What would be different, PR 2.0-style, is if a company, say a fast-food company, decided to say, “You know what? Our food isn’t really good for you. It makes you fat, tired, lazy. In fact, our economic system depends on us making sure you keep eating our food. But we’re gonna do something radical. We’re going to tell you the truth. If you want to live, don’t eat here.”

PR 2.0 is another smoke and mirror concept. It pushes transparency while pulling the wool over our eyes. It diverts attention from the core principle of a solid communications platform: have a great message. Today’s communications technology produces a giant echo chamber that is filled with hollow noise. Because technology has destroyed any (and all) barriers to entry, anyone with an internet connection, or cell phone for that matter, can be a journalist or a social media expert.

Technology simultaneously makes our lives easier and more difficult. It’s great that I can use Facebook to find old friends from previous chapters of my life. But, maybe those chapters should remain closed (or at least hidden from the public).

Companies face similar issues with communications technology: they can wisely use social media as a customer service tool (Zappos), but can also be harmed by mob-mentality (Motrin). Companies can also fall into the lazy trap with technology, too, by relying on these self-proclaimed social media gurus. Using technology to buttress and disseminate a message is one thing. Going by the seat of your pants because technology enables you to throw more things against the wall with the hope of something sticking is something else. And this is what makes me nervous.

Corporations use communications technologies all the time. But it’s how they use them that makes them different. As communications practitioners, we need to understand the power of not just the medium, but also the message.

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