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The iPhone 4: PR Problem or Feature?

When my iPhone 3GS drops a call I blame AT&T. It never occurred to me to blame Apple. Why would I? They designed a beautiful device that does so much more than make calls! Though, the Wall Street Journal suggests that I should, in fact, blame Apple. An article today notes that Apple not only knew about the iPhone 4.0 antenna issues, but also knew that it had issues with the antenna in earlier phones, including the 3GS.

In a piece on Digits, Jennifer Valentino-DeVries lists 5 things Apple should do today to make amends with its customers, including apologize and offer both temporary and permanent fixes.

But all this assumes that the antenna issue is an actual problem.

"But Chuck," you say. "How is this not a problem? Of course it's a problem!"

Well, it sort of is, but it sort of isn't. An iPhone 4.0 user said to me, after reading my last post, that the antenna issue is well overblown. Then he added "and the battery life is incredible!" The sarcastic side of me thinks "if you can't make calls that battery will probably last forever."

But the point is, he's willing to overlook the antenna so he can use the other features of the phone, provided it offers a lot more. And we all know how great Steve Jobs is at offering "one more thing."

That's sort of what's behind the blog post by Antonio Rodriguez, in which he points out that the antenna's internal design allows for a symmetry that will come into play later, possibly in the form of an active secondary touch surface on the back of the phone.

So is this a design flaw or a feature? We'll find out more today.

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Apple's PR Problem... huh?

So Consumer Reports gave the iPhone a black eye by not recommending it. Sure, it makes for great headlines and has a lot of Apple fans up in arms. Over at Cult of Mac they even interviewed several PR experts to say that this is a disaster for Apple and that Apple MUST recall the iPhone 4.0.

So, how many of you iPhone users turned to Consumer Reports before buying the phone? Anyone? Hello? Go ahead, raise your hand...

BusinessInsider notes that trashing the iPhone is a great PR move for Consumer Reports. That may be true.

You want a better phone than an iPhone? There are a number of better options, just ask my business partner who has a Droid. My wife got herself a Droid Incredible and loves it. Besides, we all know the iPhone drops calls and as a phone is pretty lousy, but it has a great UI and is very easy to use when it comes to apps. We live with the lack of Flash and other quirks because Apple has allowed us to purchase their piece of equipment. Oh, thank you Steve Jobs.

Droid Increidble Needs a Caption, the iPhone Doesn't

When a friend got her iPhone 3GS she told her husband that she had to give up a little love for him so she could make room for her iPhone. My wife's Droid Incredible doesn't have the same impact (or maybe she just hasn't told me about her Droid lover just yet).

Futurama had a great scene recently in which everyone wanted an "Eyephone." After standing for hours in a line Fry finally gets to the front where he greets an unsmiling clerk. "OK, it's $500, you have no choice of carrier, the battery can't hold a charge and the reception isn't very good."

"Shut up and take my money!" Fry shouts.

The scene is funny because it's true.

So what will Apple do? Apple doesn't do PR the way that other companies do it and I don't expect it to start now. Even if the PR team acknowledges hard-nosed tactics like taking down negative posts in their forums, they'll probably say something like "we own the forums and acted in the best interest of our community of readers."

And what about the iPhone 4.0 antenna issue? You can follow Consumer Reports' advice and put a bit of duct tape on it, but I doubt anyone will do that. Why have an iPhone if you're going to mess with it's beautiful lines?

As for Apple, they'll probably publicly ignore the problem, then come out with an iPhone 4.1 and offer all 4.0 people an "upgrade" for a small fee.

Then we'll all shout together "shut up and take my money!"

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Stephen Baker: Fresh Ground Podcast #21

FG_Podcast_Ep_21.jpgI first met Steve Baker several years ago when he was working on his book The Numerati. This was after he had already co-authored an influential cover story on blogs for BusinessWeek that acted as a wakeup call to corporate America. The message: ignore blogs (and social media) at your peril.

His later cover story on math lead to a book contract for the Numerati, for which he took a sabbatical from his long-time weekly reporting job. Of course, he had to come back to BusinessWeek before setting off again, but this time the decision was made for him. Bloomberg had purchased the venerable publication from McGraw-Hill and changes there included massive layoffs.

Steve now blogs on his own site is writing a new book, which is due out in early 2011. During his interview with us via Skype, he talked about leaving BusinessWeek and starting a new phase of journalistic life. Among the interesting quotes from the interview:

"I didn't enjoy my time back [at BusinessWeek after the first book-leave] as much, in part because the magazine was failing and it's no fun to be part of sinking ship."

"The money [at Bloomberg] comes from the data, journalism by itself couldn't create the kind of empire they have"

"The advertisers can tune into your own interest and your behaviors, learn about you and target you with advertising, so they get to know you much better than an advertiser in a print publication."

"I think you need to accompany book writing these days with blogging and keeping up with people on Twitter and other more social media platforms. And then once you do a book then perhaps you can get more revenue by doing things like speaking."

"The one positive that comes out of [the changes in journalism] is that there is more opportunity for people in their 20s because organizations are getting rid of people like me in their 40s and 50s."

"Even writing about IBM… I'm benefiting from IBM's own publicity and in a sense I'm part of it. That puts me in a different role and I just have to be clear with people about what my possible conflicts are… but it's something that we all deal with in one way or another because we have to find new revenue streams."

Download this episode (right click and save)

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Stephen Baker on Life, Journalism, Numbers and His New Book

Thanks to event sponsor and, I'm happy to disclose, Fresh Ground client Netezza, members of the Boston Social Media Club were fortunate to be able to enjoy an intimate evening with author and former BusinessWeek Senior Editor Stephen Baker. Steve's most recent book, The Numerati, looks "at how a global math elite is predicting and altering our behavior -- at work, at the mall, and in bed." He was invited to present a keynote at the company's Enzee Universe 2010 User Conference, and was gracious enough to take time out of his schedule to meet with the group and share his thoughts on life, journalism, numbers and the new book, expected out next year. You can listen to his session (just under a half hour) below.

I'm also pleased to announce that we'll have an exclusive interview with Steve for next week's Fresh Ground Podcast. (We did not include this interview in our podcast feed this week -- stay tuned for a great interview with a creative young PR pro in this week's podcast episode.)

Listen Now:

Update 23 June 2010: Tim Allik captured some video of Steve talking specifically about his BusinessWeek experience. You can read Tim's thoughts on the Tech PR Gems blog, and have a look at the video below:

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Media Relations Tips: Finding the Why

As a PR person I find it oddly refreshing to be pitched. It's like the assignment Prof. Padwe gave us in journalism school to profile each other. You learn a lot when you hear your own life translated by someone else. Your own quotes come back sounding quite a bit different.

I recently received a pitch noting that I'd written about Foursquare, then went on to tell me all about another product that is similar to Foursquare, but never really told me why I should care. The PR person sent me links to a some great stories on the product, but it didn't encourage me to write at all. In a nutshell, the PR person forgot the "why." That is, why should I, as a blogger who writes what he likes, care to write about the product? To continue the pitch analogy, the PR person on the other side of this email "dropped the ball."http://www.tanophoto.com/index.php?showimage=250

This isn't an easy thing. For journalists the why is pretty easy: they have to fill their content stream and something happening now often qualifies as news. Media relations folks like myself have made a career out of creating news hooks that encourage writing because those hooks answer the question "why should I write about you now?.

But targeting those motivations has become much more difficult as the ranks of journalists decrease. Plus, the rise of pageview journalism fundamentally changes the equation. Now, instead of relying on a journalist to write because your client is important to the industry, they must be sure that a story on the topic will drive readers. If it won't, then you're out of luck. Worse, if they write and find it doesn't drive readers, they're not likely to come back.

David Weinberger identified this problem by encouraging marketers to avoid the echo chamber, but the problem remains that journalists like the echo chamber as much as marketers. You want a story in in a top tech destination? First prove that you have an audience that will drive traffic to the story. But how do you build the audience without the exposure? Does building that audience even as you're in beta or stealth mode fit into your strategy? What work can you do to gain a foothold without broader media relations?

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Chuck Hester on LinkedIn for Media Relations: Fresh Ground #19

In this second part of a recording of Chuck Hester’s presentation on LinkedIn success secrets from Newcomm Forum 2010, Chuck shares some great tips on using LinkedIn for media relations, among other great tips. Chuck Hester is a LinkedIn power user with over 10,000 connections on the business networking site and the author of “Linking in to Pay it Forward: Changing the Value Proposition in Social Media.” He serves as director of communications at email marketing firm iContact.

Listen Now:

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Our opening music is "D.I.Y." by A Band Called Quinn from the album "Sun Moon Stars" and is available from Music Alley, the Podsafe Music Network.

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BP in the Gulf: When Crisis PR Shouldn't be the Question

Whenever some big crisis hits the news my dad likes to say "So, my son who is in PR, what would you do in this situation?" Then he argues with me.

He asked it again as we were watching the BP mess unfold in the Gulf of Mexico. But this time my answer was simple: there's nothing to do here. This isn't a crisis communications issue. Yes, it's a crisis, but the communications plan should be the LAST thing on their mind right now. The issue here is fixing the problem and communicating what they're actually doing. Anything less is disingenuous.

The best example of this process gone wrong is the painfully funny Twitter account @BPGlobalPR. Here you have a guy digging at BP on a daily basis, pointing out their inconsistencies and problems in an amusing way. In his Huffington Post essay, the writer of @BPGlobalPR noted the futility in any kind of crisis PR program in this situation:

I've read a bunch of articles and blogs about this whole situation by publicists and marketing folk wondering what BP should do to save their brand from @BPGlobalPR.  First of all, who cares?  Second of all, what kind of business are you in?  I'm trashing a company that is literally trashing the ocean, and these idiots are trying to figure out how to protect that company?  One pickledick actually suggested that BP approach me and try to incorporate me into their actual PR outreach.  That has got to be the dumbest, most head-up-the-ass solution anyone could possibly offer.

He goes on to say how BP's PR solution is to fix the problem. Note to BP Crisis PR folks: don't try to find fancy ways to communicate your messages, don't look for new and innovative ways to to put the best face on the problem, now isn't the time for that. Just provide information on what's being done. Period. Oh, and yell at management to do more. In fact, that SHOULD be the crisis PR plan.

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Does Google Discourage Diversity?

During the Mass TLC Social Media Summit 2010, David Weinberger pointed out how marketers love the "echo chamber" in which they get to hear lots of positive feedback from people who already love them. The problem with this, he says, is that the echo chamber may satisfy our bosses and clients, thereby making us look good, but it does little to help advance true thinking. He believes we should be encouraging more diverse thought.

David Weinberger as seen on Wikipedia

He's right, of course. Later in the morning Mike Troiano gave a shout-out to the concept of diversity of thought in his listening talk by noting that "listening is the means by which we corrupt our vision with the external reality." That is, we (entrepreneurs) may think we know everything, but when we start listening to the people around us, we realize that we know less and need to think more.

On the surface, Weinberger is right. Diversity of thought and ideas leads often leads to stronger discussions. That is, when it doesn't end with a bunch of guys yelling "You suck!" "No, YOU suck!" Or worse, with one US Senator beating another with a cane.

Generally speaking, informed discourse is the way to go, it's why we have Freedom of the Press. If we had state-run news agencies that providing everything we needed to know, we wouldn't be able to check on our government. Worse, the government would be getting and relaying information only from those with the money to lobby, and no one would be there to shout "this isn't right!" (I'm looking at you BP who told the government experts that cutting the big oil pipe would result in a 20 percent increase in oil, something that the media parroted. Only, today NPR reported that it could, in fact, be much worse.)

In any case, when it comes to diverse thought we have a small problem. Well, a big problem, actually. It's called Google.

Marketers bow before Google as the god of online marketing. Putting out a press release? Run it through a few SEO tools to make sure your keywords line up just right. Reporter writing stories find themselves rewarded based on the number of views their stories achieve, something that plays directly into Google's hands. But rising in the Google rankings means playing to the echo chamber.

Here's how it works. Let's assume that a bunch of people linked to Dave Weinberger's site calling him the smartest guy on the Internet. Eventually you'll be able to search Google for the "smartest guy on the Internet" and find Dave. Pretty cool. But if there is diversity, some may call him the smartest guy, but others may say he's the biggest moron they know. Now Google is a bit confused. Maybe both searches get to him, but more likely another guy becomes the smartest guy on the Internet and Dave loses out.

So if marketers need to get Google to look their way they need the echo chamber. They need those links that portray their company (or their client's company) in a positive light, containing the right links, etc.

Granted, this is a bit of a simplification, but you get the point.

Which raises a pretty important question. While Google opens us up to a wealth of information that has never been available, does it also push us to be less diverse in our thought?

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PR: Whose Minds are You Changing?

A few days ago I wrote about change, and how "social media, if done right, is first and foremost an exercise in change management."

I was speaking about changing how businesses operate and communicate, but if you look at PR in a more specific sense, it's about changing minds (and subsequently creating action).

Often, it's not the minds of customers and prospects that good PR practitioners need to start with -- in reality, a good PR practitioner concentrates on changing minds (and processes) inside the organization first. This can be a challenge, but is critical not only to ensure success, but in reality, given where PR is evolving, to make sure that PR practitioners remain relevant as the media landscape continues to shift.

Whose minds are YOU changing?

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Google Moves the Earth

The earth moved under the feet of the PR industry earlier this month when Google did something simple: it distributed its own earnings announcement. It didn’t rely on one of the paid channels such as Businesswire, PR Newswire or Marketwire (among others).

To the untrained eye this seems rather simple. Companies put out content all the time, why is this any different?

I’m not going to try to rehash the idea that the press release is dead. It’s not. PRWeb pointed out at the MarketingProfs event this week that they will distribute 90,000 press releases this year alone. That’s just one service.

A lot of people saw Google’s move as an opportunity to talk about the Social Media Release, but that’s just another way to put content out through the same channel, it’s not a real change.

No, the trick here is understanding the different channels and how channels differ from form. Wire services offer a different distribution channel and for public companies it’s an important channel.  On a very basic level wire services smooth out a lot of the bumps in putting out an earnings announcement. Let’s face it, the Securities and Exchange Commission doesn’t make things easy, so if you want to make sure you satisfy all the fine print within their fair-disclosure rules you may as well just hand your announcements over to them and be done. Paying $5000 or so per release certainly beats the legal fees you could add up by messing things up on your own.

That said, wire services aren’t the ONLY way to get news out. For some companies, like Google, their blog or online newsroom speaks directly to investors.  Why not engage them there? Also, just because you have a channel doesn't mean you're restricted to form. You can have a blog full of "press releases" and a press release that looks like a blog post. You can write an interesting news-based story and put it out on a wire service. If you're Conan O'Brien you can even write a letter.

Howard Berkenblit, a partner in the Corporate Department at Sullivan and Worcester, who spoke with the Fresh Ground Podcast a while back, told me recently that the SEC ruling regarding putting out material news on blogs boils down to making sure you have an established news channel before using it. Google has certainly done that.

But what does this mean for the wire services? Phyllis Dantuono, executive vice president and chief operating officer for BusinessWire says it doesn’t mean much.  “Bottom line is that we do not anticipate any major changes in how companies will communicate with the marketplace in the future,” she said in a written statement.  “Most companies clearly recognize the risks and limitations of the SEC's interpretive Guidance Release, and have wisely decided to stick with a disclosure system that works.”

BusinessWire also sent along a MotleyFool.com article that went so far as to call Google’s decision “evil.” Rich Smith laments that Google has created a fragmented system in which “investors could soon be forced to scan the websites of every company they own, daily, continually, to be certain of not missing out on important news.”

I think this misses the mark entirely. I’m sure Smith doesn’t have only one source for news today. In fact, he probably has some sort of new aggregator that helps him find the news he wants, probably some sort of RSS reader. He probably also has Google News alerts that tell him when something goes live. Then there’s the fact that companies come out with earnings announcements on a pretty strict schedule, so it’s not like these are surprises. No, Google hasn’t made the news more difficult to find, they’ve just slightly changed how you access it.

In fact, they made it a little easier. Former Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz had argued for years that the SEC’s disclosure rules unfairly favored the few. Subscribers to the wire services received the news, while those who didn’t were left waiting. Putting important news out on a blog, the argument goes, fixes that. Well, that is, unless we run into a situation in which companies like Comcast control whose content gets green lighted.

Still, there’s an action here for small, private companies to consider: where do you put your news? Our suggestion here at Fresh Ground is to establish your own news channel through an online newsroom. Not just a stagnant place where you repost your press release, but an interactive social media newsroom that lets you post different types of content and lets your audience interact with and share that content. Todd has been working hard with the IABC on establishing this sort of thing.

But the most important reason for establishing your own news channel is that despite Dantuono’s assertion that many companies will continue to use wire services, I believe that many won’t. When the earnings announcements disappear, so will much of the available revenue for wire services.

I’m not saying the wire service channel will die out entirely, but you will certainly see a thinning over the next couple of years. I can’t guarantee that the big players will continue to thrive, since some of the smaller players (like PitchEngine) do similar work for less money and a lower overhead.

So your best move may be to create your own and as you engage with your customers, partners, investors and other influencers, let them know where your news will end up first.

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