Thursday, April 27, 2006

Reader's Choice = Marketing Measure?

A number of technology publications have Readers' Choice awards. This is where companies nominate their own products, the magazines do a basic vetting of the applicants and then open up the voting to their readers, via the Internet.

Most companies then make sure they send the link to the voting mechanism to customers, partners and other allies, encouraging them to pull the lever for them. Often, these voting mechanisms require nothing but checking a box for your "favorite" product in a category - no satisfaction rating, no quality measure, just a click is all required.

So, as a result of this process, you could argue that success is not entirely dependent on the quality of the products, but rather on the ability of the company to turn out voters. Readers' choice awards may then actually be a relatively decent measure of your success in marketing specifically to your existing customer.

I don't just mean getting them to buy more of your product, but actually getting them to want to tell others about it. Yes, insert customer as evangelist reference here. But I really do somehow doubt that most publications' actual readers rush to the websites to vote in these readers' choice awards, without a certain company or product already in mind.

I suppose this is where you could argue it goes back to the actual quality of the offering - your customers have to truly believe in the product in order for you to get them to make even the minor effort of visiting a website and clicking on your name.

And I'd agree that the offering's performance will most often bethe first determinant. But that alone won't inspire people to action. They have to get a warm, fuzzy feeling they get when they think of your company. And they have to be reminded of this feeling once the joy of the neat new toy wears off, or once the relief from the stressor that prompted them to purchase is long forgotten.

One of my clients does a particularly good job at communicating with the actual users of its products, and uses a blog as a key tool to accomplish much of this. It's not very pretty. It doesn't have bright colors or fancy feed aggregators or use tags. But it meets the audience's needs precisely - one that is made up almost entirely of systems administrators with no time for marketing blather nor love for flashy websites. It's updated frequently and is made available via RSS. It provides both company and technical product updates as well as larger market trends and stats. It's what they need, and little they don't. Every now and then, subtly enough, posted there are reminders for the readers on why they are using the product to begin with - stats on cost and time savings, case studies, user satisfaction ratings, etc. These are the things that give systems administrators the warm fuzzies.

In doing so, the client has finished laying the groundwork (that began with a strong product) for asking of the favor of casting a vote in a reader's choice award contest. It's created an exisiting dialogue that makes it much easier to say, "Hey, hope you liked the research we're sharing with you - by the way, we could use your help in winning an award," rather than having to say, "Hey, remember us, who haven't said a word to you since you got our boxed product up and running two years ago? Can you do us a favor?"

The client I'm talking about also sent out this week what I thought was an excellent email asking customers, partners and friends to cast a vote for his company's offering for a magazine's readers' choice award. It was light-hearted, friendly and got my attention.

The subject line: "Vote for Pedro." I certainly did. (Only once, I swear.)

By the way, I'd like to announce a call for nominees for the "From the Frontlines of PR" Reader's Choice awards for best PR bloggers over six feet tall with brown hair
who work in Washington, play the guitar and love the Cubs. Special consideration will go to those who should really post more often to their blogs.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

I'll Gladly Pay You Tuesday

Morgan McLintic has delivered a favorite among PR bloggers this week with his how-to list on ways to be a bad client. His last point, on paying late, is one I was just discussing with a friend in another service business the other day. He does foreign language translation work, and he runs into the same problem - companies that think it's okay to pay their bills whenever they feel like it.

It seems that late-paying is an accepted evil of the commercial world and we were wondering just why that is. I can't be two days late with my credit card bill, or not only will I be charged for late payment, but it will appear on my credit record and I will have future problems.

Businesses seem to be maybe half as worried about prompt payment - especially when it comes to services.

Maybe the lack of concern for late payment abounds because when it comes to services, because nothing physical leaves the supplier's "inventory" and enters the customer's facility. Perhaps there's a sense that the supplier hasn't diminished anything with a finite supply, and so there's less perceived urgency. Of course, our hours are in fact in a finite supply, but hours don't have shiny buttons or get packed in fun-to-play-with bubble wrap. But there are plenty of companies that sell product that deal with late-paying businesses too.

So maybe businesses pay late simply because they can get away with it. And it's not irrational to say that if they can, they should. They earn extra interest on their money and can delay paying it on anything they would have to borrow. So as long as the provider isn't diminishing the quality of the offering, it's actually quite rational - especially if they're not charging significant late fees - because, hey, low interest loans are great! Businesses also deal with small companies more often than the average consumer - and small companies are less likely to arm themselves with the tools required to threaten the credit record of a commercial enterprise.

Moreover, in the service industry, smaller companies are forced to take on the risk of getting stuck holding an empty bag because they often feel they can't afford to alienate a client that might spend more in the future. It's usually less costly to keep a late payer (as long as they do regularly pay) than to go out and get a new client.

In the instances in which I've dealt with this issue, only a few times has it been because the company was struggling financially. Usually, it's because of an adminstrative bottleneck.

Sometimes billing departments work on a cycle of a duration different from that which the bills follow - i.e., they pay their bills on the 30th every month and yours comes due on the 15th. They're still gonna pay you on the 30th; they're not afraid of you.

Other times contacts don't route invoices promptly to their billing departments. Next thing they know, there are two of your invoices in their inboxes and they're a bit nervous themselves about dropping them both at once on their accountants. They're afraid of their own bean counters; they're not afraid of you.

So should you try to make them afraid? It's probably not worth it, either.

I've heard a variety of techniques, both stick and carrot, from offering attractive discounts for bills paid on time (euphemism for late fees), to halting work immediately upon a certain number of days without pay, but no magic bullet.

Smaller companies react better to the discount for late payment - but only sometimes. And in bigger companies, the contact often views it as chump change in the grand scheme of things.

Halting a program over debt is like saying you're going to hold your breath if you don't get your toy. Even if the client pays the debt in the end, you've lost ground on your program and the results are less likely to impress them enough to keep them paying you later. So you're the one who runs out of air in the end, not them. Sure, the client loses out too, but again, because they can't physically grasp what they're not getting as a result of a stop-and-go program, they often don't even realize the damage they've done. They figure they can always just go get another firm and start the cycle again.

So maybe that's what we need to do - help them understand what they're losing.

Clients need to understand that when they delay payment, they delay result, and not because of any consciously punitive decision by their firms. Late payers essentially are removing hours from inventory that were intended for the actual work of the account and throwing them toward administration that lends no value to their programs. Clients should see that it is not irrational for a firm to pay less attention to an account that doesn't pay on time.

In short, they need to understand that in most cases, they aren't really "getting away with it" when they don't pay. They're getting away without it.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Stay Hoaxy,

There were two strange stories this week about people using a free "newswire" service called to distribute bogus news. One was that Will Ferrell died. Which is both false and fortunate for me in providing a relevant reason to post a picture of my favorite fictional journalist on this blog.

In another hoax, a 16-year-old Google fan was able to get a fake press release announcing his hiring by the search engine onto Google News. was booted as a source for Google News on Wednesday. But, another free service for which anyone could theoretically enroll (around since 1997), still gets its releases into the Google News Search engine. Its website notes that editors review all releases prior to distribution. They might be able to catch obvious hoaxes and hate speech, but I somehow doubt they're calling every company to verify facts.

Supposedly, real PR firms use PRWeb. I noticed a few agencies I know on the list of "Platinum Members," but I don't know if they actually use it in lieu of BusinessWire/PR Newswire/MarketWire (the three largest pay services) or if their listings are mostly to advertise to an audience of likely PR-newbies. With other 'firms' like "Hippie Chick Twang - Author-Recording Artist-Songwriter-Media Services," it's not exactly a Who's Who list.

Interested in comments from anyone who has found real value in a free wire service.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Yuppiest Over-caffeinated Rant Ever

I have been resisting the urge to rant about Starbucks on this blog pretty much since I started writing here. It is mostly because my relationship with Starbucks makes me feel ashamed. It is like the bad girlfriend I cannot leave. (Apologies to my wife.)

First of all, the vision of my 30-something, light blue dress shirt-wearing, Blackberry-clutching, groggy ass standing in the same Starbucks at precisely the same time each day is such a cliche that sometimes I just close my eyes and pretend I'm not actually there. It makes me realize that I am now the target for adult contemporary music, which would at one point in my life, have prompted a self-inflicted tack hammer strike on my left temple. I was even fiddling with my friend's XM radio the other day and settled after awhile on what I thought seemed like the best station. It turned to be "Hear" Music - the station they play at Starbucks. Horrifying.

But it's not Starbucks' fault I'm a sell-out.

I will blame the coffee pushers, though, for my particular addiction to Venti Peppermint Mocha Frappuccinos. It is significantly embarrassing on its own to walk down the street sipping a giant cup from a straw like a 12 year old. I also pay nearly five dollars a day for this 40 cents worth of sugared liquid - and despite the fact I will apparently not be able to retire until 75 as a result, if I don't have it, my stomach churns. Starbucks is especially insidious in making me grow dependent upon not just a high daily dose of caffeine, but on a particular form of its delivery that I cannot replicate at home. (Note that I take no responsibility for falling into this addiction. This adds to the shame.)

As I said, everyday, I go to the same Starbucks and order the same drink at the same time. Despite this, and my personal knowledge of the names of everyone who works there, each day I have to repeat my order at least twice, and probably three times.

This is partly due to their idiotic system, intended to give it a "coffee-house" feel, where employees scream orders back and forth to each other as early in the morning as possible. The other reason I have to repeat myself is the length of my order, which contains four data points (Type, Size and 2 Flavors), well beyond the average cache available in the average Starbucks employee's short-term memory. Finally, I repeat it again to the person in charge of making the drink, who has been unable to retain the knowledge that I want a drink at all, despite having written it on a plastic cup with a marker moments earlier.

For awhile, I thought Starbucks' system was just another example of a badly planned service delivery mechanism that results in terrible customer experiences. I've actually been in a Starbucks in Chicago that uses the traditional fast food order screen system, requiring no shouting or repetition. So why don't all of them have them, I thought?

Then I realized something. I say the phrase "Venti Mocha Frappuccino" no less than 10 times a week. I've even blogged it twice here.

Maybe there's something to this - maybe this practice is, in fact, brilliant marketing.

Continually get your customers to reaffirm their loyalty to your product and your brand by making them say the product name as many times as possible. It's like a daily pledge of allegiance. In a scary way, it's almost a small expression of identity. When I'm there, I'm "Venti Mocha Frappuccino Guy." Someone else is "Extra Hot No Room Tall Vanilla Skim Latte Lady." (Yes, the shame is setting in again.)

I still hate every moment I'm in the Starbucks and think they're terrible at servicing my very simple need. I guess this is the part that makes me most embarrassed - that I keep going back. I know that everytime I say "Venti Mocha Frappuccino," it really means "thank you sir, may I have another" in a very Animal House kind of way.

So I guess if you're going to steal the repetition strategy, you better be sure you have a darn good (or chemically addicting) product that will overcome the backlash.

You think about that. I'm gonna go to Denny's to have a "Root and Tooty Fresh and Fruity."

Social Notworking Site

A bit of snickering from the back of the classroom at - I couldn't help but pass on this hilarious parody of Friendster-type social networking sites. Pardon the R-rated language on the linked site.

You have to admit that despite the potential value of online networking, the fact there are so many different "networks" subtracts from the appeal of each. Every week, I get invitations or updates from at least two of the sites, and every few months I get invited to a new one. And I'm not particularly popular.

I've yet to hear a story among my friends about actually meeting a new person through one of these sites by simply clicking through networks which has turned into a partner or customer. I could see them being a terrific way to find dates or friends but as far as for business, they seems to me little more than counting mechanisms to prove you collect a lot of business cards.

At minimum I do appreciate getting automatic contact information updates from these services, but I'm a bit surprised there isn't a tool that aggregates them all, much as Trillian does for IM identities.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Social News Reading Overview

Kevin Kelly's "Cool Tools" section of his blog has a nice overview of the various offerings that are similar to Digg in enabling navigation of news based on popularity or user feedback. I touched on Digg a few weeks back, but Kevin uncovers a few more (i.e., Reddit, Newsvine and Fantacular) with some useful insight about the development of the genre, which he calls "consensus tools."

Friday, February 24, 2006

Dig into Dugan's Flickr Hacks

Kevin Dugan over at Strategic Public Relations has provided a great list of ways to use photo sharing service Flickr creatively to benefit your organization. Lifehacker even swallowed its pride by linking to a flack and tipped its hat to Kevin for the post, who's been providing this kind of useful commentary online to the PR community since June 2002. Brainstorming, event promotion, recruiting - he's shown how to Flickr your way through each.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Google Beta Launch Lasts Four Hours?

Google announced today a Beta launch of its new Google Page Creator, a WYSIWYG application intended to make it easy for individuals to create a hosted Google website. Hadn't seen much buzz on it in advance of today's announcement but people listening closely heard rumblings as early as July. For those in the industry for whom the new service could present a threat, this is another example of why listening to the online chatter is worthwhile.

Either way, this morning I was excited about giving it a whirl and posting my findings here.

Unfortunately, although the announcement hit the wires at 6AM ET this morning, Google filled up on beta users by the time I tried to sign up at 10:40AM:

Thank you for your interest in Google Page Creator! Google Page Creator has experienced extremely strong demand, and, as a result, we have temporarily limited the number of new signups as we increase capacity. In the meantime, please submit your email address and we will notify you as soon as we are ready to add new accounts. Thank you for your patience.

It could just be a testament to Google's presence that they got all the users they needed for a beta in about 240 minutes, or an indication that they weren't looking for that many people to try the tool.

Or it could be a tactic for building buzz - make something available, but keep access somewhat scarce.

That would follow a similar pathway in how Google launched Gmail - it started with a small group of users and gave them the ability to invite a limited number of friends to join. A Gmail account became a bit of a techie's status symbol during the first few months of the service.

Or maybe Google hasn't made a big fuss because they just figure it's not that big of a deal.

Those who have accessed Google Page Creator haven't necessarily been awe-struck, pointing out feature deficits for anyone but beginning users and a lack of differentiation from available solutions. Blogger Andy Brudtkuhl felt a bit of deja vu, reminding us of longtime provider GeoCities.

But, as the "mofo" linked above pointed out, for now, it's not as much news about a website design tool as news that more free web space is on its way.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Venti Map a Frappr-ccino

About a year ago, I was looking for a free online resource that would allow me to automatically map the locations of YoungPRPros members, but couldn't find anything that didn't require a technical understanding of SQL databases and the like.

A few months back, Frappr launched just that type of service, incorporating Google Earth's full functionality. Plus, members can add their own photos, which can be streamed via a feed into blogs and other online destinations.

This is a great free tool that could be used to bring more of a community feel to user groups, member organizations, even internal communications at large organizations. I think it's also interesting in that it is among the first examples I've seen of a creative application of Google Earth technology.

Here's the YoungPRPros' Frappr map for YoungPRPros so far:

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Ten Clicks for PR Kicks

Okay, so this blog fell silent for awhile there. Not surprisingly, the industry was able to hold itself together without my commentary.

In fact, recent estimates place the number of PR bloggers at 350. That's a whole heck of a lot of flacks with an opinion. It's gotten to the point where you better have a few favorite PR bloggers whose opinions you've decided are most worthwhile or you'll spend your entire day trying to keep up.

While adding my daily opinions to the mix may be tempting, I think it might best serve my readership (hi Mom) to focus on relaying the most usable content from the PR blogosphere - tools, resources and practices that can be immediately implemented for success.

So let me start by catching up from the last few months with some of the top tools that emerged during my blogging hiatus.

Dave Sifry's Updated State of the Blogosphere
Updated on February 6, Technorati's Dave Sifry imparts some excellent statistics that you can use to make a business case for blogging and blog monitoring.

Daily RSS and Digg
Two tools to help you sort through the din of stories and posts out there on a daily basis. Blog post and stories rise in an aggregated list of links based on either rating, in the case of Daily RSS, or popularity, in the case of Digg.

The Bad Pitch Blog
Created by Strategic Public Relations' Kevin Dugan and Richard Laermer of RLM Public Relations, the likes of Gawker, BusinessWeek and CNET have all quoted or commented on the hot new property.

Google Mobile Personalized Home and WinkSite
Robert Scoble has called for all blogs to go mobile in 2006. Here's two ways to do it. Optimize your feed for mobile environments with WinkSite or get RSS feeds on your phone via Google.
This site converts email newsletters into RSS feeds in just 30 seconds - a great way to get your organization into the blogosphere in seconds.

Today's Front Pages from Newseum
Great way to scan the world's headlines to get a sense of the news day.

A great tool that allows you to subscribe to 22 different search engine feeds at the same time - read: no missed client placements.

Steve Rubel's Ten Technorati Hacks
A great set of tips from Micro Persuasion's Steve Rubel for getting the most out of Technorati, the defacto leader in blog search.

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