Posts about pr

The age of customerism and producerism

Forget consumerism. We’re not just consumers anymore, as Doc Searls has taught me well. We are customers with our money in our fists, spending it wisely and joining together to spend it more wisely. And we are producers who can compete with the companies that thought of us as mere consumers.

So nevermind caveat emptor. This is the age of caveat venditor — let the vendor beware — and caveat creator.

But too many of the the venditors and the creators don’t realize it. Witness this open letter to me from Amanda Chapel, a PR person calling herself the Strumpette, who is desperately trying to fend off the ratty masses now known as empowered customers at her clients’ gates. She is emblematic of old one-way companies and of the PR people who tried to protect these companies from their customers with a shield of spin.

Chapel is disgusted by the whole Dell Hell affair and because of it she calls what I write the Communist Blogifesto and calls me “some malignant corporate subversive” (which, I suppose, beats “worm“).

Listen to yourself: “behind me a mob with pitch forks and torches storming castle Dell;” “we are the bosses now;” “companies have the opportunity to hand over control to customers.” That’s not inspiring a “conversation” comrade; you’re yelling “fire” in a crowded peasant theatre. And that’s it! This is all really about audience and venue. The “revolution” you promote is about a mob and leveraging its disappointments, hopes and fears. . . . What “Wake up Corporate America, You’re Being Watched” is all about, is inciting a riot and boldly trying to hold the theatre owner hostage. The message is clear: “Surrender your property, or else!”

No, we’re just leveraging our money, our property, our collective buying power, our wise crowd, and our voice. If we get good products and value for our money, we’ll buy more and can now tell others to do so; we can market your products, if they’re any good. But if we get bad products and service and value for our money, then we have every right to be mad and to warn others — our friends.

That’s not a mob, ma’am. That’s a market.

Chapel insists that companies should not care about their customers, only their stockholders (whom she mistakenly lumps together as “the bank”).

As it relates to Dell, you think Michael Dell gives a shit about you. He doesn’t. He reports to the bank. He cares about Wall Street. I, the stockholder, am his main concern.

I respond in her comments:

Michael Dell may very well not give a shit about me or his customers. Seems so. But if that is the case, then he won’t have much of a company anymore and he will ill serve his stockholders (not bankers).

No, you’re wrong, the customer is ultimately in charge. It’s my money. I won’t give it to Dell because I don’t trust Dell. I know more people who won’t either. He doesn’t run a monopoly; he’s not in charge of the cable company, phone company, or even newspaper. We have choices. That is the ultimate power.

And she responds, in turn:

No. That’s a fallacy. He should care about a good product and an identified market. That does NOT necessarily mean individual customers. . . .

You have one vote. I suggest then that you don’t buy Dell. Period.

Anything more than that is an attempt to hold Dell and its shareholder hostage. We don’t owe you anything!

You — since you to speak for Dell — owe me a product that works. You owe me service that serves. You owe me reliability and value. You are the ones holding me hostage; you have my thousands of dollars and I have your bad products. I not only have the right but the responsibility to tell others about my experiences with Dell.

But I’ll say again that I didn’t organize that mob. The mob organized itself; I merely provided the convenient town square on which to light those torches. This is how the internet works: It brings us together and we learn from each other.

You see, in the old days, you could screw one customer with one bad product or you could insult one customer with bad service. But no more. Now, when you deal with one customer, you deal with all customers.

That, ma’am, is the real public relations. That is dealing with your public as your customers.

And that is the real branding. Your brand is your reputation, your trust, your value. You don’t own your brand; your customers do.

But Chapel hates such talk. She says:

In business, “control” is a fiduciary responsibility. Stock is property. Management is paid to increase the value of shareholder property AND to act as custodians. It is a “duty.” Simple as this: this whole “ceding control” and “open borders” mentality, at the very least, threatens shareholder property. Hype aside, the downsides of your revolution are fairly predictable and surely greater than the yet-to-be-measured upsides. Imagine shareholder activist(s) sharing the podium fully with the CEO. That’s just plain silly. It will happen the same day the CEO decides to blog the annual meeting. NEVER!

Here she is mixing the roles of customer and stockholder. But nevermind. Let’s keep going:

Here, this is the linchpin to your whole argument. You grossly overestimate the value of the customer relationship. Excuse me, businesses don’t really want “relationships” with their customers. It’s too expensive, it’s too messy and the return is nominal at best. Not even the most prolific hooker wants a personal relationship. Our job is to anticipate needs/wants/desires and then present clients with something special. If I did my homework, I will be rewarded; if not, I will be punished. The money is on the dresser. End of transaction.

No. Business Week reported recently that the stocks of companies that have a reputation for building strong relationships with customers outperform those of the rest of the market. Your customers are your business, damnit. And businesses that don’t understand that — monopolies aside — will die miserable deaths.

But what you are proposing is actually more than an added burden of a personal relationship… it’s a platform that actually servers to organize the wackos. It gives them (you) a big microphone to express social retribution. You expect me to let you and your mud-booted-torch-bearing mob into my house?! If I run out of shotgun shells maybe.

What’s that empty clicking sound I hear? We may be wackos or worms but we have the money you want. Nya-nya-nya.

It’s amusing that Chapel calls all this communism. It’s the ultimate in capitalism. Capitalism is all about choice and we can choose not to give our money to companies that give us bad products or treat us badly or even that do not listen to what we want.

Chapel concludes:

Which brings me to how I, the stockholder and Michael Dell’s boss, would have responded to you, Edelman and friends, and your reaction to Dell’s new blog. I’d have ordered the thing shut down immediately. I’d fire the idiot who launched it in the first place. As you noted in your letter to Mr. Dell, he closed down one of his consumer forums and has a corporate policy of not talking to your customers on blogs. Michael’s smart. And he’s doing exactly what we pay him to do.

What we see here is not only the death of the old f-you company but also of their court jesters, the old-style flacks. Painful to watch, isn’t it?

: LATER: Scott Karp does an excellent job cutting through the crap and clouds to get to the point:

eff Jarvis and Amanda Chapel (aka Strumpette) are going at it over the Dell issue and in the process are stirring up such a heavy cloud of ideology that it’s hard to get your bearings. I thought it was worth trying to boil it down to some simpler, less ideologically-colored observations and lessons:

– Companies used to be able to get away with making crappy products and offering crappy services because they were able to mass market people into submission and because consumers didn’t have a way to make their unhappiness widely known.

– Thanks to the proliferation of content (both “professional” and “consumer-generated”) and content channels, mass media and thus mass marketing are now dead, so there is no longer an effective way to sell crappy products and services.

– Through blogs, video sharing, and other platforms for cheap content creation and distribution, individual consumers now have a powerful way to spread the word on crappy products and services on a large scale.

The lessons for companies:

1. Make better products and offer better services, or your business will likely suffer.
2. If you make mistakes, listen to your customers and fix the mistakes.

There it is a nutshell, without a single “ism.”

I think his second bullet, about teh lost of an effective way to sell crappy products and services, is important and new to this discussion.

The adman and the ice age

I was amazed at the retrograde thinking from WPP chief Martin Sorrell in a speech reported by the FT. But Richard Edelman, head of Edelman PR, was even more gobsmacked. He blogged:

Now Sir Martin Sorrell is seeking to turn back time to a fairyland that he and other advertising executives knew so well, when media was only old media, when top down marketing prospered, and when control of the message was paramount. Sorrell’s speech… is absolutely stunning in its recidivism.

Among Sorrell’s gems as reported by the FT:

“How do you deal with socialistic anarchists?” he asked, referring to Craigslist, the popular, free classified advertising site that has been threatening revenues at US city newspapers.

“The internet is the most socialistic force you’ve ever seen,” he added….

Well, actually, I think the internet is potentially the most capitalistic force yet invented, empowering the individual and the small business to control their fates and their value.

It seems that Sorrell is defining capitalism as buying up ever more companies, since that’s what he does. But that, I say, is not the essence of the free economy. The individualistic anarchy — the free marketplace — of the internet is much purer.

The internet is not a socialist collective. That’s not to say that we do not end up acting in collective ways. The internet enables societies to form as well, even when they don’t know it — that is, when the data about our activities shows, after the fact, that great minds think alike. Still, the wired are not pinkos.

Sorrell next whines about media giving away content for free:

“They have decided – ‘if I don’t eat my children, somebody else will’,” … adding that he disapproved of giving away content for free. “You should charge for it if the consumer values the content,” he said.

Well, ain’t that ironic? Here’s an ad guy staring incredible new advertising opportunities and availabilities in the face and he can’t see that this is the greatest gift his industry could ever have imagined: the end of scarcity, the introduction of endless competition for ad dollars, lower prices meeting greater effectiveness. Wake up, mate!

Next, Sorrell complains that companies are losing talent because young people don’t want to devote themselves to slow-moving heirarchies. How shall I put this, Sir: Well, duh?

And then, as Edelman says, Sorrell gets to his real bottom line. Says the FT:

Sir Martin said that while his agencies and Google were co-existing, the search giant could make life difficult for the advertising industry. “We are Google’s third-largest customer, but on the other hand they are talking about an electronic media buying and planning exchange,” he said referring to a service where advertisers can buy and plan their own media campaigns without going through agencies.

Says Edelman:

The dirty little secret for ad agencies (and hence their holding company owners) is that the real money these days is made in media planning and buying, a model jeopardized by Google and by the dispersion of media which disrupts advertising price points.

Here is the reality. The peer-to-peer revolution has happened. The genie is not going back into the bottle. Paul Saffo, technology futurist,who addressed Edelman’s management meeting on Tuesday morning in Washington, said,

“We are shifting from information to media. Media is information when it is embedded into our lives. The mass media order that came in the 50s with the advent of television is shifting to personal media. Mass media brought the world to us on a one way street. Now in the era of personal media, you must answer back, you must be engaged. There can be no bystanders in this revolution….” . . . .

So there you have it, Sir Martin’s fervent wish that the world returns to a walled garden of proprietary content, a well manicured lawn and beautifully tended flowers where marketers reach consumers through saturation advertising or direct mail or other one way push tactics versus the Saffo/Jarvis/Gillmor view of a chaotic world of continuous discussion, learning from the crowd and remixed media where companies must cede control to gain credibility. To me the choice is as clear as Berlin before the fall of the wall and the Berlin of today.

[Full disclosure: I was brought in to run a panel at the Edelman management meeting in Washington yesterday.]

: FRIDAY UPDATE: The FT sums up the reaction to old Sir Martin’s daydreaming.


I’m at the Syndicate conference in New York. Just did the unkeynote. Have no idea whether it worked. You tell me.

: The meatiest thing that came out of it was a lot of confusion and complaint about the state of tagging. It’s time for taggercon.

: Richard Edelman, who’s becoming known as the most clueful flack, says that they are getting rid of the “message triangle,” the old, accepted wisdom of media training that taught the speaker to keep coming back to three points no matter what the question is. He says the John Kerry failed in his debates because he was too-well trained; he kept coming back to those points. Too much training reduces credibility, he says.

He says that PR people in the future should be “chief listening officers.” Yes, but that should be the job of all execs, no?

: Thinking about it, I’d do the unkeynote differently, modeling it more on the unconference. It needs to start with a goal — a question to answer, a problem to solve, a debate to surface or settle, so people try to pull together to some end and the conversation isn’t random … and so the unkeynoter can bring the conversation back on course when it veers off (as this one did). Lesson learned.

Thank you for spinning

Thank You for Smoking finally hit the ‘plex and I loved it. It’s a commentary less on tobacco companies and even on politics than on news media and the dark art of spin that has overtaken it. Hilarious and highly recommended.

The last gasp of the power of the press

“We know how to destroy people,” Mr. Stern said, according to a person reading a transcript of the meeting. “It’s what we do. We do it without creating liability. That’s our specialty.”

That’s the kicker from today’s New York Times summary of the juicy-as-a-peach gossip scandal at the New York Post’s Page Six: Part-time boldfacer Jared Paul Stern was caught on tape allegedly shaking down billionaire investor Ronald W. Burkle for $100,000 down and $10,000 a month in return for snark-protection from The Post. The arch-rival New York Daily News, the duller tabloid, was overjoyed to break the scandal and today reported that the scam started when Burkle wrote to his friend Rupert Murdoch complaining about nasty coverage from Rupert’s paper. All this has caught the Post in an uncharacteristic pose: with tail between legs. And it has created metagossip about gossip for online Page-Six-wannabe

But I’ve been wondering what, if anything, is the greater meaning of this episode. And I’ll propose that it’s this: We are witnessing the last growl of the unbridled power of the press. Some in the press would like to think — but would not be stupid enough to brag — that they could “destroy people” for a living. And though they certainly can cause headaches for people in the spotlight, the odds of fatality go down by the day as there are more and more means of response. Now the targets can turn the tables on the journalists. I’ve seen reporters go ballistic when their emails to sources or transcripts of their interviews are published on blogs. Well, tough. What’s good for the goose is now grist for the gander. Accidental billionnaire Mark Cuban is the master of using his blog and email to show how the sausage is made and many more are following his example. Transparency works two ways.

At the same time, journalists are not the great gatekeepers they once were. Flacks are. In the old days, reporters had access to the press and that gave them power no subject could match. But when celebrities discovered the value of their faces to market media, they gained the upper hand. Now, you won’t hear a reporter or columnist threatening to ruin a star. Instead, you’ll hear the star’s publicist threatening to cut off a magazine or show if they don’t obey demands to grant a cover, approve a photo, or select a reporter.

And among big brands, new competitors abound across all media, shrinking the audience and thus the influence of any one outlet. So the Post threatens to destroy you. Well, then, there’s always the News… or a half dozen celebrity shows on broadcast TV… or two dozen celebrity shows on cable… or two thousand celebrity blogs online.

The days of the almighty gossip columnist are simply over — except nobody told hapless Jared Paul Stern that. And the same is true of the almighty journalist — just ask Judith Miller, formerly of The Times. Ditto the almighty columnist or editorialist — just ask the former readers who now write blogs instead.

The Times story would also try to lead you to believe that the age of the payola and favors in journalism is also over: “But gossip columns have always occupied a murky corner in the realm of journalistic standards, which traditionally preclude writers and editors from accepting gifts from those they cover.”

Not so quick. Oh, yes, the gossips always had richer Christmases. I remember seeing cases of booze going in and out of the offices of the big names in Chicago and San Francisco when I worked at papers there. When I (unsuccessfully) competed with one of them, hard-to-bear young show-off that I was, I tried to return a gallon of bourbon to the owner of a local restaurant and press hangout because that was my new-fangled policy, and he acted like I was insane and was trying to insult him. Oh, sure, reputable critics stopped taking junkets and journalists are supposed to refuse gifts. Yet there are other favors to be had: lunch or even better, access to a star or a politician or an event or best of all, a leak. But these favors are used now not to buy the journalist but, instead, to remind him who’s boss.