Kickstarter Campaigns And Twitter, A Quick Note.

Posted on June 24, 2014. Filed under: Creative Marketing, Minneapolis, Public Relations, Public relations practices, Social Media | Tags: , , , , |

On the matter of Twitter marketing: a young guy, self-identified as a high school student, followed me on Twitter. I followed him back. Whereupon he DMed me (thati is,sent me a Direct Message, for me eyes only) to say he would appreciate it “alot” if I checked out his Kickstarter campaign. To which he featured a link. Interested in his approach, I did check out his Kickstarter page. Turns out he is raising funds to support his fledgling customized coasters endeavor. His coasters are the type used for placing wet beverage containers on.

He set the Kickstarter fundraising bar low, at $500. He’d well surpassed that amount according to Kickstarter’s running count of funds raised.

Since I’m currently involved in setting up a Kickstarter campaign for a client, I was interested in his marketing approach via Twitter.

A DM With A Valid Call-To-Action

His DM to me stood out from the normal stuff you get when you follow someone on Twitter. That’s usually something like “Thanks for following me. I post regularly at XXX” or some such useless drivel.

I’ll have to keep this approach in mind as the deadline draws nearer for dropping the flag on my client’s Kickstarter campaign. Will in fact use it. Seems like a good use of social media to me. It’s an honest approach: “I followed you for a reason, here’s my reason: I want you to support my Kickstarter campaign. And I also want you to know about my products, which you might be interested in purchasing yourself.” What’s wrong with that? Nothing, so far as I can tell. Twitter’s set up for just this type of thing — communicating a call-to-action to strangers.

I’m always interested in learning more about using Twitter as a promotional device. What are your thoughts?

My one criticism of my young correspondent’s DM is grammatical in nature: mashing together “a lot” into “alot.” Not a pretty sight, that.


Doug Hovelson, author of this blog post, is an experienced media relations and public relations professional working out of Minneapolis. He’s helped dozens of companies – from Fortune 500 size to start-ups — grow their businesses with effective public relations programs. He can be reached at 612-722-5501 or at doughovelson AT MSN Dot COM.

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Pitching The Media, Channel Basics

Posted on April 3, 2014. Filed under: Media Commentary, Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary, Public Relations Pointers, Public relations practices, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Reporters even today, in this most post-modern of post-modern worlds to date, prefer to get their pitches from PR people under cover of email. Or, get this, they’ll even take a story idea by telephone — yes that strange little talking device that pre-dates even the VCR, microwave ovens and the use of the designated hitter in baseball — over getting hit up with an idea by, say, a Tweet.

Not to say that all reporters, news producers and the like eschew the social media avenues for pitch contacts. TV reporters and program producers seem to get an abundance of their story ideas from social media sources, according to the 2014 Vocus State of the Media Report. This makes sense, since television news is particularly keen on reaching out to viewers for news tips and just generally more open to engaging with viewers via social media.

Best Bet – Email!

Email emerges as the favorite medium for story pitching for a number of reasons. One, it’s private. Two, it’s fast and also because people pay more attention to what’s happening in the email streams than they do to what’s being beamed at them on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and the like. Three, it’s easier to keep track of pitches sent via email versus the social media circuits.

Keeping things private, Edward Snowden aside, is pretty much a given when working with the news media. Some news people — outside the aforementioned local TV news realm — are receptive to receiving tips via openly public media such as Twitter. But putting a story idea up on a public Twitter feed also cues competitors in to what a reporter may be doing. It’s no way to pitch an exclusive story, that’s for sure. Most reporters that I know and work with seem to work under the assumption that whatever story they’re doing is their own private business — and they just don’t want other people outside their organization to know what they’re working on until they’re ready to reveal it themselves. This makes email a better choice than a public Tweet, especially if you’re pitching a particular story angle to a particular reporter. Using the private DM channel on Twitter to contact a reporter is a better approach – assuming you have that option – but again, there’s the chance that the reporter isn’t checking the Twitter feedline that often.

By Any Means Possible

A nice option is to use Twitter as a story-pitch alerter – signaling the reporter that you’ve got a newsy idea to discuss, with a note that you’ve sent an email – if that’s the case or left a voice-mail message if that’s the case. Use it as another tool for getting a news person’s attention, in other words.

Reporters often use Facebook and LinkedIn as means of tracking down sources. LinkedIn has its advantages with its built-in InMail feature, which allows users to send private emails to others in the LinkedIn system.

I find Twitter to be of immense use as a media relations tool, less for direct pitching of stories than for staying informed about specific media outlets and reporters. In fact, I often find myself browsing through my list of people I’m following on Twitter to find reporters and media outlets that might be interested in stories I’m currently pitching. The list changes all the time, depending on what I’m working on.

Personal Contact Is Essential

But for pitching story ideas – when you’re the pitcher – the best approach still seems to be a combination of email and followup telephone contact, perhaps supplemented by contacts on Twitter and other social media outlets where the news person maintains a presence. The unsettling thing about email is that you’re never sure if your pitch has been seen by a reporter who probably gets bombarded by email all day long. (There are unobtrusive email tracking systems that you can use to see if your emails are being opened; they just let you know if and when someone’s clicked open your email. (I’m not real familiar with the technology, although I’m interested in hearing from anyone who does know how effective such systems are and so forth.)

And yet, there are no absolutes — whatever works best with individual reporters and news people is the best approach.

Active media relations is very challenging work. The digital age has made it all the more complicated and demanding. People who do media relations work well tend to live and breathe the media world. Many are former journalists — more of them now than say 10 years ago. Now I’m speaking of media relations as the practice of reaching out to the media to generate coverage for clients. This goes beyond the idea of simply pumping out a press release, throwing it out on a paid distribution service, and sitting back to see what happens. Many companies do this for quick-fix SEO – search engine optimization reasons. Nothing wrong with that. But if you’ve got a good story to tell, one that you believe should be of interest to the media, then it’s worth taking the time to personally pitch the story to the media as well. The keys to great results, as the Vocus study shows, are persistence and using the appropriate means of contact.

Good Stories Buried With The Bad

Let me finish with a quote from a reporter at a national news media outlets in Southern California, as identified in the Vocus report. The reporter responds to the question of whether she is open to receiving pitches via social media. Her response appears to indicate that she isn’t currently receiving many pitches via social media.

“Yes, I think. It is hard to say what the long-term effect of my social media experience will be if my Facebook instant message or Twitter Direct Message box becomes packed with pitches like my email box is now. I routinely miss important emails as it is now because they are buried within the stack of “story ideas.” I think a more elegant solution is ahead of us, I just don’t know what it is yet.” – See more at: VOCUS State of the Media Report.

She sums up the crux of the matter, from a media relations perspective, very well when she says that a lot of important emails get buried under the stack of story ideas in her email box. That’s where good media relations people earn their keep – by finding ways to call pitch-saturated reporters’ and editors’ attention to their clients’ good story ideas. (Because a good story is a terrible thing to waste, damn it!)

Hats off to VOCUS for doing the report.

Got a media relations story to share, commentary on my commentary, etc? I’d love to hear from you.

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Social media: love is not enough for most businesses to live on

Posted on February 6, 2014. Filed under: Public Relations, Public relations practices, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , |

Strikes me that one of the hardest things for companies to do is to do social media properly from the inside of the company.

So natural to use the time/digital space to talk about the company and its wonderful culture, accomplishments, etc. But is that of real interest to the readers companies most want to attract?

Employees and their families, company “friendlies” – the “choir”  — naturally like to see that. If that’s the target audience, fine.

Detached observers, such as prospects, probably want to see something else – content that makes them think, entertains them, inspires them, informs them, hits them where they live.

Content such as journalists, and outsiders such as PR agencies and freelancers, produce.

It’s great to be loved by those who know you. Even better for businesses to be loved by strangers who may want to do business with you.

More on the subject here, from an MIT study: If You Like It They May Not Come.

I like to help people get the most for their marketing and PR money. If you think you could use some help making your social media strategies more effective, maybe we should talk. I’m almost a certified outsider, journalist, agency guy and freelancer all in one. I’m at Doug Hovelson or simply respond to this post.

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Just-in-time Zen Moment For Holiday Shopper

Posted on December 20, 2013. Filed under: Public Relations, Retail, Society | Tags: , , , , , , |

Traffic lights

Traffic lights (Photo credit: Vít ‘tasuki’ Brunner)

A mobile holiday shopper in Los Angeles tweets this morning of driving around in the city for two hours in search of holiday gifts. She had a list of gifts that she wanted to buy, from the sounds of it.

None of the stores she visited in person had the merchandise in stock.

Then, a moment of digital satori arrived while she  paused at a traffic light. She grabbed her smart phone, jumped online and got her shopping done in the span of a Beverly Drive minute or two.

No telling what stores she patronized online, unless she covered that in a subsequent tweet unseen by me.

Obviously, she was making a statement about her shopping experience or lack thereof with the bricks-and-mortar retailers she attempted to buy from during her odyssey on wheels. The statement being, if I interpret correctly, that she was fed up with the whole thing – and probably not going to be doing so much drive-by shopping in the future.

Reading her tweet – which showed up as a random posting in my Twitter stream, sandwiched in between various notes of more earth-shaking news – made me think about an infographic I saw recently predicting continued massive growth in digital interactions of all kinds, including mobile shopping. If it — the sudden discovery that it’s easier, smarter and above all else more practical to shop online than to motor desperately and for hours on end from one outlet to another — can happen in-between traffic light stops in retail saturated LA, then this revolution in mobile retail is just beginning.

It occurs to me that our friendly LA tweeter could have phoned ahead to ask if the products she sought were in stock at the retailers she had on her radar. But she apparently didn’t.

One can only surmise why that was.

One guess is that making phone calls of that nature is kind of a pain in the ass. Maybe not as much of a pain in the ass as driving for hours in a fog of holiday desperation, but still…a pain. And who knows who or what is going to answer the phone when you call a business these days? Besides, what fun is that – calling up retailers to find out if they’ve got what you want in stock? Better to foray into the unknown, testing the limits of the physical world to meet one’s needs. And then, when all else fails, go online. Or maybe not. Maybe just sit at home in front of the computer for a bit buying stuff off of retail websites. But then, what fun is that? It’s kind of hard to feel the holiday spirit when you’re mixing it up with your keyboard and a monitor — no Christmas bells merrily jingling, no stimulation from the madding crowds and festive festooning of the stores themselves. No sense of awe, in short.

Ah well. it’s a dilemma. To mingle with the masses of the malls, or to commune in silent ecstasy with the online retailers.

But why choose? Slide that mobile device into your coat pocket while you’re heading out the door to hit the bricks — if the mall lets you down, you just might find yourself stopped before a long-winded red traffic light punching in online orders.

That would be me, behind you, leaning on the horn of my car as the traffic light turns from red to green.

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The Twitter 13; Paywalls In Newspaper Purgatory; Geofencing Unplugged

Posted on May 12, 2012. Filed under: Public Relations | Tags: , , , , , |

The Maginot Line.

The Maginot Line. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Twitter 13: just 13% of American adults subscribe to Twitter; yet these 13% are the “influencers” of America, according to news reports this week based on a study by the Pew Research Center. The Twitter 13 make for an outsize contribution on the direction of political campaigns, according to the Pew study.

That’s because Twitter people are such active communicators. They re-tweet, they post on Facebook, they gab among friends, they make friends on LinkedIn, they make speeches, teach classes, write news copy, etc. It’s the chattering class in full-bore action. Punditry in motion.

Paywalls As Newspapers’ Maginot Line?

National affairs blogger-at-large and master computer programmer Dave Winer argues that newspapers that put up paywalls are operating in desperation mode with an eye to using last century’s business model.

Plugging holes in a leaking roof, and not replacing the old and worn-out roof with a brand-new one incorporating new, space-age materials is what the newsies are doing, in other words.

But newspapers face a tough choice.

Their classified ad business is gone, gone, gone.

Their primary product is viewed with some disdain by the environmentally conscious (printed on dead tree stock, although that is a specious argument in my opinion – the newsprint industry is not denuding the world of irreplaceable old growth trees).

Reporters, also known as content producers, and others in the editorial ranks are high cost items. Justifiably so. They’re highly trained, highly skilled people who collectively produce the newspaper product. I want newspapers to succeed. Putting up paywalls is a defensive move. Another patch in the leaky roof of newspaperdom.

Retailers On The Geofence.

Geofencing came in for some scrutiny by the Wall Street Journal this week.

Neat, cool, convenient. Words that can be applied to geofencing — the idea of stores using technology to send text messages about in-store deals to the mobile devices of customers and consumers traveling within the bounds of an electronically defined marketing zone.

It’s akin to the electric fence that is supposed to keep pets from straying outside their owner-designated boundaries (or is it to keep other pets and critters from creeping into the yard, I’m uncertain about that and not going to research it right now).

You get the idea.

Retailers want to both lure passersby into their stores with impulse-oriented surprise offers beamed into their smartphones, and combat the insidious consumer practice of “showrooming.” Reviews of geofencing are mixed. Rugged outerwear maker North Face reports recruiting only 8,000 subscribers to its “Shopalert” geofencing service despite heavy promotion over the past two years.

Free Sells.

Giveaways are good for geofencing results, according to the Journal story.

No surprise there. Everybody likes a freebie, even the rich.

Offers too good to refuse work too.

Try blasting off a 30% off offer on a new Volkswagen in the next 30 minutes to people driving by within 10 miles of your business — and see how many people flock to your car dealership.

Interestingly enough, geofencing is also potentially stealing more revenue from newspapers.

Who needs to run static display advertising in a newspaper when they can target a sales message directly at prospective customers when they are within shopping distance of a store?

Perhaps there’s a way for newspapers and retailers to market together here – buy this item, earn points towards a month’s free online subscription to your newspaper of choice.

This technology is just in its infancy. There is so much more to come. One of the challenges of marketers is to learn how to use it without abusing it. Consumers can only take so much marketing. For proof, look at the backlash that rose up to swat down telemarketing — this after years of ever-more-ferocious use of the telephonic medium by marketers. Still, the idea of building and holding a captive audience is much to rich with potential to ignore.

Sources cited:

Twitter’s Big Impact On Political Campaigns

Newspapers Look In Rear View Mirror

Geofencing To The Retail Rescue?

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Flash: I Like Newspapers

Posted on March 28, 2011. Filed under: Media Commentary, Public Relations | Tags: , , , , |

Theodore Dreiser

Theodore Dreiser, image via Wikipedia

Fired up over healthy Twitter conversation about the newspaper business today. Speculated that if someone showed up at the daily newspaper’s offices with the biggest story since Watergate, they’d just think you were a lunatic and call the cops.

My point is that newspapers need to be more accessible to people, quit acting like big shot corporations that put up walls between themselves and their customers.

I acknowledged that I was a hopeless newspaper romantic and insinuated that somewhere Theodore Dreiser is weeping over the state of newspapers today.

I perhaps would have been a happier person living in the early years of the 20th century…when newspapers were in their heyday and people relied on them for all news. Then again, I’d be pushing up daisies by now, so maybe not.

There was something about those Dreiser-era newspapers, nevertheless.

Sure the newspapers of yore had their drawbacks.

Women reporters were mostly confined to the society pages, for one – that’s one tradition that died out and we’re better off for it. Reporters were ill-paid and hard-used, but they had access, something that your average lumberjack in northern Minnesota or urban streetcar operator could only dream about. Mostly they seemed to do a good job of dramatizing the everyday world that people lived in back then. People paid attention. Newspapers gave important writers like Dreiser, Stephen Crane (okay, 19th century) and Ernest Hemingway a way to make a living while getting their fictional careers established.

All in all, I’d still like to see newspapers survive.

Maybe Radiohead can save newspapers: Radiohead to publish newspaper.

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Shouting Fire In A Crowded Room

Posted on February 11, 2011. Filed under: Digital Dalliances, Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , |

Truman Capote, as photographed by Roger Higgin...

Truman Capote, photographed by Roger Higgins

Never shout “fire” in a crowded room – unless there actually is a fire, of course.

That’s an axiom we’ve all grown up with, and yet, it seems to be pretty much useless as an admonition in a digital world driven by fire-shouters.

Just today, as every online day, I’ve seen a Tweet or two alluding to some set of “essential” things I need to know about this, that and the other thing. All of which are aimed at making me feel as if I’m an inadequate marketer unless I quick grab hold of the mouse and click on over to the poster’s page of invaluable, nay business- and reputation-saving, tips. It’s all about garnering attention, certainly, and I can understand that – in the battle for share of the digital marketing mind, all is fair.

But I as a client, assuming I were a client, would not be much in a mood for getting much work done if I spent the livelong day chasing down every hot new lead purporting to clue me in on what’s missing in my marketing strategies.

The Chattering Seas…

Since I am both client and client-seeker, in my business life mind you, I am sorry to say that on certain days it just seems as if I’m adrift in a sea of mind-addling marketing teases. That’s the time I spend online, exposed to the Twitter medium, for example – a medium that I abuse, no question about it, and much to my chagrin. Because when you get right down to it, there is a lot of essentially non-essential information floating about hither and thither under the guise of essentiality.

Which is not to say it’s not good information. People dispense with an abundance of good information all the time via the social media platforms. But separating out what’s essential versus what’s only good, therein lies a challenge of epic proportions. But that’s only half the challenge, and indeed the lesser half as it stands. The better half of the challenge, the more Herculean aspect, is to know how to rein in one’s curiosity, it seems to me.

What Would Pliny Say?

Because the Internet is a world of wonders for those with a yen for the new. There’s always something new out of the Internet, to piggyback off the statement that Pliny the Elder made re: Africa some years back. The trick, it seems, for me, and perhaps a few others, is to try and figure out how to enjoy and even benefit from this world of endless inspiration, entertainment and edification without going crazy. I’m reminded of the comment once made about Truman Capote, how he in his years after writing In Cold Blood mostly abandoned the writing craft and became a magazine addict. Better than an opium addict chez Coleridge, perhaps, but still not highly conducive to the pursuit of personal productivity.

So there you have it. Resolved, here and now, to be a better, more conscientious consumer of digital goods.

How to do it? Perhaps I’ll write on that later on. Maybe even put together a series of essential tip sheets on how to make the most of your Internet experience.

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TweetDeck Goes Long For Twitter

Posted on January 31, 2011. Filed under: Public Relations, Social Media | Tags: , , , , |

Image representing TweetDeck as depicted in Cr...

Image via CrunchBase

New from TweetDeck, a new workaround – or an improvement, if you’re of the marketing persuasion – that allows Tweeters to break the 140-character tweet barrier on Twitter. (Say that tongue-twisting sentence three times in a row without stopping to breathe.)

Say what, you might say, is Twitter no longer Twitter without its minimalist approach to free speech?

I say, “Bring it on.” Much as I enjoy the art of crafting the pithy Twitter call-out, I have often found myself stretched to compress a thought into the standard Tweet tube.

TweetDeck’s new Deck.ly service lets you write as much as you like in Tweet mode. When you post to Twitter, the service provides a link to a TweetDeck page where your excess verbiage can be viewed all its glory.

It expands on the notion of Twitter as a micro-blogging platform, while maintaining the breezy brevity of Twitter itself. (Deck.ly based Tweets are truncated at 140-characters on Twitter itself.)

[DISCLAIMER] I’ve not used the Deck.ly service yet myself, but plan to shortly. Why write about it before using it? Sounds like an excellent addition to the Twitter arsenal, especially for those in the PR, marketing and journalism worlds. More to come once I’ve taken Deck.ly for a test spin. I’d certainly like to hear from anyone who’s used Deck.ly and seen some results from it.

[ADDENDUM, Feb. 1] More than one killer content expander service for Twitter, here’s another: http://twi.me Must be even more to come…

More information at: http://tinyurl.com/4vqujyp

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PR Prose: Once More, With Feeling

Posted on January 24, 2011. Filed under: Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary, Public relations practices | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

“The writer is always tricking the reader into listening to their dream.” Joan Didion
How good are you at getting readers to listen in on your business dreams?

Good writing is good PR and good marketing, whether it’s a 140-character Tweet, a  Facebook post, a press release, website copy, a blog, a brochure, a presentation…

Annoyance Avoidance

Advertising Age writer Bob Knorpp recently riffed about the often lamentable state of “PR prose,” as he termed it:

“I promote myself every bit as much as the worst spammy PR offender on Twitter…,” Knorpp wrote in his blog, The BeanCast. “Yet time and again, I’m specifically called out by people saying ‘You do it right.’ How so, he asked – and people said, “You aren’t as annoying.”

His secret: he looks for the interesting angle.

Shock alert!

He writes to be read, in other words.

Give ‘Em A Reason To Read

Not such an earth-shaking revelation. Really, it’s J-School 101 stuff, and yet — here it is, 2011, well into the information age, and what have we?  Knorpp, a respected writer, certainly one on the receiving end of untold number of fuzzily focused PR pitches and abysmally written press releases, needs to remind PR people that their first duty to their reader is to be interesting.

So, we’re not talking about fancy writing. We’re talking about writing that people actually want to read, writing that they can understand and absorb. Writing that will motivate them to do something that corresponds to your underlying reason for communicating with them in the first place. To visit your store or website, for example. Buy your book or call you to discuss a new project. Hire your firm to handle their business.

Write with care, write with the needs of the audience in mind. When in doubt, rewrite. Consult the AP Stylebook. Good writing – part of that all-important “content” equation — is always a good business investment.

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For Immediate Release: Death Of Press Release Disputed

Posted on January 18, 2011. Filed under: Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary | Tags: , , , , , |

Edward Bernays was the self-appointed Father o...

Edward Bernays, PR pioneer, press release pro

All this talk about the press release being dead, it’s just talk. And what is talk if not cheap?

Granted the press release, ever malleable, gets used in ways never imagined by early PR superheroes such as Edward Bernays or Ivy Lee.

It’s certainly true that a press release can be issued on Twitter, 140 characters, maybe less, directly on message and without further ado – such as links to backgrounders, bios, calendars, visuals, etc.

Reliable, Always In Demand

If so, so what? What is a press release but a tool, more like a pair of pliers or a screwdriver than an air pressure gauge – that is more of a generalist than a specialist – and so adaptable to whatever purpose is at hand.

The press release is just a handy device, really, something that can be created readily enough by a seasoned pro, easy to use, informative and always there when someone such as a media person asks, “What have you got in writing?”

A Social Media Workhorse

I don’t know what could be simpler than that. Sure, we’ll go ahead and add in all the social media bells and whistles, the links, the graphics, the interactive pieces, the embedded video, the boldly concise writing style, all the wizardry of the digital age. It’s still a press release, requiring some effort by someone, usually a PR person, to organize information in such a way as to communicate a message about something.

So no, I don’t think the press release is going away anytime soon. (Although we could all do with a lot less of the PR-speak that seeps into a lot of press releases, giving them a written-by-a-lobotomized-robot feel.)

Not all press releases are created equally. A simple new-hire release needs to be short and to the point. It’s going to get boiled down to a line or two in the trades anyway. But a new product release, or a release announcing a new study, survey, initiative, new use for an existing product, those are the kinds of releases that can use some creative flair and persuasive language.  Something out of the ordinary. News! Real news! Make the most of it. Write up a fireball of a press release.

Pay By The Press Release? If Only…

But as all of us in PR know, we don’t get paid by the press release. We get paid for results.

Maybe what the press release needs is its own advocacy campaign, sponsored by some organization such as The Society For The Preservation Of The Press Release (SPPR). Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? Maybe I’ll send out a press release asking for contributors to the cause.

[Note: the author owns no stock in any press release manufacturing organization other than his own PR agency at the time of this writing.]

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Sponsored Content Is Here To Stay

Posted on November 10, 2010. Filed under: Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary | Tags: , , , , , , |

Forbes

Image via Wikipedia

Will ForbesAdVoice Be The Model – PRSA Chief Says No

Old media lions sure don’t lack for chutzpah.

Case in point: Forbes magazine.

Forbes, it seems, is jumping into the online sponsored content game with both feet (or is that with both hands open and outstretched?).

The venerable business bi-weekly magazine is running an online section called “ForbesAdVoice”. Sponsors pay for the privilege (and what price, privilege?) of having their self-penned content nicely laid out on a page that bears a striking resemblance to the general editorial production of the magazine.

The copy is clearly labelled, at the top, as being a ForbesAdvoice section.

Even at first glance, it seems obvious this is purchased space. Nothing unusual about that, except that the section is so cleverly designed that it could, stress could, fool the unassuming reader into thinking it was real journalism they were looking at.

Unassuming Reader, Beware

Happily, my first encounter with the suspected offender was anything but unassuming. A column in Advertising Age, written by Public Relations Society of America Chairman and CEO Gary McCormick, had alerted me to the dangers ahead. McCormick had gone so far as to call this a “nefarious” endeavor.

I as a reader was on my guard, determined to not only spot the fraud but expose it on the spot, via my Twitter button if need be.

A Sheep In Wolf’s Clothing?

Imagine my surprise when I saw nothing more squalid than a banner ad from SAP advising me to run my business better (damned good idea there) and a by-lined column (AKA a blog post) from a SAP executive disputing the notion that business software was dead. Below that, links to more SAP-sponsored AdVoice bloggings, links to SAP web pages, and an assortment of links to various technology-related stories authored by real Forbes journalists.

McCormick makes an excellent point in his Ad Age piece about the need for “transparent PR.”

Sponsored Content: It’s A PR Thing

Sponsored content is one of the fastest growing segments in online marketing and communications, so it stands to reason that many PR people will be involved in writing and influencing such material. Publishers such as Forbes, have a responsibility to be up front with readers about what’s legitimate journalism and what’s a commercial product paid for by an outside source. Ultimately it’s in their best interest to be above-board with readers. That’s especially true with a publication like Forbes with its large following within the investment community, a group most susceptible to being both duped and able to spot the main chance.

People don’t like to feel like they’re being duped.

Nothing To Tweet About

But I’m not so worried that the readers of Forbes will be duped by the AdVoice section. Even though the labelling doesn’t scream that this is sponsored content, it’s still hard to miss. And you might expect Forbes readers to be a somewhat media savvy lot to begin with. (A telling point: only two readers had Tweeted the SAP-authored article when I visited the page on Wednesday morning, Nov. 10, which isn’t a lot of traction in the Twitterverse.)

What McCormick seems to be most worried about – and this is a very legitimate point – is what will happen If publishers start to push the envelope with even more cleverly disguised sponsored content features. If that happens – and given that it’s the Internet, it undoubtedly will happen – then I expect we could see some blowback in the form of more government regulation. That’s not a happy thought, however. Let’s hope the publishing world, especially those with reputable leanings, musters up the resolve to police itself.

In the meantime, I may go and try to dig up that cat-shaped mousey electronic device that Forbes dropped on me as a loyal subscriber sometime back in the early years of the dot-com age. I never did use it as it was intended, mostly because I couldn’t figure out what it was actually intended to be used for. I seem to recall putting it in a corner of the basement where in hopes of entertaining a few real mice.

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