Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The textscape we live in: the public realm

This weekend's New York Times has an insightful piece, "Treasuring Urban Oases," by architecture critic Michael Kimmelman focusing on Alex Garvin and his view of the "public realm."

Garvin (I confess to being a fan, and I worked for him for a while) has long been among the most public champions working today for both the concept and the reality / building of the public realm: the shared spaces (no matter who "owns them") that residents and transients of the city pass through in their daily lives (and "occupy," both in the traditional definition and in the new political perspective).

As champion of the public realm, Garvin has taught for many years at the Yale School of Architecture and has led or been associated with the development of some great public spaces throughout the country, both as a city official and more recently as a private consultant. He also has written some of the classic texts on the topic.

But as Kimmelman's piece unintentionally suggests, focus on the public realm seems almost quaintly old fashioned. The New York City zoning law is 50 years old and not much of a vibrant challenge to enlivening new spaces. The majority of successful spaces that Kimmelman notes are classic, authentically successful and admirable achievements, but hardly "new" (Grand Central Station, Rockefeller Center, Bryant Park). The most recent example cited is noteworthy: the pedestrian-ization of Times Square -- an experiment that seems to be working (and not yet in its final form). But Times Square is an improved re-purposing and adaptation of what was previously already a great space (for many obvious reasons).

Most talk about the public realm, by Kimmelman and others, seems to be elegaic. I appreciated the focus on Garvin in Kimmelman's article, but I wish Kimmelman had written more about the places in which the future of the public realm is being shaped -- places and situations where the stakes are high.

I think that the concept of "the public realm" just hasn't sunk in (or maybe, it has sunk in too much; not dangerous anymore). It's hard not to think of the public realm as streetscaping after the architectural concept is in place. In fact, the public realm is a kind of skeleton, not a skin, of a truly successful space. One almost yearns for a new belief in a feng-shui-ish sensibility. The public realm is actually a kind of spatial-social network -- a flow of energy that can be constrained or empowered -- into which the physical infrastructure gets fitted.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Trinity Wall Street, Churchyard


9/11 Memorial

Reflections on textscaping : runaway horses and Zuccotti Park

Since the clearance by New York City of the occupiers of Zuccotti Park earlier this week, the media has juxtaposed the commentariat with the protesters in both predictable and troubling ways (just one example from WNYC). At times like this, it is striking how "real" life, media frames, and literary/philosophical narratives echo each other. I just finished reading Yukio Mishima's Runaway Horses (1969), the second novel in his The Sea of Fertility tetraology. Mishima's young patriot/idealist, Isao Iinuma, seems to have been reincarnated (again) in the OWS zealous. Mishima's global investors and merchants are their generation's hedge fund managers. And the lawyer, Shigekuni Honda, and teacher, Shigeyuki Iinuma, are the classic survivors/compromisers -- just like those NPR commentators who feel the occupiers' pain but who also despair about the impracticality of it all, especially in light of their list of historical analogies.

I certainly hope that over the next few days (OWS announced it is moving on from occupying Zuccotti Park to occupying the subways and the City) things don't play out in real life New York City they way they played out in 1930s Tokyo for Mishima's characters. Like Isao and his co-conspirators, the OWS protesters do have more than a little of that runaway horses muscularity and dubious purposefulness.

Textscapes (like Runaway Horses for OWS protesters) give ephemeral and contingent experiences the resonance of significance, permanence, and meaning. Not literally, but suggestively, the reincarnation Mishima's characters discover. That's the work of writers (novelists, PR people): when we're doing our job well, we're writing meaning and transcendence to other times and places in to today's experience.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The textscape of crisis: revisited

In my post of October 28th, I wrote that "so many organizations have shown the remarkable ability to rehabilitate themselves (although the record isn't nearly so good for individual executives)." Tamar Lewin in The New York Times on November 13th applied that same thought to the recent situation at Penn State. We rarely see individuals come back from an epic fail, but it is uncanny how the imprint of individual malfeasance is not indelible for organizations. Corporations [organizations] really don't seem to be "people" -- they're much more resilient, malleable. And the public forgets and forgives organizations quicker than they do for real people. It should be some comfort for crisis communications managers.

Monday, November 14, 2011


Ulster County, New York


Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Reimagining our profession, PR for a complex world -- with an imperative assist from PR research

Richard Edelman's lecture last week at the Institute for PR's 50th Annual Distinguished Lecture and Awards Dinner at the Yale Club raised some interesting challenges for the practice of PR -- but, more importantly, demonstrated the role that PR research will have to play if those challenges to the PR practice are ever going to be met.

Many of us were relieved and reassured that we did not have to hear another PR agency leader telling us we live and work in a new digital world. The Edelman agency has authentically been an innovator in the use of digital media -- and they also, obviously, have kept good perspective on that fact that digital, for all its disruptive creativity and cool factor, is, after all, just a tactic and technology.

Edelman quite rightly reminded us that the biggest challenge for the practice of PR is keeping PR in the realm of strategy development and operational relevance. He noted, correctly, as far as I can see, that "PR has been at the far end of the continuum [compared to the category of consultants involved in analysis and strategic direction], often using creative we are handed and explaining policy that has been set [by others]."

This situation is not just a reflection on the relative low status of PR in many organizations; it is a well-documented problem of management decision-makers not having a clue about relationships, engagement, and audiences that are the expertise of thoughtful and effective PR people. Edelman's speech cites an array of examples from recent headlines of corporations who have suffered greatly -- including in their revenues and equity value -- because of faulty or non-existent PR forethought.

Edelman concludes by formulating four principles, which he calls the Nielsen Principles (named after Bill Nielsen of Carl Byoir and J&J) which, if pursued, could "make public engagement the standard for our industry." Principles 3 and 4 make sense ("Take full advantage of a democratized media" and "Attract and develop talent with broad skills"), but they fall under the category of Competence. His first two principles, however, ("Drive operating strategy" and "Practice radical transparency") fall under the category of Excellence -- and are more radical recommendations than the tone of Edelman's speech first suggests.

PR people will rarely be included in the team that drives operating strategy as long as PR practitioners build and shape their careers around being order-takers. PR will remain an order-taking function as long as its outcomes and impact cannot be expressed in a mission-critical value. The paucity and superficiality of the research conducted by most PR agencies and departments reveals how inadequate PR people can be to participate in driving operating strategy. Why would a CEO include a PR person in the management team, when the work product of PR is described as counted up clips, tweets, and likes? PR people are welcomed as operating strategic thinkers when they can document changed minds and new behaviors.

Likewise, Edelman's Nielsen Principle of practicing radical transparency presents a transformative dilemma for public relations and for business. He says "business must explain how and why decisions are made. This is not a strategic opportunity; it is a necessity." That assertion flies in the face of what many in business consider the basic concept of competitive advantage (in product, process, and culture). I think Edelman is right: lack of transparency (indirection or misrepresentation) may increasingly be a friction in the business process, a cost of doing business, as increasing numbers of consumers and stakeholders focus skeptical attention and express (accurately or unjustly) influential opinion through social media. But there certainly are many companies and many industries that are not about to begin practicing radical transparency in the near term.

Edelman just glancingly touched on the relevance for PR people: "We are the last line of defense for the truth, because our material is increasingly used as primary source data. We also must be scrupulous about policing our own behavior and even what we pass along in social media." This is the 21st century Catch 22 for PR people. The public, the market, customers increasingly demand that radical transparency. Organizations define transparency as a cost, and therefore, understandably, want it controlled and minimized.

Edelman seems to be just scratching the surface of what may really be a radical principle. If radical transparency is good for business, it becomes the role of PR person to describe and demonstrate the value -- the competitive value -- of that radical transparency that engages the audience. Which brings the conversation back to PR research.

PR research isn't done for the finance guys or the procurement department. PR research may, if Edelman is right, be the definitive means by which public relations does finally firmly and consistently establish itself among the strategic decision makers and the creators of value throughout the marketplace and society.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

So, if content is king, what do we do next?

The MediaPost blog Online SPIN has a post today by Cory Treffiletti of Catalyst S+F, "Content Beats Targeting -- 'Nuff Said" that is well worth the read and a second thought. "Content is king" is one of the verities of 21st C marketing. I also had to be impressed by Cory's reference to the science/art trope. (Cory writes, "It [marketing creative] is the art behind the science [data-generated 'production' -- analytics, targeting]. Science is certainly important, but science without art is useless." For some years, one of my professional commitments/enthusiasms has been the Institute for PR, which has had the mission: "Delivering the Science Beneath the Art of Public Relations.")

Cory's blog, however, raises a provocative issue beyond the verity.

In a sense, the science of marketing, including PR, mostly focuses on the "easy" stuff -- the analytics that are designed and designable through the digital analysis and logarithms that we didn't have ten years ago. (Is the "work" done and the wisdom gained only if we can build a dashboard?).

Myself, being more of an artist than a scientist, I'd never claim that marketing scientific method could isolate the characteristics of good creative in a predictive way. But there is so little effort in exploring the characteristics of good creative in even a sufficient way. In my experience, in the classroom (in front or in the seats) or in the PR agency, I've never had a creative session backgrounded with research that asserts: sufficient characteristics of a successful creative strategy for this kind of challenge are A, B, and C. (Some of that is implicit -- it's why there are always a few grey-haired types in the creative session; intuitively they have a feel for "what works." Like the recently popularized Steve Jobs persona, they know it when they see it. All that makes a nice Mad Men episode, but I'm sure glad my dentist doesn't operate on such fundamentals.)

Especially as we write, teach, and set examples for young professionals, we are limiting our potential and our ability to serve clients when we don't turn the scientific lens on content as well as on audience/production.

There is some good research on content analysis that has clear predictive (and proscriptive) implications: see David Michaelson and Toni Griffin's IPR research paper, "A New Model for Media Content Analysis." Also, take a look at the work of Marianne Gobeil at Leading Communicators for research-based content effectiveness. There is provocative research going on in neuromarketing (see the Neuromarketing blog for just some examples), but I don't know of much connecting-of-the-dots going on between neuroscience and day-to-day marketing practice. I find that the more sophisiticated folks working in infographics have some deeply useful insights about how content can be created, perceived, and internalized (for example, see the work of David McCandless and Tom Wujec's work on Visible Innovation; reflect on all the infographics-of-the-day in the media). Finally, the cultural studies folks, linguists and semioticians, text-analysts remain for the most part uninterested in marketing, unless they are providing a political critique of marketing's sins.

So we've settled it. Content is king. Let's assume this isn't the end, just the beginning of the discussion.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Too soon to tell: The textscape of crisis

On October 25, the Tri-State District of PRSA held a "mock trial tribunal" at the SUNY Global Center in New York City. With the perspective of more than a year after the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill, the topic of the event was the PR "successes . . . . achieved and mistakes . . . made" in order to help PR practitioners' future crisis communications work.

The panel was impressive and thoughtful -- much better than many comparable events: Paul (typically irascible) Holmes from The Holmes Report; Ben Cohen from Conclave Strategic Communications, Michael Schubert from Ruder Finn, David Kalson from Ricochet PR, and Dr. Kerry Sulkowicz of the Boswell Group. The audience was mostly young -- as typically found in these professional development/networking events.

The informal audience poll at the beginning of the evening was the most telling moment. The vast majority of the audience thought the oil spill was a PR disaster (surprise). That opinion, combined with much of the following discussion, revealed some striking things about PR people and the practice of PR.

1. For all the criticism communicators give to financial/corporate types about being short-term oriented, PR people are often staggeringly short-term and narrowly focused. (It's as if last night's headlines on Fox/MSNBC "matter.") The discussion revolved around the BP oil spill as a series of media relations blunders that provoked negative headlines. (All true. All blindingly obvious from which we learn almost nothing.) The audience and some of the panel (all PR people) fixated on those headlines from spring/summer 2010. As if the story ended there.

2. Most of the audience (again, all PR people) were not aware of: The Guardian (no friend to Big Energy) reported that same day that "BP profit rise marks turning point." On October 28th Marketwatch's "Sentiment on BP" indicates strongly Bullish from both Analysts and the Marketwatch Community (though slightly Bearish from Hulbert Interactive/investment newsletters). As panelist, Michael Schubert noted: just google BP and do a content analysis of the messages/memes that come up on the top pages.

3. When PR people reflect back on events such as the Deepwater Horizon/BP incident, you can barely breathe for the smugness in the room. Maybe it's an occupational hazard, but a PR person so often seems to work hardest when he is demonstrating that he is the smartest person in the room. You would've thought, last Tuesday night, that the 200 people in the room were communications geniuses who could never have been so shallow, unprofessional, and clueless as to have made any of the decisions made by the BP people at the time. The analysis and the audience (and rarely in such PR conclaves) did not approach the topic dispassionately and impersonally. If you can't approach the topic dispassionately and impersonally after 18 months of data/facts to observe and un-pressured reflection, then when can you?

It's hard to approach PR with research, analytical rigor if scoring points is a large part of the agenda (and I'm not just reflecting on one panel discussion). And how about considering what it must actually be like to walk that mile in somebody else's shoes? Not to give somebody else a break -- but not to give yourself too much of one.

Some organizations have an epic fail to which their public communications contribute. But so many organizations have shown the remarkable ability to rehabilitate themselves (although the record isn't nearly so good for individual executives). The facts -- 18 months out -- don't clearly argue that BP is down for the count. And I wouldn't count out Bank of America either, despite recent headlines. PR people should not underestimate the lasting power of big organizations and the malleability of public opinion (otherwise, who in the U.S. would buy a German or Japanese car or coffee grinder?).

Finally, PR researchers need to cut through "the PR" and look at enduring patterns of verifiable facts. We're in business for the long(-ish) term.

-- 2 footnotes

Kerry Sulkowicz from the Boswell Group provided one welcome piece of advice not routine in the crisis communications handbooks: Sometimes, don't immediately do or say anything. Stop and think/reflect. A crisis is not the time for Ready, Fire, Aim. (My words, not his.)

The event was put together by Emmanuel Tchividjian -- a sometimes lone (and all the more valued) voice for both common sense and ethical perspective in PR.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Heian Jingu Shrine, Kyoto.


Maya Lin's "Wave Field" at Storm King Art Center, Mountainville, New York.

Another kind of textscape: the architecture of consciousness

The New York Times architecture critic, Michael Kimmelman, has a news analysis piece today, "In Protest, the Power of Place." Kimmelman makes the point, convincingly, of the power of physical place both to create and nurture community and to become a powerful emblem of an idea. Zucotti Park may not be Tahrir Square (or the Bastille or the Parthenon) but it works as an icon that resonates with complex concepts and emotions and that will affect politics, policy, and maybe even history.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Seeing data

Zabisco Infographic's short video shows why infographics have taken off in the past year or so with PR and media.So much data available -- and graphic representation so much easier than it has ever been. PRNews recently summed up the topic for public relations.

What nobody is struggling with yet, as far as I know, is best practices and guidelines for marketers, PR people, and research companies for understanding and using the potential of infographics. There are as many ways to misrepresent as to communicate. It looks like another instance of the technology getting ahead of the thinking.

Some good observations on best practices in this SlideShare from Nicolas Garcia Belmonte: Principles of Analytical Design.

Still living in the analog world

Don Bartholomew's recent post on Metricsman, "Measurement 2020 and Other Fantasies," is a nice summary of where PR metrics and analytics are likely evolving. I'm glad, however, he's kept things in perspective. He points out that we still live mostly in the analog world and word of mouth is still more pervasive and important than word of mouse.

Making the case for sustainable streets

ASLA's The Dirt blog in a recent post summarizes the many efforts of NYC to improve quality of street life and sustainability. The post leads off with a nice "before" and "future" photo comparison of Times Square before the pedestrian-ization and the planned re-design by Snohetta.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Expect more from PR research: Don't just measure something -- do something

[This post also appears on the PR Cafe blog at CommPRO.biz, September 14. Join the discussion next Sunday - Tuesday, September 18-20, at the 9th Annual North American Summit on PR Measurement.]

Culture critic and USC Annenberg Fellow, Neal Gabler, wrote in The New York Times on August 15, 2011 in his opinion piece, “The Elusive Big Idea,” that “at a time when we know more than we have ever known, we think about it less.” Gabler’s analysis is disconcerting in many ways, and it should be no less a warning signal for PR.

For documenting the impact of PR work, we may be living in the best of times. The technologies for monitoring media and social media are increasingly improving and more economical. One good result of the digital revolution is a decreasing fear of the algorithm. A decade ago, PR people would confidently assert that you just can’t measure PR. Today, it is clear: you can.

Gabler’s insight also suggests we may be in the worst of PR times: with more information than we ever had before and thinking about it less. A current marketing truism asserts that the problem isn’t information, it’s getting attention. That characterization, however, does not think the situation through even half way. Kim Kardashian can command attention. The challenge is not attracting attention, it is getting people to do something. To buy, to vote, to believe. PR cannot be about getting attention; it has to be about changing the world.

If the goal is changing the world, not getting attention, then the value of public relations to organizations now and in the future is tied to the fate of its often neglected step-child, PR research. But maybe not for the reason you would, at first, suppose. Much depends on how PR research is positioned, and how PR practitioners and researchers approach their work. A lot is being written about, and discussed at conferences recently, relating to the impact and the ROI of PR. Important as ROI is, it is more important to reconsider the aspects of PR research that do not focus on information and attention and help us think more about the future.

Monitoring may be the hardest PR task. That is why it is so often done thoughtlessly and on the cheap. Like most things that are hard to do, we mostly don’t do them. Yet I would assert that the PR enterprise that does its monitoring thoughtlessly and on the cheap is providing its public relations services exactly the same way.

Many practitioners view monitoring as “watching” or “listening”; fair enough. But watching and listening are not the same as generating a list of links and maybe a set of charts off the dashboard. Watching and listening require the hard work of attentive analysis and review. (Think CIA intelligence agents and financial analysts.) Watching entails persistent, sustained analysis. Looking at outlier opinions to understand why they happened and if there is anything significant. If patterns of coverage and attention are not changing, why is that? Don’t you have an intended outcome for the PR program, and shouldn’t the coverage and attention be trending the way you want?

If your monitoring report suggests nothing new to you, then either you are really not thinking about what is monitored or the PR program is failing to have impact. Monitoring is the search for evidence and significance; it is not cutting and pasting this week’s Google Alerts. Every monitoring report should answer questions. How has the communications environment changed as a result of this PR initiative, or because of other external events? What are the newly presented opportunities or obstacles? How should the PR program change? (In Gabler’s perspective, it’s about ideas, not information.)

Monitoring should be done with options in mind. You should be monitoring with an intended intervention at the ready. When your share of voice compared to competitors’ slips below a certain threashold, have an action at hand to implement (or at least to recommend). A doctor does not monitor vital signs out of idle curiosity; vital signs are signals as to when there should be an intervention. The public relations researcher has to be fearless in the organization; the PR researcher has to be able, empowered, and courageous enough to sound an alarm when things are not going well. Thoughtful attention and analytical monitoring check for vital signs and provide context about the implications of any change. (Expect ideas, not just information.)

PR monitoring and research shouldn’t be archaeology. PR research should solve problems.
Many organizations today pay PR agencies or assign internal staff to monitor and measure PR programs to justify dollars spent in the past. That is an accounting function. It is not creative, intellectual, nor supportive of sustainable, future business. Several initiatives are underway in the PR profession today to address the issue of ROI (the Council of PR Firms has a task force looking at this issue and the AMEC conference last May identified ROI of PR as a priority). Within the year, productive clarifications about ROI of PR will be articulated – and let’s get that behind us as soon as possible. The PR industry needs to come to grips with the ROI question, but we have to get beyond it. The ROI of PR is a backward-facing enterprise; it will never help answer tomorrow’s questions.

Fox TV’s “Bones” series should be the favorite television show for anyone thinking about PR research. The series’ premise is that a team of archaeologists recruited out of a national historical and scientific institution (based on The Smithsonian) is tasked to work with the FBI to solve the murder of the week. The evidence-based, details-oriented, data-centric orientation of the scientists (brains) contribute at least as much to solving the murder mystery in each episode as does the derring-do of the FBI agent (brawn). The focus of the scientists’ work is never focused back on last week’s mystery to prove how well the previous mystery was solved at so little cost (no drama, no interest there). The scientists focus not on the past but on this week’s corpse (the bones) and reliably tease out through immense knowledge and persistent attention to the tiniest factual detail or the pattern of unanticipated evidence, the clue that solves the mystery. (This is the paradigm for worthwhile PR research.)

If your PR research team is not applying state-of-the-art technologies, evidence-based processes, and objectivity to solving communications problems, you probably do not really have a research team, or you are kidding yourself about the benefits of research you offer. Such PR operates in the worlds of information and attention and does not do the hard work of ideas required for changing the world.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Inner textscape: heartbeat drawing

For over fifteen years, the artist SASAKI, has been extending his Heartbeat Drawing project -- now over 300 art works, including installations and monumental. The "subject" is the heartbeat: "the proof of living in the 'now' and the bond 'shared' by most forms of life." No surprise that I learned about the Heartbeat Drawing project from Last Word / Nonomura Kaoru. SASAKI's project resonates Zen discipline, as Nonomura describes in Eat Sleep Sit (Shinchosha, 1996 and Kodansha International, 2008).

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Perspective from the High Line

To say that the High Line was made possible by Robert Hammond and Joshua David is not hyperbole. While the money -- lots of private and some public -- came from elsewhere, and while it can't be disputed that in some ways Robert and Josh were at the right place at the right time, still Robert and Josh provided the the vision, commitment, and rhetorical force that won over the funders, the regulatory agencies, the property owners, and the neighbors. The High Line was the right place, but Robert and Josh made the right time.

They had no relevant background or professional experience before they took on the creation of the High Line as their personal crusade. Not architects, or landscape designers, or urban developers, just two guys in the neighborhood with an idea and an extraordinary ambition and confidence -- and ability to tell the story of what the High Line could be. Telling that story over and over again, in person, at events, at presentations, at parties -- and telling the story to neighbors (some of which, admittedly, influential in the city and in New York City culture) and anyone else who would listen. They successfully sold their concept over and over again, and the powers that be trusted the administrative and creative process to Robert and David to make it happen. (You can't help but remember that Frederick Law Olmsted had never worked at or designed an urban park before he took on the concept and the creation of Central Park.)

The latest version of Robert's and Josh's story is their just-published history / memoir, High Line: The Inside Story of New York City's Park in the Sky (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2011). Earlier tonight, NPR's All Things Considered profiled Robert and Josh, the High Line, and book in a thoughtful and entertaining profile that won't hurt either the flow of High Line tourists or the book sales.

Like every other successful public space -- and all the great, historical ones including Central Park, the Tuileries Garden, Ueno Park -- the High Line brings together public and private assets and interests. The High Line makes the most cherished urban values physical, lived experience.

Easy as that is to observe, it is just as difficult to know what exactly to learn from the High Line case study. Though it shares common virtues with other successful urban spaces, it is hard to reduce the story to a template. We can identify the conceptual ingredients (the textscapes) within the physical space, but each of those spaces is a distinctive and irreplicable story.

Bigger picture: measuring what matters

Many of us who have interest in public relations measurement and evaluation have been talking in the past year about "measuring what matters." This comes from a realization that the new algorithms and monitoring technologies make it possible to identify, select, and count many actions and features of the communications ecosystem -- coupled with a second realization that just because you can count something doesn't mean that it has significance or meaning. (Baseball metaphor: you can count how many times the pitcher pitches the ball during the course of game. That count is meaningless without factoring in significance: how many of the pitches were strikes, balls, hits, etc.)

Hotelier Chip Conley spoke last year at a TED Talks about counting what's worthwhile. His frame of reference is much bigger than measurement and evaluation of communications, but his talk forces the same kind of re-consideration of purpose in the "measuring what matters" discussion.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Media monitoring is not about technology infrastructure

PR Newser on Tuesday morning had an odd guest post, "The Evolution of Media Monitoring," by Sean Morgan, CEO of Critical Media, which provides the Critical Mention monitoring product, a competitor, until last week, of VMS until VMS announced its bankruptcy filing. I do not know much about why VMS owners decided to fold. From the little I do know, I don't much credit Morgan's perspective. My own experience leads me to believe that Morgan is mostly wrong about his conclusion: "At the end of the day it all comes back to the fact that the only media monitoring companies that will survive are the ones whose core business is as a technology infrastructure company. Otherwise, as media continues to morph and change, more and more companies will be left behind."

The core business of a monitoring service (its value proposition) isn't technology infrastructure; as sophisticated as the technology must be, it's only incidental. The core business of a monitoring service has to be providing insights into the communications environment and answers to clients' questions. Thoughtful marketers and media planners acknowledge that "all the media" is just Noise. They want to know 1) about the Media that Matters (individually identified to the particular need and occasion) and 2) the pertinent memes being conveyed that have an effect on the value of the marketers' product/proposition.

In my work over the past several years, I have met with most of the media monitoring companies, large and small, emerging and established. The technology infrastructure, even as it grows more complex and rich, is also at the same time inclining toward commodity status; and the pressure is for costs to come down. The vast majority of my PR clients remain unimpressed by media monitoring technology (rightly or wrongly); they buy a company's product grudgingly (because the CMO or a procurement officer insists). I do not know of one client who holds on to their monitoring company and service out of loyalty to its technology infrastructure. To the small degree there is loyalty to monitoring companies, it is to those that provide insight, perspective, thought, and relevance to the client's purpose. The monitoring companies' AI, on its own, hasn't come near to providing that kind of relevance yet.

The shuttering of VMS may portend more shake-ups in the media/social media monitoring industry. But technology infrastructure will only be a supporting player in that shake-up. I'll go further -- monitoring itself is only a supporting player. The shake-up in the PR and the monitoring industry is here, because our clients are organizations that want to participate effectively in the marketplace of products and issues. They want the edge for success that emerges only from timely, original insights and distinctively articulated ideas. They don't want "counting up lots of media stuff," and at the end of the day they really don't care about dashboards or any other front- or back-end of the technology infrastructure. On top of it all, these clients, like all of us, want to pay as little as possible for technology.

Clients do, however, consistently pay a premium for insight and ideas. The media analytics companies that will survive will be the ones whose core business is finding pertinence and significance. As media evolves, companies that only have technology to sell will be left behind.

PR ROI revisited, not yet resolved

Professors Tom Watson of Bournemouth University and Ansgar Zerfass of the University of Leipzig have published in PRism the results of their study of how public relations practitioners understand and apply the term ROI / return on investment to public relations in the U.K. and Europe. The article, "Return on investment in public relations: A critique of concepts used by practitioners from communication and management sciences perspectives," provides a useful overview and literature review on the topic. But it also clearly demonstrates how far we are from applying the ROI concept in a meaningful way. There still is no consistent rigorous use of the term that an accountant, lawyer, or securities analyst could live with. As PR people continue to use the ROI language without definition, we only continue to look like we're just believing our own BS and not providing our clients and peers with a meaningful or transparent descriptive methodology. The Council of PR Firms has a task force grappling with the topic of ROI of public relations, and I hope we resolve some issues in the report we expect to issue later this year.

Genius of place: Frederick Law Olmsted

I've read a lot by and about Frederick Law Olmsted. I am among those who are continuously spellbound by his accomplishments and influence on the intellectual and physical spaces of America. Olmsted is one of the inspirations for this modest blog of mine about textscapes, "The spaces we inhabit and what we communicate within those spaces are the shape of our lives."

Most people know Olmsted primarily for Central Park -- and his role in conceiving and building the park is extraordinary. But those who have looked back at his full career can't help but be awed by the varied and far-ranging impact he had on ideas (abolitionism, social progress, egalitarianism, urban development, urban design, conservation, biophilia) and the physical environment (a small selection of his design and preservation projects include Central Park and Prospect Park in New York, the Stanford University campus, the Emerald Necklace of parks and the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Yosemite Falls, Niagra Falls, the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, Mount Royal park in Quebec, and the Capital Grounds in Washington, DC).

The latest biography, Genius of Place: the Life of Frederick Law Olmsted, Abolitionist, Conservationist, and Designer of Central Park, by Justin Martin (De Capo Press, 2011) is more forthright, but matter-of-fact, about Omsted the man than are some of the other more hagiographic biographies. Omsted was not always the most pleasant character, and didn't have a sunny disposition. He probably suffered from depression, and he didn't suffer fools gladly. Yet through it all he demonstrates uncommon resilience and a firm resolve to create (a very unsentimental) better world.

A convincing, and encouraging, theme of the book is the attitude, attributed to him by Martin, of carpe diem -- his belief that he and his generation lived in a unique if difficult era, but always with energetic confidence that improvement (self, society, the physical world we live in) is possible. And that improvement comes from nature first, but is achieved only through our respectful, informed, and determined stewardship. Olmsted did seem to believe in the genius in the place -- a genius that did not just emerge into pretty scenery, but into physical, emotional, and social health, sustainability and abundance in nature and ourselves.

Getting more bang for our bucks -- from the Monday Note blog

As I often find, Frederic Filloux at the Monday Note blog, has an insightful new post about the relationship between public funding for media and media penetration. Filloux summarizes a recent report by Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, a research fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford and Geert Linnebank, a former editor-in-chief at Reuters: Public Support for the Media: A Six-Country Overview of Direct and Indirect Subsidies.

I won’t re-cap the post: read it here. The point, however, that struck me was that the report confirms, across this six-country study, that internet growth does not necessarily decrease print press penetration: the data shows both strong online and print readership in both the U.K. and Finland. Research does not support an inevitable race-to-the-bottom in regards to media quality or quantity.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Summer in the city

Meadowport Arch, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY. August 28, 2011, morning after Tropical Storm Irene.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Wilderness Downtown

Video artist Chris Milk and programmer Aaron Koblin have created The Wilderness Downtown, a compelling (and fun) textscape for your home address that you can build yourself, then watch, then email to friends. One of a number of Chrome Experiments projects.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Monday, August 15, 2011

Idea deficiency syndrome

Neal Gabler's opinion article, "The Elusive Big Idea," in The New York Times on Sunday provided a stark insight into our information-rich and -- he asserts -- idea-poor era. Much of the discussion I read about our Internet- / digital-mediated environment focuses on the opposition of "information vs. attention." The deluge of information available to us presents the communicator with a challenge of unprecedented proportion: getting the audience's attention. But from Gabler's perspective, I think this "information vs. attention" discussion misses the whole point. The intellectual challenge, the communicator's challenge, is that we increasingly live in a "post-idea" world ("Post-idea refers to thinking that is no longer done, regardless of the style.") Gabler writes, " . . . at a time when we know more than we have ever known, we think about it less." It's hard to dismiss Gabler as a Luddite or Eeyore. Ideas are not the stuff that updates, tweets, talk radio, MSNBC/Fox, reality TV are made of. Those are all items. An idea requires time, re-consideration, testing, fullness.

On the other hand, I'm reading Sarah Bakewell's award-winning 2010 biography of Michel de Montaigne, How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer (Other Press, 2010). In middle age, Montaigne "retired" from public life (politics) to focus on his property, his family, and answering the question: how to live. His Essais grew to a 1,200+ page answer that remains compelling despite the unfamiliarity of his time and place for most of us. (The success of Bakewell's biography is, if there's any doubt, testimony to Montaigne's interest for us.) The Essais are a textscape of rare sensitivity and comprehensiveness that tempt us to hope that maybe we don't live in a post-idea world. Maybe we're just momentarily (in historical context) distracted.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Beautifully documented landscape projects

Architype Review has posted a special issue on landscape architecture with a large collection of dramatic photos of recent landscape/urban-scape projects around the world.

Dilemma: no global standards for social media metrics

Angie Jeffrey of VMS blogged on VMS Voice recently about the dilemma outlined in sessions at the AMEC conference in Lisbon back in June. With no global standards for social media analytics, each company offers its own "black box," and there is absolutely no comparability possible -- for the benefit of either CMOs or academics.

Developments in the science behind the art of public relations

Anyone following professional public relations issues in recent years has to be aware of the debate about PR measurement and evaluation. The Institute for Public Relations (IPR) has been carrying the torch for standards and best practices of PR measurement and evaluation for years. But corporations and agencies have never been able to rally around any common set of definitions or objectives. IPR and PRSA published a Business Case for Public Relations in 2009. This was followed by the adoption by a group of international PR and research associations of a set of principles for PR measurement and evaluation at the AMEC (International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication) annual conference in 2010 (the "Barcelona Principles"). While the Barcelona Principles got attention among the research geeks, acknowledgement and adoption has been slow among corporations and the larger PR agencies.

Today, the Worldcom Public Relations Group issued a press release officially adopting the Barcelona Principles for its network of 107 agencies worldwide. For the first time in the history of the practice of professional public relations, it looks like we are on the way towards real industry standards and a common vocabulary. With the rapid growth of social media analytics, these developments are both welcome and urgent. We will all be watching to see how the Worldcom agencies implement this new commitment and whether other industry leaders follow.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Summer in the city

Wake by Richard Serra, 2004, and Ginkgo biloba at the Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle

Monday, August 8, 2011

Interesting new cross-channel metric for marketing communications

The new company, crowdtap, @crowdtappers, has published on Scribd its new white paper on "Brand Influence," a new cross-channel marketing communications metric "developed specifically to allow marketers to understand the estimated output or impact of nearly any type of marketing activity." The new metric takes into consideration Intensity, Proximity, and Length of Exposure of a marketing communications act, compounded by Reach. Featured last week in Fast Company, crowdtap is boasting some new, very high profile customers and $7 million in Series A financing. We may be on the way to a new generation of marketing communications metrics that make sense in the social media world.

More textscapes

Poet Jeffrey Yang has edited Birds, Beasts, and Seas: Nature Poems (New Directions, 2011) a collection of textscapes (poems in which writers try to understand the destructive power of nature). Short video here from The News Hour and the Poetry Foundation.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Re-thought work

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson's book, Rework, provides an enormous relief from the predictable and never-ending business/entrepreneur-advice that seems designed only to make the reader feel how impossible it really is to succeed ("If you're reading this advice book, it's obvious you're not Mark Zuckerberg"). Fried and Hansson offer advice that sounds like they haven't read any of the other books out there (thank goodness). You may not agree with everything in the book, but you have to get the sense that the authors are relentlessly telling the truth (as they see it) and not striving to be nicely positioned among the management experts. From a public relations perspective, the book is so successful through the authenticity that is an attribute of any real, effective brand and communication.

Some of their advice: "ASAP is poison. Underdo the competition. Meetings are toxic. Fire the workaholics. Emulate drug dealers. Pick a fight. Planing is guessing. Inspiration is perishable."

Thursday, August 4, 2011

What drives choice and changes behavior?

The Institute for Public Relations Research & Education (IPR) is re-committing itself to encouraging and sponsoring research that will support the thoughtful and evidence-based practice of public relations. IPR's CEO, Frank Ovaitt, has posted the mandate he has from the IPR board to pursue an aggressive research agenda. See Frank's posts here, Part One and Part Two.

Visual identity case study: vagaries, successes, politics of visual cues shaping the environment (or sometimes, not)

New book by Paul Shaw, graphic designer and historian, about the history of signage and typography in the New York City subway system demonstrates the practical impact of good design on usability of the urban environment -- and the politics and entropy that confront visual identity systems.

Textscape from space, famine on the ground

Images from space can now identify and help authorities respond to famine conditions on the ground. ..."None of the many uses of Earth observing satellites is more vital — or has as much potential for prompting timely humanitarian intervention — as famine early warning," said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. "Remote sensing from space allows USGS scientists to provide rapid, accurate assessments of a broad range of environmental and agricultural conditions." From Brian Thomas' blog, Carbon Based Climate Change Adaptation.

Summer in the city

View from Brooklyn Bridge Park: The Woolworth Building, New York by Frank Gehry at 8 Spruce Street, and rhus typhina

Monday, July 25, 2011

Social media speeded relief during March earthquake and tsunami

I met with Kenui Hanaue at Dentsu PR in Tokyo last week. Dentsu is scheduled to publish in October 2011 a report on how citizens' use of social media was used to alert emergency relief providers of urgent needs and locations -- far faster and more effectively than government/official channels. Not a rap on government -- but a cogent case study of organic crisis communications in action that should inform corporate/government official crisis communications planning in the future.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Non-profit (ideological) news rooms

The Pew Research Center Project for Excellence in Journalism this week released a new report on the emergence of non-profit -- and ideologically focused -- newsrooms: "Assessing a New Landscape in Journalism." One interesting finding: the lower the transparency the stronger the ideological bias. The Classical Rhetoricians would not have approved -- what kind of Ethical Appeal can an argument have, when you don't know the source/reputation/identity of the person or organization making the argument?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Aggregator of textscapes

Visual.ly provides access to designers of infographics, an increasingly important art/science for communications. Infographics have enormous power for both compelling communication and persuasion, but also for deception. TED Talks provides two useful presentations, one from the Guardian's David McCandless and the other from designer, Tom Wujec.

Another textscape -- from Alain de Botton

". . . buildings are not simply visual objects without any connection to concepts which we can analyse and then evaluate. Buildings speak -- and on topics which can readily be discerned. They speak of democracy or aristocracy, openness or arrogance, welcome or threat, a sympathy for the future or a hankering for the past.
"Any object of design will give off an impression of the psychological and moral attitudes it supports. . . . works of design and architecture talk to us about . . . the kind of life that would most appropriately unfold within and around them. They tell us of certain moods that they seek to encourage and sustain in their inhabitants. . . . they hold out an invitation for us to be specific sorts of people. They speak of visions of happiness. . . . A feeling of beauty is a sign that we have come upon a material articulation of of certain of our ideas of a good life." Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness (Vintage, 2006)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Registration open for North American Summit on PR Measurement

The Institute for Public Relations and PRSA are co-sponsoring the 9th annual North American Measurement Summit this year, September 18-20 in Philadelphia. Day 1 is pre-conference workshops, a "PR measurement boot camp." Day 2 includes presentations from J&J, Yahoo!, and ConAgra. I will also be moderating a panel discussion exploring how companies and PR agencies are really implementing both output and outcome measurement platforms. Panelists from BurrellsLuce, Report International, VMS, WCG, and H&K. Day 3 presentations from Treasury Department and PwC.