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