Monday, November 26, 2012

View from the Summit


The Institute for Public Relations Measurement Commission has been the organizer of the Measurement Summit each autumn for about the last decade. Throughout most of those years the Summit has been held at venues in and around Portsmouth, New Hampshire just as the autumn color emerges. The event has always benefited from that rich set of energies emergent from the end of summer (as we prepare to take life more seriously) and with the beginning of the school year (when optimism rebounds about the possibilities for acquiring new knowledge and making a better world).

The Measurement Summit, like the Measurement Commission itself, attracts a distinctive mix of professionals who care about excellence and effectiveness in the practice of public relations. Summit participants want not only to be successful practitioners of public relations, they also tend a bit to the high-minded (concerned about ethics and means vs. ends of PR) and to the pointy-headed (lots of hand-wringing over purpose, methodology, and standards).

Uniquely, the Measurement Summit attracts public relations professionals who work at corporations, government agencies, non-profits, and agencies; it also includes a wide variety of professional researchers – ranging from survey research experts, to market and communications channel analysts, to media monitoring and analysis experts, to qualitative researchers. The Summit also welcomes university professors from communications, marketing, and business fields. It is fair to say that from each of these categories, the leading organizations of our nation are represented – from Fortune 50 companies, the top PR agencies, highest-profile non-profit organizations, the most sophisticated and competitive providers of research services, and the highest-ranked universities in PR and communications.

Over the years the Measurement Commission members have structured the Summit agenda around two goals: 1) to provide a peers-among-peers networking and relationship-sustaining opportunity for the high-minded and pointy-headed in public relations and 2) to foment – or give a bit of push – to reform and best-practices movements.  The Measurement Commission members and Summit participants have been prominent players, alongside the PRSA, AMEC, Council of PR Firms, and other organizations, in an admirable array of initiatives:
  • In defining, establishing, and educating the PR profession about public relations terminology.
  • In advancing the symmetrical model of communications for the practice of public relations.
  • In making the business case for public relations.
  • In discrediting the use of AVEs (advertising value equivalencies) in evaluating the impact of PR.
  • In clarifying the concept of ROI (return on investment) as it is applied to PR and marketing services.
  • In developing workable market-mix models of communications analysis.
  • And – always – defining terms, stating positions, and promoting of authoritative, responsible, and ethical standards for the monitoring, measuring, and analysis of public relations, including the evolving varieties of social media.
On October 3 - 4, 2012 the Measurement Summit re-convened in “3.0” form. (1.0 had been the founding years: just getting the industry to pay serious attention to applying scientific method and management science within PR and building the personal relationships that became the Measurement Commission. The 2.0 era brought measurement and evaluation methods “to the masses,” particularly through fundamental educational sessions and PR research 101 / boot camp experiences.)

Measurement Summit 3.0 was intentionally a smaller meeting of the cognoscenti (geeks) that recalled the earliest meetings. The electrical power and Wi-Fi outage that morning the conference convened helped to focus everyone’s typically multitasking-fragmented-attention mode to the meeting.  The “where do we go from here” spirit informing all the topics considered ultimately gravitated on two imperatives.

1: United We Stand. Divided We Flounder. The quest for, and enforcement – through social pressure – of standards is not new to the Measurement Commission and the Summit. PR research professionals can legitimately cite real progress. But the pressure to deliver has gained new urgency. In the intensifying land-grab among various marketing and communications disciplines and services, the digitally and quantitatively sophisticated have the edge. Peter Drucker long ago preached that you cannot manage what you cannot measure; today we can add that you cannot get to the top of the communications status ladder in the CEO’s mind without an analytics and a metalanguage that that is transparent, insightful, and open to data inputs from other parts of the organization and readily transferrable and useful to enterprise-wide audit.

For young, new people entering public relations, we need to demand higher levels of numeracy and digital literacy. For mature and experienced practitioners, we just have to get over ourselves and face facts about our employers’ expectations for data-driven and methodologically consistent practice, the changed media environment, and consumer behavior.

Put another way, enough talk already about standards and methods. We (PR professionals) have got to do it (implement and live the standards) or resign ourselves to some other function in the market-mix, multichannel communications model to do it for us. Measurement Commission members in cooperation with lots of other good professionals have completed or are well on the way to establishing standards for public relations and social media research, in all the dimensions of conceptualizing problems, methods of application, and ethical behavior. An equal resolve and commitment now needs to be made to educating and encouraging the industry leaders to sign-on and walk-the-walk.

2. Brave New World.  With time, a bit of the awe and wonder about social media has subsided (it’s like Justin Bieber getting older: what really was all that fuss about?). It has now sunk in that most people are not on Twitter and among those who are on Twitter, more than one of them has bought 1,000 or more followers for $240 from an obliging offshore company. We now admit that probably a majority of Facebook “Likes” are frauds or meaningless (in terms of pointing toward a transaction or environmental change of any measurable kind). Yes, digital media and new communications technologies have changed the world – but just because Google Analytics is free and fairly easy to use does not mean that we have amazing new predictive insights about markets or that human nature has mutated.

Socialized communication, location marketing, mobile media and transactions (and all their attendant analytics) – and more – do not represent the sum of western civilization. They do represent a first wave of vastly more robust technologies mediating market behavior and social change. While public relations people – “on the ground” – are sometimes floundering just to establish a common currency of concepts and practice among themselves (see point 1, “United, We Stand, “ above), it is difficult to identify how and where PR people are on the playing field in the advance of communications technologies, neuroscience and cognitive research, and social and political change.

In short, the second, ultimately more important challenge for the public relations profession is upping our game. Public relations needs to link itself more strongly, thoughtfully and pragmatically, to basic research. Business is grounded in economics, medicine in biology, engineering in physics, and law in moral philosophy. In order to master – and not be a fawning instrument of -- the new technologies and their potentials, PR, the practice of building and sustaining public relationships, needs deeper grounding, more rigor, more humility, and more gravitas. A perfect mandate for the high-minded and pointy-headed participants of the IPR Measurement Summit.

The Measurement Summit 3.0 probably did not change the world. But taken as a whole, it was an encouraging expression of resolve to recommit the practice of public relations to authenticity, self-examination, and excellence. Those attending took the resolve of the Summit back to their work at General Motors, at Edelman PR, at Roper GfK, at SAS, at Boston University, and at a couple of dozen other trend leading organizations. When the leaves turn and the lobster shells harden again next fall, plan to join Summit 3.1 and hold us accountable for helping to keep public relations a high art and rigorous practice, the original inspiration for the Institute for Public Relations and Measurement Commission.

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This post also appears as the Research Conversations Blog at the Institute for PR web page.





Saturday, November 3, 2012

Textscape of lies

The past several months have presented us with a series of narratives seemingly designed to unsettle the most committed optimists about human nature and the most idealistic defenders of professional and public communications. To say it has been a season of lies is an understatement. I recount just some "highlights" of the current textscape of deceit, fabrication, guile, and distortion.

Comfortably Smug

Shashank Tripathi
For sheer perversity, you cannot beat the most recent example of the digitally mediated prevarications of Shashank Tripathi, a 29-year-old hedge fund analyst and now former political campaign manager for Christopher Wight, candidate for New York State's 12th Congressional District.

We really do not yet know why, but under the presumably safe anonymity of his Twitter handle, @ComfortablySmug, Tripathi was tweeting actively to his 6,500+ followers on Monday, October 29, a stream of tweets about the progress and effects on New York City of Superstorm Sandy. Many of the tweets were, apparently, accurate. Some, notably, were not. Intentionally, not.

One tweet: "BREAKING: Con Edison has begun shutting down all power in Manhattan."  Another: "BREAKING: Governor Cuomo is trapped in Manhattan. Has been taken to a secure shelter." According to gantdaily.com, "The account user [Tripathi] also noted that all major lines of the New York City subways had been flooded and would be shut down for at least a week. He also added to the chaotic reports that the New York Stock Exchange was under water, which was not true. Several media network[s], including CNN and the Weather Channel, picked up the NYSE flooding narration after being reported on the National Weather Service's website."

New York Magazine reported that "[Tripathi] tweeted, falsely, that Con Edison workers were trapped in a facility, that the floor of the New York Stock Exchange had flooded, and that ConEd would shut down power to all of Manhattan."

Buzzfeed contributor, Jack Stuef, sleuthed out Tripathi's identity and reported: "For years, he's been a prolific commenter at NYmag.com and a popular conservative presence on Twitter." A minor media firestorm of outrage (and embarrassment) that mainstream media believed and repeated Tripathi's un-fact-checked tweets has been a footnote to the Hurricane Sandy saga.

Now, just a few days later, Tripathi has resigned from candidate Wight's campaign (his Wall Street employment status, if continuing, has been speculated about but not confirmed). The Manhattan District Attorney is considering criminal charges against Tripathi. We have also learned from Buzzfeed and other sources, as New York Magazine's post reports, about earlier non-Sandy-related @ComfortablySmug posts about his sexual exploits and ungenerous assessment of his purported sex partner. Class act.

Do we lie, because we can? For just the rush of it? To be a part of the big story?


Confidently Establishment

Mitt Romney
New York Times columnist and blogger, Charles M. Blow, wrote on the Campaign Stops blog, November 1st, about how "This election may go down in history as the moment when truth and lies lost their honor and stigma, respectively. Mitt Romney has demonstrated an uncanny, unflinching willingness to say anything and everything to win this election. And that person, the unprincipled prince of untruths, is running roughly even with or slightly ahead of the president in the national polls. . . . the list of Romney's out-and-out lies (and yes, there is no other more polite word for them) is too long to recount."

Blow then goes on to dissect the notorious Romney claim that GM and Chrysler are shipping American jobs to China -- and to demonstrate that there is absolutely no factual basis to Romney's assertion and to recount the largely ignored indignant, and apparently factual, denials, not just from the Obama campaign, but from GM and Chrysler.

Blow is shocked, just shocked, that "In fact, Romney seems to have decided that the only things standing between him and the White House are stubborn facts. . . . Unfortunately, there is some evidence that facts and the people who check them don't carry the same weight that they once did."  Blow sees Romney's behavior as just an indicator of "the [political] right's disinformation machine . . . [that] is, explicitly and implicitly, making the argument that facts (science, math, evidence) are fungible and have been co-opted by liberal eggheads. They have declared war on facts in response to what they claim is a liberal war on faith."

In Blow's November 3rd Times column, "Is Romney Unraveling?" he writes: "Evidence continues to emerge that Romney is one of the most dishonest, duplicitous candidates to ever seek the presidency. He criticized Obama for telling then-President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia that he would have 'more flexibility' to deal with sensitive issues between the two countries after he won re-election. . . . However, according to a report on Friday in The New York Times, Romney's son Matt recently traveled to Russia and delivered a message to President Vladimir Putin. 'Mr. [Matt] Romney told a Russian known to be able to deliver messages to Mr. Putin that despite the campaign rhetoric, his father wants good relations if he becomes president.' . . . This is the kind of hypocrisy that just makes you shake your head in disbelief."

Blow has been on the trail of campaign lying since last summer. Back on August 31st, shortly after the Republican presidential nominating convention, Blow wrote a column in the Times, "The G.O.P. Fact Vacuum," which quotes Mediaite's Tommy Christoper commenting on PolitiFact's analysis: "'Mitt Romney's statements have been judged Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire 46 percent of the time, versus only 29 percent for President Obama. In the Pants on Fire category alone, Romney is more than four times as likely to suffer trouser immolation that the president. Nearly 1 in 10 statements by Romney earned flaming slacks, versus 1 out of every 50 for Obama."'

Charles Blow wrapped up his August 31st column asking, "If we allow our leaders to completely abandon any semblance of honesty, what do we have left? When rancid disinformation stands in the space where actual information should be, what will grow? And how can a party that incessantly repeats the mantra that our rights were granted by God repeatedly violate a basic tenet of almost every religion: truth-telling? . . . We deserve better and should demand better."

One might wonder with Charles Blow, why don't we?

Hip-ly Fraudulent. (Fraudulently Hip.)

Jonah Lehrer
The Icarian story of youthful, hipster, brilliant media-genic Jonah Lehrer has been probed and dissected for months. Jim Romenesko broke the story on June 19th charging that Lehrer had re-cycled for his NewYorker.com blog Lehrer's own previous work that had been published in The Wall Street Journal. In June there were a handful of additional similar revelations about Lehrer's self-plagiarizing, and then in July the information broke that Lehrer was not just re-cycling his own work; he had also been just making stuff up.

Julie Bosman in the Times Media Decoder blog last July 30th provided a summary, "Jonah Lehrer Resigns From The New Yorker After Making Up dylan Quotes for His Book." Bosman sketched out Lehrer's unraveling -- a resignation from The New Yorker after being charged (apparently accurately) with fabricating quotations for his most recent book -- this was after he had already been publicly shamed, multiple times, for plagiarizing himself on and offline.

A more damning audit of Lehrer's less than truthful production then appeared a month later, on August 31st, by Julie Moos on Poynter.org, "Wired severs ties with Jonah Lehrer after investigator finds 22 more examples of plagiaism, recycling," Poynter and other outlets published excerpts of an investigation commissioned by Wired magazine and conducted by NYU journalism professor and experienced science journalist, Charles Seife.  Seife himself wrote at Slate.com, "I examined 18 out of several hundred [of Lehrer's] postings [at Wired.com]; most were chosen by Wired.com editors as suspect, others were chosen by them randomly, and I selected a few additional blog posts to ensure that the sample wasn't entirely under control of Wired.com editors. In this sample, all but one piece revealed evidence of some journalist misdeed. . . . Lehrer has been recycling his material for years; he was doing it in 2008 and probably even earlier. It's amazing -- and disturbing -- that it took so long for anyone to notice."

Fast forward to November. New York magazine publishes a feature by Boris Kachka, "Proust Wasn't a Neuroscientist. Neither was Jonah Lehrer." Kacha rehearses the now-familiar timeline of the Lehrer fall. Kachka provides some biographical color, some of which suggests we should have sympathy for Lehrer, but much of which also rather bluntly portrays a despairing poseur unmasked: "a desperate Lehrer finally managed to reach Moynihan [Michael Moynihan, a freelance writer and Bob Dylan enthusiast, who had had suspicions and confirmed that Lehrer fabricated Dylan quotations for his best-selling book, Imagine]. Didn't he realize, Lehrer pleaded, that if Moynihan went forward, he would never write again -- would end up nothing more than a school-teacher? The story was published soon after. That afternoon, Lehrer announced through his publisher that he'd resigned from The New Yorker and would do everything he could to help correct the record. 'The lies,' he said, 'are over now.'"

Kachka's feature, however, moves beyond the narrative of the Lehrer's exposure to reflect on 1) the difficulty of writing about advanced scientific work in ways that can be understood by the general public (When does simplification become dumbing-down? When does dumbing-down become divorced from reality?) and 2) the temptation of big money and fame that accrues to popular purveyors of "the Insight" --"the dubious promised land of the convention hall, where the book, blog, TED talk, and article are merely delivery systems for a core commodity," the Insight, that can pay the author/celebrity very, very well.

When there is a market, a significant market, for "the Insight," need the Insight be true?

And then there is Lance.

Lance Armstrong

















It is hard to believe that human nature has changed so much. One can reasonably presume that people do not lie any more frequently today than our predecessors did. Boris Kachka's New York article about Jonah Lehrer cites behavioral economist Daniel Ariely's assertion that "We all cheat by a 'fudge factor' of roughly 15 percent, regardless of how likely we are to get caught; a few of us advance gradually to bigger and bigger fudges, often driven by social pressures; and it's only when our backs are up against the wall that we resort to brazen lies."

But "everybody lies" and "everybody has always lied" just does not satisfactorily explain away the bad taste left in our mouths after any discussion about Lance or Jonah or Mitt or Shashank. Somehow, we have the enduring suspicion that 21st century media has somehow fundamentally magnified the practice of deceit (kind of deception with special effects?). We reel between reactions -- the lies are just so preposterous as to be unbelievable; the lies are so common and unsurprising as to be banal.

Detail, Michelangelo's
Sistine Chapel ceiling,
the expulsion of Adam and Even
from the Garden of Eden
As I teach my college students the principles and best practices of public relations and marketing communications, I force them -- and myself -- to confront the textscape of lies as a high-risk and potentially catastrophically costly space. Lance, Jonah, Mitt, and Shashank -- just like the characters in the Garden of Eden story -- link the Lie to our Irreparable Loss, to our Self-inflicted Separations.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Listening to the laughscape


Sigmund Freud discusses in Civilization and Its Discontents how humans deflect pain (misery) through transient pleasures, through intoxications, and through laughter. Freud wouldn’t be at all surprised about the recently proliferated stand-up comedy material on the Internet today. Particularly with YouTube and podcasts, one can hear innumerable stand-up routines – classic and contemporary – reflecting on (laughing at) the miseries of experience.

We’ve long known about the roles that the jester plays at court in shaping perceptions of and by the king. But now, to an unprecedented extent, we have access to a plethora of jesters – who give us a laugh, but who also provide a textscape on our lives that is easily found and not easily dismissed.

The more we laugh, the more serious it all is. We have routine access to having ourselves and our condition and our societies be exposed for their inherent silliness in radio shows such as NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me! and the BBC’s The Now Show and The News Quiz.  Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, and others – along with the print stalwarts-sisters of Maureen Dowd and Gail Collins – are helping us laugh our way down the road to ruin. This is not an era for Milton Berle or vaudeville; we’re in a new Swiftian era of laughter as psychological exploration and social criticism.

Marc Maron
Nowhere has this prominence and pervasiveness of the laugh – as a strategy for dealing with the misery of our internal and external landscapes – so evident as in the relatively new medium of podcasts (and radio-podcast hybrids). A whole new sub-genre of talk show / cultural and social criticism / psychological-confessional analytics has emerged through very popular podcasts such as WTF with Marc Maron, The Nerdist with Chris Hardwick, and You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes.

Chris Hardwick
The premise of these, and others, is very similar. The interviewer/host is someone who has a career working in comedy (stand-up comedy, television and film writing, cartooning, acting, etc.); that host interviews (each week or so) someone else who also has a career in comedy. (The format is very Inside the Actors Studio, but the interviewer is far more participative, a strong, often self-mocking character.) Topics discussed range intentionally widely: the common premise (promise) is outrageousness or, at least, idiosyncrasy. (Maron’s WFT, or What the Fuck!?!? exploits the double meaning of “I can’t believe he/she said that!"  with “Who cares? I’m too jaded / sophisticated to be shaken.”  Hardwick’s Nerdist presumes the topics discussed are in the realm of passionately committed comedy fans – along with Comic-Con fans and an array of other pop culture enthusiasts.  Holmes’ You Made It Weird seeks to draw out at least three weird discoveries – exposures – of each guest interviewed.)

Pete Holmes
There is a big dose in these interviews/conversations of inside-baseball kinds discussion about performing and writing comedy, including some long pretty boring stretches of gossip about other people working in that business now and over the past twenty years. The compelling bits of the conversations are the relentlessly shameless, uninhibited talking (probing) about the sex lives, childhood and family traumas, divorces and break-ups, injustices, hostilities, jealousies, hurt feelings, grudges, illnesses, medications, substance abuse, and . . . . well, you get the picture. Surprisingly, at least to me, however, is how thoughtful, smart, and very often literate these discussions routinely are – while also being, well, funny.

After listening to a couple of dozen of these conversations, you realize they are about anxiety, craving, love, work, loneliness, and fear of death. And you’re not even surprised, or put off, when Dimitri Martin discusses The Varieties of Religious Experience or when Russell Brand discusses childhood obesity. It’s just what you come to expect. In between genuinely funny anecdotes about erotic misadventure and professional failure and resentment. This genre of podcast is a new shape for us discontents to laugh our way both toward and away from experience.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Humans -- part of Nature

At this late date, it is exasperating (and quaint?) that we still need to be reminded that "man [sic] is part of nature." That is the topic of a TEDxWDC presentation by landscape architect Jeff Lee recently reported by ASLA's The Dirt. With the urbanization trend unabated ("China alone will build 300 new cities the size of Chicago [by 2050]," I suppose we need to readjust just how we understand humans-in-nature. Not only are humans "part of nature," but urbanization is part of nature. Big Systems are natural -- whether they be populations of microscopic organisms in our gut, data on the Internet, or urban living networks in the 21st century. Big cities and urban life can be good for humanity; we just have to do it right. Lee's presentation is a good reminder, but I miss more emphasis on what could be a very valid, compelling celebration of the benefits that Big Systems can provide. Advocates for sustainability of all kinds have to stop being jeremiads and scolds. Let's hear more sentiment from Lee, and others, like his observation: "nature shows us the way to build and the way to live. With our awareness that we are part of nature and not over it, and with our ability to communicate and connect as never before, we can leave our grandchildren's children something of awe and inspiration."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

More biophilia evidence: How urban parks enhance your brain

The Atlantic Cities posted yesterday on "How Urban Parks Enhance Your Brain" -- Eric Jaffee, an Atlantic Cities blogger, reviews current research on the impact of nature walks vs. urban walks on memory and mood. In that relatively circumscribed set of experiences, the nature walks showed strong positive effects on subjects in a number of studies. Jaffee notes: " 'incorporating nearby nature into urban environments may counteract' some of the cognitive strains placed on the brain by the city, the authors write. Recent research has suggested economic and crime benefits of urban greenery; now advocates can legitimately add 'public health' to their list of arguments." Omsted would not have been surprised.

I've posted recently on various aspects of biophilia and public health: Bringing biophilia indoors, Richard Louv challenges the environmental establishment brand, Genius of place: Frederick Law Olmsted, and Keep walking.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Dan Barber understands textscape

Dan Barber, Chef / Restaurateur at Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns

Krista Tippett's American Public Media radio show and podcast, On Being, recently reprised her 2010 interview with Dan Barber, the chef and founder of restaurants Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Barber never explicitly discusses communications, as such, but he makes very nuanced, and insightful, observations about how the full experience of eating (like most other things in life) is multidimensional (and is a textscape) -- comprised of the setting, the people, the evocation of past experience, a confrontation with our expectations.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Visualize this

A quick follow up on my June 1 post. This scoop.it topic on data visualization is both full of smart inisght as well as data-driven eye candy.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Seeing is believing -- why PR people should take infographics more seriously


Infographics are cool. You probably get fed infographics every day on Facebook and Pinterest, you follow the Infographic of the Day on Fast Company, or you have at least browsed at or played around with Google Fusion Tables. Yet most PR people have not realized the immense challenge—to our analytical and visual competencies—that infographics have presented.

My own interest in infographics comes from their obvious capability (often compelling, but surely limited) to help solve the PR person’s dilemma with research (PR person’s dilemma: “I don’t really understand the full implications of the data. Neither does my audience. But I have to be a responsible advocate for my client/boss.” PR person’s solution: “A picture is worth a thousand words. And there’s a tsunami of use/interest in infographics—via readily available business graphics software, mobile, Pinterest, etc.”) I acknowledge that many of the purists in the PR/marketing research field just wish that the infographics fad would go away; don’t hold your breath.

An illuminating blog post by Crystalyn Stuart of the company 5Loom appeared May 16 at the Council of PR Firms blog, Firm Voice,  about “data storytelling,” which she defined as “(1) how we use data visualization to help us see and read the story social data tells, and (2) how we as social media experts package that story and make adjustments to campaigns.” 5Loom says they help you to bridge that gap between acquiring data, analyzing data, understanding data, and conveying accurate, responsible data-driven messages that can be understood by people (other than algorithm-writers and statisticians).

In a recent New York Internet Week presentation, a New York-Philadelphia-India-based business improvement software/services firm, Atidan, described itself as focusing “on delivering relevant, accurate and timely answers and insights that help businesses find new revenue, improve decision-making and solve business problems.” (They want to help you do stuff better.) For a PR person, Atidan’s most interesting offering is how they apply/integrate the Microsoft SharePoint solution. The feature called SharePoint Insights provides “business intelligence for everyone.”

The technology solution accesses all the data collected about the business and its markets through the ecommerce, websites, intranets, extranets; has analytic capabilities; and then provides a “decomposition tree” (to show “root cause analyses”) and dashboards. In theory, a CMO could use such a product—in which all communication is digitally mediated and analytically centralized—to have a coherent analytical perspective and a user-friendly, primarily infographic interface.

Along the same lines, IBM is offering an (integrated) enterprise marketing management platform, a product that helps an organization understand its “Generation C” (connected) customers focusing on 1) “visual exploration: . . . intuitive charts, graphs and other visual representations of customer behavior” and 2) “predictive analytics: predicts customer response based on past behavior and attributes.” The IBM Enterprise Marketing Managementpitch explicitly acknowledges the “burden” faced by “marketers with analytic chores.” The technology is said to relieve marketers “of burdensome data sorting in spreadsheets.”

I do not have hands-on knowledge of 5Loom’s Data Storytelling, or Microsoft’s SharePoint Insight, or IBM’s Enterprise Marketing Management solutions—but they are clearly all sensing the same need in the marketing management sector. The process has not changed (IBM calls it the “Enterprise Marketing Management loop . . . the integrated processes of Collect, Decide, Deliver and Manage.” Doesn’t that sound like the old PR dictum of research, plan, communicate and evaluate?). But the enormity of the inputs and sophistication on the technology side (the collect/research phase) has left too many marketers, and certainly too many quant-phobic PR people, in the dust. Hence infographics (data visualization, visual exploration, decomposition trees . . . pictures). And when Microsoft and IBM put their resources and their own marketing muscle behind providing pictures, it is hard to dismiss the surge in infographics as a fad.

The implications for public relations professionals are profound:

  • The issue of strategically linking research to PR is actually settled. Microsoft, IBM, and others take it for granted. Which means their business enterprise clients (the CMOs) are (or soon will be) taking it for granted, too. PR people might as well quit worrying so much about defining PR ROI – Microsoft, IBM, and the others are going to do it for us.
  • A PR department or PR agency that does not integrate with state-of-the-art data management and analysis (their own or with partners) has slipped back into the exclusive domain of smoke and mirrors (and all the worst stereotypes about PR). Beware to all clients and users of PR services: Do those PR people walk the walk about “research”? Be tough-minded when you ask that question. The ability to “do” social media is not the same as providing data-driven insight and evidence-based program evaluation.
  • The current, and the next, generation of PR professionals needs to be educated and informed about big data management and technologies. Implications abound for PR and marketing college and grad school curricula. You would not expect to get a business degree or MBA without a firm quantitative grounding; study of PR, marketing and communications is going to have join the other business disciplines in embracing data. Advice to young PR professionals: work on your quantitative chops.
  • Finally, however, there remains the Art, along with the Science, of public relations. As PR becomes a grown-up in the world of big data management, it also has to become much more sophisticated about visualization and design. The parameters of the human glance and the attention span are not likely to change, to adapt to big data. Effective, responsible, and ethical communicators are going to have to learn how—through evidence and tested processes—to create imagery/infographics that communicate accurately. Infographics are actually getting harder to do than ever. Infographics is not about pretty/arresting images any more than PR is about creativity.
  • Showing and telling—within the big data management environment—is the PR challenge of the decade.



This blog post was originally published
at CommPRO.biz on May 30, 2012

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Bringing biophilia indoors

Ever since I started writing the textscape blog a few years ago, one of the recurring concepts that has affected my thinking about "the textscape" is  biophilia. Whether I am thinking about textscape in its most abstract and allusive senses or whether I'm thinking about it in the prosaic plain of practicing public relations,  I can't get away from that core, underlying concept of biophilia: the instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems -- or as E. O. Wilson originally defined it, "the urge to affiliate with other forms of life."

I see biophilia as a kind of text that nature has written within us, into our genes. More than one writer in this tradition has referenced (I don't know if they believe it literally or metaphorically) humankind's "memory" of the savanna, our species' first home. I know my interests -- from John Muir and Frederick Law Olmsted, to E. O. Wilson and Richard Louv and David George Haskell, to Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau and Bruce Chatwin -- revolve around insights about how being in and moving through nature heals, consoles, calms, renews, nourishes. How it demonstrably affects work productivity, illness recovery, and mood. I see it in the work of my friends in outdoor or wilderness behavioral therapy. I see it in the work of landscape designers and architects in the creation of healing gardens.

I hadn't realized how much this line of thinking had also been embraced by the very people (architects) whose job would seem to be to create non-natural, human-designed environments. So I was surprised to read a post on The Dirt, the American Society of Landscape Architects' blog, that detailed how deeply and thoughtfully architects and landscape architects have been developing "biophilic design" -- intentional design features for inducing the biophilic response. The article, "Biophilic Building Design Held Back by Lack of Data," provides several links to sources, some of which were entirely new to me.

Biophilic building design is another way to see the textscape -- it is how nature, how our potential, generative and healing response to nature, can be written (by humans, intentionally patterned) into our functional environments.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

PR needs to grapple with the implications -- and power -- of Big Data and Images

I have a blog post published May 29th at CommPro.BIZ, "Seeing Is Believing -- Why PR People Should Take Infographics More Seriously."  I make two related arguments. I contest that PR people generally have fallen behind other marketing and analytical disciplines in their understanding and use of big data, both for understanding challenges and for constructing effective advocacy. At the same time, though in a radically different realm, PR fails to take seriously the use of infographics in responsible, effective, and ethical ways.

On the one hand, the data (numbers) scares us off, and on the other hand we don't take visualization (pictures)  seriously. All this while Microsoft (see Microsoft's SharePoint Insight), IBM Enterprise Marketing, and Booz Allen are developing products and services based on both big data and visualization.

The same day my blog post appears,three other items cross my desktop. First, the 10,000 Words blog posts  information about a new Master's degree program at University Rey Juan Carlos of Madrid focusing on "investigative reporting, data journalism and visualization."

Second, I get an email from an executive at Booz|Allen|Hamilton asking me to participate in a research project they are conducting "about the future of public relations research, measurement, and evaluation" in conjunction with the 2012 AMEC European Summit on Measurement.

Third, Fast Company reports on a new technology product, inArticle, an "analytic news visualizer" developed by an New York University graduate student, Jeremy Scott Diamond, that transforms many of the standard news and social media analytics into visualizations that are not only cool looking but actually communicate insight effectively.

All that adds up to technology, services, consulting, journalism, and academic heavyweights demonstrating mastery and intelligence in big data analysis, visualization -- and strategic communication.

If PR people and PR agencies expect to be relevant in the next decade -- in the context of being strategic players in marketing, advocacy, and policy decision-making (and not just being tacticians) -- the profession has to quit paying lip service to "research" as one of the four steps to PR and start making serious technology investments, hires of trained people, and partnerships with academics and enterprises that are already using big data and visualization to establish credibility and critical insight.

In the coming years, strategic communications businesses and careers are going to be more exciting and demanding than ever. Those businesses and careers, however, may not be in "public relations." Social media tactics will not kill off traditional public relations, but inadequate depth and expertise in digitally-based analysis and presentation may.

This blog post was
re-published at  the
Institute for Public Relations
 "Research Conversations"




Sunday, May 20, 2012

PR needs to fail more

Not long ago, I observed a project in which the PR agency was one of several supposedly equal partners on an assignment for a large, sophisticated, global corporation that marketed to consumers.  The assignment was to help that corporate client develop a long-term strategy for one of its most important product lines.

Among the non-corporate, external partners were a major international management consulting firm, the national/international advertising agency, a handful of local regional advertising agencies, and the PR agency. All of the partners had notable experience both with the corporate client and the particular product line under consideration and more broadly in the industry sector. No neophytes. No slackers.

Very shortly into the project, however, it became clear that the strategic and marketing services partners were not equal – and they were not equal because of the different value propositions that each had sold to the client.

The client turned to the management consulting firm literally for strategy: for a decision about how the corporation should deploy limited resources against their objective. The client turned to the advertising agencies for embodiment of the strategy into artifacts of communications (print and online ads, billboards, websites, events, etc.). The client turned to the PR agency for amplifying the reach and impact of the strategy embodied by the artifacts created by the ad agencies.

This example is not just about how public relations is often low down on the food chain of marketing services. It reveals another way in which the lack (or paucity) of research in public relations relegates the practice to supporting roles.

The management consulting firm did not offer a solution to the client before it was hired or before the project began. The consulting firm sold a process that encompassed the development of options for resource allocation, the testing of options through primary research and the application of pre-existing econometric models, the demonstrated transparent failure of some of those options, the refinement of one option, and then the presentation of the solution. Upfront, they sold a process of generativity, testing and failures, and conclusions with evidence.

The advertising agency sold the client a comparable process. The ad agency, working in tandem with the consulting firm, developed “creative” approaches for the strategic options tested and refined by the consulting firm. Multiple creative media approaches were developed, tested, and refined. The whole process was transparent, and, like with the consulting firm, the “failures” baked in to the process were assumed in advance and paid for by the client. The ad agencies did not up-front sell a solution; they sold a process – that transparently included obstacles, setbacks, and redirections – that would hopefully yield a solution.

The PR agency did not sell to the corporate client a process. The PR agency sold a toolbox (a very good toolbox, by the way; extremely competent; tools wielded by experienced, hard-working, driven, perfectionist people).  The PR firm did not sell to the client a methodology of testing options – either the strategic options, the creative options, or even the alternatives within its own toolbox. There was no method to demonstrate and show failure – and more importantly to show, with evidence, preferential advantages, in concept or actualization, of public relations options.

From one perspective, it might be argued that this state of affairs shows the great confidence of the corporation in what public relations can do. Given the right strategic direction, the PR toolbox will work. However, anyone who has worked in public relations for any length of time knows the corollary to that – if the organizational objective fails, it is common to blame, at least in part, the execution of the PR activities, the use of the PR toolbox (That PR agency just didn’t get it. They didn’t pitch it right. They weren’t persistent. They didn’t have good contacts. They misrepresented their toolbox). And what is a PR agency to do? Not much. Without a research-based process – open and transparent to client and all strategic partners – there is just no evidence that the PR people did the right things or did them well. With no opportunity to test and “fail” in the project development phase, if a failure comes, it will come when it is too late to do anything about it.

Jonah Lehrer
In Wired magazine's contributing editor, Jonah Lehrer’s recent book, Imagine: How Creativity Works (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), Lehrer provides a compelling look at the components of creativity, both in individuals and in organizations. He makes a convincing case for the role in creativity played by serendipity, chance occurrences, new experiences, changing frame of references. He further shows the equally important, complementary value of persistence, practice, critical thinking (and criticism), and revision. A common factor in both the serendipity aspect and the persistence aspect may be surprising: failure; waste.

The serendipitous, new, creative solution to a problem emerges from a miasma of innumerable serendipitous, creative false starts and dead ends. The driving force in practice, critical thinking, and revision is getting it wrong and needing to do it better. Failure, waste drives real creativity. Success emerges from failures. Value emerges from waste. Lehrer cites study after study documenting how a solution emerges amidst failure. Yes, ultimate failure is a bad thing; but incremental, intermediate failures are a good thing – a requirement, a strength, evidence for trust by others -- for trust in yourself.

The routine practice of public relations that does not integrate a genuine research dimension (testing of options; assessment and transparent acknowledgement of the relative shortcomings of various options; measurement and authentic evaluation of outcomes against objectives) leaves much of PR services without a value proposition. On a macro level, PR has no historical data, general rules, or standards from open scrutiny of experience. On a micro level, PR people have the seats of their pants.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

To change, challenge the textscape

Charles Duhigg
My previous two posts have touched on how the textscape is a system of our beliefs (via Michael
Schermer's The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies--How We construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths (Times Books, 2011)) about which we are mostly unconscious. David George Haskell, author of The Forest Unseen: A Year's Watch in Nature (Viking, 2012), asserts that the written word/world (the textscape) is an ecosystem. I also think that a further important insight comes from another best-seller: Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit: How We Do What We Do in Life and Business (Random House, 2012) convincingly portrays how much of our lived experience is possible, and has meaning, understood as the dense fabric of habits --an inner textscape-- that make day-to-day life possible.

He writes: "The ways we habitually think of our surroundings and ourselves create the worlds that each of us inhabit. 'There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys. How's the water?" the writer David Foster Wallace told a class of graduating college students in 2005. 'And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?" ' "

"Water is habits, the unthinking choices and invisible decisions that surround us every day--and which, just by looking at them, become visible again."

Duhigg's book shows exhaustive examples of how our inner textscapes, the "habits, the unthinking choices and invisible decisions that surround us every day" -- can be either productive or destructive. The textscape is the ecosystem, the writing of the world, that Haskell observes, but the textscape is also the internalization of all those writings of the world that calcify into our habits (for good or bad). Duhigg is optimistic: "If you believe you can change -- if you make it a habit -- the change becomes real. This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be. Once that choice occurs -- and becomes automatic -- it's not only real, it starts to seem inevitable, the thing, as [William] James wrote, that bears 'us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.' " For Duhigg, the textscape isn't traditional concept of Fate; through Duhigg's vision, we see the textscape as an internal inscription (habits, a fabric of behaviors) that all -- or maybe most of us -- can rewrite, when we choose.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Brand insights: beliefs come first, explanations follow

Michael Schermer
A recent Search Insider blog (May 10) by Gord Hotchkiss of Mediative, puts Michael Shermer's The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies--How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths (Times Books, 2011) into perspective for helping us understand how we apprehend brands. Shermer, as well as the kinds of neuroscience that Hotchkiss also cites, is pushing back the horizons of our understanding of the potential powers (and lack thereof) of argument / marketing. The immediacy of new communications research fields (such as Search) is making insightful use of neuroscience that has mostly, up till now, scared off (for cost or complexity reasons) the rhetoricians and marketers.

Michael Schermer has been unsentimental (to put it mildly) about how and why people believe. (He is also author of, among several other books, Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time (Holt, 2002).) But maybe some dispassionate neuroscience will help the marketing world accept more of the perspective offered by Schermer and his compatriots at The Skeptics Society.

More PR people (communicators, marketers) need  to  reject definitively the "blank slate" supposition about their audiences (which is so often the default position). Gord Hotchkiss's blog post gives a taste of the sophisticated analyses and insights that are now possible, and how brands, and how we use them, are more subtle, and differently powerful, than even we communications pros had generally acknowledged.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Textscape as ecosystem

David George Haskell
Author and biologist, David George Haskell, was recently interviewed on Wisconsin Public Radio's To the Best of our Knowledge (April 29) about his research and his recent book, The Forest Unseen:A Year's Watch in Nature (Viking, 2012). Haskell describes science as "an application of the poet's desire to see the world and to revel in that world." He articulates his own version of a textscape as he describes a "parallel" between the written word and a forest:

"I do think that there is a strong parallel between the written word and how forest ecosystems work. Ecosystems are all built on relationships. To me, the miracle of the written word is that it connects our consciousnesses. So when you read something, when I read something, that someone else has written, the deepest part of ourselves, the center of our consciousness, is connected to another person's consciousness. And thereby we grow and change. To me that's a very ecological process. So walking into a bookstore is like walking into a forest. You can hear all these voices coming from different sides all interacting and complicated in unpredictable ways."

I would just change "word" to "world" in the Haskell quotation: "There is a strong parallel between the written world [the textscape] and how forest ecosystems work. Ecosystems are built on relationships. . . . the miracle of the written world [textscape] is that it connects our consciousnesses."

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Richard Louv challenges the environmental establishment brand -- Where's the vision?


Landscape architecture month is off and running with a strong focus on landscape and its impact on public health and active living. The Horticultural Society of New York launched its observances with a screening last night of Olmsted and America's Urban Parks, a feature written by Rebecca Messner. (Messner's film has been shown on public television and, as of this writing, is available to watch in full on thirteen.org.) It's difficult to capture all Olmsted's accomplishments in a one-hour film, but Messner clearly focuses on the public -- and personal -- health impact of landscape design. She attributes Olmsted's childhood experiences in the countryside as critical in his intellectual development; she asserts how the experience of nature repeatedly aided his personal emotional health; she emphasizes his work with the U.S. Sanitary Commission; she contrasts him to Calvert Vaux, who is described as an artist, whereas Olmsted as a public servant. Messner certainly is in sync with the portrait provided a while ago by Professor Thomas Fisher on The Design Observer Group website, "Frederick Law Olmsted and the Campaign for Public Health."

The Olmsted celebration, however, often masks the public health message in the hagiography. The sincere appreciation of the Olmsted park and his urban planning can get in the way of a contemporary understanding of the issues. As amazing and admirable as Olmsted is, it's hard to get past the 19th century costumes. (Full disclosure: I'm not immune to Olmsted worship.)

So it was with relief that the name Olmsted did not even come up, one night later, at Richard Louv's lecture at Columbia University, sponsored by the Columbia Landscape Design Program. An echo of Olmsted did, however, resonate through one of Louv's concepts which clearly engaged the audience: the necessity for creating "de-central parks" throughout urban areas. The concept is that Central Park-type developments have been a great benefit to cities, and will continue to be. But the creation of such large central "natural" spaces is practically impossible in 21st century urban setting; the land on that scale just isn't there. "De-central parks" can still be created -- pocket parks, "button parks" (even smaller), roof gardens, green roofs, urban/vertical farms, green walls, schoolyard gardens, etc. With sufficient native plants, the de-central parks provide new arteries for the recovery of biodiversity and the air/water/experiential benefits of nature.

Richard Louv
Richard Louv, a journalist long acknowledged as a distinctive voice on environmental topics, and best known for his promotion of the concept of Nature Deficit Disorder in Last Child in the Woods and other books, spoke urgently to the youthful Columbia University audience about the fact that the average age of supporters of the Nature Conservancy is 65. He cited other statistics indicating declining interest in environmental topics by younger Americans --- and he provided this explanation: the concept of "sustainability" and others such as "carbon footprint" that are used routinely by the mainstream environmental groups, have become dispiriting. These concepts imply the that the best we can do is to "sustain" -- not get any worse than we already are; no hope for something better. He challenged the environmental movement with a major public relations fail (my characterization, not his) saying that the American environmental establishments fails to provide a counter view to all the dystopian visions of the future (the future as Mad Max or Hunger Games).

Louv recounts all the ways in which the experience of nature has been shown to have positive effects on children with attention deficit disorder, to promote creativity, to enhance physical and emotional healing in hospitals, etc. Yet the environmental movement has not successfully, in a compelling way, created a positive vision of a future. A positive vision of the future not just rescued from environmental degradation but enlivened, empowered, and enriched by new opportunities for all of us to experience a better life in nature.

Not one just to complain, Louv makes his own effort to create this new future vision of nature-enriched life with his newest book, The Nature Principle (2011, now in paperback). The book (according to his website) "shows us how tapping into the restorative powers of the natural world can boost mental acuity and creativity; promote health and wellness; build smarter and more sustainable businesses, communities, and economies and ultimate strengthen human bonds."

Richard Louv is a journalist, not the landscape designer-public servant that Olmsted was. Yet Louv's vision of a promising future in part made possible by landscape architecture is pure 21st century Olmstedian, without the nostalgia.

Friday, April 6, 2012

"I wouldn't want an information diet that depends on what's trending on Twitter." David Carr

David Carr
New York Times' The Media Equation columnist, David Carr, is interviewed at The Verge, April 3rd, about his evolving concern for wanting to know the source his information.

If Twitter -- or the internet for that matter -- provide us with "everything," do you really have a sense that you know what's "going on"? Even if you have and take the time to stand in front of the fire hose of reportage? On the other hand, are the six stories on the front page of the print New York Times really the most important events in the world on any given day (or reported in a timely way)?

Like so many Big Questions relating to new digital technologies, the genuine importance of the issues and their relation to authentically urgent events make us forget that the issues are not new. Maybe we shouldn't be so breathless about asking them considering they've been asked before. And answered (although maybe not definitively).

There's lots of talk about "curation" relating to web sources of information without fully appreciating what we can learn from the analogy to art curation. In the art world (at least over the past two centuries) not just anybody can be a curator. (Yes, anybody can pick what they personally like, but that's not being a curator: so note -- just because you use Pinterest, you're not really a curator).

A curator selects an object for a collection. But the curator has also been selected, previously, by one or more persons or committees, who in turn had been selected back in the day. It's a kind of lineage system. Before the person becomes a curator, he/she has passed some tests of extrinsic and intrinsic qualities and accomplishments. The curator's choice represents a historical current of choices -- which reflect identity, perspective, discrimination (good and bad senses of the word). The true curator is not self-appointed. The curator has been picked by a community, by a history.

A curator also selects for a community: he/she picks what others (other curators, other selectors/experts) have picked -- or would pick if they had the chance or the inside track on getting the object. A curator selects, first or presciently, what others would pick or would've liked to have picked. The curator has a record of selecting what other selectors have and would select. This is one reason why provenance is important in artworks: a piece can have more value simply because it had been in the collection of another respected selector/curator.

I'm with David Carr. I am at the point at which I do, all the more, look for real curators for news and on the web. I want some curators that are entirely qualitative, like the traditional museum curator (described above).These are curators that have been selected (I don't hesitate to use the term:) by The Culture. And I also want some (non-human) curators such as the algorithms that sift through the internet fire hose and identify content thematic points of coalescence.

I definitely do not want the fusillade of anonymously sponsored political information that the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision blessed. Real curation is going on there, but it is the curation of The Secret Source. There's generally a reason why something is secret, and that reason generally doesn't have my best interests at heart. (See Chair and CEO of PRSA, Gerard Corbett's, New York Times letter to the editor on March 30th.)

In Aristotle's Rhetoric he distinguishes, in any argument, the Logical, the Emotional, and the Ethical Appeals. The first is the appeal to the mind: rationality, facts, logic. The Emotional Appeal is just that: getting the audience to feel a certain way -- compassion, outrage, disgust, regret. The Ethical Appeal is the value to the argument that accrues from the reputation of the Source (the writer or speaker). It's reputation. It's the implicit validation of being a real curator.

As the Queen of Measurement, Katie Paine, put it some time ago, all tweets are not created equal.

Monday, April 2, 2012

PR at the cradle of humanity






The edge of the Great Rift Valley in Kenya is not a typical "environment" for PR, but it is encouraging to know that PR can make a small contribution to the social, political, and environmental challenges there.

Do. Say. Feel. See. Fenton's PR research approach


In the past few years, we in the public relations research business have seen (not to soon) an emerging consensus against "the black box" -- the (supposedly) proprietary monitoring/measuring/analytical product that is better than the other guy's. PR professionals increasingly demand transparency and plain English from research. This is a good thing; it's going to make public relations more scientific, more professional, more thoughtful -- and more honest.

But it doesn't change the fact that PR research is hard; "results" and "insights" aren't often easily apparent from the metric. It would be nice if there were a black box. So the research companies and some PR firms are understandably struggling with not only how to do sound research, but how to present and communicate the product of research so that it is accessible and usable.

I recently came across one approach, which if not perfect, is quite impressive. Fenton has e-published (free PDF) about their approach to social/traditional PR research, placing various metrics under the categories of "do, say, feel, see." (As Aristotle taught us, the first step in intellectual endeavor is to create useful, meaningful categories.) In those four analytical buckets, Fenton puts the array of social and traditional media metrics -- but having the individual metrics in those categories explicitly acknowledges what the metrics tell us. This is what people have seen. This is what they said. this is how they've felt. This is what they've done.

As might be expected from Fenton, the scheme is designed for a non-profit organization, but it's clearly applicable how it could be adapted for a commercial or government organization, with the "do" metrics being adapted to the situation.

Fenton's approach isn't a black box, but it delivers a top line simplicity (in the good sense of that word). The approach is also transparent -- in the sense that it is easy to understand and open about its methodologies.

I would be interested to learn -- and I would hope -- if such a "packaging" of PR research is making it easier for Fenton to sell (literally) PR research. Lack of transparency in PR research has been an obvious obstacle to selling PR research: a black box may make a company seem mysteriously intriguing, but it's hard to price mysteriously intriguing. A fully transparent method and presentation of PR research should sell -- at least I hope it does.