Monday, July 15, 2013

Doubt. Discern. Decide.

Bronze monument of Kaibara Ekken (1630-1714)
at his gravesite in the Kinryu-Temple,
Fukuoka City, Japan
My newest enthusiasm -- and my newest discovery of the writer of textscapes -- is the early 18th century Japanese botanist and Neo-Confucianist philosopher, Kaibara Ekken (also known as Atsunobu and also occasionally referred to as the Aristotle of Japan.) Kaibara upholds a reformist Confucianism -- harking back (in his mind) to Confucius and Mencius rather than to the more familiar (in his era) Song Dynasty Confucians. Most strikingly, Kaibara argues that the full realization of Qi, or the material force of life, is never just through contemplation (inwardness), as he understands Taoism and Buddhism; for Kaibara, full realization of life must also come through engagement in public life and relationships of all kinds.

That public engagement requires a full, active, and aggressive examination of the world around us and all of our received knowledge.  He argues, in a sense, for the necessity to "make it (whatever -- your culture, your state, your religion) your own."  His great dictum / advice is that we must all "doubt, discern, and then decide."

The Preface to his The Record of Great Doubts is an inspiration.

"An earlier Confucian said, 'In learning it is regrettable if we do not have doubts. If we doubt there will be advancement and consequently we will learn. Beginning students can not understand every aspect of what they study. Accordingly, it is essential to have doubts in pursuing the way of learning. Indeed, doubts should be respected, for without them one won't make progress.' As Zhu Xi said, 'It is important for those who do not usually doubt to have doubts, and it is necessary for those who have doubts to resolve them.' He also noted that 'if our doubt is great, our progress will be significant; if our doubt is small, our progress will be insignificant. If we don't have doubts we won't progress.'

"In my humble opinion, after one studies one begins to doubt; after one doubts one starts to raise questions; after one questions one begins to reflect; and after one reflects one finally understands. The way of learning should follow this pattern. For example, the learning process can be compared to walking down a road. If we walk for a while without stopping, we will inevitably come to pa point where the road divides and we won't know which way to go. At this point we will have doubts and, being confused, we will be unable to proceed. Thus we just ask for directions. Yet if we don't walk on the path, how will we have doubts? Presumably, it is because we proceed along the road without stopping that we have doubts and questions Indeed, for this reason the ancient scholars combined the idea of learning and questioning.

"From the age of fourteen or fifteen, I set my mind on the learning of the sages. From my youth I have read the books of the Song Confucians and have devoted myself to their teachings. For a long time I took them as the greatest models. I have also had great doubts but, lacking sufficient understanding, I have not been able to dispel them, or did I have an enlightened teacher whom I could question. Now, as I have become older, I have even less ability to resolve my perplexities. For more than thirty years I have continued to ponder deeply, but it is my greatest regret that I still harbor doubts within myself and cannot fully comprehend certain teachings. For the present I will describe my misgivings here in the hope of being enlightened by more knowledgeable scholars. How can I possibly claim that my ideas alone are correct and defined my own views against those of scholars of earlier generations?"

Kaibara Atsunobu [Ekken]
Written at the vernal equinox, 1713
(He was eighty-four years old, about a year before his death.)

Translation from The Philosophy of Qi: The Record of Great Doubts, by Mary Evelyn Tucker (Columbia University Press, 2012).

Monday, July 8, 2013

Whither content marketing -- or how the latest battle between advertising and public relations is remaking how we all think about institutional communications

Advertising and PR agencies are just fated to fight each other, continually, for “territory” (a.k.a. clients’ money — a.k.a. a credible, exclusive claim to a communications tactic, channel, or technology). The battleground of the moment is, of course, content marketing (a.k.a. branded content, a.k.a. native advertising, etc.)

Such a plethora of a.k.a.’s suggests something inconclusive is in the works.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) announced June 6th that a little definition is in order. Susan Borst, IAB’s Director of Industry Initiatives, blogged about IAB’s new Native Advertising Task Force (over 50 member companies and over 60 individual participants) with its aim “to establish a framework for the native advertising space by putting forth a prospectus that clearly lays out today’s ‘native’ landscape.” And, IAB also kicked off a Content Marketing Task Force (with 25+ member companies and about the same number of individual participants). (Ad Week picked up on the ironies of IAB’s attempts “to bring some clarity to the Babel-like confusion” by noting that “it’s unclear if the latter [Content Marketing Task Force] is a cousin to or umbrella of the first [Native Advertising Task Force].” Cousin — umbrella — we can’t even get our metaphors on the same page.

By the way — no PR firms on either IAB task force.

IAB obviously hadn’t read Forrester Research’s Laura Ramos’ blog from May 6th: “The Role of PR in Content Marketing and Thought Leadership.” Ramos calls out the argument for PR to lead the content marketing charge: “. . . the advantages of PR to stimulate conversation, engage in two-way interactions, and develop interesting story lines that involve the intended audience are a natural fit for creating great marketing in this new digital world.” Ramos gives kudos to Richard Edelman’s evolving stance, most recently sketched out in his April 30th 6 A.M. blog post, “The New Look of Public Relations — A Dissenting View.” in which he discusses his agency’s intent to “expand the remit of the public relations business . . . to take full advantage of the inherent advantages of PR, which are credibility, speed, two-way interaction and continuous story creation.”

Edelman had set many PR people buzzing (some grumbling) earlier, back on January 7th, with his 6 A.M. blog post, “Paid Media — A Change of Heart,” in which he gingerly, but “unafraid,” embraced the brave new world of paid content: “I can assure you that Edelman will be at the bleeding edge of aiming for the right thing, unafraid of the wrong thing.” (The “right thing” he refers to there, that he is edge-bleeding towards, is “‘own-able’ insight” that is to be “co-produce[d] content with media companies.”) (PRNewser’s report made this sound a bit like going over to the Dark Side: “Edelman Switches Sides, Joins the ‘Paid Content’ Team.”)

Presumably, all this doesn’t mean PR is going the way of Buzzfeed. (Does it?) In the meantime, however, you’ll find the PR trades, the tip sheets, the boot camps and webinars are now providing non-stop, fully confident advice about how surely PR people can succeed wtth content marketing (I guess PR is ahead of the IAB after all, since advertising is only at the point of forming task forces?).

This is the point at which the blogger (wisely, humbly) must write, “Time will tell.” But a last reflection: this current battle between advertising and PR for ownership of content marketing is coalescing as a stand-off between Money/Scale vs. Righteousness (the much greater resources and infrastructure of advertising vs. the moral/authenticity claim of public relations). Was it ever so? Or is there some hint at a synthesis of a new institutional communications function that both demonstrably works and can have sustainable integrity?

This post was also
published at,
July 8, 2013

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The science beneath the art of communications -- update, Spring 2013

Paul Holmes’ May 3rd blog, “10 Ways to Design the PR Agency of the Future,” (recently summarized here at IPR Conversations by Alyssa Hubbell on June 26th) challenged PR to put “big data at the center” and to provide “insight to drive meaningful creativity.” The scope of that challenge is hard to overstate, and it is a challenge that is not yet being met by other parts of the marketing communications and communications research industries.

The Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) sponsored its annual Audience Measurement Conference, “Measuring the Unmeasured,” June 10-11, 2013 in New York for an upbeat crowd. Presentations were dominated by the major suppliers of the industry – Arbitron, comScore, GfK, Nielsen and a handful of others. Some distinguished, major advertisers (including AT&T, Bank of America, Diageo, Facebook) showcased impressive media research initiatives, and some of the leading media companies made appearances (ABC, NBC, Turner).

The explicit theme of the conference was that we live in a multi-platform world; consumer impact is never achieved through one channel, but by inputs (messages) from multiple sources or -- as it was most often characterized – screens (broadcast and cable TV, desktops, and mobile – both smartphones and tablets). The unspoken implicit perspective was that only screens (and occasionally radio) really matter anymore. That’s a fundamentally problematic unspoken proposition in a multi-channel, integrated communications ecosystem, but probably reflective of the roots and habits of the ARF members.

The confident vibe at the conference was probably rooted in the emerging sense from this ad research community that ‘We’ve got this under control.’ This same ARF conference in 2012 had for its theme, “The Measurement Crisis” – a far cry from the more self-assured theme, this year, of “Measuring the Unmeasured.”

You could hardly avoid the sense of social / digital / mobile media as having been tamed, after all, by the intrepid ad research community. ‘It took us some time. We were kind of shaken last year this time. But we marshaled our wits. We partnered with other companies – a bit of “united we stand; divided we fall.” We got a handle on this. We corralled all this pesky new consumer behavior and changing technologies into our methodological frameworks. We don’t have all the answers yet, but we pulled through.’ This cheekiness is well earned, as was particularly evident in some genuinely arresting case studies presented by ESPN, AT&T, Colgate-Palmolive, Facebook, and others.

But the ad research community doesn’t recognize how much more of the Unmeasured they haven’t measured yet. Most of the presentations – insightful and worthwhile – still see digital and social primarily for pushing out crafted, calculated messages, essentially as ad placement channels.

In this peculiarly screen-centric world of the ARF, there is surprisingly scant acknowledgement that those people at the receiving end of the screen sometimes talk back, and often talk to each other. It was ironic then that just a few days after the ARF conference, Ad Week published a report about data compiled by Zefr that provides a shockingly different perspective: “Of CoverGirl’s 251 million total views on YouTube, 249 million (or 99 percent) are from fan-created videos . . . 92 percent of Oreo’s views and 99 percent of Revlon’s views come from fan content.” It turns out that for many brands, and it seems increasingly more brands, creation and control of the brands are in the hands of the consumer: the screen-centric world turns out to work both directions after all.

By putting all that methodological sophistication and resources into a legacy sales channel (one-way communication) model, the ARF mindset is spending itself into decreasing relevance at least as fast, and much more expensively, as the PR industry. Accenture’s report on a global survey of 400+ CMOs at $1+ billion companies, “Turbulence for the CMO: Charting a Path for the Seamless Customer Experience” asserts that marketing communications budgets are increasing – by 20% or more annually – but that spend is not going to either the ad or the PR agencies. The CMOs in Accenture’s sample are spending on digital interaction and engagement: so, advertising, take heed – future dollars are not to be found in more efficient message delivery through this year’s most fashionable screen device.

And public relations, also take note: Accenture’s CMOs are rarely retaining PR agencies for any digital / social services. Less than 10% of any of these companies are working with PR agencies for social media monitoring, web analytics, customer insights, or even content management. PR agencies are clearly at the back of the pack behind specialized digital agencies and data-based marketing services, ad agencies, systems integrators (e.g., Infosys, IBM) and traditional management consultants (e.g., McKinsey).

It’s odd. Ad agencies, with lots of resources and methodological sophistication, are missing the same boat as are the PR agencies – which mostly do not have that kind of data and research fire power.

At the ARF conference I chatted with a friend, who should remain anonymous. The friend is the senior research and strategy executive at a global player ad agency, an agency every reader of this blog would know. My friend says, “This data, this comparative analysis of channels, is amazing – but it doesn’t tell me what to do! I can know how to coordinate my mobile, print, and TV buys for maximum reach – but I still don’t have any guidance about strategy or content.” Our conversation continued with long ruminations and how, practically, we should be putting big data at the center of our enterprise in order to provide the insights that drives meaningful creativity – and about the “science beneath the art of advertising and public relations.”

This post also appeared
July 2, 2013
on the Research Conversations blog
at the
Institute for Public Relations

A textscape writer of exquisite mind

William Dampier
For your summer reading, you cannot do better than A Pirate of Exquisite Mind: Explorer, Naturalist, and Buccaneer: The Life of William Dampier by Diana and Michael Preston (Berkeley Books, 2004).  Not because this biography is a great biography (I think it's not, for whatever my opinion is worth).  But William Dampier is an amazing historical figure ---

Just consider:

Dampier was one of the first (if not the first) "managers" (ship captains) of  enterprises that encircled the globe three times -- not for fun: but for profit, power, for understanding the world.  (Oops -- sorry, I forgot to mention -- in the 17th century.)  (This means: he was captain or had some other senior authority on expeditions of exploration / politics / theft (piracy) for a period of over 30 years.  From the time he was in his twenties into his sixties.). (Please note, AARP: this guy in the 17th century broke all records, etc., in his 20s and in his 60s.)

He was a naturalist whose observations and writings were internationally recognized as authoritative. Invented (of a sorts) the concepts of species and sub-species that was directly influential on Darwin (according to Darwin). He was a member of the Royal Society.

A hydrologist ( weather and currents and ) whose writings were consulted and authoritative two hundred years after his death.

Dampier was also, during some of his voyages, a pirate.  As well as an authorized and as a not-so-authorized agent of his government.  He was a speculator.  But he was an investor and speculator not sitting behind his Bloomberg terminal, but out there on the oceans chasing, literally the edge (not of the envelope, but) of the known world.

He was the author of several books which were massive best-sellers and influential (for the age). His writings were accepted as authoritative by the Royal Society and he is also widely acknowledged as a primary "source" for Daniel Defoe's and Jonathan Swift's fictions.

Dampier was brilliant, humane, and progressive  -- for his era, not racist, tolerant, open-minded regarding the peoples he encountered in South America, Asia, and Africa.  He was kind of an environmentalist.

He was also not a Saint: He was apparently sometimes a drunk (though he met a fairly high standard definition of a functioning alcoholic), personally abusive, and dictatorial to his staff/crew/fellow ship officers who weren't as smart as he was -- no tolerance at all for bad behavior (as he defined it).  He abandoned his wife (though conscientiously protected and provided for her financially) and did not father children (as far as we know).

Not a Royal or a Cambridge swell.  He went around the world --  not as a passenger -- but as an explorer and guide -- at a time when the concept of going around the world was almost unthinkable. He was a leading botanical / geographical / meteorological scientist of his time.  He was a best-selling author.  There is nothing like him today.

Dampier seems to be one of those guys like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin who are unbelievably talented and accomplished. But Dampier out-does Jefferson in Franklin in his physical bravado (he was, after all, for some years, literally a pirate of the Caribbean.)  He captains sailing expeditions (of trade, exploration/education, and piracy) at the farthest reaches of the known world (Jefferson and Franklin didn't get further than Paris -- not that I blame them.)

I don't want to say that William Dampier is a hero or model . . . but if you want to gain insight into the greatest experiences that humans can have (along with the Everest-climbers etc.) -- check out William Dampier.

Dampier's books were textscapes of the first order. He wrote about things that had never been written about before.  He wrote about things that advanced scientific knowledge for 200 years after his death. He wrote as he lived -- at the farthest boundaries of the known world: geographically, scientifically, personally/psychologically.  (It makes what I did over last weekend seem a little pale. . . . )