The Costa Call

Robert_Costa_by_Gage_Skidmore

Robert Costa
Source: Wikipedia
Credit: Gage Skidmore

Some things in life you can’t escape.  Last night, I celebrated another March birthday with a friend, whose birthday is a week later, at Le Diplomate restaurant on 14th Street in Washington. Both communication specialists, my friend and I talked about everything but politics, for awhile. When the subject came up, we both sort of shook our heads. My friend remarked that it was hard to believe some of the developments happening in politics and the media. If anyone had told us years ago the things happening now in the political landscape, we wouldn’t believe it. We both admitted to working consciously to resist the urge to keep up with the rapid-fire political news pushed to us via our cell phones. We knew such restraint was necessary to manage our own daily lives.

But the next day,  I succumbed to the pull of the cell phone’s news flash once again. I couldn’t help it. The Washington Post had released its journalist Robert Costa’s account of a cell phone call from our 45th President about his party’s replacement bill for the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

I have a number of opinions about that call, but I will keep the personal and political ones to myself. To stay true to the purpose of this blog, however, I feel compelled to focus on how the call speaks to the consequences of digital media in our modern political era.

Transparency: What is most revealing about the call from the 45th President of the United States to Acosta is that it gave the appearance of flouting established communications protocols for persons who hold the high office. The call also went to a journalist at a publication that has been vilified by the current Administration (and its supporters) as a bastion of the “elite liberal media.” The consequence is that it will undoubtedly spark an open discussion about whether the call was part of a planned communications strategy or an executive whim that diminished and devalued established executive branch communications protocols.

Truth: Never before have individuals been so challenged to sift for the truth, based on the myriad news sources that interweave news and opinion. A conscientious effort to decipher truth from fiction, “spin” and accusation presented by digital news media will require diligent objective reasoning abilities that diverse demographic and political groups may be increasingly challenged to adopt. This could have grave consequences for our democracy and others. On the flip side, the immediacy of journalism in the digital age gives rise to the facade of unfiltered reporting and the impression of veracity. Taking the Acosta call as a case in point, we tend to believe that the 45th President repeated three times that House Majority Leader Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) was not to “blame” for the replacement bill’s demise. We believe it, not just because a reporter said it, but we also believe it because it’s fresh off the phone call, with little filtering, we suppose. We also believe the Acosta account because his Wikipedia bio suggests that Acosta is least likely to put a liberal slant on his account of the phone conversation because he used to work for a conservative publication, The National Review. Never before has the phrase, “consider the source,” carried so much complexity in the business of information curation and dissemination.

Compromise: One and not done. On the surface, the 45th President’s call appears to be a simple admission that just one of his proposed campaign initiatives will not be achieved in the short term. That new opportunities for “wins” will abound in the months and weeks ahead. But a deeper analysis suggests that high-level communication via digital and social media has become the norm and carries a double-edged sword that may increasingly contribute to the calcification of political gridlock and the erosion of party allegiances. It seems that our digital media universe is not conducive to finding middle ground or fostering political discourse that might produce compromise leading to common-sense public policy.

I have been a purveyor of digital media technology for many years. I marvel at the positive changes it has brought humanity. But I am not alone in the belief that we must harness and guide it for political good. The Acosta call from “45” may be a blip on the digital political news radar, but if we fail to heed its warnings, we could be in a heck of a mess no matter who holds the reins of power. Like birthdays, we can’t escape technological advances, but we can determine how we manage them.

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Mobile Takes Center Stage in the Marketing Mix

Spring always seems to bring big change. With nature it’s obvious. But reviewing the season’s digital marketing buzz, I am getting a distinct feeling that Spring 2015 may be the watershed for mobile’s emergence as the priority marketing platform from this quarter forward. If so, what could that mean for marketers? A lot. Let’s consider four areas in which integrated marketing communications (IMC) consulting might be affected by mobile’s unequivocal kingpin status in the marketing mix.

Audience Measurement – Shifting media consumption habits have been slowly wreaking havoc with advertising, marketing and PR budgets for the past decade. In barely two years, we have seen preferred metrics change from “impressions” to “estimated media values” for PR and from “likes” and Klout scores to “click-through rates” for social media and mobile advertising. Remember when Nielsen’s diary method for measuring audience types was used to spend millions in ad campaigns? No more. The folks stroking checks for their products and services want more data, less conjecture. The check writers–who should now probably be called “revenue enablers”–can get more credible data, thanks to mobile. Mobile media analytics providers–such as Google Mobile Analytics and Mixpanel–can measure the potential customer’s behavior, buying habits, search habits and geographic locations in real time. Other mobile metrics providers can even tell you if a mobile device user is walking, seated or slightly reclined when viewing content. These new mobile audience “profiling” tools mean more homework for marketers, unless they want to present a campaign without the answers to Big Data questions that likely will be asked in a future presentation. After all, information is not just power in the digital age, it’s pervasive.

Reporting – While related to measurement, reporting about an IMC campaign that rests heavily on mobile engagement can produce spotty results over the course of the campaign. As a result, IMC crafters need to practice the art of managing expectations and the routine of educating potential and current clients. Everyone generally knows that attention spans of mobile users are shorter, but it’s critical for marketers to now educate clients and potential clients that in a mobile environment any event or Twitter trend–an earthquake in Nepal or a local shooting–may skew mobile engagement by a targeted audience segment at any given time. Preparing the potential client for these blips in engagement will be key for   cross-marketing in the mobile era.

Multichannel Balance – Clearly, the transition to mobile screen dominance dictates that multichannel campaigns must be carefully crafted to build a client’s mobile contact databases and directly and regularly provide mobile content. Google’s change in ranking websites that are mobile-friendly also will create the need for a stronger campaign emphasis on search and mobile ad buys. The Mobile Marketing Association has a new study [Cross-Marketing Effectiveness] making this case and caps a roadshow about it in Dallas later this month.

Content Creation – For the mobile consumer, content must be succinct and readable in small doses. While this is the current trend of content delivery, mobile screen dominance will force content creators to find creative ways to produce even more visual elements for sharing top-line information. The trend toward short online video content is yet another case in point. Innovators in the field of content management on the mobile platform, like Aussie SaaS start-up Mobit, will be well-positioned to take advantage of the mobile platform shift in marketing.

As an observer of media and marketing, I am giddy about the realization of mobile’s dominance in the marketing mix after so many years of forecasting. But as a practitioner, I am sobered by the work that lies ahead to re-calibrate mobile-dominated IMC for maximum efficacy.

President Obama with Teacher of the Year

Teacher of the Year, 2014

Today’s blog was supposed to be about my favorite teacher. But I quickly recognized I had more than one. Then I read about the attrition rate of U.S. businesses, thanks to Christopher Ingraham’s Washington Post blog yesterday. So I decided to provide some unsolicited advice to new and current teachers, based upon the Brookings Institution’s latest report.  The report shows that new businesses are failing faster than they are starting. While the BI’s researchers are working on the reasons for this trend, teachers may benefit from pondering the report’s consequences for their current and future students. Here are several possible repercussions of the study’s findings that teachers might help students better prepare for:

1.  Racial and geographic economies will proliferate.   Future workers will find they will be relegated to either industries or services in which their racial and geographic peers predominate. That simply means that the flat-lining of jobs growth will result in fewer opportunities for minorities to break out of traditional employment patterns. Affirmative action aside, it is human nature to hire and promote more of those who look like the boss.  Minorities who dominate particular industries will continue to do so, unless so-called disruptive economics introduces more diversity. Teachers should continue to teach students to be tolerant of differences so they have a better chance to benefit from the global economy.

2.  Technological advances will shrink employment opportunities. Competition for fewer jobs will also mean that students who develop both social, math, and technological skills will fare better in the future. The debate about teaching to standardized tests and teaching students to think critically should be a moot point, based upon the study.  Both are needed. Clearly, future workers must learn early how to practice creative economics, using problem-solving and basic accounting.

3.  Research skills will become as important as social skills.   Google’s search engine makes some of us think research is like slicing a piece of cake. But with an ever-shrinking jobs pool, students who can navigate the Internet to accomplish a strategic goal will be the better survivors. Teachers who understand that will help students immeasurably.  Their students will recognize the power of technology when used as a bridge to communities of people they know how to relate to–no matter their race or locale.  Have them think about ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft as cases in point.

While I have never been a classroom teacher for more than a few months, I know and respect the power of teaching and of being a lifetime learner.  I am grateful to a long list of teachers in and out of the classroom for helping me navigate in our New and Shared Economy.

Jobs Report: Is Tech Part of Our Recovery?

Chart of Jobs Growth in US, 2008-2011
Job growth since 2008 Infographic: Visual.ly
Chart of Jobs Growth in US, 2008-2011

Job growth since 2008
Infographic: Visual.ly

This morning, my WTOP.com SMS alert told me what I used to report every month on the radio: last month’s jobless rate. It’s good news by most standards. Six percent (6.3 to be exact) of people actively seeking work is the lowest rate in 5 1/2 years. Nearly 290,000 new jobs added. All good indicators our economy is bouncing back.

But are Baby Boomers bouncing back, and if so, how? The Urban Institute’s report on joblessness among the 50+ crowd, coupled with a GAO analysis, during The Great Recession painted a pretty dismal portrait of the financial well-being of this pre- and currently retired demographic in the US.

Being a techy Boomer, myself, I am curious about how the tech sector is playing a role in helping my folks out of the most recent jobs rut.  So, this May, I am putting that question out to my network…on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIN and traveling around the country to investigate it.

As part of my personal research, I’d like to find success stories of Boomers using technology to bounce back from a tough financial spot. If you can help with this research, send or Tweet me a link or a personal contact that I can interview anywhere in the country.

And if you’re a Boomer who wants to jump into the tech economy (check out Xconomy.com) to improve your financial position, here are five revenue-creation companies you may want to explore:

 

1. E-Bay

2. Flex Jobs

3. Postmates

4. Thrillist

5. Lyft

Subscribe to this blog, and I’ll help keep you posted on this and other digital cues in the rapidly changing world we share.

Mobile Goes Grassroots

I get my share of social and digital media newsletters to keep pace with the rapid advances of online communication. Most of the discussion these days is about the move to mobile. This month, Forrester, the pre-eminent online research group, predicted mobile shopping, known as “m-commerce” will hit the $6 billion mark this year and grow to $31 million in five years. While the story gives retailers insights for directing their marketing efforts in the future, there is little to advise nonprofit and government communicators about strategic directions. However, the report does point to expanded use of smart phones. That alone is something all communications experts can use to get the best mix in future marketing communications campaigns. That has not always been the case for mobile.

Two years ago, mobile marketers had few case studies to promote for social marketing. Advertisers experimented with mobile for their clients who could afford it and whose target audiences—primarily working professionals at the upper-middle income strata–used smart phones more than free phones. But times are not just changing, they’re moving at warp speed when it comes to mobile. No longer do the major wireless giants, Sprint and Verizon, have a monopoly on the spectrum wavelengths on which ring tones and millions of conversations ride. Upstarts like Cricket and other low-cost carriers are leveling the monthly payment field to allow poorer people to afford smart phones and the access to instant information they provide.

That is music to my ears, given the needs of budget-conscious, but underserved audiences I have sought to influence in the sectors of health, education and welfare. When Cricket advertises a $50 monthly payment plan for Internet access, texts and more, the masses have arrived in smart phone heaven. Even middle-income professionals should pause to reconsider they’re carriers after racking up wireless phone charges that look like car notes. Low-cost wireless carriers clearly recognize that “underserved” does not mean under- motivated to participate in as much of the American-turned Global “Tech” Dream as they can muster. Evidence points to both the Pew Center for Media Research and Arbitron research about Hispanics and African-Americans, being early adopters of new technology and particularly heavy users of mobile. The latest data should clearly point social marketers to the need to get moving on the mobile informing tip when putting together plans for multi-cultural and underserved outreach.

So thumbs-up to Baltimore Harbor Hospital’s communications team for tapping upstart mobile advertising company Mobilozophy, a Tampa-based company with offices in Atlanta, Boulder, Colo., and Chicago, to help reach residents within their closest zipcodes by using mobile advertising. Using mobile banner ads, SMS (text responses) and “call now” options, Harbor Hospital and Mobilozophy were able to demonstrate to nearby potential customers they were just a phone call away in a medical emergency. In other words, the hospital was sending the message that it welcomes mobile phone users making a personal plea, such as “I’m sick and I’m calling ahead to the emergency room.” Whether you’ll ever need such a service or whether wait times at Harbor or any inner-city hospital will be favorable is another story. The point is Baltimore Harbor Hospital made its closest potential customers know they wanted to be engaged, that they cared about being engaged. That’s the stuff of powerful branding in a city where the poverty level is among the highest in the nation.

If Baltimore is doing it, why not other urban centers where grassroots marketers are looking to influence behaviors of smart phone users? Mobilozophy is trying to answer that question with out-of-the-box mobile ad strategy, customer support and pricing packages that meet target audiences and clients where they are. They are backed up by low-cost (with the exception of reported phantom cell phone fees the Federal Communications Commission is investigating) wireless companies (as in Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile, Metro PCS) that are putting handheld computing on cell phones within reach of an important critical mass—the working poor.

Social Media Niche Management

Niche Knowledge

Fall 2010 may go down in digital media history as a major turning point in the mass media landscape. Searching online and separately noting today’s Washington Women in PR’s luncheon speaker insights about the use of social media as integral to marketing strategy brought back memories of the “dialectic” theory of historical events. The theory requires that major historical trends interact with “visionaries” or “individual actors” who understand and capitalize upon these trends to transform society, conventional thinking or business practices.

Dialectic theory seemed to emerge this week with the occurrence of two events–a presentation and a conference. Ironically, the sources of our knowledge are so technology-centered and diverse that many of us flock to “live” presentations to help us digest and sort out our Information Age overload. That’s exactly what was so powerful about Webb Media Group’s tech talk for Washington Women in PR over lunch today. In about an hour, WG’s Principal Amy Webb creatively outlined how marketing/PR executives could better sort out how to use social media applications for audience engagement, brand awareness and customer conversion.

Three focal points helped simplify Webb’s message for both novice and experienced social media marketers. The first was function, that is, what “utility” does a social media application perform? Webb identified seven social media platform trends that provide utilitarian niches for marketers to customize for specific campaign or communications analysis needs.

Her other focal points were strategic in nature: Are communicators engaging target audiences by using social media in ways that are habit-forming/effective and comprehensive?

As Amy posed those questions in Washington, digital media marketing executives in Boston presented case studies about products and causes that answered the questions raised in Washington. But they also posed new ones, about social media marketing and metrics, the next generation of digital marketers and more.

The two meetings clearly show that the so-called “changing media landscape” has reached the tipping point. The Brave New World of Digital Communications is our reality. Clearly, it’s a world in which–through social media–the individual can wield as much power (and sometimes more) as the amorphous brand. As communicators in uncharted territory, our best bet is making sure we understand social media and how to deploy it for our clients’ best advantage.

Hootsuite is Heaven

It’s been almost six months since Kenneth Piner, a video producer and Northwestern alumnus, advised me about the merits of using Hootsuite to manage my social media properties. Try it, you’ll like it, was the gist of his message. It was advice I filed away for later use.

As in advertising, sometimes you have to hear advice a few times—from different sources–before taking action on it.  Even we media gurus are human. So it was with me and Hootsuite. But this week, I took the plunge. But not before doing a bit of due diligence. As a business, Hootsuite appears to be in a sweet social media spot.  The “eyeballs” that all media covet are in the driver’s seat and publishers of all ilk can’t quite predict where they will be found to cluster next. We know they are scarce for print media, which has led to layoffs of newspaper and magazine journalists nationwide. It’s all part of the so-called changing media landscape.

With social media and other online platforms commanding impressive views, Hootsuite is capitalizing on the commodity of time that its software saves by using a dashboard approach to monitoring activity across several platforms.  Like most upstart media technology companies, Hootsuite also is leveraging its “free” following by offering premium services as a business model.  Targeted to businesses, Hootsuite understands that it’s in a position to advance while the gears of traditional media are “seizing up” as Hootsuite’s CEO put it.

At my level, I’m just happy to have the order of having my social media universe, both personal and business, in one online garage. Now that I’ve tested the waters of Hootsuite, I am a true believer. When it comes to contracting my social media schedule, it’s like heaven.