Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

Service of Retail

Monday, October 20th, 2014

shop in store

It’s too early to predict what the success of Amazon’s first store will be—if it actually happens–as we don’t yet know precisely what the New York City venue will offer. Amazon has gone in this direction before and changed its mind.

Nevertheless, Greg Bensinger and Keiko Morris’s article, “Amazon to Open First Brick-and-Mortar Site The New York City Location to Handle Same-Day-Delivery Inventory, Product Returns,” in The Wall Street Journal, intrigued me, even though it doesn’t share the full picture because the reporters don’t know either.

amazonThey wrote about the 34th Street off 5th Avenue future venture: “The Manhattan location is meant primarily to be a place for customers to pick up orders they’ve made online, but will also serve as a distribution center for couriers and likely one day will feature Amazon devices like Kindle e-readers, Fire smartphones and Fire TV set-top boxes, according to people familiar with the company’s thinking.” Who these people? Are they are the same throughout? Bensinger/Morris repeated this phrase many times.

The article doesn’t mention whether customers will see more product than what you’d see at a Verizon or T-Mobile outlet. To me, along with great merchandising, seeing great stuff is the essential part of visiting a store. The reporters wrote that the “flagship store, would mark an attempt by Amazon to connect with customers in the physical world.” But picking up a box or getting it to my office or apartment the same day I order it doesn’t count as “connecting with me.”

The reporters note the popularity of retailers such as Wal*Mart and Macy’s [down the street from where this store would be] who take internet orders that customers pick up with the obvious benefit of potentially making additional sales. The customer, already committed to a purchase that is low in labor costs–nobody has to restock a shelf—may just buy more. But if there’s nothing much to see at Amazon’s 34th Street location, there goes that advantage.

34th streetI’ve lived for years in NYC and in upstate New York. Pickups in my car at a Poughkeepsie Mall are no-brainers. NYC is a different matter. There are some with limos and drivers, but if you count on getting a cab to drag home heavy things from midtown, depending on time of day you might be waiting a long time.

On the other hand, there are thousands who couldn’t take advantage of delivery because they live in apartments without either doormen or friendly neighbors who work at home and will accept packages. Some work for companies that forbid employees to ship personal items to the office.

Should reporters wait until they get the skinny from a source they can quote rather than going with information from many “people familiar with the company’s thinking?” What do you think of people who leak proprietary information to the press?

If you go out of your way to visit a retailer to pick up a package do you want to see other merchandise while you’re at it? Isn’t one of the benefits of buying online the delivery factor–why would a company need a half-baked retail space?

  flagging taxi

Service of Saving Money

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

savingmoney

Who doesn’t want to save money, especially these days?

My friend Clotilde, [she asked me to use this pseudonym], told me about how some in one industry are approaching this objective although she didn’t cotton to the approach. Clotilde heard the story on NPR. I read David Folkenflik’s coverage in “Fake Bylines Reveal Hidden Costs Of Local News” on wbur.org.

oldfashionednewsroomFolkenflik wrote that major newspapers in Chicago, Houston and San Francisco admitted that they published print and/or online items under fake bylines.

That’s the least of it. According to Folkenflik, “As was first disclosed by the public radio program ‘This American Life,’ the items in question were not written by reporters on the staffs of the papers at all but by employees of what is effectively a news outsourcing firm called Journatic.

“‘How do you get police blotters from 90 towns? It’s not easy. But that’s what we do,’ says Brian Timpone, a former television reporter and small-town newspaper owner who created what became Journatic six years ago.”

strapped-for-cashFolkenflik continued, “Journatic has dozens of clients, many of them strapped for cash but all hungry to serve up local news for their readers.”

Worth repeating: I’ve found that daily newspapers are turning to syndicated stories to fill their pages rather than to spend money for reporters to cover local business news.

Back toFolkenflik:  “‘It’s a short-term cost-cutting measure, and that’s all it is,’ says Tim McGuire, the former editor-in-chief of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, who now teaches media business and journalism ethics at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. ‘It’s not a long-term solution to providing local news to people who want it.'”

Journatic has 60 employees and 200 freelancers but what most caught my friend’s attention was that the company hires 100+ people from abroad to write copy. One employee who rewrites the foreigners’  material told Folkenflik that these writers are paid “a pittance.”

Since I began to write this post, the Chicago Tribune, a Journatic client, suspended its relationship when it learned that “the company had published stories with fake bylines and that a writer there had plagiarized a story on TribLocal, the network of suburban papers and hyperlocal websites Journatic published on behalf of Tribune,” according to Julie Moos on pointer.org. The Tribune has brought in a former editor as a consultant to help “the outsourcing company on its processes and standards.”

Are cut-rate solutions like this better than nothing? Do you think such cost-cutting measures will help save newspapers? 

costcutting

Service of Overexposure

Monday, January 24th, 2011

 

thirdman

Today’s post is related to an earlier one, “Service of Too Much Information,” written a year ago January [must be that time of year]. What inspired me this time was watching “The Third Man,” a 1949 movie [in black and white, natch], on Turner Classic Movies.

It achieved powerful, suspenseful moments without showing me every gory detail. One scene was in a children’s hospital ward and I saw the nurses and bits of beds but not the deathly ill patients who were there because they’d been given ineffective medicine sold to the hospital by a greedy main character. I saw no decayed body that police had freshly dug out from a grave but knew it looked horrific. The director had my imagination do the work. Great actors’ reactions to seeing these human conditions also helped.

In today’s movies, if we hear an explosion we must then see blood and guts.

It’s not just movies that leave little to the imagination: Women’s fashion trends have for several years.

radiomicAnd violent, name-calling vitriol on talk radio, cable TV and in politics are other examples of overexposure. It’s a form of taking the easy way out. It’s effortless. And it’s effective with lazy minds looking for easy answers. It takes research and thought to carry on intelligent, image-inspiring conversation.

Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with easy, efficient and effective in some instances: It’s what we strive for in our workdays and lives. Take digital photos, email, and social networking vehicles that allow us to communicate with editors and reporters  immediately and at miniscule out of pocket cost; smartphones that keep us in touch with people who need information without tethering us to our desks; lasers instead of knives that permit surgeons to remove cataracts and break down kidney stones while leaving patients far less debilitated.

Do you think imaginations need exercise like muscles? Do we do our brains harm by exposing them to and feeding them digested information and images, or should we chew on, envision, fantasize and process more of it ourselves?

 thinker

Service of Full Disclosure

Friday, July 16th, 2010

full-disclosure

In his column, The Ethicist, Randy Cohen wrote recently in The New York Times, “Your wife should err on the side of caution and not take anything of value from a supplier.” The woman supervised travel for a company and she’d won the grand raffle prize of two roundtrip tickets to Japan at an event sponsored by several airlines. There were some 1,000 guests.

matchbookIn my first job out of college I worked at Dun & Bradstreet writing credit reports. We were told that if a company we visited manufactured matchbooks not to take a single match, even to light a cigarette. That has been my guideline ever since.

Yet I think that Cohen is being harsh in this instance. He softens at the end of the column, noting to the husband who sent in the query, “At the least, she must disclose her winnings to her supervisors and get their green light before she packs her bags.” I’m comfortable with that.

Some in the media won’t let a PR person buy them so much as a cup of coffee. Others gather enough loot over years to fill a strip mall. Reporters and editors don’t have a lot of time to schmooze over lunch these days, nevertheless, just as business is done by some on a golf course, I can’t imagine how, for the price of a lunch or a coffee, anyone would sell their soul and run photos of horrible looking, poorly made or faulty goods in a new product column or run positive coverage of a lackluster ad campaign or sleazy business.

bookstarsWhat about a book or movie reviewer who is sent/given a galley or invited to preview the flick? I don’t recall reading in their reviews that they didn’t pay for the book or seat at the theatre and it doesn’t bother me. What about a beauty editor sent samples that aren’t samples but entire bottles and jars? No problem in my mind. Making up samples would cost a fortune and wouldn’t provide the same experience. Packaging–how the beauty product looks and how the dispenser works–is part of the evaluation.

Full disclosure: I send promo codes to reviewers who ask for them so they can try a client’s smartphone application and have given hundreds of yards of fabric and countless rolls of wallpaper and dinnerware and flooring to be used for newspaper or magazine new product pages or to decorate a home that a magazine photographs.

Obviously, if a company pays any of the reviewers for their assessments, they must disclose this relevant piece of information, whether they write for a blog, web site, an online or print newspaper or magazine. Special sections or advertorials are paid for by the participants and are clearly identified by publishers, usually at the top of the page.

Because attitude and service are more than half of the experience, I think that a restaurant, hotel or travel reviewer should be anonymous and pay for all his/her expenses, no exceptions. 

What about stock brokers? Should they tell you that they’ve been told to push an investment by the boss?

Where do you stand on full disclosure? Do you care?

full-disclosure2

Service of Guidelines

Monday, June 28th, 2010

guidelinesEvery job has guidelines. People often ignore, forget or question them but a few procedures are infallible and dangerous to disregard because of potential consequences.

Employees casually shrug off 1) good manners in communicating with office colleagues 2) a pleasant demeanor when speaking with patients and their family members in a hospital or nursing home or 3) gracious service at a spa or restaurant. You’ve heard the perpetrators claim: “Wasting time on such frills is so yesterday and I’m not paid for that, anyway.” I’m convinced that those sentiments manipulate insecure associates who don’t want to appear old fashioned–the opposite of hip–so they follow.

pillslotsNobody gets really hurt when people ignore some guidelines. Ignore others and the outcome can range from costly to horrific. A friend had to inspect every pill each nurse handed her husband while he was in the hospital because a careless one had given him a medication to which he was allergic. The warning about his allergy was clearly noted on his chart, but who looks?

Then there’s Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s downfall. For anyone dealing with the press, there is one guideline for which there are no exceptions: There is no off the record. Translation: Unless you don’t care or want it to leak out, when dealing with the media, keep your mouth shut about proprietary information or your opinion, if it doesn’t match the mission. That means not a word to your cousin, sister-in-law or some freelance writer for a publication that has nothing to do with your business–period. Why? Because the press’s guideline is the opposite: To get you to say something news, gossip or gotcha-worthy.

Some guidelines seem obvious and yet need to be spelled out: When planning a fieldtrip for children, spec out where you are going and every detail about the outing. Last week a 12 year old drowned at a beach that had no lifeguard. Two teachers from a NYC school and an intern watching 24 children by the ocean did not take the place of a lifeguard and a hidden rip current didn’t help. I’m dumbfounded that before finalizing the trip nobody called the town hall or local authorities to confirm that there was a lifeguard on duty or looked up the beach’s summer schedule on line.

Public school children aren’t the only victims. I knew a family who lost a child during an overnight at an expensive summer camp. The counselor pitched camp near a ravine and the child woke up in the middle of the night, became disoriented and fell into the canyon.

subwaycarI admire the adults who take children on class trips especially in the NYC subway. I’ve seen teachers herd hoards of kids into a subway car and out at the right stop. It’s important to show the children points of interest where they live, but guidelines are essential in these instances.

What other guidelines are meant to be followed, no exception?

checklist

Service of Ad Hominem

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

acusing

“Joe is not a communist.”

I first heard about ad hominem as a college freshman and that was the example. At the time, being a communist was as bad as being a terrorist is today. We now speak about identity theft, which we didn’t then, but with the flick of innuendo, a reputation can be stolen even faster and more easily than an identity.

I’ve been told countless times what a softie I am, how I try to squeeze out some good reason or rationale for someone’s bad moves. And so many times I am wrong-the person I try to protect or excuse turns out to be guilty in spades.

So this post isn’t as much about innocence or guilt as it is about perception and approach and inference-and how it can destroy someone.

I’ve been bothered by the way New York Governor Patterson has been treated by the press. I have the impression that people are out to get him and will pick and scratch and search for anything they can to ruin his reputation and credibility.

baseballstubTake his accepting free tickets to a baseball game. I mean really. There is a law or rule that says you can’t do that and I suppose you will find a politician somewhere who doesn’t accept so much as a stick of gum from a soul. But ruin a man’s chance of finishing his term with honor and accomplishing something in a state that sorely needs governance over a couple of tickets? Hmmmm. We’ve had leaders in our state who haven’t paid taxes on $millions and voters shrugged.

As for Patterson’s interference in a case of alleged abuse by an aide of his girlfriend, turns out the Governor spoke with her. He should not have. He broke the law. The New York Daily News reported that the girlfriend testified that their conversation didn’t influence her missing the court date resulting in the charges against her boyfriend, the Governor’s aide, being dismissed. Have you ever tried to diffuse an explosive situation between two people to help out a friend, family member or colleague?

The Governor’s communications director resigned yesterday and the implication in the news was that she was yet another rat leaving a sinking ship. When Patterson was interviewed on WOR-Radio this morning [March 18], he told John Gambling that because they are both under investigation in the same case, they are forbidden to speak with one another, which makes it impossible for her to do her job. He noted that they are personal friends.

Do details like this matter? The press and public have already decided. All these darts have been used to prove that he is unfit to govern without specifically saying so. Are they the hors d’oeuvres to something more, or is this like the preview of the scandalous story about the Governor that we heard would appear in The New York Times days before it did and when it ran, it was more about Patterson’s aide’s behavior than about him.

puttinginperspectiveWhat he’s done shows a lack of judgment inappropriate in a leader. Putting it in perspective, we’ve been involved in wars because of deliberate misinformation and life goes on, the perpetrators of misinformation have finished off their terms.

Comparing Patterson’s “sins” with those of politicians involved with drugs and worse, and who come back like face wrinkles a few months after injections of botox, is a head scratcher.

Is he being indicted for inadvertently leaping to the top of a leadership heap without paying his political dues and then not doing what his party orders him to do?

Am I being naïve or too easy on the Governor? Do you know of instances where colleagues, friends or public figures have been painted with negative ink or gossip that takes years, if ever, to wear off?

gossip

Service of Straws and Camel’s Backs

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

Straws have broken this very tough and loyal camel’s back four times, leaving me no choice but to resign and move on, twice from clients and twice from jobs.

Or maybe the straws didn’t break; they directed needed light on impossible situations.

 

I wonder what the editorial staff of the Dallas Morning News will do–will reporters stay at their jobs because there are so few jobs left in the industry, or will they walk? I’m getting ahead of myself, if you didn’t read Richard Pérez-Peña’s article, “Some Dallas Editors Will Report to Ad Sales,”  in Friday’s New York Times.

 

I first heard about this situation from Carolyn Gatto on Thursday night. Carol’s always ahead of the curve. The co-founder and publisher of WeJustGotBack.com, an award-winning family travel resource, wrote the November 9 post “Service of Magazine Subscriptions” for this blog.

 

She sent me the link to the post in the Dallas News Blog, Dallas Observer, “At The Dallas News, a New ‘Bold Strategy’: Section Editors Reporting to Sales Managers,”  by Robert Wilonsky.

 

Carol, who for some 25 years edited consumer magazines, summarized the situation: “The reporting structure has changed so that editors will be reporting to glorified sales managers. The latter will, no doubt, dictate what the former can and–more importantly–cannot write.”

 

She continued, “I have nothing against advertorials [material that simulates editorial and is paid for by an advertiser], as long as they’re properly labeled as such, but that Dallas newspaper is going to be nothing but advertorials. I’m shuddering at the thought. Times may be tough in the newspaper industry, but don’t they still have an obligation to be honest with readers? Or am I a Pollyanna?”

 

As a former magazine editor and longtime PR person who holds the media in high regard, this turn of events breaks my heart. It makes a mockery of what publicists do for a living when they take a client’s product or concept and point out its newsworthiness or give relevance and validity to a new and/or mature product with the objective of catching a reporter’s or editor’s attention to inspire editorial coverage and the third party endorsement it implies.

 

Why does this desperate measure remind me of what happened to retail when bean counters were put in charge of talented merchandisers?  By tamping down creativity–God forbid anyone should spend a cent more than required–traffic and sales suffered,  sounding the death Nell for department stores.

 

What good are restaurant, movie, theatre or travel reviews in which criticism is forbidden for fear of offending an advertiser? What if a reporter in the real estate section wants to write about a crooked mortgage scam, but the bank in question is an advertiser–does the public remain in the dark? If newspapers are having trouble attracting readers now, just you wait!

 

I have always honored the separation between advertising and editorial. If a publisher has suggested a quid pro quo, offering my client editorial space in return for advertising support, OK, but I would never suggest it.  

 

What do you think of newspaper reporters whose bosses are in sales, not in editorial? Does collaboration between editorial and advertising bother you?

 

 

Service of Smart Cost Cuts

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

Daily we read about and observe smart cost-cutting measures by people and businesses to help ride out the worst economic downturn in recent memory.

Some survival tactics like The New York Times selling one of its jewels–classic music radio station WQXR–are necessary. And the survival part is nerve-wracking. If cutting below the quick can happen to the newspaper of record, is anyone immune? What’s next? Scary.

I get the QXR move, but wonder what to think about the Times not paying to subscribe to other papers and magazines for its Metro desk-telling the staff to buy its own subscriptions. The memo, that appeared in The New York Observer,  offers the option to read the competition on line through the paper’s research department. Is wasting staff time a false economy?

Shopping in the back of your closet, creative gift-giving ideas and learning to cook and eating wonderful, imaginative meals at home all make sense.

 

In this context, closing down Gourmet Magazine doesn’t jibe, except the savings to Conde Nast are obvious. I read in the New York Post on Friday, October 9, that the editor-in-chief was paid $1 million a year and will get $5 million in severance–a chunk of change in any economy. I have talented, dedicated, brilliant editor friends who’d be happy to work for half that amount–perhaps less! I wonder if the staff was given the option of accepting lower salaries to save the magazine, but who can compete with $5 million?

For brands staying in business some cost cuts backfire. A favorite radio station is selling hour blocks of time, formerly devoted to creative programming, to alternative medicine or real estate sponsors who conduct humdrum, self-serving advertorials. In the short run, they generate income for the station as the sponsors pay for the time. My bet is that most of the audience turns the dial to another station or off. I do. I also worry about the talent: Will they be able to make ends meet on salaries based on shortened schedules?

A business that thinks it can get away with using inexpensive, insufficiently trained foreign labor in its customer service department or a maze of numbers to punch on the phone with a range of options, none of which fit your reason for calling, is making a mistake. You may be stuck with that brand for now, but you will never again buy it nor will your friends who will tire of your drawn-out horror story and never forget the brand’s name.

Have you come across business cutbacks that you predict will flop in the long run or intelligent ones that you admire?

Service of Headlines

Monday, August 31st, 2009

A clever headline is memorable and if it doesn’t lead you into a story, it will make you smile or think twice. What fun it would be to write headlines for a living!

The New York Post is the winner in this list of my favorites and those of friends/followers of this blog.

Editor and writer Jim Roper’s choice is “Headless Body in Topless Bar,” which, I learned, is the title of a book of headlines by New York Post staff. Other juicy ones in the book:

           Lady is a Trump

           Axis of Weasel

           Holy Shiite

Recently this paper reported on yet another NJ political scandal that also involved some rabbis. The headline: “Kosher Nostra.” “Tiger Tamed,” a front pager, announced Y E Yang’s winning the PGA in August in an upset over Tiger Woods. And “Ex-con-stitutional” was how the paper drew you into news of a research center run by ex convicts.

PR colleague Sharon Clancy Lienau shared “Ears Pierced While You Wait.” [This reminded me not of a headline, but of a greasy spoon on the upper west side of Manhattan called “Eat and Run.”]

Beautyblitz.com founder and editor, Polly Blitzer, wrote an article for Family Circle which she called, “Take 2 and call me in the morgue.” She covered the TV ads that claim to cure you of an ailment and simultaneously warn you of astronomical potential side effects.

Bambe Levine, Bambe Levine public relations remembers “Ford to City Drop Dead.” The New York Daily News  ran it in 1974 when the President refused to bail out the city.  

If you know some poignant or memorable headlines, please share!

 

Service of Demographics in Radio Advertising

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Matt Mecs’ comment to Jeremiah, who wrote “Service of Mature Music,” [July 16] was so insightful and worthwhile that it needed the platform of a post.

Responding to Matt’s comment, Jeremiah wrote: “I’d be a fascinated reader were you to write a post about ‘The Service of Radio Advertising.'” Subsequently he asked Matt to tell him more about the validity of the 18 to 54 demographic.

Matt has superlative credentials to address the topic and generously shared his views with us. He is vice president and director of sales for Local Focus Radio, New York and adjunct professor in media for the MBA program at Metropolitan College of New York.

Matt writes:

Jeremiah, you asked why A18-54? It has been that way for decades now, and does not take into account people living longer. Nor does it factor that baby boomers are the most affluent for their generation in history. Like the railroad and record industries, radio has stumbled badly keeping up with the times.

Like TV and print, radio has lost share in terms of ad dollars. There is that famous Wannamaker quote that “I know half of my ad budget is being wasted, I just do not know which half.”

In this hyper-niched, Return on Investment, quantifiable era of information, that no longer cuts it.

Internet will continue to take an ever-growing share of ad revenue. For example, if you log onto Rachel Ray’s website, not only will marketers know which site you came from, and which site you went to afterwards, but they will also know if you print out a recipe, what zip code you live in, your probable income, and so forth.

For an advertiser’s point of view, compare this to spending millions advertising on a TV show. With Tivo and DVR your commercials have no guarantee of being seen. Or radio stations running 10 commercials in a row – like anyone in their right mind would listen to that?

I met an owner of one cell phone company who will pay you .2 cents if you have an ad playing on your cell phone. So, if I call you, instead of hearing the ringing, I might hear a 5 second ad for the NY Philharmonic. The cell phone company gets .5 cents per call, so makes a huge profit % wise, and the client (Philharmonic) knows that their ad is actually being heard at a minimal cost.

This is tremendously tacky and sure to annoy your friends but it is these interesting new business models that might in 10 years time from now appear to be normal.

For instance, Google has sold ads in people’s private emails for approximately eight years now, so if you write to a friend in a “private” email about going to the Delaware Water Gap, you might see an ad for Delaware car insurance on the side of the page in your email. This raised a huge fuss as an invasion of privacy when it was introduced as a business model because computers were “reading” your email, but now it is just business as normal.

My mother is 74, and cannot imagine life without her New York Times in print (not on computer), listening to WQXR, and drives me to insanity with her inability to use her cell phone, or email. As she is retired, she is fairly careful with her money, and has her definite brand loyalties. You can see from a business point of view that she is a nightmare for advertisers to target, and they mainly do so through print, such as AARP The Magazine, with pharmaceuticals being the largest spenders.

Pharma has a tough time advertising on radio because they have to have at least a 10 second disclaimer (which might be sped up to sound as gibberish) and is particularly tough with the move to 30 second radio spots as opposed to 60.

In fact, radio stations are now selling 3-5 second ads (maybe a quick “come to Burger King,”) because they know that people have much shorter attention spans these days.

I got my MBA last year in marketing and am looking to get into internet marketing, but coming from a radio background, and in my mid 30s, I am seen as a bit of a dinosaur as well. This sounds melodramatic, but I go to networking events where cocky 20-somethings have exciting business plans, money from venture capitalists, and speak a jargon that I can only vaguely follow. When I say I sell radio time, I just get a patronizing look.

Radio will always have a place in small-town rural America, particularly with certain loyal formats that take pride in having a place in the community. Examples are country music (the most popular format by number of stations), African American and particularly Hispanic stations. Joe’s car dealer does not care about ratings, just about customers coming through the door. Unfortunately, classical stations are dying around the country, because while the listeners have money, there are just not enough of them, and there is no way of proving to advertisers that their message will be heard.

For big cities, where expenses are magnified, we will see more and more obscure and different ways of “breaking thru the clutter.” My old office building (before the radio company I worked for went bankrupt) at a prestigious mid-town Manhattan Park Avenue address sold a wall mural to Timberland shoes that was about 20 ft. by 20 ft. It was up, generating income for the building and exposure for Timberland, for a couple of months.

These are just a few random thoughts about demographics and the radio business!

If you have questions for Matt, fire away! How would you reach his Mom if you had something to sell?

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