Microsoft's review laptop fiasco

Seems the marketing and PR world just keeps stumbling on itself on how to deal with bloggers. I see all these PR seminars on how to “pitch” bloggers like you pitch MSM reporters. Well, bloggers aren’t like most MSM where the rules of what is right, above board and ethical have been pretty well worked out.

Apparently, Microsoft and AMD sent a bunch of laptops to bloggers for them to review. Their PR agency is Edelman and Edelman is positioning itself at the forefront of online PR strategies–at some pretty high cost I would say. Robert Scoble weighed in and said this was great as long as the bloggers divulged they got a free laptop out of the review. Joelonsoftware vigorously disagreed. He may be right.

Apparently Microsoft and AMD got some feedback that by doing so they were clumsily trying to influence how those products are reviewed (let’s see, sending products for review to publications has been a pretty well established practice I believe). But they forgot how self-righteous, ethically pure, and petulant many of the bloggers can be. So when Microsoft decided they had made a mistake by offering such a bennie to the bloggers they tried to backtrack and suggest that the bloggers shouldn’t keep the laptops after all. Now they are finding out just how petty and angry some of these bloggers can be. Here’s a dandy.

A lesson to be learned by all those PR types trying to figure out how to deal with bloggers. My suggestion: use kid gloves. They can be a touchy bunch. And a word to Edelman–pioneers have to take a few arrows.

Duke University lacrosse–now the prosecution is on defense

This article from the Associated Press about Duke University’s silence in the aftermath of the rape accusations against members of the lacrosse team highlights a critical challenge and conundrum for crisis communicators.

The article certainly reads as if the University’s position of largely remaining silent while the media storm around the students was swirling looks smart and responsible. The basic theme is that the University was intent on not allowing the case to be tried in the media but let the courts decide.

“I don’t believe the issues have ever been Duke’s support of the students,” Burness said. “The issue has been there is a process in our democracy by which questions of this magnitude are addressed. It’s only when you get before a judge or jury that the truth can be determined. You have to have faith in the system, recognizing it can be difficult to do but realizing that’s how system works.”

Early in the case, when scrutiny of the university and the program was at its height, Brodhead was cautious in his statements, saying the case should unfold in the legal system instead of in the media. School administrators said this month that bad publicity was the likely cause of a 20 percent drop in early admission applications.

Burness’ statement that “there is a process in our democracy by which questions of this magnitude are addressed” is really the key. Yes, but, well, there are actually two processes. One is the court of law, the other is the court of public opinion. Wise leaders need to determine early on in a major news story of where their danger really lies. In some cases, the court of law can do more damage to the long term viability of the organization than the court of public opinion–depending in part on how the story is being played out. An example of this is the numerous legal actions against widely accepted and used medications. The billion dollar lawsuits can grind on in the background while the public blithely continues to consume–that even when the media is playing prosecutor to the fullest extent.

But in this case, the lacrosse team and the University itself was on trial from the moment the situation became news. Silence in the face of such accusations is normally interpreted as guilt. As the errors or evils of the prosecution come to light, the University is having to defend itself against those who say they didn’t stand behind the program or the students. The explanation of Mr. Burness, looks, well, weak and defensive.

The proof is in the pudding, of course. As the story points out the University experienced a huge drop in applications for enrollment. This is a result of the court of public opinion at work, not the court of law. And I would guess that if a survey were taken of the most respected universities, Duke would have fallen down that list quite a bit in the aftermath of the lacrosse incident.

So, here’s the conundrum. I can certainly understand and want very much to support the strategy the University pursued and the sentiments expressed about the desire to let the legal system work as an excuse for not being more vocal. The problem is, the evidence in this case shows it doesn’t work. You can’t end the media storm by silence. You can emerge later when the wind is shifting in your direction and pretend you response or lack of it meant something different than it did. And you can’t deny that you lost the battle in the court of public opinion. And you can’t claim that that matters less than winning in the court of law.

Sum total: the silence they now hail as wisdom is far from golden.

Nintendo wins big–my arm proves it

My arm is really sore again. Blame the Wii. But don’t blame Nintendo. I scored one of the early Wiis and I can’t even think about how many hours I’ve spent in front of the tv swatting at virtual tennis balls and rolling virtual bowling balls down a virtual alley. The Denver Post article has it absolutely right.

It’s pretty amazing when a game with the most basic graphics of the Wii can completely leave the wizardry of PSP3 and Xbox360 in the dust. I am now convinced that Nintendo didn’t just create a new video game, they created a new category. One that will split the video game marketing into finer segments and more importantly, expand the entire market greatly. There finally is a toy for us old folks. And finally, there is a video game that you don’t tire of after 39 hours of constant play. I know I am getting carried away, but I know in our house it will change things–like rearranging the furniture in our family room and inviting lots of people over to do more than sit around chit chatting over a glass of wine. It will also probably a few visits to the orthopedic surgeon.

Blog tag–It's my turn

I’ve been blog tagged. Don’t know what that is? I didn’t either until Google Alerts brought me to Shel Holtz’s blog “A Shel of My Former Self.” There I discovered I and four others had been tagged. Seems back on December 10 a blogger by the name of Jeff Pulver had the idea that it would be good to use blogs to get to know each other better. Actually, from his blog this game of blog tagging is not new, but he was the one that started this particular string. Tagging involves telling five things about yourself that others may not know, and then tagging five other bloggers to do the same.

Somewhere along the line, Shel Holtz got tagged, gave up his five secrets, and then tagged me. So, it is my turn. And for those of you on the bottom of this–now it will be your turn.

1) I’m a proud Dutchman. My father immigrated from the province of Friesland in the Netherlands in 1948 and all my grandparents are from the old country. I am also very proud of the role my grandparents and my dad played in helping the Dutch underground during the war by sheltering those running away from the Nazis–activity that put all their lives at risk and that has been beautifully told about in my dad’s book called “The Way It Was: Growing Up in Wartime Holland.”

2) My family is my great pride and joy–my wife Lynne to whom I have been married for 33 years, my son Chris and his wife Deborah (expecting their first baby in March), my son Geoff and his wife Amy with their two children, Emily and Ethan (and expecting their third later in 07), and daughter Ashley and her husband Gabe and their son Baron.

3) Although now in the crisis management business and founder of a crisis communication technology company, my roots are in the arts. I was a fine arts and drama major and taught fine arts, communication and drama at the university level for four years before getting into business. I still love to visit museums (the Getty is among my favorites) and also enjoy painting–our house is overloaded with my paintings.

4) Given the last item, some might find it surprising that I also greatly enjoy outdoor activities including gardening, hunting, fishing, (and even paintball!) In fact, I hope to finish out the old year spending some time tromping around some local woods with my bow and arrow in search of venison.

5) Finally, faith has always been a driving force in my life. It is an interesting time as the world struggles with the issues of truth, meaning and purpose–in ways that are sometimes inspiring and full of hope and at other times with bitterness, hatred and violence.

I now hereby tag the following:

 Brian Sibley

Jonathan Bernstein

Phillipe Borremans 

Patricia Goldschmid

Alan Jacobs

Incredibly sloppy reporting

I hate to keep picking on KING5, Seattle’s leading tv news provider, but they provide so many excellent examples of what is really bad about today’s reporting. Here’s one related to a refinery non-event last night in our area.

First of all, the flames which they so dramatically showed on tv under “Breaking News” and then on their website was nothing more than large flaring related to restarting a unit. The angle which they presented made it look like the darn refinery was burning up.

Worse, in the early part of the story they say: “It was not immediately clear what leaked or if there was a connection to the flames.”

Just two paragraphs later they quote company spokespersons as the leak being naptha and that the leak of naptha had no relation to the flaring event.

So, what is true? Obviously, the later paragraphs. They just added stuff to the bottom of the story as it came in and then never bothered to update what they had said earlier. This is the instant news world, combined with the focus on presenting dramatic attention getting video regardless of whether or not there is legitimate news behind it. Then trying to create some news to support the nice entertaining video they got. Ultimately, the only story was in the headlines–that one or two people they talked to from the town were a little curious about the flaring. That is breaking news? As Stossel would say, give me a break!

Congress goes blogtime

Looks like members of Congress are getting serious about blogging. According to this article in Federal Computer Week, members of Congress have been blogging since 2004 but now they have blogging tools built right into their websites.

I haven’t checked on the success of Congresspersons blogging yet, but one of my first posts on this blog was my discussion with our County Executive on the idea of him blogging. He was astounded that I should suggest anything so stupid. It is an interesting concept. Blogging is largely about transparency and authenticity–those are two values that tend to be scarce and underappreciated in the world of politics. (Speaking as a many-time campaign manager and one-time state senate candidate).

I suspect that the members of Congress who do well in the blog world are the ones who understand that the key to success is being themselves, being honest, and being willing to engage in meaningful dialog with those who do not necessarily agree. Funny, that’s the same thing that works with CEO blogs, corporate blogs and just about every other kind.

The power of one (blogger): the Dell Hell story

I just read an excellent white paper from Market Sentinel on the influence of blogging on corporate reputations. This company is located in the UK and provides web monitoring and blog tracking services. I found out about it (like so many other interesting items relevant to crisis communications) by getting Jonathan Bernstein’s Crisis Manager email newsletter.

The point that jumped out at me from the Market Sentinel white paper which focused on the Dell Hell blogwar, was how much was fed by one person. A blogger by the name of Jeff Jarvis got upset about his laptop and the service and, being one of the angry bloggers, went to town.

Those of us involved in these kinds of blogwars talk about the 57 million citizen journalists, and the numbers are impressive and scary to those concerned about reputation protection. But it only takes one to light a fire. Interesting and worthwhile read.

Internet use surpasses newspapers

It was inevitable but nevertheless, it should be marked. About three years ago use of the Internet surpassed readership of all news magazines. Now it has passed newspapers in terms of amount of time spent. According to this article in Editor and Publisher “Americans spend an average of 4 1/2 hours a day watching TV, far more time than they spend on any other medium. Next come the radio and the Internet. Reading newspapers is fourth, passed this year by Internet use.”

Belgium has its own "War of the Worlds"

In a time when journalism and entertainment become ever more entwined, when “reality tv” forever mixes up the distinctions between fiction and non-fiction, and when video games get so realistic that you get physically tired playing them (as in my Wii), it is intriguing to see how fake newscasts can still generate a “war of the worlds” reaction.

A TV station in Belgium reported that the country was splitting up between Dutch speaking Flanders and French speaking Wallonia. The hoax was not well received. But it did create quite an uproar.