Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Super Bowl Ad Blogs

It’s always a good day when one of your PR clients is in the Washington Post. And so today begins well.

Here’s some of the hotter blog topics I’ve run into this week:

AdLand reflects on Super Bowl ads of yore. In the same vein, Kevin Federline’s Super Bowl ad has raised the ire of fast food workers across America. The argument here is that going from Britney’s husband to fry cook shouldn’t be considered a step down. And a great article today in the Washington Post on the amateur-ad/ YouTube trend for this year's Super Bowl.

Todd and the Power to Connect reflects on brands from an MBA perspective. Lesson one: The term brand is overused.

Of course there is Budweiser’s launch of bud.tv, a new network aimed at replacing network television. The social network will be launched at the Super Bowl.

Low quantity of networking events this week, which is great. I am getting some work done, and am having a “normal” 50 hour week. All in all the start-up is a ton of fun at this moment. One of the clients had a phenomenal branding session last week, a great time really.

One of the great things about placing web visitor tracking on your blog is you can see who is reading you. For example, someone at my last company, Sage Communications, reads my blog 2-3 times a week. Even from this digital distance, it’s great to "e-feel" how supportive and caring my old co-workers are… that they’re keeping up on the progress of our start-up. Quite flattering.

My current team mate Paul is a huge Chicago bears fan. Since the Second City is the metropolitan area (again web visitor tracking) that reads me the second most, we’re going to root for the Bears this year. Good luck gents!
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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Learning

On November 26th, I blogged a visioning exercise and in the time that has passed I’ve had two of the visions come true. Currently, I’m serving on the board of the Cultural Development Corporation, and yesterday we adopted a rescue pug named Boomer.

Additionally, the company moved into offices in Old Town Alexandria on Montgomery St. Not quite as campy as Del Ray, but certainly fun and convenient. It’s amazing what happens when the goals are clear, the vision is set, and you just take daily action steps to achieve them.

Last week I was invited to and joined a Mastermind group. If you’re curious as to exactly what Mastermind group does, check out Karyn Greenstreet’s concise summary. In short, using a commitment to principles, a small group of CEOs drive each other to great successes. The group should help the company significantly, challenging me to grow and fit the shoes that I’m creating.

Part of the group’s commitment is reading dynamic books. I just ordered Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich (mandatory) and Malcolm Gladwell’s the Tipping Point (oft suggested to me) on audio book. I have a hard time reading business books anymore, probably because of the heavy workload, but audio books work. The new reading is good, because I’ve been driving around listening to the Book of Five Rings and Denis Waitley’s psychology of Winning on CD for the past couple of months (when I’m not grooving to XM radio).

With the mastermind group, the very robust experiences that are teaching me everyday plus Dale Carnegie, it figures to be a great year. Here’s to learning.

Got paid on Friday. Two months in a row now at or almost at my expected wage. I’m matching my old base salary from a year ago, plus 5% to help compensate for social security, etc. It’s not my ultimate vision for compensation, but it’s putting food on the table. I skipped October and November (a very painful couple of months) to help get #1 on board. A leap of faith, but it paid off. Now we’re going gangbusters.

Monday’s quotes:

“Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.” - Abigail Adams

“Learning is not compulsory… neither is survival.” – W. Edmonds

“To know yet to think that one does not know is best; not to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty.” - Lao-Tzu
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Friday, January 26, 2007

Forrester Releases Blogging ROI Report

Forrester Releases Blogging ROI Report
January 26th, 2007 by Geoff Livingston (0) Livingston Communications (e)

Ahh yes, marketers are scrambling to tell their CEOs and clients, really how valuable is a blog to your efforts. Forrester’s Charlene Li published a blog post yesterday on the ROI of Blogging, an mash-up of two Forrester write-ups on blogging.

A fascinating report, it raises many questions, including the age old how do we really measure the impact of the blog. Marketers across the capitol region and the world (yes, in addition to the obvious North American audience, Diary of an Ad Man is read in Latin America, Australia, Asia and Europe. 70 percent of readers are in the capitol region.) are slapping their foreheads and groaning. Thanks for the news flash.

Primary benefits include increased brand visibility, savings from customer insights, reduced impact from negative user-generated content, and increased sales efficiency. On a more measurable level, Forrester offered this comparison chart, which has assets and deficiencies, but would make any analytical marketer sit back in their chair and think for a while.

Of particular note was Forrester’s belief that the primary value of a blog is PR. I totally agree with this assessment. Blogging is very similar to PR. SOme argue that it’s different, but in many ways third party credibility — which is my definition of PR — is garnered through blogs. Whether that’s placement via a search engine, a press mention or a cross link to another blog is irrelevant. The visibility of the entity is raised by other parties. Thus, blogging = PR.
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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Breakthroughs

We've had a couple of breakthrough's with large anchor clients signing up for the year. One's a mega-government contractor, the other a telecom services company on whose behalf we've been executing project work. With these two companies on board we're in great shape.

We need to bolster some of our own technical knowledge and proficiency in some areas, me in leadership (so long solo warrior, time to build a team), and #1 for pitches and client relations. So we are actually going to practice what we preach and engage in some training, a la Dale Carnegie. Though we are busy, I am sure these time and financial investments will pay off long term.

Some interesting links for the week:

Check out how McDonald's is using the Food Network for subliminal marketing purposes. Who needs gourmet munchies?

Microsoft has gotten itself in a bit of a storm by editing Wikipedia entries. Hmmm. PR Folks Beware! Don't mess with the world's encyclopedia.

Of Note: Discussions on Yahoo's top 100 brand universes via Influential Interactive Marketing.
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Sunday, January 21, 2007

How People Treat You as the President

Part of live-blogging a start-up is relating real experiences and decisions that happen to you along the way. When you start running a company, people treat you differently, even some of the folks with whom you already had standing relations. Suddenly, you are the president in their eyes.

Why? I don't know, it's not like Geoff Livingston has been suddenly transformed into Lou Gerstner. Far from it, as I am running a 2.5 person agency in an executive suite solution. Granted I have a vision, and the vision is significant, but a little humility goes a long way when you assess the real chips on the board.

Nevertheless, it's true. I am suddenly treated differently. For the most part it's because people want something from me, like business, leads, etc., or some sort of weird Hollywoodish "I want to be near the CEOs" type of power mentality. Here are some of the ways people treat you differently:

"I like the name of your company." Please, this one was insulting. I still regret naming the company after myself, the price for making a 10 minute decision on naming in my rush to leave firm x, and go out on my own. Nevertheless, such blatant butt kissing was transparent. The conversation was ended immediately.

A trip to Bank of America to establish business credit yielded a clerk who could not stop hoveling and saying, "Yes, sir," "Yes, sir," "Yes, sir." I tried to treat the guy like an ordinary fellow, but he would have none of it. He was very interested in trying to upsell me into everything, though. End result was politeness from me until I could get done what I needed to, and then a quick smile, a thank you, and a fast departure. This type of experience is becoming increasingly common. Some people see the title/position and they want to sell you, and will do everything they think they should to get there.

The best friend approach. Now everyone's your buddy. No questions about it, we see eye to eye. This is particularly amusing when it comes from folks who wanted nothing to do with you in the past. OK, glad I'm not beneath you anymore. Hmm.

I realize these forms of treatment will only increase as we become more successful. The best thing to do is remain humble, be open, but aware that in many cases -- not all -- but in many, there's an agenda. And that's OK, it's business.

The one way in which I am treated differently and like is the sudden acceptance by other execs and CEOs. Though I am a neophyte, it's as if they realize that I, too, deal with the same issues and matters that they do, including the above forms of treatment. Many successful entrepreneurs and execs share their experiences with me. This is invaluable, revealing some of the trials that may lie ahead, as well as strong insights into current situations.

Here's something for folks that may feel like they want or need to treat execs differently, at least from my perspective. Fact: I don't want to be treated differently, including being regarded as a walking billfold. Salesmanship requires a good relationship, not a good hustle. I am not any better or worse than the guy or gal who mopped the floor after the office closed. My actions will not be judged by the ammount of wealth I amass, instead by the number of folks and causes that I can positively benefit. We are all on a journey here so if awareness will allow for it, let's treat each other like brothers and sisters.

In this vein, we just ordered new cards and there is no title on my cards. I want to establish a company that's about the clients, the results, and an attitude of selfless service (in a Jeffersonian sense). Besides, if you look at my name and the name of the company, you should be able to figure it out.

OK, quick biz update. A new blogging client is in the works. This is great and will be a lot of fun. The Huntington flood situation is getting hot and heavy. Since the flood does not directly affect business anymore, in the spirit of staying on topic I am going to start journaling about this on my personal blog, geoffonlife.

Looks like things may become litigious with a non-payment issue. I guess dunning is the dark part of business. It's unfortunate - but somewhat common - that getting paid is difficult with some folks. Glad that I have accountants and lawyers for this uncomfortable part of biz. Otherwise it's all about fulfillment right now.

OK, Monday's quotes:

"The civil rights movement in the United States was about the same thing, about equality of treatment for all sections of the people, and that is precisely what our movement was about." - John Hume

"Therefore, relationships are a day-to-day work of art." - William Shockley

"Relationships change after time." - Linda Evans
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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

PR Blog Links

This week I wanted to get some relevant PR blog links out there (hat tip to Patrick for the some of these suggestions):

* Strumpette: Yes, all that's PR and some very pointed swipes at the big boys. Good blog read for those in the biz. Here's a funny quote from the current entry, "Here’s the deal; since what we do in PR is for the most part so God-awful basic and tactical, we are forced to resort to three things in order to separate you from your hard earned cash: brand the firm, brand specialized expertise, and glom on to new things that make us sound smart."
* dcrtv from Dave Hughes: All that's broadcast in the District and Baltimore. Good source for local flacks.
* Like It Matters from Brian Oberkich: Another marketing blogger who's embraced the web 2.0 technology. The current entry has a good dialogue about embracing blogging and abondoning old school PR tactics.

Business is good. More orders today, putting net billing for Jan over 40, though some of the work is to be performed in February. We've got help through this period to ensure fulfillment is achieved.

I am starting to rethink what the blog will become. I committed to liveblogging the start-up for year one. That ends on April 25. Should I continue as is? I think evolving it may be in order, too. Perhaps more of a dialogue about best practices, success stories, etc. is in order. As I know there's a faithful following, your suggestions are welcome. Email me at geoff (at) livingstonbuzz.com.
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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Branding Elements

We’re doing quite a bit of branding right now, which is allowing us to delve into lots of primary and secondary research. Branding requires a few key components:

1. An understanding of what a brand really is. Boil down all of the hype, all of the industry jargon, and you get down to one simple thing: A promise from the company/organization to its constituency.
2. That brand is communicated in three ways: Visually, verbally, and most importantly, through the actual experience of the constituent.
3. If the brand promise is not fulfilled, then any marketing effort to promote the brand will fail

Thus research’s primary goal is to mine through the internal and external perceptions to achieve a factual offering from the client. The facts are the keystone of a brand message. Taken into context with the constituency’s needs and wants, competitor offerings, recent market trends, and some old fashioned spin, and you have all of the elements necessary to begin branding.

There’s definitely a process involved, but there’s also a little bit of art, a penchant for marketing. The ability to message is invaluable. Then you have to have an artist who can visualize the brand, communicate in a compelling way that moves the constituency (ies). When it all comes together, it should motivate and compel the target audiences.

OK, enough brain dump on the esoterics of branding. We’re busy now, but I still have my eye on the big picture. The last thing we need is to come out of the funnel in February and not have any business because we were too busy fulfilling. So tonight I prospected on the Internet, targeting one of my weaker “sister” agencies. I’ll keep this up until I have about 40 of these leads, then I’ll begin marketing to them.
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Saturday, January 13, 2007

MLK Monday

It’s Saturday, due to some home repair and other factors, I switched my day off. All good as they say.

Still I am writing for Monday’s entry, and it’s an unusual one, Martin Luther King Day. Certainly I hope most folks will take a moment to remember the great impact this man had on our society, and the world as a whole. This week’s quotes are in his honor.

Ramping up continues. Line of credit is secured, thank god. No more sweating pay roll. Now we can weather the 30-60-90s a little better. BofA provided me with way too much credit, so I had it reduced by 70%. I don’t want to use the credit lines. Everything in this business has been self-funded, and the last thing I need to do now is get into to credit issues. But the line does provide good back-up.

Speaking of back up, McGuire Associates is now officially my controller, handling invoices, etc. This makes me more available to the clients and new biz efforts. And I am 100 percent sure that Angela and Kathleen will do a better job of collecting and managing finances. You have to know your strengths.
Walked away from a mega-deal today, a Moby Dick type of deal that I’ve been chasing for a while. It just did not look good for us. The EVP of sales and marketing wants us, and the president wants a NY agency. I’d say we are not on the right side of the fence. And given the continuing drag towards a decision, it became decreasingly likely that we would win. Sometimes you have to cut your losses. Next.

So we continue to have fun. Ups, downs, whatever may come. I must say that I am throughly enjoying this. Starting a company has been a very rewarding personal experience that has opened my eyes in many ways.

A special edition of Monday quotes, all of which are attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.”

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

“Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Construction Cited as Primary Flood Cause

The Washington Post just published a story citing contstruction as the primary cause of the flooding that almost wiped out my business (and my home) last June. For those of you following the blog for a while, you know this is big news.

Yeah, so much for the denial published last fall by VDoT. Looks like we’ve got a fight on our hands. Very good news.
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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Self Care and Productivity

Went to the gym last night for a very long workout. It felt great. It’s so important to take a break and work off the stress.

When there’s this much going on, it’s tempting to work straight through… however, I find that taking the time for self-care such as morning meditation, and 3-4 work-outs a week make all the difference in the world. In fact, it makes for better productivity, better decisions, etc. Plus the pursuit of balance cannot be underestimated.

The accountant gave us a clean bill of health (for a boot-strap start-up). We’re going to cut a profit in year one, abbreviated as it was (we started in April). For accounting purposes, year 2 begins now, though our first calendar year will be completed in a few months. In addition to office space, went to Bank of America and will be opening a line of credit.

On the staffing front, hired one of my 1099ers half-time for the month. While we’re going gang busters, we’re going to wait another month or two before committing to a third full timer. Including myself, #1, the 1099er and our intern, we have four people working in my offices this month.

The mid-week blogs of note:

* A massive outrage is brewing in the blogosphere as the truth comes out. Windows and Mac OS have turned to the NSA for security help. Shades of the Clipper chip have returned, and privacy again is thrust into the spotlight. This has PR nightmare written all over it. We may go Mac over this one.
* Slashfood takes a look at Coke Zero’s second major ad campaign to make it Coke’s “next mega brand”… Will it work?
* Copy blogger’s got a great entry on the 5 essential steps for success with search engine optimization. Welcome to my list of resource links, Copyblogger!
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Sunday, January 07, 2007

By-Lines and Leadership

Please note our blog site address has changed. Please alter bookmarks as necessary. Additionally, you can still sign up to receive blog entries via email, down below on the right-hand column.

I had an opportunity to be of service to some entrepreneurs in the South Arlington Lead Share Association (I'm a member, too), and talk a little about PR. I suggested by-line articles as a great way to get easy coverage. My comments from Friday are below Monday's quotes.

I love being in real office space. To me, it's such a relief. I guess there are only so many hours you can spend in a basement before it starts wearing on you, no matter how brightly you paint it. Further, this will contribute to better life/work balance, and give us an air of legitimacy.

It's an interesting time for the company, one that's requiring me to demonstrate some leadership and direction. In someways, I find that leadership is defined by doing what you think is right, not necessarily what makes those around you happy. If my goal was to make everyone happy, I'd be some two-bit player in a podunk, mediocre agency with a miserable role grinding my teeth while others benefited from my efforts. Hmmm, no thanks.

Leadership is not a popularity contest, instead it's a task that requires big picture thinking, good instincts, and the moxy to see things through, regardless of the push back you receive. It takes guts. In that vein, here are Monday's quotes:

"To put up with. . . distortions and to stick to one's guns come what may — this is the. . . gift of leadership." - Mohandis Ghandi

"Never mistake a clear view for a short distance." - Paul Saffo

"Fortune sides with he who dares." - Virgil

By-lines: A Beginner’s How To

Presented to SALSA on January 5, 2007 by Geoff Livingston

By line articles are one of the easiest ways to get public relations coverage. They are time intensive, which makes them prohibitive to some, but in the end they are great ways to build subject matter expertise. Further, you can control the message, and you can use the piece later on as marketing collateral.

More...

How to do it:

1) Read the masthead of your targeted newspaper or industry publication(s): This is critical. You may think you know what the publication is about, but you probably could use a refresher. Further, your interpretation of the mission must match theirs. Then read the publication to reinforce your understanding of the mission.

2) Check to see if they have editorial guidelines. If so, good news. That means they 1) accept by-line submissions, 2) have told you how they like to receive pitches. It’s always good when someone tells you the rules of engagement in advance.

3) Create an abstract, which consists of one to two paragraphs with a supporting outline. In essence, the abstract is the plot of your story. This abstract needs to tie into the publication’s mission so it will appeal to the readership. It’s important that the article not be overtly promotional, but instead related to your company’s mission and value proposition. Your knowledge and commentary about industry trends will work to establish the expertise and credibility you seek.

4) Pitch the abstract to the managing editor. Follow up with one call a week until you get an answer. If it’s a no, find a competing publication and pitch it to them.

5) Upon acceptance, write and deliver. Don’t overtly promote your company in the actual writing. Use your by-line and bio description to promote the company, including a web site address. With your submission, it’s good to include interesting imagery and quotes from third parties.
Enjoy coverage in a publication that’s normally out of your reach. Reprints make for great marketing collateral, too
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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

You know you're busy when..

You know you're busy when... you are moving into new offices and that day you won't even be there. Instead you are off-site at a client. I was hoping for more of a soft-launch into the New Year, but in reality this is a quality problem. Thank god for #1. She's handling it.

Brags: Some late breaking stories for our New Year's pitch: Chicago Tribune's Redeye edition, Cincinnati Enquirer, Washington Post, and a Fox News Redux. Not bad.

OK, here are some of the weekly blog round ups for marketing folks:

Lee Oddon listed 250 marketing and PR blogs that he follows. I love entries like this because they offer a one-stop research tool.

Saddam's hanging triggered enormous media interest, and of course blogosphere interest. Check out Feverish Thoughts for an example. Just another showing of how we're really fascinated with things like death, looking good, feeling attractive, etc. Primal instincts matter in marketing.

Chris Garrett discusses developing web sites, and takes a nice, well educated shot at Linked In. I like it.

#1 is still working on the new template for the blog, but the Wordpress account is ready to go. Very exciting stuff!
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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Plugging Back In

Time to get back into the mix. It can be hard after vacation. Got to try and ease back in, still jetlagged, plus the month will be pretty bonkers, with approximately 30-40K in billings to be performed. This week will be the only opportunity for normality.

Managed to turn off work for the most part, I think I worked maybe a half hour or hour everyday. Not too bad. We had a lot of fun, most of which I documented on my personal blog. Highlight of the trip had to be meeting Wayne Newton after a very campy old school Vegas show.

Over the weekend, had a client get a sectional cover story in a major mid-west newspaper. It was pretty cool. Hopefully, more will come along.

So it’s back to building, pitching and promoting. One task this week is resolving completion of work for a client that I decided to part ways with at the end of the year. Lack of profitability, plus real teeth grinding work were the primary reasons. I have other less than profitable accounts, but they are fun, so in their own right they offer fulfillment. But without the fun factor… That’s the great thing about owning your own business: You can choose the types of accounts to keep, and which ones to pass on.

I look forward to rolling out a new version of this blog in the next couple of weeks. The journal will be rolled over to my website with a template to match current branding.

Also in the cards, scaling up and moving into offices, as well as the hiring of #2 (whomever that may be). These steps need to be taken, but on a measured pace so the company is not affected long term. At the same time, I don’t won’t to stymie the company with overly prudent behavior. A key meeting with the accountant next week will help things along.

OK, here’s Monday’s quotes, a day late due to the New Year:

“A real decision is measured by the fact that you've taken a new action. If there's no action, you haven't truly decided.”
-Anthony Robbins

“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that things are difficult.”
-Seneca

“There is nothing more imprudent than excessive prudence.”
-Charles Caleb Colton
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