Swag for Cred

Mothers writing on the Internet about products they like tend to be trusted by other mothers. That’s why marketing and PR agencies try mightily to convert these key influencers into becoming “brand ambassadors” with product samples, contests and the like.

Flattered or grateful, many blogging mommies will go so far as to place advertisers’ banner ads for free on their sites. But because they want to be paid for such activites, some bloggers are becoming more vocal about the stupidity of their fellow bloggers getting nothing but swag or links in exchange for promotional posts. [PRNewser, 5/13/10].

Mom Central CEO Stacy DeBroff says moms blogging for free stuff was not as common as people may think. But she told PR Newser, “The minute you become too commercial, you lose your audience, and when you lose your audience you lose your influence.”

Giving Offense, Getting Noticed

I used to work as a public affairs director at a large mental health organization. Not the kind of place that would get a kick out of a recent Burger King commercial.

A man in a surreally oversized plastic “king” head with a creepy grin is running through an office building pursued by a man dressed in a white lab coat who yells, “Stop that King, he’s crazy!”

It seems the meat sovereign is insane to be “giving away” sandwiches for $3.99.

There is so much stigma assigned to mental illness that this kind of stuff puts people on edge. But as advertising, it works. I remembered it, and it garnered a lot of press notice.

When Rahm Emmanuel, Obama’s hot-tempered chief of staff, criticized somebody’s stupid move as “retarded,” the uproar commenced. Sarah Palin, who has a young son with Down’s Syndrome, seized the opportunity to call for Emmanual’s dismissal. Proving once again that one person’s/organization’s bad P.R. is another’s opportunity.

Music Marketing Mayhem

“For the first time in 50 years characters in rock and roll really don’t stand for anything. Music has become more manufactured than a Ford Focus. The biggest movement out of youth culture today is the campaign against drinking bottled water. That’s a sign of a society that has too much free time. Or maybe too much water.” – Bob Guccione Jr., founder of Spin magazine, in Forbes online (5/03/10)

Guccione’s Spin

The controversial founder of Spin magazine says most magazines today are “garbage” and the business is in the midst of a “Darwinian culling.”

“They are generic, lifeless, gutless titles embracing mindless voyeurism of vapid celebrity lifestyles,” Bob Guccione Jr., told Dirk Smillie of Forbes (5/03/10). He believes magazines aren’t attracting ads because their journalism isn’t risky enough. “What’s the point of media if you’re not rocking the boat?”

He doesn’t have much respect for the digital side either. “Most blogs are produced at a sixth-grade writing level,” he opines. “There are no Mark Twains out there.”

Publishers should focus on risk taking and reader loyalty, he thinks. “There’s too much obsessing about Web traffic,” he says. “Who cares if a website has 3 million monthly uniques if people aren’t engaged with the site? I’ll bet you Wine Spectator hasn’t grown that much over the years, but who wouldn’t want to own it? By doing this, we condition people to feel that fidelity is unimportant on the Web.

“In magazines, loyalty is a natural by-product. It becomes part of the identity of the magazine. I don’t feel that on the Web. I like the New York Times online, for example, but as much as I’m a fan, I’m not loyal to it in that medium. If they start charging for it, I’ll look elsewhere.”

Businessweek (Re)Blooms

When Bloomberg LLP purchased hoary old Business Week magazine from McGraw-Hill you could be forgiven for wondering what they were thinking. The multimillion dollar price tag may have been mere pocket change to the maker of ubiquitous and highly lucrative financial data machines. But still, why bother?

After all, Washington Post Co. is jettisoning Newsweek after nearly 50 years of ownership and a recent complete redesign, because it can’t make the property pay.

Now called Bloomberg Businessweek, both the print and electronic versions of the specialty publication have undergone less of a redesign than a re-imagining. And therein lies the promise of its success.

From it’s very name, it’s clear that the reborn media property is part of a new family and new strategy — the new owner  is the brand, and businessweek is its extension.

It’s a larger and more complicated media property now, packed with information packaged all sorts of ways, serving distinct groups from traders to cultural zeitgeistists. There are short, snappy pieces along with narrative features (Meg Whitman on the campaign trail, municipalities deep-sixed by sophisticated financial trades, etc.), investigative pieces (former Lehman CEO Dick Fuld’s perjury, for-profit college scams), and continuation of special areas of expertise (for instance, the importance of design to productivity).

There are lots of moving parts to manage, so Bloomberg’s strength in low-key, by-the-book management will come in handy. In contrast, other recent attempts to reinvent the business magazine such as Conde Nast’s Portfolio failed, in part because of editorial/managerial temperament.

Bloomberg’s challenge (as with whoever ends up owning Newsweek) is less to make print relevant in the electronic age than to revitalize a trusted (and therefore valuable) brand so that it nimbly adopts new technologies to reach varied audiences in varied ways.

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