Uttercast: Obsessed with Numbers


I finally filled the gas tank on my car for the first time, and- wow! It feels good to pay $20 for a fill-up, but still only gas up as frequently as always.

I will admit to being obsesses with the gas mileage meter on my new car (a 2009 Honda Fit), and ride the ups and downs of my car’s mpg emotionally as the number moves based on how I’m driving at the time. I sometimes worry that I pay more attention to the number than I do to the road.

It’s a reminder that while the numbers- metrics- are important, if we pay too much attention to them, do we lose sight of what we are doing? For the same reason I am cautious about getting too lost in the measurement debate in my industy, public relations. What do you think?

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Embargoes in the New Age of Public Relations (Not Dead Yet)

12/17/08 UPDATE: With Michael Arrington at TechCrunch deciding not to honor embargoes anymore, I have been bringing up this example as how a good embargo can work– and why.


This week, I had the pleasure of working with my team at SHIFT Communications and our client, The Christian Science Monitor, to release the very big news of The Monitor’s impending change of format to Web-based supplemented by a new weekly print magazine. To read more about that news, start here. My team at SHIFT did a fantastic job in pitching, as I have come to expect. This opportunity was made all the more fun as part of my past professional life was as a producer for Monitor Radio in the 1990s.

Back to the public relations topic: one of the tools the team, both at The Monitor and at SHIFT, employed was an old chestnut: the embargo.

“What, an embargo?” you say. “Didn’t those die with the Internet? Do reporters, much less bloggers, keep embargoed news anymore?”

Well, yes– in fact, some folks in journalist-land showed surprise that the embargo held- one, Joe Strupp of Editor & Publisher, was one of those who agreed to the embargo, fully expecting someone else to break it (“Wow, some Reporters Can Still Keep a Secret“). Another, the snarky blog Jossip, called the successful embargo “the most brilliant bullshit ever” (thanks– I think).

The death of the embargo has been widely and prematurely reported for many years. During the Internet 1.0 boom, the rise of online news outlets led to paranoia that those Web sites would break any and all news upon receipt, thus bringing down the embargo. As blogging rose in the last few years, that fear became more pronounced as a number of outlets were considered to be “non-journalistic” in many ways, leading all us PR types to question whether they even knew what an embargo was. And sure, tech blogs have broken embargoes- but so have print magazines, newspaper and broadcast. The fears are unfounded in that the rise of online media, and now blogs, is not the death of the embargo. Untrustworthy publishers (well, in a sense) and “fake news” are more to blame for the death of individual embargoes, when they are broken.

I have had tech blogs like TechCrunch and Centernetworks honor embargoes. I have had conversations with tech bloggers who were concerned about the breaking of embargoes by competitors when they were trying to be honorable, and what could they do about the general situation? I have had IT weeklies break embargoes and scrambled to make things right with everybody.

So what makes an embargo successful?

  • Real news- Don’t use an embargo to try to hike coverage of unimportant “fake” news. A legitimate, big story is worth waiting for, and trustworthy reporters/bloggers/whatever will not want to blow a story with a trustworthy news source on fear they won;t get spoon-fed the next story.
  • Trust your sources- Only send embargoed news to publications you explicitly trust to hold on to it. That knowledge comes from experience, both first-hand and from your peers. If you;re not sure, ask around– then hold back if you have to- better to be safe.
  • Keep in contact right through the embargo deadline, and be ready in case someone does break it. As you see from Joe Strupp’s piece, even those journalists who take embargoes are skeptical of their peers’ ability to keep them. Keep in contact with everyone who has the news, reminding them of the time as well as fact-checking and providing materials. If someone does break the embargo, Have the press release ready to drop on a moment’s notice, and be ready to dial fast and release everyone else from their embargoes.

    Another method I employed once was when a reporter got wind of news early and was sure to run with it first, we were able to hold back some materials so that the later publications had something extra and valuable to use (in this case, interviews with customers). That time, it worked out for everyone.

Is the embargo dead? Far from it. What do you think?

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Uttercast: Holding on to stuff


when I registered my new car, for some reason I didn’t transfer my old license plate. I was attached to the plate, which I have had for nearly 20 years, and is one of the old-style single green Massachusetts plates. I suppose it’s ok to let go, especially now that I have this photo to remember.

We can’t keep everything. Not just stuff, but memories, knowledge and experiences. I’m a terrible packrat by nature, so am still learning how to clear up.

How do you decide what to let go? Are you a "clean sweeper" or do you keep things clear- your desk, your basement, your mind- as you go? You can see I’m flirting with talk of organizational behavior over nostalgia here.

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Uttercast: My #twitspiration


Scott Monty (@scottmonty) hipped me to a meme he is spreading called "#twitspiration"- who got you on Twitter?

My story won’t fit in 140 caracters, so I’m putting it here. In October 2006, just after PodCamp Boston I, Chris Brogan (@chrisbrogan) and/or Christopher Penn (@cspenn), the PodCamp founders, told me about Twitter. I signed up, poked around, and wasn’t sure why I would use it.

In February 2007, C.C. Chapman (@cc_chapman) raved about using Twitter to tell friends about being stuck in Memphis with his family. People like Jeff Pulver came through with hotel, car, and pizza. OK, I thought, I get it now, and started using Twitter on March 1.

I was still baffled by the stream of useless "lunch" Tweets, even writing a blog post about instant burnout. I challenged people to entertain me, and folks like Steve Coulson (@gideontelevision) and "The Diva" (@thedivarockin) complied. I haven’t looked back.

If you’re on Twitter, who is your Twitspiration (heck, what about Utterli)?

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Uttercast: Directing Traffic, or “Moderation in Anything”


I had the honor and pleasure last week to moderate a panel on "Leveraging Social Media for Business, with Aaron Strout, who has just left Mzinga (and will be starting soon with Powered- www.powered.com), and Robin Carey of Social Media Today. You can find info on that webinar at http://www.webguild.org/…siness.php.

Rather than the webinar, my topic is moderation itself. From my background in radio journalism, I have always loved to direct conversations among people with expertise, with my expertise being to focus the conversation into something useful or even meaningful.

I see moderation having 2 purposes:

1) Draw out people with the actual expertise and focus the conversation, moving it along.

2) Anticipating what anyone listening might want to hear and ask the best/right questions.

I’m not just talking about webinars and panels here. Use "moderation" techniques to get the most out of any conversation.

So- not "everything in moderation," but "moderation in anything."

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Social Media Top 5: The Scarlet Letter B

Time again for a “Social Media Top 5” roundup of items and issues I found interesting– if you do also, feel free to comment:

  1. The Next Step in the Mainstreamification of Twitter: McCain campaign volunteer Ashley Todd gets creativity points for using Twitter to push her elaborately stupid hoax in which she claimed an African American

    Obama supporter robbed her at an ATM and carved a “B” into her cheek. A backwards “B?” The real amusing part is that the Twitter meme “#litf08” – standing for “Life in the Field” and is a tag for McCain supporters to post about their work on the campaign and support for their candidate- has been taken over by people mocking Todd- and, less fairly, the McCain campaign.

    A reminder that tools like Twitter are public, and RSS feeds like this one can be manipulated should the mob feel like taking it over with its own content.

    Guess what the big Halloween costume among social media addicts will be this year?

  2. What is Public and What isn’t?

    Jason Calacanis, serial entrepreneur currently heading up Mahalo, sent an email to his subscriber list detailing the process he went through in recent layoffs at the company, and remembering when he had to do it at Silicon Alley Reporter during the Dot-Bust days. A great post and very detailed and humanizing, but he pulled a fit when Erick Schonfeld of TechCrunch reprinted the entire email. Alan Hoskins has an account of the exchange here.

    So, now we are talking about what’s public and what’s not rather than the economy. Much more interesting to be sure. Was Schonfeld in the clear? Calacanis maintains that his email is a private communication. Schonfeld counters that as Calacanis is a public figure (would a court say that?), and that the email list is a hardly-restricted 9,000 strong, the material is fair game, and besides, it’s a news item, not to mention Calacanis publicly posted a much shorter version of the story on his blog.

    So, who’s in the right here? I would love to hear a ruling on this, to establish some precedent.

  3. Chris Brogan talks in detail about scaling social networks in this detailed post. Can social networks scale? Aren’t these supposed to be personalized interactions, and any group bigger than Dunbar’s Number of 150 is broadcasting? As someone who has gone a bit over the 150 mark on Twitter, I have some perspective- the larger groups do not have be treated as broadcast. I see them as a bunch of little, intersecting Dunbar groups. So how do we scale? We compartmentalize. In the case of Twitter, it’s who is talking now, not who is in your network. In any social engagement, it is who is involved in the conversation, not who is in the room. That’s how social networking scales.
  4. David Spark writes in Mashable about the Biggest Mistakes Made by Social Media Gurus. some great confessionals and calling-out here; particularly the bit warning against not engaging the self-promoters– aren’t we all doing that (and here is my chance to link to Scott Monty’s “Me” post for the third time in a week)? on the other hand, to accept as a rule not to “accept friend requests from people you barely know” is really not for one person to say, is it? “Barley know” doesn’t even have a single definition. As always, posts like this are good fodder for debate.
  5. And speaking of rules, Lois Paul, head of the eponymous PR agency (and competitor to my employer, SHIFT Communications), is a blogger I enjoy reading often. I’m conflicted about her post “The Amy Post of Twitterdom” purporting to write some Twitter etiquette rules. I actually agree with a number of them (no need to thank people for following you, but then again it doesn’t bother me), while others I definitely do not (don’t Tweet more than once an hour? Seriously?) but am also tempted to pick a day – soon- where I pointedly violate all of her rules and see what kind of backlash I get- not much, I suspect. The community writes the rules. You write your own for yourself
  6. .

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Uttercast; It’s All About Me!


My friend Scott Monty posted this week (http://www.scottmonty.com/…media.html) about how a lot of people post too much about themselves. I agree that blogging and other social media are narcissistic exercises in which we frequently talk about ourselves and stroke our egos. The post made me ask if I post too much about myself- I have no idea if this kind of blog was what he was talking about.

However, the more I thought about it, and after joking in the comments, the more strongly I feel that we should not discourage "ego" blogging. Why? Our best thoughts come from our own experiences and we can only teach from what we know. If we are being too egotistically pedantic, our audience will let us know by disappearing.

So- keep blogging about yourself. It’s valuable. Do you agree?

(btw- that’ my car- me!)

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Uttercast: Origin Story


Going through boxes in the basement, I came across some of my old Boy Scout stuff. Most significant were a bunch of patches from the Order of the Arrow, a fraternity of sorts within the Scouts.

Why? For the better part of a decade, I was on the Shows staff for the national conferences (NOACs). I would help design and program the visual shows- starting with slides, but incorporating audio and video. I quickly became aware of the effect any part of these shows could have on the young attendees- to teach, to inspire, to go on and become leaders themselves.

This was how I became involved in media. What is your origin story (that almost sounds like I am asking a superhero- heh)?

and yes, this posts’ subject is unapologetically me (http://www.scottmonty.com/…edia.html). Make the comments about you. I really do want to hear your stories.

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Uttercast: Fasten Your Seatbelts


Watching the financial markets over the past few weeks, it is easy for those of us who lived through the Internet bubble burst in 2001 to think "here we go again." It is also evident that this financial crisis does not come from the same place, though. Will things play out the same way in the tech field? We don’t know.

What really interests me is the perspective of other people. In 2001, I saw that people who had not lived through the early 90s recession had no idea what might come; all they knew was boom times and thought they would go on forever.

Are those of us with fresh memories of the tech recession being too cautious? Not cautious enough? It’s going to be an interesting several months coming up.

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