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admin on December 20th, 2009

So what’s the deal with blogs? Technorati’s recent report says they’re tracking 57 million different blogs with a collective output of 1.6 million posts per day. That’s a lot of words, pictures, and sounds.
     Here’s the bad news for marketing pros (and yes, we in PR are part of marketing): no one likes to read canned messages. People like pictures. And when a picture does not convey the message in its entirety, people prefer straightforward insight and information. They want to hear a company tell what they know as experts, what’s on the horizon for a sector or simply provide access and insight.
     Of course, the only thing worse than canned marketing is a cheap attempt at a blog (a clog) or fake blog (flog). Our commitment is to make Blogabilities about exchange, not promotion.
     We want to talk, and blogs are direct in that way.
     More important, blogs have an edge. If you’re following a topic, interested about the collective-consciousness babble on trends, or need information on something specific, blogs serve it up.
     Why would a public relations and government affairs firm want to do a blog? It’s an experiment. An extracurricular project to talk about all things relevant and totally irreverent about PR, marketing, image, public policy–or whatever direction the conversation takes us.
     It never ceases to amaze me just how many questions executives have about PR: When do I need PR? How can elements of our marketing strategy be supported by PR? How much does it cost? What do we announce or discuss? What should we expect from a PR firm?
     We invite you, in our blog, to ask all those questions related to marketing, PR, public affairs, advertising, image and anything else remotely related to these topics you want to know.
     We’re also going to gather up our impressions and thoughts, with the hope it ignites dialogue.
     Your turn. Hit the Comments button, and let’s get things rolling.

– Melissa Anthony

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A group of college students in Texas used an old adage to reverse a longstanding political trend in their county.

As a student of “old school” politics, I can’t help but recall the story that Tip O’Neill, the quintessential Boston politician and former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, told in his memoirs, Man of the House. In the opening chapter he recalls the events of his first campaign for political office back in the 1930s. It seems he did everything right in that first race—except for campaigning in his own neighborhood. He lost.

Tip O’Neill, a man I had the pleasure of meeting on many occasions during my time in Washington, wrote that his father made what is now a famous political observation. “Let me tell you something I learned years ago”, said the senior O’Neill, “all politics is local.” That was a lesson Speaker O’Neill never forgot, and a story he often told during his rise to power.

I have a feeling O’Neill would have been very impressed with how a group of college students in San Marcos, Texas, home of Texas State University, located just south of Austin, have taken local politics into the cyber age. By using social media tools and applications, their work may have contributed to the reversal of the political trends that once seemed a foregone conclusion in the county that is home to the University.

A group of three TSU students (Sam McCabe, mathematics sophomore, alumnus Jordan Anderson and Jude Prather, public administration senior) formed a political consulting company for the 2006 elections. Their six clients included three candidates for city council and three candidates for county office. Five of the six candidates the student-consultants represented won their races.

The group’s tactics included using MySpace and Facebook pages to create online communities to educate students on issues directly affecting them. Then using traditional GOTV (Get Out the Vote) methods, only modernized to target cell phones and incorporating mass text messaging, they made sure everyone knew when, how, and where to vote for their candidates. (Read the full story in the University Star.)

The young consulting team was so successful that several key races—including the county-wide Criminal District Attorney race, which was decided by only 13 votes out of nearly 30,000 cast—swung toward the student-represented candidate. This may be a trend that the national parties ignore at their own peril.

Hays County, which had been trending solidly Republican for more than a decade, went from four Republicans and one Democrat on the County Commissioners Court (the governing body for county governments in Texas) to four Democrats and one Republican. The only county-wide position on the county court went from Republican to Democrat.

Political professionals have long tried to factor students into their election strategies. With social media coming of age, and with students being particularly heavy users of new technologies and trends, capturing the college-student vote may be more important than ever.

If students across the nation are even close to replicating the work at Texas State, any politician with a clue about getting elected will be paying close attention. It may do them well to study up on the issues important to students going into 2008. There will doubtless be thousands of Facebook and MySpace pages and literally millions of text messages at stake.

The candidates in Hays County, the ones who didn’t do that last year, now probably wish they had.

– Mike Chapman

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admin on December 20th, 2009

Brian Clark, copyblogger, recently wrote a great piece about P. T. Barnum and online publicity. Before I comment on Brian’s article, let me introduce myself. I am the great-great-great granddaughter—or grandniece, depending on which relative you speak to in my family—of Phineas Taylor Barnum.

 As fate would have it, I’m also the president of a PR firm—anthonyBarnum Public Relations in Austin, Texas—named in honor of my pioneering ancestor. I do not claim any particularly compelling insights as a result of my heritage. It’s a fun fact, a connection I use for all that it symbolizes.

Now, to get to the theme of Brian’s blog post: the importance of quality when it comes to online content. As millions learn to use new technology and create virtual communities, we’re seeing artistic expression, extreme situations and creativity emerge and converge online. Some examples challenge us, others amuse. Of course, marketers and image-builders are quick to unleash their vision—merging a business objective into virtual communities—and so the two mix.

Public relations, messages and marketing don’t have to be unauthentic or superficial, self-promoting engines. This is a great fallacy of the craft.  The best PR and marketing is a vehicle for information and/or engagement.

As Brian pointed out,

although Phineas Taylor Barnum used outrageous stunts and hoaxes for promotional purposes, he was insanely focused on delivering exceptional value to his customers. He even crusaded against schemers and charlatans that swindled people out of money.

Those crooks made Barnum’s job harder, just like spammers and snake-oil sellers make every honest online marketer’s task a bit tougher as well. When Barnum pulled one over on you, he told you… and then made sure you left with a smile on your face.

The challenge in PR and marketing has always been to remain relevant, insightful and captivating. When it turns into sheer ROI formulations—how many senseless times can you touch your annoyed audience—then it’s nothing more than cyberjunk.

On the other hand, if companies can provide a more meaningful insight through online marketing because they don’t have to fit into the Velveeta cheese grinder of traditional advertising, we pay attention.

“Without promotion, something terrible happens … Nothing!”  —P.T. Barnum

Positive, productive companies are started because they have a vision for change and an idea for greater efficiency or innovation. Having worked with entrepreneurs throughout my career, I see an underdog story—a leveling of the online playing field, where mega Coca-Cola budgets don’t win over consumers through sheer marketing muscle.

Online there is more room for both the real and the promoted, as long as it has something genuine to offer. The lines will blur, there is no question.

– Melissa Anthony

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admin on December 20th, 2009

If you’re like me, your brain has trained your eyeballs to ignore Google text ads on blogs and G-mail. Every now and then, though, one will pop out of the clutter and catch my attention.

Case in point: while scanning a recent e-mail from my sister, the words “kidney transplant” jumped out at me from a text ad. I had to stop and read:

  Kidney Transplant Surgery
        Dont wait for kidney donors Consult the expert for your surgery today
        [website in india]

Our exchange about dinner plans had nothing to do with kidneys or surgery, but my sister’s e-mail signature had triggered the contextual ad – she works in the field of organ transplantation. Still, I was so amazed that someone was touting a way to bypass the long wait for a kidney donor that I just had to click on the ad.

The link was to a doctor in India who was promoting medical tourism, and the Web site was quite well done – news articles, detailed description of services, cost comparisons, FAQ, testimonials, and even a GET A QUOTE button. I was surprised there wasn’t a blog or a video clip.

I had previously been aware of people traveling to exotic locations for medical treatments, especially for cosmetic procedures, but I had no idea how large the medical tourism industry had grown. As I did a bit of research, I discovered that it’s  one of the trends to watch for 2007.

Two main factors are driving the trend: time and money. In the U.K. and Canada, it can take up to a year for a person needing a hip replacement to be scheduled for surgery. In the U.S., inflated health care costs coupled with a growing population of underinsured workers influence many to look elsewhere for treatment needs, including complicated orthopedic and cardiothoracic surgery, gastric bypass – and, yes, even organ transplants.

The savings can be substantial – easily 70 to 80 percent, even when the cost of airfare and recuperation in a luxury hotel are added to the medical expenses.

Three U.S.-based medical tourism agencies are listed in a recent San Jose Mercury News report (1/15/07): “Tourism agencies do it all – book travel and lodging, work with doctors and hospitals, arrange dates for surgery. They also do on-site inspections to make sure hospital standards are high.” More and more overseas hospitals are seeking accreditation from U.K. and U.S. credentialing organizations.

Interest in the $20-billion-dollar industry goes beyond mere tourism. According to the Miami Herald (1/15/07), five Fortune 500 companies have retained a consulting firm “to figure out whether outsourcing healthcare is a viable option in some cases. One option under consideration to make the trip more palatable: Covering all of the employee’s out-of-pocket expenses, along with a round-trip ticket for a spouse or other caregiver.”

If your health care needs are less complicated, you might be interested in the Chicago Four Season’s My Healthy Valentine package: “one night in a luxurious suite, a couple’s massage, a romantic dinner by candlelight — and a doctor’s checkup.” The checkup includes a PSA screening for men and a mammogram for women. (Chicago Sun Times, 1/15/07)

I don’t much fancy the idea of my “main squeeze” for Valentine’s Day involving an X-ray machine. But if that’s your idea of romance – go for it.

And don’t be surprised if your HMO wants to send you to Bangalore or Singapore the next time you need surgery.

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admin on December 20th, 2009

Here’s the second reason I found yesterday to be a red-letter day for Blog@bilities. With just over two months of blogging history, I figured we would be a last-round draft choice to get tagged for the Five Things meme that’s been circulating for a few weeks. But james Barbour (H&K, London) reached clear across the Atlantic and tagged me. Thanks, James! (You may have dreaded being tagged, but I was pleased to have merited your attention.)

So here are five things you probably don’t know about me …

1. Although I come from a long line of great cooks, I am domestically challenged. Forget souffl?s or even casseroles; I can’t grate cheese without slicing up a fingernail. I love to watch Paula Deen on the Food Network, though. “Best dishes, y’all!”

2. My sister and I have identical speaking voices. Even our mother often resorts to, “Which one is this?” on the telephone. When it comes to singing, it’s a different story. My sister is a lyric soprano with a lovely voice. I’m an alto who once belted out the high F in the “Queen of the Night” aria from The Magic Flute—and every dog in a five-county radius showed up in our yard. So I stick to the keyboards. That, I do well.

3. I am my own first cousin. No, really. It’s one of those complicated Southern family genealogies, and one of these days I’ll get around to writing about it.

4. At mealtimes, I am often a serial eater. If the first bite I take hits my taste buds just right, I will finish all of that item before moving onto the next thing on my plate. And I prefer that my food doesn’t touch. There’s probably some bizarre psychological disorder that explains this, but I’d rather not know about it.

5. I still believe in the Filing Fairy. Every morning I pour a cup of coffee, walk down the three steps into my home office, and am dismayed that no tiny winged creature has magically cleared away all the stacks of papers and books and Post-it notes. My online to-do list and e-mails are neatly organized, but my desk qualifies as a federal disaster area.

And now, the fun part. I get to tag five other bloggers. I tried to verify that my choices have been heretofore untagged. Advance apologies if I missed a Five Things post from the following.

John Moore writes Brand Autopsy, and I discovered he’s a fellow Austinite. Check out his mini-documentaries about his mother. Powerful use of social media tools.

I discovered Sam Meers’s Smoke & Meers blog through Seth Godin’s Z-list on Squidoo.

Jake McKee is the Community Guy. As the name of his blog implies, Jake is an evangelist for building online communities and promoting social media. I’ll have the opportunity to meet him at the Dallas launch of Social Media Club this month, which is being organized by my fourth pick …

Giovanni Gallucci writes The Agency Blog, and his  podcast has the best name ever: Queso Compuesto, described as “tender beef fajitas, technology, guacamole, marketing, jalape?os, social media and pico de gallo in a warm cheese sauce.”

Finally, I’m tagging my pal and co-blogger, Terry Taylor, who writes By the Campfire for the Big River agency as well as our collaboration. He is the Robin Williams of advertising and we’re having fun working together again after a two-decade-plus hiatus.

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admin on December 20th, 2009

Today was a red-letter day* for this relatively recent comer to the blogosphere, for two reasons. First off, Toby Bloomberg, author of one of my favorite blog hangouts, Diva Marketing, e-mailed to say she had published my blogger story. Thanks, girlfriend. I love your Friday happy hour!

And wow, was I ever honored to be in the company of two outstanding bloggers I’ve been following for a while: Ted Demopoulos, author of Blogging for Business—whose book by the same name (coauthored with Shel Holtz) I happen to be reading at the moment; and Lewis Green, whose Business Solutions blog is part of the Marketing Profs Daily Fix lineup.

The collection of Blogger Stories Toby has put together is great reading, and always good for a bit of inspiration when I start wondering what possessed me to start not one, but three blogs. The stories have also introduced me to some interesting voices I might not have discovered otherwise.

Now, that second reason today was a great day? You’ll have to wait until tomorrow . . .

 

* Writer’s curiosity struck when I wrote the words red-letter day, and I suddenly wondered where the old expression had come from. Wikipedia, of course, has the answer.

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admin on December 20th, 2009

Probably nothing is more “behind the scenes” in Texas politics than the election of the Speaker of the House. This bipartisan exercise is the ultimate insiders’ game, and is usually decided far from the scrutiny of those who don’t work in and around the capitol.

While the mainstream media has always played an important role in state politics, this week the not-so-mainstream social media injected itself into the process.

First, in an online report from the always informative Quorum Report, Harvey Kronberg noted that a mysterious videographer had filmed members of the Texas House as they arrived at a gathering of supporters for the current Speaker. The exact purpose of the Sunday night meeting at Austin’s oldest private club was unknown, but they were presumably gathered to discuss strategy with the current Speaker, who was facing a challenger from within the Republican party.

The following day, the video showed up on YouTube. The film had been edited to a series of short clips of 63 House members, each identified on-screen by name. Political bloggers and other sources began reporting that it was likely that a Democratic party affiliate had been responsible. Comments on the Burnt Orange Report, a blog for young Democratic activists who recently graduated from U.T., identified ten Democratic representatives among the Craddick supporters filmed the previous evening. Paul Burka, senior executive editor of Texas Monthly, wrote a do-the-math blog post predicting that the Democratic supporters would tilt the outcome in favor of incumbent Craddick.

Today, during debate on the floor of the House, which I watched on cable access television, one of the members cited another post on the BurkaBlog, in essence a mainstream media affiliate of possibly the most influential magazine in Texas, in which Burka weighed in on what would be fair in determining floor procedures for the Speaker election.

I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of the debate or the procedural issues other than to say that it turned out that Burka was right: Craddick retained his leadership position as Speaker.

What interests me most is what this intersection of Republicans, Democrats, mainstream media, YouTube and blogs means. I have the feeling that what has typically been an insider’s game is only going to get a lot messier and a lot less private very quickly.

These days, everything and everyone are on the record, all the time. It will be interesting to see how government responds.

– Mike Chapman

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admin on December 20th, 2009

Every year our company is a corporate sponsor of Adoption Day. Members of our local Bar Association provide free representation for families who are adopting CPS children in our area. We also do pro bono work for other worthy causes, but our sponsorship of Adoption Day is especially important to me.
     Five years before I was born, my parents adopted my sister, a three-month-old infant who had been removed from a terribly distressed and abusive home. My mother was all of 25 years old when she actively pursued the responsibility of caring for a child with severe disabilities.
     Throw ROI out the window. Pro bono work and corporate sponsorships should be done for personal reasons too. Social responsibility for the sake of social responsibility is its own driver.
     Many of our clients share the same drive. For example, Commercial Texas (CTX), one of Austin’s leading commercial real estate service companies, is a sponsor of Meals on Wheels. But they don’t just write a check and consider they’ve done their bit to better society. From interns to executives, the CTX staff takes turns delivering meals to low-income seniors and the disabled.
     Recently we published a story in the company’s monthly e-newsletter about their involvement with Meals on Wheels. The employees had fun contributing quotes and pictures to the story, and the readers got a more personal glimpse into the people behind the corporate identity. The photo in the newsletter was a real picture of a Meals on Wheels recipient and the CTX volunteers.
     Corporate image? Forget it.
     Are you paying it forward?

– Melissa Anthony

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admin on December 20th, 2009

I recently came across an article comparing the social media efforts of the Washington Post, or more correctly WashingtonPost.Newsweek Interactive, and the New York Times. 
I have always been impressed with the business acumen of the folks at the Post. In this instance, and others, they seem to be willing to get out there and be a part of a trend well before the trend is totally understood.  It’s what most people expect from journalists – to challenge the status quo, not protect it. By allowing some loss of control, the Post is going to grow their readership and gain loyalty and, presumably, greater profits. On the other hand, the New York Times is protecting its turf and keeping the comments of “common people” out of the mix.

Years ago, when I first arrived on Capitol Hill, I was intimidated by the overwhelming amount of information a Congressional office deals with on a constant basis. And in those days, before wide usage of the Internet, it all came in print and over the phone. I was taught how to quickly sort through the piles of letters, packages and phone calls or be rendered perpetually behind. One of my mentors compared his method of dealing with the information flow to standing on an island, in the middle of a rapidly flowing river. The currents shooting past were all of the information available, and he would pick out the pieces of information he needed – without falling in and being washed downsteam.

If anything, the stream is wider and faster today and includes everyone with access to the Internet, not just the people on the inside of the information flow (the island in the middle of the river). The Washington Post understands that people – yes, it’s still all about people – will go somewhere else if they can’t interact with them in real time. The hundreds and thousands of potential new readers will go where it is made easiest for them.

It’s not about control, or staying dry, it’s about taking a risk and maybe even enjoying it. Adapting to change is the key to survival.

As I look at the stream of information around us, ever growing, ever swifter, my advice is – don’t be afraid to get wet. Just jump in. That island of safety has long been underwater, and that same mentor of mine was one of the first to enjoy the swim.

– Mike Chapman

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admin on December 20th, 2009

A Texas legislator has introduced a bill to extend defamation of character protections to the Internet, and I found out about it first where?  The Internet.

While bouncing around from blog to blog I came across what appeared to be a group of bloggers, and their mostly anonymous and pseudonym-bearing commenters, forming an online posse to go after the perpetrator of a cyber crime.  Representative Vicki Truitt of Texas has introduced legislation intended to extend defamation of character protections to Internet activities. As the posse lit their imaginary torches and gathered their rope and horses in anticipation of a good old-fashioned Texas hanging, they took shots, some not so good natured, at Representitive Truitt while seeming to rationalize that it would be fair to take her on as a public figure. Since their comments were funny, it was really just parody.

Truitt has her own reasons for wanting to introduce the bill, but several other examples of online writing, which I won’t keep alive by linking to, came to my mind. I have wondered if some people live by a different set of personal values when online than in the rest of their lives.

The reaction was enough to catch the attention of the legislation’s author.  The Forth Worth Star Telegram reports that Representative Truitt will take the points of view of the bloggers in mind as this issue is addressed during the next session of the Texas Legislature, which convenes in January.   

Considering that probably only a handful of the bloggers live in Truitt’s district, and many of them don’t even use their real names, I see Truitt’s latest move as just more evidence of the great power of the unknown that exists in the world of social media today.

Gnome_globesm As implied by the filing of the legislation, there is an obvious concern that bloggers can write whatever they want without fear of accountability.  If done cleverly enough, they might even have real impact on the process.  Somebody nicknamed Roaming Gnome is actually quoted in the Star Telegram article.

This is just the beginning of what promises to be the most interesting free speech issue of the year. I can’t wait to read the comments; however, don’t look for their anonymous writings to be reposted here. I realize that everything we put online can be traced back to us and that it is a permanent part of our written history – pseudonym or not.

– Mike Chapman

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