Monday, July 31, 2006

When Does New News Become Old News?

… On the internet, the answer is: about a day and a half, which is good news from a public relations standpoint.

A recent article by Noam Cohen in The New York Times cites a study by physicist Albert-László Barabási, a professor at Notre Dame, who found that it takes 36 hours for half of total web readership of a news article to have read it. (I confess I was surprised. I would have guessed it would be something more like 2 to 4 hours.)

According to Dr. Barabási, web surfers don’t read news articles evenly throughout the day. Instead, they read in bursts. So while a story will seem old to some users, others who have been away from the Internet for a while become intrigued by a story and catch up with their reading all at one time.

So, overall, the venue of online news gains stature and value and broadens the range of public relations.

The implications of these finding are very interesting, from a PR standpoint.

  1. Online news is around a lot longer than expected, making it an attractive media placement opportunity. If 36 hours is the half-life of a news story on the web, how long is a whole life? 72 hours?

  2. Does this information give online news a new advantage over advertising? People are motivated to come back for news and further interpretations of it. In fact, perhaps the half-life may be extended beyond 36 hours, as online audiences expand. With a few notable exceptions — such as Apple’s new Mac ads, Guinness’s Evolution commercial and Burger King’s Subservient Chicken — it’s hard to motivate people to come back for advertising.

  3. If news is around for that long online, when does new news become old news offline? Many people keep newspapers and magazines around for months. Conventional wisdom is that yesterday's news is yesterday's news, and people are no longer interested. Perhaps we need to take another look.

  4. The longer shelf life motivates corporations to release more information online, knowing it will stick. And who knows more about doing that than public relations professionals?

  5. Almost everyone employs the internet to get to the bottom of any information search. The fact that the life of new news is longer than we thought means that there may be less need for paid archives.

  6. In a sense this new information gives us the equivalent of an offline reprint. We have always advised clients that someone may miss an offline story and never see it again. Therefore, hard copy reprints took on greater value. You could hold them in your hands. They lasted. Now we know that online news is not the flash in the pan we thought it was. And you can create a hard copy reprint off the internet too ... or you can find it online for quite a while ... or find it in the archives.
In his interview, Dr. Barabási makes an excellent suggestion. He urges editors to promote articles on their Web site, even after they have lost their “news value,” because “searches won’t help readers who don’t know what they have been missing.”

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Monday, July 24, 2006

In Defense of Forty Winks

I have always believed in cat-napping. I did it in college when studying for final exams and I do it today in taxis between appointments. If it’s impossible to take a "power nap" at work, I try to ensure that I make up for those missing winks the night before a big meeting. Twenty-minute cat-naps have an amazing revival effect on me. But you have to train yourself to take them. And they are vital when you have been putting in long hours.

Outstanding productivity in business depends on executives who are awake! Unfortunately, surveys show our nation is sleep-deprived. And corporations are starting to do something about it.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep deprivation costs U.S. business more than $100 billion a year in lost productivity and damage to workers health and safety.

Now, real evidence is mounting that sleep — even a nap — appears to enhance information processing and learning. New experiments by researchers at Harvard also show that a midday snooze reverses information overload. The scientists found that the brain uses a good night's sleep to consolidate the memories of habits, actions and skills learned during the day. Another study by NASA has found that a 26-minute nap increased pilots' performance by 34%.

So it wasn’t that much of a surprise to me to read in TIME magazine that some corporations are adding napping facilities for their employees.

This is a new definition of sleeping on the job!

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Monday, July 17, 2006

Remembering a Giant

Last Friday I attended a memorial service for one of my mentors, Kal Druck, who died recently at age 90. Kal was a giant in the public relations industry and his firm, Harshe Rotman & Druck, was the fifth largest in the country during the ’70s, the decade when I worked there and grew up in this business. I admired him and learned from him.

He was a tall, stout Rooseveltian figure who dominated every room he walked into. He had a magnetic personality, was a brilliant writer and dropped pearls in nearly every presentation he made to a current or prospective client. Kal was from the "big idea" school of public relations and rarely entered a meeting without one. He believed that even the client with the smallest budget would buy and pay a lot of money for the right idea. Kal was a raconteur of the finest type and could mesmerize a room. He was the only guy I knew who could start out a presentation with a joke that had no relationship to the theme he was about to present and get away with it.

One of the legendary stories about Kal was that he was once on the phone first thing in the morning with a prospective client in Detroit, who felt there was a geographic disadvantage to retaining a firm in New York. Kal suddenly interrupted and said, "You know, I have an appointment now and I am wondering if I can call you back this afternoon." The prospect agreed. Kal left immediately and hustled his way to La Guardia Airport, hopped a plane to Detroit, and showed up in the prospect's office that afternoon. Well, you know the end of the story – He won the biz!

I studied Kal's words and techniques and took notes on what he said during sales presentations. I looked nothing like him. I was not a raconteur or a comedian. I had a totally different style. But in my latter years with the firm as my responsibilities grew, Kal started taking me with him to meetings. For presentations, he would say, "Now, I will introduce the firm and you carry the presentation!"

At the memorial service, I learned that he was a wonderful father, grandfather and husband. One of the family commented that occasionally at the dinner table with his kids present he would say: "Do you have any idea how much I love your mother!" Kal was demonstrative, and I believe he loved the business as much as his family. He became chairman of the Public Relations Society of America, as well as the president of Larchmont Temple, where the memorial took place. I was only disappointed that many of the others who were influenced by Kal were not there to celebrate his life.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

The Importance of Time Off

One of the negatives of being the wired junkie that most of us have become is that, as Tom Friedman has said, we are always "in" and never "out." No matter where we are, we are available … and that includes vacations, too. Yet it is my contention that if we do not disconnect from the web as well as our jobs and take a respite from both, we will be unable to connect with life.

One- to two-week vacations are an opportunity to break the routine and gain new perspectives on all we are doing. I know that I get all kinds of ideas when I am away about all kinds of things that float in and out of my head. But for the most part I have trained myself -- a bit of a workaholic when I am here -- to forget about my work when I am away. Unless I have a crisis to deal with (and I generally don't; how many real crises are there?) I shut everything out and don't call the office and request not to be called (and try to encourage our employees to do likewise). For me it is the key to sustained long-term optimum performance between vacations, which is most of my life!

That is why I was struck by an editorial in TIME magazine I read about a week ago that a large percentage of Americans leave vacation time on the table. Why? Because they fear all the work that will accumulate when they return!! Unbelievable! According to, Americans will pass up more than 574 million vacation days in 2006 … despite the fact that there are incredible health and wellness benefits associated with time off from work and despite the fact that one-third of Americans report that they feel better about their job and more productive upon returning from vacation.

TIME says that, because of the accumulated work load issue, people are trending to shorter vacations of 3 to 5 days or no vacation at all, just taking a break by spending a few hours reading in comfy chairs at Barnes & Nobles or Starbucks. Thus McDonald's is considering changing their stationary table and chair set-up for cushy chairs that people can linger in.

While connectivity means productivity, I think we are on overdrive. We have become tyrannized by time, and we all need a break to make sure we see things clearly.

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Monday, July 03, 2006

Global Advantage

Whenever our organization is approached by a potential client with global operations, it's almost a certainty that we'll be asked whether we have offices in key markets worldwide. Of course, we do! But it is important to point out that our representation is through IPREX -- a corporation of independent public relations and investor relations firms in 23 countries and 37 cities throughout the United States -- and that there is a distinct advantage when they use our firm and IPREX rather than mega firms that have their own offices.

As a founder of IPREX, I've seen this advantage at work for more than 20 years, but it was underscored for me at the IPREX annual meeting in Washington, D.C., just a few weeks ago. As I watched the interactions of the 40+ agencies during the two days of discussions, field trips, lunches and dinners, I was struck by the cultural blend and similarity in values of these firms which hailed from three continents. That, I felt, is why this group has had such an amazing client success rate, apart from the high professional standards required for admission. Perhaps to some extent this may be partially attributable to the "laws and values" written into the founding bylaws.

We are a true partnership, as we are all shareholders in IPREX. And it is the partnership that makes it work. Rather than setting billing thresholds for what clients must pay, when it means helping out a partner, each firm is committed to doing the work ... whether it is planning and executing a major media campaign or simply obtaining a copy of a report at a trade show across town. We have discussions at meetings on how to better manage our firms, teleconferences on best practices and educational programs for up-and-comers. We call each other throughout the year to pose questions on the best way to approach emerging challenges and opportunities. All of this interaction increases pride of authorship. How can you face your partner at a continental or international meeting without the assurance that you've done the very best for your partner's client?

Our relationships have created accountability. This is not always the case among mega firms ... or at least my experience with a mega firm I was with for many years where there was tremendous interoffice competition. For example, it was not in the best interests of the client for the New York office to waste time wondering why the Chicago office won an assignment from a New York-based client, when it "should've" gone to New York. Then when New York was asked to do a New York project, the Chicago office worried about the whether the client was going to be sold on moving to NY. Managers of the various offices would expend a lot of energy protecting their turf. Nevertheless, I am certain there are some mega firms that approach it more holistically.

Our IPREX offices are all fully staffed with considerable resources in every international location -- not a 3-person office here and a 50-person office there -- and the staff most frequently consists of people who grew up in the city in which they are working and who know the local media, the culture and the local events because they are already part of the fabric of the community.

It is no small feat that 800 professionals have been together for more than 20 years and billings have grown to over $100 million annually. But the biggest feat is having created significant value for thousands of client companies over the years. All of the partners take enormous pride in these accomplishments.

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